Hazelnut Praline Flan for Leslie

Flan was a regular staple at the end of a meal in my family. It is easy to make in advance and keeps well refrigerated and much lighter than a crème brûlée. My mother used cubes of sugar to make caramel, and knowing exactly how many sugar cubes to use to make caramel made it fast and easy. Here I’m using almond milk as a way to make this recipe lactose free, but feel free to use other milk if you do not have lactose intolerance in your family.

20130902-003153.jpgFor this recipe I decided to add hazelnut praline because a dear friend of my boyfriend loves hazelnut desserts and I made this one in Leslie’s honor. It takes a few extra steps to make the praline, and it is well worth it.

For the flan:
3 farm fresh eggs
2 cups organic almond milk
4 Tbsp organic sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the hazelnut praline:
1 Tbsp grape seed oil
1/2 cup hazelnuts (shelled and preferably skin removed)
3/4 cup organic sugar
3 Tbsp water

For the caramel:
1/2 cup organic sugar
2 Tbsp water

Sugar thermometer
4-6 individual ramequins or terrines with lids (depending on size)
Large baking dish for the water bath
Preheat oven to 375F

20130902-003639.jpgIf the hazelnut still have skins, place them in the oven on a baking sheet in a single layer for a few minutes.

20130902-004109.jpgTake them out of the oven before they brown and set aside until cool enough to handle.
Once cooled, rub them between your hands to remove the skins.

20130902-065923.jpg Making the hazelnut praline:
Brush a thin layer of oil on a marble surface or a baking sheet.
Place sugar and water in small sauce pan.

20130902-070309.jpgMelt sugar into caramel until temperature reaches 130 C (266 F).

20130902-070536.jpgAdd the whole hazelnuts. Continue cooking.

20130902-070626.jpgThe sugar will initially react to the hazelnuts by crystallizing. Keep cooking, mixing vigorously using a wooden spoon.

20130902-070711.jpgOnce the caramel is dark brown, remove the pan from the heat. Be sure not to over cook the caramel, otherwise it will burn and you’ll have to start over.

20130902-070754.jpgPour it immediately onto the oiled marble or baking sheet, spreading the hazelnuts so they do not overlap.

20130902-070939.jpgOnce cooled and hardened, break it up by hitting it with a rolling pin.
Place the broken pieces into a food processor fitted with a steel blade.

20130902-071044.jpgProcess until you obtain a granular powder. Set the praline aside.

20130902-071125.jpgFor the caramel, place the sugar and water in a small pan and cook until dark brown.

20130902-071207.jpgRemove from the heat and pour into the ramequins.

20130902-071244.jpgImmediately sprinkle a layer of praline powder so it sticks to the caramel.

20130902-071343.jpgPour the almond milk into a pan and heat until boiling.

20130902-071541.jpgMeanwhile, place three eggs into a mixing bowl.

20130902-071621.jpgAdd the vanilla and whisk the eggs until completely blended.

20130902-071735.jpgAdd the sugar while whisking vigorously until the mixture is pale yellow and foamy, and has doubled in volume. Note: please keep whisking while adding sugar to the eggs otherwise the sugar will “cook” the eggs.

20130902-071902.jpgAdd the hot milk into the egg mixture continuing to whisk until fully incorporated.
Note: it is important that you pour the hot milk into the bowl with the eggs and not the other way around. If you added the egg mixture into the hot milk, it would cook the eggs.

20130902-071941.jpgUsing a ladle, pour the mixture equally into each ramequin. Feel free to fill them up as much as you wish. These will not rise during baking, and rather sink once cooled.

20130902-072031.jpgPlace the ramequins into a baking dish with a water bath.
Place in the oven for about 40 minutes until the top is brown and feels settled.

20130902-072342.jpgOnce cooked, take out of the oven and let cool. Then place the lids on top of each ramequin and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

20130902-072426.jpgWhen ready to serve, run the blade of a knife around the flan.

20130902-072942.jpgPlace a plate on top and reverse it upside down, shaking a bit to ensure the flan detaches from the ramequin onto the serving plate.

20130902-073017.jpgSprinkle additional praline powder and decorate with a few extra hazelnuts. Enjoy!


Cherry Almond Orange Clafoutis

A classic delight and wonderful memory of my childhood. My mother would make clafoutis almost daily during cherry season. My brothers and I would pick the cherries after school and they went straight into the clafoutis. They did not get refrigerated and conserved the full flavor of their sweetness. The original recipe included vanilla. Here I am using some almond extract instead to enhance the taste of the ground almond and almond meal. In addition, I also added orange zest which, to my taste buds, perfectly compliments the combination of cherry and almonds.

I made this recipe completely gluten-free, using a combination of amaranth flour and almond meal, and lactose-free, using almond milk instead of dairy milk. This recipe also contains a limited amount of sugar, only using one tablespoon of honey in addition to the natural sugar from the fruits.

2 lbs sweet cherries
3/4 cup raw almonds
1/2 tsp almond extract
Zest of 2 oranges
2 Tbsp almond meal
2 Tbsp amaranth flour
1/2 tsp arrowroot
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups almond milk
1 Tbsp honey
A pinch of salt
About 1 Tbsp grape seed oil

Either 12 individual ramequins or one 8 1/2 x 8 1/2 pan (or similar dimension in the form of a tart dish)
Preheat oven to 350 F

20130609-104846.jpg Wash and pit the cherries. A cherry pitter works wonderfully for this task, leaving the cherries whole, but if you do not have one, simply cut the cherries in half and remove the the pit.

Set the pitted cherries aside.

Place the almonds in a food processor fitted with a steel blade.

20130609-105529.jpg Process until you obtain evenly ground almonds and set aside.

In a bowl, mix together the almond meal, with the amaranth flour, and the arrowroot.

20130609-110019.jpg Add 1/3 of the ground almonds, and whisk together until fully incorporated. Continue adding ground almond slowly until all dry ingredients are thoroughly combined.

20130609-110209.jpg In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, the almond milk, almond extract, orange zest, honey and salt.

20130609-110317.jpg Add the dry ingredients to the mixture at once and whisk together.

20130609-110413.jpg Combine all ingredients into a smooth batter, which should be similar in consistency to a crepe batter.

20130609-110624.jpg At this point, you might either brush the grape seed oil into the individual ramequins.

20130609-110722.jpg Or you might oil an 8 1/2×8 1/2 pan.

20130609-111118.jpg If you are using the individual ramequins, place the cherries on bottom of them.

20130609-111227.jpg If you are using the larger pan, you might simply pour the cherries into it.

20130609-111446.jpg Using a ladle, pour the batter onto the cherries, not completely covering them.

20130609-111617.jpg Bake the ramequins for 20-25 minutes.

20130609-111712.jpg If you are using a larger pan, bake for 45-50 minutes.

20130609-111836.jpg The clafoutis are ready when the top is golden.

20130609-112205.jpg Let cool. Them you might refrigerate or serve at room temperature.

20130609-112323.jpg Decorate with fresh cherries, and orange zest. Serve and enjoy!

Pain d’Epice – Honey bread with cinnamon, orange and star anise

A traditional and naturally healthy dense spongy bread. This childhood recipe contains no fat and no dairy, and brings high energy.
Served at tea time, home from school with a bowl of hot chocolate, as a dessert to accompany poached pears or strawberry soup, or to take along an adventure as an energy snack. This bread keeps well for a few days wrapped at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.
It is best to weight the ingredients directly into the mixing bowls (with a zeroing scale) for more accurate quantities, especially when using honey which tends to stick to the sides of measuring cups.
9 oz rye flour
9 oz honey
1/2 cup hot water
Zest of 1 orange
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp crushed star anis seed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
a Tbsp of grape seed oil to coat the baking pan
Preheat the oven to 325 F.
20130526-095017.jpg Star anis is very hard when dried and it is best to use a mortar and pestle to crush it.
20130526-095102.jpg Crush and ground the star anis until it is reduced to a powder.
Mix the dry ingredients, adding the baking soda, cinnamon and ground star anis to the rye flour. Zest the orange and add at this time as well.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the honey and hot water until you obtain a homogenous liquid mixture.
Add the honey-water to the dry ingredients and mix well to fully incorporate into a smooth batter. The consistency should be thick.
20130526-095246.jpg Oil a baking pan with some grape seed oil and pour batter in the pan. Place in the preheated oven to bake.
20130526-095437.jpg Check after about 30 minutes with a toothpick or the tip of a knife by inserting it into the center of the bread. The stick should come out clean. This bread remains dense and does not rise much. Once cooked, let sit for a few minutes out of the oven until cool enough to handle. Turn the baking pan upside down and the bread should come out easily.
20130526-095534.jpg You might decorate with orange slices and cinnamon sticks. Cut in about 1/2 inch-thick slices. Enjoy!

Strawberry Soup with Mint and Lemongrass

Spring is here… Or at least, the weather showed us a sneak preview for a couple days, enough to ignite some thoughts about seasonal fruits. Strawberries! Always a reminder of the sunshine bathed fields of strawberries of my childhood. One day they were still greenish white, the next day pink, then bright shiny red. A lovely sight was seeing our turtle pet returning from her morning walk with strawberry juice all over her face. Then we ran to the fields to verify which strawberries had her signature. It was a fun time. Each week a new type of strawberry Mara, Gariguette, Ciflorette, Charlotte or other, each with their distinctive shape and flavor. Be sure to sample them on your next visit to France in strawberry season. For now, as much as such varieties are not available here in Chicago, I like to exalt the fragrance of the strawberries by preparing them as a dessert soup with lemongrass, mint and vanilla.

20130502-094404.jpg A welcome sign of spring. Enjoy as a light dessert, or snack, or accompaniment for brunch.

20130502-094543.jpg Ingredients:
2 lb strawberries
1/2 oz fresh mint leaves
1 lemongrass stick
1/4 cup honey
1 cup water
1 lemon
1 vanilla bean

20130502-094835.jpg Remove the mint leaves from the stems, press the lemon to extract the juice and cut the lemongrass in 2-3 inch pieces. Reserve a few mint leaves for decoration.

20130502-094954.jpg Cut the vanilla in half lengthwise and scrape the pasty seeds with a knife.

20130502-105719.jpg Prepare the syrup by placing the fresh mint leaves, cut lemongrass, honey, water, lemon, and vanilla bean and seeds into a medium saucepan.

20130503-153233.jpg Bring to a boil and simmer.

20130503-153606.jpg Meanwhile rinse the strawberries, cut the stems and leaves and place them in a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade. Reserve a few strawberries for decoration.

20130503-153828.jpg Process until you obtain a very smooth puree, and pour into a bowl.

20130503-153947.jpg Remove the syrup from the stove and pour it through a strainer into the pureed strawberries. Discard the cooked leaves, lemongrass and vanilla bean.

20130503-154149.jpg Mix well. At this time it can be prepared ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.

20130503-165358.jpg For the presentation, cut the stem and leaves off the strawberries at an angle, forming a V cut into the heart of the strawberry. Then slice them to obtain heart-shaped pieces.

20130503-165630.jpg Display the heart-shaped slices on top of the strawberry soup, along with a few mint leaves and serve at once. Enjoy!

Breakfast Quinoa

Delicious, nutritious, high-protein breakfast.

20130412-074222.jpg A great gluten-free alternative to oatmeal, this sweet and fruity quinoa is ideal for breakfast. Spring has been so timid here in Chicago, that we are still using winter fruits this time of year. This is a heartwarming and satisfying dish. Although this dish is best served immediately, if you are pressed for time in the morning, you can prepare it the night before and simply heat it on the stove again.

20130412-074438.jpg Ingredients
3/4 cup red quinoa
3/4 cup white quinoa
2 oranges or 4 mandarins
1 banana
1 large apple
A few prunes
A few dried figs
A few dates
A handful walnuts
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp molasses

20130412-205534.jpg Place both red and white quinoa in a large saucepan.

20130412-210006.jpg Cut the dried fruits in thin slices and roughly chop the walnuts.

20130412-210554.jpg Add the dried fruits and walnuts to the quinoa as well as 3 cups of water.

20130412-211456.jpg Bring to a boil and start simmering.

20130412-210857.jpg Meanwhile, prepare the fresh fruits. Peel the banana and oranges . You might leave the skin on the apple, simply cutting it in quarters to easily remove the core.

20130412-211227.jpg Slice all the fresh fruits thinly.

20130412-211824.jpg Add fresh fruits and bring back to a boil.

20130412-212512.jpg Add the vanilla and molasses.

20130412-212806.jpg Cover, turn down the heat and simmer to resume cooking, about another ten minutes or so.

20130412-213444.jpg Check for the consistency. When most of the liquids have been absorbed, turn off the heat and let sit for a couple of minutes before serving.

20130412-213941.jpg Serve in individual bowls with a spring of fresh mint. Bon appetit!

Almond Blueberry Vegan Gluten-Free Cookies

A delicious and healthy treat!


So many of you have been asking for this recipe, an adapted version of my boyfriend’s family heirloom. I hope you enjoy making these cookies as much as savoring them.

I love this recipe because it uses some of the essential ingredients on which I was raised: raw almonds and grape seed oil.
Growing up, my mother would send us to school with a small handful of almonds in case we needed a bit of energy before lunch. Same on the ski slopes. We could always reach to our pockets and find a few almonds to nibble on. Both nutritious and naturally healthy, raw almonds are an ingredient of choice I enjoy every day.
Grape seed oil is also a common staple we used in Provence with revered health benefits. In addition, grape seed oil is one of the least fragrant oil, making it perfectly suited to preserve the integrity of the flavors of other ingredients.
I will write a new page for this blog to share Essential Health Benefits of ingredients about almonds and grape seed oil.

2 cups raw almonds
2 cups gluten-free rolled oats
1 cup amaranth flour
1 cup almond flour/meal
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 pinches salt
3/4 cup maple syrup
1 cup grape seed oil + 2 Tbsp
1/2 cup blueberry jam (try to find a jam made without sugar)
Preheat the oven at 350F.
2 cookie sheets.

Place the raw almonds in a food processor fitted with a steel blade to grind them.

Process until they are ground evenly with a slightly coarse texture. This will give the cookies their rough consistency, which is quite pleasant.

Place gluten-free rolled oats in the food processor fitted with a steel blade, and process the same way as the almonds.

Then place all the dry ingredients in a bowl: ground almonds, ground oats, amaranth flour, almond flour, cinnamon, and salt.

Combine dry ingredients together by mixing well.

Separately, mix the maple syrup and grape seed oil, whisking well to homogenize.

Pour the maple syrup/oil mixture over the dry ingredients and incorporate slowly using a wooden spoon.

Mix until all ingredients are evenly incorporated and the texture of the almond cookie dough becomes malleable.

Oil a cookie sheet using about two tablespoon of grape seed oil and spreading it with a pastry brush.

Using a tablespoon, fill it to the top with the almond cookie dough.

Place on oiled cookie sheet at regular interval, leaving enough space to allow spreading during baking.

Tip: you might use the handle of another spoon to unstick the almond cookie dough from the measuring spoon.

Cookie sheet filled with domes of dough, evenly spaced.

Use the back of a rounded teaspoon to create a depression in each dome. Be careful not to press too hard. You want to leave enough thickness between the cookie sheet and the deepest part of the depression to ensure the blueberry jam won’t sip through during baking time.
Tip: you might occasionally place the teaspoon under running water to remove any dough stuck to the bottom. This will help to continue forming evenly shaped depressions.

Fill the depressions with blueberry jam. Bake in the preheated oven for about 12 minutes, until slightly browner. Turn the cookie sheet around and bake for another 6 minutes or so. Baking times are approximate depending on your oven. The first time you bake these cookies, please check them more often and note down the times so you can repeat the same experience next time.

The cookies are baked when still soft to the touch and the perimeter at the base of them is slightly brown. Let sit one minute outside the oven until they are cool enough handle. Remove them with a spatula and place on display/serving platter. They should firm up a bit as they cool.