Light summer menu

We are in the middle of August.

Seating on my terrace I am looking at the trees and observing that nature’s bright green colors are starting to fade, meaning that little by little summer is entering its last stage.

Lately, every time I have the opportunity I am eating my meals outside and enjoying the nature around me. Because the holiday season is coming in three months with plenty of cookies and other sweets, I am satisfying my sweet tooth with plenty of fruit.

In this menu I exchanged guacamole for a light avocado mouse, whose lemony taste pairs well with slices of chicken breast spiced with sumac.

Ground sumac is a spice commonly used in the Middle East, often put on meats or salads.It has a lemony taste so it goes well with avocado. It is easily available and if your local supermarket doesn’t carry it , you can find it in Middle Eastern stores.Clafoutis is an easy to make classic french cherry  dessert. I decided to make sour version. In this menu I combined red pepper and feta.

For the end of the meal I prepared melon balls soaked with orange juice, agave syrup and pinch of ground cardamom. T he cardamom gives a little unexpected refreshing taste, but you can omit it. Toasted almonds add crunchiness.

You can be creative and use simple plastic cutlery. I love outdoors cutlery that is available in Switzerland. Stores are filled with large variety in several shapes and colors. Creative use of transparent plastic cutlery makes the menu colorful.

Melon salad with toasted almonds and cardamom

Makes about 6 servings

  • 2 melons
  • 1 orange
  • 2 cardamom seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of agave syrup or honey
  • 3 tablespoons /20g sliced almonds

Toast the almonds. Heat the ungreased skillet on medium heat. Put a single layer of sliced almonds so they color evenly. Roast  until golden color then put aside.

Squeeze the orange juice.

Crush the cardamom seeds, take the inside and ground in mortar and pestle.

Cut the melon in half. Scoop out the seeds and with a melon baller shape the balls. Put them into a bowl and pour the orange juice and agave syrup over it. Take a pinch of ground cardamom and dust over ( don’t put too much because it will overpower the taste of fruit, a little goes long way).

Mix well and put into the refrigerator to cool. When ready to use, sprinkle with toasted almonds.

Clafoutis with roasted peppers and feta cheese

Makes about 6 small cups

  • 100ml double cream ( US heavy cream), 1/2 cup
  • 50 ml full fat milk / 1/4 cup
  • 25g flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon shredded basil
  • 40g feta cheese / 1/2 cup

Roasted peppers

Preheat the broiler.

Prepare the peppers for roasting. Cut the pepper into 2-3 lobes. Remove the seeds. Trim the white membrane. Lightly oil the baking sheet as well as the peppers and put them skin side up. Broil the peppers about 5 inches from the heat until some areas of the peppers start to blister and turn brown in color.

Using tongs, transfer the peppers to plastic bag. Tie the bag and leave them for 20 minutes, then remove the skin. This technique makes peeling the skin of the peppers much easier.

Cut the peppers into strips, then into small squares. Put on a side. If left with extra roasted pepper, cover them with a little bit of olive oil and put them into refrigerator. It will last for up to one week.

Clafoutis

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Cut the feta cheese into small squares or big crumbs.

Sift the flour onto a baking paper or an aluminum foil for an easier transfer.

Cut the basil leafs into a thin strips.

In a small blender add the eggs. Blend for a couple of seconds.

Add the sifted  flour and a pinch of salt.

Divide roasted peppers, feta cheese and basil into silicon cups. Leave some of the ingredients on the side.

Pour the batter over and top with the ingredients left on a side. An easy way to fill the cups is to put the batter in a measuring pitcher.

Put the silicon cups on a baking sheet, then put it in the oven on the medium shelf. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until golden.

When finished take them out and let them sit for 5 minutes to cool. They will collapse but that is ok.

You can serve the clafoutis directly from the silicon cups.

Avocado mousse and chicken breast with sumac

Makes about 6 small cups

  • 2-3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 4 tablespoons creme fraiche / about 1/3 cup
  • 1/2 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh mint leaves
  • salt

 

Cut avocado in half. Twist the avocado halves in opposite direction. That way you will separate them. You can use a big spoon to scoop the stone out from one half. Cut the avocado into big chunks and put them into a small blender. Blend for couple of seconds.

Little by little start adding the creme fraiche, lemon juice and finely chopped mint, blending in-between each addition. Add a pinch of salt. Blend until smooth.

Transfer into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until preparing chicken.

Chicken with a sumac

  • a big piece of chicken breast
  • 1 teaspoon of ground sumac
  • salt

Cut a chicken breast into a 3.5-4cm/2 inches wide strips.

Put a bit of vegetable oil in a skillet and heat to medium-high.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and sumac. Turn and repeat.

Fry chicken on both sides until done for about 5-6 minutes. When chicken is cut it shouldn’t be pink inside.

Take the chicken pieces out and let them rest for about 5 minutes.

Cut into squares about 3.5-4 cm (1.5 inch) in size.

Thread  each piece onto the small wooden skewers.

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Chocolate and fruits

I have always loved chocolate, but after moving to Switzerland it is hard not to think about it on a daily basis. When shopping for food in market you see dozens of chocolate varieties.

I always look for good quality chocolate when using it as an ingredient in recipes. Every time I am in Zürich airport I pick the blocks of Valrhona 68% which is my favorite chocolate for cooking.

This chocolate menu includes three recipes with very different textures: a rich mousse, chewy crepes and crunchy meringues. They are served with an abundance of summer fruits which pair really well with a chocolate, they also add great color to the dishes.

These recipes use techniques that are really good to master because they can be applied in many other dishes.

There are different ways of making chocolate mousse. I chose the one that uses Creme Anglaise. Creme Anglaise is a great English pouring sauce for deserts, but can be used for making ice cream as well as luxurious chocolate mousse. Leftover egg whites can be used for a Swiss meringue.

Chocolate crepes can be filled with an endless variety of ingredients. To balance the sweetness I filled these ones with Mascarpone – Creme Fraiche mix, flavored with orange water.

Little Swiss meringue cups are filled with chocolate whipped cream, flavored with Kirsch (cherry liquor).

Chocolate crepes

makes about 14

Batter

  • 90g flour-2/3 cup
  • 170ml milk-3/4 cup
  • 1 tablespoon-15g butter, melted
  • 2 eggs (room temperature)
  • 30g chocolate, melted
  • 1 teaspoon-4g  caster sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Filling

  • 100g Mascarpone-1/2 cup
  • 100g Creme Fraiche-1/2 cup
  • 1/4 teaspoon of orange blossom water (few drops if concentrated) or 1 tablespoon of orange liquor
  • 1 tablespoon-10g icing sugar
  1. Sift the flour on a parchment paper.
  2. Lightly whisk eggs.
  3. Add the whisked eggs, milk, vanilla extract and melted butter to a blender. Mix for five seconds.
  4. Add sifted flour, pinch of salt and sugar. Blend untill well combined.
  5. Pour in the melted chocolate. Quickly blend.
  6. You can make the crapes right away. If I have time, I like to keep them in the refrigerator for an hour to absorb the flavors.
  7. Lightly oil the pan on medium – high heath.
  8. Pour in a little batter. Tilt and swivel the pan as you pour to thinly coat the base of a pan. If batter gets too thick add a little bit of milk.
  9. When crepe is light gold turn it and continue cooking on other side.
  10. Whip the Mascarpone.
  11. Whip the Creme Fraiche and icing sugar until nearly firm. Use cold Creme Fraiche, right from the refrigerator.
  12. Fold whipped cream into Mascarpone.
  13. Fill each crepe with a cream filling and serve with strawberries. 

Chocolate mousse

  • 150 ml-2/3 whole milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons-25g caster sugar
  • 270g-9.30oz chocolate (64-68%) chopped into small pieces.
  • 500ml-2.5 cups whipping cream
  1. Heat the milk right before it starts to boil (don’t bring to boil). Remove from the heat and let it stand for about 5 minutes to cool.
  2. Cut the chocolate into small pieces and put them into a big bowl.
  3. In other bowl beat the egg yolks and a sugar until pale and thick using a whisk.
  4. Slowly pour the milk onto egg mixture in a thin stream whisking all the time.
  5. Rinse the pan and put the mixture back into it.
  6. Cook the mixture on low heat, whisking constantly until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of the wooden spoon. Keep cooking on low heat stirring continuously or mixture will start to curdle. Be patient.
  7. When mixture thinly coats the back of the spoon, and when you draw a finger it should leave an impression.
  8. Take pan of the heat and strain it over the chocolate pieces. Mix until Creme Anglaise and chocolate create smooth mixture, making sure it is completely mixed.
  9. Set aside to cool.
  10. Whip the cream to medium peak (make sure the cream and bowl are well chilled) and  fold carefully into the chocolate mixture using a large spoon. First mix in one thirds of the cream, and then fold in the rest, turning the bowl while folding to ensure all parts are combined.
  11. You can serve it warm. I like to put mousse into individual glass cups and refrigerate until set. Before serving top it with fresh raspberries.

Swiss meringue cups

  • 4 egg whites ( room temperature)
  • 250g icing sugar, sifted
  • Preheat the oven to 120C/250F

  1. Cold eggs are easier to separate, bur after separating them leave the egg whites at room temperature. They are easier to whisk and will give you better results.
  2. Put egg whites in a big metal or glass bowl making sure the bowl is very clean or the whites will not whisk properly. Sift the icing sugar over it.
  3. Put the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water making sure the pot doesn’t touch the water.
  4. Whisk until sugar is dissolved and mixture feels completely smooth when rubbed between fingers and until warm to the touch, 40C/110F on candy thermometer ( if you have one).
  5. Transfer the mixture to standard mixer and mix on high speed until the bowl feels cool and mixture is thick and shiny. It can take about 10 min.
  6. Spoon the meringue into the piping bag fitted with a small nozzle. I use one that is 6mm-1/4 inch to make petite cups. You can be creative with the shape and size of your designs.
  7. Line the baking sheet with a parchment paper.
  8. Pipe first the disk (base) of the meringue cup in a spiral starting from a center outwards. Then pipe two or three layers to form a wall around the edge.
  9. Turn down the oven temperature to 100C/200F.
  10. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Turn the heat off; prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon end let them dry in the oven.

filling

  • 100ml-1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon Kirsch (cherry liquor)
  • 1 tablespoon chocolate syrup
  • fresh cherries, stoned and cut into pieces (or canned if out of season)
  1. Make sure the bowl and cream are well chilled.
  2. Whisk the whipping cream, when it starts to thicken add the chocolate syrup and Kirsch.
  3. Beat until fluffy and nearly firm.
  4. Spoon the filling into the piping bag fitted with small nozzle. Fill the cups and decorate with pieces of cherries.

Cheesecake from Alsace

Last weekend I visited a picturesque, well preserved medieval town in Alsace called Colmar. I think it is one of the most beautiful towns in Europe. It is located in the northern part of France, close to Swiss border.

Colmar and its surrounding villages are famous for the Christmas markets but in the summer they also have a different type of charm. The Alsace region is not only famous for its sweet white wine Gewürztraminer, but is also well known for its food.

During my visit I tried many regional specialties, and one of my favorites was a cheesecake, that is made of fromage blanc. This smooth, creamy cheese makes this cake much lighter than other types I have tasted before.

In Switzerland and Germany instead of using fromage blanc, cake is made with cheese called Quark, which has a similar consistency.

Base for this cake is made of pate sable, the French sweet and crisp pastry. If you have never made pate sable before it is a good idea to try it because the taste is amazing.

Pate sable

  • 250 g flour (sifted)
  • 150 g butter (room temperature, cut into squares)
  • 90 g icing sugar (sifted)
  • 3-4 drops of vanilla extract
  • 1 egg, beaten

Before making your dough make sure that all ingredients are at room temperature. Dough has a high amount of butter and melts easily so you have to work quickly in a warm kitchen. When you feel that the pastry is getting soft and difficult to handle put it into the refrigerator. A cool working environment is important for this type of pastry. Handle the pastry lightly and as little as possible, otherwise overworked dough will have a tough, not a crisp texture. By using a food processor you have the risk of overworking the pastry, it is better to do it by hand.

  1. Lightly oil 20 cm (8-in) round, and 4-6 cm (1.5-2.5 -in) high cake tin.
  2. Separately sift the flour and icing sugar.
  3. In a food processor with a paddle attachment mix the butter,  vanilla extract and icing sugar.
  4. Add the beaten egg and mix until incorporated.
  5. Add the sifted flour in stages and soon as dough detaches from the bowl (it will make clumps) stop.
  6. Press clumps together and form the ball. Split the pastry into two portions, one for the base of the cheesecake and other for the cookies.
  7. Put each portion in-between two sheets of clingfilm or parchment paper and roll in one direction until 4 mm thick ( if pastry is too soft first make a disk and chill, then roll). Put into the refrigerator for one hour, or in the freezer for 30 min.
  8. For me the method of inserting a pastry into the bottom of a deep tin works best: take the pastry out of the refrigerator and put it on the work surface. After removing cling film press the cake ring on top of the pastry. Cut along the edge of the ring and remove the excess. If the pastry feels too hard after you take it out of the refrigerator, leave it at room temperature for about five minutes.
  9. With a rolling pin transfer the pastry to the bottom of the tin. With a finger press the dough to evenly line the bottom.
  10. Prick dough with a fork and put in refrigerator for another  30 minutes to harden.
  11. After chilling, bake blind; which means baking without the filling. Cut out the circle of baking parchment, then crumple it and line the base and sides of the pastry. Fill it with ceramic baking beans, uncooked rice, or dry beans. This pastry is delicate so don’t put too much weight.
  12. Bake at 200C for 15-20 min. Take the beans out carefully with a big spoon, lift the paper and return to oven for another 5 minutes until pale golden. This pastry has the tendency to burn quickly.
  13. Cool slightly and transfer to a wire rack, until you are amaking the filling.

If using full quantity of dough to make only cookies you can exchange 40g of flour for 40g of ground almonds and you will get almond pastry calles pate frollee. Delicious.

Filling

  • 400 g quark
  • 90 g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 25 g/ 3T cornstarch ( cornflower)
  • 2 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Lower temperature to 150 C.
  2. Beat egg yolks into quark.
  3. Mix 2 tablespoon milk with cornstarch then add it to the quark mixture. Add few drops off vanilla extract.
  4. Beat egg whites until soft peak, and then start adding sugar in a couple of stages. Beat until egg whites are glossy and stiff.
  5. Gently fold egg whites into quark mixture. Spoon the feeling into the cake tin over the cooled pastry.
  6. Put the cake tin in the oven on the lowest shelf and bake for approximately 1 hour. and 10 minutes, or until only the center of the cake has slight wobble. Turn the oven off and leave the pastry inside to cool. Ajar the oven door with a wooden spoon.
  7. When cooled, put into refrigerator, but don’t take out of the tin. Leave in refrigerator overnight.
  8. Cover with sieved icing sugar. You can keep for up to three days in the refrigerator.

Cookies

  • Pate sable dough
  •  2 tablespoons fresh rasberries puree
  • 1 tablespoon dry rasberries, crushed (for  decoration)
  • 250 ml double cream/1 cup
  • 1 tablespoon icing sugar
  • Preheat the oven to 180 C
  • Take dough out the refrigerator.
  • Line the baking sheet with non-stick baking parchment.
  • Remove the top piece of clingfilm. Use the cutter, and cut the dough into rounds
  • Bake for 12 minutes or until pale golden.
  • Cool slightly, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  • Put dry raspberries between sheets of cling film and crush them.

  • In a bowl whip the cream and icing sugar.
  • Fold in a tablespoon or two of  fresh raspberries puree.
  • Serve cookies sprinkled with dry raspberries and cream.
  • Store extra cookies for up to two days in an airtight container.

Note: You can buy dry raspberries in health food stores.