Flan with bienmesabe crust and cardamom and buttermilk whipped cream

Flan with bienmesabe crust and cardamom whipped cream
Flan with bienmesabe crust and cardamom buttermilk whipped cream
This probably won’t surprise anyone, but let me come out and say it. I don’t agree with all the gluten free propaganda out there. If you have a condition, then yes, by all means avoid it, but if not, then I don’t want to hear it!

That said, my first reaction when targeting gluten free desserts is not to rework recipes to eliminate the gluten, but to look at recipes that are already gluten free and use them as a starting point. There are many of these recipes throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East.

Bienmesabe canario is one of these great recipes. Its a traditional dessert of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. This dessert dates back to the 15th century and it has similarities with an Andalucía dessert of the Malaga region and other middle eastern desserts.

This dessert is made with almonds, eggs, sugar and lemon zest. A very simple confection that is sure to transport you to any of the almond growing regions of the Mediterranean.

Bienmesabe canario has been my inspiration for a gluten free “crust” for this flan dessert–the best “cheese-less” cheese cake you’ll ever have.


Curds separating from the whey in the process of making quark

I was first introduced to quark in Germany. This fresh cheese is a tasty part of a good, old-fashioned breakfast. But it can be found in many other countries from Northern Europe to the Middle East.

It’s similar to the French fromage blanc or the Spanish queso fresco. This fresh cheese with a little honey and maybe a few roasted hazelnuts is one of my all time favorite desserts.

Homemade quark will be served as part of dessert for the December supper club.

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Curds separating from the whey in the process of making quark
Curds separating from the whey in the process of making quark
The quark emerges from the cheesecloth
Straining through the cheesecloth to remove the whey

What’s a “supper club?”

A "Dinner with Daniel" in progress

There are a couple different ideas about what a supper club is or should be. In the Midwest, a “supper club” is a particular kind of restaurant, a homestyle restaurant that serves food family style. In other places, “supper club” has come to be associated with “underground restaurants” or “guerrilla dining,” where word of mouth brings people to a pop-up restaurant serving dinner for just one night. Sometimes these dinners showcase the work of cooks who aren’t currently in a professional kitchen or who want to experiment with food that’s different than what gets served from their restaurant kitchens. Sometimes the cooks are talented amateurs with no professional training.

In other parts of the world, supper clubs are really taking off. They seem to value a balance between the “supper” and the “club,” aiming for good cuisine, fresh and well prepared, but giving equal attention to the social aspect of each dinner.

This idea resonates with me. My supper club has a relaxed, homey atmosphere with excellent and interesting food (if I do say so myself!). The mission is to have not only a great food selection, but the perfect mix of guests, where everyone gets to sit at the “chef’s table.”

So what’s it like to eat at a supper club? Each one is different, of course, but this is what mine is like:

A "Dinner with Daniel" in progress
A “Dinner with Daniel” in progress

Homestyle. There’s no professional waitstaff, so you may need to ask when you need butter or help yourself when you need more water. Everyone will sit together at the same table and pass dishes back and forth. Sometimes we have plated courses and sometimes we serve family style, but guests always take a little more active role than they’d have in a restaurant.

Drink selection. We serve water, wine, and coffee. Maybe an apéritif or digestif. A few kinds of tea, I guess, but you’re rolling the dice if you are hoping for tea. You are welcome to bring wine if you have a bottle you’d like to share.

Schedule. I ask my guests to come on time. Not early: I’ll still be hard at work–probably trying to find 30 seconds when I can put on a clean shirt. Not late: it’s hard to serve one or two guests who are out of sync with everybody else, eating appetizers while everybody else is starting on the entrée. On time.

Special diets. If you have special dietary requirements, get in touch before you buy a ticket. Seriously. Don’t spring an allergic or food intolerant guest on me at the last minute. I am happy to cook for anybody, even vegans (there, I said it!) and I love a challenge, but some menus just don’t lend themselves to different interpretations, especially at the last minute.

Tips and presents. Tips are a little weird. You’re in my house. But you can give me presents if you want to!

What to wear. Wear what you like. We all have to look at each other all night; wear something that you look good in. I will be wearing an apron. I look good in an apron.

Feedback. Give it to me! I want to hear what you think, whether it’s praise or a suggestion for improvement.

Buen Provecho!

farewell to the bitter end of winter

Winter sky
Daniel plucking pheasants
Plucking all these pheasants takes my back to my culinary training–a long time ago. Don’t you think my kids should be doing this? How else will they learn?!

Preparing winter meals can be more interesting than those in the summertime. In summer there’s bounty, delicious fresh food practically bursting out of the garden, everything producing and reproducing. Half the time, you use a little splash of olive oil, a little lemon juice, and you’re good to go. If you just look around you and choose what’s ripe at that moment, you can’t go too far wrong.

In the winter it’s different. This season rewards the “long game” in the kitchen, the planning and preserving, where you draw on your root cellar and pantry.  All the different options of game, large and small. All the magic of pickling, aging and preserving get me through these dark months without my garden.

To celebrate what I hope is the end of winter, I’ve scheduled a supper club meal for this Saturday, March 7. I’m using sour cherries I’ve had preserved in spirits since summer, a persimmon vinaigrette, and candied kumquats, among other things.

Also local pheasants that I plucked myself. Having the chance to experience some of these “food handling” techniques is very special to me as a reminder of where food comes from and the time honored traditions of preparing it. After a plucking a few pheasants I had a renewed respect for those who have done and continue to do jobs like this–so that most of us don’t have to!

dinner with Daniel on Saturday, 7 March 2015

  1. Serrano Ham, Daikon, Granny Smith Apple, Pimentón Jelly
  2. Salt Cod Soup
  3. Treviso, Mushrooms, Persimmon, Tomato, Jalapeño Pepper
  4. Pheasant, Foie Gras, Sour Cherry, Butternut Squash
  5. Crémeux de Bourgogne, Membrillo, Albariño, Toasted Oat Sourdough
  6. Tocinillo, Pinenut, Saffron, Lemon, Dark Chocolate

Buen provecho!

Winter sky
Winter has its charms–but they’re wearing thin. 😉

notes from the windowsill: cocoa nibs

cocoa pod

Something very special ended up on my windowsill–a cocoa pod! Just in time for Valentine’s Day.

I decided to see what takes to get from pod to cocoa. After all, chocolate is king this time of year–though it usually comes in the shape of a heart!

cocoa pod
Here’s the cocoa pod that was on my windowsill this week. Let’s experiment!

The most fun I had was probably as I cut into the pod. The inside looks like a fuzzy experimental corn cob, and smelled very much like the inside of a pumpkin.

In following the process I gathered up the beans to let them ferment. This stops them from germinating and starts the flavoring of the nib. The white stuff on the outside helps with this, and in six days they are ready to dry. A couple more days and they are dry, and ready for roasting. This is similar to roasting coffee, and a key part of the process of giving the nib its final flavor. I think by now most everyone has had cocoa nibs in fancy candy bars or as a dessert garnish. The ones I toasted had the familiar little bitter crunch of nibs I’ve eaten before. I ground the nibs in my kitchen pestle and then I had my cocoa powder.

Long preparations like these with so many steps always make me wonder how people discovered that we could eat the final product in this particular way. Accident or not, you gotta love the inquisitive mind of those people over two thousand years ago, the first chocolatiers! It was definably worth cutting that pod open.

cocoa beans
These are the cocoa beans outside of the pod as they begin to ferment
cocoa nib
Here is a cocoa nib – a piece of the bean after fermentation and drying.
toasted cocoa beans
This is what the beans look like after they are toasted.
homemade cocoa powder
I used my mortar and pestle to grind the nibs into cocoa powder.

notes from the windowsill: rutabaga micro greens

I continually experiment with different foods, veggies, seeds, just about anything that could be edible. Lots of times these experiments or projects reside on my kitchen’s window sill. When light and temperature are needed, I find the kitchen’s window sill ideal. Sometimes, some of these experiments might be on the window longer than others might care for, but, hey! It’s all in the name of science!

So when I noticed that one of the rutabagas in the kitchen looked like it was starting to sprout,  I had to find out: If I cut the top off and kept it moist, would it produce enough tiny leaves to be a viable source of micro greens?

This discarded rutabaga top sprouts new, edible greens when kept in water
As you can see, this rutabaga top is flourishing on the windowsill, producing edible micro greens

Young rutabaga leaves are tasty. They can be prepared in the same way as turnip greens, adding zest to a salad, stir fry, or other good old fashioned greens.

After a couple of weeks I came to the conclusion that if these rutabaga tops are kept and planted, they will produce plenty of greens. I even learned that eventually these top “cutoffs” will go to seed!

happy Thanksgiving

Who doesn’t love a holiday that’s all about feasting and giving thanks? Here’s a quick overview of my Thanksgiving. Whether you cooked all day like me or ate a cylinder of cranberry sauce from a can. I hope you had a good holiday and plenty to be thankful for. Buen provecho!

thanksgiving desserts
The array of desserts is obviously the most important part of the meal–at least to my daughters! Carrot coconut bites, my vegan offering. Almond and persimmon tort, and a pumpkin pie.
Sweet potatoes with pecan topping
Sweet potatoes with caramelized bourbon maple pecan topping
Roasted orange and yellow carrots with turnips
Roasted orange and yellow carrots with turnips
These baby brussels sprouts look like a combination between a pea and a cabbage! Very sweet and tender.
These baby brussels sprouts look like a combination between a pea and a cabbage! Very sweet and tender.
Cranberry sauce, not too sweet
Clove, cinnamon, ginger cranberry sauce, not too sweet
Duck confit
Duck confit
Thanksgiving dinner
Thanksgiving dinner. Buen Provecho!


baker’s problem, chef’s solution

Sundays are my bread baking day. Well–the bread making begins the night before, on Saturday evening, but Sunday is when I put the bread in the oven. This is my one day off, and you might think baking bread is too much like work, but I have it down to a system. Let the dough rise during a leisurely breakfast. The oven is already hot from crisping the breakfast bacon, so crank up the heat and it’s ready for bread.

The bread has gotten better with each week. With the advice of some friends who are expert bakers, I developed my sourdough starter and learned how to “read” it and make good dough from it. Lately I have been working with a very wet dough that gives me a great finished loaf: even distribution of bubbles, elastic but tender texture, and a crisp, chewy crust. But then I ran into an unexpected problem.

I have been making baguettes in my nice USA Pans baguette pan. Like all USA Pans, it’s coated in silicone to be nonstick, but it’s perforated to help you get a good crust. When I lay the raw dough on the pan, it is so wet that it seeps through the perforated surface and keeps on expanding out the bottom of these holes as it bakes. Imagine the bottom of this pan with a 5 o’clock shadow made of bread whiskers. The only way to remove the bread from the pan was to scrape off the bread beard, leaving a hundred little bread dots everywhere. It had become a sort of little tradition for my girls to ask me about all the little bumps on the bottom of the bread, which is cute. But cute or not, I was sick of the “whiskers.” I tried a number of approaches, including over-spraying the pan with cooking spray, but didn’t find a good solution.

Finally, I thought of my training behind the line. What would I do to prevent food from sticking to a sauté pan? I would heat up the pan for a fast sear. So last weekend I tried it: I heated up the pan in the oven before putting the dough on it. And it worked like a charm. No little bread dots, no sticking, no problem. And the girls didn’t seem to miss the whiskers when they were eating a hundred pieces of bread… I wish I had thought of this sooner.

I wonder if commercial bakeries handle this problem the same way, or whether they encounter this problem at all. I’ll probably find out one day, but in the meantime I’ll try to use my experiences behind the line to help me become a better baker.

Happy baking, and buen provecho!

bread dough for baguette loaf doesn't stick to pre-heated pan
This is one of the baguettes that I made in the pre-heated pan. The bread was not stuck to the pan at all–you can see the surface is perfectly clean. It’s too bad I don’ t have a photo that shows the bread “whiskers”–especially now that they are HISTORY!