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Lavender Lemonade

Lavender is an extremely aromatic flower, and it is possible to simple steep some sprigs in your lemonade.  However, making a simple syrup will add more depth in flavor.

Makes almost 8 cups

lavender lemonade

4 cups of water plus 1 1/2 cups

2 cups of freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 10 lemons)

1 1/2 cups of white sugar

The flowers of 20 lavender sprigs

simple syrup

simple syrup

Strip the lavender flowers from the stems, and discard the stems.  Put the flowers with the sugar and 1 1/2 cups of water in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Strain to remove and discard the flowers.

Roll the lemons heavily over a hard surface, halve them, and squeeze into any container with a handle (for easy pouring later).  It’s a whole lot easier to squeeze it all out with a hand juicer.  If you don’t like pulp, squeeze over a strainer sitting in your container.  Mix the lemon juice, simple syrup, and 4 cups of water.  Keep cold, and serve over ice.

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Bouchon Bakery, Yountville CA

pastries (and cute chick and pig cookies, see them?)

pastries (and cute chick and pig cookies, see them?)

Zach wanted to create a new category of posts dedicated to his formal training in pastries, featuring bakeries!  This is our first spotlight on a bakery that exceeds expectations when it comes to freshness, creativity, and authenticity.  Bouchon Bakery in Yountville does so in spades, and we were delighted to see their specials for Easter when we drove up yesterday for the afternoon.

a rainbow of macaroons on the top shelf

a rainbow of macarons on the top shelf

The macarons here are giant and delicious.  Flavors vary a little depending on the season – for example we selected a malted chocolate robin’s egg – but you can count on the staples like pistachio, caramel, and raspberry to taste just like the names.  The robin’s egg, apart from having the flavor of the Easter candy, was even shaped like an egg, mottled turquoise and white, and speckled!  The cookie layers had a thin, crisp exterior with a light and chewy interior.  The buttercream fillings were all delightfully rich, smooth, and creamy.

easter cupcakes

easter cupcakes

The ladybugs were too cute for Zach to resist; he had to get one, even though inside was a real raspberry filling with seeds (he can’t eat unprocessed seeds or nuts).  Despite Zach’s assertion that the fondant decorations would be boring sugar, August ate them anyway and thought they were vaguely lemony.  The frosting was a simple vanilla buttercream, but appropriately dyed pink for the season and to match the vibrant, sweet, and tart raspberry filling encased in a rich, buttery cake.

lemon tarts

lemon tarts

Zach’s pick purely for himself was a lemon tart.  Lemon is an ideal flavor to welcome the warmer climes.  Not everyone loves chocolate, therefore alternative sweets are greatly appreciated by the likes of Zach who is two steps away from being anti-chocolate.  The lemon curd was silky in texture and had a nice tartness of lemon flavor without too much sweetness.  The meringue was light, airy, and melted instantaneously in the mouth like little clouds.  The crust was crisp and slightly flaky, a great texture contrast to the very creamy curd and meringue.

chocolate ganache tarts

chocolate ganache tarts

August’s pick purely for herself was a chocolate ganache tart (ganache is a food group in her book).  Throughout the tart, the ganache was consistently velvety and rich, a noble representation of this fine class of chocolate.  The crust somewhat reminded her of graham cracker, darker in flavor than a typical tart shell.  Gold leaf and various egg motifs with bunnies and chicks were super cute adornments.

Yountville, Las Vegas, and New York are lucky to be home to the three members of this bakery family.  Breakfast items like muffins and croissants, cookies and macaroons, caramels and toffee, quiche and European-style bread, and even pet treats are abundant and beautiful.  The line was particularly long since it was Easter and many others seemed to be thinking like we were, but the line moved quickly and everyone waiting together was in good spirits, anticipating the delicious goodies inside the shop.

A Valentine’s Seafood Array

Zach’s present to August for Valentine’s Day this year was a day of flavors.  It began with home made cinnamon rolls, and ended with a variety of light yet rich seafood.

king crab leg

alaskan king crab leg

In California, it is nearly impossible to find raw Alaskan king crab.  It comes precooked and flash frozen.

To prepare: thaw overnight in the refrigerator in a sealed container (or something covered with plastic wrap), but put a rack on the bottom of the container so that the crab doesn’t sit in its own juice and melted ice water sludge.  When ready to serve, cut the shell with small cooking scissors and carefully peel away.  Remove the tendons by gently pulling the shell around the joint areas.  Serve with half a lemon; other options are garlic butter and caper aioli if you want something richer.

(A future post will be a detailed how-to on removing the shell of a crab.)

mussels and mussels alive, alive oh!

mussels and mussels alive, alive oh!

The mussels weren’t alive when eaten.  However, they must be kept alive right up until the point of preparation.  Before any cooking there are some cleaning procedures:

 

Discard of any cracked or unusually heavy mussels, as these may be too full of sand and will be too difficult to clean.

Soak mussels in a bowl with water and 1 tbs. of salt for 20 minutes, and as they breathe they naturally filter the fresh water through their systems so as to expel debris.

Remove the byssal thread from each mussel.  Grasping the shell firmly with a towel, yank the thread sharply towards the shell’s hinge.  If you yank towards the shell’s opening, you might kill the mussel.  Discard the threads and put the mussels in a separate bowl.

Add cold water to this new bowl, and let the mussels soak for another 10 minutes.  Then brush each mussel to clean off any remaining debris.  Rinse off with cool water and dry with a towel.

To cook:

3 dozen mussels

1/2 cup of white wine

1/4 cup of fine chopped garlic

1/4 cup of butter

Chopped flat leaf parsley to garnish

Pepper to taste

In an extra large saute pan, melt the butter on medium-high heat.  Add the garlic and pepper and cook for about 2 minutes until the garlic is very lightly browned.  Add mussels, but make sure the pan is large enough for the mussels to take up a single layer and not be on top of each other; the mussels on the bottom might not pop open if there are mussels on top to weigh them down.  Add the white wine and cover with a lid for 4 minutes to steam the mussels.  Remove mussels from pan, put in a bowl, and pour remaining butter-garlic-wine juice over the mussels.  Garnish with parsley.

dill salmon

seared dill salmon filet

Fresh Atlantic salmon is fairly abundant.  It’s always best to buy fresh fish if you can, and a thick filet will surely impress your better half for a Valentinian meal.  Try to get deboned salmon because it’s too much work as a preparer or an eater.  We got ours with the skin on – this is better for thicker filets during the cooking process.

2 salmon filets, about 1″ thick

1 tbs. of butter

1 tsp. of dried dill

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh lemon to squeeze

Heat a large saute pan and melt the butter over medium heat.  Salt and pepper both sides of the filets and sprinkle dill on the skinless side.

Place both filets in the pan skin-side down, with about 15 seconds in between each so that you don’t cool down the pan too quickly.  Cook for 6-7 minutes on the skin side before flipping over; cook for an additional 4 minutes with the skin facing up.  Remove from heat, squeeze fresh lemon juice over the filets, and serve immediately.