SLIDE INTO SUMMER
The airplane tickets are sitting on our bedroom dresser in a tidy little pile along with our passports and a slim envelope holding a neat stack of American dollars. It seems as if I should already be packing but it is still a few months away before we lock up the apartment behind us and climb into the waiting taxi that will whisk us off to the airport and on our way to Florida. The bright sunlight piercing through the window belies the chilly day and tricks us into believing that warm summer days are already upon us, that Florida is waiting just around the corner.
Florida, the family fiefdom, land of sunshine and orange juice, beaches and flip-flops! I left Florida many moons ago, left the heat and humidity, the days with nothing to do but lie on the beach, bored and burning on sun-baked sand, or head for the mall, years of boredom and yearning to discover the world beyond, the great unknown, all of the excitement I was sure was waiting behind some closed door, adventure’s siren’s call luring me away. Yet now that I’m all grown up and living far, far away in a land of cold, gray winters and rainy springtimes, spending holidays traveling around this Europe that I now call home, I yearn for the old home state. Summer in Florida beckons, her arms open and waiting to pull me into her warm, warm embrace. Now, slipping on sandals and strolling around the mall, stopping to laugh at the puppies in the pet shop window and grabbing a sandwich at the deli, an icy cold coffee-chocolate-fattening thing at the coffee shop is like paradise, an escape from reality, from the rat race. Waking up to sunshine’s bright fingers reaching through the slats in the blinds, tickling me until I roll out of bed, the day stretching before me promising only laziness and good food.
Clem had been haranguing us for quite some time, “Why don’t we take vacations together anymore, as a family? Can’t we go to Florida this summer?” Visions of recent trips home, mornings watching TV and luxuriating in a long, slow breakfast, a bike ride before the temperature rises to sizzling, meeting mom for lunch at one of our favorite local diners and the possibility of an afternoon of shopping followed by a quick jump in brother’s pool until the sun starts to dip below boiling and the water turns ocean cool. Then evenings playing board games, laughing and yelling, good sports and poor, but all in great family fun. Even JP, Man with a Mission, one who always has to constantly be on the move, getting things done, organizing day trips and activities, a man who never rests even on holiday, JP exclaimed “this vacation is beach, pool, restaurants and supermarket. Nothing else.” Yay! The perfect Florida vacation. So off we go!
But there is one teeny-weeny little problem. Summer in Florida means shorts and swimsuits, bare legs and last year’s clothes. After a winter spent wrapped in fleece and snuggled up under blankets on the sofa in front of the TV, hiding under padded coats, scarves twined around our heads and legs tucked into stockings and socks and boots, after months of cake and cookies and comfort foods smothered in sauces and gravies and tucked under biscuits, we, suffice it to say, are in no shape to grab those summer clothes and head to the sun and the fun. Ooof! That extra padding around the midsection, the jeans mysteriously taken in by elves who apparently sneak into our apartment in the dead of the night and, scissors, needle and thread in hand, have been taking in our jeans, a nip here, a tuck there until slipping on a pair of pants around here is like trying to shove toothpaste back into the tube!
But losing weight to fit into our summer clothes is only half the problem. When we go to Florida we eat. And eat. And eat. We are the junk food deprived, we are anxious to wrap our hands around the jars and cans of specialty foods and seasonings available strictly on that side of the ocean, we crave some of that Florida seafood, battered and fried golden and crispy and served up with a side of fries followed by a slice of cool, tart Key Lime Pie. And when I return there is also a nostalgic pull towards all the fun things I ate when I was a kid, the candy and cookies, the donuts and ice cream that I just cannot find here in France. And the restaurants! The diners and old Florida seafood restaurants on the river, the pizza joint and the sandwich places. So if we don’t show up slightly underweight, then trouble will be ours for the…eating.
And then the worst of the worst happened. JP got a good scolding from his doctor! Lose the extra weight, get the cholesterol down or else! So, hands on hips, brow furrowed, he waltzed into the kitchen and called an end to the baking madness! Finger pointing, the blame and the responsibility was pushed onto my shoulders, the burden so much heavier. But, yes, we can do it! We CAN do it! So over the next few months, I will be posting low fat or fat free, lower cholesterol recipes when I come up with something that passes the taste test and gets not one but two thumbs up! And here, my friends, is the first. So hang up the swimsuit where you can see it every single day on the way towards the kitchen, where it can inspire, and play along. E-mail me your favorite low cal recipes if you like, but I invite you to share in the pleasure of satisfying yourselves with these delectable treats. One foot in the kitchen and the other foot in the warm Florida sand….
FAT-FREE QUARK MOUSSE WITH SAUTÉED APPLES AND MACAROON CRUMBLE
For the Mousse:
2 large egg whites
Dash of salt
1 ¼ cups (300 ml) O% fat fromage frais, fat-free quark or light cream (fat-free Greek yogurt will also work well but will just give you a slightly tangier mousse)
½ cup (125 ml) low-fat milk
Scant 1 tsp (2 g) agar-agar (seaweed gelatin substitute)
3 Tbs sugar, divided, + ½ tsp vanilla OR 2 Tbs sugar, divided + 1 Tbs vanilla sugar
1 small very sweet cooking apple per person
1 Tbs or more maple syrup, to taste
1 Tbs (15 g) butter or margarine
5 – 10 nut macaroons, homemade or store bought (recipe follows) *
* I use my Passover macaroons which makes this a great dessert for Passover. Feel free to use your favorite nut or sugar cookies to make the crumbs.
Place the egg whites and a dash of salt in a small mixing bowl, preferable plastic or metal, and, using an electric mixer beat the whites on low for 30 seconds then increase the speed to high. Once soft peaks begin to hold, gradually add 1 tablespoon of the white sugar as you continue to beat. Beat until stiff peaks hold. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the fromage frais or quark with the remaining 1 tablespoon white sugar and 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar (or 2 tablespoons white sugar and ½ teaspoon vanilla) until fluffy.
Place the milk and the agar-agar in a small saucepan. Slowly heat the milk over low heat, stirring with a whisk, until it comes to a low boil. Allow to gently simmer for only 30 to 45 seconds. It will begin to thicken and the agar-agar will have completely dissolved.
Immediately pour the hot milk onto the fromage frais beating on medium speed to incorporate completely. The mixture will be fluffy, thick and creamy.
Fold the stiff, sweetened egg whites into the fromage frais mixture in 3 additions until completely incorporated.
Divide the mousse into 5 or 6 individual serving glasses or dishes. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.
Prepare the apples:
Peel and core the apples and cut into small cubes. Heat a dollop of butter or margarine in a skillet and add chopped apples. Sauté, stirring and tossing frequently. Once they are heated through, drizzle on a tablespoon or so of maple syrup, to taste, depending on how sweet the apples are. Cook until the apples are sweet and tender but not mush.
Cover the mousse with a layer of the sautéed apples. Return to the refrigerator until ready to eat.
Before serving, sprinkle a tablespoon or two of crushed cookie over each mousse and apples. Serve chilled!
This recipe was delicious eaten the same day that I made it but it was even better the second and third day in the fridge (I made 6 and we each ate one 3 days in a row). Really delicious!
I have posted these delicious, chewy, nutty macaroons before, last Passover, and they are so delicious I just have to make them every year. They were perfect chopped up and tossed onto the mousse and apples like a crumble and I highly recommend it. They are easy to make, too.
The original recipe comes from Jayne Cohen’s The Gefilte Variations, a wonderful book chockfull of fabulous holiday recipes.
12 oz (340 g) ground toasted hazelnuts or a combination of ground hazelnuts and ground almonds (2 1/3 cups shelled, whole hazelnuts, toasted then ground) **
1 cup (200 g) plus 2 Tbs light brown sugar
1 - 2 tsp nut-flavored liqueur like Frangelico or Amaretto or ½ tsp almond extract
3 large egg whites
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper (you will be working in batches).
In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer or a whisk, blend the ground nuts with the sugar.
Add the Amaretto or almond extract and the 3 large egg whites.
Using a wooden spoon or rubber/silicone spatula, fold all of the ingredients together until you have a smooth paste.
Scoop out rounded tablespoons of batter and drop, 2 inches (about 4 cm) apart, onto the lined cookie sheets. With the back of a spoon or using your fingers, smooth and flatten slightly each cookie. The batter is sticky, so you may have to wet your fingers to do this.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until just dry to the touch and golden underneath and around the edges. Remove from the oven and transfer the parchment sheet to a cooling rack to cool completely. The macaroons will be too soft to move when warm, but once cooled they will slide right off of the parchment.
To use as crumble for the Mousse & Apples, simply whiz a few cookies, maybe 1 per individual serving, in a food processor until you have crumbs the size of crumble crumbs, not dust.
Sprinkle over the apples.