• Make good use of the barbecue this season. NYT’s minimalist Mark Bittman offers 101 quick hits on the grill, from grilled lime to squeeze over grilled buttered corn to slowly grilled fresh figs stuffed with cheese. Some of it seems a bit overdone, such as grilling avocadoes for guacamole, but there are so many other good ideas here, it’s easy to dismiss the few questionable ones.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/30/dining/30mini.html?ref=dining

  • An unusual way to highlight the tempting  bounty of fresh strawberries is in a cheesecake that uses soft goat cheese instead of cream cheese and tops it with a balsamic-berry sauce.

http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo-summerpierec2-3jul02,0,4017525.story

  • Gourmet Magazine is being revived as an online entity this fall, apparently with an app for the I-Pad. But what about the rest of  us who haven’t bought into the latest Apple gotta-have? I was a long-time subscriber and loved what Ruth Reichl had done with the magazine. No word yet on whether she’ll be involved with the new online entity. “It will be free to download, with registration required, followed by paid content options,” says an announcement on the website. Mmmm, paid content options: is the “everything’s free online” ride finally ending?

http://live.gourmet.com/

Crème Brûlée: More than 50 Decadent Recipes
By Dominique and Cindy Duby
Published by Whitecap 2008, softcover, $19.95;  128 pages

THE PARTICULARS
Who needs this book? Dessert lovers will drool at the fabulous variations of what translates literally from the French as “burnt cream,” actually a rich, eggy custard topped with caramelized sugar. Crème brûlée is the ultimate dessert: cool and sophisticated as a well-dressed Parisian, a velvet glove of flavour and texture. You just feel so worldly eating this stuff.

Skilled or novice? Fresh eggs are the basis for most of the custards and this can be tricky for a  novice. But there are plenty of tips on how to successfully make such a custard from scratch. Just read through the section called Crème Brûlée 101. There’s also a Chapter at the back on how to design your own brûlée by combining favourite flavours, complete with charts on how much of your ingredient to add, plus a recipe for the classic basic brulee.

Must-have equipment: Although an oven broiler can do the job, a small culinary blowtorch allows you to make a perfect caramelized sugar topping more easily for your creamy masterpiece. You’ll also need heatproof ramekins or small bowls.

Downsides? It’s hard to find fault with White Chocolate and Green Tea Brûlée, or Apricot Saffron Brûlée or Carrot, Cardamom and Mango Brûlée. But a sous vide (only professional chefs are set up to use this method) brûlée and a brûlée ice cream made with dry ice (Kids! Don’t try this at home!) are just a little over the top. And adding a few recipes for savoury brûlées that are essentially crustless quiches with crumb and cheese toppings may be stretching the topic a little. But these are small quibbles. Bottom line: This is a wonderful book for all puddin’ heads.

THE SCOOP
Ever since my first bite some years ago of their Wild Sweets chocolates, I have been a big fan of  Cindy and Dominique Duby, master chocolatiers who conduct their wizardry from Richmond premises that are laboratory, kitchen and headquarters for their hand-made products. There, they constantly push the envelope on flavours and textures, experimenting with new combinations and methods and coming up with such ravishingly delicious results that they are international food celebrities, lauded by the likes of Chicago super-chef Charlie Trotter, and receiving coverage for their yummy creations on CNN, CBS and Dailycandy.com.

This is their third, and probably for home cooks, most accessible book. And I have to admit that the Morels and Asparagus with Stilton Brûlée, topped with crispy pancetta, does get the juices flowing, even if it is more quiche than custard. But for now, we’ll focus on the dessert end of things. Here’s a recipe from the book.

RHUBARB MARSHMALLOW BRÛLÉE
Rhubarb, a member of the buckwheat family, is widely available right now, though our local strawberries —  the imports are just not in the same league — won’t be ready for another month or so.

Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote
2 tbsps. granulated sugar
½ tsp. powdered pectin
2/3 cup rhubarb juice, made in a juicer with fresh or frozen rhubarb
1 tbsp. lemon juice
8 medium strawberries, hulled and quartered

Custard
1 cup whole milk
4 tbsps. granulated sugar, divided
3 tbsps. + 2 tsps. custard powder (like Bird’s) or cornstarch
1 large egg
¼ tsp. cinnamon

Garnish
12 large marshmallows, cut in half
Caramel nuts made with almonds (recipe follows)

For the compote, combine sugar and pectin in a small saucepan. Stir in rhubarb and lemon juice and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook stirring constantly, until it is reduced by half. Remove from heat and let cool at room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours (overnight is best). Just before serving, gently fold in strawberries.

For the custard, scald milk and 2 tbsps. of the sugar in a medium heavy saucepan by heating over medium heat until tiny bubbles appear around the edge and milk is steaming. Remove from heat.

Whisk the remaining 2 tbsps. sugar, custard powder or cornstarch, egg, and cinnamon in medium bowl until well combined. Whisking constantly, slowly add hot milk mixture. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve back into the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly to prevent scorching, until custard thickens and forms bubbles. Remove from heat. Divide mixture evenly among 4 ramekins.

Place marshmallows over warm custard. Spoon Rhubarb-Strawberry compote in between marshmallows, dividing evenly. Ignite blowtorch and caramelize marshmallows until golden brown, moving the torch constantly so marshmallows don’t burn. Top each custard with some Caramel Almonds.

Serves 4.

Caramel Nuts
1/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
3.6 oz. (100g) unsalted nuts, such as almonds, pecans, pistachios or walnuts
Preheat oven to 350F.

Bring sugar, water and nuts to a boil in small saucepan over high heat. Boil for 2 minutes, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve discarding liquid.

Spread nuts on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper and bake until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes. Let cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

From Crème Brûlée