A few days ago, as I was being interviewed by Raleigh’s News Observer, I began thinking about inspiration. “What inspires you to cook?” is a question I get asked a lot. Right at that moment, I thought of these pixie tangerines we had just brought home days earlier. Anything this sweet, fragrant and beautiful to look at is always one of my biggest inspirations. I don’t always know what I will be making with them and in my mind, that is part of the fun.
During my years in professional kitchens, menus were always strongly driven by seasons. Perhaps because I grew up close to nature and because we only ate what was in season, I cannot think of produce or cooking in any other way.
Every Sunday, my dad drove us to his parents farm in Zeberio. They grew most everything they ate and always had crates full of extras for us to take home. I remember the vivid smell of leeks that permeated my dad’s car and lingered for days. Summer was vibrant with strawberries, summer squash, heirloom tomatoes, peas, figs… Winter was hearty with leeks, cabbage, red beans, potatoes… and a small orange tree that yielded fruit late into Spring. That’s where my inspiration comes from.
“I feel like flan”, I told my mom. Farmer Sal’s eggs with their deep orange yolks were calling my name. We steeped cream and milk with the pixie tangerine zest, a bit of lemon zest, cinnamon and fennel seeds for this little pots de creme. Not quite flan, but we always seem to call any custard flan, whether it has caramel or not.
We spent the whole afternoon at home playing with M., baking, reading and eating this little custard jars.
I had bookmarked Tara’s tangerine and almond cake recipe a few weeks before and this was the perfect time to make it. A flourless, super moist cake that I adapted to incorporate pistachios and a gluten-free crumb topping. Barely had any time to photograph them as they were our snack for the afternoon we spent strawberry picking.
And then… there’s our little “txinbito”, like we call her. “Jateko modukoa ama”.
Pixie Tangerine and Fennel Pots de Creme
makes about 10 small ramekins
500 ml milk
500 ml heavy cream
Zest of 6 pixie tangerines or 3 regular ones
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
3 egg yolks
175 grams sugar
Heat the milk, heavy cream, zest, cinnamon and fennel seeds. Steep for about 10 minutes.
Whisk the eggs, egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl. Temper in the hot liquid. Strain through a fine sieve.
Pour the custard into ramekins. Place ramekins on a baking tray. Bring the tray to a preheated 300F oven. Pour hot water in the baking tray about 1″ high. Bake the pots de creme until set. Time will vary depending on the size of the ramekin.
Let them cool and refrigerate them for up to 3 days. We seem to like them best at room temperature but that might be just us.