The Mistake

What happens when you take a bowl full of raspberries, a big drizzle of honey, and some greek yogurt and mix them together?

You should get some delicious popsicles, if you know what you’re doing. Which apparently–some days–I don’t.

I was super stoked about making these popsicles. I even talked about it over on Facebook. I decided to make raspberry and honey with greek yogurt when we got to the P-patch and saw the berry bonanza going on in my plot, and remembered the jar of deliciously floral honey we picked up in Manson when we were visiting Lake Chelan a few weeks ago.

I don’t really know what went wrong. They had all the makings of what should have been a killer batch of delicious popsicles.

Then I added some liqueur to them, which I think is where it all went downhill. Even the heady scent of good vanilla couldn’t save the day.

Usually adding a bit of booze to things is a win. With these babies though, it turned the texture to weird creamy with bits of straight up ice lodged throughout. Between the ice and the seeds in the whole berries, they were too much crunch and not enough creamy goodness. And to make matters worse, the liqueur had a weird flavor when it froze–supposedly raspberry but more like rotten grape juice.

I know, this is really making your mouth water. I bet you wish I would give you the recipe to make these tempting delights.

But, lesson learned. I mean, I did it for you, friends. I made these popsicles so you wouldn’t have to, and now we all know what happens when you mix these things together and freeze them.

Sometimes, you have to just take the things that come to you. Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of lemons. I guess that’s why I made lemonade. It’s been a lot of hit and miss these past few weeks and I’m happy to say that I have been doing my best to move on. I’m getting back on the bandwagon of deliciousness, with recipes forthcoming that a girl can be proud of.

I might still be battling the chickens to stay in their designated area. I might still be neglecting the p-patch only to show up and find that someone has stolen all of the best artichokes off of my plants. I might even continue to pretend that the weeds aren’t getting as tall as Lilli, but at least I will be taking the time to enjoy the rest of summer while it still lasts.

And with any luck, I’ll be making more popsicles. Like these ones. Or maybe these.

Or maybe, these. Hopefully they will redeem me from the circle of hell reserved for people who mess up that easiest of summer treats, the popsicle. I made these ones after realizing I still had a quarter of a watermelon in the fridge that I didn’t want to eat in it’s current form.

They are a snap to make and are highly refreshing. Not as picnic friendly as whole watermelon, but are perfect for a night on the porch with friends.

Watermelon Margarita Popsicles
makes about sixteen (16) 1/4 cup popsicles

about 4-5 cups watermelon chunks–seeds removed
1/4 cup good tequila
1/4 cup simple syrup, chilled
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

Puree the watermelon. You’ll need 3 1/2 cups of juice for this recipe, which you should get from 4-5 cups of solid watermelon, but if you need more juice, puree more melon until you have enough juice. If you happen to get more than 3 1/2 cups, just save it for something else. Non-frozen watermelon margaritas perhaps.

Add the syrup, lime juice and tequila and give it a good stir. Carefully pour juice into your popsicle mold, cover and add the sticks. Freeze until solid then run a thin stream of warm water over to remore. Store frozen popsicles in a zipper bag and freeze the remaining mixture. Before serving sprinkle a tiny pinch of crunchy sea salt over one side of the popsicle for a true margarita experience.

Champions

This week, we beat the only other undefeated team in our kickball league.

Don’t misunderstand me though, we have never actually won a kickball game, at least not this season. What we do best is tease or “taunt” the other team. (It’s sort of hard to explain. There’s lots of costumes, good natured ribbing, and drinking involved in our kickball league–we have an extraordinary amount of fun.)

My costume for kickball this week included some Mayan inspired make-up and a feather headdress. Photo credit Jillian Mednick

We’re a creative bunch, and the beginning of the week was spent gluing feathers onto headbands and spray painting liquor boxes gold. Wednesday was the big stand-off, and we came out on top. It was an awesome feeling: being at your best and getting recognition for it.

What all this creativity means though, is that I spent the week away from the kitchen and so I didn’t have much to share with you all. I managed to squeeze in some gardening time, pulling out bolted cilantro and harvesting peas, and filling in a few bare spots with veggie starts picked up on a whim. Nothing notable happened in the eating department though–mostly just nachos and salad.

We’re hosting another dinner tonight, and just sold out the next dinner (Aug 24th). This week might be the best menu yet: grilled whole trout, corn chowder, salad with beets and fresh ricotta. Lemon balm ice cream for dessert, with plum coulis.

This plum coulis is versatile. It’s simple. It’s a very good way to use some of the stone fruit that’s booming right now. The hibiscus adds a nice floral note to contrast the tartness of the plums.

Put it on ice cream, over pancakes, into sparkling water. Maybe a cocktail or two…

Plum and Hibiscus Coulis
makes about 1 quart

1 lb plums, any dark skinned variety
1/2 cups sugar (or more if your plums aren’t very sweet)
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup dried hibiscus flowers
1 cup water

Wash and pit the plums. Cut them into small pieces, about 8 per plum. Put them all into a big, heavy bottomed pot and add the water (keeps the bottom from scorching) and hibiscus flowers. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until very soft and the peels are pretty much separated from the fruit, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. Strain, pressing on the solids to extract as much juice as possible.

Return the liquid to the pot and add the honey and sugar. Bring to a boil and taste for sweetness, adding more sugar if you like. I like mine a little bit tart, it goes better with ice cream that way. Turn down the heat and simmer until the syrup has thickened up a bit, maybe 15 or 20 minutes. If you want it thicker, just boil it longer. While it simmers, stir it every once in a while to make sure it doesn’t burn. Stored in a jar in the fridge, it will keep for several weeks.

The Perfect Tart

While I wait for a copy of French Kids Eat Everything from the library (I’m still only #108 in line on 14 copies) I’ve been pretending that

A) I’m French and

B) my kids eat everything.

In reality I have some very picky eaters. Some of it I can’t control. There’s only so much you can do when you are competing against a biological mom with a very different idea of what constitutes a healthy meal plan. Lilli on the other hand I can only explain by remembering that I am actually a very picky eater myself and she is, after all, related to me.

So when I say I pretend the above things, it means that I just make whatever the hell I please from what is freshest, without any regard for if they actually will eat it.

The one thing we can almost always agree on is dessert. As in, having some.

Which leads me to lemon tart, naturally.

While I was in France all those years ago, we were lucky enough to be treated to a meal in a restaurant that was well known by the locals but probably completely off the map to anyone else. We got to sit down as a family, along with the friends my uncle was staying with, and eat a four or five course meal on a night the small bistro was normally closed. I can’t remember much about the meal. I have vague memories of the cheese at the end. What I do remember very clearly is the lemon tart that was served as dessert.

Rich eggs slowly cooked with the juice from the brightest lemons produce a sweet filling that is many things at once. A good lemon curd is astonishingly tart, but just sweet enough that you don’t really seem to notice. It’s gooey and luscious and, if done right, somehow creamy. Paired with a crust that snaps when you break it with a fork, yet completely melts in the mouth, a lemon tart is a dessert that has it all.

I don’t know why the tart stands out so much in my mind from that meal. A good lemon tart isn’t that hard to come by, even though it can go horribly wrong. The rest of the meal was probably equally superb. Maybe we had been driving a long time to get there, and the first bites were eaten in a rush. Maybe it was that phenomenon that happens at the end of the meal, where you are starting to get full so you are eating very slowly and can therefor remember more details. Maybe it was that I had just finished pastry school and was very keenly aware of excellent pastry. Who knows.

What I do know is that it will forever be a reminder of a time when my family got along a little better. Since that trip, there has been a lot of internal strife in my mom’s extended family–where the people I was travelling with hail from–and all four of us have been involved one way or another. We’re all on speaking terms now, but sometimes there is still a little bit of strain. It has saddened me countless times, and I guess there’s just something about how we all sat together and admired the simple surroundings while enjoying an exquisite meal that stuck with me in that exact moment.

I served a lemon tart for dessert at the dinner I hosted with James for all our parents a couple of weeks ago. It was paired with a delicate Earl Grey ice cream–a new twist on the classic Arnold Palmer summer beverage–and it was a hit. They were an excellent pair, but even still the tart could not compare to that perfect tart I had in France.

We’ve been enjoying the leftover curd (I always make a big batch, because I do love it so) spooned on top of the leftover ice cream. Or, if you’re me, you have been eating it straight out of the dish off of a spoon. It’s also excellent paired with just about any fruit, and since it’s summer now after all, that is how I decided it would be best to share it with you.

This particular lemon curd recipe is my favorite. There are lots of different recipes for lemon curd, but I like this one because it uses the whole egg, and for the addition of the whole lemon during the cooking process–it makes it way lemonier.

You could use a fancy tart pan, or you could use even fancier individual tartlette pans if you happen to have a large stash of them. Or you could just repurpose your muffin tin and make them that way. Personally, I think that’s a lot more fun, especially if they are for something as informal as say, an afternoon snack.

Lemon Tarts
makes 12 mini or one 8″ tart

For the crust–short dough:

3 oz granulated sugar
7 oz cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 lb all purpose flour

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend together the flour and sugar. Add in the butter, egg yolk and vanilla, and mix until the dough comes together. Place the dough on a parchment lined sheet pan and flatten into a disk. Cover and refrigerate until it is firm enough to work with, at least 30 minutes. You can make the dough in advance, just be sure and pull it out of the fridge to warm up a bit before rolling it.

Taking care not to overwork the dough or add too much flour, roll the dough out to about 1/8″ thickness, turning the disc about 1/6 of a turn after a couple of strokes with the rolling pin. Cut the dough into as many 4″ circles as you can get in one go, then carefully gather the dough into a ball. Flatten it back into a disc and put it in the fridge while you line the muffin tin. Very gently ease each circle down into a mold of the tin and using the crook of your finger, guide it into the corners. It’s ok if it isn’t perfect, but you do want the shell to be about the same height all the way around. Repeat rolling out the dough and lining the tins until you have filled the whole tray, or made as many as you would like. Place the whole tray into the freezer. Leftover dough can be stored wrapped in plastic, in a baggie, in the freezer for about a month.

Once the dough is frozen solid, line each cup with a piece of parchment paper big enough to poke up over the edge of the crust. Fill with pie weights and bake at 375 F until the edges look a nice golden brown–anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes, depending on size/thickness/oven variations (full sizes tarts take longer, and you need to remove the weights about halfway through to brown the bottom of the crust as well). Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack until the weights are cool enough to handle. Take out the weights and let the shells cool completely before filling. If making them ahead of time, store them in an airtight container in a single layer.

For the filling: (about 2 1/2 cups)

3/4 cup lemon juice from fresh lemons
zest from the lemons, as well as the juiced halves
4 eggs
12 oz granulated sugar
6 oz unsalted butter
heavy whipping cream to top the tarts

To make it sturdy enough for a large tart, where it will need to be sliced, I recommend whisking 2 Tbsp cornstarch into the sugar before you add the eggs.

Beat together the eggs and sugar (and cornstarch if using) in a heavy saucepan made of non-reactive metal (not aluminum). Add the lemon juice, zest, and juiced lemon halves. Heat to boiling over low heat and cook for about a minute, stirring constantly, until the curd starts to thicken. Strain out the zest and lemon halves into a glass or stainless steel container. Stir in the butter and allow to cool completely before filling the shells.

Using a #30 (1 oz) scoop or a large spoon, fill the shells. Whip the cream to as soft or stiff a peak as you would like, add a touch of sugar and vanilla if desired and place a generous dollop on each tart. Top with the fruit of your choice.

One!

A year ago today I was dreaming wistfully about the cabbage and mango slaw I had eaten earlier in the week. From the looks of the few pictures it was warm, but probably not quite warm enough to eat outside.

Today, I am at a wedding on the East Coast. It is murderously hot and humid and I wish I could be naked as the day I was born.

Today though, it’s this blog that is as naked–maybe even nakeder–than the day it was born. A year ago, I didn’t know what to do with the words going through my head. There were a lot of them, all jumbled up in there trying to get out. I was still so new to being at home all day with kids, and I needed a creative outlet. I chose to start writing because it seemed natural at the time: Joe had been telling me for months blogging (or something similar) would be a good way for me to do something for myself, and I finally decided he was right. I believe that my writing has improved since then. I have learned to be more honest with myself and by extension, the page.

I have learned that writing a blog post doesn’t mean that I need to bottle it up and be happy every time, and that it’s OK to tell people I write a food blog–even though I still blush on the inside when I do say it.

Back then, my camera was not yet an extension of my hand. I was still getting a feel for how it saw, and how the differences between the way it sees and they way I see could be reconciled. I still have a long long way to go, but I feel more complete now that I can make the camera do what I want instead of the other way around. Most of the time, anyway.

My birthday wish for this blog would be that I could learn to make it bigger. I wish I could foresee success in some tangible way beyond feeling good about sharing the recipes that grow out of the moral code my family lives by. I’ll be heading to the BlogHer Food conference in a couple of weeks, and hopefully I’ll pick up some useful info. The truth is though, that I kinda know what I need to do. I need to get my hands a little dirtier. I need to be even busier than I already am.

I have some things in the works that could be the solution to my quandary. I and a friend are going to be hosting some backyard dinners this summer and early fall, and I’d love for you to get in on the action. The dinners are a fundraiser of sorts, and a way for us to work towards something even bigger on down the road. They will be prix fixe, and hopefully all will have good weather. Each menu will be seasonally focused and as locally sourced as possible. We’ll be testing out some recipes that will play a part in future plans for a venue where I will be serving food to the public and doing what I do best–sharing myself over a good meal.  If you are interested in attending a dinner, please do let me know. We’d absolutely love love love to have you.

In the meantime, I have a teaser for you–a birthday cake, if you will.

This cake has it all. It’s the cake you were waiting for. The cake of your dreams. And it comes with ice cream, so what could be better than that?

This trio is the embodiment of all the best parts of spring. The chiffon cake is airy and spongy like the soil in a well tended garden after a light rain. It’s warm and billowy with a delicate crumb that’s reminiscent of the way raw silk feels on the skin. The subtle fragrance of cardamom envelops you the way a just blooming flower bed’s intoxicating aroma would.

The snap of rhubarb left raw–green and grassy and tart with that unmistakable rosy cheeked smile hiding underneath–is the perfect pairing with rich, alluring ricotta ice cream. An ice cream as silky smooth as you could hope for, but lacking the aggressive sweetness of vanilla that might overpower the delicate flavors of it’s plate mates.

This is a trio of desserts that allows you to pick and choose. You can easily leave out the ice cream and do a simple very lightly sweetened whipped cream instead. You could leave out the cardamom if you like. You could even roast the rhubarb, if you don’t think you will like it raw (though I heartily encourage you to try it that way). You can switch it out entirely for a different fruit if that would please you. The only thing this cake and it’s accompaniments begs it simply to be shared with those you love, preferably in a pool of caressing sunshine–at the end of the day or at the end of a brunch. Even, perhaps, as a mid-afternoon snack.

Cardamom Chiffon Cake with Ricotta Ice cream

For the ice cream (makes 1 Quart)

1 lb whole milk ricotta cheese, as fresh as you can find
1 cup cream
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
juice of one lemon

First, in the bowl of an electric mixer or other heat proof bowl, heat the egg yolks with a tiny splash of water and the sugar, whisking constantly, until the sugar is just dissolved. Remove from the heat and continue whisking unti it becomes light in color and thickens (ribbon stage).  Whisk until completely cool. Next, heat the honey with the cream just until melted–you don’t actually want the cream to get hot. Whisk in the ricotta, then fold in the egg mixture. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve and let chill in the refrigerator for several hours. Freeze following the instructions for your ice cream maker, then return to freezer to set. Either the custard base or the ice cream itself can be made a day in advance of when you plan to serve it.

For the cake (makes one 9-10″ cake, in a tube pan)

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/4 tsp cardamom
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup melted butter, cooled
5 eggs, separated, plus 2-3 extra egg whites
3/4 cup cold water
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 325ºF.

Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and cardamom. Make a well in the center and add the egg yolks, melted butter, water and vanilla. Next, whip the eggs whites together with the cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.

Pour the first mixture over the egg whites and slowly fold the two together with a spatula. Pour into an ungreased tube type pan and bake for 50 minutes, rotating half way though. At 50 minutes, check doneness by pressing with a fingertip–it should spring back quickly. If it’s not quite done, give it another couple of minutes, being careful not to let it over-bake or it will dry out. Remove from the oven and cool upside down on a rack.

While the cake is cooling, wash and slice the rhubarb–about 1 stalk per person. Toss with a couple of Tbsp sugar per stalk and let sit unrefrigerated until service. You can just as easily replace the rhubarb with any fresh, seasonal berries or stone fruits.

Butter and Jam

I’ve had a rush of a week. It’s been terribly crummy weather here in my hometown of Seattle, but I’ve tried not to let it slow me down. Over the weekend, in addition to all those birthday parties, I helped a friend make her television debut on our local PBS station. That busy schedule doesn’t even include the usual things like training for my tri (getting a little too close for comfort!) and kid stuff.

And, in addition to the half sheet cake I baked for one of those birthday parties, I hosted a fancy schmancy 4 course dinner for a small group of friends on Saturday night.

It was just before the weather turned sour on us, so we were able to BBQ. Thick slabs of alder plank salmon atop salads of grilled sweet corn, fresh mint, and the tiniest rocket you’ve ever seen–all brightened by a splash of grapefruit juice…I just made myself really hungry.


We also had green garlic soup with dollops of créme fraîche, and a kosher version of Salad Lyonnaise, with smoked salt almonds in place of lardons. Everything with very fresh bread and hunks of Seastack cheese, a local fave.


Plus lots and lots of wine. And, a little hoola hooping–gotta burn off all those calories somehow.

By the time we got to dessert and were opening a bottle of prosecco, it was almost 10 o’clock. But even at that late hour, a tart this good is hard to say no to, especially since we had an influx of fresh faces just for our sweet course–friends who couldn’t make it for the dinner but wanted in on the action nonetheless.

This dessert is for days when you want something that feels fancy but you can’t devote a lot of time to it. It’s simple steps come together quickly and leave room for breathers, so you don’t have to work start to finish–you can actually make all of the components ahead of time.

Since I’ve been on a rhubarb kick lately, what with it being the only fruit us Northwesterners get until about June (when the berries really get going) I had loads of it in the fridge–stolen from a dear friend’s mother who nurtures a plant the size of a wheelbarrow but whose family won’t touch the stuff. I chose to do the rhubarb two ways, both in the filling and some roasted on top, but you can just as easily leave off the topping.

The real nitty gritty is in the filling itself. Rich and buttery but also light and fruity, it’s a flavor twist not often found so effortlessly combined. In a lightly sweet butter crust, it all pulls together to convince people you’ve pulled out all the stops even if you really didn’t have the time. I’ve even made it again once since Saturday, wanting to use up the tart dough and brown butter since we’ll be in Baltimore for a wedding this weekend. It was the perfect treat for the end of a “family meeting” on a rushed weeknight–just right to slow us down a bit before moving on to the next task. There was even a slice leftover for after lunch the next day. Paired, of course, with a little spritzer made using the leftover syrup from poaching the fruit. Bonus: I didn’t even feel that indulgent, since it’s so heavy on the fruit.

This tart might be just the ticket to showcase some seasonal fruit as an endcap to your Memorial Day plans. Mine, however, involve sitting around a table covered in blue crabs. And plenty of Old Bay seasoning.

One note: I did make my crust from scratch, but I don’t want to overwhelm the simplicity of the tart so I recommend you just plunk in a premade pie crust, or you can use whatever recipe is your go-to tart shell recipe. Mine is almost all butter with a bit of cream cheese, and very lightly sweetened, with eggs as part of the liquid. I’ll have to share it someday, but for now–for “easy as pie” pie–use whatever you like.

Butter and Jam Tart
makes one 9″ tart (I used a rectangular pan, but there will be plenty of filling for round if that’s all you have)

For the “jam” filling:

1 lb fruit such as rhubarb or stone fruits, cleaned and cut into large chunks
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar

Toss the fruit in the sugar and let sit at room temp for about an hour or so. Once the juices from the fruit have combined with the sugar and it’s all nice and syrupy, toss it all into a pan and add a splash of water. Cook over medium heat just until the fruit starts to get soft, then strain out (reserve the liquid for cocktails or to combine with sparkling water). Put the fruit into a container and refrigerate until cool if you’re making it ahead. Otherwise, you can use it warm and refrigerate and leftovers, which would be excellent in yogurt or oatmeal, or to top waffles.

For the brown butter:

1 stick unsalted butter
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
splash vanilla extract
couple good grates of fresh nutmeg

In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter until the milk solids start to turn brown and it gets foamy. As soon as some of the foam starts to die away and it’s a nice golden brown color, remove it from the heat. It will continue to cook a bit in the pan, so don’t let it go too far or it will burn.

In a large, heatproof bowl, combine the other ingredients with a whisk. Once the butter is done browning, add directly to the egg mixture, whisking all the time to ensure that the hot butter doesn’t cook the eggs. The brown butter filling can also be made ahead. Just pop it in the microwave (or into a saucepan) for a minute to warm it up a bit, then give it a good stir before adding it to the tart.

When you are ready to assemble your tart, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line a tart pan with the shell of your choice and pop into the freezer or fridge for a few minutes to chill the dough while the oven heats. Once it’s good and firm and the oven is completely hot, put the tart shell on a baking sheet and add your fillings. First spoon a layer of jam into the tart, filling it not quite halfway full and making swoopy places for the brown butter to fill in. Then, pour over your brown butter filling. Be sure to leave a little bit of room at the top when you pour in the filling, as it will rise a bit as it bakes and you don’t want it to spill over the sides of the pan–it will make the tart very hard to get out later.

Bake the tart until the top is completely set and a nice brown color. While it bakes, you can roast more fruit to spoon on top. Just wash and chop about 3/4 cup or so of fruit per serving of tart, and toss in a little sugar. Roast on a baking sheet until it starts to caramelize and is nice and soft. Serve at room temp.

The Nature of Comfort

The other day I found myself singing a song to Lilli that I never in a million years ever expected to be singing to her. It was “Getting in Tune” by The Who.

I’m not going to lie: I am a big Who fan. I even have a tattoo inspired by Pete Townshend. And no, I am not joking either.

I am also not joking when I tell you that I recently started making my own brown sugar. Because I didn’t want to pay for someone else to mix molasses into my white sugar when I am perfectly capable of doing that myself. An extra bonus to saving money is that it tastes more molassesey. I don’t think that’s a word, but it is a real thing.

Anyway. That song isn’t really a kids song, but it did fit the moment. We were not getting along particularly well, and then she asked me to sing her a song and that’s what came out. (By asked me to sing her a song, I mean that she picked up a candlestick, put it to her mouth like a microphone and said “do, do, do” and then put it up to my mouth. Toddlers are hilarious.)

The song was an opportunity for me to take a breath and get closer to her, which was what she needed in the first place so that she wouldn’t be so toddler-ish.I took my cue.I’m trying very hard to be a better mother than I feel like I am some days. I know this is all part of parenthood, but for somebody who has been doing it for an extra 6 years before I ever actually became a real-life mom, I get down on myself because I am a perfectionist and I feel like I should be doing it better already. Sometimes I have to remind myself that it doesn’t really matter at all if I’m perfect, and that really, nothing is.

(That is sort of a confusing sentence. Sorry. I’m totally failing at having a working brain right now. Bare with me…it’ll pay off in the end.)

What it really comes down to is comfort. I am uncomfortable feeling vulnerable, which is what being a parent to kids who aren’t my own makes me feel. They are uncomfortable feeling close to someone who isn’t their actual Mom, so they take it out on me. Lilli gets uncomfortable when she sees that there is tension between the boys and I, and then she acts out because she doesn’t know how else to handle the situation. And then I fall back into my very old and very ingrained habits and seek out comfort the only way I know how. To Eat.

I’m very good at comforting with food. I comfort myself with it, and I comfort others with it. I have slowly started to back away from the tendency to comfort with typical comfort foods and to try and replace them with snacks that are lighter, or even walks. I am struggling lately though, not least of all because I sense that others in my life also need comfort.

This week I made a pie for a friend who recently returned home from a prolonged anti-vacation. He was stuck somewhere he didn’t want to be stuck, and he was stuck there for a long time without any friends of family to feed him. So when he got back, we decided to fill him with comfort by being there to entertain him with wii Pictionary and Thanksgiving-esque foods.

I brought dessert, of course.

There is nothing about apple pie that doesn’t say comfort. Especially not this apple pie. This is a pie that is rich enough to take you shopping at all the bougie Pacific Place shops and then take you to a light supper and the symphony after. But, it isn’t so rich that you’ll feel weird wearing holey jeans while you eat it. The tart green apples are just beyond soft, and the all butter crust has everything you could ever want–as long as all you could ever want is deliriously perfect pie crust with no lard in sight. The extra molassesy brown sugar doesn’t hurt either.

I recommend that you do like I did, and share this pie with many people. Otherwise, you might need a more comfortable pair of pants, and that’s just not the sort of comfort I am going for here. I think I’m going to share it again this weekend, with my Mother and Grandmother, who appreciate good pies and are my original comforts.

Deep Dish Caramel Apple Pie with Oatmeal Streusel

For the Crust:
(Totally optional. If you don’t want to make pie crust from scratch, just add the cinnamon from this recipe into the filling itself)

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes and frozen
6 oz all purpose flour
1 big pinch salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4-1/3 cup ice water

For the Filling

3 lbs tart green apples, such as granny smith
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
pinch salt

For the Streusel Topping:

1/2 cup each brown sugar, all purpose flour and rolled oats mixed together in a small bowl. Add 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon. Take about 4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) very warm-melty butter and mix with your fingertips to combine, until the topping starts to form lumps that stick together when you squish them. (Don’t hate. Squish is a scientific term, I can assure you.) Set aside.

For the Crust:

In a food processor, pulse the dry ingredients for a few seconds, just to combine. Add the butter and pulse about 5-6 times, until the chunks have become about the size of garbanzo beans. Next, add a couple Tbsp of water and pulse again 2-3 times. Keep adding water and pulsing just once or twice until the dough starts to look lumpy and the largest butter pieces are about the size of small peas. Dump all the dough into a quart size sip-top bag and mush it all together until it roughly forms a disc about 5″ across. Set in the fridge to chill and relax for at least 1/2 hour, but up to overnight. (The dough can be frozen for up to a couple of months at this point, if need be.)

When you are ready to assemble your pie, take the dough out of the fridge and put it between 2 sheets of parchment paper at least 12″ square. Roll out the dough, making 1/4 turns every couple of strokes with the rolling pin. Use flour if the dough starts to stick to the paper too much, but you want to limit the amount of extra flour as much as possible. Once the dough reaches about 11″ across, remove it from the paper and gently fold in into quarters to transfer it to a 9″ deep dish pie pan, or a 9″ cake pan with at least 2″ sides. Let it hang loosely as you ease it down into the corners of the pan, and then leave the excess dough hanging from the edges. Put the whole thing into the fridge while you prepare the filling.

For the Filling:

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place a rack in the top third and another just underneath that.

Peel and core the apples, and cut them into 8ths. In a heavy bottomed skillet, melt the butter and sugar until golden and bubbling. Add the apples, cream, flour and salt all at once. Stir quickly with a wooden spoon to coat the apples and encourage the caramel to emulsify. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until the apples start to become tender, about 5-6 minutes.

Pour it all into your pie crust, being sure to scrape all the caramel out. Put the topping over the apples, then fold the overhanging pie crust up over the edges of the pie. Bake on the top rack with a cookie sheet underneath to catch drippings, about 45 minutes, then check for doneness. You want the apples to be soft enough for a fork to pierce with no resistance, but not so soft they’re mushy. Rotate if necessary for even browning, and give it 5-10 minutes more if you feel like it needs it.

Allow the pie to cool for several hours before slicing, to let the caramel set up and for the pectin in the apples to come back together a bit. I heartily encourage you to eat this pie a la mode, even though a slice by itself is plenty indulgent on it’s own. After all, if you’re going for comfort, you might as well go all the way.

World Party Day: Snack Time

This is a post for World Party Day, which is coming up April 3rd. If you don’t know much about it, you can find out more here, and catch up on the previous tutorials at Big Things, who are organizing this whole big shindig.

Let’s face it you guys. It’s not a party without some snacks.

You can forget about filling up on candy from the piñata, because that will only take you so far. A delicious breakfast is a good way to start the Day, but late in the night you might need a little something extra. Well, there’s always bags of chips and hummus…But that’s just not REAL party fare, am I right? And who wants to spend hours in the kitchen making snacks before hand (well, besides me…)?

Here is a snack that is super easy to make and IT’S TWO FOR ONE.

That’s right! You can do the work for just one awesome home made snack and still get two different ones. That’s what I call a win-win.

We’re gonna make little snacky bread puddings. They’re snazzy snacks. We’re gonna make 1 batter, then split it in half and flavor it 2 different ways. This version is vegetarian, so you won’t have to worry about all those non-meat eating party guests. BUT–this is a super versatile recipe. If you don’t like the add-ins I have here, you can swap them out for similar ingredients, just be sure to keep the same ratio.

Here’s what you need:

1 1/2 loaves of bread: any bread will work, but decent bread is better. Not too fresh now, you want the bread to be a little bit thirsty.
4 cups of whole milk, or even 1/2 & 1/2
4 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar plus 2 Tbsp
1 cup dried cherries
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 14oz package of a savory veggie sausage, I used Tofutti brand Italian style
3-4 good sized sprigs fresh thyme or 1 1/2 tsp dried
1/2 cup or so sliced raw almonds
salt and pepper to taste, plus a pinch of salt for the custard

Here’s what you do:

Put on a fancy apron, if you’ve got one.

If the crust on the bread is particularly tough or thick, cut it off. If your bread isn’t sliced, use a serrated knife to cut it into good thick slices, maybe 3/4″-1″ thick. Now either cut the slices into cubes or get down and dirty with your bread and tear it into bite sized chunks. Divide the chunks in half, and put each half into a big bowl.

Chop up the cherries and add them to one of the bowls of bread. Add the thyme to the other bowl–if you’re using fresh, strip the leaves from their stems first.

Next, heat up the milk to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt in there. When it’s good and warm but not boiling, pour out 2 cups (important to measure here) and add that to the bowl with the thyme. Add the sugar and almond extract to the remaining 2 cups of milk, give it a good stir to dissolve the sugar and then pour it into the bowl with the cherries.

Put a plate into each bowl and weigh it down with a can or something heavy. You want the bread to be immersed in the liquid as much as possible.

Let the bread sit for an hour or so. Then, preheat your oven to 350 F and put racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven.

When you’re almost ready to bake these babies, take out your sausage and heat up a skillet. Slice the sausages into 1/4″ rounds and toss em in. Let them get good and brown on at least one side, then turn off the skillet and set aside.

Grease 2 regular muffin tins with butter or pan spray. Don’t use cupcake liners to bake the puddings in, you want them to get brown and crusty from contact with the metal pan. Save the cups for later when you serve the puddings.

Now, take the “lids” off your bread and give each one a good stir. Crack 2 of the eggs into a little bowl and break them up with a fork. Add them to one of the bowls with bread. Repeat for the other bowl. Stir the eggs in really well, so that no streaks of egg are visible. Add the sausage and the crumbled feta to the pudding with the thyme, then a big dose of fresh cracked black pepper and an extra pinch of salt, and toss to coat.

Fill each tin with one type of pudding. You want each cup to be full and heaped out of it’s little well. For the cherry almond puddings, sprinkle a pinch of sliced almonds on top–they’ll get nice and toasty when they bake. If you have leftover bread mixture, that’s OK, just bake more once the first batches are done.

If you have large roasting pans, you can put each muffin tin into a roasting pan and add some boiling water until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the cups. You can skip this if you don’t have pans big enough–the puddings might not stay as moist but they’ll still be delicious, I promise.

Bake for about 15 minutes then spin them around, switching the top pan for the bottom one and vice versa. Bake for about 15 more minutes, until the tops look nice and brown. Let the puddings cool for a few minutes, then pop them out of the muffin tins so that they don’t steam themselves as they cool. If you need to bake more mix, be sure to re-grease the pans and fill the wells in the middle of the tin first so the puddings don’t burn before they’re done baking.

This recipe makes about 2 dozen, and it can be made a day in advance–just wrap the puddings in foil and reheat for 10 minutes or so in a low (250 F) oven before serving. They’re good at room temp though too.

Butter Sold Separately

Sometimes you need to buy something that you wouldn’t normally consider buying. Like non-fat milk.

Wait, I never buy that. Ok. A better example might be kirsch, which I found myself buying last week and I chose to buy Monarch brand (gasp!). I know. I’m sorry. It was the only brand that came in a pint. I just couldn’t bear the thought of flambéing a cherry tart with 35 year old cognac, which was the only thing alcoholic enough to catch on fire that I had in the house.

One other thing I don’t buy very often is new cookbooks, unless they are for cookbook club. But this book was published recently, and I decided I totally needed to buy it.

It has some very delicious recipes in it. Most of them have butter and sugar and a lot of them have chocolate. All of them definitely have love and devotion written between the lines.

My copy already has several pages covered in grease and grit, even though the book is still practically brand new. I’ve cooked or sampled about a dozen recipes from the book, and I’ve loved almost every one. It’s been hard for me to stick to the recipe sometimes, mostly because it’s hard for me to stick to any recipe exactly as printed. I did use ingredients that I’d like to think Joy would have approved of, like adding coconut and cherries to the cinnamon rolls in place of raisins and nuts.

My favorite so far has been the carrot cake pancakes. I am always looking for a way to A) let myself eat cake for breakfast and B) get that family of mine to eat veggies for breakfast. A conundrum, I know. Those things seem at odds with each other, but Joy got it figured out for sure. These pancakes are superb, but I won’t go into detail about them because somebody else already did that for us. I might skip the cream cheese topping next time though, as it did turn out to be a little sweet for our breakfast time crew. Turns out feeding kids frosting for breakfast makes for an interesting morning.

One of the recipes that is stellar in a more subtle “you’ll eat me someday and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner” kind of way is the Grapefruit Soufflé Pudding. It’s sort of a mouthful to say, and when you get a mouthful of the actual pudding you will be totally glad you came across it.

The crackle of the minuscule bubbles in the souffléd top hide a bottom layer of custard that’s perfectly smooth and creamy without being too rich. The grapefruit notes snap at your tastebuds and leave a heady floral aroma on the palette. You can make one big one, or you can make some little ones. You can turn it into a pie if you make in on 3/14, like I did. You could share it with your friends or you could eat it all by yourself and only feel a little guilty for not sharing it with your friends.

Of all this things I’ve so far tried from the book, this one is the least assuming but absolutely one of the best. I was glad I had some grapefruit just waiting to be turned into pudding. And I can’t wait to try more of the recipes–a lot of the pages have dog ears, so I know it’ll be making many appearances on my kitchen counter. For instance, I’m trying to figure out how to make the chili cheese fries kosher for passover, just so I have something to look forward to that week.

Grapefruit Soufflé Pudding in a Tart
(reprinted with Joy’s permission and adapted just a hint for the dishwasher’s sake)
makes one 9″ tart with a bit leftover OR one 9″ pan of straight pudding OR 6 individual dishes

1 9″ tart crust’s worth of pate sucrée (optional)
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 Tbsp grapefruit zest
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
3 large eggs, separated (I used 4 smallish ones and it still turned out great)
1/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 cup whole milk
1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325ºF with a rack in the middle spot. This is the part I changed, which is optional: Line the pan with a thinly rolled tart shell and par bake it like you would for just about any tart. Don’t bake it all the way as it will bake the rest of the way with the filling inside. The rest of this recipe is pure Joy. (pun intended)

Place 3/4 cup of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large metal or glass bowl) with the grapefruit zest. Using the back of a spoon, grind the zest into the sugar until very fragrant–this releases the essential oils. Add the butter and beat with a paddle attachement (or your hand mixer or a wooden spoon) for a minute, just until combined. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating until fluffy and lighter in color, about 2 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the flour and salt and combine thoroughly. Next add the grapefruit juice and milk in turns and mix until well combined. The mixture will be loose and soupy. Transfer this mixture to another large bowl and set aside. Wash and dry the bowl, you need it to be very clean to whip the egg whites.

Now, add the egg whites and beat on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Slowly beat in the remaining 2 Tbsp of white sugar. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, in three batches. Be very gentle, you’re not trying to break down the eggs whites.

Carefully pour the batter into the tart shell and slide into the oven on a cookie sheet. Any leftover batter can be baked as follows, which is the way the original recipes call for it to be baked:

Carefully pour the batter into the pans greased with butter. The batter won’t rise much while baking, so it’s OK if they are pretty full. Place the dish with the batter inside into a larger baking dish with high sides. Slide the larger baking dish (with the smaller ones inside) into the oven, leaving a corner sticking out. Carefully pour boiling water into the larger baking dish, being careful not to splash the soufflé. Fill the pan until the water reaches about halfway up the sides of the soufflé dish, and then carefully slide the whole thing the rest of the way into the oven.

Bake for 25-30 minutes for small dishes, or up to 40 minutes for one large dish. My tart baked for about the same as a large dish would bake for. The top of the souffle will be just barely browned on top and a skewer inserted in the middle will come out clean. Serve the pudding warm or at room temp. (We even tried some cold the next day and it was still excellent, though it’s best the day it’s made.)

A Little Taste of Childhood

When I was little, I would sometimes get “invited” to my Grandmother’s house for tea parties. The kind of tea party where you had to wear a frilly dress and act like a lady. Which would not have been a problem for me, because when I was a little girl I was about as girly as you could get. Hair like Goldilocks and a wardrobe to match. There was definitely a period of at least a year (probably longer) where I refused to wear pants unless there was a skirt over the pants. Sometimes I wonder what happened to that girl?

Anyway, back to the tea parties.

There would be fancy cucumber sandwiches–you know, the kind with the thin crustless bread, lots of butter and a smattering of the best French sea salt. Probably quiche as well, rich but light, and filled with things like asparagus and salty cheeses. Salads of delicate greens, thinly sliced radishes and green onions, drizzled with vinaigrettes aromatic with fresh herbs and honey.

And sweets, of course.

Looking back, I probably didn’t even like to eat all of those foods. I was a pretty picky kid. I might have eaten sandwiches and sweets alongside my tea (which was probably more milk and sugar than tea to begin with). I remember the teas as being held in great big dining rooms filled with light that bounced a hundred ways off the clean china, the silver shining dully against pale linens. In reality they were held most often in humble but beautifully decorated spaces that were big because we had a big family. And they gave my grandmother an excuse to dote over me. I especially liked the dressing up, part, obviously. And the dramatics. I was kind of dramatic.

I can’t wait to have tea parties with Lilli, it’s gonna be so awesome and nostalgic.

In the meantime, I have to content myself with concocting ways to have fancy tea in a grown up fashion. Another half birthday (mine, yesterday) was as good an excuse as any, I supposed.

One more tiny tale about me and childhood: I can’t recall getting to have very many birthday parties at school. I have a summer birthday and was cursed to also have a half birthday that only comes every 4 years. So if my class was the kind of class that celebrated summer birthdays on your half birthday, I was out of luck twice. They only way I ever got a party was one of those lame “all the summer birthdays at once” sort of parties. And let’s not fool ourselves, friends, those parties are NO FUN if you are a kid and you want your birthday to be all about you.

So this year my half birthday got marked, just like Joe’s. I’ll be 30 in August, so there’s no better way, really, to draw out the time until that big 3-0 while at the same time challenging it to meet me head on.

Not that I actually had a party mind you. Fancy dessert is good enough for me.

These little party puddings did not disappoint, either. It has seemed to me that tea inspired desserts have been popping up here and there lately, and I have to admit I’ve wanted to try my hand at these little puddings for quite a while. I think I bought the fancy tea way back in December.

I adore Earl Grey tea. Bergamot is my dream scent. If I could pick one scent to have around me constantly for the rest of my natural life it would be bergamot. Or maybe Daphne, but that’s not really an edible so it doesn’t count here.

These little custards are in the classic French tradition of which I know my Grandmother would wholeheartedly approve. They are soft and creamy, melting on the tongue to leave a trace on the breath of warm citrus and floral notes that could come easily straight from the month of June, but are also appreciated on dreary Winter days like we’ve been having here this week.

Earl Grey Pots de Creme
makes 6

1 cup half & half
1 cup milk
½ cup sugar
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
½ tsp lemon zest, finely grated
⅛ tsp salt, optional
3 Tbsp Earl Grey tea, or 3 tea bags (less if you like weaker tea)

Bring tea, cream, half & half, and lemon zest to a simmer. Steep for 30 minutes, then strain out tea.

Preheat oven to 325ºF.

Whisk sugar, salt, and egg yolks until smooth. Reheat cream to just a bare boil, then slowly add to the egg mixture while whisking constantly but slowly.

Place 6 small custard cups or other small ramekins in a high sided baking pan large enough so that the cups won’t touch. Carefully pour hot water into the dish until the cups are immersed halfway up the sides, being careful not to get any water in the cups themselves. Divide the custard mixture between the cups and remove any big bubbles that have formed on the top.

Some might cover the pan with foil, but if you “forget”, it’s not that big of a deal. Bake for ½ hour, or until the custard is set around the edges but still loose in the middle. It will continue to cook as it cools.

Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Chill for several hours, or overnight.

Accidental Hiatus of Love

I realized sometime in the last couple of days that I had put myself on an accidental hiatus. We went for a weekend away and that pretty much sealed the deal.

It was actually pretty awesome, and definitely much needed.

I spent a lot of time in a hot tub and sitting in front of a fire, mostly accompanied by a large glass of wine.

And a lot of time with Joe and Lilli, just the three of us in a big quiet house. We got there early and were the last to leave. I didn’t want it to end.

This week has been busy for us, as usual, but with more special reasons than your average busy week. It was a certain lovey romantical type of holiday, for one. And two, Joe’s sister is here visiting from Israel with her fiancé (They hit the courthouse yesterday, so engagement is a thing of the past for them. Mazel Tov!).

When Monday rolled around I realized I needed to grocery shop in a bad sort of way, and that I had yet to unpack anything red or pink or tissue papery in nature for Valentine’s card making. I really really wanted to make these once I saw them, and seriously considered it for about 2 minutes before I realized I would have had to have started in like December to actually be able to finish them in time. Ha.

I did however find time to make the one thing that Joe requested and I knew I couldn’t turn down, especially since he also requested them as a Hanukkah gift and I never got around to making them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peanut butter cups. For two.

Even though I actually let him eat them all because I, well, bought myself a box of chocolates Monday and they were pretty much half gone by Tuesday night.

The peanut butter cups really do make a nice treat for two people though, if you make them according to this recipe. I bought heart shaped silicone baking cups the first time I made these, which was for our second Valentine’s Day together. You can  use regular old paper baking cups too, and that can make it a good way to dress them up for just about any treat giving occasion.

Peanut Butter Cups for Two
makes 4 cups

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup heavy whipped cream, measured when whipped
sugar to taste
1 lb good quality chocolate, tempered

You will need to temper the chocolate for this recipe. If you aren’t familiar with this process, there are lots of great how-to’s floating around the internet. Try here and here.

Using a clean pastry brush paint the insides of 4 regular sized cupcake cups with a layer of tempered chocolate. You want the coating to be thick enough that you cannot see light through, but not so thick that it will be hard to bite into. Pay special attention to the crease of the cup, as sometimes an air pocket will form there, where filling can later seep out. Put the mold on a flat surface in the freezer to allow the chocolate to set up.

While the chocolate sets, mix your filling. Fold together the whipped cream and peanut butter and then sweeten until you like the taste. I prefer mine a little bit less sweet than commercial brands so that it tastes more like peanut butter and less like sugar. You can use either powdered or granulated sugar here. Granulated will break down the whipped cream a little more and the filling will be softer, while powdered will make it a little thicker, more like a paste. The difference is pretty slight though, unless you add a lot of sugar.

Take your molds out of the freezer and fill each cup, leaving about 1/8″ headspace at the top. Make sure the top of the filling is nice and smooth, with no peaks sticking up over the top of the cup edge. This will ensure that you get a complete seal when you put the top layer of chocolate on.

Spoon a little bit of chocolate into the top of each cup, and, using a small chef’s palette knife (offset spatula to some) smooth it out and seal it all the way up to the edge of the cup. Add a bit more if you need it. It’s ok if you have a little extra, just scrape it off using the edge to help you.

Pop back in the freezer for about 15 minutes, then you should be able to remove them from their molds. If you are using decorative paper cups, you can skip this step and just put them into the fridge until you are ready for them.

Now go share them with your honey! (You might need a glass of milk…)

Stored in the fridge, they will last about 5 days.