Picnic Sandwiches: French Edition

Preparing for the 4th of July in Seattle usually means making sure your raincoat is still waterproof and looking into putting a tarp up for your BBQ attendees to stand under while they inhale the intoxicating smoke from your grill. Every third year or so it’s actually nice on the holiday itself, but usually it doesn’t start warming up significantly until the 5th or later.

You don’t have to take my word for it though. Here is an actual weather forecast for Seattle, current as of this morning.

In other words, roasting a chicken for dinner is still a totally viable option right up through the first month of summer.

This is great news for people who like picnics, because cold chicken makes excellent picnic food. And, unless you’re feeding a huge family, you will probably have some chicken leftover to turn into a baguette sandwich that even the most jaded French picnicker would be glad to indulge in. Especially if it’s a fancy picnic held on a holiday.

When we had left La Rochelle and were in Saint Simeux, where the chateau my uncle was living in with friends was located, we realized how ridiculously hot it was. We had been spoiled by the cool breezes blowing off the Atlantic, and now were being inundated with weather at least 15-20 degrees hotter than it would have been back home at that time of year.

It inspired us to dine al fresco more often than not–taking meals in any shady spot we could find, dining late into the evening as the stifling air became more and more bearable. Aided of course by lots of pineau, produced by the owner of the vineyards nextdoor, chilled to perfection so that beads of condensation would roll lazily down the sides of your glass between sips.

I can remember roasting a chicken at least once while we were there–even in the tremendous heat. For us it didn’t go as far–there were 6 adults dining that evening, so one was just enough. The dogs probably nibbled the leftovers, and we didn’t get to have any sandwiches the next day.

Now though, I love nothing better than a hearty baguette stuffed to overflowing with creamy, savory sandwich fillings. Summer is the best time for things like that, so I’ve been practicing for when the good weather does show up.

If you are lucky enough to be somewhere that’s got sunshine and you’d rather not turn on the oven, then by all means save this recipe for a cooler day and make your fancy pants Fourth of July (or Bastille Day…) chicken sandwiches from chicken that has been cooked a different way. What really matters is that you all your ingredients are excellent quality. You will never regret buying the best baguette you can find for the express purpose of making simple sandwiches.

You should probably also make sure your picnic basket if full of wine and delicious pickles, olives and assorted other savory snacks. Maybe some fancy pastries or a nice tart to have alongside the chilled tea you’ll serve after the meal, and after the requisite relaxing and gossiping have happened. That is the only way to picnic after all.

I’m a huge fan of thyme and grapefruit together. The floral notes of a freshly picked sprig of thyme are such an incredible complement to the sweet tart juice from a squeeze of grapefruit, and both are excellent foils for the empty flavor palette that is a whole chicken.

For the sandwiches themselves, all you need to do is shred or cut the chilled chicken into small pieces and mix in your favorite chicken salad accompaniments. I kept it simple with a touch a mayonnaise, lots of black pepper, and more fresh thyme. A little celery goes a long way to add a bit of crunch, but really the possibilities are endless.

With the addition of a piece of garden fresh lettuce, you really don’t need much else to make an incredibly satisfying sandwich. If you want to change it up completely though, just swap the whole thing out for a sandwich of soft goat cheese with a few pistachios tucked in, the whole thing drizzled with honey before being sealed up and placed into the basket.

And if your picnic basket never makes it further than the living room due to inclement weather, so be it.

Grapefruit and Thyme Roasted Chicken

4 1/2-5 lb. chicken, rinsed well and patted dry
1 good sized bunch fresh thyme (about 1/2 a little box if you buy it from the supermarket)
1/2 large pink grapefruit
olive oil or margarine (This makes it kosher–feel free to use butter if that’s not a problem for you.)
salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder

Preheat your oven to 400 F, with a rack about 1/3 of the way from the bottom. Make sure you have enough room above it for the chicken to slide in without hitting another rack.

Place the chicken in your roasting dish and coat it liberally with olive oil or margarine, pulling up the skin to get your fat underneath as well. Give a good squeeze of the grapefruit and then start adding the spices. Sprinkle a good pinch of salt (skip this if your chicken is a kosher one) over the top and bottom of the bird, and sprinkle the paprika and garlic powder over. Rub the chicken all over (under the skin too) to coat. Tear off the leaves from most of the stems of thyme and spread those around too. Add the rest of the thyme along with the squeezed grapefruit to the cavity of the bird. Add any vegetable you’d like to roast along side, and kind of toss them around to coat them in the residual oil.

Roast until the thermometer registers 165, about an hour, depending on the size of your bird. If you dont’ have a thermometer, cut into the meat: the juices should run clear, and the joints should be easy to move. Allow to rest , tented with foil, for 15 or so minutes before cutting into it. This is a great time to make pan sauce if you’re so inclined–just crank up the heat on a skillet and whisk a bit of flour into about 1/4 cup of drippings to make a paste, then slowly slowly add more liquid while whisking continuously to prevent lumps from forming. Heat to a boil and let it reduce if necessary until it reaches a consistency you’re happy with.

If you aren’t planning on eating the chicken hot for dinner, and are instead roasting it only for sandwiches, you can skip the pan sauce and put the whole thing straight into the fridge once you’ve cut it into pieces to allow it to cool faster. The veggies will be optional but they make an excellent companion to a cold sandwich so I recommend you don’t skip them if you can help it.

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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.

A Time Ago

6 years ago today I was in La Rochelle, France. Probably on my way down to the shore–taking in the hot, salty Atlantic Ocean air and looking for new vantage points out into the harbor. Or I might have been in a cafe drinking beer and watching Coupe du Monde on TV. Whatever I was doing, it definitely involved something boozy, something edible, and the family I was traveling with. My own family, of course–just a very limited number of them.

6 years ago I graduated from pastry school and then had no idea what to do next. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work in a restaurant or a hotel or somewhere else. Originally, I had thoughts of maybe joining on with a cruise line as a way to meet people and get some good stories while doing a bit of traveling, In the meantime, I went to France with my Grandmother.

In Paris we met a cousin who had travelled on her own from the East Coast. Our plan was to hang out in Paris for a few days with a rented apartment as our home base, before taking a train to meet my uncle. Uncle Rob was living in a tiny town called Saint-Simeux, in prime cognac country, working on a photography project and just generally living an enviable life.

Our couple of days in Paris were of course, a hoot. We drank a lot of cheap champagne (some of it from water bottles), ate a lot of delicious food, and walked everywhere. Then we took a train to a town whose name I cannot for the life of me remember. My uncle met us at the train station and we left immediately for La Rochelle where he had rented an apartment within walking distance of the sea. It also had a pool, which was spectacular. Never mind that the one toilet stopped working halfway through our stay, which made it very difficult to live comfortably (we had to use another tenant’s restroom for a day or so while we waited for a plumber to fix ours).

We hung out in La Rochelle for about a week, as I recall. It was some of the best times I’ve even had travelling. While we were there we went to a huge festival of some sort and were out till 3 in the morning. This might not sound like much, but when you are travelling with an 80 year old woman, you don’t often stay out until 3 in the morning. After La Rochelle we spent time in Saint-Simeux, taking day trips to tiny towns along the coast, and to places like Cognac and Bordeaux.

It’s hard now, recalling all the details of our trip. Towards the end of our journey–while in Royan clambering through German Pill Boxes from WWII–our car was broken into and my bag was stolen. Among other things, it contained my little snapshot camera and my travel journal. I was completely heartbroken and it made the rest of the trip–thankfully only another 3 or 4 days at that point–sort of bittersweet.

I lost the list of town names I had recorded–all the towns we visited while driving through the country side in search of excellent food and cognac from small distilleries. I lost most of the pictures of us as a family in Paris, where I didn’t want to carry my huge borrowed Fuji around with me night and day. I lost the tangible form of all the little thoughts and feelings from my experiences.

Mostly though, I kept it all intact. I remember the feel of the sand on the beaches. I remember giggling maniacally with my Grandma as we knelt down in an ancient church in Saintes, pagans to the core.

I can taste the flaky, almost bitter caramel crust of a well made baguette. I can smell the pungent tang of a cheese shop in the heat of a June afternoon; the salty, fleshy whiff of a fish market stocked with huge foreign fish and glorious langoustines to grace your plateau de fruits de mer. I can recall watching the bubbles rise on the side of a glass of Kronenbourg 1664–or a glass of champagne. I can’t count the number of vineyards, sunflowers or towns ending in -gnac that I saw, but I can tell you that the number of glasses of cognac and coke combined with the number of glasses of pastis reach into the dozens.

There are of course, things that stand out. I’m going to highlight some of these for the next couple of weeks.

I’m dying to travel right now. I mean really travel. We’ve been here and there and everywhere in the last couple of months, and we’ll be going to Israel for my sister-in-law’s wedding in August, but I miss being in a foreign place with no schedule, no constraints–no children.

I’m going to content myself with reliving some of the more memorable meals from that trip, every last one eaten in the heat of summer: perhaps alongside a river, or in a quiet restaurant somewhere in the countryside. Now that summer is (hopefully) finally making it’s way to Seattle, I am ramping up by picnicking like a pro and nobody does it better than the French.

First up is a beverage to whet your appetite. It’s not a recipe, per say. More like a suggestion.

It’s very simple. Take a glass and fill it with a cool–but not cold–wine. It doesn’t need to be expensive, and it can be any varietal that is refreshing chilled.

Ok, Ok. It can be a beer if you want.

The second step is to take it outside, and the third is to drink it. You can repeat steps 1, 2, and 3 in any combination as often as you like for the rest of the summer. The 4th step is very important though–when you drink this glass of wine, be aware of how it makes you feel and try to think of another time you felt that way.

Think about the friends you sat with, the conversations you had, the food you ate. Then, make plans–for this summer–to do something that will make you feel that good all over again.

Not Your Bubbie’s Chicken Soup

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. In case you missed it, I announced plans earlier in the week to start a food truck here in Seattle. Getting ready to go big has made life busier than usual, especially between travelling to the East Coast for a wedding and kickball season starting.

Also, it’s June in Seattle now so you know what that means–cold, rainy days with sweaters and mugs of tea.

I’m being 100% serious right now. I am wearing a sweater and thick socks as I write this. If it wasn’t that it’s still light at 9:30 it would be just like…fall. Us locals sometimes refer to June as “Juneuary” and for good reason. Tonight’s game is going to be very muddy.

I’ve been meaning to share this soup for a while. I figure that now is as good a time as ever, since I made it again very recently for a friend who’s been going through a hard time with her health and has had to cut out gluten very suddenly. She declared the soup to be very good, and I promised her the recipe. In fact, I’ve never had anyone tell me that they didn’t like this soup.

Take your time with the stock and you won’t have to do anything else to make the soup good. The stock is a treasure box of spices, but nothing that is too spicy unless you want to make it so. I really do suggest using a roasted chicken to make the stock, for a deeper, meatier flavor. When I made the soup for the photos you see here, I didn’t have a roasted chicken on hand–just one I had cut most of the meat off of to grill–and the soup was not nearly as good. Don’t skimp on the spices either–nobody likes a thin watery broth when they could be eating soup robust enough to knock you back in your seat. Taste as you go, and if it isn’t spicy enough add another pepper, and more cumin to balance if necessary.

Use the sweetest carrots you can find, but don’t use fresh tomatoes unless it’s actually tomato season. You’re not going to add many so you want them to actually taste like tomatoes. I keep a stash in my freezer that I pull out for occasions like this, but I know that’s not something everybody has. Canned ones are fine, just look for cans that say BPA free, because the acid in the tomatoes really will leach the chemical into your food.

Mexican Inspired Chicken and Rice Soup
Serves 6–Gluten Free

For the stock:

1 roasted chicken carcass, either leftover or roasted just for this
2 large carrots
1/2 yellow onion, peel and all
2-3 medium stalks celery
1/2 tsp whole coriander
1/2 tsp whole cumin
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1-3 dried habanero chilies, or more if you use a milder variety

For the soup

3 cups brown or white basmati rice, cooked
2 cups shredded chicken
1 1/2 cups chopped canned or frozen tomatoes (from 1 can is fine)
1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini, from about 1 lb fresh squash
salt to taste

Whether you are using a chicken you roast just for this soup or are using a chicken that was leftover from another dinner, you will want to remove all the meat from the bones and boil the entire carcass. I usually also boil any leftover skin and drippings from the roasting pan. Shred the meat into small bites and set aside.

Chop the onion, celery and carrot into large, rough pieces. Along with the chicken, put them in a large stock pot and add the spices. You don’t need to tie them into cheesecloth because you will have to strain the whole thing anyway. Cover with enough water to submerge entire chicken. Bring to a boil over high heat and then turn it down and let simmer for 2-3 hours, the longer the better.

While the stock simmers, prepare the other ingredients. If you don’t have leftover rice, cook it now and set aside until the broth is ready. For extra oomph, cook it in stock too if you have some already sitting around. For my soup, I used tomatoes and zucchini frozen last summer, which helps the process of removing as much water as possible. I don’t expect you to have stuff just hanging out though, so you can use the following: Drain the canned tomatoes thoroughly–if it’s short of the cup and a half, that’s totally Ok, or you can add another can. Up to you. For the zucchini, shred it on the largest holes of a box grater and add about 1 tsp of salt. Toss to coat and leave in a colander to drain the liquid off as the salt releases it from the zucchini. Occasionally, stop by to press on the solids–this will help release as much water as possible. If you don’t end up with exactly 1 1/2 cups, that’s OK. Better to have less water than more bulk.

Once you are satisfied that the stock has cooked for long enough, drain out all the solids and discard. Put the stock back in the pot and add in the carrots, zucchini and tomatoes. Simmer until the carrots are just tender, then add the rice and chicken. Cook, stirring occasionally and tasting as you go. When the rice has expanded and absorbed all the liquid it can absorb and everything is starting to really meld together, it’s done.

Garnish with sour cream (we use Tofutti brand which is certified kosher-parve), limes wedges, fresh cilantro, tortilla chips, hot sauce, and anything else you might eat in a taco or burrito.

This is Happening

I’m about to do something so crazy, it might just work.

Real Talk: I am starting a food truck here in Seattle.

More Real Talk: I have never driven a truck except one time I drove a sort of big moving van like 6 blocks. Also, I lost my drivers license so there’s that. I guess I should go to the DOL. I hate that place…

Anyway.

My buddy James and I are going on this big adventure together, and I want you all to come with us. The dinners? That’s our first stop. They are a way for us to get our name out there this summer while we’re building the truck up.

This truck. The truck that will become How Pickle Got Out Of A Jam.

We drove up to Edison (sort of Bellingham-ish if you’re familiar with the area at all) and bought it. It’s old–a ’79–and such a lovely hunk of junk that we kind of fell in love with it, rust and all.

We named the truck Alan after the mechanic who checked it out and said it was a good deal for an old beauty. Even though he said the truck is obviously a lady. Alan just seemed right.

Then we had beers and celebrated the first step in a long journey.

I’ve added a page here on Kernels and Seeds with dates for dinners and for truck updates, but there’s also a tumblr for her, and you can follow us on twitter too. We’ll try to update as we go, but in the meantime drop me a line if you’d like to come and meet this beauty in person–she’ll be living at my house, where the dinners will be held.

We’d so love to have you–James, Alan, and me. Until then, wish us luck!

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.

Birthdays Rain or Shine

Remember back when I said that the beautiful weather we were having was bound to be temporary? Well it was true. The weather around Seattle has pretty much reverted back to fall weather, except that it’s daytime for about twice as long. I’ve been keeping myself busy though–mostly going to birthday parties.

About this time 2 years ago, I was spending a bit of time with tiny babies. We had several friends who all had babies within about 2 weeks of each other, and it was very exciting because we had just announced that we ourselves were going to be having a baby in October (Lilli’s originally expected birth-month).

And at this same time just last year, I was preparing to launch this baby–the blog you are reading now. (Big plans for that birthday–not all of them cake related!)

And the list goes on with a whole bunch of other May birthdays in our family: the births of both my mom (57 yrs ago) and my dad (56 years ago), Joe’s mom (60 years ago), the twins’ mom (32 years ago) and also the twins themselves (9 years ago).

With so many birthdays this month, we have been busy indeed. Busy making cards and birthday treats. Busy picking out the perfect children’s books as gifts for our youngest friends, busy painting wrapping paper especially for them. There has been brunch parties and dinner parties, kid parties and grown up parties. Who doesn’t love a month full of parties?

Of all the treats I made this month, probably my favorite was a set of cookies for one of those young friends. It was a glorious sunny day when we were planning to spend the afternoon celebrating the birth of Niko, and I wanted to make a special treat for him. I had some gingerbread cookie dough saved in the freezer from when Lilli was on an “I’m the gingerbread man” kick the week before, so I took out the last of it and cut out one cookie for each of the letters in his name. I baked them just right, and then I let them cool.

I frosted them with a thick, lemony, and not too sweet icing and dipped each one in a rainbow of sprinkles. The sprinkles are the key. Bright and cheerful and fun, they make just about any birthday treat that much better.

The best part about these cookies is you don’t even really need a recipe. Just use any dough that would be rolled out and cut, and decorate with a thick frosting that dries hard–I used about 1 cup of powdered sugar turned into a thick paste with the juice of about 1 lemon. Dip the cookie frosting side down into a dish full of whatever sort of sprinkle you want and let it harden before you pack them up.

It’s easy enough that you can do it even if you have 100 birthday parties to go to all at once and they made exactly the statement that I wanted them to make: that I took my time and made something special just for the birthday boy.

Biscones

It’s been gorgeous here in Seattle.

Warm enough for BBQs and rose on the deck at sundown. Warm enough for all day picnics and (almost) lake swimming.

I’m sure it won’t last for long. It never does.

Since I’ve been training again for a triathlon that is coming up in June, I’ve been trying to eat better, mostly so I will look hot in my wetsuit. So far, I’ve had mixed results. I can easily eat a salad for lunch most days…but others I must have potato chips and PB&J. And cookies. And there was that pie that I made twice last week.

Moving on.

I have been trying very hard–last week I ran almost 6 miles to an event at our synagogue (Then I devoured 4 pieces of pizza and 3 s’mores.)–and I have discovered that it’s all about balance. Balance healthy things with things that make you feel like you did something naughty. Balance an extra scone on the edge of your plate covered in salad and lean proteins.

These scones are the payoff for an extra 20 minutes on your bike. They’re light and flaky like a biscuit, but just dense enough that a couple are plenty satisfying. They make a good breakfast for a busy morning, and are equally at home on a decadent brunch buffet as a counterpoint to sweeter fare. Or you can eat them for lunch, or a snack, or eat them with soup for dinner…Basically they’re good anytime.

These babies inspired a small family altercation at our Mother’s Day Picnic, they’re that good. Just saying.

 Potato, Cheddar and Chive Scones

makes about 12 scones

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt + big pinch
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
6 oz small potatoes
3 Tbsp chopped chives
3.5 oz grated cheddar cheese
2/3 cup whole milk or buttermilk
1 egg yolk
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, cold
olive oil for frying potatoes

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Wash the potatoes and remove any bruised spots, but leave the peels on. Slice them thin, and if the potatoes are bigger than about 1 1/2″ across, cut the slices in half. Heat about 1 Tbsp olive oil in a heavy skillet and then add potatoes. Toss on a big pinch of salt, and fry the potatoes, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown and are tender all the way through. Set aside to cool while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Cut the butter into about 20 cubes, 1/2″ or so big. Set aside. Mix together the egg yolk and milk in a small bowl and set aside. Grate the cheese and chop the chives and set aside. Lastly, roughly chop the cooked potatoes into small pieces.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or another large metal bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda, and black pepper. Toss in the butter and either mix on low or use either your fingers or a pastry cutter –cut in the butter until the chunks are about the size of peas. Add the egg yolk mixture and mix just until there are no longer visible puddles of liquid on the surface. Next, add in the remaining ingredients and mix until the dough starts to clump together.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and use your hands to gather it all together into a ball. Knead it gently a few times if necessary until it holds together, then pat the dough out with your hands to about 3/4″ thick. Using a 3″ circle cutter, cut the scones by pressing straight down and lifting the cutter straight back up. This keeps the layers of fat from smooshing together on the edges so they rise up nice and tall. Place the scones on a parchment lined sheet pan about 1″ apart and repeat with the remaining dough.

When you can’t cut any more circles, gently scrunch the dough back into a ball and press out flat again. You don’t want to mash it all together, or the fat will start to melt and the gluten in the flour will activate too much and the scones won’t be as tender. Repeat as necessary until you get 11 or 12 scones. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate and bake for about 10 more or until the tops are lightly golden and the bottoms have a good firm golden crust.

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.