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.

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.

Half Birthday’s Aren’t Just for Kids

I know this guy. We get along pretty well, so sometimes we hang out. Usually we don’t get to hang out by ourselves, but that’s OK with us since the rest of the usual group can be fun too, since they’re our kids and all.

Anyway, this guy’s name is Joe, and today is his half birthday. Normally grown-ups don’t celebrate half birthdays but that is just a crying shame. This morning when he flipped the calendar page he realized the date and wanted to know if he could have half a birthday cake.

I think he was a little surprised when I said sure, but who likes to get their hopes up and then have them dashed? Certainly not me.

So I made him one. I cheated a little and used a cake that had been in our freezer, pretty much just waiting for the right moment to come along. One when it would be thoroughly enjoyed.

Slathered with buttercream, who can tell the difference anyway? Ok, so the buttercream was in the freezer too, colored a very garish yellow from Lilli’s first birthday. 

We also had a Thai inspired feast for dinner, to go with our chocolate cake. Most of the foods in the meal weren’t anything special because this week we are trying to kind of clean out our freezers and use up leftovers because Joe’s kind of a frugal guy. I had some leftover teriyaki salmon that I turned into fish cakes with some lime, ginger and some cilantro straight from the garden. And I had some lemongrass and half a container of tofu so I made a quick curry tofu soup with a little bit of coconut milk. Well, maybe a lot of coconut milk.

The soup came straight from my own brain. The fish cakes too, which is maybe why they weren’t very pretty–they ended up more like fish hash than cakes but oh well. I don’t know how to cook Thai food like a pro, but I do love to eat it so I think I at least have that going for me. The recipes probably aren’t that authentic, but they were pretty simple and that’s helpful if you’re also trying to entertain a silly silly little girl while making dinner.

The cake came from Fanny Farmer, a book I use very frequently. There’s something about the old recipes that I really love–they are classic, sure, but mostly it’s how they are written. They’re so matter of fact. I have to tweak them sometimes, but I don’t mind a bit. There are a lot of pages stuck together, and the gold hardcover is starting to break down in places, but that just shows how loved it really is.

Fudge Cake
Adapted from Fanny Farmer, 1965 edition
makes two 7″ or 8″ cakes

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar, divided use
1/2 tsp vanilla
4 oz good semi sweet chocolate
5 Tbsp boiling water
3 eggs
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Cream together butter, vanilla, and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy.

Meanwhile, over a double boiler melt the chocolate. Once it’s melted smooth add the boiling water and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar.

Add to the butter mixture. Next add the eggs, one at a time. Beat after each addition, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Add the flour to this mixture alternating with the milk.

Divide in the pans and bake about 20 minutes, rotating half way through. Check with a toothpick and give it 5 more minutes or so if needed. Cool completely before frosting.

It Comes Natural

I don’t think I’m a natural born writer. I’ve never been one to keep a journal, and even keeping up a blog once a week or so is tough for me. I just never feel like I need to write. Take pictures or eat a cookie, sure, but writing is something I have to put a little effort into.

But there are things I can say I am a natural at. I am a natural blonde. I am a naturally good swimmer. I have a natural green thumb. And, I like to think that I am naturally gifted with a sense for what tastes good together, and also for having a sense for what a set of ingredients will taste like once they are combined. This last week a friend commented that he thinks I have really honed that sense of taste, which was a very sweet compliment (Thanks Mike!) and also got me thinking about if I am using that skill to it’s fullest potential. 

I want to hope that I am, but in reality I probably am not. I mean, are any of us really using all of our skills to their fullest potential? Not if we are being honest with ourselves.

But the good news is that that means we have potential that is untapped, right?

I don’t mean to give a pep talk, but I guess I am feeling like I need one myself. I have recently had a lack of passion for what I do with food. It’s such a big part of my life, both for pleasure and necessity, as well as what I do for a living, that I guess I have lost a little bit of the magic. Lately, It’s been hard for me to get excited about food. As they say, this is probably a #firstworldproblem, but it’s my problem and it has been putting me into a sort of melancholy.

So to help me get out of my funk and to hopefully get me out of my “I’d rather stay home and not talk to any strangers” comfort zone a little bit, I’m going to be baking for a good cause. Next weekend is the Will Bake For Food bakesale, and I volunteered to bake some goodies and hang out at the sale for a while. There will be lots of other, much more well established bloggers (that’s where the nervousness about talking to strangers comes in!), and everyone will be contributing something delicious for you to take home.


This past Friday I ran a test for what I thought I might make and while it was very good, I think I’m going skip it in favor of something a little less fussy. It was a twist on something I dreamed up a few Thanksgivings ago–a dark, creamy pumpkin ganache tart–that turned out to be just too rich for it’s own good. I wanted to make it lighter and less intimidating. So, I turned it into a mousse, letting those amazing taste buds guide my stirring hand. 

I hope I get my mojo back soon, because it makes me feel a little heartbroken to be missing it at this time of the year, when so much revolves around breaking bread with others. In the meantime, I guess I’ll take someone’s (my husband’s) sage advice and “fake it till I make it.”



Pumpkin Mousse Pie
serves 8-12

For the filling:
11 oz ganache, melted but cooled
1 pumpkin puree
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
pinch salt

For the crust:
1 cup hazelnuts, oven toasted and skins removed.
1 cup cake or cookie crumbs, toasted. Graham cracker crumbs would also work.
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup melted salted butter

For this recipe you will need an 8″ or 9″ springform pan.

For the crust: 
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until they resemble crumbs. Add the cake or cookie crumbs and the sugar and pulse to combine. Pour into a bowl and mix in the butter. I like to use regular salted butter for this, I it helps the hazelnuts a bit. You can use unsalted if you prefer. Press into your pan and using a small measuring cup or juice glass, press some of the crust partially up the sides of the pan, making a thin crust. Bake for about 20 minutes, and let cool completely while you mix the filling. 

For the filling:
When the crust is ready, assemble your mousse. Stir the pumpkin and cinnamon into the ganache. You might want to add more cinnamon if you really like that flavor combo, as what I have here is very delicate. Whip the cream to a soft peak then add the sugar and salt and whip till it holds a firm peak. Next, fold in a bit of the ganache mixture. Then pour the cream mixture back into the ganache and fold until you see no streaks of either cream or ganache. Pour it into your mold, and level with a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

A note about the ganache: I often have ganache in the fridge leftover from other baking projects and this was one of those times. If you aren’t the type to have such a decadent leftover, you can make it from scratch easily using a recipe I’ll give you below. We like to warm it a little bit and smear it on a graham cracker as a sweet treat, or put it into heated milk to make a delicious hot chocolate…

Semi-sweet ganache:

10 oz good quality semi-sweet chocolate, chopped into pieces about the size of an almond
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 Tbsp unsalted butter

Place the chocolate and butter into a heat safe bowl. Using a heavy bottomed pan, heat the cream just to a very light boil and immediately pour over the chocolate. Let it sit for several minutes and then with a whisk, slowly incorporate the chocolate and cream. Start in the middle of the bowl and use very small movements, gradually working your way to the outer edge of the bowl. This helps to minimize the incorporation of air into the ganache for a smoother finished product, which is helpful if using it as a filling or icing.