Archive for May, 2010

Strawberry mascarpone tart with lavender vanilla whipped cream

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Strawberry mascarpone tart with lavender vanilla whipped cream

Bloom where you are planted.  I’ve been saying this to myself for awhile now.

Single and in my early twenties, I lived outside of Washington D.C. and worked in the city where it was easy to do things like take photography, politics, and religion classes at night after work at the Smithsonian, and hop over to Old Town Alexandria on weekends to pick up groceries at Trader Joe’s.

After Brian and I married almost seven years ago now, we moved to a Virginia suburb to be closer to his family. Life in the suburbs is different from city life. There is no Smithsonian, no coffee shops within walking distance, and TJ’s is over half an hour away.

But you know what? Half a mile down the street is a farmer’s market where I can walk to buy fresh produce all summer long. And right next door to that market every spring is a strawberry farm where I can pick some pretty amazing fresh berries.

I’m also able to work from home and not have to commute an hour each way to work. And best of all, here we can afford enough land that Brian can experiment with just about every gardening idea he can dream up (the “big” garden has been tilled and the first plants are in the ground – hop rhizomes).

So, though I love the hum and culture of city life, I am trying to bloom where I am currently planted. Literally and figuratively.

The Saturday before Mother’s Day I took little Jonathan to the strawberry farm to pick berries. I’ve been feeding him strawberries already this spring, so I could see the excitement and questioning in his eyes as he saw the berries on the vines. It was such a perfect expression of surprise and wonderment that came over his face when I picked a berry in the field and let him taste. Such sweetness.

I came home and while Jonathan napped – worn through from the sun and humid coastal VA heat, I made this strawberry mascarpone pie/tart with lavender vanilla whipped cream to take to lunch with Brian’s family the next day.

Strawberry pieStrawberry mascarpone pie with lavender vanilla whipped cream

I’ve always loved strawberry pie. My mom used to make it simply growing up using sliced strawberries and strawberry gelatin on a flaky crust served with cool whip.

Here I wanted to capture everything I loved about Mom’s pie, but eliminate the strawberry gelatin that contains food colorings and artificial flavorings. I also love mascarpone cheese with, well – just about everything, so I thought adding a thick slick of honeyed mascarpone accented by lemon zest beneath the strawberries would be lovely. I also adore strawberries and lavender together, so I made fresh lavender vanilla whipped cream to serve alongside.

There are no pictures of the tart cut since I took it the next day to lunch and didn’t want to be hovering over people’s plates trying to grab a picture, and it went quickly.

I liked everything about this pie/tart except my crust shriveled and was a bit dense – I’m doing well on savory tart crusts, but a simple flaky pie crust (with no partially hydrogenated oils) seems to be eluding me – I welcome links to any favorite recipes!

I ended up with leftover whipped cream, so I decided to pulse it in the food processor and make lavender vanilla butter. It worked beautifully!

With the butter I made part whole wheat lavender rosemary shortbread cookies inspired by this and lavender accented granola bars with dried cherries, coconut, apricots, cocoa nibs and almond butter, inspired by this recipe – both of which were wonderful and Jonathan enjoyed for over a week.

I have been working hard on my business and am trying to stick to a reduced carb diet, which has left me feeling quite tired (must remember to take vitamins, drink more water, get more sleep, and still treat myself), but I hope to be back in order shortly. I hope you are well.

Fresh strawberry mascarpone tart

1 crust for 9 inch pie pan or 9 or 10 inch tart pan
1 quart fresh strawberries, washed and tops trimmed
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup water
8 oz mascarpone cheese, softened *
2 teaspoons honey
pinch of fine grain sea salt
zest from 1 lemon
lavender vanilla whipped cream (recipe following)

Prepare and bake pie crust according to recipe instructions. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Mix the honey, pinch of sea salt (no more than 1/8 teaspoon), and lemon zest into the mascarpone cheese in a medium bowl. Spread cheese mixture evenly over the bottom of the baked pie crust and place in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the pie.

Puree half of the strawberries in a food processor (alternately you could simply mash them in the pan) and place in a medium saucepan with the sugar over medium heat, bringing to a boil while stirring frequently.

Whisk together cornstarch and water in a small bowl and gradually stir into the strawberry sugar mixture. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened into a thick syrup, about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Allow mixture to cool for 5-10 minutes.

Mix the remaining half of the strawberries with the strawberry glaze either in the pan (if large enough) or in a large bowl in order to evenly coat the berries. Gently pour coated strawberries into the pie shell on top of the cheese mixture along with all extra strawberry glaze/syrup. Arrange strawberries to your liking and chill pie in the fridge for several hours (allow at least 6+ hours) before slicing. Serve with lavender vanilla whipped cream.

* If you cannot find mascarpone cheese, cream cheese would make a nice substitute

Lavender vanilla whipped cream and lavender vanilla butter

1 pint heavy whipping cream, very cold
1 teaspoon lavender buds, crushed and broken, using a food processor or mortar and pestle
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or seeds from 1 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon light brown sugar or natural raw sugar

Using a hand mixer or standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine all ingredients and whip till soft cream peaks form.

If you end up with leftover whipped cream, you can make lavender vanilla butter by placing whipped cream into the food processor and pulsing till the fat separates from the liquid. Strain the “buttermilk” from the solid, and you have butter!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Dessert | 29 Comments »

Square foot garden salad, lemon thyme vinaigrette, and a simple saute

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Arugula basil salad

When a couple comes in for marital counseling, a counselor looks for clues as to exactly where the couple is at in their relationship – say on a scale of 1 – 10, with 10 representing marital bliss, and 1 signifying divorce.
One of the things I used to ask when a couple came into my office for counseling was, “Do you fight?”
If they answered yes, I knew they weren’t as bad off as they might have feared.

Square foot garden

For one, fighting means each person has a sense of individuality and self and knows that he or she is worth standing up for and being understood, and it also means that the couple is at least attempting to communicate and address issues – albeit badly many times.

Lower on the scale is the development of total silence, often called “stonewalling“, which can happen when one or both people feel there is little hope left and have already emotionally left the relationship, and have shut down to such a degree that even fighting feels pointless and futile.

If a couple told me they had stopped fighting altogether, or that they had stopped trying to have their point of view heard in the relationship, that is when I knew I had my work cut out for me.

Red leaf lettuce

So, fighting’s not all bad – that’s what I tell myself when my husband and I have occasional spats.

Truth be told, my husband is a pretty great guy. He helps around the house, takes care of the yard, shares the care of our son, is a great cook, and he does cool things like make square foot gardens. It doesn’t hurt that he’s tall, dark, and handsome either.

And he is my friend. I like that.

Lemon sage chicken

Our days are pretty simple…

We work from home. We take care of our son. We eat. We sleep. We eat again.

Occasionally we travel – mountains and beaches, London and Paris, Germany, Italy, Costa Rica, Jackson Hole and the Golden Gate, next is NYC; these are the highlights that stand out from the daily.

And then we come home. We eat. We sleep. We love our son. I cook. Brian gardens. I eat Brian’s garden. I’m happy. I haven’t always been happy. Happy feels good.

No, happy feels great.

DinnerDinner

Here is a standard meal for us. I like chicken. I know many feel it is boring and common. Common, I’ll give you. But only boring if you let it be.

Brian calls chicken “foul”, but he likes this.

I saute lightly floured chicken in olive oil with fresh herbs from the garden – this time I used sage, but rosemary or oregano work just as well.  I add lemon juice and zest, a clove of diced garlic, a bit of crushed red pepper (we like to make our own), and sometimes a splash of white wine and whatever vegetables are hanging around the fridge at the time – in this case, green onions. It all simmers down and creates a lovely concentrated tangy, spicy, herby coating on the chicken that tastes anything but common.

This dinner takes me less than half an hour to prepare and I often serve it over a simple pasta, or just as is with a salad like you see here. I don’t measure anything, so the recipe is just a best guess – but no matter, there’s plenty of wiggle room in there to make it your own.

Lemon thyme vinaigrette

We eat a lot of salad around here – another perennial dish that is only boring if you let be. I make homemade salad dressing about once a week – usually a vinaigrette, and I like to try new flavors to keep it interesting. This week I used lemon juice and zest for the acid, and added thyme from the garden, shallot, whole grain mustard, a dash of sugar and sea salt, black pepper, and olive oil.

I really liked this dressing. We ate it the first day on salad beside the chicken with homemade croutons, heirloom cherry tomatoes, and fresh grated parmesan.

Day two it was perfect for my lunch on a salad made from the greens from Brian’s square foot garden – spicy arugula, young red leaf, and sweet basil leaves. I marinated fresh artichoke hearts in the dressing first and then laid them on the salad next to toasted pine nuts and large chards of parmesan. After I took my first pictures, I snuck in one of the last slices of another amazing quiche/savory tart (I’ve gone a bit tart crazy as of late, so I decided I should give it a rest here for the week and share the tart recipe at a later date) to eat alongside.

Lemon thyme vinaigrette saladLemon thyme vinaigrette saladSpinach, bacon, Emmanthaler quicheSommer's amazing banana bread

And finally, I made this banana bread, a recipe by my former college roommate and fellow food blogger, chocked full of pecans and coconut, for Jonathan to have for breakfast and snacks. It’s been gone for three days now and he’s still asking for it, if that tells you how it was.

It’s been a good week. If you are interested in anything garden related, mention it in the comments, and I’ll have Brian answer anything outside of my knowledge.

Lemon thyme vinaigrette
adapted from here

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon minced shallot *
1 1/2 teaspoons whole grain Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sugar
leaves from 4 sprigs of fresh thyme, lightly chopped or minced to release oils
1/3 – 1/2 cup olive oil (to taste)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Whisk all ingredients together or place all ingredients in a secure container and shake well. May be used immediately, though flavors blend nicely overnight. Dressing should last several days in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving if oil begins to harden.

* I imagine garlic would be a nice substitute, but I would not use more than two cloves for this amount of dressing

Spicy Lemon Herb Chicken

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts *
olive oil
1 fat garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper *
zest of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons of flour *
6 – 8 sage leaves finely chopped or 1 tablespoon finely chopped oregano or 1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary *
6 green onions, including green parts, washed and chopped into 1/2 inch dice
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
water

Cover a 12 inch skillet with 1/8 inch of olive oil. Heat over medium high heat until shimmering, but not smoking. Add the lemon zest, garlic, sage, and crushed red pepper. Allow to sizzle and infuse the oil, but do not brown the garlic or fully crisp the herbs.

Season the flour with salt and pepper (I use about 1/2 t. sea salt and generously crack the pepper). Dip each side of the chicken breasts in the flour mixture and place in the hot oil. The oil should sizzle around the chicken as it is laid in the pan, but still not smoke. Sprinkle up to 1 tablespoon of extra seasoned flour over the tops of the chicken breasts. Once the pan has recovered it’s heat from adding the chicken, turn the heat down to medium or medium low to slowly brown and saute the chicken.

Cover the pan and cook till the first side of the breasts are golden, about 4-6 minutes. If pan is starting to dry out at any point, add just a bit of water, one tablespoon at a time and allow to evaporate before adding more.

After turning the breasts, add the lemon juice and half of the green onions. Again, add a few drops of water at any point the pan is beginning dry out. Cover again and cook another 4-6 minutes. During the last couple of minutes of cooking, add the rest of the green onions to cook just till wilted. I usually knife into one breast in a thick portion to check for doneness. Try to get the chicken just done, but done! Sprinkle again with salt and pepper to taste (you may wish to taste a small bite first to check).

Transfer the chicken to a serving plate. Turn the heat up on the stove and add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water to release the pan drippings. The water should mostly evaporate in the hot pan leaving a just a small amount of concentrated pan juices. Pour this over the chicken while it is resting. As the chicken rests before serving, it will release more juices. Be sure to pour these juices back over the chicken on each plate when serving and check again for salt and pepper.

* the quality of the chicken makes all the difference in taste and texture – of course free range and organic is ideal, but I also obtain good results with Tysons

* if you do not like spicy, just eliminate the crushed red pepper

* I like to use white whole wheat flour because I think it has more flavor than regular white flour

* the fresh herbs should be to taste. You may use more than this or a combination, though you may try it with these proportions the first time and add more to taste on your next trial.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Main Courses - Meat, vegetarian | 23 Comments »