Monday, May 24th, 2010
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.
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: chewy granola bar, cocoa nib, Dessert, granola bar, homemade butter, homemade whipped cream, lavender, lavender whipped cream, mascarpone cheese, rosemary, shortbread, strawberry pie, strawberry tart, whole grain, whole wheat
Posted in Dessert | 29 Comments »
Monday, April 19th, 2010
We have had over a week full of sunny days perfect for being outside. I always feel I have missed something I can never get back if I do not spend time outside on gorgeous days like we are having now.
Little Jonathan wants nothing less, banging at the back door, grabbing at the door knob at every moment he is not eating or sleeping, unable to contain his enthusiasm for exploring all the nooks and crannies of our yard, smelling the flowers, and making full use of these newly balmy spring days.
“No, Jonathan, do not put rocks in the garden,” we seem to be saying over and over, as if on tape, on replay.
We went and picked out flowers at the nursery last week and Brian planted them by the mailbox and around the house. This means so much to me. We are slowly building a collection of perennials in our flower beds and I get excited each spring when I see the first wave of blooms unfold.
“I want to make something beautiful this week,” I thought to myself.
I’ve been a tart admirer for some time now, both savory and sweet. I love how tarts are so casually sophisticated, with their endless possibilities of fillings, carefully supported by a flaky, buttery crust, and adorned with beautiful, often avant-garde, garnishings. They are an ideal canvas for experimentation, as well as turning humble ingredients into art. Yet, in all their artistry, they remain perfectly suited for a simple lunch or brunch. Yes, tarts have a certain restrained panache. I like that about them.
“A tart will be perfect,” I decided.
When I was living and working in D.C. shortly after college, I would occasionally find myself in a la Madeleine cafe (do you know the ones?) sipping coffee, and encountering some of my very first tarts. I am quite certain they serve any number and variety of tarts there, however, those that stand out in my memory are of the sweet variety, made with a soft creamy custard filling and topped with a simple but elegant assortment of fresh berries. These petite tarts, or tartlettes, were one of my favorite treats.
I have not been to a la Madeleine in years, and truthfully I do not know how good the tarts are in reality, but that does not really matter. What matters is that the essence and concept of the tart made a strong enough impression on my subconscious to be carried into the present and push me towards giving it a go in my own kitchen this week, even if it took seven years to achieve this.
Yes, this was my very first homemade tart!
After plenty of poking around, I also honestly do not know if it would be more appropriate to call this a quiche, since it is baked with eggs, milk and cream, or, if since it was baked in a “tart pan” and is relatively slender and full of vegetables, if it may rightly pass as a savory tart. In the end, I simply like the sound of “savory tart” over that of “quiche.” So, for now – save being duly informed otherwise – I will call it a savory tart.
I couldn’t find a recipe that combined all the ingredients and flavors I was craving, so I decided to blend all my research into one recipe that consisted of a bit of everything I wanted. But lest you tune me out now, having already admitted that this was my first tart attempt, I am happy to share my concoction of inspiration – I’m sure you know many of them well - from this, to this, and this, and even a consultation with this.
I sauteed leeks and shitake mushrooms with thyme from our garden, bay leaf, and a splash of Vermouth and set them under a layer of small dice fresh spring asparagus, all blanketed by a surprisingly light tasting cover of egg, Greek yogurt, milk and cream, Gruyère, pinch of nutmeg, sea salt, ground pepper, and Parmesan.
For the crust I decided to use part whole wheat pastry flour to impart a nutty quality without adding weight, and an addition of grated Parmesan for additional depth of flavor and character.
Finally, I dotted roasted heirloom cherry tomatoes on top, which resulted in a welcome sour and chewy contrast to the overall delicate nature and flavor profile of the filling.
“That was different from any quiche I’ve ever had,” Brian said to me after we finished our first slices, making me a little nervous to hear what was to follow.
“It’s like I was tasting real quiche for the first time!” he exclaimed. “I don’t know how hard this is to make, but we could make this all summer long using the vegetables from the garden!”
I laughed. Apparently, at least one person has no qualms whatsoever in calling my tart “quiche,” just so long as it is not my last.
Gruyère, leek, asparagus, shitake, and roasted heirloom cherry tomato tart
1 recipe for savory tart crust to fit a 10″ tart pan
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup Greek Yogurt (higher fat percent is preferable)*
1/2 cup half & half, heavy cream, whole milk, or combination of these*
1/2 t. sea salt
1 T. butter
2 1/2 T. olive oil
1 1/2 T. Vermouth or dry white wine
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs fresh thyme
pinch or two of nutmeg – according to your preference for nutmeg
3 oz. Gruyère cheese (about 1 1/2 cups loosely packed)
1 oz. freshly grated Parmesan (about 1/3 cup loosely packed)
8 asparagus stems, cut into half inch diagonals
6 oz. leeks, white parts only, cut into thin circles (2 leeks)
4 oz. shitake mushrooms, washed, stems removed, cut in slivers
About 20 small cherry heirloom tomatoes, if available, or Roma/plum tomatoes (may sub thinly cut slivers of sun dried tomatoes)
1 t. balsamic vinegar
sea salt and ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Begin by preparing the tomatoes for roasting by cutting in half, placing in a bowl, drizzling with 1/2 T. olive oil, splash of balsamic vinegar, light sprinkling of natural sugar and sea salt and pepper, carefully mixing to coat, and laying tomatoes on foil on a cookie sheet with seeds facing up. Roast for 45 minutes and set aside.
Now make the tart dough, with the idea that by the time the dough is ready and had its 30 minute fridge time, the tomatoes will be out of the oven.
While the tomatoes roast and the dough sits in the fridge, saute leeks in the butter, 1 T. olive oil, bay leaf, and three sprigs thyme till beginning to wilt, about five minutes, and then add mushrooms, 1 T. olive oil, Vermouth, and salt and pepper to taste, allowing to cook another five minutes, or until leaks and mushrooms are just soft. Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs. In the mean time, parboil the asparagus by boiling three cups water, and adding the asparagus to the boiling water for 1 minute. Rinse hot asparagus in cold water to stop the cooking. Whisk egg, Greek yogurt, 1/2 t. salt (and pepper to taste), pinch or two of nutmeg, and half & half together to combine. Finally, add in the Gruyère.
Fill the par-baked tart crust by spreading the leek mushroom mixture evenly over the bottom of the crust, then add the parboiled asparagus evenly on top. Next, pour the egg cheese mixture over the vegetables. Finally, sprinkle the top with the parmesan.
Place the tart in the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes. Remove the tart at 20 minutes, and add the roasted tomatoes evenly across the top. The idea is for the tart top to be partially solidified so that the tomatoes do not sink into the tart, yet the tart is still soft enough to cook around the bottoms of the tomatoes and keep them in place. Return the tart to the oven for another 20 minutes, or until the top begins to brown and the tart is set. Allow to cool on a wire wrack for at least 15 minutes before cutting. Add extra sprigs of thyme for garnish.
* I used a 2% Greek yogurt, but mascarpone cheese or sour cream would likely make good substitutes and would yield a richer, creamier tart.
* I used a combination of whole milk and half and half, but thought it would have been nice a bit creamier – you may decide based on whether you want an overall lighter taste, or richer, creamier taste.
Savory whole grain tart crust with parmesan
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour*
3/4 cup pastry flour (can use regular all purpose flour)
1 T cornstarch
3/4 (.75) oz. finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 Tablespoons buttermilk
6 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 8-12 pieces
Lightly beat the egg yolks and buttermilk and set aside. In a food processor (or using a fork or pastry knife and a bowl, working quickly), combine flours, cornstarch, salt, and cheese and pulse a couple of times to combine. Add cold butter to the flour mixture and pulse another few times to turn mixture into sand like texture with some pea sized bits of butter remaining. Working quickly (you want to keep the butter cold without melting the little lumps and without strengthening the gluten by over handling the flour in order to produce a light flaky crust), pour the flour butter mixture into a medium bowl and add the beaten egg, stirring just to combine and bring mixture together. When mixture is beginning to clump together, dump onto a work surface and press dough together to form a ball. You may need to wet your fingertips with ice water a few times to add a small amount of moisture needed to achieve this. Try to handle the dough and add as little water as possible to make a cohesive dough. Flatten the dough into a 5 inch round, wrap in plastic wrap, place in the fridge for 45 minutes or up to 36 hours (allowing the gluten to relax so the dough will roll out more easily).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Turn dough out on well floured work surface and roll into a 12-13 inch circle with a flat rolling pin. Again, use ice water on the fingertips to solidify the dough, only if needed, and as small amount as possible. Roll the lightly floured dough over the rolling pin in order to transfer into a 9 or 10 inch tart pan. Gently push dough into the pan and use the rolling pin to roll around the edges of the pan to trim off the excess crust. Using a fork, prick the surface and sides of the dough. Par-bake the crust by placing in the oven for 12 minutes. Remove crust and allow to cool at least five minutes on a wire wrack before adding tart filling and baking further.*
* You may substitute regular whole wheat flour, but in that case, I would not use more than a 1:3 ratio whole wheat to white flour and would recommend white whole wheat flour.
Monday, February 8th, 2010
There are a few things in life I hold sacred. This pancake recipe is one of them. During my graduate counseling practicum, completed at an inpatient hospital psychiatric unit, one of the long serving psychiatric nurses was retiring, and the behavioral medicine crew threw her a casual goodbye party held in the ubiquitous, stark white, staff/snack/coffee/break/lunch/locked off from all the patients – room.
Ironically, it was the retiring nurse who brought the food for everyone. Apparently, she had gained quite a reputation for a certain oaty, nutty, whole grain buttermilk pancake recipe, and it was tradition for her to tote in gigantic bowls of raw pancake batter and cook up some homey, bathed in sunlight, pancakes, right in the middle of that cramped, cold, and barren psych unit break room.
But I was suspicious. I can try to deny it, but in fact, I’m a bit of a pancake snob. Great pancakes need distinct flavors and texture, they must be moist – yet light, and most importantly (of course), they cannot remind me in any way of the texture or imagined taste of cardboard.
Boy, were my suspicions unfounded! These pancakes were amazing, incredible! I had to have the recipe. You can imagine my disappointment and frustration when, upon asking for said recipe, I was told, “Oh, it’s a whole grain pancake recipe off the internet – I don’t know which one.” No! I needed to be able to recreate it to perfection, and I am not one for ambiguity.
However, with a bit of poking around, I found a promising start. But there were some issues – the leavening proportions were all wrong (I want to taste pancake, not baking soda), I didn’t like the nut combination, there was an unduly amount of oil and sugar, and I preferred white whole wheat flour to standard whole wheat. But I persevered, because I knew getting this recipe right would be worth it. And it was. These pancakes have layered flavor from the whole wheat, oats and buttermilk, and a wonderfully satisfying nutty texture. Plus, they are full of dietary fiber and protein. I hope they become a household tradition for you and your family, as they are for mine, and that perhaps you will wake a few minutes early this Sunday and make something that will warm both the hearts and the bellies of those you love most, on Valentine’s Day.
Whole grain oat nut pancakes
3/4 cup rolled oats, ground (oat flour is not a good substitute – I’ve tried)
3/4 cup white whole wheat or standard whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoon aluminum free baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
scant 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
2 Tablespoons natural cane sugar
3 Tablespoons finely chopped or ground pecans (1 oz.)
3 Tablespoons finely chopped or ground almonds (1 oz.)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (plus or minus 1-2 tablesoons. depending on preferred thickness)
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
salted butter for cooking
Grind oats and nuts (or you may use pre-ground nuts) to a powdery consistency in a mini chopper, leaving a few small bits for texture. In a medium bowl, mix dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, whisk egg until pale yellow, then add oil and whisk to combine. Add buttermilk to the egg and oil and blend. Pour wet ingredients into bowl with dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Allow batter to sit for 10-15 minutes to give the leavening time to react and thicken the batter. Preheat a large skillet or griddle over medium high heat, grease with salted butter, and turn heat down to medium. Ladle 1/4 – 1/3 cup batter onto pan for each pancake. Pancake batter should sizzle a bit when poured into the pan, but not smoke. Turn heat down to medium low and allow to cook until edges just start to dry and bubbles appear throughout the pancake, then flip and cook until set in the middle. If pancakes are over-browning, and not cooking through, turn the heat down on the pan and increase the cooking time. Cooking time on the second side will be less than on the first. Repeat with more butter and batches, until batter is finished. This makes about 9-10 four inch pancakes. Serve with maple syrup, butter, and fruit, if desired.
Variations: try it with a mashed banana, 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 cup brown sugar subbed for natural sugar, or unsalted butter rather than vegetable oil.