Archive for the ‘Dirt’ Category

Strawberry Cream Cheese Shortbread Tart

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

 

tart1Sometime during the ’80s, my mother made a lot of fruit tarts like this — I seem to remember they always had kiwi slices on them.  Her versions were also glazed with melted currant or apple jelly, so they were a little more polished than this version, which is nice too, or you can stick with the naked fruit, as I have.  The taste combination of nutty crust, creamy filling, and fresh fruit is perfectly delicious and summery, and it’s easy enough to make without dragging out the food processor or the KitchenAid (welcome to my new TV show: “Cooking Very Quietly While the Baby Sleeps.”)  You can make this with a combination of fruit, whatever is fresh, but it is especially delicious with sweet, slightly soft spring strawberries.  I also like it with blueberries or peaches.  Last night I tried it with Clotilde Dusoulier’s pâte à sablé tart recipe from the Chocolate and Zucchini Cookbook, which she advises that you may mix with your fingers, forever winning my heart.  I cooked it about 5 minutes longer than she calls for, so it would brown really well and have a nice toasty flavor.  Despite the unorthodox method, the crust is really delicious, nutty, crunchy, sweet, and sturdy — it might be my new favorite.  I can’t wait to try it with something chocolate-y and salty. 

Crust:

1 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

7 tbsp cold butter, cut into small cubes

1-2 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 350.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt.  Add the butter and work together with a fork or the tips of your fingers until there are no butter blobs larger than peas.  Sprinkle with 1 tbsp milk and stir.  It will still look like a big bowl of crumbs but it should clump together well if you squeeze it in your hand — if not, add the 2nd tbsp of milk. 

Pour into a 10 inch tart pan, spread evenly over the bottom, and press down and into the sides of the pan.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until it’s slightly browned and smells nutty and toasty.   Allow to cool completely.

Filling:

1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese, room temperature

1/3 – 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (sweeten to taste)

1 tbsp honey (optional)

zest and juice of 1 lemon

Beat the cream cheese well with a wooden spoon (or mix with the paddle attachment in the KitchenAid).  Add remaining ingredients and combine.  For variations, try orange zest and juice instead, or try adding 1/2 tsp vanilla.

Topping:

1-2 pints fresh strawberries or other perfectly ripe summer berries or stone fruit

To assemble the tart, spread the cream cheese filling evenly in the tart shell.  Arrange berries or fruit on top. 

Serves 6-8.

Lemon Tarragon Potato Salad

Monday, April 20th, 2009

lemonypotatosalad1Every spring, there comes a moment, usually near or on the first really warm day, when my potato cravings reorient themselves.  During the colder days, almost dessert-like concoctions of roasted and then mashed sweet potatoes flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon, and butter are like cozy turtleneck sweaters you can burrow into.  More elegant preparations of thinly sliced russets layered with cream and Gruyere are the cashmere  cardigans that dress up a simple roast, and creamy purees of Yukon Golds blended with parsnip or celery root are the… hm — silk long underwear? — that make savory braises and stews that much more comforting. 

But just as we’re relieved to put aside our warmer layers and wiggle our toes in the grass, I’m always excited when the thought of waxy, creamy potatoes bathed in a light, tangy, herbal dressing pops suddenly into my head.  

I make many variations of this — it’s good with peeled or unpeeled potatoes, chives, shallot or red onion in place of the scallion, chervil, dill, parsley or basil instead of tarragon, and additions of chopped hard boiled eggs, blanched peas or asparagus or little slices of cornichon.  You can even add mayonnaise or sour cream or a mixture of the two if you want your potato salad to be creamy.  There are two critical things to get right though — one is making sure the potatoes are cooked to precisely the right texture, and the other is adding a  note of acidity to balance out the starch and sweetness of the potatoes.   Here, I’m using mild rice vinegar and lemon juice, along with some grated lemon zest for extra sunshine.

Potatoes can vary widely in size, shape, and texture, and as a result cooking times can be all over the map.  The size and shape variables can be mitigated by either carefully sorting through the bin and choosing potatoes that are as close in size and shape as possible, or by cutting the potatoes in halves, quarters, eighths, etc depending on their size so that all the pieces are approximately the same size, or into slices of the same width.  I don’t like to leave the potatoes whole, however, because I find that the exterior will usually be waterlogged by the time the inside is cooked through, and because the cut surfaces seem to absorb the flavors of the dressing more effectively.   The next step in achieving potato perfection is to carefully babysit your potatoes as they cook, judiciously poking and tasting, and draining them the second the crunch disappears.  At this point, a fork will encounter a small amount of resistance, and the potatoes should hold their shape well. 

This is good with roast chicken, fish, scallop chips, or anything grilled.

2 lbs buttercream, fingerling, or other waxy potatoes cut into either 1/4 inch slices or 3/4 inch-ish chunks
2 scallions, finely chopped
3 tbsp tarragon, finely chopped
2 tbsp rice vinegar
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp salt plus salt for cooking water
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Put potates in a medium pot and add cold water to cover plus 1 1/2 inches.   Add a hefty pinch of salt to the water.  Bring to a boil, and continue to boil “rather hard” as Julia says, until one of the largest pieces of potato breaks apart with a fork and loses its crunch when you bite into the center.  Immediately drain and transfer to a bowl.  Sprinkle with rice vinegar and 1/2 tsp kosher salt.  Allow to cool for 15-20 minutes.  Add scallions, tarragon, lemon juice and zest and stir to combine.  Drizzle with olive oil and stir again.  Best served slightly warm or at room temperature.

Diet Philosophy and Kickass Oatmeal

Monday, February 9th, 2009

oatmealI’ve been trying to migrate my family’s diet from an embarassment of delicious-but-naughty riches to one that’s healthier, but still delicious. The best way I have found to do this is to focus on getting more healthy stuff into our food, rather than removing things that may not be so healthy. I feel satisfied that we are getting a broad spectrum of nutrients, the good things come to replace the bad, and I don’t have to think about one of my least favorite words ever: “diet.” I don’t stress about a little bacon or butter, but I do belong to our local CSA, which ensures that we regularly need to eat through a wide range of organic vegetables, eggs, grains, and yogurt, and I do go out of the way to make sure our diet includes anti-oxidant and vitamin-rich vegetables, healthy oils and nuts, eggs and fish with Omega-3 fatty acids, and plenty of whole grains and fresh and dried fruits for fiber.

I started eating oatmeal for breakfast a few months ago, and it has developed into a minor obsession, and an important incentive for getting out of bed. I started out with a rolled variety, which cooks in just a minute or two, but I recently discovered McCann’s Quick and Easy Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal, which contains regular steel cut oats just like the original McCann’s, but they cook in about 5 minutes, instead of 30 for the original Steel Cut kind. I think they’re parboiled? Not sure, but they are infinitely better than the rolled kind — more nutty, with a less gloppy texture — and you won’t die of starvation waiting for them to cook. You can put anything you like on or in your oatmeal. Some of my favorites are:

  • Frozen berries — especially raspberries — the oatmeal thaws them out slowly as you eat it
  • Sliced Apples
  • Sliced Bananas
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Raisins
  • Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
  • Toasted Walnuts
  • Cinnamon
  • Demerara Sugar
  • Jaggery
  • Maple Syrup
  • Agave Syrup
  • Honey
  • A little butter or cream
  • Maldon’s Sea Salt — sounds wierd, I know, but try it with unsalted butter and demerara sugar and maybe some raisins and you’ll see what I mean
  • Strawberry Shortcakes

    Thursday, May 15th, 2008

    Strawberry shortcakes are a quintessential early summer dessert. When my mother took my brother and I strawberry picking as kids, this was a much-anticipated and ill-deserved reward, since most of the strawberries we picked seemed to end up in our mouths or pelted at one another, rather than in the waxed-cardboard crates we were supposed to be filling. Those strawberries sang with sweetness and tangy flavor, and the sun heated them to a perfect temperature to melt in our mouths. Later that evening, quick batches of biscuit and whipped cream would make perfect companions to our pickings. My mother used to make one large biscuit and present the shortcake like a regular cake. I prefer to bake individual wedges, sprinkled with turbinado sugar for sparkle. Shortcakes will keep overnight in an airtight container. There’s no hiding lousy fruit here. It’s all about the berries. Make sure you get the freshest, farmiest, most juicy and deserving berries you can find, and serve them at room temperature.

    For Strawberries:
    4 cups strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced. Reserve 6 of the smallest, prettiest strawberries for a garnish. If some have long stems, even better.
    4 tbsp maple syrup
    For Shortcake:
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    3 tablespoons cane sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
    1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
    3/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
    1/4 cup milk
    1 large egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    3 tbsp turbinado sugar
    For Cream:
    1 cup well-chilled heavy cream
    1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
    1 tsp vanilla
    Preheat the oven to 425.
    Combine sliced berries and maple syrup, and allow to sit at least ½ hour to meld flavors.
    Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Add butter and blend with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in zest. In a small bowl, mix egg, milk, and vanilla. Stir into flour mixture until a dough forms. Turn out onto a hard surface and knead for a minute or two until dough is smooth. Form into a 6-inch disk, and cut into 6 wedges. Sprinkle the tops with turbinado sugar. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden. Cool on a wire rack.
    Using a standing or handheld mixer, or a whisk and some elbow grease, whip cream until soft peaks form. Add sugar and vanilla, and whip until hard peaks form.
    To assemble shortcakes, split each one in half with a knife, place the bottom half on a dessert plate, and spoon most of the strawberry mixture on top. Top strawberries with most of the whipped cream, and cover with the top halves of the shortcakes. Spoon remaining berries around the sides and top each shortcake with a small spoonful of whipped cream and one of the reserved whole berries.
    Serves 6.

    Chimichurri

    Friday, July 13th, 2007

    My sister, aka the Socially Responsible One, has a summer internship in Buenos Aires working as an HIV researcher, and she recently graffiti’d me a recipe for the regional sauce called “chimichurri.”

    The internet tells me that the ingredients and preparation are open to some interpretation, but knowing my sister for a fabulous palate and a great cook, I decided to make only the barest irresistable adjustment of adding the zest and juice of a lemon.

    This recipe makes more than a cup — good for a few days’ use on pretty much anything, but especially grilled steak rubbed with spices, and scrambled eggs. It has a zesty bright flavor that tastes great with some hot July weather.

    Chimichurri

    All quantities are up to personal taste and can and should be eyeballed:

    1 cup parsley leaves, washed and dried
    1 cup cilantro leaves, washed and dried
    zest and juice of 1 lemon
    1 tbsp chili flakes
    4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled
    1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
    Salt

    Add cilantro, parsley, lemon juice and zest, chili and garlic to blender. Pulse on (my blender only does on/off) a few times to start chopping, then gradually add olive oil and salt and continue to pulse until mostly puréed.

    June Farmer’s Market Supper

    Monday, June 25th, 2007

    Carmelized Scallops, Sugar Snap Peas with Mint, and Roasted Beet Salad

    The McCarren Park Farmer’s Market is starting to get exciting! The fish guys have been here for a few weeks (although sadly, no weakfish), but now my favorite weird vegetable guy is back, along with stalwarts RonnyBrook Farm, RedJacket Orchard and Dines Farms, among others. To celebrate, I made a super-plain, super-fresh dinner of fresh vegetables, herbs, and scallops.

    If you want to make everything, the beets take about 1 1/2 hours, so start them first, then do the prep and cook the scallops and peas once the beets are finished roasting.

    For Beets

    1 bunch small- to medium-sized beets, greens and tips trimmed off
    3 tbsp chopped chives
    1 tbsp rice vinegar
    1 1/2 tbsp walnut or olive oil
    salt to taste

    Preheat oven to 350. Wrap beets individually in aluminium foil. Roast 1+ hours. When beets are done, a knife should pierce them easily. Remove beets from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Remove skins, and cut into regular cubes. Dress in remaining ingredients.

    For Scallops

    10 large sea scallops, muscle removed (the little tough bit stuck to the side)
    1/2 tbsp butter
    kosher salt
    pepper
    1/3 cup white wine
    2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    1/2 lemon

    Heat a heavy-bottomed medium-large size saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add half the butter to the pan, and swirl to coat the surface. Place scallops in the pan on one flat end, in order from largest to smallest (so that the larger scallops cook for slightly longer.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Do not shake the pan or move the scallops in any way for 2 minutes, then carefully turn them over (tongs are the best scallop turner,) sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook for another two minutes. Remove scallops to a warm plate, add the remaining butter, and cook the garlic in the butter for 30 seconds until just barely beginning to turn golden. Add wine and swirl over the bottom of the pan to deglaze, then use a rubber spatula to bring up any bits of scallop or friedness. Reduce to about two tbsp, and spoon over scallops before serving. Serve with lemon wedge.

    For Peas

    1/2 lb fresh sugar snap peas
    1 tsp butter
    1 bunch purple scallions, cut into julienne
    a good handful of mint leaves, pulled from their stems and cut into chiffonade
    salt

    Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add peas and saute for several minutes, until the peas turn bright green and lose any trace of “uncooked” taste. Just as they’re finishing, add scallions and mint and saute for about 30 more seconds until scallions lose their sharpness. Remove from heat and add salt to taste.

    Serves 2.

    Delicious Herbs You Can Grow at Home

    Thursday, May 11th, 2006

    (originally posted on lime.com)

    A trip to your local farmer’s market at this time of year can yield an awesome selection of herbs that have already been started in small pots or flats. These will not only look great planted in containers on your windowsill, fire escape, deck, stoop, or whatever, they can add delicious flavors and aromas to anything from pesto to pound cake throughout the summer, and most likely, well into the fall.

    Most herbs are easy to grow, even for horticulturally-challenged individuals such as myself, as long as you water them and regularly move them around to take advantage of sunlight. I grow mine in terracotta pots, but you can use any kind of container (cookie tins, wooden crates, metal buckets, chimney pipes, half-barrels) so long as it can be filled with dirt, allows moisture to drain from the bottom, and allows room for the plants’ roots to grow. Garden soil is too dense for proper drainage and root growth. Instead, a good choice would be a low-cost potting mix combined with a more nutrient-rich selection like 100% organic Black Gold, made with worm castings, peat moss, and pumice. You may also add a good-quality natural fertilizer. To prepare the containers for planting, place a small pile of pot shards or rocks over or around the container’s drainage holes. Then fill the container most of the way to the top with your pre-mixed potting soil.

    You can combine several kinds of herbs into a single container, but be aware of the light, water, and temperature needs of the herbs you wish to combine to make sure they’re compatible. One of the best features of buying herbs at the farmer’s market is the chance to talk with the grower, as they will usually have the best information about what works in your climate zone.

    What herbs should you plant? Clearly, plan on large quantities of anything you like to use frequently, but don’t limit yourself to what’s already familiar. There are unusual and tasty variations to be had, from lemon thyme and chocolate mint to less familiar herbs like chervil and sorrel. I like to try a few new things every year. Here are some less-common varieties to look for, with some possible dishes you could try them in:

    – Blue and Purple Basil: Zucchini Au Gratin, Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

    – French Tarragon: Potato Salad, Roast Chicken, Herbed Vinegar

    – Lemon Thyme: Crème Brûlée, Halibut Parcels

    – Chocolate Mint: Coffee, Banana Bread

    – Lemon Verbena: Lemonade, Sugar Pesto

    – Lavender: Shortbread Cookies

    – Lemongrass: Coconut Curry Fish

    – Chervil: Devilled Eggs

    To get a sense of an herb’s flavor and aroma, gently press a small leaf or a section of a leaf between your fingers and then rub your fingers together under your nose to release the scent. Tasting the leaves is usually a harsher experience, and is not usually a good indicator of the flavor that an herb will impart.

    Once you’ve selected your herbs and prepared your containers, it’s time to transplant the herbs. It’s easiest to transplant when the herbs are on the drier side – if they’ve just been watered, leave them out for a few hours before transplanting. I like to transplant in the early evening, so the plants have time to absorb a good drink before facing the sunlight. To transplant, first, prepare a small hole in the container where you want the herb to grow. Then, holding the herb in its small pot over the destination container, gently hold the stem of the plant between your fingers, palm down, and invert, removing the plant and soil from the container. Place root-end down in the hole, and pack the soil in around the plant. Once you’re done transplanting, give all your containers a good watering. Remember to keep up with watering – even one day of neglect can result in sad, wilted, scorched plants. As with everything else, there is a balance: it is definitely possible to over-water, so be sure to ask how much you should allow the soil to dry out between watering. To keep pests away, it can be useful to plant a few containers of marigolds and nasturtiums.

    Give your herbs several weeks to grow and establish themselves before you start picking them, and harvest judiciously, thinning the herbs’ growth rather than mowing them down. With just a little bit of tending, your herb garden will continue to reward you for months to come.

    Photo: PBS