Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer bounty and stone fruit tart

It’s been a bountiful summer in my many ways, with work, friends and delicious summer produce (of course), and I’m so grateful for all of it.

These last few months have been so busy for me, and although at times I’ve felt like I might pull my hair out due to the amount of work I faced on certain days, I continue to be thankful and amazed to be doing what I’m doing. I consider myself very lucky to get to write and cook and eat and actually love doing what I get paid to do. (And having too much work is not a bad problem to have.) 

This weekend I was reminded how fortunate we are to have the friends we have, who make conversation easy and who make us laugh that real, wheezing, it’s-getting-hard-to-breathe kind of laugh. You walk away feeling like you could do that every night, full of appreciation and happiness. And though these times are not relegated solely to summer, there’s just something about dining al fresco that makes it all a little better.

As for the bounty of produce, we’ve been kept knee-deep in fruits and veggies for the last few weeks thanks to Full Circle. I’ve been trying out their weekly organic produce delivery and Thursdays have become like Christmas morning. I run downstairs as soon as I open my eyes to drag in the box from the porch and lay out the week’s haul on the counter in front of me, making mental notes about what I can create with all this loot. I do several happy dances. And then (because you can also add dairy, meat and other groceries to your delivery) I pour myself a tall drink of fresh, organic, cream-top milk from a GLASS BOTTLE, which makes me even happier.  It’s the closest thing I’ll ever get to the milkman and I absolutely adore it.

Now it’s stone fruit season and we were losing a race against time with a big bowl of peaches and plums…

Simple, rustic, tart and sweet; this dessert lets the fruit shine at its peak and it couldn’t be easier to make.

Stone Fruit Tart with Peach-Champagne Glaze

1 1/2 cup diced ripe peaches
1/2 cup champagne
2 tablespoons sugar

1 sheet puff pastry
4-5 ripe plums, sliced
2 ripe peaches, sliced
3 tablespoons slivered toasted almonds
1-2 tablespoons honey
1 egg, beaten

For glaze:
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat to a simmer. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until peaches are broken down and mixture has thickened. Force mixture through a fine sieve and return to saucepan. Return to a simmer and reduce until thickened to a glaze consistency. Reserve.

For tart:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Roll pastry out with a little flour to about 12x12. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush edge with water, then fold up about 1/2 inch border around the pastry. Use a fork to press down and seal edges. Prick center of pastry with a fork.
Fill tart with sliced fruit. Sprinkle almonds on top, then drizzle honey over the fruit.
Beat egg with a splash of water, then brush egg wash lightly on crust.
Bake for about 25 minutes, until pastry is golden brown and flaky.
Let cool slightly. Drizzle peach-champagne glaze over tart just before serving.

Disclaimer: While Full Circle provided me with complimentary produce delivery, I was under no obligation to write about or review it. All opinions are my own. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Things I love about summer and homemade choco tacos

When you’re in elementary school, the things you love about summer may differ slightly from what you love about summer when you’re an adult. There is no doubt that I loved the ice cream man with a capital L when I was young. Among the missile pops and ice cream sandwiches sat the choco tacos, which to me were the stuff dreams were made of. I would gladly pony up a week’s allowance for one of those heavenly tacos.

Now, as an adult, I admit that I will still buy a choco taco whenever I see one at a convenience store, but I have become wiser since my days of standing in line at the ice cream truck. Now I know that not only can I get them cheaper at home, I can also get them better at home.

Don’t get me wrong…the original choco taco will always hold a place in my heart, but as an adult, here are some things that I love about summer:
  • The way the light comes into the dining room windows midmorning
  • The smell of the food being barbecued
  • The way Andy smells after barbecuing
  • The fruit at the farmers market
  • The agapanthus blooms in our yard and the bees that visit them
  • The fresh, warm air blowing through our open windows
  • The way the patio becomes our outdoor living room
  • The way the kittens find the changing sun and lay in it
  • The warm nights that require only a bed sheet for coverage
  • The flip flop tan on my feet
  • The stillness of the evenings
  • The fresh, spicy peppers growing in our garden 
And, of course, homemade choco tacos…check out my recipe here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Food that makes me cry and curried cauliflower soup

That title may be a bit misleading because this curried cauliflower soup did not make me cry. It was good, surprisingly so actually, since I don’t normally put a lot of stock in cauliflower. But before we talk about that, let’s go back the food that did make me cry.

It is not an unusual occurrence for food to make me cry. I’m an emotional eater; not in the binging-on-chocolate-because-I’m-depressed kind of way, but in the good-food-actually-brings-me-to-tears kind of way. I have to admit, not so modestly, that it is my own cooking that usually invokes this reaction, probably because I have so much passion for what I do and sometimes it’s just overwhelming. (Andy frequently says that he never sees me eat with such fervor as when it’s one of my own dishes that I’m very pleased with.)

Enter the simple bowl of bacon and parmesan cheesy pasta goodness.

I was having one of those days where a tiny little funk had managed to lodge itself firmly into my psyche for no good reason. Cooking an elaborate meal was not in my future, but I was craving comfort food in a bad way. I had pasta on my mind and when Andy mentioned pasta with parmesan cheese, I was sold. As what usually happens when I’m “not going to cook,” I started cooking after all.  Chopping garlic, frying bacon…it always makes me feel better. With garlic sautéing in butter and bacon grease, I was happy as a clam. And then the simple assembly of spaghetti, butter, sautéed garlic, pine nuts, bacon, parmesan cheese and basil brought me to tears. A dish that took minutes to make had me sniffling a little more with each bite, reveling in its simplicity and downright goodness until I just let loose and had a good cry over my bowl. And then all was right with the world…

…until later that night when I cried at the end of 21 Jump Street (which is a comedy). How many of you thought, “Poor Andy,” just then?

Onto the soup…

Even non-cauliflower lovers should like this soup. Roasting the cauliflower gives it depth, while the curry and apple give it a nice flavor and a hint of spice.

Roasted Curried Cauliflower Soup

Serves 6

1 large head of cauliflower (yields about 1 1/2 pounds of florets)
2 cups peeled and chopped apples
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1/2 teaspoon hot curry powder
1/2 teaspoon sweet curry powder
4 garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon minced ginger
1/4 cup white wine
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups milk (I used 2%)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for roasting cauliflower
1/4 cup cilantro

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the florets from the cauliflower head. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast for about 25 minutes, turning once, until browned and tender. Remove from oven, roughly chop and reserve.

In a large pot, heat butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add apples, shallots and curry powders and stir to combine. Sauté until softened. Stir in white wine to deglaze pot and let reduce until almost no liquid remains. Add garlic and ginger and cook for about 30 more seconds. Add chopped cauliflower to apple mixture and stir in chicken broth and milk. Season with salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a simmer, then cover pot and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove pot from heat and add cilantro. Puree mixture with an immersion blender (or use a regular blender for a smoother soup.) If soup is too thick, add extra broth or milk. Taste for seasoning; add salt and pepper as needed. Return to heat and heat through.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A quickie: The latest news and a cherry-infused cocktail

This will be short since my eyes feel like they are about to pop out of my head. Before they do, I have some news to share…

You might remember these little darlings:

My adults-only Mango Mojito Pops, the perfect spiked popsicle for summer. Well, they were featured on Redbook Magazine’s website!  Squeal! (I find this incredibly exciting, in case that wasn’t clear.) Check out Redbook's round-up here: 14 Fun, Refreshing "Poptails"

And here’s how I remember the conversation I had with Andy after I received the email from Redbook (he may remember it differently...):

Me: (Speed dialing, breathing quickly, heart beating like crazy, trying not to squeal) Guess what??? I just got an email from Redbook asking if they could feature my mango mojito pops on their website!!!!!
Andy: (Silence) You mean the Redbook my grandma used to read?
Me: Well, yes. But it’s still Redbook Magazine! (Now picturing Andy’s grandma, Mimi, reading in the bathroom)
Andy: (Realizing that he’d better act excited) Wow! That’s really cool. Congratulations!
Me: (Still picturing Mimi reading in the bathroom) Sigh.

Anyway, I don’t really care who reads it, or where they read it, for that matter…I’m still excited! Yay!

What’s that? You think we should have cocktails to celebrate. Okay…twist my arm.

Homemade Cherry-Vanilla Liqueur

8 ounces Bing cherries, stems removed and pitted
8 ounces vanilla vodka
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water

Combine all ingredients in a glass jar and shake well. Let sit for at least a week, shaking occasionally. Strain and use in cocktails.

Check out my Cherry-Vanilla Sparkler using homemade cherry-vanilla liqueur …it's a slightly sweet and very refreshing summery cocktail.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Biscoff might be crack and Biscoff Cheesecake Ice Cream

I have a confession to make: Before a few weeks ago, I had never tried Biscoff spread. Never ever. (I know, I know…) But now I have. And I estimate that in about three months I’ll probably weigh somewhere around 400 pounds. Thanks in advance, Biscoff.

Now, I know that Biscoff cannot legally list “crack” as an ingredient on the jar, but who are they kidding? There must be crack in this product. Why else have I dipped anything and everything straight into the jar, including, but not limited to, spoons, knives, and my fingers.

Biscoff spread has been consuming my brain and I’ve been thinking about ways to use it in a dessert, although as previously discussed, straight out of the jar does not hurt my feelings one bit. But I took the plunge and added a large amount of Biscoff into my cheesecake ice cream base, which resulted in a heavenly frozen concoction that I could eat all day, every day. The texture here is more like semifreddo than typical ice cream and about 9 zillion times better.

Biscoff Cheesecake Ice Cream

Makes about 1 quart

8 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup Biscoff spread
1/2 cup frozen whipped topping
1/4 cup milk
2-4 Biscoff cookies

Combine cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk in an electric mixer until smooth. Mix in Biscoff spread, then add frozen whipped topping and milk. Lastly, crumble 2-4 cookies (depending on how much crunch you want) into the mixer and run until incorporated.
Pour into a container and freeze until set. Let soften for several minutes prior to scooping.

Do I really even need to say anything else about this ice cream? If a recipe has “Biscoff” and “cheesecake” in its name, you should just go make it…really soon.