Monthly Archives: August 2012

Anticipation

Less than a week from now I will be homeward-bound. I cannot imagine a time in my life when I don’t consider the great Pacific Northwest home. It’s been nearly a decade since I resided there, but it will always be where my family is, where my breath catches and heart stops with its sheer beauty.

Without fail, when I think of the Pacific Northwest during the summer I think of wild blackberries. Of of early mornings in my childhood traipsing through the logging clearcuts, braving the the thorny vines on the search for the small treasures, eating more than I collected. Small, dark as night, and mouth-puckering tart. My platonic ideal of what a blackberry should be. I’ve yet to encounter blackberries elsewhere that even compare.

At some point before my summer became insane with work (in a good way), even before I went out to visit home at the start of June, I spent a day playing with blackberries in my kitchen. It’s one of my very favorite things to do, playing in my kitchen. Taking recipes and mashing them together, tweaking them ever so slightly to incorporate the flavor combinations I’ve come to decide must live together. And when the colors just happen to be two of my very favorites in conjunction with a tasty profile – the stars start singing.

Here’s what we have:

Blackberry Curd Tartlettes with Lime Hazelnut Shortbread Crust and Honey Lime Whipped Cream.

Disclaimer: If all you want is a blackberry pie, please just make a blackberry pie. It will be quicker, easier and way fewer dishes. If you want to spend a day in the kitchen (as I am want to do from time to time), take a stab at these cute little desserts. Or at least make the blackberry curd and eat it on toast, blueberry pancakes (my favorite) or saltines (my mom’s favorite). I’ve also tried making this as a large 11-inch tart, but I prefer the little tartlettes – the ratio of curd to shortbread crust works much better in the smaller version.

Blackberry Curd Tartlettes with Lime Hazelnut Shortbread Crust and Honey Lime Whipped Cream
makes six, 4 1/2-inch tartlettes
**********
Blackberry Curd
(makes ~2 cups)
2 pints (~3 cups) blackberries
1/2 + 2/3 cups sugar (divided)
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
3 egg yolks
 
Hazelnut Lime Shortbread Crust
1/2 cup roasted whole hazelnuts
1 1/2 cups (180 g) flour
1/3 cup (80 g) sugar
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
zest from one lime
1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
 
Honey Lime Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
zest from 1 lime
3 teaspoons honey
**********

For Blackberry Curd:

Combine blackberries, 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 3 tablespoons lime juice in a medium pan and bring to a boil over medium-heat. Reduce heat and bring to a simmer, cook for about 6 minutes or until berries are soft and beginning to fall apart. Transfer to a small bowl (or blender) and blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Strain puree to remove blackberry seeds. Set aside.

In a double boiler (but not over heat yet) whisk together sugar, cornstarch and salt. Add egg yolks and blackberry puree and set atop a pot of boiling water. Cook for 10-15 minutes, continually whisking, until color lightens and is thick. Transfer to a blender and allow to cool for 10 minutes. With blender on, blend in 3 tablespoons butter, one tablespoon at a time. Refrigerate in an airtight jar.

For Hazelnut-Lime Shortbread Crust:

Place hazelnuts in food processor and process until finely ground. Add flour, sugar, salt and lime zest and pulse a couple of times to combine. Add butter and using quick pulses, process until dough is in pea-sized pieces. Add lime juice and process until dough comes together in a ball.

Divide dough among (6) 4 1/2-inch tart pans. Press dough into the sides and bottom until evenly distributed. Prick dough several times with a fork. Freeze for 15 minutes. Bake tart crusts at 425º until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

Fill crusts with ~1/3 cup blackberry curd. Reduce oven temperature to 350º and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, just until the curd starts to set.

For the Honey-Lime Whipped Cream:

Heat heavy cream in small saucepan just until steam starts to rise. Remove from heat, add lime zest, cover and let steep 30 minutes. Chill thoroughly. Whip until soft form.

Top tartlettes with a dollop of whipped cream.

Just Because … Oatmeal Cookies


This is not the first post I’ve written about oatmeal cookies (previous versions here and here) and it’s not likely to be the last. Growing up, cookies of the oatmeal variety were never my favorite (likely because my mother insisted on cramming them full of raisons, which should never have a place in cookies). Give me chocolate chip, sugar or even a snickerdoodle cookie before you give me an oatmeal one. I’m not exactly sure when the shift happened, but now, as a fully-fledged adult, when I crave a cookie – more often than not it’s an oatmeal one.

I like the substance to an oatmeal cookie and it’s hearty texture. Just a hint of spice elevates it to full-blown comfort food. And let’s face it, I’ve been in a less than stellar mood these past few weeks and am in need of some serious comfort food. I don’t care that we are still relishing the summertime or that stone fruits are coming into season. It was oatmeal cookies or nothing. And when I came across this recipe from the Tartine Bakery cookbook that included chocolate chips and walnuts … and just a few tablespoons of molasses, well I knew that these were the cookies for me.

And they were the cookies for Tuesdays’s lab meeting as well (not to mention a loaf of fresh baked zucchini bread). A lab member, who is limiting her sugar intake, looked longingly at my offerings. I, being the sweets pusher that I am, suggested “you could just have half a cookie” which is what she did. About five minutes later “eating half of one of those cookies is hard” was whispered in my ear.

I decided to take that as a compliment.

Chocolate-Oatmeal-Walnut Cookies
from Tartine by Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt
makes ~2 dozen
**********
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
2 cups (285 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups (170 g) old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup butter
1 3/4 cups (350 g) granulated sugar
 4 teaspoon blackstrap or dark molasses
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (115 g) walnuts, coarsely chopped
**********

Preheat oven to 350º. Line baking sheet with parchment or non-stick liner (I used to never do this, but I’ve seen the error of my ways. It’s about 15x easier to get the cookies off, plus, the added bonus of easier clean up.)

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Stir in oats. Set aside. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light and creamy. Slowly add the sugar and mix on medium speed until light in color and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the mixer as needed. Add the molasses and beat until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition before adding the next egg. Beat in the milk, vanilla and salt. Scrape down the sides of the mixer as needed. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until well incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips and walnut pieces with a spatula.

Have a small bowl of water handy. Scoop the dough onto prepared baking sheet (I used an ice cream scoop – they were fairly substantial scoops – I fit abut eight per cookie sheet). Wet your fingers and pat the scoops down into ~3-inch rounds. (The water remarkably prevents cookie dough from sticking to your fingers).  Bake until the edges start to turn brown, but is still light in the middle, about 10-12 minutes. Let cool on pan for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

I don’t have the words

Sometimes I think about how frustrating it must be to be a baby – to know that you need something for your well-being, but don’t have the words to communicate it or, more importantly, to even articulate it. No wonder they cry all the time. I’ve been feeling that way myself lately. Yesterday I cried, silently and shaking, in the bathroom stall at work. Why? I have no idea. It seemed the thing to do.

setting the table

At this moment, I don’t have the ability to articulate what is that I need for my well-being, in life, in love, in my career. I’m a 31-year old baby. And that is more frustrating than not having whatever it is that I need. I’ve been feeling restless lately, yearning for a change but not having a clue as to what that might be. It’s left me feeling (and acting) extremely defensive about everything you could possibly think of so as to prove my talent, my skills and my judgement.

cantaloupe almond milk soup with mint (and pancetta)

Should I move? It’s no secret that I don’t have much affection for the Midwest. Minneapolis, I like, but the Midwest is not the place for me. And frankly, the unhappy memories overwhelm the happy ones (which do exist) that are associated with this particular place and time of my life. But I want to move to a place where I plan to live for more than just a few years. Which means I need to find a job. A real job.

fresh pasta with garden veggies and pesto (and Robin)

Should I apply for faculty positions? Despite my desperate desires to leave the Midwest, I don’t want a second post-doc position. I’m craving independence but am totally scared out of my mind at having it. I’ve been a post-doc for 2 1/2 years – am I ready to be on my own? I’ve had a good summer, work-wise, and I worry that it’s over-inflated my ego and I am getting ahead of myself. It’s been known to happen. Or is it just a return to self-confidence? I worry especially because I am struggling to find focus with my research interests. I have a clear idea of the biological questions that I want to ask and investigate and have a good context in which to study them, but am lacking the detailed specificity that you need to write grants, apply for jobs and perform experiments (not necessarily in that order). It’s the whole articulation problem I’ve been having recently. The good news is, that I know that I want a faculty position at an academic institution, something that I wasn’t even sure of a year ago, or even six months ago. Finding one? That’s a whole other ballgame.

nectarine mascarpone tart with gingersnap crust

Should I start dating? I wish I had an answer to this one. On one hand, it might help me move on. On the other, I don’t think it’s fair to use other people to fix your wounds. I want to be emotionally ready to enter the dating world, and I don’t think I’m there yet. Plus, I have a fair amount of travel plans in the next year and I may yet decide to up and move in the near future. Is there even time to date? Or are these just excuses so that I don’t have to risk breaking my heart again? Sigh. I just don’t know.

after dinner

I know I need to work on living in the moment. Finding joy in my life as it is, and not letting the fears of the future weigh me down. But that’s easier said than done, especially when you are down in the doldrums. However, I do have a couple of shining spots in my life and it’s important for me not to gloss over them: my friends and family. I have a trip planned back to the Pacific Northwest in a couple of weeks (and for a whole week no less!) that will no doubt nourish my soul, it always does.

kudzu approves

As for my friends. I love them. Each and every one of them. They might be few and far between, but they are treasures in my life. Last weekend Robin came up from Texas to visit. There was eating and drinking (you’ve been gazing upon photos from a dinner party I hosted to welcome Robin to the Twin Cities), shopping and playing dress-up, some arts and crafts and cuddling with the cats, but most importantly, there was just laying on the bed and talking in way that you only do with your best friend. No filters, no social niceties, no worrying about being judged, sometimes about the small things and most often about the big things. The fact that those people exist in my life is beyond belief and I am ever so thankful for them.

the morning after

Okay, so life isn’t so bad. So why I am I so restless? And how do I find the words to articulate what I need when I haven’t even quite figured out what that is?

Sunday afternoon

Sunday afternoon is just about the perfect time for ice cream. (Although I might also argue that ten-thirty Tuesday night or five on a Friday evening are  also the perfect times for ice cream.) This particular Sunday is no exception, in fact it might be the kind of Sunday that begs for an ice cream interlude.

Enter the ice cream of choice this sunny afternoon: Cherry-Almond.

This ice cream took me three days to make. And I don’t regret a moment of it. I took it slowly, working on a piece here (Tuesday morning), another piece there (Wednesday evening) and a finally getting around to finishing it (Thursday) so that I could enjoy it this weekend. It’s a recipe from a new ice cream book I bought, Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones, from the Bi-Rite Creamery in San Fransisco.

I was drawn to this recipe – mostly because cherries were on sale and this recipe doesn’t require me to pit them. But also because in the course of making it, it creates a cherry simple syrup that is simply delicious with sparkling water. Did I mention it’s also my friend, Laura’s, favorite flavor combinations? And Laura undoubtedly deserves something special. I’ve chewed her ear off over lunch or cocktails or splitting the CSA for the past several weeks while I was working on my manuscript. So I made up a batch of ice cream just for her – although I managed to squirrel some away for myself. I ate some this afternoon with such enthusiasm that I managed to drip all over myself.

But that’s okay. It’s Sunday and I still haven’t dressed for the day.

Cherry Almond Ice Cream
adapted ever-so-slightly from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones
makes ~1 quart
**********
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups cherries
 
3/4 cup raw slivered almonds
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
*********

Poach the cherries:

In a small saucepan bring the 2 1/4 cups sugar and water to a boil over medium-high heat. Once it reaches a boil, reduce heat to a gentle simmer and add the cherries. Cook until the cherries are soft and cooked through, about 5 minutes. remove from heat and let the cherries cool completely in the syrup. Drain the cherries (Save that syrup … consider it a cherry simple syrup and is an excellent component of cream soda or cocktails) and squeeze the pits out of the fruit. Chop in 1/4-inch pieces.

Prepare the almonds:

Preheat oven to 350º. Spread almonds onto a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until the nuts are fragrant. Cool completely. Combine with 3/4 cup sugar in food processor and pulse until finely ground.
Infuse the cream:

Transfer the almond mixture to a large saucepan. Add the cream, milk and salt. Warm over low heat until small bubbles begin to form around the edges. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for ~45 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk the yolks to break them up. Set aside. Return the almond-dairy mixture over heat and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium. Slowly pour warm dairy into eggs, while whisking constantly. Pour back into the saucepan and cook until thick, stirring slowly with a heat-proof spatula. Strain through a very fine mesh strainer into a clean batter bowl. Chill thoroughly.

Freeze in an ice cream maker. Fold in chopped cherries.

For a good reason

I bought myself a present.

It’s for a good reason.

Presents to oneself are all the more special if for a good reason. I’ve been coveting new knives for well over a year now, but couldn’t quite bring myself to buy. The waiting, the anticipation, the final decision to purchase makes the whole thing carry more meaning.

Somehow, two years have past since I started posting to this little online space. What?!? Nearly two hundred entries and well over a hundred recipes shared. The twists and turns in life, love and science and my retreats to the kitchen. I’ve made a mess of things, but more often then not, I’ve also made something I’m proud of. So cheers to me!