Tag Archives: dessert

Roots

I am a biology professor at Emory University and live in Atlanta.

These are words that only reluctantly roll off my tongue – I still expect to wake up and find out this isn’t my life. In my defense, it’s been less than a month – I mean, I haven’t even changed my Facebook info or Twitter tagline (not to suggest that these activities make these facts ‘real’). Now, this isn’t my first turn on the relocation merry-go-round. A decade ago, I moved from the Pacific Northwest to North Carolina. Five and half years later, I moved to the Midwest. Now, I’m in the South. Welcome to the life of an academic. To be honest, when I moved away from the Pacific Northwest I had no idea what I was getting into.

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This move feels different; it has the weight of being a critical junction in my life. The intentions of it are far different than any of my previous moves. As an adult, the majority of my decisions have been career-driven. Why else would I have moved to the frozen tundra of the Upper Midwest? Mostly because I knew it wasn’t going to be forever. But this move? This move has the potential to be my last. That’s a complicated thought.

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In many ways, this department, this institution, this city and corner of the country, all feel like a natural ‘fit’ for me. I don’t think I can clearly articulate all the factors that go into that statement. It feels good and it feels right. When you know, you know. With the exceptions being of course, the many things that I don’t know. Regardless, I am incredibly lucky to be in this situation when so many other academics are not.

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Still, it’s more than a little scary to start again in a new place. When I moved to North Carolina I was 23, on the brink of adulthood, single and beginning a journey with people who would end up being major fixtures in my life. When I moved to Minneapolis, I was 29, no longer single, and infiltrating an established lab and community that when I left it still didn’t feel like I completely belonged. Now I’m 33, single again (and wise enough to know that my life is rich with my other relationships) in a new city with barely a pre-existing connection and entering a whole new realm of my life. I’m excited to get started and anxious to find my way.

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These thoughts have been swirling in my mind for the last six months, every since I got the phone call offering me THE job of my dreams. And the only wrinkle is that it seems as though I won’t be returning home. Home, of course, being the Pacific Northwest. Every year it seems I wax nostalgic over this special place – there are so many things about it that resonate with me. So, it’s hard to think that even after a decade away, I won’t be settling there.

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I strategically planned my move to be able to have a few weeks on the West Coast, buffering my transition from postdoc to professor. Partly to give myself a break so that when I started, I really started ‘fresh.’ But more so to give me much-needed time with the place and the people that have shaped who I’ve become. To remind myself where I came from and dig around my roots before transplanting myself yet again.

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I didn’t think I had a childhood home. We moved out of the house I was an infant in, lived briefly with my aunt and uncle before moving to a house when I started kindergarten, and then built another one when I was in high school, temporarily living with my grandfather during the construction. Now my parents live in yet a different house. All in in Olympia, I grant you and always surrounded by family, but I have never held sentimental value in the structures I grew up in.

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So it hit me like a ton of bricks when I spent a few days in our cabin in the southern Cascades. I hadn’t been back there since I moved away in 2004 – my trips home have always seemed too short to warrant a 2-hour drive into the mountains. It was like stepping into a time capsule of my youth. I had no idea of the enormity to which I missed this place and how much my family (including most of my extended family) is enveloped in it. My dad had spent many nights and weekends designing the cabin and the entire family pitched in to build the thing from the ground up. The avocado green stove! The country blue couches! The comforter covered in primary-colored hearts from when I was five! I’m pretty sure the décor hasn’t been touched since we first built it 25 years ago. And while, incredibly out of date, it was immensely reassuring to be back. The floodgates opened and the memories stormed in. My aunt burning her eyebrows cooking bacon on the barbecue. Weekend ski trips with the cousins. Jumping off of the 35-foot Jody’s Bridge during on sweltering 95-degree Labor Day weekend. Driving down the forest service roads with Dad towards our next hike. Games of gin rummy on the porch. It was all waiting for me, in this tiny cabin that I had returned to.

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One day I climbed up to Sunrise Peak for a 360-degree view including: Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helen’s. There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by majestic mountains to gain some perspective. On another day I hiked through old growth forest into Packwood Lake to reconnect with my motivation to study biology (who knew that a girl who like play in the woods would end up studying the sex lives of yeast!). It was exactly what I was hoping to find and helped me garner the strength to move forward in this next adventure.

Blackberry-Hazelnut Torte

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Can you imagine a dessert any more ‘Pacific Northwest’ than this? I am more than a little late posting this recipe, blackberry season is long past us (I’ve been slightly busy in recent weeks – hello, I’m new faculty!). If you are anything like my family than you have squirreled away some of the deep purple jewels in your freezer. Plus – it uses 8 (8!!!) egg whites, making it an excellent justification to make two quarts of ice cream so not to waste the yolks.
 
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5 ounces hazelnut flour (alternatively, you can toast and finely grind whole nuts)
10.5 ounces (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar, divided
4.5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons bourbon
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
8 large egg whites
2 cups wild blackberries
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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10-inch springform pan.
 
Whisk hazelnut and AP flours, ¾ cup (5.25 ounces) sugar and salt together in a bowl.
 
In a small saucepan, cook the butter over moderate heat until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Let cool slightly, then stir in the bourbon and vanilla.
 
Using a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they form very soft peaks.
Gradually add the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar and continue beating until the whites hold soft peaks. Alternately fold the flour mixture and browned butter into the egg whites in 3 batches. Gently fold in the blackberries.
 
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until the cake is golden and just beginning to pull away from the side. Let cool slightly on a rack, then remove the side of the pan and let cool completely. Transfer the cake to a large plate to serve.
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Oh … hello!

Is anybody there?

This tiny, online space is not forgotten. I simply took some much-needed time for me. But I’ve missed this terribly. This place. Writing. It’s not to be overlooked or undervalued.

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I haven’t been comfortable sharing my thoughts, opinions and experiences for immediate public consumption. Striking a balance between my online presence and real-world life has been an impossible task over the past year (and it’s not just me). Nonetheless, there has been a fair amount of ice cream and perhaps a cocktail or two. Some fantastic travels to the south of France with dear friends and scuba diving in Bonaire with family (where you might just find yourself swimming with a pod of dolphins) and many other places near and far. A re-upholstered chair and a revamped sofa table turned kitchen cart. But more than anything else – life as an academic and biologist.

This past year has been a doozy and change is underway.

(The details on that are for another time).

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But on to more pressing topics … It’s springtime in Minneapolis! At last! Opening the windows, biking into campus, beers on patios and the start of farmers markets. – a glorious time indeed. I’ve been in a flurry of spring cleaning – my closets, my kitchen, the laboratory. No space I occupy has been safe from my critical eyes. I adore the process of shedding winter layers. To rediscover lost treasures and carefully assess what to keep close and what to finally let go of.  It’s no small task and not an easy one either. But the psychological satisfaction of this particular accomplishment is one of the best there is. It’s not for everybody, but it certainly is for me.

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Now that the dust has been cleared and I’ve got no upcoming travel scheduled, I’ve been having fun playing in my kitchen. To brush up on my skills and hone my culinary instincts. To anticipate the summer bounty and enjoy fresh, seasonal food again. Which brings me to … RHUBARB!!! I’ve waxed poetic time and time and time again about my favorite spring crop, so let me just cut to the chase. An afternoon tart of roasted rhubarb with cardamom pastry cream and orange poppyseed shortbread crust.

This dish took me the better part of a Saturday morning, but there is no reason why the parts can’t be made independently and assembled whenever it pleases you. It’s good. Very good. In my opinion, worth not only the time, but also the number of dirty dishes.

 Not-so simple rhubarb tart
Serves 4
 
Roasted Rhubarb
~10 oz rhubarb, cut in 4 inch pieces
3/4 – 1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
 
Combine all ingredients in an oven safe dish. Roast at 300 degrees for about 50 minutes, occasionally  so that the rhubarb is soft, but still holds its shape and the juice is reduced to about a quarter cup or so.
 
Cardamom Pastry Cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
2 eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½” cubes
 
Make the filling: Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, cardamom, and salt in a 2-qt. saucepan; whisk in milk and eggs. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat; whisk in butter. Transfer mixture to a bowl (pressing through a sieve, if you are so inclined, as I usually am); press a piece of plastic wrap onto surface of filling. Refrigerate until ready to use.
 
Orange Poppyseed Shortbread Crust 
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon orange extract
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
 
Cream the butter, mix in the sugar, lemon zest, poppy seeds and salt followed by the flour and mix until it forms crumbs. Press the mixture into a 4” x 13.5” rectangular tart pan. Freeze for 10-15 minutes and bake in a preheated 400F oven until lightly golden brown, about 15 minutes before letting it cool.
 
Assembly
Spread chilled cardamom pastry cream into baked shortbread crust. Carefully top with roasted rhubarb pieces. Brush with the reduced vanilla orange juice. Serve cold or at room temperature.

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
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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
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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.

Two days off …

That manuscript I’ve been working on? I submitted it on Friday afternoon. Then I took the whole weekend off.

And did the most everyday things like … laundry and cleaning out the fridge. A walk to the bookstore and the kitchen store. There was a lot of time spent on my couch – watching movies and taking naps (sometimes taking naps while watching movies). You know, weekend stuff.

Unsurprisingly, there was some thought about food and time spent in the kitchen. And future plans. In less than a couple of weeks my dear, dear friend Robin is coming to visit and play in Minneapolis for the weekend. The last time she was here was January 2011 and it was beyond cold and snowy. We drank wine and cooked dinner and watched terrible movies. We made a peach shortcake with canned peaches and cinnamon scented whipped cream.

(What does it mean that I remember dessert from a year and half ago, but cannot for the life of me remember the movie we watched?)

That dessert was humble, thought up while standing in the grocery store. It was cozy and homey and perfect for the frightful weather. However, the weather right now is anything but frightful. And peaches are coming into their own. I spent a good part of Saturday conjuring up a summer version of that shortcake with canned peaches. I admit, there was an appetizer my friend Laura cooked up last weekend that I haven’t quite been able to get out of my head – prosciutto-wrapped peaches with basil. Savory, sweet, salty and screaming of summer. So I hijacked the idea and turned it into a dessert.

Bacon Buttermilk Shortcakes with Minted Balsamic Peaches (and sweet basil ice cream if you’d like). Sometimes I have food ideas that disappoint with my execution of them. This is not one of those times. It’s a dish that works easily at the start of the day, or the middle of the afternoon or as a finishing thought late at night. It’s possible that it’s not so great and I am simply smitten with it because I had the time and the inclination to think about food after so many science-centric weeks …

Bacon Buttermilk Shortcakes with Minted Balsamic Peaches
makes 2 shortcakes
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1 cup flour
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
7/8 teaspoon baking powder
3/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup buttermilk
3 slices cooked bacon, crumbled in bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon heavy cream
 
2 ripe peaches, peeled and cut in bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
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Preheat oven to 400º. In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Pulse a couple of times. Add butter and pulse for about 30 seconds, until dough resembles cornmeal. Add buttermilk and process until just combined, adding more flour if too sticky. Turn dough over onto a floured surface, sprinkle bacon pieces and knead together a couple of times until bacon is well distributed. Pat dough out to 1-inch thickness and cut into two 3-inch rounds. Brush with heavy cream and bake for 25 minutes.

While the shortcakes are baking, toss diced peaches, sugar, balsamic vinegar and mint in a small bowl. Slice baked shortcakes in half, spoon peaches over and top with remaining biscuit.

 

Honey Lavender Browned Butter Rhubarb Crisp

I’m not taking the day off for Memorial Day. I have no barbeques or picnics to attend. I’m headed off to the lab to play with my yeasties so that I can take off next weekend. I am going to be spending a few days in Washington, in the company of my family. So I’m okay with not taking the holiday today.

But let’s say I was going to go to a barbeque … I would bring rhubarb crisp. Rhubarb crisp sweetened with honey and flavored with lavender. Topped with an oatmeal-brown sugar topping made altogether more decadent by not just melting the butter, but browning it. With a handful of slivered toasted almonds for a little crunch. Oh boy.

Let’s be honest here. I making this dessert regardless of going to a barbeque or not. I’m just making enough to fill a 6 x 6 inch dish and not a 9 x 13 inch dish. Three generous servings that I am happy not to have to share. One for breakfast this morning, one for dessert later and one for breakfast tomorrow. And because this is a crisp, easy enough to scale up if you’d like. Fill a dish with fruit. Add something to sweeten to your taste (I like my rhubarb, well any fruit really, on the face-puckering side of things). Top with equal parts flour, oats, brown sugar and enough melted butter to bring the dough together. Bake. Eat. Enjoy.

I’ll say it again: I’m okay with not taking the holiday today. I might, however spend the morning working from home first – drinking my coffee and eating a proper breakfast.

Honey Lavender Browned Butter Rhubarb Crisp
serves 2
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2 cups rhubarb, cut in 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon lavender6 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
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Toss together rhubarb and honey in a small (I used 0.75 quart, ~6 x 6 inch) baking dish. Crush the lavender with your hands and sprinkle over rhubarb. Set aside. In a small saucepan, heat butter until browned, about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. In a small bowl combine flour, oats, brown sugar, slivered almonds. Stir in browned butter until a dough forms. Sprinkle over rhubarb. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until crust is brown and fruit is bubbling.