Tag Archives: kitchen adventures

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.

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!

Rhubarb Pie à la mode and a lesson in kitchen math

Rhubarb. People don’t call it the ‘pie plant’ for nothing.

I decided to keep it simple with the first batch of the season. Straight up rhubarb pie with a citrus twist. À la mode, of course.

But first, a lesson in kitchen math. It’s no secret that I like to bake and share. However, somethings are easier to bring into work than other. Cookies, cupcakes, quick breads, brownies all have a hardiness to them that lends themselves well to transport and sharing. Pies, on the other hand have a certain delicacy to them that does not. I like pies, but eating an entire pie on my own is probably not the greatest idea. Enter the 7-inch pie pan.

I bought this pie pan as part of a set with a standard 9-inch pie pan. Mostly because they are in my favorite shade of green, but with the added benefit that I can now make a more reasonably sized pie. Exactly how much more reasonable, one may ask. Here’s the math: the volume of a pie dish = Π*r*r*h. So for a 9-inch pie pan the volume is (3.14)*(4.5)*(4.5)*(1) ≈ 63.6 cubic inches. A 7-inch pie pan is (3.14)*(3.5)*(3.5)*(1) ≈ 38.5 cubic inches. That’s approximately a 40% reduction in pie volume (38.5/63.6)! Eating 40% less pie – that’s a piece of cake … I mean pie …  well you know what I mean.

So how would one go about making 60% of a recipe? Conversions, conversions, conversions. And as I tell my students when they start working in the lab – keep track of your units! For example, 1/4 cup = 4 tablespoons and 1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons. So 1 cup = 16 tablespoons = 48 teaspoons. Working with our 60% recipe analogy, 6/10 cup = 28.8 teaspoons ≈ 9.5 tablespoons ≈ 1/2 cup + 4 1/2 teaspoons. Got it?

I didn’t say this was easy.

For larger volumes, I rely on my kitchen scale. One of the best twenty dollar investments I’ve made for my kitchen. 1 cup flour = 120 g, so 0.6 cups of flour = 72 g. Much, much simpler to keep track of (and doesn’t require multiple measuring devices.). For reference, 1 cup sugar = 240 g.

Let’s get back to pie. Rhubarb pie, specifically. I love this pie. It is bright, tart and sassy, perfectly balanced with a scoop of rich and creamy vanilla ice cream. It practically screams springtime. The rhubarb is cooked with a little bit of orange juice and a dash of cardamom and the flavors complement each other beautifully.

Rhubarb Pie
adjusted from Bon Appetit
serves 6
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Crust
180 g (1 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons ice water
Filling
6 cups 1-inch pieces rhubarb (about 1 1/2 pounds)
97 g (0.4 cups) sugar
2 tablespoons + 1 1/4 teaspoons orange juice
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons + 1 1/4 teaspoons raspberry-rhubarb preserves
 
1 tablespoon whipping cream
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For crust:

Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor 5 seconds. Add butter. Using on/off turns, blend until coarse meal forms. Add 3 tablespoons ice water. Using on/off turns, blend until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by 1/2 tablespoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball. Divide into 2 pieces, 1 slightly larger than the other. Flatten into disks. Wrap and chill at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

For filling:
Combine rhubarb, sugar, orange juice, orange peel, and cardamom in large deep skillet. Toss over medium-high heat until liquid starts to bubble. Reduce heat to medium. Cover and simmer until rhubarb is almost tender, stirring very gently occasionally to keep rhubarb intact, about 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer rhubarb to colander set over bowl. Drain well. Add syrup from bowl to skillet. Boil until juices in skillet are thick and reduced to 1/3 cup, adding any additional drained syrup from bowl, about 7 minutes. Mix in preserves. Cool mixture in skillet 15 minutes. Very gently fold in rhubarb (do not overmix or rhubarb will fall apart).

Preheat oven to 375°F. Roll out larger dough disk on lightly floured surface to 10-inch round. Transfer to 7-inch glass pie dish. Roll out smaller dough disk to 9-inch round; cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Spoon filling into pie dish. Arrange 4 dough strips atop filling, spacing evenly apart. Arrange 5 dough strips atop filling in opposite direction, forming lattice. Seal strip ends to crust edge. Stir cream and 2 teaspoons sugar in small bowl to blend. Brush over lattice, but not crust edge.Bake pie until filling bubbles thickly and crust is golden, covering edge with foil if browning too quickly, about 55 minutes. Cool pie completely. Cut into wedges; serve with ice cream.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home
makes ~1 quart
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2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 vanilla bean, split

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Mix 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a slurry. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium batter bowl until smooth.

Combine the remaining milk, cream, sugar, cornstarch and vanilla seeds and bean in a medium saucepan, bring to a roiling boil over medium-high heat and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Return to heat and cook until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Chill thoroughly. Freeze in your ice cream maker.

 

Practice makes … Pasta?

As you might have noticed, once an idea gets planted in my head – it’s hard to shake it free. For example, take this butternut squash:

Doesn’t it just scream autumn? I had been waiting eight months for this butternut squash. Last winter I went to visit my friend Jenny in Chicago to help her find a wedding dress and to learn how to make chocolates. While I was there, we went to Cafe Spiaggia (the restaurant where the wedding will be) and I had the most delicious butternut squash ravioli. Seriously – I am still thinking about it nearly a year later.

Previously, I had tried to make ravioli using wonton wrappers and it’s just not the same as fresh pasta. I knew this time I wanted to make them right – no shortcuts. I scoured the Uptown area for some fresh pasta sheets and then searched some more with no luck. Out of options, I decided to try my hand at pasta making, I mean, how hard could it be? Apparently no shortcuts means no shortcuts. So I announced my pasta-making intentions over lunch and was immediately offered the use of a pasta roller (Thanks Pete!). I was good to go.

Here’s what I found out: pasta dough is amazingly simple but in no way easy.

Two ingredients, that’s all, two ingredients! Flour, eggs (and I suppose a little water) and a LOT of elbow grease. Only pennies to make, which is kind of absurd.

I most anticipated the rolling part. After the first pass through the roller, I thought I had failed miserably. The dough was dry and somewhat crumbly. Not a pretty sight and did nothing to boost my kitchen ego.

But I kept going (if graduate school teaches you anything – it’s perseverance). Rolling the dough, folding the dough and re-rolling the dough. And at some point, something magical happens and the dough becomes soft and silky and recognizable as pasta.

I was completely enchanted.

Look Ma at what I can do!

That moment – that magical moment when the pasta dough becomes pasta – is utterly addicting and makes the whole process worth it. That is, if it is a Sunday afternoon and you are in no rush to make dinner…

Now, back to the butternut squash. I roasted it, added some ginger, parmesan cheese and finely ground hazelnuts and wrapped it in a ~3 inch square of pasta. First folding the dough in half to make a triangle and then bringing two points together to make a little “hats” (or cappellacci).

Add a little browned butter, sage and toasted hazelnuts … not bad for a Sunday afternoon.

Butternut Squash Cappellacci with Browned Butter, Sage and Hazelnuts
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Pasta Dough
2 cups flour
2 large eggs
water
 
Butternut Squash Filling
1 medium butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup finely ground hazelnuts
 
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cups sage leaves, chopped
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts
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1. Mound flour on countertop with a well in the middle. Add eggs to well. With a fork, break up the eggs and start to incorporate the flour. Add water as needed to bring dough together.

2. Once dough is formed, wrap in a kitchen towel and let sit for about an hour.

3. Divide dough in fourths. Flatten dough into a rectangle and feed it through a pasta roller, set at the widest setting. (My dough was very piece-y after the first pass through). Gather dough together and repeat until a sheet forms. Fold pasta sheet in half and continue rolling it until it becomes soft and silky, occasionally adjusting the roller setting to narrower setting. Keep pasta sheets wrapped in a kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out.

4. Halve the butternut squash and remove the seeds. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 350º for about an hour. Scoop flesh into a medium bowl.

5. Stir in ginger, parmesan cheese and ground hazelnuts.

6. Cut pasta dough into 3-inch squares. Scoop about a tablespoon of filling into the center of each square. Fold dough in half to make a triangle, pinching edges together. Bring two points of the triangle together to form the “hat.”

7. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta for about 6-8 minutes and very carefully remove/drain.

8. Cook butter in a skillet over medium heat until it starts to brown, 3-4 minutes. Add sage, toasted hazelnuts and cook for an additional minute or two. Add pasta and toss to coat.