about bliss

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

daily bliss: summer vegetable tart

Summer days, once my summer class ended, have a certain, perhaps enviable, rhythm:

practice yoga to a swirl of incense
eat breakfast, drink coffee, and read sections of the Sunday Times on the deck
water plants
walk four+ miles, listening to Splendid Table, This American Life, or Fresh Air podcasts
work on writing projects
think about, make, and eat lunch, perhaps while watching Giada or Rachel or Ina
work on writing projects or class prep or placement project
think about dinner
prep dinner, listening to All Things Considered or Fresh Air
debrief with G
ride bikes 10+ miles along the lake with G
eat dinner
clean up
read, internet, etc.

I spend considerable time, perhaps not reflected here, thinking about supper. This time of year, my culinary decisions are determined by seasonal produce, temperature, and energy level. We're right on the edge of summer abundance, and these days the fridge is stocked with summer squashes of all sorts, lettuces, cucumbers, swiss chard, onions, corn, and beans. The counter is filled with peaches, garlic, potatoes, and tomatoes. The deck is fragrant with basil, thyme (french and lemon), sage, lemon verbena, parsley, mint. The possibilities are endless.

Yesterday afternoon I made a summer vegetable tart, baking it ahead of dinner and chilling it, so we could eat it after our evening exercise without prep time. After surveying the interwebs for recipes, I created my own.

And it was delicious. G made many bold exclamations of just how tasty it was. And I agree.

Summer Vegetable Tart
Pre-bake a pastry crust. I used my favorite pie crust recipe and draped it in a 9 inch tart pan. I only baked it about 15 minutes, but next time I would bake it longer, as the final product wasn't crispy enough.

Survey your stock of fresh produce. Here's what I used, but you can definitely improvise.

1 clove of garlic, roasted
1 medium cranberry red potato, very thinly sliced
1 small zucchini, thinly sliced
2 big leaves of chard, pulled off the stem, cut into ribbons, and sauteed until cooked down
1/2 of a red onion, caramelized with fresh thyme
1/2 tomato, thinly sliced
several sprigs of fresh thyme
2 eggs, lightly beaten with a bit of milk, salt, and pepper
shredded wisconsin parmesan style cheese

Rub the roasted garlic on the bottom of the crust. Sprinkle some parm all over the crust. Line the crust with a layer of potatoes, then zucchini. Sprinkle the sauteed chard and caramelized onions over top. Arrange the sliced tomatoes in a lovely pattern, place the thyme over top. Pour the egg mixture over the entire pan, tilting the pan ever so slightly to make sure the mixture is evenly distributed. Sprinkle another layer of parm.

Bake at 350 or 375 until egg mixture is set and cheese is browned, about 50 minutes.

*notes: you could use more eggs if you want this to be more quiche-like. I only had 2 left, hence my decision. Also, fewer eggs means that the veggies shine more. I also used just a skiff of cheese as an accent, though you could add cheese between all layers if you wanted to.

You can eat this tart hot, warm, or chilled. We ate it chilled, with salads, and iced tea. Later, we enjoyed fresh blueberry peach crisp with whipped cream.

Ahh, summer. You're so utterly delicious.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

twd: chewy, chunky blondies

What to bring to a holiday weekend gathering Up Nort, where the beverage of choice is Miller Lite, and the days stretch long into the evenings (nights, next mornings...)?

Cookies and Brownies? (been there, done that).

Chewy chunky blondies? (perfect).

Nicole, of Cookies on Friday, selected this recipe, a perfect fit for a lazy, sun-filled weekend of laughter, sunscreen, Boone's Farm carbonated fruity malt beverage, and the ubiquitous Miller Lite.

These bars have bits of deliciousness—walnuts, butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, and coconut—baked into a scotchy, buttery dough. They were a touch too buttery (read: greasy) for my taste, but I suspect that could be easily adjusted next time I make them. And, yes, there will be a next time.

For they pair so nicely with adult beverages, that I suspect they'd be even better with coffee. Or milk.

Monday, July 26, 2010

daily bliss: walking at midnight

A recent Friday night in our little city: I need whipping cream to top the delectable La Palette Strawberry tart I made earlier in the day. G and I set out on foot for a nearby gas station that stocks dairy necessities (this is, after all, Wisconsin). The air is warm, the sky is dark but pricked with starlight. We decide to wander, curving down by the river, crossing the bridge, and walking past the newly restored courthouse. We see people: walking a dog, walking hand in hand, smoking outside of empty bars (Wisconsin just enacted an indoor smoking ban—hooray!). We circle around to the gas station, an hour after leaving the house for this simple, quick errand.

I shake the small container of cream as we head onto the dark street close to our home. We duck under hanging branches, listen to the laugh track of the TV or the whir of a fan from low windows opening out on the sidewalk, make our shadows wave and move.

Still. Sultry.

I squeeze G's hand and am thankful for his presence, for this night, for these city streets that I don't dare to walk by myself at night.

Once again, I reflect that a whole other world has opened up to me when I decided to share my life and strike out on a new path, together.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

twd: lots of ways banana cake

Banana Cake makes me think of my Grandma C, who made it for certain birthdays when I was a child. I believe it was a favorite of one of my uncles.

Dorie's version exceeds any banana cake I've previously tasted. With a dose of rum, and a handful of toasted coconut, how could it not?

I used yogurt in place of the coconut milk Dorie recommends, and found the cake still redolent of the toasty nuttiness of coconut. I also roasted the bananas until soft and slightly caramelized before slipping them into the batter. I baked a half recipe, which made two lovely, high-rised six-inch layers. I'm tucking one into Mr. Chill (aka freezer), unadorned. The other layer was topped with cream cheese frosting I found in the freezer, and a few shreds of toasted coconut.

G happily took a wedge of cake for his morning commute this morning, and I ate a wedge and a half last night, in love with the moist texture and layered flavors.

Thank you, Kimberly, for choosing this delicious, simple cake. I loved it! Check out her blog, Only Creative Opportunities, for gorgeous photos and her awesome innovations.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

daily bliss: squashes

This is the time of year I most enjoy food shopping, preparing, and eating. The grocery store run is reduced to once a week for milk, juice, and pantry staples. Instead, I (and sometimes we) head to the local farmers' market twice a week for vegetable bliss. Lettuces, cucumbers, radishes, peas, beans, cherries, berries, onions, garlic, broccoli, herbs, flowers, bread, cheese, and the ubiquitous, promiscuous squashes fill our baskets.

Ruth Ozeki's sprawling novel All Over Creation weaves a tale of food politics, culture, love, and values-infused living across the United States. In the story, squashes become a symbol of nature's untamed fecundity (oh, how I love that word) as well as the human desire to shape and tame their inherent indiscriminate proliferation. Whenever I see summer squashes—growing beneath the shady canopies of huge plants, overflowing farmers' baskets—I can't help but think of the glory of life, and the will to thrive and prosper with the right mix of sun and rain.

In the spirit of squash abundance, we're exploring a multitude of squash dishes. Quickly, simply grilled squash halves, slicked with olive oil, salt, and pepper, are staples. But, given G's love for this veggie and for foods new and perhaps even a little strange, I'm experimenting. And loving every discovery.

This week, we're enjoying zucchini muffins, studded with dried cranberries and toasted walnuts. I used Deb's recipe from smitten kitchen as a template, combining olive oil and yogurt to reduce the fat. I topped them with a bit of cinnamon sugar, which created a delicate, delicious crust. These are seriously moist and mostly healthful.

Monday night, I diced a crookneck squash and sauteed it with green onion and lemon zest. I added whole wheat pasta, basil, parm, and some toasted panko for a quick meal.

But last night's side dish scoots up to the number one position in the list of squash experiments: Heidi's summer squash gratin from her blog 101 Cookbooks. I made a few changes, namely making an all basil pesto as the sauce, and trying to use a little less fat here and there. The brown butter bread crumbs—made with a hunk of classic Poilane bread nestled in my freezer—were perhaps the tastiest part. The casserole was, to quote G, killer, when eaten warm. And, a plate of cold casserole for lunch today was equally fantastic.

My next venture? A version of Clotilde's tart, from Chocolate and Zucchini.

Mmmm, summer. So delicious, so free, so veggie promiscuous and. . . nutritious.

twd: brrrr-ownies

The best thing about this week's recipe, Brrrr-ownies?

The partial bag of York mini peppermint patties stashed in my freezer.

Oh yeah. An arctic treat on these warm summer days. (do you remember those old commercials for York with all the folks skiing?)

I used cocoa and butter in lieu of unsweetened chocolate--thanks to the TWD P & Q post for that suggestion--and Scharffenberger bittersweet chocolate. I made a half recipe of these brownies in my shallow square French baking pan. The brownies were a little flat, and had peppermint filling growths sprouting everywhere, but they were delicious.

Karen, of Welcome to Our Crazy Blessed Life, selected this week's recipe. Check out her blog for the recipe.

Monday, July 05, 2010

twd: tarte noire, my pick!!!

a happy dharmagirl with bags filled with pans and spatulas and whisks 

I don't remember when the first inklings of Francophilia struck me...but slowly, several years ago, I began to dream of all things French. The beautiful language, gorgeous landmarks, and, most significantly, the delicious pastry, appealed to my poetic and aesthetic sensibilities. 

As a recently minted humanities Ph D making her way through academic hierarchies—four years teaching as a "visiting" assistant professor, a rather lowly spot on the ladder—I had time to fantasize about Paris, but no funds (and plenty of student loan debt) to make my dreams reality. I researched Fulbright exchanges, but discovered that France required actual speaking, reading, and writing knowledge of the language. 

And so I waited. I found Dorie's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours, drawn by the delicious cover cake. I then purchased Paris Sweets and my fancies increased. 

About the time I joined TWD, I submitted a proposal to co-lead a nine day Study Abroad class to Paris at the university where I am now halfway through the grueling tenure process. I waited. And baked my way through the book with a community of bloggers who were funny, kind, and altogether charming. Their baking dedication trumped mine, and every week I was stunned by their photographs and innovations, their kitchen skills and creativity. 

When word arrived that our class was approved, I danced around my living room. Finally, I was going to Paris...

in a year and a half. 

I baked. I ordered more Paris books, most notably a little volume of Pastry shops, The Patisseries of Paris: Chocolatiers, Tea Salons, Ice Cream Parlors, and More, by Jamie Cahill. And, the invaluable Clotilde's Edible Guide to Paris, by Chocolate and Zucchini blogger Clothilde Dusoulier. I applied for—and received—a grant to buy the Rosetta Stone French language program.

As we planned the trip—monuments, gardens, cemeteries, cathedrals, palaces—and I selected the literary works we'd read—Wharton, James, Hemingway, Kerouac—I consulted Dorie and David Lebovitz for Paris musts, and added them to my personal excursion list. 

This past May, I frantically packed for my first European trip. I worried that the Paris of my imagination would outshine the Paris of reality. 

And then we stepped off the plane, boarded the bus, and headed to the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. My heart soared.

And, because you've been such a patient reader, I will bring you around to this week's selection, the Tarte Noire. I knew my turn was swiftly approaching as I stood in the Paris cookware shops Mora and E. Dehillerin. I coveted the copper bowls, but realized I would use bakeware more frequently and so I spent my euros on an array of tart pans and other kitchen goodies. 

When I returned from Paris, my TWD email was waiting. It was time to select a recipe. 

What better recipe to select than the Tarte Noire, an utterly simple, elegant, Parisian tart. I stashed a few chocolate bars and wrapped up my one block of Parisian butter and waited for this week. 

Today I buttered my mini tart pans, steeped myself in fond French memories, and started baking. 

I made a half recipe of the sweet tart dough and the chocolate tart dough. I made two versions of ganache, one featuring a bar of Lindt Excellence Fin Coeur Chocolat, a 70% chocolate featuring a thin mousse like center (purchased from the Carrefour store close to our hotel), and the other with Christian Constant's St. Domingue bar, a 64% single estate bar. 

Due to a kitchen mishap, I had to toss out one of the sweet tart dough shells, and so I mixed together the remaining doughs and made one shell a sort of marbled innovation. 

I hope you enjoyed baking this tart as much as I did. While the ingredients are not inexpensive, the preparation is simple, the flavors pure, and the result sensual and satisfying. (and no one will judge if you dip your spoon into the ganache bowl and enjoy it sans tart shell). 

G and I sampled two of the mini tarts this evening, the chocolate crust with Christian Constant ganache, and the sweet tart crust with Lindt ganache. G prefers the latter, and I love both. The chocolate-chocolate combination could be too much chocolate for some—you know people like this, don't you?—but not for a hardcore chocophile like yours truly. And yet, the contrast of the rich ganache and crisp sweet tart crust satisfies just as well. 

Tonight, I wanted—and needed—the chocolate-chocolate. A little intense, a little overwhelming. A lot delicious and worth everything (euros, calories, etc.).

Thank you for baking with me this week, friends, and may your week be filled with dreams and magic and deliciousness. A special thank you to Laurie for creating this awesome group, and, of course, the incomparable Dorie Greenspan for fueling my imagination and bringing Paris to my kitchen in Wisconsin.

Tarte Noire
from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan, page 351

While this is one of the most sophisticated tarts in a Parisian pastry chef's repertoire, it is also the simplest—and the darkest, sleekest, and chicest too. It has only two components—a sweet shortbread crust and a slender layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache. Made with fine chocolate (the only kind you should use for a ganache) and served at room temperature, when the texture of the filling resembles the center of a fine bonbon ad the contrast between the soft ganache and the butter-rich crust is marked, the tart becomes an exemplar of understated elegance. It is infallibly pâtisserie perfect. 

Because the ganache is made with just chocolate, cream, and butter, the flavor of whatever chocolate you choose will be the same from the time you chop it into bits to the time you taste it in the tart. For this reason, you should use only chocolate you enjoy eating out of hand. I like to make the tart with Valrhona Manjari or Guittard Sur del Lago, both bittersweet chocolates. 

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature

1 9-inch tart shell made with Sweet Tart Dough (page 444) or Chocolate Shortbread Tart Dough (page 446), fully baked and cooked

Put the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl and have a whisk or a rubber spatula at hand. 

Bring the cream to a boil, then pour half of it over the chocolate and let it sit for 30 seconds. Working with the whisk or spatula, very gently stir the chocolate and cream together in small circles, starting at the center of the bowl and working your way out in increasingly larger concentric circles. Pour in the remainder of the cream and blend it into the chocolate, using the same circular motion. When the ganache is smooth and shiny, stir in the butter piece by piece. Don't stir the ganache any more than you must to blend the ingredients—the less you work it, the darker, smoother, and shinier it will be. (The ganache can be used now, refrigerated, or even frozen for later.)

Pour the ganache into the crust and, holding the pan with both hands, gently turn the pan from side to side to even the ganache. Refrigerate the tart for 30 minutes to set the ganache, then remove the tart from the fridge and keep it at room temperature until serving time. 

Makes 8 servings. 

Serving: Purists will want to enjoy the tart at room temperature and au naturel. Having gone to pains to use great chocolate for the tart, you might want to show it off solo. Hoever, like all good things chocolate, the tart is lovely with just a little lightly whipped, very sparingly sweetened, cream. I wouldn't serve this with ice cream—the contrast between the thich room-temperature filling and the frozen ice cream would be too jarring. 

Storing: The tart should be served the day it is made. However, the ganache can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. When you are ready to use it, allow it to come to room temperature, then heat it gently in a microwave oven, using 5-second spurts of heat and checking on its progress vigilantly, until it is pourable. O you can put the bowl of ganache in a larger bowl of hot water and stir every 10 seconds until it can be poured. You can even freeze the ganache, tightly covered, for up to 2 months. Thaw it overnight in the refrigerator, bring it to room temperature, and then warm it in a microwave oven or bowl of hot water until it is pourable. 

Sweet Tart Dough
Makes enough for one 9-inch crust

In French, this dough is called pâte sablée because it is buttery, tender and sandy (that's what sablée means). It's much like shortbread, and it's ideal for filling with fruit, custard or chocolate.

The simplest way to make a tart shell with this dough is to press it into the pan. You can roll out the dough, but the high proportion of butter to flour and the inclusion of confectioners' sugar makes it finicky to roll. I always press it into the pan, but if you want to roll it, I suggest you do so between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper or inside a rolling slipcover (see page 491 of the book).

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons)
very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in—you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses—about 10 seconds each—until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change—heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

To press the dough into the pan: Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Don't be too heavy-handed—press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
To partially or fully bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. (Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights.) Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. For a partially baked crust, patch the crust if necessary, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack (keep it in its pan).
To fully bake the crust: Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. (I dislike lightly baked crusts, so I often keep the crust in the oven just a little longer. If you do that, just make sure to keep a close eye on the crust's progress—it can go from golden to way too dark in a flash.) Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.
To patch a partially or fully baked crust, if necessary: If there are any cracks in the baked crust, patch them with some of the reserved raw dough as soon as you remove the foil. Slice off a thin piece of the dough, place it over the crack, moisten the edges and very gently smooth the edges into the baked crust. If the tart will not be baked again with its filling, bake for another 2 minutes or so, just to take the rawness off the patch.

Chocolate Shortbread Tart Dough
Good enough to eat on its own, this crust is delicious filled with pastry cream and fruit, ganache, or pudding. Choose it whenever you want the full deep taste of chocolate. 

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablesppon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, cocoa, confectioner's sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in—you should have pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses—about 10 seconds each—until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change—heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and very lightly and sparingly knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing. 

Press the dough into the pan. To bake it, follow the directions for Sweet Tart Dough. 

Makes enough for one 9-inch crust.

Storing: Well wrapped, the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months. While the fully baked crust can be packed airtight and frozen for up to 2 months, I prefer to freeze the unbaked crust in the pan and bake it directly from the freezer—it has a fresher flavor. Just add about 5 minutes to the baking time.