A Tart Despite Herself

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Summer is a time to cram sugar-laced fruits into butter-laden dough, bake until golden and bubbly, and then eat straight from the dish with a spoon. Or share it with others. Years ago, a friend of mine gifted me a magnet that says, “Love people. Cook them tasty food.” I’m not an emotionally expressive person, so this rang true to my core. It’s what I do. Instead of giving hugs or stuttering over sappy sentiments, I make food for those I care about.

After an almost two week vacation on the road visiting friends and family, I realized near the end of last week that I hadn’t made anything in a while. Whether it’s cooking, baking, gardening, writing, or some sort of craft, I can’t go too long without putting my hands to work. And it shows. My hands look about 20 years older than I am. Even so, they’re one of my favorite parts of me.

One not so favorite part is my brain and its exacting inability to follow directions. I thought I had beat this. I had gotten so consistent at reading through entire recipes before doing anything else. Then I’d gather ingredients and read through it again. Yeah, so I must not have done that enough times to make it an actual habit.

On Thursday afternoon, I asked a coworker if I should make a blueberry tart to bring into work the next day. Of course, the answer was yes, so I stopped at the store on the way home and picked up four pints of blueberries that were on sale. I always prefer using produce that is in season for cooking and baking, and since we’re coming to the end of the blueberry season here, I knew I wanted to do one more dessert with them.

I also thought I knew which recipe I wanted to use for the tart. Another one from Kate Lebo’s book, Pie School: a blueberry and lemon verbena galatte. Except as a tart. So I glanced over the recipe, mainly looking at the ingredients for the filling since I wasn’t doing a galatte dough. I planted lemon verbena in my garden this spring and was pumped to be able to use it.

This is where things got funky. I googled tart dough recipes and saw the classic French pastry dough recipe in which you bring the butter to a boil in the oven and I got all sorts of frazzled with excitement at the idea of that. And then it was all downhill from there.

I mixed the butter, oil, water, sugar, and salt in a pyrex bowl and put it in the oven. Forced to read those directions multiple times because of conversions, I then looked over the other recipe for time and temps. If you’re keeping up, I was working with two different recipes at that point–one for the dough, one for the filling ingredients. What else could I need, you ask? I am not the one that can answer that for you, but I do know that I started following a third recipe.

No clue why, but I started using the ingredient list on the third recipe and mixing said ingredients, minus the lemon zest and opting for lemon verbena instead. Are you confused yet? I’m confused just remembering the ordeal. I have no idea how my brain made all of it seem okay at the time. After mixing, I check the third recipe for a baking time and there wasn’t one…um, what? Only then did I read the actual recipe and realized they were cooking the blueberries ahead of time and then just adding to a pre-baked dough.

Wow. I’d really outdone myself. It was too late to fix the fact I had tossed corn starch20160625_215600.jpg straight in with lemon juice and sugar and blueberries and I wasn’t going to cook them because screw that, my dough was ready to go. The one thing I did correctly. It sure was a purty dough and smelled like straight browned butter of gloriousness. I was a bit concerned that there wasn’t really enough to fill out the tart pan, but with some heal-of-the-hand work, I stretched out it to cover. Yes, I could have baked the dough and pre-cooked the blueberries at this point to bring my mess closer to that third recipe, but did I do that?

20160625_215631.jpgI did not. I piled those little blue pellets of sweetness into the tart dough and moved ahead with my version. Put that possible disaster into the oven at 375 for 45 minutes. I checked it around 35 minutes, but the fruit wasn’t quite to the consistency I wanted to see. It was just where I wanted it to be at the 45 min. mark, knowing it would still cook down some after coming out of the oven. It looked a bit soupy when I set it on a cooling rack–I was nervous.

Once again, my inability to follow directions did not an atrocity make. The blueberry tart ended up turning out quite well. It didn’t hold together as much as I would have liked, but the flavor was a perfect balance of sweet and tart. It went very well with morning coffee. The people seemed pleased.

Another success despite myself!

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French Pastry Dough Recipe

  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 rounded cup flour

Preheat the oven to 410º F

1. In a medium-sized ovenproof bowl, such as a Pyrex bowl, combine the butter, oil, water, sugar, and salt.

2. Place the bowl in the oven for 15 minutes, until the butter is bubbling and starts to brown just around the edges.

3. When done, remove the bowl from oven, pour in flour and stir it in quickly, until it comes together and forms a ball which pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

4. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch tart mold with a removable bottom and spread it a bit with a spatula.

5. Once the dough is cool enough to handle, pat it into the shell with the heel of your and, and use your fingers to press it up the sides of the tart mold. Reserve a small piece of dough, about the size of a raspberry, for patching any cracks.

 

Blueberry Tart Filling

3 pints of blueberries, plus one cup set aside to top before serving

12-15 leaves of lemon verbena, finely chopped

2 tablespoons corn starch (I may use 5 tablespoons of flour next time instead)

2/3 cup of granulated sugar

3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice

lemon zest for topping

 

Bake at 375 for 35-45 minutes. Check at 35. Refrigerate 45 minutes to cool or up to overnight. Top with fresh blueberries and lemon zest before cutting.

 

 

 

 

Blueberry Pickin’ and a Pie

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It’s the height of blueberry season here in north Florida and I couldn’t turn down an invite to go to a local u-pick farm on Saturday morning. We set out early, beating the crowds and heat, and were able to meander through the rows of plants in a cool breeze and quiet. By 10 o’clock, the pony rides, stilt clowns making balloon animals, and food trucks were in full swing.

I’d heard about Jubilee Orchards, the Lawton Chiles family farm, but this was the first time seeing it. Following tree-lined, winding roads, the drive itself is not far at all, but I felt like I was in a completely different world when we arrived. I do always experience an instant full breath of relaxation and happiness on farms though.

20160522_145328.jpgThe blueberry picking area was much larger than I thought it would be, with 50 acres of bushes sporting seven different cultivars. They are also currently transitioning 15 acres into a certified organic area. We both agreed that we were up for walking to the outskirts since we figured other people wouldn’t want to walk that far. That was a good decision. We were rewarded with berry-filled bushes20160521_095605.jpg all to ourselves.

One variety called “Farthing” had huge ones. Heh. Even in my big ol’ hands, the berry looked large. CHOMP. They were also deliciously sweet. I filled a good quarter of my bucket with just those. I knew I wanted a good assortment though, not only for fresh snacking, but for pies. Sampling a berry from each plant is pretty much a requirement. Not only from variety to variety, but from plant to plant, the tastes were 20160521_103656.jpgdifferent. Near the end of one section, we found some rows that the name had washed off the sign, so there’s no telling what kind they were, but the berries were all right at the tips of the branches. They looked like sticks of blue candy buttons up there. The fruits were smaller and had a slight kick of sour to them, making them a good pairing with the larger, sweeter “Farthing.”

I filled up with those and two other varieties before calling it a done deal. It was time to pay up and head out before the screeching delight of the childrens overpowered the tranquility of the farm. Heading home, I knew it was time to make the first blueberry pie of the season and I knew where I would get a recipe.

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Four pounds of blueberries later, I was home flipping through the pages of one of the three pie-related books I received as a birthday gift this year–Pie School by Kate Lebo. This is my new favorite cookbook. Actually, it’s the only cookbook I’ve read through. I mean, I really read it. Usually, I find myself skimming through cookbooks looking at the recipes and pictures, but not with this one. She is not only an engaging writer, but she writes about the exact thoughts I have had on baking and tools and the creativity of it all. She is my new spirit animal. But human. Spirit human. Or something.20160522_130655.jpg

Moving on…I was having trouble deciding between two recipes, but decided that since I wanted to make a pie specifically to work on my crust, I would do the Maple Blueberry Pie and maybe do the Blueberry Lemon Verbena Galette another day. I started with gathering the needed ingredients and measuring out how many berries I would need by pouring them right into the pie plate I was going to use. Using my usual pie dough recipe, I threw in a heaping pinch of sugar on recommendation of the book. I just love the look of those chunks of butter in the dough when it’s rolled out. Mmmmm, buttah.

20160522_130517.jpgWhile the dough set in the plate in the fridge, I mixed up the berries with the lemon juice, good quality maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, butter, and flour. In typical fashion, I couldn’t follow the recipe strictly, so I also added a bit of powdered ginger. Poured the mixture into the bottom crust and fitted the top crust, sealing the edges with a fork and cutting proper air vents. Coated the top with an egg-white wash and demerara sugar crystals. So pretty.

Popped that baby blue onto the middle rack of the oven for twenty minutes at 425, then dropped the temp to 375 for another thirty-five minutes. I ended up having to cover the edges with aluminum foil so they didn’t burn, which was quite the ordeal. It had already been in the oven for the first twenty minutes when I realized I needed to do this. Instead of just taking the pie out of the oven to affix the foil, I stupidly thought I could do it quickly while it was still on the rack. Many hot, angry minutes later, I was sweating and filled with rage. I immediately went and ordered myself a pie ring20160522_204358.jpg

The battle with foil paid off with beautiful edges in the end. The fresh-picked berries made
a huge difference for texture and taste. They were perfectly cooked and the spices and syrup balanced each bite deliciously. After cooling for a few hours, the slices even held together pretty well. I was expecting it to be much messier when cut. Paired with a spoonful or two of classic vanilla ice cream, this pie was definitely a win. I will be making this one again before the blueberry season is over.

Simply yumtastic!

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Pie Dough (makes both top and bottom crusts)

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 sticks chilled, unsalted butter, cut into half-inch pieces

1/2 cup ice water

Two pinches of salt

1 teaspoon sugar

Whisk the flour with the salt and sugar. Work in the butter until the pieces are about the size of walnuts. Slowly add in the ice water until the dough comes together. You may not need all of the water or you may need a little more. Go slowly. Separate in two, wrap in plastic, and put in the fridge for thirty minutes or so before rolling out.

 

Pie Filling

2 pounds blueberries, about 5 cups (I just pour the fruit into the pie plate to determine)

1/2 cup high-quality maple syrup–don’t skimp on this

Juice from 1/2 of a medium lemon (I used a Meyer Lemon because personal preference)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger (my addition)

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter cut into small chunks

5 tablespoons flour

 

Pie Topping

Egg wash, 1 egg white beaten with a splash of water

Demerara sugar

Meatless Monday in a Book

The past few months have flown by in a confetti tornado of many more activities than my introvert-self typically likes, but I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed myself…most of the time. In true hermit fashion however, I’m settling back in at home for the winter–if it ever actually arrives–and thinking about all the comforting meals I’d like to create.

Tonight’s meatless Monday meal was simple and delicious, yet unnoteworthy. But one of my Christmas 20151228_212206-1.jpgpresents is absolutely worth talking about. The beautiful book by Hugh Acheson, The Broad Fork. It’s an entire collection of recipes for fruits and vegetables broken down by season. I try to eat seasonally as much as I can, so I instantly appreciated the set up of this book.

Apparently, the idea all started with his neighbor asking him, “What the hell do with kohlrabi?” Great question. Although I know what kohlrabi is, I’ve wondered before what I would do with it were I to bring some home. In the contents lists, kohlrabi was among a few others I was drawn to learning about such as salsify, sunchokes, fiddleheads, and yacon.

20151228_213904-1.jpgI will delve into those “oddities” later, but what caught my attention most immediately were the recipes for Brussels sprouts. Being that we are in the season for them, and I adore them, I went straight to that section. My eye quickly found the fried Brussels with a lime vinaigrette recipe, and I plan on making that as a side for my New Year’s eve meal.

It’s hard not to sit here and read through this entire book tonight. The photographs are20151228_214204-1.jpg gorgeous and the recipes are the perfect instructional length. Look at that radicchio! I don’t even like this stuff, but I want to tear this page out and chomp it. The pictures throughout bring on the uncontrolled drool factor. I love vegetables, so I don’t need help with eating and preparing them in all the ways, but I can see how someone who is leary about what to do with them would find this book inspiring.

I’ll be starting with the Brussels recipe, but I’m sure that I will be trying many more throughout the seasons.

 

THE BRUSSELS ARE HERE.

Stopped at the grocery this afternoon thinking I would just pick up a bottle of wine and some sort of veggie for dinner since I had everything else I needed to throw together a meal. Instead, I saw what I’ve been waiting for all summer. There they were…brussel sprouts.

A whole stack of those baby cabbage head-wrapped stalks was right in front of me. Eyes wide, I stared in disbelief for a moment and then, suddenly, I wanted to wield one in each hand and run around the store exclaiming, “THE BRUSSELS ARE HERE. THE BRUSSELS ARE HERE.” I suppressed that urge and picked out just one stalk and put it in my cart.

wpid-20151029_194227-1.jpgI knew instantly what I was going to make, so I added pomegranate, Meyer lemon, shallots, garlic, pecans, bacon, cheese, and yogurt to the buggy. Grabbed a bottle of wine and headed home to start on my favorite ever salad–raw brussel salad with a citrus shallot dressing.

This is a salad I devour throughout the brussel sprout season. I seem to never tire of it and with a few variations, it’s kept fresh. This one also pairs well with different main courses or by itself for lunch.

Start with the dressing. Extra virgin olive oil and plainwpid-20151029_183330-1.jpg
greek yogurt form the base to carry the flavors of the Meyer lemon, chopped garlic and shallot, honey and whole sprigs of fresh thyme. I prepare this first so those flavors can meld together before adding to the salad. I like looking at the pretty levels of colors that form in the jar before it’s shaken up. But you gotta shake it. Shake it real good. Then set aside in the fridge, drop the bacon in the frying pan, and get to the tedious part of the process.

Chopping. Chop, chop, chop it up, people. This is a raw brussel salad, so the little heads must be popped off the stalk, outside leaves removed, and then chopped finely to a shredded lettuce texture. It takes about 30-40 brussels depending on the size. The stalk I brought home had medium to small heads on it, so I actually ended up using about 45-50. That’s a lot of chopping, but I love working with a good knife. It’s meditative. Once they’re shredded, cover them with cold water and let soak while you prepare the pecans and pomegranate.

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Pomegranates are another delight of the season for me. I eat a lot of them while they’re available. Now that I’ve learned the way to get the seeds out easily, I love them even more. For appearances, they add that pop of vibrant red to liven up the salad, but they also bring a unique texture and taste to the table. I used a heaping cup full of those beauties.

 

At that point, the brussels were strained, rinsed one more time, and then spread out on kitchen towels. While they were drying, I prepared about 3/4 cup of chopped pecans, shredded some pecorino medoro, and cut the cooked bacon.

Thrown together, the flavors, textures, and colors create a scrumptious salad for the season and it’s quite lovely to look at as well…

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I hope you all enjoy this seasonal salad as much as I do! I’ve included substitution options in the ingredient list which include a vegetarian way.

I’d love to hear about your own variations and how they worked out.

Dressing:

One shallot chopped

Fresh thyme leaves

Garlic, small clove

Meyer lemons, juice of two lemons

Extra virgin olive oil, about 1/2 cup

Plain Greek yogurt, 2 heaping tablespoons

Honey, 1 heaping tablespoon

salt & pepper to taste

 

Salad Ingredients:

Brussel sprouts, about 3 1/2-4 cups chopped

Half to 3/4 of a pomegranate (or substitute one package of low-sugar craisins)

Bacon, 4 slices (or substitute pistachios for that salty, “meaty” flavor)

Pecans, 3/4-1 cup (or walnuts if you prefer)

Pecorino cheese, 1/2 cup shredded (I’ve also used goat cheese and it was very good)