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Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Shaved Baby Zucchini & Toasted Pepitas


When someone utters the words “…this is the best thing we’ve made…ever!”  ’nuff said.

Squash blossoms are available for only a short period of time in the summer and are the epitome of ‘seasonal’.  They are typically picked in the morning and brought to the farmer’s market that day and are best used within a couple of hours.  This dish is perfectly simple and refreshingly light without being short on flavor.

I spotted the original recipe on epicurious as we were walking through the farmer’s market trying to solidify our dinner plans.  Our modified recipe is shown below.

Besides squash blossoms, in looking for shallots, we stumbled upon green shallots, which I don’t believe I’ve used before.  I am positive the dish would have been delightful with regular, good ‘ole shallots…but I believe the green shallots made it just a touch more special!

Let’s talk tomatoes!  Tomatoes in the summer are serious business.  It is not summer without tomatoes that need nothing other than to be plucked from the vine and tossed in one’s mouth and with a tiny squeeze of the jaw burst forth with flavor and juice.  These miniature (sometimes referred to as Sweet 100’s) citrusy orange delights would have been so offended had we tried to cook them…they would have sprouted legs and walked right out of the kitchen (original recipe called for roasting the tomatoes).

I am often made fun of for appreciating things that come in small proportions (read: I love anything that is small or comes in a miniature size).  Prime examples of such behavior: I refuse to use anything other than the mini-taster spoons when eating ice cream from a shop; we shouldn’t even talk about the number of small bowls that crowd my cupboards; and I am addicted to small notepads and mini-books and have recently discovered some half-size mechanical pencils; so my love for baby vegetables should not surprise anyone!

How can you resist these little guys!?!

Make sure to roast the pepitas, the nuttiness and the crunch are very important for the final dish!

For squash blossoms

2 teaspoons olive oil
1-2 oz mild fresh goat cheese (6 tablespoons) at room temperature
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (pepitas), toasted until they puff
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
6 male squash blossoms with stems (not with baby zucchini), stems trimmed to 1 inch

Filling:

Stir together goat cheese, cream, pumpkin seeds, basil, salt, and pepper in a bowl and set aside.

Pipe filling into each blossom and twist ends of petals gently to close.  We used a ziplock bag and cut off the tip to pipe the filling into the squash blossoms.  Chill them covered, until ready to fry.

*We realized that we should have made the mixture immediately upon returning from the farmer’s market and filled the blossoms as soon as possible as the flowers were open when we bought them and closed up tighter and tighter as the day went on making it more difficult to fill them later on without ripping the delicate petals.

For vinaigrette and shaved squash

1 tablespoon rice vinegar (not seasoned)
1 tablespoon minced green shallots
2 tablespoons mild extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3-4 baby zucchini, rinsed and stems discarded

Purée vinegar, shallot, oil, pepper, and salt in a blender until smooth and emulsified.

Slice squash paper-thin (lengthwise) using a mandoline, then overlap squash slices decoratively on 2 plates.  Do this shortly before frying the blossoms and plating the dish, otherwise the slices will dry out.

For tempura batter and frying

6 cups vegetable oil (preferably canola or grapeseed)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup chilled sparkling water

Make tempura batter and fry blossoms:
Heat 2 inches of oil in a 3-quart saucepan to 350°F on thermometer.

Set a bowl in a larger bowl of ice and cold water, then whisk together flour and salt in smaller bowl. Then whisk in sparkling water until combined well.

Working in batches of 2 or 3, coat blossoms in batter, lifting each out by its stem and letting excess drip off, then fry, turning, until batter is crisp (it will not brown), 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer blossoms as fried with a slotted spoon to paper towels, drain, then season with salt.

For topping

2 tablespoons green (hulled) pumpkin seeds, toasted until they puff
Handful of small basil leaves (preferably Thai) or sliced larger leaves
1 cup small cherry tomatoes (sweeter the better), halved lengthwise or served whole 

Assemble plates:

Drizzle vinaigrette over squash slices, then arrange 3 fried blossoms in middle of each plate. Sprinkle remaining oven-dried tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, and basil around blossoms and season with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately and enjoy with a glass of white wine – we went with a 2008 Russian River Chardonnay.

The crisp raw zucchini where perfect paired with the crunch of the tempura and the richness of the goat cheese…add in the juicy tomatoes and the acid from the vinaigrette…and it was perfection!  Seriously…perfection!

We are dying to make this again…but just might have to wait until squash blossoms are back in season next summer!

What are your favorite completely seasonal dishes for summer?

 

Why, Thank You…!


Just the other day, upon opening my inbox, there was one email I opened right away…something about ‘comment…inspiring…lovely’.

Sara of SaraInCucina nominated me for The Very Inspiring Blogger  AND the One Lovely Blog awards.  She is writing for us all the way from Italy!  I could not be more flattered!  So first, I must give a big thank you to Sara.  It’s always nice to know someone out there is reading, and it is icing on the proverbial blogging cake to get comments and be nominated for an award (or two)!

Now there are some responsibilities that come along with these *prestigious* awards.  :)

1.  Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their site. (check)

2.  Share seven things about yourself.

3.  Link to 7 blogs who inspire you and link to another 7 blogs that you consider quite lovely.  (sometimes these awards are combined)

4.  Leave a comment on each of the blogs nominated letting them know!

So here goes…

  • There have been years where I spent more nights in a sleeping bag in the wilderness than on a mattress with a roof over my head.  That’s just how I roll.  And sometimes I even cook out there.  (you are correct – that is squeeze butter – an invaluable tool in certain situations!)

  • I completed a triathlon this year.  Okay…it was not an Ironman (’cause that sh#@&’s c-r-a-z-y) more of a spring distance…but that does not make me any less proud!
  • My first name (Gentry) is a typical last name…it was my great great grandmother’s maiden name and causes frequent confusion…thanks Mom and Dad.
  • I love to cook eggs (fried, poached, over-easy) but I’m not a big fan of eating them in these forms.  
  • I am slowly becoming a less-reluctant-Southern-Californian.  I don’t think anyone I know would have predicted that I would end up settling down in the LA basin…but I’m full of surprises.  Also…people tend to tune out when you complain about how hard it is to wear flip-flops every day and how you’re getting tired of 70º and sunny.  Call me crazy, but I like some “weather” now and again.  Don’t worry…it’s growing on me.
  • Sometimes…I don’t use the right tools for the job…even though I might own the right tools.  I attribute this to pure and momentary laziness.
  • Let’s just put it out there…I might be slightly addicted to shows like Monsterquest…which have a) no basis in reality; b) are somehow on the History Channel (how can it be history if there is no proof…?); c) some producers somewhere and a whole bunch of other people get paid to work on making shows about possibly real/more likely imaginary creatures; and d) don’t tell my husband…he’s a scientist!

It’s hard not to be inspired when you see what these bloggers are doing…click on over…take a peek and maybe even leave ‘em a note.  It’s just the nice thing to do!

  1. Garlic, My Soul – what’s not to love, really?
  2. Nothing But Bonfires – truly inspiring and hilarious!
  3. Semi-Rad – ’cause we’re all semi-rad.
  4. Hunter Angler Gardner Cook – reminding us that it doesn’t have to come from the grocery store.
  5. Foodie House – keepin’ it real!
  6. Tales From My Second City – perfect for a quick read and some laughs every now and then.
  7. Burnt Carrots – I promise…not everything is burnt :)

And let’s not forget about all of those lovely blogs out there that are making the interwebs a better place…and keeping it pretty too!

  1. Bun Boy Meets LA – love me some hometown info on local eating establishments!
  2. Triangle Honeymoon – you might learn a few things…
  3. Life Begins at Thirty, Right? – just lovely.
  4. Our Humble A{bowe}d – bringing you DIY loveliness from Montana
  5. Rosemarried – some awesomeness!
  6. Pearl and Pine – great photography and stories!
  7. ClookBook – a whole lot of greatness and some fabulous food photography tips!

So keep the blog-love going…and, of course, always thank those who read and click and share and write!

THANK YOU!

Refeshing Chopped Italian Salad


Raise your hand if you like salt…?  Yup, I see a few hands out there.

Salty or Sweet…????  I count myself in the salty category and in fact have been given various nicknames that reflect my affinity for the natural crystal, including ‘old salty’.  I would much rather snack on tortilla chips or popcorn than have a cookie.  I crave salt.  This salad is just perfect…a fresh (and a little bit salty) salad for summer with a hint of sweetness from golden raisins.

I was inspired to make this salad after dining out with my husband here and enjoying a dish very similar…we both remarked “why don’t we eat more chopped salads?”  This is, in fact, a very good question!  Salads can be tricky…I like them dressed and tossed; they can be awkward to eat if the greens aren’t cut to an appropriate size; and they can so easily be ruined by too much dressing.  The chopped salad is the answer to all of these issues.

Chopped implies a certain size…so no worries with the giant lettuce leaf sticking out the side of your mouth smearing dressing up and down your cheek.  Chopped salads also typically are chock full of ingredients going beyond greens…which makes them heartier (better as a whole meal), and more flavorful…so the need for a lot of dressing is significantly reduced.  Chopped salads are also a great way to use up leftovers…perhaps you have one baked sweet potato left and a couple crumbles of blue cheese along with some pecans…add greens and a light vinaigrette and poof – dinner.

This particular chopped salad is distinctly Italian with dry salami, black and green olives, radicchio, and feta. The saltiness is countered with golden raisins and the unexpected but totally necessary nutty component – pistachios and a good handful of Italian parsley.

Nice Chopped Italian Salad

1 head iceberg lettuce
1 head radicchio
½ cup of golden raisins
1/3 cup of canned black olives, sliced
1/3 cup of green olives, sliced
¼ to 1/3 of a small dry salami, cubed
½ cup of pistachio meats (shells removed)
1/3 cup of feta cheese, crumbled
handful of chopped flat leaf parsley

Slice green and black olives and cube the salami.  Next, slice and chop the iceberg lettuce and radicchio and put in a large salad bowl.  Throw in all the toppings – olives, raisins, pistachios, and salami.  In a small bowl, whisk your dressing together.  I went with a very simple red wine vinaigrette which I never measure…just eyeball the amounts and always taste as you go…it consists of olive oil, red wine vinaigrette, a tiny bit of salt and some pepper – just whisk it all together before drizzling it over the salad.  Make sure to err on the side of too little dressing as you can always add more.  Once dressed, add in the feta and most of the chopped parsley, toss again and then serve up with another sprinkling of parsley and some toasty crisps.

Do you like chopped salads?  What are your favorite additions?

PS:  Don’t underestimate the importance of the raisins!!!  I’m not always a giant raisin fan…but I wouldn’t imagine eating this salad without them.

Panna Cotta – Under Construction! {a little help over here…please!}


Okay readers.  Clearly, I am in need of your help, your collective knowledge and wisdom, your trial and error experience with the seemingly simple (any-idiot-should-be-able-to-make-it) Italian dessert – panna cotta.

Don’t get excited…I did not make this one…

{via}

I made this one.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that a perfect panna cotta is not supposed to look like this…

Seriously…I’ve searched and searched for clues as to why it separated…and I can find none.  I repeat…NONE!  I followed the recipe exactly.

Okay not e-x-a-c-t-l-y…but very close.  Instead of using vanilla, I used Meyer lemons as the flavoring, the juice and some of the zest.  I bloomed the gelatin and heated the milk, stirred it altogether to make sure it was good and mixed…I poured it into little ramekins and let it cool a bit and then put them in the fridge.

(and what’s worse…I served them to my in-laws who were visiting…who were more than polite and delved right in as if eating gelatinized milk with a weird-looking yellowish layer on top was nothing other than sheer delight – luckily they are good-humored individuals!)

It tasted fine as well…but the bi-level layering and the yellowish top layer was a bit hard to get past.

So what happened, huh?

Attempt number two is happening this afternoon…but, if that one doesn’t turn out.  I may have to throw in the panna cotta towel.

{I’m counting on you, readers, to pull me out of panna cotta hell and tell me what went wrong!  Puh-lease!}

oh…and Happy Mother’s Day!

—– UPDATE—–

I made a second batch yesterday afternoon using a Mark Bittman recipe for Vanilla Buttermilk Panna Cotta.  The process varied quite a bit, and I was sure it would work out this time.  Many have thought that my issue may have been caused by the acid in the lemon juice – but yesterday’s recipe contained no lemon at all!  I was feeling very confident and pulled one out of the fridge after dinner and dug my spoon in…only to find that once again…full separation.

At this point, panna cotta and I are in a fight…a big one, and currently, I’m holding a big grudge.  We’ll have to talk it over at some point but I think right now I need some space!  GEEZ!

So I now request your help once again…or I’m going to start email-stalking Bittman himself until he discovers the error of my ways!

Help!

2011 Meals in Review | part two


as promised…

2011 Meals in Review | part two

July

Gorgonzola Chicken Pasta Salad (a la D’Amico & Sons)

German Potato Salad

Summer Tomato Caprese Stacks

Bastille Day & a Little Liberté with Scallion and Chive Smoked Salmon Spread

 

August

Sour Cream Verde Enchiladas

 

September

Heirloom Tomatoes Bread Salad with Burratta

Zucchini, Summer Squash and Brown Rice Casserole

 

October

Tomato and Gruyere Tart

served with a little salad

Fresh Linguine with Mizithra Cheese and Lightly Dressed Arugula

Traditional Beef Empanadas (made mini!)

A little sampling of delicious items…cheese, olives, toasts, etc.

Niçoise Salad

 

November

Pumpkin Pecan Biscotti

Brioche French Toast

No-Knead Bread

Gougeres

Red Tea, Beef & Sweet Potato Stew

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

Excuse the phone photo…but that’s what’s left of a scrumptious braised rabbit with pappardelle from this place.

Chestnut Pancetta Stuffing for Thanksgiving

My Thanksgiving plate…and no I didn’t overdo it!

Couldn’t be complete without a slice of pecan pie!

The morning after was no let-down with Pheasant and Waffles topped with a Fried Egg and Mushroom Thyme Gravy!!!

 

December

A weekend trip up north found us eating at the Culinary Institute of America’s restaurant in St. Helena.  The Tasting included 5 delectable bites to whet our appetites.

The polenta sitting under the magnificently cooked piece of beef was quite possibly the best thing on the table.

Duck Confit with a Poached Egg and Frisee

Krumkake Christmas Cookies

Christmas Eve bites including Cremenelli Salami – a little hometown pride!

Christmas Dinner – Tenderloin of Beef, Creamy Dill Carrots and Brussel Sprouts with Bacon

Turkey Tetrazzini

The BEST use of leftover beef ever…sliced beef tenderloin topped with a cold Bernaise sauce

And last but not least, Short Ribs Italiano served over Pappardelle!

 

We’re making some artichoke dip and about to head over to friends to ring in the new year!  Tonight is for looking back and tomorrow, we start fresh.

A Whole New Year!

Happy New Year!

2011 Meals in Review | part one


As I’m a bit behind these days, I noticed while perusing my photos from the past year in search of a couple photos for a new year’s card to send out, how many delicious moments we had in 2011.  What follows is not only what we made, but what we enjoyed! 

The delicious moments of 2011…


January

Rosemary Sea Salt Dinner Rolls (recipe credit: Pioneer Woman)

Creamy Pheasant and Wild Rice Soup

Orechiette with Pheasant, Bacon and Spinach

Butternut Squash, Shallot and Goat Cheese Pizza

Pot Roast…good the first time, better the second…

Cumin-scented Butternut Squash with Onions and Wild Rice

Pot Roast Ravioli

Homemade Fettuccini

Boboli’s done right…!  (yes, you are correct…that is an egg cracked on top peeking out from underneath the arugula and parm!

 

February

yummm…pancakes

Delicate Scrambled Eggs with Truffle Salt

A Birthday dinner at Bouchon

Cod Brandade with Tomato Confit and Fried Sage Leaves

Frisée aux Lardons et Oeuf Poché

Croque Madame

Back at home…Cheese Soufflé

Lump Crab Cakes

Valentine’s Day Cheese Fondue

Tempura and Cold Soba Noodles

Baby Artichoke Gratin (recipe credit: latimes.com)

 

March

Fancied-Up Burgers

Seared Scallops with Cream of Cauliflower Soup

Welsh Rarebit

 

April

April brought with it a trip to Vienna for Woody’s work…

Käsekrainer – near perfect street food

Beef Tartare with all the appropriate accoutrements

Veal Medallions

Finally in the homeland…a full plate of spätzle just for me!

A celebratory meal at Meinl am Graben began with a Veal Carpaccio for Woody

Tortellini with Consommé and Crisped Prosciutto

Honestly…I can hardly remember what exactly this course entailed…but I DO remember that it  was incredibly amazing!

The third course of our prix fixe…again…perfection!

Although I can’t say the name of the place…the fare was delicious

A trip to Vienna without Viennese coffee would be a crime!

Back at home…Pacific Spiny Lobster with Fava Beans and Meyer Lemon

Grilled Cheese Invitational…who says no to that…?

Burrata with Cherry Tomatoes…there were plenty more sandwiches and a lot more cheese, but most disappeared before I could get a shot!

And of course, an annual batch of Deviled Eggs for Easter!

 

May

Fried Chicken Salad with Goat Cheese

Onion & Bacon Tart

Minted English Pea & Lemony Feta Crostini

Another birthday was cause for a trip to the Los Olivos region, some wine tasting and of course a meal or two…

Bistro Burger

Spring Vegetable Pot Roast

Ebelskivers

Savory Lentil Salad

House guests meant a trip to the Original LA Farmer’s Market and an Oyster Po’ Boy

June

Chicken Garlic Sausage & Swiss Chard Flatbread

Potato Salad – Two Ways

Poppyseed Cake with Strawberries and Mascarpone Frosting

Part two coming soon…

Beef, Olive & Raisin Empanadas (+ a veggie option!)


My love for savory fillings bound by a crispy flaky crust knows no bounds!

Empanadas…a South American calzone/pasty/meat pie.  In other words, a perfect bundle!  Recently we had reason to celebrate…Woody was named a Packard Fellow and while this is huge for his science…for me, it was an excuse to cook up something wonderful for a dinner in his honor at a colleague’s home.  Empanadas fit the bill…finger food, great warm or room temperature, no-plate-necessary and dipping-sauce-optional – good choice for a crowd and easily transportable!

There are many empanada dough recipe’s available on the interwebs, and to be honest, even pre-made pie crusts from the grocery store work very well for this recipe.  We made two separate fillings as there were a few vegetarians who attended the celebration; beef with olives, raisins and eggs and black bean, corn and raisin.

Beef Empanadas
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen | Beef Empanadas

Makes 4 dozen mini-empanadas

2 hard-boiled large eggs, chopped into bits
3/4 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
dash of cayenne
3/4 pound ground beef chuck
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons chopped pimiento-stuffed green olives
1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice, drained, reserving 2 tablespoons juice, and chopped
1 recipe of your favorite savory tart dough…or if you’re in a time crunch – 2 packages of pre-packaged pie crust dough

1 egg beaten with 2 teaspoons water for egg wash

To start, hard boil at least 2 eggs. I made a double batch for the party so I needed 4 eggs for the recipe and it never hurts to have a few in the fridge to make egg salad in a pinch for lunch.  We use Henrietta (the chicken) for cooking our eggs.

She tends to do a decent job and is relatively no hassle.  There are plenty of egg cookers out there…but you can get the same results via a multitude of methods.  For something different, check out Alton Brown’s baked hard-boiled-eggs.  Cool the eggs in an ice-water bath and set aside.

Heat a large skillet on medium high and add the olive oil to the pan.  Once hot, add the onions and sweat.  There is no need to brown the onions as there is plenty of sweetness in the filling that comes from the raisins.  Add the garlic, and once the onions have released a bit of their moisture, turn the heat to high and add the ground beef to brown.

One of my standard practices is to season with salt and pepper at every stage…this will give you the best chance that the finished dish is properly seasoned.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Add the diced canned tomatoes.

Golden raisins may seem an odd addition, but they are a quintessential ingredient for an authentic empanada!

If I made the mini-empanadas again, I would give the raisins a rough chop first as they plump up with the moisture and can overwhelm the flavor a bit.

I happen to LOVE green olives.  When I was a tiny person, black olives were one of my absolute favorite vegetables…and although it took me some time to warm up to the green versions…they are now my absolute favorite.  I can think of no better pizza topping than chopped green olives!

Add the chopped olives and raisins to the pan and toss them around.  Deb at Smitten Kitchen mentioned that the flavor was a bit flat, so I added a few things to enliven the mixture.  I started with some smoked paprika.

Add the paprika, cumin, dried oregano, chili powder and a dash of cayenne – while this simmers a bit, peel the hard-boiled eggs.

The egg slicer is another one of our kitchen tools that I love as it makes quick work of dicing the eggs on 3 different planes.

Add the eggs to the beef mixture, and after gauging the moisture content, add some of the reserved tomato liquid.

While that is coming together, roll out your dough (empanada dough, tart dough or pie crust).  I rolled it a bit thinner for the mini-empanadas to make sure that the crust didn’t overwhelm the filling.  Heat the oven to 400° F.

I cut rounds with the largest round cookie cutter I have and then rolled each round out again to get it to the right size.  The beef mixture needs to cool quite a bit before you can scoop it onto the dough rounds.

When making mini’s of anything, efficiency es muy importante!  Unless of course you don’t mind pinching empanadas for hours and hours.  I snagged a dumpling press (shown below) just before making Pierogies, and I could not have been happier to have it for this project as well.

(image credit: BagelHot)

For the press, place the dough on the open mold, spoon in a teaspoon or so of the filling and then fold to press the edges together.  I was a little ambitious with the amount of filling I tried to pack in there, hence the torn spots and seeping edges.

Place on a sheet pan and just before baking, brush with egg wash.

Bake in oven for 15 to 20 minutes depending on size, remove once they are golden brown and delicious!

Black Bean, Corn & Raisin Empanadas
Adapted from this Recipe.

Makes 2 dozen mini-empanadas

1/2 cup golden raisins
1 small onion, chopped fine
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons adobo seasoning
5-6 scallions, chopped fine
1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans, drained
1 cup frozen corn kernels
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tbsp. green taco sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Sauté onions in a pan with oil and then add black beans, corn, and all seasonings and heat through.  Add the raisins and half of the green onions and cook for another 5 minutes.  Check the seasoning and then let the mixture cool.  Fill the empanadas and bake them in the same manner as described above.

After baking, let cool just enough and serve immediately, or go ahead and let them cool completely and serve room temperature.

Voilá!  Empanadas!

Indian Summer Tomatoes! (and what to do with them…)


I’m back.  Or at least I’m trying.  Life got in the way these past two months…though I can’t quite pin it down to one thing.  There were house guests, school starting again, typical work stresses, trying to actually have a vacation, last-minute chaperoning of an outdoor ed trip, and life in general.

As I was looking through all the photos that have accumulated over the last two months…a significant portion of the dishes include tomatoes.  Let’s review, shall we!

A lovely typical caprese with fresh tomatoes, basil from the garden, peppery and buttery olive oil, sea salt, fresh black pepper and of course fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar!

Then there was the tomato and zucchini herb tart with gruyere…

We can’t forget the late summer farmer’s market heirloom tomatoes…

…and the burrata, oversized buttered croutons and herbed vinaigrette that took these tomatoes from summer treat to inspirational dish!

Although only garnished with tomatoes…this dish seemed to be in line with the others…

Zucchini, onion and pasilla pepper omelet with goat cheese and herbs!

I sit currently near an open window with blue skies and plenty of sunshine, which means is slightly hard to imagine that the rest of the country is slowly slipping past the height of fall and right into that season the follows autumn (and must not be named yet).  With a radio report of record October snows in the east…I promise, I’ll try to get my fall on out here in SoCal!  I feel the pull of seasons, but when it’s still 80° outside, it’s hard to consciously turn the oven on and roast things, or make soups, or even bake.  The nights are becoming increasingly cool…I even brought out a down comforter for the bed…as lows are in the high 40’s.  (don’t laugh)

I’ve got a few more posts to come and the motivation and inspiration to get back into the kitchen is creeping back!  How is your fall going?  Anybody else still enjoying the last few tomatoes of summer?

French Onion & Bacon Tart


No quiche here…this is a tart! Plain and simple in all it’s glory.

This is serious onion-y goodness…topped off with a little bacon.  Who can complain?  NO ONE…that is the answer.  If you say you don’t like onions, and I make you try this, and you still don’t like onions…I don’t think we can be friends.  This tart has the essence of all things good about onions, and none of the bad, and I sweetened the deal with bacon…c’mon…just try a little bit!

French Onion & Bacon Tart
recipe from America’s Test Kitchen

Crust:
1¼ cup flour
1 scant tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. salt
1 stick (8 tbsp.) cold butter cubed
2 tbsp. ice water

Filling:
4-6 slices of bacon (your preference)
6 cups of sliced onions
1 sprig of thyme
2 eggs
½ cup of half & half
salt and pepper

Start with the crust.  This is a press-in crust, so no rolling of delicate pastry dough necessary.  You can mix everything and cut in the butter by hand…OR…you can use a Cuisinart or food processor.  Definitely the easier way to go.

Preheat the oven to 375º.  Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl and pulse a few times to mix.  Dump in all the butter and pulse about 15 times total.  You want to cut the butter up smaller than you would for a flaky pie crust.

Now, add in 2 tbsp. of the ice cold water and turn the machine on for 5-6 seconds.  You’ll know that you have the right amount of moisture in the dough by removing the lid, reaching in and grabbing a handful, squeeze it together and if it clumps…it’s perfect.  If it is still crumbly and does not stick together, then put the lid back on, add another ½ to 1 teaspoon of ice water and turn on again for another 5-6 seconds.

Here’s the fun part…just grab some handfuls, drop them into a greased tart pan and start pressing it in.  Try and make it an even layer across the bottom of the pan.

Continue pressing and work the dough up the sides of the pan.  If it is too thick in one area, go ahead and pinch it off, then smush it back where it’s a little thin.  This took a little more time than I anticipated, but some saran wrap can do wonders to help you smooth out the surface.  Place a piece over the top of the dough, and rub the surface.  The heat of your hand and the pressure will smooth out all the lumps.  To avoid shrinkage…(no one likes shrinkage!)…place it on a plate and put it in the freezer to firm up and rest for at least 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, you can prep your ingredients for the filling.  Slice up 1-2 onions in ¼ to ½ inch strips.  The onions will cook down quite a bit, so you’ll probably need more than you think.  Steer clear of sweet onions and red onions for this recipe.  The first is too sweet and the second will tint everything a bit of a mauve color…not the effect you’re looking for.

Throw your bacon strips into a cold pan.  Letting the strips warm up with the pan (only to medium heat) will make crispy bacon with a lot of the fat rendered out.  Putting bacon straight into a hot pan, will cook it faster, but you can end up with bacon that is over and under cooked all at the same time.  Once bacon is cooked, remove from pan and drain on paper towels.  Depending on how much bacon fat is left in the pan, you may want to drain some of it…but what you leave in the pan will add bacon-y smoky flavor to your onions!  (drool!)

Toss the onions into the pan, toss to coat, add in a sprig of thyme, a good sprinkling of salt and keep the heat medium or just below.  You want to almost steep the onions, and avoid browning them which can make them too sweet.  Once you’ve tossed them around a bit, throw a lid on the pan, turn the heat down and let them cook, sweat and steam for about 20 minutes.

Switch back to crust – pull it out of the freezer, place it on a cookie sheet, add a sheet of foil on top and press it in gently and then fill with your favorite pie weight (dry beans, rice, actual pie weights, marbles, ball bearings, something heavy that won’t mind some serious heat!).  Place in the oven for 30 minutes while the onions are cooking.

Custard Time!  The custard for this recipe is just a glue…binds it all together and is a tasty backdrop to the star of the show, Monsieur Onion!  Beat the eggs and add in the half and half, a grind or two of black pepper and a touch of salt, mix well and set aside.

You may wonder about the lack of pictures for this part of the recipe…well, there are moments while cooking, that I completely forget to get pictures and only later realize that I missed about half the process.  Use your imagination!

While you are waiting, try not to snack on all the bacon.  If we’re being honest, I find this step the most difficult.

Check on the onions, they should be translucent, soft and very fragrant.  Remove them from the heat and cool long enough that they won’t cook the eggs when added to the custard.  When the crust comes out, remove the pie weights and foil.  Remove the thyme sprigs from the onions and mix them into the custard.  Pour it all into the tart crust, sprinkle with bacon pieces and put it back in the 375º oven for 25-30 minutes on the middle rack.

You’ll know the tart is done when a) you can no longer handle how good your kitchen smells, and b) when the custard is fully set…it shouldn’t jiggle!

I love the bacon on top because it stays crisp, unlike when it is added to the custard of quiche’s and it softens up.  Carefully remove the rim of the tart pan, once it is cooled and then you can cut a slice and serve it up.  This made a perfect dinner with a simple salad of mixed greens dressed simply with lemon juice and olive oil and served with a crisp, dry white wine!

Bon appétit!

Poppy Seeds + Strawberries + Mascarpone = Cake!


I’ve become a big blog reader.  It is certainly cutting into my reading of real pages made of paper…but it is still reading.  From the moment I read the title of this blog – Not Without Salt…I was hooked!  I have a small addiction (read: complete obsession) with salt and the amazing things it can do.  Anywho…she made this amazing cake with mascarpone and poppy seeds, and anything with this much fruit has to be (somewhat) healthy…right?  That’s what I thought!  With the impending quarter century birthday of this lady, I had the perfect occasion to bake this beauty up.

As mentioned…the recipe for Poppy Seed Cake with Strawberries and Mascarpone Frosting can be found here and is the work of Ashley over at Not Without Salt! (I’ll let you visit her blog yourself and discover it for yourself!

In a similar fashion to red velvet cake, there is a touch of vinegar in the cake recipe and she uses Champagne Vinegar…which just makes everything a bit fancier.

The buttery, eggy color of this makes me think it would be a great wall color…maybe just not for me!  I added in a little bit of lemon zest into the batter as well.

Can we talk about poppy seeds, please?  Small, crunchy and delicious…they add interest to everything from bagels to cookies, cakes and muffins, and one of my favorite applications is tossing them with buttered and salted wide egg noodles served alongside pork chops!  Since I love poppy seeds, a recipe that calls for ¼ cup could use up the entire small spice bottle that these little-stick-in-your-teeth-seeds typically come in.  If you can, try to buy them in bulk.  I’ve had good luck finding small bags at World Market (aka Cost Plus).

The recipe can make either 3 cakes in 8 inch cake pans or 2 cakes in 9 in cake pans.  I only had the 9 inch pans, and wish I had gone with the 8 inch ones for an additional layer.  Next time, I’ll still use the 9 inch pans, but perhaps slice them horizontally to make it a full 4 layers…’cause who doesn’t like more strawberries and mascarpone frosting!?

Another trick is to grease the pans but also use a parchment round on the bottom.  I know they sell these rounds already cut out and perfect…but there’s no need to buy when you can DIY!  Get out your parchment paper, and tear off a piece that is plenty big to cover the bottom of the pan.  Fold in half width-wise, then fold in half again, and again, and again, and maybe even again!  You should end up with a thin and very long triangle’ish shape.  Using the point of the parchment and getting it close to the center of your pan, estimate where you should trim it – cut the shortest side of the triangle.  Now, unfold, you’ll have something pretty close to a circle, and you can see if it will fit into the pan – if not, fold it back up and cut a little more off the edge…I try and err on the side of it being just slightly too small rather than smushing the corner of the cake by wrapping around.  (see photo above for parchment that is slightly too big)  This trick works well as an impromptu lid on a pan…and is perfect for glazing carrots – it nests right now on top of the veggies!  (thanks Cordon Bleu!)

Yummmm…strawberries!  It’s berry season…actually, it’s now getting a little past some of the berries prime.  These beauties came from our CSA and were perfect for the job of adorning this cake!

All they needed was a quick wash and some drying time!

Most anyone who knows me realizes that frosting is not my thing.  Chocolate is better than plain old buttercream, but I actually prefer cake with little to no frosting…which is why I’m shocked that I liked this frosting.  Let me repeat…I. Liked. This. Frosting.  It’s even hard for me to write it.  But I did…I can’t lie.  Sweet, not overwhelming, good texture…delicious!  From here on out…mascarpone frosting and I are besties!

Spread the frosting all over the first layer.

Pluck the tops off the strawberries and slice them into quarters.

Pile them on top of the first layer, squeezing as many in as you can.  (Unless you have a couple more layers in there…then ration them to make sure you have enough for all layers and for the top as well.)

This looked so good, I had to hold myself back from cutting a slice right there and then…this was after all, a birthday cake!  Patience!

Add the second cake layer on top and press down just a bit.  Frost the top generously and top with the prettiest strawberries of the bunch!

Since I was taking this into work, I refrigerated it overnight, brought it in and left it on the counter for an hour or so before we served it!

Happy Birthday Miss Jennie!  I will eat cake for you anytime!

Apologies for the cell phone picture…but is was delicious and needed documenting – also…this photo reinforces my recommendation for slicing the two 9 inch cake rounds horizontally to get more layers of frosting and strawberries!

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