Thursday, July 29, 2010

Heart-y Tarts: A Pictorial Jam

The Queen of Hearts she made some tarts...

Sometimes my ingredients go rogue on me. Most every third recipe I make has at least one ingredient that decides it wants to be bad, refuse to be used or just go rotten all together. Yesterday it was the Crisco.

The Crisco flew off my knife and landed squarely on the floor. It was obviously playing the role of antagonist.

(enter Crisco wad, 2 tbls. Resists as much as a lump of Crisco can resist being cut into cubes)

Crisco [glaring at Baker]: Take that, you piece of motherly baking tart fool!

[jumps off the knife onto the dirty kitchen mat]

Baker [gasps]: Ahh!...crap.

[Baker looks at her Mother, Mother looks back at her and they both bust out laughing. Baker grabs the camera. With grease laden fingers she attempts to take pictures, while calling the Crisco "rogue" (her new favorite word).]

The butter on the other hand was angelic. Definitely the protagonist.

(enter Butter. Butter sheepishly gazes up at the Baker, batting her eyes, happily sacrificing her life for the sake of the tarts. Baker chops Butter into 1/2" pieces...all 2 sticks of her.)

Baker [gently sighing]: Oh Butter, you're so bad for me, yet you are willing to be chopped into oblivion in the food processor, not a single word out of you like your evil twin Crisco. (One small tear trickles down Baker's cheek, then exclaims with reckless abandonment) You inspire me! You move me! I will take a picture of your fatty goodness!

[Baker gently arranges butter cubes into an artistic pile of fat in her newly acquired bowl. She giggles with glee as she photographs the perfectly cubed, obedient butter]

You're thinking, "Wow. She's really off her rolling pin." That may be true, but the tarts don't lie. They turned out to be delightful little treats that would please any Brit, Alice in Wonderland fanatic (such as myself) or anyone who enjoys making and eating tarts.

Let the pictorial drama unfold before your eyes.

that's egg wash going on right there.

creating a dam for the jam

before baking


Recipe for Pie Crust (adapted from my Cuisnart Food Processor pamphlet)

(this is the recipe for a two-crust pie, so cut it in half if you don't want to make as many tarts. Depending on your tart size, I would say this would make between 16 and 24 little tarts.)

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
5-8 tbls. ice water
16 tbls. butter, cubed and well chilled
2 tbls. Crisco, cubed and well chilled
2 tbls. sugar (my addition, to make it a little sweet)
1 jar of your favorite jam. I used strawberry, but raspberry, apricot or even blueberry would be really yummy! (For my 8 little tarts that I made, I used about 1/2 cup. So, if you made the whole recipe, I guess you would use about 1 1/2 cups.)

In your food processor, sift together the flour, salt and baking powder by pulsing for 10 seconds. Add the chilled butter and shortening. Do 15-20 rapid pulses until it's like cornmeal texture. Sprinkle in 3 tbls. of ice water and pulse 5-6 times. Do this again with another 2-3 tbls. water. Add just enough water for it to come together but not ball up. It should hold together when you pinch it.

Turn it out onto a floured surface. Press it together, making it into a little disc. Wrap and chill in frig for 30 minutes. While it chills, you chill....hard work.

Roll out your dough to 1/8" thick. Cut out in what ever shapes you like. I like hearts and that other weird shape is supposed to be a playing card. Sorta free-handed that one. Anyways, choose what you like, but for all of the shapes I made little "dams" to hold in copious amounts of jam. I cut 1/4-1/2" strips to adhere around the edges of each tart. Dab on egg wash and lay it down. Follow the rest of the pictorial. Pretty easy.

I brushed the tops of the crust with egg wash for a nice golden brown. Bake your cutie tarts at 375 degrees for approx. 25 min.  Let them cool before you sneak a bite! Boiling hot jam will keep you on the injured foodie list for a while.

Cheers, Foodie Friends!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Trout Virgin

(this guy here is Maury and the other is Othello)

Well, yes, I said it. I'm a trout virgin, or was rather. I don't count the tiny nibble of smoked trout I had off my husband's salad, some 11 years ago on our honeymoon as a true experience. I've never been adventurous with fish. But the other night that all changed.

At our weekly visit to Whole Foods, the hubs and I came across some whole, fresh, beautiful rainbow trout. They are farmed in Idaho, but under the strict guidlines of WF. So, no worries. We had him leave the heads on, (for a treat for the hubs. Yes, he likes the cheeks and eyeballs) and everything else intached. The fishmonger assured me that after they are cooked, you can just pull the back bone right out and it will come out beautifully. Okay, that sounds fun. I'm all in.

I decided to stuff them with lemon slices, fresh parsley and fresh basil. I seasoned the cavity with salt and pepper and the outside. I kinda wish I would have been a bit more liberal with the seasoning.

I also wished I would have cut the heads off and cooked them separately so the fishies would have fit in the pan better, but it worked out.

I let them rest for a while after they cooked then after I cut the heads off, I held onto the back bone at the top and just like the fishmonger said, it slid right out! All of it! It was like biology class meets cooking class. Did I mention I loved biology? It was really fun. I showed the trout spine to the kids and they just looked at me like, "Um, okay?" So I just marveled at it myself.

The flavor and texture of trout is so fantastic! I was pleasantly surprised. It's meatier than I expected, super mild and so tender and juicy. I loved the basil in there. It really lifted the flavors and was something different from the usual lemon and dill combo.

My mom was at the stove sling some hash too. She made some luscious bok choy to go with it. She simply seared it in olive oil and then braised it with some chicken broth. It went so well with the fish and made for a healthy meal, even the kids liked.

Here's Trout Recipe:

2 whole trout equaling about 2 1/2 lbs. total
2 tbls. olive oil
salt and pepper
4 big sprigs basil
2 big handfuls parsley
1 lemon thinly sliced

Heat up pan to med. high. Add oil. Season fish liberally inside and out. Stuff cavity with lemon and herbs. Cook for approx. 5 min on each side. Carefully flip so as not to tear up the skin or loose the goodies inside the fish. Let the fish cool slightly before removing spine.

While the fish is cooking, make your Bok Choy!

3-4 baby bok choy
1 tbls. olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 c. chicken broth
1 tbls. butter

Get your pan smoking hot. Add olive oil. Cut your bok choy in half, leaving the core intach and season. Sear on cut-side down for 2-3 minutes. Turn and add chicken broth. Cover and let cook until bok choy is tender, about 10 minutes.

This was such a fun and adventurous meal for me to make and something everyone loved. Trout Virgin no more! Cheers, Friends!

Monday, July 26, 2010


We have found a wonderful friend in our neighbor across the street, Teri. What a jewel she is! She's kind, soft spoken and a natural with kids. My kids adore her and had a blast the other day when we visited her house and she made for us a traditional Vietnamese dish.

Now, let me preface this by saying, I don't know squat about Asian cuisine. I've tried to make stir fry and failed miserably. It never tastes the same as the restaurant and over all is bland and boring. When Teri invited us over for lunch, I immediately asked if she could show us some techniques. She agreed but all the while saying how she's not an expert and likes to cut corners. I knew that what she was going to make would be great, whatever the avenue and I was right.

We walked into her beautifully decorated house, full of pictures of family and friends and aromas calling me to the kitchen. I made a bee-line for the island where she was rolling spring rolls. I peppered her with questions, with baby on hip and camera hand. She gracefully picked up each ingredient with her chopsticks and placed them in the wrapper. I was envious of her chopstick abilities. She made it looks so easy.

1. Take one rice paper that has been soaked in water until soft and lay it out.
2. Lay a piece of fresh green leaf lettuce down. Top with cooked rice noodles.
3. Top with Vietnamese version of ham, two slices. (she mentioned that sometimes they used shredded pork)
4. Take edge closest to you and start to roll, tucking in as you go. Fold in just right side. Do just one turn then place 3 shrimp halves down. Fold in left side to hold down shrimp.
5. Lay down a long piece of chive, leaving a tail hanging out to the left. Her chives looked different than the chives I've seen. More like a blade of grass than the tubal shape of the ones I get. It tasted very good.
6. Gently roll up the spring roll to hold it all together. The wrapper is very sticky and holds very well.

She served it with a sweet sauce that reminded me of hoisin. I don't know exactly what it was but it was delish. She topped it with roasted peanuts and the traditional garlic pepper sauce. Dip and eat! So good.

Next she prepared the most refreshing dish. At the bottom was a mixture of bean sprouts, julienned cucumber, lettuce and mint. Top that with the rice noodles and top that with the most amazing BBQ pork. Now this is where she cheats. She buys it already grilled from the Asian market. I'm telling you, this stuff was so good that if you can buy it like this, then go for it. It was amazing.

The pork deserves it's own paragraph. It was sticky sweet with a salty taste, but not overly salty. Just the perfect balance of salty and sweet, chewy but tender. The meat was thin and heavily marinated like a jerky. It had a great texture, a bit toothsome but in a perfect kind of way. This stuff, oh man, I could have eaten it like candy.

All of that was topped with a green onion mixture (that I didn't get the 411 on), fresh mint, cilantro (if you like) and a fish sauce. Now, let me say, I was scared of the fish sauce. I've had some before and was so turned off. But Teri's was delightful, it was salty, sweet and brought the perfect amount of moisture to the dish.

Teri held Wil as I shovel this amazing meal into my mouth (and I would have used a shovel, had I had one) with a fork, not the time for that! Wil was teething something fierce, as he always seems to be, and I was continually whipping out an arsenal of snacks to keep him busy.

Isaiah and Lily were eating surprisingly well. I forgot their sippy cups and was nervous they would knock orange juice all over her table but they did a great job. It made me so happy to see them chowing down different foods. That's one thing we always try to do with them is make the variety of the foods we eat, different and unusual from time to time. We want to keep their little palates open to new flavors and textures.

It was a great time. She's going to come over soon to show us how to stir-fry! I'm so excited. I will give you the nitty gritty on that as well. I hope this inspires you. And if you happen to be an expert on Vietnamese food or any Asian food, please share tips or ideas in the comment box. I would love to hear them.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Props Prowl

I'm on the prowl for props. Not like, "hey, give the girl some props!" kind of props (though, I will never turn down one of those props) but more like vintage bowls, plates, cups, silverware, linens props for my foodie pictures. I feel like I've been using the same 3 plates for my pictures since I started this crazy adventure. It's high time I find some new stuff.

My mom and dad were in town the last 10 days and we toted the kids to a little town here in Texas called Bellville. Not much there. But there is one store that was so great, Nothing Ordinary. It is filled top to bottom with goodies.

Each child was pawned off on an adult. Three kids and four adults, okay, we can do this. As you all know, three year old children love to touch everything. I still love to touch everything as I wander through the store, so I felt sorta bad staying on them so much about not touching when I turned around and picked up a glass plate, but as I often say, "only mommies can do this".

I decided that because my littlest one was crabby and I wasn't so confident that I could maneuver his stroller through the store of teetering antique shelves with loads of depression glass, that I would break out the "slingshot" as I like to call it, or as it's really called, The Moby Wrap. For those of you who do not know what it is, it's a baby carrier but made out of a gigantic piece of fabric that is stretchy and soft. You wrap yourself in it, now resembling Pancho Villa, and stick your baby in it, giving you hands-free shopping abilities...sorta.

I faced him outwards so he could see everything and be more pacified. What I didn't think of was that his arms are longer than I remember and so I had to try and look at things or pick things up with an extra foot and a half distance between me and the potential prop. His arms were like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea but in a cuter, more babyish way, but just as annoying! This makes for a weird, squatting-like-Chris-Farley-in-the-"Down-By-The-River"-skit way of shopping. Trust me on this. All of that ridiculousness and still he was fast but I had to be faster.

Regardless of batting away his hands from china and delicate figurines, I found some goodies. I have a gravy boat fetish and any kind of unusual tea cup fetish. I love cookie cutters and cool silverware. These just happened to have an "L" engraved on them, so it was a sign that I was supposed to get them. I don't know if the hubs thought that was much of a "sign". 

Somehow, I exited the store when it came to ring up the bill, using the excuse that the kids needed a snack...outside. I was watching him through the wobbly, antique-y glass. I'd smile and he wasn't smiling back. Hmmm. I thought one of two things. One, he didn't seem me because there was a glare, or two, he saw me but was annoyed by the bill. Yes, it was the latter and I know this because after a moment of me staring at him with a cheesy grin, I see him silently mouth, "Forty-two dollars." Oops. He wasn't mad, just not his chipper self. I quickly reminded him of the big picture. How this forty-two dollars won't mean a thing when I am a famous blogger. I think that kinda helped.

So here's the loot.

Cool, huh? I'm quite happy with my little treasures and cannot wait to make stuff to photograph them with! I do apologize for the delay in my postings. I like to post 5 days a week, but with company and being off my schedule, I found it nearly impossible to do so. Things are getting back to normal and my mom is staying with me for a few more weeks. We are off to the antique stores again today to see what we can find! I've missed you all so much. I've got some fabulous ideas churning around in my head. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Riding Under The Influence

This morning my dad handed me a page out of the paper with this guy in a bicycling uniform holding a glass of wine in one hand and a baguette in the other. It sparked a little memory...

During the time we lived in Northern California, we did our fair share of wine-tasting, close to every weekend. That's when we had the Beamer (now traded out for a clunker mini-van with a gigantic dent in the back, but that's okay with me, it helps me find it in the Wal-mart parking lot) and we would open the moon roof, let our hair fly and go to Sonoma or Napa for the day. It was sorta close to heaven.

My parents loved visiting us there. There is so much to do, so much to see and all within a short drive from the house. Did I mention my mom loves to ride her bike? Did I mention I don't? Did you know that you can do a wine tasting tour while riding a bike? Did I mention this is a stupid idea?

When I was a kid I loved riding my bike. Rode it all the time. Now that I am an adult, it's not so kind to the nether region, if you will. It's uncomfortable...down right painful. But my mom talked me into riding 20 MILES (!) on a bike along the main drag in Napa, where wineries flank you on either side.

We booked this tour a few days ahead. My mom was filled with glee and I with dread. The day arrived, we drove to the little shack of a place to get fitted for a bike and meet our tour guide. Some one said, "Oh, Andre will be out shortly to take you guys on your tour." Andre? Hmmm. Maybe this will be just the perk I needed. Andre sounds cute. Maybe he will take my mind off of this tour from hell.

Out walks Andre. Wah, wah...Not so cute. Not ugly, but not the swarthy, dark, handsome, possibly rugged European man I was imagining. No, he was an 18 year old kid with blond curly hair, dressed in schlep-y clothes. Now that I was focused back on the ensuing crotchal pain, I think I had them put at least 2 extra gel seats on my bike. I sat a foot taller.

It was pretty hot that day. Hmmm. Hot weather, imbibing copious amounts of wine and riding a bike, sounds safe to me! We did have helmets, as I remember. Andre, led us through beautiful countryside. My mom was ooohhhhing and aaahhhing over the view, while I was wincing and shifting through the pain. Thankfully we were Andre's only tourists for the tour, so I could act as ridiculous as I wanted.

I'm no wine expert and honestly, I couldn't tell you where we went that day, except that we got to the fourth winery and I was happy to see they had some crackers to eat with our alcohol consumption. Pretty sure I almost picked up the bowl of crackers and dumped them into my mouth, trying to absorb the wine sloshing around in my stomach. As we exited, I teetered to the right and mom called Andre, "John" or some other name that wasn't his. Andre asked us if we wanted the van to come and pick us up,  because he was definitely worried. I was excitedly nodding my head "YES!" (I was still chewing  my mouthful of crackers) as my mom was kindly NOT accepting his offer.

We get out to the bikes, (and let me tell you, it took a while) and there, what did I see before me? A flat tire on my mother's bike! Glorious! I was saved. My nether-region was saved! I was drunk as a skunk and was in no mood to bike. I wanted the van. I wanted an ice pack. I got the van in about 15 minutes and an ice pack when I got home.

If you are considering such an excursion, do not weigh heavily on my description. I'm sorta a poo-pooer on such tours that require any sort of athleticism. I like to eat and drink, seated in a comfortable booth, surrounded by rich mahogany and white table cloths.

Cheers, my dears!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pavlova With a Dash of Ina

The only pavlova I've ever eaten is the one I've made. I can't call myself an expert on the things. I do find them sorta luscious. An outwardly crusty, chewy meringue with a soft squishy center. It's thrilling having the sticky sweet meringue cling to my molars as I try to eat it.

As you all know, berries are in season and are gorgeous right now. I'm taking full advantage of their flavor and sweetness. So I dug out my Barefoot Contessa cookbook and found her recipe for pavlova. It's the only one I've ever used and I'm thinking I'll try a different one next time.

Ina's awesome. I love her. I find her elegant, but not snooty. She's chic with a side of "just bein' real". I love how she sets her tables, her use of flowers and how she doesn't plant her garden. She's able to pay off people with her food...that's my kind of bill paying. "I need my garden planted"...Here's a roast chicken dinner. "Hmm, a vase of peonies is just what this dinner party needs"...Here's a vegetable lasagna. Ahh, Ina. I like the way you think, girl. I would love to meet her someday.

So here's the link for the recipe. It's called Mixed Berry Pavlova. It's a stunning dessert, incredibly fresh and great for summer. But I've gotta say, both times my meringue came out, what I would call, under-done. But like I said, I don't know much about pavlovas. I could really use some help on this.

Mine was:
1. crusty, chewy on the outside...yum!
2. BUT, it was sorta a frothy, runny mess on the inside...tasted good, but not what I wanted.
3. stuck really badly to my parchment.
4. other people on the recipe's link said they didn't know what everyone was complaining about with the recipe. Hmmmph.

Regardless, I'm was slightly obsessed with the beauty of the meringue. So tons of pics today:

So, I need an expert (that can be anyone who knows how to bake a pavlova) to tell me, if the consistency was right and I just have a skewed vision of what a pavlova should be or should it have been baked longer? Or maybe a higher temperature? The recipe called for 180 degrees for 1 1/2 hrs. then let it set in a shut-off oven for an additional hour. Should the egg white have been whisked longer or shorter? To me, it almost seemed like there was too much sugar in it. Like it weighed it down, but I don't know, just a hunch.

Please, foodie friends, help me out! I want to make a really good pavlova. I would love your tips or a recipe you love to use. Ina's recipes rarely disappoint, but this one kinda missed the mark for me, or the baker missed the mark in some way...can't imagine that would ever happen. (then she laughs)

I did change up some stuff. I didn't make the raspberry sauce this time. I found it too cloyingly sweet and I'm not a big fan of whipped cream (I know, you're "boo-ing" me right's just too rich for me) so I 86-ed that too. All I did was marinate the fruit in 2 tbls. sugar and 2 tbls. Crown Royale. Just right. I didn't have any vanilla extract (gasp!) and so I had to scrape a vanilla bean and mix it with some rum to make my own. Isn't  it pretty?

(that's me inhaling the essence of Madagascar)

It wasn't a total flop. I mean, we ate it...all. So as Ina would say, "How bad can that be?" And I think she'd  be right.

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