Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ghosts Of Cookie Parties Past

Limoncello Macaroons
Limoncello Macaroons. These little babies are what all the recent almond blanching and pasting were leading up to. Not that any of it was laborious or time consuming (it wasn't), but if it was... it would have been so worth it. Crisp-ish on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. Each cookie a perfect bite. Almost more like candy than cookies. The only thing better than these cookies, would be these cookies dipped in dark chocolate.

Fun and easy to make, once they've completely cooled* they tasted um... [insert your favorite ultra-positive food descriptor here]. Lately I've run out of synonyms for "delicious". It was the French Tomato Tart that ruined me for adjectives. Let's just say that these are some of the best cookies I've ever made in my whole entire life and I should not be left alone in the house with them. Ooh...I'm thinking about dipping them in dark chocolate again.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Prodigal Pastry and a Peach-Blueberry Crostata

I learned (or uh, re-learned) a valuable lesson this past weekend. Have a back-up. That's it... have a back-up. Turns out that I had no back-up for my #1 favorite simple dessert of all time: the Peach Crostata. I made it, like, 47 times last year.* So many times you'd think it would be committed to memory by now. But no, my brain doesn't work that way. That's why I have this blog. The original link to the recipe was here on the blog, right where I put it last summer. When I clicked on said link last weekend though, I was given the option of purchasing the article containing the recipe or subscribing to the newspaper for full access to all their archives. What? Deep breath. It's o.k., I wrote it down... somewhere. No time to search, so I quickly threw together the Peaches & Herbs Shortcake instead.

The shortcake was a fine substitute but I was still mighty vexed over the apparent loss of the crostata recipe and the next few days were spent tearing the house upside-down looking for it. At least there was some comfort in the thought that, should I not find it, I could buy it. Harumpf. I seriously considered purchasing the article, even though the thought of it riled me up like a wet cat. That's how much I liked that recipe.

Well, the lost became found. Sort of. I finally located my notes yesterday, scribbled into one of the six or seven partially filled notebooks that seem to float from room to room here like indecisive specters. It's not a good system but I'm working on it, I really am. New habits (at least the good ones) take time. Backing-up is a very good habit. Favorite recipe? Save it to a file, be it paper or digital, or better yet, both. Don't ever be caught without your favorite pastry recipe at your fingertips. Save yourself that particular panic and back it up... today.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Almonds Take A Pasting

Chalk one up for yet another staple that can be made (easily) from scratch and is cheaper and better tasting than the store-bought stuff. This time around it's almond paste.* I don't use it too often—usually never, come to think of it. It's really expensive, so I tend to avoid it. I've probably passed over countless tantalizing recipes because of this one ingredient. Now that I can make it at the drop of a hat... well, things are going to be different. In fact, no sooner did I wrap up my first batch of almond paste and stick it in the fridge, but I had a "why not?" moment and made a second batch right then and there. It's the easiest stuff in the world to make (once you've blanched your own almonds). All snug and double-wrapped in plastic, the extra batch of almond paste is stashed in the corner of my freezer and will no doubt make an appearance around the holidays... if not sooner.  
I have one almond paste-based cookie recipe waiting to be made (the one that first inspired this flurry of DIY activity), but what else can I use almond paste in? I'm sitting here armed with some mad new skills... what can I unleash them on?
  • These Frangipane Cherry Tarts from King Arthur Flour look pretty tasty.
  • The prospect of making my own Amaretti di Saronno (like the expensive imported ones in the pretty red tin) has me clapping my little hands together with glee. Of course, I really love how the imported amaretti come wrapped in pretty papers, and I do love that red tin...
  • What else? I need ideas!
*FYI: Marzipan is very similar, but definitely not the same, as almond paste.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Summer's Last Hurrah

Goat Cheese & Tomato Tart
Next summer, when we have more tomatoes than we'll know what to do with*... I'll know exactly what to do with them. I will make this tart. I will make this tart over and over and over, all summer long... and we will never tire of it. It's that good. There is so much going on in this tart I can't even begin to describe it. So I won't. I'll just let the ingredients speak for themselves: some homegrown tomatoes, fresh herbs, a smear of homemade mustard, a drizzle of olive oil, tangy goat cheese, a touch of honey... all caramelized, concentrated, cozy and warm, and in the loving arms of a crisp pastry shell.

I rolled the pastry dough out quite thin so I could make two tarts and use up all the tomatoes we had picked. We'll still get more tomatoes over the next few weeks, but not in this quantity. This was summer's last hurrah. Here, baked together in a tart shell, were our Sungold, Early Girl, Juliette, and Sun Kiss, snuggled up cheek-to-cheek.*

Saturday, September 18, 2010

May I Take Your Coat?

There are these cookies I want to make... but they require a specialty* ingredient that I don't have, and can't justify spending money on right now. It's also not the kind of thing that can be substituted for or left out entirely either.

It's almond paste.

But these cookies I saw looked so sweet, so simple, so tempting. Sometimes a recipe will call out to me, "bake me up and love me!" and I just can't ignore its plaintive plea. I fight it sometimes, but don't always win. Cookies for some reason seem to call out the loudest. These little sweet things I saw the other day, were downright insistent.

So I came across this recipe, it cried out and was heard. My first thought after, "oh dang, I don't have any almond paste" was, "I wonder if I can I make it myself?". Internet says..... yes!, almond paste can be made from scratch (and pretty easily too). You start with blanched almonds. Stop right there! I didn't have those either... but guess what? I found out that almonds are ridiculously simple to blanch yourself (and way cheaper too).

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Next Lime, Things'll Be Different

Yesterday there was a big bowl of limes on my counter. I found a Lime Marmalade recipe in a book I have on preserving, and there was a Lime Curd recipe on the facing page. Between the two of them, I felt I would make good use of the limes and have a couple of tasty treats to stash in my pantry to boot. So much enthusiasm, so much eagerness and optimism. There's only one place for all that unabashed positiveness to go... yep, right into a brick wall.

You see, the Lime Marmalade turned out beautifully except for one little detail... it's bitter. B-I-T-T-E-R. And I can't stop moping like a small child. Out came the old "kick me, I had a food-fail" mental whine-list. It goes something like this: What a waste of... time, fruit, sugar, canning lids, electricity, and oh, all that clean-up afterward... for nothing! Ugh! (now repeat multiple times)

Was it any wonder that I had major amounts of trepidation about making the lime curd today? I dragged my feet for as long as I could but I knew that if I didn't make it today, it just wasn't going to happen. I hung what little hope I had on the stick of butter that goes in it. Marmalade has no butter in it, but curd does... and butter makes everything better, right? With a stick of butter as my shield and banner, I marched myself back into the canning-arena (formerly known as my kitchen).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Men Who Stare At Goat Cheeses

Fresh goat cheese has such a bright and tangy quality, it's utterly delightful... (yes, there was a sort of a pun in there). A little bit like cream cheese, but tangier... and not so creamy; it's really versatile and pairs perfectly with summer's (and fall's) bounty of fresh fruits and veggies. The next goat cheese I get will undoubtedly find its way into one of the following recipes...
On a recent solo trip to the market, Hubs discovered an aged Gouda made from goat's milk. He discovered it by way of free samples. Not only did he tell me all about it when he got home, but he made a point of showing it to me the next time we were at that market together. That was him hinting. A lot.

Aged goat cheeses need to be treated a little differently than the fresh ones, as they lend themselves best to simpler preparations such as: breaking a piece off, placing in your mouth and chewing slowly. You can optionally choose to follow each bite with a sip of compatible wine. But only if you insist on over-complicating things.

* I just drooled on my keyboard. I hope nobody noticed...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Maya's Quinoa Salad

When I first saw this salad late last May, I couldn't wait to make it. But while the calender said it was virtually summer, we were still being rained on and ripe tomatoes were months away. All summer I have impatiently waited for both good weather and the perfect occasion to make this salad. Last weekend was it: sunny and warm, and our cherry tomatoes* were at their peak. The salad was not only worth the wait, but I think it tasted even better the next day.

Click on over to the lovely Maya*Made blog for this super healthy Quinoa Salad recipe, and if you're feeling a little crafty, make a few of Maya's Picnic Bowl Scrunchies too... they're fun, easy, and the perfect thing for potlucks and picnics!
    My Notes: Used red quinoa. Shredded the carrots instead of dicing them. Zested the limes before juicing them for the dressing. Added the lime zest, a splash of basil oil and a couple cloves of minced garlic to the dressing. 

    Here are some other quinoa recipes that look good...
    Pronounce it: Quinoa = KEEN-wah 
    *"Sun Gold" cherry tomatoes... little bursts of sunshine. Even this year, this very weird-weathered year, they out-produced all the other tomatoes we planted.

    Friday, September 3, 2010

    Upsetting The Apple Tart

    Apple Tart Upset
    This is a story of two tarts. Two apple custard tarts. I would like it to have been a story of one bad apple tart and how it redeemed itself and became a good apple tart and made everyone around it happier for having been near it. This is not that story.

    No, this story is about two apple tarts that were alike in many ways but were dramatically different in others. One's strength was the other's weakness. Neither of them were very good, but neither were they all bad. Their goodness, overshadowed by their badness, brought joy to no one and left only disappointment in the hearts of those who tried to love them.

    Apple Custard Tart #1: Went together beautifully. Crust was flaky and delicious. But when you hear the voice in your head say: "Wow... that sure seems like an awful lot of ground clove!", listen to it. Ponder. Evaluate. Trust your knowledge and experience. Tell yourself it's o.k. to not follow the printed directions to the letter. Allow that typos happen and other people's tastes are not your own. Someone may actually want a numbing sensation after finishing their dessert. Perhaps they have some pending dental work? What a waste. I couldn't even look when Hubs dumped it into the trash can.