plum and almond tart

Last night, I made a meal for eight people, with three courses, and one plum-almond tart.

IMG_6761

I rubbed garlic cloves on slices of toasted baguette, and I spooned tomatoes all happy and relaxed in their juices. I sliced shallots thinly, fried them and promptly ate them all. Whatever was left of the shallots appeared to make their way into my sister’s hands – but I have no blame to give.

IMG_6724 (1)

I halved two pounds of cherry tomatoes, and I spilled white wine on the floor, which was already partially covered with flour. I rolled meatballs, wine deglazed, drizzled honey and topped tomatoes with jaunty basil leaves that my mom had just picked outside. I used every single bowl we have in our kitchen – twice. It was probably too much food.

IMG_6764

All the while, my stone fruit tart whiled away in the oven, biding its time for my attention. And I’ll be darned if it didn’t grab my attention and never let it go. I stuck my face right above it, inhaled, exhaled, inhaled, exhaled, found my happy place, and almost forgot about browning those meatballs on all sides.

Sweet plums, nestled in a buttery dough and sprinkled with ground almonds seems too easy – too simple, but when I set aside the potatoes and the pancetta and turned my attention to this baby, I decided it wasn’t too easy at all. It was that tart. The one you see online and think that it might be too hard or too many plums or maybe they had special plums cause wow – but – I assure you no special plums here. If anything, these were slightly underripe plums, and it was still gosh-darn good.

IMG_6757

It was perfect. I kid you not. Make this for your next dinner party and your grandfather will probably suggest you become a caterer, your grandmother will wonder over whipped cream, and your sisters will clamor for more – despite this being the fourth or fifth plate of food. Serve it up, summer style, with vanilla ice cream – or go my route with lightly sweetened vanilla whipped cream. Doesn’t matter – these plums will outshine it all.

plum-almond tart

1⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¼ baking powder
½ salt
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
⅓ cup sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk or cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup fine breadcrumbs
½ cup finely ground raw almonds
½ finely grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons sugar
1¾ pounds ripe plums
1½ tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into little slivers or chunks
2 tablespoons sliced almonds

how-to:

Preheat oven to 375F, and butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest, and pile it on a clean work surface. Cut the butter into tiny tiny cubes, and refreeze to harden if needed. Take the butter and put it in a circle around the dry pile. Mix together the egg, milk, vanilla and sugar in a small bowl. Pour into the well in the top of the dry ingredients, and begin to mix together with a fork. When it gets to hard to mix with a fork, begin to use a bench scraper to mix in, making sure to scrape up from the bottom and also to chop the butter in. Once it is cohesive, knead a couple times to get it to come together, form a disk, wrap in plastic, and let rest in the fridge for 15 minutes.
Once it has rested, lightly flour a work surface and roll the dough out to about 1 1/2 inches wider than the springform pan (mine was about an 11 inch circle). Place it in the prepared pan, pressing down in the edges to make sure it forms the right shape. Ideally this comes up an inch or more on the sides. Trim and mess around with the sides to make them somewhat even – but don’t freak out since this is a rustic tart. Poke all over with a fork, and let rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
While it is resting, mix together the breadcrumbs, ground almonds, lemon zest and sugar in a small bowl. Slice each of the plums in half lengthwise, leaving the back edge connected like a book. Pry out pits. If you accidentally cut one all the way in half don’t panic.
Once the tart shell is ready, sprinkle half of the almond mixture (about 1/2 cup) in the bottom, and arrange the cut plums in circles on the top (remember – rustic). Sprinkle the other half of the almond mixture on top, and top with the slivers of cold, unsalted butter and the sliced almonds. Bake in the preheated oven for 40-55 minutes (mine took close to 55), until the pastry is a dark golden brown and the plums have released their juices. Serve warm or at room temperature, with vanilla ice cream, lightly sweetened whipped cream, or whatever your heart desires. Share with family, and enjoy.

smart science: meat edition

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Whether or not you eat meat, you have to acknowledge that meat plays a big role in society, meals, and lives – including this killer sausage sandwich I got in Treviso, Italy. People gather around the grill on the Fourth of July, grilling and awkwardly greeting family members they haven’t seen since last year. On Thanksgiving, the turkey inevitably causes sadness, pain and suffering as the unfortunate person in charge bastes and bastes and bastes until the holiday spirit is all but washed away. Thankful for turkey? Maybe… or maybe we should just eat stuffing. But why do we eat meat? Why do we cook it? And, what happens if we don’t? Let’s break it down.

  1. Humans started to eat meat about 2.3 million years ago, which was a significant change in diet. Interestingly enough, you can begin to see changes in markings on fossilized bones of animals – from the tooth marks of whatever predator snacked that day to the less natural looking cuts of tools. This change in diet allowed us to get an explosion of energy – which allowed our brain to gobble up extra energy and grow and evolve. The very act of eating meat contributed to human evolution – and created humans as we know them.
  2. In general, we cook meat for two reasons: health concerns and ease of digestion. Obviously there are exceptions to the cooked meat rule – including tuna tartare, sushi, and carpaccio – so humans can certainly eat raw meat and fish without deathly repercussions. Let’s dig in.
  3. We cook meat because our bodies aren’t tuned up to digest raw meat or any raw food – even raw foodies in our world today are often underweight. Take a cat, for example, that can munch on raw mice, birds and forest friends. They not only have a different set of teeth (I know this for a tried and true fact – my cat also tries to munch on me), but they also have different sets of digestive enzymes and processes dedicated to getting the most they can out of raw meat. Additionally, they have much higher levels of acid in their stomachs – so any pesky bacteria get no chance to invade. Humans can digest raw meat – but we don’t pull nearly as many nutrients out of it as when it’s cooked – and our low-level acid stomachs leave us vulnerable to attack.
  4. Speaking of attack…while some meat is carefully curated to avoid nasty bugs and parasites hiding within – a lot of the meat we produce isn’t, and must be cooked in order to keep us safe. A variety of parasites die once you cook meat through – rendering the meat completely safe to eat. Some of these parasites include Cryptosporidium parvum, Cyclospora cayetanensis and Trichinella spiralis, to name a few. In addition to cooking simply to kill parasites – when we cook food we alter the chemical structure and it tastes better. When you smell cooking meat, baking brownies or even brewing coffee, it probably smells pretty darn good.

Most of you probably knew there was a reason we cooked meat – or were terrified by your moms about washing the chicken cutting board – but now you know some definitive reasons why we cook meat, and our our evolutionary history was affected because of it! Wicked. Here’s some links:

 

pistachio cake with rose buttercream

IMG_6605

Rose is a quirky flavor. Too much and it tastes like a bar of soap, but the right amount tastes light, floral, and summery. A coffee place in downtown Portland serves rose Italian sodas, and every time I’m remotely close I detour, buy one and greedily slurp it down. Rinse and repeat.

IMG_6623

Today, I mixed this rosy flavor with the earthy green of pistachios, which dresses down a floral flavor with a nice nutty cake. It’s a simple cake, with no frills. The best buttercream to make is an Italian meringue buttercream – where you make an Italian meringue with sugar syrup and whipped egg whites, and slowly beat in softened butter until you get a fluffy buttercream that is both stable to sit out and also delicious. Bonus – it’s going to impress everybody, but it’s not all that hard to do. I’m into these kind of combinations – pistachio and rose, easy and impressive. All good, all good.

IMG_6629

IMG_6615

Plus – you get to decorate with real flowers – which is not only easy, but looks wildly professional. It’s like a garden on a cake! Perfect for garden parties and also for sitting with friends under shady trees eating with plastic forks. It’s a summer cake in all the ways a cake could be summery.

IMG_6625

pistachio cake with rose italian buttercream
recipe adapted from food52

½ cup toasted pistachios
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
¾ cup whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 13×9 inch baking sheet with parchment paper and grease with nonstick spray.
In a food processor, grind the nuts to a fine powder (but don’t make nut butter).
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. 4-5 minutes. Add the eggs and the egg yolk, only one at a time. Beat each until combined and scrape down the bowl after each addition (trust me on this one). Beat in vanilla and almond extracts.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the mixer, mix on low to combine. Scrape down the bowl, and add 1/3 of the milk and mix to combine. Repeat until all the flour and milk are used up, and fold in the pistachios.
Pour the batter into the pan, smooth the top with an offset spatula. Bake until cake springs back lightly when touched, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool for a bit in the pan and then turn out onto a cooling rack until completely cool. Using a small plate as a guide, cut out rounds. I used an around 4 inch plate and got three layers, but you can do whatever you’d like here.

rose italian buttercream

2 large or 3 small egg whites
1 cup sugar
Seeds from ½ a vanilla bean
Pinch of cream of tartar
2 tablespoons water
2½ sticks unsalted butter, softened and cubed
½ teaspoon rosewater

Place the egg whites, a sprinkle of sugar from the 1 cup, vanilla seeds and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer. and whisk well to combine.
Place the remaining sugar and water in a small saucepan. Stir around with your finger until the sugar is all saturated and sandy. Wipe down any crystals off the side with a wet paper towel. Place the pan over medium heat and when the sugar is melted and bubbling, brush down the sides again with a wet paper towel.
Once the sugar syrup is at a boil, turn the stand mixer onto medium speed. Cook the sugar until it reaches 250F.
Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and stream the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl. Increase speed to high and whip the meringue for 6-8 minutes until cool to the touch – so the butter won’t melt when you add it.
Add the butter a tablespoon at a time, gradually.  When all the butter has been added, and the buttercream is all combined, it should be smooth and fluffy. Don’t freak out if it looks curdled at some point in the process – just keep the mixer on high, walk away, and come back a couple minutes later and it should have come together!
Add the rosewater, whip until combined. Frost the cake and decorate with crushed pistachios and fresh flowers. Eat and impress.

smart science: salt edition

Welcome to the newest weekly installment: smart science. Using my biology, chemistry and environmental science background, we’re going to break down food science topics that are important to know – in language that is easy to understand. I have a couple ideas on back burners, but let me know if there is anything you’d like to know about.

Today, we talk about salt.

Processed with VSCO with nc preset

Salt is a chemical compound, consisting of an equal number of sodium and chlorine ions that bond together. It’s a natural mineral, and humans have loved it for just about as long as it’s been around – in the olden days, it was a totally hot commodity. But lonely, little salt has a lot more to offer to food than simply providing a salty flavor or decorative touch (I’m looking at you, flaky sea salt). Salt is good for food, and good for us – in the right quantities.

Let’s break it down.

  1. Salt plays an actual, physiological role in the human body! We carry sodium naturally in our fluids, and it provides stability and allows cells to function as they should. We HAVE to ingest some sodium every single day in order to replace the sodium we lose through sweat and bathroom breaks. Additionally, lots of table salt in the US contains added iodine – an essential compound for human function. Without iodine, you can have some pretty serious thyroid issues. But – salt does not naturally contain iodine – we add it in since it was an easily accessible and widespread way to get iodine to the general population.
    When doctors hook you up to an IV, they’re actually using saline solution – not pure water. The saline (read: salty) solution allows your cells to feel at home in the incoming liquid – if it was pure water, your cells would explode – which is wildly counterproductive to your stay in the hospital.
    Long story short: you cannot and should not eat a no-sodium diet – it would cause a myriad of health issues. Your awesome body needs some salt to function, despite what you might hear in the news. But – too much salt is just as bad as too little. We’re practicing moderation here.
  2. Salt helps us keep our food fresh. Salt-curing was a practice used before refrigeration in order to preserve food – and we still do it to certain foods for enhanced taste. Essentially, when you put that level of salt on something, it draws out the water in the product. Itty-bitty microbes need water to thrive, so removing the water removes their source of liquid, and they will die. Score one for humans wanting to live past 25.
  3. Salt is important for bread – got your attention now, carboholics? As we already know, salt loves water and greedily gobbles it up. In bread, this means that the salt is competing with the yeast for water. The salt has a stronger pull, and in doing so, slows down and regulates the fermentation. Since yeast needs water to ferment – a smaller supply creates a longer fermentation, which lets us make bread with only very simple ingredients. It also allows us to knead dough less (jackpot!), since the longer fermentation creates a better web of gluten, which traps gases and makes a fluffy loaf without serious hands-on time.
    Also, salt allows the crust to get a nice color. As we already talked about, salt in dough slows down the fermentation – but it also tells the yeast present to slow their roll with sugar consumption! This lets more sugar hang around for the final bake, where it caramelizes and turns yummy shades of brown.
    Salt also provides essential flavor to bread. I spent a semester in Tuscany, where traditionally bread is made without salt, and boy can I tell you – it makes a difference both in taste and in color. All that said – your bread should still have taste without salt, just not the full bready taste we’ve come to know here at home.

There you go – a primer on salt. There’s a zillion more things salt does in baking, cooking, and the human body – and if you’re interested, here’s a couple links:

read up! and happy salting!

 

cappuccino tea cakes

IMG_6520

I spent the last five months in Tuscany, hopping from museum to museum admiring priceless art and running up and down the country, but mostly I spent the whole time on food. Eating food, learning about food, eating more food… you get the gist. Somewhere along the way I fell head over heels in love with roman cacio e pepe, with tuscan wild-boar, and with sicilian cannoli. From the head to the boot of Italy I ate… and I ate and I ate and I ate. Wherever I wandered though, there was a sweet cup of foamy, milky coffee waiting for me to drink it. I’m not even the biggest coffee person, but I could slurp these down while imagining my next meal any day.

IMG_6563

In Italy, a cappuccino is an entire breakfast. Maybe add a pastry, possibly some Nutella, but once you add milk to coffee the Italians are pretty sure it’s a whole meal. Given the quality and ridiculous cheap pricing of those cappuccinos, I can’t find a fault with their logic.

But.

IMG_6567

We don’t like our cappuccinos to be as cheap here in the United States. They’ll run you around $4.00 instead of the adorable $1.20, and they’re often lacking in quality. Not only has my family taken to making them at home, but I’ve taken to shoving the milky, fresh, and bright coffee flavors into anything I can.

IMG_6555

This time, I made something that not only tastes like cappuccino, but it pairs with a cappuccino – or a warm cup of milky coffee, dealers choice. They’ve got a tender crumb, a sweet vanilla and espresso flavor, and they’re practically begging you to invite your friends over for coffee and cake.

IMG_6585

These cakes are just looking out for you and your well-being. Providing you with coffee intake on all levels, perfect for Monday mornings and Sunday afternoons. Go ahead. Give them a try.

IMG_6544

cappuccino tea cakes
makes 10 mini-bundts, adapted from gbakes

2 sticks unsalted butter, a bit cooler than room temp.
1½ cup granulated sugar
3 tsp vanilla
1 tsp vanilla powder (or sub a vanilla bean, or more vanilla extract)
5 eggs
2 tsp Kahula, or other coffee liqueur
2 cups cake flour
3 Tbs finely ground espresso coffee
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to stiff peaks

how-to
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a mini bundt pan – making sure to get all the nooks and crannies.

In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth, and add the granulated sugar. Cream together, scraping down the bowl occasionally, until very light and fluffy (this can take a bit). While this is creaming, sift together the cake flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and espresso into a medium bowl.

Add eggs, one at a time, on medium speed to creamed butter and sugar mixture, ensuring it is fully incorporated and scraping down the bowl at the end of each addition. Add the vanilla extract and powder.

Add the flour, and then fold in the whipped cream with a rubber spatula. Fill the cavities about half full, and bang the pan on your counter a few times to get out any pesky air bubbles. Bake about 20-25 minutes, until cake springs back when poked. Let cool for a couple minutes, then turn out onto racks to cool completely.

grapefruit and homemade grenadine cocktail

IMG_6482I’ve liked grenadine, even when it is toxically red, made from mostly corn syrup, and only used to add some punchy color to drinks. You didn’t even have to try hard to convince me on it – I was all in.

Until I met the OG grenadine. It’s like normal grenadine – but actually good. I know – I know, hard to believe. Plus, it’s easy as pie. Pomegranate juice, heated with sugar and stirred until slightly thick, plus a squeeze of a lemon. Too easy to do anything else ever again.

IMG_6497

IMG_6473

I promise, you will be converted. Side note: your friends will be mighty impressed. You’re the ruler of cocktail land, as far as they’re concerned.

Add freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and a generous hit of vodka and we’re seriously in summer business! Dangerously drinkable.

IMG_6479.jpg

grapefruit and grenadine cocktail:
2 ounces vodka (be classy with the choice here, but realistically, you won’t taste it that much)
Juice from ½ a grapefruit
1 Tbs grenadine (recipe follows)

Fill glass with ice. Pour vodka over ice, and top with grapefruit juice. Pour the grenadine over a spoon to funnel it right to the bottom. Or, drizzle all over. Dealer’s choice.

homemade grenadine
recipe adapted from joy the baker

1 cup pomegranate juice (make sure to get the unsweetened kind!)
¼ cup granulated sugar
Juice of ½ lemon

Combine pomegranate juice and sugar in a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Cook until it gets a little bit thick, which probably takes around ten minutes. Take your mixture off the heat, add lemon juice, and cool. Keep in the refrigerator.

breakfast challah

IMG_6408

I feel like bacon tends to be more of a buzzword than a flavor these days. We make bacon doughnuts, bacon lollipops and even bacon flavored ritz crackers. While I’m the first one to take a deep appreciative sniff of bacon, I feel like it’s too much, almost.

Then breakfast challah walks in. And boy, does it make an entrance.

IMG_6444

A sweet, eggy loaf laced with bacon and loaded with maple syrup flavor. It’s sweet, salty, maplely fun. Growing up mostly in Vermont, I stand firm in my need for real, thick, maple syrup. Grade A Amber is my favorite, but I don’t really care as long as it actually comes from a tree. You might find that the maple flavor is somewhat hard to coax out in glaze, so I kick it up a notch with some vanilla extract. While I’ve never actually tried maple extract, it seems like that could help boost as well – so do as you wish, seems like you couldn’t possibly go too wrong.

IMG_6451

Feel free to inhale this bread, ten minutes out of the oven, with some salted butter. Or, if your stomach is allowing some semblance of patience, fry up an egg and slap it on a toasted slice of this bread. My dad suggesting french toasting it…. and on that note, I’m off to make more.

breakfast challah
challah recipe adapted from molly on the range
makes two loaves

for the bread:
41/2 teaspoons (about two envelopes) of active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup sugar
6 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 large eggs
2/3 cup flavorless oil (i used sunflower)
1/4 cup brown sugar

maple-bacon mixture: for one loaf. if you’d like two breakfast loaves, double this and the glaze. 
Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with a pinch of salt
8 strips of bacon, cooked until crisp
3 Tbs maple syrup
1/4 tsp salt

for the glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
4 Tbs maple syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbs half and half (or cream, or milk, or anything. you know the drill).

how to:

In a medium sized bowl, combine yeast, warm water, and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Stir it together, and let it sit for about 5 minutes, or until it starts to foam.

While it’s foaming, mix the flour, salt and remaining white sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, and put the dough hook on. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, oil and brown sugar.

Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture, and immediately add the egg mixture. Knead with the dough hook until the dough is smooth and somewhat sticky. If it is really sticky, add a bit of flour, but try not to add to much, since it will make the dough tough.

Turn the dough out into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in size, about two hours.

In a small bowl, place 5 chopped strips of bacon and toss with the maple syrup. Chop the other 3 strips and set aside in a small bowl, for topping.

Once the dough is doubled in size, turn it out onto a slightly floured surface, and divide in two. Keep one half covered while you work with the other. Divide the half into three pieces, and pat/roll each piece into a twelve inch log, and pat out about three inches wide. Divide the mapled bacon between the logs, and roll them up like a jelly roll and pinch to close. Pinch the ends together, and braid down, pinching the ends as well.

Place on a baking sheet with parchment, cover with a dishtowel, and let rest for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Brush the loaves with egg wash, and sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, and an internal temperature of 190°F. Check for completion at about 28 minutes.

Let them cool, eat while warm with butter, fried eggs, and more bacon, or glaze when room-temperature with the maple glaze. To make the glaze, combine the cream, maple syrup, vanilla, and powdered sugar and stir until smooth. Add more maple, cream, or powdered sugar as desired. Top with reserved chopped bacon.