Archive for July, 2011

Lemon Blueberry Tart

Right about now I have to stop and let you know that it is day 800 (okay, so I lost count and am guessing. It feels like 800.) of temperatures over 100°F. Until further notice, all desserts are cold and 90% of them will come in the form of milkshakes. However, my friend likes blueberries best, so there was also this.

Apparently this tart is the best thing I’ve ever made. So say my co-workers. And I have to admit, it was pretty tasty. I love this tart crust (Dorie Greenspan’s), even if it always resists my every attempt to roll it neatly and transfer it to the tart pan. It falls to crumbs. The texture that makes the chilled dough so frustrating to work with leads to such a delightful crunchy crumb once baked that I always forgive it instantly.

And then there’s the filling–as lemony as lemon curd, light, tangy, joyful, and COLD. Can I just make one of these and go live in the refrigerator until it rains or we get a cold front or both? Thanks.

Finally, top it off with piles of blueberries. Or any other fruit you like. I made a pair of single-serving tarts with the leftover crust dough, and topped mine with sliced banana and Mr. B just had his plain. But really, who doesn’t love blueberries?

Ingredients (makes 1 9-inch tart, serves maybe 10-12. )

For the crust:

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup superfine sugar*

1/2 t salt

1 t vanilla

9 T butter

1 egg yolk

For the filling:

3 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup lemon juice

1/3 cup cream

For the topping:

2 cups fresh blueberries, or 3-4 sliced bananas, or a few mangoes and kiwis, sliced, or anything else you can think up.


First of all, I don’t know if you can buy superfine sugar. Confectioner’s/powdered sugar isn’t ideal here, because there’s corn starch in it. That can taste chalky, and possibly mess up the crust. To turn granulated sugar into superfine sugar, just toss 1/2 cup of sugar into the bowl of a food processor and run it for 30 seconds to a minute.

Voilà! The grains are tiny now. Add the flour and salt and pulse briefly to combine them. Add the cold butter in chunks, the yolk, and the vanilla.

Pulse in 10-second intervals until the dough comes together in a ball.

Let it chill in the fridge for at least two hours. When you get it out again, it’ll need a few minutes to soften up enough to work with. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

You don’t have to roll it, but don’t try to use all the dough to line your tart pan, either. The easiest way for me to do this is to roll out the dough and transfer it to the pan in irregular patches, then press the patches together. I had enough dough left over to line two 3/4 cup tart pans.

Cover the crust in buttered (guess who forgot that step?) foil and bake at 375°F for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 10.

Slightly burned. Just as tasty. Time to start the filling! Whisk the sugar and eggs together.

Whisk in the lemon juice and cream.

Pour the filling into the tart shell.

Bake at 375°F for about 20 minutes until it no longer sloshes.

Put the cooked tart in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. When you’re ready to serve, pile on the blueberries. Try not to eat too many berries at this time–you need enough to cover the tart.

And that’s it. You can add a sprinkling of powdered sugar if you like, or melt some apricot jam and brush it over the berries to make them shiny and glue them in place, but you don’t have to. Eat cold with a big glass of lemonade. Repeat until the weather improves.


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Miso Soup

Sometimes light, simple food is best. Sure, there are days when you want a three-layer cake slathered with frosting and a heaping scoop of ice cream on the side. Sometimes you just need fried chicken with a side of French fires. But eat like that every day and you’ll end up feeling a little queasy at the sight of food, not to mention needing bigger pants.

Sometimes it’s just time for a light miso soup and some soy-steamed chicken, broccoli, and zucchini. And as nice as the main dish was (I love it when Mr. B cooks for me!), I’m going to focus on the miso soup today.

Miso is the only soup I will eat. I don’t drink food. I know, it’s weird. But miso soup is so light and simple you can almost think of it as a savory tea, or a slightly enhanced broth. Just holding the bowl is relaxing. When you drink it, you can’t feel stress. Even if it’s over 100°F outside, it’s never too hot for a bowl of miso soup.

Ingredients (serves two)

2 cups water

handful of bonito flakes (about 1/4 ounce)

strip of konbu (thick, flavorful kelp)

3 T miso paste

You can also add chopped cooked tofu, scallions, greens, or whatever else strikes you. I kept it plain.


Bring the 2 cups of water, kombu, and bonito flakes to a boil. Turn the heat off as soon as the water boils.

Pour the bonito stock (dashi) through a strainer into a bowl.

The stock is really pale and its aroma quite subtle. That’s a good thing.

Scoop the miso paste into the bowl.

Stir vigorously to dissolve the miso.

Pour into two bowls and serve.

I don’t know of any other soup you can make in five minutes. It’s delightful and salty and a perfect accompaniment to just about any Japanese dish (which I suppose is why it comes with everything at just about every Japanese restaurant). There’s no reason to make miso soup out of a packet, ever. They require the same (minimal) amount of work and the taste of homemade is incomparably better.

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Render Your Own Duck Fat

I use duck fat an awful lot. It makes the best hash browns, tastes better than butter for sautéing greens or green beans, and is of course incomparable for making confit. And while you can just buy pre-rendered duck fat from gourmet stores, it’s crazy expensive and you get no cracklins. If you ever eat duck, save the fat for rendering. If you don’t, save trimmed chicken fat in the freezer until you have enough to be worth rendering. Schmaltz is awesome.

This isn’t really a recipe so much as a lesson in patience. To start, you need a deep, wide saucepan. Mine is only wide, but that’s okay as long as you work slowly.

Start with about a pound of fat and skin. Chop the fat into about one-inch cubes and put it in your biggest saucepan. Chopping it up is easiest if the fat is still partially frozen, but still possible if it isn’t. Messy, but manageable.

Spread the fat into an even layer and pour 1 1/2 to 2 cups of water over it. The water keeps everything in the pan at the boiling point of water, which means none of the fat can burn before it’s all melted.

Turn the burner on to medium-high just until the water begins to simmer. I hope you brought a book into the kitchen, because this takes a while. Let the water gently boil, keeping an eye on it and stirring every now and then. After ten minutes enough fat will have melted and be failing miserably at mixing with the water to make everything look scummy. It gets better, I promise.

After 30 minutes there will be more liquid than solid in the pan and you can definitely see that there’s more fat than water in the liquid.

After 45 minutes the liquid is finally clear and golden.

You can see here that almost all of the water has boiled off. It’s just fat.

Keep boiling the fat–carefully! Those spatters hurt!–for another 15 minutes. That’s a total of one hour for those of you keeping track.

You want to do this because cracklins–fried brown crispy bits of duck skin–are amazing.

Use a slotted spoon to skim the cracklins out of the fat and drain them on paper towels. Pour the fat through a strainer into a GLASS OR CERAMIC bowl, cup, or ramekin. That’s in all caps because I melted a plastic bowl once by pouring approximately 370°F fat into it. Oops.

Toss the cracklins and some paprika and salt in a zip-top bag and shake it up.

These are tasty.

The fat is a rich golden liquid at room temperature.

It’s white and creamy, much the same texture as butter, once chilled.

Rendered fat keeps a few weeks in the fridge, or a few months in the freezer. Use it in just about any savory dish in place of butter.

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Cherry Limeade Pie

You may recall that I make the best lime pie in Texas. That’s still true, but it turns out that there was ever so little room for improvement. You see, there are graham crackers and there are graham crackers, and short of making your own nothing beats these gluten-free graham crackers. I swear, I’m never buying the regular ones again. These taste rich and nutty (despite being nut free) and when made into a crust the crumbs actually form a pliable dough instead of a thick sandy mess. They’re delightful. The only fault I can find with them is that they come in small crackers instead of large sheets, which might make them more difficult to use for s’mores.

But I digress. We were talking about pie. About tweaking my favorite lime pie for the summery taste of cherry limeade. About adding cherry limeade to the whipped cream for a double dose of sour flavor. And most of all about ignoring the whole idea of bikini season. Thank goodness Mr. B and I are almost always the only ones using the apartment pool!

Ingredients (makes 1 pie, or 8-12 servings depending on how gluttonous your friends are.)

For the crust:

1 package S’moreables or 9 regular graham crackers

5 T butter, melted

3 T granulated sugar (or brown sugar. That’s even better.)

pinch salt

For the filling:

6 egg yolks

1 14-oz can of condensed milk

zest of 2 limes

1/2 cup lime juice (from about 5-6 limes)*

1/2 cup sour cherry juice**

For the topping:

1/2 cup whipping cream

2 T sour cherry juice

1 T lime juice

3-4 T granulated sugar

slice of lime, for garnish

*I’d like to make a brief note on shopping for limes. The yellower they are, the more flavorful the zest will be. Most people try to buy the most uniformly green limes. Not me! I go for yellow, mottled, and preferably not rock-hard. These will yield more juice.

**Even though sour cherries are in season right now, I could not find them at either of the farmer’s markets or any of the four grocery store chains I looked in. So I bought a can of sour cherries and used the liquid from the can. If you go this route, it’s important to look carefully at the ingredients of the canned fruit. You want to see cherries and water. Any sweetener will translate to an overly sweet pie filling. We want sour here, folks. Use your own discretion when it comes to preservatives. Some of them affect taste, others don’t.


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor until you have a fine powder. Add the sugar and salt.

Stir the dry ingredients together.

Add melted butter and stir with a fork until combined. Press the crust into a pie tin and bake for about 15 minutes.

I used a spoon. Why? because I'm a rebel.


Meanwhile, make the filling. Whisk together yolks, zest, and condensed milk.  Remember, order of operations does matter here! Add the citrus to eggs without the condensed milk, and you will chemically cook the eggs. It’s not so good.

Now you can safely add the lime and cherry juice. I won’t begrudge you a bit of red food coloring or grenadine here, but I get a little weirded out by artificially colored foods. But then, I eat Cheetos, so maybe I’m just a hypocrite.

Pour the filling into the crust.

Set aside some extra cherry-lime juice and a slice of lime for later and put the pie back in the 350°F oven for 20-ish minutes.

The pie is done when the center jiggles a bit when shaken but no longer sloshes.

Chill the pie at least two hours or overnight. Shortly before serving, make the cherry-lime whipped cream. Just whip all the ingredients at high speed until it’s thick and fluffy.

Spread the whipped cream over the top of the pie, daubing with the back of a spoon for a mottled effect. To make a lime flourish, slice from the center to the edge of a slice of lime, and pull the wings in opposite directions. It looks a just a little fancy, but isn’t any extra effort.

Enjoy with a cold glass of cherry limeade. Embrace the sour!




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Parmesan Roasted Broccoli

I’ve been getting tired of plain steamed vegetables with a bit of salt and lemon juice. It’s surprising, because I am a broccoli fiend and will happily eat a plate of steaming greens for dinner. But lately I’ve been annoyed at the little puddles of moisture steamed vegetables send out to infiltrate your bread, and longing for the smoky flavor of something roasted.

Thank goodness it’s easy. I hate spending time on vegetables. part of their charm is that they are so low maintenance.

Ingredients (serves 2)

1 large head broccoli, cut into florets

2 T olive oil or schmaltz

1 t salt

1/4 cup bread crumbs

scant 1/4 cup grated parmesan


Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss the broccoli and oil or fat in a bowl.

Spread the broccoli in an 8×8 pan and sprinkle with salt, crumbs, and parmesan.

Toss in the 400°F oven for 15 minutes, at which point the crumbs should have browned nicely.

Serve with tasty, tasty squab.

This broccoli is tender. It is flavorful. It wants you to make more of it. And if you’re not sure, remember this: eating more broccoli grants automatic permission to eat more dessert.

I should note that when roasting, times and temperatures need not be exact. I went with 400°F because Mr. B wanted to roast his squab at that temperature. I could have roasted them for longer at 350°F, which would have resulted in a much softer, slightly richer side. I could have gone with 8-10 minutes at 450°F, for a very assertive, crunchy topping over al dente veggies. It’s your call.

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Malted Malt Cake

This cake was inspired by the brilliant guys of Baked. I say inspired by, because I hardly kept anything the same. I did use the huge amount of water in the batter, and I held to their fat-lour ratio, but that’s really about it. I didn’t use the same fats, or even the same flours. My obsession with brown sugar struck again, and I even opted for a different frosting since I’ve always wanted to try an egg yolk buttercream.

It was delicious, but if you live in the South, you should learn from my mistake and never make a buttercream in July. Especially not for a cake you have to cart to work two cities from your kitchen. That frosting will melt, and you will watch your happy little frosting stars turn into yellow slime. On the plus side, the molten frosting did soak into the (already velvet-soft) cake and made it even moister. Also, even though there’s a whole cup of malt powder in there, the flavor is surprisingly subtle. Mr. B does not care for malt at all, and even he clamored for a piece of this cake.

Ingredients (makes a 3-tier 8-inch cake. Serves 12)

For the cake:

3 cups flour

1 T baking powder

1 t baking soda

3/4 t salt

1 cup malt powder

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 T vanilla extract

2 cups cold water

4 large egg whites

For the frosting:

4 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter

1 T vanilla extract

nutmeg to taste

Whoppers, for garnish


Cream sour cream and butter together.

Add sugars and mix them in, too.

Sift dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, malt powder) into the butter and sugars. I know, it’s really dry. It’ll be okay.

Pour the water over the batter, wait about 30 seconds for it to start soaking in

Mix the water in thoroughly.

Separate egg whites from yolks.

Whip the heck out of those whites. It’s a good way to get aggression out.

Fold the whites into the batter until only a few faint streaks of egg white remain.

Pour the batter evenly among three buttered and parchment papered pans. Bake at 325°F for 40-45 minutes. Once the cakes are cooling, get started on the buttercream.

Bring the sugar and water to a boil over high heat. Bring it to the soft ball stage.

While the sugar is cooking,  put the four yolks in a bowl.

Whip the yolks until they’re very pale and increased in volume. This takes about 8 minutes. Don’t get too excited, they’re not egg whites and they don’t fluff up.

Pour the sugar syrup into the yolk, beating constantly. I use a hand mixer, so pictures weren’t really an option here. Keep beating the sugar-and-yolks until they’re room temperature. This can also take a few minutes. Someday, I will purchase a stand mixer and stop hurting my poor books by reading while mixing.

Cut the butter into the frosting base and mix well.

Add the vanilla and nutmeg and mix again.

It would be a good idea to chill the buttercream and probably the cakes, too at this point. I’m lazy. I didn’t.

Spread a layer of frosting over a layer of cake. Ring the cake with malt balls.

Place the second cake layer on top, spread on some more frosting, more Whoppers, and the last layer, etc.

Pipe some extra frosting into shapes. This is more effective if your cake, frosting, and kitchen aren’t well above buttercream melting point, but oh well. No one seemed to mind the ugly cake. Next time, I’ll use a cream cheese frosting. Way more stable.

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Baked Polenta with Collard Greens

You know what the most delightful food in the whole world is? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not chocolate. It’s not even dessert.

Overexposed collard greens taste best.

That’s right. It’s collard greens.

I know what you’re thinking. You think I’ve gone mad with the heat and have forgotten what is best in life.  (To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women. Also, collard greens. Conan will never keep up his strength without proper nutrients.)

Why are greens so amazing? Well, first of all they taste fresh and delightful. Second, you can eat them when you’re sick. Chocolate loses all appeal when I’m not feeling well, but something simple and savory does the trick every time. Third, they contribute to completely guilt-free comfort food. Also, OM NOM NOM GREENS. Okay, maybe the heat is getting to me a little bit. But you should try this. It’s yummy.

Ingredients (serves two as a side dish or one as a meal. Easily doubled/quadrupled/whatever)

2 cups water

1/2 cup dry polenta

4-6 leaves collard greens

1 T butter (optional)

1/2 cup grated parmesan, divided


Pour the water into a pot and bring to a boil. Pour the polenta over it and bring the water down to a simmer.  Leave it alone for now. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to stir polenta constantly, just give it a quick stir every five minutes or so.

Wash the collard greens thoroughly. Cut out the big rib, especially if it’s white. White ribs are tough and yuck. Roll the leaves into a cylinder, and cut the cylinder into narrow (1/4 inch) strips. This is called chiffonade. It’s not hard.

Keep stirring the polenta every few minutes (I just stood in the kitchen with a book. Makes it go faster.) until the polenta is very thick. if you eat polenta or grits, you’ll know when it’s done. If you don’t, what you’re looking for is the point where “liquid” or “muddy” no longer describe the texture, and “sticky” or “wet cement” do.

At this point, stir in the greens a handful at a time. It looks like you have a much greater volume of greens than polenta, but they stir in nicely. I used five big leaves, and sort of wanted more.

Turn the oven on to 450°F. Continue stirring on the stove 3-5 more minutes, to properly cook the greens and let their flavor infuse the polenta. Stir in half of the parmesan and the butter, if using, as well.

You could just eat it now, but I like polenta best baked. So scoop it into a small cast iron pan, or another oven-safe dish, and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan.

Don’t be shy with the cheese, either. This stuff is great.

Pop the pan in the oven for 5-7 minutes, just long enough for the cheese and top layer of polenta to turn a rich golden color but not long enough to leave any crispy burned greens.

Serve hot in wedges with crudités or salad. Or eat it all on its own at the end of a long day. Nothing quite beats it.