Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Sweet Things’ Category

Figs will always be associated with some of the happiest times in my life, and with the geographical locations of this happiness. I think of the black mission figs rolling down the steep sidewalks of the Berkeley hills, too plentiful to collect before the early autumn sun softened them too much. Homeowners guarded their Meyer lemons fiercely up there, but the fig trees, with their too-high boughs too heavily laden, invited urban foragers to find a perfect fallen fruit.

As a grad student and a poetry lecturer, we were ridiculously lucky in the location of our home: the top floor of a run-down building on a prominent curve of Euclid Avenue. Our front windows looked out over the San Francisco Bay. We became aesthetically immune to spectacular sunsets and the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge on a sunny morning. This storm caught our attention, though.


This was where we lived when Jack was born, and I used to walk with him in the Baby Bjorn or Ergo all around the hills, picking up a fig here and there. I’ve been thinking about this time a lot lately because I’m trying to remember what it’s like to have a baby. Our second one will arrive in about two weeks…

Was my big boy ever this small?

The other happy fig-associated time in a Mediterranean climate that I think about is of course our year in Rome. How many fresh figs drizzled with honey did I eat? Mmmm… too many to count.

Cool shade of the fig canopy:


The other day I bought a tray of California figs at Trader Joe’s, knowing full well that they’d turn to mush in a few days. But I wanted them! And this weekend we have the perfect excuse for me to go through a pile of figs: a dinner party for which I volunteered to bring dessert. Ever since I tried the fig tart at Patisserie 46, I’ve been wanting to recreate it. I’m fairly sure the figs were nestled in frangipane—that transcendent almond filling—so I looked in all of my cookbooks for a fig or fig frangipane tart recipe, but didn’t find one. (I could have looked online, but my cookbooks have been suffering neglect.) I did find, in a Williams-Sonoma Pie & Tart cookbook that my sister gave me for Christmas one year a recipe for a pear and frangipane tart. I decided to use this one, modifying for figs, and substituting my favorite crust recipe, from Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from La Brea Bakery.

Sweet Pastry Dough
2 3/4 c. unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into half-inch cubes
2 extra-large egg yolks
1/4 c. heavy cream

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour and sugar and pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter, and pulse on and off or mix on low until it’s the consistency of a fine meal.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and cream. Add to the butter mixture and pulse a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Dip the heel of your hand in flour and, working with small sections, smear the dough away from you to blend it together. When the dough has been all smeared out, using a metal scraper or spatula, scrape and gather it together. Divide the dough in half and gently knead each half to gather into a ball. Flatten into discs and wrap in plastic to chill at least 2 hours, until firm. Freeze for longer storage.

Since this tart calls only for a bottom crust, I used the other half of the dough to make sugar cookies in the shapes of pumpkins and ghosts. Jack will help me decorate them later.

Fig and Frangipane Tart (based on Pear and Frangipane Tart in Williams-Sonoma’s Pie & Tart book)

Filling:
2 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 c. raw, whole almonds, finely ground
2/3 c. sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbs. rum (or lemonade)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
10-12 ripe figs
honey

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

When butter has cooled, mix it with the almonds, sugar, eggs, extracts, rum, salt, and zest. Spread mixture evenly in the tart shell. Slice each fig in half and arrange in the tart

Bake until the filling is firm to the touch in the center and golden, about 45 minutes. Drizzle with honey. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Read Full Post »

Today was the first day that really felt like fall. It was in the 50s when we ventured outside this morning to water the plants, and the clouds overhead were rushing by. Because of these early signs, I got it into my head that apple picking would be the perfect thing to do. It’s a little early, but there are some varieties ripening or ripe by now.

In the early afternoon, we made our way through the suburbs and exurbs of the Twin Cities to Aamodt’s Apple Farm in Stillwater, MN. We had read online that kids who colored in a printable map of the farm would get a free cider doughnut, so Jack had come prepared with a diligently colored map. When we got there, we went first to the Apple Barn and where he was given his free doughnut. I have a special nostalgia-enhanced weakness for cider doughnuts, so I had to get one, too. (The last time I was pregnant, with Jack, we lived in Berkeley, CA, and I had my mom overnight me some cider doughnuts when the season rolled around.)

Then we went picking. Because it’s only September 3rd, we were too early for Macintosh or Honeycrisp. We were limited to Paula Reds, but that was fine with us. It was just the experience we were after, and a serviceable apple for crisp.

For dinner tonight on this cool evening, we had a perfect peasant meal. I made a rustic frittata with thinly sliced potatoes and onions and two sprigs of thyme, and, of course, an apple dessert.

Apple Crumble (adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion)

Filling:
3 lbs. apples (I used 8 Paula Reds)
1/4 c. rum or apple cider (I used lemonade)
2 tbs. butter, melted
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3 tbs. flour
1/4 tsp. salt

Streusel Topping:
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. oats
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 stick butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Filling: Peel, core, and cube the apples. Stir together with other filling ingredients. Spoon apple mixture into a 9 x 9-inch baking pan.

Topping: Stir together flour, oats, salt, brown sugar, cinnamon, and baking powder. Chop up the butter and blend it in with your fingers until crumbly. Sprinkle topping over filling

Bake for 1 1/4 hours, or until it’s bubbly and a deep, golden brown.

Read Full Post »

I love living in a place with so many bountiful farmers’ markets. And maybe it’s my small-town self coming through on Saturday mornings, but I prefer the small-scale markets. We’ve become regulars at the Fulton neighborhood market, and really, it’s not just because Patisserie 46 sets up a booth every week, although that’s definitely a draw. Would you like to see some of their tasty tidbits?

Sweet pastries deriving from various French traditions are up front, and over in the sun-washed quadrant to the right, the savory breads—airy and yet toothsome—await the more patient, or restrained, purchaser. Here’s a closer shot of the mid-morning delights that have been a staple of my pregnancy diet:

I’m partial to the almond croissants, the almond bostocks (round cakey ones on the right) and the bear-claw-looking pastries whose name I forget which are front-and-center. They are flavored with orange peel and anise, and remind me of the flavors of Sicily, although they’re probably Southern-French.

To accompany these Saturday morning treats, one must have coffee. If only someone would wheel in a decent espresso maker. But I guess that might require a generator. So instead I go for the only option at the market, which is a good one: Melitta-brewed Moonshine coffee:

Jack, like his dad, prefers savory snacks. These homemade popsicles are so uniquely and strongly flavored, some of them are practically savory. Lemon-lavender today. See that pucker?

After this thirst-quenching aperitivo, Jack enjoyed a pulled pork taco with spicy slaw from Chef Shack, which is actually a big red truck and not a shack.

And here are some of the yummies we hauled home:

I admit I was skeptical about the corn, which didn’t look as milk-and-sugary as all of the great Vermont and Massachusetts corn I had this summer. But my tastebuds were treated to just as much juicy sweetness as a corn lover could want. It was delicious!

Last night we found another reason to love Minneapolis, thanks to our new friends Andy and Katherine and their boys William and David: Minnehaha Park, where the Creek that flows through our neighborhood ends in a beautiful waterfall.

Just across the bike-and-pedestrian path from the falls is a restaurant that is as close as one can come to a New England-style clam shack in this Midwestern city. We ate dinner at an outdoor table at Sea Salt. The boys played catch, and soccer, and football in the park, and dropped in at the restaurant patio just long enough to eat some fried fish with hot sauce. The grown-ups chowed down on fish tacos, a Cuban paella-type dish, crabcakes, fried calamari, and local craft beer. The dads wanted to try the Wisconsin IPA called “Bitter Woman,” but it was tapped out. She’s popular, that one. Who would’ve thought? And for dessert, Sebastian Joe’s ice cream–locally made, inventively flavored. I love their cinnamon, and their salted caramel, but last night I stuck with vanilla. It was perfect.

Read Full Post »

These sweet little heirlooms are from Luna Bleu Farm in South Royalton, Vermont. This was one of the farms that got me hooked on supporting local organic farmers. I was in college, taking a journalism course, and the assignment was to write a profile, so I interviewed the owner, Suzanne Long. Her dedication to living off of the land, and to biodynamic farming in particular, was inspiring to this twenty-year-old. One of my high school friends who apprenticed at Luna Bleu is now an organic farmer herself, in Guilford, Vermont.

Anyway, Caprese salad and tomato tart season is here! The tomatoes above were at the Hanover Farmers’ Market, held on the green every Wednesday afternoon. We also picked up some locally produced beer brats from Hogwash Farm, and Jack enjoyed a very large snack.

My last day in Vermont was a relaxing and delicious one.  In the morning, my mom and I drove out to Woodstock to check out a new cafe owned by a young couple, Mon Vert Cafe.

We each had a cappuccino, and I also had a piece of coffee cake that looked like your basic cinnamon-swirled bundt but that turned out to be swirled with spices much more interesting: nutmeg and clove hints laced through the cinnamon, and the crumb was as moist and dense as an olive oil cake. I enjoyed reading their irony-touched wine list, too:

Another fruit of summer that I love, although I’m not getting them locally, is the cherry. Since my mom and I weren’t getting enough help in making the huge bowl of them disappear, I decided to make a clafoutis. I used the recipe in Chez Panisse Fruit, which calls for cooking the cherries in a skillet first. The end product was a bit wet on the bottom, but there’s nothing like warm poached cherry juice, so that was fine with me. The cake part had a souffle-like lightness with a hint of almond. This will be my new go-to dessert: so easy, and yet so impressive.

Now we’re back in Minneapolis, and there’s a bowl of cherries in the fridge….

Before I end with the recipe, I’ll just drop a news tidbit. I’ve launched a new website! Please check it out at: english-thyme.com

And now, here’s a jotted-down version of the recipe:

Clafoutis

2tbs. butter
1/3 plus 3tbs. sugar
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. lemon zest
2 eggs, separated
3tbs. flour
1tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 pinch saltIn a skillet over medium heat, foam the butter, add cherries and sugar, cinnamon, zest. Cook for 7-10 minutes until cherries are tender and juice thickens.  Arrange cherries in a 9-inch dish.
Preheat oven to 375.
Beat egg yolks and 3 tbs. sugar. until light and thickened. Beat in flour, vanilla, almond extract, and cream.
In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Fold into yolks and pour batter over fruit.
Bake 20 minutes.

Read Full Post »

We’ve lived in Minneapolis for a month now.  We spent the first 9 days in our new place without furniture, which was interesting.  In fact, it was surprising how quickly we adapted to living with minimal stuff.  But don’t worry, I’m not about to launch into a sermon about the importance of living with less.  I’m glad to have a couch to sit on, pots and pans to cook with, and 200 pairs of shoes to choose from.  (Well, no, sadly, I’m actually limited to a few pairs of Birkenstocks, since that arthritic toe joint has flared up again.)  What made that first week of camping out on hardwood bearable was the thrill this city buzzes with when it’s summer time, the lakes and parks, and the amazing food spots we’ve discovered.  There are great grocery stores, fun farmers’ markets, and countless hip cafes, coffee shops, bistros, patisseries, and pizzerias. (According to some survey that was cited in the Star Tribune last week, Minneapolis is the hipster capital of the country. I bought a $3 cup of hipster-made coffee at our neighborhood farmers’ market and thought it was so-so.)  Our favorite place to eat out is the pizzeria we went to on our first night here, which is just a block and a half away: Lola. They have an enormous, round, beautiful, shiny, copper wood-fired oven in which they cook thin-crust pizzas topped with only the best ingredients.

They also have the tastiest soft-serve vanilla, which you can get between cookies, unadulterated, or with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt.  The latter tastes like a vegetal twist on caramel, which is novel and delicious.

One night, instead of having pasta bianca, we went uptown to Lucia’s, where Peter had mussels served with this delicate chive-flower-sprinkled crostini:

And after our things finally arrived (but before our kitchen was fully functional)…


to celebrate we went to another fantastic bistro, Cafe Maude, where Jack ordered a kids’ cocktail called “Rubber Ducky,” which is topped with a Peep!

I think it’s love.

And, let’s see, how many times have I been to Patisserie 46? I’ve already lost count.  Our first time there was also something of an occasion. We met up with my college friend, writer Emily Sohn, whom I haven’t seen since graduation!  She lives here with her husband Gabe and adorable son Zach.  After some morning pastries and perfectly executed cappuccini, we walked slowly to the closest park, where the little boys stripped down to their shorts and splashed around in the wading pool.  The first time I tasted Patisserie 46′s delicate pastries was the week before, when I found their stand at the Fulton Farmers’ Market, which is close to home.  While I ate a cherry & almond-topped brioche and drank my hipster coffee, Jack, in the mood for more savory fare, waited in line at Chef Shack for a brat with mustard.


I also bought two heavy bags of produce: a gigantic head of oak leaf lettuce, English peas, baby bok choy, new potatoes, kale, cucumbers… I forget what else.  We’ve been eating very well.

A few days later, when my parents came to visit, (in addition to eating at Lola and Cafe Maude, and then Cafe Ena) we visited the Mill City Museum, which is really the museum of flour.  We learned about the central role of flour in the growth of Minneapolis, and stood for what must be our oddest family portrait.


Notice anything peculiar about me? Yes, that’s right, I’m pregnant.  The little girl is due November 2nd, and is squirming and wriggling away as I write. Jack is so excited.  When I asked him to take a belly picture, he took me quite literally, and cut off my head:

Jack has been busy playing with his new neighbor friend.  They wanted to have a lemonade stand, and the only lemonade I had was the pricey Trader Joe’s organic. Their customers commented, they said, on how delicious the lemonade was.  No crystal lite on this corner!

Another day, we went to Sebastian Joe’s Ice Cream on Upton Ave., where they make their own small batches of uniquely flavored gelato-like ice creams.  The first time we went, I got cinnamon.  Next time they had salted caramel. Mmmm… is all I can say.  They have back-garden seating, which feels Berkeley-like, and a big iron turtle to crawl on.


It’s been a busy, happy, well-fed month.  And even though I haven’t touched on it much here, I have been doing some cooking.  But it’s summertime cooking: quick, a little lazy, conducive to warm nights. Last night, I mixed up a pesto for our ravioli using basil from the pot on the front stoop and peas from a local farm. The peas gave it a bright color and sweetness that was a refreshing change from the basil pesto I usually make, which always contains the evidence of an over-zealous garlic pusher. If only I could extend the evening with a few glasses of rosé….  Instead, I’ve been reading Clarissa.

Read Full Post »

a bit of Italy


We’re in Vermont for the long weekend, and, aside from catching the scent of lilacs drifting everywhere, the best sensory experience of the past few days has been standing at the Italian-style espresso bar in the new gelato cafe in Hanover, NH, Morano Gelato. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was Proustian, but the little ritual brought back pure nostalgic pleasure in a muscle memory.

The owner of this inspired cafe, Morgan Morano, is a young local woman who, during college and culinary school, lived in Italy on and off for the last six years.  While in Florence, she studied gelato-making and brought her skill and Italian-inflected style back to her hometown. She offers the classic Italian flavors and uses local ingredients when possible (for instance during berry season).  When I tasted the first trace of nocciola gelato (hazelnut) on my tongue, I was transported.

Morgan has quickly converted the locals, too.  Every day that I’ve been here, there has been a line out the door.  The facts, and the flavors, speak for themselves.  On the wall behind the high counter, a sign explains the difference between gelato and American ice cream:

GELATO is much lower in butterfat than American ice cream.

GELATO is denser than American ice cream.

GELATO is served at a warmer temperature than American ice cream.

For those interested in further research, the website explains the process by which this density of texture and flavor is achieved.  I love this place not only for the authentic gelato, however, but also for the complete experience it provides.  The gelato and coffee facilities are straight from Italy, as are the little plastic spoons and cups.  Everything else in the shop is a perfect re-creation of an Italian cafe: the smooth bar at chest-height; the bottles of room-temp. water and small glasses that stand on the bar for the espresso-drinkers’ refreshment; the t.v. high in the corner playing Italian news; the slightly cheesy music; the shininess of every surface.


I really wanted to start speaking Italian, but I said to myself, “let’s not get carried away.”  I’ll just say this: Grazie, Morgan.

Read Full Post »

hot oranges

Remember when M.F.K. Fisher warmed tangerines on the radiator?  Well, less elegantly and inadvertently, I just invented a new snack for myself: hot orange.  I decided this morning to make that  orange-scented olive oil cake again, and, attempting to multitask, I popped an orange in the microwave to take the chill off and proceeded to quarter three oranges, forgetting that 10 seconds goes by in a flash.  Oops! 30 seconds later, I heard the beep and took out a hot, sweating, fragrant orange.  The peel came right off, the sections were steaming, and the flavor was intense! I’m going to do this more often….


The cake, then. It is a perfect cake: crumbly, moist, full of flavor, and, in fact, healthy!  The only fat in it is olive oil (and egg), the sugar is not too high.  And it’s an any-occasion cake: dinner-party dessert, breakfast, tea-time, or mid-morning little smackerel of something.

(It would be good with honey.)

I also love the process of it.  First, three successive boilings of the orange quarters to temper the acidity, then a slow simmer of orange in simple syrup.  The drained oranges are then pureed and mixed into the dry ingredients with eggs and olive oil.  The cake is finished with an orangey glaze that soaks into the crumb structure through the top and the bottom edges where the glaze puddles.  The process also fills the house with the most wonderful aroma of tropical warmth.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.