May 30, 2010

Crostata Or Galette?

Mixed Berry Crostata with Lemon-Honey Ricotta Cream.

I get it a galette, crostata, free-form pie, flat tart, what? I'm pretty sure the only difference between ALL of these, is where you live. For the French, it's a galette. For the Italians, it's a crostata. For Americans...well, we Americans like to use multiple names for the same thing! I've even heard of this being called a Lazy Pie. Whatever it is--it's amazingly delectable and simple to make!

May 26, 2010

Chill Out!

Strawberry Recipe #3...Strawberry-Basil Italian Ice!

Personalities are funny little things. They are a way for us to package ourselves, for our own understanding, and to present our "qualities" to others. But they are more than that. We often hold to our personality like a security blanket, a disclaimer for our quirks, shortcomings and bad habits. "I can't help that I _____, it's just the way I AM." The truth is, any of us can change something about ourselves IF WE WANT TO. That's the beauty of humanity, we choose. Life happens, but we choose how we will respond to it.

May 23, 2010

Meant To Be

Pappardelle Alle Vongole.

I'm a sucker for a classic romance. I don't read a whole lot of current "chic lit" unless it comes highly recommended by a friend. But certain novels that were required reading in my high school literature class, have a close-to permanent position on my nightstand! I won't list them, as to not further peg myself as a sappy daydreamer.

I equally enjoy sitting down with couple-friends and hearing, or rehearing, the story of how they met. Some people were obviously just meant to be together! You can try to take all the "mush" out of it, if you want, telling yourself it's just happenstance. But I'm a big believer in DESTINY. It seems to me, that just believing your life has a purpose, can often bring about good things!

My husband and I were destined to be together. Of course, we could have married other people, but I'm fairly sure the world would be teetering off it's axis if that had happened! The hubs would tell you, in his most Forrest Gump-like voice, "We's like peas and carrots." He is the one person that I'm fully willing to put up with ...'til death do us part. And better yet, who is willing to put up with ME! He makes me laugh when I'm sad, and listens to my rants--even when I'm dead wrong. Then only attempts to correct me when he knows I'm ready to hear it. He is my best friend. I am a very lucky girl!

As with people, some things were just meant to be:  robe and slippers, popcorn and movies, campfires and marshmallows, eggs and bacon, peanut butter and jelly, the list goes on and on. Classic combinations are comforting. A perfect pair creates a certain feeling of warmth and momentary bliss that leads to the making of memories. Our memories give the duo longevity, and in some cases, birth a legend.

Here is a classic combo that's withheld the test of time. Pappardelle Alle Vongole is a legendary marriage of  pasta and clams. A rich, full-bodied dish with bright citrusy undertones. The noodles soak up the essence of the garlic, wine and delicate clam juices to create a true Italian masterpiece! It's traditionally made with spaghetti, but I had these fat pappardelle noodles that were just begging for clams! I couldn't say no to them. This dish is quick enough for a mid-week family meal, and dressy enough for a dinner party. Get ready to experience love at first bite!


Pappardelle Alle Vongole

1 12-16 oz. package of dried Pappardelle (or any long pasta)
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup chopped pancetta
2 shallots, sliced thin
4-5 garlic cloves, chopped
2 lbs. fresh littleneck clams, well cleaned
1 Tb. chopped fresh rosemary
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. lemon zest
¾ cup dry white wine
1/3 cup heavy cream
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
*Garnish with chopped parsley

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high. When hot, add the pancetta and shallots. Saute for 1-2 minutes, then add the garlic and rosemary. Saute another 1-2 minutes.

Add the clams, wine, red pepper, and lemon zest to the skillet. Salt and pepper; then cover. Drop the pappardelle in the boiling water.

Cook the clams for 7-8 minutes, until they are mostly open. Cook the pasta for 6-8 minutes until just “al dente”.

Add the cream to the clam sauce and stir. Then strain the pasta and add it straight to the clam sauce. Make sure to reserve a little pasta water. Stir the pasta and cook another 1-2 minutes. Add the Parmesan cheese and toss. If the sauce is thicker than desired add a little pasta water. Throw out any clams that didn’t open.

Plate and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

*You could lighten this dish by reducing or removing the heavy cream.

Pappardelle Alle Vongole on Foodista

May 21, 2010

Farm Stand Fresh

Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Cake...

Every time I take the kids berry picking, I think to myself, "I could totally do this. I could farm...yeah it's hard work, but peaceful and gratifying." Then I imagine us buying a large piece of land and reinventing our life. I envision myself in overalls and work boots, driving a tractor. That thought always makes me chuckle! Of course, I know nothing of farming. I've never even had my own garden! This year is the first year we are going to give it a whirl--that is, be involved in a communal garden. I'm hoping to learn a thing or two. I'll let you know how it goes!

I still like to pretend, as we're picking berries, that I somehow had a part in cultivating them. I also like to believe that I'm honoring the berries by putting them in such lovely treats! (If that makes me slightly crazy, I can live with that.)

This super moist cake is the perfect way to CELEBRATE juicy berries! It's thick, soft, and packed full of fresh strawberries that weep pink tears down each tender slice. The yogurt and lemon create a wonderful tangy balance to it's sweetness. This cake slices well, and doesn't dry out quickly. It is wonderfully delicious on it's own--but is also marvelous with a scoop of homemade ice cream! A perfect dessert to take to picnics and BBQs this spring and summer!

Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
3 Tb. lemon juice, divided
Zest of 1 lemon
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
8 oz. plain or vanilla, greek yogurt
12 oz. fresh strawberries, diced
1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325*. Grease and flour a 10 inch Bundt pan. Sift together the 2 ¼ cups of flour, baking soda and salt. Mix in the lemon zest and set aside.

With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in 1 Tb. lemon juice. Alternate beating in the flour mixture and the yogurt, mixing just until incorporated.

Toss the strawberries with the remaining ¼ cup of flour. Gently mix them into the batter.

Pour the batter into the Bundt pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Allow to cool 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. Once cooled whisk together the remaining 2 Tb. of lemon juice and the powdered sugar. Drizzle over the top of the cake.

Serves 12+.

Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Cake on Foodista

May 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Tarts

Or better titled...Beauty Isn't Everything!

As a mom, it's a little scary to raise a daughter in a culture that puts such a huge emphasis on looks. It makes my stomach turn to think of her bright-eyed, seven-year-old confidence being stripped away, at some point, by our society's ridiculous vain addiction. I don't know ONE single woman who doesn't occasionally struggle with insecurities about her appearance. Some are so burdened by insecurity, you can physically see it! It's in how they dress, or carry themselves. It's in the kind of relationships they choose, or how they speak about themselves and others! If you can't tell, this really get me RILED UP! A small, fearful part of me hopes my daughter turns out fabulously gorgeous, dreaming her adolescent years would be easier. But the more prominent, wiser side of me desires her to be a late bloomer, or even just slightly above average in appearance. To me, this assures she will likely develop depth and character earlier in life. Is that terrible for a mother to say?

Most of us have had an experience with a friend (or maybe someone we were once attracted to), who was the epitome of beauty, but had obviously gotten by on appearance their whole life. They never HAD TO take the time to become more. The result: an empty, shallow person in a pretty package. It's a true pity--think of who those people could have been if they hadn't been so highly praised for their external beauty all their lives. I don't want that for my daughter. I want her to discover who she really is, and the sooner the better! I want her to develop her gifts, and characteristics of sincerity, self-discipline, perseverance and humility. I even want her to go through some hard times, so she'll learn to rise above them! I'm getting teary writing this.

Believe it or not, all this comes from pondering over a tomato tart. I learned to make traditional tomato pies shortly after moving to the South. Fresh tomato pies are delicious and comforting, but not that pretty. Last month in Food and Wine magazine I found an alluring photo of a tomato tart and had to see how it compared. The picture, as I said, was wonderfully impressive. Yet upon tasting it, we discovered the flavor was quite disappointing. Mediocre at best--what a shame! I was a little surprised because I am usually pleased with recipes I find in F&W. Oh well, they can't win them all! The crust was a disaster and the filling low on the flavor scale. I was suddenly struck by the fact that I had been so eager to discard my old reliable tomato pie for this prettied-up version.

Things I've taken away from the "tomato pie incident": Clearly, never judge a book by it's cover. Beauty is often deceiving. Also, a personal quote...You are only as pretty as you taste. I'm going to teach THAT to my daughter some day. What do you think, instant classic??? After this experience, I took a few ideas from the pretty tart and used them to revamp my original pie. I loved the idea of using grape or cherry tomatoes instead of  the chopped and drained Romas. I also liked the idea of using a tart pan instead of a pie pan. I don't know why, but tarts just seem classier. Let's not get confused here, the old-fashion tomato pie was far superior to the magazine tart and really needed no revision. I just like to change things up!

There are two sets of photos incorporated into this post. The photos from my original trial with the F&W recipe were so gorgeous, because I found heirloom grape tomatoes in variegated colors--but this was the tart that was not so great. The second round of photos came from incorporating the grape tomatoes into my traditional pie. I didn't find the heirlooms again and used regular grape tomatoes. The flavor was IN-CRED-I-BLE, but I still wanted to use the first set of photos. That might make me a hypocrite...hmmm. My husband says he liked the looks of the second tart better anyway!

If you look closely at the two tarts you can see a difference between the crusts. The crust recipe in the second round, the recipe I'm giving you, is specifically a tart crust. It's meant to hold it's shape and hold up to moisture without being prebaked. I found the crust recipe on Smitten Kitchen. I've altered the preparation a little, but not the ingredients.


Fresh Tomato Tart

1 1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, diced
1 egg

2 pints grape or cherry tomatoes, rinsed and dried
½ cup basil leaves, divided
1/3 cup chopped green onions
1½ cups sharp provolone, grated (or fontina)
½ cup mayonnaise
½ tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 375*.

In a food processor, combine the flour, cornstarch , one-fourth teaspoon salt and butter. Pulse the mixture until it is in very tiny bits.

Add one egg and pulse until a dough forms. This dough is rather tough but, it does come together nicely.

Gather the dough into a ball. Then press the dough in to the tart pan, covering every bit. (You could, roll the dough out to a 12-inch circle, if you want.) Crimp the edges, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roughly chop 1/4 cup of the basil leaves. Stack and roll the other basil leaves and cut them into thin ribbons.

Mix the cheese, mayo, chopped basil, green onions and pepper in a bowl. Spread the mixture over the bottom of the tart shell.

Top with grape tomatoes and press them down. Bake for 35 minutes—until the crust edges are golden-brown and the cheese is bubbling up.

Cool for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with 1/4 cup sliced basil ribbons. Serve warm. Serves 6-8.

Fresh Tomato Tart on Foodista

May 15, 2010

Signs of Summer

Macerated Strawberries with Cornmeal Shortcakes...

Certain things always remind me that summer is just around the corner. School coming to an end, daylight after dinner, strawberries at the farm stands, to name a few. Strawberry picking is one my family's favorite early summer activities. Actually we make berry picking an all-summer affair, but you can only pick strawberries in late May and early June here.

You can tell a lot about someone by how they approach berry picking. Do they sit on the sidelines, afraid of dirt and the possibility of snakes? Do they stay in one spot and clean out all the berries from one or two plants, or follow the paths back and forth casually grabbing a berry here and there? Berry picking shows tell-tail signs of how a person approaches life. Of course, it's not an exact science, but a fairly good indicator! 

I steadily observe my children as they take on the berry patch. My oldest races out with her bucket. She quickly checks the berries, but is more interested in filling her bucket FIRST. Then as the self-proclaimed "Queen of Strawberries", she helps (dictates) everyone else with their picking efforts. My youngest gingerly floats down the rows studying the berries for utter perfection. He quietly mutters at times, "That one's a little dirty....this one isn't red enough yet." He then picks the largest, most crimson berry, and devours it RIGHT THERE instead of placing it in his basket! I think last time he came out of the strawberry patch with no more than 5 berries--but they were the loveliest!

What do we do with our baskets full of berries? The real question is, what DON'T we do with them. We spend the early summer stuffing berries in just about everything we make. Breakfast, salads, snacks, appetizers, but above all, desserts! Get ready for a months worth of berry recipes! Not every post will be a strawberry recipe, but there will be quite a few. Sorry to those who are allergic. Hopefully you can substitute blueberries or raspberries!

I'll start with my all-time favorite summer dessert...Strawberry Shortcake. We make a variety of shortcakes throughout the summer with whatever is in season, so this dessert isn't limited to strawberries alone. However, I think it's best with strawberries, ripe off the vine!

Real shortcakes are squatty sweet biscuits that can be cracked in the middle to provide a top and bottom.  As a member of the "quick bread" family, it's best to use very cold ingredients, and to WORK FAST, so the dough goes in the oven cold. This allows the cool butter clumps to work their magic and produce light flaky layers. You could also make the shortcakes and put them into the fridge until ready to bake. In this recipe, I've added a little cornmeal to the mix to provide a distinct color and texture. Cornmeal shortcakes are also fabulous with blueberries!


Fresh Strawberry Cornmeal Shortcakes

1 ½ + cups flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 Tb. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ cup + 2 Tb. sugar
8 Tb. cold unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 egg
½ cup + 1 Tb. whole milk (half-n-half)

5 cups strawberries, sliced
¼ cup sugar

2 cups cold heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tb. sugar

Separate 1 cup of berries and macerate (smash) with ¼ cup of sugar. I used the back of a ladle to do this. Mix with the rest of the berries and chill until ready to serve.

Preheat oven to 425*. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and ¼ cup sugar in the food processor.

Chop the butter into cubes and add to the processor. Pulse the processor several times until the pieces are the size of peas.

Add 1 egg and ½ cup whole milk. Pulse one or two times, until just combine—you still want to be able to see butter clumps!

Dump the dough onto a floured work surface and pat with your hands into a rectangle about ¾ -1 inch thick. Use a 2 ¾ or 3 inch cookie cutter to cut out 6-8 shortcakes.

Place them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush the shortcakes with milk and sprinkle the extra 2 Tb. sugar over the tops.

Bake for 12-14 minutes. Cool the shortcakes for just a few minutes.

Whip the heavy cream in an electric mixer, with the vanilla and 3 Tb. sugar until soft peaks form.

Find a crack in the side of each shortcake and gently separate them into tops and bottoms. Spoon berries over the bottom half of each shortcake, add a large dollop of whipped cream, and place the shortcake top on the cream. YUM! Serves 6-8.