Tuesday, April 19, 2016

French Silk Peanut Butter Tarts

When I was a kid (and to this day), my dad made delicious home-baked treats for all occasions. Pies, cakes, brownies, cookies, the gamut. So you'd think I would have shunned any grocery store freezer section attempts at dessert. But, while I delighted in my homemade from scratch Decadent Chocolate Birthday Bundt Cake each year, my 7-year-old palate also craved the simpler things in life. In this case, Sara Lee's frozen French Silk Pie.

I mean, nobody doesn't like Sara Lee, right?

But I've matured (a bit). While I still cannot resist the creamy consistency of a French silk pie filling, I can skip the ice crystals in the whipped "cream".

This is adapted from a tried-and-true recipe - Pioneer Woman's French Silk Pie - but, BUT, with a few key changes:

1. I love a pastry crusted cream pie, but for some reason I just had to have the crumbly Oreo version (or in this case, Trader Joe's Jo-Jo version) this time around for extra chocolate-y goodness. So, pick your poison. As we approach warmer weather (I think?), an advantage of the cookie crust is that you don't have to bake anything/approach your oven.

2. These, as you can see, are mini. Because, in addition to Sara Lee, who doesn't like an individually portioned dessert? (I use this pan, which releases beautifully. If you are sadly not in possession of mini tart pans, this recipe would also work in a standard shallow 9" tart pan.)

3. Don't think I was going to forget to mention. This tart is topped with peanut butter whipped cream. And, I don't mind saying, this is a game changer. So easy to whip up, and takes this already luxurious dessert up a notch for us Reese's lovers.

And if deliciousness alone isn't enough reason to make these, they are also the perfect dessert for company - no baking, and you make them ahead of time to chill in the fridge, so no fuss after dinner.

French Silk Peanut Butter Tarts
Makes 4 mini (4") tarts or 1 shallow 9" tart

  • 16 Oreos or Jo-Jos
  • 3 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

  • 2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, slightly softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, cold*

  • 1 cup heavy cream, cold
  • 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 oz semisweet chocolate, for garnish (optional)

For crust: pulse cookies and salt in a food processor until they're fine crumbs. Add melted butter and process until incorporated; it should be the texture of wet sand.

Divide crust mixture evenly between mini tart pans; press firmly with greased fingers and/or a metal measuring cup to form around sides. Chill for at least 30 minutes before adding filling.

(While making the crust, chill your mixing bowl in the freezer.)

For filling: melt baking chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl, stirring in between short increments so you don't scorch it. When fully melted, set aside to cool.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar in the chilled bowl until creamy, at least one minute. Add cooled chocolate and vanilla extract; mix until thoroughly combined.

Change out your paddle attachment for the whisk. Add one cold egg and beat with whisk attachment for 5 minutes on medium speed. Scrape down the bowl; add second egg, and repeat. Don't rush this! The slow and thorough addition of cold eggs is what will make it smooth and creamy.
*I should perhaps have pointed out earlier that French Silk Pie includes uncooked eggs. This isn't something I worry about, but if it worries you, you could try pasteurizing your eggs, skipping this recipe, or throwing caution to the wind.
After a full 10 minutes of incorporating the eggs, the filling should be smooth, creamy, and, yes, silky. Divide into 4 chilled cookie crusts, smooth tops, and return to refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
I made my whipped cream and topped the tarts just before serving, as it's a very quick step, but you could do this in advance as well. I add 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar to help stabilize whipped cream if preparing in advance.
For peanut butter cream:wash out your mixing bowl and return to freezer to chill for 15 minutes or so. When cold, combine heavy cream, peanut butter, and powdered sugar, and whip with whisk attachment until tripled in size and fluffy.

Spoon whipped cream onto tarts for a more rugged look, or pipe with a large decorating tip (or zip loc bag). Garnish with grated or peeled chocolate.
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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sweet Potato-Sage Scones with Spicy Cherry Jam

Yesterday was the first day of autumn, and, for once, Boston weather is adhering to the schedule. Seemingly overnight we swapped beach days for crisp, cool mornings, and glimpses of orange leaves are popping up all over my neighborhood. And I. Will. Take it.

I know plenty of my fellow New Englanders are still reeling from Snowmageddon '15, but we had a beautiful, long summer, and I'm tired of sweating, and of not eating pumpkins, sweet potatoes, or squash on the regular.

So let's start with breakfast! Sweet potato and sage (the one part of my herb garden that shows no sign of giving up as we enter fall) are always a sure bet to pair together, and this not-quite-sweet, not-quite-savory scone is no exception. I like to cut my dough into mini scones (these bake up to about 3 inches long), which makes them perfect for a quick snack or for breakfast, downed in sets.

Oh also, let's talk about this jam. It is a little sweet, a little tart, and ends with a little heat thanks to some cayenne pepper. And it's seriously delicious - it shines on these scones, but works just as well as part of a cheese board (brie, meet cherry jam) or even on a kicked-up PB&J. And it's also seriously easy - we're not talking an all-weekend canning experience, just a quick boil and stir to get everything mixed up.

Cook's notes: I used sweet potato as I had one to use up, but feel free to sub in canned pumpkin if you have it handy. The resulting taste will be quite similar. Along the same lines, sour cream will work just as well for the yogurt; I have used both in this recipe and tasted no difference. Fat-free Greek yogurt helps keep the calories down, if you're into that kind of thing.

And finally, I find that while cooking with pumpkin or sweet potato makes baked goods very moist and can serve as an egg replacement (as in this recipe), it also seems to necessitate a longer baking time. Keep an eye them, but you may find they need up to 5 minutes more in the oven, depending on your appliance.

Also to keep in mind: this a fabulous base recipe for scones, which I have adjusted for all sorts of flavor combinations. Without the sweet potato, add one egg to the wet ingredients, and then play around! Two of my other favorites are dried cherry/chocolate chips and lemon/fresh rosemary.

Sweet Potato-Sage Scones
Makes 16 mini scones
  • 1/2 cup Greek non-fat yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 cup chilled butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup pureed, cooked sweet potato (1 small potato)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh sage, chopped

Spicy Cherry Jam
Yield: ~1 cup
  • 1/2 pound fresh or frozen tart cherries, pitted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • Pinch salt

For scones:

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a small bowl, mix baking soda into yogurt. Let sit for 5 minutes while you prep other ingredients - it will get fluffy as the baking soda activates.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Cut in chilled butter with a pastry blender or two knives until all of the butter is pea-sized or smaller.

With a fork, mix yogurt mixture, sage, and sweet potato into the flour/butter mixture. The dough will be quite shaggy. Empty onto a floured counter and knead with your hands a few times so it comes together into a (still a bit shaggy) dough ball.

Divide dough into two discs, each roughly 5 inches in diameter by 1 inch thick. With a large knife, pizza cutter, or bench scraper, cut each disc into 8 wedges. Using the bench scraper or a spatula, transfer the wedges to a parchment or silicone-lined baking sheet, leaving about an inch between each scone.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, until tops of scones are ever-so-slightly browned.

For jam:

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and mashing cherries as they soften.

Once boiling, cook until thickened, at least 5 minutes. Depending on how much your cherries have broken down, you could use an immersion blender to smooth it out (I did).

Remove from heat, cool to room temperature, and store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for a week or two.
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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Cider Smash

August, man.

It sneaks up on us all, right? I'm pretty much an autumnophile, so I welcome the cooler temps and fall colors every September, but still, each August I feel like I'm scrambling to complete my summer bucket list.

So today we check off a cold cocktail over crushed ice from that list, all the while savoring whiskey and cider, fall favorites.

(And, while we're on the topic, I'm savoring anything in these amazing tumblers, a spot-on birthday present from my friend Kase!)

We picked up this bottle of Citizen Cider during a recent trip to Vermont. Their "B Cider" is sweetened with honey from bees in their apple orchards - a concoction I definitely couldn't resist.

I had Bulleit Rye on hand, but your go-to bourbon would be the perfect base for this cocktail. It's reminiscent of a classic whiskey smash (hence the name), but with fizzy apple cider replacing the mint. Really, a perfect summer-meets-fall drink.

And if you happen to have adorable bunches of champagne grapes on hand, they looked divine as a garnish and were refreshing and boozy as a post-drink dessert. (But if not, a twist of lemon in the summer or a slice of apple in the fall would be swell.)

Cider Smash
makes 1 cocktail

  • 1.5 oz Rye or bourbon whiskey
  • .75 oz Fresh lemon juice 
  • .75 oz Simple syrup
  • 1 oz Hard cider
  • Crushed ice
  • Champagne grapes (or a twist of lemon) to garnish

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake well to combine, then strain into tumblers filled with crushed ice. Top with cider, and garnish with the fruit of your choice.
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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sweet Potato + Pancetta Risotto

This is a 100% autumnal recipe, but when you're faced with a single aging sweet potato and an overflowing herb garden in the middle of July, you go with the flow. So feel free to wait until September to make this sweet and savory risotto, but I promise that your taste buds won't mind if you jump the gun like I did!

I use Alton Brown's recipe as my base for risotto; I think the key parts are sauteeing the rice with garlic and onion before adding liquid and combining the wine and broth from the beginning - this prevents all the flavor in the wine from cooking off by the time the risotto is done. And, in my experience, jasmine rice works just fine if you don't have arborio (aka when Trader Joe's has decided not to stock it that week).

So hold off for fall, or serve this up now with some seared scallops and farmers market veggies. Why wait?

Sweet Potato + Pancetta Risotto
makes 4 sides or 2 entree servings

  • 4 oz pancetta
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 3 cups + 2 Tbsp chicken broth
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh sage, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine white wine and 3 cups chicken broth. Heat to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and keep warm.

In a large sautee pan or Dutch oven over medium heat, cook pancetta, stirring occasionally until crispy. Remove with a slotted spatula and drain over paper towels; set aside.

In the same pan, heat olive oil (you may need more or less depending on how much fat was rendered from your pancetta). Add shallot and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring so it doesn't burn. Add arborio rice and stir to coat with oil; sautee for 2-3 minutes.

With a ladle, add approximately 2 cups of the warm broth mixture to rice, so that rice is just covered. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Add more liquid, until rice is just covered, and continue cooking and stirring. Repeat until all liquid is used - this usually takes 4 total additions of liquid. 

Meanwhile, poke holes in sweet potato and cook in microwave for 5-7 minutes, until soft. Slice in half and let sit until cool enough to handle. Scoop out the inside of the potato and mash it with 2 Tbsp chicken broth until smooth (I did this quickly in a glass measuring cup with an immersion blender to achieve a very smooth consistency). 

When rice has absorbed all liquid, it should be quite creamy. Add sweet potato puree, parmesan, rosemary, sage, cooked pancetta, and generous amounts of Kosher salt and pepper to taste (optional: reserve a bit of the pancetta and parmesan to use a garnish). 
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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Stovetop Flank Steak with Summer Veggie Hash

Not that we need an excuse to buy all the colorful produce at the summer farmers market, but here's one anyway! And for my fellow grill-less apartment dwellers, this flank steak is just almost as yummy using a trusty cast iron skillet as it would be char-grilled.

Now, I could happily eat my way through four courses of potatoes, but you really don't miss the carbs in this all-veggie hash, I promise. And since both the steak and the squash cook quickly, this meal comes together in no time for a handy weeknight dinner.

I love chimichurri, a classic South American condiment for grilled meat made with cilantro (or parsley), vinegar, and garlic. In this version, the addition of avocado makes it nearly-guacamole, but with more of a bite from the vinegar. A tasty pairing, but traditional chimichurri will always work if that's your style.

Stovetop Flank Steak with Summer Veggie Hash
makes 2 large servings

{avocado chimichurri}
1/2 ripe avocado
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup cilantro leaves (or if you're averse, use parsley)
1 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

{stovetop flank steak}
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb flank steak (cut in half if that helps fit it in your skillet)
Kosher salt
Black pepper

{summer veggie hash}
2 tsp olive oil
3/4 cup corn kernals, fresh or frozen
1 zucchini, quartered and sliced
1 yellow squash, quartered and sliced
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp smoked paprika

For the chimichurri:
In a food processor, combine all chimichurri ingredients and process until fairly smooth. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Chill while you prep everything else.

Generously season flank steak on both sides with salt and pepper. Press seasoning into each side and let steak chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before cooking.

In a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil until it shimmers. Add flank steak and sear on each side for 3-4 minutes or until it reaches desired doneness (mine was about 1/2 inch thick and turned out medium-rare).

Remove to a cutting board and tent with aluminum foil. Rest for 10 minutes while you make the ash.

In same pan, add more olive oil if necessary. Sautee red onion for 3-4 minutes until it begins to soften, scraping up any brown bits from the steak. Add corn, zucchini, yellow squash, garlic, cumin, and paprika, and stir to combine. Sautee for another 2-4 minutes, until everything is warmed through (but be careful not to overcook the squash or it will get mushy.) Remove hash to serving plates.

Un-tent steak and slice against the grain. Plate on top of the veggie hash and top with avocado chimichurri.
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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lemon Poppyseed + Triple Berry Hand Pies

After years of self-reflection, I can finally answer what my favorite food is.

It's not chocolate, it's not smoked salmon, it's not Honey Bunches of Oats. (But those are all worthy choices.)

No, after 20+ years of gobbling down all of the above, I've finally put my finger on just what it is that will always top my list:

Bread filled with stuff.

Okay, yes, it's a broad "favorite," but I'll defend it. Perogies, potstickers, dumplings, chicken and cheese wrapped in puff pastry (my perennial childhood request), anything wrapped in puff pastry, cheese danishes, etc. etc. etc., all of which are some of the best foods on the planet, and which bring us to: hand pies.

Poppyseed and turbinado, ready for their close-up.

I'm also a firm believer that hand pies are the new cupcake - or at least I pray they are. I will take flaky layers of pastry enveloping gooey, tart fruit any day over dried-out cake and cloyingly sweet frosting.

So, who's up for a pie? These hand-held treats are perfect as a pop-tart upgrade for breakfast or warmed up with ice cream for dessert. And if you have a sweeter tooth than mine, a little powdered sugar icing would be lovely drizzled over the top!

Lemon Poppyseed + Triple Berry Hand Pies
makes 8-10 handheld pies
Recipe adapted from Baker by Nature

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp cold plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp poppy seeds
  • 1 tsp lemon zest

  • 2 cups mixed berries (I used blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries), fresh or frozen
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla

  • 1 large egg
  • Turbinado sugar

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Using two forks or a pastry blender, cut in butter until it's about pea-sized.

With a spatula, mix in Greek yogurt, poppy seeds, and lemon zest. Dough will be shaggy.

Dump dough onto a floured counter and knead a couples times until it comes together. You can add a tablespoon of yogurt or flour if it's much too dry or wet to handle.

With a floured rolling pin, roll into a rectangle approximately 12" long. Fold into thirds (like a letter), then turn the other way and roll it out again. Fold into thirds again, roll out, and then fold into thirds one last time. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 30-45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Combine all ingredients (berries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and vanilla) in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring and mashing berries with a wooden spoon, until the berries have partially broken down and the filling has thickened, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool to room temperature (filling will continue to thicken as it cools).

Preheat oven to 425F.

Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out to 1/8" thick into a rectangle. With a pizza slicer or sharp knife, trim edges, then cut into 16 small rectangles (mine were about 2"x3").

Drop a tablespoon of berry filling onto the middle of 8 of the rectangles. Cut a vent in the remaining 8 - I made an X with a knife, but you could also use a small cookie cutter to make a cute shape.

Combine beaten egg with a tablespoon of water; brush some of this egg wash around the exposed edges of the filled rectangles. Top each one with a pastry you cut a vent out of, then use a fork to seal the edges.

(I was able to make 10 total filled pies - I rolled out the scraps I cut to even the edges and cut four more rectangles from them.)

Brush sealed pies with the remaining egg wash, then top with a bit of turbinado sugar.

Transfer pies to a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until beginning to brown. (I baked mine in 2 batches to avoid over-crowding.)

Let cool for 10 minutes, then serve slightly warm or save for later! They really are delicious hot or cold.
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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Fig, Lemon & Oat Muffins

With the arrival of (a very welcome) summer, finding the time to bake little whosits and whatsits to snack on becomes harder. When temperatures rise, who wants to sweat in front of a hot oven, when we could be sipping iced coffees out on the balcony? I begin to save baking for "occasions" - birthday cakes are a necessity, but morning muffins for two start to seem like a winter extravagance.

Not to wish ourselves back into The Winter from Hell, but a girl can start to miss a warm muffin and hot cup of coffee under a soft blanket. Luckily (silver lining here), June has brought drizzle, wind, and sub-50 degree temps, aka the perfect excuse to bake my breakfast and grab the French press.

On this particular morning, I was searching for a way to use up a carton of dried mission figs. I considered a coffee cake or loaf, but I was far too impatient for something that would take over 40 minutes to bake. So, of course, muffins! And what would balance the sweet, sticky figs but fresh lemon zest?

So off I went, chopping my figs and zesting my lemons, when I eyed my (gigantic) tupperware of homemade almond granola. Why couldn't the granola get in on this? It made the perfect crunchy topping! (If you happen to have some granola on hand, use it as is! But I've modified the recipe below assuming you don't, by quickly mixing together some almonds, oats, and brown sugar.)

Here's to a couple more chilly mornings to enjoy a freshly baked breakfast.

Fig, Lemon & Oat Muffins
makes 12 muffins
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 cup dried figs, chopped
  • 1/3 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 2 Tbsp sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. In another bowl, combine eggs, yogurt, oil, milk, and lemon zest. With a spatula or wooden spoon, mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in chopped figs.

Fill muffin tins 2/3 full with batter.

In a small bowl, combine melted butter, brown sugar, almonds, and oats. Sprinkle oat mixture evenly over muffin batter.

Bake for 18-22 minutes, until just starting to brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
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