Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene Living Locally

While visiting the Bronxville Farmer's Market on Saturday, I hesitated to stock up on my normal supply of frozen fish from a favorite vendor. With Irene looming and a nearly stocked freezer I didn't want to push my luck. My gut was right, and I was glad I had not stocked up. When we did lose power, good friends down the road came to the rescue as we transferred frozen goodies to their powered up house. Pesto, chopped eggplant, prepped squash, frozen blueberries and apricots that I knew would bring me happiness this winter all were saved. Hurray!

Many homes just down the road were badly flooded and we counted our blessings working on a puzzle by candlelight and enjoying a remarkably silent night of slumber.

Hope you and your loved ones are safe!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Apricot, Almond & Brown Butter Fruit Tart

I have to admit to something. When these little gems arrived in my CSA that first week, I wasn't quite sure if I was enjoying peaches or apricots.  A few times I asked my husband if he'd like a baby peach, then I offered an apricot to my niece.  My fruit-dar was just off, and I had to check the CSA email to be sure!! 

Food & Wine's Apricot, Almond and Brown Butter Tart had been peaking out of my recipe binder for months. After reading the recipe a few times, the whole vanilla bean seemed overwhelming, and while the almond-fruit-butter combo sounded delicious, I was not loving the idea of dried fruit in a tart. Dried fruit should be saved for trail mix or rest stop snacks... maybe an occasional salad. 

A few modifications (e.g. horror of HORRORS, I subbed vanilla extract for the whole bean), and voila, a fresh apricot, almond and butter tart. Sure, the real-deal vanilla bean may have added more depth, and the dried apricots might have "floated" better in the finished tart, but cooking is about adapting! Regardless, our family had no problem wolfing this down mightily with a few "umms" and "ahhs" to boot.

Apricot, Almond & Brown Butter Tart
Courtesy of
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • 5 tablespoons ice water
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 cups fresh mini-apricots, washed and halved
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • Vanilla ice cream, for serving
  • In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and pulse until coarse. Add ice water and vanilla extract and mix until the dough forms. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and mold into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 350°. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a 15-inch round, 1/4 inch thick. Transfer the round to a 12-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom; gently form in the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Refrigerate the crust until firm (@15 minutes).
  • Line the tart shell with foil and fill with dried beans, rice or pie weights. Bake for about 45 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake for about 20 minutes longer, until the shell is cooked through. Remove and let cool. Lower the oven temperature to 325°.
  • Spread the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven for about 6 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool. 
  • Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring the wine to a boil. Add the apricots and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes. 
  • In a small skillet, melt the butter, add the vanilla extract, and cook over medium heat until browned, about 4 minutes.
  • In a food processor, pulse the toasted almonds with sugar, flour and salt until ground. Add the eggs and pulse until just combined. Add the browned butter and the almond extract and pulse until smooth.
  • Drain the apricots and pat dry. Pour the almond filling into the tart shell. Nestle the apricots into the filling in concentric circles. Bake the tart for about 45-50 minutes, until the filing is golden brown and set. Transfer to a rack to cool. 
  • Serve warm or at room temperature topped with vanilla ice cream or homemade whipped cream.  

    Monday, August 8, 2011

    Holy Basil

    It seems that the recipes which call for fresh herbs only require a few leaves or tablespoons. Without a home garden, it's impossible not to purchase larger bunches and have a ton left over. Realizing that I sound a bit liked the hot dog/bun crazed Steve Martin in Father of the Bride, I have to say this makes me NUTS!  I love fresh herbs, particularly basil, and h.a.t.e. when it goes to waste. 

    For the last two weeks, gorgeous bunches of CSA basil have arrived, so I thought I would share, and ask about, basil storage ideas. 

    Last year on this show (yes, that one...) I was introduced to Prepara's herb saver.  An ingenious little water-bottomed contraption which has been prolonging herb-life in my kitchen ever since... but there was more basil!

    Below are two freezer-friendly storage methods: 1) Dinner-packet sized frozen pesto; and 2) Basil ice cubes, a lovely addition to soups and stews later in the year.  

    Readers: do you have any tricks for storing your extra herbs or vegetables? Please share them below in the comments!

    Ingredients & Directions 
    Blend / Food process:
    • 2 cups of washed, gently packed basil leaves
    • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 
    • 1 cup walnuts
    • 1/2 - 3/4 cup of good extra virgin olive oil
    • Juice of one lemon
    • Healthy pinches of salt & pepper 
    Split the pesto into two separate freezer ready zip lock bags, making sure to remove all excess air.  Defrost and enjoy over pasta, roasted root vegetables or as a topping to steak or fish later this year.  

    Basil Ice Cubes
    Ingredients & Directions 
    • Chiffonade the basil by stacking the leaves, rolling them into a pinwheel and thinly slicing into long strips. A photo demonstration on how to chiffonade herbs is located here. 
    • Fill the individual ice cube compartments 2/3rds full of lightly packed, chopped basil
    • Add water to the fill line of the tray
    • Freeze overnight
    Pop out the basil cubes and store in a freezer-ready bag.  These make a wonderful addition to fall soups, can be melted in a hot saute pan when dishes call for "fresh" basil and enjoyed in tomato sauce and other pastas later this year. There may be some freezer burn, but your enjoyment will outweigh that.
    About Basil
    Basil, greek for the word "king", is one of the most commonly used herbs around the world. The herb has a revered history, used in the baths of Greek & English royalty, as a love potion aid in Mexican, Italian and Romania cultures, and as a ritual part of Indian courtroom.

    Thursday, August 4, 2011

    Sour Cherry Syrup


    After toting the recipe around for ages, last summer I finally made Food & Wine's blueberry syrup. It was one of those recipes I loved the idea of, but never got around to trying. I'd flip past it in my recipe binder and wonder just what would I do with all that blueberry liquid?

    We enjoyed it all winter long, and I am so happy I took the syrupy plunge! Swirled over yogurt, in smoothies, with ice cream, as a substitute to maple syrup in salad dressings and glazes,  over pancakes...the list goes on. I will make more every summer.  

    When sour cherries arrived for a second straight week, I knew I had to find a way to use them up in mass. A little online research and these sour cherries had met their match: The New York Times recipe for Sour Cherry Syrup. I edited it to include agave nectar, a healthier alternative to granulated sugar. 

    In the 24 hours since it was concocted, this syrup has been added to my morning granola and turned into an old fashioned cherry soda. The consistency is thinner than the blueberry syrup, but the uses still apply.  The left over cherries, soaking in extra syrup, are certain to be enjoyed with ice cream or by the spoonful for a quick sweet treat in weeks to come. 

    Sour Cherry Syrup 
    • 1 1/4- cups agave nectar
    • 1.5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    • 1/3 cup water
    • 3 cups washed and de-stemmed cherries 
    • Bring water, lemon juice and agave nectar to a boil.
    • Wrap the cherries in cheese cloth, or if you have a large dense strainer add them in freely
    • Simmer for 25 minutes, keeping a low roll on the berries.
    • If in cheesecloth, remove the cherry bunch letting all syrup drip through. If using a strainer, separate the liquid from the fruit.  
    • Let cool, and store the syrup in clean glass jars or bottles.
    • "If desired", store remaining cherries in glass jar covered with syrup.

    About Sour Cherries 
    The tart cousin to the favored Bing cherry has a very short local season and is highly perishable. Pitting is quite easy as the cherries "are so soft (so) you can easily push the pit out with your fingers.

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011

    Homemade Sour Cherry Soda

    Sour Cherry Soda
    • Mix 4 parts seltzer water* with 1 part homemade sour cherry syrup (recipe here)
    *If you are as obsessed as I am with this bubbly beverage, you'll love the Penguin Seltzer Maker which became my favorite home appliance this Christmas.
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