All Posts Tagged ‘Baking

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A look back — 2015 in review.

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A week late because that’s how life works.

2015. What a year. Truth be told, it was a doozy. I got to stroll through Paris on a perfect summer’s night and I got to relish the view from atop Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai. I also experienced the absolute punch in the gut of my father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and have spent much of the year coming to terms with what that means for him, for me, and for our family. I left an old job, I got a new job, I left New York! I laughed (a lot), I cried (a lot, mostly behind closed doors but occasionally in the middle of dinner with friends because they are wonderful and they care about me immensely), I cooked and ate a lot a lot (some healthy, some not so healthy, some downright indulgent). The highs were really high and the lows were really low, and I end the year on a different coast than I started. And through it all, this little blog o’ mine was a constant source of comfort and a creative outlet and a way to connect with all of my people (all 35 of you).

So in celebration of all that was, here are a few highlights of the culinary variety that I will cherish from 2015.

Favorite Things I Ate in 2015
Dumplings with Black Vinegar & Chili Sauce in Flushing, NY: Do yourself a favor the next time you find yourself in the New York City metropolitan area: take the 7 train all the way to the Flushing Main Street stop, head across the street to the New World Mall and take the escalator down to the basement food court (just go with me on this one). Look for the two little ladies in the corner making dumplings by hand. Run to them as if they are your long lost surrogate Chinese grandmothers. Order one of each kind of dumpling (the pork and chive are my faves) and dive right in (don’t forget the black vinegar. Never forget the black vinegar). They’re cheap, authentic and crazy delicious. You’ll work up an appetite on the commute out, but your efforts will be handsomely rewarded.

Brillat Savarin Cheese in Paris, France: How can you go wrong with French cheese? The answer is you cannot. But when I laid my hands on this creamy slice of heaven for the first time (shout out to the cheesemonger in Montmartre who steered me in this glorious direction), it was like I had never eaten cheese before. Rich, creamy, perfect for slathering on a freshly baked french baguette. Did my cholesterol suffer as a result? Definitely. Was it worth it? Hoooooo boy was it ever. (P.S. they sell this cheese at Whole Foods so get thee some toute suite).

Kauai Waffle with Mango & Bananas and Coconut Syrup at Hanalei Coffee Roasters on Kauai, HI: Hi, my name is Tina and I don’t like sweet breakfast foods (Hi, Tina). I know, I’m a weirdo but give me bacon and eggs over pancakes any day of the week. Except Saturday, June 20th, 2015, when I first experienced the Kauai waffle. This tiny coffee shop on the North Shore of Kauai churns out these bad boys for locals and tourists alike, and you’d be a fool to pass on them. They’re light and fluffy and I swear the fruit gets picked off of a tree out back, sliced up and placed directly on the waffle because it is the freshest fruit I’ve ever tasted. Also, coconut syrup. Who knew? A revelation.

Sushi from Shoga in Sandpoint, ID: Yes, that’s right, the best sushi I had all year was from a sushi bar in Idaho. Deal with it, snobs. The fish was crazy fresh, the sushi rice was on point, and I’ve never had better spicy tuna. Look ‘em up the next time you’re in North Idaho (because I know that’s a regular destination for all of you); their sister restaurant, 41 South, is also a treat.

Pan Roasted Cauliflower at Imperial in Portland, OR: My first truly great meal after my return to Portland! This city knows what it’s doing when it comes to food (see here please), so I wasn’t at all surprised that my meal at Imperial was fantastic. But the star of the show was the pan-roasted cauliflower with hummus and cara cara oranges. You know when cauliflower gets nice and brown and crispy and caramelized and it’s just the best? This was that x 1000. The rich earthiness of the cauliflower was perfectly paired with the brightness of the oranges and the hummus just rounded everything out in the best, creamiest way possible. Had I not been in a public setting, I definitely would have licked the bowl. But maybe I also did lick the bowl anyway? #sogood

Favorite Things I Cooked in 2015
Ricotta Toast w/ Lemon & Honey: Simple, easy, can be done a thousand different ways. Toast had a moment in 2015 and I was right there to try ‘em all. This one, however, came out on top for me (closely followed by OG Avocado Toast), due to its simple, fresh flavors of Spring.

Cacio e Pepe: This was the dish I came back to most in 2015. There really is nothing more satisfying than a simple bowl of pasta and cheese, and it’s so easy to throw together and so easy to jazz up, I will eat cacio e pepe for many years to come.

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake: Showstopper! This was a fun one. One of those recipes that you try on a whim and you probably don’t make very often because it’s, shall we say, rather labor intensive. But it was equally as delicious and was a big hit among my rhubarb-loving coworkers. Plus, it’s real pretty.

Chicken Tortilla Stew: My favorite Fall/Winter dish, this one got a lot of people talking. It’s spicy and tangy and it warms your insides, perfect for an afternoon of football or a Saturday night dinner party or reheated on a chilly Tuesday. It’s all things to all people, the everyman’s stew. And it’s just crazy good.

Cinnamon Rolls & Bacon on Christmas Morning: OK, I’ll amend my ‘no sweet breakfast foods’ to include one item — I LOVE cinnamon rolls. So this year I thought I’d make them from scratch for Christmas morning (these ones, if you’re curious). And they were great! They aren’t beginner’s baker territory (any recipe that spans over multiple days is not for a beginner in my book), but they were worth the effort. Fry up a little bacon along side and you’re all set. Heart attack! Come at me.

Favorite Food Memories of 2015
Brunch at Russ & Daughters in New York, NY: Such a quintessential New York day. You get out of bed early, throw on about 16 layers of clothing and head out into the sub zero temperatures. Gotta get those bagels, y’all. I met a few favorite friends and we sat around in our cozy sweaters and gobbled up our perfect bagels with perfect lox and perfect cream cheese and it was heaven. Lots of laughter, lots of coffee, endless potato latkes. A cozy respite of warmth from an otherwise chilled to the bone day. I love New York for days like these, they are what makes the city so goddamn special.

Dinner at Bistroy Les Papilles in Paris, France: Bold statement — this was my favorite restaurant meal of 2015. I mean, they had a bit of an advantage going in, seeing that this is a tiny bistro in Paris run by a Michelin-starred chef that is also a wine shop and you choose your dinner wine by grabbing a bottle off the wall. It feels like you’re being invited into the chef’s home to eat, and eat you do, incredibly well. The entire meal was perfection — from the delicious wine to the falling off the bone lamb shank (oh, the lamb shank), to the gorgeous cheese course to the creme brûlée for dessert. My dinner date and I stumbled out of the restaurant as if in a fever dream, not quite sure what we had just experienced was real (also, we were probably drunk). It was insane, I still dream about it, I won’t ever forget it.

Tart night in New York, NY: Bolder statement — this was my favorite home-cooked meal of 2015 (not really a bold statement). My absolute favorite nights are those that come together spontaneously. You go in with no expectations because you’d had no time to build it up in your head, and you end up having the best of times. A roof deck with a perfect view of Manhattan at dusk doesn’t hurt either. What started as a wild experiment in baking ended in a laughter-filled night with favorite friends, gobbling up summer’s bounty and washing it down with endless rosé. Good food, good friends, good wine — what more could a girl ask for?

Clamming on Long Island, West Islip, NY: One of the saddest things I can think of is the potential of a shellfish allergy. I don’t have one, THANK GOD, but if I did, there would be tears. And because I don’t have a shellfish allergy, I was able to fully embrace digging around in the sand of the Great South Bay lookin’ for clams with my favorite LI residents. Clamming is not a graceful exercise; it mostly involves wading around in hip deep water digging your heels into the sand waiting to feel the bump of a shell. Clamming is not a speedy exercise; it takes a few hours at minimum to produce a take large enough for an actual meal. But. BUT. When you take these puppies home, scrub ‘em up, and steam them juuuuust enough to open with a little white wine and garlic and fresh herbs, it is all WORTH IT. Man, is it. Company wasn’t too shabby either.

Lunch at Machine Shed, Davenport, IA: This was a bittersweet memory. There was the joy of having most of my Radeke family together again at one table, something we haven’t done in many years. There was some really, really good fried chicken and biscuits. Maybe the best I’ve ever had. And there was the ultimate realization, through a few simple interactions, that my father is sick, and things will never be the same. I walked away from that meal with two things: One — the belief that family is everything and moments like that are not endless, so you better cherish them while you can. And Two — a butter dish shaped like a cow.

So much good in 2015, and so much good to look forward to in 2016. I hope all of you had memories to cherish from the last year, thank you for sticking with this crazy ride of mine along the way!

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thanksgiving week 2015: sour cream apple pie.

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We made it! It’s the big day. Happy Thanksgiving to all. I’ll be spending my day mostly in the kitchen, managing the oven schedule, checking in on progress, and making use of all those vegetables that we chopped and prepped yesterday. We’ll sit down to eat about 4pm and relish in and be thankful for all that we have. It will be a small, cozy feast, but oh, such a good one.

The crown jewel on any proper Thanksgiving feast, in my opinion, is a really great pie. So, with that in mind, I present to you a really great pie. Sour Cream Apple Pie is something I didn’t know existed until about 8 years ago, and when I found the recipe for this, I was immediately intrigued. It has the fresh fruitiness of an apple pie with the rich custard of a pumpkin pie, and when you put those together on a homemade pie crust and add a streusel topping (my favorite), you’ve got a true gem. It’s supremely delicious, and now I’m here to share it with you. I’m thankful for all of you today, dear readers; all of you and this pie.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Sour Cream Apple Pie
Serves: 8

You will need:

For the crust:
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, diced into small pieces
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3-5 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:
5 medium apples, peeled and sliced thinly (I usually use Granny Smith, but any sweet/tart variety will do)
1¼ cup sour cream
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 egg

For the topping:
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup rolled oats
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, diced into small pieces
½ cup pecans, chopped

Kitchen equipment: pie dish, pastry cutter (optional), two large mixing bowls, one small mixing bowl, tin foil

Make the dough. First things first, make some pie dough. Remember, as I’ve told you before, the key to perfect pie dough is keeping everything as cold as possible. I’ve even started keeping my flour in the freezer. Don’t even think about using room temperature butter or water here; your results will be infinitely better if all ingredients are nice and chilly.

To bring the dough together, mix your flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add in the chilled butter, and using your hands or a pastry cutter, push the butter into the flour mixture. Your goal is a sandy textured mix with a bunch of different sized butter pieces (this is where the magic happens). This should only take a few minutes to accomplish, and the less manhandling of the butter, the better. Once you’ve achieved the correct consistency, mix 3 tablespoons of ice water with the apple cider vinegar and drizzle over the top of the dry ingredients. Begin to incorporate the water/vinegar into the other ingredients by running your hands through the dough and gently beginning to bring things together. If after a few minutes your dough is still looking a little dry and things aren’t coming together, you can add an additional 2 tablespoons of ice water, one at a time, until the dough just starts to come together in a ball. It will still have a shaggy texture, which is what you’re looking for, so don’t overwork or overwater your dough.

Once the dough has come together, take it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and give it a couple of kneads (but not too many). Finally, flatten the dough into a round disc, tightly wrap in plastic wrap and let chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Prep the filling. While the dough is chilling, let’s turn our attention to the filling. The most labor intensive part of this process is peeling and slicing the apples, so do that first. You want to slice your apples as thin as possible — if you have a mandolin, use it. Once your apples are peeled and sliced, place them in a large bowl and squeeze a little lemon juice over the top to prevent browning.

In your other large mixing bowl, whisk together the rest of the filling ingredients until fully incorporated, smooth and shiny. Add in the apples and toss to coat completely. Set aside.

Make the streusel topping. Mix the flour, oats, sugar and salt together in a small mixing bowl. Add the butter pieces, and in the same way you did with the pie crust, push the butter into the dry ingredients until well incorporated and sandy. Mix in the pecans and set aside.

Bring it all together. OK, let’s put this baby together. First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Remove your pie dough from the refrigerator, and roll it out on a floured board or counter top. Transfer to your pie dish, pushing the dough into the edges of the dish and crimping the edges.

Pour the apple filling into the pie shell carefully, smoothing out any wayward pieces as you go. Pour any leftover filling over the apples and spread evenly. Tear off a few strips of tin foil and cover the edges of the pie crust to prevent them from burning.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes.

Take the pie out of the oven at this point, and sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the pie. Place the pie back in the oven and bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove the foil covers in the last 5 minutes of baking so the edges of the crust can brown properly.

Remove the pie from the oven and cool completely. Serve on its own or with a little bit of vanilla ice cream. YUM.

Happy Thanksgiving all! I wish you and yours the best of days. xx

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sunday dinner: fall vegetable noodle casserole.

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Let me talk to you about how dinner used to come together in the Radeke household when I was a child. It was always quite the production, an all hands on deck situation. There were no fewer than three different cookbooks strewn about, and my dad would bounce back and forth between them excitedly, finding inspiration from every page. We were never a ‘follow the recipe to a tee’ kind of family, and often times what ended up on the table started as three (or four…or five…) different recipes. I mean, where’s the fun in playing by the rules, am I right?

Now that I’m all grown up and cooking for myself these days, I still find that I resort to my father’s technique of cobbling together different recipes to create one super recipe, and I’m usually the better for it (listen, I’m not batting 1000 here, there are definitely times this has not worked in my favor, but for the most part it ends well).

Take this fall vegetable noodle casserole for instance. This started as three recipes — one for broccoli noodle casserole, one for butternut squash mac and cheese, and one for a fall vegetable torte. I took bits and pieces from each one and smooshed ‘em together (technical term) to create the recipe below. This does take a little more than basic kitchen knowledge to pull off since you need to know what does and doesn’t go with what, and be able to adjust cooking times to ensure everything fits together nicely, but if you practice a few times, it’s not difficult to master.

It makes for a little fun, creative time in the kitchen and you’re left with a delicious, homey result that perfectly captures the flavors of Fall.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Fall Vegetable Noodle Casserole
Serves: 6

For the vegetables and pasta:
8 ounces curly pasta (fusilli, gemelli or rotini are all great options)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 small head broccoli, chopped into small florets
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 small bunch lacinato kale, de-stemmed and chopped

For the béchamel:
¾ cup milk
1 ½ cups reserved pasta cooking water
1 tablespoon flour
¼ teaspoon dried mustard
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
zest from 1 lemon
4 ounces fontina cheese, shredded
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the breadcrumb topping:
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup pecorino, shredded
juice from 1 lemon
drizzle of olive oil

Kitchen equipment: medium pot, baking or pie dish

First things first, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Cook the butternut squash and the pasta. Heat a medium pot of salted water on high until boiling. Add the butternut squash and cook for 7-9 minutes, until squash is tender and easily pierced with a fork. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon, but do not toss the water. Let the water come to a boil again and then add the pasta and cook for approximately 10-12 minutes, until pasta is al dente (you want it a little underdone since it will finish cooking in the oven). Drain the pasta, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water.

Make the béchamel. In the same pot you used to cook the squash and pasta, heat two teaspoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and fennel, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-4 minutes until the fennel is soft and fragrant. Next, add the flour, spices (mustard, smoked paprika and red pepper flakes) and olive oil. Stirring often, cooking for another 2-4 minutes until the flour is golden brown and the spices are toasted. Add the milk and the reserved pasta cooking water and let the sauce thicken, stirring occasionally another 2-4 minutes. Add the lemon zest and fontina, stirring until the cheese is completely melted and the sauce is nice and thick, then season with salt and pepper. Finally, add the broccoli, butternut squash and kale and stir to incorporate. Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked pasta.

Prep the breadcrumb topping. In a small bowl, combine the panko and the pecorino, tossing to incorporate. Add in the lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil and stir to evenly moisten.

Put it all together. Grab your baking dish and pour the pasta mixture into the dish, spreading evenly. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top and cook for approximately 12 minutes on the center rack of your oven. When the breadcrumbs are golden brown and the sauce is bubbling, remove from oven and let cool slightly.

Serve warm with a nice crisp glass of sauvignon blanc (or whatever wine suits your fancy) and relish in the cozy, warm flavors. It may have started as three different recipes, but it comes together as one perfect meal.

Enjoy! xx

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sunday treat: grandma radeke’s zucchini bread.

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Let me tell you a little ditty about Thelma Radeke (aka Grandma). My father’s mother, Thelma was born in South Dakota in 1914, and at the young and fresh age of 20, she married my Grandfather and began her life in Iowa. They eventually settled in the tiny farming town of Clarence (population 961!), and my grandfather managed the local creamery, churning out award winning butter for all of Benton County. Butter is in my genes, people, and I am not mad about it.

Thelma was a tough lady and managed the family with an iron fist. Also, the woman could BAKE. Like good Lutheran, Iowa farmhouse family matriarch next level sh**. I was born on Thelma’s 66th birthday, so I like to think some of her baking magic passed down to me with that connection. I didn’t get to spend much time with her — she died when I was only six years old — but she did leave quite an impression on my family. I remember as a child, carefully fingering the delicate recipe cards in our family recipe binder — cards with tiny yellow flowers and perfect cursive script, full of her kitchen wisdom.

The legend of her dutch apple pie is known far and wide (it’s my father’s number one request come holiday time), but for me, it’s her zucchini bread that I cherish. It’s the first thing I remember baking (for my 4th grade bake sale) and it’s all I want when I’m craving some family comfort food. And now, good people of Plumber’s Daughter, I am sharing her magic with you.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Grandma Radeke’s Zucchini Bread

Makes 2 loaves (if you only need one loaf, just cut the recipe in half…but you’ll want to make two, promise)
You will need:

2½ cups zucchini, grated (about 2 medium-sized zucchini will do the trick)
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup apple sauce
3 eggs, beaten lightly
3 cups flour
½ white sugar
½ light brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Sanding sugar

Optional additions (optional but HIGHLY recommended):

1 cup pecans, chopped
½ cup mini chocolate chips

Kitchen equipment: two 8×4 bread pans, large mixing bowl, box grater

You know this is a recipe from the early twentieth century because there’s not a lot of fuss or precision to it. There’s no ‘ensure the temperature is exactly 54 degrees’ or ‘beat the eggs for exactly 3.42 minutes until just fluffed’ — it’s basically just ‘put everything all in one bowl and stir until it comes together’. Thank you, Iowa.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour both of your bread pans and set aside until you need them.

Wash and pat dry your zucchini and cut off one end. Grate the zucchini into a bowl using the largest holes on your box grater. Two medium zucchini should produce about 2 1/2 cups. Set aside and turn your attention to the other ingredients.

Put all of your dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir to incorporate. Add the oil, apple sauce and lightly beaten eggs and stir. At this point, you’ll be like, ‘Tina. I thought we were making bread? Shouldn’t this look like a nice smooth batter, not some weird zucchini cookie dough?’ Don’t fret, my dear baker friend. Add the shredded zucchini and watch the magic happen. Because zucchini has a TON of water in it, your cookie dough-ish mixture will transform into a beautiful batter as the zucchini mixes in with the other ingredients. It will be light and bouncy and batter-ific, just like Grandma Radeke made it.

Once your batter is completely incorporated, fold in the nuts and/or chocolate chips if you’re using them (and you should use them), and pour the batter into your buttered and floured bread pans. Top each pan with an even sprinkling of about one tablespoon of sanding sugar.

Bake for one hour until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

I can’t eat zucchini bread without cream cheese, and I suggest you follow suit. The slightly sour bite to cream cheese pairs perfectly with the rich, slightly sweet flavor of the zucchini bread, it’s pure heaven. Grandma Radeke knew what she was doing in the kitchen, and it shines in this simple recipe. So get your Iowa farm kitchen baking on, and make some zucchini bread for Thelma. Enjoy!

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sunday dessert: blueberry basil lemon tart.

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I have a friend. Her name is Jaime. And one of my very favorite things about Jaime is that she can hang with my particular brand of weird. She never judges, she rarely questions, and she’s always willing to go along for the ride – whatever the ride may be.

Like this weekend, when I texted her, “I think I’m going to make a tart tomorrow. Do you want some?”

Any number of people would respond to a text like that with a side-eye emoji and lots of question marks, but Jaime took it in stride. “Tart night?” she said, “Absolutely!”

Thus, Tart Night was born. We roped in her husband, Doug, and her dear friend, Lexy, and made a plan. We took advantage of her glorious rooftop that came complete with killer views, a perfect evening breeze, and an ever-convenient BBQ. Jaime and Lexy ventured to Whole Foods (which is an entirely different, and completely hilarious, blog post) and returned with a bounty of fresh salmon, zucchini, and corn on the cob – and the real ticket, two bottles of rosé. (Whispering Angel, y’all — look into it). Tart Night was going to be GOOD.

So now I actually had to make the tart. Yikes. And since I couldn’t just make it easy on myself, I took approximately 14 different recipes and combined them into one. And then, there was draaaaaaama along the way! At one point, I feared that Tart Night would, in fact, be tart-less! But. I made it through.

And the tart was perfection. Tart Night was perfection. We laughed and drank and stuffed our faces with the deliciousness we had created, and I didn’t even fall off the roof when I stood on a chair precariously close to the railing to shoot a picture of the tart! (See picture below — and thank you to Jaime’s husband, Doug, my impromptu security detail, for watching my back)

It was amazing. It screamed of all of the best parts of summer, and I want to do it all again next weekend. Jaime, you down? Of course you are.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Blueberry Basil Lemon Tart

Serves: 8 (although one could argue that everyone needs their own pie, so maybe this serves one?)

You will need:

Graham Cracker Crust
12 full-size graham crackers
6 tablespoons butter, melted
¼ cup white sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Lemon Pastry Cream
2 cups whole milk
5 large egg yolks
1/3 plus ¼ cup white sugar
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Juice and zest from one lemon

Blueberry & Basil Topping
2 pints fresh blueberries
1½ teaspoons white sugar
Squeeze of lemon juice
6 leaves basil, chiffonaded (I don’t think that’s a word, but let’s go with it for now)

Kitchen equipment: rolling pin, 9” pie dish, lots of mixing bowls, wire whisk, baking sheet

I’m breaking this puppy down into three parts (plus a bonus fourth part). Each part is relatively quick in and of itself, but there’s lots of ‘cooling time’ in between, so it ends up being quite the process. This is advanced level baking folks, so sit down, strap in, and get ready for a long-ish/entertaining/fairly labor-intensive ride. OK.

Part I – Make the Pie Crust

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

If you need a little outlet for your frustrations from the week, making this graham cracker crust is a great exercise for you. First, take your graham crackers and break them up into smaller pieces. If you have one, throw them in a food processor and pulse until you have mostly fine crumbs. If you are lacking in the food processor area, toss the broken pieces in a sealable gallon plastic bag and crush the pieces into crumbs using your trusty rolling pin. Working through your anger with a rolling pin will produce perfectly smashed crumbs.

Once you have properly crushed crumbs, toss them in a medium-sized mixing bowl and add the sugar and cinnamon. Mix until incorporated. Next, add the melted butter and stir to incorporate. You’re going for the texture of wet sand here – you should be able to make small clumps of graham cracker and they should stick. If the mixture is too dry, you can add 1 tablespoon of water at a time until you achieve this consistency.

Once you have your crust mixture, evenly distribute in the bottom of your pie dish to form the crust. Bake the crust for 8-10 minutes until golden brown and ‘dry looking’. Set aside to cool completely.

Part II – Make the Lemon Pastry Cream

OK, this is where things get tricky. I must confess that my first attempt at pastry cream did NOT go well, but thanks to some strategic googling and Mr. Emeril Lagasse (BAM!) it wasn’t a lost cause, so don’t lose faith, my friend. I will see you through the dark times.

The key to making this thing work is to have everything prepped and ready to go before you start the cooking process. Pastry cream requires your full attention, some serious arm strength (SO much whisking), and an extreme sense of urgency. This is not the time to take a loosy-goosy, lackadaisical, ‘I’m just gonna laze about in my caftan’ approach. This is more of a ‘using any shred of military precision I possess’ type of exercise.

First, put your egg yolks and ¼ cup sugar in a medium bowl and COMMENCE THE WHISKING. You want to whisk the eggs and sugar until they are a pale yellow and ‘ribbons’ of batter fall from your whisk when you raise it from the bowl. This will take 2-3 minutes by hand. Once you’ve achieved this state, whisk in the cornstarch until fully incorporated and set aside.

Now to the stove. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, 1/3 cup sugar and the pinch of salt and warm until just bubbling around the edges. Remove from the heat.

Next, you want to combine the milk and the egg mixture, but DO NOT for the love of all that is holy and good just dump one into the other. If you do, you’ll end up with sweetened scrambled eggs floating in warm milk. BLECH.

No, instead, you’re going to temper the egg mixture so your result is a beautiful custard not a beautiful disaster. Starting in tiny increments (like no more than a tablespoon at a time), add the warm milk to the egg mixture while whisking constantly. Once you’ve added about ¼ cup of the milk to the eggs, you can add more at a time in a thin stream, again while whisking constantly. Do this until you’ve added all of the milk to the eggs, then pour the entire thing back into the saucepan.

Put the pan back on the stove over medium heat and whisk whisk whisk until the mixture starts to bubble. Keep on whiskin’ for another one to two minutes until the mixture thickens to the consistency of custard or pudding. Remove from heat and immediately add the vanilla extract, the butter and the lemon juice and zest; all the while continuing to whisk (I told you there’d be a lot of whisking).

Now, at this point, you may have a beautifully composed custard that is smooth and supple and shiny. You may also have a lumpy, separated mess. If you have the latter, DO NOT FRET. That is exactly what I ended up with and it all worked out for me in the end.

Transfer your pastry cream into a mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap, making sure to press the plastic wrap down onto the custard itself. This prevents the custard from forming a really gross film on the top that will derail any hopes of a beautiful pie. Place in the refrigerator to cool completely, which should take 2-3 hours.

If you’re lucky enough to have achieved a perfect pastry cream, there are no additional steps for you (here’s your blue ribbon, you first class baker, you). If, however, your pastry cream was less than perfection, you’re not done yet. When the cream has cooled completely, take it out of the fridge and using either your trusty whisk or an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, mix the cream like mad for 3-4 minutes. Somehow, like magic, it will come together beautifully and all will be right in the world. If it doesn’t come together, keep mixing until it does, and if it still doesn’t come together, you can add up to an additional cup of warm milk to the mixture in small increments until it does. If it still doesn’t come together, then I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe have a good cry and start all over.

Part III – Make the Blueberry Topping

You’re nearing the finish line, friend! Now comes the easiest part.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Spread one pint of blueberries on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle 1 ½ teaspoons of sugar evenly over the top. Roast the blueberries for 10-12 minutes, pulling the tray from the oven and giving it a shake once about half way through the cooking time. The juices from the berries should be flowing freely but most of the berries should still be intact.

Remove from the oven and give ‘em a squeeze of lemon juice. Transfer to a small container and place in the refrigerator to cool.

Wash the other pint of blueberries but don’t do anything else to them. They are beautiful little spirits all on their own.

Chiffonade the basil (roll the leaves into a cigar-like fashion and slice them thinly) and set aside.

Part IV – Putting It All Together

You made it! HURRAH. Now let’s finish this bad boy and get to eatin’.

First, pour the pastry cream into the finished pie crust and spread evenly, being careful to not mix any stray crust crumbs into the cream.

Next, spread the roasted blueberry mixture on top of the pastry cream, leaving a slight edge so the pastry cream peeks through near the crust. This is purely for aesthetic reasons, but I like a little pop of yellow against the dark purpl-y blue of the berries.

Finally, spread the fresh blueberries over the roasted blueberries in a single layer, using enough that it’s well-covered but also leaving a few little spots for the roasted blueberries to poke through. Then, top the fresh blueberries with the basil.

Voila! You’ve arrived. If you’re making this for dessert with friends (which I did, highly recommend) do your best not to dive face first into this little ditty right away. If you made this just for you because YOU DESERVE IT, then get in there!

I’m not going to be coy or modest about this one – it’s bonkers good. Singing from the rooftops good. Dancing a jig in your kitchen good. Making bad decisions because you drank too much tequila good.

Did it take the whole afternoon to make? Yes, likely. Was it worth it? Ooooooooh boy, that it was.

Enjoy!

'Behind the Scenes' of Tart Night aka Doug making sure I didn't fall off the roof in an effort to get the perfect shot.

‘Behind the Scenes’ of Tart Night aka Doug making sure I didn’t fall off the roof in an effort to get the perfect shot.

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sunday dinner: baked eggs with kale & pancetta.

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Guys. As much as I would like to say SPRING IS HERE, REJOICE! It’s just not true. The sun may be a-shinin’, but it’s still frightfully cold in the Northeast. I still have to suit up in my big winter coat and my scarf and my fuzzy boots, and the wind still nips in that maddening way.

And while I’d like to be wearing a lighter jacket and skipping off to the farmers’ market to buy asparagus and ramps and green garlic and all of those other lovely spring treats, I am instead staying home under a blanket because it’s 25 degrees and there are ‘flurries in the forecast’.

Ho hum.

So what to eat when you’re deep in the ‘when the F will this Winter be over’ blues? Something homey and comforting, buttery and salty and peppery — something like baked eggs with kale and pancetta. It’s a polished and chic dish that is almost a one pot meal, and it’s a cinch to pull together. You can whip it up, then dive back under the covers and enjoy the fruits of your labor while binge watching Empire. Or Call the Midwife. Or House of Cards (OK, so I’m painfully late to the Season 3 party. Can I live?) Whatever your choice, this dish will help you forget, if even for a moment, that it’s nearly April out of doors but it still feels a whole lot like January.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Baked Eggs with Kale & Pancetta

You will need (all of the increments below are listed per person; if you’re preparing for more than one, adjust accordingly):

2 eggs
½ bunch lacinato kale
1 thick-cut slice pancetta
1 clove garlic
1 pat butter
1 tablespoon half and half
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
parmesan reggiano cheese
hot sauce (optional, I used Texas Pete’s)

Kitchen equipment: cast iron or heavy-bottomed saute pan, oven-safe baking dish

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Wash the kale thoroughly, remove the tough inner stem, and chop roughly into big pieces. Dice the pancetta into bite-sized pieces and mince the clove of garlic.

In a cast iron or heavy-bottomed pan, saute the pancetta over medium heat until browned and slightly crispy, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from the pan and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Pour off all but about a teaspoon of the fat in the pan, then return to the stove and add the garlic and kale. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring often, until garlic is fragrant and the kale is slightly wilted. Remove from heat and return the pancetta to the pan with the kale. Toss to incorporate.

Add the kale/pancetta mixture to one side of the baking dish, spreading out in an even layer. Crack the eggs into the other half of the dish, being careful not to break the yokes. Place the pat of butter and the half and half on top of the eggs, then season the entire dish with a liberal amount of black pepper.

Bake for approximately 12 minutes for runny yokes, a few minutes more if you like your yokes a bit firmer.

Sprinkle the dish with some freshly grated parmesan reggiano and a few dashes of hot sauce if you like. Serve with crusty bread or toast (I made these English muffins and they are absolutely DYNAMITE) to soak up the delicious, buttery eggs.

Personally I like to make mini open-faced egg/kale/pancetta sandwiches, topped with a few more dashes of hot sauce for an extra kick. However you choose to eat it, you will find it to be rich and fulfilling and cozy. A perfect accompaniment for a winter that just won’t quit.

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sunday dessert: rhubarb upside-down cake.

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‘So what are you doing this weekend?’ ‘Well…um…I’m going on a hunt for rhubarb?’ Insert quizzical coworker face here.

That’s right. I spent much of my weekend scouring the city for one of my favorite Spring ingredients: gorgeous, sweet and tart, brilliant reddish-pink, rhubarb. If Mother Nature was going to refuse to cooperate (hello, late March snowstorm), then I was going to make my own Spring. I was going to put it on a gosh darn plate, I tell ya.

One thing I did not anticipate on my jaunt around the city: a surprising number of New Yorkers had never heard of rhubarb. ‘Did you say radicchio? Rutabaga?’ ‘No, ma’am. Rhubarb. R-H-U-B-A-R-B.’ Insert quizzical grocery store clerk face here. I was beginning to lose hope after it was a no show at the green market (too early) and at Trader Joe’s (too fancy), but then! There it was at Whole Foods, tucked away in a little corner next to stalks of aloe and free trade, organic shiitake mushrooms. Because Whole Foods.

Hooray! I shouted (Not really). Let us get to bakin’.

And while rhubarb is most commonly found in pie form, I’m breaking from tradition and making a rhubarb upside-down cake. Not just for pineapple anymore, folks. This cake is basically a sour cream coffee cake flipped on its head and combined with caramelized rhubarb. It’s rich and bright and not too sweet; the fluffy, light cake pairs well with the syrupy rhubarb, and the crumb topping, which ends up on the bottom, gives it a nice crunch. I could use a thousand words to describe this cake, but all in all, it’s just really, really good.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

You will need:

For the Crumb Topping
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup all purpose flour
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon sea salt
For the Cake
1 ½ stick unsalted butter, plus more for buttering pan (butter should be room temperature)
1 pound rhubarb, cut into 2” pieces on the diagonal
½ cup light brown sugar
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest (I used meyer lemons)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream

Kitchen equipment: 1 9” cake or springform pan, mixer, tin foil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter the bottom and sides of your cake or springform pan. If you’re using a springform pan, cover the outside of the pan tightly with tin foil (I used two sheets). This will prevent any juices leaking out during the baking process.

In a medium bowl, toss rhubarb with 1/2 cup sugar. In another bowl, make the crumb topping by combining the melted butter, flour, sugar and salt and mix until crumbly. Set both aside.

Mix dry ingredients together in a medium bowl (flour, baking powder, salt). In your mixer, beat remaining butter (1 stick) and sugar (1 cup) on medium speed until fluffy. Add in lemon zest and juice and mix to combine. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add dry ingredients in 1/2 cup increments, alternating with the sour cream. Mix until smooth.

In a small saucepan, melt brown sugar and 1/2 stick butter over medium heat until bubbling; this should take about two minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.

Now, to the cake pan! Pour the brown sugar mixture into the buttered pan and spread evenly. Take your rhubarb and toss again lightly in the sugar, then place in the pan. Since this will be the top of your cake, you may want to arrange the rhubarb in a fun pattern — I’m a big believer that food should be delicious and pretty, so here’s your chance.

Once the rhubarb is organized and covers the entire bottom of the pan, pour batter over the top and spread evenly. Finally, sprinkle the crumb topping over the batter.

Bake for approximately one hour (you may need up to one hour, 15 minutes depending on your oven), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then invert the cake onto a wire rack or cake plate to cool completely. You may want to run a knife around the sides of the cake before removing from pan to make this easier. Don’t wait longer than 10-15 minutes to remove cake from pan, as the rhubarb will begin to stick as it cools.

Serve when cool with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

This is a ‘holy shit, you made this?!’ dessert. This is an absolutely gorgeous, invite your friends over and impress the pants off of them dessert. This is a crazy delicious, never had anything better dessert. Is it a labor of love? Sure. Is it worth getting your kitchen a little dirty for? Absolutely.

Enjoy!