Archive for August, 2009

A Tart for August

August 31, 2009

My amazing kid sister graduated yesterday!  Congrats J!  Not only did she graduate, but she was class valedictorian(!) and gave a great and very sweet speech.  So proud!

So of course the family celebrated.  We cooked, and we baked, and we ate lots of good food. It was such a great Sunday, I hardly thought about the weekend ending.  Some of us were so tuckered out from food & festivities, we even needed a bit of a nap after dinner.

I powered through though and made a crostata.

“A What-A?” you may be thinking to yourself.


Does it help if I all-caps it?  Sorry.  A crostata is a sort of rustic, free-form tart.  If you’re intimidated by the thought of baking a pie, make a crostata instead.  It’s super easy, and just as delicious.  Your friends will be impressed.  You can do it!  Make this before summer is gone and the peaches and blueberries disappear.  A sad thought…

Rustic Peach & Blueberry Crostata

adapted from a Tyler Florence Recipe

Don’t even think about making this recipe without the lemon zest.  Seriously.

For Pastry:
2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cold and divided
1 large egg yolk
2 Tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

For Filling:
2-3 large peaches, pitted and sliced
1 cup blueberries
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon flour

For Glaze:
1 egg whisked with 1 Tablespoon water
2 Tablespoons sugar

Start by preparing your crust.  Mix together the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in a large bowl.  Using a pastry cutter, food processor, or two forks (old school method), cut the butter with the flour mixture until combined and crumbly.  Add egg yolk and 2 Tablespoons of ice water.  Mix together until just combined.  Try forming into a ball.  If still crumbly, add more ice water, one teaspoon at a time.  You don’t want your dough too moist, so don’t go crazy with the water.  Form dough into a disc and wrap with saran.  Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

To make the filling, combine the peaches and blueberries in a mixing bowl.  Pour the lemon juice over the fruit, and toss with the sugar and flour.

Preheat your oven to 400°.

Now it’s time to assemble your crostata.  Sprinkle your counter and rolling pin with flour.  Remove dough from fridge, and roll out, about a 1/4” thick.  This should get you a circle with a 12”-14” diameter.  Transfer the crust to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Spoon the filling into the center of your crust, leaving a 2” space from the edge, all the way around.  Brush the egg onto the fruitless edge of your crust, and then fold up the sides.  You should have an exposed fruit center.  Pinch together any cracks in your crust, and brush with more of the egg wash.  Sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons of sugar.  Bake 30-35 minutes, until crust is golden brown.

Cool on a baking rack.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.  Or else.

Pie Carnage.


30 lbs of Tomatoes Wait for the #151 Bus

August 24, 2009

Canning in the city is interesting. If you don’t have a garden, or a friend with a garden, you go to the farmer’s market. And if you don’t have a car, you take the bus. You take the bus with your 30 pounds of roma tomatoes. Then you and your friend take turns carrying said tomatoes home, and up three flights of stairs.

Then the work starts. This was my first time canning anything, so I thought teaming up with a friend would be a good idea. My buddy Lara is interested in all things food, homecooking and Barbara Kingsolver, so I knew she would be in. So we canned! We canned tomatoes and pasta sauce. It was time consuming, yes. But fun and satisfying too. So can! Can some tomatoes, can with your friends, can while listening to Billy Idol. It’s easier than you think.

Canning Tomatoes

So if you want to can there are a ton of resources out there, but we used the Joy of Cooking and Better Homes and Gardens Recipe Book. For great instructions and food safety tips also check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s Website. We decided to start with tomatoes because with their high acidity level we wouldn’t need to use a pressure canning device. Make sure that your tomatoes are at the peak of ripeness, and are bruise and blemish free. Save the imperfect ones for pasta sauce–recipe to be posted soon!

18-20 pounds roma tomatoes (the best for canning and pasta sauce)
12 pint-sized mason jars with bands and new lids
3 teaspoons salt
12 tablespoons lemon juice
boiling water, for jars and processing
ice water bath
boiling water canner

Begin by cleaning your jars, bands, and lids with soap and water. You want your jars to be hot before processing so they don’t break. Prepare your boiling water canner. Fill halfway with water and bring to a simmer. Keep jars and lids in hot water until ready to fill. Do not boil as this could damage the lid seal. Bands are fine to keep at room temperature.

Prepare your tomatoes. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Boil tomatoes 1-2 minutes, until skins start to break. Remove and dip in ice water bath. The skins should easily peel off now. Halve the tomatoes and then remove the core and seeds.

Carefully remove jars and lids from hot water. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon lemon juice to each jar. Pack with tomatoes within 1/2 inch of rim. Add boiling water, maintaining this 1/2 inch of headspace. Do not under or over-fill as this will prevent a proper seal. Run a spatula between the sides of the jar and the tomatoes to release any trapped air. Wipe the edge of the jar with a clean cloth. Place lid and tightly screw on the band.

To process your filled jars, lower into the simmering water of your canner. Add enough water so the jars are covered by at least two inches. Cover your pot and bring the water to a boil. Process for 40 minutes and then carefully remove from the water. Your lids should “pop” as they cool, indicating a proper vacuum seal. To test, press on the lid–it should not flex once completely cooled. If not sealed properly refrigerate and use within two weeks. I overfilled a couple jars, resulting in bulging lids and no seal. It’s easy to tell when something goes awry…

That dent on the right hand side?  It means no vacuum seal.  Luckily we didn’t have too many of those.  So concludes Canning: Episode 1.

Happy Birthday Meagan!

August 21, 2009

And only one day belated! These cupcakes are for you. Can we all pretend that my buttercream is not grainy and these are beautifully decorated–worthy of a Happy Birthday? Please? I promise they’re delicious.

Really, really. I made them yesterday after work and I couldn’t resist the buttercream. My evening turned into frosting for dinner and Gram’s chicken cacciatore for dessert. It was a great evening.

So the Salted Caramel Cupcakes! It only took me a few weeks to get my act together. They actually are vanilla cupcakes with browned butter & salted caramel buttercream. I didn’t want a super dense cake, so I went with the Joy of Baking recipe below. The Caramel Syrup is delicious and adds a bit of depth to the frosting. On half of my batch I soaked my cakes with the syrup as noted. I think I liked them better sans syrup with this cake recipe, but it depends on how sweet or caramely you want your cupcakes. Give ’em a go…

Salted Caramel Cupcakes

part Joy of Baking, part Flo Braker (posted by Shuna fish Lydon)

For Cupcakes:
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temp
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk

For Syrup:
2 cups granulated white sugar
1/2 cup water, plus 1 cup for “stopping”

For Buttercream:
12 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 3/4 cups confectioners sugar
4-6 Tablespoons heavy cream
4 Tablespoons caramel syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Kosher salt to taste

Preheat your oven to 350 and grease or line a 12 cup muffin tin.

Cupcakes: Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Mix in your eggs, one at a time until well incorporated. Beat in vanilla extract.

In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Gradually add half of flour mixture into the creamed butter, then add the milk, and finally add the other half of the flour mixture.  Beat just until well combined.

Pour into the prepared muffin tin.  Bake 18-22 minutes until golden brown.  Mine took closer to 22 minutes to bake.  This recipe makes 12 decent-sized cupcakes.

Syrup:  You can get started on this while your cupcakes are baking.  If you’re not using the syrup to soak your cake, you can half this recipe as you won’t need much for the frosting.  In a medium saucepan combine the sugar and 1/2 cup water.  Cook on high until the syrup is amber in color and you have a lovely, rich, burnt sugar smell happening.  CAREFULLY, ever so carefully, pour 1 cup of water into your caramel syrup.  The mixture will bubble up, so make sure you’re wearing long sleeves and have an emergency bowl of ice water handy in case caramel splatters on your skin.

Have I scared you?

Once the sputtering has stopped a bit, whisk your caramel syrup over medium heat until it has reduced slightly.  Coat a spoon in the syrup and let cool, then test some between your fingers.  Once done it should be slightly sticky.  Remove from heat and cool.

Buttercream:  In a small saucepan, brown butter.  Remove from heat and pour through sieve to remove solids.  Let cool.  Pour browned butter into mixing bowl and gradually beat in your powdered sugar.  When your frosting is looking lumpy, add a bit of your cream or syrup, and continue adding powdered sugar until it’s all incorporated.  Add your vanilla and the desired amount of salt.  I used 1-2 teaspoons.

Assemble:  For a sweeter cupcake you can use the syrup to soak your cake.  Remove the cupcakes from the tin, the paper liners will help hold them together for this part.  While still warm, carefully poke holes with a toothpick or chopstick into the top of your cupcakes.  A lot of them.  Dip a pastry brush in the syrup and slowly paint the top of the cakes, giving it time to absorb the syrup.  Do this a few times to saturate the cake.  Let cool and frost with buttercream.

OR, just cool your cupcakes and frost.

Either way, sprinkle some salt on the top.  Ammmazing!

I kind of already want to bake more, especially since I have some leftover buttercream.  Meagan, can you have another birthday?

Who Wants Candy?

August 14, 2009

I have a great friend from college, her name is Jennie.  Jennie loves candy.  Not just “chocolate-candy,” but “candy-candy.” Skittles, SweeTarts, Hot Tamales… our shared apartment was pretty well stocked back in the day.  Since college she’s moved around a bit, but for the past year she’s lived in Chicago with her boyfriend Perry–also pretty great.  And now they’re leaving me moving to Kansas City.

Sighs.  I’m going to miss them, but there’s already talk of visits and a KC BBQ tour, so it’s going to be okay.  Right?  Right.  Sighs.

Before the big move they wanted to visit some of their favorite places (Hot Dougs!), which gave me the idea of doing a mini Chicago candy tour.  For Jennie, of course.  We could visit a few candy stores and gorge ourselves on sweets.  How fun would that be?  So we did.  We visited and gorged, and now I’m blogging about it.  Here’s where we went…

3256 N Damen, Roscoe Village

This place is adorable with a vintage feel and the candy to boot!  Loads of gummies and licorice by the pound, Charleston Chews, Mary Janes, Necco wafers, candy buttons… if you remember eating it as a kid, Suckers probably sells it.  They also carry ‘newer’  confections like the Nerd Rope, chocolate goodies from a local supplier, and ice cream.  Having a kids party?  They’ll even make goodie bags for you.  What we loved: Necco banana split taffy, cherry cola bottle gummies, licorice scottie dogs, Hot Dog! bubble gum, grape wax mustaches, and the super nice staff!

3425 N Southport, Lakeview

The variety here will blow your mind–M&Ms sorted by color, anyone?  In addition to candy by the pound, Candyality carries candy-themed gifts (tshirts, coin purses, stuffed animals), chocolatey things, and ‘fun’ novelty items like the Jelly Belly Bean Boozled Jelly Beans.  ‘Fun’ for Jennie because she doesn’t know if that orange jelly belly with red spots she’s about to eat is Vomit or Peach-flavored.  Fun for me because I get to laugh and watch her spit the Vomit Bean in the trash.  What we loved: chocolate-covered gummy bears, marshmallow wafer ice cream cones, chocolate licorice ropes, a marshmallow-flavored sucker that looks like a mallow roasting on a stick(!), and the orange creme soda.

3411 W Irving Park Rd, Irving Park

Upon walking through the doors we were greeted with a tray of candy samples, earning this place instant bonus points!  Dulcelandia is a fun, colorful store loaded with Mexican candy, pinatas, and party supplies.  The candy signs have descriptions in English which, with my very limited Spanish skills, I found very useful.  The staff was also really great, answering all my silly questions and feeding me samples.  It was still an adventure, with some real misses (tequila-flavored jelly candy nightmares), but that’s all part of the fun.  And the prices are more than reasonable.  Go and try something new!  What we loved: the candied sweet potato,  fruit-flavored taffy, spicy mango everything, marzipan, and Cowbotas cappuccino lollipops.

Mint Limeade

August 9, 2009

It’s hot here. Super hot. So hot there is no way in heck I am turning on my oven. I know I said more tequila lime bars with a pretzel crust, but it can’t happen. Not today.

Days like these should be spent splashing in a pool, or napping in front of an AC unit.

Not cleaning. Not washing floors. Not doing laundry. These things aren’t fun. Especially in an un-air-conditioned, hot, sticky city apartment. Ugh.

If you HAVE to do the above things because the dust bunnies have formed a small army under your bed or it’s Sunday and you have no clean work clothes for the week, follow up the horror with a nice cool shower and then make this…

Mint Limeade

adapted from Cooking Light

This recipe is super easy and refreshing. The mint is awesome here! Feel free to get a little saucy and toss in some rum or tequila.

1 1/2 cups sugar
6 cups water, divided
1/3 cup chopped mint leaves
1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
lime slices for garnish

Combine sugar, 2 cups of water, and chopped mint in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Heat until sugar is dissolved and then remove from heat. Let the syrup cool for 10 minutes. Pour through sieve to remove the larger pieces of mint leaves and set aside.

Mix lime juice and 4 cups of water in a large pitcher. Gradually add syrup to taste. I like my juices to have a bit of tartness, so I had about 1/2 cup syrup remaining. Serve over ice and garnish with lime slices. Easy Peasy!