Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"The Perfect Scoop" of Strawberry Sorbet

Sorbets have got to be one of the easiest frozen desserts to make-- other than granitas. I've made my fair share of them, and Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit is one of my top favorite flavors. I've made sorbets by making a simple syrup with great results.

I finally joined the group of David Lebovitz fans by purchasing his book "The Perfect Scoop".

The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments 

I've already bookmarked several of his recipes for ice creams and sherbets but I had yet to make one of them...
Until I stopped at my local farm stand that is appropriately named "The Farm". How could I resist buying their freshly picked organically grown strawberries for $2.25 a basket?

I happened to have a bottle of kirsch (for making a future fondue) so I decided to try the recipe for Strawberry Sorbet. I liked that I didn't have to make a simple syrup, because I would have to chill it for a while.

The ingredients and steps are simple:

Fresh sliced strawberries, kirsch (just a little and you don't have to use it), sugar, fresh lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

The strawberries were so naturally sweet, that I didn't have to use a lot of extra sugar. Taste your berries and adjust to your needs.

After an hour, I used my immersion blender to puree the berries. I decided not to strain them because I kind of like the crunch of the seeds.

If you don't own an ice cream maker, they have really come down in price, since the days of the manual versions. I once had the type where you use ice and salt but why bother? My bowl is kept in my upright freezer so all I do is add the chilled mixture and 15 minutes later...

A beautiful deep red frozen strawberry sorbet is ready!

Well... almost. I did put it in the freezer for about an hour.

I am looking forward to choosing my next recipe to make, from this book. While I love an occasional small carton of Haagen Dasz or Ben & Jerry's ice cream-- I am glad that I invested in an ice cream machine. I use it year-round-- even in the winter!

I have several recipes I would like to share with all of you-- but, I have returned to work. I'm really busy registering new students for the school year, so I'll be pretty scarce until the weekends.

Here's a little teaser... this blueberry sauce goes over something really delicious and easy!

Stay tuned!

Fresh Strawberry Sorbet on Foodista

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tomato & Three Cheese Tart - with a little help from Ina Garten

This week, I revisited Ina Garten's newest cookbook, "Back to Basics" looking for inspiration for a new tradition I've started-- Friday Antipasto, or Friday "Puu-Puu's" or Friday "Tapas". Whatever you choose to call it, I looking forward to unwinding from a long week at the office with my own Happy Hour! My son will turn 21 in 3 months, so I don't mind letting him partake in our Friday cocktails and finger foods, by allowing him to pour himself a glass of beer or wine-- as long as he's not driving anywhere, of course.

That morning, I stopped on Page 92 and thought "Perfect"! Tomato & Goat Cheese Tarts. As Ina often says, "How good is that"?

The timing was perfect, because I had just spotted our first ripe tomato, outside my kitchen window. What a beauty!

I also found this very odd tomato-- these are all conjoined... Frankentomato!

Fortunately, I have recently overcome my unfounded fear of puff pastry. Of course, my only remaining fear is that it's loaded with butter-- and it could find a permanent home on my derriere... but, the flakey pastry is what makes this pastry such a versatile vehicle for sweet or savory treats. I have read how to make your own puff pastry. I think I'll pass on all the work involved!

I decided to modify the recipe, a bit. I had leftover brie, from the skewered figs, brie and prosciutto tapas I had made the day before. I have goat cheese, but I decided that the brie would do nicely. For extra color, I decided I wanted to add a little bit of bell pepper. I had a lovely yellow bell pepper, so I got to work.

If you haven't worked with puff pastry, fear not! You can visit to watch videos and find all kinds of recipes. I've watched Ina use it dozens of times, so I feel confident. Just remove it from the freezer, cover it with a wet paper towel and wait about 30 minutes.

In the meantime--

Get your onions going, by slicing the onions thinly. You can use a mandoline, but I've had enough practice with my chef's knife to do this. Use about 3 tablespoons olive oil. I like to start cooking the onions a bit, before adding in fresh garlic--I don't want burned garlic! It takes about 15-20 minutes for the onions to become tender so you have time to move on to the next step...

I plucked that beautiful tomato for the tart.

NOTE: I only made "half" the recipe, and it was a perfect amount for us.
Generously flour your surface, and the rolling pin. I just wanted to even out the puff pastry sheet and make it a tad bit thinner. Here's where I diverted from Ina's instructions-- I'm a spend thrift, at times. Why would I want to cut out round pastry and throw away the rest? Instead, I decided to make one large square tart and then cut it. I am using a cake lifter, made by Wilton (I bought mine at "Michael's) for less than $10.00. It's designed to help move layer cakes, without breaking them. I found it works perfectly for transferring puff pastry. You'll definitely want to use parchment paper. I think it works better than my Silpat Mat-- giving the puff pastry a better "brown".

You'll want to score the edge of the pastry. If you've not worked with puff pastry before-- the purpose of doing this is so that the edge will puff up higher than the tart. Does that make sense? Good!

With a fork, I poked holes on the puff pastry, except for the edge. For the rest of my prep work, I cut up the remaining brie, shaved some Parmesan cheese (I never buy that stuff in the green can...never!) and then I found some Feta Cheese in the back of the fridge.

The onions were ready for the next step-- 3 Tablespoons of white wine and chopped fresh thyme, a little kosher salt & pepper. Mmmm....

I decided to give the yellow bell pepper a quick saute in some olive oil-- just to tenderize them a little bit (this step is not in Ina's's mine... all mine!)

Now, let's assemble it:

Once the onions were ready, I preheated the oven to 425F. I layered the brie and then evenly layered the caramelized onions.

Next, I layered the sliced tomato (which was so sweet tasting) and brushed them will a little olive and seasoned with a little kosher salt & fresh cracked pepper. I added the bell pepper. Last, I added some feta cheese and the parmesan cheese.

See the scored edges?

Into the oven, the tart goes, for about 20 minutes-- until golden brown.

Wow! This turned out beautifully and smelled so good. That's exactly when Craig came home from his "after work hike"-- he enjoys doing that on Fridays, when summer daylight hours allow that. That gives me time to get dinner ready. If you're an Ina Garten fan, you'll know what I mean when I say that my husband is Ina's "Jeffrey". Not that they look alike! I just enjoy surprising him with something homemade and new to try-- and he appreciates it.

There's one more twist that I added to this recipe. My son works at a Mom & Pop Grocery store. They carry a great selection of gourmet items with better customer service. I spotted this product from Modena, Italy. It's a Balsamic Glaze!

Craig changed into his comfortable clothes, and then he popped the bottle of chilled Prosecco while I cutting fresh basil from the garden, julienned it and garnished the tart-- and then quickly shot photos to show all of you. My son wasn't home, so it was just the two of us. Me? I was grieving/celebrating my last day of summer vacation.

Happy Hour Begins with a cold glass of bubbly...

This is delicious! It takes about 30 minutes of inactive time and about 20 minutes of hands on time to make this happen. It's so worth it! Served with a salad, this would make a complete light meal-- or cut the tart into smaller sizes. This would make perfect h'ors doevres. I served it "warm".

I think Ina would approve of my efforts to make her recipe. This looks so impressive, and it's a versatile and easy recipe to make. I hope you try this for your own Happy Hour. We all deserve one, don't we?

Here's the printable recipe card:

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Crab and Avocado Melt, & Crab Salad, Tapas Style

I just celebrated my 54th birthday. I'm not ashamed of my age at all, and I've been practicing saying it-- F-F-F-IFTY F-F-F-FOUR! Gulp! I'm not so sure I'm ready to practice the S-S-S-'s. No, I won't go there!

However, I've noticed that a few things in me are slowing down--considerably. My appetite is one of them-- which could be a curse for someone (that would be me) who enjoys a good meal. My lunch, in Carmel that I blogged about on Wednesdays (this week), is a perfect example. I didn't think I ate a lot of food-- half a salad, one luscious short rib (rolling eyes at the memory) and half a slice of fudgy cake-- and a glass of Italian white wine... hmmm, that does sound like a lot now that I relive that wonderful meal! My point is, I couldn't eat dinner that night, though six hours had passed.

So, this Thursday night, I decided to prepare a dinner "tapas style". (For those of you who aren't familiar with the term tapas, Wikipedia has a definition of it.) I chilled a bottle of wine and I made "grilled fresh figs and brie, wrapped in prosciutto". I also made my own version of a crab melt.

This was put together, literally, by the seat of my pants! It all started with a visit to Whole Foods to look for fresh figs-- for the above mentioned recipe. I love Whole Foods, but it's 1/2 hour away from my home. I happened to be in Monterey and I was on vacation... so I took a leisurely browse through the aisles and I stopped at the seafood case. Whole Foods really knows how to create mouth watering displays. On impulse I bought some local fresh dungeness crab. I have no idea what possessed me to do that, because I usually don't prepare many crab dishes. I was slightly taken aback that the $5.99 a pound ended up costing me close to $14.00! Yikes! The shells weigh more than I thought!

Crab spoils quickly, and I felt I had gone over budget, so it was time to decide what to make. It was time to make something what I paid -- but, I was limited to what was in my refrigerator.

While in Cambria in early July, I bought their locally grown avocados for $1.00 each. I didn't get the name of the variety, but they aren't the more familiar Haas Variety. These are elongated and much lighter skinned. It sure took a while, but they finally reached their peak of ripeness and I knew that crab and avocado were a perfect match.

I had purchased a fresh baguette while stopping at our local (and world famous) Earthbound Farm so that was a no-brainer answer to what vehicle I would use for crab & avocado.

See what I mean? Chives on the left, tarragon on the right. Photographed today!

Feeling like an amateur Iron Chef, I looked at my herb garden. I have a mound of fresh chives growing like crazy and an unruly tarragon plant that just keeps going... so I snipped a bunch of each herb-- it didn't even make a dent!

Now, how to season the crab? White Worcestershire! Alas, the bottle smelled "off" (I keep forgetting to use this on fish) so I reached for a fresh lemon from our tree. I opened my spice cabinet-- Old Bay Seasoning! Yeah, that's it! (It's also what I add to my egg salad.) A touch of kosher salt and fresh pepper and about 1 Tablespoon of mayo-- just a touch and it tasted good. I debated adding hot sauce, but I decided against it. Believe it or not, we're hot big Tabasco lovers in our house-- yes, we are true Northerners!

I didn't measure, so here is the ingredient list I used:

Fresh cracked crab, Old Bay Seasoning, kosher salt & pepper, fresh lemon juice, Best Foods/Hellman's Mayonnaise, fresh chopped chives (scallions would do well), fresh chopped tarragon-- not a lot, maybe I Tablespoon-- and that was it!

In the meantime, I sliced the half the baguette into crostini sizes and then I decided to cut the other half into a sandwich size. I added a brush of olive oil and then popped it for one minute under the broiler (set a timer, or you'll forget it and burn it) until slightly golden. I quickly rubbed a clove of fresh garlic on them.

This is also how I prepare my bruschetta, and I almost reached for tomatoes, but decided we had enough food.

I decided to leave the other half without an avocado topping... I couldn't remember if my son liked avocado...

I spread some crab mixture onto the long baguette, topped it with some sliced avocado-- then I remembered that I had some sliced provolone cheese.

I topped the sandwich with the cheese and put this back into the broiler for about a minute-- until melted and bubbly.

In the meantime, my husband and son set the table, poured a glass of white wine while I plated the fig tapas and the sliced the crab melts into bite-sized slices.

I left a small bowl of plain crab with some crostinis. If I had fresh salad greens, I would have tossed a simple vinaigrette...

Still, this dinner fed the three of us very well. My husband, who usually isn't crazy about shellfish, enjoyed this tapas style meal. I also noted that my son loves avocado slices, because he devoured these with great relish.

I really like tapas style eating-- especially while the weather is pleasantly warm and the days are long. It won't be much longer before I start dusting off my slow cooker and retrieving my pressure cooker from storage, to start preparing my repertoire of homemade soups and stews.

That's another thing I've noticed, as I've aged (like a fine cognac, thank you)-- time flies so fast!
My summer vacation ended on Friday, July 24th-- 3 1/2 weeks disappeared so fast, that I didn't finish half of what I had planned to do.

Still, I enjoyed every single day, and I'm thankful to be employed.


Dungeness Crab on Foodista

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