Sunday, August 1, 2010

Perfect Day

Today was the perfect day. An afternoon spent at the beach. I read an entire book from start to finish, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It was the sort of book that's is so witty and well written, it makes you want to go home and write in the blog you've neglected for 8 mos. I jumped in the freezing cold waves and avoided patches of seaweed as it either floated by in the current or was thrown at me by my Dad. I buried my toes in soft sand (nothing like that weird rocky stuff at the lake). Even though I love MN, there was a moment today when I reconsidered my long term plans. I've spent that last two and a half months looking forward to this day and it met all my expectations. I am so incredibly blessed.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What a Tart.

Hi, I'm Molly. Remember me? Yeah, I didn't think so. Winter is over. I have survived and I am coming out of hibernation. Spring, it seems, does a lot to get my creative juices flowing. Never mind the fact that it hasn't done anything to help me write that darn cover letter I've been working on for the last week . . . it inspires me to do things like make a TART!

Over spring break I went to visit my aunt and uncle in northern Minnesota. The ice was just starting to thaw and my aunt and uncle had discovered patches of wild cranberries left over from the fall, but safely preserved through the winter by snow, in marshes near their house. I borrowed my uncles giant rubber boots and my aunt and I went cranberry hunting. Though the cranberry picking adventure was fun, I was dumbfounded when it came to deciding what to do with the jar of cranberry preserves I was sent home with. And so, the cranberry preserves have sat in my kitchen untouched for the last several weeks. I guiltily dodged questions from my aunt on Easter asking me if I was enjoying the preserves.

This tart recipe was an answer to my prayers! I won't bore you with the details of my baking travails, but I will warn you that almond extract does NOT taste as good as it smells right out of the bottle. It does, however, taste delicious in a crunchy crust alongside cornmeal and gobs of butter. This tart may also be the prettiest thing I've ever baked. It certainly enhanced a lovely Saturday morning coupled with sunshine, a cup of coffee, homemade whipped cream, and a good book.

Easy Jam Tart
Adapted from Ready for Dessert and Smitten Kitchen

Like SK, I used a food processor rather than a stand mixer (I would recommend it). I also replaced store bought jam with homemade preserves. I had to put off making this recipe for a whole week because I didn't have cornmeal. I toyed briefly with the prospect of using the food processor to grind corn chips (which was actually suggested by one website), but held out for the real thing. Other websites I looked at suggested throwing polenta in a food processor before using it because apparently it is not a finely ground as cornmeal.

1 1/2 cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (70 grams) stone-ground cornmeal or polenta
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons (4 1/2 ounces or 130 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg, whole
1 large egg, separated
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/3 to 1 3/4 cups (450 grams) jam (see Note above; I used the smaller amount) or marmalade
2 tablespoons (30 grams) coarse-crystal or granulated sugar

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or in a food processor, mix the butter and 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar together until smooth. Add the egg, egg yolk (keep the egg white from the second egg on hand for later) and almond extract and beat until combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix until the dough just comes together.

Transfer about one-third of the dough to a lightly floured counter and shape it into a log about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it until needed. (As always, I was in a rush and put this in the freezer.)

Transfer the remaining dough to a buttered 9-inch (23-cm) tart pan with a removable bottom of a 9-inch (23-cm) springform pan. Using your hands, press the dough evenly into the bottom. If using a tart pan, press the dough up the sides to the rim of the pan and set the tart pan on a baking sheet. If using a springform pan, press the dough about 3/4-inch (2-cm) up the sides of the pan. Refrigerate the dough-lined pan until firm, at least one hour. (Again, I used the freezer and it was firm in 30 minutes. I am impatient.)

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Spread the jam or marmalade evenly over the dough in the pan. Cut the chilled dough into very thin discs with a sharp paring knife. Arrange them slightly overlapped in concentric circles over the jam to form a top crust. Whisk the remaining egg white with a teaspoon of water until frothy; brush evenly over the tart lid and then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons (30 grams) coarse sugar. Bake until the top crust is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Snow Day

I think I've fooled myself into believing that I've acclimated to this whole winter thing (PUN!), today I was smacked back to California with a serious dose of reality. On my way to class as I pulled out of my drive way, I was distracted by the semi-broken garage door. I hadn't turned as sharply as I needed to, but figured I'd still be able to make it out onto the street. I continued to reverse and got stuck, pulled forward and got stuck, and tried to reverse only to realize I was stuck, REALLY STUCK! I had backed over a mound of ice (see, when the temperature stays below freezing for months at a time what looks like pretty mounds of snow is really rock solid ice dusted with snow) and I wasn't going anywhere. I think the standard protocol in this sort of situation is to give the car a push, but neither of my roommates was home so I started digging/hacking away. I spent over an hour trying to get my car unstuck before my neighbor graciously pitched in with some more digging, clever use of a card board box, and a few big pushes.

In the midst of the digging I kept wavering between breaking down in tears and laughing. It was one of those moments where I was both wishing my dad was there (he fixes things like this) and being oddly proud that I was a grown up who was going to get herself out of this mess. It might have been a coming of age moment. I chose to laugh, waited to call my dad until after the ordeal was over, and decided this wasn't going to ruin my day.

By the time I was out I had practically missed all of class so I pulled my car back into the garage and proclaimed a Snow Day! I had coffee with a friend, wore sweats most of the day, lazed around the house, and went to a movie with some friends followed by sushi and beer. I really needed a day off, so despite the hassle, I think this morning was a blessing.