Strawberry Queen of Heart Tarts

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Hello summer! I am so happy to see you! Spring and summer in Seattle have been beautiful with emerald-green lawns, colorful flowers of every variety, and warm temperatures. This past weekend got a little too hot though for a typical Seattle summer day. Temperatures reached 81 on Saturday and 92 yesterday, making our 4th floor, no A/C apartment pretty dang hot.

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In spite of the heat, I decided to turn on the oven and to make homemade pie crust (well not in that order).

Here’s a little summer advice for you: Do not make homemade pie crust on what is predicted to be the hottest day ever! Also don’t turn your oven on if you don’t have to!

Why shouldn’t you make pie crust on a hot day? The key to a good, flaky pie crust is cold fat (butter or shortening) and keeping it cold until it goes into the oven where it melts and creates pockets of air and thus flaky goodness. A hot kitchen (and hot hands) make keeping ingredients cold pretty difficult. I found myself popping my tarts in and out of the freezer at different stages to keep the butter from melting too early.

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But why was I making homemade pie crust in the first place? One of my friends was having an Alice and Wonderland themed engagement party over the weekend and I had to make something edible to fit the theme. Seeing the weather forecast, I told her I’d probably just make a salad to avoid using the oven. Yet the gorgeous, red strawberries grown right here in Washington were begging to be made into tarts and it seemed only fitting (and fun!) to make heart-shaped Queen of Heart Tarts.

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And because making one kind of tart is never enough (oh no, I always have to make it more complicated!) I made a savory asparagus tart too because, hello asparagus this time of year! For this tart I used puff pastry, because I had seen other recipes using puff pastry and it sounded oh so much simpler. In the end I was appreciative of the simplicity of the puff pastry compared to the pie crust, but in my opinion the pie crust tasted infinitely better!

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We had a wonderful celebration and kept cool in a lovely shady spot of the park. My friend was thrilled with the treats I brought and we ended up with a lovely Alice and Wonderland themed spread including: down the rabbit hole wraps (smoked salmon, herbed cream cheese, and cucumber), magic mushrooms (marinated mushrooms), mint tea (of course!) and a few other fun treats. They even had deck of card necklaces with different sayings on them from the book including “We’re all mad here!” I guess being crazy enough to bake on a hot day makes me fit right in!

Queen of Heart Tarts

2 pie crusts (homemade or store-bought)

2 cups diced strawberries

2-4 T. sugar (depending on how sweet your strawberries are)

2 T. cornstarch

lemon zest

1 egg, beaten

Roll out your pie crust into an even thickness of about 1/8 inch. Using a cookie cutter (or a stencil and a sharp knife) cut out heart shapes in your dough, as close together as possible. Re-rolling the scraps will overwork the dough and also make it start to soften and melt. (You can always bake the scraps with cinnamon and sugar and eat them as a treat!) Lay your cut-out hearts on a parchment lined sheet pan and put in the fridge while you cut up your strawberries.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Mix your diced strawberries, sugar, lemon zest, and cornstarch in a small bowl. Have your beaten egg ready as an egg wash for your tarts.

Remove the hearts from the fridge and top half of them with a small bit of strawberry mixture right in the center (do not overfill!). With the remaining hearts, gently place them on top of the strawberry filling and press around the edges to seal. Use floured fingers to keep your hands from sticking. Cut small slashes in the top of each heart and brush lightly with the egg wash.

Bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Let cool and enjoy!

Note: I made my strawberry filling before I had my hearts cut out and the filling got progressively juicy and soupy as it sat. I think if you wait til you’re ready to use it, you won’t end up with an overly juicy filling, which will just bleed out of your pies when you try and fill them and when you bake them if they aren’t sealed well.

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Post 93 – Eat your Greens! + Chelsea’s Cranberry Bread

Last Friday (Oct. 24) was Food Day! To celebrate we offered samples of kale chips to the students and teachers. To our shock and amazement, the kale chips were wildly popular with students coming up for seconds and thirds. We even heard one child exclaim: “These are better than potato chips!” I could not have paid that child to say anything better 🙂

It probably helped that we gave out stickers if they tried it and put up a big poster to voice their opinion of the kale.

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Overall, Food Day kale chips were a huge hit and I’m happy to say we may even make kale chips again. (Another great quote: “Can we have these every Friday?!” – HA!) We even had requests for the recipe so we posted it in the school’s weekly bulletin. Eat your greens!

Speaking of greens, well green vegetables, I wanted to share a successful and simple recipe with you that I came up with on Friday. Most of the time when I go to the grocery store I have a plan and a list that I follow. Sometimes I stray from the list based on what looks good and sometimes my indecisiveness causes me to buy multiple random ingredients for which I have no specific plans, or rather some vague plan that I may or may not follow. This week it was asparagus, bacon, fresh cranberries, and coconut milk. After sitting in the fridge for a few days, the idea came to me: bacon-wrapped asparagus!

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Simply wrap your asparagus spears in half strips of bacon (no oil needed thanks to the bacon fat), lay out on a tray, sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper if desired, and bake. I don’t have a good baking rack, but I’m sure they would turn out crispier if you put them on a rack on top of the sheet pan. That way more air circulates and they’re not sitting in the bacon grease. Bake at 450 until they reach the done-ness you desire (10-15 min) and broil at the end for a few minutes for extra crisping!  Easy and yummy!

I decided to use the cranberries for my sister Chelsea’s favorite Cranberry-Orange bread. This recipe is one I clipped from a magazine back in high school while collecting recipes for my favorite recipe binder. It quickly became a favorite. It is fresh, only slightly sweet thanks to the fresh cranberries, (I even got Sam to try a fresh cranberry! His face was priceless) and has a nice crunch from the walnuts. I opted to make them in mini loaves this time, though it makes a great big loaf too.

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One of the best parts about this recipe is I get to use my favorite kitchen tool: the pastry blender!

 

Chelsea’s Favorite Cranberry Bread

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1.5 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/3 cup unsalted butter, cold

2/3 cup orange juice (fresh squeezed is best!)

1 tsp. grated orange zest

1 large egg

1.5 cups fresh cranberries, halved (allow some time to cut these babies)

1 cup walnuts, chopped

 

Start by halving your cranberries, chopping your walnuts (if necessary), and juicing your oranges. Measure your flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt into a medium bowl and stir to mix well. Cut your cold butter into small cubes and using a pastry blender (or two knives) cut into the flour mixture until the butter is pea sized.

Preheat your oven to 350.

In a small bowl mix your orange juice, zest, and egg. Pour into flour and butter mixture and mix just until barely combined (see photo above). Carefully fold in your cranberries and walnuts. The dough will be relatively thick and lumpy, but don’t overmix it.

Pour into one large greased loaf pan, smaller loaf pans, or jumbo muffin pans. Bake for 25-30 for small loaves and 55-65 minutes for the large loaf. Loaves are done when golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool and enjoy.

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The smell is irresistible!

Oh and in case you’re wondering, I still have some remaining cranberries and I haven’t decided what to do with the coconut milk. The coconut milk (canned) will keep, the cranberries will not. More to come! Happy fall!