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.

Seattle Apple Pie

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We made it to beautiful Seattle and in a week’s time we have toured apartments, visited family and friends, walked around a hilly but beautiful new city, and eaten delicious food. Surprisingly I have hardly cooked in the last three weeks. Between staying at a hotel our last week in Boston and now staying with my in-laws, I don’t even remember how to do meal planning and shopping as all of our food has been prepared by others (and for that I am grateful!) Eventually we’ll have to get back to real life, but for now I’m enjoying it. Continue reading

Post 98 – Homemade Chicken Pot Pie

Happy New Year! It’s 2015!

We’re supposed to be eating more chocolate and doing fewer jumping jacks and packing on the pounds for hibernation, right? No? Since when did winter mean resolutions – green smoothies, early work-outs and cutting back on holiday sweets? If we can’t eat all the delicious foods that help us gain that extra fat as we hunker down for the cold weather, than I’d rather just sleep. That’s what winter should be all about – hibernation! Well, at least we can pretend on snow days… that is if we get any.

If your goal is fat and happy hibernation food, then here’s a good recipe for you. Or if you’ve made a resolution to do more cooking, here is something you can try: Chicken Pot Pie. Now don’t be scared – it’s not as hard as it sounds (or if it is as hard as it sounds see below where I’ve given you some simplified options while still maintaining the “homemade” feel.) You start with a pie crust (one of my favorite things to make because I get to use my favorite kitchen tool – the pastry blender (pictured below).

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The best kind involve flour, butter and/or shortening, salt, and ice water. It’s as simple as that. This extra flakey recipe also adds a little egg and vinegar. Don’t ask me why the vinegar, but trust me. It’s good. You want the fat to be cold and the water to be cold because the chunks of fat in the flour is what gives you your flakey pie crust. You can also use your hands (equally fun) to break the fat up into the flour. You’ll want it to look like this (this one I did by hand).

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Now I know you’re probably nervous because the chunks are uneven and large and ugly, but this is what will make the most delicious pie crust ever. Add your liquid ingredients and gently mold it together. Don’t knead, don’t overwork, just bring it together so it holds in one piece and embrace the shaggy dough that you’ve made. Wrap, refrigerate, and wait.

IMG_1124Now for your pie filling. Cook some chicken – poached to keep it simple and mostly hands off.

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Saute some vegetables – the usual trio of onions, celery, and carrots (or leave out the onions if you’re like me and they seem to bug you).

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Add some flour to thicken it and slowly ladle in chicken broth to make your sauce. Add your shredded, cooked chicken and some peas and ta-da! Was that so hard? (Ok, ok different strokes for different folks.) I will break it down for you below.

IMG_1132Roll out your chilled dough. Cut some slits for breathing. (You see those giant butter chunks in there? That’s okay! It’ll be great!)

IMG_1133Pour your filling into a dish. Tuck your crust in and put in the oven. Everything is cooked but the crust so this is really about getting a good golden-y crust. Egg wash will help you with that one.

IMG_1137See that flakey crust? Yum!

IMG_1139Chicken Pot Pie. Hibernation. Ready, set, GO!

Chicken Pot Pie

adapted from Ree Drummond’s recipe

For the crust: (double the recipe if you want a bottom crust)

1.5 cups all purpose flour (I did 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour in mine)

1/4 tsp. salt

6 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

6 T. cold shortening, cut into 6 pieces

1 egg, beaten

2 T. ice cold water

1.5 tsp. white vinegar

In a medium bowl (or food processor if you must) mix flour and salt briefly to blend. Add in butter and shortening and toss briefly to coat in flour. Blend with a pastry blender, your hands, or two knives to break up the fat into smaller pieces. Drizzle the ice water, vinegar, and HALF of the beaten egg over the mixture and gently mix to combine. If necessary use your hands to bring the dough together. Save the remaining beaten egg, cover, and refrigerate. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes or up to a day. When ready to bake, remove the crust from the fridge 10 minutes before to making it easier to roll.

For the filling:

3-4 chicken breasts (about 1.5-2 lb.)

6 cups chicken broth

3 T. unsalted butter

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

3 stalks celery, diced

1/4 cup flour

frozen peas, add to your liking

In a large saucepan lay your raw chicken breasts, without overlapping if possible. Add enough cold water or chicken broth to cover by a few inches (for me that was 6 cups) and put the lid on. Bring to a light boil, lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile start your veggies. After 10 minutes, use a digital thermometer to check your chicken breasts. They should all be at least 165 degrees. When done, remove and set aside to cool. Reserve chicken broth! If you used water to poach the chicken broth, measure out your remaining water and add enough bouillon to flavor it (I use Better than Bouillon). OR heat up 4 cups of chicken broth in a separate saucepan until warm.

In a large skillet melt the butter. When it begins to foam add your chopped veggies (an onion too if you like) and saute for 5 minutes or so until they begin to soften. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the flour over the veggies and stir. Cook for a few minutes to incorporate the flour. This will help thicken your sauce. Now gradually add your chicken stock, one ladle at a time, stirring carefully as you add. You will notice the sauce will thicken immediately. Add the stock to your liking. I find 3-4 cups seems the right amount for me. The filling will thicken a little more as it cools so you don’t want it to be too thick.

Chop or shred your cooled chicken and add to the filling along with peas if desired. Stir and taste. If it’s bland, add some salt. If it’s too salt, add a little water. Then remove from heat and pour into a deep dish pie pan.

On a floured surface roll out your dough to the size of your pie plate. Cut slits in a few places to let the pie breathe. Place on top of your filling, tucking in carefully to avoid burning your fingers. Crimp the edge if you like. Brush with the remaining beaten egg you saved (you may not need all of it). Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Let cool and enjoy!

Shortcuts

Buy Rotisserie chicken instead of poaching the chicken – you’ll want 2-3 cups worth of meat

Buy chicken stock (notice I didn’t give you a recipe to make your own!)

Buy pre-made pie crust (It’s okay – I forgive you)

Buy frozen carrots – if you do this, use an onion to develop some flavor and then add the carrots in at the end with the peas.

And if you’re looking for more winter delicious-ness…

Make this delicious sweet potato dish!

Yum!

Yum!

Post 95 – Food Snapshots

Thanksgiving is over and Christmas will be here any minute! We had a wonderful Thanksgiving with Turkey, Wild Rice, Salad, and Mashed Potatoes. We have been enjoying other delicious foods since then including pizza and cupcakes to celebrate Sam’s birthday. Here are some photos of some of my latest good eats.

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America’s Test Kitchen Quicker Cinnamon Rolls

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Thanksgiving Apple Streusel Pie

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And homemade chocolate sauce…

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Gingerbread granola with crystallized ginger, cranberries, and raisins.

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Homemade pizza in the works

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Yum! Leftovers!

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Cran-Raspberry Birthday Muffins (for Sam)

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Holiday Lava Fudge Cupcake from Georgetown Cupcake – mmmmm!

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving and are almost ready for 2015!

Post 17 – Tuesday is the new Friday… sorta

Happy Tuesday!

Yes, that’s what I said. Pass it on!

I was walking home this afternoon, my mind glazing over from a tired Tuesday when I was awoken from my daze by the kindness of a stranger. Just a block from my apartment, a young man surprised me with a sincere, “How’s it going? Happy Tuesday!” His quiet greeting was followed by a nervous laugh as if he was slightly embarrassed by his own gesture. The greeting so threw me off guard that all I could do was smile in response, left in awe at the simple joy left by his kindness.

You know what? I think the world needs a little more joy on Tuesdays. I know that people love Fridays, but let’s say we give Tuesday a little love. I’ve always looked out for the underdogs (like the time I did my state report on Iowa because no one else had chosen to study the state before. Remember that, Mom? All the other 4th graders were fighting over Hawaii and Florida because they had sunshine and rainbows going for them, but I chose Iowa and all I got was corn.) Let’s hear it for Tuesdays!

I’ve been busy with life the past few weeks (getting ready to move, summer job hunting, life contemplations), but that’s not to say I haven’t been cooking nearly every day! Because variety is the spice of life, I’ve been trying to incorporate new recipes when possible and document them when I can.

Here are just a few food snapshots for your viewing pleasure.

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I take advantage of nights when Sam is gone to cook foods he doesn’t like. Here is a simple (but delicious) sautéed shrimp with scallions, white wine, and pasta. Oh and a jar of peas. That’s how I eat my peas these days…

Best thing to do with extra zucchini (other than make zucchini bread) – zucchini chips! Mmm – sweet and savory!

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The photo below is from a kitchensurfing gig I did. Smoked Salmon on Toasted Baguette and Cucumbers, Caprese bites, and Spinach Hummus.

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Dinner was Lemon and Herb Salmon, Mediterranean Couscous with Roasted Tomatoes and Kalamata Olives (and some plain couscous for the kids), Mixed Greens with Feta, Cranberries, Roasted Pumpkins Seeds and Balsamic Vinaigrette, and Roasted Green Beans.

IMG_2314Dessert!  Strawberry Rhubarb pie! Pictured above pre-crumble and pre-bake.

Pictured below after baking. One for me, and one for them. (Gotta test out the recipe first – sheesh!)

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Happy Tuesday! Pass it on!