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.

Summer Potato Salad with Horseradish Dijon Mayo

About five years ago my mom and I drove the 800+ miles from Dayton, Ohio to Boston, MA, her black Honda Fit packed with as much of my stuff as it could hold. It was my first taste of living on my own in a city, and I was both terrified and thrilled. Though the first moments after my mom drove away definitely felt lonely and sad, I eventually settled into my new home and began getting to know Boston by bike and by train.

IMG_1042It is hard to believe that five years have passed since that move. I have lived through many momentous occasions in Boston – the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup, the Red Sox winning the World Series, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Patriots winning the Super Bowl, and the record-breaking snowfall this past winter. I have loved living in Boston and there are many things I will miss about this city, but I am also excited to get to know a new city on the other side of the country. Continue reading

Ming Tsai’s Spiced Ginger Cake

I always look forward to the summers with childlike glee. And not just for the sunshine, warm temperatures, and beach days, but for the summer produce. I think of the piles of emerald zucchini and fuzzy peaches at the farmers’ market stands. I pine for the days when there is fresh corn on the cob and sweet ruby berries. In winter or fall it always seems like summer weather and summer produce holds so much potential for summer magic – spontaneous backyard cookouts with fresh, colorful salads or that shiny, happy feeling when you see a beautiful sunset after the perfect day.

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So after all this talk of gorgeous summer stone fruits and squashes, why am I making a ginger cake in August? Here you are nearing the end of a hot and feisty summer season and you’re making what’s essentially a Christmas treat? Okay, okay, let me explain. Continue reading

An Easy Summer Treat: Frozen Grapes!

Ah summertime! Long warm days of sunshine, relaxed time at the beach, and cool ocean breezes – these are the dreams of summer. Well, sometimes those summer dreams can turn into too long, hot days, crowded beach, and absolutely no breeze! We began to miss the spring weather (or even winter) and long for cooler days ahead. However, I’m trying to remind myself that summer is worth celebrating, even if it’s hot! Let’s do the best to enjoy this much anticipated time of the year while we can despite the downsides. Continue reading

Post 122 – Pesto Couscous Summer Salad

Summer’s a coming. It is here! Or at least it feels like it. The weather has turned humid and muggy and sunny and green and the school children are getting restless (the teachers and staff too! Trust me – I work at a school.) But it is beautiful this time of year where I live. I am loving the views!

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Now I love cooking and baking, but when it gets hot and you have no central air I can lose my energy for cooking, especially in a hot kitchen. When I think of a good summer recipe, I think of something that is quick, fresh-tasting, and doesn’t require the oven. When you don’t have an outdoor grill, these recipes can be hard to come by. Sometimes I sacrifice one night of oven cooking for several nights of tasty leftovers, but other times it is just not worth it.

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Here is a summery flavored side salad or main dish that works well in the summer heat and can be changed to suit your tastes too. You can skip the cooked veggies and throw in raw ones instead (cucumbers, red peppers, shredded carrots) and you can even try quinoa instead of couscous. If your garden has overgrown with fresh basil, make your own pesto! If you just want dinner in 10 minutes, use the store bought kind or the batch you saved in the freezer from last month. If nothing else this simple recipe can be a go-to when you are out of ideas and out of time. Throw in some leftover chicken (or even store-bought rotisserie chicken) and you’ve got a meal. You’re welcome. (Another cookbook checked off the list! By the way, this cookbook was first published in 1977 so if it looks a little old fashioned, that’s why.)

IMG_1564IMG_1566Pesto Couscous Summer Salad

from Betty Crocker’s Cook it Quick!

1 cup uncooked couscous

1 T. olive oil or vegetable oil

1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch slices

1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/4 inch slices

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 container (7 oz.) pesto (homemade or store-bought)

2 T. balsamic or cider vinegar

Cook couscous according to package – for 1 cup you will boil 1+1/4 cup water, remove from heat, add couscous, cover and let absorb the water (off heat!) for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork immediately and set aside.

Meanwhile heat oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium high heat. Add zucchini, squash, and red pepper and cook about 5 minutes or until crisp-tender.***

Toss couscous, vegetables, pesto, and vinegar in a large bowl. Serve warm or cool.

***Alternative method: Now I don’t know about you, but when I try and saute a large amount of vegetables in a 10 inch skillet for 5 minutes until “crisp-tender” I end up with somewhat softened vegetables and maybe a little browning. I found that this amount of time and vegetables in this size pan leaves no room for crisp or tenderness and even leaves some of the veggies raw from not enough heat exposure. If you don’t mind running the oven I recommend roasting the veggies, well spread out on a sheet pan or two. It does not require as much stirring, and you can walk away from the hot oven for at least a little bit of time while they cook. Cut the veggies into sticks, cubes, or slices (so long as they are all even-ish in size), toss with oil, salt, and pepper and spread out on parchment lined sheet pan. Roast at 425 degrees, stirring once toward the end until they are lightly browned and beginning to caramelize.

IMG_1553IMG_1555Mmm tasting looking veggies.IMG_0890Throw these in with your couscous and pesto or serve on the side of your main dish as veggie “fries.” They are addictive and delicious. Happy almost summer!

Post 109 – Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage

Following a few days of eating that mac and cheese, which was delicious, I opted for a lighter recipe. This one comes from Nigella Lawson and her seductive book Nigella Bites.

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IMG_1338Though Nigella called for standard cabbage in her recipe, I opted for Napa cabbage as it is lighter in flavor and less densely packed per head. I find that even when I buy the smallest head of cabbage I can find, it balloons into this giant overflowing bowl once I cut it up. That amount of cabbage I will never eat by myself (and Sam hardly helps). With the Napa cabbage it hardly seems to be as big of a problem, or maybe it just depends on the recipe you turn it into.

IMG_1342Nigella also calls for fresh mint though I used cilantro instead. I prefer the flavor of the cilantro and I could not find mint at the store. Along with a few other slight variations, I followed the general flavors of her dish including the lime juice, fish sauce, and rice wine vinegar.

This salad is delicious with or without the chicken and would be particularly good in the summer. Served with the chicken, it makes for a delicious light lunch. Leave the chicken out and it would pair nicely with a hearty meat dish.

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A pepper mustache

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Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage Salad

adapted from Nigella Bites

There are so many delicious recipes I could make from this cookbook – Chocolate Cloud Cake, Sticky Toffee pudding, pigs in blankets, and Deep-fried Candy Bars with Pineapple, but when choosing recipes I want to eat I have to keep some kind of balance and while sweets are delicious, I cannot live on them alone.

1 head napa cabbage

1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded

1/2 a bell pepper, chopped

chopped cilantro (to your tastes)

1 garlic clove, minced

1 T. sugar

1.5 tsp. rice vinegar or rice wine (Mirin)

1.5 T. lime juice

1.5 T. fish sauce

1.5 T. vegetable oil

1 cooked chicken breast, shredded or chopped

Rinse and remove the outer leaves from the cabbage. Shred with a sharp knife or a food processor and transfer to a large bowl. Mix in carrots, bell pepper, and cilantro. In a separate small bowl mix garlic, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and vegetable oil. Stir to dissolve the sugar and toss with cabbage mixture. Toss in cilantro. Mix in chicken or store separately and serve with the coleslaw.

IMG_1348Another cookbook done!

Post 89 – Pineapple Pulled Pork

Welcome to my first official low FODMAP recipe – this delicious and easy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork.

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First things first, many recipes for meats or stews call for either garlic or onion or both, but both of these foods are fructans (from the F in FODMAP) and seem to be one of the highest offenders in the FODMAP group. Therefore low FODMAP recipes mean

No garlic

No onion

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These two ingredients form the base of so many savory recipes, providing that umami flavor that is hard to replace. Do you know how many sauces, broths, and condiments already contain onion or garlic? Start reading labels and you will see that everything from ketchup to Worcestershire sauce to chicken broth all have at least one of these ingredients.

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Since garlic and onion are found in nearly everything, to avoid them you often have to make your own sauces or go without. This recipe for pulled pork gets its flavors from the mix of spices (be careful of spice blends that contain onion and garlic), and some sweetness from natural pineapple juice. And the best part about slow cooker recipes is that they’re usually pretty hands-off.

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Slow Cooker Pineapple Pulled Pork

inspired by this recipe

2 T. canola oil

3-4 lb. piece of pork butt/pork shoulder

1 T. brown sugar

2 tsp. Kosher salt

2 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. ground coriander

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1 cup pineapple juice

1/2 cup water

Begin by heating up the canola oil in your slow cooker on the “brown/saute” setting if you have it. If not you can either skip browning it or brown it in a pan on the stove. While it is heating up, in a small bowl mix together the brown sugar, salt, and spices. If desired, cut your pork down into 2 or 3 manageable pieces and remove any large slabs of fat on the outside. Rub your spice mixture all over the pork (you may not need all of it). When the slow cooker is sufficiently hot, add your spice-rubbed pork allowing it to brown on one side without moving it for a few minutes. You want a nice, crisp, brown exterior. Using tongs, carefully flip it over to brown the other side and cook for a few minutes (if you cut your pork into multiple pieces you’ll get more crispy, browned bits). If desired, flip to brown all sides (even the ends). Once browned turn the setting to low and add your pineapple juice and water. Cover and cook for 7-8 hours or until pork is tender and falling apart. Serve with barbeque sauce. OR For a stronger barbeque flavor, drain the juice after the pork is done cooking and add 1.5-2 cups of barbeque sauce. Let cook for another hour and taste.

Note: I found that though the pork was fairly tender after 8 hours in my slow cooker, I could’ve left it even longer (though I left mine in one piece from the beginning).

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Remove from the slow cooker and shred. If desired, pour some of the juices over the pork or discard. Serve with your favorite barbeque sauce.

I paired mine with homemade gluten free cornbread found here (made with bacon grease) and low FODMAP barbeque sauce (although the pork is so good by itself you don’t need any sauce!)

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Our upstairs neighbor brought us over some beautiful tomatoes from her community garden plot and we threw those in with our salad.

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Yum! This was a delicious and low FODMAP meal, though the tomatoes might have been a little too acidic for me in the end. If this is the case for you, the pulled pork is totally delicious on its own without any sauces.

Bon appetit!