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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Vegetable Galette & Mixed Berry Tart

Here in the Pacific Northwest, people love to hike. With plenty of beautiful hiking trails within a reasonable distance, from the Cascade mountains to the east of Seattle and the Olympics to the west, it is easy to see why. When I was a kid my family used to take a lot of camping vacations. We packed our gingersnaps (for carsickness, Mom told us), our tents, and our sleeping bags, and hit the road to camp, hike, and cook on a propane stove. I have many fond memories from our camping trips, like Dad’s rules of camping and the invention of our fake band, Faulty Gravity, but I also remember the hard parts: washing dishes in a basin in the woods when dish-washing at home was already a chore, walking to the bathroom at night with a flashlight, and sleeping on a slowly-deflating mattress with your two sisters as you slowly sank down to the cold, hard earth.

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We did some hiking while we camped and most likely did lots of complaining along the way, as kids often do. In fact it seemed like a long time before exercise became enjoyable to me. My days in Boston taking buses, walking from the bus, or biking to work taught me to appreciate my legs’ ability to carry me a farther distance than I believed. Now I run when I want to, walk because I enjoy it, and hike knowing I can come home and sleep in my own bed, on a real mattress.

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Me walking across a rickety bridge over a bubbling stream

This weekend my friend, Zack, invited me for a hike out near Skykomish. We wore our warmest, water-wicking clothes (and packed extra just in case) and drove out into the foggy mountains of Washington. The hike was beautiful. I felt nothing but a sense of appreciation for the present. I felt calm. I felt in awe of the beauty of nature surrounding me.

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Look closely at the pattern etched in this piece of bark – apparently it’s made by a certain kind of ants!

Along the trail Zack shared his forest knowledge, pointing out various trees, plants, and blackberry leaves, which he informed me grew like a weed in the forest. We shared a snack on the trail of soft Brie and bread, but on the drive home we found ourselves hungry and talking about all the delicious things we wanted to eat. While most food sounded good during our discussion, I found myself inspired by the emerald-green trees and the blackberry leaves to make a meal worthy of such natural wonder.

With the cold drizzle of a typical Seattle day I wanted something both wintery-warm and light, consisting primarily of plant-foods to reflect the day’s hike. I settled on a vegetable galette, very loosely adapted from this one by Melissa Clark. I made half as much dough for a less heavy meal and added sauteed rainbow chard and mushrooms for more veggies. I roasted sweet potatoes to use instead of the pumpkin, but then ended up leaving them out of the galette to keep as a side dish instead.

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The results were not as beautiful as the hike, but satisfying and delicious all the same. And after reading this great article, In Praise of Ugly Food, I hardly cared that it wasn’t the picture of food porn perfection.

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Of course, the blackberry leaves also had me craving a berry tart to follow my veggie pie. Despite the fact that berries aren’t exactly in season, I decided to make my dreamed-up tart, and why not?  When berries are in season hardly anyone wants to run the oven to bake a pie anyway. Winter was perfect pie-baking time.

So I made myself a triple berry pie with fresh blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries and it was delicious.

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Triple Berry Tart

Crust:

1.25 cups all purpose flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1 T. sugar

1/2 stick of unsalted butter, cold

3 T. shortening, chilled

3-4 T. ice water

Filling

4 cups mixed berries*, rinsed and shaken of access water

1/3 cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

the zest of one lemon

In a medium bowl measure out the 1.25 cups of flour, salt, and tablespoon of sugar. Stir to mix. Cut your butter into chunks and stir into flour to coat, along with the shortening. Using a pastry cutter or breaking up with your fingers, blend the butter and shortening into the flour until the pieces are pea-sized. Drizzle in water, starting with 2 tablespoons and gently stir to moisten the flour. Add more water until your dough can come together into a ball. Don’t overdo it! Flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for an hour.

When your dough is chilled, mix together your berries, flour, sugar and lemon zest. It helps to rub the zest into the flour or sugar so that it doesn’t clump. On a floured surface, gently roll out your dough to an even thickness, about 1/4 inch. Aim for a circle, but as a tart this doesn’t have to be a perfect circle. Carefully transfer to a parchment-lined sheet pan. Top with the berry mixture and fold the excess over the top to help contain the berry juices once it starts cooking.

Bake at 375 F for 45 minutes or until the crust is golden and the fruit is bubbling. For best results, let cool before slicing to allow the filling to gel somewhat.

*I used 6 oz. of blueberries, 6 oz. of blackberries and 9 oz. of raspberries.

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When you take a bite, think of the blackberries that grow wild in the forest, blanketing the ground with their dark, bumpy fruits.

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