Cooking in the kitchen is a way to learn about culinary art and science. Recently, I have learned a few lessons through kitchen capers. This week I cleverly, I made a large batch of sweet potato gnocchi. Since I made them the day before I planned to serve them, I placed them on sheets of wax paper and dusted them with flour before placing them in the refrigerator. The extras went into the freezer for a future quick dinner. When it was time to boil the refrigerated gnocchi, I discovered that the dough had absorbed the flour in the time it waited. I had very messy blobs of sweet potato dough that had a penchant for sticking to everything they came in contact with. Lesson learned: if making gnocchi ahead of time, freeze them and then cook from a frozen state.
A few weeks ago, I threw together a batch of lemon curd to make these bird’s nest tartlets for my son’s woodland themed birthday party. Since I had a lot of things in process at once, I forgot to taste test the curd before filling and baking the tartlets. BIG MISTAKE. The tarts were on the sour tart side – not suitable for serving. Lesson learned: always taste while cooking.
This lemon tart recipe has been lovingly designed to give credit to the tartness of lemon with a sweetness that lets you savor every bite. Oh, and the cuteness factor has great potential if you arrange your berries just so or add some robin’s egg candies. You can find my recipe for homemade lemon curd here. Hope you enjoy! Share a picture in the comments of your recipe results.
Bird’s Nest Tartlets
Yields 15-20 Tarts
Zesty lemon curd nested in sweet shortbread crust and topped with blueberries to resemble birds' nests
1 cup whole wheat flour
⅓ cup all purpose flour
½ cup powdered sugar
10 Tb butter, softened*
1 cup homemade lemon curd
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Mix together the flours and powdered sugar. Slowly add in the butter while mixing. Use a pastry blender or a stand mixer fitted with a paddle. Blend until the dough forms together.
Form ping pong sized balls of dough. Press them into regular size silicone muffin liners bringing the outside crust sides about ¾ of the way up the side. A greased muffin tin or even mason jar lids will work, but I find that silicone liners are infinitely easier when it comes to clean tart removal. Prick the bottoms of the crusts with a fork. Bake the crusts alone for 15 minutes or until the crusts are firm on the outside and slightly puffed.
Spoon 1-2 TB of the filling into each tartlet, carefully spreading it evenly. Bake another 13-18 minutes until the cream on the outside is beginning to firm, but the center of the tart should still jiggle some. Allow the tart to cool. The cream will set more as it cools down.
Top with three blueberries in the center to look like bird eggs. Other topping options: fresh fruits, sifted powdered sugar, piped light icing, candies
*Dairy free & Soy Free option: replace the butter with a soy free vegan butter replacement. My favorite is Earth Balance soy free vegan buttery sticks. They use pea protein rather than soy.
Holiday traditions are a curious thing. Do you know how the Easter egg came to be associated with Easter? Early Christian Lenten practices were more strict. Abstaining from meat also included meat by-products. The Tuesday before Lent, Fat Tuesday, was a day that pantries were cleaned out of meat products. Chickens continued to lay eggs all of Lent. As Lenten is broken at Easter, there was an abundance of eggs from the chickens laying eggs that were not consumed during Lent. Thus, eggs were included in the food and fun of Easter celebrations.
This year the boys and I decorated Easter eggs using food products around the house and objects we collected from the yard. We wrapped eggs in old hosiery with random botanical objects picked in the yard. We boiled them in pots with onion skins and cabbage for color. Then we rested the wrapped eggs in the pots overnight. After 6 – 12 hours resting, the great unveiling of the eggs revealed beautifully colored eggs with surprise patterns from the objects they were wrapped with.
If you haven’t tried dying eggs this way before, I would recommend it. The eggs came out in lovely earth colors. The onions skins created sepia tones and the cabbage made nice stone blue hues. I put together a recipe to guide your experience based on our learnings.
Begin by boiling the coloring components in separate pots of water for 30-ish minutes to allow the color hues the deepen. While the pots are on, move on to getting eggs ready.
while pots of coloring water boil.
Gather rest of competent for wrapping eggs
Collect botanical tidbits from around the yard
– small flowers, twigs, dried grasses from last season, etc.
Cut the hosiery open to unwrap the eggs.
Fish wrapped eggs out of coloring pots.
Admire you work.
Dab egg with lightly oiled rag or paper towel.
Display your beautifully colored eggs!
Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs
Various components for coloring: cabbage, red and brown onion skins (turmeric, beets)
Apple cider vinegar or other highly acidic vinegar
Botanics for patterns or other objects for patterns
Cut hosiery into 3-5 inch length. Tie open ends leaving just one end open for inserting the eggs.
Place items to use as patterns against the egg. Slip a piece of cut hosiery around the egg ensuring a snug fit. Secure by tying the open end.
Place coloring components into stockpots with water just above what will cover an egg. Boil the water with coloring components for 30ish minutes. Allow the pots of colored water to cool.
Meanwhile, prepare the eggs.
When the pots of colored water have cooled, stir in ¼ cup of vinegar. Tuck the eggs into the pots around the cabbage and onion skins, ensuring each eggs is fully submerged.
Put the pots back onto high heat until they begin to boil. Reduce the heat to medium and boil for 10 minutes. Then turn the heat off, leaving the pots at their burners and covering. Allow the pots to cool. Once cool enough, place in the refrigerator for 6-12 hours.
After cooling the eggs in the refrigerator, fish them out with tongs and cut the hosiery away from each egg. Dab the eggs with a lightly oiled rag or paper towel.
The first flower sightings of spring are cause for celebration. This week we have been fortunate enough to have great weather to make trips to the part for the boys pleasant. On our walks we have spotted spring flowers in bloom. We stop every time to admire the simple beauty. These are a few of the blooms we have seen this week. Our flower sightings have been inspiration to our recent baking creations.
Spritz cookies were a staple of the holiday dessert table in my childhood. I remember varieties with red and green dye. Some with colored sugar, sprinkles, or those little red hot candies. Scandinavian cookies capitalize on the flavor aspects of butter, nuts, and spices. This flavor profile has been a source of interest and inspiration for my baking…perhaps this explains the ongoing obsession with shortbread cookies. Anyhow, I was thinking of ways to use up the batches of lemon curd I made recently and was inspired by the appearance of spring flowers.
Spring Flower Spritz Cookies & Lemon Curd
Yields 3 - 4 dozen
¼ tsp salt
2 ¼ cup all purpose flour
1 cup butter, softened at room temperature*
½ cup sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
Food coloring, sprinkles, decorative sugar
Preheat oven to 400F.
In a small bowl sift the flour and salt together. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add in the egg and vanilla extract. Add the dry mix in two parts allowing it to combine completely until dough forms together. Mix in food coloring if desired.
Press the dough into a cookie press fitted with the flower cookie plate. Press the cookies out onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 5 minutes until the cookies are set, but not browned yet.
Place 4-5 TB of lemon curd into a diy parchment paper cone, ziploc bag, or pastry bag. Pipe a small amount of lemon cream into the center of the cookie to complete the flower look. Place back in the oven for 2 additional minutes. Cool cookies on a cooling rack.
Keep the cookies in the refrigerator or freezer till serving.
*Dairy free & soy free: replace the butter with a soy free vegan option. My favorite is Earth Balance soy free vegan buttery sticks. They use pea protein in place of soy.
Growing up, pot pie night was usually a favorite meal among the siblings. My mother would prepare individual freezer pot pies for the family. The best part was the extra crust from the spare pie servings.
This crust is just as much a treat to eat. This tasty vegetarian take on a classic comfort eat is great in an olive oil pie crust recipe. Feel free to use your own favorite crust recipe or a pre made crust from a refrigerator section at the grocery.
Happy Pi Day!
12/11/16 UPDATE: Added a few newer photos that are better then the original post. Also wanted to add a quick note that I recently made this pot pie completely vegan. Use the original recipe’s called for mushrooms to make a mushroom sauce in place of the cream of mushroom.
2 Tbs. olive oil
8 ozs. mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs. flour
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 cup non dairy milk (We prefer Good Karma flax milk, they are nut and soy free)
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Heat oil in a large skillet with high sides. Toss in the mushrooms and saute for about 4 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and stir over heat for 1-2 minutes. Add the flour and stir to coat the ingredients and cook for 1 minute.
Slowly whisk in the broth and then milk. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Let cook on low till thickened. Stir in the nutritional yeast, salt and pepper just until incorporated. Remove the sauce from the heat and prepare the rest of the recipe replacing the cream of mushroom with this mushroom sauce.
Vegetable Pot Pie & Olive Oil Pie Crust
Creamy mushroom based vegetable pot pie nestled in a savory olive oil pie crust. This wholesome pot pie is sure to satisfy comfort food cravings.
2 Tb butter
¼ cup all purpose flour
1 can 14.5 oz vegetable broth
¼ cup milk
2 Tb butter
1 yellow onion, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
1 potato diced (about 2 cups)
1 Lb mushrooms, sliced or chopped
2 cups peas, frozen
salt, pepper, fennel seed, thyme
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 9in pie crusts (my favorite is an olive oil version, refrigerated crust saves time)
Olive Oil Pie Crust
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
½ cup olive oil
½ cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 F. Sprinkle flour in a 2.5 quart round baking dish and set aside.
Begin by making a roux. Melt the butter in a large skillet or saute pan. Whisk the flour into the butter to form a paste. Slowly add in the broth, whisking constantly to keep lumps from forming. After all broth has been added to pan, cook while continuously stirring for about 3 minutes. The goal is for the roux to lose the flour taste, but don’t cook it too long as it will lose its power as a thickening agent. Then whisk in the milk. Remove the roux from the heat and set aside in a bowl.
Put skillet back on stove and melt 2 Tb butter in pan. Add onions, carrots and potato to pan cooking about 2 minutes, until onions are translucent. Stir in the mushrooms and peas. Add the seasonings to taste. Cook until the mushrooms have let off water and the vegetables tender, about 6 minutes.
Take out roux that was set aside earlier and pour into the skillet. Stir in the can of cream of mushroom soup. Stir to thoroughly combine the ingredients in the skillet, over the heat. Keep the mixture simmering over the heat until the desired thickness and textures are achieved. (I keep mine on while preparing the pan with the bottom crust, stirring often.)
Place one 9in pie crust in the center of the prepared baking dish. Press the crust into place and pour the contents of the skillet into the bottom crust. Cover with the second pie crust, tucking the crust under the bottom crust and pressing to ensure a good seam forms. Use a knife or kitchen scissors to cut slits in top of pie dough. Create an egg wash in a small bowl, by whisking the egg until well blended. whisk in about 2 Tb water. Brush the egg wash over the top pie crust. Place the baking dish on a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes in the preheated oven. Remove when crust is browning and pie contents are bubbling. Allow to cool 10 minutes before serving.
To Make Olive Oil Pie Crust:Mix together the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Put the olive oil and milk in a measuring pitcher; do not mix. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour the liquid contents from the pitcher into your mixing bowl of dry ingredients. Mix together until a ball of dough forms. The dough should be stick together well. If too dry, slowly add in more milk - 1 Tb at a time. If dough is shaggy, knead in more flour - 1 tsp at a time.
For a single crust pie, coat 2.5 quart round baking dish with cooking oil. Bake the same as double crust pie.
Can substitute vegetable oil in place of olive oil. See the vegan version note below. I prefer to use the milk as the rolls out better. The milk tends to keep the crust from crumbling when rolling out.
Vegan: To make the crust vegan use water instead of milk and ¾ tsp more salt.
Yesterday was littlest’s birthday. I cannot believe we are already celebrating his first birthday. The first year with baby is tough. Celebrating a child’s first birthday is more a celebration for the parents having made it through.
Each baby is different. Littlest is our second child. Having my first son, I learned an incredible amount from being a first time parent. A first child has the remarkable ability to turn a new parent’s life upside down. With littlest, I feel like the greatest thing I learned this last year is to enjoy the present. This time around, I have felt more focused on being present in each stage of development. I have come to believe that grace is something of elastic. The more present an individual is, the more grace is able to amplify. Before I go further down this philosophical path, I will change gears to tell you more about these cupcakes.
My littlest man is lucky as he has two cousins within weeks of his age. A couple of weekends ago we celebrated littlest’s 1st birthday early while family was in town. I did not have much time for recipe development so I pulled a go-to vanilla cupcake recipe for the party. They were tasty. I liked the rich vanilla and butter taste, but the cakes turned out denser than I hoped for. I had already had aspirations to try avocado cupcakes as I have heard how tender they are.
Before you say, “Jess, that is crazy. I am not putting avocado in my cake. It belong on my toast or in my guac.”- hear me out. Banana bread is tasty and moist, right. Avocado will make a similarly tender cake. To push the cake into a light and fluffy state, I had a few tricks up my sleeve.
In this recipe, the avocado replaces the butter. Vegetable oil and baking soda are added for further leavening. They also create a moist, airiness in the cakes. This recipe is intended to make 12 regular sized cupcakes. Adjust the recipe for party size.
These cupcakes are awesome with a homemade vanilla buttercream frosting. It was my first attempt at piping frosting so please excuse the slight messiness. The good news I can share with you is you don’t need fancy cake decorating bags to frost cupcake. Just a homemade parchment paper cone will suffice. Next time I will cut a slightly larger opening for piping cupcake frosting.
Vanilla Avocado Cupcakes
Yields 12 Cupcakes
⅔ granulated sugar
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup milk
1 ½ cup flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 350F. Cream the sugar into the avocado by hand or using a stand mixer. Mix in the vegetable oil, vanilla extract, milk, and eggs. Blend until smooth.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Slowly add the dry mix into the wet mix. Only mix until the dry ingredients are incorporated.
Spoon the mix into baking cups. The recipe should make 12 cupcakes. Bake for 22 minutes.
Pizza is an essential standby meal in our home. One of the nice things about homemade pizza, is that it can be a canvas for whatever toppings are preferred. It is a versatile dish. Another great thing about pizza is that it can be assembled with the help of little ones. My boys love helping in the kitchen. The oldest, in particular, is very proud of his cooking efforts. Though, it has not proved an effective solution for the toddler finicky eating habits.
This recipe makes two pies at a time. I usually prepare both and then freeze one for later. A homemade freezer pizza is such a treat on busy nights.
From Scratch Pizza
4 cups flour (I use half whole wheat, half white)
1 Tb granulated sugar
2 tsp salt
1 packet of instant dry yeast
1 ⅓ cup water, warm
¼ cup olive oil (or vegetable oil)
4 Tb unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp garlic salt
16 oz of sauce
4 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 ½ cup choice toppings, vegetables and/or meat
Mix together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon. Stir in the oil and water. Once it forms a soft ball of dough, knead the dough in the bowl. It should become smooth and formed after about 2 minutes of kneading. Let the dough rest for a half hour.
After the resting period, divide the dough into two balls. Each ball of dough will fit a 9-12 inch round pie pan. Roll the dough out into rounds and bunch the outer edges into crust edges.
Melt the butter in a small bowl. Stir in the garlic salt. Brush the crusts with the melted butter mixture. Before the adding the toppings, prebake the crusts. Preheat the oven to 425F. Bake the crusts for about 8 minutes, just until dry on the surface.
Top with your toppings of choice. I usually saute my vegetables in a skillet with olive oil until they are just about tender.
Eating Now: If eating immediately, bake at 425F for 10 - 15 minutes until cheese is melted and crust is golden.
Freezing for Later: If freezing for later, set pizza on a cooling rack to allow crust to cool completely. Prepare the pizza for freezing by wrapping in plastic wrap and then a layer of aluminum foil. Mark the wrapped pizza before placing it in the freezer.
To prepare frozen pizza: Preheat oven to 450F. Place frozen pizza on baking sheet or reuse the aluminum foil it is wrapped in. Bake the pie for 15 - 25 minutes, until the crust browns and the cheese is bubbly.