Monday, April 15, 2013

Fruit Tart without a Tart Pan

Spring is finally here, and we've been enjoying the sun and warmth so much that this poor blog has been neglected! Also, this happened:

But that's another post.

For now, here is a fruit tart, made without a tart pan:

All I did for the crust was make a basic pastry crust recipe, roll it out into a big circle, and pinched up the edges to form a rim. Refrigerate, poke all over with a fork, and bake on a cookie sheet! It's not quite as pretty as a lovely scalloped tart, but it's every bit as good. This is our second one in two weeks - the first I tried making in a pie pan, and it was a disaster!

While I can't recommend the pastry cream recipe I used from Joy of Baking (it was sooo lumpy, I had to strain it through a tea towel before it was edible), everything else was easy! I think a regular vanilla pudding or even yogurt would be delicious in its place.

Tart Crust (approximate measurements):
1/2 cup butter
3 Tbsp raw sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
2-3 Tbsp half and half
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

In a mixer or large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, then mix in egg and half-and-half. Slowly add flour until a firm (but not dry) dough is formed. The texture should resemble cookie dough rather than pie dough. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate if too soft, then roll out onto a greased cookie sheet in a large circle. Use a bowl as a guide to trim edges, then use the trimmings to build up a shallow rim on the outer edge of the circle. Refrigerate this while preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Just before baking, poke all over with a fork to keep large bubbles from forming. Bake for about 20 minutes or until edges are golden.

Cool slightly, then spread simple chocolate ganache  (bar of dark chocolate melted with about a tablespoon of half and half) all over inside of crust to seal. Put in the fridge to cool completely, then add pastry cream (or other filling) on top of ganache. Top with fresh fruit, and glaze with melted fruit preserves to make it shiny and seal any fruit slices.

I used some home-made strawberry jam on the red and blue fruits (you can see some seeds on the blueberries), and home-made orange marmalade on the yellow fruits. Neither affected the flavor of the fruit, but on its second day in the fridge, the fruit still looks very fresh. I neglected to glaze my first tart, and the fruit looked a bit sad and withered by the second day. 

Also, the dark chocolate ganache inside the crust is an idea stolen from our local Fresh Market. We bought a fruit tart from them a few months back and it had a lovely layer of chocolate under the cream. Not only was it delicious, but the chocolate does double-duty by sealing your crust and keeping the filling and liquid from the fruit from making it soggy. I did try the egg white sealing method on our first tart, and while it seemed to work, it wasn't nearly this good. 

That's it! It's a very simple but impressive dessert, and quite handy if you suddenly find yourself with several cartons of fresh berries and 10 ripe mangoes that you bought on sale and need to use quickly (not that I've ever done that...). I'm thrilled by the fact that this didn't require any special equipment or pans - our minimalist kitchen lives on!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Pad Thai

This is one of those recipes that breaks all the rules in our house. It's higher in sodium than I like, uses not one but two! soy products, and no matter how many things I chop up, it always seems to be pretty light on vegetables. However, it is absolutely delicious and still far less expensive (and likely much healthier) than going out for our favorite Pad Thai.

In my world of probably-completely-inauthentic ethnic cooking, Pad Thai is rice noodles stir-fried with veggies, protein, a tamarind-based sauce, and specific toppings. I get my ingredients from a local Asian market, but I've seen most of these in places like Whole Foods and even Target from time to time. While making your own sauce isn't that difficult, this can be a very easy dish if you just use a jar of sauce from the store, and Zabrina has had good luck with some!

In my Pad Thai, I always include:

Rice Noodles (medium size), half the pack for 2 people
Chicken (pre-cooked is fine, and shrimp is lovely as well)
Tofu (I use the savory baked tofu from Trader Joe's), sliced
Eggs, 2-3
Carrots, 2-3 medium ones sliced into ribbons with a veggie peeler
Onions, half a medium-sized one sliced thin
Mushrooms, about a cup sliced
Garlic, 1-2 cloves
Fresh ginger, about as much as your garlic. I cheat and use my garlic press for both of these!
Olive oil
Sesame oil - just a dash added to the olive oil in your pan does wonders!

(Bean sprouts, yellow bell peppers (but not green or red), broccoli, and green beans are all nice additions, but I don't make this often enough to really experiment. Let me know if any other vegetables worked for you!)

For the toppings, you want fresh cilantro, lime, chopped unsalted peanuts. Cilantro is the only one that's truly necessary, but the lime and chopped peanuts really add something special to this dish!

 Soak your rice noodles in hot water (or whatever the directions on your brand say) while you add the carrots and onions in the garlic, ginger, olive oil, and sesame oil to a large skillet or wok. When they're just beginning to soften, add mushrooms and any other veggies. Cook for long enough to heat them through and distribute the flavor, then push them to the outsides of the pan to create an open space in the middle. Sear your tofu pieces on each side, then push to the edges. Crack eggs into the center and scramble to cook. Add cooked chicken or raw shrimp at this point (if chicken is raw, cook first before carrots and onions), and toss with other ingredients to warm and distribute flavors. Once chicken is hot (or shrimp is cooked), add drained softened rice noodles, toss, then cover in sauce. Turn off the heat and allow to sit for a few minutes, tossing occasionally to continue to distribute sauce. Add chopped cilantro, peanuts, and lime. Serve hot and feel free to add sriracha at the table!

 As I said before, you can make this a delicious, easy dish by just buying a sauce, and there are several great gluten-free options out there. If you want to go all Alton Brown* over this, try this recipe:

1/4 cup Tamarind Paste
1 Tbsp Fish Sauce
1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sriracha hot sauce (add more if you like heat!)
1 Tbsp soy sauce (make sure yours is gluten-free! the one pictured here is not!)
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp raw sugar

Add all ingredients to a bowl or jar, and adjust the levels until it tastes right; different brands will have different salt/sugar/sour/nutty levels, so you're just trying to achieve that balance of all. If you're making this for anyone going gluten-free, the only ingredient you need to worry about is your soy sauce. My husband and I are not, so do not use our brand!

*If you want to go super-authentic, I recommend watching the Good Eats episode on Pad Thai. It was the basis for creating my recipe here, but I took it more into the Pei Wei direction for us.