Archive for January, 2010

My stepson G arrived yesterday for a visit.  His arrival, and the yummy shrimp tacos S was making for his “welcome to Portland” dinner, inspired me to bake the Bittersweet Chocolate Tart on the 101 Cookbooks blog.

The recipe also gave me an excuse to break out one of my collection of tart pans,

experiment with my new camera lens and play with creating some black and white images.

The tart turned out well even though I decided to make it at the last minute and had to rush a few things.

First, my butter was frozen.  Not a good place to start when the recipe called for butter at room temperature.  Ever resourceful, I searched for suggestions for quickly thawing butter and found this site.  I quickly cut the butter into thin strips and by the time I was done it was soft enough to begin making the crust.

My other shortcut did not work as well.  The recipe tells you to chill the prepared dough for at least an hour before rolling it out.  I decided that 30 minutes in the freezer would be enough. Probably not a good idea.  The dough was very soft and required a lot of patching to get it evenly in the pan.

In the end, it baked up satisfactorily, but there was some slumping and unevenness that I think I could have avoided with more time in the refrigerator.

Luckily, none of this mattered in the end.  The bittersweet chocolate filling (I used Scharffen Berger 70% cacao), sprinkled lightly with flakes of sea salt, is so rich and flavorful that the slumped and slightly irregular crust didn’t matter.

So, next time you have at least 2 hours before dinner, give this recipe a try.  Everyone will love you for it!

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I am not the kind of person who makes New Year’s resolutions; instead I hope I can live up to my ideals every day without making a formal commitment to them.

One commitment I have been able to stick to since coming to Portland is to patronize local businesses whenever possible.  I will admit to an occasional stop at a national retailer (Whole Foods comes to mind) or a traditional mall, but most of my shopping is done at locally owned groceries (New Seasons and the Portland Farmers Market get most of my food dollars), bookstores (Powell’s and Annie Bloom’s Books are my two current local favorites) and knitting stores (Knit Purl, Northwest Wools and Twisted are a few of the places I like here).

In addition to these places, I have really enjoyed exploring the many eclectic Portland shops that feature local products or handmade goods.  One store that I have fallen in love with is The Meadow on North Mississippi Avenue.

This tiny (really tiny) shop features all kinds of wonderful treats for eaters and cooks.  The first thing you might notice when you arrive (if you can focus on any one thing) are the floor to ceiling shelves packed with salts (and a few select other spices).

Once inside you will find a similar set of shelves stocked with chocolate from around the world,

a table crowded with local flowers ready to be arranged in one of the perfect vases displayed behind the counter, a small but carefully chosen collection of wines and a selection of local and imported bitters, perfect for augmenting that fancy cocktail or flavoring your San Pellegrino.

If you are in the mood for something more permanent, maybe a salt or pepper mill will fill the bill.

Places like this make shopping locally easy and fun.

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Toasted, spiced nuts

Happy New Year!  Our New Year’s Eve celebration involved a small gathering of neighbors at my brother and sister-in-law’s home.  We served dinner and drank lots of champagne.

My contributions to the meal (along with a large tossed salad) were two kinds of toasted nuts:  Pecans with brown sugar and smoked paprika and Pistachios with maple sugar and black pepper.

They were a hit so I thought I’d share the recipes.

Toasted pistachios with maple sugar and black pepper

1 egg white

2 teaspoons water

3 cups raw, shelled pistachios

1 tablespoon Real Salt

1 tablespoon maple sugar

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

a little oil for coating the baking pan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix the egg white with the water in a small bowl and whisk with a fork until it is a bit frothy.  Toss the nuts in a large bowl with the egg white mixture and the salt, maple sugar and black pepper.  Make sure to fully coat all of the nuts with the spice mixture.  Spread the nuts evenly on a lightly oiled, rimmed baking pan and bake, shaking the pan occasionally, for 20 minutes.  Make sure the nuts come to room temperature before tasting them as they crisp as they cool.

For the Toasted pecans with brown sugar and smoked paprika, I used three cups raw pecan halves, 1 egg white, 2 teaspoons water, 1 tablespoon Real Salt, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika and followed the same instructions as for the pistachios with one exception: the pecans only need to bake for 15 minutes.  They also need to cool before they are ready to taste.


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