Monday, August 31, 2009

Tomato and corn salad with basil


I had big plans for you guys today, I really did. I was going to tell you about a cake, and also about a book - a book about cakes. And about my dad's birthday, which was where the whole cake idea started. But I got home, and it was [some insane number] of degrees outside and just the thought of talking about cake made me stick my head into a refrigerator for a good, long while.


So instead, I made you a salad. I know, it's not really a substitute for chocolate and whipped cream, but if there was an equivalent of chocolate and whipped cream in the vegetable world, this would be it. Despite the heat, I can feel summer waning, and this salad is just the right transition to carry us over into the next season. There is so much summer goodness in here - ripe tomatoes, at the peak of their season, sweet corn, cool, smooth avocado, a touch of red onions for the bit of bite and a good sprinkling of basil. And yet, instead of longing for summer to come back, it made me anticipate fall and the goodness that will come with the harvest.


Tomato and corn salad with basil
(serves 2)
2 large, ripe tomatoes
1 avocado
2 ears of corn, cooked
1/4 red onion (or more, to taste)
a handful of basil
basil & olive oil

Cut the tomatoes into thinnish wedges and arrange on a platter. De-seed the avocado and slice it so that the pieces are not too large, but there's still a bite to it. Cut the kernels off the corn, break them up a little and scatter over the tomatoes and avocado. Slice the red onion thinly and also scatter over the salad. I like to chiffonade my basil, but you can chop it roughly or even leave the leaves whole. Sprinkle salt over the salad and dress with your favorite vinaigrette or a dash of olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar.

Continued after the jump...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Look, Ma, I gots technology!

Just a very quick note to tell you all that I'm now firmly in the 21st century and Confessions of a Tart has a Facebook page and a Twitter account (I know, I can't believe it either)! Search for "Confessions of a Tart" on Facebook and "TartConfessions" on Twitter.

So come on, don't be shy - let's be friends! You know, where you can actually talk back to me and not just in the comments. :)

I'll be back with a new recipe on Sunday, and whoa baby, you guys are gonna love it! I'll just say that it involves cake, chocolate, whipped cream and brandied cherries. You may now drool.

Continued after the jump...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Penne with shrimp, salmon, asparagus and sundried tomatoes

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Friends, I think I'm getting old. Yes, laugh all you want, but turning 30 did something to me, messed with some brain cells maybe, I don't know. Even when all the synapses are firing, it feels like the receptacles took a lunch break and then a coffee break and then went to happy hour for some carne asado and margaritas.

We had a dinner party this weekend. Nothing fancy, just good friends, good food, lots of wine and laughing until 2am. In other words, my favorite kind of party. One of the girls is lactose intolerant, so when I was brainstorming dairy-free main courses, I just knew that I had to make this pasta. It's something that I came up with on the fly a few months ago, but the deliciousness is insane. My favorite part is how the textures and flavors play off of each other, how the asparagus is crunchy and garlicky, the shrimp are succulent and juicy and the salmon (marinated in a little mayo and spicy sauce) is so soft and flaky with just an aftertaste of heat, that you don't even need anything other than a dash of good olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh basil to pull it all together. I mean, this is a winner, a dish to be brought out again and again.

But back to my misfiring synapses. So the night before the party, I went food shopping to the brand spanking new Trader Joe's that opened up right near my house. I was being really good, following my list and not stopping at the aisles with the colorful boxes that promised me easy spanakopita or mushroom turnovers. I was getting down to the last few items on my list, the very bottom, and then... then I walked by the wine aisle. Do I even need to tell you what happened next? I walked out with five bottles of wine, and when I got home and unloaded my bags, and I looked at my list, every item was crossed off except the one in the biggest letters. PASTA.

Ugh. Ok, I thought, I'll just get it tomorrow when I drive by the supermarket to raid their fantastic olive bar. All the way to the store, I chanted "pasta" in my head... And then I walked by the wine aisle again, and there was new rose from Provence, and out of the two items I had to get at the supermarket (1. olives, 2. PASTA), the olives and the rose made it home. Laughing histerically, A. ran back to the store to get the box of pasta. The moral of the story? Once you turn 30, your brain becomes more interested in wine than in pasta. That's a fact.

Penne with shrimp, salmon, asparagus and sundried tomatoes
Prep time: about half an hour
(serves about 8)
1 box (16 oz) penne pasta
1 lb shrimp
1 lb salmon (I used 2 fillets, 8 oz each)
1 bunch asparagus
1 cup chopped sundried tomatoes (I use the kind packed in olive oil)
4 cloves garlic
a large handful of fresh basil, chopped roughly
1/3 cup chicken stock or white wine
olive oil
salt & pepper, thyme or whatever else you like
fresh Parmesan for topping

For salmon marinade:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp soy sauce
a few dashes of any kind of hot sauce (Tabasco, Worcestershire, etc.)

Marinate the salmon at least 2 hrs before cooking (or overnight): combine mayo, mustard, soy sauce and hot sauce in a small, shallow container. Wash and pat dry the salmon and rub the marinade all over the fish. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hrs to overnight.

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box, but subtract about 2 minutes from the cooking time. You want the pasta to be a little undercooked, so not quite al dente. Drain the pasta and return to the pot.

Meanwhile, prepare your other ingredients: de-vein and peel the shrimp; wash the asparagus, dry it well, chop off the tough white ends and chop the stalks into about 2 inch pieces; chop the sundried tomatoes, if the pieces are too large to eat comfortably.

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pan (I like to use olive oil infused with either garlic or some herbs). Add the shrimp and cook for a few minutes until pink on all sides. Season with salt and pepper and add, along with the skillet oil, to the pasta.

Now, you should take the salmon out of the refrigerator. Preheat the oven, set a rack in the top third of the oven, take the salmon out of the marinade and broil it for about 10 minutes or until cooked through.

While the salmon is cooking, add another few tablespoons of olive oil to the same pan in which you cooked the shrimp. Crush all 4 garlic cloves into the skillet, stir for about 30 seconds and then add the asparagus. Here, it's really important not to overcook it (no one likes mushy asparagus), so I set my timer for 2 minutes exactly. Stirring often, cook the asparagus in olive oil and garlic for 2 minutes and add to the pot with the pasta and shrimp.

Return the pan to the heat, lower the heat a little, add the stock or wine to the pan and deglaze with a silicone spatula or a wooden spoon (when the stock/wine is added, it should sizzle a little and all the brown tasty bits will come loose under the gentle prodding of your spatula). Add the sundried tomatoes to the pan, heat for another minute, and pour the sauce into the pot with your other ingredients.

Set the pot over medium heat, throw in the chopped basil and stir everything for a few minutes until thoroughly heated through (this is why we undercooked the pasta, so it can finish cooking here and come out perfectly al dente). Season to taste. At this point, you can add a little more olive oil to help it come together. I like to add the olive oil that my sundried tomatoes were packed in to give it extra taste.

Your salmon should be pretty much ready just about now. Flake it gently with your fork into bite-sized pieces. Arrange the pasta on a platter and set the salmon on top. Serve immediately with fresh Parmesan, lots of garlic bread and wine.

Continued after the jump...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Summer Sundried Tomato Pesto

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I have a question for all of you who have your own blogs - how do you feel about other people using your material? I get many requests to use my photos or recipes on other people's blogs, and usually, I'm pretty ok with that as long as I'm asked and as long as there is proper attribution. But recently, I found a website that reposted a copy of my feed from Google Reader IN FULL. They did link to Confessions of a Tart and attributed the content to me, but still, they had reposted everything, from all of my posts. This website apparently has no original content - all they do is publish other people's material. And, to make matters worse, they had ads all over the website, so they are also profiting from other people's creativity.

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I got very, very angry. In fact, I think I had to take a few deep breaths to calm down before I did anything. Granted, I don't consider this blog a work of art or whatever, but it's my little corner of the world, my baby, even if I open it up for everyone to see. It's my words and my photos and sometimes, even my own recipes. It's something so very personal to me, and, having now been blogging for a year and a half, it's something that I'm pretty proud of.

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I wrote an email to the website from my personal email address and asked them nicely to take down my content. They agreed. Two months later, they still kept posting the full feeds from my blog. Grr. I took it to the next level and wrote them a more detailed and much less nice email from my business account - you know, the one that says in small but scary letters that I'm an Esq. and that I'm not afraid to kick some ass (in legal terms) should I feel the need to do so. After that, they finally complied with my request and removed my content.

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I guess this is going to happen (and I've already had to deal with this several times, so not the first and not the last), but what made me really sad was that I had to bring out the big guns for someone to do the right thing. Why did I have to take my time away from family, friends, work and this blog to write a two-page email, citing relevant law and threatening legal action, for someone to stop stealing my work for their own profit? I'm 30 years old, but the ways of the world still disappoint me sometimes.

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Meanwhile, I made you pesto. Delicious, delicious pesto. I made it by hand, and I cannot even tell you how much better it is that the food processor version. I mean, worlds, WORLDS apart. Universes, even! That's how good it was. No, really, that's how good it was. In fact, I think it was the best pesto I've ever had, so go and make this while basil is still fragrant and garlic is fresh and pink and you can sit on the patio with a glass of very crisp, very cold white wine and dip your bread into this explosion of bright green flavors and just focus on the beautiful things in life.

Summer Sundried Tomato Pesto
(serves 4 for dipping or mixing into pasta)

2 bunches basil
1 bunch parsley
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes
scant 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 - 1/2 cup olive oil (depending on how thick you want the pesto to be)
salt & pepper

There are two ways to make this - with a knife or with a mortar & pestle. Either way, crushing the basil and parsley is important because it really brings out the full flavor of the greens.

If using a mortar & pestle: Crush the garlic with about 1/4 tsp of salt and throw it into a large bowl. Then, very roughly chop the basil and parsley (some people use parsley stems, but I take them out) and crush, first the basil and then the parsley, rubbing the pestle against the sides of the mortar to bring out the flavor. You will know when you're doing well because the greens will look dark and bruised and the smell will be incredible. Sometimes, a small drizzle of olive oil helps get the process going. Add to the garlic in the big bowl.

Toast and crush the pine nuts and then chop the sundried tomatoes finely. Note: if using dry sundried tomatoes (as opposed to packed in oil), soak them in hot water for about 5 minutes first to make them nice and plump. Add to the bowl, throw in the parmesan, and mix with a fork, adding the olive oil in a thin, steady stream until you have achieved the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If not using a mortar & pestle: Roughly chop the garlic cloves. Sprinkle with about 1/4 tsp of salt and then crush with the back of a large knife until you have a paste. Throw the garlic past into a large bowl. Chop the basil and parsley finely. Then, put the chopped greens into a ziploc bag and gently hit them with the back of a large knife or the flatter side of a meat tenderizer until the greens darken in color and look bruised. I would do this one at a time (once for basil and once for parsley). Add to the large bowl with the garlic.

Toast and chop finely the pine nuts, then chop finely the sundried tomatoes. Note: if using dry sundried tomatoes (as opposed to packed in oil), soak them in hot water for about 5 minutes first to make them nice and plump. Add to the bowl, throw in the parmesan, and mix with a fork, adding the olive oil in a thin, steady stream until you have achieved the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy with some crusty bread and a crisp glass of white wine!

Continued after the jump...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Whole Wheat Pizza with Asparagus and Purple Potatoes

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What if I told you that you could make a decent pizza dough in less than half an hour? What if I told you that it would contain whole wheat flour and still retain that soft, bready quality that we all love about pizza? What if I told you that you could do all this from scratch and barely break a sweat while sipping on a glass of wine and nibbling on some cheese? You would laugh at me, right?

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And yet, such a thing does exist. I know, because I made it last night and it was delicious. You see, I've always wanted to make pizza at home, but when I come home at 7pm from a full day at work and A. is hovering around me hungrily, I just can't wait for two hours for the pizza dough to rise. I have a maximum of forty minutes to put dinner on the table before the natives start getting restless and for the sake of marital felicity, I try to keep within that time limit.

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This pizza has everything I really love about pizza - a thin, hearty crust that's sturdy enough to hold toppings and that has just the right bit of oven spring, a little bit of cheese that gets melty and toasted in the oven and fresh, flavorful toppings. Admittedly, this is not a gourmand's pizza, a pizza to compose sonnets about and to cherish as a secret recipe, but it's a "let's pop open a few beers after a hard day of work" pizza or "my boys just played two hours of soccer and are hungry" pizza, or really, just an easy and hassle-free meal that's versatile and very, very satisfying.

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Whole Wheat Pizza with Asparagus and Purple Potatoes

1 whole wheat pizza dough
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (or half mozzarella, half gruyere)
half a bunch of asparagus (7-8 stalks)
about a cup of sliced potatoes (parboiled for 5 minutes)
1 tbsp rosemary

Quick whole wheat pizza dough
from Andrea's Recipes
[Note: this makes a thinnish crust pizza. If you want a thicker crust pizza, you do have to let this rise for an hour, gently let the air out, then rest on the counter for 20 minutes before rolling out]

1 scant cup whole-wheat flour (I put 1 cup minus 1 teaspoon)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2-1/4 teaspoons instant yeast or 1 package quick-rising yeast
1 teaspoon salt (I used a little bit less)
½ teaspoon sugar
¾ cup hot water (approximately 115°F)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
coarse cornmeal, for sprinkling on the peel

In a large bowl, combine whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, yeast, salt and sugar, and whisk together. Combine hot water and oil in a measuring cup and pour slowly into the dry ingredients, stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a slightly shaggy, sticky ball. The dough will be soft and warm. If it seems dry, add 1-2 tbsp of warm water and if it's too sticky, add 1-2 tbsp of flour.

Turn out onto a lightly floured counter and form into a ball, then knead for about five minutes until the dough is becoming smooth and elastic (it won't be completely smooth and elastic, but that's ok). Coat a sheet of plastic wrap with spray oil or cooking spray and cover the dough with it. Let the dough rest for 10-20 minutes before rolling.

Meanwhile, prep all your toppings, preheat the oven and prepare a pizza stone. I use a baking sheet lined with parchment paper on top of which I sprinkle some cornmeal.

Uncover the dough and lightly flour your surface and rolling pin. Flatten the dough with your palm and roll it out to the shape of your stone or baking sheet, rotating a quarter turn after every few rolls. Mine rolled out to about 1/4 inch thickness for a standard baking sheet and made a thinner crust pizza (but not completely thin crust). If you want a very thin crust pizza, divide the dough in half and make two.

Transfer to the pizza stone or baking sheet, sprinkle with cheese and then the toppings of your choice and set it in hot oven. Bake the way you usually bake pizza.

*Now, I know that the prevailing wisdom in pizza is to bake it at 500F for 10 minutes, but whether it's my technique or my oven, this never works for me. So, to get the soft crust and the crisp bottom that I love, I bake at 400F for 15-20 minutes and it works out well. You should bake the pizza the way you usually bake it.

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Continued after the jump...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

White Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake

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There are three things I want to tell you about this cake: (1) I overbaked the genoise - don't do that; (2) the white chocolate mousse was AMAZING; and (3) next time, I'm going to ditch the raspberry mousse and pair the white chocolate part with a Meyer lemon mousse and some bittersweet chocolate shavings, and we will all, ALL, be much happier.

So this cake was pretty good, but what I really want to talk about is the white chocolate mousse. Let me tell you - I don't even like white chocolate. I only bought a chunk of Callebaut because it was on sale and because melted white chocolate mixed with a little food coloring is a great way to write on cakes (I hate that gel stuff that's sold in the supermarket, yuk!). So this big hunk o' chocolate sat in my refrigerator for a while, just staring at me, until I guiltily found something to do with it. And boy, did this mousse show me! It was rich, it was creamy, it was all that white chocolate can ever aspire to be. I am definitely making it again, and I'm already seeing visions of cold, delicate white chocolate sweetness paired with something bitter or tart - anything, really - Meyer lemon mousse, tart cherry cheesecake, dark chocolate... I've gained some respect for white chocolate and I'm going to find a worthier use for the other half of my stash than cake decoration.

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White Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake
This cake is made of 3 components - a basic genoise cake recipe, raspberry mousse and white chocolate mousse. I didn't like the raspberry mousse recipe I used, so I'm not going to give it to you, but the cake and the white chocolate mousse were damn good.

Basic Genoise Cake by Flo Braker
Makes 1 9-inch cake (I halved the recipe to make a thin layer of cake)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup sifted cake flour
*Framboise for brushing the cake layer

Position rack in lower third of oven; heat to 350°. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan; set aside.

Melt butter in small saucepan over low heat. Pour into small mixing bowl; set
nearby. Mix eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt in a large mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, whip egg mixture until it has tripled in volume, about 4 to 5 minutes.Fold flour into mixture, one third at a time, just until incorporated. Pour about 1 cup of batter into the melted butter, and fold just until combined. Return butter mixture to reserved batter, and again fold to combine.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Smooth batter evenly. Bake 20 to 22 minutes or
until top springs back slightly when lightly touched. Cool 10 minutes, then run a table knife blade around the outside edge of cake, freeing the sides and allowing air to get under the layer. Invert cake onto rack and allow to cool completely.

White Chocolae Mousse(Gourmet, April 1990)
*Note that this mousse consists of a batch of pastry cream (the first 6 ingredients), melted white chocolate and whipped cream. The pastry cream is meant to be divided in 2, half for the white chocolate mousse and half for the raspberry mousse. If you are only making the white chocolate mousse, halve the first 6 ingredients to make half a batch of pastry cream.

4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
9 ounces fine-quality white chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream

Make the pastry cream: In a bowl whisk together well the yolks, the sugar, and a pinch of salt, add the cornstarch, sifted, and whisk the mixture until it is just combined. Bring the milk almost to a boil, then slowly drible about 1/4 cup of the hot milk into the eggs, whisking to prevent the yolks from cooking. When the yolks are thus tempered, you can add them to the rest of the hot milk. Boil the mixture, whisking, for 1 minute, or until it is very thick and smooth. Strain the pastry cream through a fine sieve into a bowl, stir a few times to release the steam, and then stir in vanilla and the butter (one tbsp at a time). Press plastic wrap to the surface of the pastry cream and chill until it's cooled completely. Divide the pastry cream in half (if you have made a full batch). Set aside one half for the white chocolate mousse (about 1 cup) and reserve the other half.

Add in white chocolate and whipped cream: In a heat-proof bowl set over barely simmering water, melt the white chocolate, stirring occasionally, and let it cool to lukewarm. In a large bowl whisk together the white chocolate and the 1 cup of the pastry cream, until the mixture is combined well. In a bowl with an electric mixer beat the heavy cream until it holds soft peaks, whisk one fourth of it into the white chocolate mixture, and fold in the remaining whipped cream gently but thoroughly.

To assemble the cake: Line the sides of an oiled 9-inch springform pan (or a 9-inch cake ring) as smoothly as possible with pieces of plastic wrap (the plastic wrap prevents the filling from discoloring and makes unmolding the cake easier), letting the excess hang over the side.

If you've made the full recipe of the genoise, divide it in half. Fit one half on the bottom of your mold. Brush the cake with about 2 tablespoons of Framboise, and spread it evenly with the white chocolate mousse. If this is all you are making, cover the cake loosely with plastic and set in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

If you are using a second type of mousse (i.e., lemon or raspberry), let the white chocolate mousse set in the refrigerator for an hour before spreading the second mousse on top. If you are using the second half of the genoise, set the second layer either between the mousse layers or on top of the cake. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

Continued after the jump...