Category Archives: Pies and Tarts

Roasted Strawberry Lemon Meringue Tartlets

Tart 2I recently attended a food photography workshop at The Urban Element. The class was taught by two very gifted Montreal food photographers, Ariel Tarr and Valeria Bismar. Together they run The Illuminated Table.

I have been experiencing blogging fatigue, struggling with what to write about and feeling like I’m stuck in a rut with my photography and food styling. The opportunity to attend this workshop came at the perfect time. It was great to connect with other like-minded food obsessed women.

I came away feeling inspired to step away from my comfort zone and change my camera angle. (I rely too heavily on the top down shot) Watching Ariel and Valeria maximize the available natural light galvanized me to abandon my artificial lights and set up next to the window.Tart 1jpgPartially eatenI also left with some great new food blogs and Instagram accounts to follow. Food blogger Katie was there at the suggestion of her mom. Wish my kids listened to my suggestions!! Denine, a photographer and teacher of photography at Algonquin College was there to pick up a few tips about food photography. Food blogger and cooking show host Eva,  and cooking teacher and blogger Maria were both looking to hone their photography and food styling skills.

The workshop was mostly hands on, with lots of opportunity to practice the new skills we were taught. In the afternoon session we had the chance to style and shoot a gorgeous lemon meringue tart. With local strawberries just coming into season, I was inspired to create a  strawberry lemon meringue tart. The genius idea of roasting the strawberries, to intensify their natural sweetness and juiciness comes from this Bon Appetit recipe.Roasting StrawberriesYou could of course make one large tart, but I have mini tart pans and I love to use them any opportunity I get.dough fot tartsTart ShellsTime to build the tartlets. A tart lemon filling is topped with sweet and juicy roasted strawberries. I filled my tarts with a lemon cream, but I strongly suggest you fill yours with a lemon curd. The recipe that follows has detailed instructions on how to make a lemon curd. A curd is much more stable than a cream and as a result, the tarts will not get soggy within a few hours. putting strawberries on tartsI put the meringue in a piping bag fitted with a star tip and greatly amused myself making different designs. You could also just spoon it on, but then you won’t have as much fun. To brown the meringue I used a kitchen torch, because it’s so satisfying and just a bit dangerous to play with fire. (I know, I live on the edge!) If you don’t have one, a minute or two under the broiler will achieve the same result.tarts on wooden board 1Tart with black background 1

Click here to print recipe for Roasted Strawberry and Lemon Meringue Tarts.

3 tarts

Tomato, Corn and Two Cheese Tart

tarts 625 sqWhen the farmers market stands begin to overflow with corn and tomatoes, I add them to everything I make. Lightly dressed arugula gets topped with sautéed corn and tomatoes and garnished with some buttery diced avocado. Peaches and Cream Corn and Blondkopfchen mini tomatoes weave their way into fritattas and onto tortilla chips gussied up as a salsa. Tiny tomatoes bursting with sweet acidity mingle with basil and plump sweet corn kernels. Tossed with some hot penne pasta and chunks of creamy buffalo mozzarella, it makes for a very happy summertime dinner.

I know that for many folks, biting into a freshly boiled, buttered and salted ear is a summer ritual eagerly anticipated all winter long. When all those sweet little kernels explode in your mouth, it’s bliss for them. But I am among the, mostly silent, minority who do not like to eat corn straight off the cob. It gets stuck in my teeth and I just want to run for the floss. Yes, very un-Canadian/American of me, I know. But I am ok with that. I am perfectly comfortable being mocked when I cut my corn off the cob.market freshWith my abundance of corn, tomatoes and scallions, I decided to make a tart.  Chef Christine Cushing’s buttermilk pastry, studded with fresh thyme makes a perfect base.pastry mise en placeRolling out the dough between 2 large sheets of parchment paper is a foolproof way of handling pastry.rolling between parchment paperLine the pastry with some parchment paper and fill with pie weights to blind bake the tarts. I buy dried chick peas that I reuse for this purpose only. This will give your pastry a head start so that your finished tarts do not have soggy bottoms.pie weights 2Delicious hot or at room temperature (they were even great reheated the next day) these little tarts are a very special way to celebrate the bounty of summer. Once everyone has a bite of these, you will be forgiven for cutting the corn off the cob.

Click here to print recipe for Tomato, Corn and Two Cheese Tart.

close up tart

 

Tears and Sap: Maple Pecan Brown Butter Tarts

9 tarts 2I very rarely cry, so when I found myself sobbing, twice in a span of less than a month, I had to take a step back and examine what exactly was going on here.

The first time I cried, I was halfway through the book  “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green.  I noticed a slow tricking of tears sliding down my cheeks. Within an hour, there was full on gushing. No question about it, I was sobbing. I went through a full box of Kleenex. For those not familiar with this book, I don’t want to give too much away in case you plan to read it. Let me just say that it is raw, genuine, alternately sad and funny and honestly all-out poignantly heartbreaking.

The book falls under the category of “YA (young adult) Literature.” At their core, YA books are for and about teenagers and pre-teens, usually between 12 and 18 years old. Full disclosure here, I am not in that age category. I will, however, admit that I am a sucker for this genre of writing. I have read the Harry Potter series (All seven books. TWICE!), the Twilight series (Team Jacob all the way!), and the Hunger Games series. The thing about these books is that good writing is good writing. If the characters are believable and the plot is compelling, its appeal will span a wide age range.

The second incidence of tears occurred this week, as I was binge watching “The Big C”, late at night when sleep eluded me. It was during the third episode of season 4 when again I noticed the quiet dribble of tears making their way, ever so slowly, down my cheeks. The main character, Cathy (brilliantly played by Laura Linney) has terminal melanoma. To ease the burden for her husband and son, she selflessly checks herself into a hospice to die. Her 17 year old son feels totally helpless and wants to do something for his mom. He sneaks into the hospice at 5:00 am and while his mom is deep in a morphine-drip induced slumber, he covers the ceiling above her bed in a huge collage of family pictures. When she wakes up and sees what he has done, it is all I can do to hold it together.

If my children are reading this,  you now know what to do with those thousands of pictures I tortured you by taking as you were growing up.

As I thought about my tears, specifically how they began as a leisurely crawl and progressed to a full on waterfall, I couldn’t help but make the maple syrup analogy. (Even in my deepest sorrow, food is not far from my thoughts. I must have a well developed right cerebral cortex!) When maple trees are tapped for their sap, the initial flow is just a mere dribble. As the weather warms up, the flow increases.

Our friend, Harold, who lives close to our cottage has a sugar bush. Every spring he gives us a 2 litre jug of maple syrup. Last summer I baked some raspberry tarts for him. He asked me if I had ever made maple tarts. He said they are just like butter tarts, but instead of corn syrup to sweeten them, you use maple syrup.

Butter tarts are the quintessential Canadian treat. Sadly, my experience with butter tarts does not come from a tattered recipe handed down from generation to generation. For me, butter tarts will always be associated with the summers I worked as a counsellor at an overnight camp. On our day off, my friends and I would hitch hike from camp into the nearby town of Haliburton Ontario. When I think about some of the rides we accepted, climbing into the back of pick up trucks with strange men, I shudder. But, in our defence, we were young and the part of our brain that deals in common sense was not yet fully formed.

When we arrived in town our first stop was the laundromat. Then, while our clothes were spinning, we shopped at Foodland, for a picnic lunch and treats to keep us fed until our next day off, as camp food was less than stellar. We would park ourselves on the beach by the lake and eat our feast. We always finished with a huge box of butter tarts. They were tooth achingly sweet but we craved that sugar rush. The main source of sugar came from high fructose corn syrup. We had no idea what an evil thing it was in those days.

So when Harold told me that you could substitute maple syrup for the corn syrup, I felt my insides do a little flip! Could it possibly be true? He brought me a recipe and I tucked it away, vowing to try them as soon as the sap began running again in the spring. It just seemed wrong to make maple tarts in the summer. Well, I am thrilled to report to you that, yes, maple tarts are real, and they’re spectacular!4 tarts square 625I fiddled a little bit with Harold’s recipe and added some whole-wheat flour. I like the earthy depth of flavour that it contributes. I also browned the butter in the filling. Browned butter has an intense aroma and nutty flavour that really complements the maple syrup in the filling. These tarts are undeniably sweet, but the flavour profile is layered, with the molasses in the brown sugar contributing an assertive acidic sweetness, while the maple syrup adds a deep, caramelized toasty sweetness. There is a touch of cider vinegar and salt in the filling, to help balance all the sweetness. ingredientsThe dough comes together fairly quickly. No food processor is needed. I used Michael Smith’s dough recipe. His method involves grating frozen butter into the flour and then using your hands to gently knead it.grating butter 

cutting rounds of dough

muffin tin lined with doughI added toasted chopped pecans and raisins to mine, but feel free to leave them out if you like.raisins and pecansraisins and pecans in tart shellsWhen you brown the butter for the filling, stay by the stove and watch closely. It can turn from brown to black in the blink of an eye. Transfer it to a measuring cup when it reaches the perfect shade of brown. This will stop the cooking process instantly. It will smell nutty and toasty. brown butterResist the urge to sample as soon as they come out of the oven. Let them cool completely before you try to remove them from the muffin pan.baked tartstarts on parchment paper

Click here to print recipe for Maple Pecan Brown Butter Tarts.

broken in half 4

Traditions and a Brown Butter Apple Tart

two tarts 2 625 sqTraditions. All families have them. Those little rituals passed down from generation to generation that help shape your family by creating a sense of interconnectedness, you know, that warm fuzzy feeling that makes you appreciate being a part of this clan. Traditions can help create memories that fill your mind with laughter, love and joy. Hopefully your family has multiple positive traditions and not too many of the negative ones, that sadly get passed from generation to generation, like the ancient family recipe for guilt and passive-aggressive bullying!

Almost every summer my siblings, their spouses and kids and my mom descend upon us at the cottage for the Labour Day weekend. About eight years ago my youngest sister and brother and I were swimming in the lake and the next thing we knew, we had swum from our cottage to a little island in the middle of our lake, and back again, about a 2 kilometer swim. No one can really remember how the decision to swim this little marathon came about, but we have repeated the swim every summer since then. Lest you think we are elite athletes or something like that, let me assure you we swim the entire way with head-up breaststroke. None of us likes putting our heads in the water. So we talk and laugh, and cough the entire way there and back. My husband insists I wear a waist belt that has a little swimmers safety flag attached to it so that boats can see me and not run me over. He loves me dearly, I guess!the swimmersOver the years, various other family members have joined us and in 2009, my then 9 year old niece did the swim for her very first time! She is part mermaid. Last year my brother’s new wife joined us for the first time and we almost had to boot her out of the club when she started doing a proper crawl stroke and actually got her head wet. This summer she is 7 months pregnant, so we excused her. My brother made up some baseball hamstring injury excuse so he did not join us either. My 14 year old nephew completed the swim for the first time this summer and we were all very thrilled about that.

I have one brother-in-law that is known for his competitive nature. The first year he joined us for the swim, he was upset that my sister and I were swimming faster than he was. He claimed that it was his swim trunks that were slowing him down. Apparently they were not very aerodynamic as they kept filling up with water. Being the keen competitor he is, he removed the swim trunks, and swam commando. We made him promise to never do that again! Every third year, my cousin Lewis joins us, and he has come to treasure this new tradition, as well as the Double Coconut Granola and yogurt breakfast that awaits him when he is done. In addition to my little safety flag, we always have a canoe alongside us just in case someone gets too tired. This year my brother-in-law Guy got coerced into the role of spotter.

Regular readers of this blog may already know that my drink of choice in the summer is a cold glass of Prosecco. While I have no problem drinking alone, (I find my own company very amusing!), cracking open a bottle and sharing it with my sisters is even more enjoyable and has become a tradition that we have all come to love. However, this past weekend we only drank one bottle of Prosecco. We discovered a new wine that we all fell in love with. My siblings and mom brought me a case of assorted wines as a little thank you gift.bottle and glassWe all became smitten with a California wine by Ironstone called “Obsession.”. Made from the Symphony grape (a hybrid of the muscat and grenache gris grape), this wine was luscious. My brother-in-law chilled it in the freezer an hour before we served it. It has floral and citrus notes, with peach and pear overtones. It is clean and balanced with a crisp and slightly acidic finish, which saves the wine from being too cloyingly sweet. It is the perfect aperitif wine. A new tradition has been born!

I decided to test a new Rosh Hashanah recipe over the weekend since I had my niece Kailey here with me. Although she is only 12, she is an extremely gifted baker. She did all the baking and I shot the pictures. We made a brown butter apple tart, a take on the traditional Rosh Hashanah Apple Cake. Browned butter is one of those magical culinary techniques that makes everything taste  and smell better.

kneadingrolling dough

lining tart panlining pie shellThe custard filling is enhanced with vanilla bean and brown butter. It doesn’t get much better than that.  Topped with thinly sliced apple rings, this tart is sure to become a new Rosh Hashanah or fall tradition at your house.apples 2

placing applesbrown butter fillingNot only did my niece bake the tarts, she also helped wash the dishes!washing dishesicing sugar

Click here to print recipe for Brown Butter Apple Tart.

a slice

 

The Scent of Nostalgia and a Very Full Tart.

baked 625 sqAt this time of year, the scent of pencil shavings takes me right back to my childhood. I can close my eyes and clearly picture standing in the basement storage room where my mom had bolted the hand crank pencil sharpener to the shelf.hand crank pencil sharpener 2I would stand there for a good 45 minutes using great care to put a perfect point on each and every one of my 48 pack of Laurentian Coloured Pencils. (Or you may remember them as Pencil Crayons.) Did you know that the little white oval on each pencil was there so you could write your name on the pencils? I had no idea until this week!Pencil crayons 2Sometimes our friends would come over to use it because most kids in our neighbourhood only had the little hand sharpener. We were a very modern household. There was always a scurry to see which one of my sisters would get to go first. No one wanted to be last, because that meant you had to empty the pencil shavings. Inevitably, the shavings would spill on the floor and then our mom would yell at us to clean it up. Then there was the nasty blister you would develop on the webbing between your thumb and first finger, from gripping the handle on the sharpener for so long. So, all in all, a bittersweet memory I guess!laurentien package 2My personal favourite colours were #3 Poppy Red and # 7 Peacock Blue. #22 Sky Magenta also holds a very special place in my heart! I think this must be where OPI got the inspiration for naming their nail polish colours. I am too young to remember this, but apparently, the Laurentian company was taken to task for political incorrectness. In 1962 they changed the name of #14 from Natural Flesh to Blush Pink (Flesh comes in all sorts of colours!), and in 1966 #21, originally given the moniker Indian Red, was reborn as Chestnut.

Of all our senses, smell seems to have the strongest connection with emotional memories. Howard Eichenbaum, director of the Laboratory of Cognitive Neurobiology at Boston University explains this phenomenon,

“After a smell enters the nose, it travels through the cranial nerve through the olfactory bulb, which helps the brain process smells. The olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. As a member of the limbic system, the olfactory bulb can easily access the amygdala, which plays a role in emotional memories. Olfactory has a strong input into the amygdala, which process emotions. The kind of memories that it evokes are good and they are more powerful.”

Sadly, Laurentian Coloured Pencils are no longer available for sale. There are other brands on the market, but it’s just not the same. And, if you can believe it, the Crayola brand now comes pre-sharpened. Kids today have no idea how easy they have it!

Although it has been years since I was in school, late summer will always be associated with those beautiful pencil crayons. Now as an adult, I celebrate the early fall colours at the market with the plethora of rainbow coloured produce.

I knew exactly where to go to look for inspiration. I have had Yotam Ottolenghi’s beautiful vegetable cookbook, Plenty, sitting on my shelf for over a year now. My daughter and I leafed through it, trying to decide what to make. We earmarked over 15 recipes we wished we could eat right off the pages (the photos by Jonathan Lovekin are reason enough to buy the book!), and finally settled on his “Very Full Tart.”, a Mediterranean style quiche packed full with roasted vegetables, feta and ricotta.

I will warn you right now, that this tart is a labour of love. From start to finish, it took almost 4 hours. Now, much of this was unattended time, waiting for dough to chill and vegetables to roast, but this is not fast food. We chose sweet potatoes, cauliflower, zucchini and corn to fill our tart with.roasted veg 2Roasted red and yellow peppers make a fine addition as well.peeling peppersThe original recipe calls for 11 ounces of “pie crust dough”. You could of course buy a ready made pie crust, but I thought this stellar tart deserved something better. I had been wanting to try Cook’s Illustrated foolproof pie dough for a while now. The secret ingredient in this dough is vodka!vodka 2 Cook’s Illustrated explains, “Since water bonds with flour to form gluten, too much of it makes a crust tough. But rolling out dry dough is difficult. For a pie dough recipe that baked up tender and flaky and rolled out easily every time, we found a magic ingredient: vodka. Using vodka, which is just 60 percent water, gave us an easy-to-roll crust recipe with less gluten and no alcohol flavor, since the alcohol vaporizes in the oven.”

This dough was a dream to roll out. It was supple and rolled out beautifully. The recipe makes enough for 2 tarts, so freeze one to use another day.tart pan ready for pie weightstart pan with weights

assembling 1assembling 2Ricotta, feta, cherry tomatoes, fresh thyme and some egg and cream finish off the tart.assembling 3assembling 4My daughter declared this the best dinner I have ever made for her. High praise indeed for a humble vegetable tart. It is possible that her effusive accolades were due in part to the fact that she just arrived home after living in a dorm for the past 6 weeks, working as an RA and TA. But I took a bite and damn if she wasn’t right. It was delicious!

A perfectly balanced tart, overflowing with caramelized goodness. The flaky buttery crust gives way to the creamy tangy filling, owing to feta, ricotta and cream and eggs. The extra time required to roast the vegetables adds a depth of flavour that makes it all worthwhile. I especially loved the little crunch from the roasted corn kernels and the sweet blistered cherry tomatoes that topped the tart.

Click here to print recipe for A Very Full Tart.

Click here to print recipe for Cook’s Illustrated Pie Dough with Vodka.baked 2