Monday, May 28, 2012

Lime Tartlets

I am a cake person, plain and simple. If given a choice, I would choose cake (especially if it is carrot, hummingbird, or red velvet) over about any other dessert. I love the texture of cake, the different flavors of icing that can be paired with it, and how it can even be eaten for breakfast on your birthday or special occasions. I appreciate that cake is associated with weddings (I actually did a whole research paper on the evolution of wedding cakes and their cultural values) and birthdays, can be made in all different sizes and shapes, and is so fun to make. This cake is what Jerry and I devoured after we got engaged and Rainbow Chip takes me back to many birthday parties.
But, to each his own. Jerry’s favorite dessert is key lime pie (although there is definitely some overlap, red velvet cake is a shared love). Key lime pie is a dessert that his grandma makes for him, the first dessert that we ate together (if I am not mistaken, although we didn’t feed each other or anything romantic like that), and it is what he had on a trip to the Florida Keys, made with fresh, local key limes. For Jerry, I will eat pie instead of cake. I figured that after over two and a half years of being together, it was time that I make him key lime pie. I put a spin on his favorite treat using ingredients that I had on hand and surprised him with it. I basically looked at a lot of recipes and then just improvised.


These last several years, my interest in baking and all things food related has intensified and I have made a lot of desserts. But, after trying one of these lime tartlets Jerry remarked that it is one of the best things I have ever made him. This comment really touched me. Needless to say, I was on Cloud 9 for the rest of the night. So, this post is for Jerry as he enjoys the rest of his tartlets and I try to find other ways to show him I love him as well as he shows me.
Let them eat pie! Enjoy!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Crème de la Crème

I am no expert in the French language. In fact, the pronunciations for this beautiful language totally elude me. However, I do know this one phrase, “Crème de la crème”. Literally translated it means “cream of the cream” but it less literally means “best of the best”. To me, the phrase sounds foreign and sophisticated, so every once in a while I might try to throw it into conversation. However, Saturday I made a dessert that truly embodied this phrase, it was the best of the best and one of the best desserts I have ever made.

Friday, I went strawberry picking for the first time with Jerry and his grandparents. I know, I know, why hadn’t I been before? I really don’t know but I am glad that I had the chance to the other day. It was an experience that left me with red, strawberry-stained hands, a full belly, and a further appreciation for where my food comes from.


Strawberries still on the vine

Ingram’s Strawberry Farm is a family-owned farm in High Point, North Carolina. You can pick your own strawberries (which is actually a bit cheaper) or buy already picked berries. They also have goats, cows, chickens, and honey bees. Visitors can see where hens lay their eggs and the inner workings of a beehive. The farm workers here are extremely friendly and seem to love what they do. Another plus, if you pick your own you can eat while you work.


Unfortunately, we went right after a rainy period and many of the strawberries were starting to rot on the vine. But, there were still plenty of plump, red strawberries waiting to be picked from rows marked with yellow flags (to let people know where to pick). We each filled up a full bucket with the sweet, red berries. Each one was juicy and my mom later said that it tasted as if they had been soaked in sugar. The natural sweetness of the warm berries fresh from the vine made them addicting and I couldn’t stop eating them! It gave a new meaning to local for me. It wasn’t just fruit that I bought from a farmer at the farmer’s market but it was farm to mouth, berries with dirt on them and we picked the “best of the best”. There was no packaging, pesticides, or shipping but pure delicious simplicity.

There was a tractor with an attached trailer that would take you to the rows to be picked and then back to the barn. A small family-run kitchen with strawberry-inspired and other fresh desserts, like cobbler and homemade ice cream. The cobbler was enough to entice anyone waiting to pay for strawberries to the eatery and outdoor dining area. Preserves and honey produced onsite were also for sale and looked nearly as good. It was refreshing to see honey without a label on the jar because it was just honey, from bees on the farm, and preserves with a small label just large enough to fit the several ingredients, not one of which is high fructose corn syrup, that it is made from.


Me picking strawberries

When we got home, I had a lot of very ripe strawberries. I thought that I could somehow incorporate them into a dessert but I have already made a freeform strawberry tart this season and from this experience I decided no pie crust for me (besides, pie isn’t my favorite). But, I have been wanting to make crème brûlée for a while. So, I thought, “Aha, crème brûlée with strawberries and fresh mint!” I just knew that it would be equally creamy and fresh. (The mint would come from my mom’s herb garden.) Shockingly, I don’t have a blow torch but I found several recipes that said that the broiler would do the same sugar crystallization . I tried a recipe from The Kitchn because I always like their recipes and they didn’t let me down this time either.

I had deeper ramekins so the recipe made three larger desserts. I had to watch the top of the dessert like a hawk . The broiler didn’t cook the tops very evenly and it was necessary to rotate the ramekins every minute or two. I think if I made this with any regularity I would invest in a blow torch; for the time being, probably not. I served them after only letting them sit for 5 minutes because I like a warm custard underneath. The top caramelized better than I thought and it was perfectly crisp when my spoon broke through the top. If you are feeling slightly ambitious, try this recipe and you won’t be disappointed.

Vanilla Almond Crème Brûlée

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract


  • 1/3 cup fine white sugar

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Whisk together egg yolks, then add the confectioner’s sugar and a pinch of salt and stir. Add the heavy cream and whisk until it becomes a light yellow. Pour mixture through a sieve into another bowl to strain out the lumps. Add the extracts and stir. Use a ladle to portion into 4 to 6 ramekins. Place ramekins into a baking dish and place in preheated oven. Pour 3 cups of boiling water into the pan, surrounding ramekins. Cooking times for the custard will vary depending on the size and depth of the ramekins. For shallower ramekins, the custard will take only about 30 minutes to cook but 50 minutes for those in deeper ramekins. (The custard should be wobbly but not liquid in the center when it is done. It will set up in the fridge.) Take ramekins out of pan. Allow to cool at room temperature for 5 minutes and then put in the refrigerator.

Only 40 minutes (at most) before you are ready to serve, take custards out of the refrigerator. Lightly dab the tops with a paper towel to remove the condensation. Sprinkle the tops with an even, light layer of sugar so the tops will brown evenly. Place in the oven (right on the rack, not in a baking dish) and turn on broiler. Rotate every one or two minutes to ensure that the top caramelizes and does not burn. Allow to broil for about 5 minutes. To serve, let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes and eat slightly warm or put in the refrigerator for no more than 30 minutes (to ensure that the top remains crunchy). Optional: top with fresh berries and mint.


Vanilla almond crème brûlée with fresh strawberries and mint



Friday, May 11, 2012

Black Velvet, Flaming Cheese, and Sweden

First of all, exams have not turned my brain to mush. However, I must gloat a bit to let you know that I am finished with my exam and big paper. This naturally leads into my excuse for not blogging in a while, finals. So, with my newly liberated brain I thought I would share with you some of the random things I have eaten while out and about the last two weeks.

Last week, I went to one of the only restaurants/bakeries around Davidson that I still hadn’t tried yet (it was initially a long list, but I get around). Black Velvet Patisserie is nestled in downtown Mooresville and is a quaint storefront. However, the glass case contains a wide variety of French and other baked goods. They have everything from several varieties of cake pops to handmade truffles to croissants. However, the dessert that called out to me was the “Lemon Brioche Doughnut”. Generally doughnuts aren’t my favorite thing, I like a lemon filled Krispy Kreme doughnut maybe once a year but it isn’t something I crave. This was not just a doughnut. For starters, it was baked. Then, the dusting of powdered sugar added to the divinity of the creampuff look-alike with a pale yellow filling and airy shell.


This is what the doughnut looked like after I had already taken a bite. Oops!

At first, I wasn’t sure to eat it with my hands like a regular doughnut or to take a more refined approach with a fork. The fork worked well, although the cream oozed out the sides (don’t worry I didn’t waste it). The filling was light and lemony, tasting like summer. The shell had lemon zest in it and was barely sweet to compliment the filling. It was definitely a good choice and reasonably priced at a just a little bit over $2 while the mini version was $1.50. This is definitely a place I would pay another visit!

The other night I went to Acropolis, a restaurant in Cornelius with Greek, Italian, and American dishes. Some people might be skeptical about the quality of the Greek food but I can attest that it is some of the best I have had (although I haven’t actually tried food in Greece). I decided to err away from my usual falafel with tons of tzatziki sauce on top. Instead, I tried a Greek salad made of cucumbers, pepperoncini, kalamata olives, cucumbers, and feta with a drizzle of olive oil. But, I couldn’t just eat a small salad so I also ordered this cheese appetizer under the Greek section (I only eat Greek when I go here because it is my favorite kind of food in the whole wide world).  It was called Saganaki which is Kasseri cheese pan-seared. This looked delicious when I spotted it approaching the table but then our waiter stopped, lit the plate of cheese and threw some alcohol on top to feed the fire, finishing the flaming spectacle with a squeeze of lemon. It was truly magical! I had expected some gooey cheese and pita to come to the table but was exhilarated when a performance came with the gooey cheese and pita. Needless to say, it was wonderful. You should definitely split this app the next time you go to a Greek restaurant. Here is a video of someone making this cheese dish.

My last random musing takes us to Sweden, or at least a big blue store that hails from that land and makes everyone want to live in Sweden because of how awesome it is. You guessed it, IKEA! This is one of those places that you should go if you haven’t and if you have then you are probably a fan. At least this is true in my experience. When I went the other day I signed up for a free IKEA card nut I didn’t find out its perks until we were eating lunch. I noticed that with the card customers can get a free tea or coffee every time they visit the store. Also, when you sign up for it you get a coupon for a free frozen yogurt. Tea and frozen yogurt, IKEA you have my business! After we had shopped, Jerry and I needed something for a snack. I wanted to use the coupon and virtually everyone that I had seen in the parking lot earlier was eating a cone of frozen yogurt, making me want some desperately, so frozen yogurt was on my brain. Jerry was after quantity in his snack, that full plate of meatballs and potatoes at lunch just wasn’t enough evidently. By the time we were done with our snack, the two of us had consumed three hotdogs, a cone of frozen yogurt, and a famous cinnamon roll. Just a snack, no big deal. And, we thought it was really funny that all of this together cost $2.50. I especially loved the high tables, modern hanging lamps, and pictures of Sweden in the eating area. The cinnamon roll was one that I had heard a lot about. It is truly hard to resist them based on smell alone. The food is positioned so that when you are checking out the cinnamon-y aroma bombards you, in a good way. Jerry and I split the cinnamon roll and we were pretty pleased by it. It was very warm, which is the first thing that I always notice and a good start. For a mass-produced cinnamon roll it was very good, however I would have liked a gooey-er filling and more icing. Overall, it was good but I probably like the lovely aroma of cinnamon and dough even better.

cinnamon bun