Cook in the Moment: Apricot Frangipane Tart

Apricot Frangipane Tart (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

My favorite part of a meal shared with friends is that magical moment when the dinner plates have been cleared and the table is littered with empty wine bottles and wrinkled cloth napkins. It’s time for dessert! The husband makes a round of coffees and I dig up a bottle of brandy or maybe a tawny port. The tone of conversation at the table changes as we run out of chit chat. It shifts to talk of dreams, worries, and  plans for the future. We listen and share. Time seems to slow down. Though we’re all tired and full, none of us wants the night to end. I grab a stack of dessert plates and everyone gets a slice of Apricot Frangipane Tart. The room is quiet as we savor this sweet end to the meal. It’s a cakey tart with a baked almond batter and a buttery crust. The apricots are a surprise, hidden under the deep-brown caramelized surface. Discovered upon first bite, the tart and juicy fruit is a delight, a reminder that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

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10 Ways Tuesday: Apricot

Caramelized Apricots with Cardamom (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

I’ve got creative recipes for cooking with apricots during summer:

1.  Caramelized Apricots

A few seconds under the broiler results in luscious, juicy apricots- unbelievably good! Cut apricots in half and remove the pits, then place on a baking sheet, cut sides up. Sprinkle with sugar and ground cardamom, then place under the broiler for a couple of minutes, just until the tops are caramelized. Brush the cooked apricots with a jam glaze (heat apricot jam in a saucepan for a minute until liquified). Serve the warm and juicy apricots as a summer dessert with whipped cream or crème fraîche or enjoy the apricots for breakfast with Greek yogurt and toasted nuts.

2.  Apricot Preserves

Rachel Saunders, author of The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, writes, “Nothing quite matches the buttery flavor of a really perfect fresh apricot, and apricots make some of the most delectable preserves.” She includes a recipe for Royal Blenheim Apricot Jam, which uses as little sugar as possible to allow the apricot’s extraordinarily sumptuous flavor to shine. The kernels are removed from a few of the apricot pits and tossed into the jam, infusing it with a hint of almond. She also shares recipes for Apricot-Rose Jam and Apricot-Orange Marmalade.

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Ingredient of the Week: Apricot

Colorado Apricots (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

An apricot is not a peach. You won’t be overwhelmed by heady fragrance of an apricot from several feet away. You won’t find your face covered in sticky juice after taking a bite into an apricot’s velvety flesh. If peaches are the blockbuster movie of summer, apricots are the surprise hit indie film at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s quite possible you’ve never tasted a truly ripe apricot. This stone fruit must be allowed to ripen on the tree and quickly picked before it drops to the ground. Ripe apricots do not travel well. Their delicate, velvety flesh bruises easily and quickly begins to deteriorate once picked. The cold supermarket produce isle is an inhospitable place for such a fragile fruit. If you’re looking for sunset-colored apricots with tender, juicy flesh and honeyed, musky flavor, you’ve got to go to the farmer. Road-side stands and farmer’s markets are the place to find apricots worth eating (as opposed to those tasteless, juiceless specimens at the grocery store).

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Cook in the Moment: Summer Lettuce Wraps with Quinoa, Avocado, Mushrooms and Tahini Sauce

Summer Lettuce Wrap with Quinoa, Avocado, Mushrooms and Tahini Sauce (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

Summer is here, and I am strangely pensive regarding her arrival this year. Maybe it’s because this is the summer I turn 30 years of age? Maybe it’s because I have a feeling this will be my last summer living in Colorado? Maybe it’s because I’m headed to the place where I was born to visit my family, who I only see once a year- if that. Most years I allow summer to pass me by without truly engaging in the season. I’m more of an autumn person, reveling in sweaters and fallen leaves. Somehow, this year is different. It seems I’m slowing down a bit, not pushing so hard. A lot of time in my 20′s has been devoted to running an exhausting race, seeking to please everyone around me and trying to measure up to a definition of success that I don’t really believe in. I’m looking forward to my 30th birthday. I don’t expect anything to change overnight, more like a gradual personal growth that’s been in the works for some time now.

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10 Ways Tuesday: Avocado

Avocado on Toast with Scrambled Eggs, Basil, and Radishes (c)2012 LaDomestique.com
1.  Avocados Love Breakfast

Avocados get on great with all things breakfast. One of my favorite healthy morning meals is toasted whole-grain bread topped with thinly sliced avocado, scrambled eggs, basil and shaved radish. A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil provides the finishing touch. You could change things up with smoked salmon and crème fraîche or maybe use a fried egg and tomatoes instead. Sliced fresh chile is also a good friend of the avocado.

2.  Avocado Quesadillas

David Tanis shares his recipe for Avocado Quesadillas, a quick, last-minute appetizer, in A Platter of Figs. Ripe but firm avocados are thinly sliced and laid upon a flour tortilla, topped with mozzarella slices. What makes takes this recipe from simple to spectacular is David Tanis’ Onion Relish spooned over the quesadilla before adding the top tortilla. A mixture of finely diced sweet onions, minced jalapeño, cilantro, and epazote leaves. According to Herbs & Spices, the pungent Mexican herb, epazote, was a mainstay of Mayan cooking. The intensely flavored epazote is a combination of flavors: citrus notes, bitterness, and funk. Find epazote in Latino groceries. Serve Avocado Quesadillas with beer as an appetizer. They also make a nice lunch for one.

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Ingredient of the Week: Avocado

Avocado (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

This week at la Domestique we welcome summer by opening up the summer pantry. It’s officially hot outside, and we’re soaking up the sunshine by the pool. Most nights, dinner is cooked on the patio grill. The farmer’s market is our playground, and each week brings new finds- like the first cherries of the season! We’re craving lighter fare, looking for nourishing meals to give us fuel for bike rides and ballgames. Hearty salads and chilled soups are just the thing for days when temperatures soar into the 90′s.

The first ingredient of our summer pantry is the avocado. Full of nutrients like vitamin E, potassium, and monounsaturated fat, avocados make lighter meals more satisfying. Native to Central America, this pear-shaped tree fruit has a soft, buttery flesh when ripe, and rich, nutty flavor. A tough, dark, leathery skin surrounds the flesh, which ranges from pale yellow to green in color and holds a large brown seed. A diverse variety of avocados can be found, all originating from three strains: Mexican, Guatemalan, and West Indian. Hass avocados are the most popular here in the United States, and they grow year-round, peaking in the summer. Fuerte avocados are available in the U.S. during autumn. California is the largest U.S. producer of avocados, but the fruit is also grown in various areas across the world, including: Florida, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Hawaii, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Portugal, Spain, Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia, and New Zealand. Avocados require a warm climate and will not tolerate frost.

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Cook in the Moment: Strawberry Tart

Strawberry Tart (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

You may remember my resolution to celebrate each seasonal fruit this year with a tart? It all started in April with a recipe for Meyer Lemon Curd Tart. The purpose of the tart project is to slow my pace of life a bit, to savor each brief season and the tender fruits that mark the passage of time. This week I celebrate the early days of summer with a fresh strawberry tart. With practice, making pastry dough has become a comforting ritual, rather than a daunting task. However, my first attempt at pastry cream was a failure. Of course I can’t follow one single recipe, so the plan was to make Elisabeth Prueitt’s Pastry Cream from the Tartine cookbook and Martha Stewart’s Cream Cheese Tart Dough from her Baking Handbook.

I chalk the failure up to fear. Elisabeth Prueitt’s instructions for making pastry cream were easy enough to follow, but full of warnings and consequences (get the pastry cream too hot and the eggs will curdle, over whisk and the thick cream will break down into a watery mess, burn the milk at the bottom of the pan and you must start over). The fear made me timid, and baking at altitude is not for the timorous. The method for making pastry cream involves heating milk and sugar on the stovetop, then carefully stirring it into egg yolks with cornstarch. The mixture goes back on the stovetop for just a couple of minutes of constant whisking, until thickened. Lastly, cubes of butter are carefully beaten in (to avoid breaking the mixture) and the pastry cream goes into the fridge to chill. After whisking the eggs and milk on the stovetop for much longer than the recipe instructed, my pastry cream refused to thicken. I threw out the watery mess, took a deep breath, and resolved to begin again. In the big picture all that I lost was a few eggs, some milk, and my time.

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10 Ways Tuesday: Strawberries

Strawberries from the farmer's market (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

I’ve got creative recipes for cooking with strawberries during spring:

1.  Strawberries and Cream

It was Jonathan Lovekin’s photograph in Ripe that caught my attention- smashed red berries stirred into a bowl of thick, devonshire cream. Juicy, luscious strawberries bled pink through the cream, staining the white tablecloth. I wanted to grab a spoonful and shove it into my mouth, not caring if I took too much and cream dribbled down my chin. This powerful photograph paired with Nigel Slater’s simple suggestion of a recipe was all I needed: “Pick the smallest, ripest berries you can lay your hands on, crimson through to their little hearts. Put them in a bowl and crush them with a fork. Mellow the flavor with a drip of balsamic vinegar. Stir in the merest dribble of golden cream. Fiddle no further.”

2.  Strawberry Tart

If a bowl of strawberries and cream is the purest, most perfect way to enjoy the first berry of the season, a strawberry tart is the most celebratory. A tender, crumbly crust filled with rich, vanilla-flecked pastry cream and studded with fresh, ruby-red strawberries commands the room’s attention when perched atop a cake stand at the table. Over at Food & Wine Elisabeth Pruett of Tartine Bakery shares a Strawberry Tart recipe made with a whipped cream as a filling or you can try Betsy Benardaud’s classic Strawberry Tart with pastry cream filling.

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Ingredient of the Week: Strawberries

Strawberries from the Farmer's Market (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

On a warm and sunny Saturday morning I walked through the crowded Boulder Farmer’s Market, past the artisan bread stand with the cute Italian guys, past the goat cheese maker’s tent, past mounds of vegetables piled high. As it should be, I caught whiff of the alluring fragrance before I saw them: strawberries! Members of the rose family, ripe strawberries have a sweet, floral aroma that cannot be ignored. These tiny, ruby red gems look puny next to mass-produced strawberries from the grocery store, but their flavor and juiciness is unbeatable. In The River Cottage Cookbook, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall writes:

The best strawberries you will taste are the ones you pick and eat straight from the plant on a warm day, when they are fully ripe and the flavor-giving molecules are still buzzing with the heat of the sun.

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Cook in the Moment: Tarragon Potato Salad with Smoked Salmon & Lemon Vinaigrette

Tarragon Potato Salad with Smoked Salmon and Lemon Vinaigrette (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

I’m having a Nordic moment in the kitchen, inspired by the Scandinavian sensibility for fresh, brightly-flavored, seasonal ingredients- prepared simply. The food is light but nourishing, intended to stimulate the senses and energize the body. During springtime, I can’t wait to be outside, riding my bike with the husband, feeling a cool breeze on my skin. Walking little Minnie, our dachshund, is a pleasure, as she bounds through the green grass, ears flopping up and down. Summer will arrive soon, with oppressive heat and blazing sun, draining my body of the energy to cook and depleting my appetite. For now, I revel in spring- the pleasantly sunny days alternating with dramatic thunderstorms, the thrill of tender lettuces and just-harvested asparagus spears- tending to my happy little herb garden and enjoying the subtlety of the season.

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