Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Blog-iversary!

3 years of LadyConcierge! I have to give mad props to everyone at for their support and Michelle at Je Mange la Ville for being my inspiration.

And now, strawberry shortcake! Seems like it's a popular topic right now. We're right in the middle of California strawberry season and waiting eagerly for the Oregon berries to arrive. Our strawberry plants are taking over the side yard, and boy are we glad!

This recipe comes from the guys at The Bitten Word, who try out the best recipes from the food magazines each month. This one comes from Everyday Food, May 2009 issue. The original recipe was for rhubarb instead of strawberries.

What I like about this recipe is the shortcake is the biscuit-scone type and not the foamy cake type. Brian disagrees, but will suffer through it somehow. He tried to get me to buy some angel food cake at the grocery store yesterday, but I would have none of it. I love the flaky texture of these shortcakes. I halved the recipe since it was just us two, and I sprinkled turbinado sugar over the tops.

Macerating strawberries in balsamic is one of my favorite preparations for the sweet little gems. Alas, our balsamic was gone! So I used a splash of cherry brandy instead. Not the same flavor, but a nummy one just the same. Next time I will make sure to have balsamic on hand.

Balsamic Brown Sugar Strawberries
The Bitten Word

1 pint strawberries
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon dark or light brown sugar, depending on your preference

Cap and quarter strawberries and place in a large bowl. Mix with balsamic and sugar. Cover and refrigerate, two hours to overnight. If the strawberries are not sweet enough for your tastes, add more brown sugar.

Everyday Food (May 2009)

Prep: 25 minutes
Total: 55 minutes, plus cooling

Serves 8

* 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for work surface
* 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
* 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
* 1 cup whole milk
* 1 cup heavy cream


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a food processor, combine flour, butter, baking powder, salt, and 1/3 cup sugar and process until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add milk and pulse just until moistened, 4 to 5 times.

2. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. With floured hands, gently pat into a 4-by-8-inch rectangle. Cut dough into 8 squares and transfer to a baking sheet; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake until golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Let biscuits cool on baking sheet.

3. In a large bowl, beat cream until soft peaks form. Add 2 tablespoons sugar and beat until soft peaks return. To serve, split biscuits with a serrated knife; sandwich with rhubarb compote (or strawberries!) and whipped cream.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Toro Bravo

It is seriously sad that we don't head here more often, when it is a mere 6 blocks from home. And we've only been once, I think. We walked down last night just after 5 and snagged seats at the counter.

We started with drinks - Borio (?) for him (a tequila cocktail) and a Sage Seville for me (like a gin mojito with sage instead of mint). Tasty and balanced for both.

We started with the Singing Pig salad which featured grilled asparagus, chopped egg and hazelnuts, and the sherry chicken liver mousse. Both were big portions for the price. We were expecting maybe a votive of chicken liver mousse, but it was a very generous cup. Served with quartered ciabatta bread slices and crispy baguette. The salad was served in a mixing bowl with salad tongs. I tossed it around a little and served us up a big scoop each and still had enough left in the bowl for seconds. I love egg in salad so this was a winner for me. It was very lightly dressed in a mild vinaigrette.

Next we ordered the oxtail croquettes and drunken pork with fresh shell bean stew. I thought the oxtail croquettes were a ripoff for $14. Three, two-inch croquettes? Oxtails are from the tail of a cow, right? They were rich and crispy, though, with a great spicy aioli. I'm glad we tried them, and because the first two dishes' portion size was so generous, this one being skimpy didn't really matter. Actually, maybe that was why we expected a little more on that plate, because of the size of the first two. The drunken pork came out next. Tasted like a smoked pork chop chunked up with great northern beans and a tomato-pepper stew.

We passed on dessert and Brian had one more drink instead. 3 drinks + 4 dishes = $67 before tip. Not bad considering we can spend $30 for breakfast in the area pretty easily. I think we'll probably pop in more often now.

Toro Bravo
120-A N.E. Russell Street
Portland, OR 97212

Friday, May 15, 2009

Whole Lemon Tart and Pâte Sablée

aka Tarte au Citron for you francophiles. I got this idea from the fabulous Deb at Smitten Kitchen. If you haven't met Deb yet and have no idea what Smitten Kitchen is, go there now and visit. I think I have bookmarked more recipes from Deb than from any other site.

I first made this tart last year. At the time, I was using a tart crust recipe from my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. It worked ok but was kind of blah. Then I tried the pâte sucrée (from Martha, of course), which is a richer dough made with egg yolks and a little sugar. This was better, but still not quite what I wanted.

I was interested in trying a pâte sablée (a sweet shortbread-like crust) with this lemon tart to counter the bitterness from the lemon peel. Most of the recipes call for ground almonds, which gives the crust that delicate, sandy texture. I don't like purchasing ingredients for one dish (or rather, a piece of one dish) so I put off trying it until last weekend. Mother's Day was coming up, and I was bringing dessert over to my Dad's for our family celebration. I was once again checking out recipes for pâte sablée online when I came upon Martha's recipe, which doesn't use any ground almonds! Why I hadn't seen this before is a mystery to me. Her recipe uses butter, confectioner's sugar, flour and salt. Perfect.

The best part about the pâte sablée recipe is that it comes together in the mixer. No cutting the cold butter into the flour necessary. That's always the hardest part for me. Instead, you use softened butter (2 sticks!) and cream it with the sugar, then add the flour and salt. Easy!

After chilling, the dough is still very soft, so I patted the dough into the tart pan instead of trying to roll it out. The recipe says it makes a 9-inch tart shell, but I had more dough than I needed. Of course if you like an extra thick crust, go for it! **On second thought, I think my tart pan is only 8 inches, so that may have been the issue.

In making tarts, I find it best to pre-bake the crust almost all the way before adding the filling. That way the crust is nice and brown and not gummy on the bottom. This is called blind baking. I learned a little trick from Deb: freeze the crust before baking it. That way the crust doesn't shrink down the sides of your tart pan. You can also line it with parchment and fill with dried beans or rice or pie weights, but I've found freezing works just as well, if not better. Then pop it into a 400° oven for 15-20 minutes. When it is a light golden brown, remove from oven and let cool all the way before adding the filling.

This tart recipe uses a whole lemon, as you may have guessed from the title. Except for any pesky seeds that might be hanging out. Just cut the lemon into small pieces and add it to the blender with the sugar and blend until smooth. Whisk in a whole egg, an egg yolk, corn starch and melted butter. This time I just blended everything in the blender and it worked fine. The color was a little cloudier but it still tasted great. The filling is intensly lemon with a good mix of tart, bitter and sweet. I've called it the grown-ups' lemon tart. With a pretty dusting of powdered sugar on top, it is a sure winner for brunch, picnic or family dinner.

Pâte Sablée from Martha Stewart
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

With a standing mixer on medium speed, beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low. Add flour and salt, and beat until just combined and crumbly (do not overmix). Shape dough into a 9-inch round disk, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes (or up to 2 days), or freeze for up to 1 month.

Whole Lemon Tart from Smitten Kitchen

1 partially baked 9-inch (24-cm) sweet tart shell
1 average-sized lemon (about 4 1/2 ounces; 130 grams), rinsed and dried
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 tablespoons (12 grams) cornstarch
1 stick (4 ounces; 115 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven 325°F (165°C). Line a trimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and put the tart shell on the sheet.

Slice the lemon into thin wedges, remove the seeds, and toss the lemon and sugar into the container of a blender or food processor. Blend or process, scraping down the sides of the container as needed, until the lemon is thoroughly pureed and blended with the sugar, 1 to 2 minutes.

Turn the mixture into a bowl and, using a whisk, gently stir in the whole egg and the yolk, followed by the cornstarch and melted butter.

Pour the filling into the crust but be sure to leave 1/4 inch between the top of your filling and the top edge of your crust.

Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake the tart for 20 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 350°F (180°C) and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling, lightly browned and set.  Don't overbake - tart will continue to set as it cools.

Transfer the tart, still on the baking sheet, to a cooling rack and allow it to cool for at least 20 minutes before removing it from the pan. The tart is ready to be served when it reaches room temperature.

*this photo and the top one feature a tart made with pâte sucrée