Tuesday, December 28, 2010

For the Newlyweds

A friend recently asked me to make a wedding card for her. She basically gave me free rein with the design, and I immediately thought that this flourish image would make a lovely focal point. The layout is based on an atomic butterfly card. I love incorporating blue into wedding cards because of the old adage "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue". A white card base kept it light, while the black added some definition and class.

I also did something I hadn't tried before on the blue layer. Normally to get shading around the edge of the paper I will use a sponge and coordinating ink. In this instance, blue ink for the blue paper. But instead I swiped a Versa Mark pad directly onto the paper. I had used the Versa Mark pad to stamp the polka dot background so I had it handy and I was curious what it would look like. It gave the edges a nice shadow that softened them up a bit. I may have to use this little trick again!

Stamps: Friends 24-7, Teeny Tiny Wishes, Polka Dot
Paper: Whisper White, Bashful Blue, Basic Black
Ink: Bashful Blue, Versa Mark, Basic Black
Accessories: Scallop Edge punch, Word Window punch, Modern Label punch, black satin ribbon, button, black thread, rhinestone stickers

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

French Pear Tart

I used to work for a small company that celebrated each employee's birthday by purchasing a fruit tart from the little French bakery down the street. Birthdays were highly anticipated events as a result and we never failed to procure said tart in the recipient's favorite flavor. After all, how can you forget a co-worker's birthday when the whole crew gets dessert? I always used to ask for the pear and chocolate tart. Mmm mmm. Well, having since moved across the country it has been quite a while since I've had my delicious birthday tart and the cravings were setting in. The only thing to do was to try making my own! A bit of a daunting task being neither French nor particularly good at things involving crusts, but there was no help for it. I started perusing recipes online and finally settled on one by Dorie Greenspan. This was my first "Dorie" recipe and it didn't disappoint! I'm not gonna lie, it takes a long time to make, but none of the steps are difficult and it is well worth the effort. Dorie's version doesn't include chocolate, but the crust is so sweet and the pear and almond so delicious I didn't even miss it. *gasp!* So plan ahead and make sure you have enough time, then take it to your next holiday gathering or serve it up for a special occasion. Enjoy!

French Pear Tart by Dorie Greenspan


3 medium pears, firm but ripe
1 lemon
4 c. water
1 1/4 c. sugar

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 c. sugar
3/4 c. ground blanched almonds
2 tsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 partially baked 9" tart shell, made with Sweet Tart Dough, at room temperature (recipe below)

Confectioners' sugar for dusting


Peel the pears and leave them whole. Bring the water, sugar, and juice of 1 lemon to a boil in a saucepan just large enough to hold the pears. Add the pears to the boiling syrup, reduce heat and simmer, gently poaching the pears until they are tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 minutes. Cool the pears to room temperature in the syrup.

To make the almond cream: In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the ground almonds and continue to mix until well blended. Add the flour and cornstarch, blend, then add the egg. Continue blending until the almond cream is homogeneous. Add the vanilla and blend just until incorporated. Use the almond cream immediately or refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Cut the pears in half from blossom to stem and core them. Pat them very dry so that their liquid doesn't keep the almond cream from baking.

Fill the baked crust with the almond cream, spreading it even with an offset metal spatula. Thinly slice each pear half crosswise, lift each half on the spatula, press down on the pear to fan it slightly and place it, wide-end toward the crust, over the almond cream. The halves will form spokes.

Put the crust on a lined baking sheet, slide the sheet into the oven and bake the tart 50-60 minutes, or until the almond cream puffs up around the pears and browns. Transfer the tart to a to a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature before unmolding.

Dust the tart with confectioners' sugar just before serving.

Sweet Tart Dough


1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. confectioners' sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick plus 1 Tbsp. very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk


To make the dough: Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in coarsely. Stir the egg, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses - about 10 seconds each - until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before it reaches this clumpy stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change - heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface.

Very lightly and sparingly knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

Butter a 9" tart pan and press the dough evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

To partially bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil tightly against the crust. Bake the crust 25 minutes, then carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack; keep it in its pan.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cream of Tomato and Basil Soup

I came to an appreciation of tomato soup later in life. I don't really remember ever having it as a kid. Or if I was offered it I probably said no thanks, being the picky eater that I was back then. It wasn't until college that a roommate introduced me to the joys of grilled cheese with tomato soup. Being thrifty college students it was of course Campbell's in a can. But that didn't matter; it was wonderful on a cold day. After college, a friend in culinary school made me tomato soup from scratch and it was divine. Since having her version I've searched high and low for a really good recipe. (She did share her recipe with me, but I confess I've never been able to make it as good as she does.) Well, I have found my soup at last. It turns out the Olive Garden has recipes on their website. I know! And whatever you may think of chain restaurants, this is both really good and really easy. Win win in my book! So, since we're having freezing rain here in my little corner of the world, I thought we could all use a warm meal on a cold night. I served it with a loaf of garlic bread. :)

Cream of Tomato and Basil Soup from Olive Garden
serves 4


4 Tbsp butter
1 small red onion, diced
2 cups dry white wine
3 cups canned diced tomatoes
2 cups heavy cream
3 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste


Melt butter in a heavy sauce pan. Add red onions and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add white wine and reduce by 3/4. Add tomatoes and heavy cream, bring to a simmer and reduce by 1/2.

Puree soup in a food processor. Stir in 2 Tbsp chopped basil, salt and pepper.

Garnish with remaining fresh basil and serve.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Apple Butter

Apple butter is something of a tradition in my family. When other kids were eating their pb & j, I remember my mom making me peanut butter and apple butter sandwiches to take for school lunches when I was little. Then when my sister and I were older I remember getting to help Mom make big delicious batches of it and canning them in jars to put up for the year. Now, I slather it on toast to have with my morning coffee for breakfast. The recipe was handed down from my grandmother so it is a very special tradition for us each fall, waiting for the apples to be ready so we can make more apple butter. I know Christmas is fast approaching and it seems like fall is past, but I just made my last batch of the year and I wanted to share it with you. Enjoy!

Apple Butter
makes 2 1/2 - 3 pints


4 lbs. tart apples
4 c. apple cider
2 1/2 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. ginger
2 tbsp. grated lemon peel
2 tbsp. lemon juice


Wash apples; remove stems and ends. Cut up but do not peel or core. In a large saucepan, combine apples and cider. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and cook until soft, approx. 15 minutes. Press apples and cider in a food mill.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine all ingredients and stir well. Divide mixture between two 9x13 baking dishes. Bake uncovered for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Sterilize jars and lids in hot water. Pour apple butter into jars, leaving 1" head space. Make sure there is no apple butter on jar rim before putting lids on. Lightly screw on lids and rings. Boil the jars in water bath canner for 5 minutes then remove. Lids should seal. Let cool to room temperature then screw bands on tightly.