Triple Coconut Tart with Berries

Coconut tart with fresh berries and toasted coconut

Today’s Musings:
July 4th in my city – there’s nothing safe nor sane about it. It starts weeks prior with the random M80 explosion rocking the neighborhood, usually at 4:00 a.m., as well as the testing of mortar rockets at 7:30 a.m. before the culprits head off to work.   By the time dawn breaks on the 4th,  an alarm clock isn’t needed to wake me from my slumber.  Fire crackers, Piccalo Petes, and cherry bombs ensure I’m out of bed by 9:00 a.m.  The cacophony increases throughout the day to a crescendo of illegal sky rockets and mortars with skyward explosions akin to a war zone, overshadowing any display from my neighbor,  Disneyland. The night is punctuated by the howl of fire engines – and we wonder, “Has someone blown off a finger?  Has a wayward rocket caused a fire?” By 10 p.m., a sulfuric haze has blanketed the city and I’m thankful my roof is still intact. The next morning, a tour of my backyard reveals a smattering of detritus from the festivities – charred end caps from the mortars and thin red sticks from the sky rockets.

My dog-owning neighbors hate this time of year. I, on the other hand, delight in this reminder of my childhood and consider myself lucky to be owned by two unruffled felines, no matter how loud the blasts. This one night, my city is alive and decidedly lawless. The neighborhood celebrates with a backyard party each year – more anarchistic that patriotic, except for my choice of dessert.

Today’s Recipe:


Triple Coconut Tart with Berries

  • Servings: One 9” Tart
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Coconut in the crust, along with coconut milk and shredded coconut in the pastry cream ensures coconut lovers won’t be disappointed.


Ingredients

    Coconut Pastry Cream
  • 3 Tablespoons corn starch
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup canned coconut milk
  • 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Graham Cracker Crust
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 17 sheets)
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • Topping
  • Assorted fresh berries
  • ¼ cup apricot jam
  • Sweetened whipped cream
  • Toasted coconut

Directions

  1. Make coconut pastry cream: In a medium sauce pan, whisk together flour, corn starch, salt, and sugar. Whisk in eggs, milk, coconut milk, and shredded coconut. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until custard is very thick, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in butter and vanilla extract. Scrape into bowl, press plastic wrap against the surface of the custard, and chill in refrigerator for several hours until cool.
  2. Make graham cracker crust: Preheat oven to 350° F. In a food processor, pulse graham crackers, coconut and salt until ground into crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse until combined and beginning to clump together. Press in the bottom and up sides of a 9” tart pan. Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned. Cool.
  3. To assemble: Spoon pastry cream into crust and smooth. Cover with fresh berries. Heat apricot jam for 1 minute in microwave and strain. Brush berries with jam, decorate with whipped cream and toasted coconut. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Swedish Apple Pie

Swedish Apple Pie on a blue background with pie cutter

Today’s Musings:
I first visited Mt. St. Helens in 2000, 20 years after the devastating blast in May, 1980.  The landscape didn’t appear substantially changed from the stark images I saw in Life Magazine immediately after the eruption.  Except for the blue sky,  it was as if we had driven into a black and white photo; shades of ash and smoke surrounding us.  Waves of fallen monochromatic grey tree trunks remained scattered across the somber mountainside, reminding me of images I’d seen of the civil war dead.   The area appeared decimated, lifeless.  But once we parked at the visitor’s center and started to stroll along the paths,  signs of life became apparent – dun-colored grasses,  knee-high alder saplings, purple lupine, fuchsia fireweed flowers, all punctuated by a few scurrying squirrels.   Slowly, life was reemerging from the destruction. 

My mother died, her adult children around her, in late August 2010; my former Love, and man who still possesses a chunk of my heart, ended his own life two days later.  Two people torn from my life in the span of 48 hours.  In the weeks and months following these losses,  I numbly went about my routine, elbowing waves of grief into the periphery, feeling as obliterated as St. Helens’ landscape.  I met Jake two and a half months later.  Opening myself up to a new relationship was like the first violet lupines popping their heads above my ash-covered earth.  I was tentatively taking the first steps towards reawakening, acknowledging I’d likely be hurt in the end, but possessing an optimistic soupçon of impetus to try.   

When I arrived at the wine bar for our first date,  the afternoon sun shone directly through the front windows, blinding me and obscuring Jake in shadow.  As I turned around to finally see him, my back to the window,  I felt like the bachelorette on The Dating Game when bachelor #3 rounds the corner and she can’t wipe the tinge of disappointment from her face.  He was shorter than I imagined – about 5’ 9”– and his teeth were in a terrible state, with a prominent chip in the front.  I later learned that was a result of an unfortunate run-in with a fork.  His eyes were a pale sky blue; his complexion ruddy. I noted and approved of his style – Vans, Levi’s and a rockabilly plaid shirt.  I glimpsed a tattoo on his wrist, a sneak peek of the ones I’d discover later. I’m a sucker for a tattoo.  His hair reminded me of Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20.  In fact,  he resembled Rob Thomas – after a bender.  I didn’t fall for him until our second date; I remember pulling up to the Oaxacan restaurant, finding him waiting for me outside and thinking, “Yeah, he’s cute.”  I almost didn’t agree to that second date.  By our third, I was enamored with that adorable, weathered, chipped-tooth face and found myself, sated and lying naked in his arms, tracing the tattoos on his chest with the tip of my finger.

Time heals,  we survive, and eventually poke our heads above life’s greyness, renewed.

Today’s Recipe:
How did I not know about Swedish Apple Pie?  Thank you to my friend, Joan, for turning me on to the easy-to-throw-together “pie.”  Of course,  true to form, I zhuzhed up the recipe a bit. If you over-fill the pie plate, be prepared for a butter pool in the bottom of your oven. 


Swedish Apple Pie

  • Servings: One 9” Pie
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Apple pie on the bottom, giant cookie crust on top. A winning combination.


Ingredients

  • 3 – 3 ½ large tart apples, peeled, cored, cut in half, and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup butter, melted
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Freshly whipped cream (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter a 9” pie plate. Combine apples, zest, 2 Tablespoons sugar, and cinnamon. Arrange in pie plate.
  2. Stir together flour, sugars, and salt. Combine melted butter, egg and vanilla and stir into flour mixture just until combined. Spread batter over the apples.
  3. Bake at 350° F. for 50 minutes until top is fully cooked and crisp. Serve warm or room temperature with freshly whipped cream (optional).

Key Lime Tart

Today’s Musings:

Jump!
“I can’t.”
Jump!
“I’ll fall.”
Jump!
“I’m afraid.”
Jump!
“I don’t know how.”
Jump!
“I’m not a jumper.”
Jump!
“Others can jump further.”
Jump!
“Who am I to think I can jump?”

 Jump!
“We will steady you.”
Jump!
“You’re so close!”
Jump!
“Trust us; We will catch you.”
Jump!
“You’ll be great at it.”
Jump!
“Be Brave!”
Jump!
“We believe in you.”
Jump!
We’ll jump with you.”

Thank you for requesting baking demos until I said, “yes.”  Thank you for telling me when my words on the page move you. Thank you for giving feedback on my recipes. Thank you for believing I can write a book worth reading.  Thank you for reminding me I’m worthy of love. Thank you, to all my friends, who support, encourage, and push me just a little further.  I’m better for knowing you.   

Today’s Recipe:


Key Lime Tart

  • Servings: One 9-inch tart or six tartlets
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Mouth-puckering Key lime custard in a shortbread cookie crust garnished with raspberry coulis sauce.


Ingredients

    Crust
  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 Tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 9 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Filling
  • 28 oz. sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ cup full-fat Greek yogurt
  • ¾ cup key lime juice
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons grated lime zest
  • Raspberry Coulis (optional)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 12 oz. frozen raspberries, thawed
  • 1 Tablespoon raspberry or orange liqueur (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and melted butter. Pat dough on the bottom and up the sides of a 9” tart pan. Bake about 20 minutes until beginning to brown. Remove from oven and cool 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine condensed milk, Greek yogurt, lime juice, and lime zest. Stir until combined and pour into crust. Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, until tiny pinhole bubbles burst on the surface of pie. Do not brown. Chill tart thoroughly before serving. Garnish with raspberry coulis, whipped cream, shaved white chocolate or grated lime zest.
  3. To make coulis, combine sugar and water in a heat-proof liquid measuring cup. Microwave on high power for two minutes and stir to ensure all sugar crystals are dissolved. Combine simple syrup with thawed raspberries in a blender. Blend until smooth. With a rubber spatula, stir and push puree through a fine-mesh strainer to catch the seeds. Add liqueur, if using. Store in the refrigerator up to a week.

Classic Italian Tiramisu

Today’s Musings:
I have a feline heart.  Treat me as you do a cat.  Do not approach me straightaway or immediately attempt to wrap your arms around me, for I am sure to ignore you and wiggle free.   Do not call my name and pat your lap expectantly.  I will find other things to occupy my interest.  Ignore me.  Become absorbed with something else, then I will quickly and adamantly demand your attention, sprawling myself across whatever it was that you were working on.  Leave that spot on your lap available.  I will find my way to it – eventually, on my own terms.  Once I have decided to stay, then you may love me and I will purr with contentment.  Do not fuss too much over me. Hold me too tight or keep me too close and I will flee.  Lock me out of a part of your life and that’s where I’ll want to be.  Come to me on my terms, be patient with me, do not frighten me, and I will show you how I love — enduringly and deeply, but always like a cat.

Today’s Recipe:


Classic Italian Tiramisu

This is my version of the classic tiramisu I learned during culinary school. It’s exceptionally rich and heavier on the alcohol than most restaurant versions. Tiramisu means “pick me up,” but if bedtime is right around the corner, you can always substitute decaf espresso for regular.


Ingredients

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • pinch salt
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 16 oz. mascarpone
  • Italian savioardi (crisp lady’s fingers)
  • ¾ cup espresso or strong coffee
  • ¾ cup marsala (traditional), dark rum, brandy, or Kahlua
  • Cocoa powder

Directions

  1. Over a bain marie of simmering water, make the zabaione by constantly whisking the yolks and ½ sugar until mixture is light, thick, and sugar has melted (I use beaters to make quick work of it but if you don’t want to dirty beaters, a whisk works fine). Remove from heat and whisk in mascarpone.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Add remaining sugar slowly, a tablespoon at a time, and beat until stiff peaks form. Lighten mascarpone mixture by adding ⅓ of meringue. Fold in remaining meringue into mascarpone.
  3. Combine espresso and alcohol in a flat container. Very briefly soak each savioardi in espresso mixture and place on bottom of an 8”x 8” pan. Cut to fit, as needed. Cover with ½ of mascarpone mixture. Add another layer of soaked savioradi and finish with remaining mascarpone. Cover and let rest in refrigerator for at least 24 hours for the flavors to meld. Dust with cocoa powder before serving.

Today’s Tips: 
By adding a bit of meringue to the mascarpone mixture first and then adding the remaining,  it helps the two textures blend together without overly deflating the meringue.

This meringue is uncooked.  If salmonella is an issue in your area,  you can use pasteurized egg whites. 

Simple Butter Cookies

Today’s Musings:
He leads me to his favorite dive, 2J’s Lounge in Fullerton – packed with barflies, blue collars, and tattooed chicks in tank tops. Two stools, lit by the glare of blue Budweiser neon, are open at the bar. He orders us Cuba Libres.  As we sit, our jeaned thighs lightly graze against each other and then rest, knees touching. Lust stirs between my legs at the sensation of our bodies testing this chemistry.  He brushes his arm against the back of my hand, gently places his hand for just a moment on my thigh as he speaks, as if not deliberately. I stroke the soft inside of his tattooed arm and rest my hand in his, fingers entwined. Alcohol has made me bold – enough of this game.

He kisses me. He doesn’t ask permission; he doesn’t hesitate. He leans towards me, his lips on mine, his tongue inside my mouth. Mmm…Yes. I like the way he tastes.

He’s not afraid to kiss me in this public place. His hand caresses my lower back, my waist. He kisses me with passion; his day’s worth of stubble leaving my chin raw. A wrinkled regular at the end of the bar shouts, “give her back her tongue!” We laugh, but I’m unsettled by his intensity, this lack of modesty among these strangers.

We kiss and drink and share secrets, finishing another round.  It’s late and we decide to leave the bar’s seediness, weaving our way across the parking lot towards my red convertible. I lean back against the rough cinder-block wall;  pulling him with me, kissing him, being kissed. We move to the side of my car. I feel him, hard and hot, pressed against my own desire. His chest is firm beneath my hands. I’m drunk off rum and yearning. Too fast, this is going too fast. My logic and this ache for him doing battle in my head,  I plead, “Let’s make this last; let me know your brain before I learn your body.” He doesn’t want to comply.

He asks to see me tomorrow. I’m making him wait until next weekend. A daytime date – an attempt to slow us down. He wants my body. I want something more.

Oh, but I do like the way he tastes.

Today’s Recipe:
In general,  I’m known for complicated, multi-step desserts that take most of the day to complete.  There is another side to my baking, however – the late night, small batch, craving something sweet, down and dirty, immediate gratification bake. This is a handful of recipes that ensure a confectionary pacifier can be in my mouth in less than 30 minutes, like these simple sugar cookies.  I can add whatever’s on hand to change the flavor – lemon zest, spices, shaved chocolate, nuts, jam or Nutella filling.  For the photograph above,  I made an ersatz “Biscochito” version, adding crushed anise, rolling them in cinnamon sugar and flattening them with the bottom of a glass.  From concept to cooling rack in 25 minutes.  


Simple Sugar Cookies

  • Servings: 24 cookies
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When I’m craving something sweet late at night, these cookies fit the bill. I can add various flavorings or ingredients to doll them up – using whatever I have on hand.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ⅛ teaspoon vanilla (or other flavoring)
  • 1 ⅓ cups sifted all-purpose flour

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking sheet. Cream together butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy with a hand mixer or whisk. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla. Stir in flour. Form cookies into desired shape (drop, pressed, rolled, etc.) and bake 12 to 14 minutes, until just beginning to brown around the edges. Cool slightly and enjoy. Instant freshly-baked cookies, perfect for dunking.