Apple Polenta Upside-Down Cake

When your sister says, “Dad was the best dad ever,” it makes you question your memory.  You wonder if you’ve incorrectly rewritten your story to match the narrative you want to tell.  You wonder if you’re falsely playing victim for attention.  So, you try to remember the forgotten good times, special times with your dad, when he loved you, supported you, and truly saw you as his child.  You recall a handful of times, age 13 or 14, when he took you to explore the local tide pools and then…nothing.  You cannot remember another instance, although you rack your brains for more.  So, you pull the dusty photo album from the closet shelf,  you turn the pages of your life, one year after the next, birthdays, Christmas, visiting grandparents, attempting to find other special times with him and then you realize there are only two photos of you with your dad.  Two photos, taken long ago, when you were a few months old, before you could even remember and then…nothing.  Not another photo, for the whole of your life.

Me, at 9 months and one of only two photos with dad.

I’m sometimes asked where I came up with the name Two-Bit Tart.  I can thank Dad for that.  When I was a teenager and young adult primping for a night out, he would sometimes comment, “You look like a two-bit tart!” For those of you who aren’t familiar with the antiquated term, it means “cheap hooker” – a slur.  Thanks dad.  Years later, I defiantly chose that name for this blog to say, “I remember how you treated me, but the emotional abuse I suffered did not – will not – break me.”


Apple Polenta Upside-Down Cake

  • Servings: 8 Servings
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I serve this cake often for autumn entertaining. Best served slightly warm, this rustic cake needs nothing more than a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup plus ¾ cup sugar
  • 4 medium (1 ½ lbs.) Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into eights
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup polenta (yellow cornmeal)
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅓ cup whole milk
  • Lightly-sweetened freshly-whipped cream (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter 9-inch- cake pan; line pan with parchment and butter parchment. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup sugar and cook until sugar dissolves and mixture turns deep golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Add apple and gently shake skillet to distribute caramel evenly. Cover and cook until apples release their juices, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook until apples are tender and caramel thickens and coats apples, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Transfer apples and caramel syrup to prepared cake pan, spreading evenly.
  2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl to blend. Place polenta in large bowl; pour boiling water over and stir to blend. Add remaining butter and 3/4 cup sugar to polenta mixture. Using electric mixer, beat until well blended. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Beat in flour mixture alternately with milk in 2 additions each. Gently pour batter over apples in pan.
  3. Bake cake until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool cake in pan 5 minutes. Run small knife between cake and pan sides to loosen cake. Carefully invert cake onto microwavable platter and peel off parchment. Cool 15 minutes. (To rewarm in microwave, heat on medium about 2 minutes.). Serve with freshly-whipped cream or ice cream.

Slightly adapted from Epicurious.

Pork & Potato Green Chili

I am besotted by Autumn, yet my love is unrequited. I wait at windows that darken imperceptibly earlier in the evening, willing the trees to burst into sunset hues, yearning for a chilling of the air that never comes, begging for the first crackling fire in the dusty fireplace.  Still, she does not heed my lament.  She unfurls day upon day of scorching heat, forcing tanned leaves to wither and serenely suicide without a hint of colorful fanfare.  She’ll arrive when she is ready, for her own selfish pleasure and not a moment sooner, no matter my desires. 

Despite this interminable summer weather, October in my kitchen means hearty soups and stews like this Pork and Potato Green Chili. 


Pork & Potato Green Chili

A hearty, spicy chili of tender pork and potatoes.


Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 fresh Anaheim chiles – seeded, stemmed and chopped
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 1 ¼ pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 ½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 16-ounce jar salsa verde, medium heat
  • 1 Tablespoon lime juice
  • ½ cup shredded pepper jack cheese
  • ¼ cup shredded cilantro

Directions

  1. In a soup pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add the chiles and onion and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened, 5 minutes. Add the pork; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until browned, 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, salsa and 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, partially cover and simmer, stirring the chili occasionally, until the pork is tender, about 40 minutes.
  2. Add lime juice, season with salt and pepper, and divide among bowls. Garnish with the cheese and cilantro.

Slightly adapted from Rachel Ray

Slow Cooker Beef and Farro Soup

A bowl of Slow Cooker Beef and Farro Soup

Have friends over for dinner this weekend without all the work.  “Soup Sundays” is the low-key, fuss-free version of a full-blown dinner party.  For my inaugural Soup Sunday, I made two soups a few days ahead and, for dessert, baked a simple apple crostata with the booty from my apple-picking adventures on Saturday.  Friends brought bread and salad, we opened a few bottles of wine, and celebrated the first Sunday of October. 

I’ve decided to make it a weekly standing date.  Next Sunday, we’re making it even more casual with the “Pajama Party” edition. 


Slow Cooker Beef and Farro Soup

A low and slow simmer results in tender beef and chewy farro in this comforting and hearty soup. Just let time do its thing.


Ingredients

  • 8 cups unsalted beef stock
  • 1 ½ cups chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup uncooked farro
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 large thyme sprigs
  • 3 bay leaves
  • ¼ cup unsalted tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 pounds beef stew meat, divided
  • 2 ½ cups chopped carrots

Directions

  1. In a 6-quart slow cooker, stir together beef stock, onion, celery, farro, salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, and bay leaves. Dollop tomato paste on top.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add half of beef and cook until well browned, about 6 minutes. Add beef to slow cooker. Repeat with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and beef. Scatter carrots over beef. Cover and cook on LOW until meat is tender, about 8 hours. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Adjust salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls.

Blackberry Slab Pie

“I will forgive you; the words are so small, but there is a universe hidden in them. When I forgive you, all those cords of resentment, pain and sadness that wrapped themselves around my heart will be gone. When I forgive you, you will no longer define me. You measured me and assessed me and decided that you could hurt me. That I didn’t count. But I will forgive you, because I do count. I do matter. I am bigger than the image you have of me. I am stronger. I am more beautiful. And I am infinitely more precious than you thought me. I will forgive you. My forgiveness is not a gift that I am giving to you. When I forgive you, my forgiveness will be a gift that I give myself.”

– Desmond Tutu

I’ve been focusing on forgiveness in my daily meditation practice these last two weeks.  Forgiving myself; forgiving others.  If you had asked me last week how my forgiveness practice was going, I would have said, “Great – like a weight has been lifted.”  Rarely is anything a straight path, though.  I was struggling with my forgiveness this morning, until I read Tutu’s quote above, which now resides in a place of prominence next to my desk.

There’s a Taoist parable about how collecting various betrayals and hurts is like collecting potatoes in a sack.  One potato may not weigh heavy on us, but if we continue to collect these potatoes, allow them to rot in the sack, never forgiving, never letting any go, soon the sack becomes burdensome, fetid with rotting tubers, and so heavy we cannot move forward. We carry this ever-growing weight of negativity with us everywhere, day after day.  Forgiveness is not about the person who wronged us; forgiveness is not about letting the other person off the hook or lightening their load; forgiveness is not about being weak.  It’s about lessening our own heart’s burden.  It doesn’t matter if the other person is aware of our forgiveness.  Forgiveness is saying, “I will no longer be hindered by the betrayals you’ve placed upon me.”  Once we are able to set the sack down, we are free to walk forward, unencumbered by another’s misdeeds.

You are probably expecting some sort of potato recipe at this point. Forgive me.


Blackberry Slab Pie

No fork or plate needed – just cut slices and serve hand-pie style with a napkin for the flaky crust.


Ingredients

    Crust
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup Crisco
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 5 Tablespoons cold water
  • 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
  • 3 cups All-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Filling
  • 8 cups fresh or frozen blackberries, unthawed
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup Panko bread crumbs
  • Finish & Glaze
  • 1 large egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
  • 3 tablespoons sugar, preferably turbinado, like Sugar in the Raw
  • ½ cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon water

Directions

  1. Make pie crust: Chill butter and Crisco until very cold by placing both in the freezer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl and set aside. Place flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add butter and Crisco to flour and pulse on/off until mixture resembles coarse meal (you can also combine the flour and fats using a pastry blender if you don’t want to drag out your processor – more effort, less clean-up). Scrape mixture into a large bowl, add egg mixture, and stir until combined. Don’t overwork dough. Separate the dough in half and roll into disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and freeze for about 30 minutes to chill.
  2. Prepare filling: In a large bowl, toss together all filling ingredients except Panko bread crumbs.
  3. Assemble pie: Preheat oven to 375⁰. Line bottom of baking sheet or jellyroll pan with parchment paper. Lightly sprinkle one dough disk with a bit of flour and, in between two sheets of parchment paper, roll into a rectangle about 10 x 15. Transfer to your prepared baking sheet and peel off parchment. Sprinkle with Panko breadcrumbs, spread filling evenly over bottom crust and freeze while you roll out second crust. Roll the second dough disk into a similar sized rectangle, sprinkling with flour and using parchment. Drape over filling and fold the bottom crust overhang over the edges, sealing them together, and crimping. Cut small slits to act as vents all over top crust. Brush top crust with 1 egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon water and sprinkle with 3 Tablespoons sugar. Bake pie on lower rack of oven until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, about 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool until just warm to the touch, about 45 minutes.
  4. In a medium bowl, stir together confectioner’s sugar and water until a pourable glaze consistency is reached. Drizzle glaze over top. Serve slab pie in squares or rectangles, warm or at room temperature. Will keep at room temperature for 3-4 days.

Almond Orange Mini Gateaux Bretons

A plate of mini gateaux bretons

I came across the following post today, written 12 years ago, on September 2, 2008. What surprises me is that very little, really, has changed.  My fundamental characteristics, it seems, remain…well…fundamental:

N said something at dinner tonight that surprised me.  He said that he didn’t know anything about my fundamental characteristics; my foundational principles.  N and I have known each other for almost 15 years.  Admittedly, we haven’t had a long growing season for our friendship – we’ve always been in and out of touch – mostly out.  It’s been seven years since our last dinner together.  Still, I thought that my life’s philosophy was evident to those around me.  I’m discovering that I was wrong.  So, here’s the five things my friends should know about me – in no particular order:

1. I am a sensualist. I delight in the sensations I experience in the world around me: super-saturated colors, the scent and patter of rain, the graininess of aged cheese, the creaminess of Lindor Milk Chocolate Truffles, the smoky, crackling warmth of a fire, the sounds of the forest, the softness of cashmere, the simplicity and contrast of B&W photos, the tingle and bite of Fleur de Sel on my tongue, and the sweet scent of a narcissus blossoms, to name just a few.  My pleasure is found through the senses.

2. I’m fiercely loyal to those close to me and I expect it in return.  If you’ve betrayed me, it is difficult to regain my trust. Betrayal cuts me deeply. Trust, respect and loyalty are essential. [Editor’s note: Something I’ve been painfully reminded of recently.]

3. I strive for balance; I’m always looking for the Yin/Yang in my life, my work, my spirituality passions, my relationships.  When I’m balanced, I feel the most in tune with life’s pulse.  Yoga, meditation, cooking baking and playing in the dirt help me to balance.

4. I’m an introvert. I spend large chunks of my free time by myself and I like it – need it – that way.  I enjoy my time with others, but need down time alone to “recharge”.  I’m shy and usually uncomfortable around those I don’t know. [Editor’s note: This last year, I’ve been in a phase of more interpersonal connections, but I’m still an introvert at heart. This often surprises new friends.]

5. Contentment is not the same as complacency.  I detest complacency and seek contentment.

My Favorite quote right now:  “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground” – Rumi  “You can’t change those around you, but you can change those around you.”

Only slightly updated, September 2020


Almond Orange Mini Gateaux Bretons


Ingredients

    Orange Cookies
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup almond flour, toasted
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1 Tablespoon orange flower water
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • Almond Cream
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ⅓ cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup almond flour
  • 1 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • sliced almonds

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, toasted almond flour and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Add egg yolks, one at a time, combining between each addition.  Mix in orange flower water and zest.  With the mixer on low,  add flour mixture in 3 additions mixing just until blended (don’t over-mix).
  2. Scrape dough into a piece of plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes or until firm. Preheat oven to 325⁰ F. With floured hands, roll dough into 10 gram balls.  Press dough into the bottom of mini muffin tins.  Dollop with a rounded teaspoon of almond cream and sprinkle with 3 sliced almonds.  Refrigerate again for 10 minutes.
  3. Bake for 18 – 20 minutes until tops are golden. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then release from pan using the tip of a very sharp knife.