Saturday, July 31, 2010


I have a thing for purple.  My bedroom was a soothing shade of lavender for years.  I own more than one pair of purple shoes.  Heck, I was even Violet Beauregard in the school play in third grade.  So when an article in Vegetarian Times (January 2010) featured varieties of sweet potato that included a purple one, I knew I had to have some.

It turns out these are not easy to come by.  I finally found them at Berkeley Bowl, selling for almost three times as much per pound as every other variety.  But, I reason, I buy less than a pound at a time and I NEVER waste them.  No, I devour them.  They are the sweetest sweet potato I've ever tasted. They tend to be a bit drier and starchier than other varieties, but that just means I add a little extra butter and milk. Truth be told, most of the time I don't bother to mash or butter.  I roast them in the pan with chicken, so they get lightly coated with the drippings, and become so sweet and tender that they practically melt in my mouth. 

Mashed, with skin on.

Add these Okinawa sweet potatoes to a laundry list of purple foods I've been eating lately.  Tomatoes.  Radishes.  Cherries.  Plums.  Bell peppers at the farmers' market when I lived in the Midwest.  Asparagus comes in purple too, but I was sorely disappointed to discover that it releases its color and turns green when steamed.  Ugh, what a waste.

Purple is so unexpected in the realm of food.  It feels somehow extra-special, powerful, surreal, as if any food that accumulates such an intense pigment has to be other-worldly and somehow magical.  Not sure I'll develop X-ray vision or superhuman strength any time soon, but I will have fun trying.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Saving Some Serious (Star)Bucks

$2.60 x 5 days per week x 4 weeks per month x 10 months per year (I'm a teacher) = $520 worth of soy lattes from Starbucks.
$140 (regular price) - 30% (sale) + $15 (cute cups) + $70 (a year's worth of beans from Trader Joe's) = $185 to make my own espresso.

Translation? I was spending an insane amount of money at Starbucks on coffee (and let's be real here-- you know I also got some lemon pound cake, or an apple-walnut muffin, or some oatmeal).  I'm not one of those omigoddon'teventalktomeuntilI'vehadmycoffee people, but I do become a nicer person after one cup in the morning.  It prevents headaches (no, I'm not addicted-- the headaches came first) and helps me focus, so Starbucks became an integral part of my job performance.  But on a teacher's salary, $500 is a BIG hit.  So I hit up Macy's instead.

Check out this bad boy!
The only downside to this machine is its height: it fits a demitasse cup under the spouts where the espresso comes out, not a regular cup.  One could argue that really, that's the way it should be-- an espresso-sized cup fits in an espresso-making machine.  But if I want to make a latte (and I do), I have to pour the espresso into a larger mug, and then I lose a little bit of the foam, which is the best part.  There are bigger problems in the world, I know.  But still.

I'm having just one problem.  Whenever I use non-dairy milk in my coffee, I notice a metallic aftertaste.  I don't like it.  I've tried almond milk (chocolate and regular), hazelnut milk (chocolate), and soy milk (unsweetened). I don't have this problem when I use dairy milk, and I make a darn good latte with all that foamy milk from my machine.  But a) I'm lactose intolerant;  b) if Starbucks can do it without the aftertaste, dang it, so can I!  So what am I doing wrong?   Help!

The key to really good espresso is the grind of the beans.  The big grinder at the store doesn't grind them up well enough, though it's a good start.  Enter my dad's 40-year-old Braun grinder, made in Germany and made to last FOREVER.

This thing is a classic!

The cute little red demitasse cup and saucer is the perfect indulgence in the morning, and makes me feel like I'm in un bar in Italy.  OK, not really-- I hardly notice it as I gulp down the espresso because I'm almost always running late.  

Un espresso (the crema is soooooo good!)
A dairy latte, with good foam.

Lemon pound cake? Stay tuned...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Fruit Tarts and Cuisinarts

Dear Inventor of the Food Processor,
You are a genius.  Your machine is squat and ugly but dang, is it a workhorse.   The blade inside could kill someone, but I guess it has to be sharp to do its job. Like blending butter I was too lazy to defrost into flour and a touch of cream cheese to make a flaky, perfectly-browned, substantial-yet-not-too-heavy crust for my fruit tart.  Seriously, it was perfection.

My uncle gave your machine to my mom about 25 years ago, and somehow it fit right in to a 1980s kitchen (like I said, it ain't pretty).  She used it to make "cuisy gravy" as well as delicious desserts and probably some other things I can't remember.  She warned me about the blade.  I used to lick it anyway.  Probably cut my tongue more than once.

Now it's mine.  I knew all the usual tricks one could do with a food processor, but not until this tart came out of the oven did I understand just what this little machine could do.  So thanks, Inventor, for helping me make fabulous desserts that I don't even have to break a sweat preparing (omg, can you imagine cutting frozen butter into flour BY HAND? As if!). 



Rustic Fruit Tart (adapted from Moosewood: New Classics)
The recipe calls this a plum tart, but I added nectarines, peaches, and strawberries.  Oh, and it's fabulous with a little dollop of whipped cream on top!
Use cold ingredients to achieve flaky pastry, and be sure to let the dough rest in the refrigerator while you prepare the fruit.  I used Tofutti fake cream cheese to reduce the dairy, and it worked quite well. 
1 1/3 cups unbleached white flour
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup chilled unsalted butter
1/4 cup chilled cream cheese
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp ice water

1 1/2 pounds (about 5 cups) fruit
2/3 cup sugar (use less if you use sweet fruits)
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp grated lemon peel

1 egg, optional

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. Mix flour, sugar, and salt in large bowl or food processor.  Cut butter and cream cheese into 1-inch pieces and incorporate them by hand, or by pulsing in food processor until they are the size of peas.  Mix in lemon juice and ice water until mixture begins to form a dough.  Shape into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until ready to roll out.
3. Slice fruits into 1/2-inch wedges and put in a bowl.  Add sugar, cornstarch, and lemon peel and mix well.  Set aside.
4.  Lightly flour your rolling surface, rolling pin, and the dough.  Roll from the center out into a 14-inch circle, flipping and rotating directions as you go.  If dough seems too sticky or soft, refrigerate for about 10 minutes.
5. Transfer dough to prepared baking sheet or pie plate.  Arrange fruit in concentric circles, starting at center of dough.  Leave about 2 inches between edge of fruit and edge of dough.  Fold dough over fruit to make a border (center will be open).  For a pretty golden sheen, whisk egg with a tablespoon of water and brush it on pastry dough.
6. Bake for 15 minutes.  Then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes.  Crust should be browned and juices bubbled up.  Cool on rack for 30 minutes.  Serve while still warm.

Pomegranate plums (the darkest fruit pieces in the tart)