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I have had my fair share of disasters with pastry dough, beginning in adolescence, when my early attempts resulted in rock hard pie crusts and exploding Pyrex dishes. Almost losing an eye while you’re making a quiche certainly can put you off baking, as it did for me–at least for a good couple of decades. That is, until I started this blog.
I had many motivations leading me to the blogosphere, but most notably, it was a way for me to teach myself to cook and bake. I considered myself a pretty good cook, I just wanted to be a better one. I realized I didn’t have a very wide repertoire. Whatever I knew to cook I made often, and although I had shelves full of cookbooks, I never followed their recipes; I simply used them as a springboard for ideas. But I was tired of inconsistent results in the kitchen, and decided to go back to square one. Find a new recipe, try it, post it. Try it again.
And it’s been working. With Ina, Julia, and Martha at my side, I’ve figured out how to make my own hollandaise, the most scrumptious scones, even how to bake my own bread. I’ve even got the pastry dough down.
Now this is not to say that I haven’t had my struggles, particularly when it comes to shrinkage. Oh, that dreaded shrinkage! But with a box of newly acquired pie weights and a good oven thermometer, I’m finally on my way.
I can honestly say that when I made these tarts that they were absolutely dreamy. The crust was light and flaky, not the least bit soggy, and the perfect envelope for all this silky chocolate. Topped with honey balsamic figs and a dollop of cream, they were nothing short of spectacular.
I have been using Donna Hay’s recipe for shortcut pastry for my pies and tarts, but you can use any recipe you prefer, such as Martha Stewart’s pate brisee. Line the tart pans with the dough and bake according to the recipe directions.
The chocolate filling is adapted from Epicurious, from Bon Appetit’s December 1998 issue. The filling is enough to fill 6 tarts or one nine-inch pie shell. Be sure to use really good quality chocolate for the filling–it’s the key to a truly delicious tart.
Chocolate Tart with Honey Balsamic Figs
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
6 pre-baked tart crusts
1) Combine the chocolates and cream in a heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until melted and smooth. Cool to just lukewarm.
2) Beat next 3 ingredients in a large bowl until well blended. Beat in chocolate mixture. Spoon filling into baked tart crusts. Smooth top with a spoon.
3) Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to 2 days. Serve chilled with honey balsamic figs and a dollop of whip cream.
Honey Balsamic Figs
Honey balsamic figs are delicious not only in baked goods but also with cheese and crackers, in salad, even with pork or chicken. Try them with some pistachio crisps and a good lemon or pear Stilton.
8 figs, quartered
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon white sugar (optional)
1) Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and allow to marinate for at least an hour. Add white sugar if you find the figs are not sweet enough for your liking.
It may be cold and rainy in Vancouver, the temperatures no different than they were in January, yet spring has definitely sprung. Hay fever has left me with a red nose and itchy eyes. Last weekend I blew my nose into half a box of Kleenex in one afternoon.
But the surest sign was the asparagus. I was wandering through the aisles of my favourite local market the other day when I saw them, their color a bright and playful green punctuated with purple tips, the stalks no thicker than a reed. Now, asparagus isn’t hard to find. In fact, my market carries it year round. But it’s the hothouse kind of asparagus–often thick and stringy. Eating it is like chewing on a piece of bamboo.
This asparagus, I was sure, would be nothing like that. They had compact heads–not wrinkled or ruffled, and they were firm with just the right amount of bend, promising to be both tender and crisp.
I took the asparagus home, wondering how I would cook it, what I would eat it with. It didn’t seem to matter; I had already decided that the asparagus would be the star attraction on my dinner plate. As for preparing it, I decided on roasting. Roasting vegetables has become my favourite way of preparing them. I had always steamed my asparagus. I would dot it with butter or a dollop of mayonnaise and I was content with that–until I discovered roasting. Roasting is what I’d always done with potatoes and carrots, sometimes zucchini and eggplant. I had never thought of preparing green vegetables this way until I stumbled upon a recipe for roasted broccoli, which turned out to be surprisingly delicious.
I tossed the asparagus spears with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and put them in the oven for ten minutes. That was all. Sometimes it’s hard to think of what to do with vegetables, especially when you like them with a little pizazz. The balsamic here is perfect. The heat caramelizes the sugars and gives the asparagus a flavor that complements it nicely.
How to Roast Asparagus:
1) Wash the asparagus under cold running water. Do not soak. Rub the tips to make sure no grit is caught in them. Pat dry with a paper towel.
2) Place the asparagus on a cookie sheet and drizzle with 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper. Combine by tossing the asparagus with your hands. Finish with some more salt–I like fleur de sel.
3) Bake 8-10 minutes, or until tender but not soggy.