The Not Sweet Fruit Tart

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I’d venture to say that most of us have had recent conversations about food allergies, food intolerances, and just plain avoiding foods we think we shouldn’t be eating. It has become another whole food industry - Gluten Free, Vegan, Non GMO, Dairy Free, No Refined Sugar, Plant Based. There are Instagram feeds dedicated solely to a niche food category. I actually think it is fantastic that people are becoming more aware of what they are ingesting. We truly are what we eat. Food can either heal or harm, so why not be uber selective in what we consume. But at the same time, it has become increasingly difficult to decipher all the information and determine what to eat each day. And trying to host a dinner and side step all the allergy mine fields, can be explosive. More than that, it just plain saddens me knowing that we have poisoned our food supply resulting in this food intolerant epidemic. Which is why I mostly stick to eating as organic as possible, loads of seasonal vegetables and grains. And fruits, which is how I decided to make this tart. I bet you were wondering where all my ranting was going.

I, too, am a sufferer of food intolerances, so I get it. I annoy myself sometimes. I can, and will write another post detailing how I navigate the world side stepping foods I love but can’t eat. For now, this post is about understanding people’s choices, honoring and trying to accommodate them. Hey, it’s all good for me. These challenges only present opportunities to push myself to find new food ideas. Ain’t nothin’ bad about that.

Recently, I met up with my two friends to celebrate all three of our birthdays, and to just plain ole catch up. (That’s another subject I can write at length about - how we are all so busy that it takes months to find a mutual date to meet up. Do not get me started on that one!) At first, I was supposed to host but then plans got switched around and Donna graciously took up the mantle to host. She made a most delicious dinner featuring a salmon dish with a salsa that has my lips licking just thinking about it. I will beg her for the recipe to share. Since she was handling the dinner, she asked if I could make a dessert. Our friend Lisa was avoiding sweets. So how do you make a non sweet dessert? Fruit to the rescue. I was banking that it’s own natural sweetness would do the trick.

I did cheat ever so slightly by adding homemade strawberry jam that I reduced down with orange juice and zest to intensify the flavor. But nothing else had added sugar.

I wasn’t actually looking for an easy dessert to make but this one somehow ended up being pretty easy. The only baking portion was the puff pastry shell. Everything else was pretty much assembly.

Photos first, recipe follows.

Whip a heavy cream. Traditionally, powdered sugar is added for sweetness. Not here. I only added orange zest to brighten the flavor.

Whip a heavy cream. Traditionally, powdered sugar is added for sweetness. Not here. I only added orange zest to brighten the flavor.

The puff pastry has a buttery flavor that adds richness to the overall dessert. Spreading just a small amount of strawberry jam gives another layer of flavor, and a tart and sweet component.

The puff pastry has a buttery flavor that adds richness to the overall dessert. Spreading just a small amount of strawberry jam gives another layer of flavor, and a tart and sweet component.

Fluffy and light, the non-sweetened mix of whipped cream and mascarpone makes it luxurious and not heavy at all.

Fluffy and light, the non-sweetened mix of whipped cream and mascarpone makes it luxurious and not heavy at all.

Spread it out and fill it to the top. See all the orange zest flecks. I do believe these added a fresh, brightness to the cream mixture.

Spread it out and fill it to the top. See all the orange zest flecks. I do believe these added a fresh, brightness to the cream mixture.

Make it pretty. One thing about simple desserts is that it should be visually appealing. Decide on a design, then make it gorgeous!

Make it pretty. One thing about simple desserts is that it should be visually appealing. Decide on a design, then make it gorgeous!

You can use any fruit you like. These were the ones that were readily available and work well together. Plus the colors play nicely, and that always helps making a dish look more appealing.

Ingredients

Puff Pastry sheet
1 1/2 c Mascarpone Cheese
1 pint Heavy Cream
1 Qt Strawberries
2 c Blackberries
1.5 c Raspberries
1/3 c Strawberry Jam
Juice of an Orange & Zest

Instructions

  1. Roll out a puff pastry sheet large enough to fit a 10” pastry pan with removable bottom. Once placed in the pan, use the rolling pin to cut a clean edge of pastry.

  2. Blind bake* the shell until completely cooked. Then set aside to cool

  3. While the shell is baking, simmer the strawberry jam with 2 T of juice of orange & 2 t zest, reducing until thick. Set aside and let cool.

  4. Whip the full pint of heavy cream until stiff peaks. Remove half and reserve for extra topping.

  5. Using a spatula, gently fold in the mascarpone cheese, orange zest and blend until combined. Do not over mix in order to not deflate the whipped cream.

  6. Spread a thin layer of the jam on the bottom of the pie crust.

  7. Fill with the cream mixture.

  8. Cut the strawberries and arrange all along the outer edge. Then fill in with the rest of the fruit.

  9. Add mint leaves for decoration as well as a refreshing addition. Serve with more whipped cream

*Blind baking: Baking a crust without the filing. Some bakers use tin foil filled with dried beans, rice or baking weights to weigh the pastry down. I simply use tin foil and smaller baking pan on top.

Note: When I rolled out the pastry dough there will be left over pieces. I decided to use a small leaf shaped cookie cutter to create little decorations. I baked them at the same time as the crust, then used them in the final decorations. I added cream on one side to adhere them to the pie then topped them with jam to make them look like strawberries. Sprigs of mint not only added a pop of color but acted as the leaves to the faux strawberries.

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This was a huge hit meeting the task of providing a dessert while also being refreshing and Not Sweet. Granted this was not gluten free but it served the purpose while also putting big smiles on everyone’s faces.

Brunch Made Simple

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Brunch is supposed to be a relaxed, chill vibe. A time to hang with friends and family. The whole idea is rooted in the premise of sleeping in, then eating lazily in the late morning.  That is true if you are going out to eat, or to someone else's home.  But if you are hosting, it's a bit harder to sleep in. Plus it can feel a bit overwhelming, knowing there are mountains of ideas on what to serve.  I am guilty of wanting to offer up more options than are possible to consume.  (Or to make, for that matter.) The essence of brunch is that beautiful crossover of food from breakfast items to lunch or even a few heartier items. There in lies the rub.  All those choices create a mind numbing battle of what to serve when the possibilities seem endless.

That was my dilemma a while back when we hosted a brunch for our dear friends Carl and Malcolm. I had all sorts of ideas, but I was determined to keep it as simple as possible.  In the end, I felt like I accomplished that, so much so that I recreated the same menu for a Sunday brunch with our other dear friends, Nicki and Jeff. 

A little forewarning, in order to keep this post manageable, each recipe below is a hot link, bolded and highlighted in blue. Just click to be whisked away to see how to make it.

Let us begin:

There were two slight changes to the menu for Nicki and Jeff versus the original. I didn't serve the polenta cake, but did add an amuse-bouche of Ibérico ham, Marcona Almonds, olives.  It was a nice way to greet our friends and settle in a bit as we caught up on our life tales and the many moons that had passed.

Now, you've heard me say many a time that it is essential to serve warm items, room temp and chilled items. This holds especially true for brunch.  Certainly, if I were serving brunch in the winter I might lean on a few more warm plates, but this combo seems just right for the rest of the seasons. Plus, as we head into summer we are in prime time for more entertaining in general, especially outdoors.  Brunch is ideal for backyard entertaining.

 

 

After the nibbles that amused our mouths and whetted our appetites, we started off with a chilled dish, then moved on to all the other plates. Let the party begin with a refreshing and clean burst of citrus.

Citrus Salad Martini

A 'brighten your day' start to Sunday, or any day for that matter.

A 'brighten your day' start to Sunday, or any day for that matter.

Next up was a continuation of fruit, transitioning to savory with this lightly tossed salad.

GRAPED UP BOSTON SALAD

Boston lettuce with grapes, fennel, celery, scallion. It's bright and light.

Boston lettuce with grapes, fennel, celery, scallion. It's bright and light.

Something warm with...

TOMATO & GOAT CHEESE PIE

Warm and savory. The sweetness of the tomatoes balances the tang of the goat cheese.

Warm and savory. The sweetness of the tomatoes balances the tang of the goat cheese.

Something room temp and hearty...

Salmon Salad Platter, Deconstructed

Polenta Cake

Polenta cake cut into slices.

Polenta cake cut into slices.

Ingredients

2 c polenta (cook according to package)
1.5 T butter
1/4 c chives, chopped
1/3 c goat cheese
salt, pepper

Instructions

Once the polenta is cooked, remove from the burner and stir in the butter, goat cheese and chives, salt and pepper until combined.  Lightly oil a cast iron pan and pour in the polenta. Bake at 350 degrees until a crust forms. Turn onto a board or plate and cut into wedges.  Best served warm but room temp is good too.

What I love best about this meal is that so much can be done in advance. The big plus is that any of these can be served at room temp, therefore, less stress about timing and getting the plates to the table.  

Then for dessert, I kept with the same theme of simple.  Prepped ahead of time and waiting on the kitchen table, I brought out a small platter of fresh cheeses (Manchego & Ibores),  grapes, strawberries and Sweet Olive Oil Crackers. Certainly, you can go sweet at this stage of the meal, but this felt right, and I believe our guests thought so too.

So, although YOU might not be sleeping in as late as everyone else, but taking the homemade brunch route doesn't have to stress you out.  Create the perfect crossover meal.  

 
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Lunch with a Friend - Casual with Style

My dear friend, Donna, and I had been trying to make plans to get together for months. We had set a date to meet in the city for lunch, but alas those plans got axed.  Once we switched the day, it meant she was able to come up to my house for a 'ladies lunch'.  Does that make us sound old?  If so, then forget it.  We were just eating together.

It had been a while since we had last seen each other, so the idea was to enjoy each other's company and not have cooking occupy my time. The plan to keep it easy peasy was to create a menu where the majority of items could all be roasted in the oven and the rest could be made ahead of time.  Leaving me hands free for when she arrived.  I like starch (pasta, potatoes, rice not the kind used for ironing), and wanted to include that too. My immediate thought was polenta. However, after surveying the menu, a last minute swap out for rice felt like it paired better with the rest of the offerings, which also included a salad.  When it came to dessert, this needed to be super simple because I didn't have the time to bake.  Add to that, I wanted something that I could enjoy too. A traditionally baked item uses flour and eggs, well, no good for me. 

Sure sandwiches would have been even easier. Sure we could have eaten at the kitchen table.  But a little extra detail is much nicer. And so...

How hard is it to keep it casual but amp it a bit to feel special?  Simply throw down a runner the opposite way to create an more intimate area on a large table, add some placemats. Toss cloth napkins on the plate and put glasses on the table.  That always ups the ante, and really it doesn't take more effort than that.

So when you want to keep it chill yet with touch of style for no fuss lunch, here's a menu that can be pulled off without a hitch. The best part of this for me was that since it was pouring out and despise schlepping in the rain, I already had everything in the house, and didn't even need to shop!!  

Prep everything in their pans, season right before putting in the oven and have a glass of wine.

Prep everything in their pans, season right before putting in the oven and have a glass of wine.

If you need some recipes guides for the below menu, the highlighted items link to previous blog posts that feature each one. Also at the very bottom, you will find printable recipe versions.  If you have any questions on how to pull this menu off, write a comment below or email me

Lunch Menu

Simply roasted salmon nestled up against beautiful roasted vegetables all on one plate.

Simply roasted salmon nestled up against beautiful roasted vegetables all on one plate.

Paella rice risotto style with 3 kinds of onions (red, yellow and scallions)

Paella rice risotto style with 3 kinds of onions (red, yellow and scallions)

For the Paella Rice Risotto style, first sauté a mixture of red, yellow onion and scallion until caramelized.  Set aside. In a medium sized pot, simply sauté some more onions in oil, salt and pepper then add the rice to toast it. Then add either hot water or hot stock (chicken or vegetable) a few ladles at a time until the rice absorbs the liquid. Continue until the rice is tender then stir in the sautéd onion mixture. 

Another option, you can check out my Garlic Rice recipe.

You know this salad. This is the Citrus Salad Bowl, but in one big bowl not individually plated. This way we could go back for seconds.

You know this salad. This is the Citrus Salad Bowl, but in one big bowl not individually plated. This way we could go back for seconds.

The skinny on how the dessert portion was pulled together with just a few ingredients: Open the fridge. Check out what you have and use your imagination.  I found strawberries and blueberries, and tucked in the back a tiny bit of left over chocolate ganache* (previously used for some profiteroles I had made).  And just like that I had a dessert.  Fresh Fruit Bark.

* Ganache is chocolate melted down by adding warmed cream to create a glaze .  When I originally made mine I used much less cream since I wanted a thicker consistency for the profiteroles.  If I had a traditional ganache, it would have never worked for this dessert.  

Spread the chocolate onto parchment paper.

Spread the chocolate onto parchment paper.

Instructions

I melted down the chocolate, spread it over parchment and jammed, I mean lovingly placed, the fruit into the chocolate. For texture, I sprinkled some crushed Marcona Almonds and popped it in the fridge to set and chill until time to serve. 

Arrange the fruit in a way that is appetizing to you.

Arrange the fruit in a way that is appetizing to you.

Since this was made with a semi ganache, it had a softer consistency than traditional bark.  That didn't bother either one of us, and the fresh fruit route was the perfect choice since Donna prefers fresh versus dried fruit. Phew, good call on my part.  This literally was the truest form of 'something from nothing', pulling a dessert out of the hat from whatever I had handy.  We both agreed it was quite delicious.  Bigger bonus, it gave her a new way to use up all the gorgeous summer fruit she gets at her country house.  

Starting with the lovely Shinn Estates Rosé that Donna brought, we had a relaxing time, ate well, caught up on each other's lives and travels, enjoyed a surprise yummy dessert, and of course, finished the entire bottle of wine. It ended as a perfect Lunch with a Friend.  

Sprinkle chopped Marcona Almonds all over the top.

Sprinkle chopped Marcona Almonds all over the top.

The Art of a Charcuterie & Cheese Platter

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As the holidays come barreling down the highway, ideas for what to serve are top of mind. With all the hustle and bustle, a good way to fill the table, fill your guests and keep sane during the season is to offer up a beautiful, bountiful charcuterie platter as part of your appetizer/cocktail hour.  There are many ways to stack up all your meats, cheeses and other nibbles, but a tried and true method is have a wide selection,  keep like items together and spread the color around for visual impact.  

Sure, there are plenty of other rules like; offer 3 different types of cheese (cow, goat, sheep). Or one should be hard, another soft, one should be mild, one should be strong, blah blah blah.  Joking aside, these are some decent guidelines. But your own instinct and good judgement are the very best rules to follow.

I say, buy and serve what you love and what you think your guests will enjoy. Sometimes I serve four cheeses. Sometimes three or five.  There are no hard and fast rules but I will share some of the tips that my heart follows, and thus do my platters.  

  • I like to offer up a 'palate party'. Put forth different items that will excite all the sensory notes on your tongue. Cheese and meat for the savory elements, fruits both fresh and dried for sweetness, nuts or chick peas for crunch, olives for a salty bite. You get the idea.

  • Use bowls for smaller items. They contain them plus create height giving the platter a bit more interest.

  • Add fresh items like vegetables or greens

  • Include small spoons or forks so guests can easily pick up food

  • Arrange each item in groupings, either neatly and orderly or nicely bunched together

  • Be colorful. Spread the hues around so that similar colors aren't next to one another.

  • Fill your charcuterie platters chock full of goodies. Depending on what you have available and how you want your guests to feast should determine what goes on your platter. Pull out what you have and see if it's the right mix.

  • If it may seem overwhelming, then place all your items on the board to help provide a visual sense.

Using fruit of the season is a wonderful complement to cheese. If your cheese, meat and fruit choices feel like they are all in the same color scheme, tuck some herbs or greens on the edges for some visual anchoring.

Using fruit of the season is a wonderful complement to cheese. If your cheese, meat and fruit choices feel like they are all in the same color scheme, tuck some herbs or greens on the edges for some visual anchoring.

Let's build a platter.  

Here is 2 types of dry cured sausage, 3 types of cheese, Marcona almonds, olives, dried apricots, gluten free crackers and short bread sticks.

Here is 2 types of dry cured sausage, 3 types of cheese, Marcona almonds, olives, dried apricots, gluten free crackers and short bread sticks.

Filling the bowls.
For some small items like nuts, you can snuggle them up to another offerings. However, I find that items with liquid, like olives, are best contained.  Once I have one small bowl, then I usually like to add another for balance. Also, a suggestion is to stay within a color scheme when choosing vessels.  I have presented my platters with and without bowls.  It's just how the mood hits me.  Design at will.

Create Height:
For more visual interest, place a big hunk of cheese then arrange the cut pieces around it.  This creates structure and height but also shows your guests the cheese in its original state.

Make it Easy to Eat:
When presenting cheese and meats, I prefer cutting each one so they are readily available for guests.  They can just pick up a few pieces and go.  I have noticed that trying to cut with all the other items on a platter can be difficult. For cheese, I look for the natural and most logical way to cut a particular cheese.  Each one has its own best way to present it.  Some are better in big chunks while others work beautifully in elongated triangles. Much like people, we come in a myriad of shapes and sizes but all mingle together.

Presentation:
Keep cutting and placing and building up your board.  Place items around and see how they feel in the space. They can always be shifted around.  You can't make a mistake.

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Build it up:
Keep at it until you get it just the way you want. Generally, I just go with the flow.  Insert here, augment there to create a platter that looks appealing and complements my other appetizer offerings.  My suggestion is play around until you get a sense of how the meats and cheeses and fruits and other snack-ables like cozying up together.  

If you are wondering what these tiny round nuggets in the center bowl are, why those are my  Spicy Chick Peas  that make a perfect addition to a platter or alone for cocktails.

If you are wondering what these tiny round nuggets in the center bowl are, why those are my Spicy Chick Peas that make a perfect addition to a platter or alone for cocktails.

When it comes to dry cured meats like Prosciutto or Serrano ham, you can rock and roll 'em up. 

 

Serrano ham

Serrano ham

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Other times, they are best when gathered to make little bunches.

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Other dry cured meats can be folded or curled like trumpets for a tidy look.  I think it's the uniformity that makes it appealing and appetizing.  

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Now that you have the basics, here are a few other tips plus other platters I have created in the past to get a sense or arrangement.

I am an equal opportunity employer when it comes to my serving ware.  So I like to put into play a variety of shapes and sizes when I build my platters. Incorporating the shape of those boards/platters helps to paint the picture of the final layout.  If you have curves (like I do...) embrace them, work with them and arrange your items
in a circular fashion.  

Also, introduce veggies when you can. Since crackers can be heavy, I adore including cucumbers. (I use either English or Persian, as they have less seeds.) They work just like bread or a cracker as a delivery vehicle, and are a great alternative for gluten free and carb free folks.  Plus they burst onto the scene with a green that just makes me smile.

When you do use crackers and want to keep it all contained, include them nestled in so that guests can grab whatever their heart desires all from one place. 

Abundancia: Figs, triple cream goat cheese, Moroccan oil cured olives, Serrano ham, Fuet, cheeses, grapes, nuts, onion jam (recipe coming soon) Mary's Gone Gluten Free crackers.

Abundancia: Figs, triple cream goat cheese, Moroccan oil cured olives, Serrano ham, Fuet, cheeses, grapes, nuts, onion jam (recipe coming soon) Mary's Gone Gluten Free crackers.

The introduction of dips, such as hummus, right in the midst of it all augments your offerings with a creamy factor. I'm a big fan of tucking greens in and around. Arugula provides a lovely, spicy bite that dances well with all these flavors.  The greens not only brighten the platter but provide a crispness that both lightens and refreshes the palate.

Notice how I didn't use a bowl for the nuts here but instead just piled them amongst their friends.

Notice how I didn't use a bowl for the nuts here but instead just piled them amongst their friends.

Sometimes you can make a big impact by mixing nice and neat items that anchor the others that are just mounded up abundantly in the middle.

No matter how you decide to arrange your charcuterie platter, have fun with it. With every grab of a piece of this and a slice of that your guests will be delighted with your bountiful offering.