Tart Time

My sister got me a beautiful new pie/tart pan for Christmas, so when I set out to bake a dessert for a New Year’s party, I immediately wanted to try out my present. After a while of browsing the interwebs, I decided to go with a cranberry pear tart.

IMG_0273Cranberry Almond Pear Tart

You will need:

  • Pie crust
  • 4 lbs Bosc pears
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp ginger, plus a little extra
  • Cranberries (fresh)
  • Almonds (chopped)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel and chop pears. In a large bowl, combine pears, sugar, and 2 tsp ginger. Line a roasting pan with aluminum foil and add pear mixture. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until pears are soft and easily pierced with a fork.

Reduce heat to 350 degrees. I’m lazy and used a store-bought crust, but if you’re more ambitious, make a lovely homemade pie crust. Poncie has a delicious pie crust recipe that she will hopefully share on this blog at some point. Either way, roll out your crust and line your tart pan with it. Lift the pears out of the roasting pan with a slotted spoon and put them into the crust. Add a handful of cranberries over the mixture and press them down into the pears. Sprinkle chopped almonds and remaining ginger over the top. Bake for an hour and serve warm or chilled. Happy 2013!

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It’s Soup Season (Spicy Black Bean Soup)

I’m pretty sure my mom only observes three seasons: spring, summer, and soup. From about September until March, she goes into soup mode, combatting the chilly to freezing weather in West Virginia with every type of soup under the sun. From broccoli cheddar and chicken noodle to turkey meatball and vegetable lentil, my mom makes it all.

Because I spent the last four years living in Orlando, soup wasn’t exactly at the top of my list in terms of what I wanted to make. Even when the AC was cranked up in the apartment, the constant stifling humidity outside made eating soup just feel wrong. So now that I’m living in Boston with the cooler weather, I’m adopting my mother’s belief in soup season. I had several people tell me over the past couple months that soup is not real food. I wholeheartedly disagree. There is nothing better on a chilly night than a big bowl of piping hot soup. You’ll probably see many more soup recipes surfacing on this blog in the coming weeks.

Spicy Black Bean Soup (adapted from http://gimmesomeoven.com/spicy-black-bean-soup)

You will need:

  • 2 tbsp. Olive Oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 4 gloves garlic, minced
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo, chopped plus 1 tbsp. adobo sauce
  • 2 (15 oz) cans black beans
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp. cilantro (chopped fresh or dried)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Shredded cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Tortilla chips

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In a large pot, heat olive oil and cook onion, red pepper, and garlic for about 5 minutes.

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Add in chipotle, black beans, and diced tomatoes.

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Stir in chicken broth, bay leaf, and spices. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 10 minutes.

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Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Add sour cream and cheese as a garnish and serve hot soup with tortilla chips.

Go-to Guac

I have a severe weakness for tortilla chips. I rarely leave the grocery store without them. My current favorite are blue corn tortilla chips, but the black bean and quinoa tortilla chips from Trader Joe’s are quickly moving up the list. I could probably sit here for a while talking about how much I love them, but that would get boring pretty quickly. So, moving on…

Because I consider tortilla chips to be the best snack food, I’m a sucker for anything that goes with them: salsa, queso, dips, and of course, guacamole. I love guacamole because it never quite turns out exactly the same twice, but it’s equally wonderful every time. I have a standard recipe I usually follow, but feel free to add your own variations according to what you like!

You will need:

  • About 3 medium avocados, peeled and pitted
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 lime
  • Cilantro
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 red pepper, diced (optional)
  • 1 small tomato, diced (optional)
  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt (optional)

Place the avocados in a medium bowl and mash them. For a creamier texture, add the Greek yogurt and mix. Mix in the red onion and garlic. If you’re using red pepper and/or tomato, mix them in as well.

Stir in grated zest of 1 lime and fresh squeezed juice of half of the lime. Mix in cilantro (dried or fresh), salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste. Break out the tortilla chips and dig in!

I always have red onion in my kitchen, but I don’t always keep red peppers and tomatoes, which is why I consider those to be optional. They’ll add a little more texture, color, and flavor, but I often do without. Greek yogurt makes the guac a little fuller and creamier. I usually add it if I have fewer avocados and still want the same size batch.

Also, if you’ve never made guacamole before, be aware that it will turn brown pretty quickly even if it’s in tupperware. Science has never been my best subject, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with oxidation (I’ll let Poncie handle all science lessons). To prevent the browning, put lemon juice or oil spray on a piece of plastic wrap and place it directly on the surface of the guac before you refrigerate it. Guacamole lasts several days in the fridge, so even if it does start to turn brown on top, just stir it up to reveal the lovely green underneath. It will still taste wonderful even if it isn’t quite as pretty as when you first made it!

UPDATE 12/30/12: I recently attended a Christmas party and wanted to change up my guacamole recipe for the holiday occasion. I made my basic guac, but instead of adding in the tomatoes or red pepper, I used pomegranate seeds. They added a beautiful holiday color and fun flavor to the dish that went over extremely well with all the party guests. I had people coming up to me all evening telling me how much they enjoyed the twist on the typical appetizer.

Cranberry Orange Muffins

I’m not sure what prompted my love of baking muffins. I think it may have been because I was too lazy to ice cupcakes once. Whatever the reason, I spent the entire summer making a different batch of muffins every week (much to the joy of my coworkers). Last week after a long day, I came home and decided to give cranberry orange muffins a try. Most of my muffin recipes are adapted from Williams-Sonoma.

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You will need:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup skim milk
  • ½ cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 ½ cups fresh cranberries
  • ½ cup pecans or walnuts, chopped (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease 12 muffin cups with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, stir the flour, sugars, baking powder, salt, and zest.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg, melted butter, milk, and orange juice. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until evenly mixed. Fold in the cranberries (and nuts) until just mixed. Don’t overmix!

Spoon the batter into each muffin cup, filling it level with the rim. Bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Unmold and enjoy!

Makes about 12 muffins.