Sunday, July 10, 2011

Welcome back

Cherry frangipane tart

Well. It's been a while, hasn't it. Much to my surprise, life after graduate school does not, in fact, automatically come with more free time. On the contrary, along with my shiny new job came a shiny new commute, and part of me feels a perverse longing for the "free" time I had a year ago. Finding the time and energy to cook dinner with any kind of regularity has been a challenge, let alone finding the motivation to photograph and write about what I manage to cook.

Recently, though, I've enjoyed some extra inspiration to make time for baking. Summer fruit hit its stride a few weeks ago, just in time for Amy I. to return to the Bay Area. Now, when a friend arrives back in town after six months abroad, when she and her spouse move into their new place, housewarming goodies must be baked. And baked they were. I could think of no more delightful way to celebrate their return than with an abundance of summer's best in one of my favorite fruit desserts: a frangipane tart.


Tart crustPitting cherries

You see, I am a sucker for many things nut-related, but perhaps most of all for frangipane. So simple, so easy, frangipane feels disproportionately (almost guiltily) rewarding for how little work goes into it. A food processor makes quick work of the filling, and whether you scatter the fruit haphazardly or arrange it artfully, the result rarely fails to take on a kind of elegance. In the end, for reasons I can't quite identify, frangipane tarts feel at once rustic and refined, the sort of dessert that feels equally at home eaten off of a napkin or china plates.

This is a choose-your-own-adventure sort of dessert, one that works with a variety of crusts and virtually any fruit you can imagine pairing with nuts. I think that stone fruits make the best frangipane tarts, but pear and apple also shine in this setting (pear frangipane tarts are a classic French dessert), and I will probably try a fig and frangipane tart before the summer's out. For this tart, however, the timing couldn't have been better for cherries.

Life is...

Sweet and succulent, and just hitting their peak, cherries have had me on a veritable baking streak. They seem particularly fine this year, despite (or perhaps thanks to?) an unusually rainy and cool spring, and I am enjoying cherries like never before: packed in lunches, at picnics in the park with puppy, out of hand as I putter about the house, and of course baked in tarts like this one. I do hope you'll give it a try.

Pitted cherries

Cherry Frangipane Tart

Adapted from Deborah Madison's Seasonal Fruit Desserts.
Makes one 9-inch round tart, plus enough frangipane for another tart.


  • One 9-inch tart shell (recipe of your choice), partially baked, cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups raw almonds
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unrefined sugar (see note)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 egg plus 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 tablespoons Kirsch (optional, see note)
  • 1 1/4 pounds cherries
  • 3 tablespoons good quality fruit preserves (I used homemade apricot jam)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar


  1. Combine the first four ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until the nuts are finely ground.
  2. Add the butter in pieces and process until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Add the egg, yolks, almond extract, and liqueur (if using), and process until well blended. Divide into two equal portions, and refrigerate one half for later use. You may refrigerate the other half if not using right away; bring the mixture to room temperature before spreading into the prepared crust (see note).
  4. When ready to bake the tart, place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
  5. While the oven is coming up to temperature, heat the preserves, strain them, and stir together with 1 tablespoon water.
  6. Stem and pit the cherries, then toss with the sugar and strained preserves.
  7. Spread the room-temperature frangipane over the cooled crust, and distribute the cherries over the top.
  8. Bake until the frangipane is puffed and golden, and the fruit has softened, about 35 minutes.
  9. Serve warm or at room temperature, as you prefer


  • You can also use white sugar, but I like the extra depth of flavor that raw or other kinds of unrefined sugar (such as sucanat) lend to the filling. The exception is the cherry mixture, where the fine grains of ordinary granulated sugar lend themselves to more even distribution.
  • Kirsch works beautifully for a cherry tart, but you can also use Amaretto, especially if you're using a different fruit.
  • This recipe makes twice as much frangipane as you need for one tart, but the mixture keeps, refrigerated in a clean container, for approximately one week. I find it a very handy thing to have around in case you need to make a dessert on short notice, and in summer I'm rarely without a jar of it in the fridge.
  • You can also make frangipane using almond paste, which contains more finely ground almonds, but I prefer the texture of frangipane made with ground almonds. An example of almond paste frangipane can be found here.

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Christmas breakfast

We're having a quiet Christmas this year. S had hip surgery #2 on Monday, and so far things are going splendidly, but we're keeping the activity level to a minimum. I'll take the pup to the dog park while S blows up Nazi zombies from the comfort of a recliner (and underneath a pile of cats). Today's menu is traditional for our family: popovers, fruit, and homemade jam for breakfast (above), homemade soup and bread for lunch, and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding for dinner. For those of you who celebrate Christmas, do you have traditional family recipes or menus?

Whatever your plans are today, I wish you a day full of peace, joy, and love. I'll have another recipe up shortly, but in the meantime, safe travels and good eats!

Merry Woofmas!

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Friday, December 24, 2010

A different kind of gingerbread house

Gingerbread house

Gingerbread houses: the baking, the building, the decorating. Ordinarily I'd say, what's not to love? The thing is, there is something not to love, and that's the gingerbread. Frankly, I'm not all that fond of the sturdy (ahem) gingerbread that's typically used in gingerbread houses. Perhaps some people are content with the only fun part being the decorating, and perhaps some people actually like the traditional gingerbread, but I'm not one of those people--I want to play with my food, but I also want to eat it. Fortunately there's a different way. If you ask me, it's a better way.

Construction begins

Years ago I happened on a Martha Stewart gingerbread house recipe that used not the hard, unappetizing type of gingerbread, but gingerbread cake. I can't for the life of me find the recipe, and I don't even remember if the cake was anything special. The key thing was the concept. If you make a gingerbread house using cake, your problem will be keeping yourself from eating all your construction materials before you even start building, rather than the guilt over throwing out something you baked but can't bring yourself to eat.

Grating gingerDecorations
Gumdrop path

This cake is a ginger-lover's cake. Indeed, with two tablespoons (!!) of ground ginger and a tablespoon of fresh ginger, it might even be too strong for people whose feelings toward ginger don't rise to the level of fervent admiration. Again, I'm not one of those people. I've tried other gingerbread cakes before, ones that gave a cursory nod to the ginger flavor but ultimately left me wanting more. Not this one. Here the warm, spicy ginger flavor comes through beautifully against the hearty, stout-enriched cake. I enjoyed building and decorating my little house, but for once I think I might have even more fun eating it.

Gingerbread ingredients

Gingerbread Cake

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, January & February 2011
Makes one 8-inch square cake.


  • 3/4 cup dark stout, such as Guinness
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2/3 cup molasses
  • 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus some for dusting the pan
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger


  1. Place an oven rack in the middle position, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil an 8-inch square baking pan (preferably glass or ceramic, see note), dust it with flour, and set aside.
  2. Place the stout in a medium saucepan (at least 1 1/2 quarts, trust me) over medium heat. When it comes to a boil, remove it from the heat and stir in the baking soda. Don't be alarmed when it produces a copious amount of foam.
  3. Let the foam subside, then stir in the molasses and sugars until they're dissolved. Set the mixture aside and let cool slightly while you prepare the dry ingredients.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ground ginger (not fresh), baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and pepper. Set aside.
  5. When the stout mixture has cooled somewhat (should be warm to the touch, but not hot), whisk in the eggs, oil, and fresh ginger.
  6. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in three parts, whisking vigorously (yes, really) after each addition. The batter should be completely smooth before you proceed with subsequent additions.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and tap the pan against the counter (gently!) in order to release any large air bubbles in the batter. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, and the top is just firm to touch. Be patient--unless you know that your oven tends to rush things (or the cake appears to be burning), try not to open the oven door until at least 35 minutes have passed. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for at least 1 1/2 hours, and serve either warm or at room temperature.


  • If you only have a thin-walled (metal) pan, the folks at Cook's Illustrated recommend using cake strips to insulate the cake and prevent the edges from burning.
  • The cake can be stored, wrapped tightly in plastic and kept at room temperature, for two days.
  • The original recipe recommends serving it with whipped cream, but for construction purposes I recommend something more substantial, like cream cheese frosting. Cream cheese frosting is simply two parts cream cheese, one part butter, plus vanilla extract and powdered sugar to taste--1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1 cup powdered sugar are a good starting point for 8 ounces of cream cheese.

Front door

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Doctor Is In

Blueberries and sugar

Friends, you've been so patient. It has been quite the year at the Beyond Ramen household. From a chest full of pulmonary embolisms to the long slog toward the end of graduate school, my time and energy have not quite been my own, and that means a sad state of neglect here at the blog.

Serving crumbleBlenheimsApricot pits

Although for parts of the summer I had a few minutes here and there to bake something--and even to take some pictures--posting has fallen by the wayside. By autumn, even my kitchen was neglected in the final, harried push of thesis-writing.

Pine conesTwilight over the dockMoonbow in Upper Yosemite Falls

Now, however, I am thrilled to say that the research is finished, the thesis is written, the defense is passed, and the whole thing has been wrapped up in a shiny bow. Okay, there's no bow, but it is official: midway through 23rd grade, I have finished my formal schooling.

Cobbler fillingFinishing touchesBlueberry cupcakes

I can't say exactly when I will return to proper (let alone routine) posting--especially given that much of my newfound free time has been spent caring for the pup pictured at the end of this post--but I hope it will be soon. I miss the sharing, I miss hearing from commenters, and I miss the community of the foodie blogosphere.


I have a few recipes waiting for their photo shoot and write-up, and although the next few weeks are a whirlwind of travel, visitors, and other commitments, I do hope to have something to share with you all in time for the winter holidays.

Birthday cakeJersey girlPies

In the meantime, I'll leave you with some photos that, while a poor substitute for a proper post, do in some small way give a sense of what I've been up to over the last several months. Other than thesising, that is.


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Monday, April 26, 2010

Green risotto for a green day


Last week I posted various links with information on how you can get more green in your life. Today I'm going to post about getting more green in your diet. I don't mean the sustainability kind of green (though of course it can be that, too); I mean the crisp, lively, juicy spring green that's so welcome when you're starting to have had your fill of root vegetables.

Shelling peas

The look of my local farmer's market is changing rapidly these days, exchanging the warm yellows and oranges of winter citrus for the vibrant greens of spring vegetables. Gone are the blood oranges and cara caras; in their place are tables overflowing with fresh peas. Last weekend we even got our first fava beans, and I was ready with a recipe. A green recipe!

Slicing asparagus

This risotto has been on my to-do list ever since I came across it in Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Vegetables last summer (after the favas had disappeared from the markets, naturally) because it combines one of my favorite things about spring (fresh peas) with one of my favorite things in general (risotto). But it's not just peas, and this is where we really get our green on. This risotto takes the best of the spring green vegetables: peas, fava beans, and asparagus.

Risotto pot

That might sound like a lot--indeed, done poorly, I can imagine the result feeling clumsy--but Waters incorporates the vegetables in such a way that none of them steps on another's toes. And although in my mind risotto falls squarely in the warming, cozy "comfort food" category, this risotto manages to be at once comforting and refreshing. I don't know how better to describe it than to say that it tastes of spring. And if that doesn't chase away the winter doldrums, I don't know what will.

Spring vegetables and risotto

Green Risotto with Fava Puree, Peas, and Asparagus

Adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables
Serves 6, or 4 generously


  • 1/2 pound young fava beans (weighed in their pods)
  • Olive oil
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 3/4 pound fresh green peas (again, weighed in their pods)
  • 4 spears of asparagus
  • 1 medium onion
  • 7 to 8 cups good stock (vegetable or chicken, as you like)
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving


  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. While you're waiting for it to boil, prepare an ice bath, and shell the favas. Discard--or compost!--the pods.
  2. When the water's boiling, add the favas and let them cook for one minute before draining them and shocking them in the ice bath to stop the cooking.
  3. Drain them again, then peel them by piercing the outer skin with your thumbnail at one end, and squeezing the bean out with the thumb and forefinger of your other hand.
  4. Place the peeled beans in a small pot with a glug of olive oil, a dash of salt, and just enough water so that they're almost covered. Cook them over low heat, slowly, until they're squishably soft but haven't lost their bright green color. This should take about 15-20 minutes. If the pan goes dry and the beans start to stick, add water a bit at a time. Drain them once more, then either puree them with a food processor or pass them through a food mill.
  5. While the beans are cooking, prep the rest of the vegetables. Shell the peas and prep the asparagus. Trim the ends of the asparagus, then slice the stalks thinly on the bias. Chop the onion into small dice.
  6. When all of your vegetables are ready to go, heat the stock in a large pot and keep it at a bare simmer.
  7. Place another large, heavy pot over medium heat and add the butter. When the butter is melted, add the onion and cook until it is softened and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  8. Add a pinch of salt and the rice and cook, stirring frequently, until the rice is also slightly translucent, about 3 minutes.
  9. Increase the heat to medium-high as you pour in the white wine. Stir constantly until the wine is absorbed, then reduce the heat and add just enough stock so that the rice is covered.
  10. Keep stirring, adding more stock by the ladleful when the previous addition has been absorbed. Keep the rice at a low simmer.
  11. After 10 minutes of cooking, add the peas and the sliced asparagus, then continue with the stirring and adding of stock.
  12. After another 5 minutes, or when the rice is al dente to taste, add the fava puree, the cheese, and the remaining butter. Stir well, adding more stock if necessary to achieve the consistency of a thick sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then serve immediately, with the extra cheese as a garnish.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day link farm

Dewy grass

I'll have a lovely, spring-green recipe coming your way soon, but in the meantime, let's take a quick look at a different kind of green. In celebration of Earth Day, here are some links to help you get your earth love on. Happy browsing!

KQED's Bay Area Bites has a list of things you can do to make your kitchen a little less wasteful and a little more environmentally friendly. If you're already doing most (or all) of the things on the list, give yourself a pat on the back. If not, perhaps you'll learn something new. Everybody wins!

iPhone-wielding fans of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch now have a handy way of keeping Seafood Watch's sustainable seafood recommendations handy: a free iPhone app with region-specific seafood information determined by your phone's GPS function.

If you haven't seen Food, Inc., do. Seriously. It's an eye-opening, heart-breaking, blood-pressure-raising 90 minutes chock full of information on where our food originates. Netflix account holders can have it streamed to their tv or computer.

I doubt that anyone reading this blog doesn't know where to find locally grown produce, but just in case, U.S. readers can find a wealth of local market and producer information through Local Harvest.

This isn't food-related, but NASA/Goddard's Flickr photostream has some pretty neat images of this blue planet of ours.

And finally, also not food-related but filed under "neato," some awe-inspiring new images of the star that makes it all possible: our sun.

Anything to add? Drop your links in comments. Happy Earth Day!

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Preserving the best of winter

Clementine-kumquat marmalade

Before we begin, I must beg your pardon. I've waited so very long to share this recipe with you that at this point, I fear you'll have some difficulty in obtaining the ingredients. But it would be a shame to have to wait until next winter to make this marmalade, so I'm going to post it anyway. I hope very much that, what with California often being on the leading edge of the change in the turnover of seasonal produce, the bright hues of winter citrus are still in abundance at your local markets.

Breakfast table

Personally, I've missed my window. I made only a small batch as a test run, and as it often does, life (*cough* grad school *cough*) kept me from making another, larger batch before kumquat season came to an end. Now that that one small batch is long gone, I find myself pining for it.

I still love orange marmalade, but after making and tasting tangerine-kumquat marmalade, I admit that I'm spooning ordinary orange marmalade onto my toast with a little less enthusiasm than I used to. There might even be a sigh now and then as I remember that what I have left in my pantry for the next nine months or so is not, in fact, tangerine-kumquat marmalade.

Pot of marm

Most marmalades succeed reasonably well in striking a balance among sweet, tart, and bitter flavors. None, in my experience, does it with the grace that this one possesses. As Thomas Keller notes at the beginning of the recipe, this marmalade is at home aside an elegantly prepared duck as it is atop a humble bagel with cream cheese.

Marmalade skeptics might look askance at the relatively large pieces of rind suspended in the jelly. Indeed, the marmalade does have a substantial (in my opinion, very pleasant) chew, but the rind's bitterness mellows with an overnight soak in water, so those large pieces are not as bold as they otherwise might be. In fact, other than the color, there's not much about this marmalade that is bold. But don't let that dissuade you. It doesn't need to be bold. It's perfectly content to wait, earnest and smiling, for you to discover its virtues in your own good time. And I'm sure you will--assuming you can find some kumquats.

Marm on toast

Tangerine-Kumquat Marmalade

Adapted from Ad Hoc at Home
Makes about 2 1/2 cups


  • 1 1/2 pounds kumquats
  • 6 tangerines or other mandarin oranges, or enough to provide 1 cup of juice
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar


  1. Quarter the kumquats lengthwise, and remove the stems and all of the seeds. (If you prefer your pieces of rind to be smaller, cut the kumquats into eighths instead.)
  2. Put the kumquat pieces in a large bowl, and pour in enough cold water to cover by about 2 inches. Place the bowl in the refrigerator, and chill for at least 18 hours, or up to 24 hours. This soak and chill will temper the rind's bitterness.
  3. When you are ready to make the marmalade, quarter the tangerines and pour the juice from the cutting board into a 1-cup (or larger) measuring cup. Working with one quarter at a time, cut the tangerine flesh away from the skin (being careful not to cut into the pith). If you encounter any seeds, remove and discard them.
  4. li>Squeeze the tangerine juice into the measuring cup. Discard the rind, but reserve the juiced flesh. Continue until you have 1 cup of juice, then set the juice aside.
  5. Gather up the reserved tangerine flesh, chop it, and transfer it to a medium-sized pot.
  6. Add the kumquats, the juice, and the sugar, and stir to combine. Affix a candy thermometer to the side of the pot.
  7. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, skimming off as much foam as you can, until it registers 215-220F (100-105C) and a small amount dribbled onto a chilled plate sets nicely and wrinkles when pushed with your finger. Remove the pot from the heat.
  8. Ladle the marmalade into clean jars, cover, let cool to room temperature, and chill. The marmalade should be chilled for at least 2 hours, and ideally for 24 hours, before being served.


  • The marmalade keeps, refrigerated, for 1 month--that is, if you can make it last that long.
  • Alternatively, you can use the hot pack canning method for shelf-stable jars.

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