Most of the recipes I feature on the site are things I’ve bookmarked and planned out — I don’t often just whip something up on a whim, take a photo, and blog about it. Until this week. Don’t get me wrong. I had a recipe planned for you (and it’ll appear next week instead. And it’s quite wonderful). But this week has brought about some bumps in the road and unexpected surprises. If you could call them that.Here in California, most of our dried cranberries have been recalled due to some situation in the processing factory. And I use dried cranberries in the granola I make for Marge. So this week my delivery guy decided to drop off seven pounds of fresh cranberries instead of dried, figuring, I’m guessing, What the heck? She can dry them out! Well the delivery man resides in San Francisco and my bakery’s in Oakland and the two are far enough away that driving back over the bridge to return seven pounds of cranberries just doesn’t make logical sense. So I stared at them for awhile. And put them in the refrigerator. And drove home.
I was so looking forward to a gym class that night, and knew I could figure out what to do with the cranberries in the morning. This particular class is a very un-Megan class in a way because a) I usually hate gym classes and b) there’s weight-lifting involved. But we do lots of sit-ups and weird squats and it wipes me out in a way that running and yoga just don’t. The teacher plays loud, sometimes-raunchy rap and it’s a darn fine escape from the world of baking, farmers markets, and writing. I arrived a second or two late that night to find a middle-aged woman in a very 1988 leotard explaining how she’d be filling in for our regular teacher and would be doing a conditioning class for the body, spirit, and soul. She also explained that she didn’t have any music so perhaps it could be meditative.
No raunchy rap! No groan-inducing sit-ups! It was frankly too late to tip-toe out of class and I just couldn’t bring myself to do so anyway. I gathered my foam mat along with the rest of the class and followed the substitute’s lead doing numerous sets of leg lifts and shoulder shrugs and arm windmills. And about twenty minutes into the class something funny happened. My mind just went to a completely different place. A place where I had time to think about what to buy/make people for Christmas, what to do for health insurance for 2012, and when I might make it up to Eureka next.
I actually forgot about the odd leg lifts and shoulder shrugs and arm windmills and noticeable lack of raunchy rap and had a very real hour of head-clearing. An hour without books or the newspaper or email or Instagram or the phone. Just with my own thoughts. At the end of the class I thanked the teacher for one of the best classes I’ve had in months. She looked confused, probably thinking I was being sarcastic as a few people in the class had actually left half-way through. No really, this was just what I needed, I assured her.
When you’re delivered the wrong product one week, you figure out a way to make do. When you realize the gym class you looked forward to all day is going to be taught by an ex-Jazzercise enthusiast and will likely be the worst exercise class you’ve ever attended, you go with it. Because what else are you going to do? There are unanticipated surprises in those kinks. Initially reluctant surprises, but inevitably wonderful ones, too.
In an essay/book review she wrote for the New York Times on happiness, writer Amy Bloom notes, “To hold happiness is to hold the understanding that the world passes away from us, that the petals fall and the beloved dies. No amount of mockery, no amount of fashionable scowling will keep any of us from knowing and savoring the pleasure of the sun on our faces or save us from the adult understanding that it cannot last forever.” And that’s why we have to drink it all in during the holiday season. Go with the flow. Go with the planned parties and grocery lists but also all of the meandering surprises. There are tarts to make, cookies to plan for, plane tickets to buy, snowflakes to make, loved ones to kiss, lights to string, sisters to snuggle. We only get it for these next few weeks — so let the savoring begin.
Now I think you’d agree: I’m generally not very demanding of you. We usually chat about what’s going on in my life and and then write about a recipe I baked or cooked recently. But there are a few recipes that I really feel I must say to you: Make This Now. This is one of them. I felt that way with with Kim Boyce’s cookies and with the Rustic Fig and Almond Cream Galettes. And with a good handful of recipes on this site, actually. Things that I make over and over again in my own kitchen. And I genuinely feel that way about this tart.
The filling isn’t as light as a custard but is a very close cousin. It’s flecked with vanilla and lightly scented with meyer lemon zest and nestled right into a toasty hazelnut crust. After cooling, the whole thing is topped with softened and lightly sweetened cranberries. While I made this for myself on a normal old Wednesday, this is dinner party- worthy, for sure. Yes, even holiday dinner party-worthy. So I hope you’ll let yourself follow a few unexpected paths this holiday season. If for no other reason than to make a cranberry tart that arrives in your in-box unexpectedly on a Thursday morning in early-ish December.
There are perfect marriages in food as in life, and I’ve always found cranberries and hazelnuts to be such a marriage. For this tart, I used a hazelnut crust I’ve been experimenting with in the bakery and a simple old-fashioned filling that’s reminiscent of an early-American pie recipe I do in the spring with citrus. To revamp it for the holiday season, I used a vanilla bean and fresh cranberries instead. I think you’ll find it’s wonderful served with a dollop of whipped cream, but it’s perfect as is, too.
For the Crust:
For the Filling:
Make the crust:
Butter a 9-inch square tart pan with removable bottom. In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts by pulsing on/off for about 30 seconds until they’re a smooth medium-grind. They shouldn’t be too chunky but don’t go so far as to turn them into a paste either. Add the flour, sugar, and salt into the food processor and give them a quick pulse so they’re all blended together.
Add the butter and cut into the dry ingredients with an on/off pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolk and 1 tablespoon ice water and blend until moist clumps form (don’t allow dough to form ball). If your mixture is still too dry, add another tablespoon of ice water. Press dough into bottom and up the sides of prepared pan. The crust should be about 1/4-inch thick. Cover and chill for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. After crust has chilled, bake until barely golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Make the filling:
In a small saucepan, melt the butter with the vanilla bean and scraped-out seeds. Cook over medium- heat until the butter starts to turn golden brown and smells toasty or nutty, about 4-5 minutes. You just successfully made brown butter! Remove from the heat and allow it to cool for 5 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with 1 cup of the sugar and the lemon zest. Slowly pour the brown butter into the egg mixture, whisking the entire time so as to not allow your eggs to cook. Whisk in the flour and salt. Pour the filling into the tart shell and bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until golden and set (not jiggly in the center). Transfer to a rack to cool, about 1 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar with the cranberries and water. Bring to a simmer over medium-heat and cook until the cranberries just begin to pop and the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Pour the cranberries into a bowl and refrigerate until cool, roughly 1 hour.
Drain the cranberries using a slotted spoon or a fine sieve and arrange them on top of the tart (the cranberry liquid will be discarded). Cut the tart into wedges and serve.
Note: This tart can be kept room temperature overnight and refrigerated up to two days.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.