Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce


In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s May. MAY, people.  Although I’m incredibly grateful to have survived another Chicago winter (a mild one. Thanks, Mother Nature!), I can’t believe how fast time is going.  It seems like just yesterday I was whipping up red velvet cupcakes in anticipation of Valentine’s Day.  May is one of my fave months, mainly because there is no chance of snow (knock on wood), but also because it’s both Mother’s Day and my mom’s birthday.  As someone who would seriously do crafts all day long if allowed and could easily spend a month’s salary at Michaels in an hour, you can imagine that as a kid, I loved that entire school days were spent making Mother’s Day presents.  One year we made jewelry boxes out of cigar boxes topped with macaroni sprayed gold (query the wisdom of having 6 year olds ask their parents to purchase a box of cigars for that project) and another time we made collages of our baby pictures (I’m sure my mother appreciated me cutting up family photos).

At some point in life, it stops being appropriate to make your mother a present and you actually have to save up your allowance and purchase something. Enter many bottles of 2nd rate perfumes and tangles of costume jewerly (to be stored in the jewelry box she’s saved all those years).  The thing is, no matter what you give your mom, she loves it–truly and honestly–because she loves you.  And that is why you will always see men in Walgreens the morning of Mother’s Day buying huge mylar balloons and Russell Stover candy. 

My mother, thank goodness, cannot stand the idea of Mother’s Day brunch, so we have been spared chaffing dishes and carving stations over the years.  We usually go out to dinner, but a few years ago I decided to cook.  Mom had gone to New Orleans and brought back a cookbook from the Gumbo Shop, so I decided to make a Louisiana dinner of gumbo and bread pudding.  Even though I’ve always loved cooking and baking, it wasn’t until recently that I actually had a bit of a clue on how things worked in the kitchen and how to interpret a recipe.  So when the gumbo recipe said that I needed to boil a whole chicken in order to make stock, it never occurred to me that I could buy chicken stock.  Or that I didn’t actually need to cut the French bread into 1 inch cubes; tearing it up into relatively even pieces would be quite all right.  I spent the entire day in the kitchen, stirring and cutting and sauteeing and rather than relaxing on Mother’s Day, my mom spent most of the day worrying that (i) I was going to set the entire kitchen on fire and (ii) that I was doing too much.  I think that she was equally grateful to sit down to dinner (likely at 9pm) as she was for all of my effort.  This was likely 6 or 7 years ago, and all these years later she still talks about how hard I worked that day.  Like she never went out above and beyond in the kitchen for me (she has).

I promise to write about the gumbo recipe soon (I bought chicken stock this past weekend), but I’m going to recommend you commit this bread pudding recipe to memory before Sunday and impress your mom (or aunt or mom-to-be or friend-who-is-like-a-mom or just someone you really love).  It is decadence on a plate and a tip of whiskey mixed with butter and sugar never hurt anyone.  I know a lot of folks have had bad (read: soggy) bread pudding experiences, but this version is more like a super moist cake.   When I did it for Mother’s Day, I made whipped cream instead of the sauce, but after making the sauce on Sunday, I pretty much plan on putting it on everything I ever bake again. So yeah, stick with the sauce.

I took my mom some of the bread pudding I made over the weekend and she said it was even better than the one I made all those years ago.  Of course, that got her started talking about how hard I worked that day and how she can’t believe that I spent the whole day in the kitchen making everything from scratch just for her.  But I, and everyone who has ever met my mom, knows that she is totally, completely, without a doubt, would do it again (and then some) in a heartbeat, worth it…

Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce (from the Gumbo Shop Cookbook)

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Oatmeal Raisin[et] Cookies


In honor of Earth Day, I want to point you in the direction of a super Earth friendly project/blog.  My good friend Heidi (of Creamless Cream of Mushroom fame) and a couple of other green-minded people have started rooftop gardens and chronicle their successes and challenges at Green Roof Growers.  What I love about the idea–and the blog–is that they make me feel like even though I don’t have any plants more taxing than an aloe (or a rooftop for that matter. Details!), I could one day have an entire garden if I followed their instructions.  Heidi & Company make planters out of soda bottles! And tell you how and when to plant what kind of seeds! And give you tasty recipes using the food from their gardens! They basically lead you by hand on how to create a lovely oasis in the middle of a busy city, which is something we all need, don’t you think? While I can’t imagine building my own irrigation system anytime soon, I do know where to turn when I’m ready.  So, hop on over and green up your life a bit. 

The link between rooftop gardens and oatmeal raisin cookies is, of course, Heidi.  Many years ago (January 3, 2002, to be exact–I found the original email), she sent me a recipe for some yummy cookies she’d made me once before. I have to admit, I tried them once and haven’t done them again until last night when I was trying to figure out if I had any of the 4687932389 ingredients in the Joy of Cooking, epicurious, or food network recipes I was reading (y’all know I didn’t even bother to check Mark Bittman).  Heidi’s recipe is all yumminess without all of the extra ingredients and steps, which is exactly what you’d expect from someone growing their own veggies on a roof in the middle of Chicago.  It’s one of those recipes that will move to the top of my in-need-of-comfort-food list. 

The original recipe was a lot healthier than what I created, mainly because I cut out a cup of oatmeal and substituted Raisinets for plain raisins. The first I kind of regret, because there’s not as much oatmeal texture as I’d like, but I got a little nervous that all of the oats wouldn’t get incorporated in the batter, so I cut back.  I’d add an extra 1/2 cup back in.  I stand by my Raisinet decision, though, because who doesn’t want a little chocolate in a cookie?  But I suppose if you’re going for the totally good for you category, plain raisins will work.

So after you go do something good for the planet, reward yourself with these little bits of deliciousness with a cold glass of milk… Happy Earth Day!

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies courtesy of Heidi

  • 3 cups rolled oats, regular or quick (I’d use 2-1/2 cups)
  • 2 cups (9 ounces) flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (omitted, because I didn’t know if the cinnamon/Raisinet combo would work)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (I used 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar (I used 1 cup)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup raisin (or Raisinets)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degree.  Spread oats on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and toast, stirring often, until they turn a shade darker and become mildly fragrant, about 5-8 minutes.  Let the oats cool.

In small bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer (I used my KitchenAid on 4) to beat the granulated and brown sugars, oil, vanilla and eggs until fluffy.  With mixer at low speed, blend in the dry flour mixture.  Then mix in the oats and raisins until well blended (I did this by hand).

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake until light browned, 10-12 minutes (at about minute 6, I took a spoon and pressed them down a bit–they really started to rise!). Transfer to rack to cool.

Note: if you make small cookies, they’ll be done in about 8 minutes, so watch carefully!

1000 Words


You know that I usually have some holiday themed food to post, but I’m going to blame the fact that I actually went to watch the Chicago river get dyed green instead of going grocery shopping for why there is no corned beef or soda bread or even a green cupcake recipe to mark this St. Patrick’s day.  I hope the fact that I have on a green shirt will make up for it.

Since I have no food words, I thought I’d let some pictures do the talking.  I take a lot of pictures of food.  No seriously, a lot.  For each picture that’s posted, at least 10 have been taken.  This is mainly due to the fact that I’m not a photographer and I have a fancy camera that I barely know how to use. 

I’ve taken a photograhpy class, but this was back in the day before digital cameras (or at least around the time that many people thought they’d go the way of the laser disc) and the class was all about using a manual 35mm.  What I remember from that class about f-stops and apertures and lighting would only fill 1/8 of a teaspoon. 

Prior to September, all of the pictures here at Pestle Mortar were taken with an adorable Canon PowerShot on the macro setting.  I seriously took 100 pictures for 1 picture to turn out.  Once I decided to make a commitment to this blogging thing, I decided to invest in a DSLR and a real macro lens.  I bought a Pentax, because that’s the camera my photographer father always used and I could use the lenses that he gave me for my old 35mm. 

I try to take the camera with me so that I can practice (easier than actually reading the manual!) and I end up taking a lot of pictures that are this close to being really good, a few that are actually pretty good and a bucket load of ones that never see the light of day.  I don’t do any editing of the ones that are posted here, other than to crop and lighten/darken a bit.

So here are my 1000 words for today– my favorite practice food pictures that don’t really have a story to go along with them, so they never got a chance to be part of their own post. 

Thin Mint Cookies


Back in the day when I was a Girl Scout (Troop 348! Holla! Or was it 346?), we were expected to go from door-to-door peddling our thin mints and Samoas.  I would don my green skirt, green and white striped shirt and green sash with all of my badges and head to my mom’s office after school, where I would politely knock on people’s office doors and recite my speech about supporting our troop through the purchase of what amounted to a box full of sugar.  I would make chitchat while people filled in the sheet with their order and address and thank them with a toothless smile (I was 8 years old) as they dug in their wallets or pulled out their checkbooks (no CODs for this Scout!).  I would then hand deliver their cookies when they arrived.

I loved being a Girl Scout, because I’m an only child and spending an afternoon with a bunch of other girls making crafts and eating snack and learning all manner of useful things like how to start a fire with two sticks and every single verse to every song that was sure to annoy my family (remember this one The Other Day I Saw a Bear… a great big bear… oh way out there…?) was nothing short of magical for me.  I also loved that we had books on how to be a model scout and how to earn badges (be nice to the elderly! do all of your homework! learn to churn butter!) and had to wear a uniform.  That part has less to do with the only child thing and more to do with my need for order and to follow instructions.  I actually liked doing my Girl Scout homework (bet you didn’t know there was homework!)…

At any rate. Times have changed, kids.  Now, I get emails from parents asking me to purchase their daughter’s cookies or facebook updates asking for orders and even worse, it appears I can now buy my cookies online.  I realize that there are all kinds of creepy characters in the world nowadays, so going door-to-door isn’t the safest option, but I think part of the idea behind selling cookies–besides funding our weekend at Girl Scout camp–was to teach us to be independent and confident and, at the very least, how to convince people to buy stuff they didn’t actually need (a useful skill, I think).  I’m not quite sure what the lesson is when the parents are doing all the selling, money collecting and delivery.  Actually I do know, but I’d rather not think about it.

/End rant/

Where was I? Cookies! That’s how all of this started!! So Thin Mints were my–and just about everyone else’s–faves. Anything that combines mint and chocolate is going to make my top 10 list, but I also loved that there was a little bit of saltiness to the cookie, which made it different from other chocolate/mint combos.  I am under no illusion that anyone can replicate the Girl Scout Thin Mint, but someone put out a box of them at work the other day and I had this thought that until some Scout comes and asks me to purchase cookies in person, I am totally boycotting the cookie sale season and will make my own until these girls start knocking at my office door or at least write the parent sent emails themselves.  And yes, I do realize that I am depriving young girls of much needed cookie income, as well as the fact that I have also deprived myself of some happiness in a green box.  But revolutions are all about sacrifice.

I actually found a good recipe that satisfies the mint/chocolate/salt craving and is as close to a thin mint as I’m likely to get without breaking into the vault where the official recipe is likely hidden.  But, really, who am I kidding?  They are truly no substitute for the real thing.  And even though they are easy to make, they are not nearly as easy as opening a box and sitting down with a glass of milk and a good book (although I always found the wait time between cookie purchase and delivery way too long, so these will do during that lag time).  So, go buy your Thin Mints and support your local troop and send a bunch of girls off to camp for adventures and good times and memories that will last them well into their 30s.  Just maybe sneak in a little etiquette/life lesson about the merit of doing things on your own with your payment, ok?  I’m sure some girl could earn an extra badge for that…

Thin Mint Cookies via allrecipes.com

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Red Velvet Cupcakes


After the baking extravaganza of last week, I really considered letting Valentine’s Day come and go without any baked goods, but really, I couldn’t pass up a chance to make red velvet cupcakes and since the recipe is easy enough for any random Wednesday, the upcoming Hallmark holiday seemed like as good a time as any. 

There really is no story behind this one (I figure all the wordiness of the last entry should hold you for a bit), except that I totally cheated and used Betty Crocker frosting, because as much as I enjoyed making my own for the devil’s food cake, I made the decision that the pros are better at it and why mess with a good thing.  That, or I didn’t have any powdered sugar.  Either way.

These are super easy and ridiculously moist and tasty.  And I think I’ll let the pictures be my 1000 words right now…

  

Red Velvet Cupcakes (courtesy of Paula Deen via foodnetwork.com)

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Devil’s Food Cake


I’m tempted to just give you the recipe and say Happy Wednesday because, sweet baby Buddha, it is hard updating this blog when people are expecting me to do actual work and for some reason telling stories about food doesn’t count.  But since Procrastination and I have started up again, here you go.

This is how it started: I recently met a charming man, Q, who loves cake, frosting and chocolate.  As I’ve come to learn, charming men who like baked goods abound, but I’ve also learned that that does not necessarily mean I should whip out my cookbooks and mixing bowls at the mere mention of red velvet.  Q, however, did tell me about his favorite bakery—and I’d like to pause here to say that he has many admirable attributes, but having a favorite bakery is rather swoon worthy, don’t you think?—and I thought that the vow to hold off on baking for potential suitors would not be broken if I actually purchased a cake.  So I called said bakery in anticipation of Q’s birthday to find out if they could deliver this yellow layer cake with butter cream frosting in the middle and fudge frosting on top that he had described to me.  And they said that for a fee of $40 they thought they could deliver a $13 cake, but they needed to check.  Check on what exactly? Extortion laws in Illinois? I will say that a lovely woman called me back and said that they couldn’t do it but that they’d be happy to do a sheet cake for me, but Q had made it clear in one of our many cake confabs that sheet cakes were not on the list of his favorite things.

So now I had the dilemma of either finding another bakery—a surprisingly hard thing to do in Chicago (another reason I need to win the lottery)—and hoping for the best, or making a cake myself.  And you all know I couldn’t pass this up, right? I mean, come now, who am I kidding?  I tried to rationalize the fact that I was yet again baking for someone well before my granny would approve by saying it was for the sake of the blog. And that I’d never actually made a chocolate cake from scratch, so it would be a fun challenge.  And that I’d post it in February in time for Valentine’s Day.  And…and…and…what it boils down to is that I am a baking slut, as I was called by my friends (?) last week. 

I thought that I would whip up a devil’s food cake and some chocolate frosting and be done with it.  How hard could it be?  And that—that cocky baking attitude—is what had me standing in my kitchen three nights before the actual birthday celebration cursing Mark Bittman (I seriously thought of doing one of those public record searches for his home phone number so I could call and ask him what the *%^(&# he was thinking when he included this terrible sour cream substituting/folding in egg whites/who has time for this crazy? recipe in his “How to Cook Everything [except a chocolate cake]” cookbook) and checking my moral compass on how bad it would be to make a Duncan Hines cake and pass it off as my own (verdict: bad, but not totally unforgiveable). 

I brought my sad little test cake to work and people were kind enough to say it was good, but deep down I knew that it had no chocolate flavor, it was dry and dense and the frosting tasted like spoonfuls of butter followed by a powdered sugar chaser and nothing like actual fudge frosting.  This was the moment where I was met with a fork in the road:  I could give up completely and buy a cake somewhere, because really, the whole point was to give Q a cake on his birthday, not to have me sitting on my kitchen floor rocking back and forth surrounded by cookbooks and melted chocolate.  Or, I could pick a random recipe off the internet, recognize that it may not work, and hope that he fell into the category of people who believe it truly is the thought that counts.  One fork would spell defeat; the other would cause me to have to be adult and rational… Neither particularly appealed to me, but this wouldn’t be much of a story if I went with the store bought.

I decided to play it safe with epicurious.com, because they give Bon Appétit recipes, which haven’t let me down yet.  By this time I’d run out of time to do a test version; I had to just go for it. This was the perfect time for my procrastination to kick in, because I was paralyzed by nerves about starting the cake.  So I organized all of my ingredients on the counter; I rinsed out all of my bowls; I lined up all of my utensils; I read the recipe 20 times so I knew everything step by step; I put on happy, positive music and visualized a perfect cake. 

And guess what?  It worked! No, I really didn’t see that one coming, either.  I mean, by this point I was pretty sure that Failure was going to come stand in my kitchen and laugh at me, but I knew as soon as I took the cakes out of the oven that I had success, because they looked exactly like cakes made from mixes. 

And the frosting! The frosting was the kind of thing that you could just eat a bowl of while watching The Real Housewives of Orange County, because it tasted like a melted dark chocolate bar (my one suggestion here is to not taste too much of it before you finish your cake, because you may not have enough to actually frost the cake. Not that that happened to me.).

So lessons learned: Mark Bittman should not be trusted unless you have time to experiment.  Epicurious.com can save you from any disaster. A homemade cake is much better and says a lot more than a bakery one, even if said bakery is a favorite and the homemade cake is slightly lopsided.  And potential suitors who are still talking about delicious birthday cakes days later are almost as hard to find—and just as essential—as the perfect recipe…

Devil’s Food Cake (courtesy of Bon Appétit/epicurious.com)

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Sugar Cookies, Gingerbread Cookies, Vanilla Cream Filling. Oh my!


A few years ago I got it into my head that I really wanted to bake cookies and other treats for all of my friends rather than just buy a piece of jewelry and be another shopper falling for the commercialism of Christmas.  I went to the Container Store and bought all manner of well, containers, and ribbons and anything else that screamed homemade! And love! And the spirit of the season! I decided on caramel covered pretzels and chocolate covered Oreos and some other type of cookie madness.  It was seriously one of the worst ideas ever.  Not only did it cost a small fortune (likely the price of a nice piece of jewelry) to get all of the containers and then mail them, but all of the baking and wrapping and standing in line at the post office was just shy of torture.  I’m not exactly sure where things went wrong—somewhere between melting the caramel and filling the sugar cookies with lemon curd that wouldn’t set no matter how much I begged—but in the end, I was miserable and I’m sure the recipients took one look at their not-even-close-to-Martha Stewart-Christmas basket and wished I’d made a donation (of cash) to a local food bank in their name and saved them having to lie to me about how much they loved it.

I haven’t made holiday cookies since (except for the chocolate covered Oreos—recipe to follow!), but I guess that I’ve recovered from the trauma of Christmas’ past, because I’ve had visions of gingerbread stars and sugary snowmen dancing in my head for weeks.  Luckily, I have a few friends who wanted to learn to bake and I figured that I could test out some recipes on them and if things went awry, the fact that we’d be drinking mimosas while we baked would make up for it. 

And, it must of have been an early Christmas miracle, because everything turned out much better than expected (and infinitely better than the crazy that came out of my kitchen a few years ago).  We rolled the dough for the sugar cookies out a little thicker than recommended so the cookies were more cake like and decorated them with this very happy premade icing. 

For the gingerbread, we filled them with a super easy and ridiculously delicious vanilla cream that tastes like Oreo filling and really could be eaten with a spoon on any given Wednesday. 

I can’t say that someone would prefer to get these cookies rather than a nice bracelet from Cartier, but you’ll definitely earn some points with Santa if these are left out…

Sugar Cookies, Gingerbread Cookies and Vanilla Cream Filling…

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Doughnut Holes


I’m always looking for new recipes to test and make part of my go-to list, which in reality means that I’m always finding recipes and filing them away and then making myself feel really guilty for not trying them.  This was bad enough years ago when Food Network only showed Emeril Live and Ming Tsai and when epicurious.com was just a glimmer in Al Gore’s eye and I had to clip recipes from magazines, but now with the explosion of all of these cooking shows (have you ever watched Cake Boss? I have a ridiculous crush on Buddy and his ability to make cakes in the shape of anything under the sun) and food websites, the countless recipes and ensuing guilt just about swallow me up. [insert deep dramatic sigh here]  I have about 200 recipes I’ve been meaning to try (this does not include all of the cookbooks I’ve used one or two times).

I watched Giada De Laurentiis make doughnuts sometime last winter, and I never had any occasion to try them until this weekend when I needed something tasty to take to a brunch with friends.  I’m not a huge doughnut fan, which is odd since fried dough + sugar = 20 kinds of happiness, but Giada just made them look so fun! and easy! and so super cute!  She used pre-made pizza dough to make doughnuts and doughnut holes and really, nothing could be simpler. 

I did a test run of the doughnut holes on Saturday and the hardest part was not eating the entire batch in one sitting.  The fact that they are incredibly easy came in handy on Sunday morning when I made the real deal after spending a bit too much time gallivanting on Saturday night and got home oh, 5 hours before I needed to get up and start rolling out dough.  

I ended up making powdered sugar and cinnamon sugar ones and they were soft and chewy hours after I made them (some reviews online said that they got hard after a few hours).  No one believed that I’d actually made them, which I think is a sign of success. So yeah! for me… Only 199 recipes to go…

Italian Doughnuts (I’m not actually sure why they’re considered Italian, other than they were made by an Italian person) courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis

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Comfort Food 101


Even though summer never really started, fall totally snuck up and scared me half to death.  And I didn’t really expect it to pull up a chair and get comfy so quickly, you know?  One day I’m in a cute sundress and flippies, the next I’m seeing 48 degrees on the weather channel.  Give a girl a minute to transition the wardrobe and shoes, ok? 

At any rate, this is my favorite season and not just for the boots and sweaters and Halloween candy.  I love that after months of eating salads and fruit and everything else that screams summer (ok, ice cream and hotdogs, too), I can switch out the teeny outfits for comfy clothes and make soups and stews and breads and pies to keep me warm from the inside out.  I don’t have a fireplace, but if I did it would be blazing at all times so that I could burn leaves (is that legal?) and curl up with a glass of wine and a book.  Fall definitely speaks to my Cancer-esque homebody tendencies.  

Last year, a good friend gave me a crock pot for my birthday (she was a good friend before, but that really upped things!) and although I was a little wary of leaving it on all day, when I learned about all of the happiness that slowed cooked meat can bring to my life, I was a quick convert.  Crock pot

 

Just as belted cardigans are the “it” fashion item for the season (really?), a crock pot is a definite accessory (really!).  I do lamb and chicken and beef stew and soups in it and most recently, pulled pork. 

I’m a little sad about the pulled pork discovery, because (1) I missed out on a whole year of it and (2) I doubt it’s something I could eat every day—regardless of it being the other white meat—even though I really, really, really want to. 

Pulled pork 1

I also made s’mores in my oven. 

Smores 3And while there is nothing quite like sitting around a campfire singing songs or telling scary stories while you roast marshmallows on a stick, making s’mores in your oven avoids that whole sitting-outside-in-the-cold-and-getting-splinters-in-your-unmentionables-and-then-having-to-sleep-in-a-tent-with-people-you-don’t-really-like thing (not that that’s a true story from Girl Scout camp or anything). Smores 1

So, while I would have liked a bit more summer sun and warm breezes, I am happy that fall is here, with all of the goodness it brings.  Now if we can just get winter to maybe take a little sabbatical…

 

 

Pulled Pork Sandwiches (adapted from Good Housekeeping) and S’mores

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Fall Plum Tart


Even though I haven’t been in school for many many [many] years, September always feels like the start of the new year for me.  I used to love getting all of my school supplies organized and ready, pack and repack my backpack and lay out my first day of school clothes (any wonder that I wasn’t invited to one party all of high school?).  I have been trying to remember my last first day of school, which would have been my third year of law school, and I don’t remember anything at all except that I really probably didn’t want to go.  I was over the whole law school thing before it even started, it seemed, which is not the best way to go into a situation that will leave you in debt well into your grandchildren’s adulthood. When I graduated from college—aimless, jobless and with a degree in International Studies and French—my family gave me a year to find gainful employment or go back to school.  Easy choice at the time.  I spent the summer after college in a tug of war between “oh my god, how embarrassed would I be if I don’t get in anywhere” and “oh crap, if I actually get in, I’ll have to go.”

My reward for my months of studying and writing essays and typing my name and social security number over and over was to spend four months in Paris.  I saved all of my money from the job I had for six months so that I didn’t have to think about lying to French employers about having a work visa.  I packed two huge suitcases and tried to forget that I would need to make a decision about the rest of my life by May 1.  I had no idea what I would do in Paris for four months by myself, which is exactly what I wanted.

My days quickly took on the pattern of being completely random;  my path decided based on how I felt or who could come with me or whether I’d stayed out too late the night before.   The only thing I did almost every day was go to a café a few blocks from my apartment called Les Recettes de CharlotteCharlotte

It was this beautiful tea shop done up in lavender and yellow and run by a striking older woman (I never got up the courage to ask if she was Charlotte), with shocking silver hair and a waist-line that made me think she’d never tasted any of the pastries in the store.  She had the usual croissants and pain au chocolat, but then there was a separate part of the display case with millefeuille (talk to me about why they are called Napoleon’s in English…), and pot de crème and delicate petits fours.  I sampled everything at least once, I think, but for some reason I always returned to the tarte aux pruneaux, the plum tart. It was kind of like a turn-over (which is such a sad way to describe something that good), with a flaky crust and a warm sweet filling.  I would order my tart and a cup of one of her specialty teas and she’d serve it to me on beautiful china.  I’d sit there for hours reading or writing in my journal and she’d walk around the store and we never spoke once, even though the place was usually empty.  I’m sure that I was on my way there when I dropped my deposit for the law school I finally chose in the mailbox.  I probably ordered two tarts that day.

I discovered that Charlotte and her tarts have moved on to places unknown [to me].  I can’t find a recipe that even comes close to what she made, but this one I made up will do in a pinch, especially since I cheated and used pre-made pie dough.   Italian prune plums are in season right now, and they are a perfect balance between sweet and tart.   IMGP0474

Any pre-made dough will work, and I did mini-double crust pies, but you could fold them over to make turnovers or make one big tart, if you want. IMGP0499

 Now if only someone would serve one to me on fine china with a cup of tea….

 

 

 

 

Not Quite Charlotte’s Plum TartIMGP0519

 

  • 1 pre-made pie crust (thawed)
  • 1/2 pound Italian prune plums
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • egg wash (1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons water , lightly beaten)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment paper. 

Cut plums in half, using line down center as a guide; remove pit and cut plum into quarters.  Put  plums, sugar and water into saucepan over medium and cook until  plums have softened a bit but still have some firmness.  Pour a bit of the liquid in to a cup and stir in the cornstarch.  Add this mixture back to the saucepan with the plums and stir until liquid thickens.  Let cool.

Roll out pie dough and using a small saucer as a guide, cut out four equal circles.  Place on parchment paper and add filling to middle of two of the circles.  Cover with rest of dough, crimping edges all the way around.  Brush with egg wash.  Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

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