Berry season, sweet berry season

Oregon Strawberries

fresh strawberry jam

If you’re planning a trip to Oregon, a great time to visit is early June when the strawberries are in season. The sweetest berries ever are grown in Oregon. Thanks to the long mild spring and early summer climate, strawberries are sweet, red,  juicy and delicious. Lots of rain, cool nights and warm sunny days seem to make for perfect strawberries. The berries stay on the vine and ripen slowly, allowing the sugars to increase before harvest. Keeping up with the short, fast paced strawberry season is challenging, but I did manage to turn a flat of Oregon Hood strawberries into a few dozen jars of jam before they disappear. It’s a good thing berries can be preserved in so many forms to prolong their edible lives.

I’m adapting to a new summer schedule, or actually, absence of a schedule. Even our doggies are sleeping in a bit later. They run around outside all day and are completely worn out by night time. I didn’t think this was possible for Bleu, our overactive border/aussie mix puppy. There’s finally hope for my ability to catch up on much needed sleep. I’m not a morning person, so it was a little disconcerting when I first realized we had adopted a morning puppy. If Bleu had the ability to whistle, that’s what he’d be doing each and every 6 am. Since whistling is not an option, he pounces on us wagging his entire body, as if to tell us it’s the most amazing day ever, and we need to get up so we don’t miss a second of it.

Meet Bailey (left) and Bleu. Sister and brother from another Mother. Bailey has never met a person she doesn’t love, but doesn’t love dogs (she tolerates her brother). Bleu is suspicious of everyone, with the exception of his pack and a few other people he’s accepted as friends, but he loves dogs.


I made these berry tarts a few months ago long before berry season started. You can make the shells days in advance of the custard filling. I like desserts that allow me to do things in steps so they seem much less time consuming. The custard can also sit covered in the fridge for a day or so. Just add the freshly washed fruit, and whatever other toppings float your boat, just before serving. In my opinion, raspberries are even better on these than. Because of their delicate, soft texture and hollowness, they’re easier to eat than strawberries.



Start by making the tart shells. If you find this is enough baking for one day, you can freeze the shells for later use. If you’re feeling energetic, continue on…


Unlike a pie shell, a tart’s shell texture is more like a shortbread cookie. It has to be sturdy enough to cradle its contents without crumbling.

Create the custard filling.


You can freeze the tarts at this stage for several months. But don’t wait that long, cause you’ll miss out on the fresh berry season.

The original recipe for these tarts was taken from the Miette cookbook written by the owner of Miette Pastry Shop based in San Francisco. I’ll be visiting them next month to do a little sample tasting.

Fresh Fruit Tarts with Pastry Cream
Makes ten 3 1/2 inch or two 7-inch tarts

(a slightly modified recipe from Miette pastry shop in San Francisco)

Pastry Shells:
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
2 large egg yolks
6-8 Tablespoons heavy cream
1. Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds using your paddle attachment. Add the cubed butter and beat until the mixture is as fine as cornmeal (about 5 minutes).

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of the cream. Add this to the flour mixture in the mixer bowl and mix it all until just combined. Add more cream 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together into large chunks. Gather the dough into a ball, pat it into a disk and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

3. Divide the dough to make the portions you need and pat gently into disks. Roll out each dough disk on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick and 1 inch larger in diameter than the pans you’re using. Drape the rolled-out dough into the tart pans, gently pushing it into the bottom edges and against the pan sides to make a strong, straight shell. Trim the edges flush with the top rim of the pans. Prick all over the bottom with a fork and place them in the freezer for 30 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the shells for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in the pan, remove and cool completely on a wire rack before filling.

Pastry Cream:
2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
7 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

1. Pour the milk into a medium saucepan. Use a sharp knife to slit the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the milk. Throw in the pod. Heat until almost boiling (bubbles will begin to form at the edges). Remove from heat, cover and let steep for 1 hour.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch until smooth. Set the bowl on a kitchen towel or nonskid surface and whisk the egg mixture while pouring about 1/2 cup of the hot milk into the mixture to temper. Gradually pour in the rest of the milk, whisking constantly. Pour the contents of the bowl into the pan and turn the heat to medium-low.

3. Cook, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens and comes to a slow boil, about 2 minutes. Immediately strain the cream through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean container. Discard the vanilla bean. Let the pastry cream cool to room temperature, for about 10 minutes, then whisk in the butter until it’s completely incorporated.

4. Cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.

Final assembly: Divide the chilled custard among the shells evenly. Top with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, or your favorite fruit. Make sure to wash the fruit just before placing it onto the cream filling so that it stays firm and fresh.


Next up: blueberries. Ready. Set. Start your tarts.


Parenting and a savory tart

We did it! Another year of high school is behind us! Not that I’m in any hurry to have my daughter grow up, but high school has not been a great experience so far. Our neighborhood high school holds approximately 1500 students, which puts 35+ teenagers in each class at any given time. Consider all those different personalities and quirky behaviors in close quarters together for seven hours a day.

“Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years.” -Unknown

On a positive note, last weekend my daughter was in a spring dance performance where she was recognized for her dance achievements, and given a scholarship for future dance classes and expenses. So proud of her!

During this last week, while getting my daughter through finals and daily dance practices, quick, simple recipes were essential in getting food on the table. There’s one dish I want to share with you. It’s a roasted veggie savory tart. Once you have a few basic ingredients on hand, you can top this tart with nearly anything. So easy, it practically makes itself, and it can multitask into an appetizer, a side dish, a brunch dish, or a complete meal.




Original recipe by The Decisive Cook

Savory Roasted Veggie Tart
1 box puff pastry shells
2 sweet onions
1 head of garlic
10 small peppers in various colors
2 eggs
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup parmesan
1 Teaspoon dried basil leaves
1 Teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup crumbled chevre
Flour for rolling out pastry
Parchment paper
Cookie sheet with sides (baker’s half sheet, 18×13″)

Defrost pastry shells at room temperature for 40 minutes. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to the size of the pan with 1 inch fold around edges. Cover pan with parchment paper, and place pastry onto it. Brush with an egg wash (1 egg, 1 Tablespoon water). Prick pastry with a fork on the top surface.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Place peppers, and garlic in a baking dish. Add 1 Tablespoon olive oil and roast in a 350°F. oven for about 45 minutes, or until peppers are a bit browned.

Add 1 Tablespoon olive oil to a pan, and heat on medium-high heat. Thinly slice the onions and add to the pan. Add sugar and basil. Cook, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes or until onions are slightly browned.

Whisk together ricotta cheese and egg. Slather the mixture onto the egg washed pastry. Top with 1/4 cup of the parmesan, the carmelized onions, roasted garlic, roasted peppers, chevre and sprinkle on the remainder of the parmesan.

Bake at 375°F for 25-30 minutes or until pastry is browned.

Chocolate Pie


This is one of the first cream pies I’ve ever made. Unless I count the grasshopper pie from high school home economics. Gasp!

Depending on what’s in season, my favorites are blueberry, strawberry, peach, and pecan. But today, because chocolate is always in season, and there’s a very long week of have-to’s — hours of driving my daughter to school and dance classes, work, meetings, cooking dinners, washing dishes, doing laundry and dog walking — a chocolate cream pie is chilling in the fridge to keep us happy.

Remember, dark chocolate is a superfood! Have you thought of having cocoa-enriched chocolate pie as part of a healthy skin routine? According to Medical News Today, German researchers found high-flavonoid cocoa increases hydration, decreases skin roughness and scaling, and helps to support women’s skin against UV damage. (Sorry guys…I’m sure the benefits for men are similar, but the research was on chocolate loving women.) The research found that women who consumed high-flavonoid cocoa every day had smoother, moister skin after just three months. That’s a study I’d have gladly volunteered for!

This pie requires a pre-baked crust, which has always challenged me. The crust always ends up slumping down in the plate or folding into itself. I tried something new this time, and it worked splendidly. It involved a package of dried black beans. Here’s how you can pre-bake the crust without having it change shape:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. When the pie crust is chilled, line it with aluminum foil (or you could use parchment paper). Fill about 2/3 full with pie weights (I used dried beans, but rice or actual stainless steel pie weights also work). Bake the crust with the weights for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, cool slightly, remove the weights by pulling the foil liner out. Using a fork, poke holes in the bottom of the crust and return it to the oven, this time without the weights, and bake for another 10 minutes or until it’s golden brown. Cool completely before adding the filling.


Chocolate Cream Pie

  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chocolate shavings
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Combine above ingredients in a large saucepan; cook over medium heat, whisking until thickened, 7-8 minutes. Whisk in chopped bittersweet chocolate and unsalted butter. Pour into a pre-baked 9-inch piecrust. Chill until firm, 4-5 hours. Top the pie with whipped cream and the chocolate shavings.

Lavender Lemon Martini


Because it’s Friday, the sun is shining, it’s 75 degrees in Portland! The end of the school year is in sight! It’s time to unwind, and begin the transition into summer. I have the perfect refreshing drink for you. It’s sweet, tart, cold, and delicious!

You will need:
Agave syrup
Crushed ice
Lavender sprigs

Chill two martini glasses in the freezer. Place a few tablespoons of sugar onto a plate or other flat surface. Dip the rim of the chilled glass into the sugar. Fill a cocktail shaker half full with crushed ice, add 3 oz of vodka, 1/8 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice, 1 Tablespoon agave syrup, 3 oz  cold water. Shake well. Pour into sugar rimmed glasses. Add a lemon slice and a few sprigs of lavender to each martini.




Have a great weekend!

Pea shoot and pansy salad

When my mother recently gave me this beautiful porcelain dish, I knew immediately what I wanted to do with it. It’s old, faded, delicate, and needs something fresh and new to restore its vibrancy.


Put a salad on it!

I made this salad with young, tender pea shoots. If you planted peas in your garden a month ago, you have pea shoots emerging now. If not, you can find them at farmers’ markets and specialty grocery stores. The shoots are the green leaves and tendrils that grow before the flowers and peas form.

Notes on pea shoots: Any type of pea plant will provide tasty shoots, but sugar pod peas are the easiest types to grow for shoots and tendrils, since they tend to shoot up faster and stay light and crisp. All parts of the pea plant are edible. As the pea leaves and stems mature though, they tend to get tough and stringy. When they’re young, the pea shoots are tender, crisp and delicious. The same goes for those curly tendrils the pea plants use to hold on to supports as they grow.

If you can’t get your hands on any pea shoots, don’t dispair, you can still make this salad with baby greens, arugula, spinach, or other favorite tender greens.

I love adding flowers to salads! Pansies are one of the easiest flowers to grow, they’re also very mild and fresh tasting, so they marry well with the pea shoots.

Even though the salad puts on a good show with its innate beauty, it’s really all about the dressing. The dressing, looking so unobtrusive tucked away under gorgeous showy greens, is a goddess in disguise.

6313SD-120I could drink this stuff! It’s that good!


The recipes:


4 cups of fresh pea shoots (or other baby greens)
1/2 cup crumbled chèvre
1/4 cup pecans, broken
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Several edible flowers (optional)


2 Tablespoons Greek yogurt
2 Tablespoons white wine
1 Tablespoon tangerine or regular olive oil
(add a squeeze of fresh orange or tangerine if you can’t find flavored olive oil)
1 Tablespoon blue agave syrup
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
Pinch of sea salt


Layer pea shoots or greens, chèvre, pecans, and cranberries in a bowl or on 4 salad plates and repeat. Whisk together yogurt, wine, olive oil, agave, basil, and sea salt. Drizzle some of the dressing onto the salad and pass around the remainder at the table.


Forbidden rice and veggie stir fry

The 95+ degree weather is making me extremely lethargic and downright bitchy. It feels more like August here than the beginning of July. Last night’s dinner consisted of a cold turkey sandwich and two gallons of water. Last week my daughter was a vegetarian, hubby was out of town, and we made this…


It all started with this beautiful rice we found while strolling through Pastaworks. It’s aptly named ‘Heirloom Forbidden rice.’ Legend has it this ancient grain, also referred to as ‘longevity rice,’ was originally reserved for emperors of China. It’s treasured for its roasted nutty flavor, soft texture and gorgeous deep purple color. It’s also a natural source of antioxidants called anthocyanins — the purple pigments that are also found in blueberries and acai, but without the sugar.


Simple stir fry meals are one of my new favorites to cook and to eat. Just grab some fresh veggies — whatever floats your boat — and is currently in season. For this stir fry, I sautéed garlic cloves, broccoli, carrots, sweet peppers, scallions. Then I cubed a bunch of extra firm tofu, added that to the veggie mix and heated it through. Then there was peanut sauce… oh the peanut sauce!

Summer meals are challenging, I like to make them as simple as possible so I spend the least amount of time over a hot stove, but too many cold meals leave me unsatisfied in any season. This meal takes little effort. Simple. Healthy. Delicious.

Here’s the not-so-forbidden recipe:

Tofu Veggie Stir Fry
Serves 4
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 piece (3 inches) fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 small yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup broccoli florets
3 scallions, thinly sliced
5 smallish carrots
8 oz extra firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 cups cooked purple (forbidden rice) or brown rice
3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic, ginger, carrots, peppers and scallions. Stir-fry for about 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add tofu. Stir-fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Serve over rice and drizzle with peanut sauce.

Peanut sauce (from Bon Appetit)

This makes enough sauce for several meals. Keep leftovers refrigerated for up to a week.

1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled
1 small garlic clove
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon (packed) light brown sugar
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
With motor running, drop ginger and garlic clove into a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add peanut butter, soy sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, and 1/3 cup water and blend, adding more water by tablespoonfuls if needed to thin, until smooth. Peanut sauce can be made 3 days ahead. Transfer to a small bowl, cover, and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.

I hope you’re having a fabulous summer!