strawberry pistachio thumbprint cookies

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Once upon a time it was January. And it was very cold and dry and the markets were full of citrus. My, how things have changed. 2014 has been full of surprises. Anything and everything has happened in these past four months. I could say a million things about the goings-on, like favorites coming to town, and babies being born, and little brothers getting engaged. But I wouldn’t even know where to begin. So on to May we go…

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Summer is just a heartbeat away, but it still very much feels like spring around here. It’s all chambray and strawberries at the moment. Which reminds me of these cookies.

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I first made these for an office cookie party last year. I’m coming to realize that I don’t bake cookies very often. I’m more of a cupcake/cake maker when it comes to baking. But I do love a good cookie. I think I’m going to really work on my cookie repertoire this year. More cookies! I’ll let you know how it goes.

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This is exactly my kind of cookie. It’s buttery and shortbread-ish and encrusted in toasty pistachios. I love pistachios – they’re my favorite nut for snacking. Finished off with a well of jammy strawberry goodness makes these a big fat yesssss. It’s a perfect cookie, ideal for tea parties and springtime.

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strawberry pistachio thumbprint cookies 

adapted from joyofbaking.com

makes about three dozen cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature 

1/2 cup granulated sugar 

2 large eggs, separated 

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1-1/2 cups pistachios, toasted and finely chopped

1/2 – 3/4 cup strawberry jam

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract and beat until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the flour mixture to the batter and beat until just combined. If the dough is too soft to roll into balls, refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F and place rack in the center of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Place the finely chopped pistachios on a plate. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Taking one ball of dough at a time, dip into the egg white and then roll in the nuts until completely coated. Place on prepared baking sheets, spacing about 1-inch apart. Using your thumb or end of a wooden spoon, make an indentation in the center of each cookie and fill with about 1/2 teaspoon of jam.

Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until cookies are set and the nuts have nicely browned. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

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strawberry rhubarb pie

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Ooooh weee. That was quite a break if I do say so myself. It feels like those carbomb cupcakes happened a lifetime ago. I’ve gotta start by saying that I sure have missed you. Not a single day went by where I didn’t think about this place. And I made several attempts to share things here. But nothing felt right. So it seemed like the only thing to do was take a time out.

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But being away for so long was beginning to stress me out a bit, similar to the way cutting class in high school and college would make me feel crazy. One day turns into five and then you find yourself scrambling for an excuse for your absence. I was starting to worry that I’d never find my way back here. But I love this space more than anything, so I knew I’d figure it out eventually.

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I don’t have much of an excuse for our little hiatus. I didn’t skip town or run into any trouble with the law. I did have a mean case of writer’s block. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a grand ole time. There were parties and dance parties and really great shows (Band of Horses and Beach House in the same week!) and brunches and nights out with friends – old friends, new friends, best friends, friends from out of town. I drank fantastic whiskey cocktails. I Instagramed. There were a few serious, not-so-fun moments thrown in there as well. To sum it up, life was just happening.

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If you’ve been tuning in here for a while now, you might’ve figured out that I have a thing for rhubarb. I wait all year for those gorgeous pink stalks to show up at the market. And when they do, I can’t contain myself. One year it was these ice pops, last year it was this boozy fool and a couple of batches of jam. This time around, all I really wanted was a good old fashioned strawberry rhubarb pie.

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I’ve made a couple of strawberry rhubarb pies in my time, and if I’m being totally honest, none of them were great. They were all a little too soupy, a bit too tart. So when I found a recipe that required sauteing the rhubarb, and macerating and draining the strawberries before baking, I was pretty sure I had found a winner. Plus, an all-butter lattice-top crust is always enticing.

I was totally smitten with this pie, but I was convinced that I would love it even more if I swapped out the allspice in the original recipe for vanilla bean. So I gave it another go. And it was just what the doctor ordered. Flaky crust, sweet-tart fruit and a dollop of whipped cream on top is a truly wonderful thing.

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strawberry rhubarb pie 

adapted just slightly from The Wall Street Journal Online

makes one 9-inch pie

for the all-butter pie crust:

2-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces

8 to 10 tablespoons ice water, or more as needed, with a splash of cider vinegar

Stir dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Add butter to the dry ingredients and coat it using a spoon or spatula. Using a pastry blender, cut butter into the flour until mostly pea-sized pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; do not over-blend).

Sprinkle 4 tablespoons ice water over the mixture and cut the water in with a spatula. When water is fully incorporated, add more water, one to two tablespoons at a time, and mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining.

Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with drops of ice water if necessary to combine.

Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a flat disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably overnight. Wrapped tightly, dough can be refrigerated for three days or frozen for one month.

for the pie:

all butter pie crust 

2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered

3 cups rhubarb, cut into ¾-inch pieces

2 tablespoons vegetable oil 

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

1 grind fresh black pepper

3 tablespoons arrowroot (or tapioca starch or corn starch)

1 to 2 dashes Fee Brothers rhubarb bitters (or Old Fashioned bitters)

1 teaspoon orange zest

1-1/2 teaspoons al-purpose flour 

1 egg

1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream

1 tablespoon raw sugar

Preheat oven to 425°F. Butter a 9-inch pie pan.

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon sugar over strawberries. Let sit 1 hour.

Roll out one disc of pie dough into a 12-inch circle, about  1/8 of an inch thick. Place disc in pie pan and trim the edge, leaving 1 inch of overhang. Place in fridge to chill.

Roll out the second disc of pie dough and cut into 1-inch-wide lattice strips. Lay strips on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and place in fridge to chill.

Heat vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté rhubarb until it softens slightly, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, sprinkle with lemon juice and let cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk together brown sugar, ¼ cup sugar, salt, black pepper and arrowroot.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer strawberries into bowl with cooled rhubarb, leaving behind most juices.

Add bitters, orange zest, vanilla, and dry mixture to fruit mixture. Stir gently with a spatula.

Sprinkle 1½ teaspoons flour and 1½ teaspoons granulated sugar into bottom of prepared pie shell and spread around with your fingertips.

Pour filling into pie pan, arrange lattice on top and crimp edges.

Lightly beat together egg and cream or milk and brush pie top with it. Sprinkle with raw sugar.

Place pie on a baking sheet and bake in the lower third of the oven for 15 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350°F, move pie to center rack and continue to bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until filling is bubbling and pastry is golden.

Allow to cool at least 2 hours. Serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Best served same day it is made.

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lavender strawberry shortcakes (and the best of June)

June was so good. Like so good I wish it didn’t have to end. Here are a few of my favorites from the month:

Moonrise Kingdom I went to see Moonrise Kingdom the night it opened in SF. What a MASTERPIECE! First love. Whimsy. Nostalgia. Welcome to the wonderful world of Wes Anderson. His films have a very special place in my heart, as do his characters – Maxwell Fischer, Margot Tenenbaum, Steve Zissou. I’ll be adding little Sam Schakusky to the list. I want to watch it over and over and over again. And I want to go to summer camp.

Beach House Bloom Gorgeous. Lush. Dreamy. The official soundtrack of Summer 2012. This is in heavy rotation at the moment. Beach House just keeps getting better and better.

Girls I have to admit I was hesitant at first, not because I had been paying attention to the buzz that it had generated (I was actually completely in the dark), but mostly because I had imagined something pretty generic. After catching the last few minutes of an episode, I decided to check it out from the beginning, which resulted in a three hour, six episode marathon. Girls perfectly captures those awkward, at times painful to watch, often hilarious moments that are so very much a part of being twenty-something. I find it admirable that Lena Dunham has created a female protagonist who is far from perfect, even somewhat unlikeable, yet you find yourself routing for her. She also birthed the most quirky, complicated, loveable man/boy on television. I can’t wait for season 2.

au revoir, foie gras My sister and I had been meaning to have dinner at Gary Danko since last September, we just never got around to it. But we were especially motivated to get a reservation this month so that we could have our last rendezvous with foie gras before the ban. Oh California, I love you, but sometimes I just don’t get you. I decided to go big and ordered the five course foie gras tasting menu, which included a foie gras torchon, seared foie gras, foie gras custard, squab with pistachio-crusted foie gras, and foie gras profiteroles. You only live once, right?

SF Pride Since my early twenties, this has been one of my favorite weekends of the year. It is always filled with good friends and sentiment and the best kind of ridiculousness. It is also a reminder of why San Francisco is such an amazing city. This year, I learned a few important lessons: 1) You’re never too old for Pink Saturday, especially if you’re with friends. 2) Your judgement is slightly impaired after a couple of bourbon cocktails; you should listen to your friend when he says you should not get the Four Loko. 3) After age twenty-nine, you are too old to consume malt liquor energy drinks (chased with a beer) and you will pay for it the next day. And maybe even a little the day after that.

lavender strawberry shortcakes One of my favorite vendors at the farmers’ market sells Albion strawberries. They get sweeter every week and I’m totally addicted. They are perfect in their natural state, but I especially like them dressed up as a shortcake. The lavender biscuits are an excellent platform for the strawberries and I love the simplicity of the creme fraiche on top, which really ties it all together. A lovely way to end any meal. I also imagine this making an appearance at brunch.

lavender strawberry shortcakes

from The Food52 Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs

serves 8

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

4-6 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon fresh lavender flowers (or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried)

8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

1 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing

turbinado sugar

2 quarts small fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and halved

6 – 8 tablespoons creme fraiche

fresh mint sprigs and lavender flowers, for garnish

Heat the oven to 350F. Combine the flours, 2 tablespoons light brown sugar, baking powder, salt and lavender flours in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix and break up the lavender. Drop in the butter, one tablespoon at a time, while pulsing. Mix until the dough resembles course meal. Slowly add the cream, pulsing until just incorporated. (Alternately, you can make the dough by hand using a pastry blender or two butter knives. Use a fork when adding the cream.)

Drop 8 large scoops of dough onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Brush the tops with heavy cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for 18-20 minutes until lightly golden brown. Remove from the pan and let cool on a wire rack.

While the biscuits are baking, gently toss the strawberries with a few tablespoons of brown sugar (taste to determine how much sugar to add) until some of their juices are released. Set aside.

To assemble:

Slice the biscuits in half crosswise. Lay the bottom of the biscuit on a plate/bowl and spoon some strawberries and their juice over the biscuit. Add a dollop of creme fraiche and top with the other half of the biscuit. Garnish with mint and lavender flowers.

strawberry cream tart

I have the luxury of spending my Fridays at school, in a photo studio, learning to be a better photographer. There is really nowhere I would rather be. One of my favorite parts of being a student, aside from learning new tricks and having a current student ID (and the small perks that come with that), are the people you meet. Over the past few semesters I have developed friendships with some of the coolest, kindest, most talented individuals. And I am extremely grateful that our paths have crossed.

Spring semester ended last week, and while I am super happy to be done with all of my assignments (photoshop was nearly the end of me a few weeks ago), I am really going to miss all of our Friday morning madness. Rather than having a traditional final on the last day of class, we ended the semester with an awesome dinner party hosted by our instructor, who we all love to pieces.

Dinner was fantastic – great food, great wine, and lots of laughs. After dessert, four little bottles of grappa appeared. It was my first time drinking grappa (the stuff is powerful!), so I definitely nursed my little glass. I think it’s safe to say we all left that night with full bellies and high spirits. It was a fabulous way to end the semester. I feel honored to be a part of such a special group of people.

I volunteered to be in charge of dessert for the evening, so I picked up a few pints of strawberries from the farmer’s market that morning, determined to make a pie. Somehow my pie turned into a strawberry cream tart. I was in a bit of a panic because blind baked tart crusts have been a challenge for me in the past and was worried that I would have to come up with a back-up plan in case of a disaster. But I focused. And nothing collasped or folded over(!!!). At one point, I decided that the pastry cream needed a splash of rosewater. Definitely one of my better decisions in the kitchen. I could’ve eaten an entire bowl of the pastry cream on its own, and I would have, had I not been aware of its egg yolk and butter content (I did have a little leftover at the end, so I had a dollop on top of apricot halves, which was sooo good it could easily pass for dessert as is). The rosewater cream made the whole tart so much more intriguing and really complemented the strawberries. I will definitely be making variations of this beauty in the future.

strawberry cream tart

adapted from Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America

makes one 8-inch tart

2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled, sliced if large

1/2 cup strawberry jam

1/4 cup melted chocolate (optional) – I used bittersweet

1 egg white, whisked

tart dough

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg yolk

1-1/2 cups cake flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting

pastry cream

1/4 cup cornstarch

3/4 cup sugar (divided)

2 cups whole milk (divided)

4 eggs yolks, lightly beaten

1 pinch salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon rosewater (optional)

to make the tart dough:

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla extract at medium speed, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed, until smooth and light in color, about 2 minutes. Add the egg yolk and blend until smooth, 1 -2 minutes more. Add the flour all at once, mixing at low speed or by hand with a wooden spoon until just blended, about 30 seconds. The dough will be very crumbly when you remove it from the mixer. Gently press the dough into a disk.

Wrap the dough tightly and refrigerate for 20 minutes before rolling.

to make the pastry cream:

Combine the cornstarch with 1/4 cup of the sugar in a mixing bowl, then stir in 1/2 cup of the milk. Blend the yolks into the cornstarch mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until completely smooth.

Prepare an ice bath. Combine the remaining 1-1/2 cups milk with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and the salt in a nonreactive saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat.

Temper the egg mixture by gradually adding about one-third of the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly. Add the remaining milk mixture to the eggs. Return the mixture to the saucepan and continue cooking over medium heat, vigorously stirring with a whisk, until the mixture comes to a boil and the whisk leaves a trail in the pastry cream, 5-7 minutes. As soon as the pastry cream reaches this stage, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla, rosewater and butter, one tablespoon at a time. Transfer the pan to the ice bath. Stir occasionally until the pastry cream is cool, about 30 minutes.

Transfer to a storage container and place parchment or waxed paper directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Cover the container tightly and refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days.

to make the tart:

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll out the dough between two sheets of lightly floured parchment until it is 4 inches wider than your pan.  Carefully transfer the dough to the pan and gently press into the sides of the pan, being careful not to stretch the dough. Trim the excess dough from the edges of the pan. Using a fork, poke holes in the bottom and sides of the dough. Line the dough with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Place in the oven and bake until the dough is just set and edges look dry, 10-12 minutes. Take the shell out of the oven and  carefully remove the weights and parchment paper. Brush the bottom and sides of the crust lightly with the egg white. Return shell to the oven and bake until the dough appears dry and the edges are just starting to brown, another 6-8 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a rack.

Heat the jam in a small saucepan over low heat until it is warm enough to strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Strain the jam into a small dish and keep warm.

Brush the tart shell with the melted chocolate, if using. Spread the pastry cream in the tart shell in an even layer. Arrange the strawberries over the surface of the pastry cream.

Use a pastry brush to coat the strawberries very lightly with the warm jam. Let the glaze set for about 10 minutes in the refrigerator. If you are not serving the tart immediately, keep it covered and refrigerated for up to 12 hours.