Binging on British TV for Baking Inspiration

The progress of creating a food business have many odd twists and turns. As I gear up for a July launch of Meadballs – my farm to your table dinner service – I have different avenues to pursue for both inspiration and boredom.

Sometimes the two are intertwined.

Starting  a business, even a simple one with a sole proprietorship, requires some tedious work. It’s not all shopping, chopping, and Bakewell Tarts (more on that in a minute). It started in the fall when I took the Erie County Department of Health food safety course, and subsequent exam, to become certified. The point is not to learn the basics of the restaurant business, but to learn the basics of not harming your customers. Quite rightly, there is a lot of focus on hand washing, cooking foods to proper temperatures, and the proper heating, cooling, and refrigeration techniques.

Kudos to the Health Department because this could all have been deadly dull. But the instructor was most engaging. And you’ll be happy to hear that I passed with the high school equivalent of an A.

In the months since then, there have been papers to file with the Pennsylvania Department of State to register the business, kitchens to check out because you can’t cook food to sell in your home kitchen (some states you can get a cottage kitchen license), suppliers to check out, etc.

Some of this happens while I sit on the computer scrolling through rules, regs, and pricing of product. It’s rather dull work, so the television is often on in the background. Lately the BBC series priest-detective “Father Brown,” based on the short stories of G.K. Chesterton, has been my Netflix pick of choice. It’s set in a rural English parish in the late 1950s. Aside from the mystery in each episode, there is also a fair amount about English country life during that period, especially the church fetes, flower shows, bake sales, and the like. I’m fascinated by tea – I think it’s a right proper thing to do. I’m not into the beans-on-toast sort, but the ones with cakes.

In the summers, there are strawberry scones, fruit crisps, and the like. But during the late spring, before anything starts to produce, there are cakes make with preserves. One episode included something called a Bakewell Tart, which the “Great British Bake Off” featured on several episodes. I only know this because I had never heard of a Bakewell Tart, so I Googled it. And found several recipes on BBC.

Essentially, it is a shortbread crust, topped with a bit of jam (raspberry is the preferred, but some have gone so far as to use – gasp – cherry), and then a frangipane, which is not marzipan. Similar, in that it is almond and sugar based, but it also has butter and eggs.

So, while filling out the latest form from the state (Department of Revenue, for sales tax collection), I popped a Bakewell Tart into the oven.

And here, dear readers, is the recipe. In a couple of months, I hope to give you an actual sample instead of just this virtual one. I do have to tell you – it is divine. And I might just have to tart it up when cherry season comes!

Until then – toodle pip!

Marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Bakewell Tart
Course dessert
Cuisine American, British
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American, British
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. To make the pastry, measure the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter (and salt, if needed) with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the water, mixing to form a soft dough.
  2. Press dough into a tart pan with a removable bottom. Refrigerate 30 minutes or overnight.
  3. When ready to bake, heat oven to 400 degrees (F).
  4. Bake pastry for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Spread with jam.
  5. Melt the butter in a pan, take off the heat and then stir in the sugar. Add (salt, if using) ground almonds, egg, and almond extract. Pour over crust. Sprinkle over the flaked almonds.
  6. Bake for about 35 minutes. If the almonds brown too quickly, cover loosely with foil to prevent them burning. Remove tart from oven to cool.
  7. Put powdered sugar into a bowl. Stir in extract. If the mixture is too thick to drizzle over tart, add water, 1 teaspoon at a time.
  8. Drizzle icing over top. Or place icing into a zip-top baggie with one corner snipped off, and pipe the icing over the top.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from several recipes on http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes

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Children, Divorce, and Christmas (cookies, too)

“Christmas really sucks for children of divorce,” my daughter pronounced while we were sitting on the couch together watching a Zak Efron movie (our compromise) after I made yet another batch of cookies, these with chocolate.

That wasn’t what I was expecting to hear. She’s 14. This is her fourth divorced Christmas. I thought we had worked out the kinks.

“Ah, how do you mean?”

My first reaction is to get all defensive. Mom’s in a better place, I say to myself. When Mom is happier, it’s better for those around Mom (except the divorced Dad, I guess). My grown-up brain is flashing back to the Christmas season six years ago when, on this day, Dec. 20, I went into the Cleveland Clinic because I was in liver failure. I didn’t know exactly what was wrong, other than my liver wasn’t recovering even after I stopped drinking a month earlier. The damage was more extensive than the Erie hospital, where I went in right before Thanksgiving, and returned two weeks later, had noted.

I had been self-medicating with alcohol to deal with anxiety/panic attacks that began when my daughter was around 2. I’d be suddenly overcome with nausea, and then the heaving would start. I could be driving. Or in the middle of a meeting. In the six months leading up to the diagnosis, I ate very little in an attempt to keep my stomach empty. I drank at home (like most women) to stay calm (my rationalization).

I tried therapy. But three different therapists said I had nothing to be anxious about. I had a job. A husband. Family. A daughter. A nice home. Friends. A member of a country club. What did I have to be anxious/depressed about?

As I write this now, I wonder if perhaps that was a question. At the time, I heard judgment. I heard, “Suck it up, sister. There are a lot of people with real problems out there.”

“And you aren’t one of them.”

No excuse on my part. I almost left a middle schooler without a mother.

Support of my family, some close friends, and some great women in AA, helped me navigate life post alcohol. And, not surprisingly, a lot of things became clearer. I was a different person than the woman who married 20 years earlier. I didn’t want to dull feelings, I wanted adventure. I wanted to hike in the mountains. I wanted to kayak – and eventually try rapids. Travel to Europe again. Go dancing. I wanted to live – in all CAPS.

I didn’t, and couldn’t, come home from a day of work, supporting our little family because my husband was unemployed, have a glass of wine and make dinner. I also needed to be a Mom. An active Mom. A Mom who shows her daughter what it is like to bounce back from the edge – it is possible – and go on to be happy. And happiness didn’t mean a house, two cars, two dogs, the country club, and dinner with wine. I had to find it on my own terms.

My daughter is right. Christmas sucks for divorced kids. That first Christmas was painful. The lawyer my ex hired wanted monthly support and a housing allowance that amounted to my entire salary. He was unemployed, and had been for quite a few years. He was in the house and deserved to be supported in the life he and my daughter were accustomed to. Arguing that we couldn’t afford the house – I had tried to convince my ex to sell when he first lost his job so we could afford to live on just my salary. He kept saying he would find a job and it would be OK. Four years and a tremendous amount of credit card debt (nearly all in my name) to balance the books, and I was panicked.

So that first Christmas as painful. I was living rent free thanks to my family in a summer cottage that had been winterized and had heat. I had enough for presents and a tree. But she wasn’t going to wake up in a house with Mom and Dad, and Santa. She would wake up in the house she had lived in her whole life, with no Mom and no tree. I woke up with a tree and no Nicole. The gym had become my anti-anxiety medication, but it was closed. That was when I started running.

I picked her up mid-morning and we had our own Christmas.  I convinced her Santa would find her new second home, even if it was temporary. But it was different. And kids don’t like different, especially where Santa is involved. This wasn’t the first different. Two years earlier, when I was at the Cleveland Clinic, she spent Christmas in Mexico with my parents, my sister, and her family. I wouldn’t be released in time to make it. A winter storm shut down the East Coast, preventing my brothers and their families from getting to Cancun.

So I was messing with her Christmas for the second time.

I think of how far we’ve come. I have my own place now. It’s a small condo – not a three-bedroom house on 2 acres overlooking Lake Erie like she grew up in. My credit is still destroyed, but that just means Christmas is paid for. I own a car, used and purchased with cash, of course. And we have a dog, not a pure-breed, but a loving shelter dog.

But she knows about the struggle to get here. She still watches me at the holiday table when alcohol is served. She worries about money. She thinks I am extravagant when it comes to Christmas – but she still has a list that includes 365 T-shirts (so she doesn’t have to worry about running out) and an equal number of phone cases.

I know this is OK. She has the optimism to still ask for the moon, but understand that she may not get there. She can see that you can go to a holiday event and not have a drink. I also think it is OK not to go to some holiday events because the main feature is alcohol, which is incredibly dull when you are the only person not imbibing. It’s OK to find other things to do, like go for a walk in the woods. Read a book. Or find a terrible Zak Efron movie on TV to watch with your daughter.

But, yes, Nicole, Christmas does suck when you are the child of divorce. Mainly because you learn a lot of lessons about Christmas at an earlier age than the other kids. You learn that it’s not a holiday about presents that magically appear, and people who get along. You learn that Christmas is about love. It’s about the love of a mother for her child. And sometimes the journey they take is a difficult one, sometimes celebrated with strangers in a house that isn’t our own.

I’m not all about the lessons – thank heavens. I do know my daughter adores chocolate. So after her pronunciation about divorce, I handed her a cookie. It doesn’t make everything better, but chocolate does help.

Merry, Merry

Marnie

Marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

 

Print Recipe
Children, Divorce, and Christmas (cookies, too)
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Cream butter, cream cheese and sugar using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes or more. Add egg, and flavorings.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add slowly to butter mixture. Mix until a soft dough forms. Divide in half.
  3. Lay a sheet of parchment on a cookie sheet and place 1 ball of dough on it. Cover with plastic wrap and roll out to 1/4 to 1/8-inch thick. Repeat with second ball. Refrigerate 1 hour.
  4. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut out cookies. Remove scraps (to reroll in the same method). Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until edges just start to brown. This will depend on how thick the cookies are. Check after 8.
  5. Remove from oven. Allow to cool about 5 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
  6. To dip in chocolate, heat chocolate chips and butter in a microwave-safe bowl for 30 seconds. Stir. If not melted, return to microwave for another 30 seconds. Stir until melted.
  7. Dip cookies in chocolate. Or, dip part in chocolate and use a silicone brush (like for basting meat) to spread chocolate where you want it. Return to the wire rack to harden. If using sprinkles, add before chocolate hardens.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from TheKitchn.com

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Fall Pairs well with Pears

The circle drive in my neighborhood looked like someone had found buried treasure and was tossing gold coins in the air this weekend. In reality, it was the small stand of birch trees that was shedding its leaves. The sun, the wind, the fall, all combined to make it look like a pirate party.

 

Each day of this fall seems more spectacular than the last. We’ve been blessed with flaming red maples that literally glow when the setting sun sets them ablaze in late afternoon. Lake Erie, one day a muddy mess of rolling whitecaps, then turns perfectly calm, allowing me to kayak on a November morning.

Mother Nature provided an escape from the ill winds that have been blowing steadily during this election season. Oh how easy it is to turn off the television or put aside the newspaper when the sky is blue and the outdoors promise one more beautiful walk. The dry crunch of the leaves soothe my nerves made raw by the shrill comments from media and politicians.

There’s nothing like coming home again to smell a house that is alive with cinnamon, cardamom and star anise, which is what was bubbling on my stovetop this weekend. It’s a delicious combination with which to poach pears.

Pears – yes I’ve heard the comments. Lots of people don’t care for the texture, which can alternately be mealy or too firm. And poached pears? As a kid, poached pears did not count as dessert. Indeed, I preferred to skip it altogether.

I still don’t get excited by a poached pear alone on a dish at the conclusion of my meal. If it is atop of a perfect creme Anglaise. Creme Anglaise is a fancy custard – basically eggs, cream, sugar, and vanilla (think really good melted French vanilla ice cream).

So what if the poached pear could go to the next level? Combine the poached pears with an almond cream, and a pastry. Pears and almonds complement each other perfectly (although you could make a plain pastry cream for those with nut allergies). Adding the pastry – in this case purchased puff pastry – adds a little crunch for a delightful textural component.

A tip about puff pastry. Traditionally, it is made with butter. This, however, is not the key ingredient in Pepperidge Farms’ puff pastry. A taste test by Serious Eats found that Pepperidge Farms works just fine if as a base for other ingredients. Dufour is the preferred puff pastry for serious enthusiasts, but you would have to mail order it. I used Wegmans’ brand, which listed butter in the ingredients. I found it a little thicker than Pepperidge Farms. It is a little pricier than PR brand, but about half that of Dufour.

There are four basic steps here. None are particularly difficult. Poaching the pears is just a matter of peeling them and then using a melon baller or grapefruit spoon to scoop out the seeds. That’s the hard part. Making the almond cream, or Creme D’amandes, is no harder than mixing cake batter. The puff pastry must be defrosted, and then you need to cut either 2 circles or into smaller circles if you are making individual tarts. Finally, you brush a little apricot jam on when the tart comes out of the oven to make it shiny and pretty.

When you finished, you will feel like you have just walked out of a fine French boulangerie.

Print Recipe
Pear Tart with Almond Cream and Puff Pastry
This will make 2 9-inch tarts.
Course dessert
Cuisine American, French
Servings
tarts
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American, French
Servings
tarts
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. To make the almond cream: Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, almond flour, rum, vanilla, flour, and salt. Beat until creamy. Can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
  2. To poach the pears: Peel pears and cut in half. Use a grapefruit spoon or melon baller to seed and core. In a large pot, have water, sugar and spices at a simmer. Add pear halves and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until soft, but still holding their shape. Remove from heat and store in cooking liquid until ready to use.
  3. Unfold 1 sheet of puff pastry on a floured surface. Use your tart pan to cut out a circle. Remove excess puff pastry and roll out so it is about 2 inches larger. Place in tart pan, carefully pressing edges into fluted sides of pan. Repeat with second piece of pastry.
  4. Dock bottom by piercing with a fork all over. Freeze for about 10 minutes. Bake in a 350 degree oven until light brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  5. In the meantime, cut pears into about 1/8-inch slice. You can leave the halves whole or break apart. I like to leave whole and use a spatula to transfer to the tart.
  6. Fill each tart with half of the almond cream. Top with pears. Sprinkle each tart with half of the sliced almonds. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven to cool on a rack.
  7. Heat almond preserves until liquid enough to brush on the tops of the tarts.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from

http://www.marthastewart.com/317920/almond-cream

http://letthebakingbeginblog.com/2014/11/french-almond-cream-pear-tart/

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