Sunday, July 13, 2008

All that summer has to offer

I hate venturing to new locations in ghetto downtown Baltimore. Even if by some random chance of luck you find where ever it is you're going, you may not find parking, so you go into some strange street but find its a one way, then you have to go to another street and one road leads to another and before you know it you are in gangster country.

That's why I very carefully made my first trip to the nearest (downtown) Whole Foods. Not finding on-street parking, I didnt even bother going inside. The next trip, I did find parking but then asking an employee found that they have parking (for free!!) in an indoor garage. Such a valuable city commodity for free! Basking in an almost guilty pleasure, I get out of my car, walk down one flight of stairs, through automatic doors and wow! Hello, summer! Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, mangoes, kiwis, melons, pineapples-- cant deny presentation being a major selling point in higher end grocery stores. Everything is gorgeous and before I knew it my cart was full with yummy ripe fruit of all kinds.

Walking through the aisles, I was wondering what I could do with my bounty and then I remembered my most favorite bakery as a child--Caesar's in Kuwait. Caesar's was a treasure trove of yummy bakies (aka baked goods). Pillow soft mini pizzas with a hint of marinara sauce and a sprinkling of crunchy cheddar, crispy and slightly spicy cheese twists, creamy chicken salad, super spicy and flaky meat curry puffs, dark and dense fruit cake (a christmas staple) fruit tarts. Tiny, flaky buttery crusts filled with sweet vanilla scented custard and topped with fanned out strawberries, sprinkling of blueberries and thin slices of kiwi. Yummmmm.....

My tart couldnt really be classified as mini but the flavor components were all there. I went all out and made the crust and custard from scratch. The custard was perfect but the crust was a far cry from Ina Garten's description. Not quite sure what I was doing wrong but pie crusts have never been my forte. I'm describing how I made the're on your own for the pie crust...maybe even store bought frozen crust would work well.

Fruit Tart

Completely cooked pie crust
Assorted summer fruit (strawberries, blueberries, kiwis, pineapple chunks, mango chunks, etc)
Bowl of apricot preserves (warmed in microwave for about 25 secs with 1 tbsp of water)

Ingredients for Custard (aka Pastry cream)

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/4 cup of milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (1/2 vanilla bean if you have one)
3 large egg yolks


In a bowl mix sugar and yolks together. Add sifted flour and corn starch to the bowl as soon as you can. Mix to a smooth paste.
In a saucepan, heat milk and vanilla until it comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and add slowly to egg mixture (little by little, you dont want sweet scrambled eggs) whisking constantly. Pour this egg mixture now back in saucepan and bring to a boil again, keep whisking till mixture becomes thick (almost to polenta consistency). Keep aside and cool to room temperature. If the custard becomes too thick and looks like pudding, just add a little more milk and heat to desired consistency.

Tart assembly:

Spoon the custard into fully baked and completely cool pie crust. Level the custard. Arrange fresh fruit creatively on top of the custard. Brush warm apricot preserves on top of fruit for beatiful glossy appearance.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I'm back, again!

I know its been more than 8 months since my disappearance but with all the sleep deprivation that comes with raising a baby it feels like my last post was only yesterday. For all my faithful readers who keep visiting and checking in-- thank you. Your support is probably why I'm slowly picking up the remnant pieces of this blog and good news, I have lots of plans. I hope to start a new series-- not quite culinary related (although I anticipate there to be a lot of that as well), but lots of personal stories. I think having a baby made me realize how important it is to catalogue life's incidences. I mean, I want my son to know his grandparents' story, how they moved to the middle east-- completely foreign land with a completely foreign language, how they adapted, how they brought up two girls while still in their early twenties, how in their very early thirties they smuggled their family to safety during a war-- how they survived it. For most of my high school class mates and friends our experiences were nothing extraordinary, yeah we experienced and made it through the Persian Gulf war (what we call the invasion) but life moves on. But I look at the people around me here and its incredible how insular their life is. Many east coasters have never even been to the other side of the country let alone travel foreign. And although to most, the invasion may seem a joke of a war, the fright was real, the danger was constant and death painful. Statistically speaking the death toll of the entire war was negligible but not for a child who heard her neighbors being shot to death and who heard of uncles being killed by misfired missles. Our nationality and maybe even luck saved our family back then. But I want my son to know where he came from and that life is a gift, that homework and school are not really the worst things on the face of the earth, that that girl who breaks his heart in high school is not fortunate enough and that there is so much to the world that exploring it will take an entire lifetime. And hopefully in doing so, it makes for good enough reading that others (like you :) ) will also enjoy.