Soul-Searching Saturday with a Savory Summer Squash Tart

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Deny, deny, deny. That is what I was thinking as a I trudged up a hill during my run last night. Deny this feels bad. Do not even think about this misery. It didn’t work. I stopped and walked.

Denial has been on my mind all week. Not so much the denial of hard and fast realities that demand attention (i.e. big hills on a run and paying the bills), but the potential experiences I have denied myself by putting imaginary obstacles in my way. I’ve traced this thought train back to its station - a Catfish episode (I know, I know I just mentioned the show) - that moved along the tracks after I learned something equal parts happy and sad, took a risk, and learned some more.

Allow me to indulge by talking about the show for a moment. The opportunity to watch deeply personal situations in strangers’ lives play out on television (with a healthy dose of editing, I’m sure) has, somewhat surprisingly, given me an objective viewpoint to realize the little things I think are of huge importance might not really matter all that much to the people who care about me. Or who would maybe care about me a little more if I actually gave them that opportunity.

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You see, there was this girl who really wanted to meet this boy. He said he wanted to meet her too but then never did anything about it. This went on for 10(!) years. With a little help from the digital-love-age’s Batman & Robin – Catfish show hosts Nev & Max – the boy responded to the ultimatum that it was now or never to meet this chick.

My first thought when I saw the boy come out of the house was, “whoa, he’s big.” The kid was overweight. Big time. And he knew it. It was one of the first things he called attention to. “Hey, look at me, I’m huge.” He didn’t want to meet this girl that he really liked because he was disappointed in himself, and he didn’t want to disappoint her too. It was sad.

Let’s start again. Same character profile. Girl wants to meet boy. He says he wants to meet her too but makes excuses that go on for years (only eight(!) this time). Nev & Max put the smack down, and boy agrees to meet girl.

His issue? Money. He did not have enough or thought he did not have enough or some combination of the two. She didn’t really seem to care. Hmm.

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Are these two stories exceptions? Yes. Most often people lie through their teeth and then claim they never meant to hurt anyone. Um, come on, what did you think was going to happen? That you were going to get a hug and a kiss for your ability to play pretend? That’s some big time denial.

As for me, I am just looking to get out of my own way for once. Should it matter that the balance in my bank account is not quite as high as I might like? Or that the number on the scale is actually a little higher than I’m used too right now? If only I could swap those trends…

Those things matter to me, but I’m starting to realize that a spirit of being honest and genuine might balance those other things out. Maybe. Hopefully.

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I imagine the only thing you are looking to get out of the way is the abundance of summer squash that pops up this time of year. This summer squash, ricotta and lemon thyme is a good place to start. It is an easy dish to pull together with a lemon flavor that really shines through.

I opted to use a sheet of puff pastry I had leftover from the Carrot & Goat Cheese Quiche as the crust, though I think the traditional crust called for in the original recipe might be a better option. Its firmer texture would compliment the soft cheese and squash a bit better than the light, flaky pastry crust. The high temperature (and the use of puff pastry) might warrant a little extra attention to the baking time if your oven is as finicky as mine. If the edges and top of the crust are golden in 15 instead of 20 minutes, by all means take it out of the oven.

My one beef with the recipe is that it calls for five ounces of ricotta cheese. The idea is to use homemade ricotta, but those who wish to purchase their cheese will probably only find it in 15 ounce containers. I suggest using the five ounces requirement as a guide more so than a hard and fast rule. As long as you spread a decent layer of cheese along the bottom of the crust, all will be well.

In need of other ideas? Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla has posted a  sensational summer squash round-up of  20+ recipes. There are plenty of savory recipes and a few sweet ones to choose from, so there’s no need to go hungry this weekend. Enjoy!

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Summer Squash, Ricotta & Lemon Thyme Tart
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 sheet puff pastry
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 5 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 1 medium to large summer squash, thinly sliced (I used a combination of both yellow squash and zucchini)
  • olive oil
  • pinch smoked paprika
  • 4 sprigs fresh (lemon) thyme
  • ¼ cup shredded Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
  1. Lightly flour a work surface and roll out the puff pastry to fit a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
  2. Press the dough along the bottom and up the sides to form a crust, and trim any extra dough from the edges.
  3. Stir the lemon zest into the ricotta cheese, then spread the cheese mixture on top of the puff pastry crust.
  4. Arrange the squash slices on top of the cheese in a circular pattern, overlapping the edges a bit.
  5. Drizzle the squash with olive oil and sprinkle on the paprika.
  6. Strip the leaves from the thyme stems and sprinkle them over the tart as well.
  7. Now scatter the shredded cheese over the top of the tart.
  8. Bake at 425 degrees F for 20 minutes until the edges and top are golden.
To make a whole-wheat pastry crust:
1½ cups whole wheat pastry flour, plus additional for sprinkling
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1, ½ cup stick cold butter, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons ice water

Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in a medium bowl. Rub in the pieces of butter to form a crumbly mixture that resembles sand when incorporated. Sprinkle the cold water over the mixture and stir with a fork until it forms into a ball. Press the dough into the tart pan just like you would a sheet of puff pastry.


Hello Sunshine: Lemon-Coconut Cookies

Lemon Coconut Cookies 005 Edited Hello Sunshine: Lemon Coconut Cookies

The sun is shining, the light is coming (don’t forget to set your clocks one hour forward this weekend), and a warm-up is on the way. The general consensus is spring cannot get here soon enough. I have been impatiently awaiting its arrival since those early days of February when I first noticed light in the sky past 6 p.m. Despite my sunny mood, I went shopping for a space heater and a winter coat this afternoon. Ever the pessimist.

I took this recipe from The Inspired Vegan by Bryant Terry. When describing the recipe, he suggests brightening up a dreary afternoon by enjoying one of these cookies alongside a cup of tea. This is the perfect description for these bright, lemony cookies.

The author was right on that these cookies are flavorful when eaten plain but “next level” when topped with the icing. The coconut oil and shredded coconut lend the cookies a slight coconut flavor, but overall, it is far outweighed by the lemon.

Unfortunately, implementing the recipe was not as promising as the descriptions. The coconut oil – which is actually a solid, not a liquid – was difficult to fully incorporate into the batter. I was oftentimes left with chunks of it showing up in random places. In the future, I may melt the coconut oil before I beat it into the cookies since it will solidify as the dough chills.

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After I rotated the first batch of cookies halfway through their baking time, they were little more than a pool of dough on a baking sheet. I thought about sending them straight to the trash, but I decided to give them a chance to finish baking. Turns out, this was a good decision.

The cookies were not only salvageable, but pretty darn delicious. However, I do have a suggestion to help you optimize this baking experience: You must chill the dough.

These cookies spread across a baking sheet like a wildfire across a dry forest. To minimize this, I suggest chilling the dough as long as possible or perhaps putting it in the freezer for a bit. I even thought about putting cookie cutters around the balls of cookie dough in an effort to fence them in.

The good news is, the dough is very forgiving immediately after it comes out of the oven. If a few cookies bake together, simply use the edge of a spatula to reshape them. Try not to wait too long because they do set up fairly quickly. They also cool quickly. By the time the last baking sheet came out of the oven, the first batches were cool enough to ice with the lemon glaze. And that is one form of ice I will happily accept all year. Enjoy!

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Hello Sunshine: Lemon-Coconut Cookies
Serves: 20
  • For the Cookies
  • 1 cup plus three tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup shredded coconut
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup coconut oil (in its solid state)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • For the Icing
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • optional: additional coconut for sprinkling
  1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, shredded coconut, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat together the sugar, coconut oil, egg, lemon juice and lemon zest until well blended.
  3. Combine the dry flour mixture with the wet sugar mixture and blend just until combined.
  4. Cover and refrigerate the batter at least 30 minutes (overnight if possible) before baking.
  5. When the batter is chilled, drop it by rounded tablespoons onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Leave at least two inches (more if possible) between each cookie dough ball.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are golden brown, rotating the cookie sheets halfway through the baking time.
  7. Allow the cookies to cool on the sheets for a few minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cook completely.
  8. While the cookies cool, prepare the icing.
  9. Sift the confectioners’ sugar (to remove lumps) into a bowl, then stir in the lemon juice, water and lemon zest.
  10. Spoon over the cooled cookies, and sprinkle the wet icing with coconut if desired. Allow the icing to set, about one hour, before enjoying.
The original recipe called for using ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour and ½ cup plus 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour. To make vegan cookies: 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds (whole flaxseed meal) + 3 tablespoons of water = 1 egg. I used four lemons to get the juice and zest required for both the cookies and the icing.


Happy Mardi Gras Cupcakes

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Happy Mardi Gras! Last year, I baked a King Cake flavored with cinnamon and lemon. This year I opted to bake King Cake cupcakes flavored with nutmeg and lemon. The slightly different flavors had nothing to do with my choice, but the lack of a sweet yeast dough did. The cupcakes offered the path of least resistance.

I got the idea from a recipe that came through in a King Arthur Flour email. They offer readers a great blog post complete with step-by-step photos of baking and decorating as well as a mention of Fiori di Sicilia. Huh?

I have never baked with it, but from what I understand, Fiori di Sicilia (Flowers of Sicily) is a flavor extract that combines vanilla, citrus and floral flavors and aromas. A descriptor I frequently found accompanying it was “creamsicle.” Sounds delicious. Has anyone else used this in their baking?

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Since I did not have any Fiori di Sicilia, and since I was willing to bet the majority of people who want to bake these cupcakes would not have it either, I improvised. I used what I had in the form of vanilla and lemon extracts,and the cupcakes turned out just as delicious as I expected. Orange extract would be a fine substitute as well. As for the spices, if you are not a nutmeg fan, simply swap out the nutmeg with cinnamon instead.

In my post last year, I wrote a bit about King Cake history. This year, I wondered about the colors. From the official Mardi Gras website I learned purple represents justice, green faith and gold power. The King of Carnival, Rex, both selected the colors and assigned their meanings in 1892. On to another tradition. That baby.

It is easy to keep up with the tradition that whoever gets the piece of King Cake with the baby baked inside makes the cake next year. Simply bake the plastic baby into one of the cupcakes. King Arthur Flour suggested using a chocolate kiss or similar candy in place of a plastic baby since, like Fiori di Sicilia, most of us probably do not have bite-size plastic babies hanging around with our baking supplies. But if you do, get to baking.

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Laissez les bons temps rouler!

King Cake Cupcakes
Serves: 12-14
  • For the Cupcakes
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1⅔ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • ⅔ cup milk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • For the Icing
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 4-ounces (1/2 package) cream cheese, softened
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons milk
  • purple, yellow, and green colored sugars
  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt.
  2. Add the butter and beat with an electric mixer at low speed until the mixture looks grainy like sand.
  3. Add the milk and flavor extracts and increase the mixer to medium speed.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each egg until fully incorporated.
  5. Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl as needed to ensure the ingredients are fully incorporated into the batter. Mix just until the batter becomes smooth.
  6. Scoop the batter into paper liners sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and placed into the wells of a muffin tin. The batter should fill the papers about ¾ of the way.
  7. Bake at 350°F for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cupcakes are light golden brown around their edges and they spring back when pressed gently on top.
  8. While the cupcakes cool, prepare the icing.
  9. Beat the butter, cream cheese and flavor extracts in a medium-sized bowl until light and fluffy.
  10. Continue to beat while gradually adding the confectioners’ sugar.
  11. Add milk as needed to create a spreadable consistency.
  12. Spread each cooled cupcake with icing, then immediately decorate with the colored sparkling sugars.
The original recipe listed a yield of 12 cupcakes. I was able to get 14 cupcakes when the liners were filled ¾ of the way. Because it is necessary to spray the paper liners with non-stick cooking spray, you may want to double-line the muffin tins with papers to avoid a greasy look or to keep the look of pretty papers.