Garden Lessons Learned & The Best Rhubarb Tart

Earlier this month I trusted some internet information which led me to a huge garden blunder. I planted my much cared for indoor tomatoes outside too soon. The weather turned cold and especially windy just days later and being away from home I was unable to protect those beauties. Mother Nature took a toll on the plants, but they held on. Today, in spite of their ravaged leaves they continue to thrive and I am already seeing a few tomatoes. Planting a garden can teach us many lessons. Remaining strong no matter how life chooses to chew us up and spit us out is one of them. Stay calm and plant some seeds. The rewards are great.

tomato plant

Tending a garden also teaches patience. For instance, I planted rhubarb last year and I really, really, really want to pick it, but I can’t. The rule of thumb is to let the plant build its root system and strength over a three-year period before harvesting. It’s the same with asparagus. It’s been 7 years since I planted the asparagus and today we are harvesting more than we can eat. It’s a joy to share it. The reward of patience. Lesson learned

As the world is opening up so is the produce at the market. Rhubarb is plentiful in the spring, but has a short growing season. Get while the getting is good and stock up on the naturally tart stalks. This darling of a vegetable can be added to pies, muffins, quick breads and even savory dishes.

Rhubarb Frangipane Tart

ALMOND FRANGIPANE

14 cup plus 2 tablespoon sugar

14 cup plus 1 tablespoon almond paste

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

14 teaspoon baking powder

14 teaspoon kosher salt

In food processor fitted with metal blade, beat the sugar and almond paste until almond paste is chopped into small bits. Add butter; pulse just until blended. Add eggs and vanilla; blend until smooth. Scrape down the bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and pulse until just blended. Cover and chill while preparing crust.

CRUST

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

14 cup plus 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar

1 egg yolk

14 cups all-purpose flour

14 teaspoon kosher salt

3 to 4 stalks fresh cut rhubarb, diced on diagonal (1/2-inch dice)

1 tablespoon sugar

With electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl, then beat in the egg yolk. Combine the flour and salt, then add to the bowl, beating on low speed until just incorporated. Place dough in a 9-inch round fluted tart pan. Using fingertips, press the dough evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the pan to cover in an even layer. Dock (prick) the dough every 2 inches with a fork. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet; freeze for 10 minutes or until firm.

Meanwhile, set a rack in the top third of the oven and preheat to 350°. Spoon the frangipane to the center of the tart crust, and using an offset spatula, spread evenly all the way to the edges. Individually place the chunks of rhubarb on the frangipane in a pattern you like, leaving room between the pieces. Sprinkle tart with 1 tablespoon of sugar.

Bake until the top is lightly browned, about 40 to 45 minutes. Tart will look puffy, but then settle with cooling. Cool completely.

A symbol of wisdom, burning sage is used to achieve a healing state — or to solve or reflect upon spiritual dilemmas

Thyme For A Change & Strawberry Madeleines

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There is a language, little known,
Lovers claim it as their own.
Its symbols smile upon the land,
Wrought by nature’s wondrous hand;
And in their silent beauty speak,
Of life and joy, to those who seek
For Love Divine and sunny hours
In the language of the flowers.

–The Language of Flowers, London, 1875

Made popular in Victorian times many flowers have been given meaning and often used to send unspoken messages. For instance, and the obvious, red roses symbolizing love and Forget-me-nots, well, don’t forget me. Did you know Kate Middleton carried sweet William in her bridal bouquet as a symbol of gallantry along with myrtle (love in marriage), lily-of-the-valley (trustworthiness, purity) and ivy (continuity)? It was a meaningful bouquet filled with hopes of a long and happy marriage with her Prince. So far so good there.

As we head into April and my bittersweet (truth and honesty) gardening season I’d like to focus on all the goodness of William’s birthday (April 22) rather than the day (April 16) the Navy Chaplain knocked on the door delivering tragic news. It’s a much needed change. The garden, specifically getting my hands into the dirt, has been a great source of strength, joy and now fun with my grandchildren. Garden therapy is a thing. Plant some seeds.

Thyme is easy to grow and hearty through the winter

If there ever is a plant that reminds me of William it is thyme. Thyme is the symbol of courage and strength. I saw William at his strongest following a season-ending knee injury his senior year in high school. Lacrosse was his thing. Team co-captain with his best friend, Whit, running the game made him feel successful. Imagine the devastating loss, in the first game of the season, when an opposing player clipped him from behind blowing out his knee. In the blink of an eye, it was all over. Not only that, the surgical repair and 9 months of rehab that followed could effectively dismiss him from the Navy. While others would have crumbled, his hard-work at physical therapy and his ability to lead his team while on crutches was nothing more than courageous and inspiring. I know because so many of his teammates told me.

Next week I will share why he is like dill and nasturtiums. I know he’d be so mad if he knew I was comparing him to flowers, but trying to have a good laugh here rather than a good cry. Let’s get to this recipe before I change my mind…

Grow herbs! Herbs are an essential part of the landscape both outside and inside the kitchen. Cost effective, easy to care for, beautiful and delicious if you are not growing herbs I can’t tell you enough how much I want you to. And if you have yet to pair herbs like thyme or basil with strawberries then you are in for a real treat with this recipe.

Madeleines are like little bite-size pound cakes. I just love them with a cup of tea for a mid-afternoon snack. Super easy to make these fresh strawberry infused lovelies also call for freeze-dried strawberries as they punch up the strawberry flavor and color. Crushing freeze-dried fruit into any recipe eliminates the need for artificial colors and flavors. You can find it at Trader Joe’s or near the fresh produce section of your grocery store.

Strawberry Thyme Madeleines

  • Servings: 18
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 cup (128 g) cake flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

6 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

2 tablespoons freeze dried strawberries plus additional for garnish

½ chopped fresh strawberries

2 eggs

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled

Powdered sugar, optional

Heat oven to 375F. Place oven rack in middle. Spray madeleine pan with baking spray. In small bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In small food processor or spice grinder, combine 2 teaspoons sugar, thyme and freeze-dried strawberries; process to a fine powder with bits of thyme. Add strawberries and process to a puree; measure and set aside ¼ cup of puree. In a medium mixing bowl, with an electric mixer, beat eggs with remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar for 3 to 5 minutes or until thick and pale in color. Add reserved strawberry puree and flour mixture blending just until dry ingredients are incorporated. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in melted butter until well blended. Spoon or pipe batter into prepared pan just below each rim. Bake 7 to 8 minutes or until madeleines spring back with a touch of your finger. Turn out to cool on a rack. Dust with crushed freeze-dried strawberries or powdered sugar.

The Absolute Best Carrot Cake or More on Corona

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sous vide carrot cake

The short and sweet answer is I prefer to talk cake today, but not just any cake. This cake. The cake that my daughter said is the best she ever tasted and the one my picky grand-daughter with her mouth-full said, “Kiki can you make this for my birthday party?” It’s a carrot cake done “the Keys method” sous vide.

naked cake right out of the pan

Evenly baked from edge to center this lightly spiced and perfectly moist cake needs no embellishment. Truth is I prefer my cakes naked, but for a special occasion layer and swirl your favorite cream cheese frosting and add some toasted nuts for a little contrast in texture. I am not a huge frosting fan, so I used only about 2 cups worth for this cake. In a bowl, I whipped 3 ounces of cream cheese with 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/4 cup of super fine sugar (not powdered sugar) and about 1/4 cup heavy cream until it was thick and creamy. The garnish of candied pecans are from Whole Foods. You can find them in the cheese section of the store or just use any toasted nuts you like whole or chopped around the edge of the frosted cake.

Sous Vide Carrot Cake

105 grams all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

52 grams unsalted butter, melted

100 grams light brown sugar

1 egg

¼ cup unsweetened apple sauce (sorry I forgot to measure it out in grams)

1 teaspoon vanilla

100 grams coarsely grated carrots

Set up your water bath and immersion circulator according to your equipment. Heat water bath to 198F and set cook time for 90 minutes. Lightly coat a 6-inch round cake pan with non-stick spray. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper and spray with no-stick spray. In mixing bowl, whisk flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt; set aside. In another bowl, whisk melted butter and brown sugar until all lumps are worked out of the sugar. Whisk in egg, applesauce and vanilla. Stir in carrots and then dry ingredients until well blended. Pour batter into prepared pan. Insert pan into a 1-gallon Ziploc bag centering pan over bottom of bag. Add a magnet, facing out, from side of pan. Cover pan with a heat proof plate. Seal bag pushing out as much air as possible. Drop sealed cake into water bath attaching magnet to side of container making sure cake pan is submerged to its rim or slightly below water. Make slight adjustments, if needed, to be sure cake pan is level. Cook cake for 90 minutes. Remove from water bath and open bag to let heat escape. Carefully remove cake from bag and remove plate. Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge and invert on to cooling rack. Remove parchment paper. Cool completely. Slice in half horizontally (or into 3 layers) to fill and frost with cream cheese frosting. Garnish edge with crunchy candied pecans. Serves 8.

sous vide carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and candied pecans

BTW if you need a visual for preparing the sous vide cake pan set up then you can find that here

Don’t forget to wash your hands before you eat 🙂 Be well.