Celebrate Local Cranberries with This Cranberry Tart

Oregon cranberries are one of those somewhat under-the-radar crops though, in fact, cranberries are native to the Northwest. The berries have been harvested by indigenous people for millenia and were (and still are) used fresh and dried in many traditional foods. They were traded widely among First Nation people on traditional trade routes, along with salmon and other products.

Cranberry bog.

Cranberries were first grown commercially in Oregon by Charles McFarlin, who settled in Coos County after failing, like so many others, to make a fortune during the Gold Rush of the late 1800s. He planted vines he brought from Massachusetts, later developing a variety known as McFarlin that is still grown today.

Most of the state's cranberries are grown in Coos and Curry counties on the South Coast and, at nearly 3,000 acres and accounting for 95 percent of the state's production, it's just five percent of the nation's commercial harvest. Most cranberry growers are heavily reliant on pesticides and herbicides to control insects and weeds that can devastate crops, but there's a growing number of farmers who are transitioning to organic methods.

Cranberry harvest.

While small in number, organic cranberry farmers are joining forces and sharing successes and challenges, according to an article from Oregon Tilth, one of the region's largest organic certifying agencies. It says that state agricultural agencies, which normally provide support to farmers, are almost exclusively geared to conventional growers and aren't up to speed on the specific needs and challenges of organic farmers, so this homegrown network of organic growers has become critical to the success and availability of locally grown, organic cranberries.

Cranberries are a family affair.

“It’s been a steep learning curve,” according to cranberry farmer Richard Schmidt, who is quoted in the article and, with his wife, Pam Schmidt, owns Schmidt Berries in Bandon. “We’ve really relied on our neighbor, Ty Vincent, and his dad, Bill Vincent [of Vincent Family Cranberries]. They were the ones that put the farm into transition [to organic] after 30-plus years of traditional practice. It’s their expertise and practical experience that have made our new inexperienced farmer reality much easier. They are the essence of succession in a community. We’d never really been farmers before, and had never lived or farmed on the Oregon coast…we mainly rely on our neighbors. We’ll help them harvest, and they help us harvest. They’re organic too, so we can share equipment, which is kind of nice.”

You can find local, organic cranberries at some stores and area farmers' markets, and I can't say enough about the flavor of these ruby-colored jewels in jams, chutneys, sauces and, of course, pastries. This recipe for a cranberry tart is one of those can't-miss, smash hits that has been the raved-about culmination of two dinners so far this season!

Cranberry Tart

For the pastry:
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 c. ice water

For the filling:
1 lb. cranberries, preferably locally grown
1 scant c. sugar
2 Tbsp. orange liqueur (triple sec, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, etc.)
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
Zest of 1/2 large orange
Egg white (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375°.

In a food processor, combine the flour with the sugar, salt and butter and process for about 5 seconds. With the processor running, drizzle in the ice water over the flour mixture until the pastry just begins to come together, about 10 seconds. Transfer the pastry to a work surface, gather it together and pat into a disk. Wrap the pastry in plastic or wax paper and refrigerate until chilled, about one hour.

Just before the dough finishes chilling, place cranberries in a large bowl and add sugar, liqueur, cornstarch and orange zest. Remove dough from refrigerator and place on well-floured surface. Roll out into large round approximately 14-15" in diameter. Transfer to large, parchment-covered baking sheet (I usually fold the dough in half very carefully, transfer it to the sheet and unfold it). Brush the bottom of the dough with a very thin coating of egg white to within 4" of the edge. Place cranberry filling in the middle, keeping it within 3-4" of the edge of the dough. Lift the edges of the dough and fold over on top of filling, pleating it slightly to keep the tart's rounded shape. An option here is to brush the dough with egg white and sprinkle it with sugar to give it a shiny appearance.

Place in oven and bake at 375° for one hour or so until filling is bubbling and crust is golden.

Photo of cranberry bog from USDA. Photos of harvest from Vincent Family Cranberries.

Company's Coming: Gluten-Free Fruit Crisp, Anyone?

We've all been there. A good friend or beloved relative is coming to dinner, someone who has a dietary restriction, whether chosen—vegan, wheat-free, vegetarian, religious—or unchosen, like an allergy to nuts, wheat, garlic, sugar, etc., or an intolerance to certain foods. And I don't know about you, but my initail reaction is to freeze up when it comes to planning the menu.

Gluten-free crumble topping? Done!

This happened recently when a couple we've known for years were coming over, one of whom has ascertained over the years that her system doesn't respond well to gluten. It's not celiac disease, just as my husband's intolerance to lactose isn't life-threatening; it's just something that makes for a "rumbly tumbly," as Winnie-the-Pooh would say.

The main dish was easy—they're meat-eaters, and I'd just bought a grass-fed sirloin tip roast from Carman Ranch that I was planning to slice open, slather with a sorrel-shallot-rosemary-fennel pollen mixture, then roll up and rotisserie. An Astiana tomato risotto using tomato stock from the 120 pounds I'd roasted this summer, and a castelfranco chicory salad with Caesar dressing were easy decisions.

Ready to pop in the oven.

But then…dessert.

Virtually every dessert we normally make has some flour in it. Tarts, pies, crisps, cakes, all flour-dependent. Sorbet was an option, made with the scads of berries I had squirreled away in the freezer, but we were short on time for it to freeze properly. A trip to the store to buy a commercial sorbet was my back-pocket solution, but could I come up with a gluten-free dessert that wouldn't require (another) trip to the store? (The short on time element, remember?)

A crisp for the ages.

A search for "gluten free crumble" led to a recipe on the Kitchn website for a gluten-free topping that merely required grinding up oats in the food processor until they were the consistency of flour. Score!

But their crumble recipe (in my humble opinion) resulted in a clumpy product that didn't appeal to me, so I ground the oats in the processor as they suggested, but then used the "flour" as a substitute for the flour called for in my family's crisp recipe, along with the usual suspects: brown sugar, oats, cinnamon and butter or margarine.

The result was a virtual identical twin of my family's recipe, especially glorious because I used a combination of frozen marionberries from our neighbor's garden and equally incredible Chester blackberries from Ayers Creek Farm—of course the splash of Cointreau in the berries didn't hurt, either. And for the full-gluten experience, you can feel free to substitute one cup of all-purpose flour for the oat flour below.

Gluten-Free Berry Crisp

For the topping:
1 c. oat flour (see instructions, below)
3/4 c. uncooked rolled oats
1 c. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. melted butter or margarine

For the filling:
4-6 c. berries
1 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. Cointreau, triple sec or eau de vie

Make the oat flour by processing 1 1/4 cups of uncooked rolled oats in the food processor until it has a flour-like consistency. Mix the oat flour together with the other dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Pour in melted butter or margarine and stir with fork to combine. Set aside.

Place berries in large mixing bowl. Add sugar, liqueur and cornstarch and mix thoroughly. Put in 9” by 12” baking pan. Scatter topping mixture over the top and bake in 350 degree oven for 50 min. to 1 hr. until bubbling.

Breakfast? Dessert? Company? Try This Versatile Olive Oil Cake!

I've been posting contributor Jim Dixon's recipes for years, and his approach to cooking with whatever's in season with minimal fuss is right up my alley. Right now he's expanding Real Good Food's selection of imported and local goodness—olive oil, spices, vinegars, sauces, etc.—and moving to a new location in order to bring more tastiness to Portland's tables. More on his grand opening in a future post, but for now here's his latest twist on a classic olive oil cake!

Olive Oil Cake with Fennel Pollen

I adapted this recipe from Tenuta di Capezzana, the Tuscan winery and olive oil producer, and it uses more extra virgin olive oil than any other olive oil cake recipe I've seen.

3 eggs
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 c. milk
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbsp. fennel pollen*

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit a 12-inch cake pan (I usually make this in a 12-inch cast iron skillet); drizzle some olive oil into the pan, then place the parchment paper and slide it around so it’s well-oiled.

Blend the eggs and sugar together in a medium-sized bowl, then stir in the olive oil and milk. In another large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt and fennel pollen. Make a well in the dry ingredients, and slowly add the egg mixture, stirring just until blended.

Do not over mix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan on top of the parchment paper.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Let the cake cool completely, then loosen the sides with a knife, and invert onto a serving plate (hold the plate against cake pan and flip…hopefully it will come out in one piece). Remove the parchment paper, slice, and eat.

* In response to a question posed on Facebook about the taste of fennel pollen, Jim had this to say: "Fennel pollen, more accurately called fiore di finocchio in Italian since it contains bits of flower and pollen, has the same flavor as fennel seed but a bit more delicate. It's a key ingredient in porchetta, and the stuff we sell at Real Good Food comes from Monte San Savino in Tuscany, where a lot of the roadside porchetta trucks get their stuffed suckling pig roasts. I like it on salmon, too."

Memories Found in a Puckery Lemon Tart

This past Mother's Day brought forth a flood of memories of the women in my family, many of whom have passed on but who left indelible impressions. Some are as sharp as the high heels my mother loved to wear, others as soft as the pastel-colored housedresses my father's mother wore. Many, for me—as I'm sure will come as a surprise to no one—involved food: my maternal grandmother's rhubarb sauce that my grandfather heaped sugar on; the batches of cabbage rolls that my dad's family called "hoblich," an invariable feature at any gathering; my own mother's love of fruit desserts and pies.

Mom in party mode.

The one dessert that she adored but never felt that she mastered, at least according to her exacting standards—my Kentucky-raised friend Kathryn would interject "bless her heart" here—was lemon meringue pie. I recall many of these cloud-topped confections parading through my young life, but for my mom there was always a meringue that pulled away from the crust, even if only a little, or it bore too many overly browned curlicues on its tips, or the curd was too sweet or too tart.

No matter how many compliments were showered on her efforts, she'd turn them away by pointing out its shortcomings or by saying, "Oh, you should try my friend Eleanor's, she makes the best lemon meringue." In other words, it was a fraught topic for her.

A simple lemon tart is easy to love.

I, on the other hand, was more than happy to gobble up any and all "mistakes," major or minor. If the smooth lemony curd made the back of my tongue tingle, all the better. If its sweetness cut the lemon's tang, I can't remember minding. Ditto with any meringue issues.

These recollections came rushing back recently when Dave was experimenting with a lemon tart recipe from Cook's Illustrated, following on the heels of his apple galette epiphany. The curd is smooth and has just the right tang of lemon, the crust is short and not-too-sweet, and a dollop of whipped cream obviates any potential meringue traumas.

I think my mother would approve.

Lemon Olive Oil Tart

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz.) flour
5 Tbsp. (2 1/4 oz.) sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 c. olive oil
2 Tbsp. water

For the filling:
1 c. (7 oz.) sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
3 eggs plus 3 yolks
1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest plus 1/2 cup juice (approx. 3 lemons)
1/4 c. olive oil

Make sure that all your metal equipment—saucepan, strainer and whisk—is nonreactive, or the filling may have a metallic flavor.

For the crust: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°. Whisk flour, sugar and salt together in bowl. Add oil and water and stir until uniform dough forms. Using your hands, crumble three-quarters of dough over bottom of 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press dough to even thickness in bottom of pan. Crumble remaining dough and scatter evenly around edge of pan, then press crumbled dough into fluted sides of pan. Press dough to even thickness. Place pan on rimmed baking sheet and bake until crust is deep golden brown and firm to touch, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.

For the filling: About 5 minutes before crust is finished baking, whisk sugar, flour and salt in medium saucepan until combined. Whisk in eggs and yolks until no streaks of egg remain. Whisk in lemon zest and juice. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly and scraping corners of saucepan, until mixture thickens slightly and registers 160°, 5 to 8 minutes.

Off the heat, whisk in oil until incorporated. Strain curd through fine-mesh strainer set over bowl. Pour curd into warm tart shell.

Bake until filling is set and barely jiggles when pan is shaken, 8 to 12 minutes. Let tart cool completely on wire rack, at least 2 hours. Remove outer metal ring of tart pan. Slide thin metal spatula between tart and pan bottom, then carefully slide tart onto serving platter. Cut tart into wedges, wiping knife clean between cuts if necessary, and serve. (Leftovers can be wrapped loosely in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Citrus Sorbet: Tangerine Dream

I've said before that we don't go out to eat very much, preferring instead to cook here at home. For one thing, since Dave developed a lactose intolerance, eating out means barraging our poor server with a constant stream of "Is there butter or fresh cheese in that?" with inevitable trips to the kitchen for said server to inquire whether, for instance, the bagels have milk in them. (Lots do.)

We're also asked well-meaning questions, such as "Is mayo okay?" I've been puzzling about this one, since mayonnaise is just eggs, oil, vinegar (or lemon) and salt, but maybe people remember the old food pyramid where eggs and dairy were lumped in together.

But I digress.

When we do manage a meal away from home and get past the quiz show portion of the evening—"Bob, tell our contestants what they've won!"—there are often discoveries of new ingredients and nuances of preparation we can take home to experiment with. The other evening at Xico, for instance, the meal ended with a spectacular tangerine sorbet that was so fresh and bright it was like biting into a just-peeled wedge of citrus.

It was the perfect thing to bring home since, not only was it dairy-free, it was stunningly simple and delicious. With ice cream an obvious no-go in our dessert repertoire, Dave has become somewhat of a sorbet savant with his trusty Cuisinart ice cream maker, concocting variations on sorbets from berries, peaches and other seasonal delights. (Recipes here.)

A bit of paging through my collection of Mexican cookbooks and a scan through online recipes gave us a good base to start from, particularly David Lebovitz's version, though we eschewed his suggested addition of corn syrup sweetener.

Result? A fresh, bright sorbet we can make here at home that doesn't beg any questions!

Tangerine Sorbet

4 c. freshly squeezed tangerine juice
1 c. (200g) sugar
Zest of two tangerines
2 tsp. orange liqueur, such as triple sec, Cointreau or Grand Marnier

Mix 1 cup of the juice with the sugar and heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and pour the mixture back into the reserved tangerine juice. Add the zest and the orange liqueur.

Chill the mixture thoroughly (Lebovitz says at least 8 hours or overnight but I put it in the freezer for 45 minutes, then the refrigerator for 4 hours or so). Churn the tangerine sorbet mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Simply Spectacular: Jacques' Apple Galette

We're not picky eaters or fussy cooks around here. Simple recipes using good—preferably organic and locally grown—ingredients that don't take a lot of time to prepare are the ones we go back to again and again. Recipes by celebrity chefs are usually avoided, since they tend to be far too complicated and ego-driven ("Hey, watch me do a back-flip while I sauté these onions!") to make it onto our roster, plus we've found they are often not carefully tested for home cooks who may not have the equipment found in professional kitchens.

apple_galette2.jpg
Into the oven it goes!

There are a few old-time chefs whose recipes I know I can depend on to be a success, like those from Julia Child, James Beard and Jacques Pépin. Pépin has been making a regular appearance in our kitchen lately, since Dave has been volunteering to make dessert when company comes or when there's a gathering that warrants a little something post-feast.

Pépin's apple galette, from his book Heart and Soul in the Kitchen, is a stunningly simple feat, with a processor pastry crust that comes out of the oven a masterpiece of flaky crispness, and a filling that's just chopped and sliced apples sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and drizzled with honey.

Light and lovely, with a charmingly rustic look—what can I say but, "Parfait! Et merci, Jacques!'

Rustic Apple Galette

Adapted from Heart and Soul in the Kitchen by Jacques Pépin

For the pastry:
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 c. ice water

For the filling:
4 apples (tart and flavorful heritage apples work well)
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. honey, preferably wildflower
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 400°.

In a food processor, combine the flour with the sugar, salt and butter and process for about 5 seconds. Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture and process until the pastry just begins to come together, about 10 seconds; you should still be able to see small pieces of butter in it. Transfer the pastry to a work surface, gather it together and pat into a disk. Wrap the pastry in plastic or wax paper and refrigerate until chilled, about one hour. (You can also roll out the pastry and use it right away or make it ahead and refrigerate overnight.)

Peel, halve and core the apples and slice them crosswise 1/4" thick. Set aside the larger center slices and coarsely chop the end slices and any broken ones; about half of the slices should be chopped. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to a 12" by 14" rectangle and transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet. Spread the chopped apples over the pastry to within 1" of the edge. Drizzle the honey over the chopped apples. Decoratively arrange the apple slices on top in concentric circles or in slightly overlapping rows. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the apples and dot with the pieces of butter. Fold the pastry edge up and over the apples to create a 1-inch border.

Bake the galette for about 1 hour, until the pastry is nicely browned and crisp and all of the apples are tender. Transfer the pan to a rack and let the galette cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.