Star Spangled Fourth of July Berry Tarts

Looking for a stunning dessert to top off your Fourth of July cookout? What could be more patriotic than these starry mini berry tarts?  Raspberries and blueberries bursting under flaky pastry and adorned with freshly whipped cream assure a grand finale to your celebration.

Equipment needed: six 5-inch tart pans with removable bottoms

6-inch round cookie cutter

1 ½-inch star-shaped cookie cutter

Fluted pastry wheel


Tart dough  (Make two recipes; don’t double recipe):

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2  t salt

1 T sugar

8 oz. (one stick) unsalted butter, cut in 1 T pieces

4 oz. vegetable shortening, in 1 T pieces

1 yolk from an extra large egg

4 T ice water (approx.)

Raspberry filling

Mix together:

1 pint fresh raspberries

¼ cup sugar

2 T Chambord (raspberry liqueur) optional

2 t freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 T cornstarch

Blueberry filling

Mix together:

1 pint fresh blueberries

¼ cup sugar

2 t freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ t ground cinnamon

1/8 t freshly ground nutmeg

2 T cornstarch

2 T butter

Milk for brushing tarts

Raw sugar for sprinkling tarts

Whipped cream


Place flour in the workbowl of a food processor with metal blade. Add salt and sugar and pulse to mix.  Add butter and vegetable shortening.  Mix using a few quick pulses.  You should still see bits of better and shortening.  Add egg yolk. Pulse again for one second.  Add 3 T ice water around top of dough. Pulse briefly.  Continue to add just enough water to allow dough to hold together when pressed between fingers.  This is the crucial step.  If the dough is too dry it will crumble when you try to roll it out.  If you add too much water, the baked crust will not be light and flaky.  You should still see tiny bits of butter.  Don’t let a ball form.

Dump dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, form into a disk and refrigerate for an hour or more.

Roll out pastry dough, one disk at a time, to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut out six circles.  Press into tart pans and, using your thumb, press up against inside rims.  Place in refrigerator while proceeding.  Cut out the number of stars you want for decoration with the star-shaped cookie cutter.  These are baked separately from tarts. Brush with milk and sprinkle with raw sugar.  Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Cut a few ½-inch strips of pastry dough with a fluted pastry wheel to use for decoration.

Take tart shells out of refrigerator and fill with berry fillings.  You can fill a shell with one filling  or two fillings side by side.  Dot with bits of butter.  Decorate half of tarts with pastry strips arranged in a parallel fashion.. Brush strips with milk and sprinkle with sugar.  Set tart tins on an aluminum foil-covered cookie sheet and place in a 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes until crusts are lightly browned and berry filling is bubbling. Arrange the baked star cutouts decoratively on tarts. Remove tins. Top with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, July 2010

Photos by Sweetpaprika

Hand-dipping Strawberries in Chocolate or What’s the Hair Dryer Doing in the Kitchen?

IMAG0941 (2)Weather plays an integral role in working with chocolate as every candy maker knows. And I should know, too. Seems like such a simple thing, dipping strawberries in melted chocolate, and it is if you’re not working in a warm moist kitchen. Who knew that early May would bring such a record-breaking hot humid day? But there I was determined to made a little surprise gift for a few of my friends for Mother’s Day.

strawberries setting upTo get the down side out of the way, the chocolates won’t set up. You’ll have to make space in the fridge. Then, when you box and deliver them, you have to move fast. Tell your friends to refrigerate them and eat them soon. They don’t hold up well.

The up side is, of course, they’re utterly delicious and impressive, especially if you find long stemmed strawberries perfectly ripe and use a high quality chocolate. I used Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips. Finely chopped bulk chocolate works even better.

strawberries, chocolate dippedNow these gorgeous strawberries have to be washed! There’s the rub. How do you gently wash a strawberry and get it completely dry which you must in order to dip them without messing up your chocolate? This is my aha moment. Dip the strawberries shaking very gently in cold water, lay them out on a clean towel, pat dry (which won’t be dry enough) and then, using a hair blow dryer on a low setting and no heat , dry those babies to the bone. That’s the trick and remember where you heard it.

For 12 huge strawberries, I melted one pound of chocolate in the top of a double boiler, over simmering water, but not touching it.   I “seeded” the chocolate, adding more pieces to cool it down to a good coating consistency. A little corn syrup can add glossiness. If it needs thinning out, add a little cooking oil and stir, stir, stir.

Just hold the strawberries by their stems and spoon the chocolate on letting any excess drip off. Otherwise, you’ll have “feet”. Lay them down on a silpat sheet or parchment paper on a cookie sheet. If your kitchen’s warm, refrigerate. When you’re ready to put your gift together, place each in a paper cup and into a bakery box. Tie up prettily and listen for oohs and aahs.

What do you do with that leftover melted chocolate? Use your imagination. I made peanut clusters.

Photos  by Michael Kirigin



A Student Remembers: James Beard (May 5, 1903 – January 21, 1985)

James BeardHe sat on his high director’s chair overseeing his small class of burgeoning cooks, offering instruction in a relaxed, never dogmatic manner.  He seemed larger than life, 6’ 2” with noticeably large hands and feet.  I watched him knead a ball of dough for two loaves with one hand.  I had been on a waiting list to enroll in his classes for 2 ½ years  and I was intimidated by him not because of any arrogance, but by who he was.  Imagine “the dean of American cookery” and me hanging onto his every word and hoping I wouldn’t do something outrageous like knocking over his large jar of saffron.  His manner was, in fact, quite down-to-earth and he only regaled us with his travels and favorite restaurants when someone asked him.

Classes and instruction

The classes were intensive, meeting every night from 5 ‘til around 10.  We prepared a complete meal. Mr. Beard selected wine and we all sat down in the dining room of his West 12th Street Village townhouse. One evening he brought out of storage in his wine cellar heavy black baking sheets he’d ordered from France.  I still have a set as they are indestructible. I remember as we dined that he didn’t care for coffee, but truly enjoyed good wine.

On the Monday night the class began, we began the making of a glace de viande.  It started with a beef rump roast tied with a string to the handles of a large stockpot of water but not touching the bottom. After a number of additions and five days of continuous simmering, on Friday night we uncovered about a cupful of ambrosial, thick velvety glace de viande.

An Avid Listener

Every night we made a salad to accompany the evening meal.  One night Mr. Beard asked each of us to relate how we made a vinaigrette dressing.  Everyone made it a little differently; some added Dijon mustard, some extra virgin olive oil, others a combination of olive oil and peanut oil.  What so impressed me was that Mr.  Beard, intent on learning something new, was truly listening to each of us.

The Cuisinart Food Processor had just become available and, of course, Mr. Beard had a new toy.  I remember him experimenting with it, seeing for himself what it could do and not do.  It made a mince of meat, he noted, but it couldn’t grind meat.  I got my own and wondered how I ever lived without one.  It made beautiful baby food.

Every cook should have a Clay Triplette

Always present was Mr. Beard’s long time housekeeper and guy Friday, Clay Triplette.  Clay was a cook in his own right, a man of interesting heritage, American Indian, Polish and Irish.  Clay helped out in the kitchen and seemed to enjoy passing on to students his own recipes and those of other teachers who had taught in Beard’s kitchen.  I envied Mr. Beard for his Clay Triplette who whisked away every utensil, bowl or pot that had just been used and promptly washed it and put it away.  I have always thought how much easier cooking would be if I had my own Clay Triplette.

Just an iota of his legacy

Today, May 5, is Mr. Beard’s birthday. I learned a lot from James Beard, including some techniques that one is seldom called upon to use, such as removing the breast meat from a turkey while keeping the skin intact for a “terrine of the farm.”  But it’s nice to know you can do it. Here, however is a more practical recipe he taught me. This is an arranged salad with a big wow factor.  Whisked unexpectedly to the table, this platter will command gasps of breath with accolades to follow.??????????????

Composed Salad

Prepare a vinaigrette dressing by mincing 2 cloves of garlic and 2 large shallots in a bowl. Whisk in a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and 1/4 cup of a good red wine vinegar. (We used to use Dessaux Fils, but it may no longer be available. Badia a Coltibuono from Italy, both balanced and piquant, is what I use now.)  After that is thoroughly incorporated, slowly drizzle in ½ cup extra virgin olive oil and ¼ cup peanut oil. Add ¼ teaspoon freshly ground fresh black pepper and 1 teaspoon kosher salt.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Divide the dressing into the number of ingredients you wish to marinate. Add a different herb to each portion keeping in mind how each will enhance the ingredient.  For example, finely julienned basil for tomato wedges.  Other herbs you might use include oregano, dill, tarragon, mint, savory or chervil.  The idea, of course, is to add a complimentary herb to each ingredient and wind up with a variety of flavors.

The ingredients are innumerable: roasted peppers, cooked asparagus or string beans, chick peas, tomato wedges, sliced cooked beets, avocado , cucumber, hard cooked egg wedges, salami, tuna, white bean salad, to list a few. Six or seven items is probably ideal, arranged on a bed of baby romaine or watercress.  Imported olives, capers, anchovies or caper berries can provide an accent.

The fun part is turning loose your imagination to arrange your platter. You’ll want to juxtapose contrasting colors and artistically design a round, oval, rectangular or square arrangement or whatever suits your fancy. Bask in your accolades and enjoy!

“Physically he was the connoisseur’s connoisseur. He was a giant panda, Santa Claus and the Jolly Green Giant rolled into one. On him, a lean and slender physique would have looked like very bad casting.” Craig Claiborne (on James Beard)

Deconstructed Nachos

Surprise your guests with this deconstructed version of deliciously addictive nachos. The mouthfeel of the individual ingredients is the wow factor.Nachos


1 large bag baked corn tortilla chips

1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup sliced pickled jalapenos

2 ripe tomatoes, seeded and cut into a 1/2 –inch dice

1 red onion, diced

8 oz. sour cream

1 recipe chili beef (recipe below)

4 oz. cheddar cheese, cut into ½-inch cubes


On a large serving platter, arrange layers of corn tortilla chips, black beans, sliced jalapenos, tomato, red onion, sour cream, beef chili and cheddar cheese.

Quick Chili Beef


1 T vegetable oil

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1 lb. ground beef

1 clove garlic minced

1 T tomato paste

1 T chili powder

1 t roasted ground cumin

½ t salt

¼ t black pepper

¾ cup water


In a nonstick frying pan, sauté onion until softened. Add ground beef and garlic stirring together until meat is browned. Pour off excess fat. Add tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Cook another two minutes. Add water and cook over medium low heat until water has evaporated, about ten minutes.

Photographer Bill Brady





Cheesecake Perfect for Passover

This light, ethereal cheesecake is perfect Passover fare.  In addition to cream cheese, this Italian version includes sour cream for tang and ricotta for lightness.  The citrus zest is a must.  Cake meal easily replaces the traditional wheat flour.


1 lb. whole milk ricotta cheese

1 lb. sour cream

1 lb. cream cheese (or mascarpone)

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 stick sweet butter, melted

Pinch of salt

3 large eggs

½ cup cake meal, divided

1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 ½ T pure vanilla extract

Finely grated zest from one orange and one lemon


1. Have all filling ingredients at room temperature.  Grease and coat with 2 T cake meal the bottom and sides of a 9 X 3-inch springform pan.

2. In a stand mixer beat together ricotta, sour cream and cream cheese until well mixed.

3. Beat in sugar and then melted butter and pinch of salt.

4. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

5. Add 6 T cake meal, lemon juice, vanilla, and zest, beating until completely mixed.

6. Transfer to prepared pan and bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for one hour.

7. Turn off heat and let cake stay in oven, door closed, for another hour.

8. Remove and let cake cool completely in pan, set on a wire rack.  Cover and refrigerate.  Remove sides of pan before serving and serve slightly chilled.

Raspberry Coulis

In a small saucepan, mash and heat ½ pint of fresh raspberries with 6 oz. raspberry preserves and 1 T Grand Marnier, stirring until syrupy. Strain syrup and mix with ½ pint fresh raspberries.  Serve withcheesecake.

Photo by sweetpaprika









More Super Bowl Specials: Goat Cheese Stuffed Jalapenos Wrapped in Bacon

Peppers are one of the most versatile veggies out there.  There are so many varieties and cooking with them is fun.  Here is a nice twist to the jalapeno.  Stuff them with goat cheese and wrap them in bacon.

A sure-fire crowd pleaser, this Super Bowl party fare couldn’t be easier to prepare. The spicy jalapenos , tart goat cheese and smoky bacon offer an irresistible contrast of flavors. Your guests will beg for more.


12 slices of thick-cut applewood smoked bacon (about 1 lb.)

12 jalapeno peppers

2/3 lb .creamy goat cheese

1/3 cup chopped chives


Slowly cook bacon on a cool part of the grill turning over once until cooked through but still pliable. (Thinly sliced bacon and quick cooking will crisp the bacon.)

Cut jalapenos in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and membranes. Fill each half with goat cheese mounding it slightly. Cut each piece of bacon in half. Wrap one piece of cooked and cooled bacon around each pepper half and sprinkle with chives. Place on a sheet of aluminum foil on a medium hot grill until the jalapeno is slightly charred. Serve. Makes 24 stuffed peppers.

Note: Bacon can also be cooked on a grill pan on the stove top and the stuffed and wrapped peppers placed on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven until peppers soften slightly.

Photographer Bill Brady

Unauthorized use, distribution, and/or duplication of proprietary  material without prior approval is prohibited.  If  you have any questions or would like permission I can be contacted via email at  Feel  free to quote me, just give credit where credit is due, link to the recipe, and please send people to my blog:

Super Bowl Special: Chili Con Carne

ChiliOK. You and your friends are gathered around the TV riveted on the Super Bowl. Chips and salsa have been passed about, but now it’s half time and the call is for something more stick-to-your ribs satisfying. Chili!


1 T cumin seeds

2 medium (roughly 3 by 5 inches) chiles ancho

2 T pure chile powder

2 t ground Mexican oregano

4 strips applewood smoked bacon

2 ½ lbs. well marbled beef chuck cut into ½ inch cubes


1 medium white onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 14-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes (preferable D.O.P.)**

1 T freshly squeezed lime juice

1 t sugar

1 t masa harina

1 14-oz. can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained


1. Toast cumin seeds in a small cast iron skillet until lightly browned and fragrant. Cool. Pulverize in a small grinder (such as a coffee grinder used only for spices).*

2. In the same skillet, toast chiles ancho until crisp. Turn over but be careful not to burn. Tear into pieces. discarding stem and seeds, and place in a bowl. Cover with 2 ½ cups hot water. Set aside.

3. Mix chile powder and oregano together. Add enough water to form a light paste. Set aside.

4. Cook bacon in a large skillet on medium high until crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove from pan and set aside on a paper towel. Pour bacon fat in a separate container and set aside. When bacon cools, crumble it into small pieces and set aside.

5. Increase heat to medium high and add one tablespoon bacon fat back into pan. Work in batches to brown the beef. Don’t crowd or you will steam the beef. Brown on all sides and lightly salt as you cook. Remove from pan and set aside.

6. Add another tablespoon of bacon fat to pan. Add chopped onions and sauté until soft. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add chile and oregano paste and continue cooking for another 2 to 3 minutes.

7. Put onions and garlic, beef, bacon and tomatoes (breaking them up with your fingers) into a 6-quart Dutch oven.

8. Pulse ancho chile water in a food processor a few times. (There will still be pieces of chile in the liquid.) Strain into pot and add lime juice and sugar. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 1 ½ hours. Then uncover and maintain a bare simmer for another half hour.

9. Mix the masa harina in a small amount of water to make a slurry. Stir into the chili to thicken it. Mix in the kidney beans. Add salt and adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve with any or all of the following garnishes on the side:

grated sharp cheddar

chopped red onion

sour cream

sliced scallions

diced fresh tomatoes

chopped fresh cilantro

*Ground cumin comes in a spice bottle, of course, but if you toast and grind your own, you will be transported to spice heaven by the aroma and fresh taste.

**D.O.P. refers to tomatoes that have been processed in the same place they were grown.

Photographer Bill Brady

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