Ready For Summer Strawberry Tart

I haven’t posted a recipe in soooo long!!! What’s up with that!??  I’ve actually been sitting on this recipe since last summer.  But when I launched MC in October, it wasn’t really strawberry season. I adapted the recipe from Izy Hossack.  I swapped out the filling and added a burst of gorgonzola.  I hope you all enjoy!  xoxo

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I love summer here.  The fruit available to us, when in season, is just so yummy, juicy and sweet.  It almost feels like you’re eating pie.  And after a winter of dehydration and feeling blah-heavy on carbs and starches, my body is craaaaaving water and fruit!  

Cue:  Straaaawberries!

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In probably just a week or two it will be the peak of the season.  I couldn’t be more excited!!!  There’s nothing worse than buying a 2 for $5 pack of hard, flavorless strawberries in the dead of winter. They taste like poodley oodley.  I always do it, though, dreaming of summer berries.  Do you do this???  Why do we do this???

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The way the berries are loaded on top, it’s almost like a dessert bruschetta.  🙂
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So when it’s peak strawburry season in your town, go pickin till you come back with a nice haul.  Then, try this recipe!! It’s super fresh, light and delicious.  🙂

untitled-7911Summer is just around the corner… Are you ready???  🙂  🙂  🙂

Ready For Summer Strawberry Tart
A buttery shortbread crust with a cream cheese whipped topping and covered in delicious seasonal strawberries.
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For the crust
  1. 1 1/3 c. dark rye flour
  2. 1 1/3 c. all purpose flour
  3. 1 T. + 1 tsp granulated sugar
  4. 1 tsp salt
  5. 1 c. + 2 T. unsalted butter, very cold, cubed
  6. 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  7. 6-10 tbsp ice water
  8. 1 egg (for eggwash)
Filling
  1. 8 oz. cream cheese
  2. 2 T. Grand Marnier
  3. 1/2 c. gorgonzola
  4. 1/3 c. powdered sugar
  5. 1 1/2 c. heavy cream
  6. 1/3 c. apricot jam
  7. 2 T. water
  8. 2-3 pounds of strawberries
For the crust
  1. Put the flours, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. With a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the chunks of butter are the size of small peas. Rub the mixture with your fingertips until it has the texture of damp chunky sand.
  2. In a separate cup, pour the apple cider vinegar into 10 tbsp of ice water.
  3. Drizzle a bit of the water mixture over the dry ingredients in the bowl and gently stir together with your hands until the dough starts to come together. Add more water as needed to form into a rough ball. Saran wrap the ball and chill for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400F.
  5. Cut a piece of baking paper to fit the size of your half sheet tray. Place the baking paper onto a work surface and roll the dough out on it into a rough rectangle.
  6. When its about the size of the half sheet tray, gently slide it onto the tray. Dock the dough with a fork and brush with beaten egg.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes until dark golden all over. If there are air bubbles, flatten them with a spatula. Let the pastry cool completely.
For the filling
  1. Slice the strawberries and toss with Grand Marnier in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. Heat the jam on low with 2 T. of water in a small saucepan. Pour the glaze into the berries.
  3. In a mixing bowl, beat the heavy cream until there are soft peaks. Set aside in different bowl.
  4. In the mixing bowl you just used, beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar until soft.
  5. Fold in the whipped cream.
  6. Once the crust is cooled, frost it with the cream cheese whipped mixture and dot it with the gorgonzola. Cover the tart with the sliced berries. The more the merrier! Cut and serve immediately!
Adapted from Izy Hossack
Adapted from Izy Hossack
MandiCrocker https://mandicrocker.com

Spring in the Valley

I live in a tourist town.  Washington Pass connects Seattle to our little valley and when that pass opens every Spring, the flood gates of tourism open and the locals scrounge to produce, typically while being grossly understaffed.  It’s hard to find good help, and while a lot of fun, it can be insanely exhausting. 

So while we have maybe another week or two before Gandalf obliges, I’m doing my best to take in the little things.  Our valley currently is full of flowers… Spring beauties and glacier lilies for days… followed by hills of balsam root.  It’s breathtaking. 

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Spring always reminds me of a song by Nichole Nordeman called ‘Every Season.’  Back in my Christian days, she was one of my favorites.  She was the only artist I was aware of that ever openly questioned life and faith in her music.  She wasn’t threatened to ground her faith in her humanity, where I feel so many other artists (and their PR firms) are afraid to look anything less than perfect.  Her recent Facebook posts on islamaphobia, helping Syrians and loving your neighbor, find me still a fan.  

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Anyway, I always found it a lovely song… You can find the lyrics below.  

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And you can hear the song here…

Every evening sky, an invitation
To trace the patterned stars
And early in July, a celebration
For freedom that is ours
And I notice You
In children’s games
In those who watch them from the shade
Every drop of sun is full of fun and wonder
You are summer

And even when the trees have just surrendered
To the harvest time
Forfeiting their leaves in late September
And sending us inside
Still I notice You when change begins
And I am braced for colder winds
I will offer thanks for what has been and what’s to come
You are autumn

And everything in time and under heaven
Finally falls asleep
Wrapped in blankets white, all creation
Shivers underneath
And still I notice you
When branches crack
And in my breath on frosted glass
Even now in death, You open doors for life to enter
You are winter

And everything that’s new has bravely surfaced
Teaching us to breathe
What was frozen through is newly purposed
Turning all things green
So it is with You
And how You make me new
With every season’s change
And so it will be
As You are re-creating me
Summer, autumn, winter, spring

 

Happy Spring.  🙂

 

From Chef to CHEF

Mandi note:  I met Sean Ragusa on Match.com in 2010 while living in Chicago. We’ve been great friends ever since!  We would cook together, visit local restaurants and I can definitely say that Chef is solely responsible for my love and appreciation of craft beer.  I think we even cooked our first Boeuf Bourginon together!  Soon,  I gave him the nickname ‘Chef’ and he responded with ‘Cupcake’ and the nicknames have always stuck.  🙂

Chef and Cupcake at the opening of Magnolia Bakery in downtown, Chicago. A few years later, I would be the General Manager there.

Chef and Cupcake at the opening of Magnolia Bakery in downtown, Chicago. A few years later, in a weird twist of fate, I would be the General Manager there.

I’m so happy to share Chef’s story with all of you because:  A) It’s his birthday today!!!  Give him lots of love!!!  And B) It is so rare in our society to hear about a major career change so late in life.  Fear is such a driving factor that keeps us from risking anything.  We play it safe in the name of our families, in the name of financial security… While Chef didn’t have children to worry about, he still had a lot at stake to pursue his dream.  But he did!  And in the meantime, he found a new career, a new passion for life and a new and beautiful love.  I couldn’t be happier for him!!  🙂

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My name is Sean, and I am a career changer.
Here is a brief history about who I am and how I got here.

I was born in a decade where ‘men were men’ and women drank scotch while they were pregnant. A decade that introduced us to music’s worst genre, disco, and all of the awful fashion trends and dance moves that went along with it. I mean let’s face it, I had to get past that to move forward into the greatest decade of Bachrach sweatshirts, tight rolled acid wash jeans, and mullets.

The ethnic make up of my family contributed to my love of food, although my taste buds were still typical of my young age. My Father’s side was Sicilian and Milanese. My Mother’s side was a melting pot of culture, Southern (first and foremost), then Dutch, Welsh, and Scottish. But the aromas and food that came out of the kitchens of our house as well as other family members were very memorable, comforting, and pleasant, for the most part. Everything from stuffed peppers and braciole to fried chicken and sweet potato pie.

I can remember visiting my Grandmother on the west side of Chicago, and when we walked into her kitchen there was always a pot of stuffed peppers ready for us to eat. The smell of garlic filled the air. Her simple sauce and a loaf of Milano bread from Butera to go along with it. Oh, and I can not forget her iceburg, tomato, and cucumber salad.

Getting past the 70’s and moving into the 80’s brought musical changes, fashion changes, and taste bud changes. We listened to the Cure, Motley Crue, and Run DMC. We wore college sweatshirts, MC Hammer pants, one white glove, and Reeboks. Foods of convenience took over our lives, Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, Rax, Taco John’s, Arby’s, and KFC. We were fed Hungry Man, Fox Deluxe, Gino’s, and Banquet. But there was still home cooking going on. I remember quite a bit of grilling at our house. And late into the 80’s, I started to dabble, just a bit, but couldn’t quite live up to the standards of Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet) or Justin Wilson (The Cajun Cook).

And then there was the 90’s and college, albeit short lived, but I did go. It was a year of boxed mac and cheese, hamburger helper, frozen pizza, ramen and cheap cuts of meat, cooked on a hibachi and marinated in beer. It was bad, but an experience that I had to have. I longed for my visits home, for good home cooking.

It was in the 90’s that things began to change for me. On what was supposed to be my Summer break, I decided, thanks to some family friends, that maybe college wasn’t for me. I was meant to do more with my life than to be radio air talent. That’s when I enrolled in EMT classes and joined the Volunteer Fire Department. With less than one year as a volunteer firefighter/emt, I left the VFD to pursue a career as a firefighter/emt.

Sean Ragusa as a bad ass Central Illinois firefighter.

Sean Ragusa as a bad ass Central Illinois firefighter.

This decision spanned a period of 23 years, starting in Central Illinois and slowly moved my way north, ending in Chicago. It was during that 23 years I immersed myself in a culture unknown to civilians. It was a Brotherhood like no other. And what keeps a Brotherhood happy and healthy? Good food! Yes, during my 23 years, I was able to hone my culinary skills. This was in between running calls and watching the Food Network (when they actually had cooking programs).

Long before my time and his nickname 'Chef.'

Long before my time and his nickname ‘Chef.’

 

Every shift, even after taking a position as a Lieutenant, after doing our busy work and training, I manned the kitchen. The guys were my guinea pigs and they didn’t mind because it was food, it was better than ordering out, and they didn’t have to cook it. And we dined on everything from comfort food (roasts, stews, etc) to some not so successful meals. One that still haunts me to this day was a lemon chicken incident that tasted very much like Pledge furniture polish.

During the last 10 years of my career, I toyed around with the idea of attending culinary school, but did not want to commit to a daily regimen. Arranging that with my job, seemed impossible. So, instead I took some cooking classes at Sur La Table and The Wooden Spoon. They were fun, interesting, and I did learn a few things. Then I met a girl, Mindy, and she mentioned something about attending culinary school. Once again, I tossed around the idea, but that’s about it. We then took a vacation, where we spent some time in Tuscany. We also took a cooking class together there, and I made the decision that when I got home, I would figure out a way to go to school.

The next thing I knew, I found myself at Le Cordon Bleu, learning knife cuts, braising, breaking down whole animals, and making croissants (not by popping open a can). That year was a whirlwind, until it was time for my externship. That’s when it got real, because I was going to spend 3 months cooking, in Italy!

Chef: The nickname, the real deal and the legend. This is Chef in Italy. My favorite picture of him, EVERRRRR!!!!

Nickname Chef becomes the real Chef!  Sean in Italy. My favorite picture of him, EVERRRRR!!!!

Two years later, I find myself writing this bio for Mandi, whom by the way, I met in Chicago, but that will also come out later. Sitting here, in my office, at home, in Nashville. My days off are different now, working at a restaurant will do that to a person. And since my move here, I’ve worked at three different restaurants, as well as started my own personal/private chef business.

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Who knows what the future will bring, however I think part of my future will include guest blogging for Mandicakes.

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Mandi Note: HELLS YEAH!!!!!  🙂 🙂 🙂  Also, that ‘Mindy chick’ is now his beautiful wife!!!  You can find this husband and wife duo hard at work on their business:  Let Us Feed You, Nashville.   I think a visit might be in order… I’m suddenly hungry. 

The happy couple in Nashville.

The happy couple in Nashville.