Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chocolate Strawberry Ricotta Tart


I had a thought the other day - yep, just the one.  If I could go back in time and talk to my teenage self, what would I say?  We’ve all had this thought, right?  Though you probably have other thoughts to go with it.  High school.  Hormones.  Literal growing pains.  ‘Nuff said.

I would skip the clich├ęd advice: It gets better.  High school is something to be gotten through, everyone hates it.  All the things that seem epic today will be so small tomorrow.  Because really, we all did get that advice, one way or another, in high school, and it did squat to make it any better.  So nevermind that stuff.  Here’s what I would tell my younger self:

  1. Own it.  Whoever you are, whatever you do, own it.  When people say “be yourself”, they really mean, don’t be embarrassed by whatever “yourself” is.
  2. You are as apathetic as you are passionate.  Don’t feign apathy for the things you are passionate about.  Don’t feign passion for the things you are apathetic about.  People will just have to get over that you love Star Trek: TNG and listen to your parents’ Queen CDs, and you could give a rat’s furry tail about conch shell necklaces or Tupac.
  3. You’re tall.  Buying pants that fit is a pain in the rat’s furry tail, and all the cute boys are self-conscious about it.  Can’t say that ever gets better.  But it does mean you’ll end up with someone tall.  Go ahead and buy some heels.  People will just have to get over it.
  4. Learn to eat!  I don’t mean quantity.  You’ve got that down.  You say you don’t like meat, and a slew of other foods.  In reality you do.  Now it’s your turn to get over it. Open your mind.  And stop picking all the cashews out of the cashew chicken.  The family really hates that.
  5. Get your rat’s furry tail in the kitchen – and not to make grilled cheese or Stouffer’s mac and cheese!  Look, Mom works hard all day and then comes home to a house full of people whining for attention and wanting things, and still has to get dinner on the table in an hour or all the whining steers towards hunger pangs.  You, on the other hand, get home from school to an empty house with, let’s face it, no intention of starting homework so early.  You might not realize how much you enjoy cooking just yet, but for how much Mom would appreciate the salad already made, or a pasta sauce already done up, it’s not really about that.
  6. And finally, read more books and watch less television.  You’ll be so glad you did.

I’ve got you thinking now, haven’t I?  Let’s hear it.  What would you tell your teenage self?


What’s this got to do with ricotta cheese, strawberries, and tarts?  Nothing!  Though I could have been enjoying it in my life a lot sooner, had I listened to myself about number 5.  That will just have to do for a segue.  It’s my blog, and I can be random if I want to!  Now, onto the chocolate graham cracker ricotta strawberry tart!

A chocolate graham cracker ricotta strawberry tart to anyone who can say “chocolate graham cracker ricotta strawberry tart” 10 times, fast.

This creation came about by a need to use up soon-to-go-stale graham crackers (They should sell graham crackers in packs that are exactly enough for a tart or pie crust, so you don’t have to worry about how much you need to grind into crumbs, or whether you have enough left in the box.  I’m totally marketing that idea.  Don’t steal it, k?), ricotta cheese (because in a moment of utter stupidity I wasn’t sure if 32 oz. was enough for a recipe that called for 2 cups, so I bought 15 oz. more), and strawberries from my CSA box.  Because Husband would ultimately be eating it, I decided to incorporate chocolate as well.  Lots of it.  It just made sense.  I considered dotting the tart with fresh strawberries at the end, but a recent failed attempt at strawberry rhubarb pie left me with a need for cooked berry vindication.  Always drain your strawberry juices people!  Also, when you strain them into, say, a small saucepan and simmer them until they cook down into a lusciously sweet syrup, you’ve got the mighty fine makings of something to brush onto this tart at the end.  Yeah, I did that.  I shudder to waste one ounce of strawberry essence!

To break it down, the crust is graham crackers and pecans and cocoa powder.  Pecans because I ran out of graham crackers (which would not have happened, had the product I mentioned existed!), and also because they’re delicious.  Cocoa powder because I wanted the chocolate flavor to really come though, and also because it’s delicious.  I didn’t add sugar.  I thought the sweetness from the rest of the tart and the sugar already in the graham crackers was plenty, but there’s also a lot of cocoa powder in it, so I could see it being too much for some.  I recognize my sweet tooth, while very demanding, is also very susceptible to being overwhelmed.  Husband agreed the level of sweet was spot on, but a tablespoon of sugar could be thrown in without any harm.

The filling is my leftover 15 oz. container of ricotta cheese, the usual sweeteners and stabilizers, and melted chocolate.  Why is ricotta cheese and sugar so good?  I wonder if my sister, who hates the combination of cream cheese and sugar, also hates ricotta and sugar.  They’re totally different flavors, but maybe the dislike stems from disconcertion over mixing savory cheese with enough sugar to transform it to a decidedly dessert setting?  Creamy, salty, and sweet?  It’s a-ok in my book.  You’ll have leftover filling.  A fair amount.  It’s not ideal, but I didn’t want to mess with untested ratios, and it uses a standard 15 oz. container.  Not to mention, what are you going to do with just a little extra ricotta?  Instead you’ll face a bowl of delicious filling with no home besides your stomach as you try to resist just another spoonful while you wait for your tart to bake and your strawberry juices to reduce.  You’re welcome.

My strawberries were tiny, so I didn’t end up using the full 16 oz. package, but I’m confident more regular, American strawberries would yield the perfect amount.  The more strawberries, the better I say!  This tart takes forever to bake.  An hour?  What is in there that takes so long to become un-jiggly?  No idea.  Of course, checking the doneness at 40 minutes, and every 5 minutes thereafter probably extended the baking time a wee bit.  I was so afraid of over-baking!  It actually ended up taking an extra 10 minutes or so. But once it was done, and the syrup was brushed over the top, and it had cooled in the fridge…such good stuff.  The rich chocolate, earthy yet savory cheese filling, and texture from the crust all contrasted nicely.  The strawberries had a lusciously soft bite and sweet flavor, not to mention the syrup essence!  The whipped cream on top isn’t completely, necessary, per se, but I did try it both ways, and the airy, creamy element was a definite plus.  All in all, we both loved it and I wouldn’t change a thing. Oh, did I mention I infused a good amount of Grand Marnier in there? Yeah, I did that. It was tasty.

Except maybe how many spoonfuls of leftover filling I ate.


Have any tasty creations ever spawned out of your kitchen because of an abhorrence for wasted food?  Or a food fail?  Are they all the tastier for it?



Chocolate Strawberry Ricotta Tart

For the crust:
6 oz. graham crackers
2 oz. pecans
8 oz. (1 stick) butter, melted
1 tsp orange zest
¼ cup cocoa powder
2 TB sugar

For the strawberries:
1 lb. strawberries, halved and hulled
¼ cup sugar
2 TB Grand Marnier

For the filling:
15 oz. ricotta cheese (I used part skim), room temperature
½ cup honey
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 TB Grand Marnier
1 tsp orange zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp kosher salt
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted*

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a food processor, pulse together the graham crackers and pecans until they are small crumbs.  Add the orange zest, cocoa, and sugar and pulse until it’s mixed.  Add the melted butter and process until the crumbs are coated.
  3. Prepare a 9” tart pan with baking spray.  Press the crumbs evenly around the bottom and sides of the tart pan.  Bake the crust for 10 minutes until it is toasted and set.  Let cool.
  4. In a large bowl, stir together the strawberries, sugar, and Grand Marnier.  Let it sit for about 20 minutes, or until the strawberry releases some of its juices.
  5. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, mix together the ricotta and honey until they are well incorporated.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until they are incorporated.  Add the Grand Marnier, orange zest, vanilla, and salt, and mix to combine.  With the mixer running, slowly pour in the melted chocolate, and mix until everything is well combined.
  6. Pour the filling into the cooled crust.  Top the filling with the strawberry halves, reserving the juices left behind in the bowl.  The strawberries will sink a bit.**  
  7. Bake the tart for about an hour, or until the filling is set and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  
  8. While the tart is baking, transfer the reserved strawberry juices to a small saucepan.  Over medium heat, bring the juices to a simmer and cook until it is reduced by about half, about 10 minutes.
  9. Once the tart is out of the oven, either brush or drizzle the strawberry syrup over the top.  Cool completely in the refrigerator for about 2 hours before serving.


*To melt the chocolate, microwave the chopped up chocolate, stirring every 15 seconds until it’s melted.

**If you prefer your strawberries less cooked, and more on the surface of the tart, put the tart in the oven without the strawberries on top.  After about 30 minutes, when the filling has set up a bit, remove the tart from the oven, set the strawberries on top of the filling, and put it back in the oven to cook for the rest of the time.

Friday, June 10, 2011

In Which I Talk About Food, Near and Far

Been cooking.  Been baking.  Nothing I'm ready to share yet.  Lame, right?  But my mother taught me sharing is caring*, so here we are.
  • I made this roasted mango salsa from Cara's Cravings.  Have you checked out her blog?  It's lovely.  I used jalapeno instead of habanero because that's what I had on hand.  I reserved the ribs and seeds in case I needed some extra spice, but it totally wasn't needed.  I had one spicy jalapeno!  I don't buy the ones with perfect skin.  I buy the ugly ones.  They're spicier.  I mixed a few tablespoons with a mashed avocado and lime juice.  Best guacamole ever.  Don't have fresh mango?  They sell it frozen at Trader Joe's.  That's what I used.  Works great.

  • I was in Seattle last weekend.  My friend was not only nice enough to get married and invite me, but he had the consideration to live in Seattle at the time.  It's a beautiful city.  Wonderful.  One of my favorites.  And I'm not even a city person, generally.  This friend's bride is the maid who caught the bouquet at my wedding 5 years ago.  It was nice to be a part of their big day and remind them of that moment.
  • Husband and I toured Theo Chocolate Factory.  It's organic and fair trade.  More importantly, it's delicious!  It was interesting how the beans from different regions create such different finished chocolate bars.  I tried a 91% chocolate bar that was actually quite fruity and smooth.  I once tried a 89% chocolate bar in Paris.  It tasted like dirt.  How did I taste so many different bars without going broke?  That would be the overflowing mounds of samples they have dotted throughout their store.  Yeah.  Go there.  You're welcome.

  • I also made sure to schedule a trip to World Spice Merchants.  I spent at least an hour in there.  Smelling mixtures in jars.  Over and over.  Unable to decide between the 20 different blends of Middle Eastern curry.  Not even counting the Asian curries. I had to call Husband over to trim my list down to something manageable.  The place is amazing, but I'm way to indecisive to handle it without an adult to hold my hand.  They give you the option to get your spice blends freshly ground while you wait or whole to grind at home.  That's understanding of quality!  Alton Brown featured the place in an episode of Good Eats.  That's how I discovered it.  Thanks Alton!

  • Even had time to squeeze in a quick wine tasting at Chateau St. Michelle.  Their tasting room is so unique.  It's a large and open room that is made to look like an outdoor patio.  Smart, since they live in an area that gets a tad bit of rain.  Beautiful grounds too.  The wine was ok.

I'm still dreaming of my time there.  It was magical.  So was that salsa.  I'm still dreaming about it too.  I'm glad my friend just gave me more avocados from her tree.  

Happy eatings!


*Pretty sure if I ever heard my mother utter that phrase, I would die of shock.  After I accused her of being a pod person.