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You say it’s your birthday, eh?

Posted Feb 20 2009 7:22pm

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No matter how much hubby is trying not to make a big deal out of his birthday, I’m going to go all-out anyways for a mid-week dinner, sparkly candles and all!  I love any reason to celebrate, because it means making something out of the ordinary and, superficially, I like to make pretty little things.

The menu for tonight: Sauteed shrimp salad by my mom-in-law who’s here for a visit, mussels in saffron and white wine sauce by me, garlic bread made with whole-wheat French bread, and fruit tarts (and, of course, the vino).  Many tart crusts have a ton of butter (like almost 2 sticks’ worth), but I only use 1/2 stick of butter here.  I top it off with a homemade vanilla custard, fruit of choice, and an apricot glaze.  This is a great recipe for the time-crunched, because you can make the tart crust and custard ahead of time and assemble the day of with no additional baking.

A word to the wise: don’t buy sparkly candles, those kinds that sputter when you light them.  We almost set a fruit tart on fire, and there’s a spray of candle wax on our dining room table that needs to be scraped off.  Happy birthday Phong (I’ll clean this time)! <3

Individual Fruit Tarts with Vanilla (or Almond) Custard

Serves 5

Special equipment: 5 4 1/2″ tart pans

For the tart crust:

1 cup all-purpose or ultragrain flour

2 Tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

4 Tbsp butter, cut into 8 pieces

1 large egg

1 1/2 Tbsp ice-cold water

For the custard:

1 cup fat-free milk, divided

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch

1 1/2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla (or almond) extract

Pinch of salt

For the fruit topping:

Fruits of choice (I use canned peaches in fruit juice - drained, fresh strawberries, and blueberries), about 2 1/2 - 3 cups’ worth

1/2 cup apricot jam (made with fruit juice, not corn syrup)

2 Tbsp water

For the crust:

1.  Add the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a food processor.  Pulse the dry ingredients once or twice until incorporated.

2.  Add the butter, and pulse about 10-12 times until it looks like coarse sand.

3.  Add the egg and cold water, and continue to pulse in the food processor until a ball forms.

4.  On a floured surface, invert the food processor bowl, remove the blade, and form the dough into a disk.  Wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate for a few hours.

5.  When ready to bake the crusts, preheat the oven to 350º F.  Take the dough out of the fridge.  On a floured surface, roll out the dough until it is about 1/4″ thick.  Cut out about 5 1/2″ diameter circles to fit your tart molds.  Press the dough into the sides of the tart molds, getting rid of excess dough going over to the sides.  Repeat with the other tart pans.  With a fork, poke little holes onto the surface of each crust (this will allow air to escape while baking and prevent the crust from puffing up).

6.  Bake the tart crusts for about 10-12 minutes, or until slightly browned.  If made ahead, then allow the crusts to cool, then place in the refrigerator, uncovered, until ready to use.

For the custard:

1.  In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup of the milk with the cornstarch until there are no lumps.  Whisk together the eggs in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup (Pyrex - I do this because it has a pour spout which is useful in the upcoming steps), and add the cornstarch mixture to the measuring cup.  Mix well, and set aside.

2.  In a medium saucepan (about 1-qt) over medium heat, add the rest of the milk and the sugar.  Stir to dissolve the sugar, and heat until the milk begins to smoke or boil.  Turn the heat down to low, and little by little, ladle about 1/3 of the hot milk into the large measuring cup, whisking the egg mixture well after each ladle.  Now, whisking the leftover milk in the saucepan, slowly pour the egg mixture into the saucepan while continuing to whisk.  Turn the heat back to medium, and continue to whisk the custard until it thickens, or covers the back of a wooden spoon.  When it thickens, take the saucepan off the heat; whisk vigorously for another 30 seconds.  Add the vanilla extract and salt, and stir to incorporate.  Pour the custard into a bowl, and place plastic wrap on the surface of the custard so a skin doesn’t form.  Put it in the fridge until cold.

To assemble:

1.  Spread custard over the bottoms of the tarts.  Arrange fruit on top as desired.

2.  In a small bowl, heat up the jam for about 10-15 seconds.  Add the water and stir until incorporated.  Brush the glaze on top of the fruits, and enjoy!

Shrimp Salad my mom-in-law made:

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Mussels in Saffron and White Wine Sauce

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serves 3-4

2 lbs mussels, scrubbed and debearded

1 Tbsp butter

1 tsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp saffron

1 tsp crushed red pepper

1 cup clam juice

1/2 cup dry white wine

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Sea salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 cup chives, sliced

1.  In a large stock pot over medium-high heat, add the butter and olive oil.  When the butter starts to melt and get hot, add the garlic, saffron, and crushed red pepper; sautee for about 2-3 minutes.  Add the clam juice and wine.  Stir all ingredients and allow to boil.  Squeeze in some lemon, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Let the broth gently boil for about 5 minutes, and add the mussels.  Cover the pot and cook the mussels until the shells open, about 5-7 minutes.  Discard mussels in which the shells have not opened.  Stir in the chives at the end.  Serve in shallow bowls with some crusty French bread.

Garlic Bread made with Whole Wheat French Bread

Whole-wheat French bread, cut into slices

Olive oil

Finely minced garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, parsley

Drizzle olive oil over bread on a large baking pan.  Add garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, and parsley to both sides of the bread, and let it toast in a preheated, 350 F oven for about 5-7 minutes, until crispy brown.

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