It’s fun to discover, as one rarely but occasionally does, that someone who has toiled away at a hobby for years wakes up one day and realizes that the skills he or she has developed—playing the viola , maybe, or developing a connoisseurship in Roman coins, or restoring 1960s muscle cars—rivals and even exceeds the skills of people who call themselves professionals in those fields. It’s especially fun when the person’s day job has nothing whatsoever to do with the hobby.
It turns out the food blogosphere is a place where you can make discoveries of this kind at a better-than-average frequency. It’s full of self-taught cooks and self-taught photographers, many with day jobs that have nothing to do with food or photos. As someone who deals with professional cooks and photographers fairly often, I can say with some confidence that a surprising number of these blogging hobbyists have pro-level skills. They might lack a cooking-school diploma or experience in a restaurant kitchen, but they know how to make ingredients come alive in their pots and pans and on their baking sheets—and with their cameras.
Stephanie Shih, who blogs at Desserts for Breakfast, is one such professional-grade blogger-photographer. You learn on her About page that she is a phonologist, a species of linguist, by day, and half a minute on Google will convince you that she probably is the only food blogger ever to have delivered a paper entitled, “Stress, length, and moraic trochees in Northern Tiwa Picurís.” (Let me know if you can name another.) Stephanie’s blog ranges widely across all areas of baking—including savory baked things, as you will see in the recipe below. There is an abundance of cheese and eggs in her breakfast-appropriate desserts, for those of us who want a protein shot in the morning, but many of her recipes are just pastries and sweets straight up. Indeed, these are desserts for any time of day, whether you are drawn to them at breakfast-time or not. It’s one of the best all-purpose baking blogs around.
The recipes on Stephanie’s blog are always creative and carefully done, communicated verbally and visually with clarity, enthusiasm, and warmth. Many are riffs and variations on things she has encountered in her travels. Almost always she has done something significant to make the recipe her own, and she explains why she has made the tweaks and fixes she has.
On a recent trip to Portland, Oregon, Stephanie dug into a beet tart at Little Bird Bistro. On her return to California, she tried to reconstruct the tart she had admired so much. As our seasonal fascination with root vegetables begins to wind down as winter comes to an end, how about one last rootsy spin, courtesy of Stephanie? The full post, with many additional and striking photos, is here. Here is the recipe:
Beet Tart with Blue Cheese, Goat Cheese, and Frisee
Before having a version of this tart at Little Bird Bistro, I seriously never thought I would like a beet tart. Beets have just never been a vegetable I voluntarily run to, even though I’ve had very good beets before in my life (also very bad ones, like the canned beets my parents would insist on putting in our salads when I was growing up, which probably contributed to my aversion). But, for whatever reason, the beet tart looked really good on the bistro’s menu, and when I had my first bite of it, it was even better than the menu’s description. I think what really did it for me with this tart was how the saltiness of the blue and goat cheeses balanced out the sweet juiciness of the al dente roasted beets, with the buttery, flakey crust and the slightly bitter and acidic frisee on top.
Makes one 9×9-inch tart
- 6 large beets, peeled
- Olive oil
- 8 – 10 sprigs of fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper
- 1 sheet of puff pastry (enough to make a 10×10-inch square)
- 30 – 40 grams goat cheese
- 10 grams blue cheese
- Bunch frisee
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare two baking sheets: line one with foil and the other with parchment paper or a silpat.
- Slice the peeled beets into thick slices, about 1/2-inch thick. Lightly coat the sliced beets with olive oil, and toss with fresh thyme leaves and a bit of salt and pepper.
- Lay the beet slices out on the foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven.
- Meanwhile, roll out the puff pastry into a 10 x 10-inch square, or a comparably sized rectangle. Transfer to the baking sheet lined with parchment (or silpat).
- Arrange the beet slices on the puff pastry, leaving about an inch or two along each side. Roll the puff pastry edges up to create a free-form crust, pinching the corners.
- Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees F and continue to bake for 25-30 more minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the beets are fork tender. Remove from oven and let cool briefly.
- Mix the goat cheese and blue cheese together with a fork, and crumble over the beet tart.
- Toss the frisee with lemon juice, olive oil, and a pinch of salt to coat, and serve over the tart.
Recipe and photo used by permission of Stephanie Shih