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Thursday, February 28, 2013

A New Adventure

I really love You Little Tarte.  I love writing it and I love hearing from my readers.  I enjoy the feeling of connecting with people who like to cook and eat as much as I do.  And You Little Tarte is a great way for me to flex my (somewhat limited) creative impulses.  I may not have a great novel in me, but I do have a couple of damn good paragraphs a couple of times a week.

Lately I have been thinking about reorganizing my life, you know... taking stock of things.  One of the things I have been thinking a lot about is all the stuff I have.  It's not like I'm a hoarder or anything, but I do have far more stuff than I will ever reasonably use up.

Specifically I have been thinking about all those beautiful clothes I have hanging in my closet.  I have so many lovely things than never get worn.  They deserve to make an occasional appearance.

Now don't get all excited.  I am not going to be holding a You Little Tarte garage sale anytime soon.  Instead, after a lot of thought, I have decided to engage in an experiment.  I am going to spend the next year not buying clothes.  Yup.  You read me right.  I am going to have a year of using what I already have.

Okay, you can stop laughing.  I'm serious about this.  In fact, I'm so serious that I've started a new blog called My Year of Unspending.  This new blog is going to chronicle my (mis)adventures as I navigate the next 12 months actually enjoying all the lovely clothing I already own.  In the process, I hope to learn a little something about myself, simplify my life a little bit, and maybe actually really clean out my closet.   You know, that old journey of self discovery stuff.

Ted has a whole different goal in mind.  He is very excited about the prospect of receiving a VISA bill that doesn't send him into cardiac arrest.  Needless to say, he was very excited when I told him of my plans and showed him my brand new (designed by Kate) blog.

I feel very trendy.  There are lots of blogs dedicated to saving money, clipping coupons, and the like.  I must warn you that My Year of Unspending is not one of those blogs.  This is going to be an in the trenches account of making due.  (That is, if Gucci shoes can be considered making due.)

Not to worry.  You Little Tarte will carry on as usual.  In fact, given all the free time I expect to have, I suspect I will be cooking, baking, and blogging up a storm.

Take a look at My Year of Unspending.  You can even subscribe to email posts, just like on this site.  This could be fun.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Several months ago, I was in Free People buying something for Kate.  For those of you with teenage daughters, I trust you are all too familiar with Free People.  For those of you who are not, I can best describe their particular look as boho very expensive.  Where else can you buy a vest that looks like it was left over from 1970 and then was stored in a paper bag in a dusty attic?

But I digress.  As I was whipping out my trusty credit card, I noticed these absolutely adorable rainbow Rice Krispies treats in a little basket on the counter.  Shockingly enough, these were not left over from 1970, nor did they have have a price tag attached thereto.  Instead, they were a little treat provided by one of the very chic girls who worked at the store.  (I might add that she must have weighed in at 72 pounds, so I doubt she was doing too much snacking on said rainbow treats.)

Anyway, they were so cute that I decided to make them myself.  (I must also note that I absolutely love Rice Krispies Treats.  Yes, I am probably the only person over about 20 who loves them, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.)  Of course, given my somewhat advanced age, I promptly forgot all about the rainbow treats until yesterday when I was cleaning out my pantry.  I must have thought I was actually going to make these, because why else would I have a bag of mini marshmallows and a large box of Rice Krispies?

A quick review of the internet led me to several recipes for said rainbow Rice Krispies treats.  I played around with a few and this is what I came up with.

I wish I could say that I haven't been in Free People since I bought the marshmallows to make these bars but alas, Kate gets their catalogue.  Needless to say, my daughter is kind enough to the mark things she likes with little Post-it notes.

Recipe:  Rainbow Rice Krispie Treats

*  Make sure to really press the Rice Krispie mixture into the pan.  I used an offset spatula, but you can also use a piece of waxed paper

*   One other thing...  You'll be the star of the show if you send these off to school with your kids.  Kate even "pinned" them on her Pinterest.  Needless to say, everyone at school was very happy to find that they were as delicious as they were cute.


7 cups Rice Krispies
7 cups miniature marshmallows
7 tablespoons butter, but into 1 tablespoon pieces
Food coloring (I used Wilton gel)


Line an 8x8 square pan with plastic wrap.  Leave enough overhang so that you can easily lift the finished Rice Krispies Treat out of the pan easily.

In a microwavable bowl,  melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 cup mini marshmallows for 45 seconds.  Add 1 cup Rice Krispies and enough purple food coloring to color the mixture a vivid purple.  Transfer the mixture from the bowl into the prepared pan.  Press the mixture into the bottom of the pan, making sure to fill in the corners. Wash the bowl.

Repeat the previous step, only this time add blue food coloring instead.  Press the mixture into the pan on top of the purple layer.

Repeat 5 more times, changing the food coloring color to green, yellow, orange, red, and finally purple.  You will have 7 layers in total.

Let cool for an hour or two, until the Rice Krispies Treat is dry to the touch.  Cut into equal sized squares and serve.

Friday, February 22, 2013

If Chocolate Was a Diet Food...

Things have not been going well for me.  First I had the same cold that Kate had.  It was awful and I will never again accuse her of being a kvetch.  It was, in fact, the worst cold I have ever had.  I had a fever.  I had a cough.  I had body aches.  I felt so bad that I actually went to the doctor, where he confirmed that I had a cold.  I like to think of it as an upper respiratory infection because it felt far worse than your average, garden variety cold.

In the midst of having the world's worst cold, I drove Kate to tennis because the weather was so awful. It was cold and snowing and I didn't think it was a good idea for her to drive so far.  She also likes to get a ride so that we can chat.  

But I digress.  While Kate was playing tennis, I dragged my congested body to the grocery store.  Why not share my cold with everyone in the Giant Eagle?  I picked up what we needed and loaded my four bags into the back of my car.

Sounds fine so far, right?  Well, this is where it all started to go horribly wrong.

When we got home it was snowing.  Kate, who is not a big person, was loaded down with her backpack, her Latin notebook, her gym bag, and her tennis bag.  She had no more hands so she headed into the house.  I had my purse and the four bags of groceries.  Since I am the queen of the multi-taskers, I decided to being all my stuff into the house at once.  Besides, I didn't want to go outside again because, after all, I had an upper respiratory infection.  This, it turns out, was not a good idea.

As I was heading down the sidewalk, I slipped in the snow/ice and landed flat on my back.  I did this in spectacular fashion too.  It probably looked like a cartoon, what with the groceries flying, me screaming, and snow everywhere.

So, there I was laying in the snow, crying and calling for Kate.  But here's the problem.  My house, which is something like 120 years old, is like a fortress and you can't hear anything once you're inside.  Kate couldn't hear me.  HELP!

I finally dragged myself up from the sidewalk, collected the groceries and schlepped myself inside.  I was covered with snow.  I put the groceries down and sat down on the couch, where I proceeded to make a puddle as the snow melted.

So, here's the upshot.  After days of not being to walk or bend without excruciating pain, I finally went to the orthopedist.  X-rays revealed a minor hairline fracture in my back, which was apparently nothing serious.  What was more serious, because it was causing so much pain, was one motherf***er of a bone bruise.

Have you every had a bone bruise?  I don't recommend it.

Well, it's now been about three weeks and I can finally walk with pain that ranks about a five on a scale of one to ten, and I can bend with maybe a level four pain.  Not bad.

But despite it all, I have soldiered on.  In fact, I even made a lovely Valentine's Day dinner for the three of us.

I found this recipe for chocolate mouse in the New York Times and had to make it.  After all, I think I deserved it.  And the best news is, that if chocolate mouse can be low-cal and low fat, this is.  The only ingredients are bittersweet chocolate and water.  Yes, water.  All you do is melt the chocolate in the water and whip it up.  The recipe calls for using a whisk, but since I'm injured I used my electric hand mixer which made fast work of the whipping.  Sprinkle a little fleur de sel on top, and you have the most decadent, low fat dessert you'll ever eat.

You see, chocolate does cure all ills.

Recipe:  Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse with Fleur de Sel


285 grams bittersweet chocolate (about 10 ounces), roughly chopped, more as needed
Fleur de Sel, to taste


Create an ice bath in a large bowl using ice and a little cold water. Nestle a smaller bowl in ice bath.

Place chocolate and 1 cup water in a small pot and heat over medium. Whisk until mixture is melted and smooth, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Immediately pour melted chocolate into the bowl in the ice bath. Vigorously whisk chocolate mixture by hand until thick, 3 to 5 minutes. The chocolate should be fluffy and form a mound when dolloped with the whisk (it should generally have the texture and appearance of mousse). If the mixture does not thicken, add a bit more chopped chocolate and remelt over the heat. Spoon into serving bowls and garnish with fleur de sel.

YIELD 4 servings

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Never Say Never

One of the great benefits of being accepted to college Early Decision, is that by mid-December the deed is done.  Your kid is in, and assuming they don't completely screw up, they're all set for the fall.  Early Decision is a magical thing. It takes all the drama out of the senior year.  I'm a big fan of anything that removes drama from my life.

Since Kate has known that she would be attending Bates College (Go ' cats!) since December, she's had lots more time for time wasters like Pinterest.  She has a million "boards" and is constantly "pinning" things.  I'm not sure what the whole point of this is, other than to confuse me, but Kate loves Pinterest.  Whatever...

Apparently Kate has an entire "board" dedicated to baking.  This is amusing because the only thing she has ever baked is a funfetti cake.  Nonetheless,  she recently sent me a link to a cake she thought I should just whip up.  It was a polka dot cake and I have to admit that it was very cute.

Since at the time, I had no need to make a 9 inch polka dot layer cake, I filed the idea away under "never".  When, I ask you, would I ever need to make a polka dot cake?  

Well, you should never say never, because I recently used that cake as inspiration for some Valentine's Day cupcakes for Kate to take to school.

Yes, it's true, I made polka dot Valentine's Day cupcakes and the girls at TESJFG (don't ask) just loved them.  In fact, they were dazzled by my creativity.  Go figure, because I'm sure they all have Pinterest and I'm equally sure they've all perused each other's boards.

Now, here's my disclaimer.  I used cake mix.  Yes, it's true.  I, a purist when it comes to all things food, used cake mix.  This was one of those situations where I was going for the look.  Kind of like when you gird your loins and go into Forever 21 because you know they'll have the cheapest possible version of whatever awful trend your daughter can't live without.  It's easy and it's not a big commitment if it doesn't work out.

So, roll your grocery cart down the cake mix aisle and pick up a couple of mixes and prepare to dazzle.

Like I said.  Never say never.

Recipe:  Polka Dot Cupcakes

* Note:  You will need a cake pop pan to make the polka dots.  They usually have them at Bed, Bath & Beyond, but mine was all out.  Luckily for me, there was a Walmart right next door and they had them in the "As Seen on TV" department.  I never, in  million years, thought I would buy anything from the "As Seen on TV" section of any store, let alone Walmart.

* Another Note:  I made these cupcakes for Valentine's Day, hence the use of red velvet cake for the polka dots.  If you want to make the polka dots other colors, use white cake mix and separate the prepared mix into as many colors as you want.  Use food coloring to to color each portion.

Now... We're ready to start....


1 box white cake mix and ingredients listed on the box
1 box red velvet cake mix and ingredients listed on the box
2 boxes vanilla pudding mix


For the polka dots:

Preheat the oven to 350.

Prepare the red velvet cake mix as per instructions on the box.  Make any of the adjustments listed in the instructions for the cake pop pan.  (Mine instructed to add a box of pudding to the batter to make a denser cake pop.)

Grease and flour the cake pop pan.  Fill the pan with the batter according to the instructions that come with the pan.  Put the top on the pan and bake the pops for 15 minutes.  You may have an "eruption" of extra batter poking out of the top of each cake pop, but it will come right off once the pops have cooled.

Once cooled, remove the pops from the pan and set aside.

For the cupcakes:

Continue heating oven to 350.

Line cupcake pan with paper liners (24).  

Prepare cake mix according to package instructions.  I added a dash of almond extract along with the pudding mix, just to dress up the mix a little.  Use egg whites to make the white cake, so that there is no yellow tinge from the yolks.

Put a little of the batter in the bottom of each cupcake cup.  Put a cooked cake pop on top of that.  Add more white batter so that the cup is about 2/3 full.  Don't worry if the polka dot is not fully submerged in the batter.  It will puff up during baking.

Bake the cupcakes according to the package instructions, making sure that they spring back when you touch them.

Remove from the oven and let cool.  Frost as desired.  


Monday, February 18, 2013

Giving Campbell's A Run For Its Money

You know me.  I spend the winter months complaining about how cold it is.  I probably also spend the whole summer complaining that it's too hot.  Let's face it, as a matter of weather, I can't be satisfied.

Lucky for me that I really like winter food.  I love all the stews and braises.  And I really love soup.  What's not to love?

But I have to admit, that as much as I love soup, I've never really bothered to learn how to make tomato soup.  I grew up on Campbell's, and I guess I just always figured that it was the gold standard when it came to tomato soup.

Of course, I was wrong.  Real, homemade tomato soup is so much more delicious.  And for all of you health conscious types out there, the homemade version nixes the preservatives and other stuff that they don't like to sell at Whole Foods.  In short, while certainly not a diet food, homemade tomato soup is probably better for you than its canned cousin.

This is a pretty easy recipe too.  Not quite as easy as opening a can, but easy nonetheless.  I skipped the grilled cheese croutons in favor of making actual grilled cheese sandwiches, because I could never be happy with just a crouton when it comes to grilled cheese.

Recipe:  Easy Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese Croutons/Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
(Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust, 2012 by Ina Garten)

*Note:  I followed the instructions for the croutons but served the sandwiches instead.


3 tablespoons good olive oil
3 cups yellow onions, chopped (2 onions)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
Large pinch of saffron threads
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup orzo
1/2 cup heavy cream
Grilled Cheese Croutons (see below)


In a large pot or Dutch oven such as Le Creuset, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Stir in the chicken stock, tomatoes, saffron, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a medium pot with water, add 2 teaspoons salt and bring to a boil. Add the orzo and cook for 7 minutes. (It will finish cooking in the soup.) Drain the orzo and add it to the soup. Stir in the cream, return the soup to a simmer and cook for 10 more minutes, stirring frequently.

Serve hot with Grilled Cheese Croutons/Sandwiches scattered on top.

Grilled Cheese Croutons/Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
(Makes 4 sandwiches)

*Note:  If you are making croutons, half this recipe to make 2 whole sandwiches.

8 (1/2-inch-thick) slices country white bread
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated

Heat a panini grill. Place the eight slices of bread on a cutting board and brush lightly with the melted butter, being sure to butter the corners. Turn the slices over and pile Gruyere on four of the slices. Place the remaining four slices of bread on top of the Gruyere, buttered sides up.

Grill the sandwiches on the panini grill for about 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Place on a cutting board, allow to rest for 1 minute and cut into 1-inch cubes if serving as croutons.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Justice Prevails

Back in December, I got a parking ticket.  I've gotten a lot of parking tickets in my time, most of them warranted, but this time I was actually in the right.  Or at least, I was mostly in the right.

First a little background.  A couple of months ago, Pittsburgh instituted the use of these very annoying parking kiosks.  I hate these things.  You have the input your license plate number and I can never remember mine.  It's also been cold, and standing out in the wind and snow any longer than is absolutely essential is not something I want to do.  But, because Ted gets very testy about parking tickets (You know Nadine, by not putting $.50 in the meter, you cost us $25),  I feel fiscally obligated to pay the kiosk, regardless of how unpleasant the weather makes it.

Now here's what happened.  I transposed two numbers from my license plate -- and it was clear that's what I did -- and the mean, nasty cop gave me a ticket.  Come On.  I was standing right there as he wrote the ticket and showed him my mistake.  As he was writing the ticket, he actually looked gleeful.  The big, giant gotcha.

Well, anyone who knows me knows that I am not a gotcha kind of gal, and I decided to haul myself down to the Pittsburgh Parking Court and plead my case.  Not surprisingly, when I presented my very compelling case to the judge, she threw out my ticket.

Justice prevails.  Gotcha Mr. Meter Maid.

This recipe has absolutely nothing to do with parking tickets or the parking justice system.  It just so happens that I made them when I got home.  They're celebratory -- that is, if granola bars can be celebratory.

Recipe:  Cranberry Almond Granola Bars
Loosely adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman


1 cup dried cranberries
1-1/4 cups rolled oats
3 Tbsp. whole wheat flour
1/3 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup almond butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 tsp. freshly grated orange zest
1/4 tsp. almond extract


Preheat the oven to 350.  Line an 8×8 baking dish in one direction with parchment paper, allowing the paper to go up the opposing side. Repeat in the opposite direction (this makes it easy to remove the bars from the pan in one piece).

In a large bowl, stir together the dates, oats, flour, wheat germ, almonds, salt, and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, whisk together the almond butter, olive oil, honey, orange zest, and almond extract until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, stirring together until the dry ingredients are evenly coated. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, pressing the mixture firmly into the bottom, edges, and corners.

Bake the bars for 20-25 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges. They’ll still seem a bit soft if you press the center (they will set as they cool).

Place the pan over a cooling rack, or in the fridge. If cooling at room temp, you can remove the bars from the pan after about 20-30 minutes, using the pachment “sling” and set them on the rack to cool completely. Once completley cooled, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares. (If the bars seem too crumbly to cut, chill them further in the fridge, and then cut them cold.)

Bars can be stored in an airtight container, in the fridge, or frozen.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Waste Not, Want Not

Kate was home sick on Friday.  She's always been one of whose kids who, when she gets a cold, she's down for the court for days.  Other kids seem to regenerate quickly, with just a day of bed rest.  That would not be my Kate.  Ever since she was a little girl, if she got a cold, we knew she would be oozing illness for at least a week.

So, here we were, Day 2 of The Cold.  She had battled through it at school on Thursday, but Friday there was illness seeping from every pore of her body so she stayed home.  I made her homemade chicken soup, because in our house there's no Campbell's, especially when you're sick.  But since I was hanging around, I had some time in the kitchen I hadn't counted on.

I've always been a big fan of quick breads.  They're quick and I like that.  I can also delude myself into believing that they're a bread and not a cake.  Same with muffins.  Those are muffins not little mini cakes.

But back to the quick bread.  I had been meaning to try Ina's Date Nut Spice Bread.  I had everything I needing right in the pantry.  Obviously, I had been planning this for some time because why else would I have had chopped dates at the ready?  I had no excuse and lots of time.

This is a very easy recipe and it produces a really lovely loaf.  It's moist and has just a hint of orange, from the zest and the Cointreau.  The orange really offsets the dates nicely and the nuts give the whole thing a pleasing crunch.

I was quite pleased with my efforts and brought a piece up to Kate, who promptly announced that she didn't like date nut bread, probably because she doesn't like dates in things.  Not to worry.  I ate it myself.  After all, it would have been a crime for it to go to waste.

Recipe:  Date Nut Spice Bread
(Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, 2008)


2 cups coarsely chopped dates (10 ounces pitted)
1/3 cup orange liqueur (recommended: Cointreau or Triple Sec)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 extra-large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (2 oranges)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (3 oranges)
3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans (3 ounces)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom of an 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pan.

Combine the dates and orange liqueur in a small bowl and set aside for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar together on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl. With the mixer on low, add the egg, vanilla, and orange zest. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. With the mixer still on low, add the flour mixture alternately with the orange juice to the creamed mixture, beating only until combined. By hand, stir in the dates with their liquid, and the pecans.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Slice the bread and serve with  cream cheese and/or jam on the side for spreading.