Thursday, May 15, 2008

Easy Gets It Done

A lovely lady once told me of an epiphany moment that she had had. She'd received several sets of hand-embroidered pillow cases as wedding gifts. Her mother had shown her how, after laundering them, she had to mist them with a water bottle, roll them up in a plastic bag and put them in the refrigerator, then carefully iron them on a pressing cloth so that the embroidered design would stand up.

She was in the midst of this process, dutifully ironing, while she watched the funeral procession of John F. Kennedy on television. Then it hit her. Why was she doing this? No one besides her husband was ever going to see these pillow cases, and they were just going to sleep on them. Life was too short to do stupid things just because someone says it's the right way.

That story has stuck with me for many years. I have a programmed desire to do things the "right" way, which curiously enough, is often the most difficult way. I have to revisit this lady's story from time to time to remind myself that life is short, and we're not graded on the difficulty of the things we attempt. Sometimes just attempting is good enough.

Case in point: puff pastry. Danish pastries were one of those mystery items that I thought could only be purchased in a store, like Jello or sausages. But then I saw a recipe for Easy Cheese Danishes in Barefoot Contessa at Home. Note the alluring use of the word "easy"? When is saw that I paused, rather than flipping past, dismissing the recipe as one obviously out of my league. The secret behind the magic word was frozen puff pastry.

I bought some. I made the pastries. My family raved. I felt fabulous. I'd made cream cheese danishes! Maybe some day I'll attempt the real deal, but in the meantime, I have my back-up in the freezer.

If you'd like to make puff pastry the "right" way, the fabulous Fanny at Foodbeam has done a gorgeous how-to write up on Puff Pastry. But if you're short on time, pulled in 15 directions all day long, and just want a weekend treat that will make your family squeal for joy, just go with the frozen stuff. I promise, no one's grading you except yourself.

Easy Strawberry Cheese Danishes
- adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 Tbsp ricotta cheese
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest (about 2 lemons' worth)
1 cup strawberries cut into small chunks
2 sheets (1 box) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp of water for egg wash

Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.

Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and cream them together on low speed until smooth. Add 2/3 cup of the strawberry chunks and blend. The mixture will be a pretty pink. With the mixer still on low, add the egg yolks, ricotta, vanilla, salt, lemon zest, and the remaining 1/3 of the strawberry chunks and mix until just combined. Don't whip!

Unfold one sheet of puff pastry onto a lightly floured board and roll it slightly with a floured rolling pin until it's a 10 x 10- inch square. Cut the sheet into quarters with a sharp knife. Place a heaping Tbsp of cheese filling into the middle of each of the 4 squares. Brush the border of each pastry with egg wash and fold two opposite corners to the center, brushing and overlapping the corners of each pastry so they stick firmly together.

Brush the top of the pastries with egg wash. Place the pastries on the prepared sheet pans. Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry and refrigerate the filled pastries for 15 minutes.

While the pastries are chilling, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, with the racks positioned in the upper third and lower third of the oven.

Bake the pastries for about 20 minutes, rotating the pans top to bottom and front to back once during baking. The finished pastries should be puffed and brown. Serve warm. Makes 8 pastries.


LyB said...

I'll have to remember that story for those times when I feel like an overachiever! I'll have to get some frozen puff pastry, those danishes are calling me!

LizNoVeggieGirl said...

As a perfectionist, I NEED to follow that woman's mantra - thank you for sharing it, Lynn!! And hey, those danishes look PERFECT!!

Anonymous said...

Frozen puff pastry is pretty good stuff. I buy it too.
Now you'll have time to iron all your sheets and the embroidered pillowcases! (naw...go put your feet up and have a cuppa!)

Chelsea said...

If we don't do our semi-planned Sunday brunch with friends this Sunday, I may have to make these. I have yet to use puff pastry for something sweet, so I think it is time. Thanks for sharing, Lynn!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Gorn long ago told me about a friend he helped move who got very upset about someone else helping who slipped and fell and something broke. He always felt hurting the persons feelings was a lot more costly than the broken whatever. I sort of put these two kinds of things together. Perfect doesn't really exist in this world although a moment of serendipity will seem like perfection and we should enjoy it but not let small things keep of from enjoying the rest of the beauty.
However, if you really enjoy putting your head on an ironed pillowcase and it really makes you happy, it might be worth it at least once in a while.
I find frozen puff pastry fabulous stuff and your cream cheese Danish looks terrific!!

Amy said...

I love frozen puff pastry! I've never been brave enough to tackle making my own. I'll have to make these, they look fabulous!

RecipeGirl said...

Store bought puff pastry works for me. You can make an awful lot of great things with it- tarts, sweet treats, appetizers, etc.

The pastry idea is terrific. Sometimes I like to make cinnamon rolls when we ahve guests but it's a big ordeal that usually begins the day before. These would be a great alternative!

Sharona May said...

Looks very good and I have to say that I believe in easy. Something should just be easy.

Sharona May

Gretchen Noelle said...

These look tasty and not too difficult. Thanks for the reminder that perfect isn't always necessary. Sometimes we get distracted doing things that aren't needed.

Mama Mia said...

ohhh great recipe using puff pastry! I always love your stories!

Mama Mia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
grace said...

anything involving puff pastry, whether savory or sweet, makes me squeal for joy. i really wonder if homemade could be as good. well, i'm fairly certain that it wouldn't be as good if i made it, but maybe there's hope for others... :)

Peabody said...

I buy puff pastries. I buy filo dough. Too much trouble I tell you.
Frozen puff pastry is the way to go!

Patricia Scarpin said...

I buy puff pastry and I'm not ashamed of that - as a matter of fact, I'll be making something with it on the weekend.
These look fabulous, Lynn, no wonder the family loved them!

Anonymous said...

I love frozen puff pastry! soooooo convenient. Your danishes look delish!

Abby said...

Amen! Sometimes it's worth doing it the "right" way if it's important to you, but sometimes you just have to let go and let God, as they say.

Great post - lovely story!

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

I have made these Danishes from the Barefoot Contessa and can attest to the fact that they are mazing as well as quick!!!! I also think it is a great idea to add strawberries to the cream cheese mixture, I suppose you could add any fruit!!!!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Easy, yet extremely delicious! Those Danishes look wonderful!



Susan @ SGCC said...

Your friend is a wise woman. It took me many, many years (and a fortune in therapy) to realize that everything I did didn't have to be perfect. I missed out on a lot of opportunities because I felt that if I couldn't do something "perfectly", it wasn't worth doing. I was wrong, wrong, WRONG!

I love your danish! It looks delicious. What I love most is that it didn't take you hours and you had time to enjoy it with your family! :)

Anonymous said...

These sound SO good and look so professional! Been looking for strawberry dessert ideas and this sounds like a sure-fire winner, thanks!

And those pillow cases? I love high thread count sheets but they're wrinkly and I, too figure there are better things to do t han worry about my wrinkled pillow cases! :) Was glad to learn it wasn't just me...

Kelly-Jane said...

A lovely story, and gorgeous Danishes.