strawberries

roasted rhubarb parfaits with coconut yogurt and cacao nibs

roasted rhubarb parfaits with coconut yogurt and cacao nibs via millys-kitchen.com

A few days ago, while sitting around the table at my favorite Parisian restaurant with a group of talented creative types from around the globe, I was overcome with the urge to reach under the table and pinch myself. Nothing dramatic. Just a small gesture to ensure I wasn’t at home in my bed dreaming this whole scenario into reality. 

Lately, I find it hard to believe that my life is my life. I’m not saying I don’t have days where I gnash my teeth in frustration with the world. Or feel completely uninspired. Or disappointed with myself. Or angry at the flabbiness of my upper arms. (On my worst days, I feel all of these things simultaneously.)

But on this particular day, in this particular restaurant, in front of the most ethereal lemon tart I’ve ever tasted, I felt a rush of pleasure and satisfaction wash over me. Followed by a wave of incredulity that my life includes things like trips to Paris and creative collaborations with people whose work I admire and light-as-air lemon tarts.

roasted rhubarb parfaits with coconut yogurt and cacao nibs via millys-kitchen.com

Three years ago, when I decided to leave a business venture I’d poured myself into, I cried every day for a month. My business partner and I, to put it mildly, did not see eye to eye. After months of stress and conflict and feeling like I couldn’t be myself at work, it was time to bow out. 

When I wasn’t crying, I was filled with anger and resentment. And fear. How would I earn a living? What would I do next? Would I be able to re-invent myself or would I end up a crazy cat lady living with my mom until I was old and grey? To open that business had been my dream for years and it had utterly imploded. These were some dark days. 

roasted rhubarb parfaits with coconut yogurt and cacao nibs via millys-kitchen.com

But somewhere in the middle of the anger and hurt and sadness and fear, a tiny seed took root. A vision for the future and what sort of work I could find fulfilling began to take shape. I started teaching cooking classes again to regain a sense of connection with my community. I bought a camera and learned to use it. I started this blog. Finally, I worked up the courage to pursue another dream of mine--leading culinary tours abroad to share my favorite cities with others. Along the way, I’ve gotten married, bought a house in a vibrant neighborhood I love and forged new friendships. 

Sitting at that table in Paris, I couldn’t help thinking this was the sort of lemons-into-lemonade moment that makes life a wonderment. I wouldn’t have found myself at that table without the soul-bruising experience of leaving my last business. I’d likely still be working long days and trying to be someone I’m not, instead of traveling and discovering my love of photography and meeting inspiring humans all over the world. (I certainly wouldn’t be drinking nearly as much amazing French wine!)

roasted rhubarb parfaits with coconut yogurt and cacao nibs via millys-kitchen.com

In the spirit of turning lemons into lemonade, I give you this roasted rhubarb parfait. After a cake recipe I was working on turned out to be a total failure, I took the leftover roasted rhubarb and swirled it into some yogurt, then scattered cocoa nibs over the top for crunch. It was infinitely better than that cake.

This version also has coconut, vanilla and honey for depth of flavor. For those of you facing uncertainty, self-doubt or fear of what the future holds, I hope it serves as a little reminder that we never really know what lies ahead. And that often the lemons (or crappy cakes or career setbacks) life sends our way lead to something far more rewarding than we ever could have imagined.

roasted rhubarb parfaits with coconut yogurt and cacao nibs via millys-kitchen.com

roasted rhubarb parfaits with coconut yogurt and cacao nibs via millys-kitchen.com

Roasted Rhubarb Parfaits with Coconut Yogurt and Cacoa Nibs

  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 lb rhubarb (about 6 medium stalks), trimmed, halved lengthwise if thick, and sliced about ⅓-inch thick
  • 8 oz (1 pint) strawberries, tops removed and diced about ⅓-inch thick
  • 6 tablespoons honey, plus an additional to taste
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 cups plain greek yogurt (I used Ellenos yogurt)
  • ½ cup coconut cream (I used one 5.4 fluid oz/160 mL can from Native Forest)
  • 1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
  • 6 tablespoons cacao nibs (I like Theo cacao nibs best)

*Notes: For a vegan version, use plain greek style coconut yogurt. If using coconut yogurt, you can omit or cut back on the coconut cream.

- If you can’t find coconut cream, buy a can of coconut milk and place it in your fridge until cold. Open it, pour off the liquid (reserve for another use) and use the thick coconut cream that remains. 

- These parfaits can be made in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge for a couple days. When I did this, mine set up and had an almost cheesecake-like consistency, which was delicious! If you go this route, I recommend adding the top layer of coconut and cacao nibs just before serving to add a little extra crunch.

roasted rhubarb parfaits with coconut yogurt and cacao nibs via millys-kitchen.com

Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a paring knife. Place the seeds in a medium bowl along with the rhubarb, strawberries, 6 tablespoons of honey and a pinch of salt. Stir gently to combine and set aside for 20 minutes. While the fruit is macerating, preheat the oven to 400 F. 

Spread the rhubarb and strawberries out on a parchment-lined sheet pan along with their juices. Roast until some of the rhubarb is falling apart and the juices have thickened to a syrup-like consistency, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

Place the yogurt in a medium bowl and add the coconut cream. Whisk to combine well. Whisk in honey to taste. (The amount will vary depending on how tangy your yogurt is--I used 2 tablespoons.) Place a couple tablespoons of the coconut yogurt in the bottom of 6 small (4- to 6-oz.) glasses. Spoon a tablespoon or so of the roasted rhubarb over the yogurt and top with some of the flaked coconut and cacao nibs. Repeat the layering process one more time, then serve.

Makes 6 servings.

roasted rhubarb parfaits with coconut yogurt and cacao nibs via millys-kitchen.com

Breton Butter Cake with Black Pepper Strawberry Compote

butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

Lately, I’ve been in an in-between state of mind. 

The weather keeps see-sawing between gorgeous sunny days and brooding spring skies. We’re settled into our new house, but I’m taking a break from renovating and decorating to preserve my sanity. I’ve got culinary tours and classes and dinners planned for the summer. But I’m trying to simply place one foot in front of the other and move towards my goals rather than burning myself out with my usual unbridled desire to do EVERYTHING NOW.

butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

Which has left me feeling sort of… bored. I know that a little boredom does not spell the end of the world. But I haven’t been bored since I was about four years old. I’m an only child and a confirmed introvert, so I learned to entertain myself early on. Boredom is a strange, uncomfortable feeling. Also, I’ve always felt there are so many interesting things to do in the world. Too many, even. How am I supposed to become a master gardener, learn film photography, improve my tennis game, write a cookbook and teach myself to speak Portuguese with only 24 hours in a day? 

You see my point, obviously.

butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com
butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

As I’ve shared here recently, I’m trying to pace myself a little better. Leave room throughout each day to chart my course rather than just react to an endless to-do list. However, my productivity-addicted brain doesn’t know what to do with the in-between spaces. My hope is that the boredom and discomfort will morph into a sense of calm and clarity. (That’s totally a thing, right?) If any of you have experienced something similar while trying to live a more mindful life, I’d love to hear your stories.

butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

In the meantime, I’ve been turning to the kitchen for the reliable sense of calm I find there. After my recent cake disaster, I decided I needed a win in the baking department. I dug up the recipe for this classic French butter cake, which I’ve been making for years. The only thing better than eating this crumbly, buttery cake accompanied by a strong cup of coffee, is topping it with black pepper strawberry compote. 

butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

My friend Stephanie developed the compote recipe and it’s a winner. Roasting the berries intensifies their flavor and transforms their juices into a bright syrup. The kick of black pepper heightens the tartness of the berries and balances the buttery cake.

butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

There’s a quote from Henry David Thoreau I keep at the top of my to-do list: “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” I try to keep this in mind as I move through each day. I try to remember that doing is not the same thing as living. I wish I could say I’m half as good at living as I am at doing. I get a little better at it every day though, which is what really matters, it seems. And my in-between days are made a whole lot sweeter with time spent in the kitchen and a slice of this cake at hand.

butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

Breton Butter Cake with Black Pepper Strawberry Compote

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 1 recipe Black Pepper Strawberry Compote (see below)
butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

Preheat your oven to 350° F. In the bowl of electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. (A hand mixer would work to, it will just take longer.) Add the vanilla and then the yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour and salt and beat just until combined. Take care not to overwork your batter.

Transfer the batter to an 8- or 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Use a small offset spatula or knife to spread the batter and smooth top. You want the top as flat and smooth as possible. If the batter is too warm to get a smooth top, chill it for 10 minutes or so and then try smoothing it again. Place the pan in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the refrigerator. Beat the egg with a tablespoon of water and brush it over the top of the cake. Use a fork to mark a criss-cross pattern across the top.. Brush the criss-crosses with the egg wash. Bake until the cake is deep golden brown and the edges pull away from the sides of pan, about 40 minutes.

Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool slightly. Remove the cake from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature with Black Pepper Strawberry Compote.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Recipe via Martha Stewart


butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

Black Pepper Strawberry Compote

  • 2 pints ripe strawberries (about 1 lb), rinsed and patted dry

  • 3 tablespoons sugar

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cut the tops off the strawberries and slice them into halves or quarters (depending on their size). In a medium bowl, mix the berries with the sugar and pepper. Set aside to macerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. 

After the berries have sat for 30 minutes  and released their juices, transfer them to a parchment- or foil-lined sheet pan. Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring the berries after about 15 minutes. When they are done, they should be soft but not shriveled; their juices should have thickened slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Recipe adapted from    Stephanie Lock

Recipe adapted from Stephanie Lock