Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Here I am at the White Dog Café, sitting in front of the most fresh and delicious cobb salads I've ever tasted (turkey, bacon, avocado, beets, bibb lettuce, blue cheese and tomato, all locally grown and raised):
And here's Ali, my younger sister, with (if I remember correctly) seared halibut atop a bed of delicious golden orzo, served with a cool lumpmeat crab salad:
Oh, how happy we were.
And how could I forget the dinner at Parc, where Geoff and I had country paté with cornichons and mustard?
And for my entree I decided on the monkfish:
I'd never had monkfish before, so I was a bit surprised to find the texture springy, yet tender. If a fish could be al dente, this would be it. And just take a look at that beautiful golden crust--it was divine. Overall, I'd say the various components went quite well together, with the effect of being both a clean and complex dish. The meat was perfectly roasted, the broth warm and rich, with the tomato and eggplant salad a savory and fruity accompaniment. Harmonious.
Of course, you need not reach for the cream of the crop (and deep into your wallet) to be satisfied here--these were just the two times I did, and I wanted to share them with you. On the other hand, I could wax terrifically on the food carts, with students and faculty alike lining up for the falafel and vegetarian chili; a great coffee shop with the best beer happy hours (I got a brown ale that was just perfect, with dark fruit undertones of fig); a chocolate gelato so rich you'd swear you were eating fudge. But I think I'll focus on the other side of Philly food culture...
...that is, the community you build, the company you keep.
These pictures are from a brunch with some fellow first-years. Ana and Lydia graciously and beautifully adorned a mascarpone tart with nectarines, while Divya made multigrain pancakes on my stove that--minutes later--would fill the apartment with insidious smoke. (No fault of anyone! My stove just doesn't have a hood.) Luckily we survived intact; my smoke alarm, however, did not. I certainly plan on having a food gathering again; despite my studio's limited capacity (which I plan on testing quite thoroughly one of these days) and dangerous of near asphyxiation, we had a lovely time. There's nothing like good friends and good food in a warm kitchen. And the tart--oh, the tart! That tart deserves its own post.
But it is with this picture that I close my post today:
I think this is my favorite one. It's a loaf of bread, the first successful one I've ever made. My first attempt was actually years ago in one of those bread machines, and it turned out bland, unpromising, and above all, empty.
Bread, my friends, should never taste empty.
The bread pictured above, however, was everything but empty. It was sweet, soft. It had the texture you hope for from a white bread, substantial and pliant with a gentle crumb. It was golden in color and cream-like in taste, with a hint of warm sweetness from the maple syrup. In short, it was a lovely first bread to bake in a new city that, while having a vibrant food scene, also offers you the pleasure of standing in a kitchen, watching as you take in the peace and sweetness of slowly rising dough.
Maple White Bread
makes 1 loaf
● 1 cup milk
● 1/4 cup maple syrup
● 4 tbsp. sweet butter
● 1 tsp. salt
● 1 package active dry yeast
● 1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
● 1 tsp. sugar or maple sugar
● 1 egg beaten
● 4 cups (approximately) unbleached all-purpose flour
1. Place milk, maple syrup, butter and salt in a saucepan and scald. Allow to cool to lukewarm.
2. Dissolve yeast in warm water along with the sugar. Set aside for five minutes until the mixture becomes frothy. Transfer the milk mixture to a large bowl, stir in the yeast mixture and then stir in the egg.
3. Stir in two cups of the flour. Then add more flour about one-half cup at a time until a ball of dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for about eight minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Place dough in an oiled bowl, turn the dough to oil on all sides, cover lightly and set aside to rise until doubled, about an hour.
4. Punch down dough, turn onto a lightly floured board and knead for another minute or so. Roll dough into a rectangle about nine by 12 inches, then roll tightly, jellyroll fashion, starting from the narrow side. Pinch the seam and ends closed. Fit the dough seam side down into a greased 9-by-5-by-3-inch baking pan.
5. Cover and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place bread in the oven and bake about 45 minutes, until well browned. Remove from pan and allow to cool freely on a rack before slicing.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
The reorganization involves thinking spherically (in every direction), but as a sphere without a center. An unthinkable object. A puffed-up rhizome crisp. It has to do with cathecting to everything and everyone without stopping to think why or how--a wild, endless desiring that cannot be measured except in the moment. It's the first-year-of-the-rest-of-your-life syndrome, you see. Some might even say it's healthy, productive and nutritive in a schizoid way. Some might call it neurotic. I'm banking on both, putting a lot of faith in the power of the tranformative...and hey, all good academics have their neuroses, right?
Unfortunately, the Great Shift also implicates the ontology of this space. It can no longer remain purely foodie (I know! sorry!) and it might also lose its image-density (double sorry!) It may even change colors. My hope is that this will become another space of thought for me--loosen up a little, you know?--and help me through this dense jungle of ideas and the search for intellectual kinship. This doesn't mean I've given up food as a major theme--I'm not that deluded; the aliens haven't eaten and automaton-ed me yet--but it will mean that from time to time ginger roots will nudge up against rhizomatics, pork chops will come to terms with conceptions of the animal, kitchen burns and knife wounds will find companionship with the inexorable necessity of History (for after all, "History is what hurts") and the notion of a homemade life will find itself confronted with the deeply sad, deeply unsettling notion of homelessness and alienation in our modern age.
And we're off!
Thursday, September 3, 2009
When summer time is over and school time sets in, what better go-to, quick-and-easy dinner do we have than homemade pizza? I've heard it's the new thing, prompting an outbreak of gourmand pizzerias--but I guess I just haven't caught on to the trend of going out for pizza, not when you can make such scrumptious versions at home for super-cheap. You can find ready-made dough in the supermarket fairly easily (I like Whole Foods' whole-wheat variety, for under $2!), and what you put on it is up to you.
The first pizza pictured was a mixture of dried figs, Gorgonzola, bacon and caramelized onions. (Hold on, don't rush to the kitchen quite yet!) Pictured above is a delectable white pizza, made with ricotta, mozzarella, a sprinkling of Parmesan, fresh tomatoes and garlic-sautéed spinach. I've also made a great mushroom pizza with onions, Fontina and rosemary--although I don't have a picture for that, I can assure you it is so good. And of course there's the classic Margherita, a revelation when, in the confines of your own kitchen, you can douse that baby with as much mozzarella and basil as you want. You don't need a pizza stone. I usually sprinkle a foil-covered baking tray with cornmeal and slap the dough right on top. Just be sure to crank your oven as high as it will go, unless otherwise directed; the pizzas will bake and bubble merrily for around 12-15 minutes before your judgment (or impatience, for me) deems it done. Oh, and a drizzle of olive oil and light crackling of salt pepper doesn't hurt either.
Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Figs, Bacon and Blue Cheese
from The New York Times
● large onion
● 2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
● 2 bay leaves
● Kosher salt
● 4 thick slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch thick batons
● 1 ball pizza dough (see above)
● Flour, for dusting surface
● 12 dried mission figs, stems trimmed, cut into quarters or small pieces
● 3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola
● Extra-virgin olive oil, to drizzle
● Freshly cracked black pepper.
1. At least 45 minutes before cooking, preheat the oven and pizza stone to 550 degrees.
2. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the onions, thyme and bay leaves. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until the onions begin to wilt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened and turn a deep, golden brown, about 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the bay leaves and transfer the onions to a small bowl.
3. Place the bacon in the pan and set over high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and crispy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a small bowl.
White Pizza, very casual:
(Ingredients: ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, spinach, tomato, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper)
Put a glug of olive oil in a pan and heat to medium. Add some garlic and stir until fragrant. Sauté a whole lot of spinach in this mixture until cooked down, and drain off excess liquid. Cut up the tomato in a medium dice. Open cheese containers, and assemble at will. Just before sliding in the oven, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with light hand of salt and a liberal hand of pepper.
Wild Mushroom Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Fontina, and Rosemary
● 7 tbsp. butter, divided (I used less--you don't need 3 Tbsp of butter to caramelize onions)
● 2 tbsp. plus 1 teaspoon grapeseed oil (I just used olive oil)
● 3 onions, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise (about 6 cups)
● 2 lb. assorted wild mushrooms (such as crimini, oyster, chanterelle, and stemmed shiitake), cut into bite-size pieces
● 6 garlic cloves, minced
● 2 tbsp. minced shallot (about 1 medium)
● 2 cups dry white wine
● 1 tbsp. minced fresh rosemary
● Pizza Dough
● Cornmeal (for dusting)
● Garlic oil
● 3 cups grated Fontina cheese (about 10 ounces)
Melt 3 tablespoons butter with 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until golden, about 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter with 1 teaspoon grapeseed oil in another heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, garlic, and shallot. Sauté 4 minutes. Add wine and simmer until almost all liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently, about 13 minutes. Add rosemary; season with salt and pepper.
Position rack in bottom third of oven. Place heavy 17x11-inch baking sheet on rack (invert if rimmed). Preheat oven to 500°F at least 30 minutes before baking. Roll out 2 dough disks on lightly floured surface to 8-inch rounds, allowing dough to rest a few minutes if it springs back. Sprinkle another baking sheet (invert if rimmed) with cornmeal. Transfer 1 dough round to second baking sheet. Lightly brush dough with garlic oil. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup cheese. Scatter 2 1/2 tablespoons onions over cheese. Scatter 1/2 cup mushrooms over onions. Sprinkle with salt.
Position baking sheet with pizza at far edge of 1 side of hot baking sheet. Tilt sheet and pull back slowly, allowing pizza to slide onto hot sheet. Repeat with second dough disk, garlic oil, cheese, onions, mushrooms, and salt, and slide second pizza onto second half of hot baking sheet. Bake pizzas 6 minutes. Rotate pizzas half a turn. Bake until crust is deep brown, about 6 minutes longer. Using large spatula, carefully transfer pizzas to cutting board. Let rest 1 minute. Slice into wedges and serve. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
As a tomato-hating child, I was never a huge fan of salsa or--perhaps more shockingly--its distant cousin, ketchup. In terms of salsa, I routinely found it watery, toned down and tinny, preferring my food plain rather than subject it to a demoralizing (and soggy-making) dip. Granted, this was the twist-and-pour canned variety. But even though Cook's Illustrated assures me there's at least one acceptable brand one can buy (Pace Chunky, I believe, at least in 2007), I for one need more convincing.
(And don't even get me started on ketchup. Blegh. It's where tomatoes go to die a sickly, cloying death.)
On the salsa issue, however, I duly stand corrected. First of all, I discovered how easy it is to make your own (and how delicious tomatoes are when in season!) Secondly, I realized that not all salsas have to be tomato-based. These two revelations, my friends, have made all the difference. Thus today I'd like to share with you two delicious salsas: the first, a simple tomato; the second, a cantaloupe and red onion variety. The tomato one is just gorgeous--translucent and Two very different tastes, each delightful in its own way. O salsa! I have to admit you're growing on me.
And as for ketchup? Eh. Check back with me later.
Fresh Tomato Salsa
lightly adapted from Epicurious.com
2 lb. red and/or orange tomatoes (about 5 medium)
2 fresh chiles (I omitted this)
1/4 medium onion (white)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lime juice
Quarter and seed tomatoes. Cut tomatoes into 1/4-inch dice and transfer to a bowl. Wearing rubber gloves, seed and finely chop chiles if using. Finely chop onion and cilantro. Stir chiles, onion, cilantro, and garlic into tomatoes with sugar and lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Salsa may be made 1 hour ahead and kept at cool room temperature. I like to pour off most of the excess water for a fuller texture, but salsa fiends may hotly debate that point.
This originally was paired with a grilled flank steak (a delicious pairing), but you could also serve it alongside chicken or fish to great effect. It's also lovely served in the hollowed out half of a used melon.
1 large cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and diced (or scooped out in large pieces)
1 medium red onion, diced
1 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
2 tbsp. white balsamic (or cider) vinegar (can also use plain balsamic)
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Toss in bowl. (And if you want enough to serve with your dinner, hide your spoons.) Canteloupe was especially nice in terms of color and flavor, but you could also use any other variety of fleshed melon, such as honeydew.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
(Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, Act IV, Scene 2)
—What I had in mind was actually Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, which weaves the allusion throughout the text on some summery June morning. “(June had drawn out every leaf on the trees. […] Arlington Street and Piccadilly seemed to chafe the very air in the Park and lift its leaves hotly, brilliantly, on waves of that divine vitality which Clarissa loved. To dance, to ride, she had adored all that.)”
While the details don’t exactly match up—it’s been quite a rainy Massachusetts July—I’d say we can’t really complain. For the summer is upon us, and the farmer’s markets are abloom with color. Peaches, plums, zucchini, fresh herbs of all sorts—we find ourselves in great abundance. There’s nowhere quite like the Valley, is there?
Geoff and I bought a cute little Weber grill off Craigslist, and have been regaling ourselves ever since with burgers, bratwurst, sweet corn and grilled Vidalia onions. And after that? A dessert, of course, with lightly poached summer fruits and softly whipped cream. These two recipes below are variations on the same theme, one grilled and one poached. Now, I assure you that they’re tried and true—but, as Lamar Burton suggestively winks on “Reading Rainbow,” you don’t have to take my word for it.
Poached Stone Fruits with Mascarpone
2 c water
1 c sugar
1 vanilla bean (or vanilla extract)
1 sprig of thyme
8 oz mascarpone at room temperature
3 tbl powdered sugar
Cut fruits in half and spoon out the pit.
In a saucepan on medium heat, combine water, sugar, vanilla bean (or ½ to 1 tsp vanilla) and thyme. Stir until sugar dissolves. Add enough fruit to the pan to have a single layer floating at the top. You will have to poach in batches. Apricots will take 4-5 minutes. Plums will take 8-9 minutes. You want to be able to pierce the fruit with a pairing knife with little resistance. The already poached fruit can wait in a baking dish flesh side down, while you finish the rest. When all the fruit has been cooked, pour enough liquid to cover half way. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely chilled. Reserve the vanilla bean, if using.
Place the mascarpone in a bowl with the powdered sugar. Split the vanilla bean down the center and scrape out the seeds (or add ½ to 1 tsp vanilla extract.) Combine with a whisk. Serve both types of stone fruit with a dollop of the vanilla mascarpone and a little of the poaching liquid poured over top.
Grilled Peaches with Thyme and Vanilla Sugar:
Cut peaches (or plums, or necatrines) in half and spoon out the pit. Spoon a bit of sugar in their centers and sprinkle with fresh thyme. Place them cut side down on the grill, and cook until fruit is tender and grill-marked. Serve with a dollop of sweetened, vanilla-laced whipped cream, mascarpone, yogurt or ricotta—although they will probably be sweet enough already.
(And if you're eating outdoors, mind the slugs!)
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
wallaby maple yogurt
roast chicken with rosemary and garlic
banana bread with honey
butterscotch pots de crème
the great unshrinkable sweet tart shell
alice waters' apple tart
mary jo's pecan pie
chinese roast pork
rice in lotus leaf
roasted brussel sprouts
hell's kitchen lemon ricotta hotcakes
apples and brie
sweetened ricotta with fruit
homemade tomato sauce
three-layer peppermint bark
broccoli rabe with sausage (post coming soon!)
in the works, on my mind:
frisée aux lardons: warm curly endive with pancetta and egg
artichokes with warm butter
brown sugar, brown butter
pecans, pine nuts, walnuts
chives, rosemary, basil, cilantro
what are yours?
Monday, April 20, 2009
And it's funny how unremarkable a day it was, really. It wasn't particularly sunny and gorgeous; on the contrary, the sky was slightly overcast and there was a damp chill in the air. I didn't have the day off from work, eat anything overly memorable, have any prophetic dreams. But I somehow awoke with a feeling of incipient goodness, promises of intellectual and personal nourishment afforded by graduate school, Philadelphia, a particular loved one nearer by than ever--and before all that, a glorious summer reading, being a yogi, and frequenting all the farmers' market stands I can find. (Oh, farmers' markets! I'm especially looking forward to those...)
I don't have too much for you tonight in terms of recipes and food-related anecdotes, but I do have a collection of photographs that, in looking back over the last month of travelling, showed me that while I mostly put culinary arts on the backburner, they were never too far from my mind. Enjoy.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
From West to East, city to countryside, the decision process is one long act of imagination and endurance. And with all of this travelling, it's useful to have travelling food, something easily transportable, nourishing and encouraging. My mother called it "Emergency Food," tucking a bar of chocolate or a banana into my backpack "just in case", and although I groaned at the time, I secretly cherished the idea and enjoyed the snack. This time around is no different: whether Pink Lady apples at Emory, peanut butter sandwiches at Yale, or tangelos at Columbia, I find the food I bring marvelously and magically sustaining--and often just at the moment I need it most.
And I've discovered another type of morale-boosting travelling food: the "Thank-You-For-Hosting-Me-in-a-Strange-Land Food," otherwise known as the host(ess) gift. So far I've done banana bread and store-bought chocolate, but as the upcoming trip encompasses four stops, I may require something both a bit more durable and economical. What to do? Ah!...
Smitten Kitchen's Almond Biscotti
serves several kind hosts (and, from time to time, one weary traveller)
Biscotti are magnificently easy, a good blend of delightful (cookies!) and sophisticated (grown-up cookies!). These are no exception. They're fragrant and golden with a nose of orange, almond and vanilla--a gift, in other words, that magically makes friends wherever you go. Note: I didn't have the orange liqueur, so I just substituted the juice from the zested orange.
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/3 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. Grand Marnier or orange liqueur, or 2 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp. orange zest
1 cup whole almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped or sliced almonds
1 large egg white
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl. Mix sugar, melted butter, 3 eggs, vanilla extract, orange juice and zest in large bowl. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir with wooden spoon until well blended. Mix in almonds.
Divide dough in half. Using floured hands, shape each dough half into 13 1/2-inch-long, 2 1/2-inch-wide log. Transfer both logs to prepared baking sheet, spacing apart. Whisk egg white in small bowl until foamy; brush over top and sides of each dough log.
Bake logs until golden brown (logs will spread), about 30 minutes. Cool logs completely on sheet on rack, about 25 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.
Transfer logs to work surface; discard parchment paper. Using serrated knife, cut logs on diagonal into 1/2-inch-wide slices. Arrange slices, cut side down, on same baking sheet. Bake 12 minutes. Turn biscotti over; bake until just beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool.
Can be prepared 1 week ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature (or wrapped up with a bow, to be shared wherever.)
I am also on the market for other delightful biscotti recipes. Please post if you have one! Thank you, and enjoy!
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
This month, as I've told you, has been one of heartwarming, simple foods. And while that often translates into super easy dinners of beans and rice, roasted cod with parsley and lima beans, and this amazing shrimp and broccoli, it has also meant a well-timed foray into granola land.
So simple, and so sweet; what a perfect recipe for these cold winter days! What I love best about making granola is that step you never see as you grab a bag off the shelf--the delightful step of transferring the pan into your oven, then sitting down to read a book while the room slowly fills with perfumes of cinnamon, oats and brown sugar, and then that faint but unmistakable scent of warm honey. Beautiful. Try it today.
adapted from "Baked: New Frontiers in Baking" by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, and first found here on the Amateur Gourmet
I adapted this recipe a tad, substituting diced dried apricots for the raisins and cranberries for the cherries, which yielded a delightful combination. I also like a more even texture of granola, so I roughly chopped the hazelnuts and almonds. Most important, however, was the change in salt: using 1/2 tsp made the granola way too salty for my taste, so I would recommend using 1/4 tsp or perhaps even less. (But to each her own!)
2 cups rolled oats
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. (or less) salt
3 tbsp. plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1/3 cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1/3 cup dried apricots, diced
1/3 cup dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, toss the oats with the cinnamon and salt. In a medium bowl, stir together the oil, honey, brown sugar, and vanilla. Whisk until completely combined.
Pour the honey mixture over the oats mixture and use your hands to combine them: Gather up some of the mixture in each hand and make a fist. Repeat until all of the oats are coated with the honey mixture.
Pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Spread it out evenly, but leave a few clumps here and there for texture.
Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and use a metal spatula to lift and flip the granola. Sprinkle the almonds over the granola and return the baking sheet to the oven.
Bake for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven and use a metal spatula to lift and flip the granola. Sprinkle the hazelnuts over the granola and return the baking sheet to the oven.
Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven. Let cool completely. Sprinkle the raisins and cherries over the granola and use your hands to transfer it to an airtight container.
The granola will keep for 1 week.
Note: you can really put type of nut or dried fruit in this granola; I imagine it would be quite tasty with walnuts or with a tad ginger or nutmeg, maybe even with chopped up chocolate added at the very end. But whatever you do, do try the hazelnuts; they made the whole thing out of this world.
Monday, February 9, 2009
For me, this month has been all about simple sustenance and sustainable simplicity.
Allow me to explain. I am, at the moment, awaiting graduate school decisions on my application. O, intolerable suspension! O awful anticipation! Call it what you will--I myself find it particularly Kafkaesque--it's driving me quite mad.
So while January might have been a month of fabulously complex and ambitious meals (i.e., fruit tart, beet and watercress salad, tuna niçoise platter), my February food attitude--fooditude?--is shaping up to be more calm, composed, full of clean lines and soothing flavors. Don't give me worrisome, finicky recipes that demand my full concern; give me collections of simple, nourishing gestures. Give me yogurt with brown sugar, honey roasted carrots, fish in foil by lamplight and the Big Chill soundtrack. Give me...
Give me maple milk.
inspired by the Montague Book Mill (pictures below)
The epitome of simplicity and nourishment.
Equally enjoyable in a mug or a tall, clear glass.
glass of cool milk
pure maple syrup
Pour desired amount of syrup in the bottom of the glass. Fill with milk.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Here, dear readers, is one to add to your queue.
It's one of those desserts you see in the bakery window, sitting in a glorious halo of golden goodness. This tart has it all: an endearingly sincere cookie-like crust, a cream the stuff heaven is made of, and to top it off, a jewel-like array of fruit that nods and beckons you closer, as you brush your fingertips ever so softly across the glass. Ethereally beautiful and yet elegant in its simplicity, it's also easy enough to make at home--and the result is stunning. We'll take it step-wise (crust, cream, fruit), the recipes following.
First, make and fully bake the crust. I used Deb's "great unshrinkable sweet tart shell" for the base, which is by far the best recipe I've found all year. I skip the wrapping, chilling, and rolling bit and go right for the press-all-of-it-into-a-pan-even-though-it-looks-like-sand method. It works. Trust me (and the last comment, that reads "Not only doesn’t this shrink, it also can be dropped after baking...scraped up, pieced and pressed back into the tart pan, and baked for a few more “please hold together” minutes")...it works. It comes out golden and tastes of the most marvelous crumbly sweet tart base you've ever tried, ever.
Second, make and chill the cream. I used Ina Garten's recipe for pastry cream and it turned out pretty well. However, for some reason (ahem, a bad pan) it cooked quite quickly, a full 4 minutes ahead of Ina's schedule, and caramelized on the bottom so that the cream ended up tasting of caramel, almost of creme brulee. (Desperate times called for delicious measures: I decided to top it with bananas, which complemented the caramel custard quite well. See below.)
Lastly, top with fruit. This is the best part, of course. Whether your approach is one of precise geometry or casual arranging, this step is full of delight--that breathless moment in front of a brand-new coloring book, with a fresh stash of crayons by your side. Will you go berry or citrus? monochrome or rainbow? seasonal or flamboyantly anachronistic? Take your pick. Small, colorful berries are often an easy but expensive go-to; I think thin slices of kiwi, oranges, even lemons and limes would be very striking, and of course stone fruit would make a lovely complement to the vanilla cream. Bananas went very well with my accidentally caramelized custard; the flavor is pretty overpowering, though, so use them with caution unless you want something tasting of banana cream pie.
Fresh Fruit Tart, piecemeal:
1. Sweet Tart Crust
Makes enough for one 9-inch tart crust
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
- Pulse the flour, sugar and salt together in the bowl of a food processor. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in. (You’re looking for some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas.) Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses–about 10 seconds each–until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change–heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
- Press the dough in as soon as it is processed: Press it evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the tart shell. You want to press hard enough that the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that it loses its crumbly texture. (And then prick it all over with a fork. -KR)
- Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
- To fully bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil (or use nonstick foil) and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. And here is the very best part: Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes.
- 5. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake the crust about 10 minutes longer, or until it is firm and golden brown, brown being the important word: a pale crust doesn’t have a lot of flavor. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature, and proceed with the rest of your recipe.
Do ahead: The dough can be wrapped and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months. While the fully baked crust can be packed airtight and frozen for up to 2 months, the flavor will be fresher bake it directly from the freezer, already rolled out.
2. Pastry Cream
by Ina Garten
(note: This yields 2 1/2 cups, which Ina says is enough for two tarts. As I use a slightly deeper quiche pan for my tarts, I found the amount of cream fit quite comfortably in one, with a small amount leftover.)
6 extra large egg yolks (at room temperature)
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2 cups milk
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp brandy or cognac (I omitted this.)
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is light yellow and falls back into the bowl in a ribbon.On low speed, beat in the cornstarch.
- Bring the milk to a boil in a large saucepan.
- With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the milk into the egg mixture. Pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick, about 10 minutes. Bring to a boil and cook on low heat 2-3 minutes more. Taste to be sure the cornstarch is cooked. Remove from heat.
- Mix in butter, vanilla, cream, and cognac (or brandy). Strain into a bowl.
- Place plastic wrap directly on the custard surface and refrigerate until cold.
Friday, January 23, 2009
(That sentence, by the way, should be pronounced with an emphasis upon every word, slow and punctuated with no small sense of gravity. Let's try again.)
I love cake.
(Yes. Very good.)
Whether dense and bready like a cornmeal cake, or an airy layered confection cool from the fridge, I have since childhood conducted a long and sustained love affair with anything taking cake form. Cakes can be comfortable, impressive, assuring, sublime; they make the most lovely gifts on any occasion, but are equally enjoyable lifted silently in the night, cut off sliver by innocent sliver.
This particular cake is a knock-out. Though it reads like a carrot cake, it also asserts itself a bit beyond the paradigm with its subtle pear taste and sophisticated frosting made with lemon and honey. And it's easy. So very, very easy.
Pear Cake with Lemon-Honey Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from epicurious.com
For the cake:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/3 cup whole milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups coarsely grated peeled Bosc pears (from about 3 pounds), well drained
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped
For the frosting:
1 package cream cheese (here's where you could use more; the recipe cut off so I wasn't sure)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. grated lemon peel
3/4 cup honey
For cake: Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and spices in large bowl. Make well in center of flour mixture. Add oil, eggs, milk and vanilla; whisk just until evenly moistened. Fold in pears and nuts; divide between pans.
Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks.
For frosting: Beat cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and lemon peel in large bowl until fluffy. Add honey and beat until smooth. If frosting is very soft, chill until firm enough to spread.
Cut around cakes; turn out of pans.* Place 1 cake layer, flat side up, on platter. Spread with 1 cup frosting. Top with second layer, flat side down. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake.
*or if you're like me and only have pie pans, turn it out of the pan and then cut each layer into a more circular shape, using the base of the pie as your guide. This yields a smaller, but arguably more endearing cake. The best part about this is your leftover scraps, which you can frost:
...and then eat for yourself. It's the gift that keeps on giving!
Thursday, January 15, 2009
And the best part about green goddess dressing is that you can use any herbs you want. My version uses parsley, tarragon, and chives; I've also seen it done with dill, basil, and probably any combination you desire. Add a green onion and a tad vinegar, and you're golden...oops!...green.
Green Goddess Dressing
adapted from Gourmet, March 2002
Although I'm not one for major substitutions, I took one look at the original recipe and thought surely one can substitute something for that whole cup of mayonnaise. So I tried using half a cup plain yogurt and a half cup mayo, and ended up liking it very much: it was a bit tangy, not as thick, and overall deemed a good decision. I also upped the amount of herbs, as I like my dressing intensely aromatic.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 anchovy fillets, minced (optional)
1 chopped scallion
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon tarragon (or white wine) vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Purée all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and pour into a small bowl nestled amongst an array of vegetables. My favorites are asparagus, snow peas, beans, carrots, celery and cucumbers; I usually blanch* the first four.
*On blanching: Bring a pot of water to boil and liberally salt. Cook vegetables in like batches until crisp-tender, about 3-5 minutes (depending on the vegetable.) When finished, "shock" them in a bowl of ice water in order to preserve freshness and color.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Growing up, I never had a strong aversion to Brussels sprouts. Perhaps it's because I hardly encountered them, and if I did have that sickly, limp, overly bitter version remembered and reviled by so many people, I must have conveniently blocked it from my mind. (Lima beans, however, are a different story.)
So when I first found this dish featured on Smitten Kitchen, I was happy to find a recipe for Brussels sprouts, period. Little did I know that it would transform the lowly, oft-dismissed sprout into a golden god in the minds of all who ate it, especially those reliving the childhood trauma of sitting down to these mini cabbages. And oh, am I glad I found it. They come out warm and welcoming, their beautiful browned flavor accented by roasted pine nuts. The garlic flavor does not overwhelm the dish, but rather serves as a mellow undertone. We scooped them up with expressions of delight--partially, of course, because we were eating brussels sprouts (ew? never!), but more, I think, because these were just simply divine.
Pan Browned Brussels Sprouts
adapted from epicurious.com
1/2 lb Brussels sprouts
2 large garlic cloves (I used 1)
1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp pine nuts
Trim Brussels sprouts and halve lengthwise. Cut garlic into very thin slices. In a 10-inch heavy skillet (preferably well-seasoned cast iron) melt 1 tablespoon butter with oil over moderate heat and cook garlic, stirring, until pale golden. Transfer garlic with a slotted spoon to a small bowl. Reduce heat to low and arrange sprouts in skillet, cut sides down, in one layer. Sprinkle sprouts with pine nuts and salt to taste. Cook sprouts, without turning, until crisp-tender and undersides are golden brown, about 15 minutes.
With tongs transfer sprouts to a plate, browned sides up. Add garlic and remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter to skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until pine nuts are more evenly pale golden, about 1 minute. Spoon mixture over sprouts and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.
Monday, January 12, 2009
It is already well-established that I love Virginia Woolf. I love her
irony, her whimsy, her luminous sentences; I even love her habitual use of
the semi-colon. But one thing that often goes overlooked--a thing, I
confess, of which I am overly fond--is her generous descriptions of food.
Take, for example, the following bit from "A Room of One's Own":
It is a curious fact that novelists have a way of making us believe that
luncheon parties are invariably memorable for something very witty that
was said, or for something very wise that was done. But they seldom
spare a word for what was eaten. It is part of the novelist's convention
not to mention soup and salmon and ducklings, as if soup and salmon and
ducklings were of no importance whatsoever, as if nobody ever smoked a
cigar or drank a glass of wine. Here, however, I shall take the liberty
to defy that convention and to tell you that the lunch on this occasion
began with soles, sunk in a deep dish, over which the college cook had
spread a counterpane of the whitest cream, save that it was branded here
and there with brown spots like the spots on the flanks of a doe. After
that came the partridges, but if this suggests a couple of bald, brown
birds on a plate you are mistaken. The partridges, many and various,
came with all their retinue of sauces and salads, the sharp and the
sweet, each in its order; their potatoes, thin as coins but not so hard;
their sprouts, foliated as rosebuds but more succulent. And no sooner
had the roast and its retinue been done with than the silent servingman,
the Beadle himself perhaps in a milder manifestation, set before us,
wreathed in napkins, a confection which rose all sugar from the waves.
To call it pudding and so relate it to rice and tapioca would be an
insult. Meanwhile the wineglasses had flushed yellow and flushed
crimson; had been emptied; had been filled. And thus by degrees was lit,
half-way down the spine, which is the seat of the soul, not that hard
little electric light which we call brilliance, as it pops in and out
upon our lips, but the more profound, subtle and subterranean glow which
is the rich yellow flame of rational intercourse. No need to hurry. No
need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself. We are all going to
heaven and Vandyck is of the company--in other words, how good life
seemed, how sweet its rewards, how trivial this grudge or that
grievance, how admirable friendship and the society of one's kind, as,
lighting a good cigarette, one sunk among the cushions in the
This all, of course, serves as an elaborate analogy for the varying states
of men's and women's colleges; she later goes on to describe a more stodgy
dinner at Fernham, the women's college, in which she is served more homely
fare ("biscuits and cheese came next, and here the water-jug was liberally
passed round, for it is the nature of biscuits to be dry, and these were
biscuits to the core"). I applaud her move here; the feminist, certainly,
and especially the culinary. I like a woman who takes her food seriously
and writes about it beautifully and in such a compelling fashion
(partridges, many and various!)
It is precisely in this spirit that I begin this food blog. Although I may
not be up to the whole retinue of sauces to go with the partridges (many,
various) nor the sprouts foliated as rosebuds (but more succulent), I
promise you that like Virginia Woolf, in my kitchen at least I will overlook
all the witty things said and wise things done, and focus on the more
important aspect of breakfast, lunch, and dinner--what was eaten.