For the last 4 years, I’ve been in a book club with about 5 friends. The members have shifted slightly, with a couple people leaving and returning because of school or other commitments, but the core group has been meeting every few months since spring of 2008. We’ve focused on classic literature for the most part, but have also sprinkled in some sci-fi, current fiction, children’s literature, and will soon add a graphic novel to our list.
I always look forward to our meetings, which combine spirited and sharp but unpretentious discussion of the books with wine, friendly company, and typically some good snacks! Sometimes we meet at a restaurant or café, but more often we meet at someone’s house. The last meeting was at Ian & Michelle’s, and Ian had made profiteroles with caramel sauce; the one before that was at Sarah’s and we had smoky, marinated grilled shrimp and other goodies. See what I mean?
Last weekend it was my turn to host. I wasn’t sure what to make because the meeting was at an odd time of day (1pm); I didn’t know if people would have just eaten lunch, or if I should plan to serve a light lunch. A serendipitous combination of eggs on sale plus a small piece of smoked salmon led me to this combination, a variation on some tuna-stuffed deviled eggs I did last year (those were good, but I have to say these were way better). The eggs were on sale because they were a little older- i.e., perfect for hard-boiling (less fresh eggs are much easier to peel). The salmon was too small a piece to serve on its own, but a perfect size to lend its flavor to the egg filling. Add some crème fraîche, capers and shallot or red onion and you’re in business.
I also put out a salad of equal parts roasted squash and beets dressed with lemon juice, shallots, feta and parsley. Super simple but beautiful to look at, and a great flavor combination, the sharpness of the shallot and lemon balancing the sugar-sweet beets and squash. With a couple other contributions from my guests, it ended up being a nice little spread. Food was noshed, wine and tea were sipped, and art history books were consulted as we tried to find images that corresponded to the culture the book was about (we had read Things Fall Apart, about the Igbo people in Nigeria at the start of colonialism). Continue reading
It seems as though charcuterie has officially reached an apotheosis- the food world has been incessantly abuzz of late about all things cured, smoked, salted and brined (to the chagrin of some and the delight of others). Although several adventurous food bloggers like Matt Wright and Hank Shaw have been dabbling in meat curing for some time now, things recently reached a fever pitch in the blogging world and on Twitter with the advent of Charcutepalooza, a challenge in which a different type of curing technique is explored each month.
I missed the first challenge, duck prosciutto, but was told that I could “make it up” at a later date (as I write this, the duck is hanging in my basement pantry). The second challenge was something that my friend Kim has been making for a while now, home-cured bacon. I decided to go for it, so I hit up the Bucu family’s stand at Eastern Market and had this gentleman hack me off a 5-lb piece of pork belly.
The cure was simple- just salt, pepper, aromatics and pink (curing) salt, rubbed on the belly and left to work its magic for a week. The belly was then rinsed, patted dry and put in a 200° oven until it reached an internal temp of 150°. This stage was the only “problem” I had with the recipe- it stated to cook for 90 minutes or a temp of 150°, and it took me over 2 hours to reach that temperature, unless my thermometer is really off. But I figured it was better to err on the side of overcooking than undercooking.
As Charcuterie guru Michael Ruhlman suggested in his blog post on bacon, I went ahead and fried up a small piece as soon as it was done (well, after I removed the skin… I’m a pretty die-hard meat lover, but seeing nipples on my bacon was a little freaky). It was saltier than commercial bacon, but I figured that might have been due to it being an end piece.
In the past couple weeks, we have eaten the bacon on its own and incorporated it into several dishes such as Cuban-style black beans and this venison & porcini ragú. Since it’s not smoked, it’s a great stand-in for pancetta. I also made the French bistro classic frisée aux lardons, a salad composed of bitter frisée (a green in the endive family) tossed with vinaigrette, fried cubes of unsmoked bacon (lardons), and topped with a poached egg. There are versions that don’t use the egg, but to my mind it’s the best part, and really makes it a meal. The store Marvin went to didn’t have frisée so we had to use curly endive (possibly the same plant but more mature?), but it was a suitable stand-in. The salad with a glass of Beaujolais and a nibble of Roquefort was a pretty perfect Sunday afternoon lunch.
Frisée aux Lardons
serves two; recipe can be multiplied to serve more
2 small heads of frisée, washed, cored and torn into pieces
3 Tbs sherry vinegar or good quality red wine vinegar
about 3 oz. unsmoked slab bacon, cut into ½-inch batons
1 shallot, peeled and minced
1-2 Tbs olive oil as needed
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
optional if you have on hand: 1 Tbs minced fresh herbs such as parsley, chervil or chives
Notes: This salad is great with homemade croutons if you’re so inclined. Add them when you toss the salad so they absorb a bit of the dressing. Also, oil & vinegar amounts are a starting point and will vary according to your volume of salad and how lightly or heavily dressed you like things. Please adjust as needed! Last but not least, although I encourage you all to cure your own bacon now that I know how easy it is, you can substitute cut-up strips of regular bacon and have a less traditional but still delicious salad.
Wash and spin-dry the frisée and place in a bowl large enough to toss. Bring a small pot of water to the boil and briefly blanch the lardons; drain. Heat a small skillet and fry the lardons over medium heat until they begin to brown and render some of their fat. Add the shallot and cook until softened. Stir in the vinegar and deglaze any brown bits from the skillet. Remove from heat. Whisk in olive oil to taste until the dressing tastes balanced (this will depend how much fat was rendered from the lardons). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Fill a medium-sized pan halfway with water and bring to a bare simmer. While waiting for the water, toss the salad with the dressing. Taste and tweak as needed with additional oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Distribute onto two plates or shallow bowls. (A note here for people like myself with ADD tendencies: poached eggs wait for no one, so make sure to have the table, drinks etc. ready when you put the eggs in.) Poach the eggs for four minutes, until the whites are set but the yolks remain runny. Retrieve the eggs with a slotted spoon, gently shaking off as much water as possible. Place an egg on each salad and garnish with the herbs, if using. Serve immediately.
Hey there. Just a friendly warning, if you’re here for the recipe you may want to scroll down; the following may not be of interest to many of you, and that’s fine, but it’s something I felt I needed to write.
I had a post all written and ready about how my friend had this great sherry-tasting party last month, with all of this amazing Spanish food, lively conversation, etc. but I had this nagging feeling and it just didn’t feel right to post it. Although the party was beyond lovely and I had a great time, the evening was marred by the fact that I completely and totally flaked out on a good friend. I was supposed to text her the address of the party, and even after having said out loud to my brother as we were walking in the building that I needed to do just that, a few seconds later I was distracted by a conversation and the thought left my mind. I then proceeded to leave my phone in my coat pocket in the bedroom all night, so I didn’t hear any of my friend’s calls or texts. To make matters worse, she had already driven over 20 miles and was in a bar nearby awaiting contact from me.
Of course, as soon as we walked out of the building to leave the party, it triggered the memory that I was supposed to have contacted her, but by then it was too late. I called and offered frantic apologies, but the damage was done. Of course she felt, as I would have, that it was simply unimportant to me and that my other friends had taken precedence. I was so frustrated- how to explain that that was not the case; that I just hadn’t “pictured” her at the party (she decided to go at the last minute) so it didn’t seem “off” that she wasn’t there? Although it was the truth, it sounded like a lame excuse even to me.
I’ve been doing some research lately to try to understand why my mind works the way it does and why I’m often frustrated by my forgetfulness, inability to be organized or to accomplish certain tasks. I came across the following and it was like reading a summary of my life story: frequently losing things, trouble completing routine or mundane tasks, academic underachiever, short temper, low stress threshold and several other characteristics that were uncomfortably familiar.
These are some of the manifestations of a certain type of ADD. Now, I haven’t been officially diagnosed, but based on a laundry list of symptoms which I won’t bore you with here, it’s exceedingly probable that this is the explanation to years and years of figuratively banging my head against a wall wondering why I couldn’t seem to be motivated to accomplish as much as my peers of similar intelligence and education, why my house is frequently a mess, and why I feel disproportionately stressed out by life’s day-to-day tasks. Apparently it’s common for the condition to go undiagnosed in high-functioning girls/women, because they often don’t exhibit the hyperactivity and disruptive behavior that boys do. Because the hyperactive form of ADHD is so much more prevalent in the general discourse, I never knew that there were different types and it never occurred to me that it could be an explanation.
I couldn’t help but get emotional reading the list of symptoms and feeling this overwhelming sense of recognition, after literally decades of feeling that something was “wrong” with me but not knowing what (Am I just lazy? Why is it so hard for me to be organized? etc). Even my blog posts, which I enjoy, often take me two to three weeks after the fact before I am able to post them, and those of you who are regular readers have probably noticed that I often sound harried or overwhelmed even though I don’t have any kids and have a lifestyle with (relatively) few responsibilities.
Lest this post be a total drag, I did want to share with you this most excellent recipe for Spanish-style deviled eggs that I took to the sherry party. Just about everyone likes deviled eggs, and a couple people at the party said these were the best they’d ever had. They come from a colorful and well-put-together cookbook called The New Spanish Table, and although they’re no more difficult to make than any other deviled eggs, they pack a lot more flavor thanks to the inclusion of tuna and some other goodies.
2011 is going to be a huge year for me with the new house and the wedding, so I’m hoping that getting better informed about this condition will allow me to better manage these seemingly monumental events and enjoy them rather than feel freaked out and stressed. Wish me luck. As for you, I wish you all the best of holidays, and a healthy and happy New Year!
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved lengthwise (I recommend making one or two extra in case you have a couple that don’t peel cleanly)
1 6-oz can tuna in olive oil, tuna drained and flaked
2 Tbs capers, rinsed and drained
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 small or half a large shallot, minced (about 1 heaping Tbs)
2 Tbs mayonnaise
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
piquillo or roasted pepper, cut into thin strips for garnish
handful of chopped parsley
Mash the yolks well in a bowl. Stir in the mayonnaise, lemon juice, shallot and capers until well incorporated. I like to mix the tuna in at the very end so it retains a bit more of its texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mound as much of the filling as possible into the halved egg whites (you may have a bit left over). Garnish each egg with strips of pepper, and scatter the plate with the chopped parsley.
When my friend Youn from Toulouse called me on the eve of an out of town trip asking if he and a friend could come stay for a few days, I said yes even though it was inconvenient, because in my mind I want to be That Kind Of Person- the kind who has an open door policy for weary travelers, who can handle surprise visitors with aplomb, and (most importantly), someone who always has food and drink on hand to whip up an impromptu meal or refreshment for said visitors.
Mind you, this is what I strive for- the reality is somewhat different! Unlike Marvin, who grew up in a household where people were constantly dropping by, we rarely if ever had unannounced visitors. So although I wholeheartedly embrace the concept, I have to make a concerted effort to be prepared for this eventuality; it’s not something that comes naturally to me with my more Germanic upbringing.
As it happened, I had purposely NOT gone shopping that week in an effort to use things up before my trip, and the way things worked out, I had no opportunity to go to the store before picking up my guests. Luckily, Marvin came to the rescue in more ways than one- spending some time with them while I was at work, and taking them to the grocery store so that they could make dinner (Youn’s idea). We invited a couple more friends and Youn made traditional Breton buckwheat crêpes (although he has lived in Toulouse for over 20 years, Youn originally hails from Brittany). My apologies for the somewhat haphazard photos, we were enjoying ourselves and I didn’t feel like stopping to bust out a tripod! The two decent-looking pics are from breakfast the next day, when the light was much better.
Those of you who read this blog regularly may recall that, coincidentally, I just posted about buckwheat crêpes (galettes) a few weeks ago. Curiously, the recipe I was using called for apple cider vinegar in the batter, saying it was authentically Breton, but Youn had never heard of it. Just goes to show that “authentic” is a word that you should take with a grain of salt in the cooking world! He doesn’t even use a recipe, just does everything by feel, but he did give me some measurements so that I could share a recipe. Another interesting thing is that all the recipes I’ve seen call for half buckwheat and half white flour, but he uses all buckwheat which is a bit healthier. I actually preferred the texture and will be making them this way from now on. Last but not least, he uses beer in the crêpe batter instead of the usual milk, making the recipe friendly for the lactose-intolerant. For the vegetarians, there are infinite possibilities for veggie fillings (ratatouille comes to mind).
I like to use up leftovers for crêpe fillings, but obviously there were none, so we made the classic complète- ham, cheese and egg. The egg is fried right on top of the crêpe. Add a little grated cheese and some torn-up pieces of ham and you have a meal. Amanda, who up until this point had claimed a dislike of runny yolk, was converted by the oeuf miroir, so called because the yolk is shiny like a mirror. In addition to the buckwheat crêpes, Youn also made dessert crêpes with finely-diced apple in the batter, which we spread with confiture de cidre (cider jam) and sprinkled with powdered sugar (check out this post for a dessert crêpe recipe). We cooked up more crêpes the next morning for breakfast… miam miam! Next time I hope I’ll be able to spoil my guests instead of the other way around, but I was certainly grateful for the help and the opportunity to get crêpe lessons from a seasoned pro.
Crêpes Complètes à la Youn (Buckwheat Crêpes with Ham, Egg & Cheese)
1 lb buckwheat flour
1 cup beer (a lighter lager-style beer is best)
water- about 2 cups or as needed
1-2 Tbs neutral oil or melted butter
additional butter for spreading on crêpes (optional)
eggs- one for each crêpe you plan to make
thinly-sliced deli ham
Gruyère or Swiss-style cheese, grated
A couple notes: The directions for cooking up the crêpes may sound a bit fussy, but once you get the feel for it, crêpe-making is one of the easiest things in the world. You’ll learn by trial and error how to adjust things like the batter thickness and pan heat to get the results you want. Best of all, crêpe batter is a relatively inexpensive thing, so it’s not the end of the world to have a few failed attempts before hitting your stride. This recipe makes plenty of batter so you have room to screw up and still have enough for dinner! Also bear in mind that this “recipe” is very loose. Feel free to thin the batter with more beer instead of water, or only use 2 eggs, or whatever. Youn says that in Brittany the crêpe shops make their batter using only flour and water, so obviously it’s very flexible!
Place the flour in a bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and place the eggs and oil or butter in it. Gently whisk the eggs with a fork. Slowly pour the beer and 1 cup water into the well a little at a time as you stir, incorporating the flour, until the batter is fully mixed and has no lumps. (Alternately, whiz everything together in the blender.) Add more water a little at a time as needed until batter is the consistency of heavy cream. Let batter rest at least an hour.
Get your eggs, ham and cheese at the ready. Warm your crêpe pan or griddle over medium-high heat until very hot. Smear a bit of butter onto a paper towel and rub it on the pan. Test the heat with a few drops of batter; they should set immediately. Give the batter a couple stirs in case it has started to separate. Wipe the pan clean with the paper towel wad, and then rub it again with butter. Ladle batter onto the center of the hot pan (quantity will depend on your pan’s size) and quickly rotate the pan so it is thinly and completely covered. If there is excess batter (i.e. batter that does not instantly set), pour it back into the bowl. Cook until golden brown on the bottom- a minute or so. You want it to color, but not cook so much that it becomes crispy (although Youn says a little crispiness is OK). At this point, flip it over.
As soon as you flip the crêpe, you can smear it with butter if desired, then crack an egg onto the center. With the back of a spoon or a spatula, gently spread the egg white around the crêpe so it can cook. When the egg white begins to turn opaque, add pieces of the torn-up ham and sprinkle with some shredded cheese. When the cheese has melted, fold in the sides of the crêpe towards the center so it forms a square, and serve. (With this kind of crêpe, there really isn’t a way to serve everyone at once, but from my experience making them to order creates a casual, convivial atmosphere that is fun in and of itself.)
I’m just going to say this: there’s something downright sexy about roasted tomatoes. I think it’s a combination of their concentrated intensity; their meatiness; their blood-red color; their dripping juices. Whatever it is, they just feel somehow decadent and lusty. So does the fact that I bound them into these neat little tarts make me a prude?
Lest you get the wrong impression, I would generally concur that the ideal way to eat roasted tomatoes is warm from the oven, with some good crusty bread and maybe a little cheese alongside. But if you have some left over, these tarts rank a close second. If you’ve never had slow-roasted tomatoes, I beg you to try them. They couldn’t be easier to make, and if you’re really feeling lazy you can even buy them at some fancy grocery stores (sold at the olive bar). I’m later than I wanted to be in getting this post up, and I know tomato season is quickly coming to a close, but in a pinch you can get decent results using grocery-store Roma tomatoes year round.
However or whenever you get your hands on some roasted tomatoes, this is a wonderful way to showcase them. I made a cornmeal-rosemary crust, filled it with these gems, poured a simple custard over top and finished it with a little microplaned Grana Padano. Rien de plus simple. Pair with something green (a simple green salad, or some garlicky sautéed spinach) for a light supper, or some crispy bacon and a little fruit salad for brunch.
Have I convinced you yet? If only a photo could convey aroma, texture, and of course, flavor, we’d be all set. But while we’re waiting for Apple to pioneer the iSmell, you’ll just have to take my word that these little tarts are one of the best things to come out of my kitchen in a long time.
Little Roasted Tomato Tarts with Cornmeal-Rosemary Crust
You can, of course, make one large tart, but for some reason I was compelled to put these in individual tart pans. Yes, there is a “cute factor”, but also I wanted to be able to bake a couple at a time so as not to have soggy leftovers.
1/2 recipe Cornmeal-Rosemary crust (recipe follows)
about 1 1/2-2 cups roasted Roma tomatoes (recipe follows)
herbes de Provence or other herbs of your choice, if tomatoes are plain
3-4 eggs (see notes)
3/8-1/2 cup light cream (see notes)
salt & freshly gound black pepper
Grana Padano or Parmesan for grating
6 small (5-inch)tart pans or 1 10-inch tart pan
Notes: I am using the custard ratio from the book Once Upon a Tart- 1 egg to 1/8 cup cream- so if you don’t have enough, you can make more based on this formula. The book calls for light cream, which I approximate by cutting heavy cream with a little milk. If you make your tart in a single tart pan, or if you don’t pack the tomatoes in, you may find you need a little extra. If your tomatoes have been kept in oil, blot them well with paper towel so you don’t end up with a greasy tart.
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400º. Roll out your dough and press it into the tart pan(s), putting them in the fridge as you go. Let rest in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes. Prick the crust with a fork. Set the tart shells on a cookie sheet, line them with foil and dried beans or pie weights and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake until golden brown all over, about 10 more minutes. (If you’re using a single tart shell, you may want to take it out when it’s about 75% cooked. For the small tarts, they cook pretty quickly, so it’s better to have the crust fully cooked first.)
Reduce the oven temp to 375º. Fill the tart(s) with the roasted tomatoes, cut side facing up. If your tomatoes are plain, you can sprinkle a pinch of herbes de Provence or other herbs of your choice over the top. Whisk together the eggs, milk and cream, adding a couple dashes of salt and pepper. I like to do this in a Pyrex measuring cup for easy pourability. Drizzle the tarts with the custard mixture, making sure to fill the gaps in between the tomatoes. The upturned tomato halves will serve as little “cups” that will catch the custard as well. You’ll want to stop a little shy of the crust’s rim, so your custard doesn’t overflow when baked. Grate some cheese over the tops.
Place tarts in the oven and bake until puffed and golden, about 15-20 minutes (but peek in on them after 10). If you’re doing a full-sized tart, it’ll probably take closer to 30 minutes. When done, place on a cooling rack, removing from the pan as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Roasted Roma Tomatoes printer-friendly version
Perhaps you’ll recall that I had mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going to try these? They didn’t disappoint. All I can say is that if I’d realized that 1 large box (1/2 a bushel, I think) would shrink down to a mere few cups, I would have bought at least twice as many. Live and learn, I suppose. I made three different “flavors”- one with thyme, rosemary and marjoram from my backyard (herbes de Ferndale?), one with coriander (as per Molly’s recipe) and one with smoked paprika. I put the latter two in some olive oil and into the freezer to enjoy later when the weather turns unfriendly and I need a reminder of the sun on my face (yes, tomatoes can do that). The tomatoes with the herb mixture went into the aforementioned tarts.
In reading up on the tomato-roasting method, many people recommended a much longer, slower roasting time (10-12 hours as opposed to the 6 suggested by Molly & Luisa). I decided to try this so I could do it overnight rather than heating up the house during the day. It would have been fine except my oven didn’t get down to 200º, it was more like 250º, so a few of the tomatoes around the edges of the pan had to be pitched. However, I do think there is something to be said for the slower roast. Judging by the photos, I think my tomatoes were a bit more concentrated than the 6-hour version; their flavor approached that of a sun-dried tomato but retained a little juiciness. I would say, start taste-testing them after 6 hours and see what suits you. If you’re using them in a sauce, you may choose to leave them a little juicier since they would be cooking down further in the sauce.
Roma tomatoes, the more the better, as they cook down quite a bit, and you can freeze leftovers (you’ll need about one tightly-packed cookie sheet’s worth to make the tarts)
herb(s) or spice(s) of your choice
Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise, removing the little stem end, and place on a rimmed cookie sheet. Brush or lightly drizzle with olive oil. Using your fingers, sprinkle with a little sea salt and any herbs or seasoning you wish to use. Remember that the flavors will become very concentrated, so less is better than too much. Place in a 200º oven for 6-10 hours according to your preferences. To store, you can keep them in the fridge for a couple weeks covered in olive oil, or freeze until hard on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a sealable freezer bag (this will keep them from clumping together).
Makes enough for two 9″ or 10″ tart shells. Half a recipe will make 6 individual 4″ tarts.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
3 Tbs semolina flour (cornmeal)
1 tsp salt
12 Tbs (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ cubes (I stick it in the freezer for a few minutes after I cut it up)
3 Tbs cold solid vegetable shortening
1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary
glass of ice water
When I made my last batch of this, I didn’t have any shortening on hand so I used all butter, to no ill effect.
Directions: Place the flour, cornmeal and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and shortening and pulse the processor in brief bursts until the mixture is sandy and there are no more visible chunks of butter. DO NOT overprocess or your crust will be tough!
Dump the crumbly mixture into a bowl and stir in the chopped rosemary. Sprinkle with ice water, one Tbs. at a time, coaxing the dough with a wooden spoon until it begins to come together. You want to add just enough water to allow this to happen; you don’t want it to be so wet that it becomes sticky or has white spots. If you’re not sure, go slow.
When the dough starts to come together, use your hands to gather it up and form it into two balls, taking care not to over-handle it. Wrap each half in plastic and flatten them into disks with the palm of your hand. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before rolling out.