Sometimes I feel like a pretty lucky gal. You may recall a couple months ago when I mentioned a get-together with some new food friends? Well, one of these friends, Jarred, was recently able to procure a large amount of Bordeaux for a wine tasting drinking (as Christina & Molly more accurately put it on Twitter!). There were about 20 bottles of red Bordeaux, as well as a smattering of white wines, hard cider, etc. Jarred does the wine buying at Western Market in Ferndale, so the idea was to get a bunch of us tasting, and then hopefully buying, the wines in question. I think it was also to help him narrow down which wines to order from the distributors.
And so, a couple Fridays ago, some of the GUDetroit gang descended on Jarred & Dawn’s Ferndale apartment, bearing an assortment of wine-loving foods. I knew many people were bringing cheese and/or charcuterie, and Jarred had also snagged some grass-fed local steaks for the grill, so I asked what else I could bring to round out the selection. Jarred wisely suggested something with mushrooms- their earthy flavors would be a nice complement to the wine. I immediately thought “mushroom tart!”- some sautéed mushrooms, with some herbs from the garden, would be just the thing.
I started off by making a cornmeal crust- I wanted a little crunch in case the mushrooms made the dough soggy at all (luckily they didn’t). I sautéed a copious amount of mushrooms with some shallots and herbs and a splash of sherry, adding some dried porcinis for extra mushroomy depth. I added some cream and egg at the end, not enough to make a quiche-like custard, but just enough to bind the mushrooms and make the tart more sliceable. A dusting of Parmigiano before the tart went in the oven was the final touch. The result was pretty much just what I had hoped for.
As for those wines? Where to begin- I was pretty overwhelmed, and was mostly just taking suggestions from others who were a little better informed or who had thought to bring notepads to take notes! A few I recall enjoying in particular were Château La Fleur Plaisance (Montagne St-Emilion, 2006), Château Liversan (Haut-Médoc, 2006) and Château Cabannieux (Graves, 2005). (Mind you, I tasted many, many wines and these are just a couple I happened to jot down!) All of the wines improved noticeably as the evening wore on and they had time to open up, but these are wines to cellar for at least a few more years before they’ll reach their full potential. (That becomes problematic in my household, where the notion of a bottle of wine hanging around for more than a week or so is unheard of!) For more detailed descriptions of the wines, check out this post by Gang of Pour.
Thanks again to Jarred & Dawn for their excellent hosting skills and to the folks at Western Market for their generosity; I’ll definitely be heading there next time I have a few bucks to spend on a nice bottle or two. For the size of the store, they are really doing a great job on their wine department, with a focus on organic and natural wines. This wine tasting (er, drinking!) really inspired and motivated me to start taking more notes and to build a cellar. I also have to give a shout-out to George & Kim from Gang of Pour and to Putnam, all of whose wine knowledge and enthusiasm is contagious.
Mushroom & Herb Tart with Cornmeal Crust
1 pre-baked Cornmeal Tart Crust (recipe follows, or you could use the slightly different cornmeal crust from this post)
1 ½ lbs mushrooms, peeled and sliced (you can use any combination of button mushrooms, portabellas, cremini, etc; I used mostly regular mushrooms with a few portabellas thrown in)
2 shallots, minced
about 3 Tbs minced fresh herbs of your choice- I used sage, thyme & marjoram
about 1/3 cup dry sherry
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
about 1 ½ cups boiling water
a few Tbs butter for sautéing
½ cup heavy cream
salt & pepper
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or other hard grating cheese
Put some water on to boil. Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them; cover with a lid or plate and set aside.
Melt a knob of butter in a large, shallow skillet over medium heat. When melted, add half the shallots and half the mushrooms; increase the heat slightly (you need to do the mushrooms in two batches to avoid overcrowding). As the mushrooms absorb the butter and the pan becomes dry, lightly salt the mushrooms so they release a little of their juice. About halfway through the cooking, add half the sherry. Saute the mushrooms until golden and cooked through, increasing the heat if necessary so the liquid evaporates. Remove the mushrooms from the pan; set aside.
Wipe the pan and repeat the process with the second batch of mushrooms. While they are cooking, remove the dried mushrooms carefully from the water and chop roughly. (The mushroom liquid may be strained and reserved for use in a soup or to deglaze a pan.) Throw them in the pan. When the mushrooms are close to done, add the herbs and cook for a moment longer. Add the first batch of mushrooms back into the pan and stir well. Remove from heat. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs and cream. Season with salt and pepper (I like to add a little nutmeg too, but it’s optional.) Pour over the mushrooms and stir to combine (if filling is very hot, wait a few moments so the eggs don’t become scrambled). Put the filling in the pre-baked tart shell. Grate a light layer of cheese over the top. Cook at 375° for about 15 minutes or until the filling has set. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes enough for two 9″-10″ tarts
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks butter
¼ to ½ cup ice water as needed
Cut the butter into small pieces and set in a bowl in the freezer to firm up for a couple minutes. Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few larger pieces remaining. Add the ice water in a thin stream while running the processor, just until the dough comes together (no more than 30 seconds). Take care to only add as much water as needed so the dough does not become pasty and sticky. Divide in half and wrap each half in plastic. Let rest in the fridge for an hour before rolling out.
To pre-bake the crust, heat the oven to 375°. Roll out the dough and place in a 9″ or 10″ tart pan with a removable bottom. Place a layer of foil over the crust and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for about 25 minutes or until crust is just beginning to turn golden. Let cool slightly before removing the weights and foil. (This dough can also be used for fruit tarts/crostatas; Martha instructs cooking it for an hour with the filling rather than pre-baking it.)
This year, I had Thanksgiving planned out well in advance: celebrate with my Dad and sisters on Thursday, and go to Marvin’s family’s on Friday. I had been assigned to bring a dessert for Friday’s meal and had been plotting it out weeks in advance- I was going to do some sort of pumpkin flan. However, things changed unexpectedly, and rather than stick around Detroit and dwell on the situation at hand, my mom offered to fly me out to Las Vegas to spend a couple days with my aunt’s family who live there. It sounded like a good plan- a change of scenery and some sunshine to take my mind off things.
Unfortunately for me, my one free day to explore turned out to be cold and rainy! We spent the day wandering around Caesar’s and the Bellagio, shopping and sightseeing, working up our appetites for the next day’s meal. I was assigned to make the pie crust, seemingly because my mom has some notion that I am a “better” cook than her (thanks mom, but just because I talk about food constantly and always have an opinion, does not make me a more experienced pie-maker!).
I had heard other food bloggers say that Martha Stewart’s paté brisée recipe is pretty foolproof, so I went with that. My aunt had some contraption to roll out the pie that consisted of a big square piece of cloth with a frame (see above); I think it belonged to my grandmother. It worked pretty well except that I wasn’t used to it and wasn’t adding enough flour, so I had some stickage. But by the third or fourth crust, I had it figured out. I was a little concerned that I had over-handled it, but it turned out just fine. I had extra dough and decided to make some decorative leaves for the top of the pumpkin pie, but we put them on a little too late so they didn’t brown. But my aunt’s stepdaughter, who said she had never had a completely homemade pie before (poor girl!), said it was the best she’d ever had.
All in all it was a very good meal, but the best part was the time spent with my mom, aunt and cousins in the kitchen before the meal, chatting, cooking and snacking (of course!). That’s a big part of the appeal of cooking for me- the time spent with family & loved ones- and why it can be get hard to my cooking mojo on when it’s just me, myself & I. Perhaps I will have to arrange some cooking sessions with my girlfriends to get back in the swing of things… any takers? : )
P.S. My cousin Rebecca is responsible for the pumpkin pie photo and the photo of me rolling out the pie crust. Check out her photography blog here.
I have to admit that my Halloween spirit was at a low this year. I think it had something to do with the fact that my good friend Katie, whom I have celebrated Halloween with the last several years and who is really into dressing up and having a good costume, moved away earlier this year. I truly wish I was one of those crafty people who can’t wait for the chance to get out the sewing machine or hit the thrift store in pursuit of a great costume, but I tend to be more of the lazy last-minute type who is frantically digging in my closet at 6pm Halloween night.
Seeing as how I didn’t get dressed up, I figured the least I could do was try to get creative with some Halloween-themed food. We were invited to a casual dinner of turkey chili at our friends Jeff & Megan’s house, so I decided to bring a dessert. I have to mention that even with a 7-month-old baby, these two manage to pull off hosting a great party with delicious food and make it seem effortless. Makes me feel that I need to work on my time management skills! (By the way, the chili, which was excellent, was made from the cookbook Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites; they just added ground turkey to the veg recipe.)
Being short on time, I needed to find something that would be relatively simple. I was flipping through an old copy of Martha Stewart Living and found a recipe where she had taken layers of puff pastry, filled it with cheese and mustard, and used pumpkin-shaped cookie cutters to cut out each pastry. Since I was enlisted to bring a dessert item, I adapted the recipe to be sweet rather than savory. Everything I used was store-bought, so it was more of an assembly than actual baking. The finished product wasn’t as pretty as something Martha would have made, but considering that I was winging it I thought it was not so bad. I got many compliments from the other party guests, so I guess taste won out over good looks. I know Halloween is over, but this idea could be adapted to any holiday really, just by changing the shape of the cookie cutter and/ or the filling. I definitely want to toy around with it some more and will update if I hit upon a superior method.
Pumpkin-Pecan Puff Pastry Bites with Orange Glaze
1 package store-bought puff pastry (see note)
1 jar pumpkin butter or pumpkin pie filling (about 6 or 7 oz)
1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbs butter
1 tbs natural orange flavor
red+yellow (or orange) food coloring
flour, for dusting
Preheat oven to 375. Defrost puff pastry if necessary (it will thaw quickly at room temp; don’t let it get too warm). On a clean countertop or piece of parchment paper, sprinkle a light dusting of flour. Lay one of your squares of pastry on the flour. Spread the pumpkin butter on the pastry, leaving about an inch around the edges. Sprinkle on the pecans. Place the second piece of pastry on top. Lightly dust a rolling pin and roll the two sheets out until they are about 30% larger than their original surface area (keep the size of your cookie cutter in mind and try to maximize the number of cutouts). If at any point the pastry seems too sticky or hard to work with, put it in the fridge to chill for a few minutes. When you’re done rolling out, put the pastry in the refrigerator while you make the glaze.
Melt the butter in a small bowl; when it is melted, stir in the sugar, orange flavor, and a couple drops food coloring to make a nice pumpkiny orange color. If the glaze seems too grainy, you can nuke it on LOW power for 10-20 seconds at a time; this should help melt the sugar. Just be careful; melted sugar is extremely hot! If you don’t want to bother making a glaze, you could just melt some apricot jam in the microwave with a little water and use that for the glaze. Another glaze alternative would be to brush the tops with beaten egg white and sprinkle with orange sugar (just omit the butter from the glaze recipe).
Take a couple cookie sheets and line them with parchment paper (optional, but will make your cleanup a heck of a lot easier). Use pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter to cut out as many shapes as possible. Lay them on your cookie sheet. If you like, you can take a sharp knife or razor blade and make little vertical slashes for the pumpkin ridges. (I also cooked the scrap pieces; those are the cook’s treat!) Bake for 15 minutes in the middle of the oven. Take the pastries out and brush with the orange glaze; return to the oven for another 5 minutes. (I put my glaze on when they were still cold, but I think they would have turned out a little better if I had waited; that way you don’t risk the sugar burning.) Let cool for 5-10 minutes before eating. (These are best eaten warm, and will get slightly soggy if you have to put them in a closed container.)