Sunday, December 20, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Not too fairy, but lots of dairy

For Maiya's birthday, we had a fairy themed party. I had planned on a fairy birthday cake...but it turned out to be more of a flower cake. Mom made all the gum paste flowers and I made a devil's chocolate layer cake with marshmallow fondant (loved it) and chocolate malt filling. Yum.

The grandfathers approved.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

No Sheep Here, Only in the Chili

"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."

A crowd is pressing and I can see why the people seemed like sheep.

My sister has come. As nomadic as we may be, when we come together in a group, I realize how much I love a full house. I actually picture myself more relaxed when people are here--whether that is reality or not, I cannot say. A full house is not a crowd. It is cinnamon-infused lamb chili warming my heart.

Full House Cinnamon-Infused Lamb Chili

1 Tbsp Green chili powder/green chili dried mix (New Mexico style)
3-4 dried tomatoes
1 lb ground lamb
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cumin, ground
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp Ancho chili powder (or other similar style)
1 onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 oz can plum tomatoes, diced or sliced
1 bottle of Hefeweizen or Pale Ale beer
1 cup water
1 can drained kidney beans
Salt to taste

Put the dried green chilis and tomatoes in small bowl and cover with boiling water. Let them sit for 15-30 minutes. Dice the tomatoes and place back in the bowl with chili water.

In a large stockpot, brown the lamb over medium heat. Pour off most fat, leaving 1 Tbsp. Add in oregano, cumin, cinnamon stick, chili powder, garlic and onion. Stir and cook on medium until onion is translucent, about 6 minutes.

Add the tomatoes with juice, the beer and water. Bring to boil. Add salt and simmer with cover for 30 minutes. Add kidney beans, stir and heat again for 10 minutes.

Serve with crusty bread and grated cheddar cheese (sharp). This is spiced for kids and those who prefer to live in the Northern culinary world of less heat. You can add more heat with stronger chilis or sauce at the table.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Eating on the Cheap

I met a woman yesterday who complained about the high price of healthy food here in the capitol. She had just found out she was pregnant and was told to stop eating all the junk and fried food she regularly consumed. She is young, newly married, carrying a mortgage back home and a rent here. She said she just couldn't afford the healthy food. She has a valid point - if you don't know how to cook or aren't willing to spend some time in the kitchen, buying and preparing healthy food can hit your budget harder.

Of course, Pollan and other food researchers have discussed the total cost of all that prepared, processed food and fast food--think government subsidies and poor health costs.

But, if we spend a little bit of time in the kitchen, we can make some wonderful, mostly healthy, fresh food out of basic product. Yes, the fresh veggies and fruits are expensive, but they go a long way usually. A $8 box of mandarins this time of year gives our family five or six days of lunchtime and snack treats. Think Italian, Mediterranean, Chinese, Indian and you will see how well you can eat on about the same as you spend on the cheap, boxed foods and much less than going out, even to McDonalds.

This weekend we bought bok choy at a Chinese food market--tender, green, sandy-as-could-be bok choy. Price: a ridiculous $2. At a local supermarket the same bok choy would have cost me three times as much. I don't know why--supply/demand volume?

Boy choy is usually quite sandy and needs to be washed. Trim off just the very bottom, seperate the leaves and put them all in a colander for some really good individual washing or float them in a sink of cool water.

Greens Frittata
*You can make this with spinach, kale, bok choy or whatever greens you have. You could make it into a Spanish torta if you wanted to flip it. I find flipping a large fat omelette a bit intimidating so I go the frittata route.

1 Tbsp butter
As much greens as you like, cleaned well, drained and chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 onion (mild), diced fine or quickly pureed in mini-blender
Dash of white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar or rice vinegar depending on your mood
6 eggs
1/3 c. milk
1/2 to 1 c. shredded cheese - I used a mild goat cheese we had in fridge. Gruyere, cheddar or any other nice melting cheese would work

In a medium stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the greens and onion. If too dry, add a Tbsp water. Cook over medium heat until greens are wilted and to your desired degree of softness. Towards the end of the cooking time, sprinkle in a dash of vinegar and some salt.

Place 2 paper towels layered in a colander. Drain the greens in the colander.

Mix eggs and milk together, hand-beating until smooth. Stir in cheese and greens. Add salt and pepper. You can also add spices at this time. Nutmeg is a nice addition. Or, try oregano or basil.

Heat broiler and position a rack under broiler.

Heat a large (10" or greater) pan over medium-high heat. Spray with cooking spray or rub with oil. Pour in egg mixture. Tilt back and forth a bit as it sets up. Run a spatula round sides to loosen. Let it cook slowly. Once bottom is set and top is soft-set, place pan in over under broiler. Watch it carefully! You want it to puff a bit, set all the way and brown, but not become dried out.

Slice the frittata and serve warm or at room temperature. It packs well for lunch.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cakey Comfort

Rainy days drive me to the kitchen for comfort foods. Comfort comes in the form of carbohydrates for me, apparently. A few days ago, I had some fresh cranberries (adore them) that needed to be used so I slipped them into a modified KAF coffee cake recipe. The original recipe called for dried cranberries and almond slivers. I like almonds, but seldom by them slivered. I do however keep a quantity of almond flour in the freezer at all times. I find it is a good way to slip in a depth of flavor AND protein to just about any quick bread, muffin, scone or pastry. The coffee cake was good, so good that Maiya managed to eat around said-offending, but brightly staining cranberries so she could enjoy the cake.
Today, the bananas demanded attention. Mike likes bananas, but only before any brown appears, so I am often making banana dishes with the overripe ones. I once again decided to go with KAF's recipe with some variations. I've used many other recipes, but I think this might be one of the best. This cookbook may be one of the ones making the trip next year with us.

KAF's Banana Bread with Modifications

*First, I doubled the recipe because I had 6 overripe bananas. Banana bread freezes well and keeps in the fridge so consider a straight doubling of below.

2 large eggs
3/4 c sugar
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 c mashed banana
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 to 1 tsp nutmeg (take the time to fresh grate/pound--so much better!)
1 2/3 c unbleached, all purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1 c yogurt, buttermilk or sour cream (I used Stonyfield Low Fat vanilla tonight)
optional: 1/2 c chocolate chips and/or 1 c chopped walnuts (I have kids, so in went the chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 350 F.
In medium sized bowl, beat together eggs, sugar and oil. Blend in the mashed bananas and vanilla.
Whisk together the all the dry ingredients from baking soda to wheat flour, then sift to incorporate well. I don't sift much, but I do here as you don't want to mix the batter too much (it gets stiff and then creates a drier texture) so you want those leaveners well incorporated. My shortcut is to put everything in my big sifter and sifter through and then mix a little.
Add the flour mixture all at once to the banana mixture. Stir in quickly but thoroughly. Now, stir in the yogurt until just combined. Finally, stir in quickly the chips and/or walnuts.
Pour batter into a greased (spray it well) 9 x 5 loaf pan. Bake for about 1 hour, until knife/cake tester comes out clean from center. You can tent it with foil after 40-45 mins if it begins to brown to much. I like my bread a bit brown.
Place on rack and cool for a bit, then turn out of pans and cool more. It is a very moist bread and slicing warm can be challenging, but warm banana bread is worth the effort.

*Photos by our oldest. The first is from the Smithsonian exhibit on First Ladies. Mrs. Coolridge had a pet raccoon which the young photographer thought was worthy of a picture.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Back home

Yesterday, our CSA provided us with two green tomatoes. I couldn't help myself, even if I seldom fry anything now in an attempt at healthy eating. I sliced them about 3/8 inch thick. I felt they needed a little more liquid before breading so I sprinkled some white wine vinegar over the slices and then dredged them in a mixture of white flour, white cornmeal, salt and pepper. I then pan fried them in my cast iron skillet a few minutes on each side.

The taste: crunchy light fry outside with warm tomatoey inside. I sprinkled the slices with a bit more sea salt before eating. One daughter declared it so-so after one bite. The other daughter (the "may no veggies except edamane willingly pass these lips" one) managed one bite without too much gagging and a quick grab of the juice cup. But, Mike and I didn't care--we ate the rest.

Now, various recipes suggest buttermilk or even egg as a wash before coating. I suspect you would get a thicker coating with these approaches, but I think the thin coating works out just fine and you don't have to use as much oil. I've seen some recipes that dress up the fried green tomatoes with remoulade sauce, marinara or a parmesan/cheese approach. I do think a sauce could be nice, although tomato on tomato might be too much. Next time I might try a thin basil pesto sauce. Sorry, no pictures of the tomatoes today.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I know: an update! The last 6 weeks have found us a bit lost at sea, but we found floats, re-built our raft and are journeying again.

Halloween is an interesting holiday, isn't it? For those with a Christian faith, particularly the Protestant flavor, we find it a bit uncomfortable. Day of the Dead? All Saints' Day? Yet, shouldn't we think about the spiritual side of life and teach our children, albeit through a sugar-laden venue, something about this richness that goes beyond the physical?
Suffice to say, we've jumped into Halloween with the kids. MeiLin is in her girl mystery / spy stage and dressed as Nancy Drew. Quite clever and original. Maiya, ever the fairy/princess/all that is romantic, dressed as a gypsy. Mike and I decided to go retro (as we were co-hosting a 70s/80s party) and the consensus was we were Mike and Carol Brady. I don't have a really good picture of the my pants: velour orange bell bottoms, but I found them quite comfortable and swishy. I wonder if I can work those into my everyday wardrobe.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


  • I need a new lens and an external flash to take great food pictures.
  • I probably don't need to cook as much food as I do.
  • I seem obsessed with cooking, eating, food.
  • I have finally started running again, only to be cruelly punished by the running gods with a Jacob's hip after only the second day back.
  • I have only two weeks until I will be living in a bathing suit for a week.
  • What am I thinking making chocolate chunk bread two weeks before such an activity?
  • Although, peach pie sounds nice for later this week...and I can always gimply run to offset.
  • Sigh... more time on homework and reading and less on food would be wise.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Can't cook?

My sister-in-law often sends me news clippings. The latest story explained the recent boom in simplified cookbooks as well as cooking schools and new here-are-the-basics cooking shows. Apparently, we have a whole generation from the 1970s on that can't cook. This generation is now grappling with tightened pocketbooks and wants to use the farmer's market product to actually make a meal.
Now, I hadn't actually realized we had a culinary knowledge generational gap. Yes, I had heard about the loss of many home cooked meals, the ever-growing reliance on boxed mixes as cooking and the rise of fast food/take out/take and bake/take and eat. I do have a microwave and think it makes excellent popcorn and bacon with minimal fuss.

But, I had no idea that my friends couldn't cook. Actually, my friends can cook--at least I think they can. I may be selective, only pairing up with people who can cook or they may be particularly adept at buying pre-made and swapping containers. Hmmm, I've only actually cooked with a few of them.

My youngest and I spent a cool and drizzly day at the zoo. After reading the article and trekking the hills of the zoo with several kindergartners in tow, I decided tonight's meal must be a basic soup, one of those soups everyone should know how to make, but maybe they don't.

Bacon Corn Potato Chowder
Adapted from Barbara Kafka's lovely book Soup and my mother's 1970s Velveeta Cheese Bacon soup (w/o the Velveeta now)

1 1/2 lb of baking potatoes, peeled and 1/2" cubed
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 1/2 cups water
Corn cut from 4 ears of corn
1 celery stalk, chopped fine
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup shredded Fontina or Gruyere cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Roasted peppers (I had broiled some pepper from our CSA - a mix of sweet peppers - I love the colors)
Hot sauce to taste

1. Place the potato and onion in a medium saucepan and add water. Bring to boil and then simmer, covered, 10 minutes.
2. Add in corn, celery, milk and cheese. Stir and bring almost to a boil. Partially cover and simmer for another 10 minutes.
3. Add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Serve with roasted peppers on top and hot sauce to taste for the adults. We had pitas, sprayed first with an olive oil spray before a short time under the broiler to make them crispy, as a side.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Just 5 More Miles

Kids love to do things, particularly things they think they shouldn't be able to do. This is a secret we parents must remember. Make the activity seem hard, too old, too much, just too and your child might surprise you.
This Labor Day weekend, we decided to take the new Fizzy Lizzy tandem for a better test ride, a two-day trip, out on the C&O canal trail to Leesburg, VA and back on the WO&D.

The result: 86 miles total, half on the lovely, shady and bumpy canal trail with a ferry ride across the Potomac and then half on the faster, more crowded paved trail. The girls switched back and forth between Fizzy Lizzy where they needed to pedal (or try to) and the Behemoth Screamer where they rested their feet up and were in danger of falling asleep!

We saw turtles, butterflies, a stray cat, a crane, a snake and all kinds of people and found a rockin' Carolina BBQ place right off the WO&D trail (just close enough for a Saturday out-and-back trip in the future, hmmm).

Oh, and if you really want them to keep going that 5 more miles, have a swimming pool waiting at the hotel or a Vitamin Water in the offering.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Rushed but Blessed Bread

I make bread. I have for 10 years now, maybe more. Every week, sometimes more than once a week, I feed a starter or levain by mixing in warm water and flour. The mixture bubbles and grows, sometimes to the top of the container and over onto the counter (if I have rushed and not dumped it into a bigger bowl even though I know it needs the space). If you are seeking a fake concrete, flour and water dried to an almost impossible hardness is your answer.

After feeding the starter twice, I separate a cup or so back into a Tupperware that then hunches down in the back of the refrigerator until I remember to feed it again. The remainder starter I use for bread, rolls, pizza dough, even on occasion waffles or cake.

Two days ago, I began this ritual again with one difference: my long-awaited, can't-even-believe-it-even-thought-it-is-sitting-on-my-counter Cuisinart food processor is here waiting to be used for the first time.

Now, given my past professional life and bibliophile nature, I really should be expected to read the operating manual prior to using the processor. I had glanced through it, but was more interested in the recipe section than the details on order of assembly, locking mechanisms and such. You can see where this is going, can't you?

I was rushed (ha! like that is a surprise), trying to help the girls with homework before the babysitter came, needed to take a shower and dress for the dinner. Yet, I really wanted to use my starter and get some bread dough made AND I really really wanted to use my new gleaming super-clean-never-will-be-that-clean again processor. I'll save you the floury details and simply state that I did every single step wrong the first time and had to redo. All this in a rush. My husband's comment later: "You were in a rush and you tried to use the new processor?"

To top it off, I of course had no time to actually bake the bread loaves, asking the babysitter to put them in the oven, push the timer button and take them out (like I ever use the timer?).
In the end, the bread didn't rise as much as it could have if I hadn't rushed it. Its squatty shape and tight crumb tell all. And, yet this morning we had fresh bread for breakfast.

Rushed (or Not) Bread via Cuisinart
Adapted from the Cuisinart recipe book

4 c white flour
2 c wheat flour
1 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
4-6 Tbsp butter, cut into little cubes
2 c of starter mixed with 1 cup warm water (or 2 1/2 tsp yeast with 1 tsp sugar and 1/2 c warm water proofed for 10 mins and then 1 c of cool water added)

1. With the large (11 cup!!) bowl of the food processor and the dough blade (note to self: put the dough blade in before the ingredients), process the flours, salt, salt and butter on the dough setting for 15 seconds. (Isn't this amazing--15 seconds!)
2. With the processor running on dough speed, slowly pour in the starter/water or yeast/water mixture until the dough forms and pulls from the sides of the bowl. Process for 45 to 60 seconds longer.
3. Pull out your amazing dough--I really can't imagine this. I actually think you should knead it a bit by hand to continue to work the gluten or process a bit longer. As I rushed my poor loaves, I can't say for sure what caused them to be a bit short. I'll experiment and get back to you.
4. If you used proofed starter, shape two loaves and place in greased loaf pans to rise for 1-2 hours or until almost at top of pan. If you used yeast, place the dough in an oiled bowl, let it rise 1-2 hours until doubled, punch down, shape into loaves and let rise another hour before baking.
5. Bake at 400 F for approximately 30 minutes or until light golden brown on top. Turn out of pans. Bake for another 5 minutes, then cool on rack or just slice open and enjoy with lots of butter and perhaps some local honey.

**The cat is not rushed and found sunbeams today.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The 6:18 am Coffe Cake Wake Up

Sleepovers for younger girls can be frantic. They try to squeeze every minute. So, even though during the week I drag growling grumpy grinches out of bed at 7 in an effort to be to school on time, this morning I heard their voices drift up the stairs, whispering and planning before 6 am.

Despite my desire to hide, being the only adult in the house meant that a less than decent time later up tromped two of the three actually dressed with hair styled. Their inquiry: when would the requested-the-night-before coffee cake be done? As the child sleeping over was not one of the two that came up, I grunted something less than kind to my two, told them coffee cake takes time and I would get up in a little bit. At least, I think that is what I said.

Two hours later, the promised coffee cake is done and ready to be consumed. We only need to push all the color staining window craft and slumber party scrapbook sheet making stuff off the table. Oh, and the kids have gone back to bed. More for me.

The Classic Cinnamon-Nut Coffee Ring recipe, from King Arthur Flour (KAF) Baking with some modifications:
KAF products are incredible and worth the pricey investment. I had lusted after this cookbook for ages and finally found it used. I should use it more (but, how many baked goods can we eat?).

For the cake:
4 Tbsp butter, softened
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 c. white sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 1/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour (yes, I used KAF)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 c. ground golden flax seed meal
1 c. low-fat plain yogurt (use a good quality--I like Stonyfield)

For the filling/topping:
1/2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 c. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (this is for kids!)
1/3 c. white sugar
1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 350. Grease or spray with cooking spray a bundt or tube-pan. I use an ancient two-piece pan that I bought at a garage sale 20 years ago. It is a thin metal, maybe aluminum?

For the cake:
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the butter, oil and sugar until fluffy. I use my Kitchen Aid so I have free hands. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the salt and flavorings and beat until evenly incorporated.

In a seperate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking power, baking soda and flax seed meal. Add the flour mixture to the butter-egg mixture alternately with the yogurt, mixing on low speed just until blended.

For the filling:
In a small mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and pour the melted butter on top, mixing with a fork until well-incorporated.

Spoon half the cake batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the batter to level it and sprinkle with two thirds of the filling. Top with remaining batter and sprinkle with remaining filling.

Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean (without dough as it will have chocolate on it). Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes (if you can wait). Turn out onto a wire rack carefully. The recipe says to cool completely and then sprinkle with confectioner's sugar before serving. Nothing ever cools around here.

This is a good coffee cake, with rich swirl of chocolate and cinnamon through it and fabulous on its own without any extra butter or adornment.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We dream of gourmet and then reach for the can

It was evening, 30 minutes until bedtime for the girls. I'd been browsing lovely food blogs and King Arthur's Flour website, but had no ambitions tonight. The result: Rita's vegetarian re-fried beans (seems an oxymoron almost) with (gasp!) Velveeta that had been purchased just this week for a cheese broccoli soup for the kids.

And still the littlest one made faces. Sigh. I think we should all fast for a day or two. Two more days--give me strength. Oh, and the brownies are calling out to me all the way from another room. Dang.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

So simple, so good

As is often said, the best ingredients make dishes fabulous. Tonight, we found ourselves at 7:10 pm, with bedtime looming at 8ish for the girls and all of us hungry. The girls were also a bit questionable on cleanliness, but we decided to opt for washing the most important parts and doing real baths tomorrow.

On hand: some decent (but not great) thin asparagus, a new bottle of olive oil from Spain, one heirloom tomato and some eggs and bread.

The result: over-easy eggs in butter; asparagus with the buttery mild Spanish olive oil, California balsamic (quite good, really) and salt and pepper; buttered sourdough toast just like Mercy Watson would demand and a sliced heirloom tomato adorned only with salt (which only I ate).

The girls added strawberry milk (I know, but they liked the combination) and I had a glass of a quite drinkable inexpensive red from S. Africa. Satisfying.

Muffin' Mornin'

It has been raining here--a much needed rain--and all the stores and catalogs are boasting fall clothes. (Why they think any of us want to put on long sleeves when the average temperature is over 90, I do not know.) So, my mind turns to muffins. I love muffins because I can pack them full of nutrition for the family while still making a moist, flavorful bite.

As it is a Sunday, I can bake muffins today, freeze half of them for the school day breakfasts and still enjoy them this morning. I decided to modify (shocked, aren't you?) the Bran Flax Muffin recipe on the back of the Bob's Red Mill package of ground flax seed I bought yesterday. I don't have oat bran right now, so swapped in almond meal and some soy flour. The girls would spot shredded carrot a mile away and neither has the fondness I do for baked goods with plump raisins. Like 90% of the children in the world, they eagerly eat almost anything with chocolate. I figured I could sneak in the dried apricots chopped up finely.

1 1/2 c. unbleached white flour (when I have it, I use King Arthur)
3/4 c. flaxseed meal
1/2 c. almond meal (also Bob's Red Mill)
1/4 c. soy flour (ditto--they provide so many flours)
1 c. brown sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 apples, peeled and shredded
3/4 c. semi chocolate chips (I used Ghiradhelli today)
1/2 c. dried apricots, chopped fine
3/4 c. milk (I used Silk Soy Vanilla as dear hubby has problems with cow dairy)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. melted butter
1 tbsp. Demerra or other similar coarse brown sugar, like Turbinado

Mix together all dry ingredients (from flour to cinnamon) in a large bowl. Stir in the apples, chocolate chips and apricots. Combine the milk, eggs and vanilla in a small bowl. Pour this liquid mixture and the butter into the large bowl and stir until just combined.

(Dear Bob did not include any butter, but I can't imagine muffins without any butter at all, so I added it in.)
Fill greased or sprayed muffin tins just to the top of each well. Don't mound. Sprinkle them with the coarse sugar. Bake at 350 F for around 20 minutes. You want a springy top, but not too dark. Bob's recipe says it yields 15 muffins--which is absurd. Who has a 15 muffin tin? I found that it filled my 12 muffin clay form quite nicely (I believe it is from Pampered Chef? It does not stick though and is lovely. I don't like paper forms--they never seem to work.)

The result: a nutty-flavored, brownish muffin with melty chocolate. The girls loved them, although the little one picked out most of the apricot and the older ate the innards, leaving most of the "crust," but I'm counting it as a success.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

One-Up Guac

Today, I had our oldest making guacamole with me. We had an avocado that was ready and some lovely local heritage tomatoes. Also, secretly, I thought that if she made the concoction, she might try it and even like it.

Smashed avocado, lime juice, diced tomato and cilantro with salt and pepper. So far so good. She dipped in the corner of a chip to "coat" it (she doesn't like the chunks), she declared "yummm" but then passed on a larger try. I had been cleaning out the fridge to make room for new purchases and had just pulled out some blue cheese crumbles. Perhaps a good add-in? To understand my jump in recipe logic, you would need to know that our seven-year old is insane about all things cheese and particularly blue cheeses.

We added it in to a small amount of guac and stirred it up quite a bit. She thought it was better, but still declared the chunks too much. I ate it and declared this to be the new party guac. And, next time, I'm going to puree the whole thing for the little one. I just know I'll get her eating it soon.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Collision of Forces: Peach Tart

Three forces collided today. First, I saw the movie Julia & Julie last night. Of course, it made me want to cook (and I realized, shock, that I do not own one single Julia cookbook). Second, I happened to have the last of some lovely freestone peaches from the Chesapeake Bay area of Virginia. Third, my sister keeps sending me postings from, an amazing food blog with amazing photography.

The result: a freestone peach tart.

As I am sans Julia's spirit or her recipes, I thought I would stay French and in roughly the same time period. I grabbed my seldom used, but fun to read Real French Cooking by Savarin, published in 1956 by Doubleday. This Savarin is not the Brillat-Savarin of the 18th century, but rather a Robert J. Courtine, nicknamed "Brilliant Savarin," according to the dust jacket. Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, published in 1970, must have indeed been a breakthrough in its level of detail and illustration.

Savarin's book is more a collection of directions, aphroisms and instructions. Reading his "recipes" recalls times when I watched my grandmother cook, no true measuring cups or spoons in sight and a casual demeanor that came from decades of experience and much confidence.

In his foreward, he admits his approach is "unusual" and then says that first efforts at recipes "should be strictly succesful".

In the chapter on Cakes and Confections, he provides five basic pastry mixtures, including a "Short Pastry for Pies, Tarts, Etc." To appreciate the task, I will give you his directions in entirety:
Put your flour on the pastry board--half a pound for a decent-sized tart or flan--and work into it half as much butter, with a pinch of salt. (It is better to mix with a silver fork than with the fingertips, which soften the fat too much.) When the blend is satisfactory, pour on a little cold water, stirring with a spatula. As soon as you have a homogeneous mass, roll it out with a rolling pin. Leave it to 'settle' for a short while before lining the greased tart- or pie-dish with it. Prick here and there with a fork, to prevent puffing-up.
Later he directs the cook to bake it for 25 minutes in a moderate oven.

I'm more of a baker than a pastry chef. Bread requires emotion and feel, passion and warmth. Bread baking, despite the dire warning of many break cookbooks, does not require exact measurements or thermometers. Pastry I have had less success. As much as I want to be, I'm just not the exact, measuring, perfectionist type. Savarin's recipe, therefore, appealed to my personality.

I've made tart pastries before and I know about chilling for hours, rolling out, being gentle. Today, I didn't have the time or patience to follow such exacting ideas. And, after all, the French have been making tarts much longer than they have had freezers or even refrigeration, right?

(Now, at this point, I should admit that one other reason I am more a baker than a pastry maker is that I seldom follow a recipe exactly, even one as vague as Savarin's.)

I didn't have as much unsalted butter as I would have liked, so I subsituted some light cream cheese. My scale does not work as I've yet to go to a store to buy the right little shiny round battery since it died in California. I used my German measuring cup for 400 ml of flour, which meant I wasn't exactly sure how much butter/cream cheese to use. I went with about 4 oz of cream cheese and 4 Tbsp butter.

My 20-year old blender/processor combo no longer works (and the bowl would be too small anyway). I'm in the market for a new processor. As a result, I followed Savarin's instructions on using the silver fork on my wooden bread board. The dough just didn't come together like I wanted and I added more water than I expected to get it to meld.

The peaches were more succesful. I sliced them uniformly and cooked them down in a large pan with some Riesling (maybe 1/3 cup?) and a little sugar. I purposefully didn't stir much as I wanted the juice to cook down without loosing the form of the peaches.

I "lavishly" buttered my tart pan, per both Savarin's instructions and in honor of Julia's fondess for butter. The buttering definitely worked and beat any spray I've used. I baked the tart pastry at 350F for about 30 minutes. It didn't brown as nicely as I would like and tasting of the trimmings found it a bit tough (need to get that processor soon), but that extra bit of durability helped the tart hold the juicy peaches in the end.

Savarin says,
Appetite is bred by variety as contempt is bred by familiarity, kitchen-lore thus resembling love. And the woman at home, mistress of many arts, must know that table-ties are powerful ones, perhaps, in the long run, the strongest of all. Good tables are indeed the centres of happy homes, the lure and the sustainer of loving hearts.
We also grilled pizza tonight, a yummy learning experiment, but more on that later.