Thursday, September 10, 2009

10 on 10: September

September, the world blushes golden, the harvest, the oranging of squash, and the yellowing of number two pencils and back to school buses.

breakfast and morning pages

arriving at King's High School to sub


lunch with the girls

CSA box goodies

Matt's night to cook dinner

dinner: spinach and goat cheese risotto

the Strong

dessert: nectarine tarts

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Another Sunday Afternoon in the Kitchen

This week our CSA box was chock full of inspiring produce: green-husked tomatillos became a salsa verde with pineapple and jalapenos; beefsteak tomatoes became a last hurrah summer tomato saute with linguine; and shallots found their way into a Julia Child-inspired chicken with mushrooms in a port and cream reduction.

But best of all (or most picturesque, I should qualify) was the Pear and Honey Custard Tart that I made from Leslie Mackie's Macrina Cafe Cookbook. I received some blushing russet colored pears that set me in mind of something warm and sweet for the wonderfully stormy weather this weekend. Did anyone else spend Sunday morning indoors with the candles lit, coffee in hand, and a good book to keep them company with the drumming of the rain on the rooftop? The only thing that could make such a day even better is baking.

I had tried, and not been pleased with the results of, a Jamie Oliver Pear Tarte Tatin recipe last year, so I thought it was time to find a new pear dessert recipe. This one by Ms. Mackie let me continue sampling her cookbook and also use my new tart pan.

After making the world's easiest tart crust*, I pressed it into my tart pan, then put it into the freezer to chill for a half-hour before I pre-baked the dough in a 350 degree oven under parchment paper and baking weights (I use dried beans). Leslie suggests 25 minutes of baking time, but mine took a good deal longer before it was golden--I probably buried it in too many beans. Meanwhile I prepared the rest of the elements.

*[Sweet Almond Dough: 2 tablespoons of toasted and ground almonds (toast about 1/4 cup of whole raw almonds for 10 minutes in 350 degree oven before grinding), 1-1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 stick (8 Tbs) melted butter, and 1/2 tsp each of vanilla and almond extracts]

First I peeled and cored the pears, then I brought 3 cups of white wine and 3/4 cup of sugar to the boil and simmered it for about five minutes before I slipped the pears, rounded side down into the glaze.

I cooked them until they were fork tender and then pulled them out with a slotted spoon. By then my crust was ready and I sliced the pears lengthwise again and arranged them on top.

Next, I whisked together my custard ingredients.*

*[1 cup of heavy cream, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of honey, 2 tablespoons of flour and 1/2 a teaspoon each of vanilla and almond extracts.]

All I had to do was to pour this over the tart and pop it all back into the 350 degree oven for 50 minutes. I kept the wine glaze on a low heat so that it could reduce even more and be used over the top at the end.

When the custard was set and golden (not quite there yet in the above photo), the tart was done. I let it cool for about 30 minutes, then poured some of the glaze over the top and garnished the edges with extra toasted, ground almonds.

All in all it was a success. The custard was delicious and the almond flavor was subtle and complimentary to the pears. I could see using nectarines, apples, or plums in lieu of pears.

My only complaints were that my crust was a bit too crunchy in places and I probably cooked it too long (less baking weights next time!). The pears also could have been more tender. They weren't fully ripe when I cooked them, so they needed more time in the wine glaze than Leslie's suggestion (7-10 minutes). My glaze could also have been more reduced and thicker at the time I poured it on the tart. The merits of this recipe far outweigh my mistakes, and I will certainly give it another try, armed with the knowledge gained from this first go around.

On another foody note, I was pleasantly entertained with Julie and Julia, the movie. My mom and I went together last Thursday and I spent the 2 hours laughing out loud often and falling in love with French food and these two well-acted characters. I think an edition of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking may find its way onto my Christmas list.

Oh Christmas! Holiday foods are so exciting to think about. But before I get too far ahead of myself, I think it's time to focus on these last few boxes of late summer produce from Hedlin Farms and to stock up on homemade soups and sauces in my freezer. I, for one, will be praying for rainy days to keep me indoors and in front of my stove.