Monday, September 27, 2010

free-form fig tart

in effort to get myself back on track,
i invited my family for dinner.
i spent one week thinking and
talking about making lasagna,
but it wasn't until the morning of
that i actually started to look
at recipes.

i've said before that when i'm
cooking a bunch of things, i
prefer to wake up with the
ingredients already in the house.

it was unsettling to make a list
at 11am, leave the house, head
to two grocery stores to collect
five different kinds of cheeses,
three packages of lasagna noodles,
a lot of romaine,
several cans of plum tomatoes,
two loaves of bread,
three heads of garlic
and many other odds and ends.

on the menu:
romaine salad with slow-roasted tomatoes and blue cheese
butternut squash, hazelnut and sage lasagna
spicy turkey sausage and spinach lasagna
garlic bread with chives and lemon zest
fig tart with vanilla bean ice cream

it was a lot.
i even - and this is hard for me
to admit - made a list.

and that's why, when we got home
at 12:30, i started cooking,
grabbed my camera and took
exactly two pictures.
chopped onion and garlic
butternut squash, acorn squash, garlic cloves
it wasn't until
i pulled the lasagnas out of the oven
that i remembered the camera,
lonely and abandoned,
on the far end of the kitchen.
spicy sausage and spinach lasagna
squash, hazelnut and sage lasagna
the lasagnas were a huge hit
and probably catapulted the
night to the top of our dinner
party list. but, without any pictures,
they're a hard sell. so, instead,
i want to tell you about the
delicious, gorgeously rustic,
fig tart.

truth be told,
there aren't many pictures
of the fig tart either,
but this is a dessert that
is both so fast, lovely and simple that
i still feel ok talking about it.

two days before the dinner,
i decided to make crack pie -
we've talked about it in our
office many times and when
the recipe appeared in the
september issue of bon appetit,
i was thrilled. even though
it's a multi-step dessert -
asking you to make cookies,
then grind them up to form
the crust, i knew that it would
be worth it and that my family
would love the pie.

the day before, i started to doubt
the whole thing. i had to work
late that night and i still
didn't have lasagna recipes
chosen. i switched my focus
to a chess pie, a dessert that
every summer i vow to make,
but never do.

but, now it was the morning
of the dinner. i had gotten
home from work at 9pm
the night before and in spite
of drinking two cups of coffee,
i was still feeling that
maybe i unknowingly took
a sleeping pill last night feeling
(i hadn't). between the yet to be picked
lasagna recipes and the tomatoes,
i knew that i would need the oven
for most of the afternoon,
i was again doubting my choice.
and just like that,
the chess pie was out.

i don't remember what i searched
in google. but, the best fig tart, ever,
from chez pim popped up in the first
spot. i scanned the recipe, looked at
the pictures, understood that i would
have to commit to spending a pretty
penny on a lot of figs, that i would
have to make an almond filling
and that i would have to make pastry dough.
i also realized that it is fig season,
that the whole dessert could look a little
imperfect and still be delicious and that
after years of fearing homemade pie dough,
i can now hold my own.

so, somewhere in between
roasting the squash and frying the sage leaves,
i tossed
butter and
water into the food processor.
while i peeled the roasted garlic,
larry grabbed the dough, flattened
it into a disk and covered with plastic
wrap and chilled until ready to use.

as larry started to cook the sausage,
i tossed roasted almonds and sugar
into the food processor before adding
butter and an egg. the mixture was really
thin, but at that moment the bechamel
started to boil, so i switched gears. when
i returned to the frangipane, it had
thickened nicely.

and when all parts
of both lasagnas were just waiting to be
assembled, i quartered the ripe,
sweet black mission figs, rolled the dough
into a shape that sort of resembled a circle,
and spread the frangipane to just an inch
of the edge. i added the figs, from the inside
out, in sort of concentric circles and folded
the dough in to form a crust.

i sighed and realized that even though i really
didn't want to, i would later regret not
brushing the dough with an egg wash. so i did,
before sprinkling on coarse sugar crystals.
dessert was made and it took less than 20 minutes.
fig tart, unbaked
i loosely covered the tart, placed it
back in the fridge and kept it there
until we sat down to eat the salads.
while we ate, the tart baked,
sweetly scenting the house
with caramel and jam.
slice of fig tart
i wasn't sure which way my family
would fall with this tart - figs are not
something we saw
a lot of growing up. but later,
after playing a very passionate
game of catchphrase, i cut seven slices
and larry added a scoop of vanilla ice cream
to each. we sat around the table.
we ate. just a couple crumbs were left
on only a few plates.

and that night,
i fell asleep glad that we pulled
off a marathon dinner in only a fraction
of the time. i was glad that when
my family arrived, the kitchen
was clean and i was calmly tearing
romaine leaves into a bowl. i was
glad that everyone had a good time.
and, i was glad, that even though
i can often go a little overboard
in the kitchen and out,
i'm starting to know where
to draw the line.
fried sage leaves
free-form fig tart
adapted from chez pim
i used my standby recipe for the dough that i've written about several times. it's worth repeating it here, so that you don't have to worry about going to another page. als0 - it's up to you, but i always re-chill my pies and tarts for at least 20 minutes before baking to ensure that the dough firms back up, producing a flaky crust. i used black mission figs, but i think that if you find fresh turkish figs in the market, you would enjoy a tart made with those, too.

the almond paste mixture calls for a combination of confectioners' sugar and granulated sugar. if you do not have confectioners' just use 1/3 cup total of granulated sugar.

one more thing: i didn't realize this until i started to write out the recipe, but apparently, i really should not pretend that i can handle math. the recipe called for 75 grams of butter, which i thought i had successfully converted to tablespoons. however, upon further inspection attempting to reconvert for you, it looks like i undershot. and that, probably, is why my almond filling was so thin. below, the correct amount.

pastry dough:
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1-3 tablespoons ice cold water

cut butter into cubes; place back in fridge until ready to use. in bowl of food processor fitted with the dough attachment, pulse together flour, salt and sugar until combined. add cold butter; pulse just until combined and the mixture resembles small pebbles. with food processor running, drizzle in 1 tablespoon water through tube. continue to drizzle in water, a few drops at a time, just until the mixture combines and forms a cohesive dough. form dough into a ball and flatten into a disc; wrap in plastic wrap. keep in fridge until ready to use.

heaping 1/2 cup whole almonds, toasted and cooled
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup butter, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature

in bowl of food processor, combine almonds and sugar; process until fine. add the butter and the egg; pulse until completely combined. chill three quarters of the mixture for another use.

fig tart
pastry dough
1/4 frangipane mixture
15 medium black mission figs, quartered
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
coarse sugar

heat oven to 400˚f. place dough between two pieces of plastic wrap; using rolling pin, roll dough into 11" round. transfer round to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, removing plastic wrap. spread dough with frangipane, leaving a 1" border.

starting in the center, place figs on top of frangipane, leaving 1" border. fold dough over figs, pressing to secure.

using pastry brush, coat dough with egg mixture (use a paper towel to carefully sop up any egg that has dripped onto the parchment paper). sprinkle liberally with coarse sugar.

chill loosely covered at least 20 minutes. bake 40-50 minutes, or until golden brown. let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Friday, September 24, 2010

roasted cauliflower, smoked paprika and cheddar frittata

cauliflower, smoked paprika and cheddar fittata
two confessions:

first. i've been in kind of a
weird place lately.
i'm not sure if it's extreme
exhaustion brought on
by this commute that i thought
i could handle, a hint
of unhappiness in one or two
aspects of my life or as i
suspect, a combination of both.

usually, when i feel off,
cooking helps me get back on track.
it gives me something to focus on,
something that i know i can handle
and something that i can at least
in some way, predict the final outcome of -
all unlike uncertain times in life.

but, lately, even the idea of cooking
feels daunting. i imagine a lot of
chopping, sauteing while having
to keep a watchful eye, leftovers
that i need to find a container for
and aching feet.

i'm not used to this and it scares
me that i'm losing the one
thing that i've always relied on.
if my interest in cooking,
in researching recipes,
in putting a homemade dinner
on the table every night
is wavering,
what's next?

so there's that.
and the second secret: i use cooking spray.
it is uncool for so many reasons.
it's a chemical that i'm spraying all over
my food. it's a weird-flavored thing that
i'm spraying all over my food. but,
really, to me it's necessary.

i grew up in a
home that used oil and butter sparingly,
cream, never. as an adult, i've reached
a compromise between the responsible
calorie-saving side and the culinary-trained
side, using a combination of olive oil and
spray while learning which recipes don't
actually need oil at all. it's something
that i've always been hesitant to write about.
what will other people think?

but, if i was able to admit to you that i'm
doubting myself in some ways, i think
it's only fair that i cop to buying the largest
cooking spray that the store carries.

go ahead, judge me.

in the meantime,
i'll tell you about this frittata.

for my birthday, in august,
my mom gave me two great cookbooks:

i've read both cover to cover several
times, but as is my new attitude apparently,
it all seemed so involved, such a commitment,
but, still so pretty, so tempting.
i've been torn.

last week,
in need of comfort, something
that required a low skill level and
a recipe that used a lot of ingredients
i already had in the house,
i landed on the smoky frittata in plenty.
it was an odd choice for me.
egg dishes don't entirely thrill me -
they're always so...eggy.
cauliflower florets
but this one had
golden cauliflower,
smoked paprika,
dijon mustard -
all ingredients that could
easily sway to me to overlook
the eggs (i was the kid who in
a mexican restaurant, ordered
a dish she had never heard of, with
ingredients she was so-so about,
just because it came with guacamole).

and, even better:
i knew i could handle it.
i would roast the cauliflower instead
of boiling, then browning in a pan.
i certainly could handle whisking
together a bunch of things in a bowl
and i was pretty sure that i could
bake the puffy omelet without burning it,
making a mockery of my
years in the kitchen in the process.

it felt good to drive home from
work, distracting myself on the ride
with ideas for the dinner, ultimately
deciding to use two mini cast iron
skillets instead of one large one. it
was nice to have a plan,
to walk into the kitchen, set the oven
to 400˚f and set to work cutting
the cauliflower into small florets.
it was a relief to realize that even
though i may feel inadequate a lot
lately, i still remembered to adjust
the racks to the top and bottom of
the oven and to divide the florets
evenly among two baking sheets
coated with cooking spray to
ensure that they browned
and didn't steam.

and while they were in the oven,
i changed around the rest of the recipe,
opting to whisk together all of the
flavor components first so that i
could taste and adjust,
before stirring in the raw egg.
i reduced the creme fraiche,
added horseradish, eliminated the smoky
mozzarella, increased the cheddar,
forgot about the chives (oops)
and added a few grains of smoked
salt that i purchased in temecula.
i think that's it.
loaded up
and when the cauliflower came
out of the oven - and we resisted
the urge to just eat them all, as is - i
divided them between the cast iron
skillets and poured in the egg mixture,
sure that i would have extra.
i didn't. and they were really cute.
over the flame
they looked so tiny,
hanging out over the flame on the stove,
but after the full 12 minutes in the oven,
placed on two plates they looked
beautiful - and huge.
out of the oven
the forkfuls,
alongside an arugula and apple salad,
were comforting and reassuring -
a promise that even though i'm still
not so willing to face
the stove with the same tenacity
i have in the past,
when i finally grab a knife,
it will be ok.
ready to eat
roasted cauliflower, smoked paprika and cheddar frittata
adapted from plenty
i will admit that even though i loved the look of the small cast iron pans, they produced frittatas that were huge - for me (larry was fine with the size). i was able to eat about half before i decided that i had had enough. the good news was that the omelet held up surprisingly well and was a nice lunch the next day. while it's true that i changed many elements, i think i still was able to maintain the smoky, cheesy essence of the dish.

plenty is written for a british kitchen - celsius, grams, etc. i converted to the best of my ability in this recipe.

1 medium head cauliflower, cored
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons creme fraiche
2 heaping tablespoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon prepared grated white horseradish
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated and divided
6 large eggs
one pinch large grain smoked salt, ground fine with a mortar and pestle (optional)

adjust racks to top and bottom thirds of oven. heat oven to 400˚f.

cut cauliflower into small-medium florets; place in bowl. drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss to combine. transfer cauliflower to two foil-lined baking sheets coated with cooking spray. if cauliflower looks dry, drizzle with olive oil or coat with cooking spray.

roast cauliflower 20-25 minutes, flipping cauliflower once and rotating baking sheets from top rack to bottom, or until golden brown and tender.

reduce oven temperature to 375˚f. place one rack back in the center of the oven.

meanwhile, in bowl, whisk together creme fraiche, mustard, horseradish, smoked paprika and 2 ounces grated cheddar cheese. taste and adjust, if necessary. in separate bowl (i used the cauliflower bowl), whisk eggs. pour into creme fraiche mixture and whisk to completely combine. season with a touch of salt and pepper, if desired.

coat one 10" cast iron skillet or two 5" cast iron skillets with cooking spray. evenly divide cauliflower between the two skillets to mostly cover the bottom of the skillet (i had extra, but roasted cauliflower never lasts very long in this house, so i wasn't worried). carefully divide egg mixture between the two skillets.

set skillet(s) over flame(s) set to medium. let cook 5 minutes, or until the bottom begins to set.
place on baking sheet. sprinkle with remaining cheese and smoked salt, if using.

carefully transfer baking sheet to oven. bake 8-12 minutes, or until the mixture is completely set. let sit 2-3 minutes before serving.