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Posts Tagged ‘autumn’

Enough already

carrot and radish pickles

It really must stop.

All this roasting and mashing and gravy-making, this pie-baking and eating and socializing. So many delicious and impossibly heavy meals in the space of a week has my tastebuds kind of tired. Maybe–dare I say it?–even a little worn out.

As you may recall, it all started with a pre-holiday dinner with the boyfriend’s family, which was equal parts fun and exhausting. Sunday night we played host to “help us eat leftovers night” with friends, and we sat around the table like grownups and talked politics and drank lots of wine and argued the merits of the 100 dollar laptop program. Wednesday night found me in the bosom of my family in western PA, kibbitzing over matzoh ball soup and beef brisket and carrot cake. (Because, you know, everyone needs to eat a three-course meal on the eve of a major holiday.)

Then, only then, came Thursday, the day that’s supposed to be dedicated to this kind of feasting and merrymaking. Readers, I was worn out, feeling as though I’d flexed my gastronomical muscles a bit further than is advisable. Yet I prevailed, gobbling up my third–third!–turkey dinner of the week. I even topped it off with a slice of sweet potato pie with marshmallow meringue, made by yours truly. It was all delicious, but I do not recommend this practice of so many poultry-centric feasts in one week. I trust it will be well after our next presidential election until turkey passes these lips again.

[Because it makes me feel full all over again remembering it, I won’t even go into the meal we had Friday night in Pittsburgh at a pan-Asian restaurant (I know, I know), and our feast the following day at the Haven, in Johnstown, PA, which may have some of the best bar food east of the Mississippi. I’m talking onion rings, pizza, wings, burgers, and beer-battered fries of the highest order. Oops–I mean I ‘m not talking about those things.]

By Sunday, it was high time to give up the gluttony. I kept threatening to eat nothing but broth and seaweed, but there were Tantre Farm vegetables to use up–and pretty ones, too–for which I am truly thankful.

purple, green, gold

So Sunday evening was spent on my own, making some healthy and humble food out of the bounty of our last farm share. It was soothing to be back in my own space, my impossibly tiny but cozy apartment, making and eating simple food.

The cauliflower you saw up there, in Technicolor? They’re real; I promise. And were delicious cut into florets, tossed in lots of olive oil and coarse salt, and roasted till crispy at 400F, for about 15 minutes. And eaten with fingers.

But in that bowl at the top of this post contains the real elixir–the true counterpoint to my week of indulgence: pickled carrots and radishes, courtesy of a recipe from Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food. They are refreshing and tart and sweet, a delightful corrective to so much over-feasting.

The recipe is super simple, and can be used with any vegetable you think would taste good pickled. (I imagine so, anyway.) I have a mind to try this next with turnips, red onions, and maybe even some cauliflower or celery. It’s also very malleable, so use what you have in the pantry in the brine — different types of vinegar, fresh herbs, or chiles would all be great. And they’re just refrigerator pickles; no sanitizing jars and canning equipment required.

Fresh-Pickled Vegetables
1 1/2 c white wine vinegar
1 3/4 c water
2 1/2 T sugar
1/2 bay leaf
4 thyme sprigs
Pinch of dried chile flakes
1/2 t coriander seeds (I didn’t use these)
2 whole cloves
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
Generous pinch of salt

Combine ingredients and bring to a boil. Cook each type of vegetable in the brine, and scoop them out when they’re cooked but still crisp. Set aside to cool. Once all the vegetables are cooked + cooled, and the pickling brine has cooled, combine everything together, place into a container, and refrigerate. Should keep for a week, if you’ll leave them alone for that long.

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Like everyone else in the food blog world this week, I greet you with tales of Thanksgiving dinner. Although mine is already cooked. You read that right: my turkey, gravy, stuffing, and all the usual suspects have already been prepared. No, I wasn’t trying out some new fad in holiday cooking–make everything 48 hours before you serve it. Rather, Michael and I offered to host a pre-Thanksgiving meal at his house for his Michigan family members since we’ll be with my folks for the holiday. When I agreed to the plan, I believe he thought I was just being the accommodating, food-obsessed girlfriend he’s come to know. My oh-so-secret agenda, however, was that I’d never headed up a Thanksgiving dinner before, so I jumped at the chance. In my family, there is an unwritten rule that Thanksgiving must be hosted by, like, married people who own their own homes. And, preferably, a set of china. Single girls–especially apartment-dwelling single girls–need not apply.

So we hopped to it, and the plans were proceeding beautifully–ahead of schedule, even!–thanks in no small part to the lovely and talented Anne, who helped me conceive a menu that would be relatively straightforward and would accommodate the range of palates of our guests.

Appetizers

    Assorted Cheddar Crisps
    Roasted Chestnuts
    Bacon-Wrapped Dates
    Salami and cheese plate

Dinner

With the addition of some store-bought Avalon Lafayette Baguette Rolls, some sides brought by the guests (mashed rutabaga, creamed onions–family favorite, both) and some pies (pumpkin, apple), it felt like all was under control.

So, armed with a plan

i mean business

A man (who is capable in the kitchen at things I’m wimpy at, like carving a turkey)

michael, carver

And a gorgeous, new roasting pan

aaaah, allclad

we were ready to Put on a Thanksgiving Dinner.

We were not ready, however, for the following, uh, complications. Here’s a list of our lessons learned, some kinks to work out the next time I wrangle my way into Thanksgiving dinner planning:

  • Lesson #1: A 17-pound turkey takes up lots of room in the oven. I mean, LOTS. So no room for the oyster stuffing to bake in its pan. This is why it is good to be friends with your next-door neighbor. (Thanks, Chris!)
  • Lesson #2: A 17-pound turkey is really freaking heavy. And it’s hard to speak kindly and not be kinda bitchy bossy when you’re cradling said 17-pound naked bird in your arms, trying to rinse it and pat it dry. (Sorry, Michael!)
  • Lesson #3: Children under 10 aren’t super keen on salami caliente and homemade cheddar crisps. They do, however, really dig sparkling apple cider.
  • Lesson #4: The timing of the last 30 minutes of the meal are crucial, people. Taking the turkey out of the oven, tenting it with foil, making the gravy, getting the mashed potatoes ready, carving the bird, placing the bird on the platter and plating up all the other dishes WITH serving utensils. And getting said platter and dishes on the table while the food’s still hot.
  • Lesson #5: The Thanksgiving meal, for me anyway, will always yield up a bit of disappointment. It’s a hell of a lot of heavy food, mostly of the same texture and consistency and color (the “tan group,” I like to call it). Eat a lot of salad.
  • Lesson #6: Remember that you wanted to do this in the first place. Appreciate your mothers and aunts and cousins who have worked at preparing Thanksgiving meals for your family forever. Be secretly glad that you aren’t yet grown up enough (according to them) to host Thanksgiving yourself.

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Perfectly Imperfect

I am not the kind of woman who makes Pear Croustade with Lemon Pastry and Almonds. No way. That kind of woman, I’d venture, does not have a towering stack of tupperware lids ready to lurch out of the cupboard every time she opens it. She probably does not let a half-peck of pears from the market sit around in the fridge for a week before she realizes she really ought to get around to doing something with them. I’m certain she doesn’t leave her dirty dishes in the sink till morning. And I’d bet you a dozen Tahitian vanilla beans that she follows recipes exactly, especially when pastry is involved, which she would be keen to do.

Me? I’m the lady baker who will blithely substitute ingredients when I don’t have something on hand — cardamom for cinnamon, brown sugar for white, bittersweet chocolate for semisweet. Only one stick of butter left in the fridge rather than a stick and a half? That’s what oil (or some other fat) is for. Sometimes I use a food processor to cut butter into flour; other times I use my fingers. As you seasoned bakers could well predict, this sometimes results in less-than-desirable results: an oddly-spiced apple pie; flatter-than-desirable banana bread; under-sweetened cookies. This is because I try to bake like I cook–with improvisation, instinct, and–ok, I’ll admit it–a bit of laziness. Or, to put it a bit more charitably, a certain un-fussiness.

Sometimes, though, the lazy-lady-baker gods reward me for my modifications, like my use of sour cream and milk instead of buttermilk in pancake batter, which creates these tangy, rich, almost muffin-like, little cakes. Most recently, it resulted in a rustic pear tart with almonds–the less pretentious cousin of Pear Croustade with Lemon Pastry and Almonds.

pear-almond rustic tart

Why the Epicurious recipe uses “croustade” in the title–which, my handy food reference book describes as “an edible container used to hold a thick stew, creamed meat, vegetable mixture, and so on,” remains a bit opaque to me. I suppose a free-form tart shell is an “edible container” of sorts; I see where they’re coming from. But isn’t that sort of like calling a glove a hand-sock?

With that appetizing segue, let me offer my take on the recipe, which resembles the original but is a bit more relaxed about things.

Rustic Pear Tart with Almonds
Pastry:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 cup whipping cream
A few teaspoons of water (if needed)

Filling:
2 pounds ripe pears, peeled, cored, thinly sliced (I used Bartlett, and I’d have liked them to be a bit more firm)
3 tablespoons sugar (depending on how ripe your pears are)
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon (generous) ground nutmeg
heavy cream (for brushing)
a small handful of sliced almonds — though pine nuts could work here nicely as well

For pastry:
Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in medium bowl. Add butter; using fingertips, rub in butter until coarse meal forms. Incorporate 1/4 cup cream, and toss with fork until moist clumps form, adding some water by teaspoonfuls as needed if dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill 1 hour. [You could also do this in the food processor if you’re so inclined.]

For filling:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine pears, sugar, flour, lemon juice, and nutmeg in large bowl to coat. Roll out pastry on floured surface to 14-inch round. Fold crust in half, and then half again, and transfer to rimmed baking sheet. (For some reason that I can’t recall, I like baking my free-form tarts on the back of the baking sheet, but this just might be me trying to be different.) Mound pears in center of pastry, leaving 2-inch border. Fold pastry border over pears. Brush pastry edges with cream; sprinkle with sliced almonds, pressing them ever-so-gently into the pastry.

Bake until filling bubbles and almonds are lightly toasted, about 1 hour. If you oven is crazily uneven like mine is, keep checking the temp and sniffing for signs of burned crust.

Cool slightly. Best served the next day to surprise guests, with modest pours of Woodford Reserve Bourbon or a mug of hot tea.

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