Return to Normal (Chocolate Salted Caramel Tart)

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My last post was in August. August, people. I knew it would be hard for me to blog while I was student teaching, but I had no idea I’d all but abandon the blog during that time. It was next to impossible for me to find any time to cook for myself, let alone take photos, write posts, and publish them for you. My apologies for my absence. I’m back now. And so glad to be here.

Student teaching went well; who knew I’d grow so attached to 121 different 8th graders? I remember myself at that age and I recall it being a really tough time in my life. I’m sure it’s the same for most people, but to be in it every day for three solid months was a wake-up call, for sure. I had some tough days…days when I thought I just wasn’t cut out for teaching, but then those days would wind down and quickly be replaced by really great days in which I felt completely at ease and comfortable in front of the class. Student teaching ended just before Christmas, as well as my graduation. After all this time in school, it’s suddenly over. I feel a bit lost, to be honest, but I’m sure I’ll find my new normal routine again soon.

There are only two short days left in 2014, a year that had some really wonderful ups and some devastating downs for me. What better way to ring in 2015 than with chocolate and caramel, right? This dessert is SWEET. Now, if you know anything about me, you know that my sweet tooth is quite small, but for those of you who love rich and sweet desserts, this one is for you! I used some buttermilk to replace a little of the heavy cream in the caramel, so it has a bit of a sweet and tangy flavor. I quite like it, but if you are not as partial to buttermilk as I am, go ahead and use all heavy cream.
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Tarte Au Citron et Aux Amandes (Lemon and Almond Tart)

As the saying goes, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.”  Now, I would never claim to have the culinary skills of the venerable Julia Child, but hey, I can imitate, and that’s good enough for me.

I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “Sara, we’ve already seen Julie and Julia, we don’t need to read about your misadventures in cookery.”  But hear me out.  I promise I won’t take you down a self-reflective road of discovery on my way to inner peace; I just want to tell you what I did last weekend.  That’s all.

My very good friends, Sarah and Matthew, are part of a roaming pot-luck group and it was their turn to host last Sunday.  Sarah is a food writer for our local paper and also maintains a blog.  She pointed out to me that Julia Child’s 100th birthday is on August 15th, and she wanted to have a celebratory pot-luck in honor of her; all items were to come from Julia’s own cookbooks.  I thought it was a fabulous idea, and I was instantly rolling recipes around in my head in preparation for the Big Night.

All the makings of a perfect tart crust.

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Easy As Pie (or Tart)

There are a number of vegetables that can most usually be found hanging out in our refrigerator here at home.  At any given time, you will probably find broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, celery, carrots, and brussels sprouts.  With these vegetables, come the usual preparations: roasting, rolling in prosciutto, sauteing in bacon fat, etc.  Yes, those are all great ways to prepare pretty much any vegetable, but last night I was hoping for something more.  Something different.

I have quite a large stockpile of Bon Appetit magazines taking up valuable real estate in my kitchen, so I grabbed an issue and started flipping around.  I’ll agree that it’s often easier to take inspiration from websites and the like (because it’s faster), but there is something leisurely about turning the pages of a magazine that I will always enjoy.  As I flipped through, I came across an article about savory tarts.  I love tarts of all kinds (sweet and savory) and I love making them, so this seemed like an obvious choice for dinner.

The thing about savory tarts is that they are so flexible and so forgiving.  All you really need is a good tart shell (store-bought if you’re not inclined to make your own), some delicious ingredients for the filling, and a couple of eggs.  For this one, I used cauliflower, asparagus, and caramelized onions.

I rushed home from class yesterday and began in on my tart shell.  I’ve experimented with several different versions of savory tart shells; some that require par-baking and others that do not.  It’s really up to you, honestly.  If you can’t be bothered to make your own, just pick up a pie crust from the market.  Keep a few in your own freezer at home for future use.  However, I will say that this tart shell was relatively easy and didn’t require any par-baking.

Because my pile of homework never appears to get any smaller, I wanted to do as much ahead of time as I could.  So, I popped the cauliflower and asparagus into the oven and let it do most of the work.  After thinly slicing a red onion, I added it to a skillet and patiently waited as the house began to fill with the lovely sweet smell given off in the caramelizing process.  Before I knew it, I had all of my components ready and “dinnertime” was still about 2 hours away!  Everything kept well in the fridge while I returned to Great Expectations.


This is just what I love about savory tarts.  In no time, the components are ready for assembly, and life as I know it doesn’t have to stop in order to prepare a delicious dish.

Cauliflower, Asparagus, and Caramelized Onion Tart
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2007

For the tart dough:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon, plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes, chilled
1 egg, beaten

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, cornstarch and salt.  Add butter and pulse until mixture is broken down into small, floured bits.  Add the beaten egg and pulse until a dough forms.  It may be necessary to remove dough from bowl of food processor and knead on a lightly floured work surface.  This dough is tough; don’t give up on it.  Roll out dough into a 12-inch circle and place it in a 9-inch pie plate or tart pan and press to remove air bubbles.  Crimp edges and place in fridge for at least 30 minutes.  No par-baking necessary.

For tart filling:

1 small head of cauliflower (~ 1 pound), cut into 1-inch florets
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
pinch of truffle salt (or 1 tablespoon truffle oil) (optional)
1 large onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup whole milk (or cream)
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
pinch of ground nutmeg
1 cup grated Gruyère cheese (Swiss or Comté are fine, as well)

Method:

Pre-heat oven to 425ºF.  Toss cauliflower with 2 tablespoons olive oil in large bowl.  Spread on rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper and let roast for 15 minutes.  Add asparagus pieces to cauliflower, give it all a good stir, and let roast for an additional 10- 15 minutes until brown and tender.  Cool the mixture slightly and give the cauliflower pieces a rough chop.  Sprinkle with truffle salt or drizzle with truffle oil, if using.

Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF.

Heat remaining 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add onion, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until onion is a deep golden brown, stirring occasionally – roughly 30 minutes.  Cool slightly.

Set the tart on a rimmed baking sheet.  Spread the bottom and sides of crust with mustard.  Spread onion over mustard.  Arrange cauliflower and asparagus mixture over the onion.  Whisk eggs, sour cream, ricotta, milk, pepper, and nutmeg in a medium bowl.  Stir in cheese.  Pour mixture over vegetables and bake until tart is golden and the center is set, about 40 minutes.  Transfer to rack and cool 15 minutes before serving.


Squash, Bacon, and Lobster (Oh my!)

I’m a fan of soup.  A big fan.  Anything that requires slow simmering and very little attention on my part is a good thing.  And when I think of Thanksgiving, I always think of butternut squash, so naturally, I thought I would throw together a butternut squash soup for our first course.  Then I asked myself, “What could possibly make a luscious soup such as this even better?”  My answer?  Bacon and lobster, of course!

Although they are a pain to peel, the flavor of a butternut squash is well worth the effort.  I chopped it up along with an onion and garlic and tossed them all together with olive oil and the rendered fat from the bacon.  To that, I added minced sage, thyme, and a few whole bay leaves.  After a sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper, I roasted them in a 450º oven for just under an hour, stirring them halfway through to ensure even roasting.

Despite the state of our house (we’re still living out of the basement due to floor refinishing) I was still thrilled to be cooking for our Thanksgiving.  The roasted veggies smelled amazing and in the meantime, I prepped the lobster tails.  It was quite simple, really.  I just snipped up the sides of the lobster tail and snipped up the belly side of the shell, removing it and exposing the flesh.  A little salt, pepper, and olive oil and voilà

I wrapped the lobster tails in foil packets and after the butternut squash mixture was sufficiently roasted, I removed it, and into the oven they went!  Before I knew it, the soup had been puréed, the lobster was done, and it was only 1:00pm!

The finished product with lobster pieces.  Delicious!

As if one dessert wasn’t enough, I went ahead and put together a quick apple tart.  I’ve made them before, but usually labored over the pastry…not this time!  No way!  Into the freezer I went and Eureka! I had a package of puff pastry!  This apple tart is the simplest way to serve a fruit dessert and if you have the right ingredients: apples, puff pastry, butter, and sugar, you should be in business!

I tossed my peeled and cored apples with a few tablespoons of sugar and a few tablespoons of brandy, but the alcohol isn’t necessary.  We all know I like hooch with my food, and I feel that brandy adds a nice element to an apple dessert.  I then layered the apples on the puff pastry, sprinkled it with more sugar, and dotted the apples with cubed butter.  After about an hour in the oven, it was golden brown and gorgeous! 

All in all, I think this non-traditional Thanksgiving went off without a hitch.  Pat prepared a standing rib roast with roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, and fingerling potatoes.  And Holly prepared a lovely scalloped celery root dish with bacon.  It was a nice change to spend the holiday with close friends and I hope we can all do it again soon. 

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