Posted in baking, candy, dry heat, wet heat

Pear Frangipane Tart

pear tart

I used this recipe to make a Christmas Eve dessert.

I adapted it slightly. I definitely poached my own pears. I’m not snobby about all ingredients, but the difference between fresh and canned pears is huge. I followed David Lebovitz’s recipe for that, and added ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, and whole cloves (maybe a tablespoon of each? I didn’t measure) to the syrup, which I made double the amount of.

Double the pear poaching syrup might have been more than I needed, especially since you don’t actually need 4 pears to do this recipe. Only two quartered pears will fit on the top of my tart, although I squeezed in one more quarter.

I also don’t have baking beans or parchment paper handy, so I blind baked the crust without anything on top of it for 15 minutes and that seemed fine. It didn’t brown.

I haven’t tasted the finished product yet but I think the crust might turn out too floury tasting. It’s somewhere in between a cookie crust and a flaky buttery crust. You might want to try a pate sucree recipe instead. But I’ll report back after tonight. Edit: The crust was tender but a little too floury tasting for me. It wasn’t bad but I’d just as soon eat the filling and the pears without the crust. Making it either more buttery or sweeter would probably be better. The almond meal in the crust probably helped keep it tender but I don’t think it added much flavor-wise.

I also added some vanilla to the frangipane, and right now I’m boiling down the syrup I poached the pears in to make a sauce for the tart, especially important if it turns out to be not sweet enough. I also thought a caramel sauce would go well with it, but since I already have this syrup I’ll try that first. Edit: the frangipane was delicious. My sister doesn’t like pears so I just made her try a bite of the frangipane and she said “It’s like a little angel!” She then apologized for not being good at talking about food but I thought that was pretty great! I do think adding spices to it would be good, though. The syrup didn’t pack the punch I had hoped, but the tart didn’t really need it, either.

The whole thing took me two hours. I made the crust, let it rest while I prepped the pears, blind baked, poached, and made frangipane simultaneously, and now I’m baking and boiling down the syrup. You could do the crust ahead of time, of course.

One thing I learned from doing it is that you want to grab the pears out of the syrup either without piercing them, or piercing them from the bottom! When they dry up in the oven the fork marks really show!

Cinnamon and cloves are my obsession this winter since I tried a cocktail with Fernet Branco (but it didn’t taste bitter at all!). I’m thinking about using the syrup in a cocktail, too.

Posted in baking, dry heat, wet heat

Dinner for 28 Linguists

Yesterday, I was in charge of cooking dinner after a colloquium we had in the department.  I shopped on Wednesday, as did one of my co-cooks.  I cooked from 2:45pm on Thursday until 3:45…am.  And then a little more Friday morning.  And then more Friday night.  The great thing was that, even though I’m a really bad judge of what’s enough food, I ended up with basically the perfect amount.  Just a little left over of everything.  So I want to keep track of how much I made this time, in case I’m ever crazy enough to do it again.  My theme was French food.

Thanks to everyone who helped!  I couldn’t have done it without you guys.

Creme du Barry

This is a leek and cauliflower soup.  I referred to these four recipes: Group Recipes, Global Gourmet, Recettes et Terroirs, Delices de France.  I basically made the first recipe, multiplied by four, with half of the water replaced with whole milk and no extra milk (it was plenty liquid), and for herbs and spices I used white pepper and fresh thyme, flat parsley, and curly parsley.  I blended it in batches in a blender and served it cold.  If I did it again, I think I’d go for a creamier texture – less water, some cream for some of the milk, maybe more creme fraiche – and maybe a different combination of herbs.  I loved the white pepper in it, though.  I had more left over of the soup than anything else, even though I made an amount that’s supposed to serve 16, while I made 24 servings of everything else.  I don’t know if that’s because people were less enthusiastic about it, or because people eat less soup than other things.

We also had (thanks to a couple of helpful linguists) 3 baguettes, of which two got eaten.


I used this recipe for the amounts of the ingredients, except I used half yellow bell peppers and half red.  I doubled the recipe, so I made 24 servings.  Here’s how I did it:

  • Cut the ends of a head of garlic, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in foil, and roast at 400F for 15 minutes.  Squeeze cloves out and mince them.  (I would have pressed them if I had a garlic press.)
  • Sweat onions; put in a big pot.  Add the garlic.
  • Saute zucchini on high heat in a little olive oil until it gets a little brown; put it in the pot.
  • Put chopped bell peppers under the broiler for 5-10 minutes; in the pot with them.
  • Chop eggplant; pot it up.
  • Dump canned diced tomatoes into the pot.
  • Cover the pot and cook on medium low heat until the veggies are the consistency you like.  I don’t like mine mushy, and I’m proud to say that despite having to be reheated at the dinner, the zucchini kept a nice firmness in the middle.  I chopped everything into cubes or an approximation thereof, rather than slices, and I think that helped.
  • Season with fresh basil and thyme.  I also added some dried oregano, which is not usually done, but I love oregano and I’m the cook.

My only complaint was that there was a lot of liquid that I couldn’t cook off without overcooking my vegetables, so I just discarded some of it.  The veggies absorbed the rest, which may be a really good thing.  But still, next time I would cook the tomatoes separately for a while to get rid of some of that liquid.

I had maybe one side dish sized portion of ratatouille left by the end of the night.

Coq au vin

I used Julia Child’s recipe, multiplied by four (so 24 servings), except I didn’t pay a lot of attention to her instructions on the onions and mushrooms; I just caramelized the onions and sauteed the mushrooms and called it a day.  I also cooked in crockpots, so I reduced the wine and chicken stock by half before cooking.  I probably should have reduced it even more.  I cooked it on low for just shy of 8 hours, and it was perfectly falling off the bone.  Unfortunately, when I went to reduce the sauce, I didn’t think to strain out the bits of stuff, and then I neglected the pot because I was doing other things, and as a result the bits of stuff burned.  At that point I just gave up on the sauce, because I had enough to deal with.  But I think it would have added a lot.

There was nothing left of the coq au vin but a pile of bones.  It was a beautiful, if slightly scary, sight.

I served this with one package of couscous, of which about one serving remained.  I had another package but it didn’t seem necessary.


I used this recipe and made three pithiviers.  I made four pies last time I cooked for a colloq and had a whole extra, and sure enough three seemed to be the right amount this time.  I had about two small slices or one big slice left over.

I used cognac instead of rum, and I didn’t decorate the pithiviers in the traditional way – I just rolled the puff pastry into two circles, put the filling on top of one with maybe and inch border,  which I put egg wash on.  Then the second circle went on top and I gently pressed it against the egg wash.  I learned that pinching the two circles together inhibited the rising of the puff pastry, so it’s important to be gentle and trust the egg wash to do its job, which it did.  The filling turned out really well, I think; before baking it was a little light on sugar and a little heavy on booze, but when served it tasted just right.  I topped it with whipped cream and a dusting of powdered sugar.

These are supposed to be served right out of the oven, but I couldn’t under the circumstances.  It turns out they taste great at room temperature, but the puff pastry doesn’t stay as amazingly puffed, and when some of the layers fall back together it gets a little hard to cut through.  So serving them right away is optimal, but serving them the next day is still perfectly fine.

Posted in baking, wet heat

Daring Bakers: Traditional British Pudding

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

I made a Sussex Pond pudding.  I’ll admit, I used Crisco in place of suet.  The pudding was simple and unusual: essentially, a pie crust, filled with butter, brown sugar, and a whole lemon, then put in a heatproof bowl (I used Pyrex), covered in parchment paper and foil, and steamed in a pot on the stove for about 3 hours.  You prick the lemon before putting it in so the juices come out and make a sauce with the butter and brown sugar.

They tell you to make sure to use a thin-skinned lemon.  Well, I used the only kind of lemon being sold at Stop n Shop, and apparently the skin was not thin enough.  The bitter flavor of the pith really came out in the sauce, and although the first few bites were delicious, once I hit the bitterness I really couldn’t even stand to eat anymore.  I still think it’s ingenious, though – I’d like to try again using lemon zest and juice instead of the whole lemon (cool as the idea of the whole lemon is).

I’m not gonna lie: it’s a pretty ugly dessert, or at least my attempt at it was.  Here’s a picture just to prove I made it.

The sauce seeped out of the crust...yeah, it's pretty hideous.
Posted in wet heat

Mashed Rutabaga

Another thing I got from the farm that I had never tried before was rutabaga.  My only familiarity with rutabagas was seeing a neglected one sit on our countertop for a few months in college.  I wonder if my roommate ever ate it.  I neglected the first one we got on my countertop, but it wasn’t as hardy as my roommate’s and it withered up pretty quick.  So when we got another one, I put it in the fridge and I’ve been determined to do something with it.  A google search showed me that mashing is the popular approach to rutabagas, although I found that you can also eat them raw and pan-fried.  Although I was tempted to make one of my pasta sauces, I decided to go for the mash.  Haven’t done that in a while.

Mashed RutabagaYou hardly need a recipe to mash a root vegetable.  I diced it fairly small, so it would cook fast, and boiled it with salted water until it felt tender when I pierced it with a fork.  In the meantime, I minced a clove of garlic and one of my little red peppers – it was like Return of Aglio (Olio) e Peperoncino.  Just with butter instead of oil, which I let sit out while the rutabaga cooked so it would be a little soft when it came to mashing time.  I had a little low-fat milk, but none of the stuff you should really use in a mash, so I decided to just skip that.

It mashed up fine and I added a little butter and then tasted it.  Really quite delicious!  I didn’t really expect to like it that much.  But I figured I would get bored of it by the end if I didn’t go ahead and add my flavorings, so in they went.  That was my downfall.  Those peppers are just out of my tolerance zone.  How can something so pretty be so evil?  I think I got a lot tougher with spicy food in college, but these things are ridiculous.  Breathing fire gets in the way of enjoying your food.  I also think the garlic would have been better lightly cooked, which I kind of knew, but didn’t want to bother with since they were the only things I had to saute.  But according to some websites, I’m less likely to get cancer because I ate raw garlic.  Anyway, now I know: I like rutabaga.  And I get to add something to my list of quick starch-based dinners: risotto, pasta, pizza, and mashed roots.  Of course, I had made mashed potatoes (not real roots, but anyway) and mashed sweet potatoes before, but those always seemed a little trickier.  This was super easy.  I’ll just have to find something different to throw in next time.

Posted in wet heat

Farmshare soup

I put some sourdough bread in it that I needed to finish before it went stale.

I rarely make soup, but now that I have a sore throat it seemed like a good idea, and when I remembered that I had bouillon cubes, well, that was that.  I threw in a bunch of the vegetables we have lying around: tatsoi (a green leafy thing), carrots, celeriac, kohlrabi, and leeks.  The bouillon cubes were meat consomme stock.  They didn’t have instructions about how much water they go with, but I vaguely remembered 3 cups from my risotto making, so I went with that.  I ended up adding water a few times as the soup boiled.  And yes, it boiled, even though it probably should have simmered.  Whatever, there’s no meat in it for me to make rubbery.  I put the celeriac, kohlrabi, and carrots in first for, I don’t know, 20 minutes? and then the leeks and tatsoi in for another maybe 5 or a little more.  The carrots, leeks, and tatsoi came out great.  The celeriac and kohlrabi were a little too soft, and the kohlrabi just doesn’t taste like anything anymore, so I don’t think I’ll use it in soup from now on.  And the liquid has a weird sweetness to it, that I’m thinking may be the missing flavor of the kohlrabi (I know carrots are the obvious culprit for sweetness, but it doesn’t taste like carrot).  I don’t think it’s a good thing.  I like using the tatsoi this way, though.

So I have now used random assortments of farmshare vegetables in salads, soup, pasta sauce, and sautes.  Although my rutabaga is shriveling up and we have thrown away more old greens than I like to think about, I haven’t done too badly.

Posted in dry heat, wet heat

Aglio, olio e peperoncino

This is one Italian pasta sauce that I was completely unfamiliar with.  Which is ridiculous.  But I happen to have aglio (garlic) and peperoncino (peppers) from the farm.  So I gave it a whirl.

I got contradictory advice from an Italian website and an Italian person.  The website said you just use the aglio e peperoncino to flavor the oil, and then you take them out.  The person said to leave them in.  My loyalty lies with real people. So the trick to this sauce is not to burn the garlic.  I left most of it in big pieces so I could take it out if I didn’t like it, because I’m not one of those people who are obsessed with garlic.  But I got the big pieces to cook just right – soft, slightly golden, but not brown – and I actually liked them.  The problem, rather, was with the peperoncini.  I used three little red ones that had been dried, and three was too many.  But I washed my hands very carefully immediately after handling them to try to avoid what happened last time I cut a bunch of peppers – apparently the oils stayed on my hands long enough that washing them didn’t help, and they were stinging for the next 24 hours no matter what I tried.  Alton Brown says washing your hands with baking soda works, too.  What I really need to do is just get some gloves.  The website said fresh peppers are better and I think I would have appreciated the extra flavor.

I think I used too much oil – I tried to cover the bottom of my cast iron pan, which I think is 12 inches, and my little single serving of pasta (I go with 80g per person, a tip from the same Italian person) was swimming in it. I used extra virgin olive oil, although the website said it couldn’t take the heat.  I found it fine in terms of the heat (as my Italian consultant said “Funziona lo stessoooo” it works the saaaame), but perhaps it isn’t necessary to use the expensive stuff?  I don’t know, since it’s such a simple sauce, it seems like extra virgin would be the way to go.  The pasta came out a little tough, and I think it had to do with all the sizzling that went on when I put the pasta into the hot pan with the oil.  So next time: try the peppers first, don’t overdo the oil, and add the sauce to the pasta rather than the other way around.  I’ll report back when I perfect it.

Posted in dry heat, wet heat

Carrot and bell pepper pasta

After a real Italian mom taught me how to make tomato sauce, I realized I can make a million variations on it by putting in whatever vegetables (especially those fruits that we consider vegetables) I have on hand.  This time I had carrots and a purple bell pepper from my farmshare.  The purple pepper (since the farmshare does measure some things in pecks and I do pick some of the stuff there myself, I really wish I could say I picked a peck of them) turned dark green when it cooked, just like the purple beans (I’d call them green beans, but…they’re not) that we get there do.  If anyone knows what pigments are involved and what they’re sensitive to, I’d love to know!  Anyway, I sauteed my veggies with a little shallot and olive oil, added my canned diced tomatoes and some wine, simmered that while I cooked my pasta, and voila, or rather, ecco.  I grated some parmesan cheese on top, of course.  The moral of the story is: don’t be afraid of homemade sauce!  You can use canned tomatoes (in fact, I prefer them, because they don’t get mushy), and you don’t have to simmer it all day long.  I start heating the pasta water at the same time as I start the sauce, and I finish the sauce at about the same time the pasta is finished.  Just remember that it’s better for your sauce to have to wait for your pasta than for your pasta to have to wait for your sauce, since sauceless pasta will start to dry out.

Start a sauce by sauteing aromatics in olive oil.
I always start a sauce by sauteing aromatics in olive oil.
I decided to use penne for a change.  Normally I'm a spaghetti gal.
I decided to use penne for a change. Normally I'm a spaghetti gal.