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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tarte Tintin - Bashibazouks!

The parents of one of the Man's colleagues have an orchard. Or possibly just an apple tree, but at any rate, they had surplus apples this autumn, which somehow made their way to my kitchen, just in time for me to try out the newly-discovered tarte tatin possibilities of my silicone-handled skillets.
Tonight I bumped into the reality that one should pay very careful attention to the instructions in a recipe, not just the ingredients list. My usual practice is very carefully to make sure I know what's on the list, then skim through the instructions, based on an (over-) confident assumption that I know roughly how to put things together.
This may be the case with recipes I've tried before. It's not so good with things I haven't ever tried before.
Tarte tatin recipes call either for halves of apples or quarters. I blithely sliced my apples much thinner, which had two disadvantages. The first is that it's much harder to squish them all into the pan (I failed - two tarts are better than one, luckily) and second the little pieces of apple effectively disintegrate while cooking in the buttery sugary glaze.
Luckily the unbelievably rich pastry stood up to the wondrously toffee-ish sauce that resulted, although the whole thing didn't look quite as beautiful as a proper tart like wot my mother used to make.
The second tart I made with a scone dough instead of going through the faff of a proper flaky pastry, resting the dough for ages in the fridge and so on. I haven't tasted it yet - it's destined for my work colleagues, but it looks yummy!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Nutty tart

Two simple mistakes and I ruined what could have been a masterpiece. The first was that I forgot to keep my pantry stocked, so when I came to make this hazelnut tart, I had no plain flour.
Not a problem, I thought. I'll use wholewheat flour. That'll be grand.
I'd forgotten the salutary experience of an evening at a local restaurant in Ireland where the chef had decided on a whim to make wholewheat pasta. He'd never done it before, but when our spy in the kitchen muttered that perhaps he should cook it longer than normal pasta, he simply screamed, threw a tantrum and fired her.
As a result we had to wait for our order for nearly an hour while the manager soothed the chef, then the pasta itself was inedibly thick and undercooked.
My wholewheat pastry was not quite so disastrous, but since the recipe originally made a very crumbly pastry, with brown flour it would have been impossible to do anything without the brilliant tip to roll it out between layers of clingfilm.
The other mistake was to follow the recipe too slavishly. It called for lemon zest in both pastry and filling. I don't like lemon flavoured sweets much, but I religiously zested two little lemons.
Nobody else complained, but the lemon note in the hazelnut filling to me was overpowering and somehow medicinal.
The big excitement was that there was enough pastry and filling left to make an ancillary tart. I couldn't find any mini-tart tins, so I used a frying pan, the first time I've dared put one of my lovely Analon Professional pans in the oven.
Apart from a minor incident where I branded my own hand with the handle, it worked like a dream. Tarte tatin next, I think!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Spaghetti? Squash?

One of the things I love most about food is how magic it is. Most of this is the kind of chemistry that happens when you boil an egg - clear liquid goo goes solid and white. When you add flour to melted butter and it forms a runny sauce, then you add liquid and it solidifies. You put cake batter into the oven and it disappears, leaving a cake in its place.

This is all magic where it feels like you, the cook, are the conjuror. You are the agent of the magic.

But even better is the magic the food has inside itself. One of my favourite examples is rarely available on this side of the Atlantic. It looks like a normal squash - big, round, a bit dull. You cut it in half - same story. Scoop out the seeds and bake or steam the squash as you normally would.

Then - ABRACADABRA and Hey Presto! - use a fork to scrape out the flesh of your boring yellow squash, which turns into noodles. Like so:

This is the spaghetti squash tossed with butter, cheese and basil leaves. No pasta involved.

Even the Man, who had traumatic memories of being forcefed spaghetti squash in a Winnebago overlooking the Grand Canyon age 10 admitted grudgingly that it wasn't as awful as he had expected.

Which is high praise.

I took the leftovers to work as my packed lunch the next day and was delighted to discover that it was genuinely nice, not just exciting because it's so weird.