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Simple Fruit Tarts

24 Aug

tart

watercolor by Frances Newcombe

This post should actually be entitled Fruit Tarts for Dummies…  or rather, Fruit Tarts for A Dummy. Because, listen, if I can do this … I, me, someone with absolutely no patience for baking or dough or measuring exactly or any of that silliness… if I can do this, you can do this. And you will be so happy.

Fruit trees are one of the many benefits of living in Southern California. Not just fruit trees, but bountiful fruit trees that need very little upkeep. I am as bad at gardening as I am at baking (that patience issue) yet I have in my yard lemon trees, orange trees, apricot trees, a pomegranate tree, a kumquat tree, avocado trees, a macadamia nut tree and a glorious fig tree that goes crazy in season. Consequently, I’m always looking for ways to use the fruit.

IMG_2733 - Version 2

Prepping Fruit Tarts

I’ve written before about Patricia Wells, a chef whose writing and cooking had an incredible influence on my life. In her book At Home In Provence, there’s a gorgeous Apricot-Honey-Almond Tart you can also make with figs. It looked so incredible, and so easy, I had to give it a try. My first attempt turned out so well I kept making these tarts over the summer, in different variations, to master the tarts and see which fruits worked best. And so I give you below my slightly tweaked take on her recipe.

Did I mention how %@$# incredible they taste? Wow, are they wonderful. This recipe slays everyone by both beauty and taste. Anyone you serve the tart will have no idea how simple it is (and there’s no reason to let them know!) They’ll look at you like you had Patricia fed-ex the tart from her kitchen in France. Because it’s best served room temperature, it’s perfect not only for your home but to bring to a picnic or to a potluck. My goodness, these taste good. And they are light as well! While gorgeous, this tart is the opposite of a heavy, dense dessert. But you get all the pleasure just the same. 

Apricot Tart

apricot tart, right out of the oven

ONE NOTE: Hearty fruits such a stone fruits or figs are best with this recipe. The blueberry and raspberry versions I tried tasted great but those soft fruits started to break down into mush by the time they were finished cooking.

***!!! As an added treat this week, my beloved friend Frances Newcombe did some art for the post, including a downloadable PDF of the recipe – click here to download what you see below.

SIMPLE SUMMER FRUIT TARTS

(adapted from Patricia Wells’ At Home In Provence)
INGREDIENTS
Use a 9 inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom or 3 individual tart pans (4-5 inches)
The Crust:
 
A tab or two of butter for preparing tart pan
 
8 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
 
1/2 cup sugar
 
1/4 t pure almond extract
 
1/4 t Mexican Vanilla
 
pinch of fine sea salt
 
1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour (I like King Arthur for baking)
 
2 T finely ground raw almonds (or some almond flour, though I like the homemade here)
 
The Filling:
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
 
1 large egg, lightly beaten
 
1/2 t almond extract
 
1/2 t Mexican Vanilla extract
 
2 T raw high quality honey, such as lavender or orange blossom
 
1 T ground almonds
 
about 1 1/2 lbs fresh apricots, pitted and halved (do not peel) or figs, halved, or any stone fruit such as peaches or plums halved (or a combo!)
 
Powdered Sugar for garnish, if desired
DIRECTIONS
 
1. Preheat the oven to 375º
 
2. Butter the bottom and sides of the tart pan and set aside (just rub every bit of the surface with butter, just enough to cover)
 
3. In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar and gently combine. (A wooden spoon works great here.) Add the extracts, salt and flour and stir to combine. Do not let form into a ball. It should be very moist with the butter completely incorporated.
 
4. Spread the dough out over the bottom and sides of the tart pan. I like to start with the sides, using my fingers to edge the dough up the sides and then over the bottom.  It should be pretty thin. Go easy, don’t overwork the dough. “Don’t treat it like you hate it, treat it like you love it.”
 
5. Bake until the dough is a little puffy, about 12 to 15 minutes. It sill suddenly start to puff up a little – that’s the time to pull it out. Sprinkle some of the ground almonds over the crust, which will prevent it from becoming soggy. It also adds more almond flavor, yum.)
Tart Crust

tart crust out of the oven

 
6. While the tart shell bakes, prepare the cream. Combine cream, egg, extracts and honey. Whisk to blend. Whisk in the almonds.
 
7. Starting at the edge, place your halved fruit around the tart pan, creating more and more circles as you get closer to the center. You just want to make sure the cut side is facing up and the fruit tilts slightly downward. Have fun with your placement. I usually put a final half, straight up, in the center.
 
8. Pour the cream evenly over the fruit. Get it not just on top but in between so the tart fills up.
Tart before oven

tart with cream, ready for the oven

9. Bake in the oven until the filling is firm (but not solid, like a cake) and the tart dough is golden. **You will begin to smell the wondrous smells of the fruit, cream and pastry. That’s when you need to really start being aware of the tart. It’s almost done. 
 
10. When finished, let rest on a rack to cool (I just rest mine on the raised levels of the gas burners on my stove)
minitarts done

mini-tarts, right out of the oven

 
When cool, lift the tart pan and tap the bottom gently. You may be surprised how easily it pops out and you end up with a gorgeous tart. If this makes you nervous, you may also cut and serve the tart from pan itself. Give it a try, though. It always works and it still tastes great if it breaks apart!
***For this beautiful downloadable version of the recipe, click here.
tart_recipe

Garlic Salad, My Most Requested Dish

10 Aug
GS Ingredients

Ingredients for Garlic Salad

Given all the food I cook, it should be annoying that something so ridiculously simple as my garlic salad would be the dish people currently request the most. Annoying, that is, if I didn’t love it myself and could eat it every night.

And often do.

GS - salad

Garlic Salad

I say its “my” garlic salad because I landed on this recipe after many, many attempts and variations. But to be honest, it’s my attempt at recreating a favorite dish from growing up, Mama Colichia’s House Salad. Colichia’s Italian Village was opened by Mama Colichia in 1935 in Port Arthur, Texas. I’m not sure the original location but when our family was going, which was often (same for much of my hometown), the restaurant was in the Colichia’s house on Proctor Street. The tables were set up in the living room and dining room and Mama Colichia worked out of her kitchen. 

The food was pure old fashioned Sicily and absolutely wonderful. I always ordered either the Veal Parmigiana (mostly) and the lasagna (on special occasions). The Spaghetti and Meatballs were also a town favorite. But the most remarkable dish that came out of that kitchen was the house salad Mama Colichia served with every meal. She made each salad by hand right before it came out of the kitchen. She used — and pardon my Texas-French — a shitload of garlic and distilled white vinegar. Good Lord, that salad. You can live on it.  We would talk about it as a family, obsessing on it. My dad, whom Mama Colichia loved, thought for years she put a dash of Dr. Pepper in the salad, because she used a Dr. Pepper bottle to hold her vinegar. (It works great!) You could see her making the salad when the swinging door dividing the kitchen from the dining room would swing back and forth when the waiters walked through the door. 

While Mama Colichia passed years ago and the house on Procter is no longer an Italian Village, her children and grandchildren still run updated versions at home and I always slide in to have the salad. 

Over the years, I’ve tried different variations to see if I could get close. I’ve finally ‘mastered it’, if you can call the rather ramshackle recipe below mastering. No matter. I will in no way claim this is a good as Mama Coilichia’s, but if/when I ask people what they want for dinner, I hear this the most. And so I give it to you.

Don’t be scared of the garlic. It’s good for you and you will love this.

Oh, and when I made this salad to take the pictures for the blog, I ate the whole bowl. It’s all I ate for dinner, with a martini, so don’t think I’m a pig. And I’m a rabbit, I love all salad in general. But yes I ate the whole bowl. It’s that good.

GS garlic salad

My dinner

GARLIC SALAD (makes 4 small appetizer salads- I double this frequently)

INGREDIENTS 

(use this as a general guideline, I never make it quite the same each time)

4 hearts of romaine, sliced horizontally into 1 inch pieces

6 large cloves of garlic, pressed (see Note below)

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup distilled white vinegar

1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (get the real thing, not out of a canister)

1/4 t salt (I use double, but use 1/4 your first time and taste to your liking)

1/2 t cracked black pepper (same here, I use more but taste as you toss)

NOTE: There is no science to back this up, but I’ve come to believe pressing garlic gives you more garlic flavor than mincing… when using garlic raw, at least. Mincing is great for many uses, cooking and raw, but if you want garlic, I think a pressed garlic clove releases more oil and gives more of a garlic kick. I’ve done side by side taste tests. So, you know, it’s kind of scientific. 

DIRECTIONS 

Put the pressed garlic in a large bowl (if you like salad, get a large wooden salad bowl… yes, it makes a big difference) and pour in the oil. Stir it up, making sure all the garlic is covered by the oil and let it sit 15-30 minutes.

GS garlic and oil

Garlic and olive oil

Pour in the vinegar. Whisk very well to mix.

GS dressing

Dressing mixed

Throw in your romaine. Toss well to coat. This is a wet salad. If you have dressing at the bottom, no worries. People will be happy (see photos at bottom).

Add the salt, pepper and pecorino. Toss again. Taste. Toss again. You may want more salt, pepper and/or cheese. It should be have a wonderful kick from the vinegar and garlic. Be careful not to face plant into the bowl at this moment. Serve.

GS - salad

Garlic Salad tossed

NOTE: You can do all different sizes here. Just remember 1:1:1 oil, distilled white vinegar, pecorino romano. You can’t go wrong.

Here is a photo of the dressing remaining in the bowl after all the salad is eaten. And then a friend, who was embarrassed and asked to remain nameless, spooning the remaining dressing out of the bottom of the bowl. I’ve never had dressing left. People use bread or spoons to get the dressing out, once the salad is gone. 

You will, too.

GS aftermath

Leftover dressing

GS Aftermath2

We will not waste any dressing

Killer Easy Soft Tacos

4 Aug
Soft Taco Ingredients

ingredients for soft tacos

I may be of Cajun heritage but growing up in Texas, Tex-Mex was easily the most consistent staple of my diet.  Our family ate Tex-Mex all the time: at least twice a week at restaurants (El Charro, I miss you so much) and ground beef crispy tacos frequently at home. Cheese Enchiladas with Chili Gravy remain one of my favorite foods in all the world, something I cannot seem to find anywhere but Texas, a version worth eating, at least.

In college, I ate these amazing enchiladas at least three times a week. I always had them as part of the “Deluxe Platter”, a standard on any Tex-Mex menu. The “Deluxe Platter” consists of a first course which is a large plate consisting of one Crispy Beef Taco, one Bean Chalupa, some Chili Con Queso and a Guacamole Salad. Then comes the second plate of two Cheese Enchiladas with Chili Gravy, a Beef Tamale and Rice & Beans. With flour tortillas on the side.

Deluxe platter

A Tex Mex Deluxe Platter

Yes, three times a week. Minimum. Seriously. And I loved putting the enchiladas into a flour tortilla, which I would imagine to some is a terrible faux pas but who cares when you can be this happy.

I was a bit shocked when I moved to California after college. While there’s just as much Mexican food in Los Angeles, it’s very different than Tex-Mex. Shredded beef tacos instead of ground beef? Red Sauce on enchiladas not chili gravy? Corn tortillas with soft tacos, not flour? Black beans instead of pinto peans?

What on earth were these people thinking?

I was quite grumpy about a new type of Mexican my first few years here… although the side effect of not eating a Deluxe Platter at least three times a week was that I lost 25 lbs in my first two months in Los Angeles without even trying. And I’ve come to love the more interior Mexican food of California but I still love Tex-Mex the most.

Another great Tex-Mex dish is soft tacos, which are always made with flour tortillas, not corn. Breakfast tacos – a flour tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, cheese, pico de gallo and bacon or sausage – are heaven and easy to make. We consumed mass quantities of breakfast tacos in college at 3 AM, usually at The Lazy Daisy on Guadalupe which was conveniently located a block from our fraternity house. (Lazy Daisy, I miss you so much.) But I love grilled steak and fish soft tacos as well.

Steak Tacos

Steak Soft Tacos

Let me give you, then, an easy and wonderful dinner you can make quickly when you have all the ingredients on hand. Even better, if you live near a Trader Joe’s, you can get most everything you need in one shop, save canned Chipotles, which you should always have in your pantry anyway.

Take my word for it, people go nuts over these soft tacos.

For the recipe, click here to  Continue reading

A Killer Southern Supper

7 Apr
Chicken Thigh dinner

Pan roasted chicken thighs with long simmered green beans, Lady Cream peas, and rice & gravy.

Like most true Southerners, I was raised on fresh peas and fresh beans. To this day, one of my favorite meals is a big ol’ pot of either one. (A big ol’ pot of greens, too, of course, but that’s another post altogether.) In our house growing up, a pot of peas or beans and some cornbread was all we needed for a very satisfying meal.

Given my obsession with chicken thighs, however (well documented on this blog… here and here, for instance), I figure beans and peas can only be improved upon by a genius new chicken thigh preparation. Add in maybe my favorite food in all the world, rice & gravy (yes it is a single entity), and you have a killer southern supper like no other. So I give you:

Pan Roasted Chicken Thighs in a Mustard Tarragon Cream Sauce, with Long Simmered Green Beans, Lady Cream Peas and Rice & Gravy.

I must note that most cooks wouldn’t serve peas and beans on the same plate. Too much! Overdoing it!

Whatever.

I will admit that when I first starting serving this meal, it was only the chicken, peas and rice & gravy on the plate:

Chicken Dinner 2

A divine plate of food for sure. But a little color on the plate is nice, as is a green vegetable.  I certainly could choose broccoli or spinach or even greens of any type. But can there be too much of a good thing? In a word, no. Thus, I couldn’t resist going full bore southern and adding my long simmered green beans. 

If you’re looking for heaven on a plate, this is it.

Below you will find the recipe for the chicken thighs I’ve developed the last few months, as well as links to recipes for the Lady Cream peas and the green beans.

As for the rice & gravy, just make some white rice (yes, for this, it must be white rice) and cover it with the pan sauce from the chicken.

Did I mention this was heaven on a plate??

Click here for the recipe and to Continue reading

Drop Dead Drop Biscuits

9 Dec

Those who follow my blog regularly are well aware I don’t bake. I have no patience for precise measuring nor, even worse, weighing anything. (So ridiculous! Not gonna happen.) Which means if I post a recipe that involves dough and baking, you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt the recipe is easy as can be. And near impossible to screw up. And pretty damn good!

I present to you, Drop Biscuits.

biscuts-final

Drop Biscuits

I stumbled across this recipe a few years ago, tried it, tweaked it and have been throwing these together ever since. While they may not be the most beautiful biscuits ever created, they are a breeze to make, they taste great and are quite fluffy inside!

Depending on how you flavor them, they are wonderful with butter and/or for mopping up delicious juices on your plate. Another plus is that they freeze beautifully. So you can make a big batch in an hour or so, freeze some and then during the holidays whenever you’d like warm biscuits with a meal just pull a few from the freezer, rewarm them in the oven and in minutes you will have what people will think are fresh biscuits. 

I served these just recently on Thanksgiving, warmed in the oven straight from the freezer, and everyone seemed to enjoy them. People had seconds. When I made them the week before, I did not have baking soda, I used the wrong amount of yogurt, and they still turned out just as intended. Once all I had on hand was crème fraîche so I tried that… again, they worked perfectly. Friends will be seeing a lot more of these in the upcoming weeks.

Give them a try. You will not be sorry.

Click for the recipe: Continue reading

Thanksgiving Ideas

18 Nov

Note: This is a repeat of last year since, well, these are some of the best Thanksgiving recipes you can find and I am making them again. I will be posting new ‘side dish’ recipes on Monday for more ideas…

Below find my personal Thanksgiving favorites. This is a bit of a ‘best of’ but there are a couple of recipes new to the blog and I stand behind each, they will not do you wrong. 

GRAMERCY TAVERN’S CRANBERRY DAQUIRI

Cranberry Daiquiri

I wrote about this one for Christmas but it is perfect for Thanksgiving as well. Make the cranberry syrup now, it will keep in the fridge all through the holidays. I love this because it is not too sweet. Divine.

For the recipe, click here.

THE JUDY BIRD

Russ Parson's "Judy Bird"

Russ Parson’s dry brined turkey is justifiably famous. The ‘Judy-Bird’ is hands down the best turkey I’ve ever eaten. Perfect crisp skin, delicious moist meat. It is also the easiest recipe imaginable. NOTE: It needs to sit three days with the salt brine so get your turkey now!

For the turkey recipe, click here.

FOR THE REST OF THE THANKSGIVING RECIPES, CLICK HERE > Continue reading

Antipasto, Please

30 Sep

Antipasto is a bit if a catch-all. Literally defined as ‘before the meal’ antipasto can and does include almost anything, depending on who is preparing it, and it can be served in a variety of ways… as a platter of unmixed items, as single items on a buffet or as hors d’oeuvre, or, my favorite way, combined all together for a mixture of divine goodness.

antipasto-ingredientsOlives, meats, cheeses, marinated vegetables, pickles, peppers… these are wonderful ingredients all that when combined create not only a terrific appetizer but a fast and delicious lunch or light supper.

Antipasto is also practical as you can also prepare it in a few minutes on a Sunday and then use it in a variety of ways during the week. This is a perfect excuse to use mostly jarred items so I almost always have in the pantry the ingredients I need.

It may not be the most attractive dish you’ve ever made but did I mention how incredible it tastes?

For the recipe, click here:
Continue reading