Green tomato tarte tatin revisited

Green tomato tarte tatin

Well! October 11th will mark the one year anniversary of this blog! How time flies. We’ll be celebrating with a spectacular fireworks display and a regatta along the delaware. It’s silly how addicted to it I’ve become! It’s silly how I’ve almost come to think of it as work – as my work. I actually work very hard at it, which is also foolish. Anyway, in looking back at some of my earliest posts, I’m embarrassed by the poor quality of the pictures and the slight and meandering writing. But I’m hoping that the recipes are still sound. I’ve decided to go back and remake a few, following my own directions as exactly as possible. I guess I’m testing them! And I’m taking better photos. In most cases I won’t do a whole new post, I’ll just sub in the better photo. If I make some big changes, I might do a whole new post, as I’m doing now. Although I didn’t really make a big change!

Anyway, I’ll try to keep it brief, since this is a do-over. I’d just like to say that I felt very happy, picking these tomatoes. It was at the CSA. I was hot as hell, sweating like a madman, face burning to a crisp. But there was something so hopeful about the rows and rows of tomato plants laden with heavy pale green-just-turning-rosy tomatoes. And then I heard some high-pitched peep-peeping. Goldfinches! Brighter than day, and closer than I’d ever seen them, on top of the tomato stakes, talking to one another. Beautiful!

Green tomato tarte tatin

So – this tarte tatin was as good as I’d remembered it! I decide to redo the whole post, because the last time I posted I was very strange and luke-warm about the whole thing, and I didn’t write up the recipe like a recipe. Claire, what were you thinking? Let me assure you the tart is lovely – sweet, savory, vegetal, with a very satisfying crust. Last time I cooked the tomatoes in a frying pan, and transferred them to a cake pan. This time, I cooked them in the frying pan, without moving them much at all, and then I put the crust on top and put the whole thing into the oven. Which worked very well, and is my recommended method, if you have a frying pan with a metal handle!

Here’s The Roots with Popcorn Revisited.
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Cabbage and potato galette with a walnut crust

Cabbage and potato galette

We’re making great leaps in swimming this summer, here at The Ordinary. Isaac learned to swim. It’s a breath-stoppingly cute move. His be-goggled face takes on a look of fiendish glee as he plunges into the water. He squiggles and flounders his little arms and legs until you don’t know if he’s rising or falling, and then he pops up, triumphant and joyful. And Malcolm, who can now do a front flip off the diving-board, invented a new stroke suitable to his sleek water animal status. No splashing, no flailing, just a smooth squiggle move that propels him through the water. We were at a pool in the poconos this week, and I was catching my bubbly little Isaac as he popped out of the water, when I chanced to hear the words “cabbage,” and “beets.” Well! A food conversation. I decided to eavesdrop. Four older men and women were bobbing tranquilly in the water, oblivious to the childish chaos all around them, sharing recipes for stuffed cabbage. They all had very definite ideas about how it should be made. One suggested the importance of making your own lard. He buys a slab. A slab of pig? Exactly. A woman in a purple bathing cap, balancing with odd solidity on a giant purple styrofoam noodle, declared that she doesn’t use lard, because she “doesn’t eat the fat.” Klondike bars, however, she’ll eat five a night! Despite the triglycerides! They decided to get together for dinner. To cook. I’d love to see that! I really would.

I have some cabbage from the CSA. I decided against stuffing it with klondike bars and lard, and opted instead to make a galette. I wanted it to be sweet and cripsyish, but also soft and comforting. I like cabbage when it’s very lightly cooked, so that’s how I approached this galette. I made a walnut crust (surprise!) and threw a few handfuls of toasted walnuts into the filling as well, for crunch. I was determined to add potatoes to the filling, and so I did, after frying them in olive oil. They were lovely! I flavored it with tamari (in a nod to moo shoo vegetable, which is one of the few cabbage dishes I like), white wine, and basil, tarragon, and thyme. I think it turned out really tasty! David liked it, too, and he’s not a fan of cabbage in any form. Score!! It’s not the prettiest thing you’ll ever make, so serve it with something colorful and crunchy, like a crispy salad with lots of fresh tomatoes and basil.

Here’s Goin up the Country, by Barbecue Bob.
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Goat cheese & caramelized onion tart with arugula & pine nuts

Tall crust goat cheese and arugula tart

Some days feel like time-outs. If life is like a giant game of tag, and “it” is pursuing you relentlessly, and you’re giggling, breathless, with that small edge of real fear that tag-playing elicits, and you’re miles from base: sometimes you have to call time-out. The last couple of days have felt like that. Isaac and I have been on a team, and we’re taking a little time out together. He’s under the weather. Monday we spent a couple of useless hours at the doctors’ office, and I got antsy, and thought, “Dammit, I’ve got important things I need to be doing!” Yesterday he had a fever, and the whole house was hot as hell except for his air-conditioned room. He didn’t want to be alone, so I lay on his bed next to him, and thought, “Oh dear, I’ve got important things I need to be doing!” And then I realized that I really don’t. It’s an interesting fact about a time-out, that sometimes from this point of view you see the game more clearly – everybody else running around frantically, in a red-faced tizzy. As I lay there besides Isaac, with his hot little head touching mine, I realized that I don’t really have anything important to do. The realization was a little sobering, a little liberating. I was very tired, because I don’t sleep much when there’s a fever in the house, and for the moment it felt good to lie next to Isaac, and listen to him explain Isaac-y things to me in his sweet serious way. Their room is bright, with sea-green trim and pale curtains that hold the light. It felt a little like floating in cool water for a short while. And, of course, this little glowing ripple of a moment is the most important thing I need to be doing.

Tall crust tart

I’m always a little crazy when the boys aren’t feeling well. I don’t sleep much, I get that weird tired-nervous energy. It makes me want to bake! In the winter time I’ll bake cookies with the boys. It was, frankly, a little hot for baking yesterday, even for me! But I’d had this thought in my head for a while of a tart that would be fun to make and fun to eat. I’m very excited about this one! I think it turned out really well. Really perfect combination of tastes and textures. I’ll tell you all about it. It’s a peppery hazelnut crust, and it’s a very tall crispy crust. Inside of that, we have a thin layer of goat cheese custard with thyme and caramelized onions. Simple. The whole thing is served slightly warm and inside is a mess of cool, lightly dressed baby arugula with pine nuts and fresh tomatoes! It’s like a salad tart! Perfect for a hot day, cause you can make the whole thing in advance. I love goat cheese with arugula. I love hazelnuts with arugula. (If you don’t have pine nuts, you can use toasted chopped hazelnuts instead.) This is a nice thing to eat when you’re taking a time out. Be it a summer-day time out, or a stop-and-enjoy-your-nice-dinner-and-glass-of-wine time out.

Here’s Dave Brubeck’s Take Five.
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Artichoke heart, caramelized onion and brie tart

Caramelized onion tart

You know how they tell you you’ll use pre-calculus when you grow up, but you highly doubt it? When I was in high school, I didn’t like pre-calculus much. I used to sit in class feeling queazy and thinking I might die from appendicitis. (I wish I was kidding!) The teacher, a small, dry man, took me aside and told me I couldn’t avoid everything that confused me. Ha! Proved him wrong! I’ve been doing that for over 40 years, and I pretty much never use pre-calculus skills in the real world. I took another class called Writing and Responding. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said it was one of those classes that shapes your life. It was taught by Carol Lefelt, and I went on to do independent studies with her on Shakespeare, and (If I recall correctly) female poets. She was remarkable! Very questioning, very curious – contagiously so. In Writing and Responding, we learned how to respond constructively to other writers’ work. I’ve thought a lot, through the years, that some of these lessons I have used in real life, not just in responding to writing, but in responding to people! For instance, after reading a piece, you always start by saying a couple of things you like. Specific things, be they ever so small. This seems like such a simple idea, but I don’t know how many times I find myself thinking, “no, no, no…start with something nice, then get to the complaint.” I went to Malcolm’s second grade parent-teacher conference a few years ago. Before I’d sat down, before I’d even crossed the room, his teacher said, “Malcolm is all over the place! He breaks all his pencils!” And I thought, “What you really meant to say, surely, was that my son is so bright and imaginative, and he has so much energy …” And then get to the part about the pencils. Right? Another lesson – instead of saying you don’t like something, or that it doesn’t work, you ask questions about it. That way, the writer, in pondering your questions, will understand that they didn’t get their point across, that they’ve caused confusion instead of clarity. Wouldn’t that be nice? Instead of being scolded, to be asked a few questions that showed you the error of your ways. Another thing we learned, on the writing side, was not to worry about being ready to write, or knowing exactly what you’d like to write, but using the act of writing as a way of figuring that out. “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” I like this idea a lot. And I’ve found it to be true. In writing, as in life, sometimes the less you fret, the better things turn out. Admittedly, this appeals to me, partly, because I’m a vague and lazy person. And, obviously, some things need to be carefully planned and plotted. You’re not going to build a cabinet, say, or a rocket ship, just slapping some things together and hoping it works. But other things – things that come from some part of your brain you’re not in complete control of, seem to work better when you just do them. You just let them evolve as they need to evolve. I think cooking is like that – for me at least. I’m not a fan of following recipes. I like to dream a bit about what would taste good, and then see what I have, and let it come out as it does.

So – we got some onions from the farm. It might seem odd, but this has been one of my biggest veg challenges to date. I like shallots, chives, scallions… I just don’t love actual onions. They’re too much! I don’t like the smell of them clinging to walls and clothes like some bad dream from a Tom Waits song. But I tried caramelizing them, and I think they’re quite nice. I followed Deborah Madison’s recipe to the letter (except that I halved it). If ever I were to follow a recipe, it would certainly be hers. She’s my hero! And I decided to put them on a big, pizza-like tart. With brie, capers, and artichoke hearts, and fresh sage and fresh thyme. Because I had all those things, and they told me they’d be good together! And they were! This was very easy, and very tasty. I used a buttery pate brisée crust, but you could use pizza dough instead, if you were in the mood.

Here’s Respond React, from The Roots
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White beans with figs, potatoes, and shallots

White beans with figs and potatoes

David and I had a lovely friend named Madeleine. She was Belgian, and her husband had been Greek. We used to spend afternoons in her teeming garden, drinking Belgian beer and eating Greek rusks and delicious cheese. She had wonderful stories to tell. She’d met Hergé! Hergé!! Madeleine’s daughter, Sandy, lives in Greece, so I don’t see her very often, but since I’ve started this blog, she’s been sending me Greek recipes. They’re wonderful – eggplant, spinach, savory pastries, lemony potatoes! I can’t wait to try them. Recently, she spent some time in Paris, and she sent me a description of her meal, which she called “two non-recipes from Paris.” I love the idea of making a meal based on a description of a special lunch somebody had somewhere. Wouldn’t it be fun to find old letters (even very old letters) from all sorts of people all over the world, and make a cookbook based on meals that they describe? Yes! It would! Anyway, the meal Sandy wrote about sounded like exactly my kind of thing. She’d eaten a dish with meat, figs, potatoes, and little onions, probably shallots. Doesn’t that sound perfect? Of course, I left the meat out, and I decided to replace it with white beans, and cook it into a nice brothy, stewy type of meal. I’m sure the original was far more elegant, and I’ve peasant-ized it, but it just seemed perfect that way to me, yesterday. I bought three plump, ripe little figs, but if these are hard for you to find, you can replace them with dry or even a few tablespoons of fig preserves. I used red-skinned potatoes, and the whole dish had a lovely rosy hue. We ate this with goat cheese toasts plus extra crusty bread for soaking up the broth.

Here’s a Greek song about a fig tree! Nikos Skalkottas, from 16 Songs, AK 80, VIII. Fig Tree. Strange and beautiful!
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Golden beet & goat cheese tarte tatin AND Roasted beets with french feta and hazelnuts

Beet tarte tatin

I’m going to be 43 this month, and yesterday I bought reading glasses for the first time. Apparently this is very predictable behavior, and exactly the age one’s eyes are supposed to stop working. Sigh. I bought the glasses so I could get on with a paperback copy of Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, which has the most fiendishly small cramped letters I have every seen. I suppose I could have just bought another copy of the book, but it’s not just this paperback. It’s other books, too, anything with small print…particularly at the end of the day. It’s time I faced a fact that is right in front of my face – literally, because I have to hold it very close or I can’t see it.

I’m making slow progress with The Bros. Karamazov, but I’m enjoying it so much. I love to read novels in which the characters think so deeply and question everything – their lives, their souls their place in the world and society – to such an extent that this becomes a huge part of the drama. Levin’s musings at the end of Anna Karenina make me weepy! His story should be over, if you take it plot point by plot point, but there’s so much he doesn’t understand! When I was little I used to think about things in this way (at least that’s how I remember it). I used to try to figure it all out, and understand how I fit in with everything, and get all confused, and then have little flashes of clarity where certain things made sense. And then I’d heat up some frozen french fries and pore over a Tintin. I was a weird kid!! At some point I stopped thinking about it so much…everything goes so fast you get swept along, hour to hour, day to day. Maybe it’s better that way…there’s something to be said for just getting on with your day, getting things done. And we’ll always have Russian novels! And you just know they’re eating beets, because, um, borscht is Russian, right? We got some red beets from our CSA, and then I went to a market and saw some big beautiful golden beets, and I couldn’t resist! So we’ve got beets for weeks. I decided to make a beet tarte tatin. This is an upside-down tart, usually involving apples and caramel. I thought it would be nice to make a savory version with beets, because they’re so sweet that they seem to form their own caramel when you cook them. (I’ve tried it in the past with green tomatoes and that turned out well!) I added some balsamic, lemon zest, orange juice and goat cheese – a few tart, bright elements to offset the earthy sweetness of the beets. I think it came out really well! I cooked all the beets, and then I had too many to fit in one layer, so I made two layers. I think, if I had a do over, I’d make one layer of beets, and save the rest to toss with pasta or chop into a salad, because the two layers of beets was very beet-y. Delicious, though, if you like beets!! With a real tarte tatin, you use a skillet to caramelize the apples, then you put the dough right on that and put the whole thing in the oven. I wasn’t sure my skillet could handle it, so I transfered it to a cake pan. If you have a big, oven-proof skillet, though – you’re golden!!

And the other day, I made a nice salad-ish meal with roasted beets and potatoes, sliced thin, and sprinkled with french feta and hazelnuts. The whole assemblage being made upon a bed of arugula. I used a combination of red beets, golden beets, red bliss potatoes and yukon gold potatoes, and it was very pretty indeed!!

Here’s The Perfect Beet by Talib Kweli & KRS One. What? What? It’s beat? Ohhhh. These two men think a lot, and tell us all about it.
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Turnip & leek pie

Turnip & greens pie

I like to try to eat local, seasonal vegetables, but I know in the winter it’s just not possible. Oh, sure, I buy winter squash and kale and other cold season veg, but I’m fooling myself if I think it’s grown any where near here. And that’s why I’m absolutely thrilled to belong to a CSA! In the summer I know my vegetables are local and seasonal! Veggies that grow together taste good together!

I love the idea of community gardens and alotments – shared patches of land that people work together to grow food. Eating is such a communal activity, it seems right that growing food should be as well. We get a box of vegetables delivered to us each saturday, and I feel like a kid on Christmas morning as I lift out all of our treasures. And then through the week we visit the farm to pick certain crops that are in season. The boys like to come, too (especially when it’s raspberry season) and they’re a big help in filling up my baskets. It’s a joy to watch them meander through glowing green rows of sweet peas and tomatoes, following the dizzy paths of bees buzzed on sunshine; so pleased with themselves when they find plump, warm vegetables. It’s wonderful to get vegetables I know we love, of course, but it’s a fun challenge to get some we’re not as familiar with, as well. I love dreaming up recipes that will make any vegetable taste good.

This first week wasn’t a challenge at all! I love everything we got – spinach, chard, kale, leeks and … turnips!! Turnips are among my favorite vegetables. And these were beautiful little spring turnips, creamy white and sweet. They didn’t need to be peeled. And their greens were in great shape, as well, which is something I almost never find at the grocery store. I think that turnips, thyme and sharp cheddar are a nearly perfect combination, and I decided to bake that combination into a pie. I like leeks with thyme and cheddar, too, so of course I added those. I wanted to cook the turnip greens into the pie, and I added a big helping of spinach, to soften their sharp flavor. I decided to make a buttermilk crust, just for a change, but you could easily use a regular pate brisée crust, if you wanted something flakier.

Turnip pie

Here’s The Coup with Heven Tonite, because he says, “let’s give everybody homes and a garden plot.” I love this song – it’s the prettiest revolutionary rap song ever.
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Quinoa, spinach & chickpea soup

Quinoa, spinach & chickpea soup

Quinoa? Aw, man, I was totally into quinoa back when nobody knew about it. Back before it became all popular. I used to buy it at this small store that was, like, all hardcore vegetarian stuff, and, like imports. Quinoa was so cool – it was my favorite, and it totally spoke to me. It was my perfect food, man. And then it started getting bigger, and playing the big stadiums, like shoprite, or, you know, pathmark, and suddenly everybody’s eating quinoa. And it’s in cookies, and, pancakes, and bread, and in mother-flippin statues of Mount Rushmore probably. Totally sold out. It’s so sad when that happens to a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. So sad.

That’s right, I ate quinoa in 1993! That’s got to make me one of the first wave of quinoaers, right? Old school! Except for maybe the Incas. They might have come first. When I first met David (in 1993) he made a quinoa-barley soup that his co-worker had recommended. And it was really good! I have to admit that I don’t cook with it as often as I should, and I’m ashamed to admit that it might be because it’s so popular now! It’s so earnestly vegetarian, which is a quality I admire in a food, but sometimes it makes me take a step back from it for a while. Silly, I know!!

If you’re looking for a way to introduce quinoa to somebody who hasn’t tried it, this might be it, because the quinoa is so much a harmonious part of everything going on around it. Malcolm asked what the little floating curls were, and I said, “sea monkeys!” Fortunately he’s too young to know what those are, so I revised my answer to “the ultimate Incan super-food, that made them into superheroes!” He liked the soup a lot, anyway.

I think this soup turned out really well! I’m quite proud of it! It’s got a really pleasing flavor and texture. Very savory, soft, but substantial, and comforting. I grated the zucchini, which, once cooked, gave it a perfect sort of texture. And I puréed half the spinach and chopped the other. I used the broth left over from cooking french lentils, but I think you could make a simple vegetable broth and it would be fine. It’s as close to chicken soup as I’ve come since I stopped eating chicken soup. And probably better for you! It’s simply seasoned with fresh thyme, nutmeg and cinnamon. I wasn’t sure this combination would work, but I went ahead with it on a whim, and it’s really good!

Here’s Carnaval ayacuchano from an album called Peru: Kingdom of the Sun, the Incan Heritage. I love this song!
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Spring stew with white beans and asparagus

Spring vegetable stew

I was thinking the other day that I probably talk about the weather too much. I know it’s a dull subject, and one that people resort to when they have nothing else to say. But weather matters! It’s fundamentally, life-alteringly, earth shakingly important. Of course what I’m really talking about, when I talk about the weather too much, is how it changes my mood. A crazy amount. I was feeling mildly discouraged, for a while. And then we had a few beautiful, sunny days in a row, and the light started to have that hopeful springtime slant, and the air had little pockets of warmth and flower-smells. And I felt hopeful! And happy! And full of energy and spirit! I felt good. And nothing had changed but the weather. And when the weather was nice, I wanted to make a dinner that was green and bright and glowing! Plus, I wanted to eat my lovely pencil thin asparagus, but in some form that wasn’t just steamed with butter and lemon (although that really is the best!) So I made this stew, with bright green vegetables and white beans, and a light broth of white wine and lemon. And I wanted only a few herbs and spices, but fresh, bright ones. So I added fresh thyme and fresh ginger, and a little parsley, with its green clean taste. Lovely! The boys ate it over gemelli, as a nice light pasta sauce.

Here’s Nina Simone’s Feeling Good. One of my favorite songs ever, and the best description of how alive a spring day can make you feel.
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Kale, carrots, couscous…

Braised carrots and kale

My nine-year-old son talks in his sleep. (Sometimes he even walks in his sleep, which scares the heck out of me.) He always says the sleepiest, sweetest, most nonsensical things. The other night, he called me, I went into his room, he said, “mommy, how do you cook dinner so fast?” and then he lay back down, asleep. He had no memory of it the next day.

By the harsh light of day, the truth is that I don’t always cook dinner so fast. Sometimes I make dinners that take all day, on and off. But, as it happens, some of the best dinners are dinners that take no time at all. This doesn’t mean they’re dull, it just means that we’re vegetarians, and the best vegetables are frequently lightly cooked vegetables. So, here’s a good meal for a night that you want something quick and tasty. Kale and carrots braised in white wine with thyme and caraway seeds, served with israeli couscous made into a sort of pilaf with apricots and pistachios and goat cheese. Simple.

Israeli couscous with apricots and pistachios

Here’s the Budos Band’s version of Sing a Simple Song, to listen to while you make this simple dinner.
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