Sunday, January 23, 2011

Almond Pear Tart

January 2011 196

Oh gosh. I had good intentions of paring down on desserts come January, when another box of those Harry and David pears arrived at my door. Not that I’m complaining. For those friends and relatives who sent me these gifts, I thank you profusely. It seems almost sinful to use these succulent pears for baking, when they’re just so darn juicy raw and fresh from the box.  But I only sacrificed two of them for this tart, I swear.

If you’ve ever received those Riviera pears from Harry and David, you know what I mean. They’re the best – and they’re huge. Here’s a shot of one of them, but there’s nothing here to give you perspective on the size.  To give you some idea though, let me tell you that it took only two pears to completely fill the tart in the picture above.

January 2011 151 By way of contrast, I made the tart in the photo below last year, using three bosc pears from the supermarket. Delicious – yes. Pretty – yes, but these three pears didn’t nearly fill the pan in the manner as the two Harry and David pears. I have to admit though, that the taste was equally delicious with the supermarket pears once they were poached and baked in the tart.

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But since I had the Harry and David pears I used those, cutting them into thirds rather than in half, the way I did with the supermarket bosc pears.

January 2011 173 Take a melon baller (or small spoon) and trim the center and any remaining hard spots from the tips. Poach the pears in a pot of simmering water to cover for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until they’re easily pierced with a knife. I added 1/4 cup of sugar to the water and the juice from half a lemon. While the pears are poaching in the water get the ingredients mixed in the food processor for the crust.

January 2011 174 This recipe will give you too much for just one nine-inch pie crust, so I made a couple of tart shells too. There wasn’t enough of the almond filling (frangipane) to fill those as well as the larger pan, but I’ll show you later what I did with the baby tart shells.  Hey, do you see Mickey Mouse too?

January 2011 176 Mix the frangipane filling (recipe below) in the mixer, then carefully spoon some all over the tart shell. I say carefully because the crumbs from the crust are still not baked and they’ll easily lift off from the base and blend in with the filling if you just start smearing it helter-skelter.

January 2011 177 Use a spatula and carefully spread the filling evenly all over the base.

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After the pears have poached, drain them and slice them evenly.

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Then fan out the slices with your hand and lift them altogether with a knife.

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Start by placing them on opposite sides of the tart shell. When the pears are this large, you won’t be able to make them meet evenly in the center, so you can either remove some of the slices or slide them off center and place all the slices on the tart (I went with the second choice.)

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Fill the tart shell completely with the sliced pears and bake.

January 2011 183 When it comes out of the oven, you can spread some glaze over the top. I normally use a little apricot jam that has been warmed to make it easier to spread. This time I didn’t have any, but I had some sweet orange jam, and used that instead. Any light colored jam or jelly will do.

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Here’s what I did with those little tart shells. I poached another pear (the supermarket bosc kind this time.) and I put half (well almost half – I ate a few slices) of it in one shell, and half in the other tart shell. I glazed it with the jam before baking this time, then baked it for 30 minutes.

January 2011 184

Almond Pear Tart

Printable Recipe Here

Poach two or three pears, depending on size, in a pan of water to which you add the juice of 1/2 lemon and 1/4 cup sugar. Let it simmer together for about 10 or 15 minutes or until the pears are tender. Remove and drain the pears.

Chocolate Crust

1  nine-ounce box chocolate cookie wafers

5 T. butter, melted and cooled slightly

dash of salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla.

Place all ingredients in a food processor and whir until everything is crushed into fine particles. Spray a 9-inch tart shell with PAM (or butter it lightly) and gently press the crumb mixture into the pan. Set aside.

Frangipane Filling:

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup finely ground blanched almonds or almond flour (I found almond flour at my local health food store)

1 tsp. almond extract

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the ground almonds or almond flour and almond extract and mix until a smooth batter forms.


Spread the frangipane mixture carefully over the chocolate crust. It’s best if you take dabs of it and place them all over the crust, rather than put one big lump in the center. That way you won’t loosen as many of the chocolate crumbs, which are still pretty loose in the shell, since it’s unbaked. Spread the mixture all over the tart shell.

Take the cooled pears and slice them evenly. With the palm of your hand, press them flat. Pick up the slices altogether and arrange them on the frangipane mixture, covering as much of the shell as you want, and in any design you want. If you have small pears, it may take three or more. With large pears, it might take only two.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 35-45 minutes or until the filling is golden. Remove from the oven and glaze with some apricot, orange or other light-colored jam or jelly.



Wednesday, January 19, 2011

One potato, two potato

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Here are a couple of really easy potato ideas when you’re hankerin’ for some spuds.  The first one I’ll call “rosemary potato chips,” because they’re almost like eating potato chips flavored with rosemary. The second recipe is parmesan potatoes because they’re crunchy on the outside with parmesan cheese goodness.

For the potatoes in the first photo, I used a mandoline, and sliced the pieces about 1/8 inch thick – thicker than a real potato chip. You can also slice them by hand if you haven’t got a mandoline, but it’s hard to get them uniform. Using a pastry brush, swipe a thin layer of olive oil on a cookie sheet. Place the potatoes on the cookie sheet and turn them over once to coat with the oil. They shouldn’t be drenched in oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and minced fresh rosemary. Bake in a high oven – about 425 degrees, watching them carefully. They will quickly turn from golden brown to burned if you’re not paying attention. The ones close to the edges always brown first, so I removed them and put the pan back in the oven to finish the rest.

November 2009 192

These parmesan potatoes are simple to make too.  I have two friends named Jan, each of whom served me a version of this on different occasions. I’m not sure this recipe is how they make it exactly, since I just kind of guessed at it. You can experiment with different herbs or seasonings.

Start out with a zip lock plastic bag. Pour in two tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper, 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves, 1/8 tsp. paprika and 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese. Cut the potatoes into chunks and place inside the bag. Seal the bag shut, then mix everything together inside the bag so that the potatoes are coated evenly. Place the potatoes on a cookie sheet that has been lightly greased with olive oil and bake at 425 degrees about 30 to 40 minutes, turning them once midway during the baking.

Printable recipes here

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Snow Angels and Comfort Food

January 2011 105 Sometimes the most unexpected things can raise your spirits. For me, it was these three neighborhood kids who don’t know it, but who were responsible for an upward shift in my outlook.  The prospect of shoveling my driveway (again!) was not engendering warm, fuzzy thoughts and I was remembering how my sister and I, as children, used to shovel not only our parents’ driveway, but our neighbor’s as well.

“Aren’t there any kids like that anymore?” I thought to myself, bracing myself to start clearing the 8 inches of white stuff that covered our driveway as a result of the third snowfall in three weeks. Before I could suit up for the job, I hear a knock at the front door. Opening the door, I am greeted by three  adorable, rosy-cheek children, asking “Would you like us to shovel your driveway?” 

How much are you charging?” I ask, thinking “I don’t care what you’re charging. I’m just glad you’re here” When they reply “It’s free,” I am nearly bowled over. 

I’d love for you to shovel, but I insist on paying you,” I tell them.

Halfway through their work, I mix some cocoa, milk and sugar for hot chocolate, and take it outside to them along with a plate of cookies.  By now, they’re nearly finished their work, so I happily pay them, remarking, “You know you really could charge people to shovel.” 

Oh no, we do this as a neighborhood service,” they reply.

At this point, a smile bigger than the widened driveway transforms my face and my mood. The good feeling has stayed with me since Wednesday – the day that these three siblings - Piper, 10; and 11-year-old twins Adam and Lana, appeared at my door with their generous offer and enthusiasm.

So I thank you, my little snow angels, (and your parents too, for teaching you to help others) for clearing my driveway and bringing some brightness into my life this week.

That little bit of help gave me the time and energy to focus on other things, like putting together this beans-and-sausage recipe that reminds me of my own daughter. Most kids ask for pizza, pasta or burgers as their special birthday meal, but no,  my little munchkin - now a sophisticated career woman who has called Manhattan her home for years - always requested this humble dish on her birthday. 

Feb. 2010 342  The recipe is adapted from my well-worn 1971 edition of  “ The New York Times International Cookbook” by its former food editor Craig Claiborne. The original recipe calls for 1 pound of cotechino or fresh kielbasa sausage. I prefer to use the type of Italian sausage you would find in a sausage and peppers sandwich. I buy a brand that comes from a local farm called “Simply Grazin.”  The pigs are raised on certified organic feed in large paddocks where they able to roam freely. If you live in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Virginia or Philadelphia, here’s a link to where you can buy their products.  The taste is so much better than normal supermarket sausage – and I’m not being paid to say that. It’s just really good and I want you to try it if you can.

In this recipe, I use only 1/2 pound of sausage rather than the full pound called for. A half pound goes a long way toward flavoring the dish, and as much as I love good meat, I am trying to cut back on eating too much animal protein.

Sausage and White Beans

(serves 4 to 6 people)

printable recipe here

1/2 pound Italian sausage

1/4 cup olive oil

6 green onions, green part and all

6 cloves garlic

2 13-ounce cans white cannellini beans (or other type of white beans)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup finely chopped Italian parsley

fresh ground pepper, coarse salt to taste

  • Peel the casing off the sausage and place the sausage in a saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes or until cooked. Do not throw away the water.
  • Meanwhile, drain the beans in a colander and rinse them.
  • Trim the green onions and chop fine. Cook briefly in the oil, then add the garlic and cook a few minutes. Cut the sausage into thin slices, or break into bits, and add to the pan, along with the beans, the wine, the salt and pepper and enough of the cooking liquid to barely cover the beans. Cook over very low heat about ten to fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Stir in the parsley, and add more water if too dry. Serve hot with some crusty bread.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

My Brother Frank

Shelter Island 014 How do you keep writing about food when life throws you a curve ball? Do you just pretend nothing happened and keep blogging about cookies, cakes and tiramisu? Or do you pause from what seems like an inconsequential activity to reflect on the event with your readers?  I’ve always wanted this blog to be about food - not my personal life - and I certainly never intended it to be maudlin. Yet when I took a blogging break during my husband’s illness and subsequent death, readers emailed to find out why I’d dropped off the planet. I had to explain.

My post about “A Birthday Soufflé for Rich” not only gave readers insight into why I had disappeared from the blogosphere for a while, but was also therapeutic in expressing the emotions that threatened to overwhelm me. A surprising thing happened as a result, with dozens of total strangers responding to show concern for me and my family. So many of you said you missed my posts and were waiting for me to return.

My brother Frank followed my posts and also encouraged me to return to blogging.

Frank Second Photo

My brother Frank - an expert mycologist who loved to cook, and who wrote a guest post for me in June 2009 on foraging for mushrooms.

image My brother Frank - who as a young boy, was always the mischief maker in the house, but as an adult excelled in everything he did.

Top-35 My brother Frank - who as a handsome young sailor in the U.S. Navy, served as a ceremonial guard aboard the U.S.S. Constitution in Boston’s harbor, and spent months incommunicado on the U.S.S. Henry L. Stimson, a nuclear submarine.

My brother Frank - who traveled the globe in his work as project engineer for a multi-national pharmaceutical company, but who favored the natural beauty of  the woods more than any cosmopolitan place on earth.

Oct-Nov. 2010 163

My brother Frank – who loved the ocean as much as the mountains, and who was equally skilled with a fishing rod as with a rifle:

Frank - bass My brother Frank - who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,  at just about the same time as my husband.

My brother Frank - who died on New Year’s Day.

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My brother Frank - who was loved by his family and close friends, and who will be missed very much.

My brother Frank - who’s now in a special place with the rest of my loved ones who have also left this earth.birds talkingMy brother Frank – who was writing a book about his hunting trips  including these paragraphs in the intro: 

“It’s not about killing a monster buck or shooting a deer 300 yards away from a heated tripod elevated hut. We are not trophy hunters nor are we disappointed when we don’t ‘bring home the meat.’  I’d like to get the monster buck as well as the next guy, but that’s secondary to why I hunt. Just being out in the woods and sharing my experiences with my buddies is what it’s all about for me.  Most times during the year, I can be found at a local archery club, or in the woods photographing nature, hiking and looking for mushrooms. Each of these pastimes aids in sharpening my skills for the glorious 10 days of autumn hunting.

Make no mistake about it. I am a hunter, an outdoor enthusiast, an observer of nature. But hunting takes up only a small portion of my outdoor endeavors. A quiet walk in the woods observing nature unfolding around me,  spending solitary time fly-fishing in a meandering trout stream or feeling the salt spray on my face while at the helm of my sport fishing boat are what I consider quality time. The outdoors is the real story and I feel privileged at having had the opportunity to spend time there.

A tree hugger I am not, but I have had the pleasure to hike through ancient northwestern forests, only to be humbled by the majesty of old growth hemlocks, cedars, and douglas fir as I listened to the muted sounds of solitude. Although I do not admit it that often, I have purposely removed my walking boots to feel the spongy forest duff beneath my toes. I strongly believe we are only temporary patrons of the land we live upon, and as such, enjoying and respecting Mother Nature should be paramount in any outdoor endeavors we undertake. As outdoorsmen and hunters, we have a responsibility to nature and to the quarry we seek. Never take this for granted, for someday it will also disappear.”

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