Friday, January 30, 2015

Whole Wheat Crust Tart from COOK'S

You should have smelled this tart baking!  Honestly, I was skeptical about the crust right up to about 10 minutes before I inhaled it.  But once I started smelling the amazingly buttery crust baking in the oven, I knew that Will was right to try this whole wheat crust recipe.

Let me start by saying that I have perhaps an even higher level of skepticism towards Cook's Illustrated magazine than I do towards anything Thomas Keller (click here for my reason).  At least I believe that Keller is a genius--if ever one could finish his 38 steps for how to bake sugar cookies or something!--but I've stood by enough times while Will looked befuddled and frustrated over a Cook's Illustrated recipe gone disastrously wrong.  (And, really, Will is a pretty good and faithful follower of recipes, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't his fault.)

Too often, their philosophy about the "science" of cooking falls flat on its face.  Will's last attempt to try their recipe was an epic failure--an apple cake recipe which was extremely oily and wet--that I forbid him to try another.  But then Will mastered French baguette using their tips (another post on that soon!), and he decided that he would start using the magazine again.  (Drats!)  Meanwhile, I scoffed at their "helpful" hints about how to be a savvy cook by suggesting that I could rinse out a can of diced tomatoes destined for a soup with a little bit of water or chicken broth to get the last bits of flavor out of the can.  Really?!  Were they seriously thinking that this was something that a twelve year-old couldn't figure out by herself?

Anyway, back to the tart.  Well, the "shaggy dough" was quite "shaggy" and made me doubtful about the whole venture.  And even Will--who masochistically likes difficult recipes--thought the crust was too annoying and difficult to prepare.  And who buys 1.25 lbs of shitake mushrooms for a pizza pie? (Actually, I refused to do that.  I insisted on 1/3 shitake and 2/3 crimini.)  Between that, the leeks, Gorgonzola, and the whole wheat crust, we are talking about a very expensive and labor intensive tart.  (See all those elements in the picture above.)

But, as I conceded right from the beginning of this post, the crust was indeed heavenly.  The filling was tasty as well, but it was the crust that we will go back for.  Flaky layers, buttery taste, crumbly texture reminiscent of croissants!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Walking Purple in a Winter Wonderland

The Chicago area received some snow accumulation a few weeks ago, and we decided it was time to take a walk along the nearby Evanston lakeshore with Katie.

We enjoyed lovely and clear views of the city to the south of us, and picturesque frozen tree branches in all directions.  We didn't venture too close to the rocks which were treacherously slick with several inches of ice cover, but it was still possible to appreciate the creative artwork on the rocks from a distance.

Because Katie has difficulty when walking on much ice, snow, and salt, we'd gotten in the habit of carrying around her "Paws" rubber booties which we whipped out at the beginning of the walk.  Unlike the more expensive set we had gotten earlier which were secured via velcro strips, these rubber ones had tight elastic tops which ended up staying on Katie's paws much better (despite her fairly constant efforts to kick them off somehow).

We got the size appropriate for her big furry paws (which happen to be "Large") and each package was color coded, hers being purple.  We hadn't needed to think much about the color before, but then we noticed that we were getting more than usual number of looks around the Northwestern University campus when we took our walk.  It didn't take us long to remember then that Northwestern University color is purple, and we realized that our Katie unwittingly had become the university mascot.  (She would argue that, as a wolf descendent, she's not really a "Wildcat," but you get the picture.)

So, we weren't too surprised when, instead of the usual "What a cute dog!" exclamations, the comments we got instead were: "What cool dog shoes!"  We thought maybe a university official would admire Katie and offer her an advertising contract to promote Northwestern, but alas...

Friday, January 16, 2015

Cooking More Vegetarian Meals for 2015

Last year, one of the items I requested for Christmas was a vegetarian cookbook.  I gave a list for Will to choose from so that he wouldn't have to start his research from scratch.  Predictably, Will chose to get me the best reviewed one from the list: Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  Alas, it seemed the book wasn't for everyone.  In the past year, I chose to use the massive tome for exactly 2 recipes.

It's not her.  It's me.  (Probably.)  The truth was that I wasn't that interested in elaborate preparations of vegetarian entrees.  Otherwise, the recipes--actually the more useful ones it turned out--were essentially too-simple side dishes.  For instance, sautee spinach in butter, and then sautee mushroom in butter.  Combine the two after both have been cooked, and then salt and pepper the mixture to enjoy as a side dish (or over toast).  Actually, that deceptively simple direction (sautee the two separately!) ended up producing a quite lovely side.

In any case, the beautiful and heavy book sat little used for the entire year.  This year, perhaps feeling a little sad for my stunted vegetarian cooking efforts, Will got me William-Sonoma's Vegetable of the Day cookbook.  They have a whole series for all the items of food you could think of: salads of the day, soup of the day, etc.  We already have the Dessert of the Day.  (Yes, we have our priorities straight.)

Well, in the two weeks I have been home with this new vegetable cookbook, I found that I've already used 4 different recipes.  Not all are masterpieces, and most are fairly simple.  In fact, in some cases it's really a matter of being reminded that we like particular vegetables prepared in particular ways or in particular combinations.  Like kale and chick peas sauteed with garlic.

We did attempt a main course dish of "Bread Pudding with Chard, Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Fontina" (with Basil too!--pictured at the top of this post) about a week ago.  Our verdict was that the dish was ultimately less flavorful than one would have expected from SUCH flavorful items contained in the recipe.  I decided, however, that we'll blame it mostly on the fact that I used a very hearty "harvest" bread (because we needed to get through it!) rather than the milder flavored "country" bread called for which might have absorbed the flavors more successfully.

We will keep trying.  After all, we still have over 360 recipes to try...

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Present Given--And Received!

I’m starting to become rather expert on how to make a present for someone else work for me.  This scenario is possible if you know someone who likes gadgety things, and if those gadgets can help produce delightful items for me.

Case in point.  Would you believe Will asked for a “croissant cutter” for Christmas?  I don’t even bake much because I find the process too restrictive and unforgiving.  On the other hand, Will decided that he wanted to take precision in baked goods a step beyond measuring tapes and rulers.  He wanted to make sure that each individual croissant shape was JUST so, JUST perfect, JUST the same size as the others.

I’m not one for indulging Will on such matters, and I told him immediately that I refused to get him a croissant cutter for Christmas.  (Imagine a sneer and a snort of contempt with the emphasis there.)  But, here’s the thing.  He really seemed to want one.  And then I thought about the benefits I could reap by letting him have a present that he asked for--and which he was going to get on his own if he didn’t receive it for Christmas...

Well, last weekend, Will baked the most scrumptious croissants, pains chocolats (he asked for chocolate batons too!), and cheese sticks.  He thinks these were his best croissants yet…but he needs further practice in the coming weeks.  Yippie!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year of the Lamb!


A friend of mine recently returned from a trip to Japan and brought me a tiny ceramic animal.  I was puzzled until she told me that 2015 was the Year of the Lamb.

She claimed that these "lambs" were all over Asia and she wanted to make sure she brought back something for her Lamb friends (and she must have remembered that I was two years older than her).  That reminded me that my brother, who is two years younger than me and thus the same year as my friend, was a "Chicken." I said, "So, your year will be in two years, the year of the Chicken."  She quickly corrected me: "Rooster," she said.

I can see why someone might decide that she would prefer to belong to the Year of the Rooster--with its connotations of heralding a new day--rather than to the Year of the Chicken--the least interesting meat, a flightless bird, and an epithet associated with being timid and uncourageous.  Then I recalled that most iconography depicting the Chinese zodiac years have multiple names, depending on which Chinese restaurant place mat you are looking at.  In many signage, the "Lamb" is actually a "Ram."  Vast difference.

In my case though, I think I prefer the less robust version.  I don't need to be associated with oversized trucks and overrun masculinity.  Instead, I'd always enjoyed the vision my mother put forth before me.  She said that a Lamb having a summer birthday represented great good luck because lambs could frolic and rest and enjoy fresh grass during the summer.  She promised peace, tranquility, prosperity.

Peace, Tranquility, and Prosperity for all!