Sunday, September 21, 2008

i made a butternut squash & caramelized onion tart

if you know me in person you've already guessed this, but lately i've been obsessed with making tarts. i have actually made fruit tarts several more times than i have written about. because who wants to read about four fruit tarts? (except me.)

but this pastry dough recipe is just too great to put down. it takes literally seconds of active time to put together (of course, i speak from the cushy position of having a food processor - thanks, melissa!), and when you roll it out it doesn't stick or break or thin out into a hole. like i said before, it's spaz-proof. and when i succeed at something new or scary, i can't get enough of the succeeding.

so on i go with the tart-making. my next attempt, i decided, would be at savory tarts. i'd been thinking about some kind of onion tart, based on the pissaladiere of provence. then i found a recipe talking about caramelized onions and butternut squash, oooh -- uh, and also cheese and eggs and cream and butter and bread crumbs. that didn't sound like the bright burst of flavor i wanted out of my late-summer tart. i set it aside to fiddle-with and lighten-up, but in the meantime, late-summer turned to officially-fall. so i figured i'd let in a few of those heavy ingredients after all.

basically it was a compromise: a cross between their recipe and the thing i'd pictured in my head. to their recipe's credit, making a pureed, more liquidy filling and adding eggs would allow it to fluff up a bit; and to my preconception's detriment, using simple chopped-up squash would probably just shrink my filling down into scrawny, albeit intense-tasting, chunks.

and i just pulled this thing out of the oven and am waiting for it to cool. i'll let you know.

one recipe of pastry dough, prepared and chilled and ready to roll out
small butternut squash (about a pound)
2 medium onions, sliced into semi-circles about 1 cm thin
3 Tablespoons light olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon butter
1 egg
1/4 c. crumbled goat cheese
1/4 c. coarsely grated parmesan cheese
grated zest of half a lemon (scrub it well!)
3 large leaves of fresh sage, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves stripped off the stems
another pinch of salt
2 more Tablespoons butter
1/3 c. bread crumbs

preheat oven to 375F. on a lightly floured surface, roll out dough large enough to cover a 10'' pie pan. spray a pie pan with cooking spray and gently lay the circle of dough into the pan. use your fingers to make sure it is tucked into the corner all the way around, then trim the edge with scissors to leave a 1/4'' overhang. cover with foil, fill with a layer of uncooked rice (yes -- to weigh down the dough and prevent a bumpy bottom), and bake for 20 minutes. then remove the rice and the foil (the foil makes a handy funnel to put the rice back into its bag) and bake for another 10 minutes. remove to cool.

meanwhile, line a baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray. cut the squash crosswise into three chunks of approximately-equal size and place them cut-side down on the foil. (yes, i know one of your pieces will have two cut sides--i'm sorry. just pick one, okay?) roast for 30-40 min or however long it takes for it to be fork-pokable. some of the pieces will be very soft and some will be at the firmer end of the definitely-edible range. that's good. remove to cool. then scoop out the pocket of seeds and strings with a spoon and peel the skin off with a peeler, and cut the flesh into small cubes (about 1cm) and move it to a mixing bowl.

while the squash is roasting, we'll get the onions ready. in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan (NOT non-stick), heat the olive oil over medium flame and then add in the sliced onions and the teaspoon of salt. using tongs, quickly toss them to coat in oil, then reduce the heat to very low and let cook, stirring occasionally to prevent burning and sticking, until the onions are soft and golden-brown. this will take 20-30 minutes. when they're about ready, add in one tablespoon of butter and stir til it's melted. then remove from heat.

with a fork, mix/mash the squash cubes with the egg; you'll get a squashy mush flecked with sturdier cubes. mix in
the sage, thyme and lemon zest, then the parmesan and goat cheeses. taste and salt and taste again. dump this filling into the tart shell and smooth out to an even thickness. in the microwave, melt the last 2 tablespoons of butter in a bowl, then dump in the bread crumbs and toss with a fork. sprinkle the buttered crumbs evenly over the filling. bake the tart for 40 minutes. cool and eat.

whew! that was longer to write than it was to cook. i promise.

and now it's cooled and i just had a piece and, well, it was delicious! jake had some too and seems even more impressed than i am. next time i'll add more salt to the filling (and also remember to find the pepper grinder) and cut back on the mass of buttered bread crumbs. i do also still want to try an eggless version that's less pureed and more just squash-and-onions, but that's definitely not to say i'm disappointed with this one; i'm really quite pleased with myself. yum yum, homemade lunch tomorrow.

Monday, September 15, 2008

i ate a regrettable sandwich: southwest chicken wrap edition

my friend said: "a regrettable sandwich". sounds like a fun post in its own... "look at these pathetic crumples of lettuce... oh dear me."

heh. here goes nothing.

this sandwich cost me six dollars and was some kind of "southwest chicken wrap". i usually really like this sandwich shop. it's right by my work, has lots of variety on the menu, uses fresh-tasting ingredients and good bread, and lets you substitute and add on without grumbling at you -- without charging extra, even. eventually they recognize you and say hello to you by name...even if they don't get your name quite right.

but this day i was sorely disappointed. i liked the idea of corn and black beans in my sandwich, and the idea of barbecue sauce as a dressing. they had something called "barbecue ranch" for the dressing, and i was sort of skeptical about the combination, but melissa said that "white barbecue sauce" was not unheard of and not weird.

but there turned out to be way too much of it, and it was too sweet and sat around in wet pockets. the chicken was flimsy deli slices instead of the grilled chunks i'd imagined, and the black beans were mushy and unevenly distributed, and the wrap bread was over-folded in some parts so that all you got was a mouthful of dry bread.

you know when something's not very good, and you find yourself speeding through bites so that you won't taste it too much? that's fucked up. yet there i was, speeding through the wet mushy barbecuey pockets of the sandwich and the dry-bread folds in hopes of finding the next well-balanced, crisp-corn-fresh-lettuce-shredded-cheese-light-sauce bite soon.

i really hate wasting food and wasting money. i use "waste" sort of subjectively here -- what i mean is i'd rather spend forty of my own dollars on a good dinner than ten of someone else's on a mediocre lunch. in a way, the real crime about the whole thing is wasting a mealtime, an opportunity for genuine enjoyment. we do it already in the pursuit of convenience or in thrall to the lifelong conditioning of our tastebuds to go nuts for sodium and saturated fats. there's so much food out there to experience and savor and understand, and so few meals in all my lifespan -- what the fuck am i doing eating this regrettable sandwich?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

i made tomato soup

melissa and i went to the farmers market this morning. one of the stalls had a few bins labeled "seconds - 99cents/lb". this meant they were the picked-over tomatoes and peppers and peaches deemed substandard and not worth three or four dollars a pound like the "firsts", so to speak. but some of the things in there looked fine except for a few bruises or spots.

so we picked over those vegetables even more. found four yellow peppers that looked just fine -- and when can you buy any kind of bell pepper other than green for a dollar per pound? and we got two pounds of slicing tomatoes (not heirlooms) that had a black spot here and there, deciding that they would make a fine minestrone or gazpacho or something like that, once we chopped out the spots and cooked them down.

back at home i noticed we had three different bottles of leftover red wine. i hate throwing things out, so i would have to either find a simmering application for at least some of that wine...or try my hand at making vinegar.

2 lbs tomatoes, cut in half
2 onions, peeled and quartered
4 cloves garlic, peeled
olive oil
kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper
1 cup red wine
bay leaf
fresh basil (chopped), rosemary, and thyme
a cup or two of chicken stock
half a lemon

spray a baking sheet or dish with cooking spray and fill it with the tomatoes (cut side up) and the onions and garlic. drizzle olive oil over everything, then sprinkle salt and pepper over it. roast in a 375F oven for 45 minutes -- until onions are browning but not burnt, and everything smells really good.

in the meantime, put the cup of red wine and the bay leaf in a soup pot on the stove, and simmer uncovered until the wine has reduced by half.

when the vegetables are roasted, put them in a blender and puree them. we used a stick blender, which you stick right into a bowl, but if you are using an actual upright blender, do it in portions or with the lid half-open so that the hot liquid doesn't explode out of your blender and redecorate your kitchen in lovely warm autumn tones.

pour the puree into the reduced wine, add the herbs and some chicken stock (go gradually with the stock and thin out to your liking), stir well, and simmer together for a few minutes. turn off the heat and stir in a bit of fresh lemon juice.

pour into bowls over big croutons...or just stand around the stove and dip rye bread into the pot.

by the way, those peppers? most of them turned out to have weird hardened seed clusters, and tiny baby peppers germinating inside of them. kind of like...fetuses. and you know what? those pepper fetuses were delightfully fresh-tasting and crisp.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

i made steak tacos with all the fixins

including my own salsa fresca.

the boy had grilled a pretty delicious steak when we had company on the patio sunday, and we had a decent chunk left over, so the next day when i wanted to make something relatively quick, i picked up some flour tortillas and threw together some stuff we already had in the kitchen.

i sliced the (very rare) steak in very thin slices, tossed them in a small amount of sugar and salt, heated a little oil in a heavy skillet, and put in several slices at a time to cook until they caramelized (yes, the sugar is a cheat, and a very helpful one). tried to avoid crowding the slices so they wouldn't simmer each other with their juices rather than sear.

i sliced onions and green peppers and sauteed those in a separate pan.

i chopped up three tomatoes, three tomatillos, half an onion, half a very hot tiny pepper, and half a bunch of cilantro. tossed all that together. kosher salt too. i used tomatillos because i didn't have any lime - it was good, but still a little lacking.

i set out shredded cheese from the supermarket and a thing of sour cream. think i may have also julienned a cucumber because i like that. then i held tortillas over a low gas burner for several seconds each, until they had a couple small brown spots and were warm and soft.

then we assembled our tacos, in various combinations and permutations. i've gotta say it was pretty damn satisfying. we finished everything off but the sour cream and bag of cheese. wish i had pictures but we ate everything well before i could find my camera.