I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

miscellany: tarte tatin

Tarte tatin is one of those dishes with a legendary history. Several legendary histories, in fact, since the exact one is unknown. The popular story is that two sisters, the Desmoiselles Tatin, had a small restaurant in France in the 1880s, about 100 miles south of Paris. One day, either through forgetfulness or simply being out of time (depending on which version of the story you're hearing) one of the sisters made an apple tart for their guests. She caramelized the apples, then covered the top with pastry, baked the whole thing, and inverted it on the plate to serve it so that the top crust became the base. 

I like it because it's delicious, is pretty easy to make, and the story sounds like something I might have done - rushed for time or realizing something had been forgotten, so improvising on the fly to try to salvage it into something yummy.

It starts simply enough: butter and brown sugar in a skillet. I used equal parts, about 1/2 cup each. Mostly because I only had 1/2 cup of butter left (see what I mean about improvising?). This is heated in an ovenproof skillet until the mixture melts and bubbles.

Then, the apples! Peeled, cored and quartered. all jammed in to be nice and cozy. We used Gala apples. Grannysmiths are nice too. You want an apple that won't melt into oblivion during the cooking process, but hold its shape.

These bubble on low/med heat for 30-45 minutes, until the apples are soft.

Yummy bubbly caramelly goodness.
Pastry! A basic tart pastry, rolled out...
I love this French rolling pin. Took some getting used to but is now my favorite .

... and put over top of the apples, right in the frying pan, the extra edges folded over and tucked in. This is where the "ovenproof" part is vital. Because:

into the oven it goes. To bake for another 30 minutes or so, until the crust is golden.

While this baked, I whipped up cream (excellent arm workout, by the way) to soft peaks and added some vanilla and sugar.

And there it is, baked. Now the tricky part, and the one that always makes me a little tense: flipping it over. Not because I fear a culinary flop. The ingredients are so basic and simple, you can't go wrong there. No, I fear dropping the whole thing into a hot splatter of caramel and apples.

Inverted! And I survived!

And ready to serve. Soft, sweet (not too much so), and warm. Delicious. And that's tarte tatin.

my puppy is crazy

Our creek is the driest I've ever seen it. I walked the length of it today, and one poor desiccated crayfish was the only sign of life (or not) in the bone-dry bed between our ford and the property line. Even in the driest summers, there has always remained a trickle. Not so in this year of drought.

But there was one puddle. And Titus found it. And then...

Silly puppy. What was going through his mind? This, I think:

Image from Know Your Meme

Monday, 30 July 2012

miscellany: rice paper wraps

I make not even the remotest, tiniest claim that I know much about cooking Asian-inspired food. I love to eat it, but I have not researched or practiced it enough. But, I love making rice paper wraps. Easy, delicious and welcomely cool on a hot day, and they even look nice (yes, welcomely is not a word. But it makes sense, doesn't it?). 

They also make it look like I know what I'm doing, which is another plus.

So, everything was assembled: thinly sliced pork (left over from the weekend), badly julienned celery and carrots (because they were the veggies in the crisper drawer) and spinach (because I always try to have some of that on hand), and rice noodles that I cooked, then ran under cold water and tossed with a little oil. 

You also need these: rice paper wraps. They look a little like doilies. And feel like plastic. But they are made from rice and entirely edible - after soaking in water for a couple of minutes, they get soft and ready to use. I blot the wraps as otherwise they don't stick to themselves as they roll, and fall apart.

Everything gets layered. One nice thing is, the wraps are translucent so some of the colour comes through. Pretty!

Then it all rolls up, which can be tricky, but if they're soaked and blotted right they seem to stick to themselves and make a nice tidy roll. I basically put all the filling at the edge of the circle nearest to me, roll forward (away from me) until the filling is just enclosed. Then I fold each side end over the centre to close up the ends. Continue rolling forward to finish it off.

Next step is to try not to eat them all, but dutifully put them in the fridge under plastic wrap til supper time. 

Okay, I ate one. Quality control and all that.

Sliced in half to serve, you can see all the yummyness inside. We like them with a peanut sauce that follows a careful recipe called "what's in the fridge?". This is where having an eccentric pantry comes in handy. This sauce was peanut butter, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, Vietnamese hot pepper sauce. And, I think that's all. Oh, and sesame oil. The proportions of each ingredient were what I remembered worked and how I adjusted it after tasting. In other words, THIS SAUCE WILL NEVER EXIST QUITE THIS WAY AGAIN. Too bad, because it was delicious.

I'm reading As Always, Julia right now - Julia Child's letters to Avis deVoto in the years as she wrote her first cookbook. Now there's a woman who was devoted to precision, testing and retesting, and getting the recipe just right. While I love to follow those recipes, I am not someone who I think could make them.