Thursday, January 29, 2009

une tarte d'amande et de poire...

I actually texted my friend Gigi to ask her what to call my pretty little tart in French.  I think it sounds almost as pretty in french as it tastes!

Many days I daydream at work while doing something that requires very little brain power, and I start thinking about cooking most of the time. 

So today I started thinking about tarts.  The natural inclination would be to make a pear tart, but to be honest I'm not a huge fan of all baked fruit desserts.  I love to eat a good apple pie or a cobbler, but I'd usually more content to sink my teeth into a nice chocolate dessert.

Then I started thinking about almond paste...

You can find it at the grocery store in the baking section with the nuts.  And no, this is NOT marzipan.  It's much runnier and sweeter and terribly unhealthy considering that it's a food made of healthy nuts. I had been thinking about it what I could cook with it for a while.  And we had pears at home. When I was a kid my mom ate pears all the time and I despised them, too much like biting into a sandy apple.  But they complement other flavors nicely, so I'll eat them for baking purposes.  And on brie and pear sandwiches with arugula....  

Hmmm.  (Now keep in mind... I was workday-dreaming about tarts)  I had a vision of a pear tart with almond paste.  I don't think that this was a completely original idea.  I might have seen this somewhere, I just have no recollection of where it was though.  

But of course I needed a tart pan.   I made a quick little trip to Williams Sonoma on my lunch break.  I do not make little excursions like this on a regular basis, but I wanted a very specific tart pan.  I bought a nice nonstick pan with a removable bottom, so that when the tart is cooked the bottom can be freed from the pan making a freestanding tart a reality. 

Here's how I created my sweet little tart.  No recipe.  Not even for the crust.  Sorry... but I've trained you well.  You can do it!

Tarte d'amande et de poire:
(Pear and almond paste tart.)

Almond paste
Thinly sliced pears (peeled of course)
Apricot jam

*Crust:  Food processor, flour, very cold butter, ice water, a smidge of sugar, a pinch of salt.  You could use your favorite pie crust recipe, or even those nice refrigerated ones that you roll into your own pan.  I liked how this crust turned out.  It really proved that technique and feel are much more important than any recipe.  I was very pleased. 
  • I baked the crust for 10 minutes.  
  • Then I spread the almond past onto the crust.  I would recommend letting the crust cool, mine tore a bit because the almond paste is VERY sticky!  
  • Then I fanned the sliced pears on top of the delicious paste.  
  • Then I dropped some dabs of butter on top of the pears and placed it back in the oven.
  • Bake it until it's done.   I baked mine for 30 minutes, longer would be fine, it depends on how you like your pears cooked.  
  • Very important for a pretty tart: melt some apricot jam and brush a thin layer over the fruit 15 minutes before the tart is set to come out of the oven.  Not necessary, but it makes it sparkle. 
It was very rich and irresistible.  Each forkful was a study in textures: flaky crust, gooey almond paste, and crisp pears.  The thick and sweet nuttiness of the paste and pears contrast each other and the butter in the crust and in the filling marries everything together. I think I'll probably finish it off by the end of the weekend.
Isn't that pretty!?  Very rustic and elegant at the same time.  I didn't get any photos of the tart minus the pan, it looks even more awesome standing on its own. 
It's been nice baking with you.  Au revoire! 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

time me... this is gonna be fast!

I'm at McAlister's using their Wi-Fi and having sweet tea.

Tonight I'll be watching Lost for the second time in my life with Maria, Josh, and Brandon. 

I made ANOTHER A- in my feature writing class.... is it just me or do other people get more excited about a B+ than an A-?  I hate psychology. 

I got a haircut yesterday....
You like?

I did NOT get a snow day today?  (Feel sorry for me?)  I'm not too sad, I've had a pretty decent day so far.

Gotta run... lunch breaks are never long enough!

Monday, January 26, 2009

it would be rude to leave the story incomplete...

I'm apologize for leaving you hanging.  I absolutely must finish telling you about our trip.

Where was I?  We were at Bongo Java weren't we?  We had been drinking coffee and reading...

Well, as soon as we left that wonderful place we stopped at a sweet little vintage shop for a bit.  They had lots of nice things, although I didn't purchase any of them.  

Then we loaded up the Kia and headed to Gigi's cupcakes, and I was... underwhelmed.  I hate to say it.  I was so looking forward to going.  And as you know, I love the place.  But for some reason this time I just wasn't in the mood.  I think it had to do with a few factors.  We had shared a piece of cheesecake at Bongo Java only a few hours earlier, maybe I just wasn't hungry.  I just couldn't resist though, I love the cupcakes so very much!  Oh well, this one time experience won't sway my love for the cup-shaped confections.  

Better luck next time.
There is so much excitement when opening that box with the pink sticker on it.  I liken it to a birthday present.  

Look at that monster thing.  It's a something so much more than a cupcake.  I promise Gigi's Cupcakes, I'll come back again.   Every great love affair has its "off" days.

After the purchase of the cupcakes, we drove to Bookman/Bookwoman to peruse.  I found a great old book about the New Martyrs of Russia.  It includes the lives of saints like the members of the Russian royal family and St. Tihkon to name a few.  What an incredible find!

Then, we went to a sweet little Shop next to Bookman called Pangaea.  I bought the cutest little sewing kit that was shaped like a Russian nesting doll, and it's pink and green!  So adorable! 

We were only shopping in the Hillsborough Village are to kill some time before our movie at the Belcourt Theater.  We saw a French film called L'Enfant Sauvage by Francois Truffaut.  It's from 1970 and it's a true story of a child who lived in the woods for most of his life and then was found and civilized.  Wow, I think that was the worst movie synopsis ever!  It was nice.  I don't think Brandon liked it too much.  

The Belcourt was neat.  I wish we had a nonprofit art house theater here in Memphis...

Then we went to Jackson's for dinner.  Oh baby we went to Jackson's!  I just love that place.I am eternally grateful to my cousin, Liz, for introducing us to our friend Jackson.  We had beer cheese as an appetizer.  It was very nice.  Then for dinner I feasted on a lovely piece of salmon with a shallot apple cider glaze.  It was wonderfully executed, nothing too extravagant, but perfect.  It was served with parmesan mashed potatoes.  I hate to be the salt person, but sadly they needed salt.  For all you salt-phobes out there, sometimes food needs a smidge of salt to bring out the true flavor.  In the case of these potatoes, the salt did the trick.  They were comforting and a bit elegant. 

  Brandon ordered the mussels and fries.  It sounded like such a simple dish.  Mussels and french fries.  But oh boy, it was something more.  It was positively seductive.  The fries were nice, and the mussels were pretty tasty.  But the broth, oh the broth.  It was so rich and wonderful.  Full of garlic and perfectly seasoned with the flavor of the mussels ever so delicately flirting with all of the other flavors.  It was warm and made me want to curl up in my seaside cottage on the coast in Maine during the winter.  There were pieces of grilled bread placed in the center to soak up the elixir, and I am not ashamed to say that I sampled my fair share!  I nearly cried.  No, I am not kidding.

After that experience we had to head home.  There was no experience that could top our meal, so we were left with no choice but to motor on home.  It was a long drive.  The trip home from Nashville always is late at night, but we had lovely music to accompany us.  

Yesterday was a very busy day.  We did several things, none too worthy of space on the blog. 

Today, ugh, it's Monday.  

Now I am at Cafe Eclectic, I came to study but needed to do something fun for a bit.  I have knots forming in my shoulders and need to relax before I can start reading more about how to moderate focus groups.  (Stupid public relations major!)  I had a mini-feast of Cafe Eclectic's delicious mac-n-cheese.  It's good, but I kind of think that maybe Martha's is better.  I also had a sweet little lemon tart for dessert.

Now I will study. 

Saturday, January 24, 2009

hello nashville...

Well, we're here in nashville.  The drive was nice, Brandon's a great travel buddy.   
I should compose a blog post.
But wait.  
I have this awesome feature called iMovie on my new MacBook, and I can make little video blog posts.  

But you know me.  I can't keep things short, so here are a few more words.

We left around 8:30 AM with our french pressed Ruta Maya coffee in hand. We stopped at McDonald's in Brownsville for breakfast.  (That's right, we brought our own coffee to McDonald's, I don't take chances with my coffee.)  I know the McD's breakfast isn't too terribly gourmet, but it's a tradition whenever we head east on I-40.

We made a stop at Alektor Cafe.  We got there 20 minutes before they opened, and killed some time in the car playing with my new toy.  I found a chess game on my MacBook and found PHOTO BOOTH!  (Which is really the reason why anyone purchases a Mac right?)  

Brandon and Caitlyn looking cute...
Sweet Alektor Cafe

We probably spent a bit more money than we probably should have, but how often are Orthodox people given the opportunity to visit an Orthodox bookstore in the US?  We ate lunch there (after we shopped for at least an hour!)  Brandon had the tuna melt and I ate the gourmet goat cheese sandwich.  We washed it all down with the "magical" (as B likes to call it) Russian spice tea.  A simple word is called for to describe our lunch: yum. 

Now we're at Bongo Java.  I've wanted to come here for ages!  We're currently at the Belmont location.  I like this area, very sweet.  As much as I love Memphis, I could probably consider moving here to Nashville, it has a little some soul.  

In the photo I'm sipping on the Mochahontas.... Yes, Caitlyn ordered a frou frou drink.  It's a mocha with cinnamon in it.  It's basically a very good mocha (steamed milk, espresso, chocolate) with hints of cinnamon warming it up.  Brandon got a piece of "Toll House Cheesecake" for us to share, but we haven't made much of a dent, we're both stuffed!

So, the plan is to hang out here for a bit.  It's great, we have no schedule!  (It's a refreshing feeling.)  I might actually try to study for a bit...  Talk to you soon. 


Friday, January 23, 2009

got it!

i got one.
i got a MacBook.
it's silver...
it's pretty...
and it is perfect in every way...
Product Image

I'm pretty darned excited...  I need to get in bed now. 
We're leaving for our Nashville day trip in approximately 9 hours.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

in my usual way...

Well hello, how are you? It has been too long, lets go out for coffee. (Go make yourself a cup of coffee, and then come back to the computer, we have a lot of catching up to do.)

Ok, now that you have your coffee, we can catch up...

It was my fault. I've been busy, bla bla bla... I really have been up to quite a bit and have been a tiny bit stressed. (As the blemishes on my face can well testify.) My blog has been bumped down on the priority list, in the region with organizing my bathroom closet and vacuuming my car. You see, lately I've been working on survival and dearest readers I hate to say this but, blogging was not necessary to my survival.

But I really think blogging is necessary for my sanity's sake!

Let me fill you in... There was the after-Christmas madness, full of parties and feasting and cooking. I cannot tell you how glorious the whole season was!

Then there was the wedding. Chase and Gigi, you remember them right? They got hitched! Brandon and I were both in the wedding and were booked up with pre-wedding fun... Us bridesmaids threw a lingerie shower (giggle) and then we had a lovely bachellorette party at Mollie Fontaine Lounge (uh-mazing place, I want to visit again soon, so I'll write more about it then.) We had all the normal primping and fun girl stuff that ladies do before weddings. They had a beautiful wedding. I'll try to give you some photos later.

Then there was the baptism! My friends Murphy and Beauvais' daughter, Lillian Elisabeth, was baptized this Saturday night, and I was her godmother. It was the most perfect baptism ever! She didn't cry at all, which I assure you is quite the accomplishment for an Orthodox baptism. It's long and the babies are actually immersed 3 times! I can't wait to show you the pictures. Lillian Elisabeth's patron saint is St. Elizabeth the New Martyr, who as you know, is one of my favorite Saints!

And, drumroll please, I'm back in school! OK, you probably didn't know I took a semester off, but I did. I was not proud of it, and I tried not to talk about it too often. I've never been more excited about going to school. It was a hassle to get enrolled again, but I think it was totally worth it! I have one of my favorite professors and I'm actually excited about my classes!

This weekend Brandon and I are heading to Nashville for a day. Nothing too big planned, just visiting a few of our favorite places and relaxing.

Oooooo, I think you'll like this. I was introduced to a new friend back around January 1, and I think we'll be the best of friends! Her name is "Martha Stewart's Macaroni and Cheese." Yes I just plugged a Martha recipe, I never thought I'd do it! It is absolutely to die for, my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

You know I've always thought of Mac-N-Cheese as a real tester for a cook. And sadly I've never actually liked one I made! I have the right technique, I just never have the right proportions or the best cheese. So when Margaret introduced me to Martha I was hooked. I made it for our New Year's day dinner and everyone agreed, it was good. You know the superstition says that whatever you're doing on New Year's is what you'll be doing for the rest of the year and if it involves making and eating this Mac-N-Cheese, I'll have a good year!

Martha Stewart's Perfect Macaroni and Cheese:

Serves 12
6 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere
1 pound elbow macaroni

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place bread pieces in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into the bowl with bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

2. Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.3. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere or 1 cup pecorino Romano. Set cheese sauce aside.

4. Fill a large saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than manufacturer's directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.) Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar and 1/2 cup Gruyere or 1/4 cup pecorino Romano; scatter breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.

Ciao dear readers.... it was nice to see you again!