Forum Holitorium

Month: February, 2014

Ta Da: Tatin?

First the bad news: the enticing crust above was so hard that I was embarrassed that I was serving it to someone not a member of my household. A mixture of wheat flour, water, and sunflower seed oil, it was a pleasure to mix and roll out. Little did I suspect that it would be impossible to handle with a fork. After TC managed to saw it apart into wedges, we elected to eat it with our hands. Though dry and tough, our teeth were never threatened. By the sugar, sure, but not by the hardness. Now the good news: the topping was loaded with flavor and moisture.

This is how the topping evolved: 100g muscavado sugar in 4 Tbs of water, heated and whisked until it melted. I added four sliced apples and stirred five minutes until the apples were well covered and the syrup started to cling to the fruit. Then it was time to pour it into the tart pan.

The topping was then tucked into the oven for a forty minutes’ nap at 200°C, completely covered by the flippant crust. To my relief, transferring it to the serving plate was real simple. Some apples didn’t bond much to either the form or the top of the crust, leading me to think that perhaps the sugar wasn’t really caramelized. It was brown to begin with, so there were no clear visual cues except the thickening of the syrup.  Nonetheless: there you have it, folks: my very first Tarte Tatin!

Or was it? I own two cookbooks with recipes for Tarte Tatin, and the one I used does not call for butter. (Butter, however, was what I used to grease the tart pan because it is simply unparalleled for that kind of job. Amen.)  The second one does, and I’d now like to try that one out as well as the recipe provided at this very interesting website written by a Tarte Tatin fan, which includes butter as an essential ingredient.

Since a lot of ink has been spilled over TT, I want to underline that my interest in trying out other recipes for it is more to expand my repertoire of baking tricks than any reverence for this much talked about starlet of French cuisine. Despite having devoted a good decade of my life to French studies, I have never felt a great affinity for French cuisine, perhaps due to haute cuisine‘s addiction to meat. Instead, my motivation is to master a cooking technique, the art of caramelization, that I can go on to apply it to other foods like milk, onions, and pecans. And next time, of course, I’ll skip the sunflower seed oil for the house flour-butter-water crust recipe.

Have you had any adventures with caramelizing? Good luck in refining whatever culinary skill you’re currently working on!

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Nature Sometimes Sears a Sapling

Sunday I left the house for the first time in five days. The respiratory junk plaguing me had finally started to subside. It felt like the weather would change soon, so TC and I took advantage of the morning sunshine to explore the field and forest near the garden, examining what the big ice storm of a few weeks ago had left in its wake. The trees have suffered the most. The last time I remember seeing so many trees down was in January 2007 after windstorm Kyrill. This time water, not air, was to blame.

A pair of figure skaters caught in a death spiral, these slim sylphs bend over backwards to kiss the earth. Closer to home, the sumac tree outside our living room window can also be numbered among the casualties, though it cracked right above the spot where our bird feeder is hung, so the birds didn’t miss a beat. Not everything we saw was doomed. We caught up with the horses that pasture next to the garden just as they were having brunch. They were incredibly intent on eating and almost done. We couldn’t see into the bottom of the buckets and could only speculate what was on the menu.

I already feel spring within me and am harnessing its power to start in on my spring cleaning. Instead of scrubbing things until they shine, I am sorting and weeding out what I have to make room for the new. So far I’ve tackled my recipe file, saying adios to recipes that will never be tried, and slimmed down my collection of knitting patterns. All my skeins of yarn have been inventoried and I have declared a five month moratorium on purchasing yarn. When all the yarn fits into the official white yarn storage box, I may buy more. The current state of affairs is that there are several bags full of half-started projects and wool yearning to be handled for the first time that are mainly (but not exclusively) dispersed throughout my wardrobe. It’s time to tame the wild sheep herding/hoarding instinct in me, I guess. Two steps have been taken in this direction.

Above is the cabled edge of a shawlette made of Portuguese wool hand-dyed with eucalyptus. Below is a scarf showcasing the dayflower pattern. Both have flown off the needles since my last post. The choice of complementary colors was purely coincidental.

The pantry is also being subject to spring cleaning, especially the grain section. A while ago I bought amaranth to try out a recipe that didn’t make much of an impression on my palate. Other foods on the shelf given the silent treatment in the majority of cookbooks I possess are millet flour, rice flour, and tapioca. Any suggestions about what to cook with these raw materials?