Thursday, December 17, 2009

Meyer Christmas!!!!: Meyer Lemon Tart with Bittersweet Chocolate

I finally found some Meyer lemons at the market and jumped at the chance to make my favorite lemon tart for Sunday dinner. Vanessa, an LCB compatriot and fellow Austinite, joined us for dinner along with her lovely husband, Graham. The tart was my contribution since I let le Chef handle the rest of the meal. He outdid himself, as usual. It's so nice to have a pro around. Vanessa made a yummy chocolate mousse cake and she was kind enough to leave some leftovers. I just finished the last piece for dinner.

This tart is from Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Her tart dough recipe that I referenced in my last post on pecan pie makes two tart shells so, double bonus, I already had tart dough on hand. Many of the recipes in Sunday Suppers are a little complicated- I would not call it a cookbook for amateurs. I've tried a couple of her recipes with varying success. I'm sure it's user error and not her recipes! This lemon tart recipe, however, is easy-peasy. It's just as delicious with garden variety lemons as well so don't wait until Meyer season to break it out!

In the introduction to the recipe, there is a charming story about how Suzanne learned the recipe while doing her senior project in high school at Ma Maison, a French restaurant in L.A. In 1984, as a girl in a French restaurant, she was sent strait to the pastry kitchen. She tells of how she ran home evenings to faithfully re-create the recipes she learned to practice her pastry skills. Her sister kept imploring her to add chocolate to the tart and finally, to appease her on her birthday, she went for it. Voila! A now classic that bloggers many times over have made and shared with their readers. I'm happy to add to the ranks.
I made another old favorite (and another that Jan passed along to me) for a going away brunch this weekend- Ina Garten's (the Barefoot Contessa) cheddar-dill scones. I make these scones with chives instead of dill and I think they're even more delicious for it. The brunch was hosted by Ellen, my former co-worker, who was very pregnant at her baby shower you'll see in an earlier post on this blog. She has since had the world's cutest baby boy, Evan. Now she has the audacity to up and move to the ATL, taking him away from us. All because her husband got an amazing job. Good luck guys!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!: Pecan Maple Pie with Bourbon and Kumquats

I am not referring to the holidays by the above title, although they do factor into the equation. I am referring the fact that tis' the season to eat pecan pie! For some strange reason, I love pecan pie at the holidays but you probably couldn't bribe me to eat it any other time of the year. I especially love pecan pie since I discovered Tartine's Pecan Maple Pie recipe. I made it last year for our family Christmas dinner and my Mom went crazy over it so I've promised to make it again this year. I decided to make the pie for the holiday gathering at work as well. Since I'm on the set up crew, I'll be pre-slicing and plan to stow away the a piece to enjoy myself.  The recipe for this delicious pie is below. As a note, I use Suzanne Goin's tart crust recipe (see page 196) from Sunday Suppers at Lucques instead of the recipe from Tartine.
The secret ingredient in Tartine's pecan maple pie is kumquats. I grew up thinking kumquats were some weird Alabama fruit as I never saw anyone eat them except my Mom and her sisters. Kumquats actually originated in China. I thought the same thing about figs- where do kids get such strange ideas? Alabama, only 90 minutes from the Florida beach town I grew up in, seemed like a strange and exotic place to me as a child. My Granny (my Mom's Mom) had a green thumb extraordinaire and, along with beautiful flowers, she had kumquat, fig, and pecan trees on her property in Florala, AL.

The other secret ingredient that makes this pie so good is bourbon. I make an exception to my "no boozy desserts policy" for this recipe. The bourbon compliments the pecans and kumquats perfectly. I use Wild Turkey because of fond memories from my freshman year at the University of Alabama. Wild Turkey was a household staple, although not for baking. I'd rather gag than drink a bourbon and coke nowadays, but for some reason, it seemed just the drink for a Saturday afternoon football game (probably because the bottle fit easily into a purse and could be sneaked in). I might just have a bourbon and coke for old time's sake on January 7th to celebrate Bama's win over Texas. ROLLLLLLL TIDE!

Pecan Maple Pie with Kumquats and Bourbon

Flaky Tart Dough (Makes two 9-inch tart shells.)
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup water, very cold
3 cups + 2 tablespoons plain flour
1 cup + 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, very cold

Pecan Pie
¾ cup sugar
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons bourbon
½ teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups pecans, halved
½ cup kumquats, thinly sliced, seeds removed

1. To make the pie dough, combine the salt and water in a small bowl. Keep very cold until ready to use. Place the flour in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter into 1-inch pieces and scatter over the flour. Pulse briefly until the mixture forms large crumbs.
2. Drizzle in the salt water and pulse again until the mixture forms a shaggy mess. You should still be able to see some butter chunks. On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into 2 equal balls and shape each into a disc 1-inch thick. Wrap well in plastic and chill for at least 2 hours.
3. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until 1/8 inch thick. Lift and rotate the dough to prevent it from sticking, and work quickly so it remains cold. Carefully transfer the pastry to the lightly greased tart dish, pressing gently into place. Trim the dough with a sharp knife.
4. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line with baking paper and fill with pie weights. Bake until surface looks light brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the weights and paper. Bake for a further 5 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely before filling.
5. To make pecan filling, combine sugar, maple syrup, corn syrup, bourbon and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, for 1 minute.
6. Take off the heat and add the butter, whisking as it melts. Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Set the oven to 350°F.
7. Add the vanilla and eggs to the cooled mixture and stir to mix well. Stir in the pecans and kumquats, and pour into the prepared pie shell.
8. Bake the pie until the filling is just set, for 40-60 minutes. If the top is browning too quickly, cover with a piece of aluminium foil. Let cool on a wire rack. Pie will keep in the fridge for up to 1 week.

Friday, December 4, 2009

I Left my Heart in San Francisco

Eric and I took whirlwind trip to San Francisco over the holiday. We flew in on Thanksgiving and took a red-eye back Sunday at midnight. We're headed home for Christmas so we decided to be (just a little) selfish and spend our Thanksgiving holiday eating and relaxing in our favorite city.  I'm sure there are many wonderful places to see and visit in SFC- we wouldn't know. We go for one thing only- to eat and drink as much amazing food and wine as our stomaches will allow. Usually too much...

Our itinerary is always built around restaurant reservations. We really rack up the Open Table points on these trips. I agonize over narrowing down the list to the "can't miss" options because there are always more places we want to visit than we have time for. Here are the places that made the cut this trip:

We didn't have any specific plans for Turkey Day other than meeting up with Eric's brother Matt. Matt took us to Yoshi's, a jazz club/Japanese restaurant. Pretty decent sushi and soothing, relaxing jazz was a nice relief from a full day of traveling. Matt played at Yoshi's Sunday night for his CD pre-release party but we missed it since we had to fly out early that morning. Sounds like it went well and he sold out of CDs.

Tartine Bakery was at the top of the list as their cookbook is one of my favorites. We headed down for breakfast on Friday and went back for an afternoon snack and baked goods to take home with us on Saturday. Tartine is my kind of bakery- everything is very simple and refined but perfectly executed and tastes amazing. Eric ordered bread pudding and a croissant for breakfast and finished every bite. This from a man who never eats breakfast and isn't much for sweets. Yes, folks, it is that good! I thought the pain au chocolat I had for breakfast would be my favorite but turns out the chocolate and walnut cookie crisps were a revelation.

We had a late lunch at A-16 on Friday. They are justly known for that mozzarella burratta- it was "like buttah" (Eric didn't laugh but I hope you will :-). A-16 had been considered on previous trips but we never made it until now. We visited sister restaurant, SPQR, on our last visit and I highly reccommend it as well.

Commis for dinner on Friday was the highlight of the trip for me. They've only been open five months and have already earned their first Michelin star. The prix fixe menu and wine parings were perfect. I like nothing more than to walk in, sit down, and let a very capable chef and sommelier make all the decisions. Actually, we did have to choose from a list of three options for each of the three courses offered but it was obvious from a mere glance that there would be no wrong choice. I finished a perfect meal with a slice of apple and huckleberry pie accompanied with a quenelle of cheddar cheese ice cream. Amen!

Bar Jules for lunch on Saturday. Eric had a swordfish salad but I opted for the more brunchy option of scrambled eggs with prosciutto and toast with avocado slices as we were eating early since we had a 6:15 dinner reservation. Lunch was good but the dessert was the best. Eric and I both had the vanilla panna cotta and agreed it was amazing.

Kokkari for a (very) early dinner Saturday evening as we had to pack up and get to the airport for our red-eye flight. Anticipation was high - Eric worked for a lovely Greek family and is very familiar with the classic Greek cuisine and we've always heard rave reviews for Kokkari. The restaurant is beautiful and we were seated next to the open fire hearth which was perfect since the night was a little chilly. The food was great and plentiful. I was served a lamb shank so big that I felt like I was in a  Flinstones episode and the persimmon and pomegranate salad I had is now on the list of all time favorites. Eric had a whole, roasted sea bass that looked divine. We were so stuffed by the end of the meal that I didn't even finish my baklava and I never leave baklava.

Every time we go to SFC we always ask ourselves, "Why don't we live here?" The reasons are many and well-considered. We've seriously thought about it but since we have 3 dogs, two cars, and a boat the living situation would be very complicated. We've grown accustomed to home ownership which would be a pipe dream on our salaries with (even post-bubble) Bay Area real estate prices. Honestly, where do SFC chefs and public health workers live? I'm guessing not in Hayes Valley which is were I would want to live.

So back to Austin we went, a pretty cool city too. The food scene doesn't compare to SFC but neither do the real estate prices and we're happy to call it home. Speaking of, we hadn't been home more than a few hours on Sunday before I had polished off half the bag of chocolate and walnut cookie crisps I had brought back from Tartine.  Those little cookies are addictive. The recipe is in the bakery's cookbook and I picked up the ingredients at the store yesterday to make a batch this weekend. I'll let you know how they turn out....