Salted Caramel Apple Tart

There is really nothing like a cool, crisp apple in the fall. By the same token, a warm apple pie is not to be discounted. That said, I feel like I forget that there are so many other things that apples can do! This apple tart is a salty, sweet, buttery reminder of just that.

It’s the best parts of a caramel apple without all the sticky chin and gooey teeth. It’s like going to the fair without all the lines and the cow manure smell. Also, if you need more convincing, I think you could eat this for breakfast.

Have you ever made homemade caramel? I feel like I’ve been warned about caramel before. Isn’t it supposed to be really hard? For some reason I have an irrational fear of making it, but I went for it this time. It’s not that bad! (Granted, we’re not making actual caramel candies, which I think actually are difficult.) Don’t be afraid of caramel, it’s manageable, I promise.

For the tart:

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed

1 pound apples, peeled, cored and sliced (about 4 large-6 small apples)

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

For the caramel sauce:

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 generous pinch salt

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Start by peeling and coring the apples, then slice them as thin as you can. Then, roll out the sheet of puff pastry and use it to line the inside of  a well-greased cookie sheet. If you have extra pieces from trimming, you should by no means bake them with sugar and cinnamon on top and eat them straight off the cookie sheet. Don’t do that. After you get the puff pastry in the pan, poke some holes in it with a fork so that it doesn’t puff up. Now, arrange the apple slices in some sort of attractive way. Sprinkle the sugar and place the butter cubes on top.

Bake at 400 degrees F for around 30 minutes or until the edges of the pastry are brown and the apples are soft. When the tart still has about 10 minutes to go, start your caramel sauce. In a small saucepan, melt 1/4 cup of sugar and let it brown. When it’s a good caramel color (~3 minutes), take it off the heat and put in the butter and the salt. When it’s melted, add the cream. Stir constantly, then put it back on the heat for about 3 more minutes. If it’s not loose enough, add a little water. It should be brush-able.

When the tart comes out of the oven, leave it on. Then, brush the caramel sauce over the apples and the crust (gently). Put the whole thing back in the oven for 10-15 more minutes or until the caramel is bubbly.

Cut the tart into squares and serve it warm with tea or coffee. Or whipped cream. Or vanilla bean ice cream. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Breakfast in Spain

photo by jason tuell

Last August, Jason went on a vacation to London, Paris, and Spain with his friend Bert. The trip was one for the books: they flew into London and spent a few days there, then rode the Chunnel to Paris where they did all the obligatory Parisian things–think baguettes, book stalls on the Seine, and the Louvre. Then, they took a train into Spain, where they met Mike in his family’s hometown. The three of them floated around Spain for several days: cars were towed, cigars were smoked, and dominoes were played. As for as I can tell, they became old Spanish men for a few days and loved every second of it.

Jason took an old SLR that we found at a Goodwill on the trip with him–a camera that he (and Bert and Mike) only generally knew how to use. Jason came home with a sock full of rolls of film, and we got them all developed a few days later. Almost all of the pictures were disastrous–with the exception of a few (accidentally) lovely ones. Although part of me wished in those days immediately after their trip that they had taken a digital camera so that I’d have a better idea of what they’d seen, I quickly changed my tune. I think the mismatched black and white pictures–many over or under-exposed–that they have as souvenirs couldn’t be any more prefect.

Almost 4 months after they got back from Spain, I found a roll of used film stuck in the backseat of my car. I thought it might be from their trip, so I held on to it and Jason kept meaning to get it developed. Last weekend, Bert was visiting and finally took the film with him. Today, more than a year after their trip, Bert posted the pictures from that missing roll of film on his Facebook.

Those little yogurt cups are a terra-cotta color. They get thrown away after people eat the yogurt, and Jason saved all three of theirs to bring home. We still have two of them at home: one holds pens and the other we sometimes use to drink wine from. I remember that they came from Spain, but they have started blend in with everything else. When I saw this picture, I remembered that they were almost trash, rescued by Jason and brought home to me. He took this picture (I’m sure of it) because he knew that I would want to see what they ate, what it looked like, and have an idea of how it felt. I love the way that no one is paying attention to Jason taking the picture–they’re busy with their own yogurt cups. I doubt that anyone was talking.

I feel like I took a little trip to Spain this morning, just from this small, quiet picture.

Book #11: The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel

My goodness, I’ve been busy. I’m starting a new job (in the same place), and until I find my replacement, I’m pretty much doing two full-time jobs. I really love both jobs, but my new one is a stretch. In a good way–I’m learning a lot every day, and it’s challenging in ways that my old job never was. I’m looking forward to settling  in. As you can imagine, all that work doesn’t leave tons of room for reading or writing about what I’m reading. I actually finished this book a few weeks ago, and I’ve not been able to sit down and clear my head long enough to write about it.

This book is huge. Not long, it’s actually pretty short. It’s just one of those books that takes you in. It’s powerful and moving. Where my last favorite (The Night Circus) was fantastical and whimsical, this novel is firmly grounded. It tells the story of two people: Amos, a small-town preacher who isn’t quite sure what he believes in, and Langdon, an almost PhD who has just moved back the same small town to nurse a broken heart and find her way outside of academia. Both Amos and Langdon are highly intuitive, emotional people, and they’re drawn into a story that tests the boundaries of their capabilities. They’re brought together by two strange little girls and a mutual disdain for one another.

Down the street from both Amos and Langdon, two little girls dressed in princess costumes have come to live with their grandmother in the wake of a horrible tragedy. They call themselves Immaculata and Epiphany after claiming to see the Virgin Mary, who told them that they should change their names. They are silent, stoic, and broken. In different ways, they break through the thick shells that both Langdon and Amos have built around themselves. Both are forced to face their true selves, and it’s as messy, painful, and gut-wrenching as you’d expect. In the process, they learn to face their own faults and shortcomings as well as one another’s.

When I finished this book, I read the ending at least 5 times before I could bear to put it down. I was shaken by the honesty of the characters and the way that the book drew me in and wouldn’t let go. I would run out for this one. When I read it, I was reading a library copy, and I almost couldn’t bear to let it go. Don’t worry–I got my own from a used bookstore a few days ago.

Stay tuned, I’m catching up!

The list so far:

1. In One Person by John Irving

2. Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato

3. At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

4. Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

5. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers

6. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

7. God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian by Kurt Vonnegut

8. My Life in France by Julia Child

9. Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon

10. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

11. The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel

Red Flannel Hash

This breakfast is decadent. It’s meant to be served with hot coffee and warm socks. I don’t know why beets and hollandaise sauce don’t naturally go together all the time–they make an unexpectedly great combination. This brunch does take a while to come together, but there are plenty of things that you can do ahead of time. Also, brunch is flexible. It can be anywhere between 10 and 2, I say.

The hollandaise recipe is from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s a basic one. It’s easier than you think. Words like “emulsion” or “suspension” and “curdle” can make the process seem really daunting, but if you follow a few simple steps, it’s totally doable. Plus, once you have homemade hollandaise swirled with egg yolk, you’ll see why a little stress is worth it. Let’s be clear about one more thing: hollandaise sauce is by no means a health food. It’s not an everyday sort of sauce. It’s mostly butter. I feel like I should give you a heads up because it’s delicious and you might want to eat it on everything, which you probably shouldn’t. It’s strictly for brunch-type affairs.

As for the things that you can do ahead of time: roast the beets, make the hollandaise, and boil the potatoes.

Here’s the recipe for the hollandaise: serves ~4 people, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

4 egg yolks

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup of unsalted butter

pinch of salt

pinch of cayenne pepper

To start, melt the butter. Then, vigorously whisk the eggs and lemon juice in a stainless steel bowl. When they are well incorporated, place the bowl on a saucepan of water over medium heat (before it simmers). Whisk constantly, and when the water reaches a simmer, slowly pour the butter into the mixture, while whisking constantly. It should come together smoothly. The important thing here is the way that you heat the mixture. It has to be slow–if it gets hot too quickly, the mixture will be grainy. If it gets heated too much (if the water boils) or you stop whisking, the eggs could scramble. You don’t want either of these things, so be sure to heat the mixture slowly so that it stays smooth. And don’t stop whisking. After the butter is added, whisk the sauce until it thickens (2-3 minutes). Remove it from the heat and whisk in the cayenne pepper and salt. Set aside and serve lukewarm.

Recipe for the hash:

4 beets, roasted, peeled, and diced

5 small red new potatoes, diced

2 sweet potatoes, diced

1 onion diced the same size as the potatoes and beets

1/2 pound bacon, cooked and diced

salt

pepper

thyme

To roast the beets, trim and scrub them, then wrap them in tin foil with a little olive oil and roast them at 400 degrees for one hour. When they’re done, unwrap them, let them cool, and their skins should slide right off. Dice ’em up. Now, boil the diced potatoes (both kinds) for 8 minutes or until they’re soft.

Sweat the onions in olive oil until they’re translucent, then add the potatoes. Toss them around, then add the beets and bacon. Stir until everything is mixed well and turned a little red from the beets. Spoon some of the hash onto each plate.

Now is where you would poach eggs if you know how. But, if you’re like me, your poached eggs don’t really turn into anything edible. So, I fried 2 eggs overeasy and used those instead. However you cook the eggs, put them on top of the hash, then spoon hollandaise over that. Sprinkle some pepper and some thyme. Serve immediately.

And there’s brunch!

 

Weeknight Chili

Are there certain foods that remind you specifically of a certain occasion or event? For me, chili is all about Halloween. My mom makes a huge pot of chili every year on Halloween, and when I smell those spices simmering with tomatoes and beans, I can just feel that giddy excitement that comes with trick-or-treating. Chili is great fuel for a late night of candy-binging, and it’s a huge crowd pleaser because it’s totally customizable. This chili is inspired by my mom’s, and it’s a recipe that I mastered while I was in college. It’s crazy cheap (like, less than $3 a serving) and it’s a great way to entertain/feed a bunch of people on a cool night (right before you go trick-or-treating)! Also, as a bonus, it’s vegan (before toppings).

The secret to this chili is Boca Burgers. They’re made of soy, and although I wouldn’t slap one on a bun and be satisfied with it, they have a texture that can be really great in place of ground beef. Plus, they’re way cheaper and vegetarian/vegan-friendly. Also, I use canned tomatoes, beans, and corn. It’s just easier.

The one thing that I really don’t scrimp on are the spices. I use 10 different spices total, which can be a pretty serious investment. But, some of them are optional. I can’t really highly recommend the pre-made spice packs, but in a pinch, they will do. Just be aware that the sodium content is through the roof and they also include things that I can’t pronounce, which isn’t great. If you can, make your own spice mix. Mine includes salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, ground red pepper, chili powder, coriander, cumin, basil, and (secret ingredient alert) a little smoked paprika.

Here’s the recipe (serves 4 people, or 3 hungry boys):

1 yellow onion, diced

1 green pepper, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 original vegan meatless Boca Burgers (one package)

1/2 bottle beer

1 can black beans

1 can kidney beans

1 small can corn

1 large can diced tomatoes (with no added flavoring or sugar)

2 Tablespoons chili powder

1 Tablespoon salt

1 Tablespoon black pepper

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon basil

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more if you like things extra spicy)

1 teaspoon ground red pepper (more if you like things extra spicy)

For topping:

green onions

plain greek yogurt (it’s just like sour cream!)

grated cheddar cheese

diced avocados

Start by dicing the onion and green pepper and mincing the garlic. Then, sweat those things in a little oil on medium heat in the bottom of the pot you’ll be cooking the chili in. When the veggies are translucent, push them to the sides of the pot and lay the thawed boca burgers on the bottom of the pot. Break up the burgers with a wooden spoon until the pieces are small. By the time you’re done doing this, there should be a lot of burger sticking to the bottom of the pot. Before it burns, pour about a half a beer into the pot and scrape the bottom.

The mixture in the pot will be a little wet at this point, and that’s okay. Now is when you’ll add all the spices. Let that simmer for a few minutes until it starts to reduce, then add the black beans, kidney beans, tomatoes, and corn. Stir well.

Let this mixture simmer, stirring occasionally, for as long as you can wait. Taste the chili as it cooks, adding more salt, pepper, or chili powder as you see fit.

Serve the chili in deep bowls and allow people to choose their own toppings. Make sure the cheddar is sharp–and grate your own! Include green onions and avocado for anyone who wants to keep their chili vegan, and be sure there’s sour cream or greek yogurt. I made cornbread muffins this time (which are perfect in the bottom of the bowl), but tortilla chips are also really fun. Serve the chili with more of the beer that you cooked it with.

This chili is one of the meals that made me love cooking for lots of people. It’s easily doubled and will easily satisfy everyone from the picky vegan to the meat-lovingest dude you can find. It’s best eaten standing up in the kitchen in a sweater and wool socks, hands wrapped around the bowl for warmth, and close to people you love. Happy Fall, Y’all!

 

 

 

 

 

Book #10: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Are you a reader? I feel like if you’re reading this post, you probably are. Do you know what it’s like to be so immersed in a book that it defines your days? So sucked into the imagined world within those pages that you’re just waiting all day to open the book and re-enter their world? If you aren’t a reader, if this hasn’t happened to you, keep reading until it does. Sometimes I forget that it’s possible. I get discouraged and have trouble finishing books. Then, I luck upon one that reminds me–I’m a reader.

I read The Night Circus in a day and a half. It’s a little over 500 pages long, but it flew by. In the novel, Le Cirque des Reves appears mysteriously, it’s black and white silhouette suddenly thrown against the horizon of some field just outside of town. It opens at dusk and closes at dawn. Once inside the gates, the circus is exactly what you’d want a circus to be–the smell of popcorn and caramel, maybe a little sawdust, floats through the air, and the paths between the tents aren’t always quite navigable. Everything is black and white, and each tent holds what seems to be a small miracle. For reasons that I won’t give away, the circus is not quite limited by the rules of physics. But it’s never quite magical enough that you could put your finger on what isn’t possible, where the line between real and magical is drawn. It’s a love story, a coming-of-age story, and a fantasy all at once. It’s absolutely stunning in its detail; I can close my eyes now and feel what a night at Le Cirque des Reves feels like: I can hear the ticking of the elaborate clock at the entrance, smell the cocoa that’s never too hot to drink nor too cool, feel the slip of the tent fabric between my fingers. The book is richly detailed at every turn, and you’ll find yourself wrapped in the luxury of it right away.

This is the kind of book that goes down in history. It’s just literary enough–consider the implications of an elaborate good vs. evil struggle combined with the heavy-handed use of black and white imagery layered atop a love story that rivals that of Romeo and Juliet in the “star-crossed lovers” department. But, it’s still accessible in a way that made me read it so voraciously that I didn’t notice the clock ticking past 3 in the morning. It’s the sort of book that you finish and close reluctantly. The kind of book that reminds you that you’re a reader.

Maybe my lot in life as a reader is a curse? There’s something so truly heartbreaking about closing a book that’s so beautiful. That’s the thing about a book–you have to finish it. It has to end. You have to close it, place it on the table, and return to the real world, where it’s 3 o’clock in the morning on a Tuesday.

The Night Circus will remind you why you’re a reader. Check out Erin Morgenstern’s website to get a feel for her aesthetic. Then, stay up all night to read this novel. It’s so completely worth it.

The list so far:

1. In One Person by John Irving

2. Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato

3. At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

4. Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

5. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers

6. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

7. God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian by Kurt Vonnegut

8. My Life in France by Julia Child

9. Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon