A couple of weeks ago, an old friend PM’d me to say that the local paper, the Bellingham Herald, was running a national holiday recipe contest, and thought I might be interested.
I allowed that I was, and then noticed that the deadline for submissions was that very day. I thought about if for a sec, and what I figured was the perfect thing came to mind.
Back in 2017, I did a Thanksgiving Sides & Sweets post, and Pumpkin Flan was found therein. I took a look at that, edited it a bit, (as in, tweaked for a mass audience), rummaged around and found an image of that glorious stuff, and sent it in.
The contest was run nationally by McClatchy, so to be honest, I really didn’t expect anything to come of it.
I was wrong, in the best sense of the word. I ended up taking the local dessert prize, and I won a hundred bucks to boot. I’m kind of ridiculously thrilled.
I’ve often said that I’d write about food and cooking even if nobody read it. While that’s true, people do read what I write, and then they go onto make what I’ve written about. Some faithfully reproduce my recipes, and some, be still my heart, go on to make them their own – that seriously floats my boat.
To those why find mistakes and point them out to me, thank you – I’m my own editor, and sometimes I miss – I genuinely appreciate the help!
So here’s to the folks who make my stuff and let me know – especially during these trying times, y’all make me very happy indeed.
If you’ve cooked from this site, show your work, please! If you find something that works better or you like more, share that too.
Nancy Swenson did up Chicken ala Diane, prompting her Hubs, Steve to say, ‘you can make that again!’
Jenny Lynn Talton-Proulx rain with the Clafoutis et Flaugnarde post and turned out her own amazing blueberry version – Here’s what she had to say about it – “Today’s flaugnarde. Local fresh-picked blueberries. Changed the recipe slightly: Used 4 cups of blueberries, 1/2 cup sugar, put cast iron pan in oven to pre-heat while I pulled together the ingredients. When ready to assemble, pulled pan out and added 2 T butter and a layer of organic corn meal, then the layer of chopped pecans, the blueberries, and the custard mix. Put in oven for 25 minutes. Switched around and baked for another 25. Let it cool completely then ran a knife around the perimeter onto a plate. Then flipped it right side up onto another plate and dusted with powdered sugar. It is so freaking good and Mario loves it. Made a stabilized whipped cream to top it all off!”
as prolific as I try to be, I must of course have a real job in order to pay the bills. I’ve just made a major shift out of restaurant management, into an Area Manager position with Schwan’s, here in my home town.
This move will cancel too many years of 2-3 hour daily commutes to and from work, as well as blessing me with a Monday through Friday work week. I couldn’t be happier about those changes, frankly.
I’ve got to learn a whole lot in a relatively short time period, so during the transition, new posts will be few and far between. Fortunately, there’s something like fifteen years of good stuff here to revisit and revise. I’ll be leaning on those archives while I get up to speed.
That said, what I post may well still be new to you, so stay tuned! By the same token, please do poke around and see what’s here. I’ll be back on track with weekly new posts just as soon as I can.
if there’s something you want and can’t find, or if you’ve got a specific request, drop me an email or message, and I’ll go to work for you.
Thank You for being here, it’s deeply appreciated!
So, we’ve had more than our share of technical bullshit lately, but I truly think we’re getting things ironed out this time…
The latest BS is getting new post notices to email to y’all as they should, with the post and/or link active therein. It’s been a bit of a battle, but we ARE making progress.
You just received an email with nothing but a logo and some boilerplate, that should not have gone out to everyone, but did, of course. Sorry about that!
Anyway, I’m told that, as of next Monday, April 1st, (no, I’m not fooling), at 8pm Eastern, 5 pm Pacific, the now weekly email with a genuine new post attached shall go out – We shall see, but I gotta believe.
Again, my apologies for all the hassles, but we’re getting it fixed and it soon will be on properly operating auto pilot.
Thanks for subscribing, and thanks for your patience and understanding!
So, I swore I’d written a brief post, back a few weeks, to explain that the Blog, in touch with its French roots, was to take its annual vacances d’été, ( I think that should be summer vacation, but my French frankly sucks), and invite y’all to pour through our voluble archives in the meantime
Turns out I didn’t…
1000 apologies, and thanks to a few of you who finally sent WTF messages too!
Yet another alert reader let me know that the print function for posts seemed to have disappeared, further noting, ‘I’m pretty sure you used to have one…’
Glad somebody was paying attention, ’cause clearly I wasn’t, and yeah, I sure did have one.
Anyway… Print services have been restored. There’s a little green button at the bottom of each post. Click that, and it’ll give you options to print, convert to PDF, email, and such. You can also edit, pruning off my long winded harangues and just printing recipes and what not, too.
We made a dried apricot tart this weekend, which we tweaked to our liking, (or so we thought). It cam from a recipe M found online. I’ll bet you’re expecting to see that tweaked recipe down at the end of this post too, yeah? Well, truth be told, there will be a recipe at the end, but it won’t be this one -we need to talk about recipe development.
The recipe came from what we shall call a Very Established And Respected Public Source for writing about food. Whether it’s Monica or me that gets an itch to make something and turn it into our own, we both do our due diligence – AKA, research. I work in the food biz, she does not, but the roots of the process are similar regardless of whether it’s her, me, or us doing the work. If it’s me doing the lion’s share, I tend to use resources like The Flavor Bible, Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, and various other regional or genre experts for thoughts on ingredients, technique, and the like. Monica tends to go for a mainstream recipe, which she studies and then alters to achieve what she is after.
Fact is, both routes are just fine and work pretty much equally well. Granted, I have more arcane food knowledge in my noggin, and as such, I tend to model on or alter recipes less than she does – But that doesn’t mean my method is better – it may take fewer tries to get where we want to go, but that’s really neither here nor there when it comes to the end result. It would be disingenuous to say I create more recipes than she does because of differences in method – I create more because I do the majority of the cooking and developing – There’s really nothing more operative in that regard.
My point with that last paragraph is this – I hear a lot of folks who seem almost embarrassed to say that they made something their own, when ‘all I did was tweak a recipe.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Fact is, even great chefs, legendary chefs, do exactly that. That is why, almost every post here includes some variation on the phrase, make it yours – Because when you put your stamp on it, and then repeat it, and it becomes a beloved standard for you, then my friend, that recipe is 100%, no doubt about it, yours.
So, what about this recipe would warrant me stating that it definitely needed further development? Well, frankly, it’s because the finished tart sucked. Bad. Now, that said – the caveats – Yes, it’s possible we screwed it up, (we didn’t), or that our ingredients were sub-par, (they weren’t), but the fact is, that recipe just was not designed or explained well at all. I knew it, truth be told, and so did M – But this was again, from a very reputable source, so we thought, what the hell, we’ll give it a spin – You have to do that sometimes, because there may well be magic where you least expect it, and if you don’t try it, you’ll never know. I gotta say though, in this case, it used some ingredients that are not cheap, so springing for that stuff and ending up with sub par results should not make a consumer happy.
We really tried with this thing. Again, we added a couple twists of our own, but nothing earthshaking – We didn’t have mascarpone in house, so we subbed cream cheese, heavy cream, and sour cream – That’s a certified, A-OK cheat, by the way, (but again? I knew better, and we did it anyway – My bad…) We also added a few dried cranberries, because they go nicely with apricots, and well, why not? And… It sucked. We ate a piece each, and the rest went to the squirrels and jays, (sorry, fellas). So why did that happen?
The answer to that requires digging in a bit deeper. First off, reading all 30+ of the review comments left by folks who made the recipe, (which supposedly received a 4 out of 5 star rating), it became immediately evident that almost no one said outright that this was a great tart recipe. In fact, overwhelmingly, people had trouble interpreting it, and said so – It was too vague, didn’t speak thoroughly to method, ingredient handling, or proper bakeware. Another healthy chunk said, in so many words, that it didn’t taste good – it was dry, had too much crust, the apricots shouldn’t have been left whole as shown, and so on. Several folks complained about the custard.So how did this thing score so highly? Good question.
I noted the following. The ‘custard’ was, in fact, mascarpone, eggs, sugar, and almond extract – Which is not custard. The recipe never stated how thick the crust should end up, and frankly, the mix they used was more of a pie crust than a tart crust, and yes, there’s a difference. It called for bringing 2/3 cup of whiskey and 30 dried apricots ‘to a simmer and then set aside’, which is insufficient to soften dried fruits, or to burn off the alcohol. It listed an egg yolk in ingredients that didn’t make it to procedure, and a couple of tablespoons of water showed up in procedure that were not in the ingredient list.
This was not from a home blogger, gang. This was from a major publication with over 100 years of experience – And they screwed it up. I’m not saying that to make them look bad – I’m really not – I’m saying it because it illustrates how tough it can be to create and share a good recipe, what can happen if you don’t, and why there’s a big time caveat emptor consideration for home cooks with damn near any recipe.
So, what did it actually take to fix this thing? A little more work, a few less sort cuts, and a little better narrative. First off, we made a real tart crust, (and for the record, for a 9” to 10” tart, that should be around 1/4” thick, and thinner yet if you’re doing tartlets). Secondly, softening dried fruit in booze is costly, especially if you use the proper amount, which means enough to completely cover and submerge 30 some odd apricots – You can see from our image that the proscribed amount wasn’t even close in that regard. And in any event, doing that is simply not as effective as hot water – If you want the taste of whisky or whatever, a quarter cup in a sauce pan over medium heat, simmered until the raw booze smell dissipates and the liquid thickens slightly, then cooled and added to the custard, will do the trick much better. And finally, custard is custard, gang. That’s milk heated gently and mixed with eggs, which act as a thickener – again, mascarpone doth not a custard make – That stuff is basically cream cheese that is already quite stiff. Adding eggs and sugar and flavoring to that will not make a custard – It’ll make an eggy, sweet cream cheese, which is not, repeat not, what we’re after here. So – All that said, here’s what we did for the one we ate all of.
Dried Apricot and Cranberry Tart
For the Tart
1 Cup Pastry Flour
1/2 Cup Almond Flour
1/4 Cup Bakers Sugar
1/2 Cup Cold Unsalted Butter
1 Large Egg
Pinch Sea Salt
You can do the tart by hand, which is my preferred method, or you can do it in a food processor, which is M’s preferred method – Either is just fine.
In a large mixing bowl, (or the processor), add flours, sugar, and salt and combine thoroughly.
Cut butter into roughly 1/4” cubes. Add that to the dry mix and combine by hand or process until the mixture looks like coarse corn meal.
Add the egg and incorporate thoroughly, but don’t go overboard – you don’t want the dough forming a ball on its own – You can check for done by squishing a hunk between your thumb and dialing finger – It should stick together, but not feel dry, or fall apart, (it also should not be sticky).
Pull the dough and form it into a roughly 1” disk. Wrap that in waxed paper and refrigerate for an hour, at least, (and longer is fine – Even up to a couple days – You can also freeze it, so long as you refrigerator thaw overnight prior to use).
When you’re ready to go, preheat your oven to 375° F and place a rack in a middle position.
You’ll want either a tart pan or a pie pan to bake in – Either really is fine.
Lightly grease the pan with butter.
Place the dough between sheets of waxed paper or parchment, and roll it out to about 1/4” thickness.
Carefully peel one sheet of paper off the dough and place it onto your chosen pan.
Use a fork and liberally and evenly prick the crust.
Cover the tart with a shaped piece of parchment, then use pie weights, beans, or rice to weigh down the tart.
Bake at 375° F for about 20-25 minutes, until the tart looks firm and is beginning to pull away from the edges of the pan.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
For the Filling/Custard
About 40 dried Apricots
1/4 Cup dried, sweetened Cranberries
1 small Lemon
1 Cup heavy Cream
2 Large Eggs
1 Egg Yolk
1/2 Cup Bakers Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Set aside about a dozen apricots and 6-8 cranberries.
Place the rest of the dried fruit into a mixing bowl.
Quarter the lemon, squeeze out the juice and add it to the rest of the fruit.
Cover the fruit with boiling water and allow it to steep for 15 minutes.
When the fruit is hydrated, pour off the liquid through a single mesh strainer, reserve the fruit.
Chop the reserved dozen apricots and the cranberries, set aside.
Preheat oven to 350° F and make sure there’s still a rack in the middle position.
In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, and sugar. Whisk thoroughly to incorporate – You want to get some air into this mix, so take your time – 2 to 3 minutes or so.
In a sauce pan over medium heat, scald the cream – That is, heat it until small bubbles start to form at the edges of the liquid.
Remove the cream from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
Slowly add the cream to the egg and sugar mixture, whisking steadily but gently – Don’t put too much of the hot cream in at a time – You want to temper the egg mix slowly, so that it doesn’t curdle.
Place whole apricots and cherries evenly across the tart, then carefully pour the custard onto the fruit.
Top tart with the chopped apricots around the rim of the tart, and the cranberries in the middle.
Bake at 350° F for 35 to 45 minutes, until custard is firm but still jiggles a bit in the middle, and fruit is slightly browned.
Remove from heat and allow to cool for 30 minutes.
Garnish with mint, if you like. You certainly may add whipped cream or crème fraiche as well.
I get asked on a regular basis why we do what we do here. Here’s my answer.
When I research a recipe or a subject, I look at a lot of food blogs, especially if I want to do something that I think is relatively original. I was doing that today, and I waded through a bunch of ‘very successful’ blogs. You know how I could tell that they were very successful? Because of the amount and general level of obnoxiousness derived from advertising on their sites – I left without reading through whatever it was I’d gone there to check out. And talk about non-sequitur? Ads for cosmetics, clothes, and a dozen other items having not one damn thing to do with food or cooking. In case you hadn’t noticed, I find stuff like that incredibly irritating. The Pioneer Woman, Rachel Ray, Tyler Florence claiming the cookbook is dead – all that? That’s not serious cooking, that’s hype, at best – The food equivalent of country music out of Nashville these days, (which I refer to as pop with fiddles). Frankly, if that’s success, well then, y’all can have it.
It’s the latest trend in monetizing what is ostensibly a food site. Monetize, if you’re unfamiliar, is an economic term. I know, ‘cause my Pop taught Econ at Harvard and MIT, (and who knows, maybe some of his smarts trickled down to me). What it means, literally, is to turn something into money – to utilize it as a source of profit. Now, if that’s why you have a food blog, good for you, but I’m out.
I was cooking for Monica and a good friend the other night, and it was his first visit to our kitchen, (though he’s had plenty of my cooking at the café). When he put his nose to the shaker of our signature seasoning salt, he couldn’t believe we’ve never monitized it. He’s a business man, and he greatly admires my cooking, so that was a compliment, no doubt, but it’s not why I labor away in relative obscurity here. That, I do because I have to – I gotta read, research, mull over, tweak, test, refine, create and write about food, and then share what I discover. Frankly, if no one read it but me, I’d still do it, (but don’t get me wrong, I greatly appreciate y’all being regulars here).
Now, for the record, down the line, I do intend to write a book or three based on what I do here, and frankly, I’m already working on that. Furthermore, if and when I ever come up with an original, really cool food item that I genuinely want to share with the world, I’ll do that too, (and frankly, that seasoning salt blend is getting mighty close). I do this because I love to, and because I’m driven to it – I could no longer stop writing about food than I could stop breathing.
Granted, there are a lot of great food blogs out there, but as The Corporate Machine figures out that they can profit grandly from our labors, all the ultra-commercialized stuff spirals out of control. It comes in waves, like boy bands. First, there was the need for nutritional info if you were going to be a ‘serious’ food blogger. Then came ridiculously professional-level photography, without which you couldn’t get a recipe accepted in any of the über-hip sites at the time. That morphed into full blown food styling, (right – like when we cook at home, every aspect of the meal is placed, staged, and choreographed – uh huh…) Now, if you’re cool, your site is festooned with multiple ads for a bunch of consumerist bullshit that has zero to do with food or cooking – This is how the next Food Channel Super Food Dipstick gets anointed.
I write about food for some pretty simple reasons. I’m interested in sharing recipes, methods, processes and such. I’m interested in sourcing, using wisely, and preserving food that is good for you in a world where much of what we are offered to eat is crap – Owned and foisted upon us by some pretty crappy mega-corporations. I’m interested in the science behind cooking, because I’ve never liked simply being told to ‘do it this way.’ I want to discover those cool secrets that professional Chefs and kitchens employ, and whenever possible, let the kitty out of the sack. That’s just how I’m wired. I trust that if you’re reading this, you’re interested in these things as well.
Today, some 8 years downstream from very humble beginnings, this blog has followers from all over the world. It’s won accolades from specific regions and countries for faithful renditions of beloved dishes. Stuff that I truly came up with first has been copied, and a couple of them are now fairly mainstream. It has a lot more followers and regular visitors than I ever thought it would – There are tens of thousands of genuine visits and visitors here every month. Is that a lot in the Big Picture Cool Food Blog scale? Well, no, when you consider that those tragically hip sites get millions of visitors – Frankly, I don’t really care about that, in the competing with others sense of the phrase – If you’re here, reading these posts, and you like them, and you come back when I post a new one, then I’m a seriously happy camper. While it still holds true that I cook to make M happy and write to make me happy, I love sharing stuff that helps y’all expand your horizons and eat well.
Now, all that said, I still get asked the following questions a lot, so let me just address them again – they are,
Why don’t you list nutritional information for your recipes,
Why don’t you post exact prep and cooking times, and
Why do you post exotic ingredients that I’m not likely to have?
In a nutshell, here’s why;
Frankly, listing nutritionals means, more than anything, that I am determining what kind of portion size you and yours eat, and frankly, I don’t have a clue about that. On the sites that do this, portions are most oft listed in ounces, so let me just ask – Do you weigh what you cook and what you plate before you eat it? Didn’t think so… If I post a casserole recipe and you make it, how much do you eat? How about your partner? Do you have seconds, are there leftovers, and so on. This ain’t a restaurant and neither is your house. None of us need to eat the same portion for reasons of consistency or economic viability, unless maybe we’re on a specific diet, in which case you’re not getting your recipes here, (ideas though, maybe).
For the record, I predominantly scale recipes for two, with room for leftovers, the idea being that most of the folks visiting here, like M and I, cook that way. Factor in the consideration that we heavily champion the concept of cooking one thing that will generate several meals – A whole chicken, roast, or whatnot that can easily become three or four great meals- That’s the smart way to cook if you want to eat well, be efficient, and economically savvy. And I’m still not gonna list nutritional data, sorry – For that, you’re on your own. As mentioned liberally herein, a recipe is nothing more than an idea, a guideline at best – Most people can and will tweak it, often to quite a degree – You should read some of the responses I get along the line of, ‘I made it, but I didn’t use any chocolate’…
Don’t get me wrong, nutrition is important and should be monitored in some way, shape, or form. The best way to do that is to buy, cook, and eat good things. Buy locally whenever you can. Buy fresh food, and avoid highly processed stuff like the plague. Read the labels and avoid things that are there only to help some corporation keep things on the shelf longer, or to keep it looking pretty beyond the time it should. Grow anything and everything you can. Preserve what you buy or grow so that you can notably extend the time it is available to you. Make everything you can from scratch. That may sound more intensive than what you do now, but if you really care about nutrition, you’ll do it. And as far as our recipes go, whenever you need or want detailed nutritionals on our recipes, just use a calorie counting app, and you’re off to the races.
Next up is prep and cooking time.
Weeeeeellllll, how do I say this? Listing prep time is, in my not even remotely humble opinion, one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read. The problem is actually pretty obvious. Listing prep time says we all prep at the same speed, and nothing could be further from the truth. Heck, I have three preppers in my cafe and they all perform differently… So really, the question is who’s prep time are we talking about? Mine? Yours? Emeril’s? I’ve been cutting things for decades and have pretty damn good knife skills; do you? I don’t even think about process and procedure any more, it just comes naturally – does it for you? And if your answers are ‘No’, does that make you slow? The answer to that isn’t rhetorical – it’s a resounding no. Listing prep time is often a disservice, for my mind. What it can and all too often does is to set up arbitrary determinations of success or failure in a home cook’s mind – It probably leads to mistakes, as folks look at the clock and start to rush or miss something things trying to keep up with an arbitrary determination of ‘normal’ prep time – Think that’s crazy? I assure you it’s not and that it does happen that way – It ends up souring a lot of folks on cooking, let alone websites and cookbooks.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. How about what ingredients you have right on hand when you start your prep, how well equipped your kitchen is, how your day went, how many rug rats are flying around your feet, or how many critters need to go out right now? Get the picture? My bottom line is simple – No one should give a rats ass how long it takes, if you have the time and want to make it. If you’re cooking regularly, you either already have a decent sense of what you can and will accomplish in a given time, or you will develop one in time. If you really do like cooking and want to do it, you’ll do it.
Finally, there’s the exotic ingredient thing. Yes, I have a ridiculous pantry and spice cabinet, (ask M what she thinks of the Asian section alone.) You may or may not have a pantry like ours, but I really don’t think that matters. We have all this stuff because we dedicate a hell of a lot of time and energy into developing and perfecting recipes to share with y’all. Whether or not you need that much is up to you. Does a couple avocado leaves and a little annatto really make or break good chili? I think the question is rhetorical. Anyway, I don’t buy the ‘why do you use ingredients I’m not likely to have’ complaint for a second – in this day and age, almost anyone in this country and many others can get anything they want. And if you can’t, well, I’ve sent grits to Sweden, cornmeal to Australia, and mustard seed to Israel – if you don’t find something you wanna try, hit me up, and I’ll get it to you.
I’ve also gotta point out that a lot of what we do gets designed because we had stuff in house that needed to get used, so that’s what we put in there. Again, like a broken record, a recipe is a guideline – Don’t like hot chiles, but have sweet peppers? Use those, and don’t think twice, it’s alright. If you’re here with any frequency, you know we strongly encourage and desire experimentation on your part – If you’re making it, put what you like in it. In any case, did you know that you can’t copyright or claim recipes? True story, that – All you can call your own is the verbiage and order in which you explain how to make the dish – As such, I’ve got no more right to my recipes than you do, so go wild. Anyway, maybe you should check out Tasmanian Pepperberry, or Urfa Bebir. Only the Food Goods know what you’ll do with them.
We do this because, many years ago, dear friends who love to grow, cook, preserve and explore as much as we do asked us to. We do this because we have a love for good food and cooking shared. We do this because we hope to inspire such in y’all. That’s more than good enough for me.