Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!!
I am so excited for Thanksgiving! Mostly because Scott and I will be able to go home and spend some sweet and treasured time with our families. I’ll be able to see my dad’s new hybrid car, “ooh and aww” over the newly finished basement that my dad and brother worked so hard on together, and tease my little brother about asking an older girl to the high school winter formal. I will proceed to grill him on how he asked her (so far he’s refused to tell my mom), if she’s a nice girl, whether or not he likes her in a romantic way, if I would like her, and finally remind him that dirty dancing is not good and I expect him not to do it. I know, I am a tough older sister, but I feel like it’s my duty and my right. With the new basement came a new ping pong table, and I’m sure with my competitive family we’ll be having ping pong tournaments. The problem is multifold: 1) I’m not very good at ping pong, 2) I played collegiate varsity tennis and somehow people relate tennis and ping pong and expect me to be good, and 3) my brother plays all the time with friends and my mom, I’ve heard stories of my mom winning tournaments when she was younger, and my husband is naturally good at just about everything. Thus, I hope I can at least beat my dad, but even that is not guaranteed!

Another reason I am excited for Thanksgiving is because, for the first time, I will be bringing a dish to set next to all the others on the buffet table. My debut dish! I will join the ranks of the adults-who-bring-side-dishes. Though I was promoted from the “kids’ table” to the big, nicely decorated, “adult table” a few years back, I feel that what really signals that you are truly an “adult” is when you start to bring side dishes for the meal. Then you have “arrived” and are no longer in “transition.” What I’m going to bring for my debut dish is not your typical casserole (It is prettier than that!), instead it is a butternut squash and caramelized onion galette. What makes this dish particularly special to me is that it is with this dish that I learned to like butternut squash. Turns out that it is actually quite good and the dish as a whole is totally delicious! Since I learned to like butternut squash with this dish, I strongly believe that I can convert others as well and hope to do so on Thursday. So wish me luck as I try convince members of my non-squash eating family to give it a try!

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette
Adapted from a Smitten Kitchen recipe

The squash is presented in a wonderful, flaky pastry dough, surrounded with sweet, caramelized onions and salty, melted parmesan cheese, and sage (a holiday favorite) grounds the dish and gives relief to the palate from all the other rich flavors. I also like that the squash is cubed and roasted in the oven first, which is by far my favorite way to prepare and eat vegetables. To me they usually achieve their peak flavor using this method and the chances of me liking the vegetable increase greatly.

Serves 2 as a meal, 4 to 6 as a side
For the dough:
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3-5 tbsp. ice water

For the Filling:
1 small butternut squash, about 1 to 1 ½ lbs.
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1 large yellow onion
Pinch of sugar
Generous ¾ cup grated Parmesan, Fontina, or Feta depending on your preference and availability. I usually do parmesan because I always have it around.
1 ½ tsp. chopped fresh sage or a generous ½ tsp. dried

Assemble Pastry dough:
Place cubed butter in the freezer for ½ hour to get nice and cold. Place flour and salt in food processor bowl or a medium sized mixing bowl if you do not have a food processor. Place this bowl in the freezer too so it can be chilled. I have skipped putting the bowl with the flour in the freezer and used cubes of butter that I had frozen hours before and this turned out fine. The most important thing is to have the butter and water cold.
After a ½ an hour, add the butter to the flour and cut in with a pastry blender or a food processor until the butter is no larger than the size of small peas. Add lemon juice and 1 Tbsp. of ice water and mix. Continue to add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing in between additions until the dough just starts to come together and “clump.” At this point you should stop adding water and transfer dough to a sheet of plastic wrap and pack into a disk, wrapping the plastic wrap around it as you go. Place disk into the refrigerator for 1 hour. Can be done a few days ahead of time.

Prepare filling:
Preheat oven to 375F. Peel butternut squash (I do this first with a serrated peeler to get the outer peeling off and then again for the second time with the peeler or a knife to remove the layer with the green “veins”) and cut in half widthwise so you have the bottom bulb half and the top narrow half. Cut both sections in half again, only lengthwise this time, and scoop the seeds out of the bottom halves. Cut squash into ½ inch dice and place on baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with about 2 Tbsp. olive oil, and toss cubes together to evenly coat the cubes in the olive oil. Roast squash for about 30 minutes or until cubes are tender.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium low heat. Slice the onion and add to the warm skillet. Sprinkle with ½ tsp. of salt and a pinch of sugar. Let onions cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, about 20 minutes. (On my stovetop I have to do medium heat, otherwise I’ll caramelize for an hour!)

Mix squash, onions, cheese, and sage together in a bowl. Turn up the oven to 400F and take the pastry dough out of the fridge. On a floured surface roll out the dough keeping everything well floured to prevent sticking. Once the dough is about ¼ to 1/8 of an inch thick stop rolling and measure a 12 inch circle for the galette and cut off any excess dough. Save the excess dough wrapped in plastic wrap and placed in a zip lock bag in the freezer for another galette or quiche. It will be good to use for at least a month. Transfer dough circle to an ungreased cookie sheet and spread filling over the dough leaving a 1 ½ inch border. Fold the border over the filling, pleating the edge to turn “corners.” The center will be open. Bake until golden brown 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven, let stand for five minutes, and then slide it onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges with a pizza cutter. This even tastes good at room temperature, so don’t fret if it cools off before your guests get to it.


Une Tarte Tatin

At last!!! I finally have an evening where I can write for my blog. It feels so good! I could talk about how overwhelmingly busy both Scott and I have been, but I am sick of thinking about it. In fact, right now I can easily think of several other things I maybe should be doing tonight, but I really don’t want to, which is why I’m going to stop that train of thought now.

It’s fall! This year I seem to love and appreciate fall more than ever. The trees with their vibrant rainbow of colors illuminated by the sun against a crisp, cool blue backdrop have given me much pleasure and induced prayers of praise and thanks. Sure, there was a time in early September when the first chill was felt in the morning air that I thought “Oh no, I am not ready for this! Soon I’ll be scrapping ice and freezing outside our garage door as I try to will it to unfreeze and open with exasperated yells and banging.” However, I soon realized how beautiful fall is, changed my attitude to appreciate the crisp air, and told myself not to worry about things I couldn’t control, like temperatures that make your snot freeze.

One thing that is starting to become a tradition for Scott and I is multiple trips to our local apple orchard, Wilson’s. The trips start already in August when the first apples ripen, with the Pristine variety leading the way, and they finish in late October with Winesaps. As we might not he here next year due to Scott starting residency, this post is for Wilson’s Apple Orchard, with all the memories it has given us these past four years it has become an essential part of our Autumn.

With the superfluity of apples pouring out of the fruit drawer of our fridge, you can imagine that there are many deliciously “homey” things that are made, such as apple crisp, applesauce, pork chops with apples, apple jelly, and apple pie. Each one brings a different flavor of fall that I relish. What I’m going to tell you about on this post however, is not what I would describe as “homey” or “comfort food,” unless of course, you are from France. Don’t worry though, just because it might not recall any memories of years past, or make you feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder, doesn’t mean it can’t warm your soul like comfort food and be drop-dead delish! It is Tarte Tatin and it is fabulous! A Tarte Tatin is an upside-down apple tart where the apples are caramelized in butter and sugar before the tart is baked. I had Tarte Tatin when I lived in Paris,* but I must say I think the Tarte Tatin that I made was considerably better! I know, saying that is practically sacrilegious because I am not a French pastry chef, nor do I presume myself to be one, and yes, I do believe French pastries are the best in the world. But, plain and simple, the Tarte Tatin I made was better than the one I had in Paris. Perhaps it was the use of salted butter that composed the addictive sweet-salty caramel. Or maybe it’s cooking the caramel to a darker color that brings a full-bodied richness to the tart verses a lighter caramel that’s just too sweet. Whatever the reason, I think you too will love this Tarte Tatin.

Now, some people assume that because it’s French it’s fancy and thus difficult to make—it isn’t. The key to this recipe is to not be afraid. It may seem dicey at first to boil a stick of butter and a cup of sugar on high heat for 17 odd minutes, it did to me, and I thought for sure the caramel would bubble out of control, or burn, or at least not cook evenly, but it was fine. In fact, I found for most of the 17 minutes you don’t even need to pay attention to it. You will be just fine making this recipe, channel Julia Child and be fearless! Enjoy the process and you will most assuredly enjoy the result.

Interestingly, Scott and I found that the tart got even better a few days after baking it. I’m not sure if this was because it had time to sit longer or if it was because it was repeatedly re-heated in our oven each successive night we ate it and it became further caramelized. So, if you want to make this a few days out from when you will serve it, by all means do! Store it in your fridge and warm it in a 200F oven about 15 minutes before serving.

Tarte Tatin
I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen and they cite Joy of Cooking for the recipe, however it is not in my edition, therefore I am citing both Smitten Kitchen and Joy of Cooking.

For the dough
½ cup (1 stick) of salted butter cut into cubes and chilled in the freezer (I was naughty here and used a butter blend with canola oil to be “healthier” because it’s asking a lot of me to put two sticks of butter into a recipe that you could argue only has 8 servings. This substitution worked fine so feel free.)**
1½ cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
3 to 6 tablespoons ice water

For the apples
7 flavorful, crisp, and juicy apples such as Fuji, Gala, Jonathon, McIntosh
½ cup salted butter (1 stick)**
1 cup sugar

Special equipment: A skillet that is 7-8 inches across the bottom and 10-11 inches across the top.

To prepare the dough:
Use a food processor if you have one, it really is your best friend for all pastry dough. If you don’t have one, mix ingredients as directed and cut in butter and water by hand. Mix flour and sugar (and salt if you’re using unsalted butter) in the food processor fitted with blade attachment. Then, detach the bowl from the food processor and put it, blade and all, in the freezer. Finally, put 1/3 cup ice water in the refrigerator. Chill everything for 20 minutes. This will ensure everything is nice and cold for perfect pastry dough. While everything is chilling I recommend peeling, coring, and quartering the apples.

Once everything is cold add the cubes of butter to the dry ingredients and pulse until mixture resembles a coarse meal with small, pea-sized pebbles of butter. Add the ice water one tablespoon at a time, pulsing in between additions. When the dough starts to come together in a hunk, stop adding water. Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and form the dough into a ball with your hands. Try not to handle too much as the warmth of your hands could melt the butter. Flour the top of the dough and roll out into a 10 to 11 inch circle depending how big the top of your pan is. As you roll it out, constantly turn the dough to make sure it’s not sticking to the counter and always roll away from you. Add more flour underneath the dough if necessary. Once the dough is to the desired size, roll half of the dough up on the rolling pin, lift and transfer to a floured baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

For the apples: Preheat oven to 375˚F
Peel, core, and quarter the apples.
Over low heat in a heavy, ovenproof skillet (I just used my normal nonstick and it did fine) measuring 7-8 inches across the bottom and 10 to 11 across the top, melt the butter. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar. With the butter/sugar mixture distributed evenly over the bottom of the pan arrange the apple quarters in the pan. First make a circle around the edge of the pan placing the apples on their sides with one quarter cupping the next fitting as many in as possible. Then fill in the middle as best you can. The apples will shrink when cooking so make sure you’ve got them in tight. Keep at least one extra apple quarter on hand in case you need to fill a gap once the apples have shrunk. While the added apple won’t be quite as caramelized, don’t worry, the added apple will cook through during the baking process and no one will notice.

Put the pan back on the stove on high heat and let ‘r rip! 10 to 12 minutes later you should have nicely cooked apples enrobed in a beautiful caramel that has just changed in color from golden to dark amber. Oh yummy! There is no need to stir or mix during this time, if one area of the pan is developing a dark caramel a lot faster than the other side, slide the dark caramel half of the pan off of the heat holding the pan so the lighter half remains on the heat until it catches up in color. Remove from heat. One-by-one with the tip of a sharp knife, poke the apples in the “back” and turn them over keeping them in their original places. Add an extra apple quarter now if necessary. Return the skillet to high heat once more and let cook for another five minutes. (If caramel starts to smoke take it off of the heat.) Remove the pan from the heat and place the crust on top of the pan carefully tucking the edges under. In order to not burn your fingers I recommend using the handle end of a spatula or spoon.

Bake the tart in to oven until the top of the crust is golden brown, about 25 to 35 minutes.*** Remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Once cooled, run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the crust. Place a large plate or a serving platter upside-down on top of the pan. Pump yourself up a bit for this next part; rehearse in your mind what you need to do. (Now, if you know are not terribly coordinated I suggest getting a more coordinated person to do this next step for you.) Place one hand on the plate and grab the handle of the pan with your other hand and flip the pan upside-down holding the plate tight to the pan. The plate should now be right-side-up. Wear oven mitts for this part, the pan could still be quite hot! Hopefully you’ll hear a soft “thud” from the tart releasing itself from the pan and falling on the plate. If not, knock on the bottom of the pan to loosen it. Slowly lift up the pan to reveal your beautiful tart! If there are any apple pieces left behind in the pan just put them back where they are supposed to be, no harm done. I recommend serving this with vanilla ice cream, it is oh so good!

* Goodness that sounds posh! I was really only in Paris for four months, France for five; does that count as living there???
**If you are using unsalted butter add ¼ tsp salt for every stick of butter.*** So I did a risky thing here, but it worked. I was concerned that I had cooked the apples too much because it took me longer to get the amber caramel color (I was timid about using high heat) and was worried that if I baked the tart for 25 minutes my apples would turn to mush. Thus, I baked the tart for 20 minutes and then turned on the broiler, leaving the tart on the middle rack of the oven, to “bake” the top of the crust. If you’re worried about your apples you can be the judge on whether or not you wan