March 28th, 2010

Tarte Tatin

I’m still alive. Life sure gets in the way of the fun stuff. (Read: I’m lazy)

I made Tarte Tatin as a dessert to Valentine’s Day dinner. We don’t make a big fuss about Valentine’s because if you need a special day to make someone feel loved, then you’re probably doing it wrong. It was just another day for us, but we made it an excuse to cook a special dinner. Around our house, that’s what most holidays/sports events/birthdays/weekends come down to: a reason to make ungodly amounts of food.

A lot of food blogs and magazines advocate chocolate anything for Valentine’s Day but Boyfriend is not a big chocolate-eater so I wanted to make something else. I made this tart because he loves apple pie, and because I’ve had an ongoing mission to create a really good one. I’ve tried to make apple pie maybe 4 or 5 times now, and of those, only the first one has ever come out right. It’s a little frustrating, as you can imagine, after all that godforsaken peeling and coring and slicing and dough-rolling, to bite into a mediocre pie. I will admit that my shortfall has always been the dough. I have no patience with it, you see. I helped (mostly watched) my sister make pie dough once and it seemed like an unreasonable amount of work. And the mess! Flour everywhere! So for all of my pies I have always used store-bought crusts.

Please put away the pitchforks. I know it was wrong. I bow my head in shame.

But for this tart, I decided to conquer my doughy fears and go for it. And you know what? It wasn’t all that hard. But it was still kinda messy, I’m not gonna lie.

This tarte hails from Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, France, where it was invented by (happy) accident by the Tatin sisters. According to legend, Stephanie Tatin was trying to make a regular old pie when she realized she had overcooked the apples so she tried to salvage it by slapping pastry dough on top of it and sticking it into the oven. The result was a caramelized, heavenly dessert, and the rest is history.

Tarte Tatin, from Smitten Kitchen

When it came time to flip the tart out of the pan, I had to wheedle Boyfriend into helping me because that cast iron sucker is heavy. But truly, it was divine. Caramely and full of apple goodness, and the crust was just the right kind of flaky. The Granny Smiths tend to be quite tart (no pun intended) but the tartness mellows out after a day. And yes, it is still quite delicious after a day (store at room temperature for 3 days max). Of course you can just cut that tartness with some ice cream or whipped cream but if you want to experiment with other apples, I’ve heard Golden Delicious, Gala or Macintosh turn out great also.

So try this if you want to take a new spin to apple pie. It’s easy and it has a froo froo French name, so of course it will impress.

Posted under Baking, Dessert | 1 Comment
February 28th, 2010

Roast Chicken for Dad

Any experienced home cook or professional cook will tell you that you need a good roast chicken recipe under your belt because it is easy, and it impresses everyone. There is something celebratory about pulling out a whole bird out of the oven and carving it up for your family and friends. It can be very versatile, tweaked to your tastes, and you can leave it alone in the oven while you tend to other things, like catching up on Archer or reading the new Bon Appetit.

I am especially proud of this recipe because my dad loves it. Now it could be because he was just startled that I know how to cook anything at all, or maybe all dads love whatever their kids make, but when he said, “this might be better than mom’s,” you could practically see me glow and float off the floor. My dad is not a picky eater per se. He’ll eat anything my mom puts in front of him but that also means that just about everything else is never really good enough. He’ll go out to restaurants for certain foods like sushi or a really good steak but not much else. So when he said my chicken was good, I patted myself on the back and had a stupid grin on my face all day. He complimented the bird out of mom’s earshot, by the way. He’s allowed to love it, but not too loudly.

I love this recipe because the initial high heat crisps up the skin, and because there is almost a whole stick of herbed butter in this sucker. If that doesn’t make you hungry, I’m not really sure what will.

  • Ingredients

  • 3-lb chicken, preferable organic and free range (it really does taste better, to me anyway)
  • Thyme (or you can use Rosemary too)
  • 1/2 stick butter, softened, plus 2 Tbsp melted
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 apple, quartered (or lemon, or orange… whatever’s on hand)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2-3 Carrots, sliced lengthwise then crosswise
  • 2 Celery stalks, halved
  • 4-5 Red potatoes, quartered

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Toss carrots, celery, 2 of the 4 onion quarters, and potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper, and herbs. Please in a roasting pan.

3. Rinse the chicken inside and out then pat dry. Season the cavity with salt and pepper.

4. Stuff cavity with garlic, onion, thyme and quartered apple/orange/lemon.

5. Mash the softened butter with herbs until combined. Use that butter to rub under the skin of the chicken. This is probably the trickiest part of the recipe. Loosen the skin of the chicken; starting at the neck, push your fingers under the skin and loosen it from the flesh without tearing it. Squish some of the herbed butter in there and then massage it to spread it evenly. Do the same with the butt end of the bird. I use the back of a spoon to shove the butter under the skin then just work it with my fingers. This can get a little messy and frustrating but it is worth it. Believe me.

6. Mix the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter with more herbs and then brush over the chicken. I told you there was going to be butter in this recipe, right? Rub the outside with some salt and pepper.

7. Place chicken in roasting pan on top of the vegetables. Place in oven.

8. After 15 minutes, turn down heat to 400 degrees.

9. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the bird, until the thermometer reads 165 degress in the thickest part of the thigh. I tend to pull out the chicken at around 150 degrees because it will continue to cook. If you let it get beyond 165 degrees, the meat will be pretty dry. Let it rest for about 15 minutes before carving so that the tasty juices can recirculate.

Serve to adoring guests.

Posted under Poultry | 3 Comments
February 23rd, 2010


Valentine dinner this year was a simple affair. We wanted to stay in because it was cold out, it was a Sunday, and I wasn’t feeling well. Besides, homemade meals just taste a little bit better than a plate from a fancy restaurant. There is that whole business of having to wash dishes afterwards but those can wait until the next day. We chose a simple menu of Bolognese sauce on angel hair pasta, French bread, and a Tarte Tatin (recipe to come later). I meant to make a spinach salad with a balsamic dressing too but I absolutely forgot all about it. It wasn’t really missed. Note that this recipe will make a ton of food. You will be having delicious leftovers for days, or you can feed about 5-6 people. This sauce is a labor of love because it takes a while for it to cook, approximately 2-3 hours.


Olive oil
Mirepoix: diced onions, celery and carrots
5 cloves of garlic, diced
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork or veal
3 lbs tomatoes, chopped, or two cans of whole tomatoes
1 ½ cup wine
1 ½ cup milk
Basil (preferably fresh)
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese
2 packages of fresh pasta

In a large pot, heat up some olive oil on medium heat. Throw in the mirepoix and let it sweat for a few minutes. When the onions become translucent, throw in the garlic. Mix mix mix.

Dump all the meat into the pot, beef and pork. Some recipes call for ground veal so use that instead of the pork if you got it. We opted not to use it because veal is a little pricier, and I just feel bad eating it. It reminds me of that Simpsons episode when Lisa goes vegetarian. “Leeeesa, I thought you loooooved meeee.”

Anyway. Let the meat brown. There is a lot of meat so it will take a while but do not skip or rush over this part. It is important! Browned meat is good meat. Season with salt and pepper.

When the meat looks good and ready, shove in all the tomatoes you’ve got. Three pounds sounds like a lot but they disintegrate to almost nothing but juice by the time this is done, so don’t be shy. Canned is fine too, if you don’t feel like getting tomato juice all over your chopping board. Chopping up that much tomatoes can be a pain but to me cutting up veggies is a little cathartic, so go with what you feel like.

Pour in the wine. Take a little swig for yourself. Go ahead, I won’t tell anyone, you lush.

Pour in the milk too, but make sure it is warm first. Don’t go pouring in cold milk into a hot pot. It’ll curdle and get all gloopy and disgusting.

Bring it up to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Leave it uncovered. Now the waiting game starts. You have to wait and let the sauce reduce. It is still worrisomely watery at this point but walk away and knit or something. Seriously. This will take a while.

Check on it a couple of times and stir it up a bit. Skim off the glistening layer of oil that comes to the surface but don’t go crazy. We’re not trying to diet here. Obviously.

Set your Delorean to 3 hours ahead and now we have a gorgeous sauce. Put in some salt and pepper. Our professor-chef tells us to keep adding salt and pepper to enhance the flavors; once it stops enhancing the flavors, stop adding stuff. I know that sounds like a bunch of nonsense but I promise it will start to make sense when you cook regularly. It means season a little at a time, then taste, then season some more if you need to. Don’t put in too much because in cooking, you can always add but it’s harder to subtract. Put some basil in there. Dried is fine but fresh is better. My fresh basil withered away, booo, so I had to use the dried stuff. Just another reminder to start on an herb garden.

We bought some fresh pasta for this occasion. You can find it refrigerated in your local grocery, usually near where the cheeses are. You can use the boxed stuff but if you’re going through all the trouble of making a really good sauce, you might as well spring for some fresh pasta too, right? They’re not all that expensive anyway, at about $2 a package. Plus they take 60 seconds to cook. For realz. You dump them into boiling water and by the time you sing ABCs three times, they’re ready to come back out. You have to sing it loud though. It’s in the cooking directions. At the top of your lungs is better.

Okay, are we hungry yet? Here you go. Serve with love. And French bread. And wine.

PS: I know that it’s been a long time since Valentines. I meant to post this sooner but a lot of stuff happened between now and then… including our engagement. :) I’ll try to be better about posting regularly now that that’s out of the way. 😉

Posted under Beef, Pasta, Pork | 7 Comments