Sunday, October 21, 2012


Perfection isn't something I generally strive for. I prefer a little wiggle room in my endeavors, some breathing space for the unexpected, the startle of serendipity, a jumping off point towards how to proceed next. For me, actual perfection is the state of not needing any improvement, a completeness, an awareness of the beauty of the moment. 

Visiting Paris is an exploration of this kind of perfection. There are always days when I would wish for less rain, or avoid the frustration of finding a favorite museum or shop closed for the day. But the city offers pleasures unbound and a treasure trove of opportunities to explore the joy of what is.

Paris October 2012
Tripping through the city of light on a recent four day spree of mostly rainy days and nights needs few words.
A garden wall dripping with green vines.

That turquoise blue!

 Tiered urns in a garden on Rue de Arenes.
 The window of a shop that sells only pies. Savory and sweet, buy them by the slice it seems.

 A fierce door knocker. Makes you think twice about knocking.
Spotted in a restaurant window. This is PORCELAIN! Not a real cauliflower. Truly amazing!

 The cafes beguile. This is the left bank of Paris with sunlight evoking the South of France.
 A mansion overlooking Parc Monceau reminds me of an carefully detailed wedding cake; confection perfection.

 This charming framed tapestry is hanging in the Musee Nissim de Camondo, a Belle Epoque private mansion housing a collection of eighteenth century decorative arts.
 A coppery corner of the period kitchen at Musee Nissim de Camondo, to die for!!

When I returned home, with my heart full and my imagination fired, I came across a recipe for "foolproof pie crust" published by Cooks Illustrated. Foolproof indeed? I had to find out, so I gave the recipe a try. Their secret ingredient is vodka and I happened to have some particularly peculiar tasting vodka on hand, brought home from a trip to Iceland,  sitting mostly untouched in a cabinet for over a year. I was happy to sacrifice it up to the experiment.

Working with the dough turned out to be a mess. It was so soft and sticky I could barely handle it. The dough stuck to my hands and completely fell apart as I attempted to roll it out, even after the required resting in the fridge for an hour. I gave up my idea to bake an apple pie with it and instead salvaged what I could by pressing the dough into a tart tin. In the Parisian spirit I arranged my apple slices into a perfectly pleasing pattern.

Apple Tart -recipe-
1 recipe of Cooks Illustrated Foolproof Pie Dough
4-6 apples sliced into thin wedges, leave the skin on (I used a combination of yellow and red apples for a colorful effect)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon  lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Remove the pie dough from the fridge and use one of the two discs (save the other for another recipe or make two tarts.) Press the dough into a removable bottom 9" tart tin. Try to get the dough to be about 1/2 inch thick all around. Try not to get too frustrated with the very sticky dough. Sprinkle flour on it as you work with it to make it more manageable. 
Stick the dough lined tart tin into the freezer while you prepare the filling. Combine the apple slices with all the remaining ingredients in a bowl and toss well to coat. Taste an apple slice to adjust seasonings. Remove the tart tin from the freezer and begin to arrange the apple slices, skin side up, in a spiral pattern.  Place in hot oven for about 45 minutes, until the apples are tender when poked with a knife point and the edges of the crust are golden.
Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.

The finished tart was delicious! The crust was truly light as a feather, buttery and tender. I plan to use the Cooks Illustrated recipe as a go-to for my tart crusts from now on. I remain skeptical about rolling it out for a traditional pie, but am willing to experiment with adding more flour than recommend when rolling it out, and see if that helps. It doesn't have to be perfect!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Stuff it!

The spectacular colors of Fall make the transition from Summer to Autumn just about worth it. The inevitable cold is coming all too soon, but who doesn't smile at a pumpkin?

It is a big decision which magnificent gourd to take home. My agonizing took longer than usual this year. Shape, size, color, and curl of the stem are all taken into serious consideration. But why get just one?

Now that the farmers markets are beginning to wind down their summer produce, I like to make the most of what is still available.  These red peppers were at the peek of ripeness, their flavor fully developed. Their aroma had the perfume and distinctive fruity sweetness that defines a bell pepper. It tastes just the way a pepper should, a full sun-shiny flavor!

Stuffing these beauties seemed like the way to go. Combining cooked grains and beans for the stuffing makes a quick and filling meal.  Saute some onions and herbs for extra flavor, mix in a little cheese and bake. The result is end of summer perfection.


Quinoa, Lentil & Goat Cheese Stuffed Peppers

4 bell peppers
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped carrot
2 Tbs. cup chopped parsley

1 cup cooked Quinoa
1/2 cup cooked lentils

4 oz goat cheese, crumbled

•Heat oven to 350 F.
•Cut off the top quarter of the pepper to act as a lid. Remove the seeds from inside the pepper cups. Rinsing them in cold water is usually the easiest way.
•Sprinkle the insides of the peppers with salt and pepper and place the peppers cut side down on a baking sheet with the tops next to them. Bake for about 20minutes so the peppers can begin to soften. Remove the softened pepper cups and lids from the oven and set them aside until cool enough to handle.
•In a saute pan, heat the olive oil. Add the celery, carrots and onions, salt and pepper to taste. Cook the vegetables until translucent and wilted, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped parsley and cook for another minute.
•Remove the sauteed vegetables to a medium sized bowl. Into the bowl mix the quinoa and the lentils together with the sauteed vegetables to make the stuffing. Add the cheese and continue mixing until well combined.
•Spoon the stuffing mixture carefully into each of the cooled pepper cups. Fill the peppers loosely and let the stuffing mound up on top for a pretty presentation. Arrange the filled peppers on a baking sheet and place the top of the pepper back on top. Return the stuffed peppers to the oven. Bake for about one hour, until the peppers are completely softened and the filling is piping hot.