Saturday, September 11, 2010

The French Laundry - Heirloom Tomato Tart with Nicoise Olive Tapenade, Mixed Field Greens with Basil Vinaigrette

Thomas Keller's cooking philosphy is really very simple and is shared by most renowned chefs I've read about. It can be summed up thusly: Use the finest ingredients, use quality hardware (pots and pans for you non-Alton Brownies), and have every piece of the recipe ready, make a list and proceed in an orderly fashion.

In this journey through this crazy making cookbook, I have become a MUCH better cook. Seriously. I owe that improvement to that philosophy having been built into my subconscious. When I was looking through the index of recipes and saw that I had only highlighted 15  e-gads! I figured I'd better get going. This recipe looked easy enough from the title and a brief reading of the ingredients list, but having completed it, I'd like to offer an addendum to Chef K's philosophy. It is quite possible that the adddendum is specifically for me, or it may be possible that it will apply to you as well. (Edit: I think it's not just me, one of these things is usually the undoing of at least a few of the participants in those chef competition shows. I think seasoned chefs have built some sort of barrier that doesn't allow their mood or circumstances affect their food.)

Don't cook something special when you're pissed off. Or grumpy. Just don't do it, order out or make a standard from your repertoire. You'll thank me for it. It's true that love shows through in food, sadly, so does anxiety, frustration and irritability.

Don't assume you remember what the directions said as you set the oven temperature. This has burned me more than once (har har).

Know your limitations. This recipe called for puff pastry and directed me to the pages for his recipe. Nada. Not even gonna try. Trader Joe's sells a lovely frozen puff pastry and it's inexpensive as well.

OK so here goes our simple recipe. We'll start with the olive tapenade which can be made 3 days ahead. First you find 1 oz, (roughly 6-8)  salt packed anchovy fillets. That task took several trips to specialty stores and finally a phone call to the E. 48th St. market in ATL had them, and many, many other more beautiful and enticing Italian specialities as well. Their bread in unbelieveable. Anyway, you take your little fish home and rinse off the salt. That's when you fully realize they are actually fish. You have your husband, or neighbor, or anyone who will, debone them. They will look like this:

Your soak them in milk for an hour (in the fridge) after which you drain and rinse them, and repeat the soak-drain-rinse process 2 more times. While that is going on you should attend to the task of pitting the 4 oz (weight after pitting) nicoise olives, which looks something like this:

No we don't use kalamatas, or some other large olive you can buy already pitted, we have to pit these tiny little nicoise. One. at. a. time.  OK, when the anchovies are soaked x 3, take them out rinse and pat them dry.

Measure 1/4 tsp dijon mustard and 1/2 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Put the anchovies, olives and mustard into the food processor and turn it on (best to use the small bowl processor if you have it) and slowly pour the olive oil in through the feeding tube. Your final tapenade will look something like this and can be stored in the fridge up to three days. This is WAY more than you need for this recipe, btw.

Next up: tomatoes (5 medium sized heirlooms) . This was easy, and would have been especially easy had I rechecked the oven temperature. Slice 2 of the tomatoes into 1/2 inch slices about 3 per tomato. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and coat it with 1 T olive oil, place the tomatoes down and sprinkle them with salt and pepper, thyme and 2 T of the oil. Place into a 250 oven for 45 min to an hour.  They should be somewhat dried but retain some moisture. This can be done ahead and stored in the fridge.

On my first try, I used some stunningly beautiful tomatoes, they were just over the top. I placed them on coated aluminum foil and put them in a 350 oven. It wasn't pretty.

Take #2 - after
OK then I redid that. In the meantime, slice the rest of the tomatoes into 1/8 in slices and line a baking sheet with a clean dish towel. Line the slices up and sprinkle with S and P and 3 T of Olive oil. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 1 hr up to 5 hours.  ** At this point I ask, who has that much refrigerator space?

So far so good. Next up the basil vinaigrette. Take 1/2 c packed basil leaves, 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil, 3 T balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper. Blanch the basil leaves in boiling water for 1 minute and then quickly remove them to cool running water to stop the cooking. Lay them on paper towels and pat them dry. Put them in the food processor and puree as best you can (there isn't much volume left after being blanched). Slowly drizzle the oil in and let it keep processing until you can't see basil bits. I got impatient after about 5 minutes. Set aside and at the very end you will introduce Mr. Vinegar to Miss Basil puree and they will fall in love.

We're at the final turn here!  Take your puff pastry out of the freezer (even if you made it you need to freeze it). Cut 3 inch rounds. I used a hamburger patty form as a guide, so it's a bit larger than 3 inches. Prick the dough with a fork, unless you, as I, value your sanity and bought frozen dough.. it's pre-pricked.

Place on top of each round 1 or 2 slices of the baked tomatoes (depends on the size of the pastry round and the size of the tomatoes). I don't know about you, but things in my universe rarely match up perfectly. Place the rounds on a parchment lined baking sheet into a preheated oven. The recipe calls for 375, I followed the directions on my pastry box and went with 400. Bake for 25-30 minutes until they are crisp and the bottoms are well browned. This can be done ahead, refrigerated and reheated for 10-15 minutes when ready to serve

Arrange 3 overlapping pieces of the cold tomato on top and top each with a 1/4 tsp of the olive tapenade.

To finish:  Mix the vinegar and basil oil and add salt and pepper to taste. Lightly dress your baby lettuce leaves (mixed field greens-- remember them from the title?) so that each leaf is barely coated. Top each round with a portion of the greens and drizzle a little vinaigrette around the serving plate. (Which I neglected to do in these fuzzy pictures).

Verdict: These were really tasty and different sort of pizzas. To make it more accessible I'd say, definitely use frozen pastry and substitute a commercial olive tapenade you like - there are lots of brands out there. Trader Joe's (who doesn't know me from Adam so this is not a promotion) has a nice one with a blend of olives and some peppers and a hint of garlic. I found the nicoise olives a little bitter, and the best I can say about the anchovies was I couldn't really taste them!  If you want to try these, they would be great for a party because so much of it can be done ahead. And  if you don't want a salad on top of your pizza, by all means sprinkle a little cheese.

 I hope you've made it this far in this post because there's something I want to share with you. The date on this post is September 11. I know you all know exactly where you were and what you were thinking and doing as the news reached you. But today, WSH was headed to the Peachtree Road Farmer's Market. It's open from 8-12 on Saturdays. He was stuck in traffic (yes there is always traffic in ATL) and he watched as a man pulled his car into an empty lot and got out. He stood there and donned bagpipes and shortly after 9 began to play Amazing Grace. All by himself. Think about that. What moved him? Who was he playing for? What a remembrance. May we all carry such a remembrance in our hearts today and in all the days to come. Love, Laugh, Cry, Remember. Live.

See you soon.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

There's no stopping us now

WSH and I have been out for dinner TWO NIGHTS IN A ROW!  And don't worry, this hasn't become a "what I did this weekend" blog, although it sort of has, I'm back to The French Laundry as soon as I can get my hands on some salt-packed anchovies. Just the thought of it makes my toes curl. But I'm in this to do new things and so it shall be....

Thursday night we met Ken and Alison at the most buzzed-hyped restaurant in ATL at the moment. Having won all sorts of accolades in the past 3 weeks, Miller Union was the place to be and be seen. I have wanted to go there since I first read about the baked egg in celery cream appetizer, but never got around to it until now. Lessons learned. We had reservations for 4 at 7:30  on a Thursday night and the place was really really busy. I didn't take pictures because we were seated in a small room with maybe 7 other tables and it would have been too annoying. The baked egg in celery cream lived up to my anticipation.. it was sublime. Of the rest of the meal, the clear winner was WSH's low country shrimp and grits. It was perfect! My steak was good but I swear I cannot get anything but truly RARE beef in this city. It was purple, when I asked for medium. Seems to happen everywhere so I guess I'll have to stop ordering beef out. 

Ken and Alison
Then on Friday, we picked up Audrey and went to Taqueria del Sol for their annual offering of Chille Rellenos made with special chiles grown in New Mexico just for them. This once a year treat is something we look forward to every summer. They will be serving them at dinner only at all locations until they run out. If you're in the ATL area, go get one while you can!
Chille Rellenos
As you can see, they are large! This year's crop was significantly spicier (hotter) than last year's so I was happy I only ordered one. Inside is a creamy white cheese and it oozes out onto the plate, mixed with the salsa and crispy fried chille, it's a match made in heaven.
Chips and Guac offered a cooling respite from the hot chille. So did Audrey's Corona but that picture didn't turn out and she wouldn't let me take a picture of her. : (  I ordered a fried chicken taco to go with my relleno
We had great conversation and a fun informal meal together.  A great way to usher out the end of this hot hot summer and welcome fall.

See you soon -- looking for anchovies.