Nectarine Tart

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I am a nectarine tart and I am easy to make. I am adapted from Amanda Hesser’s “Cooking For Mr. Latte” (her recipe is for a peach tart) but, if you ask me, I’m much prettier than a peach tart. A peach tart would be a homogeneous glop of orangey yellow fruit; I, on the other hand, am a homogeneous glop of orangey yellow fruit with hints of red. Those hints of red make me magnificent.

The most shocking thing about me (besides my time served at Sing Sing) is how easy I am to make. Most tarts intimidate with the dough assembly, the refrigeration, the rolling it out, the getting it into the pan. Not so with me: to make a tart like me, all you do is dump a bunch of stuff into a tart pan (or, if you don’t have a tart pan, an 8 X 8 square pan will work too), stir it together, press it into the corners and cut off the excess. To be more specific: in the pan, stir together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon sugar. In a separate bowl, mix together 1/2 cup olive oil or vegetable oil (I’m made from olive oil and it makes my taste elusive!), 2 Tbs milk, and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract. Pour the wet stuff over the dry stuff, mix gently with a fork, and when it comes together push it out so it comes to a height of about 3/4 inch (or, if using a tart pan, til it comes up the sides of the tart.)

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Tuesday Techniques: French Apple Tart

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I would like to begin this week’s “Tuesday Techniques” column–a column which appears regularly on Wednesdays–with a discussion of the word “technique.” I think people are intimidated by the word. It implies a “right-wrong” dynamic, something hammered home by Tom Colicchio on “Top Chef” when he criticizes improper technique. “You don’t know how to cut an onion?” “You don’t know that proper paella has a crust?” “You kissed Padma on the left cheek and not the right?”

This bullying has its merits. In a cooking school environment, in a restaurant kitchen, forceful drilling of proper technique produces top-quality chefs. At home, however, does it matter if you have a perfectly clear consomme? Not unless a perfectly clear consomme is something to which you aspire.

Most people, I’d conjecture, just want to make dinner. And that’s why TV hosts like Rachael Ray and Giada De Laurentis are so popular. They make cooking look easy and fun. In fact, those words “easy” and “fun” are often in their show titles.

But why can’t using proper technique, cooking on the level of a Tom Colicchio, be easy and fun? Why does Jacques Pepin’s “Technique” book feel so much like a text book? Why does writing this column sometimes feel like homework? Why does this paragraph have so many questions?

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Elise’s Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

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Isn’t the internet great? On that same trip to the farmer’s market (see Green Garlic Soup) I bought a bunch of rhubarb and a carton of strawberries. After having that soup for dinner, I wanted to make a strawberry rhubarb cobbler, only I didn’t have a recipe. Enter the internet. I Googled “Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler” and what was the fourth result? My friend Elise’s recipe. And guess what? As you can see by the picture above, it’s a pretty fantastic recipe. You can read the recipe here. The only substitution I made was, because I didn’t have any tapioca (and it was too late to go get some), I just used an equal amount of corn starch. That worked fine. Hot out of the oven and topped with a scoop of David Lebovitz’s vanilla bean ice cream (which I had in the fridge), springtime desserts don’t get much better. But you better act fast: strawberry and rhubarb season’s almost over. Get thee to the farmer’s market!

You Will Rue The Day That You Don’t Make This Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

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Click here find yourself transported to the best recipe I’ve yet done with strawberries and rhubarb either in combination or individually. This recipe is so dyn-o-mite that like a Mark Twain character I couldn’t resist scooping up the chunk that you see missing and shoveling it into my mouth with reckless abandon only thirty minutes out of the oven. That’s a quarter of a pie that I ate that night: actions speak louder than words. Meaning: the pie was delicious and I’m a fatty.

But, using words, I’d like to describe the wonder of the strawberry rhubarb combination. Could a better pie pair exist in heaven? I think not. These two contrasting specimens complement each other so well when baked together that it makes you believe that there’s order in the universe, that there must be some guiding force who planted strawberries in one patch, rhubarb in another and gleefully put his or her hands behind his or her back and hoped that humans would figure it out. I’ve figured it out all right–the only challenge that remains is making pie crust without having a nervous break-down.

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The Tart Whisperer (Martha Stewart’s Rhubarb Tart)

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For anyone who watches “The Dog Whisperer” (and I’m a recent convert after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s article about him last week), you will know that dogs are pack animals. For them to behave–for them to be healthy, happy dogs–you have to be their master. Dogs will read you: show any weakness, and they will own you.

Tart dough is like a dog. You have to be its master or it will own you. Last time I made a tart, I got bit: the tart dough wouldn’t roll out, I kept reclumping it, and by the time it was done it was like a brick. That tart was my master.

But it was not so with the tart you see above: the tart you see above was formed and shaped by the new me, the dominant me, the aggressive alpha dog me. Tart tasters all agreed: “this tart is flaky!” “This dough is perfect!” How did I whip that poochy dough into shape? I attacked it with confidence, with vigor, with great assurance. I am–dun dun dun dun!–The Tart Whisperer.

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The Oscar Post: Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic, Saveur Magazine’s Apple Cobbler (with vanilla ice cream, of course) and Dazzling New YouTube Technology

The day after the Oscars the questions were pretty standard: “What did you think of Jon Stewart?” “Were you disappointed Brokeback didn’t win?” “What did you think of Charlize’s dress?” Sadly, no one asked the one question I wanted to answer: “What did you have for dinner?”

The dinner, you see, was the best part of the whole night! Observe:

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

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Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream

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You’ve got nothing on me, Wolfgang Puck! Well: you have a restaurant fortune and a QVC Empire, but do you have my joie de vivre? Just count my exclamation marks and I’ll put you to shame!!!

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An Evening of Firsts: Nectarine Pie with Candied Ginger and Crunchy Topping

Two firsts happened tonight: my first cooking project in my new New York apartment (sans garbage disposal) and my first pie. Well, ok I won’t lie: a long time ago I made a pumpkin pie, but I was heavily drugged and living in a nudist colony so it doesn’t count. And besides, this is the first pie I’ve made for you!

The pie recipe I used comes from Bon Apetit (posted on Epicurious): “Apricot Pie with Candied Ginger and Crunchy Topping.” However, because Whole Foods was out of apricots (they weren’t getting raises)(see post below), I decided to sub nectarines. This proved to be a good choice.

Since the link will take you to the recipe proper, I won’t go into the details. I’ll simply share with you the experience of making my nectarine pie.

First, of course, comes the crust. To make the crust, we mixed flour and sugar and salt and butter with our fingers until it resembled coarse meal.

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Then we added 3 Tbs of ice water and stirred until moist clumps formed. Nothing says home cooking like “moist clumps.”

Once there were moist clumps, we gathered the dough into a ball, flattened into a disc, and wrapped in plastic wrap.

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It went into the fridge and I watched “Family Guy” on Fox. This show, I must concede, is terribly funny. The humor is very much in sync with my own, except more polished. Plus it’s animated. I’d be a lot funnier if I were animated.

Now then, when it came out of the fridge it was time to roll it out. This part scared me. I was scared my pie dough would tear.

“Please don’t tear,” I begged. “Little Timmy really likes pie.”

I figured inventing a destitute handicapped pie-hungry fictional character would compel the pie not to tear. I was correct:

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Then came scary part number two: transferring the pie from the counter to the pie tin. How do we do this again?

Luckily, I recalled a Martha Stewart Living where she addressed the very issue. You roll the flattened dough on to the pin and then unroll it into the pie tin.

Here is one of those cooking moments where it’s a leap of faith, and you have to act with confidence. Like when you flip an omelette in the air and catch it on its way down. I can’t do that yet. But it’s the same idea. You have to dive in and do it and it will work out. And that’s the philosophy that got me to this point:

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Look how successful I was! Little Timmy gurgled with pride.

Then I crimped the pie crust. This part was fun. I’m the Crimp Pimp:

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Went into the fridge for another half an hour and I watched another “Family Guy.” When it came out, I put tin foil in and beans and popped it into a 375 oven for 20 minutes:

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Why do we do this? I guess this pre-baking is necessary maybe so the fruit juice doesn’t mush up the bottom? Anyone have an answer?

Anyway, when that came out I worked on the “crunchy topping.” The crunch topping is particularly delicious. In goes Grape nuts, brown sugar, flour, toasted slivered almonds*, cinnamon, ground ginger, salt and butter.

*I starred the almonds because at Whole Foods I figured my chances of finding already slivered almonds was minute, and I was ready to give up on the almonds altogether when, upon purchasing the candied ginger for the filling, I saw slivered almonds on the shelf below it. Talk about Serendipity!**

**Serendipity is an ice cream parlor that makes rockin’ frozen hot chocolate.

***It’s also a movie with John Cusack.

Here’s the topping stuff in the bowl, pre mixing:

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Then we simply toss the nectarines (or apricots, if you follow the original recipe) with sugar, crystallized ginger, cornstarch and almond extract, add it to the warm pie shell, and sprinkle on the topping and it will look like this:

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Pop in the oven for 45 minutes and go watch “Six Feet Under” on rerun. I missed the episode before this, so I wish I would have seen the fallout between Brenda and Joe(?). Did he walk in on her and Nate? I got that impression from the “scenes from last week.”

While watching, the most beautiful smell filled the air. The combination of butter, ginger, cinnamon and nectarine perfumed the apartment and I wondered if neighbors walking down the hall would be seduced by teh smell and tear into my apartment completely naked. (That didn’t happen).

What did happen, is the pie came out of the oven looking lovely:

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And then the waiting. To quote Tom Petty: “Don’t come around here no more.” Oops, I mean: “The waiting is the hardest part.”

I did some cleaning, some reading, some more TV watching and one hour later I returned to the pie and cut a slice:

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May not look perfect, but it was heaven on a plate. I gobbled up every last crumb. Which is probably a good impetus to return to the gym tomorrow. In any case, it was a happy first pie experience and a great way to break-in my new kitchen. Here’s to many more tasty treats to come! And here’s to Little Timmy getting better. It’s so sad how he doesn’t have a mouth…