Chocolate City.

I am completely behind on most things in my life, so it makes complete sense to me that I would be writing about Thanksgiving almost two weeks later.  Time may have passed, but I’m still feeling the impact of my contribution to the table.  I’m aware of how obnoxious that comes across but I don’t care.  I don’t care because it’s true.  Besides, it’s not as if I invented the recipe; that credit goes to the lovely people of the much-mourned Gourmet.  It’s just a damn good recipe, it makes a damn good tart, and I’m damn well going to take the credit.

This tart is as incredibly easy make as it is incredibly easy it is to eat — as long as the eater has plenty of milk to wash it down with.  It is a very rich tart, this unassuming wedge of chocolate, and the type of chocolate used makes all the difference.  I personally prefer a darker chocolate; the tart is very dense, and a sweeter chocolate here quickly becomes cloying.

Chocolate Truffle Tart from Gourmet
Makes ten portions

for the crust
28 chocolate wafers such as Nabisco Famous, finely ground in a food processor (1 ½ cups)
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled completely

for the filling
½ pound fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), coarsely chopped
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

optional garnish
unsweetened cocoa powder for sprinkling (I skipped this)

special equipment
an 8-inch (20-cm) round springform pan

  1. Make the crust.  Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°. Wrap a sheet of foil over bottom of springform pan (in case of leaks). Lightly butter side of pan.
  2. Stir together ground wafers and butter in a bowl until combined, then pat mixture evenly onto bottom of pan and 1 ½ inches up side. Bake until crust is slightly puffed, about ten minutes, then cool completely in pan on a rack, about fifteen minutes. Leave oven on.
  3. Make the filling while crust cools.  Melt chocolate and butter in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth, then remove from heat and cool five minutes.
  4. Whisk together eggs, cream, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a bowl. Whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture until combined well.
  5. Assemble and bake tart. Pour filling into cooled crust and rap pan once on counter to eliminate any air bubbles. Bake until filling one inch from edge is set and slightly puffed but center trembles slightly when pan is gently shaken, twenty to twenty-five minutes. (Center will continue to set as it cools.)
  6. Cool tart completely in pan on a rack, about two hours. Chill, uncovered, until center is firm, about four hours. Remove side of pan and sprinkle with cocoa to serve.

Cooks’ notes:

  • Tart can be chilled up to three days. Cover loosely after tart is completely chilled (covering before may cause condensation).
  • Crust, without filling, can be made one day ahead and kept, covered, at room temperature.
Chocolate City” by Parliament.

Is it Weird That…

…I froze my mother’s leftover Thanksgiving turkey bones and drove them* from New York to Massachusetts?  Is it strange that when I got home, I chopped the bones up so they’d fit in my stockpot with carrots, carrot greens, a hacked-up onion, a handful of black peppercorns, some leftover parsley, a smattering of thyme and a couple of bay leaves?  What if I told you I then covered the whole lot with water, and let it all simmer, covered, on the stove for about four hours?  Would that be weird?

Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

Making turkey — or chicken — stock is so simple, there really is no reason why anyone couldn’t do so at home.  All you need are the bones from your bird (ideally with some meat still attached, but no worries if that’s not possible, since the flavor really comes from the cartilage inside the bones), mirepoix and seasoning.  If you want results that  are a bit lighter in color, I’ve read that you can substitute parsnips for the carrots, though I’ve not done this myself.

You can also add a bouquet garni of thyme sprigs, bay leaf, parsley, sage, et cetera.  I highly recommend tying your herbs together with kitchen twine, or making a little cheesecloth bundle, or using a tea strainer, since you want your stock to be as debris-free as possible.

Speaking of keeping your stock debris-free…

Once your stock is ready to come off of the flame, you will need a fine colander to strain it.  I like to fish out the larger pieces with a slotted spoon or a pair of tongs before I go through the straining process, but that’s just a personal preference.  Regardless of what you like to do, you will need to place a colander inside a large bowl to capture all of your freshly-made stock.  I’m a bit clumsy, so I put my bowl and colander inside the sink, since I invariably will splash a bit — well, maybe more than a bit — outside of my target.

If you don’t have a very fine colander, that’s okay.  Michael Ruhlman has a great tip for you:

…Strain [the stock] through a kitchen cloth, cheese cloth if you have it, or any kind of cloth (I use ones that i can wash and reuse because I’m a cheapskate and hate to keep buying cheese cloth).

After all your straining is done, it’s storage time.  I like to freeze my stock in zipper bags because I have a small freezer; this way my stores of stock take up less space than they would in little plastic tubs.  Normally I freeze stock in three-cup-quantities.  To do this, I date and label my bags, then stick them in a clean, empty plastic quart container while I measure out my three cups.  It’s much easier to pour liquids into a plastic-lined container than a floppy plastic bag.

As you can now tell, stock-making is so easy that writing a recipe for it seems a little silly, but here goes:

Turkey Stock
Makes about twelve cups

Leftover turkey bones from a fifteen-pound turkey
6 quarts cold water
4 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
2 large onions, unpeeled and chopped roughly into quarters
4 large celery ribs, broken in half
4 large carrots and their greens, broken in half
bouquet garni of parsley, 2 bay leaves, and thyme sprigs
15 black peppercorns
1 ½ teaspoon salt

  1. Melt butter in a 10-quart stockpot over medium heat.  Add vegetables, stirring to coat.  Lower heat to prevent burning.
  2. Break apart turkey carcass to fit into the stockpot.  Transfer to stockpot, along with remaining ingredients.  Cover with cold water and increase heat to high.  Bring to a boil, skimming scum off as needed.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 4 hours.
  3. If you’re using the stock right away, go for it.  Otherwise, let the stock cool to room temperature, about one hour.
  4. Set a fine colander inside a large bowl.  Carefully pour stock through the colander and dispose of vegetables, bones, peppercorns and bouquet garni.  Stock can be frozen for three months; otherwise it should be used within five days.

* Before the accident.

There is Nothing Good About Being in a Car Accident…

…but it is nice to come home afterward and discover something like Amazon‘s nominees for the best book cover of 2009.  I happened to read Jonathan Tropper‘s This is Where I Leave You not too long ago (at my dear friend Amee’s suggestion — thank you!) so I am a bit partial to its Gray318-designed cover for that reason.  I can say the same for Baking by James Peterson (designed by Nancy Austin and Katy Brown) and the Momofuku cookbook by David Chang and Peter Meehan (designed by Marysarah Quinn), both of which I got for my birthday last month.  And while I do like Doogie Horner’s work on Seth Grahame-Smith’s undead take on a Jane Austen classic, I couldn’t get past the second chapter of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so my biases work both ways, I suppose.

This is as good a time as any to direct you all to one of my favorite blogs, the Book Design Review, where book and design junkies like me can get a regular cover fix.

Oh, and I should tell you that Keith and I are fine.  Our car might not be, but we are.  In the (belated) spirit of the holiday, we are both very thankful for that.

My Version of a Traditional Thanksgiving.

We spent Thanksgiving at my parents’ this year, which is the first time in two years that Keith and I have even been around for the holiday.  (Last year we were in England; the year before we were in Spain.)  On Thursday, Keith telephoned his brother from New York to wish him a happy Thanksgiving.  Later, he told us that Brian was interested in our menu.

“He was very concerned that your parents wouldn’t make a turkey,” Keith said.  “I told him that we had a turkey, but he was appalled that we didn’t have stuffing or mashed potatoes or gravy.”

My mother laughed at this.  “This is how I’ve always done Thanksgiving,” she said.  “This is what I know to do, so this is our tradition.”

It’s true; I’d never tried stuffing until I had Thanksgiving at Keith’s mother’s, and I’ve still never had sweet potatoes with marshmallows — though I am totally fascinated by this combination.

Here’s what we have instead: phyllo dough stuffed with mozzarella, red pepper flakes and parsley (boereg); garbanzo, dark cannellini bean and black-eyed-pea salad with roasted red, yellow and orange peppers; mango-and-cucumber salad; fattoush; pilaf with cinnamon, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts and ground beef; some sort of beef dish (this year was rib-eye with peppers and tomatoes); and turkey with caramelized onions slipped under its skin.

My absolute favorite part of the meal is the boereg, which turns a beautiful burnished gold in the oven.  I’m not alone in my boereg love — anyone who has ever had my mother’s recipe has fallen for its crisp pepper-laced cheesiness.  During high school, her boereg made my mom famous amongst my friends; whenever they stopped by, they asked if she’d baked any “cheese things.”  It’s surprisingly easy to make, though a bit time-consuming.  I’ve got the recipe at home, but it’s written on a sheet of scrap paper that I think I tucked in Michel Guérard’s La Cuisine Minceur this past June.  Normally I’m more organized than this.  I promise I’ll make it a priority to find the instructions and post them here, because boereg is best shared.

Food Diary, Vol. 2: Day Seven.

11.00 – 11.30 am: Breakfast of black olives, salami, baguette, pita bread (which in my house we just call bread), Tomme Crayeuse and Brebis Ossau.

1.42 – 2.06 pm: More olives, salami and pita bread, plus some Armenian string cheese, which I share with the dog.

5.20 – 6.01 pm: Turkey time.  Even though I don’t much like it, I eat bit of dark meat, along with my family’s version of Thanksgiving fixins — mango salad, bean salad, two and a half boeregs, holiday rice* — and a glass of Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Dry Riesling.

6.30 pm: Glass of Koehler Chardonnay in the backyard with the dog.

7.05 pm: Two slices apple galette, a bite of chocolate-chip meringue and a hazelnut truffle.  Then another few inches of galette.  Then some galette crust crumbs.  And a grape.

Apple Galette, from Everyday Cooking with Jacques Pépin by Jacques Pépin
Makes eight to twelve portions

½ recipe pâte brisée (recipe following)
5 large apples
¼ cup sugar
4 tablespoons apricot preserves
1 tablespoon Calvados or Cognac

  1. Make pâte brisée.  Roll out dough 1/8 to 1/16 thick, in a shape that fits roughly a cookie sheet — approximately 16 x 14 inches.  If the dough is not thin enough after you lay it on the cookie sheet, roll it some more, directly on the sheet.
  2. Peel and cut the apples in half, core them and slice each half into ¼-inch slices.  Set aside the large center slices of the same size and chop the end slices coarsely.  Sprinkle the chopped slices over the dough, then arrange the large slices on the dough beginning at the outside, approximately 1 ½ inches from the edge.  Stagger and overlap the slices to imitate the petals of a flower.
  3. Cover the dough completely with a single layer of apples, except for the border.  Place the smaller slices in the center to resemble the heart of a flower.  Bring up the border of the dough and fold it over the apples.  Sprinkle the apples with sugar and pieces of butter, and bake in a 400° oven for 65 to 75 minutes, until the galette is really well-browned and crusty.
  4. Slide the galette onto a board. Dilute the apricot preserves with the alcohol and spread it on top of the apples with the back of a spoon and the top edge of the crust.  Take care not to disturb the apple pieces.  Serve the galette lukewarm, cut into wedges.

Pâte Brisée **
Makes enough pastry for two 13 x 16 rectangular crusts, or two 13-inch circular crusts

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter, cold and cut into thin slices
½ teaspoon salt
Approximately ¾ cup very cold water

  1. Mix the flour, butter and salt together very lightly, so that the pieces of butter remain visible throughout the flour.
  2. Add the ice-cold water and mix very quickly just until the dough coheres.  The pieces of butter should still be visible.  Cut the dough in half.  Wrap and refrigerate for one to two hours, or use right away.  If you use the dough right away, the butter will be a bit soft, so you may need a little extra flour in the rolling process to absorb it.  When rolling, use flour underneath and on top of the dough so that it doesn’t stick to the table or the rolling pin.  Wrapped properly, the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for two or three days, or it can be frozen.
* “Holiday rice” is what I call the rice my mother makes exclusively for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It’s pilaf with ground beef, pistachios, almonds, pine nuts and cinnamon.  Whenever we come to visit, Keith asks my mom for holiday rice, and she refuses.
** I find this pastry extremely soothing to make, mostly because I love mixing the ingredients together with my hands. I think it’s really relaxing. I also like to trash-talk my dough while I make it.  Dunno why.

Five Things About Me: 46 47 48 49 50.

46. I couldn’t tell you precisely why, but I find World War II utterly fascinating.  When I was in Amsterdam not too long ago, Keith pretty much had to drag me out of the Dutch Resistance Museum.  And this was after we had been there for more than three hours.

47. I don’t think, in the past five years, that a day has passed in my life where I haven’t eaten some cheese.

48. Much to Keith’s and my parents’ combined chagrin, I have no interest in money — by this I mean investing, CDs, IRAs, bonds, stocks, whatever.   I can’t help it; it all makes little sense to me, and if I have someone taking care of it for me, what’s the big deal?

49. I had a very scientific method for selecting the paint colors in my apartment.  I didn’t just choose colors I liked or thought went well together, I chose ones that both Keith and I look good in.  I figured that we’re going to be “in” the shades the most, so we may as well look our best.  My favorites are the blues in the living room (“December Eve”) and bedroom (“Bayside”), both by Behr.

50. This isn’t very “cool” to admit but here goes: I’m not really into Thanksgiving, mostly because I don’t really like turkey.  What I do like are the sides, though the kind of sides my family has aren’t even remotely traditional.  I’ll tell you more about that in a few days, I promise.

Food Diary, Vol. 2: Day Three.

10.08 am: Warm milk with honey.

12.21 – 12.29 pm: Split half an apple with Keith while watching the Battle at the Berrics semifinals.  I spread mine with peanut butter, which I then get all over my fingers.  I’m messy.

1.30 – 3.30 pm: This is technically supposed to be brunch at Craigie on Main with Keith, Kelly, Nancy and Jonah, but since it’s after noon I say it counts as lunch.  I have something like three cups of coffee, all with cream and whatever sugar cubes Jonah doesn’t eat, as well as a yogurt-drenched fruit cup with some amazing figs, grass-fed and house-brined corned beef and tongue hash with a slow-poached egg and crispy onion rings and chocolate-smothered profiteroles with what is supposed to be mint-chocolate ice cream but really is just overwhelmingly minty.

6.35 pm: Coke Zero and half an order of large fries from McDonald’s while  we drive to New York. Keith eats the other half while I lick the salt from my fingers.  I know fries aren’t the healthiest choice in the world, but I love them so.

8.11 pm: A bite of Keith’s banana-walnut bread from Starbucks.  I’m the one driving at this point, so I pretty much cram the bread into my mouth in a very unladylike fashion.  My mother would be so ashamed.

10.06 – 10.46 pm: At my parents’ house, where I drink one of my dad’s Beck’s and share two and a half lamejun with the dog. He doesn’t mind that I’ve sprinkled my food liberally with fresh lemon juice.

11.15 pm: Two glasses Torii Mor Late Harvest Gewurztraminer with Keith and my parents while we discuss dogs, nightmares and Thursday’s Thanksgiving menu.