Between blog birthdays and butter.

Our blog birthday was the 12th - and at the time I was on a vacation with my boyfriend Matt in Los Angeles. It was our Spring Break and we made the (wise) decision to get out of Minnesota to visit his family in California. We climbed rocks, we sat in the sun, we ate and drank like movie stars and generally had a fabulous time.

I've been dating Matt for almost 5 years. I love him dearly and shudder to think I may someday have to decipher the the things that are mine from his; our books, t-shirts, and furniture are so well integrated at this point that in these corporeal items it is impossible to tell where his things end and mine begin.

This week - I set out to make the tarte tatin that Judy and I promised for our blog birthday. I bought 6 apples at the grocery, completely unlike us since we avoid fresh produce due to the cost (a sad but true fact), and set about deciding on a time I could commit to the project. Monday night seemed appropriate. I had no other obligations and it would leave me with the tart for breakfast the rest of the week.

For supper Monday I fixed incredibly gross packaged ravioli that we'd procured from a discount rack at the discount grocery. Heed this advice: do NOT buy discount food at a discount grocery. I did what I could to save it with Parmesan cheese and olive oil and cracked pepper - but it was a mediocre meal at best. While doing our best to enjoy dinner, I broached the topic of Matt and my future. We are job hunting, on the verge of yet another move, and I am seeking some level of stability. I want to know that where I go I will have family forever, and because of that I desire, very much a verbal commitment from Matt. This is not something he is prone too, and this area of discussion is very taxing for both of us. This evening, shitty ravioli aside, was no different.

Our conversation went on at length without ever going anywhere. I cried, as I do, and Matt tried to explain his feelings, as he does, and we remain in the same place. Deeply committed, deeply loving, and yet unable to reach other in the chasm between planning for the future, defining the future and living in the moment. Our conversation ended, as they always do, in a calm and warm place, no progress or peace over the issue, but calm and sincere. It was at this point I made a tarte tatin.

I'd prepared the pastry the day before and set about rolling it out between parchment. I took pleasure in beating the hard lump into submission, pushing and prodding it into place, forcing it to flatten into the shape and size I desired. Peeling and arranging the apples was cathartic - finding a pattern that was pleasing enough despite uniformity. Waiting patiently for the butter the caramelize the apples, adjusting the heat and turning my pan, gingerly flipping the now tender apple pieces in preparation of the finished product. I was so grateful to have this place to come to, even with my heart experiencing a bit of turbulence, here, with this tarte tatin I could find the peace that could not be external.

After arranging the pastry, baking, and flipping over the cast iron skillet that caccooned my tarte, Matt walked into the kitchen. With humor he said,

"You don't want a commitment from me, just my cast iron skillet."

Laughing, I responded, "Yes, if I ever leave I'm taking it with." Matt, rightfully noted that it seemed fair. And walked into the other room.

I started to fix slices of the tarte for each us, the apples were positively luminous and pastry crisp and flakey. Matt called through the doorway "But I get the dutch oven!"

I plunked forks down on the plates. "No deal." I shouted back.

And then we sunk into dessert - enjoying that moment - trepidatious of the future, but confident in cast iron (of all sizes), the decadence of butter, and the sheer, but simple, beauty of a tarte tatin.


Spring is teasing us in Mankato. Yesterday was an INCREDIBLE 65 degrees, today we are back down to 30. But that brief whisper of spring fills me with a lot of hope.

I've been meaning to write for, well months. I always want to write more. But I spend all day at work, and school, staring at a screen so then somehow the idea of staring at a screen for pleasure just turns me off. Instead, I cook. Last night was Jamie Oliver's salmon cakes - which were unbelievably easy and delicious. (This blogger also expounds on their wonder). Matt & I decided though that they need a new name - "salmon cake" just doesn't sound appetizing, and certainly is not fitting for this easy, satisfying supper. I feel like someday I will lie to my children and tell them they are "Mom Cakes" and only when they are old enough to discern that the pink is, in fact, fish will they be disgusted.

However, despite the recent foray into spring - we've done quite a bit of winter eating, and perhaps not unsurprisingly derivative to my friend Murph's cravings. The week she made biscuits and creamed chicken, we had fried chicken strips, biscuits and cream gravy. Her miso soup adventures paralleled our discovery of easy egg drop soup. Coincidence? I think not. Lastly inspired by her pie crust, I made a chocolate pie (that riffed off of Lisa Fain's) around the same time as Murph's valentines cake. Kindred spirits indeed.

Below you will find my winter derivatives of Murphy's fine recipes - between the two, you should be able to find at least one option to suit your taste (and likely two).

Here's to putting Winter behind us!

Mark Bittman's Fast Egg Drop Soup
What you need:
4 cups good chicken broth (of your liking, homemade, canned, or you can do like me - herboux.)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 scallions, sliced
1-2 thin slices peeled ginger
1-2 beaten eggs
1 tbsp. sesame oil
Garnishes of choice (watercress, snow peas, etc.)

What you do:
Heat broth, soy sauce, scallions, and ginger in a saucepan. Simmer mixture for ten minutes. Turn off heat. Spoon beaten egg into hot broth with a soup spoon and steady hand (this trick comes from Cook's Illustrated). With a full spoon full and at an even pace, pour egg from spoon in circles. Repeat until all egg is distributed into broth. This should produce long whisps of egg. Let rest for a few minutes. Add sesame oil, stir gently, and serve in bowls with desired garnishes.

Quick Chicken, Biscuits and Cream Gravy
What you need:
4-6 thawed chicken tenders per person (you can generally find these in the freezer sections of the grocery in big bags, or you can cut your own by slicing a boneless, skinless breast length wise)
1 cup corn meal
olive oil
2-3 biscuits per person
Peppered cream gravy (see below).

What you do:
Set a sturdy skillet over medium-high heat. While the skillet is heating, put your corn meal in a pie pan or shallow bowl. Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken tenders. Next, add oil and butter to skillet. Swirl it around to coat the skillet. When skillet and fats are hot, dredge each side of a chicken tender in corn meal, and add immediately to the skillet. Do not do more than two or three tenders at a time, as it will slow the cooking. Also, do not dredge in advance, or coating will fall off and become soggy. Cook each side of the tenders for 3-4 minutes until coating is crispy and browned, and chicken is firm to the touch. Remove from pan and cool on paper towels. Repeat process until all the chicken is breaded and cooked.

Split biscuits down center, arrange tenders on top. Serve smothered in gravy and watch as your eaters grin as they dig into this southern staple (makes a decent breakfast too!)

Peppered Cream Gravy
(for two! If preparing for more, multiple recipe accordingly.)

What you need:
1 cup milk
3 tbsp butter or bacon fat
3 tbsp flour

What you do:
In a small skillet, melt fat and flour together. Just before the mixture starts to bubble, remove from heat. This can be prepared in advance and stored in the fridge until needed.

Warm milk in a sauce pan on the stove over medium heat. When milk is warm to the touch, add fat/flour mixture. Stir constantly with a whisk, making sure to get down to the very bottom of the pan. Continue mixing over medium heat until milk begins to thicken. Thicken over heat until desired consistency is achieved. Season to taste with salt and pepper (I recommend more rather than less pepper).

Makifish Reinterprets Grandma's Chocolate Pie
First, let me just say the best chocolate pie I've ever had was in Texas at the Monument Cafe. And I will search from now until my dieing day for a recipe that replicates its splendor. This one comes close (but still not quite! Damn you Monument and your pie, so distant from my current home.)

What you need:
1 cooked pie crust, Murph's kicks booty (I know - I've messed around with A LOT of pie crust).
4 tablespoons of cocoa
3/4 cups of sugar
5 tablespoons of flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 cups of milk
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
2 egg yolks, beaten slightly
1 tablespoon of butter

What you do:
On the counter, sift together sugar, flour, salt, cocoa into a sauce pan. Briefly beat eggs and milk and then add to dry with a whisk.
Put the saucepan over medium heat and cook while stirring. When it bubbles and thickens, you are good to go. This took longer than I expected and I started to stress out - but like magic, it thickened up, almost all at once. Remove from heat and beat out any lumps. Then stir in your vanilla and butter.

Fill cooled pie crust with filling. Lisa Fain puts a meringue on hers - I didn't bother. I let everything cool slightly on the counter, and then popped it in the freezer. After a few hours of chilling, slice up and serve.

How 'bout some ice cream with your chocolate sauce?

Chocolate sauce and ice cream was a favourite dessert growing up. After we finished eating, we often found ourselves looking at each other until someone said: Hmmm, I kinda feel like something sweet. Dad would grin, lick his lips and say in a rather mischevious way: chocolate sauce... Minutes later we were filling our bowls with ice cream and drowning it in dad's homemade sauce. When we sat down someone was guaranteed to look over into their neighbor's bowl and say: Oh! Did you want a little ice cream with your chocolate sauce? And we'd all laugh, because this was hilarious. Dad was always the worst. He'd go for seconds, put one small scoop of ice cream into his bowl and spoon four times as much sauce over the top. The man really loves his chocolate sauce.

So do I! I'd forgotten all about it until I was looking through a cookbook Katherine made me of family recipes. When I saw the recipe, I leaped out of my chair and immediately set to work. I'd been waiting for an opportunity like this or someone else to come along and eat the ice cream I had left over from a couple weekends ago. This sauce takes five minutes to make and tastes gloriously better than the I-don't-know-what-you're-made-of store bought sauce. Once you make this you'll never go back. You'll impress countless guests and suffer through them refusing to leave or banging down your door for more. It's a tough life...

Here's the recipe as Katherine wrote it out. I'll rewrite the directions below in case you have trouble reading them.

- In a saucepan heat 1/3 C water or coffee with 1/2 brown sugar* over moderate heat, whisking until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cocoa powder and salt and whisk until smooth. Add 2 tbs of butter cut into small pieces and vanilla. Whisk until butter is melted.

* I used 1/3 cup for a darker chocolate flavour.

- Keep any leftovers in the fridge and spread on baguettes in the morning for breakfast. Or just eat it with a spoon on the front porch in your barefeet wearing your favourite t-shirt and jeans. I dunno, it's spring!


The blog is 1 year-old today. And I made Tarte Tatin to celebrate. My mom is also visiting, which marks the beginning of the new era: Mom comes to visit. She's already stocked my cupboards, bought me a jade plant, a new little table and a lovely print of two bears holding their arms out to each other with a caption that reads "Donne-moi ta bouche". I like Mom coming to visit.

Writing this blog has been one of the greatest things I've ever done. We've even acquired some faithful readers! I've so enjoyed sharing my culinary adventures with Kelsey and all of you. I know I've only been eating soup lately, but things are changing - spring is almost here!

I first heard about Tarte Tatin from Rock, a man I work with. He was always saying how easy it was and how delicious and how he was going to come to work early one day and make it for us all. He hasn't yet, but since I now know how to make it, I can eat it every day if I want to. And it's so easy! Most recipes I've seen call for store-bought puff pastry; however, in the International Best Recipe by Cooks Illustrated you make your own. And. It. Is. Phenomenal.

Darling Alix came for lunch. I made salmon and quinoa. Mom made a salad. We ate Tarte Tatin.

Tarte Tatin

As adapted from Cooks Illustrated

For the crust:

Cooks Illustrated makes their dough in a food processor. I lack this kitchen tool, so I used a nifty hand pastry blender and the "smear" method (see below).

"Sugar makes pastry dough sticky, crumbly, and generally difficult to handle, and it also tends to fuse the spacers - the little bits of butter that make pastry flaky - leaving the baked crust crunchy, cookie-like, and a little hard." The solution? Confectioners sugar which "simply disappears" in the dough.

1 1/3 C white pastry flour
1/4 C confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick chilled unsalted butter
1 large egg, chilled and beaten

- Whisk flour, sugar and salt together to eliminate any lumps
- Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the butter is in pea-sized lumps
- Slowly add the beaten egg, stiring and lifting the dough with a fork until big clumps form
- Dump the dough out onto a well-floured counter or cutting board and gather it into a rough ball. It will be loose and dry at this time.
- Take the heel of your hand and starting at the edge of the ball furthest from you, smear the dough onto the counter, all the while working back towards your body. This helps to combine the butter and the dough together (thank you Julia Child!) Now you can shape it into a disk, wrap it in Seran wrap and chill it while you prepare the apples. (You might need to use a bench scraper to get the dough off the counter).

For the apples:

1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 C granulated sugar
5-6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, quartered and cored.

- Preheat the oven to 375 F and place the rack in the upper third.
- Peel, core and quarter your apples
- Melt the stick of butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet (or any other oven proof skillet you have)
- When it's melted, sprinkle the sugar over top, stir it around and start to lay your apples on their cut side in a ring around the pan. They should fit tightly together. Fill the middle with more apples also lain on their cut side.
- Over high heat, cook the apples for 10-12 minutes. Then using a fork, turn the apples onto their other cut side. They will have cooked down some, making them easy to turn and creating a bit more space in the pan.
- Cook the turned apples for 5 more minutes.
- While you're waiting for the apples to cook, roll out the pastry.
- When the apples are ready, lay the dough on top of the bubbling caramelized apples, folding any excess dough onto itself to form a small crust.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the dough is nice and brown.
- Let it cool for 30 minutes on a rack.
- Place a plate big enough to cover the skillet and holding the plate and skillet firmly, flip the tart onto the plate. The apples should not stick, but if they do, just reposition any loose ones back on the tart.


We had ice cream, but Cooks Illustrated recommends 1 C heavy cream beaten with 1/2 sour cream until light and fluffy. Yes please!

Thanks for reading people. And thanks Kelsey. What pure delicious joy this is to share this space with you.

- jude