All Tarted Up

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This tart is actually six feet wide, using giant, genetically modified fruits.

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Walking into a kitchen store gives me the same unabashed delight now that I had as a child when going to Toys R Us. The rush of excitement that came from going home with a new Transformer, set of legos, or Atari game has transformed into the giddy anticipation of heading home with a new knife, splatter screen, or saucepan. Maybe not quite as excited, but still, it's a fair analogy.

Well yesterday I came home with something truly frivolous, made all the more ridiculous by the fact that I only went to the kitchen store to get Christmas presents for family and walked out with nothing but this: a silicone tartlette mold. How often do I make tarts? Very close to never. I don't even usually eat or make desserts. Those of you who read Kitchen Monkey regularly probably know of my abiding distaste for most forms of cake.

But I digress. I've always liked these little fruit tarts, and a friend's potluck yesterday was ample excuse to try my hand at them. The recipe came from Jacques Pépin's Complete Techniques (see previous post) and required an enormous amount of effort.

My friend Nick was recently lamenting a potluck he held where half the guests brought baguettes. I was sort of expecting a similar affair last night, particularly since most of the guests were law students, but to my delight the potluck offered an impressive array of delicious dishes. A perfect asparagus and red pepper frittata, a cous cous with complex flavors, latkes for hanukkah, and some Thai meatballs that were--and I say this without hyperbole--tastier than any meatball I have ever had in my entire life. Sadly, I failed to get the recipe, but am in the process of tracking it down.

Now then, the tarts. I may post the recipe at some point. For now, enough to mention that they were great fun to make, though next time I may try using a food processor for the dough to cut down on the substantial effort. The dough is a standard pie/pastry shell mixture (pâte sucrée et croûte), which I rolled to a quarter inch thickness and pressed into the mold with another piece of dough floured to keep from sticking. I then trimmed the edges and placed in each mold a piece of wax paper. I then filled the molds with black beans pressed down to keep the dough from melting inward, and baked for about 7 minutes. I then removed the beans and baked for another 10 minutes. The silicone mold is great. No sticking at all, and they popped right out. In the meantime I made a crème pâtissière, a standard vanilla pastry creme. A large spoonful of the creme went into each shell, I then arranged raspberries, blackberries, and bits of kiwi. Then I brushed the fruit with a glaze of melted strawberry jelly.

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Cook Book Review: Jacques Pépin's Complete Techniques

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Jacques Pépin, whose eyes have no whites

I don't often buy cookbooks, and when I do I don't usually feel compelled to post about it. This one is a bit different, however.

After a Criminal Procedure exam on Saturday morning (how absurd is that?), a couple days working at the Superior Court, and a job interview with the D.C. Public Defender Service (for this summer), I have almost NOTHING to do for the next month. This means, of course, a great deal of serious cooking: and this, my friends, is where Jacques Pépin's book comes in.

There seems to be little method to my kitchen madness. I'm capable of enough dedication to make a coq au vin requiring three days preparation, but I burn at least half the grilled cheese sandwiches I make from carelessness. I make a fine ragu alla bolognese, but still consistently boil too much or too little pasta. I know how to apply a knife to an onion six different ways, but almost never make a perfect hard boiled egg. I bought this book in hopes of filling in some of the large gaps in my knowledge. My recent reading of Pépin's memoir, The Apprentice, alerted me to the book, and it arrived yesterday.

Jacques Pépin's Complete Techniques is a combination of two earlier, out of print books, which cover all of the techniques and methods of French gourmet cooking in immense detail, with explicit step-by-step instructions and thousands of illustrative pictures. They range from the almost absurdly basic (how to peel an onion), to the practical (how to properly bone a chicken), to the whimsical (how to make decorative swans and flowers out of fruits and vegetables), to the baroque (how to lard a pheasant pâté and encase it in a decorative crust of breading). It's fantastic because, apart from multiple forays into coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, and various terrines and pâtés, I really haven't done very much French cooking. I've been a sushi chef, am reasonably familiar with Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, Indian, and even some West African cuisines, but French cooking is largely terra incognita for me. I don't even know how to make a crêpe. Not true for long.

Some of these recipes and techniques I will never use (e.g. the pheasant pâté), but others I really look forward to. I especially want to master the art of making a good sauce. The foundation of this is a good stock transformed into a demi-glace and perhaps even a glace, which I hope to get started on this weekend. From there, who knows. I'll start with some simple roasting and eventually work my way toward good pastry dough and maybe even boudin.

Hopefully by Christmas I'll have mastered a couple of these dishes well enough to impress my French sister-in-law, who is an excellent cook in her own right.


KM's Five-Pepper Chili: Recipe

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I call this Five-Pepper chili because it has five kinds of peppers in it. Yes, I know, it's clever. It took me forty seconds to think of this name, but that's OK. I was willing to devote this kind of time and attention to finding the perfect name because this is the best chili I have ever had.

Maybe I am biased, but I am also capable of admitting, when the occasion arises, that I have made something that is less than fantastic, or even out-and-out slop. For example, just the other day, a combination of apathy and distraction (Tom Waits was on NPR) led to the most awful omelette I've ever made. I wouldn't have served this omelette to my worst enemy.

But I digress. The point is, this chili is GOOD. I'm sure you've had better chili. Or rather, I'm sure you think you have. Chili is one of those things where everybody thinks they make the best version. That's as it should be, and I'm only too happy to partake in that proud tradition.

On another note, the picture above demonstrates what it might look like if Caravaggio did a painting of cornbread and chili, which I'm certain he would have, had such things existed at the time. Seriously. He was into still life, and was fond of using white, red, black, and light tan colors. It also has his trademark geometric angles and deep chiaroscuro contrasts.

OK, I obviously need some sleep. Here's the recipe.

(Addendum, written following day: I really did need some sleep. When I posted this last night I included tomato peppers as one of the ingredients. I meant "cherry" peppers. Nick was kind enough to bring it to my attention. Tomato peppers do not in fact exist. Thanks Nick).

KM's Five Pepper Chili: Recipe
(note: this makes a LOT of chili. Probably enough to feed 12 people)

2 lbs. stew beef, cut into approximately 1/2-inch cubes and salted.
1 lb. ground beef
2 Tablespoons coriander seeds, ground
2 Tablespoons ground cumin
Extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch Parsley, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 red bell peppers, chopped
4 jalapenos, minced
2 dried ancho chiles, minced
2 cherry peppers, minced
5-7 canned chipotle peppers with sauce, minced
2 large onions, chopped
2 cups kidney beans
2 large cans diced tomatoes
8 oz. beer (I used Sierra Nevada Pale Ale - Delicious!)
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
7 Allspice berries
1/3 cup tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

(If you have a dutch oven, such as a Le Creuset or All Clad, the initial stages can be done on the stovetop with the stewing done in a 225 degree oven. If you're using a large pot, such as a stock pot, then the stewing will be done on the stovetop at the lowest heat setting)

(1) put a generous amount of olive oil in the pot and brown the beef chunks, in batches if necessary. Remove.
(2) put more olive oil in the pot, once it is hot, add the cumin and coriander, and let it fry for 1 minute, then add the ground beef, stirring until it is browned. Remove.
(3) Add more oil, then add the onions. Carmelize. Remove.
(4) Add more oil, then the chopped peppers and parsley. Sautee until soft. Remove.
(5) Add the garlic and all the minced chili peppers. Sautee for two minutes. Add the beer, and simmer for two more minutes. NOTE: If you want this to be really hot, leave the seeds in. If you want it to have a medium heat, leave the seeds out or add just a few.
(6) Add all the former ingredients back into the pot, along with the kidney beans. Add the beef stock, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, allspice, and oregano.
(7) Bring to a low boil, then turn down to a simmer (whether in the oven or on the stovetop), covered, for one hour. Then simmer uncovered for another hour. You may choose to let it stew even longer. I think mine simmered for almost four hours. Serve with cheese and sour cream if you like.