Herbs & Flowers – Sunday 7/8/2007

Having people over almost always inspires me to cut flowers from the yard. There weren’t a lot of the miniature roses this time, so I filled in with oregano and summer savory blossoms.


The Big Lemon Tart Experiment – Saturday 7/7/2007

But first, a completely gratuitous photograph of an egg yolk in a small handcrafted bowl.

We have a couple of friends who come up and stay over on a Saturday night three or four times a year. We have dinner–during which I usually try out at least one new recipe on them–and talk in the evening, hang out over coffee in the morning, and then they treat us to breakfast at Crazy Otto’s.

When Hydra showed off the Bayeaux Tapestry segment replica he hung over the fireplace, they immediately started to translate the Latin. That’s why they get to be called the Historian and the Playwrite rather than (food) Guinea Pig #1 and #2.

Anyway, I have been craving lemon tarts ever since we returned from France. I decided to take matters into my own hands and make my own. And make the Historian and the Playwrite try them!

Complication #1: Although I tthought I’d read the Joy of Cooking recipe for a Lemon Tart thoroughly, I quickly discovered that I’d overlooked the phrase “two-piece tart pan.” These, my friends, are the two piece tart pans I drove 10 miles into the Palmdale to buy.

Complication #2: The recipe calls for one 9 1/2- to 10- inch tart pan. Bed, Bath and Beyond carries either an 11-inch tart pan or six 4-inch tart pans. Ponder, ponder–pounce! I opted for the six little ones. I like the idea of individual tarts, and I didn’t have enough eggs to double the recipe.

Complication #3: I used a “pat-in-pan” butter crust recipe. For some reason, the crusts cracked. It would be really helpful if they’d explain this stuff in cookbooks: if this happens, this may be the reason. Hydra speculates that it was too dry.

Sounds good. Anyone have any thoughts on this? Does that mean that I should use a tad less flour in relationship to the butter or a little more of the heavy cream (it called for 2-3 tablespoons, and I used half & half.)

Complication #4: They didn’t tell me to let the crusts cool a bit before I brushed egg yolk onto them. Well of course, you’re going to get scrambled egg if you brush it onto a 450 degree surface.

We won’t call this a complication, but I was able to make 5 crusts and when I was pulling them out of the oven, one of them slid off the cookie sheet and shattered on the floor. Okay, that one was just overkill anyway, right?

Not to imply that there wasn’t some cursing and some pouting.

Complication #5: The recipe calls for putting a “heatproof bowl” in an inch of water in a frying pan. I was thinking of risking my old jadite bowl, but realized that my Pyrex would work. The frying pan wasn’t deep enough, though. The water spilled over the top and almost put out the flames. So I transfered the whole thing to this deeper pan.

Here’s what I enjoy about trying new recipes. Sometimes there’s room for improvisation on the first go-round, but other times you sense that you should just follow the rules, especially if they don’t initially make sense to you, and see if there’s something you can learn.

I melted the sugar into the butter with the water at a minimal simmer on faith. Just as the thought crossed my mind that it shouldn’t make any difference what the temperature was at this point, I realized that the next addition was the egg yolks.

Aha! If the butter and sugar mixture is too hot…. You see it? In your mind’s eye do you see sugar-butter egg-drop soup?

Yeah, me too.


So that went well. I stirred in the 8–count ’em 8!–egg yolks and kept them gently moving for 8-10 minutes. Then Hydra came and held the sieve while I poured the mixture into the jadite bowl. This caught the few tiny bits of egg that hadn’t merged smoothly with the mixture.

Crusts loaded! Into the oven they went!

Complications #6-7: The recipe has a less than adequate description of how you can tell when the tarts are done and I suspect that my oven, which is only 6 1/2 years old, doesn’t really hold the temperature like it’s supposed to.

When you shake them and the center doesn’t move, that’s supposed to tell you they’re done. I was at this point a bit shake-shy, having lost my failsafe crust to normal movement.

I’ll spare you the details of repeatedly checking, but I’ll say that one of them turned kind of translucent and I realized that that was what I was really looking for. Or anyway, I hoped that was what I was looking for. It just looked…right.

So I took them out one by one as they shape-shifted. And I hoped.

Voila! I cooled ’em, I garnished ’em with fresh red raspberries and a tiny sprig of mint. Behold the finished tartlet!

I avoided Complication #8 after conferring with Hydra. He suggested that we not try to unpan them until we actually ate them, avoiding the risk of them (and me) falling apart.

They were a big hit!

Neighborly Fruit – Friday 7/6/2007

Hey! Remember the plums on the tree the other day?

I was out in the front yard tying up a few overladen branches of the Granny Smith apple tree when our uphill neighbor and his kids walked by on their way back from the pool. He actually asked if I’d like some plumbs! Said they had bags of them they were trying to get rid of.

You betcha!

I went right up the slope and picked this bag full, all from branches hanging over the fence.

Very nice.