Quince Tarte Tatin + In and Out of the City

 Howdy!

 praying mantis on pot

As a Seoul dweller, I experience virtually no wildlife and rarely get to see animals other than street cats and tiny white dogs. So, when I met this little fella on a recent trip to the countryside in Chungju for an amazing day of learning about and eating fermented foods, I had to snap a photo. Praying mantises have always seemed like tiny (frightening) sages to me. The way they turn their wee heads all the way like they do makes me feel like my soul is being read, judged and thusly, condemned. Alarming. Maybe I need to reel in my imagination a bit.

 kimchi pots

The day trip, hosted by Kinfolk, was the dream baby of my fabulous friend Jacqui. A group of about 20 were swept away to a beautiful meditation retreat center that is also dedicated to traditional Korean fermentation recipes and techniques. We tasted soy sauce, garlic, vinegars, eggplant wine, various leafy plants and kimchi all brewing in large pots in the sun. Participants were able to help prepare some dishes, such as stuffed rice balls and tofu skin wraps for the feast at the end of the day. After sampling all the fermented goods, it was pretty astonishing that were able to consume more. But, oh, we were able and, oh, we did.

 vinegars

It was a glorious day and even thinking about it helps remind me that I need to get out more often. Living in the city is… challenging. Since starting my newest job four months ago, my commute has gone from a five-minute walk to forty-five minutes of walking, riding the subway and walking again. It is no surprise, yet still shocking how much a longer commute saps ones energy. Further, my commute is on one of the most packed lines on the Seoul Metro. One day last week, it was so mind-numbingly packed and people were being tossed around so hard that some ladies were wincing and yelping as they were trying to get off (imagine a disturbing mix of sex noises and dog cries). I practically ran off the subway car at my stop, very dramatically, tears in my eyes, feeling depleted, defeated and stressed. I wondered if I would be able to survive this commute to the end of my contract.

 

Luckily, most days are, at least, bearable. I force myself into a numbed state most every time I get on, determined not to let the daily violations of my personal space get the best of me. I’ve seen people who have. It ain’t pretty.

 quince tarte ingredientsquince sentinels

Quince is a curious fruit I’ve never really had the time for. When there are other trusty fall fruits like pomegranate, tangerines and persimmon about, who has time to be excited about an unassuming green rock of a fruit such as quince? I have since mended the error of my ways and become mildly fascinated with the most awkward member of the Rosaceae family.

 quince prep

Before I learned that quince isn’t exactly edible/digestible when it is uncooked, I, of course, ate lots of it raw. I even brought it as a snack to work, gaining the attention of the older and hungry elementary students. After some initial trepidation and reactions to the astringency, they were begging for more. I was too, after they devoured the lot. Buggers.

 poached quince

I’ve never particularly noticed quince on sale here in Seoul, but I now live close to several traditional markets that provide produce that is seasonally sensitive, so they’ve made appearances everywhere. I bought a few and tried Food52’s version of quince tarte tatin. I usually dislike pies with quince’s sweeter cousins apple and pear, (I know, I know… I’m just really picky), but quince really hit the spot. The fruit not only kept its deliriously tart goodness, but it sweetened just enough to be transformed into a unique dessert. Another interesting feature is that the white flesh of quince also turns red once cooked. It has tempted me to experiment with it more.

quince tarte tatin 1

Quince Tarte Tatin

 

Ingredients

For Poached Quince

  • 4-5 quince, peeled and deseeded
  • 6 cups of water
  • 1 lemon, cut in a half and juiced
  • 2 cups of brown sugar
  • 3 vanilla beans
  • a pinch of sea salt

For Quince Tarte Tatin

  • 1 pound puff pastry
  • 3-4 poached quince (depending on the size of your baking pan)
  • 1 ¼ cup quince poaching liquid

Directions

In a large pot, add the sugar and water and bring to a low boil. Once the sugar dissolves, add the lemon, lemon juice and vanilla beans.

Peel and deseed the quince then cut into quarters (or sixths, depending on the size of your fruit. Gently drop the quince into the liquid and cook until tender, which can take about 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from heat and scoop the quince pieces from the liquid with a slotted spoon.

poaching quince

Preheat oven to 375ºF/190ºC/Gas mark 5.

Pour about 2 ½ cups of the poaching liquid into a non-reactive skillet -most Teflon or heavy bottomed stainless steel brands will do. On medium high heat, reduce the liquid until it develops a syrupy viscosity. Be careful not to burn it, or you will have a terrible mess to deal with.

Arrange the quince pieces in a baking pan, cutting them further if needed. You may need to place several layers of the fruit so they fill the pan adequately. Drizzle the reduced liquid on top of the quince.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to a third inch thickness and lay the sheet on top of the awaiting quince. Cut away excess pastry.

Bake the tart for about 35-40 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and fully cooked. Let it cool for at least 10-15 minutes. When ready to serve, place a plate that completely covers the pan over top of the tarte. In a quick, fluid motion, carefully flip the tarte onto the plate so it is completely removed from the pan.

quince tarte tatin

Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream if desired.

Serves 6-8.

quince tarte tatin bite

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Tangy Fried Green Tomatoes

Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone for their wonderful support and comments in response to my previous post. It means a lot. Every bit.

 Green tomato slice

Fall came quickly this year. We had many unripe tomatoes in our garden when the first frost arrived, and we had to find a way to make something interesting out of them. It seemed my only real option (in my opinion) was to give fried green tomatoes a go. I’d never made them and it just made sense.

Fried green tomatoes with hot sauce splash 

Southern dishes are always such a curious undertaking. Rich, fatty, flavourful and full of character, dishes such as red-velvet cake, deep fried chicken, fatback collard greens and pecan pie are typical staples of southern cuisine.

green tomatoes

Yellow lemon, green tomato

As a Yank, I live vicariously through my Southern friends and the feeling they get about their comfort foods. Wikipedia told me that the most notable influences of Southern cuisine come from the English, Scottish, Irish, German, French, Native American and African American traditions. I enjoy taking moments to step back and savor the history of this melting pot cuisine before diving into my own version. Here are my fried green tomatoes.

Fried Green tomatoes

Tangy Fried Green Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 6-7 medium sized firm, green tomatoes
  • 1 cup of cornmeal
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup milk or buttermilk
  • 1 lemon
  • Cooking oil

Directions

Slice tomatoes into ½ inch slices. I do not recommend using end pieces as they don’t hold the cornmeal mixture very well, so be sure to make each slice flat on both sides.

Green tomatoes spread out

In a small bowl, mix the eggs, milk and lemon juice as well as some of the zest.

Combine all the dry seasoning, flour and cornmeal into a container with a top (or one that is deep enough so you can shake the contents without making a mess).

corn meal shake

Heat a skillet or frying pan in medium high heat. Add enough oil to grease the pan with a (not too) generous layer. Begin dipping slices of tomato one at a time into the egg mixture. Then drop them into the cornmeal mixture. Cover the container and shake for a few seconds. Your tomato should be thoroughly coated in cornmeal.

Place coated slices in the hot pan and fry until golden brown on each side. This could about 5 minutes per side depending on the heat your stove produces.

When cooked to your satisfaction, place the slices on paper towels in order to soak up some of the grease.

degreasing?

Dip in hot sauce and devour while hot.

fried green tomatoes with hot sauce splash 2

Serves 4-6.

Phew! I made it this far without mentioning the movie!

…D’oh!

The Short Reign of the Zataar Tomato and Balsamic Reduction with Mushrooms

Happy Fall everyone! Fall in New England is glorious. It’s been years since I’ve experienced autumn in New York and I’m feeling very lucky to be here now. I like when things change, even if I’m not really ready for it. Part of me misses summer already, but part of me is ready to get snuggled up with winter.

Balsamic Zataar reduction

Making this zataar tomato and balsamic reduction with mushrooms gave me a real cozy feeling. It brought many different flavors together and filled my kitchen with a sweet and warm smell. Making a reduction is easy and very satisfying. It is done by rapidly boiling a liquid in an uncovered saucepan. Keeping it uncovered is important, that way the vapors escape thus thickening the liquid and intensifying the flavor. Sauces, glazes and gravies are traditionally made this way.

Zataar is a Middle Eastern mixture of dried savory herbs, sesame seeds and salt. It’s typically sprinkled on top of hummus or mixed with olive oil as a dip for bread. The very cheap zataar shop I went to in Montreal during my university years pretty much saved my life, so I have fond associations with zataar. There I would get a flatbread covered with zataar and filled with vegetables and yummy sauce.

Balsamic Zataar reduction
Savory, I had, but this reduction needed some sweetness. Tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar stepped up for the challenge, and boy did they work it out.
It’s got a slightly sweet and tangy flavor making it a perfect accompaniment to savory or meaty foods. Being a reduction sauce, it is rather bold. It has it’s own ideas about life and where it belongs. It much prefers being placed loftily atop a piece of meat or a bed of couscous than trivialized by many other flavors. It will not be eclipsed and will happily sabotage your meal if you try anything funny. Somehow, I survived my first attempt at using this reduction in a soup (but just barely). The soup was a hearty blended thing that was nice and mild on it’s own, and needed an extra kick to be interesting. I should’ve known better. The reduction does not accept such insolence. The soup was ruined. It was too complex and in the end my taste buds were retching.

Respect. That’s all the reduction wants. To be recognized for the zing that it brings to a meal. All it asks is to be complimented for complimenting so well. So, respect it received.  On top of beef burger it went, as if it were on a meaty throne. The reduction reigned mightily… also briefly as I ate it.

Zataar Tomato and Balsamic Reduction with Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 1 large (or 2 medium) tomato, chopped
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ½ cup chopped yellow onions
  • ½ cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp zataar
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of pepper

Directions

Heat a saucepan on medium high heat and add some cooking oil.

Lightly brown the onions. Then add the tomato, vinegar, sugar and spices.

Once simmering, add the mushrooms.

Reduce heat to medium low when the mushrooms have released their juices (you will know that this has happened when suddenly it looks more like a sauce).

Let the sauce simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.

Eat and love.

Back to Basics and Arugula

I have recently returned (from where will have to wait for multiple other posts) to the place of my birth, a spiritual Sufi community called the Abode of the Message in the Berkshires of upstate New York. Though I wasn’t raised here, it is a place where I have spent a lot of time and have grown to have a strong connection with. The Abode is a converted old Shaker Village with beautiful buildings, some of which are as old as 265 years.

Fatah at the Abode

It is a very peaceful (when the bugs aren’t attacking) and quaint sort of place.

About 37 years ago, it was bought by a group of hippies who needed a space to meditate and be self-sufficient. The Abode turned out to be the perfect spot for their needs. Belle, the lovely draft horse plows the organic farm.

Fatah at the Abode red barnBelle

The farm produces food for the community and its events.The Abode Farm

The herb garden is where herbs, spices and edible flowers are grown.The Herb Garden at the Abode

Herbs are harvested, dried and stored in the apothecary for remedies and teas.The Abode Apothocary

And then there’s the kitchen… oh, the kitchen. So many warm memories of my time at The Abode have been spent making food in this kitchen.The Abode Kitchen

It is well stocked and well-loved.Big woks in the kitchen

With its large convection oven, massive woks and high heat candy cooker, the kitchen combines the efficiency of a commercial kitchen with the cozy realness of grandma’s country home.Spice Jars

Original brick façade exposed, warm wood counters and the beauty of old Shaker construction, the Abode kitchen oozes history from its very pores.The kitchen at the Abode

I often wonder what meals this kitchen has seen. What failures and successes have been cooked here? How was the food spiced when my parents were doing the cooking? What methods did the Shakers use?  What has been the largest number of people served here? There are probably ways to find answers, but I don’t think I’d be satisfied with them. Some queries are best left to wonder about.Little woks and iron skillets

Because the reality of this place is entwined with memories from my childhood, I never quite got over my sense of awe. The buildings are old and creaky, there are unused things from previous residents stored all over the property and awesomely creepy cellars in just about every building.creepy basement

I have mixed feelings about being back (the open road calls me constantly), temporary as my stay here will be, but it’s certainly a great place to explore cookery.  And here I am, just in time for harvest season. So many cooking opportunities, so little time.

Here’s a simple summer salad fresh picked from the garden:

Baby Arugula Mixed Salad

Salad Ingredients

  • arugula
  • carrots
  • cucumber
  • celery
  • black and/or green olives
  • roasted almonds pieces

Vinaigrette Ingredients

  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil

Directions

Wash, slice, mix and enjoy ingredientsArugula salad