Thursday, April 19, 2012

mama, why do you always lose your keys?

because i worry about the important things like keeping you alive and there's no more room in my brain thank you dash i do know that my sunglasses are on top of my head yes i'll turn up the music i love that you feel bach in your legs and next to your heart but i think i feel bach right smack in the middle of my heart and a bit going up the back of my neck dash did you know these aren't songs they are pieces called the goldberg variations dude you must chill i'll define the word a variation is a version of something that stays fundamentally the same with a bit of a change a shift a modification like me this morning when I used that tinted eyebrow gel no not tintin's eyebrow gel it's tinted as in expresso-colored no i'm not laughing at you wow you think the makeup makes me look younger i'm still mama but i'm a little different see now that's a kick ass variation 

I make the same food over and over again. Recipe variations take up very little brain space. Trust me. Memorize a few of your favorites, get out of your head, absorb the recipes into your hands, and then start to play. If you need inspiration, you can start with my two favorites: salad dressing and onion tart.

It's a bit different every time I make it. You don't need fancy oil or vinegar. Just vary it a bit every time so that you don't get sick of the flavor. Don't add salt to the dressing. Instead, sprinkle coarse salt on the greens when you toss them with the dressing (use your hands).

I usually do 2 parts extra virgin olive oil to 1 part vinegar. Any combination of champagne, white wine, red wine, and sherry wine vinegars will do. I avoid balsamic, apple cider, and rice wine vinegars because they tend to overpower the dressing.

Peel and finely dice a few shallots. With a mortar and pestle (or on a cutting board with a chef knife), bash an anchovy fillet and a peeled garlic clove into a paste. If it is large enough, use your mortar as as your mixing bowl. To the anchovy/garlic puree, add the diced shallots and some vinegars (maybe 4 or so tablespoons) and stir together. Set aside for 10 minutes. Whisk in a few teaspoons of creamy dijon mustard. Slowly whisk in olive oil (maybe 8 or so tablespoons). It should start to emulsify after about half of the olive oil is added. Taste. I like it nice and tangy but add more olive oil if you like it mellower. Store in a jar. It keeps for a week. No need to put it in the fridge.

A few things to play with. Crank up the garlic and anchovy flavor. Use lemon juice instead of vinegar. Mix in chopped capers. Use spring onions instead of shallots.Whisk in some caramelized onions (see below). Add chopped mint to your salad. Or whole parsley and celery leaves. Or lemon zest.

Other uses for the dressing: as a marinade for chicken or fish, on a sandwich, drizzled over pizza, or as a dip for your kids' vegetables. But the best thing ever is to slurp it out of what Dash calls "avocado bowls." 
(heavily influenced by my mom, my grandmother, and Lulu Peyraud)
Here's a recipe for tart dough. Frozen puff pastry works well too.

There's no point in caramelizing one onion. It's too much work for so little reward. And the resulting jam is just too fucking tasty. I usually do 8-10 onions which supply me with enough caramelized onions for one big tart (I'm left with an extra jarful to add to pastas, sandwiches, and salad dressings). You can also cook down a combination of onions, leeks, green garlic, and spring onions. Be warned that red onions taste great cooked but they look hella ugly when caramelized.

To start, peel and slice onions as thinly as possible (but don't be perfect about it). Heat a large heavy-bottomed pan with a big splash of olive oil. Throw in 2 tablespoons of butter. Add onions. Stir. Add a few teaspoons of salt (many say to add salt at the end for more even cooking but I'm a little stuck in my ways here and I love the juices that are released). Add a sprig or two of thyme. Turn to medium heat. Keep stirring every few minutes. When the onions have softened a bit, turn fire down to low, throw on a lid, and make yourself some tea. Don't start drinking wine yet. Your tart won't be done for hours. Remove lid and stir every 10 minutes or so. Make sure it's not browning. After about an hour, remove lid for good and boil away most of the onion liquid. Stay with it. Don't let it burn. Stir, stir, stir until it's honey-colored. Remove from heat. Locate thyme stems and discard.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out tart dough or puff pastry (keep free form or press into a tart pan). Prebake shell for about 10 minutes. Spread a thick layer of the cooked onions all over the partially baked pastry shell. It's fine if all the components are warm. Here's where you can play. Add black olives and anchovies for a more classic pissaladière. Make a pattern with peeled, cooked, and sliced yukon gold potatoes (sprinkled with salt and painted with garlic confit oil?). Tuck cooked bacon under the potato slices. Maybe scatter some halved cherry tomatoes all over the top. Or place a layer of wilted winter greens mixed with garlic and lemon zest on top of the onions. Bake until crust is cooked through and the top is nicely browned. Serve warm or room temperature.