Monthly Archives: August 2008

Recipe Conversion Issues: Fig & Almond Tart

There is a reason this blog is called The Experimental Gourmand. I am not professionally trained, and I make mistakes, from which I try to learn. This week’s recipe attempt definitely proved that again.

I tried the Fig and Almond Tart from July’s issue of BBC’s Olive magazine. Figs are now in season, so I could get the fresh produce that I needed, and the recipe looked simple enough to make. It would also give me a chance to test drive my new mini food processor. [I burned the motor out of the highest setting on my previous one and managed to crack the bowl as well.] Here is a photo of what it should have looked like.


Isn’t that gorgeous? Well, below is what I ended up making. They look slightly different, don’t they? This illustrates a few problems in cooking, especially when translating recipes from metric to U.S. measurements and/or just trying to replicate non-American written recipes in general.

As you can see, the almond filling completely overflowed the puff pastry boundary. My mistake was in not paying closer attention to the size of the pre-bought pastry. In my supermarkets, the standard box of pastry comes two sheets to a box. What I’d failed to take into account until this spillage situation happened was that one of these sheets is not the same weight as the block of puff pastry that is sold in UK supermarkets.

Even though I rolled the pastry to the same size as the recipe required, it was thinner and created less of a “container” for the almond filling which then meant it seeped out of its borders during baking. I also think that the figs that I got my hands on were much smaller than the ones used in the photo shoot version of the recipe.

This also validates one of my favorite kitchen tips which is the use of parchment paper in baking. I’ve been doing this more and more lately since I discovered how useful it is. Even with recipes that I’ve done for years, I find that it is easier to bake with and control the consistency if I line the baking sheets with parchment paper. In this case, it makes it easier to clean up a slightly messy result.

Still, this did not stop me from eating the results, which were delicious and had an extra-hearty almond taste. In honor of my having just seen the movie version of Brideshead Revisited last night, I had a slice of tart with a cup of tea. I’ll be taking the leftovers to work this week, trying to sneak away for an afternoon break.

Buon appetito!

Crabfest 2008

More than Christmas, more than Thanksgiving, heck, probably even more than my own birthday (unless you could find a way to make a giant cake of its meat for me), there is no occasion to which I anticipate more each year than our annual family Crabfest. I’ve been offline the past week or so, because I was away stuffing my face at a variety of family gatherings. It was wonderful, as usual, to see everyone and to have a chance to eat some things that are not normally a part of my daily diet.

That’s the thing about getting together each year to pick crabs and to indulge in lovely hunks of white tender-sweet meat. It’s not just about the eating (although that is important). It is also about the following of a family tradition and about adhering to the pattern of the season. There’s certain rules: the ‘right’ potato salad to have at this time of year, making family-favorite sweet treats, and, of course, discussion about everyone’s own preferred methodology for extract crab from its shell.

This year, we had some new inductees into the annual family event with a few nieces who had not participated previously. One of them embraced the eating (fun) part of the crabfest, but not the cleaning (work) part. At her age, we had my youngest sister at the table cleaning out our claws for the meat, something she still thinks of as highly unfair, even to this day. Her new beau, however, who was another addition this year, confidently held his own and will surely have a place at the table again next year. He’s an ‘accumulator’ rather than an ‘eat as you go’ type, which might upset the balance in the group.

Another niece who had enjoyed sampling the wares in the past, decided to take a pass this year. She’s at the fussy toddler stage, so hopefully this is just a phase for her. Another niece was very squeamish about touching the animals and wouldn’t even try a smidgen of a taste. She had also been to the wharf in Southeast Washington, DC with us to pick up our ‘harvest,’ and I wonder if the connection between seeing the animals there and then on the table where we were cleaning them, was a bit too much for her. She’s a bit older, and I’m sort of surprised as she’s of an age to understand that we do kill and eat lots of our food.

As usual, there was laughter, chatter, attempted crabmeat thefts, and spilled blood. I returned to New York with several crab-related injuries (stings like the blazes when Old Bay ends up inside of a cut or nick), not the least of which was a nice slice on my thumb from cleaning up a glass Pyrex cup in which butter had been melted. Part of the lip of the cup had sheared off, which was not evident when I went to wash it out, and I ran the sharp edge alongside the outside of my finger. Fortunately, with a clean bandage to stop the bleeding, this minor setback did not hinder me from eating any of the fluffy white pile of meat that I’d pulled from the shells of this year’s really lovely batch of crabs.

Buon appetito!

Several folks also thought it was a beautiful day to get crabs 

Are there words more lovely than these in the English language?
Or these?
There were lots to choose from this year, of all sizes
You can also buy lots of types of fish, shrimp…
…mollusks…

…and, of course, CRABS!!! (these are cooked already)

Yes, that is a vat of Old Bay in the bin.
Which ones get to come back with me?
ummmm…ready for picking and eating!