There’s nothing like a huge mistake and utter distress to rally the troops around here, right? All of you – every single one of you – were so, so nice about me missing my Deb Perelman meet and greet the other day; to say I was touched would be an understatement. You know how in the moment everything seems to just be such an epic thing? That’s how I felt. Your sweet comments and emails made me feel better about the whole thing; I am human, these things happen, I’m not the only person to get caught in traffic on the way to do something important, for sure. I wrote her an email which was most likely too long, but we all know how I am with the wordiness; I hope she writes back, as it would make my life. Because the thing is, I did meet Deb, for a few hours at her luncheon. Sure, we only got a few seconds to talk one-one one, but listening to her talk and answer questions while eating her food for lunch was a fantastic experience, and I was all too happy to furiously type notes out for you. Here we go.
Also, I made you the mushroom tart from her Smitten Kitchen cookbook, which was one of the courses that day. Lest you think you were going to get cheated out of a recipe again. Not this time, friends.
I’ve been to several book signings, and for cookbooks, this is really the way to go. No standing in lines outside Williams Sonoma or Whole Foods grasping your cookbook and rubbernecking it to get a glimpse of the honored guest, no sir; this was downright leisurely. It was held by one of our local food magazines, Sauce, along with Left Bank Books (the bookstore featured in my Deb nightmare post, although certainly they did nothing wrong), and was held at Modesto, one of my long-time favorite restaurants.
Three courses were served, all from the cookbook:
- Mushroom Tart + Kale Salad with Cherries and Pecans
- Balsamic and Beer-Braised Short Ribs + Parsnip Puree
- Grapefruit + Olive Oil Pound Cake
And yes; everything was delicious. I don’t eat a ton of red meat, but I’m not morally opposed to it either, and I enjoy a braised short rib every so often. Pair it with a parsnip cloud, and I’m in heaven. I love olive oil based bundt and pound cakes, so the grapefruit pound cake was going to be wonderful; however, it was more delicious than even I expected. Pound cake can go dry or heavy on you, and this one was neither. The mushroom tart was an absolute delight; creamy cheese, a little bit of herb kick, and the cornmeal crust is a great texture to balance out the mushroom insides. The kale salad is great alongside it; good hearty crunch and bite, but not at all heavy.
And we got to eat all of that while Deb was talking to us. Cute Alert: I don’t think she was actually supposed to stay out the there entire time while we ate. The announcer seemed to indicate that she would be saying hi and then maybe exiting/returning later to answer questions towards the end of the meal, then demo-ing the pound cake, then signing books. But what a trooper, that one; she stood out there, mic in hand, the entire time we ate, happily answering question after question from the group. I hope she ate before she started talking, because if that were me (someday?) at around the 1 pm mark I would be light-headed from hunger.
So what did she talk about? Here’s some of what she talked about, and some fun facts she revealed:
- She isn’t a huge fan of kale! I realize that can get your food blogger membership revoked (like disliking beets, brussels sprouts, or blood oranges), but she freely admitted that she wasn’t on board the kale train until recently. She prefers a lightweight kale as opposed to the thicker variety you find in many grocery stores.
- She still doesn’t totally understand Search Engine Optimization (SEO), to which I let out a little cheer (because I just had to look up SEO because I always forget what it stands for. I’m such a professional, people.)
- She admits she didn’t do much cooking until she met her husband. Why? Same reason we’ve discussed; it’s just easier to cook when you have an audience. Cooking for one is sometimes great, but lots of times it feels difficult and not worth the effort. It’s like getting ready like you’re going out somewhere fancy to watch a movie on Netflix by yourself, most days.
- She still loves blogging! She loves to blather on and on! She loves informal voice in writing! She loves being able to drop tons of photos in if she wants! She’s basically me, only much more talented and popular. She’s me: the reach goal.
- She was worried with the cookbook that they would scrub out her voice because of obvious print restrictions. I never knew that until about a year ago, when I was asked to submit a summary/recipe for a book called Handwritten Recipes. Michael, the author, was so great to work with and loved my submission, and then we worked on cutting like, 2/3 of it out. Because my own rambling can’t be tamed, and obviously he didn’t think it would be wise for my writeup and recipe to take up half the pages. To his credit, he wanted to keep all of it, but lots of it had to be edited down. It still sounds like me, but me trying to fit into a small space. In reading through the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, I think she sounds very much like herself, which I’m thrilled about.
- Those lovely countertops you see in her photos? Cheap plastic. Photogenic plastic, but cheap plastic nonetheless. A testament to how you really can make inexpensive work for you in blog photography. I use white foam core boards, lots of natural parchment, and sometimes white fabric. Or my own cheap countertops.
- Her biggest inspirations for the food she’s cooking are her own cravings, leftovers she has in her fridge, and flavor combinations she’s had in restaurants. Which is really the way to go, because I think the most passionate and inspired cooking comes from what YOU yourself want to eat, and not what you think everyone else wants to see. If you ever wonder why I make everything I make, 95% of the time because of the reasons above.
- She has the tiniest oven ever! That was probably the most fascinating bit of information for me; her oven is a classic small apartment oven, which is roughly 2/3 the width of a standard oven. Can you imagine? Maybe some of you can; if you have an oven like that, you have my respect and admiration. When we go to Nashville to do Thanksgiving (which hasn’t happened for the past two years, but next year it will) we stay with my sister, who is also in possession of an apartment oven. Let’s think about that: we trek across a few states to cook THANKSGIVING DINNER in an oven roughly 33% smaller (that’s math; is that right?) than a normal oven. You can’t say we don’t love a challenge, our family.
- And we love every. single. minute of it. It’s like my mother and my personal challenge to see if THIS is the year we completely boff a holiday. Hasn’t happened yet.
- She believes that cookware doesn’t have to be expensive to be good. She recommends you get a good Dutch oven and a 12-inch cast iron skillet and then think about what you need before buying the 98-piece set of something. I live by this, because I would much rather use my space for say, vintage dishes and other ridiculous “necessities” than actual cookware. I’d add to this list two good, heavy-bottomed saucepans – large and small – and some decent frying pans, also large and small.
- She doesn’t go back and change posts! I’ve always secretly wanted to know how to handle the first 6 months or so of my own blog, when I feel like my photos were all taken during some sort of midnight tornado and I was still finding both my audience and my writing groove. Should I go back and redo things? Well, now you know: Deb doesn’t do it, so I think maybe I won’t worry about it either. Obviously, she says, if she finds mistakes, she adjusts things.
Are you hanging in there? This is a long post. I guess when you’re a rambler and you’re talking about someone who loves to talk, you just know it’s going to be awhile.
- She just started blogging about everything and focused in on cooking as a natural progression. She just needed an outlet at that point in her life and it just went in a very food-centric direction before too long. I know lots of you are currently bloggers, so you figured out that blogging is a fabulous outlet, but for those of you who don’t blog and have ever thought about it? Deb says DO IT. Worry about what direction to take it later. You’ll find it.
- She said her recipe development, start to finish, takes about a month, give or take. She researches, executes, fine-tunes, photographs, and writes. Sometimes she tables things for later (and don’t we all do that, right?)
- Her go-to recipes from the book are the everyday margarita pizza, any of the soups, and she loves Bolognese sauces, flatbread, and roasted vegetables readily available for quick dinners. For parties, she likes the short ribs I mentioned above, any of the pastas, and the mussels and oven fries found in the book.
- I loved her take on organic, because it’s not one you always get to hear publicly, and I think it’s one that probably lots of us (and I know myself), in one way or another, live by. She thinks that organic isn’t so much the answer to everything, but it’s a good step in the right direction. I think that’s an important statement for cooks, especially when you’re just starting out. Too many times people are shamed into buying organic, and it’s not fair to do that. Certainly in a perfect world, that’s all we would have. Certainly also, I think everyone should be very well-versed on where their food comes from, especially in terms of meat (because we’ve all seen and heard the horror stories there). I believe in the importance of helping local farmers, and those farmers aren’t all certified organic. In my own life, I think a good balance of awareness and thoughtfulness combined with supporting the local economy is the way to go, but it’s broader than just buying organic exclusively. I liked that she was very honest and forthright about her thoughts in that regard, because I think it must be much easier to just say “buy organic all the time it’s the only way to go.” So I appreciated that.
And after all that chatting with us, and after all that luscious food, she signed our books and took the time to talk to everyone at each table, which was no small feat, I assume, after talking for the better part of an hour.
People, she’s great. She’s a funny, warm, genuine person to be around. You can sort of just tell that about her. You want to invite her to coffee, or to hang out at your favorite restaurant. You want to make her one of your recipes because you know she’ll be honest and tell you what she thinks, but most likely in a positive, helpful way. She would make suggestions and give you tips, but not in the “this is my way to do it and it’s right” sort of way. She would probably hug you, and she would mean it. Mostly, she seems like someone who would encourage rather than criticize, listen rather than talk, and help in whatever way she could. Deb fan or not, those are rare qualities and are to be admired.
So, whew! Did you feel like you were there with me? I hope so. If you made it through to this part, your reward is the first course (or half of it) from the luncheon: the glorious mushroom tart. You can find the original in her new cookbook, but I made some adjustments to it which I think you’ll like. Most notably, I’ve added goat cheese to the mix, and I think it works very well here with both the other cheeses and the mushrooms. I’ll beg you not to use anything but fresh thyme here: although I usually consider dried thyme to be an acceptable substitute for fresh in most cases, this is one where I think you would detect a difference. I implore you, get a bunch of it from your grocer and then make a big vat of Bolognese or something. You can find a million ways to use fresh thyme up before it goes bad.
I won’t talk anymore.
Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. I usually say a few words here about how I feel about either the cookbook or its author, but I’ve covered that, don’t you think? The salad you see in the photo is a kale salad I’ve been eating/adapting for the blog. When it’s completely ready, I’ll share it with you.
Mushroom + Goat Cheese Tart
for the crust:
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 large egg
- 1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
for the filling:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 pound cremini or brown mushrooms (sometimes they go by the name “baby bellas”)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1 pound assorted wild mushrooms, such as shiitake, oyster, or chanterelles, sliced into small segments
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 large eggs
- 4 ounces soft goat cheese (about 1/2 cup)
- 1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
Make your crust:
Before we begin, I want to tell you I LOVE this crust; it’s so incredibly easy to work with, as you can see from above. I’m terrible with tart crusts, but this one was a breeze; cornmeal does a lovely job at keeping things sturdy.
Get out a 9-inch tart pan.
In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, cornmeal and salt, pulsing until combined. Add the butter cubes and pulse until wet crumbs begin to form. Add the egg and process until your dough begins to come together. If it seems a little on the dry side (you don’t want it wet, but you want it to form a ball), slowly add in a tablespoon of the heavy cream to help it on. If needed, drizzle in the second tablespoon of heavy cream. You’ll know it’s good when your dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Form the dough into a disk and place on a sheet of parchment paper large enough to roll out your circle. Place another sheet overtop the dough disk (no flour needed, in my opinion) and roll your dough out to fit the tart pan. As I’m rolling, i hover the tart pan over the dough just to see how I’m doing; it will be ready when the dough is larger than the tart pan and has enough excess to press up the sides and have a bit hanging over.
When you’ve finished, take your top parchment off. Place your tart pan bottom in the center of the dough, and then place the rest of the tart pan, centered around the bottom, over top the crust. Slide your hand under the parchment paper and place your other hand securely on the middle of the tart pan bottom. FLIP OVER. Fun! Peel the parchment paper off the crust and sink your crust gently, using your fingers, into the pan. Still working carefully, press the bottom corners and sides of the dough against the pan. Using a sharp, thin-bladed knife, cut any excess of the top. Place in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Prebake your crust:
Deb gives you the option in her book to either prebake or not. I’m superstitious about this, so I always prebake.
Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Remove your crust from the freezer, gently butter one side of a 12 x 12 piece of aluminum foil, and press into the pan, covering the bottom and sides completely. You don’t need pie weights for this one, in case you’re wondering; it won’t puff. If it begins to, poke a few holes in the offending areas with the tines of a fork. Bake your foil-covered crust for 10 minutes, remove from the oven and remove the foil, then bake uncovered for about 5-8 minutes more until crust is lightly golden and firm to the touch. Remove onto a wire rack to cool slightly.
Reduce your oven temperature to 350˚F.
Make your filling:
Add olive oil and butter to a large saute pan over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook for about 30 seconds more. Increase the heat to medium high and add the mushrooms and thyme and cook until the mushrooms have softened, about 10 minutes. Stir them frequently as you cook them, making sure that they all get their moment in the olive oil and butter. At some point, you’ll see them release their liquid and that liquid will cook out; that’s when they’re done. Stir in the salt and season with black pepper, then transfer to a plate to cool while you make the rest of the filling.
In a large bowl, add the mascarpone and goat cheese. drizzle in the milk, whisking (or using an electric mixer on lowest speed) until combined and smooth. Using a regular whisk (if you didn’t start with one), whisk in your eggs and then stir in your parmesan cheese until everything is evenly distributed. Stir in the mushrooms using a rubber spatula and a folding motion, until your filling is completely combined.
Assemble your tart:
Everyone does this differently, but I’ve found that tarts involving both a liquid and a solid work much better if you add the solid first; it’s so much less messy, because it lets you spread the solid out evenly without sloshing the liquid over the sides. Using a slotted spoon (some of the cheese can come along with), lift out the mushrooms and spread them evenly over the crust, from center to edge. When finished, slowly pour the liquid cheese/milk mixture over top, taking care to get it into all the crevices; it should all fit. Don’t be fearful if it’s right at the top edge: This puffs, but when it does, it crusts over slightly, thereby keeping your liquids in place.
Place carefully in the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes until puffed and golden on top. You’ll see the edges begin to get golden first, so check at the 30 minute mark specifically to see how the center is doing. Watch until your filling is set, then remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
You can either allow it to cool for about 10-15 minutes and serve it warm, or eat it at room temperature. I’ll say this: it’s much easier to cut the closer it is to room temperature, so keep that in mind when you plan.