Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dinner at a Professor's and a Blueberry Buttermilk Tart


The lowest of the low are the womens' page recipes in newspapers and magazines, which appeal only to the showoff--'Startle your guests' or the seducer--'Surprise your husband', which give neither value or pleasure and whose premise, coyly stated, is that cooking is easy and is such fun.
-Nicolas Freeling (The Kitchen Book)

Much to Mr. Freeling's chagrin, I'm a cook who isn't all that picky about where my recipes come from. With equal glee and a lack of discrimination, I will peruse the Food Network, Epicurious, NPR, Bon Appetit, etc. If it's a food website, the odds are that I've most likely been there or will find my way there sometime soon. I randomly rip tasty-looking things out of magazines at doctor's offices (don't worry; I always ask first!). While a lot of people have negative feelings towards Rachael Ray, I kind of like her. I own one of her cookbooks and I've enjoyed her magazine, too. In fact, the only thing I can say against her is that her meals never take the promised 30 minutes. Don't get me wrong; on the one hand, I can appreciate certain aspects of food "snobbery" (the Greek and I have affectionately squabbled over generic vs. brand name chickpeas. As I informed him, if you like eating flavorless and tough beans, go for the former. We compromised by buying a can of each and, needless to say, it was agreed that the generic brand will never be bought again), but, on the other hand, it all seems kind of silly. I like good food as much as (and maybe more than) the next girl, but some things, particularly the fluffy manners and mode of presentation at nice restaurants, can seem a little precious (not to mention pretentious) to me. Which is why, when I read the above-quoted passage from The Kitchen Book a few days after having baked a Blueberry Buttermilk Tart from Woman's World, I had to laugh.


"Dazzle your crowd with blueberry bliss" was emblazoned above the recipe. Mr. Freeling would have shaken his head in disappointment. And, you know, you can't blame him for his snobbery; not only did he come from a different era, but he also learned to cook in a French restaurant. But he's such a pleasure to read; his book is like a relic of a lost age, although clearly, with the passage of this age, women's magazines stood still.


Certainly, the recipe's promise was not at all subtle, but it did live up to it. And, as the professor who invited us (several of my colleagues and me) for dinner--her homemade borshcht--loves tarts (this I did not know until I presented her with the option of chocolate cake or a blueberry tart and she said she'd prefer the tart any day), I was glad that it did. Lemon and blueberries are always a winning combination and any crust that has little bits of chopped and toasted nuts in it is bound to please the palate. Best of all, the crispness of the crust goes well with the tart creaminess of the buttermilk and blueberry mixture.



You know, it's a funny thing to cook or bake for people. It takes time and effort. Maybe you do it because you love it--it's your hobby. But you also do it because you genuinely like to feed people; this is one way of demonstrating your affection and care. People connect over food; it allows them to connect. They unwind, chat, exchange news and pleasantries. Best of all, they relax. And, essentially, this is what this evening was all about. She (the professor, that is) invited us to her place to spend time with us in a non-academic and therefore relaxed setting; she seems to enjoy our company and will often reach out to us, involving us in interesting projects and meeting with us about our work. She doesn't even hold it against us that we all smile mischievously when she says the word palimpsest (we didn't even know that she knew we did this, but professors are like parents. They don't miss a thing). She also gave us all a little commemorative trinket to remember the evening by; the Russian spoon that I got is below. But even without it, it's not the kind of evening I'd be likely to forget anytime soon.



Blueberry Buttermilk Tart


The original recipe called for the blueberries to be placed on top of the buttermilk mixture, but I decided that they would be better baked than fresh, so I poured the buttermilk over them instead. This may seem like a small adjustment, but it changes both the flavor and texture of the tart. I also felt that a little powdered sugar would add a decorative touch and would balance out the few chopped mint leaves (I generally hate mint, but the fake kind, rather than fresh mint leaves) that I sprinkled on top.

Yields 8-10 heavenly slices
Adapted from Woman's World (9/6/10)

1 cup, plus 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
3/4 cup, plus 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1 extra-large egg
2 Tbsp. sour cream
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup buttermilk
3/4-1 pint fresh blueberries
For a garnish, powdered sugar and freshly chopped mint leaves

-In a food processor, combine 1 cup flour, toasted almonds, 2 Tbsp. sugar and salt.
-Pulse 3-5 times.
-Add diced unsalted butter and pulse until coarse crumbs form.
-Add almond extract and 3 Tbsp. ice water; pulse until dough forms, adding additional ice water (1 Tbsp. at a time) as needed.
-Shape dough, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for an hour.
-Heat oven to 350 F.
-On lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a 10" round.
-Arrange in a tart pan (you may have to press the dough in with your fingers).
-Line piecrust w/foil and pastry weights or dry beans (I used dry beans and it worked beautifully).
-Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and weights/beans and bake 10 minutes more, or until golden brown.
-In a large bowl, whisk together egg, sour cream, the juice and zest from one lemon, vanilla and remaining flour and sugar until smooth.
-Stir in melted butter and buttermilk.
-Place blueberries on arranged crust and pour the buttermilk mixture on top.
-Bake for 30 minutes or until filling is set (I started checking the tart after 20 minutes and then in 2-3 minute intervals until the filling seemed slightly wobbly, but generally firm).
-Let cool and then chill until ready to serve.
-Garnish with powdered sugar and mint.
-Enjoy!






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