Thursday, November 29, 2012

Notes from the Underground (Week 10): Gloriously Green Soup

 After a semester of grading, more grading and endless office hours, only one more 8 a.m. class  stands between me and freedom (or, as I refer to it in my mind, time to write my dissertation). An even more comforting thought is that this is probably the last time I'll ever teach this course--especially at 8 a.m. (yes, I know I've said these words before, but this time it's absolutely true; there is no turning back now). Truth be told, I've really needed these comforting thoughts over the past few days. It was hard to return to the grind after Thanksgiving holiday even though a thick stack of revisions had been beckoning to me all break long; also, it was sad to see all of our visitors, from the Greek's parents to our Greek friend by way of Texas (he's really a Texan at heart, I've decided), go.

 It was a little strange on Monday night that, for the first time in roughly three weeks, it was just me, Elektra and the Greek. We almost didn't know what to do with ourselves without the bustle and conversation of guests. But after various trips to San Francisco, where we went to the Mission and to Alamo Square (Elektra had a field day running through the mud; her father was proud of her spirited hijinks, but her mother, who had to hold her in the car, infinitely less so) and so much delicious, albeit heavy, holiday-inspired food (by the way, in case you have any leftover turkey, it makes for a mean enchilada), it seemed only right that we should not only enjoy the silence, but also eat something light and vibrantly green.

For some reason, in the midst of so much fog, rain and days with too little sunlight, I turned to a spring recipe to spruce things up a bit, a Pea, Pesto and Arugula Soup from the whimsical Very Fond of Food by Sophie Dahl (granddaughter of dear Roald, author of so many of my chidhood favorites). I had found this book about a month and a half ago at the Telegraph staple, Moe's Books, where I found myself after a particularly frustrating session of extended office hours. Browsing books always soothes me and I was especially excited to stumble upon this one. I liked the moody photography, the Scandinavian inspired recipes and immediately saw two recipes that I could see myself making again and again (this is my secret cookbook test: if I see several recipes that jump out at me, then I know that, with more time to peruse the book, I'll find even more): Ricotta tarts with Pecorino sauce and this pea soup.

I've always been a sucker for peas--it's my love of sweet things--and, in recent years, I've really come to love the peppery, slightly bitter taste of arugula. But, given my need to mix and match recipes and seasons, I had to make a lot of changes to this soup. To be entirely fair, I suppose a lot of these changes were also based on what I had on hand; on Monday evening, there was no way I was going to go in search of zucchini or even basil, which the pesto required. I opted instead for a dill parsley pesto, which worked really nicely (peas and dill have always been a winning combination, or at least that's what time in Russia taught me). Since Thanksgiving also cleaned us out of yellow onions, I used one of the leeks that didn't make it onto the Thanksgiving menu. In short, this was minimalist cooking at its finest: sauteed leeks meet chicken broth, frozen peas and arugula go into the pot and, after allowing the vegetables to soften for about 5 minutes, the soup is pureed in a blender. The pesto can be made while the leeks are softening. And, voila, dinner is served.

 I found that this was just the thing for a post-Thanksgiving detox. It was fresh, light and hit all the right flavor notes, especially once the mildly sweet, mildly bitter soup is topped with a dollop of  garlicky and aromatic pesto. Truly, based on taste alone, had the sun been shining, I might have believed it was spring. 

P.S. I was also more than a little excited to break in my new, yet very old soup tureen. 

Pea and Arugula Soup with Dill-Parsley Pesto

Yields about 4-5 servings
Heavily adapted from Very Fond of Food 

After making this, I started to think that it might be nice to throw a baby carrot or two into the food processor with the pesto since it might make for a nice splash of color against the very green soup. Also, since I already broke pesto tradition by using dill and parsley instead of basil, the Greek suggested that I break it even more by using Feta instead of Parmessan. I often find that soup is very forgiving of modifications and I doubt you can go wrong. 
        As an additional note, I happily ate two piping hot bowls of this soup; the Greek, however, who finished it off last night, ate his second helping cold. I don't know that I'd recommend this right now, but perhaps we should all keep this option in mind for summer? Gazpacho could use the competition and fresh peas just might be the thing to rival fresh tomatoes.

For the pesto:
a large handful of fresh parsley
4-5 sprigs of fresh dill
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon pine nuts
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

-Remove the dill and parsley leaves from their stalks and place them in a food processor with the garlic, pine nuts and olive oil. 
-Pulse until the mixture turns into a paste.
-Add the cheese and pulse until incorporated. 
-Add a pinch of salt and pepper and then taste. Adjust seasoning. Also, if the texture seems to thick, add an addition tablespoon of olive oil and pulse to combine. 
-Set aside until soup is ready. 

For the soup: 
1 leek, pale green and white parts only
1 tablespoon good-quality olive oil 
5 cups homemade chicken or vegetable stock (or 4 cups stock plus 1 cup water)
1 package frozen peas
1 large handful of arugula, stems removed

-Trim the leek and cut in half, washing it carefully (if necessary, submerge it in cold water to remove any dirt that made be hiding between its layers).
-Once clean, cut the leek into 1/4-inch strips. 
-Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot and add the leek. 
-Cook on medium heat until the leek softens and becomes tender, about 5-7 minutes. 
-Add stock and bring to a boil. 
-Once boiling, add the frozen peas and large handful of arugula and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened. 
-Turn off heat and let cool for 5-10 minutes before adding the soup to a blender to puree (I did three rounds of pureeing).
-Puree until smooth and then season to taste. 
-Top with a dollop of pesto, swirl it into the soup and enjoy.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Scenes from a Feast and a Tex-Mex Thanksgiving Surprise

Yesterday I really sang for my supper. By the end of the day (in sum total, two days of preparation), I was Exhausted, Spent, Ready to Fall into Bed and Appreciative of my more than comfortable mattress. More importantly, however, I was pleased that the first Thanksgiving that we had ever hosted had been, by all accounts, a success.  Let me stress that, although a day that celebrates both gratitude and food can hardly go wrong, there were a few moments when this outcome seemed far from unlikely: there really weren't enough chairs, the guest list, until at least an hour before the meal, was uncertain and the plates on which we ate were far from fine china. Also, there was an instant when it seemed that the turkey might have ended up on the floor, which would have pleased nobody but the dog.  When all was said and done, however, it was a cozy meal with good company and good conversation.

But I truly believe that a Thanksgiving without a few surprises would hardly be a Thanksgiving at all. I had been planning the menu for weeks (since the end of October, really) and there were times when I was envisioning sweet potatoes and cauliflower cakes (remnants of my Pennsylvania roots), a Greek-style pumpkin pie (for my adopted family and a favorite of the Greek's father) and some of my more recent culinary loves: bread pudding, brussels sprouts with sage and some kind of leek dish.

There came a moment, however, when I simply had to be reasonable. After all, how many dishes can one person make in a day or two--even with six helpers? Some of our final decisions were also dictated by unknowns: from what came in the vegetable box (lots of kale!) to a surprise gift from the Greek's friend, whom we invited to join us for the meal. This friend has a been a follower of my blog for a while now (!) and, much to my delight,  decided to bring me a Southern cookbook: The Homesick Texan Cookbook.

 I started flipping through it on Wednesday night and, by Thursday morning, I was so smitten with its offerings that I had decided that we absolutely needed to have a creamed vegetable on the table--more specifically, the Ancho Cream Corn (like a child, I like to play with my toys as soon as I get them. Some habits are impossible to outgrow).  Given our friend's love of Texas and all things with chiles and spice, it seemed only right to include some southern flavors on the menu. And with that, my carefully laid plans were overturned...

After the desserts, it was the first side dish that I made. Somehow, it seemed the simplest of all of the recipes I was planning and the one that would reheat with the least fuss.

It also ended up being one of the most popular dishes on the table. By the end of the night, there were only a few spoonfuls of corn left. Needless to say, this is the true sign of a keeper. Perhaps I'm a bit biased since I've always been a sucker for creamy things, but the combination of sweet corn kernels cradled in a mixture of cream cheese and cream and surrounded by green flecks of a chopped jalapeño (there were no Ancho peppers during my obligatory Thursday morning grocery run, so I improvised) with cayenne and a splash of lime juice was revelatory. It may sound like hyperbole, but it's the simple truth. It's important to keep in mind that I'm not always the kind of girl who accepts spice on my Thanksgiving table gracefully: last year, when the Greek and I went to a potluck and I found myself with a heaping spoonful of sweet potatoes with chipotles, I was both disappointed and unable to eat them. Call me a spice wimp, but their spice content easily exceeded the limits of my palate. But this corn recipe, considering the cream content, was, at best, only mildly spicy. Our visitor from Texas, who has cutely adopted his Texan identity and now regularly incorporates peppers into certain Greek dishes, even said it could have been spicier. I'm willing to consider this for future versions.

Although the dish that made the biggest splash, I will say that it had its fair share of stiff competition. There was the beautiful turkey that the Greek made covered in herb butter and stuffed with onions, lemons and oranges. And I made four side dishes in total: mushroom bread pudding with leeks, celery root puree with hazelnuts (really, there were more potatoes than celery root, but who's counting?), Kale salad with Parmesan and the cream corn. I ended up abandoning my plan for brussels sprouts, realizing that I had only reached my limit in the kitchen, but also that there is something to be said for not overdoing it. It really is all about quality over quantity. And, the issue of gracefully accepting one's limits aside, I was hungry.

Plus, since I had made two desserts--Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake and a repeat of the Chocolate Pecan Tart that I had fallen in love with a few weeks ago--I wanted my guests to have some room to sample both sweets.

I'm now surrounded by leftovers and thrilled that, after the output of the last few days, I don't really have to cook if I don't want to. It can be full speed ahead with both grading (yes, again! This is batch 3 of student essays) and the dissertation. Both my need and desire to work aside, I am seriously considering whipping up another batch of the cream corn--if for nothing else, then simply to have something to spice up my leftovers. It may very well be an investment...and a good way of using up the last of the cream. Thanksgiving is a holiday for emptying the fridge. This is the noblest of goals and one that I sincerely embrace.

 Jalapeño Cream Corn

Adapted from The Homesick Texan Cookbook
Yields 7-8 servings
As I mentioned above, when I went to the grocery store in the morning, there were no poblanos, or, as they are known in their dried form, ancho chiles ("wide chiles"). I decided that a fresh pepper would suffice and, in order to keep things mild, I opted for a jalapeño instead of the spicier serrano. Next time, if I were to stick with the jalapeño, I might use two instead of one to add a little heat. 
      In general, this dish seems highly adaptable: if you like more spice, you could use a spicier chile (or two) and add more cayenne as well. As a cumin lover, I could also see myself also going for a 1/2 teaspoon, rather than for a 1/4. Where there is cream, my philosophy is that there is little room for error. 

1 jalapeño pepper 
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
5 cups frozen corn
1 cup heavy cream
4 ounces cream cheese
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
juice of half a lime
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1-2 ounces Cotija cheese, finely grated, for garnish

-In a dry skillet, toast the jalapeño pepper for about 20 seconds on each side (I waited until it started to crackle softly). 
-Then, fill the skillet with enough water to cover the jalapeño and bring the water to a boil. 
-Turn the heat off and let the jalapeño soak for about 10-15 minutes (N.B. Although these steps were intended for a dried chile, I decided to follow them with a fresh one, too. Perhaps somewhat superfluous--if using a fresh pepper, you could skip these first three steps--I found that it really made it easier to remove the seeds from the jalapeño. I also liked the slightly toasted taste of the pepper itself). 
-Drain the water from the jalapeño, then rinse and remove the stem and seeds before dicing it.
-In a large skillet (I used my trusty cast iron) on medium heat, melt the butter.
-Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes.
-Then, add the corn, cream, cream cheese, cumin, cayenne, diced jalapeño and some salt and pepper.
-Stirring occasionally, cook on medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until the block of cream cheese has been incorporated into the cream mixture. 
-Remove from heat and transfer to a serving bowl. 
-Stir in the lime juice and then adjust the seasoning. 
-Top with the grated Cotija and, if not serving immediately, wait until the corn cools and then place it in the refrigerator for safe keeping. It reheats well in the microwave. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Notes from NOLA (Variation on a Theme, Week 9)

Home again, I'm only now beginning to realize how refreshing and exhausting the conference was.  In a way, it was exactly the break I had been longing for; there were many simple pleasures: some nice meals out, long walks with my camera, flavors that proudly show their southern allegiance (fried alligator! pork with brown gravy and shrimp--surprisingly tasty! chicory ice cream!). Although a work event, I generally felt relaxed and happy.

This is perhaps because, besides my own panel on Thursday afternoon, I generally steered clear of the conference. One friend even asked me why, given my panel apathy, I had bothered to go to New Orleans at all, but I felt this was a bit of an unfair question. Any conference experience can be whatever you make of it: from networking to exploring the city in which you find yourself. At some conferences, I've gone to too many panels--only to regret it later. At others, I've done my own thing, breathing non-Slavic air and seeing people I don't always get a chance to see-- and I've had a perfectly pleasant time.

This was one such time, especially since the sun was shining, the gorgeous architecture beckoned the lens of my camera and there was a whole street of antiques--kitchen and/or otherwise--that was calling my name.

I must have looked a bit mad--I'm more than a little sure of it--with both my camera out and my penchant for stopping almost on each and every block to take pictures of southern-style porches and lampposts and faded brick walls.  There were so many gems to be photographically had, however, that I really didn't care. I've discovered that the older I get, the less I care about my weird tendencies. Maybe Berkeley has performed its zen magic on me, but to each his/her own.

My various wanderings took me all along Magazine Street, which is home to many fine restaurants and shops. I started the morning off right at Surrey's Cafe and Juice Bar, which was just the thing I needed. Being at a conference, you're eating out constantly and, as much as I love New Orleans and its food, the simple truth is that a girl starts to crave food that is not fried and that might contain either fruit or vegetables. My love of the meaty muffaletta aside (the capicola, salomi, pepperoni and provolone speak to my Italian side), it can't be all about salty stacks of meat tucked between two slices of sesame bread. There's got to be room for juice. And, quite frankly, room for warm buttermilk biscuits and cheesy eggs with chopped vegetables (when on vacation, you do what you can on the vegetable front. Save the kale smoothies for your triumphant return).

After stuffing myself at the juice bar, I found myself at two antique stores that really made me long for a higher salary. The first one, Aux Belles Choses, was full of beautiful French tablecloths, holiday decorations and various edible treats. For the most part, I restrained myself, although I did buy a picture for the kitchen: an ode to confitures (spoon sweets have awakened my inner fruit preserver) that I thought would brighten up one of the bare white walls. The other store, Passages Antiques, was full of eighteenth-century copper cake pans and oyster plates. Amazingly, I also found the one kitchen thing that I had been searching for, from Finland to Tahoe, for months: a soup tureen. I was quite proud of myself, too; of all the places in the world, it had to be at a conference. I suppose this will make this particular conference all the more memorable.

Besides my shopping adventures in the lower Garden District, I made time for all of those New Orleans traditions in which one simply has to partake (and even though I had done some of them before) to get the "real" experience: beignets and a cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde, fried green tomatoes (our restaurant of choice was the cozy hole in the wall,  Elizabeth's Restaurant) and praline shopping at the Southern Candymakers on Decatur (a NOLA souvenir for the Greek and his parents).
 But I also did a few things that, to me at least, felt a little off the map. When I'm in a new city, I love to search for new places to eat; this is the kind of thing that really excites me and that, to a certain extent, I feel that I have an eye for. I look at menus and I consult reviews; in a way, it's my research training being put to work in a really useful and productive way. Thanks to my NOLA research, I ended up at two lovely places with two good friends; both were some of my favorite moments from the conference. The first involved drinks at Iris and the second brunch in the garden at Cafe Amelie. A lot of my pictures of food (besides the iphone/Instagram photos that are interwoven into this post) turned out badly; I think my hunger/impatience/desire to focus on the moment rather than to capture the moment played a role in this. Even though there is no photographic proof of my eggs and grits or my friend's vibrantly colored catfish sandwich, the chocolate lava cake with chicory ice cream that we shared turned out to be my crispest image--not to mention one of my fondest food memories from the trip.

 While the conference was generally a really nice time, I was, by the time I rolled out of bed at 6 CST on Sunday morning, more than ready to come home. I wanted to be back in my own bed and to get back into the holiday, rather than the surreal semi-conferencing, spirit. I also kept thinking of all the work I needed to do--both in and out of the kitchen--and of the projects that are still waiting to be completed before the end of the semester, which, is now less than a month (a month!) away. But, as I must remind myself sometimes in a stern voice, one project at a time. For now, it's all about green beans and turkey and tarts. I'll save my other worries for Black Friday.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New Traditions: A Chocolate Pecan Tart

I can’t help thinking about next Thanksgiving’s big loop, about what we’ll cook and eat. Down by the creek the night herons are calling to each other raucously, and I can hear the rasp of the breeze in the marsh grasses. It is the soundscape of the Eastern Shore. – Bernard L. Herman (Saveur, Nov. 2012)

As I write these words, I’m en route to New Orleans, looking out the window at the twinkling lights as the sounds of the plane—the steady hum of the engine, clicking seatbelts and a few whimpering babies—hum around me. Although I’ll be giving a talk tomorrow afternoon, my mind is a million miles away from the conference. Instead, I find that my thoughts keep circling back to Thanksgiving.  

Thanksgiving, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, is one of my favorite holidays. This one is particularly special to me because it will be the first time I’ve ever hosted a Thanksgiving feast of my very own. In college, I would return to home to Pennsylvania for the holiday, where the traditions my family had built up over the years waited for me: sweet potatoes, cauliflower cakes, turkey, Grandma’s stuffing, pumpkin pie and pumpkin rolls stuffed with cream cheese (my weakness!). During my year in Japan, I found myself at McDonald’s eating—of all things—a Big Mac to mark the holiday. In grad school, I’ve often found myself the guest of various friends, not being in charge of the whole meal, but of only a small portion: a dessert or a side dish. I’ve made pumpkin cakes, pumpkin cheesecakes and mushroom bread puddings, but never have I had the pleasure of fully planning a meal from start to finish. As you can imagine, I’m more than a little excited about this. I like the challenge that it poses, as well as the thought of forging new traditions. 

Of course, although I relish the thought of next week, the annual Slavic conference (Slavic conferences are very poorly planned; this one, the biggest of them all, always falls the week before Thanksgiving; the other Slavic conference is a few days after the New Year and, even more strangely, very close to Russian Christmas) always puts a crimp in my plans. As I’ve discovered during these six long years, the academic lifestyle is not very conducive to the holiday spirit; I’ve looked longingly at many a jack- ‘o-lanterns and Christmas trees, but never have I had time—or, really, made time—for such traditions of my own. 

This past weekend, however, I decided to get into the holiday spirit a little early. My tendency to plan means that I’ve been poring over food magazines and cookbooks for the past month, debating the merits of creamed peas with onions vs. creamed spinach, or whether I should go the traditional route with my mashed potatoes or I should give them an elegant note by mixing in some fragrant celery root? Needless to say, decisions, decisions and the clock is ticking. 

Interestingly enough, I decided on dessert quite easily—truth be told, almost too easily. The Greek, a cheesecake lover, wouldn’t be happy if the pumpkin cheesecake that I’ve made for the past two years didn’t appear on our table. Besides something pumpkin, which is de rigeur, I also found myself fantasizing about some kind of pecan pie. This is something that never appeared on our Thanksgiving table when I was growing up. I remember once asking my grandma why this dessert, one that so many associate with Thanksgiving, never made an appearance on our table, but, strangely, I can’t really remember her answer. All I can remember is my childish indignation upon discovering that there was some stickily sweet dessert out there that I was never given the opportunity to try. This is why, when I was thumbing through the November issue of Bon Appetit, Suzanne Goin’s recipe for a Chocolate Pecan Tart spoke to me. The longing of my inner child had been awoken. 

Allowing the spirit of Thanksgiving to come upon me a little early this year, I decided to give the recipe a try for a dinner we were having with the Greek’s parents and a few friends this past weekend. When it emerged from the oven, I couldn’t help but feel that it, with its golden sheen and carefully arranged layers of pecans, looked like a distinguished guest that would bring only honor to my kitchen table. And, after my first bite, this impression was more than solidified. I loved the gooey chocolate and sugary-nut mixture, the firmness of the crust and the fact that, although the tart was as sweet as pecan pie ought to be, the dark chocolate offered a welcome balance to all of the sugar. Needless to say, I’ll be making this tart again for our meal next week. And, although there are always tempting new recipes to try in cookbooks and glossy magazine spreads, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve found myself a new holiday tradition; this tart is going to be a part of my Thanksgiving spread for many years to come. 

Chocolate Pecan Tart

Yields 8-10 ample and gooey slices
Adapted from Suzanne Goin's "The Menu," featured in the November 2012 issue of Bon Appetit

When it comes to making tarts and especially the crust, I'm often resistant to the idea of rolling the dough out with a rolling pin. Pressing it into the pan simply appeals to me more; I always feel that tart dough is too delicate for a rolling pin and that, if I press too hard, it will either break or end up being too tough. In the case of this tart in particular, I at first tried to overcome this fear, but, considering I was a bit pressed for time and hadn't let the dough chill for the required 2 hours, I rolled it out very roughly and unevenly and then proceeded to press the dough into the pan. I would, in fact, recommend this method to everybody making this because it not only struck me as infinitely more simple, but it also led to some of the best tart dough I've ever made: very firm and thick.
       The other thing I would add to these recipe notes is the fact that, when I finally cut into this beauty of a tart, some filling that had failed to set oozed out (perhaps 1-2 tablespoons worth). I'm not sure if this was the intended result (I assume not) or if the tart had perhaps needed to bake for a few minutes more (doubtful, considering the texture of the crust), but next time I may add either an additional egg, a half-teaspoon of corn starch mixed with a little water, or a tablespoon of flour to the filling. Then again, on the one hand, I'm reluctant to do this because the taste of the tart was just right--really rich and appropriately gooey--but, on the other hand, I hate to lose some of the filling. If you try the tart and any of the suggested methods, I'd love to hear how the final product turned out.

Required equipment: 11-inch diameter fluted tart pan

For the Pâte Sucrée (yields two tart shells):
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup + about 1 teaspoon heavy cream
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into tiny cubes
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

-Whisk egg yolks and cream in a small bowl, then set aside.
-In another bowl, whisk the flour, sugar and salt together.
-Add the cubes of butter and cut them in with a pastry cutter until a coarse meal forms.
-Slowly pour in the cream mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until just combined.
-Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and gently knead (4-5 turns) so that the dough forms a ball (N.B. At this point, because a small portion of the dough seemed too dry, I added about a teaspoon more of heavy cream to incorporate the last bits of stray flour).
-Divide dough in half and shape each half into a 1-inch disc. Then, wrap in plastic and refrigerate (I put one disc into the refrigerator for immediate use and the other in the freezer for Thanksgiving).
-Chill until firm (the recipe suggests two hours, but I let mine sit for only about 45 minutes) and then remove  from the fridge.
-Let sit for 10-15 minutes and then gently roll out the disc on a lightly floured surface before pressing the dough into the tart pan with your fingers.
-Once the dough is pressed into the tart pan, place the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes (N.B. The original recipe suggests that you chill the dough for 1 hour in the fridge, but, again due to time constraints, I opted for the freezer). 

 For the pecan chocolate filling (for one tart):
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans, plus 1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and with the seeds scraped out
3 large eggs
4 ounces dark chocolate (60%), roughly chopped

-Preheat oven to 350.
-Spread chopped pecans on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Toast, stirring once or twice, for 8-10 minutes and then remove from oven and set aside.
-Whisk sugar, both corn syrups and salt in a large bowl.
-Then, place butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Scrape in the seeds from the vanilla bean and  add the bean as well.
-Cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter has visibly browned and smells nutty (about 5 minutes).
-Discard vanilla bean.
-Whisk warm browned butter into the sugar mixture and then add the eggs. Whisk to blend well.
-Set this mixture aside while you assemble the tart.
-Spread the chopped, toasted pecans on the chilled tart dough evenly.
-Scatter chocolate evenly over the nuts.
-Then, arrange the pecan halves in concentric circles over the chopped pecans and chocolate.
-Pour the filling over the nuts carefully, making sure to distribute it evenly.
-Bake tart (at 350 F) for 45-50 minutes or until the filling is just set in the center (N.B. Be sure to place an old cookie sheet or a sheet of aluminum foil beneath the tart as it bakes. Things got a little messy in my oven and this should help to spare you the unfortunate sound of the fire alarm and the unpleasant stench of burnt butter).
-Remove tart from oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes.
-Remove tart from tart shell and then let stand at room temperature until serving.
-May serve with whipped cream laced with bourbon, or with vanilla ice cream. The tart on its own is also more than enough of a treat.


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