I'm well aware that many of you are counting down the hours (minutes?) until Thanksgiving. To that end, I'll cut to the big tah-da: a spectacular savoury galette, one with caramelized onions, Fontina cheese, and roasted butternut squash.

For all of us not celebrating a holiday tomorrow, consider that lack of turkey, stuffing and pie an unexpected boon, as your oven is now free and clear to make said galette — which, if you don't mind the suggestion, is something I think you should do.

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It is a recipe from Deb, found on page 99 of her bestseller, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Appetite by Random House, 2012).

Deb is a superstar already, hardly needing any explanation or introduction as to why her recipes are crowd-pleasing and craveworthy, or how her writing gives only a glimpse of vivacious personality behind those words. All the things you've come to expect from her site have been seamlessly translated to her book; it is chock full of photographs, detailed procedures and helpful notes. She is right there with you for every step of the recipe.

A particular and attentive cook, Deb is one that considers details. She’s like America’s Test Kitchen with less suspenders and more fun, with the added bonus of an adorable toddler. She tests recipes thoroughly; she talks about what worked and what didn’t, she explains her thought process of why she tried this and not that, why she recommends a certain technique — she does her best to consider every angle, every possibility, every variation she can, to get to the best possible result.

So when she presents you with a golden-crusted, filled-with-goodness galette, it will, indeed, be as delicious as it looks. And oh, that crust. Made by hand, it comes together quickly, gorgeously pliable and forgiving to work with. Where lesser crusts might put up some resistance or even crack, this one feels like cool, weighty fabric and smoothly falls into neat pleats. When it bakes, it puffs into layers, opening up those folds and rounding out. The edge shatters into large flakes, and where it is thicker, it goes pillowy with air.

I can see this pastry as means of conveyance for all sorts of deliciousness, kale and feta maybe, or sliced tomatoes with roasted shallots. There's endless possibilities there; keep it bookmarked.

The filling is hardly a slouch either, lush with sweet onions and cubes of succulent squash, bound with cheese and set off with thyme. It is elegant and rustic, decadent and comforting, and absolutely autumnal.

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In one of her earliest posts, Deb writes:

“I think that the basic instinct that gets us in the kitchen 'after all those messy sustenance issues have been attended to' is a deep-seated desire to make something taste a little better than the way we’ve come to accept it.”

That sums up why we keep turning to Deb, and her boundless generosity when it comes to her time, recipes and advice. She sincerely wants our meals to be better, and does her darndest to guarantee they are.

I'm thankful for her efforts, and her friendship.

Last week, I was honoured to host The Cookbook Store's author event with Deb in Toronto. Cheers to Alison and all the staff for organizing the night, to the chef school at George Brown Collegeand Chef Scott for the welcome and the best signs I've ever seen. To everyone who attended, y'all were amazing. Your enthusiasm got me through some nerves.

And, congratulations Debbie on the book. It deserves all the success it’s getting, and more. Here's to another visit soon, French 75s all around. Tiramisu too.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND CARMELIZED ONION GALETTE

Excerpted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Knopf Publishing Group, 2012). Deb suggests this as an appetizer, or as a main. The recipe can also be divided to make two 9-inch galettes.

For the pastry

  • 2½ cups (320 g) all-purpose flour, including 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour if you like, plus more for work surface
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 g) table salt
  • 16 tablespoons (227 g) or 2 sticks, unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (64 g) sour cream or full-fat Greek yogurt, strained
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup (79 mL) ice water

For the filling

  • 2 small or 1 large butternut squash, about 21/2 pounds (1134 g)
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) oil
  • 1½ teaspoons (5 g) tsp table salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (14 g) butter
  • 2 large sweet onions, such as Spanish or Vidalia, halved, thinly sliced in half-moons
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 g) sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 g) cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional
  • 2 cups (180 g) grated Italian Fontina cheese
  • 1 teaspoon (4 g) chopped fresh thyme, or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp (4 g) water, for glaze (optional, but makes for a croissant-looking finish)

 

METHOD

To make pastry: In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the whole sticks of butter and, using a pastry blender, break up the bits of butter until the texture is like cornmeal, with the biggest pieces the size of pebbles. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, vinegar and water, and pour this over the butter-flour mixture. Stir with a spoon or a rubber spatula until a dough forms, kneading it once or twice on the counter if needed to bring it together. Pat the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic and chill it in the refrigerator for an hour or up to two days.

To prepare squash: Peel the squash, then halve and scoop out seeds. Cut into ½-inch to ¾-inch chunks. Pour 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of the olive oil into one or two smaller baking sheets, spreading it to an even slick. Lay the squash chunks on the baking sheet in one layer, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon (2 g) of the salt, and freshly ground black pepper, and roast in a 400 F oven for 30 minutes, or until squash is tender, turning the pieces occasionally so that they brown evenly. Set aside to cool slightly. Leave the oven on.

While the squash is roasting, melt the butter and remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy frying pan, and cook the onions over medium-low heat with the sugar and remaining teaspoon of salt, stirring occasionally, until soft and tender, about 25 minutes. Stir in the cayenne pepper, if using.

Mix the squash, caramelized onions, cheese and herbs together in a bowl.

To assemble the galette: On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 16- to 17-inch round. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread the squash-and-cheese mixture over the dough, leaving a 2 to 2½-inch border. Fold the border over the squash and cheese, pleating the edge to make it fit. The centre will be open. Brush the outside of the crust with the egg-yolk wash, if using.

Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the galette from the oven, let stand for five minutes, then slide onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Makes 1 hearty 12-inch galette, serving 8

Tara's Notes:

  • One day I used a mix of Fontina and Gruyère for the cheeses as I happened to have both in the fridge, but not enough of either to make up the full amount called for in the recipe; it was a nice combination.
  • In another incarnation, I added a diced Empire apple to the filling.
  • Dried red pepper flakes make a good substitution to the cayenne. 
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I was granted the gift of a decent ability to remember things. My capacity for recall has served me well enough; through years of English Lit exams, countless passwords and PINs, phone numbers and postal codes, and all the other scraps of information deemed vital these days.

For the longest time, I had my brother's Social Insurance Number memorized. I was without specific reason to do so, I just did.

Mysterious how the mind works. Doubly mysterious how it sometimes chooses to abandon you completely. In my case? That memory of mine has one specific failing, and a funny one at that. Pakoras.

It's not that I've forgotten them, that would be impossible. Those vegetable fritters were one of the reasons that ours was the most popular house for after-school snacks on our street.

My grandmother and mother made them with onions or with sliced potatoes most often, sometimes with cauliflower too. Crisp and tender, touched by spice, they were like onion rings and potato chips and french fries all rolled together, made that much better by the combination.

Sitting at the table, I'd concoct an accompaniment to the pakoras as we waited for them to be cooked. The glass bottle of ketchup and a plastic bottle of chili sauce was all it took. You'd pour some ketchup into a little bowl, then stir in a swirl of firey-hot chili sauce, being as miserly or as generous as you'd like. That's it, that's all, you were ready to go. (This sauce is not at all authentic, but the thing to a six-year-old palate.)

My preferred pakoras were onion ones. They would emerge from the oil open-weaved, with rings of onion coiling around each other. In those few spots where the batter collected, the pakora was soft and fluffy; where the batter was thin, it shattered with a delicate crunch.

Trouble is that Grandma, the maker of superlative pakoras, firmly disavows these lacy versions of my childhood memory as her intended result. For a split second I foolhardily considered a defense of my recollection, but you don't argue with Grandma.

Of course the mistake was mine.

As I examined this lapse in my reminiscence, I had two epiphanies. First, my well-documented greed is probably at the root of this. I wouldn't be surprised if my childhood self (or my adult self for that matter) saw it fit to only select the thinnest, snappiest, pakoras of the bunch; only those ideal specimens would have been squirreled onto my plate.

Second, I shouldn't expect myself to be a faithful narrator to this story. It is inherent to the nature of our most treasured childhood memories that they be viewed through the blurred lens of nostalgia. Of course it would be that in my recollection every pakora was my exact favourite.

Lucky for me, pakoras are not only in my memory. And now that I'm the one at the stove, I can indulge my fancy and make sure that every pakora out of the oil is, in fact, my exact favourite kind. Yes, I know, greedy of me. Again.

But I'll sit with spine straight and head high. To me, these are memory brought to life, or to our plates to be specific, with the bias of sentiment fully, marvelously intact.

INDIAN ONION FRITTERS

Pakoras are often made with a batter that includes a variety of spices and a leavening agent. This is my Grandmother's recipe, who believes that simplicity is best when appreciating the qualities of each ingredient. As I said, you don't want to contest her opinion; I'm smart enough to be a good little granddaughter and report it faithfully.

Since I do deviate from tradition in the way they are shaped, I've called these fritters to avoid any confusion. Ramshackle and rustic, the messier your clumps of onion, the more texture there will be in the finished fritter.

For the full pakora experience of my childhood, the ketchup chili sauce combination is a must.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup gram (chickpea) flour
  • 1 small red chili, seeded and minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced cilantro
  • A generous 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Water
  • Oil for deep frying (peanut, vegetable or canola)
  • 2 medium onions, trimmed, peeled and sliced into thin rings horizontally
  • Salt and fresh lime wedges for serving
  • Ketchup and chili sauce for serving (optional, see above)

METHOD

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, chili, cilantro and salt. Slowly stir in enough water until the mixture reaches the consistency of whipping (heavy) cream. Beat the batter well, so it is lightened and foamy at the edges. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed pot on the stove or in a deep fryer, heat oil to 350°F (175°C). When that's reached temperature, separate the onion layers into individual rings and drop them into the batter, stirring gently to coat. Using a fork, pick up a clump of onion rings and allow the excess batter to drip off.

Carefully drop the tangle of onions into the oil and fry until lightly golden on one side, around 30-40 seconds. Flip the fritter and cook until crisp on the other side. Remove from the oil and drain on a cooling rack set up over newspaper or on some folded paper towels.

Repeat, frying a few at a time, until all the onion and batter is used.

Enjoy immediately, with additional salt sprinkled over and a squeeze of lime juice. Offer a condiment of ketchup blended with chili sauce for dipping.

Serves 2-4, depending on appetite. To be safe, let's say 2.

Notes:

• A small amount of crushed dried red chili can be used in place of the fresh.

• Pakoras can be made with a variety of vegetables. Melissa has some phenomenal versions to offer.

In the woods I can see from my window, the ground looks patchwork brown and white; an Appaloosa's coat imposed onto the landscape. Much of the snow remains, but in those places where it has gone, it's revealed the rock and earth beneath.

I am enough of a realist to accept that this most likely won't be the last of the snow, that the earth might soon again be covered, and that spring is still a ways away for us. For today, that glimpse is enough.

Right now I'm content to think of sweaters and wool blankets. But soon, quite soon I think, I'll be longing for the day the snow melts for good. Anxious and fidgety for a trod through that wood in the time of almost spring. Before the shoots begin, when all is brown and filled with possibility.

A walk where each step of rubber-clad foot is followed by the echoed squelch of the mud beneath.

In my mind's eye I see broad-checked flannel and tins of pretty cookies for later. But first, a thermos full of soup to bring warmth to the enjoyable dampness that surrounds. And as of this moment, if I had to decide, it would be mushroom soup that we'd sip and spoon.

I made some yesterday, so even though that picnic upon the forest floor is weeks away, you can still get the general idea of the way I'm thinking.

It has an aroma dense with notes of growth and loam. (Loam is such a good word, stretched out and rounded like a yawn.) Both fresh and dried mushrooms are cooked in a pan with olive oil, butter, onion and garlic. After 20 minutes of cooking, the mushrooms have gone through stages of transformation; first pale and spongy, then wet and a soggy, then as that moisture evaporates the mushrooms turn deeply golden and their texture goes satisfyingly chewy.

A pour of Sherry to deglaze, it sputters and bubbles into a winey syrup that coats the vegetables in gloss. In goes the stock, and all's left to simmer for 20 minutes more. Whirred to a foaming, ethereal purée, the soup is done save for the indulgent dollop of mascarpone right at the end.

And with that, into the woods we go.

One last thing, I'd like to thank Stephanie Levy for asking me to be a part of her Artists Who Blog series. If you'd like to take a look at what we talked about, she's posted my interview on her site.

THE REAL MUSHROOM SOUP
 

From Jamie Oliver, the title's his, too.

Now mushroom soup depends greatly on the mushrooms itself; not only for flavour of course, but also for colour.

The bulk of the fresh mushrooms I used were the bark and black beauties, crimini and shiitakes, with only a handful each of ochre chanterelles and ivory oysters to counter that darkness. A mix favouring the paler varieties would result in a soup with looks more fawn than mouse.

That business on top there, there is purpose to that prettiness. A bit of herbs, croutons torn into buttery crumble, some sautéed mushrooms, together create the ideal counterpoint to the mellow earthiness of the soup; a freshness to the musky depth of its flavour and essential weight against the lightness of the emulsion. Mr. Oliver suggests a tranche of grilled bread instead of croutons, use whichever you like.

The only change I made to the recipe was the addition of Sherry when cooking the mushrooms, leaving out the lemon juice to finish.

Recipe

It just so happens that two people, especially important people to me, are far away right now. One will be back soon enough, soon I'll be able to count down to their arrival on the fingers to one hand. But the other, well, for her return I would have to count all my fingers and my all toes many times over before the day comes that I can give her a proper hug.

That return feels every bit as far away as it is.

In the meantime, I'm keeping the wistful glances at the calendar at minimum by keeping occupied with the imagined agendas of that homecoming. I'm squirreling anecdotes and stories away in the back of my mind, ready and witty, for the conversations that we'll have.

This dearest friend is also with me in the kitchen, or at least her influence was, when I was making this baked ricotta today. Light but with a gentle creaminess, dotted with pretty green bits of herbs and zingy with lemon, it reminds me of so many meals we've shared over the years of our friendship. On a plate between us, a meal that doesn't mind if it's forgotten when the gossip gets really good.

You'll know this is for you when you read it, so I promise that when you're home I'll make it for you - don't worry, I'll leave out the chili. We'll eat it with garlic-scrubbed shingles of grilled bread, drink something sparkling and catch up.

It will be the best time. Keep safe until then. Hugs to you.

SAVOURY BAKED RICOTTA

In testing for doneness, the cheese should not be completely dry in the middle. Similar to baking a cheesecake, the ricotta will swell slightly and retain a lazy wobble when set. As it cools, it will firm up some more, so keep that in mind while baking. Individual rounds can be made in muffin tins, and are pretty platemates to a simple salad.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 garlic clove, a fat and juicy one is best
  • Olive oil for greasing the dish
  • 8 ounces fresh whole milk ricotta
  • 1/4 cup grated Grana Padano cheese
  • 3 tablespoons minced mixed fresh herbs, I used (in order of most to least) chives, parsley, thyme
  • Zest from half a lemon
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes or minced red chili (optional)
  • Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg white, lightly whisked

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 350°F (175°C). Cut the garlic clove in half horizontally and rub the cut sides against the interior of a 1-cup capacity ramekin. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the inside of the dish with oil. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta, Grana Padano, herbs, lemon zest and chili (if using). Taste, then season with kosher salt and black pepper. Stir in the whisked egg white. Spoon the ricotta mixture into the prepared ramekin and place on a baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven until the cheese is puffed and almost set in the centre, and beginning to brown in spots, around 35 minutes depending on the dimensions of your ramekin. Remove from the oven and cool at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Serve either in the dish or run a knife around the edge of the cheese and invert onto a serving plate with crackers or bread alongside. And maybe some wine too. Surely one with bubbles. Best warm or at room temperature.

Makes 1 baked round, serving 4.

I am simply without the words to express my feelings for those who won't be coming home after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. My heart breaks for those left behind.

If you are able, please consider giving to aid organizations working to help rebuild. Yele Haiti, Médecins Sans Frontières , UNICEF and CARE and are just some of the many organizations working tirelessly on behalf of those who need it most right now.

Julie is also spearheading a project to bring together food bloggers to raise funds; I'll share more details as they come, but read the announcement of Blog Aid here.

The Canadian government has committed to matching Canadian donations, dollar for dollar, towards the relief effort and I hope we take full advantage of their promise.

Hello my dears, will you do me a favour? Preheat your oven to 400°F. While you're at it, start slicing some leeks while we catch up.

I was feeling pretty good about my preparedness for the coming holiday season this whole year-end business, that is, I was until a friend sweetly pointed out that as of today, there were a mere six days left until our merriment begins. How'd that happen?

Their math must be wrong. Let's see, 24-18 equals ... oh.

Shoot. No such luck. We're almost at the count-the-days-on-one-hand stage, people.

Before I go on, how are those leeks coming? All sliced? Take a second and put a skillet on to heat with a knob of butter in there. When that's melted, toss in your leeks and stir them around so that everybody's friendly.

Where was I? Yes, there's a lot going on. I'm particularly giddy to report that Menu for Hope is off to a rip-roaring start. We've just hit the $20,000 mark, with fingers crossed that the momentum continues through the second half of the campaign.

And we've got some happenings that should help in the momentum department, first off let me extend my thanks and welcome to the kind folks at EAT Magazine, who have donated another raffle item to our efforts. "Taste of British Columbia" brings together a variety of offerings from producers from this gorgeous province, including Untamed Feast’s delicious dried wild mushroom products (Forest Blend), locally grown roasted hazelnuts from Butler Hazelnut Farm, Vista d’Oro Farm’s Turkish Fig with Walnut Wine, a ½ lb. bag of Mile 0 Roasters Niagara Blend, Gathering Place’s Organic Rooibos Tea, and two chocolate bars from organicfair. To bid on their item, enter code CA12, when donating.

There are lots of new raffle items being added every day; be sure to keep checking the worldwide listing for the most up-to-date information.

Speaking of donations, we've got a brand spankin' new donation form for you; it lists all raffle items available worldwide, with a simple widget alongside that tallies your bids. To see it in all it's point-n-click glory, click here.

Oh! Back to the leeks. How are they doing? Are they all loopy and lithe yet? No? Okay, we've got a few more minutes to go.

More news. Remember way back in June when I said I'd be in the summer issue of UPPERCASE magazine? Well, Janine was kind enough to extend the invitation for me to write for them again. I'll be in the Winter issue, out in January 2010, talking about Maple Walnut Caramel. It's the recipe that started my recent walnut fixation.

While we're on the subject of UPPERCASE, a first look at the cover for the issue was recently available for subscribers to their newsletter. I'm sort of in love with it. I think you will be too.

The leeks should be looking about there by now - give them a poke with your spoon. They should be soft and sweet, still green and brightly fragrant. Good stuff, we're ready to go.

Now this is probably only exciting to me, but I've finally settled on what I'm making for the savoury portion of our Christmas breakfast. As you might have surmised, those scrummy leeks play a big part in the deliciousness to come this December 25th's a.m.

I have been looking for a partner to the Breakfast Bread from Donna Hay from years ago. A steadfast presence our menu that's focaccia in feel, but with a biscuit method for the base. A thick, spongy dough lays beneath a Christmassy landscape of wilted spinach and oven-dried tomatoes, with a crowning snowdrift of Gruyère to cover all. This is a bread that I start thinking about in the fall, when the last of the tomatoes are coming off the vine and I'm drying and preserving them in oil in eager anticipation of their winter debut.

Whatever arrives alongside that bread has to be a humdinger of a dish.

Enter the wonderful Lusia Weiss, with exactly what I was looking for. The Baked Eggs in Cream she introduced last week are, as she says, adorable. And boy are they tasty.

From the softly-set egg that is lush and dreamy, to the supple leeks hiding underneath the whiteness, it's ridiculously easy to get all swoony about this recipe. What's even more brilliant for my needs is that I can cook the leeks the night before, so they're ready and waiting come Christmas morn; crack an egg and spoon over some cream, in to the oven they go. En masse, everyone's taken care of.

If I'm being honest, the presentation of the individual ramekins was of specific appeal. Not only does this recipe allow you to cook for many with minimal fuss, it also allows for some greedy indulgence. A fleet of these little darlings on the table looks abundant and generous, but to each is own means that nobody has to share.

With all the support we've had for Menu for Hope, a moment of mine-all-mine gluttony can certainly be overlooked. You've all earned it.

CAMINO'S EGGS BAKED IN CREAM

A multiplied rendition of Camino's original, via The Wednesday Chef. Luisa's advises cooking the leeks longer than in the original recipe, and I am not one to argue. A cluster of oil-packed dried tomatoes nudged up against the yolk added an appreciated acidity.

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 4 leeks, cleaned and the white and light green parts sliced thinly
  • Salt
  • 2 sprigs thyme, leaves roughly chopped
  • 2 sprigs parsley, leaves roughly chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half or coffee cream
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Grilled or toasted bread slices to serve

METHOD

With a rack set in the middle, preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).

In a small sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks, along with a splash of water and a pinch of salt. Cook until the leeks are tender, around 10 minutes. Stir in the herbs. Divide the herbed leeks among four small dishes or ramekins, flattening the vegetables out slightly to make a nest for the eggs.

Crack one egg in the middle of each dish. Add enough cream to just over the white, then season with salt and the freshly-ground black pepper. Set the dishes on a baking sheet and bake in the oven until the white is set, between 8 to 12 minutes. Serve immediately, with the grilled bread.

Serves 4. Or really 2, as you'll want seconds. Trust.

November. It's been here for twelve days already, and I've yet to give it the appropriate welcome.

You'll find it standing just outside my door, arms laden with luggage full of fallen leaves most likely, softly tap-tap-tapping its foot as its waits with reserved impatience. Inside I'm running around frantically, with my hair in rollers and dirty dishes in the sink, not yet ready for its visit.

Those dirty dishes were for good reason I assure you, I've been making apple tartlets. Not just sweet but savoury-ish, with a mound of goat's cheese the tuffet for thin slices of apple, enamelled bronze by thyme-infused honey. They are mostly a task of assemblage, with little to do but cut, stack, brush and bake, but the opportunity to get out a rolling pin makes it seems as though you've done a some cooking. A fine dusting of flour across the hands always makes me feel I've been productive.

The tartlets came from the oven raised grandly at the edges, such is the miracle that is puff pastry. The layers of apple were curled and tanned lightly at their tips, finally adorned with ivory petals of Grana Padano. Though I'd intended something autumnal in spirit, this was almost downright festive. November, consider yourself greeted.

We tucked into these for a mid-afternoon snack, as is, full stop. Nothing more was needed. But if you were so moved, a crunchy pile of lightly-dressed bitter greens would be suggested my addition alongside.

But then, that would mean more dishes.

APPLE AND GOAT'S CHEESE TARTS WITH HONEY

A more savoury spin on a recipe from Bon Appetit. Even though I have scaled back the original quantities of honey and butter, I still had more than enough - in fact, there was an excess. If I had to offer a guess, I would think that 1/3 cup of honey and 1 tablespoon of butter would suffice, but I have included generous quantities below in the case of the desire of a more luscious result.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package of frozen puff pastry (2 blocks or 2 sheets), thawed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup dark honey, divided
  • 2-3 small thyme sprigs, plus more for garnish
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (around 4 ounces) fresh goat's cheese at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or white balsamic
  • 3 small Empire apples
  • shaved Grana Padano to serve

METHOD

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. If not ready-rolled, roll out the puff pastry block to a 9-inch square on a lightly-floured work surface. Use a 4-inch cookie cutter or ring to cut 4 rounds and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the second block, cutting 8 rounds total. Using the blunt end of a 3-inch cutter firmly press into each round, without going through, to form a border. Freeze for at least 30 minutes to firm up.

Preheat an oven to 375°F (190°C). In a small saucepan over low heat, start to melt the butter. Once it's about halfway there, add 1/2 of the honey, the thyme sprigs and a pinch of salt. Stir gently until all the butter has melted and the honey is warm. Remove from the heat and leave the honey to steep while you get everything else ready.

In a small bowl, stir together the goat's cheese and the vinegar, seasoning again with a pinch of salt. Peel, halve and core the apples, then cut into 1/8-inch slices. Remove the chilled pastry from the freezer and use an offset spatula to spread a scant 2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture within the demarcated border. Top the cheese with a stack of apple slices. Brush the honey butter mixture over the apples and sparingly on pastry edge.

Bake in the preheated oven until the apples are soft and the pastry is golden and puffed, around 30 minutes. To serve, drizzle the tartlets with the reserved honey, the shaved Grana Padano, and some picked thyme leaves. Serve either warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8.

Notes:

• In the photograph, I toasted a meager 4 or 5 pecans and (as my Grandmother would say) "bashed the blazes out of them" for a final, crunchy flourish. They're not essential, but make a fine addition. Walnuts would be tasty too. If you have them on hand, bash away.

• Although I have not tried it, I am tempted to substitute a blue cheese for the goat's cheese, omitting the vinegar.

I have something to say, but I am unsure as to how I should feel about it. Should I be proud? Ashamed? A bit sheepish, maybe?

Luckily, I think we're all friends here, and I can be honest with you. Here goes.

We bought a deep fryer.

There, I said it. It's out in the open. There's no turning back now. We've stepped up from a deep-sided pot on the stove, we're in the big leagues now. We've gone Pro. We have purchased an appliance, a unitasker at that, designed for the sole purpose of deep-frying food. Scandalous!

What is it about the notion of a deep fryer that sends hands clutching for the proverbial pearls? I nary blink an eye at baking cake after cake, or cupcake or cookie, but speak of a deep fat thermometer and I feel as though my ladylike self should swoon at the thought.

I should, but I don't.

Instead, I am giddy. On Canada Day there were donuts. The day after, there were fries. Alas, even as I happily plunged the slivered fingerlings into the depths of the fryer, I could hear the imagined whispers of a hundred judgements.

"Sure, she started with fries. But they were just a gateway."

"Next thing you know there will be churros. Or maybe even beignets."

"From there it is a slippery slope into the hard stuff. Corndogs."

"Mark my words, shel'll be battering Twinkies within a month and buying bulk packs of chicken wings on the sly."

"You know, I wouldn't put it past her."

Not to worry, I can handle my deep-frying. I promise. So what if I get a bit of a thrill when I shake the chip basket? A little golden-fried perfection never hurt anyone. There are worse things I could do.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to get back to my fryer.

GARLIC FRIES WITH HORSERADISH AND MUSTARD MAYO

For the fries, prepare them how you like to - fat, thin, shoestring, chips, whatever (see below for links to recipes). Make enough for the size of your crowd or your appetite. This recipe is for about a standard quantity of fries for 4 people. Any leftover mayonnaise should be refrigerated immediately, and can be used as a sauce, a dip or sandwich spread.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or a good squeeze, optional
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
  • 2 teaspoons grainy Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon prepared English mustard
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • Fries (see above)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes, optional
  • 1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Kosher salt to taste

METHOD

Prepare the mayonnaise first. In a bowl, stir together the first five ingredients. Taste, and adjust for seasoning with kosher salt and freshly-cracked black pepper to taste. If the sauce is to thick, thin with additional lemon juice or some warm water. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavours to mellow and blend.

When the fries are hot and crisp, toss through with the minced garlic, dried red chili flakes (if using) and almost all of the parsley, reserving some for garnish. Season with kosher salt. Tumble the fries out onto a platter, with the mayonnaise alongside. Sprinkle with the reserved chopped parsley.

Recipes for French Fries:

Easier French Fries from Cook's Illustrated, cold oil fried (via their site, requires login). Sticky Crows likes this method, and has some step-by-step photos.

Twice-Cooked French Fries (via Epicurious)

Oven-Baked Fat Chips with Rosemary Salt by Jamie Oliver (via the Food Network)

Definitive Fries (from here, ages ago)

Notes:

• I used the Cook's Illustrated recipe for these, which use a technique also attributed to Joël Robuchon. You start your potatoes in cold oil, turn the heat to medium-high, then leave them be. Once they start turning golden, you stir the fries about a bit to prevent sticking, then cook until crisp. Details and specifics are available in through the links provided. I had feared that the fries would be greasy, poking at them suspiciously now and again, but they were surprisingly not so. According to the accompanying article, this method yields a result with less oil absorption than traditional double-fry methods.

• Homemade mayonnaise is my preference, but if you are at all unsure on the freshness of your eggs, your favourite store-bought brand is more than fine. If using homemade, less lemon juice might be needed, depending on the recipe.