This morning I was listening to an interview with Dan Barber on NPR. He was discussing how food tastes better when it is cooked with love. And how often our favorite culinary memories are reflections of happiness and love. Of course great-tasting food also helps. I know, it sounds cheesy, but I think there is a kernel of truth to it.
Most of the time I cook because I find pleasure in it – the whole process of transforming ingredients into something delicious. I like trying new recipes or coming up with my own. I also use it as a useful and practical diversion to keep my mind off that fact that Scott lives in Florida, my family lives in the Pacific Northwest and most (but not all) of my friends live elsewhere. Most times my cooking is infused with loneliness and not with love. I usually find this layer of wistfulness adds a nice depth of flavor.
But I wasn’t lonely this weekend. Scott managed to squeeze a quick visit to Minneapolis between trips to Durham and Salt Lake City. As always, it did my heart good to have him around. I really wanted to have a lovely home-cooked meal – one infused with all the love I was feeling. So I curled up on Saturday morning with my coffee and cookbooks while Scott slept off his travel fatigue and put together a three-course menu.
It started with a salad. Radish and frisee, dressed with red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, shallots and olive oil, and accompanied by garlic-herbed goat cheese toast.
It continued with a pork chop with bourbon-mint sauce, sugar snap peas and garlic and olive-oil yukon gold smashed potatoes.
And finished with a triple berry tart with vanilla pastry cream.
I am not even kidding, you could really taste the love in that meal. There was something magical about spending the day with your loved one, having conversations about work, our loved ones and upcoming plans. We perused the bookstore (me for cookbooks, Scott for math books), followed by an afternoon indulgence of ice cream and danced in the kitchen while I was cooking. I was feeling so loving that I didn’t even feel too bad when
I let Scott beat me in bowling.
The recipes (or links to):
Fresh Mixed Berry Tart with Vanilla Pastry Cream
from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Appmakes 3 small tarts
********** Sweet Tart Crust 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon sugar 5 tablespoons cold butter 1/2 egg yolk 1 tablespoon ice water Vanilla Pastry Cream 1/3 cup sugar 1 tablespoon flour 1 tablespoon cornstarch 1 egg 1 cup cream 1 tablespoon butter 1 teaspoon vanilla extract ~2 cups assorted fresh berries 1/4 cup raspberry preserves 1 teaspoon water **********
For sweet tart crust:
Combine flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and pulse a couple of times. Add the butter and process for about 10 seconds until mixture is uniform. Add the egg yolk and process again. Transfer to a bowl and add water until dough comes together in a ball. Divide into three small disks, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for half an hour. Roll out dough, transfer to tart pans, making sure to press dough into all the nooks. Pierce dough with fork and pre-bake at 425º for 10 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 350° and bake for ten more minutes. Let cool before filling.
For vanilla pastry cream:
In a small saucepan, combine sugar with the flour, cornstarch and salt. Mix together the egg and the cream. Whisk the cream-egg mixture into the sugar-cornstarch mixture over medium heat. Whisk occasionally at first to minimize lumps, then constantly until the mixture just begins to boil and thickens, about 5 minutes. Lower the heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Let cool to room temperature before using.
To assemble tarts:
Spread vanilla pastry cream into pre-baked tart crusts. Arrange berries on top of cream. Melt preserves and stir in water. Brush over berries.