Champagne Wishes and Fish Sauce Dreams

A few weeks ago, I had a quick procedure. Not a big deal, not even worth getting into the details here, but they did need to sedate me. I was a little groggy afterwards, and I was given the instructions not to drive, go to work or operate heavy machinery for the rest of the day. But when Rich brought me home from the hospital, I grabbed a canvas grocery bag from the backseat and started wobbling my way to the market around the corner.

“Um, what are you doing, dear?” Rich asked.

“I have some stuff I need to pick up,” I replied.

“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea, given your condition.”

“Oh, I’m fine. It’s 500 yards from our house, and I promise to use the crosswalks. There’s no heavy machinery involved.”

Rich soon realized this was a battle he would not be able to win, even though his opponent could barely stand up. He watched me steady myself to the end of the street, green sweatpants and all, and turn the corner.

I had had Vietnamese noodles on my mind for the past few weeks, and the chalush (an uncontrollable hankering) was one that not even a minor sedative would keep me from. The secret to Vietnamese noodles is fish sauce, which can be found in Asian markets, and more often than not, in the Asian aisle of most decent grocery stores. It’s usually made of anchovies, and is a bit akin to garum, the stinky fish sauce the Romans doused nearly everything they ate with. Hey, I said the blog is “mostly” vegetarian, cut me some slack.

And the noodles were perfect. They were exactly what I had hoped for. Looking back, I probably should have stayed out of the kitchen that afternoon, and not used the stove or a large chef’s knife. When I tasted the sauce, I thought it was too citrusy, so I stumbled around the kitchen adding a splash of mirin and a dash of soy. Of course, after a few minutes of fussing, I realized I hadn’t actually added the fish sauce; it had been measured and waiting next to the bowl. Oops. But I did succeed in the end, and somehow I managed to photograph it as well.

When Rich returned home from work that night, I greeted him with an offer of the noodles spiked with fish sauce. “Oh,” he said, “so you did end up making them.” “Huh?” I asked. “Oh, you don’t remember? When you came to after the anesthesia, you were mumbling noodles with fish sauce.”

Vietnamese Noodles aka Thai Noodles slightly adapted from Myers + Chang Thai Ginger Chicken Salad, minus the chicken salad, from Bon Appetit September 2011

Ingredients

1 Thai chili, sliced thin

Juice of ½ lime

2 Tablespoon mirin

2 Tablespoon rice vinegar

¼ cup fish sauce

¼ cup sugar

2 teaspoon. ginger, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

12 oz. rice stick noodles

4 oz. cubed tofu

4 springs cilantro, stems included, chopped

Directions

Put a large pot of salted water onto boil.

Whisk first 8 ingredients in a small bowl until sugar dissolves. Set dressing aside.

When the water boils, cook noodles until tender, but still firm to the bite, about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain; put in large bowl.

Add cubed tofu to the noodles, pour the dressing, toss to coat, then sprinkle with the chopped cilantro.

Sophomore Slump

One hundred posts in, and I’m still making the same rookie mistake: I haven’t yet learned I need to photograph all my cooking and baking projects, and not just ones I aim to post on this here blog. And what’s even sillier on my part is the fact that I’ll sometimes be dining with other people who do photograph everything they’re about consume, like my friend Rachel who took some really beautiful photographs of every dish of our dinner on Saturday night. (Quick review: extremely affordable, very tasty, and terrible service. I’ll probably be back.)

I think I’ve just committed the most egregious example of this mistake with this savory tart filled with roasted vegetables, caramelized onions and smoked mozzarella. I had no plans to make this, nor blog about it. Nope, had no dreams about how well the sweetness of the onions would bounce off the smoky cheese that had melted in between the layers autumn vegetables that had been wrapped in a savory, flakey crust. Nope, not a thought.

What I had planned on taking a picture of was the butternut squash. Not because I wanted to do anything with it for the blog, but because I wanted to document its size. It was the largest squash I’d ever seen — my guess is one and a half feet high and about 15 pounds. It was roughly as tall as my cat, but clearly outweighed him by five or so pounds. I had wanted to photograph the cat standing next to the squash, but I totally forgot to do it until I had cut off the top of the squash on Sunday night in order to whip together some butternut squash risotto. After I had cleaned and cubed the chunk of squash – there is still a chunk of squash in the fridge that hasn’t been touched, about the size of a regular butternut squash – I realized I had way too much squash on hand. So I decided to roast the leftover squash, and while I was at it, I might as well toss in some other roots I had hanging around my crisper. So out came some beets, a few carrots, and a handful of red potatoes from the cupboard. I did call Rich in at one point to take a photo of the striped Chioggia beet because I was so taken by its beauty. Can you believe this came out of dirt? I asked him.

So I peeled and cubed my root veggies, tossed them altogether in a bowl with a few glugs of olive oil and a healthy pinch (make that two pinches) of salt, and dumped it all in a large lasagna pan. I decided at the last minute to lay down a few sprigs of thyme on top. My goodness, I said to myself, all those colors, it’s as pretty as a picture.  I then covered it with foil, and tossed the pan into a 400 degree oven. I know, ridiculous, right? To see it, say it, and then do nothing about it. So silly!

About 20 minutes in, I checked the veggies, gave them a stir, and then 25 minutes after that, I removed the foil, gave everything a stir, turned the oven down to 350, and baked them for about 15 minutes more. I then removed the pan from the oven, admired how all the pinks and oranges looked like a sunset, and then taste-tested a few of the different veggies to make sure they had all softened sufficiently. Once they cooled, I moved them to some Tupperware and put them in the fridge.

This next part is something that I often grapple with on this blog: using ingredients that aren’t exactly inexpensive. Last week I was poking around the cheese case at the market around the block when I stumbled upon a very nice hunk of smoked mozzarella. It was some sort of Manager’s Special that day, and was discounted $3. I bought the cheese – I mean, wouldn’t you? – but figured I wouldn’t mention it on the blog because I couldn’t very well go and expect people to go and buy a pricey bit of cheese for something, even though I bought it at a discount.

So, I was sitting at my desk at work thinking about my ball of cheese and my roasted vegetables when it occurred to me that those two things might taste very good together. But I didn’t want to mash them into a sort of hash and put them in a pie dish and melt the cheese on top. And that’s when it dawned on me: this would be the perfect opportunity to try out a savory version of Jacques Pepin’s apple galette with some fresh herbs added to the dough. And, I asked myself, wouldn’t the tart be so much better if some caramelized onions were involved?

And that’s when I kicked myself for not photographing my roasted root veggie prep. I did not know any of it was going to end up on Cheap Beets, but now it has, if but with a truncated version of the photography. Sure, some of you might take note that this is the third version of some sort of rustic tart on my blog – in a row, no less. Some of you might even call it cheating. But I don’t think you’ll really mind.

Rustic Roasted Root Vegetable Tart with Caramelized Onions and Smoked Mozzarella.

This is four separate recipes in one, just as the roasted pear and cranberry crostata was. I followed my own advice this time and made each part on a different night. Of course, I hadn’t actually planned it that way, but tarts really are what happen to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Part One: Roast approximately three cups of root vegetables – I suggest butternut squash, beets, carrots and potatoes – according to the description above.

Part Two: Make the savory crust

Crust Ingredients

1½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/3 cup ice water

1 teaspoon fresh sage, ripped into small pieces

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Directions

In a food processor, combine the flour with the salt, butter and fresh herbs and process for about 5 seconds. Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture and process until the pastry just begins to come together, about 10 seconds; you should still be able to see small pieces of butter in it. Transfer the pastry to a work surface, gather it together and pat into a disk. Wrap the pastry in plastic or wax paper and refrigerate until chilled. (You can also roll out the pastry and use it right away.)

Part Three: Caramelizing the onions

Ingredients

3 red onions, cut in half, laid flat, then sliced into ¼ inch thick half moons

Olive oil

Salt

Directions

Place the onions in a deep 4-quart saucepan and drizzle and toss with olive oil to coat, about ¼ cup. Set over medium heat and, shimmying the pan occasionally, cook until the onions are slightly golden on the edges. Stir occasionally – it might take as long as 25 minutes of slow, slow cooking — then stir in a few pinches of salt. Stew, stirring occasionally, until the onions are amber colored and tender but not mushy, another 20 minutes or so. If at any point the onions look as if they may dry out, cover them to trap some of the moisture in the pan. Taste for salt. You should get about 1 cup cooked onions.

Part Four: Assembling the Tart

All of the previous ingredients can be made beforehand and refrigerated for approximately three days.

Ingredients

¾ cup smoked mozzarella, cut into ½ inch pieces

Savory dough

Caramelized onions

Roasted root vegetables

1 egg, lightly beaten

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to a circle and transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet.

In the center of the pastry, lay out all but one quarter of the caramelized onions.

Lay two thirds of the mozzarella on top of the onions.

Using a spoon, gently place all of the root veggies on top of the cheese.

Distribute the remaining onions and pieces of cheese on top of the vegetables.

Fold the pastry edge up and over the vegetables to create a 2-inch border.

Brush the folds of the crust with the beaten egg.

Bake the tart for about 1 hour, until the pastry is nicely browned and crisp. Transfer the pan to a rack and let the tart cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

If you believe that fancy, complicated desserts are what bakeries were invented for, carry on, nothing to see here. However, if you love days-long baking projects which result in the most extraordinary of desserts, guaranteed to elicit oohs and ahs around the Thanksgiving table, continue reading, because, boy, oh boy, do I have a recipe for you!

Seriously, the making of this dessert, from Joanne Chang’s flour cookbook, falls into the “redonkulous” category. The book’s subtitle “Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café” is a completely accurate description. If you want to impress your in-laws, your boss or just plain love a challenge, this is it.

Rich and I baked this roasted pear and cranberry crostata last January during a blizzard. We figured we weren’t going anywhere and I had some extra pears lying around from a chutney project. It took an entire day to prepare. It’s basically the opposite of the idiot-proof Jacques Pepin apple gallete recipe that takes 15 seconds to prepare.

Hindsight is 20/20, and if I was to do it again, I would prep each piece of this dessert one step at a time over a three day period. It’s much more manageable that way. And don’t worry if you start on this project and soon realize you’re really not in the mood to take it all the way through. The pate brisée can be refrigerated for up to four days, and frozen for up to a month. I think the roasted pears, tossed with ginger, butter and sugar, makes a scrumptious dessert on its own. Or over ice cream – it’s up to you, really. And the frangipane, well, you can just spoon that right into your mouth if you like.

ROASTED PEAR AND CRANBERRY CROSTATA from Joanne Chang’s flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe

Makes one 9-inch crostata (serves 8 to 10)

Ingredients

9 Bosc pears, peeled, halved and cored

1-inch knob fresh ginger, thinly sliced

½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

¼ cup (1/2 stick/56 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Pâte Brisée (recipe follows)

Frangipane (recipe follows)

1 cup (100 grams) fresh or frozen cranberries

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 Tablespoons sanding sugar, pearl sugar, or granulated sugar

Directions

Position a rack in the center oven, and heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, toss together the pears, ginger, granulated sugar and butter. Roast, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until the pears are soft when pierced with a knife tip and golden. Let cool completely. (The pears can be roasted for up to 5 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. On a well-floured work surface, roll out the dough into a circle about 12 inches in diameter and ¼ inch thick. Place the dough circle in the prepared baking sheet.

Using the back of a spoon or a small rubber spatula, spread the frangipane in the middle of the dough round in a circle about 9 inches in diameter, leaving a 3-inch border uncovered.

Place about 8 pear halves, cut-side down, in a circle in a single layer on the top of the frangipane, lining them up with the edge of the frangipane and with the stem ends pointing toward the middle. Place 1 or 2 pear halves in the center to cover the frangipane circle completely. Sprinkle ¾ cup (75 grams) of the cranberries evenly on top of the pears. Top the first layer of pears with a second layer of pears, using about 7 halves and reserving 1 pear half, arranging them in a smaller concentric circle. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup (25) grams of cranberries evenly on top of the second layer of pears.

Place the reserved pear half on a cutting board. Using a paring knife, and starting at the squat bottom end, cut four or five lengthwise slices, stopping just short of the stem end. Fan the slices, and place the pear half in the center of the second layer of pear halves. Starting at one side of the crostata, fold the 3-inch border of dough up and over the fruit, forming six to eight loose pleats around the perimeter and pressing the pleats firmly together onto the fruit. The center of the crostata will remain exposed in a 3-to 4-inch circle, showing off the fanned pear. Refrigerate the assembled crostata for at least 1 hour before baking. (At this point, the crostata can be covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 day before baking.)

Position the rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush the pleated pastry with the beaten egg, then sprinkle evenly with the sanding sugar. Bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until the pleats are golden brown. Make sure all of the folds are evenly browned, so there are no chewy underbaked bits of dough in the finished crostata. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 2 hours. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The crostata can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

PÂTE BRISÉE

Makes about 10 ounces dough, enough for one 9-inch single-crust pie, 10-inch crostata, or 9-inch quiche

Ingredients

1 cup (140 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup plus 1 Tablespoon (1 stick plus 1 Tablespoon/128 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

1 egg yolk

2 Tablespoons cold milk

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Scatter the butter over the top and mix on low speed for about 45 seconds, or until the flour is no longer bright white and holds together when you clump it and pecan-size lumps of butter are visible throughout.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and milk until blended. Add to the flour-butter mixture all at once. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until the dough barely comes together. It will look really shaggy and more like a mess than a dough.

Dump the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and gather it together into a tight mound. Using your palm and starting on one side of the mound, smear the dough bit by bit, starting at the top of the mound and then sliding your palm down the side and along the work surface, until most of the butter chunks are smeared into the dough and the dough comes together. Do this once or twice on each part of the dough, moving through the mound until the whole mess has been smeared into a cohesive dough with streaks of butter.

Gather up the dough, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and press down to flatten into a disk about 1 inch thick. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before using. The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

FRANGIPANE

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

1/3 cup (50 grams) blanched whole almonds, or ½ cup (50 grams) almond flour

¼ cup (1/2 stick/56 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¼ cup (50 grams) sugar

1 egg

2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of kosher salt

Directions

If using whole almonds, grind them in a food processor as finely as possible without turning them into paste. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or hand-held mixer or wooden spoon), cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, or until light. Add the ground almonds or almond flour and beat on medium speed for 1 minute, or until thoroughly incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.

On low speed, beat in the egg. Add the all-purpose flour, vanilla, and salt and mix until combined. You should have about 1 cup. Use immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, then let sit for a few hours at room temperature before using. Or, freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks, then thaw it in the refrigerator before using.

Sesame Street

This past Rosh Hashana, with me in mind, my mother picked up a container of halvah from the new Turkish market near her house. The sweet sesame candy was studded with green pistachios the same color as its plastic lid. She left it on the island counter in the kitchen, which my uncle and I took as the go-ahead to stand there, spoons in hand, and dig away at the candy. We passed it back and forth like we were college students sharing some sort of contraband. My mom offered the two of us – her older brother and her youngest daughter – knives and plates. Oh no, we said, waving her away, don’t worry about us, we’re all set.

Looking back, it’s probably not a best practice to eat directly from a container, be it halvah, ice cream, or even bags of carrots. But there’s something about the warm taste of sesame that always draws me in. Remember this addictive dressing? I rest my case.

This recipe I have here for a tahini and roasted cauliflower dip is my penitence for shoveling halvah into my mouth for two days straight. A good friend of mine actually requested this recipe to be one of the first that I shared on this blog, but I kept on forgetting to photograph it before I devoured the entire bowlful. I found it in a Food & Wine from a few years back; I tend to kick up the amount of ginger and ground coriander the original recipe calls for. I never seem to have fresh cilantro around when I’ve made it, but I’m sure it tastes very good in it.

This dish doesn’t have to be served right away, and can be stuck in the fridge for a day or two. It warms up beautifully in the microwave. It should be noted that a serving of tahini has something like 18 grams of fat in it. But it’s mixed with cauliflower, so how unhealthy could it be? Don’t answer that.

Roasted Cauliflower and Tahini Spread — Slightly adapted from this recipe

Ingredients
1 head of cauliflower (2 lbs.) halved crosswise and thinly sliced
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ Tablespoons minced fresh ginger (I would say go with a solid two)
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander (I round up to a hefty two teaspoons)
Kosher salt
3 Tablespoons tahini (sesame) paste
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Sesame seeds
Pita bread or chips, for serving

Directions

Preheat oven to 450. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower with the oil, ginger and coriander and season with salt. Spread the cauliflower on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for about 40 minutes, stirring once or twice, until tender and lightly browned in spots. Let cool slightly

Transfer the cauliflower to a food processor. Add the tahini and lemon juice and pulse to a chunky puree; season with salt. Add the cilantro and pulse just until incorporated. Transfer the spread to a bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve warm with pita bread or chips.

The Missing Piece

For nearly half a year, I’ve been searching for the disc stem for my food processor. It’s in my kitchen, somewhere. I have this vague memory of me removing the stem from the disc and the processor and saying to myself, oh, I’ll just put this right here so I won’t lose it. But now I don’t know where that place was.

My friend Mike is a neuroscientist, and he hypnotizes patients for his sleep studies. I’ve asked him to hypnotize me to that moment in time when I was last with my stem. He says he’ll do it, but there’s a 50% chance he’ll make me squawk like a chicken instead. I don’t know if I can take that risk.

I’ve opened drawers and cupboards, stood on ladders, and peered into pots. Nothing. Last week, I made my friend Ben, who towers over everyone in the room at 6’5”, search the kitchen. I figured, given his bird’s eye view of the world, he could see things I cannot. He spent 45 minutes in my kitchen. Still no luck.

I’ve gone on eBay, the Black and Decker replacement parts page, and Sears and Roebuck. It turns out my processor, purchased in 2001, is a discontinued model. “Obsolete,” is the actual wording used to describe my missing stem. I prefer the term “vintage.”

The funny thing is, I didn’t even know I was in the market for a food processor when I found out I needed one. The fall after my college graduation, my boyfriend at the time and I were given the task of making the stuffing for his family’s Thanksgiving dinner. I called my mom for a recipe. “Step 1,” she said, “get out your food processor.” “But Mom,” I said, “I don’t have a food processor.” “Step  1: go to Macy’s and buy a food processor.” Off to 34th Street I went, and I have to admit, shoving two bags of celery stalks and carrots down the chute and through the grater made my life much easier.

The machine has helped me whip up countless pestos, a dead simple romesco sauce I really need to post at some point, dips, and piles of perfect bread crumbs. Heck, even Alice Waters, who abhors all sorts of things electric, has a food processor.

This summer, before I knew the predicament I was in, I made these biscuits. They were perfect.

But now we’re in November, I’ve got stuffing on my mind, and as I pointed out to Rich as I was turning over the kitchen looking for the stem yet again, I’m on a Chanukah countdown. He assures me that he will grate every potato, or onion, or parsnip, or sweet potato, or zucchini that I see fit to be fried in oil and deemed a latke, but I still want to find the missing piece.

I am relieved that although I cannot find the stem for the grater to my food processor, I can still make this apple galette recipe by Jacques Pepin. In a food processor, it takes about 15 seconds. It’s the easiest dough recipe I’ve ever used, even easier than the Dutch apple cake, and is up there as one of the most delicious things I’ve ever baked. Since it’s a Jacques Pepin recipe, you know it’s going to be perfect.

It’s such an easy recipe, in fact, that the first time I made it, I whipped up the dough and stuck it in the fridge (it’s one of those recipes where you have to put the dough in the fridge for a bit), and had Rich take it the rest of the way. He did. It was perfect. Weeks later, after I raved to someone else about the perfect galette, Rich whispered to me that he didn’t even follow the directions about decoratively arranging the apples into concentric circles. “I just kind of dumped it in the middle.” Inelegant? Yes. Perfectly delicious? Yes. Dead simple? Yes.

The dough can surround either fruits or veggies; there is so little sugar in this recipe – just a little more than a teaspoon – that I often toy with the idea of making a savory filling, maybe adding a little sage to the dough. I haven’t yet tried that, so if anyone does, I’d love to hear about the results. In the meantime, I’ll use up more of my CSA apples, and do a few more go-arounds of my kitchen in search of my disc stem.

Apple Galette

Because the pastry is free-form, it can be rolled into a circle or rectangle. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly shaped; there’s a rustic quality to this dish which makes an uneven galette even more charming. Pepin suggests serving this as a buffet offering, slicing it into pizza-style slices to be eaten standing up.

Active Time: 30 Minute

Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients

Pastry

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/3 cup ice water

Topping

4 Golden Delicious apples (really, any apple will do)

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon honey, preferably wildflower

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Directions

PREPARE THE PASTRY In a food processor, combine the flour with the sugar, salt and butter and process for about 5 seconds. Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture and process until the pastry just begins to come together, about 10 seconds; you should still be able to see small pieces of butter in it. Transfer the pastry to a work surface, gather it together and pat into a disk. Wrap the pastry in plastic or wax paper and refrigerate until chilled. (You can also roll out the pastry and use it right away.)

PREPARE THE TOPPING Peel, halve and core the apples and slice them crosswise 1/4 inch thick. Set aside the larger center slices and coarsely chop the end slices and any broken ones; about half of the slices should be chopped. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon.

Preheat the oven to 400°. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to a 12-by-14-inch rectangle and transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet. Spread the chopped apples over the pastry to within 1 inch of the edge. Drizzle the honey over the chopped apples. Decoratively arrange the apple slices on top in concentric circles or in slightly overlapping rows. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the apples and dot with the pieces of butter. Fold the pastry edge up and over the apples to create a 1-inch border.

Bake the galette for about 1 hour, until the pastry is nicely browned and crisp and all of the apples are tender. Transfer the pan to a rack and let the galette cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Make Ahead: The buttery pastry can be refrigerated overnight.

(Un)seasonal

kosher vegetarian

“It was like hundreds of gunshots.” That’s how one family friend described the sound of tree branches snapping and falling to the ground last Saturday evening. Western Massachusetts’ best asset, the foliage that people travel from around the world to see, proved to be its undoing during this very early Nor’easter. My little town, Longmeadow, was hit with 12 inches of snow, which fell onto trees still wearing their autumn finest. The combined weight of snow and leaves proved too much for the branches, which took out power lines as they crashed down. Most of the town has been without power since Saturday night. My parents, who had no electricity or heat, were our houseguests until today, when they got word that their power was restored.

One friend from high school reported that her parents said it will be 100 years for our town to once again look like the town we grew up in. A century is a long time, although it’s doable for my town. Settled in 1644, we still celebrate an annual May festival on the town green, a long strip of grass on the outskirts of town that farmers would take their cattle out to pasture on. Lining the green are colonial houses, marked with stars to indicate their historic status. It is believed that John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, once lived in one of those houses. His myth continues, even if many of his trees do not.

In just a few weeks, it will be my 15 year high school reunion. I’m a little nervous to return to see a town so different than the one I left.

This simple recipe is from one of our favorite cooking shows on PBS: Caprial & John’s Kitchen. It’s not just the recipes in the show, but the chemistry this real-life married couple has on screen. Well, calling it chemistry isn’t exactly accurate; it’s more like watching a married couple who have to work, cook, and go home together. There’s a lot of correcting by Caprial to anything John does or says. Example: John will suggest a shortcut to the viewer, which Caprial will promptly veto as a terrible idea. We showed an episode to our friend Ben, a clinical psychologist, and he dubbed them the passive-aggressive chefs. But judging by this recipe, it’s working for them.

Roasted Apples with Shallots and Thyme

5 apples, peeled, cored, halved and sliced into quarters

5 shallots (about ¾ cup), peeled and halved

1/2 Tablespoon of fresh thyme (about 4 sprigs)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

Pinch of salt

Directions

Place a metal pan in the oven and preheat it to 500.

Toss apples, shallots, thyme, olive oil and salt in a bowl. Carefully pour the ingredients into the piping hot pan – it will sizzle – and close the oven door. After 5 minutes, give them a stir with a wooden spoon. Close the door, and check them again in another five minutes and give a stir. Follow up one more time, for a total of 15 cooking minutes. The apples will have softened, many will have completely lost their shape and integrity, making an herbed, savory apple dish. This will make a wonderful side dish for your Thanksgiving table.

UPDATE: I sauteed these leftovers with some frozen pierogies last night for dinner and it was really terrific.