Monday, May 17, 2010

French Apple Tart and Django Reinhardt

This past weekend didn’t exactly go according to plan. About an hour before I was scheduled to leave for the airport, my friend called from Dallas. She saw on American Airlines’ web site that my flight had been canceled. We immediately got on the phone with an airline rep and rescheduled my flight to leave a few hours later that evening. Within five minutes of my arrival to the Memphis airport, my flight was canceled again due to severe thunderstorms approaching the Memphis area. With my only other option being to take a flight out Saturday afternoon, which would put me in Dallas around 1 p.m. only to turn around 24 hours later and head home, I decided to reschedule my trip for a later time this summer. It put quite a damper on the start to my weekend. But in instances such as these, I tell myself that everything happens for a reason, and I’m sure my trip to Dallas the next time around will be even better. On the rainy ride home it sounded as if hail the size of golf balls were being launched at my car. I’m just thankful they didn’t leave any dents.

So, how does a girl like me cope with stress and frustration? I eat. I am 100% an emotional eater. This weekend I spent more time in the kitchen than I normally would cooking up a storm. But on the positive side, that just means I have some great meals and music to share with you!

I’m kicking off this week with the meal I made this past Sunday. My family has a tradition of getting together on Sundays for a late lunch or early dinner. This past weekend, Stewart and I got to host the 6 of us! No pressure. I wanted to serve something light, flavorful and relatively healthy (aside from dessert). So I chose to make Napa cabbage salad. Stewart worked his magic on the grill with mesquite chicken; and for dessert, I made a French apple tart. This is a great weekend meal on a hot summer’s day, or a humid summer’s day in the case of Memphis. The dressing for this salad has the right balance of salty and sweet. And the toasted almonds, sesame seeds and Ramon noodles give a great crunch alongside the crisp Napa cabbage. One word of advice on this salad: Do not add the dressing to the remaining ingredients until you are ready to serve. The longer the dressing sits on the salad, the soggier it will become. It’s not ideal for using as leftovers. I generally find Napa cabbage at our local Whole Foods or Fresh Market.

For dessert, Ina Garten’s recipe for French apple tart was the star. I L-O-V-E this recipe. It’s not only beautiful to look at, but it’s equally delicious. Fruit tarts are such a traditional French treat. All the boulangeries (French bakeries) feature gorgeous fruit tarts, chocolates, croissants and éclairs. And this apple tart brought me back to my roots of growing up in Brussels, Belgium. I have never seen more beautifully decorated window displays as they have in European bakeries. It’s truly an art form. I think I was meant to do that job. The trick to making this tart is to use the right baking pan. A large, jelly roll pan will ensure that your puff pastry cooks at the same rate as the apples, so one does not burn before the other. And the apricot glaze coats this pastry to perfection.

Anytime I think of French food, I hear the guitar strings of Django Reinhardt. Django was born in Brussels, Belgium; but he grew up amongst the Gypsies outside of Paris playing the guitar, banjo and violin. When he was 18, Django was injured in a fire that destroyed his caravan. Consequently, his right leg was paralyzed and the third and fourth fingers on his left hand were severely burned. Django had to relearn his craft in a completely new way by playing all of his guitar solos with only two fingers. If you watch the video closely, you will see. His technique is pretty incredible. This song makes me day dream of walking the streets of Paris or lounging somewhere on a beach in the south of France.

Hope you enjoy these sweet eats!

Napa Cabbage Salad

1-2 heads of Napa cabbage, cut in long thin strips
1 bunch green onion, chopped
2 packs Ramon noodles
1/2 Cup sesame seeds
1 package slivered almonds
1 stick of butter

2 tbsp soy sauce
1 Cup oil
1 Cup sugar (3/4 cup recommended)
1/2 Cup cider vinegar

Mix cabbage and onions. Put in covered bowl and refrigerate.
Brown noodles, seeds and almonds in butter until crunchy or light brown; drain and dab with paper towel.
Mix all ingredients together and serve.

Ina Garten's French Apple Tart

One sheet of frozen puff pastry, defrosted. Roll out to 10.5"x10.5"
4 Granny Smith apples
1/2 Cup sugar
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 Cup of apricot jelly
2 tbsp water

Roll out puff pastry to 10.5"x10.5".
Preheat over to 400 degrees. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Place the dough of the prepared sheet pan and refrigerate while you prepare the apples. Peel the apples and cut them in half through the stem. Remove the stems and cores with a sharp knife and a melon baller. Slice the apples crosswise in 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place overlapping slices of apples diagonally down the middle of the tart and continue making diagonal rows until the pastry is covered with apples. Sprinkle with the full 1/2 Cup of sugar and dot with the butter. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the pastry is browned and the edges of the apples start to brown. Rotate the pan once during cooking. When the tart's done, hear the apricot jelly and with water and brush the apples and pastry completely with the jelly mixture. Loosen the tart with a metal spatula so it doesn't stick to the paper. Allow to cook and serve warm or at room temperature.

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