french apple tart

I know, I know, yesterday I wrote all about how sugar makes me depressed and how I'm continuing to eat as well as I can, and now I'm going to talk about this lovely, sweet, decadent dessert. Really, though, I don't think I'm as hypocritical as I might seem. I've been busy doing a lot of work around the house and just wanted a break to do something quiet and pleasant, like bake. Plus, I will probably be sharing a large portion of this tart with a friend when I see her tomorrow, and I didn't use too much sugar and will probably be happy with just a small slice. Have I justified myself enough now?  

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I can't claim that this is authentically French, but I did make it in a French tart pan, and used creme fraiche, hence the "french" in the name. There's a hint of cinnamon throughout, and I used a new to me apple, called Pacific Rose. The last few years it seems that there are more apple varieties available in my local grocery store. I'm not actually a huge apple fan, but baked in a tangy custard with a nutty almond crust? Well, considered me converted to the apple.  

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I used coconut sugar in the filling, just because I bought some awhile ago, thinking that it might be healthier than refined sugar, but it probably isn't any better. You should be able to substitute the sweetener of your choosing. This was an experiment, but I'm happy to say that it was a successful one! So this time I'm sharing an actual, real recipe. How do you like them apples? Oh, and it should go without saying that it's completely gluten-free. 

image from www.flickr.com

French Apple Tart

Crust
1 ½ cups almond meal
½ t. vanilla paste
4 T. butter, melted
2 T. sugar (raw, brown or white)
Dash of cinnamon

Filling
2-3 apples, peeled and sliced thin
1 c. crème fraiche
1 large egg
1 t. vanilla paste
¼ c. coconut sugar (or sugar of your choice)
½ t. cinnamon
2 T. coconut flour

Topping
4 T. butter, softened
2 T. almond meal
¼ c.  brown sugar
Dash of cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the crust: Combine all ingredients and press into the bottom and up the sides of a 14” x 4.5” tart pan. Bake for 5 minutes.

For the filling: Combine all the ingredients except for the apple slices. Arrange the apple slices on the crust in the pan. Carefully pour the cream mixture over the apples.

For the topping: Mash all the ingredients together with a fork. It will be crumbly! Sprinkle on top of the filling.

Place tart pan in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, until apples are tender, and filling is set and golden brown. Let cool, remove sides from tart pan, and slice and enjoy!

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I even made a PDF download, if you'd like to print it, just click the link below! 

Download French Apple Tart 

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real food part two

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 Grilled, grass-fed steak salad with bleu cheese vinaigrette

I thought a follow up was in order for my real food post from last summer. Traveling and holidays were somewhat challenging, and I probably had too much sugar, too many white potatoes (in various forms, including fries), and too many seed oils while eating out. Still, despite a few setbacks, for the most part I have continued to eat primarily whole, fresh foods and very few processed foods and grains, and now I am back to eating the way I talked about in that previous post.

A few weekends ago I splurged and had a small slice of pizza. Then I went to Ikea and had some meatballs, because why would you go to Ikea and not have Swedish meatballs? I have learned my lesson, however. First of all, the meatballs were not quite as good as I remembered. Second, I'm pretty sure there is flour in some form in not only the meatballs, but also the sauce (if this is accurate, then yes, it's in both). While my first reaction to a little flour is nausea and then other digestion problems, I was surprised to wake up the following Monday with terrible aching joints. I had forgotten that I had regularly felt that way, and would wake up stiff and sore nearly every morning. As I thought back, I realized that I just accepted that feeling as part of getting older, although I wasn't really that old, and was disappointed to think that it would only get worse with each passing year. I'm not saying that I will never eat pizza again, but most of the time it's not going to be worth the consequences. 

Another lesson I learned recently: I was going to run some errands, including shopping for a new pair of jeans-I needed a smaller size, which was a very happy thing. I stopped at my local coffee shop and decided to treat myself with a fancy, warm drink, since it was a cold day. The barista recommended something she had just made for herself-an egg nog steamer with hazelnut syrup. Sounds delicious, right? I've always been an egg nog fan, so I took my drink and went on my way. I sipped as I drove, and it was just so, so sweet. Still, I kept sipping and probably made it through about 2/3 of the cup before I just had to stop and throw it away. I ran my errands and stopped at the Gap outlet for my new! jeans! I took four of five pair into the dressing room and was trying them on when the sugar crash hit. It was crazy, I went from happy and energetic to completely depressed in a matter of minutes. I was so down that I just couldn't face trying on any more clothes and left empty handed. I went straight home and took a nap. I had never connected my sugar consumption to the depression I've battled with in the past, but I think there really is a correllation. 

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Greens and mushroom gratin

I'll be honest, I am losing weight very, very slowly. My relationship with food, however, is so much better. I always considered myself an emotional eater. The problem was that any emotion was a reason to eat, especially sugary and processed foods. Sad? How about package of Chips Ahoy? Stressed? Maybe some crunchy potato chips would help with that. Happy? Let's celebrate with a treat from the bakery! Tired? Better go to a drive-thru and pick up something for dinner. The problem was that none of those foods have enough nutrition to really feed my body, so I would just want more and more. And then of course I would beat myself up for my lack of willpower. Willpower is a bunch of nonsense when it comes to eating. Hunger is a physical need, you can't eat a thousand calories worth of cookies and expect to assuage the physical need your body has for the nutrients it wants to run and repair itself. When I eat well, I find that I have no interest in that package of cookies, and my sweet tooth is satisfied with a little bit of dark chocolate or a few bites of good ice cream. I find myself having very interesting cravings now, for things like kale or salmon. It's as if my body can really tell me what it needs to function better now.

This week I've been having a weird dairy craving. I'm not sure what it is that I need, but I'm drinking tea with cream and eating cheese like crazy. And yet I've lost two pounds this week. Which brings me to another point. Fat! I eat lots and lots of good fat (coconut oil, olive oil, butter, and egg yolks are my staples). It's what fills me up, and I think it also helps eliminate that joint pain, not to mention making my skin glow and my hair shiny and healthy. What happened when we were all told that a diet low in fat and high in "healthy whole grains" was good for us in the late 1970s? We now have an epidemic of diabeties and obesity. I really think there is a connection, not to mention the mutant strains of wheat and corn which are found in pretty much everything, and snack foods are concoctoed by "food chemists" for maximum palatability (in other words, when you eat them, you will want to continue eating them). I want to eat food made from actual food, cooked by me or a chef, not concocted in a lab by chemists. Okay, enough of that little rant, sorry! 

 

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Twice-baked cauliflower (not something I would regularly make, but boy did it help with the dairy cravings!)

I want to encourage anyone with health problems to consider the way they are eating. I'm not saying that modern medicine isn't a wonderful thing, but I really do think we can heal so many ailments by eating well. There was a comment from Adee on one of my food posts about a month after I wrote that original real food post, and it made me so, so happy:

Adee aka kiwigirl42 said…

thank you so much for your early Aug blog post about healthier eating habits and paleo/ primal eating. It really struck a chord with me – I've now been fully primal for 5 wks, lost 9lb and my fibromyalgia pain is 90% improved. Its made such a difference to my life. I've even got some lacto fermented sauerkraut brewing on the bench! (from 'Nourishing Traditions' by Sally Fallon, really great book)

 

I hope you're still doing well Adee! I hope that others with similar health issues will also give it a try and see the same kind of improvements!

P.S. I have lost a total of 35 pounds since I started eating this way last April and hope to lose another 25 this year, it has been painless and requires very little willpower, but does mean that I have to be dedicated to cooking for myself every day, and making good choices when I do (seldom) eat out. Grocery shopping and meal planning have gotten easier now that I have more experience cooking this way, so if it seems hard at first, just keep at it! 

P.S.S. The greens and mushroom gratin is this recipe, which I found via Pink of Perfection, and it is amazingly delicious. Leftovers were a fantastic breakfast the next morning, topped with an egg, over easy.

The cauliflower recipe I found here, but I didn't use any low-fat ingredients, they seem too franken-foodish to me, I would rather just eat the real thing. It was deliciously rich and satisfying. I eat (organic and raw) dairy regularly, although not usually that much at one time, so I wouldn't consider this an every day kind of thing, but boy, was it good!

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build a better salad

I am a pretty good salad maker. I don't mean a little afterthought side salad as part of a meal, little more than a way to add a few extra vegetables to the table. I'm talking about a meal in itself, one that will keep you going for hours. Most days, I eat a late breakfast and then have a late lunch/early dinner. When I went into an office every day, I kept a stockpile of salad ingredients in the communal fridge and made a meal that was the envy of my co-workers. I've missed my salads, and while we've been craving warm and comforting meals lately, it's sunny and almost warm today, so I'm going to make a salad.

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Saturday's haul from the farmer's market: lots of salad ingredients!

I thought I'd share my salad formula, because salad is good for everyone, and no one should have to suffer through another boring salad.

Obviously, get what is fresh and looks good. We're lucky to have decent tomatoes year-round here, but when I've lived elsewhere, I didn't buy them this time of year. They will only taste like cardboard and bring your salad down. But root vegetables and greens are fresh, delicious, and readily available right now, so build your salad around them and wait until summer for those tomatoes. 

I like to think of my salad ingredients in categories, and then assemble a salad by using one or more items from each category. First up, of course, is the greens category. 

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Of course there all the usual lettuces: romaine, baby greens, red leaf, even iceberg is good for some kinds of salads; I also like arugula, and of coarse, baby spinach. Raw cabbage makes a nice crunchy backdrop. Kale is a sturdy green that I most often cook to eat, but it makes a hearty salad green when raw and paired with a warm bacon or sausage dressing. Sometimes I stick with one kind of green and just let it be the background for the other ingredients, or sometimes I'll mix and match several different greens. 

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 After the greens, what most often determines the direction I take a salad is the protein. This is a meal, and it's protein (and fat) that keep me full. I've used every kind of protein you could imagine in a salad. Grilled or poached chicken or fish, leftover steak, eggs, various types of charcuterie, kofta kebabs or gyro meat, canned tuna. Whatever your preference, it will make an excellent salad ingredient.

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Next up, I fill up my salad bowl with vegetables, raw and/or cooked. This is where salads really become seasonal. The farmer's market was full of root vegetables this past weekend, so I got radishes, beets, and small, sweet carrots. Roasted, the beets and carrots will add an earthy comfort. Raw carrots and radishes will add freshness and crunch. Vegetables really allow you to add texture and color, which I think is the secret to a good salad. 

 

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I also like to finish off a salad with an extra flourish (or two). Maybe some nuts for crunch, and dried fruit for chewy sweetness, or salty olives and capers. These are especially nice in a salad with salmon or tuna. Sun-dried tomatoes are an excellent solution for a winter salad. A few crumbles of a strong cheese like feta or gorgonzola make a salad feel just a little more special. Fresh herbs are another way to add an unexpected flavor. 

As for dressing my salads, I stick to simple vinegarettes, and most of the time I'm super lazy and just drizzle everything with olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice. If I'm feeling more ambitious, I'll shake the ingredients up in a jar, and add some herbs and spices and maybe a little dijon mustard.

I also often go with ethnic ingredients and let the cuisine of a country influence what I put in a salad. Here are a few examples of some favorite salad combinations, if you get stuck: 

Antipasto:

Arugula, artichoke hearts, prosciutto and/or salami, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh mozzerella, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Mexican:

Romaine and/or iceberg lettuce, grilled chicken, cilantro, fresh corn, tomatoes, jicama, red or yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced jalapeno, avocado. Top with salsa and a drizzle of crema or sour cream for dressing and sprinkle some cheddar or queso freca on top.

Turkish/Middle Eastern:

This is a chopped salad, dice everything roughly the same size: fresh tomatoes, cucumbers (I love the little Persian ones), bell peppers in assorted colors, a little onion, if you dare! Add some good olives, and toss with olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkle with sumac and chopped, fresh parsley. I like this with any kind of kebab, particularly kofta kebabs (seasoned ground lamb and beef), and a dollop of thick, Greek style yogurt.

Nicoise:

Mixed greens, grilled salmon or canned tuna, blanched green beans and boiled or roasted new potatoes, nicoise or kalamata olives and a hard boiled egg, quartered. Sprinkle with capers and dress with a lemon vinegarette. And imagine you are in the south of France.

 

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Sometimes, I even have salad for breakfast (roasted beet greens and an egg, over-easy).

What do you like to include in your salads? 

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farmer’s market

I went to the farmer's market in Little Italy this morning. It was a beautiful day. Sometimes it's really nice to live in California.

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rainy day baking

It's rainy and grey and I am so happy to be at home in my warm kitchen. It's been a long time since I've baked or made any dessert-type food. I've made lots of enormous pots of soup and slow cooker pot roasts and hearty stews these last few, cold weeks. My food styling and photography skills are not yet to the point where I can make a bowl of brown glop look good, no matter how delicious it really was, so I thought it was time for something pretty.  

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I have still been eating the same way I was last summer. There were a few holiday and travel setbacks, but there is such a difference in how I feel when I eat well and stay away from grains and too much sugar and processed food, so I avoid them as much as possible. I'll do a follow up post soon and talk about that a little more. So it's a truly special treat for me to make something like this, and while there is a little sugar involved, there's no flour at all!  

I was inspired by this tart from Roost, and some delicate, small Forelle pears I picked up at the market the other day. Have you visited Roost before? The whole site is inspiring, as well as beautifully written and photographed. What's even better, most recipes are gluten free. 

 image from www.flickr.com

I made the crust exactly as written, although my almond meal from Trader Joe's. The unblanched almonds make for a dark and nutty crust that was very dense. I think blanched almond flour would probably be a little prettier and lighter, and I'd like to try to find some for the next time. Still, it was very flavorful and rich, and not too sweet, so I made a nice backdrop for the pears and cream.

 image from www.flickr.com

The rest was an experiment. I poached the pears in apple cider, and added star anise, cardamom, vanilla, and fresh ginger. Since they were small, they only took twenty-five minutes or so until they were tender.

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I used Vanilla Bean Paste in everything. Have you seen this? It might not be exactly the same as using a vanilla bean, but it's very close and much less expensive. You can see all the little bean flecks when you use it, unlike plain old vanilla extract. 

I decided to make a pastry cream/creme brulee/custard sort of hybrid for the creamy part. And that's where my experimenting got the best of me, so I hope I don't make any pastry chefs out there cringe at my naivity (and of course, if you can suggest a better way to accomplish this, please do!). It was really, really delicious, but a little too runny.  

Here's what I did: I added a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste and a few crushed cardamom pods to a pint of heavy cream and brought it to a boil. Then I turned off the heat and put a lid on the pan and let it steep for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I whisked three egg yolks with about 1/3 cup of sugar (raw, organic cane sugar), until it was nice and light. I added a little cream to the egg yolks, whisking constantly, to temper them, and then slowly added the rest of the cream and continued to whisk (I was fishing out the cardamom pods as I poured it in to save myself from having to strain them out). I returned all this to the pan and cooked it over another pan of simmering water, whisking the whole time, for about five minutes, until it was thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. I let it cool to room temperature, and it got a little thicker, so I poured it into the baked crust and put it in the fridge to chill for an hour or two. It did set up some more, but it's still a bit too thin.  

 

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And it turns out I am not a champion pear-arranger either. Still, the pears were subtly spiced, and the cream filling was flavorful and well, creamy and addicting. It all worked together so well. Of course I can't show you what a slice looked like, because it was about on par with that bowl of brown slop I mentioned earlier.  

 

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this and that

I never even turned on my computer yesterday. I was so scattered, and I kept meaning to get to it and then I just never did. Do you have days like that? I did a lot of things, but in the end I didn't feel like I really accomplished much at all. I'm going to try and do better today, so first thing I'm doing is getting on my computer and writing this post, which will probably be random and scattered like my day was.

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The acorns on the California oaks around here are long and skinny. I have an app called FingerFace and now I think I will put little faces on everything. 

I shared the above photo on Instagram the other day. I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I've limited my Twitter use to blog posts and Instagram these days, I feel like tweeting is like walking into a big party and just shouting out something witty and hoping someone hears (and then RTs it). I don't really love big parties. I think I will stick to Instagram for now, I like looking at everyone's pretty pictures and it's making me be more creative with photography. 

I didn't mention in my book post that I listened to the Song of Ice and Fire series audiobooks recently as well. I came across this Tumblr blog and this re-imagined cover for A Game of Thrones made me laugh really hard. 

Have you seen this? Works of art, re-made. Some are literal, like this beautiful painting and photograph: 

Remake1

And some are more interpretive. I especially liked this one (the pillow case tacked to the wall is an especially nice touch): 

 

Remake2

I've been making a lot of soup lately, albondigas, this hot & sour cabbage soup, sausage and kale soup. I tried this green soup, but it came out kind of thin and watery, with not a lot of flavor. I need to expand my soup repertoire, does anyone have a favorite recipe to share? Preferably without grains or beans. Lots of vegetables are welcome, and I am not afraid to make my own broth. When I'm ready for a break from soup I think I'll try this artichoke, kale & ricotta pie, it looks so good.

I told you I was all scattered! 

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