Posted in Daily, Food

Origin, Evolution and Art of “Tarte”

“The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts,
All on a summer day:
The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts,
And took them quite away!” – Lewis Carroll

As echoed by the words of Lewis Carroll, the association of “tarts” to the upper ranks of pastries has been there since the medieval ages. Fast forward to the present, their popularity hasn’t diminished by any means with more than three food holidays for tarts like the raspberry tart day (May 3rd), Cherry Tart Day (June 18th), Butter Tart Day (June 1st) and even National Milk Tart Day (February 27th) as declared and celebrated by “foodimentarians” around the world.

Tart is basically a baked dish with filling over a pastry base with the top left open. While the pastry is usually of shortcrust, the filling can vary from sweet to savoury; although modern tarts are fruit-based with or without custard. Miniature tarts known as tartlets like egg tarts are also gaining widespread popularity as they can essentially substitute for a complete breakfast for the “busy fast paced” world out there.

Originating from the Old French “tarte” or Medieval Latin “tarta”; the distinction of tart with flan, quiche and pie are often blurred with differentiation on the basis of the covering over the pastry or the filling type being sweet, savoury or meat and vegetable based. the categories of “tart”, “flan”, “quiche”, and “pie” overlap, with no sharp distinctions.

“Unless you are a professional, you will find the tart to be a high-maintenance, unforgiving whistle-blower of a pastry.” Sloane Crosley

On tracing the origins of tart, most food historians believe that they came about from the tradition of layering food or “putting things on top of other things” especially over notably round, flat pieces of bread or bread based crusts. Over time, the base was pastry type and then tarts had come about. Another line of thought maintains that tarts spring from the Medieval pie-making tradition, as a kind of flat, open-faced pie. Dating to at least mid 15th century, one of the earliest tarts was “the Italian crostata”, described as a “rustic free-form version of an open fruit tart” or “an open-faced sandwich or canape” due to its’ crusted appearance.

With the arrival of enriched dough around the 1550s, pies took a setback of being a common man’s way of recycling offal and table scraps, while tarts were made with fillings of “high cuisine” often made artistic and pleasing to the eye as well as palate. Often custard-based, a large, open tart presented a broad canvas upon which an artistic chef might compose a work of edible art with brightly-colored fruits, vegetables and spices added onto or into them, mostly being sweet than savoury, or a little of both.

Typically free-standing with firm pastry base of dough, itself made of flour, thick filling, and perpendicular sides; tarts have been made with varied fillings including jam, Treacle tart, meringue tart, tarte Tatin and Bakewell tart.

In fact, the “tarte Tatin”, named after the hotel (originated in France) serving it as its signature dish, is an upside-down pastry in which the fruit (usually apples) are caramelized in butter and sugar before the tart is baked. Over the years, this version as spread to other countries over the years with the filling upside-down being of not just apples or other fruit but also onions, tomatoes and other vegetables.

With savoury tarts getting their own special niche of “quiches”, German Zwiebelkuchen ‘onion tart’ or Swiss cheese tart (Gruyere); tarts and their related varieties are here to stay, especially for quick, comfortable, fun and artistic cooking. With June being the month of outdoors and picnics, tarts and pies are very much here to stay.

“I’m really a scientist. I follow recipes exactly – until I decide not to. And then I’ll follow something else exactly. I may decide I could turn this peach tart into a plum tart, but if I’m following a recipe, I follow it exactly.” Ina Garten

Advertisements
Posted in Daily, Food, Musique, Stories Around the World

“Rocky Road” When On the Go

“I am not plain, or average or – God forbid – vanilla. I am peanut butter rocky road with multicolored sprinkles, hot fudge and a cherry on top.” Wendy Mass

Imagine a sewing scissors, ice cream and the whole house to oneself. As per one source, when William Dreyer of Oakland, California ( March 1929) had eyed these items on a spring day; he had cut up some walnuts and marshmallows and added them to his chocolate ice cream; similar to his friend Joseph Edy’s chocolate candy creation with walnuts and marshmallows. Later walnuts were replaced by pieces of toasted almonds. Variations of this combination with add on of nuts, whole or diced and even flavoured marshmallows with chocolate ice cream ( no choclate chips in the original one) had led to the creation of “rocky road ice cream”.

Post the era of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Dreyer and Edy gave the flavor its current name “to give folks something to smile about in the midst of the Great Depression.” Another claim to this creation was by Fentons Creamery, Oakland who stated that Dreyer based his recipe on a Rocky Road-style ice cream flavor invented there by George Farren. The latter had blended his own Rocky Road-style candy bar into ice cream which Dreyer had modified.

“I hope your only rocky road is chocolate.” Amanda Mosher

While in Australia (1853), the “rocky road” was created. Rocky road was a type of cake made up of milk chocolate and marshmallow which is usually served in individual portions such as a cupcake or brownie. With exact origins debatable, the rocky road was created as a way to sell confectionery which had lost it’s flavour during the long trip from Europe and was mixed with locally-grown nuts and cheap chocolate to enhance the taste. As per this account, the name “rocky road” comes from the rocky road that travelers had to take to reach the gold fields. Although, many companies based in the Americas have laid claim to this creation as well.

Rocky road has it’s own variations as per the local flavour. With the traditional Australian rocky road being made of glace cherries, milk chocolate (sometimes dark or white chocolate), desiccated coconut, nuts (mostly peanuts) and marshmallow; Bahrain’s rocky road has milk chocolate, Nutella and pistachios. Moving west ward bound, the traditional British Rocky Road (1971) contains dried fruit, biscuit, milk chocolate ( rarely substituted by dark or white chocolate) with a light dusting of icing sugar over it.

Regardless of the type of Rocky road, whether as store bought or homemade cake, brownies, ice cream or served as topping over coffee, hot chocolate, sundaes or other sweet combinations; missing out on this delight before the summer comes to an end would be sinful. With foodimentarians celebrating tomorrow as National Rocky Road Day ( June 2nd); it would be fun, creative as well as a palatal delight to indulge in this delectable dessert for a change.

“I hear those ice cream bells and I start to drool,
Keep a couple quarts in my locker at school
Yeah, but chocolate’s gettin’ old,
And vanilla just leaves me cold,
There’s just one flavor good enough for me, yeah me,
Don’t gimme no crummy taste spoon, I know what I need, baby
I love rocky road,
So won’t you go and buy a half gallon baby
I love rocky road,
So have another triple scoop with me, OW!”

Lyrics of “I Love Rocky Road” by “Weird Al” Yankovic (1983)

Posted in Daily, Food

Of Macaron and Macaroon

“Orange pekoe flavor, with that gold confection dust on the top.” She holds one up to demonstrate. “Mascarpone filling.” She bites it clean in half and shows me the middle. “Rose jelly in the center.”
“Sounds good to me. What shall we call it?”
“I don’t know.”
I reach over and pick up a macaron, the texture, weight, and balance all perfect. Symmetry, lightness, both shells with excellent feet, wedded together with a smooth filling. Nodding with approval, I place it on my tongue. She is right; the orange and rose flavors melt lustily in your mouth. It’s just like Mama- all bright and full of surprises.” – Hannah Tunnicliffe, The Color of Tea

Known as “macaron” or “French macaroon”, this sweet meringue-based confection is made with egg white, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder or ground almond and food coloring. Typically served with a ganache, buttercream or jam filling sandwiched between two such cookies (similar to a sandwich cookie), macarons have been one of the little delights gaining wide popularity globally. Mildly moist, melting when eaten; this confection is characterized by a smooth squared top, a ruffled circumference, referred to as the “crown” (or “foot” or “pied”) and a flat base. Macarons can be made in a wide variety of flavors that range from the traditional vanilla, raspberry, chocolate to the unusual flavours of foie gras, matcha and so on. There is some variation in whether the term macaron or macaroon is used, and the related coconut macaroon is often confused with the macaron.

 

Macarons are a little different from macaroons, wherein both start off with a base of egg whites and sugar. But macaroons are with the base is typically whipped into a stiff meringue , like meringue cookies. Whereas, for macarons after the meringue is whipped, a combination of powdered sugar and finely ground almonds gets folded in, not too much or too little. The resulting semi-liquid batter is piped into exact rounds and baked.

The origin of the macarons are quite debatable. Although macarons today are credited to France, the first known appearance of the macaron in Europe was believed to be back in the Middle Ages. In those times, the macaron was a small sweet made of almonds, egg white and sugar, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. As some food historians believe that, these “macarons” were initially made in Italy as a consequence of the Arab troops from modern Tunisia ( around 9th century AD), landing in Sicily. They had brought new foods along with them like lemons, rice, pistachios as well as a rich repertoire of nut-based sweets like almond paste candies wrapped in dough. In fact, the term “macaron” shares similarity to the Italian macaroni, which puts a shadow of doubt over it being a French creation.

 

Since the 8th century, Macarons have been produced in the Venetian monasteries. Yet they gained wide popularity in the French court, when the Italian pastry chef who were brought by Catherine de’ Medici when she had married King Henry II of France, during the Renaissance Era. During those years of the 16th century, macarons were known as ‘priest’s bellybuttons,’ due to the pastry’s shape. Yet as per Larousse Gastronomique, the macaron was created in 1791 in a convent near Cormery. Legend says that two Carmelite nuns, seeking asylum in Nancy during the French Revolution (1792), baked and sold the macaron cookies in order to pay for their housing. Later these nuns were known as the “Macaron Sisters”. These early years saw macarons being served without special flavors or fillings.

Towards the early 1990s, the modern day macarons had began to take shape. Largely credited to Pierre Desfontaines, the pastry chef and owner of the Parisian café, Ladurée; the modern day macaron was made when he had decided to take two macarons and fill them with ganache. The result was an instant success. These original “Gerbet” or “Paris Macaron” were composed of two almond meringue discs filled with a layer of buttercream, jam, or ganache filling. Similar styles were also claimed to be started by another baker, Claude Gerbet.

By the 1930s, macarons were served in two’s with the addition of jams, liqueurs, and spices. Since then macarons have evolved from a humble almond cookie to a versatile treat, coming in a variety of colours and flavours; alluring both to the taste buds, the experimenters’ kitchen as well as the creative mind. Towards the 21st century, confectioners started offering macarons with a difference in flavor between filling and cookie, in both savoury (Basil mint or Thai curry) and sweet styles. Little wonder that there are two days devoted to macarons with Macaron Day (March 20th) and National Macaroon Day ( May 31st) being celebrated across the world. Explore this little treat to enter another world of desserts, more than sandwich cookies, little delights both flavour some and edible art.

 

Posted in Daily, Food

Of “Burger” and Origins

“Fashion is like food! Some people like sushi, others think hamburgers are divine! People like different things!” Michael Kors

One of the most popular comfort foods, snack foods or a complete meal to splurge occasionally, or for fun and festive, is the hamburger or burger. Essentially a sandwich consisting of one or more cooked patties (pan fried, grilled or flame broiled) of meat placed inside a sliced bread roll or bun and often served with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and other adds ons, as well as condiments like ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, relish, or “special sauce”, these sandwiches or “burgers” have stormed the food industry ever since their introduction. While today, the patties can range from meat, fish, egg or vegan; hamburgers or burgers have evolved from being that of fast food joints or the regular diners to specialty or high end restaurants. Like all sandwiches, its’ what goes in and the entire taste and texture that counts.

“It requires a certain kind of mind to see beauty in a hamburger bun.” ~ Ray Kroc

 

Although the term, “hamburger” is originally derived from Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city; its’ origins have been subject to much dispute, claim and uncertainty. Before the “disputed invention” of the hamburger in the United States, similar foods already existed in the culinary tradition of Europe. As recorded in The Apicius cookbook, a collection of ancient Roman recipes that may date to the early 4th century, “isicia omentata” preparation is detailed as a baked patty in which meat is mixed with pine kernels, black and green peppercorns, and white wine, considered to be the earliest precursor to the hamburger. Later on with various conquests, civilizations and trade, similar recipes were made with various varieties of the meat available then, like the “steak tartare” made of minced horse-meat of the 12th century.

The evolution of the name “Hamburg” came as the town was known for its’ ports famous for trade with the “New World” as well as then ” Old Europe”. With immigrants reminiscing about home, various dishes made with steak came to known with the name “Hamburg” added along side the dish name on the various menus especially when at sea or the ports, like the Hamburg-style American fillet.

 

However the exact origin of the hamburger may never be known with any certainty. While most historians believe it was invented by a cook who placed a Hamburg steak between two slices of bread in a small town in Texas; few others credit the founder of White Castle for developing the “Hamburger Sandwich.” With records being scarce, the stories and claims still remain as “legends”. With most claims for the invention occurring towards the early 19th century, common factors include large crowds like fairs, festivals, amusement parks as well as street vendors, who for simplicity, ease and increased sales had placed the steak between two buns filed with few vegetables to get the taste and the sales” going.

Yet by whichever origin, the “burgers” have been evolved across the globe adapting to the taste, local ingredients, culture and essence of the locality like the Vietnamese rice-burger. Varied experimentation with the ingredients can be made with ease, to give rise to a style or art with home cooking the “burgers” especially on the International Burger Day (May 28th). Depending on the mood or scene, from barbecues to cook-outs various combinations can be made, traded and shared with fun memories to treasure. Or one can ordering the good old regular “burger” for not just satisfying the hunger pangs but also for comfort in the memories of the good old times. As the old saying goes, “moderation is the key to having fun while eating”.

 

Posted in Daily, Food

“Quiche” on the Menu

Fill the pastry crust with cheese, tomatoes, egg custard and smoked meat or mushrooms or any ingredient by choice, bake it without covering the pastry and viola’ the “homemade quiche’ ” is ready for the get-together with the extended family, friends, colleagues, neighbours or for a quiet light meal for two.

This savoury open flan consisting of pastry crust filled with eggs, milk or cream with cheese, meat, seafood or vegetables, quiche is one of the popular dishes of the French cuisine which has reached over to various parts and countries of the world albeit with or without modifications.

While the word “quiche” was first attested in French (1805) and the first English usage as “quiche Lorraine” was recorded in the Indiana Evening Gazette in 1925; the origins of this dish may be traced to the German roots. For the word “quiche” may originate from the German “Kuchen” meaning “cake” or “tart”. Food historians have traced the roots of “quiche” to the medieval kingdom of Lothringen, under German rule, which the French later renamed as Lorraine.

Although this may be debatable as using eggs and cream in pastry was practiced in most cuisines as early as the 13th century. In fact the ” Forme of Cury” and the “Italian Libro de arte coquinaria” of the 13th and 14th century cookbooks have references of recipes known as ” Crustardes of flesh” or ” Crustade” which spell out steps for eggs and cream baked in pastry containing meat, fish and fruit. Since then, these recipes have caught on.

“I do not like a quiche with wet, undercooked pastry underneath, and that is that.” Mary Berry

Quiche can be made with a variety of ingredients with the variants often named descriptively in French like the quiche au fromage ( with cheese), quiche aux champignons (with mushrooms) or conventionally like florentine (spinach) and provençale (tomatoes) to list a few. Although there are many variants of quiche, one of the most popular and famous one is the ” Quiche Lorraine”, which has its’ own National Day as per the foodimentarians ( May 20th).

The authentic Quiche Lorraine originated from the German culture in which the “quiche” was an egg custard pie baked in a brioche pastry (and not in the typical French pie dough). Over the years this recipe had evolved into its’ classical form containing heavy cream, eggs and bacon or chopped ham, but no cheese. This mouth-watering wintry dish is baked until the pastry crust is browning. It can be served as a starter with a dressed crisp salad or as a brunch dish, often enjoyed at room temperature or little warm to keep the pie still crunchy. While the most popular Quiche recipe, includes French soft cheese (emmenthal or gruyere); many modern variations like the Alsatian-style including onions to modern versions with goat cheese, salmon, leek or even broccoli are made today.

So for a quick change from the regular, trying this simple recipe after a busy day may be fun. For the lack of ovens, this dish works fine on cooking with “instant pot” or ” by double boiling” techniques too . As often said, cooking is all about ” experimentation, cuisine mixing with modifications keeping it simple, tasty and artsy as well as fun”.

Posted in Daily, Family and Society, Food

“Food Fun”: Mix , Match and Experiment

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”  Virginia Woolf

Imagine a menu planned by kids. This was one of the tasks allotted to my child in his kindergarten class. On first hearing this; for all parents, this plan may set off alarm bells of the aftermath of a mass gastric upsets, whereas secretly many among us crave these foods on certain or many occasions. 

 

Imagine a list that ranges from Cheetos to ice cream, pancakes, sandwiches and all the sweet as well as the “street food” in the world. While this may sound too good to be true, some of these combinations though weird actually taste good.

Oreos and Orange Juice
Frosted Flakes and Cheese
Soya Sauce on Ice Cream
Apples with Salt, Pepper and Chilli Flakes
Cake of “Banana Pancakes with Nutella, Cream and Honey”
Avocados and Chocolate
Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwiches
Bananas on Cheese Toastie
Butter and Sugar Sandwiches
Peanut Butter in Burgers
Rice and Ketchup
Grape Jelly on Scrambled Eggs or Omelettes ..and the list goes on, up to one’s choice of taste, artistic eye and palatable combinations.

 

Though everyday food involves eating healthy as well enjoying food that we love guilt free, the daily meals get a bit of livening up when we get free with the mix and match, go creative as well as enjoy surprising the taste senses.
With “Eat What You Want Day” (May 11th) is being celebrated today, which was initially started to enjoy a guilt free “indulge in your favourite food” day; this is one of the best days to try weird combinations or have breakfast for dinner, break the routine and let the young ones plan one meal for the day (few of us can tolerate Doritos, pizza and ice cream only to an extent).

Whether one wants to have sweet or sour, or indulge in the “mood for something different to taste” for the day; having fun while eating is the first along with being healthy, wise, happy and creative too.

 

Posted in Food, Life, Quotes, Reflections

Slices of “Strawberry” Summer

“Happiness, I have grasped, is a destination, like strawberry fields. Once you find the way in, there you are, and you’ll never feel low again.” Rachel Simon

With the scent of summer still in the air, one wouldn’t miss the scent of wild strawberries in the fields. With lazy weekends beckoning a walk, it would be a perfect time for some family bonding as well as strawberry picking.

“You can pick wild strawberries with your eyes closed, locating them by smell, for they are two parts perfume to one part taste. An hour of searching might yield a handful if you’re lucky. Wild strawberries can’t be encouraged, nor can they be discouraged: They come to you unbidden and unearned. They appear, or do not, by the grace of the sun.” Hope Jahren

During this impromptu excursion, certain moments get engraved silently in the mind. The rapid passing of time, children growing up fast as well as hectic weeks leaving very less time to unwind, converse as well as simply relax; all highlight the significance in shutting down the media and heading back to nature.

“Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.” Pema Chodron

With plenty of fresh strawberries to go around, it would be fun to go artsy, creative and add some sweetness to the regular meals as well as desserts. Browsing through the old recipes and brushing them with some “taste of summer” would make the strawberries as well as moments and memories to capture for the later years.

“As our lives speed up more and more, so do our children’s. We forget and thus they forget that there is nothing more important than the present moment. We forget and thus they forget to relax, to find spiritual solitude, to let go of the past, to quiet ambition, to fully enjoy the eating of a strawberry, the scent of a rose, the touch of a hand on a cheek…” Michael Gurian

“It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.” — Laura Ingalls Wilder