Monday: Caprese Salad Leftover Casserole / Sautéed Rainbow Chard
Tuesday: Scallops with Root Vegetable Mash – Beez’s Birthday Dinner
Wednesday: Onion Tart / Green Salad
Friday: CCHS 50th Reunion, Class of 1967, Stag Night
Saturday: Brunch for CCHSFS – Spinach Frittata with Sausage and Goat Cheese / Arugula, Tomatoes, Red Onion, Feta Salad / Soda Bread with Orange Butter / Bloody Marys / Mimosas / Coffee
Sunday: Pretty Good Chili / Antipasto with Roast Cauliflower and Pickled Brussels Sprouts / Linda’s Apple Crisp
‘Being on time should not be confused with being prompt. . . . Being early is an unpardonable sin. If you are early, you’ll witness the last-minute confusion and panic that always attend making everything seem effortlessly gracious.’
- J. O’Rourke, “The Fundamentals of Contemporary Courtesy”:
How many times have SWMBO and I threatened each other with baseball bats, horsewhips, butchers’ knives and cast-iron skillets, while wrapping up the preparations just before the onslaught of guests to a dinner party? Well, we’ve never done that, but we certainly have thought about it a thousand times or more. (The use of “onslaught” should have tipped you off.)
And so it is with great pride I report that, unaided, I was host to a brunch on Saturday and a gathering of the clan to watch football and have dinner on Sunday, and that I did not kick the dog, take the name of the Lord in vain, or punch a hole in the wall. (I did say unforgivable things to the piece of eggshell that kept eluding extrication from the frittata mixture.)
Here’s the way it is at our house – We love entertaining (well, Beez not so much, but when you add me in and achieve the “we” part, we love it). The only drawback is the preparation, which always takes longer than you think so that you find yourself answering the doorbell clad only in a towel, or running to the store at the last minute for that key ingredient for the steak dinner which you somehow forgot – the steak.
No doubt you are thinking, with some distaste – and who could blame you – that this is going to be one of those ‘tips for easy entertaining’ posts you can find all over the internet. Hey – I’m not that organized, and I wouldn’t be that presumptuous. I will just say this about your attitude, not your organization: You should realize that people really enjoy not having to cook for themselves and that, if they come to your house for dinner, unless they are employees or you are rich or influential, they enjoy being with you. If things get truly out of control, push the booze. You’d be surprised at how silly your worries will seem after 2 Bombay Sapphire martinis. Last Saturday, I left the second frittata in a very hot oven for 30 minutes longer than necessary. I told everyone that it was a ‘caramelized’ frittata. It was well received.
The dishes of the week were Linda Stewart’s Apple Crisp, the Sautéed Rainbow Chard which made leftover casserole a gourmet meal, and the Onion Tart. We’re going to share the Tart because we don’t know how to cook Apple Crisp (though we have become experts at eating it) and because making your own pastry and serving this pretty dish will make people think you’re a better cook than you really are. Baking scares people and if you plunge into it, you’ll impress them.
FRAGRANT ONION TART
(Adapted from Vegetable Literacy, by Deborah Madison)
Timing: About 90 minutes (crust can be made ahead)
Ingredients: Serves 4 as a main course, more as an appetizer
For the crust:
1 cup and 2 tablespoons white all-purpose, white whole-wheat or spelt flower (we used white, all-purpose flour)
6 tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons ice water or more, if needed (we used white flour and it was a cold, dry day, and we needed maybe 6 tablespoons)
For the filling
1 ½ lbs. of white onions
2 slices of bacon, cut crosswise into small pieces (optional)
2 tablespoons of butter
1 teaspoon plus of fresh thyme leaves (or 2 pinches of dried thyme)
½ cup crème fraîche
½ cup milk
1 cup grated Gouda or Gruyère cheese
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Make the Crust:
Put the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix at low speed until the butter is broken into small, pebble-size pieces. Drizzle in ice water until the dough looks clumpy and damp. (Basically, very soft butter will require less, cold butter, more, of the ice water.)
Shape the dough into a rectangle or a disk depending on the shape of the pan you will use to cook the tart. (Either a 9 inch round tart pan or a square or rectangular one (about 94 square inches). Note: Tart pans have bottoms separate from their sides, so that when the tart is finished, you push the bottom up to free it from the sides.
Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the Filling:
Cut onions in half and peel. Finely dice.
If using the bacon, fry until brown and almost crisp, then remove it to drain on paper towels.
Wipe out the pan and add the butter. When the butter melts, add the onions, the thyme and ¾ teaspoon of salt and cook over medium heat, stirring from time to time until faintly gold (not caramelized) – about 25 minutes or less. Let cool and taste and add salt if too sweet, then season with a good amount of pepper.
While the onions are cooking, whisk the eggs with the crème fraîche and milk. Then stir in the cooled onions and the grated cheese.
Make the Tart:
Preheat oven to 400 F
Roll the dough to fit the pan. Drape the dough in the pan and press it up the sides of the pan and shape it.
Set the pan on a sheet pan and, when the oven is ready, pour in the onion mixture.
Bake until the surface is golden and browned in places – 45-50 minutes.
Let it cool to warm before cutting into pieces and serving. Add a green salad, like we did, and you have a light weekday dinner.