Thursday, June 14, 2012

Catching up on 52 Cookbooks - #29, Food Matters

I admire the philosophy behind Mark Bittman's Food Matters, though what with the day job and my writing career, I just don't have the time to embrace it wholly.  Some nights are just going to be pasta served with frozen meatballs mixed with jarred tomato sauce.

Basically, he advocates going back to a more traditional diet with far fewer animal products and refined carbs than the modern American diet.  I think he's right; it's just a challenge to balance his recommendation with a hectic lifestyle.  I'm working on it, and a few of the recipes in this book are on my go-to list.  E.g. for my work breakfast I make a batch of whole-wheat couscous at the beginning of the week flavored with nuts (pecans are tastiest IMHO), maple syrup, and dried fruit, and the Thai beef salad makes an excellent light dinner on a warm evening.

When Food Matters came up in my cookbook rotation, I decided to try one of his dessert options, No-Bake Fruit Tarts:

No-Bake Fruit Tarts

- About four c. fresh fruit, trimmed, cored, peeled, and sliced as needed (I used a mix of fresh berries)
- 1 T sugar
- 1/2 c. brandy, dessert wine, or champagne, optional (I used ice wine, though I made a tart for Miss Fraser sans alcohol)
- 1 c. almonds; or use pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, or macadamia nuts (despite my passion for pecans, I used almonds)
- 3/4 c. pitted and packed dried fruit (I used apricots)
- 4 oz. good-quality bittersweet chocolate, melted

1. Put the fruit in a bowl.  Sprinkle with the sugar, and the liquor if you're using it.  Toss gently to coat, and refrigerate while you prepare the crust.

2. Put the nuts in the food processor and pulse until ground, being careful not to overprocess. Transfer to a bowl, then put the dried fruit in the processor along with a tsp or so of water.  Pulse until finely chopped and sticky enough to adhere to the nuts (some fruit will require more water than others).  Use your hands or a rubber spatula to combine the nuts and fruit until they become a "dough."

3. Divide the dough into 8 pieces and press into 3-inch round disks on a piece of wax paper or parchment; they should be about 1/4-inch thick.  Brush each disk with the melted chocolate in a thin, even layer, and top with the fresh fruit and any accumulated juices.  Serve immediately.

As you can probably tell from the image above, my tart bases were too wide and thick, and the fruit just sort of slopped over it without sticking.  I ended up with three, one for each of us in Casa Fraser, not eight. I think I should've pulsed the nuts into something closer to almond meal.  In my zeal to avoid over-processing, I went too far the other way.  Also, it might've helped to add a smidge more water to the apricots.

The result as made was edible, but out of balance--too much dried fruit and nut, not enough chocolate and fresh fruit.  I ended up with half a bowl of fresh berries left soaking in ice wine, though Mr. Fraser and I did eat them, and I slurped up most of the berry juice and ice wine syrup they left behind.  That was pure deliciousness.

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