It’s been a long week, since I was here last. Like flying through time, only instead of having Time bend for us, we moved for Him: We started in Seattle, where a dear friend and her adorable two-year-old were staying with us, then zipped to New Orleans with my family, catching two raucous nights and a wedding there, then flew back for a different wedding in Seattle, then hit home, seeing the same friends again. At one point I thought of the little golden snitch in Harry Potter, and wondered if this is how it felt, buzzing around nonstop, trying not to get caught. (That laptop? Yeah, it stayed in its bag, mostly.)
But oh, New Orleans: City of debauchery, gluttony, and (we noticed) extremely bendy liquor laws (where pretty 17-year-old siblings are concerned, at least). It was my third trip since Katrina, and I must say the city is looking a lot better than it did a year and half ago.
New Orleans isn’t so easy on the liver, especially when my cousin Erica is in charge. (And I must say: Partying with your entire family is FUN.) Instead of rehashing everything from the bachelorette party to the bull ride, I’ll offer a few wedding planning tips, because Erica, honey, you did it right.
For brides and grooms:
1. Do offer your guests a tall, strong cocktail as they walk into the ceremony site. Preferably pink. No one will care if you’re late.
2. Do coordinate with your city’s police force and arrange for a parade around downtown after your ceremony, complete with a big brass band and you at the head of the line. This is so much more fun for your guests than waiting for you to take ten zillion pictures.
3. Do give your wedding chow a sharp sense of place. Erica and Mark did up the New Orleans grub in a huge way, starting with a crawfish boil (and the best fried catfish) and ending with a failure-free buffet (those are so rare!) of spoonbread with beef debris, crab beggars’ purses, savory cheesecakes, jambalaya cakes, etc. Ah-MAZE-ing, even for this not-so-Cajun-lovin’ girl.
4. Do ask your stiletto-clad guests to avoid the toes of guests with lesser, or in my case no, shoes on. It’s only polite. (I’m still a little limpy. It’s not my fault my shoes were off when I took this photo, is it?)
5. Do commemorate your favorite late-nite snack. We had gyros after dancing, right there in the reception room, at 11 p.m., which made me miss breakfast a lot less when we hit the airport at 4:45 a.m.
Anyway. That was the first half of my week. At the ass-crack on Saturday morning, which also happened to be our anniversary, we flew back to Seattle in time for a different (gorgeous) wedding here, which I stumbled through with less energy than I might have liked. Jim and I bailed on the dancing and had our own little slow dance right here behind the chair I’m sitting in, celebrating five years of marriage, and slept more in one night than we had in the previous three combined.
Then, Sunday, we had friends over for a Pagan eating celebration (read: our take on Easter), and I baked my first ham (easy peasy) and made the most delicious banana cake, with a cream cheese frosting that almost didn’t make it out of the bowl. Just yesterday, the friend and the 2-year-old left, and here I am, with lots of dirty laundry and about ten pounds of maple- and marmalade-glazed ham.
So, apologies: I just don’t feel much like cooking. (I do feel pretty good, though, considering. Hooray for naps three days in a row.)
But before it all started, I was on a recipe bender. I’ve been tearing out magazine recipes like a machine lately, bringing other peoples’ ideas into the kitchen to see what happens, and it feels good. Last week, before the time warp started, Jim and I had a conversation that went something like this:
ME: Tomorrow night I’m making an awesome Frenchie onion tart from Gourmet.
HIM: Just onions?
ME: OOoooooh. I’ll make it with kale!
ME: And beet salad.
HIM: No, back to the tart. And?
ME: And what?
HIM: And bacon. Why?
ME: Why? Oh. Because we have that leftover bacon?
ME: And because everything’s better with bacon?
ME: And . . .I don’t know. Why am I playing this game?
HIM: And because when you cook, you have to know your audience. And I want bacon.
So demanding, this husband of mine.
The next night, before we headed off to a yoga class, I made the dough, folding in half whole wheat flour, and caramelized the onions. We only had 2 pounds’ worth of onions, so I added a pound of kale. (In my blissful post-ohming state, I forgot the kale on the stove, and it burned. It turned out just fine in the end, though; the burned bits got covered up by the cheese. Still, watch your kale.)
“No bacon?” Jim was doubtful when I slid the tart into the oven.
“No bacon,” I said.
Moments later, I heard his voice reverberating off the shower curtain. The song was about how tarts without bacon suck, with refrains about vegetables being for losers, etcetera.
When he walked out of the bathroom, I told him he was welcome to cook up the bacon himself and sprinkle it on top of the finished tart, if he was so sure my version would fail, but he declined. The sweet, yeasty scent of caramelized onion on fresh dough wafted through the house. He looked hungry.
When I took it out of the oven, I was thrilled to find that the tart’s crust was crisp enough to pick up in one hand. I transferred it to the cutting board that way, like moving a Frisbee, just to prove a point. (The truth: It almost broke. Don’t try it.)
My husband mumbled something unintelligible through his first bite.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“It doesn’t need bacon,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
I made it again the next day, for my friend, pushing the crust to all white whole wheat flour, and softening the edges with just a brush of olive oil. I used the full three pounds of onions, plus the kale.
Whole Wheat Kale and Caramelized Onion Tart (PDF)
Adapted from a March 2008 Gourmet magazine recipe for an Onion Tart with Mustard and Fennel, this simple appetizer tends toward pizza, but “pizza” just doesn’t capture its little mustard bite, the great herby fennel flavor, or the way the kale dries out and crisps in the oven. You can caramelize the onions the night before you serve it, as the original recipe suggests, but be sure to pour off any accumulated liquid before spreading them out on the dough.
For best results, bake the tart in a heavy 12” by 15” half sheet pan. I found the crust wasn’t as crisp in a flimsy pan.
TIME: 1 hour active time
MAKES: 8 appetizer servings
1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour, plus all-purpose flour for rolling dough
1 large egg
1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 3/4 teaspoons salt, divided
Olive oil spray
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
3 pounds yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
Freshly ground pepper
1 3/4-pound bunch kale, cleaned and chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Stir the yeast and warm water together in a small bowl, and let stand until foamy, about five minutes.
Place 1 1/2 cups of the flour in the work bowl of a stand mixer. Make a well in the flour, and add the yeast mixture. Stir the egg, 1 tablespoon of the oil, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt together in the small bowl with a fork, and add that to the well, also. Using the fork, mix the liquids with the flour until a soft dough forms, and almost all the flour has been incorporated.
Fit the mixer with the dough hook and knead on medium-high speed until smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes, adding some or all of the remaining 1/4 cup flour, as necessary, to prevent the dough from sticking to the bottom of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a bowl coated with the olive oil spray, and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a draft-free corner for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.
While dough rises, heat 1/3 cup of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the fennel seeds, and cook, shaking pan, for about 30 seconds, until just beginning to darken. Add the onions, one teaspoon of the salt, season with pepper, and stir with tongs to lift the fennel seeds into the onion mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover onions directly with a round of parchment paper cut to fit the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very tender and golden brown, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.
Heat a separate skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add a tablespoon of the olive oil, then the kale, and season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until kale has wilted, about 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and arrange a rack in the center of the oven.
Punch the dough down, and use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough out on a lightly-floured surface to the size of a large (12” by 15”) baking sheet. Transfer the dough to the sheet, and crimp the edges, if desired. Brush edges with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.
Using a small offset spatula or plastic scraper, spread the mustard out over the dough. Spread the caramelized onions evenly over the mustard, then the kale over the onions, then the cheese over the kale.
Bake the tart until the crust is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature.