Monday, March 22, 2010

A Matisse-Inspired Apple Tart

Henri Matisse (French, 1869-1954). Apples, 1916. Oil on canvas, 116.9 x 88.9 cm (46 x 35 in.) The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Florene May Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx, 1948.563. © 2010 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

This past Saturday, The Art Institute of Chicago launched an exhibition entitled, Matisse: Radical Invention 1913-1917. In the words of the curator, "this exhibition examines what is without question the most innovative, momentous, and yet little-studied time in the artist’s long career." It's at the Art Institute through June 20. You must get there.

For me, it was a great excuse to collaborate with fellow food blogger Megan Fizell and her site Feasting on Art, which I profiled a few posts back. Megan creates and photographs recipes inspired by great works of art. We decided to each create a dish - one savory and one sweet - inspired by a painting in the exhibition and, you guessed it, it's the one above, Apples, which is actually in the Art Institute's permanent collection and a real stunner, especially in person.

Megan chose a savory apple recipe - Apple & Shallot Croquettes, and I chose a rustic apple tart from David Tanis' brilliant book, A Platter of Figs, which I cannot recommend highly enough. Definitely check out Megan's discourse on the Matisse painting on her blog post. She's an art historian and her knowledge of this period of Matisse's career is highly illuminating.

But let's get on with the tart. It's both rustic and elegant. It's simple yet also a showstopper. I think your guests will agree. Serve alongside creme fraiche.

Apple Tart
adapted from David Tanis' A Platter of Figs
enough for 2 tarts


2 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for sprinkling
2 sticks cold butter cut in thin slices
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg beaten plus enough ice water to make one cup
8 medium, crisp apples
1 cup sugar for the glaze plus extra for sprinkling
1 cup water


Put the flour, butter and salt in a bowl. With your fingers, work the butter into the flour until it looks mealy, with some large flecks of butter remaining. Pour the egg-ice water mixture into the bowl and quickly knead the dough for only a minute or two, until it comes together. It will be soft, a little sticky, and, though gathered together, a little rough looking.

Sprinkle the dough with a little flour and pat into a rectangle about an inch thick. Wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.

Divide the pastry in half (there will be enough for 2 tarts; you can freeze one half for later.) Sprinkle your surface with flour and roll out the pastry to a rectangle, approximately 11 by 16 inches, using a 15 1/2-by-10 1/2-inch baking sheet as a template.

Transfer the dough to the baking sheet and let it relax, then trim the edges to fit the pan with a little dough going up the sides. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Peel the apples and cut into quarters, Remove the cores and use to make a glaze as follows: Combine the 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water with the cores. Stir first to dissolve the sugar, then simmer to a thick syrup. Strain and reserve. Slice the apples as thin as possible. Arrange the apple slices over the pastry in 5 rows, overlapping them like cards in solitaire. You can see I wasn't so strict on this point, below. Crimp the dough around the edges of the apples with your hands. At this point the tart can be covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 8 hours. It's OK if the apples darken.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Sprinkle the sugar generously over the apples and bake until they are beautifully browned and the pastry is crisp about 45 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Just before serving, reheat the glaze. Slide the tart from the pan to a cutting board. Paint the apples with the warmed glaze. Slice into small rectangles and serve.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pairing Music & Drink with Wine Expert Josh Kaplan

Josh Kaplan is someone who has seriously influenced my interest and education in wine. We both worked at mk the restaurant many years ago; he, as their beverage manager and sommelier and me, as their publicist. I used to eat and entertain there quite often and Josh never made the experience of selecting wine stuffy or uncomfortable. He also never assumed anything about your level of knowledge - it didn't matter. What he brought to the table was a genuine and palpable excitement about turning you on to great wines that would heighten your experience and make it a memorable one. You understood that beneath the suit and the elegant demeanor was a man who was downright giddy about wine. That kind of passion is what draws me to people. I love to learn and with Josh, there is no pretense or snobbery; just a desire to openly share with you all he knows.

Josh saw my post on
Beautiful Food Rituals and asked if he could contribute his own. He's a serious audiophile and offered to turn us all on to some great beats perfectly paired with time and place, great coffee, wine and even a digestif. Here's his piece below. Thank you so much, Josh!

The pairing of music and drink occurs for most of us on a daily basis. When you walk into a coffee shop or a bar, there is always something on. Usually in the background. Most likely that music was chosen to suit the overall vibe of the establishment, rather than as a specific accompaniment to an actual beverage.

The approach I like to take when pairing music and drink is not so much literal (Joni Mitchell's Blue and a blueberry frappé) but rather geared to the moment, the time of day and the season.

One of my favorite times of day to pair music and drink is early Sunday morning.

Just after the sun has risen, my home is bathed in a golden, yellow light. The beans are ground and the coffee is brewing. What to play?

Well, I'm an amateur audiophile. I have an extensive collection of vinyl I've been collecting since the late Eighties. Gotta say, my favorite Sunday morning LP is side one of Richard Davies' There's Never Been a Crowd Like This. The album is rich with crisp, strummed acoustic guitars, offbeat instrumentation, immediately tuneful melodies, witty lyrics and an overall sense of joy. There is a crystallized moment when the hot jolt of caffeine hits the bright morning and combines with Davies' lush arrangements that makes for a perfect way to start the day.

OK, let's say it's not sunny. It's grey. It's nasty. Snow. Everywhere. Urrgh. You have to adapt to the conditions. Chirpy, happy music is just going to be aggravating, so you need something that has a lilting, melancholy, grey feeling. You need Sigur Ros. Maybe it's because they're Icelandic so I associate their music with cold. Maybe it's because they tend to release their albums in winter. Maybe it's because their music can be slow like a glacier. I think it's because there's an abstract quality to their songs that gives them a strong, cold weather feel. Most particularly the album ( ). I mean...just look at the cover. It screams 'brrr' or maybe since we're talking about Sigur Ros, it gently whispers 'brrr.'

I recently tried the much-hyped Stumptown Coffee at Bagel on Damen. Best cup of coffee I've had in my 20+ years of drinking coffee. Thick and oily in texture, super-concentrated and intense, vaguely hallucinogenic - prepare to be blown away.

In general, since it is early in the day, I don't play anything too ruckus. I save the Sonic Youth for later.

Music and wine presents a wider array of options. It's the start of your night and you're drinking Alsatian Riesling or Rose Champagne. The music needs to be upbeat, fun and not too heavy. I'm a fan of Erlend Oye's Unrest. Definitely side 3. Quirky, stripped down beats, slinky eighties-style synths, gently sung lyrics. This record is just plain fun.

For Rose Champagne, I was recently turned on to Fluteau Carte Rubis Brut Rose. The wine is packed with crisp, bright red berry fruits and brimming with zesty bubbles. Another reason to pop the cork is the $32.99 price tag - a rare value from this typically pricey appellation. You can find the wine at Binny's.

Moving on to red wine. Something heavier. A little richer. Bolder. Chateauneuf du Pape. On the stereo it's My Morning Jacket. ROCK AND ROLL. Side one of It Still Moves.

Everything about those first three songs is boozy and over the top: huge guitars, outsized hooks, Jim James' reverb-soaked vocals...easily the musical equivalent of 15% alcohol Chateauneuf.

One of my favorite producers of high octane Chateauneuf du Pape is Domaine de la Janasse. Their CNDP bottlings start around $50 retail, depending on vintage. A more cost effective way to sample their wares is buying one of their wines from a different appellation. The vin de pays Terre de Bussiere is a mouthful to say and drink. At $15, it is totally worth it. The fruit is so rich and jammy, it's practically spreadable. Like My Morning Jacket, it's a crowdpleaser with integrity.

One last record for end of the night contemplation. A nod to Radiohead's In Rainbows, a brilliant late night album, but instead, I feel the need to mention Woodbine and their album Best Before End . Not too well known in the States, or their native England either. I just stumbled across this band a few years ago. They are kinda like Portishead minus beats, plus acoustic guitars. It's an intense way to end the night, but highly rewarding. Both sides. Fine with cognac. Or more red wine.

Although bourbon is fashionable now, let's not push cognac aside. Jean Luc Pasquet has a permanent home on my liquor cart for many reasons. Artisanal? Check. Cool label? Check. Value? Check. Warm fuzzies? Check.

You should be good to go.

Josh Kaplan grew up in the world of hospitality visiting Chicago's best restaurants with his father, well known restaurant critic, Sherman Kaplan. Early in his career, he worked at Evanston's Va Pensiero and at Michael Symon's Lola Cafe in Cleveland. Most recently he was the Beverage Director for mk the restaurant and theWit Hotel. Currently, he is the assistant General Manager at the soon-to-open Benny's Chop House in Chicago. Amongst friends, he is well-known for having an enviable record and wine collection.