Tuesday, March 23, 2010
I've suffered from acute modesty my whole life. As a kid, I was never one to take compliments well. I don't know where it came from, maybe it was just another part of being shy, but any time someone encouraged or praised me, I'd practically curl up into a defensive ball like a potato bug;
Well Meaning Individual: "Monika, you look really nice today."
Me: "What? Are you blind? I look awful. You clearly need your eyes tested."
Like it would kill me to say "Thank you, that's so kind." I would aim for nonchalance, but what came out was borderline hostile, and I'd invariably make the Well Meaning Individual feel rotten for talking to me. I was worried about seeming conceited, which, to my mind, was the exact opposite of being lovable. Even if I worked really hard at something, the recognition would send me into fits of blushes and bashfulness that were almost painful. What I really wanted was to be able to stand up and take my bow with grace.
And while I've grown up a lot and stopped being such a wiener about these things, I still kind of fret over it from time to time. You know how people preemptively apologize for a meal they've just made, because they can't bear the thought of having their dinner guests make horrified 'ugh!' faces at each other after the first bite? I've been guilty of that too. In the back of my head, I'd have the delivery pizza contingency plan on standby at the first sign of trouble. But I'm making a concerted effort to not do that anymore. It's tedious. It's exhausting. And as much as cooking is about the finished result, it's every bit as much about the sense of accomplishment and the love that goes into cooking for people you like.
I've been subscribing to Body + Soul magazine for a couple of years now. Much like All Bran or the at-home yoga DVD I've never used, it makes me feel healthier just having it around. I love this magazine because among other things, they have really great, simple recipes. With the fantastic food styling and stunning photography, it's hard not to be seduced by the recipes. My new issue came last week, and I saw the Mushroom, Scallion and Spinach tart and thought "Ding Dong! This would be perfect for my sister's birthday lunch!"
So I got all the ingredients ready...
Look at that spinach, shamelessly sunbathing in the colander;
I roasted the veggies and made the phyllo dough base. I put together the custard-like filling, assembled the tart and popped it in the Demonic Oven, checking on it often to make sure the dough wasn't burning. And when it came out?
I couldn't believe it. It was gorgeous. No - it was breathtaking. It looked like the picture in the magazine. I let the tart cool a little, then bundled it up and carefully walked it over to my sister's house. Her husband had come home early and we each polished off two big pieces of it. "Moni," my sister kept repeating, "this is REALLY good!"
I'd issued no disclaimers or warnings about the possible awfulness of the meal when we sat down to eat. I'd simply set it out and hoped for the best. And you know what? It was really good - flaky, salty, creamy, earthy. Totally something I would order for myself at a restaurant. And so I devoured, without the faintest tinge of modesty, my compliments. And they tasted wonderful.
Mushroom, Spinach and Scallion Tart, a Body + Soul recipe by Sarah Carey:
1 lb mushrooms (combination of button and shiitake is recommended, though I just used creminis) trimmed and sliced 1/2 inch thick
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
12 scallions, ends trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
10 sheets of phyllo dough, 14x19 inches each
2/3 cup of goat cheese
3 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
3 tbsp fresh chopped herbs (I used thyme and rosemary, but you can use whatever you like)
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. (Demonic Oven functioned at 350 and it worked out just fine)
2. On a baking sheet, toss mushrooms with 2 tbsp oil and 3/4 tsp salt. Roast for 10 minutes. Toss in the scallions and roast for about 15 minutes. Push them to the side and place spinach on the empty side, roasting it till wilted, about 3 minutes. Let it cool a bit, then squeeze extra liquid out of spinach.
3. Brush an 11x7 inch rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom with some of the remaining oil. (I just used the same baking sheet I'd roasted the veggies on - again, work with what you've got.) Keeping the sheets of phyllo between two damp dishcloths, work with one sheet at a time, placing it on the pan and brushing it lightly with oil. Bear in mind you'll be folding the sides and edges under to create an elevated crust if you're not using the tart pan. If using the tart pan, there should be a 1 inch overhang. Repeat the process of brushing oil with each sheet. When finished, fold the edges according to the pan you're using.
4. Line the middle portion of the crust with foil and put some dried beans or something on top to hold it in place. Bake it like this for about 5-7 minutes, or until the edges are golden and beginning to set. Remove the foil and bake until golden all over; about 3 minutes. If the edges are browning too quickly, you can cover them with foil.
5. Reduce oven to 375 degrees (Demonic Oven stayed at 350) In blender or food processor, puree goat cheese, eggs and milk with remaining 1/4 tsp salt till smooth. Add the herbs and pulse to combine. Spread the mushrooms, scallions and spinach over the crust and pour the custard mixture over top.
6. Place tart back in the oven and bake till the custard is set, about 20-25 minutes (watch carefully that the crust doesn't burn) Remove from oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Then devour it, with pride.