Tarte Flambée (Flammekueche)

Today’s Musings:
During my semi-regular pilgrimage to the Mecca known as Trader Joe’s, I follow a specific ritual.  After anointing my red shopping cart handle with sanitizer, I weave my way through each aisle, starting at the first station, flowers and fresh vegetables, and completing my procession at wine and cheese, before ultimately paying my tithe to the cashier.  In the frozen food aisle, alongside the frozen pizzas, without fail, I slightly genuflect, reaching into the freezer to pull out one, if not two, Tarte Flambée. 

I discovered Tarte Flambée in 2006 while visiting my grandfather’s hometown of Strasbourg, FR.  Strasbourg and the surrounding Alsace Lorraine region is unlike any other in France.  Situated along Germany’s border, Strasbourg has, at certain points in history, been annexed to both France and Germany, a result of various wars.  In fact, my grandfather considered himself German, while his sister, Lucette, was decidedly French. Oui?  The official language is French, but the indigenous language spoken is Alsatian, which is its own beast – a southern German dialect influenced over time by French. So, although part of France, they don’t really speak French, the city doesn’t look French, and their food in undeniably heartier than most French fare. 

On arriving in Strasbourg, our hotel proprietor recommended we dine at a local neighborhood winstub.  Winstubs, as you can probably guess by now, are distinctly Alsatian – and unlike any French bistro I’ve frequented.  These charming little wine bars are snuggled within old, half-timbered buildings, and chocked full of Alsatian charm – rustic tables, low ceilings, wood-burning stoves, and comfortable, cozy nooks where you can relax, sip a local wine and order something to nosh. 

This particular winstub was brimming with locals; we being the only foreigners.  The limited menu catered to our adventuresome palates.  I recall braised rabbit, choucroute, foie gras, and something called Tarte Flambée.  Neither my tablemates nor I were familiar with Tarte Flambée and asked our server to explain – of course, we don’t speak Alsatian (or German or French), and she didn’t speak English, but from what we could gather through hand gestures and vigorous head-nodding (and after a trip to the kitchen to show us the ambiguous “herb” she managed to translate),  we discovered Tarte Flambée is similar to a crispy thin-crust pizza (although any Alsatian would slap me for even mentioning pizza) with a creamy sauce of crème fraîche and fromage blanc (a fresh cow’s milk cheese), sparingly sprinkled with lardons (thin slices of slab bacon), and onion,  grilled hot and fast for a crispy, cracker-like crust, and sometimes garnished with “herbs” (typically parsley or chives).  Oh heaven!  We devoured our first Flambée in minutes and then proceeded in the next week to make our way through Alsace Lorraine ordering Tarte Flambée whenever we had a chance, usually for lunch with a salad or pâté.  During our travels, we happened upon a few variations which included adding a sprinkle of local Munster cheese (la gratinée), or thinly sliced mushrooms (la forestière), although I prefer the simpler version. 

Trader’s offers a pretty damn good frozen facsimile in a pinch and I enjoy one almost weekly.  Eschewing the directions on the box, I bake the frozen (and therefore stiff) version directly on the oven rack (no sheet pan) and tend to cook it in a bit longer than recommended (I’m aiming for a crisp crust from edges to middle).  The serving suggestion of 2-4 people makes me giggle – serving for one is more like it. 

Today’s Recipe:
When I have more time – or I don’t want to trek to Trader’s, I use the following recipe.  The trick to an authentic Tarte Flambée is “restraint” which, for anyone who follows this blog, knows isn’t a strength of mine.  However, if you pile on the bacon and onions and add tons of cheese, you’ll never get the crisp crust holy grail you are looking for.  Also, I’ve simplified the recipe a bit – substituting the fromage blanc for 100% crème fraîche.  Finally, unlike pizza, this crust doesn’t require yeast, making it quicker to throw together.


Tarte Flambée

  • Servings: One 12” tarte
  • Print

Tarte Flambée is similar to a crispy thin-crust pizza with a creamy sauce, sprinkled with bacon and onion, and then grilled hot and fast for a crispy cracker-like crust.


Ingredients

  • 2 strips thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • ⅓ cup onion, thinly sliced and then chopped
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons canola oil
  • ¼ cup water, plus more if needed
  • ¼ cup crème fraîche
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • parsley or chives (optional)

Directions

  1. In a small pan, partially cook bacon until fat renders, but not until bacon is crispy. Remove bacon and drain on a paper towel. Partially cook onion in bacon fat until soft, but not brown. Add to bacon.
  2. In a medium size bowl, combine flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add oil and ¼ cup water. Slowly combine using your fingers until it becomes a shaggy dough. If the dough is too dry, add additional water 1 teaspoon at a time. Knead dough 2-3 times and shape into a ball. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat a baking pan on the lowest rack of a 550⁰ F. oven.
  4. While the dough is resting and the oven is preheating, combine crème fraîche, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a small bowl and set aside.
  5. Dust dough with flour and roll into a 12” circle between 2 pieces of parchment. Remove top layer of parchment and spread crème fraîche mixture over dough leaving a ½” border. Dot with bacon and onions and decoratively pinch border of dough.
  6. Using lower parchment sheet, transfer Tarte Flambée to preheated baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Do not be alarmed if edges of parchment darken in the very hot oven. Remove from oven, let cool for 1-2 minutes, sprinkle with parsley or chives (if using) and cut into wedges. Enjoy immediately.

Pistachio Cake with Raspberry Rose Buttercream

Pistachio Cake with Raspberry Rose Buttercream on pink cake plate with a slice on a white plate

Today’s Musings:
I long to wander Balboa Park, alone, and ask this witness of profound affections to teach me what she knows about Love. 

I spent time within her bosom just shy of a year ago, wan and unsteady, remnants of a lover’s row the night before, a state I would come to know too well.  In the Botanical Gardens, I strolled among her exotic foliage, hand-in-hand with a man who would soon enough misuse my love, although I didn’t know it then.  The day felt brittle, as if the sky was made of the thinnest glass.  Although I paid visits to her often in the past, I didn’t divulge to him that this Park and I were well acquainted – and she did not betray my secret.  With all our shared encounters, she was indifferent towards me that day.  She knew this was not Love and, thus, unworthy of her attention.

I long to wander Balboa Park, alone, and ask this sanctuary of romance to teach me what she knows about Love. 

I first met her in 1989, as young hearts blossomed among her rose garden; He, Mr. Oxblood, and I, Miss Prussian Blue.  Two shy paramours meandering along her starlit paths. Without words, we spoke of our implicit love through scented floral filigree, as he cascaded pink-petaled missives down upon my head and together we tossed waves of scented bliss into the fountain.  He tucked a few of these sweet remembrances within his pocket.  I was happy then.  It was perfect – and she smiled and anointed us.

Did she realize then that this love would endure almost a decade?  Did she see that each would forever keep the other’s heart within them – even now?

I long to wander Balboa Park, alone, and ask if she was aware, four years later, that he, brimming with love, recalled for me, reluctant and unsure, our countless nights spent drifting through her splendor:

“Why can’t you allow today to be like holding hands in Balboa Park? Park of Spanish Porticos and you, content.  We were like the courting frogs in the lily pond by the balustrade next to the Botanical Gardens.”

Content.  That’s all I’ve ever asked from Love.

I long to wander Balboa Park, alone, and plead with her to share her views on Love.  I want her to explain why, on that Friday in July, 2010, she released his hand and let him slip from her embrace onto the asphalt below.

The newspaper headline read, “Man dies after jump from Balboa Park Bridge.”  Stark words to me who required a novel’s worth of explanations. I always knew, contrary to his friends’ assurances, as only lovers know, this would be his fate, and yet I still have things I yearn to say, of love and encouragement – and atonement for my missteps, if only time were mutable.

No silent grave to visit, I want to wander this “Park of Spanish Porticos,” alone, and listen for her answer to my question – Is True Love eternal?  I wrote to him, after I heard the news, just days after my own mother’s death.

“My Darling Mr. Oxblood,

The email arrived today, like a heavy book-kick to an already wounded dog.  Nikolaje said you died Friday night – underneath the Balboa Park Bridge.  He said you either fell or jumped.  My heart, or rather your heart that still resides within me, knows it’s the latter.  Two deaths in two days.

Did you visit the rose garden first?  It’s probably beautiful right now.  Did you stick your nose deep within the huge, heady, heirlooms?  Did you pull handfuls of petals from the bushes, scattering them about yourself, on the pathway, in the fountain?  Did you tuck one in your breast pocket as you did that first night?  Did they find it when they found you?  Did you think about it first or did you decide in the moment? Could I have stopped you?

I was never strong enough for you.  I could never nudge you – show you how beautiful you and your world truly were.  I was too much in reality – and you were forever in your romantic dreamland.  Did you know how much I loved you?  I wished a woman existed who could take care of you the way I never could (I wished I could have been that woman!).

It wasn’t easy for you here.  I wish there was some other way.  I do, however, understand. As you move on, you take a piece of my heart with you.

With My Love,
Miss Prussian Blue”

I long to wander Balboa Park, alone, and ask her to remind me that I already know all that she could ever teach me about Love. 

Today’s Recipe:
These flavors are similar to those found in Persian Love Cakes, but this recipe was my own creation.  I wanted to highlight rose to accompany the musings above and raspberry-rose as well as cardamom-rose are two of my favorite combinations.  For the cake, I used this walnut cake recipe, substituting pistachios for the walnuts. I covered the cake in marshmallow fondant before decorating with oxblood and Prussian blue flowers.

Pistachio Cake with Raspberry Rose Buttercream


Ingredients

    Pistachio Cardamom Cake
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon cardamom
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs beaten, room temp
  • 1 cup roasted, unsalted well-chopped Pistachios
  • Fresh raspberries
  • Fondant (optional)
  • Rose Buttercream
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 – 2 teaspoon rose water (to taste)
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • food coloring (optional)

Directions

  1. MAKE CAKE: Preheat oven to 350 ⁰ F. Butter and flour two 9” round cake pans. Whisk together flour, sugars, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix together the oil, buttermilk, water, vanilla and beaten eggs. Stir wet ingredients into dry until no lumps remain (don’t overmix). Stir in pistachios.
  2. Pour batter evenly into pans. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a few moist crumbs cling to a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake (do not overbake). Cool in pans on wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn cakes onto racks and cool completely.
  3. MAKE BUTTERCREAM: In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until fluffy and smooth. On medium speed, slowly add in the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time. Add salt. Once powdered sugar and salt are fully incorporated, add rose water, milk, and food coloring, if using.
  4. Fill cake with rose buttercream and a layer of raspberries. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining buttercream. Cover in fondant, if desired, and decorate.

Slow Cooker Moroccan Lamb Tagine

Lamb Tagine over couscous in a white bowl

Today’s Musings:

It’s a new year and time to shove 2020 out the window, welcoming a fresh start.  The following handful of posts are a series, written a lifetime ago, that track my journey from a painful breakup with a man I adored, to the shock of discovering the truth behind his mask, to glimpsing the depths of his depravity, and finally acknowledging my own error in blindly trusting him.  This tale ended long ago, but only now am I ready to disclose it – and perhaps help others who find themselves in a similar situation. Thank you to those who shared evidence and convinced me to tell my story.

 Chapter Six

I learned a new term today, although I’d rather I hadn’t a need for it – trauma bonding.  At its essence, trauma bonding is a form of Stockholm syndrome.  It occurs as the result of ongoing cycles of love/reward and anger/withdrawal/punishment.  This roller coaster of emotion, this give and take, creates a powerful brain cocktail that contributes to a person’s “addiction” to a toxic partner – the reason we stick around when any “sane” person would run for the hills.  These chemicals include oxytocin (for bonding) endogenous opioids (creating pleasure and dependency), corticotrophin-releasing factor (creating feelings of withdrawal) and dopamine (creating feelings of craving and wanting).  The intermittent reward and punishment of a relationship with a toxic partner, such as a covert narcissist, amplifies the doses of these brain chemicals until the victim is powerfully bonded to the emotional abuser though the push-pull of fear, affection, sex, excitement, and withdrawal.  It’s a drug addiction. This traumatic bond is even stronger for people who have grown up in emotionally abusive households, because it feels to them like a normal part of any relationship (yup). Initially, a covert narcissist is inconsistent in their approach, with long stretches of love/reward, a Pavlovian technique, which slowly develops into an intense sturm und drang perhaps not matched by any of the victim’s previous relationships (yup!). The abused partner may even rationalize or defend the emotionally abusive actions, feeling a sense of loyalty to the abuser (yup again!), a result of the trauma bond.  They may blame themselves for the toxic relationship or hide the emotional abuse from others, hoping the abusive behavior will abate and things will go back to the idyllic “normal” of the first few months. It doesn’t. Get out.

Today’s Recipe:

This recipe calls for preserved lemons. You can find them at well-stocked grocery stores or make your own.


Slow Cooker Moroccan Lamb Tagine

Slow cooking the lamb results in meltingly tender meat.


Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. lamb shoulder, cut into 1” pieces
  • 8 Medjool dates, pitted and cut in half
  • ¼ cup preserved lemons, thinly sliced plus more for garnish
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon coriander
  • 1 ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups cooked couscous
  • ½ cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
  • ½ cup packed cilantro leaves
  • ¼ cup toasted sliced almonds

Directions

  1. In a slow cooker, combine lamb, dates, preserved lemons, garlic, coriander, smoked paprika, cinnamon, salt, pepper and ¼ cup water. Cook on high for 4 hours until lamb easily shreds with a fork. Add kalamata olives and heat through.
  2. Cook couscous according to package directions. Serve the lamb over the couscous, sprinkled with cilantro, toasted sliced almonds, and a few slivers of preserved lemons.

Paprika Chicken with Potatoes

Today’s Musings:

It’s a new year and time to shove 2020 out the window, welcoming a fresh start.  The following handful of posts are a series, written a lifetime ago, that track my journey from a painful breakup with a man I adored, to the shock of discovering the truth behind his mask, to glimpsing the depths of his depravity, and finally acknowledging my own error in blindly trusting him.  This tale ended long ago, but only now am I ready to disclose it – and perhaps help others who find themselves in a similar situation. Thank you to those who shared evidence and convinced me to tell my story.

 Chapter Five

I deleted the photos last night.  Every.  Last. One.  I almost said “our photos,” but there was no “our” about it.  It was a con, from the beginning to the end.  An emotional con – and I was the dupe.  For the majority of our time together, his actions towards me were sweet, kind, loving – but it was an act. He went through love’s motions without any emotion behind them. I deleted our numerous 10-page email arguments last week, but not before showing them to someone who specializes in creatures like him.  She sees how I tried with him and shakes her head at his pathetic responses, full of lies and gaslighting.

And the lies and the photos and the texts keep piling up. Unbidden by me, his friends continue to drop these pieces of evidence at my feet, like the bloody and lifeless mice my cats leave me as presents. To counterbalance these blows, some reassure me that he “cared” for me at some point.  Oh, how my tender heart wishes it were true, but he and I know the truth, don’t we?  He is incapable of it – devoid of any authentic feelings, except his own self-pity and feelings of persecution. He “cared” for me in front of his audience; he “cared” for me on his terms.

He knows he’s damaged, deficient in something essential – what did he call it that one night, “demons”?  He lacks empathy and has no remorse for how his actions injure people; just another day in the life of a covert narcissist.  I was not special.  I was a “source” for him, nothing more, and once he used me up, he discarded me and moved to his next sources already waiting in the wings (although I’m convinced they were in his bed while I was still there – in retrospect, the signs are too numerous to be coincidence). What’s ironic is that he’s not very good at them – all his lies.  They are mediocre and unimaginative, at best. Had I wanted to, I could have caught him out early.  I just chose not to see them. I chose ignorance in pursuit of what I thought was love.

How many times did he say, “If you believe nothing else, believe this,” only to have me discover later that he lied about that very thing.

And his secret – the one that’s recorded in yellow and blue?  Like Prometheus nailed to the cliff side, this one agonizing torment is his atonement for the damage he carelessly inflicts. It’s his subconscious trying to fill that insatiable void inside of him.  He may resist for a few months, but it will be with him forever.

Yet even now, after all he has done, against my rational judgment and friends’ admonishments, I still feel deep compassion for this creature. I cannot imagine living in a world like his.  I’m not sorry he’s gone from my life – I’m just relieved I survived. 

Hyperbole, you say?  Read this directly from a narcissist’s mouth.

Today’s Recipe:


Paprika Chicken with Potatoes

Chicken, potatoes and sweet onions are tossed in spices before roasting in the oven. Add a salad and you have a great weeknight meal.


Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons paprika (not smoked paprika)
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 ½ lbs. chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on
  • 2-3 small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced ¼” thick
  • 1 sweet onion, cut into ½” wedges
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 500⁰ F. Mix olive oil and spices in a large bowl. Add chicken, potatoes, onion and garlic, tossing to ensure all pieces are well coated.
  2. In a 13”x9” pan, layer potatoes along the bottom, cover with chicken, skin side up, and nestle onions and garlic under and around chicken.
  3. Bake until chicken registers 165⁰ and potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. If chicken skin is not crisp, broil another 5 minutes until skin is crisp and tips of some onions are black.

Chicken Piccata Stew

A bowl of chicken stew

Today’s Musings:
It’s a new year and time to shove 2020 out the window, welcoming a fresh start.  The following handful of posts are a series, written a lifetime ago, that track my journey from a painful breakup with a man I adored, to the shock of discovering the truth behind his mask, to glimpsing the depths of his depravity, and finally acknowledging my own error in blindly trusting him. This tale ended long ago, but only now am I ready to disclose it – and perhaps help others who find themselves in a similar situation. Thank you to those who shared evidence and convinced me to tell my story.

 Chapter Four

To His Next Partner:

Please don’t hesitate to IM me!

I’ll be there for you after your first disagreement when he seems overly sensitive to a minor misunderstanding. Or after the next few, when he’s unjustifiably upset and leaves you wondering what happened to your perfect relationship and near-perfect boyfriend. Or after the next wave, when he begins gaslighting you, making you feel crazy, and he questions your character. When these arguments last for days – or even weeks – and he throws everything you ever did or said back in your face, unwilling to listen to reason and bringing you to tears. When you have to be the first to apologize just to end the battles, and you justify staying with him because you’ve convinced yourself the good times outweigh the bad on this roller coaster of emotion.

Please don’t hesitate to IM me once you notice he’s detached about things going on in your life that aren’t about him. After you discover he lied – about almost everything, including his feelings for you. And you’re shown the salacious photos he’s sent to other women that he swore were “just friends” – and hear of the intimate items he requested and received from them.  When you’re crushed by an account of his behavior while you were out of the country  – and when you discover he’s already lining up his next partners – some of them possibly rumpling his sheets while you still share his bed. Once you learn about the one he calls his “work wife” and the purpose of his “afternoon naps.” When you finally comprehend why the neighbor above glares at him and what she’s probably witnessed.

Please don’t hesitate to IM me when you wonder where that cute, charming, sensitive, boyish partner has gone. When friends tell you he’s a narcissist and you protest, “Impossible!  Every woman claims their Ex is a narcissist and, besides, narcissists are flashy, strutting peacocks and, if I know one thing, he is not that!” and then you Google something called “covert narcissism” and the description stops your heart; when you read words like “victim” and “emotional abuse” and you finally understand.

IM me – or call me, because I’ve been there and I can help you heal.

Additional Reading:
Click here for more information on recognizing a narcissist.
Click here for more information on the “work wife” role in a narcissist’s life.

Today’s Recipe:
Today’s musings took a great deal out of me; made me queasy, in fact, to splay myself in front of you, to hit the “post” button.  I can’t bear to follow them up with an overly complicated dessert recipe.  What today needs is something simple, something homey, something comforting like this Chicken Piccata Stew, which has been a favorite of mine for years.


Chicken Piccata Stew

This stew is light, hearty, and tangy, reminiscent of chicken piccata.


Ingredients

  • 1 pound boned, skinned chicken thighs, rinsed and patted dry
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, liberally seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained and minced
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon, separated
  • ½ cup white wine (or water if you do not have wine available)
  • 1 ¾ cups chicken broth
  • 1 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” cubes
  • 1 8 oz. pkg. quartered frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
  • 1 bunch roughly chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 cup pitted green olives, such as castelvetrano

Directions

  1. Cut each thigh into 3 chunks and coat in seasoned flour.
  2. Heat oil in a large pot over high heat. Add chicken in a single layer and cook, turning once, until browned,. Transfer to a plate.
  3. Reduce heat to medium. Add garlic, capers, and lemon zest and stir just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add wine and simmer, scraping up browned bits until reduced. Add broth, potatoes, and chicken with any accumulated juices and return to a simmer. Cover and cook 10 minutes.
  4. Add artichokes to pot and stir. Cover and cook until potatoes are tender when pierced, about another 10 minutes. Stir in parsley, olives, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Slightly adapted from Sunset’s Chicken Stew with Olives and Lemon.                     

Today’s Tip:
When a recipe calls for chicken, I almost exclusively use thighs. They are juicier and more flavorful than most other options.