Daily Archives: 8 November 2009

Smitten with Bittman

Walnut Caramel TartThe great irony is that even though I went to just about the most technical university possible (MIT) and my livelihood for over 20 years has been developing software applications, outside of my professional life, technology is something I could take or leave. 

Howard and I are one of the last remaining households I know of without cable TV.  Now, Howard doesn’t share my laissez faire attitude towards technology.  He lives for it.  He’s an “earlier adopter” and is always interested in the latest electronic gadget and how to find a place for it in his day-to-day life.  He definitely keeps me tuned into the 21st century.

Enter TiVo.  We don’t have cable, but do have a TV.  Our programming comes to us “over the air” thanks to an antenna in the attic.  Without cable, I sometimes lament the lack of the Food Network.  My sisters are hooked.  However, on TiVo, Howard found me something better.  Every week, TiVo downloads my favorite 5 minutes of video every week.  It’s the weekly installment of the New York Times columnist Mark Bittman demonstrating each week’s recipe for his column, The Minimalist.  Watching him is just the best! He’s funny, I love his thoughts on food, and his recipes often inspire me to try something new.  He always makes it look so easy. 

This weekend, some friends of mine invited us to join them for an early Thanksgiving dinner with friends.  It was a nice gathering of people that I work with, many of whom, not being from the U.S. , had never had a American Thanksgiving feast before.  The hosts provided the traditional fare:  turkey, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, and cranberry sauce.  The guests brought other dishes to share. 

My contribution was a recipe I learned by watching my “hero” Mark Bittman on his weekly video a year or so back.  Walnut Caramel Tart is just right for Thanksgiving and the holiday season.  It involves molten sugar, so Howard keeps me company for moral support.  It’s not as scary as it sounds.  In fact, it’s rather magical when it comes together. 

Walnut Caramel Tart
Adapted from Mark Bittman, New York Times

  • 1 9-inch pastry shell in a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom, fully baked (use your favorite recipe, I’ll give you mine another time)
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2-1/2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped (I start with walnut halves & pieces from Trader Joes, and chop those)
  • Salt to taste

Put the sugar in a heavy 8-inch deep skillet with the water.  Turn heat to medium.  Cook, shaking the pan occasionally until the sugar melts.  Using a heat-proof flexible spatula, continue to cook, stirring occasionally and scraping the sides, until the sugar turns golden.

Howard stirring in the butterTurn heat to low, then carefully add the butter and cream.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the butter melts and the mixture is uniform.  Stir in walnuts and a large pinch of salt.  Spread mixture onto crust.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.  Serve.