I was recently in Palm Desert, California so I decided to take advantage of being on the West Coast to surprise my mom (in Bend, Oregon) with a quick visit. Noah was with me when I hatched the plan and he pointed out that hopping over to Oregon from California, two very large states, is akin to being in Florida and saying, “Oh, since I’m so close, I’ll just make a quick detour to Brown (my alma mater).” Point taken. Getting to Bend, Oregon involved two flights, one of which was very delayed and almost derailed the carefully orchestrated surprise, but it all worked out! I showed up at the café where she was having lunch with a friend (with whom I had coordinated the surprise) and asked Mom, first on the phone and then in person, if she had room for one more at her table!
We had a wonderful few days together, including walks, movies (Pride and Prejudice and The 100-Foot Journey) and good meals. I took advantage of my jet lag to get up early and get busy in the kitchen, baking and cooking to stock my mom’s fridge and freezer.
Food is definitely one of my love languages, and being able to do something tangible for my mom, knowing she will have not just the warmth and nourishment of good food when she doesn’t feel like cooking but the hug it will provide when I am not there to hug her in person, made leaving her a little less difficult.
I also baked some lemon bars, apple bars and double chocolate brownies to distribute to some of the friends and neighbors who have been so kind to my mom this past year. We had a lot of fun delivering them and spreading cheer.
One of the things I made for my mom’s freezer stash were mini chicken pot pies. I had some leftover puff pastry dough so I decided to put it to good use in a tarte tatin. A tarte tatin is essentially an upside down cake, but instead of spooning cake batter over the caramelized fruit, you cover it in puff pastry. After it is baked, you invert it onto a plate and the puff pastry is now your bottom crust. It is one of those things that looks far more impressive than it is (in terms of effort and time) and is deceptively easy to make. And the caramelized apples are just the thing for a beautiful fall day in central Oregon, when you are grateful to cuddle up under the blankets and watch a movie with your mom.
(recipe comes from www.tasty.com)
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1.5 kg apple, preferably Honeycrisp or Granny Smith
3 tablespoons water
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Using a 9-inch (23 cm) flat-sided cake pan as a template, cut a circle out from the puff pastry. Using a fork, poke holes all over to provide ventilation. Set aside.
Peel and quarter the apples, using a spoon or melon baller to remove the cores.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, distribute the water and sugar evenly and cook until light amber in color, stirring to help melt any lumps, 5-7 minutes. Add the butter, stirring constantly until the color is a creamy light brown. Add the apples, stirring until they are coated in a thick layer of caramel.
Cook for about 15-20 minutes, turning the apples constantly so that they bathe in the caramel. Remove from the heat when the caramel has reduced and little remains in the bottom of the pan. Be careful not to burn the caramel, tasting it from time to time to ensure it does not taste bitter.
Arrange the apple slices in concentric circles on the bottom of the cake pan. Press the apples tightly against each other, then pour the remaining caramel over the top. Lay the circle of puff pastry on top. Tuck the puff pastry down the sides of the pan.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and firm. Cool for about 1 hour, then invert onto a plate.
Slice and serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, although it is good enough to just eat as is.