A lot of people ask me how I learned to cook and bake. Did my mom teach me all I know? Did she spend lots of time in the kitchen whipping up delicious meals and treats? Did I go to culinary school?
No on all accounts.
Let me give you a little breakdown of my meals in a typical day growing up.
Breakfast: Costco frozen lasagna, Noah’s bagels with TONS of cream cheese, Grape-Nuts and yogurt.
Lunch: more frozen lasagna, pasta with butter and LOTS of Parmesan, box macaroni and cheese sometimes with hot dogs.
Dinner: pasta of some kind sometimes with a Costco marinara, Kentucky Fried Chicken (a special treat), frozen lasagna (Again, I really liked this stuff).
Snacks: goldfish, tortilla chips, chocolate chip cookies, and whatever was on sale at the discount Wonder Bread store.
You see, I ate like crap, or just tons of processed food and carbs. We ate, we ate a lot of food. But almost nothing was homemade. When I got married I still didn’t know how to cook. I made it through college working at restaurants, so I either ate their food, or some sort of microwavable meal. But one day, I blossomed.
After college I was what some may call self-employed, and what I called unemployed. I worked for my parents in a start up company and well, it was a start up, so you don’t make money at first. So there was lots of down time. During that time I watched TONS of the Food Network. I fell in love with Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. She made it seem so easy. But it wasn’t just crappy 30 minute meals with extra cheese to give it flavor or add an extra stick of butter CRAP (sorry, certain food TV personalities really annoy me). It was legitimate good food, with real ingredients that sometimes took hours to make. So I decided I was going to start trying some of her recipes.
I bought my first Ina Garten cookbook, Barefoot Contessa. The first thing I tried to make were her Pecan Squares. At that point in time I don’t even think I liked pecans. But I liked shortbread and chocolate. Both of which were in the picture of the pecan bars. So I made them, and I think I might have hit my head on the ceiling when I tried them. I was jumping up and down like a kid who just walked into a donut store. After the pecan bars, I tried her Outrageous Brownies, and outrageous they are, freaking outrageous in fact. And from there, I just continued trying her recipes. My first savory dish of hers, was her Filet of Beef Bourguignon. Every one of her recipes turned out marvelous, which instilled the confidence in me to keep trying to learn more…
This recipe is inspired by Ina’s pecan squares. It is the pecan bar filling and the crust from her lemon curd tart. Both of which I modified though. Below is my recipe, but you can find her recipe at Food Network or in her book.
Maple Pecan Tart
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure maple extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup good maple syrup
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 tbsp cup heavy cream
1 pound pecans, coarsely chopped
Mix the butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Press the dough into a 10-inch-round or 9-inch-square false-bottom tart pan, making sure that the finished edge is flat. Chill until firm.
*I threw it in the freezer for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter 1 side of a square of aluminum foil to fit inside the chilled tart and place it, buttered side down, on the pastry. Fill with beans or rice. Bake for 20 minutes.
While the tart shell is baking, make the filling.
Combine the butter, maple syrup, brown sugar, and zest in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, using a wooden spoon to stir. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the heavy cream and pecans.
Remove the tart from the oven, and remove the foil and beans from the tart shell. Pour the filling over the crust, trying not to get the filling on the crust edges. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold. Cut into wedges and serve.