My son Michael and daughter-in-law Beth gave us a gift certificate at Christmas to the Farm Cooking School, a wonderful enterprise run by two former editors from Gourmet Magazine, and located at Gravity Hill Farm in Titusville, N.J., about 1/2 hour from my home.
Shelley Wiseman and Ian Knauer run the school and offer classes in everything from Mexican cuisine to cheese making to venison butchery and lots more.
Shelley was Gourmet's travel food editor and a recipe tester for 12 years. She's the author of two cookbooks, including her latest, Just Tacos.
Ian, who founded the school, worked in Gourmet's test kitchens for more than a decade, before returning to his family's farm in Pennsylvania where he wrote The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food.
We were enrolled in an "experimental" class, intended for people already comfortable in the kitchen, since we were given basic recipes but had to come up with our own creations, ones that would be judged by each participant.
Shelley gave everyone a basic recipe for pastry crust, for a quiche filling and for a sweet frangipane filling. We were then charged with making either a savory or sweet quiche or tart, choosing from the following ingredients:
one tray of vegetables, an array of cheeses as well as bacon and raw salmon.
And a tray containing a variety of fruits, chocolate, and mascarpone cheese for use in a sweet tart.
Each person was required to make one tart or quiche, and my husband Ron ( a neophyte in the kitchen, but a quick learner!) and I worked as a team on one savory quiche and one dessert tart.
The school had ample room for us all to roll out our crusts, mix ingredients and bake our quiches (there was another stove/oven not visible in the photos.)
The school's batterie de cuisine was impressive, with all kinds of knives, bowls, pans and other kitchen equipment you could want.
(The guy at the stove's not too shabby either!)
This is the savory quiche we made with mushrooms, caramelized onions, bacon and gruyere cheese. as it came out of the oven.
Another person chose salmon, asparagus and dill for his quiche.
And someone else chose to use goat cheese and chives as main ingredients.
I lost my notes, so I can't really recall what the dominant ingredients were in this one.
I do know that they were all really delicious.
Now it was time for dessert, and only two people chose to make a sweet tart, including us.
One participant made this lovely concoction with a delicate flaky crust, filled with pastry cream and topped with blueberries and caramelized pineapple.
For our tart, we started by making a chocolate crust, incorporating some cocoa into Shelley's basic crust recipe, while eliminating some of the flour.
We followed Shelley's recipe to the letter for the almond frangipane filling, and nestled poached pears atop the filling, brushing them with some apricot preserves before popping the whole thing into the oven.
After eating all the quiches and tarts, and taking notes, we were asked to vote on our favorites.
It wasn't easy to choose, because they were all so very good and it was hard to compare the four savory quiches to the two sweet dessert tarts.
But in the end, we were thrilled when the most votes went to our pear tart!!!
The prize was a certificate for one of us to attend another class at The Farm Cooking School.
I'm already thinking about that cheese making course... or maybe that wine class...or maybe we'll sign up for one of those farm to table dinners at the school.
Or maybe we'll do all of the above.
One thing's for certain -- we'll be back again more than once. I'm looking forward to driving there in the daylight next time, to soak in the beautiful view of the countryside along the route, and the farm property itself.
If you're in the Southeastern Pa/Central New Jersey/metropolitan New York area of the U.S., take at look at the school's website and enroll in one of the classes offered.
There are also culinary vacations offered at the Farm Cooking School in the beautiful Delaware River Valley, or even in sunny Provence, France. Click here for more information.
Meanwhile, here is the recipe for our winning tart, using our variation of Shelley's tart shell recipe and her sweet frangipane filling:
Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day.
Pear Frangipane Tart with Chocolate Pastry Crust
adapted from a recipe of The Farm Cooking School
for the tart shell:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa
2 T. sugar
1/4 t. salt
1 stick (4 oz.) semi chilled butter
1 large egg yolk
ice water - 2 T.
For the filling:
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup almond flour or 1/2 cup whole or slivered blanched almonds, toasted and cooled completely
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 t. salt
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. almond extract
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add butter and work in with fingers until mixture is like coarse crumbs with some pea size pieces. Add egg yolk and chilled water and toss with a fork to evenly distribute. Squeeze a handful to see if it holds together in a moist dough. If not, add another tablespoon liquid and try again. Squeeze dough together. Chill in a disk wrapped in plastic wrap 30 minutes to 1 hour to rest.
Roll out the dough and fit it into a tart pan. Prick the bottom all over with a fork. Line the pastry with foil or parchment paper and fill with dried raw beans or rice. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet until the sides are firm and the edges are brown, about 20 minutes. Remove the weights and foil or parchment and bake another 10 to 15 minutes more.
While the crust is baking, poach the pears. Peel the pears and cut in half, removing the core and trimming out the stem. Place 1 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar into a saucepan and heat until sugar dissolves. Add the pears and simmer, covering the pan with a lid. Turn once and keep an eye on the liquid, adding more if necessary. Poach until a knife pierces easily into the pears.
Remove from the water and cool. Slice thinly along the short end of the pears. After you have made the frangipane filling and put it in the tart crust, fan the pears over the filling in a decorative fashion, using a long knife to transfer the pear slices so they stay intact, but splayed out.
Spread a little apricot jam over the pears and bake the tart until puffed and golden, about 45 minutes.