Sean and I are having new backsplash installed in the kitchen in a couple weeks. When I told my good friend and borderline DIY addict Katie I was planning to hire someone to do it, she responded: “You’re not doing it yourself? We can do it together! It will be so easy!”

So I thought I’d humor her and half-heartedly read a few articles about installing tile. Predictably, at the first mention of “wet saw,” I called Sean into the room. “Do you have the number for that handyman your dad uses?” I asked.

Sorry, Katie.

This got me thinking about priorities. In much the same way that Katie derives inexplicable joy from the prospect of installing crown molding, stripping and painting old doors or making window screens, I rarely shy away from absurdly labor-intensive kitchen projects. I love to tackle a good 8-hour pot pie with scratch-made crust and scratch-made bechamel sauce filled with vegetables and chicken that were all precooked in separate pots. I’ve also been known to stay up all night on Thanksgiving Eve to make gougeres, bacon-wrapped breadsticks and spiced nuts, and to take personal days to make two-day Sunday gravy.

But do I think it’s worth it to turn my kitchen upside down for days on end while I attempt (then likely fail and end up hiring someone) to install a couple of tiles? Nope. I’m not that kind of DIYer.

That said, this Alsace onion tart likely qualifies as Absurdly Time-Consuming. Homemade pastry crust (that is baked twice even before it gets a filling) is filled to the brim with slow-caramelized onions; rendered bacon; and a heavenly blend of crème fraîche, eggs and nutmeg. Add in the final bake, plus all the chilling and cooling at various stages, and the thing will take you no less than six hours to make. But, oh, is it worth it.


Alsace onion tart
adapted from Gourmet magazine, serves 6


    2 cups AP flour
    1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
    1/4 cup vegetable shortening
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    4 to 5 tablespoons ice water


    4 bacon slices, cut into 1/8-inch-wide strips
    3 tablespoons unsalted butter
    2 pounds yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced crosswise
    Salt and black pepper, to taste
    1 cup crème fraîche
    4 large eggs
    1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Pastry: Pulse together flour, butter, shortening and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender in a food processor, just until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (pea-size) butter lumps. Drizzle evenly with 4 tablespoons ice water and pulse in the processor until incorporated. Don’t overmix the dough, or it will become tough.

Turn out the mixture onto a lightly floured surface, and gently knead three or four times until it comes together. Gather the dough together with a pastry scraper and press it into a ball, then flatten the ball into a disk. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 14-inch round and fit it into the tart pan. Trim the excess dough, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold the overhang over the pastry and press against the side to reinforce the edge.

Lightly prick the bottom with a fork and chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Position an oven rack in the middle and preheat the oven to 400F.

Line the chilled shell with foil and fill with pie weights (dried beans work well). Bake until pastry is set and pale golden along rim, 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and weights and bake shell until golden all over, 10 to 15 minutes more. Transfer to a rack. (Leave the oven on.)


Filling: Cook the bacon in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the bacon with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Pour off about half the bacon fat. Turn the heat down to medium low. Add the butter, onions, salt and pepper to the skillet, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are very soft and pale golden, about 30 minutes. Note: Whenever the onions start to look a little dry (i.e. like they might start to brown too fast), stir in a few tablespoons of water. Add the bacon back in, then remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool for 10 minutes.


Whisk together the crème fraîche, eggs, nutmeg, about 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large bowl, then stir in the onions and bacon.


Pour the filling into the cooled tart shell, spreading the onions evenly, and bake until the filling is set (not jiggly in the middle) and the top is golden, 25 to 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Warm French lentil salad

VLUU L210  / Samsung L210

I don’t cook lentils very often, probably because there are too many good Indian restaurants nearby that work fragrant magic on them for me on a weekly basis. But I’ll make an exception every once in awhile for this bistro-style French lentil salad, which couldn’t be further from spicy Indian dal. (See what I did there?) It is equal parts tart, savory and smoky–all things I love. It’s simple yet extremely satisfying.

I’ve often seen French lentil salad paired with a simple grilled salmon fillet, which would be delicious, though I like it best with a few hunks of buttered baguette for a comfy lunch or light dinner. The little green French (or Puy) lentils have a toothsome texture and earthy–almost minerally–flavor that works well with their flavorful counterparts. The best part is, aside from the bit of hunting you’ll have to do for the lentils, everything else in this salad is widely available all the time. Note: Don’t substitute brown or yellow lentils in this recipe; they’re too mushy when cooked.

VLUU L210  / Samsung L210

Warm French lentil salad

    5-6 pieces bacon
    Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
    1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (reserve 1/4 cup for the dressing)
    1 bay leaf
    6 sprigs thyme, chopped and divided in half
    1 1/2 cups French (puy) lentils, picked over for little stones
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
    1/2 cup red wine vinegar
    1 1/2 cup chopped baby spinach

Method: In a heavy-bottomed pot, render the bacon slowly over medium heat until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon, and set on paper towels to drain, leaving the bacon grease in the pot. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil to the pot, and turn the heat up to medium high. Add the chopped onion, saving 1/4 cup for the vinaigrette. Saute the onion till soft, about 5 minutes; then add the bay leaf, about half the fresh thyme and the lentils. Cook for 2 minutes, then add 3 cups water. Cover the pot, bring it to a boil and reduce it to a simmer.

VLUU L210  / Samsung L210

Cook the lentils for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they’re tender while still maintaining their shape. Drain off the excess water, and remove the bay leaf. Check for seasoning, and adjust as needed. Set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, combine the rest of the onion and thyme with the parsley, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly. Taste for seasoning, adjusting as needed.

Add the warm lentils and chopped spinach to the bowl with the vinaigrette, and toss to combine. Crumble the cooled bacon into small pieces and add it to the salad. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4 as a salad course.