Scenes from October

Baked brie and baguettes

Baked brie and baguettes

October was lovely.  After a busy summer of travel, it was nice to enjoy a few low key weeks at home.  We enjoyed the changing seasons, my mother came to visit, we hosted a few dinner parties, snuggled up with alpacas at a friend’s petting zoo party, watched a lot of baseball, and generally cooked up a storm.

Right now I’m sitting next to an open window, enjoying a cold drink, and looking a few of my favorite photographs taken over the last month. Here’s to a great November!

Sweater weather means snuggle time with alpacas

Sweater weather means snuggle time with alpacas

Dinner party with new friends

Dinner party with new friends

Baklava, pears, and raspberry dessert

Baklava, pears, and raspberry dessert

Wine, flowers, and friends

Wine, flowers, and friends

A stunning sunset from our rooftop deck

A stunning sunset from our rooftop deck

Pomegranate seeds and market flowers

Pomegranate seeds and market flowers

Dinner party with old friends and my mother ❤

Dinner party with old friends and my mother ❤

Mama!

Mama!

Who needs flowers on the table when there are bowls of apples?

Who needs flowers on the table when there are bowls of apples?

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Halloween pudding with lavender, sea salt and chocolate cobwebs

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As berries and stone fruits disappear for the season, I find myself switching back and forth from cravings for apple and pear desserts, to anything with dark, dark chocolate.  I’ve been having fun trying out recipes from the new Kinfolk Table cookbook and over the weekend, I experimented with their recipe for chocolate pudding with sea salt and lavender.

The Kinfolk recipe is simple and easy, similar to many that can be found online using olive oil, vanilla, heavy cream and sea salt (here’s a Martha Stewart favorite), but with a twist.  In this case, you brew 1/4 cup of water with a mixture of lavender flowers and Earl Grey tea.  Steep for five minutes then mix it with the chopped chocolate and vanilla, before adding the boiling cream.  Check out the new Kinfolk Table for the full recipe, or try adding a little lavender tea and sea salt to your favorite pudding recipe.

Lavender, Earl Grey tea leaves, heavy cream, bittersweet dark chocolate, sea salt, vanilla

Lavender flowers, Earl Grey tea leaves, heavy cream, bittersweet dark chocolate, sea salt, vanilla

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A few tips:

A tiny bit of salt really makes chocolate pop.  I thought the Kinfolk recipe had just a bit too much, so in the future, I may cut the salt in half.  I used the best grey sea salt we have in the house.

Take a few minutes to give your chocolate a good chopping, even if you have morsels.  The smaller the pieces, the more surface area and the faster they will melt.

Since its nearly Halloween, I thought it would be fun to dress up the pudding with a little whipped cream and chocolate cobwebs.  Last week, Food52 featured a cute little tutorial for making them with melted chocolate and I had fun giving it a try.

These are very rich, and the Mister and I have been splitting a cup after dinner for the last few days.  If I serve them to guests in the future, I may layer them with berries, chopped nuts, or preserves.

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It’s all in the details

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Generally there are two things that draw my eye in terms of style. The general shape and fit of clothing on people, and the subtle details that you may only notice up close.  Lately, I love seeing the tiny pin dots of this Madewell button up peeking out from the cuffs and collar of a sweater.  Maybe only an inch or two of the shirt is showing at any given time, yet somehow the outfits feels a little more crisp and interesting.

[ Shirt – Madewell; Sweater – J. Crew]

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Detroit corn cakes

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This weekend we had friends over to watch game three of the World Series and eat chili.  It was a pretty exciting game and we were on our feet numerous times, cheering for our team or making our way to the kitchen for seconds.

Making chili is the Mister’s department, but I do have a go-to recipe for fried corn cakes.  A few years ago, when I was living in Michigan, I clipped it out of a copy of the Detroit Free Press, and they’ve been a hit at every chili night I’ve been to since.

Green onions, corn, sea salt, cornmeal, flour, sugar, milk, egg, butter, jalapeno

Green onions, corn, sea salt, cornmeal, flour, sugar, milk, egg, butter, jalapeno

Adapted from a recipe by Chef Shawn Loving, first published in The Detroit Free Press

  • 1 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar or less to taste
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fresh black pepper
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 1/8 vegetable oil
  • 1 cup fresh cut corn
  • 1/2 cup green onions, chopped
  • 1 medium jalapeno, seeds removed, minced
  • Oil for frying

In a large bowl, combine corn meal, sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper, stirring with a fork to combine.  In a smaller bowl, lightly beat the egg and milk, then pour into the larger bowl of dry ingredients.  Mix well.  Next, add corn, green onions, chopped jalapeno, butter, and oil.  Stir yet again, until vegetables are well mixed in the batter.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Use a large spoon to scoop out batter–about 1/8 cup per scoop–and drop in oil.  Use flat side of spoon to flatten batter into a 4-inch round cake.  A large skillet can accommodate about three corn cakes per batch.  After about 90 seconds, small bubbles will appear in the top of batter.  Flip with a spatula and fry other side for an additional 90 seconds, then remove from heat.  Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before eating.  Makes about 30 corn cakes.

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A few tips:

I halved the original recipe to work for four people. Double the recipe for a larger party.

The original recipe didn’t include the jalapenos, so they could easily be removed or substituted for a different pepper.  I like just a hint of spice in my corn cakes or corn bread.

Try letting the corn cakes cook for two full minutes on each side or until they get a little crispy.  Delicious.

These are best hot, so if you aren’t serving right away, toss them onto a sheet pan and pop them in the oven for a few minutes to rewarm.

These also go well with pulled pork or other kinds of barbeque.

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Braided apple pastry

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Some weekends are too lazy for recipes.   Coffee, naps, and cuddling are oh so tempting as the days get chillier.  These are the times when its handy to have a few puff pastry sheets tucked away in your freezer.  Its so easy to make puff pastry beautiful, and it can be filled with just about anything, savory or sweet.

Apples, cinnamon, puff pastry, brown sugar, butter, egg

Apples, cinnamon, puff pastry, brown sugar, butter, egg

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This pastry was something I threw together with what I had on hand.  Apart from the instructions for cutting the pastry, for which I’ve included a video link below, I didn’t really follow any recipe.  I think this would work well with pears, and next time, I plan to make a little caramel to drizzle over the apples before braiding up the pastry and sticking it in the oven.  Here’s an approximation of what I threw together:

  • 1 sheet puff pastry
  • 2 large apples, peeled and cut into 1/4 in slices
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 egg white
  • flour for rolling out the puff pastry

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Dividing the apple slices into three batches, sauteing them over medium-low heat in a tablespoon of butter, until soft and golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Stir occasionally and add a little extra butter if needed; don’t let them burn.  When apples are golden brown, sprinkle them with a teaspoon of brown sugar and cook for another minute, stirring frequently so that the sugar coats all apple slices from all sides.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Once your puff pastry has defrosted, follow the instructions in the video posted below to roll out and cut your puff pastry.  Add the cooked apples to the center of the dough, sprinkle with1 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 tbsp butter cut into four small cubes and even distributed over the apples.  Braid pastry, brush with egg white, and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.

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Braided.Apple.Tart.6

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Paris, je rêve de toi

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Lately I’ve had Paris on my mind non-stop.  Cobbled streets, ripe cheeses, crowded cafes, and blue rooftops.  I’m hoping to make another little trip in the spring, just for a few days.

Until then, I’ll be going through my old photos and, perhaps, reading a few French food memoirs.  I’ve been thinking of picking up Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris (Clotilde Dusoulier), Mastering the Art of French Eating (Ann Mah), and Cooking for Mr. Latte (Amanda Hesser).  If you’ve read any of them, I’d love to hear what you think.

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Fall salad from The Kinfolk Table

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Just in time for the weekend, my copies of The Kinfolk Table and What to Cook and How to Cook It arrived in the mail.  At different times over the weekend, The Mister and I could each be found with a mug of tea or coffee, slowly sifting through the pages, bookmarking the ones we wanted to try right away.  Both books, while very different in style, are beautifully written and photographed, and full of simple recipes that are right up our alley.

For lunch on Sunday, I browsed through the books, looking for something that would work well with what I’d picked up from the market the day before.  Kinfolk’s Sweet Potato-Apple Salad caught my eye and I decided it would make for a perfect lunch.

New cookbooks and Saturday market fare

New cookbooks and Saturday market fare

Sweet potato, apple, onion, lemon, honey, pumpkin seeds, pecans, pistachios, goat cheese, arugula, salt, garlic

Sweet potato, apple, onion, lemon, honey, pumpkin seeds, pecans, pistachios, goat cheese, arugula, salt, garlic

Sweet Potato-Apple Salad adapted from The Kinfolk Table, recipe by Julie Pointer of Portland.

  • 1 sweet potato
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 yellow onion, julienned
  • 4 cups arugula
  • 1 large apple, cored and cut into 1/2 in cubes
  • 1/2 cup nuts (I used a mixture of pecans, pistachios and pumpkin seeds
  • 4 oz crumbled goat cheese
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1.5 tbsp honey
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper

Preheat oven to 375°.  Toss sweet potato slices with 1 tbsp maple syrup, 1-2 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper.   Roast in the oven for 40 minutes, until tender, flipping slices after 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15-20 minutes.

Ten minutes before sweet potatoes are done, saute onion in a little olive oil over medium heat until transparent, then add remaining tablespoon of syrup, stirring for about 5 minutes until onions are lightly caramelized.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes.

While onions and potatoes are cooling, combine 2 tbsp olive oil, honey, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl, whisking until emulsified.  Toss arugula, apple, nuts, sweet potatoes, onions, and dressing in a large bowl.  Serve topped with crumbled goat cheese.

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A few tips:

This salad is fairly simple and leaves a lot of room for improvisation, which is nice when you need to throw a lunch together and don’t have everything called for on hand. The magic part of this recipe was really in the sweet potatoes.  Tossing them with maple syrup and cinnamon, along with the olive oil, really brought out their flavor and it was tempting to munch on them as they cooled instead of saving them for the salad.

This recipe makes a healthy lunch for two, but could easily be halved for one or doubled for four.

When making your dressing, ditch the whisk, and put your ingredients in a small jar, secure tightly with a lid, then give it a good shaking for about a minute.  Best emulsification you’ll ever get on a dressing.

I find that adding crumbled goat cheese before mixing the salad means I wind up with more goat cheese on the sides of the bowl than in the salad.  Consider tossing the dressing and salad first, then after you’ve served, top with the crumbled goat cheese.

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Vintage Tasseled Lariat

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I’ve always thought shifts and maxi dresses pair well with a long necklace.  They draw the eye in a way that lengthens a straight silhouette.

Recently, my mother and I were browsing around in an amazing, cluttered little jewelry shop, and this vintage tasseled lariat was the first thing that caught my eye when I walked through the door.  It has a nice weight to it, doesn’t seem prone to tarnish, and while interesting, is simple and versatile enough that I’ve already worn it three times.  I have a feeling it will be making a lot of appearances this winter.

Rainy day plum cake

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My mother came to visit for a few rainy and chilly days.  Most years we see each other only two or three times, usually in the hustle and bustle of holidays or family celebrations, when there is little time for unhurried cooking or conversation.  We brewed large amounts of coffee and watched favorite old movies.  When the rain died down to a drizzle we went for strolls and browsed in little shops for vintage jewelry.  Mostly though, we spent hours cooking and baking.

This plum cake pops up in my blog feed from time to time, a classic recipe from the New York Times that bakers love to revisit.  Over a few days I saw it pop up on Food52 and Smitten Kitchen, so when my mother and I saw these dark purple plums at the farmer’s market, I knew exactly what we were going to be making.

Lemon, plums, salt, flour, baking soda, sugar, cinnamon, eggs, butter

Lemon, plums, salt, flour, baking soda, sugar, cinnamon, eggs, butter

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Here is a summary of the recipe from the various places I have seen it.  Everything is generally the same recipe to recipe, except that some recipes use 3/4 c of sugar for the batter and some use a full cup.  We used the full cup.

Plum cake originally published in the New York Times and adapted by a dozen blogs I read:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 
Pinch salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 8 tbsp (1 stick) butter
, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 10-12 plums
, pitted and cut in half
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp extra sugar for topping

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.  Butter a 9-in springform pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.  In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

Using an electric mixer and a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each one, then add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Spoon batter into springform pan, using a spatula to smooth it evenly around the pan.  Set plums on batter, skin side up, so that most of the batter is covered with plums.  Drizzle with lemon juice, then sprinkle with cinnamon and remaining sugar.

Bake 45-50 minutes, until tester comes out clean and top is golden.  Let cool for at least 15 minutes in pan.  Use a butter knife to make sure cake sides are separated from pan edge, then remove pan side and slide cake onto a plate.  Goes equally well with coffee or ice cream.

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A few tips:

Combine extra sugar and cinnamon in a bowl first, then sprinkle over batter and plums.  This is just a tad easier.

There may seem like a low amount of batter to a high amount of fruit.  Don’t worry, this will take care of itself.

Cut and pit the prunes before you start the rest of the recipe.  Depending on how ripe your prunes are, this make take a little longer than you anticipate and its nice to have them ready to go once you’ve made the batter.

I’ve seen recipes with and without the lemon juice.  We happened to have a lemon lying around and used it.  I didn’t notice it much on the day of baking, but the flavor really came through on day two, so if you have a lemon, go for it.

Deb recommends saving the cake for day two.  While she is right that the plum juices make the cake more moist and custard-y, the plums themselves are not as gooey and jam-like as they are on the first day.  Cake full of jam-like plums is indescribably delicious, so definitely enjoy at least some of the cake on day one.

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Dark chocolate cake

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My mother has been visiting and we decided to have half a dozen friends over for a little dinner party.  It had been raining for days, and the damp and chill gave us the perfect excuse to make the first squash soup of the season.  After so much summer traveling, it felt good to gather our dear ones around the table and warm our bones with baked brie, bowls of hot soup and far too much wine.

To round out the meal, I made my favorite dark chocolate cake.  Its a simple thing that improves with time, the perfect dessert to make-ahead when you are busy putting together dinner for a group.  Easy on the sugar and heavy on the chocolate, the cake is very dense.  It cuts well into small servings for a large group, and is just perfect its own, or can be dressed up with a little powdered sugar and served with fresh fruit as shown here.

Eggs, sugar, flour, sea salt, raspberries, dark chocolate, butter

Eggs, sugar, flour, sea salt, raspberries, dark chocolate, butter

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s Gateau Therese in The Sweet Life in Paris.

  • 9 oz bittersweet chocolate (roughly 2.5 bars) broken into squares
  • 8 tbsp butter (1 stick)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temp, separate whites and yolks into separate bowls
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter the sides of a 9′ inch spring-form pan. Trace bottom onto a piece of parchment paper and cut out circle. Place circle on bottom of spring-form pan; use a little dab of butter to hold down the corners, if needed.

Use a double boiler to completely melt the chocolate and butter.  I improvise a double boiler by filling a sauce pan with an inch of water, setting a stainless steel steamer basket in the pan.  Bring the water to a light boil.  Put the chocolate and butter in a glass dish and set the dish in the steamer basket.

Remove the chocolate and butter mixture from the heat.  First stir in half the sugar, then the egg yolks, then the flour.

Use a mixer to whip the egg whites with the salt until they form soft, droopy peaks.  Add the other half of the sugar and whisk until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks.

Add 1/3 of the egg white mixture to the melted chocolate/butter mixture and use a spatula to lightly fold them together.  Then add the remaining egg whites and fold gently until there are no more white streaks.  Be careful not to overmix.

Transfer batter into the spring-form pan, using the spatula to even out the batter and smooth the top.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Improvised double-boiler

Improvised double-boiler

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A few tips:

I love this cake because it is very chocolatey without being too sweet.  The chocolate content is high in proportion to the rest of the ingredients, so the better quality chocolate you use, the better the cake.

Before firing up the double boiler, break the chocolate into small squares and cut the stick of butter into half tablespoon chunks.  This will create more surface area and allow them to melt a little more quickly.

The original recipe calls for baking in a loaf pan.  I’ve made that recipe a number of times and it works well.  The only difference is to extend the baking time to 35 minutes.

If you possibly can, cover the cake and leave out overnight.  Its even better on day two.

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Polkadot finds at the Madewell sale!

Madewell Shirred Dress in Dot

Madewell Shirred Dress in Dot

I love Madewell.  Their clothes transition so well from workday to weekend.  Today they are offering an additional 40% off sale items and free shipping on everything with the code BONUS40.  I picked up the Pindot Collar Boyshirt and the Shirred Silk Dress in Dot.  I’d tried both of them on the last time I visited a Madewell store, and had a really hard time not walking out with them at the time.  I’m so glad to get them now at such a great price, and to already know they fit.  What did you get?

[Photos from Madewell]

Pindot Collar Boyshirt

Pindot Collar Boyshirt

Istanbul – What we brought home

Pillows

Pillows

We live in a small apartment.  It’s a good size for our city, but small by most U.S. standards and we have to work pretty hard to keep it from getting too cluttered.  This means that when we travel, instead of bringing home tchotchkes, we try to find mementos that are beautiful but also functional.

Living room rug

Living room rug

Our apartment has parquet floors throughout, and we’ve been in need of a few rugs to keep our toes warm and help cut down on the noise for our downstairs neighbors.  We sorted through stacks and stacks of vintage rugs, searching for just the right colors for our decor.  We also picked up a few pillows for the couch and bedroom, and a vivid embroidered scarf for me. We even found a small Turkish coffee pot for the Mister–he’s a bit of a coffee nut.

Pillow and throw

Pillow and throw

Cezve, a Turkish coffee pot

Cezve, a Turkish coffee pot

Scarf

Scarf

Around the corner from our Istanbul apartment we found a small shop that sold hand woven Turkish towels, and simple, beautiful throws that would be perfect for keeping warm in the winter.  We picked up a a few towels and a throw for us, and a few for birthday and wedding gifts for family.

Hand towels

Hand towels

Hallway rug

Hallway rug

Bad Day, Good Cheese

Baguette, pistachios, cheese, road-side honey from Ithaca

Baguette, pistachios, cheese, road-side honey from Ithaca

A drink can take the edge off a bad day, but a good cheese can turn it in the other direction.  Recently, after a rough day at work, I was running errands downtown and stopped in at Cowgirl Creamery.   I told the lady behind that counter I was in the mood for something soft but on the stinkier side.  She smiled, cut a sample and said, “We have a few, but I think this is what you’re looking for.”  It was gooey and ripe, and I grabbed a baguette and headed home, my day already looking a little sunnier.

Red Hawk

Red Hawk

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A few tips:

Most cheeses are sold chilled, but the flavors and textures are so much better when served at room temperature.  Set cheeses out at least half an hour before eating.

I like my first taste of a cheese to be just the cheese.  I can most appreciate its complexities with a clean palate.  But after that, I like to pull out whatever preserves, honey, nuts or fruit I might have lying around.  You don’t have to have perfectly planned pairings, sometimes trying the different flavor combinations can be half the fun, and they look so nice all set out on your cheese board.

Can’t quite finish it all? Put away the plastic wrap.  Be kind to the bacteria that makes your cheese so delicious and wrap it in parchment or wax paper so that it can breathe without drying out.

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Wanderings: Eating in Istanbul

Baklava

Baklava heaven

Nothing beats traveling to a city where you have close friends who can show you around town and take you to all the best restaurants that only the locals know about.  A guided food tour is the next best thing.

On the recommendation of a colleague who had recently traveled to Turkey, we signed up for a culinary walk with Istanbul Eats.  Our guide, the amazing Angelis, led us on a five and half hour eating tour through markets and small restaurants in the Karaköy neighborhood on the European side of the city, and Kadıköy, on the Asian side.

Dried peppers and eggplant

Dried peppers and eggplant

The most amazing kebabs

The most amazing kebabs

Simit

Simit

Personally, I think it can be very intimidating to walk into a restaurant in a new place when you aren’t familiar with the cuisine and don’t speak the language well.  A culinary tour is a great ice breaker for diving into the food scene.  In addition to introducing us to dozens of kind of food, drink and desserts, Angelis from Istanbul Eats showed us how to order in different kinds of situations, how to garnish our food, what to look for in street food, and talked to us about the way various cultures intersecting over time led to the food we were eating now.

Spices

Spices

Yogurt soup

Yogurt soup

Grilling tantuni, beef served in a flatbread wrap with veggies

Grilling tantuni, beef served in a flatbread wrap with veggies

Wet burger!

Wet burger!

Apart from the amazing food we had that day, Istanbul Eats gave us a printed guide to all their favorite places to eat in the city, organized by neighborhood.  Afterwards we consulted that book constantly and often organized our city exploration around a place we wanted to eat from the book.  They were some of the best meals of my life and many of them were back street or upstairs places so far from the beaten tourist path, I’d never have found them otherwise.

Another great result of the tour was that we were able to make friends with a few of the other travelers who we spent the day eating and walking with.  We met up with one couple a few times for dinner, drinks and sightseeing and it was wonderful to have new friends with whom to experience city life.

Making pide and lahmacun

Making pide and lahmacun

Stuffed mussels

Stuffed mussels

Tulum seller.  Tulum is cheese ripened in a goat skin. I believe the sign says, "Those who know, know."

Tulum seller. Tulum is cheese ripened in a goat skin. I believe the sign says, “Those who know, know.”

Raki, an anise flavored drink

Raki, an anise flavored drink

Amazing dinner at Antiochia

Amazing dinner at Antiochia

Pickle and olive shop

Pickle and olive shop

Turkish delight

Turkish delight

Fresh squeezed orange and pomegranate juice

Fresh squeezed orange and pomegranate juice

Pomegranate reduction

Pomegranate reduction

Turkish breakfast

Turkish breakfast

Lahmacun and pide

Lahmacun and pide

Shrimp, squid and clams

Shrimp, squid and clams

Fish market

Fish market

Cheeses

Cheeses

Yogurt with sugar on the ferry

Yogurt with sugar on the ferry

Olives

Olives

Olives

Olives

Turkish meatballs and marrow bread

Turkish meatballs and marrow bread

Honey combs

Honey combs

Bakery

Bakery

Pickled vegetables

Pickled vegetables

Grape leaves

Grape leaves

Sütlaç, rice pudding topped with bananas, figs and Turkish delight.

Sütlaç, rice pudding with bananas, figs and Turkish delight.

Pide

Pide

Fresh aryan, a salty yogurt drink

Fresh aryan, a salty yogurt drink

Halka tatlisi, street food that tastes like churros if they were made of fried honey

Halka tatlisi, (as if churros were made out of fried honey)

Jams to eat with breakfast and clotted cream

Jams to eat with breakfast and clotted cream

Roasted chestnuts

Roasted chestnuts

Pastries

Pastries

Nutella banana bread

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The mister and I have very different views on Nutella.  Unlike me, he doesn’t find a multitude of ways to sneak it into various sandwiches (peanut butter/banana/nutella, anyone?) or desserts and sometimes, when I’m oohing and aahing over some new recipe he will wrinkle his nose and remind me that it isn’t really his taste.  My colleagues, on the other hand, love Nutella, and when one of them recently decided to invite us all to an afternoon birthday party for his wife, I decided it was the perfect occasion to bake banana bread with a little something special.

Sugar, flour, butter, yogurt, eggs, banana, nutella

Sugar, flour, butter, yogurt, eggs, banana, nutella

I liked this version from Recipe Girl.  Instead of just dumping the Nutella into a cavity or slathering it on top (not terrible ideas), she has you temper it with a little of the banana bread batter, then alternate spoonfuls of the regular batter and the Nutella batter into a bread pan.  Give it a little swirl with a knife, pop in the oven for about an hour, and then you have a delicious loaf, each serving perfectly marbled with Nutella goodness.   The loaf was gobbled up pretty quickly and I enjoyed hearing a little girl and another guest politely argue about who was going to eat more of it.

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A few tips:

I followed this recipe pretty closely.  I even checked the loaf at the 45 minute and, lo and behold, the top was browning a little too quickly.  I covered it with tinfoil, just as Recipe Girl suggested, and the finished loaf came out perfectly.

If your first test with a toothpick comes out a little chocolatey, it may be because you stabbed it in a very Nutella-y area rather than that the loaf is underbaked.  Give it a couple of pokes elsewhere to be sure.

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To make this loaf a little more party friendly, I made a little flag out of a mailing label and half of a barbeque skewer and wrote Nutella Banana Bread on it.  Its a nice idea at parties to warn other guests if a dish may have unexpected ingredients like chicken stock, nuts, or mushrooms.  This way vegetarians and people with food allergies and other dietary restrictions can opt out.  Also, I’m very sorry for anyone with hazelnut allergies.  That must be tough.

Its also nice to not have to worry about keeping track of dishes and utensils you may have brought to a party, so in the case of this loaf, I wrapped it up in parchment paper as though it were a sandwich and secured it with a little bit of colorful string.  Easy to carry, festive looking, and no need to take anything back with me.

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Pear tart

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Tart with caramelized pear

Everyone spends all of autumn talking about apples, but right now, pears and I are having a moment.  Earlier this week I made caramelized pears.  Amazing.  With gelato.  More amazing.  I had a few of those caramelized pears left over and thought I might try using them instead of apples in a simple tart.

Puff pastry, pear, sea salt, butter, sugar

Puff pastry, pear, sea salt, butter, sugar

I’ve made Deb’s apple mosaic tart before (with apples), and its lovely, easy and tasty, so I started with that.  I cut the puff pastry, sugar and butter for baking down by about a quarter since I had eaten quite a few of the pears I had made earlier and didn’t think I’d have enough to make a full sheet.

Even still I wound up with a little extra space in the middle of the tart, but this was no problem.  When I first made baked brie, I figured out how to use puff pastry to make leaves and rosettes.  I made a few rosettes from the trimmings of the puff pastry, set them in the extra space, and gave them a brushing of the drippings I got when I caramelized the pears.

If its possible, I think this turned out better than the original recipe.  I often find that raw apples in tarts and pies don’t cook all the way through.  The apples are tougher than the crust and will fall off because they are too solid, or when you take a bite you’ll come a way with most of the filling and leave behind empty crust.  Here, since the pears have already been softened in the oven, the structure comes from the puff pastry.  Every bite is soft and perfect.  This tart tasted the way I always imagine tarts will taste when I look at the beautiful pictures in recipe books.

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Making caramel topping

Making caramel topping

A few tips:

I think it’s a good idea to check on your tart a few times while it’s baking.  Puff pastry can be unforgiving when it burns, and mine started to brown a little sooner than I wanted, at about 20 minutes or so.  The upside of having the pears pre-cooked was that it didn’t harm the tart at all to take it out a few minutes earlier than called for by the original recipe.

To make rosettes, stretch out a thin slice of puff pastry so its about the size of your palm and has a slight arc.  Starting with the lower corner of the arc, pinch one end together, then roll inward, lightly pinching and pressing the inner edge to the bottom of the flower.  Set lightly on the puff pastry and brush with pear drippings or an egg white, so that they won’t burn.  You could also use a butter knife to cut out little almond shapes.  Press lightly down the middle with the knife edge to make the leaf vein, pinch gently along that seam, and voilà, leaves!  Maybe I’ll make baked brie soon and take pictures to give a better example

Cut a long, slightly curved piece of puff pastry

Cut a long, slightly curved piece of puff pastry

Pinch one end together and gently roll inward to create a florette

Pinch one end together and gently roll inward to create a florette

Puff pastry florette

Puff pastry florette

This tart can be made in the afternoon and set aside to be enjoyed after dinner, but honestly, it will never taste quite as magical as it does fresh out of the oven.  Afternoon dessert is underrated.

Fresh sliced pears are also a great idea, and now I’m wondering how apples would do with the caramelization process that went into these pears.  If anyone tries, let me know.

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Wanderings: Visiting the Blue Mosque

Sultan Ahmed (Blue Mosque) in the distance

Sultan Ahmed (Blue Mosque) in the distance

This was my favorite afternoon in Istanbul.  Quiet and cold, and slow.  Sultan Ahmed, also called the Blue Mosque, is a functioning mosque.  As with a cathedral, faith comes first, and travelers must wait until services and prayers are finished.   I would wait all day in that lovely courtyard, listening to the echoing sounds of the muezzin from the Blue Mosque and the Firuz Aga Mosque take turns calling the faithful to prayer.

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Minarets

Minarets

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Shoe rack in the Blue Mosque

Shoe rack in the Blue Mosque

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Here are two videos of the calls to prayer that echo back and forth from the Blue Mosque and Firuz Aga Mosque.  I was caught a little off guard the first time I heard it, and felt very swept up and emotional.  The first (bad) video is mine, the second (much better) video was found on Youtube.

Wanderings: Istanbul city life

New Mosque and a chestnut vendor

New Mosque and a chestnut vendor

One of the main reasons I travel is to experience life in a different place.  Some people like to focus on history and spend all their time in museums, but I am much more fascinated by modern life.  I want to find the places where the real citizens go, eat what they eat, drink what they drink, shop where they shop.   Before a trip, I try to read up on all the customs and habits of the place I am visiting: which way does traffic go on a sidewalk; do they look each other in the eyes; how to they greet each other; thank each other; what is the proper way to order food.  Then, when I get there, I try to blend in.  Some places its easier than others.

Some people think trying to blend in is silly, but I think it leads to a lot of nice surprises.  Maybe I get into the modern art museum for free because I look like a citizen.  Maybe the handsome men at the next table buy us dessert because we admired theirs.  Maybe the shopkeeper sends me to his favorite restaurant, or the fruit seller gives us a few pears as a gift.

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New Mosque

New Mosque

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Now that the Mister and I travel together, we rent apartments in neighborhoods, instead of hotels in the city center.  In Istanbul we stayed in the Karaköy neighborhood, which is across the Golden Horn from the old city.  We had nice views of Galata and the old city, but when we went downstairs the street was full of appliance and light fixture stores.  We could walk to İstiklal in ten minutes to party with the locals, or stay in our apartment to drink wine and play games as the gorgeous Galata Tower loomed over us.

Beyoglu apartment near Galata tower

The apartment we rented.  Look at those brick ceilings!

Galata Tower from our bedroom window

Galata Tower from our bedroom window

Sunset from our balcony

Sunset from our balcony

I love people watching.  So does the Mister.  We spent so much time in Istanbul sitting in cafes, sitting in parks, watching people, wandering around, watching, listening, tasting.  We explored back streets and fish markets, rode the ferries and the trams, peeked into workshops and stores.  We got lost so many times, but stumbled on cafes and antique shops and schools and cemeteries, and it was really all so wonderful.

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Anadolu Kavagi

Anadolu Kavagi

Simit vendor

Simit vendor

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Cemetery

Cemetery

Fortune telling bunny

Fortune telling bunny

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Looking out over the Bosphorus

Looking out over the Bosphorus

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Wanderings: Sightseeing in Istanbul

Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia

Istanbul.  I’d never been to a city with so much history.  Rome is the only place that comes close, and even that is not the same.  The area was first settled nearly 2,500 years ago, and over that time it was a major crossroads of trade and culture, as well as the capitol of four major empires.

History is everywhere in the city, re-appropriated and re-purposed, layered on top of its self and crammed together.  Stand anywhere in the city and you’ll find something beautiful from 500 years ago, then walk a few steps and find some place important 1,000 years ago, then turn a corner and find something 1,500 years old that was turned into something useful fifty years ago.

The modern day culture and the food were primarily what drew me to Istanbul, but we took a little time each day to visit one or two of the monumental historical sights the city had to offer.   Limiting the time we spend in museums, for us, means that when we do go to one, we don’t feel rushed and exhausted.  I like feeling like I can linger.  Explore every corner and look at the light from every window.  Imagine that I lived here and got to look at this tile or that stone, every day.

Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia

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Domes and Minarets

Domes and minarets from the Hagia Sofia looking over the the Blue Mosque

Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

Yoros Castle

Yoros Castle

Installation at Istanbul Modern

Installation at Istanbul Modern

Topkapi courtyards

Topkapi courtyards

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Topkapi Palace

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Arcade leading to the entrance of the harems at Topkapi

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Spice Market

Spice Market

Istanbul.53

Spice market

Caramelized pears with vanilla and lemon

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Last Sunday we had friends over for dinner and they showed up on our doorstep with baklava and a few ripe Chinese pears.  After dinner we served the baklava with a ice cream, raspberries, and slices of pear.  They’ve been on my mind ever since.

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This weekend was unseasonably warm and, when sorting through recipes, poaching pears with red wine seemed better suited for colder weather.  Caramelizing them in the oven, on the other hand, would go well with ice cream, which was more appealing given the balmy temperatures outside.  Smitten Kitchen’s take on them, with lemon and vanilla, seemed like just the thing so I picked up four of the Barlett pears that have just started to appear at the market.

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Deb’s recipe calls for basting the pears a few times as they cook, and every time I opened the oven door to attend to them the sweet smell of pears and vanilla grew a little richer and the pear drippings in the bottom of the pan looked a little more golden.  They were ready just as the sun was going down, and the warm pear tasted about as golden as the light streaming in through our apartment windows.

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DSC_2142

A few tips:

I love a little coconut here and there, so the only modification I made to this recipe was to add about an tablespoon of finely chopped shredded coconut to the sugar and vanilla bean mixture.

To get as much juice as possible when using a fresh lemon, squeeze the lemon well (watch out for pips), then press the back of a spoon against the inside flesh.  Deb doesn’t mention it in the recipe, but her photos show that she tossed the spent lemon rind in the pan with the pears.  I did, too, and though I’m not sure if it helped, it sure didn’t hurt, so go ahead.

Use the same spoon to core the pears if you don’t have a corer or a melon baller.

There are dozens of ways you can use the finished pears, but fresh out of the oven, I drizzled them with the golden pan juices and served with a scoop gelato.  To not overpower the flavor of the pears, I chose a simple roasted almond gelato and thought it worked very well.

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Rosemary olive oil cake

Garnished with a little powdered sugar and chopped pistachios

Garnished with a little powdered sugar and chopped pistachios

A few years ago I lived in a large, beautiful group house with several wonderful housemates.  We had an incredible kitchen in which we spent all our time, laughing and cooking and sharing food.  There were a number of cookbooks left in the kitchen by the landlords, journalists who traveled most of the time, and one of the roommates became obsessed with a recipe she found for rosemary remembrance cake.  She spent months thinking and talking about that recipe, and though she was an excellent cook, put off making it until just before she moved away to the other coast.

Flour, pistachios, lemon, eggs, rosemary, yogurt, olive oil

Flour, pistachios, lemon, eggs, rosemary, yogurt, olive oil

When she finally decided to make the cake, for her going away dinner if I remember correctly, we realized we didn’t have any rosemary.  Our house was next to a co-op with an amazing garden.  They had a the largest rosemary bush I have ever seen and the neighbors had told us to help ourselves if we ever needed any.  My roommate relieved the giant bush of one long branch of rosemary and this was baked right down the center of the cake.  It was so beautiful we even did a little photo shoot with it on our front porch.

It’s been about five years since she made that cake, and though I can’t recall the name of the cookbook in our old house, I’d done a little research online to try to find something similar.  The original cake was baked in a loaf pan, but I wanted to bake a round cake, and ended up choosing this recipe from Cayuga St. Kitchen.

In general, I’m more of a savory person who enjoys sweets in small quantities, so this warm, aromatic cake is right up my alley, and was the perfect accompaniment to morning coffees and afternoon tea.

Rosemary branches baked on to the cake top

Rosemary branches baked on to the cake top

A few tips:

While I did follow the recipe in adding two tablespoons of fresh minced rosemary to the cake, I saw a number of other recipes with branches of rosemary baked into the top, so I felt safe amending this one.  I selected three 5-in branches of new growth from my rosemary plant, choosing the new growth so that the branches would be flexible enough for me to shape them a bit and arrange the rosemary in a circle around the cake.  Fresh rosemary should have lots of natural oils that will be released while baking, so the leaves will dry out, rather than burn, as it bakes.

I felt that the cake might have benefited from a little more lemon zest.  Next time I make it, I might try zesting another half or whole lemon.

The powdered sugar and chopped nuts topping suggested in the recipe were a nice addition to the cake I remember.  Raspberries or fresh sliced pears would also pair nicely when serving.

The original rosemary cake

The original rosemary cake

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