Citrus and rosemary sparklers

Citrus syrup, champagne, ice, rosemary, candied citrus peel

Citrus syrup, champagne, ice, rosemary, candied citrus peel

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I had fun making Shutterbean’s candied citrus peel.  One of the happy byproducts of the candying process is a jar of bright citrus syrup, perfect for making cocktails.  The abundance of amazing citrus is the best part of winter, and this syrup, mixed with a little sparkling wine and a sprig of rosemary, made for a perfect cold weather treat.

This sort of drink is often served in a champagne flute, but personally I like both the heft of a tumbler in my hand and a little ice in my cocktail.

Citrus and rosemary sparkler

  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 2-3 spoonfuls citrus syrup
  • 5 oz chilled champagne, cava, prosecco, or other sparkling wine (preferably on the dry side)
  • 1 candied citrus peel

Add a couple of ice cubes to a tumbler.  Twist and pinch the rosemary sprig a little—this helps the oils in the leaves steep into your drink—then place in tumbler.  Add citrus syrup and champagne.  Give the drink a good stir, garnish with one of your freshly candied citrus peels, and enjoy.

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Peppermint bark with a crunch

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I’d never heard of peppermint bark until the first Christmas I spent with the Mister’s family, and it has since become a holiday favorite.  This year I wanted to try making my own, and I scoured the internet looking for the perfect recipe.  I’m a big fan of Shutterbean and when Tracy posted a recipe for crunchy peppermint bark a few days ago, I knew I’d found the one.

These have been a hit both at home and with my colleagues;  I think the Mister ate about half the plate by dinnertime.  Fortunately they are super easy to make, so I think I may whip up another batch before Christmas.

Candy canes, white chocolate, rice crispies, dark chocolate

Candy canes, white chocolate, rice crispies, dark chocolate

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A few tips:

Tracy recommends buying “good” white chocolate.  I’ve never bought white chocolate before so I wasn’t sure whether this was for flavor or ease of use.  I get my good dark chocolate (for baking) at the local organic store, so I just bought the only white chocolate they had and it tastes good and melted well.

I took her advice and refrigerated the crispy white chocolate layer, then added a dark chocolate layer and the crushed peppermint.  This was a fantastic idea and I like the way the white and red of the crushed peppermint stands out against that dark chocolate layer.  I do think next time I’ll look for a slightly more bitter dark chocolate since the white layer is already so sweet.

I smoothed my white chocolate and rice crispy layer between two pieces of parchment paper.  This meant that the upper surface was nice and smooth by the time it had set, and much easier for me to spread a thin layer of dark chocolate over.

When crushing the candy canes, I recommend doubling up on the plastic bags.  The sharp edges of the candy tend to bust right through the baggies, and the peppermint dust will go flying.  I went through three plastic baggies altogether for this batch.

Tracy breaks her bark into jagged pieces, but I found it pretty easy to cut into neat little rectangles with a knife.

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Peppermint star sugar cookies

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Sunday was quiet and snowy, perfect weather for staying warm inside, drinking lots of tea, and wearing pajamas for most of the day.  It was also a perfect day for baking holiday cookies.

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I’ve been working on my cookie-making skills this year, and have been looking for a perfect sugar cookie recipe.  For these star-shaped cookies I used a simple Martha Stewart sugar cookie recipe, dividing it in half to make a slightly smaller batch.

I wanted to try something a little different for the frosting and thought it would be fun to drizzle them with lines of red icing.  The red frosting made me think of candy canes so I added a tsp of peppermint extract to the icing. This turned out to be a great idea, and everyone exclaimed that the icing was both pretty and tasty.

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My approach to icing making was a little less than scientific. I dumped about 1.5 cups of powdered sugar in a bowl, flavored it with 1 tsp of peppermint extract, then whisked in a tsp of water at a time until the icing had reached my desired level of drizzliness.  It took about 15 drops of red food coloring to get the right color of red, and once I’d whisked it in well, I used a long tea spoon to drizzle thin streams of icing over the cookies.

Overall these cookies came out fine, neither crumbly or rock hard; subtly sweet but a little on the crunchy side.  This pleased my colleagues, who got to eat most of them, but personally I’d like to find a recipe for a slightly chewier cookie.  Do you have a go-to sugar cookie recipe for the holidays?

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Caramel cider apple pie

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It’s taken a couple of tries, but I finally got got the caramel apple pie to come out perfectly and just in time for Thanksgiving.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I first saw this recipe on Cup of Jo over the summer and set it aside for apple season.

I found the recipe to be very inspiring, but a tiny bit sloppy.  There were details missing that I found frustrating, particularly with the cider caramel, so I took the liberty of making a few changes, which I’ve outlined below.

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A few tips and what I changed:

Given that the original recipe’s crust is from Martha Stewart, it’s probably perfect good to use.  I however, have a lot of faith and experience with Mark Bittman’s flaky pie crust and made two of those for this pie.  Bittman’s recipe is easy, always flaky, and has never gotten soggy on me.

Getting the caramel right took a few tries.  What ended up working for me was to keep the cider at a steady medium boil, and actually measure the liquid to see how far it reduced.  Once it was down to about a cup, it was noticeably thicker, but not as thick as I expect caramel to be.  If I cooked it much longer it burned, so at the one cup mark, I put it in a mason jar and stuck it in the fridge.  That finally did the trick.

I like the apple pie filling to be perfectly soft and have no sort of undercooked bite to the apple texture.  Once I’d cut up the apples, I sauteed them in skillet until they softened.  The additional benefit of pre-cooking your apples is that it removes some of the juice and the pie will be less likely to be watery (the pie in the original recipe photos looks very liquidy.) This takes about 10 minutes in my Le Creuset, and about 20 in a regular kitchen skillet.  I let them cool in the skillet for about 10 minutes, then mix the other filling ingredients directly into the apples in the skillet.  Mix well, then transfer to your prepared pie crust.

Lately I’ve been wanting to improve my pie crust making skills, so I’ve been toying with these dough circles I saw on Food 52.  I found that it was important to keep the dough thin and cold, so I rolled the extra crust out on a piece of parchment paper, then transferred the paper and dough onto a sheet pan and refrigerated them for about 15 minutes.  When I was ready to assemble the top crust, I pulled the sheet pan out of the fridge and cut the dough circles with a shot glass. I got the best result by arranging the dough cut-outs in concentric circles over the apple pie filling, then arranging another set of circles along the edge of the crust.

Given that I used dough circles instead of a regular top crust, I found the browning on the pie crust to be more even if I brushed it with a little milk, rather than egg.  Don’t forget to sprinkle the crust with cinnamon and sugar before popping the pie in the oven.

Lastly, as with most pies, it is very important to let the pie cool completely before serving.  This will help the filling set and not ooze out of your cut pie, as well as help prevent your bottom crust from getting soggy.

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Practice makes perfect pie crusts

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What I love the most about baking is the precision of the process.  How important it is to measure, to have the right ingredients, to know the temperature of the food or the oven, to understand what happens when you emulsify certain combinations of ingredients.  I always feel a little like a scientist in a lab when I’m baking.  Every new recipe is like an experiment, and it fun to try again if something fails, because I know, with practice, I can likely fix it.

For Thanksgiving next week, I’m in charge of the apple pie.  I’ve been working with this recipe I spotted on Cup of Jo over the summer, making just a few adjustments to suit my taste.  I nailed the bottom crust, the filling, even the apple cider caramel reduction.  A beautiful top crust, however, eludes me.  This one worked, but I couldn’t help but immediately start calculating how to improve it.  I want a thicker ruffled edge and thinner disks that cut more evenly and didn’t shrink away from the edge.

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The taste was amazing and we’ve enjoyed it for breakfast over the last few days–I like pie for breakfast more than dessert–but I really want to nail down a beautiful crust.  We have a friendsgiving to attend this weekend, so I have another opportunity to practice before the real deal, next week.  I’ll probably revisit this topic in a few days after I’ve had another go at it, and to talk a bit more about how I changed the crust recipe and the filling.  Until then, here’s to practice makes perfect.

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Chocolate Chaud

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I haven’t been feeling great lately and with the gloomy weather, I was in need of a little pick me up.  What could be more comforting than a little mug of hot chocolate?

Rather than a packet of cocoa and hot water, I was in the mood for something more indulgent.  I like the French approach to hot chocolate: very rich and thick with chocolate.  In general, I prefer desserts that are subtly sweet, so for this drink I used bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened coconut milk, which made for a rich and comforting mug of hot chocolate that wasn’t too sugary.  This recipe made enough for two small mugs–perfect serving sizes for such a decadent drink.  As with many desserts, a tiny pinch of sea salt is a little trick to making the chocolate really flavorful.

Chocolate Chaud

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup unsweetened condensed coconut milk
  • 3 oz dark chocolate
  • pinch sea salt
  • marshmallows

In a small saucepan, heat the regular milk and coconut milk over medium-low heat until steaming but not boiling.

I had used a double boiler earlier to melt my chocolate for a different cooking project–but you can melt it in the microwave or chop it up and add it straight into the hot milk.  Whisk constantly to incorporate.  This will take 1-2 minutes if you previously melted your chocolate, and 3-5 if you did not.  When chocolate is fully melted into the milk and no more lumps remain, remove from heat and whisk in the pinch of sea salt.  Pour into two mugs, add as many marshmellows as you desire.

Dark chocolate, milk, marshmellows, coconut milk, sea salt

Dark chocolate, milk, marshmellows, coconut milk, sea salt

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Chocolate dipped coconut macaroons

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I remember the first coconut macaroon I ever had.  During a grad school break, I was visiting a friend who was interning in Washington, D.C.  While my friend was working, I was exploring the Capitol Hill neighborhood and popped in to Eastern Market for a snack.  At the time, the Market was housed in a temporary location across the street from its historic building, which was being restored after a fire the summer before.  At one of the bakery counters I bought a macaroon and a piece rugulach, neither of which I’d ever tried.  The rugulach wasn’t memorable, but the coconut was a revelation.  It was everything I’d ever wanted in a cookie.  Crispy outside, dense and chewy inside.  Mildly sweet and made from coconut, one of my favorite flavors.

Sea salt, vanilla, honey, dark chocolate, eggs, sugar, flour, shredded unsweetened coconut

Sea salt, vanilla, honey, dark chocolate, eggs, sugar, flour, shredded unsweetened coconut

Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

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Since I’m working on my cookie-making skills and we had a party to attend, I thought this would be a good weekend to learn to make macaroons.  We own several David Lebovitz books, including Ready for Dessert, which contains a great macaroon recipe (a halved version of the recipe can be found on his website).  These baked like a dream, were a hit at the party, and are my favorite new cookies.  Since the batter can be made ahead and refrigerated, I’m thinking of making another batch next weekend and baking them to take to Thanksgiving with the Mister’s family.

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A few tips:

Be sure to add and mix all your ingredients in the pan or dutch oven BEFORE heating it.  If you were to heat the pan first, you’d risk cooking the egg whites prematurely.

When you are cooking the coconut mixture, you are trying to get to a consistency that is neither runny nor dry, but rather sticky and clumpy.  Right as mine started to look right, I noticed the scorching on the bottom of the pan and pulled them off the heat.

The mixture is much easier to shape into balls or pyramids once it has thoroughly cooled.  Let it sit until cool to the touch or pop the mixture into the fridge for half an hour.

Since I wanted pyramids, I found the best process was to roll tablespoons of the coconut mixture between my palms to form little balls and then set these on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Once I’d rolled out all the balls, I went back and used my fingers to shape them into pyramids.  The cleaner your hands are, the less the coconut will stick to them.  I found my fingers got too tacky after shaping about 7-8 pyramids, so I’d just give them a quick rinse and dry, then start on the next 7-8.

You can make these without the chocolate dip at the end, but it really really adds a little something special to these cookies.

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Burnt sugar Old Fashioned

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The Mister is a bourbon drinker; has been for as long as I have known him.  In terms of flavor, he likes that its sweeter, smokier and bolder than, say, scotch, another high quality whiskey.  Philosophically, he likes that bourbon is American-made, both in product and in process.  Not being imported helps keep the price reasonable, but more than that, he finds it endearing that bourbon isn’t presented as refined or pretentious.

One of our first trips together was a long weekend to visit the Kentucky bourbon trail.  I’ll revisit that trip a little more tomorrow; today l’d like to share a local take on the bourbon Old Fashioned.  We first had this drink at our favorite bar, Room 11.  The Mister wasn’t exactly sure how they made it, but this is his best approximation:

Ice, tangerine, maraschino cherries, bitters, bourbon, sugar

Ice, tangerine, maraschino cherries, bitters, bourbon, sugar

Making the burnt sugar syrup

Making the burnt sugar syrup

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Burnt Sugar Old Fashioned inspired by the amazing bartenders at Room 11.

  • 4 ice cubes
  • 2 tbsp burnt sugar syrup
  • 2 dashes bitters
  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 3 maraschino cherries
  • 1 orange or tangerine wedge
  • 1 orange or tangerine peel, about 2 inches long

Use a cocktail pick to skewer the citrus wedge and three maraschino cherries, then set in a glass tumbler.  To the tumbler, add 3-4 ice cubes, syrup, bitters and bourbon.  Give it a stir with a spoon or with the fruit skewer.  Take the citrus peel, twist, then add to tumbler.  Enjoy.

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A few tips:

The Mister often likes his bourbon with nothing but an ice cube, and there are usually a variety of bourbons on our liquor cart for sampling.  For mixed drinks, he prefers Knob Creek.  It’s bottled at a higher proof and not too expensive, so he doesn’t mind using it in a mixed drink and likes that it retains a good bourbon taste despite being diluted with the other cocktail ingredients.  If you still want to spend a little less, he recommends Wild Turkey, or a rye whiskey like Bulleit’s Rye or Old Overholt.

A citrus twist makes a pretty garnish, but its important to actually give the peel a twist before you drop it in the glass.  Twisting it helps release the natural oils in rind, which is important to the flavor of the drink, and the aroma on the nose.  Room 11 actually lights the twist on fire.  I’m not sure about the chemistry of doing that, but it was pretty cool.

For this drink we used Peychaud’s bitters, but think it would be fun to experiment with different kinds.

If you are making your own burnt sugar syrup, take extra care to stand back when you add the boiling water to the hot sugar.  It will release a pretty intense puff of steam, and you won’t want your face anywhere near the pan.  Maybe wear a shirt with long sleeves, too.

These maraschino cherries came from a jar, but in the summer we often make our own with real sour cherries and Luxardo maraschino liqueur.  Next summer, I’ll try to do a write up on that process, but if you have access to cherries right now, they are worth it!

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Saturday morning frittata

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Saturday, I took advantage of the crisp, sunny weather to go for a long leisurely bicycle ride around town.  The neighborhoods in this city are old and dense, and if I cycle slowly and circle back and look again, I always find details and secret streets that I have never noticed before.

I planned to be out for about four hours, so I wanted a hearty breakfast to keep me until I got back home.  A potato frittata fit the bill perfectly.  I generally followed this recipe, substituting chopped leeks for the onions, and only using three small potatoes instead of two large ones.  With a little toast and tea, this was the perfect little pre-ride brunch.

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A few tips:

When making breakfast potatoes, I prefer to remove the skins and cut them into very small cubes, no bigger than half an inch.  The potatoes cook faster when they are cut smaller and have more surface area, and if you leave the skins on, they tend to stick to the pan when you first start cooking which is annoying.

I like to use a cast iron skillet to make breakfast potatoes.  Once you add the potatoes to your skillet, let them get a good sear on one side.  If you try to stir them too quickly they’ll likely stick to the pan, but if you let them sear for a while, they’ll come away more easily.  Flip and then let the other side sear.  Eventually you get crispy brown potatoes that come away easily from the pan.

The recipe calls for cheddar.  I only had mozzarella, and while that worked just fine, I think goat cheese also would have been nice.  I can think of all kinds of additions and substitutions.  Caramelized onions.  Avocado.  Chives.  Yum.

I’m an early riser and the Mister likes to sleep in on the weekends.  I was ready to head out the door before he woke up, so I left his half out on the table.  When he finally got up for the day, he just popped his half of the frittata, still in the skillet, back in the oven for 10 minutes and it came out perfect and ready to eat.

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As cookie season draws near

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This year we aren’t straying too far from home for the holidays.  We’ll probably make a quick trip to see family for Thanksgiving and will be in town for Christmas and New Years.  Last year was the first time we had Christmas at home and the Mister’s parents came down to spend it with us.  It was fun to have a first go at creating our own traditions and decide how we wanted to decorate, eat, and celebrate.

When baking, I usually gravitate towards everyday cakes, but this year I’d like to work on my cookie-making skills, both in baking and decorating.  To get in the swing of things, I baked up a batch of Deb’s delicious toasted coconut shortbread cookies and used them to practice tempering chocolate.

I got these adorable little maple leaf and acorn cookie cutters and gave them a try.  Admittedly, they weren’t the best for this kind of cookie, but I’m not quite ready for sugar cookies and royal icing yet.  The tempering seemed to work pretty well, but I think I can do better and neither the Mister, nor my work colleagues seem to mind eating all my test batches.  Hope you have a great weekend!

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Coconut.chocolate.cookies.4

Tomato and rosemary focaccia

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So far this year, we’ve had a nice slow transition to fall and I’ve been enjoying the crisp weather.  This past weekend, however, we had a short-lived warm spell, and for about 36 hours we enjoyed sunny 70° temperatures.

Since we were feeling summery, I decided to bake a quick focaccia for brunch topped with a couple of the over-ripe tomatoes from the farmers market.  We bake all our pizzas, flatbreads, and focaccia on a large pizza stone that sits in the bottom of the oven, and use a wooden pizza peel to transfer the dough onto and off of the stone.  The stone is one of our favorite cooking implements and gives the crust great texture, but leaves the crumb perfectly chewy.

I pre-heated the oven to 400°, and rolled out a large hunk of the everyday dough we keep in the fridge at all times.  We sprinkle semolina on the pizza peel to keep the dough from sticking, then transfer the plain, rolled out dough onto the peel.  Give it a little shake to make sure it isn’t sticking.  Brush the dough all over with a little olive oil–we ran out of our usual extra virgin so I broke out this garlic flavored olive oil we’d gotten as a gift.  Sprinkle the dough with about a tbsp of minced fresh rosemary and a healthy pinch of sea salt, then arrange thinly sliced tomatoes over the dough.  Transfer to pizza stone and bake for about 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes, then slice into squares and serve outside on the balcony, to make the most of any unseasonably warm weather.

Rosemary, tomatoes, garlic olive oil, salt (dough not pictured)

Rosemary, tomatoes, garlic olive oil, salt (dough not pictured)

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A few tips:

I kept this focaccia pretty simple, but it wouldn’t hurt to add a little grated parmesan or crumbled goat cheese.

If you are using a pizza stone and find the bottom just the right amount of browned, but the top needs a little more time, transfer the dough from the stone to a baking sheet and set on a rack higher up in the oven for another 5-10 minutes.  Your pizza crust bottom will stay crisp.

Lots of people use corn meal or flour underneath dough to keep it from sticking to the peel, but we find that semolina doesn’t burn as fast in the oven and sticks less to the dough than either cornmeal or flour.

Again, if you are using a stone, put the undressed dough on the peel first, then add your toppings.  This way you won’t have to worry about anything falling off and can go straight from adding toppings to transferring to the stone.  Using a peel does take a little practice but you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

Don’t skip the step of brushing olive oil on the dough to save a few calories.  It adds so much flavor, its really worth it.

Instead, try replacing a 1/3 of your white flour with whole wheat flour.  That’s about as much as I would substitute before I find that the dough quality really starts to take a dive.

As always, use dough that’s been aged for at least 24 hours.  Those sour flavors just can’t be beat.

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Garlicky cauliflower alfredo sauce

Fettucine pasta, green onions, garlic, cauliflower, butter, flour, rosemary

Fettuccine pasta, green onions, garlic, cauliflower, butter, flour, rosemary

Most people dream of squash, pumpkin, and apples at the market when they imagine the farmers’ market in the fall, but this year I found myself most eagerly awaiting cauliflower.  This would probably have surprised my child self, who found steamed cauliflower among the most uninspiring of vegetables.  Grown me, however, discovered Thomas Keller’s heavenly cream of cauliflower soup, aloo gobi masala, and this amazing cauliflower alfredo sauce.

I first saw this recipe earlier this summer and tucked it away, knowing it would be the first thing I’d make when cauliflower reappeared in the fall.  For this first try, I served it with fettuccine, but it was so wonderful and garlicky, I’m eager to see how well it does over rice or on a pizza as recommended.  The Mister even commented (over his second serving) that he couldn’t believe it was cauliflower and not cream.

A few tips:

Unless you have a very large blender, I’d split the blending up into two batches.  You want to have a sustained blend to get that really creamy texture, which is harder if the blender is too full.  Add a little more stock or milk if it isn’t blending; if the mixture gets too soupy, you can put it back in the pot and thicken with a little flour as we did.

Consider adding a little goat cheese to the blender, or maybe a pinch of red pepper or curry which go so well with cauliflower.

I had a few ends of green onions left from another recipe and softened these in a little butter in another pan, added a few fresh chopped herbs like rosemary and basil, then used these as a light garnish, along with a grating of parmigiano-reggiano.

Garnished with rosemary, basil, green onions, and a little olive oil

Garnished with rosemary, basil, green onions, and a little olive oil

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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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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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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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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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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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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Making Herb Salt

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Living in a crowded city, we feel very lucky to have an apartment with a sizable balcony and we take advantage of the outdoor space by making it as lush and green as possible in the warmer months.  Over the last few years, we’ve learned that while tomato plants don’t love our space, herbs thrive and we cram in as many varieties as possible.  These fresh herbs are wonderful for cooking, but as the temperatures begin to drop I know I’ll need to make a final harvest and wonder what I should do with the bounty.  Usually in the past, I’ve stored them in freezer bags or hung them up to dry, but this year I wanted to try making herb salt.

I found a promising technique on Food52 and decided to give it a whirl.  I’m not very comfortable leaving the oven on overnight or when I’m not at home, so I waited until I had a day off to tackle this project.

Basil, Rosemary, Lemon Balm

Basil, Rosemary, Lemon Balm

Sweet Mustard, Lemon Basil, Thyme

Sweet Mustard, Lemon Basil, Thyme

Using some kitchen shears, I snipped off big bunches of the herbs I wanted to use and gave them a good washing, then set them on a tea towel in front of a fan so that they would dry thoroughly–that herb scented air filled the whole apartment and smelled amazing!

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When the herbs had dried I spread them out in a number of metal baking sheets and pans, and covered them generously with regular kosher salt.  I turned the oven dial until I heard the pilot light click on (I’m guessing it hit just a little over a 100 degrees but I didn’t have the oven thermometer on), put the trays of herbs in, and set my timer for 8 hours.

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Later that evening, I pulled the trays out of the oven, checked to make sure they seemed thoroughly dry and got out the food processor.  In a few short minutes, I had my finished herb salts all nicely poured into a few unused mason jars. I’m so excited to use these all winter, especially the rosemary salt, which funnily enough, I plan to use on popcorn!

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A few tips:

Before you start, think about which herbs you would like to combine or keep separate.  I made one mixed herb salt that used a little of everything I had in my garden, but also made batches of single-herb salt for those with flavors that I use very specifically in certain dishes.

Be sure to have plenty of salt on hand.  I used nearly half a box of Morton Kosher Salt, which is about 1.5 lbs of salt.

If your herbs have stalks that become woody (most of mine do, especially at this point in the year) consider removing the leaves from the stalk prior to drying.  I only removed the leaves from the rosemary, and after drying the other stalks become brittle and it was harder to remove the leaves without them breaking into the mixture.

Once dried, some of the smaller leaves were harder to break up in the food processor.  They kept “floating” to the top uncut.  You might want to give them a little crush before processing.

Since this is intended to be more of a finishing salt, you may want to use something nicer that kosher salt.  Next year, I may try fleur de sel or Himalayan rock salt.

If you have lots of herbs, go ahead and make a large batch.  These would be great gifts to give to friends and family around the holidays.

After I popped these in the oven, I started doing further research on methods and next year I may try this one from Food Wishes.  I think this slightly different technique might address some of the problems I ran into.

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