Sunday, November 13, 2011

Maple Apple Upside Down Cake

Fall is my favorite season. I was born in the fall, married in the fall, Thanksgiving is in the fall...what's not to love about those events?! Apple picking is another event Chris and I take advantage of during this season. We usually go to Terhune Orchards in Princeton and sometimes we stay for the festival. They have pumpkin carving, wine tasting, grilled chicken, chili, hot apple cider and, as my husband always remembers, bees. Well if you just wouldn't swat at them they'd stop bothering you! Here are some shots from last year:

This year we went straight for the fruit. It was mid-October and there were only Granny Smith and Staymen Winesaps left, which was OK with me. I like the tart, crisp varieties myself. And both of these are great for baking. I decided to try an upside down cake--maple apple style. I tried another recipe from Food and Wine but split it into 3 cakes to share with family. The apples I prepared were enough for 2 but I had so much batter leftover I couldn't just throw it away. I had roasted some figs earlier in the week so I put those on the bottom of a pan to see how they'd come out in this cake...not sure yet since that one went to my parents but I'll follow up!

Maple Apple Upside Down Cake
Makes three 5" cakes or one 10" cake

1 cup pure maple syrup
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 in slices. The recipe says eighths but that was too thick for my pans
2 cups ap flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/3 cup sugar
creme fraiche for serving

  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Butter and flour your pan(s). In a small saucepan bring the maple syrup to a boil over high heat, then simmer over low heat until very thick and reduced to 3/4 cup, about 20 min. Pour the thickened syrup into pan(s). Arrange apples in concentric circles, overlapping them slightly. This is harder than it looks, do your best but don't worry about it too much. It will still taste delicious!
  2. In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl whisk the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. In the 3rd) bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in the wet and dry ingredients over low speed in 3 alternating batches, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until the batter is smooth.
  3. Pour the batter over the apples and spread in an even layer. Bake the cake for 40 mins (5"cakes) or 1 1/2 hours (10"cake) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out free of crumbs. Let the cake(s) cool on a wire rack for 45 minutes.
  4. Place a plate on top of the cake(s) and invert. Tap lightly to release the cake. Remove the pan and let the cake continue to cool slightly. Cut into think wedges and serve with creme fraiche.
I forgot the creme fraiche for the pictures but it was quite good with it. The cake is sweet so the tangy creme was a lovely complement. Greek yogurt would work well too.
    I don't know why this picture is blue.


    Sunday, November 6, 2011

    Trapanese Pesto

    Last year (June 2010) I encouraged you to experiment with pesto, especially in the summertime when herbs are fresh and abundant! Pesto is easy to make in the food processor or even a blender and it goes well not only with pasta, but grilled bread, chicken, fish, pork, even the chimichurri on my husband's favorite steak dish is a type of pesto. You can freeze portions in ice cubes and save it for another day. Here is another variety that I found in the magazine Saveur. It comes from Trapani, a city in northwest corner of Sicily. Like many dishes from Sicily, this pesto calls for capers, tomatoes, anchovies, basil and unfortunately, raisins. I'm sorry, but raisins belong in oatmeal cookies, rice pudding and the rum soaked ones belong in rich vanilla ice cream. Chris would say they belong only in the garbage. If you ask me, Italians have much better uses for those grapes!
    Needless to say I left the raisins out of this recipe. The result was a dish we couldn't stop eating. My sister was visiting and lucky for her she stayed for dinner. It was salty, savory, luscious and light! I know it's not the season for grape tomatoes anymore, and my basil plant is now a graveyard for squirrel treasures, but keep this one in mind for summer! Bookmark!

    Trapanese Pesto
    adapted from Saveur

    • 1 pint heirloom cherry/grape/pear shaped colorful tomatoes (don't you love how we describe fruit using other fruit??)
    • 3/4 cup sliced almonds
    • 1/2 cup basil leaves
    • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
    • 6 Tbsp evoo
    • 2 Tbsp capers, drained but not rinsed
    • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
    • 3 anchovy filets in oil, drained
    • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
    • 1 pepperoncino, stemmed, seeded and chopped

    Place tomatoes in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Pour tomatoes into a fine mesh strainer and drain off excess juice. Save the juice for soup! Back to the processor with tomatoes and add almonds, basil, Parmesan, oil, capers, red pepper flakes, anchovies, garlic and pepperoncino. When finely ground, taste and season with salt and pepper. Don't keep tasting. Save some for the pasta! Keep refrigerated until ready to prepare.

    Place some pesto in the bottom of your serving bowl.  Boil the pasta of your choice in salted water until cooked to your liking. Using a spider strainer, transfer the cooked pasta to your serving bowl, carrying a bit of the pasta water along with it. Stir pasta and pesto until combined and dressed. Taste again for seasoning and serve immediately before you finish the bowl. Don't forget extra cheese for passing.

    Buon Appetito!

    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    Salt Baked Leg of Lamb

    This endeavor seemed so much more complicated than it actually was! Have you eaten anything that was salt baked? It's flavorful, not too salty as you might expect, tender and the "reveal" is impressive. I got my grass fed leg of lamb from Whole Foods where they kindly de-boned it for me. Good thing because that would have been a mess. This particular recipe from Food and Wine was paired with a lovely Malbec that complimented the lamb nicely. I tend to take the wine recommendations as more of a "a general direction" rather than another essential ingredient to a meal. After all, who is anyone to tell you no Sauvignon Blanc with your steak or no Merlot with your mussels? Well, perhaps I wouldn't go that far.

    Try this salt baked method! I felt like I was back in elementary art class creating a paper mache mask. Moisturize those hands afterwards, though.

    Salt Baked Leg of Lamb based on recipe from Food and Wine

    • 1/4 cup evoo
    • 3 lb boneless leg of lamb
    • freshly ground pepper
    • 5 1/2 cups kosher salt, + more for seasoning
    • 2 Tablespoons Herbs de Provence
    • 8 large egg whites
    1. Preheat the oven to 375. In a large skillet, heat evoo until shimmering. Add the lamb and cook over moderately high heat until browned all over; about 8 minutes. Transfer to a baking dish and season with pepper. Let stand for 10 minutes.
    2. Meanwhile in a medium bowl combine 5 cups kosher salt with herbs. Add the egg whites and stir until the salt is evenly moistened. I needed a little extra salt because I used large eggs, so hopefully you have some salt leftover. The mixture shouldn't be too goopy--it has to sit tights on your LOL.
    3. Pack the salt all over the lamb in the baking dish. Try not to leave any cracks! Roast in the center of the preheated oven for 50-60 minutes or until instant read thermometer stuck through the crust registers 120 for medium rare. Keep an eye on it; I found the lamb went from a little too rare to a little too done in 7 or 8 minutes. It will continue to cook a bit while it rests. Let the lamb rest for 10 minutes then crack the crust and remove it.
    4. Remove the strings and thinly slice the lamb. Serve with potatoes and mixed greens.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011

    Almond Tart a la Lindsey Shere

    This caramel-y, nutty tart will knock your socks off!

    Lindsey Shere was the pastry chef at Chez Panisse for 25 years and made this tart on their opening night. I stumbled upon this recipe that was posted on the LA Times website earlier this year, and it was printed from the "Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook" (Random House, 1982). Lindsey also published the recipe in her "Chez Panisse Desserts" (Random House, 1985). Like many things that were popular in the 80's, recipes  won't necessarily stand the test of time, however this one is a keeper!
    Perfect Tart Crust

    1/2 cup butter
    1 cup flour
    1 tablespoon sugar
    3 to 4 drops almond extract
    3 to 4 drops vanilla extract
    1 tablespoon cold water
    1 cup whipping cream
    3/4 cup sugar
    Pinch salt
    1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
    1 tablespoon kirsch
    2 drops almond extract
    1 cup blanched sliced almonds

    Cut butter into bits and let soften slightly. Mix flour and sugar in bowl. Cut butter into flour with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Combine almond and vanilla extracts with cold water in small bowl, then quickly stir mixture into flour. Gather dough into ball and flatten slightly. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour.
    Allow dough to stand at room temperature briefly until it is malleable. Roll out dough and press into 9-inch tart form with removable ring, reserving small amount. Press dough evenly over bottom and sides of pan, about 1/8-inch thick, and extend dough 1/8 inch above top of ring. Prick shell lightly and refrigerate at least 1 hour. Dough may be refrigerated 8 hours or frozen.
    Partly bake tart shell at 400 degrees until shell begins to set and brown, about 10 minutes. Remove shell to cake rack and cool to room temperature. Patch any holes in shell by smoothing very small bit of reserved dough over tears.
    The pastry I made for this tart came out perfect! I've had my share of failures when it comes to tart pastry. Once, when attempting an apple pie, the butter was too soft and the crust came out mealy like sand. Make sure your butter is chilled and you're using ice water! Work the dough as little as possible and chill it in a flat disk. I did have to patch up a few tears, but it stayed together nicely after the tart was baked. Practice tarts on your family and friends to get the hang of it.

    Bring whipping cream, sugar, salt, Grand Marnier, kirsch and almond extract to full rolling boil in large, heavy saucepan. Cook until liquid bubbles thickly and has silky texture, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add almonds. Set aside 15 minutes to steep, then pour into prepared tart shell.
    I didn't have Grand Marnier in the house, which was a shame because it's my favorite after dinner drink. I substituted the Mamajuana my sister brought back from the Dominican Republic--it's at least the 2nd or 3rd time it's come in handy as a sub for another liqueur on which I didn't feel like spending $40. It had a more caramel-y taste as opposed to GM's orange-y, but still complimentary to the Almond Tart. Oddly enough, I did have just a tablespoon of kirsch left, probably from making a cheese fondue.

    Boiling creamy filling

    Line floor of oven with aluminum foil and bake tart on center rack at 350 degrees 20 to 30 minutes. Filling will bubble up and may overflow, then settle and begin to caramelize. Rotate tart frequently during last 15 minutes of baking so top is even deep golden brown. Remove tart to cake rack and let cool to room temperature before cutting.
    Bake little Tart, Bake!
    Very hard to wait for the tart to cool before digging in.
    It smelled WONDERFUL.
    Only 1 piece?
    a la mode optional. I preferred it plain.

    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    Boozy Cherry Gratin

    This year I decided not to purchase a share of any Community Supported Agriculture. This is not because I didn't enjoy the amazing fresh, organic product or because I don't support the local programs. This year I want to explore more local farmer's markets and roadside stands...not to mention I don't want to feel pressured to eat arugula every day for 2 months. Right around the corner from where we live, Protinick Farm Stand that sells the best cherries. They have both black cherries, which are actually dark red, and Rainier cherries which are yellow and red and while they're never at a bargain price, they're entirely worth it! I tend to enjoy my fruit fresh and raw, and Chris is not crazy about cooked fruit, but I found a recipe on Lara Ferroni's blog for Boozy Cherry Gratin. Boozy. Cherry. Gratin. All three words conjure up irresistible thoughts of an addictive, gooey summer dessert that I just had to try! I followed the recipe exactly and here are the fruits of my labor:

    Macerating Cherries
    The Grand Marnier is so fragrant!
    Whisking the custard. Custard is amazing along or
    layered with raw macerated cherries as Lara suggests.

    Gratin from the oven. Be patient and let it cool!
    Sweet Cherry juice is hot straight from the broiler.
    Pretty, layered in a glass dish.
    The final product is light, not too sweet, creamy and tangy. The Grand Marnier and rose' wine gives a lovely boozy flavor in the back of your throat. This savory dessert is a stellar finish to any summertime meal!

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    eScape your routine and discover new flavors!

    Few people I know dislike the flavor of garlic. It's widely used in many cuisines across the globe and it's great for your immune system. Not to mention keeping pesky vampires away! When we had our 1/2 CSA share last year, we enjoyed fresh garlic. The bulbs you find in your local grocery store are not fresh, they're dried. And they're often old and close to sprouting themselves. When selecting garlic close your eyes (or just look away so people don't think you have some weird relationship with garlic) and feel the weight. If it feels heavy for it's size, then it's probably in good shape. I'm often comparing similarly sized bulbs with one in each hand to find the best one. Hey, it's better than walking down the aisle with a cantaloupe in each hand like I did the other day...why did I park my cart so far away?!

    This year I decided to skip the CSA and explore some different Farmer's Markets in the areas I work and live. Plus, Mom and Dad have planted wonderful veggies this year so I'll reap the benefits of their garden too. Last weekend I found garlic scapes. I thought they were snake beans which I had seen in the Asian Market or maybe some type of super scallions. The woman at the farm stand said you can use them just like the bulbs, so I bought a bunch!

    Recently I've chopped them into vinaigrette for salads, sauteed them with mushrooms and roasted them with green and wax beans. In each method of preparation they're delicious! Raw they have a bite so you know it's garlic, but it's a much earthier, grassier flavor than the bulb. When sauteed or roasted they become caramelized, sweet and crunchy. This article about garlic scapes is great and I'll be trying the recipe as soon as I get a hold of another bunch tomorrow! The roasted beans, from Mom and Dad's garden, came out pretty tasty though:

    Wash the beans and snap off the plant end--I used about 3 handfuls of beans. Dry them and place them in a medium bowl. Drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Chop 2 garlic scapes and toss them in with your beans. Set the toaster oven on broil and let it heat up a bit. (I use the toaster oven more frequently in the summer if I can. It's 90 degrees and we live on the top floor of a condo building. Saves on sweat and energy!)

    Roast the beans until they become soft and brown in spots. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and return to the toaster oven until the nuts begin to brown. Remove the beans and use a microplane to zest a tablespoon of lemon on top and give the dish a squeeze of lemon juice. Toss and serve!

    The photo's blurry, it's not your eyes.
    I'll do better next time; I guess I was hungry.

    Sunday, June 26, 2011

    St. Martin/St. Maarten Cuisine

    My husband and I took a heavenly vacation to St. Martin/St. Maarten the first week in June. It was paradise! It was my first time to the Caribbean, but it won't be my last time to St. Martin/St. Maarten. We stayed on the French side at Grand Case Beach Club within walking distance of the main street in the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean, Grand Case. Here are some of the delicious meals we enjoyed!

    First stop, Le Tastevin:
    Scallop and Zucchini Carpaccio with olives,
    pine nuts, parmesan and arugula pesto.
    Cod topped with black garlic over
    a saffron sauce and purple potatoes
    Red Snapper filet, artichoke and old fashioned
    red carrots, olive oil and vinegar marinade.

    Spiga was a recommendation from a friend, and they didn't disappoint:

    Homemade tagliatelle with spiny lobster flambeed in Grand Marnier
    with artichokes, peperoncino and tomato sauce*
    *a bit too much tomato sauce for my taste, but
    the flavor was delicious

    Rack of lamb in red wine reduction
    with mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus

    Today's Catch!
    Marigot, the capital of  French St. Martin, hosts a
    lovely outdoor market Wednesdays and Saturdays.

    Spiny Lobster

    Colorful and fragrant spices!

    We enjoy sushi frequently in NJ and couldn't resist
    The Sushi Place in Princess Casino. 
    My recommendation: more sushi, less slot machines.

    Tempura Shrimp to start


    Sushi and Sashimi

    My favorite dining experience was at Le Pressoir in Grand Case. A little history...Before the Europeans colonized St. Maarten/St. Martin, the original inhabitants, the Arawaks, had migrated there from the Amazon Orinoco basin thousands of year ago. They called their home "Sualouiga" or "Land of Salt" because of the many salt pans found on the island. Le Pressoir is named for the Salt Mill Press that resides in the town's city center.


    Homemade slices of rhum jumbie marinated
    foie gras with sweet wine

    My husband and I both ordered specials.
    This is the beautiful grilled lobster.

    Curry dusted filet

    Beautifully plated dessert trio
    Delicious sweet bites to share and end an amazing meal.

    Let me know if you ever make it to St. Maarten/St. Martin. We'd definitely return again, if not for the soft sand beaches, friendly people or zip line tour in the trees but for the culinary experience!

    Sunday, June 12, 2011

    Spaghetti with crispy baby artichokes

    Baby artichokes always look so adorable in the produce section. According to Produce Pete, their size is not due to immaturity, rather because they grow on the lower and shadier part of the plant. While they do take some time to prepare, they don't require removing the inner choke so most of this flower bud is edible. My question is, who approached this crazy looking vegetable and thought, "I wanna eat this!" ??

    The recipe I prepared in May, (artichoke season is typically March, April, May), I based it on a New York Times article that sounded delicious. But, as is often the case with home cooks, I made some minor substitutions to use the contents of my pantry and fridge. I had extra artichokes leftover since I used less pasta, but it just made for a tastier version. Overall, it was a delicious spring dish that held up to reheating the following day for lunch. In fact, I could have just eaten the artichokes alone with a drizzle of evoo, a nice wedge of Parmigiano and some crusty bread.

    2 lbs baby artichokes
    3 tbsp capers, drained(I would have used more if I had them, 1/4 c probably works well)
    5 garlic cloves, minced
    1/2 onion, finely chopped
    1/2 package thick spaghetti
    1 cup pasta water
    1 tbsp evoo plus more as needed
    salt and pepper
    Parmigiano cheese to taste

    1. Begin by trimming your artichokes. Have a large bowl set aside full of cool water and the juice of 1 lemon. You'll be placing your trimmed artichokes in here to keep them from browning. (Although mine always seem to brown a little bit.) Begin by cutting the top 1/3 off artichoke. This gets rid of most of the spiny tips. Then pull off all of the tough leaves until you get tender, light green ones underneath. Finally, using a paring knife, peel the bottom part of the bud and stem until you reach a softer center and place into the acidulated water.
    2. In a large, deep, stainless steel pan, heat the olive oil and saute garlic, onion and capers until lightly brown. season the vegetables with salt and pepper then remove them with a slotted spoon leaving the seasoned oil in the pan.
    3. Using a sharp knife, slice your baby artichokes lengthwise at 1/4 inch intervals and crisp them over low heat in the pan. Work in batches and do not over crowd the pan. Place the cooked artichoke slices on paper towels and drizzle the pan with more oil if needed. Once all the artichokes are cooked, keep the pan on the stove.
    4. Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until almost al dente. They will be soft, but a little too crunchy to eat at this stage. With tongs, transfer the pasta to the artichoke pan with 1 cup of pasta water and turn up the heat so the spaghetti continue to cook. As the pasta water reduces, add the onion caper mixture back to the pan to cook along with the spaghetti. Continue to toss the pasta and add more water from the pot as needed. Season with salt and pepper.
    5. When the spaghetti is cooked to your liking, plate it in shallow bowls and top with crispy artichoke slices. Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano cheese and enjoy!

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Pots-de-Creme au Chocolat

    If you grew up with, or still enjoy, Jell-O Pudding snacks, you'll never go back.

    Some desserts remind us of someone we love, a simpler time, or have been a favorite for years. Like my Dad's favorite graham cracker, chocolate pudding and whipped cream dessert Mom makes it every year for his birthday. It's basically those three ingredients, layered and chilled. I think he could eat the whole batch! Those recipes are untouchable, but it's fabulous to try something new, decadent and delicious that could be come a tradition in the future. If you've never tried pots-de-creme, this recipe simplifies the process by melting rich dark chocolate with a simple warm custard and chilling the results in small ramekins or teacups for several hours before topping with fresh whipped cream and devouring. The recipe I use here was shared with me by a former boss turned friend, G.O, who also loves to cook. Thank you G.O!! The only twist I added was an extra flavoring ingredient... a gift from my sister who visited the Dominican Republic recently. She hates liqueur in any dessert but I think it brings another dimension of flavor. Try hazelnut liqueur or almond extract instead for a different twist!

    I know we're approaching summer in the Northern Hemisphere so your thighs won't thank me but take the stairs a few extra times--these pots-de-creme are worth it.

    Pots-de-Creme au Chocolat
    serves 8, 5 oz ramekins

    10oz. bittersweet chocolate chopped fine (use one with 60% cocoa)
    1.5 cups of heavy cream
    3/4 cup of half-and-half
    5 large egg yolks (save the whites for an omelet!)
    5 tablespoons sugar
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 tablespoon vanilla or almond extract
    1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder mixed with 1 tablespoon of water
    1 tablespoon Mamajuana or other liqueur
    Put the chocolate in a good ceramic or other heatproof bowl and set a fine-mesh strainer over the top. If you don't have a strainer like that no biggie. Keep in mind you will ultimately be pouring the custard from this bowl to your ramekin so if you have something that serves that purpose better go with that.
    8 teacups...ready!
    In a saucepan whisk together the heavy cream, half-and-half, yolks, sugar and salt and cook over a medium-low heat. A wooden spoon works well here as you will want to continually stir and scrap the bottom of the pan. Cook until it thickens and registers between 175-180 degrees.
    cooking custard
    Immediately strain the custard into the bowl of chocolate - assuming you have the strainer.

    strainer is a good idea

    Let it sit for about 5 minutes or so - maybe a little less - and do it's work in melting the chocolate. Whisk gently and combine the melted chocolate with the custard.

    While whisking add the vanilla, espresso and any other flavoring. Divide evenly amongst your ramekins. Tap the ramekins to get out any air bubbles.
    don't touch until they've cooled!

    Let them cool - unrefrigerated - until they get to room temperature. Then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours. If you want to make ahead of time you can refrigerate them up to three days ahead - or you could eat one after four hours and then another one day later, so on, so on.
    Best to serve with fresh and real whipped cream and shaved chocolate.
    I shared with my husband.
    Bon Appetit!