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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Flipping for Apple Cake


Last night our dear friends Deborah and Larry stopped by for dinner in Pittsburgh.  You might not think that stopping by for dinner is any big deal, but they live in Los Angeles, so it was a big deal.  Since we moved to Pittsburgh a dozen or so years ago, it's been hard to see each other regularly.

As you may recall, I visited Deborah in Los Angeles in June.  While I was there, she threw one of her fabulous dinner parties.  I needed to reciprocate.

But it was a Monday, and they were just with us for one night on their way to Florida, so instead of a dinner for eight or 10,  I made a dinner for the four of us.

For dessert I made this amazing, if I do say so myself, upside down apple cake from one of my fav bakers, Joanne Chang of Flour fame.  I found this recipe quite by accident.  When we were flying home from Maine on Sunday evening, I looked on my iPhone for a recipe for upside down apple cake, just thinking it would be good.  I knew there was such a thing as upside down pineapple cake, but I'd never seen (or rather looked for) an apple cake recipe.

I'm not going to tell you this was quick, although tarte tartin would have been a whole lot more effort.  The busiest part of this recipe was cutting up the apples, but I did that while the maple syrup was reducing.




If you decide to make this, splurge on the really good maple syrup.  Being regular visitors to Maine, we have an abundance of the stuff, so I was in good shape.  If you don't have any around the house, go out and buy a nice dark amber maple syrup (no maple flavoring for this cake) and then be prepared to taste autumn with your first bite.

And sharing it with good friends makes it all the more delicious.

Recipe:  Maple-Apple Upside-Down Cake
Joanne Chang

Ingredients:

1 cup pure maple syrup
3 Granny Smith apples—peeled, cored and cut into eighths
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
Crème fraîche, for serving

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 10-inch round cake pan. In a large 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 minutes. Pour the thickened syrup into the cake pan. Arrange the apples in the pan in 2 concentric circles, overlapping them slightly.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a glass measuring cup, whisk the eggs with the buttermilk and vanilla. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the dry and wet ingredients in 3 alternating batches until the batter is smooth; scrape down the side of the bowl.

Scrape the batter over the apples and spread it in an even layer. Bake the cake for 1 1/2 hours, until golden on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool on a rack for 45 minutes.


Place a plate on top of the cake and invert the cake onto the plate; tap lightly to release the cake. Remove the pan. Let the cake cool slightly, then cut into wedges and serve with crème fraîche.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Shorter Days Bring Chili Weather


I never make chili in the summer.  It's just not a summer food.  At least not for me.  In the deep recesses of my somewhat age addled mind, I recall reading that in some parts of the country (and the world, for that matter), highly spicy food is summer fare.  That may be, but not for me.

The good news is that it's getting to be chili weather.  Summer is over, and although it's still not frigid outside, a nice pot of chili isn't out of the question.

As luck would have it, today the cooking segment on The Today Show featured Padma Lakshmi making three different chili recipes.  Aside from looking far too gorgeous at 8:15 in the morning, that chick knows her food.  (Just as an aside, apparently she and Richard Gere recently split.  I'm sure it was his fault, because she is far too good a cook and far too perfect and beautiful to have done anything wrong enough to warrant a breakup.)

Before you get all high and mighty (as in I only cook from cookbooks), let me just tell you that I have been getting excited about cooking segments on The Today Show for years.  Where else would I ever be able to withstand Mark Bittman's holier than thou dissertations on eating local and having a well stocked pantry?  Certainly not in print, that's for sure.



But I digress.

One of Padma's recipes featured turkey, which oddly enough is my favorite protein when making chili.  It's a little lighter than beef, and really takes on the flavors of all the delicious seasonings.

This recipe was quick and easy.  Once all the chopping and dicing is done, it goes relatively quickly and really makes the kitchen smell good.  On top of that, it tastes far more decadent than the ingredients would suggest, making it the perfect treat as the days grow shorter and the evenings get cooler.

Recipe:  Turkey Chili
Padma Lashmi

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 cups finely chopped yellow onions
5 medium garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
1/2 cup packed shredded carrots (about 2.25 oz)
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 serrano or jalapeño chile, finely chopped (including seeds)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 pound ground turkey breast
1 14 1/2-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon double-concentrated tomato paste dissolved in 1 1/2 cups hot water
2 tablespoons chipotles in adobo, chopped
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
Kosher salt
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup non-fat plain yogurt
Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium heat.

Directions:

Add the cumin seeds, stir for a minute or so. Now add the onions, garlic, chiles and oregano. Cook until the onions are glassy and just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Now add carrots and celery and bell peppers.

Increasing the heat to medium high, add the turkey, stirring well and breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you go; cook until it's lightly brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato water, chipotles, vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir and cover, cooking for 5 minutes.

Lower heat to a simmer, then cook, uncovered, maintaining a steady simmer and stirring occasionally until the chili looks moist but no longer soupy, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Season to taste with more salt if needed, stir in most of the cilantro, and divide among four big bowls. Top each bowl with a generous dollop of the yogurt (about 1/4 cup) and sprinkle on the remaining cilantro.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

I'm All About the Savory



As you may have noticed, I've been on a bit of a savory campaign.  What's up with that?  Here's another food that my only experience with has been sweet: Rugelach.

I grew up on Bea's Bakery's chocolate chip rugelach.  I was especially fond of the chocolate chip, but there were lots of other flavors as well: apricot, cinnamon sugar, cherry, and prune.  Yes, prune.  But for Jews' love of prune filling, I suspect that it would be a thing of the past.  But thanks to Jewish bakeries across the world, prune filling is alive and well and thriving in a bakery near you.

My mother was a lover of bakery.  That's what she called it.  Bakery.  Once a week, usually on Fridays,  she would go to Bea's and stock up on bakery.  Sometimes she would buy a coffee cake, sometimes those delicious little butter sandwich cookies that were spread with raspberry jam and then dipped thickly in chocolate.  And often, she would buy my favorite: chocolate rugelach.  (She called them delcos.  Why?  I'll never know because the ladies at Bea's called them rugelach.)

Anyway, although  my love affair with rugelach/delcos began years and years ago., I had never, and I mean never, had anything but sweet rugelach.



That is until the other day, when  this recipe for pumpkin rugelach appeared on the Food 52 website.

So, I'm going to skip over what a pain in the ass making rugelach is.  They're little tiny rolled cookies.  Of course they're labor intensive and a pain in the ass to make.  That's a given.  So let's move on to why you should make these.

You should make these rugelach because they are so delicious that they're worth the effort.  It's that simple.  They're worth it.  You're not going to find anything like these in your local bakery.  They're too, shall we say,  outside the box.  It doesn't matter.  They are divine.  And they are worth all the mixing, rolling, and more rolling.

Trust me on this.  Go ahead.  Set aside an afternoon.  Thing of it as a adventure into a whole new savory culinary world.  You won't be sorry.

Recipe:  Pumpkin Rugelach with Sage and Walnuts
Food52

Makes 32 small rugelach

Ingredients:

2 sticks unsalted butter
8 ounces cream cheese
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh sage leaves, chopped finely
2 large shallots, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 teaspoon aleppo or chile flakes
1 cup pure pumpkin puree (or squash or sweet potato puree)
2 healthy pinches kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1 egg
1 teaspoon water
flaky sea salt or finely shredded parmesan, for sprinkling

Directions:

Prepare the dough. Cut the butter and cream cheese into tablespoon-sized pats and let soften for 10-15 minutes. Pulse the flour and salt in the food processor, and then add the semi-softened butter and cream cheese and pulse several times, until the mixture has formed large crumbly chunks (this can also be done very easily with a pastry knife, if you've got a sleeping baby and don't want to use the food processor). Gather the dough together into two large balls, flatten into disks and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for two hours or up to overnight.

While the dough is chilling, prepare the filling. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmery. Toss in the chopped shallots, sage, and aleppo and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin puree and cook for 5 minutes more, to help evaporate some of the water in the pumpkin. Season with two healthy pinches of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Remove from the heat to cool down (the filling should not be hot when you spread it on the dough).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When the dough has chilled, roll each disk into a 12" circle on a well-floured board. Make sure you flour the underside of the dough often, so that it doesn't stick. Spread half of the cooled pumpkin filling onto each disk, and then distribute half of the finely chopped walnuts over each disk. Using a bench scraper (or knife, or pizza cutter), cut the dough into 16 triangles. Roll up each triangle, starting from the base, to form a crescent, and place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.

Beat the egg with a teaspoon of water and brush lightly onto the rugelach. Top each rugelach with flaky sea salt or finely grated parmesan (I prefer the sea salt, my husband prefers parmesan, so I make half of each kind). Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm, if possible.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Salt 'n Peppa


I've been in a kugel-y mood lately.  To be brutally honest, I'm always in the mood for a nice piece of kugel, so nothing here is news.   Just roll with me for a minute...

Kugel isn't really a summertime food.  I think of it as a little heavier, and thus not quite as appropriate in the summer months.  But now, with the leave changing and the days getting a wee bit shorter, I'm back on the kugel brigade.

I grew up eating sweet kugels, those custardy confections full of eggs, and cream cheese, and raisins, and cinnamon sugar.  In fact, as far as I can tell, everyone's mother (at least everyone who's Jewish), has their own version of a sweet kugel.

Yes, my mother had her signature Patti Sherman kugel.  I think the recipe originally came off the Manischewitz noodle package, but pretty much so did everyone else's.  Let's face it, if you're talking Jewish food, Manischewitz figures into it somewhere.

But I digress.  Although I am a huge fan of sweet kugel, I knew that out there, somewhere in the kugel galaxy, there were savory kugels too.  In the deep recesses of my mind, I even recall that Cantor's Deli on Fairfax served a savory version of said kugel.

A quick confirmation with my close friend and resident expert on all thing culinary, Google, revealed that in fact the savory kugel is alive and well and living in Jewish kitchens from here to eternity.  Oh savory kugel, if only I had known.

I decided to start small and simple with a salt and pepper kugel.  I didn't even actually follow a recipe.  Rather, I just played around and this is what I came up with.  What resulted was a delicious, crispy on top and dense in the middle, slice of kugel.  Not to salty, and not to peppery.  It would be just right with chicken or roasted meat.  It would even be nice in place of its sweeter cousin at brunch.

Savory kugel perfection.

Recipe:  You Little Tarte's Salt and Pepper Kugel

Note:  I am a perfectionist and I like nice sharp edges on things like kugel.  If you are less picky than I am (and this would be a good thing), bake the kugel at 350 for about 1 hour and serve.  Skip the refrigeration step.

Ingredients:

12 ounces extra fine egg noodles, cooked to just before al dente
5 eggs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.  Cook the noodles to just short of al dente.

While the noodles are cooking, melt the butter.  Combine the eggs, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.  Dribble a little of the melted butter into an 8x8 baking dish and, using a paper towel or a brush, butter the dish well, making sure to get all the corners and sides.

Once the noodles are cooked, drain them, and pour them into the bowl with the eggs.  Add the remaining butter, and stir well to combine.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and refrigerate until it is cold, or overnight.  Once the kugel is cole, cut it in squares or triangles (I like triangles), and return to a preheated 350 oven for an addition 40 minutes.

Remove from oven.  Your perfect, ready to serve slices of kugel will be easy to remove from the pan. Serve hot.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Better in Color


I like carrots.  I don't particularly love carrots,  That is, until I received these beautiful multicolored carrots in last week's CSA basket.  I mean, what's not to love?  They're stunning -- and so, so sweet.  Obviously I've been eating the wrong carrots all these years.

Coincidentally, I came across this delicious recipe for pomegranate (molasses) roasted carrots.  They're absolutely perfect for this time of the year, earthy and rustic.  I served them with my brisket and it was truly a beautiful sight.
The finished product
And a very tasty dish.

Recipe:  Pomegranate Roasted Carrots
Melissa Clark, In The Kitchen With A Good Appetite

Note:  Pomegranate molasses is often available in the middle eastern section of the grocery store.  If not, it's a staple in middle eastern cooking, so hit up your local middle eastern market,

Ingredients:

1 pound carrots, peeled, trimmed, and halved or quartered lengthwise (halve the thin carrots, quarter the fat ones)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
pinches Turkish or Syrian red pepper (such as Aleppo pepper) or cayenne
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses or 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425°F. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the carrots with the oil, salt, and red pepper or cayenne. Spread them out in a single layer.

Roast for 15 minutes, stir well, and roast for 10 more minutes. Then remove from the oven and drizzle with the pomegranate molasses; toss gently to coat the carrots with molasses. Roast until the carrots are golden and soft, about 5 more minutes. Serve garnished with parsley.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Tisket, A Brisket


After a long summer of grilling, the sun is setting a little earlier and brisket is back on the menu.  Usually my inaugural brisket happens in September, as we Jews ring in the "New Year".  What better reason than a holiday to pull out the dutch oven?

The great thing about brisket is that you really can't overcook it.  In fact, the longer you cook it, the more mouthwateringly delicious it becomes.  All you need is time and even a neophyte in the kitchen can produce a brisket worth celebrating with.

This is a new brisket recipe for me.  There's really nothing special about the ingredients or the method, but I have to tell you, this was one absolutely delicious brisket.  I think it's all in the cooking.  This brisket cooks for a hella long time -- about 3 1/2 hours to be exact.  But it's worth it.  The end result is tender, but not stringy or falling apart, and the onion jus is to die for.


Because I'm disorganized, I didn't get this recipe posted in time for Rosh Hashanah, but not to worry. This brisket will make any dinner feel festive.

Recipe:  Nach Waxman's Brisket of Beef
Genius Recipes, Food 52

Serves 10 to 12

Ingredients:
1 6-pound first-cut (a.k.a. flat-cut) beef brisket, trimmed so that a thin layer of fat remains
1 to 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour (or matzoh meal)
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons corn oil (or other neutral oil)
8 medium onions, peeled and thickly sliced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Kosher salt
2 to 4 cloves garlic
1 carrot, peeled

Directions:

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Lightly dust the brisket with flour, then sprinkle with pepper to taste. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large ovenproof enameled cast-iron pot or other heavy pot with a lid just large enough to hold the brisket snugly. Add the brisket to the pot and brown on both sides until crusty brown areas appear on the surface here and there, 5 to 7 minutes per side.

Transfer the brisket to a platter, turn up the heat a bit, then add the onions to the pot and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Cook until the onions have softened and developed a rich brown color but aren't yet caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes.

Turn off the heat and place the brisket and any accumulated juices on top of the onions.
Spread the tomato paste over the brisket as if you were icing a cake. Sprinkle with salt and more pepper to taste, then add the garlic and carrot to the pot. Cover the pot, transfer to the oven, and cook the brisket for 1 1/2 hours.

Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and, using a very sharp knife, slice the meat across the grain into approximately 1/8-inch-thick slices. Return the slices to the pot, overlapping them at an angle so that you can see a bit of the top edge of each slice. The end result should resemble the original unsliced brisket leaning slightly backward. Check the seasonings and, if the sauce appears dry, add 2 to 3 teaspoons of water to the pot.

Cover the pot and return to the oven. Lower the heat to 325°F and cook the brisket until it is fork-tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Check once or twice during cooking to make sure that the liquid is not bubbling away. If it is, add a few more teaspoons of water—but not more. Also, each time you check, spoon some of the liquid on top of the roast so that it drips down between the slices.
It is ready to serve with its juices, but, in fact, it's even better the second day. It also freezes well.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Nothing But Corn


I have really enjoyed my CSA this summer.  Unlike last summer, where I was overrun with cauliflower, this summer's CSA has been a little more, shall we say, balanced.  I've gotten my fair share of cucumbers and zucchini, but I've also gotten delicious peaches, blueberries, and kale.  All in all, I've been pleased.

I guess this must have been a good summer for corn, because I literally have corn coming out of my (pardon the pun) ears.  I've gotten so much corn that I've started cutting it off the cob and freezing it to use later.  The problem is that later may have arrived, since I now have 3 large bags of frozen corn winking at me every time I open my freezer.

Well, Smitten Kitchen to the rescue with this absolutely delicious Corn and Cheddar Strata.

First of all, this is one easy to put together recipe.  There aren't a ton of ingredients, and it can be assembled (in fact, it's best if it is) the night before you plan to serve it.  Then all you have to do it take it out of the frig and pop it in the oven and you'll look like a gourmet hero.  It slices beautifully and can be reheated for lunch if you are lucky enough to have leftovers.

But the best part is, this strata really showcases the delicious late summer corn.  The corn gives it a sweetness that you just can't fake.  Use bread that's a little past its prime (we all have some of that hanging around the bread box) and together with the sharp cheddar and the scallions, you'll be sorry that you don't have more late summer corn hanging around.

Recipe:  Corn, Cheddar and Scallion Strata
Smitten Kitchen

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter
3 cups fresh corn (cut from 3 small-to-average cobs)
1 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions (both white and green parts from a 4-ounce bundle)
8 cups whole wheat, country or French bread in 1-inch cubes (weight will vary from 10 to 14 ounces, depending on bread type)
2 cups (6 ounces) coarsely grated sharp cheddar
1 cup (2 ounces) finely grated parmesan
9 large eggs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (optional, see Note up top)
2 3/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon table salt or 2 teaspoons of a coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Generously butter a 3-quart baking dish (a lasagna or 9×13-inch pan works well here too). Toss corn and scallions together in a medium bowl. Combine cheeses in another bowl. In a large bowl, gently beat eggs and mayo together, then whisk in milk, salt and lots (or, if measuring, 1/2 teaspoon) of freshly ground black pepper. Spread one-third of bread cubes in prepared baking dish — it will not fully cover bottom of dish; this is fine. Add one-third of corn, then cheese mixture. Repeat layering twice with remaining bread, corn and cheese. Pour egg mixture evenly over strata. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 1 day.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake strata, uncovered, until puffed, golden brown and cooked through, about 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.