It’s the Great Pumpkin Babka Charlie Brown!

I’ve always had this idea to do a food film festival. Babette’s Feast, Eat, Drink,Man, Woman, Big Night, The Cook, the Thief, Her Lover and His Wife…(well, maybe not that last one.) The idea has evolved over the years, new movies come out like Julie and Julia, (though I’d skip the annoying Julie part and just do the Julia), or Chef, and the thing grows to a point that it gets too overwhelming to wrap my head around.

So I decided to switch to the smaller screen. And one specific cast of characters. It wasn’t that hard to choose them either. When I started looking closely, there was a wealth of culinary inspiration. “Look to the cookie, Elaine”. “No Soup for YOU!” “Big lettuce, big carrots, tomatoes like volleyballs.” “It’s chocolate, it’s peppermint, it’s delicious!” And then, there’s babka.

You just can’t beat a babka.

Now truth be told, I’ve always had babka-envy.  It was hard not to. I grew up just outside of NYC, or as it’s known by its other name, Babka-land. These magical bread-cake creatures were not something mere mortal hands could make, sitting there all smug and alluring in the bakery case. They flaunted their funky twists and turns of chocolate and buttery sweet breadness as they peeked out from under a veil of powdered sugar. No, these must be the result of the yiddish-tinged incantations of eastern european mystics. Occasionally I’d look at the instructions of some blogger or cookbook peddler who claimed they made them all by their little self, but I never really believed it. You’d obviously need three hands to cut and hold and twist and plop into pan before all that good babka stuff falls out.

Then I saw it. A recipe from Tasting Table (tastingtable.com) that was the baking equivalent of peaking behind the Wizard’s curtain. With slides! It was babka, with training wheels. Sure it wasn’t a chocolate babka, or the lesser one (cinnamon), but this babka I was going to try. And it was freakin’ awesome!

Someday soon I’ll give the lesser babka a try. But not the chocolate. Not yet. I’ve got to practice my yiddish incantations a bit more before I go for the babka big leagues….

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The Great Pumpkin Babka (From tastingtable.com)

Check out this link to see the life of a babka in pictures. It makes the forming of the loaves a lot easer.

Makes 2 loaves

INGREDIENTS

For the dough:

  • 1 cup whole milk, warmed to 115° 21⁄4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1⁄4 cup, plus 1 teaspoon, granulated sugar, divided
  • 51⁄4 cups flour, plus more for dusting 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄4 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 eggs, divided
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cubed and softened, plus more for greasing

For the filling:

  • One 15-ounce can pumpkin purée
  • 1⁄2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)

DIRECTIONS

1. Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine the milk, yeast and 1 teaspoon of the granulated sugar. Let it sit until it begins to foam, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt and cinnamon, and set aside.

2. To the foamy yeast mixture, add the remaining granulated sugar, the brown sugar and 3 eggs, and whisk to combine. Slowly stir in the flour until a dough forms, then transfer to a lightly floured surface. Using your hands, knead in the softened butter, a little at a time, until a smooth dough forms. Place in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

3. Meanwhile, make the filling: In a medium bowl, stir the filling ingredients together until incorporated.

4. Assemble the babkas: Preheat the oven to 350° and grease two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans. Divide the dough into 2 balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll 1 ball of dough out into a 14-inch square, about 1⁄8inch thick.

5. Spread half of the filling evenly over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1-inch margin at the top of the square. Sprinkle with half the raisins. Starting with the edge closest to you, roll the dough up tightly. Leaving 1⁄2inch of dough connected, cut the roll lengthwise in two. Twist the strands together and pinch at the end to seal. Carefully place the babka in one of the prepared pans.

6. Repeat this process with the remaining dough and filling. Cover both babkas loosely with plastic wrap and place in a warm area until the dough expands to fill the pan, 45 minutes more.

7. In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg and liberally brush onto each babka. Bake, rotating halfway through, until golden and cooked through, 40 to 45 minutes.

8. Let cool slightly, then remove each bread from the pan and let cool before slicing and serving.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button). You can also see what’s cookin’ on my Instagram page. Thanks! 🙂

My Freezer is a Clown Car (again)

img_7105This past week the season turned from summer to fall, as it does every loop around the globe. Mom Nature took that turn very seriously here in the beehive state. On Monday, it was 91. On Wednesday it was 50, and the mountain peaks that surround my new fair city were iced with their first snow. I’m not sad about that one bit, because when my toes start to turn frosty in flip-flops and thoughts turn to boot season, that means it’s time to fill the freezer with cozy fare for football weekends and chilly nights. Here’s a favorite posts from the early days to usher in hot food in a big bowl season.

Oh, and if you need something to read while the soups are souping, check out this wonderfully ridiculous article from Car and Drive (seriously…Car and Driver) — The Physics of Clown Cars.


[Hi there. Present-day me again. Just thought I’d mention that I’m making the potato leek soup today, and made a few adjustments for those of you out there (me included) who are a little less “my body is a temple and fat is the enemy.” Start off with a strip of bacon (oh, how I wish every sentence ever uttered started with that), cut up into pieces and heat up in the soup pot, with a scant bit of olive oil if the bacon isn’t rendering a mess of fat. Cook the bacon until lightly browned. Toss in the onions, leeks and shallots, and a knob (about a tablespoon) butter, and sweat them until soft. Then add in the taters and proceed as written. Until the end. Once you’ve done the cooking and pureeing, add in a glug, or glug glug of cream or half and half. Season and serve. You can thank me later.]

My Freezer is a Clown Car

There’s something strange going on in my freezer. Structurally, it’s the ‘typical’ rental apartment freezer. It lives on the top third of my fridge and is small. Very small. Yet while it’s dimensions are diminutive, it continually defies the laws of physics. As an avid cook and food blogger, I’m constantly testing recipes and cooking for friends. Add to that I happen to have a good deal of time on my hands these days and relieve the stresses of not having a job, (and having way too much time on my hands), by cooking. Problem is, all that food has to go someplace. I’m a good eater (very), but even I can’t consume it all quickly and I hate to waste food. So it goes into the freezer. My very small freezer. And somehow it fits. How? My freezer it seems, is a clown car. Or rather has the same physical properties as one. You know when that teeny-weeny car drives into the center ring, the door opens, and an endless supply of clownage pours out? That’s what happens in my freezer. Except, they pour in. And in. A seemingly endless number of containers filled with homemade soups and sauces, zip-top freezer bags filled with fresh-baked tasty treats, tightly wrapped aluminum foiled leftover fare, and the occasional cocktail glass in anticipation of a forthcoming dirty martini.

I’ve studied physics in school and nowhere did I see the “Bozo-Principle” mentioned. I think it only occurs in three places. The clown car, a small handbag when you are trying to carry less crap (but really need that third lipstick just incase), and my freezer. It’s a place where time and the parameters of space are suspended, and no leftover is lonely or unloved. A 30 degree time-capsule where on any given day I can relive menus of dinners past, visit the results of successful new recipes, sample birthday baked goods too plentiful to fit into “if it fits it ships” boxes, and sticks of butter and shortening, brown sugar, and sundry nut meats all waiting their turn in some future recipe. Yes, my freezer is a magical and miraculous place. All that’s missing are the giant pants, floppy shoes, and maybe a pony.

This time of year my freezer’s main residents are homemade soups. Soup is my favorite way to get all sorts of good, healthy ingredients into me efficiently and tastily. They also provide me the best excuse I know to make grilled cheese sandwiches, a favorite comfort food choice when I’m in need. (I’ve included a list of my favorite grilled cheese ingredient combos at the end of this post).

A carrot obviously destined for my pantry…

My Spiced Carrot Soup is healthy and delicious, with the Moroccan  flavors of cumin, allspice and cinnamon guaranteed to make you feel toasty on the chilliest of days. And if carrots are not your thing,  give my Potato Leek Soup,  Creamy Spinach, or Creamy Tomato, a try!

Potato Leek Soup Serves 4

This soup comes together in 45 minutes, and you will be shocked at how creamy it is without a drop of cream added. Perfect for a casual dinner,  just serve with a green salad, some nice cheese, crusty bread and a glass of wine and you’ll be in spud-heaven!

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ½ lb leeks, well cleaned and finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 ¼ lb yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 1-2 TBSP chopped fresh dill, or 1 tsp dried dill
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in large stockpot over medium heat. Add onion, leek, shallot and a good pinch of salt. Cover and sweat for about 10 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally.

Once the onion mix is soft, add the potatoes, dill and stock. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Turn off the heat and puree the soup in batches in the blender, or with a hand blender in the stockpot. Season with salt and pepper. Calories: about 100 per serving.

Spiced Carrot Soup

Makes 4 servings, or about 6 cups

  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 lb carrots (one bag), peeled and cut into ½-inch slices
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 ½ tsp cumin, plus extra for sprinkling on top
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • A pinch allspice
  • A pinch cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper (or more to taste)

In a large saucepan, sauté onion in butter and a pinch of salt over medium heat for about 2-3 minutes. Add carrots, cumin, cinnamon, and allspice and sauté another minute. Add broth, bring to a boil, then turn down heat, cover and simmer until carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.

When carrots are very tender, turn off heat and carefully puree soup in small batches in a blender until smooth. Return to pan, whisk in  lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Serve with a sprinkle of cumin on top and a squirt of lemon. Calories: approximately 125 per serving.

 

 

Embracing My Hate

FullSizeRender - Version 2I know we are supposed to be filled with the loving warm fuzzies this time of year.  But I feel it’s time to admit that as soon as Halloween rolls past and “the holidays” come into view, I feel something else too. I feel hate. Shocking, but true. And I’m not the only one.

In the past I’ve tried to hide it. I’ve tried to ignore my loathing, to be open to at least considering the possibility of tolerating if not liking. But this year I’ve decided I’m done. I’m 53 and it’s high time I acknowledge and embrace, publicly. Step back, here goes:

I HATE BRUSSELS SPROUTS!  I can’t think of any food I hate more. Kale comes close, but the sprouts still win. Sure they’re kinda cute, like doll-sized toy cabbages. Cuteness can’t quell my hate fire. Neither does the fact that you can buy them all cozied up on brussels branches and flaunt your purchase through the farmer’s market like a vegetable drum majorette. I still hate them.

Why the need to post my sprout scorn for all the world to see? Because people don’t believe you when you tell them politely. Seriously. All you fellow haters out there try it and just see what happens. The minute your server gleefully announces “we finally have our brussels sprouts back on the menu for the season” and you reply, “thank you, no, I don’t care for them,” the dance starts. You’ll be told that their preparation is different. Countless sprout-haters have been converted with a mere bite, just trust them. Then they throw bacon, or duck fat, or cranberries into the mix. Maybe roast the suckers in high heat ovens, or braise them in bourbon, or countless other ploys to make you think that somehow the offending cruciferous veg would magically shrug off its foulness.

I know you sprout lovers have the best of intentions, but please, PLEASE believe me. I hate them. You could wrap them in hundred-dollar bills, bathe them in dark chocolate and bring out Clooney to serve them to me off his chest, and I would still refuse. THAT is how much I hate them. But hey, my hatred leaves more sprouts for you, right? So the next time you ask me to try them, telling me I only hate them because I haven’t tried yours, don’t. I love that you love them so I don’t have to, and will never question nor judge why. Just let me embrace my hate.

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Not a chance a brussels sprouts recipe could darken my blogstep, but since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, here are a few gems to help your holiday, including last year’s star attraction, trash can turkey!

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks! 

Pumpkinomena

imageFor some reason that escapes me, the pumpkin, or rather its incarnation as a spiced overly sweet caffeinated beverage has become quite the phenomena. The PSL (give it a minute, you’ll figure it out) is a beloved seasonal visitor to some, worthy of fan-blogs and twitter accounts. To others the pumpkin-spiced quaff is fodder for meme-worthy face booking, an aphrodisiac, and to one very earnest and a bit over serious Swathmore undergrad, the poster-child of sexist stereotyping. OK people, get a grip…it’s just a pumpkin spice latte. An overly tarted-up beverage version of beloved vegetable, and up until recently didn’t even contain the sexy orange squash it’s named for.

Seriously…what the?! I mean, I like pumpkin season as much as the next person, have even sipped the overhyped coffee version on occasion, yet I’m still flummoxed by the frenzy of pumpkin spiced everything this time of year. Is the combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and allspice truly worthy of social media over exposure, Swathmore undergrad ire, and coverage by both Psychology Today and the National Review? I’m thinking not. I get that the combination of those spices attached to a chubby and arguably adorable veggie invokes thoughts of crisp weather, turning leaves and cozy sweaters. So does a toddy with crisp apple cider with a good glug of whisky, but you don’t see it tweeting or begging for attention on instagram (and it should, it really should.)

File Oct 11, 6 05 46 PMSure pumpkins are swell, but let’s all just relax, enjoy the season, and not work ourselves into a lather about what pumpkin spice lusting or loathing really means. There are so many more tizzy-worthy things to fuss about out there…like how wrong donut-flavored beer and blueberry bagels are…

After all my squash rhetoric above, my original intention with this post was to spurn the combination of pumpkin, cinnamon, and associated spices and share a favorite recipe of the savory variety. However, when I got down to making the dish I’d planned, the resulting glop was a hot mess. Yep, happens to me too. I burn, over bake, under bake, and sometimes come up with truly awful concoctions. Such was my savory pumpkin disaster. And I’ve learned that when that happens, only thing to do is toss the offending dish, open a bottle of wine, take a look around my kitchen, and regroup.

Half a bottle of wine and two tasty local tacos later it hit me. Sure I’m tired of the usually cloying over sweet pumpkin pie, but why not take all the things I like about it, tone down the sweetness in the custard with a touch of fluffy whipped cream cheese and orange, put all that in a crust I don’t have to roll out because I’m just tired, and top the whole shebang with salted caramel because, well, do you really need a reason?

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Tart will forever be my go-to pumpkin pie recipe from now on. A beautifully light pumpkin custard covered in salty sweet caramelly goodness all baked into a buttery brown sugar crust. Oh man… You know, they just might be right about that pumpkin spice aphrodisiac thing after all. 😉

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This is a great addition to any Thanksgiving feast because each components of this tart can be made ahead of time if you like. The crust freezes well unbaked, and you don’t even have to thaw before baking,  just add a little time to baking. The filling can sit in the refrigerator in an airtight container for a day or three, and the salted caramel sauce keeps well in a sealed jar in the fridge too. Any extra of the sauce is pretty much awesome over ice cream, on bread pudding, on a spoon, your finger…

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Tart

Makes 1 9″ tart, or 4 4″ individual tarts

Brown Sugar Crust

If it is possible to be in love with a pie crust, this is the one. And it’s ridiculously easy to prepare. The butter is melted, so you don’t have to worry about chilling and cutting into teeny pieces. It’s easy to just mix this up in a bowl with a fork and not have to pull out (and more importantly clean) a food processor. Yes, there is a major amount of butter in it. I don’t have a problem with that.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 5.5 ounces or 1 stick + 3 TBPS butter, melted

File Nov 06, 10 25 34 AMWhisk together the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Slowly add the melted butter as you mix it with a fork until it comes together. Press the dough into your tart pan and pat out evenly on the bottom and up the sides. You could make this in a pie pan and decoratively crimp the edges, but with a tart pan you don’t have to bother. This is truly a lazy crust. An amazingly delicious lazy crust.

File Nov 06, 10 25 17 AMYou’ll want to blind bake the crust and cool it before adding in the pumpkin filling. Line with foil or parchment, then baking weights, rice or beans, and bake at 350ºF for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake another 5-10 minutes until dry and slightly browned. Reduce oven to 325ºF, and let cool completely while you make the filling.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Filling

Made a mess of pumpkin butter in my slow cooker a few weeks ago, and have been itching to develop a recipe to used some of it up. If you don’t want to make your own, pick up a jar of your favorite. I’ve found Trader Joe’s has a nice one that’s pretty affordable too.

  • 1 cup pumpkin butter
  • 1 container (about 8 ounces) whipped cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup apricot jam, loosened up a bit with a few teaspoons water (start with one and add more if needed) so it’s a bit more fluid and not a solid lump of jam.
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 2 TBSP dark brown sugar
  • 1 shot whisky (3 TBSPS)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 TBSP flour
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • A few tablespoons of chopped toasted pecans for garnishing the finished tart

Add the pumpkin butter and cream cheese to a large bowl and beat together on low/medium until completely incorporated. I used a hand mixer, but you could use a standing one if you liked or a food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients and beat on medium until fully combined. Pour into the cooled pre-baked tart shell.

Bake the tart at 325ºF until the filling is set, about 30 minutes but time will vary based on your oven and if you have convection or not. If you are making 4 small tartlets rather than one big one, they should bake in about 15-20 minutes. Cool completely before topping with caramel sauce.

See that color? That’s what you want. And if it wasn’t lava hot when I took the picture, I’d be doing shooters.

Salted Caramel Sauce

Oh my god….this stuff….this incredible wonderful fabulous stuff…

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 TBSP water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 TBSP butter (I used salted)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Add the sugar and water to heavy bottomed saucepan and cook over medium-low until the sugar has completely melted. Raise heat to medium-high and cook, swirling pan occasionally but NOT stirring until the sugar is a medium-golden brown. Be brave. The darker it get’s the better it is. If you let it go too far and it burns it’s just sugar. Try again.

Once the sugar syrup is dark enough remove from heat and carefully add the cream, butter and salt. It will bubble up so be careful. Put back on medium-low heat and stir until smooth. Now raise the temp a little and gently boil about 10 minutes to let it thicken. You want about 5 fluid ounces, or a little more than 1/2 cup for the tart. Pour into a heatproof jar or bowl and chill in fridge about 15-20 minutes. It can still be warm, but you don’t want lava hot.

File Nov 06, 10 23 18 AMWhen the caramel has cooled, pour into the center of the cooled tart. Carefully tilt the tart pan to move the caramel around so it completely covers the tart. Sprinkle a ring of toasted chopped pecans along the outer edge of the tart. Chill tart in the fridge for about an hour to let everything set. Bring to room temperature before serving. This tart keeps well in the fridge, but I doubt there will be any issues with leftovers!

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks! 

Something About Apples

Here’s a little window into my creative process, blog-wise. Don’t be afraid, it’s going to be ok, I promise….

I need to do something about apples because it’s that time of year and I live in orchard land, and I work part-time in Washington, which is famous for its apples (and its trees…and pot, but not doing a blog about trees or pot, well not right now), and I just made a mess of bourbon apple butter and need to put in a recipe because I’m running out of shelf space and empty jars, and I have my monthly cooking demo this week, and then there’s that recipe I’ve been wanting to play with, so just what pithy snark can I surround all this with. Obviously I think in massive run-on sentences.

2013-10-22 13.20.08Google search “apples” yields: Wiki apple listing;  world’s healthiest fruit book plug; expose on some aspect of the entire world of apples meant to raise ire and righteous indignation; and Washington State Apple Commission website (nice SEO, WA apple folks). Not much pithy snark potential there. How about “apple symbolism.”  Hmm. Skip past the “forbidden fruit” stuff, too pedestrian. The latin word for apple and evil are the same, big whoop. Scan down.

The Adam’s apple is named for the forbidden fruit getting stuck in Adam’s throat, hence the lump. Interesting, but choking and a food blog, probably not. Lot’s of sin talk. Fun, yes, new, no. Skip past that, and the poisonous apple spiel from the Grimms (see choking in food blog reference above). Ooo, Norse and Celtic mythology, always good for an interesting story. Norse see apples as sacred symbol of rebirth and beauty. Nice, boring. Celtic….JACKPOT! The story of Conle.

Our boy Conle was the Red son of the high king of Ireland, Conn of the Hundred Battles (because you’re not a high king if you only have a dozen or so battles under your belt.) Conle was traveling with his royal pop when he saw a beautiful woman, invisible to the rest of the group. The babe tempted Conle to go with her to the Plain of Delight (hussy, throwing her plain of delight at the poor boy) and there live forever. Unfortunately Conn’s druid Coran (keep up now, you’ve got kings and druids, and everyone’s name starts with “C” ) drove the temptress off by singing, but not before she threw a magic apple at the boy. And that apple fed Conle for a year, but also gave him an irresistible desire for fairyland. Oh really…. the apple did it? Not the great theater, fabulous restaurants, chic shops and cute guys?

So that’s how it works folks. And now, the recipe. It has something to do with apples.

File Oct 08, 12 04 31 PMDouble Apple Tart with Whole Wheat Crust  (Makes one 10″ tart)

I’ve been meaning to make a variation of this tart ever since I ran across an article about it several years ago. It’s one of those Julia things, reinvented every so often. What interested me was the way it uses apples two ways –  in a sauce as base, and fresh apple slices on top. It’s also visually a stunner, and it lets me place things in a pattern with purpose. I love that crap.

You could buy the applesauce or apple butter if you like and I won’t tell. In fact, it’s the perfect use for that jar of apple butter you bought on your fall apple picking trip, then realized when you got home..”what the hell am I going to do with this?” I used bourbon apple butter because had some (ok, much) which I made in a fit of apple picking autumnal equinoxy last weekend. Plus there’s a mess of bourbon in it, which pretty much has me at hello.

Yes, you could buy a crust if you like, but it’s worth making it with this one (with no rolling out headache) and the whole wheat pastry flour gives it a lovely graham quality. But, feel free to substitute all-purpose flour if that’s what you have. As far as the fuss of laying out those apples? It’s very zen, really, and with a few tricks I’ll show you, not difficult either. 

For the tart dough:

  • 1 cup (140g) Whole Wheat Pastry Flour (you can use regular all-purpose flour too)
  • 6 TBSP (3 oz or 90 g) chilled butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup (70 g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • The zest of one orange (about 1 TBSP)

For the filling:

  • 1 cup apple butter or applesauce
  • 2-3 crisp apples of your choice (Fuji, Granny Smith, Pink Lady or any other you like that will hold their shape when baked. I used Fuji in mine.)
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice
  • 3-4 TBSP sugar

For the glaze:

  • 1/4 cup apricot or peach jam + 1 tsp water, heated until it’s liquid and then strained so there are no big pieces of fruit.

Make the tart dough:

Add the flour, sugar, salt, chilled butter pieces and orange zest to the bowl of a food processor. Process about 10 seconds, or just until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the beaten egg and pulse until the pastry just begins to hold together (about 15 times.) Dump the dough onto a sheet of wax paper and gather into a ball, then flatten to a disk. This is going to be a sticky dough, especially if it gets warm. If your dough is still cold and you work quickly, you can press it into a 10″ removable bottom tart pan now, then cover and chill. Mine was too sticky for that the last time I made it, so I flattened the disk in the wax paper as much as I could, then popped into the fridge for about 30 minutes before trying to press into the pan. I also used the wax paper to press it into the pan, but you could also use floured fingers. Once it’s all pressed in the pan, wrap well in cling film and chill for at least 2 hours, and up to overnight.

When you are ready to make the tart, preheat oven to 400ºF and line the tart pan with foil, then fill with pie weights, beans or rice and blind bake 15-20 minutes, or until the edges are slightly brown and pull away from the pan. Decrease temperature to 375ºF, remove foil and bake another 5-10 minutes until the bottom of the tart is dry and starting to color a little. Brush 2 tablespoons of the apricot glaze and set aside.

Prepare the filling:

Halve the apples vertically, then remove the core with a melon baller or knife (the melon baller is the best tool for this.) Slice each half the long way into very thin slices, about 1/8″. You don’t need to peel the apples, in fact, it works better if you don’t. Toss the apple slices in a bowl with the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons sugar.

   File Oct 08, 6 59 10 PMFile Oct 08, 6 58 49 PM

Spread the cup of applesauce/apple butter in the tart shell, then overlap the apple slices on top around the outer edge. Now you have this big hole in the middle to fill. Here’s neat trick #1: Rather than another ring of slices, place one slice horizontally at the top of the hole, and follow with one on the right side, bottom, and left side. Continue with the next ring of apples and so on, until just one small hole in the center remains.

File Oct 08, 12 37 32 PMNeat trick #2: If you try to roll up a slice to fit in the middle of the rosette, it will likely break. But, if you put the slice in the microwave for a minute or two until flexible….rolls like a dream! (Don’t be overly impressed. I broke A LOT of apples before I figured this one out).

Sprinkle the tart with 2 teaspoons sugar, and bake for 30-40 minutes until the apples slices are easily pierced with a knife.  Now you could just brush the tart with the remaining apricot glaze, but to be even more fancy, sprinkle over about a tablespoon of sugar, and if you are lucky enough to have a kitchen torch, fire that baby up and brown the edges of theFile Oct 08, 12 37 04 PM apples and melt the sugar a bit, then brush with glaze. If you don’t have a flamethrower, you can pop under the broiler a minute or two, watching it so it doesn’t burn. I choose playing with fire, because it a hell of a lot of fun.

Let the tart cool completely before serving.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks! 

In a Perfect World…

FullSizeRender - Version 2“In a perfect world…” I find myself falling back on that phrase a lot lately. Been having a bit of an internal whine-fest, stomping around grumpily because it feels like things are more uphill slog than downhill jog these days. So when my days are less happy than sad, less confident than scared I try to think of what that “perfect world” might look like. Doesn’t necessarily make things better, but it does help pass the time and brighten my mood on long hikes when I’m cranky and whining to squirrels.

Of course the obvious perfect world requests that no one would get sick, suffer loss, hunger or fear always apply. So would the perfection of always being near enough to loved ones to score a hug whenever needed. There’d always be more than enough of whatever is lacking – money, time, love, laughter, peace. But what if you dove in deeper? Here’s just a few ideas I’ve come up with lately:

In a perfect world;

  • calories would magically reduce when butter, cream or bacon are added to a dish;
  • every swipe of my debit card would immediately be replenished (with 25% interest) from Donald Trump’s campaign fund account. And yes, I’d go on a shopping spree. BIG one;
  • Kardashians would still do stuff, but no one would watch, or care;
  • differing views on politics, religion, or sports would be well reasoned and discussed with respect toward all opinions, and if that could not be accomplished things would just be settled with a dance-off.
  • the only polar icecaps melting would be the one in the back of my freezer, and;
  • every day at around 4PM, there would be kaffee and kuchen.

I grew up in a world not necessarily more perfect, but one that often included the calm late afternoon break of caffeine and something sweet. As a kid who loved any break involving food, that world seemed pretty perfect to me. Call it afternoon tea or kaffee und kuchen, it was the time when the world slowed a little and you could recharge your battery before heading into the rest of the day. My grandmother was a firm believer in kaffee und kuchen. Actually, my grandmother was a firm believer in dessert after every meal, but I seem to remember afternoon kuchen the best. If you were lucky enough to stop by her home around 4, you’d likely be sitting in front of a cup and saucer of white porcelain with tiny blue flowers, a slice of cake on your plate, and the most pressing stress you’d have to deal with is deciding with or without whipped cream. With, always.

So I suggest in today’s imperfect world of too much information, too little respectful reasoned debate, and a 24/7 technology stream attached to the end of our hands,  that we reinstitute kaffee and kuchen time. No technology, just cake and conversation. I’m betting the world won’t end if we all took an hour break in the late afternoon. It might even make it just a little bit more perfect.

File Sep 10, 10 42 59 AMSince most of us don’t have the time in our busy worlds to bake a cake every day I’m sharing one that can last a few days, provided you don’t leave a knife on the plate for hungry passersby.  The inspiration for this cake was a recipe for Farm Apple Cake I found in Bon Appetit magazine many years ago. Heavy on the butter and eggs (1&1/2 sticks butter, 4 eggs), this cake is dense but not overly sweet, with fruit both mixed in the batter and sliced on top. It also has no leavening in it other than the air whipped into the butter and the eggs as they are added, giving it an almost velvety rich texture, and a bit of a crispy meringue-ish top.

File Sep 10, 10 46 23 AMI’ve adapted the original recipe to pears instead of apples (thus the name change) since that’s what I had on hand, upped the spice a little and subbed cognac for the Vin Santo the original recipe used. It’s perfect for afternoon tea, makes a great morning coffeecake, and since Rosh Hashanah begins this evening, would be a lovely addition to any sweet New Year celebration.

ORCHARD PEAR CAKE (Adapted from Bon Appetit, Farm Apple Cake,1998)

Makes 8-10 servings

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 tsp orange or lemon zest
  • 2 cups plus 1 tbsp sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 tbsp Cognac
  • 1 medium pear, peeled, quartered, cored, cut into 1/3 –inch pieces
  • 2 pears, peeled, quartered, cored, thinly sliced

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Generously butter 10-inch springform pan. Dust pan with four, tap out excess.

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Whisk flour, cinnamon and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter and citrus peel in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add 2 cups sugar, beating until mixture is well blended and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended. (Don’t worry if it looks a little curdled – it will smooth out when the dry ingredients are added.) Mix in all but 1 tbsp flour mixture, then cognac. Toss 1/3-inch pear pieces with 1 tbsp flour mixture in small bowl; add to batter.

 File Sep 10, 10 44 50 AM File Sep 10, 10 44 21 AM  File Sep 10, 10 43 54 AM

Transfer batter to pan. Place sliced pears in overlapping rings atop cake. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp sugar.Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, covering loosely with foil if browning too quickly, about 1 hour 20 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes. Run a small knife around cake to loosen. Release pan sides; cool. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with cake dome; store at room temperature).

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks!  

The Whiskey Chronicles

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

I’ve recently discovered bourbon. Actually, that’s not true. I recently rediscovered bourbon. I discovered bourbon, or rather its cousin Jack (in shot form) in my early twenties. Which is why it’s taken me until now to venture into the brown booze again. And I apologize to bourbon for that. College capers and a life-long loathing of scotch kept me from any caramel colored quaff, as I assumed all brown booze = blech. Oh silly, silly girl….

Whiskey, I’ve gratefully discovered, is a very versatile liquid. Sure there’s experiencing it in glorious simplicity: a good glass, a nice pour, sit back, sip, breathe. It’s taken me about 25 years to appreciate that. But as far as the amber brew’s culinary charms go, well, the applications are endless. Simply put, whiskey makes things taste better! To be clear,  I’m not talking about those overly potent bourbon balls where you can practically see the fumes rising as they sit on holiday plates in the staff lunchroom. I’ve never been fond of recipes with booze in them where all you taste is the distillery. What I mean is the subtle, caramely undertones a shot or three of bourbon imparts on a sauce, custard or even caramel truffle ganache. For example, check out this Bourbon Pumpkin Tart from Fine Cooking. A little tipple in the tart makes all the difference in the world. In fact, just about anything you make with pumpkin is better if you bless it with a shot of amber nectar. Sweet squash and whiskey are pretty much a perfect match.

Then there’s fruit, which brings me to the first installment of the Whiskey Chronicles (yes, there will be more.) When you live where I live, finding ways to enjoy the ample gifts from the orchards is mandatory. On a recent Sunday I traveled up into the Hood River Valley and picked up a few apples. Ok, more than a few. A crisp fall day in the orchards is a great idea, until you get them home and realize you have 10 pounds of apples to consume. But when you introduce a basket of apples to a bottle of Maker’s Mark, wonderful things happen…

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Bourbon Apple Butter

Makes about 4 pints (8 cups)

I made this in a slow cooker for two reasons. First, I don’t want to have to mind it, stirring on the stove top so it cooks but doesn’t burn. Second, (and the real reason), if I start this right before I go to bed, my house smells AMAZING when I wake up the next morning. So if you want to make it on the stove top, go right ahead. Stand there. Stirring. I’m going to bed…

  • 6 1/2 lbs apples (crisp-tart works best), peeled, cored and sliced
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 TBSP cider vinegar
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4-6 TBSP bourbon

In a medium bowl, mix together the sugars, spices and salt. Add the sliced apples to two large bowls (if find it makes it easier to mix.) Add half the dry mixture to each bowl of sliced apples and toss well so all the apples are coated with the sugar and spices. Pour the apples into the slow cooker, add in the lemon juice and vinegar and toss well. Set the slow cooker to low and cook 9 hours.

After 9 hours, the apples will have broken down, and the color will be a beautiful mahogany brown. Now is the time to grab the bourbon. Add in 4-6 TBSP, stir around, then set the slow cooker on high for 2-3 hours more, leaving the top halfway on. You want the liquids to evaporate enough so that you have a spread that is thicker than apple sauce. Once you are at a thickness you like, use a stick blender or food processor to puree. Portion into prepared jars and can as you would any jam, or store in the refrigerator. Enjoy on toast, pancakes, waffles, or right out of the jar. 🙂 Approximately 50 calories per tablespoon.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks!  🙂

It’s a springform….it’s a spatula….IT’S SUPERBAKER!!!

DSC04508

A superhero needs appropriate foot ware

I think in some strange parallel universe, I’ve become a superhero. Well, maybe not exactly a superhero. Whatever is sub of that. A semi-superhero? A demi-hero? Whatever it’s called, several times in the past month, good friends in mild to elevated degrees of culinary distress have summoned me to help save the day. Surely that’s the definition of hero, right? No, there wasn’t a giant rolling pin symbol projected into the night sky, nor red “bundt-phone” with a direct line to my oven. And other than a dishtowel thrown over my shoulder, I was cape less. But if a good friend calls with a houseful of guests in 4 hours and no dessert, or “Kaaa-rin” is called with mild urgency from the kitchen, SUPERBAKER springs into action.

When I’m invited to friends for dinner I’m not exactly planning on cooking.  But when it’s what you do, and everybody knows it, there’s no avoiding it.  I supposed it’s no different from being a plumber and asked to opine on a host’s leaky faucet. And my friends know as long as I’ve already been handed my glass of wine or cocktail, I’m happy to jump in when the need arises. After all, who doesn’t want to be a hero, and as one of the people eating, I’ve a vested interest in a tasty outcome.

Sure the cape of culinary superhero is a lofty mantle, but it’s one I was born to bear. My mother can make the best pan gravy you’ve ever had pretty much out of thin air. My brother can create delicious geographical phenomena and related topography from meatloaf. My dad could make a killer Sunday breakfast and clean out the refrigerator simultaneously. And of course, my grandmother was the Wonder Woman of potato salad. So if you need someone to run faster than a weeping meringue, leap tall souffles, or whip stiff egg whites with a single hand, look no further. It’s a springform….it’s a  spatula…IT’S SUPERBAKER!!!

  2014-08-04 13.52.24 2014-10-16 09.08.48

A few weeks ago, I was called into action when a dear friend needed a dessert for a Rosh Hashanah dinner she was hosting.  I immediately knew what I would make – an apple honey cake a friend had sent me from a favorite blog. But, it being fall in the land of orchards, my hostess in distress was tired of apples and pears, so my honey cake had to be free of both. Fear not kids! With SuperBaker on the job, the day would be saved! (Cue the dramatic music….)

Anyway, after a cup of coffee’s worth of time on the internet I found an intriguing version of the traditional holiday cake. It included a good hit of spice, some late season plums, and with a good glass of red wine in the mix too, how could it possibly be anything but wonderful. So here it is, courtesy of the New York Times and one of my culinary heroes, Melissa Clark.

Red Wine Honey Cake With Plums (Melissa Clark, NYT, 8/23/13)

Makes 10-12 servings

NOTE:  I didn’t make the plums as Clark describes in her original recipe. Instead I took about 2 cups of Damson plums, a few tablespoons of sugar (amount depends on the ripeness of the plums), a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a little pinch of cloves, and cooked it all over medium heat until the plums broke down and juices thickened a little. Serve the plum compote alongside the cake.

  • Grease or nonstick spray, for the pan
  • 300 grams all-purpose flour (2 1/2 cups), more for the pan
  • 10 grams baking powder (2 teaspoons)
  • 3 grams baking soda (1/2 teaspoon) 3 grams salt (1/2 teaspoon)
  • 2 grams cinnamon (1 1/2 teaspoons) 2 grams cardamom (1 teaspoon)
  • 2 grams ground ginger (1 teaspoon) 3 large eggs
  • 200 grams granulated sugar (1 cup) 1 1⁄4 cups olive oil
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons good quality honey, more to taste
  • 3⁄4 cup dry red wine
  • Plum compote to serve along with the cake (see NOTE above)

Place a rack in the middle of the oven; heat to 350 degrees. Generously grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan, including center tube.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. In another large bowl, whisk eggs well. Whisk in sugar, oil, 1 cup honey, the wine and the fresh ginger until well combined. Whisk in dry ingredients until smooth. (Ok, at this point you will likely get a little alarmed at the color of the batter. Yes, it’s sort of, well, armadillo grey. Don’t worry. I promise it will be gorgeous golden brown when it comes out of the oven. Trust me.)

Pour batter into pan and bake until springy to the touch and a cake tester comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool for about 20 minutes, then unmold the cake and let cool completely.

Recipe note: Measurements for dry ingredients are given by weight for greater accuracy. The equivalent measurements by volume are approximate.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks!  🙂

The Last Pageant

DSC04185I was never destined to wear a sash and crown, and have lived most of my life comfortably with that knowledge. I came to this realization early in life, imprinted through a series of failed attempts to sit on a float and perfect my beauty queen wave. No, significant therapy dollars were not spent to help me overcome the trauma of this. Just one irrefutable fact. I simply did not fit the dress. Let me explain…

When I was a kid, every late summer/early fall, my family would go to a local biergarten park for a weekend of brew, brat, and oompah-fueled bacchanal known as Volksfest. Each year the festivities included a pageant of sorts, wherein that year’s Steuben Parade queen and her court of adorable mini princesses would be crowned. Until I came to my pageant epiphany, each year my hopes up would rise at the thought that one of those taffeta wrapped princesses would be me. Imagine a stage filled with a stream of little girls sashaying past a group of judges while some jaunty german ditty played. And there I was among them, ready to take my place on the throne. Then, as judge fingers pointed to the fortunate few, the rest of us would be handed a Kennedy half-dollar and shown the steps leading off stage.

Truth be told, I had two things going against me and my shot at a ride along Fifth Avenue  atop a crepe paper float. The most obvious was that my grandmother was one of the pageant judges, which upon my victory could open me up to ethical allegations that could haunt my Fifth Avenue float ride. But at 8 or 9 years old, that thought never entered my mind, nor prevented me from smiling my cutest smile, curtseying like a little Von Trapp, and batting my baby blues judge-ward. Yet despite stinkin’ cuteness, every year my Kennedy was dropped in my palm, and off the stage I’d go. Obviously there was another reason (not for nothing, but I was seriously cute). There had to be something sinister going on. Palms must have been greased. The fix had to be in. How was it possible that year after year, all I had was a collection of coins. Then I finally learned the truth. It wasn’t sinister goings on, it was sartorial. Turns out, all that princess taffeta came at a price, a discounted that price when all the dresses were one size. A size, it turns out, that wasn’t mine. In other words, no matter how cute a potential float-sitter, if the dress doesn’t fit, the judge can’t commit.

Why am I reliving this trauma now? After years, nay decades of swearing off pageants, I entered one last weekend. A pie pageant. Sure it was for a charity event with a cause most worthy, but the cash prize for the winner was enticement enough to block out my past taffeta-lessness and Kennedy coin flashbacks. It’s nice to know that in a constantly changing world, some things can be counted on. The sun rises each morning, the moon rises each night, and my pie didn’t fit the dress. Doesn’t matter. It raised about $40 for a great local charity, and tasted better than a bucket of Kennedys. 🙂

imageYes, this is the recipe of the runner up pie, though I prefer to think of it as Birthday Pie, since a special birthday was the reason I came up with this recipe in the first place. It’s a tasty amalgam of my mom’s pie, my favorite pie crust, and the addition of caramelized apples added out of necessity to use up some pink ladies I had sitting around for a while. This is a tart apple pie, so if you are looking for high sweetness, this dress won’t fit you. 😉

Birthday Apple Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie

For the Caramelized Apples:

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 ½ TBSP sugar
  • 1 lb sweet-tart apples (pink lady, honey crisp), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream

For the pie:

  • 5-6 large granny smith apples (about 2 lbs), peeled and cut into 1/4’’slices
  • 3-4 rounded TBSP of sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Zest of one lemon (about 1 TBSP)
  • 3 TBSP cold butter, cut into about 1/4 ” cubes

Make a double batch of pate brisee according the recipe. Divide the dough into two pieces, making one disk slightly larger than the other. Roll each crust out, one to fit a 9″ pie pan (I use pyrex, but metal pan or foil pan works fine too), and one slightly larger to use as the top. Chill the crust while you prepare the apples.

For the caramelized apples:

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat; sprinkle sugar over. Stir until sugar begins to melt, about 1 minute. Add apples. Sauté until apples are brown and tender and juices orm, about 10 minutes. Add cream and simmer until sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Cool 15 minutes before adding to bowl with raw apples.

For the pie:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Peel and core apples, cut into slices ¼” thick slices. Put sliced apples in large bowl, sprinkle with the sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest. Add caramelized apples, toss well and set aside.  Pile the apples into the chilled crust-lined pan and scatter the butter cubes over evenly. Cover with the second crust and crimp the edges. Cut 4 slits around center of top. If you have some extra dough, you can cut out some leaves and place decoratively on crust. Brush top with a little cream and sprinkle with sugar (brush just the center, not the edges.) Put pie on a cookie sheet (it makes it easier to move in and out of the oven and catches any drips). Bake at 400°F for 30 minutes or until crust is lightly browned. Let cool 20 minutes before serving.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks!  🙂