Thursday, November 15, 2012

Apple Custard Tart



Having gone apple picking last weekend and given into my uncontrollable urge to fill the bushel bags with reckless abandon, I have a serious glut of apples in my house.  I've shared them generously and forcefully with friends, neighbors, and total strangers, and we've consumed a goodly share ourselves.  But the fridge is still overstocked with apples.

So I've been actively seeking apple recipes, and was delighted to find this brown butter apple tart in Bon Appetit this month.  I reviewed the recipe and was dismayed to discover that the crust was a two-day, rolling pin affair--I loathe rolling dough.

"Forsooth", said I, "My magic dough will fare just as well."  And it did.  One other simplification tactic I used:  no need to core the apples and slice them into rings as BA suggests.  This is a total pain, and risks slicing fingers as well as apples.  I started with this thankless enterprise and promptly abandoned it.  Just cut the apples as you normally would but make thinner slices.
 

The baked custard filling of this tart gives it more depth and richness than a typical pie, crisp or tart.  It starts with vanilla beans and butter--but if you don't have vanilla beans, you can melt and brown the butter solo and add vanilla extract to the egg custard mixture in the bowl.


For the crust:

Magic Dough:

2 sticks butter
1 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups flour

Beat with mixer til dough forms crumbly bits the size of lentils.  Press dough into bottom and up sides of 9 inch tart pan and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and proceed with brown butter apple tart recipe.

Note:  This is the same dough we use in our raspberry bars, and fruit tarts.  It can also be rolled into logs and sliced into shortbread cookies.  See why we call it magic?



Monday, November 12, 2012

Beef Stew by the Husband

We strongly encourage culinary interest in the men in our lives.  I am delighted to say that my husband has continued his run of taking over the kitchen on Sundays.

Poor guy. He's the one who is forever missing specialty dishes at home when he travels for business. Then he comes home on a weekend and volunteers to take on Sunday dinner. He favors  hearty, manly foods like stews, braises, and lotsa meat. Last week, he pulled out his trusty Beef Stew recipe, courtesy of epicurious, and made a generous tub in advance of Hurricane Sandy's arrival.

Now, I know better than to make unsolicited suggestions to someone who is willing to cook dinner for me.  At least not to his face.  But I have to say that the beauty of a stew is that all of the ingredients are tossed in together, simmered to tenderness and spooned out later.  This version requires a lot of different pots, many steps, at least one massive strain of hot ingredients through a colander, two versions of cooked vegetables (one for the stock, which is discarded, and one to simmer during the final hour of cooking and eat.)   In sum, an awful lot of fuss for a meal that, in my mind, should be simple.

However--and this is a biggie--you can't argue with the results.  The stew is delicious, and I am spared both the cooking and the cleanup.  I am also given another night off, because this recipe makes enough for about 10 people, so I normally freeze half and save it for a(nother) rainy day.

He started by searing the meat, removing it from the pot, setting it aside,

preparing the braising liquid with wine, veggies, broth, and seasonings....


 Served with roasted golden cauliflower, crusty bread and a simple green salad, the stew was pretty great.  Followed by my brown butter apple tart (to be featured in upcoming post) we were well fortified to withstand the anticipated storm.



Monday, November 5, 2012

Pasta E Faglioli Soup


Pasta e Fagioli Soup

On a blustery autumnal weekend, I slipped into a coffee shop for sustenance.  I  had this heart-warming Italian soup and decided on the spot that I wanted to try to repeat the recipe at home for my family.

I'm not a fan of clear watery soups, consomm├ęs, pureed soups, but give me a hearty stew-like concoction and I'm a happy bunny.  Hence this Pasta e Faglioli (pasta and beans) soup does the trick.

Rachel Ray's simple 30 minute no nonsense version was a breeze to make.  Highly recommended.

After sweating down the veggies and the pancetta, I threw everything in a crockpot on low for a couple of hours and put my feet up.

The sweaty veggies smelt heavenly...



















This soup came in useful during Hurricane Sandy, when the kids were unexpectedly off school for two days because of the stormy weather.

Paired with a couple of roast chickens we had an unexpected feast. 


Monday, October 29, 2012

How to Make Pizza


Homemade pizza; it's easier than you think!

As usual, when the husband travels, kids put in orders for creative meals.  Dad was in San Diego all last week, and pizza was requested.  Given how rarely teens willingly spend time with parents, I was more than willing to bash together some dough and procure a variety of toppings for a homemade pizza night.

This recipe makes enough dough for 2 full-sized pies.  In our case, we made 4 half-sized pies to allow greater topping variety.

2 pkgs pizza yeast (regular yeast can be substituted)
2 cups warm water
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
5 cups flour
2 Tbps olive oil
2 Tbsp corn meal for coating pans (optional)

Pour dough into large mixing bowl.  Add water, sugar and salt.  Let yeast begin to bubble and stir.  Using dough hook attachment, add flour gradually until dough holds together.  Cover with kitchen towel for at least 30 minutes, or up to several hours.   Punch the dough down (my daughter looved this part!) and you're ready to go.

Heat oven to 500.

Grab a hunk of dough, and begin stretching it out.  My kids had a ball here:



I baked our pies on pizza stones coated with a dusting of corn meal, but you can also use oiled baking sheets.

Stretch dough to a thin roundish shape (or oval, square, amoebic, trapezoidal....up to you.)  Top as desired.  We enjoyed the following combos:
pesto with fresh mozzarella
marinara, grated mozzarella and pepperoni


marinara and mozzarella; marinara, olives, feta,  onions, and mozzarella.


When topped as desired, bake in lowest rack of oven for about 10 minutes.  Watch it carefully--it's done when edges are brown and crisp, cheese is completely melted and when you scrape the underside of the pie with a spatula it feels solid, not sticky and doughy.
 Ok, so it's a bit more work than dialing for delivery, but it really is a lot better.  Claire, who normally eschews pizza, enjoyed the leftovers during a phillyfoodlovers working lunch the following day. 

Assuming you have power, homemade pizza may be a good way to get through Hurricane Sandy. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Apple Almond Crisp Pie


Fall is synonymous with apples in all their glory.  A friend went apple picking with her family and deposited a hundred weight of oversized apples on my stoop this weekend, so I decided to get busy and bake.

First up...an apple almond crisp (which is similar to an apple crumb or crumble, as we'd say in the U.K.).  There's not much difference between the various recipes.

On examination, the apple crisp tends to have a coarser texture than a crumble because it often includes oats and nuts -- so the end result is chewier and crunchier. which I prefer.

In the version I used, I started with a basic apple crumble mixture from www.recipetips.com, but instead of using 100% flour, I substituted 50% of the recommended quantity with a mixture of almond meal and also quaker oats.  (This idea of adding finely ground almond flour, or meal, came from some foodie friends on Facebook. Thanks again for the tip.)

If you are partial to fruit crumb pies, then it's worth trying Jack McDavid's Blueberry Peach pie - an absolute winner!

In the meantime, this is how I got on.

Before....


















And after....


...only there wasn't much after.


The crumble disappeared in a flash!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Scallops with Brussel Sprouts and Bacon



With the weather turning, our thoughts invariably stray to warm, comforting foods that are both tasty and hearty.

Brussel sprouts hits the sweet spot for me.

They are the quintessential Fall food, and to my mind are associated with all the best family-centered Holidays of the year, notably Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Having bought a couple of pounds of new season brussels sprouts, and grabbed some bacon and onion with which to stir fry my sprouts, I had a brain wave.  I had some teeny scallops lurking in the freezer, perhaps I could flash fry the scallops and serve them on a bed of sprouts?

This isn't as crazy as it seems...This weekend's WSJ featured a seared swordfish steak with brussels, and scallops are more often than not served wrapped in a cloak of bacon.  So, I gave it go.

I followed the recipe we've published on multiple occasions, because it's just so darned good.  (Rick Nichols' interpretation of Marc Vetri's sprouts) and added bacon and extra sliced onion.

My fast food staple - seasoned butters
Then I flash fried the scallops in chili lime butter (ready made from Wholefoods) - a staple in my freezer.

The result was inspirational!

Heartily recommended.

Have you devised an innovative food pairing which to your surprise actually worked out well?

Do share.



Thursday, October 18, 2012

How to Make Biscuits (After 20 years of trying)



Biscuits were a seemingly simple food that I never managed to make well.   Having married a southerner, this was particularly problematic.  He was raised on light, fluffy, perfect biscuits and my hockey pucks were a source of dread to us both.   In his defense, he, too, tried to duplicate the heavenly orbs of his youth without success, so he sympathized with me and recognized that biscuits were complicated.

This problem came to a bit of a head recently; husband invited a group of colleagues for a real southern meal (he's frying chicken--stay tuned for future post on that).  To round out the meal with full authenticity, biscuits were required.   We considered ordering a tray from Jack McDavid of the Down Home Diner (whose biscuits are stellar),  but it just felt wrong.  I agreed to make that our plan B, but was determined to produce a bona fide biscuit in a dry-run batch the week before the party.

I searched several of my go-to sources for this type of cooking and found solid advice from Lauren Chattman's Mom's Big Book of Baking and Betty Crocker's Cookbook.

I learned the following strategies:

1.  Use 1/2 cake flour and 1/2 all-purpose flour for lighter biscuits.
2.  Use buttermilk instead of milk for best flavor.
3.  For Drop Biscuits (I abhor rolling dough) increase the buttermilk or milk in recipe by 25%.
4.  Cut butter into dry ingredients quickly, either with a mixer, pastry cutter, or 2 knives--do not over work.  Dough should be crumbly chunks about the size of lentils, not a smooth gooey mass.
5.  When adding milk, stir in by hand.  After mixing, dough will have a more formed texture but will still be lumpy and a bit crumbly.
6.  Bake biscuits when butter is still in small, cold bits; this produces air pockets and makes for lightness and fluffiness.

I integrated several different recipes, followed that six pack of tips and came up with the following formula--which, I am delighted to say, was a success!

Finally Successful Drop Biscuits

6 TBS chilled butter cut in pieces
1 c all purpose flour
1 c cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup buttermilk

Heat oven to 425.  Line cookie sheet w/ parchment.  Mix everything but buttermilk til small crumbs form.  Mix in buttermilk with spoon.  Drop by large spoonfuls on cookie sheet; each biscuit should contain about 1/3 cup dough.   Bake about 18 minutes til they are just beginning to brown.