June 2, 2008

Cinnamon Rolls in Poland

Right now I'm wrapping up the home-stay portion of my trip to Poland and I'm staying with a great couple, Eva and Lukasz, that are just a little older than me. They've been feeding me typical Polish fare and food that they typically eat (some Hungarian and Italian dishes). Most of it has been delicious and some of it has been completely new.

They both love travel and photography, so we've spent some time looking at their photos and talking about they're trips (Syria, Turkey, Italy), so I was slightly surprised when my description of cinnamon rolls didn't register at all. I couldn't explain cinnamon rolls sufficiently for them to actually imagine them properly, so instead, I baked cinnamon rolls for them. They loved them! A lot, so I'm leaving my metric converted recipe behind for their pleasure.

I had to adapt the recipe a little bit based on ingredient availability and I took a chance with the flour because I wasn't sure what the closest Polish equivalent to all-purpose would be (I used "tortowa", for any Polish readers). Also, I wasn't sure about all my options for frosting, but then saw Philadelphia cream cheese in the grocery, so I went for a cream cheese frosting, which was a huge hit.

I must say my favorite food experience in their home, so far, is "smalec." This typical Polish delicacy is a meaty form of lard that they typically spread on dark bread and eat either with beer in a pub or for breakfast with either tomatoes or cucumbers. This morning I had smalec with tomatoes and marjoram on dark bread with some tea. I think I'm going to try to have some everyday until I leave for Krakow, Poland. The photographs for this post were taken by Ewa (thanks for permission to use your photos!).

Cinnamon Rolls for Poland

3 (425 grams) to 3 ½ cups flour
1/3 (66 grams) cup sugar
pinch salt
3/4 cup water at 120° to 130° F. (approximately 180 milliliters)
1 larg egg
7 grams instant yeast (or one American packet of rapid-rise yeast)

Place 400 grams flour, the salt, and sugar into a bowl and mix. Add the yeast and mix again. Pour the warm water on to the flour mixture and being mixing. After stirring for about a minute add the egg. Stir until well mixed and dough pulls away from side of the bowl. If it's too sticky add a little flour at a time (maybe 20 grams or a small handful) until the dough forms a ball, but is still slightly sticky. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and allow to rise until doubled, about 45 minutes to one hour.

When the dough has risen, scrape it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead into a smooth ball again. Roll out into a large, thin rectangle. Spread with a thin layer of soft butter. Sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar, until dark brown. Roll dough up into a log and cut into thick rounds. Place in a greased cake pan, cover pan with damp towel and let rise for about 45 minutes. Bake at 375° F or 180
° C for about 15 minutes or until light brown. Remove from the oven and let rest for about 10-15 minutes. Frost with glaze or frosting(below).


4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature (approx. 112 grams)
1 cup powdered sugar (about 120 grams)
4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature (approx. 112 grams)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix the cream cheese and butter together until well blended and smooth. Mix in the vanilla extract. Add half of the powdered sugar and stir until completely incorporated. Taste the frosting, if you want it sweeter add more powdered sugar.

May 19, 2008

A new breakfast tradition and a trip

About six months ago I started eating oatmeal. I had tried to get myself to eat it in the past, but despite projecting a "comfort food" feeling onto oatmeal the reality always disappointed. Until recently, oatmeal was always gummy and clumpy, but then I started experimenting with Scottish and Irish oats and I realized that they are completely different from rolled or quick oats. I prefer the Scottish oats because they are smaller than Irish oats and I think they cook in about 7 minutes or less - some directions call for over double that.

I don't think oatmeal needs much sugar. I like it with some milk and either a little sugar (1 tbs for each 1/4 cup of dry oatmeal) or something sweet like a few dried sour cherries. I start my mornings this way with a glass of milk and orange juice.

However, I'm taking a break from this breakfast and for the next month cold cuts, a slice of tomato, bread, and tea will help me start the day because I'm going to be traveling in Poland. I've only been here a few days, but I've already sampled some traditional Polish fare - "Cepeliny z mie snym frazem" and fried flounder with bones and tail served with cabbage, carrots, and fries. I have a few pictures of the Cepeliny z mie snym frazem, which is a meat-stuff potato dumpling, served with onion, melted lard, and cracklings. I liken it to an oversized-gnocchi filled with ground pork, very heavy, but good.

I am going to try to post about my food experiences while I'm traveling, but if my internet access becomes sporadic, I may wait to do a series of posts when I'm back in the states. While I'm traveling the posts will be recipe-free and hopefully a little photograph-heavy.

Scottish Oatmeal
Serves 1
1/4 cup oats
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup dried sour cherries

Put the oats, milk, and water in a small pan over medium heat. Cover and bring to a simmer. Add the cherries. Simmer for 4-6 minutes depending on how soft you want the larger pieces of oats. Remove from heat and stir. Scrape into a bowl and allow to cool a few minutes. You can top with some almond slivers or slices.


May 8, 2008

Strawberry Margarita Shortcakes

Sometimes recipes come together over months and weeks of trying new things and pulling different components together, but sometimes you get a bit of inspiration and the recipe flows outward from your idea to an edible dish in just a few days.

Last week I was visiting Sugarlaws and saw a recipe for balsamic whipped cream. I have to admit that I wasn't too excited to try that particular recipe, but it got me thinking about what else I might add to some whipped cream. Somehow I ended up thinking about cream and tequila, despite my normal avoidance of tequila and tequila-heavy adult beverages. I realized that I hadn't given tequila a chance since early in college and perhaps my palate, or at least my budget, had changed since then.

However, tequila whipped cream seemed incomplete, so thought about what would pair well and I realized that lime and strawberry would work really well here and then strawberry shortcake was only a small hop away. I am not a fan of traditional strawberry shortcake - I want a moist, tender cake, not something crumbly. I experimented with an almond sponge cake, and found that it fit the bill. The strawberry/lime combo is nothing exciting and new, but after an appearance last year on a yogurt cheese cake, a couple friends have requested its reappearance.

I whipped it all up and served it at a Cinco de Mayo themed dinner this week to rave reviews. I found that the strawberries and whipped cream are very simple (If you want an easy preparation of this recipe, make the whipped cream and stawberries and serve over store-bought cake), but the cake benefits from a heavy-duty stand mixer. The amounts of sugar and tequila are dependent on personal taste and the natural sweetness of the strawberries, so consider these amounts suggestions and taste each part as you make it and right before serving. Adjust as necessary.

Strawberry Margarita Shortcakes

Serves 6

1 lb fresh strawberries
2 key limes
tequila (I suggest a high quality aged tequila)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Clean and quarter the strawberries. Place in a bowl and then using a microplane, zest the one whole lime into the strawberries. Juice the lime and add that to the strawberries. Add about a 1/4 cup of sugar and two tablespoons tequila. Stir gently and refrigerate until ready to use - at least 30 minutes.

Pour the cream into a bowl and zest one lime into the cream (you can add the juice of that lime to the strawberries as well). Add 1/4 cup of sugar and stir for a minute with a whisk. Add 3 tbs tequila and start whipping the cream. You want to reach soft peaks - any further and you'll start to make butter. This should be done no more than 15 minutes before serving.

The Cake:
6 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 almond flour (sometimes called almond meal)
3/4 cup sifted flour
3 ounces melted butter, slightly cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place a pan of water on the stove on medium high. Prepare a sheet pan by buttering it, lining it with parchment paper, and buttering the parchment.

Whisk the eggs and 1/4 cup of sugar together in a metal bowl. Continue whisking as you place the bowl over the boiling water and make sure that the bowl doesn't touch the water. Whisk the eggs until they start to foam and are hot to the touch (be careful to not let the egg get too hot, if they start to curdle, remove from the heat immediately and whisk vigorously until slightly cooled).

When the eggs are hot, transfer to the stand mixer with a whisk attachment and whip at high speed for about 3-4 minutes. You want the eggs to become creamy and whip up to soft peaks.

In the meantime, sift the remaining dry ingredients together into a bowl. The almond flour probably won't all fit through the sifter, but some will and the process of trying to push it through will break up any clumps. Add what doesn't fit through to the bowl and whisk it together.

Add the extracts to the melted butter and mix. Now you're going to mix the three parts together. The goal is to deflate the eggs as little as possible. You want to be quick, but gentle. Start by gently folding a third of the eggs into half of the dry ingredients. Add the butter and gently fold together. Add another third of the eggs and the rest of the dry ingredients and fold together. Fold the last of the eggs into the batter and spread evenly in the prepared pan.

Place in the oven and bake for about 12 minutes. You want the cake to spring back when you press your finger into it. Remove from the oven and place the pan on a cooling rack. Cool for 15 minutes. Gently remove the parchment (I leave a few inches of parchment sticking up from both ends to serve as handles) and move the cake and parchment directly to a rack. Allow to cool completely.

Cut the sheet cake into 12 evenly sized squares. You could then use a large round can or cutter to make circles out of each square (like in my pictures), serve two whole squares to each person, or break each square into two rectangles. Lay one piece of cake on a dessert plate and top with a large dollop of cream. Spoon some strawberries and juice over the whipped cream. Repeat with another layer. Serve and enjoy with extra whipped cream and strawberries.

April 5, 2008

One Advantage of Being Forgetful

I've been intrigued by French style praline for some time, but never bothered to make any. Then I found a recipe that I wanted to try. I had the ingredients, made the hazelnut praline, and then, I got interrupted. At this point, I don't even remember what happened, but a couple days later, I realized I had some praline, but not the recipe it was part of.

Then a friend of mine asked for my Nutella ice cream recipe and I realized that the praline could be used to create a similar flavor profile. Since I couldn't come close to the same consistency as Nutella, I decided to use my food processor to break up the praline into a course grind.

This ice cream has a crunchy and gritty texture. The flavor is a combination of cooking some of the praline into the base, and then adding the rest at the end of the churning. My friends and family loved this new ice cream flavor, but my Mom still likes homemade browned butter pecan best.

Chocolate Hazelnut Praline Ice Cream
1 1/2 cup milk
2 cups cream
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbs vanilla

1 recipe hazelnut praline, finely ground*
1/3 cup cocoa
1 pinch salt
1/4 tsp additive

Bring cream and milk to a simmer. Whisk egg yolks, vanilla, salt, and sugar together. Add the cocoa and whisk again. Add a ladle of hot milk and whisk quickly. Keep adding one ladle at a time, stirring thoroughly until the mixture is thin. Pour the chocolate mixture back into the milk/cream on the heat and stir constantly until mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. Be careful not to let the mixture boil.

Take the ice cream base off the heat and add half of the praline and stir for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Press on the back of the leftovers to ensure as much liquid as possible is extracted. Cover and put in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours.
Put the other half of the praline in the freezer.

Churn the ice cream base in your preferred ice cream machine. When it's done churning stir in the remaining frozen praline and transfer to a container. Place the container into the freezer to ripen for a few hours before serving.

*Hazelnut Praline
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
8 ounces hazelnuts

Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Turn oven to 400F. Toast for at least 5 minutes after coming up to heat. Check often and when the skins are getting very dark. Remove from the oven and wrap in a towel. Let rest for 3 minutes and then rub the skins off.

Chop the cleaned nuts roughly. Spread out over buttered parchment. In a heavy pan melt sugar and water over medium heat. You're basically making a caramel so brush the sides of the pan with water to eliminate sugar crystals. Cook until the syrup is dark reddish brown. Remove the pan and pour caramel over the nuts. Allow to cool and harden. Break into smaller pieces before putting in the food processor.

March 28, 2008

Tasty Treats in Reasonable Sizes

The Barefoot Contessa has some outstanding recipes, but many of them are really designed for very large crowds. Most of the time when I'm cooking a "crowd" tops out around six. So a dessert recipe designed for a half sheet is a little excessive. Luckily a more reasonable 9x13 holds exactly half the amount - making adapting such a recipe much easier (minus the uneven egg count).

I've been eyeing this recipe for a while, but the prodigious amounts of butter have kept me at bay. However, an excess of maple syrup and butter caused me to consider a halved adaptation. Especially since I had some willing guinea pigs to test them out. Our professor had invited us to his house for dinner instead of holding class on campus - and by the time I got home there was only one left (the one that hadn't fit in the container I took with me). After some requests for the recipe I promised to post it here in the near future (which only meant a few weeks).

Fans of pecans, but not some of the other ingredients take heart. My mother, not a fan of honey (one of the original sweeteners) or maple syrup thought that I had probably ruined the bars by their inclusion. I took a batch home for Easter anyway and she didn't seem to mind. In fact both she and my father seemed only too happy that I was leaving the rest of the bars behind when I left.

Pecan Pie Bars

2.5 sticks unsalted butter
3/8 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark maple syrup (Grade B)
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 pounds pecans, coarsely chopped

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted*

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Start with the crust. Cream the butter and sugar together, until light. A standmixer can do this in about 3 minutes. A handmixer will probably take closer to 5. Mix in the eggs, salt, and the vanilla. Sift the flour and baking powder together. Mix the dry ingredients into the batter with the mixer on low speed until just combined. Press the dough evenly into an ungreased 9 by 13 pan, making an edge (about 1 1/2 inches high) around the outside. The dough is very sticky. Bake for 15 minutes, checking occasionally to see if the crust is slumping off the sides. If it slumps too much. Take the crust out of oven and, with a spoon, patch the sides with thicker parts of the bottom. You want a set, but unbrowned crust.

For the topping, combine the butter, maple syrup, salt, and brown sugar in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, using a rubber spatula to stir. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the heavy cream, vanilla, and pecans. Pour into the crust. If you get the syrup right against the pan it will cook on and be hard to clean. Place in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Start checking after 25 minute. If the pecans are getting too dark remove from the oven. When done remove from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate until cold

To finish, remove from the refrigerator and using a spoon, scoop up some melted chocolate and begin drizzling over the top of the bars. After using up all of the chocolate return to the refrigerator to set the chocolate. This is easier to cut if very cold so remove from the refrigerator again, cut immediately, and serve.

* A few notes about chocolate:

  • I prefer to use a makeshift double boiler to melt chocolate. Place a small metal bowl over a small sauce pan of simmering water. The bowl should sit snuggly in the pan without falling in far enough to touch the water. Add your chocolate and walk away until it has started to melt and then stir gently.
  • If some liquid gets into your chocolate and it starts to seize add more liquid - milk, cream, water, coffee, whatever - it's counter intuitive, but basically you'll end up with a ganache that might not work for the recipe at hand but will be great with some cake or ice cream.
  • If you're going to melt chocolate please don't use chocolate chips - they have added stabilizers that interfere with a smooth melt. Use a good chocolate bar or something in bulk from the likes of Scharffen Berger, Callebaut (which I can get at my local co-op), or Ghirardelli (which is available in every grocery store I've ever been to).

March 20, 2008

Kumquat Yogurt Cake

As planned here is the recipe that inspired the marmalade making frenzy. It's an adaptation of Clotilde's yogurt cake. The nice thing about this recipe is that it's very easy to make and even if you don't want to try making your own kumquat marmalade you can use store bought (orange, lemon, lime - whatever flavor/brand you like the most).

I wasn't sure exactly how this would turn out when I started, but I made two - one to take to work to share with coworkers and the other to share with my graduate class. Between both cakes I only had one piece left, which was important since I hadn't photographed it in advance.

For those of you that are sick of marmalade posts, this is the last one planned. No promises that it won't make a return appearance in the future though.

Marmalade Yogurt Cake
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups Greek yogurt (I used Fage 2%)
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tbs dark rum

3/4 marmalade

Preheat the oven to 350 F and prepare a 10-inch round cake pan (butter and line with buttered parchment).

In a large mixing bowl whisk the eggs to break up the yolks. Add the yogurt and sugar and blend together. Stir in the extracts and rum.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda in another large bowl. Sift half of the dry mixture over the the wet ingredients. Stir gently to combine. When nearly all the dry ingredients are incorporated sift the remaining flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Put the marmalade in the bottom of the pan and spread out almost to the sides of the pan (an offset spatula works great for this). Gently pour and scrape the cake batter over the marmalade.

Move the pan to the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until done. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Let rest for 10 minutes and then invert onto a serving platter/cake stand. Tap on the bottom of the pan to help loosen the marmalade coated bottom. Remove the pan and peel off the parchment (carefully, so that you don't remove the marmalade). If some marmalade does come off with the parchment, just scrape it back onto the cake. Allow the cake to cool completely before serving.

Serving Suggestion:
Combine 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt with 2 tbs of marmalade and stir well. Serve a dollop of this mixture on each slice.

March 16, 2008

Spring Greens

Today I'm bringing you a quick interruption from my marmalade postings to write about a recipe for St. Patrick's Day. This dish is perfect for green-themed dinners. I came up with this recipe to use up some leftover baby arugula. The soup retains some of the nice peppery bite of the arugula, but is mellowed by the potato. I didn't think that the soup needed any cream for richness, but a few tablespoons would be enough to crank the creaminess up if anyone thinks they need it.

I started out with a quart of chicken stock, but ended up using another 1.5 cups of stock to thin it out. I suggest starting out with a quart as well and adjusting it with more stock to reach the desired consistency. This recipe is really easy if you have two pieces of equipment - a blender and a fine mesh sieve. A blender is still the only thing I know for really getting soup smooth and a fine mesh sieve helps filter out the small bits that the blender can't pulverize.

Potato Arugula Soup
4 serves
1 large russet potato
4 green onions
2 small garlic cloves, peeled
3.5 ounces baby arugula
1-2 quarts chicken stock
salt and pepper

Put 1 quart of stock in a pot and place over medium heat. Slice the potatoes thinly and place in the simmering stock. Add a large pinch of salt. Slice the onions and add both the onions and the garlic to the stock. Simmer until the potatoes are falling apart. Add the arugula and stir until it's wilted. Move the soup to a blender in batches and puree until it's smooth.

Pour the soup into a fine sieve and strain out any remaining chunks. Put back in the pot over low and add enough stock to thin it out. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

March 4, 2008

Luxury Breakfast - French Toast

As promised, today's post is going to cover just one of several uses I've found for my kumquat marmalade. About a year ago I started messing around with french toast to figure out my favorite version. After many different variations I think that I've perfected this recipe. However, it should definitely be relegated to "occasional treat" status because it is very rich (but not too sweet).

I found that I prefer a crusty bread with some flavor of its own. That means I usually use a light sourdough or a really good baguette. I vary the amount of sugar based on the bread I'm using - I wrote the recipe below for baguette - when I'm using sourdough I increase the sugar to about 2 tbs. Honestly, I usually don't eat anything on my french toast, not even butter, but I decided to try some kumquat sauce.

I did like the kumquat sauce, but I think I'll continue eating my french toast plain. I also had some left over pineapple from the night before. All in all it was a great way to start the day.

Kumquat Sauce
2 tbs kumquat marmalade
1 tbs water

Stir together and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir again and drizzle over the french toast.

French Toast
4 slices of sourdough boule or 7 slices of baguette, slightly stale
1 large egg
3 tbs cream
2 tbs milk
1 rounded tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 drops almond extract
pinch salt

Break the egg into a bowl. Add the milk, cream, sugar, extracts, and salt. Whisk everything together. Pour into a wide dish. Place any many pieces of bread as you can lay down flat. Let soak for about a minute and then flip over. Let soak for about 5 minutes. Flip over again and then prepare the pan.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium. When the skillet is hot add 1 tbs of butter (real please) and melt until it starts to bubble. Turn the bread over right before adding each piece to the skillet. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan. Cover the skillet with a lid and cook for about 3 minutes before checking the bottoms to see if they're browned and a little crispy. Flip over and cover again. Cook for about 2 minutes.

Plate the french toast and top with whatever floats your boat.

February 29, 2008

A wild tear leads to... kumquat marmalade?

You know how sometimes an idea just pops in your head and you can't shake it? I'm sure this happens to everyone, just changing forms to match their passions or interests. For me, this usually involves food, sometimes it's a gradual process, but sometimes an idea just slaps me in the face and I end up going to extreme lengths to satisfy the compulsion.

Last week I had just such a moment and in the course of seeing this idea through, I've already made something that I'd never made before, and didn't think I even liked. What is this dubious and daring creation? Marmalade, and not just marmalade, but kumquat marmalade. Believe it or not, but that is two strikes against this recipe. While I've always liked the idea of kumquats, the reality has never done much for me. And marmalade is like the strange, awkward cousin of those other sweet condiments that I mostly loathe - jelly and jam.

Somehow, none of that mattered. I called my local co-op, "Do you have kumquats? Or if you don't, are you getting any more in?" Alas, the answer was "no" and "probably not." Oh well, that won't stop the beast in my mind, driving me to bring this harebrained idea to fruition. But then, I got a call - they did get more kumquats in, so I drove over there and grabbed a small bag of the small, seedy fruits.

Two days, and a few blog searches later, I had found the inspiration for my marmalade. My biggest complaint about jams, jellies, and marmalades is that they're too sweet, so I reduced the sugar and tweaked the process a little. The result is something that could lose a little sugar still, but for the most part I'm really happy with - and more surprising, I genuinely enjoy. It is fantastic on a hunk of crusty baguette. So look to see a few uses for my new stash over the next few posts (including the idea that started this all).

I'm also going to grab up a few more kumquats and make another batch. There may be few tweaks in store for this recipe, and if those tweaks are successful, I'll update this post.

Kumquat Marmalade
Adapted from A Life (Time) of Cooking


275 g kumquats
500 g sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 Tbs orange liqueur


Wash the kumquats and set in a colander to drain. Slice the kumquats into thin rounds and capture as much of the juice as possible, adding it to the bowl of sliced kumquats. I used a mandoline for the first half of each kumquat and then switched to a paring knife to remove the seeds and finish slicing the now softer kumquat. Save the seeds in a small bowl of water.

When you're done slicing the kumquats, pour enough boiling water over them to submerge them by about an inch (you'll have to estimate this a little since the slices will float a little). Cover the bowl (either with a tight fitting lid or plastic wrap), and place in the refrigerator at least over night (I left them for about 24 hours). Cover the sees and place in the refrigerator as well.

The next day, pour the kumquat/water mixture into a large pot and place over medium heat. Cut the vanilla bean in half and then split each half open lengthwise. Scrape out the black "caviar" interior and add both the bean and the "caviar" to the pot. Stir occasionally and bring to a light boil for 20 minutes.

Add the sugar to the kumquats and bring back to a boil. Watch the mixture carefully now since it may start to thicken and may burn on the bottom. In a small pan bring the seeds and at least a 1/2 cup of water to boil. Adding enough water to keep the seeds submerged as it evaporates.

Let each pot boil for about 30 minutes and then strain the "seed" water into the kumquat mixture. This adds pectin and flavor to the marmalade. Stir the marmalade well and let it cook for another 5-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the liqueur.

If you're going to can this prepare your jars in advance based on your own preferred method - I'm going to stay out of the debate over what's safe and what's not - there are plenty of opinions out there. Google "canning" if you need help.

Otherwise you can let it cool slightly, put it in any covered container, and refrigerate it. It will probably stay good for a few weeks.

February 23, 2008

A Riff on Dressy Applesauce

I love reading recipes and ogling gorgeous food photography. I have binders of printed recipes from blogs and websites and a compulsive desire to buy cookbooks that I barely keep in check. That is partially why I am so excited about the new Gourmet website.

It has a look and feel that I prefer to Epicurious and interesting articles. I especially like their "Politics of the Plate" column with recent posts about the FDA's definition of milk, and the ridiculousness of organic seafood and the USDA's pending rules.

While perusing the site for the first time I stumbled upon an interesting dessert recipe designed for one. However, it was the picture and the idea, not so much the actual recipe that caught my attention. The idea is to dress up applesauce, but I'm not a big applesauce fan (at least since I've been old enough to drive). So I took the picture and came up with an idea that I thought would be a tasty alternative.

The result is a fast way of taking a pear and making an outstanding dessert in about 10-15 minutes. Think pear crisp for one. Although for one it's a large dessert (or slightly decadent breakfast), it can easily be split for two. The recipe also scales really well. Use your favorite pear variety, but choose one that is still on the firm side of ripe; I used a red d'Anjou.

Pear Crumble

1 firm-ripe pear
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 tsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

1 slice crusty bread (I used half of a ciabatta roll)
1 scant tbs butter
2 tbs chopped walnuts
pinch salt
2 tsp brown sugar

Core and chop pear into a medium dice an place in a small bowl. Heat a small skillet on medium. Add the vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon to the pears and stir to coat well. Scrape the mixture into the skillet and cover.

Cook for about 2 minutes, then stir. Cover again and cook for another 2 minutes. Uncover and cook the pears, stirring gently, for about another minute. The pears should have soften and released some moisture, but not started to disintegrate yet.

Scrape the pears and any liquid into a serving glass or bowl. Place the skillet back on the burner.

Add the butter to the skillet. Quickly process the bread into crumbs in a food processor or chop finely with a chef's knife. When the butter has melted add the breadcrumbs, nuts, and salt. Cook until the crumbs start to color and then add the sugar. Cook for another minute stirring vigorously (the sugar will make the mixture start to stick if you don't).

Add the topping to the pears and (if desired) top with some vanilla whipped cream.

February 17, 2008

Christmas Packages Part 2 (in Lent, no less)

I had originally envisioned at least three different posts about Christmas treats, but since I've been negligent, I'm going to wrap it up with this post. In the interim I have been cooking and I hope that I'll stay on task for at least the next few weeks.

My Christmas packages were a mix of candies and cookies, so today I'm going to share my turtle recipe. This is an adaptation of my mother's recipe for turtles. In fact, my mother came up and stayed with me a few days after my knee surgery to help me get around and while she was there she helped me make the turtles that I gave out (the pictured ones are from my first batch).

The turtles start with small piles of pecans, then you pour hot caramel over them, followed by a drizzle or brushing of dark chocolate. The most important non-cooking aspect of this recipe is humidity - if it's very humid you're likely to end up with Southern pralines and not caramel. Also, take care not to stir the caramel too much after taking it off the heat and work quickly to minimize the chance of crystallization.

I buy my cream from a local dairy that produces exceptionally rich Jersey cream. If you're buying a mass market product you'll probably want to add 2 tbs of butter to the recipe to increase the butterfat content.

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla

1 cup pecan (whole look better, but smaller pieces are easier to work with and eat)
3 ounces melted dark chocolate (I used 60%)

Special Equipment:
Heavy pot (at least three quart), preferably enameled cast iron
Candy thermometer

Pour cream into the pan and set on medium heat. Pour sugar slowly into center of the cream (so as not to get any crystals on the sides of the pan). Add the salt. Put the lid on the pan and let come to a boil.

Remove the lid, insert thermometer and cook mixture, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches 250F.

While the caramel is getting up to temperature lay out sheets of parchment paper, and form little mounds of pecans, if using pieces about 1 tbs, or if using whole pecans about three pecans each.

After getting up to temperature remove the caramel from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Working as quickly as possible, pour about 2 tsp to 1 tbs of caramel on each mound and allow to set up. Drizzle or brush melted dark chocolate over the top of each mound. If you're a particular fan of sea salt caramel you could also drop of few course flakes of salt on the still soft chocolate.

Place turtles in an airtight container and eat within a few days.