Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sassy Sweets: Tartlettes aux Pommes

In about 12 hours, I will be on a plane to Paris (aka one of my favorite places on Earth).  I'm both slightly anxious (read:  terrified) and excited.  I'm going for work and it's the first time I'm being trusted to go all on my own.  Granted, I'll have a few guys from the London office there with me but I'm the only one coming from stateside.  Plus, John isn't coming with me so I have a whole weekend entirely by myself.  I try to wonder if I've EVER had a weekend like that before in my life and I'm hardpressed to think of one.  It should be fun, and lonely, and Parisian. 

Since I booked my tickets a few weeks ago, I've been alternatively dreading / loving watching the few weeks fly by.  John will be meeting me in London in a week's time (where I'm working next week) and when we get back it will be November.  And I'm sitting here feeling like - did this year even happen?!  What the heck have we done to show for it??

In the midst of all this anxiety, I have lost the kitchen.  Not completely but a lot.  So last weekend, when I decided to use up the last of our apples from apple picking into something dramatic and French and autumnal and lovely, this was the only thing I could think of.  Truth?  The recipe was so good that I felt like we were in Paris.  I'll be there soon enough but if you're not as lucky, these tartlettes will do the trick!
Tartlettes aux Pommes (adapted from Joy of Baking)
Serves:  6 (6 6-inch tart pans)
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour

Apple Filling:
8 medium-sized apples, peeled and cored
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons Calvados
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter, melted

Crust:  Beat butter until softened; add the sugar and beat until sugar is fully incorporated and mixture is light and fluffy.  Add egg beating until just incorporated.  Add flour and with your clean hands, mix until the dough forms a ball.  Flatten the dough into a large round disk and cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate about 60-90 minutes, until firm. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Have six 6-inch tartlette pans with removable bottoms ready.  Cut the pastry into 6 even pieces.  Remove one piece keeping the rest refrigerated.  On a lightly floured surface, carefully roll the pastry into a 6-inch circle.  Folding the circle in half, then half again.  Pick it up and transfer it to the tart pan, unrolling it onto the top of your tart and using your fingers to press the pastry onto the bottom of the pan.  Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork.  Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes.  Repeat so all 6 tartlette pans are used. 

Remove the unbaked shells from the fridge.  Bake crust for 12-15 minutes, until the crust is only golden brown on the edges.  Remove from oven.  Let cool

Apple Filling:  Take 5 of the apples and chop into bite-sized pieces.  In a small saucepan combine apples, sugar, water, Calvados, and cinnamon.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 8-12 minutes, until the apples have reduced and the compote is still slightly chunky (consistency is like apple sauce with small apple chunks).  Slice the remaining 3 apples in thin slices.

Fill the crusts evenly with apple compote.  Then, top the apple compote with thin slices of apples.  Brush butter over the tops of the tartlettes and bake for 15-18 minutes until the crusts are browned.  Allow to cool slightly.  Then, remove the tartlettes with the removable bottoms.

Serve warm or at room temperature.  Store the tarts for up to 3 days at room temperature in an airtight container.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Weeknight Dinner: Pizza Italiano Baked Ziti

As I mentioned Tuesday, I decided this weekend I'd restart cooking.  Maybe not enough to kep the blog as up to date as I like, but we will do our very best to try!  I am heading out to Europe in 2 weeks time (in fact, exactly 2 weeks today I will be in Paris) for work.  Believe me, I know how lucky I am to be going and the fact that I'll be spending an entire weekend in Paris by myself seems like a delightful luxury.

I'm not trying to belittle it by any means but sometimes I think it would be nice to go somewhere on my own terms.  Like Italy.  A few weeks ago, my family hung out in the Bronx at Arthur Avenue and the Little Italy surrounding the famous street.  We ate our full while we were there, obviously.  But then John and I brought home some true treats like beautiful sopresseta and fresh, so fresh mozzarella.

We made a really delicious pizza that next week but I was still left with some sopresseta and tasty mozzarella.  So, I decided to throw it into a family favorite dish that I could make ahead and John could reheat on a night I was working late.  It's a little twist from the original but I feel like I'm doing that a lot lately.  Maybe it's just my frame of mind, or the autumn season which is one of my favorites.  This is a perfect make-ahead meal.  And so fabulously delicious.  It will make you take the next jet to Italy.  At least in our dreams.

Pizza Italiano Baked Ziti
Serves:  8
1 box ziti or penne pasta
8 ounces ricotta cheese
1/4 cup basil leaves, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup pasta sauce
6 ounces fresh mozzarella, diced and divided
4 ounces sopresseta, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cook the pasta according to package directions.  Drain and place in a large bowl with ricotta, bail, garlic, pepper, pasta sauce, 4 ounces of fresh mozzarella, and sopresseta.  Pour into a large casserole dish and top with remaining mozzarella.  Bake for 40-50 minutes, until fully cooked through.  Serve warm.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sassy Sweets: Calvados Caramel Apple Pie

This past week, I put over 60 hours in the office and then came home Friday night to find John out on an emergency work crisis.  He deals with them so well.  I, on the other hand, do not.  In an effort to keep myself awake, I migrated to the kitchen.  After finding I had run out of cocoa powder, eggs, chocolate chips, and baking powder, I knew I'd be pretty limited on what I could make.

Earlier this year, Mom and Dad gave each of their daughters all of our family favorites in a little cookbook.  It's like opening a book into our history.  Many of the recipes are already on the blog.  But one stuck out at me "foolproof pie crust".  No eggs or any of the above needed. It couldn't just be a normal little apple pie.  Because, well, I had the whole evening in front of me and it was the first time I had been in the kitchen in weeks.  Truly, weeks.

So, I put a little twist into it and hope you will agree with me that we are still fully in apple season and have not yet just migrated into pumpkin, pumpkin, pumpkin.  It tastes like the apple pies of my childhood but with a twist.  All the comfort and love with something new and exciting.
Calvados Caramel Apple Pie
Serves:  8 (9-inch pie)
Mom's FoolProof Pie Crust (bottom):
1 1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons milk

Mom's Foolproof Pie Crust (top):
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

Apple Filling:
8 medium-sized apples, cored and diced

Calvados Caramel Sauce:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons Calvados
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Bottom Pie Crust:  Preheat the oven at 375 degrees F.  In mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, butter, and milk to form a soft dough.  Using fingers, press dough evenly into 9-inch pie pan.  Pierce with a fork. Bake for 8-10 minutes.    Let cool.
Top Pie Crust:  Combine flour, brown sugar and cinnamon.  Cut in butter to form crumbs.  
Calvados Caramel Sauce:  In a heavy saucepan cook sugar over moderate heat, stirring with a fork, until melted and cook without stirring, swirling pan, until a golden caramel. Remove pan from heat and carefully add water and Calvados down side of pan. Return pan to heat and simmer, stirring, until caramel is disolved. Stir in butter.

Pie Assembly:  In a large bowl, combine Calvados Caramel Sauce and apples.  Pour this mixture into the bottom pie crust.  Sprinkle top pie crust with crumbs.  Bake at 375 degrees F for 40-45 minutes, until the filling is set and the crust is golden brown.  Serve warm or let cool and cover tightly with plastic wrap for up to 4 days. 
Friday, September 12, 2014

Sassy Sweets: Salted Caramel Creme Brulee

Today we are off to the cabins in New York with the whole clan.  It's the same thing we do every year and it always heralds the beginning of autumn for me.  After all, we go apple picking.  So...yeah.  Apples are autumn.  Period.  While I'm picking up pounds of apples this weekend, last weekend we picked up pounds of flour and sugar in preparation. 

But because I don't have those apples quite yet, I wanted to share a new lovely dessert that, I think, is perfect for this kind of weather.  John was craving creme brulee a couple of weeks back and I'm always happy to oblige his cravings.  But, just doing any old creme brulee seemed, well, boring.  When I found the recipe for salted caramel pot de cremes, I knew I could make them into creme brulee in a snap!

They were creamy and delicious and if they only had some chocolate to go with them (chocolate fiend that I am), it would have been altogether the perfect dish!  I like serving them in the ramekins because John and I can share one and feel less guilty than having a full dessert each.  Although we may fight for the very last bits...I'll never tell.
Salted Caramel Creme Brulee (adapted from here)
Serves:  4 (4 ramekins)
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1/8 cup water
3/4 cups fat-free half and half
1/4 cup skim milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon flaked sea salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Place 4 four ounce ramekins in a large roasting pan.  Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed, medium saucepan, combine 3/4 cups sugar and water.  Cook over low heat until sugar is dissolved.  Then, bring the mixture to a rolling boil over medium heat, for 5-6 minutes until the mixture turns a light golden brown.  Immediately remove from heat.  Whisking constantly, add half and half and skim milk in a slow stream.  The mixture will harden so return to low heat and whisk for about 2-3 minutes until the mixture is fluid and there are no sugar chunks.

In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks until light and foamy.  Slowly, whisk the cream mixture into the egg yolks.  Divide mixture among the prepared ramekins.  Add hot water to the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Bake for 35-45 minutes, until centers jiggle slightly when shaken but the edges are set.  Transfer the ramekins to wire racks and cool for 30 minutes.  Chill at least 4 hours or overnight. 

Divide the remaining sugar amongst the ramekins.  Using a blowtorch or the broiler in your oven, caramelize the sugar (2-3 minutes), watching carefully to ensure it doesn't burn too much.  Add the flaked sea salt on top and serve immediately.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dorm Room Dinner: Greek Hummus Flatbreads

This has to be one of the easiest dinners I've made in a while but to be honest, it was so tasty that John has been asking for them again.  They are light and delicious.  Perfect for the last few warm days or now that kids are back to school when you're looking in the pantry and can't find a quick thing to make for dinner.

Plus, once you grill the "flatbreads", everyone can top them according to their own tastes.  Yup, nothing more that I like when John and I are both happy.  He gets to pour some weird spice concoction that burns his throat off when he eats and I get to add a little extra feta.  Just a little.  I'm trying to be good after all.

The hummus is the protein but if you feel like these are a little TOO light for your family, just add a grilled chicken breast that you've diced up or thinly sliced.  That way, you can have 2 of these and feel like you've eaten a real dinner. 
Greek Hummus Flatbreads
Serves:  4
8 flour tortillas
12 ounces prepared hummus (or make your own)
1 cucumber, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 red onion, diced
8 ounces feta cheese
8 ounces kalamata olives, diced

Lightly crisp the tortillas (you can do this in the oven or we like to do them right on the gas burners for a little charred / smoky taste).  Then, evenly divide the hummus over them.  Top with cucumber, tomato, red onion, feta, and kalamata olives.  Serve immediately. 
Thursday, September 4, 2014

Field Trip: Juneau and Glacier Bay National Park, AK

It's finally time for the 2nd half of our Alaska Adventure.  For the first part, click here!  We started our morning in Anchorage (early morning...5 am)!  Jumped on an early flight and then was in Juneau before you could even take a restful nap!  Coming into Juneau looked the way you would think Alaska did...foggy and chilly.  We got all of our stuff and headed out the door.

We were picked up that morning by Above & Beyond Alaska to trek to the Mendenhall Glacier.  When I found these pictures of ice caves, early into our Alaska planning, I tried every way I could think of to get us a day-long detour in Juneau to see them ourselves.  I wasn't planning on the day we had!  Our 2 guides were great; we each got a huge pack, gear, crampons (to walk over ice), etc.  And then we were off.  It was a 2 1/2 - 3 hour walk to the glacier itself.  We stopped and ate lunch and kept on trekking.  We layered up at the base of the glacier and spent about 2 hours on the glacier itself.  We did some ice climbing and explored some really cool ice caves.  The walk back was killer and by the time we made it to our hotel, the Juneau Hotel (smartly named), no one could think, let alone move. 

Surprisingly, we did move...onto dinner at Hangar on the Wharf, which is such a cool little spot right on the water.  We enjoyed watching the sparkly cruise ship lights and feasted on burgers and as much bread as the poor waitress could bring to the table. 

The next morning, we took advantage of the late check-out, rainy weather, and washers and dryers.  We did buckets full of laundry and then met around 11 am for brunch at the Sandpiper Cafe.  One of my favorite meals on the trip, this tiny little cafe was crowded!  I had the special which was french toast stuffed with blueberry-marscapone and topped with blackberries.  Can you just say "yum"?!

Then, we headed to the airport for our 14 minute (yes, you read that right) flight into Gustavus where we headed straight to Glacier Bay National Park.  While this hotel was nothing to be excited about,  the views were delicious.  The food was tasty and we ate at the hotel almost every night. 

Our first day there, we booked a fishing charter that allowed us to see so much landscape in the icy straits it was unbelievable.  We fished for halibut and salmon.  I caught my very own King Salmon which was too cool to be believed.  Overall, the 8 of us fished out about 150 pounds of fish which were processed and shipped overnight to us when we got home.  Yes, we are going to be eating fish for the next year at least!!

The next day we got up early for a boat tour that took us to the John Hopkins Glacier, a rare sight we were told since most ships usually skip it.  It was beautiful and we got to see some calving (ice breaking off the boat).  We also saw bears, otters, sea lions, porpoises, and lots of puffins!!!  Puffins and penguins are two of my animal obsessions so no one was happier than I was when they showed up alongside the boat.

Our last evening we went to the Bear Track Inn, an unbelievably beautiful wooden inn on the other side of the island.  The food was fantastic and the waitstaff was lovely.  We couldn't have asked for a better ending to our trip.

Except of course, that wasn't the ending. How could it be?  It seems much too perfect, right?  Well, that's because IT WAS!  John and I missed our connecting flight out of Anchorage by, no joke, 3 minutes.  We ended up waiting around on standby for about 3 hours until finally at 1 am we got on a flight to Salt Lake City and hoped somehow we'd be able to get home to NYC.  Luckily, we did and it went quickly.  But it just figures that is how we ended our crazy Alaskan Adventure. 
Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sassy Sweets: Frozen Cherry Coke Float Zipzicles

When I got two packages of Zipzicles in the mail to test out, no one was happier than I was!  I'm sure you remember when you were a kid and you were at a friend's party and they pulled out a case, literally a case of pops like these that tasted like fruit but were anything but?  Needless to say the mama of the house never let us have them at home. 

These zipzicles allow you to make your own - filled with fruit or other tasty options.  You decide exactly what goes in it!  And, of course, being me, I wanted to make something a bit different.  When I saw the warning on the zipzicle that said "Warning!  Do not use carbonated beverages as they expand during freezing" I couldn't think of anything better to try than cherry coke floats.

Sorry, I am that terrible kid that when someone tells me not to do something, I automatically want to do it more.  So, I went about making the floats.  I filled the zipzicles up just below the "fill line", and pushed all the air out.  I had no problems with my "carbonated beverage" although they did expand and air did fill up the top.  As long as you get all the air out before they freeze, I'm thinking you will have no problem.
Frozen Cherry Coke Float Zipzicles
Serves:  12
2 cups cherry coke
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup fat free half and half

In a large bowl whisk cherry coke, vanilla extract, sweetened condensed milk, and half and half until fully combined.  Carefully pour into zipzicles just below the "fill line" and place in a container standing up (a large glass works perfectly for this).  Freeze for 4-6 hours, until hard.  Before serving, run the opening under hot water for easier opening.
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Welcome! I'm Dani (aka the Growing Foodie), just a girl balancing her career and passion for all things edible in NYC. I hope you'll join me in my adventures in life, through food. (Click for More)
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