Thursday, November 29, 2012

Warm Apple and Cream Tart

                                                                                                               Photography by Rachel Horesovsky

I really love a quick and easy apple tart and this recipe, based on one I found from legendary french cookbook author Patricia Wells is one of my all time go to recipes.  This apple tart is warm and homey and is the absolute essence of French comfort food.

This is the kind of tart that can be prepared on a moment's notice, like when you find out you have company coming for dinner in 3 hours and you haven't even begun to prepare anything.

The original recipe is made with a beautiful pate scuree but I find when I am in a pinch a commercially prepared roll out pie dough works equally as well and saves a LOT of time.

This tart is unusual because it is like baked apples in creme brulee (minus the crunchy sugar top).  It is best served while still warm and is wonderful with a cup of dark french roast coffee.  The entire recipe can be thrown together in about an hour from beginning to end (including 45 minutes of baking time).

Warm Apple and Cream Tart
serves 6-8

1 commercially-prepared 9-inch pie crust (or your favorite pastry dough)
2 large apples, peeled, cored and cut into thick wedges (Golden Delicious or Honey Crisp apples work particularly well)
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 Tbsp Turbinado sugar, plus 2 additional Tbsp for garnish (or granulated sugar)

Preheat oven to 375F.

Line a 8-inch metal tart pan with removable bottom with the pie dough.

Place the apple wedges in the pie shell.

In a medium bowl combine egg yolks, cream and 4 Tbsp sugar.  Whisk to combine.

Pour cream mixture over apples until it comes within 1/8 inch of the top of the shell (you may not be able to use all of the cream mixture depending on the size of your apples).

Sprinkle the top of the tart with the remaining 2 Tbsp sugar.

Bake for 45 minutes until tart is very golden and custard is set.

Cool 10 minutes before removing from tart pan.  Serve warm.

Jalapeno Cranberry Jelly

This year we planted a victory garden and we had a bumper crop of jalapeno peppers.  What to do with all this spicy goodness?  We decided to make a Pepper Jelly.

This pepper jelly is absolutely delicious and is particularly well-suited to be served as part of a cheese plate.  It is sweet and spicy, but not overpoweringly hot.  If you are one of those people who like a little more heat in your jelly, just add a few more of the seeds from the peppers (I removed them all).

A couple tools will make this project much easier.  A food processor fit with the chopping blade makes easy work of mincing the jalapeno peppers and cranberries.  A good digital kitchen scale is invaluable in weighing the pectin powder (use a large coffee filter as a weighing boat).  You also will want to get a large mouth funnel for filling the jars and an apparatus to lower and remove the jars to and from the boiling water bath.  Both of these can usually be found in the grocery store where you find canning supplies.

I used some red food coloring to give my pepper jelly a nice cranberry color, but this is completely optional.

This is not a difficult recipe, but takes some planning.  Before you make the jelly, all the canning jars should be sterilized (the dishwasher does a great job of this), the lids and rings should be boiled and a workstation should be set up.  This is much easier with two people too, so see if you can enlist the assistance of a helper. I would offer my partner Doug, who is an incredible organizer, but he can be grumpy if you don't keep him supplied with a fresh cocktail all the time.

Jalapeno Cranberry Jelly
makes about 24 half-pint jars

4 cups seeded, finely chopped jalapeno peppers (food processor does a great job of chopping)
1 pound cranberries finely chopped
1 cup cranberry juice
2 cups cider vinegar
red food coloring (optional)
5.4 oz pectin powder
15 cups granulated sugar (yes, 15 cups!)

In a large stock pot, combine peppers, cranberries, cranberry juice and vinegar and heat over medium high heat.

While heating the jelly, slowly add the pectin powder and red food coloring ,stir until well mixed.  While stirring, cook the jelly until the mixture comes to a boil.

Add the sugar and stir over medium high heat until mixture returns to a boil.

Distribute hot jelly among sterilized jars, leaving a 1/2 inch space at the top of the jars.  Place lids on jars and secure with rings.

Filling the jars with "lava-hot" molten jam is much easier with a wide-mouthed funnel

Submerge jars in a large pot of boiling water and boil for 10 minutes.  Remove jars from boiling water bath and cool on a towel.  Lids will "pop" as they cool.  Tighten the rings once cool.

Once the jelly has cooled, give the lids another tightening

Store in a cool dry place until ready to serve.  This makes an excellent hostess gift with a wedge of triple creme brie and some fancy crackers!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sea Salt Caramels

Today is my good friend Candace's birthday and I discovered yesterday that she loves salted caramel.  Well of course I had to come home and whip some of these up for her birthday!

These are the perfect thing to make around the holidays.  They are incredibly delicious and taste just like the fancy french sea salt caramels you pay and arm and a leg for at higher end food shops.  If you can keep yourself from eating them all, they make a terrific gift.

This recipe only requires one incredibly important culinary skill: patience.

Follow this recipe exactly and you will be rewarded.  Give in to your impatience and you will be punished with something unpleasant, like runny caramels.  Trust me on this.  I speak from experience.

This is also a good time to go ahead and splurge on fancy European butter.  There is a reason it costs more than the generic brand.  It is a superior product.  Remember, these are an indulgence, so INDULGE!

Here are some questions that you may find yourself wondering while preparing this recipe (and the answers).

1.  Can I use margarine?  No. Are you insane?

2.  Can I use vanilla extract?  No. Remember this is an indulgence, use the real thing, you'll be glad you did.

3.  Can I just turn the temperature up to reduce the cooking time? No. The trick to these caramels is to let the caramel form slowly and most importantly, evenly.  Too high of a temperature will cause you to overshoot your temperature and ruin your caramel.

4. Do I really have to stir this the entire time? Yes.  Before beginning, make yourself a tall drink.  Get a stool.  Put on some music you really really like. Keep the phone next to you in case someone calls.  This recipe will not be ignored Dan (ala Glenn Close in Fatal attraction).  Once you begin cooking, you are committed to the entire process.  As it cooks the mixture will change volume several times as it goes through changes in the molecular structure of the sugar.  You must keep stirring, slowly to keep heat distribution even and to prevent the caramel from boiling over.  (Remember how much you spent on that butter and vanilla bean?  You don't want that to end up sticking all over your stove do you?)

5. Do I absolutely need a candy thermometer? Yes.  This is more chemistry than cooking.  Chemistry is about precision, and so is candy making.

6.  I'm bored and tired of stirring, does it really have to be 245 degrees? Yes.  Stop whining.  This is supposed to be fun.  Maybe you should have put more bourbon in that drink.  If you don't get the caramel to the correct temperature, your caramel will be runny.  Sit back and think of how much everyone is going to enjoy your sacrifice.

7. Do I really need to wait 8 hours before cutting the caramel? Yes.  Patience will be rewarded with easier cutting and handling of the finished product.  If you are tempted to cut early, put a large thick rubber band on your wrist and SNAP it hard.

OK.  Now that we see eye to eye, it's time to get in the kitchen and make something AMAZING!

Sea Salt Caramels
makes about 7 dozen

1/2 pound best quality unsalted butter (I like Plugra)
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split length-wise and seeds scraped
1 Tbsp best quality coarse sea salt (I prefer grey salt)

Line a 9 x 13 pan with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil.

In a large heavy saucepan melt butter over medium high heat.  Once melted, add sugar, corn syrup and cream.  Stir with a wooden spoon until sugar is dissolved and mixture just comes to a boil.

Immediately reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook mixture ON MEDIUM LOW HEAT, stirring slowly, but constantly until the mixture is a golden caramel color and has reached the firm ball stage ( 245 degrees F).  Depending on your stove, this will take about 1 - 1 1/2 hours.

Once caramel has reached 245 F, remove from heat and stir in the sea salt.  Pour into prepared pan.

Let caramel rest overnight or at least 8 hours before inverting onto a cutting board.  Remove foil and cut into 1-inch strips. Cut strips crosswise to make 1-inch squares.  Wrap in wax paper and store at room temperature.

The mixture comes to a boil, time to reduce the temperature to medium low...

 At 10 minutes the first change in volume, this will happen again and again...

 After 30 minutes the color begins to change

At 45 minutes the caramel color is really developing...

At one hour the mixture is really bubbling, but the temperature is still too low...

FINALLY! After 90 minutes of stirring, the correct
 temperature of 245 (Firm Ball) is achieved

After adding the sea salt, the caramel is poured into a foil-lined pan to firm up.

Cut into 1-inch squares and wrap in wax paper!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Ginger Pear Fizz

This year's Thanksgiving signature cocktail was a real hit!  I like something slightly fruity but not cloyingly sweet and this recipe hit all the marks.  Spicy ginger beer with pear vodka sweetened with a little cranberry... YUM!  It takes a little preparation time to make the cranberry molasses before your guests arrive, but it is well worth your efforts.

While this drink can be made with ginger ale, the flavor you get from a good ginger beer (preferably Jamaican) is no comparison.  Ginger Beer is non alcoholic and actually tastes like ginger.  I recommend Reed's Ginger beer, but Fever Tree or any other good ginger beer will work.

Ginger Pear Fizz

1 Tbsp cranberry molasses (recipe follows)
1 shot pear flavored vodka
Ginger beer

Pour 1 Tbsp cranberry molasses in a highball glass.  Add pear vodka and stir to dissolve cranberry.  Add ice and top with ginger beer.

Cranberry Molasses
4 cups cranberry juice (not cranberry cocktail)
1/2 cup sugar

Combine juice and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium (otherwise molasses will burn) and simmer until juice has been reduced to 1 cup.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms

I always like a little seafood at Thanksgiving and this year that came in the form of these easy and delicious crab-stuffed mushroom caps.  Basically they are my crab cake recipe with a little parmesan cheese, stuffed into a mushroom cap and baked.

I like to serve these with a little tangy garlic aioli, but at Thanksgiving, when I have so many other dishes to prepare I don't want to take the time to make a real aioli.  That's where my easy and fast aioli comes in handy.  It takes about 1 minute to prepare and is delicious!

These would be great any time of the year and can easily be scaled up for large parties.

Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms
makes 2 dozen

8 oz. lump crabmeat
1/4 cup finely diced fennel
1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
2 Tbsp butter
2 scallions, thinly chopped
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 egg yolk
2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce
3 Tbsp finely grated parmesan cheese
1 cup panko bread crumbs
24 large mushrooms, stems removed and reserved for another use

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a medium skillet over medium high heat, melt butter.  Add fennel and red bell pepper and saute until fennel is soft, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl combine lemon juice, white pepper, salt, mayonnaise, egg yolk, mustard and worcestershire sauce and whisk to combine.  Add crab meat, sauteed vegetables and all remaining ingredients except mushroom caps and gently fold until combined.

Stuff mushroom caps with crab filling, pressing slightly to compress filling.  Place in a large baking dish and bake for 30 minutes.

Serve hot with Mama Ozzy's Quick Aioli.

Mama Ozzy's Quick Aioli
1 cup prepared mayonnaise
2 cloves fresh garlic
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a small food processor and process until smooth.  Transfer to a small ramekin to serve.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

This year for Thanksgiving we decided NOT to have pumpkin pie.  SHOCKING!  How can you have Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie?

Settle down.  The world is not ending.  Truth be told I am not a fan of pumpkin pie.  Pumpkin pie is okay, but in my opinion is much over-rated.  I love the flavors of pumpkin pie, but not the mushy soggy texture.  That's where these little beauties come in.  They have all the flavor of pumpkin pie (and then some) but not the nasty texture.

As my "daughter" Mary put it, if a cookie and a cupcake had a love child it would be the whoopie pie.  Delectable little discs of fluffy pumpkin spice cake filled with tangy cream cheese icing.  They are meant to be hand held and they literally flew off the plate when I served them this year.  I think these are the perfect substitute for pumpkin pie for all you out there who, like me, dread having to eat the obligatory no-thank-you-helping of pumpkin pie.

These are really easy to prepare, especially if you bake them on parchment paper which ensures they will not stick to the cookie sheet and makes clean-up a snap (simply roll up the parchment paper and throw away).

I use my white chocolate cream cheese icing as a filling since it is just barely sweet, and is fluffy, but sets up firm enough not to squirt all over your face on the first bite.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
makes about 3 dozen

2 cups brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 15 oz. can pure pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups flour, sifted
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Filling (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl combine brown sugar, vegetable oil, pumpkin puree, eggs and vanilla.  Mix with a whisk until very well-mixed and smooth.

In a separate bowl combine remaining dry ingredients and whisk until well-combined.

Add dry ingredients to wet and mix, by hand until well mixed.  Do not over mix.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Drop batter onto parchment in heaping teaspoons, trying to keep drops as round as possible.

Bake 10-12 minutes until puffed and set.  Cool on wire rack.

Store in an airtight container, separating layers with wax paper, until ready to fill with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Filling.

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Filling
8 oz. cream cheese softened at room temperature
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter softened at room temperature
6 oz. white chocolate chips, melted

With an electric mixer whip together cream cheese and butter until very fluffy.  Melt white chocolate in a glass microwave in 20-second increments on high power, stirring well after each 20 second period until liquid   (about 3 times).

Allow white chocolate to cool slightly before adding to butter/cream cheese mixture.  Whip until well-incorporated.


Match cakes by size.  Pipe cream on bottom cake and gently top with other cake.