Salted caramel tarte tatin

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Yes. All I can tell you is – yes, this is the simplest and tastiest thing you will bake this month.

And yes, that’s salted caramel. And why yes, you can flip it out of a cast iron pan quite perfectly.

This is the perfect warm dessert for this inevitable cold snap – hello, first snow! – that is upon us and another contender for the holidays.

Anyway, my point is that if you love tarte tatin but you thought you could never make one , think again. All you need is a cast iron skillet or pan (or even a dutch oven) and some simple, good ingredients.

The most important thing to remember is to use more apples than you think you will need – I like to form two layers – as they will shrink as they cook.

Salted caramel tarte tatin 

You’ll need:

  • fresh filo pastry, thawed
  • 1/2 stick of butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 t fleur de sel
  • 4 large apples (I used a mix of varieties)

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Peel, core, and slice the apples into 1/4 inch slices – they don’t have to all be uniform.

2. In a cast iron pan on the stovetop, melt the sugar and almost all of the butter (reserving about 1.5 T for brushing the filo dough later). Caramelize until thickened and golden-brown. Stir in the salt.

3. On lower heat, right on top of the caramel, layer the apple slices snugly – form the first layer with the pieces standing up, then the second layer with them laying flat. This makes for a sturdier and prettier tart all at the same time. Remember: more apples than you would think because they will shrink as they cook and bake.

4. Cook apples in caramel for about 7-8 minutes – don’t move them around though.

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5. Melt the remaining butter, reduce heat under the caramel & apples and start layering the pastry in thin, individual layers, brushing each with melted butter.

Filo is great for this because you can tuck in it around the apples, so proceed to do that with most of the pastry until you reach the top. End on the last few layers being more flat as your cake “base” once you flip it over when it is done.

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4. Transfer to oven and bake for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden. Let cool for about 5 minutes, then with one decisive and sharp movement, invert onto your serving platter.

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Best served warm, of course.

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Pain d’épices {getting ready for the holidays!}

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Intense, dark, and a little dangerous – I love pain d’épices, a French honey spice cake that can be seamlessly paired with savory or sweet flavors.

It’s also a modern holiday favorite, often served with foie gras, salted butter, jam, or just on its own  – a thick slice with a strong cup of tea.

The spice cake keeps well and actually tastes even better after a few days. But if you want to make it even more festive (all of that powdered sugar, notwithstanding), and completely nontraditional, this would also be delightful soaked through with something boozy and fresh.

I’m testing a handful of holiday dessert recipes so, hold on, there is a lot of temptation coming up.

Pain d’épices

(adapted from David Lebovitz)

You’ll need:

  • 3/4 cup of honey
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • pinch of salt
  •  1 2/3 cups AP flour
  • 1/3 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t allspice
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 t ground ginger
  • 1/2 t ground cloves
  • butter

1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Butter a bundt pan (or a regular cake or bread tin – that I would also line with parchment paper).

2. On the stove, heat honey, brown sugar, water, and salt in a saucepan just until boiling. Lower heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and briskly stir in 1 cup of flour, set aside to cool to room temperature.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining flours, baking powder, baking soda, and all the spices. Add spices aggressively for this cake!

4. In a small bowl, whisk together the two eggs and set aside.

Once the honey mixture has cooled, mix it in gradually into the flour mixture, add the eggs, and stir together with a wooden spoon or a spatula just until smooth.

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5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing. IMG_1753

Decorate top with powdered sugar – sifted through a stencil here, for example – for extra festive cheer.

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Charred squash and pickled radish soba salad

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Lest you think that it’s all French all the time here, I also happen to be addicted to the textures and flavors of modern Asian cuisine.

In large part, it’s the freshness that I find so appealing. But it is also because dishes like this soba salad are perfect for an indecisive eater like me: do I want something crunchy, something salty, something sweet, or something spicy?

This salad gives you a little bit of everything, mixed into a perfect plate with the home-y, wholesome flavor of buckwheat and the seasonal abundance of squash.

{p.s. In preparation for my epic and long-awaited trip to Japan this spring, I am always looking to be reading and learning more about the region’s culture, history, and food. If you have any suggestions, drop them in the comments below!}

Charred squash and pickled radish soba salad

You’ll need:

  • 1 package buckwheat soba noodles
  • 3 small yellow squash, cut into long strips
  • 2 small cucumbers, cut into matchsticks
  • 4-5 radishes, sliced thinly
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  •  1 cup cilantro
  • 1/2 cup fresh chives
  • 2 t soy sauce
  • 4 T rice vinegar
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1/2 t sugar
  • 2 T sesame seeds + pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds (optional)
  • salt, pepper

1. Make the pickles first: in a deep bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, oil, sugar and a heaping teaspoon of salt. Taste, add a few springs of fresh cilantro, and then add in half of the cut radishes. Set aside for a few hours.

2. Heat a griddle pan and cook the squash in batches, about 3 minutes on each side, until charred and fragrant. Take off heat and set aside.

In the same pan, while it is still hot but with the heat off, toast the sesame seeds, pumpkin/sunflower seeds, and chopped garlic.

3. In the meantime, cook the soba according to package instructions, be careful not to overcook. Drain and rinse well under cold water.

4. For each serving, toss together the noodles and squash with plenty of roughly chopped cilantro and chives, fresh and pickled radishes, and cucumbers.

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Dress with the pickling liquid, adding a little bit extra sesame oil, if desired.

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Quince and apple goat cheese tart

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Oh, I had thought about saving this for Thanksgiving – ever so briefly – but as soon as I saw this recipe in Huckleberry, I wanted to make it now, now, now.

And I had plenty of quince (or quinces, I am not really sure…!) although I also added in an apple to bring in a bit of natural sweetness since I reduced the sugar in the recipe a lot, as I tend to do.

This is not a difficult recipe to execute though it requires a bit of patience between the cooking, cooling, chilling, slicing, more chilling etc., but the end result is so worth it.

Tips: Use a soft, mild goat cheese that you will be able to spread more easily and evenly. Personally, I like the bit of tartness that it gives to the filling but, if you prefer, you could also sweeten the goat cheese mixture with a few teaspoons of honey.

Quince and apple goat cheese tart

(adapted from Huckleberry)

You’ll need:

  • 1 sheet puff pastry
  • 6 cups water
  • 1.5 cups raw sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 large quince, peeled
  • 1 large apple, peeled
  • 1 cup (about 220 g) of mild goat cheese
  • 2 T creme fraiche
  • 1 egg for egg wash
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • vanilla sugar (optional)

1. Bring the water, sugar, vanilla, and salt to a boil in a pot over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce heat, add quince, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes before adding the apple and cooking for 15-20 more minutes until fork tender.

Refrigerate the fruit and the syrup until completely cooled.

2. In a small bowl, mix together goat cheese (at room temp) and creme fraiche and set aside. You can add a few teaspoons of honey for sweetness here if you want.

3. Allow the pastry to come to room temperature before rolling it out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle shape. The dough should be about 1/4 inch thick. Trim and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

4. Core and slice the quince and apples (I still think that using a melon baller is the easiest way to do this!) somewhat thinly. Keep the poaching liquid!

5. Spread the goat cheese mixture in the center of the dough, leaving a 3 inch border all around to fold the pastry later.

6. Gently dry the fruit with a paper towel before placing the quince and apples in alternating rows on top of the goat cheese mixture.

Brush the exposed dough with egg wash and fold over the filling along the edges.

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Brush with more egg wash and sprinkle with vanilla or regular sugar. Dot the exposed filling with butter. Wrap well and freeze for 30 minutes to an hour before baking.

7. Preheat oven to 375F. Bake from frozen for about an hour until golden-brown. Right after taking out of the oven, brush both the dough and the filling generously with the poaching liquid/syrup.

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Allow to cool and serve at room temperature.

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Brussels sprouts, kale, and red cabbage frittata

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Friday night’s alright for simple cooking, family catch-ups, and watching black and white movies.

But, well, this particular Friday was Halloween so none of the above happened, and we’re trying it again on Saturday!

Frittatas make for an easy to whip up dinner and a crowd-pleaser of a dish. This one uses the same base recipe as my fresh corn & zucchini frittata, but replaces the summer veggies with their autumnal cousins.

And it’s a one-pot wonder – you cook everything in an ovenproof skillet, then transfer to an already hot oven to finish baking.

I like this topped with a bit of hot sauce, but more cheese is also always welcome.

Brussels sprouts, kale, and red cabbage frittata

You’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup shaved brussels sprouts
  • 1/3 cup julienned red cabbage
  • 1/3 cup kale, cut into short strips
  • 1 medium-sized Spanish onion, diced
  • 2 t rice vinegar
  • 1 t balsamic glaze
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 T light sour cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350F and get started on cutting all those vegetables. Shave the brussels sprouts – carefully! – on a mandolin or use a grater with a blade attachment.

2. You will use the same skillet for preparing everything in this dish. First, sauté the onion with a good amount of olive oil until golden.

Then, add in the rest of the vegetables and cook them for about 3-5 minutes, until kale has wilted. Add in rice vinegar and balsamic glaze and stir through.

3. Whisk together the eggs, milk, sour cream, and cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables, making sure to cover them all evenly – shake the skillet a bit, if need be. Lower heat and wait for the bottom and sides of the frittata to ‘catch’ before transferring to the oven.

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4. Bake for about 25-30 minutes. Serve warm or cold.

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Baked apples with buckwheat-oatmeal crumble

IMG_1713I’ve been firmly falling for fall, tumbling down the rabbit hole of cozy sweaters, smoky fires, baked apples with cinnamon and copious cups of Kusmi tea.

And, really, wishing you the same because that’s one of the most enjoyable parts of this transition season, as the leaves start falling and the smell of apples baking is welcoming you home.

Tips: Reserve the lemon peels and a few of the apple peels to add to the baking pan – they will both flavor and thicken the fruit juices.

Baked apples with buckwheat-oatmeal crumble

You’ll need:

  • 6 semi-sweet large apples, halved, peeled and cored
  • 2 T maple syrup (I used Crown Maple light amber, in this case)
  • 4 T honey
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice + a few lemon peels
  • 1/2 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup raw sugar
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 t allspice
  •  1 t vanilla sugar
  • 1/3 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats

1. Preheat oven to 365F. Prepare the apples – I find a melon baller to be particularly useful when coring the apples neatly and efficiently – and nestle them snugly into a baking dish. Reserve some of the apple peels.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the topping by crumbling the softened butter with the remaining dry ingredients. Add maple syrup at the very end, right before topping the apples with the crumble.

3. Mix honey, apple and lemon peels, and lemon juice with 2 cups hot water. Pour hot water carefully into the baking dish.

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4. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour until apples are soft and the crumble topping is toasty. Top with extra maple syrup, if desired.

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Also great with a big scoop of real vanilla ice cream, of course.

Caramelized onion, squash and quince with farro

IMG_1700A twist on a classic and a lighter take on a fall ‘risotto’ made with farro. A faux risotto, if you will.

I always prefer roasting pumpkin or squash to any other method of preparation, in large part because it helps to softly caramelize the squash without overcooking it or losing its texture.

And roasting quince is a great workaround  to its usually long cooking time.

p.s. This one is for my friend Alicky – not only is she a risotto aficionado (if it’s pronounced correctly), but she is also an early adopter of farro. It has been a number of years since ‘unusual’ grains started coming back as a culinary trend, with people often trying to pass off pearl barley as farro, but our inside joke of “Is it farro?!” still continues to be funny, if, probably, only to us.

Anyway, I’m excited for your upcoming NYC visit and our trip to the risotteria!

In the meantime, hope you all enjoy this easy and satisfying weeknight dinner.

Caramelized onion, squash and quince with farro

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup farro
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 Spanish onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 quince, cored
  • 1/3 t chili flakes
  • 1/2 t cumin seeds
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • salt, pepper
  • parmesan (for topping)

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Line a baking tray with foil, toss squash with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper, 1/2 t cumin seeds and 1/3 t chili flakes (or more, if you’d like).

Place the quince on a separate tray – it will still go in the same temperature oven – adding honey into the core and scoring the fruit all around with a knife.

Roast the squash for 45 minutes to an hour. The quince will take closer to an hour, check it until it has the consistency of a baked apple.

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2. In the meantime, caramelize the onions in a large, deep pan with a mixture of olive oil and butter. Add in garlic closer to the end.

3. Add farro into the pan and toast lightly. Lower heat and add in the broth a ladle at a time – like you would if you were making risotto. You don’t have to stir it quite as often, but add in the broth every 5-10 minutes until the farro is cooked but still firm, about 40 minutes.

4. Stir in the butternut squash and the chopped quince, with another tablespoon of butter. Cook for a bit, stirring often, until all the flavors meld together.

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5. Top with shaved parmesan and serve immediately.

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Fall crafts: leafy candle

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My mom is the crafty one in the family, while I moonlight as the photographer/ stylist, but this is a pleasant and quick DIY project even I could handle so, I thought I would share.

Now, of course, I want to make a bunch of these in different sizes and colors to use as Thanksgiving centerpieces while the foliage is still bright and ruby-colored in New York.

DIY: Leafy candle

You’ll need:

  • 1 large candle
  • parchment paper
  • a selection of fall leaves of various sizes
  • rope, ribbon etc., for decoration
  • an iron
  • scissors

1. Measure and cut a piece of parchment large enough to wrap around the sides of your candle.

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2. Lay the parchment down on a table (cover the working area with some newspaper etc. Arrange the leaves you are using on the piece of parchment and wrap tightly around the candle.

3. Heat the iron to medium heat. Use only the top part/tip of the iron to press the parchment and leaves into the candle, going around and around a few times, as the wax melts.

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3. Turn off iron. Here, you can remove the parchment and go over the leaves quickly one more time with the iron cooling. Or keep the paper on – like on the smaller pillar candle below.

If you plan on doing that, make sure that the edges are lined up neatly.

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Decorate with a piece of rope or ribbon. Really, the creative opportunities are endless!

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Pumpkin-carrot muffins {for Halloween & beyond!}

IMG_1671Holding onto the golden autumn weather this weekend for dear life, my plans include: going to a Harvest Fest at Conklin Orchards, going to the pumpkin patch, and riding a tractor at the Fall Festival. Oh, and eating as much pumpkin pie, Macoun apples, and these pumpkin-carrot muffins as is considered… decent.

It seems that wherever you turn these days, there is pumpkin flavored something available (‘eh’ to the Oreos and coffees, for me), but there is pumpkin flavor and real pumpkin flavor, you know?

No tips and tricks here, just a melding of the truest flavors of the season into a satisfying fall treat. Make your own pumpkin puree after carving out those gourds or use a nice, unsweetened store-bought variety to save time.

Kids will love these too, not that adults (ahem, as I finish my second muffin..) don’t also love a wholesome breakfast or tea treat with a little chocolate chip surprise inside.

Tips: Grate the carrots finely and don’t skimp on the spices, especially if they’ve been standing around in your cupboard for a while!

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Pumpkin-carrot muffins (with chocolate chips!)

(makes about a dozen)

You’ll need:

  • 1 3/4 AP flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t baking powder
  • 3/4 t salt
  • spices: 1 t cinnamon, 1 t allspice, 1/2 t nutmeg, 1/2 t ground cloves, 1/3 t ground cardamom
  • 1/2 t vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup shaved carrots
  • 1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 35oF and prepare muffin cups.

2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add in the carrots, pumpkin puree, lemon juice, oil and eggs, one at a time. Mix well.

Fold in the chocolate chips.

3. Use an ice cream scoop to scoop an equal amount of batter into each muffin cup. Bake for 18-20 minutes.

For a crunchier muffin top, turn the oven off, but leave the baked muffins in there for another 15-20 minutes.

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Decorate if you want, with chocolate and other seasonal sprinkles.

For another pumpkin favorite, check out this pumpkin and chestnut soup.

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{postcard from Phoenicia..}

IMG_0207With the unexpected Indian summer weather in New York City this week, I almost feel like I have just gotten back from a foreign country after a weekend getaway in the Catskills.

We were there for a visit to the Phoenicia Flea and a stay at the lovely Graham & Co.

The colder weather in the mountains provided plenty of cozy opportunities for hikes, bonfires, and rides along the historical railway to see the beautiful fall foliage.

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And if you know me, this, of course, also meant making s’mores, cuddling up in Mexican blankets, and sipping on adult versions of hot apple cider.

If you are in the area, do visit the lovingly renovated Phoenicia Diner (where Mike is doing great things, with plans for many more) for some locally-sourced comfort food classics. And take a ride up the Esopus Scenic Train where the conductor – who also happens to perform in the Slide Mountain String Band –  is sure to share some Phoenicia area folklore.

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