Sunday, April 28, 2013

To Paris

My first time in Paris I remember well.  I saw the Mona Lisa, got kissed under the Eiffel Tower, and had an exquisite meal: red wine-braised duck and my first taste of foie gras.  My second time in Paris I explored Le Marais on foot, had my first taste of Laduree macarons, and dined at the marvelous Hidden Kitchen.  On my most recent trip I rode through the streets of Paris on the back of a motorcycle and had my first meal of kangaroo.

Each time I go to Paris, I'm a-flutter with excitement; each time I leave I'm wrapped under its spell.  Memories linger, the senses remember far after the plane touches down in NY.

I've been poring over food and fashion blogs these past few days in preparation for my next trip: the Hip Paris Blog, the unlike City Guides, and the Parisien Salon.  I've learned the macaron has given way in popularity to the eclair, which is enjoying a "serious revival" in Paris.  Out with the old; in with the new.  I now have some tips on how to lug my camera around and still stay "perfectly fashionable."  Chic bag, check.  And I have a list (fairly manageable, I think) of the best new patisseries, wine bars, and restaurants to check out.  Indulgences, sweet and savory.  I cannot wait.

À plus tard.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Sweet & Savory Brunch

I've always felt there is no better way to start off a weekend than with a delicious brunch, complete with sweet and savory options.  And that's precisely the kind of brunch I prepared last Saturday!

For the first brunch of the day, I drew inspiration from a cooking challenge and a Bobby Flay recipe.  The cooking challenge had me make a wonderfully flavorful sage-almond pesto.  Pesto made, I spread a generous amount on a slice of toasted multigrain bread, then topped with some wild arugula, a fried egg, and slices of pan-fried chorizo.  The earthy undertones of the sage and almonds softened the peppery, sharp taste of the arugula; the egg was perfectly fried, with crispy edges and a warm, runny yolk; and the spicy chorizo had a satisfying bite.  

For the sweet portion of my brunch I made a baked apple topped with oatmeal and Greek yogurt, courtesy of Bobby Flay.  A "bowl" (including the core) is cut out of the apple, and then the insides are brushed with a sugar-cinnamon-butter mixture.  The apple is baked until soft (yet not too soft that it doesn't retain its structure), and then filled with some steel-cut oatmeal (sweetened also with some brown sugar), and then topped with a dollop of yogurt.  The results: a wonderfully spoonable, sweet delight.  

The two dishes made for a delightful combination. 

Sage Pesto
Recipe from GE Monogram 

(The rules of the cooking challenge were as follows: Make a pesto according to the recipe given and serve as an accompaniment to a dish of your choice.)

1 -1/2 cup fresh sage leaves, blanched then shocked, drained well
1/2 cup Marcona Almonds
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup garlic
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
1/2 lemon, zest

Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor then pulse several times until and paste forms.  The texture should be similar to natural peanut butter.

Baked Apples with Oatmeal and Yogurt 
Recipe courtsey of Bobby Flay.  Serves 6.

6 apples, bottoms sliced so apples stand
1 fresh lemon, halved
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground black pepper
1 cup apple cider
1 cup whole milk, heated
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1-1/2 cups cooked steel-cut oatmeal, prepared according to package directions
Greek yogurt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  
Cut off the top third of each apple.  With a small knife, and working from the top of each apple, carefully carve out a large "bowl," including the core, about 2 inches in diameter.  Rub the cut part with lemon and put the apples into a 9-inch square baking dish.  Dice the carved-out parts of the apples, without the seeds, and set aside.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, and then whisk in 4 tablespoons of the sugar, the cinnamon, and pepper and cook until smooth  Brush the inside of the apples with the butter mixture. Pour the apple cider into the bottom of the baking dish.  Cover the dish with foil and bake until the apples are tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 5 minutes longer.

Transfer the apples to a platter.  Carefully strain the cooking liquid into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Cook until it is reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes.  While the apples are baking, stir the hot milk, remaining sugar, reserved chopped apples and orange zest into the warm oatmeal and cook for a few minutes. Divide the oatmeal among the baked apples. Top each apple with a dollop of yogurt.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

All-American, All-Delicious Apple Pie

I'm moving on to making pies! For some help and guidance I turn to Dori Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours.  When it comes to pies, I can't think of anything more basic and more delicious than an apple pie. Dorie's chapter on pies and tarts has the perfect first entry for me: "All-American, All-Delicious Apple Pie."  

The recipe calls for four pounds of the baker's choice of apples.  I settle on a combination of Gala and Honeycrisp: Gala apples because I've read that after baking they take on a marvelous texture, holding their form yet yielding with first bite; and Honeycrisp apples for their perfect balance of sweet and tart.  Once peeled, cored, and sliced, the apples are lightly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg.  Instant tapioca is used as a pie thickener. Since I can't find any at the grocery store, I substitute with some flour.

The pie crust recipe calls for a combination of butter (for flavor) and shortening (for flakiness). Pie crusts challenge me (they always have!), and while this recipe is no exception, I'm happy to report that I somehow manage to make a double crust.  Two crusts!  They look far from perfect.  But I'm less worried about how they look than how they will 
After about 65 minutes of bake time -- during which time my fingers are crossed, or I am peeking through the oven window with the light on, or both -- I remove the pie from the oven.  The top crust is beautifully golden and the juices from the apples are bubbling up through it.  

I serve myself a slice of warm apple pie and eat it plain.  No ice cream.  No caramel sauce.  And yet there is nothing plain about this apple pie.  The play of textures and flavors is so delightful!  As I bite into the pie, the crust -- perfectly flaky and tasty -- gives way to the apples, sweet with just a hint of tart and spice, which melt in my mouth as soon as I bite into them.  Dorrie describes this pie as "pretty darn good."  I couldn't agree more.  

All-American, All-Delicious Apple Pie
Baking: From My Home To Yours, by Dori Greenspan

For the pie filling*
(* This will fill a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. If using a standard 9 inch pie plate, just reduce the amount of filling by about 1/4.)

4 pounds apples
3/4 cup sugar
grated zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons quick cooking tapioca (or substitute with 3 tablespoons flour)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into bits

For the crust
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2-1/2 sticks very cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon size pieces
1/3 cup very cold (frozen is even better) vegetable shortening, cut into four piece
About 1/2 cup ice water

2 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs

Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.  Add the butter and shortening into the bowl and mix until you have some pieces the size of fact green peas and others the size of barley.

Gradually add the water until the dough looks evenly moistened.  Scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto a work surface.  Divide the dough in half. Gather each half into a ball, flatten each ball into a disk, and wrap each half in plastic. Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour before rolling.

Butter a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate.

Working on a well-floured surface, roll out one piece of the dough go to a thickness of about 1/8 inch.   Fit the dough into the buttered pie plate and trim the edges to a 1/2 inch overhang. Roll the other piece of dough into a 1/8-inch thick circle and flip it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Cover both the circle and the crust in the pie plate with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425°.

Peel, core, and slice the apples (slices should be about 1/4 inch thick). Put the apples into a large bowl and add the sugar, lemon zest, tapioca, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Mix everything together very well.

Remove the pie plate and top crust from the refrigerator and put the pie plate on a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs evenly over the bottom of the crust (this will help keep it from getting too soggy), and then turn the apples and their juices into the crust. Pat the apples into an even mound. Dot the apples with the bits of cold butter.

Very lightly moisten the rim of the bottom crust with water and center the top crust over the apples.  Either fold the overhang from the top crust under the bottom crust and crimp, or press the top crust against the bottom crust and trim the overhang from both crusts,  using the tines of a fork to press that you crusts together securely.  
Use the sharp knife to cut about six slits in the top crust.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 375° and bake the pie for another 50 to 60 minutes or until the crust is gorgeously browned and the juices bubble up through the top crust. After about 40 minutes in the oven, if the top crust looks as if it's browning too quickly cover the pie loosely with a foil tent.

Transfer the pie to a rack and let it rest until it is only just warm or until it reaches room temperature.