Tag Archives: Recipe testing

Craving Apricot Tart

It must have been the left-over influence of Bastille Day, but I have been craving apricot tart (one of the few items I did not sample at the street fair last Sunday). In searching online, I have found the perfect recipe. I remembered how gorgeous the locally-grown fruit had looked last year, when I first attempted to make the tart. Yesterday when I was down there, they looked no less beautiful, so I decided to make it again this year.

In hunting around for a recipe on my original search, I had found one on Epicurious that perfectly fit the bill. It is actually from notable food writer, teacher and epicurean Patricia Wells. You can also locate it in her book “At Home in Provence,” but I have to warn you, the photo of this tart, along with the raspberry one on the same page, is apt to make your mouth start watering in an instant, if you are as much of a fan of fruit-based sweets as I am.

Tarte Abricot Verlet (click on link for recipe) is quite simple to make, even if you’ve never attempted pastry before. I’m a big fan of the cookie-type crust (or biscuit-type if you are in the UK). It doesn’t take any rolling out of pastry or fussing about with cubes of butter or cold water. The ingredients are very simple to find, the only main item being that fresh, in-season apricots hold the key to the wonderful flavors that result. [Of course, I did take advantage of the wonderful fare at the Greenmarket to get eggs and cream from their vendors as well.]

The end result creates a photo almost as beautiful as that found in the cookbook, and definitely more delicious, as I get to eat it myself!

Buon appetito!

Molten Chocolate Cake with Mint Crème Anglais

While lounging about on the sofa, catching up on my Food Network watching and recovering from the night spent hanging out with friends at drinks at the Met, I tuned into Nigella Lawson’s “Nigella Feasts.” This British import is once again lighting up our television screens with her food and philosophy of indulging one’s sense of taste.

That day, she was making her “Chocohotopots.” Yum, my friend who was staying with me and I thought, but the sofa had us firmly fixed in place, so we didn’t do anything about the temptation. Gooey, chocolately things always look appealing to me.

Later that day, I was checking out “Is My Blog Burning,” which is a site that brings together food bloggers by hosting theme events where people send in their posts relating to a particular topic. This month, “Sugar High Friday” (the sweet-tooth exchange) requested that bloggers try to make something that they always order when eating out, but have never made.

Nigella’s dish was seared on my brain. Ah, ha! This blog event is the perfect way for me to justify trying a recipe for my favorite restaurant dessert – molten chocolate cakes or chocolate lava cakes or any version thereof. I located this recipe on line at Joy of Baking. Here is my submission for the June SHF event:

My chocolate of choice was Scharffen-Berger‘s bittersweet. The inside of the cake was more like a spongy, soufflé texture (as the recipe promised), with the outside like a dense brownie. In order to balance out the richness of the chocolate cake, I decided to make a mint leaf-infused crème anglais (no doubt inspired by the cioccolato e fiordilatte con menta gelato combo I’d had at Grom earlier that day). At Avra, the Greek restaurant I mentioned a few weeks ago, they serve this dessert with fig ice cream. It is heavenly.

Here’s another look at this gorgeous gooeyness.

Buon appetito!

Shish Kebab, An Easter Treat

My mom called me the other day to see if I would be traveling to Virginia next weekend for Easter. When I said I wouldn’t be able to make it, I think it started something in my brain about holidays past because I started to crave lamb.  Easter at my parents’ house when I was growing up involved a few fixed things.

Baskets of candy where my brother held hostage his red and orange jellybeans when I tried to swap my yicky black ones with him. My dad trying to get us to drink a glass of milk before we loaded up on the sugar. (I’m not sure if that was really an effective counter-balance.)  Then, there was the vinegar smell from those Paas Easter Egg Kits. Just one glance at the cover of the box even today and that odor comes flooding back at my nose. Despite all the instructions and making them year after year, I still ended up with grey-green eggshells.

Another memory is that of our Easter meal. When it came time to pick the main dish, I would always push for my mother’s shish kebab. I really like lamb, and this was one of the few times in the year that we would have it. Lest you think that I always got my way, one of my sisters would usually push for a baked ham. I think I lost the battle at least 50% of the time, maybe more until I confessed to my mother that I really don’t like baked ham at all.

I picked up a butterflied leg of lamb a few weeks back and then shoved it in the freezer for another day. Having succumbed enough to my pre-Easter craving for this meat to break down and locate the recipe for the shish kebab marinade among my recipe cards, I decided to make it this weekend. The result, with a few of my own additions, is a colorful and flavorful meal that would make a great Easter lunch or dinner, with, of course, some non-black jellybeans for dessert.

Lamb Shish Kebab with Lots of Vegetables

Prep Time: 30-40 minutes, minus marinade time
Serves: 4 adults, 2 skewers each

1 lb. lean lamb, cubed and trimmed of most of the fat
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fresh marjoram, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
2 teaspoons, fresh oregano, minced
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup white onion, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, minced

Vegetables (use any or all to taste):
1 red onion, sliced in half and quartered
1 small red pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small yellow pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes

Mix together all the ingredients except for the lamb and the vegetables. Pour marinade into resealable one-gallon-sized plastic bag. Add lamb cubes. Seal bag and toss lamb so that marinade coats the cubes. Place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours.

If using wooden skewers, soak for at least 30 minutes before threading. Remove lamb from the refrigerator to bring to room temperature. In the meantime, cut the vegetables and drizzle them with olive oil, a dash of salt and a pinch of black pepper.

Ready to marinate

If using an outdoor grill or griddle (my apartment isn’t ventilated enough to use the latter and it’s illegal to have the former in most NYC places), start heating them up. Alternatively, you can cook the skewers in the broiler of an oven pre-heated to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C, Gas Mark 8). [I use this method, placing them in disposable aluminum trays.]

Thread the skewers alternating meat and vegetables (note to parents – this might help you get more veggies into your kids, it fooled me for years). These don’t have to be neat, but the meat, etc. does have to stay on the skewer. Using a resealable bag makes clean-up much easier.

Place threaded skewers on grill or griddle, or in roasting pan if using oven. Cook for 10-15 minutes depending up on how well-done you would like your meat. Serve, allowing 2 skewers per person for adults.

All skewered – how pretty they look.
Yes, that all-meat skewer is just for you, Mar.

Orzo with Feta & Black Olives

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4 adults

1 cup uncooked orzo
1/2 cup black olives, chopped
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
ground black pepper

Cook orzo according to instructions on the packet. Transfer to a bowl to cool for a few minutes while making dressing. Set aside.

Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice and black pepper. Add to orzo and coat pasta thoroughly (yes, orzo is a pasta). Add chopped black olives and crumbled feta. Mix together. Add lemon zest and toss once or twice more.

Serve one-half cup of cooked orzo with the shish kebab skewers.

Dinner is Served

Buon appetito!

Post Dental Surgery – Cauliflower and Gorgonzola Soup

“Granola. That’s the food of death.” Those were words I had never expected to hear in my life. Having just come out of dental surgery a few moments earlier, however, I was getting the lowdown on what I could and couldn’t eat for the next few weeks while my gums heal. Thusly, I was told on no uncertain terms to steer clear of my usual yogurt-and-granola breakfast combo, at least until I’d seen the dentist again. Where did that leave me?

“Soft foods,” he said, “soft foods for at least the next two, in your case, I’d say, three days. And no biting into anything or chewing on the side of the mouth where I worked.” Ggrreeaaatt. So, what was I going to eat? How was I going to eat?Did he not know how hard this was going to be? I’m not exactly a fan of mushy things; I want food to have texture and taste. I have vivid memories of the Cream of Wheat that they tried to serve us at summer camp being turned out of its serving dish like a Jello mold. (Maybe it’s a consistency thing, as I’m not fond of gelatin things or stuff in aspic either.)
I started the next day with eggs, then a lunch of “don’t-shoot-me-I’m-not-a-deer” orange mac & cheese from the company cafeteria – for all my food snobbiness, I will still eat this – and ended with dinner of oatmeal with slices of a very ripe banana. This is a far, far cry from my normal day’s eatings.
By the second day, I was a bit light-headed (too many carbs and too few calories with the painkillers and antibiotics I was taking) and [shock] a bit turned off to eating in general. This was probably due to the fact that my teeth were hurting, and I didn’t even feel like cooking for myself.

After picking the egg salad off of a breakfast sandwich and tearing a croissant into little pieces to try to melt it in my mouth (see, this is what years of dissolving communion hosts in one’s mouth have done), I was starting to think that this eating thing was getting to be too much of a chore. After a lunch of the same oatmeal-and-banana combo from the dinner the night before, I was sure of that.

With the temperatures finally turning to winter and my inability to really chew my food, I decided to try a recipe recommended on Slashfood (www.slashfood.com) for some culinary respite and relief. Last week they showcased Cauliflower and Gorgonzola soup made by Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks (www.101cookbooks.com/archives/001549.html).
Here’s my effort at this recipe:
During cooking
Blending it smooth
I definitely used the chicken broth option, so as to get some more protein into my system and provide some defense against the cold. Being a big fan of robust cheeses, I used the full cup of Gorgonzola. The cauliflower just needs something that strong to match its blandness.
Kitchen Witch Tip:
To blend the soup during the final steps, I used probably one of the few pieces of heavy machinery that I own (aside from the ice cream maker and food processor), one of the best inventions ever as a time-saver and water-conserver: my hand blender. If you make soups or sauces that need pureeing, this is the gadget for you.
It saves the time, mess and effort of pouring hot, chunky liquid into blender to make it smooth, only to have to pour it back into the same pot to heat it up for serving. With a little practice and control, you can easily avoid splattering (as with an electric hand mixer). Part of the trick is to remember to allow the ingredients to cool down before blending them.
Buon appetito!

Pumpkin Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Ah, it’s that time of year again. The magazines are filled with recipes for turkey with trimmings, side dishes galore, and pies, pies, pies. There’s hints for watching one’s waistline while not offending that aunt who brought over her favorite casserole, tips for trying to make those family favorites into lo-cal treats, and the inevitable pseudo-science articles about the sure-fire way to cook a turkey without giving everyone food poisoning.
I have a confession to make, however. There is one thing I just can’t stand about this holiday: Pumpkin Pie. This is a bit odd for two reasons: a. I love sweets and have been known to eat pies and b. I like pumpkin. I just don’t like the concoction that is usually presented at every standard Thanksgiving buffet. It’s just too cloying, too gelatinous, too something.
I can’t really put my finger on it, but each year I have the same problem of how to refuse to eat someone’s culinary contribution to the feast. So, my quest has been to look for recipes that present an alternative point of view to the pie. For years, I’ve searched out other options.  Personally, I’d like to see Thanksgiving Day dinner start off with a pumpkin soup, rather than end it with pumpkin pie. Somehow, I think that that would showcase this seasonal vegetable in a better light. [As a point of reference, I also want to have a ban imposed on that canned gel stuff that does nothing to show cranberries in their best light or flavor.]
Then a story on one of the websites I check out on occasion, Leite’s Culinaria, caught my eye. The cover page mentioned a Pumpkin Cake with Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting*. Hmmm…..Let’s see. This sounds as though it has possibilities. Then, I started to read the reviews of those who had tried to make this dessert (a familiar habit for those who tap into epicurious.com for recipe resources). Even better, I thought, everyone seems to give it rave reviews.
Because I was really looking for something that I could bring to work for those of us who would have to staff the office until the closing hours of business on Wednesday, long after our bosses have already left for their holiday, I converted the recipe into cupcakes. I also took the suggestion of someone else who had tried it and topped them with pecans (it must be that Southern influence).
As you can see from the photo, it makes a lovely, portable result. The cake is light and moist and the frosting is just nicely sweet. The flavor is not too heavy or overly spiced (something that happens with the offending pie filling). Even my non-pumpkin fan roommate enjoyed it.  All in all, I add my four forks to this recipe. It’s a keeper. As someone who likely had a bunch of family at that first Thanksgiving so many years ago, I have no problem adding this treat to my recipe library.
Buon appetito!

*I think that, next time, I might try to incorporate the nuts into the batter. Also, it seemed to me that this batter might also make great waffles or pancakes, albeit with a few tweaks. And, yes, I used canned pumpkin. I managed to find an organic brand at the grocery store.