Monday, June 30, 2008

Apple Pie with Cinnamon-Crunch Topping

We had a party for my neighbor, who is getting married next month.  I asked her what dessert she wanted, and she requested apple pie with a crunchy topping.  I used Dorie Greenspan's apple pie recipe, then added some cinnamon-streusel topping.  It just cries out for a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side!

[from Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan]
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp sugar
1 1/4 sticks (10 tbsp) very cold butter, cut into cubes
2 1/2 tbsp cold shortening, cut into 2 pieces
3/4 cup ice water

Combine dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse a few times.  Drop in the butter and shortening, and pulse until there are pieces from rice grain to pea-sized.  Pulsing the machine, gradually add about 3 tbsp of water.  Keep pulsing and adding water, a little at a time, until the dough looks evenly moistened and so it sticks together when pinched.
Gather the dough into a ball and press into a disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill.

6 apples (I used 2 Gala and 4 Granny Smith) - about 3 1/2 pounds
3/4 cup sugar
zest of one lemon
2 tbsp quick-cooking tapioca
1/2 tsp gound cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp graham cracker crumbs

Roll out the dough so it is about 1/8" thick.  I like to roll it between two sheets of plastic wrap so I don't have to add flour.  Fit the dough into a pie plate and trim so there is a 1/2" overhang. 
Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.
Preheat the oven to 425 F.
Core the apples and slice 1/4" thick.  Place in a large bowl, and mix in the zest, tapioca, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  
Take the crust out of the refrigerator and sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs over it, then pile in the apples.  Put the pie on a baking sheet and make the topping.

Cinnamon-crunch topping:
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp flour
4 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Pulse the sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a food processor.  Cut the butter into small pieces and drop into the dry ingredients.  Pulse several times, until you have small rice grain-sized pieces.
Sprinkle onto the pie, and put the pie (on the baking sheet) into the oven.  
Bake for 15 minutes, then lower to 375 F.  Bake another 45 minutes at that temperature, then remove to cool on a wire rack. 

Two Salsas

I love chips and salsa, but I don't feel like one salsa is enough.  So here are two recipes: one is red, one is green; one is spicier, one is mild; one is all fresh, one has some roasting.  They are both very simple and quick.

[adapted from Mexico One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless]

Fresh tomatillo salsa:
In a food processor, combine:
6-8 medium tomatillos
1/2 a small white onion, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 a jalapeno chile, stem, veins, and seeds removed
1/2 tsp salt
Pulse until you have a coarse puree, then transfer to a bowl and serve with chips.

Roasted tomato salsa:
6-8 plum tomatoes
2-3 jalapenos
3 cloves of garlic (skins left on)
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 a small white onion, chopped
1 tsp salt
a squeeze of lime juice

Place the tomatoes under a hot broiler and turn occasionally until the skin is black and blistered in places.
In a skillet over high heat, cook the jalapenos and garlic until blackened.  Remove from pan and set aside to cool.
Remove the skins from the tomatoes and place them into a food processor.
Remove the garlic cloves from their skins and add to the tomatoes.  
Scrape the skins off the jalapenos, and remove the stems and seeds.  Place in the food processor, and pulse until you have a coarse puree.  Add the salt, then pulse one or two more times.
Transfer to a bowl, and stir in the onion, cilantro, and lime juice.
Best served slightly chilled.

Mexican-Style Zucchini Tacos

Zucchini tacos don't sound terribly satisfying to me, but this recipe is awesome.  It doubles easily if you need to feed a crowd, and you can change the proportions and types of vegetables - more zucchini, less tomato, add bell peppers or carrots...there are endless possibilities!

[from "Mexico One Plate at a Time" by Rick Bayless] 
makes 24 tacos

1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 pound ripe tomatoes, cores removed and coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 pasilla chiles
1 large ear corn, kernels sliced off (about 1 cup)
4 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2" cubes
3 tbsp chopped cilantro 
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco (I use Casero)
24 corn tortillas, warmed in the oven or on a grill

Heat the oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring, until the onion is browned.  
Puree the the tomatoes in a food processor  while the onions cook.
Add the garlic to the onion and cook for one minute, then add the tomatoes.  Lower the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes.   Remove from the heat and set aside.
Roast the chiles over a gas flame, turning occasionally until the skin is charred and blistered.  Place on a plate under a clean kitchen towel and let cool for 5-10 minutes.  Rub off the skin, and remove the stem and seeds.  Slice into 1/4" strips
Set the pan of tomato-onion mixture over medium-high heat and stir in the pasillas, corn, zucchini, cilantro, and crema, and cook until the zucchini is crisp-tender (about 8 minutes).  Stir in about a teaspoon of salt.  
Serve with chopped white onion, chopped cilantro, and warm tortillas, and make your own tacos.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Recipe Exchange: Lemon Jelly Dessert

When this recipe showed up in my Inbox, I really didn't know what to think.  Lemon Jell-O? I mean I do enjoy Jell-O on occasion, but I don't think I've ever made lemon.  Evaporated milk, whipped?  Why wouldn't you just use cream?  

Doubts aside, I went ahead and made it because I didn't want to flake out on the recipe exchange.  And........It's amazing!  So much more than the sum of its parts, this dessert has a bright citrus flavor and a unique but satisfying texture, almost like extra-dense cappuccino foam that melts in your mouth.  Also, the graham cracker crust... I can't turn down any dessert with a graham cracker crust!  I would definitely make it again.

[from Company's Coming No-Bake Desserts]

About 2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 3 oz box of lemon-flavored Jell-O
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cold water
1 12 oz can evaporated milk, chilled in the freezer for about 2 hours
1 cup granulated sugar
juice of one lemon

Sprinkle most of the graham cracker crumbs over the bottom of an un-greased 13x9 pan. 
Dissolve the Jell-O in boiling water, and stir in cold water.  Chill until syrupy.
Beat the chilled evaporated milk until soft peaks form.  Add the sugar and lemon juice, and beat again until quite stiff.  Beat in thickened gelatin.  
Pour into the pan (on top of the crumbs) and smooth the top.  Sprinkle with the remaining crumbs and chill until firm.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Growing up, I learned to bake cookies from "Mrs. Fields Best Cookie Book Ever."  I'm convinced there is no better source for cookie recipes anywhere.  

I've been working my way through the book for years...trying new recipes and remaking old favorites.  Lately, I've taken to showing it to my neighbors and having them pick out recipes they want me to make.

These are really rich, but will satisfy a chocolate and peanut butter craving like nothing else! I cut the recipe from the book in half, and it still makes about 30 cookies.

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
6 tbsp brown sugar
6 tbsp white sugar
1 stick (4 oz) butter, softened
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk chocolate chips
salted peanuts (about 90)

Preheat the oven to 325
Cream the butter, peanut butter, and sugars together.  
Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well.  
Stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt, and add to the butter mixture.  
Stir just until the flour disappears, then stir in the milk chocolate chips.  With a rubber spatula, mix in the melted chocolate until the dough looks marbled.
Drop by rounded tablespoons onto Silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet, then press three peanuts into the top of each cookie.
Bake about 12 minutes, until the dough is just set (they will seem a little under-done but will firm up as they cool).  If you over-bake them, the texture will be crumblier.
Cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Serve with a tall, cold glass of milk!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Loubiye (Lebanese String Bean and Lamb Stew)

This is a simple and comforting stew that is great over steamed rice, and really easy to make.  It makes quite a bit, so plan on feeding about 6 people, or having great leftovers.
(Adapted from "Alice's Kitchen: Traditional Lebanese Cooking" by Linda Dalal Sawaya)

1 1/2 lb green beans, cut into 1" pieces
1 lb lamb stew meat, in 1" cubes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 15 oz can whole tomatoes
1 8 oz can tomato sauce plus 1 can water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
generous pinch cinnamon
generous pinch cayenne pepper

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add lamb, and saute for about 5 minutes.  Add onions, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and cayenne and continue cooking about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add green beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and water.  Partially cover, turn heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 45 minutes.
Taste, and adjust seasonings if necessary.
Serve over steamed basmati rice.

Baklava Ice Cream

My husband loves baklava, and I wanted to make ice cream this weekend, so he came up with the brilliant idea of baklava ice cream.  I started with a honey-cinnamon ice cream, and folded in walnuts, pistachios, and some baked filo sheets.  

Ice cream:
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup honey
1 cinnamon stick
2 eggs
1/4 tsp sea salt

1/4 cup chopped pistachios
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 sheets filo
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 300 F.
In a medium saucepan, heat heavy cream, honey, milk, and cinnamon until boiling.  Turn heat down to low while you whisk the eggs and salt together in a large bowl.
Whisking constantly, pour the cream mixture slowly into the egg yolks. Remove the cinnamon stick.
Transfer the mixture back into the sauce pan, and heat over medium-high, whisking constantly, for about 5 minutes.  The mixture should not boil, but should thicken.  When it coats the back of a spoon, remove from heat and pour through a sieve into a clean bowl.  Press plastic wrap on the surface and chill 2-3 hours until cool.
Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturers instructions.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and honey together in a small sauce pan.  Place one filo sheet on a Silpat-lined baking sheet and brush half with the honey-butter mixture.  Fold it over and brush the top.  Then brush that, and place the second sheet on so it lines up.  Brush half the top filo sheet and fold it over.  Finally, brush the top.  You should end up with 4 layers of filo, with honey butter between each layer and on the top.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and crispy.
Remove from oven and cool, then break into bite-sized pieces.

After the ice cream has been frozen in the ice cream maker, transfer it to a plastic air-tight container.  Fold in the nuts and filo pieces and freeze in the freezer.

Monday, June 23, 2008


This is a perfect summer salad.  Green and vibrant with specks of sumac and slivers of onion, it has a bright citrus dressing and the satisfying crunch of toasted pita.

I like to use Persian cucumbers because they are less watery and more sweet than English cucumbers.  I find them at Trader Joes.

1/2 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp sumac 
2 whole wheat pitas
2 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 Persian cucumbers, diced (you could use half an English cucumber instead)
4 large leaves of Romaine, torn into bite-sized pieces
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup chopped mint
2 green onions, thinly sliced

1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
dash cayenne

Preheat the oven to 300 F.
Mix the sumac and onions well.  Set aside
Tear the pita into bite size pieces and arrange in a single layer on a Silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet.  Put the sheet in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the pita is nice and crispy.  Turn the oven off and leave the door closed.
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, celery, green onions, parsley, mint and sumac onion mixture.
Stir together the dressing ingredients and pour over the vegetables.  Toss gently, then add the pita pieces and toss again.  Serve quickly so the pita doesn't get soggy.

Strawberry Pie

I could never name a favorite fruit; I love way too many kinds, but I am partial to strawberries, especially this time of year when I can buy 3 baskets for $6 at the farmers market.   I grew up in Oregon, where I'm convinced the best strawberries in the world grow, and the season was painfully short.  I am now incredibly spoiled to live in a place where strawberries grow pretty much year-round.  True, they may be slightly inferior to Oregon berries, but they are still very good, and there is never a shortage around.

I was going to make a strawberry tart, but I decided I really wanted something with graham cracker crust.  So, I took the pastry cream, fruit, and glaze that would normally be found in a tart, and switch
ed it up into a pie.

Some people bake their graham cracker crust for a few minutes before they fill it...I just chill mine while I prep the pastry cream and fruit.

12-14 graham crackers (put in the food processor to make 1 1/2 cups of crumbs)
6 tbsp melted butter
1/3 cup sugar

Pastry cream: (from Baking From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan)
6 egg yolks
1/3 cup corn starch, sifted 
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces

2 pints strawberries

1/4 cup fruit preserves (I used raspberry because that's all I had)
1 tsp water

To make the crust:
Combine ingredients in the food processor, then press into a 9" pie dish.  Cover lightly with plastic wrap and chill while you make the pastry cream.

To make the pastry cream:
Whisk together egg yolks, corn starch, and sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed sauce pan.  Boil the milk in a small sauce pan.
Gradually stir the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, stirring constantly.  Place the pan over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils.  Stir for one minute while boiling, then remove from heat.
Let the mixture sit, off the heat, for 1-2 minutes, then stir in the vanilla.  Let sit five minutes more, then stir in the butter.  Place the pan in a large bowl of  ice water and stir occasionally until cool (about 20 minutes).

Meanwhile, wash, drain, stem, and cut in half about 2 pints of strawberries.

Remove the crust from the refrigerator and pour the pastry cream in.  Smooth with a rubber spatula.  Arrange strawberries on the pastry cream, then make the glaze.

Heat the preserves in a small saucepan over low heat until runny.  Strain through a sieve into a bowl, and stir in 1 tsp water.  Use a pastry brush to evenly distribute the glaze over the berries.

And there you have a strawberry-vanilla custard pie!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Chocolate-Flecked Meringue Kisses

This afternoon, I had every intention of making a strawberry tart.  I separated some eggs for the pastry cream and got started on it... completely ignoring the fact that when the recipe calls for whole milk, it means whole milk and skim will NOT work.  I ended up with a gummy mess that had unappetizing lumps (note to self:  look closely at fractions!  1/2 of a cup of cornstarch is not going to make pretty pastry cream when the recipe really says 1/3). Plus, I decided I would rather just enjoy my strawberries in their natural state.

However, with that disaster in the garbage can I remembered I had six egg whites just begging to be made into meringues.  I also had a killer chocolate craving, so I decided to make some chocolate meringues.

This recipe makes a lot - probably 50-60 meringues, but is easily halved.  You could also substitute some chopped nuts for the chocolate.  I would have included a teaspoon of vanilla extract, but I used the last of it in the pastry cream fiasco.

Recipe adapted from  "Joy of Cooking"

6 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 250.
Mix together the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt on low for about a minute.  Turn the speed up to medium high and pour in the sugar.  Beat on high until stiff peaks form, then carefully fold in the chocolate.
Pipe through a large star pastry tip onto silpat or parchment-lined baking sheets, and bake for about 40 minutes.  Then, turn off the oven and open the door a crack, with the cookies still inside.  This will dry them out and make them nice and crunchy. When cool, remove from the oven.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Perfect Lentil Soup

In the not so distant past, I would have told you there is no such thing as perfect lentil soup.  Lentils were something I forced myself to eat because they seem so healthy.  Fortunately, I discovered I was just using the wrong kind of lentils!

This soup doesn't look like much, and there's no picture because I left my camera at my in-laws house on father's day...BUT it is delicious.

The key is the lentils.  I used red ones, which I buy from the bulk bins at my local natural foods store.  I was disappointed to find that they don't stay red after you cook them, but no matter.
Clarified butter is another recent discovery that I adore.  I guess you could use vegetable oil instead, but clarified butter gives a great flavor.

This recipe is adapted from "The Bombay Cafe" by Neela Paniz

1 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained
6 cups water
1-2 tsp salt
1 tbsp clarified butter (ghee)
1.5 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1.5 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 serrano chile, minced
1 tbsp lemon juice

Put the lentils and water in a large saucepan over high heat.  Partially cover, and boil for about 40 minutes, or until the lentils have completely disintigrated.  Skim off the foam and then add about a teaspoon of salt, or maybe 2 (depending on your taste preferences).  Turn the heat down to low and cover.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the ghee.  Toss in the cumin, ginger, serrano chile, and mustard seeds and cover for 30 seconds, shaking the pan.  Then pour this into the lentils and stir.  Stir in the lemon juice and serve.

Humble Hummus

A simple bowl of hummus with some assorted crudites for dipping may not be the flashiest appetizer around, but it is so simple and satisfying.  Underneath the lemon zest and cilantro garnish, this hummus has just the right balance of flavors and a nice smooth texture.  Play around with the amounts of garlic, lemon, cumin, and coriander until you find a ratio that suits your tastes.
It is hard to go back to the plastic containers in the grocery store once you have tried homemade hummus!

The amounts listed are approximate, and I always end up adding a little of this or that depending on how it tastes, so trust your instincts!

1 15-oz can garbanzo beans, drained and liquid reserved
2 tbsp tahini
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
generous pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp lemon zest

Stir together the lemon juice, tahini, cumin, coriander,  and cayenne (if using) and set aside.
In a food processer, pulse the garbanzos and garlic until coarsely pureed.  Add the lemon juice mixture and pulse a few more times, then add the salt.  
With the machine running, pour in about 1/4 cup of the liquid reserved from draining the beans.  If necessary, add liquid until you reach a desired consistency. 
Taste, and add more lemon, salt, or spice if necessary.  
Transfer to a bowl, gently stir in the olive oil, and top with cilantro and zest.

Serve with carrots, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, or pita chips.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

This was the first cookie recipe I ever memorized, and I have made hundreds of batches of these.  They are everything I love about cookies...crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, and full of chocolate.  I have made variations using oatmeal or nuts or adding some cocoa powder and white chocolate chips, but I like them best just the way they are, hot from the oven.
The recipe came from a cookbook put together by our neighbor's real estate office over a decade ago.   

7 ounces butter butter (I always use salted), softened (1 and 3/4 sticks)
2/3 cup brown sugar (I use whatever I have on hand, either dark or light, or a mixture)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 12 oz bag semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350

Cream the butter and add sugar, beating until well-mixed.  Add the egg and vanilla, and mix for about 30 seconds.  

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and baking soda with a fork.  Add to the butter mixture and stir gently until flour just disappears.  Add chocolate chips and stir until evenly distributed.

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto parchment or Silpat-lined cookie sheets and bake 8-10 minutes, until just beginning to brown on the edges.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tortilla soup

I am pretty much obsessed with soup, or really any food that can be eaten out of a bowl.  My freshman year in college, I ate literally every meal in the dining hall out of a bowl...and my floor-mates nicknamed me C-Bowls because of it.  

Soups are fantastic because they can suit any mood, any season, and are a great way to throw together odds and ends from the fridge.  I love this soup because it can be as simple as a rich chile-tomato broth with just the delightful crunch of tortilla strips or you can dress it up with shredded chicken, queso fresco, avocados, cilantro and Tapatio to amp up the heat.

I adapted this recipe from "Mexico One Plate at a Time" by Rick Bayless

1 lb chicken breast tenders
1 lime
2 cloves garlic
6 corn tortillas, cut into 1/2" by 2" strips
Vegetable oil
2 dried pasilla chiles, seeds and stems removed
1 15-oz can whole tomatoes, drained
4 cups chicken broth 
1 medium white onion, sliced thinly
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp salt
6 oz cotija cheese or queso fresco, cut in small cubes
1 avocado, cut in small cubes
2 tbsp chopped cilantro

To prepare the chicken:
Preheat oven to 350 F.  Slice the lime thinly and chop the garlic. Place the chicken in the middle of a large sheet of parchment paper, and toss with the garlic and a little salt.  Lay the lime slices over the chicken and fold up the paper so you have a nice little package.  Put that in a pie pan or roasting pan...I just use an old 8" round cake pan.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink.  Remove from the oven and open the parchment so the steam can escape and the chicken can cool.

While the chicken is baking, pour the oil into a large, heavy sauce pan so it is about 1/2" deep.  Heat until a piece of tortilla sizzles immediately when dipped in the oil, but don't let it get so hot it smokes.  Fry the tortilla strips in 3 batches, stirring the pan, until they are beginning to brown.  Remove them with a slotted spoon and dry on paper towels.

Pour the oil out so there is just a thin coating remaining, and turn the heat to medium.  Add the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring, until they are light brown.  Transfer to a blender, but don't wipe out the pan.

Tear the chiles into pieces and stir fry in the pan for about 30 seconds, or until they are just beginning to blister.  Place them in the blender with the onions and garlic, add the tomatoes and a few tablespoons of broth, and puree until smooth.

Transfer the contents of the blender back into the pan (over medium-high heat) and stir constantly until the mixture has the consistency of tomato paste.  Add the salt and the rest of the broth, stir to mix,  and turn the heat to low.

With two forks, shred the chicken and stir into the soup. Taste the soup and add salt if necessary.  Ladle into bowls, and top with tortilla strips, avocado, cheese, and a sprinkling of cilantro.