When I decided to make Maggie’s Momma’s Pinwheel cookies last month, I purchased a large bag of dried pitted dates to get the job done. Turns out, that recipe made a whopping 5 dozen cookies, (enjoyed by many in our home, including a wily three-year-old grandson, who loved reaching into the jar to snatch one or two) and required less than half the bag in the process.
What to do with the rest of those dates? It’s not that I mind storing them in my pantry; dates do keep well. But it seemed like a good opportunity to use them in other applications—and not just desserts.
Despite their dulcet nature, dates are healthful to eat, providing an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. They are fat and cholesterol free. While they may seem like sugar bombs, dates have a low glycemic index too.
It didn’t take long for me to come up with two delicious uses. In both instances, a particular spice paired with the fruit, making each dish exceptional.
The first recipe, Jeweled Jasmine Rice, is taken from my cookbook. I made it with a variation. I used basmati—it’s what I happened to have at the time. But really, any aromatic rice would work splendidly. I warmed a trio of dried fruits–apricots, craisins, and dates, oh my–in a skillet with turmeric and pistachios. Wonderful scents filled the kitchen.
Once the rice is cooked, fold in the spiced mixture. The fruits do glisten like jewels.
Here’s the trick to light fluffy rice–with grains separate, not clumped. Soak and rinse. My friend Muna taught me this long ago. It makes the rice more receptive to flavors, and will cook in less water.
In our mostly vegetarian household, we love this dish on its own. But it makes a terrific accompaniment to something grand and meaty.
Serve this with ginger-roasted chicken, a plank of seared salmon, roast leg of lamb, or grilled pork tenderloin and chutney.
The second is baby spinach salad with dates and toasted almonds, adapted from the popular Jerusalem cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi.
My cousin Cathy served this to me last summer and I went crazy for it. It’s unlike any salad I’ve ever had, and I didn’t immediately identify the dates in it.
I learned that they are lightly “pickled” with red onion and a pinch of salt. A clever move: Pita bread, torn into bite sized pieces, becomes this salad’s crouton. It gets a crispy turn in the skillet with almonds and the Middle Eastern staple—sumac. It is prized for its tart, almost lemony taste and dark red color. Look for it at any global market or grocer.
Something about how the sweet and savory elements combine in this salad made me think “Bacon?” but only for a moment. What it achieves is Umami–savory deliciousness.
The salad is simple to make and a pleasure to eat.
Do you have a date recipe you’d like to share, or a recommendation? Despite making two of these salads and a big batch of rice, I still have dates-a-plenty in my pantry.
In the meantime–it’s a new year!
Here’s my wish for you:that 2016 is full of health and happiness, and, of course, good food.
JEWELED AROMATIC RICE adapted from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 ½ cups aromatic rice, such as jasmine or basmati, soaked in a bowl of water for 10 minutes and rinsed
4 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup pistachios
1/3 cup pitted dates, chopped
1/3 cup dried apricots, slivered
1/3 cup raisins, craisins or currants
1 teaspoon turmeric
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add onions, garlic, and salt. Sauté until onions become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rinsed rice, and stir to coat the grains with other ingredients. Pour in the water and stir well. Increase heat and cover.
When the water comes to a boil, reduce heat to very low. Simmer for 5 minutes. Keep covered and remove from heat. Let the rice sit undisturbed for at least 10 minutes.
Melt butter in a skillet on medium heat. Stir in pistachios and cook for about 5 minutes, letting them “toast.” Stir in apricots, raisins and turmeric. When all of the ingredients are well combined, remove from heat.
Fluff the cooked rice with a fork. Fold in sautéed mixture and serve.
Makes 8-10 servings
JERUSALEM SALAD adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
1 tablespoon wine vinegar (can be red or white)
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
3 ½ ounces dates, preferably Medjool, pitted and quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 small pitas, roughly torn into 1 1/2 -inch pieces
½ cup whole unsalted almonds, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons sumac
½ teaspoon chile flakes
5 to 6 ounces baby spinach leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Put vinegar, onion and dates in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hands. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes, then drain any residual vinegar and discard.
Meanwhile, heat butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add pita and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, stirring all the time, until pita is golden. Add almonds and continue cooking until pita is crunchy and browned and almonds are toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and mix in sumac, chile flakes and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside to cool.
When ready to serve, toss spinach leaves with pita mix in a large mixing bowl. Add dates and red onion, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the lemon juice and another pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.
Makes 4-6 servings
The first time I recall eating a fried pie was almost 25 years ago when I was on a little fall jaunt, driving the backroads of middle Tennessee. Back then, Bill and I had a notion that we’d run a little rural B&B (complete with its own vegetable garden providing our produce for meals, a glorious flower garden as well.)
We’d take day-drives out of the city in different directions to explore. What were we looking for? A cool abandoned home in a bucolic setting that we could convert. Or an inn already in existence that we could buy. We’d stay overnight at some to get a feel for how people ran them. Romantic notions of our quaint B&B got dispelled once I realized
1) While running a catering business was a millstone, it was featherlike compared to running an inn. Weight of the world.
But here’s the thing. It’s good to follow these ideas out into the real world. How else are you going to know if it’s what you really want? And, there’s the adventure, always ripe with discovery–
–such as the fried hand pies.
It was on one of those off-the-beaten path drives when we came upon a lone cinderblock building with a walk-up window and a rough hand-painted sign: FRIED PIES $1
(I know; we fry a lot of things in the South.)
“Let’s stop,” I urged. Bill pulled over to the building’s side and I hopped out. I peered into the little window. “What kinds do you have?”
“Peach, apple, blackberry, chocolate, lemon,” recited a small measured voice from the dark interior. I handed the woman $5 and returned to the car with a sack containing one of each, individually packed in wax paper bags.
They were still warm.
We motored on until we came to an open rise on the road, overlooking a valley. There we parked. Pastures below were dry and browned. Colors of the season dotted the surrounding hills, with maples flaming orange and burgundy. Leaning against the car, we sampled the goods, sharing a thermos of coffee.
I thought the pies would be greasy, but they weren’t. I thought that the chocolate might be bizarre, but it was surprisingly delicious. Each one, a half-moon with crimped edges that fit right in your hand, had golden flaky crust. Grab and go! Bill loved the peach-filled crescent. The apple had a sandy dusting of cinnamon sugar and may have been my favorite.
I doubt that we could find that pie place again. In all likelihood, it no longer exists.
But, while I recipe-tested these gingery-apple treats this week for Edible Nashville magazine, I was reminded of those fall drives, and a younger version of me, chasing down a different dream.
FRIED APPLE HAND PIES adapted from Chef Matt Farley of The Southern
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider
2 Granny Smith apples, cored and diced
2 Gala or Honeycrisp apples, cored and diced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Melt butter in a skillet set on medium heat. Add sugar and cook for 5 minutes or until mixture starts to thicken. Add apple cider and cook for another minute.
Stir in the apples and ginger. Cook for 5 minutes. Add cinnamon and lemon juice and cook for 10 minutes or until apples are tender. Turn out on a sheet pan to cool.
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick ) unsalted butter (diced and cold)
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
Place flour, sugar and salt into a food processor fitted with the steel (or pastry) blade and run for 15 seconds.
Add butter and pulse until butter is cut into pea-sized pieces. In a bowl whisk the eggs and the yolk and add to flour mixture. Pulse until clumps form.
Turn out onto a table and knead for 1 minute or until dough becomes smooth. Wrap tightly in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour, up to 24 hours.
Place the ingredients into a bowl and whisk vigorously until the egg whites and yolks are mixed together.
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Place both into a bowl and mix until well-blended.
All-purpose flour, for dusting surface
Canola or vegetable oil, for frying pies.
Dust a clean surface with flour and roll out dough to about 1/8 inch thickness.
Cut into 4 inch rounds. Brush egg wash around the edges of the dough.
Place approximately 3 tablespoons of chilled apple filling on dough.
Fold over into half moon shapes. Using the tines of a fork seal all of the edges.
Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
Place vegetable oil in a pan about 1 inch deep. Heat to about 360 degrees or until flour immediately bubbles when sprinkled in oil. Lower the pies (a few at a time) into the hot oil (do not crowd!)
Cook pies about a minute and a half per side or until golden brown. Remove and place on paper towels. Toss in cinnamon sugar mixture and serve.
Makes 12 hand pies
I recently spent a week in New York City helping my girlfriend Pat pack up her apartment, a studio on the tenth floor of a grand old building overlooking Gramercy Park.
Rare and remarkable are two words for Gramercy Park, secluded within the heart of this electric city. Four short blocks of mid-rise brownstones surround the gated haven full of shade trees and flowering plants. No major streets, no rumbling traffic, no Lexington or Madison avenues barreling through. It’s a neighborhood that still feels like old New York.
Pat’s building, constructed in 1909, is unique to the square; the facade of the 12 story landmark is white terra cotta, Gothic in design, with ornate detailing. At the entry stands a smiling doorman in dapper uniform to greet you; inside is a gilt vestibule with a reception and two narrow elevators. Step inside those gleaming brass doors for a lift up to 10T.
Pat’s apartment measures right at 330 square feet. Yes, it’s small. Basically a room and a bath. Tall ceilings, wide windows, minimal furnishings, and a couple of strategic angles that trick the eye into thinking there is something more around the corner all combine to give it a more spacious feel.
I dubbed it her “Gramercy Palace.”
When you are out in the frenetic thrum that is Manhattan, a nest such as hers is the ideal respite–all you need, really. Over the years, I have enjoyed staying in its cozy quarters.
Change happens. And one begets another. Last fall, Pat’s husband died. She quit her high-powered job of many years. Then, she got an unsolicited—and generous—offer for her apartment. The end of a cycle. The closing of a life chapter.
When I learned that Pat was selling this special place, I wanted to be there to help close things out, say good-bye. It wouldn’t take the whole week to pack. We wanted to relish the final days at The Palace, and soak up as much of the city, from the perspective of being a resident rather than a visitor.
As someone who was born in New York (Queens) there is always a part of me that yearns for time there. Partly to reconnect with the place, and its magnificent and gritty sense of place. The city is potent with memory—each visit serves to recall visits gone by while creating new experiences. Making memories.
This time, I got a good dose.
We saw the Broadway play, Hamilton. (Hard to imagine, but this Hip-Hop musical about the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton is one of the best things I have ever seen.)
We went to museums: MOMA and the new Whitney. We strolled the Highline. We met friends for drinks in different neighborhoods. We ate at some wonderful restaurants.
I also did some cooking.
Union Square, with its open air Green Market (open 4 days a week!) is an easy walk from the apartment. From an array of vendors, I purchased heirloom tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, corn, basil and melon.
Walk a bit further south, and you’re in Little Italy. Pat’s sister Lynn and I jaunted over to Alleva Dairy, the oldest Italian cheese store in the city—and the United States. Lynn bought sausages and I got pasta and a ball of luscious burrata.
It was fun to cook in the tiny kitchen and dine on a fresh summer feast. Bittersweet. A last supper, to be sure. Are other New York adventures still to come? No telling when, but I feel certain they will.
ZUCCHINI-LINGUINE TANGLE WITH SWEET RED BELL PEPPER-TOMATO SAUCE
3 small zucchini (small size is more tender)
1/2 pound linguine
salt and black pepper to taste
Sweet red bell pepper-tomato sauce (recipe below)
toasted pine nuts
Place a large pot of salted water on medium high heat and bring to a boil.
Trim the zucchini ends and slice it lengthwise into thin slabs. Take each slab and slice it into long thin julienne strips.
Cook the linguine according to package directions.(about 10 minutes) Drain and set aside.
Return the pot to the stovetop. Set the heat on medium and add olive oil–about 3 tablespoons.
Add the zucchini. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper and saute for 2 minutes—so that the zucchini becomes pliable. Stir in the linguine. Toss until the two are entangled.
Ladle the red sauce into each bowl. Top with the pasta. Garnish with grated pecorino-romano and toasted pine nuts.
Sweet Red Bell Pepper-Tomato Sauce
3-4 red bell peppers, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
2 large tomatoes, cored and cut in half
1 large onion, cut into eighths
4 cloves garlic
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Place red bell pepper and tomato halves onto a baking sheet. Tuck onion pieces and garlic cloves underneath the peppers. Brush the tops with olive oil.
Sprinkle tomatoes and red bell peppers with salt and black pepper.
Roast in a preheated 425 degree oven for 25 minutes until the skins of the peppers and tomatoes are blackened and blistered.
Remove from oven and allow to cool. Peel the blistered skins and discard.
Place roasted vegetables and juices into a bowl. Using an immersion blender, process the ingredients into a brilliant red-orange sauce. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
WATERMELON-PEACH SALAD WITH BURRATA
4 cups large dice watermelon
2-3 peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
1/2 jalapeno, cut into very thin rings
1 bunch of basil (or mint) finely sliced
juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 round of burrata
salt and black pepper
Place cut watermelon, peaches, jalapeno and basil into a large bowl. Pour lime juice and olive oil over the salad. Gently toss.
Place the round of burrata in the center of the salad. Drizzle a little more oil over it. Season with salt and black pepper.
When serving, break into the burrata so that shreds and the creamy inside become mixed with the fruits.
Puttering in the garden. A dip in the pool. A day trip to the country. Stirring a pot of blackberry jam. Tomatoes, and more tomatoes, at every meal.
That’s the summer in my mind.
I’ve caught glimpses of that idyllic summer, even taken the occasional dip and day trip. For the most part, that slow carefree pace has eluded me. It’s not a complaint, don’t get me wrong. In the life of a food writer-educator-recovered caterer-grandmother, you gotta roll with whatever assignments come your way! From cooking camps to grandson care, life has been full.
But, here I am. And, I have hopes for a languid August. Beautiful produce is coming into the markets; look at that bounty. I haven’t stopped cooking. Here are a few summer dishes I’ve enjoyed.
ROASTED TOMATO-PESTO FRITTATA
Have your heard of Juliet tomatoes? They are a paste variety that look like mini-romas. I really like them for certain applications. Thick sauces. Salsa. Ketchup. And, they slow-roast into meaty ovals of sweetness.
I used them, in their slow roasted state, to make this frittata. The process started on the stovetop in my cast iron skillet, and finished in the oven.
A frittata is a fast and versatile recipe to have in your repertoire. You can find numerous variations here. I served this for an impromptu brunch for friends–it couldn’t have been simpler, and more satisfying.
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup cream (you may substitute half-and-half or whole milk if you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 pound roma or paste tomatoes, roasted
1/2 cup fresh basil pesto
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Coat a 9 inch cast iron (or oven safe) skillet with butter.
Beat eggs, cream, salt and black pepper together until no traces of yolk can be seen.
Place skillet over medium heat.
Pour in the egg mixture.
Add the tomatoes, dollops of pesto and shredded cheese. Cook on the stovetop for about 5-7 minutes.
Place the skillet into the oven to finish—about 15 minutes.
SPICY SUMMER-YELLOW VEGETABLE SALAD
One of the teen cooking camps I taught at the food bank was all about “Street Eats.” We explored cuisines around the world, from the standpoint of what you’d buy from a street vendor, pushcart, food truck: some times the most delicious dishes ever! One day, we made Mexican fare—grilled fish tacos, pickled cabbage, churros dusted with cinnamon sugar, and elotes—those spectacular ears of grilled corn slathered with lime-and-chili spiked mayo.
We had a few extra charred ears which I brought home. They soon wound up in this salad that celebrates summer yellows: wax beans, sweet bell pepper, onion, sungold tomatoes and crookneck squash. I blanched the beans (fresh picked from a friend’s garden!) in water seasoned with garlic and bay leaf. I sauteed the peppers, onion and squash. I scraped the grilled and slathered kernels off the cob, and mixed the whole she-bang together. Finished with a scatter of sungolds, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. Mercy. Summer in a bowl. It was so so good.
1/2 pound yellow wax beans, trimmed
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 yellow squash, cut into julienne strips
1 golden bell pepper, cut into julienne strips
1 small onion, sliced
2 ears of corn, cooked: grilled, oven roasted, boiled
1 cup sungold tomatoes, cut in half
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
Elote Dressing (recipe below)
Fill a skillet with water and place over medium heat. Add the garlic, bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Cook the wax beans ( a few at a time–do not crowd) until tender-crisp–about 4 minutes. Remove and let cool.
Empty the skillet, dry it, and place over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add the squash, peppers and onions. Saute for about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, place the wax beans and sauteed vegetables. Scrape the corn kernels into the bowl. Add the sungold tomatoes, cilantro, and Elote dressing. Toss well and serve.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/4-1/3 teaspoon cayenne
lime juice from 1 lime
pinch sea salt
1/2 cup grated cotija or parmesan cheese
Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl until well combined.
Makes a scant cup.
MANGO BLUEBERRY LIME YOGURT PARFAIT
What do you do when you have a ripe mango, a pint of blueberries, a container of plain Greek yogurt and a lime? This is the answer. Easy-Pretty-Tasty-Healthy.
This one is barely a recipe.
2 cups plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons of your favorite honey
1 lime—juice and zest
1 pint blueberries, rinsed and stemmed
1 ripe mango, peeled and sliced
Place the yogurt into a bowl. Add lime juice, zest and honey. Stir until well combined. Taste and adjust for sweetness, if desired.
Set up 4 glasses (or whatever serving vessels you’d prefer.) Place a dollop of yoghurt in the bottom of each. Follow with a handful of berries, a few slices of mango, and repeat the layering until the glass is full. Garnish with basil or mint leaves and serve.
I first encountered these engaging little confections in a now long-extinct bakery in Nashville called Bokay’s. Its owners were Hungarian, and they specialized in towering, elaborately decorated wedding cakes, the sort that made children stop at the display window and gape with longing.
It was a bakery of celebrations. In the springtime, I can remember finding braided egg bread challahs, and coffeecakes in a cunning Easter Bunny shape. In December, Black Forest cakes and stollen took the fore. And these twisted cream cheese pastries, Rugelach, filled variously with cinnamon sugar and walnuts, chocolate, apricot or raspberry jam.
Something betwixt a cookie and a pastry, they were delicious-bite sized treats.
The origin of the word is interesting: It is Yiddish for “twists” and resembles (and likely influenced) the Polish word for “horn.” In either case, these little crescents are rich, yet light and flaky, its dough layered with equal parts of butter and cream cheese.
The dough is easy to make, and not dissimiliar from these crescents that I made a few Decembers ago. What is especially appealing about them—-outside of their delicate size and their flaky, not-too-sweet taste—-is that they lend themselves to a spectacular array of fillings.
That dough makes one terrific pastry canvas.
Rummaging through my pantry, I found candied ginger, dried apricots, a handful of dried cherries, some dark cocoa, a small bag of chocolate chips, almonds. Ideas began taking shape.
Ginger-apricot-almond came together readily. I plumped the ginger and fruit in a simple syrup bath, and ground the toasted almonds.
Chocolate and cherry make ideal partners too. I wanted to add a little something different to that canvas. Rather than use the more traditional cinnamon, I thought it would be fun—and flavorful—to sprinkle Garam Masala spice blend.
Enjoy them this holiday season with a cup of coffee or pot of hot tea, shared with friends or family.
BASIC RUGELACH DOUGH
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound cream cheese, cut into pieces
1/2 pound chilled butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg yolk
1 cup powdered sugar—for dusting and rolling pastry
Place the flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Briefly pulse.
Then add the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and egg yolk.
Pulse and process until the ingredients are well incorporated and the dough comes together as a mass.
Remove the dough and form into 2 separate discs. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate until well-chilled—at least one hour, although overnight is better! The dough will keep refrigerated for 3 days, or may be frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw any frozen dough in the refrigerator before using.
CANDIED GINGER-APRICOT-ALMOND FILLING
1/4-1/3 cup candied ginger, cut into slivers
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup almonds
Place all of the ingredients into a medium saucepan set on low heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat to medium, cover and allow the mixture to soften, thicken and simmer.
Cool and process to spreading consistency (using either an immersion blender or a food processor.)
Meanwhile, spread the almonds onto a baking sheet. Place into a preheated 375 degree oven and toast for 10-12 minutes. Cool and finely chop (or pulse in the processor to fine)
Sprinkle the work counter with powdered sugar. Remove one disc of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap, and roll out to a 15 inch circle. If the dough gets sticky, sprinkle more powdered sugar.
Place 1/2 cup glob of ginger-apricot mixture in the center of the dough circle. Using a spatula, spread the mixture evenly across the surface to the edges of the circle. Add more fruit mixture as needed.
Sprinkle the top of the fruit mixture with the finely chopped almonds.
Cut the dough into quarters, then eighths, then sixteenths, then thirty-seconds.
Roll each piece up from the exterior to the inner point and place onto a parchment-lined (or sil-pat lined baking sheet) Keep the pieces about an inch apart.
Bake for approximately 15 minutes in a pre-heated 375 degree oven, until the rugelaches are puffed and golden brown.
Allow to cool on a rack for 10 minutes before removing.
Makes 32 pieces.
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
1-2 teaspoons garam masala spice blend
4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried dark sweet cherries
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
Have all of these ingredients assembled separately for your mise-en-place.
Sprinkle the work counter with powdered sugar.
Unwrap one disc of dough and roll it out on the dusted surface into a 15″ circle.
Cover the top with cocoa, followed by
Cut into quarters, then eighths, then sixteenths, then thirty-seconds.
Roll each elongated triangle from the outside to the point and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake for approximately 15 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven.
Makes 32 pieces
We’ve all passed that bin or cart at the grocery store filled with discontinued or out-of-season products. I’ll stop and cast a cursory glance over the array, before moving on. Typically a bust, the cart brims with items that I would never use: cans of cartoon-shaped Spaghetti-O’s, infant formula, or leftover bags of Halloween candy.
But this time, I was surprised to find real treasure, a baker’s bonanza: blocks of white and dark chocolate, bags of semi-sweet chips, brown sugar, and cartons of almond milk. I didn’t need any of them, but at half-price, I’d snap up the bargains–certain that I would use the sugar and chocolate during the holidays.
The almond milk was another matter. I’d never tasted it, nor cooked with it, but at half-off, it was a good opportunity to experiment with it. I bought one quart, stashed it in my pantry, and would wait for the right inspiration.
With pear season upon us, I didn’t wait long.
Baked into cakes and tarts, pears and almonds make happy companions, but that wouldn’t put the almond milk to much use. A clafoutis, that curious French confection that relies on a blend of eggs, milk, sugar and flour for its thin batter, could be an ideal candidate.
A rustic fruit dessert originally made with cherries, it affords some variables that you can play on. Pears? Of course. Sliced thinly, firm but ripe Red Anjous and Barletts would be delicious baked into the clafoutis.
How about using brown sugar instead of white granulated? Yes.
I did a little research and found that almond milk and cow’s milk could be interchangeable; the same holds true with almond flour and all-purpose. So, those of you desiring to be dairy and/or gluten-free, this dessert is for you.
The rest of us are going to be mighty pleased with it as well.
Wanting to accentuate the almond theme, I coarsely ground a cup of whole almonds to cover the bottom and sides of my buttered baking dish. I thought that they might add a crunchy crustlike element to the clafoutis.
I also grated some fresh nutmeg over the surface. Be sure to take in the aromatics before you stir it into the foamy mixture.
The clafoutis is ready for the oven. I really packed it with pears, tucking in a few unpeeled Red Anjou slices around the top.
It baked beautifully, with a smooth custard, soft, luscious pears, and nice almond crunch. I don’t think you’d know what sort of milk went into its baking.
I’m in agreement with Molly of Orangette : Fresh out of the oven, it is fragrant and delicious. But, tomorrow it will taste even better. Overnight in the fridge, the flavors will settle in, and a chilled slice with cup of coffee sounds like a fine way to start a fall morning.
PEAR ALMOND CLAFOUTIS
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1/2 cup ground almonds
2-3 firm but ripe pears
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup almond flour (or all-purpose, if you like)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk (you may use whole milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Coat a baking dish, bottom and sides, with butter. Sprinkle the ground almonds evenly to cover, reserving a couple of tablespoons, and set aside.
Peel, halve lengthwise, and core the pears. Cutting across the body of the pear, slice into thin pieces.
Using an electric beater (or immersion blender or food processor,) blend the brown sugar and eggs together. Then, add the flour, beating until smooth, followed by the almond milk, followed by the vanilla. The mixture will be frothy.
Grate the nutmeg over the mixture and stir. Ladle it into the baking dish to cover the bottom.
Arrange the sliced pears on top. Pour the remaining mixture over the pears. Sprinkle the rest of the ground almonds around the perimeter of the dish.
Place onto the middle rack and bake for 65-70 minutes–until the top becomes golden brown and custardy batter is set. Allow to cool on a rack.
Makes 8-10 servings
Want to make your own almond milk? Cooking Light offers an easy-peasy recipe right here.
To my Good Food Matters friends in the Washington DC area!
I will presenting my cookbook at Vigilante Coffee Roastery and Cafe on Sunday November 23rd. Check out the invite for details.
Of course, I’ll be serving some goodies of the season from the book, and barista-extraordinaire Chris Vigilante will be making some luscious coffees to pair with them.
I’m thrilled to be trekking out of Tennessee with Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbooks in tow, and would love it if you could come by.
What would you like with a cup of coffee right now? How about a slice of roasted apple walnut cake napped in apple caramel?
Or perhaps a wedge of this fragrant apple-blueberry-cardamom cake?
With bushels of apples in myriad varieties at the market, and bushels of luscious apple dessert recipes circulating the ‘net, I’ve been lured into making simple one layer fruit-rich cakes, in dark and light. Mood food.
Rain, fog, and autumn gray have pervaded this month, thus far. That’s nudged me into the kitchen to bake. Cooking for comfort,
And color. When Joyti at Darjeeling Dreams posted her heirloom apple cake, sparked with cardamom, it reminded me of how good these kinds of one-layer cakes are, and how readily they lend themselves to fruits of the season.
Inspired, I made Cake 1, using Braeburn and Gingergold apples. At the last moment, I added blueberries from my stash of preserves. (Last summer, I had canned blueberries in syrup—now, more than a year later, it’s time to use them up!)
Tart apples coupled with juicy bursts of berries and the perfumed undercurrent of spice make this one memorable.
Recently, my friend Teresa took a road trip to Arkansas. Her destination was Crystal Bridges, the Walton’s museum extraordinaire of American Art in Bentonville. Along the way, though, she came across the famous Arkansas Black apples. And, bought her own bushel.
Share the wealth–everyone visiting Teresa post-road trip leaves with a sack of Arkansas Blacks.
Firm and crunchy with dark red peels that deepen to burgundy as they ripen, they are sometimes called the “Snow White Apple.” Teresa had made a deep-dish pie with them, and noted that the slices maintained their firmness and crunch in the baking.
I liked that, but wondered if they wouldn’t benefit from an oven roast, before you folded the pieces into the batter.
I also thought I’d take the cores and peels (as I’d done in this recipe here) and make an apple caramel sauce to ladle over the cake while it was still warm.
And so began the second apple cake.
Opposites. Just as the first is defined by a light cream-colored batter, Cake 2 has dark earthy tones imparted by raw sugar, vanilla and a trinity of spices.
The pieces of apples and walnuts amplify those tones in baking, the cake emerging dark and toasty, the apples melting into the crumb in places, affording pockets of sweet fruit throughout. Although, it is not too sweet–a characteristic shared by both cakes. The caramel sauce soaks into the cake, which improves in flavor, the next day.
I love how we can take an idea, a fruit, a basic recipe and let it go light or dark, depending on tastes, mood, and what embellishments we have at hand. Next time, my apple cake may go light and rich—Cooking Light’s Cinnamon-Apple–one of their most popular since 1997—uses cream cheese in the batter. Doesn’t that sound just ever-so?
Roasted Apple Walnut Cake, with apple caramel sauce
Butter–for greasing skillet or cake pan (9 inch round)
4-5 firm apples, (such as Black Arkansas) peeled and cored (reserve peels and cores!)
1 tablespoon (or so) vegetable oil
1 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) butter, softened
1 cup turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buttermilk plus 1/4 cup (divided)
Place peels and cores into a saucepan. Add sugar and cover with water—about a cup of so. Bring to just under a boil, then cook on low heat for 20-30 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the apples into 1/2″ thick slices. Lightly coat in vegetable oil and arrange on a baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes. Add walnut pieces and roast for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven to cool and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Place eggs, softened butter and turbinado sugar into a mixing bowl and cream together.
In a separate bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together: spices, baking powder, soda, salt, and flour. Beat in dry mixture a little at a time, alternating with buttermilk.
Fold the cooled roasted apples and walnuts into the batter. Put batter into a prepared cast-iron skillet or cake pan and bake on the middle rack for 35-40 minutes.
While the cake is cooling on the rack, finish the apple caramel sauce.
Strain the peels and cores from the mixture, pressing on them to extract more apple juice.
Stir in 1/4 cup buttermilk (you may use cream if you prefer) and gently reheat, stirring constantly. Mixture will thicken slightly.
Spoon the apple caramel sauce over the cake. Cut and serve.
Apple Blueberry Cardamom Cake (adapted from Darjeeling Dreams)
Butter, for greasing skillet
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar + 1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup milk
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 Gala or Gingergold apples (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 cup blueberry preserves or plain blueberries
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9 inch cast-iron skillet (or cake pan) with butter.
Cream the eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl, until light and fluffy. Beat milk and olive oil. Beat in cardamom, flour, baking powder. Pour batter into the skillet (or cake pan)
Core the apples and thinly slice them. Arrange the apple slices in a circular pattern, making the apple slices overlap slightly.Spoon preserves (or blueberries in syrup, or plain blueberries) over the apples.
Bake on the middle rack, testing for doneness with a toothpick at 35 minutes.
Cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.
It wasn’t just the allure of this gluten-free, no-bake tart, coupled with the fact that local strawberries are here at our markets, ready to spill their juicy sweetness over its top.
It’s the homemade cheese that fills it: Fromage Facile. That’s French for “Easy Cheese.” Soft, slightly tangy, fresh—and ready to spread into that tart, in about thirty minutes. I was sold.
But, there’s more.
Delicate Chevre kisses laced with lavender and thyme, spiced twists of Oaxacan cheese (quesillo) to pull and melt over flatbread, rounds of burrata filled with brown butter and cream.
Chevre. Mozzarella. Burrata. All wonderful cheeses—can you imagine making them yourself in under an hour?
Claudia Lucero says absolutely! and demonstrates 16 different varieties simply, beautifully, in her new book, One-Hour Cheese.
I’m a novice in this field. I have experimented, with some success, making ricotta and mascarpone . But I want to know more. How do you hand-stretch mozzarella? Why do you use citric acid and vegetable rennet? How do you form that purse of burrata and fill it with cream? What can you do with all that leftover whey? Can you really make a smoked cheddar wheel in just 60 minutes? (You can, although its name, “smoked cheater,” tells you it is not a true smoked cheddar—-but it’s incredible, nonetheless.)
One-Hour Cheese provides the answers to these–and many other cheese making questions.
Even though I wanted to leap to the more complicated recipe, Burrata, for my first try, I decided to begin with Fromage Facile. This super-simple and delectable cheese is ideal for anyone’s initial foray into cheese-making. It provides a luscious blank canvas, ready to accept sweet or savory applications. And, you don’t need any extraordinary to make it. Likely you already have everything you need in your pantry.
The ingredient list? Whole cow’s milk, buttermilk, lemon juice and salt.
Supplies of Note? Cheesecloth and a reliable thermometer.
The process is quick: gently heat the milk to 175 degrees. Stir in the buttermilk and lemon juice. Watch the curds form before your eyes.
Strain, to separate the whey. Lightly salt. Form into a ball. Ta-Dah! Fromage Facile.
Claudia gives many enticing recipes, to accompany each of the cheeses in the book. Tapenades and dried fruit-nut pastes to flavor the farm-fresh rounds. Vibrant herb-olive oil marinades to cloak bocconcini–little bon-bons of mozzarella. Spiked and peppered melts for pizza and quesadillas.
The photographs are appealing; the steps involved are clearly illustrated; interesting tips are posted throughout. Claudia’s style is upbeat and fun. You’ll want to make these cheeses. And, you can.
This No-Bake Tartlette? You can whip it up in the time it takes for the Fromage Facile curds to drain. The crust has only 3 ingredients: toasted nuts (I used walnuts, but almonds or pecans would work well.) combined with dates and a pinch of salt. That’s it.
Press the mixture into the pans. Swirl a little honey into the Fromage Facile, and spread into each tart shell. Top with the Fruit of the Moment.
Right now, the strawberries in Nashville are out of this world. Slice a few and sprinkle a little raw sugar over these gems–it coaxes out the juices. Add some furls of basil or mint, if you like. Spoon over the tart. Serve immediately—or chill for 30 minutes. Either way, it is simply delicious.
Now, for the fun part: The Giveaway. You are going enjoy having this book as a part of your culinary library.
Post a comment below, telling about a favorite cheese, or a cheese making experience. On June 1st, I will announce the winner, chosen at random.
FROMAGE FACILE from One-Hour Cheese by Claudia Lucero
1 quart whole cow’s milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
1 cup cultured buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon flake salt (or to taste)
Fresh Herbs (optional)
Medium colander or mesh strainer
Large heat-resistant bowl
2 quart stockpot
Large mixing spoon
Measuring cup and measuring spoons
1. Line the colander with cheesecloth. Place a bowl underneath to collect the whey.
2. Pour the quart of cow’s milk into a pot. Place over medium heat, warming the milk until it reaches 175 degrees. Stay close by to monitor the heat, stirring to prevent the skin from forming on the top or sticking to the bottom.
3. When the milk reaches 175 degrees, add the buttermilk and lemon juice. Stir well. Remove from heat and leave undisturbed for 5 minutes.
4. You will see separation of curds and whey. Stir the curds gently to check the texture. Pour into the cheesecloth-lined colander.
5. Allow the curds to drain until they resemble thick oatmeal, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in the salt.
6. Pack the cheese into a paper (or plastic) lined dish to form a wheel.
NO-BAKE STRAWBERRY-CHEESE TARTLETS adapted from One-Hour Cheese by Claudia Lucero
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/3 cup pitted dates
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
Fresh ripe strawberries
fresh basil or mint
Place walnuts and dates into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add salt. Pulse and process together to form a crumbly crust that will stay formed when squeezed.
Press the crust into tart pans.
Fold honey into fromage facile. Spread into tart shells. Chill for one hour.
Slice strawberries and place into a small bowl. Chiffonade (finely slice) basil or mint and toss into berries.
Top the tarts with berry-mint mixture and serve.
The unpredictability of harvests causes me to marvel at the steadfast dedication of farmers. One season to the next, they never know how well or poorly a crop will do, despite all care and meticulous planning. And, under the same weather conditions, one planting will thrive, while another fizzles.
In 2010, Gigi had a bumper crop of figs. In the two years that followed, her trees bore meager fruit. It had us worried—was 2010 a fluke? Last week, that notion was dispelled when Gigi called me with this report:
“We need to pick figs. Now!”
Her trees were–and still are—covered. Plump ripe knobs, some royal purple, others streaked greenish-brown, are ready to be plucked and relished. The next morning, I met Gigi at the garden. We picked a fast 100, and two days later, I returned to gather another basketful.
Joy. The figs are back, with the promise of so many more to come. Time to enjoy them now, and preserve them for the future.
My plan was two-fold. I could envision delectable figs roasted to sweetness, tucked in lettuce leaves with goat cheese, chives, and bacon for a summer meal. (almonds for my vegetarians!) What I didn’t use in the salad, I’d put up in mason jars. Roasted Figs in Syrup!
I began by halving the figs and arranging them on a baking sheet scattered with thin lemon wedges. After I dusted them with sugar and a spritz of white balsamic vinegar, I placed them into the hot oven.
I had forgotten how effective and deeply delicious this method is. Very quickly the sugar melts as the figs release their juices. The lemon and vinegar meld into the mix, enhancing the figgy taste, while balancing the sweetness. A gorgeous caramel-ruby syrup results, glazing the fruit in the pan. And that tangy syrup becomes the perfect medium to drizzle into the lettuce cups, the salad’s dressing really.
As for the rest, well, I have a few ideas. I love them baked on flatbread with prosciutto, leeks, and soft gorgonzola. The figs in syrup are sublime with mascarpone on a slice of crusty toasted baguette. Check out Cooking Light’s Guide to Figs for other tips and recipes. I am always open to new recipes with this ancient, treasured fruit, and would love to have your recommendations, too.
Of course, we fig lovers know that there is nothing quite like that one, sun-warmed and ripe right off the tree, sticky to the touch and honeyed to the bite.
ROASTED FIG-GOAT CHEESE-BUTTER LETTUCE CUPS
25 leaves butter (or Boston) lettuce, washed and spun dry
1 11 ounce log plain goat cheese
8-10 strips thick slab cut bacon cooked crisp and crumbled -OR-
1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds
1 1/2 cups roasted figs in syrup (recipe follows)
coarse ground black pepper
Arrange butter lettuce leaves on a platter. Cut the goat cheese log into small slices or pieces, placing a piece into each lettuce cup.
Sprinkle the goat cheese with chives.
Sprinkle cooked bacon or toasted almonds into the cups.
Place a fig half over the goat cheese.
Drizzle with figgy syrup and season with coarse ground black pepper.
Makes 25 appetizers or 10-12 mains.
ROASTED FIGS IN SYRUP
15 ripe figs, washed, dried and cut in half lengthwise
1 lemon, sliced into 10 wedges
1/4 cup sugar
2-3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place the fig halves on a baking sheet. Scatter the lemon wedges around the figs.
Sprinkle the sugar over the figs. Sprinkle the vinegar over the sugared figs.
Place into the oven and roast for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan after the halfway (5-6 minutes) mark.
Cook until the figs become puffed and release their juices.
The juices will meld with the melted sugar and vinegar to make a luscious syrup.
Remove from the oven and cool. Place the fig and lemon pieces into a medium bowl or 12 ounce jar. Scrape the accumulated juices-syrup from the pan over the figs.
Makes 1 1/2 cups.
Note: You may double the batch and preserve the figs and syrup in 3-8 ounce jars and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.
It was early one Saturday morning last summer, before the day heated up to its usual steamy 90s, when I first discovered The Peach Truck.
I was on my way to tend the garden behind my brother’s office. I barreled down 12 South, and had to immediately double-back. Parked in the lot of a one-time gas station turned designer jean shop was an old green pick up truck. A young man was working out of the back of the truck, filling and setting out brown paper sacks. A sandwich board sign placed on the sidewalk had been painted in bold letters: FRESH GEORGIA PEACHES.
Georgia Peaches? Really? The ones that I had come across over the years at our markets never lived up to their stellar reputation. Still, there had to be an element of truth in the assertion that the best peaches hail from GA. I had to check ’em out.
I opened a bag and inhaled its aromatics. Sweet-scented, peachy and floral. I gingerly handled a couple–they had the right heft and supple give. Then, the young man, who introduced himself as Stephen Rose, cut a wedge out of one for me to sample.
Mercy. It was firm, yet gushed sweet juices. It might have been the best bite of peach I’d ever had. SOLD!
Chagrined by the lack of true Georgia peaches in Nashville, Stephen set out to change all that. He started trucking in the harvest from his aunt and uncle’s farm in Crawford Georgia. That Saturday morning, I was one of his first sales. It didn’t take long for word to get out. People all over the city, chefs from scores of restaurants, were all clamoring for the peaches brought by the man in the 1964 Jeep Gladiator. Over a five week run last summer, Nashvillians had purchased 10 tons of these remarkable fruits.
Summer is back, and so is The Peach Truck. This year, Stephen and his wife Jessica have made it their mission to spread the Georgia peach gospel. From now until the end of August, you can find these blushing beauties any day of the week in Nashville, at numerous locations.
I’ve made terrific peach salsa, not to mention peach cobbler. Mornings have been brightened with fresh slices over Greek yogurt and cereal. And, here’s this show-stopped recipe I made for our latest potluck supper: rosemary, sage, chives and The Peach Truck’s finest stuffed, rolled and roasted into pork loin.
Without question, all sorts of fruit make luscious partners for pork, (think apples, pears, pineapple…) their natural sweetness enhances the meat while tempering its inherent richness. Fresh herbs and juicy peaches transform a simple pork loin into an elegant, succulent roast that slices into pretty pinwheels.
The trickiest part is in butterflying the meat. Keep slicing horizontally down and into the round of meat, unrolling it as you continue your cuts. This does not need to be smooth. You can see where I started and stopped, with some gashes into the meat. No worries. It’s very forgiving, this recipe. You’ll be filling the interior of the meat, covering all this up.
After you’ve layered the interior with abundant chopped herbs (sage, rosemary, strips of chives) and red tinged slices of peach, you’ll be ready to roll it back to its somewhat original form, and secure it with twine.
I prepared two such roasts for our potluck crowd. Wonderful. It was a night for peaches and The Peach Truck. Someone brought a peach salad, another an almond-peach crisp. And Rick churned a batch of Peaches-and-Cream.
PEACHES-N-HERBS PORK ROULADE
3 lb. boneless pork loin
1 bundle fresh sage
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
3-4 fresh ripe peaches, pitted and sliced Â¼â€ thick
coarse ground black pepper
kitchen twineâ€”cut into 4 14â€ pieces
Butterfly the pork loin: place clean, dried roast onto cutting board. With a sharp knife, begin slicing horizontally into the roast, about 1 inch from the bottom. As you continue slicing the length of the roast, pull back the meat, effectively unrolling it.
Press the meat flat. Liberally sprinkle the interior first with salt and black pepper, followed by chopped rosemary and sage. Arrange the peach slices to cover the
Roll the loin back into its original shape.
Slide the pieces of twine underneath the loin. Secure the roll by tying each one. Place in roasting pan, fat side up, seam side down. Sprinkle the top of the meat with kosher salt and black pepper.
Place roast into a preheated 425 degree oven. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes, then reduce oven heat to 350 degrees for another 25-30 minutes. When the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees, remove from oven.
Allow the meat to rest 15 minutes before slicing. Meanwhile, add water to roasting pan and deglaze the juices and cooked-on bits. Remove the twine and slice the roast into Â½â€ thick rounds. Arrange slices on a platter and pour deglazed juices over the meat.