Monday, November 3, 2014

Apple Tart (reprise)

Well, Halloween is over so I guess that means it’s Christmas, right? I hate to admit it but I think I’m getting in that holiday mood already… though in my defense it is hard to avoid. Certain little details are cueing me in on the festive spirit: the earthy, musky smell of decaying leaves on the side of the road, a bubbling pot of chili on the stove, a cool intake of breath mingling with the smell of wood smoke, Christmas lights on the trees outside my office. There’s no denying it, the holidays are here, ready or not.

And with all of that said, I’m starting to also get the baking itch. It is yet again time to start compiling the “need to make” cookie list with my sister (though we barely put a dent in last year’s), stocking up on butter like it’s a rare commodity, and coming up with any excuse to make the house smell like cinnamon.  And because I conveniently had a bag full of apples after a trip to the pumpkin patch last weekend it all began with an apple tart (again).

Yes, this one is extremely similar to the one from 3 years ago, albeit in a cooler looking pan, but that’s ok. A classic apple tart is one thing that certainly bears repeating. The dough comes together incredibly easily in the food processor and is filled with nothing but a whole lot of sliced apples. It gets a nice coating of sugar and butter before going into the oven, causing the tops of the apples to caramelize, and the whole thing is glazed with a layer of apricot jam after coming out of the oven. For the record, the dough recipe makes enough for two tarts, which means you can make one now and freeze the rest of the dough to make another on Thanksgiving. Can’t beat that! Note: You can use whatever tart pan you may have, it doesn’t have to be rectangular one like the one pictured.

Apple Tart


For the Pastry
2 cups flour
½ tsp. salt
1 Tbs. sugar
12 Tbs. cold unsalted butter, diced
½ cup ice water

For the Tart
4-5 crisp/tart apples
¼ cup sugar
3 Tbs. cold unsalted butter, diced
¼ cup apricot jam

For the pastry, combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add in the butter and pulse until about 10-15 times until the butter is well distributed and the size of small peas. With the machine running, slowly pour in the water until the dough just comes together. Dump onto a floured surface and knead into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour. 
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel the apples and cut them in half down the center. Use a melon baller and a knife to remove the core. Place each half cut side down and use a small sharp paring knife to cut the apples into thin slices.

Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and divide in half. Save the remaining half of the dough for a later use, freezing if needed. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough until abut an inch bigger than the tart pan on all sides. Place into the pan and trim off the extra overhanging dough. Arrange the apples in the pan, flat side down so that they all fit snuggly inside. Sprinkle the sugar overtop and scatter the diced butter over the apples as well.  Add a dusting of cinnamon on top as well. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the crust is golden and the apples are caramelized.  Right after taking the tart out of the oven, warm the apricot jam in a small saucepan and use a pastry brush to glaze the top of the tart. Allow to cool for an hour before serving. Delicious with vanilla ice cream!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Baked Brie Linguine

Sometimes, Most of the time, I would say that cheese is the answer to all of our trials and a much deserved reward for our triumphs. Oh, who am I kidding, it’s basically a good decision at any time or occasion. For my roommate and I, this past week has felt particularly “cheese-centric”. So, when we decided to spend an afternoon of our weekend having a fun cooking lesson, cheese was the obvious star of the show.

The recipe is simple: boil up a big pot of linguine (or in our case, make fresh pasta from scratch for a slightly more complicated but more fun version) and spoon over loads of garlic and rosemary infused melted Brie. That’s it. We sat at the table in silence, savoring every moment of the indulgent dish and contemplating how to justify eating this much more frequently that we should. Besides "it's just soooo delicious" we’re still working on an answer…

Baked Brie Linguine
Serves 4-6

For the Pasta (makes about a pound)
2 cups flour
2 whole eggs plus 2 egg yolks

For the Baked Brie Linguine
One 8 oz round of Brie
2 cloves of garlic
1 sprig of rosemary
olive oil
sea salt and pepper
1 lb pasta (fresh or dry)
6 oz fresh spinach
4 oz grated Parmesan cheese

To make the pasta
Pour the flour into a bowl and make a well in the center. Add the eggs and mix with a fork, adding the flour bit by bit. Once it’s too stiff to mix with a fork, use your hands, adding a little water if it seems too dry. Pour the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough until all of the flour is incorporated. It will seem stiff at first but will soften as it rests. Wrap in plastic and let sit at room temperature for an hour. Using a pasta machine, roll out the dough, about one-eighth at a time and cut into linguine. Let dry on a rack until slightly stiff and transfer to a plate until ready to use.

To make the Baked Brie Linguine
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Open the box of Brie and remove the plastic wrapper. Place it back into the bottom of the wooden container. Use a knife to remove the rind from the top of the Brie, leaving a little bit around the edge. Finely slice the garlic and remove the rosemary from the stalk. Lay the garlic over the cheese, sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and drizzle with some olive oil. Scatter the rosemary overtop and grate with some Parmesan. Place the Brie on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.

While the Brie cooks, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When the cheese has about 4 minutes left (12 if you are using dry pasta) add the pasta to the water. When it has finished cooking add in the spinach and stir. Reserve about a half-cup of the pasta water and drain. Return the pasta to the pot and add a few lugs of olive oil, half of the reserved water, and the grated Parmesan. Stir, adding more water if it seems too dry.

Place a portion of pasta into your serving dish and spoon a healthy portion of the melted cheese over the pasta. Top with a little bit of cracked pepper.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Corn Chowder

Growing up in the country, summers somehow ended up a little more laborious than they probably should have been. For instance, there were always a few days each summer that my two friends and I sold corn roadside out of the back of a truck. Their dad grew some of the sweetest and juiciest silver queen corn and he would fill up the truck bed to the brim with ears of corn. We parked by the town 7-11 and sat on the tailgate, selling corn by the baker’s dozen faster than we could load them into bags. Locals and non-locals alike went crazy over the summertime treat and before we knew it, the truck was empty except a few bags we saved to take home for ourselves.

I love eating corn all summer long, straight from the cob, grilled and tossed into salads, or mixed along with cornbread. But, by the time we reach September, I finally deem it the appropriate season to make corn chowder. It’s a good transitional recipe between hot and cold weather and starts to bring on the comfort food aspect while still keeping the fresh summer flavors. This particular chowder packs a nice bit of heat from poblano peppers and some cayenne and gets a good smokiness from the bacon. A little half-and-half is added at the end to thicken it up and it’s finished up with a scattering of scallions, a dollop of mascarpone, and loads of black pepper. Have some buttered pumpernickel bread on the side for soaking up the delicious broth.

Corn Chowder
Serves 4

8oz bacon
3 large ears of corn
2 poblano peppers
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. butter
4 cups chicken broth
1 large Yukon gold potato, cut into small-medium cubes
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
½ cup half-and-half
2 scallions, chopped
mascarpone cheese (optional)
salt and pepper, to serve

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the kernels of corn off the cob and reserve the cobs for later. Remove the ribs and seeds from the peppers and finely dice into pieces somewhat similar to the size of the corn kernels. Toss the corn and the peppers with the olive oil and salt on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 25-30 minutes, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned.

Cut the bacon into medium-sized pieces and cook in a large pot over medium heat until crispy.  Spoon the bacon onto a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and set aside. Remove all but 1 Tbs. of the bacon grease. Add the butter to the remaining bacon grease and heat over medium. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 6-8 minutes until translucent. Add the potatoes, the corn and peppers, the cayenne, and the stock. Stir to combine and set the corncobs into the pot as well. This way the flavor of the sweet corn can seep into the broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook the soup until the potatoes are tender.

Remove the corncobs from the soup and add the bacon. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Stir in the half-and-half and continue to cook until the soup warms back up.   Ladle the soup into bowls, top with the scallions and a dollop of mascarpone, if desired. Top with salt and pepper.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

San Francisco Food Journey

Well, how do I say this? This summer has been, at the very least, a whirlwind of a ride. It seems like just a few days ago that I was commenting on how excited I was for it to be here and now we are just a few days from Labor Day. The days are growing steadily shorter, the weather perhaps slightly cooler and already I have requested my vacation time for Christmas.

The last few months feel like they were booked solid, between birthday celebrations for friends, family, and myself, getaways to New York City and San Francisco, and general weekend excursions to wineries, the countryside, and the like. With that said, I’ve spent the summer keeping the refrigerator stocked only with essentials like eggs, cheese, greens, and butter knowing full well that the prevalence of eating out would cause most of my groceries to go bad. My cooking day haves been put on the back burner, so to speak, but I have a feeling they will return shortly now that things are settling down a bit.

In the meantime I have recently returned from what could probably be described as a gorging journey through San Francisco and Napa/Sonoma with my three wonderful friends from high school. I was left to the task of preparing the eating itinerary for the trip (oh what burden!) But, at the end, I think we all agreed that the combination my pre-planned food trips plus spontaneous restaurant visits on nearby Divisadero St., made for the most delicious vacation we could have asked for. Here’s some of the highlights form the trip:

Though we arrived on a Friday morning before the restaurant was even open, we still waited in line for 90 minutes for a table. It was well worth the it though. We all had breakfast cocktails and split the coffee cake and blueberry crumb cake.

Mama's has, without a doubt, mastered the perfect breakfast, perfectly cooked omelets, potato hash, and sourdough baguettes for topping with your eggs or with the fresh raspberry preserves on every table

The Buena Vista Cafe
Home of the original Irish coffee in San Francisco. A relaxed atmosphere where locals sitting next to you at the bar start up friendly conversation the moment you sit down. The bartenders expertly create the coffees within seconds before you eyes: Two sugar cubes, coffee, whiskey, cream, done.

Zuni Cafe
Go for the chicken but take advantage of everything else it has to offer as well. We began with some delicious cocktails while we waited for our table. For dinner we started with Zuni's bread and the Caesar salad. We split the ricotta gnocchi with goat butter and the lamb sausage with couscous and greek yogurt. And then we got a bottle of the Zuni Cafe Pinot Noir to pair the main course, the chicken. Oh god, the chicken. Its indescribably wonderful, a whole wood-fired oven roasted chicken with juicy savory meat and crispy salty skin sitting atop a grilled bread salad. The crunchy bread, slightly charred from the wood oven and combined with pine nuts, currants, and arugula, soaks up all of the chicken juices and the vinaigrette, becoming the perfect state in-between crispy and soggy. It is the kind of dish that is so simple yet amazing you wonder why all food cant be like that.

The Mill
This is the place to go for the best damn coldbrew and toast made from Josey Baker's marvelous bread. Not a place for those looking for gluten-free options or a light breakfast. The menu offers a few toast selections, simple but carefully crafted. We chose walnut bread with butter and syrup, cinnamon toast, and rye with cream cheese, sea salt, and cracked pepper. The toast is 2-inches thick, a toothsome crust and spongy inside filled with that wonderful San Franciscan sourdough flavor. The pastries were nice too so don't skip on those.

Napa and Sonoma Wineries
We took a tour of wine country with Green Dream Tours and could not have been happier with our tour guide and the experience as a whole. We left highly educated, astounded by the views, and of course a little tipsy so all-in-all it was wonderful. The three wineries we visited were Larson Family Winery, Nicholson Ranch, and Hagafen Cellars. All were friendly, highly accommodating (especially with our tastings having been mere hours the enormous earthquake) and the wines were delicious, as expected.

Tartine Bakery
Beautiful and delicious pastries. We went a little early so we did not have the chance to try the lunch sandwiches but we basically filled our table with as many pastry options as it could fit. The bread pudding, croque monsieur and croissants were suburb!

Not Pictured but highly recommended: 
-Bi-Rite Creamery for ice cream and also a good place for artisanal chocolates
-Ragazza on Divisadero for Pizza (the Bianca, with cream onions, garlic, preserved lemon, provolone and arugula was great)
-The Little Chihuahua for classic mexican
-Magnolias Gastropub for beers and Scotch eggs.