Thursday, September 30, 2010

Autumn is for Apples

Apple season was early this year and I wanted to make sure we picked our fill as soon as possible. As a child I had gone apple picking every year and my family tried to find as many apple recipes as humanly possible. From apple lasagna to apple salsa and apple fritters - we have tried almost everything. Although, nothing says Autumn like a warm apple dessert.

As a freshman in college I actually managed to go apple picking and then coerce the dorm RA into letting me use his kitchen to make 4 apple pies and 2 cobblers. But once the smoke detector went off, he kicked me out and of course I had to leave one of the pies with him as restitution.
When I was living in Germany, late September was just about the time when homesickness hit me hard. I needed a boost; something to give me the comforts of home. A friend’s parents were coming to visit him in Rome for Thanksgiving and had invited all of our college friends who were abroad down to a home cooked meal for Thanksgiving. Finding a turkey at local markets in Rome is no easy feat, nor is cooking a Thanksgiving meal for 8 on a European apartment stove. I tried to think of what I could bring from Germany to make that dinner happen a little more easily. It was also my friend’s mother’s birthday and that was the only excuse I needed to make an apple dessert and bring it with me.
Pie crusts are not necessarily my forte, and since I had just bought my German cookbook, I figured I could make an Apfelkuchen. Apfelkuchen is literally Apple Cake, but they tend to resemble more of a pie or crumble rather than what we think of as a cake. So I figured this would fit in nicely with our Thanksgiving abroad theme, assuming it made it down to Rome in once piece.
Just like carrying raw or unprocessed foods into America is frowned upon, apparently the same rules apply within Europe too. In the middle of the night, there was loud knocking on the sleeper car door with the police asking for me. And if any of you know me, I am (1) a very sound sleeper, and (2) terrified at being woken up in the middle of the night. So when one of my fellow travelers did wake me up, I was so shaken I could only speak to the police in German – even though they addressed me in English.
         “Are you Jamie Daggon?”
         “You are American, yes?”
         “Ja.” Well, you get the idea. When the policeman asked if I was carrying any foods or produce with me, I told him ‘nein’. In my memory this policeman was wary of my response – most likely because I refused to speak in English, but nevertheless, I got away with it.
The Thanksgiving dinner was a huge comfort and impressive by Italian and American standards. It was certainly one I will never forget, and my friend’s mom to this day still remembers me sneaking her birthday apfelkuchen over borders and through customs for her. If you need a cake that is easily snuck anywhere, I recommend this one.
As adapted from Backen by Marianne Kaltenbach and Friedrich-Wilhelm Ehlert
The crust on this is what sets it apart from other pies or American apple desserts. It has a thick, rich crust that plays well against the apples. I typically prefer a sweet, tart, firm baking apple for this – one that will hold its shape. But when I made this the other day, I used Gingergolds which melt into an applesauce type of texture. It was pleasantly smooth and against the hazelnuts and crust worked really well. So, just use your favorite apples in this and it should turn out pretty well.

The Measurements here are in grams, and I have not converted them as that never really works out well.

For the Crust
200 g flour
100 g butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
50 g sugar
1 pinch of salt
Zest of 1 lemon
1 small egg

For the Filling
3 Tb crushed hazelnuts
2 pounds apples, cored, peeled and sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
2 Tb raisins (optional)
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp allspice
3 Tb sugar

For the Streusel Topping
100 g butter, at room temperature
150 g sugar
½ Tb cinnamon
1 Tb Vanilla sugar (or 2 tsp sugar and 1 tsp vanilla)
150 g flour

For the crust, place the flour on a clean surface and add butter. Begin to work butter into flour, when you reach pea sized pieces, make a well in the center and add the egg, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Work the egg into the flour mixture and stop when thoroughly incorporated. The dough will still be a bit crumbly. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least an hour.

Lay a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of a 9” spring form pan. Preheat the oven to 392° (this is an exact conversion so 200°C). Once the dough has rested, roll it out on a clean surface. Place in the spring form pan, pressing the crust up the sides about ½” an inch. Sprinkle the crushed hazelnuts over the bottom of the crust. Toss the sliced apples with the lemon juice, and then layer in the pan. Pour remaining juice over apples. Sprinkle sugar, raisins (if using) and spices over the apples evenly.

For the streusel topping, combine flour, sugar, and spices together in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter until small clumps form. Sprinkle this topping over the apples. Bake the apfelkuchen for about 35 minutes, until golden brown. You may need to cover the top of the cake with a loose piece of foil to prevent the streusel from turning too brown. Allow to cool about 15 minutes and remove the sides of te spring form pan. Serve with vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

1700's Soup

It is finally time for some soup. Of course when I made this soup, I managed to heat up the house enough that it was almost too warm to have soup. But nevertheless, we pushed on and ate it. This soup deserved to be eaten, and I’m glad Joe and I did. This soup is one of the first things I ever learned how to cook on my own. I make it at least once a year and always for a family gathering of some sort. I am not usually a huge fan of soups. But this soup, this soup is fantastic. I’m not just saying it to encourage you to keep reading (well, maybe I am a little.)
This mystical soup I am alluding to is Potato Leek Soup. Depending on where in the country you live, leeks can be hard to come by. But here in the northeast, leeks are a staple of cool weather cooking. And from my previous post about leeks, I think you know how I feel about them.
When I was 12 my family took a vacation down to Colonial Williamsburg. After reading all of the American Girl series up to that point, I was so excited to go there it almost hurt. And being there did not disappoint. To this day I love living history. I even applied to the College of William and Mary just so I could get a costume and work in Williamsburg. Every time I coerce, or trick Joe into visiting some place with living history my look would be best described as ‘deer-in-headlights with goofy grin’ as I wander around thinking about tackling people for their bonnets. Ok, now that I have hopefully not scared you away with my freakish love of all things living history – back to the soup.
My family had lunch at the taverns and inns around Williamsburg, but this soup came from the cafeteria in the visitor’s center. It was amazing. I loved it so much in fact, that we bought a Williamsburg cookbook just for that recipe. The way I remember it tasting was not how the recipe described it, so we did some tweaking. I have made this recipe so many times, that when I pull out the original recipe it is caked with potato starch and splattered broth, so that it is barely legible.
My only unsuccessful attempts at this recipe were one time when I was 13, and I think that was because I was 13, and everything is pretty unsuccessful then. And the other was when I tried to make it at the bar I worked for in college, and let me be clear – pancake mix is not an acceptable stand in for thickening agents. Although if pancake soup is something you might like, don’t let me dissuade you.
This soup can be light and refined or thick and hearty. I prefer somewhere in the middle. Please use amounts of vegetables to your discretion, adding or subtracting the amount you prefer. You can also freeze this soup very well, which is helpful as I cannot make less than one metric ton of soup at a time.

Potato Leek Soup
As adapted from Favorite Meals from Williamsburg – A Menu Cookbook ©1993
The key to thickening this soup is to add mashed potatoes at the very end – here is where you can make the soup as thick as you like. In the recipe below I ask you to make mashed potatoes from scratch, but this recipe works equally well with instant mashed potatoes (and I won’t tell or judge, if you use them) – just be careful – instant mashed potatoes take about a minute to come to their full thickening power.

4 c. chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you are going vegetarian)
1 ½ c. potatoes ( ½ c for the mashed potatoes should be peeled and diced, but the ones for the soup can just be diced)
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced (optional)
¼ c. butter
3 Tbs. flour
2 c. milk, at room temperature (use whatever you have on hand, the creamier the milk = the creamier your soup)
Salt and Pepper

Start boiling your potatoes for mashed potatoes. After about 10 minutes, start checking for doneness. Once they are soft, mash with a splash of milk, salt and pepper and set aside.

While your potatoes are boiling, place in a large pot the chicken stock, onions, potatoes and leeks. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Then reduce heat to low until the roux is ready to add.

To make the roux, melt butter in a sauce pan and then stir in flour. Cook until the mixture begins to thicken, stirring constantly about 3 minutes. Then slowly pour in the milk, stirring to combine the roux. Bring to a simmer, stirring regularly until the mixture starts to thicken.

Add milk and roux mixture in with the stock and vegetables. Bring to a simmer and then begin to add the mashed potatoes, stirring so that now clumps form. Continue to simmer for another few minutes until the mashed potatoes are completely incorporated, or you reach your desired thickness.

Keep soup warm on low heat until ready to serve.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Small Bites

This past weekend we had Joe’s parents staying with us. This meant an opportunity to go a little crazy at the farmer’s market. I whipped out my check book and wallet every time I saw something that looked interesting, that we hadn’t had before, or was small.

This last piece of information was really only brought to my attention recently. And although it is true, I didn’t realize it until someone else pointed it out. Realizing a facet of your personality is obvious and a bit strange to others may come as a surprise. But in an effort of full disclosure; I like small things - small children, small houses, small flowers, etc. and small foods in particular.
I discovered this is my weakness at the farmer’s market. If you have an abundance of tiny sized produce – send them my way! I bought mini-cantaloupes, pinky-finger-sized potatoes, cherry tomatoes and anything else I could get my hands on. I don’t know if this stems from not having a doll house as a child or what, but I love tiny foods. I also particularly enjoy small serving dishes. I do not mean, however, proper serving sized plates – I mean tiny pots and pans to cook individual servings in. Ramekins, for instance, constantly beckon me from the shelves of cookware stores.
When I was at a department store with my parents once, my dad offered to get me some utensil or cooking tool as a Christmas gift. I then wandered around in a haze of glee until I saw a set of 4 little red calphalon sauce pots. I said “Ooooh Dad! Look at these!”

“Cool, what do you use those for?” he responded.

“Who cares!”
(this elicited a chuckle from the man trailing his wife in the same department, who chimed in with a - ‘aren’t they all like that?’)

This weekend, I came to the conclusion that I may have pushed it a bit too far, when Joe’s father commented to him that I must really like small things. This seemed like a dirty habit of mine somehow, that I should probably monitor – especially for guests.
Nevertheless, the salad I made for our BBQ on the last day of their visit was pretty good, despite my propensity for tiny vegetables. This is a good way to use everything left over that you hadn’t already used in the week. If you have left over cooked vegetables, throw them into the mix. And if you can’t find tiny vegetables, I highly recommend cutting your boring regular sized produce into cute tiny pieces.
End of Summer Salad

The dressing for this salad came from a Thomas Keller recipe. I will probably destroy the original intent of his, but this can be used with whatever mild vinegar you happen to like, including all those flavored vinegars you have on hand.

1 lb small fingerling potatoes (or boiling potato, cut into uniform size)
1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (the more colorful, the better)
1 lb assorted summer beans, cut into ½ inch chunks (green, wax, purple, Italian, Broad etc.)
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Tb white wine vinegar (or other light vinegar)
3 Tb olive oil
1 Tb assorted fresh chopped herbs (basil, parsley, rosemary etc.)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook for about 10-15 minutes, testing for doneness often. The time they take to cook depends on how cute I mean small they are.

About 1 minute before the potatoes have finished, add in your summer beans. Once they have all turned a bright color, and are still firm drain all the vegetables.

In the bottom of a large mixing bowl, place onions and garlic. Add drained, hot vegetables on top, and then toss in cherry tomatoes. Stir lightly to combine. Pour vinegar and oil over all vegetables, adding more oil if the salad looks a bit dry. Season with herbs, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.

This salad can be served warm, or cool but is good either way.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Waiting for Watermelon

Last week I complained a little about missing some standard summer favorites – well the time has come to redeem those recipes. As summer seems to have let go on the strangle hold of humidity and 90+ temperatures, I still want to make all those summer foods.

A few years ago, while my family was vacationing at the Jersey Shore – and before you start chuckling to yourself and wondering if “the situation” was there, let me point a few things out. New Jersey has quite a bit of coastline, and not all of it is filled with inappropriate, drunken partying. A lot of it is, but not all. Where my family vacations is actually the dry town of Ocean City. Yes, dry town. No alcohol is sold anywhere on the island, including restaurants and stores. Of course immediately after crossing any bridge off the island, there are massive (and plentiful) liquor stores. The dry-ness just lessens the likely-hood of running into drunken guidos/ettes on the boardwalk.
Ok, now that that is all cleared up – when my family gets together at the shore, we all go out for a nice dinner. One year we went to a restaurant just off the island (right next to the massive liquor store) and were pleasantly surprised by the interesting flavors and contemporary dishes. My mother and I had shared a savory watermelon salad which turned out to be one of those recipes we always talk about but have never tried to make.
Until now. With all the heat this summer, it’s strange to think that I did not try this earlier. But even for all those blistering days, it seemed to take tomatoes and melons just as long to get here as any other year. So now that they have arrived and since Joe and I had a Labor Day BBQ to attend, I thought I would give this a shot.

Watermelon and Tomato Salad
I would recommend using seedless watermelon for this recipe, or it might just take you an extra half an hour to de-seed the watermelon you did get. For the pepper, you want to see big flecks of pepper on each piece of fruit in this salad, so don’t be shy, it should be a main flavor component. I have seen other recipes that call for vinegar or feta cheese. I wanted to keep this very light and opted out of those ingredients. Also, I don’t find that this recipe tastes any better the next day – it gets very watery, so try to make only what you will consumer that day.

Makes 8 servings

3 c. cubed seedless watermelon
2 c. heirloom tomatoes (the more interesting the color, the better the salad will look), diced
½ c. thinly sliced red onion
Juice of 1 lemon
Fresh Cracked pepper – LOTS!
Fresh basil (or mint), chopped

Combine all of the ingredients together and season as needed with more salt, pepper and lemon juice. Let the salad sit in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. I think ½ to 1 hour before is best to let the flavors combine and chill completely.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Summer Sweatin'

If you live in the north east, you will know what I mean by this post’s title. Just when I was getting used to the idea of fall, and all the lovely fall flavored things I could start making – Wham! 95°+ with unbearable humidity hits us once again. And after nice cool breezes and earlier sunsets I was dreaming of cinnamon, apples, stews and braises. But all of those dreams were dashed away with this stifling close to summer.

So I changed my thought patterns and picked back up where I left off with summer grilling. I realized Joe and I had not made a lot of the staples we have in summers past. There has been no eggplant for instance this year. Maybe I was waiting for the perfect specimen from the farmer’s market, or maybe I simply overlooked it. There has also been no peach, plum or other stone fruit desserts which makes me feel like I have missed out on something this year.
I have neither a stone fruit dessert nor a grilled eggplant recipe for you today, instead I have lamb. And tzatziki. I love the combination of those two. I did make lamb skewers with yogurt sauce a few weeks ago, but didn’t share the recipe because I didn’t think much of it. In hind sight, however, the yogurt sauce went over well, and these lamb skewers are a bit different.
I had also made these for a friendly food competition last winter while sharing a small kitchen with three other competitors. Although no clear winner was ever determined (at least not to my knowledge) I like some of the reactions I got to this dish. Plus, tzatziki always seems so exotic that it can be a real treat to make at home. I have been hitting the yogurt sauce hard this year - if I could put tzatziki on breakfast cereal I would.
This recipe seems long, but it is really very simple and not too time consuming. They can look a bit phallic if you let them, but if you can overlook that, or reshape the meat to something that is more rated G, then I think you will really enjoy this recipe. Plus, you can get everything ready, then hand it to your grill master and stand in the slightly air conditioned comfort of your kitchen and watch as someone else sweats and cooks for you.

Lamb Koftas
As adapted from Jamie Oliver “Jamie at Home”

This recipe is easily adaptable to what you have on hand. It is important to let the meat rest after you have shaped it onto the skewers, and then to oil them prior to grilling. If you do not want to skewer them, simply shape them into long sausage shapes sans the skewer.

Serve this with pita or other flat bread, or as the topping to a salad as Jamie Oliver suggests in his recipe.

For the koftas
1 ½ lbs. ground lamb (or half lamb and half pork)
½ c. breadcrumbs
¼ c. whole milk
1 egg
½ c. shelled, and crushed pistachios
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. coriander seeds, crushed
½ tsp. fennel seeds
1 Tb fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 Tb garlic, finely chopped (about one large clove)
2 Tb red onion, finely chopped
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Yogurt Sauce
½ c. plain greek style yogurt
2 tsp. garlic, finely chopped
1 Tb. Red onion, finely chopped
3 Tb. Cucumber, cored, peeled and finely chopped
1 Tb. Fresh mint, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Red Onion garnish (optional)
½ red onion, sliced very thinly
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tb white wine vinegar
Salt to taste

For the Tzatziki
Combine all the ingredients, and let rest in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

For the Red Onions
These make an interesting addition and since you are already chopping onion, I like to throw this is as well. Combine all the ingredients and toss thoroughly. Let stand at room temperature until ready to serve.

For the Koftas
Combine the breadcrumbs with the milk, adding more milk if necessary. You want the consistency to be that of a thick baby cereal. Then add ground lamb, egg, garlic, onion, spices, parsley and lemon zest and work together until everything is mixed well.

Shape the lamb mixture onto skewers into oblong shapes that are roughly equal in size. Once skewered, place into refrigerator to keep cool until ready to cook.

Prepare grill, and oil the rack. Just before cooking the skewers, oil each kofta to keep from sticking. Grill the skewers for about 4 minutes on each side, or until the meat is cooked all the way through.

Serve with warmed pita, fresh parsley, tzatziki, and red onions. Serves about 4.