A Couple of Tarts

We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf. ~ Epicurus

Monday, November 27, 2006

To Grandmother's House We Go

I have just returned from the land of palm trees and 70 degree Thanksgivings. Yes, I braved long check-in lines and airport food courts to spend time with the family in Los Angeles. My mother cooked up a storm and really out did herself this year. The turkey was brining all morning and came out of the oven incredibly juicy. She also made her world class mashed potatoes. I don't care what anyone else says, my mom makes the best mashed potatoes ever. There was, of course, cranberry sauce, stuffing (that was very much like a savory bread pudding), sweet potatoes, green beans and carrots. There was only one small last minute change in our plans in that we had to pack up the dinner and take it over my grandma's house instead of eating at my parents' house. Not a big deal, the important part being that we were all together, the rest...just gravy (hee, hee).

A sampling of all the dishes made for a beautifully plated dinner.

My contributions to meal were special requests from mom:
Macadamia Nut Tart

Pecan Pumpkin Pie

And no Thanksgiving at home is complete with out mom's cranberry jello. Very 1950's and very delicious.

Cranberry Jello
1-1# can whole berry cranberry sauce
1-20 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained but reserve juice
1-6 oz package strawberry jello
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
2 cups sour cream
3 T lemon juice
1 cup water

In saucepan combine jello, water, pineapple juice (add enough water so pineapple liquid equals one cup). Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, pour into bowl and add cranberry sauce. Refrigerate until mushy. Add pineapple, sour cream, nuts and lemon juice and pour into 9 x 9 inch serving dish. Refrigerate until firm.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

I am thankful for...

...all the wonderful people I am lucky enough to have in my life. They make every day just that much better.

Happy Thanksgiving!
NYC Tart

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Roller Derby!

Last Saturday I watched the Queens of Pain demolish the Manhattan Mayhem in the championship match of Gotham Girls Roller Derby. I just discovered roller derby this summer and have been three times. It's fun and exciting with just enough necessary roughness to make you gasp once in a while. Roller derby is done for the season, but keep up to date on their website to find out when it is on again.

I met the girls at Junior's in Brooklyn for dinner and dessert before the showdown. It was my first time having their famous cheesecake. I am not an aficionado, but I enjoyed the simplicity of the creamy wedge. Instead of the crumb crust, they use what looks like a thin layer of cake. I also loved the ambiance of the restaurant. There were lots of families and teens out for the night. It felt very local. You just knew some of the people there came every week for dinner. And who can beat the neon signs!

86 Flatbush Avenue Extension at Dekalb Avenue
Brooklyn, New York
(718) 852-5257

Saturday, November 18, 2006

quelle belle saison

I am also guilty of neglecting my post writing and secretly hoping Miss K. would fill the void. I guess she has been busy with nefarious activities.....

Are you ready for the holiday season? Each year, it seems to appear out of nowhere and the stress of travel, gift giving and establishing tradition consumes you for a month or so. Every year, I try to simplify the process, but somehow I end up doing the opposite. We place so much effort on the expectation, so I propose we simply enjoy this time with our family and friends. Food and wine certainly helps in this task. The fondest memories I have of Thanksgiving have been the untraditional ones. One year, in San Francisco, my friend gathered 30 or so friends for a virtual feast. Everyone was instructed to bring their own version of cranberry sauce, stuffing et al, thankfully no green bean casserole made an appearance. The result was a lovely experience where everyone contributed and the atmosphere was relaxed.

This year I will not make the mistake of trying to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner. Although the gathering will be small, only 4 of us, the work has been evenly distributed. I am in charge of les legumes et les desserts. Although turkey is not on the menu, I fell a need to make some Thanksgiving inspired sweets. I have successfully overcome my pie phobia, and with Dorie Greenspan as inspiration, a pumpkin-pecan pie is in order. Je crois qu'elle est la panachee. Check out this month's Saveur for this delightful dessert that combines two holiday favorites. Also, not to be missed, an article written by the late R. W. Apple .

P.S. I hope to never outgrow A Charlie Brown Thankgiving

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Shackin' Up

Gosh! I'm sorry I have been posting so sporadically these days! Apparently life (work, school, and a little bit of a social life) has filled my dance card the past few months. But that does not mean I haven't been cooking, baking and eating well. (Unfortunately, it does mean exercise and enjoying some this beautiful weather has taken a back seat for a moment.)

There has been a big change in my life...my apartment is now our apartment, as RFC and I have taken the plunge and decided to live together. We now have a cozy little home, that has amazingly absorbed much of his belongings. It is an adjustment, but one whole heartedly made, and the payoff is having someone special to come home to every night.

We celebrated our new living arrangements recently by having a couple friends over to see what my, oops, I mean our apartment looks like with more furniture (like dressers!). And we used the gathering as an excuse to buy lots of goodies at an Italian deli we discovered down the block. Sorriso's has been around for about thirty years and everything we have tried has been delicious, from their sandwiches to their capanota. This time we bought a selection of Italian meats: proscuitto, capicola, and salami, along with their housemade mozzarella (it's creamy and has a lightly salty exterior).

I also took out of the freezer a jar of Fig Sesame Jam I had made a few weeks previously. Yes, I did give jam making another try. It paired wonderfully with manchego cheese and crackers. I finished it off later in the week with the leftover meats. One highlight of the evening was RFC's baked ziti. He made his own sauce with fresh oregano and a bit of spice from hot peppers. The spiciness was even more present the next day. With his permission, here is his recipe. Lucky us had so much leftover, there is a smaller tray in the freezer ready to go.

Baked Ziti
One pound ricotta cheese, preferably whole milk
1/4 cup fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon each of salt and fresh ground black pepper
one egg
1 package of (I think it is a pound also) of regular mozzarella cheese, part skim is fine
1 pound of ziti (I prefer large rigatoni)

Prepare cheese mixture by mixing ricotta, oregano (pulled off the stems), and salt and pepper. It is also nice to add 1/4-1/2 cup pecorino-romano grated cheese. Let sit at room temp while cooking pasta. The mozzarella will be used to create the crunchy brown top. Cut the cheese into pencil sized bars.

Next, cook pasta about 3/4 of the recommended cooking time, so the pasta is pre-aldente. The pasta will continue to cook while baking in the oven. Preheat oven to 375 when you drain the pasta. Pour the pasta into your baking dish (about 9 x 13). Add cheese mixture to the pasta and slowly add sauce till you have a nice pinkish color, that is pretty wet. Once the ziti is mixed, cover it with sauce on top. Lay the mozzarella rods out in any kind of pattern on top of the sauce, I usually do a cross-hatch, but it all melts together anyway. Bake for anywhere from 45-60 mins. Depending on you oven, you may have to cover the top with foil for the first 30 mins. Check on the dish every five mins starting at 45 mins. Top should get brown.

1 large can of whole tomatoes (roma/plum from italy)
2 large cans of crushed tomatoes (roma/plum from Italy)
1/4 cup fresh garlic, sliced thin
1/4 cup fresh oregano pulled from the stems
enough olive oil to cover bottom of pot
3 grilled cherry peppers, from a jar, the ones I used were hot
teaspoon salt
fresh black pepper
Add oil, garlic, and oregano to medium-large saucepan. Saute on medium flame till garlic starts to become translucent. Add tomatoes and crush whole tomatoes by hand, puncture and then crush, otherwise the tomato erupt all over the place. Make sure to use liquid that is with whole tomatoes. Add cherry peppers. I usually half the peppers, de-seed and coarsely chop them. Bring to a boil on high heat, and reduce heat to a simmer. Stir, look, and taste the sauce for the next one or two hours. You may season to taste at this point with salt and pepper. You can be creative at this point. I add carrot slices to make a less acidic sauce. Grilled eggplant it also nice.

44-16 30th Avenue
Astoria, New York
(718) 728-4392

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

My Apple Pie Can Beat Up Your Apple Pie

I'm not one to normally toot my own horn, but I have to report on a moment of triumph I had by association recently. A friend happens to work in a very foodie workplace. The subject of apple pie came up in a discussion within her department and of course someone claimed to make the best apple pie. Then another person claimed to make the best apple pie, from his grandmother's recipe. My friend, who has never made a pie, much less an apple pie, in her life, broke in and said her apple pie could wipe the floor with their apple pies. More trash talking ensued until finally it was decided there would be a bake off and blind taste test by another department the following Monday.

I got the call Sunday afternoon. It was my friend calling to see if I had a recipe I could walk her through. And I do, one that is pretty simple and never lets me down. We talked it over and during the process of her making it I got a couple more phone calls with quick questions and at the end a photo via cell phone of it just out of the oven.

And Monday afternoon....a text message that she won "Best Overall." (While I am patting myself on the back, I think my friend must be a natural at the baking and has been harboring a hidden talent for pie making.)

"Best Overall" Apple Pie
Easy Pie Dough
1/2 pound butter, chilled

2 cups all purpose flour
pinch of salt
about 1/4 to 1/3 cup ice water

Cut butter into small pieces. Put flour and salt in a bowl. Add butter. I don't have my kitchen aid right now, so I use my fingers to rub the butter into the flour until there are no large chunks and it looks a little like corn meal. Add ice water a little at a time, tossing with the flour/butter mixture, until it starts to come together. Don't knead the dough or add too much water, only enough to get it to stick together. Divide it into two disks, one a little bigger than the other and refridgerate for at least an hour. This is definitely enough for a lattice top pie and probably enough for a double crust if you are careful when rolling it out.

Apple Filling

6 - 7 cups peeled, sliced apples, like Granny Smith
3/4 cup brown sugar

pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 T lemon juice

Toss together and pour into pie shell. Mound in the middle, as it will bake down. Lay top crust over or weave lattice and crimp edges. Brush with an egg yolk/water or egg yolk/cream glaze and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until top is golden brown and a skewer inserted meets very little resistance. If the top browns too quickly, lay a piece of tin foil over the top.

**This recipe came to me through my work at the sadly no-more Little Dipper Bakery in San Francisco.

pain d'epice

I blame my family for my obsession with food. It is their fault that I am working in the restaurant industry, and the fact that I always make way too much food for dinner. My brother holds a large part of this responsibility. He introduced me to foods, without exaggeration, that changed my life-mole and Kashi. I eat a Kashi product everyday and I wish I could eat mole everyday. (in the form of an Orale Orale burrito please) I would like to give a shout-out, on his birthday, to him and his lovely family.

My family lives on the West Coast, so it makes celebrations like birthdays a bit sad for me. Eventhough birthdays loose their luster as we grow older, we can always look forward to the birthday cake. Old school favorites come to mind. Who can resist a Carvel Ice cream cake? Drawing inspiration from the fall season and the beauty of the foliage, I would like to offer a gingerbread cake. It may seem a bit unorthodox, but paired with a cream cheese frosting it makes a delightful alternative to a mundane sheet cake. The aroma of the spices and deep caramel color will get you in the mood for the upcoming holidays and cold weather.

Cette recette est vraiment simple mais ca gout mieux le lendemain.

Gingerbread (yield one 8-inch cake or 9 cupcakes)

1 2/3 C. all purpose flour
2 t. baking soda
2 t. ground ginger
1 t cinnamon
1 /4 t. ground cloves
pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 t. salt
3 oz. butter
1/2 C. packed dark brown sugar
1/2 C. molasses
1 egg
2/3 C. boiling water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease or spray an 8-inch cakepan. In a large mixing boel, sift the dry ingredients. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Lower the speed and add the molasses scraping down the sides. Add the egg and mix until combined. Add the flour in 3 portions, alternating with the boiling water. Beat the ingredients just until they are evenly incorporated. Do not overmix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the top of the cake springs back when touched, about 30-35 minutes. Allow the cake to cool in the pan then invert it onto a rack to finish cooling.

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