Posted on October 17, 2014
This time of year is so, so hectic (though we probably always feel like our lives are crazy busy, right?). When I think of an easy fall dinner, I often base its viability on a simple pre-trick-or-treating test. Basically, is it something that could be easily made and quickly served to a family (friends included!) before heading out for a wonderfully chilly evening of trick-or-treating and other Halloween fun? To pass this test, the dish must be: 1. Easy. 2. Reasonably quick and require little prep work. 3. Have some sort of protein/substance to it to combat the gallons of candy that will inevitably follow. Look no further, friends! This puff pastry with ham and Gruyère is the stuff that Halloween nights were made of.
Yes, puff pastry is something you could theoretically make yourself, but even Ina Garten says she buys it at the store, so until some super ambitious day in the future, I’m following suit. Trader Joe’s has a version out now for the holidays with zero soy (huzzah!), so we’re stocking up. Because, guys, the real truth of the matter is you never know when you’ll need to wrap something in pastry dough.
The recipe for this is hardly much of a recipe at all. Roll out some puff pastry, slather on some mustard, arrange some ham and cheese on top, and then top it off with the other piece of pastry dough. Add an eggs wash, and you’re done. Even without much effort, puff pastry has an amazing way of elevating something super basic to something that feels a little fancier. Truth be told, I think this dish especially fits my vision of a Halloween dinner because it feels like a more grown-up version of the crescent roll-wrapped mummy dogs that frequent Halloween spreads. You remember those, right? They’re a festive spin on pigs in a blanket, no doubt. But something about ham and Gruyère in a puff pastry seems a bit more elegant than a hot dog in pop-and-bake dough, even though they are most definitely related. Cousins, at least. (And not to knock the mummy dogs. Add a mustard face, and those things are delish.) I’d happily serve this to company, even on a non-Halloween night.
Puff Pastry with Ham and Gruyère
From Ina Garten
• 1 package (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
• 2 tablespoons mustard (Dijon, horseradish, whatever you fancy)
• ¼ pound black forest ham, sliced
• ½ pound Gruyère cheese, sliced
• 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, and place a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan.
Lay 1 sheet of puff pastry on a floured board or countertop, and carefully roll it out to about 10 by 12 inches. Place it on a sheet pan and brush it with the mustard, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Layer the ham on top of that, leaving the same border, followed by the cheese. Brush the border with the egg wash.
Roll the second sheet of puff pastry out on the floured board or countertop to the same 10 by 12 inches. Place the second sheet on top of the filled pastry, and line up the edges as best you can. Cut the edges straight with a small knife if you need to, and then press together lightly. You can use the tines of a fork to help seal the edges in place. Brush the top with egg wash, and cut a few slits in the top so steam can escape.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until pastry is puffed and golden brown. Allow it to cool for a few minutes. Serve hot or warm.
[Note: I actually halved this recipe, and it worked out really well. Instead of using two sheets of puff pastry, I just used one, rolled out to 10 by 12 inches and then cut in half (making one sheet the top layer and one sheet the bottom). Use half the amount of filling, and bake for about 20 minutes. Results should be the same!]
I think there are some pretty great spins you could probably take with this. Green apples and Brie maybe? Or leftover Thanksgiving turkey, Gruyère and cranberry sauce? What do you think?
Posted on September 29, 2014
Like any other self-respecting, seasonally driven Pinterester, I’ve spent the better part of the past month searching the interwebs for fall-filled recipes and holiday décor ideas. There were the pumpkin spice latte copycat recipes, the “12 ways to decorate with gourds” kind of posts and plenty of outfits involving riding boots and scarves. And I know I’m not the only one. That “Holidays and Events” board on Pinterest is hopping.
Among the smorgasbord of fall-appropriate pins were also a slew of ideas for what to do with the mountains of apples I knew we’d bring home from apple picking this year. This time around, we went for the big bag (about 20 pounds), so as much as we all like eating those guys just plain, it’s taken a little planning to make sure they all go to good use. Homemade applesauce uses a ton of apples, and this cake uses a ton of homemade applesauce. Oh, and it’s topped with caramel, so… yes.
For those of you who like a dense, rich pumpkin cake kind of recipe, this cake is an amazing alternative. Its texture is very much the same. And it’s appley, spice-filled and tastes like fall. It keeps really well, too, for at least three days in an airtight container (it might keep even longer, but our tummies didn’t wait to find out).
And because I had even more applesauce leftover from the big batch I made in the Crock-Pot last week, there’s a second applesauce spice cake cooling on the counter as we speak. Huzzah! It really is that good, guys.
Applesauce Spice Cake
Adapted slightly from Merrill Stubbs, Food52.com
For the cake:
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 2 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
• 1 rounded teaspoon ground ginger
• ¼ rounded teaspoon cloves
• 2 large eggs
• 1 cup sugar
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 1 ½ cups unsweetened (preferably homemade) applesauce
• 2/3 cup canola oil
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
For the caramel glaze:
• 4 tablespoons salted butter, cut into chunks
• ½ cup packed light brown sugar
• 1/3 cup heavy cream
• 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
• ¾ to 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F, and butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves, and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs with both sugars until light. Then add the applesauce, oil and vanilla, and mix until smooth.
Using a spatula, fold in the dry ingredients (careful not to overmix!). Pour the batter into the Bundt pan, and bake for about 45 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake for 10 minutes in the pan on a rack before turning it out and cooling completely on the rack. Wait until the cake is cool to make the caramel glaze.
The make the glaze, put a piece of foil or paper under the cooling rack to catch any drips before you start. Then, put the butter in a medium saucepan with the brown sugar, cream and salt over medium heat. Bring it to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute, and then pull it off the heat.
Leave the pan to cool for a couple of minutes, and then slowly whisk in the (sifted!) powdered sugar until you have a thick but pourable consistency (you might not need all the sugar). If the mixture seems too thick, add a splash of cream to thin it out a little. Immediately pour the glaze over the cake, moving slowly and evenly to cover as much of the cake as possible. Let the glaze set before serving the cake.
Posted on September 16, 2014
I think most people, buried in the to-do lists of their day-to-day lives, probably have some sort of pipe dream, an “I’ll do this someday when life slows down and the timing is right” sort of thing, that they keep coming back to when day jobs get too busy, overwhelming or stressful, and they just feel like throwing in the towel and running in a totally different direction. For Jared and I, that pipe dream involves moving to some sleepy coastal town and opening a great little coffee shop/bakery/bookstore/art gallery, where we spend our days covered in flour (me), drinking copious amounts of coffee (him) and chatting with customers about Hemingway, Dickens and the latest local artist whose work adorns our walls.
I’ll admit, on a lot of days, that dream sounds pretty awesome. Peaceful. Slower. Quiet. But of course, there are dreams, and there is real life. There are real jobs to do, real bills to pay, real needs to fill. Oh, and there are those pesky student loans, too. Student loans for educations that, though certainly fueled and arguably achieved through mountains of coffee and books, have very little to do with running a small business that caters to such things. So for now, we keep dreaming. And that’s probably a good thing.
So we can’t have the pipe dream now. But you know what? I have a fridge full of fruit that needs to be eaten and enough butter, flour and sugar to guarantee a happy day. So I bake. There’s something about making tarts, especially simple, rustic fruit tarts, that makes me feel a lot closer to that someday dream. I don’t know that I want to roll cookies out all day or wait for yeasty dough to rise, but tarts? Tarts I could spend every morning on. I love the simple dough, I love the flexibility in the filling, and I love that no matter how or what you squish inside that little mold, it comes out looking delicious, beautiful and intentional. I only made four for this recipe, and I would have happily made 50. In fact, maybe I should further specify that highly specific dream of ours: coffee shop/bakery/bookstore/art gallery/destination tart shop. Yep, that sounds perfect.
This recipe is pretty forgiving, so feel free to experiment with the fruit filling. Just add a tablespoon or so more flour if your fruit is especially juicy. And for the crust, you can easily sub out almond extract for the vanilla or switch up the oils (the original recipe recommends ¼ cup canola oil and ¼ cup olive oil). Just top the finished product with a good-sized dollop of whipped cream, and you’ll be in good shape.
Blueberry Nectarine Tarts
Adapted from Amanda Hesser, Food52.com
• 1 ½
cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• ¾ teaspoons kosher salt
• ¾ cups plus 1 teaspoon sugar
• ½ cup canola oil
• 2 tablespoons whole milk
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
• 4 small ripe nectarines
• a handful of fresh blueberries
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 ½ cups flour, ½ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar. In a small bowl, whisk together the canola oil, milk and vanilla. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture, and mix gently with a fork, just enough to dampen (you don’t want to overwork the dough!).
Divide the dough among your small tart pans (I used four 4-inch pans and had a little more dough than I needed; six 3-inch pans would probably be perfect. You could also use one 11-inch tart pan). Use your hands to pat out the dough so it covers the bottom of the pans, pushing it up the sides until it reaches the top. It should be about 1/8-inch thick all around. Trim away the excess dough.
In another bowl, combine ¾ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, ¼ teaspoon salt and the butter. Use your fingers to pinch the butter into the dry ingredients until crumbly.
Starting on the outside, arrange the nectarines overlapping in a concentric circle over the crust, and fill in the extra space however you like to snuggly fit in as many slices as you can. Squeeze the blueberries in next to the nectarines, dividing them evenly among the tarts.
Sprinkle the crumbly butter mixture over top (it will seem like a lot), and bake the tarts for 30 to 35 minutes, until the crust is starting to brown and the fruit is bubbly. (A larger tart will likely take a five to 10 minutes longer). Cool tarts on a rack. Serve them warm or room temperature with lots and lots of whipped cream.
Posted on July 3, 2014
We eat strawberries nearly every day of the year in our house because Beany and I can’t get enough of them, but summer strawberries are by far the best of the bunch. They are amazingly juicy, amazingly sweet and amazingly not $5 a quart right now. So strike while those fields are hot!
In honor of this grand strawberry season, here are five of my favorite strawberry-filled desserts, perfect for your Fourth of July cookout.
Happy Fourth of July, pals!
Posted on June 28, 2014
Days start at about 5 in the morning here, and from then until bedtime, it feels pretty nonstop. There’s breakfast to make, a toddler to entertain, a baby to change and a puppy to feed — all before 7 a.m. I know this isn’t unusual for parents with young kids. Or any kids for that matter. I spend the day racing the clock, juggling nap time and work time, proofing a magazine while bouncing a baby on my knee. It’s amazingly wonderful in so many ways, though I’d be lying if I said I don’t have those moments when I wonder how on earth I’ll make it to bedtime. A life spent with small children by its very nature is always a bit out of control, and no matter how organized and enthusiastic I try to be, things usually hit the fan somewhere between 5 and 7 p.m. It’s an inevitable scramble, and it can certainly wear you down. But then there’s always that time at the end of the day, when I’m snuggling Beany on the couch or rocking Bear in my arms, when I think to myself, “I could live in the moment forever.”
Long days, short years. That’s what they say, isn’t it? I’m learning more and more, with every new morning I wake up as a mom, how important it is to grasp the simple moments when I can. Kids are only little for so long. You know this. I know this. But you know what? They don’t know this. At least not in the same way we do. So it’s our job to help them make the most of this time and make the most of being little, when the world is big and everything is new and picking a strawberry straight from the ground makes them prouder than their tiny bodies can even express. So this summer, despite any busyness from home, work or life in a big city, we’re going to try our best at keeping things simple. Because it turns out that the simple memories, the simple adventures and the simple recipes are the ones we keep coming back to.
Angel Food Cake
Adapted just slightly from The Essential New York Times Cookbook (Hesser, p. 742)
• 1 cup cake flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 1/4 cups sugar
• 10 large egg whites
• pinch of salt
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar.
In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and salt until the mixture is foamy. Add the remaining 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar a few tablespoons at a time, and continue beating until the mixture holds soft peaks. Fold in half the dry ingredients until the mixture is smooth. Then fold in the remaining dry ingredients. Fold in the vanilla.
Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan, and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the top is golden and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven, and invert it immediately, either on the feet of the pan (if the pan has feet) or resting on an empty bottle. Let the cake cool completely.
Once the cake is cool, run a long thin knife around the sides to loosen the edges, and invert the cake onto a plate. Serve with fresh whipped cream and strawberries.
Posted on May 5, 2014
I always forget how much I love spring until it comes back again. The weather here has been amazing lately, and we’ve been soaking up some serious outside time (hence my frequent sneezes and ridiculously itchy eyes. Oh, allergies, you rascals!). I’m convinced that few things are better for a kid — particularly a high-energy toddler — than time spent outdoors, where they can jump, climb and run around as fast as their little legs can carry them. Beany could run laps around the apartment all day and still not end up with the same kind of happy exhaustion she gets from an hour or two outside. It must be the fresh air. Or the sunshine. Whatever it is, you can’t bottle it. But it’s there for the taking.
Early Sunday morning, we packed up the kids and walked to one of our favorite bakeries nearby for something delicious to ring in the day. This place has the best lattes in town, which is a happy thing for the coffee drinkers in our bunch, and Beany gets a kick out of picking something yummy from behind the glass counter. I do, too. After all, what’s a latte without something sweet to go with it, right?
So lattes and lemon donut muffins in hand, we headed back home, where we opened all the windows and let the springtime breeze roll in. I don’t know if it was the walk, the fresh air, the sunshine or the muffins, but it was a really great morning.
If one could, in fact, bottle sunshine and fresh air and general outside loveliness, it would come in the form of a lemon donut muffin. So although the rest of the week is never as easy breezy as our weekends, I thought I’d try my hand at recreating a piece of our magical morning to last us until Saturday comes around again. Oh, happy day, it was a success! Bright, rich and the perfect blend of sweet and zing, these lemon donut muffins will erase the Monday (or Tuesday or Wednesday) woes and remind you that blue skies are ahead. The calendar might say Monday, but we’re still feeling very Sunday here.
Lemon Donut Muffins
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
• ½ cup sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• zest from 1 lemon
• 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 1 ½ cups flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt
• ¼ cup milk
• ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
• 6 tablespoons salted butter, melted
• ½ cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and grease a muffin pan with butter (you’ll need 9 spots buttered and ready to go). In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the unsalted butter and ½ cup sugar until creamy. Add the egg and lemon zest, and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and lemon juice, and beat until combined.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a liquid measuring cup, stir together the milk and cream. Slowly add the flour and milk/cream mixtures to the standing mixer, alternating between the two and ending with the flour. Mix until just combined.
Fill the greased muffin tins about 2/3 full, and bake until the donut muffins are barely golden around the edges, about 20 to 22 minutes (a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean). Remove the muffins from the tins right away using a butter knife to loosen the edges.
Working as quickly as you can, dip the tops and sides of each muffin into the melted salted butter, and then roll them in sugar.
Posted on May 1, 2014
Anyone who lives with a 2-year-old knows that they are incredibly adept at rattling off every last detail they know about any little thing at any given moment of the day. This makes for wonderful bedtime distractions:
“Mama, wait! Water! Bunny! Books! My wall! An elephant! It’s dark! More water! Please, Mama! Dada? Dada!”
Lunchtime works this way, too:
Upon seeing her sandwich cut in a snazzy new fashion:
“Yay! Triangles! I like my triangles! Apples? Yay, apples! Oh no! A napkin! Red, blue, orange, yellow, whiiiiiite!”
And then, there’s the grocery store. Oh, the grocery store:
“Mama! Dada, look! Apples! Orange! Eggs? Eggs! Cheese! Yo[gurt]! Nana? Nana! Nana! Nanaaaaaa!”
That’s how we end up leaving with bananas every time. It’s not that we make it a habit of giving into every toddler whim (there are plenty of sugar-filled grocery store requests that go unanswered), but when she’s excited about the produce aisle, we generally try to encourage it. Of course, 2-year-olds are also notoriously picky eaters, so no matter how enthusiastic she is about those bananas at the store, it’s anyone’s guess whether that elation translates to home. Half the time, she devours them faster than we can keep up. The other half of the time, she eats one the first day and then leaves the rest to freckle and brown. That means that half the time, asking for bananas at the store means banana baked goods at home. Wait a minute! Maybe she does know what she’s doing!
I typically make banana tea muffins with overripe bananas because they aren’t super sweet, but these chocolate banana muffins were a fun and delicious replacement. I don’t know why I don’t combine chocolate and bananas more often. It’s amazing! You don’t have to sprinkle the flakey sea salt on top if it’s not your thing, but that salty sweet top is probably my favorite part of the whole dessert. Beany was a fan, too:
“Cocoa nana? Yay! Mmm! I like cocoa nana! Nana! Nana! Good girl, Ella.” (Toddler thought streams are not always linear.)
Chocolate Banana Muffins
Adapted from Fork, Knife, Swoon
• 3 ripe bananas, mashed
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 1 large egg
• ¼ cup canola oil
• 1/3 cup milk (I used 1%)
• 1/3 cup granulated sugar
• 1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/3 cup miniature chocolate chips (bittersweet or semisweet)
• 1 tablespoon flakey sea salt, for sprinkling (I used Maldon.)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, and line 12 muffins cups with paper liners.
In a large mixing bowl, use a fork to whisk together the mashed bananas, vanilla and egg until the mixture is completely combined. Add the oil and milk, and whisk to combine. Add the sugars, and whisk again.
Then use a spatula to stir in the cocoa powder, and mix until the cocoa is completely incorporated. Stir in the salt and baking soda, and then gently fold in the flour. Mix until just combined.
Divide the batter evenly among the 12 muffins cups (cups will be about ¾ full). Sprinkle the tops with the chocolate chips, and then sprinkle on the flakey sea salt.
Bake the muffins for 14 to 17 minutes, until the muffin tops look set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the pan as soon as you’re able, and let them cool on a baking rack.
Does anyone else have any good uses for all of those overripe bananas? Or stories of toddler shenanigans? I’d love to hear about it!