Monthly Archives: September 2010

Plum Tired

Things I am loving right now…

The fact that it’s cool (finally) and rainy, which makes me very cozy and lethargic and in the mood to bake, apparently.   (Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies the other night and Marian Burros’ famous plum torte – today)

How not only I am in bed in a room that smells like beautiful fall air combined with the way my bed smells but I am also wearing a sweatshirt and dunking oreos in milk.

Giada De Laurentiis’ chicken milanese with fennel and tomato sauce

This blog, because I just stumbled across it this morning and Stephanie’s photos are stunning, because I love the name of her blog and because I am dying to make that ooey gooey caramel apple blackout cake as soon as humanly possible.

The idea of having (and making) soup.  Preferably something with a lot of beans like cannelloni and lentil, with sausage or kielbasa of some kind and lot’s of vegetables and probably kale.

This coat because I’m pretty much in love with it and feel as though it is essential that I have it.

“The Bagman’s Gambit,” by The Decemberists, off the Picaresque album.  Listening to this album during rainy weather is somehow very satisfying.  Over the past couple days, I’ve become increasingly infatuated with this song, since for the first time, I actually stopped to listen to the lyrics.  Colin Meloy is such an oddball lyricist and I can’t think of anyone like him.  I love how his songs (and this one in particular) tell stories.  I guess that’s just the old actress in me…guess she’s still in there somewhere.

So this morning I braved the rain to attain some eggs so I could make the plum torte and see what all the fuss was about.  I’ve never been one to gravitate toward plums – in fact, I rarely ever pay them any mind and sort of feel indifferent about them.   Lately though, I’ve been curious to try the unknown in the kitchen.  There’s a laundry list of new and different things I want to make.

I used red plums instead of Italian and I was skeptical at first because there didn’t seem to be much batter.  But I situated the plum halves overtop the batter and much to my surprise, they sunk down and cozied into the blanket of batter, which then rose up to meet them.  In turn, the house smelled of cinnamon and sugar, which is ever so comforting on a rainy day and the plums bled into the cake with their vibrant rosy shade of purple.  The cake yielded a crumb and a taste very similar to that of a sour cream coffee cake (although there was no sour cream in it).  It was light and simple and the cinnamon sugar helped tame the slightly sour tang of the plums.  I don’t quite understand all the hype, despite the cake’s gorgeousness, but it will make for a fine breakfast with a glass of cold milk tomorrow morning.

In other news, my pie didn’t make the contest but it was one out of six that got made and was chosen as an “editor’s pick!”  Not only that but Merrill Stubbs actually made my pie and had this to say about it:

The crust is like the best cheese straw you’ve ever had—my whole apartment smelled incredible while the pie was baking. The pear and apple combo is great and I also loved the spice and vanilla in the filling. This pie is a savory-tangy-sweet flavor explosion. – Merrill

Needless to say, I was elated.  Tomorrow, I will enter the contest “Best Bag Lunch” but I will not tell you the recipe until after!  I’m having a lot of fun with this and love how the concept Merrill and Amanda have successfully executed is so inspiring.  For the first time, I’m undertaking the challenge of developing my own recipes and it’s not an easy task but I’m finding myself growing more and more creative and fixated on the process of drawing from all different sorts of inspiration, altering and adding and tweaking and subtracting so I can create something to call mine.  And it’s fun.

Good Rain Songs:

  • “Raincoat Song” – The Decemberists
  • “Record Year” – The Decemberists
  • “Raining in Baltimore” – The Counting Crows
  • “Buckets of Rain” – (M. Ward and Beth Orton’s cover)
  • “Row” – Jon Brion


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A Pear of Apples Pie with Gruyere Crust

I’m so crazy for fall right now, that I just entered an Autumn Pie Contest on Food 52.  My first ever pie contest too!   I’m so crazy in fact, I was up making this pie and writing the recipe until 11:30 last night – a half an hour before the submissions were due!  I’m also so crazy that I might just have some of this pie for breakfast, because quite frankly it’s pretty awesome.

This was a lengthy and costly endeavor, because I was set on buying Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans and $10 Gruyere cheese and these adorable little fall leaf pie crust cutter stamps from Williams-Sonoma, which were so necessary.  I want to make more pies just because of these little guys.  They’re fun and will make your pie look like it was made by a professional baker.  Normally, when I tackle a recipe for the first time, it takes longer and doesn’t always come out so swimmingly.  But when the pie cooled enough for me to dive into it with my fork without burning the roof of my mouth, much to my surprise, I discovered that it was a success.

And the house smelled like gourmet Cheez-Its.  As soon as I could smell that gruyere melting into the buttery pie crust, I knew the crust at least was on the right track.  The only slight trouble I had was the leaves I placed on the edges of the pie got a little droopy and some fell off in the oven.  I’ll have to be careful not to put them too far on the edge next time.

During my research, I perused a couple apple pear pies and crust recipes online and developed my own – something I don’t have much experience with but want to work on.  I was inspired by an episode of Pushing Daisies, where Chuck makes a pear pie with gruyere baked into the crust for her aunts.  (Mine was free of any mood enhancers), though I did think that a fresh vanilla bean, infused with the butter, would make a nice bed of luxurious flavor for the pears and apples.  (I kept he pod in the pan too, just because it looked nice).

A Pear of Apples Pie   (makes 8 servings)


For the Crust (Makes a double 9 inch crust)

  • 2 ½ cups of unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. of salt
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp. of cider vinegar
  • About 1/3 cup of ice cold water
  • 1 cup of shredded Gruyere cheese

For the filling:

  • 4 pears – peeled (I used two bosc and two bartletts)
  • 3 golden delicious apples (cored and peeled)
  • ½ stick of unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup of brown sugar
  • ¼ cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean (split open, seeds scraped)
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp. and ½ tsp. of corn starch

Directions:

For the crust:

Place a medium sized bowl and fork in the freezer.  Combine the flour, salt and shredded gruyere in a bowl, mixing the cheese into the flour mixture with your hands.  Dice the butter into ¼ inch pieces.  Place butter and the flour-cheese mixture in a large zip lock bag, seal and roll over with a rolling pin until the butter is combined.  Place the bag in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

Pour the ingredients from the bag into the cold bowl and work together with your fingertips or/and the cold fork until the mixture becomes pebbly.  Gradually drizzle the ice water (excluding the ice) and the vinegar over the mixture, blending with your fingertips and the fork.  Add more water if necessary – a tablespoon at a time, until you achieve the right consistency.

Form two discs out of the dough, working each in your palm.  Wrap them each tightly with saran wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

When the filling is ready, roll one of the discs out onto a floured surface, dusting it with flour as you work.  Transfer to the pie pan, pressing the dough into it and leaving about an inch of overhang.  Crimp or style however you like.  Add the filling.  Roll out the second disc the same way and place it over top the pie, making a few slits in the center or, if you choose to cut out decorative leaves, you can place them on top of the filling instead.  Make an egg wash, using 1 egg yolk and a splash of milk and brush over the pie crust.  Sprinkle with some demura sugar.  Wrap some foil on the edges of the crust (so they don’t burn).

Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes.

For the filling:

Cut the peeled and cored pears and apples into inch size pieces and place them in a bowl.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the fruit, sugars, spices, salt, vanilla and vanilla bean seeds and pod.  Stir and simmer on medium to medium-low heat for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Then remove from heat, stir in the corn starch and let the filling cool to room temperature.

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I Saw Pumpkins

It may still be warm outside, even hot, but fall is still creeping its way in.  I saw pumpkins yesterday!  If pumpkins aren’t a definitive sign of fall’s arrival, I don’t know what is.  Also, when I walked through the doors of The Fresh Market, I was hit with a rush of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove aromas, coming from where I don’t know.  I think The Fresh Market is trying to tell us something…

I can’t express enough, how excited I am about making the following dishes as the weather gets cooler:

  • Beef Bourguignon
  • Slow-Braised Short Ribs
  • Rigatoni with Ragu
  • Canard aux Framboises
  • Parsnip fries
  • Sticky Toffee Pudding
  • Bread Pudding with Whiskey sauce
  • Whoopie Pies
  • Cinnamon Rolls *ahem* (The Pioneer Woman’s cinnamon rolls)
  • Sweet Potato Gnocchi
  • Butternut squash anything

Fall also means it’s probably time to start listening to more Sufjan Stevens which I am doing right now…which must mean I am on the ball.  And spending excessive amounts of time at the gym, given all of this amazing, warming, high caloric fall food I’ll be eating!  Totally worth it.

But as I wait for this cooler weather to kick its way in, I will get back to my greek yogurt and berries and leave you with these…

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Dove and Syrup and the Powerful Temptation of a Chocolate Bundt

I love that right now I smell of a combination of the new package of Dove (beauty bar) soap I just opened in the shower today and maple syrup from the southern brunch I just devoured at Smith Street Diner.  The Dove always reminds me of my granny, since she’s used that soap for as long as I can remember.  It conjures up memories of me visiting her adorable, southern house in Nicholasville, Kentucky, that is so filled with various antiques that its practically a museum.  You can barely maneuver a corner without elbowing an old barrel or stubbing your toe on a little toy wagon or stool.  I’ve always loved that house and how it smells and will forever associate Dove beauty bar soap with the house and my granny.

I read Luisa Weiss’s (of The Wednesday Chef)  latest blog post this morning and literally sighed out loud after I completed the last sentence.  Her prose always seems so effortlessly whimsical, lovely and honest.  I then realized that even though I may peruse more than a few food blogs during my daily web surfings, there are four that I check like clockwork each day, when it really comes down to it.  These are the four who, when upon checking their blogs each day, my heart lurches and flutters every time I find they’ve revealed a new piece of their world in a post.

  • Molly Wizenberg’s Orangette : because she is first and foremost my favorite food writer.  The first food blogger/writer I was ever really exposed to.  Who’s words I was transfixed by and who’s recipes and photos I was inspired by and salivating for.  She is humble and funny and extremely gifted and both her blog and her book – A Homemade Life have left such an important impact on me.  Lately, I’m especially enjoying hers and Matthew’s  Spilled Milk podcast because it’s pretty much just 15 minutes of solid, hysterics and laughter between two friends who discuss the most random food-related topics a little in the middle.
  • Joy Wilson is Joy the Baker and boy is she funny.  I love her because she’s so relatable (at least to me).  She’s honest and hilarious and real and she has a serious sweet tooth.  Her writing is so brave and candid and delivers a strong sense of what type of person she is – one frankly, I’m sure I’d have a blast hanging out and baking with.  She also makes me feel better about eating dessert every day.   I had the lucky opportunity of interviewing her over the phone a few months ago and she was incredibly kind and helpful and this little old article/interview was what came out of it.  (Unfortunately my byline is no longer there, since the site has recently turned over, but hopefully it will re-return soon, as it is still being worked on).
  • Ree Drummond is The Pioneer Woman and what I love about her is that she too is hilarious and very candid.  She also has an affinity for humble comfort food dishes that I am such a sucker for.  I’ve made quite a few of her recipes now and always consult her blog when I need something unpretentious and more on the simple side.  Something that will warm and feed my stomach and my soul.  She seems like a rosie the riveter type.  She’s got balls.  Also, I think she looks like Malin Ackerman with auburn hair.
  • Luisa Weiss – The Wednesday Chef,  is also one of these women food bloggers I admire most.  She makes me feel adventurous and inspires me to want to cook out of my comfort zone.  She’s also the one who posted Marcella Hazan’s recipe for tomato sauce with onion and butter, which I have become obsessed with.  Luisa is humble and writes such elegant, honest, personal prose.  Reading her blog is almost like reading a letter to a long lost friend.

Reading any of these four inspires me to be a better writer and for that, I am eternally indebted – which is why I decided I had to blog today.

This past week was a mildly ambitious one for cooking and baking.  I was consumed with work and slapped in the face with a cold, which I am still in the process of nursing out the door (a nightly dose of spicy Indian korma and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo seems to help).  Last week was the week however, that I spent $6 on a very petite package of mushrooms.  Dried porcini mushrooms from Oregon to be exact.  They smelled heavenly when I let them steep in a hot water bath and made Jamie Oliver’s version of chicken tetrazzini.  I adore mushrooms that way.  Just to clarify, I am that type of girl who spends $6 on mushrooms instead of getting a manicure.  Manicures are a frivolous expense; dried gourmet mushrooms for my dinner are necessary.

Last week was also the week I was experiencing an intense chocolate cake craving  and came straight home from a long shift at work, to make a chocolate cake from scratch.  For some odd reason, it was a chocolate bundt that was haunting my thoughts.  I swear, whatever my last meal on earth would be, it would have to include some chocolate cake.  We’re a very contented pair.  I was eager to try this recipe from The Big Sur Bakery cookbook.  It looked lush and sinful and seemed like it would live up to the craving.  Believe me, it did.  It was incredibly moist and flavorful, due to generous measurements of buttermilk, vegetable oil and coffee.  I had no intention of icing it with that beautiful sour cream ganache concoction, though I’m sure it’s fabulous.  What I had in mind was more simple – just a happy dusting of powdered sugar.  But then I cut myself a big hunk and whipped up some awesome (and quick) hot fudge, which I then doused it in, and topped it with vanilla ice cream, to make hot fudge cake.  I take my cravings seriously.  Apparently.

This week, I plan to make some adaptations to develop my own recipe to enter in Food 52’s latest contest for “Best Autumn Pie,” and make an apple pear pie with gruyere crust.  Exciting and intimidating!

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Eat, Memory

I love that we are finally on the brink of fall and that the promise of sweaters, socks on my feet and sleeping with open windows is in the air.  It may still be in the 90’s this week but last night gave me a comforting preview of  fall and assured me that it will be here soon.  I will miss corn on the cob – (I made a bangin’ succotash the other day with some corn, bacon, basil, edamame, grape tomatoes and squash), fresh tomatoes and tomato sauce, fresh basil, grilling and most of all, peaches.  But I will happily welcome the return of hearty ragus, butternut squash and bread pudding.  I’m meeting my parents at Crook’s Corner for dinner tonight, for one of the last late summer meals out.  One last mojito outdoors and perhaps maybe some red snapper or bbq ribs…

The other night, I discovered “Easy Plateau” – wood-fired pizza with swiss chard, goat cheese, ground beef and fingerling potatoes, at Sticks & Stones, and it was surprising and perfect.  This morning, I finally discovered Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.  I don’t know what took me so long.  With my affinity for both food and travel, it’s about time I gave this a watch.  If he ever gets tired of all that traveling and eating, I’ll gladly step in for him.

Right now I have an obsession with vintage tumbler & high ball glasses and my granny has been sending me the most beautiful vintage aprons in the mail.  I just love that.  I started a new book –  a collection of food essays by several different authors and personalities and it’s called Eat, Memory. I like how reading about the powerful sense-memory impact food has and people’s different associations with it.

I’m also excited about the latest addition to the kitchen – a brand new Cuisinart Ice Cream maker!  My boyfriend is pretty amazing.  We’ve made strawberry sour cream ice cream and peach ice cream so far.  Both were awesome but the peach was sublime.  Next up, I plan to make some salted caramel and buttermilk ice creams and I plan to consult David Lebovitz’s ice cream cookbook.  What a fun toy.

I know that I have yet to do a restaurant recap of all my summer travel ventures, and trust me, that is on the horizon and it won’t be forgotten.  For now, I’d like to share some of my favorite pictures from this summer.

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A Drink To Take The Heat Off

When the temperature dares to climb into the upper 90s, there are very few remedies that come to mind, for dealing with such painstakingly annoying heat.  Running through sprinklers, eating popsicles and drinking refreshing cocktails like this one come to mind.   Inspired by a marvelous concoction I had at the amazing Poole’s Downtown Diner, in Raleigh, called “She’s the Fastest,” – this cocktail has become my new favorite for summer.

It’s made with gin, pink grapefruit juice, St. Germain’s Elderflower Liqueur and a splash of tonic.  Essentially, it’s a fun spin on a gin and tonic.  The grapefruit juice provides a bittersweet, incredibly refreshing punch to the drink, while the elderflower liqueur is much like a simple syrup with class.  It conjures a unique lightly sweet floral note that compliments both the gin and the grapefruit flavors nicely.

“She’s the Fastest”inspired by Poole’s Downtown Diner, located at 426 South McDowell St., Raleigh, N.C.

  • 1 shot of gin (I use Tanqueray)
  • 1 shot of St. Germain’s Elderflower Liqueur
  • 1 shot of  pink grapefruit juice
  • A splash of tonic.

Combine gin, liqueur, juice and ice in a shaker and shake vigorously.  Strain.  Serve with a splash of tonic and a garnish of grapefruit segment.

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