Friday, October 31, 2008

Apple Cranberry Walnut Tatin

I've decided about the pissiest presentation these days for a dessert is in individual ramekins (or in this case a mini-souffle).  Skip the big box store for them, head to your nearest restaurant supply and save a bundle.  I bought mine at Surfas in Culver City for $3.50 instead of the around 10+ at the other places you'd find at the mall.  

Over this last weekend we met at my cousins house for dinner, I was in charge of desserts.  For the kids 1 yr to 17 I opted for cupcakes.  For the adults I took an old favorite pie recipe and kicked it up a bit for the adults.

What makes a "tatin" in french baking is the rich caramel poured over the fruit then it is turned upside down after it cooled just enough to thicken up.  For this version I wanted it to be an over the top caramel so I made it with brandy.

The problem with that is that it is messy compared to a regular pie and not exactly the kinda wow you want when people get the dessert.  Putting each serving in its own ramekin allows for good presentation without having to hack up the dessert to get it on a plate.

Apple Cranberry Walnut Tatin
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1/3 c brown sugar
  • 2T water
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 1 T brandy 
  • 4 lightly buttered ramekins
  • 6 medium apples (I used fuji, but gala work nice too)
  • 1 T cinnamon (adjust to taste)
  • 1/8 t fresh ground nutgmeg
  • 8 T fresh ground walnuts
  • 1/2 c dried cranberry
  • 1 sheet ready made pie crust (like Pilsbury ready made)
For caramel place sugars and water in heavy pan.  Over medium heat bring to boil.  Whisk slowly until dissolved.  Boil gently until thick and turning deep caramel color (about 5-10 minutes).  Reduce heat and whisk in butter 1 T at a time.  It will foam up and stir constantly to reduce the foaming.  Once foaming has settled, REMOVE pan from flame.  Add Brandy and stir constantly until foaming stops.  Carefully return pan to med-low flame, use caution as it could ignite remaining brandy.  Cook gently until it is soft ball stage about 234F.  Remove from heat and allow to cool while preparing the rest of the dessert.

Cut pasty dough into 4 circles slightly larger than the ramekin.  Save remaining pasty bits to cut into decorative shapes.

Peel, core and slice apples.  Toss lightly with cinnamon and nutmeg.  Divide between two bowls.  Lightly butter the ramekins.  Using first batch of apples divide between ramekins, layering neatly into dish.  Divide walnuts and cranberry, using one division to be split between all 4 ramekins in even layers.  Repeat layers ending with the nuts.  Pour about 2T caramel into each ramekin.  

Top each ramekin with pastry, tucking edges in and against the rim.  Cut some vents into the dough to allow steam to escape.  Top each with a pastry shape (I used a leaf shape) that is dampened on the bottom to help it stick.  You can brush with an egg or cream wash then sprinkle with some raw sugar if you want a shiny more decorative top.  Place ramekins on rimmed baking sheet to catch possible boil over and drips.

Bake 30-40 minutes in 350F oven, or until golden brown.  Serve warm.

Assembling the first layer as evenly and flat as possible helps with minimizing the collapse as the dessert bakes and the fruit shrinks while being cooked.
Mmmmmm....nice rich caramel, just enough left over to toss on a scoop of ice cream as bakers treat while making these.
Top layer of fruit comes just to the top of the ramekin.   Crappy phone-cam doesn't show the fine details on the one that has its dough top on, but you get the idea of tucking inside the dish and up against the rim.
All fresh out of the oven.  Note the steam vents are clearer in this pic.  Of course since this is fall I opted for a "leaf" design, but you can use hearts, diamonds, or even fruit shapes as decoration made from the left over pastry dough.

Pineapple Cranberry Spread

Paula Deen wasn't kidding around when she says in the south it either starts with a stick of butter or a package of cream cheese.  I got the recipe idea from my sister Niki still in the Ozarks back in MO.  

Back there those little jars of cream cheese with stuff in it are a popular party treat, usually with Ritz, but I won't go there right now.  The usual hands down favorite is the pineapple variety. Those little jars are really pretty expensive if you stop and think about it and that is why my sister came up with her version. 

Her version is simply a can of crushed pineapple and a block of cream cheese.  Not being one to stay in the lines well I took that as the starting point and created my own version.  With two blocks of cream cheese how bad could it be when you have fruit with it?

Pineapple Cranberry Spread
  • 2 8oz packages cream cheese - room temperature
  • 1 small can crushed pineapple
  • 1/2 c dried cranberry
  • 1/4 t ground ginger
Put the cranberry in  a small microwave safe bowl.  Drain off the pineapple juice and pour over the cranberry.  Add just enough water to bring cover the cranberry if needed.  Microwave 1 minute and tightly cover.  Let set at least 1 hour.

With mixer beat in ginger and beat until fluffy.  Add Pineapple.  Drain of any remaining liquid from cranberry and pitch it.  Add cranberry to the bowl.  Cold in the fruit.  Refrigerate 2 hours before serving.

Serve with crackers or thinly sliced and toasted baguette.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Asian Style Pickles

This is one of those recipes where I had something that was so good I had to try to replicate it.  There is a local restaurant, Teri & Yaki that specializes in "asian comfort food".  The stuff is pretty darn good.  

I got hooked on a particular side dish a couple of years ago when they opened the one here in outer monrovia.  It is "Spicy Cucumber".  It is obviously cucumber, red pepper flake, very pronounced sesame oil taste but after that it gets to be a little difficult to ID some of the bits and pieces in it, especially the herbage.  

Last spring I bought one of those jumbo packs of "English Cucumbers" from Costco.  I still don't know what possessed me to buy it as there are 4 huge cucumbers in the pack, far more than we could eat in a week or before they went bad.  With all those cukes I decided to try and put together something resembling the "Spicy Cucumber" from Teri & Yaki.  After a couple of tries I put up my first batch.  A couple of times more and I had it.  Now whenever I have something asian on the entree' list I can have my own "Asian Style Pickles".

Asian Style Pickles
  • 2-3 Engrish Cucumbers
  • 1/2 C cilantro - coarse chopped
  • 3 small green onions, thinly sliced  including tops
  • 1/2 -1 t red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • Sesame Chicken Salad Dressing - approx 1 cup to cover.
Using mandolin slice cucumbers very thin.   Put about 1 1/2 inches cucumber in a quart pickle jar.  Add 1/5 of the sliced onion, cilantro and red pepper flakes.  Repeat layers until jar is filled.
Cover with Sesame Chicken Salad Dressing.  Add lid and seal tightly.  Refrigerate for one week.  Will keep up to 2 months in the fridge

I use this as a straight up side dish.  Other times I scoop out the cucumbers and dressing and put over cooked chicken and lettuce.  I've even tossed some into cooked couscous or rice for a heartier side dish.  Its pretty versatile and tasty too!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Pumpkin Chile Soup

Hard to believe 3 days ago it was 106 and very humid here.  This morning it is barely 70 and a light rain falling.  Not exactly cool fall weather according to the rule books for the rest of the country, but what the heck this is LA and I'll take it.

The start of cool fall days means soup and fresh baked bread.  Today I did both.  I cheated on the bread...Pumpernickel in the trusty old bread machine.  The soup is totally from scratch.  Yes, even the pumpkin is from scratch that I canned from last years Jack-o-lanterns and this is the end of the supply.  

Soups are a pretty easy throw together once you have a few recipes under your be.t.  Canned broth is my favorite cheat and it saves some cooking time in the process.  Today I decided I wanted something a little different so I opted for a sweet/savory version of Pumpkin Soup which in itself as a variation of Butternut Squash soup I came up with a while back.  The  green chile part was taken as I didn't have any bell peppers floating around.  It works now the soup has more of a southwesty type flavor.

Pumpkin Chile Soup

  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 2 T chopped garlic
  • 1 t thyme
  • 1 t fresh sage
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 t ground cumin
  • 1/4 t cinnamon
  • 1/4 t nutmeg
  • 2T Olive oil
  • 1T butter
  • 2 C pumpkin puree
  • 1 can (7 oz) green chiles
  • 2 cans (14 oz) low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
Dice onion.  In large stock pot heat butter and add onion when the butter begins to sizzle.  Add salt, pepper to taste. Add sage and thyme.  Cook over medium heat stirring often until onions are clear and beginning to caramelize (about 10 minutes).  Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer.

Transfer onions to blender.  Add can of chiles, do not drain.  Blend on high slowing adding chicken stock until only tiny bits of onion remain.  Return to pan, add pumpkin, cayenne pepper, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and stir in until uniform.  Simmer 20 minutes.  Check salt and pepper before serving. 

Serve with warm bread, green salad and you are in cool weather heaven.  

Using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth will give you a vegetarian soup which is equally tasty.