Monday, September 28, 2015

Apple Tart Tatin

To be quite honest, I never really learned very much about French cooking. Yes, there are TONS of French techniques and recipes into which I'm sure I could absolutely IMMERSE myself, but I guess I was always a little intimidated by it. But after I watched the film Julie and Julia, I thought, "wait, how hard could it be?", and that's when I decided that someday I would have a dinner with a French menu. So when my friend Dennis asked for a French dinner, I was all in. And do you wanna know something? It wasn't as difficult as one would think! I googled classic French recipes for appetizers, entrees, and desserts. I came up with a menu of classic French fare. I was pretty thrilled with how everything turned out, but the one thing that excited me the most was this fabulous apple tart. It looks SO impressive, but it's actually not very difficult to make. Actually, some say that this recipe was a a happy accident that was originally intended to be an apple pie. I figured if it happened by accident, then it's probably not very difficult to do! So I was pretty pleased when it came out exactly as it was supposed to on my very first try. And OMG it's SO delicious! I mean, seriously, how can you go wrong with apples and caramel?!
 So, if you're feeling a little adventurous and would like to give this a try, I say go for it! I think you just may surprise yourself! This is Martha Stewart's version, and from what I can tell, it's pretty true to the classic. Of course, you don't have to tell your friends and family how easy it was to make. It'll be our little secret!

6 to 8 large firm sweet apples, such as Northern Spy, Winesap, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, or Mutsu, peeled and halved
1 to 2 lemons, halved
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (from a standard 17 1/4-ounce package), thawed
All-purpose flour, for dusting 
  Heat oven to 400 degrees. 
Core apples using a melon baller to retain the rounded shape of the apples. Rub apples with sliced lemons to prevent browning. Set aside.
 Over medium heat in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, heat sugar and 1/4 cup water. Cook until it turns a rich golden color; swirling occasionally, about 6 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, roll puff pastry in one direction out into a 14-inch circle on a lightly floured surface, about 1/8 inch thick. Brush off any excess flour with a pastry brush.
 Add butter to skillet. Once melted, add apples, rounded sides down, fitting as many into the skillet as possible. Remove from heat, and top apples with puff pastry. Fold edges under, and crimp slightly. Make two to three small cuts in puff pastry to allow the steam to escape. Place in oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees. and bake until pastry is golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.
 Remove from oven, and let cool about 2 minutes. Loosen edges with a knife. Carefully place a plate over the skillet and flip, inverting the tarte tatin. Serve warm or at room temperature.
I quartered my apples instead of just leaving them in halves as the recipe directs, just because I think it looks nicer in the pan, and I used a regular apple corer instead of a melon baller. Just sayin!
I used a cast iron skillet, but any heavy nonstick pan will work. Just be sure it has an ovenproof handle. 
The key to this dish is not burning the sugar. You want it to caramelize, but things can go south very quickly. Whenever I have a recipe involving caramelized sugar, I like to have the rest of my ingredients already ready already so I'll be good to go when it's time to add them.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Cupcakes

 Every summer, my fabulous friends Ginna and Charlie throw a wonderful party. It's a summer event that I look forward to every year! And, of course, I always like to bring something delicious and freshly baked. Quite often, I'll bake cookies and I make sure to time it so that I'm pulling them from the oven just as I'm walking out the door, and then they're still warm when I arrive at the party. Everyone LOVES warm cookies right out of the oven!
 This year, though, I decided that I didn't want to make the Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies that I usually make. Ginna loves oatmeal raisin cookies, yes, but I wanted to do something slightly different. So then I thought, "I wonder if I can find a a cupcake recipe that would be similar." So I did some googling, and lo and behold, here it is. You just gotta love Martha Stewart for coming up with a recipe for a cupcake that tastes just like an oatmeal raisin cookie. Perfect! I made them for the party and they were a big hit!! Martha didn't include the glaze, but I figured they needed to be jazzed up a little. I mean, they were for a party, after all.
 So, here's the thing.. I've listed the recipe below, just as Martha Stewart listed it, but be sure to read my tips following the recipe. The recipe is pretty easy, but I've included a few thoughts to go along with it! Hope you like 'em! And thanx again to Ginna and Charlie for another great party! Can't wait until he next one!

3 3/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup oat bran
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut 
 Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. 
 Line 3 standard 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners; set aside. Whisk 2 cups oats, the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, bran, and cinnamon in a medium bowl; set aside. 
 Put butter and sugars into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Mix in eggs, 1 at a time, and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, and mix until just combined. Mix in sour cream. Stir in raisins with a rubber spatula. 
 Transfer 2 3/4 cups batter to a small bowl, and stir in remaining 1 3/4 cups oats and the coconut; set aside. Spoon 2 1/2 tablespoons plain batter into each prepared muffin cup; top with 1 1/2 tablespoons oat coconut batter. Bake until golden and a cake tester inserted into centers comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer to wire racks; let cool completely. 
 So, my first thought is that it says to line 3 muffin tins with papers, but the recipe only makes about 2 1/2 dozen. So, don't think your amounts are off. Just know that you won't be filling up that last tin all the way.  
 Second, I don't understand the point of having two different batters. For one thing, I didn't come out even. I measured everything to the letter, and I still came out with extra coconut batter leftover. It seems to me that you could just mix the coconut and the extra oats right into the whole batch and bake them. I'm sure Martha must have had a reason for putting the coconut batter just on the top portion of each cupcake, but I'm not seeing it. I think, next time, I'm gonna test the theory of just mixing the coconut right into the whole batch and seeing how it goes. And a little side note.. I couldn't find oat bran at the grocery store, so I used wheat bran instead, and they turned out perfectly.
 And finally, for the glaze, I just mixed powdered sugar with a few drops of vanilla extract and enough water to make it the right drizzling consistency. Be sure to add it literally just a few drops at a time. A little liquid goes a long way when you're making a glaze with powdered sugar. Then just drizzle the glaze over the top in one direction, then go back again and drizzle it in another direction to make a pretty cross hatch design. 
Oh, just one more thing...When you serve them.... everyone will constantly refer to them as muffins. But no. They're definitely cupcakes. LOL Just sayin'!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Dutch Butter Cake

 Usually when I think of a butter cake, I think of a rich cake from the bakery that was right around the corner when I was growing up. Or else I think of a Southern Gooey Butter Cake that lives up to it's name. But then I saw this recipe that was posted on Facebook by my former classmate, Joyce. It's called a cake, but it only has four ingredients. What? How is this a cake? It looks more like a shortbread cookie! So I did a little Googling and found that (as with many classic recipes) everyone seems to have a different version. Some have almonds or almond extract. Some have eggs or leavening ingredients. So, which version do I try???? I decided to make the recipe that Joyce posted in the first place. Looks simple enough, so why not?
 Well, let me just tell you, it's AMAZING. The texture is buttery and smooth and chewy and it's like the BEST shortbread cookie you've ever tasted. For a little extra flavor, I added a tiny splash of vanilla extract. OMG, heaven on a plate. If you want something that is just the right amount of sweet to have with a nice cup of coffee or a lovely afternoon tea, THIS is what you've been looking for. It's SO simple to make and it only took a few minutes to throw together. You really need to give it a try! I KNOW you'll love it.
 Thanx Joyce! Remind me to make this for you!

2 cups all-purpose flour
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8x8 baking dish with foil. Melt the butter and mix it with the flour, sugar, and salt until just combined. Don't overmix. Press into the bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes until the edges just start to turn golden. The middle will still VERY gooey, but the cake is definitely done at this point. Allow to cool completely before removing foil from pan and cutting into squares. Enjoy! If using salted butter, just omit the salt from this recipe.

Be sure to cool completely, or chill before cutting into squares! Otherwise it'll probably fall apart. It's VERY soft when it comes out of the oven!
I used an 8" square baking pan, but I bet you could also use a round cake pan and then cut it into wedges instead of squares. I'm thinking you could also double the whole recipe and bake it in a 9x13 pan. Actually, the more I think of it, yes, that idea wins. More is more!!
As I said, I added a little vanilla extract, but feel free to add almond extract instead, or just leave it out. It'll still be great!
The recipe said to line the pan with foil, but I decided to line the pan with parchment paper instead, just as I do whenever I make any kind of bars or squaes. Same idea, just what I had on hand, that's all. Use whichever you prefer!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Mr. Man's Chicken Salad

 One of my favorite people on the planet is my good friend, Anthony (aka Mr. Man.) He's just one of those people who is always upbeat, always optimistic, always has a positive thing to say, and he'll do anything for you. He's taught me SO much about health and fitness and has truly changed my life. And I know he hates it when I tell him how much of a hero he is to me, but seriously, he really is. So whenever I can return the favor and help HIM for a change, I'm always glad to do whatever I can.
 He recently told me he was interested in switching over to the Paleo way of eating, and asked me if I would help him with some Paleo cooking. Basically the idea is to eat the way a caveman would, meaning just animal proteins, fruits, vegetables, and no processed foods. I'm certainly not a nutritionist, but it surely seems like a more healthy way of eating. And actually, the more I looked into it, the more I realized I was already practically doing that myself! Fans of the Paleo diet always say to just shop around the perimeter of the supermarket (which is where you'll find all of your eggs, meat, fish, and produce) and not to go into any of the aisles. Makes perfect sense to me!
 So anyway, when I was searching for different foods for Mr. Man, I thought of making a chicken salad. Yes, I know it's mayonnaise based, and mayonnaise is a processed food, but when you make it home made like I always do, it still falls within the Paleo guidelines. The only problem was that I always use vegetable oil when I make home made mayo, which is not considered to be Paleo. So then I had the aha moment. What if I were to use rendered bacon fat instead of oil to make the mayo??!! And there it was. The perfect solution!! I know I'm not the first person to ever think of it, but I'm still considering it a moment of brilliance. I mean, come on.. BACON MAYONNAISE. How awesome is that??? And seriously, bacon makes everything better, doesn't it??? I made it for Mr. Man and he gave it a big huge thumbs up! He said he can't get enough of it, and now eats it for lunch everyday! He also loved the addition of the fruit, which was a game changer as far as chicken salads go.
 So even if you're not choosing the Paleo way of eating, give this recipe a try. It's REALLY delicious!  I'm so glad you like it, Mr. Man!!!

1 rotisserie chicken
2 ribs celery, finely diced
2 apples, cored and diced
2 cups seedless green grapes, halved
1 cup bacon mayonnaise*
3 strips crisped bacon, crumbled
salt and pepper to taste

Pull all the chicken from the bones and remove any bits of fat and skin. Pull the meat into shreds or chop to bite sized pieces. Add the remaining ingredients. Give it a good stir and adjust seasoning, if desired. That's it!

*to make the bacon mayonnaise:
Place one whole egg, 1/2 tsp mustard, 1/2 tsp of salt, and 1 tbs lemon juice or cider vinegar in a food processor. With the processor running, SLOWLY drizzle in one cup of rendered bacon fat, (or half bacon fat and half olive oil or even coconut oil).
Here's my How to Make Homemade Mayonnaise video that I did with with my friend, Kelsie (who just happens to be Mr. Man's sister!) Basically, the bacon mayo recipe is half of the recipe in the video, and I've substituted bacon fat for the vegetable oil. I've also omitted the sugar, but you could add 1/2 tsp or so of honey if you like a sweeter mayo.

If you don't want to go through the trouble of making bacon mayonnaise, you can just used purchased mayo. It won't be Paleo, (and the bacon flavor is really amazing here) but it'll still be delish.
I usually don't peel the apples, I just wash them and then core and dice them. If you'd prefer to peel them, go for it! You do you!
For a little extra added crunch, try adding chopped pecans and a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds.