Thursday, January 8, 2009

Apple Tart(s)

My mom and I spent a long time planning out our Christmas Day Feast - it would be like Thanksgiving Dinner but three times larger, and more open-ended. 18 people were to arrive at our house at 4 pm in just a few short days, and the menu still had to be planned, groceries bought, dishes assembled and cooked. And after it was all said and done, I still think planning the menu was the hardest part.

I mean, for Thanksgiving there are many "givens." Turkey. Stuffing. Mashed potatoes. Yams. Pumpkin-y something for dessert. But Christmas? Prime rib is a tradition for our family, but the rest is not set in stone. We wanted to re-vamp our dinner, try new things. But with so many recipes out there, so many Holiday Menu guides, and so many food blogs I've discovered recently, I found this to be a difficult task.

One recipe that stood out - I think this is the first one I actually decided on - was this Apple Tart recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite foodie blogs. It's simple - just apples and a good homemade crust brushed with some butter and sprinkled with sugar. Nothing fake, nothing too gooey or over-the-top. I thought it would be the perfect finish to a heavy dinner, when everyone thought they just couldn't eat one more bite... they'd somehow find room for this delicate treat.

Since we were having 18 people over for dinner, I made three tarts. Each one I made turned out a little bit better. Well, not exactly better... prettier. I did the first one in a pie dish, and the second two galette-style (free-form on a cookie sheet).

Not only did they look beautiful and rustic when they came out of the oven, they were perfectly tart and delicious. They disappeared astonishingly quickly after they were served; plates were being scraped clean as I sat down to eat mine - the last piece.

And at the last minute, right before dessert was served, I quickly whipped (ha) up some whipped cream in the mixer. I'd looked at a few recipes the day before, but neglected to choose one and write it down. So, when it came time to serve the tarts, I poured in some whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla and tasted until it was just right. So easy, I'll never go back to the canned stuff.

Alice Waters’s Apple Tart (from Smitten Kitchen)


For dough:
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, just softened, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons chilled water

For filling:
2 pounds apples (Golden Delicious or another tart, firm variety), peeled, cored (save peels and cores), and sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 tablespoons sugar

For glaze: 1/2 cup sugar

Mix flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl; add 2 tablespoons of the butter. Blend in a mixer until dough resembles coarse cornmeal. Add remaining butter; mix until biggest pieces look like large peas.

Dribble in water, stir, then dribble in more, until dough just holds together. If dry patches predominate, add another tablespoon water. Keep tossing until you can roll dough into a ball. Flatten into a 4-inch-thick disk; refrigerate. After at least 30 minutes, remove; let soften so it’s malleable but still cold. Smooth cracks at edges. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 14-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Dust excess flour from both sides with a dry pastry brush.

Place dough in a lightly greased 9-inch round tart pan, or simply on a parchment-lined baking sheet if you wish to go free-form, or galette-style with it. Heat oven to 400°F. (If you have a pizza stone, place it in the center of the rack.)

Overlap apples on dough in a ring 2 inches from edge if going galette-style, or up to the sides if using the tart pan. Continue inward until you reach the center. Fold any dough hanging over pan back onto itself; crimp edges at 1-inch intervals.

Brush melted butter over apples and onto dough edge. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over dough edge and the other 3 tablespoons over apples.

Bake in center of oven until apples are soft, with browned edges, and crust has caramelized to a dark golden brown (about 45 minutes), making sure to rotate tart every 15 minutes.

Make glaze: Put reserved peels and cores in a large saucepan, along with sugar. Pour in just enough water to cover; simmer for 25 minutes. Strain syrup through cheesecloth.

Remove tart from oven, and slide off parchment onto cooling rack. Let cool at least 15 minutes.

Brush glaze over tart, slice, and serve.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Snow on the Grapevine, just north of Los Angeles!

I've had a great winter break at home so far. It's been relaxing, and filled with family, friends, and baking... what more could a girl ask for?! Oh, presents, you're right. How could I forget? Those come tonight and tomorrow :) Anyways, here's a little recap of my break so far, with pictures and all.

I spent a day shopping in San Francisco with Emily on her 22nd birthday, went back to her house for dinner and dessert, and then took BART back into the city for a night out on the town!

Me, Michelle, and Emily

A few days later, I headed down to Newport Beach for Chrissy's Bachelorette party. Seven girls, including Chrissy's sister/maid of honor, bridesmaids, sorority sister, and former roommates watched the Boat Parade and went out to a couple bars in Newport. We all had a great time, and Chrissy was a really good sport for doing all the silly tasks we made her do while wearing a tulle veil and a "bachelorette" sash.

Chrissy, Jennifer, me, and Jamie

I've also spent a lot of time with my family. My aunt, uncle, and cousins from are visiting from Michigan, and my cousin Christine just got back from studying abroad in London. Since we weren't able to see them a few weeks ago for Turkey Day, we had Thanksgiving Part Two in Danville, which Christine (one of my inspirations for cooking!) planned and cooked.

All the cousins! Luke, Me, Christine, Matt, Andrea, Heather, William, and Kevin

Luke, Matt, Christine, Me, Kevin, Andrea, and Heather

Yesterday, all the cousins made our way to San Francisco on BART, with the new Academy of Sciences as our destination. Unfortunately, a few hundred other families had the same idea, and tickets were sold out when we arrived. We walked across the park to the De Young Museum, where we saw the beautiful 360 degree view of San Francisco on a clear day (see pictures below), ate lunch, and browsed through the art displays.

Hello, Golden Gate Bridge!

Luke, Andrea, Matt, Christine, Me, Heather, William, and Kevin

Matt, Andrea, Christine, and Uncle Bob

Huge satellite map of San Francisco

And I've put in plenty of time in the kitchen, baking cookies and desserts and planning for tomorrow's dinner for 18. I wanted to share one of the desserts I'm making for Christmas: Chocolate Walnut Biscotti.

This recipe has gotten amazing reviews on Epicurious: four forks (the highest rating) and over 200 positively glowing comments. I've only tried an itty-bitty corner piece myself, so the true test will be tomorrow after dinner, when these guys are served with coffee and hot apple cider!

Chocolate Walnut Biscotti Recipe

From Gourmet, December 1994


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup walnuts, chopped
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (optional; I didn't include)

1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. and butter and flour a large baking sheet.

In a bowl whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until combined well. Stir in flour mixture to form a stiff dough. Stir in walnuts and chocolate chips.

On prepared baking sheet with floured hands form dough into two slightly flattened logs, each 12 inches long and 2 inches wide, and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Bake logs 35 minutes, or until slightly firm to the touch. Cool biscotti on baking sheet 5 minutes.

On a cutting board cut biscotti diagonally into 3/4-inch slices. Arrange biscotti, cut sides down, on baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Cool biscotti on a rack. Biscotti keep in airtight containers 1 week and frozen, 1 month.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Deep Dark Chocolate Crinkles

These are the ultimate cookies for chocoholics. They're chewy and fudgy, with a thin crispy outer layer delicately dusted with powdered sugar. Butterless and flourless, this recipe hinges on high quality bittersweet chocolate and an egg-white meringue. My mom thought they were too rich - they should be named "For Chocolate Lovers Only". I don't think anything can be too chocolatey; I order double-chocolate-chip-with-chocolate-fudge-ice cream. Every time. This is an automatic new favorite for me!

From Bon Appetit, June 2008


Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (about 9 ounces), divided
3 large egg whites, room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, divided
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray 2 large baking sheets with nonstick spray. Melt 1 cup chocolate chips in glass bowl in microwave, stirring twice, about 2 minutes. Cool slightly.

Using electric mixer, beat whites in large bowl to soft peaks. Gradually beat in 1 cup sugar. Continue beating until mixture resembles soft marshmallow creme. Whisk 1 cup sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl to blend. On low speed, beat dry ingredients into meringue. Stir in lukewarm chocolate and 1/2 cup chocolate chips (dough will become very stiff).

Place 1/2 cup sugar in bowl. Roll 1 rounded tablespoon dough into ball; roll in sugar, coating thickly. Place on prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake until puffed and tops crack, about 10 minutes. Cool on sheets on rack 10 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool.

Christmas Cookies

Peanut Butter Hershey's Kisses

Gingerbread Men

UCLA Butter Cookie

Very Dark Chocolate Crinkles

Monday, December 15, 2008


I've made this recipe twice now, once just for myself and again for our holiday party. Some of our guests were shocked that I had made hummus from scratch; they said they never would have thought to make it. Well, the secret is out: homemade hummus is way better than store-bought, and it's incredibly easy to make. You basically just throw everything in the food processor and whirr it together until it's light and fluffy. My Cuisinart is miniature, so I blended in two batches.

This is a great traditional hummus recipe to use as a foundation, but you could easily add some other flavors by adding roasted red bell pepper, basil, or olives. I'll definitely try a red pepper variation next time!

By Mark Bittman, from The Best Recipes in the World

Makes 8 or more servings.


2 cups drained well-cooked or canned chickpeas, liquid reserved
1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste), optional, with some of its oil
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus oil for drizzling
2 cloves garlic, peeled, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon ground cumin or paprika, or to taste, plus a sprinkling for garnish
Juice of 1 lemon, plus more as needed
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

Put everything except the parsley in a food processor and begin to process; add the chickpea liquid or water as needed to allow the machine to produce a smooth puree.

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve, drizzled with the olive oil and sprinkled with a bit more cumin or paprika and some parsley.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holiday Party!

Emily, Jamie, me and Chrissy

My roommates and I hosted our second annual Holiday Party at our apartment last night. It was so good to hang out and celebrate the holidays, the end of finals, and Emily/Chrissy/Maggie's birthdays. After a little scrambling around the kitchen an hour before the party started, we put on our heels, poured champagne cocktails, and took some pictures in front of our very festive red wall.

Chrissy, my former roommate who graduated this spring and is getting married in January, came early in the morning to help us plan, shop, and clean before the party! It's always so great to see her and all spend time together.

For drinks and hors d'oeuvres, we chose both new and tried-and-true recipes. Everyone made their specialties: Emily's Brie with Cranberries, Jamie's Peppermint Chocolate Fudge, Chrissy's Bean Dip, and my own Hummus. For the drinks and other hors d'oeuvres, we all pulled out our laptops and searched Epicurious and food blogs for new recipes.

I'll post all the recipes within the next few days. Now that I'm on Christmas break, I have lots of time to relax, update the blog, go to some farmers markets... but first on the list, sleep in! See you tomorrow afternoon.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Classic Cranberry Sauce

Deliciously tart and so easy to make, you'll never need (or want) to open a can of the weird jellied stuff again.


1/2 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup sugar
12-oz bag fresh or frozen cranberries (3 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
Suggestion: dash ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, and ground cloves

Bring water, orange juice, sugar, and spices to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add cranberries and simmer, stirring occasionally, until berries just pop, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in zest, then cool.