Apple Cheesecake Tart

As I was trying to elbow my way through the masses of people in the supermarket and getting out of the crowded parking lot yesterday, I was pondering that not many people actually seem to be very thankful on Thanksgiving. Everyone just looks… grumpy. Stressed. Maybe it’s just the sheer amount of work involved in making the food that will then be gone in twenty minutes. The mountains of dirty pots and pans that will follow. Or the anticipation of mandatory family visits with more than a few uncomfortable questions from nosy relatives. The day just doesn’t exactly mirror peace and contentment.

And yet I feel this day’s important. Even if we don’t think about these things very often, buried under tons of day to day responsibilities, I found that when you just start thinking about what you’re thankful for, the things just keep flowing. And it’s not just the big, obvious stuff, like good health, family, friends, and roof over our head. It’s also countless small, silly things that make life enjoyable. Such as… Driving. If you’d tell me fifteen years ago I’d love zipping through town in my small (red!) electric car one day, I’d think you’ve lost your mind. But I love everything about it: the road, me time, the music, all of it. GPS. Admittedly, the driving would be much less enjoyable without it. I have absolutely no sense of direction and quite possibly wouldn’t find my way back home. Sleeping in. There is nothing better than to be able to burrow under covers on Saturday morning for some extra zzzz-s. Big kids. Yeah, there would be no sleeping in if the boys would still be little, I’m afraid. Life with teenagers is no picnic, that’s for sure, but on the upside, I don’t have to potty-train anyone anymore, they’re able to cut their own food, and on good days they even put their dirty plate into the dishwasher. Speaking of which… Dishwasher! There would be much less cooking/baking going on in this house without that magical box in which one puts dirty dishes and from which they emerge clean. Wine and Chocolate. An absolute must when trying to survive the teenage years of your kids. If you have teens of your own, you know what I mean. If your kids are still little, you’ll find out what I’m talking about soon enough. Boots. A wonderful pick-me-up during those cold and dreary winter days. I’m still searching for that perfect pair of leather boots in burgundy red. Fireplace. A substitute sun between November and March in the Pacific Northwest! Facebook. I know everybody says social media eat up way too much of our time, yadda, yadda… but to me Facebook is an absolute godsend. It makes me feel connected to my family and friends I’d otherwise get to see only rarely, and be a part of their lives. I could go on and on, but since this is a food blog, I’ll finish with Good Food and the big warm kitchen to make it in.

And this is what I made in my kitchen for our Thanksgiving dessert this year. I admit we’re not big fans of pumpkin pie, and would pick cheesecake over it any day. So that’s exactly what we did. The cheesecake tasted great, and the cinnamon-scented apples made it look very Fall-appropriate. It was also gluten-free, very easy to make, and since it needed to chill overnight, I made it the day before and had the oven free for the bird on the Thanksgiving day.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and are enjoying your time together. The turmoil and sadness going on around the world is putting all things into perspective for me. I’m blessed with all the cooking, dirty dishes, know-it-all teenagers, and a freezer that broke week before Thanksgiving. Let’s make the best of this day, this weekend, next week, and the next. Because we can.

img-2015-11-22-1166

Apple Cheesecake Tart

(adapted from Southern Living 9/2014)

Crust:
  • 200 g (7 oz.) gingersnap cookies
  • 1/2 cup walnuts/pecans
  • 55 g (4 tablespoons, ¼ cup) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
Cheesecake Filling:
  • 450 g (16 oz., 2 packages) full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
Apple Topping:
  • 1 kg (2 lbs.) Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons apricot jelly mixed with 2 tablespoons water
img-2015-11-21-1163.jpg
Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 °F ( 190 °C).
  2. Make the crust: In a food processor, finely grind the gingersnap cookies and the walnuts. Add in the sugar and butter and combine. Lightly butter 9 inch (22 cm) tart pan with removable bottom. Evenly press the mixture on the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan.
  3. Make the Cheesecake Filling: Mix all the ingredients until well combined.
  4. Pour the filling into the crust and smooth out the top with a spatula. Put the tart on the baking sheet. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until almost firm, but still a little jiggly in the center. (If the filling browns too quickly, cover it with a sheet of aluminum foil.) Cool the tart on the rack and then refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
  5. When the tart is chilled, prepare the apple topping: In a large skillet, melt the butter. Combine apples with sugar and cinnamon, and cook on medium heat for about 4 minutes, until softened. Don’t overcook, you don’t want the apples to turn mushy. Drain the excess liquid from the apples and let them cool.
  6. Assemble the tart: Arrange the cooled apple slices in a concentric pattern on the top of the chilled cheesecake. Heat the apricot jelly and water mixture in the microwave, strain it, and brush the apple slices with the glaze. Put the cheesecake tart under the broiler for couple of minutes until the apples brown up a little (watch them closely so they won’t burn.) Alternatively, use the torch to brown the apples. Chill the tart until serving.

img-2015-11-21-1161

 

Advertisements

Orange Cranberry Tartlets

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and I’m slowly getting in the mood. I cleaned out the big freezer yesterday to make room for the turkeys. Yes, the plural was intentional. I’ll be buying at least four, maybe more, depending on how many I’m able to cram in there. At this house, turkey is a perfect food for at least two reasons: 1. It’s meat, and my three cavemen won’t survive without meat. To them, life without meat is just not worth living. 2. It’s a lot of meat, so even if I’ll be birdsitting for four hours at first, basting the sucker around the clock, after those four hours are up, I won’t have to cook for at least three days. Which doesn’t mean I won’t set foot in the kitchen, of course, it just means that I’ll have a lot more time for baking what I want. Turkey in this house translates to bliss all around.

Another thing that can’t be missing at our holiday table are cranberries. I can do without the sweet potatoes and green beans, but I absolutely adore anything cranberry – from the special sweet and tart relish to accompany the bird, through cranberry breads, muffins (and martini!), to deep red cranberry color in my closet which works wonders for my complexion! But I digress; back to the kitchen, shall we?

I made these little tartlets around Thanksgiving last year, and I’ll be making them again next week. The base is Italian pasta frolla, a type of sweet and buttery shortbread dough, and the filling is just lots and lots cooked down cranberries with sugar and spices. I made the pasta frolla with regular gluten flour as well as gluten-free flour mix, and the recipe worked either way. The dough does need to be chilled before baking, but if you make the pasta frolla and the filling the night before, the recipe really comes together in a snap.

A great little holiday dessert – a perfect balance of sweet and tart, just the right size so you won’t need to share and won’t need to feel guilty for indulging either, not to mention a dessert that’s beautiful to look at. Just think about all the vitamin C lurking in the cranberries, and dig in!

img-2014-11-02-5674

Orange Cranberry Tartlets

 Pasta Frolla:
  • 1 3/4 cup (235 g, 8 1/4 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour mix)
  • 90 g (3 oz.) powdered sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons, 113 g, 4 oz.) cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
Orange Cranberry Filling:
  • 4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • juice and zest from 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
+ 1 egg, whisked with 1 tablespoon water/milk – for egg wash
img-2015-11-21-1157
Method:
  1. Make the pasta frolla (shortbread dough): Place all the dry ingredients into the bowl of your food processor; pulse to combine. Add in the cold cubed butter and pulse couple of times, until the flour mixture resembles peas. Lastly add the lemon zest and the egg/egg yolk, and pulse until the dough forms a ball. Wrap the dough and chill it for at least two hours, preferably overnight.
  2. Make the Orange Cranberry filling: Combine all the filling ingredients in a small saucepan; and cook over low heat, stirring, until the cranberries burst open and the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. (You are essentially making a quick jam.) Let the cranberry filling cool, cover, and refrigerate until needed. The filling can be made up to 2 days in advance.
  3. Assembling the tartlets: Lightly butter eight tartlet pans with removable bottom. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pasta frolla, and cut out circles a bit bigger than your tartlet pans. Ease the circles of dough into the pans and prick the bottom of the dough with a fork. Fill the tartlets with cold cranberry mixture and decorate the top with scraps of remaining dough.
  4. Chill the tartlets while you preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C). When the oven reaches the desired temp, place the tartlets on a big shallow baking pan, give them a coat of egg wash and bake for about 15 – 20 minutes until golden.

(makes about eight 4-inch tartlets)

Yeast Whey and Pumpkin Bread

It’s a gloomy Saturday afternoon, and as I sit in front of the fireplace waiting for my dough to rise, I think about Paris: its sunny streets, peppered with cafes, patisseries, and bakeries, offering the most wonderful sweet delights. Folks leisurely walking from the market with fresh baguettes and seasonal produce. But I suppose today the streets are empty. Paris, the very symbol of pleasure and joy, is stunned and mourning. Life’s on hold.

Bread is the epitome of life: it’s about growing, maturing, and nurturing. When things get chaotic and uncertain and I feel there is not much to lean on, I always instinctively turn to bread. No yoga or meditation helps me to anchor my wonky emotions more than the simple act of bread making. It is almost as if by touching the living dough and smoothing it out under my fingers I am trying to smooth out the life bumps that trouble me. In such moments I put everything into that loaf: all my sadness and anger and all my doubts and hopes are in it kneaded together.

“Give us this day our daily bread…”

All we really have in this world is this present moment; yesterday’s gone and no matter how much we’d like to know, we have no idea what the future will bring.  We make our bread for today, and only have the chance to grow today, nurture today, love today.  And if we get to tomorrow, we’ll start from scratch again. Fresh loaf. New strength. Fresh love.

But as long as there is a fresh bread rising in the oven, we live. And if we have people to break it with, then life – with all its uncertainties, pain, rough trails, and knobby edges – is worth living ❤

img-2015-11-14-1137

Yeast Whey Pumpkin Bread

(adapted from http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/aug/23/pumpkin-whey-bread-recipe-dan-lepard; makes two 1 kg (2 lb) loaves

  • 450 g (under 1 lb.) cooked pumpkin, drained
  • 450 ml (15 oz.) whey (leftover liquid from making yogurt or cheese); milk, or combination of buttermilk and water
  • pinch sugar
  • 4 ½ teaspoons instant dry yeast
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 50 ml (scant ¼ cup) olive oil
  • 1kg (2 lbs.) high-gluten bread flour
  • 4–5 teaspoons salt
  • oil, for kneading
  • extra flour, for shaping

img-2015-11-14-1142

Method:
  1. Heat the whey (milk) until lukewarm. Add sugar and yeast, mix, and let stand for about 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. Place flour, salt, and pumpkin seeds in a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a kneading hook.
  3. When the yeast is bubbly, add it together with mashed pumpkin and oil to the flour mixture. Knead on a low speed for about 15 minutes, until the dough is smooth, soft, and elastic. (It should still be somewhat sticky, but if it seems too wet, add a little more flour, tablespoon at a time.)
  4. Let the dough rise in an oiled bowl, covered, for about 50 minutes, until doubled in size.
  5. Take the risen dough out of the bowl, punch it down, and divide it into two equal parts. Form each half into a nice round boule. Let the loaves rise again, covered, for about 30 minutes, while you preheat the oven to 425 °F ( 190 °C). Place the pot or the baking stone in the oven to preheat as well.
  6. Place the bread on the parchment paper on the baking stone or in the preheated pot. Bake for about 40 minutes until the bread is deep brown in color and sounds hollow when lightly tapped on the bottom.
  7. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

img-2015-11-14-1139

Gluten-free Pigs in a Blanket

We all know men and women are somewhat different.

Men are simple. They roll out of bed in the morning, shower with one head to toe shampoo, brush their teeth and put on their favorite pair of jeans and a first clean shirt they’re able to find. They never worry if what they wear makes them look fat: after one glance in the mirror they conclude they look dashing and are ready to face the world. To them yes is yes and no is no. When they need something, they ask for it, and when they are quiet, they’re probably just thinking and want to be left alone. They don’t need much to be happy: warm food, warm bed and someone to share it with. Smiley woman, some beer, and a remote. Life’s great.

We ladies on the other hand are a tad more complex, and I’m not just talking about those hundred different products on the bathroom counter. To us, yes means no and no means yes, and do whatever you want means you better not even think about doing what you asked us about, or you’ll be terribly sorry. We look for a man who’s smart, caring, passionate, understanding, committed, great conversationalist, and good with kids. Romantic and easy on the eyes wouldn’t hurt either. When *we* get quiet, beware: there is an overwhelming chance we’re steaming mad inside, and even though we, too, are thinking, it’s probably pondering how to get back at the one who offended or hurt us. There are countless necessary components to our happiness, and we expect our man to know them all. Without telling him, of course; he should absolutely be able to figure it out – if he loves us enough, that is.

Allegedly men are from Mars and we are from Venus; our needs and desires are often thousand miles apart, and it takes time and effort to learn how to coexist peacefully and happily. But there is at least one need we both share, and that is the need to be appreciated for what we are and do in a relationship. Thankfully, the ways to a man’s heart are direct with no needless curves and longish detours… and one of the surefire ways to reach him is to simply serve him some good old uncomplicated man’s food!

So these little sausage rolls are my appreciation effort for the weekend, expression of love materialized! I know what you’re thinking: What’s so hard about rolling some dough around a sausage? Actually, given that these rolls don’t come from a Pillsbury can, are in fact gluten-free, and gluten-free dough is usually inherently un-rollable, these beauties truly made my day! For the first time in forever I was able to roll out the gluten-free dough without any real trouble and wrap it neatly around the filing. To Mr. Photographer’s delight, I see many more kitchen endeavors playing with this wonderful dough in my future! And I’m sure the picture-taking part will go smoother, too: It’s much easier to ask him to take a picture when he knows he can gobble up the food afterwards, than when I tell him: “No, that’s for the blog. Your food is over there.” 🙂

The party season is almost here. Please give these little piggies in a blanket a try; I’m sure they will be a wonderful addition to your entertaining repertoire!

img-2015-11-07-1125

Gluten-free Pigs in a Blanket

(adapted from http://www.glutenfreeonashoestring.com; makes 16 small rolls)

  • 2 cups (280 g) good quality gluten-free flour mix (I used Manini’s)
  • 1 ½ teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your mix contains xanthan/guar gum already)
  • 3 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup water, lukewarm, divided
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (+ more for drizzling)
  • 16 mini weenies (make sure they’re gluten-free)
  • 2 egg yolks mixed with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
  • caraway seeds for sprinkling, optional

img-2015-11-07-1131

Method:
  1. Combine yeast, ¼ cup water, and sugar; let stand for 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. Place the remaining dry ingredients into the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. When the yeast is bubbly, add it to the dry ingredients together with oil. With the mixer running, slowly add the remaining water. Continue mixing on a medium speed for a couple of minutes. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour, one tablespoon at a time. Form a ball from the dough, oil it all over to prevent cracking, and let it rise, covered, in a warm spot for about 45 minutes, until it doubles in volume.
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; preheat the oven to 400 °F (200 °C).
  4. Divide the risen dough into four equal parts; keep the remaining dough covered while working with one piece of dough. On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough into a rectangle roughly 8 x 6 inches; dust dough with more flour if necessary to prevent it from sticking. Cut the rectangle into 4 strips, each 2 x 6 inches.
  5. Pat dry four mini-sausages and slash each one lengthwise about halfway through. (This will prevent the sausages from bursting out of the dough while baking.)
  6.  Assembling the rolls: Place one sausage on a strip of dough and roll it tightly. Moisten the edges of he dough with a little bit of water to keep the rolls neatly closed around the sausage.
  7. Place the pigs in a blanket on the baking sheet and continue working with the remaining balls of dough/sausages.
  8. Brush the rolls with egg wash and sprinkle with seeds if using. Bake for about 12 – 15 minutes until golden brown.

Pear Dumplings with Walnut – Raisin Stuffing and Honey – Wine Sauce

The days are getting shorter – and colder – and rainier! – as we slowly move toward winter. This weekend we even get to turn our clocks back, so as of next week, it’ll be dark by 4 p.m.! The kids will be waiting for their school buses in the pitch dark in the morning, and by the time they get home, it’ll be dark again. Yay! Can you tell how excited I am?! I so wish we could just move our clock forward to May right now!

Thankfully, there are things that help me to get over my rainy blues, namely lots and lots of wonderful fall produce that we have at our fingertips these days. And even though apples are often praised as the perfect autumn fruit, I want to kick them out of the spotlight for a minute and instead focus on their humble cousins, pears, because I think they’re being undeservedly ignored. To me they’re way cooler than apples; they can be crunchy, sweet, or buttery, and with so many varieties we can find at the stores these days, there really isn’t anything they wouldn’t be great in. Salads, relishes, tarts, sweet or savory dishes, pears are extremely versatile and work in everything!

I paired them up with puff pastry and made a simple but elegant dessert. Either homemade or store-bought, I adore puff pastry, because it’s just so easy and when it puffs up high, coated with golden egg wash, it looks terrific. And I also added wine, honey, and cinnamon for a good measure. As it gets cold outside, I start going through cinnamon like crazy. It’s a wonderful warming spice and even when there is a scary wind storm or horrible downpour banging against the roof, as long as we’re warm and there is a waft of cinnamon in the air, I feel that everything is ok with the world 🙂

img-2015-10-31-0503

Pear Dumplings with Walnut – Raisin Stuffing and Honey – Wine Sauce

(4 servings; adapted from Nejlepší recepty 3/2015)

Quick Puff Pastry – makes about 500 g (1 lb.) of dough:
  • 235 g (7.5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 60 g (2 oz.) cake flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 250 g (1/2 lb.) cold unsalted butter
  • 125 ml (4 oz.) iced water
For the pears:
  • 300 g (10.5 oz.) puff pastry (reserve remaining pastry for later use)
  • 4 smaller firm Bosc pears
  • 800 ml (27 oz.) pear juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 50 g (2 oz.) granulated white sugar
  • 50 g (2 oz.) golden brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten with 2 tablespoons milk – for egg wash
Walnut – Raisin Stuffing:
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Honey Wine Sauce:
  • 125 ml (4 oz.) liquefied honey
  • 5 tablespoons sweet dessert wine
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 50 ml (2 oz.) water
  • 4 – 5 whole cloves
  • 2 sticks cinnamon

img-2015-10-31-0505

Method:
  1. Make the puff pastry: Place the dry ingredients into the bowl of your food processor; pulse to combine. Cut in the cold butter and pulse until the mixture resembles large peas. Lastly add the iced water and pulse just until the dough forms a ball. Wrap and chill the dough until needed.
  2. Prepare the walnut – raisin filling by combining all of the ingredients together; chill until needed.
  3. Cook the pears: Combine pear juice, lemon juice, and sugar in a deep saucepan. Peel the pears. Remove the core, leaving the top with the stem intact. Place the pears in the syrup so they are completely submerged. Cook the pears for about 10 minutes until soft. Don’t overcook. Remove the pears from the syrup and let them cool.
  4. Assembling the pears: Fill the pear cavities with the walnut – raisin filling. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the chilled pastry and cut it into long thin strips. Cover the opening on the bottom of each pear with a piece of dough, and then carefully wrap the dough strips around the pears. Place the pears on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and chill while preheating the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  5. Brush the dough with egg wash and bake the pears for about 15 – 20 minutes until the dough is puffed up and golden brown.
  6. While the pears are baking, prepare the honey wine syrup: Combine all the ingredients together and cook until the syrup thickens.
  7. Serve the pears with the syrup, warm or at a room temperature.

img-2015-10-31-0510

Note:

You can also cut the cooked pears in half, fill the small cavity with stuffing and place them cut side down on the rolled out pastry, and trace the dough around them with a sharp knife, outlining the pear form. Add a small cut out leaf, brush the edges of the dough with egg wash, sprinkle with cinnamon and bake at 375 °F (190 °C)  for 20 minutes.