29 October 2009

Fall Apple Cake

Two boxes of apples from my dad's yard in New Jersey + friends coming over for dessert = fall apple cake. It's suddenly turned into fall in DC, so a warm apple cake seemed like the perfect weeknight treat. I based this off an old recipe that I love, but couldn't find, in the 30 minutes I had to get a cake in the oven before M&S arrived. It makes a buttery cake base that holds lots of tart apples and has a caramel topping that takes it a step beyond your typical apple cake. All it takes is about 30 minutes of prep work (even less if you have an apple peeler/corer, which I don't).

The first thing to do is find a cast iron skillet (or other stove to oven pan) and then estimate how many apples you would need to fill up the skillet with apple quarters. This depends completely on the size of your apples- with the little ones from my dad's yard, I probably used 10. If you have monster grocery store apples, you will probably need less, though you could cut them into eights and probably should, as you don't want the apple pieces to stick out above the edge of your pan.

Once you've figured out the apple situation, it's time to peel and core. I don't take the whole peel off the apple because 1) I'm lazy and 2) might as well keep some of the vitamins in. I peel in a spiral pattern, leaving a few stripes on. I wouldn't recommend skipping the peeling step completely, as the apple skins don't soften like the rest of the fruit during baking and fighting to cut an apple peel with a fork does not make for an enjoyable dining experience.

When you've finished the apples, pop the sugar and butter in the skillet over medium low heat and let melt. Don't stir but pick up the pan (oven mitt, please) and tilt it around to combine the ingredients. Let cook to a medium amber color and remove from the heat. It can be a little hard on your first few attempts to discern the color of the caramel from black skillet, but watch for the color on the foamy parts. Arrange the apples in rings around the pan, then make your cake batter and pour over the top. Bake for about 45 minutes at 350F, turn the cake over onto a plate and serve warm.

Fall Apple Cake
Serves 8-10

Apple topping:
1/2C (100g) sugar
2 T. (30g) butter
apples (read above to figure out how many you need)
lemon juice

1 recipe, yellow or white cake (coming soon)

(If you are really pressed for time you could use a box mix although it only take a few minutes to put together this recipe)

- Preheat oven to 350F/180C

- Peel, core and cut apples in fourths or eights depending on the size. Toss with a little lemon juice to prevent browning.

- Heat the butter and sugar in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Don't stir but pick up the pan (oven mitt, please) and tilt it around to combine the ingredients. Let cook to a medium amber color and remove from the heat.

- Arrange the apple pieces in rings in the skillet. Pour the cake batter evenly over the top of the apples. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the cake is puffed and golden and a tester inserted in the cake come out clean.

28 October 2009

Tossed Salad with Indian Spiced Chicken

I remember reading an article a few years ago stating that the average American family has about a dozen core recipes in its meal lineup, and repeats them, with a few variations, most of the time. At the time, I thought that would be awfully boring, but I've given more thought to it lately, as I haven't been making things I thought were interesting enough to post on the blog. Part of why I started writing this blog was to encourage myself to try new foods and techniques in the kitchen and it's worked, but lately I found myself in a culinary rut. Granted, this was after a summer of heavy travel when I had simply gotten out of the habit of meal planning and into the habit of pasta and veggie burgers. Now that some big life things have happened- Zach and I got married, I'm leaving my job to take some time off before the new job starts (a luxury I really do appreciate), I am ready to get the blog fired up again.

I thought I would start with a 'make the old new again' kind of recipe, turning
Indian Spiced Chicken Bites into a meal but putting them on top of a tossed salad with an Indian spice dressing and serving it with warm pita. Is it the most magnificent thing I've ever made in the kitchen? Certainly not; but it was a quick, balanced meal that combines everyday ingredients with a few new tastes to add some excitement to a weeknight dinner.

Tossed Salad with Indian Spiced Chicken
Serves 2, easily doubled
Dressing based on this

1/2 recipe
Indian Spiced Chicken Bites
1/2 head romaine (or your preferred) lettuce, torn into pieces
2 carrots, shredded
1/2 C. raisins or chopped dried apricots
salad dressing (below)

- Toss all the ingredients for the salad in a large bowl. Top with dressing and toss again. Serve.

Salad dressing (you'll probably have leftovers)

a bit of lemon zest
2T lemon juice
1/2t turmeric
1/2t cumin
1/2t coriander
1 small glove garlic, mashed into a paste
1/2t sugar
2t grated fresh ginger
chili paste to taste
salt to taste
1/4-1/2C light flavored oil

- Mix all ingredients together in a bowl with a wisk.

27 October 2009

Pumpkin Spice Macarons

This month was supposed to be my triumphant return to the Daring Bakers but it began with a baking disaster and is ending with me typing up this post at 10pm on posting day. I have seen macarons online for a while now and have always been more intrigued by their looks than what I thought they would taste like. While the sandwich cookies look so cute, meringue has never been my thing, so I'd never gotten around to trying them, until this month that is.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

For my first attempt, I carefully separated the eggs and let the whites come to room temperature. Then I proceeded to overbeat them. I knew it but decided to continue on with the cookies anyway, thinking that everything would be all right. Oh no, it was not. The cookies ended up flattened sticky messes and even though I'm usually a one picture per post type of person, I'm sticking in an extra picture of my overbeated egg whites- just in case you aren't sure what they look like (I wasn't). So here they are= if your egg whites look like this, toss them out and start again.

For my next attempt, I whipped the white much more carefully and things turned out pretty well. I couldn't find my piping tips when it came time to pipe out the cookies though, so I ended up make them much thinner than I should have. They turned out a little flat, but still have a hint of the 'foot' they are famous for.

For flavoring I decided to go fall, and mixed nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and allspice into the macaron batter and made an unsweetened pumpkin cream cheese frosting. I find pumpkin quite bitter on its own, but it worked out really well against the incredibly sweet macarons.

One last confession before I end my post. Since my first macaron attempt failed, I switched recipes for the second. The DB challenge recipe is below, but for my successful attempt, I used
Helene's recipe. I'm sure both will work, as long as you're careful with the egg whites.


Actual baking time: 12 minutes total, plus a few minutes to get your oven from 200°F to 375°F.

Equipment required:
• Electric mixer, preferably a stand mixer with a whisk attachment
• Rubber spatula
• Baking sheets
• Parchment paper or nonstick liners
• Pastry bag (can be disposable)
• Plain half-inch pastry bag tip
• Sifter or sieve
• If you don’t have a pastry bag and/or tips, you can use a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off
• Oven
• Cooling rack
• Thin-bladed spatula for removing the macaroons from the baking sheets
• Food processor or nut grinder, if grinding your own nuts (ouch!)

2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.) Confectioners’ sugar
2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.) Almond flour
2T (25g, 88 oz.)Granulated sugar
5 Egg whites (Have at room temperature)


1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Yield: 10 dozen. Ami's note: My yield was much smaller than this. I produced about two dozen filled macaroons.