Happy New Year, All

That's me on one of my most favorite days this past year. (A rare moment away from the kitchen). Looking forward to lots more like that (with or without the wig).


Savory Rosemary & Chevre Muffins

My darlings! I'm sorry about my long absence. I didn't even realize it had been so long. One moment I was throwing up my hands and giving up half-way through NaBloPoMo and then next thing I knew I was sitting on my parents couch with my boyfriend and family surrounded by piles of wrapping paper and shiny bows. Just like that it went from mid-November to a couple days before New Years. Funny, huh?

I hope Christmas was good to you. Or if you don't celebrate Christmas then I hope you at least enjoyed a few days off work and maybe even got to snag a slice or two of that yummy cake they were passing out at work the other day. 

Santa was very good to me. He brought me a gorgeous new set of red KitchenAid pots and pans , a beautiful new spice rack, and a long-lusted for trio of Wusthof Le Cordon Bleu knives (it seems Santa shops at Williams Sonoma). Santa and my boyfriend conspired and brought me this INCREDIBLE squooshy chef's mat for my kitchen floor. If you don't have one, I highly recommend it if like me you spend hours in the kitchen barefoot. I always used to end the day curled up in pain from my aching lower back, but not anymore. Also (bonus!) anything that falls on it seems to bounce. I've already inadvertently tested this with a wine glass, an egg, a glass measuring cup, and one porcelain ramekin. You might have to try it out to believe it, but the difference really is amazing. I would even recommend it for hair stylists or doormen or restaurant hostesses. Basically anyone that has to stand in one spot for loooong periods of time.  

I also got an assortment of whisks and pinch bowls and a cookbook, and my brother signed my boyfriend and me up for a Wine of the Month club membership that will deliver two tasty wines a month to our apartment for the next six months. Anyway, I think we made out like bandits.

New kitchen toys plus free time equals lots of fun new recipes that I'm excited to share. First on deck are these ridiculously easy and tasty savory muffins, which I've stuffed with chunks of fresh chevre, sauteed red onions, and sprigs of rosemary. I made these for our Christmas party this year. The theme was "breakfast at night," and I served an array of breakfast-themed canapes including little omelettes, potato and zucchini latkes, and mini waffles with different toppings. 

The savory muffins were a snap to make and they replaced the usual bread and crackers. They're perfect to serve alongside a cheese plate to keep your guests entertained while you finish up dinner (or your makeup). They also freeze well and can be made well ahead of time. Serve them warm straight from the oven or at room temp. Also yummy with eggs the next morning!

If you're not a goat cheese (or rosemary or onion) fan, these are really easy to modify. Try a version with roasted garlic and cream cheese or fontina and roasted red peppers. The combinations really are endless. Let me know what you come up with!

Savory Rosemary & Chevre Muffins
1 tablespoon butter, plus more for buttering tins
1 small red onion, minced
1 2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons sour cream or plain yogurt
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
2/3 cup fresh chevre goat cheese (plain or herbed), broken into small 1/2" chunks 
 4 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, plus 24 small sprigs for garnishing (garnish optional)

Begin by melting the butter in a small saucepan and sauteing the onion in it for about 5 - 8 minutes, or until soft and just slightly caramelized. Allow onions to cool.

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. Grease your mini muffin pan well with oil or pan spray, or line with mini muffin liners.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Beat one egg, then whisk it together with the milk and sour cream or yogurt.  Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir gently just until combined (don’t mind if there are a few small lumps).

Gently fold in the cooked onion, goat cheese, and chopped rosemary into the muffin batter. (Reserve the sprigs).

Spoon the mixture straight into greased mini muffin tins until it just about reaches the top (you can also use mini muffin tin liners, if you'd like).

Beat the second egg with a tablespoon of water and brush each of the muffin surfaces, then insert a small sprig of rosemary in the center of each one.  (this step is totally optional; sometimes I skip it)

Bake about 20 minutes or until risen and just slightly golden and a tester inserted into the largest muffin comes out clean (a bit of melted goat cheese may stick to the tester, but no batter)

Let cool for two minutes before gently removing to a rack to continue cooling.

Serve warm or room temperature. If you want to store, freeze the muffins and then let defrost at room temperature for two hours before serving. You may also reheat briefly in a 350 degree oven. 


Roasted Tomato & Goat Cheese Omelet, Mesclun Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette

I wasn't sure if I should write this post. Omelets, after all, are a fairly obvious kind of dish; eggs stuffed with whatever you want. It's quick. It's simple. It's pathetically easy. Except for when it isn't

I've read in various places that great chefs are judged by the quality of their omelets. The ability to keep the egg together during the closing and then transferring to plate can sometimes befuddle even the most accomplished of home cooks. My own mother would regularly serve us something that lay somewhere in between scrambled eggs and a proper omelet. One could never really tell if it was an omelet that fell apart or if she'd just walked away half-way through scrambling. It's not as we minded of course. Eggs, regardless of technique are usually delicious when tossed and cooked with things like cheese, peppers, or bits of ham.

I actually grew up favoring the enormous three-egg omelets served at the local diner, which we frequented on sunday afternoons post church service. I always ordered one made of broccoli and cheddar cheese, until I took a bite of my mom's lox and onion omelet and promptly started ordering that. They'd come accompanied with a mound of homefries and four stacked triangles of buttered wheat toast. The plates were thick white ceramic and always just a little bit greasy. Normal for a Jersey diner, although my picky parents were forever wiping things down and sending things back asking the exasperated diner lady for a "clean cup" or a "clean fork.'

In college, brunch became a bit more sophisticated. The lack of proper diners in DC led us to seek out the tasty brunch menus at a variety of nearby bistros and restaurants. Giant heavy short-order omelets were replaced with elegant egg dishes and tall flutes of bubbly mimosa cocktails. And it wasn't long before I discovered the simple pleasure of a delicate two-egg omelet alongside a simply dressed mesclun salad.

This marinated roast tomato and goat cheese omelet is my new favorite. I've included the recipe below along with a few tricks for keeping it together. Don't worry because I'm not going into a lengthy demo of one-handed flipping and shifting. There is nothing wrong with using a spatula and a nonstick skillet; in fact, it's my preferred method. Use store-bought marinated tomatoes (I adore the ones sold at the Whole Foods olive bar) or make your own (Molly from Orangette had a wonderful recipe in the September Bon Appetit). I serve this with a salad of mixed greens tossed in a quick ginger vinaigrette. This easy meal can be served at any time of day or night and won't leave anyone wanting.

Roasted Tomato & Goat Cheese Omelet, Mesclun Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette
serves 1

For the Omelet

2 Large Eggs
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
¼ cup roasted marinated tomatoes, store-bought or home made. If cherry, leave as is. If bigger, cut down to about 1” pieces
2 tablespoons of goat cheese, broken into small pieces
fresh pepper

For the Dressing

1/4 rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 scallions, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sesame oil
½ cup canola or safflower oil
salt, black pepper

2 cups mesclun greens

First make the dressing.

This is easiest if done in a blender or food processor. Add all the ingredients except for the oils and salt & pepper to the blender and process until smooth. Will take about a minute. Without stopping the mixture, remove the little plastic cap opening on top of the blender and slowly drizzle in the oils in a steady stream. Continue to process for another three minutes until completely emulsified (will look slightly creamy).

Stop the blender and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Make the omelet:

Beat the eggs in a bowl using a whisk or fork. Beat well, for about two minutes until the eggs are light in color and fluffy. The longer you beat, the fluffier the eggs will be. Feel free to use an electric mixer for 30 seconds if you prefer.

Season the eggs with salt and pepper.

Make sure your fillings are ready. When the time comes to add them, you’ll have to do it quickly so make sure anything that needs to be broken up or chopped is done so first.

Place a medium sized skillet over medium heat and add a two count of oil. Allow the oil to coat the pan entirely.

Pour the eggs gently into the pan in a steady stream right in the middle. The eggs should spread out evenly but if not, slightly tilt the pan to allow them to do use. Let them cook for a few seconds and then use a spatula to pull in the outer parts of the cooked egg, allowing the liquid egg in the center to spread out to the sides. It’s okay if there is still some liquid egg in the center but you want MOST of it to drain out to the edges so it can cook evenly without a lot of liquid inside.

Now stop touching it. Seriously. Instead, go get your tomatoes and bring them over. Once the egg has thickened a little (it will still be a bit wet, but will look somewhat solid) lay out your tomatoes on one half of the omelet. Spread them out as evenly as possible.

Now drop the little chunks of goat cheese on top of the same half.

Immediately after doing this, use a spatula to loosen the edges of the other (topping-less) half. Jiggle the spatula under it gently to release that half of the egg from the pan.

Now gripping the spatula handle firmly with one hand, flip the topping-less egg portion over the other half. It’s OK if it doesn’t cover it completely, just use the tip to gently slide it over. Leave to cook for another 15 seconds and then bring the pan over to your plate. Slide the spatula under the omelet and tilting the pan about 45 degrees toward your plate, slide the omelet out and onto the plate.

Arrange the salad on the other half of your plate. Drizzle with the dressing. And serve immediately!

Ginger-Scented Brown Butter Cake

I work at a magazine where in seemingly every issue we publish an article about "secrets." Whether the subject is fashion or beauty, there are always a few basics tricks that every girl needs to know. Tips like how to cover a blemish or how to make that boring office dress suitable for a last-minute date may not seem all that exciting, but at that right moment they can make all the difference.

If it were up to me (and it's definitely not), I'd prefer a list of recipe secrets. A few must-have recipes that every girl should keep in her arsenal. Ones that she can whip up quickly while running back and forth from the kitchen and living room during Grey's Anatomy (BTW, totally unrelated but can someone *please* explain to me what is up with those dead Denny love scenes?). Anyway, maybe it's sacrilege to say this, but I think a good basic butter cake recipe will get you a lot farther than perfectly kohl-lined eyes. Because trust me, no guy is ever going to go home and tell his roommates about your carefully highlighted cheekbones. But he definitely will remember how you made him that "awesome cake."

This awesome cake is easy to throw together. The secret is in the ginger-y brown butter, which I'll teach you to make below. It adds a subtle hint of spice and nuttiness to an already light and moist cake. If you don't have ginger, skip it and just brown the butter without it. Once cooled, the cake can be served plain with a dusting of powdered sugar, topped with a scoop of ice cream, drizzled with chocolate syrup, or even split, filled, and frosted (and I won't even judge you if you use the canned stuff).

Oh and it's even perfect the next morning for breakfast. You know, should you find yourself with an unexpected overnight guest...

Ginger-Scented Brown Butter Cake

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Ginger Brown Butter (see below)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, plus one large egg yolk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy cream or Half & Half

Ginger Brown Butter
2 tablespoons sliced fresh ginger
3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1” cubes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan.

Prepare the Brown Butter:
In a medium saucepan, combined the butter cubes and ginger over medium heat. Stir until completely melted then lower heat slightly. Let simmer.

After a couple minutes, the butter will start to froth, keep an eye on it stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t bubble up. The brown butter will be ready when the solids have separated from the rest of the butter and attained a golden color. The rest of the butter will also take on a golden hue and the scent will be rich, nutty, and gingery.

Remove from the heat and let cool (about 5-10 minutes) but not harden. Strain the ginger and butter solids leaving only the clear, golden butter. Use this for your recipe.

To make the cake:
Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer (or by hand) beat the brown butter and sugar for a minute until well combined and slightly syrupy. Beat in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla until well combined.

Switch the mixer to low speed and slowly add the dry ingredients about a 1/2 cup at a time, alternating with ¼ cup of cream until all added.

Beat for an addition 15-30 seconds until the batter is completely mixed and there are no lumps or dry spots.

Pour your batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40-45 minutes until golden and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let cool slightly before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve dusted with confectioner’s sugar or any variety of toppings. Any leftover cake can be stored wrapped in plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Fluffy Orange Ricotta Pancake Recipe

I grew up eating ricotta at dinnertime, often mixed with herbs or sauteed vegetables and baked into manicotti or layered between slivers of pasta and marinara. I thought of ricotta as a savory cheese, meant to be enjoyed cooked in those classic Italian-American red sauce dishes of the New Jersey dinner table. And just like, say, tuna or mushrooms, I never even paused to think that the lovely filling in my stuffed shells would be just as lovely as dessert or--better yet--breakfast.

Ricotta wakes up when left to its own devices. A quennelle balanced on a hearty bowl of chili cools the mouth just long enough to allow it to really appreciate the smoky heat. Spread thickly on toasted rounds of bread it is the perfect foil to spicy chutney. And, perhaps my favorite of all, a heaping scoop topped with fresh fruit and a thick dab of honey becomes the perfect weekday breakfast--all the elegance of a yogurt parfait with the rich mouth feel of cheesecake.

These Orange Ricotta pancakes are reminiscent of that simple weekday scoop, but with all of the decadence that weekend breakfast demands. And making them? Well that part is half the fun. You start by rubbing together orange zest and sugar to completely release all the natural citrus oils of the fruit. The scent is all kinds of ambrosial and I had to control myself from rubbing it into my wrists. Egg whites are then whipped thick and folded into the batter just before cooking, making for the fluffiest pancakes you've ever seen. When the bubbles start to break the surface, slip your spatula under and flip quickly.

These pancakes rise up fast, like little souffles, and are best eaten right away so make sure your family is ready and waiting with their plates. The cheese flavor is subtle, but present. Although they are delicious with syrup, I actually preferred mine plain, eaten with my fingers like a little flat cupcake. I think they would also be lovely with a light dusting of powdered sugar or maybe even a bit of orange blossom honey.

Orange Ricotta Pancakes
These pancakes get their incredible height and lightness from thickly beaten egg whites. To assure your whites stiffen perfectly, beat in a clean, cool metal bowl that has been wiped down with a cut lemon and then cleaned with a paper towel. This will get rid of any soap or oil residue left behind from previous uses.

Serves 2-3 (about nine 3" pancakes)

2/3 cup all-purpose or pastry flour, sifted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta (preferably fresh)
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup heavy cream
Freshly grated rind of ½ large orange
3 tablespoons freshly squeeze orange juice
3 large eggs, separated

To make:
In a small bowl or on a cutting board, mix the sugar and orange zest together, using the back of a spoon to rub into each other well.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar & zest mixture, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Sift together well.

In a separate medium bowl, combine the ricotta, sour cream, heavy cream, orange juice, and egg yolks and combine well.

Add the ricotta mixture to the flour and combine until smooth, but don’t overmix.

Use an electric mixer (or a lot of elbow grease) to beat your egg whites until stiff.

Gently fold about a third of the egg white mixture into your batter and then follow with the rest. Don’t worry if there are slight streaks of egg white in the batter.

Heat a nonstick or cast iron griddle and grease with a bit of butter. Spoon your batter in about 1/3 cup at a time. Let the pancakes cook until slight bubbles start to pop on the surface and the edges come together cleanly. Slip a spatula under and gently flip. Let cook until the edges are cooked and the pancake has risen.

Serve immediately.

Chocolate-Covered Membrillo Squares

Do you remember how I went on and on last week about membrillo and how deliciously perfect it is with bits of salty cheese?

You do?

Great. Now forget it. Seriously.

Because as wonderful as quince paste is with cheese, it is even better covered in a thin shell of rich dark bitter chocolate.

I mean it! I can hardly believe how good these are.

If you haven't tried it yet, perhaps it would help to imagine Membrillo as a bit of a naughty grown-up berry jam. It's less sticky sweet with deeper, almost wine-like undertones. I like to think that it's what raspberry would taste like if it took up smoking and stayed up late past curfew. It's Jenny with the razored shag and raccoon eyeliner. And, as a girl who loves cordials and chocolate raspberry jellies (and also, apparently, Gossip Girl), I am absolutely drawn to the perfect combination of berry and chocolate.

I find the pair utterly irrisistable; so much so that back when I still lived in Jersey and used to have to make the long, miserable commute back and forth through the Lincoln Tunnel by bus, I would stop at the Port Authority candy shop each evening to buy a few small pieces of chocolate raspberry jellies to help make the trip (somewhat) bearable.

This chocolate-covered membrillo is so easy to make, and would even make for a fantastic holiday gift if you (like so many of us) are hunting around for ideas on things to make this meager gift-giving season. A few of these in a little tin or wrapped in cellophane and ribbon would make for an elegant and totally unique gift. I won't even judge you if you choose to buy your membrillo instead of making your own. (Although your really *should* try to make your own.)

Oh and if you're into the salty-sweet kind of thing. I topped a few with a bit of salt before the chocolate set. Try it both ways and let me know which you like best.

Chocolate-Covered Membrillo (Quince Paste)

1 8x8x8 square of membrillo (homemade or store bought)
16 oz (1 bag) bittersweet chocolate chips (I like Ghirardelli 60%)
Fleur de sel or course salt for decoration (optional)

Cut membrillo into 1" squares.

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl by microwaving 30 seconds at a time until completely melted. Stir the melted chocolate with a metal spoon until it is smooth and the bowl no longer feels hot. Test the chocolate by bringing a bit up to your lower inside lip. If it doesn't burn, but still feels warmer than your lip, it is perfect.

Slowly drop the quince into the chocolate and let coat completely then use a spoon to bring out and deposit on wax paper for a minute. Let the chocolate settle, then use a spatula to transfer to a cooling rack to remove the excess chocolate.

If you are using salt, sprinkle a few grains over the chocolate before cooling.

Let cool completely at room temperature (near an open window or fan works well) until completely hardened. Store candy in an airtight container in a cool dry place.

Cinnamon Apple Pie-Cake

This is part two of what I made the night I brought home a big giant bag of apples. It's an apple pie with a soft and sweet cake-like crust that tastes almost like a butter cookie with just a tiny hint of cardamom and vanilla. Inside, the apples are firm and tart, with the perfect touch of cinnamon.

As I mentioned in my last post, I made this pie the same night I made the apple cake, and my boyfriend and I tested both to see which one was better. It was a close race, but this one proved to be his favorite as he loved the way it really showcased the tartness of the Granny Smith apples. While I'm sure you can use several other varieties to bake this pie, a sour apple really works best against the sweet and prominent crust.

With a soft crust like this one, it really is important that you not store it in the fridge where moisture and those "fridge smells" will ruin the texture. This kept well in a dry spot on our dining table, covered well with plastic.

Boyfriend took a large slice to work with him every morning for a week to enjoy with his afternoon tea and recommended heating it up in the microwave for a few (15-30) seconds just before eating to wake up that freshly-baked flavor.

This pie is perfect for those of you who are terrified by normal pastry crusts. I admit, I don't love working with pie crusts and appreciated the simplicity and familiarity of working with a dough that is a lot more forgiving than a crust. The leavening in the dough assures that any cracks will fill up and heal themselves as the dough rises in the heat of the oven. And you won't have to worry about the age-old debate between whether or not to cook the apples first to avoid that filling/crust gap. The dough will fill out and take care of that for you. Really all you have to worry about is keeping yourself from gobbling it all up!

Cinnamon Apple Pie-Cake
adapted from Dorie Greenspan

For the crust:
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
½ cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 vanilla bean
½ teaspoon cardamom
1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

For the filling:
5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1” thick wedges
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg

Course decorating sugar (optional)

To prepare the crust:

In the base of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and continue to mix for an additional 2 minutes.

Reduce the mixer to low speed, and add the baking powder, salt, and lemon juice.

Split and scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the mix (leave out the pod) and add the cardamom.

Slowly add the flour, 1 cup at a time until it is all incorporated and the batter has turned thick like a dough and pulls away from the sides.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead for a few seconds before gathering into a ball then dividing in half. Roll each half into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap.

Refrigerate for at least two hours or up to three days.

When you are ready to bake your pie:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and position a rack in the center.

Toss your apples with lemon, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Make sure they are coated evenly. Taste and feel free to add more of the sugar or spices if you’d like.

To assemble the pie:

Remove the dough from the fridge and work with one half at a time. Roll it out between two sheets of wax or parchment paper and place in the bottom of your pie plate. It’s ok if it breaks (it probably will), just press into place. Remove any excess.

Arrange the apples inside the pie and pour any liquid left in the bowl over the apples.

Roll out your second half of dough and place on top, rolling and pinching the edges shut.

Use a paring knife to cut 4 or 5 even one-inch slits in the center of the pie to vent.

Bake for 60-80 minutes or until the dough is a nice golden brown and the juices start to bubble up through the slits. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature before you serve.

Apple Cake

All August and September long, I asked boyfriend to take me apple picking. I hinted and joked and annoyingly repeated the request anytime I came in contact with the mere word "apple." Unfortunately, boyfriend was not quite as excited by this idea as I since it involved his driving us *outside* of the city to some non-specific farm place in one of those farmy parts of New Jersey or, possibly, New York. Time passed by, edged along by countless family birthdays and holidays and our mutual reluctance to get out of bed before 3pm on weekends, and soon it was too late to pick our own apples up (or down) in those farmy parts of New Jersey and/or New York.

Though not quiet the spoils I would have gotten from the farm, I've managed to make do with the generous (albeit overpriced) grocery store selection, buying five pounds of them at a time and lugging home on the subway where I sit and think about things to make. On one recent trip home I became inexplicably enamored with the thought of making both an apple cake and an apple pie at the same time. The idea bubbled and formed all the way up the Upper West Side until I finally made it home, popped in a DVD, and promptly got to work peeling five pounds of apples.

Boyfriend got home from the gym to find me and my peeler and two bowls filled with naked apples and peels strategically balanced among the couch cushions. I was deeply engrossed in the movie; one of those films about damaged women starring Catherine Keener.

“What are you going to make?” He asked me while taking off his coat.

“Two somethings with apple in them,” I replied, refusing to offer more information.

I spent the rest of the night kicking him out of the kitchen and assuring him that whatever it was I was making would be ready in time for him to have with his evening tea.

The results were wonderful, and it worked out perfectly as we each picked a different favorite. I fell in love with the moist cake, but he was a bigger fan of the sour apple pie with a cakey crust. Either would make a wonderful autumn dessert, and they are elegant enough to serve on the Thanksgiving table (when perhaps two desserts would make a bit more sense than an average Tuesday night).

The Apple Cake is one that I've been making and remixing ever since college. The original inspiration was from a friend's mother who used to spoil us all by sending her son home from his weekend visits with a tray of wonderful chocolate chip apple cake. I once dared to ask her to share the wonderful recipe, and she was gracious enough to send it.  This isn't her recipe; I'm keeping that one a secret like I promised, but this is a version that has evolved from that recipe, buy minus the chocolate chips and with a much spongier cake.  To taste the original, you'll have to be invited to one of my parties, but in the meantime here is a just as lovely take:

Apple Cake

For the apple filling:
5 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1” pieces
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

For the cake:
2 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup olive oil
½ cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups sugar
¼ cup apple cider or orange juice
1 tablespoon vanilla
4 eggs

Extra cinnamon (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter & flour a 9” springform pan.

Toss the peeled and chopped apples with the lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar. Set aside. (They may start to brown a bit despite the juice, but don’t worry about that since you’ll be baking them into the cake.)

In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk the butter, oil, juice, sugar, and vanilla.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry flour mixture.

Add the eggs, beating them in so that each one full incorporates before you add the next.

Pour about half of the batter into the prepared springform pan and cover with about half of the apples (don’t worry if they sink in). Cover with the rest of the cake batter, and top with the rest of the apples.

Add a sprinkle of cinnamon, if desired, and then bake in the 350 degree heated oven for about 90 minutes or until the apples on top crisp on the edges and a cake tester inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Dimpled Quince Pudding Cake

Do you remember those lovely poached quince I wrote about?

Of course you do. I only *just* posted about them (OK, so NaBloPoMo isn’t going quite as planned, but am still determined to get 30 recipes up by the 30th…).

Anyway, those quince were wonderful. Sweet and buttery soft with just a hint of sour from the fruit. In fact, they were so good that I couldn't stop myself from wondering what they would taste like baked *into* something.

So I made a cake. A pudding cake, actually.

I admit that this didn’t turn out quite the way I’d expected. I was hoping for a slightly less dense cake with better crumb, but I can’t say that I’m disappointed with the results.

I'm delighted, really. I pureed half the poached quince and added them to a brown butter cake batter so it came out moist and dense like the texture of bread pudding. The browned butter imparted a wonderful nutty flavor that worked well with the fruit and gave it that extra bit of naughty richness. The rest of the quince wedges were arranged on top, where they settled gently into the baked batter like a basket of rosy dimples.

This cake is just too gorgeous for words, and when you cut into it, the rosy vanilla-flecked quince look like gems. I think this would work wonderfully served with a bit of cheese (perhaps Stilton?) and a glass of wine. And, like so many other good cakes, this one is really better the morning after. Trust me on this.

Dimpled Quince Pudding Cake

**You'll need a batch of these vanilla and anise poached quince for this recipe** 
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup mashed poached quince
2 cups poached quince wedges
1 1/2 sticks butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Place the butter over medium heat and melt gentle. Let the butter continue to simmer for a few minutes until it starts to foam. Stir it and leave to simmer for a couple more minutes until the solids start to brown and the butter takes on a caramel or nutty aroma. Let cool then strain.

Pour the browned butter into the bowl of standing mixer on medium speed and add the sugar and beat for 2 minutes. Add the eggs followed by the mashed quince and vanilla.

On low speed, add the flour in three parts, alternating with the milk.

Switch the mixer to medium and beat for an additional 30 seconds.

Pour batter into a prepared pan and arrange the remaining quince wedges on top in a circle. Put a few in the center.

Bake in the oven about 40 minutes to one hour, or until the top turns golden brown with just a bit of crisp on the quince and an inserted cake tester comes out clean.

Remove the sides from the pan and let cool completely before serving. If desired, dust with confectioner’s sugar or drizzle on a bit of the poached quince syrup.

Vanilla Bean & Anise Poached Quince

My boyfriend brought home a wonderful gift for me last week; a bag full of gorgeous fragrant yellow quince. He’d spotted them at a farmer’s market near his office during lunch, and bought me as many as he could carry. I was absolutely over the moon with this present, particularly after having spent several days searching online and various markets for more quinces to replenish the few I’d used to make Membrillo earlier this month.

There were a dozen in all and we poured them out into my big red mail-and-keys bowl on the coffee table. There they sat for a few days, filling up our apartment once again with that indescribable fragrance. I decided to make a few different things with them, starting with a simple, slightly sweet poach that I knew would be lovely on ice cream and thick Greek yogurt. (These poached quince were also used in a cake I'll tell you about soon.)

Quince lends itself quite nicely to poaching due to its natural acidity and tough texture. The thing cooks hate most about working with this fruit is the battle it is to peel them. The tough outer skin clings hard and fast to the flesh, proving a challenge for even the most formidable of peelers. I’ve found an easy way to deal with this problem that I’m going to share with you.

Basically, I just don’t bother. Seriously.

There is absolutely no reason to peel the quince. Just chop, snip out the seeds, and poach. After a few hours, the peel becomes just as buttery sweet and tender as the rest of the fruit and you’ll have saved yourself quite a bit of trouble. It’s totally edible, but if you’re completely adamant about removing, then simply wait until the fruit has cooled a bit and use your fingers to easily slide it off the wedges.

Vanilla Bean & Anise Poached Quince

4-5 medium sized quince (each about the size of an apple)
3/4 cup sugar
2 vanilla beans, split
3 star anise pods
2 thick slices of lemon peel (about 1 inch thick each)

Scrub and clean the quince well. Core and cut into 1 inch thick wedges. Do not peel.

Place the cut fruit into a large pot and fill with water until it is about an inch about the fruit. The quince will likely float so use your hands to push the fruit under and gauge the right amount of water.

Add the vanilla beans, anise pods, and lemon peel.

Place on the stove over high heat and allow to come up to a boil. Lower the heat to a slow simmer and leave on the stove for 2.5 to 3 hours. The water will reduce and thicken into a syrup and the quince will be fork tender and turn a deep ruby color.

Remove from the heat and let cool in the syrup then place in the refrigerator overnight (still in the syrup). In the morning, strain the fruit and keep in a jar or air-tight container in the fridge. This can be used over yogurt or baked in various desserts (stay tuned for some ideas).

The syrup is also lovely drizzled over ice cream or pound cake.

Easy Rosemary & Garlic Focaccia Rolls

A recent interest in the world of homemade pizza baking has left me with multiple little balls of dough wrapped and waiting in my fridge. Since I’d always been a big fan of pizza crust, I experimented with baking a few of these to form an easy homemade focaccia. The results were wonderful and I now see no reason to ever purchase focaccia in a bakery when freshly baked, warm focaccia is so easy to prepare at home.

If you keep prepared dough in your fridge or freezer, these bake up as quickly as 7 minutes (after a brief rise) and would make a lovely surprise in your dinner bread basket or served along eggs with breakfast. The dough puffs up in various spots and is soft, and the perfect amount of chewy. One thing to remember is that the dough should be prepared at least 24 hours ahead so that the yeast has a time to develop and give the dough a great flavor. The dough will get better each day and can be refrigerated up to four days (freeze if you plan to wait longer).

Though wonderful plain and brushed with just a hint of olive oil and sprinkle of kosher salt, I prefer topping with a sprinkle of finely chopped rosemary and minced garlic for an incredibly fragrant and savory treat. My boyfriend compared these to a “most delicious garlic knot,” but more delicate and less greasy. You could experiment with some thinly sliced onions in my next batch, but I think the simple herbs really are the perfect complement to the lovely dough.

The dough recipe I used is adapted from Peter Reinhart’s popular one for pizza dough and the batch makes enough for six five-inch round focaccia rolls.

Rosemary & Garlic Focaccia Rolls
Makes six 5" rolls

For the Dough:
4 1/2 cups unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1.5 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 3/4 cups ice cold water

For the Focaccia:
¼ cup olive oil
6 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary (1 teaspoon per roll)
3 small cloves of garlic, finely minced
kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper

To make the dough:

Combine the flour, salt, and yeast in the base of an electric mixer. Add the olive oil and the cold water until it is all completely absorbed. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium for 5-7 minutes or until the dough is smooth and completely pulls away from the sides while still sticking to the bottom (it will look like a dough tornado). Add extra tablespoons of water or flour as needed to achieve this effect.

Once kneaded, deposit onto a floured surface and cut the dough into six equal sized balls. Roll until smooth and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment and greased with olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours or up to 4 days.

To make the focaccia:

When ready to bake, remove the dough from the fridge and allow to reach room temperature. Preheat your oven as high as it will go (usually 500-550 with home ovens).

Prepare a new baking sheet with clean parchment paper and set aside.Use your fingers to flatten out the dough balls until they are about 4-5 inches in diameter. Place on baking sheet about 1.5 inches apart.

Use your fingers to poke little dents in the bread rounds. About 8 or so in each roll.

Brush generously with olive oil and sprinkle each roll with about 1 teaspoon rosemary and ½ of a minced garlic clove.

Salt generously with kosher salt and finish off with freshly cracked pepper.

Let rise for 10-15 minutes before placing in the oven to bake.

Bake in the oven for about 5-7 minutes or until the rolls are all puffed and slightly golden around the edges. Remove and serve immediately as bread rolls or let cool on wire rack if using for sandwiches.

Homemade Vanilla Bean Challah

If you're looking for a more traditional challah recipe than the pumpkin variation I wrote about a couple weeks ago, I highly recommend this sweet challah with gorgeous flecks of vanilla bean throughout the dough. It's much simpler and can be eaten with both savory or sweet meals. I think my favorite was a simple sandwich of salty smoked turkey ham, unsalted butter, and this bread. The salty sweet combination with the subtle undertones of vanilla is lovely.

This recipe makes a large baby-sized loaf of bread that is wonderful to tear apart piece by piece. Don't be intimidated by the six-strand braid, either. It's really as simple as can be, just remember to always braid from the right and to keep at it all the way to the end.

Vanilla Bean Challah
Makes one large braided loaf

1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar or agave syrup + 1 teaspoon sugar for the yeast proofing
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing the rising bowl
2 large eggs + 1 large egg for the egg wash
1 teaspoon salt
1 whole vanilla bean
4 to 4.5 cups all purpose flour

In a large bowl, proof your yeast by whisking with 1 teaspoon of sugar in 1 cup of lukewarm water. Set aside and let sit until the yeast starts to foam.

Once it has foamed, pour into the base of an electric mixer and used the whisk attachment to mix in the olive oil, the two eggs (one at a time), sugar, and salt.

Split the vanilla bean and scrape all the seed into the mixer.

Switch to the dough hook and slowly add the flour, one cup at a time until it comes together and pulls away from the sides. Allow to knead in the mixer until smooth. (About 5 minutes.) If the dough seems too wet, add a little more flour, ¼ cup at a time.

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and roll into a ball. Grease a large bowl well with olive oil and place the dough ball in. Turn once to cover the top and cover with plastic wrap.

Place in a warm place to rise for an hour or until doubled in size. (I use my turned-off oven as the heat from the pilot light is perfect temperature.) Use your fingers to gently poke the air out of the dough, roll back into a ball, grease, cover and let rise again for another 30-45 minutes.

Once the dough has finished the second rise, roll out onto a floured surface and gently knead into a smooth ball. Cut into six equal size balls and roll each one into a tapered snake shape, about 10 inches long each. Arrange the six rolls next to each other in a row and pinch the ends together. To braid, start from the right and go over two, under one, and over two. Tuck in closer and repeat again with the right-most piece of dough repeating until the entire loaf is braided. Set on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Beat the last egg and use a pasty brush to lightly brush over the loaf. Let rise for another hour.

When you are ready to bake, preheat your oven to 375 degrees (if you are rising the dough in the oven please be sure to remove it first).

Once the oven is ready, brush the loaf again with egg wash and place in the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes or until the top is glossy and golden brown.

Cool on a rack and serve.

To store leftover bread, wrap well with plastic wrap and keep in a cool dry place but outside of the fridge.

Pan-Seared Chilean Sea Bass in a Blood Orange Butter Sauce

I was excited to see blood oranges show up at the grocery store again. It had been a while and I missed them. Dinner formed itself around the arrival of this lovely fruit. A pan-seared Chilean sea bass in a blood orange butter sauce. The fish was soft and tender, but it was the tart & buttery sauce that really made it. I served it with a shaved fennel, blood orange, and pomegranate salad. While making it, I couldn’t help but think about the first time I encountered a blood orange in real life. It seemed then like a wonderful surprise, and I still feel a little bit of the same excitement each time I peel back the innocent orange skin to reveal that lovely ruby flesh.

This is the story of my first blood orange.


It had been more than 24 hours since a risibly tiny taxi dropped me off at the door of my new Florentine flat. Jet-lag fueled sleep had trumped hunger the previous afternoon and I was only then realizing that I’d slept through three meals and my first full day in Italy.

I was ravenous.

And so with a grumbling tummy and a pocket-sized map in hand, I ventured out for the first time onto the cobblestone streets of Florence.

You don’t know this about me yet, but I’ve always been hesitant to walk into unfamiliar stores. It’s something to do with a general dislike of salespeople. In Europe, where the shop attendants all seem to be either aggressively congenial or simply aggressive, this fear magnifies ten-fold

Because of this phobia, it took several complete laps around my new Florentine neighborhood before I finally worked up the nerve to enter a small market. It was a tiny shop, run by a stocky middle-aged woman with a creased face and enormous breasts. She had a scarf tied around her head (just like in the movies!) and was arranging a display of Ritter Sport bars on the counter.

When she asked if she could help, I panicked. My brain stumbled over the meager Italian vocabulary I’d picked up playing a ridiculous language-learning crime solving video game I’d gotten for Christmas. I knew how to say “Call the police, my diamonds are missing!” and “Does this hotel have a safe?” but little else.

I stood in silence until I noticed a crate in front of me overflowing with plump oranges. Oranges! Something from the vocabulary game clicked in my head and, feeling rather cool and international about myself, I pointed at the fruit and asked, “Sono arance?”

Never before has pride so quickly and completely turned into utter and total embarrassment. “Did I just ask this woman if these oranges are, in fact, oranges?!?!”

The lady grunted a “sì” and glared at me exactly the way one should glare at idiot American girls who can’t identify oranges by sight. Mortified, I requested five because cinque was the only number I could remember, and rushed out of the store as quickly as I could.

After another hour or so of wandering and forcing myself to repeat the torture, I finally returned home in possession of a fresh loaf of unsalted Tuscan wheat bread (ordered in another hasty panic at a bakery) and two cans of Italian-packed tuna in olive oil. I was exhausted, starving, and relieved to be done with the torture of shopping in translation.

I sat on my small couch alone, marveling over the fact that there wasn’t a single other person in that entire boot-shaped country who knew me. I peeled the orange, expecting it to look like any other, when I noticed the fiery red pulp inside. It took a moment before my eyes and thoughts came together and I understood what I was looking at.

“A blood orange!” I said to myself, completely delighted in the recognition. I ate it slowly and thoughtfully, excited but totally unaware of the many other surprises I’d encounter over the coming months in this delicious country.

Blood Orange Butter Sauce (for fish)
Though I ate my first blood orange quite simply, I’ve since experimented with other preparations. This lovely butter sauce is wonderful over grilled or pan seared fish (Chilean sea bass & sea scallops, especially).

2 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup of shallots, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup fresh squeezed blood orange juice
1 bay leaf
2 sticks butter, cut in small pieces
Salt & Pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, place 2 tbl. of the butter and heat on medium-high heat until melted. Add the shallots and saute 2-3 minutes or until tender.

Add the orange juice. Cook for 5-7 min. or until the liquid is reduced by about half. Season with salt & freshly cracked pepper.

While whisking constantly, add the pieces of butter one at a time so that each one is well incorporated.

Remove from the heat and serve over grilled or pan-seared fish.

To Prepare over Chilean Sea Bass

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Wash and dry the Chilean Sea Bass fillets. Salt and pepper on both sides.

Heat bit of oil in a cast iron skillet until it is smoking.

Place the Sea Bass in the hot pan and let sear for 2 minutes without moving. Turn to the other side and place the pan in the hot oven for four minutes.

Remove from the oven and plate, topping with the butter sauce and garnishing with pomegranate seeds.

Whole Wheat Pear & Cognac Crostata

Crostata is what happens when Pie and Tart sneak off into a dark corner when no one is looking. This shorter, slightly more rustic variation of Italian origin features a buttery, almost shortbread-like crust that is just as much a part of the dessert as the cognac-macerated fruit filling. Though I chose a fresh fruit filling, these are also commonly filled with jams and fruit preserves making it an ideal winter pie.

The crust can also be made one of two ways: either tucked up the sides simply, like a loose pouch, or the slightly more complicated lattice top. I prefer the latter because it reminds me of the little play dough pies I used to make as a little girl and which I was always tempted to bite into. The end result is beautiful and looks exactly like the sorts of pies that are frequently stolen off windowsills in children’s songs and fairy tales. I’d keep an eye on it if I were you; everyone will be tempted to snag it.

Though in the past I’ve only made these using all purpose flour, I decided to see how the heartier, nuttier taste of the wheat would play in this recipe and was so glad I did! I also cut the pear into large quarters that cooked slowly and retained a lot of the wonderful texture after baking. Eat this one out of the oven if you must (and your tongue can stand it!), but note that it’s really on the second day—once the flavors have all had a chance to settle in and get to know each other—that it really tastes best.

Whole Wheat Pear & Cognac Crostata

For the crust:

150 grams all purpose flour
200 grams whole wheat flour (preferably stone ground)
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1.5 sticks very cold butter, chopped into small pieces
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest of one whole lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the filling:

5 crisp Bartlett Pears, peeled, cored, and quartered
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup cognac
3 tablespoons pear butter (optional)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 egg white

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees

Prepare the Crust:

Generously butter a 9” springform pan and set aside

Pour the flour into the base of an electric mixer and mix in the cold bits of butter one at a time until the dough is clumpy and in chunks.

Add the eggs, waiting for the first to be incorporated before adding the second.

Add the sugar, lemon zest, baking powder, extracts, and salt. Continue to mix until the dough starts to come together.

Remove from the mixer and turn out onto a floured surface. Use your hands to continue to knead the dough until it is smooth. Form into a ball and wrap in plastic then place in the fridge for one hour (or up to 24 hours).

Prepare the Filling:

If you are baking the same day, prepare your filling. Mix the pears in a large bowl with the sugar, cognac, and lemon juice. Let macerate for at least 30 minutes.

When you are ready to bake, remove the dough from the fridge and let come back up to room temperature. Use a pastry cutter to cut off a third that you will use for the lattice. Set this aside.

Place the larger portion of dough between two sheets of wax or parchment paper and roll out into a 9” circle. It’s ok if it cracks a bit on the edges or even if it breaks. You can press it back into shape.

Lay this into the springform or tart pan and press onto the bottom and against the sides. It should come up about 1.5 inches on the side. Cut off any excess and add to the lattice ball of dough.

Use a fork to puncture all over the base of the crust.

Arrange the pear quarters concentrically in the crust, being sure to reserve the liquid in the bowl. Place two quarters in the center. Keep the pears close together, but do not overlap more than the edges. You may have extra pears—don’t try to squeeze them in. This isn’t supposed to be a deep pie.

Beat one egg white into the remaining cognac lemon juice left in the bowl and pour this over the pears in the crust.

For the lattice:

Break off small pieces of dough and roll them into 1/4” thick snakes in graduated lengths and lay these across the pie about 1 inch apart. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and repeat with 1/4" thick pieces laid perpendicularly.

Note that this is supposed to be a “rustic” tart so don’t be too concerned if the lattice isn’t perfect. It’s all part of the effect.

Sprinkle the top of the cake with sugar (preferably course decorating sugar).

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hour or until the dough is golden.

Let cool completely before serving. This can be made one day ahead as the flavors actually taste better the second day.

Chestnut, Bacon, and Green Apple Soup

I met Clement Faugier in the imported goods aisle at the Morton Williams grocery store. There he sat, nestled among jars of pesto and Dijon mustard. A bit dusty. A tad dented. Totally overpriced.

God, he was such a tease. Ten dollars. Ten dollars! For a can of chestnut puree. Sure, it was French, but still. And yet...I was hooked.

I was always sure to pay Clement a visit when I shopped, stopping by to pat him on his dusty tin head and checking to see that yes, he was still ten dollars for one tiny, tiny can. I'd spin him around, reading his French and English labels while doing quick calculations in my head then sighing and putting him back down in his little spot.

On the train ride home, I'd sit with my bags of practical pork chops and romaine, daydreaming about all the naughty sweet and savory things I'd like to do with Clement.

And then one day I gave in. I remember it was cold that night, and the air was starting to take on that permanent fall smell of damp leaves and witches' brooms. I wanted soup and all I could think about was that creamy chestnut puree. So I grabbed it and I tossed it into my basket along with some bacon and green apples and I turned them all into a sweetly rich fall soup.

And, just as I'd suspected, Clement was delicious.

Chestnut, Bacon, and Green Apple Soup Recipe
Serves 8

5 strips of bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 whole shallots, diced
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 15.5 oz can of chestnut puree (or equivalent of homemade chestnut puree)
2 Granny Smith apples, cored and diced but not peeled
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
salt & pepper

In a large pot or dutch oven, fry the pieces of bacon until crisp. Remove from the pot and reserve.

Add the shallots and celery to the bacon fat and saute for a two minutes until soft and just slightly caramelized.

Add the chestnut puree and any liquid in the can,using the back of a wooden spoon to break up any lumps. Give it a good stir until it is well combined with the vegetables.

Add the apples and let cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil then lower to medium heat and let simmer for 30 minutes or until the liquid reduces by about a third.

Use an immersion blender to process everything until smooth, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Let cook for an additional 10 minutes.

Add the cream and stir well until combined. Cook for two more minutes, stirring regularly until heated thoroughly and combined.

Check the seasoning again and serve garnished with crisped bacon.


How to Make Homemade Membrillo (Quince Paste Recipe)

I confess that I didn’t like Membrillo (pronounced mem-BREE-yo) the first time I tried it. It was on display in the cheese shop next to the Marcona almonds and the Manchego, and I bought it because I’m the kind of girl who can’t resist things like fancy almonds and imported quince paste. I served it at a party with cheese and grapes and little stuffed mushroom canapés and then promptly forgot about it as I got caught up in the craziness that is my kitchen during a party. The next afternoon, when I groggily dragged myself from a very wine-soaked slumber to survey the damage, I noticed the sticky square of membrillo sitting nearly intact amid the mess of bread crumbs and brie rinds. I used a sort-of clean knife to slice myself a sliver and tasted it.

It was gross. Cloying and muddy, with an unpleasant grainy texture; nothing at all like the sweetly floral jelly I’d read about. “Ugh!” I speared it with the same sort-of clean knife, dropped it into the container it came in, and shoved it into a back corner of the fridge until a year or so later when I moved and finally threw it away.

Fast-forward to last Wednesday. I was browsing the selection at the office farmer’s market when I came across a bowl of giant apples covered in what appeared to be Christmas tree flocking.

“What are these fuzzy giant apples?” I asked the farmer’s market lady.

“Oh,” she said, “those are quince.”

She then proceeded into an explanation that I ignored because nobody needs to tell me what quince is! Quince is Apple and Pear’s ancient cousin. Quince is what Eve gave Adam. I may not have known what they looked like *in real life*, but I certainly knew what they were.

“I’ll take these three big ones,” I said and happily returned to my desk with my bag full of fuzzy giant apples.

All day long, the surprisingly strong fragrance teased me. I kept leaning down to inhale the perfume of apples and flowers and roses and perhaps even a little hint of history. When I got home, I dropped the paper bag on the coffee table and within hours our entire apartment had taken on the beautiful aroma of the quince. I was overcome with a desire to bottle the scent; a wish to preserve it somehow. I wanted to cook with them, but I knew neither pies nor tarts would work to preserve that incredible smell. And then I remembered membrillo. That disgusting sticky sugary brick was really just a paste of cooked down quince. But I knew that what I’d tried at first could not have come from the fragrant globes sitting on my kitchen counter. Someone, somewhere, must have done something wrong.

And so I decided to do it right.

You only need a few things to make your own quince paste. A few quince, of course, a vanilla bean, a lemon, some sugar, and water. Oh, and time. Membrillo isn’t hard to make, but it does take several hours and patience

Oh and can I tell you the most exciting part? Though the quince start out a kind of golden yellow shade, after a couple hours of cooking they suddenly turn this deep ruby red. It’s incredible! If you have kids, this would be a great time to pull them into the kitchen. They’ll love it!

And the results are gorgeous. A deep wine-colored paste that slices easily and tastes heavenly with slices of salty cheese. Traditionally it goes with Manchego, the Spanish sheep’s milk cheese, but I love it with mozzarella or cream cheese. The taste is sweet, but not overwhelmingly so, and the lemon juice adds brightness that wakes up the naturally honeyed tones. Think of a cross between dried figs and cranberries, but with the soft texture of jelly candy.

To serve, slice the paste into thin rectangles and pair with equal sized pieces of cheese. This combination is known in the Spanish-speaking world as “Romeo y Julieta” and can also be made using candied guava shells or candied papaya. It is wonderful as a lazy dessert with a glass of wine, or as breakfast with a cup of tea and a buttery croissant. For fun, I cut a few pieces and tossed in granulated sugar. They look like little jewels and are a nice little treat to slip in your mouth during that 4 o’clock hour that always seems to drag so. I plan on experimenting further, perhaps dunking a few of those little gems in a bit of dark chocolate or using the reserved simmering liquid to make ice cream.

Membrillo Recipe (Quince Paste Recipe)
Don’t worry about how many quince you have. The recipe is based on proportions, so whether you have two quince or 27, this will work. I used three grapefruit-sized quince to make one 8”x8”x1” sheet of quince paste.

Vanilla beans, split (use about 1 bean for every 4-5 quince, but feel free to use more or less)
Lemon Juice
Rind of 1 lemon, in strips.

Wash and scrub your quince thoroughly, being sure to remove all of the fuzz. Quarter and core, but don't peel. Place in a large pot and cover with water until it comes up about one inch above the fruit. Add the lemon peel and vanilla beans.

Let boil for approximately one hour or until the quince are fork-tender.

Remove from heat and use a slotted spoon to remove the quince to a bowl. Pour out the the water you boiled the quince in and reserve.

Use a spoon or your fingers to remove the peel from the quince (UPDATE: if desired; I just leave it in now and find that it cooks down completely). Add these to the reserved quince water. (You won't  need this for the membrillo paste, but you will if you plan on making my still-to-come Quince Ice Cream recipe!)

Now use a food mill or hand blender to completely puree the cooked quince.

Use measuring cups to measure the pureed quince and then mix this with equal amounts of sugar. For example, if you have 3.5 cups of puree, mix with 3.5 cups of sugar. Add one teaspoon of lemon juice for each cup of puree. Scrape out the seeds from the boiled vanilla beans and add. Mix well and return to the pot.

Place over medium heat, cover, and let simmer for 2 to 3 hours, stirring frequently to keep from burning. I've found that a splatter guard or a sheet of foil poked with holes is really helpful here to keep the hot fruit from burning your arms or getting all over your stove. The paste will be ready once it has thickened, has turned a deep ruby or wine color, and takes on the fragrance of a mulled cider.

Line a baking dish with parchment paper (the size is determined by how much paste you have) and butter well. Pour the paste into the dish and use a spatula to smooth the top.

You have two options here. You can either cover the paste with a second layer of parchment paper and then refrigerate it overnight, or you can let it dry out in the oven a bit longer. The latter results in a thicker paste with a deeper color, but both come out lovely.

The oven method:

Place into a warm oven (about 200 degrees) with the fan on if you have one or with the open door open just a crack. Let dry for 2 hours in the oven, then pull out and invert onto a baking sheet. Peel off the layer of parchment and let cool completely.

Once cool and dry, wrap in parchment and foil and keep in the fridge. This will keep well for at least one year.

How to Make Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

I'm not sure how it happened, but about 13 years have passed since the first time I made these roasted pumpkin seeds with my mother. I remember it was my idea then, having seen it in some children's magazine or other. She patiently cleaned off the seeds from our Jack-o-Lanterns and let me oil and salt them before placing in the oven. I think we left them in a bit too long that first time and the seeds came out a slightly burnt. I'm sure we ate them, but they were unremarkable enough that we never tried them again.

This year, however, I couldn't stop thinking about them and decided to give them another shot. I used low heat this time, leaving them in for a full hour, and they came out perfectly. I'm glad I did. They roasted up nicely and we've been snacking on them all weekend. When I brought a small dish of them to my boyfriend to munch on while playing XBox, he commented that I'm "like the indians" because I use up all parts of food. I admit that I do love the feeling of being able to use up the various parts of things and the more I learn, the more incapable I've become of throwing food out. My freezer is currently filled with things like onion stems and apple peels that I plan to use in future dishes.

I think these toasted seeds taste a lot like movie theater popcorn, although I suspect E disagrees because each time I mention it he responds with little more than an unintelligible murmur. Perhaps you agree? Let me know!

You could jazz these up with spices or sugar or any number of herbs, but I like the plain kind. Just olive oil and salt. Oh and yes, you can eat pumpkin seeds whole--shell and all!

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Recipe

Pumpkin seeds fresh from the pumpkin
Olive Oil

Plunge the pumpkin seeds into a bowl of cold water and use your hands to pull off the strings and bits of pulp left on them. A few good swishes in the bowl is usually enough. Let sit for a minute or two and all the pulp will sink to the bottom, allowing you to scoop out the seeds with a col lander.

Note: This is much easier if the pumpkin seeds are fresh out of the pumpkin. If you let them sit around and dry a bit it gets harder. 

Spread the seeds out in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet and used your hands to mix and coat them well. I use a pastry brush to swirl them around.

Sprinkle with salt (and optional spices) and place in a 250 degree oven for about 45-60 minutes. Note that near the end you may hear a bit of popping, similar to when making popcorn. 

Let cool and store in an air-tight container.

Banana Coconut Custard Bread Pudding

I spent all day today trying to figure out how to start off my NaBloPoMo month o’ blogging. After several hours of cooking, napping, bad-movie watching, reading, and other forms of dawdling, I finally decided that this rich custard-y bread pudding would be a lovely way to ease us all into this month of craziness. It’s also a good step-two recipe for those of you who followed my pumpkin challah recipe last week. (And, by the by, if you did, I want to hear from you! Was it good? Did you have any problems? Let me know…)

I wasn’t planning on making bread pudding. I was just going to pour myself a glass of water and return to the living room to watch TV. But while standing in the kitchen waiting for the tap to run cool enough to drink, I absentmindedly opened the refrigerator door and spotted two over-ripe (practically syrupy!) bananas on a plate, audibly begging me to turn them into something lovely. (Yes, audibly. My bananas talk. Don’t yours?)

“Hmm,” I thought, as I gulped down my glass of ice cold city tap water.

Remembering the bag of leftover bread bits I keep in the freezer for occasions just like this, I knew what I had to do. And just like that, I quickly found myself slicing the bananas into ½ inch rounds. A couple hours later, E and I were on the couch taking turns digging our forks into the creamy banana-coconut goodness.

This is an easy recipe, and one that I urge you to customize. I think next time I might try adding a bit of peanut butter or maybe even some caramel! I made it in two large ramekins because I’m in love with ramekins lately. I really am. I don’t know what it is, but I adore those little white porcelain dishes. Something about them just feels special. It’s like you’re eating your own *personal* dessert. And one thing I’ve learned is that people like having their own *personal* desserts. Small people (sometimes known as children) especially appreciate having their own little dishes, but adults do too.

Since this was just for my guy and me, I buttered two big ramekins (about 4” across, and 2” deep) and filled them by alternating thick cubes of leftover pumpkin challah and whole wheat bread with the banana slices and sprinkles of unsweetened shredded coconut. I added a splash of vanilla infused rum over the bread (homemade—just drop a vanilla bean into the bottle for a couple weeks), and then topped it all with a sweet vanilla custard.

A few tips: Let the custard soak in for about 30 minutes or so before baking. The bread will absorb it and you won’t end up with any dry bits at the bottom. Baking this in a water bath does wonders to keep the custard from curdling while cooking. (If you forget and cook it the regular way, don’t worry. Even the curdled custard works in bread pudding as the liquid is usually absorbed.) If you have leftovers, let them cool completely before covering with plastic and storing in the fridge. It’s good cold, but to reheat, pop in the oven at 350 for a few minutes. Whatever you do, don’t microwave—zapping does not do nice things to custard & bread.

Oh and also, it’s exceptionally lovely with a glass of white wine.
Banana Coconut Custard Bread Pudding Recipe
Serves 4

2 four-inch ramekins or one 8” baking dish
Larger baking dish to make a water bath (ramekins should fit comfortably inside)

3 cups stale bread (preferably a hearty or sweet bread like whole wheat or challah), cut into cubes
2 very ripe bananas (the more syrupy, the better)
½ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
2.5 cups cream or half & half
2 eggs
½ cup sugar or agave syrup
1 tablespoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons of butter, melted and cooled, plus more for buttering your baking dishes
1 tablespoon vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean, scraped
Vanilla infused rum, optional

Generously butter ramekins. Layer bread cubes with slices of bananas and sprinkles of coconut until you reach about 2/3 up each ramekin. It’s ok if you have extra bread, but try to use up all the bananas. Splash with a bit of rum if desired. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and the shade of a lemon. Add the butter, cinnamon, vanilla, and milk and beat until well-combined.

Pour the milk mixture over the bread in the ramekins, being sure to distribute evenly between the two. The custard should reach almost to the top of each. Garnish with some more shredded coconut and a sprinkle of cinnamon if desired. Place these in a larger baking dish and let sit for 30 minutes, allowing the custard to soak into the bread.

While the custard is soaking, preheat your over to 300 degrees. Fill a kettle with water and set on the stove to boil.

When you are read to bake, place the baking dish in the middle rack and gently pour the boiling water into the pan so that it comes up about halfway up the ramekins. Bake for about 1 hour, until the custard sets and puffs up slightly.

Remove from the oven gently (it sometimes helps to use a cup to remove some of the boiling water from the dish first) and let cool for about 15 minutes before serving.

30 Days, 30 Recipes

Perhaps you've noticed that it's been a little quiet around here this week. I've noticed it too, but it's all for good reason. You see, folks. Starting on Saturday (that would be November 1st) I am going to embark on my first attempt at completing NaBloPoMo.

A Native American Thanksgiving side dish, perhaps?

No, no...NaBloPoMo is a nifty short way of saying National Blog Posting Month during which crazy bloggers everywhere will attempt to post on their blogs *everyday* for the duration of November. Now for the average blogger this is a feat in itself, but for a food blogger this is quite the challenge as it involves cooking, photographing, and writing EVERY SINGLE DAY for 30 days.

30 days and 30 recipes. Can I do it? We'll have to wait and see, but for now, how about helping me out with a few recipe suggestions. What would YOU like me to cook or bake this month? Leave me your requests in the comment box. If I make one of your suggestions I'll be sure to link to you in the post.

Wish me luck!
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