Dreaming of Warmer Weather

The holidays are over and things are getting back to normal – whatever that means. It was a great holiday season for The Dude and I, spent with family and friends. We also had opportunities to visit some great microbreweries, which I’ll be telling you about in future posts.

Here in the Midwest we are facing a pretty awful winter. Cold? You bet! Quite a few sub-zero days have made going out a real chore. Just ask our dogs! Snow? Oh, we’ve got that too. The last big storm brought us around 20″ of snow. Of course, the snow came right when the sub-zero temps hit us. Win-win! Not….

On Facebook I’ve noticed that friends have taken off for warmer climates. The photos posted of Florida and Hawaii get pretty depressing when you are stuck in the Midwest all winter. Sounds like I’ve got cabin fever, right? So, when I went to the grocery store and found blood oranges – difficult to find in my neck of the woods – I immediately grabbed some, since they remind me of Italy and warmer weather.  If you’ve never had a blood orange I’ll try to describe them. Yes, they taste like oranges, but they also have a berry flavor as well. They are sweet but have a tart, slightly bitter note. And the color is amazing! You slice into it and find a deep red fruit. Gorgeous!

Now you see why they are called blood oranges.

Now you see why they are called blood oranges.

Blood oranges are often used in fish dishes and in a variety of vinaigrettes. I especially love blood oranges in an arugula salad. The sweet/tart/bitter fruit combined with the peppery greens – awesome! But if you’ve read this blog for any length of time you know I have a real sweet tooth and love to bake.  So, I did some research and found an incredible recipe on the Food Network website. It’s a Blood Orange Tart and the recipe is attributed to Emeril Lagasse. It’s really lovely, with a sweet crust and a light custard filling laced with mascarpone cheese – very, very tasty! So, thanks to Emeril for knocking this one out of the park! Here is the recipe.

Blood Orange Tart
Pastry:

  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon orange-flavored liqueur (recommended: Grand Marnier)

Filling:

  • 3/4 cup fresh blood orange juice (5 oranges yielded 3/4 cup of juice for me)
  • 1 orange, zested and zest finely grated
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon orange-flavored liqueur (recommended: Grand Marnier), optional
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish, optional
Butter an 11-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom with 2 teaspoons of butter and set aside.Make the pastry by combining the flour, salt, lemon zest, and confectioners’ sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and, using a pastry cutter, 2 knives, or your hands, work in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Combine the egg and orange liqueur in a small bowl and add to the flour mixture. Using a fork, stir until the mixture just comes together. Note: I used my food processor for making the pastry dough. Worked like a charm!Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead just until a dough is formed. Shape into a flattened disk, wrap in plastic, and transfer the dough to the freezer for 15 minutes.Place the dough on a floured surface and roll into a 13-inch round. Transfer dough to the prepared tart pan and ease dough into the edges and up the sides of the pan. Trim excess dough. Transfer to the refrigerator for 30 minutes.Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.Remove the tart shell from the refrigerator and prick it all over with the tines of a fork. Line the pastry with aluminum foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake the crust until the edges just begin to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the pie weights and aluminum foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the crust is light golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside on a wire rack to cool.Make the filling by combining the blood orange juice, orange zest, brown sugar, and mascarpone in a mixing bowl; whisk until smooth. Add the eggs and egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Add the liqueur and stir until smooth. Pour the filling into the cooled tart shell. Bake until the filling is lightly browned in spots and the crust is golden, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve.

Pretty in pink! This is so light and not too sweet. This would be a great dessert for a bridal or baby shower.

Pretty in pink! This is so light and not too sweet and the citrus is not overwhelming. This would be a perfect dessert for a bridal or baby shower.

Christmas Cookies!

I love to bake if you haven’t guessed that already from all the dessert recipes that I post. So, you can understand why I enjoy the holidays so much.

Every year I make the usual Christmas cookies. Butter cookies, Russian Teacakes, Biscotti. But this year I wanted to make a cookie that I have never attempted before. While at the grocery store I came across a cookie cutter for Linzer cookies. You know, those sandwich cookies with a cut out on the top? I’ve always loved them but never had the right equipment. So, I bought the cutter and lucky for me, the recipe was on the back of the packaging. The recipe comes from Wilton Industries, that wonderful company that makes so many supplies for bakers.

Let me just say that this recipe doesn’t disappoint. Crisp cookies laced with almond and filled with a good quality (seedless) raspberry jam. Best of all, they are really very easy to make. One thing to remember when making these lovely little gems is that the dough tends to warm up fairly quickly when you work with it. Don’t be surprised if you have to return the dough to rest in the refrigerator as you are rolling out the dough. Other than that these shouldn’t give you any problems in the kitchen. Oh, a FYI, I doubled the recipe listed below. They’re just so darned good I wanted to make sure I had some for guests!

Enjoy these light, crisp and oh so pretty cookies after your holiday dinner.

Linzer Cookies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup finely ground almonds (about 2 oz)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (approx) best quality seedless raspberry jelly
  • confectioners sugar (optional)

In a small bowl, combine the flour, almonds and cinnamon and set aside. In a large bowl beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix well. Add the flour mixture only until just incorporated. Divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or until firm enough to roll.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. On a floured surface roll out one of the disks of dough. Cut half the dough with the round (bottom) cutter. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. You may want to put the cookie sheet in the refrigerator while you are cutting out the rest of the dough. Roll out the other half of dough and cut out the cookies, this time adding the insert in the shape of your choice. I used a star for the holidays. Make sure you have an equal number of cookie bottoms and tops.

Bake 10-12 minutes until light golden brown. Cool on cookie sheet for two minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Invert bottom cookie and spread with a teaspoon of jam. Place the top cookie and press gently. Dust with confectioners sugar if desired.

Cookies 01

Pumpkin Pie Alternative

If you live in the U.S. you are probably gearing up for the big feast this coming Thursday. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to gather with family and friends, eat more than you should, and maybe watch some football. I don’t know about you, but I love all the traditional foods. There is nothing more satisfying than a beautiful roasted turkey filled with your favorite stuffing. Or a baking pan filled with sweet potatoes covered in bubbling, golden brown marshmallows. Yes, I like those marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes!  Maybe you prefer the green bean casserole that your favorite aunt brings every year. You know the one – french style green beans, canned mushroom soup, blended together and covered in those crunchy french fried onions. Yep, that brings back memories.

While I crave those classic Thanksgiving dishes, I also like to switch up a couple of items too. That’s when I think of desserts. Don’t get me wrong, I love pumpkin pie and I know that it will be part of the menu this year. But how about something that is a bit lighter? Maybe not in calories, but lighter in taste. I started thinking about fruits that are typically in season now. Pears came to mind and I decided on a tart made with a classic pate sucre and luscious fruit with a hint of cinnamon and ginger. Oh, and if you can’t decide between the pumpkin or the pear? Just have a “small” slice of each!

Pear Tart

Tart Crust – Pate Sucre

  • 2-1/3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons heavy cream

In a food processor, combine flour and sugar. Add chilled butter and pulse until the flour resembles corn meal. In a small bowl whisk the egg yolks and add one tablespoon of heavy cream. Add to flour and butter mixture. Pulse until it forms a ball. You may need to add an additional tablespoon of cream. Note: I had to add a bit more to hold the dough together. Much depends on the humidity, temperature, and the like in your kitchen. Add small increments of cream until the dough forms a ball. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and form together in a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

Pear filling

  • 4 large ripe Bartlett pears, pealed, cored, and sliced in thin wedges
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of the pears
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Mix all of ingredients in a bowl. Set aside while you roll out the tart dough.

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 10″ tart pan with butter or cooking spray. Roll out dough and place in the pan. Add the pear mixture and spread evenly. Bake for 40 minutes until crust is golden brown. You may want to put a cookie sheet on the rack under the tart pan in case it drips. Cool on a rack. Dust lightly with powdered sugar. Serve at room temperature.

The pears are so fragrant and juicy with an almost floral quality. The slight bite of ginger and cinnamon complete this awesome tart.

The pears are so fragrant and juicy with an almost floral quality. The slight bite of ginger and cinnamon complete this awesome tart. It really is a terrific addition to your Thanksgiving meal!

Halloween Sweets

In our house we are gearing up for one of my absolute favorite holidays, Halloween! Every year The Dude and I host a party which we call Brew-O-Ween. Food, a occassional costume, and BEER! Lots and lots of beer. This event is where The Dude brings out all of his most recent home-brewed libations for everyone to taste, rate, and enjoy.

In between trying to get the house cleaned and decorated, I’ve also been getting the menu together. Whatever I can do ahead of time, I’m doing it! This weekend it’s Halloween cookies and yummy chorizo and black bean empanadas. In going through earlier posts I realized that I never gave a recipe that is near and dear to my heart, my mom’s butter cookie recipe.

This cookie recipe was handed down from my grandmother, to my mom, and then to me. Now you have it too! Typically I make these cookies at Christmas, but my sister-in-law, who knows that Halloween is my favorite holiday, sent me some adorable cookie cutters. Witches hat, ghost, bat, and pumpkin. I just had to make these for the party.

Love these adorable cookie cutters!

Love these adorable cookie cutters!

Butter Cookies

  • 2 cups butter, room temperature
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. baking powder

Beat together butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Sift flour and baking powder together and add to butter mixture in four or five increments. You’ll be able to use a heavy-duty mixer for a part of the mixing, but eventually you are going to have to get your hands in the dough to mix the last of the flour. Wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.

Roll out dough and cut into shapes. Bake at 425 degrees F for 5-7 minutes on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Watch them as they burn easily. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Decorate with royal icing. I use the recipe found on the powdered meringue package, which you can find in most baking aisles. Let cookies dry completely and store loosely in cookie tins.

Cookies are iced! I admit I'm not the best cookie decorator, but this was fun to do!

Cookies are iced! I admit I’m not the best cookie decorator, but this was fun to do!

Here is what I love about these cookies. Buttery and not too sweet. Let the icing bring the sweetness to the party. These take a bit of work but are well worth the effort. You can always make the cookies ahead of time and store in a cookie tin until you are ready to ice them. Decorating cookies was something that my mom always let my sister and I do during the holidays. It’s a fun way to include the kids in the kitchen and let them get creative.

Have fun and enjoy these cookies with a big glass of milk. You’ll feel like a kid again!

Fall Flavors

Certain foods and flavors remind me of the seasons. Winter brings the smells of cinnamon and sugar, and all sorts of yummy cookies and sweets. Spring is a time of roasted lamb and fresh herbs and roasted asparagus with parmesan cheese melting on top. Summer is filled with insalata caprese (tomato and mozzarella salad with fresh basil), roasted corn, and just about any fresh fruit or veg that you can find. But fall, ah….  Fall is my favorite time of year. Apples, pork, root vegetables. Earthy big flavors that pair so well with cool days and crisp cold nights with the smell of wood smoke in the air – now that’s my idea of heaven!

This past weekend was chilly and cloudy – perfect fall weather! I thought about the type of cooking that I enjoy most and my favorite flavors of fall.  I decided on a pork roast braised with fennel, onion, and Granny Smith apples. Served with a side of mashed potatoes. Happy days are here again! So good that The Dude said that this was my number one dish for the fall. This is a super easy dish that will impress the heck out of family and friends. Here is my recipe.

Pork Roast with Fennel, Apple and Onion

  • 3-4 pound pork loin
  • 3 TBSP vegetable oil
  • 1 cup of your favorite dry white wine (note: you could also use a dry hard apple cider)
  • 2 large bulbs of fennel, stalks removed, roughly sliced
  • 1 large white onion, roughly sliced
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, skinned, cored, and cut in rough chunks
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Over medium high heat in a large, heavy dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil. Season the pork with salt and pepper, add to the pan, and brown on all sides. Remove the roast to a plate and add wine to the pan to scrape up the browned bits of pork. When the wine has reduced by half, add the fennel, onion and apple. Saute until the onions begin to turn translucent. Salt and pepper to taste.

Place the pork loin on top of the vegetables and add a little water to the bottom of the pan – about 3/4 cup. Cover with a lid and roast in the 350 degree oven for 1-1/2 hours.

Remove the pork loin to a cutting board, cover with aluminum foil, and let rest for 10 – 15 minutes before slicing. Place the vegetables on a platter, lay the sliced pork loin over the vegetables, and moisten with a bit of the juices in the dutch oven.

IMG_1401

The pork is so tender and moist. The soft flavors of the anise in the fennel with the sweetness of the onion and the tart hint of apple. So delicious that you’ll be back for seconds!

S’il vous plaît restez pour le dîner!

For those that don’t speak French, the title means “Please stay for dinner!” Full disclosure – I don’t speak French, but I do have Google translator. However, I have been to France. It’s beautiful and the food is divine!  Bistro fare is simple, with amazing flavors coming together to make wonderful memories for your taste buds.

Since I’m not working at the winery today the Dude decided that I am in charge of dinner. I have to say, he’s been awesome with making dinner lately since I’ve worked 6-7 days a week. Fortunately, I’m wrapping up the part-time job at the end of September. The Dude is looking forward to more meals from you-know-who!

It’s a lovely fall day today – chilly, sunny and breezy. Time for comfort food with a French twist. I have been on a real tart kick lately so I decided on a savory onion and goat cheese tart. Then, since it is fall I decided to make an earthy salad of roasted beets and green beans, dressed with aged balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.  For the main event I decided on braised short ribs. Ah! I’m in heaven.  So let’s get crackin’ on some fabulous French bistro food.

Onion and Goat Cheese Tart

Pastry:

  • 1 -3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut in cubes
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 3-4 TBSP cold water

Filling:

  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 8 oz. goat cheese, room temperature
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cups heavy cream

To make the pastry in a food processor, combine the flour, salt and butter and pulse until the butter is in pea sized pieces. Add the eggs and water and pulse until the dough holds together. Turn out on a lightly floured surface and pat the dough into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a half hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the dough to a 12 ” disc and place in a 10″ tart pan with removable sides. Line with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 9-10 minutes until set. Remove from oven, remove aluminum foil and weights, and prick the bottom of the crust with a fork. Return to the oven and bake for 3-4 minutes until golden brown. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

To make the filling, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a saute pan, add the olive oil on medium heat. Saute the onions until golden brown. Salt and pepper to taste and remove from heat.

In a bowl, combine the cheeses, eggs, cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Beat until smooth.

Spread the onion mixture in the bottom of the tart pan. Cover with the egg and cheese mixture and bake in a 350 degree oven 20 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature, slice in wedges.

Love this tart! The cream cheese is great for mellowing out the bite of the goat cheese. The pastry crust is flaky and light. Bliss!

Hot from the oven and it smells so good.

Hot from the oven and it smells so good.

A thin slice of the tart. So rich and creamy that a small piece hits the spot.
A thin slice of the tart. So rich and creamy that a small piece hits the spot.

Roasted Beet and Green Bean Salad

  • 2 large fresh beets
  • 4 oz. green beans
  • Balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  In a bowl drizzle olive oil on the beets to coat them. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove from foil and allow to cool.

Steam the green beans for 5-7 minutes. Submerge in cold water to stop the cooking process and drain.

Slice the beets thinly and plate. Add the green beans and drizzle with the vinegar and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.

Lovely, simple salad. The earthy sweetness of the beets is a perfect foil for the fresh green beans.

Lovely, simple salad. The earthy sweetness of the beets is a perfect foil for the fresh green beans.

Braised Short Ribs

  • 2 TBSP vegetable oil
  • 6 – 8 pounds thick and meaty short ribs
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 6 – 8 shallots, chopped
  • 1 TBSP tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
  • 3/4 of a bottle of full-bodied red wine
  • 4 cups of beef stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large flame-proof casserole or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil and brown the meat on all sides. Remove the meat to a plate.

In the same pan, saute the carrots, celery, onions and shallots for 5 – 10 minutes until lightly browned. Stir in the tomato paste. Sprinkle with flour and cook 3 – 4 minutes, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add the meat, garlic , wine and beef stock. Cover and place in the oven for three hours or until the meat is fork-tender.

Remove the meat from the casserole to a plate and cover with aluminum foil.  Cook down the juices over medium heat to thicken the gravy. Return the meat to the gravy. Serve with mashed potatoes or egg noodles.

The Dude says that this dish is in my top three dishes. The beef just melts in your mouth.  Oh, and the wine that I used in the dish, and that we drank with dinner was made by our good friend Bev. Thanks, Bev! The cabernet/merlot blend was awesome and perfect for this dish!

This is a classic bistro dish and will wow your family and guests. Bon Appetit!

This is a classic bistro dish and will wow your family and guests. Bon Appetit!

Tomato Tart

This summer has been a phenomenal time for tomatoes. For several years we’ve had absolutely no luck growing them in our garden. For a few years it was due to a tomato blight that killed all the plants before they could bear any fruit. Then last year we had a terrible drought. But this year the stars aligned and we have more tomatoes than we know what to do with! I’m in heaven! Romas, Lemon Boys, Mr. Stripey…. the list goes on and on.

Some of the bounty from the garden.

Some of the bounty from the garden.

We’ve had a lot of insalata caprese (tomatoes/basil/mozzarella salad), tomatoes on sandwiches, marinara sauce – hey, I’m not complaining! However, tonight I wanted to try something different with our tomatoes. I grilled some lovely steaks and steamed some fresh asparagus, and to round it out I decided I wanted to make a tomato tart.

Basically I raided my refrigerator to create this dish. You can do it too! A quick dough for the tart, tomatoes, and whatever else suits your fancy. Here is what I did. FYI, it was yummy!

Tomato Tart

For the dough:

  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 4-1/2 ounces butter, cold, cut in small cubes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2-3 TBSP water

In a food processor combine the flour and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add the egg and 2 TBSP water and pulse until the mixture forms a ball. Do not overwork. Turn out on a lightly floured surface. Roll out and line a 10 inch tart pan with the dough. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the topping:

  • 3 large tomatoes, sliced in 1/4″ slices
  • 1/4 cup olive tapenade (jarred or homemade)
  • 8 large basil leaves
  • 6 ounces fresh mozzarella
  • 2-3 TBSP of good quality olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

While the dough is chilling, slice the tomatoes in 1/4″ slices. Place on several layers of paper towels, salt the tomatoes and let rest for 45 minutes to an hour. This will remove some of the excess water from the tomatoes.

Look at the vivid color on these tomatoes.

Look at the vivid color on these tomatoes.

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F.

Remove the tart pan from the refrigerator and spread the olive tapenade over the surface of the tart dough.

Salty, yummy olive tapenade. Such a great earthy taste that works great with the sweetness of the tomatoes.

Salty, yummy olive tapenade. Such a great earthy taste that works great with the sweetness of the tomatoes.

Blot the tomato slices with a paper towel to remove the excess moisture. Place the tomatoes in a single layer on top of the tapenade. Lay the basil leaves on top of the tomatoes. Then add the mozzarella slices. Drizzle with olive oil.

First layer - tomatoes!

First layer – tomatoes!

Second - lovely basil joins the party.

Second – lovely basil joins the party.

Can't forget the mozzarella!

Can’t forget the mozzarella!

Bake in a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven when the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted and bubbly. Let the tart rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting into wedges.

Crispy, salty, acidic, sweet, and creamy. Oh yes!

Crispy, salty, acidic, sweet, and creamy. Oh yes!

This dish is bursting with the flavors of summer. Intense, fruity tomatoes, the salty, earthy olive tapenade, and to top it all off, the fresh, creamy mozzarella. This is summer on a plate! Buon appetito!