Apple Tarts with Caramel Sauce

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I’ve been making these apple tarts for longer than I care to admit. If I had a “signature dessert” it would be these tarts. Crisp, buttery and flakey, they are my fail safe dessert that I can whip together at the last minute and know without a doubt that they will turn out fabulous. I don’t have to worry about the outcome- will it puff enough, be too sweet, apples too mushy/crunchy, etc… It’s become second nature to assemble these guys in a flash and proof that just a few high quality ingredients can be spun into something that not only looks amazing but will also dazzle your dinner party guests as well. Did I mention how easy it is to prepare? The best part is you can prep them hours in advance and simply pop them into the oven 20 minutes before they are to be served. Done and done.

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Apple Tarts:

serves 4 

1 sheet *frozen puff pastry, thawed (or fresh, rolled out to 1/4″ thickness)

1 round cutter or a small plate, 4″ diameter

1-2 honey crisp apples, peeled and cored (leave whole)

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons butter, melted

Combine the cinnamon and sugar, set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit. Using a round cutter or small plate, cut 4 circles from the puff pastry sheet and place onto a parchment lined sheetpan. Slice the apples thin, between 1/16- 1/8″ thick. Divide the apple slices equally and place on top of the puff pastry rounds leaving almost 1/4″ border on the edges. Brush the apples and edges of the pastry with butter, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture.

Bake for 20 minutes or until edges become carmelized and golden. Drizzle with caramel sauce and serve immediately.

*If using store bought frozen puff pastry, try to find the highest quality possible. Ideally, made with butter and not oil/shortening.

To make ahead, assemble everything except the sugar mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refregerate until ready to bake.

*From My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup water

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature

1/2 cup heavy cream

pinch of sea salt

* The original recipe calls for salted butter and the optional addition of more salt to taste.

Spread the sugar in a large skillet or wide saucepan and pour the water over it. Heat the sugar over medium heat, swirling the pan very gently, just enough to moisten the sugar with the water.

Once the sugar is moistened and starting to cook, swirl the pan only if there are dry spots of sugar that aren’t melting. Continue to cook the sugar until it begins to darken. Watching carefully, gently swirl the pan, only if necessary, so it cooks evenly. (If the sugar begins to crystallize, continue cooking, stirring only if you see very dark burnt spots appearing, and the crystals should eventually smooth out).

When the caramel is a deep amber color and begins to smoke, remove the pan from the heat and drop in the cubes of butter. Stir with a whisk until butter is completely melted, the gradually whisk in the cream and stir until smooth. If the sauce seizes up, gently warm it over low heat and it will begin to smooth out.

Once the sauce is cool enough to taste, you may want to add additional salt and adjust to your liking. Sauce keeps for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

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Mission San Xavier del Bac

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Mission Xavier del Bac/ 1950 West San Xavier Road/Tucson, AZ

/website/

Last month, during our visit to Tucson after all the antiquing and eating far too much, we made a stop at Mission San Xavier del Bac . Initially, I was lured by the promise of fry bread sold right outside the mission. Although I was thoroughly stuffed from lunch, I was willing to force feed myself to get a taste of that sweet fry bread. If only. Once we arrived, all of my will to eat was diminished by the oppressive heat, searing sunshine beating down and an infestation of wasps! To make matters worse, sticky honey from the bread was dripping from the trash cans which were obviously buzzing too.

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Being from California, I remember completing the required “mission project” that consisted of constructing a model, researching an assigned mission, and then presenting it to the class. I had my sights set on the beautiful San Juan Capistrano but as luck would have it, I got stuck with a smaller, lesser known mission which I absolutely cannot remember. That’s fine, because the one thing I got out of the project was a love for the interiors and art work they contained.

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After that monster project was completed, the grand finale was a walk through to view each student’s model where all of the missions were represented. I immediately went home and talked my folks into touring a couple of the missions within driving distance. As nerdy as it was at the time, I guess some of that fascination stuck with me and I continue to visit missions whenever we are near. This last trip to Tucson was no exception.

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Tunnel of Fudge

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Tis the season when things get super busy and sometimes complicated what with juggling the everyday plus getting ready for the holidays. I’m already starting to feel it. Talking about it is giving me anxiety. Why not make things easy on ourselves and bake something unfussy but guaranteed to dazzle your guests? This is a no- fuss- no- muss situation and I love it, so will you.

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This recipe is from Cook’s Country and it’s been burning a hole in my recipe binder for over a year. Let’s stop wasting time and get to baking.

*This recipe calls for a 12 cup bundt pan but mine was half the size, 6 cup. I halved the recipe and baked in a convection oven for 25 minutes with excellent results.

This is from the original recipe by Cook’s Country:

SERVES 12 TO 14

Do not use a cake tester, toothpick, or skewer to test the cake-the fudgy interior won’t give an accurate reading. Instead, remove the cake from the oven when the sides just begin to pull away from the pan and the surface of the cake springs back when pressed gently with your finger.

INGREDIENTS

Cake

3/4cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting pan

1/2cup boiling water

2ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate

2cups all-purpose flour

2cups pecans or walnuts, chopped fine

2cups confectioners’ sugar

1teaspoon salt

5large eggs, room temperature

1tablespoon vanilla extract

1cup granulated sugar

3/4cup packed light brown sugar

2 1/2sticks unsalted butter, softened

Chocolate Glaze

3/4cup heavy cream

1/4cup light corn syrup

8ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2teaspoon vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS

For the cake:

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 12-cup Bundt pan and dust with cocoa powder. Pour boiling water over chocolate in medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Cool to room temperature. Whisk cocoa, flour, nuts, confectioners’ sugar, and salt in large bowl. Beat eggs and vanilla in large measuring cup.

With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat granulated sugar, brown sugar, and butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. On low speed, add egg mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Add chocolate mixture and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Beat in flour mixture until just combined, about 30 seconds.

Scrape batter into prepared pan, smooth batter, and bake until edges are beginning to pull away from pan, about 45 minutes. Cool upright in pan on wire rack for 1 1/2 hours, then invert onto serving plate and cool completely, at least 2 hours.

For the glaze:

Cook cream, corn syrup, and chocolate in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. Stir in vanilla and set aside until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Drizzle glaze over cake and let set for at least 10 minutes. Serve. (Cake can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.)

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Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Huancaina Sauce

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For those who know me, it’s no secret that I love Peruvian food. It’s one of my favorites and I get some mean cravings for the flavors in chifa, huancaina, aji’s, saltado’s, and ceviches to name a few. It would be fantastic to be able to go out for some excellent Peruvian cuisine, but sadly, that’s not a reality in these parts. So, like everything else, when we want something particular and don’t want to be disappointed, we resort to making it at home. That’s exactly what happened here with this huancaina sauce. I really had a taste for it and decided it was high time to scratch this itch.

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Huancaina Sauce

1/2 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, rough chopped

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

8 oz queso fresco

5 tablespoons aji amarillo paste

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons m+1 teaspoon grapeseed oil

3 water crackers (saltines also work)

Heat one teaspoon grapeseed oil in a small skillet and add onion, garlic, and salt. Cook on medium-low heat, until onions become soft and translucent, do not brown. Set aside.

In a blender, combine onion mixture with all other ingredients and puree until smooth. Mixture should be loose enough to fall off a spoon in a smooth and continuous stream. It should not be watery or too thick. If the sauce is too thick or close to the consistency of sour cream, add water, one tablespoon at a time to loosen. Transfer to a container, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Roasted Potatoes:

1 pound miniature fingerling potatoes, washed and sliced in half

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and coat potatoes well. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until potatoes are golden brown.

Serve warm potatoes with a side of huancaina sauce for dipping.

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52 Weeks: 49/52

It was so nice to finally get some much needed rain this past week. I always love how clean the streets look and how refreshed my plants appear after a good rain. This was another busy week but we did get some time to enjoy a productive weekend.

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I discovered these “grave site” markers sprinkled around the sidewalk near an old cemetery in Old Town. Sometimes it pays to look at the ground while walking. You never know what interesting things other than trash you may find.

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Trying to eat healthy after the Thanbsgoiving gorge fest.

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Working on a recipe I’ve been meaning to try for more than a year… I’ll share it this week.

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Breakfast of refried beans, home fries, roasted tomato, tomatillo salsa and a sprinkle of queso fresco. Delicious!

I hope you had a nice week and an even better weekend!

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Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti

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It’s that time of year again and I decided to get a jump start on this baking business. I’m going to stop for a quick second and pat myself on the back for being ahead of the game this time instead of feverishly trying to get it together at the very last minute. We shall see if I can keep up the charade.

Just a quick aside, I used to hate biscotti. Thanks to the dry, cardboard tasting, pre-packaged biscotti at the local super I was never a fan. I just didn’t get the appeal. Suffice to say, I was missing out on the good stuff. When I started making it at home, I became hooked. Now, I understand how great a cup of coffee accompanied by a few biscotti could be. I rarely make it, but when I do, it’s a treat. Mid afternoon snack, check. Light breakfast, check. 3:00 pick-me-up on a Wednesday, check.

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Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti:

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pistachio extract

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 cups raw pistachios

1 cup miniature chocolate chips

2 tablespoons sanding sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the sugar with the butter. Add the eggs, vanilla, and pistachio extracts until combined and smooth.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Add to the sugar and egg mixture and beat on low until a crumbly dough forms. Add the chocolate chips and pistachios and beat at low speed just until evenly distributed.

Divide the dough into 4 portions and transfer 2 of the portions to each baking sheet. Form each portion into an 8-inch-long log. Pat the logs until they’re about 2 inches wide and 3/4 inch thick. Sprinkle each log with sanding sugar. Bake for about 22- 25 minutes, until the logs are puffed and springy to the touch; rotate the pans halfway through baking. Carefully transfer the logs to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 200°.

Using a serrated knife, cut the logs crosswise into  1/2-inch-thick slices; each log will yield about 20. Return the slices to the baking sheets and bake for about 30 minutes longer, flipping the biscotti once after 15 minutes, until crisp. Transfer to racks to cool.

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

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Saguaro National Park

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Saguaro National Park

Tucson, AZ/website

Drive a few miles out of town and you will find yourself in a National Park. I was surprised at how close and accessible Saguaro National Park (West)  was to our location. One morning, we woke up early and hustled it down to the park so we could take advantage of cooler temperature, morning light, and see more with less people around. It was fantastically quiet and peaceful. Each spot where my eye landed were saguaros of all sizes in various states of growth, decomposition, and every stage in between. There are some really tall ones with picture perfect arms and others with twisted, gnarled limbs. It’s almost as if they have personalities. Strange, I know. Something else I realized was that there is quite a variety of color among the desert plants and landscape. It just requires a closer look, color is hiding in the details.

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52 Weeks: 48/52

Thanksgiving came and went in the blink of an eye, or so it seems. We spent ours in sunny Arizona this year where we visited family, ate, drank, ate some more, and found time to get out and about to take in some sights.

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Cactus, mesquite and palo verde everywhere.

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The drive up was long and desolate although this is one of the more interesting parts.

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K made bread and I made a new friend.

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Yum! Cheesy whole wheat bread is ready for devouring.

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Yes, it is.

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Out for a walk at Sabino Canyon. Apparently, we were not the only ones with this idea.

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It was so hot we decided to hop back on the tram for the rest of the journey down. We waited close to this water hole where I cooled myself down by leaning against a large granite rock until… I realized there was a hornets nest right on the other side of the rock!

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Look what I almost stepped on on my way out the door. Eeew.

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Thanksgiving leftovers turned into a pizza.

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My first visit to Saguaro National Park.

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With Thanksgiving over, it’s time to get ready for Christmas!

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Coming home… Are we there yet?

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Warm Chocolate Cake with Salted Butter Caramel Sauce

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Few desserts have blown the panties off of my dinner guests. But, this chocolate cake left them practically licking the ramekins and going back for seconds on the salted caramel sauce. I knew it was good, but wow.

I’m a total sucker the molten chocolate cake. I’ve had my share of all types- in a ramekin, in a tart shell, unmolded on a platter at restaurants, at home, the bakery… There were a few standout versions but this one here is my favorite to make at home. It’s pretty much fail safe and so easy. Perfect for a dinner party. I especially love that the batter needs to rest overnight because that means I can check off one thing from my to-do list and focus on all the rest of the dinner prep.

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Warm Chocolate Cake:

From My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz

Yield: 8, 4-oz ramekins or disposable aluminum molds

8 ½ oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

6 tablespoons salted butter

5 large eggs, room temperature

¾ cup powdered sugar

2/3 cup all purpose flour

Cocoa powder, enough for dusting the ramekins

Butter each ramekin and coat with cocoa powder.

In a bain marie, melt the butter and chocolate and stir gently until it is smooth

In the bowl of a stand mixture fitted with the whip attachment, beat the eggs and powdered sugar on high speed (approx. 5 min) until the mixture thickens and turns light yellow. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the flour, beat just until it is incorporated.

Fold ¼ of the whipped eggs into the melted chocolate mixture. Fold half of the lightened chocol.ate mixture back into the eggs, mix thoroughly. Lastly, fold in the rest of the chocolate mixture and mix until there are no yellow streaks.

Divide the batter among the prepared molds and refrigerate for 24 hours (can be used after 3 hours).

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Set the cakes on a baking sheet and bake for 12-13 minutes. The centers should feel soft and not fully set.

Remove the cakes from the oven and let sit 5 minutes to settle.

*If using disposable cake molds, unmold onto a platter and serve immediately with salted caramel sauce and whipped cream (or ice cream).

**I used ramekins and opted not to unmold them.

Salted Butter Caramel Sauce:

From My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz

Yield: 1 ½ cups

1 cup granulated sugar

½ cup water

6 tablespoons salted butter, cubed at room temperature*

½ cup heavy cream

Sea salt

Spread the sugar in a large skillet or wide saucepan and pour the water over it. Heat the sugar over medium heat, swirling the pan very gently, just enough to moisten the sugar with the water.

Once the sugar is moistened and starting to cook, swirl the pan only if there are dry spots of sugar that aren’t melting. Continue to cook the sugar until it begins to darken. Watching carefully, gently swirl the pan, only if necessary, so it cooks evenly. (If the sugar begins to crystallize, continue cooking, stirring only if you see very dark burnt spots appearing, and the crystals should eventually smooth out).

When the caramel is a deep amber color and begins to smoke, remove the pan from the heat and drop in the cubes of butter. Stir with a whisk until butter is completely melted, the gradually whisk in the cream and stir until smooth. If the sauce seizes up, gently warm it over low heat and it will begin to smooth out.

Once the sauce is cool enough to taste, you may want to add additional salt and adjust to your taste. Sauce keeps for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

*I didn’t have salted butter so I added ¼ teaspoon sea salt to the caramel.

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Enfrijoladas and an Egg

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The first time I had enfrijoladas was in Mexico City. It was a long day of sightseeing and we were roaming around colonia Roma and I was starving. It was time for lunch. We found a cute cafe whose menu sounded both appetizing and homey. I decided to try something new (to me) and meatless so enfrijoladas it was. Bathed in a creamy refried bean sauce, steamed corn tortillas were rolled and topped with sour cream and cheese. It was satisfying delicious all at once.

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Enfrijoladas:

yield: 2 servings

2 cups refried beans

6 tortillas

2 eggs, fried

sour cream

cotija cheese

jalapeno hot sauce

Add 1/2 cup water or stock to the refried beans and heat until hot. Beans should be very loose.

Heat tortillas on a comal or in a hot, dry skillet. Place in a dish and cover with plastic wrap to steam. Dip each tortilla into the beans and place on a plate, folded in half. Continue until all tortillas are coated. Serve with a fried egg and three tortillas per serving. Pour the excess beans over the tortillas before serving. Garnish with sour cream, hot sauce, and spicy peppers.

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