Nantucket Cranberry Pie

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We were in a taxi, on our way to see the open studios at the Gowanus canal last Sunday. The temperature had suddenly plunged, barely making it to the mid 50s. As the car zoomed along the elevated section of the BQE, I caught a glimpse of the tops of trees (ash trees?) swaying in the wind. Their leaves had already turned canary yellow and they seemed impossibly bright, against the brownstones and dark asphalt in the background. And I thought It’s ok. Fall is here and I’m ok with that.

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When I was little (kindergarten? first grade?), I remember teachers having us color pre-drawn and mimeographed sheets with things that represented each season. The summer had the sun and stalks of wheat. The spring had flowers and swallows: we glued cotton balls to their bellies and filled the rest of their bodies with black crayons. The winter had snowmen and Christmas trees. But fall? I don’t remember what represented fall. Maybe yellow leaves, though it’s unlikely. There were few trees that turned colors the way they do in the Northeast U.S. It wasn’t cranberries or pecan pie or Thanksgiving turkey. I didn’t know about these things until I came to the U.S. later as an adult. It was probably rain. Grey clouds and children holding umbrellas, which we colored with as many colors as we could get our hands on.

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This recipe is pure fall. Cranberries and pecans are cooked together with a decent amount of sugar, turning sweet and tangy and crisp, underneath a topping that is rich but not overly so. The original recipe called for three quarters of a packet of butter. I replaced two thirds of that with refined coconut oil (the kind that has no coconut taste) and the result was perfect. It’s still not quite health food, but it’s a great way to ease into the season.

DSC03356Nantucket Cranberry Pie – Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon melted butter
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, roughly chopped
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup refined coconut oil, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 10″ pie plate or 9″ square cake pan. Melt 1 tablespoon butter, and drizzle it into the bottom of the pan. Spread the chopped cranberries and nuts in the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with the 1/2 cup sugar.

In a mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, melted coconut oil and butter, sugar, flour, salt, vanilla, and almond extract. Spread the batter over the cranberries and nuts in the pan, using a spatula to cover everything. Evenly sprinkle turbinado sugar over the batter.

Bake the pie for 40 to 45 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the pie from the oven and let cool on wire rack. Serve warm, or at room temperature.

Apple Cake

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It’s been a hectic couple of weeks. Recovering from my hip surgery has been relatively easy but, as I wrote in my last post, I missed cooking since I was on crutches the whole time. We ordered out for dinner every night and we ended up getting tired of it pretty quickly. Last weekend, we decided that we would venture back into the kitchen together and make something. Steve would do most of the work and I would do as much of the prep work as my crutches would allow.

I was craving something sweet and comforting. Something that felt familiar and nourishing. We went with an apple cake.
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My mom always made two kinds of apple cake when I was a kid: a bundt cake with chunks of apple inside and an upside down apple cake. I don’t actually have either of the recipes that my mom used to use, but a few weeks ago, the incomparable Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen posted a recipe for an apple cake that her mom always made. We thought we’d give it a try.

In many ways, it’s a pretty traditional apple cake. But there’s one little twist. The apples are added in two sections, one between the two layers of batter and one on top of the batter. This way, when the cake finishes, its top is studded with golden brown apple pieces, making it beautiful, as well as delicious.

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Apple Cake – Slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients:

6 apples (we used Fuji)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar
2 3/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease and flour a tube pan. Peel, core and chop apples into chunks. Toss with cinnamon and sugar and set aside.

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, orange juice, sugar, vanilla, and eggs. Add dry ingredients to the egg mixture and stir with spatula just until combined. Don’t overmix.

Pour half of batter into prepared pan. Spread half of apples over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool completely before running knife between cake and pan, and unmolding onto a platter.

Vermont Whole Wheat Oatmeal Honey Bread

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I really should be starting to post recipes featuring apples and pears and the first winter squashes of the season. I have been furiously bookmarking recipes with seasonal ingredients, anxious to try them out. But in fact, I have done absolutely no cooking for a whole week now. Nada. Zero. That’s because last Friday I had arthroscopic hip surgery to repair a torn labrum and a hip impingement. So, I’ve been hobbling around on crutches, unable to carry anything, let alone stand long enough to cook. Not to mention that for the first few days I was on some serious painkillers that kept me too loopy to be near sharp knives and hot stoves.
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The good news is that I’m recovering well and, fingers crossed, when I see the doctor on Monday, he will say I can stop using crutches. At which point, I will be thanking Steve for taking such good care of me by making cherry scones and passion fruit ice cream.

In all seriousness, though, I hate not being able to cook. It’s not just the relaxation it provides or the fact that I know what we are eating (as opposed to take-out food). It’s that it gives me a sense of power that I don’t feel anywhere else. When I am in the kitchen, I am in control. I take decisions and act on them. I make things, physical things, with my own two hands. I’ve been really missing that this week.DSC02127

So, instead of a recipe for french apple cake or roasted squash with dates and thyme (both of which should be appearing here soon), I give you a recipe for a loaf of bread on the healthier side of things. Let me start by saying that I am not a huge fan of whole wheat breads. I definitely do not like the ones you find in the supermarket that proudly call themselves whole wheat, with big letters, but a closer look at the ingredients reveals high fructose corn syrup, “natural” flavors, and a bunch of other, not so “whole” things. But I also don’t really like homemade whole wheat breads either. I find them too dense, too bitter, and a chore to eat.

This recipe, however, is one I quite enjoyed. It uses oats, sugar, honey, and cinnamon to make the bread lighter and a little sweeter. If you can find King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat Flour (a whole wheat flour that is lighter than the traditional kind), the bread comes out soft and bouncy, more like a white loaf, but with the benefits of a whole wheat bread. If you can only find regular whole wheat flour, go ahead and use that. It will be just as good.

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Vermont Whole Wheat Oatmeal Honey Bread – Slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour 

Ingredients:

2 cups boiling water
1 cup rolled oats, traditional or quick (not instant)
1/2 cup maple sugar or brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter
1 tablespoon kosher salt or 2 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 1/2 cups King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour (or regular whole wheat flour)
4 cups all-purpose flour

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, oats, maple or brown sugar, honey, butter, salt, and cinnamon. Let cool to lukewarm, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the yeast and flours, stirring to form a rough dough. Knead (about 10 minutes by hand, 5 to 7 minutes by machine) until the dough is smooth and satiny.

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise for 1 hour. Since the dough is warm to begin with (from the boiling water), it should become quite puffy.

Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a loaf. Place the loaves in two greased 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ bread pans.

Cover the pans with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow the loaves to rise until they’ve crowned about 1″ over the rim of the pan, about 60 to 90 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake the loaves in the preheated 350°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, tenting them lightly with aluminum foil after 25 minutes, to prevent over-browning. Remove them from the oven when they’re golden brown, and the interior registers 190°F on a digital thermometer.

Turn the loaves out onto a rack to cool. Store at room temperature, well-wrapped, for several days; freeze for longer storage.

Burmese Semolina Cake

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During my daily commute I often daydream about all kinds of stuff. One of my favorite daydreaming activities is trying to figure out what I would name my restaurant, if I were to open one. I have absolutely no intention to ever actually open a restaurant. It would take away all the joy of cooking and sharing food with others. But it’s fun to try and think of a name for this fantasy restaurant.

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I don’t know how important a restaurant name is to its success. I’m sure that a really bad name (“Crappy’s” or “Slime and Sweat” or “Danger”) could sink a place. But is there really any difference if a place is called after the owner’s name or a combination of two food ingredients or some made up word that sounds appetizing? Probably not.

So for my restaurant, I’ve gone through many ideas. There are many Greek words related to food but a lot of them just don’t sound right in English or they are hard for Americans to pronounce right. The word for salt in the Cypriot dialect is “alas,” which in English is, according to the dictionary, “an expression of grief, pity, or concern.” The word for vinegar is “xydi” but it’s pronounced kseethee (with the th as in “they”).

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It turns out, it’s really tough to find a good name for a restaurant. I’ve been going over this for a while now and I think I finally have a name. I would name my restaurant “Tatounna”. It has nothing to do with food, but it’s what I called my sister when we were little (I think it’s what she called herself first, because she couldn’t pronounce her actual name). My sister and I both love food, though she’s not as interested in cooking it as I am. But most of all, it’s a happy sounding name and it’s my sister, whom I love so very much.

I probably wouldn’t serve this Burmese semolina cake at Tatounna restaurant. But I’ve found myself with a bunch of draft blog posts for recipes that involve apricots and plums and cherries. And the season for them is over. So, instead of giving you a recipe that you can’t make for another 10 months, Burmese semolina cake it is. It’s actually a peculiar cake. It’s dense and intensely fragrant with toasted semolina, but only slightly sweet, with the texture of a very thick and gritty pudding. It makes for a great afternoon snack or it can be topped with ice cream or fruit salad for a more complete dessert.
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Burmese Semolina Cake – Slightly adapted from Bon Appétit

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly, divided, plus more
1¼ cups semolina flour
1 large egg
1 14-oz. can coconut milk
1½ cups half-and-half
⅓ cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425°. Butter an 8×8” baking dish. Toast semolina in a large dry skillet over medium-high heat, stirring, until darkened and nutty-smelling, about 2 minutes. Let cool.

Whisk egg, coconut milk, half-and-half, sugar, salt, and 1 Tbsp. butter in a large saucepan. Gradually whisk in semolina and bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking, until mixture is very thick and pulls away from the sides of saucepan, about 4 minutes. Scrape batter into baking dish.

Bake cake until golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 45–50 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack. Brush cake with remaining 1 Tbsp. butter; let cool slightly.

Stone Fruit Cobbler

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We’ve done quite a lot of traveling around France over the years. We have always preferred to stay either in a chambres d’hôtes (a bed & breakfast) or, if we are traveling with a group of friends, a gîte (an entire house). Without a doubt, one of our favorite things about staying in a bed & breakfast has always been the breakfast part. The bed part is rarely good. The mattresses are often old and either lumpy and soft or hard as a rock. And the pillows are almost always square. Yes, square. The French use square pillows. Which means that the bottom of the pillow comes under your shoulders. And that makes for a really uncomfortable night of sleep. We’ve actually considered traveling with our own pillows but we don’t want to carry that much luggage.DSC03257

Anyway, back to the breakfast part. It is always a rather rich affair, with fresh bread, salted butter, homemade jams, fruits or fruit salad, baked goods, cheeses, and whatever else the owners have either prepared or acquired from their local market. I remember one B&B in the Loire valley that had the most amazing homemade jams. I still dream about their peach and rosemary jam. As you may already know, breakfast is very important to Steve and me. We wake up hungry, hungry! One of our friends has a funny photo that she took on our last trip when we were all staying at a B&B in Normandy. Steve and I are at the big dining table that is covered with untouched breakfast food. We are the first ones there, sitting ramrod straight in our chairs, staring straight ahead at the camera, looking incredibly hungry and anxious. It’s obvious we are thinking “why are they not down yet? when are we going to eat? we are so hungry.” DSC03251

This stone fruit cobbler is the type of dish that would be typical at this kind of breakfast. It’s quick to make and it uses few ingredients and seasonal fruit. It can be made in advance and kept in the fridge, ready to be presented to the two hungry American tourists that are sitting at the table by themselves, looking like they are ready to devour everything.

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Stone Fruit Cobbler – Slightly adapted from Bon Appétit

Note: If stone fruit is not in season, you can use other fruits like apples or berries.

Ingredients:

3 pounds peaches, nectarines, or plums, each cut into 6 wedges (or 1″ pieces if using ramekins)
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon kirsch (clear cherry brandy) or other fruit brandy (optional)
½ tablespoon orange flower water (optional)
½ cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3½ oz. almond paste
½ cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted in a dry skillet over medium heat until pale golden brown

Directions:

Toss peaches, granulated sugar, flour, salt, kirsch and orange flower water, if using, in a large bowl. Transfer to a 13×9” baking dish or split among 12 ramekins; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat butter, almond paste, and granulated sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend after each. Mix in dry ingredients.

Drop dollops of batter over fruit (batter will even out during baking). Sprinkle with almonds. Place baking dish or ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until topping is golden brown and fruit juices are thick and bubbling, 50–60 minutes for13x9 dish or 45-50 minutes for ramekins. Let cobbler sit at least 20 minutes before serving. It will sink as it cools down.

Cobbler can be served slightly warm, at room temperature, or cold, straight out of the fridge. It can be served as dessert but it also makes a wonderful breakfast or brunch addition.

Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread

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I am not a fan of the cherished American tradition of making desserts out of vegetables. I have never liked pumpkin pie. Sweet potato pie? Not for me. I’ll eat a slice of carrot cake but only because it’s usually covered in sugary, creamy frosting (though I did recently find this unfrosted recipe that I love). I think zucchini muffins are ok as a snack but as dessert? No way. It’s not because I don’t like the vegetables themselves. I love them. But only in savory dishes.

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Maybe it’s an American vs. non-American thing. We tried to get our friends in Paris to have some pumpkin pie one year when we were celebrating Thanksgiving with them. They wouldn’t even touch it. For them, it was a double abomination. It was made out of pumpkin, a vegetable, and it included a healthy amount of cinnamon, a spice they associate with savory dishes and can’t understand why Americans put it in every dessert (I’m on the side of Americans on that one; I love cinnamon in desserts).

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In any case, this is the time of year when people who are lucky enough to have vegetable gardens start to post pictures of all the zucchini they are getting and asking for recipes to use it up. Inevitably, zucchini bread recipes start appearing left and right. I usually ignore them. But when I saw this recipe for double chocolate zucchini bread, I was curious. I mean double chocolate! I am happy to report that a couple of hour later I had made the first zucchini bread I love.

Now, let’s be honest here. This is a chocolate cake. No, a double chocolate cake. The zucchini is a minor player. Really minor. You won’t even know it’s there. But heck, if you want an excuse to justify eating a slice of moist, rich, luscious chocolate cake, tell people this is a zucchini bread and that it’s actually “good for you.” And then walk away before they ask to try a bite out of your own slice.

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Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread – Slightly adapted from The Kitchn

Ingredients:

1/2 vegetable oil
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup (1 ounce) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups coarsely grated zucchini
1 1/3 cups (6 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Butter and flour an 8×5-inch loaf tin then preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa, salt, baking powder, and flour.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, vanilla, and sugar until combined. Stir in the zucchini until combined.

Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and fold until combined (do not overmix). Fold in the chocolate chips.

Transfer the batter to the loaf tin and spread out using a spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes until the cake has risen and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out without batter on it (the toothpick might just have some melted chocolate on it from the chocolate chips).

Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

Pickled Watermelon Rind

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I confess that in my goal to post on this blog every week, I sometimes have to share recipes that I simply like, instead of recipes that I absolutely, positively, totally ADORE! It’s just not possible to find a new recipe every week that is a life changer. But once in a while, I do find a recipe that results in something so delicious, so interesting, so enticing, that I can’t wait to share it with anyone who’s willing to listen.

This is one of those recipes. Pickled watermelon rind is nothing new,  though it’s somewhat new to me. Where I grew up, a traditional desert was watermelon rind that had been preserved in a heavy sugar syrup. It was always kept in the fridge and served ice cold in the hot summer months. It has always been one of my favorites.

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So when I saw this recipe for pickled watermelon rind in Bon Appétit, I was a little put off by the idea of a pickled version of one of my favorite desserts. So I ignored it. But then, the wonderful guys of the Bitten Word blog made it and they gushed about it so much that I decided to give it a try myself.

It was an easy process. Peel the rind, cut it into pieces, cook it for a little while in the pickling liquid, and pour everything in a glass jar. A few hours in the fridge and Steve and I took our first bite of the golden-green-red cubes. We didn’t say a word for a few seconds and then we both started laughing and crying out “oh my god! this is so amazing!”

Yes, it’s that good. It’s sweet and sour and a tiny bit spicy, with that distinct flavor of the star anise to round everything out. And the texture is simply miraculous. Each bite goes from crunchy to soft, while always incredibly juicy. It’s a great side dish to heavily spiced or spicy foods, goes great with seafood, or as a little starter snack before dinner. Though I would probably even consider having it as dessert.

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Pickled Watermelon Rind – Slightly dapted from Bon Appétit

Ingredients:

About 4 lbs of watermelon
1 large (or two small) thai red chile, cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed
1 1″ piece peeled ginger, thinly sliced
2 star anise pods
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 cup sugar
1 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/2 cup water

Directions:

Using a vegetable peeler, remove tough green rind from watermelon; discard.

Slice watermelon in about 1″ thick slices. Cut away all but ¼” flesh from each slice; reserve flesh for another use. Cut rind into 1″ pieces. (You should have about 4 cups.)

Bring chile, ginger, star anise, salt, peppercorns, sugar, vinegar, and ½ cup water to a boil in a large saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Add watermelon rind and return to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until just crisp tender (this will take anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes; use a fork or knife to test a piece). Remove from heat and let cool, setting a small lid or plate directly on top of rind to keep submerged in brine, if needed.

Transfer rind and liquid to an airtight container (I used a 3 cup – 24 oz mason jar); cover and chill at least 12 hours.

DO AHEAD: Watermelon rind can be pickled 2 weeks ahead. Keep chilled.