Apple Brown Sugar Pie

DSC04398I realized my mistake as soon as I opened the Fresh Direct box. This year, we were going to spend Thanksgiving at home for the first time in seven years. Our friend JR was coming to join us for dinner, so I was going to keep the Thanksgiving meal a little smaller than usual. Instead of making two desserts, I figured that one would be enough. I opted for apple pie. I went online the week before and ordered everything I needed, including seven Granny Smith apples that would go into the pie.

Staring at me now, nestled next to each other inside the Fresh Direct box, were seven plastic clamshell containers, each holding four perfect, green, Granny Smith apples. I had ordered seven 4-packs of apples, giving me 28 apples. At least this time it wasn’t 28 pounds of pork. Eight of them went into the apple pie and the rest will be eaten or turned into apple sauce soon.DSC04436

I am prone to hyperbole when it comes to food, but I can honestly say this apple pie was the best I have ever made and possibly the best I have ever eaten. And so you don’t think it’s just self-delusional boasting, both Steve and JR said the same thing once they tasted it. I tried this recipe from the last issue of Bon Appétit, which calls for roasting the apple slices first, in order to remove some of their moisture, before combining them with brown sugar and butter for the pie filling. When I say butter, I mean a lot of butter. The entire pie uses almost two packets of butter. But it’s worth it. Every slice came out perfect, with no liquid drowning the pie plate. The apple filling stayed in place between the layers of buttery crust. The taste was quintessential apple pie: sweet, a little tart, with a hint of cinnamon.

Apple Brown Sugar Pie – Adapted from Bon Appétit

Note: The pie crust recipe and method I give you here is my own variation on a recipe by Cook’s Illustrated. The vodka helps reduce the amount of gluten in the dough, keeping it tender. The rest period in the fridge is essential. A minimum of two hours, though one or two days is ideal.


For the crust:

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup and 4 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

For the pie filling:

4 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, sliced into ½-inch wedges
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup plus 1 heaping tablespoon all-purpose flour, plus more
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg, beaten to blend


First make the crust:

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Using the large teardrop holes of a grater, grate the butter into the flour one stick at a time. After each stick, use your hands to gently mix the flour and butter a little. Pour cold vodka and water in the bowl and using a fork, start mixing everything. Switch to using your hands once all the liquid has been absorbed and mix until the dough just comes together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and press together and flatten dough a few times until it just holds its shape but still feels a little crumbly on the edges. Split in half and shape into 1-inch thick disks. Wrap in plastic and chill at least two hours but preferable 24-48 hours.

Make the pie:

Preheat oven to 350°. Toss apples, 1 cup granulated sugar, and ¼ cup flour in a large bowl. Divide between 2 rimmed baking sheets; bake, rotating baking sheets once, until apples are just tender, 25–30 minutes. Let cool, then transfer apples and accumulated juices to a large bowl. Add butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and 1 heaping Tbsp. flour; toss to combine. Let come to room temperature.

Let dough sit at room temperature to soften slightly, about 5 minutes. Roll out 1 disk on a lightly floured surface to a 13″ round. Transfer to a 9″ pie dish. Lift up edges; let dough slump down into dish. Trim, leaving ½” overhang. Roll out remaining disk. Scrape apples into dish and place dough over top; trim, leaving 1″ overhang. Fold edge of top crust under bottom crust, press together to seal, and crimp. Cut 8 slits in top to vent, brush with egg, and sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar. Chill pie in refrigerator until crust is firm, about 30-45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°. Place pie on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet; bake 30 minutes (crust should be slightly golden). Reduce oven temperature to 350° and continue baking until juices are bubbling and crust is deep golden brown, 50–60 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool at least 4 hours before slicing.

Quince Poached in Juice


There is something about quince that really takes me back to my childhood. I always remember having it either as a jam or a preserve or a thick jelly-like paste, moderately sweet, something vaguely exotic about it, and with that unmistakable texture, like a thousand tiny grains in your mouth. I can’t say it was ever my absolute favorite dessert as a kid. It was probably my second least favorite, behind a preserve made from bitter green oranges called kitromilo. But it was, and is, a taste of home, as familiar as my mom’s avgolemono soup and rose-flavored ice cream.

The funny thing is that I never actually saw an uncooked quince until I moved to the US and found it many years later at a farmer’s market. You’ll know it’s there before you see it. If the quince is ripe, it perfumes the air with the scents of apples and pears and vanilla, with a hint of something flowery (maybe cardamom?). But don’t be tempted to take a bite. Quinces are incredibly astringent when raw. But when cooked, they become sweet and soft, while changing color from white to pink and apricot hues.DSC03718

So, as you plan your Thanksgiving meal, looking at yet another variation on pecan pie and pumpkin pie, consider this: quince slices, poached in a delicately spiced juice, served with a dollop of whipped cream. It’s the dessert for that moment when everyone says they simply have no more room in their bellies. Or even better, it’s the simple breakfast for you the next morning.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Quince Poached in Juice – Adapted from Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi


2 large quinces, peeled and quartered
3½ cups pomegranate juice, tart cherry juice, or cranberry juice
5½ tablespoons sugar
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped
rind from one (preferably unsprayed) orange, shaved in strips with a vegetable peeler
¼ cup fresh orange juice
2 star anise pods


Remove the core from the quince quarters. Discard half of the cores and tie the remaining half in a bundle using double-layered cheese cloth. Cut the quince quarters in half lengthwise. You will have 16 quince slices.

Place the quince slices in a large saucepan and add the juice, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, orange rind, orange juice, and star anise. Add the bundle of cores and bring to a boil. Turn down heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cover the pan. Cook for about 20 minutes until the quince quarters are soft.

Using a slotted spoon, remove quince slices and set aside. Keep lid off pan and bring back to a low boil. Cook sauce for about 30 minutes until it has reduced and is slightly thicker (the consistency of thin syrup). Remove from heat and remove and discard core bundle, rind, star anise, and vanilla bean. Return quince slices in saucepan and stir gently to coat.

Serve warm or chilled (let quince cool in syrup and chill, covered, in fridge). Top with a dollop of whipped cream, crème fraîche, or clotted cream.

French Apple Cake

DSC01299It’s that moment when you turn onto a dimly lit, narrow street, with sidewalks barely wide enough for one person, the pre-Haussmann medieval buildings curving over you as you look up, and you know that you are experiencing Paris as it was, and will be, decades ago and decades in the future. It’s the cool autumn day, when you are having lunch, sitting by the window, and you watch the two elderly Parisian women, warm in their fur coats, carefully unwrapping their chocolate squares before delicately sipping their coffee.

It’s the knowledge that the cheese lady will wrap each piece of cheese you’ve chosen like a precious small gift, which it is, a gift of land and sky and love and hard work, which you will taste with each bite as the Parisian sun (so precious in itself) streams through the big windows of your apartment and you clink your wine glasses, knowing that this lunch, of cheese and meet and bread and wine, is one you really can’t have in any other city in the world. 
DSC01307It’s that sense of magic, as you sit outside on a restaurant terrace with your friends on a warm summer evening, finishing dinner at 10pm while the sun is still stubbornly refusing to set, and the waiter smiles as he pours the final bit of wine for all of you and you are happy, because the night isn’t over, there’s still the lazy walk back home as the sky furiously changes colors before it finally gives up and goes dark.

It’s the giddy feeling you get every time you end up at the Eiffel Tower, wanting to be blasé about the whole thing, but being unable to resist the overwhelming beauty around you and the shared joy of so many people for whom being there is a lifelong dream. It’s the moment you take as you cross one of the Seine bridges to stop and look and take in the unquestionable beauty of this city that is loved and loves back. When you know that no matter what happens, you will always have Paris in your heart.

French Apple Cake – Very slightly adpated from Cook’s Illustrated


1 1/2 lbs Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Calvados or white rum
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting


Step 1: Adjust oven rack to lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare a 9-inch springform pan with vegetable oil. Place prepared pan on baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
Step 2: Place apple slices in a microwave-safe dish, cover and microwave until apples are pliable, about three minutes. Toss apples with lemon juice and rum and let cool whilst you prepare the cake batter.
Step 3: In a large mixing bowl whisk one cup flour, one cup sugar, baking powder, and salt together.
Step 4: In another bowl whisk together one egg, oil, milk, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients until just combined. Transfer 1 cup of batter to a small bowl.
Step 5: Whisk 2 egg yolks into remaining batter. Gently fold in cooled apples. Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth surface.
Step 6: Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons of flour into the reserved batter then pour over the top of cake. Sprinkle the surface of the cake with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar.
Step 7: Bake for one hour and fifteen minutes, until golden brown and set. Transfer pan to a wire rack and cool, five minutes.
Step 8: Run a paring knife around the sides of the pan and remove from form. Let the cake cool completely on a wire rack, 2-3 hours. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Slow Cooker Chicken in Milk


Remember when Steve and I went gluten-free for three weeks, with unintentionally hilarious results? Well, we are now finishing week two of a new dietary experiment: eating dairy-free. For the last two weeks we have stopped eating any form of dairy, once again to see if it helps at all with my chronic inflammation issues. So far, nothing has changed. We haven’t had any new flare ups, like we did when we went off gluten, but it’s not looking like dairy is really the culprit. We’ll give it another week.DSC04263

The interesting thing is that we find going dairy-free harder than going gluten-free. Milk and its byproducts are in everything. Getting a sandwich for lunch becomes a real challenge when you don’t know if the bread has been made with milk or butter (which is very common). Eating breakfast is even more difficult for us, given our love of baked goods in the morning. And cream and cheese are incredibly common in so many dishes and different cuisines, from Italian to Mexican to Indian. We’ve been eating a lot of Chinese and Japanese food that is generally free of dairy. For the mornings, we’ve been using a cashew milk we found at the store that is similar to the almond and macadamia milk I wrote about last time. It’s ok in coffee and for granola but it’s definitely not the same as cow milk.

In a week we will start eating dairy again, unless we see a dramatic change in the next few days. One of the first things I plan to make is this chicken cooked in milk. It sounds strange, I know, but it’s based on a recipe by Jamie Oliver that has become somewhat of a viral sensation. This version uses a slow-cooker, as opposed to the original that bakes the chicken in the oven. The result is astonishing. The chicken is tenderized by the milk to such an extent, that removing it from the slow cooker in one piece is impossible. The meat literally falls off the bone. And the flavor is earthy and wholesome, thanks to the combination of milk, sage, and garlic, but with a welcoming zing of lemon zest. Nothing would be better for toasting the end of a dairy-free diet.

Slow Cooker Chicken in Milk – Slightly adapted from The Kitchn


1 4 lb chicken
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil or canola oil
1 cup hard cider or apple juice
10 cloves garlic, left unpeeled
1/4 cup lightly packed sage leaves
1/2 whole cinnamon stick (about 3 inches long)
Zest from two medium lemons
2 1/4 cups whole milk


Remove the chicken from its packaging and discard the bundle of giblets from inside. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel. Mix together the salt and pepper, and rub this all over the chicken.

Warm the tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Sear the chicken on all sides until deep golden-brown; use tongs to help turn it as you sear. The heat in the pan should be hot enough that you hear a constant sizzle as you sear the chicken; reduce the heat slightly if the oil begins to smoke.

Transfer the seared chicken to the bowl of a 6-quart or larger slow cooker and lay it breast-side down (this is important; you want the breast to be in the milk).

Pour off any grease left in the pan and return the pan to heat. Add the cider and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan as the cider simmers. Continue simmering the cider until it has reduced by roughly half. Pour the cider over the chicken.

Rub any loose papery skins from the garlic cloves, but otherwise leave them in their peels. Scatter the garlic cloves, sage leaves, cinnamon stick, and lemon zest on top of and around the chicken, then pour the milk over top.

Cover the slow cooker and cook for 4 to 6 hours on low heat.

To serve, lift the chicken from the slow cooker and transfer it to a cutting board; the legs or wings will probably fall off. Carve the chicken into pieces (I couldn’t carve it because it was too tender, so I served it in big pieces as they came off the chicken); you can leave the skin on or remove it, as you like.

Scoop the garlic cloves from the cooking liquid and scatter them over the chicken pieces. Transfer the liquid to a serving dish, straining if you’d prefer to remove the solid curds (although they’re tasty!). Serve everything hot.

Almond and Macadamia Nut Milk


Steve approaches cooking a little differently than I do. While for me, cooking can be a creative endeavor, an almost meditative exercise, for Steve it’s often approached as a fun project. Since he works a lot more hours than I do, he doesn’t cook very often, but when he does, it’s for something new or interesting in some way, something that caught his eye online because of the unusual technique it uses or the unique ingredients it combines.

So it was, that when he read an article in the New York Times titled “The Best Iced Latte in America?” he immediately identified a project he wanted to tackle: making the almond and macadamia nut milk that is the main ingredient of said “best iced latte in America.” And so we went shopping for the ingredients (blanched almonds, macadamia nuts, and dates) and went about making our first batch. In our haste, we failed to taste the macadamia nuts, which were quite rancid, resulting in not-the-best iced latte in America.

Undaunted, a few weeks later Steve wanted to try again. This time we tried the nuts and they were fresh. The nut milk came out smooth and fresh and ever so slightly sweetened by the dates. It’s not hard to make, but it is a project. And how was the iced latte? Pretty great. Best in America? Not really sure.

Almond and Macadamia Nut Milk – From the New York Times

Note: When we made this the second time, we used a nut bag, as the recipe suggests, but the milk ended up too gritty. We strained it again through two layers of cheesecloth and it was perfect. So, opt for the cheesecloth if you can.


1 generous cup/150 grams blanched almonds
½ cup/50 grams macadamia nuts
⅓ cup/40 grams pitted dates
1 liter filtered water


1. Combine almonds, macadamia nuts and dates in a large lidded plastic container. Add filtered water, cover, and let soak overnight at room temperature, at least 12 hours.

2. Using a blender set to the highest speed, process mixture for 3 to 4 minutes or until finely puréed. Strain the mixture through a nut bag or jelly bag into a bowl, squeezing hard until only solids remain. (Or set a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and line with two layers of cheesecloth. Use a spatula to force the mixture through the lined sieve, then repeat the process using fresh cheesecloth.) The nut milk should be silky and creamy, not gritty. Milk will keep in the refrigerator for up to five days. Shake before using.

To make an iced almond-macadamia milk latte, combine 8 ounces of the chilled nut milk, a double shot of hot espresso and ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake for about 30 seconds, then strain into a chilled glass with fresh ice.

Weeknight Porchetta with Vegetables


The Simpsons have been on TV for so long that entire books can be filled with quotes from that show. There are some that Steve and I use at least once every few months. There was the episode where their dog (Santa’s little helper) had to wear a dog collar and in one scene he runs out of a room, prompting grandpa to yell in his trembling voice: the lampshade’s running away! That one always makes us giggle.

One of my favorites is from an episode where the Simpsons go to a Costco-like store for the first time. The store is called the Monstromart and it’s a gigantic concrete block with the store’s motto at the entrance:”Where Shopping Is A Baffling Ordeal”. Marge is walking along one of the aisles when she spots a huge box of nutmeg. “Ooh, that’s a great price for twelve pounds of nutmeg,” she says appreciatively.DSC03894

I thought of that quote the other day. We were going to have two friends over for dinner last weekend, so I thought I’d make this weekend porchetta recipe. It calls for pork tenderloin, the thin strip of tender meat that is along the pig’s spine, wrapped in bacon. It usually weighs around a pound. Since we would be four people, I went to FreshDirect and ordered two tenderloins.

Two days later, the delivery guy came with a box that seemed unusually heavy. It was when I opened it that I realized why. I had mistakenly ordered two pork loins, not tenderloins. Each loin weighed 7 pounds. So I now had enough meat to feed 28 people! I couldn’t even fit them in the fridge. In the end I broke the two loins down to boneless pork chops and roast pieces for 3-4 people and froze them individually. Our freezer is now chock full of pork.

So, if you do make this recipe, and you definitely should, make sure you get pork tenderloin, not loin. But do give this recipe a try. It’s easy to make, comes together in one roasting pan, and the result is incredibly flavorful and tender.

Weeknight Porchetta with Vegetables – Adapted from Bon Appétit


4 garlic cloves finely chopped or grated on microplane
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, coarsely chopped
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
One 1-1½-lb. pork tenderloin
4 slices bacon
1 lb root vegetables (carrots, turnips, rutabagas), peeled and cut into 1″-1.5″ cubes
1 small head of fennel, core removed, cut into quarters


Preheat oven to 425°. Toss chopped garlic, chopped rosemary, fennel seeds, salt, and 1 Tbsp. oil in a small bowl; season with pepper.

Rub garlic mixture all over tenderloin (if you have time to do this in the morning, great; refrigerate pork until dinner) and place in a large baking dish. Wrap bacon slices around tenderloin, tucking ends underneath so bacon stays put. Drizzle everything with 1 Tbsp. oil.

In a large bowl, combine root vegetables, fennel, and 1 Tbsp. oil. Add salt and pepper and mix well using hands. Scatter vegetables on both sides of tenderloin in baking dish.

Roast, uncovered, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of tenderloin registers 145° for medium, 35–40 minutes. Transfer pork to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with roasted vegetables.

Yogurt Scones with Roasted Pears and Chocolate Chunks


Dave and Lorie, Steve’s brother and sister-in-law were in New York city last weekend. The flew up from Raleigh, NC to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. We met up with them for brunch on Sunday at the Bryant Park Grill, a restaurant right behind the New York Public Library on the edge of Bryant Park. We had just been seated at our table and placed our drink orders when Lorie turned to me and half-whispered: Is that who I think it is, sitting behind you? I turned around and saw a handsome, older man, with perfect hair, wearing a black dress shirt and a dark, orange tan, sitting right next to me. I recognized him immediately. It’s Mitt Romney, I half-whispered back to Lorie. We both smiled and the four of us went back to catching up.

That’s one of the things I love about living in New York city. Not the celebrity sightings per se, but the fact that when you do see someone famous, they are often doing exactly what you are doing: walking the streets (I walked next to Ted Donovan the very next day after the Romney sighting), taking the subway, eating at a restaurant right next to you. The walking-centered life of the city and the sheer density of it means that no matter how famous you are, it’s hard to hide behind a limo’s darkened windows or in private rooms in restaurants. It also means that New Yorkers will see you and go on with their lives (most of the time). You won’t be hassled or stopped for autographs and selfies.

So, the next time you are in New York, or if you live here, and you are standing in line at a coffee shop ordering your half-caf latte and a roasted pear and chocolate chunk scone, look around you. That woman with the long, curly hair standing behind you might just be Sarah Jessica Parker. And if she is, don’t freak out and yell Carrie! in a high-pitched girlie voice. Be cool and act like nothing happened.

Oh who am I kidding! If you do see SJP, you have my permission to go fanboy/fangirl-crazy. But just this once. You’re back to your cool and aloof New Yorker self after that.


Yogurt Scones with Roasted Pears and Chocolate Chunks – Adapted from Smitten Kitchen


2 large (or 3 small) firm pears
1 1/2 cups (190 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup (7 oz) Greek yogurt (full fat)
1/4 cup (60 ml) heavy cream
1 large egg
1/4 cup (3 ounces or 85 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped in chunks
1 large egg and 1 tablespoon water, whisked together
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar


Heat oven to 375°F. Peel and core the pears and cut them into 1/2-inch cubes. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange pear pieces on parchment and roast until they feel dry to the touch and start to brown underneath, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven but leave oven on. Allow pear pieces to cool while preparing the rest of the recipe.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, sugar and salt together. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, cream, and 1 egg until combined. Pour yogurt mixture over flour mixture and gently fold it with a spatula until it just comes together. Add cooled pear pieces and chocolate chunks and fold a few more times. Don’t overtax.

Dump dough on a lightly floured surface and pat it into a 6-inch round. Cut into 6 wedges and transfer to baking sheet lined with parchment paper, at least two inches apart. Brush with egg and water mixture and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of turbinado sugar.

Bake scones until firm and golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool.