Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Donna Hay Styling and Photo Challenge #3

Gorgeous, right?

My version, how on earth did they do it?
With just few hours to spare before we roll into December I add my contribution to the fun Donna Hay styling photo challenge.  There were only three of us who participated this month, so please check Simone's entry here and Jenn's here.   It was a challenge for sure, but life is not fun if we don't get pushed a little, right?

For this month's challenge, Simone chose the dessert featured on the cover of Donna Hay magazine issue 45, published in the summer of 2009.  The photo is by William Meppem, styled by Justine Poole.  I remember that cover well, like many other amazing DH's photos it had the promise of a great and comforting apple dessert, so I was eager to try it.  To my disappointment, I quickly discovered the recipe was wrong.

Simone and I exchanged many e-mails about this recipe since I tried it as soon as she posted it for a dinner party I was having at my house.  I knew something was wrong with the recipe when I made the caramel base.  There is so much water in the original recipe that the end result is more like a soup, and the recipe doesn't call for reducing the liquid nor caramelizing it on the stove.  The dumplings got soggy after the baking and the overall taste was not pleasant, not to mention that the caramel didn't really caramelize nor looked like the one in the magazine photo on page 93.  I contacted the magazine but I haven't gotten a reply (yet).  I doubt that the staff will try the recipe again to correct it, but I am surprised that they made such mistake.  Even if they accidentally inverted the amount of sugar and water I doubt that it would work.

Beautiful and tiny lady apples
I re-made it using only 1/2 cup of water, baked the apples in the liquid (which didn't caramelized again),  but baked the dumplings like biscuits on their own.  My final version looks really different from the magazine photo, the apples lost all their color and the assembly obviously looks completely different (for the styling I added the biscuit on top of the apples).  My apples also cracked during the baking both times, even using different types of apples (small gala the first time, and lady apples for this photo).  The dumplings, which are actually biscuits, are really tasty, but if baked without all the sugar from the caramel I would add more sugar in the dough, they are not sweet at all.   The caramel sauce was still too liquid after baking and the butter separated onto an oily film.  I also noticed that the dumplings had some crystal sugar on top but surprise surprise the recipe doesn't call for that step.  Crystal sugar adds a nice crunch and sparkling effect to many baked goods, and I use it a lot.

Anyhow...the challenge was the photo, so here is how I did it.

The photo has what looks like natural light coming from the upper left, however it is at a very big angle so I decided to use my living room for the staging since it has almost wrap around windows.  The light was also bounced from the bottom right to decrease hard shadows.  The white balance  in my picture is all wrong, not to mention the too small spoon at the wrong angle, but I really don't have time to take more pictures, so that has to suffice. 

Here is my set up, glamorous, isn't it?

Here is another version of the photo where I played with the contrast on photoshop, just for fun.

I loved this exercise, but I am so hypercritical that I can't seem to like my photo.  Oh well...

I would like to urge you to participate so you can push your limits when you take food pictures, and would also like to thank Simone for starting this fun challenge, keep them coming!  If you want to join us and push yourself as a photographer follow the instructions here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Apple Tart with Streusel and Cookbook Winner

Sorry, it took me some time, but the winner of the Cucina Povera cookbook is Astrofiammante, congratulations!  I hope you use the book and let us know about it.
In case you love apple desserts and are trying to find a recipe for Thanksgiving look no farther, this is a keeper.  I am going to make this tart again next week, it is perfect to celebrate Thanksgiving.  I found the recipe on Sara's blog Cook and the City and finally made it for a house warming party.  I was able to save few slices so I could photograph the tart.

Few people used their hands to clean the pan!
I love apple desserts, they epitomize the Fall season, they comfort you, nourish you, and feed your senses.

I made few changes to the recipe mainly because I didn't have whole wheat flour nor a lemon in my house.  Pasta frolla, the Italian cousin of sweet pastry, or paté sucrée, is really wonderful, I am not sure why I don't make pasta frolla more often, it comes together so easily, and it is delicious.

Apple Tart with Almond Streusel
adapted from Cook and the City


Pasta frolla
300 gr all purpose flour
125 gr sugar
50 almond flour, or finely ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
150 gr butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten

4-5 baking apples
1 tsp cinnamon
2 TBS sugar

100 gr all purpose flour
80 gr cold butter, cut in 1/2" cubes
80 gr sugar
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1 tsp cinnamon
Salt, a pinch
2 TBS heavy cream

For the pasta frolla:  In the bowl of an electric mixer add the cold butter to the dry ingredients, and mix until the butter is in small pieces.  Add the beaten eggs and mix until a ball forms.  Bring the dough together into a ball, flatten it, wrap it and refrigerate for an hour.  Roll into a circle and line a tart or pie pan.  Refrigerate while preparing the filling.

For the filling: Peel, core and slice the apples.  Add the sugar and cinnamon to the apple slices and toss to coat.  Add the apples to the crust, distributing evenly.

For the streusel:  Mix the dry ingredients together.  Add the butter and work it until it is in small pieces.  Add the cream and mix until the mixture turns crumbly.  Pour onto the apple slices to coat them.  Pre-heat the oven to 350F.  Bake until the crust is nicely browned and the apples start bubbling, about 50 minutes.  Cool slightly and serve with your favorite ice cream.

Per i lettori italiani....

La festa del ringraziamento e' una tradizione americana importantissima, e dopo il tacchino, la cena e' sempre seguita da un dolce. Tradizione vuole che una crostata di zucca o di patata dolce venga servita.  Visto che i miei familiari mi chiedono sempre di fare il dolce e ho la scelta su cosa portare, non essendo un'amante ne' dell'una ne' dell'altra faccio sempre cose diverse, spesso un dolce di mele.  Quest'anno ho addocchiato e provato questa crostata di mele trovata nel blog Cook and the City di Sara, e dopo averla assaggiata ho deciso che era buonissima e degna di essere servita alla nostra tavola.  Ho fatto alcune modifiche, potete trovare la ricetta originale controllate qui.

Crostata di Mele con Streusel di Mandorle
adattata da Cook and the City


Pasta frolla
300 gr farina
150 gr burro
125 gr zucchero
2 uova
Lievito, un cucchiaino
50 gr farina di mandorle

4-5 mele farinose
Cannella 1 cucchiaino
Zucchero 2 cucchiai

100 gr farina
80 gr burro
80 gr zucchero
Mandorle tritate, una decina
Cannella un cucchiaino
Sale un pizzico
2 cucchiai di panna fresca

Fate una frolla con la farina, la farina di mandorle, le uova, il burro, lo zucchero, il lievito, il sale e un cucchiaino di cannella in polvere.  Fate riposare la pasta in frigo, intanto tagliate le mele a fettine privando il frutto della buccia. Mettete le mele in una ciotola e unitevi un cucchiaio da minestra di cannella, 2 cucchiai di zucchero e un di pizzico di sale. Mescolate bene.
Ora prendete la frolla e come di consueto foderate una teglia di 22 cm di diametro circa, tenendo un bordo di 5/6 cm; versateci le mele condite e poi preparate lo streusel. Prendete 100 gr di farina, uniteci 80 gr di burro freddo a pezzettini, lo zucchero, la vaniglia, un cucchiaino di cannella, le mandorle sbriciolate grossolamanete, il sale e la panna liquida. Lavorate molto velocemente e poi create dei grossi bricioloni che andete a far cadere sulla torta comprendola integralmente. Infornate a 170° per 50 minuti circa.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fall Colors

I can not stop taking pictures!  I keep noticing colors, constantly seeing amazing color contrast and combination.  I buy fruit at the store just to keep the color around for a while.  I found some dainty lady apples and when I bought them home I immediately tried different bowls and color combinations.  These pictures are just examples of this.


Then there is the wonderful persimmon.

And the pomegranate, with its amazing red and juicy center.

The leaves are on fire right now and I want to go out on a walk with my camera before it is too late.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pear Caramel Ice Cream with Pecan Shortbread Cookies

The hunt for new Christmas cookie recipes has started.   I love giving bags of cookies to friends and family and to make it fun I try new cookies every year.  My stack of Christmas cookie magazines increases every year, so does the list of delicious cookies I tried.   I like to choose cookies that have interesting texture and color so when paired together they visually please the eyes.  I love making small cookies, almost like miniature, so you can taste more than one and don't feel guilty.  These are keepers.

The first new recipe I tried this year comes from the book A Passion for Desserts by Emily Luchetti, a simple and delicious pecan short bread. Emily is the executive pastry chef at Farallon and Waterbar restaurants in San Francisco, and has published many amazing books, and has also been writing a blog for years (which I just discovered, not sure why I didn't find it earlier, she is one my favorite pastry chefs).

I will definitely make these cookies again, they are buttery shortbread cookies, studded with pecans, and they melt in your mouth.  The only drawback is that they are a little too fragile and crumbly, maybe adding a tad less butter would help.  They are not too sweet, and don't they look great as ice cream sandwiches?

Since I had some pears that needed to be used and some left over caramel sauce I decided to try the ice cream recipe that was paired with the cookies in the book.  I used the most amazingly colored crimson pears I have ever seen, which I bought on a whim, just for the color. 

Isn't the color amazing?

The ice cream is delicious, the flavor of the pears is intense, and the swirls of caramel bring it to a different realm.  However I decreased the sugar by a 1/4 cup and it was still too sweet, maybe it was the omission of the pear liquor, which Emily adds in the recipe but I didn't.   The ice cream  was perfect paired with the cookies since they are really not sweet at all.

You can find another pear ice cream recipe from David Lebovitz clicking on the link.

Pear-Caramel Swirl Ice Cream
adapted from Passion for Desserts

Six ripe pears (about 3 pounds)
3/4 cup plus 1/3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 large egg yolks
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup cold Caramel Sauce

Peel, halve, and core the pears.  Slice them 1/2 inch stick.  Cook the pear slices, 1/3 cup of the sugar and the lemon juice over medium heat, until the pears are soft and the juices have evaporated.  Let cool for 10 minutes and then puree until smooth.  Refrigerate until cold.

In a bowl, whip the egg yolks with 1/4 cup of sugar.  Bring cream to a boil, then pour onto the yolks to slowly temper them until they are thickened into a custard.  Immediately strain and add the cold milk.  Refrigerate until cold.  Stir together the pear puree and the egg custard.  Freeze according to your ice cream maker.   (Note:  the yield is more that my ice cream maker could freeze, so I had to freeze in two batches).

Pecan Cookies
3 1/2 ounces butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tbs all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup pecan pieces

Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla until smooth, 30 seconds.  Add the flour, salt and pecans.  Mix just until combined.  Roll dough into a log, 1 inch thick, using a sheet of parchment paper.  Chill or freeze until hard.  Pre-heat oven to 325F, cut log into 1/4 inch thick slices, place on a paper lined baking sheet and bake until light golden.  Let cool.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Black and White Wednesday #18

Pretend food

I am submitting this photo, shot in color and edited on i-photo, to the fun weekly event created by Susan of The well-seasoned cook.

If you would like to participate to future events click here for the instructions.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Oatmeal with Apples and Cranberries

This morning I woke up at 5, which was actually 6 yesterday, but didn't remember the time had changed until I saw the light starting to change outside.  It will take me few days to get used to the Fall Back time change.  I decided to go outside and take few pictures in the early morning hours, before the sun came up, something I should do more ofter, it is so magical.  

There are so many wild birds where I live and the best time to see them is in the morning.  One of the most prominent birds in town is probably the Canadian goose, a migratory bird that apparently figured it out that this area is perfectly fine to make it a permanent home.  They normally spend time in the many grassy areas around town, but being water birds this morning they were in their element, just beautiful.  

The weather has changed rather suddenly and the fall temperature  fell sharply the past week.  While I enjoyed being outside so early and in the company of just wild animals, I quickly became pretty chilled.  When I got in the car I decided to make oatmeal for breakfast.  Oatmeal is one of those things you can make in myriad versions, adding just oats and water or plenty of goodies,  to your heart's desire.  Below you can find the version I made today, next time I might change it up a little.  Pecans would work, so would banana slices added at the end.   Mental note to self, make this more often, it is so good!

Oatmeal with Cranberries and Apple
1 1/2  cups thick rolled oats
1/2 cup cranberries
1 apple, peeled and diced
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cinnamon stick
2 cups milk

Mix all the ingredients in a heavy bottom sauce pan.  Bring to a boil and simmer until thickened and cooked through, about 10-15 minutes, adding water as the oats cook to keep it creamy.  Eat warm.  Serves 2.

Avena Cotta con Mela e Cranberries
150 gr fiocchi d'avena
50 gr cranberries secchi o uvetta sultanina
1 mela, tagliata a dadini
30 gr zucchero di canna
1 cucchiaino di cannella
1/2 stecco di cannella
500 ml latte parzialmente scremato
acqua q.b.

Aggiungere tutti gli ingredienti in un pentolino con fondo spesso.  Portare ad ebollizione e lascire sobbollire fino a che i fiocchi d'avena sono cotti, 10-15 minuti, aggiungendo acqua quanto basta per mantenere una consistenza morbida.  Servire caldo.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Book Review-Cucina Povera-and a Book Giveaway!

Perfect time for a bowl of earthy soup, especially when the soup is Ribollita, the very tasty cannellini and kale soup from Tuscany.  When I was asked by the publicist to review the book Cucina Povera, or Peasant Cuisine, by Pamela Sheldon Johns I was immediately intrigued.  "This book features more than 60 authentic, budget-conscious dishes from the heart of Tuscany.  Each dish is based on a philosophy of not wasting anything edible, while also making every bite as tasty as possible."

Not only I know the food of Tuscany well, but I love its simplicity so I wanted to try the recipes asap.  Tuscany is the region I know best outside of the Veneto, having spent a week in Siena at the end of each summer for years, visiting my mom's middle sister and my cousin Manuela.  My sister lived near Siena for years, and another cousin went to medical school in Siena and is now an emergency medicine resident there.  Should I mention a boyfriend who used to take me around on his Vespa?  I was lucky to later spend many other times there, more recently this summer, traveling with friends from the States. 

Detail near the columns in 
Piazza Del Campo, Siena
Tuscan food is very different from the cuisines of other regions in Italy, the culinary tradition draws from the wild animals living in the extensive woods, the rich olive oil, and the fact that for years people lived off the land.  Siena has an amazing history,  it was at one point more potent than Florence but a serious of horrible plagues in the middle ages killed most of the population and the city never quite recovered.

The Tuscan country side is one of the most beautiful places in the world, rolling hills, ancient farm houses and tiny medieval town perched on the hill tops make this region unique and enchanted.  The rich and simple food contributes to its fame and draws many people to visit this region.  Many well known Italian dishes heel from Tuscany, Ribollita soup, Panzanella, Sciacciata all'uva, and Cantucci (otherwise known as Biscotti in the States).

Pamela Sheldon Johns grew up in a family where everything was used, and when she move to Tuscany she felt at home with the no waste mentality.  In the introduction she talks at length about the traditions of  Tuscany, its cuisine, and the people whose memory she narrates so well. She also give a wonderful overview of some of the different cities and their culinary traditions.

The book is beautiful, small but well designed, the pages are thick, with rough edges.  The book is filled with photos of the dishes and of the people cooking them, which is something I loved.  The instructions are clear, the ingredients all easy to find.  There are few dishes that I know most Americans won't try since they are not part of this country culinary tradition and are still considered weird, like tripe, rabbit, or liver (I am speaking in general terms here, I know plenty of people who would eat them).  There are few recipes I wouldn't try either, like Piccione Farcito allo Spiedo, or squab  simply because in Venice we don't have a good relationship with pigeons, but Pamela suggests to use Cornish Hens instead.

I made few things from this book:  The Ribollita, the Gnudi, (spinach dumplings), the Polpettone or meat loaf,  the Stewed Chickpeas,  the Ricciarelli, all outstanding.  The only recipe that didn't work was the one of the Cantucci and I just run out of steam to try it again. I suspect I over-beat the eggs, the texture was totally off.  The Ribollita was out of this world tasty (I suspect the home made beef broth had to do with it).  The Ricciarelli cookies were really good but they were different than the ones I ate in Siena, less sweet, and lighter, less dense, very good nonetheless.

In summary, the book is a great read about Tuscany, the  cuisine, and its people. The recipes are really original and delicious!  I truly recommend it.

The publisher is giving away a copy of the book, so for a chance to win it please leave a comment, and if you have experienced Tuscany and/or its cuisine let us know what you loved.  A name will be picked randomly and the winner will be revealed next Wednesday.

Disclaimer:  I didn't receive any compensation for this review, besides a free copy of the book.

Two recipes follow, directly from the book.  I made the Ribollita with the beef stock I made for the meat loaf, so it was ever more earthy.

The restaurant Da Delfina in Artimino, just west of Florence, is a reference point for cucina povera. Chef Carlo Cioni understands intimately the relationship between the land and the table. In his hands, a sturdy vegetable soup is transformed into a second dish by layering leftover soup with bread, then into a third dish by baking the leftover layered soup and bread. The fourth and final transformation is ribollita, the remaining vegetable stew cooked in a skillet, a dish that exemplifies the resourcefulness of Tuscan cooks.

Carlo insists it must be made on top of the stove, not in the oven, a version often seen in restaurants. Oil is used sparingly for this is a peasant dish. The ingredients vary according to what is available, but Carlo explains, “There must be a balance between the dolce (sweet), aromatica (aromatic), and amaro (bitter).” The sweet is found in herbs, such as parsley, celery, and purslane; the aromatic is in thyme, borage, and fennel; and the bitter essences come from mustard greens and chicory. A leafy green is always present; in the winter, cavolo nero, and in the summer, cabbage.

Carlo admonishes cooks to handle the beans tenderly and cook them slowly, and “dolcemente,” gently, so they are not broken or crushed. He soaks them overnight with aromatics: whole cloves of garlic, a bay leaf, and a sprig of sage. Use any seasonal vegetables in this soup, and cook them in the order of hardness; start with vegetables such as potatoes that take longer to cook, and finish with the tender herbs.

Classic Tuscan Vegetable-Bread Soup

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 onion, finely chopped, plus 1/2 cup more chopped onion for Day 3
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 cups vegetable stock
1 or 2 boiling potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 zucchini, coarsely chopped
4 cups shredded cavolo nero (dinosaur or lacinato kale) or regular kale
1 cup shredded assorted leafy greens (such as Swiss chard, nettles, and spinach)
1 cup coarsely chopped aromatic greens (such as borage, fennel, and mustard)
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
1/4 cup minced mixed aromatic herbs (such as fresh flat-leaf parsley, rosemary, and sage)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound day-old country bread, thinly sliced

Day 1: Minestra di Verdura (Vegetable Soup)
In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the onion, carrots, and celery for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the onion is golden. Add the garlic and stock, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the potatoes and zucchini. Cook for 10 minutes, then add the cavolo nero and leafy greens. Decrease the temperature to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add the beans and aromatic herbs. Simmer for 10 minutes to heat the beans through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in warmed soup bowls.
Serves 8

Day 2: Minestra di Pane (Bread Soup)
In a saucepan, warm the leftover soup over medium-low heat. Place very thin slices of country-style bread in the bottom of a lightly oiled baking dish. Spoon one-third of the hot soup over the bread, and repeat with two more layers of bread and soup. Cover and let stand or 15 minutes to 1 hour in a warm place before serving.

Day 3: Minestra di Pane al Forno (Baked Bread Soup)
In a preheated 375°F oven, heat the leftover Bread Soup in its baking dish. Sprinkle with chopped onion and drizzle with olive oil. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the onions are lightly browned.

Day 4: Ribollita (Recooked Vegetable Stew)
Lightly brush a medium skillet with olive oil. Spoon the remaining Baked Bread Soup into the pan and brown over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes, or until crisp on the bottom. Turn and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes to crisp the second side. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with freshly ground black
pepper. The ribollita should be firm enough to eat with a fork. Serve at once.

—From Cucina Povera by Pamela Sheldon John 

Sienese Almond Cookies

When I think of Siena, I think of these cookies. They are too rich to have been part of the daily diet in hard times, but they could have been a special treat for farms with an almond tree. The original recipe is quite lengthy, taking days to prepare, but I think my simplified version is reasonable.

1 cup (6 ounces) blanched almonds
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
4 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted, for coating

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a food processor, place the almonds, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, and flour; process to a fine powder. Add the baking powder and orange zest. Pulse to blend well.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff, gradually adding the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, beating until glossy peaks form. Add the almond extract.

Remove the almond mixture from the food processor and place in a large bowl. Stir one-third of the egg white mixture into the almond mixture to lighten it, then carefully fold in the rest of the egg white mixture with a rubber spatula.

Drop tablespoonfuls of batter 2 inches apart onto the prepared pan and dust liberally with the powdered sugar. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden and firm to the touch. Let cool on the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 weeks.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Black and White Wednesday # 17

In a hurry before today is over.....and in theme with the just passed Halloween.

Chocolate cupcake with oreo cookie "dirt" and meringue topping
I submitted this picture, shot in color and converted to B/W on i-photo, to the weekly culinary event Black and White Wednesday started by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook. If you would like to participate by submitting a food related picture you can find the instructions here.


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