Countdown to Thanksgiving 6

Before Thanksgiving, we were all so geared for that first taste of the turkey, gravy, stuffing and mashed potatoes. The second and third bites were pretty fabulous too and I for one was really looking forward to The Sandwich the next day. But by day three leftover turkey is a challenge and most of us just want to see it disappear. When my producer asked me to come up with a leftover cooking demo for the last day of the Thanksgiving TV extravaganza, I thought turkey puff pastry turnovers. It took a lot of trial and error  (do you add stuffing or not, I wondered) to come up with the perfect combination. These turnovers are both beautiful, easy, and practical because you can also freeze them and pop them in the oven when whenever you want. And they include bacon too so how could you go wrong? They were a huge hit with Mark and the girls, and the staff at WTIC went crazy over them too. We hope you like them as well!

 

Question of the Day: What did you do with your leftovers from Thanksgiving?

 

editedleftovers2 

 

Turkey Cranberry Puff Pastry Turnovers

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • 1 sheet puff pastry sheets defrosted
  • All purpose flour for rolling out the dough
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 1 pound or more leftover turkey cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 8 or more tablespoons leftover gravy
  • 8 tablespoons homemade or canned whole berry cranberry sauce
  • 6 strips cooked crispy bacon, crumbled
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped sage or rosemary (optional)
  • 1/3 cup or more crispy shallots* (see our recipe for butternut squash soup for recipe)

Directions:

  1. Roll out one sheet of puff pastry out on a floured surface to 14X14 inches. Square off the edges of the dough using a pizza cutter or sharp knife.
  2. Cut both the length and width of the dough in half so there are 4 equal parts. You will have four 7 X 7 squares.
  3. Whisk 1 teaspoon water and 1 whole egg in a small bowl or ramekin and set aside.
  4. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Carefully move the puff pastry squares on to a separate piece of parchment paper.
  6. Place two to three ounces of turkey and two tablespoons each of both gravy and cranberry sauce on each diagonal half of the square. Sprinkle evenly with bacon, shallots and ¼ teaspoon of herbs (optional) on each half of diagonal halves as well, leaving a 1/2 inch border around the square.
  7. Brush the entire border of each square with egg wash and fold over
  8. Use a fork to seal the edges and to assure the filling won’t leak out while the turnovers bake.
  9. Cut the parchment paper around each turnover leaving a 2-inch border. Carefully pick up each by the edges of the parchment paper and place them on the cookie sheet (they will be very fragile, and tend to lose their shape if you lift them with your hands on to the cookie sheet.)
  10. Carefully brush each turnover with egg wash.
  11. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.
  12. Serve immediately with a green salad and roasted vegetables.

Countdown to Thanksgiving 4

pumpkinbacon

 

This Pumpkin Fondue is one of our absolute favorite recipes of all time. We’ve posted this one before, but in light of the demo it on TV the other day, I decided to bring it back from the archives. It’s too important to miss! If your Thanksgiving menu is still flexible, we highly encourage you to check this one out! Scroll down for the recipe and a video of the TV segment!

 

pumpkinwithmilk

pumpkinfondue cinderellapumpkin

 

 

 

Pumpkins Stuffed with Everything Good – Our Way

From: Heide Lang, Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

Ingredients:

  • 8 strips bacon (¼ cup shallots may be substituted for vegetarian version
  • ¼ pound stale bread cut into cubes
  • ¼ pound cheese, such as gruyere, emmental, cheddar, smoked gouda, asiago, parmesan, or any combination, cut into ½ inch cubes 
  • 3 cloves of garlic pressed or minced 
  • 1/8-1/4 cup fresh chives or scallions 
  • 2 teaspoons or more fresh herbs (i.e., parsley, rosemary, thyme) 
  • ½ cup dried cranberries (optional)
  • 1 sugar or Cinderella pumpkin weighing about 3 pounds 
  • 1 cup or more heavy cream 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Sautee shallots until they are crispy (about 15 minutes), or fry bacon until crispy. Set aside.
  3. Combine chunks of bread and cheese, along with dried cranberries (this is optional, but will add beautiful color to the fondue). Season with salt and pepper. 
  4. Add bacon or shallots to the bread and cheese mixture. Combine well.
  5. Add any herbs you choose, along with the chives or scallions, and garlic. Toss well.
  6. Using a very sturdy knife, cut off the cap of the pumpkin, just as you would a jack-o-lantern.
  7. Scoop out the stringy pumpkin and the seeds and generously salt the inside of the pumpkin.
  8. Pack the filling tightly into the pumpkin (there shouldn’t be any air pockets).
  9. Pour in cream until the bread mixture is saturated and there is a bit of liquid on top (but be careful not to have the bread “swimming” in heavy cream).
  10. Put the cap back on and bake until the pumpkin is soft, about 60-90 minutes. Check the pumpkin after 45 minutes to see how soft it is. Continue baking until the ingredients are bubbling and the meat of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced with a fork. Do not let it burn, or the pumpkin will turn black and collapse as it cools. You don’t want all your good work ruined!
  11. Place a large spatula under your creation and move it gently to a beautiful platter.
  12. Serve as a side dish or an appetizer on small plates.

Easy Ghoulish Treats

Most people think I’m a little bit strange when I tell people that Halloween is my favorite holiday. It’s really simple. I adore the foods of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Easter, not to mention all the glorious casual picnic foods from Memorial Day through Labor Day, but I just love the theatre and whimsy of Halloween.

 

Witches Brew Punch with Dry Ice – epic halloween trick/treat | The Road Home

 

This great holiday, after all, is not about gifts or how perfect the table looks for relatives. It’s about fun, and magic, and theatre. It transcends age. We will have 8-year-olds and 16-year-olds side by side at our house all enjoying the same silly food and wearing goofy costumes. What could be better? I get to take my apron off and think solely about what would make kids of all ages happy. The pressure is off to be perfect. All anyone cares about is that the offerings are funny, maybe a little “scary” and of course colorful.

 

Clementine Pumpkins | The Road Home  – cancels out the candy right?

 

So here’s part of our line-up for All Hallow’s Eve at our house. We’ll offer our friends and fellow trick-or-treaters Mad Scientist Bubbly Brew, followed by cauliflower brain dip, and darling little “pumpkins” made of clementines and celery. There will be other things, but these are my favorites. I hope this sampling of our Halloween inspires you to think like a child even for just one day. Happy Halloween everyone!

 

Witches Brew Punch with Dry Ice – epic halloween trick/treat | The Road Home

Halloween Cauliflower Brain with Guacamole - gruesome but great | The Road Home
Witches Brew Punch with Dry Ice – epic halloween trick/treat | The Road Home

Have you got any special halloween foods you make at your house? We’d love to hear about them! Comment below to let us know!

 

 

Clementine Pumpkins

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • One dozen or more Clementines
  • Several stalks celery

Directions:

  1. Peel Clementines and place on a fun Halloween platter.
  2. Cut a stalk of celery into small pieces for the pumpkin stem. Stick a celery piece into the top of each peeled Clementine and serve!

Creepy Cauliflower Brain Dip with Guacamole

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

    Guacamole

    • 4 ripe avocados peeled and pitted
    • ½ cup chopped onions
    • 1/8 cup fresh lime juice
    • ¼ cup cilantro (optional)
    • 1 4 ounce can finely chopped seeded jalapeno chilies**
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • ¾ teaspoon pepper
    • 1 cup of tomatoes, diced and seeded (or canned diced tomatoes in the winter)

    Brain

    • 1 large cauliflower
    • 1 package of red licorice string

    Directions:

    1. Place all guacamole ingredients but tomatoes in a food processor or in a medium sized bowl. Puree in the food processor or puree in bowl using an immersion blender until very smooth.
    2. Drain tomatoes thoroughly through a sieve and gently blend into the avocado mixture using a spatula.
    3. Remove all of the leaves from the cauliflower and remove the stem so that there is a hollow area, but most of the florets are intact. (Use toothpicks to hold the sides together if it starts to fall apart).
    4. Put the hollowed out cauliflower into a snug fitting bowl. (For a really scary presentation, wrap the bowl in cheesecloth stained with red food coloring.)
    5. Fill in with the guacamole and decorate the florets by weaving the licorice between the florets to make the veins and arteries.  You may also sprinkle a bit of red food coloring on the “arteries” as well but be careful not to overdo it.

    Mad Scientist Bubbly Brew

    From: Heide Lang

    Ingredients:

    • Clear glass container or punch bowl
    • Artificial green or red drink, such as Gatorade or Hawaiian Punch (You may also use a clear liquid like seltzer or Sprite, died with food coloring, if you want)
    • Gummy worms, plastic spiders or any other creepy creatures you wish
    • Dry ice

    Directions:

    1. Fill container or punch bowl with a green or red beverage.
    2. Place gummy worms, spiders, etc, on the edge of the bowl.
    3. Add a few small pieces or pellets of dry ice, just enough to get the brew bubbling and smoky. If it comes in a big brick, you will need to chip pieces off of it. (Do NOT pick up dry ice with your bare hands. Use tongs to handle it or protective rubber gloves if you must pick it up with your hands.)
    4. Serve immediately, adding additional pieces of dry ice every 10 minutes, or as needed.

    Damage Control

    I’ve realized that every time I make a transfer from home to school, I seem to try my absolute hardest to make you guys extra jealous of the food I get to eat at home. When I’m home I wax poetic about foods like boeuf bourguignon, Persian jeweled rice, and plum crumble with vanilla bean. When I’m away, I whine about how much I miss them. I suppose that’s my way of handling my joy/sorrow. To be truthful I’m pretty sure mom just makes all that stuff to keep me around. But I am a very defiant girl, and I will not let her win, which is why I try to make as much of her food as I can at school. It has nothing to do with the fact that I miss home. Nothing at all. So of course, you would imagine my distress when I came home this week to discover that she was taking the recipes I had tried so hard to steal and *dramatic pause* innovating on them. The woman will stop at nothing. All my defiance was for naught because, what’s worse, it was all for the better… almost.

     

    something is, indeed, amiss

     

    One of the recipes I had stolen was this awesome leek and goat cheese quiche. It’s so popular at school that one of my friends once ate half of it in one sitting. Mom teaches it all the time in her 20 Minute Dinners class, and every time I eat it, it reminds me of home. Because it’s supposed to be quick and easy, and because homemade pie crust is almost never worth the effort, we use good pre-made crust. But last night, mom was teaching 20 Minute Dinners, and she thought it might be a good idea to replace the pie crust with puff pastry pressed into a tart shell. Now granted, it did sound like a pretty good idea, but it sounded like a *bit* more effort than I was going to go into on your typical Wednesday night, and I just knew I was going to end up missing home again and we just can’t have that. But mom insisted, and so she took the puff pastry out of the freezer and let it defrost… forgetting, as we chatted over smoothies, that you have to unfold puff pastry as quickly as possible before defrosting. Lo and behold, we tried to unfold it and ended up with the sticky monster you see above.

     

    Preview of things to come

     

    I, of course, was thrilled. Not only were there very literal holes in this silly plan, but I had just acquired a whole sheet of puff pastry to play with. I made some cinnamon sugar, got out some Hershey Special Dark Kisses and Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips, and got to immediate work. I wrapped pastry around chocolate, around bunches of peanut butter chips, and sometimes around combinations of the two. Sometimes I dipped these in cinnamon sugar, sometimes not. And then sometimes I just tied pastry in a knot or twisted it up and dipped that in cinnamon sugar – like the cinnamon twists you’re currently overpaying for. It was a lot of fun. I really love puff pastry.

     

    Doesn't this look like it was left by the druids or something?

     

    I baked them at 375 until they were browned and sugar was caramelized. I removed them from the oven and redipped all of the cinnamon sugar ones, so that they had a layer of caramelized sugar and a layer of fresh (do that while they’re hot so that it sticks). They were heavenly, especially the chocolate-filled cinnamon-dipped ones, which tasted kind of like rugalach. It was quite a success, especially considering this was all happening at 10 am.

     

    Would you ever know these took about 30 seconds to make?

     

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, mom was still trying to make innovation worthwhile. She took out a new sheet of pastry and pressed it into a tart pan. But somehow, much as we tried to keep it in shape, the sides refused to stay up and we ended up with a beautifully puffy gallette. Having finished my pastry bits, I came to the rescue again, filling it with dried cranberries, apricots and almonds…

    well half of it at least, we have to leave something for francesca ;)

     

    And topping it with dark chocolate.

     

    Disaster makes the best dessert

     

    Seriously, how does my family even function without me? Granted this part was kind of her idea… but I did it, and my point makes more sense if I take credit. I then baked it until it was sort of toasty and the chocolate was melted (which doesn’t take long, next time I’m going to bake the puff pastry longer first). I spread it around and topped Francesca and Isabella’s half with some sugar because that makes it taste like a chocolate croissant (did you know that’s why they taste the way they do?). Seriously, I could sell a prettier version of this for so much money at a pastry shop.

     

    That piece was never even there. Don't ask.

     

    In German tradition there’s a time, around 3 or 4 o’clock, where everyone sits down for Kaffee und Kuchen, or coffee and cake. But since I don’t think my family comes from the fancy part of Germany, we call it yowza (yause?) (does anyone know anything about this?). So yesterday afternoon, once I’d picked up my sisters from school, we sat down to a lovely yowza of mini pastries and chocolate tart. It was ever so classy, and the puff pastry was all saved from a monstrous end. And of course, my mom was forced to concede that quiche should just be left to the pre-made crust. I guess she’ll just have to find better ways of getting me to come home.

     

    The real question is how do these people even function without me?

     

    There are several morals to this story, all of equal importance. Moral number one: daughters may need their mothers, but mothers need their daughters just as much. Moral number 2: there is no disaster so big that it can’t be made into pastry. Moral number three: you can try all you want, but you just can’t improve on pre-made pie crust.

    All Bark and No Bite

    Thing number one: my computer’s back! Thank you for keeping me in your thoughts and prayers. They worked, and everything is more or less in working order after several hours worth of file transfers, two trips to the Apple store and a whole bunch of inconvenience. I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is I don’t know how I even survived. But I did, so I’m back and so are the posts, like this one, which starts…. now.

    I have this thing at home where I only compliment the things I make. Think, “the milk was so perfectly stirred into this soup,” and “this Thanksgiving dinner would be absolutely nothing without the cucumbers in this salad.” Petty? For sure. Ask anyone, I’m extremely egocentric. So you can only imagine how good these chocolate bark recipes must be for me to compliment them, even though mom undeniably came up with these recipes (although I did make the three you see below, and you have to admit, they’re freaking gorgeous).

     

     

    When we started planning our table for Taste of the Nation 2012, and decided to do our school theme, Chocolate Bark representing EnviSci was the absolute first thing we thought of, and the flavor combinations just kept rolling off our tongues. We eventually settled on making our Christmas Bark, with Cranberries, Candied Ginger and Pistachios, a French-Flavored Bark, with Lavender, Almonds, Dried Apricots and Sea Salt (my favorite), and finally, the ultimate snack food indulgence, featuring Potato Chips, Pretzels and Dulce de Leche. This is too easy to make, so I’m not going to even dignify it by putting it in recipe form. So if anybody is skimming this post looking for the recipe, this is the recipe. All you have to do is melt chocolate gently in a non-stick skillet or double boiler, and spread it over a sheet pan covered with wax paper or parchment paper.  Then you put stuff on it (first chunky, then drizzles) and then put it in the fridge until it hardens, about an hour. Then you break it up, and you eat it. And that’s literally it.

     

     

    We used 56% dark chocolate for all of ours, but you can go darker or lighter based on what you like (though white chocolate does not count, because I don’t like it). You’ll want it to be pretty thin, so we recommend about a pound of chocolate for a full pan, or 8 oz. to a half pan, if you don’t want to make chocolate bark for the whole world. Then see below for our topping recommendations. All chunky toppings should be 4-5 tablespoons for a half pan or 9-10 for a full pan, unless otherwise noted. The real reason I didn’t put this in recipe form is that that would imply that there are rules to this. There aren’t. Have lots and lots of fun with this. Try our combos (see above), or come up with your own. I promise they’ll be good… even if I didn’t make them.

    Chunky Toppings

    Dried Fruit (raisins, craisins, apricots, peaches, mango, cherries, pineapple etc.)
    Toasted, chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, pistachios, almonds, peanuts, cashews, macademia nuts, etc.)
    Chopped up Candy (Reese’s Cups, M&Ms, Candy Canes, Kit Kats, Peppermint Patties, etc.)
    Cookie Crumbles (shortbread, chocolate chip, Oreo, Girl Scout, etc.)
    Chocolate Chips (or peanut butter chips, butterscotch chips, etc.)
    Snack food (potato chips, pretzels, etc.)
    Coconut Shavings
    Crystalized Ginger
    Sea salt (sparing: 1/2 tsp half, 1 full, or to taste)
    Lavender (1.5 tsp half, 3 full)

    Drizzles

    More chocolate (Not the same kind you used before. Note that white chocolate is permissible in this context).
    Caramel/Dulce de Leche

    {I gave in. You can see the official recipes written up here on Food52.}

    As Seen At the Market

    One of the things I assumed I would miss most when switching careers from journalist to cooking school owner was meeting interesting characters and walking into scenes you never dreamed you’d find yourself in, like walking up the steps of City Hall and interviewing Mayor Ed Koch during an election bid in 1981 at the ripe old age of 18.

     

     

    Look at that hair....

     

    But over the last two years, I realized my fears were completely and delightfully unfounded. If you really love to cook you can end up doing the same kind of research and probing as any journalist – you should see my library of cookbooks and magazine clippings!  Now, instead of hunting down subjects for a story, I’m hunting down ingredients and sharing recipes with people, from farmer’s markets to subway platforms. People always have a recipe to share, just like they had great leads to tell me in the past.

     

     

     

    Of course you probably wonder how this relates to recipes and cooking, so I’ll step off memory lane and get to the point. Recently we started a new series of cooking classes called Spice Market, where we teach how to blend spices and herbs for exotic cuisines. Our first class took us to India, Morocco and Turkey, and we had to learn about ingredients even we rarely, if ever, used before, like asafoetida, preserved lemons and rosewater. Where do you get such ingredients? Some you can make yourself (come back soon and you’ll see a post on preserved lemons), but others, like rosewater, you may have to hunt for.

     

     

    I googled preserved lemons and rosewater and was lucky enough to find a store called Sayad International specializing in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, not far from our house. The store was filled with exotically flavored ingredients, such as pickled wild cucumbers, Moroccan sardines, and dried hibiscus flowers. The store, which smells like Persian tea, dried fruits and spices was cramped and dark but full of discoveries. It’s the kind of place you say,  “I hope I remember this place next time I’m looking for [blank].” I can’t imagine we’d ever need Moroccan sardines, but I was thrilled to know that I wouldn’t have to travel long distances (or pay high shipping charges) if I did.

     

     

    We’ve all passed over recipes because we don’t want to deal with finding a weird ingredient or an odd kitchen gizmo. Take these moments as opportunities for adventure. You can always order these things online, but your life will be so much richer if you jump in the car and track them down yourselves.

     

     

    In honor of these adventures, I’m going to share a recipe inspired by the research I did for our first Spice Market class. The rosewater and mint really makes the watermelon come alive, and it’s the perfect, refreshing way to end a highly flavorful meal. So bring this tiny adventure into your home, and try to find mini food adventures where you live. You are almost guaranteed to have a great story to tell and maybe even a new recipe when you return.

     Enjoy!

    Recipe!

    Pomegranate-Watermelon Salad with Mint and Rosewater

    Ingredients:

    • 1 small watermelon, weighing about 3 1/2 pounds (or a wedge of a larger watermelon)
    • 2-3 tablespoons of rosewater, depending on how strong a flavor you would like
    • 3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
    • 4 tablespoons pomegranate juice
    • 1-2 tablespoons fragrant honey (such as wildflower)
    • 12-15 small to medium sized mint leaves, for garnish

    Directions:

    1. Cut watermelon into bite-sized pieces
    2. Add the pomegranate seeds
    3. MIx rosewater, pomegranate juice and honey in a bowl
    4. Pour over watermelon and seeds. Mix well.
    5. Cover and chill for about an hour before serving.

    The Secret Life of Macarons

     

    After making the gelato for The Crostata, and subsequently 12 Lavander Crème Brulées for Isabella’s French class,  I had to find a home for about 25 egg whites. I obviously believe in somehow using up the other part of the egg after separating it, but on a normal day that belief just inspires me to feel a little guilty while I pour the excess down the sink. Baking is time consuming, and egg whites are fussy, and it just never seemed worth the pain and suffering (because clearly my life lacks perspective). But sometimes extremes are the best medicine, and two things happened that made me change my ways. First I learned that you can freeze egg whites, which easily solved the I-have-no-time problem (rumor has it they last about a month, maybe longer). Second, I remembered that a few days before I acquired all these egg whites, a good friend of mine from Berkeley, who is an excellent baker, texted me a picture of 8 beautiful, perfect, homemade macarons. Even on my phone they looked good. Unfortunately, I live nowhere near Berkeley. I have no money for a plane ticket and I have no car to drive myself. The Google Maps walking directions take 39 days, 17 hours, which I certainly don’t have, and they involve tolls, ferries, and a treck across Canada. They don’t involve sleeping. I was not in the mood for any of that. If I was going to get macarons like hers I was going to have to make them myself.

     

    And honstly... look how pretty...

    The blogosphere is teeming with macarons. Macarons at their best are beautiful, charming and perfect. I hadn’t actually had one until very recently, but I was shocked to discover that they even taste good! They are, as a food, everything a blogger could ever want. I was hesitant to join in the trend so late in the game (and so soon after a red velvet cake…) but again, 25 egg whites. What could I do? But I quickly discovered that, behind the blogs, there is a secret side to the macaron. They can be crinkly, they can get burned, they can be runny and turn into blobs, they can forget to rise, they can stick to the pan, and they can migrate all over the place. Even with Francesca’s help, my first rounds turned out like this:

    It's like watching the clouds...

    (Clockwise from top right: The Sea Turtle, The Island of Manhattan, The Funny Crinkle Face, The Empty Shell, The Pancake, and The Duckbill Platypus)

    You know you’re in a bad place when The Pancake and The Funny Crinkle Face kind of look like victories. I should warn you, Ladies and Gentlemen, your first few rounds may very well come out like one of these. A lot of websites will give you alternative uses for the macarons that don’t come out, but that’s silly. Fill them anyway. They will look terrible, but everyone in my family agreed that these ones tasted the best.

    I'm serious. They're hideous, but they're amazing.

    If you want to leave yours right there, that’s fine, skip to the last paragraph. If not, here are some tips to make perfect macarons of your own.

    Macarons and Origami, a classic combination...

    First of all, don’t overmix the batter – the protein in the eggs breaks down so the batter won’t hold together. That’s the difference between Crinkle Cuts and perfect domes, and also the difference between circles and blobs.  On a related note, you should sift the powdered sugar and almond flour together after you process them, so you can avoid creating lumps that may have to break up.

    I don’t recommend using a convection oven. If you do, remember to lower the temperature by about 25°F, though this can vary by oven. Convection reportedly brings mild advantages with rising (though I didn’t notice a difference), but even on lower temperatures it can cook the top of the macaron too fast, leaving the bottom sticky (the inside may remain on the pan, leaving you with a paper-thin shell). When I made them on conventional, they came out perfectly without any adjustments.

    Fourth, very few people or books note this trip, but baking on top of several preheated baking sheets can do wonders for ensuring a crisp bottom, that doesn’t stick too much to the baking sheet. Bread bakers do this all the time to ensure a crisp bottom crust on hearth breads. I used four preheated sheets, but for best results I’d actually recommend using as many as six. This too, however, can vary a lot by oven. You may find your macarons bake better without any sheets at all, and sometimes if my macarons are sticking to the parchment and browning too fast, I find it helps to lower the temperature to around 225°F and stick the parchment directly on the rack so they can crisp up without burning. (Thank you to Duncan, from Syrup and Tang, for clearing this one up. Check out his definitive Macaron guide for more information.)

    The most important thing to do learn the rhythm of macarons based on your kitchen. If it’s humid, leave them out to dry longer, because the skin will take longer to form, if your oven tends a little hot, lower the temperature a little bit, because they may burn.

    The gods of French Pastry will probably smite me for saying this, but these actually have a lot in common with chocolate chip cookies. Yes, they’re delicate and sensitive and pretty too, but when you get down to it, they’re really just a fancy comfort food – gooey, crispy and fun. And no matter where you are on your macaron journey, you can experiment and personalize them. I decided to make macarons in the style of the Poire Belle Helène – a classic flavor combination of pear, chocolate and almonds – because we had pear liqueur on hand, but you can add any liqueur or extract, and fill them accordingly. If you want to make a more authentic Poire Belle Helène, serve them with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or scrape some vanilla bean into the batter, but again, that part doesn’t matter. To be perfectly honest, none of this does really matter. These tips will help you make the perfect macaron, which is rewarding beyond belief. But even if they don’t come out, they will be less photogenic but just as (maybe more) yummy. And that’s the true secret behind macarons: if you don’t feel you can make them perfectly, you can and should make them anyway. Your taste buds will be none the wiser.

    Macarons Belle Helène – Pear Macarons with Chocolate Ganache

    From: Gabrielle Siegel, Adapted from the French Culinary Institute

    Ingredients:

      For Macarons

      • 115 grams (4 ounces) almond flour
      • 200 grams (7 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
      • 1 tablespoon pear liqueur
      • yellow food coloring
      • green food coloring
      • 90 grams (3 1/4 ounces) egg whites, preferably old, at room temperature
      • 8 grams (2 tablespoons) confectioners’ sugar

      For Ganache

      • 6 tablespoons heavy cream
      • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (or chocolate chopped up in to smaller pieces) (you can use milk, dark, or semisweet too, whatever you like)

      Directions:

      1. Preheat oven to 325°F, and place 3-6 baking sheets, stacked, on a rack in the middle of the oven (make sure you’ll be able to put the one with the macarons on top of that though)
      2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
      3. Combine the almond flour and 200 grams sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process for about a minute, until very fine. Sift through a fine sieve, and set aside.
      4. Place egg whites and liqueur in the bowl of a stand mixer, with 2 drops of yellow food coloring and one drop of green. If you prefer a deeper color, use 4 drops of yellow and two drops of green. Beat on low speed (about 2 on a Kitchenaid) until aerated. Add 8 grams sugar and raise speed to high, and beat for about 3 minutes, until soft peaks form. Don’t overwhip the egg whites, or they’ll be harder to fold into the rest of the ingredients and you may end up overmixing.
      5. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the almond mixture in 2-3 additions, to prevent clumping Add next addition when first one is mostly, but not entirely folded in.
      6. Transfer batter to a pastry bag with a #2 tip.
      7. Pipe fifty 1-inch rounds onto the parchment lined baking sheet and set aside for 20 minutes-1 hour, until a skin forms on the surface.
      8. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until firm, and just slightly beginning to brown around the edges. If you nudge a macaroon, it shouldn’t shift off its foot. If it does, it’s not done. Watch them very carefully as they bake so they don’t burn.
      9. Transfer macarons to cooling rack. If they don’t come off the sheet easily, transfer the whole sheet of parchment to the cooling rack and leave there for a few hours, then carefully peel off.
      10. While they’re cooling, pour the chocolate for the ganache into a bowl, and bring cream to a boil in a saucepan over high heat.
      11. Pour cream over chocolate and let sit for one minute, then stir.
      12. Let ganache cool until spreadable. Then spread, or pipe, ganache in a circle just inside the edges of one of the macarons. Place another macaron on top, and there you go! You made it! Photograph extensively, text all your friends… or just eat and enjoy.

      Just Peachy

      My roommate this year had a pair of purple Crocs that followed me everywhere. If I was at my desk, the Crocs were underneath, if I was by my bed, they were under my ladder, and if I was walking across the floor, I could be sure that the Crocs would be right smack dab in the middle. I think most people would be annoyed, or creeped out, if a pair of shoes were stalking them. But I’m a big believer in fate (one day I’ll tell you the story of how my parents met, and you’ll understand), so I knew it must be a sign of… something.

      It was a sign of this pie, if you can believe it...

       

      So it made perfect sense when, in March, I got an email from John Moore, who works with none other than Mario Batali, asking me to write a post on one of Mario’s recipes. At the time I was still in New York  – so close to Eataly but so far from my kitchen – but I hurriedly immersed myself in the vibrant Babbo Cookbook so I could get cooking as soon as I got home.

       

      This cookbook is awesome

       

      Picking a recipe was next to impossible. Goat Cheese Tortelloni with Dried Orange and Fennel Pollen sounded so decadent, but then again homemade Gnocchi with Oxtail Ragù was reminiscent of the first meal I ate out in New York. I read about Duck with Chicory, Preserved Lemons and Kumquat Vinaigrette, Asparagus Vinaigrette with Black Pepper Pecorino Zabaglione, and even a Saffron Panna Cotta that sounded perfectly indulgent. It wasn’t actually until I got home that I could even make a decision. But when late May came around, and the sun began to shine, and the thermometer hit 90, and I got out my shorts and skirts and began to spend my days building fairy houses in the backyard with Francesca and Isabella, the answer was clear. “This weather clearly calls for a Peach Crostata with Honey Butter and Honey Vanilla Gelato,” I thought to myself, “I wonder if Mario has a recipe for anything like that…”

       

      Woah....

       

      And you can imagine my utter shock when Mario had a recipe for exactly that…

      (Just kidding) (I fudged the details of that story a bit)

       

      A cross section of the crostata

       

      I ran out to pick up some beautiful Georgia peaches, turned on Andrea Bocelli Radio (which is the only thing you can listen to while making Italian food, or really just while making food) and got to work baking. And I should warn you – making all the parts of this recipe will take you a good part of the day. But I can promise that it is ridiculously worth it. And even if you can’t, for example, make the gelato because you haven’t got the time (or the gelato maker), please make the Crostata. It is the perfect Italian twist on Peach Pie (or to use Mario’s words, what happened when “the perfect summer pie happened to take a little ride uptown”) and it brings summer wherever you are.

      I began a bit scared because I have very little experience in tart doughs. But this one, to my shock, took about 10 minutes, and it smells and tastes, like an amazing cookie. I kept on calling my family over to smell it while I was making it. Which is a weird thing to do with a tart dough. But it really smelled that good. And, in fact, I actually made cookies out of the extra dough, and filled them with spekuloos (although in the spirit of Italy, I’d actually recommend using Nutella instead). They’re a bit tougher in texture than the tart shell, since you have to knead them and roll them out again, but it’s so much better than letting the dough go to waste.

       

      Cookies&Milk

       

      There are just a few important things to remember. First of all, freeze your butter after you dice it so that your crust will be nice and flaky. It’ll only take a few minutes, but it makes a big difference. Second of all, if your refrigerator has a tendency to freeze things, as ours did the day I made this, then only chill the dough for three-four hours, rather than overnight, so it doesn’t have a chance to freeze. Otherwise you will have a very interesting time trying to roll it out. If it does for some reason, freeze, you have little choice but to let it thaw a bit, so just be careful to make sure the thawed dough doesn’t stick to your work surface. Put down a little flour underneath when you roll it out, but if it does still stick, carefully run the blunt end of a chef’s knife underneath the dough to separate it from the countertop. Then just pick it by draping it over your rolling pin, and lay in the tart pan.

       

      How to make a crust

       

      With the crust behind me I moved on to the filling and the gelato. Everything went off delightfully without a hitch. The almond filling is about as simple as a buttercream (and the process is very similar), and the peaches just need to be tossed with a few things to accentuate their flavor and texture. And as for the gelato, just remember – making gelato is quite a bit like making a creme brulée, or a creme anglaise – it’s very important to temper your eggs by whisking in a little bit (1/3 cup or so) of your cream, before slowly pouring the yolks into the cream, whisking all the while. That’s the best way to avoid fancy scrambled eggs (unless you like that kind of thing). But that’s the hardest part of the recipe, and it’s really not as scary as it sounds. Then just freeze the gelato in a better gelato maker than my $30 disaster (there are horror stories, but you don’t need to hear them… they involve cursing and a kitchenaid), and you’re done!

       

      The crostata again

       

      I hate to say it, but I always expect to have to change something when I use a restaurant cookbook, because professionals often don’t measure when they cook, making their recipes difficult to transcribe. So you can imagine my actual surprise (as distinct from the fake surprise of before) when everything came out the first time, without editing anything. This recipe translates beautifully from restaurant kitchen to home kitchen, which I think is one of it’s chief successes. The other thing I love, is that while there are many steps, none of them are too difficult, which perfectly illustrates the Fig philosophy, that a recipe doesn’t need to involve ridiculous techniques and liquid nitrogen to be absolutely perfect. The essence of good cuisine lies in knowing the best way to accentuate an ingredient, or in understanding how to blend flavors, which this recipe does perfectly. So whether your summer is here, or right around the corner, this Crostata is the perfect way to welcome it in. Serve it warm, or chilled, with a scoop of gelato and a drizzle of honey butter. Put on your favorite pair of Crocs, turn up Andrea Bocelli, and love your life. If you can get local fruit, even better – I can’t wait to make this after the first time I go peach picking. But even if you can’t, this quintessential, sophisticated summer dessert is tutto delicioso e tutto perfetto. Buon Appetito!

       

      Peach Crostata with Honey Butter and Honey Vanilla Gelato

      From: Reprinted with permission from Mario Batali’s The Babbo Cookbook

      Ingredients:

        1 recipe Tart Dough (see below)

          Almond Filling

          • 1 1/2 cups blanched, sliced, almonds
          • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
          • 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
          • 1 egg
          • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
          • pinch of kosher salt

          Streusel

          • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
          • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
          • 1/2 cup blanched, sliced Almonds
          • 3/4 cup sugar
          • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

          Peaches

          • 6 medium ripe peaches
          • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
          • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
          • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
          • 1/2 cup sugar

          Honey Butter

          • 1 cup honey
          • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
          • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

          2 pints Honey Vanilla Gelato (see below)

            Directions:

            1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
            2. Roll the chilled Tart Dough into a 12-inch circle, large enough to line the bottom and sides of a 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press the dough into the sides and trim the top so that the dough is flush with the tart pan. Place the pastry shell in the refrigerator and chill until completely firm, about 30 minutes.
            3. To make the filling: spread the almonds evenly on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until light golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Allow to cool completely, then place the nuts in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped but not powdery.
            4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and the confectioners’ sugar until very smooth and creamy. Beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla and the salt. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Thoroughly beat in the ground almonds. Set aside.
            5. To make the streusel: Melt the butter and set aside to cool. Place the flour, almonds, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the melted butter and pulse to form pea-size crumbs. Spread the streusel out onto a cookie sheet and chill briefly.
            6. Peel the peaches and cut into 1/4-inch wedges. In a large bowl, toss the peach wedges with the lemon juice, vanilla, flour and sugar. Spread enough of the almond filling on the bottom of the tart to completely cover it, and arrange the peach slices densely on top. Sprinkle the streusel crumbs over the tart. Place the tart on a baking sheet to catch any juices and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the crust and streusel are nicely browned and the juices are bubbling. Allow to cool completely before removing the tart from the pan.
            7. To make the honey butter: In a small saucepan, combine the honey and the insides of the split vanilla bean. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the hone is reduced by 2 thirds. Whisk in the butter until it is completely incorporated.
            8. Serve with a scoop of the Honey Vanilla Gelato and drizzle with the honey butter.

            Tart Dough

            From: Reprinted with permission from Mario Batali’s The Babbo Cookbook

            Ingredients:

            • 2 1/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
            • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
            • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
            • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
            • grated zest of 1 orange
            • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into small cubes
            • 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
            • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
            • 2 teaspoons heavy cream

            Directions:

            1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and orange zest. 
            2. Add the cold butter cubes and toss lightly to coat. Pulse until the butter is the size of small peas.
            3. In a separate bowl, combine the egg, egg yolk, vanilla, and heavy cream, and add it to the flour-butter mixture. 
            4. Pulse to moisten the dough, then pulse until it begins to come together. 
            5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead by hand. 
            6. If the dough is too dry, add a few drops of heavy cream. 
            7. Shape into a small disk, wrap, and chill thoroughly for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

            Honey-Vanilla Gelato

            From: Reprinted with permission from Mario Batali’s The Babbo Cookbook

            Ingredients:

            • 9 egg yolks (*note from Gabrielle – save the whites, we’re going to do something with them in an upcoming post)
            • 1/2 cup honey
            • pinch of kosher salt
            • 2 1/4 cups milk
            • 3/4 cup heavy cream
            • 1 plump vanilla bean, split lengthwise
            • 2 tablespoons sugar

            Directions:

            1. Place the egg yolks in a small bowl and whisk together with the honey and salt.
            2. Combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan. Add the vanilla bean and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat. When the milk and cream come to a rolling boil, quickly whisk some of the boiling milk into the egg yolk mixture, then return the egg yolk mixture back tot he pot. Whisk well to combine the rest of the milk with the egg yolk mixture. Strain through a chinois or fine-mesh strainer and save the vanilla bean for future use.
            3. Chill the custard completely, then freeze in a gelato maker according the the manufacturer’s instructions.

            Indian Summer

            We’ve had these twelve mangoes lying around the test kitchen for days now, which were off limits because Mom was going to use them to make mango soup. But they were getting ripe and I was getting impatient, and while the weather here isn’t exactly warm (at all) it’s going to be soon (I hope) and I knew that someday soon I would need to be refreshed and it would just stink if I let the opportunity to develop a perfect mango lassi recipe pass me by.

            They look so innocent, but seriously, try not drinking all four.

            So I pulled out my trusty blender and got to work. There are several difficulties to successfully pulling off a mango lassi. The first is the mango. Many recipes call for Alphonso Mango Pulp, a pre-sweetened puree that you can buy on Amazon or at Indian Supermarkets. This is certainly the most authentic way to go about doing  things, and it’s made with super-flavorful Alphonso mangoes, that only grow in India. But I opted out for several reasons. First of all, I had twelve ripe mangoes sitting in my kitchen. Second, canned Alphonso mangoes are kind of hard to get, and really expensive if you do have to buy them online. And since I would never wish expense anyone (remember, I’m a college student), I decided to go with fresh. To mimic the sweetened puree, and maximize mangoey-ness, I mashed the mangoes first, to release the juices, and then mixed them with a little bit of sugar (but not too much) to intensify their flavor but not sweeten them too much. It worked perfectly.

            Then I had to think about the yogurt. A bunch of recipes swear by goat yogurt, which I find a bit suspect. But I tried it anyway, and frankly, even if it were more authentic (which it’s not) it doesn’t taste that different from cow yogurt – just a bit more like goat cheese. It’s delicious, but it’s also much runnier than regular yogurt, so it hurts the lassi’s texture. Regular yogurt, on the other hand, passed both flavor and texture tests.

            Finally I had to consider what other ingredients they might need. Some recipes call for only mango and yogurt, several call for cardamom and many others call for milk. I made one with just mango and yogurt. It tasted delicious – like a fantastic mango smoothie. But it didn’t taste like a lassi. I tried adding the cardamom – also delicious, and decidedly Indian, but definitely not a lassi. I decided to try one last time, eliminating the cardamom and adding a cup of milk. It was perfect. It was tangy, mangoey and creamy – everything a lassi should be.

            Rest assured this recipe has been meticulously tested and adjusted to taste just like it would at your favorite restaurant – we would never stand for sloppy imitations. These are super healthy, and super easy to make. And they’ll be perfect for keeping you cool when, any day now, summer shows up.

             

            Mango Lassi

            From: Gabrielle Siegel

            Ingredients:

            • 2 cups mango in 1-inch cubes
            • 1 tsp sugar
            • 1-1.5 cups yogurt (less yogurt will taste more mangoey, which I prefer, but more will taste a bit more authentic)
            • 1 cup milk

            Directions:

            1. Mash mangoes in a large bowl, and stir in sugar. Let stand for 20-30 minutes. There should be around 1.5 cups of puree.
            2. Pour mangoes, yogurt and milk into blender. Blend until completely smooth. I recommend going on your blender’s highest setting, because otherwise the mangoes can end up stringy, which is gross.
            3. Pour into glasses and try not to drink all of them yourself.

            Behind the Scenes

            The slate hides behind the scenes while we wait to shoot.

            It would be very pretentious for me to call myself a film buff, since that would imply I actually know something, but at the very least I’m a bit of a film junkie. I was blessed to grow up minutes from the most amazing video store in the whole world (seriously) so my childhood summers were full of movies. Before I realized how bad I am at acting (which took frighteningly long), I dreamed of being in one. I know every little girl dreams of putting on sparkly costumes, being on a red carpet and feigning surprise when she wins an Oscar, but I always thought being behind the scenes looked like more fun than all those things. When I was eight or so, my parents got me The Santa Clause on VHS, and a featurette at the end described how tough it is to make movies because, just like Santa’s Elves, filmmakers do so much work behind the scenes. It looked wonderful. And it is.

            Sofia, our Cinematographer, sets up the camera

            In this featurette, Bernard the Elf says filmmaking is full of waiting around. To a degree he’s right, but that’s a bit misleading. There may be a lot of time when the camera’s not rolling, but from what I can tell, it’s never dull. So much happens between takes:

            Alex B. and Sofia (Camera) tinker with the 5D

            This camera is a work of art in and of itself

            Cyrus (Actor) stretches and warms up

            Cyrus, or

            Isabel (2nd Assistant Director) plays Jenga, so the actors have a perfect half-completed game every time

            Our actors were brilliant jenga players. Brilliant. In one take, Cyrus turned the whole thing around, when it was almost entirely stacked up. It blew my mind.

            Alex L. (Director) takes a break…

            This was not typical

            (just kidding)

            … and I get to do my dishes! Ok, I know it sounds like I’m starstruck and trying to make this sound like more fun than it is, but from mistakes and mishaps – broken microphones and rogue ringtones – to last minute requests (I was the only person on set in possession of nail polish remover), to the quiet, exhausted thrill of finding the best takes at the end of the day, the process is full of awesome, exciting extremes.

            It's just like in the movies...

            But you didn’t come here to learn about film, you came to learn about food, and I’ve hijacked your time (sorry) (it’s for your own good, you know), so on to more important things. Cooking for the Cast and Crew was the most rewarding adventure I’ve had had since beginning college. Cooking for 15 people, no matter who they are, teaches the arts of efficiency and flexibility like nothing else, except perhaps making a movie. One actor turned out to be lactose intolerant, so I coordinated Banana Pancakes against dairy-free scrambled eggs, Cream of Broccoli Soup against dairy-free scrambled eggs, Bread and Butter against dairy-free scrambled eggs… you get the picture. Then, I needed to have dinner ready an hour early, and my puff pastry was still frozen, so I rearranged the recipe for  Caramelized Onion Squares with Blue Cheese so that the onions would be ready just as the puff pastry finished defrosting. Then, when I didn’t make nearly enough Caramelized Onion Squares I tossed an emergency salad to stretch dinner farther. As I cooked, I realized that these challenges weren’t unique to this job, or even to catering. Cooking nearly always comes with setbacks. This was just like throwing a dinner party.

            ––

            I remember a party where mom and I planned shrimp for dinner, only to find out, upon their arrival, that our guests kept kosher. Another time, on Thanksgiving no less, somebody (certainly nobody writing this post) pureed the mashed potatoes beyond recognition. But we found Salmon for our friends, and the mashed potatoes still tasted fine. And luckily, behind-the-scenes mishaps make great stories. Most importantly, they make the end – meal, party or film –  so much more satisfying. A lot goes into a finished product, just like Bernard the Elf said. But now I know, as I always suspected, that’s part of the fun.

            See how much they're enjoying that soup? That's because I made it.

            Of course, it never hurts when people thank you profusely and ask you for your recipes afterwards. Below is the recipe for Caramelized Onion Squares with Blue Cheese, my favorite of the day. It can be used as an appetizer, or as a main course aside a nice tossed salad (plan on 5-6 squares per person). Either way they’re addictive.

            Below that you’ll find some final pictures of the shoot. And here is a link to the film itself [Rated PG for brief tobacco references], appropriately titled The End.

            ––

            Also, a big Thank You to Alex for inviting me on set, and to the entire cast and crew of The End for letting me join you on this project! You were all so much fun to work and talk with, and such a joy to cook for.

            Yoni, producer, works out technical issues over lunch.

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