apple brown betty redux


We went apple picking over the long weekend with our friends to the Showwalter's Orchard in Virginia. It probably wasn't the most idyllic weather to be picking fruit or for that matter even walking around in the rain, especially if  you have a long holiday. The weather had suddenly dropped to the lower 50's and it had rained quite a bit the night before. We still had a continuous drizzle of rain but despite all this it was still so much fun. We came back with about a 100lbs of apples of all sorts of colors, shapes, and varieties. I picked some huge pumpkins, large enough to replace the ab's ball at my gym (despite my fortuitous find,  I am still sticking with the lighter ball at the gym for my workouts). 


One of the fun parts of this trip was the apple cider tasting. This was my first apple cider tasting and if you are like me and thought this might taste sweet and fruity like apple juice then you are in for a bit of a surprise. Cider based alcohol tastes like a cross between wine and beer. The bottles we tried had a bit of mild effervescence and some interesting notes. One of them particularly stood out with an instantaneous hint of a mild blue cheese. Fascinated and intrigued, I picked up two varieties of the cider. I think I might have a future recipe under my sleeve to infuse with some of these unique and delicious ciders.


Until now, I had never tried an apple brown Betty. It is absolutely delicious and easy to make. I made it right after we got back from our fruit endeavors. There are a few changes that I made to the original recipe, for one I bumped up the amount of nutmeg and also added in a little bit of sweet apple cider to give the Betty a little more flavor and syrup. One of the main reasons why I love this dessert is its rustic simplicity and the lack of an overly sweet backgrounds brings out the fruity flavors of the apple. This dessert tastes delicious at any temperature and you can also start your day with it with some whipped Greek  yogurt on the side. This recipe was adapted from Alice Medrich's Sinfully Easy Delicious Dessert  cookbook.


apple brown betty redux

yields: 6 servings

ingredients

1 1/4 pounds firm apples (I used a mix of Fuji and Gala apples)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup apple cider
1 cup crushed saltine crackers
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. In a small mixing bowl, toss the crushed crackers and sugar together. 
3. Wash, peel, and core the apples. Chop the apples into 1 inch chunks. 
4. Toss the apples, cranberries, lemon juice, and 1/4 cracker mix together into a rectangular baking pan. Place the pan in the oven at bake for 15 minutes.
5. After the apples have baked for 15 minutes remove the pan from the oven. 
6. Pour the melted butter onto the rest of the cracker mixture and mix well. 
7. Drizzle the apple cider over the baked apples. 
8. Sprinkle the rest of the butter and cracker mixture evenly over the fruit. 
9. Turn the oven temperature to 400F. Bake the fruit again  for another 20 minutes. The apple brown betty is done when the juices of the fruit are bubbling and the crust is golden brown.
10. Serve hot, warm, or cold. You can also serve this with chilled Greek yogurt for breakfast.


panna cotta with poached fig sauce


Another fig recipe so soon, I know, I know. I've been pretty fortunate for the past few weeks to get fresh ripe figs on a weekly basis. They are perfect! Figs are ripe and ready to eat when they feel like soft swollen balloons that are almost ready to burst. Sometimes when entertaining, I like to serve up simple desserts. The ones that are no fuss and easy to make. You dump everything together and literally forget about them till you are ready to eat. You let the ingredients do all the work and talking for you. This is one such dessert to woo your guests over in a single delicious bite.


Of all the puddings that I have tried, panna cotta is probably one of the most delicate and yet so simplistically elegant desserts. In my mind it invokes all sorts of culinary praise. You scoop a little pudding and once it enters your mouth it melts. The cool buttermilk and vanilla pervade your taste buds and delight them in every possible way. This how I feel about my panna cotta consumption experience. 


The fig sauce compliments the panna cotta not only visually but also provides a surprising burst of complex fruity flavors. The fig sauce can be served with almost any other dessert as a topping. It makes a delicious accompaniment to bread pudding, ice creams, cakes, etc. You can also serve the fig sauce by itself with a little bit of whipped creme fraiche or mascarpone. I adapted these recipes from one of my favorite dessert chefs Alice Medrich from her Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts Cookbook.


panna cotta

ingredients

1/4 cup water
2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups 1% or skim buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

1. Lightly spray six individual dessert dishes with a neutral and flavorless vegetable oil spray.
2.  Pour the water into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on the surface. Set aside, without stirring. The gelatin will absorb water and begin to swell.
3. Heat the cream, sugar, and salt in a saucepan over a medium flame. Stir continuously till the sugar is dissolved. Do not bring to a boil. 
4. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the vanilla and water-gelatin mixture. Stir well at this stage with a whisk to disperse the gelatin. Cool the mixture till lukewarm. 
5. Gently whisk in the buttermilk and stir thoroughly. Let this custard sit for about 10 minutes. It will begin to thicken as it keeps cooling down. Keep mixing it every 2 minutes or so with a rubber spatula. This will ensure a tender panna cotta. 
6. Once the mixture is cool to touch and thickens, divide and pour equally into the dessert dishes. Cover each with a piece of cling film and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to overnight to set.
7. The pudding is ready when the surface is firm to finger touch. You can serve them in the dessert dishes or remove them from the dishes onto a dessert plate using a sharp paring knife to loosen them from the sides of the dish. Top the surface of the dish with a dessert plate and invert the dish to release the panna cotta. 

poached fig sauce

ingredients

2 cups of strong coffee 
1 cup sugar (you can add a little more if you want it sweeter)
1 vanilla bean pod 
2 pounds ripe fresh brown turkey figs
1 cup red wine (I used a Shiraz)

1. Chop the figs in half. You can keep the stems if you want or trim them off.
2. Slice the vanilla bean in half across its length. Remove the seeds with the knife. Combine the vanilla bean, the seeds with the rest of the ingredients in the saucepan. Do not add the figs yet. Bring the mixture to a boil over a medium flame. Reduce the flame and continue to cook the sauce to a gentle simmer till the volume reduces to half. 
3. Add the sliced figs and cook them for further 10 minutes. Stir gently. 
4. Remove the sauce from the stove and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 2 to 4 hours before using. 

Note: If the sauce is warm or too hot it will melt the panna cotta. Gelatin gelled food begin to melt at higher temperatures. 

chocolate almond torte


So many things to celebrate!  Having my family here for the big commencement ceremony next Friday makes this achievement extra special and I am staying quite busy showing off the treasures of our Nation's capital.  Last week we had the opportunity to visit several places, but one topped our list--Arlington National Cemetery.  Having never visited this honorable and historic site, I was overwhelmed with the picturesque and breathtaking views. They also have a little museum that houses medals awarded to the U.S. from different countries which was a nice and interesting find.  Navigating D.C. has become quite easy for my family and they've been doing their own exploration during the day while I am at work, often coming back with interesting facts that I have missed. Besides me, Snoopy is loving having guests since he receives non-stop attention, gets to sit out in the garden and appears to have won my mother over since she is convinced he is always hungry and needs to eat more.


This is a funny story that I have to share with you. On the weekend while completing a couple of errands out in Virginia, we decided to grab lunch at a restaurant. Our order was not complicated, a couple of salads and drinks. For some reason, our order took forever so we asked the manager why everyone but us got their orders. The manager replied that it was taking some time but it would be there soon. Finally, we got our order and the assistant manager who brought our food out said "There's no cook". I was flabbergasted, it made no sense and is probably the most bizarre excuse I have heard in a while. Though we were annoyed, we were tired and hungry. We finished our lunch and got back on the road to finish the rest of our errands. Needless to say we will not be going back to that restaurant. 



I recently received a special request to bake a chocolate torte. Having never made one before, I was a bit apprehensive mainly because it is one of those desserts that requires a bit of patience and care during preparation. Since Alice Medrich is my go to for all things in the chocolate world, I was very lucky to find this recipe for her Italian Chocolate Almond Torte in her Pure Dessert cookbook. She has the knack of making the most complicated of desserts so simple and yet delicious. I added a chocolate drizzle to give the torte a richer texture and flavor. You can use blanched or unblanched almonds in this recipe. After having tasted a slice of this delicious torte, I have also come to the conclusion that it is way healthier than a rich chocolate cake since the yolks and flour are kicked out. So please do not feel guilty in indulging your cocoa needs and desires with this dessert. 



chocolate almond torte

ingredients

1 cup unblanched almonds
7 ounces unsweetened dark chocolate
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
7 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9 inch circular springform pan and line the bottom with a sheet of baking paper. Keep aside. In a food processor, combine the almonds, salt, 1/2 of the sugar, and chocolate to get a coarse and crumbly mixture. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar at high speed to get soft white peaks. Add the rest of the sugar and continue to whisk at high speed for another 3 minutes. Gently fold in half of the almond cocoa mixture by moving from the outside to the inside, just like you would with genoise cake without destroying the structure of the foam that you made by whisking the egg whites.  Fold in the rest of the almond cocoa mixture. Pour the batter into the greased pan prepared earlier and bake for about 20 minutes in the oven. The torte is done baking when the top gets golden brown and the center is firm to touch. Let the torte cool in the pan and then remove to a serving plate. Drizzle with the chocolate drizzle (below).

dark chocolate drizzle
3/4 cup semisweet 75% dark chocolate chips
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
8 tablespoon powdered sugar
8 tablespoons hot water (90F)

To prepare the drizzle, melt the chocolate over a simmering water bath with the whipping cream. When completely melted and combined add the powdered sugar and keep mixing over the water bath. The mixture may form into a small ball. Add half of the hot water to the chocolate and keep mixing till incorporated. Add the rest of the water and combine till a smooth liquid is obtained. Remove the glaze from the water bath and allow to cool till it is lukewarm (rather does not feel too hot to your skin). Pour the glaze on the top of the torte. You can store any left over chocolate sauce and serve it on the side.