Thursday, October 28, 2010

Spiced Applesauce Cake

I got this recipe of the Smitten Kitchen website (surprise, surprise) and as usual it came out fantastic, so had to share. Plus I had promised many posts featuring apples and pears, right? You may be relieved to hear that I’m halfway through the three crates of apples and pears I got from my friend (mostly cause I’m cooking and pureeing for the baby like Gerber’s is going out of business) so I’ll hopefully be changing subject matter in the near future. For now, this lovely, easy cake.
This is what you need:     
A square non-stick cake pan  - I used a heart-shaped one cause I was feeling whimsical today!      
365 grams (1 ½ cup – 13oz) applesauce (I made a mix of spiced apple and pear sauce, will be posting the recipe for this asap on Moomser Baby)
½ cup crushed pecans (the original says walnuts, but I had pecans…)
250 grams (2cups – 8 ¾ oz.) all purpose flour         
10 grams (2tsp) baking powder
3 grams ( ½ tsp) baking soda
3 grams ( ½ tsp) salt
2 grams ( ¾ tsp) cinnamon
1 gram ( ½ tsp) ground ginger (I also added the same amount of ground nutmeg, ground cloves, and allspice)
115 grams (1 stick – 4oz) unsalted butter – softened
215 grams (1 cup – 7 ¾ oz) light brown sugar (as usual I would put less sugar cause it was too sweet for my palate, next time I’ll stick to no more than 180grams)
5ml (1 tsp) pure vanilla extract
2 eggs – room temperature

This is what you do:
Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F)
Beat together butter and sugar until soft and fluffy (took me at least 10 minutes, but my sugar was quite coarse, keep an eye on it).
While that’s beating, measure out your dry ingredients. And butter your cake dish.
Then add eggs to wet ingredients one at a time and beat well in between. Add applesauce.
Put your mixer on low and add in the dry ingredients and nuts and mix until just combined.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean – it took me 30 minutes, so check on your cake often!
Let it cool for 15 – 20 minutes and take out of your pan to let it cool completely. You’ll notice that my cake is cracked… I took it out too soon, so be patient!

You can serve this with cream cheese frosting:
This is what you need:
150 – 160 grams Philadelphia cream cheese
40 – 50 grams butter (softened)
120 grams (1 packet – 1 cup) confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
This is what you do:
Beat together cream cheese and butter until well combined and fluffy (smitten kitchen says to soften cream cheese too, but I find that cold cream cheese makes for a thicker frosting – as suggested by the Joy of Cooking) add vanilla.
Sift in sugar and cinnamon and beat until well mixed, but don’t over beat cause it’ll get runny.
Try and wait for your cake to cool before frosting, I obviously didn't….

Friday, October 22, 2010

Salone del Gusto 2010

The Salone del Gusto is upon us once again. Every two years Slow Food organizes the massive trade fair that is the International Salone del Gusto in Turin, and as one of the main sponsors we participate with a passion. I mentioned in “Why Moomser Food” that I have never worked in the food service industry, but I have worked in the food production industry, namely a mineral water company, so I will occasionally post on these types of events.
Unfortunately, after a full day at the fair I’m completely beat, so will reserve all commentary on how it’s going for tomorrow (I hope) but for now I just wanted to share our little midnight snack with you…
One of the great things about participating in these large trade shows is that we get to interact with other food producers from around the globe, and by interact I really mean try out all their goodies, and obviously in the wonderful spirit of bartering that prevails at these events, we get to go home with some yummy things. So after a tiring day on our feet, our mouths constantly in motion (mostly talking to clients and such, but also eating, of course), the husband and I got home and decided to have a light dinner of German whole wheat bread, fresh Greek feta cheese and the most fragrant Sicilian extra virgin olive oil I have ever had the pleasure of trying.

German bread? But you’re Italian, you might object, but the truth is that the Germans make the lightest, tastiest, most delicate whole wheat bread I have ever had, and Italian bread, though phenomenal when baked with regular flour, simply doesn’t measure up in this, dare I say healthier, variety. The Sicilian olive oil was divine, totally different from the Liguria oil we are used to eating, I can barely describe it, it is so fragrant, slightly spicy on the tongue, it is very smooth but not thick, when you taste it you realize you could probably dress a salad with just this oil, and nothing else. And the Feta? Well, we just really love it and it’s lovely with a little oil, so what more could we want for a midnight snack?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mrs. C's Apple Cake

Even though it doesn't look like much this is an easy peasy basic apple cake, and it’s oh, so satisfying! It’s soft and sweet and fruity. It’s great for breakfast or for dessert or for a midnight snack, it’s a simple comfort food that you’ll end up going back to over and over again.
This is what you need:
4 large apples – whatever kind you think cooks well
100gr. (¾ cup) all-purpose flour – I used whole flour, cause I’m trying to cut down on processed foods but honestly in this cake, white flour tastes better, the whole flour left it a little dry.
100gr. (¾ cup) sugar – I used brown sugar (which worked out fine) and as usual I used a bit less than called for, about 70gr. The apples I had were a little tart, so it wasn’t as sweet as other times I had made it, so I would suggest you adjust the sugar depending on the sweetness of the apples you have (if you so wish, cause the original recipe is pretty yummy as is). + 1 tbs. to sprinkle at the end.
100gr. (3.5oz.) butter
3 eggs
I used a 22cm (8.5inch) round spring-form pan, but you can use a pie dish as well.
16gr. baking powder
1tbs. cinnamon and a dash of allspice (I added these to the original recipe, cause I can’t resist cinnamon with apples)

 This is what you do:
Preheat oven at 180°C (350°F)
Peel and slice apples. Melt butter (bain marie or in the microwave). Separate yolks and beat whites till stiff. Mix the sugar, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice and butter. Wait a few minutes for the mixture to have cooled completely (the butter was probably warm when you added it) then add yolks. Mix well scraping sides of bowl completely. Gently fold in whites.
 Grease and flour your baking pan. And pour in your batter. Then add the apples pressing them down into the batter, you will probably be able to get two layers in. Sprinkle the top with a tbs. of sugar.

Bake for 30 – 40 minutes.
(p.s. I told you it was easy!!)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Leek, Potato and Salmon Quiche

I am a BIG fan of quiches, and casseroles (possibly cause I grew up in the south), but mostly quiches. I love quiches cause you can make them ahead, they’re great as leftovers, they require minimal intervention and they help me get rid of stuff that’s been hanging around in the fridge too long. So the other day I happen upon a package of smoked salmon that was expiring that very day and well, with the husband’s immune system the way it is I can’t really risk feeding him food that is on its way to possibly being a bit wonky, and smoked salmon isn’t exactly cheap here so… into a quiche it went.
This is what you need:
Puff pastry sheet – in Italy I use the ready-made, refrigerated not frozen, Buitoni pasta sfoglia rotonda. It’s a round sheet of puff pastry approximately 25cm (10in.) in diameter. Use whatever you like, frozen is fine too (defrost it!) or you can make this in the form of a casserole, foregoing the puff pastry and just using a casserole dish.
Smoked salmon – I’m very sorry, but I forgot to check how much is in a package, but it’s not an insane amount – will correct this as soon as I go back to supermarket!
2 medium-sized leeks – with most of the green part cut off.
3 medium- sized potatoes - peeled
½ cup Feta cheese - crumbled                                        
Ricotta 250 gr (8.8oz)
Grated parmesan cheese (optional)
2 eggs
Salt, pepper and ground nutmeg (optional)
I used a 22cm (8.5inch) round spring-form pan, but you can use a pie dish as well.
This is what you do:

Finely cut the leeks cross-wise and sauté in a pan with a little oil till just softened and set aside.
Cut your salmon in mid to small sized pieces

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Apple Strudel

I got a whole lot of apples from a friend who has apple trees and doesn’t know what to do with all the damn apples that all come in at the same time (lucky me!) so… you’ll be seeing apples heavily featured in the next few posts (pears too, got lots of pears as well). I do, of course, cook and purée most of these totally organic, free fruits that I occasionally get (one of the pleasures of living in the country!) for the Girl and Boy but there’s only so many fruit jars you can stick in your fridge, freezer and cupboard before you start looking insane, so the excess fruit gets eaten by the adults. Not a bad compromise.
This is what you need:
4 large apples whatever you think cooks well, mine came from a friends’ apple tree and neither of us know what they are called (and am too lazy right now to do an internet search, sorry…)
Puff pastry sheet – in Italy I use the ready-made, refrigerated not frozen, Buitoni pasta sfoglia rotonda. It’s a round sheet of puff pastry approximately 25cm (10in.) in diameter. Use whatever you like, frozen is fine too (defrost it!) you can even make it yourself, but I can’t help you there yet… maybe in a few years!
½ cup brown sugar – the recipe I followed called for 1 cup sugar, which is what I used, WAY, WAY too sweet!
1cup raisins (ideally, golden raisins, but I had sun-maid so that’s why mine are so dark)
1tbs cinnamon - 1tsp vanilla extract -  1 lemon - 1 egg yolk
The husband would have like some pine nuts, or almond slivers too, but there was nary a one to be found in our house so can't tell you how that would have done, but I think it would have done quite well...
This is what you do:
1.       Peel, core, pit and slice 3 apples, then grate the 4th apple. If you’re going to peel and cut the apples and then get distracted, like I tend to do, I suggest you stick them in a bowl of water with a little lemon juice as you go so they don’t get all dark and ugly, though it is just an aesthetic concern as the darkness and ugliness of your apples in no way affects the final product.
Buuuuut, don’t put the grated apple in the water, just drizzle it with some lemon juice, it’ll still get dark, but it gives it a nice tangy note.
2.       If you’re using nice plump golden raisins, you’re good to go, but if your raisins are a little dry and sad looking (like they’ve been sitting in your cupboard, ignored, for years) soak them in a some water for a few minutes and they’ll plump right up, I like me a plump raisin.
3.       Drain your cut apples (NOT the grated apple!) and your raisins and mix in a bowl with sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and any lemon juice you’ve got left (just a few drops are fine)

4.       Now spread your puff pastry on a sheet of parchment paper on a shallow baking pan, I prefer metal ones to glass or ceramic because I feel that they heat better on the bottom and the puff pastry cooks more evenly.
5.       NOW get your grated apple (finally) and spread it down the center of your pastry, and then arrange the rest of your apple concoction on top. If you’re using a round pastry you want to make a rectangle with your filling down the center, so you’ve got two larger semicircles on the sides and smaller ones on the ends.
6.       Delicately close the pastry on top of the filling and wet the top edge with your fingertips so that it sticks to the bottom flap. And then close the two ends.
7.       Paint on your egg yolk, I actually forgot to, it doesn’t change the taste at all but it’s just not as pretty. Finally, cut steam vents on top.
8.       Stick in oven for 30 - 35 minutes*

*About cooking times: When I’m baking I tend to always set my timer a few minutes earlier than the cooking time indicated (in this case, I set it at 25 minutes) so that I can check on whatever I’m baking, as I’ve learned that you can always keep baking something, but you can’t unbake once you’ve burned it… imagine that… in this case I baked it for the full 35 minutes.
*I have a ventilated or convection oven, so it tends to cook faster than unventilated ovens. Just so you know.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

New York Cheesecake with Cherry topping

I’m not a very good baker, and I’m not a big cake person, but I do have my favorites, and cheesecake is right at the top of the list. Unfortunately (or fortunately for my waistline), you can’t readily find New York Cheesecake in Italy, possibly in Rome or Milan, but I’ve never had the pleasure of eating it here. There are lots of cakes with cheese… but nothing that satisfied my palate. I haven’t managed to make it back to the US for two years, that’s the absolute longest I’ve been away, but what with the pregnancy, having the baby and the husband’s illness, we just haven’t made it out, so for my 35th birthday I decided to overcome my fear of the oven and bake myself one, or give myself a nervous breakdown trying.
The results were surprisingly good for a newbie, a little undercooked, just a little too big for my household, but overall I was satisfied and, most importantly, I satisfied my cheesecake craving for a good long while!
Following is the recipe I used, for the original click on over to Deb's New York Cheesecake or check it out in the Joy of Cooking, though credit for the Cherry topping goes fully to Deb at Smitten Kitchen (one of my all time favorite food blogs).

Pasta alla Checca

The Husband always knows when I decide that summer is just around the corner because for starters I start painting my toes and wearing sandals, but mainly because we start eating Pasta alla Checca at least three times a week. It is literally my favorite pasta in the world, it’s easy to make, it’s fast, and if the ingredients are good quality then the dish is to die for. There are many variants of this pasta, all of which are good, I’m going to share my favorite, and then you can take it from there and create your perfect version of Pasta alla Checca, because it’s one of those summer comfort foods that has to fit like your favorite pair of Manolo’s, the ones that you can walk for miles in they’re so comfortable, and yet you still look amazing.
What you need:
Well, pasta of course. I’m partial to De Cecco, which is a high quality Italian brand that you can find pretty easily in most big cities worldwide, but your favorite brand will work perfectly too! You need “short” pasta for this dish, so no spaghetti or other long pastas. I like to use fusilli (corkscrew shaped pasta), but my Mom prefers farfalle (bow shaped pasta), if you experiment a little you’ll find the perfect pasta shape for you, the one that absorbs the right amount of sauce, and that allows you to spear all the main ingredients so you can make the “perfect mouthful”.
Tomatoes, which is why I only make it in the summer, with those lovely straight from the plant tomatoes in my vegetable garden.
Fresh Mozzarella, ideally buffalo mozzarella, but regular mozzarella is fine too as long as it’s fresh. I realize this is trickier for people outside of Italy cause it’s hard to find and expensive when you do, but it really, really needs to be fresh. So do NOT, under any circumstances, substitute with other types of mozzarella (mozzarella cheese sticks are totally NOT ok) I really can’t stress this enough. If you can’t find fresh mozzarella you’re going to have to go without cheese in the dish (it’s still very, very good) and if you really can’t give up the cheese entirely then substitute with something completely different, like Feta cheese. (If my Mom actually read my blog she would have keeled over from a heart attack after that suggestion.)
Basil, just a few fresh leaves, if you can, it makes the dish positively heavenly.
Salt and oil.