Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bavarian Apple Torte

do you have a cookbook that is your "go-to" when you need a great yet easy recipe? this even more special cookbook is mine. every recipe i have tried ends up tasting amazing. it's actually a jessop family favorite. AJ first discovered it and it was quickly passed on to almost all the women in the family. it's described as a great regional cookbook from the junior league of durham and orange counties in north carolina. some tried and true recipes include: strawberry spinach salad, broccoli-stuffed tomatoes, marinated pork tenderloin, and now bavarian apple torte. my cookbook looks very worn and well loved lots of bookmarks and dog-eared pages - a true sign of a gem.

this recipe is a tried and true recipe for AJ but it's the first time i had ever made it. it was so easy yet so good. it reminds me why i love this cookbook so much. unfortunately, it is now out of print and very hard to find. i found a copy a couple of years ago on amazon. often they have used copies for sale.

so back to the apple torte. the cream is the perfect compliment to tart apples and the buttery crust has just a hint of sweetness. we drastically reduced the amount of sugar in this recipe and it tasted perfect. i think if all the sugar was used it would taste way too sweet. it seems most recipes call for too much sugar. 99% of the time i reduce the sugar in baked goods and they turn out just fine. just don't let domino sugar know. they may hunt me down.

we actually had this for breakfast with some eggs topped with extra sharp cheddar. just one word - mouthwatering. i can't wait to make this again. it's the perfect fall dessert that will taste just as good the next morning. i promise.

Bavarian Apple Torte
8-10 servings
(adapted from even more special cookbook)

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3 tbs sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/8 cup agave nectar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

4 cups apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 tbs cinnamon sugar (1 1/2 tbs sugar + 1/2 tbs cinnamon)

preheat oven to 450 degrees F. combine butter, sugar, vanilla, and flour. stir together until combined. press into bottom of greased 9" spring form pan. press so crust comes up about an inch on sides.

cream together cream cheese and agave. add egg and extract and pour over crust. spread so it evenly covers crust. arrange apples over filling and sprinkle apples with cinnamon sugar.

bake for 10 minutes. reduce heat to 400 degrees F and bake for 20-25 more minutes. cool completely before removing from pan. enjoy at room temperature or chilled.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chai Tea Fueled Elk Knob Summit

E and i tend to fall more in the tea drinker category then on the coffee drinker side. don't get me wrong, i love a good cup of espresso or a caramel latte. i tend to like a little coffee with my milk. but i love chai tea. chai for me green for E.
i can't tell you how many different boxes of chai tea i have in our tea cabinet but it's getting a little ridiculous. i finally decided to brew my own. i thought the first try would be undrinkable. i thought it would take me try after try after try to be successful. perhaps that is why i put it off for so long. too bad i did because i thought the first batch was pretty darn good.

i mixed cinnamon sticks with whole cloves, fresh ginger, whole peppercorns, allspice seeds, cardamom pods, and vanilla black tea. a little agave nectar and the result was a slightly sweet, spicy, smooth, and creamy chai. i think next time i'll go a bit spicier but it was not bad for the first try, not bad at all.

a tall mug of this sweet goodness was fuel for our beautiful fall hike. it was quite the haul to the top, but the view was worth it!

Chai Tea
(makes 8-10 servings)

2-inch piece fresh ginger, cut into thin rounds
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
12 whole cloves
4 allspice seeds
8 cardamom pods
6 cups cold water
6 bags of vanilla black tea (I used mighty leaf)
1/3 cup agave nectar

combine all ingredients except black tea and agave in a medium saucepan over medium heat. bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. let simmer for 10-15 minutes.  remove from heat, add tea and let steep for 10 minutes. add agave and stir until dissolved. strain and store in airtight container. 

when ready to use, pour a cup of half tea and add half milk and warm until hot. enjoy!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fall Comfort Food

E and i are on vacation! that's right, 10 whole days of sleeping, eating, reading, napping, snacking, drinking, hiking, napping, drinking, eating, and sleeping with some family quality time thrown in. did i mention we would be sleeping and napping? pure heaven i tell you. in fact, this is our current front porch view.

ok, maybe i should back up a little. friday am, we packed up the car and directed the car south. after 7 1/2 hours of driving, napping, eating, and stopping later we were welcomed by AJ and UG to their beautiful mountain house in NC. wait, stop! "what did you eat on the drive down?" you ask. well, we had some fall comfort food as i like to call it. i figured as we were enjoying the sights of fall and the changing colors of the trees, we could be eating some of fall's bounty as well.

hours 1-7 of driving

one of the best things about road trips is eating junk food. driving long distances gives you a good excuse to stop and eat the only thing one can find on the open road - fast food and gas station food. i am too ashamed to admit what some of my favorites are but in an effort to "get there" as E says, i packed us up some good eats so the only stopping we would be doing was for loo breaks and gas.

fried chicken is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. this dates way back to my early childhood and more specifically, Emma.

Emma was my grandparents housekeeper at meadowvale for as long as i can remember. but she wasn't just that, she was/still is family. when mommom's mind was taken by the thief we call alzheimers, Emma stepped in and took care of the 3 grandchildren like a grandmother would. she loved us, looked after us, and even made her unparalleled fried chicken and sweet potato pie for us. hers was fried chicken like no other and although i don't know her recipe or technique i do know she let the chicken sit in buttermilk overnight.

so, i did the same. then came a dip into flour, followed by a dip in egg and another dip in flour. i fried those beautiful skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs in peanut oil until golden brown on each side and then baked them in a 375 degree F oven for 20 minutes. now hot, crispy, fresh-out-of-the-oven chicken is my favorite, but E convinced me cold fried chicken was delicious as well. turns out, he was right, its not quite as crispy but it did still manage to have a crunch to it and we gobbled it down somewhere between JMU (go dukes!) and roanoke, va on 81 south.

we also had bite-sized apple cornbread and garlic kale chips. both the apples and the kale were farmers market finds and remind me of fall. the apple cornbread was yummy but we both agree it tasted even better the next morning toasted with a slathering of butter. crispy edges and buttery top make it out of the world.

the kale chips were massaged with garlic gold olive oil and sprinkled with garlic gold nuggets and pepper. a slow dehydration in the oven at 200 degrees F for 2 hours made them perfectly light, airy, and crispy.

as fate would have it, our evening would end with another Emma favorite - sweet potato pie. when we arrived in the mountains, we had a wonderful dinner with family and friends of shrimp etouffee over basmati rice with crusty bread and a spinach salad. a friend brought over some southern sweet potato pie for dessert. (i have asked her to get the recipe out of the baker if they are willing to part with it - stay tuned.) a dollop of whipped cream on top was the perfect finishing touch to our fall comfort food day.

i couldn't help but think of Emma all day today. a visit to my dear adopted grandmother will be at the top of my to do list when i return home. i hope to get her fried chicken and sweet potato pie recipes out of her as well:)

Apple Cornbread

1 cup corn meal
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 apple, peeled, cored, and chopped fine

preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

mix together eggs, milk, butter, and honey. add dry ingredients and stir well to combine. fold in chopped apples and pour into a 8x8 baking dish.

bake for 20-25 minutes until edges are golden brown and middle is cooked through. a toothpick should come out clean. remove from oven and let cool completely before cutting.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cinnamon Sweet Potato Gnocchi

i would like to thank all of my loyal readers for your support over the past several weeks during project food blog. alas, this is the end of the road for me. the pizza did me in. although it's over, i did enjoy the ride and am still proud to say out of 1,800 bloggers, i made it to the top 72. plus, there is always next year i suppose (that is if foodbuzz does it again).
so, onward and upward as they say. i have been wanting to share this super easy but incredibly tasty sweet potato gnoochi recipe for some time now. i had seen an episode of everyday italian with giada de laurentiis years ago with gnocchi tossed in butter, sugar, and cinnamon. i immediately filed it away in my cramped little brain and promptly forget about it. when i spotted sweet potato gnocchi at wegmans the other day, the file re-emerged and i knew i had to try it.
as it turns out, my instincts were right and the sweet potato gnocchi tastes wonderful dressed in slightly spicy sweetness. it is a wonderful fall treat - like sweet pillows touched with cinnamon and butter. as E said its like having cinnamon buns for dinner. i will admit to drastically reducing the butter that ms. de laurentiis recommended and using my usual agave nectar instead of sugar. i served it with a simple garlic roasted broccoli and our bellies were quite content.

Cinnamon Sweet Potato Gnocchi
(serves 2-3)
adapted from giada de laurentiis

4 tbs butter
1 cinnamon stick
9 oz sweet potato gnocchi
2 tbs agave nectar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
melt butter over medium heat in large skillet. add cinnamon stick and reduce heat to low. let butter gently simmer for 10 minutes so cinnamon will infuse.

cook gnocchi according to package directions (when gnocchi float to the surface, they are ready). drain and set aside.
add agave, ground cinnamon, and salt to butter and stir well. remove cinnamon stick and stir in cooked gnocchi. toss well to coat and serve immediately.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Whole Wheat Pizza with Clam Sauce

being creative with pizza is so easy, it's downright difficult. you can pretty much put anything on top of dough and call it a pizza. so with a challenge like putting your own spin on a pizza, the possibilities are quite literally endless.
i have posted many a pizza creation right here. in fact, E and i have pizza night regularly. this usually consists of 2 rolled out pizza doughs, mine topped with anything and everything i find in the fridge, and his topped with cheese and pepperoni. i have made mexican pizza, bbq chicken pizza, spinach and mushroom pizza, portabella, bacon, and tomato pizza, and grueyere, fig, and balsamic pizza just to name a few. but my husband, E, is a traditional man. he likes meat and cheese. so this time, i decided to make a non-traditional pizza E would like.
a new idea began to form. one of E's favorite dishes is linguine with white clam sauce. he could eat that once a week, easily. i figured, why couldn't i put white clam sauce on a pizza?
not sure quite how this pizza would turn out, i dove right in. i started by making whole wheat pizza dough. i happen to like the hearty nuttiness the crust gets from the whole wheat pastry flour. i waited patiently for the dough to rise. after 2 hours, the dough had doubled in size. i cut it into 3 sections and let those rise for an hour more while i started making the clam sauce.
my basic white clam sauce starts with butter, olive oil, and lots of garlic. i am of the opinion, that there is no such thing as too much garlic. clam sauce is not the place to skimp on this fragrant plant bulb! next comes a hearty splash of white wine and reserved clam juice. chopped clams lend a meaty, briny flavor while the final touch of cream is the perfect finish to bring the sauce together.
i spread a generous helping of the sauce over the rolled out pizza dough and sprinkled shredded parmesan cheese over the whole pie. after a quick, hot stint in the oven, the pizza came out, bubbly and smelling of garlic and cheese. i chopped some fresh parsley and sprinkled it over the top just as i would a steaming plate of linguine.
any skepticism or doubt about how this pizza creation would taste disappeared with one bite. the creamy, cheesy clam sauce had a garlic bite and the crust paired perfectly just as pasta would. it wasn't merely a vehicle for the clams but also gave just enough flavor and the ideal combination of crunchiness and chewiness that i love in pizza crust. as for E, i may not have converted him to specality pizzas all the time, but this pizza with clam sauce will now be in his rotation of requests. he enjoyed it just as much as his beloved linguine, if not even a little more.
as far as i am concerned, no dinner is complete without a little bit of chocolate. so, as one final touch to our pizza feast, i incorporated one on my favorite things into a dessert pizza - nutella!
a simple sugar cookie dough served as the crust for the strawberry nutella pizza. after baking and cooling, the crust got a slathering of chocolaty hazelnut goodness.
strawberry halves served as a chocolate topping and a drizzle of both caramel and whipped cream added both sweetness and decoration.
the only problem? i'm not sure which one was better. guess i'll have to go back for seconds . . .

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
(makes 3 pizza crusts)

2 1/2 cups warm water (100-110 degrees F), plus more if needed
1 (1/4 oz) packet of active dry yeast
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp fine sea salt
olive oil

in a large bowl, whisk together flours, and salt.

in a large measuring cup, dissolve yeast in water. pour into flour and salt mixture. stir (or use your hands) to combine until a soft dough forms. add more water if too dry and more flour if too sticky.

using a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, knead dough on medium-low speed until dough becomes smooth and elastic (about 5-8 minutes). drizzle the inside of a large clean bowl with olive oil and place dough in bowl. cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm, dry place for 2 hours. (i preheat my oven to 120 degrees F. turn it off, and let the bowl sit in there.

after dough has doubled in size, deflate the center of the dough and cut into 3 equal-sized pieces. form into a ball and place each in separate, oiled bowls. cover and let rise again for about an hour.

remove and wrap in plastic wrap. keep in fridge until ready to roll out or freeze for a later use. when ready to use, roll out, add sauce and toppings and bake at 450 degrees F for 10-15 minutes.

White Clam Sauce

1 tbs unsalted butter
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tbs flour
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 (6.5 oz) cans of minced clams, drained, juices reserved
1/4 cup reserved clam juice
1/4 cup cream or half and half
1/8 cup grated parmesan cheese
chopped fresh parsley for garnish

combine butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. once butter has melted, add garlic and saute for 2 minutes. add flour and stir for 1 minute. pour in wine and stir well until smooth. add clam juice and simmer until reduced by half. stir in clams, cream, and parmesan and stir well until smooth.

pour over cooked linguine or rolled out pizza dough. sprinkle with fresh parsley and enjoy!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Homemade Vanilla Extract

i have been doing a lot more baking recently. it's not really my strong suit but you know what they say, practice makes perfect. so that's what i have been doing. practice, practice, practice . . .
a client of mine has requested cupcakes every week so that has been providing good cupcake practice. needless to say i have been going through a lot more butter, sugar, and flour than usual. i also have been using up a serious amount of vanilla extract. i like to use the quality stuff and it's not cheap. at roughly $8-10 per 4oz bottle, i knew i needed another way.
turns out you can get pretty good deals on vanilla beans online. they usually run $8 for one bean at the store. i was able to find 12 mexican vanilla beans for under $16. (that's roughly $1.33 a bean - a much better ratio than the $8 per bean at the store.)
with this great deal on vanilla beans, i decided to take a stab at making my own vanilla extract. after some good old internet research i settled on my ingredients: 6 vanilla beans and 2 cups of vodka.
the directions couldn't be easier either. just split open the beans, submerge them in vodka in an airtight glass jar and then wait. the waiting is the hardest part. it's like waiting for limoncello. it feels like it takes forever. but when the wait is over, it's oh so worth it!
after 1-2 months (with the occasional shake) you have wonderfully dark, amber, aromatic vanilla extract. now, istead of paying over $2 an ounce, you have homemade vanilla extract for under $1 an ounce.
the best thing though? this vanilla extract actually last a lot longer than 2 cups. when it get a little low, all you have to do is add another splash of vodka. those 6 vanilla beans will continue to flavor additional vodka for a long time. you can easily add 2-4 more cups of vodka to the jar over several months and still have wonderfully flavorful extract. it actually will last years. every year or so, add another fresh vanilla bean and you will have vanilla extract for life.
that makes this one glass bottle virtually priceless.

Vanilla Extract

6 vanilla beans
2 cups vodka
airtight glass bottle

split each bean in half lengthwise leaving one end intact. add beans to the jar. pour 2 cups of vodka over beans. seal jar and let sit for 1-2 months. color will darken over time. be sure to give it a good shake once a week or whenever you think about it. (i give mine a good shake every time i finish using it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Congrats - Giveaway Winners

conrgats to the following winners for the t-shirt giveaway!

nell, wehaf, kristina, and sarah are the winners!

(sarah, please send me an email at with your mailing address so i can send you your t-shirt and coupons. the rest of you, i will be contacting you for your mailing address and send them out next week.)

thanks for participating!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Free Giveaway - Ends Tomorrow

this is your last chance to enter to win one of 4 DAHlicious t-shirts and $1.00 off coupons. leave a comment on this previous post telling me what your favorite smoothie ingredients are.

i will pick 4 winners thursday, october 14th at 5pm EST. good luck!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Foodbuzz Project Food Blog - Challenge 4

again, i want to give a special thank you to all who voted me through round three of foodbuzz's project food blog. i appreciate your support more than you know!

ok, on to challenge #4 - picture perfect:

"Challenge Prompt: Sure, you can take a pretty picture. But your task here is to go above and beyond and use photography to create a step-by-step, instructional photo tutorial. It could be anything from how to bone a chicken to how to make your favorite recipe, but your photos need to guide the reader through the steps."

i decided to have some fun with this one. check out my entry and vote for me here. (click the heart next to the words "vote for this entry" near the top of the page directly under the buick lacrosse logo. you will have to create a foodbuzz account if you haven't already.)

thanks again for your votes and support this far!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

How to Survive Turning 30 - Crepe Cake

having just celebrated my 30th (gasp) birthday, i have several tips on how to survive a milestone birthday while maintaining some grace and dignity.

step 1:
wake up and check for gray hairs.
step 2:
breathe a sigh of relief and pray you take after your father who only started to gray in his 50's, not your mother who found several gray hairs on her 30th birthday.

step 3:
drink a big cup of coffee in your favorite robe and slippers and have dessert for breakfast. calories don't count on your birthday, right?
step 4:
realize one of the bad things about being a grown-up is actually having to work on your birthday.

step 5:
smile from ear to ear when you hear a knock on the door in the middle of cooking for a client and find a package on your doorstep. scream out loud when you realize it's caramel rice pudding from rice to riches in new york city sent to you from your favorite college girls.
step 6:
carefully unpack tear open the rice pudding and take a big bite. you have to make sure it tastes ok, right? wonder why they included 4 spoons with your ridiculously large container. i only need one. what in the world are the other 3 spoons for??
step 7:
when you finish work and are heading home, resign yourself to the fact that you will be making your own birthday cake.

step 8:
decide to have a little fun with it by making a 30 theme dessert you have never attempted before - a 30 layer crepe cake with chocolate orange pastry cream.

30 Layer Crepe Cake with Chocolate-Orange Pastry Cream
(serves 8-10)

Sweet Crepes:
(makes 28-32 crepes)
adapted from Alton Brown 

5 large eggs
scant 2 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups water
2 1/2 cups flour
8 tbs melted butter
4 tbs agave nectar
2 tbs vanilla extract
1-2 tbs butter for crepe pan

combine all ingredients (except butter for pan) in a blender and pulse on medium speed 5 times.
scrape down sides well and pulse 5 more times. refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 48.

heat a medium non-stick pan or crepe pan over medium-low heat. add 1/2 tbs butter and let melt and cover whole pan.
add about 1/4 cup crepe batter to the hot pan and immediately rotate the pan around making sure a thin layer of batter covers the entire bottom of the pan.
cook for 1-2 minutes. crepe will bubble slightly and edges will start to brown a bit and pull away from the sides of the pan.

using a spatula, gently left edge of crepe, then using your hands, gently lift crepe up and flip over.
(note: some super talented crepe flippers (including my husband) can flip a crepe in the pan with just a flick of their wrist, very dramatic.
my wonderful french friends, the marels, attempted to show me this seemingly innate french talent while visiting them in la grange de bois, france, but alas, i never quite caught on. i have found that flipping with your hands is much easier. i use very clean dish gloves to protect my fingers from the hot crepe and it seems to give me a little better grip on the crepe when flipping too.)

cook crepe on second side for 30-45 seconds.
then slide crepe onto plate to let cool. repeat with remaining batter until you have 30 crepes. (keep in mind it usually takes a couple tries to get this method right. i almost always throw away the first 2-3 crepes before i "get the hang of it". in fact, this time, i ended up trashing 4 before i got the hang of it.) i set up 3 plates of crepes. 2 for cooling individual crepes, then a third for stacking the cooled crepes.
cooled, stacked crepes can be stored in a large plastic bag in the fridge for several days. they can also be frozen and thawed fully before peeling apart.

Chocolate-Orange Pastry Cream:
(makes 2 cups)
adapted from Joy of Baking

2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or 1 tbs vanilla bean paste)
4 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 tbs cocoa powder
6 large egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
scant 6 tbs cornstarch
3 tbs grand marnier liquor

in a medium stainless steel bowl, whisk together sugar and egg yolks. 
sift together cornstarch and flour and add to sugar/egg mixture. whisk until well combined and smooth. 
meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat, add vanilla bean to milk and bring to a boil - milk will foam when done, so watch carefully. 
whisk in chopped chocolate and cocoa powder. 
remove from heat and slowly add to egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent curdling.
pour mixture into saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. 
whisk constantly for 30-60 seconds until mixture becomes very thick and hard to stir. 
remove from heat and immediately whisk in liquor. 
pour into clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap making sure wrap is touching surface to prevent a crust from forming. cool completely. (can be refrigerated up to 3 days.)
whisk well before using to smooth out any lumps that have formed.
cake assembly:
place one crepe on cake stand or platter. 
spread enough pastry cream over crepe to form a thin layer over entire crepe, edge to edge. 
layer another crepe on top, making sure edges line up. 
spread pastry cream over entire crepe and continue process until all 30 crepes have been used. finish with a crepe on top. 
let chill in fridge for at least an hour to set.
slice into wedges and enjoy!

step 9:
reward yourself on a job well done with a glass of prosecco . . . and cake!
step 10:
have another glass of prosecco when your wonderful husband gets home from work travel. thank him for not leaving you alone on your birthday (like last year:)
step 11:
have dinner with friends at a new place you've never been - the wine market in baltimore.
step 12:
upon arriving home, eat several more bites of caramel rice pudding. give yourself extra points for being willing to share.
step 13:
when all else fails and you need to really feel young and alive, jump out of an airplane.
step 14:
thank god you're alive!
step 15:
have more prosecco and decide this 30 thing may not be so bad after all :)
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