Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Individual Apple Tarts

We're back from an AMAZING week in London and Paris and the food was definitely a highlight of the adventure.  As I re acclimate to real life this week, I find myself at a loss without a perfectly flaky croissant and cafe for breakfast, a pint of ale alongside lunch and the glimmering Eiffel Tour in the backdrop of a leisurely two+ hour dinner.  Therefore I decided to make some Parisian inspired apple tarts my very first day home to make the transition a bit smoother.  I figure a tapered withdrawal from the pastries would be far better for morale than quitting cold turkey.

Apple Tarts      makes 8 individual servings

1 package (large sheet) of Dufour Puff Pastry
2 extra large (or 3 medium) fuji, gala or honeycrisp apples
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon of grated orange zest
juice of half an orange
2 tablespoons of apple jelly (apricot would work as well)
1 teaspoon of water

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Thaw the frozen puff pastry according to the package directions.  You can find Dufour Pastry in the freezer section at your Whole Foods or specialty market.  It is heads above your average grocery store brand- largely because it is made with 100% butter- and while its a splurge ($9 per package), it is worth every penny, I assure you.  (If you need help with a justification, remind yourself the total cost of the remaining ingredients is barely $3 - and therefore $12 for 8 generously portioned tarts is a steal, especially by Paris standards!

You want to keep the pastry dough chilled as long as possible while you assemble the tarts, so have the apples ready to go before you start rolling.  Peel, core and halve the apples before slicing them super thin.  Then toss them gently in a bowl with the brown sugar, spices, salt, orange juice and zest.  Let them set for a few minutes and the sugar dissolves into a glaze that will coat all of the apples.

Next put the jelly or jam in a small bowl with a teaspoon of water and microwave for 40 seconds or so until melted enough to stir into a glaze.  *I was lucky enough to have my mother-in-laws homemade apple jelly which is probably why this batch was particularly blissful.

Now you're ready to assemble the tarts...  Roll the pastry dough out slightly on a board.  It should increase in size by roughly an inch in both directions.  Try to maintain the rectangle shape.  Using a pairing knife, portion the dough into 8 smaller rectangles.  Divide and place them on two baking sheets sprayed lightly with nonstick spray (and/or lined with parchment paper).

Arrange a line of apple slices in an overlapping fashion down each rectangle so that they are covering all but a tiny edge of the dough.   Drizzle with the remaining sugary syrup from the bottom of the apple bowl and bake for 20 minutes or until puffed and golden brown along the edges.  Switch racks half way through.

With about 5 minutes of cooking time left, take one baking sheet out at a time to brush with the jam glaze and return to the oven.

WARNING:  The cinnamon sugar oozes a bit and bakes on to the baking sheet. You want to remove the tarts from the pans with a spatula as soon as you take them out of the oven before the glaze hardens and glues them to the pan.  The nonstick spray should help with clean up.  Otherwise a soak in some soapy water will eventually break the sugar loose from the pans.

Enjoy at room temperature as is or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for dessert.  They are FANTASTIC for breakfast with a cup of coffee the next day as well.  WARNING:  Husbands, do not leave your wives home with the leftovers or they will disappear.  Sorry, babe.  I owe you another batch.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Croque Madame

T minus 4 days, 2 hours and 33 minutes until John and I take off for vacation!  We've been meticulously planning our London-Paris adventure for months and its almost here... I've spent the past week researching restaurants in both cities and my taste buds have been dreaming of all things Gastropub and Brasserie.  So it will come as no surprise to you that even my mid-work lunch today is Euro-inspired...

A croque madame is traditional, simple French bistro fare that just about anyone can throw together in 10 minutes.  All you need is the following:

1 thick slice of French bread
Some sliced or shredded Gruyere or Baby Swiss cheese
1-2 slices of ham
1 teaspoon of whole grain or dijon mustard
1 egg

I have a countertop toaster oven however you can do this under the broiler in your oven as well...

Toast the bread on a baking sheet to golden brown on one side.  Take it out, flip it over, and spread the mustard on the untoasted side.  Lay the ham slices over the toast, followed the cheese.  Put back under the broiler or toast until the cheese is melted, barely golden and dripping down the toast.

Meanwhile fry your egg to your liking with some salt and pepper- perfect over medium for me (No runny white but lots of runny yolk.)  Top the toast with your fried egg e voila!

A small salad of baby mixed greens drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette makes this into a rather gourmet-like lunch.  A week from now I'll get to enjoy a glass of Sancerre along with lunch at a sidewalk cafe a Paris.. but for today, a Diet Root Beer will have to do as I have a conference call coming up shortly...  Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Quick Pork Chops with Green Olives and Lemon

This was a super quick and easy weeknight meal that earned me a "wow what's the special occaison!?" from John when we sat down to eat on the back patio... definitely the best of both worlds.  Inexpensive, simple meals don't have to involve boring boneless chicken breasts OR pasta with jarred sauce, though we love both of those in moderation as well.

The ticket to this recipe is two good quality ingredients.  1) Local, organic thick cut pork chops and 2) preserved lemon.  Both could be found at your Whole Foods or specialty shop.  I'll get on my soapbox for a quick minute to stress the local, organic pork factor here.  Whole Foods has a great new color coding system that helps you understand exactly how local and how natural your options are.  As the butcher explained to me, happy pork is tasty pork (literally the muscles develop differently and the meat is more tender) and its worth a few extra dollars.  To put it this way, I got two beautiful thick cut chops for $8.00 which is frankly what you pay for a frozen pizza these days... 


2 pork chops on the bone
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced/grated
3/4 cup dry white wine
Skin of 1 preserved lemon, chopped
1/2 cup green olives with pits, use a pairing knife to slice the meat off around the pit
1 teaspoon total of fresh rosemary and/or fresh thyme
1 heaping cup of cherry tomatoes

(Confession... I didn't have preserved lemons in this case but I just happened to find olives with essentialy pickled lemon slices mixed in when perusing the olive bar at Whole Foods... I cut them into tiny pieces and they worked perfectly.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Let the pork chops come to room temperature for 10-15 minutes and then season with kosher salt and black pepper on both sides.  Season also with some sugar on both sides.  This helps the chops develop a beautifully caramelized crust. 

Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a saute pan oven medium-high heat.  Brown the chops of both sides, 3 minutes per side.  Toss the garlic and half of the herbs into the pan around the pork and give it a little shuffle around for 1 minute. Pour the wine over the chops and add half of the lemon and olives to the pan as well. 

Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan with a lid (or a cookie sheet works too), and simmer until the pork is tender (8-10 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 150 degrees).  Meanwhile, toss the whole cherry or grape tomatoes with one tablespoon of olive oil, the remaining half of the chopped herbs and some salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven on a cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes or until wilted and starting to burst.

Serve the pork chops with the pan juices spooned over the top and the extra lemon and olives.  Scoop some of the tomatoes onto the side.  The tang of the lemon and the brininess of the olives makes the dish feel really light and fresh.  The pork has a great crust and juicy interior with lots of great flavor from being cooked on the bone.  We paired this dish with a Rosenblum Zinfandel from California which was lovely.  (They say Zinfandel works well with grilled meats...)  A nice little Thursday dinner at home for under 30 minutes!