Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ali's Birthday Apple Tart

This past week was the first week of Spring. Officially, Saturday, March 20th was day one, but San Francisco got a jump on the action with a Thursday and Friday in the sunny 70s. I saw berries and plums making their way into the farmers' market, but decided to have one last go-around with the winter fare. I bought six Fuji apples and two bunches of organic french-style carrots, and told Ali to pick between carrot cake and apple pie for her birthday.

Apple Pie it was!

Or at least, Apple Tart.

I culled recipes but couldn't find anything that completely satisfied my aims, so I ended up combining several. The crust was adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Sweet Tart Dough with Nuts (Baking). I made a basic composite caramel filling, and arranged the apples according to Sarah Magid's Fuji Apple Tart (Organic and Chic).


- 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup finely ground almonds
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 9 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (cut into small pieces)
- 1 large egg yolk

Combine dry ingredients (including almonds) together in a food processor. Add butter pieces and pulse until butter is coarsely cut in. Stir or whisk egg yolk in a separate bowl; add slowly, pulsing after each addition until dough begins to stick together. Remove from food processor; knead several times to combine all dry ingredients, and press into buttered pan (no need for a rolling pin with this moist dough). Freeze for a half hour prior to baking.


- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened, cut into pieces)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Extra chopped almonds (optional)

Heat the sugar in a sauce pan over medium-high heat, without stirring. Heat until sugar begins to dissolve and turn amber in color; swirl in pan to prevent burning. Continue to heat until sugar begins to boil and bubble up. Reduce heat to medium, and add in cream. Stir cream until smooth, and add in butter and vanilla. Continue to stir until butter is melted and caramel is smooth. Add chopped nuts (optional. Remove from heat and set aside in a second heat-proof bowl to cool (about 20 minutes).


- 4 medium apples (granny smith are more traditional for pie, but Fuji are sweeter and my favorite)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla

Core and thinly slice apples (about 24 slices per apple). Toss together with sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Let apple slices marinate for 10-15 minutes before arranging.


Spread caramel in a thin layer over tart crust. Arrange one row of overlapping apple slices (using the largest slices) around the edge of tart (2-3 slices deep).

Use the smaller slices to create a second concentric circle. Use half-slices to create a "rose" shape in the center. Fold down any remaining dough over the apples on the circumference of the tart. Bake for about 40-50 minutes, until apple edges have browned. Remove, cool, serve with vanilla ice-cream and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Healthy Chicken Parm

I hardly ever cook meat for myself, partially because of the expense and hassle (more expense now that I'm trying to go toward organic meats and dairy), but mostly because I'm just as happy without it. Yet when cooking with or for somebody else, it's sometimes nice to go with a more traditional main-course protein.

Enter Chicken Parm, a classic favorite. I like to make a healthy version, baked in the oven without breading or frying. I also make my own tomato sauce, though I'll admit, it might not take me 2 hours to prepare a meal if I took a store-bought shortcut here or there.

- 3 organic chicken breasts
- 1-2 cups grated Parmesan
- 1/4 cup grated Fontina (optional)

- 5 ripe tomatoes on the vine
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon sugar

To make the sauce:
Chop or dice tomatoes and combine in a medium saucepan with olive oil. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cover for 10-15 minutes. Cut one clove of garlic into quarters; dice second clove. Add both cloves of garlic and 2 bay leaves to the sauce. Continue to simmer, covered, for another 10-15 minutes. Remove lid and stir in 1 tsp. sugar. Continue to simmer, uncovered, until thickened (about another 10-15min). Remove garlic quarters and bay leaves before serving.

To make the chicken:
On my mother's advice, I like to pan-fry chicken briefly on each side before baking in order to seal in the moisture, which can otherwise leach out into the baking pan. Heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan. Sear chicken breasts over medium-high/high heat for about 4-5 minutes on each side. Place seared chicken in a glass baking dish and cover with tomato sauce. Sprinkle with the cheese blend, leaving a handful aside for the last 5 minutes. Bake on 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Sprinkle last handful of cheese and bake for 5 more minutes. Remove, cool, and serve.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sweet Potato Spinach Quinoa

My fall-back meal after a day of work used to be a Greek-inspired pasta dish of whole-wheat penne; sauteed bell peppers, zucchini and broccoli; and feta cheese. However, with my discovery of quinoa last year, I've taken to throwing whatever produce I have into a one-stop-pot for a protein-rich grain dish.

Last week I bought a sweet potato and a bunch of organic spinach from the Japanese grocery store by my bus stop. Tossed it all in a boiling pot with 1 cup of mixed red and white quinoa and 1/2 cup of Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend (primarily Israeli couscous), and voila! Dinner plus three rounds of leftovers.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Waterfalls and Sandwiches

We headed up to Sonoma County over President's Day weekend and stopped on our way back down to the city to do the 8.5mile hike to Alamere Falls. A beautiful walk into the Bay Area fog... coming out into sunshine along the coastline... ending in a 30ft cascade down into the Pacific.

The hike was beautiful and exactly the sort of experience that makes me so happy to live in California.

However, we began walking at 12:00pm without having lunch or packing food, and our round-trip time was just about four hours.

As I tend to get cranky without regular food intake, the last hour or so got me pretty antsy.

For some reason, as my hunger grew, my mind kept focusing in on this hypothetical sandwich:


I promised my stomach that if it would leave me in peace until the hike's completion, I would reward it with this sandwich as soon as humanly possible. "As soon as humanly possible" ended up being several weeks later, but so goes the follow-through on promises made under duress.

The cheese (Cowgirl Creamery (?) aged white cheddar) and honey (Marshall Farms Beekepers Blend) came from the weekend Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building, which is more like a gourmet food festival than any market I've ever seen.

And it all came together with my second attempt at home-baked bread: whole wheat loaf. Served with a side salad of mixed greens, tangerine, cranberries, and balsamic vinaigrette.

Although, after all 8.5 miles of sandwich and freshly-baked bread, my favorite result from the adventure was apple slice, spread with thick honey, topped with local aged cheese.