Friday, December 28, 2012

Soufflé? Cake? No matter -- it's all about the chocolate

Chef Justin Haifley of The Tavern Kitchen and Bar, who created this recipe, calls it a soufflé. I think it's more of a lava cake. But no matter the label, this is a special dessert and a treat for chocolate lovers.

I profiled Haifley in a recent issue of St. Louis Homes and Lifestyles magazine, and he graciously allowed me to share one of his recipes here. I made a few changes -- he bakes the soufflés in shallow cast-iron mini servers, while I used individual soufflé dishes and glass ramekins; he tops the dessert with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, chopped peanuts, multicolored sprinkles and a maraschino cherry, while I opted for vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce.

This recipe is all about the chocolate, so don't skimp on quality. You can buy small discs of good chocolate or buy it by the block and cut it into small pieces before adding it to the saucepan.

This dessert needs to be mixed and baked just before it is served, so have all the ingredients measured and ready to go before your guests arrive. You won't mind the flurry of last-minute effort when you taste the result.

Yield: 4 to 6 generous servings

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
8 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (about 58 percent cocoa content)
4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
Garnishes, such as ice cream, sweetened whipped cream, multicolored sprinkles, finely chopped peanuts, maraschino cherries, caramel sauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease four shallow 11-ounce cast-iron casseroles or six 8-ounce ceramic ramekins.

In a small bowl, stir together sugars and cornstarch. Set aside.

Melt butter and chocolate in a large saucepan over low heat, whisking constantly until melted. Add sugar mixture; cook, whisking constantly, until shiny and smooth. Remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly.

Lightly beat eggs and egg yolks; whisk into chocolate mixture until well combined. Divide among baking dishes.

Bake until the top and sides are set but the middle is still runny, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately, topped with your choice of garnishes.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Potato soup will put a smile on your mug

The idea for this soup originated at my dentist's office -- not because I had a toothache (I was there for a checkup), but because the receptionist had a ton of leftover mashed potatoes and wanted an idea for using them.

I suggested that she thin the mashed potatoes with chicken broth or milk to make a soup, then top each serving with bacon, chives, cheddar cheese and sour cream.

It sounded good, but I didn't have any leftover mashed potatoes. I did, however, have baking potatoes in the pantry. I cooked them in the microwave and soon enough, I had soup.

If you have leftover ham, you can use it instead of the bacon in this recipe. Sauté the onion in a little butter or olive oil, and stir in the chopped ham just before you take the soup off the heat. Smoked sausage, such as kielbasa, also would be delicious. Cut it into small pieces and sauté until browned, then stir into the hot soup. Or leave out the meat and stir in blanched broccoli and shredded cheese to make broccoli-cheese-potato soup.

Yield: 6 servings

2 large baking potatoes
2 thick or 3 thin slices bacon, diced
1 medium onion, minced
1 quart chicken stock 
1/2 cup milk
Ground black pepper
Chopped parsley, for optional garnish
Snipped chives, for optional garnish
Finely sliced green onions, for optional garnish
Shredded cheddar cheese, for optional garnish
Sour cream, for optional garnish

Bake potatoes in the oven or microwave. When cool enough to handle, cut in half lengthwise. Remove and discard potato skins. Cut potatoes into 2-inch chunks.

Cook bacon over medium-high heat in a large nonstick saucepan or medium stockpot until crispy. Remove from heat. Remove bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels, then set aside. Remove all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat from the pan.

Return the pan to medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté until it is tender and starts to brown. Stir in stock; bring to a simmer. Stir in cooked potatoes. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Using an immersion blender or working in batches with a counter top blender, pureé the soup. Place over medium-high heat and return to a simmer. Stir in milk and salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, ladle into bowls or mugs. Top each serving with bacon and your choice of garnishes: ground black pepper, parsley, chives, green onions, cheese, sour cream.

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

The best brownie recipe -- bar none

The best brownies are made with cocoa powder, not chocolate.

Yes, cocoa powder. Hands down, those brownies are moister and more chocolaty than brownies made with melted chocolate.

As a bonus, they're also easier to make. You melt the butter on the stove or in the microwave, then stir in the other ingredients. Just make sure that everything is measured and lined up on the counter, because once you begin to mix the batter, the brownies will be ready to go into the oven in about a minute. And speaking of measuring, I weigh as many ingredients as possible on my digital kitchen scale for accuracy and ease.

Of course, high quality ingredients make the best brownies. Instead of supermarket cocoa powders, I like Penzey's. It's higher in fat than mass-market brands, and I think you'll agree that it's also much more flavorful.

You can make the basic recipe, try one of my variations or create your own. I've made brownies with matzo meal instead of flour for Passover and with coconut oil instead of butter for someone who avoids dairy products. I've flavored the brownies with coffee, mint and coconut, and I've stirred in chocolate chips, chunks of dark chocolate, white chocolate and nuts. If you love peanut butter, you could use miniature peanut butter cups. If you're a fan of chocolate-covered cherries, you could add chunks of candied cherries. As long as the additional ingredients match well with chocolate, I don't think you can go wrong.

Yield: 16 to 32 brownies

3/4 cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter  
2/3 cup (2 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 2/3 cup (11 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) all-purpose or white whole wheat flour
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, or semisweet chocolate chips
Chocolate Glaze, optional (see variations)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. To remove the baked brownies easily, line the bottom and two sides of an 8-by-8-inch metal baking pan with a strip of aluminum foil, leaving an overhang to use as a handle. Grease the foil and the remaining two sides of the pan.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat or in a large glass bowl in the microwave. Stir occasionally, and remove from the heat or the microwave as soon as the butter melts completely. With a large whisk, mix in the cocoa powder until smooth.

Whisk in sugar and salt. Add eggs and vanilla and whisk until combined. Add flour; mix in with a rubber or silicone spatula just until incorporated. With the spatula, mix in the chocolate. Batter will be thick.

Transfer to the baking pan, spreading the batter to the edges. Bake just until a toothpick comes out with a few clinging crumbs, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

If desired, spread Chocolate Glaze over cooled brownies. Let set completely before cutting into squares. (Cut plain brownies into 16 squares; embellished brownies into smaller servings.)


Glazed Brownies: Sift 1 cup powdered sugar and 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder into a small bowl. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla and up to 3 tablespoons water to make a spreadable glaze. For best results, spread the glaze with a small offset spatula.
Mint Brownies: Add 1 teaspoon natural mint extract to the batter along with the vanilla and eggs. Make the glaze with mint extract instead of vanilla. Spread glaze over brownies, then sprinkle immediately with crushed candy canes.
Mocha Brownies: Add 2 teaspoons coffee extract along with the vanilla or add 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder along with the flour. Make the glaze with cooled strong coffee instead of water, adding coffee extract as desired for a stronger mocha flavor. Garnish each brownie with a chocolate-covered espresso bean.
Coconut Brownies: Substitute coconut oil for the butter. (Virgin coconut oil, as opposed to refined coconut oil, will contribute a bit of coconut flavor.) Add 1/3 cup loosely packed sweetened flaked coconut to the batter along with the chocolate chips. Glaze, then sprinkle with more coconut.
Nutty Brownies: Add 1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans or walnuts to the batter along with the chocolate chips. If desired, glaze the cooled brownies, then garnish with more nuts.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Quick supper starts with flavor-packed andouille sausage

If you're looking for ideas for a quick supper, start with your freezer. That's where I found the main ingredients in this recipe. I chopped, stirred, simmered and sautéed -- and within 20 minutes, our meal was on the table.

I've found that smoked andouille sausage contains all the seasonings this dish needs. If you like things hot, however, add a shake of pepper flakes or a dash of cayenne. I like the chicken andouille sold at Trader Joe's, but you can find tasty varieties elsewhere. I had used two of the four links in the package for another meal, then wrapped and froze the leftovers. A quick zap in the microwave and the sausage was thawed enough to slice and toss into the skillet.

I also had a bag of frozen okra, which I had bought on a whim. I've found that brand makes a big difference with frozen vegetables. Some are watery, with an unpleasant texture and little flavor. I used Whole Food's house brand, 365. The okra was as good as a frozen vegetable could be -- not quite the same as fresh, but tasty and with nice texture.

I also had frozen brown rice on hand. This is a great time saver. It zaps in 3 minutes, as opposed to cooking regular brown rice for 45 minutes. I always have a package or two in the freezer.

Finally, I poured in 1/4 cup of beer, left in the can after I used 10 ounces in a recipe for brisket that I was making for a future meal. Leave the beer out if you wish, or pop a can or bottle open, splash some into the skillet, and drink the rest.

Yield: 2 servings (can be doubled)

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1 rib celery, chopped
2 links smoked chicken andouille sausage (about 6 ounces total)
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup beer, optional
1 cup frozen sliced okra
Hot cooked rice

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery; cook until they begin to soften. As they cook, slice each sausage lengthwise into quarters, then cut the quarters into 1/2-inch chucks. Add to the skillet and cook, stirring, until browned on all sides.

Add tomatoes and their juice, beer (if using) and okra. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until okra is cooked through and the juices have thickened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Ladle over hot cooked rice and serve immediately.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pastry pro shares recipes and hints

Mocha Glazed Macadamia Caramel Tart. Photo by T. Mike Fletcher
Pastry chef Helen Fletcher has a most generous gift for home bakers this holiday season: European Tarts, a book with recipes for 28 tarts plus variations, all of them impressive to look at and easy to make. And while I've tasted only a small sampling, I've tried enough of Helen's desserts over the years to be sure that all are delicious.

The book's two subtitles tell the rest of the story: Pastries Like a Pro, and Divinely Doable Desserts With Little or No Baking.

For 23 years, Helen's Truffes Bakery provided desserts to some of the top restaurants in St. Louis. (It also was open to the public for a short time.) She's closed the bakery but she's still baking, working as the pastry chef for Tony's, a multiple award winner that has been one of the city's top dining destinations for decades.

Over the years, she has perfected recipes that can be made ahead and frozen. Restaurants loved these desserts, because they could thaw and serve just what they needed each night. Home bakers should love them too, because they can prepare dessert days or even weeks before the party.

One reason her recipes work so well is her attention to detail. Measurements are given in weight (ounces and grams) as well as volume. For best results, buy a digital scale and weigh each ingredient before adding it to the recipe. You'll find that you save time as well as ensure accuracy. 

The book also details the culinary terms, ingredients and equipment necessary for success. Pictures of the finished tarts are mouthwatering, and step-by-step directions to making the crusts and other components are posted on her accompanying website,

Helen plans to write five more books, which she will self-publish, as she did this one. (The book is for sale at Kitchen Conservatory and Left Bank Books in St. Louis and through Amazon, which also offers a Kindle version.) Next up is Essential Cakes, the biggest of the series, followed by Small Bites, with recipes for petit fours, American and European cookies, brownies and bars, then Savory Pastries, Cheesecakes and Pastry.

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

For crust:
One 11-inch Plain Press-In Shell, partially baked  (recipe follows)

For filling:
10 ounces macadamia nuts (285 grams)
1 small orange
1 stick unsalted butter (114 grams or 4 ounces)
1/4 cup honey (85 grams or 3 ounces)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar (25 grams or 1 scant ounce)
1/2 cup brown sugar (100 grams or 3 1/2 ounces)
1 tablespoon heavy (40 percent) cream

For mocha glaze:
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon water
1/2 cup heavy (40 percent) cream   
1  tablespoon light (clear) corn syrup
7 ounces good-quality milk chocolate (200 grams), coarsely chopped or sold in discs

Bake the pastry shell and let cool.

To make the filling: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Toast nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet for 9 to 12 minutes (depending upon the size of the nut), until golden brown, stirring once or twice.  Remove from oven. When cool, chop coarsely and set aside.

Grate rind from orange; set rind aside. (Reserve the orange for another use.)

Combine butter, honey, granulated sugar and brown sugar in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil until bubbles cover the entire surface.  Remove from the heat; add the 1 tablespoon cream and grated orange rind.  Stir in the nuts and pour into the pastry shell.  Spread out quickly and evenly.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top is covered with bubbles.  Cool; release from the tart pan. (If necessary, insert a pointed offset spatula between the pan and every five or six scallops of the crust).

To make the glaze: Dissolve the coffee granules in the water.  Combine the 1/2 cup cream, coffee mixture and corn syrup in a saucepan. Heat until steaming, but do not let boil.  Remove from heat and add chocolate.  Let sit for a few minutes, then whisk until smooth. Immediately pour glaze over filling.  Spread out, covering the filling. Refrigerate until glaze sets.

(If making ahead, cover with foil and freeze. Thaw in the refrigerator, covered loosely.)

Recipe adapted from “European Tarts, Divinely Doable Desserts with Little or No Baking” ©Helen S. Fletcher 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Yield: One 11-inch pastry shell

1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour (170 grams or 6 ounces)
1/2 cup sifted cake flour (50 grams or 1 3/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (114 grams or 4 ounces)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (50 grams or 1 3/4 ounces)
1 egg
1 egg yolk

(Step-by-step illustrations are posted here, on the website for European Tarts.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees if baking immediately.

Mixer Method: Combine the flours, baking powder and butter in a mixer bowl. Beat with the paddle attachment until the butter is cut in very finely. Add the sugar; mix briefly.
Add the egg and yolk; mix on medium speed until the dough comes together in a ball.

Food Processor Method: Place the flours and baking powder in the food processor. Process to mix briefly. Place the butter in a circle over the flours. Process until finely cut in. Add the sugar; process briefly. Add the egg and yolk and process until a ball forms.

Spray nonstick cooking spray on the center of the bottom of an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Divide the dough in half. (Each half will weigh 175 grams or 6 ounces.) Divide one piece in half again (85 grams or 3 ounces). Roll one quarter portion of the dough (85 grams or 3 ounces) evenly into a rope. Lay against one half edge of the pan. Repeat with the other quarter portion, overlapping the pieces slightly. Press into the edge of the pan, sealing the two pieces together. Flatten the remaining half portion of dough into a circle. Place it in the bottom of the pan. With the heel of your hand, press the dough outward toward the edge. Continue to work the dough outward with your fingers and lastly, seal the seam. Be sure to seal the seam well where the edge and the bottom meet so the crust does not crack when baked.

Prick the tart bottom with a fork. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes if baking partially or 18 to 22 minutes (until a rich golden brown) if baking fully.

Cool crust; fill and finish as directed.

Recipe adapted from “European Tarts, Divinely Doable Desserts with Little or No Baking” ©Helen S. Fletcher 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tortellini soup from pantry, fridge, freezer

Balsamic vinegar used to be a staple in my kitchen, but in recent years it's fallen out of favor. I think that's because it's become so pervasive as an ingredient that the flavor somehow seemed less special.

When I was making this soup, I had to dig deep in my pantry to unearth the balsamic. It was on the top shelf, behind a few bottles of wine, a big bottle of vanilla and not one but two bottles of sherry vinegar.

My search was worth the effort. Just 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar deepens and melds the flavors in this simple but satisfying soup.

And while I was in the pantry, I grabbed the olive oil, an onion, fresh garlic, a box of chicken stock, a can of tomatoes, a can of garbanzo beans and dried basil and oregano. (In summer, I would have stepped outside and picked them from my herb garden.) The tortellini was in the fridge, and the spinach and leftover pesto was in the freezer.

You can use any type of tortellini or another small stuffed pasta. If you don't have garbanzo beans, substitute cannellini beans or omit them entirely. Shredded cooked chicken would make a good substitution, too.

Yield: 6 servings

1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 quart chicken stock
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2/3 cup canned garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen loose-leaf spinach
1 (10-ounce) package refrigerated tortellini (pesto, mushroom or another variety)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons basil pesto, optional (see note)

Heat oil in a medium nonstick soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook, stirring, until tender. Stir in garlic; cook briefly, then add chicken stock, tomatoes and their juice, basil and oregano. Bring to a simmer.

Remove from heat; purée to desired consistency with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender. Return to heat; add garbanzo beans, then bring to a simmer. Cook until flavors blend and the soup thickens slightly, about 30 minutes.

Increase heat to high; bring soup to a boil. Stir in spinach, tortellini and vinegar; cook until spinach is hot and tortellini is cooked through, about 4 minutes. Stir in pesto, if using, and serve.

Note: I freeze extra pesto in small mounds on a parchment-covered cookie sheet, then transfer the frozen pesto to freezer bags. Frozen pesto doesn't need to be thawed before adding to soups, stews, pasta sauces or other dishes.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A cookie a day ... thanks to 365 recipes

After winning $1 million in the Pillsbury Bake-Off, what's a home cook to do? If you're Anna Ginsberg (who won in 2006 for her Baked Chicken and Spinach Stuffing, made with frozen waffle sticks and syrup), you'll keep on creating recipes.

Ginsberg shares original recipes four or five times a week on her Cookie Madness blog and is the author of a new cookbook, The Daily Cookie: 365 Tempting Treats for the Sweetest Year of Your Life (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $24.99).

Wondering what to bake on Valentine's Day? She suggests Mocha Truffle Brownies. Veteran's Day? Lemon Rosemary Shortbread. July 3, foodie icon M.F.K. Fisher's birthday? Mini Ginger Cookies.

You'll find cookies of almost every description and that appeal to almost everyone. What child wouldn't want to celebrate Dr. Seuss's birthday, March 2, with Green Egg Cookies? (The green "yolks" are frosted balls perched on poached egg-shaped "whites.") Pork and Beans Bars, in honor of National Pork and Beans Day, July 13, might be a harder sell. The 10-ounce can of baked beans with pork contribute an intriguing smoky flavor to the cakey bar cookies, Ginsberg writes.

Dec. 11 calls for these Peanut Butter Oat Chocolate Chunk Cookies. The reason might be a bit of a stretch -- Dec. 11 is the day a monument to the boll weevil was erected in Alabama, and the infestation of those cotton-eating pests prompted farmers to grow peanuts instead -- but the cookies are delicious and easy to make. While most cookies are best fresh from the oven, I thought these tasted even better the next day, when the flavors had time to meld and the peanut butter became more pronounced.

Yield: About 48 cookies

1 cup (4.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup (4.5 ounces) white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cold
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup extra-crunchy peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats (not instant)
7 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into small chunks

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and place a rack in the center. Have ready two ungreased cookie sheets.

Mix both flours, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl and using a handheld electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Gradually add both sugars and beat for 3 minutes or until light. Beat in the peanut butter and vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low and beat in the eggs, beating just until mixed. By hand or using the lowest speed of the mixer, beat in the flour mixture. When the flour is incorporated, stir in the oats and chocolate.

Drop generously rounded tablespoons of dough about 2 1/2 inches apart onto the baking sheets. Bake one sheet at a time for about 13 to 15 minutes, until the edges start to brown and the cookies appear set. Let cool on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Cookbook review, recipe: A taste of India

Indian food is so fragrant and the flavors so complex that making it at home always seemed daunting.

Until now, that is.

Rinku Bhattacharya demystifies and sometimes slightly Westernizes the foods of her homeland in a new cookbook, The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles: Exploring the Cuisine of Eastern India (Hippocrene Books, $18.95 trade paperback).

She takes care to describe the seasonings and other ingredients that make Bengali food taste so special. In fact, the book's name is an homage to panch phoron, a blend of five spices that is the backbone of Bengali cooking.

She explains how to make panch phoron and mentions that the spice blend is sold in most Indian stores. I bought a small package for less than $2 in an Indian grocery just five miles from my home in a St. Louis suburb.

Bhattacharya is a native of Kolkata (previously spelled Calcutta) who spent part of her childhood in Africa. She has lived in the United States for 25 years.

She says in the book that the following recipe put her on the road to writing a cookbook. As she made this dish for her uncle and his English-born wife, her aunt took notes, and Bhattacharya realized that others might be interesting in learning about Indian regional cooking.

Yield: 4 servings

1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil (such as canola)
1 teaspoon panch phoron (see note)
1 teaspoon fresh ginger paste (see note)
3 green chiles, slit lengthwise
1 cup chopped fresh cauliflower
1 large potato, peeled and cut into small wedges
2 red tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shelled and deveined medium shrimp (see note)
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Heat the oil in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat and add panch phoron. When the spices begin crackling, add the ginger paste and green chiles. Stir in the cauliflower and potato. Mix in the tomatoes, turmeric and salt. Cover and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.

Remove the lid. Stir in the shrimp and sour cream and bring to a simmer. Cook until done, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and serve.

Panch Phoron (often written as panch puran), is a spice blend essential to Bengali cooking. Look for it in Indian stores or make it by stirring together equal amounts of whole fennel seeds, cumin seeds, nigella seeds, black mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. In India, cooks use radhuni, a type of celery seed, instead of the fenugreek.
To make ginger paste, look for fresh, young ginger without any fibers. Process the ginger in a blender or wet-dry grinder. (When testing this recipe, I used a bamboo ginger grater that I bought years ago in Chinatown in San Francisco. A rasp-type micrograter is also a good tool for grating small amounts of ginger.)
Although the recipe calls for medium shrimp, the title mentions "baby" shrimp. I used medium shrimp and Westernized the recipe further by increasing the amount to 1 cup.

Adapted from "The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles"

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Apple crumble: easy, adaptable, delicious

My favorite parts of Dutch apple pie are the spiced filling and the sweet streusel topping. Why, then, bother with the bottom crust? This recipe ditches the pastry, saving prep time and calories.

Like most fruit desserts, you can vary this crumble according to the season and what you have in your kitchen -- or in your garden, if you're lucky enough to have a fruit tree or berry bushes.

You can use a combination of fruits, too. For example, add a handful of fresh cranberries to the apples, or replace a few of the apples with pears.

For a nutty topping, add chopped pecans or walnuts to the flour mixture. To make an oat topping, use half a cup of flour along with half a cup of rolled oats.

So many types of apples are in supermarkets that I sometimes have trouble remembering which are good baking apples, which are good eating apples and which are good for both. Fortunately, the New York Apple Association offers a free iPhone and iPad app called Them Apples. There's a web-based chart, too, at

Yield: 8 servings

8 to 10 apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup white whole-wheat or all-purpose flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 dash salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
Vanilla ice cream or heavy cream, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 11-cup baking dish or coat with nonstick spray. Place apples and lemon juice in baking dish; toss to combine. Stir together granulated sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sprinkle evenly over apples, then stir to combine.

Stir together flour, brown sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Cut butter into chunks and add to the bowl. Using a large fork, a pastry blender or your fingers, cut butter into flour mixture until medium crumbs form. Sprinkle evenly over the apples.

Bake on the middle oven rack until the mixture is bubbly and the apples are tender, about 40 minutes. If the top begins to brown before the apples are tender, cover loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil.

Let cool slightly, then spoon into bowls and serve plain or with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream or a drizzle of heavy cream.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Deviled eggs assure potluck popularity

No matter the occasion for a party or potluck, deviled eggs are usually the first food to disappear from the buffet table. That's as true for holiday office parties as it is for summer picnics.

And why not? Deviled eggs are as tasty as they are tidy to eat.

The recipe below is technically a stuffed egg, not a deviled egg, because it doesn't contain cayenne or mustard or another spicy ingredient. Instead, these eggs are flavored with herbs, which add fresh flavors and beautiful flecks of color.

I have three hints for making deviled eggs. The first might surprise you: Use old(er) eggs. Try to buy them at least a week before you hard-cook them. That's because as eggs age, they shrink away from the shell slightly, making them easier to peel. And take your time peeling them. This is not a task that can be rushed. I once read that to peel eggs easily, you can cut them in half and scoop the egg away from the shell. Trust me, that doesn't work. I have discovered, however, that a salad fork can work better than a spoon to separate the egg from the clinging membrane between the white and the shell.

The next hint is to use a potato ricer to mash the yolks. This device forces food through thin holes about the diameter of a grain of rice. (That's how the ricer got its name.) Use a ricer, and your yolks (or mashed potatoes) will be fluffy and free of lumps. No ricer? Use a hand-held potato masher or even a wooden spoon, but be gentle and try not to compact the yolks as you mash them.

Finally, taste as you blend the yolks with the other ingredients. Some herbs are stronger than others, depending upon the time of year and how fresh they are. The amount of salt and vinegar you need will vary with the type of mayonnaise you use. I try to keep Duke's Mayonnaise on hand. This Southern brand, with a flavor close to homemade, migrated north in recent years. If your market carries it, give it a try.

Yield: 36 servings

18 large eggs
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh herbs (such as dill, parsley and chives), plus more for garnish
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
Salt, optional

Place eggs in a single layer in a large pot. Cover with water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as the water boils, cover the pan and remove from heat. Set the timer for 17 minutes.

Have ready a big bowl of ice water. As soon as the timer goes off, transfer the eggs to the ice water. Let sit until cold.

Roll eggs gently on the counter to crack the shell, then peel. Eggs are generally easier to peel under running water and if you start with the wider end.

Cut peeled eggs in half lengthwise; pop out the yolks. Arrange the whites  on a dish or platter. Force yolks through a ricer into a large bowl. (If you do not have a ricer, mash with a potato masher or a wooden spoon.) Stir mayonnaise, herbs and vinegar into yolks. Taste; add salt and more herbs and vinegar if desired.

Spoon yolk mixture into egg halves or, for a prettier presentation, use a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. To garnish, sprinkle with herbs.

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