Wordless Wednesday: Apple Picking

A couple of weekends ago I spent a lovely day apple picking with friends in Saint-Hilaire at the Verger Petits et Fils. The first half of the day was cold and wet, perfect timing for a crepe lunch and a cider tasting. To bad the sky was so grey: you cannot see the autumn leaves at their most colorful. I do love the shot from the restaurant window however.

But the sun came out to play in the afternoon just as we hit the orchard. My friend Yan got the awesome pics. Come join us on the tractor ride with this tantalizing visual tour as we picked some Empires, Cortlands, McIntosh and Spartans. Recipes to come…at some point!

Photo by Yan Giasson (Nagi)

Photo by Yan Giasson (Nagi)

Photo by Yan Giasson (Nagi)

Photo by Yan Giasson (Nagi)

5 Star Makeover: Tarte Tatin with Sage, Vanilla and Clove Infused Butter

This month’s theme for the 5 Star Makeover is quite seasonal: Apples. With such an easily adaptable ingredient to field of options was pretty wide open. But I decided finally to go for a very classical dish, a wonderful French apple pie cooked in a luscious caramel sauce. It is a very sophisticated tasting pie which consists of 3 ingredients in profusion: lots of butter, lots of sugar and lots of apples.

It may not be the absolutely prettiest pie in the world but the taste is really gourmet. The first time I had a Tarte Tatin was at a lovely French restaurant in Montreal called Tonnerre de Brest. This charming true french bistro serves outstanding French classics and the small place is true to a real bistro like you find in France. I believe it was my first visit that I ordered this dessert. I was blown away and conquered for ever. If I see it on a menu I always get it. I added an interesting little twist to my version. I infused my butter with an interesting combination of sage, cloves and vanilla. The notes of this infusion was beautifully subtle and very welcomed.

I love the folkloric tale recounting the origin of this pie. The Tarte Tatin was first created by accident in a French Inn, in the 1880s. The hotel was run by the two Tatin  sisters. Supposedly one of the sister was work in the kitchen preparing meals for the customers. She started to make a traditional apple pie but left the apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long. In an attempt to save the pie, she tried to rescue the dish by putting the pastry base on top of the pan of apples and baking it in the whole pan in the oven. She then served the pie by flipping it onto a plate. Another version to the story I heard is that when taking the pie out of the oven the sister would have dropped it on the floor and she tried to save it by slipping it onto a plate and serving it upside down. Either story had the same result: the Tarte Tatin was a success.

Ξ Tarte Tatin with Sage, Vanilla and Clove Infused Butter Ξ

8 to 10 firm apples: a mixture of sweet and acidic varieties. I used Fuji and Gala.
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, slightly soft
4 cloves (1/4 tsp rounded, ground)
8 sage leaves (2/3 tsp dried)
vanilla bean, 2 inch segment
1 cup sugar
8 ounces (half a box) puff pastry

1. In a small sauce pan heat the butter over medium heat. When the butter is frothing and bubbly, turn heat to low, halve a 2 inch segment of vanilla bean and scrape the beans into the butter, then add 4 cloves and 8 sage leaves. Heat for five minutes, stirring occasionally, then off the heat and set aside to steep. Strain the infused butter.

2. While your butter is infusing, peel, core and halve lengthwise the apples.

3. Preheat the oven to 400F. Pour the butter in a cold large skillet. Make sure to cover the bottom and sides of the skillet. Sprinkle the sugar on the top and shake to ensure it is evenly distributed. Arrange the apples standing on their sides, in concentric circles, embedding them in the butter/sugar mix. Pack the apples in as tight as you can.

4. Turn the burner on med-high and cook the apples. It will take 10 to 20 minutes. I like to turn them half way if the piece  are still solid. As the apples cook, the sugar will turn to a caramel as well. Keep an eye on the pan, ideally you want a rich deep toffee color.

5. Roll out the puff pastry into a disc 1 inch wider than the rim of the pan. When the apples are ready, drop the disc of pastry onto the apples and let the edges hang over the sides of the pan. Place the pan in a preheated oven and bake for fifteen minutes, or until the pastry is nicely browned.

 

6. Remove from oven and let it rest for 5 minute. Then place an inverted plate, slightly bigger than the pan, over the top. Hold with one hand firmly the plate and grip the handle with a cloth firmly with the other hand. Quickly flip the skillet over so the plate is underneath. Lower the plate and pan onto a steady surface, pause a moment, and then lift off the pan. Serve warm.

hosted by 5 Star Foodie & Lazaro Cooks!

Velata Chocolate Fondue and electrical Warmers

OK how many of you like chocolate? How about chocolate fondue with nice ripe fruits? This is such a simple and wonderful alternative after a meal instead of a heavy dessert.

It can be a pain though to go hunting for those tea light candles, set up the fondue kit, melt your chocolate without burning it, pouring it into the fondue dish, etc. That is when I change my mind because suddenly it feels like too much trouble. Well someone came up with a really neat idea and I was asked to review this great new chocolate fondue product: the Velata fondue warmer.

What makes this fondue warmer different? It is electric! Yep, you plug it into the wall outlet and turn on with the dimmer switch a 25 watt light bulb. The heat generated by the light bulb is ideal to keep your chocolate melted and the heat put out is consistent so you can’t overheat and cook the chocolate. When you are done turn off the light bulb and unplug.

I also received with the warmer two Belgium chocolate pouches. These are designed to go in the microwave and then be poured out by the spout into the silicone. Just put the cap back on for any unused portion. The chocolates come in 4 different flavors: milk chocolate, white chocolate, dark chocolate and caramel milk chocolate.

This is a totally innovative idea, but actually my favorite part is the silicone dish. Silicone is a great material that gently diffuses heat evenly. Silicone goes in the microwave and the dishwasher for easy preparation and clean-up. Although sturdy, the dish is flexible too. After enjoying our fondue I simply placed the dish in the fridge and let the chocolate harden. Then I bent the dish a bit and I could pop out the chocolate in a solid block to store for reuse (or just eat it like a chocolate bar).

   

We went with a more eclectic choice of fruits and goodies to dip: with cactus pears, peaches, bananas and marshmallows. I so would do the cactus pears again! And what do you think of the cute mousse(!?!?) my friend Raquel made with the marshmallow lol? I like the concept of the pouches, but honestly I was not a fan of the chocolate. They were overly sweet and did not taste like fine chocolate. I did not use the whole pouch so the next day I cut up the pouch to take a look: the chocolate was unusually brittle.

 

When using the chocolate pouches alone in the dish you will find the consistency quite thick. If you want to thin it out add a bit of milk or cream like you would with a homemade chocolate fondue recipe. I could pass on the chocolate pouches but do love the fondue warmer a lot and am so happy to add it to my kitchen appliance arsenal.

Peachlove: Peaches Swimming in Red Wine

It’s summer and it is a hot one! I take a dive in a pool any chance I get. Everyone should go swimming. Even our food! Even peaches! They have been hot and sweating too on a branch in the sun for a while. Give then an inebriated break!

Some fruits can be paired quite well with wine, even red ones. In the case of peaches try coupling them with a Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Pinot Noir. This is the dessert version of a Sangria! So simple yet such a sophisticated taste.

Ξ Peaches Swimming in Red Wine Ξ

Per person…

1 ripe peach, sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup red wine
A pinch of a powdered spice of your choice, such as cardamon, star anise, cinnamon (optional)

Using a slotted spoon, place peach, one at a time, in boiling water for about 20 seconds. Remove and place in iced water. The skin will easily peel off with a small sharp knife. Pit and cut peach into slices. Toss the peach slices with the sugar and a spice if you are using one. I tried a pinch of cinnamon. Place the slices in a wine glass or dessert dish and pour red wine over the sliced peaches until almost covered.

August is #peachlove month!

Please join in on the #peachlove fun by linking up any peach recipe from the month of August 2012. Don’t forget to link back to this post, so that your readers know to come stop by the #peachlove event! The twitter hashtag is #peachlove 🙂

5 Star Makeover: Apples With Beet Hummus and Mint Yogurt Sauce

OK you caught me, I lied! In my last post I said the next thing I would publish would be the raclette dinner party but, oops, I did not realize it was 5 Star Makeover time. So here is my February entry with BEETS as the theme. Raclette coming up next post!

Beets are such an underused vegetable. I actually really like them but I never buy beets. A lot of people fear them. Because of the color? Because of the earthy taste the older ones may have? Actually a fresh beet is quite sweet. One type of beet, the sugar beet, is processed into refined sugar and the sugar produced represents 10% of the Canadian sugar market. For this challenge I really wanted to play up the sweet factor and make the deep red/purple color shine.

hosted by 5 Star Foodie & Lazaro Cooks!

Ξ Apples With Beet Hummus and Mint Yogurt Sauce Ξ

My creation was inspired by this staking recipe on a raw food recipes site…this is not a raw recipe though as the beets are cooked. My stack composition is with yellow apples, a Beet Hummus posted by Elise on Simply Recipes and a Mint Yogurt Sauce  recipe. I removed all savory elements from the original recipes and I added sweet flavors. I really enjoyed this unique dish and its refreshing taste. I just don’t know if I would serve it as appetizer or as a dessert???

Cooking Beets: cut off any tops, scrub the roots clean, and peel once they have been cooked and cooled. In my opinion boiling is the worst way and roasting is the best. To roast, wrap them in aluminum foil and put on a baking tray in the oven.  Cook them for 30-60 minutes on 400F, or until they can be easily pierced with a knife. Then there is the lazy way: place whole in a dish, pierce the skin and add 2 tablespoons of water. Cook on high for 9 to 12 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before cooling and peeling. Tip for hand stains: Clean any beet juice from your hands with a little lemon juice and soap.

Beet Hummus Recipe

  • 1/2 pound cooked beets, cubed
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 2 tbsp brow sugar
  • 1/3 tsp of ground cardamom
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • dash of sea salt

Place all ingredients in a food processor (or blender) and pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings and ingredients as desired. Chill and store in the refrigerator. Makes 2 cups.

Mint Yogurt Sauce

  • 1/2 cup fresh mint
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 mango
  • 1/2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1/2 cup of plain yogurt
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • dash of sea salt

Make the mint yogurt sauce by blending the mint, cilantro, mango, lime juice, yogurt, honey and salt until smooth.

Mint Yogurt Sauce

Assembly

Slice 2 yellow apples about 1/8 in and brush with lime juice. Begin with one slice of apple. Top with 2 teaspoons of beet hummus. Top with another slice of apple. Top that with 2 more teaspoons of beet hummus and then a third slice of apple. Place a generous spoonful of mint yogurt sauce on the plate for each stack. Place the stacks on top. Place a small spoonful of the mint yogurt sauce on top of the third apple. Garnish with chopped mint and serve. Makes 6 portions.

Firnee: Afghan Cardamom Pudding and a Sofa Makeover

Have you ever ordered a pudding for dessert in a Persian, Middle Eastern or Indian restaurant? I bet if you have you were quite surprised the first time. It is nothing like the thick, very sweet, creamy pudding we are familiar with. It is much lighter in the creamy department, usually a lot less sweet, it may have a stiffer consistency and flavors can include rose water (Gulabjal ), pistachio or saffron. To the North American palette it is usually a big hit or a big miss. These puddings take on a perfumed quality. Personally I love it and it has way less calories the instant pudding.

I came across this Cardamom flavored pudding on a site that associated it with Indian cuisine. Actually this particular recipe is referred to as an Afghan recipe, called Firnee, but you will find very similar versions in the Indian cuisine (called Phirni or Kheer, made with added rice), Pakistani, Persian or the various Arab cuisines.

Traditionally Firnee is topped wit pistachios but let’s throw caution to the wind and top it with fruit, in this case strawberries.

Ξ Firnee – Cardamom Pudding Ξ
adapted from Sunset

Ingredients:

5 cardamom pods
4 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
10 strawberries
lemon juice and a bit of sugar

Directions:

Crack cardamom pods gently with a rolling pin. Combine with 4 cups milk in a pan; stir occasionally over medium-high heat until milk is boiling, 9 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl mix sugar, the cornstarch, and the ground cardamom. Stir in remaining 1/4 cup milk. When the milk in pan is boiling, remove from heat and gradually whisk in cornstarch mixture. Return to medium-low heat and stir just until mixture comes to a boil, 3 to 7 minutes.

Pour through a fine strainer set over a bowl; discard residue. Ladle pudding into 6 small bowls or ramekins. Let cool about 10 minutes, then cover and chill until cold and set, at least 1 1/2 hours.

Chop strawberries into small pieces. Place strawberries in a bowl and add a bit of lemon and sugar to them. Mix, cover and chill. Drain the strawberries  if there is liquid. Just before serving, spoon strawberries evenly over puddings.

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And see how the strawberries match my new couch slipcover? I know very weird segway! But I was asked by the fabulous people at Wayfair to pick an item for review. And they sell everything…and I mean EVERYTHING, yes they even sell kitchen sinks.

So usually I would pick something kitchen related like a small appliance or something but I opted for a sofa slipcover because my 14 year old couch is in a pathetic state. Well the cushions are as I would need to replace the seating foam and have them upholstered in a different material since the current material is ripped.

Partial view of my couch with a young Sati – pic is 3-4 years old

A new couch is not in the financial cards right now and this couch has a lot of significance for me: it is the first big piece of furniture I ever bought as I was planing to move out of my parent’s house. This couch represents my independence. Yeah yeah I am being to sentimental. Anyways I decided to get the  Sure Fit Stretch Sullivan Sofa Slipcover T-Cushion to give my sofa a revamped look for the next little bit it still has to live out.

The product advert pic but same shape as my couch

Now I knew this was going to be a bit of a challenge because I have what is called a T-cushion couch and the back support is pillows which I move all the time. I thought this model would mold well enough to my couch and I could stuff away the extra back material easy enough. It was a bit of a puzzle to put on but eventually I got it. I really like the claret color and the pattern, a real instant decor makeover for the living room. It’s like a stretch velour.

Now that I have been using the slip cover for a while I have mixed feeling about it. This is really not a big deal but every so often you do have to readjust the seems and bit. Overall I am really happy with the functionality. My big problem – and this is not the product’s fault – is that the cover is a cat hair magnet and the hairs gets really tangled up in the weave of the cover making hard to keep fur free. So if you have been on the fence about getting a sofa slipcover I say go for it with the Sure Fit collection…unless you have a furry pet that goes on your furniture.

Exotic Dragon Fruit Flan

Funny how a recipe can travel around the world and take different shapes, take the crême caramel for example. Of European origin, crême caramel was found in most European restaurant’s menus during the 20th century. Sometimes a crême caramel is called a flan.

But the word flan comes actually from an Old German word “flado” meaning cake and around most of the world a flan refers to a tart with a crust and a egg custard filling…except in Latin countries and North America. Sometimes a flan is called a crême caramel. Confused? Wait I am not done yet!

Now let’s look at the Pitaya, also called Dragon Fruit. I had always assumed it was an Asian fruit. After all when it arrived in the markets I frequented it was always in Asian markets or in the pile of Asian fruits at the super market and the name Dragon Fruit kind of screams Asia. Well it turns out the Pitaya is actually native to Mexico and the South and Central Americas. It was only later that they started cultivating Pitayas in Asia which is were it was re-baptized Dragon Fruit.

When I was contacted by the wonderful people at Pitaya Plus for a review I was a little confused as to the big focus on Nicaragua and not Asia. Now I now why! The fruit is in fact native to them. This company offers a unique selection of products made from the Pitaya, or as they would say the Superfruit. The company offers juices, smoothies and dried Pitaya. I think these fruit ‘chips’ are really cool and I love the crispness to it. It is leathery like any dried fruit but there is a distinctive crackle when you take a bite. The juice is not a sweet one but it is refreshing as it is also mixed with coconut water and a touch of lemon. One bottle contains 16% of your daily dietary fiber recommendation!

When the dragon fruit made its first appearance in my local markets it was a ridiculous 8.99$ per fruit so I did not go exploring. I think my first taste was of a catered platter at a function I attended. I never bothered to look into this fruit, just admired the exotic look from afar. Now the store sells them for 2.99$ a fruit. And that is a good thing as it turns out Pitayas are very good for you.

Pitayas from Central America are characterized by a red flesh (unlike the white fleshed Asian Pitayas) and are just brimming with nutrients. Each fruit is packed with natural fiber, protein, vitamin C, antioxidants and Omega-3s. Pitaya has also been known to lower and stabilize blood glucose levels for people who suffer from Type-2 diabetes, while also decreasing levels of bad cholesterol. And now for some odd facts: did you know Pitayas are one of only a few fruits that grow from a cactus, and are the only fruits in the world pollinated by bats?

As of today Pitaya Plus offers the only certified organic pitaya on the planet! Pitaya Plus is also a great story of a social mission, social responsibility and empowerment. The company supports the community by hiring and working one on one with local farmers and single mothers which are all hired above minimum wage. The plant factory is solar powered, a renewable energy. The company is clear in specifying they are not a charity, they just want create something long lasting with benefits for everyone involved. Brava!

Dried Pitaya ‘chip’

I really wracked my brain when trying to come up with a recipe to test out the juice. I spent a lot of time surfing the net for inspiration. That is when I fell on flans. A Dragon Fruit Flan would definitely be out of the ordinary yet I saw it as a perfect marriage of a Latin fruit and a Latin dessert.

 

Ξ Dragon Fruit Flan Ξ

Ingredients

1/2 cup water
3/4 cup  sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/3 cup Pitaya Plus Super Juice
1/2 cup  milk

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Put water and sugar in a pan over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil. Leave it on the flame until the mixture turns into a nice dark caramel color. Do not stir the pan while boiling. Immediately pour into ramekins.
  3. While the caramel is cooking, whisk eggs and sugar together, than add the juice and milk and mix thoroughly. Pour into ramekins over the caramel.
  4. Place ramekins in a large baking dish and fill with hot water 3/4 of the way up the edge of the ramequins . Bake for 45 minutes in the water bath until the flan is set and a knife comes out clean. Allow it to cool in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
  5. Prior to flipping ramekin, run a knife along the sides of  flan to loosen it. Hold your deep plate tight to the ramekins and  flip.

Note the recipe make either 4 small ramekins or you can make one flan with a souffle dish, about 8 in across, like it did. In that case cooking time will be around 65-75 min approximately.

I always had a fear and a need to make a flan. As silly as it sounds single portion crême caramels turn me off but a cake sized Latin flan I adore. In a way by making this recipe I was facing my flan fears because it is very delicate in texture. And my flip was not exactly perfect as some sides broke off a little. The taste however was out of this world. My caramel was intense and a little overpowering but when I took a bite of the flan without the caramel I enjoyed a very light taste with a very subtle hint of Pitaya. It was a nice change from the usual cake or pie.