Thursday, March 6, 2014

Pear and almond tart

Pear and Almond Tart
This is truly a French classic tart that is so delicate and delicious it is really hard not to eat the whole thing.  Sometimes it may also be called "frangipane" which is the almond custard made in this dessert.  Usually you poach the pears but it is difficult to get it to the right texture without ruining the shape of the fruit.  For this reason, I use the canned pears in water only.  Be sure to buy a good brand, it is not something you want to cheap out on because it will make a difference in your final product.  If you don't like pears then substitute with canned apricots or peaches!

Therapeutic topic of the week: Recall a past success.

Taking five minutes to reflect on how you pulled through other stressful situations like your last breakup or when you switched jobs can help you reconnect with your resilient side.
In the moment, it may feel as though you'll never get over your present problem, but when you look back, you realize that you felt similarly before and found a way to overcome it.
If you're going through a divorce or recently lost a loved one, you also may want to seek out a support group: Research on grieving presented by the Center for the Advancement of Health in Washington, D.C., suggests that talking with peers is even more beneficial than one-on-one counseling in the initial months after a loss.

Pear and Almond Tart Recipe
Adapted from Food and Wine

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg yolk mixed with 1/4 cup ice water

1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1 stick plus 6 tablespoons (7 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sliced almonds
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon almond extract
5 canned pear halves in water, sliced

Vanilla ice cream, for serving

In a food processor, pulse the flour with the sugar and salt. Pulse in the butter until it is the size of small peas. Sprinkle the egg mixture on top and pulse just until a dough forms. Scrape the pastry onto 2 sheets of plastic wrap and form into 2 disks or 10 small disks for tartlets. Wrap and refrigerate until chilled.

Bring the milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan. In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar with 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch. Whisk in 1 egg and the salt. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, then return it to the saucepan and cook over moderate heat, whisking, until thickened and just beginning to bubble around the edges, about 4 minutes. Strain the custard into a bowl and let cool slightly. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of the butter.

Using an electric mixer, beat the remaining 12 tablespoons of butter with the sliced almonds at medium-low speed until the almonds are slightly crushed. Beat in the confectioners' sugar and the remaining 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and 2 eggs, then beat in the custard and extract.

Preheat the oven to 350°. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each pastry disk to a 12-inch round 1/8 inch thick. Fit the pastry into two 9-inch fluted tart pans with removable bottoms. If making miniature tarts such as I did, roll each disk into a 5 inch round 1/8 inch thick for each tartlet pan.  Fold the overhang onto itself. Using a sharp knife, trim off any excess pastry.

Spoon the filling into the tarts. Place 1 pear half in the center of each tart; arrange the slices trying to keep the original shape of the pear. Bake the tarts in the center of the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the pears are very tender and the custard and pastry are deep golden. Let the tarts cool for 30 minutes, then unmold and serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Trifle dessert

Mixed Fruit Trifle
When I was growing up everyone and their mother was your "auntie".  No, I'm serious.  We called all females, auntie.  Over the weekends my parent's friends came over with their kids for get togethers. When they came to her house she was known for her trifle trifle dessert. When the parents called us down for "dessert time" we all raced each other down the stairs for who would get auntie's trifle first.  This incredible crowd pleaser would be scarfed down in minutes by adults and children alike.  That's how good this dessert is.  Now of course I have tweaked it to make it mine but the base stays the same:  layers of cake, fruit, and custard marrying together absorbing each others flavors.  That is the key, letting this dessert sit for a hours allowing the cake to absorb the custard and the fruit juices.  And it's so simple to make.  I just use whatever fruits are in season but for me bananas and strawberries are a must.  Makes for a great breakfast the next morning -- my ultimate favorite leftover.

Fruit Trifle Recipe
Adapted from Zubeda Kazi

1 (13x 9 inch) white cake, baked and cooled or use one Sara Lee pound cake from the freezer section
2 pints fresh strawberries, sliced, half cup reserved
1 pint fresh blackberries
2 bananas, sliced
1 can of peaches in water, chopped, drained
1 can of pineapple chunks, drained
1/4 cup orange juice
2 (4 ounce) packages instant vanilla pudding mix or make custard from scratch
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Follow directions for pudding mix until set. Cut the cake into 1 inch cubes. Combine the fruit with the pudding until evenly distributed.  Use half of the cake cubes to line the bottom of a large glass bowl. Layer half of the fruit and custard mixture.  Repeat layers in the same order.  In a medium bowl, whip the cream to stiff peaks, add powdered sugar and vanilla to combine.  Spread over top of trifle. Garnish with reserved strawberries.  Allow to sit in the fridge for at least four hours.  Serve and enjoy.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Best ever banana bread

Banana Walnut Bread
When we were young my mom would always have banana bread on hand.  I don't know how she did it or when she had the time but somehow there was always banana bread in the house.  My favorite way to eat it was for breakfast.  I take a slice and put it in a bowl and drench it in milk.  Then I would break into small pieces and eat it with a spoon like cereal.

Banana bread reminds me of comfort and warmth.  I almost get excited when I see the bananas are getting brown in the fruit basket because no one has eaten them.  This recipe allows you to make the bread and freeze for up to two months!  Just warm it in the microwave for 30 seconds and it's amazing.  It is really moist and the walnuts give it a good textural contrast.  The trick is to stop at just one slice.

Banana Walnut Bread Recipe
Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
2 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 9-by-5-inch metal loaf pan. In a medium bowl, whisk the 1 1/4 cups of flour with the baking soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk the eggs with the oil, sugar and mashed bananas. Stir the banana mixture into the dry ingredients.  Fold in the walnuts.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven for about 50 minutes, until the bread is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and let cool for 15 minutes, then turn the bread out onto the rack and let cool completely. Cut into slices and serve.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

b&w angel food cake

Black and White Angel Food Cake
Let's face it, angel food cake can be a little boring.  But grate some chocolate and pour some more over the top and you got the best angel food cake ever!  It's still light and airy but with a little bitter chocolate.  Add some fresh berries for a perfect pairing.

Therapeutic topic for the week:  

Can Your Diet Make You Feel Depressed?

I am often asked whether eating particular foods can enhance mood and treat the symptoms of depression. With very few exceptions, the answer is no. In contrast, our mood can be easily depressed by our diet. Why? For adults, the brain responds primarily to deficits, not surpluses, in the diet.

For example, scientists once thought that drinking a glass of warm milk before bed or eating a large meal of protein made us drowsy because of tryptophan loading – the current evidence does not support this explanation but the claim makes an important point: we must get enough of any particular nutrient into our brain in order for us to notice any effects. Unfortunately, tryptophan has difficulty getting into our brain, particularly when consumed within the context of a large variety of other amino acids, i.e. meat.

So, what’s the scientific evidence for considering the cognitive effects of these foods? Mostly, it’s related to what happens when we do not get enough of them. For example, studies have shown that consuming too little tryptophan makes us depressed and angry; historians now blame low tryptophan diets for multiple wars and acts of cannibalism. Too little water-soluble vitamins (the B’s and C) in the diet will induce changes in brain function that we will begin to notice after a few weeks of deprivation. Many authors naively jump to the conclusion that giving high doses of such nutrients will rapidly improve our mood or thinking: sadly, this is rarely the case.

Can dietary supplements increase brain tryptophan levels and improve mood? The answer is no. There is no evidence for improving mood through dietary manipulation of tryptophan primarily because it is difficult to change plasma tryptophan levels through diet alone. Tryptophan supplementation and depletion studies suggest that altering tryptophan levels may only affect certain groups of patients who have a personal or family history of depression. Popular media articles often recommend diets and foods to increase blood tryptophan levels and raise brain serotonin levels. Such recommendations, while superficially appealing, are misleading and not supported by any current scientific studies.

The production of serotonin requires the absorption of the amino acid tryptophan from your food. Transport of this amino acid is influenced by the level of other amino acids in your blood; that level, in turn, is also influenced by what you eat. Within the neurons of your brain, tryptophan is converted to 5-hydroxy-tryptophan by tryptophan hydroxylase, an enzyme that is usually not saturated with substrate. Therefore, if you eat less tryptophan, your brain generally produces less serotonin. Conversely, providing additional tryptophan in the diet may lead to increased production of serotonin within neurons. It is worth noting, however, that simply producing more serotonin does not guarantee that the neuron will actually release it. If too much serotonin is produced inside the brain, then the excess is simply discarded. Studies have shown that depletion of this amino acid in the diet can negatively influence serotonin-controlled brain processes such as mood and sleep.

A recent study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology (2014, v. 39) investigated whether it was possible to deplete the brain’s reward chemical dopamine in humans by restricting access to the amino acid tyrosine that is required for its synthesis by the brain. Within a few hours the subjects showed a blunted reaction by their brain’s dopamine centers in response to a monetary reward. Overall, their mood was also slightly depressed. Fortunately, the effects of this experimental diet were temporary because the subjects were young and the brain was able to compensate quickly.

The overall lesson here is that if you’re feeling down, it might be your diet. However, do not expect your diet to make you feel happy; most often, a good diet will only prevent you from feeling depressed.

Written by Gary L. Wenk, Ph.D., author of Your Brain on Food (Oxford Univ Press)

Black and White Angel Food Cake Recipe
Adapted from Ina Garten


For the cake:
2 cups sifted sugar
1 1/3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups egg whites at room temperature (10 to 12 eggs)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup coarsely grated semisweet chocolate

For the glaze:
4oz semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine 1/2 cup of the sugar with the flour and sift them together. Set aside.

Place the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on high speed until the eggs form medium-firm peaks, about 1 minute. With the mixer on medium speed, add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of sugar by sprinkling it over the beaten egg whites. Beat on high speed for a few minutes until thick and shiny. Add the vanilla and continue to whisk until very thick, about 1 more minute. Scrape the beaten egg whites into a large bowl. Sift 1/4 of the flour mixture over the egg whites and fold it very carefully into the batter with a rubber spatula. Continue adding the flour in 3 equal additions, sifting and folding until it's all incorporated. Fold in the grated chocolate.

Pour the batter into an greased 10-inch bundt pan, smooth the top, and bake it for 35 to 45 minutes, until it springs back to the touch. Remove the cake from the oven and invert the pan on a cooling rack. When cool, run a thin, flexible knife around the cake to remove it from the pan.

For the chocolate glaze, place the chocolate chips and the heavy cream in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until the chocolate melts. Pour the chocolate over the top of the cooled cake to cover the top completely and allow it to drizzle down the sides. If you have chocolate glaze left over, you can serve it on the side with the cake.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Biscoff Swirl Pound Cake

Biscoff Swirl Pound Cake

This amazing recipe gives you a moist pound cake with the crunchy cookie topping.  So delicious!  

If you can't find the Biscoff brand spread you can buy the crunchy speculoos kind instead.  The trick here is using the best quality ingredients.  Fresh organic eggs and European butter are the key to making this pound cake perfect.

Biscoff Swirl Pound Cake Recipe
Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
One 13-ounce jar Biscoff Spread

Preheat the oven to 325°. Lightly grease and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, tapping out any excess flour. In a glass measuring cup, lightly beat the eggs with the vanilla. In a medium bowl, whisk the 1 1/2 cups of flour with the baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer or stand mixer, beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

 With the mixer at medium-low speed, gradually beat in the egg mixture until fully incorporated. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, beating at low speed between additions until just incorporated. Continue to beat for 30 seconds longer.

Spread half of the batter in the prepared pan, mix the Biscoff spread into the remaining half. Top with the remaining batter. Lightly swirl the spread into the batter with a butter knife. Do not overmix.
Bake the cake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes. 

Invert the cake onto a wire rack, turn it right side up and let cool completely, about 2 hours. 
Cut the cake into slices and serve.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cornflakes, Marshmallows and Chocolate? Oh my!

Momofuku's Cornflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookies
If you visit New York you must go to Momofuku Milk Bar in any of their convenient five locations. The desserts are so inventive and unique...not to mention addicting.  I mean who puts cornflakes in cookies?  Well, Christina Tosi, the pastry chef at Momofuku does.  Her brilliant combinations and outrageous ingredient choices are what keeps people coming back for more.  This cookie had me second guessing whether it would actually taste good.  Believe it or not, everyone who I have served it to has said this was the best cookie they had ever eaten.  The caramel notes from the melted marshmallows combined with the addictive crunch of cornflakes makes this cookie a joke to just eat one. I know it sounds wacky but give this recipe a try and you will not be sorry.  Well, maybe your waistline will.  My adaptations are adding coconut milk powder instead of regular milk powder adding another depth of flavor.

Therapeutic topic for the week:  Superfood for the brain?
There are some foods that may help give you that little boost in the day or help prevent age related cognitive decline.  These include but are not limited to walnuts, olive oil, berries, sardines, coffee, spinach, dark chocolate, avocado, water, wheat germ, beets and garlic.  I remember my parents telling me to have almonds every morning to improve cognitive functioning as well.  Have any of these or other foods helped give you a boost?  Comment below!  

Momofuku's Cornflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookie Recipe
Adapted from Christina Tosi

For the Cornflake Crunch:
5 cups cornflakes
1/2 cup coconut milk powder
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the Cookies:
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (7 1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups Cornflake Crunch
2/3 cup chocolate chips
1 1/4 cup mini marshmallows

To make the Cornflake Crunch: Preheat oven to 275°F. In a medium bowl, add the cornflakes (use your hands to crush them to about a quarter of their size), milk powder, sugar, and salt. Toss together. Pour the butter over the mixture and gently mix it together. Spread the mixture onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes. They will be toasted and smell wonderful when done. Remove from oven and let cool. Store extras in an airtight container.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside. In a small bowl, gently mix the egg and vanilla together. Set aside.

In a bowl of a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer) fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes. Add the egg mixture, and continue to beat for about 6-7 minutes. Scraping down the bowl, as necessary.

Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined, being careful not to over-mix. Fold in the marshmallows, chocolate chips, and cornflake crunch using a rubber spatula.

Form into cookies using a 1/3 measuring cup. Flatten the tops a bit, with your fingers. Place on a large parchment lined cookie sheet and refrigerate or freeze for at least one hour before baking. Place extras in a large plastic bag and leave in the freezer until ready to use. Do not thaw before baking.

When ready to bake the cookies, preheat oven to 375°F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place the chilled or frozen cookies at least 4 inches apart from each other (they spread quite a bit). Bake for about 18 minutes or until they are puffed and the edges are a deep golden brown. More or less time depending upon if using chilled or frozen dough. Be attentive! Remove from oven and let cool for a couple of minutes on the cookie sheet before placing on a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container for a few days.


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