Thursday, January 28, 2010

Finding Solace in the Kitchen


Food is a solace for me. Taking a break from a busy day and sitting down for a meal, especially a meal with people I care about, is a way to recharge - even more so, if I am preparing that meal myself. I can spend hours in the kitchen working on a dish and feel like 20 minutes have passed. I have heard people say that cooking is their meditation and while I wouldn’t go that far, the singleness of purpose I find in the kitchen is very soothing.

I first discovered these little cakes when I was in need of some solace. My life had gotten busy again and I had not written anything for Apples and Butter in weeks. I was missing the comfort of both cooking and writing about food.

I turned to my favorite magazines and some fellow food bloggers for inspiration. Without fail, these sources will light a fire under me. I always find a dish that piques my interest and gets that little voice saying, “I have to make this – right now.”


These chocolate snack cakes are from David Lebovitz, one of my favorite pastry chefs. Deb over at Smitten Kitchen posted about them which is how I came to know of them and how that little voice got switched on. It didn’t hurt that Deb used a specialty kitchen pan to make these, one that I did not own. Inspiration in the kitchen that called for a trip to Sur La Table? I was in.

Make sure you don’t overcook these. The second time I made them, I let them go just a bit too long and they were dry and not nearly as delectable as the almost under-cooked first batch. When not overcooked, they provide a perfect dose of chocolate in a little package. Not too rich and not too filling. Perfect for an afternoon snack paired with tea or coffee.

I’m sure these will work just as well in a cupcake pan if you don’t have a mini-cheesecake pan and don’t want to purchase one. Just be sure and keep an eye on them. Cooking times will vary if you’re using more batter for each cake.


Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes
Adapted from David Lebovitz via Smitten Kitchen

7 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup plain yogurt (whole-milk is important here)
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 t vanilla bean paste (or extract)
1/2 t almond extract (I didn’t have any so I skipped it)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t coarse salt

Preheat oven to 350*
If you’re using a cupcake pan, line it with paper liners. If you’re using the mini-cheesecake pan, just spray it with cooking spray. Melt the chocolate with 1/4 cup of the oil in a double boiler. Stir until smooth and then remove from the heat. In a separate bowl, mix together the other 1/4 cup of oil with the yogurt, sugar, eggs, vanilla and almond extract if you’re using it. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the yogurt mixture to the dry ingredients and stir just until combined. Add the melted chocolate and stir until smooth.

Divide the batter between your mini-cheesecake pan or cupcake pan, filling each about a 1/4 inch below the rim (you may have leftover batter). Bake for 20 – 25 minutes (remember note about not overcooking). Let cakes cool slightly before unmolding. These can be served immediately while still warm or later at room temperature.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Carrot Cake for Breakfast


My subscription to Cooking Light runs out in January each year, right around the time that I’m really craving the lighter recipes that can be found on its pages. Not that I don’t enjoy the publication year-round, but I tend to do more cooking from the magazine in January and February as new year’s resolutions take hold of me. So, each January I renew my subscription with the hope that my penchant for lighter fare will last the whole year through.


When it comes to healthier eating, weekend breakfasts always cause a bit of a problem. I love sleeping in and getting up to prepare a big, decadent breakfast and it can be really hard to find something that feels big and decadent, but not totally unhealthy. Lucky for me, this month’s Cooking Light has a great recipe for an indulgent weekend breakfast that doesn’t make you feel like you are undoing all the good you did during the week.


Carrot cake pancakes sounded like something that could be too sickly sweet for my kind of morning fare, but these are nothing of the sort. Bulked up with two cups of shredded carrots, they call for all the spices found in carrot cake, but not all of the sugar. And that delicious cream cheese frosting you’re accustomed to? A honey butter stand-in works perfectly.

Carrot Cake Pancakes
Adapted from Cooking Light
Makes 12 pancakes; serves 4 - 6

1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 t baking powder
1 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t salt
1/8 t freshly ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of ground ginger
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 T canola oil
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups finely grated carrot (from about a 1/2 pound)
Cooking spray
3 T butter, softened
2 T honey

Combine the flour with the next seven ingredients (through ground ginger) and mix lightly to combine. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar with the next four ingredients (through eggs) and mix thoroughly. Add the sugar mixture to the flour and stir just to combine. Use a spatula to fold the shredded carrots into the batter.

Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to portion out three to four mounds of batter (depending on the size of your pan). Cook for two minutes, flip over and cook for one minute more until the pancakes are golden brown and cooked through. Repeat with remaining batter.

While the pancakes are cooking, combine the honey and the butter and place in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve. Serve three pancakes per person and top with about a tablespoon of honey butter.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bacon-Wrapped Dates


Wrap anything in bacon and I’ll try it, at least once. Wrap something sweet with salty bacon and stuff it with cheese and I am probably going to get addicted. If you haven’t been to AOC in Los Angeles, you should know that you can feed your addiction to the perfect combination of sweet, salty and cheesy with Suzanne Goin’s bacon-wrapped dates. The first time I had them I was hooked and have ordered them on every subsequent visit (and there have been many).


It’s hard to believe that such a flavorful appetizer is made up of only three ingredients, but its simplicity makes it an easy dish to recreate at home. The first time I made these I replaced the bacon with what I saw as a more sophisticated option – prosciutto. Mistake. Serious mistake. This dish is perfect as is. Don’t mess with it.


When Gourmet printed this recipe in their October 2005 issue, they allotted three dates per person. I have modestly increased that number to five per person. People will not be able to stop eating these so make sure you make plenty.


Bacon-Wrapped Dates
Adapted from Suzanne Goin
Makes 30, allow 5 per person

10 slices of bacon cut crosswise into thirds
30 dates
3 - 4 oz of Parmigiano-Reggiano, broken or cut into small pieces about the size of a date pit

Preheat oven to 450*
If the dates are not already pitted, use a paring knife to make a small slit to remove the pit. Replace the pit with a piece of parmesan and reform the date around the cheese. Wrap each date with a piece of bacon. Place on a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until the bacon is browned (cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your bacon). Remove from the oven and serve immediately while still warm.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Finagling Ravioli with an Egg Inside


My significant other has gotten it into his head that Italian food is some kind of a cop-out. I don’t know where it comes from, but I’m pretty sure when he hears Italian food, he thinks boil pasta, throw canned tomato sauce on top, possibly with some meat or cheese to finish the dish and you’re done. As a result and much to my chagrin, I have a very difficult time convincing him to go out for Italian food.

In order to finagle a dinner at Osteria Mozza, I had to use my birthday dinner – no input from him, all my choice. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to convince him to try the pasta tasting menu (everyone at the table has to participate) I very carefully selected one pasta dish to add to the selections for the evening – fresh ricotta and egg ravioli. It was mentioned in almost every review (both professional and in the blog and Yelp worlds) and I generally fall in love with any dish that serves up a runny egg yolk. In this case that yolk comes from boiling ravioli with a whole egg yolk inside, just barely poaching the yolk in the process.


At the time, and still to this day, Osteria Mozza is not the easiest Saturday night reservation to secure. We ended up with a table at 10pm. Not a problem for us as we like to eat on the late side, but a huge problem for the fresh ricotta and egg ravioli. They had run out. It’s a popular dish and eating on the later side of things means risking the kitchen running out of favorites.


Of course it was still an amazing meal watching Nancy Silverton at work behind the mozzarella bar and eating the tenderest pasta I have ever been served. Even the “Italian food is a cop-out” boyfriend was impressed. Though in spite of the great meal, a strange, insatiable craving was set off in me for pasta and runny egg yolks.


Thank goodness for the internet. Batali + egg yolk ravioli = exact recipe I needed to satisfy that craving at home. Of course my homemade pasta can’t rival that found at Osteria Mozza, nevertheless the ricotta filling with runny egg yolk was completely satisfying.

If you can find it, do use sheep’s milk ricotta. If not, cow’s milk is a fine substitute. Definitely make your own pasta dough as you’ll need its quick cooking time to make sure your egg yolk doesn’t overcook and become hard. Two of these huge raviolis were enough per person, but if you’re hungry, maybe plan for three. They can be a bit addictive.


Uova da Raviolo (Ravioli with an Egg Inside)
Adapted from Mario Batali (adaption includes leaving out half of a truffle – making the recipe a more affordable, though slightly less luxurious at-home version)
Makes 6 large raviolis

1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated, plus more for garnishing pasta
1/2 cup fresh sheep's milk ricotta
1/2 cup spinach, blanched, drained and chopped
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1 recipe basic pasta dough, recipe follows
6 very fresh eggs
6 tablespoons butter

Combine the parmesan, ricotta and spinach. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Start with a third of the pasta dough and roll it out to the thinnest setting on a pasta rolling machine. From the thin pasta sheets, cut 12 squares about six inches in length (roll out more of the dough if you need it). Set six squares on a tray dusted with flour and cover with plastic wrap. Divide the ricotta mixture evenly between the remaining six squares, placing it in mounds in the center of each square. Use the back of a spoon to create a well for the egg yolk in each mound. Carefully break an egg into a small bowl, and transfer one yolk and a bit of white into the center of each well. Don’t break the yolk! Repeat for the remaining squares. Cover each filled square of pasta with an unfilled square, and press the edges together with fingers to seal.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Gently lower each ravioli into the boiling water to cook for two minutes. Remove from the water and place into the sauté pan with the butter. Add a generous grating of parmesan, sauté for one to two minutes and serve.

Batali’s Basic Pasta Dough
3 1/2 cups flour, with more as needed
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

Place the flour in a mound and make a large well in the center. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and olive oil together. Pour the egg mixture into the well in the flour. Slowly start incorporating the flour into the eggs without breaking the well. The mixture should start to come together when half of the flour is incorporated. When all of the flour is incorporated, start kneading the dough, adding more flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to your hands. Knead the dough for about five minutes until the surface is smooth and just the slightest bit sticky. Flatten the dough into a disc shape, wrap with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes before rolling out for the raviolis.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chicken-Liver Toasts with Shallot Jam


If it is at all unclear how much I adore the restaurant Animal, let me reiterate it here: Animal is my favorite restaurant in Los Angeles. When I can’t make it up there for dinner, riffing on their poutine dish at home is a pretty decent substitute. When we do eat at Animal, we go for the indulgence factor. As much liver as possible please, which means starting with an order of chicken liver toast followed by at least one, if not two, foie gras dishes.

I realize this doesn’t exactly paint a picture of health, but I don’t think a restaurant with the name Animal is going after the health-conscious diner. Though some Angelenos seem slow on the uptake in this area. On a recent visit, we caught a neighboring table pleading with one of the waiters that they must have something, anything vegetarian?? I’m not sure what, exactly, was misleading about a restaurant named Animal, but this diner seemed thoroughly shocked at the lack of meatless options. I wanted to cheer the waiter on when he politely declined to make any substitutions. You just can’t make this stuff up.

As much as I love dining at Animal, I have often wished that I could expand my Animal-at-home repertoire, so I was thrilled to see them (Chefs Jon and Vinny), and some of their recipes, featured in Food & Wine's January issue. Liver aficionado that I am, chicken-liver toasts with shallot jam was the obvious choice from the three or four recipes offered up in Food & Wine. Oh, and if you know any non-liver loving friends? Try this recipe out on them, I think I may have finally converted a NLL friend of my own.


Chicken Liver Toasts with Shallot Jam
Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of Animal

12 T butter at room temperature, divided
1 pound chicken lives, trimmed of fat and connective tissue
1 medium red onion
4 thyme sprigs
1 long baguette
2 garlic cloves
Olive oil for brushing
Salt and pepper

Melt 2 T of butter in a large sauté pan over high heat. Season the chicken livers with salt and pepper and cook until lightly browned, about two minutes per side. Remove the livers to a plate. Melt 2 T of butter in the same pan over medium heat. Add the onion and thyme and cook until the onion is soft, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken livers to the pan and cook for an additional two minutes. Set mixture aside to cool. Once the livers have reached room temperature, discard the thyme and puree the mixture along with the remaining 6 T of butter in a food processor until smooth. Jon and Vinny strain the puree through a fine mesh sieve, but I skip this step for a slightly more rustic product. Your choice. Either way, season the puree well with salt, cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface and chill until set. Make the shallot Jam while the liver is chilling.

Shallot Jam

2 T vegetable oil
4 large shallots, sliced thin
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Heat the vegetable oil in a medium skillet and add the shallots. Cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the balsamic and brown sugar and simmer until reduced to a thick jam. Jon and Vinny seem to think this should only take about five minutes, but it takes me 15 to 20 minutes. Either way, cook it until thick and season with salt.

Once the liver is set, preheat an oven to 400*. Cut the baguette into thin slices and toast in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes until crisp. Immediately brush the toasts with olive oil and rub with garlic cloves. Spread a healthy helping of liver mousse on top of the toasts and top with some of the shallot jam.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Healthy(er) Clam Chowder

Whoa. Is anyone else noticing that the older you get, the harder the holidays seem to hit your waistline? Or is it just my ridiculously over-indulgent eating and not something I can blame on the ever progressing hands of father time? Either way it is definitely in order to spend a bit of time with the Apples portion of this blog. After all, Apples and Butter is supposed to be about balance. I fear my tendency is to ignore the healthier side of eating, both on this blog and in my kitchen!

After three months of indulgent eating (anything post-September counts as the holidays to me), I wasn’t quite ready to switch over to carrot sticks and salads. Enter Sunset Magazine with their revamped comfort foods. This recipe for clam chowder remains creamy, but is made primarily with low-fat milk. It made for a great post-Christmas meal with my family. Warm and indulgent enough to be fully satisfying and comforting while not packing on the calories and fat content that would have come with the quart of heavy cream called for in the original recipe. Enjoy this with nothing more than a loaf of crusty bread and congratulate yourself on indulging while still managing to cut back on calories.

Healthy(er) Clam Chowder
Serves 6

1 T olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrot
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 strips bacon, cut into lardons
1/4 cup flour
3 cups low-fat (1%) milk
1 pound small red potatoes, quartered
4 cans (6.5 oz. each) chopped clams, drained
2 bottles (8 oz. each) clam juice
Salt and pepper
1 t chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup half-and-half


Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sautee the onion, celery, carrot and garlic until starting to soften. Transfer to a plate. Add the bacon to the pan and cook until crisp. Drain the bacon on paper towels and discard all but 1 T of drippings. Add the flour to the drippings to make a roux and cook until slightly browned. Add the milk, one cup at a time, making sure each cup is fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the potatoes, clams, clam juice and reserved vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 25 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Add the thyme and half-and-half. Before serving, sprinkle individual portions with the bacon.