Thursday, February 28, 2013

Quick And Easy French Apple Tart

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An apple tart is the perfect dessert to serve when time is of the essence.  That is why I always keep a box of puff pastry in the freezer.  In this case I don't think it's a big deal if you make the pastry or buy it and it can make a big difference when it comes to time. Just stretch it out to a 10 x 14 rectangle or use only three apples and make the rectangle slightly smaller, like I did.
Although Granny Smith's apples have less juice and are the perfect variety for a tart, I found that the Gala I had on hand worked out just as well.  Beware though, the butter and sugar will start to burn and create a lot of smoke in your oven but don't despair.  What I did was remove the smokey pan from the oven and slid the tart into a clean pan and continue cooking.   Use two spatulas to make it easier. 
Don't go out and spend a lot of money on Calvados.  It won't make that much of a difference.  Substitute rum, Marsala or Madeira.  The end result will be the same.  
We ate most of the tart before I realized I had not taken a photo.  By that time I was a bit tipsy, hence the poor photo. 


French Apple Tart


For the pastry:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/2 cup ice water
  • OR 1 sheet Puff Pastry
For the apples:

  • 4 Granny Smith apples (I used Gala)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, small diced
  • 1/2 cup apricot jelly or warm sieved apricot jam
  • 2 tablespoons Calvados, rum, or water ( I used Marsala)


For the pastry, place the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse for a few seconds to combine. Add the butter and pulse 10 to 12 times, until the butter is in small bits the size of peas. With the motor running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

If you are using ready made puff pastry start here:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Roll the dough slightly larger than 10 by 14-inches. Using a ruler and a small knife, trim the edges.

Place the dough on the prepared sheet pan and refrigerate while you prepare the apples.

Peel the apples and cut them in half through the stem. Remove the stems and cores with a sharp knife and a melon baler. Slice the apples crosswise in 1/4-inch thick slices.

Place overlapping slices of apples diagonally down the middle of the tart and continue making diagonal rows on both sides of the first row until the pastry is covered with apple slices. (Don't use the apple ends in order to make the arrangement prettier)

Sprinkle with the full 1/2 cup of sugar and dot with the butter.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the pastry is browned and the edges of the apples start to brown.

Rotate the pan once during cooking. If the pastry puffs up in one area, cut a little slit with a knife to let the air out. Don't worry! The apple juices will burn in the pan but the tart will be fine!

When the tart's done, heat the apricot jelly together with the Calvados or other and brush the apples and the pastry completely with the jelly mixture. Loosen the tart with a metal spatula so it doesn't stick to the paper. Allow to cool and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa
Photo Lindaraxa

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Night At The Oscars

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Just the fact that the awards are on a Sunday night makes this a casual affair.  NOBODY dresses up on Sunday night anymore.   This is one time when it is okay for the audience to be in casual dress while the actors prance around in their ball gowns and tuxedos. Unless, of course, you live in LA and are attending one of those parties catered by Wolgang Puck!

Grace Kelly and William Holden

I know, in the olden days, as my son would call them, an Oscar party would be a dress up occasion with champagne, caviar and the works.  Not anymore. Nowadays Sunday night is casual night, even by New York standards.  Let's face it, guys have to wear suits every day of the work week and they look forward to a more casual attire on a weekend.  They deserve it.  I remember my 12 hour days of panty hose and makeup and you wouldn't have been able to get me in that gear on a Sunday night if George Clooney himself came to escort me.  (I'm lying, of course)  That doesn't mean this has to be a slob fest as it is for the Super Bowl.  Just more relaxed.

My date, George Clooney

For a party like this I like to go heavy on hors d'oeuvre with a simple entree for the main course.  It's a long evening and you don't want to serve the main course too early. I think buffet style is the way to go if you have a crowd. Set everything out on the table including hor's d'oeuvre plates so guests can fix themselves what they want when they want it.  Set up a bar for the drinks and let everyone fix their own.  Serve the main dish around nine and later bring out a couple of desserts.  Plan on the fact that some of your guests might want to leave early, depending how boring the show (or the party) is.

Life Of Pi

I can't say enough about putting together a guest list for this kind of party.  Don't even think of inviting someone who is not a movie fan. They will just be bored and bore every one else in return.  Those friends who enjoy movies and go to every single one released will enjoy this immensely. They are your guests. I remember one year when I was living in NYC leaving my office with my friend Silvia to go to a "client meeting " so we could catch the one and only movie nominated that we hadn't seen.  The show ended just in time to taxi across town to her apartment and watch the beginning of the awards.  That's a movie fan for you.  It won two Oscars, including one for  Daniel Day Lewis for Best Actor. Silvia and I still giggle every year about our adventure on Oscar night.

And guess who's nominated again...Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln

This year with three nominated movies set in the East... Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and Life of Pi, I have decided to go native with my main course. Notice I only said main course, not the whole meal.


I think it would be fun to serve the Lamb Curry with Carrot Raita and Indian Bread (pita bread is fine) and some lemony dessert like a lemon mousse or even a lemon tart or tartelets.  Citrus goes well after a meal like this.  Somehow it seems to cleanse your palate after all that spiciness.

As to the wine, the sommelier at Daniel, an Indian himself, suggests a Syrah from the Rhone such an earthy Cornas wine from the Rhône Valley, such as Auguste Clape’s Cornas Renaissance 2009 ($74). “Gamey and rich, the Syrah grapes play off the lamb, and the herbaceous and smoky notes marry well with the spices in the curry,” says Vaidya.

Another good option is J. L. Chave Sélection Saint-Joseph “Offerus,” Rhône 2007 ($29), a softer and more aromatic Syrah.

Oscar Night Dinner Menu

Basmati Rice
Indian Or Pita Bread

And here are the nominees.  Tell me, who are your favorites?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lamb Curry With Carrot Raita

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 To anyone wanting to explore the spicy world of curries, this recipe is a good start.

Not all curries are created equal,  something  I have learned from substantial research and hit and misses.  They come in a huge variety of styles, from delicately spiced to hot and fiery.  From mild and creamy to intensely aromatic.  Even in India the curries are quite different depending on the region the recipe comes from.  Curries also come from South East Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.  The word curry from Kari means sauce.  The curry powder that comes in a bottle is simply a mix of spices,  an idea originating in the 18th Century by Indian merchants  for sale to members of the British Colonial Government and those returning to England.  Since each type of curry uses a different mix of spices, you are always better making the blend at home. Wikipedia has an excellent page on curry which can be accessed here

Contrary to what you might think, authentic curries are easy to prepare and make a wonderful main dish for a dinner party, particularly if you plan to serve  buffet style.

The following recipe appeared about a year ago in the New York Times and got my attention right away.  Now I am not an expert in curries though I've had a few from my days of business travel to that part of the world.   What I liked about it was the simplicity and the spice mix, although I added some of the things I used  in another recipe very similar to this one, including the tomato paste, as well as  the coconut milk and the herbs at the end.  This is really a mish mash on my part as coconut milk is only typical of Indian curries from the coast and not from the northern region from which this curry seems to originate. If you want to see the original recipe go here.

My daughter who hates the word curry  liked it to the point that she is brown bagging the leftovers for tomorrow's lunch.  That's as good an endorsement as any.

Please, don't take shortcuts and take the time to toast the spices before you grind them.  This is what gives this dish the flavor and aroma it deserves.  Also, don't skip the raita,  It is a wonderful condiment for this curry.  Given a choice, I would skip the rice and accompany both with Indian or Pita bread, lightly toasted.

Raita is an Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi condiment made with yogurt and used as a sauce or dip. The yogurt may be seasoned with coriander (cilantro),cumin, mint, cayenne pepper, and other herbs and spices.

Yield: 4 Servings:



2 pounds lean lamb shoulder cut in 3/4-inch cubes
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons grated garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted and ground
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed, toasted and ground
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
2 red onions, sliced thick, 1 pound
6 whole cloves
10 black peppercorns
1 inch-long piece cinnamon stick
1 TB tomato paste *
1 TB  chopped fresh mint*
2 TB chopped fresh cilantro*
3 TB coconut milk (optional)*

1 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup coarsely grated carrot
Pinch of cayenne
1 tablespoon each chopped mint, chives and cilantro.


1. Put the lamb in a bowl with the ginger, garlic, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cayenne and 1/2 teaspoon salt and mix well. Marinate at room temperature 30 minutes, or up to several hours refrigerated (even overnight is fine).

2. Heat the ghee or oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until softened. Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the seasoned meat. Lightly brown the meat and onions, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes or so. Add the cloves, peppercorns and cinnamon stick, *(here I added a TB tomato paste) then add 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and turn heat to gentle simmer. Cook for about an hour, or until the meat is fork-tender. Add the optional coconut milk here and stir to blend. Cook for a couple of minutes. Taste the sauce and add salt to taste.(You can add the coconut milk here if using) Raise the heat and let the sauce reduce a bit, if desired. (May be prepared ahead to this point and reheated before serving.)Chop and add the extra herbs right before serving
3. To make the raita, put the yogurt in a bowl. Heat the ghee or oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and cumin, let them pop a bit — be careful — then stir in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, till barely golden. Carefully stir the hot contents of the skillet into the yogurt. Add the grated carrot, cayenne and salt, to taste. Let the raita sit at least 10 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle. Just before serving, stir in the mint, chives and cilantro.

Recipe adapted from the New York Times and The Curry Cookbook
Photos Lindaraxa

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Upgrading the Oldies...Tuna and Pasta Gratin With Mushrooms and Crushed Potato Chips

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...just kidding, this is just a great recipe for an old fashioned tuna noodle casserole very popular in the 1960's and now upgraded.

If you were a kid in the 60's, the chances of getting Campbell's Tuna Noodle Casserole at least twice a month on Fridays were pretty high.  By the time my generation got married, the odds were not as high, but still there.  Just ask my kids, they remember it well.  How could you as a Mother deprive your children of something that was such a part of American culture and American cooking.  Not me!

It seems that every other recipe that came out in those days was based on one type or another of Campbell's condensed soups.  The three popular ones were of course, Cream of Mushroom, Cream of Celery and Cream of Asparagus.  You always approached the soup aisle of the grocery store with some trepidation hoping that the shelves were not empty of just the soup you needed to show off your newest casserole recipe.  Those were the days, just a can of soup to make your day.

 Nowadays, food recipes seem to have more elegant names and unusual ingredients.  If we don't feel we are knocking ourselves out, it can't be any good. Can you imagine if I just posted a recipe for Tuna Noodle Casserole like Campbell's did in the 60's?  My hit average would go down the charts!

Since every generation deserves to be known for the food it craves and the food it eats,  here is my upgrade of an old favorite for the new millenium. I must say, though, that given the choice, my daughter refused to let go of potato chips in favor of Panko.  Some things never change, and shouldn't.

Serves 4


6 scallions, finely sliced
1 small box white mushrooms, (go shiitake if you want fancy)
2 TB. unsalted butter
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 package of Barilla Elbow Macaroni (Mueller's is so-o-o 1960's)
1 small can of whole red pimientos (1960's), or 1 roasted red pepper (2000's)
1 best 6 oz. canned tuna in olive oil
1 cup grated real Parmigiano Reggiano  or Gruyere Cheese
1 cup frozen petit peas
Crushed Potato Chips (1960's)  or Panko (2000's)
Dash of Paprika
Salt (1960;s) or Sea Salt (pink is so in right now) and Pepper to taste.


4 TBs. butter, unsalted
4 TBS flour
2 Cups milk
Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat Oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the elbow macaroni according to package directions until al dente.  About 14 minutes.  You can add the frozen peas the last 6 minutes (I forgot them altogether!).  Rinse in cold water and strain in a colander.

In a skillet, melt the 2 TB of butter and sautee the mushrooms and scallions until slightly golden.  Add the wine and reduce to 2 TB. Set aside.

Prepare two cups of bechamel sauce:  Melt the butter, add the flour, cook on low for a couple of minutes.  Add the hot milk and stir with a whisk until sauce thickens and starts to come to a boil.  If the sauce is too thick add some wine (or some vodka from your drink)

Slice the pimentos or red peppers and add them to the sauce.  Drain the tuna and also add it to the sauce together with the mushrooms and scallions.  Add the pasta and peas (you might not want to add all  the pasta at once, so add half and continue adding until you get the ratio you like.  Stir everything together.

Add salt and pepper to taste and a dash of paprika just to pick it up a bit.

Add 1/2 cup of Parmesan, stir and invert everything into a casserole.  Sprinkle the other half of the cheese on top and about 1 cup crushed potato chips or Panko.  Sprinkle a dash of Paprika on top.

Place casserole in the upper half of your preheated oven and check after 25 minutes.  It should be bubbling and brown on top.  Wait 10 minutes before you serve (okay, five)

Do you have a favorite Campbell soup to cook with?

Recipes and Photos Lindaraxa

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Perfect French Omelette

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The perfect French omelette is...well, not perfect.  It is definitely not fluffy or structured and above all, it doesn't require hours in the kitchen.  Five minutes at most is all you need.  You also don't need special utensils or omelette pans, just an everyday fork and a small skillet  will do the trick.  Trust me on this,  I have eaten plenty of omelettes in the French countryside over the years. 

A simple French omelette is one of your best bets for lunch when you are driving through France.  I have yet to have a bad one in all the times I have driven around looking for chateaux, churches, brocantes or battlefields.  You can stop at any roadside cafe anywhere in France and have a spectacular lunch if you stick to the basics.  For me that is an omelette with pommes frites or my other favorite,  the classic Frisee with Poached Eggs and Lardons; that is, unless I am driving through Normandy and then Moules and Frites take over.

Sometimes the simple recipes are the best recipes and I always encourage new cooks to master the simple before they tackle the more complicated.  Would you believe the first thing I ever made as a newlywed was an omelette?  No, not this one. Just a plain American cheese omelette , but I became such an expert that, for years, I was the master omelette maker in the family.

This was lunch today, albeit without the pommes frites.

Lunch For One (double or triple for more):

2 extra large eggs
dash of milk (optional)*
salt and pepper
1 TB. unsalted butter
1 scallion,chopped
2 TB Gruyere Cheese (or Swiss),  grated or thinly sliced with a peeler
Dash of Herbs de Provence.

Beat the eggs with a fork until slightly foamy.  Add a dash of milk*, salt and pepper to taste.  Grate or thinly slice the cheese and add to the eggs together with the Herbs the Provence.  Set aside.

Melt the butter in a medium skillet on medium high heat.  Add the chopped scallion and cook until translucent.  Add the egg mix all at once.

Once the eggs begin to set, swirl the pan around so the uncooked eggs move to the edges and create a new edge around the pan. If you get bubbles, deflate them with the tip of your fork. Move the fork around the pan in zigzag motion and around the edges and slightly separate the omelete from the pan.   When the omelette is almost cooked but still slightly runny, take your fork and fold over half the omelette to the other side.  This is the easy way. The classic way is to fold one third to the middle and then fold that again and unto the plate.  This is more typical of a French classic omelette,  but either way is fine.  Just keep it unstructured.

The trick here is a medium high temperature so the omelette can brown slightly on the outside and the inside will stay runny.  Everything is done with a fork.  You can also use a small spatula if you like.  Eggs cook quickly, so read through the recipe before you implement!

There are no set ingredients in a French omelette.  I used what was readily available today in my pantry.    Chevre is another great cheese for a French omelette and one which I use often. Add mushrooms, onions, chives, red peppers, whatever you have on hand.  The reason I add the dash of milk is simply to add olume without having to add a third egg, that's all.  It is not essential and will not alter the recipe in any other way.

My friend Reggie Darling , in his comment below, alerted me to this great video of Jacques Pepin making both types of French omelettes, Country and Classic.  Don't miss it!

Photos and recipe Lindaraxa
Last photo Google


Friday, February 8, 2013

Chocolate Glazed Chocolate Tart

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To me Valentine's Day is all about chocolate, roses and Champagne and I can' think of anything better than this easy yet rich dessert to celebrate the day.

A triple layer of crumbly crust, a truffle-like interior, and a high gloss shiny glaze make this elegant chocolate tart the highlight of Valentine's Day.  Go out to dinner if you must; but come home to this and a glass of Champagne!


For crust

  • 9 (5- by 21/4-inch) chocolate graham crackers (not chocolate-covered), finely ground (1 cup)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sugar

For filling

  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 9oz bittersweet chocolate (not more than 65% cacao if marked), chopped
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For glaze

  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 3/4oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon warm water
  • Equipment:

    a 9-inch round fluted tart pan (1 inch deep) with removable bottom


Make crust:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
  • Stir together all ingredients and press evenly onto bottom and 3/4 inch up side of tart pan. Bake until firm, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack 15 to 20 minutes.

Make filling:

  • Bring cream to a boil, then pour over chocolate in a bowl and let stand 5 minutes. Gently stir until smooth. Whisk together eggs, vanilla, and salt in another bowl, then stir into melted chocolate.
  • Pour filling into cooled crust. Bake until filling is set about 3 inches from edge but center is still wobbly, 20 to 25 minutes. (Center will continue to set as tart cools.) Cool completely in pan on rack, about 1 hour.

Make glaze:

  • Bring cream to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in chocolate until smooth. Stir in corn syrup, then warm water.
  • Pour glaze onto tart, then tilt and rotate tart so glaze coats top evenly. Let stand until glaze is set, about 1 hour.

    Cooks’ note: Tart is best the day it is made but can be made, without glaze, 1 day ahead and chilled. Bring to room temperature before glazing.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Bucatini With Spicy Anchovy Sauce And Dill Bread Crumbs

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Even if anchovies aren't part of your culinary repertoire, the way the sweetness of the onions and the saltiness of the anchovies interact, combined with  the unexpected crunchiness of the bread crumbs, will make you forget that you are eating something you may not be overly fond of.

There are many people who won't touch a dish because it has anchovies as part of the mix of ingredients.  Sometimes they like the dish, particularly something like salade nicoise, but will think nothing of leaving them out.  They have no idea what they are missing  If the spiny little things are what gets in your way, then use anchovy paste.  Anchovies add a certain richness and dimension to a dish, particularly one with a red sauce.  Trust me, when all is said and done, you won't be able to identify the wonderful flavor in your pasta and nobody will be the wiser. I can't tell you the times I have served anchovy flavored dishes to people who swear they can't stand them!

I have played a little with the recipe by adding three cloves of garlic to the oil before you sautee  the bread crumbs and at least another can of anchovies if you are making one pound of spaghetti.  Also make sure you cook the onions until they are caramelized.

This is a great fast dinner for the two during the week or a casual dinner with good friends.  All you need is a green salad, a crusty baguette and an Italian Sangiovese such as  Peppoli.

Yield: Makes 6 servings


3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

3 cloves of garlic mashed and finely chopped

2 cups fresh bread crumbs (preferably from a baguette)

3 garlic cloves smashed and minced

1/4 cup chopped dill

1 pound red onions, thinly sliced (3 cups)

1 to 2 (2-ounce) cans flat anchovy fillets, drained and chopped

1 pound bucatini or perciatelli pasta (long tubular strands)

1/2 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes


Heat 1/4 cup oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers, add the garlic and sautee for a couple of minutes.  Add the bread crumbs and sautee stirring constantly, until deep golden and crisp, 6 to 8 minutes.

Transfer bread crumbs to a bowl and toss with dill and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and black pepper.

Wipe out skillet, then cook onions with 1/4 teaspoon salt in remaining 1/2 cup oil over medium heat, stirring frequently, until very soft and caramelized, 12 to 15 minutes. Add anchovies and cook, mashing anchovies into onions, until dissolved. Or substitute about 1 tbsp of anchovy paste if you don't want to deal with the little devils.

Meanwhile, cook bucatini in a pasta pot of boiling salted water (2 tablespoons salt for 5 quarts water) until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta.

Stir red-pepper flakes and reserved water into anchovy sauce, then add pasta and toss to combine. Add about half of bread crumbs* and toss to coat. Serve sprinkled with remaining bread crumbs.

*make sure you add the first half of the bread crumbs when you are ready to serve, otherwise they will become soggy.

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine 2008
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