Pie, Actually

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The first time I had heard the words “Banoffee Pie” were when Keira Knightley’s character, Juliet muttered them in the 2003 film, Love Actually. 

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“Banoffee pie?” she asked.

“No, thanks.” said Mark.

“Thank god. You would’ve broken my heart,” she sighed.

Such irony in that scene, as he was so secretly in love with her.

After watching the movie for the first time in 2004, I immediately investigated this “banoffee pie.” Ban (banana) offee (toffee). What I discovered, a British treat with a crisp, buttery crust, tender bites of banana and dulce de leche, and a soft, pillowy whipped cream topping. The combination is all too irresistible.

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Banoffee Pie
Recipe slightly adapted from Jamie Oliver
Serves 4-8

INGREDIENTS
4.1 ounces butter, melted
8.1 ounces Speculoos cookies (or digestive cookies), crushed into fine crumbs
1 can (10.5 ounces) condensed milk
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
2 large bananas, sliced 1 1/2 inches thick, on a bias
pinch salt
1 small bar of dark chocolate, finely chopped

METHOD
Make the dulce de leche. First, remove the label on the can. Take the upopened can and place into deep pot and completely immerse the can in water. The can must be completely submerged in the water or it will explode.

Turn the heat on the stove to medium-high. Cover the pot and once the water begins to boil, turn down to a gentle simmer. Set a timer for 1.5 hours, checking frequently to make sure the can is completely covered in water, and pouring in more water if needed.

After 1.5 hours, using a long pair of tongs, carefully flip the can upside-down and return back to the simmering water. Add more water to the pot if needed. Set another timer for 45 minutes. When done, carefully remove the can from the water and allow to cool in room temperature for about 30 minutes before opening. Set aside.

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Mix the melted butter with the cookie crumbs in a bowl. Place the mixture into a pie tin, pressing down to ensure the crust is evenly distributed. Place into the refrigerator for 1 hour.

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While the crust sets, whip the cream in a mixing bowl with a whisk till soft peaks form. Don’t over-mix. Set aside.

After the crust has set for 1 hour, spread the dulce de leche over the base of the crust evenly.

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Layer on the sliced bananas. Add a pinch of salt to the bananas.

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Then frost the top with the whipped cream.

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Sprinkle the top of the pie with the chopped chocolate. Place into the refrigerator to set for at least an hour. Serve.

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(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots in this story are property of Universal Pictures.)

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DINING IN…

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A pet peeve of mine: When stores begin selling their holiday decorations months before the holiday has even come close. (Can we just celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving first, please?) It’s annoying, really. I don’t even want to think about Christmas in October when I’m trying desperately to put together my last-minute Halloween costume. Let’s keep them separated, people.

Another pet peeve of mine: Playing Christmas music in October. Or November.

Just stop.

I appreciate the wanting to get into the holiday spirit deal, but I just can’t justify listening to Bing Crosby singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” 100 times before Christmas. I just can’t. And as much as I love Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, I don’t want to hear it every single day leading up to Christmas.

I can’t.

I like to wait a good four to three weeks before the holiday to get everything done. That includes shopping, getting the tree, decorating, and watching all of my usual holiday favorites (The Holiday, Love Actually, Home Alone, Hook, Bad Santa, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and While You Were Sleeping).

And The Family Stone. With an all-star cast–Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Dermot Mulroney, Luke Wilson, and Craig T. Nelson, to name a few, The Family Stone circles around the Stone clan during Christmastime.

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The story starts off with the Stone’s prodigal son, Everett, (Mulroney) who brings his uptight, conservative girlfriend, Meredith Morton (Parker), with him to his family’s New England home for the holidays. Everett intends (albeit a bit skeptical) on proposing to her with his mom Sybil’s ring (Keaton), but is met with a bit of resistance from Sybil, who also has a terminal illness, and disapproves of her eldest son’s choice for a wife. None of the family approves of Everett’s girlfriend, either, and gives her a hard time at every opportunity they can. (Except Ben, played by Wilson, who shares a connection to Meredith.)

When Meredith sends an emergency SOS to her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to come stay at the Stones’ home with her for support, things get interesting when Julie arrives, and her growing mutual attraction to Everett cannot be denied. These star-cr0ssed siblings endure a few fights, misunderstandings and an engagement ring stuck on someone’s finger. Uh-oh.

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One of the more pivotal scenes in the movie is when Meredith plans to make her family’s traditional “Morton Strata”, a savory bread pudding, on Christmas Day for the Stone’s. But things quickly turn upside-down, quite literally.

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Without further giving away anymore spoilers, I encourage you to watch this heartwarming movie.

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This week’s post is dedicated to Meredith’s Christmas Strata, which includes mushrooms (even though Everett is allergic to them…oops!). Perfect for Christmas morning, make this recipe a day-ahead, as it’s important for the bread to absorb all of that custardy goodness.

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Meredith’s Christmas Strata with Swiss Chard, Mushrooms and Gruyère

Recipe slightly adapted from NYT Cooking
Serves 6

INGREDIENTS
½ pound stale bread, sliced about 3/4 to 1-inch thick cubes
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pats
2 1/2 cups milk
1 ¾ cup mushrooms, quartered
1 cup cooking greens stemmed and cleaned (Swiss chard, kale or spinach)
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup Mozzarella cheese, grated
½ cup Gruyère cheese, grated
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 Tablespoons fresh thyme, picked and chopped
 3 Tablespoons Kosher salt
1 Tablespoon red pepper flake
4 large eggs
½ teaspoon salt

METHOD
Lightly butter a 2-quart baking dish.

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In a large pan, toast the bread cubes lightly in 2 Tablespoons of the butter. Place in a large bowl, and toss with 1 cup of the milk. Set aside.

Sauté the mushrooms in 2 Tablespoons of the butter, then add in the thyme. Remove from the pan and into the bowl with the bread and milk.

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Using the same pan, heat another 2 Tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat, and add the cooking greens.

Stir for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic. Cover the pan, and allow the steam to cook the greens till it has completely collapsed, about three minutes. Uncover and stir, season with salt and red pepper flake.

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Remove from the pan, roughly chop and transfer to the bowl with the bread and mushrooms. Add the cheeses, and mix to incorporate. Arrange in the buttered baking dish.

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Beat together the eggs in a separate bowl, add in the remaining milk. Then pour over the bread mixture. Press the bread down into the custard mixture. Cover with foil and place into the refrigerator overnight.

On the next day, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place in the oven, and bake 45 to 50 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Remove from the oven, and serve hot.

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(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots in this story are property of Twentieth Century Fox.)

Midnight Macaroons

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Chocolate-Covered Hazelnut Macaroons
Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart
Yields about 8 cookies

INGREDIENTS
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 large egg whites
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

METHOD
Fill a sauce pot with water and heat to boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to just simmering. Fill a large metal (or heat-resistant) mixing bowl with the chocolate chips and place over the hot water bath. Allow to melt, stirring with a spatula every few minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg white. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Form the dough into eight, 2 tablespoon mounds and drop each onto the sheet pan about 2-inches apart.

Bake the macaroons until golden brown on the edges, about 15 minutes. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes then transfer to wire racks to cool. Using a spoon, drizzle the melted chocolate over the cooled macaroons. Serve.

Macaroons will keep in a sealed container for up to one week.

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Return to the full story HERE

(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots in this story are property of Sony Pictures.)

West Toast

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It’s so crazy to think about how much of your life can change in one year. 1 year. Last Thanksgiving I spent the entire night working as a cocktail waitress at a thankless job. It was by far the WORST job I have ever had. Luckily, I only stuck around for a month.

At last week’s Thanksgiving, I spent it with some truly awesome friends. We had a delicious meal and plenty of libations. Being away from your family during the holidays is oftentimes hard, but when you have amazing friends, it’s not that bad at all.

My contribution to our Friendsgiving/Thanksgiving meal are these mini Guava and Cream Cheese Tartlets (Pop Tart knockoffs), but they’re soooo good. The filling was inspired by this AMAZING Cuban bakery in LA that I used to frequent, called Porto’s. Their Pastelitos de Guayaba (Guava Pastries) are a reason in itself to visit if you’re ever in LA.

The guava filling can be made at home, but I was a bit lazy this time around, and just visited my local Latin American food market and purchased this GOYA Guava Paste package. For $3 it’s a steal. And it’s so good, guys.

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Guava Cream Cheese Tarlets 
(Pastelitos de Guayaba)
Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour

INGREDIENTS
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 large egg (plus 1 egg for egg wash)
2 tablespoons milk

METHOD
Using a food processor, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt, working the butter in till the mixture holds together when you press it with your fingers. The mixture will be just a tad bit lumpy, with specks of butter still visible. Transfer the dough to a large bowl and add the egg and milk, mixing till everything is cohesive.

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Split the dough in half. Shape each half into a rough 3″ x 5″ rectangle, smoothing the edges. If making the dough ahead of time, you can refrigerate for up to 2 days; allowing the dough to rest for 15 minutes at room temperature before rolling out.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Place the first half of the dough on a lightly floured work surface, and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8″ thick, large enough that you can trim it to an even 9″ x 12″.

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Trim off the edges; save the scraps and set them aside, along with the 9″ x 12″ rectangle of dough.

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Proceed by rolling out the other half of the dough, and cut it as you did with the first half.

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Place a rectangle slice of the guava paste and cream cheese onto the center of each marked rectangle.

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Lightly beat the last egg, and brush the outer corners of the surface of each pastry dough. Place the second sheet of dough atop the first, using the tines of a fork to press firmly around each pocket, sealing the dough on all sides.

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If you have dough scraps, press them together into a ball, then re-roll them out. Repeat the rolling and cutting of the dough according to the size of the dough and fill them if you’re able to.

Gently transfer the tarts to a lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet tray. Lightly brush the tops of each tarlet, and then place into your oven.

Bake the tartlets for 15 to 23 minutes, or till they’re a light golden brown.

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No Contest

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Thai food has become my comfort food. It’s the cuisine I crave on the regular. It’s become a big problem.

At work we had an open call “Salmon Chowder Contest” that would run on our menu at the restaurant if it was chosen to be the winner. This is the soup I made for the contest.

I decided to base my recipe off of one I made last year for my Tom Kha Gai soup. It’s not your traditional chowder, but it’s crazy delicious. Like, it’s really good. Trust me.

Forget tradition and try this! You won’t be disappointed.

Coconut Salmon Chowder
Yields 2 quarts

FOR THE CHOWDER

INGREDIENTS
2 nubs medium-sized galangal, peeled and sliced*
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, sliced thin
5 kaffir lime leaves
6 Thai bird chiles
1 Tablespoon coconut oil
1 yellow onion, julienned
2 cups Yukon potatoes, peeled and medium-diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans coconut cream
2 cups vegetable stock
1 pound salmon, skin-off, cut into medium-sized cubes
1/8 cup fish sauce
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup Thai basil, picked and minced
1 cup cilantro, picked and minced
1 lime, zested and juiced
salt and pepper, to taste
*galangal is a rhizome from the same family as ginger, used primarily in Thai, Lao and Vietnamese cooking. Find it at your local Asian supermarket.

METHOD
Place the first 4 ingredients in a food processor and process to a paste. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat and add the paste, stirring till fragrant; about 5 minutes. Add the onions and saute till lightly browned. Add the potatoes and garlic and stir for a minute.

Turn down the heat and add the coconut cream and stir. Stir in the fish sauce and sugar, and bring to a gentle simmer, then add the salmon and simmer for an additional 5 minutes or till salmon is cooked.

Add the cilantro, Thai basil, lime zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper. Top with a healthy drizzle of Thai basil oil. (Recipe below).

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FOR THE THAI BASIL OIL
Yields 2 cups

INGREDIENTS
2 cups Thai basil, packed
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 3/4 cups olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

METHOD
Blanch the basil leaves in boiling salted water for 20 seconds. Remove the basil and shock in an ice water bath. Add in the garlic and olive oil. Process in a food processor till fully combined.

Store in an airtight container overnight in the refrigerator. Not he next day, strain the oil through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding the leaves.

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Eat Like a Viking

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Much of the history surrounding the origin of the Danish aebleskive is shrouded in mystery—and to some, in ancient Scandinavian folklore. Legend has it that during the days of the Vikings, after the warriors returned home, hit hard in battle (many poorly wounded and hungry) mixed together flour with milk, and cooked the batter inside the hollows of their iron shields and horned helmets (which, too, were dented and broken) over an open fire.

The result: A delicious golf ball-shaped cake, golden on the outside and fluffy in the middle.

Today, aebleskiver (plural) which roughly translates to “sliced apples” are enjoyed by just about anyone in every corner of the world. Topped simply with powdered sugar, filled with delicious lingonberry jam, or dipped in a creamy lemon curd—the possibilities with these apple-shaped delights are endless. For my first solo (and best!) attempt at aebleskiver-making (I can briefly remember a short lesson on making them in culinary school), I decided to pair a simple aebleskive recipe with an of-the-moment curd. While we’re still in a weird transitional season from late-fall to winter fruits, I made a delicious pomegranate-lemon curd that pairs perfectly with this recipe.

Cooking with a special aebleskiver pan makes this recipe so much easier, but I used a mini muffin pan, and it worked out PERFECTLY.

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Aebleskiver (Danish Pancakes)

Yields 16
Recipe slightly adapted from Serious Eats

INGREDIENTS
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 cup half and half
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT
Aebleskiver pan (found in select cooking supply stores, like Sur La Table)
or, use a mini muffin pan (which I did.)

METHOD
Whisk together the AP flour, baking powder and salt, then set aside. In a larger bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, milk and 3 tablespoons of the melted butter until just-combined. Slowly stir in the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula, don’t overmix, as it should be slightly lumpy.

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In the bowl of an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites till stiff peaks form,  about 5 minutes. Then fold in the whipped egg whites into the lumpy batter.

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If you have an aebleskiver pan, place the pan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter evenly to each well of the mold, and once the butter starts to bubble, add 2 heaping tablespoons of batter. Allow the aebleskiver to cook till the bottoms are golden, about 4 minutes, then flip and continue cooking till the tops are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer cooked pancakes to a plate covered with foil to retain heat. Repeat steps till the rest of the pancake batter is used.

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If you DON’T have an aebleskiver pan, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and place a mini muffin pan into the oven to heat up. Once your oven is up to temperature, remove the muffin pan and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter into each mold well, then add about 2 heaping Tablespoons of pancake batter into each well. Place into the oven and allow the aebleskiver to cook till the bottoms are golden, about 3 minutes. Once you see that the bottoms are golden, remove from the oven and flip each pancake onto the other side.

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Raise your oven’s temperature to 425 degrees, and once heated up, place the aebleskivers back into the oven to finish cooking for another 3-5 minutes, till golden brown. Once done, immediately transfer the cooked aebleskiver to a plate covered with foil to retain heat, and repeat the steps till the rest of the batter is used.

Garnish with Pomegranate-lemon curd. (Recipe here)

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Curd UP!

Pomegranate-Lemon Curd
Yields about 2 cups
Recipe Slightly Adapted from Baking A Moment

INGREDIENTS
1/8 cup cornstarch
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon water
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 pomegranate, juiced
3/4 cup water
1 lemon, juiced and zested
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

METHOD
Whisk together the first five ingredients into a small bowl till smooth.

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Place the juice from the pomegranate, water and the lemon juice in a pot over medium-low heat, and bring to a simmer.

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Slowly pour in about a 1/4 cup of the heated juices into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to combine. Add another 1/2 cup of the hot liquid, whisking till the egg mixture is warm to the touch.

Carefully pour in the tempered egg mixture into the pot with the remaining hot liquid, whisking constantly. Cook the mixture gently, stirring constantly to avoid lumps and adjusting the heat temperature accordingly.

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Whisk in the cold butter and lemon zest, then transfer the mixture into a bowl to cool.

Serves well as a filling for cake or this Aebleskiver recipe.