February 22, 2012

dulce de leche banana tart

this dessert first came to my attention at a baby costume party this past halloween (which by the way was ridiculously cute). my boyfriend, robbie, really loved it. i liked it, but wasnt as excited as him, and i thought it was a bit too sweet. i did note however that it seemed incredibly easy to make, and that maybe i should make it for him sometime, because his reaction stood out among his typical reaction to things he eats, even when he likes them. i took the opportunity to follow thru with this plan on valentine's day...im a real sweetheart, i know.

this dessert basically has 4 parts. crust, dulce de leche, bananas and whipped cream. bananas are self explanatory. and the whipped cream...well you've got to make it fresh. then there is the crust. i suppose you could use any type crust you like, pie crust, graham cracker crust, whatever suits your fancy. i opted for a slightly crumbly walnut crust which paired excellently with its contents. and as for the dulce de leche, you can buy it, make it from condensed milk, or make it totally from scratch. i took the middle road this time around and made it from condensed milk, though sometime i would like to try it from scratch. in case you are unfamiliar with dulce de leche, it is a delicious, caramel-y confection popular in latin america, but also quite well known in france under the name confiture de lait.

as far as the condensed milk version goes, a scouring of the world wide web will inform you that there are three main ways to make it.

first..you can boil the can itself in a pot of water until the milk inside carmelizes
second...you can do it in the oven
and third...you can do it on the stove top, preferably double boiler style

i immediately ruled out the boil-the-can option. for starters, though seemingly widely used, it is also widely warned that the can may explode due to pressure build up as the milk heats. this however was not really my concern. much more worrisome to me was the idea of eating anything boiled in a metal can for any period of time, much less a prolonged period of time. alzheimers? what? not to mention i would think this method would impart a slight metallic-y taste to the whole thing. call me paranoid if you will. i chose the stove top over the oven for no real reason i can think of, it just seemed more reliable to me somehow. perhaps its just the control factor of wanting to be able to easily see the milk the whole time to make sure its doing its thing. "its thing" being a magical transformation from plain old sweetened condensed milk to a thick, golden caramel. it worked quite well, and while it requires next to zero effort, it does demand quite a bit of time, at least 3 hours.

i dont generally think of making banana desserts, with the exception of banana bread, but sure am glad i decided to make this one. its simple and delicious, the tastes and textures of each component blend beautifully into one delectable bite. and i think it is even better after a night in the fridge after the flavors have melded a little more and the dulce de leche has had time to firm up a bit. ok then..onto the recipe.

dulce de leche banana tart

ingredients (adapted from epicurious.com)

1 c flour
3 tbls sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 c walnuts
1/2 c chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 egg yolks

note: i used a scant 3 tbls sugar, salted butter with
just a pinch of salt and almost double the walnuts

1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 or 3 bananas, slice about 1/8-1/4 in thick
heavy whipping cream
dark chocolate (optional, for garnish)

first start the dulce de leche. pour the can of milk into the top of a double boiler that is lightly boiling (or if you are like me and dont have a double boiler you can use a pot and a heat proof bowl). give the milk a quick stir infrequently, every 20 min or so, and be sure not to let all the water boil out of the pot. continue cooking the milk for 2-4 hours until it thickens and becomes a dark, golden color.

next you can make the crust. combine flour, sugar and salt in food processor. add walnuts and process until chopped. add butter and pulse until mixture resembles course meal. add yolks and process just until moist lumps form. gather dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper and chill 30 minutes.

meanwhile butter a 9 in tart pan with a removable bottom and preheat the oven to 375.

roll dough to roughly 11 in and press firmly into bottom and sides of pan, using any overhang to patch up any holes or tears. freeze for 15 min then bake until golden, about 25 min.

you can also make the whipped cream now and keep it in the fridge until the milk is done transforming. use anywhere from 1/2 pint to a pint, depending on how much whipped topping you'd like, i recommend a pretty hefty layer. pour the cream into a bowl, add a dash of vanilla, sprinkling of sugar and pinch of cinnamon (all to taste-i prefer mine not overly sweet and with just a hint of cinnamon) and whisk or beat with an electric blender until stiff peaks form (be sure not to overwhip it).

once you have all the parts, its time to assemble the tart. pour the dulce de leche into the crust and smooth into an even layer. top this with sliced bananas, lay them down with slight overlap in a concentric circle. top the whole thing with whipped cream, and shave some chocolate on top if you'd like. chill until ready to eat. enjoy!

February 08, 2012

letting go of first impressions

my introduction to lentils was not a good one. it was in middle school cooking class, mrs. coil was our teacher's name. this was a woman who was rumored to have never had sex with her shop teacher husband, and who also thought it appropriate to tell 12 yr olds "if you get your stomach wet while washing the dishes, it means you're going to marry a drunk". what?! perhaps it should not be surprising then, that this woman also thought a group of pre-teens from indiana would like brown lentils. the lentils in and of themselves were probably a bad enough idea, but a lentil soup, devoid of any flavor or spices, with a plain water broth, and a negligible amount of salt- that was a real mistake. how could something so exotic be soooooo boring? this soup was bland enough to turn off even a seasoned lover of lentils.

unfortunately, sometimes first impressions do last, and i spent at least the next ten years avoiding this fine legume, believing i could get more satisfaction from a bowl of water with a few clumps of dirt stirred up in it. i dont remember when i bravely ventured into the lentil world again, but needless to say, it was a much more positive experience. which is fantastic, because not only are lentils versatile and tasty, they come in all different size and color options, and they are quite healthy - high in fiber, protein, B vitamins and iron.

since being reintroduced to lentils, i have enjoyed them on numerous occasions, prepared myriad ways. i am sad to report however, that as far as the standard brown lentils of my 6th grade cooking class go, i still have had only mild to moderate success in preparing them in a way that i find worthy of doing again. ive enjoyed them in dishes others have made, but when i cook them, i still always find them somewhat bland. on the contrary, i have had excellent results with red lentils (which are really more pink). the recipe i typically make with them is one of my favorites when it comes to soup, and ive been making it for years. i dont even recall exactly where the inspiration came from; it may be a loose, dare i say, better, version of a recipe from one the first vegetarian cookbooks i acquired long ago. Anyway, wherever the idea came from, its here to stay.

red lentil coconut curry soup


oil (olive, sesame or coconut)
carrot, thinly sliced
onion, diced
red bell pepper, diced or thinly sliced
green bell pepper, diced (about half as much as red)
15 oz can diced tomatoes with their juices
red lentils
stock or water
one can coconut milk
red curry paste
splash of soy sauce
lemon juice
garlic and fresh ginger, minced
salt to taste
cilantro (optional)
minced hot pepper or red pepper flakes (optional)

yogurt (for garnish)

in oil briefly saute carrots. add peppers and onion. after another minute or two add garlic, ginger and curry paste (and chilis or pepper flakes if using). add lentils and then tomatoes. add the splash of soy sauce and just enough water or stock to cover lentils. bring to a boil and then simmer until lentils are almost done. add more water/stock if needed to keep them submerged. add coconut milk. add salt, lemon juice and cilantro to taste. simmer on low until lentils are very tender and flavors have melded. Serve topped with a dollop of yogurt.

notes: i never measure my lentils, but i think i usually use about half a cup-ish. please refer to my "ajvar" post in march 2010 for a more thorough explanation of why i dont usually include measurements in my recipes.

if you have leftovers the lentils will continue to soak up the liquids overnight, causing the soup to become quite thick. when you reheat it you can water it back down to soup consistency if you like, or enjoy it as is and scoop it up with some warm pita bread.

January 31, 2012

back with a punch

i really never intended for this much time to go by without writing, but alas, its been almost two years. i can hardly believe how fast the time goes by. ive thought about writing on several occasions, but just never quite got around to it. if you are reading this, chances are you know while i may not have cooked as much food as id have liked in the last year, or wrote about it when i did, i did bake up an exquisitely delectable little baby who smells sweeter than any treat that has ever come out of my kitchen. and quite naturally, he has garnered nearly all of my attention, both prior to and since his exciting arrival. i certainly have not stopped eating, or talking and obsessing about eating, but i guess this is just how these things sometimes go. we're pretty settled in now, and while i still sometimes feel like i barely even have time to get simple tasks like brushing my teeth done during the day, i feel relatively confident that i will be able to keep up with this project at least semi-regularly now.

so i return with a beverage recipe. i must stress however, this is not just any beverage, but one of the most perfectly delicious things, food or drink, ive consumed in some time. i wish i could take credit for the brilliant idea, but will happily settle for simply sitting there with my lips pursed on the edge of my glass. the drink is milk punch, which apparently is popular in the south, particularly new orleans. leave it to this great city to produce one more spectacular thing. while several recipes are out there, with some amount of slight variation, i settled on the one at smittenkitchen.com, (with my own adaptation) mainly because rather than being over ice, it was slushy. who could resist?

let me start by saying i have never considered myself much of a dairy/alcohol combination kind of girl. milk punch is an exception. when i first came across this recipe i thought of it definitely as a special occasion kind of drink, so i waited...and waited...and finally made it for our christmas eve get-together. after running out of the batch i made much more quickly than i had hoped, i can now deem just about anything a special occasion in order to justify keeping a pitcher of this intoxicating slush in my freezer. what? the diapers need washed again? better get a bottle of whiskey and some heavy cream.

although it is a cold drink, i think of it more as a wintry drink. for starters i dont usually crave milky things on hot summer days. and maybe it is that exact milkiness that gives me the nostalgia of a cold snowy day that i so rarely enjoy here in the northwest. and i suppose there is the fact that the drink is reminiscent of a glass of eggnog, albeit a cleaner, crisper version.

milk punch is a classy drink, a classy drink that inspires decidedly unclassy behavior. remember when you were 8 years old and your mom would let you lick the beaters from the brownies she was making? when i finish my drink, with all the gusto of my 8 year old self licking my gooey brownie-battered beater, i find myself spotlessly cleaning the inside of my glass with my index finger and then promptly putting it in my mouth to lick off the last frothy remains.

milk punch


5 cups of a mixture of milk and heavy cream (ratio 3:2ish)
1 1/2 cups bourbon (or brandy)
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tbls vanilla
freshly grated nutmeg for garnish

whisk all ingredients together in a pitcher and freeze until slushy (about 4 hrs). remove from freezer, stir, pour into glasses and garnish with nutmeg.

note: the original recipe calls for half-n-half instead of the heavy cream...ill always opt for the heavy cream. also, if you have never used freshly grated nutmeg- do it!

June 09, 2010


I dont really even know what to say about hungarian mushroom soup. I dont have any good stories about it. Its simple and quite lovely, but i dont see it served at restaurants too often. I dont even remember where or when i first tried it. There is a restaurant here in portland that has made a name on it, but i was less than impressed, and on the whole, have nothing nice at all to say about the place, so i'll move on. I guess one thing i should note is that by no means do i claim to be an expert on this dish. I dont know how it's traditionally made, or for that matter, how popular it even is in hungary. I did do an internet search, admittedly a rather brief one, to see if i could find some interesting history of the soup, some obviously authentic recipe, some piece of information worth sharing, but nothing really stood out. I plan to research this more in depth, as i myself am now curious how the soup may differ were it actually served to me in hungary, but for now i will settle with not knowing. If you are privy to this knowledge, please do share. For the moment i will entertain the mystery, and just tell you how i do it.

hungarian mushroom soup


garlic, minced
yellow onion, diced
lots of mushrooms, sliced (white, crimini or a mix)
stock (i use veggie, you could use chicken if you like)
sour cream
salt, pepper, dill, hungarian paprika

Saute garlic and onion in butter. Add mushrooms and cook until they begin to soften. Add more butter or some olive oil if the mushrooms seem too dry. Remove from the heat and add a healthy portion of paprika. You are going to want to put more than may be your natural instinct. At least a tbls, maybe more. Return pot to the heat for a few seconds and add stock. Add pepper and dill, and bring to a boil. Salt and lower to a simmer. Remove a little broth and whisk it in a cup with a spoonful or two of flour until smooth. Add to the soup. You may adjust the amount of flour depending on how thick you want your soup; i tend to keep mine relatively brothy. Whisk in half a cup or more of sour cream. (For a slightly richer soup, you may also add some heavy whipping cream). Adjust spices to taste. Simmer until desired thickness. Top with another dollop of sour cream and a fresh sprinkling of dill. Enjoy with a few slices of hearty, crusty bread.

April 13, 2010

bbq salmon 'n slaw

I dont know if i can think of anyone who doesnt enjoy bbq. And while some people will eat anything that comes off a grill slathered in sauce, others develop a loyalty to their sauce of choice, declaring "I only eat Big Daddy's", or something to that effect. In fact, my mom recently visited, and at the suggestion of going out for bbq, she informed me that she usually doesn't eat it out, as she is so particular about her sauce. Rather than risk not wanting to eat her ribs because of an undesirable dressing, she prefers to enjoy them at home, where there are no surprises. I've been in portland long enough to know the restaurants that will not disappoint, but in general, i tend to lean with the sauce-wary, and not just with bbq. If i am out at a restaurant of questionable quality, which fortunately is not a regular occurrence, i will often order any accompanying sandwich condiments "on the side".

As for store bought brands, I have found some bbq sauces that are definitely good, but i am never so overwhelmed that i feel compelled to rush back to the store to buy it again. That, and the fact that i dont eat bbq all that often, have led me to the obvious conclusion that i should make my own bbq sauce any time i have that finger-lickin' urge. My recipe is a somewhat fluid one, meaning that it never is the exact same twice, but always pretty similar. Sometimes it may vary based on a new idea that comes my way, or sometimes because of an ingredient i happen to have, or not have, lying around.

As we all know, pork and chicken are high on the list of bbq-able items, but it just so happens that salmon is a fantastic option as well. This may be especially true for those mostly-vegetarian bbq lovers, the ones who eat sea creatures, but not land ones. I say this without judgement, as i myself was one of these "pescatarians" as they say, though for some reason i have always resisted employing such finicky labels when describing my eating habits. Having gotten that out of the way, i dont think too many people would argue that bbq is no stranger to coleslaw, and in this recipe, they are intimately acquainted. Enjoy.

bbq salmon 'n slaw sandwich

bbq sauce (see below)

green and/or purple cabbage
grated carrot (optional)
dijon mustard
rice vinegar
black sesame seeds
salt and pepper
green onion (thinly sliced)

kaiser roll
queso fresco (optional)

Finely shred the cabbage. In a bowl whisk the vinegar with a small dollop of mayo and a little mustard. Toss dressing with the cabbage (and carrots if using) until well coated. Season with salt and pepper and stir in sesame seeds and green onion. Refrigerate until needed, stirring periodically to keep evenly marinated. Generously coat salmon fillet with BBQ sauce and bake or grill until just done. Discard skin and put salmon into a small saucepan. Stir in enough extra BBQ sauce to make it just a little messy to eat. Heat until warmed through. Fill roll with salmon and top with a big spoonful of slaw. Garnish with some cheese crumbles if you desire.

Below is my loose recipe for bbq sauce. I put "optional" next to those ingredients which are most flexible, depending on what you have around, or your tastes. Some people like a really sweet sauce, some a smoky one, others one with a kick. I like a combination of all of these flavors. So get creative! Play around and add or subtract things each time until you find that perfect combination that keeps you coming back for more.

bbq sauce

tomato sauce
garlic (minced)
olive oil
apple cider vinegar
worcestershire sauce (soy sauce also works)
dijon mustard
honey, brown sugar or maple syrup
salt, pepper, chili powder or cayenne, cumin and paprika (smoked if you have it)
chipotle (optional)
tamarind (optional)
whiskey or porter (optional - if you plan to do this, you may need to add some tomato paste in order to keep it from getting too thin)

Lightly saute garlic in oil. Add tomato sauce, stir, and begin adding the rest of the ingredients, one at a time, little by little, tasting frequently and adjusting as suits you. Simmer on low until flavors meld, or until you just cant wait any longer.