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.