Subscribe to my Blog Follow by Email

Thursday, April 14, 2016

As "American" as Apple Pie...

All American Apple Pie!
Diversity is great for apple pie.

Apples aren't American! Shocking, right? As a country we adopted apples into our culture, our kitchens and our colloquialisms. Think about apple bobbing. What about apple expressions?: the apple of my eye - an apple a day keeps the Doctor away - comparing apples and oranges -  how do like them apples? - and, as American as apple pie. Even though apples aren't American in origin, they have become part of us; like tacos, margaritas, hamburgers, hot dogs and French fries. Partially because they are a great fruit which is easy to grow in many of our northern states and also because they are delicious to eat in so many forms; raw and unpeeled, peeled, baked, pureed, juiced, fortified or sweetened and made into dessert, like Apple Pie!
Apple pie and Champagne-Perfect!

My husband, who is from Asturias in Northern Spain has had an affinity for apples all of his life, harvesting local orchards as a child as soon as the apples were ready. I imagine him up in the apple trees on the side of the road, like the Von Trapp children in the Sound of Music, blissfully picking anyone's apples he could and eating them before getting caught.  So, it was no surprise to me that one of the foods he fell in love with in his earliest years in America, was apple pie. I make it for him as often as I can; for his birthday, for Thanksgiving and just recently for a new special day in his life. On March 11, my husband became an American Citizen. Coincidentally, it happens that March 11 is Johnny Appleseed Day, a true "apple" legend in early American history, who planted thousands of apple seedlings across his vast acreage in many Northeast states. I was so proud of my husband and he was truly moved by the pride he felt receiving the privilege of American Citizenship. He took his oath seriously and after the ceremony was over, he ate a big hamburger with "French" fries, then ate his apple pie mostly by himself - seriously.

The Hamburger before the Pie!

I have included my apple pie filling recipe, after the crust recipe. The crust recipe is for a double crusted, old fashioned American apple pie.

Double Crusted Pie Crust 9" (Pre-heat oven to 350):
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Two sticks chilled, cubed unsalted butter
  • 3 oz. ice water
  • 1 egg and tbl water for the crust
  • Extra sugar to sprinkle on the crust
Add cubed butter to dry ingredients and work into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles small peas and holds together when pressed. Add 3 ounces ice water slowly mixing/incorporating until it forms the dough.  If the dough comes together don't add any more of the water and try not to work the dough too much. Drop it out onto your work surface and form it into a ball, then cut in half. Hint: make one "half" of the disc a little larger so you have extra dough for decorating the top crust  or having a generous edging. Wrap each "half" in plastic and chill for 30 minutes. The cooler the dough is the easier it will be to work with.

Working butter into the dough.
Dough should hold together.
Onto the floured surface.
After dough is chilled, roll out the smaller half using a roller which has been floured on a floured work surface.  Roll until it is the desired size, approximately 10" for a 9" pie dish.  If you are using a dish smaller than 9 ", save the extra dough to decorate the top of the pie. Use the trick shown below to move the dough, rolling it around the pin, then transfer it to the pie dish. If there is a tear, don't worry, just repair it by pressing in a little dough or pinching it together. Nobody will know (or care) it was there after it bakes.

Work dough until you can form a disc.
Form into 2 smaller discs.
Wrap into plastic and refrigerate 30 minutes.

A flour dusting before rolling it out.
French rolling pin makes it easier.

Roll dough onto pin for easy transfer.

Ready for the apples!
Fill the bottom crust with apples and refrigerate until the top crust is ready to be placed over the filling. Repeat the rolling process with the second disc, then place the top crust over the pie dish which has now been filled with the chilled apples. You can get creative with the edges or the top crust design, like lattice, or "shreds" of dough. Give the crust an egg wash and sprinkle with sugar for a beautiful finish. Bake in center of the over for about 35 minutes. You may want to check it halfway through and turn it so it browns evenly. Crust should be very golden. Hint: because the apples are pre-cooked, the pie bakes in half the time of other apple pie recipes and burning the edges of the crust is not an issue.

This is a "Golden Brown" crust.
 Apple Pie Filling Ingredients and Instructions:
  • 8 - 10 apples; a variety for different texture and flavor, like Pink Lady, Granny Smith and Gala
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spices, cinnamon ginger and nutmeg (more if you like it). Pumpkin pie spice works perfect.
  • The zest of half an orange plus the juice of the orange. You may use the zest and juice of a lemon if you prefer.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • A pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar (this is not a super sweet recipe so you can add more sugar if desired, a caramel sauce or a la mode).
  • Optional, 1 ounce of either orange liqueur or sweet sherry
  • 3 tablespoons Butter 
  • 1 tbl cornstarch or flour 
Preparing the Filling:
Peel apples. Cut into 8ths or 10ths depending on the size of the apple, removing the core and seeds. I use about 8 to 10  medium to large apples. The more apples you have, the higher you can pile the pie, (see the robust apple pie below). Add butter to a hot Dutch oven then add apple mixture and toss to coat. Add the spices, sugar, vanilla, orange zest, juice and liqueur. Cook all together, covered, on medium heat for about 15 - 20 minutes or until apples are al dente; soft but still have a bite and texture. Sprinkle in the cornstarch and toss gently. As the apples cool, the sauce will thicken. If some of the apples get soft it's OK, they'll form part of the sauce Let them cool while you make the crust (recipe above).

Season the apples.
Into the pie crust.

NOTE: If you are a crust person, making a solid top crust gives you the most crust per bite.

Decorate the pie crust however you like. A little ice cream never hurts. 
Simple Crust with vents.

A little creative "free form" top crust achieved by cutting the top crust into strips and laying over the apples.
This idea was born from not having enough dough to roll out the top crust.

Lattice top with cut-out leaf edge.

Use more apples and cut them into quarters to create the robust "bulging" pie.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rudi's Meat Sauce A.K.A. Bolognese

Meat Sauce, AKA Bolognese
I don't believe I know anyone who doesn't like Pasta Bolognese. Maybe because even a Flexitarian (a vegetarian who cheats - Dad!) can't resist the comfort of this hearty pasta made with, sauteed aromatics, ground meat and tomatoes.  Part of the appeal of this iconic Italian dish from the Bologna region of Italy is that it's simple, honest food.
An  ashtray from Rudi's - It was that kind of place

My love of this particular pasta goes way back to when I was a little girl in the 60's, growing up in Los Angeles. I am not Italian, so Pasta was not part of my family's cooking repertoire. Occasionally our six family members would pile into the big Cadillac (no seat-belts required) and trek across the city, from the Eastside to the Westside, to dine at Rudi's Italian Inn. It was Old School Los Angeles/Italian; dark rooms with no windows, red vinyl booths hugging the walls, Italian "oil" paintings of beautiful Sophia Loren looking women stomping grapes and serving wine, and rattan wrapped Chianti bottles displayed proudly on the booth corners and shelving. Once seated inside with our eyes adjusted to the dim, smoky interior, my parents would order their Martinis and we would immediately get a relish dish with ice cold crudites placed on the perfectly starched white linen tablecloth. Then came the delicious crusty sourdough bread and room temperature butter. No menus were required once seated. My dad and grandfather always got the short ribs. Grandma, the ravioli with meat sauce, which in the 60's was usually only found in Chef Boyardee cans. Mom and my sister and I would get the Spaghetti which was slathered with Rudi's special meat sauce. We loved  the gravy texture and bits of meat. It was rich and delicious, its luscious aroma hitting our senses before the generous plate of spaghetti ever arrived to the table.  I'm sure by today's al dente standards the pasta was probably not the best, but we loved it.

1st location on Western Ave
2nd Location Crenshaw Blvd.

Today, I am familiar with very good Italian cuisine, and I know if I put Rudi's meat sauce, aka, Bolognese, to a side by side test, an expert might deem it inferior to a true Bolognese. But, in those days every other Italian restaurant on the east side of town served really over-cooked, sticky spaghetti with a dark red, thin tomato sauce spooned on top and dry meatballs plopped over the noodles with parmesan cheese shaken out of a can, so Rudi's meat sauce felt really special and unique.  Nowadays Bolognese ranks as my favorite comfort food and one of my favorite meals to make for family and friends. When preparing my Bolognese recipe, I can often recall the exact aroma of Rudi's meat sauce with its sweet, cheesy fragrance and the memory of it congers up childhood family lunches at Rudi's with my sister, parents and grandparents. Although I have tried, I have never been able to imitate Rudi's meat sauce. In my research to find an old recipe from Rudi's I was surprised to learn there are a lot of people like me, who remember the meat sauce as the best they ever had. Some of them even spent time in the kitchen at Rudi's and remember details about making the sauce, which it turns out was time-consuming and very complicated. Perhaps the lack of availability of good Italian ingredients made for some long preparation. Now, when I make Bolognese in my own kitchen I follow a traditional recipe using beef and pork, but sometimes I make a healthier version by using turkey and whole wheat pasta. Traditionally a wide flat egg noodle is used to ensure all the meat sauce has a nice surface to rest on; Tagliatelle, Pappardelle or Fettuccine are perfect. But, there are other ways to enjoy it, like the popular "Spag Bol" (as my Scottish boss calls it - a real thing in the UK) which uses dry durum wheat or semolina pasta.  It's a New World variation, but in my opinion, any pasta with Bolognese sauce has to be great.
"SpagBol" Delicious!

Like Rudi's meat sauce, life for us kids in the 60's seemed simple and sweet, but it was actually complicated. I've learned over the years, that no matter how tricky life gets, cooking and eating together brings me back to the basic comforts of home, family and friendship. Below is my version of a delicious and fairly uncomplicated Bolognese for you to enjoy. Buon Appetito!

  My meat sauce includes items which I always have on hand and I make it all in one pot. This sauce is also the base for a proper Italian Lasagna made with Béchamel. So, make plenty and freeze it.
The Star Ingredients

Ingredients - 6-8 Servings:
3 tbl Olive Oil
1/2 large onion finely minced (Can be grated or processed with carrots, celery and garlic)
1 medium, finely minced carrot
2 stalks finely minced celery
1 clove finely minced garlic
1 28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1 lb total ground meat (equal parts beef, pork, veal or turkey and chicken)
1/2 Cup Red wine (or white)
1 tbl tomato paste
1/4 cup frozen green peas (optional)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbl fresh chopped rosemary (optional)
1/4 cup whipping cream or half and half
1 tbl butter
Salt and pepper

1 lb long, flat pasta, preferably egg (linguine, tagliatelle, pappardelle or fettuccine)

Aromatics get processed or minced by hand.

Cover the bottom of a pot with olive oil. When hot, add onions, carrots, celery, garlic and cook until onions are translucent. Season with a good pinch of salt. To the same pot, add the meat and break apart until crumbled and cooked through, seasoning with salt and pepper.
Add 1/2 cup of red Italian wine or white (if red is not available). Let the wine absorb into the meat base.  Add the tomato paste, working it into the meat. Note: I use the paste in a tube so that I don't waste an entire can for 1 tbl. of tomato paste.
Aromatics and Meat in the Pan

In goes the Wine
Blend/Puree the tomatoes

Blend tomatoes in the can with a hand blender or in a blender, then add all of the tomato puree to the pot. I like the puree to be nice and smooth because the meat gives enough body and texture to the sauce. Save the can because you will need to add a little water to the mixture. Once it has cooked for about 15 minutes and the sauce starts to darken, test for salt and pepper. This is the time to add rosemary, oregano, thyme or red pepper flakes.
Simmering Bliss - 20 to 30 minutes
Let the sauce continue to cook, reducing slightly and adding a little bit of water if needed so that it's not too thick. It should be the consistency of thick gravy. It needs to simmer for an additional 20 - 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Test again for salt.

I like to add frozen green peas. I'm not sure where I saw or tasted this, but I love them even though they are not traditional. If you want them, now is the time to add them and let them heat through.

Incorporate the cream and the butter stirring into the sauce. Heat through then turn off the heat.
Adding the cream gives it the true color of Bolognese Sauce
Egg Pappardelle is a great choice - Al Dente please!

The Pasta:
While the sauce is finishing, bring a large pot of water to a boil; add 2 tsp salt before adding the pasta. Test the pasta 1-2 minutes before the package instructions indicate it should be finished. Note that egg noodles usually cook much more quickly than Durum wheat noodles or Spaghetti. Usually 4 minutes vs. 8 minutes. I drain the pasta, always reserving the starchy pasta water even if I never use it, because you never know if you will need to thin the sauce. Do not rinse it with cold water, you want the starch to stay with the pasta. Once the pasta is cooked and drained, be ready to plate it or it will get sticky.

Plating the Pasta:
Add the drained pasta back into the pasta pot,  then start spooning and gently incorporating the sauce into the noodles. Reserve some sauce to top each plate. Pass the parmesan, please. 

Top with Parmesan - Use the best you can buy
Yes, please!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Longevity Soup

Longevity Soup
There has been a lot of talk lately about blue zones around the world; where people live easily to be 100 plus years old. The different zones around the world are very different from one another, but they have a few things in common: "Beans, friends, purpose and movement". In Sardinia, the blue zone with the most centenarians, the people have an active lifestyle; many are shepherds or farmers clocking in thousands of steps per day.  No Fit-bit required for them to know they are actively walking six to ten miles per day.  They consume lots of vegetables, tomatoes, olive oil, red wine and seafood. Your basic Mediterranean diet.  In Sardinia, they make a vegetable soup which we Americans know as minestrone. It is full of local and seasonal vegetables, legumes, and sometimes a little pork fat goes into it when the weather gets chilly.  My father-in-law, pictured at the bottom of this post, playing the piano (really well) at 105 years old, eats a very healthy and moderate diet, including a soup or stew very similar to this one at least two to three times a week. He also lives in Northern Spain, in an area where hormones, antibiotics and steroid fueled food and crops have eluded the local farmers. Something to think about?
Shortly after reading about the Blue Zones, I learned my daughter was moving to New York. Before she left I thought it would be a good time to cook this recipe for long life together, so she can make some longevity soup while living in the big city. If nothing else, it's delicious and even if longevity isn't in all of our futures, I'm sure we can count on a little stamina from the rich healthy stew.
My daughter and I (diagonal selfie)

Any combination of beans will work.

Amounts of vegetables can vary according to your taste and seasonal availability of veggies and legumes.This will make enough for 6 to 8 servings. I used some canned tomatoes and canned beans, but feel free to use the freshest ingredients you can find.

In a 6 to 8 quart Dutch Oven sauté the following chopped vegetables in olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pot. Chop all veggies to approximately the same size.

  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 stalks celery 
  • 1/2 fennel bulb
Add salt to veggies and sauté over medium heat until soft and translucent.
Add 1 14 oz can of your choice of beans; cannelloni, chickpeas, northern white or pinto.
Sauté together then add 1 24 oz can of diced tomatoes. Cook for a few minutes until heated through, breaking apart any big chunks of tomatoes.
Preparing the vegetable base of the soup

You can also add a cup of red wine at this stage. Cook on medium high heat. Add 2 cans (the tomato can) of water, taste for seasoning, salt and pepper. At this time you can add more or less water to achieve the desired consistency. I like my "soup" thick, some people prefer it more "soupy". It's your choice, but if you add a lot of water, be sure to cook it long enough to achieve the full flavor. Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste for additional richness. Continue cooking on medium high heat uncovered until broth is reduced and veggies are cooked through, adding more water if needed or desired.  This stage should take about 30 to 40 minutes. During the last 10 to 12 minutes you can add a small pasta to make this even more hearty, but it's great either way.
Looking good after adding the tomatoes.

Finished with crispy prosciutto, parsley and parmesan. Yummy.

My 105 Year old Father-in-law eats bean stews at least three times a week.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Pound per pound...the best cake ever

After 20 years of keeping one of the few secrets I have, I finally gave in and shared my pound cake recipe. I have been making it for years for only the most special people in my life. My pound cake is the most coveted food item that I produce and I have never shared the recipe with anyone...until recently and under extreme pressure. To be fair, this recipe was shared with me by my best friend Denise and it was her Mother's family recipe for generations, which has now become a Forquer-Carmona favorite. The cake is so coveted by my family, that when I bake one, I have to hide it so that it's not devoured in one day.

It's all my husband's fault that I finally gave out the recipe. He was in Spain with his family and through text messages, he shared a picture of my pound cake which had just come out of the oven. The picture quickly went viral throughout his town friends, and shortly thereafter I had requests for the recipe.  I managed to avert all requests through Facebook, mostly because I'm really bad at going into my page. But, when Miguel went for another visit to Spain last summer, he started comparing all the cakes or "bizcochos" he tried at the local bakeries to my pound cake. Then, he started looking at the pictures he had on his phone of my pound cake and it was all downhill from there. I received a plea from a friend who has a restaurant asking me personally for the recipe. How could I say "no"?  I sent her a picture of the original recipe I had with all the grease stains and notations in English. I figured if she really wanted it, should would have to work a little for it. It turns out, the translation of basic ingredients was pretty easy even if she did not have the benefit of any explanation that I'm about to give my readers.

The truth is it's super simple, but you have to follow instructions carefully. I can tell you that the smell of the finished product is irresistable...try it and you'll believe it. Think of this recipe as a jumping off point for adding other flavors, like orange, cinnamon, almond. Experiment. Have fun. Enjoy the tasting!

The recipe is for one large pound cake, as pictured below, or two - loaf pan size (best for sharing).

The only Ingredients needed. . .

Farm Fresh Eggs are always a plus

2 sticks butter unsalted
Tip: use butter wrappers to grease pans (s))
2 cups sugar
6 x-large eggs 
(Tip: if you only have large eggs, use an extra one)
3 cups sifted cake flour
(Tip: sift regular flour twice* in a fine sifter, if you don't have cake flour)
1 cup whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 prepared bundt pan, buttered and floured.

 One of my first recipe cards, battered but useful

To prepare:
In a mixer, on medium high speed, Cream soft butter and sugar thoroughly, until creamy soft and pale yellow.
When creamed, on medium speed, add eggs one at a time incorporating each one until all are incorporated into the butter mixture. Scrape the side of the mixing bowl and raise the speed to medium high. Add vanilla and incorporate.
On low speed. Start adding flour and cream, alternating, starting and ending with flour. If the batter looks like it curdled, it's o.k..  It means your ingredients might have been a little cold, but once the flour and cream are added, the batter will become smooth. This will take a few minutes.  Don't rush and be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally.
Scoop batter into the prepared pan. It will look lumpy and uneven.  Gently shake the pan to settle the batter.
Place pan on baking tray and place into a cold oven. 
Turn oven to 350 degrees. A large bunt pan will take about 60 minutes to bake. When there are about 10 minutes left, peek at the cake, without opening the oven, if possible. It should be a pale golden color and should have risen quite a bit, but it's not ready yet.
When it's ready it should look like its about to burst out of the pan, and large crevasses have formed on the crown. You can turn the oven off and leave it in the oven for a few extra minutes to ensure it rises fully. 
It's finished when a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, and the cake has risen, about double in size, and has a golden brown crust on top.  
Remove from oven. Run a knife around the edges to ensure it releases easily.  Let cool.
Remove gently from pan and turn so that the crown is right side up. Dust with powdered sugar if desired, or a simple glaze, but it's perfect just as it is. 
* Sifting twice ensures a very fine crumb, but sometimes I cheat and only sift once. It's still good
Pouring the thick and smooth batter into the pan

Batter before and after settling into the bundt pan

A dusting of powdered sugar is all that is needed

Coffee anyone?