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Archive for the ‘dessert’ Category

Last summer, a friend asked for my recipe for blueberry pie. Technically, it’s my mother’s recipe. Here’s how I make it:

INGREDIENTS:

2 1/2 cups of flour
1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons)
4 oz of neufchâtel/cream cheese
1/4 cup cold water

1 quart of wild blueberries (or more, depending on pie dish depth)
4 tablespoons of Minute tapioca
1 1/4 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
1 ounces of milk

DIRECTIONS:

Combine berries with 1 cup of sugar and tapioca in a bowl at least half an hour before baking, preferably 2 hours or so. Set aside.

Preheat over to 425 degree F.

Sift flour into large mixing bowl. Cut butter and neufchâtel into flour in small pieces. Pinch pieces of shortening between fingers until no globs remain. Add cold water, mix until dough comes together but no longer. Split into 2 balls, chill in fridge for 4 hours. (Possible to use immediately if needed but try to plan ahead!)

Dust counter top or big cutting board and a rolling pin with flour. (If you have access to a ceramic rolling pin, chill it prior to baking.) Roll out first ball of dough until it’s 1 inch wider than pie plate diameter on all sides. Fold into half and then once again to transfer into plate, then unfold after moving it over. Press closed any cracks.

Add filling. Roll out the other ball of dough, this time making an oval (for lattice) or circle for closed pie. Slice into 1/2″ strips. Weave into lattice over the pie filling. (If pie top is one piece, make sure to cut 8 1″ slit into it to allow steam to escape.) Press the top and bottom crust together with two fingers to form a wave.

Brush the top of the piece with milk. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Put pie into over in the middle rack, preferably with a cookie sheet below it to catch any overflow. (If you have a crust protector, put it over the edges.)

Bake for 15 minutes at 425, then reduce heat to 350 degrees F. Bake for 45 minutes. Check to see if blueberries are bubbling. If not, check back periodically every 10 minutes. If crust is browning too fast, reduce heat further to 325.

Let cool for at least a few minutes — filling will be boiling hot and will gel as it cools.

Goes exceptionally well with cold milk, tea or a la mode.

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When it comes to French dining, I’m lucky enough to have eaten at everything from rustic bistros and cafes to classic fine dining. Last night, I was happy to find a new restaurant that nestled comfortably in between the two.

Bistro Cacao, a new French restaurant in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C., may occupy a sweet spot. Bistro Cacao opened on  last December 15th, just in time for the biggest snowstorm to hit the District in years, and already has earned excellent reviews on Yelp and other online review aggregators.

We enjoyed a fine meal, with a few service hiccups, and plan to return again.

Atmosphere aplenty

Bistro Cacao is at 320 Massachusetts Avenue, occupying the same cozy space that Two Quail did for nearly two decades. I gather new hardwood floors and rustic wine racks were added to the previous decor; both are great upgrades.  The interior is similar to a well-appointed Victorian home, albeit with a few dozen more tables and a small granite bar. One room feels like your funky great aunt’s living room, decorated with antique knicknacks, paintings and candelabras. (The overall effect is pleasant, though I have no idea what green LED lights are doing there.) The other is updated and decidedly romantic, with intimate booths, red curtains and diffuse lighting.

The music that drifts over the scene felt straight out of Buddha Bar, perhaps inspired by the tastes of the Bolukbasi brothers, the restaurateurs behind Mezè in Adams Morgan and Ezme in Dupont Circle.

Room to grow on service

We experienced a couple of surprises. Our table wasn’t ready until nearly fifteen minutes after our reservation, with no apologies. And the hostess greeted us at the bar but failed to offer us drinks while we waited and talked with her, pouring a glass of water for another customer and promising a pour when she returned. (The host eventually filled our glasses with water and a decent Bordeaux). Once seated, a waiter appeared to stumble upon us to take our order. And later in the evening, the staff served us dessert menus – twice – before our entrees had arrived.

The more memorable moment came when we asked for a recommendation for a wine to match the duck we’d ordered. The pinor noir that arrived was thin, acrid and bitter. Even with the differences between the Oregonian reds we’ve been spoiled by over the years and French versions, this was unpleasant. When the host stopped by to ask about our experience of our appetizer, we had to be blunt about asking to return it. The hostess reappeared with two other reds to taste, both of which were much better, but surprised us by drinking both glasses after we’d sipped from them. (Both tasting glasses stayed on the table until after our entrees were cleared. )

That said, we found all of the staff courteous, responsive and quick to respond to any request. I have a feeling the kinks will get worked out.

Tasty French dining

I’ll be honest: I’ll put up with a dreadful atmosphere or miserable service in return good food. For great food, I can live with both. Bistro Cacao delivered excellent dishes at extremely reasonable prices. That, in addition to its proximity to home is why we’ll be back.

We started with Crevettes Flambées au Pernod. In theory, shrimp sautéed served with a cannellini bean and porcini mushroom ragu and finished with a lemon Pernod sauce should have been a welcome departure from the norm. In practice, while the shrimp were nicely cooked with a pleasantly smoky flavor, the beans were over-salted, overwhelming the sauce itself. The mushrooms were a bit sparse and didn’t lend their earthy richness to the ragu. That said, we finished the plate.

Leg of lamb

Unfortunately, the kitchen was out of venison by the time we were seated, so my companion for this evening of French dining chose the Carré d’Agneau aux Herbes (above). I found the mustard and herb crust a touch strong, and didn’t take much of whatever herbs accompanied the mustard, but the rack of lamb itself was gorgeous. Tender, medium rare, and delicious when bathed in the rosemary jus.

The other, Magret de Canard, Gratin de Pommes de Terre et Réduction a la Framboise (below) was delectable. The duck breast was properly rare and complemented gracefully the raspberry wine reduction. The potato gratin was creamy and gone all too quickly. I haven’t braised endives before. I’m a fan. The sweetness added through cooking was balanced by a lingering bitterness well.

We devoured our dessert, a fresh apple tart with marzipan and vanilla ice cream, encircled by a raspberry coulis. Wonderful finish.

apple tart

Apple tart

Great meal. We’ll be back.

French dining gets social

In 2010, it’s not surprising that a new restaurant will look for ways to leverage social media. Bistro Cacao has established digital outposts, including BistroCacao.com, a Facebook page and @BistroCacao on Twitter. With one tweet – truncated from Facebook, no less – Bistro Cacao isn’t making much use of that platform yet, but the Facebook page has some interesting features, including integration with OpenTables for reservations and use of events and photos.

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I wrote this post last December, in the weeks following Thanksgiving when I was still craving more pumpkin pie. My greyhound subsequently ate the filling from one of them, when I unwisely left him alone with it for more than thirty seconds. Happily there was no dire outcome, at least on his end.  Lost pie or no, I had enough leftover dough to make a tart.

***

Earlier in the week, I made two pumpkin pies from scratch. I was proud of the outcome — lightly spiced, creamy dessert with flaky, tasty crust, balanced perfectly with some whipped cream — but I was left with a orange-sized ball of pie dough. I put it into the fridge, planning to use it later.

Last night, I found the perfect excuse.

Raspberry Nutella pie with tangerine zest

Raspberry Nutella pie with tangerine zest

A dear friend was enduring side affects from a flu shot that distinctly resembled actual flu: nausea, fatigue, aches, headache, loss of appetite.

I brought along my dough, some Nutella and a package of raspberries, hoping to make a treat that would appeal to that lagging appetite. The picture above bears proof to the success of the enterprise. I rolled my dough to about 1 mm thick, stretching it to fit the pie pan. I spread the Nutella around, rolled the crust inwards, dotted the creamy brown expanse with raspberries and sprinkled tangerine zest over the top.

Baking the pie at 450 degrees F for 20 minutes, followed by 10 at 350, turned the crust into a flaky delight and the raspberries nearly into jam-like consistency.

The audience (of one) declared the result to be a ‘mouthgasm,’ a compliment I deeply appreciate.

I’ve never had a Nutella pie until yesterday. I wasn’t sure if how well this would work.

As it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried. The addition of berries for sweetness and the counterpoint of tangy citrus balanced the chocolate hazelnut wonderfully. The filling is so dead simple I won’t bother to share proportions. If you have pre-made dough, this is about as fast a baked dessert as I know how to prepare.

Making crust is straightforward. The following will work for any fruit pie. This following is a tried-and-true classic, direct from family. Enjoy it.

Chop up a stick of butter into small pieces. Do the same with an equal amount of neufchatel.  Pinch the butter and cream cheese into 2 sifted cups of flour until each piece of shortening is a flake. Don’t overmix. Add just enough cold water to bind into dough. Separate into two balls, cover and set aside for a few hours before baking if possible, though you can use the dough immediately if necessary.

Happy pie making!

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