Apple Cider Sandwich Cakes

This recipe is adapted from one in the New York Times. They called them Whoopie Pies. Honestly, I’m not from Pennsylvania so I’d be the last person to claim these are Whoopie Pies. I’ve seen Whoopie Pies in stores. I’ve tried them. But what makes these cakes filled with “cream” a Whoopie Pie? Yeah, I’m not going there. We’ll call them sandwich cakes.

My friends from college and I, we have a bit of an obsession with apple cider donuts. College was smack in the middle of NY State, home to many orchards, many cider presses, and lots of delicious apple cider donuts. I miss those donuts, living in Colorado. They just aren’t a thing. I recently went to one of my old food haunts, Delicious Orchards in Colts Neck, NJ and got my fix.

The real deal

Of course, these cakes are not donuts. They are very good though. They keep better than donuts and they have the added yum factor of cream cheese filling.

I live a mile high, outside Denver, Colorado. The original recipe has been modified for that altitude but I provide the original leavening amount so you can try them in your “flatlands” kitchen.

Apple cider is available in most supermarkets. Seasonally, we have local fresh-pressed cider. In June, it’s the shelf-stable stuff. That works too but try to find one that is cloudy, not clear.

Apple Cider Sandwich Cakes
(makes 9 sandwiches)
Adapted from New York Times Apple Cider Whoopie Pies

1 ¼ cup apple cider
1 ½ cups + 2 Tablespoons cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder (1 teaspoon at sea level)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda (same at sea level)
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus 2 tablespoons melted
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
¼ cup apple butter
¼ cup granulated sugar
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Bring the apple cider to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Continue to cook the cider until it has reduced to 1/4 cup, about 20 minutes. Let cool completely, in the refrigerator.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium, beat the room-temperature butter and brown sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add egg, apple butter and reduced apple cider, and beat until combined. The batter will probably break and look like a mess. No worries, it will come back together in the end. Add the dry mixture and mix just until combined, again scraping the bowl as necessary.

Portion the dough into generous 2-tablespoon scoops on 2 parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets, about 1 1/2-inches apart. You should have 9 cakes on each sheet, 3×3. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until the cakes are puffed and set, 12 – 13 minutes. Watch for over-done bottoms near the end. Transfer sheets to racks. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and the granulated sugar. Brush the tops of the warm cakes with a bit of the melted butter and press the tops in the sugar mixture. Set aside to cool completely.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and beat to combine. Split the filling on 9 cakes. Top with remaining cakes.

Store in the fridge but allow to come to room temperature before serving. They are better at room temperature than cold but the cream cheese must be refrigerated for longer storage. Eat within 3 days, if you can stop yourself from eating them all right away.

Sharon’s Eggplant Casserole

Beautiful glossy eggplant in a market in Provence.

Here’s a recipe using my recent post on Spicy Tomato Sauce with Orange. It’s a simple layered casserole using slices of eggplant. Kind of like eggplant parmigiana but the flavor profile is nothing like that. There is also Moussaka from Greece, but again this is nothing like Moussaka. So I’m just going to call it Sharon’s Eggplant Casserole.

You can roast the slices of eggplant and make the sauce in advance. If you do that, this comes together super quick. I pulled the the roasted eggplant out of the freezer and thawed it before putting together the casserole.

Sharon’s Layered Eggplant Casserole
(serves 6 as an entree, 10 as a side)

Double batch of Spicy Tomato Sauce with Orange (4 cups)
2 medium eggplants
olive oil
1 14 oz. can artichoke hearts packed in water, drained (or use frozen, thawed)
12 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese or Italian blend cheese
salt and pepper
Aleppo red pepper flakes (optional)

Preheat oven to 375℉.

Slice the eggplants thinly, thinly enough that you have enough slices to cover a 11-12″ x 8″ x 2″ baking dish twice (so 2 layers of eggplant). Lay eggplant slices out on two oiled baking sheets. Brush eggplant slices lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 10 minutes, until slices are softened. [You could also grill the eggplant slices rather than bake them to add another flavor dimension.]

Brush a 11-12″ x 8″ x 2″ baking dish with olive oil. Spread 1/3 of the tomato sauce in the bottom of the dish. Spread 1/2 the artichoke hearts in the sauce. Sprinkle on 1/3 of the shredded cheese, then 1/2 of the eggplant. If you have the Aleppo red pepper flakes and want to spice things up a bit more, sprinkle a little bit over the eggplant. Repeat the layering: 1/3 of the sauce, the rest of the artichoke hearts, 1/3 of the cheese, and the rest of the eggplant (and Aleppo pepper if using). Top with remaining sauce and cheese.

In summary, the layering from first to last:
1/3 sauce
1/2 artichoke hearts
1/3 cheese
1/2 eggplant slices
1/3 sauce
1/2 artichoke hearts
1/3 cheese
1/2 eggplant slices
1/3 sauce
1/3 cheese

Bake until hot and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Let rest for 5 minutes before serving to set up the cheese. Serve with crusty bread.

Reheats well. Should freeze well but I haven’t done it, no guarantees.

Spicy Tomato Sauce with Orange

Sometimes, an idea for a recipe comes to me and I go poke around the internet to see what other people have come up with. That’s how new recipes come about. No chef ever started with no idea of some defining principles. We all are exposed to food from the time we’re babies and I can’t think of anything that isn’t informed by those who “came to the stove” before us.

I found a recipe. I found many as this is the Internet Age! Made a few tweaks and this is where it ended up. I used this sauce in a recipe for a baked eggplant dish I created. I’ll post that in a day or two. I thought both were simple, bright and easy. Perfect for summer. The sauce would be delicious on pork, chicken, or seafood. The orange flavor is quite subtle but makes for a more complex tomato sauce.

Harissa is a spicy Tunisian or Moroccan chile paste. I used a commercial version of medium heat (see photo). It gives a jolt of chile with some underlying warm spices and a bit of tartness. Feel free to experiment with the harissa, more or less to your taste. If you don’t have harissa, I would use 1/4 teaspoon of hot red chile peppers (such as Aleppo or Korean), a pinch of coriander, and 1 teaspoon of vinegar. You can use more chile pepper if you want a spicier sauce.

SpIcy Tomato Sauce with A hint of orange
(makes about 2 cups)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 cup orange juice
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 bay leaf
1/2 tablespoon harissa
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoons sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons butter

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until light golden in color. Add the garlic, sauté 1 minute longer, then add the orange juice, scraping up any browned bits that may have accumulated on the bottom of the pan. Cook for a few minutes to reduce the juice a little.

Stir in the tomatoes, bay leaf, and harissa and season with salt and pepper.

Cook uncovered over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring now and then. Stir in sugar. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Add the butter and stir until melted.

Serve hot on fish, seafood, pork, or chicken.

Stew of White Beans, Greens & Scallops

This is a quick and simple seafood stew. The original recipe called for catfish. Catfish is cheaper but it’s hard to keep it together in a stew situation. When it’s cooked and stirred, it falls apart. I went for bay scallops (those are little scallops) instead. They don’t fall apart and they are sweet, which works well with the bitter greens.

I love that I can get 1 pound bags of bitter greens, all cleaned and chopped, in the supermarket. My local supermarket carries kale, mustard greens, and turnip greens. Any of these would work but I like kale the best. It’s not quite as bitter. Kale gets a bad rap because it was added to EVERYTHING for a while. To tell the truth, I prefer kale to spinach. The oxalic acid in spinach gives it a weird mouth feel. I much prefer the bitterness of kale to that mouth feel. But, if you loathe kale and like spinach, use that instead. You’ll need to cook spinach for mere moments before it wilts.

Stew of White beans, greens & Scallops
(serves 6)

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound bag cleaned chopped kale, mustard greens, or turnip greens
salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds bay scallops
salt and black pepper
2 1/2 cup low-sodium fish, chicken, or vegetable stock
2 15 oz. cans white or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until golden. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add greens and toss to cover with oil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring to get all the greens down to the bottom of the pan (1 pound of greens takes up a lot of space when raw), until it’s all wilted. Remove to a bowl.

Return the pan to the stove and add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Turn heat up to medium-high. Dry scallops on towels then season with salt and pepper. Add scallops to the skillet. Cook for a few minutes, give them a stir and cook for another minute. Do not overcook the scallops – cook only until no longer translucent. Remove scallops to the bowl with the greens.

Return skillet to stove, turning heat back to medium. Add the broth and beans to the skillet and cook for a few minutes to reheat the beans. Add in the greens and scallops, stirring to combine. Cook for a few minutes to reheat then remove from the heat.

Combine the mayonnaise and mustard. Stir in to the skillet. Taste for salt and pepper and season as needed. Serve stew hot over rice.

Creamy Tomato Pasta

It’s the time of year when I just want a quick, easy, comfort food meal. Lots of holiday cooking. Rushing around to parties, gift shopping. It’s crazy sometimes! It’s also a time of year when leftover cheese seems to multiply in my fridge because of parties and potluck recipes.

This recipe is an antidote. Easy. Quick. And, I can use up leftover soft cheese. I use Boursin here but cream cheese, Neufchatel, or some other brand of semi-soft spreadable cheese will work.

I use canned artichoke hearts (I like Trader Joe’s) but you can use some cooked green vegetable like broccoli or asparagus instead.

I use dried herbs – they are always in my pantry. I crush them in my palm to make the bits of herb leaves smaller so they distribute through the sauce better. Crushed dried herbs also release the scent and flavor more fully.

Creamy Tomato pasta
(serves 4)

1/2 lb penne pasta
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 14.5 oz can Italian-style diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp dried oregano, crushed
1/2 tsp dried basil, crushed
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
freshly cracked pepper to taste
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 14 oz. can whole artichoke hearts, drained and cut into quarters
2-3 oz. Boursin garlic and herb cheese, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Bring water to a boil in 3 quart saucepan. Add the pasta and cook until tender (9-11) minutes. Drain the pasta in a colander. Rinse out pot.

Heat up olive oil in the saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and saute for 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook for an additional minute.

Add the diced tomatoes (with juices), oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, salt, and some freshly cracked pepper. Stir to combine. Add the tomato paste and water to the pan and stir until the tomato paste is dissolved into the sauce. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Add artichoke hearts and simmer for another 3 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low. Add Boursin cheese to the sauce and whisk to combine. Add mozzarella cheese and stir to melt. Serve immediately.

Chicken Chili with Hominy

As the weather gets cold, it’s time to cook up some hearty stew. This stew gets a little kick from green chiles and ancho chile powder. It’s full of corn flavor from the hominy and masa.

I use masa flour as a thickener and to add more corn flavor. If you don’t want to buy a bag of masa (it’s difficult to find small bags), you can use 4 dried out small corn tortillas. Chop them up then stick them in a 350℉ oven until they start to get dry and crispy. Masa is used to make corn tortillas so they offer the same nixtamalitized flavor, as does the hominy (and if you want to learn about the importance of nixtamalization to the nutrition of corn, see my post on polenta).

You can use whatever heat level of green chiles you like here. I love Hatch Valley 505 Southwestern Flame Roasted green chile in a jar, which are medium heat. But, you can use milder or hotter ones if that is your preference. One small 4 oz. can is about 1/4 cup.

Ancho chile powder is pure ancho, nothing else. Chili powder is a blend of pure chile powders, cumin, oregano, paprika (which is merely a specific type of dried red pepper), and cayenne. They aren’t exactly interchangeable but either will work here.

Chicken chili with hominy
(serves 4 as an entree)

1 pound skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized chunks
salt, about 1 teaspoon
black pepper, about 1/2 teaspoon
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped green chiles
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder or chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons masa or 4 corn tortillas, chopped and crisped
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups milk (1%, 2% or whole)
2 15 oz. cans white hominy, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup chopped cilantro plus more for garnish
juice of 1/2 lime + wedges of remaining lime for garnish

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate.

Add remaining tablespoon of oil to pan. Add red peppers and onions and cook until softened but not browned, a few minutes. Add green chiles, garlic, ancho powder, cumin, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook for a minute until fragrant. Add masa and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve any masa lumps. Reduce heat to low.

Add back chicken and any juices from plate, chicken stock, milk, and hominy. When the stew comes back to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes.

Add cilantro and lime juice. Taste and add more salt and black pepper if needed.

Serve sprinkled with additional cilantro and a lime wedge.

Red Pepper & Walnut Dip

Looking for a change from hummus? This delicious dip is an addictive alternative. It’s based on muhammara, a dip found throughout the Eastern Mediterranean (Syria, Turkey, Georgia, and Lebanon). There are many variations. It’s usually made with pomegranate molasses, condensed pomegranate juice. It was a distinctive sweet-tart flavor and I recommend you find some. You can use any fruity-sweetish vinegar as an alternative; I used some peach white balsamic vinegar this week. It’s not quite as good-missing the tang that the pomegranate molasses brings-but it’s still darn good.

For the wheat crackers, I recommend Ak-Mak Sesame Crackers (available at Trader Joe’s and Kroger stores). They have very little sweetener added, unlike some other wheat crackers (I’m looking at you, Wheat Thins).

Red Pepper and Walnut Dip
(makes 1 1/2 cups)

3 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, and seeded.
¾ cup chopped walnuts plus a little more for garnish, toasted and cooled
¼ cup fine dry bread crumbs or wheat cracker crumbs
½ Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon pomegranate molasses or a sweet fruity vinegar
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½-¾ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil plus more for garnish
a few drops of hot sauce or a few pinches of crushed medium-hot chile flakes, like Aleppo or Korean chiles

Grind up the walnuts, crumbs, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor until smooth.

Pat the red peppers dry, chop roughly and add to the food processor. Process until smooth and creamy.

With the processor running, drizzle in the olive oil. If it is really thick, add a Tablespoon or so of water. Season with hot sauce/chiles and more salt, if needed.

Garnish with additional olive and some toasted chopped walnuts, if you want to pretty it up. Serve with wedges of pita bread, pita chips, or crackers.

The flavor improves as it sits, so make it a day or a few hours ahead for the best flavor. Will keep about a week, refrigerated.

Turkey with Chanterelles, Peaches, and Pecans

It has been an absolutely banner year for wild mushrooms here in Colorado. There are years when every mushroom forager wears a long face. This is not one of them. If you aren’t finding King Boletes (our version of Porcini), morels in the burn scars, and now chanterelles, you just aren’t looking! I have found all of them. I stopped bothering with the Boletes; I’m running out of room in my freezer and I have a stockpile of dried one. But, look out! The chanterelle season is heating up. Oy!

This recipe combines two Colorado food items: peaches and chanterelles. Most people don’t realize that Colorado grows peaches. Oh, we sure do! And they are so very good. The chanterelles can be found nearly every year in our stunning high mountains. In a year like this, the bounty is unbelievable. Of course, if you don’t have the access nor the knowledge to forage them yourself, they can be bought at many high-end grocers.

Turkey Cutlets with Chanterelles, Peaches, and Pecans

(Serves 6)

2 pounds turkey breast tenderloins
salt and black pepper
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
12-16 oz. fresh chanterelles, or another mild-flavored mushrooms (see Note), cleaned and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/3 cup dry sherry
4 oz. sour cream
2 medium peaches, peeled and diced
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

Cut the turkey tenderloins into cutlets: start with a piece about 1″ thick (you’ll get bigger cutlets if you cut the turkey on an angle rather than straight down, what is known as a bias cut). Then pound each piece with a meat pounder (or a small skillet bottom) until it is about 1/2″ thick. Salt and pepper each cutlet, both sides.

Heat the oven to 300℉.

Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat then add 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Add about 4 turkey cutlets to the skillet but do not crowd them. Sauté until browned, flip and brown the other side. Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining cutlets, adding another tablespoon of oil and butter if needed.

Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter, shallots, and garlic. Cook for about a minute. Add mushrooms and cook until they begin to give up their liquid. Season with salt and pepper. Add the sherry and cook until reduced somewhat, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and gently stir in sour cream and peaches. Add the turkey and any turkey juices in the plate. Move around the sauce so that the turkey is covered in sauce. Sprinkle with pecans. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve over toast or rice.

Note: I consider oyster mushrooms, and boletes (porcini) mild-flavored mushrooms. They have a sweet component rather than a strong mushroom flavor. In this regard, they are similar to chanterelles, which are very fruity. I think they smell like apricots and their scent is intoxicating.

Frittata: Easy dinner

A frittata containing leftover pasta with tomato sauce, cauliflower, almonds, rice, jack cheese, and parsley. I sprinkled the parsley on top because it looks nice but you can mix herbs in with all the other additions.
My additions included leftover pasta with tomato sauce, cauliflower, almonds, rice, jack cheese, and parsley. I sprinkled the parsley on top because it looks nice but you can mix herbs in with all the other additions.

Frittata is the answer to the question “What’s for dinner?” when you look in the fridge and see eggs and some leftovers. (The question can also be “what’s for lunch?” Or breakfast.) You can toss most anything in there. If it’s very saucy, only use about 1/2 cup of the sauce.

Here’s the simple method for a frittata for 4.

  1. Assemble the additions, 3-4 cups in total. Possible additions include cooked pasta (with or without sauce), cooked rice, cooked vegetables, some chopped herbs, cooked meat. Cut anything chunky into bite-sized pieces. No need to chop up pasta. If additions aren’t seasoned already, season with salt and pepper.
  2. Shred or chop up some cheese (3/4 cup to 1 cup worth), if you like. Good place to use up the end of a bit of cheese. Mix more than one if you like.
  3. Preheat oven to 350℉.
  4. Beat together 6 eggs with 1/2 cup milk. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in the cheese.
  5. Heat 2 tablespoons butter or oil in a 9-10″ ovenproof skillet (non-stick not essential but nice to have). Use medium heat.
  6. Sauté all the additions for a couple of minutes to warm them up.
  7. Pour the eggs over the additions and mix gently. Let cook until sides just begin to set, a few minutes.
  8. Place skillet in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
  9. Voila! Dinner (or lunch, or breakfast, or snack).

The variations are endless.

Eggplant in Yogurt Sauce

I have been trying to solve the problem of the greasy eggplant for a while. Standard Breading Procedure (SBP) works quite well. SBP is a 3-step process: a dip in flour, then a dip in beaten egg, then a dip in breading. The breading sticks to the egg and gives you a crispy exterior without the greasy part. It works quite well, but it is a multi-step process and kind of messy. I was searching for something simpler.

If you try to fry eggplant with no coating at all, it acts like a sponge. Sucks up oil at an alarming rate. It contains so much water that it takes forever to brown too. The secret is just the egg white, a layer of protein that seals in the water and encourages browning. It works on cubes (toss 1 beaten egg white with 1 cubed eggplant in large bowl) and it works on slices (brush on the beaten egg white). It’s the simplest method I’ve found for cooking eggplant when a recipe calls for fried eggplant.

You only need to fry in a thin layer of oil and most of it isn’t absorbed by the eggplant. This is important for this recipe, as the sauce gets too oily if you fry the eggplant without any coating at all.

Eggplant in yogurt sauce
(serves 4-6)

1 egg white, beaten
1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2″ slices lengthwise
about 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
about 3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
about 1 cup Greek part or whole milk yogurt (see Note)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon hot red ground chiles (Aleppo pepper, Korean)
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with the beaten egg white.

Heat up the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the eggplant slices until lightly browned, a couple of minutes per side. Cook in batches so slices aren’t crowded in the pan. Remove eggplant to a cookie sheet and sprinkle lightly with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon turmeric.

When all the eggplant is cooked, add more oil to the skillet, if needed, to measure about 1 tablespoon. Add the cumin and fry for 1 minute. Add the eggplant to the skillet and turn to coat in oil. Turn off the heat then mix in the yogurt, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, ground chiles (according to your taste for spicy), and sugar. Turn on the heat to the lowest setting and gently warm until yogurt is heated. If the yogurt gets too hot, it will curdle. Taste sauce for salt and spice. Add more salt and chiles, if needed.

Note: you can make your own Greek yogurt by taking 1 cup of part or whole milk plain yogurt and draining it. Line a sieve with a double layer of damp cheesecloth and add the yogurt. Place over a bowl and allow the whey to drain out overnight in the refrigerator.