Apple Cheesecake Tart

I made this tart, which is really a cross between a tart and a cheesecake, for a party. Huge hit! It’s apple season so why not make a rich and creamy dessert that features this most-loved American fruit?

Though this isn’t a true cheesecake, some of the hints in my Cheesecake – You crack me up! post are also relevant here. It is vital that your cream cheese and egg are at room temperature. You will get a lumpy mess if you try to make this without having the foresight to warm up your cream cheese and egg.

Apple Cheesecake Tart
(makes 1 9″ tart, serves about 12)

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup + 1/2 cup sugar
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large apples (I like Honeycrisp but Jonathan or Cortland are also good)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, 1/4 cup sugar, a pinch of salt, and lemon juice. Gently stir in the flour until well blended.

Press the dough evenly into the bottom and at least 1″ up the sides of a 9″ non-stick springform pan. Refrigerate while you work on the filling.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

In a clean large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese and brown sugar. When this mixture is fluffy and there are no lumps, beat in the egg and vanilla. Beat again until smooth.

Peel, core, and cut the apples into 1/4″ slices.

In a large bowl, combine 1/2 cup of sugar and cinnamon. Add the apples and toss to coat evenly.

Place the pan on a rimmed sheet pan (just in case your pan leaks). Pour the cheese filling into the tart shell. Gently cover with the apples, scraping out all the sugar and cinnamon. Move the apples around to cover the filling completely.

Bake for 15 minutes then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F, and bake for another 40  minutes.

Remove from the oven. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to release the crust. Release the springform but don’t try to take the sides off until the tart cools for 10 minutes. It’s just too hot to handle right out of the oven. When you remove the springform, if some pieces stick to the pan sides, scrape them off and put them on the top of the tart. It’s a rustic tart. No one will notice.

Allow tart to cool completely before serving. Once the tart is completely cooled you can remove the pan bottom by running a knife under the bottom crust and then carefully using a large flat spatula to release the crust all the way to the center. Gently slide the tart onto a serving plate. Or not, you can serve it on the pan. I do all the time!

This tart can be refrigerated overnight before serving. Any leftovers (yah, right) can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Recipe adapted from Apple Cookbook by Olwen Woodier, Storey Publishing, 2001.

Apple Fennel Sauerkraut

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A friend had a bumper crop of cute lady apples (a type of crabapple). I picked a few quarts. Some went for a plum-apple jam. What to do with the rest? Ooooh! Sauerkraut! You don’t need to use crabapples. Any apple will do.

I love sauerkraut and this is really good sauerkraut. This is a true sauerkraut, fermented for about 3 weeks (you can make it more or less tart by varying the ferment time). At 3 weeks, it’s crunchy and tangy perfection. The apples do not make the sauerkraut sweet. The sugars in the apples are food for the bacteria, making it tangier than typical. Which is just fine with me!

Some notes on making sauerkraut:

  • You are going to need a good sized crock or plastic container. You don’t make small batches of sauerkraut. This recipe requires a 2 gallon container. Crocks are traditional but they are awfully heavy. I prefer a plastic container, which you can get at restaurant supply stores (brand name is Cambro). It’s lightweight, easy to see what’s going on, and inexpensive. I discovered that the plastic does retrain some of odor of fermentation. From now on, it will be my sauerkraut bucket. At about $5, a very worthwhile investment.

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  • It’s vital that you massage the salt into the cabbage to get the cabbage to release its liquid. The resulting brine is where the magic happens. You want enough brine to keep the cabbage covered.
  • On keeping the cabbage covered – it will float, and you will need to weight it down. I mention this here because you need to consider this when selecting your crock. You want to make sure that you can easily fit something – a plate, a bowl – into your crock that you can place a weight on. This will keep your cabbage submerged.
  • Sauerkraut doesn’t need a lot of care during its ferment. You are supposed to spoon off any scum. I admit that I did not (I was away on vacation part of the time). Seems it turned just fine with my neglect. I never noticed anything funky growing in it, at least while I was home. Funky growths like mold don’t usually clear up on their own, so my guess is that nothing ever started. It helps if you keep everything well submerged in the brine.
  • Temperature is important. Higher temps make for faster fermenting and more sour flavors. You also run the risk of bad actors invading. I started this batch in early September, when the temperature in my house was consistently in the low 60’s. You can make sauerkraut even when the temps are running around 70-72 but the fermentation will go faster. It’s not recommended that you try it in temperatures much above that. Cold temperatures slow the fermentation. At refrigerator temp (40 degrees), it stops entirely. Given all this, I wouldn’t try making sauerkraut in the heat of summer, unless you have A/C and keep your house rather chilly!
  • Many modern books say to use unrefined sea salt because of extra stuff in refined salt. I use pickling salt. There is nothing extra in pickling salt – no anti-caking agents, no iodine added. Just plain ole NaCl. It works and it’s cheap.

Apple-Fennel Sauerkraut
(makes about 1 gallon)

3 Tablespoons pickling salt
7 1/2 pounds green cabbage (about 1 1/2 large heads)
1 3/4 pounds apples, thinly sliced
1/2 pound onions, thinly sliced (1 medium)
5 teaspoons fennel seeds

Peel off the large outer leaves of the cabbage and reserve. Cut the cabbage into 1/4’s, core and shred. Place 1/2 the cabbage in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1 1/2 Tablespoons salt and massage vigorously to release the juices. Don’t be shy. I split it into two batches because a) it’s a lot of cabbage, and b) when you are massaging the salt in, you need extra space so cabbage doesn’t go everywhere. Place the first 1/2 in another bowl. Repeat with remaining cabbage. Mix all the cabbage together with the apples, onions, and fennel seeds. Taste for salt. The salt level is somewhat up to taste. At 3 Tablespoons, I found it about perfect. But, you may want more.

Pack it all into your 2 gallon container. And I mean pack. No air bubbles and totally immersed in the brine. Place the large outer leaves on top. Then place a plate or bowl on top of that. Weight that down with something heavy – I used some heavy jars. Cover the whole thing lightly with plastic wrap. Don’t seal it tightly because you need to allow the CO2 a way out. Place your container on a rimmed sheet pan to catch over-zealous fermentation. Put the whole thing in a spot out of direct sunlight and where the temperature remains fairly constant, within the parameters discussed in the notes above.

Check daily for fermentation. You’ll know it’s happening when bubbles start to form. If any scum forms, skim it off and push down the kraut so it stays submerged. Same for any mold. For more troubleshooting tips, visit Fermentation Gone Bad. Lots of great tips and photos to help you out.

I let my sauerkraut go about 3 weeks. Your mileage may vary. Temperature, your local flora, and your own tastebuds determine when you say it’s done. Taste it and see what you think!

Once the sauerkraut is to your liking, pack into jars and refrigerate. This will stop the fermentation. Consume within a few months for best crunch. It will soften up as it sits.

Recipe proportions from Fermented Vegetables by Kirsten K. Shockey and Christopher Shockey, Storey Publishing, 2014.

My life in the pickling trenches

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Not my photo but this is exactly what my grapes look like when ripe, a lovely mix of green and pink.

Yes, friends, I have been away for a while because I have been canning, pickling, and fermenting my life away. When the garden delivers great bounty, you have to find a way to preserve it before it all rots. Or at least use a controlled form of rot to preserve it. (Coming soon: my experience with sauerkraut, an example of controlled rot.)

Here’s a quick little pickle that you can use on grapes. I have pounds and pounds of grapes from my vine this year (variety Canadice, a N. American hybrid originally from New York State). Last year, I got nothing. This year brought great fruit set and my electric fence held the raccoons at bay. Without that fence, I’d have nothing again. Evil bastards, those raccoons.

These grapes are a wonderful condiment with grilled meats or on a cheese plate.

Quick Pickled Grapes
(makes about 4 cups)

3 cups seedless grapes (a mix of red and green is nice)
8 fat cloves of garlic, halved
1 1/2 cups natural rice vinegar (see Note) or white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
6 quarter-sized thick slices of fresh or frozen ginger
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon medium-hot red pepper flakes (Aleppo or Korean)

Wash and stem the grapes. Place the grapes and garlic in a medium non-reactive bowl.

Combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Pour over the grapes. Cover. Allow to pickle for at least 2 hours at room temperature. For longer storage, refrigerate in the brine for up to 2 weeks. Drain before serving.

Note: Natural rice vinegar has no sugar added. Many types of rice vinegar have sugar added because they are meant to make sushi rice. Since we are adding sugar, we don’t need the sugar in the vinegar.

Recipe from Nicole Routheir’s Fruit Cookbook by Nicole Routheir, Workman Publishing Company, 1996.

Photo credit: By Biberbaer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Herb & Garlic Turkey Thighs

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I adapted this recipe for Middle Eastern Herb and Garlic Chicken (from the New York Times) for turkey thighs, because that’s what I had. They had bones (I like bones) and I left the skin on. The skin made a handy place to stuff a bit of the very flavorful marinade.

Two turkey thighs weigh about the same as the 6 chicken thighs specified in the Times recipe. You will need to cook turkey thighs quite a bit longer but sometimes it’s a nice change from chicken. I’m a big fan of turkey, Thanksgiving or not.

The yogurt sauce is a tasty addition but it’s quite delicious without it. I have rearranged the ingredient list to make it easier to make the turkey without making the sauce.

Aleppo red pepper is my go-to finishing red pepper. It adds some not-too-hot fruity spice. I like it much better than crushed red pepper flakes which are much hotter.

Herb & Garlic Turkey Thighs
(serves 4-6)

2 turkey thighs, bone-in and with skin (about 2 pounds)

Marinade:
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon, zest grated and juiced
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 Tablespoons white sesame seeds

Yogurt Sauce:
1 7 oz. container Greek 2% yogurt
zest of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Garnish:
juice of 1 lemon
Aleppo red pepper (a light sprinkle or more if you like it spicy)
more fresh herbs (optional)

Combine all the marinade ingredients in a medium bowl. Place the turkey thighs in a glass baking that will hold them both in a single layer. Carefully separate the skin from the flesh of the thighs so that that you have a pocket under the skin. You want the skin to stay attached to the thighs. Stuff 1/3 of the marinade under the skin and pour the remaining marinade over the thighs, making sure to cover evenly. Marinate in the refrigerator for about 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Heat up the grill so that one part is set to high and another part is set to low. You will start the turkey over the low part to brown up the skin, then turn that side off to finish the thighs only with indirect heat.

When the grill reaches 400°F, place the turkey thighs, skin side down on the cooler part of the grill. Cook until skin is browned, then flip. Brown other side. Turn off flame (or move turkey to a section with no coals) and continue cooking on indirect heat for about an hour until internal temperature reaches 165°F. Remove thighs from heat and cover while you make the yogurt sauce, if using.

Combine yogurt, lemon zest, garlic, a healthy pinch of salt, and black pepper in a small bowl.

To serve, sprinkle thighs with lemon juice, Aleppo red pepper, more herbs (if desired), and a dollop of yogurt sauce.

Green Sauce (Salsa Verde)

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But not Mexican Salsa Verde. This is Italian Salsa Verde – a full flavored green sauce for veggies, potatoes, grilled chicken or fish. Do not run away because it contains anchovies. It’s not fishy but those little fishies pack a lot of good umami, amping up the flavors of the other good things, like parsley.

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Green Sauce
(makes about 1/2 cup)

1 cup loosely packed flat leaf parsley leaves
1 small clove garlic, peeled
1 slice soft Italian bread, trimmed of crusts and cut into small pieces
2 anchovy fillets (packed in oil, not packed in salt)
1 Tablespoon capers in brine, drained
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (use a good one, you are going to taste it)
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
salt, maybe (lots of salty things in here)

Process parsley and garlic until finely chopped. Scrape down bowl. Add bread, anchovies, and capers. Process again until everything is finely chopped, scraping down the bowl as needed to get it all chopped. With the processor running, drizzle in olive oil and vinegar. Process until reaches sauce consistency, about 30 seconds. Taste for salt; you probably won’t need much. Store in the fridge for up to a week. Bring to room temperature before using – the oil will solidify when chilled.

A few Tablespoons are sufficient to dress 1 pound of green veggies.

Baked Herbed Cucumbers

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This recipe is nearly the same as this one, Cooking Cucumber: the French Way. So, if you don’t have cream in your fridge but you do have lots of cucumbers, you can make this!

Do not skip the salting step. Cucumbers are full of so much water that you will end up with icky cucumber mush if you try to bake them without salting them to draw out some of the water.

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I made this version with basil. Which gives me an excuse to show off the gigantic basil leaves from my garden. Wow! The basil (and the cucumbers) are very happy this year.

Baked Herbed Cucumbers
(serves 6)

6 medium cucumbers
2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
⅛ teaspoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil (or use dill or parsley)
3 Tablespoons chopped chives or green onions
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
salt and pepper

Peel the cucumbers and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Slice the cucumbers the long way into about ½” slices. Then cut into 3″ pieces. Place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with vinegar, sugar, and salt. Mix and let sit for 30 minute to an hour. Drain, pour onto a towel, arrange in a single layer then pat dry with another towel. You want the cucumber pieces dry so they cook up crisp, not mushy.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Melt the butter with the fresh herbs and ⅛ teaspoon black pepper in a small saucepan. Place the cucumbers in a large shallow baking dish – large enough so the cucumbers are mostly 1 layer deep. Pour over the melted butter and mix. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for 50 minutes, stirring a few times during the baking. Remove from oven. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.

Chicago: eating and other things

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Cool fountain and art installation on a hot day in Millennium Park

Chicago is a great town. I visited 2 years ago for non-food reasons: required pilgrimage to Wrigley Field (if you are a baseball fan, you must go). I was immediately impressed by the variety of dining options. That first trip, we sampled the following: Polish pierogis, Chinese dim sum, Mexican street food, deep-dish pizza, gelato. One thing is for sure, you won’t go hungry as a tourist in Chicago.

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Cubs were on the road, but we took a walk around the park to see Ernie and Harry

This summer’s visit didn’t disappoint on the food, either. But, before I get to the dining, I want to say a few things about this fantastic city. I was really impressed with the friendliness here. People help you at the El station. They offer help if you look a bit lost on the street. The drivers are incredibly responsive to pedestrians. When we needed to cross a busy street at a crosswalk, the drivers just stopped as soon as we stepped off the curb. Not like “slam on the brakes”stop. They were expecting us to cross and were obviously paying attention. If only the drivers in my own little city paid as much attention!

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Wow! A special night at the Jay Pritzker Pavillon

The parks in Chicago are a welcome respite from a city dense with housing and a skyline bristling with dramatic skyscrapers (another plug: check out the Chicago Architectural Foundation’s River Cruise for a relaxing and information packed view of a city boosting so many important buildings). We strolled through Lincoln Park on the north side, Grant Park in the middle, and Jackson Park to the south. We watched a spectacular free concert in Millennium Park – the venue there, designed by Frank Gehry, is incredible. A huge crowd of people were in attendance, just having a wonderful time picnicking and enjoying the show. Lots of kids running around – such a low-key way to introduce your children to Mozart!

There are so many reasons to visit Chicago: architecture, world-class museums, parks, sports, a beautiful lakefront. And there is food…

For All Things Italian: Eataly, at 43 E. Ohio St in the Shops at North Bridge (at the south end of the Michigan Ave. Shopping District). Two floors of food, wine, dining, housewares. There are 9 different restaurants here. We had pizza and pasta. The prices are quite reasonable and everything was delicious. I could stroll through this place for hours. Save room for gelato or their jewel-like pastries

Mexican from street food to fine dinning: Rick Bayless has 3 restaurants on N. Clark. I’ve only eaten at Frontera Grill, but I have no doubt they are all great. Xoco is breakfast and sandwiches and churros! served from a counter. Frontera is the middle ground, casual with an amazing selection of street food as well as fancier entrees. It’s all served in a beautiful dining room filled with fun art. Recommend you go with a crowd so you can share. Absolutely get a cocktail; the alcohol-free ones are great too. Topolobampo is gourmet fine-dining, a favorite of the Obamas when they lived in Chicago. You will absolutely need reservations to get in there and I strongly recommend you get them for Frontera Grill too.

Deep-Dish Pizza: It’s totally Chicago, a gutbomb of dough and cheesy goodness. And, it’s delicious. We went to Lou Malnati’s for our take-out pizza. There are lots of locations. Get the sausage. Chicago is a meat town and Lou Malnati’s sausage is a perfect addition.

Hyde Park Sandwiches: We visited the Robie House, a Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie-style home built in 1909. A short walk from there, you can find wonderful sandwiches at Zaleski & Horvath MarketCafe. The choices are impossible here – so many delicious combinations. Stroll around Hyde Park and the University of Chicago campus after lunch.

Cafe Vienna: We stayed in the Lincoln Park neighborhood which is a wonderful base of operations in Chicago. We could easily walk to the Red Line, buses, the lake, shopping, and dining. A very pleasant neighborhood where you just don’t need a car to get around with so many shady streets for strolling. Cafe Vienna has a full menu as well as coffee. But, you should go for the European pastries. If you are lucky, like us, you will show up late on Sunday when they are trying to make them all disappear before they close. They are closed Monday-Wednesday and anything left on Sunday has to go. Two for one pastries and desserts! I particularly liked the apple strudel, the chocolate cream tart, and the Sacher Torte. Somehow we managed to eat them all before I could get a photo. 😉