Blue Cheese Apple Tart

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In the past several weeks, we’ve canned three giant batches of applesauce.  We’ve produced several dozen apple cinnamon rolls.  We’ve added diced apples to dishes of all kinds, including the stuffing for our Thanksgiving turkey.  And, of course, we’ve made apple pies.

We still have apples.

When you live in a small house, having a lot of apples causes logistical problems.  The laundry basket that we filled with apples still sits in the middle of our tiny kitchen.  I keep moving it around so I can sweep the floor.  Someone trips over it at least once a day.

I’m not complaining.  I like apples.

Those apple pies that I mentioned — not all of them have been sweet.   I love an all-American apple pie, and I’ve baked more of them than I can count.  I think I could probably make an apple pie blindfolded.  But you can’t eat apple pie for dinner (at least not every night), so you can imagine my delight when I found a recipe for a savory apple pie — I could have apple pie for dinner AND dessert!

You start by layering pastry crust with blue cheese.  Add sauteed leeks.  Top that with wilted spinach.  Pour in a few eggs whisked with cream.   Then cover all that savory goodness with thinly sliced apples.

Bake. Eat. Enjoy.

I recommend opening a bottle of white wine to accompany this tart.  Just do it. You won’t be sorry.

Before I discovered this recipe, I thought I understood apple pie.  Sometimes I love being wrong.

Blue Cheese Apple Tart

Inspired by Rebar Modern Food Cookbook.

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 sticks butter, sliced in 1/4-inch pieces
1/4 cup ice water, strained

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, white and pale green parts only, halved and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 ounces baby spinach
3 eggs
1/3 cup cream
8 ounces blue cheese, grated (a little more than 2 cups)
3-4 apples
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Whirl dry ingredients for crust in the bowl of a food processor.  Add half a stick of the butter and process until you no longer see chunks.  Add remaining butter and process briefly, leaving chunks the size of peanuts.  Working quickly, turn on the food processor and pour the ice water through the feed tube, stopping before the dough comes together.  Pinch a bit of the mixture between your fingers.  If it does not stick together, add a couple of teaspoons more water and whirl briefly.  Turn out the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap.  Use the plastic wrap to help you create a large, flat disk:  fold the edges of the dough toward the center and press down to smooth out the roughness.   Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes.

Heat butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the leaks and a pinch of salt.  Saute until the leeks are soft and just starting to brown, about 5 to 8 minutes.  Set aside to cool.  Add spinach to the skillet and saute until wilted.  Set aside.  Whisk eggs, cream, salt, and pepper in a small bowl to combine.

Roll out dough into a 15-inch circle.  Transfer to a 13-inch tart pan with removable bottom.  Fold the dough’s overhanging edge down inside the tart pan–pressing gently to help it adhere–so its top edge is even with the top of the tart pan.  Spread blue cheese over the bottom of the crust.  Add leeks and then spinach.  Pour the egg and cream mixture over the top.

Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Carefully slice each quarter into 8 thin wedges.  Starting at the outer edge of the tart, overlap the apple slices, outside edges facing out, in a circle around the tart’s edge. Continue spiraling apple slices towards the center, working until the entire surface is covered.  Brush the apples with the beaten egg white.

Place the tart on a baking sheet and transfer to an oven preheated to 400° F.  Bake for 20 minutes, and then reduce oven temperature to 350° F . Continue baking until the egg has set and the crust is pale golden, about 20 to 25 minutes more.  Let the tart rest for at least 15 minutes before removing from the pan.  Cut into wedges and serve.

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Grandmas, Gratitude, and Pie | Pumpkin Pie

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This Pumpkin Pie is full of spice and incorporates molasses to gives its sweetness some depth and edge.

Pumpkin Tart with Caramel Sauce |

Last week, Eliza said she was grateful that I’m her mom because it means my mom is her grandma.  I totally get what she means  — my mom’s mom has always had a special place in my heart, too.

Spending time with my grandmother always meant fun.  When we visited her in Berkeley, CA, adventure always awaited us.  We’d hike through Tilden Park and eat a picnic lunch by Lake Anza.  We’d run wild in her backyard, racing through terraced paths lined with a forest of miniature bonsai trees.  We’d share an impossibly large sundae–the Five by Five–at the old Edy’s on Telegraph Avenue.

The best part, though, about hanging out with my grandmother was getting to hear her stories.

Her humorous, surprising tales usually showcased her knack for enjoying every moment to the fullest.   While very proper in many ways–she never, for instance, swore, drank alcohol, or raised her voice–she cast aside other conventions easily.  I remember the time that, with a sparkle in her eye, she described a fancy luncheon she hosted for ladies at her church.  For table centerpieces, she had artfully arranged moss and flowers inside over-sized brandy snifters.  Just before the guests arrived, she placed a live frog–straight from the refrigerator–into each one.  Because of the cold, the frogs didn’t move a muscle, so everyone just assumed they were ceramic.  As the meal progressed, though, the frogs warmed up and started hopping around, which sent the ladies into hysterics.

I especially loved when she talked about her daring adventures as a young girl.  These included feats like jumping the curbs as she roller skated down Berkeley’s Marin Hill, an infamous street that boasts a 25 percent grade in places. These days, Marin Hill is part of the Berkeley Hills Death Ride, and bicyclists talk about the torture of riding UP this hill.  Frankly, this hill is so steep it gives me the willies to drive DOWN it in a car, but I still love to picture my daredevil grandmother–pigtails flying–racing down this hill like a maniac, curbs be damned, I mean, darned.

While her anecdotes usually had us laughing, she occasionally shared serious stories as well,  like the one about living apart from my grandfather during World War II.  My grandfather was stationed in Hawaii, and he wasn’t able to return home to his family for three whole years.  My mom, who’d been just a baby when he left, didn’t even know her father.  Every time she saw men in uniform, she asked my grandmother if one of them was her dad.  When the military finally shipped my grandfather to Orlando, FL, for five months of training, my grandmother spent her family’s entire life savings to take my mom and uncles across the country to stay with him there.  She said that she didn’t care what it took, even starting from zero again after he left.  Her place was with her husband, and she was going to be with him no matter what.

Pumpkin Pie  |

In addition to her role as storyteller, my grandma was my family’s official pie maker. She always baked multiple pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I remember trying not to overindulge on turkey so I’d have room for a slice of both the apple and pumpkin pie.  She also made mincemeat pie,  and I hope I was polite as I declined it year after year.  After dinner, we always lingered long at the table, nibbling pie, sipping tea, and passing chocolates while my grandmother regaled us with stories about her mischievous brother Dick, summer road trips with her family, or some joke or another that she’d played on unsuspecting friends.

My grandmother passed away several years ago, and while I miss her, I feel grateful for her strong presence throughout my life. Her vivid stories keep her alive for me, but when I really miss her, I bake her  pumpkin pie recipe.

The pie’s full of spice–just like my sassy grandmother–and incorporates molasses to gives its sweetness some depth and edge.  It’s because of this recipe–which calls for an un-prebaked crust–that I felt brave enough to completely give up on prebaking pie crusts in recipes that call for them.  I make the pie just like she did, but with the addition of salt, which she shunned as forcefully as spirits.  And rather than bake it in a glass pie dish as she usually did, I make it in a tart pan because the crust holds its shape better during baking.

I know there are a million pumpkin pie recipes out there, but my grandma’s recipe will always be the one for me.  And that’s not just because I’m sentimental, either.  It’s delicious.

Pumpkin Pie  |

Pumpkin Pie

From Betty Holsinger’s recipe.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks butter (10 tablespoons), cut in 1/4-inch slices
3 tablespoons ice water, strained

1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (15 ounces)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons molasses
3 eggs
1 cup milk or cream

Whirl flour, powdered sugar, and salt in food processor with the blade attachment.  Add several slices of butter and whirl until no chunks remain.  Add remaining slices and whirl briefly to chop them up slightly.  Turn food processor on again and quickly drizzle ice water through the feed tube, stopping before the dough comes together.  Pinch some crumbs together between your fingers;  if they don’t stick together, add a bit more water and whirl briefly.  Turn the mixture out onto a large piece of plastic wrap.  Use the plastic wrap to help you bring the dough together;  fold the edges of the dough toward the center and press down until it holds together, taking care not to overwork the dough.  Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

While the dough chills, preheat oven to 425° F.   Combine filling ingredients and mix well.

Roll out the dough into a 13- to 14-inch circle.  Transfer carefully to a 10-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.  Fold overhanging edge of the dough down inside the tart pan, pressing gently to help it adhere.  Place tart pan on a baking sheet and transfer it to the lower rack of the oven.  Working quickly and carefully, pour the filling into the tart pan, and then close the oven door.  Bake at 425° F for 15 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350° F and bake for 30 to 45 minutes more, until a sharp knife makes a crack in the top of the pie (this crack will grow as the pie cools;  if you find it unsightly, bake until the center is set).  If the crust begins to brown too much before the pie is finished baking, slide a baking sheet on the top rack of the oven to diffuse the heat.

Cool the pie to room temperature, and then refrigerate until ready to serve.  Drizzle plates with caramel sauce, if desired, and serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Pumpkin Pie  |
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A New Twist

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apple-cinnamon rolls-1

In case you’ve ever wondered, a pick-up truck load of apples produces an impressive amount of cider.   Last weekend, countless gallon jugs, along with an odd assortment of soda bottles, mason jars, and five-gallon buckets lined up along Friday Harbor Labs’ dock to capture the precious, sweet liquid resulting from this year’s Shaw Apple Raid.  As in years past, we worried that we wouldn’t find enough containers for all of it, but a few frantic runs to the store for empty water jugs saved the day.


With all that cider to go around, nobody minds if some of the apples find their way into people’s kitchens for eating and baking.  This year, Eliza, now seven, decided to make her own batch of apple sauce, all from tiny apples that she had collected.  She peeled and chopped tirelessly for at least an hour before we a stepped in to help her.   She agreed that we could add some of the larger apples to the mix, which sped up the process tremendously.


In addition to producing a perfect batch of apple sauce, Eliza inspired me to attempt a variation of my favorite cinnamon roll recipe.  She had asked — on Saturday morning before we embarked for Shaw Island to pick apples — if we could have cinnamon rolls for breakfast.  We didn’t have time to make them, so I promised that we’d make something even better (at least I hoped) the next day:  apple-cinnamon rolls.


After we returned from Shaw, I made the yeasted dough and prepared the filling ingredients:  sauteed apples and a brown sugar-cinnamon mixture.  Later that evening, I combined the dough and fillings  and placed the apple-cinnamon rolls in the refrigerator to rise.


On Sunday morning, I awoke to the aroma of apple and cinnamon and fresh bread:  my husband had gotten up early to put the rolls in the oven.   We drizzled our oven-warm rolls with some caramel sauce that I had on hand.  As I took my first tender, sweet bite, I couldn’t believe I’d never thought to add caramel sauce to cinnamon rolls before.

After breakfast, we headed out to press cider, bringing the remaining rolls along to share.   I didn’t really mean to eat any more, but someone had thought to bring an electric kettle for heating cider on the dock.  I couldn’t resist finding out how an apple-cinnamon roll tasted between sips of hot cider.  Just in case you wondered, it’s a perfect combination.

Apple-Cinnamon Rolls

Make 16 large rolls.

1 medium potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
5 to 5 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour

6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature and divided
3 cups diced apple
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, divided

Add potato chunks to a medium saucepan.  Cover with water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, until tender, about 20 minutes.

Drain the potato, reserving 1 1/4 cups of the cooking liquid, adding water if necessary to reach the required amount.  Return potato to the pan and set the water aside to cool.

Add 1/4 cup butter to the potatoes and mash until the potatoes are smooth and the butter has melted.

Pour cooled potato liquid (105° and 115° F) into the bowl of a standing electric mixer.  Sprinkle yeast and a pinch of sugar over the water’s surface and stir until yeast is dissolved.  Let stand at room temperature until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Add the potato mixture,  1/2 cup brown sugar, egg, salt, and 2 cups of the flour.  Beat hard with the paddle attachment to combine, about 1 minute.  Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time until a shaggy dough that just clears the sides of the bowl forms.

Switch from the paddle to the dough hook and knead for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed.  Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead briefly by hand, if desired.

Place the dough in a deep greased container, turning once to coat, before covering with plastic wrap.  Let rise in a warm place until at least doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

While the dough rises, combine apples, 2 tablespoons of the butter, 1/4 cup of the brown sugar, 1/2 tablespoon of the cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large skillet.  Cook over medium heat until the apples are tender, about 15 minutes.  Transfer to a small bowl to cool.  In a separate bowl, mix remaining 1 1/4 cups brown sugar with remaining tablespoon cinnamon.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.  Divide the dough into two equal portions.  Roll one portion into a 10-by-14-inch rectangle at least 1/4 inch thick.  Brush the surface with 2 tablespoons butter, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges.  Sprinkle half of the brown sugar-cinnamon mixture evenly over the butter.  Scatter half of the apples over the sugar mixture.  Starting on the long side, roll the dough up like a jelly-roll.  Pinch the seams together, and, using a piece of dental floss, cut the rolled dough into 8 equal pieces.  Position each piece, cut side up, on a parchment-lined baking sheet at least 2 inches apart.  Press down gently on each swirl to flatten slightly.  Repeat with remaining dough and filling ingredients.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until puffy, about 20 minutes (if desired, refrigerate rolls overnight and transfer to the oven in the morning).

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Bake apple-cinnamon rolls for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown and firm to the touch.  If desired, drizzle with caramel sauce before serving.

Caramel Sauce

Adapted from Chasing Delicious.

1 1/8 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon corn syrup
3/4 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine sugar, water, lemon juice, and corn syrup in a small saucepan, stirring to combine.  Place pan over place over high heat, watching closely until the mixture becomes golden amber in color, about 8 to 12 minutes.   Do not stir during this time.

Once the caramel reaches the desired color, remove from heat.  Carefully pour the cream into the pan and stir vigorously.

If the mixture seems lumpy, return the pan to the heat, stirring constantly until the lumps have dissolved.

Remove from heat and add the butter and salt.  Stir until the butter is completely melted.

Let the caramel cool before using.

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Bread Bowling | Bread Bowls

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The soft, tender interior of these crusty, leak-proof bread bowls soaks up a thick, hearty soup without getting soggy.Bread Bowls | Flour ArrangementsFor me, sometimes all it takes to transform the bleak dreariness of a rainy day into cozy comfort is a warm bowl of soup.

Since I know that soup can impact my outlook as the days grow shorter, darker, and more damp here in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve been proactive about making it this fall. So far I’ve prepared chicken noodle soup, curried butternut squash-pear soup, and Cuban black bean soup.  One lucky week, my friend Sharalyn dropped off some cheesy broccoli soup;  I can attest that soup made by a friend has super-duper enhanced mood-lifting properties (and yes, that pun is intended.)

And so, despite the crummy weather, I found the energy — fueled, of course, by all this soup — to tackle bread bowls.

Bread Bowls | Flour Arrangements

My first attempt resulted in failure.  Ambition tempted me to shape far too many bowls from one batch of dough;  instead of bowls, I ended up with dinner rolls.  Since complaining about eating homemade soup with fresh rolls seems hypercritical, I counted it as a successful failure (notice the positive spin here, which I attribute entirely to soup).

Now I know that dividing the dough into four (not eight!) pieces results in generously-sized bread bowls.   They bake into crusty, leak-proof vessels that, when hollowed out, provide plenty of room for a main course serving of soup.  The soft, tender interior soaks up a thick, hearty soup without getting too soggy, making it nearly impossible to resist eating up the bread bowl once the soup has disappeared.

If you’ve prepared a large pot of soup to enjoy throughout the week, making bread bowls to serve it in doesn’t add much effort to your meal planning on a given day.  And, as an added benefit, while you’re creating tasty vessels for your soup, you’ll fill your house with the comforting aroma of freshly baked bread.

If you really want to banish the misery of a cold, rainy day, make a double-batch of bowls. Go drop off soup and freshly baked bowls at a friend’s house.  If that doesn’t completely transform your mood, nothing will.

Bread Bowls | Flour Arrangements

Bread Bowls

Adapted from The Bread Bible.  Makes four bowls.

2 cups warm water (105° to 115°F)
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
5 to 6 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 tablespoon salt
cornmeal, for sprinkling
1 large egg beaten with 2 teaspoons water, for glazing

Pour the water in the bowl of a heavy-duty standing mixer.  Sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the surface of the water.  Stir until combined.  Let stand at room temperature until dissolved and foamy, about 10 minutes.

Add 2 cups of flour and the salt.  Beat hard with the paddle attachment until smooth, about 2 minutes.  Add remaining flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until a shaggy dough that clears the sides of the bowl forms.

Switch to the dough hook and knead for about 3 minutes or until the dough is smooth and springy.

Place the dough in a deep greased bowl.  Turn once to coat the top and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let rise in a cool area until tripled in bulk, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  If you have time, punch down the dough and let it rise again for about an hour.

Gently deflate the dough.  Turn it out on a lightly floured surface.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle it with cornmeal.  Divide the dough into 4 equal portions.   Shape the portions into tight round balls.  Place the loaves about 4 inches apart on the baking sheet.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until puffy and doubled, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450° F.

Make three 1/4-inch deep slashes on each loaf and brush the surface of each one with the glaze.  After placing loaves in the oven, reduce temperature to 400° F.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until crusty and the loaves sound hollow when tapped with your finger.  Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack.

To hollow the loaves, cut into the bread approximately one inch from the edge with a serrated knife.  Continue to cut around the loaf, leaving about an inch of thickness on the outside edge all the way around. Do not cut through the bottom of the loaf.  Using your fingers, pull the bread from the center of the loaf. Use the knife to cut away any hard to remove pieces until the bowl is cleanly hollowed out.  Fill with soup and serve.

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