Bite-Sized Apple Strudel

I did these at the request of Northern Stage, to provide them with some “amuse bouche” for a script reading in November, 2019. I made a strudel filling and partially cooked it on the stove top, so the small strudels would cook properly; I wanted a soft filling and crisp, puff pastry, without having to worry about anything burning.

It is best to make the puff pastry a day before, and let it rest overnight in the fridge. Make sure the filling is completely cool before beginning assembly.

mini strudel

Ingredients

1 batch of Rough Puff Pastry, chilled

  • Six baking apples (I used Macouns, Granny Smith or Macintosh would work, too) peeled and sliced into small pieces
  • 8oz walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp corn starch
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbsp water
  • sugar for dusting

To start with, peel, core and chop the apples. Set them aside. In a saucepan, cover the walnuts with water, bring to a boil, simmer for 2-3 minutes to remove some of the tannin, then drain and allow to dry.
Combine the sugar, spice, cornstarch, and water in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture starts to bubble. Add the apples and nuts, stir to combine, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until the apples are tender. 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat. At this point, you can refrigerate the filling for up to a week.

To make the strudels

cutting pastry
Measure and cut

Preheat the oven to 400. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper. Take the egg and water and beat together to make an egg wash. Set next to your workspace, along with enough sugar for dusting (1/4 cup or so).

Divide the puff pastry in half. Put one half back in the fridge. Roll the other half out into a rectangle, 9 x 15″. Using a straight edge and a sharp knife or roller, cut into 1-1/2″ wide strips. Trim the edges square. Again, using a ruler, cut each strip into 5″ long pieces. Save all of your scrap pastry.

Take each strip and put a tablespoon of filling in the middle. bring the ends up over the filling and pinch together. Place the strudel, seam side down on the baking sheet. Repeat until you have used all of your pastry or the baking sheet is full. Slash the tops of the strudels with a sharp knife, then brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the filling is bubbling.

Repeat this process with the other half of the dough. Saving all of the dough scraps. Combine the dough scraps, re-roll, and cut again. With my typical rough puff pastry, you will use half the filling and end up with 30 mini strudels.

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Curried Lentil Turnovers

I spotted a similar recipe to this on Vegetarian Times. Theirs looked too sweet to me, so I decided to roll my own.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup green lentils, washed and picked over
  • 1 yellow onion minced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 cup chopped green beans
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cayenne powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup minced cilantro
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 batch of rough puff pastry or store-bought puff pastry dough
  • 1 egg, beaten with a tbsp of water
  • black sesame seeds

Instructions

Place the lentils in a pot and cover with water. There should be at least an inch of water above the lentils. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes. Add the carrot and green beans to the pot, cover, and cook until the lentils and veg. are tender, another ten minutes or so.

Heat a bit of oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until it is translucent, 5 minutes or so. Add the cumin seed, garlic and ginger, cook for another 2-3 minutes, then add the rest of the spices and soy sauce. Cook until fragrant. Add the lentils and cook, uncovered, until almost all of the liquid has cooked off. You’ll want this curry to be fairly dry, or the turnovers won’t be crisp. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 400. Divide your pastry in half. Keep one half in the fridge while rolling out the other. Roll the pastry thin, and trim it to an 8″ x 12″ rectangle.

Trimmed puff pastry

Divide this into six 4″ squares (using a ruler or framing square makes this much easier). Save the trimmed pieces to roll out again later.

Ready for filling

Place the pastry squares on a parchment- or silpat-lined baking sheet. Place 2-3 tbsp of filling on each square, brush the edges with egg wash, then fold and crimp the edges. I used a fork dipped in flour, but you can simply pinch them shut. Brush the tops with the egg wash, and sprinkle with black sesame seeds. Bake for 30 minutes.

ready for folding.
Oven-ready.

While the first batch is baking, continue with the second half of the pastry dough. Roll, trim, fill, wash, and crimp. You should have enough trimmed dough left over to make one more batch, giving you a total of eighteen turnovers.

They are good hot or at room temperature. If you are so inclined, you can also freeze the turnovers before cooking. Put the frozen turnovers directly into a hot oven, and add ten minutes to the cooking time.

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Rough Puff Pastry

I can’t believe I don’t have this recipe up on the blog. This is my go-to crust for almost everything, from Cornish Pasties to fruit pies, to grilled tarts. It is super-flaky, yet strong enough to be used in hand pies.

I also find it quicker and easier than either true puff pastry or traditional pie crust. It is forgiving, so it makes a good beginner crust, if you’re just starting making pies.

Ingredients

  • 2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 16 tbsp unsalted butter (or 8 tbsp butter and 8 tbsp leaf lard, if you can find it)
  • 1 cup cold water

Technique

Measure the flour into a large bowl, stir in the salt Cut the butter into cubes and add it to the flour, tossing it so the butter gets well coated. Add the water all at once and stir until a lumpy, shaggy dough forms.

dust a work surface with flour and flour a rolling pin. Turn the dough out onto the surface. Gently start rolling it until you have roughly a 9″ by 12″ rectangle. The first time you do this it will be lumpy and pieces will fall off. Don’t worry. Letter fold the dough: Fold it in thirds, overlapping the ends in the middle, as if you were folding a letter to put in an envelope.

Turn the dough seam side down and repeat the process, adding additional flour if necessary (don’t add too much). After 5 or so letter folds, you should have a supple dough with large, flat, thin smears of butter visible. Letter fold it one last time, then wrap it securely in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for at least an hour. The rest will both relax the gluten and firm up the butter.

Variations

If you are making a fruit pie or something else sweet, toss a tablespoon of sugar in with the flour and salt.

For savory pies (or, for that matter, apple pie), reduce the butter by 4 tbsp and toss in 1/4 cup of grated Gruyere or cheddar cheese.

The dough freezes well, too. Put it in a freezer bag and toss it in the freezer. Thaw overnight in the fridge before starting your pie the next day.

Brushing the dough with a bit of beaten egg before cooking will give it a nice shine. It will also let you stick something to the top: sesame seeds, sunflower seeds or somesuch.

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Nettle Bread with Maple

I have a lot of stinging nettle in the yard. It used to vex me, giving me a rash when I was picking rhubarb, or irritating my ankles when I mowed the lawn. Then I found out you could eat it. It is one of the first harvestable greens in May, so now I look forward to picking it.

Colander of nettle
Fresh nettle. It’ll sting until it is steamed.

The bread I bake is gluten free, mildly sweet, with both honey and dark maple syrup. It is somewhat crumbly; if that annoys you, swap in some whole wheat flour for the spelt.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz butter
  • 1/3 cup dark maple syrup (“Grade A Dark Amber, ‘full rich taste'”)
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1-1/2 cup spelt flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 room-temperature eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups stinging nettle leaves, washed.

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 325

Place a steamer basket over a pot of water, bring to a boil. Add the nettle leaves and steam until wilted, 5-10 minutes, depending on the age of the leaves. Let them cool, then squeeze over the sink to remove as much water as possible (steaming kills the sting, so you won’t need gloves). Put the drained nettle on a cutting board and finely mince.

Melt the butter, syrup, and honey on the stove over medium heat until it bubbles. Stir to combine and let it cool for 10 minutes.

In a bowl, combine the spelt flour, baking powder and salt. Add in the honey mixture and stir well.

Whip the eggs until frothy and lemon-yellow in color, either by hand or in a mixer with the whisk attachment. Add to the batter, along with the minced nettle. Stir everything gently until it is all combined. (This will be a loose, runny batter.)

A bowl of batter, showing the proper, runny consistency
A really loose batter.

Pour into an oiled loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Finished loaf, cooling.

I usually leave the loaf in the pan. If you want to remove it, wait until it is warm, then run a knife around the edges and carefully remove it with a spatula.

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Black Currant Jam

A few years ago, I put in two black currant bushes. This is the first year where I’ve had enough currants to worry about canning them. Currants themselves are tasty enough that they don’t need much doctoring. Sugar and a bit of lemon juice are all.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of black currants, stemmed and washed
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1-1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice

Instructions

washed currants

Wash and stem the currants (honestly, this is the longest part of the process). Add them to a nonreactive pot with the water and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook for ten minutes until the currants are softened.

Add the sugar and lemon juice and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until it reaches the jelling point. If you’re using a candy/jelly thermometer, that is 220 F/104 C. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can use the cold saucer test.

Have two washed and sterilized jars ready. Pour the jam in, leaving 1/4″ head space at the top of the jars. If you aren’t water processing, they can be lidded, cooled to room temp, then put in the fridge, where it will be good for a few months.

If you are water processing, have a pot of boiling water ready, use two part lids on the jars, insert into the water bath and boil for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool until the lids ping. Store in a cool, dark place until you’re ready to use it.

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Ottolenghi’s Kosheri

This is from Ottolenghi, and has become one of my favorite recipes. A bit fussy, since it takes 4 pots to make, but worth the effort.

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 hot red chiles, seeded and diced
  • 8 ripe tomatoes, diced (8 oz. can of crushed works, too)
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 4 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1-1/2 cups green lentils
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-3/4 oz. dried rice vermicelli, broken into 1-1/2 inch pieces
  • 1-2/3 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 white onions, halved, then thinly sliced

Tomato sauce

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the garlic and fry until golden, 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, water, vinegar, salt, and cumin, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionaly, until slightly thickened, 20 minutes or so. Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro. Keep warm.

Mujadara

While the tomato sauce is cooking, rinse the lentils, then cover them with plenty of cold water, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. The lentils should be tender but not mushy. Drain in a colander and set aside.

Wash the rice and set it aside to drain. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the rice vermicelli and stir. Continue frying until the vermicelli browns a bit. Add the drained rice and mix well until it is coated in the oil. Add the water, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the head to a minimum and simmer for 12 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the lid, cover the pan with a clean kitchen towel, and put the lid back on. Leave like that for 5 minutes. This helps make the rice fluffy.

While the rice is cooking, heat the remaining oil in a frying pan. Add the onions and saute over medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring often, until well caramelized.

To serve, fold the lentils and most of the onions into the rice (reserve a few onions for garnish). Serve the rice and lentils in shallow bowls, topped with the tomato sauce and garnished with the onion.

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Gumbo

There are purists out there who will object to the use of collards in gumbo. I do so because 1) fresh okra is hard to find without growing it yourself in New England, and 2) I like the flavor that collards add to the stew. And I’d always thought of gumbo as somewhat improvisational: “Use file powder, no, use okra!” Like a lot of regional foods, there are significant variations, so I’m not going to lose sleep over altering this one to suit me.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup mild flavored vegetable oil (canola or sunflower)
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 2-1/2 cups minced yellow onion
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 3 cups chopped tomato
  • 3/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 lb okra or substitute sturdy greens such as collards or kale
  • 3 lbs meat: a combination of chicken, crab, shrimp, oysters and duck
  • 1 lb Andoullie sausage
  • 2-1/2 quarts water or good chicken stock
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp good cayenne powder
  • 2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 3 tbsp file powder (if not using Okra)

Start with the roux: Warm the oil in a heavy pot large enough to hold all of the stew. Add the flour and cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until it turns a rich brown, 20-25 minutes (alternately, make the roux in the oven: preheat oven to 350, mix flour and oil in dutch oven and bake until the desired color, 1-1/2 to 2 hours).

When the roux is the proper color, add the onion and garlic, stir until the onion is soft, 10 minutes or so. Add the tomatoes, pepper, and green onion, stir until the pepper is softened, 5-7 minutes. Add the okra or greens and saute until soft, 5 minutes or so

Add the meats to the saute and stir to coat. Add the water or stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and add the spices. Keep on a low simmer, uncovered, until the meats are cooked through and the gumbo is thick and rich, 1-2 hours.

Serve over rice.

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Duck with sweet potato hash

This was a bit of improvisation, after seeing some good looking sweet potatoes in the local market. It turned out well enough to share:

  • 1 duck breast
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 small turnips, peeled and cubed
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp sumac
  • 2 tsp Za’atar
  • 2 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 12 oz fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp fresh mint, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
  • additional Aleppo pepper
  • Greek-style yogurt

Score the duck breast skin and salt the breast on both sides. Place the duck n a deep-sided pan large enough to hold the potato and turnip, skin side down. Turn the heat on to low and render the fat from the breast. As the fat renders, gradually increase the heat to medium to crisp the skin and cook the duck. Keep it skin-side down for 15 minutes or so, then flip and cook the other side for another 7 minutes, which should bring the duck to medium-rare. Remove to a plate.

While the duck is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the sweet potato and turnip. Cook until slightly softened, 5-7 minutes, then drain.

Add the onion to the duck dripping and cook until caramelized, 20-25 minutes. When the onion is dark and fragrant, add the garlic and spices, stir, then add a few tablespoons of water to deglaze any onion. Stir for a moment, then add the potato and turnip. Increase the heat to medium high and stir, making sure to coat all of the potato and turnip with the spices. Continue to cook until the potatoes and turnips are tender 5-10 minutes longer. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper. Add in the spinach and lime juice, stir and cook until the spinach is just wilted, 1-2 minutes more.

To serve, thinly slice the duck breast. Put the sweet potato in a shallow bowl, place the duck breast on one side, garnish with the yogurt, mint, pepper and parsley. Serve immediately

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Shakshuka

An improvisational comfort food originating in North Africa, there are as many shakshuka recipes as there are cooks. I’d read three or four before settling on the one that I made, but feel free to wing it. Adding olives or feta is commonplace, as is saffron, if you’re feeling wealthy.

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp high-smoke-point oil, like safflower
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 2 fresh moderately hot peppers: Anaheim, cayenne, or jalapeno, diced.
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 28 oz. can of whole, peeled tomatoes (or 6 to 8 fresh paste tomatoes, if you can find them)
  • 1 tsp light brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 eggs

In a large, lidded pan, heat the oil over moderate heat and add the cumin and paprika and cook until fragrant. Turn the heat to high, add the onion and saute until soft and slightly charred, add the peppers and continue to cook until the peppers are slightly soft and the onion is very tender. Add the thyme, bay, tomato, and sugar, reduce the heat, stir well and simmer, breaking the tomatoes down, until you have a thick-ish sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Make four wells in the sauce, crack an egg into each, lower the heat to low, cover the pan and poach the eggs in the sauce, until the whites are just set and the yolks are soft, roughly 10 minutes. Serve in bowls with pita to mop up the sauce.

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Sweet Potato Gnocchi

It is the time of year when the good veg. in the grocery stores seem limited to cabbage, squash, and sweet potato. I was looking for some way to combine sweet potato and radicchio, and the best option seemed to be making the sweet potato  into gnocchi. Most of the recipes I read had added sugar, or maple syrup. This seems excessive as the sweet potato is usually sweet enough on its own.

  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2-1/2 to 3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork and then bake in a 400 degree oven until tender, 40 minutes or so. Let cool, then peel and mash. Add the ricotta, egg, and salt to the mashed sweet potato and mix well. add two cups of flour and stir until thoroughly incorporated. The dough will be sticky. Add just enough of the remaining flour, in 1/4 cup increments, until the dough is workable by hand. Turn out onto a floured work surface, knead for two minutes or so, then divide into 8 equal segments.

Set out a cookie sheet lined with parchment dusted with flour (or a Silpat, if you have one) and bring a gallon of water with two tbsp salt to a boil on the stove.

Roll each of the 8 segments into a “snake” roughly 3/4″ thick. Cut into equal segments. Press each flat, then, with a floured fork, press lightly and roll into the traditional gnocchi shape. Set each gnocchi on the cookie sheet while you process the rest of the dough.

When the water is boiling, add all of the gnocchi at once. Stir gently to prevent them from sticking together and boil until cooked, 3-5 minutes. Drain. At this point, you can use them in any gnocchi recipe (pan sauteed with browned butter, sage, and garlic, for instance) or you can spread them on a cookie sheet, let them cool, and freeze them. To use the frozen gnocchi, thaw and either bake them or saute them.  The sweet potato pairs well with bitter greens, like radicchio or broccoli rabe, and umami-rich flavors, like wild mushrooms. I baked mine in brown butter with radicchio, lamb sausage, and goat cheese.