Salted Caramel Apple Mousse Cakes

Life is full of frightening things.  The world we live in is overrun with people full of hate and empty of all light, those we love are capable of causing hurt, and we spend our whole lives fighting demons of our own.  But sometimes, we can find that the thing we feared, if we just go for it, may not be the frightening thing we imagined, and may end up bringing so much happiness and enjoyment.

This dessert was one of those things for me. I would read words like "mousse," and they made me want curl up in the fetal position and realize that I wasn't good enough.  Or at least, that's what I assumed, because it seemed like something that needed to be perfect. And I'm so very far from perfect in anyway, shape or form, with my baking and cooking following suit.  

But I've started to just go for it.  Make the mousse, and maybe it'll be a soupy mess, maybe it'll be a cube of jello, but just do it.  Stack your mousse in layers on cake, and enjoy the fact that you created something that tastes good, even if it's not a masterpiece.  And enjoy the process, no matter what.  Enjoy creating and loving others in the process.

And you know something?  These weren't perfect.  My mousse was the right consistency (yay!), but the layers weren't completely even or as distinct as I wanted, and the apple roses didn't look like they had been perfected by a pastry chef.  But you want to know something else?  They were enjoyed together with friends, and the flaws weren't seen, ignored, or were forgotten in the fun of good company.  And that's how good food should be, don't you think?

Don't be daunted by the number of elements and steps in these.  None of them are individually that hard, so take it one at a time, and it'll all come together.  You can even do it over the course of several days (Cookies can be baked ahead and even frozen), and they will keep overnight in the fridge to make serving as stress-free as possible. 

Salted Caramel Apple Mousse Cakes

Apple Spice Cake

  • 1 Cup + 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1.5 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 Cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 6 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 6 Tbsp. applesauce
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup of peeled apple, very finely chopped

Salted Caramel Mousse

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 6 Tbsp. soft butter
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream at room temperature
  • 1/2-1 tsp. Coarse Sea Salt
  • 1.5 tsp. powdered plain gelatin
  • 2 Tbsp. cold water
  • 1.5 cups cold heavy whipping cream

Vanilla Mousse

  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeded, or two teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. powdered plain gelatin
  • 3 Tbsp. cold water
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream, cold

Shortbread Cookies

  • 8 Tbsp. butter, softened
  • 1/4 Cup light brown sugar
  • 1 Cup flour
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla

Apple Roses & Caramel for Topping

  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, and sliced as thinly possible
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1.5 Tbsp. soft butter
  • 3-4 Tbsp. whipping cream at room temperature
  • a pinch of coarse sea salt

For the Apple Cake: Preheat oven to 350, and grease a jelly roll pan well.  In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder & soda, and spices and whisk until well combined.  

Place brown sugar in a mixing bowl, and make sure there are no clumps.  Using a hand mixer, or by hand, stir in oil and applesauce.  Next, mix in eggs and vanilla.  Add 1/2 of the flour until well blended, then stir in the milk.  Stir in the rest of the flour and mix until well combined.  Fold in the chopped apples.

Spread the mixture onto the pan, and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until done.  Remove from oven and allow to cool, then use a 2.5" biscuit or donut cutter to cut twelve cake circles.

If you have pastry circles, you can use those, but if you don't have them (like me!), use flexible plastic sheet (such as folder sleeves) and tape them around the cake circles to make molds for the mousse to set in.  Make sure to very lightly spray either plastic sheets or pastry circles.

For the Salted Caramel Mousse: Place 1 cup of sugar in a medium sized, heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat.  Whisk continually until the sugar has melted, then swirl the pan until the sugar has reached 350 degrees and is a light amber color.  Remove the sugar from the heat and immediately whisk in the butter.

Add the 1/2 cup of cream to the pan, and whisk to combine. Cool, then add in the salt to the desired flavor.

Stir cold water into the gelatin, and allow to soften for one minute.  Whisk into the caramel mixture until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat the cream until it reaches stiff peaks.  With a spatula, fold in the salted caramel until combined.  Spoon or pipe mousse onto the apple cake, into the molds, smoothing out the tops.  Place in the refrigerator until the mousse has set, approximately 2 hours.

For the Vanilla Mousse: In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup of the whipping cream with the vanilla seeds and pods, if using.  Allow to steep for 15-20 minutes.  In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until they are light yellow and smooth.  Slowly whisk in the warm cream.  Pour the mixture back into the sauce pan, and cook over medium-low heat while stirring constantly until mixture has thickened, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat, and add the vanilla extract if using.  Prepare an ice water bath.

Stir the gelatin into the cold water, and allow to soften for about 1 minute.  Stir into the egg and cream mixture until the gelatin has completely dissolved.  Strain into a clean bowl through a sieve, then place the bowl into the ice water bath and whisk until the mixture thickens and cools.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat the cream until it reaches stiff peaks.  With a spatula, fold in the egg and cream mixture.  Pipe or smooth onto the top of the caramel mousse, and place in refrigerator to set up, about 2 hours.

For the Shortbread Cookies: Beat together the butter and sugar until smooth, then add vanilla, salt, and flour.  Mix to create a dough.  Roll out to about a 1/4 inch thick and cut in rounds a bit smaller than the mousse cakes.  Prick with a fork and bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes, or until slightly golden.

For the Apple Roses and Caramel Topping: Peel and slice a Granny Smith apple as thinly as possible (no really, thinner).  Place five slices in a row on a baking sheet, overlapping them half way on top of each other.  Repeat 12 times.  Bake at 350 for 5-10 minutes, just until the slices are tender but still firm.  Roll each  section of five slices as tightly as possible and secure with a toothpick.  Refrigerate overnight.

For the caramel topping, place 1/4 cup of sugar in a medium sized, heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat.  Whisk continually until the sugar has melted, then swirl the pan until the sugar has reached 350 degrees and is a light amber color.  Remove the sugar from the heat and immediately whisk in the butter.

Add the 3-4 Tbsp. of cream to the pan until the consistency is caramel like and not runny, and whisk to combine. Spread over the tops of the cookies, and place an apple rose in the center of each while the caramel is still warm, removing the toothpicks. Place the cookies with roses on the tops of each mousse cake, and serve with much love. 

Normandy, France

 

Our month in Europe got started with almost two weeks in Normandy, France, living the dreamiest, happiest beach life you can imagine.  Our rental townhouse was a block away from Sword Beach, and we were there pretty much every possible waking moment of every day.

Prentice started out with a terrified fascination with the water, but after a couple of days he was smitten, and begged to go "play beach?" from the minute his eyes opened in the morning to the time he got tucked in at night.  The bakery was his other favorite place to go, and on the cooler mornings (things get pretty brisk on the coast, even in July!) we would opt for a walk to buy baguettes and a "'pecial 'nack," which usually meant a fancy tart or eclair that was anticipated and talked about ALL DAY LONG.  

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I didn't edit the color on that photo at all.  The sky was really that blue, and the clouds truly that white and fluffy.  

These were from the Sunday morning market in Caen.  It wasn't exclusively a farmer's, or even food market, but the produce stands were beautiful, and the fruits and veggies were amazing. The tiny purple artichokes were one of my favorite things there, as well as the ruffly tomatoes.  And of course, we had to stop for a fresh, warm crepe, one smeared with butter, and the other given a perfect sprinkle of sugar. 

 

October is what really marks the end of summer for me.  School may begin in August now (seriously?), but pool season is still in full swing in my brain.  In September, the heat begins to loose some of it's intensity and feel a bit tired, but I still lick my ice cream cones and ignore the pumpkins that sprout up everywhere. Not yet pie, not yet.f

But with the first day of October comes the realization that the breeze is beginning to nip, and will soon have the full bite of winter's frosts, and I start to feel nostalgic and a wee bit melancholy.  One of the saddest parts is saying goodbye to my garden.  I may not be any master gardener, but I do love sinking my fingers into the dirt and watching the slow magic of seeds turning to sprouts, sprouts growing to flower, and flowers becoming something breath-takingly beautiful or delicious to eat.

So with the leaves falling and the warm blankets coming out, here are a few pictures to say goodbye to the glory that was this summer and hello to the wonder that comes next. 

An Autumn Feast

Note:  I'm STILL working on getting the rest of the pictures from our European Summer trip up on the blog, and hopefully all of them will be present and accounted for in the next week.  But until then...

You know what I love about fall where I live? 

90 degree days.  Which essentially means that summer just lasts a littttle bit longer--more pool days, more ice cream cones, more sunshine.  But there's a certain golden hint in the late afternoon light, combined with a hint of a breeze and leaves on the ground that tell me that cooler weather is, most certainly, right around the corner.  And fall weather means that we roast instead of grill our meat and veggies, and bake instead of freeze all of our desserts.  I think I can be good with that.

And here, for your enjoyment, is a Fall Menu, curated from some of my favorite websites and blogs around the 'net. (<--sorry)  Happy Fall eating!

Fall Dinner

Roasted Chicken -- I use this method from NomNomPaleo, and add a sliced lemon and fresh rosemary sprigs to the cavity.  It's poultry perfection every single time.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes -- If you have time, slow roast them like this.  They're pretty much out of this world, though I hardly ever have it together enough to use that method and am throwing them into a very hot oven an hour before we eat.  Don't be like me.
Roasted Broccoli -- So easy, there's no recipe needed.  Simply spread broccoli spears on a foil lined roasting sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with large-grain salt.  Roast at high heat (400 degrees or so) for 15-25 minutes, depending on how "done" you like it.  Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Sourdough Rustic Rolls -- This recipe is gooood, and it comes from one of the websites most responsible for wasting my time.  I don't care for olives, so they didn't make it in.  No sourdough starter on hand?  No prob.  These ones will stand in for you nicely.
Dutch Apple Galette -- The perfect dessert for the feast.

 

 

Cookie Butter Cup Ice Cream

Remember our conversations about Trader Joes, the cool kids who shop there, and how I joined the club?  I just took it to the next level.  

I put those cookie butter cups in ICE CREAM.

 Not only that, it's no churn ice cream, which is basically the easiest way to make really good homemade ice cream.  Last year, recipes for no churn ice cream started blowing up my blog feed, I totally turned up my nose.  There was no way whipping up some cream and mixing it with sweetened condensed milk could be as good as the much more time intense custard and cream concoctions I was perfecting in my traditional ice cream maker.

Well, I was wrong.  So wrong.  It's creamy, and soft, and EASY.  So easy it's almost embarrassing, but I'm sure you'll quit blushing soon enough.  I hope so, because I'm going to be making lots more this summer.   

The perfect summer food just became perfecter.

Cookie Butter No-Churn Ice Cream

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
  • 1 batch of cookie butter cups, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Speculoos cookie butter
  • 2 tsp. powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Chop the cookie butter cups and set aside.  Beat together the cookie butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and canola oil until well combined and smooth.

Beat the heavy whipping cream until stiff peaks form, then stir in the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla bean paste.  Pour mixture into an 8x10 dish. Dollop tablespoons of cookie butter mixture onto the top and swirl in with a table knife.  Sprinkle the cookie butter cups and mini chocolate chips over the ice cream and gently stir in.

Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for at least 6 hours.  Serve with more cookie butter cups on top.

Normandy // D-Day Sites

If you looked at my Instagram posts from the last two weeks, you would probably assume that all we've done in France is eat baguettes. That's not entirely the case though-- we've traveled around and seen the sites while eating baguettes. 

Some of the things high on our to see list in Normandy was the D-Day landing sites. Our rental house is just down the street from Sword Beach, which was the most eastern of the five landing beaches and was taken by British, Canadian, and French troops. It's mostly just a great beach for families to enjoy now, but all along the length of it there are memorials and tributes to the battle and the men who fought it. 

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Omaha Beach  

On Saturday, we headed for Omaha Beach, which was the main landing site for othe American forces.  To give a little pop culture context- if you've seen Saving Private Ryan, it's the site of the first battle. The day was overcast but not uncomfortably cool, and we walked along the beach after lunch. There are remains of the bombed out German fortifications at the far end of the beach, and a pier that is build on part of the temporary dock built by the Allies for access during the invasion of Normandy. 

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The American Cemetery  

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This was one of the most sobering places I've ever been. There are more than 9,000 crosses in this graveyard, each one representing a husband, father, son, and brother. And there were no words for the feelings as I walked through with my two boys. 

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If you go, take the time to walk through the visitor's center/ museum. There are several films and quite a few displays that are very well done. 

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Pegasus Bridge  

Our last D-Day site was Pegasus Bridge, captured by British paratroopers. It was strategically necessary to take it intact so that the Allied forces could get their tanks over the Arne river into the country. The original bridge isn't actually spanning the river anymore- they replaced it a few years ago with one that looks nearly identical, but is larger. You can go to the Pegasus Memorial to see the original bridge, as well as a small collection of other military vehicles, large guns, etc. 

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For some reason, Prentice has developed an affinity for the "ganks." It probably has something to do with really large wheels.

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Things to Know...

If you're planning to visit the D-Day sites, there are a few things you should know before you go.  

  • The beaches cover over 50 miles of coastline, and it takes a long time to drive in between. For instance, from where we were on Sword, it was about an hour to Omaha, and would have been another 45-55 minutes to get to Utah.   
  • There are a million and one museums. We're not really museum people (especially with a tired two year old in tow), so we only did the American Cemetery musem, which is free, and the Pegasus Bridge. Admission to most is usually between €6-8, so not too expensive, but you may want to pick the areas that interest you most.  
  • Watch The Longest Day (and maybe Saving Private Ryan) before you go. I'm serious. TLD isn't a very entertaining movie, in my opinion, but it at least gave me a general idea of what was going on where. Some of it didn't make much sense while watching, but I at least vaguely know what happened at any given site. SPR isn't really an overview of the whole battle, but it gives you a very realistic (if somewhat gritty) picture of what the battle entailed. 
  • Always take a light jacket with you. Even in July, we had a cold morning at Omaha and a warm afternoon at the cemetery.  


Off to See the World

So, things have changed a bit around here. As in, the around here is now...France. We picked up and left our little house behind for a few weeks, and are living by a little house near the sea in Normandy.  

I've kept the trip fairly quiet for several reasons. First of all, the itinerary wasn't even finalized until last week. "No minute like the last" is totally our motto. And we rock it. Also, I've felt a little bit, I dunno, awkward about it all. Almost like taking a trip that we've dreamed of ever since we got back from Europe the first time is just showing off, and too much. But I realized that's silly. This is a blessing God has given us. And there's nothing wrong with delighting in it and sharing it with friends and family.  

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Here's what we've accomplished so far-- two days in New York, surviving an overnight flight with a 2 year old, and a loooong drive from Brussels, Belgium to Normandy, France, plus a visit to the boulangerie.  Micah can't take all of the time off, so he'll be working during the week and we'll spend weekends taking it all in. I have my heart set on Monet's house, Mont St. Michel, and we'll definitely visit the landing beaches and World War II memorials. Our AirBnB is just down the street from the beach (see picture above), so The Bops and I will probably spend a good portion of our days there. And the boulangerie, because who am I kidding?

After Normandy, there will be a weekend in Paris (don't tell, but I think that's what I'm most excited about. Best. City. Ever.). Then we'll fly down to Florence, Italy to check out all of the art, and then wrap  it up in Rome to visit our pal the Pope. Just kidding! We're not friends with him. He seems nice and all, but we're a bit too Protestant to be BFFs, if you know what I mean. 

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All told, we'll be gone for about 4 weeks, and while I know it will be long and we'll miss home, part of me feels like I'm are back home. Europe was where Micah and I made our rather nomadic home for the first few months of our marriage, and in spite of the jet lag and the frustration of a lost bag (why, United? WHY?), it feels kind of like we're right where we belong. 

So all of that to say, expect a picture explosion that is not (all) food related (le gasp!). Instagram won't know what hit it. I'll probably break this blog with all of the photos. I'll tell and show you everything I see that's worth sharing, and if you think that's obnoxious, come back in August. I'll be too exhausted to be annoying then. 

Kisses! 

 

Strawberries and Cream Donuts

When it comes to food, I have strong convictions.

Pie crust should never be whole wheat (just eewww).  Cookies should never have raisins (they shouldn't be in anything else, for that matter).  And donut day shouldn't be confined to one paltry day a year.

Donuts? Doughnuts?  Do two spellings mean we get to eat two do(ugh)nuts?  I think yes.

And see that bright, pretty glaze?  It was made with nary a drop of artificial flavoring or food coloring.  Just powderized freeze dried strawberries, which have officially become my new food crush.  Can we start making them trend?  So much flavor and color in such a small size and usable texture.  They could very well world peace, or at least world kitchen peace.

And if you look reeeeeaaallly closey, you can maybe see that my first food love made it in too.  The cream filling is filled with tiny, itty bitty black specks of vanilla bean perfection, courtesy of vanilla bean paste rather than extract.  They just make food so real, you know?  

All of that to say... There's so much to love here for your warm weather baking.  They look like summer.  They taste like summer.  You don't even have to heat your oven because SUMMER.  You'll probably definitely love them (even if your swimsuit won't).

And look!  They'll even love you back. XOXO

Strawberries and Cream Donuts

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 cups peanut, vegetable, or canola oil for frying
  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
     
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup freeze-dried strawberries, powdered
  • 2-3 Tbsp. milk

For the donuts: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast.  In a small bowl, whisk together egg, milk, melted butter, and vanilla extract.  Dump all of the wet ingredients into the dry, and stir and knead into a soft dough.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

After the rest, knead for 6-8 minutes, or until the dough is soft, supple, and smooth.  Place it in a clean, oiled bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap.  Allow to rise for 1 to 1.5 hours or until doubled.

Once dough has finished rising, deflate and turn out onto well floured counter.  Roll out to a 1/4" thick and cut into 2 to 2.5" circles.  Place on parchment paper, cover lightly with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for about a half hour.

In a frying pan, heat at least 3" of oil until 350 degrees.  place 2-3 donuts in the hot oil at a time, allowing it to cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until they are golden brown and puffy.  Set aside and allow oil to return to to 350 before adding the next batch.  Allow to cool completely.

For the pastry cream: While the donuts are rising, make the cream filling.  Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt.  In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolk and vanilla bean paste with a fork until they are well blended and slightly lightened.  Gradually beat in the sugar mixture until completely combined and smooth.  The mixture will be quite thick.

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat until bubbles begin to form around the edge, but it's not boiling.  Slowly drizzle the hot milk into the eggs while stirring, making sure that the eggs aren't being cooked by the hot milk.  Scrape it all back into the saucepan and place over medium heat, whisking constantly to prevent scorching, and cook until it comes to a boil.  Cook until mixture is smooth and glossy, about ten seconds.  Place in a clean bowl, press plastic wrap over the top to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate until cold.

For the frosting: In a small mixing bowl, crush the freeze dried strawberries until they are powder.  You can use a pestle, the end of a french rolling pin, or your psychic powers, but they need to be well powderized.  Whisk in the powdered sugar, then gradually add the milk until a glaze like consistency has been reached.

To make the donuts: Place the cream filling in a pastry bag with a medium/small round tip in the end.  Use a sharp paring knife to cut a slit in the side of the donuts, insert the pastry bag tip, and squeeze until you feel the donut begin to bulge slightly.  Dip the tops in glaze and allow to dry.

Enjoy!

Chicken Fajita Salad

I try to fit a salad in for dinner about once a week.  It's healthy, it's budget friendly, and usually pretty easy to throw together.  

But if it's nothing but a bed of lettuce with a few pieces of chicken thrown on?  Ugh.  It leaves you a) feeling like a foraging creature of the woodland, and b) still hungry.

Enter ALL THE TOPPINGS!  They fill you up, they add so much variety in flavor and texture, and they make the salad so much more enjoyable.  And since fajitas are one of our favorite dinners, this salad is pretty likely to make the rotation frequently.

You can get pretty crazy with the toppings here.  I made some avocado rose because they're so pretty, and crisped up some tortilla strips.  But you could totally channel the Chicken Bacon Fajitas and throw on a good crumble of bacon.  Or add some lime rice over the top if you're a grain on the salad sort (I totally am.  Micah's totally not).  Whatever you love and makes your fajita dreams come true can happen on this salad.

Chicken Fajita Salad

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tsp. red chilli flakes (add less if you aren't into spicy foods)
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs

Combine all ingredients except chicken and put half of the mixture in a large zipper bag. Add chicken to bag and allow to marinade at least two hours or overnight. Grill and allow to cool some before adding to salad.

 Reserve remaining mixture and use as salad dressing.

  • 1 head romaine lettuce, cut or torn into bite sized pieces.
  • 1 avocado, sliced or made into a rose
  • 1 small white onion, sliced thin and sauteed in a skillet until brown
  • 1 small bell pepper, sliced thin and sauteed in a skillet until brown
  • 2 corn tortillas, sliced into small strips and crisped over medium heat in a sprayed skillet
  • A sprinkling of cheddar cheese.
  • Anything else your heart desires.  You want bacon, just so you know.  Black beans are also a stellar option.  Use your creativity.

To assemble the salad, spread lettuce on one large platter or 3-4 individual plates.  Start with the chicken, and add onions and peppers.  Top with avocado, cheese, tortilla strips, and any other toppings you may have.  Pour some of the reserved marinade/dressing over the salad(s) and serve immediately.

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Israel // Lamb Kufta Kebab Pita Sandwiches

I was a reallly, really hard letter to pick for, because let's be real-- Italy.  Israel.  Ireland.  Some of the best cuisines in the world are from countries starting with I.

But eventually, I had to go with Israel, because this Such a Lot of World to Eat project got started with an article in Saveur magazine about Michael Solomonov, an Israeli chef who's currently heading up Zahav, a restaurant in Philadelphia that is supposed to be fabulous.  Someday, I hope to visit both Philadelphia and Tel Aviv, but for now I just have to pita here at home.

Israeli food tends to focus on fresh, seasonal produce prepared well, which makes for perfect spring and summer eating.  It also means that it's generally healthy, which you can tell just by looking at the toppings and garnishes-- baba ganoush with roasted eggplant, Israeli salad with fresh cucumber, tomato, and bell pepper, and matbucha, which is essentially a cooked salsa with the nicest hint to spice and a lovely roasted tomato flavor.  I've linked to several recipes in the ingredients that I used to create the pitas, comparing and finding the most standard, traditional, and flavorful recipes I could find.  I came across a really lovely blog by Tori Avey, full of traditional and fresh Israeli recipes, and I have a feeling I'll be going back for more really good food!

When you have all of that flavorful goodness tucked into a pita with some grilled lamb, you have the makings of a really stellar meal.  Kufta means pounded, so these kebabs (kabobs?) are made from ground lamb (or beef, if you must) and formed into oblong patties before being skewered and grilled. Forget hamburgers this summer, all you need for barbecued happiness is some grilling skewers, pitas, and all the fresh veggies.

As for the pitas, well, you can make your own at home (it's pretty straightforward and simple), or you can buy them-- it's all good!  We don't judge here, but I will say that there's pretty much nothing like a fresh, hot pita, whether filling it or just filling your face with it.  Your choice.

Shalom!  (I think that's how they say bon appetit in Israel.  But don't quote me on that)

Kufta Lamb Kebab Pitas

  • 1.5 pound of ground lamb or beef
  • 1.5 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped very fine
  • 1/2 cup of white onion, minced very fine
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  •  1/2 tsp. black pepper
     
  • 4 pitas, cut in half
  • Baba ganoush, hummus, or tahini
  • Matbucha
  • Lettuce
  • Israeli salad

In a mixing bowl, combine the lamb, salt, parsley, onion, cumin, garlic, and pepper by hand.  Divide it into about 12 even portions and shape them into oblong patties and place on grilling skewers, three on each skewer.  Spray your grill with oil and place the meat on it, carefully turning every 2-3 minutes, and cooking until the insides reach 160 F.

Once the meat is ready, pull it off the skewers and set it aside.  Cut the pitas in half, and spread the insides with baba ganoush or hummus and line with lettuce leaves.  Layer in matbucha, Israeli salad, and meat, topping with more salad.  Serve immediately  

Hungary // Dobos Torte

Hungary was a pretty rough ride.

Usually, I like to think of myself as pretty flexible and resilient when it comes to schedules and getting things done.  But my game has been completely off recently between traveling recently, and preparing for more traveling in the next few months. How many days does it take to get a child's passport and all the necessary paperwork?  Three. THREE WHOLE DAYS. That's how many.  

And I ain't gonna lie, the #suchalotofworldtoeat project has gotten the short end of my falling-apart stick.  When I finally got it together and tried to make Paprikash last week, it was decidedly just meh. Not terrible, but the sauce part of it had almost zero flavor (wrong kind of paprika maybe?) and the chicken tasted like it had sat in a crockpot for 37.592 hours.  So I fell back on my favorite meal of the day-- dessert.

Enter the Dobos Torte, aka, the most perfect layer cake I've encountered in my life. The torte was created and named after it's creator, Josef Dobos and presented to the public in Budapest in 1885.   

Usually I'm not a huge fan of cakes, but this one made me stand in the kitchen and brag to Micah that it was the best cake I'd ever eaten, and I was going to say it even if I had made it and that isn't technically a nice thing to do.  It was tender and moist and flavorful without being just sugary fluff.  The icing was chocolatey and rich, but such a tasteful amount that you didn't feel like you were going to die from overload. 

Oh, but my version wasn't exactly perfect, because see those six layers? Um, yeah, traditionally there are seven layers.  But I burned the last one, so six it was.  Also, I skipped the caramel layer that goes on top.  So is it the most technical of all Dobos Tortes?  Nope.  But it tasted amazing, so it comes highly recommended.

Dobos Torte

Makes a seven layer 9-inch round cake (ignore the six layers in my pictures)
Recipe inspiration from many places, but mostly Smitten Kitchen

  • 10 large egg yolks
  • 7 egg whites
  • 1 pound or 3.5 cups confectioners sugar
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
     
  • 1/2 pound semi-sweet chocolate
  • 2 sticks or 1/2 pound of butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup confectioners sugar

Prepare your cake pans by cutting parchment circles to fit in the bottom of each, then butter and lightly flour each pan. If you only have two pans, precut all of your parchments, and wipe out the pans and rebutter and flour between each baking.  Then preheat the oven to 425 degrees and place a rack in the center of the oven.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (I used my heavy duty hand mixer, but the motor really struggled, so I wouldn't do that again), beat the egg yolks on medium-high until smooth and lemon colored, about 2-3 minutes.  Gradually beat in the pound of confectioner's sugar and continue beating until smooth and glossy, occasionally scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Reduce the speed to low and add in the flour and salt, then return to high speed and beat for 5 minutes.  Stir in the 1/2 Tbsp. of vanilla extract.

Making the Cakes: Using a clean bowl (you can transfer the batter to another bowl and then wash the mixer bowl) and beaters, beat eggs whites until they form stiff peaks.  Put a couple of large spoonfuls of the egg whites into the batter and stir-- it will be pretty stiff, so you get to work off some of the cake calories before you even consume them. #lifewinOnce the egg whites have softened the mixture, scrape the rest of them in and gently fold them into the cake batter.

Next, spread about a 1/4 inch of the batter into each of the cake pans and bake them on the center rack for 5-8 minutes each, or until they are a very pale golden color and not doughy in the center.  Remove them from the pans and allow to cool.  

Frosting/Filling: While the cakes are cooling, melt the 1/2 lb of chocolate, then allow to cool until room temperature but not hard.  Beat in the butter, vanilla, egg yolks, and confectioners sugar.

Assembling: To assemble the cakes, place one layer on a round cake plate.  Spread a thin layer of the filling evenly over it, and carefully center another layer on top of it.  Repeat this process until all of the layers are filled and stacked, then use the remaining frosting to cover the cake.  Refrigerate until serving, and allow it to sit at room temperature for a few minutes for the chocolate frosting to soften before cutting.  The cake keeps well for at least three days.

Note:  You will have a lot of egg whites leftover from this recipe.  It would be a stellar life choice to make macarons with them.

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