Dulce de Leche Heaven

My family always had sweetened condensed milk on the grocery list. My father called it "goo-goo"- probably because one of us described it that way as a child- and it stuck...my kids still call it that. Dad even liked it on toast and, until the day he died, he had a spoonful of it in his coffee. It was both sugar and cream. Manna. He lived to the ripe old age of 94.

Mother made dulce de leche by boiling cans of sweetened condensed milk for a couple hours then she'd slice it and serve it with cream for dessert. (Are you mentally counting those calories?) I'm too chicken to boil it - why doesn't it blow up?-and mother is no longer here to give me exact directions. We all know the only directions that really count are Mother's. My sister does hers in a pressure cooker- no way I'm doing that either. Then I read someplace about making it in the microwave. Uhhhhh..no.  So while doing a search online for a simple and safe and fool-proof method I came across the recipe for Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares at Smitten Kitchen. She has an excellent plan for making the dulce de leche part of the recipe: in the the top of a double boiler. Works for me. 

I know.  I'm a tad late arriving at the dulce de leche party (pronounced: dool-say deh lay-chay according to a Cuban friend, who corrected me), but we've been eating it in my family since way back. I just never made it myself. Go figure. So I continued on and made the cheesecake squares. The recipe has already made the rounds so you've probably tried them by now and I'm not saying they aren't good, they're delicious. But if your raison d'être for making them is to savor the flavor of dulce de leche- you can forget it. Mainly you taste the chocolate on top. I know you chocolate fanatics are loving that idea.

Even though I am posting the cheesecake square recipe here, I have a confession: I really wanted to make dulce de leche so I could eventually try Dulce de Leche Brioche. Doesn't that sound divine? I'll keep you posted. And just in case there are one or two of you out there who haven't yet made these cheesecake squares- here's the recipe. Yummy.

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares
(Adapted from a Smitten Kitchen post  in February 2008, who adapted it from Gourmet Magazine, December 2003)

Making dulce de leche:
Pour one can (14 ounce) sweetened condensed milk into the top of a double-boiler. Place over boiling water.
Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 50 minutes to an hour, or until thick and light caramel-colored. Remove from heat. Whisk until smooth. Makes 1 cup.

Done, but still warm.

Cheesecake squares:

Ingredients for the crust:
1 cup of crushed graham crackers
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Ingredients for the filling:

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup whole milk
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 large eggs
3/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup dulce de leche

Ingredients for the glaze:
3 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), coarsely chopped
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons light corn syrup

With the rack in the center of your oven,  preheat to 325°.  Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with 2 sheets of foil (crisscrossed), leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides.

Crush the crackers and add the sugar, a pinch of salt, the butter and mix thoroughly.  Press the mixture into the bottom of your prepared baking pan. Bake 10 minutes, then cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes.

Sprinkle gelatin over milk in a bowl and let it soften for 2 minutes. In a mixer, beat together cream cheese, eggs, salt, and gelatin mixture until well combined, then stir in dulce de leche gently but thoroughly. Pour the filling over the crust, smoothing top, then bake in a hot water bath in the oven (leaving the temperature the same) until center is just set, about 45 minutes. Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 2 hours. Chill, covered, at least 6 hours.

Heat all glaze ingredients in a glass bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir. Repeat in 10 second intervals until melted together. Give it a quick whip by hand to make it smooth, then pour the glaze over the cheesecake, tilting the baking pan to coat the top evenly. Chill, uncovered, 30 minutes.

Lift cheesecake from the pan using the foil overhang and cut it into 1-inch squares (anything bigger is just too rich) with a thin knife, dipping and cleaning off the knife in hot water after each cut. (Don’t skip this step! A clean knife is essential if you want your squares to look pretty and not have chocolate smeared down the sides!)
Makes about 64 one inch squares.
Note: you can refrigerate the cheesecake (without the glaze) for up to 3 days.


Autumn = Applesauce

Once upon a time in Michigan, we had a backyard full of apple trees. I have no idea what variety but they were small, tart and delicious and everyone looked forward to fall so we could make applesauce. My mother made it often when I was a child- this is her recipe. It was hard to come by because she never wrote it down- I had to watch her make it. It's a classic, basic, simple, do it with a hand tied behind your back sort of recipe. And because
apples are available all year round, you can make it any time of the year. But still, I always associate applesauce with autumn. And not an October has gone by, apple trees or no, that I have skipped making it.

Can anything compare with autumn in Michigan? It's the one season I really miss since I moved to Florida and I try very hard to arrange visits to Michigan family and friends in October. The smell of pine trees, beautiful red and gold leaves making the trees vivid and bright in the sunlight, pumpkins growing in fields, cider and donuts, chilly mornings, U of M football games (Go Blue!), tailgate parties, falling leaves swirling in the wind, my kids jumping in enormous piles of raked leaves. A new season. A new start. A new school year. Yup, I sure do remember that school part. ;)

The kids always asked for applesauce- the fragrance of apples and spices cooking on the stove made everyone think of upcoming holidays. And I can still create that ambiance, even though I live in the south. Maybe we don't have apple trees, but we DO have apples.

Only those of you living in the south understand we have seasons too- they don't scream out quite like yours, but seasons just the same. Huh? Fall in Florida you ask? Well yes. It's more a state of mind than anything else but there are a few things we notice. The winds shift, the light changes as the days shorten- our temperatures stay in the 80's rather than the humid 90's. Last week I noticed our grocery store decked out its entrance with pumpkins and fake spider webs.

(Pumpkins and palms, side by side.)

We get into fall just like the rest of you with fall wreaths on our doors, scarecrows and corn cobs on our porches and pumpkins on our doorsteps. I know, it's only a mind set. But thank you September for finally arriving. And move on in, October! That's what I say. Bring on the fall....


8 large apples, peeled, cored, sliced- leave the skins on- the redder the skin, the pinker the applesauce. (If you aren't lucky enough to have access to freshly picked apples, use 2 Gala, 2 Rome, 2 Red Delicious and 2 Fugi)
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon ( or to taste)
1/2 fresh lemon

Combine apples and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium. Cook until mushy, stirring often to prevent apples from sticking to bottom of the pan. It should take 20 to 30 min.

We like our applesauce smooth so I put my cooked apples through a food mill. ( If you don't have a mill, KitchenAid makes a sieve/grinder attachment which you may already have.) Press the apples through a food mill.

While still hot, add 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon and the juice from 1/2 lemon. Sweeten to your own taste: I start with somewhat less than the 1/4 cup white sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar called for- much depends on the sweetness of the apples.

Cool and then refrigerate. Makes 6-8 cups.

You may store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. The rest I put in Ziploc freezer bags to store for the long-term. Homemade applesauce freezes great and when thawed, you’d never know it was frozen. I've kept some in the freezer for nearly a year. One little trick to save space: put some applesauce in freezer bags, lay them flat on a pan and freeze them. Once frozen, you can stack them up.


“…..that prince of foods... the muffin!” (From Frank Zappa’s Muffin Man)

Years ago someone gave me three little cookbooks by Elizabeth Alston; one was called Simply Cakes, another Biscuits and the last one Muffins.

Lots of lovely recipes in all her books- which made it damn near impossible to decide which book to tackle first, but of course I decided on muffins. I was a goner once I made the raspberry almond muffins; eventually tried nearly all of them and found quite a few I still make frequently, but the raspberry almond muffins became a family favorite.

Which brings me to my present situation: it’s time for my Garden Club’s first meeting of the season. I try to host the September meeting because it's smaller than the other meetings -so many members are still out of town. (September is Florida’s worst month weather wise……. I'd stay away too if I could figure out a way.) So instead of the normal 40 members only about 28 show up. Works for me ‘cause I can’t seat forty women in my living room - but 28 I can manage- with every single chair I own. Just.

As hostess, there’s not much to do except supply the coffee, juice and some nibble food. (And clean house and polish silver and fill every available container with fall flowers- oh yeah- Garden Club- remember?) Now we’re not talking big eaters here but I try to have a couple sweet breads and some muffins of some sort. For my sweet breads I always have Maida Heatter’s unreal delicious Chocolate Espresso Loaf  and this year, for a taste of fall, Ina Garten’s Date Spice Bread with orange cream cheese spread; then to top things off – those sweet little Raspberry & Almond Muffins from Elizabeth Alston’s book. Well, sweet if you like raspberry jam and almond paste, that is. And who doesn’t? As for me, I’m a sucker for almond paste. In anything. Even right out of the package.

For this group I make them in miniature muffin tins because everyone needs to have space for a muffin next to their coffee cup and not have to go through a balancing act when they want to take a sip of coffee. You gotta love the fact they freeze beautifully; thaw them overnight in the fridge and stick them (wrapped in foil) in a slow oven to warm them just before serving.

Raspberry Almond Muffins
(Adapted from Elizabeth Alston's Muffins)

7 ounces almond paste
½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup buttermilk ( or plain yogurt)
Good quality raspberry preserves

Note: if you are using miniature muffin tins, don’t forget to adjust the size of the almond disks to fit the smaller size, (instead of 16 disks, make 32) the amount of batter in each muffin cup, the amount of raspberry preserves in each and you’ll find the baking time is a tad shorter.

However, the following recipe is for 16 regular sized muffins.
Preheat oven to 350°. I like to brush the entire top of the muffin tin lightly with oil so the muffins don’t stick. Then butter muffin tins inside and sprinkle lightly with bread crumbs. Tap against the sink to remove excess crumbs.
Cut almond paste into 16 pieces and press each piece into a round disk. Beat butter until creamy and add sugar. Beat until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then mix in baking powder, baking soda and almond extract.
With a spatula, fold in 1 cup of flour, then the buttermilk and then the last of the flour. Mix only until well blended.
Spoon 2 tablespoons batter into each muffin cup, top with a small spoonful of raspberry preserves, then press the almond disk into the preserves. Top with another 2 tablespoons batter.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned.

Turn out on a rack and let stand at least 10 minutes. Serve or freeze. Makes 16 regular muffins or 32 miniature muffins.


Chilled Pear Soup with Goat Cheese Fritters

I just had to try it. Once. Usually I don't fuss with composed desserts this much, but I couldn't resist- and even then I eliminated several of the side garnishes on the plate. So what am I talking about? Last fall I came across a recipe for Chilled Pear Soup with Goat Cheese Fritters. I marked it, fully intending to try it when next I saw some very ripe Bartlett pears. Then promptly forgot about it. So here we are, yet another fall (God, the summer went so fast) and when I saw some nice ripe pears in the market, I remembered the recipe and my good intentions. OK then. Make. This. Soup. Now.

Cold fruit soups can be scrumptious especially when combined with a savory like goat cheese. And pears are divine right now. I found nice ripe ones at Whole Foods and, after finding some semolina flour there as well, the muse was upon me. And I've never made a cold dessert soup myself so this should be fun. It's basically a test run for the holidays. So here we go.

Chilled Pear Soup with Goat Cheese Fritters
(Adapted from Sweet Seasons by Richard Leach)


For the soup:
6 very ripe Bartlett pears
2 vanilla beans, split in half and seeds scraped
1 cup granulated sugar

For the fritters:
vegetable oil, for frying
1 cup fresh goat cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 egg whites
1 cup semolina flour
1/2 cup cake flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup confectioners sugar

For the timbales:
2 cups goat cheese
1 julienned pear

Peel, core and dice the pears. Place in a saucepan and add the scraped pods along with the seeds of the vanilla beans. Add sugar and enough water to just cover the pears. Simmer over mediuim heat until pears are tender.

Puree in a food processor and then strain. Refrigerate.

Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 325°. Combine all the fritter ingredients in a bowl and mix until well combined. Drop by the heaping teaspoonful and allow to fry until golden brown on all sides. Drain on a paper towel and sprinkle with confectioners sugar.
For the timbales: cream the goat cheese until smooth and pack into 1 inch tambales. Refrigerate.

To assemble:
Unmold the timbales into eight dessert bowls. Carefully place some julienned pears on top of the timbales. Pour the chilled soup around the timbales. Place five goat cheese fritters next to the soup bowls.

And what did I think? It was amazing! The soup was a little sweet but when I dipped in the goat cheese fritter the flavors blended nicely. ( In the future I would make the fritters a tad smaller and put a little less sugar in the pears. You can always add more before you puree.) And don't forget you can make and chill the pear soup way ahead of time, then fry the timbales at the last minute.


Figs, Pigs and Fat Cats

My daughter went back to New York City yesterday. It will be lonely around here without her as she is my best friend but she has her own life to lead…. including the fall re-opening of her gallery next week. This first show brings with it hopes for a better year in the contemporary art world. I’m crossing my fingers.

And with her went Prince, her chubby cat, who was visiting for a while. I am not terribly sorry to see HIM go as not only did we have to clear all side tables (and a mantel) of bric a brac (which he was way too curious about considering he is male) but he also had the nerve to bite me twice, the little stinker. And drew blood.

Well scars aside, my daughter and I made lots of new recipes during her visit; she’s an excellent cook considering she has so little time to spend in the kitchen. Because she is not much of a dessert-eater her choices tend to be veggies, fish or chicken. She came to me one day with a Gourmet magazine open to a page featuring a Cornish game hen dish with figs and bacon. As far as I was concerned, those ingredients sounded delish…and luckily I had the figs, some bacon was in the freezer so we were left to purchase game hens and some fresh thyme.
I didn’t see how we could go wrong and I was right. It was fabulous. Although next time I would add more figs as I could have eaten many more- can anything be quite as good as a roasted, caramelized fig? And it was just as good the next night. By the way, don’t you love Gourmet’s name for the recipe?

Figgy, Piggy Cornish Hens
(Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, September 2009)

½ pound bacon, halved
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced lengthwise
4 Cornish hens, about 1 ½ pounds, halved lengthwise (ours were a little bigger)
12 fresh sprigs of thyme
12 fresh black figs, halved or quartered if large
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 500°. Place rack in upper third of your oven.
Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crisp and then drain on paper towels. Add garlic to the pan and cook until golden. Transfer garlic to the paper towels.
Dry the hens and season with salt and pepper. Reheat the fat in the skillet until it starts to smoke and then add the hens, skin side down. Cook about 6 minutes. Transfer hens to a 4-sided baking sheet, skin side up. Reserve the skillet.
Scatter the thyme and figs all over and around the hens. Bake until done, about 15 minutes.
In the meantime, deglaze the pan with the lemon juice, scraping up the brown bits, for about 30 seconds.
Remove the hens to a serving platter, pour the lemon juice gravy over the hens and then scatter the bacon and garlic on top.


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