October 31, 2014

Apple Sharlotka

With all the culinary influences that Romania has been blessed with, you would surely think that we would be well acquainted with the popular Russian Apple Sharlotka cake.  Well, not so much, or at least my family isn’t.  Granted, my grandmother has her own arsenal of apple pies and apple tortes to keep our greedy tummies satisfied.  So, until stumbling across this recipe for Apple Sharlotka in the November issue of Food & Wine, I had never heard of this kind of sweet delight.  But I can’t tell you how happy I am to have finally discovered it. 




The Apple Sharlotka is a traditional Russian apple cake-torte-pie-all-in-one kind of dessert.  In fact, I personally find it to be vaguely similar to the Vanilla Pudding Apple Torte that my grandmother spoils us with especially during the apple season; just as few if not fewer ingredients and no need for the glossy vanilla pudding draped all over the cake.  The top is delectably flaky, crusty and thoroughly dusted with powdered sugar, while beneath it the cake is light and fluffy, not too sweet and spiced with just the right amount of cinnamon, nutmeg and almond extract to create a heady, appetizing spectacle of flavors.  And at the bottom, you are greeted by a healthy layer of tart juicy and soft apples.  It’ll be hard devouring only one slice and most likely, you’ll end up making this treat again and again. 





Beside the fact that this cake is ridiculously easy to whip up, it’s very likely that you already have all the ingredients in your pantry and you don’t have to hastily scramble to the supermarket to fill up the basket.  On top of that, the sharlotka goes perfectly with tea or coffee, and makes for a quick and glorious breakfast or afternoon guilt-free snack.  I know that we’re in the midst of pumpkin frenzy and I should probably switch my attention to this autumn staple fairly soon, but right now I just prefer to indulge in the apple season and this apple sharlotka a tad longer.  Happy Halloween everyone!  





Apple Sharlotka
Adapted from Food & Wine (November 2014)

Makes: one 9-inch tart

Ingredients:

·         4 Granny Smith or any firm, tart apples; I used Honey Crisp apples – peeled, cored, quartered and thinly sliced
·         1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice, from half a lemon
·         1 cup sugar
·         ¾ cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
·         ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
·         ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
·         Pinch of kosher salt
·         3 large eggs, at room temperature
·         ½ teaspoon pure almond extract (or pure vanilla extract)
·         Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting





Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Grease the bottom and side of an 8 or 9-inch springform pan.

In a large bowl, toss the apples with the lemon juice and 2 Tablespoons of the sugar and let stand for 15 minutes. 





Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the flour with the cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the almond extract and the remaining ¾ cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar at medium-high speed until thick and pale yellow and a ribbon forms when the beaters are lifted, about 8 to 10 minutes.  In two batches, gently fold in the dry ingredients just until incorporated.  





Spread the apples in the prepared pan in an even layer, then pour the batter evenly over them.  Let stand for 5 minutes to allow the batter to sink in a little.





Bake the sharlotka for about 55 to 60 minutes, until it is golden and crisp on top and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Transfer to a rack and let rest for 15 minutes.  Unmold and transfer to a serving platter.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm.  





Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

September 30, 2014

Meringue Plum Cake for the third anniversary!

On September 19, my little blog turned three!  Another year filled with recipes and stories that wouldn’t be the same without all of you, my dear readers.  YOU, whom I all consider my friends by now, make this experience exciting, inspiring and so, so much fun.  And I can’t thank you enough for being here and for all your kindness and support! 



 
It seems to be a recurring theme to celebrate my blog birthday with some sort of delicious plum concoction.  This year is no exception.  But there’s no better way to let go of summer and celebrate the third anniversary than with a classic recipe from my grandmother.  This is another stellar summer dessert and one of my grandma’s favorite sweets to whip up during the sizzling summer heat. 





What I love about this cake, besides its luscious flavors and stunning colors, is its versatility and easy transition to richer tastes and ingredients.  Although I like to honor the last plums of the hot season by making this beautiful dessert, you can also try this cake with peaches, apricots or sour cherries, and I encourage you to swap the stone fruits for ricotta cheese when cooler weather rolls around.  You’ll be in for a special treat!     
   



This Meringue Plum Cake is humble in appearance but huge in flavor.  The tartness and juiciness of the plums pair beautifully with the intense sweetness and relaxed stickiness of the meringue.  In the end, the two complement each other to create a well-balanced sweet treat. 




You first bite into the crackly, foamy meringue top and then sink your teeth into the meaty and zesty plums only to finish with the soft, subtle, dough.  And while my grandma usually fancies a light, fluffy dough in her summery cakes, this time around, the base is more subdued allowing the succulent plums and frothy meringue to shine through.  I made a full tray of this gorgeous cake for my husband to indulge while I was away for a couple of days; upon my return, all I found was an empty tray filled with crumbs and traces of (what was) a wonderful cake.  I guess he loved it!




Meringue Plum Cake
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki

Makes: 18 squares

Ingredients:

·         200 grams (14 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
·         200 grams (scant 1 cup) sugar, plus more for dusting
·         4 large eggs, at room temperature
·         1 Tablespoon sour cream
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         350 grams (2 ½ cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
·         2 teaspoons baking powder
·         1 kilogram (2 pounds) plums, about 5 large ones, pitted and quartered or sliced as desired
·         200 grams (1 ½ cups) confectioners’ sugar         




Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Coat the bottom and sides of a 14 by 10-inch baking pan with butter and flour.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder.  Set aside.  



Separate the egg yolks and egg whites and keep close at hand.  In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer on medium-low speed beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the egg yolks one at a time and beat until incorporated.  Add the sour cream and vanilla extract and beat until well incorporated.  In batches, add the flour and baking powder mixture and beat until incorporated; the batter will be neither soft nor hard.  Using clean hands, gather the dough into a ball and place it into the prepared pan.  Spread the dough into an even layer with your hands or a spatula.  



Arrange the plums on top and sprinkle about ½ teaspoon of granulated sugar over each slice of plum.  Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the cake is golden and about 85-90% ready.

In the meantime, in a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer on medium-high speed beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.  In batches, add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until the mixture is glossy and holds firm peaks, about 7-10 minutes. 




Take the cake out of the oven.  Dollop the meringue topping over the cake and spread it carefully all over with a spatula.

Place the cake back in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the meringue browns gently.  Check constantly as the browning can happen faster.



Take the cake out of the oven and cool for 10 minutes in the pan on a rack.  Slice the cake into squares and carefully take the squares out of the pan and arrange them on a serving platter. 




Variations: If you prefer to try this cake with ricotta cheese instead of stone fruits, mix 500 grams (1 pound) whole milk ricotta cheese with 2 large eggs, zest from half a lemon, and 2-3 Tablespoons sugar to taste.  Place it over the dough base and follow the rest of the instructions.    




Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

August 31, 2014

Lemon Cake with Berries and Pistachios

When your husband goes away on a weekend-long trip with the boys, sleeping in until noon, catching up on your reading and finally getting to that tardy spring cleaning suddenly feels like the right thing to do... and so therapeutic!  As the exemplary wife I try to be, I just couldn’t send my husband empty-handed on his getaway trip with the guys.  So, besides the usual snack-type and finger food, I also added this summery, berry studded Lemon Cake with Berries and Pistachios, which turned out to be a big hit!  




Since summer is a joyous fruit bonanza, juicy sweets are inevitably a must.  When I stumbled upon this Lemon Cake with Berries and Pistachios recipe while thumbing through the June issue of Bon Appétit, I instantly knew I wanted to make it and take advantage of the bright, fresh berries that abound at the markets these days.  The initial recipe called only for raspberries, but I feel that a mixture of berries enhances the texture and adds a vivid color to this blissful cake. 
  



    
This lemon cake is tender and zesty, citrusy and sweet, crunchy and toasty.  The fragile berries work wonderfully nestled in atop the lightly dense batter, while the fruity olive oil complements the lemony sweetness of the cake.  And the nuttiness of the pistachios completes the delightful circle.  This cake sounds, looks and tastes a lot like summer and comes just in time to celebrate the season’s last gasp.  The best part of this sweet treat is that it’s great for dessert and even better for breakfast or brunch, late afternoon snack, or a lovely picnic in the late summer heat.





Lemon Cake with Berries and Pistachios
Adapted from Bon Appétit (June 2014)

Makes: 8 servings

Ingredients:

·         Butter for the pan
·         1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
·         1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
·         ¼ teaspoon salt
·         4 large eggs, at room temperature
·         1 ¼ cups plus 2 Tablespoons sugar, divided
·         2 teaspoons vanilla extract
·         2 Tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
·         1 Tablespoon plus ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
·         ¾ cup olive oil
·         ½ cup fresh raspberries
·         ½ cup fresh blueberries
·         3 Tablespoons toasted pistachios, chopped





Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Butter and flour a 9-inch diameter springform or cake pan (personally, I think that a springform works better).  Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.





Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and 1 cup of sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.  With the mixer running, add the vanilla extract and 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, then gradually add the oil, mixing just until combined.  Fold in the lemon zest and the dry ingredients.


 

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Scatter the berries over the cake, then the pistachios and 2 Tablespoons of sugar.  Bake the cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 45-55 minutes.




Meanwhile, bring the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and the remaining ¼ cup of lemon juice to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Let the lemon syrup cool. 





Transfer the hot cake (still in the pan) to a wire rack and immediately brush the cake with the lemon syrup (use all of it).  Let the cake cool completely in the pan.      





Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

July 31, 2014

Tableau at Wynn

I know we’re in the midst of the scorching summer and Las Vegas, where the mercury escalates to mind-numbing temperatures this time of the year, is probably the last place on Earth you’d want to be.  But if you do find yourself in the baking heat of Sin City, do yourself a favor and pay a visit to Tableau at Wynn Hotel and Casino for an unforgettable breakfast, lunch or weekend brunch.



 
I haven’t reviewed a restaurant in a very long time, and I think that Tableau is an ideal fine dining restaurant to get back in the saddle.  Tableau is a bright and charming little spot tucked away in the serene vicinity of the Wynn Tower suites.  Upon arriving, you enter a bohemian and whimsical setting with a breathtakingly stunning décor flooded with fresh flowers, natural light, cozy chairs with adorable designs on every backrest, immaculate linens, and a gorgeous single rose on each table.  



Besides the food at Tableau, I cannot rave enough about the staff: impeccably trained, attentive and eager to accommodate any extravagant requirement.  On top of it, even your purse gets a specially crafted stool to sit on!  And before I finally move on to the most important subject – the food – at Tableau you have the option of dining inside, in the romantic conservatory while enjoying a sweeping view or poolside.  Everything here is so classy yet relaxed and the perfect place to spend your day.   
   




Now, let’s talk about the food, which, in my humble opinion, is particularly good.  From the start, you should know that Tableau only offers breakfast and lunch from Monday through Friday, and brunch on the weekends, so plan accordingly.  Also, be advised that the regular and vegetarian / vegan menus at Tableau change throughout the year, and seasonal items are added and dropped regularly, but there is always a vast assortment of tantalizing and sophisticated items to choose from that are nothing short of stellar!  Here are our favorites:

-          Juices and smoothies
-          Roasted Clam & Corn Chowder
-          Handmade Orecchiette
-          House-made Pappardelle with Duck Confit
-          Soft Shell Crab Sandwich
-          Banana-Sour Cream Pancakes
-          Hot Beignets
-          Vanilla Latte
-          Cappuccino        

First off, I need to mention the bread basket.  On our first visit to Tableau, we were treated to a rather traditional bread basket filled with a couple of slices of sourdough bread, popovers, which I’m mildly obsessed with, and house-made crackers.  Currently, waiters meander around the dining area with a large bread basket loaded with four different types of complimentary popovers including cornbread and bacon popovers.  Needless to say, I opt for the cornbread while Adrian goes for the bacon popover. 




Tableau offers an eclectic selection of detoxifying freshly squeezed juices and smoothies plus an additional juice of the day.  Below, you have the Flight of Fresh Juices, which comes with samples of their three main juices, Orange Zest (a mixture of orange, carrot, ginger, asian pear and nectar), Red Deliciousness (a mix of fuji apple, bell pepper, pomegranate, beet and lime), and Purify (a combination of honeydew, green apple, kale, spinach, cayenne and organic honey.)   




The Roasted Clam & Corn Chowder listed on the Lunch menu is a must for a corn junkie like me.  This soup is sweet and savory, creamy yet light, with a delicate smokiness, a vibrant punch from the poblano pepper, richness from the bacon, and a cheesy crunch from the house-made crackers.  You’ll also receive a side of hot sauce to drizzle over the soup for that extra kick of spiciness and light acidity.  Personally, I skipped the hot sauce and fully enjoyed this out of this world super delicious soup unadorned.  I was very, very happy! 




As mentioned above, the restaurant provides a generous vegetarian / vegan menu.  On our last visit, we decided to try the Handmade Orecchiette with wild mushrooms, asparagus and fresh tomatoes, although we’re both die hard carnivores.  Truth be told, I didn’t think there was anything ground-breaking about this dish, but it was definitely simple, elegant, and very tasty.




To continue with the pasta theme, our most memorable pasta dish is hands down, the House-made Pappardelle with Duck Confit.  It is a rustic yet refined plate of freshly made artisanal black-pepper pappardelle pasta served with tender house-made Muscovy duck confit, sautéed organic spinach, and a poached organic egg, and finished with a few drizzles of extra-virgin olive oil, fleur de sel and a couple of shaves of Parmigiano-Reggiano.  The good thing about this luxurious delicacy is that it’s a truly glorious dish.  The bad thing about it is that it’s no longer the menu.  But I wanted to tell you about it so that you see the fine art, quality ingredients and small details that go into preparing the sophisticated dishes at Tableau.  
           



La pièce de résistance, however, is without a doubt the Soft Shell Crab Sandwich.  A fat, meaty soft shell crab, deep fried to a perfect crunch layered on fresh bibb lettuce leaves, sliced tomatoes and fried onions, nestled in a toasty brioche roll and smeared with a lovely creole rémoulade.  The sandwich is accompanied by seasoned fries and a wonderfully sweet and tangy house-made ketchup speckled with tomato seeds that I couldn’t get enough of.  This sandwich will rock your world and I don’t see it going away anytime soon.     




The Banana-Sour Cream Pancakes are the best pancakes I’ve ever had!  They are great as your breakfast main course, sweet treat or shared dessert after a copious meal.  These sour cream and lemon pancakes are adorned with slices of banana, nutty and crusty house-made granola, dusted with powdered sugar, and smartened up with a good shower of pure Vermont maple syrup.  I should probably add that they are nothing short of spectacular; light and airy, dense and rich, not the slightest bit heavy or rubbery or bland, but packed with flavor and delicate texture, just how proper homemade pancakes should taste like.  It didn’t take us long to polish the plate until it shined.   




For a more proper dessert, try the Hot Beignets injected with boozy caramel sauce and drenched in powdered sugar.  All you have to do is dip them in the side of decadent chocolate sauce and fully enjoy these boozed-up cottony pillows.  Heaven!   





And to end an excellent meal, order a frothy cappuccino or a cup of vanilla latte.  Either one will seal the deal quite nicely.




One final word, like with many other restaurants at Wynn and Encore, it’s always a good idea to make reservations ahead of time.  If you’re celebrating anything in particular it never hurts to let them know.  And I’d encourage you to venture out to Tableau at the beginning of your Las Vegas trip because you might want to go back!




Restaurant Information:
Tableau
Wynn Resort Las Vegas
3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Phone: (702) 770-3463
Tableau serves breakfast daily 7-11:30 am and lunch 11:30 am-2:30 pm.