Brown Sugar & Apple Pastries

This was a spur-of-the-moment dessert to welcome in the beginning of fall. Apples sautéed in butter with brown sugar create a lovely gooey topping for either vanilla ice cream or crispy puff pastry. Last spring I tried a recipe for Brown Sugar Apple Pastries in the Reader’s Quick Recipes section of Bon Appetit. The original recipe says to blend butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl and spread over the puff pastry before baking. But when I tried this, the mixture bubbled over as the pastry rose, coating my baking sheet more than the tops of the pastry. In my version, I add some extra butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon directly to the apples and skip the mess in the oven. I also cut its serving size from 6 to 2, perfect for you and yours tonight!

1 Apple (Fujis are our favorite)
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 TBS. butter
some zest of a lemon
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 sheet puff pastry, divided into 2 rectangles

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bake the puff pastry for about 15 minutes. If needed, deflate with a fork after 10 minutes and continue baking for another 5, until puffed up and flaky.
  • In the meantime, peel, core, and cut the the apple into evenly-sized pieces.
  • Melt the butter in a nonstick frying pan. When melted, add the apple and cook over medium heat until just beginning to brown.
  • Add the brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and cinnamon and stir until the mixture thickens and the apples soften.
  • Spoon apples over the puff pastry (or try ice cream too!) and drizzle any syrup that’s left in the pan.
  • Pop open a bottle of sparkling wine and say sayonara to summer!

A Birthday Dinner at the Tree House

We have the best of both worlds up in the Santa Cruz Mountains: Ten minutes from the ocean, yet surrounded by beautiful, stately redwood trees. My cousin Nikita turned 21 on August 11th, so we had a family birthday dinner at my parent’s place; aptly named “The Tree House.” These are some of the highlights.

Ginger Martinis

  • First, make a ginger syrup: Put 1 cup sugar, 3/4 cup water, and 1/2 cup chopped fresh ginger in a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
  • Strain the mixture, add a little lime (or lemon) juice to taste and then chill.
  • For each drink, use a jigger of gin and the same amount of ginger syrup, and some more lime juice.
  • Shake with ice and pour into glasses. Top off with some ginger beer (or ginger ale).
  • Drop a piece of crystallized ginger into the bottom of each class. Kanpai!

Marinated Shrimp Skewers

olive oil
a few cloves of chopped garlic
a few sprigs of chopped fresh rosemary
a dash or two of Tabasco sauce
a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left intact
special equipment: skewers (if using bamboo skewers, soak in water before grilling)

  • Combine all ingredients (except shrimp) in a microwave-safe liquid measuring cup (adjust ingredients depending on amount of shrimp). Microwave until bubbly, about a minute. Assemble shrimp skewers and pour marinade over them. Grill.

Polenta with Gorgonzola & Mascarpone Cheese

  • Prepare the polenta according to package instructions, stirring until it thickens.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine equal parts Gorgonzola and Mascarpone cheese. Microwave until they’re soft enough to combine.
  • When polenta has thickened, spoon onto plates and top with a dollop of cheese mixture.

Peach, Fresh Mozzarella & Mint Salad

  • On each serving plate put a few slices of fresh Mozzarella, a few mint leaves, and a few slices of peach.
  • Lightly dress with white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a sprinkle of cumin.

Simple Peaches Baked in Puff Pastry

The funny thing about shopping in a Japanese grocery store as a foreigner is that you tend to buy stuff just because you recognize it – for example, puff pastry is the most familiar item among random Japanese frozen food entrées, so of course we had to pick it up (never mind the fact that we didn’t really have a plan). Luckily things came together quickly. At home I noticed a white peach sitting on the counter that was nearing the end of its lifetime. It was so simple to make these little tarts, and they got the husband’s approval, which is always a good thing. I think next time I’ll use yellow peaches, but the white ones did have a nice subtle, sweet flavor!

1 sheet of puff pastry, defrosted

1 peach, cut into 8 slices
brown sugar

  • Cut the puff pastry in half, and flatten each half a little with the palm of your hand.
  • Place 4 peach slices in the middle of each half, dot with butter, and sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar.
  • Fold up the edges of the pastry around the peaches, brush them with a little milk and pinch them in place to create something that resembles a tart.
  • Bake at 375 for about 15-20 minutes, or whenever they look golden and lovely.

Just Peachy!

A fresh peach is the epitome of summer. Tonight’s menu was inspired by 1) the white peach (finally in season!) and 2) an item on our wedding reception menu, Casablanca Restaurant‘s fried brie. Although they serve theirs with jalapeño jelly, we enjoyed ours with a white peach salsa. We drank the Bellinis with the fried brie and crostini as a “happy hour” before we prepared the salmon and corn. 


Fried Brie on Crostini
Baked Salmon with white peach salsa
Corn on the cob

For the Salsa:

2 white peaches, diced
juice of 1/2 a lime
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/2 of a diced red bell pepper
(If fresh jalapeños were available in Japan, I would have added one too!)

  • Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Refrigerate about 1 hour to let the flavors mingle.

For the Crostini:

1/2 a baguette cut into 1/4 inch slices
Olive oil

  • Place the baguette slices on a baking sheet, brush with olive oil, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes until crispy and brown.

For the Fried Brie:

1 6-8 oz. wheel of brie, cut into wedges
1 egg, beaten
salt & pepper
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
vegetable oil, enough to fill pan to a depth of 1 & 1/2 inches

  • Cut brie into wedges (Japan individually wraps everything, seriously, including the cheese triangles seen in the picture. So we didn’t have to cut anything). The wedges shouldn’t be any bigger than your crostini.
  • In a small bowl beat an egg with some salt and pepper. Place the bread crumbs on a plate.
  • Dip each piece of cheese into the egg and coat with breadcrumbs. Place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.
  • Fry in vegetable oil over medium-high heat, until golden, turning occasionally, about 3 minutes.  Drain on paper towels. Serve on crostini with peach salsa. Serves about 4 as an appetizer.

For the Salmon:

2 salmon fillets
olive oil
salt & pepper

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Place salmon fillets in an oiled, shallow baking dish. Season salmon with salt, pepper, rosemary, and dot with butter.
  • Bake 10-15 minutes or until done. Serve with peach salsa and corn on the cob.

For the Bellinis:

2 white peaches, pureed
good sparkling wine (we used Italian Prosecco)

  • Fill the bottoms of 2 flutes with about 2 Tablespoons of peach puree.
  • Top with Prosecco.

Heavenly Blueberry Muffins

Dustin loves these muffins (which are so rich, they’re more like little cakes!) and could eat six in a row if I didn’t suggest that he save some. Fresh blueberries are ridiculously expensive in Japan, so I usually use frozen, but please use fresh ones if you can! And the only kind of milk we can buy at our grocery store is whole milk, so they turn out delectably rich! I made these for our first English Coffee House night at our church in Ibaraki, and since then, many of my students have requested I bring them to dinner parties, picnics, etc. I gave a few of them the recipe, but I wasn’t sure if they could understand all of the directions in English. I was especially concerned about the the phrase “toss the blueberries with the flour.” I imagine if they took that literally, their kitchen would be a mess. 😉

I found this recipe and printed it off of a few years ago to take with us to Japan. The recipe card says it is courtesy of Gourmet Magazine. Since then, I can’t seem to find this recipe on the Food Network’s website anymore, but if I find it again, I will post a link!

3/4 cup butter (170 g), softened
1 cup sugar
1 3/4 cup flour + 1 Tbs.
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
a dash of cinnamon
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
a few handfuls of fresh blueberries

  • Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease a muffin tin or line with cups.
  • Sift together the dry ingredients. Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and stir until combined.
  • Gradually add the dry mixture and the milk to the creamed mixture, and stir until just moistened.
  • In a small bowl, toss the blueberries with the Tbs. of flour, then gently fold into the batter. Fill muffin cups almost to the top.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown on top. (Makes about 18 muffins)