Apple Pie

You can find apple pie recipes everywhere. I have tried several. This is my favorite. I found it several years ago on America’s Test Kitchen, and it lay dormant in my computer until September 2018 when I tried it out for a dinner with friends. They were blown away. I made it again for Thanksgiving, to another round of applause.

The key to this recipe is pre-cooking the apples. You can stuff the pie crust pretty thickly: 5 pounds of apples will allow you to make a super deep-dish pie (though you don’t need a deep dish to make it). Pre-baking the apples ensures that juices do not pool in the bottom of the crust during baking, or create an empty crust dome on top of the pie. I have also made the pie with as little as 2½ pounds of apples. The pie pictured on this page was made with about 4 pounds.

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Tarte Tatin


Tarte TatinThis recipe comes from the January 1996 issue of Cooks Illustrated.  I tried it for the first time when we were living in Uzbekistan about a decade ago, and it has never failed to impress.  The trick is to start by caramelizing the apples in sugar and butter in an oven-proof skillet on the stove, with slices arranged in a circle.  Then cover the entire pan with an egg pastry that contains confectioners’ sugar rather than granulated sugar, which can make the dough grainy.

Cooks Illustrated prides itself on testing and re-testing their recipes until they find the perfect ingredients and preparation method.  However, every time I have made this tarte, I have managed with half the amount of apples called for in the recipe, each cut into six wedges rather than four.  Perhaps if I followed the recipe precisely, I could fit more fruit into the pan.  But I’m afraid that the apples wouldn’t fully cook.  Try it for yourself and let me know how it turns out.

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GranolaThere is no more addictive snack than this simple do-it-yourself mix of healthy, hearty foods.  Granola can be so much better than the stuff you buy at the store.  This makes a lovely hostess gift, yogurt-topper, between-meal munchie… the list goes on.  Credit for this recipe goes to the Manhattan restaurant Eleven Madison Park, where chef Daniel Humm sends guests off with a half pound of this granola as a parting gift.  The recipe was published in the May 2012 issue of Food Network Magazine.  I’ve made a couple of minor modifications to my own taste. Continue reading


Baklava overheadI first made baklava at home in Fort Worth, during my high school years, using a recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Heritage Cookbook, one of the best volumes in my mother’s shelf of cookbooks.  This was probably the recipe that got me started in cooking, as I discovered that with a little time and effort, I could make something with my own hands that could impress and delight people.

Many years later, when I traveled to Florida to meet my future wife’s Greek-American family for the first time, I brought them a pan of my tried-and-true homemade baklava.  Yiayia Katty, the 87-year-old matriarch of the clan, was impressed.  “It’s very good,” she said in her old-country accent. “But… there’s just one more thing.”  She reminded me never to put hot syrup on hot baklava right out of the oven, which makes it soggy.  Instead, let the syrup cool before pouring it onto the hot baklava, or alternatively, pour hot syrup onto cool baklava. And ideally, let the syrup soak in for several hours before serving.

I’ve sampled baklava around the world, and the best I’ve tried is this recipe from America’s Test Kitchen. My Greek in-laws agree that this is πόλη νόστιμο. Continue reading

Chocolate Truffle Tart

Photo: Romulo Yanes

Photo: Romulo Yanes

We first tried this recipe while we were posted in Tashkent in early 2007.  We pulled the recipe from the February 2007 issue of Gourmet magazine and made it with locally available Russian bittersweet chocolate bars and chocolate cookies from Turkey.  This tart has a creamy, almost pudding-like center.  Choosing a quality brand of bittersweet chocolate (like Valrhona) results in more well-rounded flavor and the silkiest possible texture. Continue reading