Apple Pear Cranberry Love

A container of beautiful bright red cranberries came in my CSA box this week. I wasn’t immediately sure what I wanted to do with them, but I knew I needed to move quickly or the cranberries would be consigned to shrivel quietly in the back of the fridge. I still had a ton of apples and pears left from my previous box, plus a new influx in this week’s box, plus two wine-poached pears left over from the amazing party on Sunday that I still need to write a post about. Disher, my picky eater, is terribly fond of apple crisp, so I instant messaged him to find out if cranberries were on the list of acceptable foods. “I eat all of those things. Eagerly,” was his reply when I broached the idea of an apple, pear, and cranberry crisp. Excellent! I’d found the dish I wanted to make, found someone to eat it, and was ready to go.

I’m very into baking crisps right now because they’re so darn easy to make vegan and gluten-free. They’re much less exacting than most baking projects and so my usual anxiety about cooking failures tends to be less severe. (I am the most anxious person ever when I am serving dessert to people. I hate not being able to taste what I’m serving beforehand!) For this crisp I read about six different recipes for apple and/or pear crisps with cranberries and ended up improvising my own version. I’m really happy I left the peels on the apples and pears – it keeps the filling from getting too mushy/applesaucey and I can fool myself by thinking about all the extra vitamins and how healthy they are. (This recipe may be gluten-free and vegan but it is most certainly not a health-food dessert. It has plenty of real sugar and real fat.)

So my improvised crisp turned out pretty fantastically, if I do say so myself. I asked the picky eater if he had any feedback for improving the next crisp and he basically said, “Change nothing. Oh, but maybe serve it in a different bowl.” (Apparently he has trouble scooping every last morsel out of my square bowls.) When they’re focusing on the tableware, you know you’ve done a good job! I liked the autumn flavor and texture so much that I’m planning to make another one next week for Thanksgiving. I’m not hosting this year, so this will be the first time in a few years that the dinner is not entirely vegan, but I’m going to do my best to contribute as many delicious vegan dishes as possible.

Apple, Pear & Cranberry Crisp
Filling:
5 pears, chopped with peels on
4 granny smith apples, chopped with peels on
7.5 oz cranberries
juice & zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
cinnamon, to taste
allspice, to taste
nutmeg, to taste
1 t. vanilla
3. T. apple cider, apple juice, or water

Topping:
2 c. rolled oats
1 c. GF flour (I used my standard mix which has sorghum, rice, garfava, and potato flours)
1/4 t. xantham gum (can skip this if you are using a baking mix which already contains xanthan gum)
1 c. brown sugar packed
4 t. cinnamon
3/4 cup mixed coconut oil & Earth Balance

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 9×12 casserole (that’s the large brownie-pan size).
In a large bowl, mix filling ingredients.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix oats, GF flour, xanthan gum, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Cut in coconut oil and Earth Balance and then crumble with your clean hands until the mixture is entirely incorporated.
Spread filling on the bottom of the casserole dish. With your hands, scatter the filling across the top until it covers the surface fairly evenly.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until the top is starting to crisp and the fruit is cooked through.

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I’ve finally cracked the code

I love hearts of palm. They’re this yummy delicious treat that comes in a can. I seem to crave them when I’m dehydrated (they are quite moist). I introduced them to Duck, and now he loves them, too. And yes, they are actually made from the hearts (or cores) of palm trees. I only buy them because the packaging says they’re from sustainable, renewable resources, but, as one cynical friend pointed out, they can put whatever they want on the packaging.

I’ve been playing around with a chopped salad made with hearts of palm for a while, but I never could find the right dressing. But tonight I cracked the code! This salad was so delicious, so fresh, so crisp, such a great combination of sweet and vinegar and yum. Best of all, both apples and hearts of palm are available year-round, so this salad can bring some fresh crispness into winter or serve as a light summer lunch.

Salad of Fuji Apples and Hearts of Palm
(serves 2-4 as a side)

1 large Fuji apple, cut into 1-inch chunks or slightly smaller
1 can hearts of palm (sustainable, please), cut into 1/2-inch slices
A sprinkling of mustard vinaigrette (recipe follows), to taste

Assemble apple and hearts of palm, sprinkle mustard vinaigrette immediately before serving.

Mustard Vinaigrette
slightly adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
2 T. sherry vinegar
2 shallots, finely diced (optional)
1 garlic clove, pressed or minced
1/4 t. salt
Freshly milled pepper
1 T. Dijon mustard
1/3 C. extra-virgin olive oil
2 T. snipped chives (optional)
1 T, chopped parsley (or use 1 t. dried)

Combine all ingredients in a jar, put on the lid, and shake, shake, shake. Makes about 1/2 cup.

The great apple cake caper

If there’s one thing I love more than a great recipe, it’s a great recipe that features ingredients that come in my CSA box. And if there’s something I love even more than that, it’s a great recipe that takes some piece of CSA produce that’s been sadly neglected and rescues it from certain composting.  As I’ve mentioned here before, we tend to be a bit on the picky side when it comes to fruit texture, and we can detect a less-than-crisp apple a mile off. They’re not rotten, though, so I can’t bear to toss them; instead they just sit on the glass cake plate we use as a fruit bowl, holding up remarkably well but certainly not getting any crisper.

Back in July I just couldn’t bear to look at the sad apple graveyard any longer. Cooking fruit goes a long way towards dealing with poor texture, so I must have looked at a billion recipes for apple crumble, crisp, and cake before I found a delicious-sounding recipe for Apple Upside-Down Cake. I only had enough apple rejects to make half a recipe, so I made it in a loaf, rather than square, pan. It turned out… amazing. Moist, dense, exquisitely flavored cake topped with perfectly cooked, caramelized apple slices. The kind of thing you dream of for months.

We were still dreaming of it, in fact, as we watched the apple casualties begin piling up again last month. This time I felt much more relaxed when less-than-stellar apples arrived in our box, knowing that their alchemical transformation into dessert gold was always near at hand. Except for one thing. When I finally went to look for the recipe last week, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I checked the binder where I keep hard copies of favorite recipes with my own notations and changes, combed frantically through my collection of recipes bookmarked online, and then finally just started searching randomly with Google, hoping to stumble across a recipe that sparked my memory. Part of the problem was that I couldn’t remember whether it had been a gluten-free recipe that I had veganized, a vegan recipe I had converted to gluten-free, or even that rarest of things, a recipe that was already both.

Tonight, as we were contemplating what to do with our evening after a busy day of guests, Duck said to me, “Let’s make an apple cake.” It was clearly the perfect thing to do. Except for that tiny hitch. I started the search again, looking at apple cake recipes far and wide. I must have looked for ten minutes when Duck came in and sat down next to me. “Have you tried searching your bookmarks?” Yep. “Your browsing history?” Yep. I kept typing and clicking, not really paying much attention anymore, when suddenly, there it was. I gasped. I remembered everything – the photo, the recipe, even the little story about the blogger having the cake for afternoon tea with her friend.

Needless to say, I bookmarked it, printed it out, and saved a copy to my hard drive. We had more than enough apples for a full-size version tonight, and it’s so good that Duck (normally the foremost despiser of anything involving cooked fruit) drew a line down the center of the cooled cake with a knife to make sure he got his fair share.

So here’s to you, Mrs. G.F. of Recipe for a Gluten Free Life. To you and your amazing, sublime, miraculous Apple Upside-Down Cake. For rescuing my mushy apples – twice! – and for reappearing out of the internet mists in the hour of my greatest need.

This recipe is, for me, ultimate comfort food. It assuages my guilt (no wasted produce!), and feels reasonably healthy (an apple a day and all that) rather than overly rich and heavy, which is actually pretty vital to a pleasurable dessert experience for me. I don’t tend to gravitate towards the big indulgences when it comes to sweets (not that this isn’t plenty indulgent!) – I save my overkill for the savory side of things. It’s warm, and it’s soft, and it’s sticky and sweet, and, this time around, I made it with someone I love. What could be more comforting than that? So I’m going to submit this to January’s Sugar High Fridays, which is hosted this month by A Merrier World, with the theme of Sweet Comforts.

The recipe, as  it turned out, was gluten-free, not vegan, so below is the vegan version with my very minor changes:

Apple Upside-down Cake (aka “What do I do with my old mealy apples?”)
Original recipe is from Recipe for a Gluten Free Life. God bless her for figuring out to make a Better Homes and Gardens recipe gluten-free. The first time I made the recipe, I used a gluten-free baking mix that didn’t have teff or sorghum flour, and it came out fantastic (as she assures us it will). This time I had on hand the exact flours she specifies and it came out even better. The teff is just indescribably good. But it’s great without it, too. One warning: this cake doesn’t keep well. All the sugar and fruit make it get too moist too fast. Best to eat it all right away, or at least within a day or so.

5 tablespoons Earth Balance (or other non-hydrogenated vegan margarine), cut into pieces
another 5 tablespoons Earth Balance, softened
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
4 apples, cored and sliced in wedges, skin on
1 large apple, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup teff flour
1/2 cup sweet sorghum flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 teaspoon xantham gum
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup soy or hemp milk
1/4 cup soy yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla
3.9 oz applesauce, unsweetened (the size of a little packaged lunch-size tub)

Preheat oven to 350. Put the 5 T. chopped Earth Balance in the pan, a 9X9, and put in the oven until melted, but be careful not to brown it. Sprinkle brown sugar over Earth Balance, mix together. Put in the apple wedges and put back in the oven for 15 minutes.

In the bowl of your mixer (if you have one), combine flours and dry ingredients and whisk. Add wet ingredients, including the softened Earth Balance (the other 5 T. that you didn’t put in the oven), soy milk, soy yogurt, vanilla and applesauce. Use a mixer if you have one, otherwise stir until combined. Fold chopped apples into the batter.

Spread batter evenly over the apples in the pan. Bake about 35-45 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely, then invert carefully over a large plate. Serve with the apples all gorgeous and caramelized on top.

Bounty from the middle of the table, part II

The saga of the centerpiece continues… We lived for days just off the wealth of produce my mom brought over for our Thanksgiving centerpiece!

centerpiece2

Kale

Is there anything more beautiful than ruffled leaves of kale, veined through with deep purple, glowing with a color that somehow combines elements of purple, green, and silver? This gorgeous kale was the foundation of our centerpiece, and it made a very lovely soup, besides! There was a butternut squash sitting in my root storage, still left from the last day Duck worked on the farm, so I decided to make the Autumn Harvest Soup from Kalyn’s Kitchen. We had a ton of prepared wild rice left over from T-day, so that took the place of the farro in Kalyn’s recipe. This recipe made a HUGE amount of soup. She says”about 8 servings,” which I guess really is a lot of servings when I think about it, but with 4 quarts of broth (I used scrap stock rather than chicken broth, of course!) plus lots of squash and kale and rice, this soup dished up some shockingly hearty portions.

kalesoup

Artichokes

Artichokes featured prominently in the centerpiece selections – there were many lovely little frost-kissed baby artichokes, which actually made it onto the table, plus a range of larger purple-tinged artichokes and one enormous big-as-a-baby’s-head artichoke on a long stem. I used some of the artichokes to make my Taste & Create dish, Braised Baby Artichokes, inspired by a recipe from Little Ivy Cakes. Duck and I found the recipe so delicious (especially Duck!) that we ended up preparing our entire store of artichokes the same way. The braised artichokes made a wonderful quick snack as they are terrific cold and really hit the spot when you want something with heft to it that isn’t too fatty or heavy.

artichokes

Apples

Lady apples. The fruit which dwells in the liminal space ‘twixt food and decor. I had these lovely ladies on my fruit stand (I use a glass cake stand as my fruit “bowl” on the kitchen table) for a long, long time. Too pretty to throw away but not particularly inviting for eating, they were the last hold-out of the Thanksgiving centerpiece brigade.

apples

Then one day I was listening to my second-favorite food podcast, KCRW’s Good Food (the podcast is pretty wonderful, the music – which they play loudly and at frequent intervals during the show – is nearly unbearable) and they had a feature on lady apples. I don’t really remember what they talked about specificially but the gist was: Lady Apples – They’re For Eatin’! So I sliced those babies up with some full-sized wrinklies rescued from the back of the fridge and made one of my favorite simple treats – homemade applesauce. There wasn’t more than a small bowl each for me and for Duck but it was the kind of delicious that lingers on in your memory long after the spoon has been licked clean.

applesauce2

Homemade Applesauce
I actually don’t recommend lady apples for this recipe. For one thing, they are too small to really be worth the work of coring. For another, the darker red ones tasted so yuck I couldn’t include them, so it may only be certain varieties that cross over from decor to tasty treat. But if you have some lady apples lying around, it is definitely worth slicing off a little nibble of each one and including the edible ones in a lovely sweet bowl of applesauce.

Apples
Water
Cinnamon (optional)
Lemon juice (optional)
Ground ginger (optional)

I like to keep the peels on at least a third of the apples, for increased fiber and texture. Plus, if you are using certain colors of apples, leaving the peels on will do gorgeous things with the color of your sauce. So peel as many as you like, then core your apples and cut them into medium-sized chunks.

Put your apple chunks in a small pot with about 1/4 C. water. Heat the water to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples get soft, fall apart, and reach your desired consistency. You may need to add water from time to time. Different varieties of apples will turn to sauce at different speeds, but if you just keep cooking and adding a bit of water when it cooks away you will eventually achieve sauce with any type of apple.

The applesauce will get very sweet as it cooks. There is no need to add sugar or honey or any sweeteners! However your apples may or may not have “pizazz” in sauce form, so if they taste a bit bland you can liven them up with a little cinnamon, lemon juice, or ground ginger, added to taste.

Scrap Stock IV – Mega-edition

Another consequence of being too tired to cook or blog or generally do anything was that my veggie scraps really started piling up. By early this week most of my fridge’s top shelf seemed to be devoted to scraps, waiting like pining lovers for the transformative kiss of the stock pot. So when I finally started to have a bit more energy, it was time to brew up some stock and get that shelf cleared.

I ended up having enough material to make two pots of stock, ending up with 13 cups of rich, savory broth, tinged a beautiful pink from the beet scraps. My freezer is truly well stocked now, which saves me from treating the stock like it is a scarce commodity.

Two pots of scrap stock

In this mega-edition of scrap stock:

Spinach crowns
Garlic peels and trim
Carrot trim and tops
Chard stem
Kale stem
Asparagus trim
Red cabbage trim
Fennel stalks
Apple cores
Radish trim
Leek trim
Green garlic trim
Arugula trim
Sugar snap pea trim
Thyme stalks
Red onion peels and trim
Shallot peels and trim
Mustard green trim
Beet trim
Bay leaves

Scrap stock, III

Getting bored of my surely less-than-engrossing detailed account of what I put in my stock each week? Well, I’d like to keep track of it for my own purposes and something tells me there’s a short life-expectancy for the soggy little scraps of scratch paper I use to record all the components as I toss them in the pot.

This week was not as successful, I think because of technical difficulties. I left the pot alone for its simmering time (I’m usually in the kitchen with it doing kitchen things, but I was in another room this time) and I think the fire may have actually gone out. So this round of stock is very mild. However it will serve to add a bit of flavor and nutrition to something that wants a mild broth, like risotto, so perhaps it is actually a blessing to have one batch with a decidedly non-aggressive character. I was a bit let down, though, since I felt like I was being wild and throwing caution to the winds, what with all the ginger peels and lemon balm stalks.

More scrap stock fixin\'s

I googled “scrap stock” and found an interesting recipe from the civil war. Inspired by this, I added an apple core to my pot (although I forgot to save most of them this week – I need to get in the habit of putting them in the stock box and not the compost). I quite flagrantly ignored the admonition to never use cabbage scraps, however. Take what you like and leave the rest, right?

Into this week’s pot:

Leek tops
Green garlic tops
Onion skin
Garlic skin
Asparagus trim
Red cabbage trim
Apple core
Lemon balm stalks
Ginger peel
Potato peel
Portobella stems
Chard stalks
Beet green stalks
Kale stalks
Sugar snap pea trim
Carrot trim
Bok choy trim
Fennel trim
Thyme stalks

Lemon Balm

A lovely bunch of lemon balm arrived in my box this week. I’ve never cooked with it before so it’s quite exciting. It smells perfumey, like a bath product, perhaps a really decadent bar of French soap.

The first thing I did with it was put it in a fruit salad. It has the texture and basic appearance of mint, so IMy bunch of lemon balm thought I would try using it in the same way. I put together a salad of kiwi, grapefruit, apple, strawberries, lemon juice, and a little honey, and then threw in a handful of finely chopped lemon balm. Delicious! It has a very different quality from mint, and there is always that intensely floral scent that makes me feel a little bit like I’m consuming my fruit salad in the middle of a Bath & Body Works. When I took my first bite, however, the first thought in my head was, “I must tell every Eatweller to make fruit salad with their lemon balm immediately!” So yeah, I guess the lemon balm fruit salad idea is one I highly recommend!

Next up will be a Lemon Balm Vinaigrette, part of my ongoing education in salad dressing. Just googling about I found a simple recipe that sounds yummy, and I’ll come back and update this post with a review after I’ve tried it. It has been such an indulgence to eat plain sweet steamed asparagus, but this vinaigrette sounds like an intriguing asparagus topper.

I’ve also come across a recipe for Cream of Leek Soup with Lemon Balm that I think sounds fantastic. The recipe is simple and light (I would not use cream, myself, but maybe a little Redwood Hills Farm goat yogurt) and I think the leek and lemon flavors would go really well together. Oh yum. I think that may be what’s for lunch.

EDIT: Check out this post for my reviews of the above recipes and more fun with lemon balm!