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roasting, with apricots

May 25th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

Does the weather ever slide subtly from one season to another? Because here in Minnesota, we jumped cannon-ball style from lovely Spring into all out Summer. Humidity levels rose, thickening the air and the thermometer leapt from something manageable, like the 60’s or 70’s, to a sticky number that begins with 9, and that which we rarely see before July around these parts.

And what did I do to manage this early season heat wave? I turned on the oven. Apparently, recipe inspiration can make me a little insane. But first, how about a glimpse into what the garden decided to do lately?

This White Hybrid Columbine is so lovely- see the lavender undertones? It’s stunning, but only about 4″ high. I had to lay on the ground to get this shot.

The heat wave opened the first of the California Poppies.

The Lupine are tall and graceful.

And there was plenty of other colorful happenings in the garden this week.

But I know, I know.

You just want the food, don’t you? I know that’s why you come here. I promise, this won’t disappoint.

Yes, those are apricots. I roasted them on the hottest day of the year. It was probably in the mid 90’s outside when I turned the oven dial to 425° and prepared a small sack of apricots, nestling them in brown sugar and cardamom (again? you ask, well…. yes. Insane goes many ways, my friends) before drizzling them with honey and a splash of water. Butter dots too. What good is roasted fruit without a nice buttery sheen?

I pretty much left tire tracks on our driveway after spotting this recipe in the current issue of Bon Appetit. Roasted Apricots? I sure do love those most fickle of tiny stone fruits- one day so firm and tart, the next moving to a softness and sweet ripe juicy flavor that you could blink and miss it if you’re not careful. And yes, the grocer stocked fresh ones, many yielding to gentle pressure like they should, smelling of golden sunshine. I’ve loved apricots since I was a very young child, and recall with fondness when my own boy was but a wee one and we lived behind a natural foods store. Almost daily we would shop, it was so convenient then to bring home only what we needed and he loved the velvety softness of those tiny fruits that fit so well into his palm. I would purchase them carefully, knowing he would eat them like crazy and they needed to be perfectly ripe. By the time we walked out the door of that store, around the back and across the parking lot of our building, he would be slurping the last of the juice from his hand, the pit clenched between his fingers and eagerly looking to me to hand him another one. Yes, apricots are favorites. For both of us and for so long. I knew too, that roasting them in this manner probably wouldn’t thrill my now 16 year old young man, but for me, these days the recipes I make don’t have to thrill everyone. Especially this. If it doesn’t make the guys jump for joy, that’s OK. These apricots, they were mine.

I imagine this recipe would work equally well with any stone fruit. Simply place the pitted fruit on a bed of brown sugar and cardamom (which, again- like the Rhubarb Crisp previously swooned over, you could leave out and never miss) drizzle the top with a little honey and pour a small amount of water over it all. Bake it at 425°, occasionally basting the fruit with the juices that form, until they are soft, fragrant and irresistible. Hold off the urge to eat them by the spoonful until they glaze has cooled. People, it’s searingly hot. My poor lip. But soft, tender, sweet and amazing in flavor is the result. You could do worse for yourself you know, on a stifling hot and sticky day, stuck inside under artificially cooled conditions to turn on your oven for 20 minutes and be rewarded like this. Summer? Bring it on.

Roasted Apricots with Cardamom Brown Sugar Glaze
From Bon Appetit, June 2010

  • 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 6 large or 12 small apricots (about 1 1/2 pounds), halved, pitted
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons honey, divided
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 8-ounce container crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425°F. Mix brown sugar and cardamom in 11x7x2-inch glass baking dish. Add apricots. Pour 1/4 cup water and 2 tablespoons honey over fruit; dot with butter. Roast until apricots are tender, occasionally basting with syrup in dish, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Whisk crème fraîche, remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons honey, and vanilla in small bowl. Serve with warm apricots.

When buying stone fruit to roast, they should be slightly under-ripe or they’ll become too mushy when you cook them. I found that the 12-15 minute window in the recipe was not nearly enough to make them tender. They cooked for maybe 20 minutes before I felt that the fruit was the soft texture I wanted.

Should there be a “Next time” when I make this, which I am certain there will be, I would probably stir the brown sugar, cardamom and water together. Once the fruit cooled, there were sugar crystals on the bottom of the baking dish from where the brown sugar did not dissolve. I also used whole cardamom seed and ground it down, but not enough. If cardamom is not finely ground, the remaining seed can be bitter. If you grind your own seeds, make sure it’s very fine. I ended up straining some of them out afterwards. And yes, by all means leave it out and you’ll never know.

My topping for it was mascarpone cheese sweetened with honey. I know. This truly does make me believe I am insane. But it was, sorry to reiterate, insanely good. Try the roasted apricots on yogurt, over ice cream, on top of shortcakes (if your strawberries run out) or alone as a simple treat.

catching my breath

May 18th, 2010 | 13 Comments »

Well, welcome to May in Minnesota, where we almost got swallowed up during a week’s worth of near constant rainfall, and I swung deeper into the rhythms of my job. I’m feeling pretty blessed, my friends; I think this job was heaven sent because I can’t imagine anything more perfect for me right now. I feel like I was meant to be there, and it’s all going really well. I sure didn’t mind the wet and cold weather we had for a stretch, not with being able to spend long and productive days in the kitchen at work, my mind and hands busy overseeing work like this:

May finally did take it’s turn to shine, in a glorious manner nonetheless. The gray lifted, the sun came back out and made us collectively blink like we’d all just woken from a deep slumber. And my garden opened up, simply bursting with color.

But my apologies to you all, as maybe you’ve noticed that the blog has been a bit neglected. I sort of expected that it would happen as I adjusted to a new job, and on my days off I’ve found myself scrambling to catch up on the bits of life that get set aside while I’m at work.  Would you feel better if I shared some Cardamom-Spiked Rhubarb Crisp with you?? I hope that it might soften you all up a bit. It sure made me melt just a little when I took the first bite.

So quintessential Spring, this Rhubarb dessert. And simple enough that a few quicks measures of basic pantry ingredients alongside 5 minutes of your time and the oven does it’s magic on fruit, brown sugar and oats to make a perfect end to a perfect Spring day. You don’t need to fuss at all, which means a lot to me and my free time lately.

Mondays are my free days, and with ample energy I took back control of my own kitchen to make dinner for my guys. They’ve been doing a really amazing job of feeding themselves now that I’m away during the dinner hours, and I’m really proud of their efforts because I know it isn’t the easiest of tasks for them. On a quick trip through the grocers, I spied Pizza sausage at the meat counter and eagerly bought a pound of it, mixing it with a Vidalia onion relish that I had on hand for a delicious burger to sizzle on the grill. Some roasted red pepper strips and a thick coating of mozzarella cheese made them into utter perfection, and this aromatic and easy Cardamom-Spiked Rhubarb Crisp was a deliciously tender and comforting end to a shared meal with my most favorite people. Really, who needs yet another crisp recipe? It’s not all that different from any one of the hundreds out there, but just like a day off, like taking that deep breath that comes at the end of my work week when I’m in the thick of my free time, it was simple perfection.

Cardamom-Spiked Rhubarb Crisp
adapted slightly from Mark Bittman via The New York Times

Heat oven to 375°. Spray an 8″ baking pan or casserole dish and set aside.

For the filling, combine together:

4-5 c. chopped rhubarb
1/2 c. sugar (I used turbinado)
1 T. fresh lemon or orange zest
2 t. fresh lemon or orange juice
1 t. ground cardamom

Spoon filling into prepared pan, leaving behind any juice that accumulates.

In same bowl, add:

6 T. cold butter, cut to small pieces
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. flour
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg

Using your hands, gently blend cold butter with sugar, flour and spices, pressing butter between your fingers to mix until it’s chunky and loosely blended.

Add 1/2 c. rolled oats to the brown sugar mix and combine with your fingers. Crumble topping over prepared rhubarb in pan and bake for 35-45 minutes. It should be bubbling and nicely browned on the top. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Kate’s Notes:
This recipe originally did not call for cardamom so don’t feel you need to have that spice to make this. Skip it and you’ll still get a stellar result. If you like nuts in the topping, add about 1/4 c. of chopped toasted pecans with the oats. Almonds would be good too.

sweet surprises

May 7th, 2010 | 9 Comments »

Have I mentioned my new job? No? I can’t believe I haven’t shouted it from every rooftop I find. I’m pretty excited for it. I’m the Garde Manger chef at a local Yacht club. It’s a seasonal job through early October, but it’s good work and a paycheck right now is a huge blessing. Most of you may remember that the job situation for me lately hasn’t been all that rosy. Thankfully, for a while anyway, we will be breathing easier.

But I am working a lot, as I hoped to be. And since most of the past 18 months have been idle ones for me, to be on my feet working in the very physical job that is a professional kitchen, I’ve been fairly worn out. But it’s getting better, as I get more accustomed to the work, the pace and being on my feet all day long. My schedule, once it settles in, likely will keep me working into the early evening hours. That means Mike and Griffin will be fending for themselves for dinner most of the time. Thank goodness for good shoes and understanding spouses. I have both, and they’re making this transition so much easier on me.

A recent Sunday morning came that I simply could not raise my weary head from my pillow and the guys went off to church while I cuddled the two content felines and dozed through a sunny, but chilly early morning. By 9:00am I felt like I could stumble down the stairs and operate the coffee pot with a fair amount of dexterity, and by 10:00 or so, I was particularly famished. On top of all that physical work comes the accompanying expenditure of calories, and I have been so hungry I can hardly believe it. With the guys gone, I could make something with eggs and not offend my egg-o-phobic spouse and it had been ages since a piece of French Toast had crossed my plate. I spied a container of cooked fresh rhubarb and on a whim, I dumped a few spoonfuls into the batter, dunked my bread into it and placed it in the skillet.

I didn’t really know what to expect, but I like rhubarb, and I like French Toast. Sometimes I get kind of a wild hair about combining two things I love into one, and often I am rewarded greatly. Other times…. meh. It either doesn’t work or I just don’t like it, leaving me to try and continually remind myself that just because it tastes great separately, it doesn’t exactly make it a match made in heaven. But this…. hot, caramelized Rhubarb French Toast. Oh, this worked. Beautifully.

And here’s the thing; it’s Rhubarb season, is it not? The stalks are everywhere, and if you’ve got friendly neighbors or friends with a big patch, it’s pretty likely that some has been pawned off into your eager hands. What do most people do with rhubarb? Make a cobbler, sure. A pie?? Oh absolutely! Rhubarb sauce? For certain. And that was what I did with the small sack that made it’s way into my kitchen. It doesn’t take much. Time on the stove. Some brown sugar. A few turns with a spoon and you’ve got a delicious and versatile sauce for ice cream, yogurt, biscuits or even just to scoop up happily for a treat. Or, as it worked out, into your French Toast batter like I did. I took the mystery out of it for you.

My slices turned out perfectly; crispy yet tender with a perfect sweet and tart Rhubarb flavor. I drizzled some of my own scratch pear butter over the top, adding a snowy dusting of powdered sugar because it’s French Toast, isn’t it? It’s simpatico with powdered sugar. And you know what? It didn’t even need anything. The fruit adds a nice sweetness to the slices, and fresh from the skillet, all you really need is a plate and a fork. That and a gnawingly empty stomach. I munched and sighed my way through four slices watching the sun shine brightly and the newly green trees whip around in a stiff wind. This is one of those dishes that would only pass my lips in this house; Mike is anti-egg and Griffin won’t eat rhubarb. So it was perfect for a gorgeous and solo Sunday morning.