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on knowing it’s enough, and apple cranberry crisp

November 13th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

The end of the year always brings reflection for me. I tend not to wait until the flip of the calendar to January, and resolutions never cross my thoughts, but I look at my life and do a sort of personal evaluation on where I am, where the past year led me, and where I’d like to take the next 12 months. This process is only in the beginning stages right now, and as in past years, it always includes this blog space of mine.

Our church just started a sermon series on breaking free of the chains that hold us to societal norms, like the collecting of possessions, the constant need for ‘new’ at every turn, putting forth the appearance of perfect, and other traps that hold us to a collective thinking that is less than Christ-like. Our first message talked about how we tend to accumulate far more than we ever need, that our houses are twice the size they were 20 years ago, and at the same time, Americans rent 1.2 billion square feet of storage space. No one needs to have that spelled out; our homes are even way too big to hold everything we have.

This series comes so perfectly timed for Mike and I, as we decided the week before that we need to clear up the clutter of un-used items in our home and take back the space, even if it means simply leaving it bare. There’s that desk that sits in the corner, it’s purpose long gone yet the top is cluttered with items that haven’t got any other ‘home’. The spare bedroom has become a dumping ground for far too much, unorganized and chaotic. The lighter weight blankets, the flannel sheets, a closet full of off-season clothing, items that Griffin has outgrown, a pile of clothing started for donating. The list is endless, and I know that you’ve probably got a space like that in your house, too. I open drawers and find items I had forgotten about, and I wonder, why do I have this if I don’t even remember that I own it?

I look at my life over the last nearly 30 years of my adulthood and I see this triangular alliteration, a constant passing of years and growth that is my life. From the wide-open possibilities of my 20 year old self, I’ve seen how my focus has narrowed down, tossing aside what doesn’t work, trying on a new persona, peeling away the bits and pieces until I arrive, here, with the still changing ideas of what my life needs. Mike and I, with a young man looking at his 20th birthday next year, are starting to think of the paring down process of our third act. Our empty nest years. We know we’ll need to move, depart from this beloved home with it’s bright Southern light and wide open space. What do we really need, and what can we begin to release from our lives?

All I know is that if it’s been in a drawer, collecting dust, or tucked in a box that I don’t recall the contents of, hanging in a room that I don’t frequent, buried under a childhood long gone, I can rightly agree that its need has left my life. I can gaze at a box of beloved books that I read to Griffin, on repeat, under the blankets of his first bed, his little boy body, warm and youthful, snuggled next to mine and I remember how I loved those moments in the night. I can release these books, retain the memories and place the box in the pile to donate. I’m finding that the more I let go, the more joy I begin to feel. We simply aren’t made to thrive amidst clutter that has ceased to serve any purpose.

As the November light faded on our day, after raking one more time through the yard, clipping away dead growth on the annuals and moving more items to donate, I found myself peeling apples again. Fall has it’s routines and therapies, the cleaning out and putting away, storing Summer, baring the space to settle under silent snowfalls. Apple peeling is one of my Fall routines, the peel slipping away from my hands in one long strand, juices running down my wrists, a quick twist of knife and hand and the pieces begin to pile up in a beloved ceramic bowl. The oven tells me it’s ready, cinnamon fills the air and butter meets oats to top a pan full of apples and crushed, fresh cranberries. The fragrance unmistakeable, the timing perfect. I can see what I no longer need in this life, and eagerly anticipate letting go of it, but I could never stop peeling apples each November, eating Apple Crisp, warm under melting vanilla bean ice cream, ready to welcome in a new season.

 

Apple Cranberry Crisp

For the apples:
6 c. chopped apples, using a mix of tart and sweet (this batch I used Haralson and Honeycrisp)
2 T. brown sugar
1 T. almond flour
1 T. coconut flour
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
pinch of ground cardamom

1 c. fresh cranberries, chopped (i used a food processor; you will mix these in just before assembling the crisp)

For the topping:
1-1/2 c. whole rolled oats (use gluten free oats if needed)
1/2 c. almond or sorghum flour (use AP if no need for gluten-free)
1/3 c. brown sugar
2 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground cardamom
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
pinch of sea salt
4 T. super cold butter
1/3 c. maple syrup  (if you have apple cider syrup, it’s a divine substitution)

Mix the apples with the brown sugar and flours, stir to combine and set aside. Heat your oven to 375°.

In a small bowl, stir together the dry ingredients for the topping. Cut the cold butter in to small cubes and add to the bowl, tossing to coat. With a pastry cutter, two forks, or your hands, quickly cut/rub the butter in to the dry ingredients, leaving some large pieces. Drizzle the topping with the maple syrup and toss to mix.

Spray your baking dish with cooking spray, or rub with additional butter. Toss the chopped cranberries with the apples, and spread half the mixture in the dish and top with about a third of the crumb topping. Layer the remaining apples, then the rest of the topping. Drizzle a bit more maple syrup over the top, then bake 30-40 minutes, or until the topping is crisp and browned and the contents are bubbling.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, creme fraiche, vanilla yogurt or warmed and whipped cream cheese.

 

NOTE: I like my crisp a bit drier than most, and the flours tossed with the apples will absorb their moisture. If you prefer a more saucy version, omit the flours and use white sugar in place of the brown to toss the apples. It will draw out their juices. Tossing the chopped cranberries with the apples just prior to assembling keeps them from bleeding. If you don’t mind that sort of thing, toss it all at once and let it sit.

 

 

fall, and apples

September 25th, 2013 | Comments Off

We’ve passed that equinox now, where the last days of Summer fade in to Fall and everywhere you look comes a pop of color from the trees that wasn’t there yesterday. It happens in a blink, sometimes right before your eyes.

Fall is all about apples. And pumpkin. But with the onslaught of pumpkin recipes that have been spilling out of the Internet since we rolled over the calendar to September, the iconic Fall ingredient stands to hit the saturation level long before Halloween even arrives.

So, let’s talk about apples.

{Baker Orchard, Centuria WI}

Baker Apple Orchard is near our lake home, and we visit this beautiful place multiple times a year, our families being long-time friends. The orchard is wonderful for a leisurely hike, exploring the century-old barn and the woods around the property. We always take home a jug of their exceptional fresh apple cider and often, multiple bags of gorgeous apples.

We could eat apples every day, and sometimes, Mike does just that. But we also love them in baked goods, and I love making fresh applesauce each year. Many years back I made a batch of apple butter too, one of my most favorite spreads. Our first visit to Baker this year netted us a sack of Honey Crisp, so hopefully, this upcoming weekend when we return we’ll have access to baking apples. I’ve been dreaming of applesauce, a simmering batch on the stove, and of these Apple Streusel Bars, too. This recipe is one of my most favorite things to do with apples every year. It yields a tender, buttery bar with that all important crunchy topping amidst chunks of savory apple. We can polish off a pan in no time.

My favorite Applesauce recipe is made with maple syrup and cinnamon, making a holy trinity of Fall flavor that coats the house in a comforting scent. One batch makes a decent amount, and I prefer to make it fresh, and on repeat, over making a large batch. Warm from the pan, in thick, flavorful chunks, with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on top is a perfect treat.

What’s your favorite way to eat apples in the Fall??

Apple Streusel Bars

Pastry:

2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. real butter, softened
1 egg, beaten

Apple Filling:

1/2 c. white sugar
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 c. (about 3 medium) sliced, peeled baking apples

To prepare crust, mix flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until you have pea-sized crumbles. Gently mix in beaten egg.

Spray a 9×13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Gently pat about 2/3 of the crumb mixture onto the bottom of the dish. Preheat oven to 350° and set aside.

To prepare apple filling, combine sugar, flour, and cinnamon and toss with apples.

Spread apples out on prepared crust. Sprinkle reserved crust mixture over apples evenly and bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes. Allow to cool completely before slicing.

 

 

Maple Cinnamon Applesauce

6 McIntosh or other tart apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 Golden Delicious or other sweet apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine apple pieces and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until the apples are very soft and falling apart, about 30 minutes. Mash the apples to the desired consistency and stir in maple syrup and cinnamon.

fall in to soup

November 3rd, 2011 | 2 Comments »

Fall weather and a steaming bowl of soup seamlessly slip in to one another every year. Once the weather turns from the sultry summer sun to that burnished hazy look of Fall, where the leaves outside burn crimson against the blue sky and the air chills down the moment the sun slips to the tree line, a steaming bowl of soup seems as natural as taking a breath.

I used to be afraid of soups, in a life so far past that I can’t recall even the precise reason why. I think I didn’t understand how to properly build the flavor of soups, from the slow caramelization of the vegetables, to the added broth and simmer, the final seasoning; a pot of soup intimidated me, and I would marvel over those consumed at cozy cafe lunches, wondering what I could do to achieve such a grand blend of flavor and texture. The truth, once discovered, astounded me in it’s simplicity: a good pot of soup is built like a good house is built, from the ground up. Once this simple procedure is set, the possibilities are endless.

The Soup and Stew category in my Recipe Index is loaded with content. No truer testimony to that perfect soup achievement can be found anywhere else; we’ve enjoyed some amazing, delicious and hearty soups over the years. I may not be the best at photographing them, but I certainly can make them now. I’m so glad too. There is so much love in a pot of soup, simmering on the stove, chasing the wild winds of Fall or Winter away, while keeping time with the hum of the furnace. They fill the house with warmth, with scent and with promise. And the versatility of soup, at least in my head, makes it a perfect meal to eat most every night, no special occasion, or long stretch of time needed. And then there is the health aspect of it, because you know I need to mention how perfect a bowl of thick vegetable soup can be, once you ignore the call of butter and cream. Some of my most perfect bowls of soup have been made from a handful of sadly forgotten vegetables from the refrigerator, past their prime for anything but to be chopped, sauteed and simmered to a delightful, steaming finish.

And bread. Let’s not forget the perfect match to a perfect meal. A loaf of good sturdy bread. Soup and bread, like Fall and sweaters, just fits; it rolls of the tongue seamlessly, and makes perfect sense. A spoon in one hand, chunk of bread in the other, eagerly soaking up the broth and bits of herbs still clinging to the bowl. In my previous life working in an artisan bakery, a loaf of bread and a bowl of soup from the lunch counter was a regular meal, something I craved daily. And I still do. I can dip a saltine cracker in my soup, or nibble on corn muffins too, but nothing tastes better with soup than bread.

These days, without meat to bulk up my soups, I’m consuming them simply loaded with vegetables, and often, legumes. Thick bunches of chard, or spinach or kale make for stellar soups, along with sharply flavored carrots and a host of other possibilities. I’ve made several pots of green soup, throwing in baby bok choy along with the other hearty leafy greens, then pureeing it smooth, sipping it from a  mug, feeling the bright green goodness flowing through me.


This hearty bowl of Ribollita, or Tuscan Bread and Tomato Soup, used up the very last tomatoes from the garden at the lake. Mike came home from a few days there with a sack of sadly misshapen and bruised fruit, the last of a summer bounty and I quartered them and roasted a large pan worth, reserving the tomato liquid and oil to help flavor this pot of soup. The tomato flavor was out of this world; sweet, deep and lush, and a large bag of chopped dinosaur kale added green goodness. This isn’t a brothy soup, and you don’t need to roast your own tomatoes to achieve it, given the availability of excellent canned products. Place the pot on your stove on a gray afternoon, and simmer it slowly. This one doesn’t take much time at all, but the flavor will fool anyone in to thinking it simmered forever.

What is YOUR favorite soup? Do you like to make it at home?

 

Ribollita Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 dried bay leaf
10-ounce bag frozen spinach
2 cans cannellini beans with liquid
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock, for a vegan adaptation)
One 15-ounce can (1 3/4 cups) tomato pureé
9 ounces day old bread, torn in pieces, about 3 cups
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
Parmesan, grated (optional)

Heat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, onion, carrots, celery, and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the frozen spinach and sauté for a moment to break up any large clumps.

Add beans, stock, and tomato pureé. Bring soup to a boil. Stir in bread and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until soup thickens slightly. Remove from heat and stir in chopped basil. Remove bay leaf and serve topped with grated Parmesan.

Recipe from Apartment Therapy: the kitchen Written complete, with no modifications

 

Those soups above? You’ll find them on my site if you follow these links:

Quick Three Bean Chili

Chorizo Black Bean Soup

Andean Quinoa Stew

There’s a few other good recipes on my site you might like:

Zuppa Arcidossana- one of my most favorite soups from my meat eating days

Hearty Minestrone - Forgive the horrid winter photo and just make that soup. Wow.

Chili Blanco – from 2007, so far back in the archives, and an amazing recipe.

And for some more delicious soup recipes out there, my friends have been Souper crazy as well:

Amy gives you an amazing array of Fall soup options.

Laurie shares an African Peanut Soup that I can’t wait to make.

Angharad gives us even more soup recipes to enjoy

 

What’s on YOUR plate this month??

apple time of year

October 18th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

Apples are on everyone’s mind right about now.

In the oven, on the stove, in the crisper drawer, in hand and crunching away….. it’s mid-October and it’s Apple time and it’s a beautiful thing.

There’s a gorgeous apple orchard near our lake home- Baker Orchard in Centuria, WI-  that we visit several times a year, the owners being good friends of ours. It’s a simple place, has a century-old barn that was renovated a few years back and a lovely art gallery on the property. The orchard hosts community events each year; an art festival, a cyclocross race and the occasional wedding inside the lovely old barn. There’s hiking trails through gorgeous woods, and a huge gentle team of horses that will languidly pull you through the laden trees, branches close enough for you to reach out and snatch a ripe apple for snacking. They make their own fresh-pressed apple cider, an incredible treat. John is exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable about apples, even taking the time to assess a mystery apple brought in by a visitor to determine what exactly it was.

He’s always ready to do his apple-juggling act, complete with biting the apples as he tosses them through the air.

He encourages treks through the orchard and doesn’t mind a sampling here and there of the fruit. It’s a simple, family-owned business. Last year, Mike and I re-designed their website into a blog format, and the reward for our work was complimentary apples. Payment in food for a job well-done is my kind of reward. So if I’m talking about apples here, it’s fairly certain they came from Baker Orchard.

The orchard sustained hail damage this past summer, and the last time we visited, John gave me a sack of hail-damaged Haralson apples to take home, making me promise I wouldn’t photograph them. I agreed, and unfortunately, once broken and damaged by hail, the apples don’t last that long. I barely managed to salvage enough of them (my fault, really- I left them too long once they came home) to make a few delectable options with them, namely an Apple Cheddar and Almond muffin, and a pan of Apple Streusel Bars. Try as I might, I simply could not photograph those muffins and make them look even close to having the exceptional flavor they did. But those bars?

Oh dear.

These bars are something else. It’s like a pie that you can eat with your hands. It’s like Apple Crisp in your fingertips. It’s heaven in apple and butter and crumbs. It’s simple and sweet and easy to make and tastes like Autumn. You don’t need a thing out of the ordinary pantry supplies and as good as they are simply out of the pan, they are another bit of heaven altogether when you warm them slightly and crumble them over a bowl of yogurt, or even ice cream. And did I mention that they were simple?

Apple Streusel Bars

Pastry:

2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. real butter, softened
1 egg, beaten

Apple Filling:

1/2 c. white sugar
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 c. (about 3 medium) sliced, peeled baking apples

To prepare crust, mix flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until you have pea-sized crumbles. Gently mix in beaten egg.

Spray a 9×13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Gently pat about 2/3 of the crumb mixture onto the bottom of the dish. Preheat oven to 350° and set aside.

To prepare apple filling, combine sugar, flour, and cinnamon and toss with apples.

Spread apples out on prepared crust. Sprinkle reserved crust mixture over apples evenly and bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes. Allow to cool completely before slicing.

And for good measure, even though there is no photo- here is the Apple Cheddar and Almond Muffin recipe. Because it’s just THAT good.

Apple Cheddar Muffins with Almonds
from Real Food magazine, Lunds/Byerlys

1/2 (1 stick) c. unsalted butter (room temperature)
1/2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 c. whole milk
2-1/2 c. flour
2-1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. sea salt
2 large apples, cored, peeled and diced small
1/2 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 c. chopped almonds (can sub in any nut, really; pecans or walnuts would also be wonderful)

Heat oven to 350°. Prepare muffins tins with cooking spray or paper liners (I got 18 muffins from this recipe). Combine milk and eggs in large measuring cup and whisk lightly to blend. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a second bowl. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then whisk in milk/egg mixture. Add flour, apples, cheese and nuts and gently fold together until just combined. Scoop into muffin tins and bake 20-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow to cool 10-15 minutes, then remove from pans.

it’s fall

September 23rd, 2010 | 11 Comments »

And not like ‘The calendar says it’s September’ kind of Fall, which seems appropriate even though the first few weeks are still Summer; no, this is the real deal now as the sun has passed into the appropriate spot in the sky that says ‘Hey everyone, here I am in all my red gold glory and yes, Summer is really over.’

Fall is transition. It’s new things like school years, shoes, clothing and meals. It’s a warmer blanket or longer sleeves but it’s still full of sunshine, ample blue sky and a mosquito bite or two. We still can feel too warm during the day, but just watch out for that sunset because whoa now, the temperature drop is precipitous and it helps to have a comfy sweater on hand. And slippers too.

Fall for me is a time of melancholy, and this goes way way back in my life to being very young and watching, probably for the first time, how the light changes from August to September, the way the sky darkens so much earlier and how life just swiftly grinds to a halt from carefree summer to the routine of another school year. So it seems appropriate that I always yearn to be learning in the Fall, that I wish to be back in school, with empty notepads and fresh books full of promise and mystery. I admit to being a lifetime learner, and heaven help me if I ever decide that I can stop getting better at this thing called life. Please make sure you knock me on the forehead if I do, ok?

The food of Fall, for me anyway, is highly anticipated. The richness of a bowl of soup, the scent of apples baking in the oven and the comfort of something steaming in your hands keeps the thought of winter at bay. At least, it can if you close your eyes and think really hard. Like the seamless steps from Summer to Fall, that sneaks up on us too, and often Fall seems like the shortest season around. But I love this time of year for multitudes of reasons. Maybe because it’s so fleeting that we need to grab it tight and enjoy it. It could be the colors, because oh those colors are spectacular, aren’t they? It might be due to soup too.

This is one of my favorite recipes, dug out from my cookbook cupboard when I recently felt brave enough to go in there and conquer the mess it had become. One drawback of being focused so much on the foods that we eat is that I collect a great deal of recipes culled from every conceivable source available. Which, I’m sure we all know, is astronomical. It’s endless, for certain. And I’ve been known to go ‘Hmm, THAT looks wonderful!’ on many, many occasions, print out a sheet and then somehow lose track of it. And either I make it and swoon, or I just don’t get around to it. This recipe for Zuppa Arcidossana was in a large and jumbled ‘To Keep” pile that was stuffed between a few good books in the cupboard, but ultimately, and sadly, forgotten. As soon as I pulled it out, I had that lightbulb moment of ‘Oh my word, I loved this soup!’ and was so glad it felt cool and temperate enough to embark on another pot of it. Because people, THIS is soup. This is that hearty, steaming, chock full of veggies soup that we dream of when the sun makes that inevitable turn and we finally tuck away our shorts and tank tops. This is what soup should be; it’s warming but it isn’t too heavy. It’s simple to make – like wayyyyy simple folks – but tastes complex and full of depth. It’s versatile beyond imagination. It’s delicious far past any normal words, unless you count ‘Oooh’ ‘Mmmmm’ and deep contented sighs to be normal. Which, around my house is completely fine if you do. In fact, it’s expected.

Zuppa Arcidossana (Italian Bread Soup)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
1 cup 1/2-inch-diced carrots
1 large onion, chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and black pepper
1 cup stale bread (use coarse, country-style bread), cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 pound spinach, trimmed, washed and roughly chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup ricotta salata, cut in 1/2-inch cubes (feta may be substituted)
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley, optional.

Put oil in a large pot or deep skillet and brown sausage over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. When sausage is cooked through and leaving brown bits in pan, add carrots, onion and garlic, and continue to cook until vegetables begin to soften and brown, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Add bread to pan and stir for a minute or 2; add spinach and continue cooking just until it wilts, a couple of minutes.

Add about 2 cups water and stir to loosen any remaining brown bits from pan. This is more of a stew than a soup, but there should be some broth, so add another cup of water if necessary. When broth is consistency of thin gravy, ladle stew into serving bowls and top with cheese and some freshly chopped parsley if you have it. Serve immediately.

Mark Bittman, NY Times, 4/29/09

KATE’S NOTES:
I reversed the order of cooking and browned the carrot, garlic and onion first for quite some time before adding in the sausage and giving it a good searing as well. Since you are only adding water, the fond on the pan will add an immense depth to the pot. You can, however, use any good stock on hand. Fresh bread actually works fine in this soup too, if you don’t have any stale on hand. You can toast or broil fresh bread to stiffen it before adding to the pot.

I had some leftover green beans from a previous dinner that ended up in the soup as well. I used shaved parmesan instead of ricotta because I love the rustic edge it gives soup. Swap up the veggies, adding whatever suits you, or you have on hand. Use a different sausage or skip it altogether. Fresh herbs are a must here; I used rosemary and thyme in ample quantities.

and just like that, it was gone

September 15th, 2010 | 9 Comments »

As I write this, there’s quite a cool, blustery wind outside whipping the treetops around. I’m in fleece, and slippers. This morning after Mike arose at his customary hour of half-past the cat alarm, I pulled a wool throw over the quilt to snuggle under. It was raining, a cool breeze through the crack of the window left open was whispering it’s inevitable words to me: Fall is here.

Sometimes the change in seasons sneaks up on you, and other years it’s as if you awake one day and the very air around you is different. The sun seems to weaken, the air has a certain scent to it that hums of cooler nights and impending frost and you begin pulling open drawers holding clothes you almost forgot you owned. The jump from August to September was quick and precise. August kept showing us her gutsy heat and blazing sunshine, then with a swift turn of a page, September chased August away and said ‘There, there…. I’ll give you some relief.’ Instead of a cool smoothie for breakfast, now I want a cozy bowl of oatmeal. Soup recipes are more appealing. It’s time to bake, a warm oven competing with the breeze through the window. School buses rumble by on the road. There’s homework, earlier bedtimes, earlier sunsets.

I kind of got lost in August, only posting twice here. I’m sorry. It was a hard month for me, and the view from my eyes shrank considerably. I worked a lot, a crazy amount of hours. I slept, or tried to, a lot. It seems like the only thing I did at home was drink coffee and do laundry; I tried to stay cool in the terminal heat of the professional kitchen as the sun and humidity slackened the air outside,  and I tried to keep my sanity through the seemingly never-ending parade of task after task after task. I sweated more than I ever have in my life. I missed my friends. I missed cooking in my own kitchen, the things I wanted to eat. I missed my life, quite frankly. I was caught in a vortex, and it was ugly. Then, like the seasonal change that’s happened outside, September brought it’s own reform to my life. Work slowed down considerably. On a few evenings I was able to leave while the sky was still light, miraculous indeed. I took some much needed time off and within a short weekend, there occurred several transforming events that filled the hollowness that had taken hold. I saw my friends. I became inspired. I met new people. I spent time with my family, splashing in the pool with Nina, snuggling in a hammock with baby Sara and getting that Love Bank filled to the brim. There were plenty of hugs and smiles. Life came back. And I took a hike.

And I spent some time in the kitchen. With apples.

Making Applesauce with maple syrup and cinnamon.

Really, can we be any more “Fall” than fresh Applesauce? Or anything with apples plucked right from an orchard tree? It’s quintessential. It’s perfect. It’s necessary. And this recipe is so, so simple. Any Applesauce recipe is, if you can manage the peeling and coring process required. I use one of those nifty devices that peels, cores and slices your apples all for the crank of a squeaky handle.

(photo courtesy of Nutrition Lifestyles)

I’ll tell you my friends, owning one of these is vital, even if I only pull it out in the Fall during Apple season. It makes any apple dessert almost like an afterthought because it does all the work for you. I placed it on the counter next to the stove, and as each apple came off the device, I simply broke it up right into the pot. In less than 10 minutes I had a 6-quart stockpot full of apple slices. I made an Apple Crisp too, and for almost the time it took to mix together the crumb topping and heat the oven, it was ready to bake. Kids love cranking the handle and watching their apples transform. And no, I’m not pitching anything, you blog-scoping watchdogs. Just telling it like it is.

But back to that Applesauce-

The recipe comes from Eating Well magazine. It’s three ingredients- apples, syrup and cinnamon. It takes about 20 minutes, not counting the time spent prepping your apples. After it was cooled I simply placed it in the fridge because I know we will devour it so there’s no need to think about canning. Does your family love applesauce, with thick chunks of fruit, a hint of maple and a nice warming dose of cinnamon? The markets are bursting with fruit and who doesn’t love a trip to an orchard, a walk among the sagging trees and the delight of plucking your own fruit to take home? This time of year your bag of apples will keep well in the garage, provided we don’t get too cold too early. Really, you have no excuses. Ok. Except time. I’ll give you that.

Maple Cinnamon Applesauce
from Eating Well magazine, Sept/Oct 2009

  • 6 McIntosh or other tart apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 Golden Delicious or other sweet apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine apple pieces and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until the apples are very soft and falling apart, about 30 minutes. Mash the apples to the desired consistency and stir in maple syrup and cinnamon.

KATE’S NOTES:
I made a 6-quart stockpot full of applesauce as we love it so much. It will freeze too, if you make a large batch and can’t eat it all within, say, a week. Adjust the syrup and cinnamon to taste when you make a larger quantity. I added some nutmeg too as it’s the BFF to cinnamon in baking recipes. My sweet apple was a PaulaRed, but feel free to swap the balance between tart and sweet to your own personal taste, and mix in the syrup accordingly. To make it ultra-smooth, place the mixture in a food processor or high-powered blender and process in batches until desired consistency.

Andean Bean Stew with Squash and Quinoa

November 13th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

November has come, and we’ve been treated to a few simply glorious days. The sunshine is most welcome here, since October winds and rain stripped the trees barren before we had our customary chance to oooh and ahhh over the coloful glory. The tone of the land is now that of bleached straw and flat brown; the deer that roam our neighborhood melt into the backdrop like a thief, vanishing in a blink.

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This little guy was quite languid and uninterested in my trespassing on his sun-bathing path. He even let me stroke his leathery skin before he casually twisted his way into the leaves to continue sunning himself.

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Yet even with these brilliant sunshine-y days, Daylight Savings Time and the calendar both make the late afternoons chilly, and those warm cozy meals are even more appealing.

I’m not one to think that feeling under the weather is all that productive -who does?-  but on a recent day, I found myself feeling uncharacteristically blah and lacking energy to do much, which resulted in a long period of time under a blanket on the couch, a cat curled up contentedly on me while I precariously balanced my computer to occupy myself with recipe searches. An hour and a half later, I did manage, with some appropriate groaning and sighing along with the displacement of one unenthusiastic feline, to pull myself to a sitting position, and there was a stack of papers almost an inch thick on the printer that made all that time worthwhile. That’s the kind of down-time productive one can appreciate. And one of those highly anticipated papers, the best kind that float around my kitchen, papers lush with promise and anticipated flavors and not a payment of some type being sought by the outer world, this thick and comforting stew filled that early afternoon darkness with warm and intoxicating smells, a bubbling pot of seductive chunks of squash and flavorful stewed beans that managed to make me feel a lot better, at least in returning some of my energy.

Mike always knows that something wonderful is happening in the kitchen when I haul out this old and beautifully seasoned cast iron stockpot. Just dragging it out of the cupboard is quite the workout. I think if it wasn’t on a upper shelf I might not be so fearful of it.

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This recipe calls for using dried beans, but rarely do I have enough foresight into my dinner preparations to put a bag of beans to soak the night before, so I used canned pinto beans instead. And although I did have to put myself through that most tedious kitchen task of peeling the acorn squash, I approached it calmly and without the usual hair-pulling hysteria that surround the words “Peel and chop one medium hard squash” Can somebody out there give me an amen? Thanks. I know I’m not the only one who despises certain culinary obligations. That probably includes soaking dried beans, since I hardly ever do it.

This recipe, with it’s canned bean option, comes together really fast if you don’t count tackling the squash. A quick saute of onion and garlic, then you stir in the rest and let it simmer until the squash is tender. When the quinoa shows you it’s adorable little curlicue thread, call out the diners to gather and spoon up a thick and fragrant bowl.

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Andean Bean Stew with Winter Squash and Quinoa
from The New York Times, Recipes for Health and Nutrition, Nov. 2008

1 winter squash of choice, peeled and cut into 1/2″ chunks
2 cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 T. sweet paprika
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes, with liquid (use regular if you don’t have these available)
1/2 c. quinoa, rinsed well
1 bay leaf
3 T. chopped basil or parsley

In a sturdy stockpot, brown the onion in oil of choice, about 10 minutes or so. Add the paprika and stir to coat, cooking for a minute. Add in garlic and stir, cook for 30 seconds or until very fragrant. Add in tomatoes and their juice and cook for a few minutes to combine flavors. Stir in the beans and squash. Fill the tomato can with water and empty into the pot. The solids should be only just covered with liquid. This is a thick stew. Add more if necessary and put the bay leaf in the pot. Bring to a boil and then allow to simmer, covered, until the squash is tender, but not thoroughly cooked- 30 minutes or so. Stir in the quinoa and simmer until the grain is translucent and the tiny thread appears- about 10-15 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve topped with basil or parsley.

This stew, like many, becomes more flavorful as it sits. It also thickens substantially. Add a little water when reheating.

Apple Crisp with Crystallized Ginger Topping

November 11th, 2009 | 9 Comments »

{{{I’m doing my first guest post over at The LoveFeast Table today! Yeah!}}}

Apple Crisp is so Fall, so perfectly suited for the October-November loop, and so willing to apply anyone’s simple signature to it’s luscious ingredients that it has sort of gone beyond being a favorite dessert, becoming more like that old dear friend that never fails to bring sunshine to a dreary day.

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The smell of apples and cinnamon baking is a comfort that threads itself under your skin. It’s no surprise that the most popular of pies and scented candles are usually ‘Apple Pie’, long celebrated as All American and breathing remnants of home and Mom. Apple Crisp is simpler than pie, ready with a few turns of the peeler and knife, chunks of cold butter cut into crumbly flour and brown sugar to bake into a delicately scented crunch atop soft and juicy warm apples.

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The addition of crystallized ginger in this recipe is wonderful; a gentle hint of warmth and a touch of it’s sweetness made the crunchy topping extra flavorful. I’ve been making Apple Crisp since I was barely old enough to see over the top of our stove, and had to stand on a chair to be able to work the peeler, my Mom by my side watching to make sure I didn’t hack off a snippet of skin here and there. She showed me how to peel an apple whole, with a long dangling strip, and how to carefully carve out apple cores and slice them uniformly so they would bake evenly. Now I have a device that peels and cuts your apples all in the turn of a crank, making any kind of apple dish quick and easy. So when I was faced lately with a chilly night and an unidentifiable need in me to seek a little comfort, a good book and a warm plate of this crisp seemed to be in order. Just taking in the first thin whiffs of the aroma seeping from the oven took the edge off whatever empty spot had formed inside.  Apple Crisp was always a prominent item in our Fall kitchen, topped with cold ice cream releasing a thin river of creamy white over the still warm fruit. It’s a memory that tastes like home, if memories come with flavor which almost all of us know that they do. And maybe that night, I needed a memory to soothe me, the feeling of someone by my side watching over me. I know Mom would have loved this version as well.

I’m a nut for almonds – ha! pun intended- but there is little in terms of dessert items that I don’t think can be helped and favored by the addition of chopped almonds. For this recipe, I scattered chopped almonds over the apples in the pan before sprinkling on the topping, and also sifted the fine almond flour from the chopped pieces into the topping mixture to add even more flavor. To do so, just pour the chopped almonds into a wire sieve and shake it over whatever you wish.

Fabulous apple and almond flavor pours through every bite, whether topped with ice cream, whipped cream or yogurt……

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Or not……

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And yes, I did eat it for breakfast. Wouldn’t you?

Apple Crisp with Crystallized Ginger Topping
adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, via The Heavy Table

Kate’s Advice- Make the topping first. Your apples won’t turn brown that way.

Heat oven to 375°. Butter a 8″square baking dish, or equivalent and set aside.

For the topping:

3/4 c. AP flour
3 T. brown sugar
1 T. white sugar
2 T. crystallized ginger (I chopped mine fine- it would have been WAY chunky otherwise)
1/4 t. salt (omit if you use salted butter)
1/2 t. cinnamon
4 T. butter, cut into chunks

Mix all ingredients except butter in a bowl. Work the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until it’s relatively chunky. Don’t mix it down to a fine sand. Chill until ready to use.

5 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 T. white sugar
1 T. AP flour

Toss apples with flour and sugar and place in baking dish. Sprinkle topping over the apples and bake for 30-40 minutes or until filling is bubbly and top is browned.

A reminder of glorious October

October 28th, 2009 | 6 Comments »

I should have known. Us Minnesotans wrote the book on the phrase ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.’

Right on time, at the heels of my dreary October report, came a smashingly beautiful Fall day; just in time to lift spirits across the city, to pour sunshine down on the deprived and saddened. It was blinding. It felt hot. Car interiors warmed up and jackets were shed. Lots of skin came out to say ‘Hello’, to welcome the sun.

And while most of the city wandered around in a daze, strangers smiling at each other with lots of contented sighs, I escaped.

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Just a few short months ago, that deck was covered in soggy footprints, soaked towels, half empty sunscreen bottles, juice boxes, a few toys, often a stray lifejacket and maybe a wet child or two. It held chairs that held bodies that held hair off their warms necks and cold drinks in hand. The deck groaned under the weight of languid summer days, resplendent in the hot sun. And the lake laughed up at the blue sky, at the boats skipping across it’s surface and popped up a turtle or two to take stock, or a loon that just as quickly dove for cooler waters beneath. At night, the waters slept, still as glass, covered occasionally in a gentle fog, as the rubber band snap of bullfrogs sang harmonious shoreline lullabies. Idyllic barely does it justice. And it always ends far too soon.

But now, it’s just empty, save for the few hardy anglers, a lazy boat or two that holds tight to the remaining light and good weather and maybe the eagle, if he’s fishing today. Still, in it’s emptiness, and the solitude that tends to follow Labor Day like a reluctant puppy, Loveless Lake retains it’s beauty in entirely different ways, and offers a means to escape just once more before it settles down for a long winter’s nap.

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And I settle in, pulling a bag of two of food with me and some warm clothing. The furnace kicks out it’s cozy heat and a few candles lead the daylight hours into night. I settle into the profound silence with a good book or two, some music and the need to just be me for a day or two. To hike and sit on a stone overlooking the St.Croix River, or to just stare at the water outside. Maybe I’ll do nothing at all. Stay in my pajamas all day and drink coffee, invite the muse to visit and tap away until it’s satisfied. I might rake leaves and lay among the crunch. There certainly should be a nap on the sofa, a good snack. And a bonfire as the sun disappears over the tree line. The bed is piled with blankets and I turn off the furnace at night, hunkering down under the weight that lulls me to sleep. I think about nothing at all. And everything, but really, it’s nothing. Winter is coming and this will end for several months. I won’t be able to walk down the hill, with the water winking an invitation at me beyond the corner of the cabin. There won’t be the giddy anticipation of a weekend with my nieces and nephews, racing around the water in the boat, dragging an inner-tube with a shrieking child holding on for dear life. It will end, with the last drop of water drained from the water heater, and the final look around before the car door slams on yet another season.

It’s always bittersweet.

Wine poached prune plums

September 26th, 2009 | 6 Comments »

Stone fruits are fickle little things. They can be at once a juicy sweet perfection, and yet also a rock hard, gritty and sour disappointment. They taunt us endlessly with their possibilities, rarely consistent and yet so tempting.

The tiny purple Italian prune plum has the means to bridge this gap between hope and despair in the mere fact that it simply begs to be cooked in order to reach full enjoyment. The flesh when raw is acceptable; it’s fairly sweet with a decent amount of juice, but given just a brief turn in a warm skillet and it becomes something sublime and intoxicating. Poach it with some deep red wine and the experience soars.

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These days I’m needing all I can get to fill the yawning gap inside me, brought about by Harmon’s cancer diagnosis. The turn to Fall is often one choked with melancholy for me; the loss of summer’s warmth and the mountains of fresh produce, the chill in the air and shutting down the flower beds. Our September has been more glorious than imaginable. We’ve been graced with warm and languid days followed by cool crisp nights that begged for open windows and a light blanket. In our semi-rural neighborhood of open fields and ponds, the geese have gathered in massive droves and flown their missions overhead by the hundreds with noisy and eye-catching appeal. The field mice are much more active, giving our intrepid hunter an endless supply of ‘gifts’ to try and bring to us. Baskets of winter squash are appearing in the Farmers Markets. There are shocks of color through the trees as the thick greens of summer give way to Autumn’s richly burnished palate. But I feel like I am in a state of flux. We just have no idea how the last course of Harmon’s life will go, and for me, I just want to be here with him soaking up what remains of our time together. I feel like Autumn will pass by my windows while I snuggle my old friend and begin to consider life without him. It’s slightly ironic, and painfully so that in this transition of seasons outside, within the walls of our life we are transitioning as well from life to death, a golden leaf withering in front of our eyes into the silence of eternal winter.

So the need for something to soothe is evident. I don’t want much these days, wishing for little effort in exchange for nutritional gain. There were delicious and knobby Oatmeal Sweet Potato Muffins that spoke of Fall, tinged with cinnamon and warmth. I found an extremely deep sense of comfort in a simple hard-boiled egg and warmed cooked potato sprinkled with a dusting of sea salt. A package of tiny gnocchi dumplings became  crispy and soothing after a sear in brown butter and topped with tender sage leaves, and in the midst of the past few days, where my tears have been so close to the surface that most anything can bring them springing to life, a few of these poached plums have been a perfect foil to fill the pit in my stomach that threatens to engulf me. I sneak them from the bowl in the fridge, where they sat silently as their original use for a delicious cake fell to the wayside while sorrow took over. After a few days, and some stealth tactics of enjoyment, I did manage to cook up a quaint and tiny little coffee cake, richly hued in these dark purple slabs, crunchy with almonds.

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This is a coffee cake unlike any coffee cake that I’ve known before. Thin, somewhat crisp, not too sweet and thoughtfully simple, is a lesson in cake’s alter ego, that which doesn’t comprise itself of towering airy layers sporting thick rolls of buttercream. It can shed that cloying nature, throw off the layer-icing-layer makeup and just be fabulous without fuss. You don’t even need rich and succulent wine soaked prune plums to make it; any ol’ plum will do, or perhaps a good firm pear or a gently caramelized apple.

Wine Poached Prune Plums
by Kate

Wash, split and pit any quantity of prune plums- I used a full container from the grocer; it probably had about 1-1/2# in it. In a deep skillet, combine 2 T. chunky fruit jam of choice (I used Thomson’s Sweet Cherry Preserves), 2 T. red wine (I used a syrah) and 2 T. of water. Heat gently to melt jam, stirring to combine everything. When warm and a few bubbles have been seen around the edges, add as many of the halved plums as you can, cut side down. Cook gently, without stirring, for about 5 minutes. Turn plums over. Cook about 2-3 more minutes and remove to a bowl. Add remaining plums and cook, adding to bowl when done. Pour any juices over the plums and gently turn to coat the fruit. Allow to sit as long as you can. The more time, the deeper the flavor. Chill in fridge.

Prune Plum Coffee Cake

3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. sliced almonds (I had whole; I broke them up first)
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
6 T. butter
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 t. pure vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350°. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the sugar and almonds and process until almonds are ground. Add flour, baking soda and salt and pulse twice to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand. Add in egg and yolk and extract and pulse until combined. Spread batter in pan and top with poached plums, pressing them into the batter. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until cake is firm. Allow to cool for 15 minutes or more, then release the spring.

KATE’S NOTES:

This cake could be better, I’m sure of it. While always wary of using a food processor to make a batter, thinking that the spinning blades tend towards overkill more than gently combining, I would be interested in doing this in a different method. The cake, while good, was a bit dense. The batter quantity is small, and 40 minutes in the oven resulted in browned and crisp edges. I love that on a cake, but many don’t. It was, with it’s almond base and simple design, an amazing flavor. It might come out slightly better if baked in a loaf pan too. At any rate, there is much to experiment with this recipe.