Apple and Raisin Cobbler with Almond Biscuits

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Autumn always feels like the right time to use apples - their reds, golds, and greens reflect the intensified colours on the trees. I had some Jona Golds and Granny Smiths and wanted to do something different with them than my usual fruit crisp. For once I didn't have lemons on hand - lemon juice is often added to apple desserts to sharpen them and prevent the fruit from browning - but I did have apple cider vinegar. I also wanted to use up some raisins leftover from making granola and part of a tube of almond paste, so settled on a cobbler with almond flavoured biscuits cooked on top. I like the cobbler method of precooking the fruit before adding the biscuits because you have a chance to taste and fix the fruit mixture before baking the final dish.

Peel and slice eight apples into a baking dish. They can be any variety, but try and use more than one kind of apple if you can. Toss the apples with 2 tbs corn starch, 2/3 cup dark brown sugar and 2 tbs apple cider vinegar as you go. Add 3/4 cup raisins and 1 tsp almond flavouring. Can use a tbs or so of Amaretto if that is what you have on hand. Cover and bake for 20-25 min in a medium oven, about 350 deg F, until fruit is tender. Taste and adjust for sweetness and seasoning. (Also, if you are using a very shallow pan, you might need to add some water.)

Meanwhile, mix 1 3/4 cups of biscuit mix with 2/3 cup of milk. (No biscuit mix? 1 1/2 cups of flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, 2 tbs butter worked into dry ingredients.) Crumble 1/4 lb almond paste into dough and mix well, adding a bit more milk if dough becomes too stiff. Drop by spoonfuls on top of hot fruit mixture. Smooth tops of biscuits with butter and sprinkle with more brown sugar or crumbled almond paste. Return baking dish to oven and bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes, til biscuits are just cooked.

This ended up feeling very English, for some reason - I had the desire to pour custard overtop. I ate it with lebnah and it was fantastic.


Monday, September 25, 2006

The wild rose is the floral symbol of Alberta, my home province, and grows everywhere. The North Saskatchewan River and several smaller creeks cut right through Edmonton with big tracts of mostly undisturbed bush alongside them, so the rosebushes with their berries are pretty easy to find even in the city. I picked these along Whitemud Creek in the south. Except for their beauty, they are not as fun to pick as other berries - they don't grow in nice clumps like saskatoons, and the plants are always pricking you without being as yummy as their relatives the wild raspberries. (Some people enjoy these vitamin-C packed fruits fresh off the bush, but I don't care for the mouthful of seeds and fibres inside.)

The best thing to do with these is to preserve them by drying until wrinkly for making tea. Spread rosehips in a single layer on a pan in a very low oven, even as low as 100 degrees F, and dry slowly. This is one of the best smells you can have in the kitchen. They can get a little toasty but you don't want to overdo it and brown them or the tea will be bitter. To make rosehip tea, put a couple of handfuls of dried rosehips in a 1.5 l saucepan mostly full of water and bring to a rolling boil for several minutes - you want to really cook them, not just infuse them. Strain into a teapot or cups and serve. You can continue adding water and making tea with the same berries for a couple of days. I loved this with honey when I was little and still love it.

Domestic rosebushes can be harvested like this as well, though the fruit is bigger and you should avoid plants that have been sprayed. Just resist the urge to dead head the roses and they will produce the fruit.

Spaghetti Squash (Not a) Carbonara

Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Few people get really excited about eating squash, but spaghetti, butternut, acorn, and kabocha squash are amazingly good when fresh. Baking and eating them simply with butter, salt, and pepper is one of the great things about autumn.

Though Italy is not a place I visit often, culinarily speaking, I love a carbonara. I love how the eggs are cooked into a sauce simply by being stirred into sloppy wet, freshly cooked pasta and how they absorb and amplify the bacon and cheese. This was going to be a carbonara, but the deli-end capicolli I was planning to use had lost its freshness so I used dried shrimp instead. Tiny dried shrimp are similar in colour, texture, and salty intensity of flavour to bacon bits but of course make a completely different effect. I added chopped peppers because I had them on hand; I probably would have left them out of the carbonara.

For this squash version of spaghetti (not a) carbonara, the sauce is cooked separately before being combined with the squash, which is too delicate to endure the energetic tossing that you would do with pasta. You can very easily overcook the sauce so that it is full of stiff pieces of egg, or overcook the squash into a lump that does not separate into spaghetti. If this happens and you are worried about presentation, just mix everything together into a casserole topped with more cheese and bake til the cheese is golden. I have a feeling many baked pasta dishes originated this way.

Put half a spaghetti squash cut side down on an oiled baking sheet and bake in a medium oven until just tender and you can separate the flesh into strands with a fork. This will take about forty minutes; start checking it after half an hour. Meanwhile, mince one pepper and two cloves of garlic to about the same size as the shrimp you are using, and cook in a little bit of oil with one and a half tablespoons of tiny dried shrimp. (For carbonara, just finely dice two strips of bacon and cook it without any oil.) When vegetables are tender lower heat and slowly stir two eggs into this mixture, scraping bottom of pan frequently, until the eggs are very smooth and thick. Carefully stir in strands of squash and one and a half tablespoons of grated parmesan until coated. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste and serve to one person who has been running around without eating all day or two people with some really good bread and butter.

Candied Nuts

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Some people fantasize about performing an outstanding athletic feat. I see myself spinning smooth, glossy, chewy caramel out of butter, sugar and cream or forming perfectly textured chocolates out of top quality couverture. Not going to happen - at least not without a lot more practice and study than I have put into it yet, since candy making requires a precision and attention to detail that do not come naturally to me in the kitchen. These candied nuts are pretty forgiving - still delicious if the coating is a bit soft or is on the crunchy side. I like to have them on hand during road trips, in packed lunches, or to fill the gap before the next meal. They are great on ice cream or stirred into granola as well.

Bring to boil in large shallow pan 1/4 cup corn syrup, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 tbs butter, and 1/2 tsp fine to medium salt. Add 4 cups nuts and stir for three minutes. Spread nuts on two oiled pans and toast in a medium oven, stirring once, for about ten minutes til bubbling and very fragrant.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

When I mixed this together I had plans to make an entirely different dish, but my vegetables on hand were eggplant, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and half of a huge greenish curved ridged thing that my sister referred to as a 'zucchini' when she left it with me. At times ingredients will take you where you didn't know you were going and this collection insisted on being made into ratatouille.

This classic has many interpretations - stove top, oven, even grill. I like it quite dry, so I start the vegetables on the stove top til browned and then finish them in the oven. This time I did not have black olives, which improves it immensely - tried capers as a substitute for the olives, but I recommend sticking with olives. If you don't have pre-mixed herbes de Provence, use a mixture of rosemary, thyme, marjoram, basil, least make sure there is a good note of thyme or rosemary. To my nose, they are the essential French smelling herbs.

Cut into medium dice one eggplant, three medium tomatoes, one large onion, one large red pepper, and two small zucchini (or half a teenage mutant ninja zucchini). In a very hot, nearly dry frying pan slightly char the peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and onion in batches, emptying each batch into a wide roaster. Add tomatoes to roasting pan along with two handfuls of black olives, if you have them, and drizzle vegetables with 2 tbs olive oil, 1 tbs salt, 4 cloves chopped garlic, and 1 tbs herbes de Provence. Roast in a low oven for forty minutes or so until vegetables are all tender and the flavours are blended. Serve with something to soak up the juice, like rice or couscous. Eat hot like this or at room temperature; it doesn't really like to be reheated.

Dips: Lemon Chevre Dip

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Buying marked down dairy from the organic store was starting to crowd the fridge so I took advantage of a party invitation to use some of the excess lusciousness. I had a fresh batch of homemade chevre, flavoured with lemon zest as an experiment - hated to throw out the zest after using the juice to make the cheese. I also had plain yogurt thickened by draining through a cloth for several hours. (For this recipe you can use ordinary yogurt, because the dip ended up on the thick side - almost a spread.)

The cheese I made turned out lemony but a bit flat tasting so I stirred it into a dip using 3/4 cup of chevre (plain is fine), 1 tsp salt, 1/2 cup extra thick plain yogurt, and 1 tbs dried oregano (thyme would be even better, if you have it). I also stirred in half a lemon's worth of freshly grated lemon zest. I gave the tartness dial another crank with a sprinkle of sumac powder just before serving, though this could be left off. Let sit for twenty minutes or so at room temperature before serving and eat with pita chips (scroll down to croutons in fatouche post) or cut raw vegetables. Also amazingly good with the grapes in the picture.

Dips: Chipotle and Fresh Salsa

A couple of my friends who will be starting their next years of elementary and junior high in a few days had a cooking day with me recently. We had a great time making chips, dip, and lime tarts. The dips were two of my favourites - chipotle and fresh salsa.

Chipotle Dip

One theme I am going to explore a bit more once we get into the colder weather is the power of seasonings and flavour agents to inexpensively transform ordinary food. This chipotle dip is a great example. One small can of chipotles in adobo is enough for several batches of this fiery and aromatic dip. You mix 3/4 cup each mayonnaise and sour cream (or thickened yogurt), stir in one or two chopped green onions, and one or two chipotles with a bit of adobo sauce depending on how hot you want it. My friends liked it more on the mild side. Salt to balance the flavours. I've also made this with finely chopped white onion and parsley, when green onions were too expensive. I love this dip with nearly anything; I've been known to take it to barbecues and slather it on hamburgers, and am scheming to try it stirred into canned fish soup, à la rouille.

Fresh Salsa

Fresh salsa is more of a method than an exact recipe. Ours had 2 tomatoes, 1 peach, 1/2 small red onion, 1/2 bunch cilantro, juice of 1 lime, and salt. The vegetables and cut fruits should be in a very fine, uniform dice - a bit finer than pictured is ideal. This is most attractive and allows the flavours to blend easily. You then adjust the lime juice and salt to balance the sweet, tart, hot, and salt elements. I wanted to add a jalapeno but my friends voted me down.