Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cobbler, Buckle, Crumble or Grunt?

I love all the homey, old fashioned sounding desserts that can be made combining a base of some sort of fruit and then covered with some sort of topping. They come in such varieties as cobblers, crumbles, grunts, pan dowdies and buckles. There are probably more but that's all I could come up with today.

I went on line to find out the differences between them all and here's a short synopsis:
Cobbler - Cobblers are an American deep-dish fruit dessert or pie with a thick crust (usually a biscuit crust) and a fruit filling (such as peaches, apples, berries). Some versions are enclosed in the crust, while others have a drop-biscuit or crumb topping.

Crisps and Crumbles - Crisps are baked with the fruit mixture on the bottom with a crumb topping. The crumb topping can be made with flour, nuts, bread crumbs, cookie or graham cracker crumbs, or even breakfast cereal. Crumble are the British version of the American Crisp.

Betty or Brown Betty - A Betty consist of a fruit, most commonly apples, baked between layers of buttered crumbs. Betties are an English pudding dessert closely related to the French apple charlotte. Betty was a popular baked pudding made during colonial times in America.

Grunts or Slump - Early attempts to adapt the English steamed pudding to the primitive cooking equipment available to the Colonists in New England resulted in the grunt and the slump, a simple dumpling-like pudding (basically a cobbler) using local fruit. Usually cooked on top of the stove. In Massachusetts, they were known as a grunt (thought to be a description of the sound the berries make as they stew). In Vermont, Maine, and Rhode Island, the dessert was referred to as a slump.

Buckle or Crumble - Is a type of cake made in a single layer with berries added to the batter. It is usually made with blueberries. The topping is similar to a streusel, which gives it a buckled or crumpled appearance.

Pandowdy - It is a deep-dish dessert that can be made with a variety of fruit, but is most commonly made with apples sweetened with molasses or brown sugar. The topping is a crumbly type of biscuit except the crust is broken up during baking and pushed down into the fruit to allow the juices to come through. Sometimes the crust is on the bottom and the desert is inverted before serving. The exact origin of the name Pandowdy is unknown, but it is thought to refer to the deserts plain or dowdy appearance.

Today's recipe falls into the cobbler category and I made it with some wonderful Marionberries, freshly picked from a farm nearby. This cobbler recipe called for buttermilk but having none in the fridge, I used cream instead. It made an extremely rich and delicious biscuit! There is nothing like a fruit cobbler cooking in the oven to make the whole house smell divine.Marionberry Cobbler

1 quart of Marionberries (blackberries or boysenberries would work too)
3 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Gently mix the berries, sugar, flour and cinnamon together and then put them in a greased 13x9 baking dish.1/2 cup sugar
1 stick of melted butter
2/3 cup buttermilk or cream
2 cups baking mix (Bisquick or Jiffy)
1 tsp vanillaPreheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix the sugar, butter, cream and vanilla into the baking mix and stir until combined and moist. Do not overmix. Dollop the biscuit dough evenly over the fruit and sprinkle the top of each mound with some sugar. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. Let cool and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Baked Meatballs

Here is a recipe that should be a standard for anyone who enjoys spaghetti and meatballs, or meatball sandwiches. This is a very simple, tasty baked meatball. The beauty of this recipe that it is so quick and simple in that there is no standing over the stovetop frying batch after batch of meatballs with grease spattering every which way. Of course, you do still have to roll the meatballs out but I actually find that quite therapeutic. Once that's done, you simply place them in a baking pan, throw them in the oven for 1/2 hour and presto, a lovely batch of meatballsBaked Meatballs

1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped (I actually grate mine for a wonderful fine mince, along with the onion juice)
3/4 cups bread crumbs (I use dried, seasoned crumbs)
1 egg, beaten to blend
1 1/2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 glass baking dish. Mix together all of the ingredients well. Wet hands and form meat into 1 inch balls (around the size of ping pong balls). Place in baking dish and bake until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Makes approximately 30 meatballs. I often double this recipe and put one batch in a freezer bag to be used at a future date.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Summer Fruit Tart

I just can't get enough of Dorie Greenspan's wonderful baking cookbook, Baking: From My Home to Yours, which I have referenced once before. She is such a great teacher and her recipes are extremely thorough and easy to follow. I made a fruit tart using two of her recipes; one for a sweet tart crust and the other for a filling of luscious vanilla pastry cream. The combination of the crust, pastry cream and wonderful ripe seasonal berries was just delicious. And so, so pretty!

Sweet Tart Crust
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk1. Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in—you should have pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses—about 10 seconds each—until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change—heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

2. To roll the dough: Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll out chilled dough on floured sheet of parchment paper to 12-inch round, lifting and turning dough occasionally to free from paper. Using paper as aid, turn dough into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom; peel off paper. Seal any cracks in dough. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold overhang in, making double-thick sides. Pierce crust all over with fork. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

3. To fully bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil (or use nonstick foil) and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. (Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights.) Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes.

4. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon (or prick it with the tip of a small knife). Bake the crust about 10 minutes longer, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature.

The dough can be wrapped and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months. While the fully baked crust can be packed airtight and frozen for up to 2 months, the flavor will be fresher bake it directly from the freezer, already rolled out–just add about 5 minutes to the baking time.

Alternate press-in technique: If you want to use the press-in method, you can work with the dough as soon as it’s processed. Just press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Don’t be too heavy-handed–press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but don’t press so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the tart in the pan for at least 1/2 hour before baking as described above.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temperature

Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan. Meanwhile, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the egg yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk– this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won’t curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (making sure to get the edges of the pot), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are full Incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky. Scrape the cream into a bowl. You can press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold or, if you want to cool it quickly, put the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water, and stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.

Fill the cooled tart shell with the chilled pastry cream and then embellish your wonderful tart with an array of fresh fruits currently available.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Taste of My Past

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I spent 11 years living in downtown Seattle. I had just graduated from college and moved from a small city to this wonderful urban jungle and I loved it. I lived in an old brownstone apartment building which housed both young urban professionals as well as long time tenants. Needless to say, it was an eclectic place.

After I had lived there a year or two, one of my best friends whom I had met at college, also moved into the building. A year later another coworker moved in and it was like living back in the dorms! Though we all worked, none of us had any extra money. The thing was, there such varied entertainment and dining options always literally in our front yard, we could always afford something.

On Friday nights, my friend and I would often get off work together and off we would trot down the hill and hit the "Happy Hour" circuit. In those days (the Happening '80s), many hotels in downtown Seattle would offer up the most fabulous free food in order to lure customers in for drinks. We certainly took advantage of this inexpensive entertainment and would often make that our Friday night dinner, going from place to place deciding who offered the most substantial fare.

One of our favorite cocktails at that time of our lives was a champagne cocktail. It seemed so sophisticated, just like we thought we were. There was just something so right about sitting around sipping the bubbly, looking out at the lights of the city from some hotel bar and enjoying life. I haven't had one since and so I thought I should make one and see if indeed, it was as good as I remember. And you know what??? It was!

Here's the thing though. It was missing a key ingredient and after I had a few sips I realized it was missing my dear friend sitting next to me drinking one too. So Warren, next time you come for a visit I will make us champagne cocktails and we will pretend we are 25 years old again. Okay?

Champagne Cocktail

Champagne or sparking wine
Angostura bitters
sugar cube

Put 2-3 drops of bitters onto the sugar cube and drop it into a champagne flute. Fill the flute with champagne and sip away.

Monday, July 13, 2009

My New Toy

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I recently purchased a new 7 cup Cuisinart for a steal. I had been watching the price steadily go down at Macy's over the last few months and one Saturday it was under $100 and I decided the time was right. Wouldn't you know it, this last weekend the price went down to $89. Oh well! I do want to thank my sister Linda for the use of her food processor she received as a wedding present some 30 years ago and she gave to me probably 20 years ago when she got a new one. It's been much used and much appreciated.

I wanted to put my new one through it's paces this last weekend so I made two recipes that utilized the majority of it's functions: grating, slicing, and dough making. I made coleslaw and I made a fruit tart which I will share in a future entry. Let me say first of all that I am not a mechanically inclined person. I snickered aloud as I typed that last sentence as that is the biggest understatement in the world.

Luckily The Husband is very gifted in this arena (or maybe he is just average but to me he performs miracles next to my terrible mechanical inadequacies.) Between the two of us it probably took 10 minutes to get this machine put together in order to slice up the cabbage for the coleslaw. I swear I could have had it all chopped by hand in the time it took us to figure this machine out. He actually had to look at the instruction book, something that is a total last straw for him. We both agreed that I would get the hang of it with use.I will say that once it started working it processed the cabbage and carrot like nobody's business. Very slick indeed! Now for the unfortunate part of this story. I have never made coleslaw before and found a recipe in a most reputable cookbook of mine, which will remain nameless as I don't want to get sued for slander. But it was HORRIBLE. It was too salty, too mayonnaisy, too mustardy, too much dressing altogether. So I implore you dear readers, if you have a decent coleslaw recipe, please send it my way as I would like to give making it another try someday. The most embarrassing part of all is that my Mother-In-Law stopped by and I sent a bunch home with her prior to me giving it a good tasting. When I served it for dinner, I immediately went and threw the rest away.

Needless to say, no recipe will be shared but I certainly look forward to getting to know my new toy better and becoming proficient in it's many capabilities to make my life in the kitchen easier.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Floral Repast

No recipe today, just a feast for the eyes. This was the most beautiful yellow rose I had ever seen, taken at Shore Acres State Park near Coos Bay, Oregon. The Husband and I stopped by there on our way home from our mini-vacation to the Redwood Forest in May. It was a drizzly, rainy Monday and the park was nearly empty but it was perfect for snapping some pictures of the dazzling flowers throughout the park.

I spotted this singular climbing yellow rose on a trellis at the gate as we were leaving the park to continue our trip home. It was perfect!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cold Noodle Chicken Salad with Sesame/Peanut Sauce

It was a hot weekend and perfect for cold pasta salads. They can be so versatile and easy to throw together, either improvisationally or following a new recipe. I did both and made two salads which lasted for a few meals. It's always nice to have leftovers!

The first salad I made was my standard pesto bow tie pasta salad which included petite peas, grape tomatoes and marinated artichoke hearts. The dressing included prepared pesto, some mayonnaise and sour cream, salt and pepper. This is one my standards where I sometimes will throw in some leftover chicken or some olives, whatever strikes my fancy at the time.

The second salad was a new one I found on a great food site at the New York Times by Mark Bittman, who has written a number of great cookbooks. His latest endeavor was a travel/cooking show on PBS called Spain-On The Road Again, with Mario Battelli where they traveled all around Spain along with Gwenyth Paltrow and a Spanish actress. It was very entertaining and educational. I want to go to Spain now.

The salad is a cold noodle salad with sesame sauce, chicken and cucumbers. I forgot the cucumbers while shopping so mine was minus that component. I also used 1/4 cup tahini sauce and 1/4 cup peanut butter, whereas Mr. Bittman calls for 1/2 cup tahini. I just thought peanut butter would bolster the flavor a bit more. I also added about 1/2 tsp. of chili flakes along with the hot sauce he calls for. So, those are my modifications to this delicious cold main course salad.

I also experimented with making green onion garnishes just for fun and they turned out very well.Cold Noodles with Sesame/Peanut Sauce, Chicken and Cucumbers

2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 lb. sliced cucumber, with the seeds removed
12 oz. long pasta, like linguine or fresh Chinese egg noodles
2 Tbsp. dark sesame oil
1/2 cup sesame paste or peanut butter
2 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp minced ginger
1 Tbsp rice or wine vinegar
Hot sauce to taste
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup minced scallions for garnish.Cook pasta until tender but not mushy. Strain and run cold water over them. In a large bowl, whisk together sesame oil and sesame paste, sugar, soy, ginger, vinegar, hot sauce and pepper. Thin the sauce with hot water so that it is about the consistency of heavy cream, you will need approximately 1/4 to 1/2 cup. Stir in cucumber, pasta and chicken. Toss everything together well and garnish with minced scallions.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Too Many Bananas

I usually buy 5-6 bananas a week and sometimes we get through them and sometimes, as was the case this week, we don't. Unfortunately during the hot days of summer, bananas don't keep so well on the kitchen counter so I stuck 3 spotty looking specimens into the fridge to do something with when I felt inspired.

Inspiration came today in the form of some wonderful, moist and very flavorful banana cupcakes. This recipe is fairly easy to put together with most items easily found in a well stocked kitchen. It can be made into either a 2 layer cake, a 9 x 13 sheet cake, or as I did, 24 cupcakes. The addition of toasted coconut and the rum are optional flavor elements, but I think they both really added a special dimension to this delicious recipe.

Banana Cake

2 2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. dark rum (optional)
1 1/2 cups very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup toasted shredded coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Prepare pans with cupcake liners or grease and flour cake pans and set aside.Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugars and beat at medium speed for a couple of minutes, then add the eggs one at a time beating well after each addition, followed by the vanilla and rum. Lower the speed and add the bananas. Still on low speed, add the flour mixture and liquid alternately, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Mix just until everything is well incorporated then stir in the coconut by hand with a rubber spatula. Divide the mixture evenly into the pans. For cupcakes, use a 1/4 cup measure to get 24 even sized cakes. Bake cakes for about 45 minutes or cupcakes for about 20 minutes until they are a deep golden brown. A thin knife inserted into their centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to a cooking rack and cool. Frost with a cream cheese icing. I cheated and used a prepared icing which was a fine addition to these moist little cakes.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Stuffed Prawns

After a week of being under the weather, I finally felt like getting back into the kitchen and trying my hand at cooking again. We deserved a decent dinner so I splurged on some large prawns and tried out a recipe I've had on hand for months - stuffed prawns.

The preparation of the prawns themselves is somewhat time consuming as they have to be shelled and deveined(one of my least favorite things to do.) Once this is accomplished however, the rest is fairly easy. I prepared all of the stuffing ingredients in advance, including making homemade breadcrumbs. This involved putting four slices of white bread into the food processors, giving it a few pulses then baking the crumbs at 375 degrees on a cookie sheet for approximately 8 minutes, until nice and golden brown.

The prawns were delicious and the side dishes of rice pilaf and spinach with a glass of nice dry, white wine made me glad I felt like eating again!Stuffed Prawns

1 lb. extra large prawns (14-16 per lb.)
fresh breadcrumbs (made from 4 slices of white bread)
1/3 cup clam juice
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped chives
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the prawns by shelling, deveining and cutting a 1 inch slit entirely through the prawn. Set aside. Prepare the stuffing by mixing all the rest of the ingredients together in a mixing bowl until it comes together in a moist mixture. You may need a little more clam juice to bind everything together.

Press approximately 1 Tbsp of stuffing into each prawn. Bake on a covered baking sheet at 275 deg. for 20-25 minutes. When finished baking set the broiler and place sheet under the broiler until stuffing turns golden brown.