25 November 2013

Judy's amazing apple dumplings

Judy's amazing apple dumplings

I can't wait any longer, you guys, even though I haven't made these myself yet. I have to tell you about Judy's amazing apple dumplings.

I am making these for Thanksgiving and they're going to be epic.

Picture this. You get a whole apple, filled with a sweet & chewy-crunchy mixture of chopped raisins and walnuts, wrapped in its own pastry crust, smothered in cinnamon sauce, and baked until golden brown and steaming. And then you get as much pouring cream as you please. Yeah.

I first had one of these guys at Danny and Bethany's birthday party a month ago. (Yes, October is well and truly birthday month for our peer group. It is EVERYONE'S birthday.) Since these are Bethany's usual birthday dessert, her mom Judy whipped up a huge triple batch of apple dumplings for everyone. There was also a half gallon of cream on the table to serve. I'm just saying.

Of course after that I really wanted the recipe, and Judy was kind enough to oblige. Hooray! Apple dumplings for everyone!

Judy theorized that this recipe may have come originally from an old edition of Betty Crocker. Since my own early 70s copy fell by the wayside some time ago, I searched around and turned up this similar but by no means identical apple dumpling recipe. So maybe someone tweaked that version until they made it their own.

The choice of apple is important: you want to use a flavorful cooking apple that will hold its shape well, such as Mutsu, Ida Red, Honeycrisp, or Cortland. I'm going to give Honeycrisps a try and see what happens.

These can be made vegan by switching out butter and cream with the vegan butter & cream subs of your choice. Yes! You too can have an entire apple encased in pastry all to yourself! Full disclosure, however: Judy said the vegan dough she made was softer & thus more difficult to work with, so you might want to build in plenty of chilling time. Then just get some coconut cream for garnish and you should be golden.

I'm planning to make my dumplings (and maybe sauce?) Wednesday, hold them overnight in the fridge, and bake them whenever it seems most appropriate on Thursday. A dessert you can prep in advance for Thanksgiving? Yes. Let's do it.

Judy's amazing apple dumplings
(Barely paraphrased from the recipe card itself.)

Cinnamon sauce:
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 cups water
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup butter

Combine sugar, water & cinnamon. Cook 5 minutes & add butter. (Note: after making this, I'm thinking you want to boil hard for 5 minutes to really reduce. This will keep you from ending up with pastry sog on the bottom of each dumpling.)

6 apples
2 tbsp chopped raisins
2 tbsp chopped walnuts
1 tbsp honey

Peel & core your apples. Stuff with a mixture of raisins, walnuts, & honey.

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup shortening (read: butter)
1/3 cup cream

Sift the flour and salt together. Cut in shortening & blend with pastry cutter. Add cream. Mix & shape into ball. Roll out on floured board. Cut into 6 equal squares.

Put a stuffed apple in the center of each piece of pastry. Sprinkle with extra sugar and cinnamon & dot with butter. Fold corners to center & pinch edges together. Put your completed dumplings in a greased baking pan and pour the cinnamon sauce over all. Bake at 375F for 35 minutes, or until pastry is browned and apples are cooked through.

Serve with as much cream as you like.

21 November 2013

Salami tidbits

salami tidbits

Thanksgiving is suddenly next week! How did that happen? Clearly it is time to think about huge platters of appetizers. Okay! How about filling salami slices with a plentitude of delightful bits and pieces, making them into convenient bite-sized rolls, and frying them until hot and crispy?

We invented these guys several years ago, while we were living in Brooklyn and had access to the particularly amazing deli & meat counter at the Greene Grape Provisions. So much salami! Of course we had to find more ways for me to eat it than just in sandwiches, although those were well worth it too. This led to an evening of hovering over the stove, eating hot salami rolls right out of the pan. SO GOOD.

These tidbits would be especially good for a party because you can make a whole huge whack of them the day before, shove them in the fridge, and quickly fry them when you want to serve. It only takes about five minutes of last-minute cooking to produce a big platter of delicious bits. Hooray!

You'll want to either get your salami sliced to order at your local deli or buy it in pre-sliced packaged form. The thinness of the slices is key to making a tidbit that is flexible enough to roll, but not too greasy.

The other ingredients are easily interchangeable to your tastes. No mozzarella? Monterey jack, parmesan, or even a smear of cream cheese will be fine. Don't like mushrooms? Leave them out. Don't have bell peppers? Quarter some grape tomatoes instead. It's all good.

(The mushrooms up there were good too--stuff brown mushroom caps with simple pesto, add cheese if you want, and heat quickly under the broiler--but basil is pretty much over at this point, right?)

salami tidbits

Salami tidbits

thinly sliced hard salami, roughly 3-inch diameter
bell peppers (any color but green)
spinach or chard leaves
fresh parsley
good, solid wooden toothpicks (the cheap ones will break)
paper towels for blotting

Start by cutting all your cheese and vegetables into short, thin strips. The actual size will depend on the size of your salami slices. You want the fillings to fit securely inside a roll of salami for the duration.

Assemble your rolls by stacking a bit of each filling ingredient in a line down the middle of a piece of salami. Roll it up (or fold it in from both sides, depending on how full things are) and secure with a toothpick, punching in and out once like you're sewing a stitch. You don't have to go through the entire roll; just secure the loose ends of salami. Repeat until you have as many rolls as you want.

At this point you can cover your tidbits and put them in the refrigerator until right before you want to serve them.

salami tidbits

When you want to serve, heat the frying pan of your choice on medium. Fry your tidbits, shaking the pan occasionally, until they start turning golden brown and crispy on both sides. Since salami has plenty of fat to render, you won't need to add any extra oil. Use a big enough pan, and you can fry all your tidbits at once for a super fast finish.

Remove your finished rolls to a paper towel and blot briefly. Arrange on the plate of your choosing and serve hot.

Now try to leave a few for your guests instead of just eating them all yourself while standing around gossiping in the kitchen.

What kind of appetizers are you planning for your Thanksgiving festivity?

19 November 2013

Cottage cheese & mixed herb crisps

Cottage cheese & mixed herb crisps

This may sound weird at first, but stick with me.

You know how we talked about making your own schmears for bagels a few times before? That was clearly a good idea, right? Well, this is a very similar deal, but with cottage cheese and a touch of tangy yogurt or sour cream instead of cream cheese. It's still delicious, and it's still easy, and you can still make big tasty sandwiches with it.

While the first combination I learned is the most dear to my heart--green onion and radish with lots of cracked black pepper, aka salatka--any number of mixes of veg and herbs can go well with cottage cheese. The real question is: what's in your crisper?

This time I found a bag of salad sprouts along with a bunch of parsley and another of green onion: clearly a perfect herby, crunchy mix of vegetable flavors. I mixed everything together, spread the resulting excellence on pieces of sourdough crispbread, and voila! Lunch.

As always, the messiest food tastes the best.

Cottage cheese, mixed herbs, & pepper

Cottage cheese & mixed herb crisps

green onion
parsley or other herbs of your choice
alfalfa/clover sprouts
cottage cheese
sour cream, greek yogurt, or labneh
salt, pepper
crispbread, crackers, or toast to serve

Chop up as much green onion, parsley, and sprouts as you want to eat. I ended up with maybe a half a cup in total. Put them in an appropriate mixing bowl.

Add a couple big spoonfuls of cottage cheese and one smaller spoonful of the sour tangy dairy element of your choice. Season with salt and pepper and stir everything together until well mixed.

Spread on crispbread, crackers, or toast of your choice, grind a little more pepper over the top--seriously, PEPPER--and eat.

Cottage cheese & mixed herb crisps

If you want to fance it up, that's easy enough. I just slivered up a little orange bell pepper and tossed some extra parsley on mine. For more vegetable content, you could also spread it on cucumber slices, red pepper boats, or mushroom caps. Or do a u-turn from the fancy and make a huge sandwich with toasty bread, cottage cheese mix, sliced cucumber, spinach, or whatever else you like as a true all-veg layer. It's so clearly all good.

What fast & easy concoctions are you eating lately?

11 November 2013

Pear schnapps and subsequent pear liqueur

homemade pear schnapps

Fall fruit, you guys. Let's preserve it in alcohol for a winter's worth of imbibing!

The trendy term "infusion" came into widespread use after I started making liqueurs, as far as I can tell. Instead, I use the term "schnapps," which is...the older term for an infusion in vodka or other alcohol! SHOCKING. The only difference I'm aware of is that contemporary infusions usually only steep for a day or two, while schnappses start out at a few days of steeping (for intensely flavored things like herbs), but often go on much longer. Since I'm all about aging my concoctions, the schnapps term is doubly appropriate.

Okay then! Let's make some schnapps!

I chose pear, because pear is one of the best of all fall fruits. Who doesn't want pear in cocktail form? I ask you.

Bartlett pear slice

Pear schnapps

1.5 chopped bartlett pears
up to 750 ml vodka

Wash, core, & chop your pears. Put them in a quart mason jar or the other steeping vessel of your choice. You want to fill the jar approximately 2/3 of the way with fruit, but more is ok too. I more or less said TIME FOR FRUCT (not a typo; "fruct" is slang for "fruit" at our house) and filled the jar with as much pear as I could cram without crushing anything.

Pour in vodka to cover the fruit, all the way up to the neck of the jar. Then lid your jar and stick it in a dark cupboard to age.

Give your jar a gentle shake whenever you think of it. Every few days or so is fine.

infusing pear schnapps

The question of when to remove the fruit from the schnapps is up in the air. I'd leave this for at least two weeks, and up to three months for a deep & full pear flavor. It depends on how strong you like your schnapps, and also on your patience.

When you're ready, strain your pears out of your schnapps. I find it easiest to do this by putting a fine-mesh strainer into a canning funnel and filtering the whole shebang into a second mason jar. Canning funnels: get one.

Strain your schnapps a second time through a coffee filter-lined strainer or other extremely fine mesh to make sure you've removed every bit of sediment. It's possible that some more bits and pieces will settle as your schnapps sits in the cupboard; if this happens, you can just re-strain whenever it's necessary. Real talk: I routinely strain my stuff through tissues or paper towels, since our coffeemaking equipage consists of a french press and nothing else. It's all good.

Voila! Pear schnapps!

At this point you have a choice. You can either use the schnapps as-is, or you can sweeten it with simple syrup to create a liqueur.

Of course, since simple syrup doesn't have to be just sugar and water, this opens up a whole world of possibilities. Rosemary? Cardamom? Vanilla bean? Ginger? Cinnamon and nutmeg? What would be tastiest with pear?

I have a little rosemary simple syrup left over from making Tracy Shutterbean's pear cornmeal cake with rosemary syrup (note: it was awesome & you should make one), so I'm planning on trying that when my schnapps is sufficiently steeped. Ginger and pear also sounds like a really good plan.

In any case, here's how to make a basic flavored simple syrup. The amount of herb or spice components will depend on what you want to use and how strong an infusion you prefer. Several branches of herbs, 3 or 4 cracked cardamom pods, or a single split vanilla bean would all produce delightful results. However, I'd err on the side of strength to make sure whatever flavor you choose can stand up to the pear without getting too sweet.

Infused simple syrup

1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
Herb, spice, zest, etc. of your choice

Put everything in a pan and simmer gently until the sugar is completely dissolved, swirling occasionally. Turn off the heat, lid the pan, and let steep for about an hour. Taste your syrup and see if you want to let it steep further.

Strain out your solid ingredients and let your simple syrup cool completely. Use it to sweeten & flavor schnapps to taste or make the cocktails of your choice. I find that simple syrup can last in the refrigerator for a shorter time than most people say. Try to use it within 2 weeks.

Who else is making liqueurs this season?

07 November 2013

At home

wood sorrel

We came back and were totally shocked to see how much clothing we still owned, how stupidly full our pantry, how empty our house without four more people.

I am a whole lot more inclined to just go with whatever we have and do what needs to be done. Eat that freezer. Lighten that shelf.

The first night I was hungry at 9 pm, so I made macaroni with olive oil, garlic, and broccoli, with a lot of cracked pepper and some grated parmesan on top. It was an excellent plan. With some chickpeas, it could have been a full dinner. It took maybe ten minutes from start to finish, including peeling broccoli stems.

Sandwiches are definitely a larger part of the menu. Mustard, turkey, butter lettuce, homemade pickled peppers & cucumber slices. Our usual grocery store has even just now started carrying the Dave's Killer Bread we've been eating for the past month. The components are a touch fancier, if one can claim that homemade pickles are fancy, but the results are almost exactly like the many sandwiches I crammed down to make sure I wouldn't fall flat on my face while biking 5 miles up the hill home.

I want salad. The one I ate all the time in Portland was spinach with chopped apple and almond, topped with some storebought honey mustard dressing. I could go for another one of those right this second. It's not a shock to find I bought all three main components as soon as we got back.

I really missed soup. The night after we came back I made a pureed carrot soup with a mix of pinto and chickpea broth, spiced with cumin seed, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne, and stirred in some garam masala at the end. We ate it with half a loaf of sourdough and I for one would not have minded more.

Now that we have our toaster oven, I want cheesy toast all the time. Top a slice of bread with cheddar. Put it in the toaster oven. Toast until the cheese is bubbling. Eat. Mustard is optional and I think not necessary. Simple is nice.

That said, I am never going to be that into peanut butter toast.

03 November 2013

Post-Portland: tea, tea, and more tea

A nice cup of tea

One thing that happens when you live in someone else's house for any significant time is that you start eating like them. And cooking like them. And drinking like them.

This is definitely a good thing, especially when said someone elses have a big box of Tetley tea bags and a jug or two of whole milk in the house at all times.

I started drinking many gigantic mugs of serious black tea with milk, and I like it.

I like it so much that I bought a second box of tea for the house at approximately the 1 week mark of our stay in Portland.

Now that we're back home, we went to the store and got a box of Tetley and another of PG Tips, largely because the only Tetley in said store was decaf. I got some of it anyway, because another thing that definitely happened in Portland is that my caffeine intake went through the roof, but still.

We also bought a quart of whole milk. I can't remember the last time I bought any amount of whole milk that wasn't immediately destined for a white sauce.

I've had approximately three cups of strong milky tea in the ten or so hours since we were at the store. There looks to be at least one more in my future tonight.