Saturday, October 31, 2015

Ricotta, Warm Pear, and Thyme Crostini

Guess what we'll be having for appetizers Thanksgiving Day.

We gave these morsels a spin the other night as a precursor to the husband's birthday dinner, and whoo boy, these are tasty little numbers. Tasty enough to trot out in front of family and friends for Thanksgiving Dinner.

Last year, about this time, I picked up Sunday Suppers, a fantastically photographed menu-based cookbook. It has been a delightful cookbook that has not steered me wrong, so I should have had faith that these would need to have more than a supporting role in a dinner at home. I am a reborn believer in this book. In the pear. In the pear cooked in butter and sugar and sprinkled with fried thyme leaves.

Seriously, what about that doesn't sound like perfection?

The crostini are as simple as can be, and we agreed that warm or cold, the pears are the stars.  Warm, they lend more of a savory quality to the crostini. Cold, the sweetness really stands at attention. Further, I love me a simple ricotta, which is a nice play against the buttery, thyme-y pears. Served in front of beef bourguignon (husband's main dish of choice for his birthday dinner), and you have a meal.

I suspect the same will be said of their attendance in front of turkey.

But you don't need a birthday dinner or a Thanksgiving celebration for these. Make the slices of bread bigger (say, from a country loaf rather than a baguette), and you could have a decadent breakfast. Make the pears the night before and stash them in the fridge and you not only have luxury on your hands for a Saturday morning, but you have ease.

But I will also be having these on Thanksgiving Day (and perhaps a few more mornings between now and then).


Ricotta, Warm Pear, and Thyme Crostini

Adapted from  Sunday Suppers


For the bread:
2 Tbsp olive oil
8 slices country loaf bread, cut into 1/2-inch slices or 16 slices baguette
1 clove garlic, halved

For the topping :
1 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1 Bartlett pear, sliced (do not peel)
1 tsp coarse brown sugar
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup fresh ricotta

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2.  Brush the olive oil over one side of each bread slice, and place them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast the bread, flipping the slices once, until golden brown, about 8 minutes.

3.  In a small skillet, heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat. Add the pear slices, brown sugar, and thyme sprigs. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until the pears are cooked but still retain their shape. (You can cool the pears at this point if you would prefer.)

2.  To serve, rub the toast with the halved garlic clove.  Spread the ricotta over each toast, top with the pears, drizzle with the olive oil (optional), and sprinkle with sea salt.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Chunky Maple Applesauce

This is a pretty simple recipe--it's for applesauce, after all.  However, it's an excuse to go to your favorite farmers market and stock up on autumn's favored fruit.

On the way to Fort Bragg from the Bay Area, there's a great fruit stand, Gowans, that is our apple supplier. Just to the side of highway 128, the apple trees are laden with fruit and the fruit stand overflows with Jonagolds, Sierra Beauties, McIntoshes, Granny Smiths and more. In the summer, they stock the stand with basket upon basket of tomatoes and a whole counter of green beans, zucchinis, and corn. But autumn is my favorite time. From the truck bed of pumpkins to the freshly pressed apple cider, it's a fallophile's paradise.

This year, we stopped for a bag of Sierra Beauties for this applesauce, and we picked up a pretty little pumpkin as well. As usual, I put it on our front porch so I could monitor the squirrel activity (usually a few come by every night to have a chomp on the sides of the pumpkin). For some reason, this amuses me, and I like to see just how much has been eaten from day to day.

This year, I got to see one night's worth of eating.

And then someone stole our pumpkin.

I mean, really?

But a stolen pumpkin cannot detract from a batch of sweet and maple-y applesauce. It's doubly, almost triply autumnal given the addition of cinnamon and maple syrup. I have been spooning heaps of this into my mouth when I open the fridge all week, and I stirred some into my oatmeal for breakfast. I have plans for a swirl to go in my yogurt later this week. And if I can keep enough of it around for others to enjoy, we might even just serve some of this alongside pork tenderloin.

But if I run out, it just gives me another excuse to pop by Gowans again.

Like I need an excuse.


Chunky Maple Applesauce

Adapted from  Almost Vegetarian

about 4 cups

4 apples* (see note below), cored, peeled, and chopped
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
Pinch ground allspice
Pinch ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp apple juice
1/4 cup raisins (optional)

1.  In a heavy nonreactive saucepan, toss the chopped apples with the lemon juice. Add the maple syrup, allspice, cinnamon, vanilla, and apple juice and stir.  Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Cover and cook, stirring often, until the apples soften and break down and into a chunky sauce, about 30 minutes.

2.  Remove from the heat and stir in the raisins, if using.

*Note:  While Diana Shaw, who wrote this cookbook, recommends 4 Granny Smith apples, the experts on the web say that mixing the variety of your apples makes for a more complex apple sauce. I used 4 Sierra Beauties, and I was happy.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Eggplant, Zucchini, and Tomato Hobo Pack with Lemon and Garlic

I am going to admit this right here and now:  I made this over the summer.

But then I went and forgot to post about it. Now eggplant is woefully out of season. What's a food blogger to do?

I guess that I have opted to entice you with all the glories of hobo pack so that you can make this easy packet of grilled vegetables next summer when eggplant is back at its peak, or you can just substitute other veggies. (Even autumn fruits and veggies--The New York Times has a tasty looking recipe for a sweet potato and apple hobo pack. And a mixed mushroom hobo pack is kindly featured over at Martha Stewart.)

Sure, sure, the hobo pack has all the sophistication of the Boy Scouts, where legions of children have tucked meat and veggies inside a packet of tin foil and thrown them onto the open flame. And sure, it's hit or miss as to whether or not what you create is haute cuisine. There are burnt ends and charred knobs and mushy pieces.

However, the charm of the whole enterprise is its ease. The smoky flavor is an added bonus. And you can make these on the grill next time you're lounging around the back yard or whip up a batch of these on your next camping trip. The hobo pack can be filled with just about anything--from ground beef and sausage to butternut squash and sage. A simple Google search can send you into paroxysms of possibilities. And the recipe really are no-brainers.

We made these while we had a dear niece (of sorts) stay with us (she's the husband's step-mother's best friend's daughter... you do the math). She was not a fan of eggplant, so I made a separate pack eggplant free. We gobbled these up with an array of fancy sausages from Market Hall (my favorite being the duck and rabbit sausage) roasted on the backyard grill.

Later, I sliced up the leftover zucchini and eggplant and threw them into a frittata for an easy breakfast. (So it seems to me that given how easy these packs are, they are an essential the next time we grill--if for no other reason than to have grilled veggies at the ready.) These packs were sustenance enough for fine adventures that we took with said niece up to Sonoma and around the Bay Area. And it's hard to believe we're well into autumn and she's back at school.

Summer or not, it's time to channel your inner Boy Scout and to get your hobo pack on. There are campfires to be had and vegetables to be eaten. Let's get to it!


Eggplant, Zucchini, and Tomato Hobo Pack with Lemon and Garlic

Adapted from  License to Grill

4-6 as a side dish

2 lemons, sliced into quarters
2-3 small eggplants, cur lengthwise into quarters
2-3 small zucchinis 
4 plum tomatoes, halved
10-20 garlic cloves
8 sprigs fresh oregano or rosemary, cleaned
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Lay out two sheets of heavy-duty foil, about 2 feet long, one on top of the other.  Place the lemon quarters in the center, then put the eggplant and zucchini quarters on top.  Follow with the tomatoes and garlic, add the herbs, and drizzle with the olive oil.  Lay a third length of heavy-duty foil over the top. Fold the edges of the sheets together on all sides, closing the pack, then roll up the sides until they bump into the food, forming a ridge around the perimeter.  (If you're feeling as if you need more foil, especially if you're throwing these on a campfire, then place the pack in the center of a fourth piece of foil and fold the four sides over the top of the packet.)

2.  If you're throwing these on the grill, then toss them atop a medium-high grill and cook 20-30 minutes. If you're throwing these on a campfire or onto the coals of the grill directly, do the following: The fire should have passed its peak of intensity and be dying down, so that is consists primarily glowing coals covered with a thin film of gray ash.  In other words you want a medium to low fire.  Clear a place for the foil packet, leaving a thin layer of coals.  Place the packet on the cleared area and heap up coals all around but not directly on top.  Cook, keeping watch and shifting the packet as needed so it is continuously in contact with the glowing coals, about 20-30 minutes, depending on the intensity of the coals.

3.  Remove, unroll the foil, and serve.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sweet Fig and Black Pepper Scones

I have always had a sweet tooth. I don't remember a time when I didn't want cake before dinner. But we now know that sugar could well be killing us. What's an avowed sweets craver to do?

Enter Samantha Seneviratne. 

The New Sugar and Spice, her first cookbook, is no low-sugar desserts invective. Instead, it's a cookbook that outright celebrates dessert in all its sugary glory. However, she balances all that sweet with an affection for cinnamon, black pepper, ginger, cloves, and herbs. She argues that we should have our cake, no doubt eat it too, but also ensure that we're not overwhelmed with sugar blandness. Desserts should be returned to a nuanced complexity wherein sugar plays a superb supporting role.

Her blog Love, Cake is a joy, for her photographs are high contrast, high beauty and her writing is delightful. Such expectations carry over into this cookbook, including her introduction where she marries memories of her deceased brother to an overview of the screeds against sugar. She then goes on to talk about her childhood spent in Connecticut with family forays to Sri Lanka and then invites you to mess around with her recipes until you find the right balance of sugar and spice for your own palate. All within two pages. 

The cookbook is divided into chapters which highlight a particular spice, and already she has me clamoring for Crêpe Cake with Pistachio Cream, Pear Tarte Tatin with Anise Seed Caramel, Cream Tea Brûlée, Orange-Clove Pull-Apart Bread, and Blackberry-Lavender Clafoutis. I see a sweet future in front of me.

I decided to make my first leap into this cookbook with something more modest than her rustic Pear and Chocolate Pan Charlotte or her ambitious Apple Danish with Caraway Cream. I decided to go with the humble scone.

However, Seneviratne hardly makes scones ordinary. Instead, she nudges them to take center stage with the bite of the pepper and the sweetness of the fig. And she takes a balanced approach to these lightly sweetened pastries more akin to a biscuit than to a cake. They are drier and coarser than the biscuit, however, and which happily invites plenty of dunking. (Which I recommend with a cup of tea or, if you must, coffee.) And the pepper adds a bit of a surprise to what is often expected to be a sweet treat.

Originally a Scottish quick bread made with oats and griddle-fried, scones now run the gamut of sweet to savory and are usually made with flour, shaped into individual rounds or cut into wedges, and baked in the oven. Of course, the British tradition is to have your scone precisely at 4 p.m. during tea time and served with a little clotted cream and jam. Seneviratne's take on the scone is fit for any Sunday breakfast or afternoon tea, and she encourages you to freeze the unbaked scones for future decadence at a quarter of the prep time.  I am a fan of eating your scone whenever you please.

And let's not forget my pretty new plates.  I have mentioned before my love of a new home store in Fort Bragg, Astoria.  The depression-era glass combined with fussy plates almost equals my love of sugar. It was an obvious pairing.

Of course,  you might find yourself embroiled in a simple tea party battle should you try to determine the proper pronunciation of the word scone.  Does it rhyme with cone as most in the United States, Southern England, or Ireland would argue? Or does it rhyme with con as the Scottish and Northern English might insist?  I'll let you fight that battle out on your own (and mildly chuckle as I remember watching such a battle ensue between colleagues).

I'll be over here.  Happily eating my scone for breakfast. And then again for tea time. And maybe again later for dessert. Come on: I have to feed that sweet tooth.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


Sweet Fig and Black Pepper Scones

Makes 8 big scones

1/4 cup cold heavy cream, plus more for brushing
1/4 cup cold buttermilk
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 1/2 ounces dried figs, stemmed and finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)

1.  In a small bowl, stir together the cream, buttermilk, egg, egg yolk and vanilla. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, pepper, and salt. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it is the texture of coarse corn meal with some larger pea-size pieces. Add the figs and toss with your hands to combine.

2.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

3.  Add the cream mixture to the flour mixture and mix with a fork just until a loose dough forms. Put the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it, 2-3 times, to get the mixture to come together. Try not to overwork the dough or the scones will be tough. Form the dough into a 6-inch circle. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 8 equal triangles. Spread the triangles out evenly on the prepared sheet. Freeze for 20-30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

4.  Brush the tops of the frozen scones with cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake the cones until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 15-18 minutes.

You can also freeze the unbaked scones in an airtight container and then pull them out for a quick breakfast or afternoon snack. Just pop the frozen scones in a 400 degree oven and cook for 20-25 minutes. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

I do not understand the pumpkin spice latte craze.  I really don't.  And I have tried.

Last weekend, we went up to Fort Bragg again, and on Saturday morning, I went to the local coffee shop, and I tried my first pumpkin spice latte. And I'll admit, I could not figure out what all the fuss was about.

However, I am not one willing to give up on fall because of a failed pumpkin spiced latte. No, sir. No, I am going to love autumn with all of its reds and oranges and cozy socks and the hint of rain. And I am going to look wildly forward to December when we finally get real fall here, the tree up my block turns a blazing red, and I finally get to pull out my sweaters.

In the mean time, I am making squash soup. And lots of it. And then when I grow tired of eating it, I am putting bags of it in my freezer so that I can trot it out in January or February when I don't feel like cooking.

This number comes from Ina Garten, and it's as simple as can be. I found it to be a bit sweet with the addition of both apples and apple juice. But then I cut it with a dallop of yogurt, and, well, all was right with the world.

And thus with this soup, I am fully ensconced in my love of autumn.

Not even an ill-planned pumpkin spice latte could throw me off my game here.


Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

3 1/2 Quarts

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cups chopped yellow onions (about 3 large)
2 Tbsp mild curry powder
5 pounds butternut squash (about 2 large)
1 1/2 pounds sweet apples, such as McIntosh or Gala (about 4 apples)
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 cups water or chicken broth
2 cups apple cider or apple juice
1/2 cup yogurt

1.  Warm the butter and olive oil in a large stockpot over low heat. Add the onions and curry powder and cook, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes, until the onions are tender. Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot.

2.  Peel the squash, cut in half, and remove the seeds. Cut the squash into chunks. Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Cut into chunks.

3.  Add the squash, apples, salt, pepper, and 2 cups of water or broth to the pot. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the squash and apples are very soft. Cool the soup.  

4.  Puree the soup in a food processor or blender in batches. Pour the soup back into the pot. Add the apple cider and enough water to make the soup the consistency you like it; it should be slightly sweet and quite thick. Check the salt and pepper, reheat the soup, and serve hot with a dallop of yogurt.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Goat Cheese and Red Bell Pepper Stuffed Mushrooms

So, I took a new job in August. And I have loved it. As in really loved the new challenges and opportunities and expectations. It's still in education. It's still thinking about academics. But it is much more holistic than just literature and thesis statements and Virginia Woolf. Okay, okay some days weren't all about Virginia Woolf even six months ago, but now they certainly are not. They're about the history of math and STEAM curriculum and debate tournaments and experiential learning as it pertains to physics. And occasionally they get to be about thesis statements and Virginia Woolf.

But it does mean that the time devoted to my blog has been greatly diminished. Not to worry, though, as I still have many plans for dishes this fall and winter.

When this book arrived in the mail, it was clearly a no-brainer for me. I have made no bones about how much I love appetizers. Given an option for morsels, I find that there is no contest. Especially if said morsels are accompanied by a variety of sauces. It's why tapas and dim sum are my close friends. Seriously. I love little bites to pop into one's mouth, and often on a Friday night instead of cooking a full meal, I will stop by a local market and buy a smorgasbord of nibbles and snacks.

Martha Stewart's new cookbook, Appetizers, comes with 200 recipes, including a section on cocktails (hurray!), and a bevy of tips on how to host your next party. From sticking to a budget to front loading the work, Martha (or her hive of writers) assures us that we can still relax, remain calm, and enjoy the company one has collected for a party.

Martha clearly has bigger plans for my Friday nights.

I welcome you Burrata with Hot Pickled Peppers, Roasted Polenta Squares with Fontina and Wild Mushrooms, and Scallop with Watermelon Ceviche. Get onto my plate! But I will say that this cookbook sometimes dips into the 1970s. I swear that Chex Mix (which she calls "Salty-Sweet Party Mix"), Cheese Balls, and Fried Macaroni-and-Cheese Bites all make appearances in this book. And the font just feels a little "throwback-y" to me, too. However, I am not above Pigs in Blankets (see page 126)--especially if they come with a layer of tangy mustard and a sprinkling of poppy seeds on top.

So, last week, I made this little classic number of stuffed mushrooms, and it could not have been an easier or simpler return to posting. And who doesn't love stuffed mushrooms, whether they be such as these in appetizer portions that one can pop into one's mouth or the larger, more substantial portabello variety that one can slice into with a knife and fork and call it a meal? Martha offered up three options for stuffings--Kale and Fontina, Goat Cheese with Red Bell-Pepper, and Sausage with Herbs--and I went with the easy classic of Goat Cheese, in part because of what was in my refrigerator. I admit no other divine intervention.

I then shared these as a quick appetizer with my in-laws who made a spectacular meatloaf (seriously, we had a 1970s-themed dinner that had been updated to the 2010s--perhaps I should have made that Chex Mix) and an evening of watching the first two episodes of Show Me a Hero. Okay, okay. The husband and his parents watched Show Me A Hero.  

I fell asleep on the couch. 

Let's be clear. Even though I have a new job, my sleeping habits haven't changed.


Goat Cheese and Red Bell Pepper Stuffed Mushrooms

Makes 24

2 slices old day-old bread 
Small bunch of chives, coarsely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, coarsely chopped 
2 ounces fresh goat cheese
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
24 large button mushrooms, stems removed and caps cleaned

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Pulse the bread in a food processor until finely chopped (this should make a little less than 1/2 a cup). Transfer to a bowl. Combine the chives, bell pepper, and goat cheese in the food processor, and pulse until finely chopped and well combined. Transfer the mixture to the bowl with breadcrumbs, and stir to combine. Stir in the parsley and 1/2 of grated Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

3.  Place mushroom caps on a baking sheet, lined with aluminum foil. Stuff the caps with the goat cheese mixture, dividing evenly and packing tightly.

4.  Bake until tender about 25-30 minutes. Turn oven to broil. Sprinkle mushrooms with remaining grated cheese, and broil until the cheese is golden, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.