Archive for June, 2010

Fruit Crisp – In a Jar!

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Summer has arrived in Seattle! Literally … and figuratively in the form of an abundance of fresh produce. I feel like it’s the dawn of an entirely new culinary season. The colors, the smells, the tastes – all so exuberant and refreshing. Can you tell I’m excited?

I’m especially thrilled about the fruit. Everything seems plump and sugary and, well, genuine. No depending on frozen berries or boring apples (nothing personal – they saw me through winter). No more rock-hard peaches that cost a gazillion dollars a pound.

It’s hard to imagine anything better than enjoying it in its natural state. Apricots pried fresh off the pit. Strawberries and blueberries so sweet they’re better than candy. So when I tried a brand new, ingenious preparation of fruit – I was instantly infatuated. Individual fruit crisps – made in cute little canning jars. Kept in the freezer only to be whisked out at a moment’s notice for an instant, homemade dessert. Brilliant!

I’m afraid I cannot take credit for the idea. My dear friend Sonya (a jarring genius) turned me onto a wonderful blog called Wendolonia where a lovely woman named Wendy concocts everything from craft projects to homemade bento boxes. A cunningly creative individual that Wendy. Her post titled “Crisp in a Jar” is what provoked my new found love of these little delights. And she kindly agreed to let me share her recipe.

Step-by-step instructions are featured below. But in a nutshell, you can choose any kind of fruit you like, toss it about with some sugar and flour, pack it into a petite canning jar and cover it with a topping of oats and sugar and cinnamon and a few other simple ingredients. Then screw on the top, place it in the freezer and store for the entire summer.  Subsequently, whenever you’re in the mood for a little treat – break it out, toss it into the oven and just over 30 minutes later – voila! Instant deliciousness.

One of my favorite things about these gems … you can use almost any kind of fruit. I concocted a number of tasty combinations including blueberry/nectarine with a dash of nutmeg, strawberry/rhubarb laced with cinnamon and apricot with a hit of candied ginger.

But the best part – they make the sweetest gifts. I froze a few last night and delivered them to a friend this morning. She was thrilled! Just think about having them on hand to bring to a sick friend. What could be better?

So … I am smitten. I can’t wait to have a dinner party and pop these individual crisps into the oven as the night unfolds and then … ta-da! A platter laden with a variety of jewel-toned desserts, molten inside and crisp on top – emitting the enticing scent of cinnamon and the inescapable allure of bubbling fruit. I think I need to head to the freezer right now – a fruit crisp is calling.

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Crisp in a Jar

The Equipment

Canning jars come in a number of shapes and sizes and are available at grocery stores and hardware stores in every neighborhood. Wide-mouth half pints are really your best bet – wide enough to fill easily and just the right size for an individual serving.

The Fruit Filling

Ingredients:

  • Fresh or frozen fruit — about 1 cup of fruit per jar
  • 1 tablespoon of white or brown sugar per cup of fruit
  • 1 tablespoon of flour per cup of fruit — a little more for frozen fruit or extra juicy fruit like berries
  • flavorings such as vanilla extract, nutmeg or cinnamon (optional)

If possible, I would recommend making at least 8-9 jars at a time – necessitating 8-9 cups of chopped fruit along with the appropriate amount of sugar, flour and flavorings outlined above. This way – you’ll be able to use half the crisp topping (recipe below) and freeze the other half. Otherwise, you get into using a half a stick of butter and what’s the point, really … when you can make a bunch and give them away or freeze them for handy, delicious desserts?

Fruit filling instructions:

  • If you’re using frozen fruit, give it a rinse to thaw it a bit and let it sit to drain for a few minutes. This will get rid of some of the excess juice.
  • If you’re using fresh fruit, peel as appropriate (i.e. apples, pears, etc.) and chop it into bite-sized pieces.
  • Mix in flour and sugar. For super juicy fruit – use a ratio of 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour for each cup of fruit, rather than 1 tablespoon to 1 cup.
  • If you want to use extra flavorings, mix it in at the end. (I used about 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon with the rhubarb/strawberry combo, a pinch of nutmeg with the blueberry/nectarine and a tablespoon of finely chopped candied ginger with the apricot).
  • Fill the jars up to the line just below the screw rings. This will give you plenty of space for the topping.

The Crisp Topping

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces

This will make a ton of topping – enough for 16-18 jars. If you’re only making a few jars of crisp, you can put the extra in a ziploc bag and freeze it for another batch or you can just make half as much.

Crisp Topping Instructions:

Mix all the dry ingredients together.

Cut the butter up into little cubes. I like to freeze mine before cutting up.

Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender. I ended up using my cuisinart after mixing everything together to get it to the right consistency – which looks like pebbled sand.

Take a hand full of the topping and press it evenly onto the top of the fruit. The original recipe estimated about 1/3 cup of topping per jar – but I used a bit less out of fear of packing it down too much. She obviously had excellent results with her recipe and it is no doubt perfect. I’m just a little timid because a fruit crisp explosion in the oven is that last thing I want. Once all the jars are done, put on the lid and pop it into the freezer. They should keep for three or more months.

Baking Instructions:

When you’re ready to bake one (or more) of the crisps, pull it out of the freezer, remove the lid, allow to thaw for about 10 minutes, stick it on a baking sheet and put it in the (cold) oven. Set the oven to 375 degrees and bake for 35-45 minutes. The filling will be bubbling and the topping turning brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving. And enjoy! It’s virtually impossible not to.

Plant-Food Protein – Chickpeas & Quinoa

Monday, June 21st, 2010

I am a vegetarian. It’s a personal choice – I still have plenty of friends who eat meat. But I haven’t eaten it in about two years. So I’m a relative novice. And I’m always looking for new ways to incorporate more protein into my diet. Personally, I am not a fan of a lot of the “fake meats” – the tofu and seitan and other meat substitutes. I prefer getting my protein from beans, nuts, yogurt, cheese, eggs – those kinds of things. I’m not disparaging the faux meats – they work quite well for lots of people. I simply don’t care for them.

As I mentioned, beans are a leading choice. And garbanzo beans, or chickpeas, are on top of my list. They have over 15 grams of protein per serving and are loaded with fiber. Also, they are extraordinarily versatile – you can use them whole in salads or mix them up into hummus. They even make up the base for falafel – a popular Middle Eastern staple made of ground chickpeas. Delicious! So I was intrigued when I recently read about roasted chickpeas. Said to be crispy outside with a soft, chewy interior – the sounded like the ideal protein-packed snack or healthy addition for summer salads. Just chickpeas, a little olive oil and some spices (see recipe below). And they turned out perfect on my first attempt!

Another favorite source of protein is quinoa. It’s a versatile grain that has a relatively high amount of protein. I can’t depend on it for the majority of my daily protein intake – I would have to eat a LOT of quinoa. But I try to choose it whenever I can. And, to shake things up a bit, I recently tried quinoa pasta. I’m happy to report that it tastes really good! I even prefer it to some of the denser whole wheat varieties. It’s fairly light and has a good bite to it. And it’s a great option for my gluten-free friends. An added benefit – it’s a vibrant yellow so adds a nice hit of color to any dish. I paired it with asparagus sautéed with lots of garlic and thin slices of lemon and topped the dish with a healthy dose of extra virgin olive oil. Simple … and delicious.

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Oven-Roasted Chickpeas

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (16 ounce) can chickpeas or garbanzo beans
  • 1 tablespoon crushed fresh garlic 
  • salt and pepper

Instructions:

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with tin foil and set aside.

Drain can of chickpeas/garbanzos. Rinse and drain very well again. Pat dry.

Toss drained chickpeas, garlic, oil and seasonings together in bowl.

Spread mixture onto lined cookie sheet so that the chickpeas are in a single layer.

Put into 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes shaking occasionally. Watch carefully so they don’t burn.

Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes.

Note: you can add any kind of spice you like to liven these up. Try cumin, fresh rosemary, crushed red pepper flakes, curry – virtually any spice you like will add another note of flavor. These are best served hot out of the oven. But they can be stored in an air-tight container and enjoyed for a few days after baking.

Fresh Zucchini & Corn

Monday, June 14th, 2010

I love versatile recipes. Ones that can be used throughout the year – that are appropriate for gray, rainy days as well as warmer, sunny ones. For the past weeks, until just a few days ago, it’s been grim here in Seattle. Endlessly wet. What seemed like a record-breaking number of back-to-back rain-filled days. A warm, soothing casserole seemed in order, so I whipped up some Zucchini, Corn & Black Bean Enchiladas. And I was all ready to write about them this weekend when, lo and behold, the sun returned. Spring has arrived – just in time for summer. No complaints here – but it feels improper to be writing about steaming casseroles today. So I am thrilled that the recipe I was intending on sharing is so adaptable.

Zucchini and corn are coming into their prime. Though Seattlites really need to wait until July for the locally grown variety, both are becoming more abundant, and affordable, at the grocery store. And I always equate my first taste of sweet, fresh corn with the true beginning of summer. It’s tough to beat right off the cob, but I love incorporating it into salads and other dishes. And this recipe is no exception. The sweet, crisp burst of the kernels serve as a perfect complement to the soft, savory mouthful of the zucchini and black beans.  This is a recipe in which I would have to insist that fresh corn is used – frozen just won’t cut it I’m afraid.

Back to the versatility aspect. As I mentioned, the main filling can be used in a delicious casserole or individual enchiladas. But on days like today, when it seems a shame to turn on the oven, scooping the mixture into slightly warmed corn tortillas is an excellent alternative. Top it with a dusting of queso fresco, a few sprigs of fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime and you’ve got an amazingly tasty, and healthy, summertime soft taco.

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Zucchini, Corn & Black Bean Filling

 Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 medium zucchini, diced into small cubes
  • 2 large ears of corn
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed
  • 1 small can diced green chilies
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 small bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime

Instructions

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add diced onion and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic and continue to cook for about 3 minutes – until soft. Add zucchini and sauté with onion and garlic for another 3-4 minutes. Add the cumin, chili powder, garlic salt and crushed red pepper. Continue to cook over low heat for approximately 5 minutes.

Add the black beans and diced green chilies and mix thoroughly.

Husk the corn and remove all the kernels by cutting down the sides of the cobs. Add the kernels to the zucchini and black bean mixture. Turn off heat and fold in the chopped cilantro and lime zest and juice. If there is a lot of liquid, continue to cook on low heat for about 5 minutes – allowing most of the liquid to evaporate.

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Enchilada Casserole

You can easily an enchilada casserole by using the Zucchini, Corn & Black Bean mixture above and following a few simple steps:

Ingredients

  • Zucchini, Corn & Black Bean mixture
  • 1 19-ounce can enchilada sauce
  • 10 medium corn tortillas
  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese

Instructions

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray the bottom of a 9×13 glass casserole pan with cooking spray. Spoon in about 1/3 cup of enchilada sauce and coat the bottom of the pan. Layer two whole tortillas and cut an additional tortilla and fit it in so the bottom of the pan is covered. Spoon 1/2 the Zucchini, Corn & Black Bean mixture over the tortillas. Drizzle another 1/2 cup of sauce over the top. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the cheese. Layer another two whole tortillas and cut an additional tortilla to fit in. Spoon over the remaining Mixture. Cover with remaining tortillas and pour remaining sauce over to cover well. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top.

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15-20 minutes, or until bubbling slightly.

Top with sour cream and fresh cilantro (if using).

Ugly But Good

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

I realize I just recently wrote about a gift I received – the healthy granola that a neighbor brought over as I was recuperating. But I feel the need to write about another gift I received during my convalescence. I don’t know if people realize the impact that homemade food can have on someone, but for me at least, freshly made soup or baked goods made a tremendous difference. Just knowing that someone cared enough to cook for me often left me speechless. So I want to do all I can to share these amazing recipes with you.

The soup and baked goods I mention were brought over by Mary and Jeanne – two friends I seldom see but whose vibrance mixed with their culinary skills make them a favorite pair of visitors. They opened the door bearing a large cloth box filled with Italian soup (that recipe will likely grace these pages at a later date), bread from a local bakery, freshly grated parmesan cheese, a few chilled DRY sodas, organic treats for the dog … and the strangest looking little cookies I had ever set eys on.

These baked goods were miniature and oddly shapen. I was at first a bit skeptical that they would be all that good. Being a true American, I am used to the obscenely oversized cookies oozing with chocolate and smelling of butter. These were altogether different. But considering the source, I overcame my initial concern and dug in. And…light, airy, chewy, just sweet enough – divine. A new favorite cookie – by a long shot.

Their Italian name is Brutti Ma Buoni – which translates to “Ugly but Good.” I’ll say. Despite their name – they are refined. And they are one of my favorites not only because they taste sublime. Comprised of mostly feathery almond “powder”, they are studded with chewy apricots and crisp walnuts. Additionally, they are healthy (no saturated fats, high in protein from all the nuts), easy to make and the perfect treat for my gluten-free friends (no flour!).

A number of different recipes resulted from a simple Google search. But I wanted to recreate the ones my friends brought over – I just can’t imagine any better. So the recipe below is copied exactly from a feint xerox copy my friend emailed. I don’t know its origin. The only change I made was to refrain from flourig the baking sheets. Parchment and a mist of cooking spray make these truly gluten-free and this approach worked just fine.

I hope you’ll try them. Don’t be dismayed by their appearance. Just one bite and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be an “Ugly” convert. Buon appetito!

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Brutti Ma Buoni (Ugly but Good)

Makes about 32 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups blanched almonds (8 ounces)
  • 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons minced moist dried apricots
  • Parchment paper
  • Vegetable oil cooking spray

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and mist lightly with cooking spray. Set aside.

Grind almonds in food processor until finely powdered and beginning to hold together – it will start to look a bit like small, dry couscous. Stop occasionally to scrape down the sides of the work bowl (about 3 minutes).

Blend in sugar, vanilla, almond extract and salt. With machine running, pour in egg white through feed tube and blend until mixture forms a ball. It will turn into the consistency of marzipan – I used a metal spoon to scrape it from the bottom of the mixing bowl – no mere rubber spatula would suffice.

Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl. Mix in the chopped walnuts and apricots.

Grab a bit (roughly a teaspoon) of dough and arrange on prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. It will be sticky and a bit messy - but persevere!

Place both sheets into oven. After 10 minutes exchange the top sheet and the bottom sheet. Bake another 3 to 7 minutes until just beginning to brown. Cool on racks. Store in airtight container