Roasted Carrot Soup

November 4th, 2010

My friend and I just yanked the remainder of my vegetable crop out of the earth this past weekend. Leeks and kale and a few hearty potatoes were strewn across my wooden table outside – waiting to be cleaned by a pending rainstorm. But I was most excited about the carrots.

Some were tinged with purple, others a pale white and others still the traditional, bright orange. I had planted a “multi-colored” packet of carrot seeds earlier this year and promptly forgotten about them. And when I started pulling them out of the ground I was momentarily dismayed at their appearance. Many, too many, were tiny. We’re talking #2 yellow pencil small. Others were extremely misshapen – looking like two-legged orange pantaloons rather than your average, sleek and straight carrot.

But the taste? They are sublime. The purple are the sweetest, followed quickly by orange. The white ones? While interesting to look at – a bit on the bitter side. So I wanted to find a recipe that would blend my bounty together. And Roasted Carrot Soup was just the ticket.

I can thank Martha for the recipe below. She knows how to keep it uncomplicated. And I simplified the recipe further – excluding the ginger in hopes of coaxing out a pure carrot taste. I also substituted Greek yogurt for heavy cream. Not out of any attempt to be virtuous, mind you. I just failed to pick it up at the store. And really, I think the soup holds up quite well without it.

The nice thing about carrot soup is its versatility. You can toss in some fresh ginger or roasted cumin or even a bit of dill. Make it creamy. Or don’t. The world is your oyster. Or your bright orange bowl of goodness, if you will.

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Roasted Carrot Soup

Yield: ~ 8 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion
  • 1 generous bunch carrots (about 2 pounds or 6 cups), peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for seasoning
  • Pinch of freshly ground pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cups vegetable stock, plus more for thinning
  • Creme fraiche or Greek yogurt, for garnish (optional)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut onion into 8 wedges (keep root end intact to hold layers together). Toss onion, carrots, oil, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, and spread in a single layer. If possible use separate pans for carrots and onions as the onions tend to roast more quickly. Roast vegetables, turning occasionally, until edges are deep golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.

Cut off root end from onion. Transfer all vegetables to a large saucepan, and add bay leaf. Add enough stock to just cover (about 4 cups). Bring to a simmer, and cook until carrots are very soft, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly, and discard bay leaf.

Puree vegetables and stock in a blender until smooth (work in batches, if necessary, to avoid filling blender more than halfway).

Transfer puree to a clean pan; place over low heat. Add stock to thin soup to desired consistency. (I used about 2-3 cups of stock.) Season with salt and pepper. If desired, place a dollop of crème fraiche or Greek yogurt on top of each serving.

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Corn & Roasted Poblano Chowder

October 17th, 2010

I must come clean. I made this soup a few weeks ago and, in my haste, threw it directly into the freezer before writing about it. Not even one picture was snapped during its creation. I’ve had a number of “bigger issues” to focus on of late and I’m afraid I didn’t give this delectable soup its due. But it such a delicious dish – I felt the need to share. So – please forgive me for posting about this at the end of corn season. And for using a few stock images in place of the pictures I usually take myself. Hopefully your enjoyment of this chowder will more than make up for my behavior J

Fresh corn is easily at the top of my “favorite vegetables” list. Perhaps even my “favorite food” list. I ate it throughout the summer – fresh off the cob, roasted on the grill, stirred into casseroles. Sadly, I didn’t get around to making my favorite – fresh corn pudding. Next year… But I did manage to make a big batch of comforting soup.

The corn at the farmer’s market was ridiculously inexpensive so I bought about 12 ears and made a triple batch of Corn & Roasted Poblano Chowder. This is a lighter version than many I’ve tasted. Absent is the heavy cream and crispy bacon that grace many traditional chowders (both would be tasty additions should you want a more decadent bowlful). I wanted the corn to be the star – so I kept the fat content to a minimum and intensified the flavor – and the heat – by adding roasted poblano peppers.

Another trick – making my own stock. A friend recommended I reserve the cobs after removing all the kernels and throw them into a stock pot with some onions, carrots and whatever other vegetables I had on hand. I added the tops of the leeks I had laying around, covered everything with water and let it simmer for a few hours. After straining, I was left with a lightly sweet and savory vegetable broth that I froze for use throughout the winter.

The result of all this simmering and stewing is a healthy bowl of comfort food. Perfect for these crisp, cool days. Now I just need to find the perfect corn bread recipe to accompany it. Stay tuned!

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Corn & Roasted Poblano Chowder

Yield: 6 servings

  • 2 large poblano peppers
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 2  tablespoons  butter
  • 1  tablespoon  olive oil
  • 1 1/2  cups coarsely chopped leek (about 1 large)
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2  cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 2  cups milk
  • 3  tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3  cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2  cups  fresh corn kernels (about 4 ears)
  • 2  pounds  cubed peeled Yukon gold or red potato
  • 1  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • Small bunch fresh cilantro (optional)

Instructions

Turn on the broiler. Liberally spray peppers with olive oil spray and place on foil-lined pan. Place under broiler for approximately 10 minutes – turning every few minutes to ensure even roasting. Once they are blackened – remove and place in brown paper bag and let sit for 10-20 minutes. Once cooled – remove all the blackened skin, cut open and remove seeds and cut into a small dice. Set aside.

Heat butter and oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add leek, onion and bell pepper; cook 4 – 6 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring frequently.

Combine milk and flour in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Slowly add milk mixture to the pot, stirring constantly. Stir in broth, corn, potato, salt, and freshly ground black pepper; bring to a boil. Stir in roasted poblano peppers. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until potato is tender.

Serve with chopped cilantro.

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Soup’s On!

October 5th, 2010

I’ve been staring out my window at the last remnants of the kale for weeks – trying to figure out what to do with the lonely bunches of leaves scattered across my garden. I love kale – it’s earthy, chewy texture just tastes like nutrition incarnate. I didn’t always hold it in such regard. For years I thought of eating it as punishment. Bitter. Limp. Mushy. These are words that came to mind when thinking of this versatile green. Luckily I finally figured out how to prepare it and now it ranks as one of my favorite vegetables.

I spent weeks gazing at these leafy greens because there are just so many ways to prepare it. Kale chips – doused with olive oil, sprinkled with sea sat and roasted in a hot oven. Simply sautéed with garlic and fresh lemon. Stirred into mixed vegetable dishes. So many options. But I had what appeared to be a bushel of kale – both curly and lacinato (AKA dinosaur – which I prefer for it’s more delicate texture) growing in bunches in the garden. So I finally decided that soup was the ticket. Thick, rustic white bean soup featuring loads of the hearty, chewy leaves.

A quick review of recipes turned up a simple yet flavorful option. AND it features my favorite flavor enhancer – Parmesan cheese rinds! I’ve been cutting these ends off of my blocks of Parmigiano-Reggiano for months – storing them in the freezer. Just waiting for the perfect opportunity to make use of the salty, pungent slabs of rind.

This is the kind of soup that tastes best if made 1 or 2 days ahead. Just cool it and chill and then warm it back up when you’re ready to serve. It’s also an excellent candidate for freezing. It’s simply a bowl of health – filled with protein as well as anti-oxidant and vitamin-rich kale. Topped with a generous sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano… it makes me almost welcome the chilly days of fall.

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Kale & White Bean Soup

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy
  • 2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 (3- by 2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 4 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 lb kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped (lacitano is preferable – but use whatever kind you wish)

Instructions

Cover beans with water by 2 inches in a large pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour. Drain beans in a colander and rinse.

Cook onions in oil in an 8-quart pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beans, broth, 1 quart water, cheese rind, salt, pepper, bay leaf, rosemary and crushed red pepper and simmer, uncovered, until beans are just tender, about 50 minutes.

Stir carrots into soup and simmer 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf and stir in kale and remaining quart water and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper. Remove cheese rinds before freezing or serving.

Note: while I think it’s perfectly delicious as is – you can spice this up by adding some sausage or pancetta to kick it up a notch. Just cook it up and add before tossing in the carrots.

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Freshly Picked Tomato Sauce

September 6th, 2010

Despite the fact that our Seattle summer has been less than stellar – I have been fortunate to have a bounty of tomatoes. And not just the green ones like I had last summer. This year they turned every shade of brilliant orange and deep red and vivid yellow. The colors reminded me of a beautiful fall afternoon.

There are hundreds of tomato recipes out there. But I wanted to honor these little beauties. I didn’t want to mask their sweet flavor with heavy spices or any kind of accompaniment. So a simple tomato sauce was in order. I originally called this a “marinara” but learned that a traditional marinara sauce incorporates Italian spices. So this is simply “sauce.”

Having never prepared this – I immediately contacted my culinarily gifted friend Colleen. She seems to know how to cook just about everything. She advised me to forgo using a ton of garlic – which was definitely counterintuitive to me. I am a garlic fiend. And she also recommended adding a bit of butter to finish the sauce. Again – not something I would have considered. But as it turns out – both suggestions were genius. I resisted adding a lot of garlic so the sweetness of the tomatoes really shone through. And the butter at the end added the perfect touch – balancing the acidity of the tomatoes and giving the sauce a sumptuous, velvety texture.

I tossed this gorgeous sauce with a lovely pasta and topped it with fresh basil and shaved Parmesan Reggiano. It tasted like summer in a bowl.

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Freshly Picked Tomato Sauce

Yield: ~ 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 cups chopped, fresh tomatoes
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Instructions

Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and peeled, WHOLE cloves of garlic. Turn heat down to low and sauté until onions start to disintegrate – about 15 minutes. Remove garlic cloves.

Add tomatoes and salt (about 1-2 teaspoons) and continue to sauté over low heat for about 1 hour – stirring frequently.

Allow sauce to cool for about 10 minutes then process using a hand mill. If you don’t have one of these – try straining through a sieve. You’re trying to remove any skins from the tomatoes. This is especially important if you’re using cherry tomatoes as you’ll have more skins – which can be bitter and a bit tough. If you don’t strain or mill the sauce – consider adding a touch of sugar of balsamic vinegar to off-set the bitterness of the skins.

Put sauce back over medium heat and add the butter. While not mandatory, the butter will add some body to the sauce – making it velvety and evening out the acidity of the tomatoes.

Serve immediately. Or can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days. But … eat it immediately if at all possible!

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Indian Curry

September 1st, 2010

Ever since my inaugural chutney attempt, I’ve been looking for an appropriately delicious curry with which to pair it. And I think I found it. I’ve been making curries for years – relying solely on “curry powder” that comes in handy little jars from the grocery store. I’ve always known that a true curry, at least the Indian version*, is made from mixing a bunch of ingredients together to make up the famously vivid yellow sauce.  However I have been intimidated by the long list of exotic spices needed to make it authentic.

I’m happy to report that I finally overcame my insecurities. Thank goodness my friend Leslie reassured me that it’s really not that difficult. Yes, you need to purchase a number of spices – many that might not be all that familiar. And some funky looking ingredients like whole cloves and cardamom pods (pictured) are critical elements. But I urge you to head straight for Whole Foods – or any other grocery store that sells spices in bulk. Just grab a teaspoon of this and a tablespoon of that and voila! You’ll have all the spices needed to make this mouth-watering dish. And once you have all the ingredients – the preparation is a walk in the park.

The recipe below is for Indian Curry Sauce. I paired mine with roasted cauliflower, green beans and chickpeas. I also tossed in some fresh spinach before serving it over brown jasmine rice. And of course I topped it with my fresh peach chutney and a smattering of flaked coconut.  This sauce would pair very well with chicken or shrimp. And I’ve no doubt you can rustle up some pretty decent pre-made chutney – a mandatory accompaniment in my book.

Namaste!

Curry Sauce
Yield: enough sauce for ~ 8 servings (you can freeze half for later use)

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic – crushed
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
  • 4 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 2 tablespoons crushed coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 cardamom pods
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (to taste)

Instructions:

Heat oil in a large sauté pan and add diced onions. Sauté approximately 5 minutes on medium high and then add crushed garlic and grated ginger. Continue to cook over low heat for another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, measure out turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom powder, coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper and salt and mix together. Add spice mixture to sautéed onions and cook over low 10-15 minutes. (Note – be prepared to have your cooking implements stained a vivid yellow by the turmeric!)

Add cardamom pods and cloves along with coconut milk and yogurt and simmer for approximately 20 minutes. I used Greek yogurt which has a lower water content than regular yogurt – so I added about a half a cup of water to loosen up the curry sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings – adding a bit of sugar will enhance the flavor.

When you’re ready to serve, remove cardamom pods and cloves.

Note:  I did a bit of research into the word “curry” and Wikipedia explained that it is a “generic description used throughout European culture to describe a general variety of side dishes, best known in South Asian cuisines, especially Indian cuisine. It is analogous to “soup” or “stew” in that there is no particular ingredient that makes something “curry.” The word curry is an anglicised version of the Tamil word kari (கறி ), which is usually understood to mean “gravy” or “sauce” rather than “spices”.

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Fresh Peach Chutney

August 23rd, 2010

This past weekend was a canning extravaganza! My foodie friend Caitlin and I had been planning for weeks. Emails were volleyed back and forth with recipes and variations and shopping lists and yet more recipes. We could hardly contain ourselves. We were complete jar heads.

We finally agreed on a handful of recipes. Set aside for the time being were tempting concoctions including tomatillo salsa and pickled peppers and berry jams. We’ll save those for another day. This weekend we focused on bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, hot pickled beans, balsamic roasted fennel & onion jam and, my personal favorite, fresh peach chutney. At one point Caitlin’s husband even tossed a few errant carrots into some leftover pickling liquid and, voila, pickled carrots. Divine.

But back to the peach chutney. Peaches are bountiful everywhere I look these days. And friends down in California just finished their annual peach-canning weekend (they “adopt” a peach tree every year and always concoct the most amazing preserve recipes).  So I’ve been inspired to try some new peachy delights. Luckily my friend Leslie shared a mouth-watering recipe for mango chutney with me not too long ago. So – kismet. Why not try it with peaches?

I’m happy to say that the result is sublime. Tart from the vinegar and sweet from the peaches and aromatic from ginger and garlic and cardamom. This was my first foray into chutney preparation and I couldn’t be happier.  I served it last night with a local sharp white cheddar and fresh French bread and am looking forward to pairing it with a cauliflower and chickpea curry soon. The sweet/savory combination would obviously lend itself well to any kind of Indian-inspired chicken dish – or just plain old roast chicken I would think. And, dare I say it, perhaps this new favorite preserve might be a delectable topping for a bit of thick, creamy Greek yogurt. Endless possibilities…

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Fresh Peach Chutney

Yield: ~ 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs firm peaches (approximately 4 large)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vinegar (apple cider or white)
  • 3″ piece ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/8 teaspoon hot chili powder (i.e. Cayenne Pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins

Instructions

Blanch peaches by cutting a small “X” at the end and dunking in boiling water for about 1 minute. Remove and set aside to cool for at least 10-15 minutes. Remove skin and pits. Then cut into a small dice and set aside. Note – if you’re going to do this in advance, squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the peaches to prevent browning.

Place sugar and vinegar in a medium saucepan over medium low heat and simmer for 10 minutes

Remove the skin from the ginger (using a small spoon to scrap it off works well) and use a microplane to grate the ginger directly into the hot sugar & vinegar mixture. Press the garlic into the mixture as well and then add the rest of the spices and simmer another 10 minutes.

Add the peaches and raisins and cook, uncovered, for about 25 minutes.

Stir occasionally as the chutney thickens.  (The chutney may continue to thicken slightly when cool). If it doesn’t thicken adequately, you can add about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch by spooning a few tablespoons of the hot liquid from the saucepan into a small bowl and mixing in the cornstarch. Then add this mixture back into the saucepan and mix well.

When desired consistency is reached, remove from heat and ladle into jars. This will keep in the refrigerator for a week or so. Or you can preserve the jars in a hot water bath by processing for approximately 5-10 minutes.

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Balsamic Onion Marmalade

August 8th, 2010

Italian Red Torpedo Onions

Until I yanked them from the ground, my garden was lousy with onions. They sprung up suddenly over the past few weeks – heavy, green cylinders shooting up out of the earth. And they’re not just plain old, mild green onions. Nope – these are Italian Red Torpedo onions. Streaked with vivid hues of purple and resembling mini submarines in shape, they have a pungent bite a bit stronger than your average, spherical red onion.

My gardening pal Rachel procured what seemed like a bushel of them from a friend and planted them in my backyard. When she first put them in, I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic. They appeared a bit anemic. Tiny little, pale purple tubers dangling from delicate green threads. But her green thumb is much more pronounced than mine so off she went, trowel in hand, to bury the fragile plants in the earth. Thank god she had more faith in the little guys than I did – because these are some of the most delicious onions I’ve ever tasted. And they made me appreciate these vegetables that I have long taken for granted.

sliced onions

Once I noticed the plethora of onions gracing my garden, my mind went immediately to onion jam – or marmalade. Slathered on thick, rustic bread topped with a hearty cheese and a few stems of peppery arugula – this savory/sweet spread is a personal favorite. And I hoped to figure out a way to make my own – rather than shelling out the extortionary fees usually charged for this delicacy.

So I scanned the internet for recipes. And there are a ton. Too many to count. And all of them suggest different ingredients and methods. Red onions, yellow onions, sweet onions, and plain old white. Balsamic, white, cider or sherry vinegars. Cook them on top of the stove. Bake them in the oven. The recipes were all over the map. But when I landed on a recipe by my favorite Top Chef master Tom Colicchio – I knew I need look no further. Especially considering the title of the book from which this recipe hails – “’wichcraft: Craft a Sandwich into a Meal — And a Meal into a Sandwich.”

Now, I wanted to incorporate my fancy red onions into the recipe – so I sliced them thinly and, wanting to support our local farmers, combined them with sweet Walla Wallas. Tom used plain old yellow onions – which are likely delicious. And perhaps even easier as they don’t have the high water content of sweet onions – and would therefore need less cooking time. Also, I recognize that not everybody has Italian Red Torpedo onions lying about. So I’m pretty confident you can use any kind of onion you want. And no doubt many of the other recipes scattered on the internet are equally delectable. I merely liked the simplicity of this ‘wichcraft recipe – just onions, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper.

balsamic onion marmalade

And the result? Sublime. Velvety and succulent. As promised, a fine balance of sweet and savory. The perfect accompaniment to a fabulous cheese platter. For meat eaters – no doubt a tasty topping for roasted pork – or any roasted meat for that matter. I’m planning on loading some on top of some baked sweet potatoes in the not-too-distant future.  Or slathering some on toast to serve with the fresh eggs I received from my friendly neighbor the other day. The applications are virtually endless.

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Balsamic Onion Marmalade

Yield: approximately 6 cups

Ingredients:onion marmalade with goat cheese

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 large sweet onions (Walla Wallla or Vidalia), thinly sliced (about 12 cups)
  • 2 medium red onions, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup sugar (brown or white)
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar

Instructions:

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat until it easily slips across the bottom. Add the onions, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, until the onions are soft.

Add the sugar and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 – 30 minutes, until the onions appear dry. (Note: the original recipe called for only 10 minutes for this step. However, as noted, I replaced sweet onions for the “regular” onions in Tom’s recipe and the sweet ones have a higher water content. So I had to cook them much longer – closer to 30 minutes.)

Add the vinegar and reduce the heat to low. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for about 1 – 1 1/2 hours, until the onions are soft and dry. Note – if you’re using sweet onions, you might be left with a lot of liquid as they simmer. After the first hour, try turning up the heat to medium high and gently boil the onions for about 10 minutes. Then return to low and continue to cook until most of the liquid dissipates.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Store in well-sealed canning jars in the refrigerator. It will keep for a few weeks.

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Fruit Crisp – In a Jar!

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.

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Plant-Food Protein – Chickpeas & Quinoa

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.

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Fresh Zucchini & Corn

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).

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