Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Crisp-Stuffed Baked Apples


Last year I wrote about my childhood making custard for my mom. The ancillary to this was making baked apples for my dad--really, the whole family, but my dad was the driver; he loved them. In fact, years later when I had "graduated" to making apple pies he always said as he got older that he wasn't a crust guy. He just loved the apples. So I started making him apple crisps--and always kept a bag of crisp mixture in my freezer so I could make them for him at a moment's notice.

I wish it had occurred to me while he was still with us to make him a baked apple stuffed with the crisp mixture. He would have loved it! But it didn't, until now.

I got a craving for baked apples in December when the weather was so bizarrely stormy. When I made them for my family back in the day, my memory is we used either granulated sugar or brown sugar and cinnamon, along with butter, with water in the baking dish. Very straightforward. I think we also sliced off the top before hollowing out the apple--and added the top to bake, too. My dad's cousin Debbie told me her mom used to use diet soda as the liquid. Chef Matt Gordon of Urban Solace and Solace and the Moonlight Lounge said he used Dr. Brown's Black Cherry Soda.

But as I got to thinking about how to flavor them, I realized that all the ingredients I wanted--brown sugar, cinnamon, toasted nuts, and butter--were in my latest batch of crumble in my freezer, accompanied, of course, by oats. So why not just use the crumble?

And I did.

The bigger question, of course, was what kind of apple to use. Back in the day, my mom, who initiated me into making baked apples, used Pippins. But, here's the problem. Pippins, a wonderful tart/sweet green apple variety, are no longer around. There are fads in apple varieties, too, it seems. When I posted my baked apples on Facebook, I heard from friends that they have also seen their favorite baked apple varieties leave the markets: Braeburns, Roman Beauties, Gravensteins. (Although, I think I have seen Braeburns around.)


I did some research and found Fujis highly recommended. That's what I used but while they certainly kept their shape, I don't think they softened enough. My bet next time will be on McIntosh. The risk is, though, that if you aren't observant enough, the McIntosh apples will collapse. So, my search will likely go on. (Tip: my mom used to serve collapsed apples in custard cups to hold them together)

But don't let that deter you. Your favorite apples, baked with spices, sugar, and a little crunch, are the perfect winter dessert. Add a drizzle of cream and you'll be swooning.

Crisp-Stuffed Baked Apples
Yield: 2 servings
(printable recipe)

Ingredients
2 apples
4 tablespoons crisp mixture below
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other liqueur or apple juice/cider (optional)
Water to fill up 1-inch of the baking dish

Caron's Crisp Mix
Yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings, depending on how much you use per serving

Mix together:

2 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1 ½ cups lightly packed brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon fennel pollen
1 cup unsalted butter, melted

Store in the freezer until you’re ready to bake.

Directions
Pre-heat oven to 350°.


Peel about an inch around the top of the apple.

Rotate a paring knife into the core of the apple to begin hollowing out the middle. Don't go all the way down, just about three quarters to leave the bottom intact. Take out what you can and use a melon baller to dig deeper and remove the seeds and tough core.


Fill the hollow with 2 tablespoons of crisp mixture in each apple. Place in a baking dish with high sides that just fit the apples. Top the apples with butter. Mix water with liqueur or cider and pour  around the apples.


Cover with foil, place in oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. If the apples have still not softened to your desired texture, continue baking for another 10 minutes or so.

Try to serve immediately--but, you can also refrigerate them and warm them up later in the microwave.



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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Moro Beans with Lacinato Kale and Shiitake Mushrooms



With this chill in the air it feels like bean time. The last time I wrote about beans was to rave about Alubia Blancas, which are still my favorite. But I recently tried Moro beans, which are a project of Rancho Gordo with XOXOC. Moros are black beans indigenous to Mexico and grown by small farmers.


Uncooked, the beans are like little gems. You would hardly be surprised to see them along a sea shore like little pebbles you'd want to collect. They appear to be a cross between pintos and black beans and when cooked, release a delicious broth. The website notes that they should be cooked as simply as possible, which is fine. I, of course, played around with them a bit and came up with a very basic first batch, which was delicious, then turned them from there into an even more flavorful, nutritious soup. It was perfect for our recent chilly, rainy weather.

First things first--actually cooking the beans. You can do this in all sorts of ways: in your basic pot on the stove, in a slow cooker, or in a pressure cooker. You can soak them. Or not. You can add all sorts of flavorings to the cooking water. Or not. It all depends on what you want the results to be and how you want to use them.


Here's what I did: First, I picked the beans over to remove any non-bean debris (little stones can inadvertently get into batches of packaged beans so always do this). Then I rinsed them and soaked them in a bowl of water covering them by about two inches. I did this in the morning and let them soak for about six hours. I did not toss the soaking liquid because that's where the flavor and some of the nutrition of the beans can leach out.


For the flavorings I diced and gently sautéed a couple of slices of bacon, not to crisp them but to render the fat, and then added diced onions and smashed garlic cloves. Once they turned opaque I added a couple of bay leaves along with the beans and soaking water. I brought the bean mixture to a boil, then lowered the heat after 10 minutes and partially covered the post with its lid (oooh, new brilliant red Staub 4 quart Dutch oven!). I simmered the beans for a little over two hours until they were al dente, adding more boiling water (to maintain the temperature in the pot) as needed. Then I added salt and enjoyed them as a side dish.


After a couple of days I revisited my leftover beans and decided they'd make a nice soup. I'm growing lacinato kale in my garden--a wonderful variety that I think is much more tender than standard kale). I lopped off half a dozen leaves, clipped a couple of Serrano chilies from their plant, and opened a bag of shiitake mushrooms, pulling out half a dozen or so to hydrate for several hours until nice and chewy.


As you'd expect, I kept the mushroom's soaking liquid and sliced the mushrooms. I roughly chopped the kale, and minced the chilies, along with a few cloves of garlic. The garlic started the sauté process. Then I added the chilies, then the mushrooms. The trick to getting the most beautiful and flavorful mushrooms is to place them in a single layer in your pan and just let them brown. Then flip and repeat. At that point I added the kale and sautéed them briefly--just until they began to wilt.

At this point I was ready to put the soup together. The beans went into my go-to little white Le Creuset pot with the remaining bean liquid and the sautéed vegetables. Then I added the mushroom liquid, stirred it all together, and brought it to the boil. Now it was ready to simmer gentle for about an hour. During that hour, when it started to look a little less soupy, I added a little more water to get it to the consistency I wanted. If you don't want it to be soup, let the liquid cook down. After an hour I salted it and dug in. I ate about half and when I had the leftovers the next day, it was even better.


Moro Beans with Lacinato Kale and Shiitake Mushrooms
Serves 4
(printable recipe)

Ingredients
1 cup Moro beans
Water
2 slices bacon, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 bay leaves
Sea salt to taste

6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms
Water
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 red Serrano chilies, minced
6 large leaves lacinato kale, chopped
Sea salt to taste

Directions
Pick through beans and remove any debris. Rinse well, then place in a bowl and cover with water. Soak for several hours.

Sauté the bacon just enough to render the fat, then add the onions and garlic. The goal is for them to soften and become opaque, not brown.

Add bay leaves, the beans and the soaking water. Add more water if necessary so that it is about two inches higher than the beans. Bring to the boil and continue boiling for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to as low a simmer as possible and partially cover the pot to allow for evaporation. Cook until the beans are al dente. If necessary add more boiling water (to keep the temperature up). Remove and discard the bay leaves.

At this point they are ready to enjoy. However you can add additional ingredients to create more flavor and even turn the mixture into a hearty soup.

Soak the shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of water until they are soft. Remove the mushrooms and set aside the liquid. Slice the mushrooms.

Heat olive oil in a skillet and add minced garlic. Sauté until fragrant then add the chilies and sauté another minute. Add the sliced mushrooms, spread them into a single layer and let them slightly brown. Turn them and repeat. Add the kale and sauté until slightly wilted.

Place the prepared beans and any bean liquid in a pot with the sautéed vegetables. Add the mushroom liquid. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cover. Simmer for an hour, adding a little water if necessary. Add sea salt to taste and serve. It’s even better the next day.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Roasted Red Kuri Squash Soup




You can keep your butternut and spaghetti squashes. Your acorns and calabasas. When I see a red kuri squash, I kind of melt a little. Actually, I do love the others, too, but there's something about the magnificent red orange coloring and slight teardrop shape that makes me feel I'm not just going to eat something special, but that until I do, I've got a beautiful piece of nature's art to admire in my kitchen.


Perhaps more importantly, though, is the flavor of this Japanese squash. If you love chestnuts, you'll fall for the red kuri squash's rich chestnutty flavor. You can bake with this squash, but you more than likely will enjoy it in a stew, casserole, or soup.

And soup is just what I made with the one I recently bought. A thick, rich soup with chicken stock and coconut milk, ginger and dried peppers, roasted carrots and both roasted and sautéed garlic.

Because winter squash soups can be a little one note--the squash can dominate even the freshest spices--my goal with this soup was to create the now clichéd but truly relevant "layers of flavor." So I roasted the squash with carrots and garlic. I added fresh ginger and fresh garlic--and shallots. I broke up dried serranos from my garden. In went garam masala and its fragrant spices. But I also added tomato paste. And lots of fresh lime juice from limes in my garden.

All these ingredients together were able to hold up and match the squash and together they created soup magic.


Roasting the squash, carrots, and garlic took about an hour and once it had cooled enough to handle and I removed the meat of the squash from its skin and sliced the carrots I had decided I had done enough cooking for the day. So I wrapped the squash meat and carrots in the  parchment paper it roasted on and bagged it, making it easy to remove the following day. I also wrapped up the garlic paste I had squeezed from the roasted head.


So, the next day making the soup was a breeze. In a four-quart Dutch oven I heated up a combination of vegetable oil and butter to sauté the fresh garlic, shallots, and ginger. Once they softened, I added the tomato paste, roasted garlic, and garam masala, and crumbled in the dried serranos and continued sautéing. Then, in went the squash meat and carrots. After about five minutes I souped it up, pouring in both the chicken broth and coconut milk. Once it was all stirred together well and come to just a simmer, I lowered the heat, covered the pot and let it cook for half an hour. At that point, I used my immersion blender to puree it into a smooth, creamy texture. Finally, I added salt and the lime juice.

I loved the kick the lime juice and serranos gave the soup. All that mellow chestnut flavor needed a little something to give the soup a little spark. And it was all built up by the many spices and aromatics that were its foundation.


You can serve the soup with toppings--perhaps those cool coconut chips or fried onions (or both) that Trader Joe's sells. Then you get a little crunch with your creamy soup. Or, you can do what I've been doing. Add a few dollops of chili oil with crunchy garlic. I found this made by S&B on Amazon by chance and it really appealed to me, being a garlic lover. It has a slight kick to it but it's not especially spicy hot. What it has is great flavor and texture. The perfect condiment for all sorts of dishes--roasted vegetables, dumplings, noodles--and this soup.


Roasted Red Kuri Squash Soup
Serves 6
(printable recipe)

Ingredients
3 to 4 pounds red Kuri squash
4 or 5 medium-size carrots, peeled and trimmed
1 large head of garlic
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 large shallots, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger, from a 3-inch long piece
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons garam masala (or curry powder)
2 dried red serrano chilis
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt or to taste
Juice of 2 limes (about 4 tablespoons)

Directions
Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Cut the squash into quarters, remove the seeds and fibrous material, and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Add the carrots. Slice the top off of the garlic head, drizzle with a teaspoon of vegetable oil and wrap in foil. Place that on the sheet pan as well. Roast for 1 hour.

Let the squash cool for 15 minutes until it can be easily handled. Then peel the skin away from the squash flesh.

In a 4-quart Dutch oven, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. When the oil is hot and the butter melted, add the garlic, shallots, and ginger. Sauté for about a minute. Add the tomato paste, roasted garlic, and the garam masala and crumble in the dried serranos. Sauté for another minute, then add the squash and carrots. Turn the heat back up to medium to cook the squash and carrots with the aromatics for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the coconut milk and chicken broth, stir well to mix, and bring to a light simmer. Lower the heat and cover the pot. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Turn off the heat and puree the soup with an immersion blender. Alternately you can puree it in a blender in batches, holding the top down with a towel. Add the salt a little at a time, tasting until it reaches the right balance with the soup, and stir in the lime juice. Serve immediately.



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