Latest dessert idea: fruit cobbler

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Blackberry Cobbler; Photo Source: pastrystudio.blogspot.com

I have been trying to eat more fruit and less dessert. It has been working for the most part. But every once in a while there are days when I feel like I absolutely need the added sugar. Lately, that dessert craving is being satisfied by cobblers. It has the fruit, it has the sugar, and it is baked so it feels special.

A cobbler is not that different from the crisps I have talked about.  Instead of the oat based mixture that is added over crisps, cobblers have a biscuit like topping. You could think of it as a variation of a pie.

After making these a few times, this is the version that appeals to me the most because it is the quickest and dirties the fewest dishes. I always make mine in a 8×8 inch square pan so here are the approximate measures for a batch.

What you need: 

Butter, Milk, Sugar, All-purpose flour, Baking powder, Fruit

 

Method:

  • Melt about 6 tbsp of butter and pour into baking dish.
  • Mix about a cup of flour, 1/2 -1 cups of sugar, and a teaspoon of baking powder. Mix thoroughly.
  • Add 1 cup of milk and mix. Do not stir. Mix less than you think you need to.
  • Pour biscuit mixture into pan with butter. Do not stir.
  • Add fruit on top. I would approximate about 2 cups of fruit. Do not mix.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Remove when the biscuit looks golden.

Notes:

  • I have made this with peaches and blueberries but I imagine it would with pretty much any stone fruit and many berries as well. Apple cobblers are common too.
  • If you are using a glass or ceramic dish you could use the microwave to melt the butter in the baking dish itself.
  • The texture of the biscuit completely depends on the mixing process. If you mix too much, you will end up with a chewy dough that is not as appealing.

Beverage Idea: Switchel

switchel-main

Ingredients for Switchel; Source: The American Table 

I had been drinking this beverage for about a year before I learned the name for it. Switchel is a vinegar based beverage that is thought to have originated in the West Indies. When I worked on the farm, I drank this a few times a day during the summer. It is a refreshing, non-alcoholic, beverage for work hours. Although alcohol is a perfectly acceptable daytime beverage when you are a farmer 🙂

The reason I decided to share this “recipe” was because I have been drinking a lot of it this summer and realized that not many people are aware of this beverage. It is the best thirst quencher I have come across and many would call it a health tonic as well.

This drink is not for everyone. I have been drinking apple cider vinegar for about five years so, for me, this is just a more appealing way to consume it. There is no consensus on whether apple cider vinegar is good for you so I am just going to leave it at that. What they do agree is that ginger is really good for you; especially for immunity. Here is what you need:

Ingredients: Apple Cider Vinegar, Ginger, Sweetener, Lemon Juice (optional)

It’s not that complicated to make switchel. You mix the three ingredients and dilute it with water. Add ice if you like or just use cold water. Seltzer water makes it even better. Personally, I like to add qual parts of vinegar and lemon juice. It might sound counter-intuitive to add more acid but it really does make the drink more enjoyable.

You can use fresh ginger root or powdered dry ginger. The traditional sweetener of choice was molasses but that is not for everyone. Honey is a popular alternative but the trendy “hipster” versions are made with maple syrup. Use whatever appeals to you. I have even heard of people using it as a mixer for alcoholic beverages but I have not tried that.

It sort of bothers me when I see people pay good money for something that can be made at home, so easily, for so much less. Half a  quart of this stuff sells for around $8. I did the calculations and it costs me less than 25 cents to make the same quantity, even if I used maple syrup. You can make a bigger batch of this and keep it in the fridge much like iced tea.

As I said this is not for everyone. It is an acquired taste that has really grown on me. If you are not in the habit of drinking apple cider vinegar and would like to try it, this is a nice introduction. If you are just an adventurous person and want to add a new drink to you list of summer beverages, this is an interesting choice. I would encourage you to try it even just to know what the hype is all about.

Savory Pies with Olive Oil Crusts

Tomato pie

Tomato Pie; Source: Food Network

I ate a lot of pies in university. Not the sweet, fruit sort. But a savory kind. My friends and I were CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members and would get huge boxes of vegetables each week. The only problem was that it was a lot of the same vegetable. Whether it was summer tomatoes, fall kale, or winter squash, we always had too much of something. As agriculture students we were used to dealing with excess produce. We just needed  to get creative with our ingredients.

One of the most interesting ways creations, that I learnt, were savory pies. You can think of them as similar to a quiche but without the eggs. You almost always cook the vegetable before using it as filling. I lived in France so cheese was a part of all pies. As with all of my favorite foods, the possibilities for fillings are endless. A few of my favorites include, roasted tomato and Emmental cheese, squash/ pumpkin with Béchamel sauce, and potatoes with Reblochon cheese.

Savory pies are meant to be a quick and easy dinner. A slice of pie, a salad, and a glass of wine was a lazy but nice meal. For a while, I was very hesitant to make this on a regular basis because making pie crust is a pain. That’s when a friend shared a trick. Make a press-onto-pan pie crust. It’s similar to a cookie or graham cracker crust used in some sweet pies.

Method:

Mix flour (I think whole wheat actually tastes better in this case) with a decent bit of virgin olive oil and a few tablespoons of water. You don’t need a dough; just a crumbly mixture. Using too much water will lead to a chewy crust.

Dump the crumbly mixture into the pie pan. Use your fingers to press the mixture around the bottom and edges of the pan.

You do not need to pre-bake the crust. Just add your fillings and bake. The liquid from the filling will help the crust to come together a little better during the baking process.

 

Breakfast Idea: Baked Oatmeal

I wish I liked oats more than I actually do. Oatmeal porridge is definitely a no go for me. I am very particular about my granola so I no longer bother to find/ make the perfect one. Every time I try muslei, I hope to like it unfortunately I never do. There is always the crisp idea that I posted but I am always looking for variety.

The one oat-based breakfast that I do know I enjoy is baked oatmeal. The first time I ate, a very plain version of this, I realised that it was something I could probably actually enjoy if I modified it.

What is baked oatmeal? It as a baked dish that cooks oats in a custard mixture. Other than the oats, it contains milk and eggs. Any other additions are optional. This means that the possibilities are endless. My favorite addition, as always, is fruit. I have tried it with stone fruits, apples, and bananas. I am sure it would work just as well with berries or pretty much any other fruit you could think of.

Method

Make a custard mixture with milk and eggs. Add vanilla if you desire.

Make a dry ingredient mixture of rolled oats, salt, and a bit of baking powder. Add any spices like cinnamon or nutmeg if you would like.

There should be an equal volume of dry mixture as liquid mixture. In my experience, 2 cups of oats mixed with 1.5 cups of milk and 1 egg makes about 4 servings.

Mix wet and dry ingredients. Add sugar if you so desire.

Use a baking pan or a pie pan. Add fruit to the pan and then cover with oatmeal mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.

Allow it to cool for 10 minutes and you will be able to cut the oatmeal into slices. It is enjoyable eaten warm. I eat it with yogurt and sometimes maple syrup.

Baked oatmeal is a very filling breakfast and can be made ahead for a few days at a time. I am going to try and come up with some savory versions of baked oatmeal and will share any good finds.

Do you have any ways in which you enjoy eating oats? 

 

The Incredibly Versatile Eggplant

Aubergines_Three_Types

Types of Eggplant; Source: Wikimedia

 

I eggplant aka aubergine is my favorite vegetable. It is extremely versatile and has been incorporated into cuisines from around the world. Summer is eggplant season and the best time to think about the many ways in which one could use this vegetable. I eat eggplant at least once a week during this season and I still don’t get sick of it because there seem to be an unlimited number of ways to consume it. Here I will mention a few ways in which I like to eat it and briefly describe my version of eggplant parmesan.

Choosing and preparing eggplant

HK_SYP_Best_of_Best_Vegetable_purple_Eggplant_Aug-2012

Japanese Eggplant; Source: Wikimedia

Eggplant comes in hundreds of shapes and sizes. The 3 types I see most often, are the small egg shaped Indian kind, the long skinny Japanese kind, and the more common, large, American grocery store kind.

Pick eggplants that look shiny and taut. As eggplants gets older, the skin tends to look dull. When you cut it open, pay attention to the seeds. A lot of seeds are also an indicator of an older vegetable. An older vegetable is much more likely to be bitter. If have an older eggplant, cut, salt and drain the vegetable for 10-15 minutes before you use it. This should help reduce some of the bitterness. 

What to do with eggplant

These are just some suggestions for my favorite ways to eat eggplant.

In Italian style cooking- in pasta, in a veggie lasagna, or an eggplant parmesan.

In ratatouille.

In a Middle Eastern eggplant dip – Baba Ganouj

Since eggplants originated in Asia, there seem to be a million ways to cook them Asian-style. In India, we stuff them, fry them, or make a spicy roasted side. You could stir fry them Chinese style with a sauce. You can make the Korean side dish, Gaji-namul. It goes well in Thai style curries. You could even pan fry it Japanese style.

 

No- Fry Eggplant Parmesan

When cooking for a group, eggplant parmesan is one of my go-to recipes. You make some noodles to go with it and you have an easy dinner. A 13 by 9 inch pan of eggplant parmesan makes about 10 servings. As always, I do not have exact measurements, just a general idea of what I do. This dish does require some advance preparation but not much hands-on time. 

Method

Slice the eggplant into circles and salt well. Leave in a colander for about half hour. The eggplant should lose some water as it sits. Rub off some of the excess salt from the eggplant and coat in a mixture of flour, salt and pepper. Dip pieces in beaten egg and then coat with breadcrumbs. Place on oiled baking sheet and cook at 350 degrees for about half an hour or until it is cooked. Once eggplant is roasted, layer your baking dish with red sauce (recipe here), eggplant, mozzarella, and repeat until complete. Add some parmesan to the last layer of cheese and bake for another 15 minutes. Let cool for a bit before cutting into it. 

Food Ideas: Single Vegetable Soups

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By stu_spivack (chilled asparagus soup) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Single-Vegetable Soups are what I call my soup creations that use just one vegetable and seasonings. They tend to be pureed soups with very clean flavors that put the focus on the vegetable. For the same reasons, some might consider them boring.

I love soups. Some evenings, that’s all I feel like eating. Most of the times I don’t have all the ingredients for making a mixed soup. I had to come up with recipes with the ingredients on hand. I could throw a bunch of vegetables together and create something but those tend to be unpredictable. I decided that the best strategy was to stick to a single vegetable and try to make a soup out of it.

I wanted to share some of my tips and suggestions for creating some simple soups.  My goal is to always let the flavor of the vegetable be the most prominent. I enjoy beets so I also enjoy a beet soup but for those who don’t, a soup like this might be the too beet-y to enjoy. Therefore I recommend sticking to vegetables that you otherwise enjoy eating.

Broth– I do not use any broth/ bullion in my single vegetable soups. They tend to add their own flavors that I find takes away from the star ingredient. Using water is one option but a tip I learned from a friend was to concentrate the vegetable flavor using the same vegetable. This step take some additional time and is optional but it does give the soup a more richer flavor. I have learned to use any unused parts of the same vegetable and create a quick broth instead of using water. For example, using the tough ends of asparagus or the tops of leeks. Use anything that you might otherwise throw away. I boil this in water for about 20 minutes along with salt and garlic and/or onion. Strain and use the liquid for the next step.

Alliums (Onions, garlic, leeks, chives, etc…)– I love onions and garlic and use them in pretty much anything I make but my single vegetable soups are a dish where I have to be careful about being over-enthusiastic with them. These are strong, powerful flavors and can easily overwhelm the dish. My policy is always to use only one or the other. With a mild flavored vegetable like asparagus, I stick to onions/ green onions. If you have a stronger tasting vegetable or a very bland one (eg. potatoes), garlic is the way to go.

Dairy– Dairy should always be the last step and there should be very little heat added once you add dairy. Remember that cream or milk are not your only options. Consider mixing in yogurt, sour cream, or ricotta. If you don’t want a creamy soup but want that smooth flavor, a knob of butter works great. You can also experiment with some cheese.

Spices– People often like to add a few spices to make the soups a little more flavorful. A curried soup is an example. I do not care for very many spices in my soup. I do like parsley and find it to be a very versatile herb that goes with many vegetables. I am also a nutmeg lover and try to add it to as many foods as I can. I have found that it works surprisingly well with some of the heavier soups. I recommend that you remove a small part of the soup and experiment with you spices before adding it to the whole pot.

Acid– There is something to be said for “brightening up” the flavor of soups. If the vegetables are usually cooked for long tend to lose that “freshness.” Lemon is always a friend. If the vegetable is naturally slightly sweet or if the soup is going to be creamy, consider adding a few drops of lemon juice. A few drops of vinegar is another alternative. I find milder ones like rice wine vinegar to be the best suited.

Texture– Even if you are going to puree the soup, do consider adding a little texture. In the case of asparagus, it might be a few tips that you set aside. Other additions I like to make include crispy potato skins or roasted seeds when making a squash soup.

I think one of the main reasons I like soups is because I get to enjoy whatever produce is in season. I am looking for as many ways to consume the vegetables as they become available. Right now, I am working on tomatoes. I am constantly experimenting with various combinations of ingredients. Some turn out better than others but keeping it simple has ensured that none of them have been complete disasters.

My most recent favorite creation was an asparagus soup. Here is a quick description of what I did.

  • Use the tough ends to make a broth along with a little onion.
  • Set aside a few tips of asparagus spears.
  • Cook the rest of the asparagus in the “broth” along with some onions. Season it and puree it.
  • Added the reserved tips and heat for a few minutes. Add a few drops of lemon juice.
  • Folded in some yogurt and a little bit of parmesan.
  • Topped with chopped parsley.

Are there any single vegetable soups that you particularly love?

 

My Top 10 uses for “Red Sauce”

I talked about the versatile “red sauce” in my previous post and I wanted to share with you the many ways in which I have used this sauce. I like to find new uses for products that I make in bulk so please share any other ideas you might have for me.

1. Pasta Sauce pasta sauce

Probably the most obvious use of the red sauce is to modify it to make a pasta sauce. The basic additions, for me, would be more garlic, red pepper flakes, herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, parsley), and olive oil. These modifications give me a multipurpose pasta sauce to which I can add meat, vegetables, and/or cream depending on the dish I want to make.

Lasagna is pretty much the only pasta dish I make on a semi-regular basis and this is my go-to homemade sauce.

2. Pizza Sauce pizza

It is very similar to the pasta sauce. In fact, you could substitute one for the other. I like to thicken the sauce by cooking it down. The thicker sauce is less likely to make the crust soggy. Other than the pasta sauce additions, I also add a little bit of parmesan cheese.

 

3. Eggplant Parmesan 4278933964_471403b8ab_o

Another sauce that I think need not be very different from a pasta sauce. I do like chunks of tomato in my eggplant parmesan so I like to add some fresh/ canned diced tomatoes in addition to the herbs and parmesan cheese. I do not bother with any additional oil because there is plenty in the dish.

 

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/27129991@N03/4278933964/

4. Ratatouille Ratatouille02

I eat a lot of ratatouille in the summer because eggplant, zucchini, and bell peppers are all in season. My lazy version involves adding the sauce to the sautéed vegetables + onions and cooking for at least 15 minutes. The only herb I add is basil. It is always better the next day thought.

By Tomáš Zeleninský – Ratatouille, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2967226

5. Soup

Tomato_soup,_Turkish_styleA Hungarian goulash- style soup is one of my favorite uses of this red sauce. It is definitely nothing like the time-consuming-but-worth-it traditional version but it is satisfying.

It can also makes a great tomato soup to satisfy a last minute craving. In fact my simplest tomato soup combines this sauce with some butter and onions and broth/water.

By E4024 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43108039

6. Chili 1024px-Bowl_of_chili

Chili is one of my favorite one pot meals. I eat it all year round. Using the red sauce as the tomato component of the chili allows the flavors to come together quicker. I would still add some fresh or canned tomatoes for the chunks.

By Carstor (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

7. Stew

Any meat-based stew, that calls for tomatoes, could use some of this sauce. It also makes a good addition to any bean based dishes. As with all stews, I like to add some tomato paste as well.

8. Cajun Cuisine gumbo1

This red sauce works well in many Cajun tomato based dishes. Combined wit the Cajun seasonings (oregano, paprika, cayenne, and black pepper). My favorite use of it is in seafood gumbo where the combined with onions, celery, and bell pepper give a flavorful base for the seafood.

9. Sauce for baked/ grilled chicken 

It can be used as a sauce for a quick chicken meal. The red sauce can be combined with some sautéed onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms. This mixture served over some pan fried or grilled chicken makes a quick meal.

10. Indian curry 

1024px-Chicken_makhani

By stu_spivack (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I left this one for the end because this is the cuisine I am most well-versed in and therefore find it very difficult to write tips for. Sometimes you see recipes for Indian restaurant style dishes (eg. chicken tikka masala, paneer mattar, etc.) that ask you to puree onions and tomatoes before cooking. This sauce takes care of part of the process. The spices are added to the onion tomato mixture along with your main ingredient to make a thick, smooth sauce for your curry.

Do you have any other suggestions for what to do with the red sauce? Do let me know.

 

The Multi-Purpose “Red Sauce”

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

By Javier Lastras from España/Spain – Tomate Natural Triturado, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9822625

It’s summer which means an abundance of tomatoes. In the past, I have been overwhelmed by tomatoes from my garden or my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscriptions. Living where I do now, I do not have access to such bounty but summer reminds me of the times I have had to figure out to use the tomato overload Today I wanted to share one of my favorite ways to process and store the fruit, red sauce aka tomato sauce.

What makes tomatoes so special?

Tomatoes cook well. Whether you start off with unripe tomatoes or with mushy ones, once you cook it, they fall apart to create this quick sauce. Tomato sauces also thicken really well. If you give a tomato based sauce, some time and heat, it will thicken without the help of cornstarch or other thickeners. Tomatoes are an excellent source of, umami, the savory taste. This is why adding some concentrated tomato, in the form of tomato paste, will improve any stew. Tomatoes are found in so many different styles of cooking. Although it originated in the Americas, this wonderful fruit, now, has a place in cuisines all around the world.

I prefer to use the term red sauce because the term tomato sauce can mean different things in different places. In America, it usually refers to any variation of pasta sauce but growing up, it meant ketchup. It is also that product you find in the canned tomato section at the grocery store. Another reason I call it red sauce is because I use it as a base for more than just pasta. Pasta is just one of the many ways I like to use the concoction. I use it in chili, Indian curries, as well as soups.

Goal:

  • Make use of the abundant summer tomatoes and find a way to make them last into the colder months. This means it has to store well.
  • Spend less money on store-bought canned goods.
  • The process should not be too time consuming. In the case of tomatoes that would be no peeling or seeding. Using thin-skinned tomatoes helps greatly.
  • In order to make it truly multi-purpose, it has to have versatile flavors that can be adapted for use in any cuisine.

After much experimentation in terms of flavor, processing time, and storage, this is a brief description of what I usually do to create a tomato base I like.

Process:

This sauce is all about the process. Add the ingredients in the right order and at the right time and it should be all good. Melt some butter and add a little bit of grated onion and salt. Cook stirring occasionally until the onions are a very lightly brown. Add pressed/ grated garlic and stir until you have the wonderful fragrance. Add tomatoes (diced) and some sugar and bring it to a simmer and then cook uncovered until the sauce is a little thicker. It should take around 30 minutes of cooking time.

Notes:

I use butter because I find it to be the most versatile of the fat options. One could use olive oil if you only intended to use it in certain dishes. I personally do not appreciate the flavor of olive oil in my Indian food. I also use grated onions because something about grating it gives it the sauce the perfect distribution of flavor. I also do not link chunks of onions in all of the dishes I make using this sauce.

This is the simplest version of the sauce and the one I freeze. It can also be canned. I have done that in the past but I am not confident I have the directions to safely can something as tricky as tomatoes.

Now that we have a basic sauce, we will be able to modify it as needed for different foods. In Friday’s post, I will share my Top 10 uses for this sauce and how I adapt the sauce for each of these dishes. I find that giving tomatoes plenty of time to cook is key to many recipes and having a big part of that done really saves on cooking time.

Fruit Crisps: Dessert for Breakfast

Apple_crisp_variant_—_blueberry-raspberry_crisp

By GrammarFascist (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I rarely use recipes or measurements when cooking. My philosophy is to keep remaking the same foods until I have a good idea of what things should look, feel, smell, or even sound like.

One of the purposes of my food posts are to, keep track of, and share with you my thinking behind creating or modifying recipes to suit specific needs.

Goals:

  • Use the abundant summer fruit in a breakfast food.
  • Use little sugar but also make it filling enough for breakfast.
  • Make something that is versatile and easily adaptable to the availability of ingredients.
  • It has to make multiple servings to last a few days.

Idea: 

Deconstruct my breakfast smoothie and modify it to last a few meals.

Result:

A modified fruit crisp that can serve as both breakfast and dessert.

Method: 

Combine whatever fruits you have available. Toss the fruit along with a couple spoons of sugar, a spoon of lemon juice and some spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or cardamom), in the baking pan. Mix oats, flour, and brown sugar in an approximate ration of 4:2:1. Cover fruit with toping mixture. Evenly distribute a few spoons of melted butter over the dry topping. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. 

Notes:

  • Frozen fruits work just as well. Try to combine tart fruits like strawberries with sweeter fruits like peaches or apricots. Bananas do not work.
  • Dried fruits and nuts make a good addition to the filling.
  • Goes well with plain yogurt for breakfast. Tastes good by itself or with ice-cream for dessert.
  • One loaf pan makes something between 4 and 5 servings.