Archive for the 'Fall' Category

Apple Crumble

Over a decade ago, my English mother-in-law shared her basic and delicious apple crumble recipe with me. It is one of my favorite desserts of all times and I have made it countless times over the years. Mostly with apples, sometimes rhubarb or berries. I tweaked the recipe in various directions, my favorite change being the addition of almonds and extra oats, but mostly I tried to figure out how to get that crumb texture just right every time. I also ventured into the world of vegan, gluten and sugar free crumbles, which were still good, but perhaps a little too wholesome. There is no doubt that butter is a crucial ingredient in crumble and without it, it’s just not the same. A little goes a long way however, so don’t worry.

The best part of making crumble is how quick it’s done and how satisfying it is in the end. I have to admit, I much prefer making a crumble than let’s say apple pie. Pie crusts are not my friend, they take too long and are not fool proof. This crumble recipe on the other hand is so easy, you can give it to your kids and put them in charge. No worries.

My favorite apples to use here are Fuji apples. They taste great, keep their shape and still soften nicely. If you can’t get Fujis, ask your greengrocer for a good baking apple. Sometimes I add some cranberries, to make it a bit more interesting. As you can see not everyone in my family agrees with me…

Sorry, this recipe requires a scale, but this is how I inherited it from my mother-in-law. Go out and buy one as even in the U.S., metric recipes are becoming much more popular. You can’t beat the accuracy.

 

 

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Prep Work

I was tired yesterday and the only thing I wanted to do, other than sleeping, was to cook or bake something. Sleeping wasn’t an option. All three kids were at home with me and my husband was sitting on an airplane to Beijing. The kids were tired too, and in need for entertainment, so I asked them to bake the cookies while I prepare dinner. I got a bit carried away after a long stare into the refrigerator. I had been on a bit of a food shopping binge lately and there were more vegetables in my fridge than we would ever be able to eat. I decided to prep and cook them in order to speed up and facilitate our dinner preparation this week. So out came the cauliflower, broccoli, beets, pumpkin, squash, parsnips, chard, kale and mushrooms. With the oven already on, I quickly turned the kale into sesame kale chips (recipe later this week), while I chopped and sliced the rest. The sugar pumpkin, was cut into 1 inch cubes for roasting, while the squash was halved, deseeded and roasted cut side down. I scrubbed the beets, drizzled them with oil and put them into a small roasting pan, covered with aluminium foil. I cut the parsnips into 1/2 inch x 2 inch sticks, drizzled more olive oil over them and found the last free spot for them inside the oven.

I am not sure if you ever roasted your cauliflower (it took me 10 + years of steaming, before switching over), but now I don’t want to eat it any other way anymore. I remove all leaves and the thick middle stalk from the cauliflower, place it on a cutting board, stem side down, and slice it between 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. I break apart the slices to get bite size pieces and place them in a bowl, together with 1 teaspoon turmeric, salt and freshly ground pepper and yet again, olive oil. Everything gets a good mix in the bowl, before I spread it on a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Roasting time is 20-30 minutes on 375 F (190C), or until the edges start to turn brown.

While my oven was going at full speed, I cut the mushrooms into quarters, minced 4 cloves of garlic, removed the thick stems of the chard and cut it into 1 inch slices. In a large pan, I sauteed the garlic first in some olive oil, added the mushrooms and a tiny bit of white wine, salt and pepper and cooked everything until tender, less than 10 minutes. I removed the mushrooms from the pan, careful to leave some of the garlic behind, and added the chard and a little more white wine. I put the lid on and cooked the greens until just wilted, less than 5 minutes. After a bit of seasoning and a good stir, I removed the chard from the pan into a bowl.

The beets were done after about one hour and I peeled the skin right off them once they had cooled down a bit. I scraped the flesh out of the acorn squash and put it into a bowl ready for a quick soup or risotto. Here is a picture of the beets and everything else.

All of this didn’t take me more than a couple of hours and with the result, we are set for a range of delicious meals in the coming days. I had cooked a pot full of chickpeas as well, so we didn’t need to go protein free.

Yesterday night we had this:

I sauteed a diced onion, added some of the roasted pumpkin pieces, half of the mushrooms and chard, a few handfuls of chickpeas, a little white wine and chicken stock. I ate mine with left over rice, while the kids had theirs with pasta and a good bit of parmesan sprinkled over it. Yum!

Today, we had pumpkin soup with ginger and coconut milk. Tomorrow it’ll be beets with goats cheese for lunch, roast vegetable pizza for dinner and frittata on Thursday. The rest of the chickpeas will either be turned into hummus with the remaining pumpkin thrown right in or I’ll make my beloved pumpkin and chickpea salad. One thing I didn’t do was caramelizing a few onions, which would have been another great addition to any of those meals. Next time!

 

Mysterious Brownies

Looking at the title, you might wonder if you should even consider reading this post. How can brownies be mysterious, if all it takes is flour, butter, sugar, eggs and chocolate to make them. It really doesn’t get much more straight forward.  To my excuse, I am in a state of frantic pre-holiday chaos and with my brain crammed with to-do-lists, I had to come up with something quick, and this was it. The title actually does fit the brownies quite well, since they got a few untypical ingredients that are best not mentioned when it comes to picky eaters. I assure you however, that no one will ever be able to tell what exactly they are and these brownies will be devoured in no time. There’s no way you can detect the pumpkin (even if you want to) and my family thinks they are just delicious. Guilt free snacking at it’s best!

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Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

This is a really lovely dessert I have made several times during the past few weeks. It is a breeze to make and tastes delicious. The hint of spices, beautiful creamy texture and mild pumpkin flavor make it the perfect dessert for a holiday meal or a dinner party. My favorite part is that I can make this a day or two ahead and not worry about it again until everyone has finished their main course. I just take it out of the fridge, fire up my blow torch and within minutes it’s ready.

I like to serve it in 1/2 cup ramekins, which is just the right amount of dessert after a big meal. The first recipe I followed used larger cups and less eggs, therefore increasing the cooking time in the water bath to more than an hour. Although I only had my 1/2 cup ramekins, I didn’t expect there would be a great difference in cooking time. Oh, how wrong I was. I thought I had plenty of time to pick my kids up from school before returning to a perfect dessert. So upon opening the oven door about an hour later, my beautiful crème brûlées had turned into a wrinkly and solid and completely uneatable version of what they should have been. Lesson learned –  check the size of your ramekins and adjust accordingly. And after about 30 minutes of cooking time, check your custards and give them a little shake. They are ready when they still have a slight wiggle in the center.

Another near mishap occurred when we made this crème brûlée in one of my “cooking get-togethers”. We accidentally used 2 instead of 1 cups of pumpkin puree, with the same amount of sugar, eggs and cream. It still turned out wonderful, just a bit more pumpkiny and took a few minutes longer to set. The recipe below asks for only one cup of pumpkin puree for 2 cups of cream, but if you like a stronger pumpkin flavor, go ahead and use more. Continue reading ‘Pumpkin Crème Brûlée’

Savory Pumpkin Crumble

It feels like a small eternity since my last post, and the person who threw away this recipe is partly to blame. I was so upset for having lost it and close to giving up my search, when I found it in the trash can of the bathroom. Who knows how it got there and what exactly made me look in there, but I am so relieved for having found it.

I made this crumble last week and while eating it, I said to my family that this is the recipe I want to be famous for. I had searched google forever to find a good savory pumpkin crumble recipe, but found mostly desserts and a few savory recipes that I didn’t really fancy. So I came up with this and I was so surprised and excited at the result that I made the above-mentioned, self-glorifying remark. You see, it doesn’t always work this way. I spend many hours in the kitchen experimenting, with frequent mediocre results. I usually keep trying until I am satisfied, but it takes a lot of time, patience, good will from the family and money. So when I get something right straight away (actually it was the second try in this case) I am thrilled.

Crumble until recently has meant dessert for me, usually with apples, rhubarb, berries or a combination of all. My mother-in-law taught me the basics years ago, which is flour, oats, brown sugar and butter. Simple, yet delicious. Since I am a nut-lover, I have alwyas added chopped almonds to this and experimented with walnuts, pine nuts, dairy- and sugar free versions, but the traditional version is still the best.

Last year, I have learned something invaluable from 101 Cookbooks. If you melt the butter before adding it to the dry ingredients, mix it all up and then put the mixture in the freezer for 30 minutes, you get the crunchiest crumble topping. This method also allows for less butter with the same fabulous effect. So now instead of using one stick butter (113g) I use only 2/3 of it. I am so happy with this new technique, I might never go back to the dairy-free option.

So go ahead and try this. I would love to hear what you thought of the crumble. Don’t be shy…

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Pumpkin, Maple and Walnut Bread

Pumpkin has entered center stage in my kitchen over the past few weeks. I love it in in all shapes and forms, in soups, salads, sides, mains and especially deserts. I have been trying out lots of recipes recently and this pumpkin bread is one of my newest inventions. I had some roasted pumpkin left over from a major Sunday dinner experiment – a whole stuffed and roasted pumpkin. I filled a rather big white (also called “Ghost” or “Casper”) pumpkin with rice, Moroccan spices, chickpeas and apricots and roasted it for 2 hours. As this was an experiment, I had no clue how much time everything would take to cook, which led to an overcooked pumpkin and undercooked stuffing. Aside from that, the pumpkin also ruptured and all the lovely juices escaped. Not good! I salvaged the whole thing by cooking the stuffing with some of the pumpkin and more chicken stock and turned it into a Moroccan pumpkin risotto. Unusual, not overly attractive, but delicious nonetheless. My kids warned me however to not post this one on my blog, which I reckon was good advice.

The left-over pumpkin was delicious, beautiful dark orange in color and very sweet. Perfect for pumpkin bread. I added some lovely spices to it and sweetened it with maple syrup. It turned out delicious and I can’t wait to make it again. It’s great for breakfast with maple sweetened yogurt or afternoon tea with a dollop of whipped cream.

Note: I made this recipe again with roasted butternut squash. The squash was much moister than the pumpkin I used initially and the bread turned out very “soggy”. My advice would be to either drain the roasted pumpkin/squash over a towel-lined colander for an hour or to use less of it. Another option is to use raw grated pumpkin (a food processor does the trick) the same way you use carrots in a carrot cake. I used this method successfully with 3 cups of raw grated pumpkin. Good luck!

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Chicken and Pumpkin Curry

This is a version of my favorite go to curry recipe. The base is so versatile and can be used with fish. shrimp, tofu, beans and yes, chicken. It comes together easily and if you are a quick chopper, will be ready in no time. What makes this taste so good are a few essential ingredients – fresh garlic, ginger, lemongrass, Indian curry powder, coconut milk and coriander (cilantro). For the rest you can add what is already in your fridge or freezer. I try to use many different colored vegetables and herbs, which make this meal just as appealing to the eye as to your stomach.

Bear in mind the different cooking times for the vegetables, particularly if using pumpkin. I added it to the pan roughly 10 minutes before the remaining vegetables. Zucchini usually goes in at the end, as it quickly looses its texture and color. 

As to the chicken, here’s a tip that you might or might not know yet. If you cut the chicken breasts into bite size pieces and marinate them in buttermilk for a couple of hours in the fridge, the meat won’t turn tough and dry during the cooking process. It makes such a difference in texture. I can’t stand dry chicken breast and this is what I do to avoid it. Another option is to use a marinade of lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, especially if you want to cook a whole breast in one piece. If you want to keep this recipe dairy-free, omit the buttermilk, or make your own using 1 cup soy milk and 1 tablespoon lemon juice or try the lemon juice and olive oil marinade.

You can make this as spicy as you like. I add a chili if I have one, otherwise  a bit more curry powder or cayenne pepper can spice things up. Here’s one last tip for cooking lemongrass. Only the lower 5-6″ (12-15cm) are soft enough to be eaten once you have removed the tough, outer husks. Slice the light green sticks into very thin rounds and then mince. You want them to be as fine as possible, otherwise they might not soften in the pan and you’ll end up with some chewy lemongrass bits in your curry. Use the left-over husks to make delicious lemon grass tea. Add the ginger peel as well, if you like.   Continue reading ‘Chicken and Pumpkin Curry’

Pear, Date and Ginger Crisp

This recipe came about when I was on an elimination diet a while ago. It doesn’t contain any gluten (as long as you use gluten-free oats), no eggs or dairy (ignore the ice cream…) and is sweetened with agave and maple syrup. Technically maple syrup is not “allowed” in an elimination diet, but one can only live so healthy. I named it “Vegan Pear Crisp”, but didn’t think this would be a very enticing blog title and therefore left out the ‘vegan’ bit. I love to come up with food that is enjoyable to everyone, no matter what food preference or intolerance. I now make this crisp even on diet-free occasions and have successfully used the topping over apples and berries, leaving out the ginger and dates.

I used cold pressed virgin coconut oil for the crisp topping. You can find it at health food stores and good supermarkets. The lauric acid in coconut oil is easily digested and is supposed to have antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. The coconut taste isn’t detectable when the oil is used for baking. If you are unable to find it or are not in the mood to go dairy free, use melted butter instead of the coconut oil. Three to four tablespoons or 50g will do the trick. Don’t forget the chill time once you have made your topping (see method below).

I am sorry for not posting anything last week, I have been busy baking and cooking. To make up for my absence I’ll post something delicious every day this week. Stay tuned…

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Mamma Mia Minestrone

I love soups! And it is killing me that the weather is still not even turning the tiniest bit towards fall. I am trying to ignore it as best as I can and at least in my kitchen pretend that it’s time for soups, pumpkin bread pudding and other heftier fair. The pudding will need a bit more practice, although my husband commented (after having his second portion) that it’s made with too much sugar, cream and white bread, all of which we don’t really need. I wanted to strangle him, but he’s right, I have been complaining about my more and more unforgiving waistline since turning the big 40 last year. I guess I’ll be going back to whole grains, maple syrup and almond milk then, which are almost equally calorific as their white counterparts, but a lot better for the conscience.

The recipe of today, for the best Minestrone ever tasted, is nothing to worry about for all my figure conscious friends.  This soup is fantastic, very adaptable to the season you’re in (unless it’s over 30C/86F), full of good stuff and makes a great family dinner. It is a complete meal, so don’t think of this as an appetizer. No one is hungry after eating this soup, besides most will have at least two helpings anyway.

I got the recipe out of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy book. I changed it slightly over the years, mainly by adding more pasta and stock. I love it with zucchini and chard or kale, but it’s easily adaptable to any vegetables in season. Instead of the cannellini beans, you could use fresh broad (fava) beans, peas or borlotti beans. Great additions to the soffrito would be leek or fennel. A good quality stock is key, but that’s true for all soups. I used my homemade chicken stock, but if you want to keep it vegetarian, a vegetable stock is equally well suited.

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Leek and Mushroom Pies

 

Although we are back in a very summery Australia, I am keen to share this  savoury and wintry recipe of a Jamie Oliver inspired leek and mushroom pies with you. I cooked this recipe on our recent vacation in the lovely cold and snow covered Massachusetts and it was an enormous success with the family. So much so, that when one of my children spotted a picture of it on the computer this morning, he burst out with a “oh that was delicious”, a rather big endorsement.

I first came across this recipe while watching a Jamie Oliver special on Christmas left-overs. One of things he cooked was a ‘turkey and leek pie’. I raced through the living room trying to find a working pencil and jotted down an approximation at best of his recipe. He was talking about the struggle many people face when left with a large amount of turkey left over from Thanksgiving or Christmas. I am not sure what he was talking about, as we tend to fight over turkey left-overs and even when cooking a turkey as large as the oven, there is never enough to satisfy everyone’s large appetite for more of it. We usually have a second Christmas dinner on Boxing day, followed by turkey sandwiches and turkey soup in the week leading up to New Year’s Eve. Delicious! Anyway, so when it was time for me to make this pie with left-over turkey, I actually didn’t have any left. I decided to use a few slices of free-range bacon to give it a little meaty flavor, but really didn’t feel like adding more meat after a carnivorous visit of the extended family.

To make the leek and mushroom pie or pies, you don’t need much time or many ingredients. Buy some good quality all butter puff pastry (2 packages if you want to make individual pies) or make it yourself, which naturally would be far superior. Get a package of free-range bacon (turkey is fine), fresh thyme, a few handfuls of mixed mushrooms and 5 leeks. You’ll need one cup of stock (homemade is best, otherwise store bought free-range/ organic chicken stock, or vegetable stock), flour, half a glass of white wine and a little cream. For a party, individual pot pies would be lovely; the first time, I used a 8″ by 12″ (20 by 30 cm) pyrex dish, the second time 5 individual large ramekins.

As a proper Englishman, Jamie Oliver likes his pie with gravy. Therefore he used double the amount of stock and flour, then strained the cooking liquid from his turkey-leek mixture and turned it into gravy. I couldn’t imagine the need to pour gravy over my lovely crispy pastry, but then again, I am not English. If you feel like gravy for your pie, use double the amount of stock and flour (just like J.O.), drain the liquid from your vegetable mixture through a large sift and heat it in a small pan just before serving.  

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