Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Crumble, Crisp, Cobbler, Good

We are not dessert eaters in this household, but every now and then you just can't say no. I have no resistance when it comes to fresh fruit and the idea of adding ice cream just makes me quiver.

Enter the lowly Crumble. You see these wonderful fruit desserts which are given different names. The Crumble (which is also sometimes called a Crisp) is a topping made with flour, brown sugar, oats (or some other cereal grain) and sometimes nuts. It has a granola type texture and covers the entire top of the dish. A Cobbler has the fruit covered with a complete dough topping, resembling a pie without the bottom crust. A Slump is the fruit topped with biscuits and cooked on top of the stove usually in an iron skillet. They are all tasty, but I am partial to the ease and goodness of the Crumble. I also have convinced myself that a Crumble is healthy because you are using oats (just don't think about the butter or sugar).

I have had the best luck using blueberries for this dessert. I have also combined some peaches in here too. It's always good and it's always gone. This is a perfect dish to be served up with really good vanilla ice cream while you are sitting on the deck enjoying the end of summer. I think we might just do that this evening.

Blueberry Crumble
½ cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt
5 cups fresh blueberries rinsed and drained (this is about 2 pints)
2/3 cup all purpose flour
½ cup old fashioned oats (not the quick cooking kind)
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter really cold and cut into 6 pieces

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the granulated sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large bowl. Add the berries to the bowl and toss gently to coat. I have found using a rubber spatula gets the job done without being too harsh on the fruit. Transfer this to a 8”X8” square baking pan that has been coated with cooking spray (trust me, you’ll be glad you did this).

Place the oats, brown sugar and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse 2 or 3 times to blend. Add the butter and pulse until you have clumps about the size of dimes. Alternately you could put the first ingredients in a bowl then cut the butter in with a pastry cutter. Whichever is easier for you. I usually use the pastry cutter method because I’m too lazy to clean the food processor. Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the top of the blueberries.

Bake until the filling is bubbling around the edges and the top is golden brown in color, approximately 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.


You can add fresh peaches to this mixture. Substitute 2 peeled and sliced peaches for about 2 cups of the blueberries. In fact I used 1 pint of blueberries and 2 peaches and it was scrumptious. Or you could use all peaches and throw in a few raisins. I also added a pinch of nutmeg to the crumble topping. Another great addition would be nuts. Toasted almond slivers or pecans would add some more crunch.

Any firm fruit would make a good crumble, you would just need to adjust the sugar content based on which fruit you choose.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Good Pepper

Spicy Pepper Mix. Years ago I bought a spicy pepper mix in the grocery store and started to use it in most everything I cooked. Then I looked at the label and saw the salt content. It was about 60%! I decided an alternative was needed.

Now all the "celebrity chefs" have their signature seasonings and I've tried most of them. What I've come up with is really more of a pepper supstitute/mix. My version is not "herby" and is really just designed to give your every day cooking a little boost. If you use pepper and spices you never even realize you have cut your salt intake. Everyone wins.

I will confess that it is a bit easier if you start with a bottle of McCormick GrillMates Montreal Steak Seasoning This will be the salt and pepper part of the mixture. There are other steak seasonings available so feel free to use any that you like.

I use this mixture in everything I cook. I found a large (29 oz) bottle of the Montreal Steak at Costco and made a BIG batch to have on hand.

Spicy Pepper Mix

1 bottle of McCormick GrillMates Montreal Steak seasoning (available at most groceries in the spice aisle) This is approx ½ cup.
¼ cup black pepper
¼ cup garlic powder
2 TBLSP Paprika
1 TBLSP Smoky Paprika
1 TBLSP Cayenne Pepper
2 TBLSP Crushed Red Pepper flakes

Mix all the spices together and store in an airtight container. I usually put part of the mixture back in the steak seasoning shaker for convenience. Use as you would pepper and remember there is some salt in here so don’t add more to whatever you’re cooking until you taste it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Magical Black Bean

Black beans are full of everything good for you. They are endlessly adaptable and fun to cook with. Last winter I had some black beans and edamame (another favorite) and decided they would make a yum salad.

Then I discovered wheatberries. These little pieces of grain pack a big punch. They add great flavor and a little crunchy texture. Now we have the trifecta of fiber in our salad.

The recipe below is a pretty universal version. However you really don't have to follow it that closely. This salad has morphed into a "let's clean out the veggie drawer" salad. Tonight's version included, black beans, edamame, fresh tomatoes, a cubanelle and jalapeno pepper from the garden, red and white onion (because I had a little of both) and I put in just a splash of soy sauce. I didn't have any cilantro and I forgot to cook the wheatberries, but it turned out just fine. In fact the Galley Slave said this might be his favorite incarnation of the salad. I attribute it to the fact he was really hungry.

This bean salad is a perfect addition to any meal. It keeps well in the fridge for several days. It's great to take to a pitch in dinner. I've even thrown some leftover cooked chicken in and served the whole thing on some baby greens. This is a great way to embellish. Don't be afraid to mix it up. And if you think you don't like black beans I dare you to try this, it will make a believer out of you. When you serve this dish, just don' mention that it's "healthy".

Bean Salad

1 – 15 oz. can Black beans rinsed and drained
1 – cup shelled edamame beans
1 – cup red onion diced
1 – cup cucumber chopped
2/3 cup chopped roasted red pepper
1 small jalapeno or Serrano chile seeded and diced
1 – cup cherry tomatoes halved
½ cup wheat berries that have been cooked
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
3 TBLSP Red wine Vinegar
3 TBLSP Rice wine vinegar
3 TBLSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and pepper

Bring ½ cup wheatberries and 2 quarts water to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for about 50 minutes or until they are still slightly crunchy. Drain and rinse with cold water and let drain for a few minutes.

Combine the first 8 ingredients in a bowl and mix gently. Pour the vinegars and olive oil over the bean mixture and stir. Add black pepper and salt to taste.

Embellish As You Wish

You can do any number of embellishes here. Carrots are a great addition, I like to shred them and add in. If you can’t find wheatberries or don’t want them leave them out. If you don’t like cilantro just omit it. You can add some fresh squeezed lime juice for extra tang. If you don’t have a jalapeno you can always throw in a pinch of crushed red pepper or just leave it out. Sometimes a little Feta cheese added in is good.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Psst. . . can you keep a secret?

Have you ever been out all day and desperately try to think of something quick and semi nourishing you can pick up on the way home? I have the answer, Deli Pizza.

Stop laughing you won't be able to learn the rest of my secret. I have found that a simple Deli pizza (you know, the fresh ones that are wrapped in plastic that you take home and bake in the oven) from any grocery store can be an embellisher's delight. They come in a cheese blend version, meat varieties and some even have veggies and cost $5 - $7 each. I suggest staying away from the veggie ones as the so called vegetables can be a tad slimy.

Seriously folks, it makes a great dinner. Check this out.

Now mind you this version has been embellished. Just look in your fridge for whatever kinds of vegetables, meats or cheese you have available. I put some sliced portabello mushrooms, red onion, cubanelle pepper, hot capicola, shredded fontina and mozzarella cheeses (I had just a little piece of each) then topped the whole thing with thinly sliced fresh tomatoes and fresh basil. I also sprinkled some of my hot pepper mix on top of the tomatoes. On the exposed outer crust I brushed on a little bit of olive oil which made the whole thing gorgeously brown. Bake the pizza directly on the oven rack (be sure to take it off the cardboard, don't ask why I mention this) at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or so and you have a world famous pizza.

You can put everything and anything you like on here, whatever your heart desires or more importantly whatever you have on hand. Add a little green salad and it will look like you spent hours fixing dinner. One of these pizzas will feed four with no problem.

It's ok to start with something pre-made, you just have to make it your own. But don't tell anyone our little secret.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Is it Wrong to Love a Pan?

Meet "Little Green", the object of my affection, the one item I would grab if the house were burning and I could only carry one thing. Ok, this might sound like one of the craziest things you've ever heard, but before you log out let me state my case.

Cooks need tools too. I'm not talking about a world-class professional kitchen, just something to make your life easier. My first set of cookware was a 12 piece (and that included lids) Teflon coated, almond colored mess that came from a hardware store and cost $20. It got the job done, but soon all the Teflon flaked out and everything stuck no matter what. Then about 15 years ago the Galley Slave bought my first LeCreuset pan. It was love at first sight. These are French enameled cast iron pans. They are available in a variety of beautiful colors and sizes. This particular one is 4 1/2 quart size.

Now you might ask what is it about this pan that will nearly make me swoon. You can cook anything in here and it cleans up. There is no non-stick, it just works like magic. This 4 1/2 quart size is just right for stewing a chicken, making pasta sauce, cooking dry beans, frying anything in oil (if we really do fry in oil, wink, wink). You can put a nice roast in the pan with potatoes and carrots and little red wine, put on the lid and throw it in the oven and a few hours later you have a tender, scrumptious meal. This pan allows you to embellish your heart out.

I have accumulated some larger versions of this pan (Big Green, Big Orange, Little Red) but this is the one that gets used several times a week. I dropped the lid once and the knob broke, I can't bring myself the replace the knob, it's like a badge of honor. So the moral of this story is, there are more cooking gizmos and gadgets out there than you can even imagine, but you really only need one good pan and this is it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Inspiration, I need some

There's writer's block and painter's block and sometimes I get cook's block. Do you ever think you are in a cooking slump and just can't think of anything to put on the table except mac and cheese, again? There have been days when I thought I could just put a glass of wine and a couple of crackers in front of the kiddos and say "dinner is on". Ok, just kidding, I realize this is not the way it's done, so what to do?

Most days I center meals around one particular food or dish. Sometimes it's a vegetable or a salad or maybe a meat. For instance, the other day I had tacos on the brain. Now I didn't want regular every day tacos and it's really HOT in Kentucky right now so I didn't want a lot of heat in the kitchen. I found some shrimp in the freezer and had some cucumbers and other veggies. So I spicy seasoned the shrimp and roasted them quickly under the broiler, tossed them with cucumber, carrot and red onion and mixed up a light dressing of Greek Yogurt (better than sour cream) with a squeeze of lime juice. Then I looked around and realized I didn't have any tortillas for tacos, but I did have some pita pockets. Hey, it's just cooking, doesn't a pita pocket look like a taco shell? Add some leafy lettuce and fresh tomato and dinner is on. Now this is not at all what I envisioned but it turned out just fine.

So here's where embellishing really took over. You can be inspired by what you have around you, don't be afraid to change your mind. But sometimes mac and cheese is still a good thing.