13 October 2012

Pear-Apple Cranberry Crisp

There are so many variations of this standard fruit crisp.

Seven years ago I left a newspaper writing job to try my hand at running a non-profit organization. Although I relished the opportunity at first, I could see immediately that the challenge was greater than anyone knew.  Obtaining additional training gave credence to my concerns; the challenges I encountered at work made for long work days and great frustration.

I'm naturally optimistic, and I really do try to find the good in people and situations. But some days, that was a challenge in itself.

Adding to my frustration was the near-impossible task of working with a large board of directors, many of whom had personal agendas or did not understand their governance roles. Frankly, some were Good Ole Boys (and Girls). Thanks to support from the forward-thinking dean of our local technical college and a few others, I was able to bring fresh perspectives to the board in the form of CEOs and plant managers from larger, more professional companies. But some of the private agendas remained, much to my frustration.

About three years ago, I came to the conclusion that a planned exit was my best option. But even with an end in sight, some days were rough.

Two years ago I came home after a rather exasperating day at work to find a basket of apples on the bench outside my back door, a gift from a friend. They were Red Delicious, not my favorites, but the gift of apples charmed me nonetheless.

My friend has great verve and a penchant for lovely presentation. But more than that, after a day of dealing with super-sized egos and and equally mammoth dramatics, the simple, wholesome gift of apples in a basket enchanted me and brought me great comfort.

I used the apples in a tossed salad, an apple slaw and found an especially-sharp cheddar to serve as a foil for their bland, sweet flavor.

When it comes to apples, I can eat them any way, any place, any time. I think perhaps the apple is nature's most perfect food, and maybe that's why it played a pivotal role in the Garden of Eden.

There is something both wholesome and mysterious about the apple. Apples conjure up images of fresh-scrubbed faces and the outdoors, but they can also bring to mind ancient, gnarled trees and windfall bounty, and - when their tartness is tempered by brown sugar and cinnamon - old homestead kitchens of years past. Old houses - really old houses, like those found at historic sites - often smell of apples to me. Apples and old wood and must. Not an unpleasant fragrance.

The other night I made Pear-Apple-Cranberry Crisp. I've made so many fruit crisps in my life that I now just make it up as I go along. This recipe yielded 4-6 servings.

For the fruit filling:
  • 3 small baking apples, any variety
  • 3 small baking pears (Bosc is a good choice)
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Dash lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the topping:
  • 3/4 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 6 Tablespoons cold butter
  • Pinch sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coarsely chop apples and pears; do not peel. Place in a bowl, adding cranberries, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and cinnamon. Set aside so that flavors can marry.

Toss oatmeal, walnuts and sugar in smaller bowl. Cut in cold butter to create a streusel-like topping.

Grease 4x4 baking dish. Place fruit mixture in the dish, add topping. Press down with spatula. Bake for about 45-55 minutes, removing when topping turns golden brown.

Serve warm or chilled. Ice cream, vanilla yogurt or whipped cream are great toppings, but I prefer a small wedge of cheese.

12 October 2012

Frugal French Friday: Cabbage Soup

While there are plenty of opportunities for stylish meals in Door County, we prefer a more casual approach to dining when on vacation.

More often than not, we pack a cooler full of cheese, sausage, iced tea, cider, apples, and perhaps a rustic paté and augment that with a local baguette and something from a Door County deli. (I can highly recommend the baguettes at the Seaquist Orchard Farm Market, by the way.)

This time of year as the thermometer slips downward in steady fashion, it's soup that I crave. The Summer Kitchen is well-known for its soups. I found one that's easy to make and fits in with my frugal Friday theme, too. Here is a recipe for French Cabbage Soup, made with cabbage, onions and potatoes from Immerfrost Farm and carrots from Birch Creek Farm.

I made a few adjustments. I added about two teaspoons of herbes de Provence.  The broth seemed bland, so I augmented it with a packet of dried onion-soup mix. I'd certainly rather make the entire thing from scratch, but I always keep these packets on hand for when from-scratch isn't working. The chicken broth I used was from my freezer, made from whole-chicken carcasses, but go figure. I also doubled the amount of fresh thyme. The result was a mild but herby flavor, with the Polish sausage providing the spice.

Cost: The entire stockpot of soup cost about $7. I expect to get 8-12 servings from it, and I have frozen several containers of various sizes. So figure 60 cents per serving.

Wine Pairing: I'd keep it very simple, a plain white table wine, nothing fancy. Although it occurs to me that hard cider might be an interesting pairing, especially if you are serving this, as I would, with whole wheat French rolls or pain rustique.

11 October 2012

Brussels Sprout Soup

It's that time of year when we wake to the sounds of gunfire from the woods across the river or the wetland on the edge of town. After 18 years, these sounds are no longer unnerving to me, but part of the natural sounds of the season.

Meanwhile, the juncos are back from their summer retreat, and the other morning I saw a nuthatch darting up and down one of the cedar trees. A red-headed woodpecker was drilling away at the Indian corn that hangs on the old carriage house.

I love these seasonal markings. Another is the availability of Brussels sprouts at local markets (although I dawdled at home one morning and missed the chance to buy some very fresh ones).

I have two favorite Brussels sprouts recipes that are worth repeating. Both are among the most popular recipes on this blog.

Creamy Brussels Sprouts Soup with Shallots and Roasted Potatoes
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 cups Brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed, outer leaves removed, sliced in half
  • 2 shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup previously roasted potatoes
  • 1 small onion, peel and chopped
  • dash freshly ground pepper
  • dash fleur de sel
  • dash nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup half-and-half or cream
Pour olive oil into a large skillet, adding butter. Sauté the sprouts and shallots for 8-10 minutes under medium heat, stirring frequently.

Add one cup of broth, bring to a boil and cover, lowering heat.

Add onions. Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes until broth is reduced. Carefully transfer to stockpot, adding potatoes and remainder of broth. Cook under low heat for another 10 minutes, adding nutmeg and salt and pepper (taste frequently; I used about 8 spoons).

Turn off heat and allow to cool 15 minutes. Then transfer soup to food process or blender. Puree. (I pureed one half, set it aside and then pureed the other half). Return to stock pot and add cream, re-heating under low heat.

Serve with grated cheese and croutons. It's a meal in itself! Pair it with Croque Monsieur.

10 October 2012

Delicata Squash with Sage and a Maple Glaze

Grandma Annie subscribed to every women's magazine on the market in the 1960s: McCall's, Ladies' Home Journal, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, Better Homes & Gardens, Women's Day and Family Circle. They were often called the seven sisters of women's magazines

Even then I sensed that each magazine had a slightly different market, although each also had a home-related focus. I loved the fiction, read it word for word, searching for clues of what life was really about; I can't say I found any real answers. But my magazine education is probably responsible for my love of all things related to homemaking.

My favorites were Women's Day and Family Circle, which apparently began as grocery circulars, because they featured columns by Faith Baldwin and Gladys Taber. I loved their writing, the way they captured the changing seasons, nature, friendship and food and wrote about them in such a way that made me feel cozy and appreciative of the simple things in life.

From time to time, I still read the magazines of my childhood, mostly at the dentist's office.

On impluse the other day, I grabbed the November issue of Family Circle at the checkout. Slow Cooker Suppers, Holiday Dessert Preview, and Festive Fall Decorating Ideas were the promises on the cover. I have time for those things now.

I had a delicata squash (curcubita pepo) from Coldwater Farm in my larder. This squash is so aptly named. It is the elegant, slender representative of the winter squash family.

This dish, on page 160 of next month's Family Circle, was very easy to prepare. All you need are extra virgin olive oil, salt, maple syrup and chopped fresh sage.

After rinsing your squash, slice it. The recipe recommends you cut in lengthwise and then in half-moon slices, but I sliced it the way you would slice a cucumber, and then cleaned out the pulp and seeds.

Toss it with a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil and a dash of sea salt.

Preheat your oven to 400. Once it's ready, roast the squash slices in a shallow baking dish, or on a foil covered baking sheet.

Meanwhile, place 1/2 cup maple syrup and 1/4 cup chopped sage in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Cook for about as long as the squash is roasting. Then pour it over the squash and roast for another 20 minutes.

The result is sweet with a subtle earthiness. Maple and sage have to be one of the more autumnal taste pairings, a bit less obvious than tart apples and cheddar cheese.

I served the squash as a side dish with chicken, brown rice and cole slaw.

Wine Pairing: We had some tart Riesling with an apple finish on hand. Perfect!

09 October 2012

A Simple Cole Slaw with Apples and Cranberries

Although we enjoy pork chops year round, they strike me as a distinctly autumnal meal. Perhaps it's because they are so often paired with applesauce, or spiced apples.

But they are just as often paired with cole slaw or with cabbage in some other form. This recipe is one of the most-viewed recipes on this blog, and when a local reader left a comment on the 2007 post, it reminded me that I'd intended to re-post a link to it.

Last week in Door County, I bought a broccoli slaw with dried cherries at a local deli, and loved it. It was a cross between traditional slaw and that ubiquitous broccoli-raisin-bacon salad so many delis offer. That reminded me that I had two small heads of cabbage in my crisper.

And I needed an autumnal salad. Something rustic. Coarsely chopped, not grated. I often eat at an unpretentious lunch place known for its apple slaw and I wanted something along those lines. Here's what I made:

Cole Slaw with Apples and Cranberries

  • 2 cups coarsely chopped cabbage
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped red cabbage
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped apple (in this case, Door County Honey Crisp)
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • Dash sea salt
  • 2 Tablespoons roasted almonds and pumpkin seeds (pre-made, I admit)

I used a T Marzetti slaw dressing with celery seed. It's still Clean Out the Fridge Month here; in fact, the month has morphed into an entire season. I don't expect to do a major grocery shopping until mid-November. Frankly, I enjoy using up what I have and not spending tons on money on groceries.

(But I am looking forward to having the time this winter to experiment with home-made dressings.)

The cole slaw was tart and sweet. It was perfect with chicken, brown rice and squash. In fact, it was a nice juxtaposition to the latter, which I will feature in a day or so.

Since the onion was also from Immerfrost Farm and the apples from across the bay, about 75 percent of the cole slaw came from within 100 miles of my home.

Here's a link to more cabbage-based recipes.

03 October 2012

Buying Pumpkins in Door County

Shortly after we arrived I set out at sunset with my camera, capturing a fish boil and quaint white buildings at the magic hour, and enjoying a walk in brisk almost-evening air.

Every building, every hotel and resort, every shop and nearly every home is decked in orange ribbon here, and more often than not, cornstalks, hay bales, scarecrows and pumpkins and mums in every color make Door County both picturesque and welcome in the autumn.

Contrived? Maybe. But it's not unlike the window boxes and planters that make every window and odd corner so inviting in France.

When I saw the pumpkin-decorated doorstep of The Whistling Swan, an inn and restaurant near our motel, I was enchanted. You can see for yourself in the previous post. It was dusk, and a couple were leaving the building as I approached. Interior lights glowed a warm welcome. This, I thought, is what this marvelous season should be.

I went hunting for pumpkins. I found one patch to the south, but many more in the more pristine northern end of the peninsula, where quiet country inns and unpretentious farm markets and artist studios prevail over miniature golf and condominiums.

I pulled into one manned by a swarthy, heavy-set man with a ponytail, an old car and a cellphone. He said he grew his pumpkins up the road, but preferred to sell them in an empty lot across from another pumpkin seller.

"I sell them here to tick him off," he said, jerking his head in the direction of the other patch.

I asked him about the pale salmon pumpkins and the ones with warty growths.

"Those are peanut pumpkins," he told me, pointing to the warty ones. "French. And those are heirloom pumpkins."

I bought a flat red pumpkin for five dollars. His phone rang and I left.

Later I saw a green pumpkin atop a deli counter as I was waiting to by cole slaw.

I did some pumpkin research online, and found that both my red pumpkin, which looks more like a wheel of cheese, and the blue one I have at home, are good for pies and other desserts.

My carver this year is a white pumpkin, much like the ones below. I love carving a jack-o-lantern, and this year I will finally have time.

Meanwhile, here is one of my favorite pumpkin desserts from a few years back.

02 October 2012

The Hip Heart of a Healing Peninsula

Surrounded by water, Door County, Wisconsin, has the power to heal a wounded soul. I'm convinced of it.

Miles of shoreline, craggy cliffs, sandy beaches, cherry and apple orchards, gentle farmland, weathered barns and hundreds of white clapboard buildings: That's the foundation of the Door County peninsula. The mini golf courses, condo resorts, motels and chi chi shops and restaurants tell only half the story.

I remember when Door County was quaint, in a good way. It was just about this time of year, when the leaves were flashing brilliant against the blue sky that Vivi, my first college roommate, and I took a day trip to Door County, two naive coeds looking for country and authenticity.

We set out in jeans and lace-up boots, in peasant top and work shirt, in her little tan car, stopping at a farm stand for apples. We cruised into Sturgeon Bay and kept going, looking for the real Door County. We stopped at a church in tiny Egg Harbor, then somnolent in the autumn sun, now bustling with traffic. Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, was the name of the church and it still is today. What drew us was the sound of an organ. The organist talked to us when we entered the church; she was practicing for Sunday, she told us.

We continued north, stopping to browse through red barns filled with antiques, and finding a sunny spot on the beach at Fish Creek to eat our apples.

Fish Creek! For me it has always been the hip heart of the Peninsula, where people from my home town moored their boats on weekends, and where some of my high-school friends found work as waiters and waitresses and dishwashers in the summertime. I'd always wanted to stay there, but when my husband and I began vacationing here two decades ago, we looked for resorts off the beaten track, with whirlpools and spas and water views.

Now, marking a passage in our lives, we have come home to Fish Creek, to a cozy, sunny room in the heart of the quaint old Founder's Square neighborhood. Enjoy the photos!