Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Apple Crisp with Oatmeal Cookie Crumble

I have a long list in the Notes app on my phone consisting of recipe ideas I'd like to try.  That way, if I am struck by a lightning bolt from the food gods, I can jot down my idea, wherever I am. This list is entirely separate from the massive folder of recipe bookmarks on my computer (8 subsections and counting). Rather than being a list of recipes, these are just idle snippets, sometimes from my food daydreams and sometimes from menu items or things I see on TV. They range from mouthwatering (bacon cheddar tater tots???*) to intriguing (crème brûlée cookies) to bizarre (chicken tikka tacos...) to patently absurd ("zucchini hash browns?"). I'm sure many of them will show up here eventually, this recipe being the first of them. I made oatmeal cookies a while ago and the idea for this came to me while I was staring at the leftovers.

First, cut your apples into thin pieces. It seems that most people are pretty averse to peels in their desserts, so feel free to peel them if that bothers you. I don't mind them, especially since I find the skin has a lot of flavor. As far as apple variety goes, anything will work, but I'm going to make a case for tart apples. I like my apples tart enough to make my face twitch, but even if you generally like sweeter apples, consider something a little on the tart side to counter the considerable sweetness of the cookies. Then pulse a few cookies in a blender or food processor - it's important just to pulse here, and not flat-out blend. The cookies will crumble easily, and you don't want to pulverize them. You could probably even do this part by hand.

Then, mix in some butter, pastry-style. This is the part I definitely like to do by hand**, but you can use a fork, two knives, or a pastry blender. You don't want the butter to completely incorporate, which is why we start with cold butter. You're done when everything is in coarse crumbs.

Finally, pop the apples into a few ramekins or, if you happen to have them, some adorable baby Dutch ovens, and top with the delicious crumbly goodness. It's fine if some of the topping slips under the apples; it will melt and mingle with the apple juices and generally be wonderful. Bake for a half hour, and when it comes out, you'll have a nice, crunchy topping with soft, melty apples underneath. The apples will sink a lot as they release their juices...

leaving just enough room for a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

* If you're wondering what could possibly have been so important to stop me from making these, I honestly don't know. Please accept my apologies along with a promise to get going on a recipe.
** Until fairly recently, I had a serious phobia of touching butter. I'm pretty proud of how far I've come in this department.

Apple Crisp with Oatmeal Cookie Crumble
Yield: 2 larger or 4 smaller servings

1 large or 2 smaller apples (my apple was about 9 oz)
4 leftover oatmeal cookies1
2 tbsp cold butter, cut into chunks
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 pinches ground nutmeg
Pinch kosher salt
Coarse or flaky sea salt (optional)

  1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Peel the apple(s), if desired, and then core and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices.
  2. In a blender or food processor, pulse the oatmeal cookies until no large pieces remain. This should only take a few pulses, at most, so try not to overdo it. The pieces will probably vary in size a bit, which is fine.
  3. Move the cookies to a small bowl and add the butter. With your favorite tool for the job (hands are good!), mix in the butter until it is in small pieces (the usual suggestion is "pea-sized" pieces) and the mixture looks like chunky crumbs. Mix in the spices and salt.
  4. Divide the apples evenly between four 6-oz or two 12-oz ramekins or small baking dishes (I used my beloved tiny Dutch ovens) and do the same with the crumble.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes, covering during the last 10 minutes if you prefer a softer topping. Let cool for a few minutes, then serve (preferably with ice cream).
  1. My cookies were about 2.5-3 inches in diameter.
  2. As mentioned above, keep in mind the sweetness of the cookies you're using and adjust your salt and the type of apple accordingly.
  3. I used leftover cookies because I thought fresh cookies would be too soft and wouldn't make very good crumble material. I haven't actually tried this with fresh cookies though, so feel free to experiment.
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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Burrito Bowls

There was one day when I was at Maryland that I had almost no food left except chicken, rice, an avocado, a tomato, a bit of corn, onions, sour cream, and some cheese. We must have been close to a break or something, so I was down to my last bit of food. I think it was fate, and I heeded the sign and made some burrito bowls. I knew they'd be good because it's hard to go wrong with those ingredients, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I found myself wanting leftovers, which is rare. I normally hate leftovers. Food is just so much less exciting the second time around. Something is lost when you reheat it. But I digress.

I love this recipe because it's barely even a recipe. Don't have tomatoes? No problem. Pinto beans? Chuck 'em in there. Just about anything goes. The way I usually make it does have a lot of steps, but I promise none of them are difficult, and it's so worth it. Ready to go? Grab whatever vaguely burrito-related ingredients you have, and start with the rice first.

Then thinly slice your onions. We want to maximize surface area here because we're going to caramelize these. As I learned in the cooking class I went to this summer, when you caramelize, you should be starting with a cold pan, cold vegetables, and cold fat. Caramelization is a gradual process, so you want to heat things slowly.

Eventually, your corn and onions will get nice and browned, and they'll be ready to go. While that's all cooking, cook and shred your chicken, whip up a quick guacamole, drain and rinse your beans, and mix up your sour cream.

 Dig in.

Not pictured: the beans that I drained and forgot to put in my bowl. Alas.

Burrito Bowls
Yield: 3-4 servings

1 cup uncooked rice (I used brown)
A few tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 chicken breasts, sliced in half parallel to the cutting board
1.5-2 tsp cumin, divided and to taste
Salt & pepper
2 avocados
1 vine ripened tomato1
1 lemon quarter

1 15 oz. can black beans
For serving (optional): shredded Monterey Jack or pepper Jack cheese, cumin-lime sour cream (recipe follows), thinly sliced scallion greens

  1. Cook the rice according to pack directions.
  2. While the rice cooks, cut the onion in half lengthwise through the root end. Thinly slice the onion crosswise.
  3. Add about a tbsp of olive oil, the onion, and the corn to a wide skillet set over medium heat. Cook, stirring infrequently, until the vegetables start to brown. Season with salt and pepper and add most of the garlic. Continue cooking until the onions are deep brown and the corn has gained some color. Set aside in a bowl.
  4. After putting the onions on the heat, season the chicken with the cumin, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
  5. When the onions are done cooking, place the pan back on medium heat with another tbsp of olive oil2.  Once it's hot, add the chicken and cook, turning once, until cooked through.
  6. Mash the avocado and cut the tomato into small dice. Mix together with the juice of the lemon quarter, the remaining garlic, and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
  7. Drain and rinse the beans, and set aside.
  8. Shred the chicken and assemble bowls, garnishing as desired.
Cumin-Lime Sour Cream:
Adapted from smitten kitchen

1 lime3
1/2 c sour cream
1/2 tsp cumin
Pinch of salt

Zest and juice the lime. Mix the juice and a pinch of zest with the sour cream, cumin, and salt. Taste and adjust seasonings.

  1. You can use any variety of tomato you'd like. I included this just to give a rough estimate of quantity.
  2. Yes, you should probably wipe out the pan first. That really just felt like too much work, though.
  3. Years ago, my mom taught me that the secret to finding juicy citrus is to choose fruits that are heavy for their size (thanks, Mom!). Roll the lime between the palm of your hand and the counter before cutting and juicing to make juicing (much) easier.
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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Brussels Sprouts and Bacon Pizza (or, Allison Loses it at the Farmers Market)

Because I've only been here for a little over a month, I've been getting a lot of, "So, how do you like Ann Arbor?" lately. I love it, and there are a lot of reasons why. But I can't stop gushing about the farmers markets. There is at least one every day except Monday and Tuesday! And these are no puny affairs, either. I visited the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, which is held twice a week during the warmer months and continues once a week during the winter, on Saturday. This market is essentially a weekly community event, with a semi-permanent market space (it's covered, so you can happily browse the tables in most weather conditions), and at least 20 tables, probably closer to 25 or 30. I wish I had brought my camera, but as it turns out, I needed every inch of space I had in my bag (and then some). I had absolutely no fresh produce aside from a few potatoes, so I was prepared to stock up. However, the sight of all of the tables overflowing (literally) with late summer produce was so overwhelming that I did a lap of most of the tables, just admiring, before I even bought anything. I wanted all of it, but I:
  1. Don't have infinite money,
  2. Couldn't possibly carry everything back on the bus, and
  3. Would have to consume several tens of pounds of produce each day to eat it all before it started to rot.

In the end, I more or less stuck to my list. However, I couldn't pass up the 11.5 pounds of tomatoes I ended up with, rather than purchasing the 5 pounds I had planned to buy for sauce (11.5 lb for $8! Could anyone pass up a deal like that?). These tomatoes were "seconds", or produce deemed too ugly to be displayed on the table. For a big batch of sauce, though, they were just perfect. I had been planning to make a large batch of sauce to freeze for the sad, long winter full of nothing but underripe tomatoes, anyway, so I took this as a sign.

Finally, with a full bag out of which poked a bunch of scallions, plus an enormous carton of tomatoes, I headed back to the bus to bring home my treasures. Among these was a bag of Brussels sprouts, not terribly aesthetically pleasing, but very fresh. I absolutely adore Brussels sprouts. I recently read that there is a gene that dictates whether Brussels sprouts taste unpleasantly bitter, and I know that I must have the favorable version of that gene. In fact, one of my favorite ways to eat Brussels sprouts is simply roasted with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper, letting their flavor shine through. One day, looking to change things up a bit, I shaved the sprouts and added them to a pizza with cheese and bacon, and I knew I'd found a winner. Everyone knows Brussels sprouts and bacon are a great combination, so how could combining that with cheese and bread be anything but perfect? And a perfect tribute to the end of summer it was, seated out on my balcony in the (admittedly humid) summer evening air.
Brussels Sprouts and Bacon Pizza
Yield: 2 12-inch-diameter pizzas, 3-4 servings
Dough adapted from Jim Lahey via smitten kitchen

For the no-knead pizza dough
3 cups flour (all-purpose or bread), spooned and leveled
Heaping 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1.5 tsp coarse (e.g., sea or kosher) salt
1.25 cups water
Cornmeal, for dusting
For the toppings
6 oz Brussels sprouts
A few tsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
Two handfuls shredded Parmesan cheese
4 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled

  1. Start the dough: dump all dough ingredients into a large bowl and mix together. The dough will look like a total mess, which is just fine. If the dough seems very dry, add another tablespoon or two of water.
  2. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for about 12 hours (the dough is pretty forgiving, so don't get crazy about this. Leaving it for another few hours won't hurt).
  3. About a half hour or so before the dough is done rising, place a pizza stone (if you've got one) in the oven and preheat to its highest (non-broiler) temperature. If you don't have a stone, preheat your oven anyway and throw a baking sheet in there for the last 10 minutes of preheating (you should let your oven heat for at least 20 minutes or so to get the best crust).
  4. Halve the Brussels sprouts lengthwise, leaving the root end intact. Cut the sprouts crosswise (parallel to the root end) into thin ribbons. Place in a bowl and drizzle very lightly with olive oil, so the ribbons are coated but there is little (if any) oil in the bottom of the bowl. Season generously with sea salt (or kosher or table salt) and pepper. Now is also a good time to cook your bacon.
  5. Film a pizza peel, an unrimmed baking sheet, or the bottom of a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil, and dust very generously with cornmeal. Seriously, don't be stingy with the cornmeal or you'll be kicking yourself in a few minutes (not that I'd know from personal experience, or anything).
  6. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured counter and separate into two balls. Grab one of the balls and let it stretch down from your hand to the counter a few times (or a several times, if you're strangely mesmerized by the look and feel of this process).
  7. Place the dough on your prepared pizza peel or baking sheet and gently stretch into a round. The dough should be a little more substantial than it was when you first mixed it, but it will still be soft and somewhat sticky. Just do the best you can to stretch it out and repair any tears in the dough.
  8. Brush with a small drizzle of olive oil, and cover with the mozzarella, leaving a small rim for the crust.
  9. Layer on the Brussels sprouts and finish with a healthy sprinkle of Parmesan. Shimmy the pizza as, uh, gracefully as you can onto your stone or baking sheet 2 , and bake for 8-10 minutes, until cheese and tips of Brussels sprouts are browned, and the crust is golden brown.
  10. Sprinkle with bacon, let cool for as long as you possibly can (this was approximately 30 seconds for me, the roof of my mouth be damned), slice, and serve. Repeat from step 5 with the remaining ball of dough.
  1. Because it's just me here, I only made one pizza and refrigerated the other ball of dough. The dough should keep for a few days in the fridge, or you can freeze it and thaw in the refrigerator before using. Because I essentially halved the recipe, don't be alarmed if my ingredient piles look much smaller than yours.
  2. A little kitchen wisdom: brush off as much excess cornmeal as you can from around the uncooked pizza; this will quickly burn if it gets shimmied onto the stone and cause you to panic a few minutes into baking that your pizza is burning. However, if this happens, it won't affect the quality of your pizza.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

(Accidental) Additive-Free Drinkable Strawberry Yogurt

Does anyone else remember drinkable yogurt? It was healthy snacking for the truly lazy (no spoon to wash!). I thought of drinkable yogurt the other day for the first time in years, as I was trying to come up with more exciting healthy snack options than just eating fruit all day long. Don't get me wrong, I love fruit. But it's necessary to spice things up sometimes. In an effort to curb migraines and just generally be healthy, I've been trying to minimize the amount of processed food that I eat (we migraine people also need to eat regularly, hence all the snacks - or at least that's what I tell myself and others). In keeping with that, I use plain yogurt in my smoothies, since it generally has little to no extra stuff thrown in. I figured I'd just mix in whatever I wanted to make a non-smoothie snack out of it.

I had initially intended to make strawberry yogurt of the regular, eat-with-a-spoon variety to satisfy these snack cravings. However, when I went to defrost the strawberries I had in my freezer (that's why my strawberries look a bit mushy; they tasted just fine), I couldn't bear to let all the beautiful strawberry drippings that would seep out go to waste, so I set them in a strainer over a bowl. Demonstrating the brilliance I am known for (they don't let just anybody into PhD programs these days!), I dumped this juice right into the blender with the strawberries and plain yogurt, patting myself on the back for the flavor boost this would lend the yogurt. What I didn't stop to consider was the effect this would have on the texture, and so I ended up with the drinkable yogurt about which I had been reminiscing just days earlier.

How cool does this look?!

I'm planning to go to the farmer's market this weekend (last free weekend before classes...sigh), so if they still have strawberries, perhaps you'll get your strawberry yogurt post. In the meantime, I have no regrets about this unintentional blast-from-the-past snack.

Additive-Free Drinkable Strawberry Yogurt
Yield: Approx. 16 oz. (1-2 servings)

12 oz frozen strawberries
6 oz plain yogurt1

  1. Set strawberries in a mesh strainer or colander over a bowl and let thaw for a few hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Place the strawberries, with their juices, in a blender or food processor. Add the yogurt and blend until smooth.
  1. I used whole milk yogurt. You may want to use a little less if you are using yogurt with a lower fat content, since those tend to be runnier. On the other hand, you can probably substitute one-for-one and be just fine, since the yogurt is intended to be drinkable anyway.
  2. This would work for any other berry (and probably most other types of fruit, so long as they have a relatively high water content). You may need to add a bit of sweetener if using something more tart like raspberries (same goes if your strawberries happen to be less sweet than mine).
  3. You could also freeze this in ice pop molds or ice cube trays for ice pops or quick additions to smoothies!
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