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Archive for September, 2010

Impromptu beet and apple salad

One of the things I love about working from home, whether in a paid capacity or a parenting capacity, is that lunch is generally a foraging affair. I don’t have to be too organized about what kinds of leftovers I can bring to the office with me, whether they go together, or whether it’s more or less pret-a-manger. These days, when I get hungry for lunch I can open the fridge door and make use of the random little bits that accumulate.  In this case, it started with roasted beets.  And celery, which deserved a chance to break out of its usual functions as a flavour base in soups or a veggie snack.

I made this for lunch at home the other day, and although salad at my house is usually a bit of a slapdash affair, this time I decided to make it pretty. 

It reinforces the idea that sometimes, great food can simply be improvised.

Impromptu beet and apple salad
serves 4 to 6 as a side dish, or 2 as a main

1 head of red-leaf lettuce (an assortment of greens would also be delightful)
4 small roasted beets*
1 tart, crispy apple, such as a Granny Smith
2 ribs celery, cut into chunks 1/2″ thick
1/4 cup pepitas, toasted

Cider vinaigrette

1 tbsp. dijon mustard
1 tsp. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. curry paste (I use Patak’s – you could also use curry powder)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

* Roasting beets is easy, but it can take a while. Simply scrub and trim the beets, toss them with a bit of olive oil and bake, covered with tin foil, at 400 degrees. Depending on their size, it usually takes no less than 45 minutes to cook them thoroughly. If you’re impatient like me, you can also halve or quarter them and they’ll cook more quickly.

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Apple Butter Granola

As if one recent major life event weren’t enough change in our lives we have another one looming on the horizon: we’re moving in a month. That’s right. Moving with a two-month old.

This comes with a certain amount of stress, of course, but it’s good. This move to our new condo has been almost two years in the making. And how appropriate that on the day I was in labour, we received a letter from the developers confirming our final occupancy date.  Two milestones made concrete in one day.

So move day is October 15th. And while we’ve started packing, I’m taking a long hard look at my pantry. How long have those rice noodles been there? How about that bag of chick pea flour? Do you ever buy ingredients that are slightly outside your repertoire, just enough that you only use them once or twice before they languish in your cupboard? If you’re anything like me, you do.

But here’s the thing about moving and kitchens: it makes no sense to move food. Special dispensation may be granted for my supply of frozen rhubarb and my stash of homemade dill pickles (more on this later), but damned if I’m going to pay movers to haul boxes full of unused dry goods only to have them gather dust in my new (space-challenged) kitchen. And like my mother, a daughter of Great Depression survivors, I cannot bear to throw away food.

And so, my friends, I give you the No Food Left Behind project.

For the next few weeks, I have made it my own personal challenge to eat up as much of my kitchen inventory as possible. I”m sure some results will be fairly mundane, but I’ll share the more interesting ones here.

Kicking things off, here is how I used up a surplus of rolled oats and last year’s homemade apple butter. The recipe would work equally well if you use orange juice if you don’t have apple butter on hand. Homemade granola is easy to make, and especially gratifying considering how expensive it is. For an equal investment in buying nuts at the bulk food store, you can make something that is as sweet as you like it, in nut-to-oat proportions that are exactly to your taste.

And then, you have a ton of granola in your house, for breakfast, for snacks, or for sprinkling on top of vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Granola with apple butter
makes approx. 10 cups

5 cups quick-cook rolled oats
1 cup each: sunflower seeds, pecans, cashews, pepitas and slivered almonds
1/4 cup oil (canola, sunflower, or [not extra-virgin] olive oil )
1/2 to 3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup apple butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a very large bowl, combine the oats, nuts and seeds. In a small saucepan, combine the oil, honey, apple butter, vanilla and salt. Heat it gently over medium heat, until the mixture bubbles. Mix thoroughly with the dry ingredients until everything is good and sticky.

Distribute evenly between two cookie sheets and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, mix the granola around to ensure even browning, and return to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes. The granola should be golden brown and slightly damp. It will dry as it cools.

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End-of-summer plum ginger tart

The first day of school has come and gone, the days and nights are growing cooler, but I’m still wearing my sandals, dammit, and likely will be until October, when the mercury dips low enough to necessitate socks.

And as we ease through the transition from high summer’s lush stone fruit to the this season’s fresh apples and pears, I made this tart the other night with some plums.

It’s taken me a long time to become comfortable with making pie pastry. I’m always worried about overmixing it and having it turn out too tough, or not letting it rest enough and having it shrink in the oven. For a while I thought that making classic flaky pie pastry, like the knack for getting your whites really white, was the domain of our mothers and grandmothers – you had to be inducted into that secret society before you really got the hang of it.

One of my last cooking jobs, where I had to make pies every other day, helped cure me of that.  It’s all about practice, pure and simple. And also confidence. Sure, there are tricks, like adding some vinegar or even vodka to the water – and these have merit. But for me the bottom line is that as long as all of your ingredients are very cold, and you don’t mix it too much, you’ll be ok. You can even add a bit more water than you think you should, and it will be ok.

But for those of us who, unlike our grandmothers, aren’t in the habit of whipping up a pie on a regular basis, this pastry is a breeze. And the freeform shape means you don’t even have to trifle with a pie plate. Easy as pie.

Plum Ginger Tart
serves 6 virtuously, or 4 generously

For the pastry:

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/4 cornmeal
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter or shortening (or a mix of both)
ice water

For the filling:

1 1/2 pound of plums (about 6), sliced thin
1/2 cup sugar (to taste)
1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp. flour

1 egg for egg wash
parchment paper for baking, cut large enough to fit a cookie sheet

First, make your pastry: In a bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt. With a pastry cutter or two butter knives, cut in the shortening until it looks like a crumbly mixture, with some pea-sized pieces of shortening in it. Add in 2 tablespoons of ice water, then additional tablespoons of water if needed. The dough should stick together when squeezed.  Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill it in the fridge for an hour. (If you’re impatient like me, you can probably roll it out after a half-hour, but I found it crumbled a bit too easily and would have benefited from the extra resting.)

Make the filling:  In a bowl, mix the plums, ginger and sugar together. This would be a good time to taste the fruit and make sure the sweetness is to your liking. Depending on the sweetness of the fruit, you might want to add another few tablespoons. Once you’ve got that tweaked to your liking, add the flour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Shape the tart: Lightly flour the parchment paper, and roll out the pastry to approximately 14 inches around. Transfer the crust, parchment and all, onto a large baking sheet.

Pile up the filling in the centre, leaving about 2 inches around for a border. Fold the border over the fruit. You can try to make this all pleated and pretty, but I think the tart will be just as attractive – call it rustic – if it cracks here and there. Some juices may spill out onto the parchment paper, but that’s why you have it there.

Bake the tart for 40 to 45 minutes, until the crust is brown and the filling is bubbling. Let it cool for 15-20 minutes. This will be a test of your willpower, but it helps the juices congeal a bit so you don’t lose them when you slice the tart. 

Best served warm or at room temperature, but if you happen to eat some leftovers (ha!) straight out of the fridge, well, I’m not one to judge.

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