Archive for September, 2010

Apple: Apple Crisp with Oats

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Apple Crisp Crumble - British American

It’s apple season. It, like the turning of green leaves to golden and crimson hues, is a symbol of fall. In my house and elsewhere, that means it’s time for apple crisp.

I’m more partial to crisps, crumbles and crunches than pies and tarts – not only to make but to eat. I prefer less fuss – sprinkling a quick topping over raw fruit, rather than rolling and pinching dough, and worrying about an undercooked, soggy bottom crust.

A crisp contains flour, butter and sugar that is roughly mixed and scattered atop of fruit. It’s an American adaptation of the British crumble, which some food historians say was developed there around World War II, when food rations called for a sweet alternative to the beloved apple pie they’d been eating since the fifteenth century.

However, other food history authorities suggest that apple crisp and other non-pie variations such as cobbler were introduced in the nineteenth century by the English. Notably, the earliest print reference to apple crisp in American recipes was in 1924 in “Everybody’s Cook Book: A Comprehensive Manual of Home Cookery” by Isabel Ely Lord.

Regardless of its origins, apple crisp is a fall tradition and a good apple crisp is balanced in flavor and texture. Flavor – tart apples and a crisp that’s not overly sweet. Texture – a tender juicy apple filling and a chewy, crisp topping.

In the last few weeks, I’ve already made three apple crisps – the apples always vary but not the crisp.

The apples I use depend on what’s available – Jonathan, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Braeburn, and other tart varieties. My best crisp is a mix of apples, using some apples to hold shape and others that will melt to make a sweet, juicy filling.

This crisp is my go-to recipe for any fruit-based crisp. I adapted it many years ago from the Plum and Peach Crisp recipe at 101 Cookbooks. It calls for yogurt in lieu of some of the butter. It’s fantastic because the yogurt adds a bit of tanginess to the already tart and sweet (not overly sweet) dessert. My adaptation also calls for fresh cardamom, one of my favorite comforting spices.

Enjoy! I’m interested in hearing about which apple varieties are your favorite for baked desserts.

Tidbits on Apples:

  1. The large sweet apples that we recognize today descend from wild crabapples from the region of Caucasus in west Asia.
  2. Apples arrived in the New World with European settlers. The first documented orchard in the U.S. was planted in 1625 in Boston.
  3. Choose your apples by what you decide to do with it – eating raw versus baking. Select ones that are firm and bruise-free. The “undercast” (the background color) of ripe apples is generally a dull yellow or dull green. For example a light green Granny Smith is ripe, while a very green Granny Smith is under-ripe. Under-ripe apples will ripen quickly when left out at room temperature.
  4. Store apples in the refrigerator drawer to delay additional ripening. The optimum temperature for apple storage (depending on variety) is between 32 and 40 degrees.


Zucchini: Mexican Creamy Zucchini Corn Soup – Sopa de Calabacitas

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

It’s hinting of fall here in Colorado – crisp mornings and more frequent cool evenings. During the day, there’s still plenty of sunshine to keep my garden growing. And, that of course, means more zucchini.

This recipe for sopa de calabacitas y elote, Mexican zucchini corn soup, is simple and perfect for an almost-fall evening.

The recipe is mine but was inspired by a creamy zucchini soup I ate many, many years ago in Cuernavaca, Mexico. At the time, I left my gig in Austin, Texas to study and travel in Mexico. It was a life-changing experience – my first time traveling abroad. I lived part of the time with a local family and lucky for me, in addition to improving my Spanish, I dined on some amazing food.

I credit Josephina, the mujer de the casa (lady of the house), with introducing me to a vast repertoire of Mexican cuisine. She made exquisite meals every day – sometimes made with fancy ingredients and preparations and other times simple. Our main meal of the day was served early afternoon and almost always started with sopa (soup).

One day she prepared a creamy zucchini soup that I immediately adored – simple, light and comforting.

Her version was a pureed zucchini with stock and cream (which could easily be adapted from the recipe below). My version has additional texture from the corn and diced zucchini, plus fresh cilantro.

Enjoy summer’s bounty these last few weeks.


Zucchini: Lebanese Stuffed Zucchini – Kousa Mahshi

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Life can get hectic. Trying to keep up with the many things pulling us in different directions – family, work, commitments, community . . . Sometimes it feels like the world around us is moving at an unnerving pace. After awhile it takes its toll and I have to find my center.

We all have a few methods that work. For me, yoga or an escape into nature away from cell phones, computers and crowds zens me out. And, of course, cooking is also on this list.

A few days ago I got into my “me time” while cooking these kousa mihshi, Lebanese stuffed zucchini (also called/spelled kousa mihshi, and kussa mihshi).

For the hour that it took to prep ingredients I was “present” – mind and body, enjoying the sensory experience:  coring several zucchini and hearing the corking sound it made with each first cut and tug of the pulp; chopping fragrant fresh herbs: inhaling the warmth from cinnamon and allspice as I measured them out; mashing raw meat with bare hands; and stuffing narrow tubes of zucchini with messy fingers.

This is not a difficult recipe just one that takes a little more time. I could have rushed through the process but why? It was an opportunity to slow down and enjoy the beauty of something I created – from garden to table.

Stuffed vegetables like these kousa mahshi are frequently a Sunday staple but are also served at weddings, parties, and other special gatherings. On such occassions, they are usually prepared communally.

That day, in my kitchen, somehow I felt connected to the generations of Lebanese women who’d made stuffed zucchini for their families and extended families.  This is a meal that is as much about process as the final plate.

Sahtayn! – the Arabic version of “bon appétit,” which means “two healths to you.”

Tidbits on Stuffed Vegetables:

  1. The origin of stuffed vegetables is uncertain, although the Turks and Greeks claim ownership. Originally, they were served in palace kitchens to the wealthy and ruling class.
  2. Traditionally, lamb is used rather than beef to make the meat and rice filling and very traditional recipes for stuffed vegetables like kousa mahshi called for frying them first before stewing.