Kids and Crisp

IMG_4438Kids Cooking Club is a Monday afternoon staple here at Culinary Underground. From September through mid-June, our kid chefs are here weekly, learning all manner of things. Today the menu included vegetarian chili, a roasted vegetable parfait, and a fruit crisp.

Is there an easier dessert than berry crisp? The berries are so nice during late spring and into the summer; we also buy too many! This dessert is best with perfectly ripe berries, but if they’re starting to soften a little, that’s okay, too. This is one of the easiest desserts for kids to make because there’s no slicin’ or dicin’ here – unless you use strawberries that are super large. And even then, who cares? It’s rustic dessert time!

The topping here doesn’t contain nuts, but you could add some pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped. The melted butter lets you skip that whole “cut in the butter” business that seems to trip up non-bakers. In fact, we quadruple the crump part of the recipe and store the crumb topping in a bag in the freezer, so it’s always ready when we want a quick summer dessert.

Mixed Berry Crisp
(6-8 servings)

4-5 Cups mixed fresh berries
1/4 Cup sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon

1-1/2 Cup flour
1-1/2 Cup old-fashioned or instant
3/4 Cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon favorite spices – like cinnamon or 5-spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 Tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees  Spray a 9” x 13” pan with cooking spray.

Arrange the berries in the pan. Add sugar and lemon juice. Toss well to combine.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, oats, sugar, salt, and spices. Pour in the melted butter and toss with a fork (or your fingertips) until the mixture is clumpy and lumpy. Sprinkle topping evenly over fruit.

Bake about 35-40 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling – that’s a sign that it’s done. The topping should be lightly brown, too.

Serve warm with whipped cream or our favorite: melted vanilla ice cream!

Apple Tart No. 1

Hold the fork.

My Friday Pie post is late this week for…reasons. The end of the week suddenly began to get very busy, and busy times call for shortcuts. And by shortcuts, I do not mean commercial refrigerated pie crusts – scrolls of plastique that smell like vinegar and feet. Pre-rolled piecrusts shrink and are pretty tough. I’d rather forgo the crust altogether and just make a fruit crisp.

Luckily there are other options – such as making your own puff pastry or buying frozen brand (still not great, but better than the Doughboy’s stuff). Puff pastry in the freezer is a pantry essential. This week, I had homemade puff in the freezer, just a scant half pound left over from a French cooking class. Once thawed, it was a snap to roll and top with a couple of thinly-sliced Granny Smiths that lolling around in the fruit bowl.   Read more

Pie of the Week: Buttermilk Coconut Custard

It’s the taste and the texture!

Still no decent peaches in the market! It’s time to let go of that dream. I had to pick a different pie this week and wasn’t feeling particularly inspired. Lucky for me it’s muskgoes time at CU (that’s when we stand in front of the open fridge muttering, “This mus’ go, that mus’ go…”). I love the challenge of using what’s on hand and this week an overabundance of buttermilk and coconut resulted in this week’s pie, Buttermilk Coconut Custard. Read more

Pie Friday: Shoo-Fly Don’t Bother Me

Last week, I made a pie from some Maine wild blueberries. It was an eleventh hour thing, thrown together while making dinner. (Actually, I was afraid the berries would suddenly begin to fuzz.) It’s been so long since I  had the time to bake anything interesting! The process was so satisfying and pleasurable that I decided to make weekly pie and share the results – on my blog.

Well, of course I’m on a sugar high! A pie every week? I’m channeling Mrs. Pattmore. However, this idea has met with a lot of enthusiasm around here, with lots of tasting volunteers. I see it as an opportunity to share some pie lore, tips, and techniques on all things crusty and delicious with you – and said tasters. Read more

Long Live Whipped Cream!

Well, I swan - real whipped cream!

We love summer fruit and ice cream desserts – but they must have a little whipped cream to be complete. Stuff in the can? It’s fun and tastes just-okay, but whipped cream is best when made fresh– and we always have heavy cream on hand around here.

Use heavy cream, not the stuff marked “whipping cream”. Heavy cream has more fat and is easier to whip. Good luck finding a brand that’s not ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pastuerized cream is very difficult to whip because the high heat denatures the proteins in the cream. That’s why most recipes call for chilling the bowls and beaters and stuff, which we always forget to do.

Read more

Father’s Day: Food Quirk Edition

Dad's Virtual Dessert

Today is Father’s Day, and my dad will probably be chillin’ and watching the U.S. Open (unless my mother preempts that event for the Phillies game). As I can’t be with him today, I decided to post about him, like I did for my mother on Mother’s Day. (And you have to be careful never to play favorites with your parents!)

The Mother’s Day post was about my mom influences on my sweet tooth and I wanted to write about dad-influenced food thing. Well, there were many food memories, but I’m not sure how influential they were. Things like, how you’d be eating a lunch at the kitchen table and this giant hand would suddenly appear over your right shoulder to snatch a few potato chips off your plate. He’d do this to everyone at the table. Read more

I Baked a Cake for Mom

My Mother's Day Gift

While visiting my mother a couple of year’s ago, I noticed a cute, funky little chest in her foyer – it looked like an antique telephone cabinet. I opened the doors to peek inside – and it was filled with candy! Boxes of candy bars, bags of kisses and caramels, tins of yummy, nutty things. Stacked and organized, it looked like Willie Wonka’s warehouse, circa October 30. “Oh,” she said casually in response to my gasps, “that’s my just my schleck cabinet.” (Schleck is the PA Dutch word for junk food.) No mere drawer or tiny decorative bowl of sticky Werther’s for my mother – a cabinet. Read more

Too Many Matzohs?

Passover is well underway – how are you going to consume all those matzohs for the next week? I can’t resist buying them because to make matzho-brei (that savory or sweet matzoh and scrambled egg dish) or mina de Pesach (a Passover lasagna thing that I make with chicken and herbs). But I always buy too many – just to be able to make matzoh toffee. Read more

Carrot Cake Quest

I’m sitting at my dining room table in Victoria, blogging and watching the harbour tugs putt-putt up the waterway (note the spelling of harbor; when in Rome…).

Tug-watching is only one of the many pleasures here; the other is my quest for the perfect slice of Carrot Cake. Why carrot cake? Hey, why not? I don’t eat it any other time of the year. Victoria is not necessarily known for it. I don’t even make it anymore (and I make killer carrot cake). But every year, we spend two weeks here in the Northwest, where coffee shops abound. Daily, we visit a different one, sometimes a favorite, sometimes a new one. The coffee is always great, but the real draw for me is the treats that go with the coffee: cookies, bars, muffins, etc. And there’s always carrot cake on the menu.

This year I’m limiting myself to a quest to find the best coffee shop carrot cake in Victoria. There will be distractions, like biscotti and Nanaimo Bars and brownies and lemon squares, but I will be true to my goal. Most shops offer the carrot cake – and if they don’t, well, I may not return, even if the beans are primo.

What constitutes the perfect carrot cake? Well it should be a good-sized slab – preferably single-layer – with the requisite cream cheese frosting. Now, for some people the frosting is the draw. (The real reason, I think, for the popularity of the odious Red Velvet Cake.) But carrot cake should be able to stand-alone, like if you skipped it for some crazy, calorie-conscious reason, the cake would still be great.  The cake should be moist and carroty, but not dense. The addition of other fruits – raisins, dates, or pineapple – is acceptable. Coconut, to me, is a must, but there are those who shun it for textural reasons. I can go either way on the use of nuts, but if they are included they should be limited to walnuts – no pistachios or pecans or sunflower seeds or nonsense like that. Spices are okay, too, be should not be all that noticeable.

Yes, this is a tough job, but I’m willing to sacrifice so that I may bring this information to mankind. And there’s not a whole lot of time to do it.

My favorites so far are available at Union Pacific Coffee Company and at the Grindstone Café. After my questing is over, I’ll post my recipe for y’all. Until then…I’m off to Bean Around the World.

A Couple Concocts Kulfi

Collaborating spouses are the cornerstone of our Couple’s Night classes! Last Saturday, one happy pair got together during our Indian Balti class to whip up some watermelon kulfi. Now, kulfi is a popular Indian frozen dessert that’s usually made with mango or pistachios, or the more exotic tastes of saffron or rose water, and is frozen in conical molds. Our students opted for watermelon. It was the perfect ending to the highly-spiced meal our students prepared (the eggplant-green mango chutney was especially mind bending).

Sweetened condensed milk is a common ingredient in hot-weather cuisines since it needs no refrigeration and lasts for years on the pantry shelf. You’ll find it in desserts in India, Southeast Asia, and South America, where cooks boil it in the can for hours until the sugars caramelize. The results is is dulce de leche. Sweetened condensed milk is also popular in certain European cuisines; I knew a Russian emigre who served it with strong, black coffee — and you haven’t lived until you’ve had coffee served that way.

Between the food processor and the convenience of the sweetened condensed milk, this dessert is a breeze. And the flavor possibilities are endless! Just make sure your fruit is cut into 1″ pieces (not a necessity for most berries) and frozen completely, not thawed. The mechanical motion of the food processor and the frozen fruit stand in for an ice cream maker. You probably won’t need additional sugar, but that depends on the ripeness of the fruit.

Sweet, cold, refreshing – the perfect ending for an Indian meal, or any hot weather feast this summer.

Watermelon Kulfi
(4-6 servings)

4 Cups seedless watermelon cubes
14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk, chilled
Sugar to taste

Cut watermelon into 1” cubes. Spread them on a baking sheet and place in the freezer. Freeze until solid, several hours over overnight.

Transfer the cubes to bowl of the food processor fitted with the steel blade. Begin processing while pour the cream/milk through the feed tube into the processor. Puree until smooth. Taste the mixture; add some sugar, if necessary and pulse briefly to mix.

Transfer to a container and freeze for about an hour (or serve immediately for a “soft-serve” version).