Crabapple Butter

While visiting Syracuse this past weekend, I stopped by the Central New York Regional Market (one of the best farmers' markets I've had the chance to attend regularly - and something that I really miss now that I live down in DC). The market was in full swing and amongst the early fall produce I found some crabapples that looked absolutely beautiful. The fact that I'd never cooked anything with crabapples before didn't stop me - so I bought a small basket and brought them back home with me (along with a larger basket of jonamac apples that have been making my lunch tote very happy). After a bit of scouting about for ideas of what I might actually do with my batch of crabapples (chutney, jelly, preserves, and spiced whole apples all sounded tempting), I settled on crabapple butter. This recipe yields about a pint of ruby-colored crabapple butter that you can use as a spread for toast, quick breads, or just eating by the spoonful.

Crabapple Butter (~ 1 pint)
2 lbs. crabapples, stems removed and quartered (do not peel or core)
1 cup water
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar (adjust if necessary to achieve desired sweetness/tartness)

1. Place crabapples and water in a large pot, spreading apples into a single layer if possible. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until apples are soft (~ 15 minutes). Crush using a potato masher then strain through a sieve, pushing through as much of the pulp as possible. Discard remaining skins, seeds, etc.

2. Combine pulp, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until the sauce thickens, stirring regularly, about 20-30 minutes.

3. Spoon into clean dry canning jar(s) and cover. Cool and refrigerate.


Julia Child, baked cucumbers, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Over the Labor Day weekend I headed out to the movies to see Julie & Julia, which combines the stories from Julia Child's My Life in France with Julie Powell's blog (and later book) about her journey through Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (actually written by Child and Simone Beck, with some contributions from Louisette Bertholle). I'd picked up Powell's book and leafed through it at the bookstore when it first came out a few years ago, but didn't go any further. However, when the movie came out - well, who can resist Meryl Streep - especially Meryl Streep playing the very unique Julia Child? I'd seen some stories about the rapid rise in popularity of the hefty cooking tome generated by the movie - but before going into the theatre I thought "nah - I'm not soooo interested in French cooking that I'd plunk down big bucks for Child's cookbook." Then there was the scene in the movie in which Powell has a dinner party and serves baked cucumbers.

Baked cucumbers. Who'd have thought that cukes - so delicious when freshly sliced and served with a touch of salt, or blended into a chilled soup (cucumber green tea and gazpacho come to mind) - who'd have thought that these members of the melon family could be baked into anything that didn't resemble a dish of watery mush? Julia Child, that's who. And with that short bit of film I was suddenly hooked. Fast-forward through a few days of contemplation, an emailed coupon for 15% off any book, and a trip to my local Barnes & Noble, and I had my very own copy of Mastering. And on page 499, I found the introduction to a short section on how to bake cucumbers (concombres).

Child helpfully notes that the moisture in cucumbers must be reduced before baking - but blanching removes water as well as taste. Instead, the book suggests "a preliminary sojourn in salt draws out the water...yet leaves the flavor, which a little vinegar and a pinch of sugar accentuates." And indeed this does the trick precisely - combining the newly dewatered cucumbers with a bit of butter, dill, onion, and pepper, then baking for an hour yields a dish that tastes delicious, retains just a slight bit of crispness, and adds a bit of variety to the normal vegetable rotation (okay, technically cukes are a fruit - but like squashes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, they are still "vegetables" to most people).

Stay tuned for more adventures with Mastering the Art of French Cooking - although I don't intend to cook my way through the entire collection of 500+ recipes (aspics, live lobsters, and deboning ducks just aren't my style) - I did spot some recipes in the film and in my perusal of the book since that I am looking forward to testing myself.


Spicy Red Lentils

My first foray into full-on Indian cooking this past spring was dal - and as you may recall, it turned out favorably. I've decided to return to dal, this time trying a recipe using red lentils (dhulli masoor dal) that is quite a bit spicier than what I've tried in the past. In fact, because the store was out of green chiles, I ended up substituting half a habenero - and consequently this came out very spicy. If you prefer your food to be more mild, you can use a sweeter pepper (e.g., Anaheim or jalapeƱo) or use only some of the chile. Also, be sure to serve this with naan, chapatis, or rice to help keep the heat under control.

Spicy Red Lentils (~ 4 - 6 servings)
1 T. garlic-ginger paste or 1 T. ginger paste + 1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. Bengali five spices (panch-phoran)*
1 cup red lentils, sorted and washed
4 1/2 cups water
1/4 tsp. ground tumeric
3/4 tsp. salt
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 fresh green chile pepper, minced with seeds
1 T. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground paprika or cayenne pepper
1-2 tsp. sugar
2 T. peanut oil
4-6 whole dried red chile peppers

1. Combine lentils, water, tumeric, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adjusting heat as needed to make sure that the pot doesn't boil over.

2. Add onion, garlic-ginger paste, green chile, coriander, cumin, paprika, and sugar. Reduce heat to low and simmer about 15 minutes, until dal is soft and creamy. Remove from heat and place in serving dish, covering to keep warm.

3. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add red chiles and cook about 30 seconds (stand back in case the peppers pop). Add panch-phoran and immediately remove from heat and pour over dal. Lightly swirl oil mixture into dal and serve.

* If you can't find panch-phoran at your local supermarket or Indian grocery, you can make your own by mixing equal parts cumin, fennel, black mustard, kalonji, and fenugreek seeds.


Quick Caramel Apple Cake

It's fall! If you are looking for a fairly simple (but very delicious) dessert, try sprucing up a regular box o' cake mix and tub o' frosting to make a caramel apple Bundt cake with these simple substitutions...

What you'll need:
1 box of spice-flavored cake mix
1 tub of caramel-flavored frosting
Eggs (as called for by the cake recipe)
Apple juice or apple cider (equivalent to amount of water called for in the recipe - or you can do half apple juice / half water, depending on taste)
Applesauce (equivalent to amount of oil called for in the recipe)

What to do:
1. Prepare cake mix as directed (substituting apple juice and applesauce as explained above) and pour into a greased Bundt cake pan.

2. Bake according to directions on the box for Bundt cakes.

3. Remove cake from oven and allow to cool completely. Turn out onto a plate.

4. Heat 1 cup frosting in microwave-safe bowl, 10 seconds at a time and stirring after each cycle, until very soft and pourable (~ 30 seconds total). Pour or ladle frosting over top of cooled cake, allowing frosting to run down sides.

5. Let cake sit until frosting sets, then slice and serve.

Broiled Portobello Mushroom Caps

While visiting some friends in Syracuse a couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to partake of food from one of my favorite Syracuse restaurants - Dinosaur BBQ. While Dinosaur has lots of delicious meat options, what really caught my tastebuds this time was their grilled portobello caps. So over the Labor Day holiday, I decided to try my own version. Since I didn't have a grill handy, I had to settle for broiling - but if you have a grill, you can certainly throw these on the barbie instead of under the broiler!

Once the mushroom caps are ready, you can serve them as a main dish, put them on a bun with a tomato and other condiments and serve as portobello burgers, or slice and use as a side dish. If you have leftovers, slice and warm in the microwave or on the stove, then serve over pasta or a creamy risotto.

Broiled Portobello Mushroom Caps (4 servings)
4 large portobello mushroom caps
1/3 c. olive oil
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. chopped sweet onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 T. dried cilantro
grated parmesan cheese (to taste)

1. Set portobello caps gill side up on a broiling pan.

2. Combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and cilantro. Drizzle over mushroom caps and allow to sit for at least 1 hour.

3. Heat oven to broil and broil mushrooms for 7-8 minutes.

4. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over each mushroom cap and broil an additonal 6-7 minutes.

5. Serve and enjoy!