Hold the fruitcake: chocolate fruit and nut bars (for energy)

Confession: I like fruitcake. Not the cake of my childhood, chock full of artificially colored and flavored glacéed cherries, orange peel and citron. That cake arrived in mid-December in a pretty tin (think of the postmen, lugging those weighty parcels from door to door during the holidays!) Usually the gift was from a business associate of my father’s, because, as everyone knows, friends don’t give friends fruitcake. We never did use it as a doorstop, but unwrapped it and set it out on a plate where it remained untouched for the duration of the season, a marvel of neon. Attempts to foist it upon unsuspecting visitors were rebuffed. The only real useable part of the gift was the tin. We saved it to hold the cookies we made every year.

Later in life I discovered that I am, in fact, one of the eight people on the planet who loves fruitcake, and by this I mean the cake now in fashion, made with unadulterated dried fruits, homemade candied peel and freshly roasted nuts. That fruitcake, baked and diligently doused for weeks in advance with doses of brandy, then wrapped in liquor-soaked cheesecloth in a tightly closed tin before its dénouement on Christmas Eve, is a labor of love. A labor few of us have time to undertake. And sadly, a labor that only a few recipients will ever appreciate.

Still, in the spirit of fruitcake, I am going to make these chocolate fruit and nut bars and give them to my friends. Because, despite past fruitcake experiences, I still believe in homemade gifts of food during the holidays. The tricky part is getting it right. The gift must be special. I mean, fabulous! The gift must be wrapped as beautifully as a gift from Neiman Marcus.

Most importantly, the gift must be appropriate to the recipient. We are bombarded by “treats” at this time of year, all well and good, but not for your friend who has been struggling with her weight, or cannot eat gluten, or has other dietary restrictions. One size may not fit all. Just because Ilike something (e.g., fruitcake!) doesn’t mean it will please my friend. And to top it off, it must be pleasurable to make and give. And that means preparation and packaging of such a gift must not make you feel over-extended or cranky.

As an antidote to Black Friday, Cyber Monday and all other commercial urges of the season, I highly recommend making these bars. While it may not be a one-size-fits-all affair, you can bet that almost everyone likes chocolate. Now that we know how good it is for you, it is a guilt-free pleasure, too. Add some toasted nuts, a little maple syrup and a little salt, and you could consider these babies healthy enough for snacks to bring along on errand expeditions (in moderation.) Good luck with that. Moderation poses a bit of problem, because once you start eating these bars it’s hard to stop. For that reason, I recommend wrapping them immediately, preferably individually, in festive little cellophane bags tied with sparkly ribbons, so it will take a little more effort and thought to get at them. 

Chocolate fruit and nut bars

Makes 12 bars or 24 squares

The possibilities here are pretty open ended. If you have some nuts, fruit and chocolate around the house, you won’t even have to make a special trip to shop for ingredients. Several companies (Guittard, Callebaut) make bittersweet chocolate that is ready to use in the form of chips (not the same as semi-sweet chocolate chips.) If you buy chocolate in bar form, use a serrated knife to chop it in small pieces so the chocolate will melt evenly. Nuts and seeds run the gamut: whole almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews, peanuts, pine nuts, pistachios, whatever strikes your fancy will do. As for the fruits: I love the little tingle of ginger in these, but any dried fruit you like, chopped in small pieces, will make a good addition. So stay home and “bake” and stay out of the stores. And oh, happy holidays to one and all!

Olive oil (for the pan)

8 ounces dark, bittersweet chocolate, chopped or in “chip” form

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups (10 ounces, 283g) mixed, unsalted, raw nuts and seeds

1/4 cup finely diced crystallized ginger

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly brush a 9 X 13-inch baking pan with oil. Cut a piece of baker’s parchment into a 9 X 16-inch rectangle, and line the pan with it. The parchment should fit on the bottom and extend up two sides of the pan. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

2. Spread the chocolate evenly over the bottom of the baking pan and bake for 3 minutes, or until the chocolate melts. Remove from the oven, and use the back of a spoon to spread the chocolate in a thin layer over the bottom of the pan. Cool for 5 minutes. Freeze for 10 minutes, or until firm.

3. Mix the maple syrup, oil, vanilla, and salt in a bowl. Add the nuts and stir to coat them. Spread them on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until nuts are browned and fragrant. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes.

4. Spread the warm nuts, ginger, and cranberries evenly over the chocolate.  Place the parchment paper from the baking sheet over the nuts and press firmly with your hands to embed the nuts into the chocolate. The chocolate will start melting from the heat of the nuts. (If it does not, return the pan to the oven for 1 minute.) Freeze for 10 minutes, or until the chocolate hardens.

5. Using the parchment paper ends as handles, lift the bars out of the baking pan and place in one piece on a cutting board. Use a sharp, heavy knife to cut the bars into twelve 2 by 4-inch rectangles. Cut each rectangle in half to form squares if you would like smaller pieces. Store in a cool place in an airtight tin between layers of waxed paper. Wrap each bar in a small cellophane bag and tie with a festive ribbon.

 

 

 

 

Posted on December 7, 2011 and filed under Breakfast, Food gifts, Sweets.

The morning after the morning after: going cold turkey with some really good rye bread

By now, you’ve probably decided upon your Thanksgiving menu (turkey, anyone?) and are Googling like crazy, or if you are old-fashioned, leafing through your favorite cookbooks, in pursuit of that one elusive, last-minute dish that will break with tradition. I am, per usual, behind. I am going to decide on the final details when I pick up my turkey on Wednesday.

In the meantime, I’m planning for remorse.

Because, no matter how good my intentions, I know I will be feeling it on Friday morning as I stare down the surviving slices of pumpkin pie on the kitchen counter. Before a sip of coffee crosses my lips, I know I will debate whether or not to get it over with and eat that pie for breakfast. What the hell. We all know that Friday will be a junior version of Thursday, with re-warmed mashed potatoes and gravy, or turkey sandwiches slathered in cranberry sauce and topped with stuffing, yes-siree. Never mind. By Saturday, I’ll be more or less back on track, making stock and soup and eating turkey sandwiches for a few more days on razor thin slices of the Polish rye bread I am going to tell you about in a minute. Razor thin slices of bread seem downright virtuous after prior dietary indiscretions.

I had two prompts that propelled me into bread-baking mode before I even started thinking about a Thanksgiving menu. One was a conversation a few weeks ago with an acquaintance, who happens to be Polish, about the bread of that country: loaves full of grainy, seedy, earthy, healthy goodness; loaves with dense and moist interiors and crisp, noble crusts that inspire sighs and longing; loaves that I have never been able to find here. My friend promised a recipe. She returned the very next day with some fresh yeast and a piece of paper in hand. Her daughter elaborated on the finer points—back and forth from Polish to English—and the pair of them gave me the address of a website to consult—written in Polish, but available in English with a tap on the Google translation button.

These instructions were, well, sketchy. Difficult to decipher. In order to make it easy on myself (and on you, should you be tempted to try this) I put the instructions aside and plunged in, relying on the Jim Lahey method of baking bread, also made popular by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I have been baking versions of this bread on a weekly basis for a couple of years now. First, it’s dead easy and fabulous, and second, it costs, at the most, a dollar a loaf.  I more or less freaked out the other day when I saw that the price of my favorite rye bread had reached five, count ‘em, five dollars! (and that’s without the seeds, my friends). The coveted harvest bread I love? Seven dollars. I can only imagine what my mother would say if I told her the sandwich she was eating was made on a slice from a seven dollar loaf.

There are a lot of things that could make this bread recipe complicated if your mind works that way, but don’t let it. It’s nice to have some of the equipment I mention, but if you don’t, all you really need to make this bread is a bowl, a wooden spoon, and a baking sheet. Make the dough the night before (5 minutes). The next morning, shape it (5 minutes), let it rise (1 to 1 1/2 hours), and bake it (40 minutes).  We’re talking about 10 minutes hands-on time, people. Just do it!

Polish rye bread
Makes 1 large loaf (about 1 3/4 pounds)
150 g rye flour (1 1/4 cups)
150 g whole wheat flour (1 1/4 cups)
175 g bread or all-purpose flour (1 1/3 cups)
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 tablespoons flax seeds
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/3 cups water
A little olive oil

Flour (any kind) for the countertop

1. Have on hand a 12-inch long, oval cast-iron pot, a 5-quart round cast-iron pot, a cast-iron skillet, or a baking sheet. (Listed in order of preference)

2. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, stir the rye flour, whole wheat flour, white flour, instant yeast, caraway seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and salt together until combined.

3. Add the water and stir with a wooden spoon or the paddle attachment until the dough is well mixed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and push the dough together to form a ball, more or less, don’t obsess. The dough will be sticky. Drizzle a little olive oil on top of the dough and pat it around with your fingers to cover the surface of the dough. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface and leave overnight, or for 8 to 12 hours.

4. Generously flour the countertop. With a dough scraper or rubber spatula, scrape the dough onto the countertop in one lump and shape it.

For an oblong loaf, push it into an oval shape approximately 9-by-4 inches in size. Flour your hands and the dough. With the long side of the oval parallel to the edge of the counter, roll the dough into a cylinder. Pinch the seam with your fingertips.

For a round loaf, pick up the dough with both hands and stretch the surface of the dough in a downward direction and tuck it under itself to form a ball with a smooth top. Place it on the floured countertop, and cupping your hands around it, turn it in a circle until it is evenly round.

5. Spread a dishtowel (not a terry towel) over a baking sheet or cutting board (so that you can move the loaf around if you need to without disturbing it.) Sprinkle a generous amount of flour on the towel. Place the shaped loaf on the towel and coat it with more flour. Fold the sides and ends of the towel lightly and loosely over the dough. Let rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size. (If the room is cool, let rise for a longer period.)

6. About 1/2 hour before you are ready to bake the bread, adjust an oven rack to the bottom position. If you have a baking stone, set it on the rack. Place the baking pot of choice with its cover on the rack and heat the oven to 450 degrees.

7. When the dough has risen, use a serrated knife or razor blade to make 3 evenly spaced slashes about 1/2 inch deep.

8. Remove the hot pot or pan from the oven, set it on a potholder, and carefully transfer the dough into it. Clap on the cover. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and bake for 10 minutes longer.

9. Remove the pot from the oven and transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool. Don’t even think about slicing it until it is cool!

 




Cooking Lessons:

If you have a kitchen scale, weigh the ingredients, because flour absorbs liquid and also becomes compacted in the canister or bag, so weight measurements will be more accurate than cup measurements. If you are measuring instead of weighing, use the fluff and scoop method: fluff the flour in the canister, scoop it into the measuring cup (the metal kind with a handle, not the Pyrex type with a spout) and level it off with your finger or a knife. Use the exact size dry measuring cup, don’t toss it in a cup with a spout and then shake it to level it (that will compact the flour.),

You can buy instant yeast in small packets, but if you get into the game, buy it in larger quantities. I like the RAF brand of instant yeast (available at Whole Foods). Regular granulated dry yeast in packets (such as Fleischmanns) must be dissolved and activated in warm water. New, improved, “instant” or “rapid rise” yeast (also in little packets) is actually made from a slightly different strain of yeast and does not need to be dissolved in water, but can be added directly to the dry ingredients, thus eliminating one step. Other than ease of use, there is little to differentiate these two types of granulated yeast. Yeast packets contain slightly less than a tablespoon. Yeast is perishable; so check the expiration date on the package to ensure good results.

Using a pot with a cover has a couple of advantages. A covered pot traps steam from the wet dough inside the pot, which contributes to “ovenspring,” the rapid gas expansion that occurs in the first five to ten minutes of baking, because the steam adds even more heat. Steam also condenses on the crust, and that water slows the drying of the outside of the loaf, helping it expand even more while it slowly forms a thicker, shinier crust. CAVEAT: if the lid of your pot (Le Creuset, for example) is not heat tolerant up to 450 degrees, cover the pot with a baking sheet instead. If you don’t have a pot, second best would be a cast iron skillet, and third best, a baking sheet sprinkled with a little flour or cornmeal.

Mix all ingredients in a bowl just until blended. Place a piece of plastic directly on top of dough and let rise overnight

The dough will double (at least) in size

Scrape the dough onto the floured countertop. It will be sticky.

Shape the dough into an oval, and roll it tightly.

Pinch the seam firmly and turn the dough over so that the seam is on the bottom.

Spread a  dishtowel on a baking sheet and coat it generously with flour. Cover the dough with more flour.

Loosely cover the dough with the towel and let rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Uncover the dough and use a serrated knife to make 3 evenly-spaced slashes on top.

Carefully transfer the dough into the hot pot (or skillet or baking sheet.) Bake, and prepare to be wowed.

Lessons over. Now go make bread. And happy, happy Thanksgiving. May your blessings multiply as you contemplate them on Thanksgiving.

Find more recipes you might like for Thanksgiving from this blog:

Turkey Gravy and Cranberry Relish

Roasted Squash with Gorgonzola and Walnuts

Turkey Soup with White Beans and Squash

My favorite Pumpkin Pie

Apple Custard Tart

Vegan Apple Tart with Whole Wheat Pastry

Apples Baked in Cider

Quinoa with Butternut Squash

Glazed Carrots with Cranberries

Maple Candied Sweet Potatoes

Watercress Salad with Cranberries and Oranges

But wait, there's more

Turkey soup with baby bok choy

(The Garum Factory)

Good advice for the cook on Thanksgiving

(Kathleen Flinn) 

Creamy Spiced Pumpkin Dessert

(Sally Cameron) 

Colorful Celery Root and Red Cabbage Salad

 (Tartine Gourmande)

Wild Mushroom Risotto

 (Provence Calling)

Cranberry and Corn Muffins

 (Fresh New England)

Posted on November 21, 2011 and filed under Bread, Thanksgiving.

Let the (Thanksgiving) games begin: roasted squash two ways

It took a while, but now I’m in full thrall of the charm of winter vegetables. 

It started with beautiful carnival squash snagging my attention at the market. But they would be lonely without their buddy, the butternut, which is what I was after in the first place, since everyone knows how easy it is to cut up and roast a butternut squash. What everyone doesn’t know, especially you folks who buy it already peeled and diced (cheaters!) is that the skin of the butternut squash is not all that tough and can be eaten. Also, you cheaters should know, it lasts a much longer time in your fridge in its natural state, in case you do not get around to using it right away.

I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those shoppers who becomes overly inspired at the market by all the good stuff I imagine I can make when I get home, but find I am just a little less enthused when I actually get there. Shopping is debilitating, isn’t it? Anyway, produce often languishes in my refrigerator. I KNOW this is not an uncommon problem, so ‘fess up. And buy squash that hasn’t been meddled with. (Organic if you can find it, and well scrubbed.)

Now I admit, I learned that squash skin is edible by watching a Jamie Oliver cooking show (I’m keeping up so you don’t have to). An unscientific survey, conducted by me, revealed that many British cooks do not bother to peel their butternut squash. If you are going to mash or puree it, you might want to peel it first —I bet Jamie doesn’t—but otherwise, it’s quite good in its natural state, and it adds a little more (unmentionable) fiber to the dish. But it’s a losing battle. By all accounts, most Thanksgiving menus are completely fiber-free, unless you count that lonely overcooked green bean on your plate from Great Aunt Margaret’s casserole.

When it came time to roast the squash, I had to make a vegan version first. Full disclosure: I am not a vegan, but there are people who want vegan recipes, and I aim to please. This consisted of squash sweetened with a little maple syrup, and dressed with some bread crumbs, olive oil, almonds and lots of sage. It was lovely. But what I really craved was some strong, knock-me-down cheesy flavors. Gorgonzola, for example.

By the time I got to the second version, I had used all the butternut squash and the almonds in my cupboard, so I needed to move on to the lovely carnival squash, perhaps made all the more alluring by its practically impenetrable outer covering. Hacking it into pieces requires Ninja-like skills, not to mention equipment, so I experimented by softening it a bit in the microwave first (talk about a cheater). It worked reasonably well, but you must still be prepared for a bit of a fight and some bravado. Once you open it and scoop out the seeds, you still need the same brute force and a heavy knife, but with the squash firmly anchored with the flat side down on a cutting board, images of injured digits recede. For all but the intrepid, the peel of this squash is not so pleasant to eat, but it is much too pretty, and let’s face it, too tricky, to peel, so diners will have to eat their way around it. A worthwhile endeavor.

Butternut squash with almonds and sage

Serves 6 as a side dish

1 butternut squash (2 to 3 pounds)

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs

1/3 cup coarsely chopped sage leaves

1/2 cup finely chopped almonds

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the squash but don’t peel it. Halve it lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. With the flat side down on the cutting board, cut it into 1/2-inch thick half-moons.

2. Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of the oil on a large baking sheet. Spread the squash on the baking sheet in one layer and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Press it into the oil and turn it over. Sprinkle the second side with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes.

3. Mix the breadcrumbs, sage leaves, almonds, maple syrup and remaining tablespoon of oil together in a bowl.

4. Remove the squash from the oven and sprinkle it with the breadcrumb mixture. Return to the oven for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until the squash is tender and the topping is golden brown.

Carnival (or acorn) squash with walnuts and Gorgonzola

Serves 6 as a side dish

1 to 2 carnival or acorn squash

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 1/2 ounces (1/3 cup) crumbled Gorgonzola or blue cheese, more if you like

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Pierce the squash in 3 places with the tip of a sharp knife. Microwave for about 2 minutes to soften slightly. Cut in half from stem to stern and scoop out the seeds. With the flat side down on a cutting board, cut it into 1/2-inch thick half moons.

3. Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of the olive oil on a large baking sheet. Spread the squash on the baking sheet in one layer and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Press it into the oil and turn it over. Sprinkle the second side with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes.

4. Mix the walnuts, breadcrumbs, Gorgonzola and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil together in a bowl.

5. Remove the squash from the oven and sprinkle it with the breadcrumb mixture. Return to the oven for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until the squash is tender and the topping is golden brown.

Cooking Lesson: How to make fresh breadcrumbs:

For one cup breadcrumbs:

Trim the crusts from 2 to 3 (1/4-inch thick) slices of sturdy white bread. Cut the bread into 1-inch pieces. If the bread is very fresh and soft, spread it on wire rack in one layer and let it sit out for about half an hour. It should not be at all squishy. Toss the bread into a food processor and pulse the machine several times until the bread is in small pieces. The exact size of the crumbs depends on their use, but in general they should not be too finely pulverized. Use immediately or store in a heavy-duty plastic bag in the freezer until needed. (They will keep for about 2 weeks, but eventually will dry out and suffer from freezer burn, so wrap them well.)

Note: A one-pound loaf, such as a Pullman loaf, makes about 5 cups breadcrumbs 

Find more squash recipes here: 

Roasted Delicata Squash from Rialto's Ken and Jody 

Sara Kate's Roasted Squash Salad with Dates via Healthy Green Kitchen

Butternut Apple Soup from A Food-Centric Life

Roasted Delicata Squash from White on Rice Couple

Squash and Quinoa Salad from Cooking Lessons

Posted on November 14, 2011 and filed under Fall recipes, How To, Thanksgiving, Winter food, Bread.

The holiday balancing act: an apple tart that’s off the butter chart

Out there in Consumerland, aka Target, where one must venture forth for toilet paper, laundry soap, and other mundane necessities of life, I spotted signs pointing to impending anxiety. As I added the bags of Halloween candy to my cart, I averted my eyes at the sight of snow globes and ornaments. The holidays are coming! The holidays are coming! Just the thought of the approaching madness of the season made me break into a cold sweat. I vowed to stay out of the stores until January, but I know that won’t be entirely possible. (I forgot the Kleenex.)

Still, I realized it is time to start planning to ward off the stress that will inevitably arise if my mind is not in pre-emptive mode. So I am making my list and checking it twice. I’ll start the list with all the crazy stuff I think I should do in the next month or two. Then I’ll give it a go over and cross off at least half of it. Wow, that’s efficient. Only a few days into November, and look how much I’ve accomplished!

You are probably going to be reading a lot about how to manage holiday stress. Those articles will be mixed in with special projects and recipes to brighten the season, as in, more ideas for stuff you can do to drive yourself nuts. While managing your stress.

Not to be a Scrooge or anything, but wake me when it’s over.

So I’ll share my special holiday plans and projects with you here, in the form of another kind of list:

1. Breathe. That’s kind of a given, since we all need air to stay alive, but I’m planning to breathe consciously at every stop light and in every line, to try and center myself and feel what’s going on inside, while noticing my thoughts and feelings without judgment. That’s a tall order, but it doesn’t take more than a few seconds of my ‘precious time.’ 

2. Practice. Speaking of time, I am going to commit to fifteen minutes of ‘practice’ a day. That’s a commitment I know I can keep. For me, practice is simply to sit quietly and tune in. If I start with the fifteen minutes I know I can do, I may extend it, but I’m not going to go all nutty and achievement-oriented on this.

3. Unplug. I am scheduling some unplugged time every day. I want to see if the world goes away if I’m not watching or plugging in. I am pretty confident of the outcome of that experiment.

4. Forget multitasking. Since I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time anyway, I am not worried about this project. Still, I want to focus on one thing at a time while noticing my mind racing on to the next thing, so I can pull myself back to the task at hand. Um, is that multitasking?

5. Put a little distance between self and family dynamics. Boy, this is a killer challenge, since the holidays potentially bring up plenty of old stuff. The key is to watch and learn. Maintaining a teeny bit of detachment from emotions and reactions to situations is healthy and necessary anytime, but especially during the holidays when the past jumps up and tries to grab you. Keep your head when family members make unreasonable demands and you start feeling guilty because they really, really annoy the bejeepers out of you, and you’re trying ever so hard to be loving and kind. Of course, this is general advice—I’m not talking about my own family here.

6. Look at the light. I am enthralled by Christmas tree lights and must remind myself to spend a few quiet moments staring at them when the dark closes in. Even one candle in the evening is symbolic to me of how little it takes to lift oneself out of the darkness we all experience, especially noticeable at this time of year.

7. Stay balanced. With so much activity in the next few months, I have to make a special effort to keep up exercise routines and eat well.

I am not a vegan, but the thought of how much butter I usually consume from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve is a scary one. That led me to experiment with this olive oil pastry crust. It has a hefty amount of whole wheat flour, but paired with walnuts and apples, it is quite good in an earthy, crunchy sort of way. As a butter-trained pastry chef, I needed to mentally prepare myself for a different experience, and I was quite pleased with the result. I can tell you, it goes down a lot easier, with fewer regrets, than the buttah-fied version.

Don't be afraid to add flour when you are rolling this crust; it is a bit crumbly. Scrape an offset spatula under it as you roll to keep it from sticking. It is very patch-able as well, so don't fuss if it breaks.

This post was originally published in the now defunct online Magazine of Yoga. 

Apple Tart with Olive Oil Pastry

Makes one 9-inch tart

CRUST

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup organic cane sugar

3 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 to 1/3 cup cold water

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Whir the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, chopped walnuts, and salt together in a food processor for a few seconds, until mixed. Gradually pour the olive oil through the feed tube while pulsing the machine, until the flour absorbs the oil. Add the lemon juice and 1/4 cup water, and pulse until mixture pulls away from the sides of the bowl and starts to form a ball. Add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the dough seems dry.

3. Turn dough onto countertop and shape into a flat disk. Lightly flour the countertop and roll the dough into an 11-inch circle. Transfer it to a 9-inch tart pan with a removable rim. Lift the sides of the dough to ease it into the pan so that it fits snugly, pressing it gently into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the top edge of the dough so that it overhangs the rim by 1/4 inch. Fold it under itself, with the flap against the sides of the pan, so that it is even with the top of the pan rim. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

FILLING

3 to 4 apples, peeled, cored and cut in thick slices

1/3 cup dark moscovado sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

2 tablespoons apple cider

1. Starting at the outside edge, arrange the apples in the pan, overlapping them slightly.

2. Mix sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a bowl. Sprinkle over the apples. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove tart from the oven and brush the apples with cider. Bake for 15 minutes longer, or until apples are soft and crust is browned. Serve warm.

 

Posted on November 9, 2011 and filed under Fall recipes, Fruit desserts, Sweets, Pies and Tarts.

At the bitter(sweet) end of summer: eggplant casserole

Yes, I do realize it is fall, but I am not listening. I am not ready to embrace squash and pumpkins. Why? I missed summer. I didn’t feel the sand between my toes, or even put on a bathing suit (which for most of us ladies is always a blessing). It just turned out that way. I’d explain, but frankly, it is not that interesting.

As a result of all the stuff I’m not bothering to bore you with,  I realized I needed to get OUT. Somewhere. Anywhere. Away.

Being a procrastinator has its upside. You avoid the crowds.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.

Oh, right, this is a food blog. 

So these beauties were still in the market and here's what I made with them: eggplant casserole. I also bought up the last of the tomatoes to make fresh tomato sauce to use and freeze. You can too.

If your market or your garden is still hanging in there with tomatoes (and basil) you can make this sauce and freeze it. Don’t want to bother with sauce from fresh tomatoes? then try this quick one from

Jody and Ken (Jody Adams of Rialto Restaurant in Cambridge MA and writer husband Ken Rivard just started blogging; you should check them out and pick up a few of Jody’s tips, such as how to peel tomatoes something I'm too lazy to do Jody's way.) I won’t be too jealous if you decide to make their eggplant Parm instead of this one.

Speaking of eggplant: Eggplant’s texture is like a sponge and it therefore soaks up a lot of oil. Older eggplant is like an even drier sponge and soaks up more oil. Brushing it lightly with oil and broiling it cooks the eggplant without drowning it in a bath of oil, if that is your concern. Older eggplant can be bitter, too. 

Instead of sweating eggplant with salt to avoid bitterness, give your eggplant a squeeze before you buy it. Fresh eggplant should not be bitter. It should feel firm and the skin should be taut and smooth. You can be a bit more freewheeling with this casserole than some other recipes. 

Want more than 4 servings? Just buy more eggplant and make more stacks with more sauce and cheese.  It freezes well, too, nice to have around when you want to take a day off. At the beach.

Fresh tomato sauce

Makes about 6 1/2 cups

5 pounds plum (Roma) tomatoes

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves, garlic, finely chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

12 basil leaves, torn in small pieces

1. Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Set a large bowl and a colander side by side in the sink.

2. Core the tomatoes with a paring knife and cut a small, shallow cross at the tip of each one.

3. Working with half the tomatoes at a time, place them in the bowl in the sink and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 20 to 40 seconds, or until the tomato skins pull easily away from the tomatoes. The riper the tomatoes, the less time this will take.

4.With a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to the colander to cool slightly. Discard the water in the bowl. Repeat with remaining tomatoes and more boiling water.

5. Pull off and discard the tomato skins. Cut tomatoes in half crosswise. Gently squeeze each half over an empty bowl to pop out the seeds. Discard the seeds. Cut in 2-inch pieces.

6. Slowly heat the olive oil and garlic together in a large pot over medium heat, until the garlic sizzles. Add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft.

8. With a potato masher, break up the tomatoes in small pieces. Continue to simmer the sauce over medium-low heat for 15 minutes longer, or until it thickens slightly. Total cooking time is about 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if you like. Stir in the torn basil leaves.

Stacked eggplant casserole

Serves 4

2 (1 pound each) eggplant, cut in 1/2-inch thick rounds to make 24 slices

About 1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 cups fresh tomato sauce

1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

8 large basil leaves

1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, thickly sliced

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1. Set an oven rack 8 inches from the broiler element and turn on the broiler.

2. Spread the eggplant rounds in one layer on 2 large, rimmed baking sheets. . Use a pastry brush to coat them with oil. Turn them over, and brush the other sides with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Broil the eggplant for 4 minutes on each side, turning with tongs, until golden and cooked through. Cool briefly.

4. Decrease oven heat to 400 degrees.

5. Spread 1/2 cup tomato sauce over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Using the largest slices first, set 8 slices over the bottom of the pan. Spread each slice with a tablespoon of tomato sauce and sprinkle with a tablespoon of Parmesan.

6. Top each eggplant round with a second slice. Spread with a tablespoon of tomato sauce. Top with a basil leaf and a slice of mozzarella. Cover with remaining eggplant slices. Spoon 1/4 cup of tomato sauce over each stack.

7. Combine the breadcrumbs with the remaining Parmesan, parsley and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top each stack with about 2 tablespoons of the crumbs.

8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until hot all the way through and golden brown on top. Serve 2 stacks per person and spoon the sauce around them.

KITCHEN SONGS:

Michael Franks:Eggplant