Friday, November 29, 2013

Breakfast Apple Pie

Your homemade apple pie probably has less sugar and purer ingredients than any toaster pastry or even cereal.  Here is ours with a dollop of cranberry relish on the side. 

Use pie filling to make breakfast yogurt parfaits too.  In a clear glass layer apple or pumpkin filling with yogurt and alternate with crumbled pie crust or struesel toppings, toasted nuts and cranberry sauce. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving Morning Dried Fruit Compote

With a big feast on the way, breakfast on Thanksgiving day needs to be simple and use minimal kitchen space.  But the first meal must still have some substance and a little something special to mark the day too. 

A batch of dried fruit compote made a few days ahead can be set out to accompany simple fare like oatmeal, granola, toast and quick breads.  It can even be spooned over yogurt.  Stir in baked apples or pears (also prepared a day or two ahead) to extend the meal.  

Our version is all golden to celebrate colors of fall and garnished with crystallized ginger for a bit of sparkle.  You can mix and match the dried fruits you like best.  The key to the dish is to rehydrate the whole dried fruits to plump pillows of sweetness.  A sweet liquor forms as you cook down the juices with the fruit sugars.  We use a cider base with a little rum.  You can substitute brandy or calvados or use all fruit juice.  (Thin the cider with a bit of apple or orange juice if going virgin.)

Rum & Cider Fall Fruit Compote
Makes 2 cups

1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup dried calmyra figs (the yellow ones)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup cider
1/4 cup water
1/4 cum rum
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch salt
optional garnish: slivers of crystallized ginger

  1. Combine all ingredients together in a small, heavy bottomed pot with a lid.  
  2. Bring to a boil, them turn the heat to very low and cover.  Simmer covered for 30 minutes checking every 5 minutes to stir.  If the liquid evaporates to quickly, add more water and lower the heat to the lowest setting.
  3. During last 10 minutes, remove top and keep an eye on the pot.  Fruit is ready when plump and about the size of their fresh versions.  (They will be slightly flatter.) Continue cooking on low another 10 minutes if your fruit is very dry and needs extra hydration time.
  4. Let fruit cool in the pot.  Transfer to a seal-able container.   Store in the refrigerator.    
  5. To rehear, warm in a microwave on half power.  Garnish with crystallized ginger just before serving.  
Variation: Add fresh baked fruits like chopped apples or pears tot he mixture. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Ploughman's Party

Molasses and vinegar flavored Branston pickle and pickled onions accompany a British cheese board.
Thanksgiving success is often a matter of keeping excess kitchen activity low, particularly during the hours before and even the night before the big meal.  Take inspiration from a meal that doesn't require much, if any, kitchen equipment or cooking time-- the very English Ploughman's Lunch-- for an easy pre-dinner cocktail hour.   Everything is laid out cold (or room temperature) so it can be set up quickly and does not interfere with any wild goings-on in the kitchen.
-->It can even stand in for dinner one night (maybe the night before Thanksgiving as relatives arrive) or as a Super Bowl theme.
Every culture has a bread and cheese meal, often served with a fruit confection like Membrillo (quince paste) with Manchego in Spain or fig jam with Italy's Pecorino Romano cheese.  Ploughman's Lunch is served in pubs across the British Isles and includes local cheese, slabs of hearty bread and pickled vegetables epitomized by Branston Pickle.  This jarred chutney, a combination of root and winter vegetables preserved in a molasses and vinegar pickling medium, is easy to find in the U.S.  It's strong, piquant flavor stands up beautifully to aged cheddars.

When I was a student in England I discovered the ploughman's lunch served with a pint of bitter, the England's pale ale and generally a lower alcohol choice.  Cider (hard or soft) and beer are natural partners. Fill a cooler or an elegant ice bucket alongside your Ploughman's cheese spread and let people serve themselves.

Sometimes the pub special included a really generous helping of pickled cauliflower florets, pearl onions and gherkins.   A little ham, pate or cooked and iced shrimp can augment your table to add a little more substance if the numbers are large or if this is the main meal on the night before Thanksgiving. When we enjoy a Ploughman's Lunch it accompanies a fall soup like pureed butternut squash and roasted pear soup.

While it is easy to picture an 18th century farmhand sitting in the shade of the plough enjoying his midday meal of cheese, bread and beer, the pub version was not popular in the U.K. until the 1950s. A serious post-war effort by England's Cheese Bureau intended to reignite their industry after intense rationing promoted the Ploughman's Lunch into such a classic that even today tourists expect to see it on pub menus.

Here in America,  it is easy to find a few classic English cheeses and pickles and chutneys to accompany.  If you cannot find Brandston pickle, try Major Grey's Chutney.  The American pepper jelly would also be welcome at this meal.  When I was shopping for cheeses I asked the counter man if there was anything else besides Cheddar and Stilton I could include among English cheeses.  I had just picked up a wedge of Wensleydale from Yorkshire speckled with cranberries which fit the season perfectly.

We went over to the Cheddar section where I selected a pale yellow Seaside Cheddar that had aged for 14 months.   As luck would have it, an Englishman was there too.  I explained my plan and when asked about the cranberries in the Wensleydale, he assured me this was enjoyed on both sides of the pond not just a gimmick sent to us for the season. I'm glad I saw it.  Cranberry Wensleydale is my cheese find of the season and will show up right through New Year's.  Wensleydale is mild with honey undertones, a nice foil to tart cranberries. 

He also intimated that though its nice to have a range of cheeses, if you can only find or afford one cheese, make it cheddar, English or American.  As he put it, "It wouldn't be a ploughmans without Cheddar."

Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving with all the sanity you can handle. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Pumpkin Alfredo Sausage Bake

It’s not quite Thanksgiving but that doesn’t mean any of us has to wait to enjoy the classic flavors of fall-- or work very hard to put dinner tonight together.  Pumpkin Alfredo Penne with Sausage manages to be a hearty seasonal supper that won’t weigh you down. Cottage cheese whipped into the sauce lightens the texture.  Pumpkin compliments the cheesy ingredients and mellows the intensity of the spicy sausage in this pasta bake. 

Around the table reviews included “cheesy” and “lots of sausage flavor.”  Pure cooking lets each food's own qualities shine through and this is a simple example.  Any sliced cooked vegetable like broccoli, mushrooms or green beans will also fit into the recipe nicely.  (We had our broccoli on the side.)

Pumpkin Alfredo Penne with Sausage

Serves 4

½ cup pumpkin puree (canned is fine)
2 ounces cream cheese
1/3 cup cottage cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound spicy sausage meat* (loose)
2 cups uncooked penne pasta
optional: 2 ounces mozzarella or other good melting cheese for topping

  1. Lightly oil a medium baking dish (should hold about 6 cups).  Preheat oven to 325˚F.  
  2. Make sauce.  Combine pumpkin, cream cheese, cottage cheese and grated Parmesan in a food processor.  Set aside.
  3. Cook sausage, leaving the meat in bite-sized chunks. Drain any excess fat.  
  4. Cook pasta until just al dente and drain.  (pasta will continue to cook in the oven).
  5. Return pasta to the pot. Add Pumpkin Alfredo sauce and stir to coat pasta.  Add sausage. 
  6. Pour into a prepared baking dish.  Top with grated or sliced mozzarella cheese.  
  7. Bake at 325˚F for 20 minutes, until bubbling.  Serve immediately.

*Use your favorite non-breakfast sausage, sweet or hot.  You can use turkey or a combo or pork and turkey.