Pear Crisp with Cardamom

In which I also resolve to illustrate some posts for this blog.

 

pears 1

 

Every fall, it’s the pears that get me over my disappointment at the end of the stone fruit season, and convince me that everything’s going to be Ok.  I like to wait until they’re really ripe to eat them (at least most of the common kinds), ripe enough to slide a knife in one clean curve down the stem and around the seeds, with pear juice forming instantly on the cut surfaces.  That first bite of juicy ambrosial pear, that’s what convinces me that maybe I’ll get along with autumn alright after all.

I was hoping to have a recipe, not a just a short soliloquy, about pears for you, and I do!  It turns out that two of the dear friends we visited in the Northwest at the end of the summer have a copy of The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, and so I spent a little time pouring through that book looking for various ideas.  I’m really starting to admire the way she looks at the simplicity of cooking.  In the second household there was also a huge bowl of free pears from a colleague’s tree, and the inspired idea to combine pears and cardamom (thanks Becca!), so here you go.

 

Pear Crisp with Cardamom

Adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

 

Slice 7 cups/4 lbs of fairly ripe pears (they don’t have to be as ripe as I like them for eating)

Toss the pears in a bowl with:

1  1/2 Tablespoons flour (can be white or wheat or gluten-free alternative, it’s just for thickening the juice)

Zest of 1 (organic) lemon

About 1 Tablespoon lemon juice

 

Pour the pears into a baking dish and make the crisp topping in the bowl:

Toast 2/3 cup walnuts in the oven at 375° F for about 10 minutes, until golden brown (set a timer!  I’m so bad at that, I burn things more often than I’d like to admit).  While they are toasting, mix in the bowl:

1  1/4 cups flour (again use what you like, gluten is not required to hold the crisp together.  I used a mixture of white and whole wheat flour)

6 Tablespoons brown sugar

1  1/2 Tablespoons turbinado sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

About 1/4 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds (if you have whole green pods, crush the pods lightly with the flat of a knife if necessary, pull the pods open, and extract the seeds.  Grind just the seeds in a mortar and pestle or with a spice grinder.  Fairly coarse ground is fine.)

Chop the walnuts and add them to the above mixture.  Mix well, and then cut in 1 stick (8 Tablespoons) of butter (cut into pieces), using your fingers or a pastry blender, just until the mixture comes together and has a texture like big crumbs.

Sprinkle the topping over the pears, and bake at 375° for about 50 minutes, rotating once for even baking.  When done, the crisp topping should be golden brown, and the fruit should be juicy and bubbling down in the dish.

 

pears 2

 

About the illustrations: I know I need to keep up my drawing skills, and I’d even like to practice enough to keep improving.  Since finishing Hello Sewing Machine, I haven’t had too much incentive to draw (other than little sketches like these, which I still make all the time).  I thought if I made it a goal to illustrate at least one post a month, I would be sure to get practice drawing.  I kind of forgot that I would also get practice scanning drawings and working in Photoshop . . . but it’s also practice I need.  I’m more of an illustrator than an artist, and more used to trying to make things clear than to capturing 3-D fruit in all it’s glory.  And I need to find some smoother paper . . . but one little bit at a time, right?

Good luck with your fall goals, whatever they are!  (And eat some pears!)

 

A Simple and Delicious Way to Cook Artichokes

 

artichokes on plate

 

Phew—who’s ready for a break and some easy cooking?  I know I am.  As I mentioned in this post about broiled asparagus, spring came along just in time for me this year.  I’ve been busting my booty over my recently launched beginning sewing e-book for the last couple of months, so anything that tasted delicious and and fresh without a whole lot of time and effort in the kitchen was a major bonus.  We’ve eaten a lot of artichokes this spring.

I love artichokes.  That time of spring when they appear at our CSA farm store, tiny and fresh and beautiful in their variations, would get me excited whether or not I needed some easy food options.  So we’ve eaten a lot of them, practically one every day for a while there.  I also wasn’t running to the store unless absolutely necessary, so I did some experimenting with what I added and how I cooked them.  Considering how cool this spring has been in many parts of the country, I’m hoping their are still some artichokes available near you!

 

 

artichokes with lid

 

Simply Delicious Artichokes

  • Rinse the your artichokes and trim the stems flush with the bottoms.  I don’t trim any of the leaves.  Especially when they are small and fresh, I like to leave on each possible delicious morsel.  My mom cooks the stems along with the rest, but I find they are often somewhat bitter.
  • Put the artichokes in a pot in a single layer.  Use a pressure cooker if you have one (more about that below).  Either put the artichokes stem side down in the pan and add about 1/2″ of water around them, or put them in a steamer basket with either the top or the stem up and add water below.  I haven’t found any difference in how they come out with any of those methods.
  • Optional: add a drizzle of olive oil on top.  It doesn’t change the flavor very much, but it does the usual jobs of added oil: making sure that the artichokes don’t dry out and adding a little smoothness to the taste.
  • Optional: add a drizzle of lemon juice.  This doesn’t change the flavor much either, but without it the water left in the pot turns an amazing dark green color which could stain your cookware.  However, I cooked a bunch without any lemon and they came out fine.
  • Put the lid on the pot and cook until the leaves are tender.  Pull one out from somewhere in the middle, and pull the base of the leaf off with your teeth to see if it’s tender.  It’s hard to overcook them.  I knew they were taking a while to cook on my stove, but I didn’t realize how long until I started keeping track for this post.  It was anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half!  So then I did what should have been obvious, at least at high altitude, got out the pressure cooker.  15 minutes later (12 minutes at high pressure plus warm-up and cool-down) I had cooked artichokes!

 

Ok, you knew I was going to say this, right?  But it’s no joke, artichokes are totally delicious with crème frâiche!  And possibly even more delicious with just a bit of good quality balsamic vinegar on top, so that each leaf you dip gets some of each.  If you’ve never eaten one before, there are illustrated directions here, among other places.  I may have to try a clove garlic in the water next time I make them.  But I bet the flavor of the artichokes themselves will still be my favorite part.  (By the way, they contain a chemical that can change your perception of other flavors, so beware of eating them with your best wine.)  Enjoy!

 

Broiled Asparagus – Simple Spring Vegetables

 

broiled asparagus 1

 

I’ve been working super hard on my soon-to-be-released project lately, as you may have noticed since no post has appeared yet this week!  Luckily, some spring produce has also arrived lately, heralding the long season of practically effortless vegetables.  Perfect timing!  I could use some easy dinners right now.

If you’ve never tried asparagus broiled, it’s great.  It’s just a little caramelized and crispy on the outside, juicy and delicious inside.

If your asparagus varies widely in thickness, like this bunch did, either separate it into two batches or take the tiny ones out when they’re cooked, sooner than the thicker spears.   Cut or snap off the ends of the asparagus spears, put them in a broiler-safe pan and smear a little olive oil on them.  Start your broiler on low heat.  Put asparagus pan close to the broiler and check it every couple of minutes.  The spears will turn bright green first.  When they have caramel-colored patches and the ends are barely crispy, they’re done.

 

broiled asparagus 2

 

Broiled asparagus is delicious as a side to just about anything I can think of.  On the day I took these photos we ate it on lemon pepper pasta from Decio (a Christmas gift) with a little cheese, accompanied by a salad and then artichokes.

Enjoy!  And feel free to share your favorite spring vegetables/recipes . . .

 

DIY Fruit and Nut Bars

 

We’re headed to our next art show today (Brookside in Kansas City, MO) and along with my usual motley assortment of library books (shhh) and projects in progress, I’m packing two versions of these bars!

We eat a lot of Clif bars, Odwalla bars, Larabars, regular old granola bars, etc. for breakfast when we’re in the truck.  By the end of the summer if I never saw another one it wouldn’t bother me, with the possible exception of the Larabar type.  There’s nothing in those besides dates, nuts and spices, and of course they are also the most expensive kind, I usually don’t buy them unless they’re on sale.

This winter on our trip to Oregon I was sitting with our friend Becca when she came up with a brilliant idea – why not make them?  She was eating a bar made at the lodge where we were, which was mostly chunks of dried fruit and nuts held together with honey.  This seemed like such a good idea, and of course so obvious once she said it, it lodged in my brain and fortunately stayed there until I tried it out.

The first version had more dates, and fewer almonds, with none reserved for coating the outside.  It was good, but sticky, and even a little too sweet, despite the fact that there’s not any added sugar.  Here’s version 2:

Date and Almond Bars

Add 8 oz dried, pitted dates to a saucepan in which they barely fit in a single layer.  Grate on top: zest of one orange.  Pour in enough water to make about 1/8″ in the bottom of the pan, just enough so that all the dates have some to soak up.  Bring the water to simmer, then turn off the heat, cover the pan, and leave it for about half an hour, until the dates have soaked up the water and become soft and plump.

Grind 1 cup raw or toasted almonds to a coarse flour with some chunks remaining.  Grind a further 1/4 cup to flour without chunks.

Put the soaked dates in the food processor, and chop/grind until you have a thick puree.  I added a splash of Amaretto to the processor, totally optional, but adds a nice extra flavor.

Scoop out the date puree into a bowl or back into the pan, add the coarsely ground almonds, and mix together into a thick paste.  On a cutting board or parchment paper, sprinkle out about half of the almond four.  Scoop the date/almond paste on top of the flour, sprinkle more almond flour on top of it, and roll out like you would cookie dough to your desired thickness, using the almond flour to keep the bars from sticking to the surface or the rolling pin.

Cut into bars, use the extra almond flour that falls off to coat the edges, let dry for a few hours, and you’re done!

 

 

Seeing as how I was making my own fruit and nut bars, I also bought some figs, and made:

Fig and Pistachio Bars

Using basically the same procedure as the date and almond ones.  I needed to cut the stems off the figs, and they weren’t quite as juicy or sweet as the dates.

Add 12 oz dried figs (I used black mission), a little orange zest, about 1/3 of the orange (lemon would also be nice here), 1 Tablespoon of honey, and just a little water as before to the saucepan.

After soaking, there was still a little liquid left, so I brought the pan to a simmer again and boiled it off just for a minute or two, stirring, until it was more like a thin syrup that stuck to the figs.

When I was writing this up yesterday I forgot that I had used slightly fewer pistachios than I did almonds in the date bars, about 3/4 cup in the fig bars, but still 1/4 cup ground to dust the outsides.  This seemed to make sense because the figs were a little drier, and also because I ran out of pistachios!  Of course you can vary the amounts to your own taste and see what you like.

From this point process the figs and grind the pistachios just like the above recipe.

 

 

Maybe my favorite thing about this idea is that if I get tired of one kind, I can just add another variation, some spice or a different nut for a new flavor!  I’d love to know your thoughts, what flavor combos would be good?  If you try your own, how did they come out?

Recipe Sketch – Carrot and Raisin Salad

 

Carrot & raisin salad 2

 

For this recipe, I wanted to give a nod to the fact that we don’t really follow recipes.  At least I don’t.  At least not usually.  You know what I mean?  I read one and think, “That’s a good idea!” and I may even refer back to it while I’m cooking, but I’m not using any of the exact quantities specified, I am leaving things out, and I am putting in things that aren’t called for.

Of course, there are also the nights when I just want to settle down and cook something from exact notes, especially my own exact notes, about what to put in and how much.

But, I think being more experimental, at least some of the time, is a great way to learn about cooking, about flavors, and about what you like.  And some recipes, like this one, seem made for a non-measuring preparation every time, even after I have figured out just how I like them.

So, at least some of the time, I’m going to post in the form of a recipe “sketch” that acknowledges the fact that many of us are going to make our own version anyway, as well we should.

 

Carrot & raisin salad 1

 

Recipe Sketch – Carrot and Raisin Salad

Grate some carrots, on the biggest holes in your grater.  These make up most of the volume of the salad, so grate as many as you need for about as much salad as you want.

Add some raisins.  Pour some in and mix to see if you think it’s enough.

Grate in citrus zest.  I like lime the best, but Meyer lemon is also lovely.  Squeeze on a little juice of the same citrus.

Salt.  It seems weird, but a small (not tiny) amount of salt is totally what makes this come together.

That and heavy whipping cream.  Actually, mixing the cream with crème fraîche is even better.  I like to add just enough to make a little liquidy dressing for the carrots and raisins.

Mix, taste and adjust.

I love these flavors!  A little salty, a little sweet, a lot of fresh.  Also, a fantastic way to use up carrots from your fridge right before you leave town.  And a good use of multicolored carrots.  Sometimes I think I buy heirloom vegetables just for the colors.

So what about you?  Do you “follow” recipes?

 

Simplest Granola

 

I often have this urge to distill things down to their essential elements, it helps me figure out just what is going on, and then I can change whatever I would like.

This granola recipe started that way.  It’s a perfect platform for whatever spices, extra nuts, dried fruit, coconut (add these last two after baking) etc. you would like to add to make it your own.  You could also substitute honey or another sweetener, and/or the oil of your choice, and/or different grains. Personally, I like the simple toasted-oats-and-molasses flavor of this one so much that I keep making it, just as it is.

 

Simplest Granola

Melt over low heat in a large skillet:

2 Tablespoons butter

1 heaping Tablespoon molasses

When warm and melted add:

6 cups oats (I like thick cut)

Stir immediately and keep stirring until the oats are uniformly barely coated.  It seems like there is not enough molasses and butter, but, just keep stirring.

Add:

1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts etc.)

Mix.

Scoop onto a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350°, stirring every five minutes to keep the edges from getting too brown.  Do this three or four times until lightly toasted all over.  Let cool.

 

What’s in your favorite granola?