Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Apple Roses

This may be the first recipe my father has shared not containing elk or venison. Not to say he doesn't enjoy cooking with (or eating) a variety of ingredients, but he is above all, a practical man. A man who enjoys dining on what he procured from nature more than anything.
My most vivid memories of dad are those of him up at the pulpit preaching the Good Word, hiking a good trail or hunting wild game. Winter backpacking with an old-school external frame is right up there as well. He'd always pack a little surprise treat slyly produced while thawing appendages around a crackly fire.
Dad taught me to hike hard, always wear your wool, and set up your tent while the water boils on the camp stove. Then it was time for a treat; something to celebrate all the toil. Maybe a Snickers or some Mrs. Butterworth's to pour over your morning pancakes.
While on the trail, he taught me to appreciate chunky peanut butter on a slab of cheddar. I still like it. I still have a fondness for Mrs. Butterworth's when I pass her friendly glass silhouette in the baking aisle.
Imagine my surprise when I was sent an email containing a collection of naturally lit photos of "Apple Roses" from dad. Where was the usual side of 8 points....or at least some buckshot? 
Turns out he did not make them. These carefully assembled apple flowers were from a friend and fellow minister, J.
Looking at the recipe J sent to dad, along with an array of photographs of the apple florets from various angles on a large white platter, I recognized something....a kindred spirit. I had to make them.

Many thanks to J for taking pride in such a worthwhile pastime: the art of baking. Your apple roses are not only beautiful, but deeply nourishing in their visual display and in every other sense. The fruit preserves smothered between the pastry dough and sliced apples really bring it all home. 

Used here are locally grown Honeycrisp apples with my sister, Becky's homemade Asian pear butter. We opted to make our own pastry dough in lieu of frozen puff pastry which worked out well. 

Quite possibly the perfect surprise to pull from your external-frame and enjoy by the fire.

Apple Roses:
*5 large apples
*Juice from 1/2 lemon
*5 Tablespoons fruit preserves of choice
*1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
*1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

Basic pastry crust:
*1 1/4 cups quality flour
*1/4 cup sugar
*1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
*1/2 tsp sea salt
*8 Tbsp cold unsalted butter
*3-4 Tbsp ice water

To slice the apples, place stem side up on cutting board. Working toward the center of the apple, cut thin slices top to bottom until you reach the core. Repeat with the opposite side leaving the core and stem in tact. Place slices in a medium saucepan until all apples are sliced. Cover apple slices with cool water and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Reduce to a very gentle simmer for 2 minutes or until slices are just flexible enough to roll without breaking.

Strain and rinse with cold water. Transfer apples to a clean dish towel to dry. Meanwhile make the pastry.

Place flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt in a food processor fitted with a blade. Blend. Add the cold butter and blend to a course meal. With blade running, slowly add the ice water one tablespoon at a time until dough forms. Transfer dough onto a floured work surface. Form into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap or parchment and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Remove from freezer and unwrap. Return to floured work surface. Roll dough into aprox. a 10x13'' rectangle. Cut longwise into five 2'' wide strips. 

Grease 5 of the cups in a muffin tin. Preheat oven to 375.

Working with one strip of pastry at at a time, smear 1 Tablespoon fruit preserves lengthwise down the center of the pastry strip. Place an apple slice on the beginning of the strip allowing half of the slice to exceed the top of the strip and leaving half of the pastry exposed at the bottom. Overlap another slice next to it lengthwise down the remainder of the strip. Fold the bottom portion of pastry up over the bottom of the apple slices. Roll the whole strip onto itself as if rolling a yoga mat to create the apple rose. Gently transfer to muffin tin. Repeat with remaining pastry and apple slices. 

Bake for 45-50 minutes until pastry is golden. If apples begin too fast, loosely cover with parchment until done. 

Remove from oven and allow to cool 10 minutes before carefully loosening each apple rose from muffin tin. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Mix together the teaspoon ground cinnamon with the Tablespoon sugar in a small bowl. Sprinkle over top of apple roses. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

Last fall, my friend Dana gave me a cheese wheel pumpkin she had grown. After roasting and eating it, the seeds landed in the compost. Then this spring, I decided to grow the winter squash in the compost pile. Long story short--as it goes in the summer heat, genetics get curious, frisky, and determined. The butternuts cross pollinated with the volunteer cheese wheels and a hybrid was born. Unsure of the outcome until we hardened them off and sampled, the verdict is in: we are proud parents.

I call this recipe pumpkin soup, but really it's hybrid cheese-wheel-pumpkin-butternut-squash-love-child soup. 
As many of us have discovered, pollination and free-will should sometimes be encouraged.

Roasted Pumpkin Soup:
*1 large heirloom pumpkin or sweet hard squash of choice
*1 large yellow onion, peeled and quartered
*olive oil
*sea salt
*black pepper
*4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
*2 1/2 cups chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment. 

Slice pumpkin lengthwise in half. Scoop out flesh and seeds (reserve seeds for roasting). Slice each half lengthwise again. Place pumpkin quarters flesh side up on baking sheet with onion. Drizzle everything with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. 
Roast until pumpkin flesh is tender in thickest portion when pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes. remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. 
Scoop flesh from rind and transfer to a blender or food processor. You should have about 6 cups roasted pumpkin. Add roasted onion and butter to food processor with pumpkin and blend until smooth. 
Place puree in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add chicken broth and whisk until smooth. Season to taste. 
Portion into bowls and garnish with plain yogurt and chives. 

Brown-Butter Pumpkin Cake Bars

~This article (below) was written exclusively for the Asheville Citizen Times back in September. If you're in the mood for a treat, don't wait to make these bars. You can use roasted pumpkin or any other variety of sweet hard squash. Thanks to my friend Cynthia for sharing the genius idea! ~

The ultimate symbol of autumn, winter squash welcomes the season, appearing in an assortment of shapes, colors and sizes.
Different from the soft-skinned summer squash varieties, winter squash are left on the vine and in the field late into the growing season until exterior skins thicken and interior seeds mature. Varieties such as pumpkins and acorn squash are a traditional Appalachian food, celebrated for nutrition and cold-weather storage.
The beauty of winter squash is celebrated in seasonal centerpieces, or as decorative welcome pieces when gathered on a front stoop. Pumpkins, in particular, are the symbol of fall when hollowed and carved into jack-o-lanterns.
Many local farms, such as Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview, include hay rides, cider pressing and pumpkin patch picking, where visitors can enjoy fall fun and take home a hand-picked pumpkin just in time for Halloween.
Winter squash dishes like butternut squash soup and roasted delicata also reign in the season, especially since their versatile flavors reach well beyond savory preparations. The often sweet, nutty flesh of winter squash is perfect for a special seasonal dessert, pumpkin pie marking just the beginning.
Cynthia Wong, head pastry chef of downtown’s Rhubarb, relies on seasonal produce for her signature creations. “I love making a brown-butter pumpkin cake in half-sheet pans, which I then layer with butter pecan ice cream to make little cakey ice cream bars,” she says.
When it comes to savory favorites, Wong makes butternut squash gnocchi with sage and brown butter, which she says pairs perfectly with pork chops. Not hungry yet? Another of her household favorites: acorn squash layered with braised kale, baked with a bit of b├ęchamel and crumbs on top.
The best way to find heirloom varieties? Visit area tailgate markets to find the most interesting selection including Buttercup, Hubbard, Kabocha, Pie Pumpkins, Candy Roaster, Butternut, Sweet Dumpling, Carnival, Delicata and many more.
Not only is this season’s selection worth sampling simply for flavor, winter squash offers a healthy dose of dietary fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins A, C and omega 3s. Simply oven-roasting almost any variety is a successful and easy way to try.
When selecting a hard squash to take home, Wong suggests picking smaller ones, without any soft spots or cracks and with nice, hard stems. From there, the possibilities are endless.
Adapted from Fine Cooking’s Jeanne Kelley
1 small pie pumpkin cut in half, seeds removed
1 small Kabocha squash, cut in half seeds removed
3/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk
2 quarts all natural butter pecan ice cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake until tender when pieced with a fork, about 35 minutes. Allow to cool before scooping flesh away from skins. Place flesh in a food processor and blend until smooth. Set aside. You will need 1 1/2 cups of the puree.
Butter and flour two half sheet pans. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat swirling butter often until it begins to lightly brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt and ground cloves in a medium mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the pumpkin puree, sugars, eggs and buttermilk thoroughly. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, slowly add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture until just combined. Gently whisk in the cooled brown butter until fully incorporated.
Divide batter evenly among prepared sheet pans and bake on center rack until batter puffs slightly in the center and is lightly golden, about 10-15 minutes. Pierce center of cakes with a toothpick, if it comes out clean remove from oven. Do not over bake. Cool completely.
Loosen cakes from exterior pan edges with a fork. Turn cakes gently out onto a jelly roll pan or large baking sheet lined with wax paper. Refrigerate until cold.
Meanwhile, scoop ice cream out into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Beat ice cream on low speed until it softens slightly and becomes spreadable.
Working quickly, spread ice cream evenly over one cake layer and smooth with a rubber spatula. Place the other cake layer over the top, gently press and place in freezer overnight.

Transfer frozen cake to a large cutting board. Cut lengthwise into long 1 inch sections. Then cut each section into 3 inch bars. Return to the freezer until ready to serve. Bars can be stored frozen in an airtight container for up to a week.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Wild Chestnut Stuffing

After discovering a few local chestnut trees in their prime, all I had to do was keep an eye out and wait until the prickly pods started splitting open and falling to the ground. From here, foraging was light work. The nuts are beautiful. My grandfather, (lifelong student of wild edibles) often arrived to family gatherings with sweet chestnuts, usually every Thanksgiving. The nut meat is sweet and bread like, which pairs well with the dark meat of wild game.

You can find sweet chestnuts in some grocery stores this time of year, but the act of picking them up from under the tree they fell from does add a fair amount of prairie-woman pride to eating them.
We ate the first round roasted, straight-up. Then after gathering more, it was time to come up with a recipe.

I get a little rowdy when it comes to wild food. Maybe it's because it pairs two great things: eating and wood-walking. Or maybe it's the element of surprise thrift? Or the idea of unadulterated food meeting the modern, so very adulterated scape? It could be celebrating the sanctity of the season? Or...it might be as simple as a dose of grandpa's genes.

Wild Chestnut Stuffing:
*1 loaf rustic bread or sliced multi grain
*3/4 stick butter
*4 celery stalks, chopped fine
*1 large onion, diced
*2 1/2- 3 cups chicken or beef broth
*2 cups boiled sweet chestnuts, skins removed, quartered
*2/3 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
*1 cup dried fruit of choice (jumbo raisins, cranberries or currants)
*sea salt
*black pepper

Preheat oven to 350.
Cube bread into 1/2'' pieces and spread evenly on a large baking sheet.
Bake until bread begins to golden slightly, stirring with a wooden spoon periodically, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and stir to release additional moisture. Set aside.

Score whole chestnuts with an X to release stem while they cook. Place a medium pot filled with water over high heat. Bring to a boil. Add chestnuts and simmer for about 15-20minutes. Strain and allow to cool before removing shell and skin. Quarter nut meat and set aside. You will need about 2 cups.

In a large skillet melt the butter over medium heat. Add celery, and onion. Saute until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Season with sea salt and pepper. Add broth to pan. Bring to a simmer and remove from heat.

Transfer cubed bread to a large mixing bowl. Pour hot broth and onion mixture over bread. Add chestnuts, dried fruit and chopped parsley. Stir well. Season to taste.

Place stuffing in a greased 9x13 inch baking pan. Cover loosely with parchment paper and bake on center rack for about 35 minutes. Remove parchment and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until top becomes golden.

Serve hot.