Posts Tagged ‘fall’

Sticky Cranoffee Pudding (Cranberry-Date Upside-Down Cake)Some ideas take a long time to mature.

I started experimenting with the idea of an apple-cranberry upside-down cake two years ago. I was intent on this fall flavour combination and tried several variations.

None turned out the way I wanted. Either the cake wasn’t right or the caramelly cranberry bottom/top didn’t work out.

That cranberry season passed.

Last fall I was busy with a new little person in my life. No time for testing recipes.

Another cranberry season passed. But the idea didn’t go away.

In the meantime, I discovered a flavour combination that quickly became a favourite: dates and cranberries. The other day I was flipping through one of my cookbooks, when the recipe for sticky toffee pudding caught my eye.

And then it hit me: forget about apples and cranberries!

Sticky toffee pudding is made with dates and is served with a gooey toffee sauce. Make it like an upside-down cake with cranberries, the sauce becomes part of the cake and the cranberries add a tart twist to the cake’s deep flavour.

Recipe: Sticky Cranoffee Pudding (Cranberry-Date Upside-Down Cake)

The cake recipe is an adaptation of Marion Kane’s Ultimate Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe, while the caramel is borrowed from my tarte tatin recipe. I used a pie plate with an 8-inch bottom, but you could also use a normal cake pan (not a spring-form; the caramel will leak out).

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup heavy cream

Date purée:
1 cup roughly chopped dates
1/2 cup water
1 tsp instant espresso powder or 2 tbsp strong coffee

1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups cranberries (or enough to make a layer in the bottom of your baking dish), picked over, washed and dried
Date purée (see ingredients above)
Whipping cream, for serving

Butter baking dish.

Make caramel. Pour sugar, then water into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over medium heat. Let cook until it turns amber.

Amber sugar for making caramel. Remove from heat at this stage.

You want the sugar to be this colour before adding the butter and the cream.

[Yes, that means DON’T TOUCH! Resist every urge to swirl or stir the contents of the saucepan – this will prevent the sugar from sticking to and drying out on the sides – and just let the heat do the work. The process may take up to 30 minutes or more. Watch carefully once the sugar starts changing colour, it darkens fast.]

Once the sugar is amber, remove from heat. Immediately whisk in butter and cream. [Expect a lot of frothing and steaming, as the cooler butter and cream hit the sugar. Just keep whisking.] Whisk until completely incorporated and smooth. Pour into buttered baking dish.

Make date purée (you could start this while the sugar is cooking). Place chopped dates, water and coffee in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cook until dates are soft. Blend mixture with an immersion blender or in a food processor until smooth. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350° F .

Caramel and cranberries in baking dishMake cake. Place cranberries on caramel in bottom of baking dish.

In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a second bowl, cream butter until light. Add brown sugar and continue beating until well incorporated. Beat in egg and vanilla.

Mix in flour mixture alternately with the date purée, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Pour batter over caramel and cranberries. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean and cake is springy to touch.

Remove from oven and invert immediately onto serving plate. [Choose a large enough plate, preferably with a small rim, since the caramel will flow around the cake.]

Serve with whipped cream.

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Dad's dried apple slices

Dad’s dried apple slices. (The red apple in the picture is not one of my parents’ apples.)

Sometimes things get lost in my cupboard. The dried apple slices made by my dad are one of those things. The other day I saw the bag peeking out from behind other bags and boxes, and, all of a sudden, I thought, “Perfect!”

I’ve seen the teething bagels and cookies at the store, but these apple slices are the perfect shape, size and texture to act as all-natural teething rings!

Apple tree blossoms

My parents’ apple tree blossoms, early May.

The apple tree was there when they bought the house more than 25 years ago. Although they brought apple and tree specimens to numerous botanists, no-one has been able to identify the type of apple. And the tree produces lots of them, year after year.

They are relatively big and round apples, rather tart, better for cooking and baking than for eating out of hand. My dad makes them into cider, apple sauce, dried apple slices, and gives them away. My mom stocks the freezer with sliced apples, and makes apple pie and apple crisp.

I get a regular supply of dried apple slices. My dad makes them crisp rather than soft like most store-bought ones. And they have flavour, unlike most store-bought ones!

Baby chewing on a dried apple slice

Baby chewing on a dried apple slice.

Baby loves them! They keep her busy for a while. She tears at the rings with her two little teeth and then sucks on them until they are soft. It makes me happy to think that Baby is getting all that love and goodness from my parents’ backyard.

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Date and Cranberry Muffin with Oatmeal Streusel ToppingI’m a fan of date squares, but often I find them too sweet. When I tried the cranberry-date squares from 3 Tarts, a bakery in my neighbourhood, I thought “what a smart combination!”

Those squares became the inspiration for these muffins. The dates give them a rich flavour (and minimize the sugar required) while the cranberries offer a pleasantly tart contrast to the dates’ natural sweetness. The oatmeal streusel topping provides some nice crunchy texture.

My mouth is watering as I write this. Time for a muffin!

Recipe: Date and Cranberry Muffins with Oatmeal Streusel Topping

1 1/2 cups flour (I use 3/4 cup regular spelt flour and 3/4 cup whole spelt flour)
1/2 cup oatmeal (large flake/old-fashioned kind)
1/4 cup ground flax seed
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup diced dates (raisin-sized dice)
1 cup cranberries (fresh or frozen)

1 egg
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup brown sugar (loosely packed)
1/2 cup date puree (see ingredients below)
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

Date Puree:
1 cup whole pitted dates, roughly chopped
1/2 cup water

Oatmeal Streusel Topping:
1 cup oatmeal (large flake/old-fashioned kind)
1/4 brown sugar
1/4 flour
2 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line/grease 12 muffin cups.

Date Puree: Combine chopped dates and water in a saucepan. Simmer over medium-low heat until dates are softened. Puree with an immersion blender, a food processor or food mill. Should yield 1/2 cup (no worries if it’s a little more or a little less).

Oatmeal Streusel Topping: Mix oatmeal, brown sugar and flour in a bowl. Add butter and, with your hands, rub all ingredients together until combined. Set aside.

Muffins: In a bowl, combine all wet ingredients. Combine all dry ingredients (except for cranberries) in a second bowl. The chopped dates will tend to stick together. With your fingers separate them once they are in the flour mixture; coating each piece with the flour mixture will prevent them from sticking together.  Add cranberries and toss to combine and coat the cranberries with flour.

Pour wet ingredients into dry, and blend until flour mixture is just moistened.

Fill muffin cups. Cover each muffin with some of the streusel topping, pressing it lightly into the batter. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and tester comes out clean.

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Baby Chef

Pursuing one of my favourite pastimes with Baby.

Since Baby arrived my priorities, aside from taking care of her, have been getting exercise and fresh air and eating right. Just like Baby, I get grumpy and tired if I don’t eat regularly and properly. Also, it’s no secret that I love to eat and cooking is one of my favourite activities.

No surprise then that before having Baby, I was already thinking about how to nourish myself once she arrived, knowing that I’d be regularly occupied with her and, for a while at least, less mobile. The arrangement we came up with worked well and we’ve continued to prepare and enjoy satisfying meals!

For the first three weeks after her birth, the deal was that David, who was off from work, was responsible for food and making sure I ate properly. He did the cooking and didn’t even use any of the meals we’d prepared in advance. Then my mom visited for two weeks and took over the kitchen. She spoiled us with her excellent cooking and baking. She actually added to our freezer stores.

We’ve even tried some new recipes, all of which are keepers:

Last week, we started our new routine of weekly menus. It starts with a meal plan – a tried and tested tool! – using what we have on hand. We cook at least one weekday meal on Sunday, making sure there’s enough for at least two lunches (a hearty soup is easiest). Then we dip into our freezer stores for one meal per week and gratefully accept grandmaman’s offer to cook dinner on Thursdays.

The days we cook fresh, the meal is prepared bit-by-bit whenever I have a moment throughout the day.  By the time David gets home from work, it’s ready to cook. Often I’ll do the cooking myself, because it gives me a break from Baby – as much as I love her, I welcome a break by that time of day! – and the satisfaction of doing something I enjoy. We’re not cooking superheros though, and have also resorted to take-out several times in the last seven weeks.

Last night this tart, a fall favourite,  followed a meal of homemade soup. Making it was a three-day affair: I made the dough and lined the cake pan the first day, blind baked it the second, and finished the tart on the third. That’s not unusual these days – whatever it takes to get it done!

Recipe: Alsatian Apple Cream Tart

Alsatian Apple Cream Tart1 recipe pastry dough
4 apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths (use apples that will hold their form during baking; I used Cortlands)
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp sugar
1 cup cream (either 15% or 35%; the latter will give a richer, creamier result)
3 egg yolks (I’ve also made it with 2 whole eggs; using yolks will give a richer, creamier result)
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup raisins
1 pinch salt

Heat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9″ cake pan.

Prepare the pastry dough. Roll it out to 1/4″ thick and line the cake pan. Weigh it down and blind bake it for 10-15 minutes. Remove weights and continue baking for another 10 minutes until lightly coloured. Remove from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

In a bowl, toss apple slices with lemon juice and two tablespoons of the sugar. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine cream, egg (yolks), vanilla, raisins, the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, and salt.

Arrange apple slices on tart shell. Pour cream mixture over apples. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until apples are done. Allow to cool slightly before removing from cake pan.

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Grey Cup Sunday Snack

Homemade Nuts & Bolts snack mixMy mom always made Nuts & Bolts on Grey Cup Sunday. Although my dad may have watched the game, we were not a family of football fans. She got the recipe from a friend and I suspect she simply adopted the tradition of making Nuts and Bolts the last weekend of November along with it. Making Nuts & Bolts usually coincided with the first of the Christmas baking and, for me, signalled that the holidays were coming soon!

I’m carrying on the tradition, even though I don’t care for football. The recipe is nothing fancy or refined, but the result is fun. Everyone loves snacking on Nuts & Bolts! Over the next month, the mix will make a handy bring-a-long when David and I visit friends and become part of homemade edible gifts.

Recipe: Nuts & Bolts

This recipe is my adaptation of the original. Even so, I still vary the quantities. I think the important thing is to find the right balance between the cereals, pretzels and nuts – I measure by eye. I indicate the amounts I actually used following each ingredient.  This recipe makes enough snack mix to fill a 10L container. It is easiest to bake in 2-3 large roasting pans.

1 small package Cheerios ( I used about 2/3 of it)
1 small package Shreddies (I used about 2/3 of it)
1 bag (400 g)  pretzel sticks (I didn’t use all of them, there was a good handful left in the bag)
3 lbs. mixed nuts (I made my own mix of almonds, pecans, peanuts and hazelnuts. I may have put more than 3 pounds… I didn’t measure at all!)
2 tbsp marjoram
1 tbsp summer savory
2 tsp smoked salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp cayenne
½ c. butter, cut up into small pieces

Homemade Nuts & Bolts ready to bake

Ready to bake: homemade Nuts & Bolts snack mix.

Preheat oven to 250°F.

Mix together seasonings in a small bowl. Combine Cheerios, Shreddies, pretzel sticks and nuts in the roasting pans. Make sure the mix is evenly distributed among the pans. Dot with butter. Sprinkle with seasoning.

Bake for 1 to 1.5 hours – I find that after 1 hour in my oven, the nuts are just lightly roasted – mixing every 10 minutes. The seasoning falls to the bottom of the pan, so frequent mixing ensures it is evenly distributed.  Allow to cool before storing in an airtight container.

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