Friday, October 3, 2008

Every Day Fruit Crisp

In More With Less, Doris Longacre Janzen ponders the purpose of dessert. Is it to add unnecessary calories to our diets? Is it to lengthen the dining experience? Is it actually a practice of gluttony? She writes that, instead, dessert can be an opportunity to add a few more nutrients to the meal. I would agree, and would also add that it can be one of the best times to truly appreciate the culinary bounty of any season: spring, summer, winter, or fall.

I am a fruit-a-holic. All winter long I feast on bursting juicy oranges. I pine for the summer berry fields - strawberries in early summer, raspberries and blueberries in high-summer, the late summer stone fruits - cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, and the final stretch into fall filled with harvest pears and apples and Saturday morning forays into wild blackberry patches.

You must understand, then, that my go-to dessert, my favorite of all, is one that preserves, even enhances the fresh beautiful textures and flavors of perfectly ripe, perfectly sweet summer fruits. The recipe is for a fruit crisp topping that can be piled on top of any fresh fruit. I've done this with apples, pears, a raspberry-blackberry mixture, and a few weeks ago with peaches. Having filled my freezer with berries, I hope to make a few apple-blueberry crisps as the fall winds its way into winter.

So when my friend Farnaz tasted the peach version of this fruit crisp, she immediately said, "I need this recipe!" However, she immediately followed that with a comment on her inexperience with baking. This recipe is much easier than pie. It's easy enough to make on a whim for a home-cooked meal, and elegant enough to take to a dinner at a friend's house to be topped with floppy whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

So for you, Farnaz, for special days and for every day, my favorite fruit crisp.

Fruit Crisp

1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup flour (whole wheat or white)
3/4 cup large flake oats
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 tsp each cinnamon and nutmeg
(or, any other spices to complement the fruit you are using... like ginger with pears, etc.)
a dash of salt

In a bowl, stir together everything except the butter. Then, cut the butter into small chunks and add that to the dry mix. Using a pastry cutter (or better yet, your hands!), cut the butter into the dry ingredients until there are no big lumps of butter, but the whole mix is about the consistency of peas.

Pour this topping onto 4 cups of chopped fruit, or berries, or any mix of fruit you like. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Berries may cook more quickly than other fruits such as apples or pears. The ripeness of your fruit will also determine cooking time. The final test, though, is that the top of the crumble is golden and toasty, and the fruit offers little resistance to a fork.

Serve warm, with whipped cream or ice cream.

Leek-y-Dill Italian Sausage Soup

My friend Lindsey has wonderful food ideas. She gave me the inspiration for this recipe, which was handed to her from a friend of hers, very informally: "Oh, take some sausage, leeks, potatoes, tomatoes, and dill and throw it all together. Easy!"

I've now made this soup a number of times and have gotten rave reviews from all. It's hearty enough for my carnivorous husband and herby enough for my own taste. If I were to rate this soup on a scale of spring-summer-winter-fall, this would be a "winter". The interplay between the caramelized leeks and fresh dill is intriguing and unexpected. Served with a buttered crusty roll, there's nothing better to warm you on a winter's day.

I have no idea what to call this soup. Ideas, anyone?

Leeky Dill Italian Sausage Soup

1 package (about 5 large sausages) of hot italian sausage, de-skinned
2-3 medium leeks, cleaned and diced
2 large russet potatoes
1 large can diced tomatoes
water or vegetable broth
1 bunch of fresh dill (it MUST be fresh, there is no substitute!)
salt and pepper

In a large cast-iron skillet, sauté the sausage meat until browned and cooked through. Drain the fat off, reserving it in a bowl to use for caramelizing the leeks. Move the sausage to a large stock pot. In the skillet again, use about a tablespoon of the sausage fat to caramelize the leeks. They should be just browned on the edges and still a vibrant green. Put that into the stock pot with the sausage. Add the potatoes, roughly chopped, to the stockpot, along with the can of diced tomatoes. Add enough water or vegetable broth to cover all the ingredients, and bring it to a boil. Simmer until the potatoes are tender.

10 minutes before serving, remove any stalks from the fresh dill and roughly chop it, so there are no large "bunches" of dill, just small sprigs. Stir that into the soup and let the dill flavor become vibrant.

Trudy's Yummy Yammy Soup

A few weeks ago my book club got together. This month we met at Trudy's house. She started off the dinner with an amazingly delicious, spicy-sweet soup that seemed to warm even my lungs as I breathed in. All of us pleaded for the recipe, and she sent it along a few days later.

So, when I was preparing to host an informal fall lunch after church, I knew exactly what I was going to make. However, it didn't turn out like Trudy's. Mine turned out more like a bisque - thick and creamy with not nearly as much zing as her soup. Still, it was a fantastic success! I had to scrape the pot at the end of the day to get a bite.

Here's my incarnation of Trudy's soup.

1 onion, roughly chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
grated ginger - about a thumb's worth
3-4 medium yams, peeled
2-3 carrots
1 apple, peeled and cored
water or vegetable broth
1 can coconut milk
salt and pepper
(optional) cayenne, cinnamon, other spices...

Sauté the onion and garlic together until soft. Toss in the grated ginger. Add the chopped yams, carrots, apple, and enough water or broth to cover the veggies. Simmer until the yams and carrots are fork-tender. Stir in your can of coconut milk. Then, using a hand blender, puree the soup until it's smooth. At this point you can add more water to thin the soup to your desired consistency. It should coat the back of a spoon. Salt and pepper to taste!

This soup does well made the day before. If you refridgerate it overnight, it will thicken too. Just add some more water as you reheat and adjust your seasoning to taste.