Sunday, January 16, 2011

Apple Cranberry Crumble from Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home: A Sweet Ending to a Well-Planned Meal

Meal-Planning.  When you think of the concept, maybe you groan, or maybe the blood starts rushing through you excitedly, urging you to pull out cookbooks and check out the front pages of your favorite food websites for inspiration.  Whatever the case, we have to eat, and meal-planning can be a stress-free way of organizing home-cooked meals all week, even if you are making a couple of dishes on Sunday and heating up leftovers all week.  You can turn a pot-roast into a pasta sauce or add an egg and some bread to a soup.  And, you can top it all off with a healthy ending:  fruit.  

I never want to eat cold fruit in the winter, so instead I roast it all in the oven.  Roasted pears go into my oatmeal for breakfast and get covered in chocolate sauce for dessert.  Baked apples get cored, filled with butter, raisins, and brown sugar, and served with Greek yogurt as an afternoon snack or vanilla ice-cream as dessert.  This apple cranberry crumble is a new and slightly more complicated version of the baked fruit, though it is still incredibly easy.  You can keep the skins on for added health and throw in a little extra oatmeal.  And, you can get it all ready and stick it in the refrigerator until it's ready to bake.  

To roast pears, cut the them in half and remove the stems and cores.  Place them skin side down in a baking dish filled with a half to one inch of water.  Sprinkle with some white wine or sugar and roast in the oven (375 to 425 will work--if your oven is already on then just pop the pears in there with whatever else is cooking).  You can turn the pears skin side up halfway through baking if you wish, or you can occasionally baste them with the liquid in the bottom of the roasting dish.  Pears are done roasting when tender when pierced with a fork.  For an extra-special treat, remove the pears from the baking dish and pour the liquid into a small saucepan.  Add a tablespoon or two of sugar and simmer until a syrup forms.  Pour the syrup over the pears.  You can also serve with chocolate sauce.  I like the chocolate glaze I used for the cupcakes in my last post, which can be found here.  To lighten the sauce, use half and half instead of heavy cream.  
Apple-Cranberry Crumble 
from Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home
1 1/2 pounds apples (about 3 medium), peeled and cored
1/2 cup fresh or frozen (unthawed) cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Coarse salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for dish
1/2 cup pecan halves (2 ounces), coarsely chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
3 tablespoons packed light-brown sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Quarter apples lengthwise, then thinly slice. Toss in a large bowl with cranberries, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt until evenly coated.
Butter an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish. Mix pecans, flour, oats, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt in a bowl until combined. Work in butter with your fingertips until topping is crumbly, with pea-size chunks.
Spread apple mixture in prepared dish; sprinkle with topping. Bake until filling is bubbling and topping is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

*Notes:  I like to use Cortland apples and a mixture of pecan and walnut halves. 

The recipe comes from this book pictured below:  Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home, which is a lovely little book I picked up at the library and have been cooking out of for a month or so now.  The recipes are presented as 52 meals divided by season and include instructions for dishes like Creamy Chicken with Tarragon, Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Cutlets, Braised Chicken Marsala with Sage Polenta, Pasta Shards with Poached Eggs, a creamy Cauliflower Gratin, Caramelized Endive, Salmon with Creamy Leeks, and Broiled Black Pepper Tofu with Soy-Lemon Dipping Sauce.  Quick and easy to make with glossy color photographs of each recipe, this book is a great one to have on hand when planning weeknight meals.  

Some Other Meal-Planning Resources
I've recently started writing out our dinner menus on a refrigerator magnet pad that looks like this:
I purchased several of these at Michaels last spring for $1 each with old-fashioned farmy patterns like black and white checks with two hens, red cherries, and apple-pie rickrack, but you can also find them on Amazon here if you want to chalk up a few extra dollars.  Pottery Barn also has a nice meal planner you can hang in your kitchen that you can find here.  A couple of other websites offer free online meal planning, which might be more your style.  One is Meals Matter.  Check it out and let me know what you think.  

Some more sophisticated weekly and monthly meal planning templates can be found here, which you can print for your own use.  Finally, an interesting article to check out that has tips about meal planning from can be found here.  My husband is pretty excited that he can now look up at our refrigerator on any given day and anticipate the meal he will get that night.  Got other meal-planning tips and resources?  Post a comment and let us know!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Literary "Groundbreaking" Cupcakes for the Avon Free Public Library, and Happy Birthday to DKB

(Photo by Steve Bartha; Photo Arrangement by Donna Miller, Assistant Library Director at the Avon Free Public Library Library)

I know, I know.  Two cupcake posts back to back, both containing the same vanilla cupcake recipe, when I haven't posted in two months.  And, just to put it out there upfront, before you commit yourself to this writer/reader relationship, I want to tell you that I misspelled Austen. Yes, as in Jane Austen, the British literary figure America loves to love, the author of the essential Pride and Prejudice, written in 1796, published in 1813, and downloaded free to my Kindle for my in-flight reading pleasure in 2010.  It's embarrassing, to say the least, which is why I thought I'd get that little bit over with.  

Now that that's out there, we can get on with the really important things.  Not that I'm ignoring the importance of proper spelling, but I think we could all agree that Austen, by any other name, would (gasp) still be Austen, and a cupcake by any other name would taste as sweet.  

I made these cupcakes for the groundbreaking ceremony for the Avon Free Public Library, which is undergoing a beautiful renovation and addition slated to be completed in February of 2012.  My husband, who works for the town of Avon, CT and who is working on the library project, asked me if I would bake something for the ceremony.  Really, the credit goes to him  for coming up with the clever idea of writing Dewey Decimal numbers on the tops of the cupcakes.  As a former English major and recovered English teacher, classic literature is close to my heart, hence the literary names and the wicked embarrassment with the whole "Austin" debacle).  

By the way, Julie Styles, the Avon Free Public Library's Technical Services and Collection Manager, has a cool cooking blog (called "641.5 with Julie"--641.5 being the Dewey Decimal classification number for cookbooks) that you should check out here.  Aside from  consulting some of my latest favorite books (The Culinary Institute of America's The Professional Chef--truly "mammoth" in Julie's words, as anyone who has laid eyes on the book knows--and Sur La Table's The Art and Soul of Baking), Julie is downright funny as she describes taking a shot of whiskey before deciding on the right pie crust recipe and holding a "stick of naked butter" while she attempts to grate it into her flour mixture.  Anyone who considers pie crust their nemesis (as do I) will appreciate this post.  Do check out the blog.  

For the Literary Groundbreaking Cupcakes, you will need:
1 recipe of Rose's Vanilla Sour Cream Butter Cupcakes
1 recipe of chocolate glaze (recipe follows)
1/2 recipe of white piping frosting (recipe follows)

Bake the cupcakes according to the recipe.  Allow to cool to room temperature, then frost with the chocolate glaze by dipping each cupcake into the bowl of glaze and letting the excess glaze drip off.  Allow the glaze to cool completely, about 30-60 minutes.  Use your smallest tip to pipe the frosting into desired words and numbers (you could pipe any themed words--Scrabble or crossword letters for the word game fanatic, periodic table elements for your scientist friends, or see Valentine Message Cupcakes for a sweet V-Day idea).

Chocolate Glaze
Makes 1 cup

2/3 cup heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 T corn syrup
Heat cream in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Place chocolate and corn syrup in a small bowl.  Pour hot cream over chocolate mixture, and stir until smooth.  Use immediately.  

White Piping Frosting
1 egg white
1  1/3 cups sifted powdered sugar
Place the egg whites and powdered sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with whisk beater at low speed until sugar is moistened. Beat at high speed until glossy and stiff peaks form when the beater is lifted (5-7 min). The tips of the peaks should curve slightly. If necessary, more powdered sugar may be added.  You can see in the pictures that my frosting was not stiff enough, and the letters ran a bit, so be sure to test out your frosting on waxed paper or a trial cupcake. 
Last but not least, I want to say a quick happy birthday to DKB, which turned two years old this past Saturday!  Happy birthday, DKB, and may you have many more delicious treats in your pages to come.