Winters bouquet

ApplesandPrunes5

A number of weeks ago I brought a bowl of speckled yellow green apples into my room to take a photo of. An unusual variety, with a rough skin airing on the side of a mans five o’clock shadow. Nicely nestled in the bowl atop a little dining table I’ve wedged into my bedroom, formally patio, that’s why it’s so sunny! (And why I sleep with two comforters and sometimes a knit hat) I decided to keep the bowl of apples in the bedroom, in place of flowers which have long since tucked in until spring.

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Seeing an apple soaking in the early mornings winters sun seems quite appealing to me. I’ve been munching on an apple in my bedroom many mornings lately when I’m not in a rush. As I tidy the bed, unknot my hair, dress and chat with Thomas, my pet bird, about today’s plans. Have you ever seen Benjamin Franklin’s Daily Scheme? “Munch on an apple as you tidy yourself and your space before getting on with it!” Just kidding, that’s my daily scheme!  And because of it I’ve been topping up my bowl of apples each Saturday. The abundance of apples has lead to a few namely pleasures. 1. Discovering  locally grown and unfamiliar varieties. 2. Baked apples with prunes. 3. A morning snack to hold me over before whatever is in store for the day. More talk about point 1. and 2. . . .  For me,  the most notable apples of the year have been a delicate French varietal known as Calville Blanc d’Hiver, almost quince like in appearance, soft and honey like to taste. Golden Russet, being the one I first photographed, under its tannic and rough speckled skin a refreshingly juicy, sharply cider tasting flesh awaits.  Finally, the elegant Winesap. Tasting like roses, and rose tinted  wine.  Each I’ve cored and piped inside a floral pruney paste. Raisiny, vanilla-like and chocolaty, there is something about this prune paste which has made for a wonderful treat with apples.
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Baked Apples with Prune Filling

Prune Filling – A paste I learned from a sunny English chef, as she casually tossed ingredients about pastry counter into the processor. Between pulses she’d taste, smiling the whole bout of it. Truly, she loved a good prune and showed me shortly that I would too.

It’s a rough ratio of things but prunes should be dominant. I have found this recipe to work for me, packaging the remaining and keeping in the fridge until another night in the week which calls for more baked apples.

  • 4 apples
  • 400 grams prunes
  • 200 grams blanched almonds, ground coarsely in a oter and pestle, plus more for garnish
  • 75 grams light brown sugar
  • Large knob of softened butter
  • Pinch of maldon salt
  • Glug of amaretto, or of course, whatever is still lurking in the pantry.

Begin by preheating the oven to 325ºF. Set your prunes in a bowl and soak in a small glug of amaretto. Set aside just for a few minutes as you prepare your other ingredients for assembly.

Take a handful of whole almonds, and spread onto tray, sprinkling a bit of sugar atop. Toast until golden about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare you apples and baking parcels. Core the apples and set aside. Cut parchment paper into squares just large enough to contain one (I like two!) apple. Along with a few strands of bakers twine to tie each apple parcel up. Set aside as well and move onto the filling.

It will all be done in a food processor. Begin by adding the prunes and their soaking liquor, pulsing until a jammy. Add a large, softened knob of butter, I’d say in between a ⅓ cup and ½ cup along  with the brown sugar. Pulse again until well combined. Adding a splash more liquor as needed and a pinch of maldon. Lastly adding the ground almonds, only pulsing together until just combined. Transfer the sticky and fragrant prune paste into a piping bag and pipe into each cored apple set atop their parcel, topped with a spoonful of butter, a few drips of the chosen liquor, a dusting more of sugar and a sprinkle of the almonds toasted earlier.  Tie up with the twine and bake in a pan until soft, about an hour, the time depending on the apple variety. Serve at once or reheat later. I love mine with creme fraiche loosened with heavy cream pooled in the base of the dish.

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Country salad

Country Salad 2

October, October.

What grows in October?

To be honest. I don’t really know. What seems like October might be a hearty salad. Enough to keep me warm. Enough to still keep me light on my toes without a desperate need for a hibernation nap.

Just a pot, a heavy pan, a cutting board and knife. My ingredients gathered about, in and out of the sink. Without having made this salad before, it already feels quite familiar. Being I’ll just wash and trim, toast, blanch and dice. Methodical and quiet. Quite nice to feel uninterrupted fixing lunch as more of a means to get on with the day than to be startled by sizzling action and unknown outcomes. One day, I’ll be at peace with something more,  but I can quite confidently confirm, blanching, toasting and dicing is no problem had by me.

Country Salad 1

Bring a large pasta pot full of plenty of well salted water up to a boil, blanch the cauliflower pieces until soft, but not mushy. It should hold its sturdy shape, but be soft enough to chew without resistance (and digest!)  Followed by the potatoes, blanched in the same manner. Meanwhile toast the walnuts in a heavy pan until fragrant. And as everything cools, chop the ingredients and toss everything together. “Wahla!” I love to say.

This salad idea came from one of Lidia’s books. She goes into such detail as to where her dish ideas originate from among her sightful travels. This one felt so familiar to me. I would have believed her if she first said she traveled to the great north east of America and discovered this apple, cheese and cauliflower salad! Not far off? But quite. She came about this dish in one of the very northern regions of Italy known as Trentino-Alto Adige. A place both containing Italian and German language and culture. The most hearty nonna’s cooking I can imagine! This is the place where Italy’s most versed apple farmers are. Growing thousands of varieties, in the same plot of land that has been spouting apples since the middle ages. Lidia even came about a spaghetti tossed in a shredded apple tomato sauce! (Which she found marvelous! I’m still skeptical, but won’t knock it till it’s tried.) Another product made from the land as old as time, is Asiago cheese. Made from cattle grazing on the lush pastures of Asiago High Plateau.

So behold the great country salad. A simple gesture for lunch. I think the people of Trentino-Alto Adige were thinking; “What’s available? And what will keep me warm, yet light on my feet?”

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Country Salad

serves many many many, (times over).

  • 1 head of cauliflower, broken into pieces
  • 4 small red potatoes (or a 4 handfuls of baby red potatoes)
  • 1 bundle of radish, washed, trimmed and quartered
  • 2 apples, diced
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 8 oz asiago, diced
  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 2 large handfuls of Italian parsley, chopped
  • large pinch of salt
  • ¼ c extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp sherry vinegar

Begin by washing the ingredients which need a good rinsing and scrub. Meanwhile a large pot of well salted water is coming up to a boil. When ready, submerge cauliflower pieces into the pot. After about five minutes when soft but not mushy, remove the cauliflower and place in a colander to drain and cool down. In the same fashion, blanch the potatoes. Removing when soft but not mushy, then placing in colander to drain. Dice into chunks when cool enough to handle. Continue on by dicing the radish, asiago, apple, onion and parsley. Meanwhile toasting the walnuts in a heavy pan until fragrant. They color quick so don’t stray far from the happening by keeping your nose up. Toss everything together in your biggest bowl, along with four fingered pinch of salt, sherry vinegar and olive oil.

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