We are on the cusp of autumn here in the midwest, and this dish bridges the fruits of the seasons in a most comforting fashion. It’s a recipe that I think is worth making for the aroma alone. Apples and plums simmering on the stovetop calms my busy mind and reminds me that I have so much to be grateful for. As I look at these photos I celebrate the goodness of the harvest, the joyful opportunity to share kitchen projects with my niece, and the hopeful promise of friends and family who gather together around the table.
I learned the method of making an apple crisp by first cooking apples on the stovetop with sugar, lemon juice, and butter, from Nigel Slater via Orangette. His brilliant method begins by warming a pan of butter and allowing the fruit to release their natural juices and slightly caramelize before adding the topping and finally baking it altogether in the oven. In this instance, the purple plums cook down, bubble up, and turn the flesh of the chopped apples a brilliant ruby red. The color reminds me of those gorgeous sugar maple leaves at their peak of autumn transformation.
Cinnamon, oats, and walnuts finish off the sweet and tart fruit. No flour is necessary for this crisp topping, but there are many lovely toppings that you could choose instead. Be sure to use gluten free oats if you are not able to eat gluten. Enjoy it warm for breakfast or for dessert with a scoop of frozen whipped cream.
Plum Apple Oat Crisp
1/2 C brown sugar
4 T unsalted butter
Chop the apples and plums into bite-sized pieces. Juice the lemon. Mix together the apples, plums, lemon juice, and brown sugar in a bowl. In a large pan, melt the butter on medium-high heat. After the butter is melted and stops foaming, add the fruit mixture to the pan. Next comes the transformation! Lightly stir from time to time. It can take up to 20 minutes on the stovetop for the juices to begin to thicken. You will know that the magic has happened when the fruit is completely coated and the air is filled with that delicious Fall aroma.
While the fruit is on the stovetop, mix up the simple oat topping. Hand mixing works the best for me.
2 C quick cooking oats
1 C walnuts
1/2 C brown sugar
8 T unsalted butter
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t kosher salt
Transfer the caramelized, cooked fruit to a baking dish and evenly top with the oat mixture. Bake for about 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven, or until the topping becomes golden.
Easter weekend I got around to baking cookies and taking pictures; cozywalls, I have not forgotten you! For my first batch I made my grandma’s favorite soft carrot cookie recipe. I have never known my grandma to make crispy cookies, crusts or any hard-to-chew dessert, for that matter. The baked goods that come from her kitchen are always cozy and soft. A few years ago I brought up the fact to her and she replied, “say, Amy, I like recipes that are easy on my false teeth.” It makes perfect sense!
I am not exactly sure why it is the only recipe in my mom’s cookie book that I hadn’t attempted on my own until that morning. It’s not difficult to put together (I obsessively sift dry ingredients now for added fluffiness, but it’s not necessary), and the ingredients are fairly standard. I remember my mom making them along with brown sugar or chocolate bit cookies. I rarely ate the carrot cookies, because I was more than satisfied with the others. Back then I also thought it was sort of weird to put oranges and carrots in cookies. Today, the weirdness is endearing, and I am drawn to their sunny orange color and lively citrus glaze. They evoke memories of being a child in my own mother’s kitchen where I played on the floor with bowls and spoons indoors while looking forward to the days when our front door opened to reveal optimistic tulips blooming outside.
My grandma’s older sisters used to call her Maddie, so that’s what I am calling these cookies.
Maddie’s Soft Carrot Cookies
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup shortening
1 egg, beaten
1 cup baby food carrots (about 2 jars or 6-7 pureed carrots)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Drop and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until brown around the edges.
Juice and zest of one small orange
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup confectioner’s sugar + more if needed
Whip 4 oz. cream cheese into glaze, adding confectioner’s sugar to reach desired thickness.
Yesterday my niece and I made Puppy Chow for a special Valentine’s Day treat using the “Muddy Buddies” recipe on the Rice Chex box. We never called them Muddy Buddies growing up, but looking through these photos, I can see the muddiness right before the powdered sugar comes in to absorb the moisture and soften the texture. I think the powdered sugar makes the crunchy chocolate peanut butter treat irresistible. My niece especially likes that step in the recipe, because she says it looks like a bunch of tiny snowflakes coming from the sky. The recipe is straightforward and simple (I don’t turn the mixture out on wax paper to separate, but I do put the mix in the refrigerator to set). For a finishing heart-like touch and added flavor layer, we studded the tops with white chocolate peppermint M&M’s: another sweet avalanche!
Our latest snowfall totaled around 12 inches, and it left the bare forest branches looking like mixer beaters covered in freshly whipped meringue. The kitchen imitated nature the following day when my mom put together a frozen pineapple torte recipe from days gone by. Even though it is an icebox dessert, there is something sunny and warm about the pineapple torte. Her version reminded me a bit of key lime pie; I suspect because she toned down the sweetness. I first learned of this dessert when she was searching for a recipe similar to what her mom used to make when company would come over for Sunday lunch. She kept calling it an old-fashioned recipe, because it states to cook the custard until it “coats the back of a spoon.” My grandma would plop the fluffy tropical mixture into her metal ice cube trays and put them in the freezer to set up. Refrigerator trays used to have removable dividers with a handle that you pulled up to release the ice. If you took out the dividers, the pineapple mixture went in the bottom part of the tray. You can skip the freezer part if you please; it’s simply fluffy and delicious as is. My mom told me that they normally had frozen pineapple torte in hot weather because it was a lot like ice cream. I found it to be perfectly perky and sunny for a February lunch, and I daresay it would be a pleasant finale to a pork BBQ meal anytime of the year.
3 egg yolks
dash of salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 can 8 oz. crushed pineapple, drained
2 T lemon juice
3 stiff beaten egg whites
2 T sugar
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs (for a gluten free dessert, select the GF cookies)
Break egg yolks in double broiler. Add salt and 1/3 cup sugar; add syrup from pineapple and lemon juice. Cook over hot, not yet boiling water until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, stirring constantly. Add pineapple; cool. Make meringue of egg whites and 2 T of sugar. Fold in whipped cream and custard mixture. Coat sides of greased refrigerator tray with wafer crumbs. Spread half the remaining crumbs on the bottom of the tray (or dish of your choosing). Pour in fluffy custard mixture and cover with remaining crumbs. Enjoy as is in parfait cups, or freeze firm for 4 hours and slice to serve.