Sunday, November 21, 2010

Apple Crisp

---This post is part of my Canadian Thanksgiving series---

Well friends, we have finally made it to dessert in my Canadian Thanksgiving feast!  Sorry for cutting this so close to our American Thanksgiving; it's become harder and harder to carve out time to get through my blog backlog.  But even if this doesn't make it into your holiday menu, it is a great, all purpose recipe to file away.  Back when I was in college, one of my roommates made a delicious apple crisp.  I can't remember anymore whether my mom actually tasted it or I just told her about it, but somewhere along the line the recipe was passed on.  My mom has since made this tons of times and when I asked my friend about it recently, she could barely remember making it!  So I think it's safe to say my mom now gets the credit for the current version, as who knows how many changes have been made in the last decade.

I love apple crisp as a dessert option, especially when trying to come up with a non-chocolate addition to the table.  In my opinion, pie crust is a bit of a waste of calories - I certainly don't mind it, but I don't love it either.  If it were healthy that would be great, but generally it's not worth eating something so unhealthy if I'm not getting a lot of enjoyment out of it.  Crumb topping, on the other hand, gives me LOTS of enjoyment!  And it even has some redeeming qualities with the oats :).  I'm not trying to say this is healthfood, but all things considered, fruit is good for you, oats are good for you, and there is not a crazy amount of sugar or butter in this recipe, making it quite a wholesome choice as far as desserts go. 

It is also fairly simple to make, although I will warn that peeling and chopping apples always takes longer than I think it should, which is why I wanted to make this dessert ahead.  I knew I had bought a frozen apple crumb pie once that came with directions on how to bake in the oven at home, but when asking around and searching the internet, everyone seemed to have a different opinion on the best way, if at all, to make a crisp ahead of time.  Should I refrigerate or freeze?  Cook it completely or freeze the apples raw and then cook that day?  Thaw before heating up or put in the oven frozen?  In the end, I decided to go against much of the advice and just cook it through, freeze, and reheat in the oven after letting it thaw a bit (mainly because I was scared my baking dish would crack if I put it right from the freezer into a hot oven).  And guess what - it worked perfectly!  So in case you were wondering, YES, you can make apple crisp ahead and freeze it!  I include some more detail below on how to do this.

One caveat before I go on - some of my measurements are estimates or missing.  Please bear with me and rest assured that there is a LOT of leeway in this recipe and I think your judgment will be just fine :)

Apple Crisp
from my mom!

8-10 medium granny smith apples (or your favorite baking apple)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups quick oats
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 375.  Butter a 9x13 (or equivalent) baking pan.

Peel, core, and slice apples into 8 wedges each.  Mound in baking pan and toss with cinnamon - they should be piled pretty high as they will cook down a lot.

Mix all topping ingredients together.  There should be enough butter so that mixture is all "wet".  Sprinkle over apples and shove into crevices between apples as well.

Bake for about 50 minutes or until apples are soft to your liking (I like my crisp to resemble applesauce with crumb topping, so check sooner if you prefer crunchier apples).  Don't worry if the crisp is still piled up high when you take it out; it will "deflate" as it cools.

Serve warm, either right after baking, by refrigerating for 1-2 days and reheating in oven, or freezing and reheating in oven after letting it thaw for a couple of hours.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Silky Smooth Mashed Potatoes

---This post is part of my Canadian Thanksgiving series---

I'm easy when it comes to mashed potatoes - I've pretty much never met a mashed potato I didn't love, from super-buttery, creamy restaurant style to my healthier, minimal butter, skins-included Smashed Potatoes.  I really am telling the truth when I say that I enjoy my healthier version just as much, but I've been told (by hubby of course) that most people prefer the smoother, more buttery variety.  So for our Thanksgiving meal, I tried to find a middle ground - I was not about to pour a carton of heavy cream into my potatoes, but I thought a little extra butter could be nice, and decided we could leave the skins off this time. 

I ended up finding a recipe on Epicurious promising a silky texture that got fabulous reviews.  I was sold on this recipe after reading the instructions to use a food mill or potato ricer instead of a masher.  You see, over the summer, in preparation for our big move out of the city to a home with an actual back deck and grill, hubby and I signed up for a grilling class at the Institute of Culinary Education (which has great recreational classes, by the way).  The class didn't quite give us the foundation we were looking for in how to grill, but we did make an amazing "mashed potato salad" that required cooking potatoes, skin on, simply cut in half, and then pressed through a potato ricer to remove the skin and "mash" all in one go.  This method really did produce amazingly smooth results, and I loved the idea of not having to peel raw potatoes or chop into small pieces Thanksgiving day.

These potatoes came out fabulous.  I was happy because they had what I considered a reasonable amount of butter, and called for milk instead of cream, but I don't think even the most die-hard mashed potato fanatics could have complained that they weren't luscious enough.  Using a ricer instead of mashing really does produce an amazing texture, and the ratio of added fat/liquid was perfect, although I think if you're not making these for a special occasion you could easily use less butter and/or low fat milk with great results.  As I hoped, it was nice not having to peel potatoes or do more than cut them in half in advance, but I will give one warning - try to find the biggest Yukon Gold potatoes you can find - I ended up buying a 5 lb bag that had tiny little ones, and ricing each little half was a bit of a painful job (for hubby).  With bigger potatoes, it would have been half as much work!

Silky Smooth Mashed Potatoes
adapted from Epicurious

2 lb Yukon Gold potatoes (preferably large)
2/3 cup whole milk
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black or white pepper

Special equipment: a potato ricer*

Wash potatoes and cut in half across the equator.  Place in a large pot and add cold water up to 1 inch above potatoes.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, approx 10 to 15 minutes (but this will vary based on the size of your potatoes, so check every few minutes - overcooked potatoes will become waterlogged).

Drain potatoes in a colander, shaking to dry as thoroughly as possible (alternatively, you could return them to the hot pot to dry and then transfer to a bowl, but I didn't find this step necessary).  While potatoes are draining, add milk, butter, salt, and pepper to pot and warm over moderate heat until butter is melted.

Place each potato half in the ricer with the cut side towards the holes and squeeze into the hot milk mixture - the skin will simply stay in the ricer and only the insides of the potato will go through.  Remove skin from ricer and repeat until you've finished all of the potatoes.  Gently stir with a large heatproof rubber spatula just until combined.  Taste and season with additional salt and/or pepper as needed.

Do ahead: Potatoes can be cut and sit in cold water for an hour or so before cooking.  They are best served immediately, but this recipe on Epicurious suggests a reheating process (which I have not tested!) if you just have too much else going on at the last minute.

Serves 4**

* I think the ricer is important to the texture achieved with this recipe, but if you don't have one and don't want to buy one (like I did for this meal!) reviews on Epicurious suggest that just peeling and mashing the potatoes as you normally would will still yield great results.

** I tripled this recipe for my Thanksgiving crowd of 10 adults and 5 kids/toddlers and had plenty of leftovers; if not serving for a holiday meal with lots of other sides, there would probably not be much leftover.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Traditional White Bread Stuffing

---This post is part of my Canadian Thanksgiving series---

Obviously, stuffing is a key component of any Thanksgiving table, but I had a really hard time finding a simple, classic recipe.  Most of the recipes I came across included things like sausage, chestnuts, cornbread, etc., all of which are wonderful ingredients, but just not what I had in mind.  I wanted just a basic recipe, with nothing in it that anyone could possibly find offensive.  What I wanted, really, was my brother's mother-in-law's recipe.  Hers was the first stuffing I ever really enjoyed, and is talked about by everyone who's tasted it.  So I went straight to the source and was happy to hear that she was willing to share!

The ingredient list was short - bread, butter, onion, and thyme.  Perfect!  The only problem was that the recipe called for wonder bread.  I was willing to compromise some of my everyday standards for the holiday (I lost track of how much butter I went through that week!), but I just couldn't see any reason why a better quality white bread wouldn't produce a delicious stuffing, even if it was not exactly the same as the original version.  And while I was upgrading the quality of the bread, why not go all the way and get more use out of my new favorite toy, my breadmaker?  But with such a big change, I thought a test run was in order. 

I made up a loaf and gave the recipe a go, with yummy, but not ideal results.  The test stuffing was a little bland, and didn't remind hubby enough of his mom's stuffing.  After a quick call to my mother-in-law, I planned a few changes to the final version to add flavor and make it more closely resemble stuffing cooked inside a turkey: I planned to use more liquid and substitute chicken broth for the water.  I also decided to add salt, and I cut the bread into cubes (instead of tearing slices into pieces).  By the time I was done tweaking, I have no idea how closely it resembled the original but I thought it was delicious!  I mean really, how can you go wrong with bread soaked in butter and seasoned with thyme and salt?  My two most honest reviewers, hubby and my mom, also seemed to agree, so I think this version is a keeper :)

Traditional White Bread Stuffing
adapted from a family recipe

Note - this recipe can be multiplied indefinitely, so I'm giving directions for the smallest amount, which should be plenty for 4-5 people (with leftovers).  Additional batches can be done in exactly the same manner, so this is a recipe that is not complicated, but can take a long time if you are making a large amount.

1/2 of a large loaf of day old white bread (my loaf was 2 lbs)
1 cup chicken broth (approx)
1 stick butter
1 cup chopped yellow onion (approx 1 small or 1/2 large onion)
1 rounded tablespoon dried thyme

Cut bread into 1/2-3/4 inch cubes.  Place bread in a large bowl and sprinkle with chicken broth (bread should be moist, but not soggy - feel free to use more broth if you like moister stuffing, or less if you'd like it to get more crunchy).

Meanwhile, melt butter in a very large frying pan (I used a 14" non-stick for this).  Sautee onions until translucent (there should be enough onion to just cover the bottom of the pan), and then add bread.  Sprinkle with thyme and a generous seasoning with salt.  Toss and sautee until bread is golden on the edges.  Taste and add additional salt if needed.

If doing multiple batches, start soaking bread and chopping onion as the first batch is cooking, and repeat as needed until you have made enough.  Alternatively, having 2 pans going at the same time would speed up the process.

Can be made 1-2 days in advance.  Store covered in the fridge (do not freeze), and when ready to reheat, bring to room temperature and warm in the oven, adding a bit more broth if you'd like to keep it especially moist.

1/2 loaf recipe makes 4-5 side dish servings plus leftovers (This is assuming you have a typical array of a side dishes with for your meal - I made 2.5 2-pound loaves of bread for 15 people and had more stuffing than we could possibly eat with company in a week, so I'm scaling back the recommendation from what I did!).