Sunday, September 23, 2012

Found Food: Ground Apples. Really?

My friend Arthur has an enormous apple tree in his yard, a granddaddy so tall that most branches are well beyond the average picker’s grasp, even on a 6’ ladder.  In the fall it’s wise to tread warily around this behemoth, since renegade apples are known to rain from the sky with little or no warning.
This year’s crop is so abundant that the landscape beneath the tree and spreading far beyond is a colorful canvas dotted with greens, yellows, oranges, and reds―a montage of apples in varying degrees of ripeness.

In short order and with a little patience, it’s possible to sort through these ground apples and collect enough in good condition for a quick pie or cake.   Yes indeed, similar to our previous post on ground cherries, here’s another case of instant gratification. This time of year, abundance rules: look up, look down, there is food that’s ready to be found. 

Here is one way to show off the lovely ground apple, or any other fall beauty such as Macintosh, Cortland, or winesap.  This apple torte is one of my all time favorites - true comfort food that's rustic, eggy, and deeply satisfying.   

Enjoy this sweet dream any time of the day:  warm from the oven for breakfast or brunch, or as a snack or dessert with ice cream or whipped cream. 

Apple Torte
1/2       cup all-purpose flour
1/3        cup sugar
  1         Tbsp baking powder
 1/8        tsp salt
 1/2        tsp vanilla extract
  2         eggs, lightly beaten
  2         Tbsp vegetable oil
 1/3       cup milk
  4         baking apples (Macintosh, Cortland, Winesap), peel, core, thick slice (about 2 lbs.) 
  3       Tbsp butter, melted
 1/3      cup sugar
  1        egg, lightly beaten

Butter a 9" springform pan or ovenproof quiche dish and set aside. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In large bowl combine flour through salt and blend well.

In small bowl vanilla through milk and blend well.  Add liquid to dry and stir until well blended.  Add the apples and stir to thoroughly coat with batter.  Spoon into pan and bake until firm and golden, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare topping by combining butter, sugar and egg in small bowl.  Stir to blend, and set aside.

Remove torte from oven and pour the topping mixture over it.  Return to oven and bake until top is deep golden brown and quite firm when pressed, about 10 minutes.

Remove to rack and cool for 10 minutes.  Run knife around edge and remove sides or serve from dish at room temperature or warmed served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Serves 6.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ground Cherries and Chutney

Pages on the calender whiz by and in the blink of any eye it is suddenly mid-September, when farmer’s markets and produce stands overflow with fresh picked corn, squash, melons, green beans, peaches, apples and more.  No question, this seasonal flutter of abundance also means it is canning time in many local kitchens. 

Browsing my local farm stand, I recently spotted an unfamiliar specimen tucked among a colorful display of assorted cherry tomatoes:  pint baskets filled with peculiar tiny paper lantern shaped packages.  What is that??  Why, it’s another culinary distraction! 

Erin, one of the staff regulars, smiles, offers a sample, and explains they are an heirloom variety affectionately called ground cherries.  Wrapped inside each festive papery covering lurks the most extraordinary baby tomato―a sweet, succulent, golden bundle bursting with tropical pineapple overtones.  

The ground cherry gets its name from the fact that it falls from the vine onto the ground when it is ripe.  Some may be familiar with its larger cousin, the tomatillo, also known for its papery wrap. Like particular members of the nightshade or Solanaceae family including some tomatoes and potatoes, the ground cherry contains solanine glycoalkloids, a toxic chemical (extremely bitter tasting) when eaten immaturely green and raw.  
Most likely, the ground cherry made its way to the U.S. from Latin American as early as the 1700’s.  The plant is so adaptable it even grows wild along roadsides on the east coast from as far south as Florida and into New England, where it is often known as the Cape gooseberry

These heirloom beauties are perfect for the home gardener:  they are fairly disease and pest tolerant, plus they conveniently fall onto the ground when ready for picking. How easy is that?  Allow the ground cherries to ripen a bit more by storing at room temperature in the husk for about a week.  When their color has turned to shades ranging from yellow to apricot they are ready to eat, prepared as you would any other tomato. 
The resourceful and enterprising Pennsylvania Dutch, particularly fond of them, have long included ground cherries in cobblers and pies, and even pickle them.   

For a test run, I’m thinking the condiment idea makes sensea chutney of some sort would enhance the ground cherry’s tropical qualities. Since, I only have one small basket I decide to combine these charmers with a few peaches plus a couple of apples for texture.  

I let the chutney reduce down before adding the whole ground cherries, then realize they would have cooked quicker if halved first. Oops.  I patiently watch, waiting for them to burst; exasperated, I finally start breaking them up with a wooden spoon to release their juices. Still under 40 minutes, the mixture burbles and thickens and the tomato seeds become more apparent, which further add to the novelty. Yes, I like the ground cherries’ identifiable shape and and am very pleased that I kept them whole.  

The taste test: a mellow sweet/sour/spicy/salty blend of fruits and vegetables all arced with a hit of heat.  A good curry condiment for sure.  But, call me crazy, I’d even put this on ice cream.    

I’m thinking ground cherries are certainly worth considering for next year’s garden under the category of Easy and Versatile.  

Ground Cherry Chutney (with Peach and Apple)

 2 cups fresh peaches, remove stone, skin, chop

1 cup apple, peel, core, chop
½ cup ground cherries or more, papers removed, halved if desired
2/3 cup brown sugar (approximate)
1/3 cup cider vinegar
½ cup onion, dice
½ cup red pepper, chop
1 jalapeno pepper, seed and dice
1 Tbsp grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, mince
2 dried chile peppers, crumble
½ tsp mustard seed or ¼ tsp dried mustard
½ tsp salt

In a heavy saucepan, combine all but the ground cherries and bring to a boil.  Simmer approximately 20 minutes, until much of the liquid has cooked out. 
Add the ground cherries and boil lightly approximately 20 minutes longer; until the cherries pop to reduce liquid and the chutney has thickened. Cool and store in the refrigerator.  Makes 2 cups.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Chillin’ with Blackberries

Here in western Oregon it is blackberry picking time again, another bitter-sweet reminder that summer’s warmth is waning.  Nights are cooler and fall looms large on the horizon, but today the outdoor thermometer registers 90 degrees in the shade and rising.  Clearly, summer is not giving up without a fight and baking a blackberry cobbler or pie makes little sense.  

Something icy cold would be just the ticket right now.  Enter Annie, from Annie Eats, and thanks for the terrific idea for Black Raspberry Frozen Yogurt.   She credits a very popular recipe she has adapted from David Lebotvitz’s Perfect Scoop

I like Annie’s tips for alleviating the potential icy defects of sorbets with suggestions such as using well drained Greek yogurt.   The inclusion of 1 to 2 tablespoons vanilla extract with its small alcohol content also reduces graininess.  Plus, I include corn syrup, a handy stabilizer also known to increase the creaminess factor. 

I’ve also tweaked the recipe to meet my needs and enhance my blackberries―resulting in a deeply intense frozen yogurt―more like a complex sorbet.   Sorbet, frequently used as a palate cleanser between courses, is traditionally made with pureed fruit or fruit juice.  Of course it’s similar to a sherbet as well, the old fashioned ice made from fruit juice frozen with dairy or egg whites. Or, is it closer to gelato, that divinely dense Italian ice cream―made with yogurt instead?  

The composition, flavors and textures blur the line such that I have settled on a compromise and choose to refer to this yummy sweet-tart concoction with amazingly creamy mouth feel as Blackberry Yogurt Sorbet.  

 It is so richly satisfying  a small bowlful will suffice, but if you are looking to kick it up a notch you might want to add a few juicy slices of fresh peach.   You be the judge. 

Blackberry Yogurt Sorbet

2 cups whole milk Greek yogurt or other low fat yogurt such as Nancy’s
2 cups fresh blackberries
¾ cups sugar
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp corn syrup

1.       Place the yogurt in a lined sieve inset in a bowl and drain it in the refrigerator for approximately 30 minutes.
2.       Meanwhile, in a blender or food process, process the berries, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and corn syrup.  Blend until smooth.  Press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds.  Chill until needed.
3.       Whisk to incorporate the yogurt and berry puree and pour into ice cream maker.   Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.


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