The house feels empty. Wednesday through Saturday, my family visited for Thanksgiving. This morning, with them on the road home, fog hovering sticky in the sky, the cheery burgundy tablecloth in the washing machine, and a stack of lingering dishes I’m trying to ignore proclaiming themselves from the sink, our little home was stark and cold. I could say that the memories of the holiday will keep me warm, but that would only be true in a metaphorical sense. What I really want is another baked apple.
“90. Baked Apples: Combine chopped pecans and chopped dried fruit (raisins, dates, figs, cranberries all work) and toss with maple syrup and a sprinkle of cinnamon, allspice or nutmeg or all three. Fill the cavities of cored apples with the fruits and nuts, dot each with butter, put into a baking dish and roast about 30 minutes, until tender. Better with vanilla ice cream.”
We had a few small apples from our local Farmers’ Market waiting for attention in the fruit bowl, so I set about collecting partners for them to make a dessert for two.
2 small apples
¼ cup chopped pecans
¼ tsp pumpkin pie spice (I agree with Joy the Baker that we should probably just make our own, but if you, like me, purchased some in a moment of confused weakness, this seems a harmless way to put it to use)
1-2 TB each:
chopped dried figs (I used black Mission, my current favorite)
3 TB maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Core the apples, keeping the bottoms intact if you can. If you can’t, just wrap the bottom quarter or so in aluminum foil and set them in a baking dish. This will keep the filling from escaping.
In a small bowl, combine the nuts, fruit, and spice(s). Drizzle in the maple syrup and stir gently to combine – you want even stickiness throughout.
Using a small spoon, or your fingers, insert as much filling as you can into the cored apples. You will notice that this quantity makes about twice as much as you need for 2 small apples. That’s okay. The leftovers are a fantastic topping for oatmeal the next morning.
Once full, stow your apples in the oven for 30 minutes, or until they are tender when pierced with a knife. Liberate, evacuate to a dessert plate, and pair with vanilla ice cream.
These were a lovely dessert. They felt light, because they were primarily fruit, but were still sweet enough to satisfy that after-dinner craving. The apples still had some resistance, but were warmed through and starting to collapse into themselves. The ice cream was a perfect accompaniment – I wouldn’t want this dessert without it. I might ideally have chosen an apple with more tartness to contrast against the sweetness of the syrup and dried fruit, but in such a case, especially if the apple were on the large size, I would advocate a longer baking time. If the fruit and nuts protruding from the top of the apple start to brown too much, give them a tinfoil hat to hide beneath.
“84. Sage Crackers: Pulse 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ cup Parmesan and 4 tablespoons cold butter in a food processor. Add ¼ cup cream and 1 tablespoon finely chopped sage. When just combined, roll as thinly as possible, score into squares, sprinkle with salt and bake at 400 degrees until golden. Let cool, then break into pieces.”
I’ve always liked a nice cheese-and-crackers platter as an appetizer option, and these seemed like a good option to lead into the big Thanksgiving meal: relatively easy to make, but impressive – who wouldn’t be staggered by the effort of making homemade crackers even with a homemade feast to produce as well?
Bittman’s directions and quantities here are pretty specific, so I just followed his directions. I omitted the salt, because Parmesan carries so much of its own tangy hit, and my parents are not big salt eaters. It should also be noted that pulsing this mixture until just combined does not create a rollable dough, unless my idea of “just combined” is different from Bittman’s. However, turning out the just-clinging crumbs onto a floured board and kneading for only a minute or two does produce a nice textured ball of dough that can be rolled out with minimal sticking.
I’d recommend aiming for a shape as close to a rectangle as possible. Further, roll that rectangle to the size of your biggest cookie sheet. That way you can carefully transport onto the greased or parchment-lined sheet tray by draping the dough loosely over the rolling pin. Score it very gently into rectangles or squares of your chosen size (cut halfway through the dough with a knife, not all the way through), and into the oven with it!
When I checked these 20 minutes later, they were a little more golden than I wanted. They were, in fact, heading toward a burnished bronze (is that not the kindest way ever of saying they were all-but-burned?).
After the cracker sheet had cooled for a few minutes, I broke it along the scored lines into neat (mostly) rectangles and we passed around a few samples. The outside edges, which were thinner, had a slightly over-toasted flavor we didn’t love. The inside rectangles, though, were crisp and flavorful, with a flaky – almost chalky – texture reminiscent at once of pie crust and shortbread. My dad in particular, who enjoys this texture, thought they were great.
And now the confession: my final Bittman for this week is a bit of a cheat. But I’m okay with that, because I also think it was a bit of a cheat for him, though in the best and most useful way.
“101. Buy some cheese. Unwrap it and put it on a plate with some walnuts and fruit; let come to room temperature. Serve with good bread.”
This is the final numerical entry of the list, and that means it’s in the dessert category. While I accept that some people prefer a cheese course to dessert, I’m not sure I consider this an acceptable option for Thanksgiving. It is, however, acceptable as an appetizer idea, as I mentioned above. So that’s what I did. In addition to the sage parmesan crackers above, I made my favorite craisin rosemary biscotti-style crackers with white bean and almond dip, and set them all out with some creamy Stilton, a nice rich chevre, and a wedge of Manchego obtained from a stand at the Farmers’ Market where we finally decided we’d had too many samples to feel right about not purchasing. Surrounding these, I added dried apple rings, black Mission figs, and a fresh Granny Smith cut into slim slices. The walnuts, which I was ready to add as well after a brief toasting, were subjected instead to accidental scorching, and had to be sacrificed. We will speak of them no further.
What can you say about a cheese platter, besides that it was delicious? We adored the Manchego, and soft crumbles of Stilton paired well with the fresh apples. I tried fig and goat cheese together, and now I think chevre-stuffed-figs sounds like an amazing experiment. We decimated the platter in little over ten minutes, but thankfully were not too stuffed to take full advantage of the turkey dinner that followed.
With Thanksgiving handled, that leaves only five weeks of 2012, and only twelve Bittman selections to go! New Year’s Eve is on a Monday, but that still counts as this year if I need to jam in a few final selections, right?
I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…