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In my personal mythology I am a graceful creature. I glide into rooms, move with the fluid ease of someone who is comfortable in her own skin; someone with elegance and poise. But the truth of the matter is, I’m actually a bit of a klutz. Okay, maybe not just a bit. I’m a terrible klutz, as anyone who knows me well can attest to. Miraculously, I’ve never broken any bones, but my skin is always bruised from bumping into furniture, my skin marred with the scars from more than a few burns. As it happens, food always plays a starring role in my mishaps.
I’ve ruined many a white shirt with blueberry or wine stains. My cupboards are full of sets of dishes missing pieces I’ve dropped on the floor. My hands, even my arms (don’t ask!), bear burn marks from my battles in the kitchen. It’s not that I don’t do my best to be careful, but because timing is so crucial while cooking, I can go from methodically and contemplatively chopping ingredients for a mirepoix to frantically trying to do three things at once. This is usually when accidents happen.
On Saturday, I was really looking forward to cooking dinner for my friend T. and had happily set aside the afternoon to work through my menu: lobster pie, strawberry and spinach salad, blueberry crisp. I knew things were not going to go well when I cut my finger chopping onions for the pie; within a space of an hour I also dropped a Pyrex measuring cup on the ground and cut my toe on one of the splinters.
Cooking can be a dangerous craft. I once contemplated a career as a chef–for about five minutes. I don’t have the physical stamina that is required for a life in the kitchen. Besides, I’d probably accidentally set my hair on fire or cut off my pinky.
So for now, I’m happy to write about food and cook for my family and friends, accidents notwithstanding. Because what’s a little cut or two compared to the satisfaction you get when you’ve made something truly wonderful and have made people you care about happy?
Individual Blueberry Crisps
I like to make crisps in individual 4-inch ramekins. They’re so pretty and easy to serve this way. You can make any kind of crisp you like with a couple of cups of chopped fruit and a crumbling of oats and brown sugar. Be sure to use rolled oats, not the quick cooking kind, or you will end up with a soggy mess. I chose blueberries, not only because they’re in season but because their tangy sweetness are the perfect foil for this crisp, buttery topping. Serve with a dollop of whip cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Loosely adapted from All Recipes
2 rounded cups blueberries
3 teaspoons white sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup cold butter
1) Preheat the oven to 350F. Toss the blueberries with the white sugar and lemon juice in a medium bowl and set aside.
2) In a separate bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cut the butter into cubes and cut into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or a fork until crumbly. Butter the ramekins and press half the mixture into the bottoms. Fill each ramekin with the blueberries.
3) Sprinkle the remaining topping over the berries. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and the blueberries are bubbling.
Looking back on my posts over the last four months, you could definitely say my blog is skewed to the sweet side of things. Taking up baking for the first time since I was a teenager has been a fun adventure and oddly satisfying. I say oddly because the truth is, don’t really have all that much of a sweet tooth. That’s not to say that I don’t love my pastries or indulge in my fair share of chocolate, but given a desert island choice, I would forgo the sweet for the savory.
I adore stick-to-your ribs meals like pork chops and mashed potatoes, hearty stews, pasta dishes smothered in cheese sauce and heaped with even more cheese. With all that comfort food, you would think I need a lot of comforting. My idea of a snack is a plate of cheese and crackers alongside a handful of cornichons. I can eat this every day, and I usually do.
Which brings me to the cracker conundrum. Take a look at most cracker boxes at the supermarket and you’ll find a long list of bad fats and unpronouncable ingredients. Stuff that I’d rather not put in my body on a daily basis. I go for the artisan crackers from time to time, but a box of them–like my favourite Raincoast Crisps–can set you back seven bucks. I can eat half a box of these in one sitting.
Raincoast crisps come in a variety of flavours: rosemary raisin & pecan, fig & olive, salty date & almond. With their slight sweetness and nutty, crispy texture, the crisps are delicious enough on their own. With a smear of pate or a dollop of antipasto, they’re out of this world.
So when I came across this little recipe for a similar crisp in a little book on pates and terrines, I had to make them right away. The one recipe alone was worth the price of the book. You can use any type of nuts you like. I love the taste and look of pistachios, but almonds, pecans, or hazelnuts would also be great choices. You can also experiment with other ingredients, adding a touch of rosemary or a sprinkling of sesame or sunflower seeds.
It’s important to refrigerate the loaf overnight, as it must be very cold in order to slice thinly. You could pop it into the freezer for a couple of hours if you don’t have the time to spare. Like biscotti, the loaf is baked as a whole and then as individual slices. The original recipe says that they need to be baked for 20-25 minutes but I find this far too long. If they are indeed sliced thinly enough, they will start to burn after ten or fifteen minutes. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t do so.
You can serve these crackers with an endless assortment of accompaniments, but keep in mind that they’re on the sweet side. I like them best with a mild blue cheese like Bresse Bleu, or a lemon or pear Stilton. You could also have them with smoked salmon or a myriad of pates and cheeses. I like to serve them with a bunch of grapes or some figs that have been soaked in Marsala wine.
There’s something about these crisps that seem the height of indulgence. Be sure to have them on offer the next time you have guests over. They’ll surely be impressed, but no more than yourself. For such an elegant cracker, they’re incredibly easy to make.
Twice-Baked Pistachio Crisps
adapted from “Pates and Terrines” by Fiona Smith
makes about 30 crackers
1/4 cups sugar
1 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons flour
3/4 cup pistachios
1) In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together until well mixed. Fold in the flour and pistachios, taking care not to overblend.
2) Spread the mixture into a 8×4 inch loaf pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 45 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
3) Wrap the loaf in aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.
4) The next day, preheat the oven to 325F. Cut the bread diagonally as thinly as possible with a sharp knife and lay the slices out on 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
5) Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until crisps are lightly browned. Keep checking them in the last 5 minutes of baking, as they burn easily. Let cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.