Saturday, August 30, 2014

Dump Cake Desserts ~ Cobblers, Crisps, Pandowdys and Buckles

These dump cake desserts are all the rage today, so I wanted to give you a couple recipes and discuss the pros/cons of these quick and simple sweet treats. I previously made a Pumpkin Pecan Crunch dump cake which was very popular and I very much enjoyed it. But I'm less fond of the canned fruit variety, often referred to as "cobbler", which they are not.

Cherry Pineapple Dump Cake
I'm not sure why people seem to confuse the terms cobbler, crisp, pandowdy and buckle, but even the famous TV chefs do it. Paul Deen's peach cobbler recipe is actually a buckle, as she calls for spooning cooked peaches on top of a cake batter and then baking until the batter rises above the fruit. This is the classic buckle definition. Southern Living published "14 Crazy-Good Fruit Cobblers,” of which there are three pandowdy recipes (fruit topped with pie crust), two crisp recipes (fruit topped with streusel), a buckle, and a shortcake recipe. OK, I'll get off my soapbox now. Suffice it to say using the correct term to describe your dessert is important in informing your diners of what they are about to be served so they have the correct expectation.

Simple Dump Cake Ingredients
Use Any Cake Flavor You Prefer
So, what we are talking about here are 'dump cakes' and not cobblers, crisps, etc.  While the recipes below calls for specific fruit ingredients, really any combination or single type of fruit can be used and will yield about the same results; a sweet fruit filling with cake-like sweet topping. The problem with the canned fruit filling dump cakes is largely the fact you get a lot of gooey filling and not much good fruit. As such, I prefer to use fresh fruit either as a substitute for the canned (with some added sugar) or to add fresh fruit to the canned pie filling. Doing this will greatly improve your recipes. Of the recipes below, my favorite by far is the blueberry and it's just as easy as the others.

Finally, I know some people just pour the melted butter on top of the mix, but this will not yield as good a result as mixing it into a crumb mixture first, as you would in making a traditional crisp. Instead always mix the butter with the cake batter first to form a loose crumb topping.

1 can (21 ounces) cherry pie filling
1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple, undrained
If you spoon the melted butter on top of the mix,
use 1 cup instead of 1/2 cup for a more cake like topping.
1 can (21 ounces) apple pie filling
1 can (15-1/4 ounces) sliced pears, drained
1 can (15-1/4 ounces) sliced peaches, drained
1 can (21 ounces) blueberry pie filling
4 cups fresh blueberries, washed

1 box yellow cake mix
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted

Heat oven to 350°F (325°F for dark or nonstick pan). In large bowl, stir together cake mix and butter until crumbly; set aside.

Spread pie filling and pineapple in ungreased 13x9-inch pan. Sprinkle cake mix mixture evenly over fruit.

Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until deep golden brown. Serve warm or cool with optional ice cream.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Basil Pesto Sauce on Fettuccine

This is a great change from tomato sauce on your pasta. I had never added this little recipe to the blog because it's really so simple. But after I posted a few photos to Facebook, several requested it so here it is. It really is just a fresh combination of basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil. I toss in some cheese at the end, which is optional.

The simple ingredients for basil pesto sauce.
I say it's simple and it really is, but there is a caveat. You must have a food processor for it to be quick and simple. If you don't, the classic technique uses a mortar and pestle. For this method, I've provided a video clip below that shows the technique.

Ingredients (enough for 1 pound of pasta)
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2.25 ounces (about 1/4 cup) pine nuts
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese (substitute Romano)

Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. With the processor running, drizzle in the oil until smooth. Add the cheese and pulse 2-3 times to mix in.
Season with salt and pepper.

Boil one pound of fettuccine or spaghetti until al dente. Reserve a bit of the starchy pan water in which the noodles cooked. Toss the freshly cooked pasta with all of the pesto sauce.  Stir in a half cup or so of hot starch water if needed for a more creamy consistency. Sprinkle the finished dish with a little more grated cheese and serve.

Julian's Fresh Pesto Sauce

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Summer Vegetable Gratin and Fingerling Potatoes

With the summer vegetable harvest in full swing, today I'm making simple yet impressive dishes full of the flavors of late summer. 

Julian's Summer Vegetable Gratin
The first, a gratin of mixed summer produce including zucchini, yellow squash, onions and tomatoes looks great because of the presentation. Yet it's quick and easy to make with a good mandoline or food processor. The flavor comes all on its own from those delicious vegetables and when combined as shown here, nicely compliment one another. And while I call it a 'gratin' the term simply refers to the technique of topping a dish of any kind with a browned crust, usually containing bread crumbs and cheese. Some people prefer a creamy, more cheesy topping, but I generally do not and as I'm having the in-laws for dinner tonight who are not big cheese fans, I just used grated Parmesan in the bread crumbs for the topping. Delicious!

Best Mandoline
If you are looking to add a gadget to your kitchen and don't want to invest in a big, expensive food processor, I suggest the Swissmar Borner V-1001 V-Slicer Plus Mandoline. This device was recommended by Cook's Illustrated and everyone I know that uses a mandoline regularly agrees with their assessment that this is by far the best tool. Not only does it do the job of slicing and julienne very well, the storage is not bulky. 

The second, roasted mixed fingerling potatoes, are even easier to prepare in the oven or on the grill in a foil packet. A fingerling potato is a small, finger-shaped type of potato which may be any heritage potato type. They naturally grow small and narrow and should not to be confused with new potatoes, which simply are not fully grown. Fingerlings are fully grown at this smaller size. Popular fingerling varieties include the yellow-skinned Russian Banana, the orange-skinned French, and the Purple Peruvian. I simply use whatever my grocer has on hand, and thankfully this week they had mixed varieties in an open bin so I could select just the potatoes I wanted as they were not pre-packaged. I'm not going to bother with a recipe for these, as you scrub them as you would any potato, then simply slice them in half, sprinkle them with olive oil and your favorite seasonings. I also sprinkle a bit of panko-style bread crumbs on them to add a little crunch, which is totally optional.

Julian's Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
Gratin of Summer Mixed Vegetables
1-2 zucchini
1-2 yellow squash
4-5 plum tomatoes
1 small yellow or red onion
1 tablespoon soft, not melted, butter
4 cloves of fresh garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese.

Selecting the Produce
You can really use any combination of vegetables and I've had good success by including small egg plant (aubergine) as well as various squash varieties. Select the zucchini and squash that are as similar in size as possible and those with the most regular shape. If the squash narrow too much at one end as they naturally do, the slices will not be as ideal for the presentation as you will end up with discs of different diameters. Alternatively you can set these smaller end pieces aside and use for another dish.

Note I only used half of this onion.
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Wash and slice the zucchini, squash and optional egg plant. Halve then thinly slice the onion. Butter the baking dish (oval or round preferred) with the soft butter. Arrange the sliced produce in the dish using one slice of each of the vegetables. Note that the onion is added to each segment but in a smaller piece only for flavor and does not add to the presentation. Once the dish is filled, crush or mince the garlic and sprinkle over the dish. Sprinkle with the olive oil and seasoned salt, pepper or other favorite seasonings.

To the melted butter, stir in the bread crumbs and cheese.  Sprinkle over the top of the vegetables.  Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place in the upper thrid of the oven. Bake 30 minutes then remove foil and continue baking another 15 minutes until the topping is lightly browned. Remove and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Keep consistent thickness of vegetables.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Best Garlic Press

I've searched for years for a better garlic press than the one I had. Most are really not as good as your chef's knife, and take longer to clean up after use.

Julian's Favorite Garlic Press
That is, until Cooks Illustrated published an article on their test of garlic presses and I discovered the Kuhn Rikon press shown here. This handsome, all stainless-steel garlic press makes quick, efficient work of pressing garlic or ginger. You can even place unpeeled garlic cloves inside and get the pressed garlic you want. It requires less effort than my old press and the sieve hinges out for easy clean up. It says it is diashwasher safe, although I've never bothered.

If you're in the market for a new, perhaps a little pricey, garlic press, this is the item of choice. Great gift for the cook in your family or for yourself. Highly recommended and available on Amazon.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The End of Fresh Fruit Pies? Ohio's Amish Country Pies Reviewed

Each summer I return to Ohio's Amish country for a visit and a taste of country cooking. This typically includes fresh fruit pies. I'm sad to say, it seems even in the heart of America, real fresh fruit pies may be a thing of the past.

Julian's Fresh Apple Pie
During my trip I ate at numerous restaurants and attended gatherings of friends and family. It was hard to find a pie made of real, fresh fruit. Most were made of fillings previously cooked and canned, bagged or frozen. I'm not sure why this is the case when fruit is readily available this time of the year and makes for a far superior pie. As you know if you read this blog regularly, I easily make fresh berry and fruit pies each season.

Dutch Valley Restaurant
This restaurant is an area classic and is very very busy because of its long reputation. I've dined here several times during recent stays at the Carlisle Inn. The chicken is great whether you get broasted or pan friend. Beyond that, a number of dishes are lacking. The green beans are undoubtedly canned as they have the telltale 'tin' taste. The mashed potatoes and stuffing are good and reliable choices. The buffet/salad bar are great if you have big eaters in your party. The pie, often sought after because of its Amish reputation, has sadly not been very good in recent times.

On my visit in 2013 I found the crusts pasty and white, rather than flaky and browned. They certainly did not look or taste homemade. Worse yet the fruit pie filling was obviously coming from processed fruit in the bag/can. I ordered blackberry pie last year and there was not a berry in it. Rather there were only bits and pieces, and a large amount of paste that accounted for the filling. It was more like jam in a pie crust. I had the same experience with other fruit pies.

This summer (July 2014) I talked with the staff and was pleased to see them differentiating "fresh" fruit pies from their standard line. So I ordered "Fresh Peach." I anticipated that a cook would have peeled and stoned the peaches, placed them a crust coated with a little sugar and starch, topped the pie with a crust and baked it. Instead I received a pie that was more like what you might expect with fresh strawberry. These were uncooked (I would say, previously frozen and thawed) peaches that had been mixed with a generous (and I mean huge)  amount of peach flavored gelatin. In fact, in the store they sell the "Peach Redi-Pak" so you can make these at home yourself (although why you would want to, I don't know.) It's not that the pie tasted bad, but simply that it really isn't a fresh peach pie they way you might make it at home, or expect it to be made in a Amish home kitchen.

Dutch Valley "Fresh Peach" and I use the term loosely!
The cream pies are your best bet if you want dessert, but even then I would not recommend them. Go to the city of Charm and eat at the homestead restaurant right across from Keim Lumber for better pie.

Grandma's Homestead Restaurant
This was the favorite restaurant in Amish Country of my Uncle Roy and Aunt Rose, who dined here regularly as they lived in the area. Word did get around of the excellent food and the popularity has not done this restaurant any favors. Volume has somewhat decreased service levels. With that said, during my recent visit they still had the best meatloaf I've ever tasted in a restaurant. I'm not sure what they put it it, but it certainly is very good. They offer a small buffet at lunchtime to handle the crowd, and it had both meatloaf and chicken leg/thigh quarters. On subsequent visits I found the meatloaf had been replaced with pork, which was also good. The mashed potatoes are homemade and the Amish noodles are not to be missed, especially when served over the potatoes in Amish country style. If you are put off by the inconsistency of service, I would suggest you consider dining elsewhere but do come here midday for the pie.

Grandma's Homestead Classic: Dark Chocolate Pecan Pie
On my 2013 visit, I chose the coconut cream (being torn between it and the peanut butter cream.) My mother's signature pie was coconut cream and I make it regularly to this day. The coconut cream pie at Grandma's was as good as my mother's, which says a lot. It had whipped topping instead of meringue, but that is common in restaurants where it is hard to keep meringue quality for very long. On my next visit (summer 2014) I had the signature pie, which is a dark chocolate with pecan pie topping. This pie was exceptionally good, and not as sweet as you might imagine. It really was a great combination of flavors and should be on your list of desserts.  With all of that said, Grandma's retiring and the restaurant is for sale.