Dessert Is Food, Too: Baked Apple with Nutmeg and Greek Yogurt

If you’re like me, you’ve been trying to avoid all signs of processed sweets since being buried under a mound of sugar cookies, toffee bars, pumpkin pies, chocolate coins, and wines nearly every night for the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years. But you’re also leaving every meal these days pining for that extra touch of sweetness to close the dining ceremonies. Enter Dessert Is Food, Too–my experiments in somewhat healthy post-meal treats designed to revitalize one of the more important food groups, and make January a more fulfilling month of sweets.

Baked Apple with Nutmeg and Greek Yogurt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Core one apple, leaving the round structure of the fruit intact, and set in a small pan. Fill the hollowed core with one pat of butter and a tablespoon of maple syrup. Cover the pan with tin foil, and bake for 20-30 minutes. When the apple is tender, pull out of the oven and cut in half. Serve halves with a dollop of Greek yogurt, sprinkled with nutmeg.

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Poached Pear Pomegranate (Guest Blog)

Guest blogger (and my dad) Peter Oatman presents a dessert that combines pears with the crunchy, brilliant punch of  pomegranate seeds:

It is sometimes difficult to enjoy fruit in the winter months but here is a way to savor succulent pears with this colorful dessert.

Poached Pear Pomegranate

  • Two firm DeAnjou Pears
  • 1.5 cups white wine
  • 1 medium pomegranate
  • 4 Tablespoons real maple syrup
  • 2 Tablespoons salted butter
  • 2 oz Grand Marnier
  • Orange milk chocolate slices

Peal and core pears and cut in half. In 2 quart sauce pan, poach pears in white wine and keep covered for 5 to 10 minutes until cooked but still firm. Set aside to keep warm in wine. Cut pomegranate in quarters and squeeze juice and seeds into saute pan removing white skin as needed. Add butter and maple syrup and boil until slightly thickened. Put warm pear halves on plate. Add Grand Marnier to sauce and flambé, pouring over pears while flaming. Add chocolate slices to plate and serve. Serves 4.

Autumn’s Apple Crisp

Apples

In fall you must make Apple Crisp.

I did not always know this. As much as I rely on apples now, I was not someone who grew up eating them very often. I remember apple slices and applesauce­–segmented or resurrected varieties of the fruit­–but not the whole entities. I also remember considering apples somewhat boring. Standard, sweet, and forever the same. And then I moved to Vermont and realized that maybe, though I liked apples well enough and my childhood meals were comparatively well-balanced and healthy, I had never really eaten a good apple.

I learned the importance of the Apple Crisp doctrine during college in Vermont, where apples predominate the food triangle during autumn; they appear in barrels and baskets, stands on the roadside, bubbling in warm pies, and pretty much overtaking every possible cranny of the state. Every fall I would gather with friends and show up at Happy Valley Orchards, an orchard run by my friend Tommy Heitkamp’s family, to load Cortlands, McIntoshes, Honey Crisps, and Galas into brown paper bags.  We would peruse aisles of short apple trees and pluck the apple of our fancy off of low branches. Sometimes a bite out of an apple would reveal its inferiority and it would be tossed to the ground. You could eat as many apples as you wanted while picking. We climbed trees to get the most tempting fruit and sometimes a picnic would even take place at the roots of a tree, with brie and bread an probably chocolate.

AhApples

The apple of Ms. Bullion's eye

The affair was usually a misty one, and on one occasion I remember dashing inside the small wooden commercial space to escape burgeoning drizzle. No trip could conclude without the purchase of apple cider donuts and a pitcher or two of cider.

And always, when we arrived back to campus with pounds of apples, their skins taut and still dewy, there was a Crisp to concoct. I have no memory of recipes being used; Crisps and Crumbles are nice because they thrive off simplicity, fresh ingredients, improvisation, and vanilla ice cream. A cold day and some fall colors don’t hurt much either. We would eat the Crisps by the spoonful, not bothering to separate the steaming dessert into bowls.

Now I am living in Northern California, a more temperate environment. Today was still and warm, hot even, and the evening could be enjoyed without a sweatshirt. And yet July was like late March in most other places. The skipping over seasons and then retracing steps and having bouts of summer during January, wintery days in July, autumnal days in August, and spring where fall is supposed to be definitely messes with my senses.

But signs of Autumn still make their way into the scene. The man who was selling strawberries and watermelons out of the back of his truck on Harrison Street is now selling pumpkins. Halloween decorations drape themselves over the elegant Victorian facades in my neighborhood (a very fitting architecture for Halloween, I will say). And apples have reappeared at the Sunday farmer’s market. Right now the Galas are still sweet but the Fujis are small and super crisp, the way I love them the most.

Back to where I started: Apple Crisp. I made a rather successful one yesterday, though the apples I used were picked by someone else. We stayed the weekend at the Goat Farm in Tomales (see “Grazing at the Goat Farm Gala”).  Just like in San Francisco, the temperature reminded me much more of early Summer than mid-fall.

In many ways, the farm was actually undergoing spring. A new layer of grass crept through the dead remnants of a dry summer and cast a chartreuse veil over the hills. Baby goats (baby goats!) ran here and there, cuddling up in corners of the pen or munching ecstatically on hay. In the morning, the sun slowly warmed away a velvety layer of fog so it looked as though the cloud dissipating from the barnyard was illuminated from within. Grass stood tall under an echelon of due, almost appearing electric in the slanted sunlight.

Autumn had also sunk its teeth into the farm, as strange gourds decorated counter tops and pumpkins rested precariously on railings. My visit this weekend had no plans, except that we were going to a barn dance (and we did), we would probably make an excellent meals (check), and that I wanted an Apple Crisp. As I sat down to make the dish, I couldn’t help yearning for a cold nose and flushed cheeks from Northeastern air. Hot apple cider doesn’t necessarily taste the same without at least a frost, and I worried the Crisp would be similarly unfitting for the warm evening in store.

Apple Lane

Yet one bite of the Crisp yielded complete satisfaction. The brown sugar, oats, and butter turned into a textured, tasteful topping. Different apple varieties melded together and offset each other’s distantly tart flavors. A dollop of vanilla ice cream melting rapidly over the whole affair prompted a predictable second helping. For a couple of spoonfuls, I was back under the fragile, fiery leaves of Vermont’s autumn.

Simple Apple Crisp

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8×12 pan. Chop 4-6 apples, preferably different varieties. Gravenstiens and Granny Smiths supposedly make great Crisps, but I used neither. Toss apple slices with 2 tsp of fresh lemon juice.

For topping, combine:

  • 6 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Layer apples into the pan and cover with the topping. If you want, you can also add some additional pats of butter onto the top of the Crisp. Bake for an hour, serve with vanilla bean ice cream.

A Late Summer Sweet with a little S and P

My friend Leif Hedendal, a masterful underground chef with sharp blue eyes, a soft voice, and wit so dry it’s almost hard to detect, recently asked me to help him with an event. After working at restaurants such as Greens and Citron, Leif (pronounced “life”) decided it was time to leave the establishment and set off on his own culinary path. By cooking at underground dinners and supper clubs, catering events, and experimenting with the chemistry of flavors in his own kitchen, Leif has made a name for himself in the East Bay and San Francisco.

Some of his flavor pairings sound exotic and daring, and sometimes his deftness with the most simplest of dishes, such as Grilled Tahini Califlower, reveal his true prowess in the kitchen. The event he catered recently- the one where I served appetizers, opened wine bottles, and had a genuinely good time with both servers and party-goers alike- was for a company’s celebration of an installation exhibit in Hayes Valley.

The menu included Deconstructed Gazpacho (hallowed out Dirty Girl Tomatos with a spoonful of fresh garlicky gazpacho in each one), a Chantrelle Mushroom Galette, and crostini withfigs with fresh chevre. The most unique, and arguably the most successful, dish of the night arrived in the form of a provocative and somewhat controversial dessert. After arranging sliced tomatoes, tiny sweet strawberries, pluots, fresh mint, and fresh basil in a bowl, Leif spooned salt and pepper ice-cream from Humphrey Slocombe onto each plate followed by a thin drizzle of olive oil. The combination seemed to encompass all of summer, and the salt and pepper ice cream is truly, and maybe surprisingly, spectacular. An original pairing and one I will miss as strawberries stop appearing and tomatoes all but disappear until next summer.

The Life of Pies

 

From Left to Right: Two, One, and Three

the entries

We were a household full of sugar-starved females in a season notorious for pie consumption, and somehow we gained access to cases upon cases of raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries for free.

 

I think you know the rest of the story.

I’ll give you two hints: Pie Competition.

It began with all of the donated fruit (Gretchen catered a tequila saturated event for Driscoll employees and in their hangover haze they left all of their product behind), and soon enough one of our friends casually dropped the whole “We should have a pie-making competition” line within earshot and soon enough there were twelve of us lined up around the kitchen, mouths watering, waiting to try three very delicious looking berry pies. A massive bowl of whipped cream and a pint vanilla ice-cream awaiting, we served a small slice of each pie to each judge and quickly got to work. 

Pie Notes

Pie #1

 

 

The Hot Shot making Pie #1

The Hot Shot making Pie #1

 

 

Contestant: The Hot Shot

Overall: Made by the local pie expert, pie #1 was all about the crust. With barely any sugar in the filling, this blackberry/raspberry pie had a classic delicate crust and tart, evenly cooked filling.

Process: The maker of this pie strut into our kitchen well before any contestant and had a crust rolled and ready in about twenty minutes flat. A seasoned crust connoisseur, he insisted on bringing his own pan and accessories. Better caught dead than without a pastry cloth. 

Secrets: Ice water in the dough; chilling the dough before rolling it out; barely any sugar in the filling; touching dough as little as possible to ensure flakiness

Results: The fact that there was the least amount of this pie left in the pan after the judges got to work might just speak for itself.

 

Pie #2

Hard at work on Pie #2

Hard at work on Pie #2

 

 

Contestant: The Artiste

Overall: The artiste came up with the idea for the contest and had his crust made the night before. Definitely the best dressed, this pie wins the beauty contest. Extra points for the cinnamon sugar on top.

Process: Making the crust the night before may have made the rolling-out process more challenging for him, but the artiste refused to complain. With furrowed brow and beer in hand, this meticulous contestant showed patience and perseverance as he wove a pie-crust worthy of children’s book illustrations or Martha Stewart Living.

Secrets: Sour cream and vinegar in the crust; cinnamon sprinkled on top

Results: Tasteful, tantalizing, and tangy.

 

Pie #3

Lemon was the key to #3

Lemon was the key to #3

Contestant: The Natural

Overall: This pie profited from a luscious, smooth filling made complex with the use of all three types of berries (blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries) and generous helpings of lemon zest. The most original of the three, The Natural’s pie also had an oat crumble crust making it a cobbler-pie hybrid.

Process: Ah, the process. Halfway through a compelling conversation, The Natural looked down to her bowl and realized she had stirred its contents into a marmalade mush. Almost at her mind’s end, she saved the day with an oat/brown sugar crust and plenty of lemon.

Secrets: Three kinds of berries; lemon zest and juice

Results: Most agreed that while sweeter than the other two pies, pie #3 also had the more complex and layered flavors, making it the most original and the best pick for late night leftover bite.

Nick’s Angel Peach Pie

An untraditional take on the peach pie, this recipe has become a Sylva family classic (and a new favorite of mine). The success of the pie relies on the ripeness of the peaches, which are served uncooked, so make sure to make it during the right season. A perfect balance of sweet, nutty, and creamy, the meringue and whipped cream make this dessert taste a little like floating on air. Great for warm summer nights. 

***Note: Good news for those with dietary concerns–this dessert is completely gluten-free and could be dairy free if you substituted the whipped cream with coconut milk ice-cream. 

From Better Homes and Gardens circa 1950’s, adapted by Helen Romig

  •  3 egg whites
  •  dash salt
  • 3/4 C sugar
  •  1 1/4 C coconut flakes toasted
  •  1/3 C sliced almonds toasted
  • well buttered 9″ pie plate, glass preferred
  •  2-3 C peaches
  • heavy whipping cream

For meringue

 Preheat oven 350 degrees

1. With electric mixer beat egg whites with dash of salt, slowly adding sugar until stiff peaks are formed

2. Fold in 1 C of coconut and all almonds

3. Spread into pie pan, pushing up sides to form pie crust like shape

4. Bake for 30 minutes, turn oven off and let cool on rack with door ajar

 To serve

 After meringue has cooled completely, whip cream and slice peaches. Cut out slices of meringue and top with peaches, whipped cream and remaining toasted coconut