Blackberry Crumble

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If there is one thing I love to learn about others, it is their preferences for and memories involving food. I’ve shared much of my history with food and cooking in this space already but this month, The Recipe Redux asked us to stir up some of our earliest culinary recollections.

Instead of rehashing how it all began, I’m reposting a very slightly edited version of what I wrote then with a little note about this month’s recipe at the end.

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“Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you.”
                                                     – Letters to a Young Poet, Rainier Maria Rilke 
 
 
 
The truth is, the beginning is blurry. When I squint back into the depths of my childhood, my thoughts were not long off of food. I would take cookbooks to bed at night, scrunching my eyes into the flashlight-shadows, long after my sister had demanded I put our shared, bunk-bedded room into darkness. Looking back at the shy, quiet, anxious little person that I was then, I recall only that I felt most at home in the kitchen. I still do.
 
It began then, I think, with playdough. My mom mixed up homemade playdough. I remember seeing the recipe on a worn index card in her gray metal recipe box, a box that to this day holds her most cherished recipes. There were two recipes in that box that were beyond intriguing to my child-mind:  elephant ears and playdough. The first was something that I had never considered could be made outside of a hot, steamy, trailer-kitchen at the county fair. The second was the only non-food recipe that I’ve ever known my mom to have on hand. I must have asked her, and she mixed up a batch for us. I don’t remember much after beyond the whirl of the mixer blades, and the fact that my mom brought me into the kitchen, handed me the measuring cups, and taught me fractions.
 
 
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From that moment when I learned to turn on the mixer, to scoop flour into the measuring cups, to follow recipe instructions, up to now, nearly 20 years later, I’ve been most at home in any place surrounded by food. It fascinates me in its cultural symbolism, use as a socio-economic tool and weapon, as a medicine to heal, as a draw to family gatherings and entire holiday celebrations, and most importantly, in its most simple form as basic sustenance for the hunger in all of us.
 
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In those simple childhood days, those most-remembered foods symbolize the dearly loved and oft-hated. My favorites from that gray box included our neighbor’s recipe for honey-cinnamon swirl rolls,  my mom’s homemade bread, and leftover-oatmeal cookies with just the right amount of spice. There was my favorite breakfast, dad’s “stinkbug porridge”, which was a simple concoction of raisins and brown sugar. And then the fresh milk from our cow, Betsy, with flakes of cream floating amongst my morning cheerios. I had to plug my nose to get the milk down after staying an extra hour at the table gathering the resolve to drink it. Now looking back, I realize what a precious experience to have been raised in a place where our milk came right from the cow.

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 In this new season and new beginning of sorts, I am reminded of how I am drawn to food as a means of communication and connection. I am reminded of the beginning, how I learned in the kitchen with my mom and the whirl of the blender blades that are still in her cupboard today. I am reminded that food is special, and that when I go into myself, as Rilke suggests, the only answer I come back with is, yes, I must create.
 
Though I no longer enjoy thick slices of my mom’s bread, or partake in flecks of cream floating in cow’s milk, I hold in my heart and in my cooking a focus on good, simple, nourishing food, in whatever way it can be most enjoyed. I am looking forward to this season to come, and the creations it will bring.
 
 

 Now tell me, what is one of your first memories in the kitchen?

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Blackberry Crumble, serves 4-6
As I indicated above, I began creating with baked goods, and having grown up in an area rich with agriculture and with grandparents that often brought fruit from their own or nearby orchards, baking frequently involved fruit. Crumbles or crisps were an often chosen and easily made dessert that were devoured in a matter of spoonfuls. This one involves blackberries because today happens to be a special someone’s birthday and William requests blackberry desserts annually (or one of its many cousins in the form of boysen or marionberries). Hence, a late September blackberry recipe makes its way into this space nearly every year.

For this recipe, there are a couple options in the way of sweetening and using the oil. For the berries, opt for one tablespoon honey if you’re working on limiting sugar consumption, or don’t tend to eat much sugar, like me. If on the other hand, you do eat sugary sweets regularly, like William, opt for two tablespoons honey and you’ll likely be a little more satisfied. Likewise, we tend to find coconut oil a bit too overpowering in crumbles and pies (even refined coconut oil), and prefer a more neutral flavored oil like canola instead so the blackberry flavor can shine through. I know some particularly like the coconut flavor, so if that’s more your speed, opt for coconut oil instead.    

4 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1-2 Tbs. honey (see notes)

Crumble Topping:
2 cups rolled oats, gluten-free if necessary
6 Tbs. sorghum flour
1/4 cup canola oil or melted coconut oil (see notes)
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the berries in a baking dish and toss with vanilla, lemon juice and honey.
  • Prepare the crumble in a separate bowl. Start by mixing oats, sorghum flour, salt and vanilla.
  • Then add the canola or melted coconut oil and honey. Use a spoon or your hands to mix until combined. With your fingers, crumble the filling evenly over the berries.
  • Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until the fruit juices are bubbling around the edges and the topping is golden brown.


Roasted Sweet Potato + Beet Soup

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Sometime in the early months of 2013, I discovered a whole new genre of food blogs. At the time, I was coming home from work to an always empty house, laying on the floor for an hour to re-calibrate from my day, working myself into a 30 minute or so run, and then reading a couple food blogs over dinner (usually a sweet potato, roasted during that run, with black beans, salsa, and a pile of greens), working another couple hours just to survive the next school day, and falling into bed into a deep and dreamless sleep before my alarm clock wrenched me out and up and into another day that was much the same. I was exhausted and unhappy — but I was learning so much and I could tell if I could just keep putting one foot in front of another and trust my intuition, I’d end up in a better place. Also, I was learning a new way to eat and cook and it’s safe to say in my years-long shift in eating, a major one was slowly taking place.

One of the blogs I discovered during that time was Sarah Britton’s My New Roots, and it was from her that I first learned about the “holy trinity of flavor,” or what I’ve now learned is referred to as FASS. Personally, I like to call it the four corners of cooking.

Sarah shared about an experience in her cookbook of a chef thinking her soup was bland and teaching her that every dish needs to have an acid, a salt, and a sugar, or will taste a little less than ideal. This is Sarah’s holy trinity of flavor. In the four corners, a fat is added to that trio, to make FASS. For each of the four components, a little can go a long way.

 

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It was soup week this last week in my cooking lab for nutrition, and we experimented with refining the four corners of our recipes. Flavor is a very personal thing, but I found that very simple recipes with few ingredients, a little fat, an acid, a sweet note, and some salt can work wonders in making a recipe taste delicious. After eating different types of soup for several days and using William as my second taste-tester, I felt the need to share the humblest of soups from this week. I say it is humble but it was also the one that absolutely hit the spot, more than once, after coming home late from long days of work, hard runs, and commuting.

I wrote up a description about working with the four corners of flavor for class this week, and because I think everyone should cook with flavor, I’ll share a rendition of it here: First, when refining flavors, make sure the dish is at the temperature you will serve it at, as the flavors will change, depending on whether you are tasting it hot or cold.

 

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For any given recipe, it is likely that a fat source as either butter or an oil will likely be used in building the base. The fat type can add flavor, if it is intended to, or if added near the end as either a cream or nut cream, can add mouth feel and a change in texture as well. Adding a fat such as lightly toasted and chopped nuts can also be a flavor-enhancing garnish to round out a finished recipe.

As an acid component, a squeeze or two of lemon juice or one of the many types of vinegar can be added. The small amount of acid added at the end of cooking will enhance and sharpen the other flavors of the dish.

Salt, the third component, is likely the most important, and can really heighten the other flavors. The right amount of salt is a very personal thing, and it can easily be overdone to the recipe’s detriment, so add it in small amounts and taste as you go. You will know when you’ve added the right amount.

The fourth corner is sugar. Depending on ingredients, you might already have a sugar component. For instance, in this roasted vegetable soup, the roasting of the vegetables prior to adding them to the broth brought out their natural sugars through the process of caramelization. For this soup, I did not need to add any additional sweetener. The sweet flavor balances and rounds the soup and also will satiate the appetite, which is why if it is missing from a meal, we often finish wanting more, even though we’re physically full.

 

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Roasted Sweet Potato + Beet Soup, serves 2-3
Feel free to use whatever root vegetables and beans are on hand or desired. Recipe adapted from Eleonora Gafton. 

1 Tbs. olive oil
1 sweet potato, medium dice
1-2 large beets, medium dice
1 large carrot, roll cut
2-3 small turnips, medium dice
1/2 large yellow onion, medium dice
1 clove of garlic, minced
4-5 cups vegetable broth
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 Tbs. fresh parsley, minced
1 1/2 cups cooked black-eyed peas
sea salt to taste
ground black pepper
a squeeze of lemon juice, as necessary

  • Place all diced vegetables on a large baking pan and drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt.
  • Roast them in a preheated oven at 400 degrees F for 20-30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.
  • In a large pot, add the roasted vegetables and herbs, along with the broth and beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  • Season as needed with additional salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Serve with fresh chopped parsley, and if you’re in the mood, fresh baked scones or cornbread.

Moroccan Tagine with Sweet Potatoes + Beets, food for runners (or this runner)

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There is nothing like a few days spent living with others to put into perspective how truly personal is our choice in food. While I will happily eat roasted broccoli or leftover kale salad for 9am snack (and frequently do), even the idea of kale salad at a seemingly more appropriate time of day might leave others running for the door.

 

 

This point is driven home in my frequent conversations about food with others. My work at the university has often left me chatting about the differences between foods here in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world–how everything is just sooo sweet–and how diets inherently change even without the individual really attempting to when taking up residence here.

 

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In sharing this recipe, I’ll make a point in saying first that I question the title and definitely the authenticity as I’ve never been to Morocco and have only eaten at one semi-Moroccan restaurant. And yet I love the flavors of “Moroccan” foods, particularly the tagines with sweet, savory, and spicy notes. So I’ll take liberty and call this my own version of a Moroccan tagine.

Second, I can see some camps loving this and others, again, running for the door because whoa, there are tooo many vegetables and don’t get me started on Rebecca’s fondness for spices.

 

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But basically I call this the type of food that I like to eat to fuel my running life. Or more adequately, it is the food I tend to crave before a big run or race. So when William and others were packing sandwiches for our relay race a few weeks back, I found myself making and then eating Moroccan sweet potato + beet tagine with quinoa to fuel my runs and turning to it again a few more times throughout the ensuing weeks.

It is also a recipe I know I will adapt and make further into the fall season and the months (and miles) to come.

 

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Moroccan Sweet Potato + Beet Tagine, serves 6-8
Inspired by Vegetarian Everyday

Though I tend to use a heavy hand with the harissa, I haven’t yet purchased or made one that has been nearly as spicy as the kind I’ve had in a restaurant–and its flavor tends to get muted by all the sweet notes of the apricots and currants. Use more or less, or even leave out, as you see fit.

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 inches fresh raw ginger, finely grated
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1  1/2 teaspoons cumin
sea salt, to taste
2 tablespoons harissa
4-5 large tomatoes, diced
zest and juice of one lemon
3-4 beets, sliced into 2 inch pieces
1 medium eggplant, sliced into large pieces
1 medium zucchini, sliced into 2-inch pieces
2 medium sweet potatoes, sliced into 2-inch pieces
10 dried apricots, each sliced into about six pieces
2 cups cooked garbanzo beans
1/4 cup currants
thinly sliced fresh mint, to serve
cooked millet, quinoa, brown rice or other, to serve

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onion for a few minutes until it becomes soft and translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and the spices and allow to cook for about 30 seconds more.
  2. Stir in the harissa, diced tomatoes, lemon zest and juice. Bring the sauce to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer.
  3. Add the beets, eggplant, zucchini, sweet potatoes, and apricots. Stir well so everything is nice and mixed, then cover and simmer for about an hour. Keep it covered as much as possible, but stir a couple times throughout the hour.
  4. Once the vegetables are tender all the way through, add in the cooked beans and currants, cook for about 5 minutes more to heat through, and then season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.
  5. Serve over cooked millet or other grain with a garnish of sliced mint on top.

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