On the cabbage family and comfort

This week my boyf, Dan, was on another four-day field trip. Last time I coped with really rich brownies. This time, for whatever reason, I used...brussels sprouts?? Who thought that a crucifer could give as much comfort and satisfaction as chocolate?

But whatever, they are so delicious roasted. Monday night I had them in a roasted veg medley (with potatoes, garlic and carrot, nosy!) with a honey mustard sauce. And it was good.

But Tuesday's cole crop special, which featured a balsamic reduction enriched with heavy cream and a crumble of Spanish bleu cheese, was even better. Nigh perfect, even. I hope I can recreate it now that Dan's back...he was really disappointed that we didn't get to cook the brussels before he left.


This would be a really great fall side dish, says I. Brussels sprouts are a brassica family vegetable, so they're never gonna get the spotlight at your dinner party--plus it kinda looks like camouflage (cute, baby cabbage-looking camouflage, but still). Even so, the taste is fantastic...sweet and a little tangy with an unusual sort of peppery flavor from the cheese.

(BTW does anyone know if this is a common feature of blue cheese? We got a wedge of Valdeon the other day and the spiciness is so prominent--I'd never noticed that before. Doing my research I've found that Cabrales is known for its spiciness, and Valdeon is supposed to be Cabrales' tamer cousin.)

Anyway so here's how it went down. First I did the roasting: spruced up and halved 8 sprouts or so (cooking for one, poor me). Threw them in a small roasting pan with a few cloves of garlic. Tossed with a spot of olive oil and a light grind of sea salt. Put 'em in a 200C oven until they started getting some really nice color on 'em. (Ah, just thinking about the gorgeous caramelization brussels are wont to do in the oven just makes me smile. ) I stirred once during the roasting so they'd get browner and more evenly so.

Once they were about done, I turned off the oven but left them in there while I reduced a little bit of balsamic (just enough to cover the bottom of a small pot--one person here!) with a dash of sugar until syrupy. I retrieved the roasted garlic cloves from the pan, peeled and smashed them, and added to the reduction. Then I stirred in a few dabs of heavy cream and maybe a tablespoon of the Valdeon (you don't need a lot, trust me!).

I ended up thinning the stuff with a couple teaspoons of water (didn't want to add more cream because I wanted to keep the nice dark brown sauce pretty clear). Then I dumped the sprouts into the sauce and stirred it all up. Dumped it into a bowl and cozied up with it, impressed with myself.

brussels sprout bokeh??


P.S. I was able to recreate this for my dear friend Ewelina (who brought me some lovely Polish and Hungarian chocolates!) and she liked it! Reproduceability--such a good thing! (But maybe not a word.)

They were right

Sometimes simple really is better, not least of all when it comes to cooking. (I hear someone named Einstein said something similar about physics.)

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Another idiom that holds a lot of truth in the food world is that good things come in small packages. I think a lot of cooks would agree with me that miniaturizing food is somehow tremendously fulfilling.

It's not that big things aren't occasionally terrific: I'd never downsize a greasy, sloppy slice of NY-style pizza (though maybe I should). But some things are just better smaller, especially when it comes to dessert. Recently I've taken to baking many miniature tarts and tiny pies, including my takeoff of a very simple apple tart from Molly at Orangette.

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For a two-person household there are lots of reasons that petite wins out over gargantuan: you finish the cake before it goes stale and you keep your exercise-resistant body from overconsumption. But best of all you get your own minuscule-yet-entire dessert. It really appeals to human selfishness and Western notions of property, don't you think? Why else do you think cupcakes have taken off in recent years?

Just kidding.

But there's something special, fun and attractive (or grotesque and cutesy, depending on who you ask) about desserts in miniature. And they don't all have to be baby bumblebee frosted cupcakes--this tart (whether individualized or full size) is elegant and understated, and perfect with a cup of coffee. I like that this tart is about apples, pure and simple--not the evocative, cinnamon-spiked taste of American apple pie.

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I've gotten into the habit of keeping a batch of basic butter tart dough, divided into small portions, hanging out in the fridge/freezer for whenever I want to roll some out and have my way with it. If I've made a dough recipe that calls for a bit of baking soda, I sometimes just straight up deep fry slivers of dough and toss them with spiced sugar. (Is that bad? They are so light and crisp and perfect, though!)

I also simplified Molly's recipe by using apple jam in place of the glaze (which is simple in its own right, just apple peels and cores boiled down in syrup until it begins to gel a little). If you don't have anything appropriate to substitute in your pantry, just follow her directions.

Simple Apple Tart(lets?)
adapted from Molly Wizenberg's adaptation of A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, by David Tanis
recipe yields 6-8 servings, but you can bake just a few at a time, like I do

You will need:
One batch basic pie crust, divided into 6 or 8 hunks (I like all-butter recipes but some swear by Crisco!)
About an apple for each serving you want to make
Sugar for sprinkling
Apple jam (or the original glaze)
Hot water

To make:
Preheat the oven to 375F or 190C.

For each tartlet, roll out the hunk of dough into a rough rectangle on parchment paper. Peel and slice the apple thinly (don't pitch the scraps if you need to make glaze), then arrange the slices in overlapping rows over the pastry. Sprinkle with sugar (according to your taste).

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Bake until the edges reach a deep golden brown and the pastry underneath the apples has crisped up. Don't worry if the apples start looking dry--the glaze solves this.

Mix a good teaspoon or two of jam for each tartlet with just enough hot water to make a thick, syrupy, spreadable liquid. Brush or spread over the apples as soon as the tarts come out of the oven. Slice into quarters or strips for easy serving.

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This is a story about jam and good humor.

It can be a battle to stay dry, warm and happy in Oslo. Most days lately are suited for nothing more than warm socks, a mug of Earl Grey tea, and the following snack (which, now that you mention it, is how I've spent this entire weekend).

lovin spoonful
first you take apple-rosehip jam

just add butter
then you add butter (arguably the most important part in terms of happiness)

jelly bread
then you smear it on fresh-baked homemade bread

The fact is, November is here and it's not going away. Every day we get a little less daylight and a little more rain. It's been raining/sleeting for the past three days with no signs of stopping. It's been gray and dreary for many more days than that. And it even snowed at the end of October! Quite shocking when you're used to Oklahoma winters.

proof that it snowed

Good weather is a rarity now, but when the sun comes out in Norway, it's like all the Scandinavian angels in heaven start sweetly singing the praises of the welfare state, fjords and brown cheese. It's even better when the beautiful weather keeps on giving, especially when combined with other Good Things. In this instance, cheap stuff and cooking.

In late September we had a stretch of gorgeous days. Sunny, blue skies, 60 degrees (F!). My lovely boyfriend and I even went island hopping in the Oslofjord.

dan conquering gressholmen
Dan conquering Gressholmen

That day, the weather was so pleasant and cheery that I declared that I'd gather apples and make jam. I collected the apples from my apartment complex and rosehips from the bushes lining the streets on the way home.

free apples look like this

Yes, I'm a scavenger. But you would be too if you lived in Oslo, home of the $4 cup of boiled coffee. Everything here is expensive. Cheap things do pop up here and again, like the constant weekend flea markets and the cheap ethnic grocers downtown. And the abandoned jeans I found in the dumpster. I'm a hunter-gatherer, ok?

free rosehips look like this

Because apples naturally contain plenty, I didn't even have to buy pectin. Discounting the time spent working (and the slight burns endured at the range), I spent next to nothing making it--the cost of one lemon and the sugar.

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free apples ready for their close-up, sporting characteristic free apple beauty marks

one very ripe rosehip

The sunny days are sadly past. On the bright side, almost two months later I still have the biggest out of the four jars of apple jam that I made stashed in my fridge. I dip into it at my leisure and each time its rosy apricot hue reminds me where it came from.

a spoonful of homemade jam help bad weather go down

these apples were destined for jam. note the authentic apple scab marks. (perfectly safe to consume, btw.)

So basically I took a bunch of apples and chopped them up. I left the skin and cores intact.

large dice
a pretty big dice

Then I boiled them with about a handful of ripe rosehips, chopped up, and some cloves, adding just enough water to keep the bottom from scorching.

let her go until everything's soft and mashy

The mixture took maybe about 20-30 minutes to reach that stage, with a bit of stirring now and then. In the meantime I had a bit of a snack with some of the leftover apples.

while you wait
you see where this is going?

ahhh, childhood!

After my snack, I pushed the apple mush through a screen, which took care of the apple cores and skins, the cloves and the rosehip seeds. It was pretty painstaking though, which is why I didn't strain it any further through cheesecloth. This is why I ended up with jam instead of jelly (which is made from clear liquid rather than pulp).

Then, as per the basic method of jelly/jam making, I added sugar to equal three-quarters the amount of pulp. I also added the zest and juice of one lemon. And of course I cooked it til it gelled, popped it in the jars and called it a night.

this is what I ended up with

A rough recipe for anyone who wants to try:

Apple Jam flavored with Rosehips, Cloves and Lemon Zest
1200 grams of apples, chopped roughly
About a half cup of ripe rosehips, appendages removed and chopped
3 cups water
15 cloves
Zest and juice of one lemon
3.75 cups of sugar (75% of yield of apple puree)

Boil apples, rosehips and cloves in nonreactive pot with about a cup of water until mashy. Push through seive or food mill. Measure puree and add three-fourths that amount of sugar and the zest and juice of a lemon. Return to pot and simmer until gelled (use spoon test or cold plate test). Watch for hot jam magma splatters. When it reaches the proper consistency, pour into sterilized jars. Store in fridge (what I did) or process in a water bath for shelf storage. Eat whenever you goddamned feel like it.

serving suggestion: taste test of jelly bread with and without butter

Please enjoy the sun if you have it--Oklahomans I mean you! Some of us get about 8 hours of dreary light per day. (I am officially sick of 4 p.m. dusk.)

one free apple
and use your free apples wisely!