Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer Fruit and Custard Cobbler

When we were in England, we had the most delicious rhubarb crumble with soy cream at the Warehouse Cafe in Birmingham. Creamy, fruity, cakey, it was everything you could want in a dessert, and I've been toying with the idea of making something like it since we got home. Then I learned something both shocking and delightful: Bird's custard powder is vegan! Yes, it's true. Apparently it was invented in 1837 by Alfred Bird, whose wife was allergic to eggs; all I can say is I hope she appreciated him. Talk about a catch, right? You can read about it in depth right here if you're really, truly interested:'s_Custard.

Or you could just take my word for it and move along to what I proceeded to do with this exciting information. Since summer is here, beautiful fruit is in plentiful supply, and I've been buying a lot of it lately; I took it in my head that my fruit crumble idea could only be improved by the addition of custard, and so this recipe was born. It's basically a cobbler, with a layer of custard between the fruit and the topping. I happened to have peaches, strawberries and wild blueberries on hand, but it would work with pretty much any combination of fruits, or even just one if you're a purist. Making it was a nice way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon, and eating it an even nicer way of whiling away the ensuing evening. The best part is that the inclusion of oatmeal in the topping makes it the breakfast of champions!

Summer Fruit and Custard Cobbler

The Fruit
Mix the following in a bowl and transfer to a greased 9 x 13" baking dish:
~ 8 cups assorted sliced fruit and/or berries. I used more or less equal quantities of peaches, blueberries and strawberries
~2 tbsp. corn starch
~2 tbsp. brown sugar
~1 tsp. cinnamon

The Custard
~ 6 tbsp. Bird's custard powder
~ 4 cups vanilla soy milk
Prepare according to package directions and set aside

The Topping 
~1 cup rolled oats
~1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
~1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
~1 tsp. cinnamon
~1/2 tsp. nutmeg
~1/4 cup agave nectar
~1/4 cup vegetable oil
~2/3 cup soy, almond or rice milk
~1 tsp. vanilla extract
~1/2 tsp. almond extract
~1/2 tsp. lemon extract

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
~ Mix the dry ingredients together in a largeish bowl, making a well in the center. 
~ Mix the liquid ingredients in a separate bowl, then pour into the dry. Mix thoroughly until just combined, it's okay if it's a little lumpy.
~ Pour the prepared custard over the fruit in the baking dish. Put the filled baking dish inside a larger casserole before placing in the oven. Once they are safely in place on the center rack, pour about an inch of water into the larger pan; this water "bath" will help ensure that the custard doesn't stick. 
~ Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until the custard starts to firm up.
~ Remove the pan from the oven. You can set aside the water bath now; the custard should be firm enough that you don't need it anymore.
~ Gently spoon the topping batter over the custard, being careful not to smoosh it. It doesn't have to be particularly smooth or even, just try to make sure it covers most of the custard; it will spread out as it bakes.
~ Return the baking dish to the oven, raise the heat to 400 degrees, and bake another 15 minutes, until the topping is brown and crisp.

Allow to cool as long as you can stand it. The more you resist the urge to slice into it, the better the texture will be, and we all know that good things come to those who wait! That said, this is not a tidy dessert, so you can expect it to ooze delectably all over your plate when you finally serve it up. If you like, you could have some extra custard on the side, or even some soy ice cream if you were really going for the gusto, but we think it's delicious just the way it is.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Oh, to be (back) in England... that August's practically here in New England. We returned from two weeks in the land of scones, cider and fluffy sheep this past Saturday evening, only to be assaulted by withering heat and humidity, neither of which are at all to my taste. There's a reason I spend my summer holidays in a country famous for its supposedly wretched climate: I like cool, cloudy weather. To wake each morning knowing that the day will include the drinking of cask-conditioned ales, the casual use of medieval buildings, and the sight and sound of literally hundreds of those aforementioned sheep more than outweighs any theoretical inconvenience associated with carrying an umbrella!

Anyway, we had a terrific visit, and did so many wonderful things: country life stuff, medievalist stuff, playgoing stuff (King Lear at the Globe was a high point), beer-related stuff, etc. The food stuff was not without its challenges, especially - alas! - in those country pubs so dear to my heart, although the look on the face of the barmaid at the Fox in Loxley as she processed the concept of not eating meat OR dairy was worth the price of the whole trip. " cream? No butter?" We had some bread, salad, two excellent pints of the local bitter and were perfectly content, but the poor woman was clearly discomfited by the whole business. Fortunately, we had a kitchen most of the time, so we evolved a strategy of eating a big breakfast at home, drinking pints and maybe salad and/or the ubiquitous chips at lunch, and either cooking or going to veg-friendly places for dinner. 

Putting aside the fact that the British pound is currently using the US dollar as a particularly beloved chew toy, we had terrific meals at 222 Veggie in London, the Gardener's Arms in Oxford (a cool pub with an all-vegetarian menu: O, gladsome day!),  and some great Thai and Indian dinners as well. On balance, my favorite meal of the trip was at the Warehouse Cafe in Birmingham, which not only serves delicious food but has a lovely, mellow atmosphere and is run by people with a very admirable and positive outlook. I'm going to try replicating that rhubarb crumble with soy cream as soon as my jet lag wears off; if ever you find yourself in Digbeth, which could conceivably happen, it's well worth a visit.

As far as cooking goes, I used a lot of mushrooms, asparagus and wee yellow potatoes, all of which are in plenteous supply at any village shop. Rental cottages carry inevitable challenges for those who would actually cook, but these are the times I become what my partner calls "the McGyver of the Kitchen." I've figured out how to turn on the cooker, located one semi-sharp knife and a bashed-up skillet. I have a can of stewed tomatoes, some dried rosemary, a quarter jar of peanut butter, mushrooms, olive oil and a few potatoes: let's see what I can do. If I say so myself, we came up with a few decent things, and it's fun to do that sometimes, but as much as I love being in England, it's always good to come home, which I see as a nice testament to my good fortune in having such a happy one. After a blissful reunion with Lucy, the World's Greatest Dog, we slept like rocks in our very own beds, and the following day I spent the afternoon grocery shopping, then chopping, mixing and stirring up an elaborate Thai dinner while slamming back splendid carrot juice-based martinis. Sigh: there really is no place like home.

And on that note, I give you: a cocktail recipe! You have to admit that it is such Evelyn Waugh-like fun to get out the cocktail things. I freely confess my love of cocktails: pretty colors, nifty stemware, alcohol, what's not to like? I also love carrot juice, so one night I decided to combine the two and came up with the following. The gentle reader should bear in mind that we use a big shaker that makes 4 martinis, so proceed with caution if you don't like 'em strong. And with that minor caveat I present to you what we affectionately call...

Bugs Bunny in Drag

In a cocktail shaker, combine:
~ 8 oz. vodka
~ 4 oz. Cointreau, Triple Sec or other orange liqueur
~ 3 oz. carrot juice
~ 3 oz. orange juice (pear juice works nicely, too)
~ 1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
~ 4-5 ice cubes

Shake until your arm hurts and your hand goes numb from the cold; it will only taste better if, during this part of the process, you picture Bugs fluttering his eyelashes seductively at the Tasmanian Devil. 

Pour into your swanky martini glasses and enjoy!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Kick Ass Yummy Veggie Pancakes

When I was little, some of my favorite treats were the pancakes my dad used to make from leftover mashed potatoes. They weren't quite latkes (which are also amazing and delicious, but made with grated raw, rather than cooked, potatoes), but were instead a totally separate and differently yummy experience. I'm about to flee the country for 2 weeks, and in my effort to clean out the crisper I came up with this very loose adaptation of my dad's recipe. My boyfriend declared them "so good that [he] couldn't imagine ever eating anything so delicious again," which is high praise, indeed. Since we're off for England tomorrow, this might be my last post for a bit, so I'd advise you to make these, eat them, and let me know your thoughts!

~1 tbsp. olive oil
~1 tbsp. minced garlic
~1/2 cup chopped onion
~1 cup chopped mushrooms
~1 tsp. each: garam masala, curry powder, parsley, salt, black pepper
~2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cooked and mashed
~1 large sweet potato, cooked and mashed
~1/4-1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour, enough to bind everything together
~Additional oil (about 2-3 tbsps.) for frying

~Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
~Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a skillet over medium heat; add garlic and onion and saute about 3 minutes.
~Add the mushrooms and seasonings, and saute another 5 minutes.
~Remove from heat and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and   flour and mix thoroughly to make a thick, gloppy batter.
~Wipe out your skillet, then heat the 2-3 tbsps. olive oil. Once it's hot but not smoking, form the batter into golf-ball size patties, flatten them into little "burgers" and fry over medium-high heat, about 3-4 minutes per side. Keep cooked patties warm on a cookie sheet in the oven while you finish up the remaining batter. 
 ~ Serve on top of a big salad or in a sandwich for lunch, or alongside rice, veggies, and dal for dinner, or for breakfast, or a snack, or whatever; it really doesn't matter!