Monday, July 10, 2006

Treat Yourself

I made a very, very good cobbler last night and it was so easy that anyone can make it. I am going to tell you how to make it so that you can all make one for yourselves and have the same kind of small joy that I had with every bite of my yummy cobbler.

First, you need a can of pear halves and some port. Put the pears in a colander and rinse them well to get rid of the remnants of the syrup they package them in. Then, put the pears in a narrow tupperware container. You want all of the pears hollow side up in one layer with not much room around them. Pour a small amount of port over the pears. Most of it will run off and collect in the bottom of the tupperware, which is cool. A small amount should pool in the hollow of the pears. Put the lid on and store the whole thing in your refrigerator for a couple of days to let the pears soak up the port.

After the pears are ready, go to your cabinets or to the grocery store. You will need about 4 or 5 cups of fruit. For my cobbler, I used a bag of three berry blend that I bought at Aldi. Apples will work as well, or whatever fruit you have on hand or can get cheap at the farmer's market or in the produce aisle. If you're using something like apples, chop them up into cubes. Try to get the cubes about the same size so that they'll cook evenly, but don't be obsessive about it.

Put the fruit-- except for the pears-- in a smallish sauce pan. It shouldn't be overflowing, but neither should it be rattling around in a big ol' pot. Over low heat, thaw your fruit if it's frozen, or cook fresh fruits just enough to soften them a little. Then add about a cup of sugar and about a cup of water and stir everything well, but do it slowly to keep from mushing the fruit too much. Once the fruit mixture starts to simmer, add your spices. I used a small pinch of allspice, two large pinches of nutmeg, one small pinch of cardamom, and a bunch of cinnamon. For those who don't like to eye measurements, I suppose it was the equivalent of 3 or 4 tablespoons. Stir everything and let it simmer for a while on low heat. The low heat is key here, because if you let it singe, you'll have to throw it away. Nothing tastes worse than burnt sugar. For that same reason, you have to keep stirring the mixture while it simmers. Not constantly or anything, but pretty often. Your kitchen will be smelling sooo good by now, you may be tempted to eat some of the fruit. If you value your tongue, you will resist that temptation because that stuff is HOT.

While your other fruit is simmering, take your port soaked pears out and cut them into cubes of roughly the same size as the other fruit. Again, it's not an exact science, so don't fuss too much. Add them to the mixture, give it a good stir, and remove the whole thing from the heat. Now you have a decision to make. You can continue this process in the oven, which takes much longer but does not require your constant attention, allowing you to go back to studying (or, in my case, hanging out with Ash and reading the Sunday paper-- if I fail the bar, you can blame it on that.). OR you can continue it in the saucepan, which means you'll have to stand over the stove and pay attention to the process.

If you chose the oven route, pour the mix into a small casserole dish or a small pie pan, as long as it's glass and deep enough to hold all of your fruit mixture with maybe 1/2" or so to spare. Place it in the oven at about 400. You'll have to check on it every 15 minutes or so and give it a little stir.

If you go with the stovetop method, turn the burner back on and put the pot back over the heat. Sorry to confuse you, but I wanted you to have a moment to think about your options. Continue simmering the mixture, stirring it frequently to prevent burning.

Either way, your mixture is ready when it gets kind of thick. It won't be solid, or even close to it, but it should have the consistency of pancake syrup that's just a little colder than room temperature. Remove it from the heat if you're using the stovetop, then pour it into a casserole or pie dish. If you're using the oven, turn the heat down to 325. You can leave the fruit in or take it out, whatever suits you.

Now you need a can of buttermilk biscuits. I know you can also do this with Bisquick, but this is another way, and I happen to prefer it. You can use any brand, but they can't be the "flaky" kind OR the kind with little grains of a buttery substance in the dough. Take a damp paper towel and wipe down the countertop. Then place a length of plastic wrap along the counter. The dampness will keep it in place. Use a dry paper towel to smooth it out and remove the residual dampness. Take a handful of four and dust the plastic wrapped counter. Then, rub your hands together just a little to get some of the flour on them. Now, take all of the biscuits and smoosh them together to make one ball of dough. Then, take a rolling pin, dust it with flour, sprinkle a little on the ball of dough, and start rolling it flat.

Roll back and forth, quickly and firmly. After a handful of strokes, pick the dough up, and flip it over so that the part you were just rolling is on the far edge and roll again. The next time you flip it, rotate the dough a quarter turn. The next time you turn it, flip it over. In this way, you should roll each of the four quarters of the dough evenly. You'll want it to be vaguely circular. The dough will keep springing back as you roll it out, but if you just keep at it, it will start to hold the flattened shape. If it starts to stick to the counter or to the rolling pin or to your hands, sprinkle a little more flour on it. When it's just slightly larger than your casserole dish and maybe 1/4" thick, pick it up and carefully lay it into the casserole dish. Note that I said "into", not "over". You can kind of wrinkle it up as you lay it into the dish, kind of like a messy bedspread, to make it fit. It should not touch all the edges, but it should come close. If it's very floury on top, don't worry about it.

Place the dish into the oven and bake it for about 10 or 15 minutes at 325. It's done when the top of the crust is just a little browned. Take it out and let it cool. When it's mostly cool, take a pastry brush and very lightly brush the excess flour off.

Now comes the part that really makes this cobbler come together: vanilla sauce. I make mine from either the Dr. Oetker packets or from the IKEA mix. If you mix this up after the cobbler is baked but before it is cooled, you can stick it in the fridge to chill faster, or even in the freezer, but don't let it actually freeze.

We ate a bit of this loveliness last night, still warm, and it was amazing. At lunch today, I had some cold, straight out of the fridge, and it was even better. In fact, it was so good that I spent the entire day studying property and didn't freak out once. Perhaps I should eat a little cobbler every day between now and the bar exam...



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