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An everyday sort of thing

I wish I could say that every dish I made had a fabulous backstory. Something compelling, or educational or even enticingly tempting. Heck, I would even settle for vaguely amusing sometimes. But sadly, that is not the case.

In truth, most of the dishes that reach our table do so out of a straightforward need to stop the grumbling of our bellies. And more often than not, there is an emotional whim attached.

Such was the case with the menus we have enjoyed this week. A bitterly cold spell and some particularly heavy workloads took their toll by Tuesday, by which time we found ourselves in need of sustenance of both the body and spirit. That afternoon I called my dear Mum, not only for a bit of cheer but also for her minestrone recipe - a dish I have not had for years.

Preparing it for Sean and Benjamin brought instant comfort. All it asked of me was some idle chopping, followed by lazy stirring now and again. Just the sort of demand I could handle. The pot gently simmered on the stove, filling the kitchen with a heady steam. A mere half-hour later we were rewarded with a hearty meal, all slurped up with a spoon. I had meant to take a photo but we were far too impatient to allow for such an interruption.

On Wednesday the mood continued, though we were buoyed by the meal the night before. In anticipation of another late evening for Sean I set about making one of his all-time, desert island desserts - a crumble. Without enough produce to make the preferred apple version, I nosed my way through our pantry to assemble this apple and mixed berry hybrid. The frozen berries, a direct violation of my commitment to eating seasonally, add a bit of brightness to a dreary month with their luxuriously velvet juices coating the apples beautifully.

My finished product was what I had hoped; a buttery crust that gave way to a filling more subtle in its sweetness than other versions, with just enough spice to add some resonant warmth. An offering that was everyday but just a bit special, and altogether satisfying.

I wish I could say that this dessert was ground-breakingly interesting, but it is not. It is simply familiar, uncomplicated and good. Sometimes, that is more than enough.

Apple and mixed berry crumble
My own recipe. As laziness is an integral part of comfort cooking, the version pictured used frozen berries and their juices; resulting in a luscious sort of fruit slump on the plate. If you prefer a less juicy version, defrost and drain the berries before adding to the filling.

1/2 pound cold butter (2 sticks), diced, plus more at room temperature for pan
2/3 cup blanched, sliced almonds
1/3 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 pounds tart baking apples, preferably Granny Smith, peeled, cored and cut into medium dice
1 1/2 pounds frozen berry mix, see note above
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Lightly butter a 9"x13" baking dish and place this on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine almonds, coconut, brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, oats and flours. Using a pastry cutter, or the mixer on its lowest speed, cut in 1 3/4 sticks (14 tablespoons) butter into the dry ingredients. When finished the mixture should resemble a coarse, uneven meal. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine apples, frozen berries, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch, spices and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss gently to combine well. Pour fruit mixture into prepared baking dish and dot with the reserved butter.

Sprinkle topping evenly over dish, leaving a bit of the fruit peaking out at edges. Bake for 55-60 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the top is golden brown. Allow to stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Recipe Notes:
• You may want to adjust the sugar depending on your taste and the sweetness of the fruit.
• The coconut is an addition I always enjoy for textural contrast, but is not essential.
• The spice measurements are an approximation of "one good pinch" of each. Again, adjust as you see fit.

• I our house this is a crumble, but I do see that some would call it a crisp. What would call it?

Reader Comments (18)

I sure cook eat a big serving of this "everyday sort of thing" tonite! Crumble in my book!

January 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJEP

I can't wait to make this recipe for my new boyfriend "Big Bear". He gave me a BIG pot for xmas, and then just last week he gave me a cutting board he found in a yard sale for my birthday (I am now 50 years old).

I knew the cutting board was used because it still had grease stains on it. But that's okay, I have to keep "Big Bear" happy. After my fourth divorce I really need to hold on to the Bear, all 437 toothless pounds of him.

The crumble looks delicious, and I need to make up for a past mistake.

I made "Big Bear" a fake crabmeat (spelled with a K) for xmas dinner and he hated it so much that he threw it through the window of my trailer house and then poked his fist through the wall.

The landlady is NOT happy about that. I think your great dessert will make up for my last disaster.

January 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterchiffOnade

It's the best picture you've got here. I'd momentarily stick that spoon into my mouth if I could!:)

January 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEvelin

The crumble looks and sounds amazing and anything with cardamom gets super extra points in my book. Can you believe I've never made a crumble before? I might just have to get to it!

January 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMichèle

This looks amazing. May I have permission to reprint this recipe (with proper credit and link to you of course) on my American Foods site I do for About? Thanks!

January 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChef John

jep, I am happy to hear that you concur, and that you'll be trying the recipe. Enjoy!

chiffonade, best of luck with all of your cooking endeavors - I'm sure your efforts are appreciated.

evelin, thank you for the compliment, Benjamin did stick said spoon in his mouth as soon as it was allowed!

michèle, I thought of you with the cardamom, I'll admit. The great thing about crumbles is that you can just toss in a bit of fruit and make enough topping for individual servings. You're not really forced into making a full-sized dessert.

Chef John, I would be honoured if you chose to feature the recipe! One caveat, thought I have made it often I have not stringently tested the quantities. I'm no professional, so that should be noted. Please let me know if I can further assist you in any way.

January 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commentertara

Mmm mmm! I'd call this a crumble, but I think that's the Aussie in me.

My fave crumble is apple alone, but it's also pretty good with the addition of berries! :)

January 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

I love fruit crumbles and just started to learn more about them. The photograph is just luscious!

January 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWhite On Rice Couple

I love crumble. yummy!

I don't think it's so bad to eat the berries out of season, a sacrifice worth making I think!

January 31, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbbaking

MMmmmmmmmmmmm, I love crumble. Nothing beats a warm crumble with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a cold wet day. Great Recipe!
By the way the chiffonade comment is probably fake. I got a similar comment on my blog and was told that her stalker has been misusing her identity.

February 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterR khooks

Thanks for visiting and leaving a mssg! This looks absolutely delicious, and my mouth is watering. Keep up the amazing work. Happy cooking!

February 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnh

That's perfect food for weather like this.

How about calling it a crisp crumble?


February 6, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjasmine

that looks lovely! and you say its everyday thing??!:) wow!!:D

February 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMansi Desai

Wow, I can't get over how gorgeous that photo is! Simply Beautiful!!

February 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercc

linda, Sean would agree that apple is the best. But beggars can't be choosers when your wife is cooking for you!

white on rice couple, thank you for saying! Crumbles and crisps are quite easy and forgiving, and with far less demand than making pastry or pies. I love them for their (almost) immediate satisfaction.

bbaking, I do agree - frozen berried are a staple in our freezer.

r khooks, couldn't have said it better myself. Crumbles are the perfect solace in a bowl for this time of year. Thank you for letting me know about chiffonade!

anh, thank you for visiting!

jasmine, I do believe that is a perfect compromise.

mansi desai, I should clarify. I meant the title as "this is a dessert that can be made without need for occasion." An ANYday sort of thing. If I was making this EVERYday, we would weigh far more than we should, I am sure.

cc, thank you for saying - it tastes as good as it looks, if I do say so myself!

February 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commentertara

I could eat that everyday too :)

February 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHillary

I used this recipe tonight, tweaking it a little to match the ingredients NOT in my cupboard - and it was FANTASTIC! Thanks for posting this easy to follow recipe!

March 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterShelley

this looks absolutely delicious! beautiful blog pics, by the way :)!

March 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSophie

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