Show Stopping Apple Crisp

Show Stopping Apple Crisp

It’s slowly becoming common knowledge that I make the best apple crisp on earth. Every year I get more and more people on the apple crisp train, and so therefore every year I make more and more apple crisp. Usually I make them at random for functions and whatnot. This year, after a very long month of working I decided I needed to have a fall gathering to remind myself and all the friends I’d been ignoring that I am, in fact, still alive. And what better centerpiece for a fall party than apple crisp?

At first I thought it would be just a small gathering for a few friends…. that quickly turned into 16 people. It’s a wonderful feeling when you invite a bunch of people over and just about all of them show up. I like to think its me and not the apple crisp, but it’s probably 50/50. Sixteen people means two apple crisps. Accompanying the fall show stopped was warm apple cider with a selection of booze, and a new creation of mine: pumpkin pie spice popcorn. All I did was pop a big batch of popcorn on the stovetop in a small stockpot. Just buy any brand of loose popcorn kernels and pop according to the package directions – it is super easy, WAY better than microwave, and WAY cheaper. Once popped I tossed the corn with a stick of melted butter, a few pinches of kosher salt, and mixture of 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tsp cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp each ground nutmeg, allspice, and clove. Add and toss to taste. It is quite the addictive sweet treat and perfect for accompanying our favorite Halloween classic, Hocus Pocus, starring the Divine Miss M and a very young Sarah Jessica Parker. Hilarious.

And what makes my apple crisp so good? It’s all in the topping. Sugar, oatmeal, flour, salt, and my personal touch, lots of diced pecans. I’ve attached the recipe below – you’re welcome.

What’s your fall favorite?

Show Stopping Apple Crisp – Recipe PDF

 

Film on the Stage

Sunday I had the tremendous pleasure of hearing music I wrote for an animated short nearly three years ago come to life on stage in its first ever live performance to picture. The film, Evenfall, tells the story of a young girl wandering through a forest full of neon creatures that both watch out for her and frighten her. Coming from the mind of the wildly talented animator Carolyn Chrisman, this project was our first collaboration and garnered Ms. Chrisman a place in the regional finals for a Student Academy Award. You can see the original project in the video embedded above.

Sunday’s performance was special for two reasons, one being that it happens to be close where a good chunk of my family resides, which means they were able to share in the performance with me. The other reason is that it was also the debut of groundbreaking new software developed by Minnesota based conductor Scott Winters and his company, Ion Concert Media. In film scoring, music is created using very precise techniques to make sure that it falls exactly where it needs to capture moments in the film. Recordings with musicians are made using click tracks so that the precise tempos used in composition translate to the live players so that all of that meticulous timing transfers accurately to the recording. Often for live concerts involving film, the same click technique is used; if you see the orchestra performing with headphones, that is exactly why: they are playing to a click. Again this makes sure all those musical hits line up precisely with the picture.

The software that Scott has developed turns this process on its head by making the film itself an instrument that can follow the conductor. So, rather than having to take such painstaking measures to conform the music to picture, the picture can actually be conformed to the music. Using an iPad on stage with the rest of the orchestra, Scott can adjust the playback of the movie to follow the baton of the conductor. In eliminating the need for click, you give back the nuance and interpretation that isn’t possible when playing to a predetermined tempo track. It’s truly remarkable technology that I honestly don’t quite understand. But what I do know is that it has the potential to create a whole new platform for filmmaking and composition: films created for the purpose of live musical accompaniment. I’m sure my colleagues will agree that such a prospect is wildly exciting.

Evenfall in Florida
Special thanks to Greg Raven for this photo

Terri’s Sauce

Terri's Sauce

Anyone with even a remote association to Italian ancestry more than likely has a mother with a tomato sauce recipe. And all of them will tell you that their mom’s is the best. Lucky for me (and for you), my mom’s is actually the best. Since the family has been steering away from carbohydrates (lord knows pasta is the last thing any of us need), it’s been literally years since I last had Terri’s sauce. I mean, what does one have with tomato sauce other than pasta….or ravioli…? So when asked what I wanted when I was home for this trip, you can bet I said sauce.

Terri has two secrets. The first: Pastene Kitchen Ready Tomatoes. The flavor is incomparable. Why? I have no idea. Give it a shot and tell me what you think. The second: in lieu of sugar, baking soda. Tomatoes are incredibly acidic and many people add sugar to counteract all that acid. In fact, many of the name brand jarred sauces like Ragu and Prego add so much sugar it’s the same as eating an Oreo cookie – no joke. The jury is still out for me as to whether adding sugar (a small amount) is a good practice, but my family is certainly adamantly against it. Terri adds just a teaspoon of baking soda to her sauce, sometimes two, and it works wonderfully.

For this batch we did a cliche: spaghetti and meatballs (and sausage). If I haven’t had sauce in years, I haven’t had meatballs in longer. Some are in the school of putting their meat into the sauce raw and letting them cook completely in the sauce, which has its merits. Terri and I are in the school of searing them off first and then letting them finish in the sauce. For me, the flavor one gets from browning is always desirable, so I think searing is the way to go. Terri actually bakes her meatballs, which I think is easier than trying to fry them in a pan, particularly when you’re making them in large quantities. And it still gets that brown color! We also seared sausages and some riblets. Topped with pepato Romano (that’s Romano cheese with black pepper), I’m brought back to our kitchen table in Pembroke where I grew up. So simple, and yet nothing quite compares.

What foods take you back?

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Floridian Pizza Oven

Home Brick Oven

This weekend I’m in Florida to see a live performance with picture of an animated short film I worked on some years ago while at USC. More on this in a coming post. One of the reasons I decided to make the trip out here for this particular performance is that my family happens to live out here. And of course, where there is family, there will be food… lots of food… ridiculous food. Today I was visiting my uncle who recently had a brick oven built in his back yard… What? Doesn’t everyone’s uncle have a brick oven? Hm… Anyway, he was generous enough to allow me to invite myself over for pizza. My initial visit was at 12, which was a good thing since he needed to light the fire right then so that it would get up to temperature by dinner time at 7. The temperature? Around 700 degrees. Cook time? 90 seconds.

Now don’t think for a minute we used any “pizza sauce” homemade or otherwise. Uncle Sam does pizza “sauce” with fresh chopped plum tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, oregano, and salt – that’s it. Topped with a combination of fresh and shredded mozzarella, sautéed mushrooms, and onions, it’s divine. There is nothing like the crust one gets from a brick oven. A bit charred, amazingly crispy, and with a touch of smoke from the burning wood. I’m obsessed. He tells me that there are a myriad of things that taste amazing from the oven – chicken, steak, vegetables. But his favorite? Whole roasted turkey. That will have to wait til next time.

Me? Spoiled? Never. ;-)

Homemade Brick Oven Pizza

Flaky Grilled Indulgence

Grilled Cheese Croissant

Perhaps the best and yet worst thing about working at the coffee shop is the proximity to amazing baked goods, particularly the croissants. In general try I avoid everything we sell at all costs… but some nights when we have them left over after we close and they’re going to be thrown out anyway, it can be hard to resist.

Recently I was feeling a bit indulgent and decided there must be something I could do with these delicious croissants at home. Something delicious, something that could go really well with tomato soup, something….. GRILLED CHEESE. But not just an ordinary grilled cheese. No no. I love the creamy salty goodness of Kraft American singles when I’m using whole wheat bread from the grocery store. But somehow slapping cheese product on a delicious, elegant croissant seemed somehow wrong. A grilled cheese with ham and egg made with smoked Gouda and Gruyere – now that is croissant worthy.

But where can a starving artist find such lavish ingredients at an affordable price? Why, Trader Joes of course! A pack of pre-sliced smoked Gouda: $2.99. A pack of minimally processed rosemary ham: $2.99. A block of Gruyere: $3.99. 1 dozen eggs: $1.99. Croissants: free. Spicy brown mustard: already in my fridge. Having enough for at least five sandwiches but making only two and eating the rest of the ingredients out of the fridge in the middle of the night: priceless.

Cast Iron Sandwich Press
There’s a sandwich under there!

Basically you make this like you would any other grilled cheese, with a few minor adjustments. Because croissants are like 90% butter, you only need to put a very thin layer in your pan to grill it. And the real key, as you’ve probably deduced from the picture, is that you need to weigh it down while it cooks. I happen to have two cast iron pans, one smaller than the other. Perfect. Just top it with a can or two and let it do its thing. You want to cook it for a bit longer than you think you need to make sure the middle gets hot, about 5 minutes per side. Watch your heat and make sure it doesn’t burn. For the sandwich itself I spread a thin layer of spicy brown mustard on the bread before layering the Gouda, ham, egg, and Gruyere. And speaking of the egg, you want to scramble two eggs and spread them out in a thin layer across your egg pan, almost like you were making a crepe. Put it on low heat and cover it until the whole thing is just set. Slide it onto a plate and cut it up into pieces that will fit onto your croissant. Lovely.

We all need to indulge from time to time. This was certainly mine. When I bought all that cheese and ham I also bought a bunch of vegetables to juice and make salads the next day. Balance.