Pear, Apple and Cranberry Crisp

Pear Apple and Cranberry Crisp  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Pear Apple and Cranberry Crisp | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Barn Warming”

The Set-up: Ina’s new barn is finally finished and she’s breaking it in with a party for the people who designed and built it.

The Menu: Pear, Apple, and Cranberry Crisp; Ribollita; Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Sandwich; Smoked Salmon and Herb Butter

0:45 – We’re starting out by shopping for ingredients and table décor at Pike’s Farm Stand, which Ina calls her favorite “country experience.”

1:13 – Ina has pretty much cleaned them out – carrots, cabbage, apples – she has some of everything!

2:22 – We’re back at the barn and the cooking has begun with the Ribollita, an Italian vegetable soup I’ve never heard of.

3:54 – Pro Tip#1: When cooking dried beans salt the water at the end so the beans stay tender.

4:38 – Now for a massive pile of leafy greens – 8 cups each of savoy cabbage and kale.

5:16 – I realize that Ina is cooking for a crowd, this doesn’t strike me as a #smallkitchenfriendly recipe. She’s already used two giant pots, a colander, large bowl, and a food processor. Yikes.

6:45 – I like how thrifty Ina is – for example, she’s using some of the cooking liquid from the beans as part of the broth for the soup.

7:29 – Oh, dear. If the leafy greens (not my favorite in soups) weren’t enough now there’s bread involved and I just cannot take soggy bread. Cross Ribollita off my list!

10:11 – Now she’s speaking my language: Pear, Apple, and Cranberry Crisp.

11:20 – I am 100% on the pear bandwagon these days, especially after my taste-testing at Pike’s Place Market last month.

12:55 – Ina calls the pie/fruit crisp “goo” a “sauce” which is probably a more elegant word.

13:18 – The consummate hostess, even the scent of spicy baking to greet her guests has been considered. Do you think she took that page from the Clueless playbook?

14:34 – I am a huge fan of the entire crisp/crumble family – so much easier than dealing with pie crust!

15:21 – Now on to the food table set up using all of the farm stand produce Ina collected.

19:47 – Next, the Smoked Salmon and Herb Butter and I’m excited because I love a good compound butter. Yum.

20:30 – Pro Tip #2: Starting with unsalted butter allows you to control the salt seasoning.

21:16 – Ina is using dark, whole grain bread that looks so similar to the kind I like to buy at Zabars. I’ll bet you one pear and apple crisp that it’s Eli’s bread…

22:53 – We’ve moved on to slicing the smoked salmon and I can’t decide whether I’m impressed or frightened.

23:05 - She basically treated the salmon slices like a puzzle to be reassembled and her attention to detail is intimidating… This is why she earns the big bucks, folks!

25:31 – Ina says she thinks the best way to thank people is by having them come for dinner, which I suppose is true. It certainly is more effort than a gift certificate or dinner in a restaurant.

26:27 – Now for the last dish: Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Sandwich which Ina says she’s going to let people serve themselves. How does she let them know that’s the expectation?

27:45 – I’m feeling both a little smug and relieved – I still have a tiny bit of pesto left in the freezer from this past summer, but Ina just bought hers at the store.

28:50 – The table is set, and of course it looks spectacular. Simultaneously cohesive and abundant.

29:13 – Ina’s guests have arrived and everyone is poppin’ bottles and enjoying mugs of soup. She loves it when a plan comes together.

Final Thoughts:

I always feel so disoriented in a new layout; I wonder how long it took Ina to get comfortable cooking in the new barn kitchen?

I think I’ve figured out the buffet strategy: demonstrate for a few people and then tell everyone else to “help yourself to [insert name of intimidating dish, ie. salmon platter].”

How cool would it be to work with Ina on a project like her new barn/kitchen/base of operations?

Pear Apple and Cranberry Crisp   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Pear Apple and Cranberry Crisp | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
For me, the trickiest part of making Pear, Apple, and Cranberry Crisp is what makes all recipes involving fruit difficult: getting the consistency of the “goo” right. And by goo, I mean the combination of the fruit juices with the sugar and flour. How much sugar, and especially, how much flour really depends on the specific fruit and I’m still getting the hang of how to judge when I need to add a little more than what the recipe calls for.

That isn’t the fault of the recipe, it’s just something that comes with experience and with this particular attempt the pears were really really ripe. As you can see by the ribbons of juice on the sides of the ramekins my judgment was a little off…. Thankfully, with a baking sheet and a piece of parchment paper a little run over is no big deal and with no bottom crust to worry about crisps are a great training ground for goo mastery.

Pear Apple and Cranberry Crisp   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Pear Apple and Cranberry Crisp | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes, indeed. I used a medium cutting board, one medium and one small bowl, a chef’s knife, and a vegetable peeler. I also used four small ramekins (I cut the recipe in half), a baking sheet, a pastry cutter, a rubber spatula, measuring cups and spoons. That’s it!

The Verdict:
I’ve always loved firm fruits like apples and with the addition of pears, cranberries, and spices – how could Pear, Apple, and Cranberry Crisp go wrong? It’s delicious as is, but as I get older I’ve begun to crave a brighter balance of acidity in fruit desserts. So, the only slight change I might make is adding little more lemon juice or trying fresh cranberries to amp up the tartness. Honestly, this dessert is so simple it would be easy to make often and I could envision a breakfast version of this dish, a brilliant idea I first heard on Smitten Kitchen. Definitely make this while cranberries and pears are in season!

Pear Apple and Cranberry Crisp   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Pear Apple and Cranberry Crisp | Image: Laura Messersmith