Sunday, February 27, 2011

Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin ... Strudel?

Today is Sunday, and I am looking forward to a trip to BJ's Warehouse.  Talk about inspiration!

Friday night, I charged into Publix with a list.  I wanted to whip up a small batch of Mark's Teriyaki Chicken Wings for the Birthday Blog Post, so I needed wings ... here's a lesson to you.  Never shop with a list.  Along that road lies serious disappointment.  The wing pickings were sad, and after seeking inspiration in the freezer section and among the organic offerings, I settled on a plain old package of drumettes.  Well, I'm sure they'll look better after I marinate them in that heavenly mixture of soy sauce and other good things, but until then, they are just plain uninspiring. 

But along with the voices in my head singing "Auntie Griselda" over and over and over again - don't you hate earworms? - I heard the whisper of fillo leaves as they embraced a cooked fruit filling composed of apples, pears, peaches, maybe some dried cranberries, sugar and fragrant sweet spices like cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg.

And Then Along Came Strudel ...

If I was the produce manager at Publix, I would hate having me as a customer.  Watching me pick out fruit would be tantamount to being forced to watch the last half hour of "2001: A Space Odyssey" with my eyelids taped open.  I make faces at the display.  I pick up each and every piece of fruit I am considering buying and examine it carefully.  I sniff it suspiciously, like one of my Yorkies being offered a Girl Scout shortbread cookie for the first time.  I judge the weight by holding it in my hand.  I gently press the exterior to try to gauge ripeness.  I sneer at the sign that proclaims "tree-ripened fruit."  And then I repeat this process for every piece of fruit, rejecting 95% of the examinees.  But I always place everything back ever-so-neatly, except when I am at the tomato table checking out the green tomatoes.  Green tomatoes don't stay green very long if they are placed too close to ripe red tomatoes.  You can't make decent fried green tomatoes if even the slightest tinge of pink is showing!  So I surreptitiously move the greenies as far away from the reds as I can without getting tossed from the store and trespassed by local law enforcement.

During the Thanksgiving season I find myself inexorably drawn to pies.  Somehow pies seem the proper dessert to serve during this holiday. When I came across the original recipe on the Food Network site several years ago, I was intrigued by the combination of apple and pear, and the concept of precooking the fruit.  As you can see, this recipe started out as a double crust pie. Except I don't care for double crust pies, so I switched to a streussel topping.  And then I hadn't bought enough apples and pears.  Delving into my pantry (so large it merits it's own zip code) I grabbed a can of peaches, drained them, added them to the fruit mix, and a star was born.  Except I don't really jump for joy over fruit pies, and neither do my boys.  We love key lime and lemon meringue and coconut custard and pecan and yes, pumpkin, and some other pies involving secret rites with cream cheese, Cool Whip and pudding, but fruit pies?  Not so much.  For some reason, the combination of cooked fruit in a pie shell just doesn't work.  Once it sits for a while, even the flakiest pie crust becomes soggy, heavy, and unappetizing.

Stop, in the Name of Lard!  Don't you know that the annoyingly-named town of Stepford ... pardon me, I mean, Celebration, Florida ... is the site of the annual Great American Pie Festival?  Indeed it is, and like the Superbowl, it is much more enjoyable to watch it on TV from the comfort of your living room.  Celebration, an artificial construct carved out of the western edge of Kissimmee, is just a short drive from my home in a much saner neighborhood, but we have only ventured there for the pie festival on one occasion.  It was too hot and too crowded, with too many people scarfing down their weight in pie while trying to scope out the location of the Food Network cameras.

I suppose the purpose of this pie-poking post is to focus on the filling rather than the crust.  As I said, the cooked fruit filling came out darn near divine.  And I always use a quality frozen pie crust (bet you didn't see that one coming.)  But they did not make beautiful music together, and so I tucked the recipe away until late this past week, while considering that I hadn't done any homemade desserts since my cookie-baking frenzy over the holidays. 

Somehow that translated into a yen for homemade strudel, so now I find myself inspired to combine my fillo-folding technique, perfected in the early eighties in a tiny kitchen in Central Islip, New York, with my Florida-era fruit-filling recipe. 

Enough alliteration for now, let's bake a strudel! 

My Friday night trip to Publix yielded, in addition to those sad wings, 6 lovely Golden Delicious apples, 3 ruddy Red Anjou pears, 2 fragrant fresh peaches, a rather handsome lemon, and a box of frozen fillo (filo, phyllo) dough. FROZEN FILLO DOUGH? Come on, I don't make my own pie crust, you weren't really expecting me to start stretching my own strudel dough! 

Besides, learning how to work with fillo is a valuable technique to accomplish.  Think baklava.  Think spanokopita and triconas.  Think marinated chicken breasts, topped with mushroom duxelles, wrapped in layers of fillo brushed with butter and baked till golden.

"If you learn a recipe, you can cook the recipe. If you learn the technique, you can cook anything." - Michael Symon

The recipe for Apple, Pear and Peach Strudel can be found, as can all my recipes, over at the Inspiration Nation Recipe site which can be reached by clicking this link.  Each recipe there corresponds by posting date to the blog post over here.

Cook like there's nobody watching, and eat like it's heaven on earth.

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