Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hello, dark

I've been thinking about setting off on a week or two of strict, healthy eating. We've had piles of Halloween candy scattered about the office for weeks now, and, well, I've had my hands on it. I've always got room for a mini Salted Nut Roll, or two, or six, when given the chance. Don't we all? Even worse, my running has tapered sharply from 4-5 times a week (this summer) to 1-2 short runs per week, now that work is crazy and my last race of the season is over (which happened, ahem, nearly six weeks ago). 

I could use a kick in the pants.

Last Sunday was to be the start of something new: a Week (Or Two) of Healthy Eating. I made a big batch of steel cut oats for breakfasts, packed little tupperwares of minestrone soup for lunches, and flung a veritable cornucopia of fruit into my purse to snack on at work each day. Dinners would be light, and, above all else, I would lay off the sugar

I did great with my oatmeal and soup during the day. Mini Twix bar? No thanks. I'm on a diet.

But then? Well, it sure gets dark early now.

By the time I get off the bus at night, in the dark, with the wind tossing my hair and coat collar into my face, meh. Motivation just vanishes. The sun set at 4:30 p.m., and I'm not leaving the house tonight. Who cares what I eat? Who cares.

Who was I fooling with this plan, anyway? There'll be no race, no swimsuit for months. No reason to go crazy with my diet here (the running thing, though - that, I should be doing).

Why not eat your oatmeal, your soup for lunch, your light low-carb dinner, and then end the day with a freaking berry cobbler.

Berry cobbler is a summer dessert! you say? Nope. Stick with me on this one: frozen berries. I will confide that I rarely cook with the fresh ones. Even at the hight of summer, when buckets of berries fill the farmer's market, I can't bring myself to do anything with them beyond eating them out of the bucket, by the handful. Raspberries and blackberries especially: they are just so good right off the vine that each basket never stretches far enough to be mixed with sugar and folded into a pastry dough, or pushed into a cake batter.

I do need to work on this.

So, when baking a fruit dessert, I almost always use frozen berries from the grocery store; and, to terrific results. The great news about this is that you can make this berry cobbler any time of year, August or November, swimsuit season or not.

I truly love this one, and take it to dinner parties more often than any other dessert. Here, a mixture of frozen berries cook together with a bit of sugar and flour into a bright red-purple puddle of fruit, then is capped by lightly sweet buttermilk biscuits. Preferably, you'll serve this hot with a dollop of loosely whipped cream that will melt onto each plate. I've served this again and again, and the reaction is always the same - people love it because it's the perfect combination of berry and biscuit, and it's not overly sweet. 

So, I say cap this November night off with a warm biscuit and berry cobbler. Diets are for January, right?

Mixed Berry Cobbler
Biscuit recipe from America's Test Kitchen

Note: For the berries, I love a combination of 2 cups raspberries, 2 cups blueberries, and 1 cup blackberries. I recently made this with two bags of just generic "mixed berries" from the grocery store - each bag a mixture of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. It was terrific.

For the fruit:
5 cups frozen berries (see note above)
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons flour

For the biscuits:
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

To serve: loosely whipped cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

First, prep the berry mixture. Into an 8 inch pie pan, pour your 5 cups of berries; add the 1/2 cup sugar and 2 1/2 tablespoons flour over. Stir gently to combine (it doesn't have to be perfectly combined; you'll stir it again later). Bake for 20 minutes.

While the berries are cooking, prep the biscuits. In one bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a second bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, melted butter and vanilla. Gently stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture, stirring until just combined and no pockets of dry flour remain.

When the berry mixture is ready, remove it from the oven and give it a gentle stir. The berries will have melting together a bit, and the mixture will look quite liquidy (don't worry, the flour from the biscuits will thicken it up a bit). Pinch the dough into eight equal pieces, and flatten them into small biscuits the shape of hockey pucks, about 1 1/2 inches or so tall. Set the dough on top of the cobbler, evenly spaced. They will puff up as they back and cover the entire pie pan.

Put the cobbler back in the oven and bake 15 minutes, until biscuits are just starting to brown on top.

Serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream.

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