Monday, March 24, 2008

Making Apple-Pear Cobbler Using Occam's Razor

Back in the day, and by "the day" I of course mean the early 14th-century, philosophizing was all the rage. Philosophers of the time were equivalent to today's hip-hop rappers. Like today the word wars would break out among competing factions, culminating with the occasional "ride by" (horses and wagons standing in for the as yet uninvented Escalades); Thomas Aquinas was rumored to be a real "playa" with a spear, (I may have made that part up).

One of the shining lights of the day was William of Occam. Known as, Billy da O, the Phantastic, Phransican Philosophizer, (I may have made that part up), Will was to become the father of modern epistemology, (philosophy concerned with the acquisition of knowledge). Now, while Billy da O would "bust" many a truth regarding the nature and scope of knowledge, his number one hit was Occam's Razor. Contrary to the title, no weapons are involved.

Basically, Occam's Razor states that if you come up with two or more answers to a problem then you should choose the solution that employs the fewest assumptions. In other words, Billy da O, had invented the KISS principle, Keep It Simple, Simon. Centuries later, business consultants are still selling Occam's Razor to clients and never once do they credit the source.

Occam's Razor applies to cooking as well.

SeaShell Sal and I love to buy food magazines. We tell ourselves that it's the recipes that get us, but really it's all the pretty pictures. When it comes to magazine covers, we're like a couple of rubes in the big city for the first time, standing, mouths agape pointing at all the pretty colors. Sometimes we get sucked into some shady recipes.

There are bad recipes. There are horrendous recipes. Two weekends ago SS Sal tried one from the April issue of Food & Wine magazine. Apple Pie Bars. Sounded good, picture looked great. Three hours into it SS Sal was having second thoughts. It took nearly every mixing bowl, measuring cup, spatula and pan to make these bars. The only other times I've seen this much wreckage in a kitchen, the mom is standing in front of her trailer saying something like, "We were just watching Wheel of Fortune, when all of a sudden it sounded like a freight train coming through".

The real killer was that the bars were only alright. Not bad, but certainly not worth the effort in prep, baking and clean-up. Problem is that desserts can be more complicated than "regular " cooking. There just weren't a lot of clues that said this recipe was going to turn into the train wreck it became.

So, instead of that disaster, we're going to use Occam's Razor and give you a recipe for a very simple, tasty, straightforward Apple-Pear Cobbler. Try the Apple Pie Bars at you own risk, you've been warned.

Apple-Pear Crisp
adapted from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa

2 pounds ripe pears (4 pears) (preferably Bosc)
2 pounds firm apples (6 apples) Gala, Macoun or Fuji
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the topping:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Peel, core, and cut the pears and apples into large chunks. Place the fruit in a large bowl and add the zests, juices, sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour into a 9 by 12 by 2-inch oval baking dish.

For the topping:
Combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 1 minute, until the mixture is in large crumbles. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit, covering the fruit completely.

Place the baking dish on a sheet pan and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the top is brown and the fruit is bubbly. Serve warm.

1, Don't even think about combining the butter into the topping ingredients without the mixer! That was a huge issue with the aforementioned apple pie bars.

2. This makes a large cobbler. Instead of cutting the recipe in half, which you could readily do, make cobblers in 2 smaller (i.e. 8 X 8 inch square pans) dishes and freeze one before you bake it. Thaw on the counter for a few hours and then bake as prescribed.

There you have it crablings. A very easy dessert, that even Crabby could make if SS Sal weren't around.

I know a few of you tried the lamb recipe for Easter, so please post your experiences, good or bad. Until next time, just remember, you can do it, you can cook.

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