I’m a sucker for apple crisp. I thought the Iowa recipe I inherited from my mother was the best. Then I tried one from “The Foster’s Market Cookbook” by Sara Foster (Random House, $35). Both use the same topping, but Foster adds the zest and juice of a lemon to the apples. Maybe the Meyer lemons from my yard made the difference, but the Foster crisp had an elusive fragrance, not outright lemony, but floral, like an exotic perfume.
Of course, I’m still loyal to my mother’s crisp, but it’s nice to have a change, and nice to have a book without all those precious, fussy dishes that sound trendy and impressive but require hours of work. This book offers food you would really make.
Foster runs two cafe-takeout shops in Durham and Chapel Hill, N.C., but worked as a chef for Martha Stewart’s catering company and helped Stewart with several of her books, as Stewart notes in the foreword. Maybe that’s part of the book’s appeal -- it has a bit of that Martha practicality.
The first recipe that lured me was roast chicken, layered with flavors from balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, white wine and olive oil.
I risked inviting friends for dinner the night I tried it, but I needn’t have worried. The chicken was easy and delicious. Foster says starting roast chicken breast-down keeps the breast moist, and she is right.
Thyme-scented roasted butternut squash soup made a nice start to the dinner -- and because I saw a lot of butternut squash at my local farmers market last weekend, I’ll probably make it again. My only quibble with the soup is that Foster doesn’t specify the size of the squash. Mine was very small, and the soup was so out of balance that I had to add more squash and chicken broth. Then it was lovely.
Looking through the dessert section, I chose the crisp because I had apples on hand and it sounded easy. You won’t find the crisp in the index, though; it’s only an inconspicuous variation at the bottom of a recipe for strawberry-rhubarb crisp.
But given my love for crisps, I had to try it. For me, the hallmark of a good book is a good recipe -- if the book has just one recipe that sounds terrific, I’ll buy it.
Good as the chicken and soup were, would the crisp stand up to the test?
As I read the recipe, oats in the topping turned me off, because I had just made an oat-laden crisp from another book that was as succulent as leather. But Foster bakes with a lighter hand, adding plenty of butter and almonds, which produced a rich and regal topping.
The crisp passed with flying colors; it shouldn’t be just a variation. But now that strawberries are in season, I’ll probably try that version too.