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Flavour Guy: On the familiar vs. the trendy & a good pie crumble

An old friend emailed me the other day. He said we should get together for lunch and offered a couple of suggestions.

One would be a new trendy place serving bowls of rice with a large variety of fixings. I had looked at the menu as I walked by a few days before and figured I could make most of what was offered there at home. I am sure that the sauces would be interesting and the dishes might offer a few new ideas but the other place was going to offer comfort food, food that I liked and was used to. I would not have to put on my Flavourguy hat to enjoy it.

Besides, this should be a comfort food meal. A chat with an old friend, food that I knew I would enjoy. I went for old familiar instead of chichi new; but I also asked myself — has it come to this? No more adventuresome eating? No more looking to be on the cutting edge of food trends in what I know to be a fabulous food city? And the answer I received was “yup” or at least “not so much.”

Eating out can be a balancing act. We don’t want to be in so unusual an environment that we hesitate anxiously over each forkful.

If the food is unfamiliar, the person taking our order should at least be able to explain it. That person is a bridge to the other side. If the bridge isn’t operating well, we are going to be in trouble.

I have had wonderful experiences eating unusual dishes in unfamiliar places, whether in distant cities or in Montreal. It is both humbling and exotic to enjoy a meal where the menu must be fully dissected before I have any idea of what I am eating: a Vietnamese mixed meat soup, for example, in which I savour the textures and flavours of beef from different muscle parts, the shin, flank, and maybe some bone marrow, or a Taiwanese restaurant instead of habitual Cantonese or Szechuan. To refresh my inner Flavourguy, I’ll walk in the Victoria-Van Horne area and poke into Caribbean, Vietnamese, Philippino, Indian, and Kosher and Hallal markets and restaurants.

But increasingly, I notice that when I go to restaurants, I’ll opt for those that I know I will like. So I told my friend I would take the second choice. I’ll leave the bowl of rice and fixings for another time. For now, I’ll go to a place where I have walked across the bridge many times and feel at home on either side.

• • •

One day I am going to learn to make a good pie crust. This requires accurate measurements and patience, both of which I tend to ignore in the kitchen. In the meantime, I am your humble crumble man.

I do make a good crumble and autumn is a great time to serve it. Any fruit can be used but apples are particularly good. I like Cortland apples for baking. Empire and Honeycrisp are also good.

Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Core, peel, and cut a pound of apples into bite-sized pieces. Mix them with juice from a half a lemon to prevent oxidation or browning before you cook them.

Mix together a quarter cup of brown sugar, a tablespoon of all purpose or gluten free flour, and a couple of dashes of cinnamon. Add this to the apples and toss well.

Butter a baking dish and put the apple mixture into it. Make the crumble by cutting together (use a couple of forks, your fingers or a hand-held pasty blender) three quarters of a cup each of brown sugar and chilled butter, and one and a half cups of flour (again it can be regular or gluten free).

If the butter is unsalted, add a pinch of salt. Cut this together until the crumble is, well crumbly, and looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Spoon the crumble over the apples.

Bake for about 40 minutes or until the top is browned and the fruit is bubbling.

Serve warm with ice cream.

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