Posts Tagged ‘apples’

Every year, my mom and I are on a mission to have me make tons of homemade jams and treats to give out for the holidays.  She’s the financial backer while I do all the hard labor in the kitchen–I don’t mind.

Really, I don’t.  Don’t look at me like that!

In the last conversation I had with her a few days ago, I told her I was switching gears from all the late summer fruits to autumn flavors such as Brandied Apple Butter.  She asked, why not make a cranberry relish? And wouldn’t you know, I thought that was brilliant.   I have a deep love of cranberries that goes all the way down to the shameful admission that I wouldn’t even turn down the canned jellied cranberry sauce.  However, it seems that here at El Rancho Destructo, I am the only one who feels this way, so I usually make my cranberry sauce the way I like it:   Jezebel Sauce (cranberries with horseradish and dijon stirred in).  I decided I should make a batch of something cranberry, so with a few bags in hand, I pulled out things that I knew would be delicious and came up with something that even Choo thinks it could turn him to the Dark Side of these tart little berries.  Granny Smith apples, oranges, red wine and dried cranberries knock this sauce out of the park–and I really think the dried cranberries are what make this special, by bringing up the intensity of the cranberry flavor with very little of the tartness associated with the fresh ones.

I can’t tell you how easy this one is, too–throw everything into the pot, simmer it for a while, and DONE.  How easy is that?

Cranberry & Apple Relish

  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1- 12 ounce bag fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest, finely grated
  • 2 tart apples such as Granny Smith or Pippin, peeled, cored & chopped
  1. Add all ingredients into a large saucepan and on medium heat, bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
  2. Simmer until fresh cranberries have burst and apples are tender, but have not lost their shape.
  3. Pour into bowl, cover and chill.

*Note:  if canning this sauce, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice.


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Needless to say, this CSA challenge is, well, challenging. I know I’m a good cook, but I do fall into ruts, especially on the weekdays when time is shorter, so vegetables tend to come in simple salads or sautés or stir-fries.  Getting vegetables that I wouldn’t normally buy in my day-to-day grocery purchases has been the nudge I really needed to try something new.  So, with a little inspiration, I have two dishes that used items from my CSA box.

First up, Beet & Apple Pureé, as inspired by The Silver Palate Cookbook (which I found an old copy in near-perfect condition at the used book store for $2).  I’ll admit it right now:  I’m not really a big fan of beets.  I don’t hate them, but I just don’t ever reach for them when I’m at the farmer’s market.  I received two Candy Striped Beets in my box and they cooked up to a really gorgeous sunset pink-orange which once blended with the apples, turned the puree a lovely golden-rosy color.  I think this is a great way to introduce beets to those who don’t really like beets–the apples and the caramelized onions sweeten and temper the earthiness of the beets.  As mentioned by The Silver Palate, this goes well served hot with pork, duck or goose, or cold with grilled sausages.

Beet & Apple Pureé adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins

Makes approximately 2 cups

  • 2 medium beets, washed and green tops removed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 3 medium Granny Smith or any other tart apple
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fruity and/or sweet vinegar, such as raspberry, balsamic, etc.
  • Salt to taste
  1. Put beets in saucepan, cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil, turn heat down to medium, and simmer beets until tender, about 30-40 minutes.
  2. While beets are simmering, melt butter in large skillet on medium-low heat and add onions.  Gently cook onions until tender and beginning to caramelize, about 30 minutes.
  3. Add apples, sugar and vinegar and cook until apples are tender, about 10 minutes.
  4. When beets are ready, cool until they can be handled and slip off skins, chop roughly and put into a food processor.  Add apple-onion mixture with a pinch of salt to food processor and pulse until smooth.
  5. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed;  serve warm or cold as desired.


Next up, is a Chard Gratin with bacon and chèvre (of course there’s bacon, I hear you say).  Now, I do like chard, but I usually do a simple braise in chicken stock and garlic or a basic sauté with olive oil and a little lemon juice.  This time, I was ready to branch out, and I found inspiration at Oui, Chef with his Rainbow Chard and Chévre Casserole and through my friend, Sonya, who told me about her way of making chard (bacon, goat cheese, and tons of slow cooked garlic and onions. YUM. Sometimes I crack an egg on it and call it breakfast).

I did have to tweak it since I was working with what I had, and what I didn’t have was chicken stock (I desperately need to make a batch soon), and what basil I have I’m holding on to for making tomato soup tomorrow.  What I did have was bacon, and bacon and greens are a match made in heaven.  You guys, this is ridiculously good and if you can’t stand the idea of chard, but like spinach, that would be a perfectly acceptable substitute.  I actually made a double batch of the sauce and saved half for my spinach later this week, because it’s just that good if you love chévre.

One problem with the changing seasons is that it’s now dark when we sit down for dinner–and my notoriously not-very-well-lit living room is making photography a challenge.  Even with playing around with GIMP, my pictures are looking like they’re straight out of a 60’s cookbook.

Chard Gratin with Bacon & Chévre

Serves 4

  • 1 pound Rainbow Chard
  • 4 ounces bacon, diced
  • 1/4 medium yellow onion, diced fine (appx. 1/4 cup)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup half & half (more if needed to thin sauce)
  • 4 ounces chévre, crumbled
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Butter, as needed
  1. Wash and chop chard; remove stalks first and chop into 1/2″ pieces, then cut leaves into 1″ strips (or if you want to be fancy, you can say chiffonade).  In a saucepan, add 1 cup water with a hefty pinch of salt and bring to a hard simmer.  Add stalks and simmer uncovered for 4-5 minutes.  Add leaves, simmer for 2 more minutes, then cover saucepan and remove from heat; let steam for 6-8 minutes.  Drain chard in colander and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet on medium heat, cook bacon until crispy, then remove and drain on paper towels.  Remove all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat, turn heat to low, and add onion and garlic.  Cook until onion is glossy and translucent and lightly browned.
  3. Sprinkle flour over onions and cook roux for about 3 minutes, stirring often.
  4. Add half & half, and whisk until smooth and thickened.  Add chévre and stir until melted.  Season as needed with salt and pepper.
  5. Butter a small casserole dish and spread chard in casserole.  Sprinkle with bacon then top with sauce.
  6. Place casserole under broiler on low setting and broil until sauce is browned and bubbling, about 6 to 8 minutes.

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You should know by now that I wouldn’t invite people over for dinner and not serve dessert.  So, in following yesterday’s entry of A Winter Dinner for a Crowd, this is the cake I prepared for our guests. 

Since I was going with a rustic Italian theme for the dinner, I turned to one of my well-loved cookbooks:

I knew there would be a perfect dessert recipe here that would be the right sweet ending for the evening, and the Torta di Mele fit the bill.  It was an unusual cake recipe–most cake recipes start out with creaming butter and sugar, or whipping eggs–this starts with blending flour, sugar and butter together, as if you were making shortbread, and using a portion to press into the bottom of a springform pan to create a thin, crunchy crust.  The rest of crumb mixture is blended with the rest of the wet mixture, leavening and apples which creates a fluffy but moist texture; plenty of lemon zest keeps the flavor light and fresh.  The cake is topped with a very light coating of meringue, when after the cake is baked, creates a crackly sweet top–there is absolutely no need for icing or confectioner’s sugar to finish it off.   All it needs is a big dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream on the side, and maybe a cup of coffee. 

Torta di Mele (Apple Cake with a Crackly Meringue)

from The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper

2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar

Generous pinch of salt

1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

3/4 cup milk

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Shredded zest of one large lemon

1 tablespoon baking powder

2 large apples (Granny Smith, Braeburn, Gala are good choices), peeled, cored, cut into 1/2″ pieces

1 large egg white

  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°.  Grease and flour a 9″ springform pan.  In a large bowl, with your fingertips, rub together the 2 cups flour, the 1 1/2 cups sugar, salt, and butter until crumbly (note:  I just used a pastry blender).  Remove 1 cup of the crumbs and press them over the bottom and about 1/2″ up the sides of the springform pan, making a crust about 1/8″ thick.
  2. Make a well in the remaining crumb mixture.  Add the milk, eggs, vanilla, lemon zest, the remaining 3 tablespoons flour, and the baking powder.  With a whisk, blend this mixture thoroughly without incorporating the crumbs.  Then, with a wooden spoon, stir in the crumbs until well blended but still a little lumpy.  Fold in the apples and scrape batter into prepared pan.
  3. In a small bowl, beat the egg white until foamy.  Beat in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and beat until the whites barely stand in peaks.  Spread over the top of the batter.
  4. Bake 65 to 75 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and cool 30 minutes on a wire rack.
  5. Slip off the sides of the pan and finish cooling the cake.  Serve at room temperature.  Covered in plastic wrap, the cake holds well at cool room temperature up to 2 days, and up to a week in the refrigerator. 

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As you may remember, I have been on a mission from my mother these past few months to fill this large bag of mason jars full of whatever I thought would be delicious for Christmas gifts.  First, there was the Strawberry, Black Pepper & Mint Jam, and then I made Peach, Ginger, and Vanilla Jam.  I still had jars left to be filled, and now I was well out of the reach of summer fruits, so it was time to turn to the abundance of Autumn.


Aren’t they just a sight?  I’ve got some McIntosh, Braeburn, and a few Pippins–all ready to be turned into apple butter.  I’ve noticed that combining a few different varieties of apples helps bring a good balanced flavor to the butter.


The best $5 I’ve ever spent at a yard sale.

I do love my Apple Whirlygigger.  Yes, Whirlygigger.  And don’t try to tell me it’s called anything else.  It peels!  It slices!  It cores!  All at the same time!


If you’re a novice at making preserves, you might want to try your hand at apple butter–there’s no adding pectin (apples are naturally packed with pectin) and if you happen to not simmer it long enough, not to worry–call it apple sauce and you’re still golden.  I also like it because it doesn’t require a ton of sugar like some jams as the long simmer brings out the sugars in the fruit.

I still had half a bottle of the Calvados left from a few weeks ago, so that went into the pot, along with some apple cider;  when simmering apples, there needs to be some liquid added–unlike berries and stone fruits, there’s just not as much water in apples.  Apple butter also needs lemon juice, as the acidity will help keep any nasties growing in your jars and adds a nice brightness and balance in flavor–without it, it would be a bit cloying.  I threw in a few cinnamon sticks, and just a small amount of nutmeg and clove, as I didn’t want to overpower the apples–they’re the ones who are supposed to be the stars of the show, you know?


It takes some love and patience to get to this point.  Apple butter when it’s done will be thick and a spoonful of the butter will remain mounded and thick after cooling for a few minutes.

The one and only disappointment is how much this reduces–I started with 14 cups of chopped apples, and ended up with only just over 3 1/2 pints, most of which will be passed on as gifts.

I guess that means I should make more, yes?


Brandied Apple Butter

14 cups peeled, cored and chopped apples

2 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup Calvados (a French Apple Brandy)

1 cup apple cider

juice of 2 lemons

3 cinnamon sticks

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, add all ingredients and bring to a boil on medium-high heat.  Once boiling, turn down to medium-low heat and simmer until the apples are very soft.  Mash apples or puree with an immersion blender (remove cinnamon sticks while using stick blender and return when finished) and continue to simmer, stirring often, until apple butter is thick, about 2 hours.  If preserving in jars, this page has excellent information on how to can apple butter.


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I kind of went crazy this year with making treats for Kiddo’s pre-school.  I know once he’s out there in the real world next year, his school isn’t going to be as keen about homemade goodies, so this was the year to get a chance to get some of my candy-making and cookie-baking desires satisfied.


I debated for a while whether I was going to make sugar cookies or gingerbread for the kids.  Choo and several friends talked me off the gingerbread ledge (I can’t wait for December, when I attempt to be knee-deep in gingerbread for the whole month), but I decided to do a bit of a twist on sugar cookies that ended up being a very nice compromise.  It gave the cookies enough character that they were more than just plain sweet.  As for the icing, I like to go with Martha Stewart’s recipe and instructions.  If you do any amount of cookie baking through the year, I would recommend getting the meringue powder–it’s easy to pick up at craft stores like Michael’s or any candy making supply store.  It’s shelf stable, and you’re not wasting egg yolks (well, unless you’ve got plans for, say, lemon curd or pastry cream or hollandaise sauce).

I think I just realized my love of royal icing and brightly decorated cookies comes from them being completely verboten when I was a child.  Oh, sure, we had the occasional Toll House cookie, but a delightfully colored, almost-pure-sugar cookie was an absolute no-no, so I’m sure my inner child is just excited that I can make them now.

Brown Sugar and Spice Cookies

makes approximately 30 cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 egg

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt (skip if you use salted butter)

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  1. In a large bowl, beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy.
  2. With a rubber spatula, scrape down sides, then beat in egg and vanilla.
  3. Sift together all dry ingredients together, and add to butter mixture.  Beat until flour is fully incorporated.
  4. Turn dough out onto plastic wrap and press down to approximately 1/2″ thick.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of 4 hours, up to overnight.
  5. When ready to bake cookies, preheat oven to 350°.  Line sheet pans with parchment paper, or butter sheet pans.
  6. Roll dough to just under a 1/4″ thickness, and cut with cookie cutters.  Place on sheet pans 1″ apart.
  7. Bake cookies 11-13 minutes, until golden brown.  Cool on sheet pan for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.
  8. Once fully cooled, they can be frosted with royal icing.




Next up were the caramel apples.

One of the biggest complaints that come from home cooks when making caramel apples is that the caramel slips off the apple.  Well, of course:  if you’re buying them from the supermarket, they’re waxed like your cousin Skeeter’s Camaro.  If you have access to a farmer’s market, go buy unwaxed apples.  I know, they’re not as pretty, but your caramel will stick.  If you have to get your apples from the supermarket, then you need to get that wax off.  My method is to put them in a sinkful of water with a drop of Dawn dishwashing liquid (a drop is all you need, it’ll help cut through that wax) and a fresh nylon scrubby or washcloth.  Wash the apples thoroughly and scrub the skins; be sure to dry the apples with a clean towel.  Once the apples are dry, remove any stems, and punch in the craft sticks at either the stem or blossom end.  As I was using baby Gala apples, the bottoms were on the small side, so the sticks went into the blossom end.

Once that was done, it was time to start the caramel.  As you may notice, I’ve got two shades of caramel happening in that picture.  The first batch of caramel I made, I used white sugar–by the time the caramel hit hard ball stage (255-260°, ideally) it was a very light brown–not as dark as I would have liked it, but if I had let it go farther, then I’d have headed into crack stage territory, and there would be no chewy caramel.  The next batch of caramel, I went with brown sugar, and I liked the final result–a much darker “caramelly” color once it reached 260°.

Once the caramel was made, I had my apples ready to dip.  I swirled the apples first in the caramel, then swirled them a second time over the pan so I could evenly coat the apples and any excess caramel could drip off.  A very important tip:  put your dipped apples on wax paper or silpat (if you have it).  It will do caramel-mind-melds with your pans and plates if you don’t have anything in between.  After dipping all the apples, I just did a drizzle of milk chocolate over the caramel, but this is where you can have fun and experiment–dip in different kinds of chocolate, roll in chopped nuts or candies–the possibilities are endless.  Kids can especially help out with the decorating the apples, and you can pretend it’s healthy, “because it’s got fruit.”

Caramel for Caramel Apples

covers 4-5 large apples, 6-8 medium apples, or 8-10 baby apples

1 pound sugar (white sugar for a light caramel, brown sugar for a darker caramel)

1/3 cup corn syrup

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons butter

Add all ingredients into a saucepan, and simmer over medium heat to hard ball stage (255-260°).  Take off heat immediately, and working quickly, swirl apples in caramel, and then tilt and spin slowly to let excess drip off and coat apple evenly.  Place on silpat or wax-paper lined sheet pans. While caramel is warm, roll in chopped nuts if desired, or let caramel cool completely and drizzle with chocolate, and roll in nuts or candies.

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It seems that in the matter of days the weather turned from the hot oven blast of the Santa Anas to cool and grey, with the wind that portends our first storm of the season.  I’ve hit my turning point towards seasonal nestiness; I want soups and stews for dinner, oatmeal packed with raisins and maple syrup for breakfast, and rich autumn fruit baked into cakes and pies.

A few weeks ago, I saw Ree Drummond’s recipe for Upside Down Apple Cake that she cooked in her cast iron skillet, and today I said, Self, I do believe it is time to make this cake. Oh, and wouldn’t you know, this weekend’s trip to the market netted me a very large bag of Granny Smith apples (on sale for 49 cents a pound–you know I had to bring some home to be turned into something).

Now, of course, I did have to tweak the recipe a bit since her recipe calls for a 10″ skillet, and mine happens to be 12″.  I bumped my apples up to 6 but kept the butter and sugar amounts for the caramel the same.


I have NO CLUE why those apple slices look so green on the right!  Forgive me, I’m still learning how to do color correcting with the photo editor.  ANYWAY.  Have I ever mentioned my love of caramel?  Chocolate’s great and all, but chances run high if there’s a caramel-based dessert on a restaurant menu, that’s probably what I’m getting.  Bring me some Dulce de Leche and I’ll be your loyal friend and always help you move.

As for the cake, I multiplied everything by 1.5 to adjust for the size of the skillet.  Other recipe tweaks:  I did not have sour cream, but I did have whole milk yogurt, which makes an acceptable substitute and does help lighten the recipe a bit.  I did not multiply the baking powder, but added a half teaspoon of baking soda, which would give a big lift to the cake when it reacted with the yogurt. Along with the cinnamon, I added a few gratings of nutmeg and a pinch of ground cloves.

Once the sugar and butter started to turn a light amber color all around the apples (I cheated a bit by nudging the slices a bit during the cooking process so the caramel could move outwards and color the apples more evenly), the batter was spooned on and spread out and popped right into the oven.  I did have to bake the cake a little longer, and with the addition of the baking soda, it gave the cake some extra lift.


Can I tell you just how amazing this cake smells?  Apples and caramel and spices and cake, oh my.  Next time I bake this cake (and there will be a next time, trust me), I need someone from the Yankee Candle Company to come and sit in my kitchen and copy this scent into a candle, because I would buy it.


It’s not a pretty cake by any means.  If you were to be gentle on my feelings, you could call it rustic. Even Kiddo was kind of disappointed because when he heard the word cake, he imagined a big frothy confection decorated with various superheroes and candles.

His attitude changed when we shared a piece of that cake, still warm from the oven.

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