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on knowing it’s enough, and apple cranberry crisp

November 13th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

The end of the year always brings reflection for me. I tend not to wait until the flip of the calendar to January, and resolutions never cross my thoughts, but I look at my life and do a sort of personal evaluation on where I am, where the past year led me, and where I’d like to take the next 12 months. This process is only in the beginning stages right now, and as in past years, it always includes this blog space of mine.

Our church just started a sermon series on breaking free of the chains that hold us to societal norms, like the collecting of possessions, the constant need for ‘new’ at every turn, putting forth the appearance of perfect, and other traps that hold us to a collective thinking that is less than Christ-like. Our first message talked about how we tend to accumulate far more than we ever need, that our houses are twice the size they were 20 years ago, and at the same time, Americans rent 1.2 billion square feet of storage space. No one needs to have that spelled out; our homes are even way too big to hold everything we have.

This series comes so perfectly timed for Mike and I, as we decided the week before that we need to clear up the clutter of un-used items in our home and take back the space, even if it means simply leaving it bare. There’s that desk that sits in the corner, it’s purpose long gone yet the top is cluttered with items that haven’t got any other ‘home’. The spare bedroom has become a dumping ground for far too much, unorganized and chaotic. The lighter weight blankets, the flannel sheets, a closet full of off-season clothing, items that Griffin has outgrown, a pile of clothing started for donating. The list is endless, and I know that you’ve probably got a space like that in your house, too. I open drawers and find items I had forgotten about, and I wonder, why do I have this if I don’t even remember that I own it?

I look at my life over the last nearly 30 years of my adulthood and I see this triangular alliteration, a constant passing of years and growth that is my life. From the wide-open possibilities of my 20 year old self, I’ve seen how my focus has narrowed down, tossing aside what doesn’t work, trying on a new persona, peeling away the bits and pieces until I arrive, here, with the still changing ideas of what my life needs. Mike and I, with a young man looking at his 20th birthday next year, are starting to think of the paring down process of our third act. Our empty nest years. We know we’ll need to move, depart from this beloved home with it’s bright Southern light and wide open space. What do we really need, and what can we begin to release from our lives?

All I know is that if it’s been in a drawer, collecting dust, or tucked in a box that I don’t recall the contents of, hanging in a room that I don’t frequent, buried under a childhood long gone, I can rightly agree that its need has left my life. I can gaze at a box of beloved books that I read to Griffin, on repeat, under the blankets of his first bed, his little boy body, warm and youthful, snuggled next to mine and I remember how I loved those moments in the night. I can release these books, retain the memories and place the box in the pile to donate. I’m finding that the more I let go, the more joy I begin to feel. We simply aren’t made to thrive amidst clutter that has ceased to serve any purpose.

As the November light faded on our day, after raking one more time through the yard, clipping away dead growth on the annuals and moving more items to donate, I found myself peeling apples again. Fall has it’s routines and therapies, the cleaning out and putting away, storing Summer, baring the space to settle under silent snowfalls. Apple peeling is one of my Fall routines, the peel slipping away from my hands in one long strand, juices running down my wrists, a quick twist of knife and hand and the pieces begin to pile up in a beloved ceramic bowl. The oven tells me it’s ready, cinnamon fills the air and butter meets oats to top a pan full of apples and crushed, fresh cranberries. The fragrance unmistakeable, the timing perfect. I can see what I no longer need in this life, and eagerly anticipate letting go of it, but I could never stop peeling apples each November, eating Apple Crisp, warm under melting vanilla bean ice cream, ready to welcome in a new season.

 

Apple Cranberry Crisp

For the apples:
6 c. chopped apples, using a mix of tart and sweet (this batch I used Haralson and Honeycrisp)
2 T. brown sugar
1 T. almond flour
1 T. coconut flour
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
pinch of ground cardamom

1 c. fresh cranberries, chopped (i used a food processor; you will mix these in just before assembling the crisp)

For the topping:
1-1/2 c. whole rolled oats (use gluten free oats if needed)
1/2 c. almond or sorghum flour (use AP if no need for gluten-free)
1/3 c. brown sugar
2 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground cardamom
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
pinch of sea salt
4 T. super cold butter
1/3 c. maple syrup  (if you have apple cider syrup, it’s a divine substitution)

Mix the apples with the brown sugar and flours, stir to combine and set aside. Heat your oven to 375°.

In a small bowl, stir together the dry ingredients for the topping. Cut the cold butter in to small cubes and add to the bowl, tossing to coat. With a pastry cutter, two forks, or your hands, quickly cut/rub the butter in to the dry ingredients, leaving some large pieces. Drizzle the topping with the maple syrup and toss to mix.

Spray your baking dish with cooking spray, or rub with additional butter. Toss the chopped cranberries with the apples, and spread half the mixture in the dish and top with about a third of the crumb topping. Layer the remaining apples, then the rest of the topping. Drizzle a bit more maple syrup over the top, then bake 30-40 minutes, or until the topping is crisp and browned and the contents are bubbling.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, creme fraiche, vanilla yogurt or warmed and whipped cream cheese.

 

NOTE: I like my crisp a bit drier than most, and the flours tossed with the apples will absorb their moisture. If you prefer a more saucy version, omit the flours and use white sugar in place of the brown to toss the apples. It will draw out their juices. Tossing the chopped cranberries with the apples just prior to assembling keeps them from bleeding. If you don’t mind that sort of thing, toss it all at once and let it sit.

 

 

maple apple cake {gluten free}

October 24th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

Several months ago I started having pretty severe discomfort in my belly and immediately suspected that wheat might be the problem. I decided to eliminate it from what I ate for a week to see if there was any relief, and it was clear after only two days that my belly was happier without it. I had been considering cutting back on my consumption of wheat anyway, so it wasn’t much of a change to stop eating it all together. Once dropping it completely, I’ve realized that eating a small amount here and there is not that disruptive on my digestive system, and can enjoy a bit of  good quality bread if need be, but along with dairy, I’ve learned that the more processed the product is, the worse it affects my gut. I think it’s so amazing that our bodies know what’s not good for us, and all we need to do is pay attention.

Along with eliminating wheat came the need to understand substituting gluten-free flours for baking, a process that is expansive and often dizzyingly complicated, with the starches, the gums, bean flours, ancient grain flours, rice flours and such, but thankfully there is a huge wealth of knowledgable people out there who can take the mystery out of replacing whole wheat with delicious alternatives. I’m not interested in just subbing in an AP GF flour blend when I bake; I want to understand how blending GF flours can enhance your baked goods, and make them more flavorful, instead of just relying on what someone else decides is a good alternative. Plus, the more I read about GF baking, the more I realize that not one blend will produce similar quality results for breads, cakes, muffins or scones. Each of those baked goods requires different blends, gums and starches to produce the textures that we crave, that are often gone missing in GF baked goods.

It’s been a learning curve, no doubt. I made a GF Lemon Coconut Cake that sounded amazing on paper, but the first bite was akin to a balloon rapidly leaking air. It wasn’t good. Not even close, and despite my hatred of throwing out food, the whole cake went in the trash. I’ve spent a lot of time reading GF blogs, researching and absorbing. I’ve purchased small bags of all the options I want to try, and slowly am working towards a fuller understanding, but folks, it’s a long way off. We all have to start somewhere, don’t we?

Yesterday, while pining for something cake-like and warm to use the apples that are sitting in storage, I found this cake recipe on Healthy Green Kitchen, which is one of my go-to sites for healthy eating. I had everything necessary to make it, too, which was miraculous. And Winnie is a source to trust, as far as I’m concerned, so I wasn’t all that concerned that this cake was going to end up in the garbage.

And if you’re one of those folks who think sugar is the devil itself, please read her current post containing her thoughts on the whole sugar uproar. It’s worth a few minutes of your time.

Now, back to that cake.

This recipe was heavily adapted from the one on Winnie’s blog, mostly because I discovered that I was out of white sugar so I subbed in a brown sugar/maple syrup blend. Her recipe called for straight almond flour too, but due to it’s expense, I don’t like to use it so freely, plus I love how coconut flour works to add bulk and texture in baked goods, and with the extra liquid from the syrup, it needed that bulk. I also wanted to add sorghum for experimental purposes. The texture, crumb and flavor of this cake was delicious and tender, with a flavor that we all gave an enthusiastic thumbs up! I’d make it again, exactly the same way.

Please note that it can be made with regular AP flour in the same amount as the total of the three GF options I’ve listed.

 

Maple Apple Cake

3 eggs
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. pure maple syrup
1 c. almond flour
1/2 c. sorghum flour
1/2 c. coconut flour
3/4 c. cup plain almond milk
3 T. butter, melted
2 t. baking powder
1 t. pure vanilla extract
3 medium apples, about 1 3/4 pounds peeled, cored, and chopped. I used Haralson.
Optional: Powdered sugar for dusting the top, ice cream or yogurt to serve along side.

Preheat oven to 350° and prepare a 9″ springform pan by spraying with cooking spray, or rubbing with butter. Coat with a sprinkle of almond flour, if desired. {{My springform pan always seems to leak, so I wrap the bottom in tin foil}}

In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the eggs, brown sugar and maple syrup. Beat on medium speed for 5 minutes, until light brown and thickened. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the flour, scraping sides if needed, then the milk and melted butter. Scrape if needed, increase to medium, and blend for 3 minutes. Add in baking soda and vanilla extract, then blend for 2 minutes.

Scrape batter in to prepared pan and arrange chopped apples on top. Sprinkle with a few pinches of brown sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon, then place in pre-heated oven. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not over bake.

Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then release the spring on the pan. Cake can be served warm.

 

 

fall, and apples

September 25th, 2013 | Comments Off

We’ve passed that equinox now, where the last days of Summer fade in to Fall and everywhere you look comes a pop of color from the trees that wasn’t there yesterday. It happens in a blink, sometimes right before your eyes.

Fall is all about apples. And pumpkin. But with the onslaught of pumpkin recipes that have been spilling out of the Internet since we rolled over the calendar to September, the iconic Fall ingredient stands to hit the saturation level long before Halloween even arrives.

So, let’s talk about apples.

{Baker Orchard, Centuria WI}

Baker Apple Orchard is near our lake home, and we visit this beautiful place multiple times a year, our families being long-time friends. The orchard is wonderful for a leisurely hike, exploring the century-old barn and the woods around the property. We always take home a jug of their exceptional fresh apple cider and often, multiple bags of gorgeous apples.

We could eat apples every day, and sometimes, Mike does just that. But we also love them in baked goods, and I love making fresh applesauce each year. Many years back I made a batch of apple butter too, one of my most favorite spreads. Our first visit to Baker this year netted us a sack of Honey Crisp, so hopefully, this upcoming weekend when we return we’ll have access to baking apples. I’ve been dreaming of applesauce, a simmering batch on the stove, and of these Apple Streusel Bars, too. This recipe is one of my most favorite things to do with apples every year. It yields a tender, buttery bar with that all important crunchy topping amidst chunks of savory apple. We can polish off a pan in no time.

My favorite Applesauce recipe is made with maple syrup and cinnamon, making a holy trinity of Fall flavor that coats the house in a comforting scent. One batch makes a decent amount, and I prefer to make it fresh, and on repeat, over making a large batch. Warm from the pan, in thick, flavorful chunks, with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on top is a perfect treat.

What’s your favorite way to eat apples in the Fall??

Apple Streusel Bars

Pastry:

2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. real butter, softened
1 egg, beaten

Apple Filling:

1/2 c. white sugar
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 c. (about 3 medium) sliced, peeled baking apples

To prepare crust, mix flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until you have pea-sized crumbles. Gently mix in beaten egg.

Spray a 9×13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Gently pat about 2/3 of the crumb mixture onto the bottom of the dish. Preheat oven to 350° and set aside.

To prepare apple filling, combine sugar, flour, and cinnamon and toss with apples.

Spread apples out on prepared crust. Sprinkle reserved crust mixture over apples evenly and bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes. Allow to cool completely before slicing.

 

 

Maple Cinnamon Applesauce

6 McIntosh or other tart apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 Golden Delicious or other sweet apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine apple pieces and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until the apples are very soft and falling apart, about 30 minutes. Mash the apples to the desired consistency and stir in maple syrup and cinnamon.

winter fruit compote

November 7th, 2010 | 9 Comments »

My apologies for starting this post out using the word ‘Winter’ in the title. Those of us in the northern climes are still experiencing a gorgeous Fall- and the sunshine that we’ve had through the early part of November is dazzling. And so unexpected. November around here is equated with a dense gray expanse of sky that rarely seems to break. It’s a gloomy month, usually, and for the sun and blue sky to be greeting us each morning is a gift. A true weather gift. One that I am savoring with all my might.

But then I go and say ‘Winter’.


But bear with me friends, as you know I wouldn’t steer you wrong. Even with the still mild days of November to wrap around us, my mind is gearing up for cold. It’s inevitable, and I think people are taking bets around here on when the first real snowfall will drop from that leaden sky that we know so well. The first snow that sticks, snarls traffic, makes people grumble inside…. we know how it is around here. We may have resided here all our lives but there comes that first coating of white and it’s like folks have wiped any memory of it clear from their heads.

Like who could forget something like this?

Sorry, there I went and did it again.

But the thing is, it’s coming and when it does, and we wake on those chilly Winter mornings craving all forms of comfort food to fill our Minnesota bellies with warmth, what you should be making is this simple and delicious compote. It tops so many winter breakfast foods like it was meant to be, like the way Winter will eventually lead us to Spring. A spoonful in your Oatmeal is heavenly; a spread across your pancakes, waffles or french toast is worthy of your best food-lovin’ eye roll and exclamations of ‘Oh dear! This is good!’. It’s endlessly versatile and needs no special ingredients. And if you make it in your flannel jammies, with thick slippers on your feet while the furnace hums it’s way to warming your home, it might just make those Winter mornings a bit more pleasant.

And as Minnesota goes, in the wintertime, we need as much of that as we can get.

Winter Fruit Compote
by Kate

1 medium tart apple, washed, cored and diced fine
1 c. chopped pecans
1/3 c. currants
1 T. butter
1/2 c. pure maple syrup

In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and add the apple. Saute for a few minutes until the apple is soft, then stir in the pecans and cook, stirring regularly, until the nuts are slightly toasted and fragrant. Pour in the maple syrup and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally until the maple syrup has been absorbed. Stir in the currants and heat through. Serve warm over pancakes or waffles. Will keep refrigerated for several days. If you can resist. Reheat in the microwave if desired. This tastes amazing if sprinkled with a light dusting of sea salt prior to serving. Something about that salty sweet crunch…..

KATE’S NOTES:
Winter pears, like Anjou or Red or even the Bosc would make a good substitute for the apple in this. Change up the nuts, use raisins instead of currants, or add other dried fruit. Toss in some shredded coconut if it’s your thing. Or even chop up an orange, mix it with dried cranberries and chopped pistachios and a dash of cardamom for an exotic option. The possibilities are endless, people. Endless.

apple time of year

October 18th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

Apples are on everyone’s mind right about now.

In the oven, on the stove, in the crisper drawer, in hand and crunching away….. it’s mid-October and it’s Apple time and it’s a beautiful thing.

There’s a gorgeous apple orchard near our lake home- Baker Orchard in Centuria, WI-  that we visit several times a year, the owners being good friends of ours. It’s a simple place, has a century-old barn that was renovated a few years back and a lovely art gallery on the property. The orchard hosts community events each year; an art festival, a cyclocross race and the occasional wedding inside the lovely old barn. There’s hiking trails through gorgeous woods, and a huge gentle team of horses that will languidly pull you through the laden trees, branches close enough for you to reach out and snatch a ripe apple for snacking. They make their own fresh-pressed apple cider, an incredible treat. John is exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable about apples, even taking the time to assess a mystery apple brought in by a visitor to determine what exactly it was.

He’s always ready to do his apple-juggling act, complete with biting the apples as he tosses them through the air.

He encourages treks through the orchard and doesn’t mind a sampling here and there of the fruit. It’s a simple, family-owned business. Last year, Mike and I re-designed their website into a blog format, and the reward for our work was complimentary apples. Payment in food for a job well-done is my kind of reward. So if I’m talking about apples here, it’s fairly certain they came from Baker Orchard.

The orchard sustained hail damage this past summer, and the last time we visited, John gave me a sack of hail-damaged Haralson apples to take home, making me promise I wouldn’t photograph them. I agreed, and unfortunately, once broken and damaged by hail, the apples don’t last that long. I barely managed to salvage enough of them (my fault, really- I left them too long once they came home) to make a few delectable options with them, namely an Apple Cheddar and Almond muffin, and a pan of Apple Streusel Bars. Try as I might, I simply could not photograph those muffins and make them look even close to having the exceptional flavor they did. But those bars?

Oh dear.

These bars are something else. It’s like a pie that you can eat with your hands. It’s like Apple Crisp in your fingertips. It’s heaven in apple and butter and crumbs. It’s simple and sweet and easy to make and tastes like Autumn. You don’t need a thing out of the ordinary pantry supplies and as good as they are simply out of the pan, they are another bit of heaven altogether when you warm them slightly and crumble them over a bowl of yogurt, or even ice cream. And did I mention that they were simple?

Apple Streusel Bars

Pastry:

2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. real butter, softened
1 egg, beaten

Apple Filling:

1/2 c. white sugar
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 c. (about 3 medium) sliced, peeled baking apples

To prepare crust, mix flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until you have pea-sized crumbles. Gently mix in beaten egg.

Spray a 9×13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Gently pat about 2/3 of the crumb mixture onto the bottom of the dish. Preheat oven to 350° and set aside.

To prepare apple filling, combine sugar, flour, and cinnamon and toss with apples.

Spread apples out on prepared crust. Sprinkle reserved crust mixture over apples evenly and bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes. Allow to cool completely before slicing.

And for good measure, even though there is no photo- here is the Apple Cheddar and Almond Muffin recipe. Because it’s just THAT good.

Apple Cheddar Muffins with Almonds
from Real Food magazine, Lunds/Byerlys

1/2 (1 stick) c. unsalted butter (room temperature)
1/2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 c. whole milk
2-1/2 c. flour
2-1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. sea salt
2 large apples, cored, peeled and diced small
1/2 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 c. chopped almonds (can sub in any nut, really; pecans or walnuts would also be wonderful)

Heat oven to 350°. Prepare muffins tins with cooking spray or paper liners (I got 18 muffins from this recipe). Combine milk and eggs in large measuring cup and whisk lightly to blend. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a second bowl. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then whisk in milk/egg mixture. Add flour, apples, cheese and nuts and gently fold together until just combined. Scoop into muffin tins and bake 20-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow to cool 10-15 minutes, then remove from pans.

pumpcakes and compote

February 11th, 2010 | 10 Comments »

When making something like Pumpkin Pancakes, after a long day in which I awoke at 5:15am and couldn’t get back to sleep, and a rough but magical, much needed visit to the chiropractor that left me limp and relieved, trying to explain these pancakes to a teenager with a selective hearing problem might result in necessary culinary shorthand. Like saying ‘Pumpcakes’. It felt a little like baby talk, but it made The Teen smile and giggle just a little and when you’re the mother of a big boy on the verge of 16, making him giggle, regardless of how it’s extracted, is pretty heart-warming. Especially when he sort of coos “Aww. That’s kinda cute.” Shhh. You didn’t hear that from me, ok?

And also, on the tail end of a two-day snowfall that blanketed us with about 10 more inches that had to be put somewhere- like on top of and over the 4-foot plus piles around our slowly disappearing house- these Pumpcakes were awfully darn heart-warming all on their own.

Anyone want to take bets on whether this pile will still exist in July?

Pumpkin pancakes have never crossed our griddle, although I’ve seen them all over the ‘net; perfect dark rusty rounds of batter, thick and substantial. I always thought they looked pretty good. I love pumpkin bread, and muffins and scones and just about any baked good made better with the flesh of a gourd, but pancakes? It was time for me to explore. Plus, I was thoroughly out of inspiration for anything else and the little hand on the clock was rapidly approaching the 5:00 hour. I punted, did a quick Google and came up with this recipe.  Now, does it say something that this was the only recipe out of the first dozen or so that Google spit out to me that did NOT contain a base of Bisquick? Gah. I hope not. Scratch pancakes are pretty basic, requiring little else but flour, leavening, a bit of sugar and salt, liquid and egg. I had this recipe completed and sitting on the counter in about 5 minutes. It required only for me to climb on a chair to dig the container of baking soda out from where it had been pushed to the back of a top shelf.


The compote was total cowboy cooking. There was a leftover apple that I didn’t have room for after lunch and I quickly chopped it up, sauteing it in a small pat of butter before adding chopped pecans, a handful of currants and some leftover maple syrup blended with butter that we’d drizzled over roasted squash earlier in the week. It simmered while the pumpcakes cooked and in a few twists of a spatual, a hearty and aromatic dinner was on our plates. We could sit down with a sigh, the opalescent glow of fresh snow all around us and imbibe in these richly scented cakes with a sweet and crunchy topping and be warmed from both the food and the company. I do love days like that.


Now here’s my take on these Pumpcakes. They were good. No, scratch that; they were great. Really flavorful and hearty and thick. Lumberjack fare, if you know what I mean. Maybe it was the recipe but they took a rather long time to cook, and even when some of them were so robustly bronzed that I thought they’d be tough as shoe leather, they still seemed to me to be a little moist inside. Griffin even brought his to me and said “Are these done?” poking a fork suspiciously at the interior. I was expecting, like any pancake, that it would be fluffy, but given the added pumpkin, it would stand to reason that they’d be more dense. They tasted fine. Just plan on allowing them extra time on the griddle. The batter that resulted from this recipe was very thick. That should have been a clue to me. After a long day and with the added relief from my aches and pains, I can’t always sufficiently tie two strands of obvious together. On a side note, for some added nutrition I used WW flour in place of AP in the recipe, added 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed and a 1/2 cup of cornmeal, and subbed unsweetened applesauce for the oil.

And that compote? Now that was a winner. I wish I had made more to have on hand for oatmeal, or to spread on toasted bread. It was stellar, a perfect winter treat and way open to personal experimentation.

Apple, Pecan and Currant Compote
by Kate

1 medium tart apple, washed, cored and diced fine (I used one called ‘Jazz’- it was tart, but subtly sweet too)
1 c. chopped pecans
1/3 c. currants
1 T. butter
1/2 c. pure maple syrup

In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and add the apple. Saute for a few minutes until the apple is soft, then stir in the pecans and cook, stirring regularly, until the nuts are slightly toasted and fragrant. Pour in the maple syrup and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally until the maple syrup has been absorbed. Stir in the currants and heat through. Serve warm over pancakes or waffles. Will keep refrigerated for several days. If you can resist. Reheat in the microwave if desired. This tastes amazing if sprinkled with a light dusting of sea salt prior to serving. Something about that salty sweet crunch…..

I love the idea of pears, almonds and figs for another version of this.

Apple Crisp with Crystallized Ginger Topping

November 11th, 2009 | 9 Comments »

{{{I’m doing my first guest post over at The LoveFeast Table today! Yeah!}}}

Apple Crisp is so Fall, so perfectly suited for the October-November loop, and so willing to apply anyone’s simple signature to it’s luscious ingredients that it has sort of gone beyond being a favorite dessert, becoming more like that old dear friend that never fails to bring sunshine to a dreary day.

apple crisp6851

The smell of apples and cinnamon baking is a comfort that threads itself under your skin. It’s no surprise that the most popular of pies and scented candles are usually ‘Apple Pie’, long celebrated as All American and breathing remnants of home and Mom. Apple Crisp is simpler than pie, ready with a few turns of the peeler and knife, chunks of cold butter cut into crumbly flour and brown sugar to bake into a delicately scented crunch atop soft and juicy warm apples.

apple crisp6839apple crisp6840

The addition of crystallized ginger in this recipe is wonderful; a gentle hint of warmth and a touch of it’s sweetness made the crunchy topping extra flavorful. I’ve been making Apple Crisp since I was barely old enough to see over the top of our stove, and had to stand on a chair to be able to work the peeler, my Mom by my side watching to make sure I didn’t hack off a snippet of skin here and there. She showed me how to peel an apple whole, with a long dangling strip, and how to carefully carve out apple cores and slice them uniformly so they would bake evenly. Now I have a device that peels and cuts your apples all in the turn of a crank, making any kind of apple dish quick and easy. So when I was faced lately with a chilly night and an unidentifiable need in me to seek a little comfort, a good book and a warm plate of this crisp seemed to be in order. Just taking in the first thin whiffs of the aroma seeping from the oven took the edge off whatever empty spot had formed inside.  Apple Crisp was always a prominent item in our Fall kitchen, topped with cold ice cream releasing a thin river of creamy white over the still warm fruit. It’s a memory that tastes like home, if memories come with flavor which almost all of us know that they do. And maybe that night, I needed a memory to soothe me, the feeling of someone by my side watching over me. I know Mom would have loved this version as well.

I’m a nut for almonds – ha! pun intended- but there is little in terms of dessert items that I don’t think can be helped and favored by the addition of chopped almonds. For this recipe, I scattered chopped almonds over the apples in the pan before sprinkling on the topping, and also sifted the fine almond flour from the chopped pieces into the topping mixture to add even more flavor. To do so, just pour the chopped almonds into a wire sieve and shake it over whatever you wish.

Fabulous apple and almond flavor pours through every bite, whether topped with ice cream, whipped cream or yogurt……

apple crisp6848

Or not……

more apple crisp6866

And yes, I did eat it for breakfast. Wouldn’t you?

Apple Crisp with Crystallized Ginger Topping
adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, via The Heavy Table

Kate’s Advice- Make the topping first. Your apples won’t turn brown that way.

Heat oven to 375°. Butter a 8″square baking dish, or equivalent and set aside.

For the topping:

3/4 c. AP flour
3 T. brown sugar
1 T. white sugar
2 T. crystallized ginger (I chopped mine fine- it would have been WAY chunky otherwise)
1/4 t. salt (omit if you use salted butter)
1/2 t. cinnamon
4 T. butter, cut into chunks

Mix all ingredients except butter in a bowl. Work the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until it’s relatively chunky. Don’t mix it down to a fine sand. Chill until ready to use.

5 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 T. white sugar
1 T. AP flour

Toss apples with flour and sugar and place in baking dish. Sprinkle topping over the apples and bake for 30-40 minutes or until filling is bubbly and top is browned.

Can a food item be too healthy?

November 8th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

The FDA is pretty darn good at sounding the alarm over foods that one shouldn’t eat, or maybe not in excess. They’re just as good at recanting that advice after a year or so, more research and maybe some hand deep in their back pocket, but do they ever go the opposite direction? Can a food item be so stuffed with good ingredients, a high health quotient and incredible good taste that it’s possibly too good for you? Would the mighty FDA ever come at us like a pack of angry Chihuahuas for bypassing the french fry in favor of whole grains and fruit?

Eh, I think not. But this muffin might come a wee bit close to inducing a good health coma, if that is indeed possible.

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Muffins are one of my favorite snack items to make. There is so much that can be done to your basic muffin that I could spend from now until next November making a different variety each week and likely never run out of options. They tend to have a split personality though; as much as everyone wants to believe that eating a muffin is healthier, most of them sold in stores or coffee shops aren’t any better for you than eating a cookie or a croissant. And they’re HUGE, usually. Much too huge, and come on….who eats only half of those monsters? Uh, huh. That’s what I thought.

These basic whole grain muffins are one of my favorite recipes to play with, and they’re loaded with healthy ingredients. With their good hearty texture, they’re wonderful for any eating need from morning coffee to a late night indulgence and they adapt to any kind of extra I can dream up to mix into the batter. I’ve made them with zucchini, chopped pears and pecans, banana, blueberries and here in this version with apples. They freeze beautifully too, as any good muffin should.

Whole Grain Muffins
by Kate

1 ½ c. buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 T. butter, melted
¼ c. oil
¼ c. real maple syrup
1-1/2 c. All-Bran cereal
½ c. packaged 7-Grain cereal (like Bob’s Red Mill; 5-Grain or 10-Grain is fine too)
3 T. whole rolled oats
1-1/2 c. AP flour (can sub Whole wheat flour for half, if desired)
2 T. ground flaxseed
¼ c. brown sugar
1 t. EACH baking powder and baking soda
¼ t. salt.

Heat oven to 375°. Line muffin tins with paper liners, or spray with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, butter, oil and maple syrup. Stir in All Bran cereal, oats and the 7-Grain cereal. Let stand for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, flaxseed, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Blend in the wet ingredients and fold together until just combined. Scoop into muffins tins to 2/3 full and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until tops spring back when touched. Cool on wire rack for about 10-15 minutes, then remove muffins from pan to cool completely.

Added ingredients- 1 c. blueberries, frozen (do not thaw) or fresh; 1 c. chopped pear like a D’Anjou or Bosc; 1-2 mashed ripe bananas, 1/2 c. of any nut you prefer; 1 c. shredded zucchini; 1 medium apple, cored and chopped or shredded (or about a half cup of chunky applesauce), 1/2 c. coconut (delicious with banana and pecans)  The possibilities are endless for what you put in these!!

And yes! Pumpkin, sweet potato or even squash is an option too, but check out this recipe for a delicious muffin idea with those ingredients.

Wordless Wednesday

October 14th, 2009 | 10 Comments »

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Apple, Brie and Sweet Salty Praline Quesadillas
By Kate

One medium sized apple of choice, shredded and squeezed to remove excess moisture (I used Honeycrisp)
Two sliced Brie cheese
Sweet Salty Pralines (method follows)
Two Flour tortillas

In 8″ skillet, heat one tortilla until starting to crisp and brown. Remove to plate and add second tortilla to pan. While second tortilla heats, spread shredded apple over warmed tortilla on plate and top with pieces of Brie. Scatter pralines over the top. Cover with second tortilla and place back in pan. Reduce heat to low and cover, allowing to heat slowly. Carefully flip tortilla once during heating. When cheese is melted, place on plate and cut into wedges. Serve hot.

To make Pralines:

In a medium sized skillet, melt a tablespoon of unsalted butter over medium heat until foamy. Add in a cup of pecans and stir to coat. Cook, stirring regularly for about 2-3 minutes, then sprinkle in two tablespoons of brown sugar and one teaspoon of sea salt. Stir to coat pecans, breaking up any chunks that form. After a minute or two, carefully pour two tablespoons of water into the skillet and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring regularly, until syrup thickens and pecans are fully coated.  Pour onto a plate and spread to cool, being careful not to touch the caramel.

Vodka Piecrust

October 6th, 2008 | 2 Comments »

Foolproof Pie Dough
Cooks Illustrated, November 2007

Makes enough for one 9-inch double-crust pie

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into small bits
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until it’s slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.