Tag Archives: apples

Ten Apples Up On Top

25 Sep

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While the weather is just starting to cool down out here on the Florida/Georgia border (meaning, it’s 85 degrees with a breeze and a drizzle), it is strangely starting to feel like autumn. Every once in a while the trees rustle, and the abundance of overzealous salespeople pushing the newest crop of Halloween and Thanksgiving goods is enough to make one forget that is it is, still, technically September.

However, I must admit, I’m one of those people. Our house already has decorative pumpkins perched on the dining room table, cinnamon-scented candles burning with delight, and a giant trifle dish full of apples on the counter. My autumn inspiration started when Rob and I took a trip to Asheville, North Carolina. It’s a small town in the mountains, with farm stands, roads that wind up pine-lined cliffs, and a fabulous food-filled downtown. Really, we ate our way through the city, and still barely made a dent. One thing we did learn when our mouths weren’t stuffed with trout, or barely, or tomato bisque (but they were maybe half-full with wine from tasting at the St. Paul’s winery – we are civilized after all), was that Asheville is the 7th largest producer of apples in our nation.

What a way to welcome fall – go to a place that is inundated with the first, and one of the most prominent, symbols of the season!

Of course, I shopped. We got apples, we ate apples, I got an apple yard flag, we tasted and bought apple cider; we were, for lack of a better word, tourists.

So back to reality (aka: Kindergarten), we are starting to learn about apples this week. The kids are so excited. Apples! Is there anything more delightful? Christmas? Nah. Valentines Day? Hardly. And don’t even get me started on birthdays. The day that we “experiment” and taste and graph different colored apples is more exciting than Ronald McDonald himself delivering free chicken nuggets. When we read Dr. Seuss’ Ten Apples Up on Top, they are simply engrossed – open mouths, wide-eyed, engrossed. To Kindergarteners, apples are the crème de la crème of the new season.

To be honest, they are to me as well. All over the internet apples are springing up with cider recipes, butter recipes, pies, cakes, and roasted with pork tenderloin. So I decided to add one of my own with a simple, fresh, early autumn salad featuring, you guessed it – celery. WHAT? Ok, ok, apples are in there too, but in a different way: as the dressing.

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Similar to the cauliflower dressing I made a while ago, using a fruit or a veg to amp of the faux-creaminess of a dressing is a super simple, and none-the-wiser, trick. In this case, I used a Jonathan apple (I left the skin on because I like the little specks of red throughout the dressing), cored it, and whirred it in a blender with ¼ c apple cider vinegar, 2 heaping tsp honey, juice of ½ a lemon, 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, and s&p. The outcome: a non-cream, creamy dressing sweet and tangy and perfect for your favorite fall foods. Here, I was a bit mundane, trying to jazz up the humble (yet deliciousCelery, Bacon, Cheddar, and Parsley Salad (use those ingredients, add as much or as little as you want).  But this dressing would be good over chicken, pork, even as a nice addition to cranberry and walnut-laced coleslaw. Really, the possibilities are endless.

Just like my students’ excitement.

Please try the dressing and let me know how you used it! Can’t wait to hear!

Enjoy!

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Boots and Squash

9 Oct

It’s officially fall.  Well, by the calendar, it has been fall for a few weeks now, but the dark dawn and translucent layer of frost on my windshield revealed evidence of the crisp morning weather.  The leather boots came out today for the first time since the end of spring.  It felt good to put them on, and almost made my pumpkin-spice candle smell even more warming.

But then, like a clichéd after-school-special, my day fell towards the wayside.  The way, way wayside.  So much so, that a small outbreak of hives that started to form at about 2:40 gave a clear visual indication of how my mind, body, and spirit needed sweatpants and a good hug from Sig (since Rob was on duty).

By the time I got home, the Oregon Coast had done what it does best: surprise me.  Opening the sliding glass door, our backyard, with its high, wind-blocking picket fence, greeted me with warm sunlight and the smell of the harvest season.  I took off my boots, and let the sun warm my once tanned legs.  It was like an instant spa-treatment.  If an extravagant spa could put a fall afternoon into a circulation inducing all natural fiber body wrap, you betcha I’d pay the big bucks.

As Sig ran around doing his wild-ass-dog circles (you’d have to see it to understand), I sat, breathing deeply, and thought about my roots.  Who I am, and what I do.  Which inspired me to pull out something I haven’t looked at in a long time.

My recipe book.  Now, if you were to look at our bookcase, you’d see loads of beautiful, well-published, artistically crafted cookbooks, all which have been read, most from cover to cover.  However, not many of them have tomato-sauce splatters on the pages, as I do not generally cook with them.  Being the eternal student, I have always used cookbooks as textbooks of sorts, reading them for education, technique, history, and inspiration.  Then, I create my own.  My recipe book has the creations that I, and my friends and family, have deemed worthy of cooking, eating, and enjoying again, and it’s constantly under construction.  But, sadly, I hardly ever go back to see what inspired me to cook many years ago.

So, as a part de-stressing act, part inquisitive wonder, and part let-the-dog-continue-to-run-his-full-head-off submission, I flipped to the very back of my book.  There, staring me in the face, were the recipes that taught me how to cook.  There were no fancy French sauces, mostly vegetarian ingredients, lots of salads, and whole grain proteins.  There was, what I thought would be a disaster but turned out great, the dandelion greens dish with tarragon and poached eggs.  There was the warm spinach salad that my ex-boyfriend loved.  A clump of pages forward, the wild mushroom and grilled peach ravioli that I served my mother-in-law-to-be.  I learned about flavor through flexitarian cooking, and my fancy French sauces of today should be showing a debt of gratitude; without the cooking sans animal protein days of the past, I doubt I would have learned the depth and flavor simple, from-the-ground ingredients can create in a meal.

Immediately, I was taken back to my 715-square foot apartment in Irvine, CA, with the early autumn Santa Ana winds provoking a dry throat and frizzy hair.  Despite the wifely nagging I often give to Rob about eating leftovers, I abandoned the last-night’s vegetable lasagna with the swanky broccoli pesto, and went back to the cutting board

Going straight to the source (many of our farm ingredients), I roasted a fall-favorite: Delicata squash.  Sweet, soft, and a little bit grassy, the house started to smell like Thanksgiving.  After caramelizing some red onions, a perfumed, tangy, warm salad was created, one that gave me that comforting, fall hug I needed after a long hard day.  It was a simple, easy, and delightful meal, and reminded me of why I started cooking in the first place: to create healthy, tasty, true-to-food meals.

Tomorrow will be better, this, I already know.  It will be a new day, new frost, have new challenges, and a fantastic leftover salad waiting for me at lunchtime.  I might even, once again, wear my boots.

Warm Delicata Squash and Swiss Chard Salad
(serves 2)

  • 1 Delicata squash, peeled, seeded, and diced (or a small butternut squash would work well, too)
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, main vein removed, and roughly chopped
  • ½ granny smith apple, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp Gorgonzola blue cheese
  • 1 large tsp chopped basil
  • 1 ½ tsp honey
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Prepare the squash on a baking sheet by drizzling 1 tbsp of olive oil, and sprinkle a generous amount of s&p.  Mix so that all the squash is coated with seasoning and place in oven.  Roast for 13 minutes on one side, and shake pan so other side also browns, about another 7 minutes. 

Meanwhile, heat the onions in 1 tbsp of olive oil in a sauté pan over med-high heat.  Add s&p to help soften the onions.  Saute, stirring often, until the onions start to caramelize.  Once all the onions start to brown, deglaze the pan with the white balsamic vinegar, and turn heat down to med-low.  Simmer until all liquid has reduced. 

To make the dressing: mix the honey and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl with s&p.  Slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil, while whisking – the mixture should thicken and become glossy.  

To assemble the salad, mix the chard, onions, squash, apples, and dressing until just dressed.  Top the salad with the chopped basil and blue cheese, and mix again if desired.

Serve with a crisp, half-oaked chardonnay. 

Enjoy! 

The Meal That Changed Rob’s Life

2 Oct

Well, not really.  But I did get him to eat salmon… finally.  Rob has never been a fish person, but living on the Oregon Coast has given him an experience with fish that has he can’t deny; the fresh fish here is downright amazing.  Fantastic.  Fabulous.

Last weekend, Rob’s parents were visiting us on their journey through a whirlwind Oregon adventure.  Driving down the Coast, they realized sooner than later that there are no “national” chain restaurants here (there’s not an Olive Garden to be seen, fortunately or unfortunately?), so experiencing new restaurants and foods was luckily on the menu.  And when they arrived, I wanted to show a true, seasonal, local Pacific Northwest meal.

But that meant Rob would have to eat salmon.

Oh my.

The Oregon Coast is utterly amazing, and a main reason is because of the food.  So when I asked Rob about how he’d feel if I cooked Chinook salmon for his parents, he surprisingly was all for trying it out again.  There have been many times I’ve asked Rob to try salmon, “Just *bleeping* taste it!” each time with no avail.  He makes his “fish face” (it’s a term of endearment), and is quite polite about it all, but has never enjoyed the experience.

“So, why now?”

“I don’t know,” he shrugged, “I just want to give it another try.”

The wife in me knew that maybe he wanted to show off for his fish-loving parents (which provoked a little audible giggle), but the cook in me was ecstatic.  Yay!  Rob will eat one of the most amazing ingredients to come out of the Pacific Ocean!

I cooked my favorite kind of meal: simple, tasty, with flourishes only to enhance the flavor of what already is.  With ingredients this fresh and beautiful, there’s no benefit to altering them, only to support them.  Like the humble adjective to the bold action verb in an interesting sentence, the specific sauces and sides add more than just color to a dish (sorry, we’re in the 5th week of school – my teacher nerdiness is bound to come out sometime).

While the fish was obviously a fresh purchase, there are things that I like to keep on hand in my kitchen that makes entertaining super easy.  Those humble sides and sauces, when seasonal and well planned, can be made ahead and create a painters palate of a menu.  For this particular dish, I took some local corn and tomatoes and did a hot sauté for a quick relish.  The creamy addition were melted red onions with green apples – sweet, tangy, and rounded out with a douse of white wine (yes, sometimes I actually do put it in the food).  Finally, and while everything is best in threes, the finale sauce was a special (and favorite) no-cook fresh strawberry, maple, and rosemary coulis.   Strawberries, believe it or not, are at the end of their season up here, and there’s something about the sweetness of a berry that pairs so Scandinavianly well with salmon.  Trust me; channel your inner Tuula and Johaan.

While putting the it’s-really-not-a-lot-of-time-but-tastes-like-it-was-prepared-for-days time into creating the special touches to add to a dish, it let’s the true star shine.  The salmon tasted like salmon, and like what cooked salmon should taste like: the smell of a foggy ocean morning mixed with cucumber and butter.  Finally, Rob understood.

While the meal was great, being able to reconnect with family was even better. There will be stories to repeat forever (like how my Irish in-laws had to go to an Italian restaurant in Ireland because, “You can only eat so many carrots and potatoes!”) and stories to be reminded of forever (I’ll leave those be).  The trip was a whirlwind, but so much fun, and we spoiled ourselves with a steady flow of great food and wine.  After all, if you can’t indulge with family, then with whom can you indulge?

Baked Salmon (serves 4)

  • 2 lbs. wild Chinook salmon (preferably fall season, Pacific Norwest rivers)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • ¼ c white wine (either a chardonnay or pinot gris)
  • s&p

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

Prepare the salmon by patting it dry, then rubbing it with olive oil and lemon juice.  Sprinkle a large pinch of s&p, and place, skin side down, in a square baking dish.  Pour over the white wine, and cook until salmon is just cooked through.  NOTE: rare to med-rare salmon tends to have the best taste, but know where your fish came from before consuming undercooked protein.

Serve with the following sauces:

Corn and Tomato Relish (makes 1 pint)

  • 2 ears of corn, kernels cut off
  • 1 large tomato
  • ¼ tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p

Heat the corn and tomato in a sauté pan over high heat.  Season with s&p and the thyme.  Cook for only about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes soften a bit (but do not break apart), and the corn warms through.

Melted Red Onions with Apple (makes about 1 pint)

  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ Granny Smith apple, small diced
  • ½ c white wine
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p

Over medium-low heat, sauté the onions, apple, and red pepper flakes in the oil until they start to soften (seasoning with s&p from the beginning will help with this process).  Deglaze the pan with the wine, picking up any brown bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan.  Reduce the wine until the mixture is smooth, and it looks like the onions have “melted” and submitted to the low, constant heat of the pan. 

Strawberry Maple and Rosemary Coulis (makes about ½ pint)

  • ½ pint strawberries, hulled
  • 1 tbsp good quality maple syrup
  • ½ tsp fresh rosemary
  • juice ½ lemon
  • small pinch of salt

 Put all ingredients into a blender, and blend until thick, smooth, and almost frothy. 

ENJOY! 

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