Archive for September, 2008

Apple Harvest: 3 Easy Ideas

Aside from their health benefits–you know, the old “apple a day” cliche–apples really are pretty amazing. This time of year, when you can find more and fresher apples (especially if you have any orchards nearby), apples are especially good: juicy and firm, so much better than apples that have been shipped across half a dozen states and then stored for months.

Even as a beginning cook, there are lots of ways you can enjoy the apple harvest that don’t involve the hassle of a pie crust. When you buy apples for these recipes, check the skin to make sure it’s not cut open, and check for bruises. Apples should be firm and smell–well, like an apple. Not like mold or dirt or anything else. Buy enough for the recipe you’re making, and one or two extra to grab as a quick, portable snack. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Apple Pizza
Adapted from a recipe by Mollie Katzen, of Moosewood Restaurant fame.

1 Boboli pizza shell (thin)
3 to 4 medium-sized tart apples, such as Granny Smith, cored and sliced into wedges (peeling is optional)
1 – 2 tablespoons sugar (depends on how tart the apples are)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup apricot jam (optional, for glaze)

Preheat oven to 400. Set the pizza shell on a baking tray. Place apple slices on pizza shell in a spiral pattern until shell is covered.

In a small bowl, mix together sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle mixture on top of apples. Bake pizza for 15 minutes, just until apples are starting to brown at the edges.

For the optional glaze, while the pizza is cooling, melt the jam over low heat in a small saucepan. Brush melted jam gently over the apples ad let set for about 15 minutes. You can serve the apple pizza hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Apple Shortbread Pie
Not quite as much fuss as a pie–and just as good!

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 stick) butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 egg, beaten to blend
1 pound apples (4 or 5 of your favorite kind)
1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

For crust: Preheat oven to 400. In a large bowl, blend flour, sugar, and salt. Add butter and cut together until small crumbs form. (You can use a pastry cutter, or a knife and fork to do this. Some people just use their fingertips, rubbing the butter and flour mixture together until it looks like coarse cornmeal.) Drizzle the beaten egg over the flour mixture and mix, using a spoon, just until large crumbs form. Do not form a ball.

Pat 3/4 of the mixture into the bottom of an 8-inch square pan, and set aside.

For filling: Mix apples, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg in medium bowl.

Pour apples into crust. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture over the top. Place pan on a baking sheet (in case juices overflow), and bake for 15 minutes. Turn oven temperature down to 350, and continue baking about 20 more minutes, until the top is light brown and the filling bubbles. Cool for 30 minutes before serving.

Homemade Apple Sauce
If you find yourself with more apples than you can possibly use in a reasonable time, this is an easy way to use them up. Homemade applesauce is great with oatmeal, or pancakes, or on its own.

Peel, core, and dice apples into a slow cooker or a large pan with a tight fitting cover. Add about 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup sugar (granulated or brown or a mixture) per 5 pounds of apples. (If you like sweeter applesauce, you can add more sugar.) Add about 1 tablespoon cinnamon. Cover and cook the apples over low heat for several hours, stirring occasionally.

When the apples are soft and break apart as you stir them, uncover the pan to allow excess moisture to evaporate. (If you want to impress people, have them come over at this stage–your house will smell wonderful.) If you like chunky applesauce, you can use a potato masher or the back of a spoon to break up any remaining apple chunks. If you like smooth applesauce, once the mixture is cool, puree it in the blender in batches.

Store in the refrigerator or in the freezer for up to 6 months.


September 21, 2008 at 9:49 pm 2 comments

When Life Gives You Tomatoes…

I love this time of year. In my area, everything from the garden is ready right now: cucumbers, zucchini, green beans, sweet corn, bell peppers, carrots, onions, potatoes, and of course, tomatoes. Don’t let the fact that you don’t have a garden get you down. I don’t have one, either. But there are still ways to take advantage of the abundance.

If you have a local farmers’ market, go there, and go frequently! If not, find roadside stands; offer to help friends and neighbors who do have gardens harvest and prepare their vegetables. If you have co-workers who bring extra vegetables in, take them up on the offer. Most gardeners I’ve ever known are generous people and will gladly give away food they cannot possibly eat simply because they can’t bear to see it go to waste. And once you taste the difference between home-grown and store-bought, you’ll begin to understand how they feel.

Of course, don’t over-do it: you don’t want to accept a gardener’s gracious gift and then let it rot because you didn’t know what to do with it. Case in point: tomatoes. If you find yourself with more tomatoes than you can handle via salsa, BLTs, or bruschetta, here are a couple easy ways to preserve them. No special equipment or techniques are involved. (What I mean to say is, “no canning”!)

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Preheat your oven to 375. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with foil. Using ripe tomatoes, core them, then cut them in half horizontally. Place the tomatoes, cut side up, on the cookie sheet. Drizzle each tomato half with about 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt. (Optionally, add a pinch of dried or fresh basil to each.) Roast the tomatoes for about 45 minutes, checking frequently once they begin to seep juices. The amount of time needed will depend on how many tomatoes you are roasting.) Turn the pan if needed to roast the tomatoes evenly. When the halves start to sag and there is juice in the pan (some of which may carmelize — that’s fine), take the pan out and let the tomatoes cool completely. To store, layer tomatoes in a resealable plastic container, drizzling a bit more olive oil between layers. Freeze for up to 6 months. Thaw as many halves as you need and use them to add a summery, intense flavor to any tomato-based sauce, or in stew, chili, or pasta dishes.

Peasant Tomato Sauce

I call this “peasant” because it’s un-fussy: I don’t worry about removing all the seeds and skins. This won’t end up perfectly smooth like a canned tomato sauce, but the flavor is wonderful.

Using ripe tomatoes, core and partially skin them, removing areas that are heavily blemished. Cut tomatoes in half and squeeze out excess juice and seeds. Coarsely chop tomatoes and put into a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour pureed tomatoes into a large pan or dutch oven with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil per 2 cups of tomato puree. Add a teaspoon of salt, if desired. Simmer the sauce for at least an hour, until most of the excess water has boiled away and the sauce begins to thicken. Let cool completely. Once the sauce is cool, store it in resealable plastic containers (it’s a good idea to divide the sauce into the serving sizes you anticipate using) and freeze for up to 6 months.

September 7, 2008 at 6:11 pm 2 comments

Stop the madness!

At my house, the school year–and all its lunacy–starts tomorrow. That means there will be less time to make and eat dinner with my daughter, but even more need to make sure she gets the nourishment she needs to meet the demands of her challenging schedule.

God bless her, she’s a picky eater. I try to get her to try new things, but it’s rare that she finds a new dish she really likes. And casseroles or anything with sauces are Out Of The Question–food touching other food is not something she’ll tolerate.

What to do? This time of year, a favorite option is what we fondly call a “grazing dinner.” The terms comes from the time when she was a toddler and the many evenings I could not get her to sit at a dinner table for any meaningful length of time. My older sister (a mother of four) cheerfully said, “Oh, she’s just a grazer!” And I took my cue from there. Rather than have my daughter eat poorly, I’d find a way to accommodate her restlessness at least occasionally, and still get decent food into her growing body.

Grazing dinners here usually consist of at least three things: some type of meat, whether it’s deli lunchmeat like turkey or ham, or cooked shrimp; vegetables such as sliced tomatoes, broccoli florets, cauliflower, carrots, or sliced zucchini; and cheese, usually mozzarella, provolone, or cheddar. Optionally, I’ll include some bread, or some sliced fruit, or nuts if I have them. If I’m feeling really festive, I’ll add some black olives or dill pickles to the mix.

I arrange everything on a platter (or two, depending on how hungry we are) and set it out for whoever is here to munch on as they want. After an hour or so, I do put the meats and cheeses away, for safety’s sake, but if anyone is still munching on vegetables, fruit, or bread, I’m fine letting them continue with that for as long as they want.

This loose dining arrangement works well on evenings when we’re trying to multi-task. For example, on Halloween night while we’re answering the door for trick-or-treaters, a grazing dinner works very well. We often graze while we decorate our Christmas tree (a three-hour ritual here!) or wrap holiday gifts. If you have sports fans, grazing during the Big Game can be a better option than offering only fatty chips and dip.

Another benefit to a grazing dinner is that it is very quick: simply slice the things you want and set them out. You can even slice things up ahead and store them covered in the refrigerator, so that all you need to do to eat is place food on plates. During the hectic school year, I have no doubt this is a strategy I’ll be using frequently to stop the madness and still make sure my daughter eats reasonably well.

September 2, 2008 at 1:51 am 3 comments

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