Many Thoughts on Applesauce + A Very Short Recipe

Apple Melange

I started preparing for winter this week. A puffy vest for was acquired, which I will now live in, and a new coat – an extra layer that I know I’ll be needing. Somehow, I’m never fully prepared for the weather.

I’ve been trying to make my way through several books that need to be finished before I can read new ones – Thrive by Ariana Huffington, I Am Malala, and a handful of others. I started Jo Nesbø’s The Bat but it wasn’t what I expected it to be. Fortunately it’s short, so I’m powering my way through it.

Tieks and the Japanese Maple

These leaves are now covered by a good layer of ice and sludge that have been accumulating today – what a difference a few days can make. I’m trying to prepare myself for a world of ice and salt and knocking the snow off of my car.

Late fall sky
Dried Wreaths
Fading flowers

The leaves were stunning this week. Hanging on. Visually, this is my favorite time of year. Emotionally, it’s a little bit of a roller coaster – bracing myself for the long cold winter. I’ve been trying to do a little more to prepare this year: getting someone to help us with a deep cleaning of the house, acquiring new heaters so that we don’t freeze when our old steam heat fails us. A few months ago I won a new blanket, massage gift certificate, and a light alarm from the Tart Cherry Marketing board, and they’ve been particularly useful this week! (Always enter contests if you like the prizes!)

Japanese Maple Tree
Single fall berry
Leaves of fall hanging on

Somehow there is new growth.

New Growth
Moss pushing through

And apples. Which of course I use to make applesauce when I can. It’s such a comforting food.

Empire Apple

Applesauce on the Stove

Pureeing Applesauce with an Immersion Blender

Applesauce, many thoughts.

Applesauce. It’s one of those things that takes no time at all – a half hour maybe? Makes your house immediately smell like the holidays, and provides you with comforting sustenance. It’s the most beautifully simple thing to make. You really only need apples and a little water, and you can make something perfectly good.

When I set about making applesauce, I usually make a small batch – 5 or 6 apples. You can make a huge batch, but I like to cook in a small pot, and change up my spice mixes. This allows you to make this recipe many times in order to try out what you like and what you don’t.

I like to use a blend of apples. I like my apples on the tart side. My favorite as a child was always the McIntosh. This batch had a few Empire apples, a few Macoun.

I take apples, and I peel them. I cut out the cores, and slice them. Sometimes I leave a little peel here and there, you don’t need to be perfect. You also don’t need to peel them. If you leave the peels on, your applesauce will become rosy.

You’ll want an acidic component – this can help the apples from browning, and also will provide the flavor with some snap. I’ll sprinkle my apples with the juice of a lemon. (But I don’t always remember, and it turns out okay without, too.)

In a heavy bottomed pot (you don’t want anything to burn), put your sliced apples. If you want a sweeter applesauce, you can put in some brown sugar, maple syrup, maple sugar. Just a few spoonfuls, don’t go overboard. If you are adding sweetener, I also like to add a pinch of salt.

Here I’ll choose my spices – if you don’t have many choices, go for cinnamon. You can put a little – maybe a teaspoon, to a few tablespoons, for a deeply spiced sauce. Sometimes I do a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice. Chai spices are good, too.

You’ll want a liquid to get things started. A cup or so of cider, apple juice, or water. You could also do wine! For this batch I did 3/4 cup of water, and about a quarter cup of honey mead!

Cook the apple liquid over medium heat, covered, making sure to stir every so often to let the apples soften. You can let it cook for longer, but make sure to turn the heat down to low. When I’m in a hurry, I’ll cook it for 30 minutes.

When the apples are cooked through and tender, mash with a fork for a chunky texture, or purée with an immersion blender for that smoother sauce.

Eat it warm, or cold. Store in the fridge, or in the freezer to preserve the bounty for longer. (Of course you can put it up, too, but I like doing that with a larger batch.)

Applesauce

Applesauce (the short recipe)
3 pounds assorted apples, peeled, cored, and slice
1/2 cup of liquid: apple juice, apple cider, water, or a combination
1/4 cup honey mead (totally optional)
2-3 tablespoons maple syrup (or brown sugar)
2-3 teaspoons mixed spices (cinnamon, allspice, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg)

Combine all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed bot, and cook on medium heat, covered, stirring every so often for 30 – 60 minutes until apples are soft. Mash with a fork, or puree with an immersion blender.

Buy a Kringle at Trader Joe’s

If you happen to see a large white rectangular package the size of a record at Trader Joe’s this week, buy it immediately, take it home, and have a party. A KRINGLE party! For some reason, probably because Kringle are shockingly delicious, Trader Joe’s has it seasonally stocked, and I’m here to tell you that you must purchase it. Your life will be better for it. The heck with the party, just eat it all yourself.

Kringle

{I found this picture on the internet searching for O&H Danish Pastry Kringle, and marveled at those excellent Movember mustaches. And then realized that this picture was probably from the early 80’s, and that was just how facial hair was done, back in the day.}

Kringle, for those uninitiated to the delicacy, is a buttery, flaky, layered pastry, filled with marzipan, and topped with icing. In Denmark, the Kringle was a pretzel shaped pastry (the Danish symbol for a the baker’s guild), but when immigrant bakers moved to Racine, Wisconsin, they reshaped it into an oval. The Kringle is now the official state pastry of Wisconsin. There are two Kringle factories of note: Racine Danish Kringles, and O & H Danish Bakery. There is also a company that makes a Kringle Cream Liquor, which I have not tried, but might taste delicious stirred into morning coffee.

You can enter the contest on O & H Danish Bakery’s website to win a kringle, but if you happen to see one at Trader Joe’s, buy it right away, and thank me later.

West Coasters, apparently they sell Kringle in Solvang. The last time I was in Solvang was on one of our very first date vacations. Our first evening we had the pleasure of eating Stouffers meals that we purchased at the supermarket, and heated in the hotel – because everything in the town closed by seven pm.

Richard Sax’s Crinkly Baked Whole Pears

Baked Whole Pears

There was a period of time in the mid 2000’s when Richard Sax’s Classic Home Desserts was out of print, and there were rumors of it going for outlandish black market prices. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) it was republished in 2010, before I had to seriously contemplate selling my much loved copy for a large windfall. One of my favorite sections of the cookbook is the chapter on ‘Compotes and Baked Fruit’, because while most of the time I can’t be bothered to make elaborate desserts, cooked fruit is always easy, and feels virtuous.

Crinkly Baked Pears
adapted from Richard Sax’s Classic Home Desserts
with inspiration from Edible Boston

This recipe, more of a method, quite adaptable too, is for pears, slowly baked in their skins, in a bath of fortified wine, sugar, and spices. Preheat the oven to 300 F. In a shallow ceramic baking dish, mix a cup of Lillet – a citrusy fortified wine*– with half a cup of brown sugar, a cinnamon stick, a small knob of ginger, three or four allspice berries, and a few cloves if you have them. You could also add a strip of lemon zest and some vanilla, but I often make these without. Nestle 6-8 firm Bosc pears in the wine bath, stems up if you can, and bake for about two hours, basting every 15-30 minutes (or however often you’d like a taste of the luscious syrupy goodness) until the pears are tender, and the skins have begun to wrinkle. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly, and serve on their own, or with some ice cream, and plenty of the wine-sugar-syrup. Store the leftovers in the fridge, if you have them and reheat in the morning for a perfect breakfast.

*Sax’s original recipe calls for Marsala or dry red wine, but I opted for the fortified Lillet this go around. I’ve had success with Marsala, and Port as well. I also cut the amount of sugar in the recipe, and substitute brown sugar for white, because I find that brown gives it a little bit more depth of flavor that stands up well to the spices.

Mmm… butter!

I broke down and got this. Straus butter. Cost me an arm and a leg around here, but I had a serious hankering – nostalgia butter, is that a thing? Now what should I do with it?

Rest Day

The rains have come. This is, I assure you, better than the snow we could be having in October. But not by much. I took advantage of the day by staying cooped up, working from home, and getting many, many errands done.

My morning coffee was Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice again, in one of my new Miya boulder mugs. I picked these up at Abodeon in Cambridge last week. I love the matte earthy tones and cozy shape of each of these mugs – they make for new happier mornings! (Miya also makes them in jewel tones here.)

Mid-morning I made breakfast. Two eggs with the leftover vegetables from my slow cooker beef stew. I was busy playing with my phone, and thus didn’t notice the eggs overcooking on the stove. Shame on me!

In the afternoon, I took out my trusty stick blender to make some of Mel’s Sunshine Sauce from her cookbook Well Fed, which I love! Think of Sunshine Sauce as peanut sauce without the peanuts. The ingredients are lime juice, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, coconut aminos, powdered ginger, rice vinegar, sunflower seed butter, cayenne and coconut milk. You blend and then you are done.

For lunch, I cooked some ground turkey and spinach, served it over the leftover spaghetti squash, and poured on a good amount of sunshine sauce. Yes, it looks odd, but again, delicious! Actually, shockingly delicious.

In the evening, I listened to podcasts and set to work building our new IKEA Expedit bookshelf in birch. This was of our IKEA pieces I was most sad to give up when we moved from San Francisco (the other being our soft and comfy Tylosand couch), and my books have been sitting in boxes for way too long. It took me about an hour and a half of slow and steady work, and I practiced my Olympic lifts by getting it upright and in the next room by myself.

For dinner, I had to figure out what to do with the tiny lean eye of round I had purchased from M.F. Dulock. When I asked what he’d do with it, the butcher replied “probably sell it to someone else“. I probably should have listened.

I seasoned it with mushroom powder, and seared it off in a hot pan. My plan of attack to was to crank up the oven to 500, cook it for about 10 minutes, then turn the heat off and let it cook in the residual heat for about 2 hours. (This wasn’t quite as foolproof as I’d have liked. At the end, terrified that I had poisoned us by not cooking it enough, I seared it off again to make sure it was cooked through.)

While resting, I cooked some shredded brussels sprouts with some pancetta, salt, pepper, and a good swig of apple cider vinegar.

When I cut the meat, I have to say I was pretty surprised at how moist it was in the center, despite a slightly dry exterior. I’ll definitely choose a fattier cut of meat next time. Devon got his with a big scoop of mashed potatoes from Whole Foods, and I got mine with some of their zucchini and tomatoes. (I have no regrets spending $5 extra on sides at Whole Foods when I’ve made a mostly home cooked meal – especially when it means that we can each have a little extra of something we want without having to cook several extra dishes!)

After dinner, I had planned all day to try one of these single serve microwave cakes all the cool kids are eating. I found a simple recipe – almond meal, cocoa powder, an egg, honey, salt and cinnamon.

You mix it all together,

Then microwave for a minute and a half.

And then pour on a splash of coconut milk (or cream if you can eat it).

And devour.

It was almost perfect.

A little too sweet (I’ll put less honey next time). A little dry (I’ll add a bit of coconut oil and maybe some coconut milk to the batter, and microwave less.)

When I perfect it, I promise I’ll share.

But after a month of nearly no dessert, it certainly hit the spot.

Living without, by choice, or not.

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish year, the day of atonement. It follows at the tail end of Rosh Hashana, the week long celebration of the Jewish new year, and typically is the day that you reflect upon all of your sins and bad deeds. While I’m not particularly religious anymore (despite the fact that my mother has served on the board of our synagogue and is currently on the education committee), I do consider myself quite spiritual, take great comfort in many of the tenets of the faith, and particularly relish the holidays.

Most Jews fast on Yom Kippur, abstaining from food and drink, and aside from a cup of coffee, I did as well. One of the things that I wanted to do on this day was spend some time thinking about what it means to live without. For the past several weeks I’ve been choosing to abstain from foods, certain bad habits, and negative thought patterns. It has been a challenge. One of the great things that has come out of it is a desire to share with you all some of the changes I’ve been making, and I’ve been really moved by all the support that I’ve received. I’m not taking any of this for granted, I feel particularly lucky.

On the topic of living without, I spent a good part of the day reading Shauna James Ahern’sGluten-Free Girl: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back & How You Can Too‘. Shauna writes a beautiful blog, about food, family, and her life – choosing to make living without gluten a practice in living fully and well.

In her pages she is candid about her experiences with Celiac disease, and living gluten free, but it’s about so much more than a life without – it’s about discovery, learning to eat well, learning to love food, learning to live fully. Learning to say yes.

The book skips through her life, from her childhood in California with quirky parents eating TV dinners and Clark Bars, traveling the world, teaching high school English on Vashon Island, a stint in New York in her early 30’s, living in England with an absurdly wealthy family for 6 months, to finding herself back in Seattle where she ends up falling in love with the man she would later marry. (And have an adorable daughter with. But that comes after the book!)

The pages are filled with food memories, friendship, first tastes, and recipes. I spent the afternoon smiling, tearing up, and (very) hungry.

This book came out in 2007, and I’m ashamed to say that I hadn’t read it until now. I don’t know Shauna personally, but she knows several of the friends that I made over the years at Omnivore Books, and my heart lifted to see so many of them mentioned in her wonderful book.

*           *            *

After regretfully reaching the last page, I put the book down and headed into the fresh air to walk around the neighborhood before heading to our family feast to break the fast. I wandered into this guy.

By the time I got back from my walk, Devon had returned home and we drove over to my aunt and uncle’s house together. The sun had sufficiently set, and so I made a beeline to the appetizer table, where I immediately proceeded to gorge myself on carrots, cucumbers, and fresh pistachios that my mom had brought back from her trip to Istanbul. (I abstained from the lovely cheese selection, hummus, and chopped liver, but I thought it was a nice spread.)

Because my aunt works magic, the table had been set: bagels, lox, multiple types of kugel (noodle pudding), herring with blueberries, cranberry sauce, fruit compote, mini challah, and bread. For our family, Yom Kippur ends up being a cross between traditional Jewish foods and Thanksgiving. 

That’s Cooper, 6 months old, eying the gefilte fish.

If you insist Coop, you can definitely have my gefilte fish! Mmm.. carp! (I should note here that in addition to some excellent training – he can now heel, lie down, roll over, and shake – he is also learning good manners and isn’t being served people food. I’m totally impressed by my cousin-pup!)

The highlight of the meal was actually this turkey.

While I knew that I would have to hold back from so many of my favorites (Cheryl Ann’s mini challah rolls!), I didn’t find myself wanting. Here’s my dinner plate – turkey, pistachios, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, and a whole bunch of pineapple. I sat myself down strategically next to the carved turkey, so when I finished this plate, I ended up having another half pound of bird. It may have been slightly excessive.

For dessert, I had more fruit, and a cup of coffee. Because of this challenge, yet a second holiday in a row where I’ve abstained from dessert. It was… a challenge. The spread included my mom’s apple cake, my favorite pumpkin chocolate chip cake, my aunt’s spectacular banana bread, and Eleanor Bloom’s famous brownies – dense, fudgy, chewy, and perfect from the freezer in the middle of the night.

Next time!

Happy Holidays to my kinfolk!

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