Salted Caramel Apples

Over the years, I have discovered that apple desserts are always big crowd-pleasers.  Whether in pie, pancakes, or eaten plain, the fruit has large audience of devoted fans.  When fresh apples start to appear at the farmer’s market, I get excited.  Although these apples are often small and misshapen when compared to their supermarket cousins, they wow us with flavor.

Biting into the first fall apple forces your  lips to pucker, with juice running down your chin.  I always wonder why I eat apples during any other time of the year, as they just don’t taste the same.

When thinking of another dessert for the Thanksgiving table, I decided to feature the apple in a classic–caramel apples.  With Heidi’s homemade honey caramel, an extra pinch of sea salt, and a sprinkling of roasted peanuts, these were just as popular as the pumpkin pie.

Salted Caramel Apples
(Adapted from 101 Cookbooks)
Extra caramel works perfectly for candy.  Simply pour the unused caramel into a greased, shallow pan and let cool at room temperature for about 1 hour.  Cut into small rectangles and wrap in waxed paper.
16 small apples, washed & dried
1 cup roasted peanuts, crushed
2 cups heavy cream
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 cups honey (I used clover honey)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Special Equipment: Candy Thermometer & Skewers
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Insert a skewer into the top of each apple and place on the baking sheet.  Place the peanuts in a small bowl and set aside.
In a large, thick-bottomed saucepan, heat the cream with the cinnamon stick and salt over medium heat until small bubbles start to appear around the rim of the pot.  Pour in the honey.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Lower the heat and bring to a steady simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or a heat-proof spatula.  Continue to stir until the mixture reaches 255-260 degrees on the candy thermometer.  Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and let cool until the mixture starts to thicken.
When the caramel is thick enough to dip the apples (thin enough to coat the apples, but thick enough so it doesn’t run right off), dunk each apple in the caramel and let the excess run off for approximately 10 seconds.  Roll the apple in the peanuts and set on the baking sheet.  Repeat with the other apples.
*Note: if the caramel ever gets too thick to coat the apples, simply place the pot back on the stove for about 1 minute.


Silky Pumpkin Pie

You just can’t celebrate Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie.  And, if you have yet to find a recipe for this year’s festivities, I strongly recommend you to choose this one.

I made this pie for an early Thanksgiving celebration with a few friends, and let’s just say that it didn’t last long!  The filling is exceptionally creamy and perfectly spiced.  Add in a buttery homemade pie crust with a generous amount of ginger, and you just may be surprised by how delicious pumpkin pie can actually be.

Silky Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Crust
If you are short on time, you can opt for a store-bought pie crust.  However, I strongly recommend that you attempt to make your own.  You’ll be amazed by the taste and textural difference. Makes one 9-inch pie.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
10 tablespoons cold butter, diced and frozen for 15 minutes
1/4 cup ice water
Filling (Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated):
2 cups half & half
3 large eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 15-oz can pumpkin purée
1 15-oz can sweet potato purée
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon sea salt
To Make Pie Crust:  In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, sugar, and ground ginger.  Cut in the cold butter until the majority of butter pieces are about the size of peas.  Add the ice water and mix until the dough can be formed into a compact disk.  (If the mixture is still dry, add ice water by the tablespoon, until the mixture comes together.  If you are new to homemade pie dough, a slightly wetter dough will be easier for you to roll out.)  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  Can be made several days ahead.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Generously flour your workspace.  Roll the pie crust dough into a 12-inch circle.  Roll the dough around the rolling pin and set in the pie plate.  Gently push the dough to conform to the plate, without stretching.  Tuck the edges of the dough under and crimp.  Freeze for 15-25 minutes.
Remove the pan from the freezer.  Line the crust with a piece of foil and fill with pie weights (I use dried beans).  Bake the crust for 15 minutes.  Remove the foil and pie weights.  Bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.
To Make Filling:  While the crust is baking, whisk the half & half, eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla together in a large bowl.  Set aside.  In a large saucepan, mix together the pumpkin puree, sweet potato puree, brown sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  Heat the mixture over medium heat until it begins to “sputter”, which should take less than 10 minutes.  Turn the heat down to medium-low, and continue to cook until the mixture is very thick, and semi-shiny, which will take another 15 minutes.
Add the pumpkin mixture to the cream mixture and whisk well.  Using a fine-mesh strainer and a rubber spatula, strain the warm filling into a bowl.  Mix the filling again, and add to the pre-baked pie crust.  Return the pie to the oven, and reduce the heat to 350 degrees.  Bake until the center of the pie registers 170 degrees, about 35-45 minutes.  Cool the pie on a wire rack for at least 1 1/2 hours.

My Favorite Granola

There is a special place in my heart for breakfast.  Think about it–when else can you acceptably eat dessert for an entire meal? Just think of the traditional breakfast foods: cinnamon rolls slathered with a generous amount of cream cheese frosting, buttermilk waffles with maple syrup and whipped cream, lemon-glazed scones, and creamy oatmeal with brown sugar.

Don’t get me wrong; I can’t deny my love for the savory options either: slow scrambled eggs with goat cheese, whole grain toast with mashed avocado, and cold pizza (I am a college student after all).

But one of my favorite items, and I’m sure my dad will agree, is this granola.  Unlike store-bought granola, this one has an intriguing mix of spices, and a barely sweet nature.  You can customize the ingredients according to your taste buds, substituting dried cherries and chocolate for raisins and walnuts.  Sprinkled over plain yogurt with fresh berries, in a bath of cold milk, or over a large scoop (or two!) of vanilla ice cream, this granola is one of my favorite ways to start the morning.

My Favorite Granola:
(Makes about 8 cups)
As mentioned above, feel free to substitute ingredients as you would like.  Another possible combination substitutes pecans for almonds, chocolate for dried fruit, and butter for olive oil–quite decadent!
3 1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1 1/4 cup shredded coconut (I used sweetened)
1 cup unsalted almonds
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp ground ginger
zest of an orange
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup dried fruit (I typically use a combination of raisins, cranberries, cherries, and blueberries)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, mix together the oats, coconut, almonds, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and orange zest.  Pour over the olive oil, maple syrup or honey, and vanilla extract.  Mix well, until all the oats are beginning to form small clumps.
Spread the mixture evenly on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake until golden brown and fragrant, about 40 minutes.  Let cool completely.  Stir in the dried fruit.

Vegetarian Chili with Black Beans

Although I don’t consider myself a vegetarian, I would much rather eat a bowl filled with roasted vegetables than a juicy steak.  When it comes to chili, then, I am drawn to vegetarian versions, with lots of vegetables, beans, and complex spices.  I found this recipe on Simply Recipes one Saturday morning and, after a quick trip to the farmer’s market, the ingredients were happily bubbling in my favorite green pot.

This chili is a wonderful mid-week meal, as it only takes about an hour to prepare, most of which is time spent simmering.  Served with a topping of sharp cheddar cheese and a side of homemade cornbread, I doubt that even the most devoted meat eaters would turn down a bowl.

Veggie Chili in Green Pot

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