Monday, October 31, 2011

How 'bout them apples?

I heard on a radio show that apple picking is for boring people.  Call me the dullest girl ever because I love much that I sometimes want to join in with my kids' festive squealing.  Our family enjoyed a gloriously sunny day at Carter Mountain last weekend that yielded mounds of pink ladies, Granny smiths, and fujis just waiting to be transformed into something fabulous.

Here are an appetizer, main course and dessert that have been the products of our harvest thus far.

Caramelized Onion and Apple Tart (Click here for recipe)

The marriage of caramelized onions and apples is brilliance.  But the real hidden treasure is the layer of creme fraiche hiding underneath.  I didn't think this recipe paid due attention to the onion preparation, so I cooked them a lower temperature...added a touch of butter in addition to the oil...and splashed a bit of balsamic vinegar at the last minute.  While this appetizer may seem a bit fussy, it's actually quite quick to throw together (particularly if you do the onions in advance), requires minimal clean-up since you line the baking pan with parchment paper, and is low maintenance since it hangs out in the oven for 30 minutes to give you a moment to get yourself together before guests arrive.  I'm putting this on my fall favorite list!

Chopped Apple Salad with Toasted Walnuts, Blue Cheese and Pomegranate Vinaigrette  (Click here for recipe)

Everything in this title called my name, but the pomegranate vinaigrette was something I had to try, like, immediately.  After a quick gander of the recipe asking for pomegranate molasses, my heart fell thinking I'd never find it.  Thanks, Whole Foods, for coming through!  I will most certainly find some fabulous uses for this sweet little bottle.

We added sliced grilled chicken to the salad to beef (er, chicken) it up to a main course.  It was satisfying and delish.  For those wanting to make this: may I beg a favor?  Please don't skip the walnut toasting part.  It completely transforms their flavor into wow, particularly covered with the tangy and sweet dressing. 

Happy aside: my blue cheese obsessed - like, totally obsessed - daughter worked this salad.  Big brother did pretty well with his plate (though sans blue cheese) too!

Mini Apple Pies

This was an impromptu event commencing with, "we need to make something else with these about apple about today?"  I had a large muffin pan that I've been wanting to employ and thought it would be a fun departure to make little individual pies.

Pie crust ingredients are generally on hand (here's my favorite recipe).  But I didn't have the citrus called for in Barefoot Contessa's recipe for the apples and had zero motivation to leave the house for those items.  So, in lieu of lemon zest, fresh lemon juice, orange zest, and fresh orange juice, I used....the kids' morning orange juice.  Hey, where there's a will, there's a way!  All that matters in the end as far as I'm concerned is a sweet and cinnamony flavor, buttery and flaky crust, and a scoop or four of creamy vanilla ice cream. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Root Vegetable Goodness

Okay, so I've concluded that the fall is my favorite cooking season.  There.  I've done it.  A significant contributing factor: I am wild for root vegetables!  They're warm, snuggly, and satisfying.  But unlike some other foods meeting those criteria (pie crust, anyone?), they can actually be healthy!  Here are a couple recent dishes we've made to celebrate these little jewels.

Butternut Squash Gratin (Click here for recipe)

This tasty dish is roasted butternut squash layered on top of creamed spinach.  I selected this to make for a friend who just had a baby.  This darling gal is gluten intolerant, so I was pleased that the sauce for the spinach was thickened with corn starch instead of a classic roux.  What also really drew my attention was the topping, which is a mixture of fresh grated parmesan cheese and creme fraiche.  I mean, how could I not make this?

So there are kind of a lot of steps here.  But when I find something new and interesting (a departure from the standard pasta casserole) that can be frozen in advance, I do the happy dance.  The first step is slicing and roasting the butternut squash.

Meanwhile, fresh spinach takes a bath in salted boiling water to wilt.  After realizing that I'd be turning piles and piles (I doubled this recipe; one for them, one for us.) of fresh spinach leaves into the cooked, chopped version, I wondered why the heck I didn't just buy a box of frozen spinach, thaw it and squeeze the water out.  The picture below justifies the effort.  Look how bright and beautiful it is peaking out from underneath the squash.  By the way, I use my a potato ricer for the water squeezing part.  It's fast, easy, and spares my hands of being frozen and/or tinted green.

I had to include this picture too for the cute 2-yr old in the background.  She was waiting to see if I'd have any of the rind to spare with the hopes of gnawing on it.  So my kid.

Roasted Carrots and Parsnips

The roasting process turns these babies into caramelized goodness.  I just tossed them with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper and roasted at 400 for about 20 minutes. 

These accompanied a delish appetizer-made-dinner (we do that all the time!), which is totally worthy of a mention: Marinated portobello mushrooms with asiago

These shrooms are marinated in a flavorful mixture of balsamic vinegar, fresh rosemary, soy sauce, olive oil, salt and pepper.  It imparts tremendous flavor in a really short time (weeknight doable!).  Next, they are grilled and topped with shredded asiago cheese, breadcrumbs and fresh parsley...then grilled a little more.  YUM.  Well, let me qualify that.. the kids hated 'em.  Like, they really hated them.  I suppose I should have expected that; I do believe I detested all things mushroom until well into adulthood.  But I still try to expose the kids to new flavors as often as possible, figuring they definitely won't like something if they never have a chance to try it.  Anyway, I'll clarify here that this was exclusively a grown-up YUM.

Coconut Glazed Sweet Potatoes (Click here for recipe)

(Photo courtesy of, as the author's picture was entirely unsuccessful)

I love the sweet and spicy thing, and especially where coconut is concerned.  The glaze is rich and sweet; but the brightness of the fresh lime prevents it from being heavy.  The jalepeno puts the period on the sentence with a perfect amount of heat.  These Weber guys sure know what they're talking about. 

I was a huge fan of this dish, because it tasted great.  Hub loved it because he got to do this:

Happy Fall cooking!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Autumnal Dinners

What's with the title?  Who uses a word like this?  The first time I heard it was when a simple fall wreath on Martha Stewart's front door became her "festive autumnal entry".  After a momentary are-you-kidding eye roll, I rather swiftly chose to embrace its nerderrific awesomeness and have since made efforts to employ this adjective as often of possible during this season.  After about a half dozen uses this past weekend in Colorado (I mean, the foliage was could I not?), my sister finally looked at me and said, "what is it that you are saying?".  Okay, so maybe not everyone appreciates Marthisms as I do. 

On to the food.

Butternut Squash Flatbread with Cheddar and Pine Nuts (Click here for recipe)

With the start of cool, crisp evenings upon us, I couldn't resist this cozy sounding recipe.  You may know that we are fairly flat bread obsessed and always seeking more flavor combinations.  This one is darn tasty, and the kids loved it too.  The rich butternut squash plays beautifully off of the sharp cheddar, toasted pine nuts, and fresh and peppery arugula.  Yum. 

In lieu of baking in the oven as the recipe suggests, we grilled them.  Shocker.  This required us to pre-roast the butternut squash (400 degrees for 15ish minutes), and I did this the day before.  While it may seem like another cumbersome step, it was actually ideal since it cut down same-day prep time.  My other changes included swapping the sliced red onion for caramelized onions (also done in advance) because I am just in love with them, and also adding a layer of fresh mozzarella on one of them as a taste test.  Need I say that this version won?! 

I so recommend this recipe!  If you're limited on time, try a pre-made pizza crust, flat bread or even a pita!  It's the fresh stuff on top that shines anyway.

Salmon with Apples and Fennel  (Click here for recipe)

We celebrated Ryan's birthday with this feast.  For once, I convinced him not to grill, and I actually cooked this on the stove.  Taking less than 30 minutes to prepare, this is dish is totally weeknight friendly.  More importantly, we really, really enjoyed it.  The crispy breadcrumb coating on the salmon was a happy surprise and added a perfect texture compliment to the smooth, sweet apples and fennel.  The best part was that despite our mountainous heaping slightly generous portions (ugh, need to work on this), it was light enough to afford room for what Ryan surely considered the actual star of the meal: his triple layer carrot cake.  If you're interested in that recipe - which totally rocks - click to last year's post!