I can hardly wait for strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry and melon season.
In the meantime, fortunately, we still have apples -- I can't imagine living somewhere where apples didn't grow on trees!
In Central New York we're blessed with so many different varieties, each with different flavors and characteristics: Juicy Macintosh and Empires for tossing in the lunch bag and eating out of hand; sweet-tart Macouns for salads and all-purpose eating; Cortlands for pies and baking in general.
And so on.
During the winter, when apples are the only locally grown fruit available, we eat a lot of applesauce. It takes a time commitment, but is ridiculously simple to make. Besides, you can make it in stages.
For sauce, I like Cortlands; their skin and flesh cooks down to a pretty, pink-ish sauce. Cook the apples in the morning and sauce them in the afternoon. Or, cook them at night and let them sit until the next morning.
Here's how to do it:
Pick up a three-pound or five-pound bag of Cortland apples. Wash them, leaving them a little wet, then quarter them. Add a small amount of water (a quarter cup at most) to the bottom of a large pot and dump the apples in the pot. Cover the pot and place on the stove over high heat.
When the apples begin to steam and and rock and roll a little, reduce the heat to medium (or medium-high, depending on your stove). Leave the pot covered and set the timer for 15 minutes.
Remove the lid to check on the progress of the apples, then empty the lid of any moisture. The apples should be steaming little pillows of fluffy fruit at this point, starting to separate from their skins. Give them a stir with a long-handled spoon, then cover and cook them for five more minutes if you doubt their doneness. Remove the lid and dump any accumulated moisture again, then remove the apples from the heat. Let them rest, covered, for six hours or longer.
Using a food mill set over a large bowl, add the apples in small batches and mill them until mostly skins and stems remain. If you work at a computer all day like I do, your hands might hurt a little as you do this! Remove the skins from the food mill occasionally and keep adding and spinning the cooked apples.
To the sauce, add ground cinnamon, ground cloves (a little goes a long way), freshly grated nutmeg and a splash of vanilla extract. A three-pound bag of apples will yield about 4 cups of sauce.
Enjoy the sauce on its own, or with a dollop of lowfat vanilla yogurt. For breakfast, add a sprinkle of granola.
If you're like me, you can't stand to waste things.
So, what do you make when you have a half-quart of buttermilk with a looming expiration date? Irish brown bread is one possibility. Creme fraiche is another. Blueberry muffins is a third.
Faced with this situation recently, I decided on muffins because we also have a huge zip-top bag of last summer's blueberries in the freezer to use up before another blueberry season comes around -- and it won't be long, even though it doesn't seem like it today.
Some people like their muffins fine-grained and kind of cakelike, but R. and I prefer them with a crumbly, slightly dry and more breadlike texture. Tip: To avoid peaked muffin tops, don't overmix the batter.
Basic Blueberry Muffins
2 and a half cups flour (see note)
3/4 cup sugar (granulated brown works fine)
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
Sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together into a large bowl, then make a well in the center. Mix milk, oil, eggs and vanilla together and pour into well. Stir just to combine; do not overmix. Gently fold in blueberries.
Spoon batter into paper-lined muffin pan, filling about two-thirds full. Bake in a 350-degree oven until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 12 muffins.
Notes: I usually make these muffins with 1 and a half cups regular flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour. For this batch, I used 1 cup regular flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour and one-half cup cornmeal, which adds a slightly grainy texture.
One of the best things to come about as a result of merging households with my boyfriend a couple years ago is the ready access I gained to Big Red -- a Chantal Dutch oven with a tempered glass lid.
We spotted it at Marshalls while picking up some stocking stuffers for Christmas. He admired it -- the red exterior, blue interior and enamel-on-steel construction -- and the fact that it could go from stove to oven, and I went back to purchase it the next day.
It was still there, as luck would have it. It cost $50 and paid for itself in excellent meals a long time ago -- soups, stews, curries, etc.
The big red pot cleans up like a dream (a plus in my book) and is perhaps best used for meat dishes that call for browning and braising, like the recipe below for Braised Paprika Chicken.
You might be wondering why I'm writing about braising instead of grilling. We'd love to be grilling, but it's 30 degrees outside and snowing sideways -- welcome to springtime in Syracuse. :-)
The recipe is from a recent issue of Eating Well magazine, so in addition to being good it's good for you. Bon Appetit!
Braised Paprika Chicken
3 to 3.5 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed (optional)
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon butter
4 cups finely diced onions
Pinch of sugar
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 cup chicken broth (see note)
1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley, dill and or/chives
Pat chicken pieces dry with paper towels and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper.
Heat oil and butter in a large heavy casserole or Dutch oven over medium heat.
Add onions and sprinkle with sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are very soft and light brown, 10 to 15 minutes.
Stir in bell peppers, tomato paste, paprika and crushed red pepper. Add the chicken and stir it gently into the onion mixture. Sprinkle with marjoram and add broth. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and simmer over medium-low heat until the chicken is very tender, about 50 minutes.
Just before the chicken is done, whisk sour cream, flour and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl until smooth.
When the chicken is done, remove it to a plate. Stir the sour cream mixture into the sauce; return to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the sauce coats the spoon. Reduce heat to low, return the chicken to the sauce and reheat, about 1 minute. Serve with noodles, whole-wheat noodles or brown rice, garnished with parsley, dill and/or chives. Serves 6.
Note: Have you tried Better Than Bouillon yet? It's great stuff.