Friday, September 17, 2010

Apple-y Goodness!

It's rather apropos that I'm posting this blog post so gosh darn late.  Normally, Scott and I only manage to go apple picking in mid-late October, when we really have to work to find good apples.  We still come home with at least a good bushel, though, and then continue our "apple date" by baking crisps, pies, pizza (yes, apple pizza!) making sauce, and incorporating apples into every other dinner dish.

This year, though, I am getting a head start.  I've been doing a column for Worcester Magazine since spring called "Fresh Picked Woo," where I've been reviewing local Farmer's Markets.  As it's now apple season, I've shifted to orchards.  I know of three around here, which, with the 2-week regularity of the column, is probably all I'll get to cover for the season.

With "Fresh Picked Woo," I've been giving recipes for whatever I pick up at the markets, ranging from savory to sweet, BBQ side dishes to vegan main courses.  Since we're in New England, you can't throw a stone without encountering at least a good, if not outstanding apple pie or pie recipe; same goes for apple crisp, baked apples, apple streusel, apple cake… or basically, any freaking "American" apple dessert in existence.  So, I decided to go with all savory recipes.

Hadn't thought of apples as savory?  Oh - you're missing out!

This week has my apple stuffing which I use in pork chops, chicken, and (with added browned sausage) pumpkin and pepper stuffing.  Next "FPW" will be a spinach salad garnished with apples and drizzled with an apple-bacon-mustard dressing.  After that, I'm debating if I want to do my BBQ Chicken & apple pizza or a this dish I don't have a name for but is apples, sauerkraut, red onions fried in beer and served with either kielbasa or brats.  Oktober-applebeerfest?  Hmm…  Feel free to help me out on that one in the comments.

To snag those articles, you'll have to keep an eye on (or pick it up of you're a local.)  Online and print are both FREE!

What apple-icious stuff am I offering to my blog readers, though?

I'm offering a peck of tips and techniques that can be applied to a number of recipes.

Tip 1:  Diversify! 

Going apple picking means you can mix and match.  Throw in some Granny Smiths, Macouns, McIntosh, Cortland, Pink Lady… all in one bag.  While a lot of recipes will specifically call for one kind of apple, I found that putting in a few kinds - especially in pastry or dessert recipes, yields a better texture and more complex flavor.

Different kinds apples have different levels of sugar, starch, and other chemicals, which means that some apples will retain their bite when cooked while others turn to mush.  In a pie, crumble, streusel, crisp, applesauce, etc, - this is GREAT!  You get the best of all worlds in juice, smoosh, crunch, and tenderness.  You also get a mix of flavors, tart, super-sweet, floral, etc. 

Tip 2:  Mix and match prep.

Cooks Illustrated just happened to have one of their great deconstruction recipes for apple crisp this month, and I learned something I should have thought of myself.  Sauté your apples before you bake them.  I can totally see this adding more dimension to crisp - but also, think of the pie?  And, my thoughts, what if you want to try a few different textures?  Sauté some, leave others raw.   I do this in my apple stuffing already, and I always break my batch of apples up in the Oktober-beer-apple-etc. thingy, too, so some can cook down to next to nothing, and others are still firm when you serve it up.

Tip 3:  Fusion

Add apples to some of your favorite ethnic dishes, like curry, stir-fry, pasta, tabouleh, paella, fajitas…  Seriously.  Very yummy!  Dip tart apples, like Granny Smiths, in a plain hummus, or get creative and make a hummus with a touch of nutmeg and clove for apple-dipping.  Apple chipotle tart?  It works!  Throw some apples into jasmine or Basmati rice and eat it plain or with your favorite saucy dish or add some cinnamon, vanilla, sugar, and milk or cream for a delicious dessert.  And I already mentioned apple pizza.

Tip 4:  Healthier substitutions!

I'm constantly surprised at how few people know you can replace the oil in a lot of the instant cake or quick bread mixes with an equal volume of apple sauce (or pumpkin - but that's a different post.)  Also, try baking or dehydrating apples seasoned with sea-salt, pepper, and a touch of malt vinegar for a savory chip-type snack.

Tip 5:  Just add them!

So many recipes take on a new, and delicious, personality when apples join in the fun and games.  Dice apple into oatmeal, whole grain side dishes and salads, and chopped salads.  Grate apple into just about any slaw (tart ones tend to better for the slaws, but be daring!).  Slice apples on your cheese plate (toss with lemon juice or white balsamic vinegar to keep them from browning).  Throw cubes of apple into just about any stuffing recipe.  Steam them with a veggie side dish.  Greens (collard, mustard, mixed…).  Baked beans.  Squash soup.  BBQ sauce…

Of course, pairing the apples with whatever you're cooking means you should take some time to get an idea of their flavor profiles.  Also, keep in mind fresh-picked apples will taste and act differently than store bought apples, which could actually sit for up to 9 or 10 months!  But really, there's little excuse not to keep sampling. 

You know what they say about an apple a day…


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