Baked Apples

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Pink Lady. McIntosh. SweeTango. Ambrosia. Honeycrisp.

This is just part of the apple aisle at my local Publix, but I was impressed. There are an estimated 7,500 apple varieties around the world, so a dozen or so apples at my grocery store is a small fraction, of course, but I’d forgotten how many varieties I could easily get my hands on this season. I’ve been working on a story about baked apple desserts for the Tampa Bay Times (special Thanksgiving issue of Taste comes out this Sunday and I’ve got the cover story!) so I was really happy to find so many varieties to try.

I talked to Amy Traverso, author of The Apple Lover’s Cookbook and lifestyle editor at Yankee Magazine, for the story, and she said a lot of the new apple varieties are good all-purpose apples. They work well for baking, cooking, or eating raw. The standard that breeders are trying to reach is really high, she told me, and these newer apple varieties feature a lot of sweetness, acidity, and firm, lush fruit. And then she said my favorite thing I’ve ever heard about apples…

“They’re like the California cabernets of the apple world,” she said. Big, explosive flavor. Juicy.

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October/November

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We’re getting into the best time of year here. How was your Halloween? For our friend’s annual block party, Danny was a gorilla and I was a mermaid, but on the 31st we hung out on the couch, drinking wine and waiting for trick-or-treaters to knock on our door. Silence of the Lambs was our scary movie for the night, and I made Aida Mollenkamp‘s meatballs for dinner. (Pro tip: Don’t serve meatballs on a night you’re watching Hannibal. TOO SCARY.)

At the start of the week, Danny made a spicy soup that reminded us you can always add yogurt if things get too spicy. We also learned what hominy is. The turkey posole recipe was from a Bon Appetit feature on repurposing leftover Thanksgiving turkey. This is an excellent idea because it totally transforms the turkey and comes together quickly — homemade chile paste included!

Since Thanksgiving is still a few weeks away, we used a shredded rotisserie chicken. I’d try chickpeas if we didn’t have hominy around (for a different but still delicious soup). I found myself looking forward to the soup for dinner each night, crushing tortilla chips into the hot bowl just before serving and swirling in a scoop of avocado. For dessert, baked apples. (I’m wrapping up a feature on baked apple desserts this week and would love to know your favorites, by the way.) Continue reading  continue reading

A Week with a Jug of Apple Cider: Donuts + Bourbon + Pork

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The week of apple cider recipes started with dinner. It was Danny’s first day at his new gig at the airport, and I was leaving work early to put together something good. My boss, knowing that I enjoy cooking, thoughtfully suggested the idea and it was brilliant. Excited, and feeling like now it had to be really good given the gift of extra time, I started a list of possible congrats-on-the-new-awesome-job-i-love-you dinners.

Spaghetti Bolognese
Pasta Carbonara
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Boeuf Bourguignon
Roasted Apple, Shallot, and Blue Cheese Tart

Pancetta, White Bean and Chard Pot Pies
Pork Shoulder Braised with Apples

All options on that list are solid, but it came down to that braised pork shoulder with apples. Why? Because we love pork shoulder. Maybe because it’s one of the first big cuts of meat we tackled in the kitchen together. This recipe also appealed to me because I had the time for a weeknight braise so I felt like I should take advantage of that. And bonus, it called for apples in a savory dish. I could also serve this on top of cheesy polenta, which probably sealed the deal.

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At the grocery store, I found myself asking that perennial question popping up in search engines each October: What’s the difference between apple cider and unfiltered apple juice? None of the store employees could really say until we googled it and came to the conclusion that they are basically the same thing (in the U.S. anyway). As for the apple brandy called for in the recipe, that was a problem that bourbon could easily solve. Continue reading  continue reading

Baked Camembert

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Something had to be done about this stinky cheese. In the generous mix of fancy cheeses, chorizo, and chocolate that Danny’s aunt sent us in a spectacular gift basket to celebrate his new job (!!!!) there was a wheel of Camembert. I guess I’d never actually tasted Camembert before because now it seems that if you met this cheese you wouldn’t forget it. It looks like a cousin of brie but Camembert packs a more pungent fragrance, and the rind has more character.

This cheese is no wallflower. Each time I opened the fridge, that ripe round of Camembert cheese said HELLO! I shut the door. Opened it again. I wrapped the cheese in layers of plastic bags and buried it at the bottom of the fridge. I closed the door once more and set out to find a recipe to use up this French cheese. I decided to bake the Camembert, which ends up looking incredibly luxurious and yet is so simple to make. The rich cheese turns out creamy and melty and only gets better with fresh herbs and garlic. This is an excellent thing to whip up when a few friends come over, especially as we get into the holidays. I plan on switching up the herbs with thyme rather than rosemary, and maybe adding dried cherries, cranberries or apricots to the baked cheese. That gift basket also came with a nice bottle of wine, a key part of serving up this Baked Camembert.

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Chicken Salad on Rye

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We had a good thing going. I’d go to O.E. Market once every week or two and get a sandwich. My go-to order: the chicken salad with bibb lettuce on rye. It was a solid choice. A light chicken salad with just enough mayonnaise to hold things together and not a dollop more. I loved the fresh herbs and dried cherries, and, obviously, the generous side of freshly fried potato chips with gray salt. I’m telling you. Solid. Lunch. Order.

That is until they upended their menu. In a recent revamp, they’ve switched from sandwiches to tacos. I haven’t been over to try the new menu… I love tacos, but this was my place for a great sandwich. So I did the next best thing: make my own. Continue reading  continue reading