Friday, October 17, 2008

Apple Harvest & Apple Pie

One of my fondest childhood and early adult memories is of visiting Oak Glen, a tiny little haven near Yucaipa, California, famous in the Fall season for apples. It was an exciting day when I got out of school and my parents and I would head to Oak Glen to pick apples, run through the leaves, pet the animals at the petting zoo, sample apple cider and eat apple pie at "Law's," the little coffee shop that specializes in all things homemade and apple.

Last weekend, I was away on business when my neighbors Olivia and Estella (ages 6 and 4 respectively) took their parents on an adventure to Oak Glen. I understand a fun time was had by all -- especially when hoisted on the shoulders of their father so they could grab apples from way on high.

When I returned home a couple of days later, I was the lucky recipient of a small bushel of Granny Smith apples. There is always something wonderful about the taste of freshly picked apples (and fruit and vegetables, in general). They are juicy, tart, firm and taste like Fall! I love them!
To return the favor, I set out to make something with the apples -- something that the family could easily enjoy together. It couldn't have any alcohol and it had to be good warm and accompany vanilla ice cream. What else could it be but apple pie?!

In my food compendium, I found a recipe from a 2001 issue of Gourmet magazine for "Thin Apple Tarts." While I have never been completely successful with puff pastry, the recipe seemed quick and easy and a perfect vehicle for the Granny Smith's.

I cheated a bit and purchased puff pastry from Trader Joe's. While the recipe called for me to roll out the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface, I thought the size and thickness of this pastry was sufficient and would yield a lovely apple tart. I am happy to report that it was indeed easy and delicious. And if I do say so myself, it looked good too -- always a necessity when bestowing food upon friends and neighbors!

Below is the recipe and photo. I hope it fills your home with the aroma of Fall and brings back childhood memories of apples, desserts and all things delicious!

Active Time: 35 minutes; Start to finish: 1 hour
Makes 4 servings

2 small Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and halved
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
2T fresh lemon juice
2T unsalted butter
1 frozen puff pastry sheet (from a 17-1/4 oz. package), thawed

1. Cut apple halves crosswise into 1/16-inch-thick slices and transfer to a bowl.

2. Bring water, sugar, lemon juice, and butter to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then pour over apples. Turn apples until slightly wilted, then drain in a colander set over a bowl, reserving liquid.

3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

4. Roll out pastry sheet onto a lightly floured surface into a 12-1/2 inch square and cut out 4 (6-inch) rounds. Transfer rounds to a lightly buttered baking sheet and top with overlapping apple slices. Bake in middle of oven until golden brown, about 25 minutes.

5. Boil reserved liquid in a saucepan until reduced to about 1/3 cup, then brush onto baked tarts.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Cookies with a Purpose

I have been traveling a lot lately for my job. When I do come home, easy recipes that make one want to nest and invite loved ones to the kitchen are those that I revert back to again and again.

One such recipe is one of my favorites -- "Oatmeal Cookies with Raisins, Dates and Walnuts." Since Brad's favorite cookie is oatmeal raisin, I gravitated to this recipe a few years ago. It's one of the more moist cookies I have found (due likely to the vegetable shortening). I think the dates give it an extra sweetness and wholesomeness. If you can find them, medjool dates are worth the expense and effort.

As with the banana bread recipe recently shared with you, this recipe is a great one for the fall and winter. Vanilla ice cream is optional! Enjoy!

Makes 4 Dozen

2c. all purpose flour
1t. baking powder
1t. ground cinnamon
1/2t. baking soda
1/2t. salt

3/4c. (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 c. solid vegetable shortening, room temperature
1c. sugar
1c. (packed) dark brown sugar
1/4c. honey
2 large eggs
1T. vanilla extract
3c. old-fashioned oats
1c. raisins
1c. chopped pitted dates
1c. chopped walnuts
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with foil; butter foil. Blend first 5 ingredients in medium bowl.
2. Using electric mixer, beat butter, vegetable shortening, and both sugars in large bowl until fluffy.
3. Beat in honey, eggs, and vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture.
4. Stir in oats, raisins, dates and walnuts. Drop batter by tablespoonfuls onto prepared sheets, spacing mounds 2 inches apart. Flatten cookies slightly.
5. Bake cookies until golden brown, about 10 minutes.
6. Cool completely on sheets.

NOTE: Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.