Homemade Apple Butter for Fall

Last night was cold — the first cuddly, cold, hot chocolaty and tea, burrow under the comforter fall night. And I bundled up and loved it.

The seasons are shifting. We’re trading in summer salads for crock-pot stews and flip-flops for boots. I’m cranking up the oven again and covering up the grill, exchanging long, slow evenings on the patio for a cup of tea, a good book and sock feet.

 

And I’m making Apple Butter, filling the house with the scent of autumn spices and stacking the tightly sealed jars away in the pantry for some chilly morning down the road when hot buttermilk biscuits are on the breakfast menu.

I believe I may have started a new tradition. This is the first time I’ve made Apple Butter. In fact (you might want to sit down for this) this is the first time I’ve EATEN apple butter. We were an apple jelly kind of family.

To make the apple butter, I carefully peeled pounds of homegrown apples, simmered them, spiced them, stirred them and stirred them, and became just filled to the brim with autumn. A lovely way to start the season — so lovely, I might just have to do it again next year.

For now, goodbye summer; it’s been fun. Hello fall, welcome home.

Apple Butter:

5 pounds of apples, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 gallon of apple juice
1/8 cup mulling spices
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Juice of one lemon

Pour the apple juice into a large pot and add the mulling spices. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Strain to remove the mulling spices.

Place the apples in a large pot. Pour apple juice over apples until just covered. (I didn’t quite use the whole half gallon.) Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until apples are soft, about 20 minutes. Working in batches, puree the mixture until smooth and return to the pot. Add the sugars, cinnamon, allspice, and lemon juice. Simmer, stirring constantly until mixture has reduced by half and thickened. About 1 ½ to 2 hours.

Note: you really do need to stir constantly. The mixture becomes VERY thick and splatters quite a bit as it bubbles. Wear oven mitts to prevent getting burned. Trust me.

Spoon apple butter into jars and store in refrigerator or can according to the guidelines in the USDA home canning guide.

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Simple Homemade Gnocchi With Marinara

Sometimes just the quiet repetition of a simple task brings extraordinary comfort. With gnocchi there is the careful rolling of each tiny piece of dough, the attention and care demanded by every individual bite.

Going through these motions becomes so much more than just cooking. The challenges and pressures of the day are pushed aside by the sweet, methodical rhythm of rolling one after another after another tiny piece down the tines of a fork; then watching the pieces fill the tray, the fragrance of a simple marinara simmering on the stove, a retreat from the outside world.

This recipe doesn’t require any complicated ingredients, just patience and a little dedication. I loved coaxing each gnocchi into its shape then watching the moment of truth as they all sank to the bottom of the boiling water before bouncing gently and floating back to the surface again.

I ended up with a meal that wasn’t cooked so much as brought to life from the pages of the recipe book, crafted and formed by the fingertips of the cook. That, and a smile and a plate to share.

Recipe from Martha Stewart via Punchfork.

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Elephants, Inspiration, and Sage, Apple, And Cheddar Scones

I wanted to see the elephants. I wanted to do something different with my day. While out for my early morning run, I took a different turn from my usual route so that I would run past the zoo and see the elephants through the fence. I knew from a past visit that the zookeepers hide food from them inside the enclosure because the animals enjoy the game of hide and seek. And sure enough, there they were, quietly seeking out their morning treats. I like to see them when they don’t know anyone is watching, before the gates of the zoo open and they are flooded with noisy visitors. I like to see them peacefully enjoying the cool, quiet morning, undisturbed.

Many days I run the same route, turn after turn. I could see the elephants every day if I chose to; they are only a little out of the way. But so often something pulls me along my usual way: I have to be at work, I have to run the errands, I have to, I have to, I have to.

Today I have to do something differently.

Visit the elephants.

Then come home and continue the grind, but with a fresh perspective because I shook up my day — even if just a tiny bit — and did something to make myself smile.

It worked.

After weeks of feeling uninspired in the kitchen, I suddenly felt renewed. Freshly baked Sage, Apple and Cheddar scones soon filled the kitchen counter and the house smelled of autumn. Sharp cheddar, sweet apples and fragrant sage make these savory scones the perfect match with a hot cup of soup – just the thing when fall is right around the corner.

So do something differently. Visit the elephants. Make the day unique. You might find that it’s just the thing to put a spring back in your step.

Sage, Apple and Cheddar Scones: 

4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup very cold butter cut into small pieces
2 large eggs
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 green or red apples, finely diced
3 teaspoons finely minced sage
½ cup diced sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 375˚

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Pulse to mix. Add the cold butter to the flour mixture and pulse until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in the apples, cheddar and sage. Place in freezer for 5 minutes.

In a small bowl combine the eggs and ¼ cup of the heavy cream. Whisk well to combine.

Add eggs and cream to the flour mixture and stir until dough just comes together. Add additional tablespoons of heavy cream if necessary.

Turn out the dough on a lightly floured surface. For mini scones divide the dough into four equal portions. Form each portion into a rough circle 5-6 inches across. Cut each circle into 6-8 wedges. For large scones form two 8-10 inch circles, then cut into wedges.

Place wedges on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned.

Recipe adapted from Good Life Eats.


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Chipotle Chocolate Sorbet

There will be a day this winter when a warm sweater won’t be enough, a day when the chill reaches all the way to my bones, a day when I will want more than anything to curl up with a cup of hot chocolate and a book, and hunker down against the cold.

But it’s not today.

Today the temperatures will creep into the 90s again and I’ll slather myself with sunscreen just to step outside to check the mail. I’ll come home from work and kick off my shoes to be barefoot. I’ll sleep with the fan inches from my face and windows thrown open wide.

And I’ll eat sorbet, cold creamy sorbet.

I might regret it when the winter comes and all of my lovely Theo Chipotle Spice Sipping Chocolate is gone, turned first into chocolate sauce and now into Chipotle Spice Sorbet. I might rush down the stairs in my slippers and thermals and fling open the pantry door only to be disappointed by the recklessness of my spicy chocolate summer desserts. I’ll have to trundle off in the icy air to seek out more sipping chocolate, teeth chattering, and cursing myself for not having reserved some for colder days.

But I think it’s worth it.

This Chipotle Spice Chocolate Sorbet has a dark, rich flavor with just a hint of smoky spice. It goes well with my summer patio. It goes well with temperatures in the 90s. It goes well with the windows open wide and the summer breeze blowing through. Winter can wait.

Recipe adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

2 ¼  cups (555 ml) water
1 cup (200 g) sugar
¾  cup (75 g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
½ cup Theo Chocolate Chipotle Spice Sipping Chocolate
¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips
½  teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar, water, cocoa, and salt to a boil, whisking frequently. Allow to boil for about a minute, then remove from heat.

Stir in the Vanilla extract, Theo Chocolate, and semisweet chocolate chips. Whisk until completely melted and incorporated. Pour mixture into a blender and blend for 15 seconds. Allow mixture to cool, then chill for several hours or overnight.

Follow manufacturers instructions to freeze in an ice cream maker.

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When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon Basil Coolers.

I tell myself not to let anything stand in the way of achieving my dreams. I tell myself that I am courageous and intelligent and beautiful. I tell myself that no matter what happens, I still get to choose to be happy.

But life has been giving me lemons lately, and I’ll admit that sometimes it’s hard to believe those little affirmations.

Still, I’m trying to make lemonade. What else can I do?  I’m trying to find the bright side, trying to believe that everything happens for a reason and it is all going to work out just fine.

And it probably will.  After all, I’m courageous and intelligent and beautiful.

These Lemon Basil Coolers were born out of, well, one of life’s little lemons. I had planned for sorbet but when I threw the ingredients into the ice cream maker, I ended up with icy slush. Sorbet was not going to work… but cool summery drinks would!

With a little sparkling water and ice plus a garnish of fresh mint and basil, I had turned lemons into Lemon Basil Coolers. The perfect little metaphor for life right now: you might not see it coming, but the perfect solution is right around the corner and it is delicious.

So when life gives you lemons, make Lemon Basil Coolers.

Lemon Basil Coolers

2 ½ cups water
15  .17 oz  packets Stevia (or 2 ½ cups sugar)
2 tablespoons lemon zest
3 tablespoons lemon juice
24 basil leaves
12 mint leaves
Sparkling water
Basil and mint for garnish

Combine the water, Stevia or sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice in a saucepan. Over medium heat, bring ingredients to a simmer until Stevia or sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and add the basil and mint leaves. Steep for about 5 minutes. Drain through a sieve to remove zest and herbs. Chill juice completely in the fridge.

Combine approximately 3 parts sparkling water to 1 part Lemon Basil Cooler syrup. Stir gently to combine and serve over ice, garnished with basil and mint.

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Vanilla-Bourbon Ice Cream with Cherries and Chocolate Swirl

The wind kicked up quite suddenly and now it has begun to rain. I was just about to step outside to take some photos. Now I’m shifting gears. Sometimes life gives you a little nudge, lets you know you should be doing one thing when maybe you had planned to do another.

That was the way with this ice cream. My mother brought over a big bag of freshly picked cherries from her neighbor’s yard. As I opened the fridge to store them, I spotted some leftover homemade chocolate syrup.

There would be no cobbler, there would be no pie. Life was nudging me: Vanilla-Bourbon Ice Cream with Cherries and Chocolate Swirl.

How could I resist?

A handful of cherries went immediately into some bourbon to soak. A few days later, they emerged and met the sweet, creamy, vanilla-bourbon ice cream. The final touch was to swirl everything with the leftover chocolate syrup, creating ribbons of dark rich flavor.

Sometimes life nudges you: a rainstorm, a bag of cherries, an opportunity to create something grand, something wonderful. Seize it.

The ice cream recipe is a slight variation from Joy The Baker. I didn’t use cherry preserves because I wanted a vanilla-bourbon flavor to the ice cream. The chocolate syrup was leftover from my Coconut Sorbet. I swirled it into the ice cream by hand, just after removing it from the ice cream maker, then froze it for a few more hours.

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Simplicity and Caprese.

I wish everything in life were as simple as Caprese.

The garden tomatoes are ripe and bursting with flavor. The basil plants are filling out more and more each day — offering sweet, spicy leaves. Add some fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic, and the loveliest summer dinner is served.

But I am at a crossroads. I’ve reached a point where I need to make some choices about my career path and I find myself wishing the answers were as obvious as vine-ripened tomatoes.

They never are.

Yet, with change always comes excitement and opportunity for expansion and growth. All the flavors that make life interesting, right?

So I’ll breathe deeply and think carefully and feel grateful that I get to carve my own path, grateful to be faced with a chance to rethink where I am and where I’m going. It may not be as simple as picking the ripest tomato or the best basil leaves, but maybe one day when I look back, it will seem as lovely and perfect as a plate of Caprese.

Caprese doesn’t require a recipe, just artfully arrange slices of fresh tomato, mozzarella, and basil on a plate, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. I served mine with slices of Italian bread.

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