Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Apple Season

Long time readers (both of you) might recall that ostensibly I blog about cooking. So, since it’s the peak of apple season, here are a couple apple-centric recipes I made this weekend after taking my daughter apple picking! Here’s a complete dinner and dessert. Enjoy!

4-6 Brats
3 teaspoon butter
1-2 slices bacon, chopped
1 onion, sliced thin along long axis
2-3 shallots, sliced thick, along long axis
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup chicken stock (if store bought, go light on the salt later on)
3 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1-2 teaspoon prepared mustard
Bouquet garni* made of thyme 50%, sage 35%, rosemary 15% (approximate proportions) (or use dried herbs)
2 apples, peeled and chopped
S & P (salt & pepper to taste)
1-2 Tablespoon cornstarch (mix well into about a ¼ cup cold water)

Short version:
Use one large pan for the entire recipe.
·         Sauté brats in butter or rendered bacon fat until browned on all sides.
·         Add butter. Sweat onions, then shallots, then garlic.
·         Deglaze with stock.
·         Add everything else except the starch (i.e. sugar, cinnamon, mustard, bouquet garni, and apples).
·         Snuggle the brats in so they're at least half covered in the liquid.
·         Simmer, covered, 8-12 minutes.
·         Remove food with slotted spoon and make a pan sauce with the starch slurry.

Long version:
Use one large pan for the entire recipe. The onion and shallot slices should end up a similar "diameter" so they cook evenly.

If using raw bacon, cook it first, remove it, and sauté the brats in the rendered bacon fat. If using prepared bacon, just chop it and add it with the apples and onions later.

Sauté brats in half the butter (or bacon fat) over medium to medium high heat, browning on all sides. If butter darkens, add a tablespoon of oil to the pan and lower the heat. Don't let the butter burn. Some fat will render out of the brats, and that's ok. You may wish to start with less butter.

Move the brats off the heat or remove them from the pan. Add the remaining butter and sweat** the onions a few minutes. Add the shallots and sweat them until both shallots and onions are translucent and fragrant. Add the garlic and sauté until it becomes fragrant. Do not let the garlic burn (never let garlic burn!).

Deglaze*** the pan with the stock. Add the sugar, cinnamon and mustard, then add the bouquet garni, and apples. Snuggle the brats in so they're at least half covered in the liquid. Simmer, covered, 8-12 minutes.

Remove brats and apples and onions (the solid goodies), set aside in a warmed bowl and cover.

Bring the pan liquids to a boil (you could strain them into a saucepan but I don't bother). Mix the cornstarch into a little cold water or apple cider or sauerkraut juice (or a mix of these). Make a smooth slurry of the starch and cold liquid and whisk half of it into the simmering liquid in the pan. Cook 1-2 minutes, whisking constantly. This will form a smooth sauce. Keep adding starch slurry and letting it cook a minute or two until it gets as thick as you like. It will thicken slightly as it cools, and you can’t take any starch out, so add it a little at a time. Turn off the heat (take the pan off the burner if it’s electric, because they stay too hot) and add a pat of butter. Stir the butter to melt it in.

To Serve: portion out some of the onion/apple goodness and top with a bratwurst or two. Ladle or pour some sauce on top. Pass sauce in a gravy boat.

Serve with drained sauerkraut or red cabbage and baked potatoes, baked carrots and parsnips, salt potatoes, or sage-sautéed spaetzle (my favorite of these options).

A good Marzen, Oktoberfest, wheat beer or lager make a nice beer pairing. Sparkling or still cider (hard or soft) or sweet tea work well also. For a wine pairing, you're on your own, LOL. A moderately sweet white? German, ideally?

                Food geekery:
* A bouquet garni is a bundle of herbs added to soups or sauces that adds all the flavor of the herbs, but is easy to remove since it's all in a little bundle. Just grab a few sprigs of thyme about 4 or 5 inches long, 1 sprig of rosemary 3 to 4 inches long, and 5 to 10 sage leaves. Tie them together with a food safe twine and you're all set. You can also drop them into a cheesecloth pouch.

** To 'sweat' veggies is sauté them at a lower temperature so that they soften and become translucent and fragrant, but don't caramelize as much as a high temperature sauté.

*** When you sauté proteins, yummy brown "fond" will form on the bottom of your pan (unless the heat is too low or you're using a nonstick pan) ((don't use nonstick pans for this. They’re really only best for omelets and eggs)). I don't know why it's called "fond" but I do know that I'm quite fond of it! Deglazing a pan removes the fond, aka yummy brown goodness, and adds it to the liquid you pour into the pan. It's best to use a yummy liquid like wine, beer, or stock (broth). You can use water if you insist. Simply pour the liquid into the pan, lean back so you don't scorch your face in a huge billowing geyser of steam, and rub a spatula or back of a spoon on the pan to help remove the fond. The fond dissolves into the liquid, and as the water (and alcohol) boils out, the flavors concentrate into a thin but yummy sauce. You can go nuts, and after deglazing, let the liquid simmer away until the pan is nearly dry. This will laminate the food in a thick tasty glaze. This is called cooking it "au sec" meaning something like 'nearly dry' (pardon my French).

Aside: This deglazing technique done with plain water and maybe a drop or three of detergent will clean a pan with burnt on schmutz. It’s thorough and saves you the scrubbing. Not so tasty, though.

1 Box Spaetzle, or a pound of home-made (in a pinch, cavatelli or gnocchi are nearly adequate substitutes)
½ stick butter
1 or 2 shallots, chopped
⅛ cup fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped
Dash red pepper flakes and or cayenne pepper powder
Generous dash ground black pepper
⅛ to ¼ cup fresh parsley
S & P

Note the time package directions say to Boil the Spaetzle. This has to be coordinated to that about two minutes before they’re ready, you put them in the pan with the hot butter sauce and finish cooking them in that pan.

While the spaetzle boil, melt the butter over medium high heat in a large pan. Sauté the shallots. It’s ok for the butter to darken, but not burn. This is called burre noir (again, forgive my French), or “brown butter.” It’s sort of toasted, to develop a nutty taste, but not burnt. If it starts to burn, you can take the pan off the heat and add a dash of oil. Add the chopped sage and the peppers to the pan. These will fry a bit and infuse the butter with their flavor.

Scoop the Spaetzle out of the water with a strainer or wide slotted spoon and drop them directly into the butter sauce. They don’t need to drain completely, the pasta water’s starch helps form a sauce. Toss the spaetzle in the pan to coat evenly. Add the parsley and the remainder of the spaetzle. Toss to coat evenly and sauté everything until the spaetzle are cooked. If it’s too dry, you can add a dash of stock, pasta water or white wine to help steam the Spaetzle so they cook all the way through.

This is a good way to prepare gnocchi or tiny ravioli, by the way.

Recipe in four parts:
1)      Apple yumminess
2 cups sugar
2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice OR apple pie spice
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins (optional: I never use them)
4 or 5 Apples, peeled,  cored, chopped*

2)      Dry ingredients
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional: I never use them)

3)      Wet ingredients
1 cup oil
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
½ to 1 teaspoon butter flavor

4)      Glaze
½ to ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
Just a wee bit of water

* Chop one apple coarse and the others fine. Fine being about 1 cm cubes, and coarse being any larger size you like.

Prepare the Apple Yumminess: Blend the sugar, spices and salt evenly. Stir in the apples as you chop them so they don’t get a chance to turn brown. Mix from the bottom of the bowl to the top so that all the apple pieces are evenly coated. Allow the apples to macerate (be sure to pronounce that correctly, LOL) about an hour (no more than two), stirring from bottom to top every 15 minutes. Pretty soon, you’ll see the sugar pulls moisture from the fruit and makes a tasty syrup.

Preheat oven to 365° F. Grease and flour two 9x9 pans OR one 9x12 pan PLUS one 8x8 pan. Crack a beer and wait for the apple yumminess to macerate.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (except walnuts, if using).

After macerating the Apple Yumminess, whisk together the wet ingredients. Fold them into the Apple Yumminess until it’s all well blended. Fold this wet mixture into the dry ingredients. Add walnuts, if using. Stir everything together just until blended and there are no dry spots in the flour mixture. It forms a thick batter.

Immediately pour the batter into the prepared pans, dividing them evenly (if using same sized pans), and filling the pans about ¾ of the way to the top.

Bake 45-60 minutes at 365. Rotate pans halfway through the baking time. Cake is done when toothpicks come out clean and cake springs back when pressed gently. Allow to cool in pan on a wire rack about 15 minutes. Flip pan onto another rack, and lift the pan off the cake. This allows steam to escape the bottom so the cake doesn’t get soggy. After 20 minutes or so, put the pan back on the cake, and invert again (you probably don’t have to bother with this step).

Make the glaze by adding water to the confectioners’ sugar a few drops at a time and stirring well. The glaze will form all at once. Mix it smooth and pourable. If it gets too loose, simple add a little more confectioners’ sugar and stir it in. Drizzle the cooled cake with the glaze. Cooling can be accelerated with a gentle breeze, but a fan can make cake stale quickly.

Knock it out of the park edition: Bake two 9x9 cakes or two round cakes. Prepare a Cream Cheese Frosting (link http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/classic-carrot-cake-with-fluffy-cream-cheese-frosting ) and assemble a layer cake. Decorate with autumn-colored sprinkles and or nuts.

Pictured: the Apple Cake and an Apple Pie I made. There are thousands of great apple pie recipies out there, so I won't bore you with one here.

If you’re not from upstate NY you may not know Salt Potatoes, but you should find out because they are SO GOOD!
The wikipedia article really says it all: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_potatoes.