Apple Tasting for Fall

Apple Tasting 1Inspired by all the colorful varieties of apples in the market right now, we did our own apple tasting this week. There are a lot of lesson plans and educational exercises for apple tasting (google “apple tasting kids” or search on Pinterest — you’ll find a ton). You can make predictions, comparisons, even weave writing and graphing into it if you like. Maybe one day we’ll do a more scientific version of this, but for now we were happy just to keep it simple. We cut up our apples, labeled them A, B, C, D, E and captured a few broadstroke impressions as we sampled and each picked our favorite at the end. The kids absolutely loved it and it sparked some really fun and interesting conversation. My little guy has already asked when we are doing this again. Continue reading

Swirly Apples and Quick Applesauce

2 videos for apple lovers….. We love this apple peeler/corer contraption and use it all the time. If you’re a pie lover, you can break down a big pile of apples in a snap. Kids (and adults) will also love the fun, swirly apple spirals for snack time. Pick one up here.

While on the topic of apples, I also happened upon this quick and easy microwave (you can call if faux “sous vide” if you like!) applesauce video recipe from the Voltaggio brothers of Top Chef fame. This is pretty much the opposite of our recent endeavor with slow cooker apple-pear butter — but quite a handy little trick for homemade applesauce on the quick. We don’t microwave a whole lot, but I must say it does have its shining moments. I looked into it and famed foodie scientist Harold Magee says that the quick cooking in the microwave actually retains more nutrients and prevents oxidation in certain items (produce/fruit). So thanks, Voltaggios, for giving the lowly microwave its just due.

Guest Post: Farmhouse Cheddar Muffins

I love the guest post below for a number of reasons.  It’s from someone who reads our blog (yay!) and she is a fellow “uber-foodie”, hence a kindred spirit.  Anya cooks with her son regularly and actually made the recipe below with her children.  She also took pity on me and sent me a delicious apple recipe to utilize all the apples we picked on our Sebastopol Adventure . Most of all, I am a sentimental fool and I love that she used to make these muffins with her mother and now she is the mother who makes them with her kids.  Family food traditions are priceless!  Thank you Anya for sharing one of yours.  🙂

Farmhouse Cheddar Muffins by Anya Soltero
The Yummy Apple Muffins recipe reminded me of the Farmhouse Cheddar Muffins I used to make with my mom in our Richmond District kitchen when I was a kid. I made them as a young adult in my own Haight St. rentals and – inspired by the post – I brought out the well-used cookbook to bake them with my son Caleb, 4, as Sadie, 1, looked on from her high chair.
These muffins are perfect to make on a crisp fall morning. It’s a simple recipe that is not too sweet and can be enjoyed at the breakfast table. I love the apple-cheddar combination, along with the spices and cider, which really bring me into this season. I just wish I had some extra warm apple cider laying around to enjoy with the muffins. The recipe reminds me of a time when my mom was alive and well, and when being under her wing in the kitchen was the closest place to heaven for me. My weekly practice of baking something with Caleb in the kitchen will hopefully pack him full of wonderful memories too, recipes to take through life, and a passion for food and cooking that my mom shared with me. Enjoy!
Farmhouse Cheddar Muffins (Cookbook: From a Baker’s Kitchen, Gail Sher)
Bits of apple, chopped walnuts, and cider make this muffin mildly sweet. Chunks of sharp Farmhouse Cheddar add a surprising contrast.


Ingredients:
1/4 cup, unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, room temp
3/4 cup apple cider (save some for sipping)
1-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 large pippin (or any) apple, peeled, cored, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup diced farmhouse cheddar (I use sharp Tillamook, or medium when I have it around)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Method:
In a small bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar, vanilla, egg, and cider. In a larger bowl, stir together the flour, oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the apple, cheese, and walnuts. Pour in the liquid mixture and stir only until the dry ingredients are moistened.
Spoon the batter into well-buttered or paper-lined muffin cups. Bake the muffins at 375F for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

The Yummiest Raw Apple Muffins

It’s been an eventful week for us. My little one started preschool which — beyond the obvious “heartstrings” aspect of it all — means thinking about packing a lunchbox on a regular basis. So begins a new chapter in food for our family.

As I was packing up my first lunch, I got to thinking about what would put a smile on my son’s face when he opened up his brand spanking new lunchbox. Something super yummy. A muffin perhaps? Problem was, we were just back from vacation and our refrigerator was really, really bare. Luckily we happened to have a few apples, so I decided to take that as my starting point.

I reached for my “go to” kitchen reference the Gourmet Cookbook and it came through once again with the recipe for “Marion Cunningham’s Raw Apple Muffins” (originally published in Marion Cunningham’s “Breakfast Book“). This is a simple recipe, which requires just a few ingredients and turns out not-to-sweet and very moist muffins. It’s timely, too, with apple season upon us.

[Here’s my little tip: coring, peeling and dicing the apples is the only time consuming step of this recipe. We happen to have one of those apple peeling/coring/slicing contraptions — my husband likes to make pie and this is a fantastic tool for prepping a big pile of apples. I was able to break down my apples into a perfect little dice in no time with very little knife work. Yippee for that.]

Raw Apple Muffins

(adapted from the recipe for “Marion Cunningham’s Raw Apple Muffins” in the Gourmet Cookbook. This recipe was originally published in Marion Cunningham’s “Breakfast Book”)

  • 2 apples (peeled, cored and diced — 1/4″ dice is ideal)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup oil (I substituted my apple-pear butter, you could also use apple sauce)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (I omitted this since my apple butter already has spices in it)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • muffin tin liners
  1. Toss the diced apples and sugar in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Mix egg, vanilla and oil (or apple butter) in a bowl set aside.
  3. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl (flour, salt, spices, baking soda)
  4. Add the egg mixture to the apples and mix well. Add the flour mixture and stir until just combined.
  5. Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 full and bake at 350 degrees. Start checking for done-ness at 25 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin should come out clean. Makes about 10 muffins.

I think next time I might experiment with substituting a third of the flour with whole wheat flour and stirring in a couple of tablespoons of oats and a couple teaspoons of flax seed just to add a little extra nutritional punch. After making these muffins, I think I’m definitely going to have to check out the “Breakfast Book”!


Slow Cooker Apple-Pear Butter

This apple-pear butter is tangy, spicy and sweet. It’s great on toast, in oatmeal, on pancakes or French toast. A nice change of pace from the usual breakfast spreads and so easy to make! Applesauce is a great substitute for vegetable oil in muffin recipes or pancake mixes (substitute one for one), which is another great reason to have this on hand.
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We’ve made a similar apple butter on the stovetop in the past, but this slow cooker version, adapted from a recipe from Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc at Home”, is a nice twist. You can chuck everything into the slow cooker and let it go overnight, with just minimal hands-on time. No peeling or coring required. We tweaked things — adding pears to the mix as well as fresh ginger and adjusting the sugar and spices a bit to suit my son’s tastes. If your little ones are just so-so on spices, just add a little cinnamon or no spices at all. Here’s our version (this made about 2 pints):
  • 3 Pounds Mixed Apples and Pears (a mix of sweeter and more tart varieties is nice)
  • Fresh Ginger (a couple of inch-long pieces)
  • 1/2 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1.5 cups Brown Sugar (or to taste) — I’m sure you could substitute apple cider, agave syrup, maple syrup or other sweeteners you like.
  • 3/4 Tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 Tsp Ground Cloves
  • 1/2 Tsp Allspice
  • Zest & Juice from 1 Lemon
  1. Cut the fruit into big chunks (including  skins, cores and seeds).
  2. Toss the fruit into a slow cooker with the water, ginger and apple cider vinegar.
  3. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours stirring occasionally.
  4. Pass the fruit through a food mill to remove the skins, seeds and stems and return to the slow cooker.
  5. Add sugar, spices, lemon juice and zest. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your taste.
  6. Cook on low for 8 hours (or overnight). Taste and adjust again if you need to. If it’s not thick enough for your liking at this point, continue cooking uncovered.
  7. Whatever you aren’t going to use in the next couple of weeks, you can freeze or can.

We happened upon “Ad Hoc at Home” at the library. Thomas Keller’s idea of simple, home cooking might be more involved than the way most us cook in real life, but there are a lot of great techniques well explained throughout that you really can incorporate into everyday cooking like how to cut up a chicken (8 and 10 piece versions), stocking your pantry and a whole section on “Becoming a Better Cook”. Check it out, you’re sure to find some inspiration in this one.