I could spend all day, every day in the kitchen. I am an absolute junkie for the creation process. I will use a recipe for certain things… but for the most part, my style is more mad scientist. I cook and bake for the obvious reasons, like a meal or an occasion… but mostly because I want to be in the kitchen. I head to the kitchen with nothing in mind… and then suddenly, 5, 6, 7 hours have passed. Being in the kitchen makes me happy!!
I was invited into the kitchen when I was 6 or 7 years old – THANK YOU Mom – and I’ve had a passion for cooking/baking ever since. I devour cookbooks and cooking magazines and I am forever watching cooking shows. I have developed a real talent for creating fabulous meals when there appears to be nothing in the house. It is rare that I ever throw food away because I am constantly taking inventory of what we have and using it before it goes bad, and I am a master at re-purposing leftovers. I know what flavors work well together, and give me any ingredient and I will find a creative way to use it.
Friday morning I wasn’t feeling that great, but a day in the kitchen cured that. We had dinner grilling plans with our neighbors and they simply asked that I “bring something fabulous.” I knew I wanted to do something with apples… but what? I decided on something savory rather than sweet. Apples and Cheddar are a great combo, and so I thought about making a version of these little cheddar pastries with a green olive inside – only I decided to use apple instead. I did a small test batch and although the cheddar pastry was fabulous, you couldn’t taste the apple. Thinking cap on… and suddenly I was in the middle of 3 baking projects:
1) Savory Apple Tart with Cheddar Crust
2) Cheddar Crisps served with Apple Compote (that I made last week)
3) Oatmeal, Apple, Walnut Bread (cooked the oats in left over juice from Apple Compote)
I spent a very large portion of my weekend in the kitchen:
On Saturday, Gardenworks in Salem began their Raspberry Rewards Program – they keep 1/2 of whatever you pick, and you keep your 1/2 for free. It was a rainy, windy, cold miserable morning… but I went anyway because, if you’ve followed this blog all Summer, you know I love berry picking, and I had jam-making-plans for those berries! I was the first one there at 9:00AM… and I was the only one picking for the next three hours. Three people showed up just when I was leaving… when my fingers were too frozen to grab any more berries.
Sunday I made a 13 lb. batch of Apple Butter with all the apples I picked from our trees earlier in the week. It was a great weekend!!!
Savory Apple Tart with Cheddar Crust
Mix together 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar, 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup melted butter until it forms a ball. Press into and up the sides of a tart pan that has been lightly sprayed with a cooking spray. Arrange cored, peeled, sliced apples over the crust, sprinkle with chopped fresh sage, bake 400° F for approx. 30 minutes, or until crust is brown and apples are soft. Intermittently throughout baking process brush apples with a mixture of butter and something sweet (jam, maple, cider… I used leftover juice from the apple compote I made last week).
Cheddar Crisps served with Apple Compote (that I made last week)
I reserved some of the above Cheddar Crust dough and pressed it out thinly on a cookie sheet and baked it along with the tart at 400° F for approx. 30 minutes, or until it looked like it lived up to the name Cheddar Crisp! Allow large Crisp to cool and then break into pieces. I served it with Apple Compote from blog post The Dog Days Are Over, August 23, 2011.
Oatmeal, Apple, Walnut Bread
I’m not prepared to share this recipe because it is based on my Great Gramp’s Oatmeal Molasses Bread, only this time instead of molasses, I cooked 2 cups of oats in the left over juice from the Apple Compote I made last week, then mixed in the leftover apple slices from the Tart above, and some walnuts. I let it rise overnight and baked it on a stone in a 400° F oven. The result? Incredible crust, less sweet than I thought, but not bad for winging it.
Raspberry Port Jam
Into a large stock pot pour 2 cups Tawny Port, 2 cups Balsamic Vinegar and 1 cup sugar. Cook over medium heat until liquid has reduced to less than half. That strong vinegar smell/taste will eventually cook out, and the liquid will start to thicken. Dump in 4 Qts. Raspberries and continue to cook down to desired jam consistency. Be sure to stir very often – the mixture will burn and cake onto your pot otherwise. Either eat within a few weeks or process according to canning instructions.
Apple Butter (you may want to pare this one down!)
Approx. 50 Apples, washed, quartered, cored. Boil in a large pot until the fruit is soft (but doesn’t fall apart). Drain liquid and process the apples in batches in a food processor until smooth. My pureed apples yielded 13 lbs.!! Return pureed apples to pan and stir in 3 cups sugar (I used a combo of white and brown sugars), 6 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. ground clove, juice of 1 lemon (I also zested the lemon… and as big of a fan of lemon zest as I am, I will skip it next time, I don’t love it in here). Stir constantly until you have achieved desired thickness. Either eat within a few weeks or process according to canning instructions.
Italian Nachos (Artichoke leaves are the “chips”)
Purchase as many artichokes as you care to make. Slice off the stems so the bottoms are flat, and the tips of the leaves so the tops are flat – discard. Remove the outer leaves – discard. Fan the leaves of the artichokes out a little bit, stuff some minced garlic between the leaves. Place artichokes in a stock pot, and add water about 1/3 the way up the sides of the artichokes. Drizzle with olive oil and salt, cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes until leaves put out easily. Once artichokes are done, remove from pan and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Remove all the leaves and spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Cut out the spiny choke in the center – discard. Quarter the artichoke hearts and add to the cookie sheet. At this point, I shredded asiago cheese on top of the leaves, broiled until golden and served with a glass of wine. You could also use the leaves as a base or a scoop for more traditional nacho toppings – a good no-carb option .