There is nothing more enjoyable than baking with the flavors and scents of fall. Sometimes I feel like apple season takes a back seat to pumpkin but in my opinion its equally important. With their sweet scent and crisp bite, apples are one of those things that define ‘fall’.
The apple pie as we know it, originated in Europe. The most widely known variations are the English, Dutch & Swedish apple pies. While all made their way into North American food culture, the English version is the one familiar to most of us. Worldwide, there are over 7500 types of cultivated apples, reflecting both their versatility and popularity.
Apples, perfectly spiced in a fall dessert, can be amazing. Like most spice blends, the flavor of apple pie spice is variable since the maker can choose the components according to their preference. In all cases, the goal is to provide warmth and sweetness that compliments the tartness of apples.
These little mini tarts started out with an idea I had to incorporate an upside down cake with some shortbread pastry and spiced apples. They actually turned out better than I had expected. After baking, it seemed like they might be quite dry, but instead were real tender and not too sweet. I’ve always enjoyed to use the cardamom spice. It gives such complexity and depth to the flavor of whatever its used in.
Apple Walnut Mini Tarts
In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar & salt. Using a pastry blender or a fork, cut in butter & add vanilla & lemon zest. Mix only until combined, divide in half & wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Place in freezer until slightly frozen & ready to use.
In a bowl, combine sliced apples, lemon juice, sugar, flour & spices. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine chopped nuts, brown sugar & melted butter. Divide mixture between 4 mini tart pans. If your tart pans have removable bottoms, I suggest using a large paper cupcake liner, placing it first in the pan & then putting 'bottom' on top. This will avoid having any of the filling leaking out.
Remove one half of the pastry from the freezer. On a CHEESE GRATER, grate pastry. Divide between the 4 mini pans, placing the pastry on top of walnut mixture.
Strain apples, reserving liquid. Divide apples between mini tarts. Microwave reserved juice for a few seconds just to thicken it a tiny bit, then pour over apples in each tart.
Remove second half of pastry from freezer & grate. Top each mini tart with grated pastry. Bake tarts for about 45-50 minutes or until apples are soft. If browning too fast, float a piece of foil paper over the tarts.
Remove tarts from oven & allow to cool for about 5 minutes before inverting onto serving plates. Nice to serve warm with a little ice cream or whipped cream.
- If you care to make your own, here is a recipe for apple pie spice. It makes about 1/3 cup & of course you can always customize the levels of the spices to suit your own taste. I like to keep some handy in my spice drawer to use for various baked goods.
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ginger
- 4 Tbsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp allspice
- 1 tsp cardamom
- Mix together & store in an airtight container in a cool dark place.
Orecchiette pasta originates in the sunny, southern province of Puglia, Italy. This pasta’s round concave shape led to its name, which means ‘little ears’ in Italian. The rigid exterior and cup-like interior captures chunky sauces and scoops up small vegetables, making orecchiette perfect to serve with sautes. I should mention that I didn’t find orecchiette on the regular supermarket shelves. We are lucky to have some real good Italian grocery stores in our area which definitely have them available.
You will notice, another ingredient I used in this meal is Italian sausage. Sausage is so common that people rarely stop and think about how and why they are made the way they are. Every country has a unique sausage tradition and puts their own twist on the classic meat.
Italian sausage is one of the more popular sausage varieties available, but its origins in Italy are actually different from what we are accustomed to in North America. The true Italian sausage or ‘salsiccia’ (sahl-SEE-tchay) is made of meats that have been seasoned heavily with chili and other hot ingredients and allowed to marinate and change the flavor of the meat overnight.
The more common Italian sausage that North Americans know, is a pork sausage with a fennel and anise mixture as a base seasoning. It is packaged as either HOT or MILD, the difference being in the amount of red pepper flakes that are used.
If you choose to try this meal, I think you will find it real tasty. We just loved it and I have to say it was actually the first time we had ever tried Italian sausage. I have always thought it would be too spicy hot for our liking. Needless to say, I went with the mild version.
Creamy Mushroom & Sausage Orecchiette
In a saucepan, cook sausage with a splash of olive oil, until browned & cooked through. Set aside.
Add butter to saucepan & saute onions until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Mix in garlic, cook another 2 minutes. Add mushrooms & zucchini, sauteing until tender-crisp, about 5-6 minutes. Return sausage meat to pan & keep warm.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add salt. Cook orecchiette pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta & return to pot. Fold in cheese, sausage/vegetable mixture, fresh parsley & pepper to taste. Slowly add chicken broth until preferred consistency is reached. Serve garnished with red pepper flakes & Parmesan cheese.
Hasselback potatoes are a type of potato dish, not a variety of potato. In their simplest form, hasselback potatoes are nothing more than whole potatoes cut in such a way as to resemble a fan or accordion when roasted. The outside of the potato becomes crisp and brown while the inside is soft & creamy.
This Swedish dish gets its name from Hasselbacken, the Stockholm restaurant where it was first served. You might say, they are a cross between baked and roasted potatoes. What distinguishes the two is the way the potato is prepared for roasting. The potato, which may or may not be peeled, is cut into very thin slices but without completing the cuts, leaving all slices connected along the bottom of the potato. As the potato cooks, the individual slices separate slightly and give the finished dish its distinctive look. The original recipe drizzles them with melted butter and seasons with salt & pepper which creates their crispy exteriors.
Over time, many variations have been made and are simply products and preferences of the individual preparing them. It is the slicing and roasting that distinguish the dish as hasselback potatoes rather than the variations on seasonings or toppings.
Today, I’m doing a ‘loaded’ version, taking it from a side dish to the main course.
Loaded Hasselback Potatoes
Preheat oven to 350 F. Make a row of deep cuts in each potato from end to end, they should be just under 1/4-inch apart. Take care not to cut the potatoes all the way through. See 'Recipe Notes' below.
Place the potatoes in a casserole dish, brush them with melted butter & sprinkle with salt & pepper on top. Bake potatoes for an hour OR until TENDER but crispy. Allow potatoes to cool a little then place a small piece of cheese in each gap. Set casserole with potatoes in it aside.
In a saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp oil & add onions & garlic; saute for a few minutes then add beef & continue to cook until meat is no longer pink. Drain any extra oil/fat from saucepan. Stir in tomato paste (if using) & beef broth; simmering until liquid has been reduced so only a small amount remains.
In a heavy saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour & cook, stirring constantly, until bubbly, about 2 minutes. Add hot milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring to a boil; add salt & pepper to taste, lower the heat & cook, stirring 2-3 minutes more. Remove from heat.
Assembly / Baking
Divide the filling between the potatoes, which should still be in the casserole dish. Pour the sauce evenly on top & sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Place the casserole back in the oven (350 F) for another 30 minutes.
- The secret to making hasselback potatoes is to use a large wooden spoon. Place the potato onto the spoon & cut thin slices across the potato. The edges of the wooden spoon will stop the knife from cutting all the way through the potato.
CELEBRATING LABOR DAY!
Although, we have not officially reached the first day of fall (Sept. 22), this part of the year often begins with a tinge of melancholy. Even so, there are many ways to appreciate Canada’s most sentimental season.
Part of our country’s appeal is its four season’s: Winter, Spring, Summer & Fall. We are entering the season of the fall harvest and the leaves on the trees begin their transformation to stunning shades of orange, red and yellow.
Labor day week-end gives us an opportunity to enjoy family and friends before summer is officially over. Whatever your choice of relaxation is, you know good food will play a big part in the week-end gatherings.
I’m sure you are all familiar with ‘slab’ pies. If not …. a slab pie is a shallow pie baked in a rimmed baking sheet instead of a pie pan. These are a genius way to serve a crowd with less fuss and less mess. Almost any fruit pie recipe will work in this format. Just double you pie recipe, bake it in a jelly-roll pan (15 x 10 x 1) which are a little smaller than the typical baking sheet and have 1-inch sides. Most will serve 15-20 people.
For the sake of choice, I went with four different fruits in one slab pie. That should cover it I think!
Fresh Fruit Slab Pie
Line a 15 x 10 x 1-inch jelly-roll pan with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, beat butter & sugar until light & fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla & lemon zest; beat another minute, or until blended. Add flour & salt, mix until fully incorporated, taking care not to over-mix the dough.
Turn dough out onto paper-lined baking pan & evenly press into the bottom & about 1/2-inch up the sides of the pan. Place in refrigerator to chill for at least an hour or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 F. With a fork, prick crust all over & bake for 20 minutes until JUST PALE golden in color. Remove from oven & cool slightly on a wire rack.
In a small saucepan, combine rhubarb with 1/4 cup water. Simmer 5-7 minutes ONLY until slightly softened. Strain rhubarb juice into a one-cup measure. Set aside. Place rhubarb in a dish until ready to assemble pie for baking.
In a bowl, combine oats, brown sugar & flour. Add butter & mix until coarse crumbs form; stir in pecans.
To reserved rhubarb juice in one-cup measure, add cherry juice & 3 Tbsp lemon juice. Add enough water to make one full cup. Return juice/water to small saucepan; add sugars & cornstarch. Cook until mixture boils & thickens.
Place rhubarb, saskatoon berries, peaches & cherries in partially baked crust. Form each fruit in a diamond shape to give it a bit of pizzazz!
Drizzle hot sauce evenly over entire slab pie. Sprinkle streusel topping over all & bake in a 350 F oven for 25 minutes. Remove from oven & allow to cool on a wire rack before serving.
Whether broiled, fried, baked or pan-seared, fresh, wild-caught scallops are an excellent stand-alone dish or will compliment a salad or pasta with their sweet flavor and delicate texture.
Sea scallops are widely known for their iconic, beautiful shape …. a fan-like shell with fluted grooves. Different varieties are found in oceans all over the world and come in many sizes. For commercial purposes they are labeled similar to shrimp. A number is used to designate how many scallops of a given size it would take to constitute a pound. The label 20/30 means it would take 20/30 scallops to make up a pound and labels like U10 means it would take less than (‘under’) 10 to make a pound.
Scallops are bivalve mollusks (meaning having 2 shells- usually united by a hinge) that have a reddish-pink, upper shell and white or cream colored, lower shell.
Brion & I love seafood so this meal definitely works for us.
Parmesan Baked Scallops over Egg Noodles
In a saucepan, melt butter; whisk in flour & cook, stirring until frothy. Add milk, whisking until sauce comes to a boil & starts to thicken. Add cheese & spices & continue to cook a few more minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; set aside.
In a 9-inch square baking dish, melt butter & toss scallops in it. In a bowl, combine next 5 ingredients & sprinkle over scallops. Gently stir to spread them out in one layer. Bake about 15-20 minutes.
In a pot of salted, boiling water cook egg noodles until al dente. Drain. Reheat sauce & combine with pasta. Divide between two serving plates & top each with baked scallops.
An easy dish, with a real taste experience for a warm summer day. Zucchini Cordon Bleu is a light version based on a slice of turkey (or chicken) and cheese, layered in zucchini slices and breaded in a crispy, nutty Parmesan crust then baked (or fried). Perfect to serve for a light meal.
One of the ingredients in the breading is almond flour. If you’ve never cooked or baked with almond flour, always stick to whatever the recipe calls for (almond flour or almond meal). This will ensure that the texture comes out the way its supposed to.
Blanched Almond Flour -refers to almonds that are ground up into a very fine flour. The almonds have had their skins removed by blanching them before grinding them up and sifting them into a fine almond flour.
Almond Meal or Unblanched Almond Flour – is made using almonds with their skins still on when grinding them up into flour. This creates a flour that is more coarse, hence the term almond ‘meal’.
One of the best things about almond flour is that it can be used in both sweet & savory recipes. Almond flour adds a slight sweetness to baking but note that it bakes up denser than all-purpose flour because there is no gluten.
This is such a great way to use up some of those plentiful zucchinis at this time of year.
Zucchini Cordon Bleu w/ a Crunchy Crust
Wash zucchini, cut off ends & slice in half. Next, cut lengthwise into slices that are several centimeters thick & then halved. Place zucchini slices on paper towel to remove some of the liquid.
Place 1 slice of Gouda & 1 slice of turkey between 2 slices of zucchini. If you prefer, you can use some toothpicks to help keep the cordon bleu together while breading & frying.
Using 3 separate shallow dishes; place flour in one, beaten eggs, salt & pepper in the second one & ground almonds, chopped pumpkin seeds & Parmesan cheese in the third.
Dredge zucchini cordon bleus in flour, then in eggs & lastly with nut/cheese mixture.
Heat oil in pan & fry the zucchini cordon bleu on medium heat. Fry for about 2 minutes on each side until golden & crispy. Drain on paper towel.
A nectarine is a variant of a peach …. one genetic step away and fuzz-less. White nectarines were the only kind available up until 1942, when a white one was crossed with a peach resulting in a yellow/red nectarine.
Just like peaches, both have similar sugar levels. However, white nectarines taste sweeter because they have less acid than the yellow varieties. Probably the most reliable way to pick a good-tasting nectarine is by its strong, sweet aroma. Traditional peach pies and cobblers can easily be interchanged with nectarines. Their firmer flesh softens when cooked but still holds its shape and leaving the skin on not only saves time but improves the flavor.
When nectarines are in season, I hate to miss out on the chance to incorporate them into whatever I can. To avoid getting into any long detailed procedures today, I’m going with this custard tart. It meets all requirements …. pre-fab pastry, egg-less custard and some of those wonderful nectarines, not to mention the bonus of how pretty it looks.
Nectarine Custard Pie
Preheat oven to 350 F. Cut six 1-inch wide strips of dough from the sheet of puff pastry (best to cut one from the top, one from the bottom & four from the side). Place a large (9 x 2-inch) pie plate on the uncut area of dough, trace a circle around it with a knife. Place the round piece of dough in the pie plate. Place in refrigerator until ready to assemble & bake.
In a saucepan, whisk together milk, sugar, cornstarch, salt & vanilla. Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly. Once the mixture is hot, lower the heat to medium-low to prevent the bottom from burning. Continue cooking until mixture thickens. Remove from heat & cool. When cooled, spread the pudding over puff pastry using a spoon to smooth it out.
Halve nectarines, remove the pits & cut in even slices. Place the nectarine slices in the pudding cream, starting at outer edge, slightly overlapping, & working your way in.
Take the 6 strips of dough from beginning & lay them in between the nectarine ring layers until the design is complete. Take the last dough strip, roll it up & place it directly in the center of the pie dish.
Brush the puff pastry with egg wash. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden. If you wish, brush apricot preserve over tart while it is still warm.
Coconut shrimp …. flavors of the tropics! When prepared correctly, you should end up with a significantly crunchy, thick crust of aromatic coconut, surrounding a center of plump & tasty, cooked shrimp. The concept is simple but it is possible to end up with rubbery shrimp. I found there are just a couple of key things to keep this from happening.
First, select the best possible shrimp you can find. My own choice is always the Marina del Rey, wild-caught Argentinian shrimp. You need a large or jumbo size. If your shrimp are too small, the ratio of breading to shrimp will be off and they will cook through too quickly, turning rubbery as the crust crisps up.
Adding a bit of Panko-style bread crumbs in with the coconut gives the shrimp an extra crispy crust as well as a flour dusting before you dip them into the egg wash. As much as I prefer not to fry things, these coconut shrimp seem the best when pan-fried in a combo of oil & butter.
The sweet/spicy sauce is very simple but plays a major role in the end result. We enjoyed these shrimp as the main course with Jasmine rice & steamed broccoli.
Coconut Shrimp w/ Sweet & Spicy Sauce
Sauce for Drizzling on Shrimp
In a food processor or blender, puree ingredients for sauce & set aside.
Using 3 separate bowls, place flour in the first, egg in the second & panko & coconut in the third.
Clean & devein shrimp. Dust them in the flour then dip in the egg & lastly coat with panko/coconut mixture.
Preheat skillet over medium heat. Melt butter & then add oil. Once the combo is heated, place the shrimp in the skillet & cook 2-3 minutes on each side, until lightly golden brown. Place cooked shrimp on a plate lined with paper towel. Serve with the sweet/spicy sauce --- its the ultimate condiment for the shrimp!