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Save Some Time: Get Desserts Ready Ahead of Time


What happened to the whipped cream?

Deciding what to serve for Thanksgiving dessert can be fraught with as many emotional landmines as preparing the menu for the rest of the meal.

Some people only want pumpkin pie or pecan pie. Others want anything but.

But most everyone agrees on one thing: Dessert is as important as the turkey and all the trimmings.

I always enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie with whipped cream on top (OK, I can enjoy almost anything with whipped cream on top, but that’s another story). I also enjoy trying something new, yet with respect to tradition. So, this year, I’m going to try an Apple-Brandy Tart from Plaza Club chef Dan Lewis’ cookbook, “Discover Ironstone Vineyards.” And I’ll hope that one of the other guests brings along the pumpkin pie.


Diana Barrios Treviño's Family Favorite Cheesecake

Many of the desserts you’ll find make great use of the season’s bounty: apples, pumpkin, pecans. But the format can be different, such as Pumpkin-Spice Layer Cake.

Or the dish can something you love year-round, such as cheesecake, which has become a tradition in Diana Barrios Treviño’s family.

Whatever you try, remember that dessert, though it comes at the end of the meal, can usually be made the day before. So, save yourself some time and make your favorite pie or a whole array of desserts the day before. You’ll be glad to have one less thing to worry about.

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Apple-Brandy Tart Adds Rustic Touch to End of Meal

ApplesServed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on top, this is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, says Dan Lewis of San Antonio’s Plaza Club. Make the apples early in the day, but don’t bake the tart until after the big meal.

Apple-Brandy Tart

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
7 apples, peeled, cored and halved
2 tablespoons apple brandy or brandy
Pinch of salt
1 puff pastry sheet

Place the butter and sugar in a 9-inch oven-proof sauté pan and arrange the apple halves in the pan. Sauté the apples over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, for 15 minutes, or until the sugar is caramelized and the apples are brown. Add the apple brandy, salt and cinnamon to taste and turn the apples in the pan until the brandy is incorporated. Remove from heat and set aside. Arrange one apple in the center of the pan, core-side up, and place the others in circles around it.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut a 9-inch circle from the puff pastry. Cut the trimmed dough into 1/2-inch-wide strips and piece together a rim around the edge of the pastry. Place the pastry circle, rim side down, on top of the arranged apples and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the pan from oven and turn over onto a serving place. Cool slightly and cut into 8 pieces. Serve warm.

Beverage suggestion: Brandy

Makes 8 servings.

Adapted from “Discover Ironstone Vineyards” by Dan Lewis

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Celery Root and Apple Salad (Insalata di Mele)

Lydia1 (1)The flavor of the tender celery root mingles well with the crisp texture and light sweetness of the apples. A tart dressing with olive oil and mustard,  and garnish of chives, finished the salad off.  It paired well with the Bastianich Friulano 2007.  You can find the Bastianich wines at Central Market.

Celery Root and Apple Salad (Insalata di Mele)

1 (2-pound) whole celery root, rinsed well but not peeled
1 pound firm, crisp apples (such as Granny Smith, Gravenstein, Jonathan, Gala or Fuji)
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon German-style mustard (coarse ground)
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

Note: Recommended equipment: A large bowl for dressing, tossing and serving.

Put celery root into a large saucepan with cold water to cover, and heat to a boil. Lower the heat a bit and simmer celery root for about an hour or so until cooked through and tender. As it cooks, keep the root weighted down with a plate or pot lid. When you can easily pierce it with a skewer, drain it in a colander and cool.

When it is cool, peel the celery root by scraping off the skin with the dull side of a paring knife. Cut out the bits of skin in the folds and knobby parts. Cut celery root in half, and slice each half into thin half-moons; put these in a large bowl. (If the celery root is a bit fibrous, cut slices into thin matchsticks.)

Rinse apples well, but do not peel them. Slice them in half, through the stem and bottom ends and cut out seeds and cores. Slice halves crosswise into half-moons, about 1/8-inch thick, add to the bowl, and gently toss the celery root and apple slices together.

[amazon-product]0307267512[/amazon-product]For dressing, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper in small bowl, then whisk in the olive oil gradually, until smooth and emulsified. Pour dressing over the celery root and apples, sprinkle the chives on top and tumble to coat all the slices with dressing. Serve cool or at room temperature.

Note: Lidia Bastianich suggests adding thinly sliced prosciutto to the plate to make this salad a more substantial antipasto, as she did for the KLRN Chef Series, Nov. 1.

Makes 6 servings.

From “Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes”by Lidia Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali

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Quick Pickles

Cucumber Apple Pickles

Cucumber Apple Pickles

Judy Baum had never made pickles before Easter of this year.  All that work sterilizing jars, fussing with boiling water and second guessing whether the lid actually sealed was too much for her.

And why put up pickles when there’s only one at home?

But she ran across a recipe for Cucumber Apple Pickles on the Internet during one her routine recipe searches. And she just had to try them.

This difference is that these were fresh pickles,  small batches of pickles you make up and eat within a couple of days or weeks. You don’t have to seal the jar. You don’t even have to sterilize it, though if you’re reusing a jar,  it might help to wash it out. You wouldn’t want any leftover peanut butter tainting the flavor.

Baum, who lives in Live Oak, stayed away from making pickles because too many of the recipes called for a gallon of this or a bushel of that, far too much for a single person to think about.

Plus, fresh pickles take no longer to make than any other side dish. And they can add plenty of tangy flavor.

What can be pickled? You’re limited only as far as your imagination, of course. You can make pickled beets or chowchow, green tomatoes or piccalilli with cauliflower.

Pickled green beans can be used as on a relish tray or in a Bloody Mary.  Cabbage is the basis or a tart curtido, or Salvadoran slaw, like the one you find at the various La Playa restaurants in town.

Pickled red onions, as most Mexican food fans know, are great with cochinita pibil. One place you’ll find this flavorful treat is at Guajillo’s on Blanco Road at Loop 410.

Even if you have a bountiful harvest, you may want to think of fresh pickles for some of it, because you are able to cut back on the amount of sodium and sugar, both of which are used as preservatives, and without sacrificing any flavor.

Raw food fans out there, you can also do raw pickles if you like, using agave nectar instead of sugar for pickled cucumbers, onions or radishes.

Play with the recipe to suit your needs. For her Cucumber Apple Pickles, Baum used small cucumbers and cider vinegar, which she found a great match for the apple.

“I combined the brine in a baggie, then added the squeezed-out cucumbers and apple, put the baggie in a bowl and turned it around several times,” she said.  “I also used more than a pinch of the red pepper threads.  It didn’t seem to be too much heat.”

She served the pickles at Easter dinner, and her friends ate most of them that evening. The rest were gone by the end of the week.

The pickles may be gone, but Baum’s hunger to make more remains.

Links to Recipes:

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Pickle Recipe: Cucumber Apple Pickles

Cucumber Apple Pickles

Cucumber Apple Pickles

Cucumber Apple Pickles get a little kick from Korean hot red pepper threads, which can be found at Asian markets. The pickles remain fresh for 5 to 7 days.

1/2 pound Japanese or small cucumbers – unpeeled
1 teaspoon salt (kosher or sea salt), or to taste
1/2 Granny Smith or Fuji apple, unpeeled
2  cups water
1/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar or cider vinegar
1 tablespoon thin peeled ginger or minced ginger from a jar
1/4 cup sugar or agave nectar, or to taste
Pinch Korean hot red pepper threads or red pepper flakes

Slice cucumbers 1/8 inch thick or use box grater or food processor.
Toss with salt and let stand 30 minutes.  Then rinse well and squeeze out water with your hands.  Halve apple lengthwise and cut out core.  Slice slices 1/8 inch thick.
Combine water, vinegar, ginger, sugar and hot pepper threads in a glass jar or baggie, mix well.  Add cucumbers and apple.  Refrigerate for a day, then eat!

Adapted from

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