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~ Cozy Apple, Bourbon, Vanilla Bean & Pecan Crisp~

IMG_5843I'm turning the heat on in my house and preheating my oven today.  The heat is on because "baby it's cold outside", and, the oven is on because baby I'm using up the last of our apples.  I'm making my version of perhaps the simplest of all Fall apple desserts:  an apple crisp.  In the event you don't know what it is, it's basically:  apple pie filling (no bottom pie pastry) sprinkled with streusel (no top pie pastry) and baked until the apples are cooked and the top is crispy. It's usually served warm, spooned (not sliced) onto a plate, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to the side of it (not on top of it), to insure the melting ice cream doesn't soften the crunchy topping!

IMG_5755Why exactly is this American fruit dessert called a "crisp"?

Our forefathers' wives invented a lot of amusing words to define American heritage fruit desserts that do not fall under the category of pie.  Here's a quick overview:  A crisp is a fruit mixture topped with a crispy crumb or streusel mixture (a streusel contains oats, a crumb does not, which makes it crumbly).  If a crisp has a bottom crust, it is called a crunch.  If you want to turn a crisp or a crunch into a betty, the fruit gets layered between slices of buttered bread or bread crumbs and spices.  To turn a crisp into a cobbler, mix up a rough, "cobbled up" biscuit-like topping and plop/drop it on top of the fruit.  For a grunt or a slump (which is very similar to a cobbler), cook the berries on the stovetop and listen to them make an unusual grunting sound while they cook, then watch them slump under the weight of the biscuit topping.  To bake a buckle, you need to stir fruit into a buttery-rich, coffeecake-type batter and top it with streusel, then, watch it buckle (sink) in the center as it cools due to the liquid in the fruit.  Memorize them:

There might be a quiz at the end of this post!*


Mel's Six Troubleshooting Tips for Making a Top-Notch Crisp:

I'd love to tell you it's impossible to screw up an apple crisp, but, **it happens.  To avoid "mushy, murky, watery, uncrisp and/or undercooked", allow me do a bit of trouble shooting for you.  

#1)  Use your favorite apples, ones you are certain are suited for baking -- for the best flavor, use a combination of tart and sweet apples.  I like Granny Smith in combination with McIntosh.  

#2)  Of course the apples must be cored, but, don't think of leaving them unpeeled -- peel the apples.  I think apple peels compromise consistency, texture, presentation and enjoyability.

#3)  A little bit of thickener in the filling goes a long way -- use some.  Remember, there is no bottom crust to sop up extra moisture.  I like to use tapioca, others use flour and/or cornstarch.

#4)  Use your favorite streusel topping, but, make sure to use enough of it -- this is the "crisp" part of making apple crisp.  I like the added crunch that oats and nuts add so I use them both.

#5)  Test for doneness  -- if a knife inserted in the center says the apples aren't cooked through, bake it longer.  I often cover the top loosely w/foil near the end to protect top from overbrowning.

#6)  Serve warm or at room temperature the day apple crisp is made -- if serving it with ice cream, place the ice cream to the side, so as it melts it does not soften the crispy topping.

IMG_5780Part One:  Preparing the Pecan-Streusel Topping

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d072fdde970cFor the pecan-streusel topping: "Streusel" (STROO-zuhl) is the German word for "something scattered or sprinkled".  In baking, it is a crumbly topping for pies, coffeecakes, muffins, and fruit crisps.  It's made from a mixture of flour, butter and sugar, and usually a few aromatic spices too, but, it is not uncommon for nuts and/or oats to be added for extra crunch.  This is my favorite blend, especially for tart fruit crisps and pies (like apple, cherry, peach or rhubarb).

IMG_43066  tablespoons cold, salted butter, cut into cubes or slices

1/2  cup sugar

1/2  cup all-purpose flour

1/2  cup old-fashioned, uncooked oats, not quick-cooking or instant

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1  cup coarsely-chopped pecans or walnuts (Note:  Do not use toasted nuts.  They will toast in the oven while the crisp bakes.)

IMG_4311 IMG_4321 IMG_4324~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, using a pastry blender and a sharp knife, "cut" the butter into the sugar, flour and cinnamon.

IMG_4332Stop "cutting" when it resembles coarse pea-sized crumbs.

Note:  If you want to add other spices, instead of just cinnamon, one of my favorite combinations is:

3/4  teaspoon cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon cloves

1/8  teaspoon nutmeg

~ Step 2.  Coarsely chop the nuts as directed.  They should be about the same size as the pieces of butter.

IMG_4344 IMG_4335~ Step 3. Add and gently fold the nuts into the delicate, softening butter mixture.  Keep it "light":  

IMG_4340You do not want to smash the butter.  Set aside, at room temperature, while preparing filling: 

Part Two:  Preparing the Apple Filling

IMG_5676For the apple filling:

1  stick salted butter

1  large vanilla bean, split open, seeds removed

2  tablespoons bourbon

1/2  teaspoon apple extract, lemon extract may be substituted

2  pounds peeled, cored and thinly sliced baking apples, your favorite combination of tart and sweet apples (Note:  I'm using 4 Granny Smith apples and 2 McIntosh apples.  I always start with 4 Granny Smith's.  After peeling, coring and slicing, if the weight of these six apples is less than 2 pounds, I make up the difference with an additional McIntosh apple.)

1/2  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

2  tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing baking dish or casserole

IMG_5684~ Step 1.  Using a paring knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise.   Open the two halves up, like you would a book, and, using a sharp paring knife, with one long firm motion, run the sharp flat edge of the knife down the center of the "open book" to scrape out all of the seeds.  Note:  I find it more manageable to cut each half in half to form four shorter lengths.

IMG_5701 IMG_5686~ Step 2. Place the stick of butter in a microwave safe container along with the bourbon, the apple extract and all of IMG_5693the vanilla seeds.  In microwave over low heat, melt the butter. IMG_5715Set aside to cool.  While butter mixture is cooling:

IMG_5704~ Step 3. Prep the apples as directed, placing them in a large bowl as you work.  Toss in the brown sugar and the tapioca.  Give the mixture a good stir and then add the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. IMG_5724Lastly, pour and stir in the cooled butter, bourbon, vanilla mixture.

~ Step 4.  Spray an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish or a 2-quart casserole with no-stick spray.  Transfer all of the apple mixture to the prepared dish, doing your best to make sure apples are all laying flat in layers. Spoon the streusel topping evenly over the tops of the apples.

IMG_5727~ Step 5.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 55-60 minutes, or, until topping is golden brown, crisp is bubbling, and, a knife inserted into the center indicates the apples are cooked through.  Loosely place a piece of aluminum foil over the top at any time after 45 minutes to keep the streusel from burning.  

~ Step 6.  Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool 45-60 minutes prior to serving warm, or longer, 2-3 hours, prior to serving at room temperature.  This crisp will remain remarkably crisp well into the next day if stored at room temperature, uncovered, overnight.  

IMG_5747Place a generous scoop into each bowl and serve...

IMG_5776... with (salted caramel vanilla) ice cream to the side of each!

IMG_5812Cozy Apple, Bourbon, Vanilla Bean & Pecan Crisp:  If served with ice cream to the side, recipe yields 12 very satisfying servings.

Special Equipment List:  pastry blender; paring knife; cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish or 2-quart oval casserole (au gratin); cooling rack

IMG_5964Cook's Note:  For one of my classic recipes, that also uses the same great flavors of pecans, bourbon, vanilla and brown sugar, you can find my recipe for ~ A Holiday Tradition:  My Bourbon Street Pecan Pie ~ in Categories 6, 11 or 18.  Don't forget the ice cream!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

*To learn how to make Word Clouds, like the one in this post, check out http://worditout.com


~ My Silky-Smooth Spiced Apple-Pear Puree Sorbet (+ the best tip EVER for perfect sorbet all the time)! ~

IMG_5609Did you know that high-quality, applesauce (homemade or store-bought) makes luxurious, creamy, dreamy sorbet in about 25-30 minutes?  Well, I didn't quite believe it either until I decided to give it a try last year.  I was having one of my smallest crowds ever for Thanksgiving, a group of six for a sit-down dinner.  I especially love small, intimate dinner parties because it gives me the opportunity to "fuss" ("pull out all the stops"), and this includes an intermezzo to freshen/cleanse the palate -- usually a small scoop of homemade sorbet or granita:

Served properly, in small chilled ramekins with chilled spoons!

IMG_5651As I was pondering what type of fruit sorbet I wanted to make, I looked the many containers of ~ Simply Silky & Smooth Spiced Apple-Pear Puree ~ in my freezer.  You can get my recipe by clicking on the Related Article link below.  Under normal circumstances,  I serve it as a side-dish at my annual Turkey Day buffet feast (for 20-24 people).  Thoughts of apple-pear puree sorbet IMG_5019began churning around in my head. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made.  After all, the best fruit sorbets, the ones that are really creamy and smooth, always contain, besides a goodly amount of sugar, pectin, which is found primarily in apples, apricots and citrus fruits.  This is why citrus juice if often added to most berry sorbets. Since my puree is full of apples and oranges, theoretically all it needed was a bit more sugar!

A bit about pectin:  Pectin is the fiber found in the walls and skin of fruits and plants.  It, in combination with sugar, is a natural thickener and food stabilizer, which is why it is commonly used in the making of  jams and jellies.  All plants contain some amount of pectin with apples (primarily Granny Smith and McIntosh varieties), apricots (and its cousin the peach a close second) and citrus (primarily grapefruit and oranges) containing the highest concentrations.

Making My Apple-Pear Puree Sorbet:

IMG_55221 1/2  cups ~ My Simply Silky & Smooth Spiced Apple-Pear Puree ~, chilled (high-quality, smooth, not chunky-style applesauce may be substituted)*

6 tablespoons orange juice, chilled

6  tablespoons sugar

* Note:  My puree is beautifully spiced with cinnamon and cloves.  If you are using applesauce, consider bringing up the flavor a bit by adding some cinnamon and a pinch of cloves.  Nutmeg and vanilla work nicely too.

IMG_5531 IMG_5538 IMG_5544~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup container, combine puree, juice and sugar.  Wait 5 minutes, to give sugar time to dissolve and stir again.

The best tip you're ever gonna get for making sorbet:

A bit about sorbet (sore-BAY):  Sorbet is the French word for "sherbet".  Italians call it "sorbetto". Sorbet differs from ice cream or gelato in that it contains no milk or dairy products.  Sherbet on the other hand, sometimes does contain milk, egg whites or gelatin.  Culinarily, sorbet is thinner than sherbet and not as granular as other ices or granita, but, nowadays, not too many people split hairs over the fine details.  Sorbet is either served in small amounts, 2-3 teaspoonfuls, as a palate cleanser/refresher (intermezzo) between courses at a meal, or in a larger quantity as a light dessert.  The beautiful, silky texture of sorbet is at its best when freshly made and still soft.  It should not be rock hard or full of ice crystals.  When I make it a few hours in advance, I keep it frozen in my machine (which has a chilling switch), until 15-20 minutes prior to serving, when I turn it off and let it soften to the right texture, at which time it must be served immediately.

IMG_5562About 17-18 years ago I invested in a rather expensive, Italian-made, Simac gelato machine, bought several cookbooks dedicated to frozen desserts and even took a class.  This is a very substantial piece of equipment with its own freezing mechanism.  Once I prepare my ingredients, it does everything short of scooping out the finished product for me.  I won't lie, I love this machine and it has a place of honor on my kitchen counter (right next to my freezer).  I can, however, state that it is all about the right recipe, not the machine, so whatever device you are using, just PLEASE follow the manufacturer's instructions and proceed! 

Sorbet is technically a simple mixture of pureed fruit, sugar and water. Chilling it, then churning it in an ice-cream maker is theoretically all you need to do to produce sorbet.  Not so fast.  You need to make sure you have the right ratio of sugar to water in the fruit puree to keep it from turning into ice crystals.  Without getting too scientific, sugar increases the density of liquid and water decreases the density.  So how in the wild world of culinary sports do you test for that?  

Place a raw, large egg on top of the puree mixture!

IMG_5556If the egg sinks:  you need to at a bit more sugar.

If the egg floats high above the surface:  you need to add a bit more water.

If the egg sinks somewhat, but, keeps itself from drowning (a 1" or so patch showing on the surface), you've got the perfect ratio of puree, sugar, and water.

~ Step 2.  Remove the egg, rinse it off and return it to the refrigerator.  Cover the sorbet "base mixture" with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to chill, 1-2 hours or overnight.

IMG_5563~ Step 3.  Pour the chilled base mixture into the workbowl of the pre-chilled ice-cream maker. Notice the white coating around the inside of my workbowl?  I switched the machine on to chill for 10 minutes. IMG_5578Place the cover on workbowl and turn the machine on to churn for 25-30 minutes.

Take the lid off.  Tell me this doesn't look like perfection:

IMG_5591Go ahead, help yourself.  Take a taste of perfection:

IMG_5601My Silky-Smooth Spiced Apple-Pear Puree Sorbet (+ the best tip EVER for perfect sorbet all the time:  Recipe yields 2 cups, or, 8, 1/4 cup-size servings, or, 16, 2 tablespoon-size servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; spoon; ice cream machine

IMG_4589Cook's Note:  If you are serving this sorbet as an intermezzo, you might want to consider serving everyone a slice of apple pie to end the meal. My first choice would be a ~ Dutch Apple, Sour Cream & Walnut-Streusel Pie ~.  It's the perfect complement & you can skip the ice cream.  You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 6, 17 or 19!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)


~ Hold the Pickles, Hold the Lettuce, Special Orders Don't Upset Us: Try a Fall Turkey Sandwich My Way~

IMG_5464The well-constructed sandwich.  For me it is the perfect food.  It is an art form.  On any given day I can make a sandwich and it will leave me happy, satisfied and not wanting for anything else. As much as I love soups and salads, more often than not, they leave me wishing I had ordered a sandwich to sink my pearly whites into, savoring each layer of flavor and texture to the point of childlike ecstasy.  A sandwich is a symbol of profound greatness and should be savored with gusto.   If there were a way for me to tally how many sandwiches I have eaten in my lifetime,  I am certain sandwiches would be at the very top of my "foods I eat all the time and love" list.

Have you hugged your family sandwich maker today?

IMG_5445Most chefs are great sandwich makers because they have great bread and great ingredients at their disposal all day long -- it's also often the only food they can quickly eat with their hectic schedule. People who are really good home cooks tend to make great sandwiches too -- delicatessen- restaurant-quality sandwiches.  

Depending upon the season, some sandwiches may be hot and some may be cold, some can be picked up and others require a knife and fork, but, on any given day chefs and cooks always have high-quality bread and an array of ingredients on-hand that allow them to almost effortlessly turn leftovers from weekday meals into gourmet fare.    

In my opinion, next to a saucier (a person who devotes his/her life to the art of sauce making), a creative sandwich maker is the most valuable member of the home or restaurant kitchen.

We are having a Hallmark card weekend here in Happy Valley.  When I was growing up, they called it "Indian Summer":  Summer's last gasp.  The sun is shining and the temperatures have become so warm we can sit out on our patio, enjoy the picturesque Fall scenery, and, eat a light lunch:  sandwiches -- made with some wonderful ingredients I have leftover from the week!

IMG_5516A sandwich is often an in-depth look at a cook's week in review!

IMG_4844To prove my point, on this glorius Fall afternoon,  I had a few slices of ~ English Muffin Bread: For the Divine Love of Toast ~ leftover. You can find the recipe in Categories 5, 9 or 20.  It's really easy to make and it has almost a sourdough texture to it, so it holds up in a sandwich really well. Toasting this bread is a must, so, be sure to do that just before assembling the sandwich.

IMG_5052October is National Apple Month and here in Central Pennsylvania apples are at their peak.  Besides posting a number of apple desserts this week, I made some ~ Simply Silky & Smooth Spiced Apple & Pear Puree (Taking grandmother's applesuce to another level.) ~.  It is a great alternative to mayonnaise or mustard on a turkey sandwich, especially one that has apple slices on it.  You can find the recipe in Categories 4, 18 or 20.

IMG_5376 IMG_5381 IMG_5384As for the rest of my ingredients, the cheddar cheese (3 slices cut into quarters so I could arrange them to fit properly), crisp bacon (3 slices), roasted turkey breast (roasted chicken breast is a fine substitute), McIntosh apples and red IMG_5392 IMG_5396 IMG_5404onions were  ingredients I had either leftover from my kitchen encounters this week or on-hand.  Aside from the toasted bread, everything on this sammie is at room temperature:

Because that is the way I like it.  Joe likes his wrapped in some foil and placed in a 350 degree oven for about 5-6 minutes, just enough to melt the cheese.  And, yes, if you happen to have a panini press  in your kitchen, these come out great made that way too -- gobble gobble!

There are classic sandwich combinations that I for wouldn't change the recipe for even if someone paid me to do it.  But, the ordinary, everyday sandwich does not have to follow anyones rules -- it should be made-to-order, to please the person who will be eating it.  It doesn't have to have anything on it except what they want on it, and, whatever the main or favorite ingredient is:  it should be piled high with it.  Eating a sandwich is a very private experience, so, even if you don't approve of mine:  stay out of it -- look the other way -- leave the room.

Great bread + great ingredients = a perfect sandwich... 

IMG_5419... and that's no bologna!

IMG_5491Hold the Pickles, Hold the Lettuce, Special Orders Don't Upset Us:  Try a Fall Turkey Sandwich My Way:  Recipe yields instructions to make one of my favorite turkey sandwich combinations.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; toaster

IMG_4589Cook's Note:  The majority of my apples went into my pie post, and "oh my pie", what a pie it is.  You can find my recipe for  ~ Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Walnut-Streusel Pie ~ in Categories 6, 18, & 19!

"We are all in this food world together."  ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)