Smoked Paprika Roasted Squash

2 platters 1We’re all familiar with the concept that small changes can add up to big differences. The internet abounds with lists that I seem powerless to resist clicking on. You know the ones I mean; 7 Small Changes That Will Make a Big Difference in Your Life, 10 Small Changes Which Make a Big Difference11 Small Lifestyle Changes That Can Make A Big Difference In Your Health & Happiness.

Last week I made a small change of my own, which, by the way, I have yet to see on any of these lists. We eat butternut squash at least once a week in our house. I always prepare it the same way. I cut it into sticks like french fries, drizzle on olive oil, salt, pepper and smoked paprika and  roast it at 400°F for 45 minutes.

As I peeled the squash a crazy thought flitted through my brain. What if I changed the way I usually cut the squash?  Wild, I know! I went rogue and cut thin circles.slicing squashThose lists always advise you to take it slow and not to make too many changes at once, so I kept it consistent and mixed the squash with my usual combo of olive oil, salt, pepper and smoked paprika. Smoked paprika, if you’ve never used it, is fantastic. I won’t go so far as to say it’s life changing, but it is pretty damn amazing. It makes everything taste better. I put that shit on everything.salt pepper and paprikamixing bowl and baking sheet2 baking sheetsI was actually surprised at how different the squash turned out from when I cut it into fries. The slices baked up more tender on the inside and crisper on the exterior. My squash fries never got golden brown like this. They were either limp and pale after 45 minutes or if I left them in longer, they burned. These circles were consistently golden brown with an outstanding texture.dipping in chipotle mayoI’m not a scientist, but I think the reason for this difference is that the amount of surface area that was exposed to the heat of the oven was greater when the squash was cut into circles, vs. the fry shape, so the squash had better chance to release all its moisture before crisping up.

If you’re serving this to company, scatter a few pomegranate seeds on top and whip up a dip. Mix one small chipotle chile in adobo sauce (seeded and chopped fine) into 1/2 a cup of regular or light mayo. (Don’t use fat free).

Here’s a tip for what to do with the remainder of the chiles in the can. Take a few minutes to seed them all. Puree the seeded chiles in the food processor and then spread the paste out on a parchment lined baking sheet. Put it in the freezer until firm and then break it up into large pieces and store in a ziploc bag in the freezer. It will keep for months. Just break a small piece off whenever you need it. It defrosts very quickly. it’s great on chicken, fish and in rice.platter on white table

Click here to print recipe for Smoked Paprika Roasted Squash.

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Best Apples for Baking

headerOn the weekend we went apple picking. To clarify, we didn’t actually pick the apples off the trees, but we did pick them off the shelf at Farm Boy, so that sort of counts as apple picking, doesn’t it?

I have been wanting to write a post about the best type of apples to use in baking for some time now. With so many varieties of apples to choose from, it can be a little overwhelming to know which kind to use for which recipe. Although I don’t find choosing apples nearly as confusing as buying a pair of pantyhose. The breadth of choice there is mind boggling.

The perfect apple for pie, crisp or crumble (or any of those other baked apple desserts, such as grunts, slumps and pan dowdies) must be capable of holding its shape after cooking but still melt in your mouth. Equally important is that elusive perfect balance of tart and sweet.

We bought 7 varieties of apples.apple varieties 5
I took a scientific approach to testing, just like they do over at Cook’s Illustrated, which, by the way, just might be my dream job. I got out my scale and measuring spoons and peeled, cored and cut into wedges, exactly 9.5 ounces of each apple variety. I didn’t want to overwhelm the apples with too many flavours so I kept it basic. Each variety was mixed with 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon and a tiny pinch of salt. Initially I planned to bake the apples naked.sugar lemon and cinnamon3 varieties4 varietiesWhen I explained my methodology to my husband he said, “You mean you’re just going to bake plain apples, with nothing covering them??” I explained that I didn’t want to have too many other flavours muddying up my experiment. I took one look at his crestfallen face and abandoned my “pure” approach and agreed to cover the apples with crisp topping. It doesn’t take much to make that man happy.crisp toppingInto the oven they went, dressed with their almond-oat crisp topping. baked 1baked 2Here are the findings of our very scientific testing!

Highly Recommended :

Honeycrisp: Undeniably, these are my favourite apple for eating out of hand. They are shatteringly crisp, juicy and slightly sweet.

When we baked them they held their shape, but just barely. They literally melted in the mouth. The apple flavour was complex. My husband declared the crisp baked with honeycrisp apples to be his favourite. I liked it but found the flavour to be a bit too sweet.

Russet Apples: I just learned that these are not actually a single variety of apple. “Russetting” naturally happens to some varieties of apples. The skin becomes discoloured and somewhat leathery. As an eating apple, I find the skin to be tough, but the flesh, while not as juicy as honeycrisp, can best be described as powerfully “apple-y”. Russetts are an under appreciated apple. 

When baked, the russet apples were not as meltingly tender as the honeycrisp, but I really enjoyed their more gently yielding texture. The flavour of the russet was the most complex and balanced of all the apples I tasted. Slightly sweet but with a bit of tartness. Russets were my number one pick.

Recommended:

Granny Smith: Eaten out of hand, Granny Smiths are crunchy and quite tart, with a bright tangy apple flavour.

Once baked, they held their shape but the texture was quite soft. The flavour of these was more tart, not as “apple-y” as our 2 winners, but still, I wouldn’t object if someone served me a pie made with Granny Smiths.

Don’t Bother:

Pink Lady: Secretly I was hoping this varietal would be the winner. I mean, Pink Lady is an awesome name for an apple. As the name suggest, these have a lovely pink blush which turns into a deeper red with sun exposure. They are delicious to eat out of hand. They have great crunch and start off tasting slightly tart but end with a sweet finish. These apples have a surprisingly concentrated burst of flavour. 

My Pink Lady crush was over once we baked these. They were the firmest of the bunch, almost to the point of chewy. The apples barely gave off any juice, making for a dry apple crisp, never a good thing. The flavour was more sweet than tart and seemed to have lost it’s apple-y nuances once baked.

Empire: This varietal is a cross between McIntosh and Red Delicious apples. Eaten out of hand, this varietal shows off the best of both its parents- crunch from the Red Delicious and tartness from the Macintosh.

Once baked, the Empire apple failed miserably. They became quite mushy, almost to the point of apple sauce. The heat of the oven caused the sugar level to soar and any signs of tartness were gone.

Lobo: Lobos are an Eastern Ontario apples. I had never heard of them until I net my husband and moved to Ottawa. These are the apples of his childhood. An offspring of Macintosh, early Lobos are crisp and tart, but they sweeten considerably as they are stored.

When my husband tasted the baked crisp, he immediately identified it as the one made with Lobo apples. The texture was quite soft, almost mushy. The flavour was pleasant but far too sweet.

Gala: A New Zealand creation, Gala apples are known for their mild sweet flavor and crunch. They are thin skinned and the flesh has a grainy texture.

Once baked, gala apples go quite mushy. They lose their distinct apple taste and the grainy texture is quite unpleasant.tasting 1Tasting all these crisps was hard work, but we were happy to do it for you. The dynamic combo of Russett and Honeycrisp apples are about to become my go to pair for all baked apple desserts.

Click here for my favourite Apple Crisp recipe.

lobo baked

 

 

Farmer’s Market Chopped Salad with Farro

2 bowls with cheeseI have made this salad 5 times in the past month. Each time I’ve made it, it’s been slightly different. That’s the beauty of this salad. Although I am providing you with a recipe, think of it more as a guideline and go whatever vegetables look freshest at the market that day. Late September is a perfect time to make this salad. So much fresh local produce is still available.

Chop everything up very small. That way when you take a spoonful you’ll get a bite of everything. This is my favourite way to eat a salad. I kept most of the vegetables raw. The only thing I cooked was the yellow and green beans as I really dislike their taste and texture raw.

Use both the florets and the stems of broccoli. Chopped small, they are perfect for this salad.

 

Sugar snap peas add sweetness to the salad. Slice them thinly on the diagonal.sugar snaps sliced on the diagonalBrussels sprouts add a pleasant bitterness. Cut them in half and then thinly julienne them.shredding sproutsRadishes add crunch and a spicy bite.rasishesYellow and green beans get cut into bite sized pieces after briefly cooking.slicing beansThe last of summer’s corn adds sunny sweetness. Green onions add a sharp note.

To add some bulk to the salad, choose your grain of choice. I love the chewy texture of farro. It provides perfect textural contrast to all the crunch from the vegetables. Add some protein to make the salad a meal. Chicken or chickpeas or some cheese are all good options. I used ricotta salata. You’re in charge here. Make it your own.

The dressing comes together in the blender in seconds. Use about a half a cup of tender mixed herbs. I used a combo of mint, parsley, basil and dill. Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, a few tablespoons of pistachios and olive oil are added and given a blitz. one bowl with extra dressingMore pistachios for extra crunch are added after the salad is tossed.one bowl

Click here to print recipe for Farmer’s Market Chopped Salad with Farro.

3 bowls

 

Bee Hive Challah

drizzle 1Tonight is the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Last week I created an apple beehive. It was adorable and very delicious. At around 4 am this morning, a vision of a challah beehive popped into my head. If I could build a beehive made out of apples, why not challah dough? apples and honey and challahI made my regular challah dough and pressed some raisins into it. It’s not a holiday challah without raisins. All you raisin haters can leave them out. poke in the raisins The dough needs to rise to double in size. it will take about 90 minutes. before proofingafter proofing

I decided to make mini beehives so I divided my dough into 3 and then made 6 ropes, each slightly shorter than the one before it, from each piece of dough. ropesThey looked quite pretty before baking, although they were leaning slightly. I let them rise for about an hour and then I gave them a gentle brushing with egg. I decided to leave them plain, without any topping so you could see the definition of the beehive.before bakingI’m not quite sure what happened in the oven, perhaps a hurricane blew through here, but they weren’t quite so beehive shaped after baking. bee hive 2One of them was a bit straighter, but not quite a perfect beehive. Perhaps we shouldn’t mess with Mother Nature.bee hive 1With a drizzle of honey, they were delicious. Wishing you all a Shana Tova. Sweet, Healthy and Happy New Year!challah 1 with honey

 

 

 

 

Apple Beehive

buzzing with anticipation 4I’m not sure what Elisabeth Prueitt had in mind when she created the Apple Beehive, but my mind immediately went to Rosh Hashanah. For the Jewish New Year, it is customary to dip apples in honey to symbolize our wishes for a sweet year for family, friends and all the Jewish people. There are quite a few sweet options available for us to choose from. Why specifically apples and honey?look at those layers

In researching this question, the interpretation I discovered on the website torah.org, resonated quite strongly with me. Their insight regarding the apple part of the equation, is explained this way:
“On most fruit trees the leaves appear before the fruit, thus providing a protective cover for the young fruit. The apple, however, makes a preemptive move by appearing before the leaves. The Jewish people are compared to an apple because we are willing to live out our Jewish lives even if this seems to leave us unprotected. “

The choice of honey was brilliantly explained with this insight:
“A bee can inflict pain by its sting, yet it also produces delicious honey. Life has this same duality of potential. We pray that our choices will result in a sweet year.”

This dessert is gorgeous in its purity. Gossamer thin slices of apples are shingled with butter, cinnamon and sugar. That’s it. Nothing else. When baked, the apple slices fuse together into a sweet-tart conglomeration that belie its simplicity. This is one of those cases where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The flavours are surprisingly complex for so few ingredients.

A mandoline makes slicing the apples easy. If you have stellar knife skills, you can just use a sharp knife. Granny Smith apples are the perfect choice for this as they are tart and hold their shape when baked.slicing applesBrushing with melted butterIt really looks like a beehive before it goes into the oven.before bakingDuring baking, the apples shrink and caramelize, losing the lofty height it once had. It doesn’t quite resemble a beehive as much after baking, but this is so delicious, no one will complain. Just remember to take a before picture to show everyone!after bakingOnce the beehive comes out of the oven, brush it with some melted apricot jam to give it a glossy coat. glossy from apricot jamDelicious warm or at room temperature, it can be served plain.a naked sliceOr gild the lily and add some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.with some whipped creamOr do as I did and drizzle it with salted caramel sauce.everything's better with salted caramelWishing you all a happy, healthy and very sweet new year.

Click here to print recipe for Apple Beehive.