A Is For Apple

We didn’t make it to an apple orchard this year. Oh, there were definitely invitations, and I do love fresh cider doughnuts. But the timing was never right, and I try and avoid apples because they do hurt my tummy.

This is not to say we didn’t have apples all season long. Just the opposite: A half dozen in the week’s CSA box, plus some generous houseguests bearing bags from their favorite orchard, meant that we definitely had plenty of fresh, local apples. So many in fact, that I became quite a fan of this recipe.

I’ve been on the fence about sharing the recipe. Not that I don’t love it, but it just takes a bit of time. Coring and slicing five apples very thinly takes a while, the eggs and orange juice have to be at room temperature, and the cake takes about an hour and a half to bake. So you really do need a little time set aside to make the cake, but it’s totally worth it. And even though it is practically December, there are still plenty of apples to go around.

I found this recipe in Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook, and I always get a laugh when I say the name of it: “Jewish” Apple Cake. When Joan Nathan labels something “Jewish,” you know it’s authentic. It’s probably because it’s parve; it uses oil, rather than butter or lard in the batter. Joan Nathan goes on to say that she found the recipe in two local Maryland cookbooks, and that the crumbly exterior and moist texture reminded her husband of all the Polish-Jewish cakes his mother and aunts made during his childhood.

For me, whenever I take a bite of this cake, I am transported to the end of a Friday night dinner or a nice kiddush at shul. Really. This is the cake that’s served at your aunt’s on Rosh Hashana, or the cake that your grandmother used to make. If your aunt/grandmother was Jewish, of course.

If you’re not familiar with Joan Nathan, I highly recommend checking out one of her guest posts in The New York Times. She’s their go-to Jewish cookbook author, a title that she definitely earned and deserves. She is not the only good name in Jewish cookbooks, but is definitely the most famous. And with good reason.

“Jewish” Apple Cake

5 large apples (Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Gala or Jonathan) unpeeled

Juice of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups sugar

4 eggs, at room temperature

1 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup orange juice, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups unsifted flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch tube pan (ie, a bundt pan) and dust with flour.

2. Core and cut the apples into thin slices. Place in a large bowl, toss with the lemon juice, and sprinkle with the cinnamon and 5 tablespoons of the sugar.

I'll be honest. It does take a bit of time to prep all these apples.

3. Beat the eggs and gradually add the remaining sugar, oil, orange juice, and vanilla.

4. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the wet mixture and mix thoroughly with a spoon.

5. Pour one third of the batter into the pan. Layer with one third of the apples. Repeat for 2 more layers, ending with apples on top.

6. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until golden on top. Let sit a few minutes and then run a knife gently around the sides of the mold. Cover with a plate and invert to remove from the pan.

Apple-y goodness, fresh from the oven.

To remove from the pan, place a plate on top and flip...

Viola! We've done this with a bourbon vanilla glaze on top, but it's delicious on its own.

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Dinner for Two Becomes Dinner for Five

Shabbos dinner somehow grew from just me and Rich to three guests at our table Friday night. In my fridge I had three beets, a head of cabbage, five mushrooms, and a block of feta. We feasted.

I was very silly and didn’t take photos of our food before we supped, so what I have here are leftovers — hooray for leftovers! I have no shots of the cabbage and mushrooms, which turned out to be the hit of the night. I didn’t do anything special to them — just sauteed up an onion for  a good long time until it began to caramelize, tossed in some garlic, then the mushrooms, then the cabbage.  Right before I took it off the flame I added two sage leaves. All I did was cook the cabbage down until it was too exhausted to put up a fight anymore. Limp, molted green and muddy brown, it probably wouldn’t have made very pretty picture, but it tasted great.

The beets took 25 minutes in the pressure cooker.A very simple dish: I cubed the beets, and half a block of feta, then drizzled balsamic vinegar and sprinkled fresh mint (from my container plants outside) on top.

I used the other half of feta for the quinoa, chickpea, and farmers’ market tomato salad. I cooked the chickpeas in the pressure cooker for 11 minutes with some bay leaves, a teaspoon or so of whole black peppercorns and two cloves of garlic, unpeeled. While that was going on, I cooked the quinoa in my rice cooker — no muss, no fuss. Quinoa is a great pantry staple: protein, carbs, fat, calcium, you can get a pound of it for less than $4 in bulk at Harvest Co-op.

As for feta, here’s a tip: If you go the Market Basket in Somerville — which, by the way, has FANTASTIC produce at the some of the best prices in town — head over to the deli counter. On the right hand side up against the wall is a counter fridge. Inside you’ll likely find huge blocks of really decent feta for about $4.

To dress the quinoa salad, I combined:

6 TBS olive oil

3 TBS red wine vinegar (I like my lips to pucker, so I always go 2 to1 with my dressings, while I think most recipes will say 3 to 1)

1 clove of garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon mustard (I’m actually pretty anti-mustard, but it can’t be beat for emulsifying salad dressings)

a pinch of salt

a few grinds of fresh black pepper

2 teaspoons agave nectar (you can do honey, too, but I like the sweetness of agave, and it’s good to have on hand for vegan salad dressings)

2 TBS chopped fresh mint

I put all these together in a glass jar, and shook. That’s all. This is basically the blue print for all my dressings.

Make sure to let the quinoa cool down before you dress it. Otherwise it will soak up everything and you’ll be wondering where all your flavor went. I speak from experience!

Quinoa salad on one of my new plates... thanks Freecycle!

Tomato, tomahto

Normally, I’m skeptical of farmers’ markets. True, they are local and sustainable and organic, but they can also be extremely expensive. Last summer I spent $40 on a bag of gorgeous produce only to use it all in one meal. But this is Massachusetts Farmers’ Market Week, so I decided to take a lunchtime bike ride to BU’s on-campus farmers’ market, in hopes of procuring peaches for some ice cream action this weekend.

I had the most lovely visit with the folks from Wards Berry Farm in Sharon. And I scored. Big time. For $6, I biked away with gorgeous tomatoes, peaches and garlic:

All this for $6!

The kind gentleman running the stand noticed my means of transport and noted that the farm is only three miles from the commuter train. A weekend visit to the farm may be in the future…

I’ll get at least two meals out of these tomatoes:

I wanted to gobble these at my computer this afternoon. Hooray willpower!

Like I’ve said, stock a good pantry, and you’re good to go. Tonight I made an easy pasta with the fresh tomatoes and garlic, then tossed in some artichoke hearts and olives.

This reminds me of that Skittles commercial. A rainbow of flavor!

(The husband, who normally hates tomatoes of the grape or cherry varieties, snarfed up dinner so fast that I didn’t get a chance to photograph it.)

I also set some chickpeas up to soak overnight for a quinoa, chickpea and tomato salad for Shabbos dinner tomorrow night.

Chickpeas in a pressure cooker: 11 minutes to perfection.

Friday is my neighborhood farmers’ market. I’m definitely biking by on my way home to see if I can get some fresh basil for my basil-peach ice cream. My plant’s on its last leaves at this point in the summer.

Make me into ice cream, stat!

Come back this weekend for the recap on deliciousness.