HOMEMADE APPLESAUCE

Weekends are for projects.

You know, tackling the things you just haven’t felt up to tackling during the week, starting something you need several hours to finish, cooking something unhurriedly, collaborating, sorting, organizing, repairing.   Recent and upcoming projects in our household include: dealing with papers that have been piling up on desks, putting in our fall garden, sorting through baby clothes and weeding out the ones he’s already too big for, researching replacement options for the kitchen tile we despise, making the final edits on a book manuscript (!), and taking really long, decadent naps while the baby naps (sometimes the most exciting project of all, not going to lie.)

Applesauce can be a project, too.  It’s dead simple once you’ve got all of your ingredients prepped, and even the work of peeling & chopping several pounds of apples can become meditative and kind of comforting in its repetitive rhythm.  Also, homemade applesauce is one of the more delicious weekend projects you can undertake; nothing better than a project that’s edible AND makes the house smell good.

What project(s) do you have on deck this weekend?

HOMEMADE APPLESAUCE RECIPE

My favorite way to eat this applesauce is warmed up, in a bowl, with a big dollop of cold, plain yogurt on top.  Sounds weird, but it’s delicious.  Try it!

Besides eating it, you can also use this applesauce for baking, subbing it in for cooking oil in quick breads and muffins.

ingredients:

approximately 4 lb. apples (I used a combination of Jonagold, McIntosh, & Granny Smith)
2 cinnamon sticks
4 whole cloves
1 star anise pod
¼ cup brown sugar
5 strips lemon peel
juice of one lemon

Peel, core, & chop the apples.  Combine with the remaining ingredients in large Dutch oven or similar pot.  Cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until the apples begin to break down and turn soft.  For me, this took about 45 minutes.

Remove the cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, & lemon peel; taste the applesauce.  Add more lemon juice if it seems flat, more sugar if you’d like it sweeter.  As for texture, I prefer my applesauce a bit chunky, so just stirring mine worked, but you may want to press yours through a sieve or put it through a food mill once it cools.

Keeps in a jar in the refrigerator for a few weeks.

SPICED NUTS

I’m learning.

I’m learning that being a perfectionist does not serve me well as a mother.  My child is a human being, not a machine, and I do him and myself a disservice when I forget that.  As it turns out, I am not a machine, either, and if I go along long enough pretending that I’m one, I might get the wind knocked out of me one Tuesday morning.

I’m learning that I can’t do everything, and it is exhausting to try.  Turns out I don’t actually want to have it all; I want to have a few things, fully.  I’m learning not to be so hard on myself, because I’m doing this mother job for the first time, and it’s okay that I haven’t figured out exactly how it works yet.

I’m learning that anxiety is not rational and that emotions can hit you like a truck.  And sometimes you just have to say “I am having a hard time today,” and let that be what it is.  Then maybe call the counselor you saw a while back and make an appointment, because taking care of yourself means giving up the silly notion that you shouldn’t need any help.

I’m learning, newly, how blessed I am to have an incredibly patient partner, a wonderful mother (who just bought a house that’s less than two miles from ours!), and rock-solid friends who stand at the ready with wisdom and love on the days I don’t quite measure up.

I’m learning just how much gratitude I can feel when the next day is better than the last.  I’m learning that there’s some merit to being completely disoriented, because it means I can’t get up to my usual tricks.  And I’m learning that there is nothing quite so good as coming home to this sweet face.

SPICED NUTS RECIPE

from Bon Appetit 

We’re getting close to that parade-of-holidays time of year, where visitors come and go and there are lots of festive occasions that warrant snacks.  Here’s one that will work nicely from Halloween through New Year’s, I think.

The original recipe calls for a full pound of pistachios, but since they can be kind of expensive to buy already shelled, I opted to go half-and-half with cashews.  I also think this treatment would work well with almonds!  The egg whites allow you to get a very crunchy finish on the nuts, as well as distribute the spice mix evenly.

Jill & I have found that the flavor of these nuts goes quite well with the round, deep, malty, pumpkin-y beers of fall; perfect for Sunday football watching, in fact.  They’ve kept extremely well in a sealed Mason jar for over two weeks.

ingredients:

1 lb. unsalted mixed nuts (I used a combination of shelled pistachios & cashews)

5 egg whites*

½ cup sugar

½ tsp. dried thyme

½ tsp. ground allspice

½ tsp. ground ginger

¼ tsp. cayenne

4 dashes Angostura bitters

salt

vegetable oil

 

oven: 350°

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg whites, sugar, spices, & bitters.  Fold in the nuts and stir to coat.

Brush a rimmed baking sheet with a thin layer of vegetable oil, then spread out the nuts on top; sprinkle with salt.  Bake, stirring to break up clumps every 10 minutes or so, until golden brown and beginning to crisp, about 30-35 minutes.

Cool the baking sheet on a wire rack before eating/transferring to an airtight container.  (The nuts will crisp up further as they cool.)

*If you’re wondering what to do with the resultant 5 egg yolks, you can use 4 of them to make these alfajores or 2 of them to make this almond pudding.   I also like adding yolks to a batch of scrambled eggs to make them extra rich!

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CHAI PISTACHIO CAKE

There’s nothing quite so great as watching a friend coming into his or her own.

For the first two years of Blue Jean Gourmet’s existence, Sonya Cuellar was this site’s exclusive photographer; I never could have gotten this blog off the ground without her.

Sonya is also an extremely talented painter.  Self-taught, her work betrays an innate talent for manipulating color and texture.  Jill and I are proud to hang several Cuellar originals in our home, and even prouder to call Sonya a friend.

Over the last year, Sonya’s artistic career has really taken off.  She started taking classes at Houston’s Glassell School of Art to hone her technique, and the resulting paintings have demonstrated an increased level of sophistication.  In January, she was selected for the John Palmer Escapist Mentorship Program, which has pushed and challenged and stretched her to take on new projects and promote herself and her work in new ways.  She’s taken to the whole thing like a duck to water, and I am so proud.

Recently, on our way home from an otherwise lovely trip to Memphis, Jill’s camera was stolen.  Thankfully, Sonya was willing to step in and become blog photographer again for the short term, until we can replace Jill’s camera.  Today’s cake image and others you’ll see in coming weeks were taken by Sonya.

To celebrate Sonya’s blossoming career and expose more folks to her beautiful work, we concocted a little giveaway!  To win a custom-painted messenger bag OR iPad cover like the ones pictured here, just follow these steps:

1. Head on over to Sonya’s website and take a look at her Paintings gallery.

2. While you’re there, like Sonya’s artist page on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

3. Post a comment here with the title of your favorite of Sonya’s pieces!

 

 The giveaway will be open until Friday, October 12th at NOON CST.  At that time, I’ll randomly select a comment number and inform the winner via email.  Due to shipping costs, this giveaway is open to residents of the United States and Canada only.

Many thanks to Sonya for letting me give away one of her awesome pieces–I have the bag pictured above and I love mine!  Go enter everyone!

 ***UPDATE***  We have a winner!  Congratulations to Sunny, with randomly selected comment #10.  I will contact you via email to get your mailing address!

 

PISTACHIO CHAI CAKE

Inspired by this article about baking with tea, and riffing off of this recipe, I give you this not-too-sweet and very moist cake.  I think it would work very well at brunch and, of course, it goes extremely well with a cup of tea!

I probably didn’t push the chai flavor as far as it could go—it wound up being more of a backdrop for the pistachios, which was fine by me.  If you want a more aggressively tea-flavored cake, go ahead and bump up the amounts for the spices.

 

ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup almond meal

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

pinch of salt

1 ¼ cup buttermilk

4 T browned butter

1 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs at room temperature

4 T good-quality loose-leaf black tea (or cheat and cut open some tea bags)

1 tsp. ginger

1 tsp. ground cardamom

½ tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. black pepper

for the glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

approximately 2 T milk

½ tsp. vanilla

pinch ground cardamom—optional

 

for the topping:

½ cup raw unsalted pistachios, shelled & chopped

 

pan: I used an 8” spring form pan lined with a piece of buttered parchment, but an 8” square would work as well

oven: 375°

Combine the dry ingredients: flour, almond meal, sugar, baking powder, soda, & salt.  Whisk in the tea and spices.

Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and pour in the browned butter, eggs, vanilla, & buttermilk.  Stir the mixture until just combined.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake has browned on top and cooked through (test with a toothpick).  Cool on a wire rack.

To assemble the glaze, whisk all ingredients together.  You may wish to adjust the consistency with more milk or powdered sugar, then drizzle over the top of the cooled cake.  Sprinkle the pistachios on top of the glaze and serve!

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