Saturday, September 14, 2013

Baking with Apples

September is here and apple picking is in full swing! In my area, there are many orchards (and therefore many varieties of apples) to choose from, so I thought I would do a post about baking with apples.

There are a few basic things to remember when using apples for baking:

1) The best apples for eating raw are often NOT the best for baking: Macintosh turns to mush, Gala and Fuji become bland. And just forget about Red Delicious, they are absolutely horrid in baking. Golden Delicious can be good, but you have to be careful to get really firm ones.

2) Use different apples together:  Combining two or three different apple varieties gives you a more interesting, complex flavor, especially in pies. Using only one kind of apple can make your pie have a "one note" flavor, and using a couple of different kinds lets you get the best of each apple - one might have a great flavor but lacks the firmness to stand up to baking, while another firm apple may not be as flavorful. Mix them together and it works perfectly.

3) Keep in mind the use: You may perfer a different type of apple for pies than what you would use for apple muffins or apple cake. In muffins, cakes and breads, I usually use just one type of apple, a firm-sweet or a firm-tart variety (like Cortland or Granny Smith). For sauce I tend to use whatever I have on hand, though I prefer Macintosh. For apple crisp, I use whatever I have on hand, since it doesn't need to hold its shape the way a pie does. For apple pies, I always like to use 2-3 types together.

4) There are endless varieties of apples, and selection will vary by region. While there are a handful of apples we all see in the grocery store (Granny Smith, Delicious, Macintosh, Gala, Fuji) there are numerous lesser known varietals which each region is known for. Because of this, it is hard to recommend apples that everyone will be able to find. There is an excellent book devoted to the subject of cooking with apples. The Apple Lover's Cookbook by Amy Traverso. This fantastic book goes into many of the rare and strictly regional varieties and how they are best used.

The orchard I go to every year, Breezeland's Orchards, has a very good Pick Your Own Apple Chart to help you determine which apples are good for what. They are located in Western Massachusetts, so some of the apple varieties listed are ones you might only find in New England. But there are many common varieties listed, so take a look.

5) It really comes down to your personal taste. Some of the apple types I like to use are listed as "good" but not "excellent" for baking, but I prefer them. Some people love the tartness of a pie made with all Granny Smith apples, while some people bake with Galas and think that's just fine. The best way to discover which apples you will like in desserts is to get baking! Yes, it is time-consuming to try out different apples, but it is a delicious experiment. Here are my local favorites, which are by no means the only good ones for baking, it is just my personal list:

Cortland - Firm, on the tart side but sweeter than Granny Smith
Jonathan - Medium firm, sweet
Jonagold - Medium firm, sweet
Ginger Gold - Medium firm, sweet with a hint of spice
Granny Smith - Very firm and very tart, assertive flavor, good for very tart desserts
Honey Crisp - Medium firm, sweet

6) Apples vary from year to year, and even orchard to orchard. Fresh is best, so get them from an orchard or farmer's market rather than the grocery store if you can. Not only will the apples be fresher there, it will give you more selection to experiment with. An apple fresh from the orchard will taste very different from the same variety of apple in the grocery store! I was surprised to realize how different they can taste. For example, the Cortlands I get in a store are usually sweeter, blander and not as juicy as the ones that are fresh picked from an orchard.

In the recipe section, I have recipes for pies, cakes and muffins using apples - take a look!


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

10 Food Trends we LOVE to HATE

Huffington Post's food page recently posed the question, "What is the food trend you wish would just go away???" I was thrilled to see this question asked because, although I am a food blogger, I really hate food trends. I've never been a trend follower (if you know me, you know that I have absolutely no fashion sense). I'm more of a "classic-is-best" kind of gal, and that is my outlook on cooking as well.

So I did my own unofficial poll of friends and blog readers: What food trends do YOU wish would go away? Here are the top ten responses I got. Keep in mind that I really like most of these foods. I just get annoyed when one thing is saturating menus from upscale down to Mickey D's. Admittedly, food bloggers like myself bear some of the responsibility here, for coming up with ever-more-unique (okay, "weird") ways of presenting said ingredient. So here goes:

1) Kale - Kale is great and super-healthy, but we really should draw the line somewhere here. Kale does not belong in every single dish you make. And just how many different ways can you make Kale chips?

2) Quinoa - Yeah, you know who you are. Putting Quinoa in cookies is just wrong. Enough said.

3) Pumpkin Everything - I should tell you that I adore pumpkin, and I can even go for it in some less-than-mainstream ways. But this is another place where a line must be drawn. Pumpkin is going in places it should never go and we must stop it before it takes over like Godzilla. Do we really need pumpkin M&Ms?!

4) Cupcake Shops - I have a whole post dedicated to this subject. I love cupcakes, but the trend of cupcake-only shops has really run its course. For some reason it is refusing to die a respectful death.

5)  Bacon, Bacon, Bacon - Even bacon lovers are getting tired of seeing candied bacon, chocolate-covered bacon, and bacon ice cream. The shock value has worn off, and the coolness factor will soon wear off as well.

6) Poke Cakes - This is another one of those trends that returns from time to time because it is easy and gives an interesting effect. I want to know who was the first baker who decided to poke holes in a perfectly good cake and pour Jello in there? We need to hold that person accountable.

7) Gluten-free - Before you get out the pitch forks, let me say that there ARE people who truly need to eat a gluten-free diet. Those people should be able to find options that fit their diet, I'm not making light of it. But let's also admit that there is a certain percentage of the gluten-free craze that is merely a fad. If I had celiac disease and truly needed to eat gluten-free, I would be annoyed with all these people co-opting my condition and making it just another food trend.

8) Vegan - Again, there are people who want or need to be vegan and have good reasons for it. Some of those people are among my friends and family. But this is another one that people like to "try on" because it is the in thing. True vegans probably have to roll their eyes many times a day at all the wanna-bes that surround them.

9) Flourless cakes and "molten" cakes. I'm probably the only person in the world that just doesn't go for these. I'm okay with that.

10) "Deconstructed" - I don't have a problem with the food, but I hate this term. If you are taking apart a classic recipe and presenting it in a new and bold way, why not come up with a new and bold name for it?