Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Autumn Favorites

Howie's parents came to visit over the weekend, and we had the best time taking them apple picking out in the country!  We went to Burnham Orchards, an apple farm in Berlin Heights, OH, a little southwest of Vermilion.  You pay $16.00 for 1/2 bushel, and literally can squeeze 50 apples inside of it!  Obviously I've been eating them for snacks, but I LOVE trying to cook with fresh produce.  I made the epitome of a fall meal: butternut squash soup, garlic rosemary focaccia bread and apple crisp.  Surprisingly, both the apple crisp AND the butternut squash soup use apples!  But the thing I like most?  How easy it is to make them!

Before we get started with the cooking, here are a few pictures from our fun filled afternoon!

Butternut Squash Soup

This might just be my all-time favorite soup recipe.  The 2 biggest reasons I love this soup so much? A. how quickly it can be and prepared and B. and how versatile it is.  I swear I eat it on the coldest of winter days, but also love it with a brat in the summertime.  The hardest part about making it is honestly cutting the squash.  I always dread it.  Luckily, I was talking to my grandma on the phone before I started cooking, and she happened to be making roasted butternut squash for dinner that night.  She gave me the BEST TIP EVER.  Make tiny slits on the surface of the squash after you wash it off, put it on a plate, and pop it in the microwave on 50% power for a couple of minutes.  The surface softens, but the inside is still uncooked.  It made the biggest difference!

Still looked like I had a fight with a jack-o-lantern after I was finished, though! 

In a large pot, I melted 2 tbsp. of butter over medium heat.  I added a chopped white onion, and let it cook until it became nearly translucent, about 3-4 minutes.  I then added the chopped and peeled butternut squash and golden delicious apple (picked fresh the day before!).  Make sure that you do all the peeling and chopping before you put the onions in, even with the microwave trick, cutting butternut squash can be tough!  

I sprinkled the onions, squash and apple generously with black pepper, and let them cook together for about 4 minutes.  Once their flavors got a chance to blend, I added the chicken stock, honey, dried thyme and the bay leaf.  Don't panic that the squash and apple are still rock hard, they're supposed to be!  Once the broth and herbs were added, I cranked the heat up to high and brought the mixture to a boil, and then turned the heat back down to medium, letting it simmer for 15 minutes, until the squash and apples were very tender.  Let the mixture cool for about 20 minutes.  

The reason you need the ingredients extra tender and slightly cooled is because you have to puree the onions, squash and apple in a food processor or blender.  Don't forget to remove the bay leaf first!  I prefer to use a slotted spoon to transfer the ingredients to the food processor because I don't want to blend all of the broth.  Since the squash and apples were cooked in the broth, they actually absorbed a good portion of the liquid.  I like to blend them on their own, and stir the pureed mixture back into the broth.  Doing this is not only easier and less messy, but it also gives you control of the texture of the soup.  I like the soup almost smooth, but not quite perfect.  You want to know what you're eating!

It totally hit the spot, especially with the fresh focaccia bread I made for dipping!  Recipe for the focaccia bread coming soon!

Apple Crisp

No autumn meal could possibly be complete without apple crisp.  And I'm judging anyone who goes to an apple orchard and DOESN'T make some sort of apple dessert the next day!  When I said both of these recipes were easy, I wasn't kidding.  This one doesn't even require an oven!  My mom has been making it since I was little, and I always remember eating it the Sunday night after we went to the orchard.  I had to carry on the tradition!

I started by chopping 5 cups of apples, peeled and cored; it will probably be about 4-5 apples depending on their size.  Usually, you use tart apples for pie or apple crisp, but I found that the Golden Delicious and Jonagold apples that I had picked at the orchard were pretty tart compared to their grocery store counterparts, so I used them!

Once I finished chopping, I arranged the apples in an even layer in an 8"x 8" glass baking dish coated with nonstick cooking spray.  It doesn't really matter how they're arranged because they get covered with a massive amount of crumb topping!  I like to bake it in a glass dish, however, so I can see the layers.

I set the apples aside, and stirred together flour, brown sugar, oats and ground cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.  Once the mixture was evenly combined, I used a pastry cutter to cut in a stick of softened butter.  Keep working the mixture until it turns into coarse crumb.  You know you did it right when you can't really distinguish the dry ingredients from the butter.

I topped the apples with the cinnamon crumb mixture, and then took a moment to admire how delicious it looked.  I put it in the microwave on high heat for 15 minutes.  The topping gets crispy, the apples get oven required!  If you don't have a microwave with a rotating plate, rotate the apple crisp 1/4 turn every 5 minutes.  It's that simple!

It was a great end to an autumn meal eating fresh apple crisp on Howie's porch in Lakewood!  Thank god I still have about 20 apples left...more recipes to try!

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