This post is sponsored by Weight Watchers Canada. Find out more about the WW Freestyle program, which encourages the freedom to eat the foods you love while nudging you towards healthier choices using the SmartPoints system. As always, all ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.
Apple season is in full swing here. We’ve gone picking once already, and I suspect we’ll find our way to the orchards at least once more in the next couple of weeks to get our fill of Northern Spy, Ambrosia, Honeycrisp, Mutsu…you name it! Pulling a wagon through rows of trees and searching for perfectly crisp apples is truly one of my favorite annual activities.
While there’s always room for apple pies, galettes, cakes, and butters after these orchard runs, sometimes I crave something a little simpler but no less cozy. Enter these cider-baked apples. They make a lovely light dessert, but are healthful enough for breakfast — perhaps with a bit of yogurt and honey. You can also make them ahead of time, refrigerate, and gently rewarm in the microwave or low oven before serving.
Cider Baked Apples
Serves 6-8 as a side
- 2 lbs baking apples, washed (about 8 small apples)
- 2 c apple cider
- 1 cinnamon stick (feel free to add other favorite mulling spices!)
For the filling:
- 60g raisins, finely chopped
- 60g pecans, finely chopped
- 60g unsalted butter, cubed at room temperature
- 45g brown sugar
- Pinch of salt
- Juice of half a lemon
- Preheat oven to 375F with a rack in the middle.
- In a small saucepan, bring the cider and cinnamon stick to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat, cover, and allow to steep while you prepare the apples.
- Combine the raisins, pecans, brown sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Add the cubed butter and rub it into the mixture to incorporate.
- Juice the lemon into a small bowl.
- Cut the tops off the apples and place the top into the lemon juice to keep from browning (keep track of which top goes with which apple for best presentation). Using a small spoon or knife, scoop out the core of the apples, leaving the bottoms intact so the filling won’t seep out. Stuff the apples with the filling mixture and place the tops back on.
- Place the stuffed apples into a baking pan just large enough to fit them snugly — an 8×8 pan worked for me, but will depend on the number and size of your apples. Pour the cider and cinnamon stick into the bottom of the pan.
- Bake in the preheated oven until apples are tender but not falling apart. The time can vary wildly depending on the size of your apples, but I’d start checking around the 30 minute mark (my smallish ones took about 40). If you’d like, baste the apples with the cider a couple of times during baking.
Serve warm or at room temperature. You can also make these ahead and refrigerate them, and reheat before serving.
You’ve probably noticed we make a lot of bread in these parts. I’ll often eat my slices plain (especially on the first day, when the crust is at its crackliest), but I do also enjoy making things to top my toasts. One of the simplest, but most fun, is cultured butter.
Cultured butter is one of those snooty sounding things that is actually dead easy to make. All it requires is adding live bacteria to cream before churning it into butter. This can be done a number of ways, but one of the most straightforward is just adding a few spoonfuls of plain yogurt to cream and letting it sit at room temperature for a bit. This simple step enhances the flavor of butter, giving it a slight tang (the exact flavor profile will depend on how long you culture the cream as well as the quality of ingredients you use). Some people would say there are health benefits as well, but I just think it tastes good. Plus, it’s a fun little party trick!
Once you’ve churned your butter, you can flavor it as desired. I usually just add a little salt, but there’s nothing stopping you from making any range of fancy compound butters (think herbs, citrus, honey…). Serve with your next loaf of homemade sourdough!
- Just as there are several ways you can culture the butter, there are different methods of churning as well. The food processor is hands-down my favorite because it’s quick and clean. You could also use a handheld or stand mixer, but make sure you cover the bowl with a splash guard or plastic wrap because trust me — the buttermilk will splatter once it separates from the butterfat. If you’re feeling especially old school, you could also try the old shake-it-in-a jar method. I’m far too lazy so I’ve never tried…
- I have a story highlight of this whole process on Instagram (“Cultured Butter”), so check that out for some extra visual cues.
- I haven’t tried using cultured butter in baking, first because I think it’s better appreciated serve straight up and second because I don’t know the final fat content compared to “normal” butter. The buttermilk, on the other hand, I definitely use in any recipes called for buttermilk. Here are a few to get you started:
Makes ~1/2 lb butter (1 c), plus a cup of buttermilk
Ingredients and materials:
- 2 c heavy cream (at least 35%; not ultra-pasteurized)
- 60g / 1/4 c plain whole milk yogurt (not Greek-style)
- Salt to taste (if desired)
- Ice water
- Food processor (see note above)
- Fine-mesh strainer double-lined with cheesecloth, set over a jar or bowl
- Small spatula
- Clean bowl
- In a glass measuring cup or jar, whisk together the cream and yogurt to combine. Cover and leave at warmish room temperature for 18-36 hours (in especially warm climates/seasons, this may take less time; check at 12 hours).
When your mixture is thickened and tastes delightfully tangy, congratulations — you’ve made creme fraiche! You could stop here, or continue on to make some cultured butter.
- Refrigerate the creme fraiche for 1-2 hours. (This is especially important if you’re churning in a food processor to keep the butter from melting.)
- When creme fraiche is cold, transfer to a food processor. Process until the the butterfat clumps and separates from the buttermilk (this takes a few minutes).
- Strain the butter mixture through the cheesecloth-lined strainer, squeezing to extract as much buttermilk as possible from the butter. Reserve buttermilk for another use.
- Transfer butter to a clean bowl. Pour about 1/4 c ice water over the butter and use a spatula to press the butter against the side of the bowl. You’re “washing” the butter of all the buttermilk, which will keep your butter fresh for longer. Drain the cloudy water, and repeat the process until the water looks clear. (This may take 5-6 washings.)
- Season with salt to taste if desired (you can knead this in with your hands). Roll into a wax paper log or transfer to another container. Keeps for a couple weeks in the fridge; freeze for longer storage. Serve at room temperature.
Over the past few years, apple picking has become an early fall tradition. It started five years ago as a date activity with my now-husband, and this year the apple farm was one of our brand-new daughter’s first excursions.
(This was actually our second trip this year; Marcus liked the last trip so much he kept asking to see “apple trees.”)
Besides pies and galettes, I also enjoy making a batch or two of apple butter with our pickings. I far prefer apple butter to applesauce — it’s thick enough to spread on toast and is generally more flavorful. Apple butter is also a handy ingredient to have around for fall baking, as I’m discovering (recipes to come!). Whipping up a batch does take some time, but it’s mostly hands-off and makes your house smell perfectly autumnal — a great rainy day project!
I used our Instant Pot to make this year’s batch. (Not sponsored — we really do love this gadget!) While my method doesn’t save much time on traditional apple butter-making methods, I do think it’s easier and dirties fewer dishes. It’s definitely how I’m making apple butter from here on out!
A few notes:
- You can use any variety (or varieties) of apples. I used a mix of Macintoshes and Cortlands for this particular batch.
- Feel free to add different / more spices to your liking. I kept this batch pretty light on spice since I knew I would be using it in some baking recipes.
- If you don’t have an Instant Pot, you can make this using the stovetop and oven or a slow cooker.
- If you’re pressed for time, you could use the “saute” setting instead of “slow cook” in step 2 to reduce the puree down (it should take 45-60 minutes), but the butter does tend to splatter and requires more constant stirring / attention.
Instant Pot Apple Butter
Makes about 3 pints
- 5 1/2 lbs apples, cored and quartered (no need to peel)
- 1/4 c water or apple juice
- 100-200 g brown sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- A few gratings of fresh nutmeg
- Place the apples and water/juice in the Instant Pot and cook on high pressure for 20 minutes. Allow pressure to release naturally. Puree contents using an immersion blender / regular blender / food processor.
- Return puree to the Instant Pot. With the lid propped open for steam ventilation, cook — stirring occasionally — on the slow cooker setting until thick and reduced, about 6 hours. Add sugar and spices, adjusting to taste (I used about 3/4 c sugar for a gently sweetened butter).
- For smoothest texture, puree contents again. Ladle apple butter into clean, sterile jars. Process in a water bath, if desired, or store in the refrigerator and use within a few weeks. Apple butter can also be frozen.
This post is created in partnership with Tre Stelle’s Great Canadian Cheese Summer Sweepstakes; as always all ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.
It’s officially farmer’s market season here in Toronto. Most Saturdays we head down to our local market and let the best looking produce dictate our weekend meals. And for the last few weeks, it’s been all about juicy strawberries and fresh herbs.
While dessert is usually the first thing that comes to mind when berries start cropping up, I also like adding berries to salads and savoury dishes for natural sweetness and pops of color. Since strawberries and basil pair so beautifully, I decided to take it one step further by adding strawberries to some pesto toasts. To complement the bright, sweet strawberries and sharp, herby pesto, I also added a handful of fresh Tre Stelle Bocconcini Pearls for some needed creaminess and texture. The result is a fresh summery toast that’s great on its own for breakfast or paired with a bowl of fresh tomato soup for lunch or a light dinner.
To celebrate the season, Tre Stelle is currently running their Great Canadian Cheese Summer Sweepstakes with over 150 prizes up for grabs — including 3 trips for two to the Tre Stelle cooking school in Niagara! To be eligible to win, purchase any specially marked tubs of Tre Stelle Feta or Bocconcini from your local grocery store and head over to the Tre Stelle website to enter now through August 31st. Good luck!
Note: You can make these toasts with store bought pesto, but I highly recommend hand-chopping your own. The texture and flavour is far superior to the pasty, flat-tasting types typically found in supermarkets. You can also use regular sized Bocconcini balls, sliced, to top the toasts — I just liked the festive look of the pearls!
Summer Pesto Toasts with Strawberries and Bocconcini
Serves 4 as an appetizer
- Four 1/2” thick slices of crusty sourdough bread, toasted
- 4 Tbsp pesto, homemade (recipe below) or store-bought
- 4 large strawberries, hulled and sliced
- 1 container Tre Stelle Bocconcini Pearls
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Spread each slice of toast with a tablespoon of pesto. Top with strawberry slices and a generous handful of bocconcini pearls. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Enjoy!
Makes ~1 cup
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 large bunch fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 c pine nuts, toasted
- Kosher salt to taste
- ~1/4 c olive oil
- Juice of half a lemon
- Smash the garlic clove and chop along with a handful of pine nuts. Add a handful of basil and continue chopping, scraping your knife off as needed.
- Continue this process of chopping and scraping, alternating between adding handfuls of basil and pine nuts, until you’ve used them up and the desired texture is achieved (I like it fairly fine, but with some bigger chunks in there for texture).
- Transfer to a bowl and add a generous pinch of salt and the juice of half a lemon. Stir to combine, then add a tablespoon of olive oil at a time until you reach your desired consistency. You don’t need a lot of oil, just enough to cover the mixture. Usually about ~1/4 cup does it for me.
- Taste and add more salt if necessary. Best enjoyed immediately, but you can refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for a few days. Just stir before using.
This recipe is part of the Virtual Midsummer Potluck for Peace, hosted by Saghar Setarah of Lab Noon. Check out the links at the bottom of this post for other delicious potluck recipes from other bloggers!
We attended a lot of picnic BBQ potlucks growing up; and if you’ve ever picnicked with Asians you may have discovered we take our BBQs pretty seriously. There may be hamburgers and hotdogs, but it doesn’t stop there. Crockpots with congee, sticks of fish balls, plates of sushi — all par for the course. And of course — lots and lots of noodle dishes.
This is one of my go-to noodle salads for picnics, car trips, or — let’s face it — hot days when you don’t want to spend much time cooking. It takes all of 10 minutes to slap together, and is great on its own or as a base for a full meal (just add some shredded chicken, diced tofu, sliced raw veggies, etc.). If you have a peanut allergy, you can also sub out the peanut butter for tahini and that works great as well! Feel free to switch up the type of noodle you use too — my favorites are Yet-Ca-Mein (white Chinese wheat noodles) and dried shrimp egg noodles (the type you typically see in won ton noodle soup).
Cold Sesame Peanut Noodles
- 8-10 oz. dried Chinese egg or wheat noodles
- 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
- 3 Tbsp creamy peanut butter (or tahini, or a combination of the two)
- 3 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1-2 Tbsp honey
- 1 Tbsp dark sesame oil
- 1-2 tsp chili-garlic sauce (more if you like it extra spicy)
- Thinly sliced scallions, chopped cilantro, toasted sesame seeds, and chopped roasted peanuts, for garnish
- In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients from the rice vinegar to the chili-garlic sauce. Taste and adjust dressing for desired level of sweetness/spiciness.
- Prepare the noodles according to the package instructions. Rinse under cold water to cool them down completely. Transfer noodles to a large bowl and toss with the dressing. Top with desired garnishes. Served chilled.
More delicious potluck recipes:
Both my husband and I are food nerds in our own ways. I’m into baking and he’s into meat. (For the past year he’s been curing his own bacon and once you’ve had that, there’s no going back.) The ultimate dream is to collaborate on some from-scratch charcuterie boards — he’ll provide the sausages and cheeses and I’ll do the breads/crackers/dips. We’ll get there eventually. But in the meantime, these tasty little sausage rolls are a team effort that will be showing up on our appetizer tables for the years to come — he made the sausage, and I wrapped them in pastry.
I’ve made sausage rolls in the past using store bought puff pastry and that works perfectly well. But lately I’ve been into making my own rough puff. I use this pastry recipe for the base and simply add 2-4 turns to the process, resting the pastry in the fridge as needed (for me this is typically for 10 minutes after the initial mixing and after the first two turns). For or this savory application, I reduce the sugar to 1 teaspoon.
Also, the filling is very adaptable — skip the apple if you want and add in some sauteed onion and garlic; and feel free to play with the spices. You can also use regular ground pork, seasoned to taste — in this case I would add a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs and an egg to help bind the mixture together.
Pork and Apple Sausage Rolls
Makes 24 two-bite rolls or 40-48 one-bite canapes
- 1 pound puff pastry, thawed (1 store bought box or homemade)
- 1 pound pork sausage, casings removed
- 1 baking apple, peeled and finely diced
- 1 scallion, finely diced
- 4 tbsp dijon mustard
- 1 egg, whisked with 1 tbsp water
- Flaky salt, to finish (optional)
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Mix sausage, apple, and scallion in a medium bowl.
- In a small bowl, beat egg with 1 tbsp water.
Roll out each sheet of puff pastry into a large square or rectangle (about 12″ x 12″ or 9″ x 13″) and cut each in half (for a total of four pieces).
- Spread a tablespoon of mustard down the center of each rectangle lengthwise.
- Divide the pork mixture into 4 equal parts and arrange on top of the mustard.
- Fold the bottom half of the pastry over the meat.
- Brush the top part of the pastry with egg wash and roll the puff pastry so the seam is facing down. Repeat with the other sheets. Refrigerate for about 10 minutes, or until pastry is firm.
- Cut each roll into the number of pieces desired (I like 6 per roll for a 2-bite snack — top photo or 10-12 for a one-bite canape — lower left photo). If making larger rolls, cut a couple steam vents on top; if making the one-biters, no vent is needed.
Arrange about an inch apart on two parchment-lined baking sheets.
Brush with remaining egg wash, followed by a pinch of flaky salt if desired.
- Bake 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway through, or until golden brown and cooked through.
- Serve warm or cold with ketchup and/or mustard.
Turnip cake (lo bak goh) is one of my favorite dim sum items. I love the crispy exterior, soft middle, and medley of savory Chinese tidbits — Chinese sausage, mushrooms, and shrimp. Lo Bak Goh is also a traditional Chinese New Year dish, so in honor of the upcoming holiday I thought I’d share this recipe. It’s surprisingly easy to make, and when you do it yourself you can adjust the amount of “goodies” inside to suit your preferences (i.e. more mushrooms, more sausage…I added some dried scallops this last time to make it even more decadent). You can also easily double or triple this recipe, though I recommend cooking up each cake separately to make the ingredients easier to combine.
A few tips: there are some weird ingredients, but all should be available at your local Asian market. When choosing daikon, look for short, heavy ones. When cooking the turnip in step 4, your turnip may give off a lot of liquid. If your mixture looks really soupy, hold back some of the liquid when combining with the flour mixture (you probably want about 1/2 – 3/4 c total – just enough to create a very thick batter). You can always add some liquid back in. Or if your daikon seems dry, add a tablespoon of stock or water to help everything come together. Finally, though extremely delicious, cooking turnip cake tends to let off…pungent odors. So you may want to leave ample time to air your place out if you’re planning to make this for company. 🙂
Chinese Turnip Cake (Lo Bak Goh)
Makes one 8-inch pan | Adapted from Christine’s Recipes
- 1 Chinese white turnip (daikon) – about 2 lbs.
- 170 gm rice flour
- 4 Tbsp wheat starch
- 1-2 links Chinese sausage (lap cheung)
- Handful of Chinese dried shrimp, soaked
- 4 dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped
- 2 scallions, minced
- 3/4 c chicken broth
- 1 T vegetable oil
- Pinch of white pepper
- Salt to taste
- Blanch Chinese sausage boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes for cleaning and easy chopping. Drain well and finely dice. Peel the turnip and grate into thick strips (I used the large holes of a box grater). Rinse and coarsely chop dried shrimp.
- In a big bowl, mix the rice flour with wheat starch well.
- Sauté Chinese sausage over medium heat. Toss in dried shrimp and mushrooms, and continue to sauté until aromatic, 1-2 minutes. Set aside.
- In the same pan, add a tablespoon of oil and sauté minced scallions. Add grated turnips. Season with white pepper and salt to taste. Pour in chicken broth, bring to a boil, cover and cook until tender and translucent (~5-10 minutes). Remove from heat.
- Add rice flour and wheat starch to the daikon mixture and quickly combine into a thick batter. Add sausage, shrimp, and mushroom mixture and mix well.
- Pour the mixture into a greased 8-inch pan. Steam over high heat, covered, about 45 to 60 minutes. Check the water level and replenish, if necessary, with boiling water. To test for doneness, insert a chopstick into the middle. If it comes out clean, the cake is cooked through. Let cool.
- Cut into pieces and fry both sides until golden brown. Serve hot, accompanying with chili sauce or with soy or oyster sauce.
Roasted veggies frequent our dinner table. Broccoli, asparagus, brussels sprouts, corn, onions, carrots — the possibilities are endless. Usually I just toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper; but when I ran across this recipe from the Toronto Star the spice combination was intriguing. The Mediterranean flavors are bright, bold, and complex; we paired it with spice-rubbed salmon, but I can see it going well with roasted chicken or grilled steak too.
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 1/4 cup water (more if needed)
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1-1/2 tsp sesame oil
- Kosher salt
- 1 large head cauliflower (~3 lb.), cut in medium florets
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted, lightly crushed
- 1-1/2 tsp coriander seeds, toasted, lightly crushed
- Chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves or cilantro for garnish
- Preheat oven to 425 F.
- For tahini sauce, in medium bowl, combine tahini, water, lemon juice, oil, and salt to taste. Whisk until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning to taste. Set aside.
- Spread cauliflower on a foil lined baking sheet, drizzle with a little olive oil, and roast to desired brownness (30-45 min.).
- In serving bowl, combine couliflower and tahini sauce to taste. Toss well. Cauliflower should be well-coated but not too wet.
- Spread cauliflower on platter. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, coriander, and parsley/cilantro.