Honeycrisp, Sage, & Bacon Shells and Cheese

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Northern Hemispherians! It’s fall, or more properly, autumn!

I always look forward to the change of seasons, but Autumn is my favorite. It’s the cool change in the air that demands I bring back my cardigans from the depths of my closet, warm beverages, nights that require a fire, oven-baked everything, pumpkins and crazy looking gourds at the market, and apples.

I’ve been preparing for the change of the season by buying Casper tiny-plaid shirts that make him look like a lumberjack-in-training, hats that make him look like a baby-bear, and lots of honeycrisp apples for me to eat. I LOVE honeycrisps. I really fell in love with them when we were living in Michigan–they were abundant there and I am pretty sure that I ate at least my weight in them late last fall after I found out I was pregnant. So, basically, Casper is at least 1/3 honeycrisp apple–the other 2/3 being a mix of strawberries and pizza.Anyway, let’s talk about the perfect fall-flavored mac and cheese. This dish combines my favorite sweet-tart-crisp apple with my favorite fall herb–sage–plus bacon, cheddar, goat cheese, and parm for good measure. Triple-cheese-threat!

And it’s so good, guys! It has all the cheesy goodness you’d expect from classic macaroni and cheese, complete with a crisp topping, plus tart apples, sweet onions, salty bacon, and earthy sage. UGH. It’s so good. Sean was a little skeptical, I think, but I assured him that cheese and apples are friends so it totes makes sense. It’s one of those dishes that made me want to high-five myself when it was done, because it’s good…like, really.

[recipe]

Print Recipe

 

Honeycrisp, Sage, & Bacon Shells and Cheese

You can use any firm, tart-sweet apple you like for this recipe.

Serves 6-8

6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

1 tablespoon bacon grease reserved from cooking

2 honeycrisp apples, diced and peeled

1 medium onion, sliced

1 tablespoon fresh, chopped sage

1 lb. small to medium shell pasta

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon flour

3 cups milk

6 ounces shredded white cheddar cheese

4 ounces soft goat cheese

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese, divided

1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1 tablespoon melted, unsalted butter

Garnish:

Sage leaves

Canola oil

Preheat the oven to 400˚F.

In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon grease over medium-high and cook the apples and onions with a pinch of salt until softened. Remove from the heat and toss with the chopped sage and most of the bacon (reserve a few tablespoons for the top of the pasta).

Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water and cook about 2 minutes less than the package instructs. Drain in a colander and set aside.

In the same pot you used to cook the pasta, melt the butter over medium heat and stir in the flour to create a roux. Cook the roux about 1 minute before gradually stirring in the milk. Bring the milk mixture to a simmer and cook until it thickens a bit. Gradually add in the cheddar, goat cheese, and 1/4 cup of the parmesan, stirring to melt and combine. Stir in the nutmeg and add salt and pepper to taste and remove from the heat. Add the cooked pasta and bacon, apple, onion mixture to the cheese sauce and stir to combine. Scrape the pasta into a 9×13 baking dish, or two smaller dishes (I used a 10-inch round dish and 4x4inch square dish). In bowl, toss the panko with the melted butter and remaining 2 tablespoons of parmesan, sprinkle over the top of the pasta evenly. Top the pasta with the reserved bacon and bake in the center of the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are browned and the edges of the pasta are bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to rest at least 5 minutes before serving.

To garnish with fried sage, heat about 1/2 inch of canola oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat and fry sage leaves until crisp. Drain on paper towels before adding to the baked pasta.[/recipe]

 

Savory Maple Beer-Battered Apple and Onion Rings

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When I was in grade school I struggled with reading and by third grade I dreaded it. So, my mom, knowing I was falling behind and embarrassed to not be at the level of my peers, hired a reading tutor and things totally changed for me…I began to love reading and would get lost in a book for hours. The first book series I ever fell in love with were the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I loved the pioneer spirit and, surprise, all the food imagery. One of the best books in the series for food imagery was Farmer Boy, a book about her husband’s childhood growing up on a farm…it is full of hearty farm meals and his favorite dish was made up of apples and onions. Since reading the book for the first time I have been enamored by the sweet and savory pairing.

These beer-battered, maple-seasoned, apple and onion rings are so savory with an addictive, shattering crispness. There’s just a hint of sweetness from the apple rings themselves and from a few liberal dashes of Tonewood Maple’s* savory Maple Seasoning. Tonewood is a maple company that collaborates with maple producers to provide pure and delicious maple products with a focus on family-owned farming and sustainable stewardship. I really loved this seasoning both in the batter and sprinkled on top, it made for a very autumnal batch of onion rings with the twist of apple and maple. In addition to the seasoning, there’s beer in this batter for extra lightness and a little bit of brown rice flour that gives these rings an utlra-crisp edge. I totally suggest sandwiching both and apple ring and onion ring together for the ultimate in savory-sweet goodness. A drizzle of maple-laced sriracha is the perfect sweet-spicy condiment for these rings. [recipe]

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Savory Maple Beer-Battered Apple and Onion Rings

You can purchase Tonewood products here and use the discount code HGPVOCT for a Buy-One-Get-One offer on the maple seasoning I used here. From Tonewood:

Through collaboration with expert sugarmakers, Tonewood produces pure maple syrups and other specialties that are single-sourced, unblended, and free of additives.

…By funding climate change research, local farming efforts, and sustainable forest stewardship, Tonewood seeks to preserve family-owned maple production.

If you don’t have brown rice or regular rice flour, all-purpose may be substituted. For the beer I used a lighter wheat beer to keep the beer-flavor mild. To cut the apple rings, just use graduated sizes of biscuit or round cookie cutters. If you do not want to buy any maple seasoning a mixture of garlic powder, salt, pepper, and a teaspoon or so of maple syrup is a good substitute.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup brown rice flour, plus 1/4 cup more

2 teaspoons of Tonewood Maple Seasoning (check name), plus more for sprinkling

1 egg white

1 cup beer

1 large, sweet onion sliced into rings and separated

1 large apple (I used a Honeycrisp), sliced into rounds

Canola oil for frying

Maple Sriracha Drizzle

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 -2 tablespoons sriracha hot sauce


In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and 1/4 cup of the rice flour with the maple seasoning to combine. Then whisk in the egg white and beer until a smooth batter forms. Set aside while you cut out the apple rings. Using a few sizes of round cutters, cut out apple rings and place on a plate with the separated onion rings. Place the remaining rice flour in a shallow dish. Prepare a plate with several layers of paper towels and set to the side.

In a deep skillet fill with a generous 1-inch of canola oil and heat to about 375˚F. In batches, dredge the onion and apple rings in the rice flour to coat lightly, then dip into the beer batter before gently lowering the rings into the hot oil. Cook the rings on both sides until golden and crisp. Remove from the oil and place on the paper-towel lined plate and sprinkle with additional maple seasoning while still hot. Serve immediately (with extra beer!). [/recipe]

*Tonewood kindly supplied me with the Maple Seasoning and a few other ingredients that will show up in a later post. As always, all opinions are my own.

 

Vegetable Spring Rolls

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Guys, these are DANGER and I’m crushin’ hard.

I mean, they’re so savory, so crisp, so irresistible…I can’t stop thinking about them!

For that crisp, shattering exterior, I use the super-thin spring roll wrappers found in the freezer section of an Asian market. I’m a texture girl and those super thin edges are the money bits. For reals. Most of vegetables are quickly stir-fried to retain some texture in the finished roll…except for the mushrooms, which are cooked down to nutty perfection. Ginger, soy, and fish sauce make an appearance, as well. The dipping sauce is an easy mixture of sriracha, maple syrup, and a teeny bit of fish sauce. These would be perfect for the upcoming game-day, but you might want to make a double batch or more as, in my experience, I never seem to make enough when I share these spring rolls with anyone.

Vegetable Spring Rolls

Makes 2 dozen mini spring rolls. 

There is a great Asian market not far from where I live that stocks fresh/frozen/pantry items from all over Asia. It’s pretty much amazing. I urge you to seek out a market in your area if you haven’t already…there are so many fun ingredients to be found! I used a mini wrapper that they stock, but you could use the regular size. Just use 2-3 times more of the filling per roll. These wrappers are not the translucent rice ones, or the thicker, wonton-like ones. You are looking for the ones that are square and look like the thinnest of crepes. They come frozen, so just leave them in the refrigerator for a few hours to overnight to defrost. While the wrappers can be delicate to peel apart, they do have some stretch. 

1 quart of oil (I used canola), for frying, plus 2 teaspoons

8 ounces (about 4 loosely packed cups) shredded cabbage

1 small carrot, peeled and julienned or grated coarsely

4 ounces cleaned mushrooms, stems and caps, diced

1/4 large onion, sliced thin

2 loosely packed cups spinach

1 Tablespoon grated, fresh ginger

2 teaspoons fish sauce

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 Tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

24 mini spring roll wrappers (or 12 if using regular sized ones)

water for sealing

Dipping Sauce:

3 Tablespoons Sriracha

2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon fish sauce, or to taste

In a small bowl whisk together the ginger, fish sauce, sesame oil, and soy sauce. Set aside.

In a very hot wok or large skillet, stir fry the cabbage, carrots, onion, and spinach with 1 teaspoon of oil until the vegetables are just starting to soften and some of the edges start to brown. Scrape the vegetables into a bowl and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, cook the mushrooms with the remaining 1 teaspoon of oil over medium heat with a pinch of salt to help release the liquid. Continue to cook the mushrooms until they turn golden brown. Scrape into the bowl with the vegetable mixture. Stir the ginger-soy mixture into the filling mixture to combine. Allow the filling to cool to room temperature before beginning the wrapping process. You can do this step the day before and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use. If the filling is wet after refrigerating, just drain the liquid so the spring rolls don’t become soggy. 

Whisk together the dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

Place a spring roll wrapper on a flat surface so that it looks like a diamond, keep the rest of the wrappers covered by a damp tea towel. Place about a tablespoon of filling  on the lower 1/3 of the wrapper, fold the bottom point over the filling and roll 2/3 of the way up. Fold in sides, wet the final point lightly with the water, seal, and place on a plate. Repeat with the remaining filling and wrappers.

Heat 1 quart of oil (4 cups) in a high-sided pan (I like to use a wide saucepan with tallish sides), you will know it’s hot enough when you stick a skewer or chopstick into the oil and bubbles immediately form on the stick. Fry the spring rolls in batches until golden and crisp, anywhere from 3-4 minutes. Drain spring rolls on paper towels and serve hot and crisp with the dipping sauce.