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Published: Tuesday, 10/18/2011

Fall sensation

The savory side of apples

BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR
Orchards around the area at dotted with bright red apples. Orchards around the area at dotted with bright red apples.
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It’s October. To some in this area, that means football. To others, it is anxiously awaiting Halloween.

Those poor, unenlightened souls. Don’t they even know what is all around them?

To those of us who love to cook and eat, those for whom food is more than mere sustenance, this time of year means just one thing: apples.

Well, apples and maybe a little football.

Apples are the glory of the season. The trees are heavy with them, the orchards dotted with bright red. Stores are full with a multitude of varieties, and farmers’ markets and produce stands are laden with them.

They are far too good to resist, and too good for you too. You buy them by the handful, by the bag, by the half-peck. But now that you have them, what do you do with them?

Baking them in desserts is as American as, well, you know. And they are wonderful in breakfast pastries and as a cheerful accent in salads.

But that leaves out the main meals of the day. When people think about what to do with apples, they often neglect the idea of using them in entrées.

That’s not the case in Europe. Across that continent, people cook apples in their dinners with some regularity, particularly when sauerkraut also is involved (sausage, kraut, and apples is a standard Northern and Eastern European dish). In American dinners, they are probably paired most frequently with pork, their natural complement.

For a couple of American pork recipes, we turned to one of the area’s biggest apple specialists, Marlene MacQueen, co-owner of MacQueen Orchards, which grows 16 varieties of apples. She offered several recipes, of which we have selected two. One is just about the easiest recipe imaginable -- her apple sausage casserole has only three ingredients (sausage, apples, and brown sugar), allowing each one to shine individually while working in harmony with the others.

Her Dixie pork chops are a bit more involved and complex, with a little vinegar to add a hint of a sour counterpoint to the sweetness of the pork, apples, brown sugar, and raisins. Also in the mix is a little sage, a frequent companion of pork, adding a subtle, savory layer to the taste.

For another simple, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that recipe, the U.S. Apple Association recommends tuna apple pita pockets, which are just tuna salad sandwiches with chopped apples in them, then served in pita. And why not? Apples are a vital ingredient in curried chicken salad, so there is no reason why they should not appear in its cousin, tuna salad. The apples’ natural sweetness, which might otherwise conflict with the brassy taste of canned tuna, is tempered by the dill.

And in the spirit of curried chicken with apples, we made easy apple-chicken curry, which was inspired by another recipe from the U.S. Apple Association. This is an Americanized version of a chicken curry, with a light and spicy sauce considerably brightened by the sweet and tangy flavor of the apples. A sprinkling of currants or raisins also helps to smooth out some of the curry powder’s harsher edge.

While we’re adding apples to American versions of classic Asian dishes, we made a ginger apple stir fry. It’s not as unlikely a dish as it sounds, because China now grows almost half the apples in the entire world, even if they do not typically show up in Chinese dishes that we see in this country. The recipe is a standard chicken stir fry with ginger and mushrooms, but the sliced apples (and the surprise ingredient of applesauce in the sauce) give it an unexpected zest.

Apple-Chicken Curry. Apple-Chicken Curry.
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The flavors are more fully melded in cider-baked chicken and sausage, a warming dish well suited to the chilly nights of fall and winter. Apples, onions, mustard, and chicken is a popular combination, and for a good reason. This hearty dish builds on that foundation, adding a healthy helping of sage along with apple cider and apple cider vinegar. With potatoes roasted in the same pan and soaking up some of the sweet-flavored sauce, this becomes a meal in a pot.

And finally, we made some apple butter. We put apples, brown sugar, and a few spices on a low, low simmer for three hours or more, until the apples broke down to a soft, thick, spreadable consistency a bit thinner than jam. It is true that apple butter is a condiment rather than a main course, but c’mon: It’s apple butter -- old-fashioned flavor in every pot.

Contact Daniel Neman at dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.

RECIPES

Apple Sausage Casserole
6-8 pork sausages

3 cups sliced apples, such as Golden Delicious

3/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter a casserole dish and arrange sausages in it. Spread apples evenly over them. Sprinkle the top with brown sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes, basting once or twice while baking.

Yield: 3-4 servings

Source: Marlene MacQueen

Dixie Pork Chops
8 pork chops

3 tablespoons shortening

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

4 apples such as Golden Delicious, sliced into rings

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

2 tablespoon flour

1 cup water

Several drops vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dried sage

1/2 cup raisins, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In large skillet (or in batches) over medium-high heat, brown pork chops in shortening. Remove them to a baking dish, reserving the pan drippings. Season chops with salt and pepper, and top with apples. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Heat the reserved pan drippings in the skillet over medium heat, and stir the flour, water, vinegar, and sage. Cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Stir in raisins, if using. Pour over pork chops and bake for 1 hour.

Yield: 4 servings

Source: Marlene MacQueen

Tuna Apple Pita Pockets
1 small apple

1 small celery rib, sliced

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 (6-ounce) can tuna

1 tablespoon fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried

1/2 cup mayonnaise

4 small pita pockets

4 large lettuce leaves

Core and chop the apple and place in a medium-size bowl. Stir in celery and sprinkle with lemon juice. Add onion. Drain tuna and add to bowl with dill and mayonnaise. Mix well. Cut the top off each pita bread and place a lettuce leaf in each. Stuff with tuna mixture.

Yield: 4 servings

Source: U.S. Apple Association

Easy Apple-Chicken Curry
2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

4 chicken breasts, about 6 ounces each

1 cup chopped onion

1 large green pepper, diced

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 large tomato, diced

1/2 cup apple cider

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup raisins or currants

1 large apple, cored and sliced

Combine flour, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish. Dredge the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat; add the oil to the pan. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook about 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Remove chicken from skillet and set aside. Stir in onions, peppers, and garlic and cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add curry, stirring well. Add tomatoes, cider, chicken stock, and raisins. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then add apples and chicken to skillet.

Bring to a boil, cover, and lower heat to simmer. Cook about 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the breasts, until chicken is done. Serve over warm rice.

Yield: 4 servings

Source: Adapted from U.S. Apple Association

Ginger Apple Stir Fry
1/3 cup applesauce, unsweetened

1/3 cup chicken broth OR water

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons ginger, minced

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into strips

4 green onions, sliced

1 small red bell pepper, cut into strips

10 shiitake and/or white mushrooms, sliced

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 medium apples, cored and sliced

In a small bowl, combine applesauce, broth or water, vinegar, soy sauce, and cornstarch, and stir briskly until the cornstarch has all dissolved. Set aside.

Heat sesame oil in nonstick skillet or wok. Add garlic and ginger, and sauté for about 1 minute. Add chicken strips and cook, stirring frequently or constantly, until just cooked through. Remove chicken from skillet. Add onions, red pepper, mushrooms, and pepper and cook until red pepper is crisp-tender, 2-4 minutes. Add the apples and the broth-cornstarch mixture and cook until sauce is thickened and clear. Stir in the chicken to reheat it, and serve over rice.

Yield: 4 servings

Source: Adapted from U.S. Apple Association

Apple Butter
4 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and quartered

1 cup water

1 cup apple cider

Brown sugar as needed (around 2 1/2 cups)

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon allspice

Grated rind and juice of 2 lemons

Cook the lemons in the water and cider until soft. Pass through a food mill or force through a sieve. Measure the purée and add 1/2 cup brown sugar for each cup of purée. Add the spices, rind, and lemon juice and cook over very low heat until thick and dark brown. To test if it is thick enough, put some in a mound on a spoon and move the spoon away from the heat. If it is still in a mound after two minutes, the apple butter is done. This may take 3 to 4 hours.

If not to be used within a week or so, pour into hot, sterilized jars and seal tightly.

Yield: Depends on how thick you make it.

Source: Adapted from Washington State Apple Commission

Cider-Baked Chicken and Sausage
1 large onion, cut into eighths

1 large lemon, sliced into rounds

2 cups apple cider

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup chopped fresh sage OR 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried sage

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

4 chicken legs

4 chicken thighs

1 (12-ounce) package chicken-apple sausage

2 large apples, each sliced into eighths

1 pound small red-skinned potatoes, halved

Place a 1-gallon heavy-duty zip-top bag into a large bowl. Place the onion, lemon, cider, oil, sage, vinegar, mustard, bay leaves, salt, and pepper into the bag, combining well. Add the chicken and sausage to the marinade. Close the bag and place in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 4 and up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the chicken pieces in a large roasting pan, skin-side up. Pour all of the marinade, including onions and lemons, over and around the pieces. Tuck the sausages, apples, and potatoes around the chicken. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through, turning sausages halfway through to cook evenly.

Yield: 8 servings

Source: U.S. Apple Association



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