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Caramel Apple Tartlets

I had a little mommy meltdown yesterday. It was very unpretty…crying, rocking, gasping for the air which seemed to be sucked from the room. And over what? I don’t even know. Nothing even worth writing about. Stupid, every day, normal stuff…just too much of it. Fighting with an uncooperative vacuum while trying to banish the tumbleweeds of dog hair from our living room was the little thing that sent me over the edge. So silly. And yet in the moment it felt like the world was caving in on me. To an objective observer, I probably looked pretty ridiculous, throwing myself down onto the ground and mumbling under my breath as I cried, while my inner voice tried to coach myself to pull it together and act like a grown-up. But for me the feeling was crushing. Sometimes day-to-day life is just overwhelming.

Sadly, the kids witnessed my little meltdown, and I can only imagine how scary and unsettling that must have been for them. In the moment, rational mommy (as compared to crazy lump of tears mommy) told them I loved them and explained that I was just stressed and needed to cool down for a minute. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get that minute of serenity in a house with three young boys. Eventually, I stopped fighting with the vacuum, collapsed against one of the toy boxes and closed my eyes for a second.

And then the most beautiful thing happened. I opened my eyes and my precious 17 month old was sitting in front of me, completely silent. He sat facing me, knees bent, feet together, so that his entire little body was nestled within my own bent legs. And he just smiled. Silently, calmly smiled. I kissed his forehead. He smiled and leaned forward to rest his head against my chest. He stayed like that for what felt like a perfect eternity. I inhaled his sweet baby hair as I felt my heart rate slowly returning to normal. Eventually he turned around so that he was leaning against me, holding my hand as it rested on his little belly. And he stayed like that until his daddy arrived home from work. He greeted his daddy, then returned to sit by my broken side, smushed up against me with a perfect grin on his face. He was like a tiny, precious bomb defuser.

Such perfect, simple love…and trust. He saw me torn apart and irrational. If it were me, I would have run from that crazy woman. But he came straight to me. As close as he could get to me. Confident that his presence would fix me. How in the world did I get so lucky??

These drool-worthy caramel apple tartlets are bursting with flavors as uncomplicated and confident as my sweet little man’s love. We baked them using fresh-picked apples from our favorite local orchard. Though the apple crops up here were hit hard by an early spring bloom followed by a bloom-killing frost, the kids got every bit of fun out of filling buckets of unusually small apples. I made these tartlets using store-bought puff pastry and caramel sauce for time-saving convenience. The end result is still dripping in homemade yumminess.

Focus on Technique – Puff Pastry

Puff pastry is a rich and flakey pastry made by repeatedly folding and rolling generous quantities of butter into the dough, resulting in puffy, delicate layers when baked. It’s a manageable and fun thing to make at home (and will totally wow your guests), but takes a few hours of repeatedly rolling and chilling to be made properly. When ease is the name of the game, store-bought puff pastry provides great results with great convenience. It can be used to make decadent savory appetizers, like warm pastry-wrapped brie or sweet treats like these caramel apple tartlets. Check your grocery store’s frozen section, near the frozen pie shells for boxes of puff pastry sheets. Always defrost the sheets according the package directions and lightly sprinkle your clean work surface with flour before rolling.

Easy Caramel Apple Tartlets

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
  • 2 large apples (or 4 teeny-tiny ones), very thinly sliced
  • 4-5 tablespoons caramel sauce, store-bought or homemade
  • 1 egg white
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Lightly sprinkle a clean work surface with a bit of flour to prevent sticking, then roll the sheet of puff pastry into a square, about 12″ wide. Cut the square into four 6″ squares. Place the squares on the prepared baking sheet. Spread about 1 tablespoon of caramel sauce into the center of each pastry. Arrange a layer of thinly sliced apples on top of the caramel. Then, pull each of the four corners over the apples, slightly twisting each point so that the corners meet in a sort of pinwheel design revealing four pockets of the caramel and apples. Gently press the points together with your fingers to hold them together. Brush each pastry with some of the egg white. Combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over each pastry. Bake for about 20 minutes, until puffed and golden.

Enjoy hot out of the oven or at room temperature.

Makes 4 Individual Tartlets

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A Few Variations on Apple Pie

Recently I had an idea which seemed so genius I could hardly believe the internet wasn’t overwhelmed with recipes for it. My idea: a traditional apple pie with bits of warm, melty brie nestled between the sweet apples in a homemade buttery pie crust. Doesn’t the thought of it make your mouth water with anticipation??

I had to make it. And I did. Only the result was not what I had hoped for. Rather than melting in creamy layers between the apples, the brie seemed to boil in the apples’ juices, becoming firm and a bit rubbery. Far from inedible, but definitely not the decadent twist on apple pie I was hoping to share with you.

So, I put a few other possible apple pie variations out there to my facebook followers. Perhaps a Chocolate Apple Pie or Apple Peanut Butter? Or maybe Apple Cinnamon? Someone even suggested adding raisins to the apple cinnamon pie. In the end, I just couldn’t decide which to make. So, I made four (yes, four) miniature apple pies and then enthusiastically taste-tested every pie, again and again…for the sake of accuracy, of course.

The apple peanut butter pie was my favorite of the bunch, though the apple cinnamon-raisin, made with cinnamon chips and golden raisins, was a close second. Anything with chocolate is better in my book, so I  ate more than a few bites of the chocolate apple pie. And while I was looking forward to the butterscotch apple pie, the addition of butterscotch chips was less than successful. They seemed to separate during the baking, becoming too liquid and then coagulating when cooled…not appealing. (A bit of butterscotch ice cream topping drizzled over the apples before baking may produce a better result.)

The following pie recipe is for a classic (full-sized) apple pie. You can make it as is or add in any of the optional ‘extras’ for  an interesting twist. I’m still undecided, but I think I’m going to stick with the perfectly plain, classic apple pie, served with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, for my Thanksgiving dessert!

Ok, friends…I’m out of here until after Thanksgiving. Time to put all of my energy into preparing our feast. But I’ll be around if you’re in need of Thanksgiving meal recommendations or advice. Just shoot me a message as a comment on this blog or on The Gourmand Mom facebook page.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I count you all amongst my many blessings to be thankful for!

Apple Pie

Ingredients

  • 2 portions pie crust dough (homemade or refrigerated store-bought)*
  • 3 pounds of apples, peeled, cored, and sliced**
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips (optional)
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter chips (optional)
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins (optional)
  • 3/4 cup cinnamon chips (optional)
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries (optional)
  • 3/4 cup dried cherries (optional)
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

* I highly recommend a homemade all-butter crust. Click HERE to my my step-by-step photo guide.

**Use a combination of apples for an interesting flavor and texture. You’ll want to use mostly apples that hold there shape when baked, liked Granny Smith, Honey Crisp, Golden Delicious, or Northern Spy, but I also like to throw in a few apples that soften when baked, like Macintosh or Cortland. (I used about 1.5 pounds Granny Smith, 1 pound Honey Crisp, and 1/2 pound Macintosh in my pie.)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Press one of the pie crust doughs into your pie plate. Toss the sliced apples with the sugars, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and flour. If desired, toss in one (or more) of the optional extras. Pour the mixture into the unbaked pie crust. Cover the apples with the second pie crust dough and use a fork or your fingers to seal the edges. Cut off any extra pie dough. Use a knife to cut an ‘X’ in the center of the pie to allow the steam to vent during cooking. Bake for about 55 minutes. Allow to cool for a few hours before serving.

Post-Party Relief and a Caramel Apple Cake

Ahhhhhhhhh… Deep breath of relaxation. The birthday party for the little man was a grand success. I love throwing parties, but it’s always a great relief on the morning after. No long list of things to cook, corners to clean, or balloons to inflate. Just a house which looks like a herd of elephants charged through during the night and me on my computer, looking through pictures from the party and eating leftover caramel apple cake.

Mmmm… Caramel Apple Cake.

We’ll get to that cake in a minute. But first a few pics from the party.

The little man requested a dumptruck party. So, a dumptruck party he received.

There were construction themed plates with dumptruck designs, construction vehicles hanging in the windows, dumptrucks filled with potato chips, and hard hats, of course.

The sandwich and salad menu was a hit. Once the work of composing the sandwiches was complete, it was an easy meal to serve. The popular favorite turned out to be the Roast Beef, Cheddar, Apples, and Horseradish Sauce, which I served on cheese bread, lightly warmed in the oven.

For dessert, we enjoyed the Muddy Cups, which were my personal favorite. You may remember that I made the Muddy Cups as a solution to mangled, over-filled cupcakes. They turned out to be delicious. I’d purposely mangle cupcakes any day, in order to make more Muddy Cups.

We sang Happy Birthday, of course, and the little man blew out his birthday candle. It was sweet to watch the expression on his face as the room full of people sang to him. He was clearly confused and intrigued by the event.

Amongst other fantastic gifts, he received a dinosaur costume, which we all enjoyed.

Rrrrroar!

And did I mention this Caramel Apple Cake??

On the flight home from NYC a couple weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Food Network magazine and was greeted with the recipe for this cake. I instantly added it to my list of recipes to try.  Last weekend’s apple picking excursion provided me with the star ingredient. So, I whipped it up yesterday as an extra party treat.

The recipe starts with a homemade caramel, which is delicious and simple to make. The entire process sort of has a mad scientist feel to it. You start with a pot full of dry sugar, which magically melts in an amber syrup. Then you add the butter and cream. Do be careful and use a deep pot and a long spoon for mixing. It will bubble up a storm once you add the butter and cream. The vigorous bubbling which ensues the moment the butter and cream hit the syrup actually led my husband to question whether I was doing it right. Yes, dear. I’m doing it right. It’s a lot of fun to make. Just be careful and keep kids at a distance.

Part of the hot caramel is poured into a buttered pan. You need a deep pan for this recipe, at least 3 inches deep. I was able to find one in the baking section of my local craft store. After the caramel has cooled a bit, sliced apples are arranged in an overlapping round and a halved apple is placed in the center.

The batter is then prepared and poured over the apples. Chopped apples are placed on topped and the cake is baked for about an hour and twenty minutes.

To serve, the caramel is remelted by placing the cake pan in a dish of boiled water. The cake is inverted over a serving plate. Then, the reserved caramel is warmed and drizzled on top.

Overall, I really liked this recipe, though I agree with some of the reviews that 1 1/2 cups of caramel is more than necessary for drizzling over the top. No real complaints here though, since the extra caramel will be great over ice cream. As far as the cake batter goes, I’d rework this part of the recipe if I made it again. It was just a touch too dry and a tad bland for my tastes. I’d be inclined to sweeten it up a touch, add a bit more cinnamon, and decrease the flour for a moister, sweeter, spicier cake.

You can find the recipe for Caramel Apple Cake, along with a step by step slideshow, by clicking here.

Looking forward to a day of eating leftovers and relaxing in my messy house!

Shaved Apple-Fennel Salad

This past weekend, we took the boys apple-picking. As I’ve mentioned after our berry picking excursions, the boys are highly skilled fruit pickers. The looks of concentration on their faces, as they go about their work, is priceless. And we always end up with far more fruit than we needed.

Such was the case this past weekend. The boys moved through the aisles of apple trees with focused eyes and hands, proudly filling their bags with ripe McIntosh and Cortland apples, until the bags were too heavy to be carried. We brought home at least a peck per picker. In layman’s terms, that’s a boat-load of apples. **Author’s note: The more accurate descriptor of our quantity of apples is a poop-load, but it struck me as unappealing to use the word poop in a blog about food. Oh drats, it seems that I wrote it anyway.

Well, when you’ve got a poop-load of freshly-picked apples sitting around, you need to start thinking creatively. Of course, I could bake more apple crisp, but since I gorged myself with it again last night (after consuming a massive BLT) I think it’s better for my waistline that I refrain from baking any more. Apple pie would, of course, be delicious. But, then I’d face the same self-control problem I’m having with the apple crisp in my fridge. So, thinking on the lighter side, I decided to incorporate some of the fresh, crisp apples into a salad with a bit of thinly shaved fennel and a white balsamic vinaigrette.

Fennel conjures up strong images of Thanksgiving at my Italian Grammy’s house. Thanksgiving at my Grammy’s house is a marathon of eating, which challenges even my expert ability to overeat. It starts with an antipasto platter; layers of rolled meats and cheese, adorned with spicy peppers, marinated mushrooms and artichokes, and black olives, dressed in a spicy, tangy vinaigrette. Following the antipasto, we sit down at the table for fruit salad. Then, the pasta course comes out; typically a lasagna, baked ziti, or stuffed shells with garlic bread. And then, after all of that meat and cheese and fruit and pasta and the occasional stolen dessert cookie; then we sit down for a traditional Thanksgiving meal; turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, creamed onions, green beans, cranberry sauce, and rolls. After which, there is dessert, of course; usually a selection of pies, cookies, cheesecakes, and trifle. It’s quite the feast.

So, where’s the fennel come in? Well, before the feast begins, there are nuts, olives, and fennel. As a child, the presence of this strange, celery-looking, licorice-tasting vegetable alongside the olives always confused me. Even more confusing was that my Italian family members pronounced it in a way which sounded like FUH-nook. But then again, I was also taught to pronounce ricotta like Rrrr-GOAT (don’t forget to roll your r’s) and mozzarella like Mootz-a-REL.

In my mind, fennel equals Thanksgiving at Grammy’s. I’ve never actually used fennel in any of my own recipes, but I was inspired recently by a salad which was featured in my grocery store’s seasonal magazine. Their salad blended fennel with oranges and onions over spinach in a vinaigrette. I’m taking inspiration from the apples in making my own twist on a fennel salad, using a light, crisp white balsamic vinegar in my dressing. If you can’t find white balsamic, you can easily substitute regular balsamic. The tastes are similar. The addition of walnuts and applewood smoked bacon to the salad add a wonderful complement in flavors and a perfect bit of crunch.

Shaved Apple and Fennel Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 Apples
  • 1 Fennel Bulb
  • 6 cups Spinach
  • 1/2 cup Walnuts, chopped
  • 6 Slices Bacon, cooked and crumbled*

For the Dressing

  • 1/4 cup White Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/3 cup Olive Oil
  • 1 Tbsp Honey
  • 1 tsp Mustard
  • Salt and Pepper

*Use applewood smoked bacon, if available.

Directions

Cut the apples in half and remove the core. Cut the fennel bulb in half. Using a mandoline slicer, very thinly slice the apples and fennel bulb. If you don’t have a mandoline, use a knife to slice the apples and fennel as paper-thin as possible. Make the dressing by whisking together all ingredients. Toss the spinach in a small amount of dressing. Divide the spinach onto four plates. Toss the apples and fennel in a small amount of dressing. Place a mound of the dressed apples and fennel on top of the spinach. Top with walnuts and crumbled bacon.

Serves 4


Apple Walnut Crisp

I ate apple crisp and ice cream for dinner last night. There, I said it. We might as well be honest with each other. I had dessert for dinner. It wasn’t an accident or the result of poor self-control. It was a conscious decision, well thought out and carefully calculated.

You see, I subscribe to my own personal balance theory of healthy living. I love food and I’m almost always hungry. Whereas my husband can easily go for six hours or more between meals, I’m hungry again two hours after a big meal. Every two hours or so, my belly sounds the alarm and if the response isn’t immediate, hunger anger ensues. Ask my husband what I’m like during a hunger anger attack. It’s not pretty.

The Face of Hunger Anger

Anyway, back to balance. I like to eat and I eat a lot. So, in order to counter the effects of my endless appetite on my waistline, I seek balance. I usually find it through a healthy breakfast and a light lunch. Healthy snack selections, staying active with the kids, and a few runs every week help too. The combination of these behaviors allows me a little leeway with a few indulgent cheesy, delicious dinners and the occasional gooey, sweet treat.

But recently, my neat little healthy-living balance equation has been thrown off by the early sunset. I’d had a good routine going for a while. Put the kids to bed at seven, then hit the pavement for while. But, lately it’s nearly dark by the time the kids are in bed. I’ve lost my run time. I need to rework my running routine.

In the mean time, I’ve got this little gap in my balance equation, which means I need to be a little more careful on the indulgent side. So, this afternoon, when I pulled the apple crisp out of the oven and gave it a little taste test, I knew I needed a plan. The problem was that the moment that first bite hit my mouth, I knew that a small, reasonably sized portion wasn’t going to satisfy me. No. I know myself all too well. Only a heaping bowl of the hot, cinnamon-doused apples, mounded with crispy nuts and oats, and a huge scoop of vanilla bean ice cream would fit the bill.  It wouldn’t matter how much or how little I ate at dinner. I’d eat a heaping bowl of that apple crisp for dessert, even if it hurt me to do so.

A heaping bowl of apple crisp and ice cream, tacked on to the end of an already full day of eating, would most definitely throw off the balance. So, I did the only thing I could think of and substituted the apple crisp for dinner. Balance maintained. Well, sort of.

Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

Apple Walnut Crisp

Ingredients

For the Apples

  • 6 cups Apples; cored, peeled, and thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup Sugar
  • 2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp Cornstarch
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  • Dash of Nutmeg

For the Walnut Streusel Topping

  • 1 cup Flour
  • 2/3 cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 2/3 cup Walnuts, chopped
  • 2/3 cup Oats
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 stick Butter, melted

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a 13×9 baking dish. Toss the apples with the sugar, cinnamon, cornstarch, vanilla, and nutmeg. Pour the apples into the prepared baking dish. For the topping, mix together the flour, sugar, walnuts, oats, and cinnamon. Pour the melted butter over the mixture and stir until combined. The mixture should appear slightly moist and crumbly. Generously sprinkle the topping over the apples. Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown and bubbly. Cool slightly and serve with vanilla ice cream.


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