Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fajitas: From Steak to Everything

Steak fajitas

Although I haven't studied this enough to know if it's absolutely true, it seems to me that there's a greater tendency for food words of foreign origin to be misused, and thus more likely to evolve in meaning than words that have been in English a long time.

Take the French word "pommes" for example. Americans who do not speak French (me included) may be most familiar with this word from "pommes frites," which means fried potatoes. Because "frites" is obviously the fried part, they may logically assume "pommes" means potato, and thus apply it to other uses. However "Pommes" is actually the French word for "apples." "Pommes de terre" is the French term for potatoes, which literally means "apples of the earth." In the construction "pommes frites," the "de terre" has just been dropped, but without a working knowledge of French, you might not know that it needs to be put back if you want to talk about a potato and not an apple.

There are several Spanish food terms that I've noticed get appropriated for other uses. One is "queso," the Spanish word for "cheese," but which has come to mean "spicy cheese sauce" in American Tex-Mex restaurants, opening the door for potential confusion if one asks for "queso" expecting to get perhaps shredded cheese (which is, actually, what they asked for). Maybe in the not-too-distant future, "queso" could signify any type of spicy appetizer dip, including one without cheese? Vegans are already at work on this.

A Spanish term that has evolved further is "Fajita." Fajitas are one of those Tex-Mex dishes that isn't really Mexican. In The Tex-Mex Cookbook, Robb Walsh writes about the dish's Texas origins. It was originally a dish made by ranch hands from unwanted beef cuts. Restaurants began serving the dish in the 1960s, and the term "fajitas" was popularized in the 1970s.

Skirt steak, the original fajitas ingredient.
But the fajitas of the 1970s were different from those we know today. Originally, the term referred only to beef, specifically grilled skirt steak. "Faja" is the Spanish word for "skirt," and thus "fajita" means literally a "little skirt," referring to skirt steak. As a food then, the term referred specifically marinated and grilled skirt steak, generally sliced and served with tortillas and other garnishes.

In Monday's article on Dan Jurafsky's book, The Language of Food, I mentioned how our language around food evolves just as our food evolves. Fajitas are an excellent example of this.

Fajitas today may contain a variety of vegetables and meats.

Fajitas became a major food fad in the mid 1980s. Still popular today, they were everywhere at one point. I remember my introduction to the dish being a "fajita kit" you could buy at the grocery store with raw meat and vegetables to be grilled on the stove and stuffed in tortillas. Every Mexican restaurant had a version of fajitas. Even McDonald's, which obviously isn't a Mexican restaurant, began selling chicken and sometimes steak fajitas.

But wait...when did chicken enter the picture? Just as I wrote Tuesday about how "bruschetta" evolved from meaning garlic toast that might have a topping to mean garlic toast with topping, the term "fajita" evolved to mean not just the steak in the tortilla but the steak and the tortilla and garnishes, usually grilled onions and bell peppers, but also possibly salsa, cheese, beans and guacamole. Consequently, with the dish "fajita" established as meat + tortilla + garnishes, other meats could be substituted for the skirt steak and the dish was still called fajita. In fact, the meat could be dropped all together, the dish known as "vegetable fajitas." Today there are all sorts of variations on fajitas, including the original steak, but also chicken, shrimp, barbecue ribs, vegetable and combinations.

Grilled onions and bell peppers are a common fajita garnish. In some uses, they are even considered "fajitas."

There's an even newer use of the term I've observed, possibly a further evolution, entirely divorced from meat and tortillas.

In recent years, Chipotle Mexican Grill has emerged as America's leading fast-casual restaurant, sparking a revolution in the concept, quality and expectation of what fast food means. Although the menu is different now, when I first became a Chipotle customer in the early 2000s, the menu included "burritos" and "fajita burritos," the former included beans, while the latter came with grilled onions and bell peppers. Eventually, Chipotle dropped the "fajita burrito" from the menu, but kept the vegetables, the idea being that you can order just a "burrito" and get it with beans or vegetables (or both). But guess what people starting calling the grilled onions and vegetables? Fajitas.

We go to Chipotle a lot, and I hear it all the time. A customer orders a bowl with rice, chicken, black beans and, oh, "could I have some fajitas too?" indicating the grilled vegetables. Is it possible this use will grow beyond Chipotle? Perhaps, especially given that's Chipotle's influence on our food has grown with the chain, which has 1,600 (and growing) locations, plus imitators and restaurants applying a similar concept to salad, pizza, Mediterranean, Indian and Southeast Asian cuisines.

Steak Fajitas
Marinade adapted from Marinated and Grilled or Broiled Flank Steak recipe by Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 lb. skirt or flank steak
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 sweet onion, sliced
1 green bell pepper, seeded, cored and sliced
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Homemade flour tortillas (see recipe below)
Fresh guacamole (see recipe below)
Fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a shallow bowl. Add the steak, turning to coat in the marinade. Marinate for about 30 minutes, up to 1 hour.

2. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and bell pepper. Season with oregano, cumin, salt and pepper, to taste. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened and browned in places, about 10 minutes.

3. Heat oven broiler. Place steak on a baking sheet or broiler pan and broil 4 to 5 minutes per side, turning once (alternatively, if you have a grill, grill the steak over hot coals). Set aside to cool a couple minutes, then slice against the grain into strips. Serve steak and vegetables with homemade flour tortillas, fresh guacamole and a sprinkle of cilantro.

Homemade Flour Tortillas
Adapted from a recipe by How to Baker

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3-5 tbsp. vegetable shortening
1 1/4 cups warm water

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking powder. Add the vegetable shortening and use a pastry blender or your fingers to combine. Add the water, a little bit at a time, mixing in each addition to form the dough until it is soft and no longer sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes. Add additional flour if necessary to keep dough from being sticky. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

2. Break off pieces of dough and roll into golf ball-size pieces. Cover with a wet towel and let the dough rest for another 10 minutes.

3. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Working with one piece of dough at a time, dust the dough with flour and gently press it into a small disc. Flatten the dough in a tortilla press, then

4. Heat griddle pan over medium heat. Working with one piece of dough at a time, dust the dough with flour and gently press it into a small disc, then flatten in a tortilla press. Cook the tortilla on each side for about 10 to 20 seconds. Transfer to a plate and cover with paper towels to keep warm. You should be able to cook them in batches of four.

Fresh guacamole

2 ripe hass avocados
Juice from 1 lime
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
Kosher salt, to taste
Pinch of chipotle chili powder
2 tbsp. minced sweet onion

Combine avocado and lime juice in a medium bowl. Mash with a fork or pastry blender until creamy but still a bit chunky. Add the cilantro, salt, chili powder and onion and stir to combine.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Feed: October 1, 2014

Sugar does more than just sweeten these Peanut Butter, Oatmeal and Chocolate Chip Cookies, as discussed in the Eater article below.
The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

Washington Post: “Unearthed: Are Patents the Problem?” by Tamar Haspel.
Whenever I see the “Tamar Haspel” byline in the Post’s Food section, I know I’m in for a good read. She keeps up her streak with this insightful—and potentially inciteful, given the topic—story about the role of patents in agriculture. Should companies be able to patent living organisms? It’s been a topic of controversy ever since the Supreme Court weighed in to allow it in 1980. I appreciate the commenter who raised an issue I’ve read about, which his farmers subject to lawsuits when neighbors’ GMO seeds blow into their farms, as well as Haspel’s response in the comments.

Washington Post: “Bay Leaf: Should It Stay or Should It Go?” by Bonnie S. Benwick.
This pretty much sums up my thoughts about bay leaf: “Others say, sure, they toss a bay leaf in when a recipe calls for it, but they can’t tell you why.” You’ll find it in a handful of recipes on my site, but it’s not one I turn to much. But as noted in this article, it can provide a nice “foundation” flavor. Something I should consider more.

New York Times: “New Michelin Guide Has New York Star-Studded,” by Florence Fabricant.
The Michelin Guide, perhaps the most esteemed judge of high-caliber restaurants, announced new star ratings for New York restaurants, adding quite a few to the list. Of interest is that the city’s group of three-star restaurants, the guide’s highest ranking, shrank from seven to six with the removal of one of the stars from Daniel, the restaurant from chef Daniel Boulud who recently opened DBGB in Washington, D.C.—and got a mixed bag First Bite review from Tom Sietsema, although their Baked Alaska looks to-die-for good.

New York Times: “A Salad Dressing to Rule Them All,” by Julia Moskin.
Because every home cook should know how to make a basic vinaigrette, I loved how Moskin breaks down this simple classic that really should replace any store-bought bottle dressings

Eater: “Joanne Chang Brings the Sweet Science of Sugar to Harvard.
Turns out sugar does more than make your dessert sweet, a lot more. As part of Harvard’s Science and Cooking lecture series, pastry chef Joanne Chang regaled the audience with anecdotes and demonstration examples of all the wondrous things sugar does to create body, texture, balance and browning in our favorite treats.

Washingtonian: “These Are the Best 25 Food Trucks in Washington,” by Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, Anna Spiegel, Nelson Billington.
Still haven’t tried lunch from one of D.C.’s food trucks? You’re missing out, as these mobile purveyors of $10 freshly prepared American and ethnic cuisines have really captured the District’s lunch crowd. Washingtonian rounds up a list of their favorites, which include Jose Andres’ sandwich truck, Pepe; the mouth-watering BBQ Bus; and South Meets Asia, whose trio of meat tacos has satisfied my cravings on several occasions.

NPR: “A Bumpy Ride: Airplane Food Through The Decades,” by April Fulton.
It may be hard to imagine, but there was a time when airlines actually served good food, even to their coach passengers. The only thing I’ve eaten on an airplane in recent years that I liked was the Bahn Mi Alaska Airlines was serving earlier this year. Good tidbit if you travel often: check out Fly and Dine, a food blog dedicated to eating while traveling.

NPR: “'Human Flesh' Burger Is A Treat To Tempt The Walking Dead,” by Alison Bruzek.
Warning: if you’re at all squeamish, you won’t want to read this one. In honor of the upcoming fifth season of AMC’s The Walking Dead, a British chef has made a hamburger designed to taste like…here it is…human flesh. Why first thought was, “OMG how does he know?!” He did research, not the first-hand kind thankfully, but read documentation on what humans, or rather we, taste like (such as the account of the people the movie Alive was based on).

Wall Street Journal: “The Right Ice for Your Cocktail,” by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan.
For those who think being picky about your cocktail ice is taking things a step too far, Tan’s article nicely explains why different types of ice (big cubes, little cubes, crushed, shaved, etc.) behave differently in your drink.

Mother Jones: “The Creepy Language Tricks Taco Bell Uses to Fool People Into Eating There,” by Kiera Butler.
Lastly, since it’s Food and Language Week on my blog, here’s a great article using the analysis of Dan Jurafsky, author of the book The Language of Food that I discussed Monday, to examine what the wording of the menus at Taco Bell and its upscale spinoff U.S. Taco Co. tell us about the implicit messages being conveyed.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On Food and Language: Evolution of 'Bruschetta'

Tomato Bruschetta

Let's try a quick exercise. I'm going to toss out a word and I want you to close your eyes and envision what it represents. Here's the word: "bruschetta."

What did you see? A piece of grilled toast rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil? Said toast topped with chopped tomatoes and basil? Or perhaps just the tomato topping and no bread at all?

That all of these answers are possible aren't just examples of variation. It's a specific linguistic phenomenon called semantic change, the change over time in the meaning of a word. In the case of bruschetta, what was once a word to describe a piece of garlic-rubbed and olive-oil-drizzled toast has since come to mean several different things, including seasoned chopped tomatoes and basil--referring to a popular bruschetta topping (sans the toast)--as well as some other meanings. An unscientific poll of my Twitter and Facebook followers revealed this variation: when I asked them what came to mind when they saw the word "bruschetta," I received replies that included garlic toast with something fresh (like tomatoes), a snack of seasoned grilled bread with tomatoes and olive oil and, lastly, just tomatoes.

Traditionally, "bruschetta" referred to a piece of toasted bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil.
More recently, the term "bruschetta" has come to sometimes refer to a mixture of tomatoes and herbs,  a popular topping for the garlic toast.

According to the Food Lover's Companion, "bruschetta" comes from the Italian word bruscare, which means to "roast over coals." The book goes on to define bruschetta as a traditional garlic bread made by rubbing slices of toasted bread with garlic cloves, drizzling the bread with extra-virgin olive oil and seasoning it with salt and pepper. Tomatoes and basil are not mentioned.

The book's definition appears to align with the traditional Italian definition. In Marcella Hazan's The Classic Italian Cookbook from 1973, she includes a recipe for bruschetta exactly as described in the Food Lover's Companion: toasted bread rubbed with crushed garlic, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Again, no tomatoes. However, her more recent 1992 cookbook, Essentials of Classic Italian Cookbook, includes a separate recipe for a "tomato version," identical but with the addition of a topping of diced tomatoes with a sprinkle of basil or oregano.

Published around that same time in 1989, Julee Russo and Sheila Lukins' The New Basics Cookbook describes bruschetta as garlic-rubbed and olive oil-drizzed toast but then goes on to say it can be embellished with various toppings, including tomatoes, which are found in all three of their bruschetta recipes, even their "basic" one. It's still clear though that they consider the toasted bread to be the bruschetta. Introducing "our basic bruschetta" recipe they write, "when we make bruschetta, we top it with a heady tomato mixture..." "It" is the toast; the tomato is the topping.

More recently, however, there has been a shift towards using "bruschetta" to mean not the toast, but the toast plus its topping. This is a subtle, but I think very important distinction. When a dish consists of a primary ingredient plus secondary elements, you would not remove that primary ingredient and then use the term to describe only the secondary elements. Tomato sauce, mozzarella and pepperoni could not be called "pizza" unless it is sitting upon a baked bread crust. However, when a dish consists of multiple primary elements, it is possible to remove one (or more) and still refer to the dish with that name. It is not uncommon to see Caesar Salads missing their croutons or anchovies, for examine. And lots of people run around drinking "martinis" that contain neither gin nor vermouth.

In the case of bruschetta, I became aware of its drifting definition earlier this year while tweeting with another food blogger.

She had posted a tweet about a recipe she described as a "fun twist on bruschetta," the Bruschetta Quinoa Casserole from the blog The Iron You. In this recipe, the writer made a quinoa casserole with tomatoes, onion, garlic, cheese, herbs and seasonings. In describing the dish, the writer says, "this casserole tastes like bruschetta, exit the bread, enters the quinoa." Implicit in his statement is that bruschetta is toast and tomato-herb topping, not toast which may have a tomato-herb topping. In such an equation, you could conceivably remove the bread as an element in the dish and still have the dish. Thus, we come to the next evolution: calling a tomato-topping "bruschetta."

Another blogger friend of mine did just that when he posted about bruschetta he had made. The photo accompanying his post had no bread; it was a (rather delicious looking) bowl of seasoned chopped tomatoes with basil. He told me he was serving it with bread, but clearly he considered "bruschetta" to be the topping, with the bread as an important but secondary component. And he's not alone in this thinking. This Kraft salad recipe refers to "bruschetta on French bread," clearly implying that bruschetta is a topping. This Tyson recipe for Better Bruschetta Chicken Salad contains tomatoes, olives and other bruschetta toppings, but doesn't make any reference to bread. The popular restaurant chain Applebees used to have a dish called Bruschetta Chicken, described as "Grilled chicken seasoned with bruschetta, parsley and a blend of Italian cheeses." Although I'm still having trouble understanding how chicken can be "seasoned" with tomatoes and garlic, I'll acknowledge the even greater difficulty of performing that maneuver with toast.

With these and other similar recipes, bread has clearly, if not fully divorced, certainly separated from bruschetta--even though originally that's all bruschetta was. Not surprisingly, at the grocery store I found jars of various toppings that market themselves as "bruschetta," not bruschetta toppings.

Jars of "bruschetta" at the grocery store.

That corporations have had a hand in the changing definition of "bruschetta" should not come as a surprise. Marketing has long played a role in how we think and talk about food. In The Language of Food, linguistics professor Dan Jurafsky details the evolution of ketchup. Today, we think of ketchup as a sweet and sour pureed tomato sauce, but initially, the term referred to a type of Chinese fish sauce. Jurafsky details how the sauce transformed from its fishy roots to its modern day incarnation as an essential American hamburgers and fries condiment. When it comes to ketchup, Heinz is king. Although it's inconceivable today to use the word "ketchup" to refer to a sauce made from anything but tomatoes, Heinz own use of "tomato ketchup" on its label is a nod to the possibility of there being ketchups that aren't tomato-based. The term "ketchup" feels pretty stable at the moment, but Heinz was responsible for settling one of the word's last divisions, whether it should be spelled "catsup" or "ketchup." They chose the latter, and now hardly anyone uses the other spelling (the Merriam-Webster dictionary refers to "catsup" as a variant of "ketchup").

All this is to say that the words that we use to describe what we eat can and do change. As our tastes and culture evolve, so too does our language. "Tweeting" is something that only birds used to do, yet today it means something altogether different, a definition that has become (possibly the more common) only within the last 5-6 years. You can be a linguist and view this as a good thing, or a language "maven" and view it as sacrilege, but once a word develops a new common usage, there's no turning back. Given the current craze for all things gluten-free, perhaps it is conceivable that someday I'll walk into a restaurant, order a pizza and receive a dish that includes no bread.

Tomato Bruschetta

Book: The Language of Food

Tomato Bruschetta

This recipe accompanies my article about the evolution of the food language, focusing on how "bruschetta" has evolved over time. Perhaps because I was first introduced to it in the late 1990s, I think of bruschetta as being garlic-rubbed toast topped with tomatoes and basil. I wouldn't think of calling the toast alone without the topping bruschetta--nor would I refer to the topping that way either.

Tomato Bruschetta

6 slices of crusty bread, such as Italian or baguette
3 garlic cloves
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt (or smoked sea salt) and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1 tbsp. fresh chopped basil

1. Preheat an oven broiler or, if you have it, prepare a grill with hot coals for grilling. if broiling, place the bread on a baking sheet; if grilling, place the bread directly on the grill. Toast the bread on both sides until golden brown.

2. Crush the garlic cloves with the side of a heavy knife and discard the outer skin. Rub both sides of each piece of toasted bread with the garlic. Drizzle each piece of toast with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Combine the diced tomatoes and chopped basil in a medium bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Spoon the tomato topping onto the toast and serve.

On Food and Language: Evolution of "Bruschetta"

Monday, September 29, 2014

Book: The Language of Food

Have you ever wondered why "entree," a word that sounds like "enter," means a main course rather than a first?

Or why India Pale Ale is so-named, given that it is neither produced in India nor contains ingredients from India (as far as I know)?

These are but a few of the questions answered in The Language of Food, the new book by Stanford University linguistics professor Dan Jurafsky.

Books about language are often a great read. Lynn Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves is an engaging and witty treatise on the importance of punctuation. And Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue, about the history of the English language, is a must-read for those who marvel at the complex and often confounding ways that we speak and write. Fans of those books who also love to eat will enjoy Jurafsky's work, which seeks to explain the history and evolution of some of the common terms we use for food, providing insights into their relationship with Western and other cultures.

Each of the book's chapters focus on a different subject or set of related subjects, which include examining specific food terms like "toast," "macaroni" and "ketchup." Fans of Jurafsky's blog will recognize some of the chapters as expanded versions of articles he's previously posted online. Although each chapter is rooted in language, but this is sometimes to lens to examine other questions of history and the evolution of food culture. The chapter on "why the Chinese don't have dessert," for example, moves far afield from language to examine the origin of the notion that meals should end with something sweet in Western but not Eastern culture (and how the fortune cookie, an American invention, is a nice bridge between the two).

One of my favorite chapters comes early in the book where Jurafsky and colleagues examined a dataset of 6,500 restaurant menus to learn what the language of menus reveals about the food restaurants serve. Some of his observations may seem counterintuitive on their face, but reveal a lot about what we expect at restaurants of different price points.

For example, lower-price restaurants' menus tend to use more "filler" words, i.e. empty words that don't really mean anything like "flavorful" and "delicious." Certainly, no one is hoping to choose a dish that isn't those things. In contrast, higher-price restaurants tend to not use as many adjectives (there's no need to point out the bacon is "real," since, at such establishments, it is expected) or if they do, they use longer words ("decaffeinated" and not "decaf") or terms that point to the food's provenance. His conclusion on this subject makes a lot of sense: "we suspect that empty words are linked with lower prices because they are in fact fillers; stuff you put in the description of the dish when you don't have something really valuable like crab or porterhouse to talk about instead."

You can see this for yourself. Compare, for example the description of a burger from Red Robin, a national chain, to that of Bourbon Steak, a high-end D.C. steakhouse:
  • Red Robin: Red's Tavern Double - You’ll be tasting double with two classic-sized patties, melted American cheese, tomato, lettuce and Red’s Secret Tavern Sauce.™ $6.99
  • Bourbon Steak: Oak-Fired Prime Steak Burger - sour pickles, Cabot clothbound cheddar, secret sauce. 19.
Red Robin's adjectives tell us about the burger pattie's size ("classic-sized"), whereas Bourbon Steak tells us about how it is cooked ("oak-fired"). Bourbon steak tells us its cheese is "Cabot clothbound," an expensive type of cheddar, while Red Robin just tells us the cheese is "melted," since what other descriptive adjectives would you say about American cheese? Notice the difference in how the price is expressed: Red Robin uses a dollar sign and includes 99 cents, that old trick to make you think the burger is $6 when it's really $7. Bourbon steak does neither, a newer trick restaurants are employing to disassociate your menu selection from the impact on your wallet. Lastly, notice they both use the term "secret sauce," a tradition born in fast-food burger restaurants.

A key theme in the book is the idea of how words and word use change. Certainly, our food is an ever-changing thing, subject to the increasing availability of foods from other places, diet fads (gluten free, paleo), trends (kale, quinoa, bacon) and our understanding of nutrition (bye-bye margarine). Similarly, the language we use to discuss what we eat evolves as well, although not everyone likes that it does.

Writes Jurafsky: "We are carefully taught to clamp down on changes in language as if new ways of speaking are unnatural, adopted by ignorant speakers out of stupidity or even malice. Yet linguistic research demonstrates that the gradual changes in language over time often lead to significant improvements in the language's clarity or efficiency..." He's talking specifically about the aforementioned evolution of the term "entree" from meaning an early course to a main course, but this statement applies broadly to language about food and really language in general.

That brings me to this week's theme on my blog. This week I'll be sharing recipes that have a connection to language, specifically how food terms can evolve to mean different things. I've got three delicious examples that I hope will stir debate and whet your appetites.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Roasted Stuffed Caramel Apples

Roasted Stuffed Caramel Apples

Walking through a beach town last month, I passed the window of a confectionery with a fresh batch of caramel apples in the window. They were so beautiful, glistening brown caramel perfectly coating each apple. They are so tempting.

But then I remembered my experience with such a treat, and it's not pretty. They're hard to eat. Very messy (for similar reasons, I'm not a big fan of cupcakes). The apple inside is probably a red delicious, which isn't one of my favorite varieties. Plus, since the apple is coated in caramel, you can't really tell whether you're getting a good one or not.

But I love apples and I love caramel, so I thought about creating a dessert that honor these two flavors with a presentation more to my liking--something fully cooked that you eat with a knife and fork but still coated in yummy gooey caramel.

Having had success with roasting apples last year for a savory dish, I decided to do something similar but with sweeter dessert flavors. There are quite a few recipes for roasted stuffed apples that follow a pretty similar format: core the apple, fill the cavity with sugar, butter, nuts and sometimes grains, then roast with a little liquid in the bottom of the pan.

Roasted Stuffed Caramel Apples

4 honeycrisp apples
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup apple cider (may use apple juice)
Caramel sauce (see recipe below)

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Cut off the top 1/2 inch of each apple. Using a melon baller, core the apple about 2/3 of the way down, being sure to remove all of the seeds. This should leave a round cavity in the center of each apple about 1-inch across and about 2 inches deep.

3. In a small bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, cloves and salt, mashing the mixture with a fork to work the butter and sugar together. Divide the mixture between the apples and spoon it into the cored-out cavity of each apple.

4. Place the apples in a square 9 X 9 baking dish. Pour apple cider around the apples. Bake in the oven until the apples are soft when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Allow the apples to cool about 5 minutes. Spoon caramel sauce over each apple and serve.

Caramel Sauce
Adapted from a recipe by Bon Appétit, January 2013

1 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
3 tbsp. water
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1. In a 4 qt. saucepan, whisk together sugar, cream of tartar and water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir it a bit to make sure the sugar dissolves evenly, but then let it cook unstirred until it starts to brown, about 5-6 minutes. Continue cooking, stirring a bit, until it reaches the color of honey. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is a deep amber color, about another 3-4 minutes (the times really don’t matter in this recipe and they may vary depending on your range—it’s the color stages that are important).

2. Remove saucepan from heat. Whisk in the butter (carefully, since it will sputter), then the cream (again, be careful) and then finally the salt. Allow the sauce to cool a bit and then transfer to an appropriate container: a glass jar, bowl or measuring cup (don’t use plastic if the mixture is still hot). Store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cocktail: Honey Bourbon Apple Cider

Honey Bourbon Apple Cider

This is a last-minute bonus cocktail that I wasn't planning for this week, but I made it last night and thought it was a good complement to the How Do You Like Dem Apples cocktail, especially for those bourbon fans out there.

In yesterday's all-apple edition of The Feed, I wrote about a Bon Appétit recipe for an apple cocktail with bourbon and honey. Apples and honey are a traditional combination for Rosh Hashanah--which just happens to be today (well, last night through tomorrow night).

I found this recipe on the Urban Sacred Garden blog and tweaked it a bit, upping the apple cider and honey syrup and adding additional bitters. The Bon Appétit recipe used a spiced honey syrup, which sounded good, but for simplicity, it's really easier to use spiced cocktail bitters like Angostura and Fee Brothers Barrel-Aged Bitters, which give the drink a wonderful spiciness.

Honey Bourbon Apple Cider
Adapted from a recipe by Urban Sacred Garden

1 1/2 oz. bourbon
1/2 oz. Laird's Applejack (or other apple brandy)
3/4 oz. honey syrup (see note)
2 oz. non-alcoholic apple cider
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters
1-2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters
Orange peel (garnish)

Note: To make honey syrup, combine 2 parts honey with 1 part hot water and stir until mixed with an even consistency.

Combine the bourbon, Applejack, honey syrup, apple cider and bitters in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until cold. Strain into a rocks glass with ice. Squeeze the orange peel over the drank and garnish the glass with it.