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Cook in the Moment: Apple Butter

Apple Butter on a Fall Day in Colorado (c)2012 La Domestique

Thick and spreadable, apple butter is named for its texture, and contains no dairy. I’ve been doing a fair bit of preserving at home lately, but cooking apples down into a dark, caramelized puree is my absolute fall favorite. Every year I make a batch to mark the season, and thoroughly enjoy seeking out a new variety to try at the local farmer’s market. This year, after tasting through each apple at the market, I stumbled upon a new favorite: Alkmene. An old German apple, this variety stood out amongst the rest because of its tart, robustly apple flavor paired with dense and juicy flesh. I brought home a big bag of apples and pulled out one of my favorite preserving cookbooks, Canning for a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff. A tattered post-it marked the recipe for Spiced Apple Butter. This may be the easiest preserving ever, because the apples are stewed in a crockpot for 9-12 hours before the puree is ladled into sterilized jars and processed in a hot water bath. Cooking jam on the stovetop is much a quicker and more hectic process, and it’s nice to have a whole day while the preserve bubbles away in the slow-cooker to prepare for filling and processing the jars. As the fruit simmers, a festive aroma of baking spices fills the house. Cinnamon, clove, and allspice concentrate in flavor as the apples turn from cream-colored to dark amber, and the puree becomes thick and velvety.

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Cook in the Moment: Italian Prune Plum and Cardamom Conserve

Italian Prune Plum Conserve with Irish Oatmeal (c)2012 La Domestique

If Italian prune plums can be found at the farmer’s market, fall is truly here. Small, oblong like a little egg with dusky midnight blue skin, these plums are sold at markets during September and October. The flavor is concentrated in their skin, covering golden yellow flesh that is meaty and soft, not bursting with juices like the Santa Rosas. It seems odd to get so excited about a fruit that I would never consider eating raw, but Italian prune plums make spectacular preserves. Transformed by the cooking process into sweet, tart, deeply flavored fruit, the plums hold their own in Rachel Saunders’s recipe for Italian Prune and Cardamom Conserve, flavored with spices and a kick of brandy. Thick and wintry, conserve is a jam made with fresh and dried fruit, often spiked with a splash of liquor. Every year I welcome autumn by putting up a batch of conserve to enjoy throughout the colder months. A heaping spoonful stirred into steaming oatmeal adds a nice fruity acidity and spice to a rich and hearty breakfast. Keep fruit conserve at the table to spread over slices of Irish brown soda bread, or use it as filling for a galette. Heat the conserve in a small pan and spoon the sauce over seared duck breasts or serve it as a condiment on the cheese plate. You’ll run out of conserve before you run out of ways to enjoy it.

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Cook in the Moment: Chocolate Pear Tart

Bartlett Pears from the Boulder Farmer's Market (c) La Domestique

I’ve always loved apples. Come the first day of fall I’m dreaming of apple pie, apple butter, and warm apple cider spiked with brandy. The German in me loves applesauce with sausage. Don’t forget apple turnovers for breakfast and apple cider doughnuts! I liked pears, but never gave them much thought, until I came across this post on pears by Sarah at The Yellow House blog. Photos of the sun drenched pear orchard drew me in and her simple pear pie with a dark wheaty crust sealed the deal – I felt a sudden longing for pears.

Reading Nigel Slater’s book, Ripe, made me realize that appreciating this delicate fruit requires slowing down and spending the time to really get to know the pear. He writes,

“From the family Rosaccae, which includes meadowsweet, brambles, hawthorn, and quince, members of the Pyrus genus possess a sophistication that can only be dreamed of by the apple, with extraordinarily subtle hints of wine, rose, honey, and nuts. Occasionally you might detect a note of musk or a distant breath of aniseed. The apple has these too, but more obvious and upfront.”

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First Day of Fall in the Rocky Mountains and a Recipe for Roasted Potato Salad

Fall Colors in Rocky Mountain National Park (c) 2012 La Domestique

We sat in our car, parked at the edge of Upper Beaver Meadows in Rocky Mountain National Park. A waxing crescent moon rose in the black sky, dotted with stars. It was cold. I was dressed in layers: long sleeved shirt, sweater, down vest, scarf, and knit cap, but wished I had thought to bring my winter coat and a pair of gloves. Mountain peaks surrounded us, and a misty layer of cool, damp air settled into the valley. Car windows rolled down, engine turned off, we just listened to the grunts, blows, and rustling of large bodies through tall grass. Elk congregated right in front of us, gathered in the meadow, but our eyes were rendered useless in the absence of artificial light that is the wilderness. It was the first day of autumn, and we had come for the rut, when the elk move down to lower elevations to mate. I cupped my hand around my ear, in the hopes of amplifying the subtle sounds. On the very fringe of my senses I picked up the clatter of horns, two bucks fighting for dominance somewhere out there. My husband and I exchanged looks of excitement, remaining quiet so as not to let our presence be known. The erie song of a bull elk’s bugling carried across the valley, echoing against the walls of the Rocky Mountains. A call to the left, an answer to the right, as bulls declared their intentions, each seeking to dominate the rest. Describing a bull elk’s bugle is difficult, since this haunting call is like no other familiar sound. It begins as a deep guttural groan and culminates in a screeching, high-pitched scream. We sat in silence for hours, and it felt good to be quiet and listen. Living in the city exposes us to the same sounds of cars and people over and over again. We are visually stimulated by a barrage of movement and color. Sitting in the darkness listening to the elk, I felt relieved. It felt good to let go of one sense that I rely on constantly (sight) and cultivate an under stimulated one (hearing). Listening to the wild is not like listening to your iPod, controlling the volume with the press of a button. I marveled at the difficulty of picking up soft sounds, like the distant clatter of horns, and rejoiced in catching the quiet lapping of water against 1,000 pound bodies as elk moved slowly through a nearby pond. The strange and wonderful bugle ricocheted off my eardrums, and my brain struggled to comprehend this new sensation. Visiting the wild with my husband was a rejuvenating way to welcome fall, and I left a bit quieter, more thoughtful, and connected to nature.

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Honey Wheat Grape Focaccia with Rosemary

Honey Wheat Grape Focaccia with Rosemary (c)2012 La Domestique

As I mentioned in my last post, the first thing that came to mind when I stumbled upon a pile of Concord grapes at the farmer’s market was focaccia. In its most basic form, this Italian flatbread starts with a dough of white bread flour, yeast, water, and salt, moistened with a generous amount of olive oil. After rising for a bit, the dough is pressed out into a baking sheet in the shape of a rectangular slab. Dimples are created by pressing into the dough with your fingertips, making little crevices for flavorful olive oil to pool. Half an hour in the oven yields a golden brown flatbread, slightly puffed, with a tender, moist, and chewy crumb that’s perfect for a convivial table served in torn and rustic pieces or cut into neat squares. Focaccia is often adorned with toppings, from a simple sprinkling of rosemary leaves and sea salt or olives, to this recipe I baked last year topped with caramelized onions, pears, and blue cheese. During the fall harvest, grapes are a popular topping for focaccia, and the jammy fruit compliments the savory olive oil dough beautifully. So many recipes for grape focaccia can be found on the web, like this one by Melissa Clark, but I like to keep it simple and resist the urge to turn this bread into a dessert. I enjoy balancing the savory and sweet, which makes for a more versatile bread that can be served on the dinner table with an autumn roast meat, alongside a bowl of root vegetable or cauliflower soup, or as a grilled cheese panini.

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Concord Grapes

Concord Grapes from the Boulder Farmer's Market (c)2012 La Domestique

The thought of grapes hadn’t even entered my mind as I passed through the crowded farmer’s market, eying the mysterious Japanese eggplant and passing my fingers over plump tomatoes. Amongst the regular cultivars I’d grown used to seeing over the summer, my eye halted at the sight of a newbie – midnight blue grapes coated in white dust. Could it be? Concords! I couldn’t hide my excitement from the farmer, eagerly (but tenderly) gathering up a couple pounds of the delicate grapes. Here in Colorado, the season for such fruit seems to pass with the blink of an eye. Feeling like I’d struck gold, I headed home with my riches. Most of the Concord grape’s flavor is concentrated in its thick skin, and an abundance of pectin means this fruit is well suited to preserving as a jam (find Rachel Saunders’ recipe over at Tasting Table). My first desire was to bake a Concord Grape Focaccia, which you’ll find here on the blog later this week. A few of you who follow Ladomestique on instagram had some great suggestions for cooking with Concord grapes. Talley of House to House blog was kind enough to steer me towards Melissa Clark’s recipe for grape focaccia in the New York Times. Joelle of Home Sweet Homemade suggested grape juice. Gail likes Concord jam. Tori had a fantastic idea for incorporating the fruit into a strudel, and @bablanch pickles the grapes.

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Cook in the Moment: Grilled Plum Salad with Purple Basil, Blue Cheese, and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Grilled Plum Salad with Purple Basil, Blue Cheese, and Balsamic Vinaigrette (c)2012 La Domestique

I seem to be going through a purple period. I just can’t get enough of plummy colors. Last week there was the Grilled Mission Fig Salad, followed by that post on aubergines, and today I’m grilling plums and placing them on a bed of purple lettuces and purple basil dressed in winey balsamic vinaigrette. Do you ever find yourself attracted to a certain hue which inspires the food you prepare in your kitchen? Figs, eggplant, plums- and I’ve got to warn you that next week it will be Concord grapes and purple potatoes! Now I’m realizing I may be out of control here with the purple.

Cooking with seasonal ingredients found at the farmer’s market brings awareness to the colors of each season. In spring it’s all green- asparagus, broccoli, spinach. Summer is fiery red and orange with peaches, berries, tomatoes, and peppers. As summer fades into fall the purples come out- cabbage, eggplant, kale, and glorious plums. It’s been a stellar year for plums here in Colorado. I’ve never thought too much about this stone fruit – peaches always seem to steal the show – but this year I bit into a ripe and juicy Santa Rosa plum from the farmer’s market and it was like tasting the fruit for the first time. I was blown away by the tart flavor matched with just the right amount of sweetness. Never one to eat plums out of hand (before this I mostly baked with them) I was surprised and delighted by this discovery.

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For Everything there is a Season

Eggplants from the Boulder Farmer's Market (c)2012 La Domestique

Summer lingers here in Colorado, but autumn is nipping at her bare feet. The days are definitely getting shorter and a cool breeze swept through the foothills of the Rocky Mountains last week. Mornings are crisp and I need a light sweater to take Minnie the dachshund for her walk before breakfast. Summer won’t let go just yet, and her bright sunlight warms the day slowly, but she just can’t seem to coax the mercury into the 90′s as she has done in weeks past. The farmer’s market is bursting with produce: tomatoes, beans, peaches, and eggplant. I feel the need to grab as much as I can. The frost will arrive soon, bringing an abrupt end to our summer. Our grief will be soothed with the arrival of autumn and her apples, pears, root vegetables, squash, and pumpkins. Though I’ve reveled in summer this year, fall is my favorite season. Enlivened by the smell of change in the air, I feel the year has begun anew. January first means little to me. The beginning of fall has always felt like my New Year.

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Cook in the Moment: Grilled Fig Salad with Blue Cheese, Thyme, and Walnuts

Grilled Fig Salad with Blue Cheese, Thyme, and Walnuts (c)2012 La Domestique

Here at La Domestique I celebrated Labor Day by taking a rest. Though there’s no ingredient of the week, I wanted to share a recipe for cooking with figs before their season comes to an end. Sweet and juicy black mission figs caramelized on a hot grill make for a delicious late summer/early autumn salad with tender greens, thyme leaves, crunchy walnuts, and tangy blue cheese. Use mixed salad greens or a crisp head of lettuce for this dish. Walnut oil adds depth of flavor to the vinaigrette, but feel free to vary the ingredients based on what you’ve got in the pantry, as even a simple red wine vinegar and vegetable dressing would be just fine.

I hope you have a fantastic week, and plan to return Monday, September 10th with a new ingredient of the week. Thanks for reading La Domestique!

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Cook in the Moment: Spiced Rice with Sweet Potatoes and Crispy Okra

Spiced Rice with Sweet Potatoes and Crispy Okra (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

I’ve spent a lot of time with okra during the past couple of weeks. At this point, we know each other pretty well. After stewing, roasting, and frying it I can say with full confidence my favorite way to cook okra is to slice the pods in half and sear them in hot olive oil till caramelized and crispy. I could eat a plate of crispy okra simply seasoned with sea salt as an appetizer, and to be honest it’s tempting to pluck the hot pods from the skillet and gobble them up before they reach the plate. Crispy okra lends a nice texture to rice dishes, and this earthy vegetable pairs well with fragrant jasmine rice. Reading the September issue of Food and Wine Magazine, I came across a genius recipe for Butternut Squash Basmati Rice in the article, “A Lesson in Indian Flavors.” Asha Gomez tosses diced squash into her rice, killing two birds with one stone by cooking the rice and steaming the squash in one pot. This was a revelation for me, a new way to make my rice dishes more interesting and flavorful. I used the technique with diced sweet potato for a creamier, richer, sweeter flavor to pair with the fluffy popcorn-scented rice. The Spiced Rice with Sweet Potatoes and Crispy Okra recipe was developed for The Louisiana Project, so I reached for Creole spices to toss in the pot, but you could use a teaspoon (or more) or your favorite Curry, Moroccan spice blend, or Za’atar seasoning.

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About Jess

Jess O'Toole is La Domestique

Hi, I’m Jess, aka La Domestique. No matter how busy or cooking-challenged you are I can help you live the good life and enjoy fresh, healthy meals at home every day. Find out more

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