Saturday, October 29, 2011

Spiced Apple Cider

Blog post by: Alisa

No, I don't make everything homemade, but, where possible, I will try at least once just to know that I can. You could skip the peeling, slow-cooking, and house filled with the fragrance of cinnamon apples by simply picking up a jug of apple cider at the grocery store. However, if you have the inclination, you will be richly rewarded with your very own apple cider, applesauce (it makes a lot!) and possibly apple butter, and a home scented with a heavenly Fall perfume.

14 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced into eighths
4 cinnamon sticks
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
Pinch of ground ginger
2 tbsp brown sugar

Add all of the ingredients to a large slow cooker (Crock Pot) and add enough water to just cover apples. Be sure to press them down with a plate or a clean hand to know when to stop adding water. They will float, and could cause you to add too much water. Cover with lid and cook on HIGH for 4 to 5 hours. When the apples are soft enough to break down easily when pressed with a fork, you know they are done. Don't mash them up yet! Allow apples and liquid to cool a bit before the next step so that you don't burn yourself on the crock or with the steam from the liquid. Place a strainer or colander over the top of a large pot and pour the apples and liquid from the slow cooker into the strainer. Dump the drained apples back into the crock and mash into applesauce consistency. If needed, strain the cider again to remove smaller particles. A fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth lining the colander will take care of the bits. Taste the cider while it's still warm and decide if it's sweet enough to suit your preference. If not, add brown or white sugar til you reach desired sweetness. The cider is delicious served warm or cold.

For the applesauce, all you need to do is mash the soft apples to desired consistency. If you decide to sweeten the sauce a bit (can use brown or white sugar, agave syrup, stevia, etc), it's always best to add the sweetener while the apples are still warm. Depending on the apples, you may not need any sweetener at all.

For apple butter, add as much of the sauce as you want to a food processor and pulse until it reaches a very fine consistency. Put the apple butter back into the slow cooker and cook for another hour to hour and a half (WITHOUT the lid), until some of the moisture has evaporated and you have a thick, fruity spread. Again, taste test for desired sweetness. Store apple butter in sterile containers with tight-fitting lids or freeze in small batches.

For a real fall treat (Caramel Apple Cider), heat up 8 ounces of cider, add 2 tablespoons caramel sauce, and stir until blended. 
Enjoy the bountiful apple harvest!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Blog by Alisa
I like a good Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte as much as the next coffee addict with an appreciation for pumpkin pie. What I'm not so crazy about is the five bucks I have to let go of with each grande-size cup of Fall-spiked elixir. Since I'm no stranger to the kitchen or how to brew a great cup of coffee, I decided I can overcome the fact that the Starbucks recipe for pumpkin spice latte is not readily known. So what if Google yields 152, 000 entries for 'pumpkin spice latte recipe'? Piece of cake. Or maybe, 'easy as pie!' Did I mention one hundred and fifty two thousand recipe entries? After culling through several pages of vastly different and curiously similar recipes, I narrowed it down to three possibilities.

The first two recipes were such losers that I didn't even bother with photographic evidence of them. They went down the drain faster than my camera could make an appearance. Next!! However, I will tell you the general methods so that you can walk a wide berth around them if you happen to see similar recipes and get curious. Remember, "Next!!" I'm not kidding. You've been warned. The first of the two disaster lattes was true enough to its  description. It was espresso and hot milk seasoned only with the classic flavors of pumpkin pie spice: cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Okay, I'll cut it a little slack here and say that it wasn't truly a disaster, as far as a latte goes, but it was not a contender for the flavor I was chasing. Why? Because there was not even the slightest hint of actual pumpkin flavor. That occurred to me when I was reading over the recipe, but I can't knock it if I don't try it, right? Well, I tried it, and that entitles me to knock it. Next! The second attempt qualified not only as a disaster, but as a catastrophe. Catastrophic disaster. Disastrous catastrophe. Take your pick. It was terrible. It was essentially the same ingredients as the recipe before it, with the horrific inclusion of canned pumpkin puree. My trusty gag reflex let me down and did not go off until it was too late. I don't care how much one whisks the puree into the hot espresso, it is still pumpkin puree in espresso. I'll spare you the description of how a smooth latte is brought to certain ruin with the seemingly innocent addition of a puree. Gag. NEXT!!

Finally, I arrived at the recipe that I suspected from the beginning as being the winner. It just made the most the sense. It was also the most labor-intensive, so I saved it for last. Every description I'd seen for the actual Starbucks latte mentioned the use of a pumpkin flavored syrup. At first, I was denigrating my rural town's inaccessibility to almost anything that could be remotely considered as a gourmet culinary item. Nearly seven years here and I haven't seen a package of spring roll wrappers for hundreds of miles.  But I digress..... In the end, it was the rural inaccessibility that forced me into not taking the path of least resistance. I could not find pumpkin flavored syrup anywhere. Not a surprise. So I made my own.  This is it, people! This is all you need to have your latte and afford it, too.

Here's all you need to create this most awesome of Fall treats in your own kitchen:
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups white sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional, but you'll thank me later if you add this)
1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree

Clean cheesecloth or strainer with fine mesh
Whisk together the sugar and water in a medium saucepan, and heat on medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Whisk in the ginger, nutmeg, pumpkin puree, vanilla extract, and add the cinnamon sticks. Bring the mixture up to just under a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes or until your syrup is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove saucepan from heat and allow syrup to cool for 10 to 15 minutes. If using cheescloth, use a piece that has been folded three times. Place the cheesecloth over the opening of the storage container of your choice. If using the fine mesh strainer, be sure to have a spoon handy to stir the mixture around and aid the syrup's drainage into the container (the puree is thick!). Remove the cinnamon sticks and strain your syrup into the storage container. I used a 16 ounce plastic Ball freezer container because it has a twist-on lid to help prevent spills. Refrigerate your syrup and it will keep for weeks.

To make a pumpkin spice latte, you'll need:

3/4 cup freshly brewed espresso or strong coffee (bold French or Italian roasts work fine)
1/2 hot milk
2 tbsp pumpkin syrup (more or less to suit your taste)
Whipped cream
Ground pumpkin pie spice

In a mug, add the first three ingredients, top with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream and a light dusting of pumpkin pie spice blend. ENJOY!