apple cake

My favorite time of year is upon us! Fall arrived in Chicago over night last week. It's been amazing. Crisp, cool air with a kiss of sunshine. I love breaking out my sweaters, boots + scarves! I can't believe how fast the Summer flew by. 

September came and went too. Seriously, where did the month go?! I've been crazy busy at work and haven't had a chance to post, sorry!  I feel like I've been saying that to you a lot lately and I'm sorry for that, too!

Will you forgive me if I share a super simple, awesome apple cake? Imagine sticky toffee pudding but with apples and pecans. Top that with a butter sauce (yes, only my mother would come up with something as awesome as a butter sauce) and you've got yourself an amazing fall dessert. And it has apples in it. Fruit makes it a health food, right?! I kid, I kid. 

This cake comes together really quickly once you've peeled and cut your apples. It's a super funky batter in the sense that it's mostly apples with very little cake. Don't panic, it will all be fine! It turns a deep molasses color when it bakes and it smells like fall. It doesn't get better than this for a crisp night. Well, unless it's pumpkin something. Seriously pumpkin may be the best part of fall. Not to worry, there will be lots of pumpkin posts soon. But this apple cake is pretty fantastic. Have I made that clear? 

mamma's apple cake + butter sauce

for the cake:
2 C. flour
2 C. sugar (more or less depending on taste and your apples)
2 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
½ t. nutmeg
½ t. cinnamon
4 C. cubed granny smith apples (5 medium sized apples for me)
½ c. melted butter
2 eggs, beaten
½ C chopped pecans (optional)

for the butter sauce:
¼ C. butter
½ T flour
2/3 C. sugar
½ C. cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

to make the cake:
Preheat oven to 375º.  Peel and chop your apples into bite sized chunks. Really this just depends on your preference but I like between a ¼ inch and ½ inch cube. In a medium sized bowl, combine apple cubes, melted butter, eggs, & pecans. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, nutmeg + cinnamon. Stir with a whisk until combined. Add in your wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Pour into an un-greased 9x12 baking dish and spread evenly (I used parchment paper so I could pull the cake out and make perfect squares - it's really not necessary unless perfect presentation is important to you). Bake at 375º for about 45 minutes until a deep molasses color. 

this is what the batter will look like:

and this is what it will look like when it's done:

to make the butter sauce:
Melt butter, add flour then other ingredients and heat until thick. Add in 1 tsp vanilla and pour over the top of each piece just before serving. This sauce re-heats well. 

improv style:
you can use your favorite baking apple in this recipe - honeycrisp would be fantastic! just avoid the super mealy apples like red & golden delicious.

add in some chopped dates in addition to the nuts. don't like nuts? leave them out! not a fan of pecans? use your favorite! walnuts or almond slivers would be delicious here. 

butter sauce make you cringe? weird. but that's cool. a bourbon caramel sauce would be fantastical! or a brown sugar glaze would work too. really the butter sauce is like a caramel that hasn't been caramelized fully yet. it's pretty amazing. 


last bits of summer

I strive to live a balanced life. I'm the first to admit that food is my biggest weakness and there are times in life where I get a bit too carried away with the not-so-healthy-eating *cough - this weekend - cough*. But I'm going to be honest with you, most of the time health food just isn't that filling or satisfying! I'm constantly on the lookout for new and healthy recipes that leave me satiated AND satisfied! 

This dish was made for me by my amazing Aunt Aynne. She's had a lot of awesome produce come out of her garden this year. I went by for lunch a few weeks back and I definitely benefitted from it. While this by itself was more of a hearty snack for me, add a grilled chicken breast and a small slice of whole wheat bread and you've got a healthy and satisfying dinner that's quick and easy! Plus the leftovers are great for lunch.

The photos don't really do this dish justice. Sweet summer corn mixed with warm, earthy and tough leaves of swiss chard accented by crisp salty pancetta topped with fresh bursts of tomato and creamy feta cheese make this a huge win in my book! It's great as a side dish or if you have a normal to small appetite as your main entrée. Take advantage of the last few weeks of summer produce and make this, now! 
Warm Summer Corn + Chard Salad
adapted from Penzyes spices
yields 4 servings

1 large bunch of swiss chard (about 6 leaves)
4 oz diced pancetta
4 garlic cloves. diced
2 shallots, thinly sliced 
4 ears of corn (about 2 cups kernels)
1 t. dried oregano
3 T. red wine vinegar
2 medium sized tomatoes (about 1 heaping cup diced)
feta cheese crumbles, to taste
salt + pepper

Remove the chard leaves from stems. Cut the ends off the stems and then dice stems and set aside. Cut leaves into large chunks and also set aside. 

In a large pan over medium heat cook and brown pancetta. Once golden brown, remove and drain on a paper towel. Add thinly sliced shallots and chopped swiss chard stems and cook until shallots are slightly transparent. Add garlic. corn kernels and oregano and cook for about 2 minutes. Add Chard leaves and vinegar and cook for another 5 minutes until wilted. Add in pancetta bits and salt + pepper to taste.

Place warm mixture into bowls and top with fresh diced tomatoes and feta cheese. Enjoy!

improv style:
there's lots of ways to switch this dish up. you can make it vegetarian by leaving out the pancetta or substitute it for bacon (turkey bacon is another option), prosciutto or even canadian bacon. no shallots? use onions instead. corn out of season? you can do this in the winter or fall with frozen corn - note that fresh is always better and more flavorful!

red wine vinegar can be substituted for white wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar, or even a little splash of dry white wine. feta cheese can be subbed for your favorite cheese crumbles. just make sure it's a dryer crumbly cheese, not something like melty brie.

you can also make this more hearty by adding cooked quinoa, wheat berries, bulgar, brown rice... you get the idea.