The title may sound a bit ominous but autumn is without hesitation my favorite season; crisp days, cool nights ~ aaah, sweater weather at last. I have very fond memories of my childhood at Notley Road during the fall; running home late for dinner just as the sun was setting and the smell of dinner wafting outside through the kitchen window. Those thoughts now bring me to think of seasonal comfort foods, especially apples baking.
I haven’t really mastered the art of baking; specifically bread-making and pastry dough. I undoubtedly can learn with practice but some forms of cooking don’t spark that desire. Perhaps it is that someone once gave me a gooey, sour bread starter that unfortunately turned me off. A bread machine certainly has a place in my kitchen! And pastry dough can be a challenge with the cold unsalted vs. salted butter because the sodium content in these butters can be a factor in the outcome.
Let’s consider unsalted vs. salted butter for a moment. Researching it only brought me to discover that whether you reduce the amount of salt in the ingredients with salted butter or keep the measurement the same and use unsalted butter is strictly a matter of preference. Purists would likely disagree with that statement so I consulted my plethora of cookbooks and the cooking guru, Julia Child. I was somewhat surprised by her lack of a recommendation in my 40th Anniversary edition of ‘Mastering the Art of Cooking’. On page 15 it is written “French butter is unsalted. Except for cake frostings and certain desserts for which we have specified unsalted butter, American salted butter and French butter are interchangeable in cooking.” Her statement is a bit confusing to me as well. Not that I would criticize my idol but basically I think she is saying just do what you are comfortable with. Typically, I only use unsalted butter when preparing desserts but ALL butter is made from sweet cream whether it is salted or not.
This brings me to what the post is about ~ a favorite fall meal of mine using seasonal ingredients. The menu consists of my frequently requested seafood chowder, a French baguette (I do know friends that can bake them), a salad, followed with an apple cake.
ALI’S SEAFOOD CHOWDER
My chowder is a thick, hearty stew that is even better when served the next day. I guarantee this dish will warm you through and through while you sit by that crackling fire.
- 1 doz. chowder clams*
- 1 med. onion, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 T. butter
- 3 c. seafood stock**
- 1 pt. standard oysters, liquid reserved
- 2 large white potatoes, cubed
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 6 T. flour mixed with water to make a paste
- 2 c. half-and-half
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 strips cooked bacon, crumbled***
- ½ lb. lg. shrimp, peeled and deveined****
- ½ lb. sea scallops
- 1 lg. thick white fish fillet such as haddock or cod
- Steam clams; remove meat when cooled and chop into large pieces.
- Sauté onion, celery and garlic in 4 tablespoons of butter until tender; then place in 6 quart stockpot with the stock and liquid from the oysters.
- Add potatoes and carrot; bring to a boil then simmer 10 minutes.
- GRADUALLY add flour paste (you may not use all of it) and continue stirring.
- Add remaining butter, half-and-half, salt, pepper, bacon and all of the seafood.
- Simmer until thickened and seafood is cooked, approximately 10 minutes.
*Chowder clams are large, often called quahogs.
**I use homemade stock but you can purchase seafood stock or use a combination of fish stock and clam juice. Won’t be as savory!
***The bacon adds a nice smoky flavor. If you are a bacon lover like me, use more as garnish!
****When cooking, I have left shrimp shells on for more flavor but remove them prior to serving.
To accompany the meal, bake a store bought French baguette and prepare a fall salad using seasonal greens of spinach or kale (ugh!), red onion slices, goat cheese crumbles and dried cherries or cranberries. Dress with basic vinaigrette.
The smell of apples baking is the epitome of fall. As I mentioned earlier, I am not a great pastry dough cook. I can do it but I won’t serve it to guests or photograph it for the blog. A galette makes a rustic, yet appealing presentation for a fall inspired dessert but requires making dough. A tatin is a terrific substitute. Basically a tatin is an upside-down pastry ‘cake’ in which any fruit is caramelized before baking. Refer to the post in the archives August 2012 for my peach tatin.
ALI’S UPSIDE-DOWN APPLE CAKE
- 6 T. room temperature UNSALTED butter, plus more for greasing the pan*
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced
- 1- 3/4c. granulated sugar, divided
- 1/3 c. water
- 2 lg. eggs
- 1/3 c. crème fraîche
- ½ t. lemon zest, grated
- ½ t. vanilla extract
- 1- 1/8 c. all-purpose flour
- ½ t. baking powder
- 1/8 t. salt
- Crème fraîche for garnish
- *GENEROUSLY grease an 8 inch round cast iron skillet; arrange the sliced apples in the bottom of the skillet.
- Combine 1 cup of the sugar and water in a small saucepan and cook on high heat until it turns an amber color. (If you use a candy thermometer, the temperature should reach around 360 degrees. I just eyeball it and you can smell when it actually caramelizes). Swirl the pan but do not stir. Pour evenly over the apple.
- Cream 6 tablespoons of butter and remaining ¾ cup sugar with a mixer until fluffy.
- On a slower speed, beat in eggs individually.
- Add crème fraîche, lemon and vanilla; mix until combined.
- Sift flour, baking powder and salt then add to the butter mixture on low speed until combined.
- Pour cake batter over the apple and bake in pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 35 minutes. Make sure to insert a toothpick to test for doneness.
- Cool for 15 minutes then invert cake onto a flat plate. (Don’t worry if cake sticks ~ ease it out and replace it on the top of the cake or slice it prior to serving and place on a pretty dessert plate!)
- Serve immediately or at room temperature with a dollop of crème fraîche.
Warning! This cake is simple to prepare but quite sweet. It requires a special ‘tooth’.
Bon appétit and welcome fall!