Thursday, November 3, 2011

Best applesauce ever and cooking

I have made great strides in my cooking in the last couple years. For me, the ability to make myself food that is delicious and that I know I control the ingredients to is key. I love trying and experimenting with new recipes. Love that a lot. But I'm now trying to enter a new phase: cooking without a cookbook.

As I've gotten more confident in the kitchen, I have taken more liberties with recipes and substitutions and additions. I love to add roasted garlic to stuff. I almost always substitute half and half for cream in soups and in ice creams. I'd like to get to the place, though, where I can just look at what I have, dream something up, make it, and then have it taste fabulous.

I made a big stride today, and had a really delicious result.

First of all, I went grocery shopping the other day. It was so nice to have groceries again. As I usually do, I bought a bunch of fruit. Delicious? Totally. Great idea? Maybe not since I'm leaving for two weeks Monday. I decided to make "apple" sauce -- and by applesauce, I mean the hot dogs of the applesauce world, where I tossed in a little of everything to help whittle down my produce stash.

I used pears (4-5), apples (12-15), raspberries (about 2/3 of a big package), cranberries (about 1/2 lb), juice and zest of one orange. I do not peel the apples or pears (even though many recipes say you should) because I like the fiber they add. I also had leftover cider, so I boiled the appleauce in that instead of using water like I usually do. I added 2 pieces of candied ginger, a pinch of salt, put mulling spice in my spice ball and added 3 cinnamon sticks.

Bring all of this stuff to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer awhile (maybe 30-45 mins?), stirring occasionally. When you're done, the apples should smash easily just like when you're boiling potatoes for mashed potatoes. Remove the spice ball with mulling spices and cinnamon when you're done. I sometimes add cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice (usually only when I do pure applesauce), but in this case I did not. I then puree the applesauce with an immersion blender. I was surprised -- even with the tart cranberries, I did not need to add any sugar. My guess is that it's due largely to the sweetness of the pears and cider, but I am not really sure. The candied ginger probably helped a bit too. Whatever I did? Wow, did it work. THIS. SAUCE. IS. SO. FREAKING. GOOD!!!

You can imagine that I have a bunch of apple sauce now (probably about 3-5 quarts?). It freezes well, but once I make applesauce I am generally an applesauce consuming fiend. If the sauce is not gone by the time I leave, I'll freeze it. I have a friend who had surgery this week, so I will probably give some to her too.

My favorite thing to do with applesauce (which, the normal way I make it, is "free" on Weight Watchers since it's just apples and water basically with no sugar) is to mix it with either Greek yogurt or cottage cheese. I use about 2/3 apple sauce and 1/3 yogurt or cottage cheese. It is so important for me to get protein in the morning if I don't want to be hungry by mid morning, so this really does the trick.

I am glad I am starting to feel really confident in the kitchen. People have told me for a long time that I am a good cook. While I am grateful for their compliments, I have never really been able to accept this one. I have been a great recipe researcher and follower, but -- in my estimation -- never really a good cook. Cooks can work with what they have, be creative, and find good flavor pairings on their own. I have never really been good at that. I am starting to be now, though. I am on my way to being a legit cook, and that excites me.

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