Indian tea, spices set apple cake’s flavor apart

A flavor sensation that’s more than the sum of its parts comes from simmering apples with spicy and savory seasonings.

Like the chutney featured in this blog’s previous post, this cake fuses traditional Indian ingredients and, arguably, the Western world’s most iconic fruit. The combination of sweet apples, bitter tea and a pungent spice blend culminates in a cake that stands out from the crowd, particularly during this season of excessive desserts.

The bonus recipe within the recipe is for chai masala, which could be blended and packaged — or left whole, if transferred to a tea infuser — for a nifty bit of gift-giving from the kitchen. Loose-leaf tea mingled with the masala in reusable muslin tea bags, tied with pretty ribbons, would make for inexpensive stocking stuffers or cute companions to a unique mug or tea set.

Apple Masala Chai Cake

Tribune News Service photo

3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed, plus more for pan

2 tablespoons loose-leaf Darjeeling or other black tea leaves

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons chai masala (recipe follows, or purchase at Indian or international grocery stores)

2 large Fuji or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced

1 cup packed light-brown sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

Confectioners’ sugar, for topping

Heat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9-inch round baking pan and line bottom with parchment paper.

Start cake by grinding the tea leaves to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle or in a clean coffee grinder. In a large bowl, whisk ground tea, with the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and prepared chai masala. In a separate medium-sized bowl, toss the peeled and diced apples with 2 tablespoons of flour mixture to coat.

In bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream the cubed butter and the brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Stop mixer, add flour mixture, and beat on low just until no streaks of flour are visible, for about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in apples. (Alternatively, mix cake with a hand-held electric beater.)

Pour batter into prepared cake pan and level it with an offset spatula. Bake in preheated oven, rotating halfway through, until cake is golden and a skewer inserted into center comes out with some crumbs adhering, for about 45 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack, 5 minutes. Run a thin knife around inside of pan to release cake, then invert onto rack, remove parchment and cool completely.

Before serving, dust liberally with the confectioners’ sugar. Cake will keep for up to 3 days at room temperature, in an airtight container lined with a clean kitchen towel to absorb moisture.

Makes 8 to 9 servings.

CHAI MASALA: In a clean spice or coffee grinder, blend seeds from 10 green cardamom pods, seeds from 1 black cardamom pod, 6 black peppercorns, 4 whole cloves and 1 (2-inch-long) cinnamon stick until finely ground. Add 1 tablespoon ground ginger and mix. Makes about 2 tablespoons.

— Recipe from “Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food,” by Nik Sharma (Chronicle Books, $35).

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Sweet-spicy chutney reinvigorates aging apples

The Whole Dish podcast: Chutneys commingle European fruits, Indian spices

They look like rare commodities, those first golden mandarin oranges, still boasting dark-green stems and waxy leaves.

By contrast, the grocery-store bins of apples are commonplace, available for months now. And while some varieties are inherently good keepers, others are losing moisture and sweetness by the day. Golden delicious is one of those: truly delicious right off the tree but turning bland and mealy a few weeks post-harvest.

Those less-than-fresh apple specimens still have value, even at the height of citrus season. Cooking them is my preferred method to extend the appeal of any fruit that’s past its prime. Confronted with month-old apples in my fridge recently, I didn’t hesitate to simmer them with cranberries and fresh ginger for a fast and flavorful compote. Cranberries aren’t just for Thanksgiving in our house.

I also roast apple slices with potato wedges and good-quality sausages, such as andouille or boudin blanc. The simple combination makes a sweet-savory sheet-pan supper.

Indeed, rich meats and starchy root vegetables that factor more heavily into wintertime menus benefit from a sour-spicy condiment. Sauerkraut is one good candidate, but my husband prefers the vinegary tang of chutneys.

With garlic, chili flakes and mustard seeds, this chutney will perk up the palate and reinvigorate aging apples. It makes a festive addition to holiday cheese platters and a thoughtful, edible gift.

Tribune News Service photo

Sweet and Spicy Apple Chutney

2 cups cider vinegar

2 cups light-brown sugar

5 garlic cloves, peeled

2 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and sliced or coarsely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon red chili flakes

2 pounds Granny Smith apples

1 1/2 cups golden raisins

2 cinnamon sticks

2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds

Place the vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, salt and red chili flakes in a blender jar. Puree on medium-high until smooth, for about 1 minute.

Peel the apples and cut out cores. Discard cores. Dice apples into 1/4-inch-thick cubes. They need not be perfectly uniform.

In a large saucepan, combine apples with the raisins, cinnamon sticks and mustard seeds. Pour vinegar blend over apples. Simmer, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until almost all liquid is reduced, for about 25 minutes.

Remove cinnamon sticks. Turn off heat and let cool.

Store in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Serve cold, warm or at room temperature.

Makes 3 cups.

— Recipe from “Composing the Cheese Plate: Recipes, Pairings and Platings for the Inventive Cheese Course” by Brian Keyser and Leigh Friend (Running Press, September 2016, $22)

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Moist banana muffins embrace espresso powder

Coffee and chocolate are a dynamic duo. Even coffee and cinnamon are fast friends.

But coffee and banana? Don’t get me wrong. I’d drink a cuppa joe with a moist slice of banana bread. But putting the coffee inside my baked banana treats is untested territory for me.

It apparently takes a palate accustomed to starting the day with a cup of strong, black coffee and a banana. From those two basic commodities, Chicago Tribune writer JeanMarie Brownson devised a decadent muffin that invites chocolate and cinnamon, plus nuts, to play along. And as this blog’s previous post acknowledged, the bitter note of espresso powder punches up other flavors.

With overripe bananas piling up in my freezer for want of enthusiasm to transform them into something more appealing, this recipe might be just the inspiration I need. The fact that these muffins freeze well is another reason to recommend them.

Tribune News Service photo

Coffeehouse Banana-Nut Muffins With Chocolate and Cinnamon

2 cups stone-ground, white whole-wheat flour

3 tablespoons espresso powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

2 large ripe bananas, peeled

2 large eggs

2/3 cup packed light-brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 tablespoons safflower or sunflower oil

1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans

1/2 cup semisweet or dark-chocolate chips

1/2 cup cinnamon chips, peanut-butter chips, white-chocolate chips or more chocolate chips

Espresso-Cinnamon Glaze (recipe follows)

Heat oven to 350 F. Line 12 regular muffin tins with paper liners. Alternatively, line tins with foil liners and spray liners with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, espresso powder, baking powder, salt, baking soda and cinnamon, if using.

Put the bananas in a separate bowl. Mash until smooth with a potato masher or fork. Stir in the eggs until smooth. Stir in the sugar and vanilla. Stir in the oil. Add flour mixture and fold gently to moisten all flour. Gently mix in the pecans, chocolate chips and cinnamon chips, if using. (Do not overmix or muffins will be tough.)

Use a spoon to divide mixture among muffin tins filling them to rims. Tap pan on work surface to release any air pockets. Bake in preheated oven, turning pan once for even browning, until a wooden pick inserted comes out clean, for 22 to 24 minutes. Cool muffins in pans. Glaze when barely warm. Best served same day as baked.

Makes 12 muffins.

ESPRESSO-CINNAMON GLAZE: In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 2 teaspoons espresso powder, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon half-and-half (or milk or cream). Mix until smooth, adding a few drops of half-and-half if needed to make a pourable glaze.

Coffee and chocolate are a dynamic duo. Even coffee and cinnamon are fast friends.

But coffee and banana? Don’t get me wrong. I’d drink a cuppa joe with a moist slice of banana bread. But putting the coffee inside my baked banana treats is untested territory for me.

It apparently takes a palate accustomed to starting the day with a cup of strong, black coffee and a banana. From those two basic commodities, Chicago Tribune writer JeanMarie Brownson devised a decadent muffin that invites chocolate and cinnamon to play along. And as this blog’s previous post acknowledged, the bitter note of espresso powder punches up other flavors.

With overripe bananas piling up in my freezer for want of enthusiasm to transform them into something more appealing, this recipe might be just the inspiration I need. The fact that these muffins freeze well is another reason to recommend them.

Coffeehouse Banana-Nut Muffins With Chocolate and Cinnamon

2 cups stone-ground, white whole-wheat flour

3 tablespoons espresso powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

2 large ripe bananas, peeled

2 large eggs

2/3 cup packed light-brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 tablespoons safflower or sunflower oil

1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans

1/2 cup semisweet or dark-chocolate chips

1/2 cup cinnamon chips, peanut-butter chips, white-chocolate chips or more chocolate chips

Espresso-Cinnamon Glaze (recipe follows)

Heat oven to 350 F. Line 12 regular muffin tins with paper liners. Alternatively, line tins with foil liners and spray liners with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, espresso powder, baking powder, salt, baking soda and cinnamon, if using.

Put the bananas in a separate bowl. Mash until smooth with a potato masher or fork. Stir in the eggs until smooth. Stir in the sugar and vanilla. Stir in the oil. Add flour mixture and fold gently to moisten all flour. Gently mix in the pecans, chocolate chips and cinnamon chips, if using. (Do not overmix or muffins will be tough.)

Use a spoon to divide mixture among muffin tins filling them to rims. Tap pan on work surface to release any air pockets. Bake in preheated oven, turning pan once for even browning, until a wooden pick inserted comes out clean, for 22 to 24 minutes. Cool muffins in pans. Glaze when barely warm. Best served same day as baked.

Makes 12 muffins.

ESPRESSO-CINNAMON GLAZE: In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 2 teaspoons espresso powder, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon half-and-half (or milk or cream). Mix until smooth, adding a few drops of half-and-half if needed to make a pourable glaze.

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A hint of coffee perks up chocolatey shortbread

Coffee consumed the back page of this week’s Savvy Living with a somewhat surprising report. People who are more sensitive to bitter flavors actually drink more coffee, according to studies at Northwestern University, as opposed to people who are less sensitive or profess to actually enjoy bitterness on the tongue.

I count myself in that latter camp, particularly when it’s a question of contrasting bitter and sweet. Like Chicago Tribune writer JeanMarie Brownson, I’m almost incapable of enjoying dessert without coffee. Sweetness simply holds very little sway over me unless there’s a bitter note to counter it.

That’s why adding just a bit of bitterness to an otherwise sweet food culminates in a more compelling flavor, overall. Hostess with the most-ess Ina Garten invariably adds a tablespoon or so of brewed coffee to her chocolate desserts. Brownson essentially does the same, only with espresso powder, which has plenty of applications in the kitchen, even one that lacks an espresso machine.

Consider perking up your holiday baking with these shortbread cookies, a favorite of Brownson’s sister, who finishes them off with chopped pecans. A dunk in chocolate, then a dunk in strong, unsweetened coffee. That’s my idea of a treat.

Tribune News Service photo

Mocha Shortbread Logs

Cookies:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar

2 to 3 tablespoons espresso powder, to taste

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Pinch salt

Glaze:

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 teaspoon espresso powder

Put all the dough ingredients into large bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low speed until a smooth dough forms. Gather into a ball; wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.

Heat oven to 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pinch off a small nugget of dough and roll in your hands to make a 2-inch log about ½ inch in diameter. Place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat to form all cookies placing them on baking sheets about 2 inches apart.

Bake in preheated oven until bottoms are barely golden, for 10 to 13 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks.

To glaze, put the chocolate chips in a small, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium (50 percent power) just until barely melted, for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in the espresso powder until smooth.

Dunk 1 end of each shortbread log into melted chocolate. Set dunked cookies on a wire rack over a piece of paper toweling, and let chocolate firm. (They can be refrigerated if kitchen is warm.) Store in a cookie tin for up to a week.

Makes 28 cookies.

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Roast duck, render fat for purposeful pappardelle

Turkey tetrazzini aside, poultry and pasta aren’t the most natural companions.

Sure, I’ve had my share of roast chicken stuffed inside and tossed with various noodles, but the meat usually seems like a concession to palates that aren’t primed for pork products. It’s the latter’s fat that makes all the difference in concocting flavorful sauces that adhere to pasta without a lot of dairy products.

That’s where duck, promoted in this blog’s previous post, can outmaneuver pork in the pasta department. Owing to its substantial fat layer, duck produces a laudable amount of fat that can be reserved and then reused like bacon drippings. The meat is moister than most other poultry with a texture that resists becoming stringy. And like pork, its slightly sweet savor suits it to fruit, including dried types.

Prunes, in my opinion, are highly underrated and underutilized in savory dishes. They’re a clever contrast in the following recipe to bitter root vegetables and radicchio, enhanced with duck.

Duck confit, for cooks with a convenient retail source of that commodity, makes this a weeknight meal. I would consider this dish among my goals for roasting a duck and making the most of leftovers, including the rendered fat. Instead of sautéing in bacon fat or oil, I would reach for duck fat.

I also would pare down the number of ingredients in the following recipe, which verges on a laundry list. Three purposeful items are plenty to toss with pasta, in my opinion, although I don’t include aromatics like onions and garlic, nor herbs, in that count.

Because the root vegetables make for a heavier dish, I would try eliminating them from the following recipe, sticking with the radicchio for the requisite bitter note, supported by toasted walnuts. I also find red onion unnecessary here, when garlic already is in the mix. The onion’s flavor and texture, particularly when sliced, is redundant with the radicchio.

Should you decide to use the turnips, recipe testers for the Chicago Tribune recommend par-cooking in the microwave, which cut the cooking time and tames their sharp taste. Parsnips, rutabaga, small new potatoes or daikon radish also can stand in for the turnips, each subtly transforming the dish.

Tribune News Service photo

Pappardelle With Duck, Golden Turnips and Prunes

2 medium turnips (about 9 ounces total), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice to measure about 1 1/2 cups

1/2 cup diced pitted prunes or raisins or currants

1 (16-ounce) package duck leg confit or 2 cups shredded smoked chicken, roast pork or grilled steak

3 tablespoons bacon drippings or olive oil

1/2 large red onion, peeled and finely sliced

3 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, to taste

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 1/2 cups cup torn radicchio or very thinly sliced red cabbage

1/2 package (16 to 17 ounces) pappardelle pasta, or long egg noodles about ½ inch wide

Large shreds of pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

Chopped, toasted walnuts (optional)

Chopped, fresh parsley and chives, for garnish

Put the diced turnips into a medium-sized, microwave-safe bowl. Add 1/2 cup water and cover tightly. Microwave on high (100 percent power) until tender, for about 4 minutes. Drain.

Put the prunes or alternate ingredient into a small dish; add very hot water to barely cover. Let stand.

Scrape fat and juices off the duck legs into a bowl. Remove duck skin and reserve it for another use. Pull meat from bones into large shreds. You’ll have about 2 cups shredded meat.

Heat the bacon drippings or oil in a large, deep nonstick skillet. Add the onion, and cook until golden, for about 4 minutes. Stir in drained turnips, and cook until golden, for about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the broth, any duck juices, prunes and their soaking liquid and the thyme. Boil hard for 2 minutes. Stir in the cream, salt and pepper. Remove from heat, and stir in the radicchio.

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot full of salted water to boiling. Add the pasta and cook until al dente (a little toothsome to the bite), for about 6 or 7 minutes. Scoop out and reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Drain pasta, and add it to skillet along with duck shreds. Set pan over medium heat. Toss to coat pasta with sauce, adding dribbles of reserved cooking liquid to moisten throughout.

Serve topped with the shreds of cheese, chopped walnuts and fresh herbs.

Makes 6 servings.

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Carnitas make case for roasting, reusing duck

The Whole Dish podcast: Moist, savory duck a foolproof alternative to turkey, chicken

In case shoppers didn’t get their fill of Thanksgiving turkey, birds of another feather were arrayed this past week at Medford’s Food 4 Less. Duck, goose, game hens and their ilk all were available at very attractive post-holiday prices.

Likely because I overcooked our Thanksgiving bird, I still was craving moist, succulent poultry. And duck offers the crispiest skin and the byproduct of clearly rendered fat that can be repurposed in all kinds of ways, not to mention intensely flavored stock from the carcass. For $3 per pound, a smallish duck seemed like a good investment in wintertime menus, including the poutine with duck gravy that my husband and I discussed as the possible bill of fare for our Christmas party.

There’s also this take on tacos that could recast bits of leftover roasted duck or make a case for roasting the bird’s legs separately and reserving the breast for another meal, such as this recipe that I posted last November.

Using a similar method to preparing pork carnitas, duck carnitas do dirty a few pans and leave behind a braising liquid that needs to be discarded. The slightly offbeat but supremely delicious results are worth the effort, assures Chicago Tribune food writer Leah Eskin. Once the duck is roasted, the dish comes together in 15 minutes.

Tribune News Service photo

Duck Carnitas Tacos

2 duck legs (about 1 pound each)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups milk

2 garlic cloves, peeled and kept whole

1 cinnamon stick

1 orange, cut into eighths

4 radishes, sliced into rounds

1 small white onion, peeled and sliced into rings

1 cup coarsely chopped, fresh cilantro

4 (or 8 if you prefer a double layer) small, soft corn tortillas

Salsa (optional)

Heat oven to 325 F. Settle the duck legs in a Dutch oven with a snug fit. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Pour in the milk. Toss in the garlic cloves, cinnamon stick (make sure it isn’t floating) and orange wedges. Cover and slide into preheated oven. Roast until duck is very tender, for 2 hours. Uncover and roast until skin turns beautifully crisp, for about 40 minutes.

Pull out duck legs. When cool, discard contents of pan. Pull off crisp duck skin. Break up meat into bite-size chunks (this should be easy work). Discard bones and any lumps of fat.

Set a medium skillet over medium heat. Lay in pieces of duck skin, crisp side up, and sizzle for 1 to 2 minutes, to crisp undersides and render any clinging fat. Shift skins to a cutting board and slice to slivers (like bacon, only better). Slide meat chunks into pan and brown for 1 to 2 minutes. Heap duck on a platter and scatter on shards of skin.

Add the radishes, onion and cilantro to platter. Heat the tortillas (wrap in a clean, damp kitchen cloth and microwave for 2 minutes) to serve alongside, with the salsa. Enjoy.

Makes 2 servings.

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‘Cheater’s lasagna’ consolidates cheese, pasta

The lack of Thanksgiving leftovers a mere three days post-holiday is a first for this turkey lover.

Flying, rather than driving, to spend the holidays with family near San Francisco eliminated any possibility of returning home with edible odds and ends to dispatch in the coming week’s menu. Even if I don’t host the holiday, I can typically count on my mom to foist the turkey carcass off on me, owing to my penchant for making stock and stripping bones, for which she has little patience.

So what to make when only pantry and freezer staples are at hand? “Cheater’s Lasagna” has become one of my favorite methods in the past few months for recasting ravioli that I toss into the freezer whenever it’s on an attractive sale at my locally owned grocer. This includes the Rana brand that comes stuffed with mushrooms, artichoke hearts or prosciutto, in addition to plain cheese.

With the ease of no-boil lasagna noodles, why try to fudge lasagna? Arguably, the hardest part of this dish is the layering of ingredients: sauce, noodles, ricotta, meat, veggies. Repeat. For cooks in a hurry, it’s a bit tedious.

Enter the concept of the ricotta layer already encased in pasta. And the pillows of ravioli filled with cheese bake into an even layer that looks and tastes like a traditional lasagna, observed recipe testers for the Detroit Free Press.

Their recipe, adapted from “Real Simple Meals Made Easy,” features Italian sausage, which I typically have in the freezer. But it’s infinitely adaptable, of course. Use any ground meat, cooked fresh or reprised from leftovers. Diced ham or even pepperoni or salami would be nice, too. Heck, if you’ve still got turkey leftovers, use those, which would pair nicely with a white sauce.

As a vegetarian dish, it easily accommodates sautéed mushrooms, greens or squash. I first tested this recipe at the tail end of the season for garden zucchini as a way to serve up long strips of the veggie in a way that didn’t attract undue attention from my young boys. As I hoped, they gobbled it up.

Enamored of smart shortcuts in the kitchen, my husband, who pulls cooking duty every month at his fire station, was duly impressed. “I’m totally stealing that,” he said. High praise.

Instructions for a quick tomato sauce are something of a bonus with the following recipe. To the Free Press’ method, I’ll had my own, developed from a surplus of tomato paste in my freezer, along with garden tomatoes, which freeze exceptionally well for the purposes of making sauce.

Simply thaw out a quart bag of tomatoes, heat in a saucepan, breaking up with a spoon or wire whisk, then add a few tablespoons of tomato paste from a can, tube or straight from the freezer (I portion mine into ice-cube trays). Season to your liking.

Tribune News Service photo

Cheater’s Lasagna With Italian Sausage

1 jar (24 to 26 ounces) favorite pasta sauce or Quick Tomato Sauce (see NOTE)

2 bags (24 ounces each) frozen large or jumbo cheese ravioli, partially thawed

1 to 1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausage, cooked, drained and crumbled

1 package (16 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

8 ounces (2 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese or Italian blend shredded cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Fresh torn basil, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spoon one-third of pasta sauce into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Place half the ravioli on top of sauce in a single layer — squeeze them in if necessary. Sprinkle with the cooked sausage, the spinach and half the mozzarella. Layer on remaining ravioli. Top with remaining sauce, remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.

Cover with foil and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until bubbling, for 5 to 10 minutes more.

NOTE: To make a quick tomato sauce, in a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sauté 2 peeled and minced garlic cloves for 1 minute. Add 1/4 cup chopped onion and finely chopped carrot if you like. Add 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with all their juices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir in some chopped, fresh basil. Keeps in refrigerator for 3 days or frozen for about a month.

Makes 8 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Detroit Free Press from “Real Simple Meals Made Easy” by Renee Schettler (Real Simple Book, $24.95).

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Apple, fennel add crunch to creamy chicken salad

Pairing the subtle sweetness of fennel and bitter greens was suggested in this blog’s previous post and my most recent podcast.

Although prepared as a meatless side dish, the salad I mentioned is delicious as a main course topped with roasted or poached chicken, even salmon or tuna. With leftover Thanksgiving turkey on the horizon,  it’s even more likely to factor into the week’s meal plans.

Combining many of the same flavors and punched up with some fresh herbs is this take on chicken salad. Finely chopping the ingredients and folding into mayonnaise makes for a delicious sandwich filling or topping for crackers, crudité or salad greens. Substitute bite-sized pieces of the holiday bird for the rotisserie chicken in the coming week.

Tribune News Service photo

Apple-Fennel Chicken Salad

1/2 apple, finely chopped

1/2 fennel bulb, finely chopped

1/2 small shallot, finely chopped

8 ounces poached, roasted or rotisserie chicken, torn into bite-size pieces

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed

Kosher salt, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

In a medium bowl, using a fork, mix the apple, fennel, shallot, chicken, mayonnaise, chives, tarragon, lemon zest and juice until well-combined. Season with the salt, pepper and more lemon juice, if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe adapted by Tribune News Service from bonappetit.com

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Choose fennel for simplicity or to add complexity

The Whole Dish podcast: Consider light fennel, citrus salad for Thanksgiving feast

You know a vegetable officially is in mainstream use when it’s stocked at Sherm’s Thunderbird Market in west Medford.

Don’t get me wrong. Sherm’s has made huge strides in the past few years to embrace some of the more esoteric bits of produce. But fennel remains one of those items that check-out clerks at grocery stores around the region still struggle to identify. Often being mislabeled as “anise” doesn’t help.

Yet fennel happens to be one of my favorite cold-weather vegetables, which I eat thinly sliced in salads and slaws, diced and sautéed like onion and quartered and braised until it’s tender and silky-textured. I incorporated fennel into a recipe for a recent cooking class at Rogue Valley Family YMCA in Medford. Part of the series titled “Kitchen Wisdom,” the class provided participants with inspiration for making the most of in-season produce, admittedly more of a challenge in late fall than in summer.

Unfortunately, the fennel was forgotten at ACCESS, the organization that presents the classes for which I volunteer. And because we also lacked the winter squashes that were key ingredients in another dish, an emergency trip to Sherm’s was in order. I had no hope that fennel would come back with our class leader. But lo and behold, Sherm’s had fennel on the shelves!

Thinly sliced, as we did in class, and tossed with chopped Belgian endive or cabbage, a handful of dried cherries or cranberries and some toasted nuts, fennel lends a subtly sweet note to some of the more bitter greens that hit their stride in wintertime. But it doesn’t even take that much maneuvering to enjoy fennel. This supremely straightforward recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service, is a classic Italian method for pairing the crisp, clean crunch of fennel with rich, buttery cheese, preferably authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Consider this as a light appetizer on Thanksgiving, or just a simple alternative to one of the more predictable vegetable side dishes. This one won’t take up space in the oven or on the stove.

And if you’re not prepared to switch up the menu, just give fennel a shot sautéed with onion in your holiday stuffing. It’s delicious.

Tribune News Service photo

Sliced Fennel With Parmesan

1 1/2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1 bulb fennel, fronds reserved

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Black pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Using a vegetable peeler or sharp chef’s knife, peel or cut the cheese into thick, bite-size shavings.

On a work surface, cut the fennel in half lengthwise, then slice into 1/4-inch wedges.

Season fennel with the salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Top with chopped fennel fronds and cheese shavings.

Makes about 12 servings.

Recipe from marthastewart.com

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Homemade pumpkin latte cuts calories, fat, sugar

It’s not just for pies. Recipes abound for using canned pumpkin puree in all kinds of ways, some more wholesome than others.

This blog’s previous post touted a coffee cake, moistened and offering some vitamins and fiber, thanks to canned pumpkin puree. Remember to reach for the “pure pumpkin,” not pie filling as indicated on the can’s label.

Why use canned? It’s not just a question of convenience. Almost invariably, the texture is superior to what even professional cooks can achieve from a fresh pumpkin.

But once you’ve opened a can, many recipes don’t use the entire portion. So spreading the pumpkin love around your day’s meals is strategy that’s not just cost-conscious, but calorie-conscious if you’re of the ilk who enjoys “pumpkin-spice” beverages.

Starbucks’ grande pumpkin-spice latte costs $5 and packs 380 calories, 14 grams of fat, 52 grams of carbohydrates and 50 grams of sugar. By contrast, this DIY latte that requires only a blender has 178 calories, 3 grams of fat, 15 grams of carbohydrates and 13 grams of sugar. And it’s still flavorful and fragrant without the thick, sugary taste of commercial counterparts.

Tribune News Service photo

Healthy DIY Pumpkin Spice Latte

2 ounces espresso (or 4 to 6 ounces strong coffee)

2 tablespoons pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin-pie filling)

1/4 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice

1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon real maple syrup

1 cup non- or low-fat milk (or almond milk)

In a blender jar, blend the coffee, pumpkin, spice, vanilla extract and maple syrup until smooth.

Froth the milk. If you don’t have a milk frother, warm it in microwave and blend until frothed.

Pour pumpkin coffee mixture into a serving mug. Top with milk, reserving foam with a spoon. Add foam on top and dust with a sprinkle of pumpkin-pie spice.

Recipe adapted by Tribune News Service from livestrong.com.

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    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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