Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How to clean glassware

Clean stemware. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
As we prepare for holiday entertaining, I thought it might be useful to share the method that I use for cleaning my stemware and crystal. I know there are many who use their lovely things everyday, but with granite counters, hardwood floors, young children and a knack for breaking things, I keep the good stuff shelved and bring it out only for special occasions. As a result, these bright red water glasses get used only around Christmas each year, and when I bring them down from the top shelf, they need a gentle bath to dislodge the layer of dust that's settled on them. Some may use the dishwasher, and goodness knows, I love my dishwasher, but I take no chances.

Here's my method:

Step 1. Place two large kitchen towels, or one folded bathroom towel, in bottom of sink. Gently place glassware on towel, a few at a time, do not stack.

Step 2. Fill sink with barely warm water. Not cold, definitely not hot, but room temperature or cooler.

Glasses in sink. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Step 3. Add 1 cup white vinegar and continue running the water until the glasses are covered with water.

Vinegar. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Step 4: Swish each glass individually in the water and use lint-free towel to dry. (Clean cloth baby diapers are perfect for this job, you can also find lint-free towels in the housewares section of discount stores.) Repeat until all glasses are clean.

Red glassware. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

What method do you use to clean good stemware? Please tell me in the comments below.

Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thankful for leftovers

Thanksgiving essentials. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Thanksgiving has come and gone and I have to say, as much as we enjoy the big meal with family, we like the leftovers best. We always have a turkey carcass, and in the years when we host, Mr. A Cook will take all the meat off the bones, then boil up the carcass with some celery, carrots, turnips and potatoes for turkey soup (while I'm loading the dishwasher for the 2nd or possibly 3rd time). It's tradition, much like a few more that I discovered this Thanksgiving. Here's a round-up of some useful leftover traditions, each with an international flair - Chinese, Italian and Canadian.

Not sure plain steamed rice has ever graced my Thanksgiving table, but it makes complete sense on Felicia Lee's T-day table. Felicia is an engaging and elegant writer and tells her family's feast story on her blog, Burnt-Out Baker. Her Turkey Jook, a creamy rice soup, is on my must-make list.

Chef Riccardo Ullio of Fritti. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

 Atlanta Chef Riccardo Ullio of Fritti serves staffers turkey calzone after Thanksgiving. It’s a homey dish and he shared an outline of his recipe with the encouragement “to use your leftovers however you would like.”

To make Chef Riccardo’s turkey calzone, make a filling with white and dark turkey meat, fresh bufala mozzarella, ricotta cheese and onions. Take a round of pizza dough and spread the filling over one half of the stretched dough, then fold the other half to form the calzone. Roll the edges over and pinch with fingers to seal. Place the calzone in the oven at 450 degrees and bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the dough is browned. Remove the calzone from the oven and set aside to cool. Dress with turkey gravy and mangiamo!

Chef Robert Gerstenecker of Park 75 at the Four Seasons Hotel/Atlanta. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 I met Chef Robert Chef Robert Gerstenecker of Park 75 at Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta last spring when he invited Atlanta food bloggers to tour the apiary and gardens atop the hotel. He grew up on a farm in his native Canada and takes a rustic approach to turkey leftovers with turkey and dumplings, a stew that will use up the turkey, dressing, gravy and any roasted vegetables that may have escaped the T-Day feast.

Turkey n' Dumplings
Yield: 8 generous servings

1 ¾ cups turkey stuffing
½  teaspoon baking powder
¼  teaspoon baking soda
¼ stick butter
¼  cup chopped fresh herbs such as chives and parsley, or 2 tablespoons dried herbs, optional
2 large eggs

For the dumplings:

1. Mix together stuffing, baking soda, baking powder, salt and egg. Melt butter and pour over mixture. Cover and refrigerate this mixture while you're making the filling.

Turkey & Gravy Filling
3 cups leftover gravy
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
4 cups diced, cooked leftover turkey meat
2 ½ cups leftover mixed vegetables

For the turkey & gravy filling:
1. Heat gravy and season with thyme, bay leaf, salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer the sauce for 5 minutes, and then stir in the meat and vegetables. Return the filling to a simmer, and transfer to a 4-quart baking dish with a lid.
2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
3. To assemble: Once the hot filling is in the dish, scoop the dumpling mixture into small balls and place on top of the turkey filling.  Put the lid on top, and bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes.

What will you make the leftovers from your Thanksgiving feast?

Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer, with the exception of the chef's photos.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Pumpkins. Copper Hill, Tennessee. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

I wrote earlier this week that it's so much easier to be the guest versus the hostess at Thanksgiving. The pressure's off for me this year - I just need to bake a few pies and craft an appetizer and keep my girls busy. Doesn't sound too hard, does it?

And for once, I get to enjoy the cooking and not worry about the cleaning and decorating. In fact, I'm slowly getting the Christmas decorations down from the attic and scattered through the house. My house now has remnants of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas in various corners. And I'm totally o.k. with this.

If you're taking it easy this holiday, you may enjoy a few of these tried-and-true recipes for Thanksgiving and throughout the year. I begin with roasted almonds, an easy munchie to set out as guests arrive. I rock them in a wok:

Roasted almonds. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

 To accompany the turkey, homemade gravy. This is my standard gravy recipe, the one I use for mashed potatoes and roasted chicken throughout the year. Just add turkey drippings for a flavorful turkey gravy.

Gravy. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 And the many ways of cranberries. I love their tartness, their astringency. And that's why we usually have more than one form of cranberry on the Thanksgiving table. 

Cranberries. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Cranberry jelly. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Cranberry orange relish. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Lemon cream cheese pound cake. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

 And pie. It's just not Thanksgiving without pie. This is the easiest homemade pie I know: Buttermilk Chess Pie.

Buttermilk chess pie. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
My Thanksgiving prayer for your and your families:
May God bless each and every one of you.

Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Homemade applesauce recipe (microwave version)

Homemade applesauce. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
This time of year, I end up with a glut of apples, from friends, grocery store sales and trips to North Georgia apple barns. Homemade applesauce is an easy and kid-friendly recipe to help use up these beautiful apples. My favorite recipe uses a microwave for the heavy lifting - easier than risking burning on the cook-top. Forgive the hippy-dippy instructions - this is more of a method than a recipe.

Homemade Applesauce in the Microwave

1. Peel, core and coarsely chunk six or eight apples. A mix of varieties works best. My last batch included Galas and Red Romes. I even use apples that are a bit past their prime, including the iffy bruised apples in the bottom of the apple bag - just cut out the bad parts.

2. Place apples in large, tall container suitable for the microwave. I use a tall gallon container. Pour apple juice (if you have it, water if you don't) to cover apples by about a third.

3. Place container in microwave and zap at full power for five minutes. Stir and zap for five minutes more. This may require more zapping, just check to make sure the apples are cooked through. Stir in a few tablespoons of butter and sugar, if needed. Let cool and puree in food processor.

4. If you simply must have cinnamon, then spice it up by all means. I like it straight, no sugar added. Warm applesauce makes a first-rate side dish for most kid dinners. It's delish also with a pancake and bacon supper.

Apple tree at Mercier Orchards. Lucy Mercer/ A Cook and Her Books

Look for more pictures of Blue Ridge and Mercier's here.
More apple recipes:

French thin-crust apple tart
Classic apple dumplings
Short-cut apple dumplings
Apple Crisp
Apple Blondie, aka German Apple Cake

Three more recipes that use apples:

Morning Glory Muffins
Kid-friendly sushi

Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Unbelievably delicious and tasty apple dumplings

Mountain Dew Apple Dumplings by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

 My evil twin will try anything once. Krispy Kreme donuts topped with whipped cream and bacon bits, and now apple dumplings made with a can of soda as the sauce. This recipe comes by way of my friend Julie,  who served up this unbelievably delicious panful of apple dumplings and revealed that the secret was a can of Mountain Dew in the sauce. When it came time to make it at home, I discovered the joys of popping the tab on the soda and popping the seam on a tube of crescent dough. It's kind of fun to work with ingredients that snap, sizzle and pop.

Here's a breakdown for the Mountain Dew Apple Dumplings recipe:

1. Begin with Apples, the All-American fruit filled with fiber and nutrition.

2. Wrap them in crescent roll pastry from a tube.

3. Cover with melted butter and sugar.

4. Finish off with a can of flavored soda.

My husband, by the way, proclaimed this one of the best dishes I've ever made.
Mountain Dew Apple Dumplings by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Mountain Dew Apple Dumplings

Adapted from the Pioneer Woman Cooks!

1 good-size baking apple, such as Golden Delicious or Granny Smith

1 package ( 8 oz.) crescent rolls

1 stick butter

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 can (12 oz.) Mountain Dew (you'll need one half of the can)

1. Preheat oven to 350. In a small saucepan, melt butter, then stir in sugar and vanilla. Set aside to cool.

2. Meanwhile, peel and core apple. Cut the apple into 8 equal slices and wrap each in a crescent triangle. (I'm assuming that I do not need to go into the play-play on popping open the tube, removing the dough and separating the pieces. Follow instructions on the can or here, if you need help.). Place each bundle of love into a pan coated with baking spray.

3. Pour butter and sugar mixture over the apples. Pop open the Dew and pour gently around the edges of the pan. You will only need half the can - the rest is the cook's treat. Bottoms up. Sprinkle the dumplings with a bit of cinnamon then put in the 350 oven for 40 minutes. Serve warm.

This recipe is part of A Cook and Her Books' month of apple recipes. Look for other favorite recipes:

Apple Dumplings, classic

My State-Fair Ribbon-winning Apple pie

Apple tart

Apple crisp

Plus photos from Blue Ridge and Mercier's Orchard, in the heart of Georgia apple country.

Three A Cook and Her Books recipes that use apples:

Morning Glory Muffins
Kid-friendly sushi

Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Happy Haul-idays from Chronicle Books

Cookbooks needing company. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

 Chronicle Books has been one of my favorite publishers since the days of "Griffin & Sabine," and their volumes continue to fill my bookshelves. In addition to fiction, art and children's books, they just so happen to produce some of the loveliest cookbooks around, and well, I have a thing for cookbooks.

Again this year, Chronicle Books is sponsoring "Happy Haul-idays" a contest designed to fill more bookshelves - yours, mine and a charity of my choice. All I have to do is list how I would spend $500 for Chronicle titles and all you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post. If my entry is selected, I win the list, and one lucky commenter chosen at random wins the books on the list, too. And this year, a charity of my choice will win their choice of $500 worth of Chronicle's list!. I'm crossing fingers & toes and hoping that all of us win - my charity of choice is the new library in my town - what a blessing this would be to fill up their bookshelves!

Here's my list, topped by a book from one of my favorite food writers:

1. Ruhlman's Twenty by (you guessed it) Michael Ruhlman. This is the blurb:

"Rare is the cookbook that redefines how we cook. And rare is the author who can do so with the ease and expertise of acclaimed writer and culinary authority Michael Ruhlman. Twenty distills Ruhlman’s decades of cooking, writing, and working with the world’s greatest chefs into twenty essential ideas—from ingredients to processes to attitude—that are guaranteed to make every cook more accomplished. Whether cooking a multi-course meal, the juiciest roast chicken, or just some really good scrambled eggs, Ruhlman reveals how a cook’s success boils down to the same twenty concepts." At $40, it promises to be more than just some pretty words...

2. Rustica: a Return to Spanish Home Cooking  by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish $35.00

3. Country Cooking of Italy by Colman Andrews (photography by Christopher Hirsheimer) promises to be a beautiful book. $50.00

4. Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson $40.00

5. Cake Pops by Bakerella $19.95

6. Whoopie Pies by Sarah Billingsley $16.95

7. Flour by Joanne Chang. $35.00

8. Saveur the New Comfort Table $35.00

9. Milk & Cookies by Tina Casaceli  $25.00

10. Fairy Parties $19.95

11. Commonsense Kitchen by Tom Hudgens $35.00

12. Fast, Fresh & Green by Susie Middleton $24.95

13. Southern Pies by Nancie McDermott $22.95

14. Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott $19.95

15. Very Merry Cookie Party By Barbara Grunes and Virginia Van Vynckt $19.95

16. Fast Bread by Elinor Klivans $19.95

17. Baking for All Occasions by Flo Braker $35.00

I think I'm pretty close to $500, but if there's room, I'd like to toss a few Moleskines in the kitty, you know, "the legendary notebooks of Picasso, Hemingway and Chatwin."

Leave a comment and let me know what books on the Chronicle list you would like for Christmas. If my post is chosen at random from the list of participating bloggers, then I win the list of books (don't worry, I'll share!) & one commenter on this post will be chosen at random to receive the list of books, too! (+ my local libraries will receive their choice of $500 in Chronicle Books). So, it's win-win-win! Please be sure to leave an email address so that I can notify you if you win. Entries without a valid email address will not be a part of the drawing if I win the Happy Haul-idays contest.

* Disclaimer: I have not been compensated for this post. I just really really like books, especially cookbooks.

Comments are now closed for this post. Sorry my blog didn't win the contest - maybe 2012 will be our year!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Apple blondie, aka German apple cake

German apple cake. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Throughout November, I'm highlighting recipes with apples - probably my favorite fruit to bake with, (ok, I love lemon, too, so it's a toss-up between lemons and apples). The fresh apples of autumn are a baker's best friend. Here's a recipe for a German Apple Cake from Atlanta blogger Lisa Kuebler. It's rather like an apple-stuffed blondie and it's delicious.

German Apple Cake, or Apple Blondie

2 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 cups apples, peeled, cored, and diced (a mix of Granny Smith and Gala works well)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

2. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs and oil until creamy.  Add the sugar and vanilla and beat well.

3. Combine flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda in a bowl.  Slowly add this mixture to the egg mixture and mix until combined.  The batter will be very thick (like a dough).  Fold in the apples by hand.  The dough will be thick, but will turn into a lovely, dense, sweet cake. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes. Serve warm.

Check out the rest of my apple stories and recipes, here on A Cook and Her Books! Begin with my pictures of beautiful Blue Ridge in the heart of Georgia apple country.

More apple recipes:

Apple crisp
French thin-crust apple tart
Classic apple dumplings
Short-cut apple dumplings
Apple blondie

Three more recipes on A Cook and Her Books that use apples:

Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Old-fashioned apple dumplings

Classic apple dumplings. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Apple dumplings just sound good. Ever since coming across a picture of apple dumplings in a 1970s Southern Living cookbook, I've wanted to bake them - warm fruit, filled with spices and nuts or candy (like Red Hots), encased in a sweet pastry, baked to golden goodness and topped with cream.

Making apple dumplings with delicious apples from the North Georgia mountains gives me a chance to use some special tools in my kitchen. I'm not a gadget junkie - I believe that a good set of knives and pots will get you through most recipes, but there are some specialized tools that don't take up much room in the gadget drawer and make fast, efficient work of some tasks - coring and sectioning apples, for example. I favor the corer pictured here on the left because it has a slide that pops out the core - I've broken several traditional corers just trying to remove the core from the tool. The corer/slicer on the right is handy when I need to section apples quickly and evenly - not a necessary item, to be sure, but it performs its job well.

Apple Gadgets by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Making the pastry gives me an excuse to use one of the rolling pins my husband made for me a few years ago. He surprised me on my birthday with three rolling pins, each out of walnut, turned on a lathe. They’re displayed in a frame in my kitchen - a creative solution to an exposed pipe that didn’t fit into the soffit. Needing to cover the drain pipe, my clever husband crafted this open cabinet. The molding covers the drain pipe and my rolling pins are always at the ready.

Rolling pins in cabinet by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

The pin at the top is the prettiest and is employed during Christmas sugar cookie baking. The second is heaviest and is ideal for working with very cold, buttery doughs that need a solid thwack to get warmed up and workable. My favorite is the angled French pin, perfect for turning corners and shaping pastry into a round for a pie. I used the heavy pin with the flaky cream cheese pastry dough for the dumplings, sectioning the dough then rolling each piece into a 6-inch square.

Rolling out pastry by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

And then filling the apple with a mixture of brown sugar and pecans:

Apple on pastry by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

These are the apple dumplings, fresh from the oven:

Apple dumplings on baking sheet by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Cream Cheese Pastry for Apple Dumplings

Adapted from the "Pie and Pastry Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into 12 pieces

2 cups bleached all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

4 1/2 ounces cold cream cheese (I used Neufchatel), cut into 4 pieces

2 tablespoons ice water

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

At least an hour before you plan to make the apple dumplings, make the pastry crust, so it will have time to chill out and relax.

1. In a food processor, combine the dry ingredients and stir together for a couple seconds.

2. Add the cream cheese and process for about 15 seconds or until mixture resembles crumbs. Add butter and process until all pieces are uniform and crumbly.

3. Using tube, pour in ice water and cider vinegar, slowly and process until incorporated. Dough will still be in pieces.

4. Remove the blade and dump the crumbly dough mixture into a large plastic bag. Using your fingers, press the mixture together. When it is a solid dough, press the air out, seal it and refrigerate for an hour or even overnight.

Apple Dumplings by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Apple Dumplings

1 recipe Cream Cheese Pastry

Flour for dusting

6 baking apples such as Golden Delicious

Juice of one half lemon

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup pecans, chopped

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1 egg white, lightly beaten

Demerara or granulated sugar for glazing

For garnish: lightly sweetened, softly whipped cream or  plain yogurt sweetened with honey and cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 425. Core apples, peel and brush with lemon juice.

2. In a small bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, pecans and spices.

3. Divide dough into 6 equal pieces and using your favorite rolling pin, one at a time, roll each piece of dough approximately 6 inches square. Place apple on pastry, fill cavity with sugar and pecan mixture. Brush edges of pastry with egg white. Bring opposite corners to the top of the apple and press seams together, being careful so that juices won't escape in the baking.

4. Place each dumpling on a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Brush with more egg white and sprinkle with demerara or granulated sugar. Bake at 425 for 30 minutes. When pastry is golden, remove from oven. Serve dumplings warm, garnished with sweetened whipped cream or yogurt, perhaps with cinnamon stirred in.

I'm writing about apples these first few weeks in November. See my other stories:

My State-Fair Ribbon-winning Apple pie

Apple tart

Apple crisp

Plus photos from Blue Ridge and Mercier's Orchard, in the heart of Georgia apple country.

Three A Cook and Her Books recipes that use apples:

Morning Glory Muffins
Kid-friendly sushi

Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Can she bake an apple pie? Of course!

Pair of apples. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 It's Apple time here at A Cook and Her Books, where I'm celebrating one of the most valuable crops to my home state of Georgia - apples. What dish could express your cooking ability more than pie, and what is the ultimate expression of pie? Apple pie, of course!

I've made this apple cheddar pie several times this year - it came to me from PieLab, the home of pie goodness in Hale County, Alabama. It's even a prize-winning pie - I entered it into the North Georgia State Fair baking competition and it garnered a red ribbon - second place. (It should have won first place, but that's a story for another day). Not that I'm bitter or anything, it's just such a great pie, with a buttery crust flecked with shredded Cheddar cheese, and filled with sweet and cinnamon-y Granny Smith apples.

If you're hankering for an apple pie, give this version a try. The cheddar cheese in the crust gives it a rustic, hearty taste and texture. A slice of this treat and a cup of coffee (or juice for the kiddos) is a first-rate breakfast.

Apple Cheddar Pie. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Apple Cheddar Pie from Pie Lab

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled
1/2 pound shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup ice water
1/4 cup white vinegar

7 large Granny Smith apples - peeled, cored and sliced
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg white, beaten
1 tablespoon white sugar

1. In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in cheese. Combine water and vinegar, and gradually stir in until mixture forms a ball. Divide dough in half and shape into balls. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C.) Roll one ball out to fit a 9 inch pie plate. Place bottom crust in pie plate. Roll out top crust and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, toss apples in lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Drain and discard any excess juice. Stir in sugar and cinnamon. Arrange rows of overlapping apple slices, working from outer rim in. Dot with butter. Cover with top pie crust. Seal and crimp edges with fork, then trim excess dough. Cut a few slashes in top crust to allow steam to escape.

4. Bake on cookie sheet in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C), and continue baking for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven, brush lightly with beaten egg, and sprinkle liberally with sugar. Bake 5 to 10 minutes more until sugar forms a crisp glaze. Remove pie from oven and let cool on a wire rack.

More apple recipes:

Apple crisp

French thin-crust apple tart

Classic apple dumplings

Short-cut apple dumplings


Apple blondie

My blue ribbon Morning Glory muffins include an apple for extra nutrition and flavor.

Two savory recipes on the site are made better with use apples: Mulligatawny soup and Easy Kid "Sushi."

Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The easiest apple pie...

Thin crust French apple tart. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

 ...is a tart. Just sweetened fruit on a crust. To quote a certain contessa, "How easy is that?"

I make this puff pastry tart often and it disappears soon after I pull it out of the oven. It's a simple afternoon snack, an elegant dessert, or a breakfast treat. Puff pastry is a wonderful thing to keep in your freezer "pantry" - just remember to defrost it in the fridge (lesson learned the yucky way!).

Use any sort of pie apple here, one that will hold up to baking - Granny Smith is the standard. I've used Gala, Golden Delicious and heirloom Limbertwigs with success.

Thin Crust Apple Tarts

2 apples such as Golden Delicous or Granny Smith
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of one-half lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 frozen puff pastry sheet (from a 17 1/4-oz package), thawed in the refrigerator

1. Using a knife or a handy-dandy apple peeler/slicer/corer, peel, core and cut apples into thin (1/8-inch) slices and place in bowl.

2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring water, sugar, lemon juice, and butter to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and pour mixture over apple slices. Toss apples in mixture until coated, then drain in a colander set over the pot used to cook the syrup. Reserve the liquid.

3. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry sheet and using small plate as a template, cut out as many rounds as you can from the sheet. Transfer rounds to the baking sheet and top each with apple slices, slightly overlapping the edges in a pattern. Bake in a 425 degree oven until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Place on wire rack to cool.

4. Boil reserved liquid in saucepan until slightly reduced, then brush on baked tarts.

(recipe adapted from "The Gourmet Cookbook")

Thin crust apple tart. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 Look for more stories and recipes featuring apples, including pictures of our visit to Mercier's Orchards in Blue Ridge, Georgia!

More apple recipes:

Apple crisp
Classic apple dumplings
Short-cut apple dumplings
Apple pie
Apple blondie

Three more A Cook and Her Books recipes that use apples:

My Blue Ribbon Morning Glory Muffins
Indian-spiced chicken soup: Mulligatawny
Kid-friendly sushi

And for pictures from our weekend in the North Georgia mountains, see "An Apple a Day."
Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cozy, Comforting Apple Crisp

Limbertwig and Macintosh apples. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Autumn cooking and baking are all about apples, especially here in Georgia, where the weekly CSA box is loaded with luscious organic apples each week. And no October is complete without a trip to Blue Ridge, in the North Georgia mountains, where a visit to Mercier's Apple Barn is a must. We load up on bags of baking apples and crisp varieties for eating out of hand.

A double crust apple pie is always on the agenda for fall baking, but given a plethora of apples and a hungry family, a quick apple dessert is in order. Apple crisp fills the bill. It's easy on the cook, especially if you have eager helpers who can put together the topping while you peel and slice the fruit. This is a substantial dessert, and I should mention that it's a first-rate breakfast, too. A spoonful of vanilla yogurt and a cup of strong chai tea alongside can prepare you for whatever the day brings.

Apple crisp. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Apple Crisp


2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and softened
1 cup old-fashioned oats


1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 pounds Fuji or Golden Delicious apples (or your favorite pie apple)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375. Lightly butter a shallow 3 1/2 to 4 quart baking dish.

2. To make the topping: combine flour, sugars, cinnamon and salt in a food processor and blend until well combined. Add butter and pulse until mixture forms large clumps. You could also make this by crumbling with your fingers, or using a pastry blender to cut in the fat.Transfer to a bowl and add oats, stirring with a wooden spoon.

3. To make the filling: whisk together sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl. Peel, quarter and core apples, then cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. Add apples and lemon juice to the sugar mixture and toss until well combined.

4. Assemble and bake the crisp: spread apples in buttered baking dish. Crumble topping evenly over the apples. Bake until topping is golden brown, about 1 hour. Let cool at room temperature so that tongues and tender lips are spared. Store leftovers in fridge.

This recipe is adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook.

More apple recipes:

French thin-crust apple tart
Classic apple dumplings
Short-cut apple dumplings
Apple blondie

Three recipes that use apples:

Morning Glory Muffins
Kid-friendly sushi

See more pictures of Blue Ridge, Mercier's Orchard, and glorious North Georgia in autumn, on this post: An Apple a Day

Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

An apple a day

Apple signs at Mercier's Orchard, Blue Ridge, Georgia. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 Our lovely North Georgia mountains, the foothills of the Appalachians that stretch up the Eastern seaboard, are blessed with stunning fall color and the apple harvest. We take a family trip one weekend each autumn to Blue Ridge, an idyllic town with apple barns nearby.

Blue Ridge train station. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Mercier sign. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Our favorite apple barn, and the largest, is Mercier's Orchard, in business since 1943. In fact, Mrs. Adele Mercier, now in her 90s, can be seen in the tasting room at the apple barn, still overseeing the business she and her husband built together. Mercier's has been savvy in the agri-tourism business, offering u-pick tours, rides through the orchard, and expansion into other fruits - cherries are expected around Memorial Day 2012, followed by strawberries and blueberries. Inside the apple barn, visitors can sample and purchase apple cider, buy apple-stuffed breads and fried pies from the bakery, and choose from many varieties of apples, including heirlooms. On our annual pilgrimage, we loaded up with Mutsus (we insist on calling them moot-soos, but have been told that the correct pronunciation is mutt-soo), also known as Crispins; Cameos; Granny Smiths; and my favorite, Macintosh, warmly reddish on the outside, pearly whiter-than-white on the inside, and unlike beautiful-but-bland Red Delicious, crispy and juicy sweet.

Limbertwig sign. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

This year, I came home with an heirloom variety, too, Limbertwigs, that I used in making an apple crisp. I discovered through the miracle of Google that there are many varieties called Limbertwig, and I'm not sure which one I bought. My review of the Limbertwig: an ok eating apple, similar to a Granny Smith, but not as tart or sweet. A fine apple for eating out of hand, but better for baking - it holds its shape in pies and crisps.

Basket of Limbertwig apples from Mercier Orchards. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

In fact, I made an apple crisp when we got home from Blue Ridge, a recipe that I'll share tomorrow, the first of a month full of apple recipes. Meanwhile, here are a few pictures from the glorious weekend in Blue Ridge and the North Georgia mountains.

We spent a few hours at Mercier's, on the you-pick tour where you could sample all you want, in addition to filling up your bag with juicy, ripe apples:

Apples at Mercier Orchards. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

In downtown Blue Ridge, under a true-blue dream of a sky, we ate lunch at the Beanery - I had a delicious chicken salad. It was a glorious day for a walk, taking in the sights of this small town in the North Georgia mountains.
The Beanery in downtown Blue Ridge. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Church in downtown Blue Ridge. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Blue Ridge Art Museum and the Statue of Liberty, petite, land-locked version. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 The next morning, we headed north, crossing into Tennessee, searching for the most awesome corn maze. We found it. This one featured maps and stations throughout -clues were based on Bible or sports knowledge.

Build it and they will come. Corn maze. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Inside the corn maze. Lucy Mercer/ A Cook and Her Books

After an hour negotiating the corn labyrinth, Lil' Bit took a ride in the cutest kiddie train ever. Each cow car was made from a recycled drum and was sponsored by a local business. The girls also took turns milking "a cow." This is by far the most complacent cow ever to be milked.

Cow train. Lucy Mercer/ A Cook and Her Books

Cow train pulled by tractor. Lucy Mercer/ A Cook and Her Books
Complacent cows make for quality milk. Lucy Mercer/ A Cook and Her Books

More apple recipes:

Apple crisp
French thin-crust apple tart
Classic apple dumplings
Short-cut apple dumplings
Apple blondie

Three recipes that use apples:

Morning Glory Muffins
Kid-friendly sushi

 In the comments, please tell me your favorite apple varieties! Have you tried a new apple variety - I've seen Pinata apples, Jazz apples? Are heirloom varieties among your favorites?

Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer.