October 26, 2011

The weather was so incredibly nice this weekend that I wanted to bask in it and do something outside. So I called up my friend and asked if she wanted to go apple picking. I then admitted that I had never actually been apple picking before. She asked how I had grown up Canadian and never been apple picking. She listed some quintessential Canadian fall activities: Had I been to a maple syrup farm? Picked my own pumpkin? Gone on a hay wagon ride? I had done all of these things, but apparently not apple picking.

We were given a bag and a map of where the different kinds of apples were in the orchard. Let me preface this by saying I have never actually liked apples that much. I like them in things, but I don't really like them by themselves. They just kind of seem like a plain fruit to me. Why have an apple when there are more exciting and pretty fruits like strawberries, kiwis or blackberries? I think it's because I've never had the right apples.

My friend showed me the correct technique of pulling them from the branch. You put the "eye to the sky" and lightly twist it off the branch, and never tug on the branches. She then pulled one off the tree, bit into it and ate it. "You can do that?" I said. I picked one off the branch, bit into it and thus commenced a whole new apple experience. It was the sweetest, freshest, juiciest apple I had ever tasted. We ended up splitting a bag of apples --about a 1/2 bushel-- and I still came away with more apples than I know what to do with. Obviously my first inclination was to make apple butter:

I recently made my own applesauce and have been intrigued by the idea of apple butter. I suppose it's not really a sauce or a preserve, but more of a spread. The mixture is thickened by using apple cider instead of just sugar and spices as with apple sauce. The orchard we went to sold fresh apple cider, so I was sure to stock up on a jug. I still don't really know what to eat the apple butter with besides bread, but I now have seven jars of it to unload on people as early Christmas presents. 

Apple Butter (recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Canning Magazine)
(Makes approx. 6 half pint jars)

4 1/2 pounds apples (about 15 medium)
4 cups apple cider or apple juice
2 cups sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 cloves


1. Core and quarter the apples and leave the peels on.
2. Combine apples and cider in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer uncovered for 30-35 minutes.
3. Press apple mixture through a food mill and return 9 1/2 cups of mixture to the pot. (I didn't have a food mill, so I just mashed the apples with a potato masher and let cook for a little longer to thicken).
4. Stir in sugar, lemon juice and spices. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and cook on low for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours stirring often.
5. Ladle hot butter into sterilized jars and process in a canner.
I always find the recipes for canning easy to actually make with a long prep and cooking time. With cooking the apple butter plus heating up the canner and processing, the whole thing took a few hours. However, the beauty of canning is that a few hours leads to an entire bounty of jars that will last ages and make great gifts.

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October 17, 2011

It's official: the season is changing. I was on a hunt this weekend for sweaters, mitts and cozy apparel as the weather starts to turn colder. I also have more cravings for hot cups of tea and some hearty, warm food. It seemed like the summer just ended, but already more change is happening.

Although I eat butternut squash all year round, it seems to be one of those "it" foods at the moment, much like pumpkin. This post may have you seeing orange with all the cheesy and butternut squash goodness of this lasagna.

I find lasagna one of those things that takes a lot of preparation and time to make. Whenever I make it I usually end up with endless tupperwares of freezer meals because of the sheer size, so it's worth it in the end. This lasagna seemed slightly more tedious than normal because of the different butternut squash layers, so some initial confusion resulted in me literally drawing out a diagram of the layers:

The Healthy Foodie (whose recipe I used) says she actually took three days to make the lasagna, but the process wasn't as bad as I thought once I got going (I just thought of the cheesy, gooey end goal in sight!)

Butternut Squash Lasagna (Full Recipe)

1 butternut squash (they have been huge at the grocery store lately, so pick your battles!)
2 onions
1/2 can tomatoes or 2-3 fresh tomatoes
300-400g spinach
1 box of whole wheat lasagna noodles
200g light feta cheese
200g mozzarella cheese
Rosemary, nutmeg, salt, pepper
1 tbsp honey
For the squash: Heat oven to 375. Microwave the squash for 3-5 minutes. Cut and peel into cubes and place in a glass dish. Top with salt, pepper, olive oil, nutmeg, rosemary, 1 tbsp honey and 1/4 cup water. Cook for 20-35 minutes until tender.

For the sauce: Set aside 1 cup of the roasted squash for the spinach/feta layer. Add some olive oil to a pan and cook onions for a few minutes and add salt and pepper. Add the remaining squash and 1/2 a can of tomatoes or 2-3 fresh diced tomatoes. Season with rosemary, nutmeg, salt and pepper. 
For the spinach/feta layer: Cook 1 onion diced and 1 box/package of spinach for a few minutes until spinach is slightly wilted.
Cook lasagna noodles until almost cooked then drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. 
To assemble the lasagna: Spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan. Add 3-4 lasagna noodles depending on the size of the pan. Spread more sauce to cover the noodles.
Add more noodles, then the spinach and onion mixture. Crumble feta cheese on top, then add the reserved one cup of squash.
Add remaining noodles and sauce on top. Then top with grated mozzarella cheese.
Bake for approximately 40-45 minutes.

Although I'm still a fan of the traditional meat and cheese lasagna, this vegetarian "winter" themed option is definitely a keeper. It was surprisingly not as filling or heavy as I thought, and will make some great, warm leftovers for this cold and rainy week.
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