I’ve never been the kind of hostess who’s into theme menus. Unlike my friend Ariela, who once added a heaping spoonful of cayenne pepper into her brownies so they would “match” with the Mexican-inspired entree (causing our other friend to ask “What’s wrong with having just plain brownies and ice cream?”), it’s just something I don’t think about doing. Honestly, I often don’t plan my menu until the day before the guests arrive. But if there is one ingredient that could get me to change my laissez-faire culinary ways, it would be the fall favorite — the apple.
Visiting an apple orchard always is on our fall to-do list, and we usually come home with more apples than planned, so rather than just keep them on hand for snacking, I try to put the blushy beauties front and center on our dinner plates. The first dish is a kale salad studded with apples, raisins, nuts, and red onions. You’ve probably seen a version of this recipe floating around the Internet as “massaged kale salad” or “rubbed kale salad.” I got the recipe from my sister last year and have made it about once a week since then. Rubbing salt into the raw kale helps relieve it of its bitterness, making it a healthy, chewy bed for the sweet apple and raisins. I often toss in feta and some leftover salmon to make it an entree, but it’s an excellent starter as well.
Our entree, braised chicken with apple and sage, yields some of the most flavorful and tender chicken you will ever taste. After the first bite of this dish, it was the first time I’ve ever described a piece of chicken as “silky,” and wow, what a game-changer. The meat drinks up the creamy, apple-tinged sauce, and the apple slices cook down to almost a chunky applesauce. This dish looks and smells like fall, and it’s easy enough to prepare that you might be inspired to serve it long after you use up your haul from the orchard.
Finally, we round out the meal with peanut butter apple chunk cookies. Adapted from a beloved cookbook, the recipe swaps in applesauce for half of the butter and adds in big chunks of peeled apple for a burst of freshness. Thanks to the applesauce, the resulting cookie feels and tastes lighter than a traditional peanut butter cookie and remains remarkably soft days after baking. It’s also impossible to eat more than just one — every time I’ve stuck my hand in the jar, I’ve gone back for seconds.
Apple Kale Salad
Yield: 4 servings
1 bunch kale
1 tsp salt
¼ c diced red onion
⅓ c currants or chopped raisins
¾ c diced apple
⅓ c toasted nuts or pumpkin seeds
scant ¼ c olive oil
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
⅓ cup crumbled cheese, such as feta, goat, or blue
Pull kale leaves away from stems, wash, and spin or pat dry. Cut leaves into thin ribbons. Put kale in a large mixing bowl. Add salt and massage into the kale with your hands for 2 minutes.
Stir onion, raisins, apple, and nuts / seeds into kale. Dress with olive oil and vinegar. Taste for salt and vinegar, adding more if necessary. When at desired flavor, toss in cheese.
Braised Chicken with Apples and Sage
Yield: 4 servings
Adapted from Epicurious.com / Gourmet magazine
4 chicken legs with skin and bones
1¼ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter or margarine
1 tbsp packed brown sugar
2 apples (I used Gala), peeled, cored, and sliced into ½-inch wedges
½ c diced red onion
⅔ c vegetable broth
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
½ tsp fresh chopped sage
Pat chicken dry and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown chicken well, starting with skin sides down and turning over once, 10 to 12 minutes total. Transfer chicken to a plate and pour off all but 1 tbsp fat from skillet.
Add butter, brown sugar, apples, and red onions to fat in skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until apples are browned, about 5 minutes.
Add broth, vinegar, and sage and deglaze skillet by boiling, stirring and scraping up any brown bits, 1 minute. Return chicken, skin sides up, to skillet along with any juices accumulated on plate. Reduce heat and simmer, loosely covered with foil, until chicken is cooked through and sauce is slightly reduced, 20 to 25 minutes.
Peanut Butter Apple Chunk Cookies
Yield: 40 cookies
Adapted from The Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts
1 c peanut butter
½ c room-temperature unsalted butter
½ c unsweetened applesauce
2 c packed brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
3 c all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 medium apple, peeled and chopped into ½-inch chunks
Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly oil or spray baking sheets.
Cream the peanut butter, butter, applesauce, and brown sugar with an electric mixer or food processor until mixture is light and well-blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in vanilla. Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Add chopped apple and fold into the batter.
Drop tablespoon-sized balls of batter onto the baking sheets, leaving 1 to 2 inches between the cookies. Bake for 10-12 minutes and transfer to a rack to cool.