Monday, October 29, 2007

Fall Finally Descends on the Windy City

In this, the last week of October, the weather in Chicago has finally started to feel like fall. The leaves are finally starting to change color, and the air is finally getting that cool, crisp, fireplace-scented quality that I've come to know and love. I've had to dig out my scarves, gloves, and sweaters, and I've started having to wear a coat to work. I'll miss the warmth of summer... but I'm ready for a change.

The Chicago Top Chef front has been unusually quiet over the past week... I'm sure they're still doing challenges, but perhaps Bravo is going to further efforts to keep them under wraps after The Stew published a very detailed spoiler of the Meals on Wheels challenge. In any case, filming has been on for a little over six weeks at this point, so I suspect that sadly, they'll probably be finishing up soon. Padma is apparently took a break from filming on Tuesday to do a book signing at Art Smith's hot spot Table Fifty-Two, so I guess they're still in town... but who knows for how long? Le sigh.

Well, since I've got no major Top Chef dish to talk about, I thought I'd share one of my FAVORITE fall recipes: Apple Crepes. Growing up in New Hampshire, I would go apple picking with my family on sunny fall weekends, and then my mom would use the apples we picked to make an assortment of delicious creations, including German Apple Pancakes (a la Walker Bros), Apple Crisp, and my favorite, Apple Crepes. She shared the recipe with me when I moved out to college-- and I recently revived the tradition.

My favorite kind of apple is Macintosh. Apparently they are special to New England's apple orchards-- I had a really hard time finding them out here in Chicago. When I cruised Green City Market several weekends ago, they told me I was "two weeks late" for Macintoshes. That Saturday, I settled for a bag of questionable looking Cortlands (the fact that they were "organic" was apparently an excuse for their diseased-looking exterior)-- which promptly WENT BAD in about two days' time. WTF. At that point, I gave up on the local farmers and went to Whole Foods, where I found a BOUNTY of georgeous looking Macintosh apples, from Oregon I think. Here they are:
After picking up some extra butter and whipping cream at the store, I was ready to make my crepes. I used Mark Bittman's recipe (from How to Cook Everything) for dessert crepes, which called for:
3 eggs
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 - 1&1/4 cups milk
7/8 cup all-purpose flour
4-5 tablespoons of melted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

The instructions go on and on, but are essentially this: beat the eggs, and mix in the salt and 1 cup of the milk. Whisk in the flour, sugar & two tablespoons of the melted butter. If the mixture is too dry, add the rest of the milk. Finally, add the vanilla. Then, you are supposed to cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours (or up to 12 in the fridge). I neglected to read this on my first pass through the recipe. Naturally, when I got to this point, I was not prepared to wait 2-3 hours to enjoy my crepes. Instead, I waited just one hour. But they ended up turning out ok, so I guess I'm lucky.

While you're letting your crepe batter "sit", you can make the apple filling.

Brown Sugar Sauteed Apples

6 or so cooking apples
one stick of butter
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2/3 cup calvados or 1t vanilla

Peel and core the apples, and slice them crosswise into 1/8 inch slices, like so: Melt about 2 tablespoons of the butter in a skillet and add a single layer of apple slices. Saute the slices until browned (about five minutes). Remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon, and repeat this step until all of the apples are cooked. Then, melt the remaining butter and add the brown sugar to the skillet until it dissolves. Add the vanilla at this point -- if you use Calvados instead, add the calvados and let it boil for about five minutes, stirring constantly. Finally, add the apples back to the skillet, reduce heat, and cook for about another five minutes (until the apples are heated through). If there's two of you, someone can start making the actual crepes while the other finishes up the apples. To make the crepes: uncover the sitting batter and stir it up to give it an even consistency. Melt some butter in a little bowl, and get out a pastry brush. Then, for each crepe, follow this process:

1. Brush the pan with butter - it should sizzle but not burn.

2. Pour about a half-ladle of batter into the pan (unless you have one of those little ladles), and turn the pan so that it coats the bottom in a thin layer. Don't use too much batter or else the crepes will turn out thick and rubbery instead of delicate and light. Turn the crepe after about 60 seconds, and let it cook for about 30 seconds on the other side. Remove to a plate-- stack the crepes with sheets of wax paper in between so they won't stick together.

Now you can put together your crepes. In the past, I've done them with vanilla ice cream: this time, I decided to go with a little vanilla whipped cream instad. Here's a step-by-step visual of the assembly:


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