Spiced Apple Cake with Cinnamon Cider Glaze

Spiced Apple CakeCake Walk

This week I am full-on geeking out.

“Why?” you might ask.
“Because Halloween is Monday,” she said.
“Why would that cause you to geek out?”
“Because I was a history major, and my main focus was Celtic history.”

Still confused? (Buckle up. It’s about to get nerdy…)

The modern day celebration of Halloween has it’s roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which celebrated the end of the summer and the harvest season. The Celts believed that during the festival of Samhain, the spirits of their ancestors would walk amongst the living. Villagers would make offerings of food and wine in order to make contact with the spirits of loved ones who had passed away.

With the good comes the bad. So, for those spirits who were not welcome, the villagers would wear disguises so that they would not be recognized. And the costumed villagers would then lure the evil spirits away with a parade.

As Christianity spread across Europe, the harvest holidays (including Samhain) were basically absorbed into a Christian celebration called the Feast of All Saints and All Souls. So, the food and wine offerings were replaced with soul cakes, which were spice cakes that were baked and given to the poor. They would in turn pray for the souls of the departed as thanks for receiving the cakes.

The concept of Halloween arrived on American shores with the Irish Immigrants in the mid-19th century. Halloween, as we know it, complete with peanut butter cups, Trick-or-Treating, and rubber masks, didn’t really come about until the 1950s. (If you’ve made it this far, thank you. My kids would be rolling their eyes and writhing in pain right now.)

This Friday, my daughter’s school is having their Fall Fest carnival with games, pie eating contests, and the most popular attraction of all…the Cake Walk.

The Cake Walk is basically musical chairs with Devil’s Food. Families donate a cake and the kids walk around in a circle to Halloween-themed music. When the music stops, you find a number. And, if your number is called, you win the cake of your choice. Yee Haw!

Since there is a cake decorating contest to go with it, most people bring Halloween-themed cakes. I, however, will be going the super-traditional spice cake route, as only a card-carrying history nerd can. It will probably be picked last.

Spiced Apple Cake with Cinnamon Cider Glaze
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
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Almost Gam’s Applesauce

Almost Gam's ApplesauceFalling for Apples

I don’t know where the pumpkin spice craze started. And, now that there are Pumpkin Spice Triscuits available for your tasting pleasure, I think we have perhaps taken it a bit too far.

The funny thing is that I actually like the Pumpkin Spice flavor (scent/color/lifestyle). The occasional pumpkin spice latte can be just what the doctor ordered. But it is by no means the only flavor representative of Fall. If you ask me, the real flavor of Fall is apples.

If you have been anywhere near a produce market or stand recently you, I am sure, have seen that the apples have come in. There are the usual stand-by Fuji and Golden Delicious, of course. But, October has also ushered in the Jonagolds, Pippens, McIntoshs and Ambrosia apples with the Arkansas Blacks not too far behind.

I love apples. They’re crunchy. They’re sweet. They are an easy and portable snack. As a family, I think we go through at least three dozen a week—just grabbing one and eating it. And at this time of year, it is fun to try out all of the different varieties.

Not all the apples I buy are grab and go, though. Some are better suited for other things like cakes and crisps. And, the best use of apples to me, besides the obvious, is for applesauce.

Applesauce is great on it’s own, or on the side with a pork roast. Use it as a dipping sauce for some really great Vermont cheddar and you will thank me. Add some to a spice cake for added moisture. Spoon a little on your oatmeal…the list goes on. And of course, in my family, it goes on Ebelskiver!

My favorite applesauce was my grandmother’s. Unfortunately, her recipe has been lost along with her equally fantastic apple chutney recipe. And, I’ve looked everywhere to no avail. It was super chunky with a lot of cinnamon and raisins…maybe a little ginger.

Also, she was very specific about what apples she used. Gam’s applesauce was probably more of a compote that a sauce. It was pretty thick. I haven’t given up the search, though. I will find it. And when I do I’m making a big batch…

In the mean time, this is a close as I can get.

Almost Gam’s Applesauce
Makes about 2 1/12 quarts.

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Favorite Marinara Sauce

Favorite Marinara SauceKids in the Kitchen

Over the weekend, I hosted a few 4th and 5th graders for my Beyond Chicken Nuggets cooking class. I had auctioned it off during our school’s Spring fundraiser.

I believe in the If you teach a man to fish… philosophy. I figure if you teach kids to cook from an early age, not only will they never starve once they are out in the cold, cruel world, but they might actually eat better in the process.

My goal was to introduce this group to some easy recipes that are out of the ordinary, and perhaps a little more adventurous for the elementary school palette.

First up was Paella. In every culture around the world, there is at least one dish that consists of chicken and rice—think of chicken and rice as global comfort food. The only difference is how you spice it, and in some cases how you cook it.

I chose to go with the Spanish version, mainly because it’s something that I make on the regular. And also, it is easy for the kids to throw together—with supervision, of course.

And we also tried to make cream puffs, which are usually not too complicated. But in this case were an epic fail. My guess is we were too focused on our other dishes, so we weren’t patient enough with the puffs. They tasted fine, but they didn’t puff up. So, I sent everyone home with a jar of pastry cream and a spoon…

By far the biggest success of the afternoon was the handmade pasta. All of the kids made their own, from scratch, with very little help from me. And it turned out beautifully.

Fresh pasta may sound daunting, but it’s easy enough that you may never buy dried pasta again. And the flavor difference is incredible! If you want to give it a try yourself, here is a good tutorial.

As for the sauce? The simpler the better, if you ask me. We ate the pasta my daughter made with a fresh tomato and basil cream sauce. But, you can never go wrong however, with my favorite Marinara sauce.

Favorite Marinara Sauce
Using fresh herbs makes all the difference in this quick and easy marinara.
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Hungarian Goulash

Hungarian GoulashGhoul-ash

It’s officially October. (What the heck happened to September?) You know how I know it’s October? Well, besides that calendar thing? Because our cookbook club was scheduled to have our latest dinner on Saturday the 1st—and that’s what we did.

I gotta say, I am more excited about the date on the wall than I was with the food we made. And, the rest of the group agreed.

Our theme this time was anything by Jamie Oliver. And, we could pick any recipe of his from a book or online. Initially, I was looking forward to it. And, I figured with his get everyone eating better movement, and the overall success of his restaurants, we would once again be eating very well. Wrongo!

To be fair, it wasn’t that bad, it was totally edible, but the man does not season his food.  Every single one of us said we had to alter the recipe by adding salt and other spices. Maybe it’s a British thing? Maybe it’s just him? Who knows but the food was bland.

I had high hopes for the Spicy Pork Goulash with Chilies that I made. It sounded so good to me, and perfect for a blustery fall dinner. While it was cooking, the aroma was amazing. The end result? Meh.

I love a good goulash. It’s hearty and satisfying and paprika is one of my favorite spices. Since this weekend’s disappointment, I have been looking forward to having the real deal. And, Goulash is another great option for your freezer so make more than you need and freeze some for later.

Hungarian Goulash
Adapted from Lizthechef on Food 52
Serves 4

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