andy mueller | in the kitchen with chef andy | sept. 2018
Comfortable in both sweet and savory dishes, the apple is on the main stage as its season is upon us. We'll bob for them on Halloween, eat them out of hand for a healthy snack, bake them in pies and add them to stuffing for a little sweet and savory treat at Thanksgiving. The balance of sweetness and a touch of tartness makes them ideal for countless applications in the culinary world. Growing up, we dunked them in peanut butter when they reached their peak of sweetness and thought we were eating something unhealthy because it tasted so good. Parents let us get away with that one and now I know why: protein, vitamins, minerals and miles of smiles. Eat all you want kids, there's more on that tree if you need 'em.
Thanks to Johnny Appleseed, the McIntosh and Cortland are as American as baseball and hot dogs. We grow and eat more apples than any other country in the world and the list of things to do with them gets longer every year. A flaky crust enveloping apples kissed with sugar and cinnamon, cooling on a windowsill is as comforting as it gets. You can almost see Aunt Bea slapping Barney's hand as he tries to sneak a taste on his way to pick up Andy to keep Mayberry safe. There's something about a warm slice of apple pie next to a scoop of real vanilla ice cream that can make the stresses of everyday life drift away like the September winds.
Apples can also have a therapeutic side that many haven't had the privilege of experiencing yet. They can initiate family and friend participation as it did in my family growing up. We would make caramel apples and spend the day melting caramel, submerging our treasures, rolling the finished product in crushed peanuts and generally making a huge mess that was as fun to clean as it was to make. The only way to get hardened caramel off the table was to use your teeth, try it, it's definitely good for at least a laugh or two.
The only trick to apple success is to know which apples are best for the task at hand. Some that are good for eating out of hand may not work in a pie, and the ones for applesauce aren't the best for an after school treat. Dessert apples or eating apples like McIntosh are great out of hand because of their high juice content, but that same juiciness can make a pie crust soggy. They are great for snacking and great for applesauce, but when it comes to pies, Granny knows best. In fact, Granny Smith not only makes a great pie, it also gets the nod for caramel apples. Its tart flavor and firm texture counter the sweet, chewy texture of the caramel blanket wrapped around its skin. Factor in the saltiness of the crushed peanuts and you have a world-class treat for all ages.
Another favorite that's available right now is the Honeycrisp apple. Crispy, very sweet and just a hint of tartness makes this a must-try if you haven't already. These are also perfect in almost any application from pies and tarts to one of the best out-of-hand snacks you can find. They're also easier to "bob" for on Halloween than Granny Smith or Red Delicious. Your aching mandibles will welcome the smaller treats if you've been down that road before.
For proper storage, keep them cool and away from the sun. If they're not quite ripe, keep them on the counter. To stop the ripening process, keep them in the fridge. The big bonus from apples comes in the way they help other fruits ripen faster. They emit a gas that speeds up the ripening process in other fruits. If you have some green bananas, for example, place them in a brown paper bag, and add an apple, then close the bag. The high content of naturally occurring ethylene gas makes the fruit ripen much faster than it would on its own. An apple a day really does keep the doctor away, so take advantage of the sweet season that's here right now, and don't bump your head on the side of the tub when you bob for that Honeycrisp.
Line a cookie sheet with wax paper. On top of the wax paper, place eight large cupcake liners. Flatten each liner on the cookie sheet. Remove the stems and insert wooden skewers or Popsicle stick into eight Granny Smith or Honeycrisp apples where the stems used to be.
Fill a medium sized saucepan half way with water and bring the water to a gentle rolling simmer. On top of the saucepan, place a large metal mixing bowl. Into the mixing bowl add:
3 pounds good quality caramels
5 tablespoons cold water
The caramels will slowly start to melt. When they do, stir them gently with a spatula. When the caramel is completely melted, grab the apple by the stick or skewer, then roll them into the caramel mixture to cover three-quarters of the way up to where the stick is inserted. Swirl the apples against the sides of the bowl to remove excess caramel and hold the apple over the bowl slowly twisting until the caramel stops dripping. Roll the caramel apple into a plate of crushed and salted peanuts or almonds or any other toasted salted nut, then place in the center of the cupcake liner. Repeat process with all apples, then place in the fridge for 10 minutes to set the caramel.
--banner photo by Dominic Rivard
Chef Andy Mueller is a well-seasoned Chef with over 30 years in the restaurant business. He's been on Food Network with Guy Fieri, was Reggie White's personal chef during their Super Bowl run in 1996 and has been Executive Chef at Zimani's in the late '80s, the original Executive Chef at Black & Tan Grille the first four years of operation and owned restaurants in Door County including Glidden Lodge restaurant north of Sturgeon Bay and Hillside Restaurant in Ellison Bay. He currently owns the massively popular supper club 'Galley 57' in Allouez at 2222 Riverside Dr.