Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Creamy Mushroom Soup

For more than five years now I've had a bit of an obsession with the Cream of Mushroom Soup served at a local, long-standing, family-run restaurant. This particular soup offers just the absolute best combination of delicate and delectable sautéed mushrooms, and rich and creamy mushroom broth. While it's definitely a hearty and flavorful bowl of soup, it still somehow manages to retain a distinctly light and ethereal quality. Hard to imagine, I know...when it clearly has a touch of cream and butter making up all that smooth goodness....but it's true!

Though I suppose that over the years I've had my fair share of this soup, it is important to mention that it's only served on Fridays. As such, I consider my obsession to be a slow, deliberate, and healthy one...if there is such a thing.

Not really one to go about testing and retesting recipes to come up with something I've tried and loved, I instead think (and rethink) them through until I come up with a plan. After culling through five or six recipes that looked to deliver a similar result, I meshed bits and pieces of three key recipes and came up with what I believe is equally delicious to my Every-Now-And-Again Friday Soup.

First of all, this is not a blended soup. I have no idea if my "inspiration" soup involves blending (or any of the other steps I use), I just know I am very pleased with the outcome of my version. The beauty of having a bounty of delicious sautéed mushrooms to spoon up with every bite is not to be underrated (or obliterated by whirring it all through in a blender or processor).

And second, I did use chicken stock (so it's not vegetarian), but water or a vegetable stock could easily be substituted. You could even start with an organic, vegetarian mushroom broth, I suppose. (Some of the recipes I reviewed didn't use any "stock" additive at all...instead relying on heavy whipping cream, half and half, water, wine, etc.)

In short, I used three different mushrooms (Portobello, Shitake, and Cremini) and three simple processes...to create the stock base, to create the "meat" of the soup, and to cream it all up.

I used the stems of the mushrooms, along with onions, garlic, carrots, and thyme to get the soup base started. Then added chicken stock, heated it all up to a boil, and then reduced it to simmer on low for 30 minutes. After straining out all the veggies, you end up with a great, flavorful stock base...with little effort.

The "meat" of the soup is made by combining the caps of the mushrooms, along with some chopped shallots and garlic. Once this mixture is well sautéed, you add in a little flour, some white wine, a balsamic vinegar reduction (instead of Madeira Wine or Sherry), and some salt and pepper. Then you add in the strained stock you made from the mushroom stems, bring it all to a boil, and then simmer it on low for about 15 minutes.

The third and final step is simply the addition of some heavy whipping cream, which gives it a luscious, smooth and silky consistency. It's a great soup to serve as an elegant starter to dinner, or with a mixed green salad...and, perhaps, some crusty French bread...as a beautiful light lunch. Either way...it's not just for the occasional Friday anymore!

Creamy Mushroom Soup
A Savory Nest
serves 4 to 6

For stock base:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
stems of Portobello, Shitake, and Cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup carrot, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
sprig of thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 cups no/low salt chicken stock (I used one 32-ounce carton of Pacific Brand Organic Free Range Low Sodium Chicken Broth, plus 2 cups water and one 2-cup square of bouillon to make 6 cups without popping open another carton)

For "meat" of soup:
7 tablespoons unsalted butter (one full stick less the butter used for the stock, as outlined above)
3 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound Portobello, Shitake, and Cremini mushrooms (CAPS only), sliced
1/4 cup flour
balsamic vinegar reduction (see below*)
1/2 cup dry white wine
stock made from mushroom stems (as outlined above)
salt and pepper, to taste

To cream soup:
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

*To make balsamic vinegar reduction: Heat three tablespoons balsamic vinegar in a skillet over medium heat for approximately 1 to 2 minutes, until it gets just a bit syrupy.

1. Clean mushrooms by wiping them gently with a clean, dry cloth. (Do not immerge them in water!!) Carefully pop out stems and set them aside from caps. If needed, cut just a bit from stem ends if they are particularly rough and/or difficult to clean.

2. In a heavy stock pot over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat through until butter starts to melt. Add mushroom STEMS, onions, carrots, garlic, and thyme. Sauté mixture for about 10 to 15 minutes, until onions soften. Add salt and pepper, mix through. Add chicken stock, bring mixture to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

3. While stock simmers, prepare balsamic vinegar reduction* and set aside.

4. Once stock is done, pour it through a strainer into a heat-resistant bowl. Set aside.

5. In a heavy stock pot (used previously for making stock base), heat 7 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Once well softened, add shallots, garlic, and mushroom STEMS. Sauté mixture for about 10 minutes, until mushrooms are richly golden and soft. Add salt, pepper, and flour, and mix through well (mushrooms will appear a bit "glob-y). Stir in balsamic reduction, white wine, and stock that you set aside (from Step #4). Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer on low for 15 minutes.

6. With heat still on low, stir whipping cream into soup and heat through (without boiling!). Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Post-post note: While the stock base is strained (step #4) for this recipe, I might suggest that these veggies instead get blended with a cup of stock and returned to the base to thicken and further intensify the flavor. (Can't believe I blindly tossed all that!!). Just remember to remove the thyme leaves and discard the stem before processing.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Orange- and Lemon-Infused Olive Oil Muffins with Toasted Almonds...Offered in Thanks!

With all that is currently going on in our world, I'm feeling particularly thankful right now for the food on our table, the roof over our heads, and the fact that all those from our own nest are safe, healthy, and secure...even if we ARE currently scattered across the globe. (My new friend, Skype, is helping me on that front!)

The truth, however, is that my last post was actually written as I hovered near the "furry child" I mentioned...watching him breathe in and out, snuggled comfortably on his bed tucked close by my chair, assuring me that he was doing well and "out of the woods." Following a tailspin 24-hour period that had us rushing our big guy to a veterinary ER...committing him to emergency surgery and an overnight stay, transferring him to our vet for eight hours of additional monitoring, and bringing him home a little more than a day later to recuperate...our thankfulness continues.

While I recognize (and am slowly digesting) the reality of our beloved dog's expected lifespan, I am truly appreciative of the efforts made to correct what could have been a very dire outcome. We acted quickly because the very calm voice of the woman that answered our call to the ER facility made it clear that what we "might be" dealing with needed to be addressed in a short time frame; the doctor on call was to-the-point, yet warm and assuring; the surgeon (whom we never met) was apparently "the doctor you want performing this surgery;" and, our vet's office was (as always) kind, compassionate, and thoroughly comforting in their care and assessment of our big guy.

And so, as we sat watching the tragedy of despair and destruction unfolding in Haiti and waiting for word on the outcome of our big guy's surgery, we made a call to one of the numbers that rolled across the CNN-tuned channel, pledging a donation (there are a host of organizations that need assistance...charity/navigator.org is a good place to look). And after reading an article in our paper today about five local, professional photographers who generously donated their time and talents to collaborate on a project documenting the work of our area's food bank -- photos that will be on display today for free public viewing and then go to the food bank (free of charge) to be used for future marketing -- I gathered extra cans of food that stocked our shelves and will now go toward this effort. Then...with our big guy more alert today and responding well in his recovery...I made muffins!

Muffins? Well...yes. While we said many heartfelt "thank yous" to all the skilled professionals that made the outcome of our Sunday night ordeal a happy one...it just didn't seem like enough. Oh yes, we paid our bills, but muffins just seemed like a fitting gesture of thanks to let those late-night emergency personnel know that their efforts are appreciated far beyond the fees or paychecks they receive. You have a job...you expect to be paid. You do your job well...with compassion and dedication...more should be said or done.

I chose these olive oil-based muffins specifically for their less-than-usual ingredients. They are subtly sweet, a touch citrus-y, and light...with just a slight nutty crunch from perfectly toasted almonds. And...yes, in addition to olive oil, they have balsamic vinegar in them too! While a very small percentage of the reviews I read on this recipe said that they tasted these two atypical muffin ingredients, I believe their presence is delicately finespun. Not only are these little muffins uniquely tasty and delicious, they are heart-healthy too...particularly fitting for a "medical" thank you.

Thankfulness can take many forms. Giving what you can to areas of need, both near and far, whether it's with your time or pocketbook, can and should be done. And if you want to top that off with a few homemade muffins as well...that's okay too.

Orange- and Lemon-Infused Olive Oil Muffins with Toasted Almonds

adapted from a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis
makes one dozen

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons orange zest
1/8 teaspoon pure lemon extract
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons milk (I used 2%)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup slice almonds, toasted
powdered sugar, for sifting

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place paper liners in a 12-cup muffin tin (note: my batter made two additional muffins). Toast almonds in a small skillet over medium-high heat until just lightly toasted, about 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside.

2. Blend together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

3. Using an electric mixer, in a large bowl, beat sugar, eggs, zest, and extract until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vinegar and milk. Gradually beat in oil.

4. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir until just blended. Crush almonds with your hands as you add them to the batter and stir until mixed.

5. Fill muffin tin with batter, almost to top of paper liners...

Bake until golden on top and tester inserted in center of muffin comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. (note: my batch took exactly 20 minutes...just keep an eye on them so that they don't over bake)

6. Transfer muffins, in tin, to wire rack and cool for 10 minutes. Remove muffins from tin and cool an additional 5 minutes. Place some wax paper, parchment (whatever) under your cooling rack...and dust muffins with powdered sugar.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quick Tilapia Tacos and Fresh Cabbage Slaw with Lime and Cilantro

Many Sundays, when our weather permits, we'll take an early morning walk with our "furry child" in tow, stop for coffee, and then return home to continue on with whatever plans we have for the day. On one of these walks, a month or so ago, an absolutely darling little girl boldly approached us wanting to pet our big guy. Though only 6- or 7-years of age, "Olivia" (as she immediately introduced herself) confidently wrapped her arms around our dog's much larger head in an effort to hug him, and then asked about his "personality" and, ultimately, his lineage..."is he a mutt?" she inquired. Quelling a bit of a chuckle, I explained that he was a pure bred but that we had had a few beloved "mutts" over the years. To this she replied, "oh well, I was just wondering 'cause I'm a mutt." Upon hearing this I admit I did let out a little chuckle.

Thinking of this encounter makes me smile every time. With my own Euro-Hispanic heritage on my mother's side and my English-"Indiana-State" heritage on my dad's side, I'm a bit of a "mutt" myself. And while I've always thought that my Hispanic roots should account for my love of tacos, the truth is my dad was the one who had to teach my mother how to make all the traditional Tex-Mex foods we are so familiar with in this country. With corn tortillas brought in fresh every day to serve with their main meal, like we might serve dinner rolls, my mother had always thought of a "taco" as being whatever resulted from simply scooping a bit of this or that from your plate into your tortilla...nothing really pre-planned or structured.

So while I guess there's no proven genetic reason for my love of tacos, I do believe that there must have been a DNA-associated component that switched on once my mom got the hang of things in the kitchen. As a little girl growing up, leftovers in our home -- whether they were beef brisket, pork chops, scrambled eggs, fried chicken, or something else -- were sure to get reworked to see life again as a taco! And we never had one we didn't like.

Similar to my penchant for making a variety of soups...I'm slowly accumulating quite a file of favorite taco "pairings" and this is one. While there are myriad variations that are chock full of rich flavors, this particular taco is so great in its fresh, healthy simplicity...and ease of preparation. The whole thing comes together in under 30 minutes. (And, if you prep your slaw earlier in the day, maybe 10!) So whether you're a "mutt" with Hispanic roots or not, the simple goodness of a fresh corn tortilla filled with fish, chicken, beans, veggies...or leftovers...is hard to top.

Quick Tilapia Tacos and Fresh Cabbage Slaw with Lime and Cilantro
makes 8 tacos (with extra slaw for leftovers!)

4 to 6 cups green cabbage, thinly sliced (one medium-sized cabbage head works great)
2 to 3 cups plum tomatoes, chopped (about 4 to 6 tomatoes)
1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (more if you prefer)
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
zest from one lime
6 to 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
4 to 6 tilapia fillets (depending on the size of the fillet, I calculate 1/2 to 3/4 a fillet per taco)
1 teaspoon chili powder
8 6-inch white corn tortillas

1. Combine first four ingredients in a large bowl. Add lime juice, zest, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, toss well to combine. (The slaw should have a tangy, lime-cilantro flavor to it...with just a little glisten from the olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.)

2. Heat remaining 3 to 4 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick skillet (or stove-top griddle) over medium-high heat. Sprinkle fish evenly (on both sides) with chili powder and remaining salt. Add fish to pan and cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until it flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove from heat.

3. Warm tortillas in a skillet (or carefully "char" them directly over a gas flame...watching them diligently as they can easily catch fire!) Divide tilapia among tortillas and spoon 1/4 cup slaw over top of each. Season with salt (and pepper, if desired), to taste. Serve remaining slaw alongside...keeping any leftover slaw for sandwiches, quesadillas, sautéed chicken, etc.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Pasta Amatriciana

While I don't tend to repeat recipes too frequently over a given period of time (there are just so many others to make or new ones to experiment with), this is just one of those dishes that stays with you and begs to be repeated. The funny thing is, it's really not a dish that should have such a pull in that it's just so simple and unassuming. Perhaps, however, it is that very simplicity that makes it so special.

While technically this pasta should be called all'amatriciana to be true to its original Italian heritage, my version is just enough off of the tried and true version calling for dried pork cheeks and Pecorino cheese that I'll just stick to my original simplified moniker. Surprisingly, the Amatrice-originated variety that came to be so many years ago didn't call for onions. While I'm not always happy with standardizing authentic recipes, I'm glad onions got into the mix somewhere along the line. For me, they are essential here!

My version of this "classic" is truly very easy and simple to make. The fact that it can be pulled together from everyday pantry and fridge items, be on the table in a virtual (i.e. "kitchen virtual") blink of the eye...and be such a satisfying and warm bowl of goodness...makes it one of my favorite, quick pastas.

While your pasta water boils, you can chop up the four key ingredients that make up the flavorful "amatriciana" sauce -- garlic, onions, tomatoes...and turkey bacon (yep...it's great in this!). To this you'll add some crushed red pepper flakes and some white wine to give it all a little kick in flavor. Then...drop your pasta in to cook and when it's al dente add it to your tomato mixture, along with some of your pasta water to give the whole thing a bit more of a saucy consistency. Drizzle everything with a little more olive oil and serve it with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Thought to finish on this dish...maybe 30 minutes.

Pasta Amatriciana...a la Savory Nest
serves 4

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 to 12 slices turkey bacon (depending on how "meaty" you want your sauce)
1 large onion, chopped (at least 2 cups chopped onion)
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
6 Roma tomatoes (or a flavorful ripe tomato of your choice)
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more for a spicier kick)
1 pound spaghetti pasta (anywhere from 14 to 16 ounces)
salt and pepper, to taste
shredded Parmesan cheese, to top
Note: While not added this particular time around, sliced (drained) black olives are also a great addition.

1. Bring large pot of water to boil. Season water with salt. Once water reaches a boil, drop in pasta and cook for 9 to 11 minutes, until al dente.

2. While pasta water is boiling, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add turkey bacon and onion and sauté until onion just softens and bacon is lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add in garlic and cook another minute before adding in tomatoes, white wine, and red pepper flakes. (If you are adding black olives, toss these in as well.) Simmer sauce for another 10 to 12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. (Note...you'll be adding some of the salty pasta water next so keep that in mind when you are seasoning your sauce.)

3. Once ready, use tongs to transfer pasta to sauce. Add a couple of ladles of the pasta water to your mixture to loosen it a bit. Drizzle remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over top and heat through. Plate pasta and top with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and additional red pepper flakes, if desired.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Grilled Hearts of Romaine with Fresh Tomato, Red Onion, Crumbled Bleu Cheese, and Sweet Balsamic Vinaigrette

I'm not sure what happens to everyday romaine lettuce when you set it on a grill, but it's a good thing. Using the hearts of the romaine head only, this simple prep gets the outer leaves softened and tinged with a golden grilled marking and, overall, the whole heart settles into a mellowed, smoky goodness that completely transforms its former, more austere flavor to a more gentle, earthy quality.

If you're not a romaine lover, this may just be the prep that transforms you. While this is a great salad to put on an outdoor grill during the summer, I think I might just like it a touch better in the winter over a stovetop grill. It's earthy and warm...yes...but it still retains a great crunch. It seems to take on a whole new "persona" from any fresh rendition it may be more traditionally associated with.

In my opinion, you can prep this super easy and quick salad in either of two ways: whole or halved. It really depends on how large your hearts of romaine are and/or how large a single portion you want to serve. If you grill them whole, you'll want smaller hearts in order to have the leaves soften through once grilled. If the hearts are on the smaller side, or you just want smaller portions (using fuller hearts), then halve them lengthwise. In either case, just don't trim the ends (at all...or much), as you want to keep the leaves of the stalk intact. I used Trader Joe's Organic Romaine Hearts (packaged three to a bag) for this salad. They're large enough to serve up as a light meal for dinner (with a cup of soup, or piece of chicken or fish, if you prefer) and not (usually) too large to grill whole (though I have to say that two in this bunch might have been better off halved).

The greatest thing...apart from the delicious flavor grilling gives this simple green...is the fact that the whole dish only takes minutes!! And...it's versatile. Serve it with a simple-to-make, sweet Balsamic Vinaigrette and some fresh toppings, as I did. Or make a creamy buttermilk and garlic dressing and sprinkle the whole thing with some grated Parmesan cheese. It's really just whatever appeals to you. The grilled goodness of hearts of romaine will work well with a variety of dressings and toppings. It's a simple, healthy, quick, winter-y twist on salad.

Grilled Hearts of Romaine with Fresh Tomato, Red Onion, Crumbled Bleu Cheese, and Sweet Balsamic Vinaigrette
serves 3 to 6 (depending on whole- or halved-sized portioning)

3 fresh hearts of Romaine, rinsed and patted dry
1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, diced
2 to 4 ounces crumbled bleu cheese, as preferred
1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 to 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, as preferred (to taste)
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. In a small bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar, honey, and mustard, to combine. Slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup of olive oil, whisking as you add to balsamic mixture, until ingredients are well incorporated; about 1 minute. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

2. If romaine hearts are on the smaller side: Lightly coat stovetop grill with non-stick, olive spray oil and warm over medium-high heat. Lightly brush romaine hearts with 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil and place on heated grill. Sprinkle lightly with a portion of salt and pepper. Using tongs, rotate hearts as grill markings appear and outer leaves soften, approximately 3 to 5 minutes total.

If romaine hearts are on the larger side and/or you want smaller portions: Cut each heart, lengthwise, keeping stalk end intact. Lightly brush cut-side with olive oil and sprinkle with portion of salt and pepper. Place cut-side down on grill for approximately 2 to 4 minutes, until grill markings appear and leaves soften. (If the other side needs a bit of grilling, carefully turn over to cook for an additional 5 to 10 seconds. Most often, grilling the cut-side only is sufficient.

3. Place hearts of romaine on serving plate (if halved, place one to two on plate, cut-side up). Drizzle with Vinaigrette, sprinkle with bleu cheese and diced tomatoes, and top with slices of red onion. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Serve Vinaigrette alongside to re-dress, as needed.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hearty Black Bean and Chicken Soup

As our drizzle continues... so do our servings of soup.

This one is yet another of our favorites. It's a simple soup with a great hearty flavor, enhanced by cumin, garlic, onions, peppers, and cilantro. What's not to like? It has just enough of a spicy zip to be of interest, without spoiling the whole show. It's chock full of all things I love...chicken, black beans, white corn, tomatoes, and peppers...mixed and mingled in an earthy cumin-based stock.

While you let this soup simmer up a bit (which might take it out of the "quick" category), it definitely fits the bill for "easy." Just a bit of chopping, dropping, and simmering...and you're done with dinner!

Hearty Black Bean and Chicken Soup
adapted from a 2001 National Chicken Cooking Contest recipe
serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced
1 cup onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt (more or less, depending on chicken stock and preference)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 32-ounce carton low sodium chicken stock (I used Pacific Brand)
2 15-ounce cans cooked black beans, rinsed and drained
2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes, with liquid (I used fire-roasted, with green chiles)
1 15-ounce can white corn, drained (or equivalent, frozen)
1 2.25 ounce can sliced black olives
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Monterey jack cheese (or cheddar, as preferred), shredded (to top, if desired)

1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add chicken and onion, and cook until onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cayenne, cumin, salt, red pepper, green pepper. Stir spices and peppers into chicken mixture. Sauté for a minute or so, then add chicken broth. Cover and bring to a boil; then lower heat and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes.

2. Add black beans, tomatoes, corn, and olives; simmer another 10 minutes or more. Stir in cilantro and remove from heat. Ladle soup into bowls and top with shredded cheese, if desired.

Note: If you want a spicier soup, add some diced, fresh jalapeño. If you have any soup left over on Day Two, you may need to add a little bit more broth.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Baked Piñata Apple "Ravioli"

New Year's Day has always had a particular cadence in our home that remains true year to year. And, like most life moments where traditions are born, a certain warmth that we cherish.

For us, New Year's Day is a lounge-y day, devoid of any guilt in just hanging out. It's a football day, with its rhythm tuned to the cheers and chants of the Rose Bowl game. It's the one day of the year that the California sunshine and San Gabriel mountains manage to tug at our heartstrings. It's a day we are thankful for the blessings of the year prior, and hopeful for what lies ahead. It's a day spent with whatever family happens to be "in the nest," grateful to have them near. And, it's a day that our traditional Turkey Chili is hot and ready by halftime! These simple reflections mixed with simple traditions mark each "New Year" to the next, with no grandiose resolutions made to muddle the mix.

The only new thing we are adding to the mix this year is a little dessert nibble (proof that no major resolution was made in the Sweets Department...all good things in moderation). This particular little sweet was inspired by my little obsession-of-late with the dessert bars that have become so popular recently -- beautiful stands of iced cupcakes are being offered as an alternative to more traditional tiered caked, and tables are being outfitted with various serving dishes and platters of assorted mini desserts (a la Amy Atlas).

Being that we still have a few of our delicious Piñata apples on hand, and a low-key day to look forward to, I thought a little dessert nibble would be the perfect cap. A sweet and pretty little two- or three-bite nibble arranged like an appetizer might be, with a whipped cream "dipping sauce." A delicious little nibble in a tiny package that couldn't possibly break even the most resolved of resolutions. You CAN just have one!

Baked Apple Ravioli
makes 12 to 14 ravioli

2-3 large apples (about 2 cups), peeled, cored, and finely diced (Piñata, if you can find them, or a crispy, sweet apple of your choice)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 packaged, frozen pie crusts (I used Pillsbury Rolled Pie Crusts), thawed
flour, for dusting
1 egg white, lightly whisked

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add apples and cinnamon. Sauté for approximately 3 to 5 minutes, just until apples soften slightly. Set aside.

3. Sprinkle cutting board or prep surface lightly with flour. Unroll thawed pie crust round onto surface. Sprinkle dough lightly with flour and roll to an approximate 1/8-inch thickness, trying to approximate a square or rectangle as best you can. Once shaped, place dough aside (using rolling pin to ease transfer).

4. Place second round of dough on floured surface and repeat rolling process. Spoon mounds of apple mixture (a heaping tablespoon/mound) onto dough in rows, leaving about a 3/4 inch between mounds. 

5. Using rolling pin to help with the transfer, lay second dough sheet over first, pressing around each mound to seal and identify shape. 

Using a pizza cutter, square cutter, or kitchen knife, cut dough into squares, slicing just between each mound both vertically and horizontally. Fold and/or press edges of each square to firmly seal, using tines of a fork to provide a decorative edge and pinched closure. Brush egg white along edges and lightly over top of each "ravioli" to provide a clear sheen once baked. Sprinkle lightly with sparkling sugar and bake at 375 degrees F. for approximately 15 minutes, or until golden. Serve with a "dipping sauce" of whipped cream, flavored with cinnamon (if desired).