This month’s 5 Star Makeover came at the perfect time because I’ve needed some coaxing to get in the kitchen lately. I haven’t posted here since late July. And no, it’s not because I’ve been hoarding some super secret top recipes. I haven’t been cooking much, save for a few uneventful meals that are hardly worth remembering.
Why so quiet around here? A couple weeks after my last post I closed on a new condo. I’ve wanted to mention it for quite awhile, but after nearly two years of house hunting and two previous contracts that fell through, I was nervous I’d jinx it.
In the days and weeks since then I’ve been unpacking slowly. Heavy emphasis on the slow. I completely underestimated how much time it would take to get my life in order. My master bathroom and closet are a modern marvel of organization, the rest of the condo, not so much.
Among my yet to be finished project, a pantry makeover. Having filled the kitchen itself to the brim with my burgeoning kitchen gadget I found myself with no room to store actual food. My solution – turn the adjacent hall closet into the pantry. I’d seen some awesome stenciled pantries like this one and figured I would replicate it. And then life got in the way. So most of my pantry essentials still live in cardboard boxes.
And that, of course, brought most of my cooking and baking to a halt. I’m hoping 5 Star Makeover will kick start a little momentum. Our theme this time – apples.
I will admit I did a happy dance when I opened the email because as I wrote in my post “An Ode to the Other Fall Favorite” last year, they are one of my favorite fall ingredients to work with.
For this month’s challenge, I felt inspired to make apple butter, but with one special ingredient to make it feel a bit more luxurious – vanilla bean. Since apple butter has such a lovely caramel-like flavor profile to it I figured it would pair perfectly with the vanilla bean.
And I was right. The vanilla bean added a lovely floral quality to the apple butter that enhances the sweetness. It makes it feel a bit more grownup and unexpected, yet doesn’t overwhelm the apple flavor. Since vanilla bean is a pricey ingredient, I wanted to make sure the quality of the other ingredients matched as well so I went with local apple cider and a mix of local apples as well, to contribute depth to the flavor and a range of textures. Here in Chicago I like to use Seedling since they offer some really lovely single varietal ciders, but any local, high quality cider will do.
I’ve been eating it straight out of the jar with a spoon as well as on simple apple butter and chevre sandwiches. Because really, what don’t I eat with goat cheese.
Be sure to check out the round ups later this week to see what other group members made!
Adapted from Epicurious
-4 pounds apples, peeled, cored and finely diced (I used a mix of Fujis, Jonathan, and Macintosh)
-1 cup apple cider
-2 cups granulated sugar
-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
-1 vanilla bean
Combine apples and cider in a very large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and boil gently for 20 minutes or until mixture is reduced by half.
Stir in sugar and lemon juice. Split the vanilla bean in half with a knife. Scrape out the seeds and add them to the pot. Then add the vanilla bean itself as well. Return mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and boil gently until the mixture is thick and has darkened in color, about 2-3 hours. (I checked the texture and color about every 30 minutes to see how it was progressing.)
Spoon the mixture into sterile containers, cover and refrigerate or freeze.