Although I can still get the peaches and plums I was so hungry for in the early summer, my attention has turned to apples. Growing up in Vermont, I was spoiled by the quality and variety of apples available directly from farms in the fall. While California dominates in nearly every other food arena (another exception noted later), apples at their best here are still only nearly as good as at home.
Part of the problem is that I like fragrant, tart, crispy apples, the kind that are alarmingly bright but don't store well. I think the taste for apples out here generally trends toward bland sweet ones - think Fuji or Golden Delicious. Blech. There are a few farms represented at the farmer's market that at this time of year have apples I really like. At one, you talk to them and say, "I'm from the east coast, I want an apple that tastes like home" and they'll pick you out a nice one.
Anyway, I bought a crapload of apples this week. A green russet (not shiny) kind, and some little red ones along the line of macoun / rome /macintosh. I also had some Philo Golds from last week; pie apples that I've been eating out of hand - usually a winning strategy for me, but in this case somewhat disappointing. So I used the little green ones in a recipe for braised chicken in calvados sauce found, once again, in the Chez Panisse Fruit cookbook. They're tart and dry - just right.
Easily my least favorite aspect of cooking is butchery. I admit that I most often roast my chickens so I can do a minimum of cleaver-work. This recipe requires separating the legs, trimming the wings, then removing the back and quartering the breast. I almost didn't make it because of that, but I was taken in by the onion-apple combo, by the mass quantities of creme fraiche involved, and by the calvados flambe.
It's pretty easy after the chicken's cut up, though there are a lot of steps. Brown the chicken, fry some onions & carrots, add Calvados and ignite it (if I hadn't been on the phone with my parents at the time, I would've taken a photo of that), then add the chicken & some hard cider and cook it through. Then fry pearl onions very slowly in another pan. Then fry peeled apple slices in butter with salt & pepper (they make a crust and puff up a bit - cute!). Remove the chicken, strain its cooking liquid, add a CUP of creme fraiche, and reduce the sauce by half. Then get all the parts together and heat them through in the sauce.
Delicious. The quality of the chicken and the creme fraiche are probably the biggest contributors. I was using Cowgirl Creamery brand for a couple years, but I recently tried the Vermont Butter & Cheese Co stuff because it's a hair cheaper and their butter is so good. Winner! It's soooo nutty and rich, whereas the Cowgirl stuff is rather more fresh and bright. I think VT B&C might ferment the creme in the package - it separates to a creamier layer and liquidier layer, so it is probably just stronger.
Probably tomorrow: puff pastry, a quince/apple tart, and maybe an apple pie for the freezer. The freezer is hungry for pie. For now I'm off to the bar to drink my troubles away, on the advice of my parents.