1. Quick Pickled Apples, 2. Quinoa Salad with Hazelnuts, Apples, & Dried Cranberries, 3. Butternut Squash, Brussel Sprout, Apple, & Cranberry Stuffing, and 4. Apple Rye Punch


You probably think of apples as harbingers of autumn. But when you think about it, they are there in the grocery store all year round. Loyal friends that they are, they wait in heaps and piles, queued to go home with you anytime. Sweet!


Envy Apple Display


Speaking of sweet, this weekend I attended a cooking class featuring Envy apples taught by Chef Kim at the Schnucks Cooking School in Des Peres. What fun!


As each person entered the room they were offered an apple-themed cocktail–a glass of Apple Rye Punch. If that doesn’t set the tone for a good time, I don’t know what does. 

Envy Beverage

Apple Rye Punch

I was lucky enough to be able to join a group of super fun ladies who were longtime friends, good cooks, and quite photogenic to boot. Plus, they did most of the work while I took pictures.


Envy Cooks


Chef Kim started class by teaching us what makes Envy apples so special. It turns out that the more flecks you see on the outside, the sweeter they will be on the inside. The flecks are called lenticels and they help the fruit “breathe.” Carbon dioxide goes in and oxygen goes out. This increases the production of the enzyme that slows browning, which means that you can cut them ahead of time, and their flesh will retain its white color. This is great news for putting sliced apples in lunches, on cheese platters, and in salads.


Raw, they are crisp and juicy, but cooked, they are delicious as well. And cook them we did. You won’t believe this, but the first thing we did was pickle them! I have to admit, I had my doubts. My first thought was, Why would anyone do that to an already perfect apple? But I stand corrected. The first bite of the Quick Pickle Apples humbled me to my core.


Quick Pickled Apples


The apples were still sweet and crisp but mixed with exotic flavors, and if you can believe this… juicier! A bite of a pickled apple with a bite of cheddar cheese almost brought me to my knees. I could have eaten that and that alone for the entire night and gone home happy.


Envy Apple and Cheese


But wait, there’s more…


The class made a Quinoa Salad with Hazelnuts, Apples, & Dried Cranberries that had such fantastic flavors. The fresh parsley, the green onions, and the crisp apples were the perfect foil for the main course.


Envy Cutting Board


A thick pork chop stuffed with Butternut Squash, Brussel Sprouts, Apples, and Cranberry Stuffing. The chop was just a vessel for what lie within. I would make this stuffing again, perhaps serving it stuffed into or even alongside chicken or turkey. Cornbread cubes, brussel sprouts, hunks of apple, and fresh sage conjured up flavors of Thanksgiving.


Envy Cooked Chop


And of course there was pie. Truly Scrumptious Apple Pie. No, really, that was its name.  The crust, made from scratch, draped over a perfect mixture of apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, and fresh squeezed lemon juice, and dotted with butter. The pie was then brushed with cream, sprinkled with sugar, and baked to browned perfection.


Everyone left happy with an Envy apple apron, fantastic recipes, a full tummy, and new friends. You can’t get that just anywhere, but you can get Envy apples at your local grocery store. They are just waiting for you to bring them home, and that is pretty sweet!


Envy Arial Plate

Perfect plating!


Quick Pickled Apples

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white or champagne vinegar
  • ½ cup Grade B maple syrup
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pickling spice
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large Envy apples
  • 2 star anise pods
  1. Combine water, vinegar, maple syrup, pickling spice, and salt in a saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, wash and core your apples (no need to peel). Cut apples in half from top to bottom, then cut each half into ⅛ inch slices.
  4. Put the apples slices into a glass bowl and add the star anise. Through a strainer, pour the brine over the apples and star anise. Cover and allow to come to room temp.
  5. Store them in the fridge in a glass jar with just enough of the the brine to cover the apple slices. They will keep for a week.

Quinoa Salad with Hazelnuts, Apples, & Dried Cranberries

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup hazelnuts
  • 1 bunch or 5-6 green onions, chopped
  • ½ cup dried cranberries, chopped
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 Envy apple, cored and diced
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Toast hazelnuts: preheat oven to 350℉ and spread the nuts out on a baking sheet. Bake for 7-10 minutes and let cool completely. You should hear the skins crackle while cooling. When cool, remove the skins and chop the nuts.
  2. Meanwhile, put the water for the quinoa up to boil. Rinse the quinoa well, and add it to the boiling water with a pinch of salt. Cook on medium-low for 15 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and let cool in fridge.
  3. Heat a skillet with the olive oil, and saute the onion and celery until soft. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool.
  4. When cool, add the parsley, cranberries, green onion, apple, quinoa, and hazelnuts.
  5. Drizzle with additional olive oil and lemon juice if desired, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Mix well and allow the flavors to blend for 20 minutes before serving.

Butternut Squash, Brussel Sprouts, Apples, and Cranberry Stuffing

  • 1 pound butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 pound brussel sprouts, julienned
  • 1 Envy apple, diced
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons oil, divided
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 10 slices of bread (cornbread, sourdough, or whole grain), toasted and cubed
  • 1 ½ cups stock
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped
  • ⅓ cup dried cranberries
  • ⅓ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400℉. Toss the squash, brussel sprouts, apples, onions, celery, shallots, and 2 tablespoons of the oil together. Season very well with salt and pepper and roast until the veggies are tender and a bit singed. Remove from oven and let cool. You can serve it as is or you can now use it for stuffing.
  2. Reduce oven temp to 375℉. Cut a pocket in your chops and season with salt and pepper. On a baking sheet, lay out the chops, put stuffing into the pocket, and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Truly Scrumptious Apple Pie

For crust:

  • 5 cups flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 11 tablespoons very cold butter, cut into small cubes
  • 6 ounces very cold shortening, cut into chunks
  • ½ cup ice water
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, put flour and salt and blend on low speed. Add butter and mix until flour looks crumbly. Add chunks of shortening and continue to mix. When clumps begin to form and the dough holds together when you press some between your fingers, slowly pour in the water and mix just until incorporated. Divide into two pieces of dough.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, roll the first piece of dough into an 11 inch circle. Put into a 9 inch pie plate, letting it hang over the edge of the dish. Roll the second piece of dough into a 10 inch circle and set aside.

For the pie filling:

  • 2 Envy apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin
  • 2 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin
  • ¼ flour
  • ¾ sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on crust if desired
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons cream or milk
  1. Preheat oven to 425℉. Mix the apples, flour, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and lemon juice in a large bowl.
  2. Pour into the prepared pie crust and dot with the butter.
  3. Cover with the top crust and tuck the overhang under the bottom crust. Flute edges with fingers or a fork and vent the top.
  4. Brush the top with the cream or milk and sprinkle with extra sugar.
  5. Place pie on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 40-50 minutes until the juices bubble through the vent. If the edges are browning too quickly cover them by wrapping two strips of foil around them loosely. Let cool on a rack for half an hour before cutting.

Apple Rye Punch

  • 6 cups apple cider
  • 750 ml rye or whiskey
  • 25 dashes bitters
  • 20 ounces hard cider
  • 6 cups ice
  • Envy apple slices for garnish
  1. In a pitcher, mix together cider, rye or whiskey, bitters. Right before serving add hard cider and ice. Garnish with Envy apple slices and serve.

Envy Pouring Apple Filling



Golden Saffron Chicken with Onions

Cooking Up a New Plan

(Recipe and more photos for Saffron Chicken follow!)



In cinematic fashion, I am running down a corridor at a downtown convention center to get to my first session of the conference. It feels more like an airplane hangar, and I am overwhelmed with making my connection on time. Although I do not know it then, I am also taxiing down the corridor of my life, which is about to take an unexpected detour.


Lois Lowry is supposed to speak, and I will not miss it for all the free books in the world. I promised my students I will report back; we have just finished reading two of her novels. I slip into a seat at the front of the room, the podium an arm’s length away–I’m all too eager for her wisdom.


Then I hear the announcement: Lois Lowry has fallen and she can’t get up, but she will be okay. Instead, we will hear from Laurie Halse Anderson. I’m crestfallen, but only momentarily. Laurie glides onto the stage in a flowery dress, her strong arms grasp the microphone, and the white streak in her hair falls over her eyes. She begins to speak, her words the song that will become my soundtrack, the motif that will play in the background of my scenes for the next few weeks. I am hovering above the room watching a movie of my life.


She asks the audience, a small army of English teachers, “How many of you are working on a book?” Everyone raises their hand. Everyone.


I am with my people, I think, I am one of them. In my mind, I freeze the frame of this moment.


Then, she asks: “How many of you wish you had time to finish that book?” All hands go up again, including my own.


I no longer want to be one of them. I vow to make more time to write.


She compliments teachers. She tells us that teachers birth readers and writers. That we will never know the total effect we have had on our students because years go by, and the work we have done is cumulative.


I picture us, no longer a small army of teachers, now marching in our red robes and bonnets to perform our duties, to populate the world with readers and writers, being farmed out like handmaids to make other people’s dreams come true.


She also tells us that books save lives. I’m saving lives! I imagine myself kneeling with defibrillator paddles in hand, positioned over a student’s heart, yelling: CLEAR! Except when I look down, they’re not paddles, they are books, and when I look closer, the face is my own: the person I am reviving is me. The soundtrack skids to halt as the needle scratches the record.


The next three days of the conference are tinged with sadness. The vibrant colors of the film take on a sepia tone, and my life plans seem out of date. Sadness turns to anger: Why can’t I make more time to write? Anger turns to motivation: I will make more time to write!


And I do. I write and write and write.


For me, writing and cooking are connected. Both are process oriented and take patience if one wants to improve. Aside from this food blog, the characters in my stories often have a scene or two where they, warrior-like, wield Santoku knives when they feel powerless, and disrobe beets of their dingy exterior to reveal a jewel-like interior.


I’ve been writing a lot. I’ve been cooking a lot. And saving up recipes to share with you.


Here is one of my new favorites. This makes a great dinner for company, and it is just as good for a weeknight meal. Did I mention you can prep it ahead? Well, you can. And that makes all the difference when you need time to pursue other passions. You can let it marinate in the fridge for maximum flavor for a day or two. Or you can cook it right away.


Saffron Chicken with Onions

(serves 4-6)

  • 2 to 2 ½  pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs (I use this brand and it often goes on sale. It comes in 20 ounce packages and I use two: Just BARE Chicken.)
  • 1 or 2 sweet Vidalia onions, thinly sliced (Use 2 if you love onions and 1 if you only like them. You can use any kind of onion you have on hand.)
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (It doesn’t make it spicy, just gives it flavor, but you can omit it if you want. Or double it if you want a little kick.)
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt (It seems like a lot, but I promise it is just right. It has a lot of work to do.)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon  saffron (leave it fluffy and don’t pack it into the spoon), or one big pinch if you find it hard to measure (I get mine at Trader Joe’s)
  • ¼ cup lemon juice (One or two juicy lemons should do it)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  1. Combine all ingredients on a large baking sheet and arrange in a single layer with onions around and on top of the chicken. (If you are making it ahead, just cover it with foil. Or you can marinate it in a large Ziploc bag and just dump it out onto the baking sheet and arrange it in a single layer when you are ready to cook it).
  2. Bake at 400℉ for 35 to 40 minutes until the edges of onions and chicken just begin to brown. Serve over rice.*You can halve this recipe. You can also double or triple it.

    ** You can use boneless skinless chicken breast, if you prefer. But reduce the cooking time to 30-35 minutes.