Chew On It
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By Andrew Kochirka staff blogger
Food has been an integral part of Andrew's life from a young age; from cooking with his mother and grandmother to creating recipes in his own kitchen. Now he scours the area's non-chain restaurant scene to find the best of the best of local food from chicken wings to French cuisine.   Read more about this blog.
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Thanksgiving is one of the days that most people enjoy gorging themselves on food until they can’t possibly stay awake to finish watching the football game or Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving. Turkey, stuffing, casseroles and many other savory dishes add to this food coma, but the meal typically ends with dessert. Buying pre-made desserts is fine for those who don’t like to bake or simply don’t have the time, but to me, nothing beats the taste of from-scratch baking. As a child, I was always in the kitchen making sweets with my Mom, Dad, or my Nana. I love to bake, and while my childhood favorites always hold a special place in my heart (and on my taste buds), the recipes I make now are a bit different from what I made then.

Recently, Amanda and I tried our hand at a Salted Caramel Apple Pie. A simple buttery, flaky crust made from flour, ice cold water, and butter beautifully cradled a mound of fresh sliced Honeycrisp apples. The apples were tossed with some sugar, spices, and lemon juice and piled high. I made an insanely easy and amazing salted caramel sauce from sugar, water, sour cream, whipping cream, and coarse sea salt. Now that we’ve made this sauce a few times, we know we have to pour the caramel over the apples immediately before we take to the whole pot with spoons. The caramel dripped down through the apples and coated them with a beautiful golden sheen. The pie is then topped with a brown sugar and oatmeal crumble, a drizzle of the caramel, and a light sprinkle of the coarse salt. This dessert hits all of your taste buds and guides you to that state of blissful happiness. The saltiness of the caramel helps balance the sweetness of the apples and the crunch topping and creates something completely and totally wonderful.

Another favorite of mine that I turned Amanda on to was making Pumpkin Pie from real pumpkins instead of the sometimes metallic tasting canned pumpkin puree. If you have the time, give fresh pumpkin a try. Sugar pie pumpkins can be found in the produce section of most grocery stores and require only an hour in the oven at 400 degrees before you can puree it for pie. The main benefit of canned pumpkin is that you know all of the batches are going to be uniform in taste and texture. When you use fresh pumpkin, you might have to adjust the amount of sugar or the pureeing time with each pumpkin, but the taste and texture is exponentially better. The fresh pumpkin pie tends to be slightly firmer, more brown than orange in color, and has a richer, truer pumpkin flavor. After you measure out the pumpkin puree you need for the pie, you can freeze what you have left and use it later. I urge you to add fresh pumpkin pie to your Thanksgiving menu this year, you can even make it a day or two beforehand. Feeling adventurous? Give each slice a dollop of homemade whipped cream flavored with a hint of vanilla or even a candied pecan topping if you’re wanting really over-the-top. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.

One of my favorite desserts from when I was growing up was my Dad’s Italian Struffoli. This dessert features small fried dough balls mixed with toasted hazelnuts in a sweet honey mixture, topped with sprinkles or coarse sugar. The dough is flavored with citrus peel, white wine, and vanilla which creates a light and aromatic flavor that pairs wonderfully with the sweet glaze. Deep frying the dough balls gives them a crunchy exterior with a soft and fluffy inside. After the dough is drenched in the honey syrup, it tends to harden and stick together in whatever shape it’s in. You can form them in a bowl, muffin tin, or just a mound on a plate so guests can pick at it as they choose. Struffoli has always been around when my family celebrates holidays, especially Christmas and Easter, but it makes for a great treat anytime.

Holidays are a wonderful time to spend with friends and family. Even if baking isn’t your forte, give it a try this year. Who knows? You might be better at it than you thought! Remember, no one said that dessert has to be ultra-fancy and complicated to be delicious, so try out these recipes and rest assured that your guests’ post-Thanksgiving dinner dreams will be “sweet.”

Attached are recipes similar to the ones that we make.  Be sure to check them out or look for your own to try.

Salted Caramel Apple Pie
Fresh Pumpkin Pie

Keep sending me your recommendations for cakes and pies to or to the Beard Vs. Food Facebook.  Remember to come back and vote as well.

Have a healthy, happy, and safe Thanksgiving. Until next time,

Andrew — Beard vs. Food

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