Chai-Spiced Applesauce

A few weeks ago, I noticed that the grocery store was selling chai-spiced apple cider and I thought "I bet I could make a chai-spiced applesauce that is pretty good." I used the following recipe to make two batches of sauce - for one, I cored the apples but left the skins on and did not mash the apples after cooking (making the dish more like baked apples than a true sauce), for the other I skinned the apples and mashed them into a sauce. Both versions came out pretty tasty, so choose the preparation that sounds better to you. As with any applesauce recipe, it is pretty easy to scale up and down on the ingredients depending on the amount of apples you happen to have on hand and on your own taste.

Chai-Spiced Applesauce
4-6 lbs. apples
1 c. water or apple juice
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 stick cinnamon
1-2 tsp. ground cardamom or 3-4 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 tsp. whole or ground cloves
1-2 tsp. ground ginger or 1 T. fresh ginger
1 star anise cluster

1. Core, peel (if desired), and dice apples and place in a large stock pot with water (or apple juice), brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, and star anise. Cover and simmer over medium heat until apples are soft (~30 minutes), stirring occasionally. Uncover and simmer for another 10-15 minutes to reduce liquid.

2. Remove cinnamon stick and star anise cluster (and caradmom pods and whole cloves, if used). Mash with a potato masher (if desired).

Pumpkin Parmesan Orzo

When I lived in Syracuse, I spent many a Saturday morning at the Central New York Regional Market, wandering through the many produce, baked goods, and other assorted vendors. The market never disappointed, and when I am back in town to visit friends, I often visit the market to pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables for the weekend's cooking. Last weekend, I found the stand for Flour City Pasta, which offers up organic pastas infused with locally-sourced herbs, vegetables, even fruits. I picked up their "autumn harvest orzo" - a blend of apple cinnamon, pumpkin, parsley sage, and beet orzos. Included in the package was the following recipe for orzo in a pumpkin sauce. If you don't live in Central New York, I'm guessing that it will be almost as good with plain orzo as it is with the flavored pasta. Serve this as a side dish or alongside a fresh green salad.

Pumpkin Parmesan Orzo (~4-6 servings)
1/2 lb. orzo
1 T. butter or olive oil
12 sage leaves, chopped + additional whole leaves for garnish
1 shallot, diced
1/3 c. milk
1 c. vegetable broth
1 c. pumpkin puree
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 c. grated or shredded parmesan cheese + additional for garnish

1. Cook orzo to al dente, according to package directions. Drain.

2. While orzo cooks, heat oil in a medium saucepan and sauté sage and shallots over medium heat, about 5 minutes.

3. Add milk and half of vegetable broth to saucepan, continue to cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.

4. Stir remaining broth and pumpkin puree into saucepan and simmer about 10 minutes or until sauce reaches desired thickness. Add salt and pepper if desired.

5. Toss orzo, parmesan cheese, and sauce. Garnish with additional sage leaves and shredded parmesan.