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Make the most of fall's most flavorful fluid with apple-cider-based recipes

FOOD: Cider house rules 

Make the most of fall's most flavorful fluid with apple-cider-based recipes

It's one of those magical signs that fall has arrived: our favorite autumnal flavors show up on restaurant menus. Pumpkin and apple everything are suddenly everywhere. Living in the second-largest apple-growing state in the United States (only Washington has us beat), it's impossible to turn anywhere without seeing the tree-borne fall fruit.

Soil just south of Lake Ontario makes for some of the best apple growing in New York State, and area orchards, farms, and cider mills churn out fresh fruit and delicious ancillary products every fall — including cider. Cider is slightly different than the apple juice that's available year round. Apple juice is made by squeezing the juice out of apples, then filtering out the solids and pasteurizing it so it stays fresher longer. For cider, apples are washed, cut, and mashed into a paste with the consistency of applesauce. Layers of the mash are wrapped in cloth and put onto wooden racks, which are pushed together by a hydraulic press, allowing the juice to flow out.

Rather than just pouring your favorite cider into a glass and enjoying it — which is also great —spice things up and use it in a dish that really wows the taste buds. Here are some fall recipes using cider that will keep you warm through fall.

Apple Cider Margarita

Serves: 1 (easily multiplied)

Prep time: 5 minutes

Spiced cider is great by itself warm or cold, but why not kick it up a notch with a little booze? Pairing fresh cider with warm tequila and a glass rimmed with sugar and cinnamon is a great (adult-only) way to warm you up on a cool fall day.

INGREDIENTS

1 oz. orange-flavored liquor

1 oz. tequila

5-6 oz. fresh apple cider

Orange segments

Apple slices (any type of apple is fine)

Cinnamon, cane sugar, and coarse sugar (to rim glasses)

Cinnamon sticks (optional, for garnish)

DIRECTIONS

On a plate, mix together a few teaspoons each of cinnamon, cane sugar, and coarse sugar. Run an orange slice around the rim of a glass, then press the glass onto the plate, coating it with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Add a few orange slices to the bottom of the glass.

Fill a cocktail mixer halfway with ice, then add the orange liquor, tequila, and apple cider. Shake well and pour into glass. Garnish with an apple slice and cinnamon stick for extra flair.

(Recipe found on How Sweet It Is food blog: howsweeteats.com)

Warm Vanilla Cider

Serves: 6

Prep/Cook Time: 20 minutes

A spin on classic spiced warm cider, this one's sure to warm you up. Perfect for parties or just to sip while spending a quiet night at home.

INGREDIENTS

6 cups apple cider

2 Tbsp brown sugar

2 whole nutmeg seeds (or 2 tsp ground nutmeg)

1 vanilla bean (or 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)

Whipped cream

Candied walnuts (chopped)

DIRECTIONS

Combine cider, brown sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla bean (split and scraped) in a medium saucepan. Gently simmer over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and strain out vanilla bean and nutmeg (if using fresh spices).

Pour into six heat-proof glasses (or fewer if you're feeling greedy) and top with whipped cream and candied walnuts. If you're feeling devious, you can also add 6 oz. of bourbon to the cider-spice mixture for a drink with an extra kick.

(Adapted from Martha Stewart recipe: marthastewart.com/313279/warm-vanilla-cider)

Chicken Cider Fall Veggie Stew

Serves: 4

Prep Time: 15-20 minutes

Cook Time: 6 hours (depending on crockpot)

Drinking isn't the only thing you can do with cider. It can also add a sweet and rich flavor to your favorite foods. The best part? It doesn't always require a ton of work. This is a great set it and forget it recipe (you know, until the savory smell overwhelms your kitchen) for the cook on-the-go.

INGREDIENTS

4 large chicken legs (about 3 lbs., skin removed) (Bone-in chicken thighs work well for this recipe, too)

2 large Granny Smith apples

1/3 cup apple cider

1 Tbsp lemon juice

4 leeks (you can also substitute 1 medium onion)

1 piece fresh ginger

1 tsp dried sage

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

DIRECTIONS

Wash and chop leeks into 2-inch pieces. Peel, core, and chop apples into quarter-inch pieces.

In a 4- to 7-quart slow cooker, layer leeks, ginger, and apples. Sprinkle with salt, sage, and pepper. Top with chicken and pour lemon juice and cider over the top.

Cover and cook on low for 6 hours, or until chicken is very tender. Serve with your favorite hearty bread for dipping.

(Recipe adapted from Kitchen Daily: main.kitchendaily.com/recipe/chicken-with-apples-and-cider-142716/)

Cider-Brined Pork Chops w/Apples, Onions & Potatoes

Serves: 4

Prep Time: 20 minutes (plus 8 hours for brining)

Cook Time: 20-30 minutes

For the slightly more experienced chef, this is a fun fall challenge. Pork chops are a bit heartier than your standard chicken and pair beautifully with apples (say it with me, Peter Bradys of the world: pork chops and applesauce!).

INGREDIENTS

2 1/2 cups apple cider

1 cup water

1/4 cup salt

1/4 cup honey

1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

2 cups ice

1/4 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp butter

1/2 cup white wine (dry or sweet are both fine; if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it)

2 bone-in pork chops

1 tart apple, peeled & thinly sliced (any type you like; Granny Smiths worked well for me)

1 medium potato, peeled & thinly sliced (butter potatoes are great, but use what you can find)

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp fresh sage (chopped)

DIRECTIONS:

Combine 2 cups of cider and water in a bowl. Dissolve salt, honey, and sugar in the mixture, then stir in ice. Wait until ice melts. Add pork chops to a large Ziplock bag, then pour cider mixture over the top. Place bag in a bowl (in case it leaks) and store in the fridge for at least 3 hours. You can brine the pork chops for up to 8 hours (overnight works best). The longer they brine, the more cider flavor they'll retain.

Combine sage, pepper, and 1/8 of tsp of ground ginger. Remove chops from brine and discard brine (don't worry, the meat's soaked up all that flavor — it's not going to waste). Sprinkle sage, pepper, and ginger mix on both sides of each chop.

Place a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and the chops. Sautee until lightly browned on each side (about 2-3 minutes per side). Set the pork chops aside on a plate.

Melt butter in the same pan, coating the bottom of the skillet. Add the potatoes and onion. Cover and cook until potatoes have softened and the onions start to turn translucent. Add wine and stir, scraping any brown bits off the bottom.

Stir in apple pieces, 1/2 cup of apple cider, and 1/8 tsp ginger. Cover and bring mixture to a boil. Then place the chops into the sauce. Reduce heat and simmer. Cover and cook for another 3 minutes. Turn the chops over, replace cover and cook for another 3-5 minutes or until the center of the chops reaches 145°F on a meat thermometer.

Set chops on a platter and cover with foil to keep them warm. Bring the sauce to a boil and cook until it reaches a syrupy consistency (about 3-4 more minutes). Spoon the sauce over the chops and serve.

(Recipe adapted from Country Living Recipe: delish.com/recipefinder/cider-brined-pork-roast-onions-apples-recipe-clv0910)

Apple Cider Ice Cream

Serves: 5-6

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Fall is full of warm and wonderful apple desserts. And since you can never really have too much apple, consider pair one of those apple-baked goods (pie, cake, strudel, etc.) with some apple-cider ice cream.

INGREDIENTS

14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup 1% milk

1 1/2 cups apple cider

1 Tbsp ground cinnamon

DIRECTIONS

Place cider in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and reduce down to approximately 3 oz. (when the cider is super syrupy). Put in a small bowl to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, milk, and cinnamon together. Add cooled cider mixture and stir until combined.

Add mixture to an ice cream mixer and churn according to the directions on the machine. If you don't have an ice-cream maker, you can improvise using large and small empty metal coffee cans. Make sure the smaller coffee can fit easily inside the large one first. Place mixture in the smaller can and seal. Fill the larger one with crushed rock salt. Place smaller can inside the larger coffee can and seal. Roll the can back and forth for about 10 minutes or until ice cream is firm. You can also gently kick the can back and forth (fun for kids, but be careful) or place it on top of a towel and have two people roll it back and forth.

Serve with caramel sauce, or if you're up for it, blend it into a milkshake for a frozen treat.

(Recipe from Amanda's Cooking food blog: http://amandascookin.com/2011/10/apple-cider-ice-cream.html)

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