celery root gratin with apple and blue cheese

celery root gratin with apple and blue cheese

Those of you who read last year's post on Thanksgiving know that, until recently, I'd lost touch with this holiday. Several things led to the rift between Thanksgiving and I. I left home for college, then grad school. My grandparents passed away. I spent several years living abroad. The ties to that steadfast notion of “home” from my childhood grew thinner and thinner until one day they were gone. Eroded by time and distance and my own apathy and self-centeredness, I suppose. For a long time, I simply couldn’t be bothered to make much of an effort.

celery root gratin with apple and blue cheese

But as I wrote last year, I've begun to embrace Thanksgiving again. I am married and settled and happy, with friends and family nearby and work that I love. Beau and I are talking about enlarging our own little family. 

I spent my 20s and most of my 30s ping-ponging around the globe, looking for The Thing that would click my life flawlessly into place. I wanted the coolest job. The most enviable husband. A perfectly decorated house with a closet full of the chicest clothes. But of course I’ve finally realized things are perfect right here--in this home I’ve built for myself. It’s far from flawless, but it’s all mine. And it has nothing to do with what I own.

celery root gratin with apple and blue cheese

This is not a new tale, I know. But it makes me happy to think on it. And it makes me particularly happy to look forward to Thanksgiving again. This year, we’ll be attending Friendsgiving at our friends Alex and Kelsey’s house. There will likely be a ridiculous amount of food, far too much wine and hopefully a highly-competitive game of Celebrities afterwards. (I kill at Celebrities. And yes, I’m one of those people when it comes to boardgames. You've been warned.)

celery root gratin with apple and blue cheese
celery root gratin with apple and blue cheese

I’m thinking I might bring this Celery Root Gratin with Apple and Blue Cheese to dinner. I always feel like serving this dish is cheating a little though, since it’s virtually impossible for guests not to like it. It’s got thinly sliced potato and earthy celery root, bathed in crème fraîche and baked until meltingly tender. There’s apple for a hint of sweetness and blue cheese adds a savory, salty, umami layer. Emerging from the oven golden and bubbling, this gratin is sexy enough to serve as a vegetarian main. And of course, it plays well with turkey and stuffing and especially tart cranberry sauce. 

As I type this and think about a Thanksgiving full of friends and games and comfort food, I realize I actually can’t wait for next Thursday. This year, it seems I have a little extra something to be thankful for. 

celery root gratin with apple and blue cheese

Celery Root Gratin with Apple and Blue Cheese

  • 1 ¼ to 1 ½ pound celery root, peeled, halved and sliced ⅛ inch thick
  • 1 large russet potato (weighing about 1 lb), peeled, halved and sliced ⅛ inch thick
  • 1 large sweet-tart apple, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced ⅛ inch thick
  • Coarse salt and freshly-ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups crème fraîche
  • 6 ounces blue cheese
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

*Notes: If you haven’t worked with celery root (also called celeriac) before, note that they have a gnarled root end that is almost always full of dirt and will have to be cut off completely. I call for a 1 ¼ to 1 ½ pound celery root to make up for lost root end. Once your celery root is cleaned, it should weigh somewhere between 14 oz and 1 lb. But a gratin is a very accommodating thing; a little more or less celery root, potato or apple won’t hurt anything.

- You can make this in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish if you like. The gratin will be thinner and there will be more of the crispy, golden-brown top to go around. This is an especially good option if you’re going to serve the gratin as part of a holiday buffet for a lot of people. I prefer to make it in a smaller roasting pan (the one pictured measures 8 x 12 inches), which yields thicker slices. 

- This dish has always been a crowd-pleaser for me and I’ve had many sworn blue cheese haters ask for seconds. If you’re serving this to anyone who claims to dislike blue cheese (!), I have two recommendations: First, use a mild, creamy and salty blue cheese rather than a dryer, more pungent one. I recommend Fourme d’Ambert or Bleu d’Auvergne. These two French blues are delicious, fairly mild and have the added bonus of being inexpensive as far as cheeses go. A second, sneakier, option is to fail to mention that the gratin contains blue cheese. A lot of people never even realize it's there.

- If you really, REALLY hate blue cheese, just substitute another sharp, salty cheese. Sharp white cheddar or an aged gruyère would be delicious.

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Preheat the oven to 400°F and generously butter a medium baking dish or roasting pan. Arrange half of the celery root, potato and apple slices in the pan. For this first layer, you don’t need to arrange the slices very artfully as they won’t be seen, just be sure to distribute them evenly over the bottom so each bite contains some celery root, apple and potato. Generously salt and pepper this layer. Stir the  crème fraîche to loosen the consistency then pour half over the top. Spread it to the edges with a flexible spatula, if necessary. Crumble half the blue cheese over the crème fraîche.

For the top layer, neatly arrange the slices of celery root, potato and apple, overlapping them as necessary to fit them in your pan. Generously salt and pepper this layer then cover with the remaining crème fraîche and blue cheese.

Bake the gratin for 20 minutes then cover with aluminum foil and bake until the potatoes are tender (they take the longest to cook through), about 30 minutes more. Check for doneness with a paring knife; you should feel almost no resistance when you insert the knife into the gratin. Take off the aluminum foil and continue to bake until the top is deep golden brown, about 15 minutes longer. Remove the gratin from the oven and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped chives just before serving. 

Makes about 6 servings.

celery root gratin with apple and blue cheese

apple cake with maple and hard cider

apple cake with maple and hard cider //

Hello, friends!

I’m in Lisbon this week preparing for my Portugal culinary tour, which starts on Monday. I am currently so jet-lagged I barely know my own name. Does anyone else have this problem? More importantly, does anyone have a brilliant solution for staving off the zombie-like disorientation and fatigue of leaping multiple timezones? If so, please do share your advice!

In the midst of all my prepping and packing and customary pre-trip stress, however, I managed to slip in a day of apple picking last weekend. My friend Sharon organizes an annual day of picking and cider tasting at her orchard and cidery in eastern Washington. So every October, I gather a group of friends and head over the pass and through miles of beautiful high dessert to Tieton, a little town just past Yakima, for one of my favorite fall traditions. 

apple cake with maple and hard cider //

This year was perhaps the best year of apple picking yet. The thick veil of fog that greeted us at the pass, dissipated once we descended into the rolling pastures on the other side of the mountains. Leaving us with an absolutely perfect fall day: golden foliage, bright sunshine and blue sky. 

apple cake with maple and hard cider //

And the apples! I learned about Sharon and her husband Craig and Harmony Orchards, after Rowan Jacobsen sang the praises of their amazing apples in his book, American Terroir, documenting the best growing places and producers in the country. He calls theirs some of the best apples in America, benefiting from an ideal climate of long, hot summer days and cool nights, enough wind to keep pests at bay, and a high-altitude location that yields apples with a dense, extra-crisp cell structure. 

I have to agree; these are undeniably the best apples I’ve ever tasted. 

apple cake with maple and hard cider //

Every year we pick as much as we think we can store and distribute bags to Seattle friends who couldn’t come out to pick. Beau and I usually turn many of those apples into applesauce, which needs virtually no sugar due to the amazing sweetness of the Harmony Orchards’ Ambrosias and Jonagolds, and no lemon juice thanks to the wonderful sweet-tart and floral notes of their heirloom Ashmead’s Kernels. We make quarts and quarts of applesauce and stock it in the freezer, hoping it will last at least until the new year. It never does.

apple cake with maple and hard cider //

This year, I wanted to make an apple recipe to share with you. I thought most of you probably had applesauce mastered, so decided on this fantastic apple cake instead. It’s adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s French Apple Cake. I added reduced apple cider to create layers of apple flavor as well as vanilla bean and maple syrup to round out the tart edges of the apples. I also favor slicing the apples instead of dicing them and layering some over the batter for a slightly fancier presentation. Like all my favorite recipes, it’s easy (you don’t even need to pull out your mixer), delicious and beautiful.

apple cake with maple and hard cider //
apple cake with maple and hard cider //

I hope you enjoy this cake. It by no means requires the sublime apples Craig and Sharon grow at Harmony Orchards to be fantastic. I’ve made it many times with store-bought apples and it’s never failed to delight. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions on technique or substitutions, and of course if you have that magic cure for jet-lag!



apple cake with maple and hard cider //

Apple Cake with Maple and Hard Cider

  • 4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature, plus additional for the pan
  • 6 oz (3/4 cup) granulated sugar, plus additional for the pan and for sprinkling
  • 6 tablespoons hard cider
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup, preferably grade B
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 3.75 oz (generous 3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 ¼ lb apples, about 4 medium (a mix of sweet and tart varieties), peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick

*Notes: This cake keeps, loosely covered with a tea towel at room temperature, for up to 3 days. I think it tastes best on days 2 and 3.

- Any dry or semi-dry hard cider will work nicely in this cake, but I especially like Tieton Cider Works Wild Washington Cider, because it’s delicious and also because once the bottle is open, I have to finish it!

- You can also make this cake in a removable-bottom tart pan (like I did). Be sure to wrap the bottom of the pan tightly with foil or some of the batter, which becomes slightly thinner once in the oven, will drip out the bottom and burn. I learned this the hard way. Luckily you get the benefit of my mistake and no smokey oven full of burnt cake batter! 

apple cake with maple and hard cider //

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan. Coat the bottom and sides of the pan with granulated sugar then tap out the excess. Set aside.

Place the cider in a small saucepan and reduce by half over medium-high heat. Set aside to cool slightly, then stir in the maple syrup.

While the cider is cooling, use a paring knife to halve the vanilla bean lengthwise. Scrape the seeds from the pod using the blade of the paring knife. Add the vanilla seeds to the sugar in a small bowl. Use your fingers to rub the vanilla seeds into the sugar. (This will keep the vanilla from clumping together in the batter.) 

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking power and salt. Whisk well to combine. 

Crack the eggs into a large bowl. Whisk until frothy then add the vanilla sugar. Continue to whisk until the eggs look frothy again and the sugar is starting to dissolve, a minute or so longer. Whisk in the cider-maple reduction then whisk in half the flour mixture. When the flour is just incorporated, add half the butter, then the rest of the flour mixture and then the rest of the butter, whisking after each addition until you have a smooth, fairly thick batter.

Pour a little more than half the apples into the prepared cake pan. Pour the cake batter over the apples and smooth the top with a flexible spatula so no bits of apple are sticking up through the batter. Arrange the rest of the apples over the top of the batter in 1 or 2 slightly overlapping concentric circles. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of sugar, if desired, to make the top a bit more golden and crunchy.

Bake the cake, rotating after 30 minutes, for 50-60 minutes total, until the top of the cake is golden brown, a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes. Carefully run a butter knife around the sides of the cake to loosen it from the pan, then unmold and cool completely on the wire rack before slicing.

Yield: 6-8 servings

apple cake with maple and hard cider //

apple-rosemary granola

Apple-Rosemary Granola // Milly's Kitchen

We’re off to a slow start around here.

In the holiday preparedness department, that is. We don’t have a Christmas tree. We haven’t hung a festive wreath on our door. We have drunk zero mugs of peppermint hot chocolate with little marshmallows on top.  

It only just hit me today is December 9th and if I intend to do any wreath-making or tree-decorating or delicious-holiday-beverage-drinking, I had better get it in gear. So my mind has finally turned towards Christmas. This morning I tracked down my favorite holiday cookie recipe (lebkuchen!). Now I’m dreaming of filling the house with the smell of candied orange peel and cardamom. And I can’t wait to pick out just the right tree. After all these Christmases, I still experience a childlike delight each morning as I tiptoe in to sit quietly by the twinkling lights and breathe in the piney smell of the forest.

Apple-Rosemary Granola // Milly's Kitchen

Alongside the sharing of meals, the making and giving of homemade gifts is the heart of the season for me. I’ve offered many over the years: rosemary shortbreads and coconut macaroons and spicy cheddar cheese straws and carrot-cardamom jam. One year, I thought my poor hands were going to be forever useless from piping sheet pan after sheet pan of peanut butter meringues. Another year, I nearly bankrupted myself making a mountain of pistachio-apricot bark with Valrhona dark chocolate and Theo cacao nibs.  

Apple-Rosemary Granola // Milly's Kitchen

But I’ve learned my lesson. And with each passing holiday season I’ve grown a bit wiser in my holiday goodie-giving. So now, one of my go-to gifts is homemade granola. It’s simple to make. It stores and ships marvelously well. It’s inexpensive (at least compared to Valrhona dark chocolate bark!). And everyone loves good granola.

This year's flavor is apple-rosemary. I have yet to meet a homemade granola I didn’t like, but the subtle sweetness and savory notes in this version are especially pleasing to me. The sweet-tart apple brightens the earthy walnuts and the rosemary adds a slight herbaceous note. The warm spices make this granola perfect for the holidays.

Apple-Rosemary Granola // Milly's Kitchen

There are infinite possibilities for improvising here: pear in place of the apple, sesame instead of flax, almonds in lieu of walnuts. I hope you’ll make this recipe your own. I also highly recommend baking up an extra batch so you have some for your own cupboard. It is delicious on top of creamy yogurt with a sliced pear or apple. If you’re feeling especially festive, swirl in a few spoonfuls of chestnut jam and elevate the whole affair to something brunch-worthy.

Apple-Rosemary Granola // Milly's Kitchen

I hope you’ll join me and indulge fully in the holiday spirit. Hang a wreath. Drink some cocoa. Hell, splash a little bourbon in there--it’s the holidays! Bake up a jar of granola. And enjoy the beauty of the season.

Apple-Rosemary Granola // Milly's Kitchen

Apple- Rosemary Granola

  • 1 recipe wet ingredients (see below)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup rye flakes (also known as rolled rye. If you can't find rye flakes, just use all rolled oats)
  • 2 cups raw walnut pieces
  • 1 cup flax seeds
  • 1 cup raw shelled sunflower seeds
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt

Wet ingredients:

  • ¾ cup unsweetened applesauce

  • 6 tablespoons maple syrup (preferably grade B, which is darker and more delicious)

  • ¼ cup honey (If you can get your hands on buckwheat or chestnut honey, it will make your granola extra special)

  • ¼ cup olive oil

  • 3-4 cups dried apple slices (about 3 medium apples if you are drying your own)

If you are drying your own apples, position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 200° F. Slice the apple very thinly--using a mandolin helps for this. I don’t bother to core the apple as the seeds just fall out as you slice. Place the apple slices on a parchment lined sheet pan and bake for 1 hour. Turn the apple slices over and rotate the pans. Bake for another hour. Test the slices to see if they are crisp. If so, remove them from the oven and let the apples cool completely before removing them from the pan. If not, bake the apple slices for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until completely dry and crisp. These will keep for several weeks in an airtight container.

To bake the granola, preheat the oven to 300° F. 

Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a paring knife. Place the sugar in a small bowl and add the vanilla seeds. Using your fingers, rub the seeds into the sugar; this will keep the vanilla from clumping together in the granola.

Place the vanilla sugar in a large bowl. Add all the dry ingredients (not the dried apple slices) and stir to combine thoroughly.

Combine the wet ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk well to combine. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until all the dry ingredients have been coated.

Divide the granola between two parchment-lined sheet pans. Spread the granola out and place the pans in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, rotating the pans and stirring the granola every 10 minutes or so. After 45 minutes the granola will be golden but not completely dry. Don’t worry about that, it will crisp up as it sits. Place the sheet pans on wire cooling racks and give the granola a final stir so it doesn’t dry into big clumps. When the granola is completely cool, stir in the dried apple slices. Transfer it to an airtight container (I like a big mason jar) and store in a cool dry place. Tightly covered, the granola will keep for several weeks.

Makes about 10 cups

Apple-Rosemary Granola // Milly's Kitchen