(BPT) - As the leaves change and the nighttime air takes on a chill, our thoughts naturally turn to warm, delicious foods that offer an element of comfort on a chilly autumn night.
Some comfort foods are hugely rooted in nostalgia. Others are just so enjoyably crispy, crunchy, chewy, sweet or savory, they bring a smile as soon as we tuck in.
This time of year, the ultimate comfort food is any warm dish featuring the flavorful, crunchy apples that are among the best parts of autumn. Pick up a bushel of your favorite variety at Meijer stores this fall, then slice 'em and dice 'em to create one of these tasty (yet easy) autumn favorites.
* Apple and cheddar pasta bake: For a main-entrée version of apple pie with cheddar, create a sauce by sautéing two cups of chopped, peeled, tart cooking apples with 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion and 3 tablespoons butter. Stir in 3 tablespoons flour, 3 teaspoons thyme, salt and pepper, 1/2 cup apple cider, and 2 cups of whole milk, melting in one 23-ounce package of softened cream cheese and 1/2 cup of shredded white cheddar. Add the melted sauce to 12 oz. of your favorite cooked pasta, sprinkle with panko crumbs sautéed in butter and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
* Apple, brie and ham paninis: For a scrumptious balance of sweet and savory flavors, fill olive oil-brushed sourdough bread slices with thin layers of sliced ham, brie, medium-tart apples and whole cranberry sauce. Grill for 2 minutes on each side using a panini press or skillet until brie is melted and the bread is golden brown.
* Slow-cooked apple pork chops: In your crockpot, place three to four boneless center-cut pork chops of one-inch thickness. Dice in three red delicious apples and a small yellow onion. Mix up then add in 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup water, 3 tablespoons brown sugar and cinnamon, salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low for four to five hours, serving with crispy French bread that can mop up the drippings.
* Slow-cooked spicy apples: Peel and slice six Granny Smith apples into your crockpot. Add 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, 3 tablespoons cornstarch and cinnamon, nutmeg and salt to taste. Cook on high for two hours and serve warm, adding to ice cream if you choose.
* Nearly instant apple dumplings: Peel and slice a large, tart apple. Unroll a tube of crescent-roll dough, roll up each piece with an apple slice and place them in a baking dish. Brush them with a caramel made of 1/2 cup melted butter, 2/3 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, then pour a half-can of lemon-lime flavored pop over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.
Don't miss the glories of apple season this year. Instead, celebrate autumn by treating yourself and your family to a range of warm and delicious dishes featuring the classic and versatile fruit.