Spring is just a few more 12-foot snowbanks away from us now.

On March 20, the first day of spring, we might get a warm, sunny day – or another wintry blizzard. We’ll keep the wood stoves and snow-blowers ready for whatever nature gives us.

Until then, we’re in the comfort-food season, the icicle part of the year when boots and mittens and scarves are essential to our outdoor excursions and solid, hearty fare heightens the contrast of coming back indoors. Sustenance isn’t quite enough – in winter, we also hunger for defining flavors that help to make our meals more memorable.

In our kitchens, we can celebrate these snowy months with hot, spicy chicken and soothing cinnamon-scented apple walnut cake.

Hot Chicken Dippers with Blue Cheese Dressing

The recipe is from G. M. Joachim’s “A Taste of It All, Celebrating the Mood of Food,” published by Thyme & Moss Publishing, P.O. Box 1148, Millinocket, ME 04462.

The popularity of “A Taste of It All,” first published in 2008, has resulted in a second edition, released two months ago. For a copy of this unique book, visit www.thymemosspublishing.com. Click on “Local Availability” to see a list of establishments where “A Taste of It All” can be purchased.

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast

Wash chicken and pat dry. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and place in a glass bowl or food storage bag.

Marinade and Cooking Sauce

1/4 cup hot sauce (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk marinade ingredients together; pour over chicken pieces and marinate, refrigerated, for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pour chicken and marinade into a glass baking dish and bake for 15-18 minutes. Serve immediately with celery ribs and blue cheese dressing (recipe follows).

Blue Cheese Dressing

1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled
3 tablespoons light buttermilk
3 tablespoons light sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons rice or white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Mash the blue cheese and buttermilk together in a shallow bowl, leaving some small chunks of blue cheese intact if preferred. Stir in the remaining ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.

Serves 4 to 6.

Katahdin Red Hot Sauce

40 fresh hot red chili peppers (mixture of habaneras, cherry bombs, serranos, etc.), stems removed
1 head roasted garlic
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup apple cider vinegar

Coarsely chop the peppers. Except for the vinegar, place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the vinegar and stir until well blended. Remove from heat and cool for 1 hour.

Place the cooled pepper mixture in a blender and puree. Separate into small containers, which may be frozen until ready to use. Will last up to 8-10 weeks in refrigerator.

Chunky Apple Walnut Cake with Apple Cider Glaze

This dark, moist, chunky apple cake looks its special best when baked in a Bundt pan. It is glazed, not iced, with a wintry mix of butter, sugar, cider, orange juice, cream and Calvados, the apple brandy from Normandy.

The recipe is from Julee Rosso’s and Sheila Lukins’ “The Silver Palate Cookbook,” published by Workman in 1984.

In 2007, Workman published the “Silver Palate Cookbook, 25th Anniversary Edition.”

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing the pan
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole wheat flour, sifted
1 1/4 cups shelled walnuts, coarsely chopped
3 1/4 cups coarse chunks of peeled and cored Rome Beauty apples
3 tablespoons Calvados or applejack
Apple Cider Glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 10-inch round cake pan.

In a large bowl, beat the vegetable oil and sugar until thick and opaque. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Sift together the all-purpose flour, cloves, cinnamon, mace, baking soda and salt, then stir in the whole wheat flour. Add to the oil and egg mixture and mix until well blended.

Add the walnuts, apple chunks, and Calvados all at once and stir the batter until the pieces are evenly distributed.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Let the cake rest for 10 minutes, then unmold and pour the glaze over the warm cake, or cut the cake and pour the glaze over the slices.

Makes one 10-inch cake, 10-12 portions.

Apple Cider Glaze

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons Calvados or applejack
4 tablespoons sweet cider
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat and stir in both sugars.

Add the remaining ingredients, stir, raise the heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and cook for 4 minutes.

Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Pour while still warm over the warm cake.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Sidebar Elements

Susan Lovell and her husband John, a great cook, live near Pat’s Meat Market & Cafe in Portland, with a hungry Maine coon cat and a poodle who eats cat food. An eighth-generation Mainer, she likes shellfish, steak, baked beans, cole slaw, corn bread, blueberry pie and Moxie. Her great great-grandfather, from Wellfleet, Mass., and his cousin founded Boston’s Union Oyster House and she really likes oysters and Guinness. And Boston cream pie.

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