For as long as I can remember, I’ve religiously gone apple picking every year at Honey Pot Hill Orchards in Stow, Massachusetts. And once I was old enough to do something more than eat my way through 20 pounds of crisp Macintoshes, juicy Honeycrisps and tart Granny Smiths, I’d bake with my bounty for weeks, until friends and family couldn’t stomach another bite of pie or crisp.

So, to push myself out of my annual apple pie rut, I’ve expanded my horizons—from a dessert that’s basically apple pie filling in cake form to Irish Black Butter, here are five recipes I'm using to change the way I cook this fall.

1) Never Skip Breakfast:

Butter-Toasted Steel-Cut Oats with Dried Apples

If you’re not using your Instant Pot to make your oatmeal for you, this is your sign to start. The Instant Pot both tenderizes your steel cut oats while also cooking them quickly, for a low-effort meal and busy morning meal prep time cut in half. Toasting the oats in browned salted butter before cooking them with dried apples and spices yields nutty, butterscotch flavor with a light tang from the apples.

And for even more apple flavor, I add Irish Black Butter. I discovered it here at Milk Street a little over a year ago, and it has replaced all other apple butters in my life. It’s made from Ireland’s famous Armagh Bramley apples, cider, brandy and spices, and it has the deepest caramelized flavor with just a whisper of spice—and a color so deep the spread looks almost black. I’ve been adding spoonfuls to my oatmeal, but it’s equally delicious on toast and baked goods. No wonder it’s literally won awards.

2) The Two-Hit Wonder:

Cider-Braised Lentils with Apple-Radish Pickles

I love meatless mains that can hold their own, and this lentil dish is no exception. It gets two hits of apple: First, in a savory-sweet braise made up of crisp apple cider, herbs and butter-sautéed shallots, and then with quick-pickled green apple for a tart, crunchy finish. The earthy, slightly peppery flavor of French green lentils melds perfectly with the poaching liquid and a tangy goat cheese garnish. If you reaaaaally miss the meat—you won’t in this—you could finish your salad with prosciutto or sausages.

For better pickles, steep the apples and radish slices in apple cider vinegar. I use ACV often for quick pickles or vinaigrettes, and this one from Little Apple Treats is a huge upgrade on the store-bought version I used to stock up on, which can be one-note and sour. This one—produced from hand-picked apples and aged in oak barrels for two years before bottling—has warm caramel notes behind its sharp vinegariness.

3) The Very Surprising Salad:

Apple and Fennel Salad with Candied Pecans

Okay, I’ve obviously used apples in a salad before, but I’ll admit that I usually dump some greens, chopped apples and goat cheese in a bowl and call it a day. This salad, based on one from Alon Shaya, is so thoughtful and balanced. A punchy vinaigrette that’s mostly apple cider vinegar is balanced with licorice-y fennel, mild pink peppercorns, homemade candied pecans (make extra to snack on) and scallions cut on the bias. This salad is truly so light, crisp and refreshing—I didn’t miss my usual formula at all. And if you can’t find pink peppercorns, which are more floral than spicy, swap in one tablespoon of crushed fennel seeds instead.

4) A Modern Take on the Upside Down Cake:

Ricotta-Semolina Cake with Caramelized Apples

When I flipped this cake-cheesecake hybrid out of the pan, revealing a layer of silky, golden apples, my kitchen was filled with the butteriest aroma. The deliciously rich, ricotta-based batter is lightened up with whipped egg whites, plus a little semolina for texture. Nobody who turns their nose up at the classic ’70s upside down cake would turn down a slice of this one: It’s sophisticated and subtle, and the apples cooked in brown sugar and salted butter are good enough to eat alone. And to really gild the lily, top slices with a little scoop of Tangy Whipped Cream and a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar or saba.

5) Apple Pie, But Make It French:

French Apple Cake

Come on, could I really leave an apple pie off this list? This simple dessert, the French take on apple pie, is little more than sautéed apples set in a thick, buttery custard and baked in a golden crust—and it’s so much less work than a traditional American pie. A combo of tart Granny Smiths and sweet Galas give the cake more depth and complexity. I didn’t top the cake with anything—couldn’t resist cutting into it as quickly as possible—but a small scoop of ice cream or crème fraîche would be delicious. When I make apple pie or crisp, I usually add a tablespoon of boiled apple cider to the filling—and highly suggest you do the same.

While nothing I made was excessively complicated, I got a lot out of being pushed out of my comfort zone. The humble apple is so adaptable, it’s a bit of a shame it took this challenge for me to let it play more than a supporting role in other dishes. Next on my list, more savory dishes and sips, like Chicken en Cocotte with Shallots, Apples and Parsley, and our creamy, egg-white Apple Cream Pie cocktail. (Want part two of apple adventures? Let us know on social!)

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