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Saturday, August 9, 2014
Greetings from muggy Middle Georgia! We're all moved in now and I'm trying to re-acclimate to this nasty, stifling weather. We've actually had some decent weather since we've been here, but the last week was not a part of that. This week, we've seen heat indexes in the triple-digit-teens. Yay! Despite not being super happy about being back in the muggy south (no offense, I'm really a desert girl at heart!), it sure is nice to unpack somewhere and know we're going to be there for a while. After three moves in less than two years, knowing we'll be here three years is really a blessing. I've unpacked everything! I'm planning on hanging things on the walls! We're buying living room furniture!! Gasp! It's so exciting.
As for cooking, well, unpacking and getting set up in a new place with an 18 month old running around has kept me from experimenting too much in the kitchen lately. I'm ready to get back into the really fun scratch stuff (although I have already canned some peaches and some rosemary-peach freezer jam; we are in Georgia, after all). The nice thing about scratch cooking is that it doesn't have to be complex or time consuming to make. Take this stew, for instance. It is super fast and full of convenience but is all homemade. Again, it doesn't have to be hard to be wholesome and delicious. We love it around here; I can make it in less than thirty minutes (and I don't have to remember to set anything out to thaw!) and it's a favorite of us all, toddler included! Tonight he ate his entire bowl and quite a bit of mine.
The only warning I'll throw out there is that you really will want to use unsalted stock in this stew because there are so many salty ingredients in it. I typically only add the barest hint of a dash of salt at the end and it is plenty seasoned. Avoiding overly salted soup is one of the main reasons I make my own!
Easy Chicken Chile
Yield: 4 servings
1 tsp oil
1 cup diced onions (about 1 medium)
1 tsp minced garlic (about 1 large clove)
2 small cans mild green chiles, drained (4-4.5 oz each)
4 cups unsalted chicken stock/broth
1 (12.5 oz approx) can chunk chicken, with broth
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 cup whole milk
6 TBS flour
1 (15 oz) can Cannellini beans
1 1/2 cup Monterrey Jack cheese
Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Sweat the onions and garlic until the onions are transluscent. Add the chiles, broth, chicken, and cumin. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the onions are tender. Make a slurry of the milk and flour. Add the mixture to the soup and stir immediately. Continue stirring until the soup thickens. Reduce the heat to warm and add the beans and cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted and is no longer visible. Serve and enjoy!
Monday, May 5, 2014
Oh my! Oh my, oh my! I just perfected this recipe after a bunch of trial runs... wow! I actually have a whole mess of really awesome recipes to share with you, I've just been having a hard time finding the time to post them. But this one... this one, I've got to make time for right this second. I have to share it with you so that you can make it. Perhaps gift some to your mother later this week, like I am (shhhhh, don't tell!).
You can make a whole bunch of different versions, including a straight up chocolate chip, cinnamon raisin, or - like you see above - an almond joy version. The basic recipe and procedure is the same, you simply change the add-ins. Quick oats and crisp rice cereal make the base, but I like to add some chewier grains as well. You could just use old fashioned oats, but I really found this multi-grained cereal was perfect for this application. It has wheat, barley, rye, and oats.
The first step is to mix the dry ingredients. The hot candy part of this recipe goes quite fast since it only goes to the soft ball stage. If using almonds, I definitely recommend toasting them first. You can do it in the oven or on the stove top. This picture is from a middle batch. I chopped the almonds here, but in the end, I decided I liked to just leave them whole. Again, the joy of this recipe is that the details are up to you!
As for the molding, it will be easiest if you have two pans the same size and of the 9 x 13 persuasion. I have two quarter sheet pans that work perfectly for the task. You'll also need two sheets of parchment. I do not spray the parchment with oil, it isn't necessary and just makes the bars oily. Nobody wants oily. I lay one sheet down, pour in the hot mix, using gloved hands to push it around. I then put another sheet of parchment on top and use the other pan to push down as hard as I can, as evenly as I can. Once it's been pressed, you can remove the top pan, and - if you want - the top parchment. Let sit at room temperature for an hour or two before cutting.
Chewy Granola Bars
Yield: 20 bars (about 1 x 5 each)
For the syrup:
6 TBS honey
4 TBS salted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
about 5 cups of mix-ins (see below for suggestions)
Have two quarter sheet pans (or similar) and two pieces of parchment available. Mix together your dry mix in ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside. In a heavy sauce pan, heat the butter, honey, and brown sugar. Stir just until the mixture starts to bubble. Cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 240 degrees (soft ball). Immediately stir in the vanilla and pour over the dry mix. Stir until somewhat well mixed. Then, with gloved hands, finish mixing by hand and pour into one of the sheet pans lined with one sheet of parchment. Use your hands to spread it out fairly evenly. Lay the other sheet of parchment on top, then place the other sheet pan on top and push as hard as you can to pack the mixture. Let the mixture harden at room temperature for at least an hour before cutting. Cut the bars first along the long axis and then cut each strip into ten bars. Cut bars using a large, sharp knife. You can use a bench scraper if it is sharp, but a large chef's knife works best. Store in an air tight container.
Suggested Mix-In Versions:
*** If you are adding chocolate pieces into the bars, let the mixture cool slightly before adding and pressing into pans.
ALMOND JOY BARS
1 1/2 cup flaked, unsweetened coconut
1 1/2 cup crisp rice cereal
1 cup old fashioned oats or multi-grained cereal
1 cup quick oats
1/2 to 2/3 cup whole, toasted almonds
melted chocolate for spreading over top side before cutting OR 1/2 cup large, dark chocolate pieces***
CHOCOLATE CHIP BARS
2 cups quick oats
1 cup old fashioned oats or multi-grained cereal
2 cups crisp rice cereal
1 cup mini-chocolate chips***
CINNAMON RAISIN BARS
2 cups quick oats
1 cup old fashioned oats or multi-grained cereal
2 cups crisp rice cereal
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1 cup raisins
Thursday, February 20, 2014
A few years ago, I posted a recipe for bran muffins. I've been mainly eating my chocolate chip and banana nut muffins lately, but a couple weeks ago, I suddenly decided to change pace. But the old recipe exhibits one major pet peeve of mine... it does not make a convenient amount of batter. It makes enough for one and a half trays of muffins (it says it makes a dozen, but when I went to make it again recently, it made quite a few more than that). Who wants to make a half tray? So, I decided I would adjust the recipe to make one dozen muffins. I figured that was easiest, because if I wanted to make two dozen muffins, I could easily double the recipe. Well, one thing led to another, and suddenly, I found myself playing with the recipe.
First, I want you to know that the original recipe is darn tasty. They are sweet and moist and yummy. The recipe I am about to post produces muffins that are a little more moist and not quite as sweet. In fact, they have no refined sugar in them. The majority of the sweetness in this new version comes from the dates themselves. Instead of adding chopped dates into the batter at the end, I thought I would see how the muffins tasted if date sugar were used instead. Date sugar is not really a sugar, but simply dried and ground dates. But dates are so sweet, that they can be used like sugar in many instances. In the muffins, I found its use has a few advantages. First, the muffins are so incredibly moist now. It also makes eating the muffins less sticky. Those large chunks of dates, while delicious can make a mess while eating them (especially when feeding them to a one year old!). The updated recipe also has no refined flour. In the previous post, I post the disclaimer that they are "good tasting muffins, not to be confused with 'health' muffins." In this case, I think we can confidently state that these muffins are good tasting and healthy. They're not low calorie, but they are packed with good stuff!
While I've decided I like these muffins a little less sweet, if you want yours to be a little more... decadent, you can simply add 2-4 tablespoons of brown sugar to the batter.
If you want to make your life easy while mixing the batter, pour the oil into a glass measuring cup first. Then eyeball the amount of honey. Lastly, add the molasses until the total amount reaches a half cup for the three ingredients. Not only is the measuring easy, when the oil is poured in first, it makes getting the sticky ingredients out of the cup easy too.
As for decorating the tops of the muffins, in the original, I tossed a few oats on top. I got to thinking about it, and that just doesn't make a lot of sense; there are no oats in these! A better option is either to sprinkle them with a little turbinado sugar, which is a coarse grained, unrefined sugar that gives a nice crust and sweet bite to the tops of the muffins, or to sprinkle a little bran on them. You can also leave them plain, but where's the fun in that? As darkly colored as these are, they can be a little difficult to determine when they are done. For these muffins, I always use a cake tester to be sure the muffins are done.
Updated Bran Muffins
Yield: 12 muffins
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 TBS honey
3 TBS unsulphured molasses
1/2 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup wheat bran
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
1 1/4 cup date sugar, sifted to remove lumps
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a medium bowl, mix the first seven ingredients. Mix the bran in with the wet ingredients and let the mixture sit for 15-20 minutes so the bran can hydrate. In a small bowl, mix together the dry ingredients together. Once the bran has swelled and thickened the wet mixture, you can mix the dry ingredients into it. Spoon into lined muffin cups. A #16 disher slightly overfull will make 12 evenly sized muffins. Sprinkle the tops with either bran or turbinado sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for 18-20 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Let cool slightly before serving. Keeps well in the freezer. Reheat in the microwave to enjoy at your leisure.
Friday, February 14, 2014
I wish I could have come up with a name for this recipe that is as delicious as this dish... but, alas, all I have is the humble "Chickpea and Lentil Stew." And there is meat in there. We're carnivores around here (not that we dislike vegetarian dishes, but we're partial to meat).
The first time I made this, I had a pound of lamb and was shooting from the hip. I knew the flavor profile I was shooting for and just went for it. I was multitasking (as I am wont to do these days!) and didn't take the time to write down what I put in it. Boy was I sorry once this dish was done. It was fantastic! At first taste, I immediately knew I would have to make it again, and soon, before I completely forgot what I had done. On round two, I made a bigger pot of it (now that I knew it would be good!) and I only had beef on hand. While it is delicious both ways, if you can find the lamb, I heartily recommend it. It adds a depth of flavor to the dish that beef just can't provide.
This stew is robust and flavorful. It has a Middle Eastern edge, but - as far as I know - is not authentic in any way (I did make it up as I went, after all). The chickpeas are substantial yet creamy (especially if you use ones canned without salt), and the lentils make a nice, hearty gravy. The cumin and garam masala seasoning gives it a lovely warmth. Yup, it's a keeper!
Chickpea and Lentil Stew
Yield: serves 6-8
1 1/2 - 2 pounds ground lamb (or beef)
1 large onion, diced (about 2 cups)
30 ounces canned chickpeas, drained (aka garbanzos - salt free, if possible)
2 TBS tomato paste
15 oz can petite diced tomatoes, with juice
4 tsp paprika
2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp garlic powder
3 cups beef stock
1 1/2 cups red lentils
salt, to taste
In a large Dutch oven (or heavy stock pot), brown the meat and drain off the fat. Over medium high heat, add the remaining ingredients. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Continue heating until the mixture just comes to a boil. Reduce the heat and cover to simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. Depending on the brand of lentils, you may need to add a little water to keep the stew loose. Just add a little at a time until the stew is the consistency you want. Keeps very well in the refrigerator for one week.
Saturday, January 25, 2014
Sometimes I forget that the simplest recipes are often the best. I made this dip as an appetizer for Thanksgiving and was blown away by the response. In fact, as the dip rapidly disappeared, I suddenly decided I'd best take a quick picture. It's certainly not the best picture I've ever taken, but it is definitely a great dip. Of course, you can't go wrong with that much Parmesan cheese! This is most certainly NOT a "healthful" dish, but - my goodness - is it ever delicious! This dip is so easy that I had never thought about posting it before. No one at my Thanksgiving had ever had it before and they raved, raved, raved about it, so I figured I'd better share it with you. Superbowl is coming you know. Perhaps you need a super tasty, easy to make, crowd pleasing dip. If so, then this dip is for you!
Here's all that's in it:
Baked Artichoke Dip
Yield: approx 2 cups
1 15 oz can artichoke hearts, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Chop up the artichoke hearts and mix together with the mayonnaise and cheese. Spoon into a one quart oven proof dish. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven until hot and bubbly and the edges are nicely browned. Let cool slightly before serving.
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Now, here's a dish to get excited about making in the comfort of your own home! For such an iconic Thai dish, there sure is a lot of really horrible pad thai out there. I mean, really horrible. In fact, I often don't order it when I'm out because it's such a crap shoot whether it will be worth eating. Fortunately, it's really not that hard to make it at home. In fact, if you buy ready-made tamarind pulp, it's not hard at all, and you can whip some up in no time flat.
However... I am going to show you "the hard way" for one reason only. What if you can't find prepared tamarind pulp in your local grocery? Case in point: where we live now, I can easily purchase all the other required ingredients (fish sauce, palm sugar, and chile paste) at my local grocery, but I can only buy whole tamarind seed pods there. To get the prepared pulp (sometimes called tamarind paste), I would have to drive over thirty minutes to the appropriate grocery. The good news is that "the hard way" really isn't that hard. It's a little strange looking. Maybe even a little funky smelling, but not that hard.
To prepare your own tamarind pulp to use in this recipe and others, peel the crunchy pod off and strip off the funky long "strings". I know I had a picture of that here somewhere, but - for some reason - I can't find it right now. If you've never shelled tamarind before, the first time you do, you'll go, "Ahhh, yes. Funky stringy things!" Then soak the seeds in room temperature water for at least four hours, stirring and mashing periodically. To obtain a pulp with the right consistency, I use a ratio of 6-7 ounces shelled tamarind pods to 3/4 cup water. (The bowl in this picture has more water than I just recommended). They'll start out looking like this.
When they're ready to strain, they'll look more like this:
You don't have to get every last bit of flesh off the seeds, which are surprisingly large. Just be sure to use a fine meshed sieve. I found it easiest to use a rubber spatula to press the pulp through.
The result should look like this: dark copper in color and thick and creamy looking. It will smell... odd. Kind of sour and funky, but that's where you get the piquant edge that makes pad thai so good.
If you are lucky enough to have the appropriate ethnic grocery around the corner or a really well stocked neighborhood grocery, ignore the previous steps and start along with us here. To make the sauce, measure the ingredients either with a scale (my preferred method in this case, as it is a lot less messy) or with conventional measuring spoons/cups.
Heat the mixture gently in a sauce pan, just until the sugars are dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool. This recipe makes one cup of sauce, which makes one four person serving with a little left over. Double or triple the sauce recipe if you want to prepare more. This is a beautiful sauce once it's prepared. I wouldn't recommend sticking your nose in it too far. The tamarind is funky enough, but, remember, fish sauce is best tasted and not smelled!!! I like to make the sauce in advance and then I can store it in the refrigerator for up to a week before using it.
The only other "tricky" part of this recipe involves the noodles. You want to purchase 3 mm rice stick. To prepare it for cooking, simply soak it in room temperature water until it is just pliable, maybe 20-30 minutes. I usually start my noodles soaking and then do all my prep work of cutting and chopping. Typically, the noodles are about ready not too long after I've finished. You want to be careful not to soak the noodles in water that it too warm, because they can become overly soft and sticky. Yuck!
By the way, I give a range for the number of eggs to use for a four person serving as 2-4 because, well, it's a matter of personal preference. I really like the egg in this kind of dish (I'm the same way with fried rice), but not everyone feels that way.
Adapted from She Simmers
Yield: 4 servings
To Make Your Own Tamarind Pulp:
6-7 ounces shelled tamarind pod
3/4 cup room temperature water
75 g / 1/3 cup tamarind pulp
90 g / 1/3 cup fish sauce
75 g / 1/2 cup palm sugar
20 g / 1 rounded TBS brown sugar
20 g / 1 TBS chili paste (sambal oelek)
For Each 4 Person Serving:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
8 oz 3 mm rice stick noodles
2/3 cup pad thai sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large shallot, minced
2-4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups fresh mung bean sprouts
To prepare the sauce, mix all the ingredients together in small sauce pan and heat just until the sugars are dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool. If you need to prepare your own tamarind pulp, let the pods soak in the water for four hours and then press through a fine meshed sieve. See the tutorial above for more details.
Soak the rice noodles in room temperature water until they are just pliable, about 20-30 minutes. Drain the noodles in a colander and let drip until you are ready for them. Heat a large, flat bottomed skilled over medium heat. Add just a few drops of the oil and cook the scrambled eggs until just done. Remove from the pan and set to the side. Now turn the heat up to medium-high. Add the rest of the oil and let it heat until it starts to shimmer. Add the shallot and garlic, stirring until they begin to soften. Add the noodles and the sauce and stir-fry until the noodles are finished cooking (it takes just a minute or two). It's easiest to tell when they are done by tasting one. They should still have a slight bite to them. Add the sprouts, tossing to mix and then remove the pan from the heat. Add the egg and serve immediately. Garnish with lime and chopped peanuts.
Sunday, January 12, 2014
Well, hello, stranger! Long time no see.
Hard to believe that another holiday season has careened by. Fortunately, it was a lovely one. We finally are in a northern (read: cold and snowy) clime, which always helps get me in the holiday spirit. We live within a couple hours of my husband's side of the family and we received visits from multiple members of my side. My mom came and spent Christmas with us! It's been a number of years since we were together on Christmas day itself... and this year was extra special! It was my boy's first Christmas. Needless to say, there's been a lot of joy around here.
Speaking of the boy! He still keeps me on my toes. He's such a good guy though; the vast majority of the time, he plays really well and lets me get some things done. Naps are still tricky... and - apparently - cyclical in nature. We have a week or so of really good naps and then a few weeks of middling naps and then a week of horrible naps. Can you guess which part of the cycle we're in today?
He's also become a really good eater. I should post a before and after photo sometime of his meal plate. Not only does he go for volume, but he loves a wide variety of foods. While there are days when he is or isn't in the mood for one food or another, I cannot think of a single food he just won't ever touch. This week I made falafel and tabbouleh and he ate both! While he takes after his father and me, being a major carnivore, he also likes his carbs. I originally came up with this recipe when he first started eating because I wanted a bread that was easy to chew, tasted somewhat sweet without a huge amount of added sugar, and was very low in salt.
The funny thing is, while he eats it fine, I've come to really love the stuff! I make it all the time. It tastes sweet without being cloying (my big beef with most store-bought banana flavored baked goods) and has a satisfying twist of spice. I also love how easy it is to make. You can simply mix it together by hand in a bowl. No creaming or beating required.
Spiced Banana Bread
Adapted from The Recipe Encyclopedia, 1995
Yield: one 4x8 loaf
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (see note below to mix your own)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
5 TBS unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup mashed, ripe bananas
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 4x8 inch loaf pan by spraying with oil and lining with a parchment strip, if available (this simply ensures your loaf comes out intact - if you have a really good non-stick pan, this step is optional). In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, spice, baking powder, and baking soda.
In a separate, smaller bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients. Add to the dry mixture and stir just until combined. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool for five minutes before removing from pan to cool completely on a rack. Store in an air tight container either at room temperature or the refrigerator for up to one week. Baked bread can also be frozen for up to six months.
NOTE: You can make your own pumpkin pie spice by mixing 2 TBS cinnamon, 2 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp ginger, and 1 tsp cloves. The leftover spice can be saved for use in other recipes. You can also use regular, salted butter, the resulting loaf just won't be as low in sodium.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
I am so excited for this Thanksgiving. For the first time ever, I am getting to host a large family dinner. As military folk, we're usually by ourselves far away from family. Sometimes we invite a few airmen or colleagues who are in the same boat over, but often it's just us. One year, when my husband and I were doing split duty for a time, I went to visit him and we had Thanksgiving dinner in a pub. Finally, we are close enough to one side of the family to be able to host the event. It's not a huge crowd; I expect it to round out at close to a dozen, but that's enough for me to have an enjoyable time hosting a dinner I don't normally have a chance to.
So, what am I serving? I am so glad you asked! (You did ask, didn't you?). As I sit here writing this, I am smoking my first turkey on the grill. I'm a huge fan of smoked salmon (which I plan on serving cold as an appetizer), but I've never tried to smoke poultry, let alone a bird big enough to serve twelve. I figured I'd better give it a test run, and that's what I'm doing today. I'll let you know how it works out. It's been out there for an hour and a half, and it already looks great. Fingers crossed!!
In addition to a turkey, I'll serve a small ham (just in case I blow the turkey, right!?!). Not everybody loves turkey and leftover ham is awesome, so why not? I have a counter top roaster oven to bake it in, so I'm not hurting for oven space.
Let's see... so that takes care of the meat. I'll be serving the traditional dressing. I like a bread cube stuffing with mushrooms and sage. And, of course, there will be mashed potatoes and gravy. I may even spike the potatoes with a little cream since it's a special occasion!
I'll be making my green bean casserole from scratch. No cans of mushroom soup here!
I also plan on making my fabulous and gorgeous spiced cranberry sauce, shown - here - with currents, and shown - at the top of this post - without. I love it both ways, but maybe just slightly better with. I know a lot of folks aren't cranberry sauce fans, but this version has certainly converted a person or two.
And what Thanksgiving meal would be complete without some form of home baked bread? These refrigerator dinner rolls fit the bill since they taste phenomenal. Additionally, they fit well with my "do as much in advance as possible" doctrine.
For a nice change of pace, I decided I would serve these mincemeat peaches as a side dish. They're sweet and sassy with all the spice of the holidays. Using canned (whether home canned or store bought) mincemeat makes them the fastest dish in the west.
I'm still thinking about maybe adding one more side dish... a vegetable, I think, but we'll see if it happens. I've been thinking about creamed pearl onions or maybe slices of pecan crusted acorn squash. Since we have plenty of food already planned, I'll play this last dish by ear.
What about dessert, you say? Well, of course, I can't forget about dessert. While I like to get really fancy for Christmas desserts (think buche de noel or cream puff swans), I'm more of a traditionalist for Thanksgiving. Pies it is! I plan on making a classic apple pie and will serve it with homemade vanilla ice cream. I do think, however, that I will make the pie with my newer, super flaky pie crust. I've even held back a few Cortland apples for making the pie extra tasty.
And, what Thanksgiving would be complete without pumpkin pie? Apple pie may be all American, but pumpkin pie is all Thanksgiving! I always make mine with pumpkin puree I've put up myself. I can't abide by canned pumpkin.
Lastly, I think I'll make a pecan tart. This is like a pecan pie, but not so... well, goopy. I love the flavors of pecan pie, but am always overwhelmed but how much filling there is compared to nuts. It's too heavy and sweet for my tastes. I've made it as a tart before. I just used a tart pan instead and only added half the amount of filling (but all of the nuts!!). I found the balance perfect. Nutty, sweet, and delicious. A perfect ending to a meal filled with family and fellowship.
Friday, November 15, 2013
Behold! The most simple recipe ever! I am starting to get my menu in order for Thanksgiving and I thought I might include this recipe my mom used to make a lot when I was a kid. I haven't had it for years though, so I figured I'd better try a few today and make sure they are as good as I remember. Yup! They are. And they are a great, flavorful, and simple side dish to serve on a table of bounty... or on any day of the year.
Here's how to do it: spray a baking dish with oil and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. The good news is that since you are really just heating these things through, you have some flexibility on the oven temperature. This is a good thing if your Thanksgiving oven is already scheduled to the max. Open a can of peach halves (I prefer them in heavy syrup for this application) and lay them cut side up in the baking dish. Scoop a spoonful of mincemeat into the center. I used a #40 disher to get the filling in perfectly shaped mounds. Then... and this is the hard part... put them in the oven. That's it! Bake them until they are hot and slightly bubbly, about 25 minutes. They cool fairly quickly, but - fortunately - they taste good hot or at room temperature.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
'Tis the season... for applesauce! Actually, it's almost past, but in most places you can still get apples for a pretty good price right now. Depending on where you live, you may still be able to go and pick your own in a nearby orchard. (My favorite site for finding pick your own farms is this one here.)
I love homemade applesauce. However, I am an applesauce snob, for sure. While you can make decent applesauce out of almost any variety of apples, there are a few apples that excel in this department. While everyone has slightly different taste and texture preferences when it comes to applesauce, I am all about Cortland apple applesauce. I first came across this apple in 2006 when we lived outside Dayton, Ohio. Once I tasted Cortland applesauce, there was no going back. It has the perfect balance of tart and sweet. The finished texture is everything I want in an applesauce: it breaks down nicely but doesn't end up mealy. It makes life easy because I don't need to run it through a food mill (although you certainly can, if you prefer that texture). They are a beautiful apple. Red with green streaks and green at the stem end or on the shoulders (watch out, if the green is too extensive, then the apples are not fully ripe). The flesh inside is quite white and is slow to brown. While they are not a super crisp apple, they are still wonderful for eating out of hand. I love them. Unfortunately, until recently, it'd been a few years since I'd come across Cortland apples.
A couple of months ago, we went on a short vacation to Door County, Wisconsin. Low and behold, I came across a bag of Cortlands in one of the farm stands there. They were a little pricey, so I only bought a half-peck bag. Unfortunately, that batch of applesauce was small enough that I polished it off in only a few days. I started looking for more. I was so excited when I found a half bushel at the last farmers' market of the season... and for a decent price too! I polished off half of that batch of applesauce in a few days before I managed to finally put some in the freezer. I was a little despondent because I knew that wouldn't last me long (and my boy, who loves the stuff, has started to put away his fair share). Wouldn't you know that the very next time I went to the grocery store, they had Michigan apples, including Cortlands, on sale for 59 cents a pound? I now have fulfilled my applesauce destiny for the year!
In the last eight years, I have processed a LOT of apples. Bushels and bushels and bushels of apples. The method of preparing apples that I will share here is, in my opinion, by far the most efficient way out there. The other day I processed a peck and a half (about 15 pounds) of apples about 45 minutes. Here's how I do it. You need a paring knife, a vegetable peeler, and a melon baller.
Step One: Cut all of the apples in half. This method is an assembly line method. As the years went by, I found I used up a lot of time picking up and setting down my tools. I discovered it was much more efficient to do each step to every apple before moving on. You do not need to worry about excessive browning if you are doing a bushel or less, especially if you are using Cortlands.
Step 2: Core the apples with a melon baller.
Step 3: Notch out the stem and blossom end with a paring knife. It is important to do the coring before the notching in order to save time. Since the melon baller is only so large, you can easily cut out any core or stem bits you might have missed in step 2.
Step 4: Peel with a vegetable peeler. You can use a paring knife. but I find two problems with that. First, I end up with a lot more of the apple on the peel and I like to maximize my efforts. Second, I find my hand cramps a lot less using the vegetable peeler when I'm doing a large batch.
Step 5: Cut the halves into wedges and put them into a heavy duty pan. Obviously the size of the pan needed will depend on how many apples you are cooking.
Now that the hard part is done, you can while the afternoon away to applesauce nirvana! Add a small amount of water to your pot (I use about 1/4 cup water per peck of apples). Place the lid on the pot and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples have broken down. They should break apart as you stir. When the apples are close to being completely broken down, add your sugar. There is no recipe here because every batch of apples have a different sugar content. For a peck, I usually start with a half cup of sugar. Stir it in and then taste. Add more as necessary until it is right for your tastes. I like to add cinnamon as well. Again, it's all personal preference, so simply add a small amount at a time and keep tasting. Continue cooking until the applesauce is the texture you want. I think I usually cook my applesauce for between one and two hours. Cool and refrigerate or freeze... or can!
If you want to can the applesauce, you can process it in a water bath canner. If you have never canned before, you can check out my Canning 101 post for instructions. Applesauce should have a half-inch head space and be processed 20 minutes for both pints and quarts. Please note that when canning applesauce, I strongly recommend leaving the jars in the canner for 5 minutes with the heat off after the processing time is done, as they can ooze horribly if you yank them right out of the hot water. Lastly, when canning applesauce, I always add extra water to the mixture before putting it in the jars. I find that the applesauce thickens during canning as moisture is lost during the pressurizing process and I find it unappealing.