Post 49 – Applesauce like Momma Makes It

This is starting to look familiar – a pile of fruit, a giant pot, and hours later a thick sauce of smooth, tart beauty. I’m getting good at this game. This time – it’s applesauce.

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My mom made applesauce when we were little.

No peeling – well except for that one year when we got out the hand-cranked apple peeler and whatchamacallit and had a go at it. We quickly abandoned that machine as you had to stop and fix it as often as you turned the crank.

Thanks to the food mill there’s no mashing and thanks to the flavorful apples, no unnecessary ingredients.

Love the colors!

Love the colors!

Apple cores

Apple cores

As a little girl, my family and I would go blueberry picking in the summer to stock the freezer with “beeble-berries,” as Momma called them. After the summer ended, we’d pull them out for blueberry pancakes, blueberry sauce for pancakes, or our favorite semi-dessert: a personal bowl of frozen blueberries sprinkled with sugar and doused in milk. After a few minutes of sitting, it became like blueberry ice cream as the sugar and milk froze in the crevices between the berries. It wasn’t exactly dessert, but it kept me fooled for a while.

In the fall there were apples. I don’t remember many apple picking outings with my family, but we must have gone once or twice or bought bags at the store. However we acquired our apples, Mom would make gallons of applesauce and, just the same as the blueberries, put some in the freezer for later. You knew it was homemade from its rose-colored tint, dyed from leaving the red skins on as it cooked. Then when it was done, we ground it through the food mill so it came out smooth and pure and apple-skinless.

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So I made applesauce this weekend, just like Momma made it. I cut up my apples, skins on, and simmered them on the stove until they melted and perfumed the apartment with the glorious smell of autumn’s coziest scent. The apples cooked down to half the height of the pot, but we still ended up with a giant bowl of applesauce. No fear – Sam the applesauce-eating maniac is here to eat it up in no time (and consequently I won’t have any to freeze like Mom did).

 

Speaking of Sam, he has taken to making me dinner a few nights a week now that I started cooking for this family (more on that later). This past week he made a wonderful Moroccan Chicken and the week before that a tofu stir-fry! It’s hard giving up my kitchen sometimes, but I love when he cooks for me! Below is a picture of the Moroccan chicken with butternut squash, dried apricots, and wild rice.

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Homemade Applesauce

There is no real recipe for this. I take some apples, core them, and slice them about ¼ inch thick. I put them in a big stockpot and add enough water to cover the bottom by an inch or two (depending how thick you like it). I bring it to a boil and then turn it down to simmer with a lid on until the apples are falling apart, stirring often near the beginning to be sure all the apples are getting an even amount of heat. Add sugar if you like (I didn’t) or cinnamon (either during the cooking or at the end).

When soft, run it through a food mill and let cool.

The food mill

The food mill

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The apple skins that remain

The apple skins that remain

If you don’t have a food mill, you can peel the apples ahead of time and use an immersion blender or food processor, being sure to puree in small batches. Freeze in gallon size freezer bags or enjoy right away. Be sure to try a bite when it’s warm – it’s delicious!

 

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Oh and if you’re wondering how many apples we have left from our original 35 ish pounds, here it is. I weighed them.

Apple count – About 12 lbs.

Happy Fall!

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Post 48 – Forty Pounds of Apples

Summer has seamlessly given way to fall. We wake up to crisp mornings and the sun warms up the day hour by hour. I can’t believe how fast time flies.

There is a happiness that comes with the beginning of each new season, but I miss the summer already and I dread the cold, hard winter that may come our way.

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In the spirit of autumn, Sam and I went apple picking this weekend with a friend. As we pulled around the curvy bend of the road heading to the same farm where we picked apples last year I couldn’t help but feel like last year was just last night. Really? A whole year ago we were here? Did time go by that fast? Consequences of getting older…

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We had a dandy time picking apples, eating waaaay too many apple cider donuts, and finding bite-size apples to munch on while we picked. We came home with 40 pounds of beautiful apples, five pounds of which our friend took with him.

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What are you going to do with 40 pounds of apples?? People ask us incredulously.

Oh you’d be surprised how well we can handle our apples. This is apple season and we take full advantage. We will be making apple sauce and apple pies and apple cakes and other apple-y things. Believe you me, I have an arsenal of apple recipes and Sam can down a giant bowl of applesauce no problem.

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One of our favorite new traditions has been to make these wonderful meat-stuffed apples. They are sweet, savory, and filling, perfect on a chill autumn night. Don’t question the combination – it’s delicious. As they cook, the meat and apple juices ooze into one saucy sauce in the pan and the soft crunch of baked apples pairs well with the heartier texture of the meat. The recipe is fairly customizable too – change the meat, the spices, leave out the bread and milk, suit it to your taste, but I promise you that you won’t be disappointed.

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Savory Stuffed Apples

Based on Chef Jose Andres’ recipe

3 slices bread, crust removed and torn into small pieces

¾ cup milk

2 lb. ground beef or pork (we used beef)

1 small onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

¼ tsp. cinnamon

3 T. chopped fresh sage

1 tsp. salt

good grind of black pepper

9-10 large baking apples

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.* Soak the bread pieces in milk while preparing other ingredients. Using a melon baller or sharp paring knife, dig out the core in your apples to make a deep well (careful not to go all the way through). Reserve any edible pieces of apple innards for later. To prevent apple explosion, score your apples 3 or 4 times on the outside, by lightly running a small knife down the apple just enough to break the skin. (As you can see before my apples still released some of their juices, but at least none exploded). Chop the onion and garlic and mix it with the meat, spices, and bread and milk mixture. Fill the apples with the meat mixture, carefully stuffed it inside and patting down the top to form a cap. You may need more apples, depending on the size of your apples or you can make mini meat loaves (as I did) with the remaining meat mixture. Bake in an ovenproof dish drizzled or sprayed with oil for 35-45 minutes or until meat registers 165 with a thermometer. Serve warm.

*I would actually try baking them at a lower temperature next time (375) as the tops got a little too brown before the middle was cooked all the way through.

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Notice these guys burst a little. The ones pictured below, however, turned out beautifully!

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With your reserved apple innards make a quick apple crisp for 1 or 2. Apples for dinner and dessert!

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Here’s to the fall (despite farewell to summer) and to many more apple recipes!

Post 47 – Peaches & Sugar Plums

I spend most of my free time nose-deep in recipes or elbow-deep in the kitchen. That’s my happy place. My home.

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So when the peaches and plums at school started to ripen too fast for consumption, I began eye-ing them for possible recipes, envisioning sugar plum tarts and peach hand pies (literally visions of sugar plums dancing in my head). When Friday came, I happily volunteered to take the fruit home, promising to transform it and bring back some of the treasures I would make to share with my co-workers.

I brought home about 5 pounds each of peaches and plums (not all of them pictures), beautiful (but a little beat up) specimens with soft flesh and bright summer hues and began scrolling through my mental list of recipes, trying to decide what to make. Though I love desserts, I often have too many around to tempt me, thanks to my love for baking, so I tried to find recipes that would use the fruit more creatively. I decided to transform the plums into jam (apparently I wasn’t the only one who had that idea, gosh darn it). I would make the peaches into fruit leather( using a recipe from Weelicious that I’d been dying to try) as well as peach shortbread bars (I know, I know – totally a dessert, but I was taking them to work).

Friday – I made the fruit leather. To make it, you start by pitting and halving your peaches. You puree them skins and all in a blender with a little honey to sweeten it up, spread it out on a baking sheet and you wait for your oven to basically dehydrate the fruit.

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I love my immersion blender!

I love my immersion blender!

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The trickiest part I found was spreading the puree to the right thickness and deciding when the fruit leather was done. My results: slightly too thin and too crunchy. More like dried fruit chips than leather, though I did manage one fruit “roll-up”!

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Sunday I made jam, after doing a little bit of research on the process and equipment. The jam ended up being quite a project. You wash the jars well, you simmer the fruit (oooo the colors and smells!), you pour it through a food mill (optional) and you carefully pour, wipe, and seal the jars. The end result was delicious (as said by my toughest critic who #1 doesn’t even like plums and #2 actually put it on his peanut butter toast!). I followed this recipe and added a teaspoon of ground ginger and reduced the sugar slightly.

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Baby plums

Baby plums

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Sugared plums

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Look at how dark a red it got from the beautiful skins!

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The food mill is a perfect tool for churning out the skins, though they add a nice texture. Reminds me of cranberry sauce.

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The jars I bought make a perfect gift size and worked as a good way to give back some of the plums to my co-workers.

Finally, I made the peach shortbread bars, which I finished while the jam set. They were delicious, though not quite peachy enough for my taste. Next time – more peaches. The browned butter really added a nice nuttiness, though it didn’t come through super strongly in my opinion. Nonetheless, they were a hit at school and now I can check them off of my to-bake list.

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I love how the ruby red color of the skins comes through!

After making peach butter (which by the way is almost gone!), peach cobbler, plum jam, and peach shortbread bars, I think I’ve almost exhausted my bout of summer fruit experiments. However if you happen to have a big bag of very ripe fruit going begging, please send it my way. There are always a million more recipes to make.

Post 46 – Mexican Chocolate Flan Cake

This cake.

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It’s the ultimate in cake transformation. Two separate, totally different parts of a cake switch places – seamlessly flip-flop. What am I talking about?

This delicious Choco-flan cake. Have you heard of it?

They say it’s impossible, (who are they anyway?) but somehow it happens every time. You make a thick chocolate cake batter and pour it into the bottom of a bundt pan (which would be the top when you flip it over right? Stay with me here)

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Evidence that I put the chocolate cake part in first!

and pour a soupy layer of eggs and milk on top of it (which should be the bottom of the cake when it’s served)

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and miraculously when you pull it out of the oven, the chocolate cake is on the top and the custard layer has all but disappeared… until you flip it over (carefully!) and see the beautiful jiggly caramely thing it has become. I’d say there’s probably some serious cake science going on here, but you can just call it magic if you like.

See! How did that happen?

See! How did that happen?

I had a great excuse to make this cake again yesterday: a co-worker’s birthday. She’s a beautiful well-dressed older woman from Columbia, South America, who speaks rapid-fire Spanish. I once spoke a few words to her in Spanish and since then she has spoken to me at her usual pace as if I understood every word. It’s not because she’s cruel, but I think because she assumes I understand a lot more than I do. I don’t, but I appreciate the gesture. Nonetheless her actions and kind smile often speak for her, sweet woman that she is. Her smile told me today how much she enjoyed the cake.

Since I know nothing about Columbian desserts I thought I’d make this cake (which is actually a Mexican recipe) since it was something different from the usual layer cake and I thought maybe she’d appreciate it. The top custard layer bakes into a beautiful egg-y flan and as the cake sits, the once fluffy chocolate cake sinks lower and lower to become a dense chocolate torte. The two layers provide wonderful contrasting textures to each other – almost like cake with ice cream already part of it.

Anyway, the point is – this cake – you probably can find an excuse to make it. And it’s not impossible in the sense that you can’t make it. There’s just a little cake magic involved. But don’t worry – the cake does all the work.

Chocoflan

recipe from Scarletta Bakes

For the cake:
10 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 c. white sugar, granulated
1 large egg, room temperature
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/3 c. cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 1/4 c. buttermilk, room temperature
1/4 c. cajeta or good quality caramel sauce to coat pan (Cajeta is a sweetened goat milk caramel that can be hard to find, but is totally worth it if you do. Or you can make it if you’re super ambitious.)

For the flan:
1- 12 ounce can evaporated milk
1- 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

For garnish:
1/4 c. cajeta or caramel sauce
1/4 c. chopped pecans (Note that I did not garnish my chocoflan at all.)

Butter or spray a 12-cup capacity Bundt pan and line the bottom with the cajeta. Place the prepared pan into a large roasting pan and set aside.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°.

To prepare the cake, add the butter and sugar to a bowl and, using an electric hand mixer or stand mixer, beat until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa in a medium bowl. Beat 1/3 of the flour mixture, and 1/2 of the buttermilk into the egg mixture. Repeat, ending with the flour mixture. Blend until well incorporated.

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Some stuff happens in between these two pictures that I didn’t document. Sorry…

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To prepare the flan, beat the room temperature cream cheese with the sweetened condensed milk until smooth. Slowly add the eggs, beating to incorporate with the cream cheese. Add the evaporated milk and beat. Alternatively blend in a blender. *

Scoop the cake batter into the prepared Bundt pan and spread evenly. Slowly pour the flan mixture over the cake batter. Cover with foil and put into the oven, leaving the door open briefly. Slowly add about 1-inch of hot water to the roasting pan (don’t splash the cake), slide the pan into the oven and close the oven door.

Or add the water before you put it in the oven, though it's a little more precarious.

Or add the water before you put it in the oven, though it’s a little more precarious.

Bake for 50 minutes to an hour out until the surface of the cake is firm or a toothpick comes out clean. When the cake is done, remove it from the water bath and allow it to cool completely to room temperature, about 1 hour.

Use a thin spatula and carefully go around the edges of the cake and a few inches down (if necessary) to help loosen the edges. Invert a large, rimmed serving platter over the Bundt pan, grasp tightly together and flip over. It is important to do this part with confidence and in one foul swoop or you may lose some of your cake. Remove the pan and scrape any remaining cajeta from the pan onto the cake, garnish with chopped pecans and serve (this cake is traditionally served after being chilled for 24 hours, but you can also serve it warm or at room temperature).

*I found that the cream cheese separated into chunks (the eggs were too cold maybe?) and ended up sitting at the bottom of the chocolate cake. It tasted fine overall, but I think incorporating the cheese with the liquid ingredients more slowly will help.

Towel courtesy of my good friend, Natalie!

Towel courtesy of my good friend, Natalie!

 

And for those of your drooling over the last post’s zucchini squares, here is the recipe:

Zucchini Squares

Adapted from Stillman’s farm CSA newsletter

1 cup Bisquick baking mix**

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

dried basil and oregano (optional)

3-4 cups shredded zucchini (I used 3 cups because that’s what the zucchini yielded)

3 scallions, finely chopped

¾ cup grated cheddar cheese

4 eggs, beaten

¼ cup shredded parmesan (or more cheddar)

In a medium bowl mix Bisquick (or see substitute below) with salt, pepper, and dried spices as desired. Add in shredded zucchini, scallions, and shredded cheddar and stir to thoroughly mix. In a separate small bowl beat eggs so the yolks and whites are well mixed. Stir into the flour mixture.

Pour into a greased 8×8 baking dish and spread out. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown and springy when touched in the center.

**If you don’t use Bisquick, substitute (as I did) the following: 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 ½ tsp. baking powder, ¼ tsp. salt. Rub in 1 T. shortening or butter until it looks well incorporated.

Post 45 – My weekend in food

Today all I have for you are pictures. Savor them.

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The new “super food” – chia seeds. Stir them into any liquid and they will firm up like a gel. I used them to make raw, vegan pudding.

photo(57)Sweetened with dates and maple syrup.

photo(58)My farmers’ market bounty!

5 lbs peaches

2 large zucchini

7 ears of corn

2 bags (4 heads) red leaf lettuce

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$14

IMG_3419Celebrating a friend’s belated birthday is always a good excuse to make this marbled cake with browned-butter frosting and cocoa nibs.

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45 or more minutes later…

IMG_3423Delicious peach butter!

Stir into yogurt. Use as a topping for chicken. Eat it with peanut butter on toast.

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IMG_3417Zucchini squares and fresh corn on the cob!

Definitely a delicious weekend.

Post 44 – Sam’s Nachos

Things you should know about me:

I could spend hours perusing recipes to find the perfect one to make for dinner, take to a party, or just to make for myself.

I try not to make the same recipe too many times.

I tend to make food more complicated than it needs to be.

Things you should know about Sam:

He could eat the same thing for lunch and dinner 5 days a week and hardly complain (he used to do this all the time).

He doesn’t want to spend hours picking out a recipe for dinner.

He forgets sometimes how long it takes to cook so that when left alone for dinner he’ll often start eating at 9 or 10 o’clock just because he started the cooking too late.

 

Our differences make us a good match in the kitchen and sometimes my desire to make things way more complicated than they need to be is tempered by his desire for simplicity.

Sam's version of Nachos

Sam’s version of Nachos

Like this Labor Day weekend when we were trying to decide what to make for dinner or lunch one day, Sam wanted Nachos. Not the fakey, ooey-gooey, yellow-goop-cheese kind, but the quick and dirty, yet still incredibly satisfying kind. No homemade cheese sauce, no cheese sauce from a jar. Just melted shredded cheese.

Apparently he used to make them for himself for lunch when he was a teenager. My mom also made them for us as a quick dinner that easily satisfied us kiddos and could be thrown together last minute. We loved the ooey gooey cheesy chips served on our own colorful plastic plate. Mom loved that she could make dinner in the microwave (although I suppose you could make it in the oven). This “recipe” is so easy you don’t even need instructions (but I’ll provide some guidelines anyway).

And the great thing about Nachos is, luckily for Sam, if he starts the “cooking” late, he’ll still have dinner within a matter of minutes.

Sam’s Nachos

Tortilla Chips

Shredded Cheddar Cheese

Beans, taco meat, scallions, or other desired toppings

Lay a handful of chips out on a microwave safe plate. The more you spread them out, the more even cheese coverage you get, which is very important. Sprinkle with shredded cheddar and beans as desired. If using refried beans, you can heat them up separately and then add on top or you can dollop beans on and heat it all together. Microwave for 30 seconds or until cheese is melted and tantalizing. Sprinkle with scallions, top with sour cream or salsa or just enjoy as is in their beautiful simplistic state.

My version of Nachos

My version of Nachos

 

 

 

Post 43 – Peach Cobbler

Ok, now that it’s September let’s be honest. Summer is pretty much over.

Fall is great and all – beautiful colorful leaves, cozy temperatures, and a stash of pumpkin recipes you’ve been waiting until this time of year to try, but I have to admit I will miss the summer produce. I am going to miss all of the delicious, fresh, juicy, and sweet nectarines and peaches that summer provides. They have been a staple in my breakfast granola and afternoon munching.

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So this past week when I stopped at the farmers’ market, I was thrilled to find an abundance of cheap, local peaches. I bought a few pounds (now I wish I’d bought more!) with the intention of making a peach dessert of some sort.

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When one of my friends invited me to hang out with her and some of her friends, I figured it was the perfect opportunity. Wanting to avoid rolling out a piecrust and crimping it just perfectly I opted for Mark Bittman’s fruit cobbler recipe. He makes his with blueberries, though he says you can use any fruit. I used 8 cups of peaches and did a one and a half recipe of the cobbler topping for a 9×13 pan. (I also sprinkled cinnamon on the peaches.) I recommend if you make it with a juicy fruit like peaches to toss the peaches with a little flour as mine turned out a little too soupy and made a sticky mess when I tilted it while carrying it on the T.

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As with most of Bittman’s recipes, this one is simple and for me – fun. I get to use my favorite tool – the pastry blender!

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It’s perfect served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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I hope you get a chance to enjoy the last few weeks of ripe summer fruits and vegetables. I’m hoping to take advantage of the warm weather and longer days as long as possible.

What’s your favorite peach recipe? Please share it with me in a comment below!