Monday, October 25, 2010

Apple Picking and Caramel Apple Cake

When we discussed our favorite things about the season over breakfast the other morning, I mentioned that I love the nostalgia of things…even if those are things which I have never experienced. But setting aside the time to dip apples in caramel, carve a pumpkin, or go on a hayride can often be the highlight of the season and the thing by which all future autumn seasons are defined.

I had never been apple picking, so when our church’s young adults group proposed the idea, we were both thrilled to go. I spent the morning stewing a pot of chili, baking a loaf of bread, and glazing an apple cake in homemade salted caramel in anticipation of our late afternoon picnic (between apple picking and a hayride, all to be concluded with a bonfire, roasted marshmallows, and cider). How perfect could a day be?

The only problem was that my sweet husband began that day with a long distance run, and by that afternoon his body was rebelling against him. He willingly went, but our apple picking was a little slower than we had hoped, he couldn’t eat much of the dinner that I packed, and we had to cut our evening short of the hayride and bonfire. We did have a great time, though, despite his ailing body, and we are definitely making plans for a repeat trip next year.

I don’t think that he even had a piece of this cake on Saturday night, but he made up for it with about four pieces on Sunday as he made his recovery.

I first came across this apple cake on All Things Farmer. It is a homey cake, and is delicious with Elise Bauer’s Caramel Sauce (with an added pinch of salt) drizzled over the top, but you are welcome to use store-bought variety for an easier version.

Caramel Apple Cake
Apple Cake from All Things Farmer
Caramel Sauce from Simply Recipes

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 ½ cups canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 cups chopped apples (about 3 medium apples)
1 cup toasted chopped pecans
1 cup caramel (homemade or store-bought)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream (optional)
Preheat the oven to 335 degrees.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla extract. Add the soda, salt, flour and cinnamon and stir until just combined. Mix in the apples and pecans.
Pour the batter into a buttered and floured bundt pan. Bake for 1 ½ hours, testing with a toothpick after about 1 ¼ hours. When the cake is done, cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, and then turn out onto the rack to cool completely.
Meanwhile, prepare the homemade caramel and cool until slightly warm and thick, or warm the store-bought caramel until stirrable, but still thick. Stir in the kosher salt to caramel. Drizzle about ½ cup of warm caramel over the cooled cake. Slice and serve with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream and drizzle with more caramel sauce.

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

I gave him fair warning...of Bourbon Pumpkin Pancakes

These busy days, my husband and I have to make extra efforts to spend good time with each other.  So, in addition to a stroll around our neighborhood that we try to fit in once a week, we generally try to have date nights every other week.  But recently our date nights have turned into date lunches and yesterday, a date breakfast. 

It was his idea to have breakfast at one of our neighborhood restaurants, but since I've really been wanting to make pancakes recently and since they're more of a treat breakfast for us, I suggested breakfast at home instead. 

What I really wanted to do was breakfast in bed.  I love the idea of surprising my husband with a beautiful, bountiful tray of goodness, but it rarely happens because his feet hit the ground as soon as things start smelling good in the kitchen.  I can almost always surprise him anywhere else, but this one had alluded me.  So this time I gave him fair warning.  Although I didn't tell him what kinds of goodness I would be whisking together, I told him he had better not get out of bed! 

His wait was worth it; these silver-dollar sized (slightly boozy) pancakes were oh so good, and we had a sweet early morning date discussing our favorite things about the season. 

Bourbon Pumpkin Pancakes

2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/4 cup bourbon
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 cup real maple syrup
2 tablespoons bourbon

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and the next eight ingredients (through nutmeg).  In a small bowl, beat the egg.  Add the buttermilk, pumpkin, bourbon and oil and whisk until well combined.  Add the pumpkin mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. 

In a small oven-proof bowl, measuring cup, or pitcher, combine the maple syrup and bourbon. 

Set the oven to "warm."  Place a heat-proof plate in the oven to keep cooked pancakes warm.  Carefully place the bourbon maple syrup in the oven to warm, making sure that it is on a stable surface (put a plate under it, if you are worried). 

Grease a griddle and heat to medium-low.  Using a large cookie scoop or a 1/4 cup measure, scoop the batter onto the hot griddle.  Use the back of the scoop to spread the batter a bit.  Cook the pancakes for 1-2 minutes, until the edges begin to dull.  Flip and cook for 1-2 minutes more, and stack the cooked pancakes in the oven to keep warm until serving.  Top the pancakes with the warm bourbon maple syrup. 

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

If at first you don't succeed, make tried and true Chicken Pot Pie

Sometimes I get in trouble when I try to come up with new recipes.  Things sound so good, until you end up with some rather strange looking pink rice (tasty, but still needs some work, and a little less...color).  It is for precisely that reason that I try to have a good balance between experimental recipes (of which there are so many) and the tried and true. 

I have been making this pot pie since we have been married, in the days when I learned not to experiment on guests (okay, I still do this occasionally) and when I learned that the true test was the hum test.  Later on, I was the youth group "cook," providing meals to the kids in between snowy trips down the North Carolina mountains.  There, I made larger batches of this pie and covered them with biscuits instead of crust.  My friend Laura, a gracious co-chaperone on that trip, now only makes this pot pie recipe with a biscuit crust. 
No matter which way you top it, this pot pie is a classic keeper. 

Chicken Pot Pie

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup peeled carrots, sliced (about 2 medium carrots)
1 cup frozen green peas
2 cups new potatoes, cubed
1/2 cup celery, diced (about 2 stalks)
1/2 medium sweet onion, diced
5 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon herbes de provence
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons port wine, or sherry
1 pie crust, or 8 raw buttermilk biscuits

In a large saucepan, combine the chicken, broth, carrots, peas and potatoes.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove the chicken to a cutting board to cool.  Using a slotted spoon. transfer the vegetables to a deep dish pie pan.  Reserve the chicken broth in a measuring cup or small bowl.  Cut the chicken into 1/2 inch cubes and transfer it to the pie pan. 

Using the same saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Saute the onions and celery for five minutes.  Stir in the flour, salt, pepper, herbes de provence; cook for one minute.  Add the milk and reserved stock and cook for 3-4 minutes, until thick.  Pour the sauce over the chicken mixture in the pie pan, spreading to reach the edges. 

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Top the pie with the pie crust, cutting away excess dough.  Make five slits around the top to allow steam to escape.  Alternatively, arrange the biscuits over the top of the pie.  Place a piece of foil under the pie to catch any drips.  Bake for 35 minutes, then cool for 10 minutes before serving. 

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Dusting off the Recipes...and Brunswick Stew

This past week held an important milestone for the changing of the seasons: the switching out of summer clothes for those of the warmer variety.  I love that change, especially when I have the "Oh, I forgot about that jacket!" moment. 

The same thing happens with the change of ingredients and menus.  It's such a joy to use newly-rediscovered recipes and to remember what you forgot in the brightness of spring and summer: how much you loved that combination of fall flavors or the heartiness of that stew. 

So, here's one of my favorites, dusted off for the season.  Brunswick stew is a Southern staple, with many, many variations (including squirrel and rabbit).  This excellent recipe, which uses chicken, comes from my mom's kitchen.

Brunswick Stew

2 whole chickens (around 6 pounds, total)
2 quarts of water
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 lemon, sliced and seeds removed
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3/4 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 28 ounce cans diced tomatoes
2 15 ounce cans whole kernel yellow corn, undrained
2 14.75 ounce cans cream corn
1 pound frozen petite butter (Lima) beans
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon ground pepper

In a large pot, combine the chicken, water, and 1 tablespoon salt.  Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for 45 minutes.  Remove the chicken to a cutting board or plate to cool.  Transfer 1 quart of the cooking water to a bowl; discard the rest. 

Return the pot to the stove.  Combine the ketchup and next 12 ingredients (through 1/2 teaspoon pepper) in the pot and cook over medium-high heat for 10 minutes.  Add the 1 quart stock and remaining ingredients to the pot and turn the heat to low. 

Shred the chicken and add to the pot, discarding the skin and bones.  Turn the heat to medium-low and simmer the stew for four hours, stirring occasionally. 

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Night Feast: Pork with Mushroom Sauce

Thursdays are a killer for me this semester.  They generally consist of a long day ending with a late night in class.  Thankfully, though, they are followed by Fridays!  That's when I get to go on my time-table, exercising if and when I want, grocery shopping, and (my favorite) cooking a good meal.  Whether it's just the two of us, or we have friends over, Friday night is the best time to relax and enjoy.  We'll just ignore the fact that Saturday is a study day around here. 

I think that this pork loin recipe is perfect for this transitional weather that the whole country seems to be experiencing.  It is comfort food, but it's not overly heavy.  And the best part is, it's mostly hands-off, so you can work on your side dishes or sip your wine while it roasts.  I served it over goat cheese grits with a side of collard greens, but it would be excellent over polenta or rice as well. 

I do hope that you and your family has a fabulous Friday night!

Mushroom Pork Loin

2 pound pork loin roast or tenderloin
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
2 teaspoons paprika
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup port wine, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
3/4 cup vegetable broth

Preheat the oven to 375.

Trim the roast and rub with the cut side of the peeled garlic.  Sprinkle with paprika.  In a small bowl, combine the mushrooms, lemon juice, oregano, salt, and pepper.  Mince the garlic clove and add to the bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the vegetable broth and flour. 

Heat the butter in a large oven-proof skillet over medium high heat.  Brown the pork on all sides.  Add the mushroom mixture to the pan, stirring and turning the pork to coat with the seasonings.  Add the port wine, scraping the bottom of the pan. 

Move the skillet to the preheated oven.  Roast until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees using an instant-read or oven-proof thermometer, around 30 minutes, adding more wine if the skillet becomes dry.  Remove the skillet from oven and move the pork to a cutting board.  Tent with aluminum foil. 

Put the skillet back over medium-high heat.  Stir the flour and broth mixture into the pan juices (with the mushrooms).  Bring to a boil and stir for 2-3 minutes, until thickened.  Slice the pork and serve with the mushroom gravy. 

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Another Pumpkin post, in the form of Perfect Sugar Cookies

Over the past few weeks, I've been looking for some blog inspriation by looking at other blogs in between loads of laundry and homework assignments and classes.  And with fall upon us, there have been more pumpkin-related posts than I can count!  And while I have been right there with them, using butternut squash, acorn squash, and pumpkin whenever I can, I don't want to just replicate what's already out there.  So, until I have some really inspired pumpkin recipe, I'll show you these precious pumpkin cookies which I made for baby shower for a friend of mine who is having a "little pumpkin" of her own. 

The fabulous thing about these basic sugar cookies is that they make excellent cut-out cookies, never spreading even with the most intricate cutters.  And although they don't have any pumpkin in them, I did add a bit of fall spice to the dough, which was wonderful. 

I loved the icing recipe which I used for these, as well.  I'll give the recipe here, and there is an excellent cookie icing tutorial over on Our Best Bites

Perfect Sugar Cookies

3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon extract (vanilla, almond, orange, etc.)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. 

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with a mixer.  Add the egg, extract, and salt, and blend well.  Add the dry ingredients in three parts, mixing well between each addition. 

Divide the dough in three parts.  Take two pieces of parchment paper, about 15 inches square, and roll out one portion to 1/4 inch between the two pieces of parchment.  Place in the refrigerator.  Repeat with the two remaining portions. 

Beginning with the first portion, cut out cookies and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet, 1/2 inch apart.  Gather scraps, reroll dough and refrigerate while you cut out remaining cookies. 

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the edges just begin to darken.  Cool cookies on a rack.

GlacĂ© Icing

Our Best Bites, originally from Toba Garrett

1 pound powdered sugar (plus more to thicken icing)
6 tablespoons milk (plus more to thin icing)
6 tablespoons corn syrup
1 teaspoon extract (vanilla, almond, orange, etc.)

In a medium bowl, whisk the powdered sugar to get rid of any lumps.  Whisk in the milk, corn syrup and extract until well blended.  Separate icing into bowls to make various colors with food coloring.  If you are piping icing, add more powdered sugar to thicken the icing.  Use milk to thin icing for spreading with a spoon, if needed. 

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Knock, knock, is anybody there? Plus, Whole Wheat, Oatmeal and Fruit Muffins

After a long summer hiatus, a good and challenging few months at home in the South, we have returned to our home up North and are now in the midst of the fall semester.  I cannot believe that I let so much time go by, but rather than give excuses or all the details of the summer, I'm just going to settle back into what we're doing (and eating) now. 

Although we miss being home with our family and friends who are there, we are happy to be back in "our own space" and schedule.  It is so good to see friends from school and church here after the summer, too!  However, we didn't have much time to make that transition and before we knew it, school was in full swing. 

My husband is taking an incredibly full load this semester, so my job is to make sure he is well-fed and has what he needs to function.  Tough job, no?  Well, add on top of that my own classes, and it is a little more than I had expected.  So far, neither of us have gone without a meal nor have we missed an assignment, so I would say we're doing okay. 

One thing my husband has learned this semester is the wonder of oatmeal.  He had only ever tasted the sugary instant oats from a packet, and had never really cared much for those.  So when I made several days worth of banana raisin oats, he was wowed and won over, and has even learned how to make them himself!  I've come in the kitchen the past few mornings to see all of the ingredients lined up next to the stove, ready to be thrown together for a quick and delicious breakfast. 

He'll have a little surprise tomorrow morning, though.  Today, I made him an equally hearty, yummy, grab-and-go breakfast to help him through his long days of studying!  These are perfect for a school morning.  Even if they are frozen, all that is needed is a short time in the microwave or in the toaster for a quick, healthy breakfast. 

Whole Wheat, Oatmeal and Fruit Muffins

adapted from Cooking Light

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons wheat germ
2 tablespoons wheat bran
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup chopped dried fruit (the original recipe calls for raisins, cranberries and dates)
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup boiling water

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, the oats, and the dried fruit.  In a small bowl, lightly whisk the buttermilk, oil, vanilla and egg.  Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed.  Stir in the boiling water and let the batter sit for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 

Divide the batter between 12 lined or greased muffin cups.  Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the pan half way through.  Cool the muffins on a rack. 

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