Monday, September 10, 2012

Easy Spiced Apple Butter

This weekend we had fall temperatures for a day in Tennessee. The wind was blowing briskly and the sky was that perfect blue you only see in the fall. The only thing that was missing was the fiery trees and crunching leaves. Then summer returned Sunday.

But that is the beauty of the weather in these parts; if you don't like it, just wait... it will change!

Even though the days are still warming up to shorts weather, the nights are cooling off nicely and we've been able to open our windows wide to let the sweet end-of-summer air in. That combined with the twlight that comes earlier and earlier every evening is a sure sign that autumn is nearing.

For the kids, this means it's time to compile their lists of required autumn activities. Camping. Huber Farm. Fall Break Brain Drain. For me, it means it's time to get in the kitchen.

The apples have come early this year thanks to a kind friend who has a prolific apple tree. It is a very good year for apples in Tennessee; every tree I've seen are loaded with those sweet, tart globes of goodness. These apples are good cooking apples - extra tart, although we have been eating them straight too. I love a tart, crisp apple. The kids have been submerging their slices in caramel. (I love caramel too!)

With the first bushel, I made a batch of apple butter and an apple pie. I thought I had shared My Momma's Apple Pie recipe here before, but after a quick look I realize that I probably only thought of it - that happens all the time - I think of doing something, then don't, but I'd swear I did. Ugh! You can try this delicious apple crisp recipe though until I get around to posting the pie recipe.

Right now I want to share the apple butter recipe. It's super easy. But don't tell anyone! Pretend to slave away over a hot stove while you are really camped out in the kitchen reading (like the old Rice Krispy Treats commercial) because all you have to do is throw the ingredients in the crock pot. It does all the work. (Well, occasionally, you stir the apples - if you call that "work".)

This recipe is from an old handwritten card that has been around the kitchen awhile. Parts were no longer legible. I had to make a few educated guesses, but the result was very good so I wanted to record it. Less guessing in the future. Plus the recipes I was finding online didn't have the spiciness I was looking for in an apple butter.

Guess number 1 - The original recipe calls for 2 gallons of apples. What IS 2 gallons of apples exactly? Google to the rescue. It's a peck, a 1/4 of a bushel, 8 quarts dry measure, about 10-12 lbs., or 32 medium apples. Got that? Me neither. So I just peeled and cut apples until my 6 quart crock pot was nearly full. There's no way a full peck would fit in the crock pot and I have a large one. I would say I used about half a peck of apples, 1/8 of a bushel, one gallon, 6 lbs., or 16 apples.

Guess number 2 - the amount of white sugar was completely illegible. Comparing recipes online was little help. The sugar content is all over the place. I decided to go right in the middle and use 1 & 1/2 cups of the white stuff. As I mentioned, these apples are tart. If your apples are sweeter, you could probably go with less, down to 1/2 cup. I even came across a recipe or two with no sugar at all.

So here it is the final product:

I filled this quart jar plus and 8 ounce jar, plus what the kids and I ate straight from the crock - maybe another 4 ounces. It's delicious on biscuits, toast, muffins, pancakes, oatmeal, and spoons.

Easy Spiced Apple Butter

15 apples, peeled and cut into chunks
                 (approximately - just fill your 6 quart crock pot leaving a little room at the top to work)
1 & 1/2 cups of white sugar
                 (less if you are using sweet apples, more if you are a sugar fiend)
2 heaping teaspoons of cinnamon
1 heaping teaspoon of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of salt
1/8 heaping teaspoon of allspice
1/8 heaping teaspoon of cloves

Mix the sugar and spices. Place the apples in the crock pot. Pour the sugar and spice mix over the apples and stir it around to distribute.

Cover the crock pot and cook on high an hour or two, stirring every hour. If you can continue stirring every hour, cook on high until the apples have cooked to mush and are a dark brown, about 4 hours.

If you need to leave (or sleep) turn to low and cook for 8 or 9 hours (overnight). You can use an immersion blender, regular blender (cool the apple butter first!), or food processor to pulse the apples if you want a smoother consistency. It doesn't take much and really doesn't need it - it's completely up to your palate.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sausage Tortellini Soup

Soup is a staple in our house. I'd make and eat it all year long, but the colder months just beg for it. When that time of year rolls around this soup is first on Ben's request list and around here we call it "Ben's Soup".

It's a meal in a bowl. Hearty. Add some crusty bread so soak up the delicious broth.

You will need:

•1 lb. Italian sausage (sweet, mild, or hot)
•1 large onion, chopped
•1 garlic clove, pressed or minced
•3 (14.5 oz) cans beef broth
•2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes
•1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
•1 cup dry red wine (one good enough that you can sip the rest of the bottle away with your meal)
•2 carrots, thinly sliced
•1 tablespoon sugar
•2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
•2 small zucchini, sliced
•1 (9 oz) package of refrigerated cheese filled tortellini
•Parmesan cheese

Discard sausage casings (or I have noticed recently you can find ground Italian sausage just like ground beef so there's no need to mess with the casings). Cook sausage, onion, and garlic in a Dutch oven over medium/high heat, stirring until sausage crumbles and is no longer pink. Drain fat. Return to pan. Stir in broth and next 6 ingredients; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes. Skim off fat. Stir in zucchini and tortellini. Simmer 10 minutes. Sprinkle individual servings with cheese and serve.

My recipe book shows that I first made this soup in 1999. It's one of the few recipes that I don't tweak at all because it's perfect just the way it is. It receives compliments from anyone I serve it to - most importantly Ben.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What's Cooking? Tacos!

I have made my own beef taco filling for years. Mostly because tacos are a simple go-to kinda dinner that I can make when there's nothing else planned. We always have shells (hard and soft), cheese, salsa, and sour cream - my minimum required ingredients for tacos. But since taco night usually isn't "planned" I didn't plan to buy a taco seasoning packet.

That's ok. My spice cabinet it stocked and I use my nose (and my trusty chili recipe as a guide) to mix and match seasonings to create my own filling...

But it's nothing to write home about.

And that disappoints me. I am not very inventive. But I can follow a recipe like nobody's business. I am willing to try any recipe once. And I am resourceful. Plus I love making food that you want to tell people about.

So one day I sat down at my computer determined to find a new taco filling recipe. The one that follows is all over the web known as America's Test Kitchen Beef Tacos, but I have tweaked it a bit for our tastes.

First, you'll need:

1 onion, minced
1 T vegetable oil
3 gloves garlic, minced
1 lb. ground beef

Cook your onion in a pan with the heated oil. After a few minutes, when your onions are getting soft - add the garlic. Be careful not to burn your garlic - that's not a good taste (or smell). I try to keep my garlic on top of the onions until I add the beef (now that's a good smell). The garlic just needs a minute in the pan before you add the beef. Break up the meat really well with a wooden spoon.

A note about the beef: I am cheap. I buy whatever is on sale... sometimes that's 90% lean, sometimes ground turkey, sometimes I go for the fatty 70/30. The original recipe calls for the extra lean and there is no step to drain your meat. I guess that wouldn't be an issue, but when I made this step-by-step as originally written and I had added all my goodies to my 70/30, I realized the meat needed to be drained. Bye-bye delicious flavor.

Now the flavor:

1 small can diced green chiles (no need to drain); jarred jalapenos, diced; or fresh jalapeno (or other hot pepper), diced - according to your taste
2 T chili powder
2 t paprika
1 t cumin (or more)
1 t coriander
1/2 t oregano
1/4 t cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes (or more)

While your meat is draining, put your choice of peppers in the pan you cooked the meat it. Leave a little bit of the oil from the meat in the pan so your seasonings don't stick. Then add the rest of the seasonings. All of the seasonings are to your taste - use more or less as you see fit. I often toss in some celery salt and dried ground mustard too - about an 1/8 teaspoon each - an ode to my chili.

Next, return the drained meat to the pan and mix it all up then add:

1 small can of tomato sauce
2 t apple cider vinegar (or more)
1 t brown sugar - yes!
splash of Worcestershire sauce

Again, I diverted from the original recipe. I have never added the 1/2 cup of tomato sauce and 1/2 cup of chicken broth. I buy 8 oz cans of tomato sauce and I just can't see saving half of it for another use. It would end up the the garbage and that's just a waste! So I add the whole can and skip the broth. You could substitute salsa, Rotel, or even diced canned tomatoes with equally good results.

Let the meat mixture simmer on very low heat for about 10 minutes. Stirring occasionally.

Finally add some chopped cilantro - about half a bunch from the store. It makes the mixture so fresh tasting and pretty.

The vinegar and brown sugar just send this taco filling over the top. I don't know about "authentic" but this is Chloe's kitchen and I am not trying to impress anyone other than my family. It's the best we've have ever had and you can write momma about it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Daily Affirmation - August 3, 2011

Respect your feet. They've mastered the art of staying grounded while moving forward.

My foot on a hot, hot day - red and swollen from walking on the blazing concrete in crummy seven year old Payless flip flops - with a sweet little butterfly tickling the top.

@ Beech Bend Amusement Park - July 2011

Monday, June 6, 2011

Picture Play

Downloaded some Photoshop actions and played around with an already sweet photo of Emeline...

Did some of the boys too...

This could become quite addicting.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Quotable Owen

Owen is one cute and funny kid. He never fails to amuse me with his facial expressions, silly dances, and hilarious conversations.

One of his favorite playtime activities is dressing-up. Usually considered a "girly" thing, Owen does it, but in all boy fashion. His ability to create costumes out of found objects around the house is really amazing. For a 3-year old, he is remarkably creative. Some of the costumes he's made: Puss in Boots, Peter Pan, Captian Hook/Pirate, Cowboy, Football Guy, Yoda... list list goes on. He's a new character every week!

Kids say the darndest things? Owen does!

Recently he was asked, "Are you scared of the dark?"

"No", Owen replied, "not when the lights are on."

On a particularly demanding afternoon, I complained to Owen that he was making me sad because he was being mean to me. He had to explain it to me. In a rather condescending tone he said, "Mom, I am not being mean. I just want you to get me the things that I want when I want them." Oh, silly Mom...

He is so much fun! Every day is full of cute, sweet, silly, tender, crazy moments. Sometimes he wears me out with his constant "I'm hungries" and "Can I have my Star Wars toys?" then "Can I have my cars box?" (the one toy at a time rule combined with his short attention span keeps me hopping). But his unique personality that brings so much joy to our lives makes it all worth it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Toothless Wonder

Emeline has lost her first top front tooth! It's been slightly loose for a long, long time - since she was three...

...that was when she, while monkeying around, bumped her mouth on the edge of the kitchen table and cracked her tooth pretty hard. She bruised her tooth and it has been a little wiggly since that day, but otherwise healthy.

Fast forward to December 2009: Emeline's upper six-year molars come in. Since she was already clued into the process from her previous lost teeth, she knew that she was due for a loose tooth on the top. Immediately, the search for the best candidate began.

I don't know if it was destined to be that damaged tooth or if it's because it was already a bit loose, but that's the tooth that Emeline focused her attention on. Pushing and pulling on it with her tongue and finger until the point of madness. Finally, she decided it had to come out.

Problem. It was so not ready to come out. That didn't matter to her. She enlisted Daddy in her attempts to loosen and pull that tiny little pearl out. I'll spare you the gory details.

As you can tell from the photo, she was no worse for wear and she was really pleased with the results.