Saturday, May 21, 2011

Grandma's Old World Pasta Fajioli and Coffeehouse Coffeecake

This is a continuation of our last cooking marathon. Too many recipes for one post, even for us.  We don't want to be responsible for any overeating mishaps.  Can there be too much of a good thing?

One of my 1 1/2 year olds ate 3 bowls of this.
I was worried his stomach would explode.
Grandma's Old World Pasta Fajioli
Everyone loves this traditional Italian stew, especially on a rainy day.  
Claire's grandparents ate this during the Great Depression when they couldn't get meatballs.  The sauce is like velvet, and freezes very well before you add the pasta. (Cooked pasta doesn't freeze well. Don't even try it.) Claire's been getting a lot of requests for this recipe. It's a hearty meal if you serve it with crusty bread and a crisp green salad.  It's also fast and can be made with ingredients probably already in your pantry- with the exception of the fresh basil (see tip below). My two cents: for a colorful extra nutrition boost, toss in 2 handfuls of fresh, chopped baby spinach leaves with the pasta before adding sauce. (I pretty much do this to everything.  We go through a lot of spinach.)  Make it vegetarian by substituting veggie broth for beef broth.

Dilatini pasta.  It's small pasta.
Use elbows or mini penne
if you can't find dilatini.
1/3 c olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T dried basil
1/8 tsp oregano
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1 small can tomato paste
2 (28 oz) cans t
omato sauce
1 (14 oz) can beef broth
1 (14 oz) can kidney beans or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 T fresh basil, finely chopped

1 lb. box of Dilatini pasta (see photos)

In large pot saute onions until almost translucent.  Add garlic, basil, and oregano, and cook for about 1 minute.  Add tomato paste, and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. (Claire's grandma says this takes away the tin can flavor and adds a caramel quality.)  Add beef broth and tomato sauce.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes covered, but with a crack to let the steam out. Add beans and simmer 30 more minutes.  Turn off heat and stir in basil. 

Boil water in large pot.  Add  1 lb Ditalini pasta.  Cook al dente- extra firm.  Drain all but 1/2 c pasta water, Add 4 cups sauce, let sit.  Serve in a bowl with an additional scoop of sauce and top with shredded parmesan cheese. Serve with garlic bread and Caesar salad with homemade croutons. 

Claire's tip for fresh basil:  Take 1 large bunch of basil and put it in the blender with enough olive oil to make a paste.  Pour into an ice cube tray and freeze.  The next day, empty the basil cubes into a large freezer bag or container.  It's so handy the next time you want some fresh basil to add to your spaghetti sauce or soup, but don't want to spend $4 on the out-of-season organic stuff at the store. 

My two cents: You can also pre-freeze pesto in a similar fashion.  I line mini-loaf pans with plastic wrap and fill them about 1/2 to 1 inch deep with fresh homemade pesto, and then stick them in the freezer.  The next time you want pesto linguine, just get out a pesto brick and you're all set!

And, second dinner is served...

This was our dinner Thursday night, so technically, it was first dinner.  I served some steelhead I had in the freezer with the Brown Sugar and Balsamic Glaze. Kids inhaled it. Side dished included our family's fake caesar salad, spinach potato pancakes (Costco, super yummy), and stir-fried broccolini with garlic. I broiled the fish for 3-4 minutes on each side, and topped with the glaze.  

Brown Sugar and Balsamic Glaze
This is what your life has been missing. It's super easy, and is the perfect topping to grilled meat or fish.  You could cook it briefly (just to melt the sugars) without the cornstarch to make a marinade. It's got kind of a teriyaki flavor to it, and is so yummy, brainless, and simple.

1/2 c brown sugar
1 T cornstarch
1/4 c balsamic vinegar
1/2 c water
2 T soy sauce
1 pinch garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan. Heat and stir until thickened. Serve over grilled meat.
Same glaze with roasted pork, sliced and shredded.
Starbuck's Coffee Cake
I am on a mission to find or recreate the recipe for Starbuck's cinnamon crumb coffee cake. This is not it, but it's pretty good. I tried a second recipe, but this one is much more moist. I baked this for my daughter's playdate (10 children, 6 adults) and for some reason was surprised that there was only one piece left. Maybe it had something to do with serving it with ice cream.  If you want, you can add 1/2 c chopped pecans to the topping.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Make topping by combining 1 cup flour with brown sugar, 1/2 cup softened butter and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a bowl. Mixture should have the consistency of moist sand.

In a large bowl, cream together 1 cup butter, 3/4 cup light brown sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla extract, and mix well.

In a separate bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add this dry mixture to the moist ingredients a little at a time. Add milk and mix well. Spoon the batter into a 9 x 13-inch baking pan that has been buttered and dusted with a light coating of flour. Sprinkle the crumb topping over the batter. Be sure the topping completely covers the batter. Bake 50 minutes or until the edges just begin to brown. Cool.

Please post a comment and let us know if you tried any of the recipes!

Red Lentil Dal and Madeira Wine Chicken

This week we had to split things up between two days, due to a sick child. But I think as a result we ended up with even more good food- so this week's recipes will be split into two posts. We also ended up with multiple main courses, including Madeira Wine Chicken, BBQ Shredded Pork, and Steelhead with Brown Sugar and Balsamic Glaze.  It was difficult to pick which one to feature, until we made this super simple Red Lentil Dal for lunch.  It really hit the spot, is inexpensive, and can be consumed by people whose diets are restricted from dairy (use olive oil instead of butter!), gluten, meat, peanuts, shellfish, citrus, and strawberries.

Mild but aromatic and filling.
Red Lentil Dal
This is a recipe that Claire got from a co-worker. (This co-worker has a twin sister, and absolutely everything they make is mouth-wateringly good.) It's very mild, but flavorful and delicious.  Buttery in texture, it will have you reaching for a second bowl.  I was nervous about the whole can of chiles, but the coconut milk really tones down the spice.  We used half a can, and it was not the least bit spicy. Perfect for kiddies.  You can sell it to them by calling it something cool like "Monkey Brain Mash" if you have boys or "Magic Coconut Pixie Pudding" if you have girls. Or reverse it if you don't want to reinforce popular gender stereotypes, but know that you're fighting a losing battle.

1 cup red lentils, washed and sorted
1 medium onion finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can mild green chilies
3 T butter
1/2 tsp turmeric
1  15 oz can of unsweetened light coconut milk
1 tsp Better Than Bouillon chicken base  (or 2 c chicken broth)
3 c water (or 1 c water if you used broth)

1 T chopped cilantro (optional)

Melt 1 T butter/oil in a medium sauce pan.  Saute onion, garlic, and chilies for one minute.  Add turmeric, lentils, chicken base, and water.  Bring to a boil.  Lower heat, cover, and let simmer for 30 minutes.  Add coconut milk and simmer about 5 more minutes just to let the flavors incorporate.  Stir in a tablespoon of chopped cilantro before serving over jasmine rice, or Cinnamon-scented Rice with Peas, below.

Cinnamon-scented Rice with Peas
This is for when you don't have jasmine rice on hand. Like today.  This rice works well with Indian food.  As I have mentioned previously, I only cook rice in my rice cooker. I don't measure the water- I put enough water in so that when I lay my hand flat on top of the surface of the rice, the water level ends at my middle knuckle. Say what you want, but my rice and other grains are generally just right. You can make the rice using your favorite method.

2 cups long grain rice
1 stick cinnamon
2 whole cardamom pods
1/3 c frozen peas
2 T chopped fresh cilantro

Cook the rice with the cinnamon and cardomom pods. When the rice is about 5-10 minutes from being done, toss in the frozen peas, but don't fluff the rice yet. When the rice is done, stir the now cooked peas and chopped cilantro. 

Quick Cucumber Raita
I usually make this at the last minute.  It is great for getting kids used to the flavors and spice of Indian food. 

1 cup of grated cucumber (peeled and seeded if necessary)
2/3 cup of plain yogurt (eyeball it)
2 T minced onion
1/2 tsp ground coriander
(1/4 diced red pepper optional)
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together.

Steamed Artichoke Hearts
We had this as an appetizer for lunch. I saw the artichokes at Trader Joe's and couldn't resist.  It's been years since I've had steamed artichoke hearts. They definitely remain one of those foods that take a lot of effort to eat, but let's face it, it's fun to dip things repeatedly in sauce.  Melted butter and mayonnaise are traditional dips. See below for some better variations. If you want a video of how to eat an artichoke, or if you just like watching people masticate in a creepy way, this is simple and to the point.

Morrison Family Dipping Sauce
equal parts soy sauce and white vinegar, about 3 T each
few drops of sesame oil
1/2 clove of raw garlic (or a whole clove if you are comfortable in your relationship)
few sprigs of chopped cilantro

The other sauces pictures are Sweet Chili Sauce, Cucumber Goddess Dressing, and Balsamic vinegar and olive oil with salt and pepper. 

Madeira Wine Chicken
This is one of Claire's original recipes.  It's really wonderful and goes well with a side of buttered noodles.  If you accidentally let some of the sauce drift over onto the noodles, that's okay...  I served it with roasted root vegetables, sauteed chard, and salad.  Unfortunately, the twins were screaming "More! More! More!" so I didn't get a chance to photograph the final plate. 

4 chicken breasts butterflied and browned in olive oil
10-16 mushrooms chopped
1 c madeira wine (subsitute sherry if you don't have Madeira)
1  c chicken broth (or 1 tsp of Better Than Bouillon and equivalent water)
1 can artichokes
1 T lemon juice (optional)
2 T capers (optional but recommended) 1/2 c cooking cream cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Cook chicken, set aside.  Saute mushrooms, add wine and chicken broth. Simmer until reduced by half.  Add artichokes and chicken, and simmer 5 minutes more.  Stir in cream cheese.  Add lemon juice and capers if desired.  Serve over pasta.

Neeps and Tatties
Basic roasted root vegetable, or as my Scottish father-in-law would call them, Neep and Tatties. Not sure if I really need to include a recipe at this point, but I used...
some carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
some turnips (neeps), cut into chunks
a couple potatoes (tatties), cut into chunks
about 1/2 an onion, cut in chunks
1-2 zucchini, cut into chunks
2-3 T olive oil
sea salt & pepper
2 tsp smoked paprika
 Toss everything together, except the zucchini. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.  Take out the pan, give the veggies a little stir.  Add the zucchini, and bake for about 10 more minutes, or until carrots are tender.  If you want your veggies to be a little browner, stick the baking pan under the broiler for a minute or two. 

Sauteed Rainbow Swiss Chard
I used the green garlic and the red onion because I had some leftover-leave it out if you don't have it.  It turned out wonderfully. And let's face it, my kids never tire of chard. (Ha.) I was looking for 1 piece of leftover bacon to toss in for saltiness, but leftover bacon in our house is about as easy to locate as Sasquatch. 

1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 stalk of green garlic (kind of like a leek), sliced finely on the diagonal
1/8 red onion, sliced thinly
1 large bunch of rainbow swiss chard
sea salt & pepper to taste

Heat 1 T oil in pan.  Add garlic once hot, followed closely by the green garlic and red onion.  Toss in the chard.  Add 1/4 cup water or chicken broth. Cook until done the leaves are soft. Don't overcook it.  Take off heat immediately, or it will get wilted and icky green.  Sprinkle with a squeeze of fresh lemon if you want.

Claire's Famous Pulled Pork for the Crockpot
We're just getting started with the options for this recipe.  This freezes well, and it's what you will want for a nice summer evening picnic on the patio or deck.  I'm thinking grilled corn, summer slaw, thick slice of watermelon, and salt and vinegar potato chips. We're not superwomen, so, no, we didn't make all that.  But stay tuned- summer is coming. I hope. You can also use it as taco meat, burrito filling, or quesadilla filling.

2 pork tenderloins, 1 lb. each
2 T taco seasoning
1/4 c apricot jam
1 c apple juice
1T molasses (optional)
1/8 tsp liquid smoke (optional)

1/2 bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce (about 1 1/2 c)
1/2 c honey
1 can diced green chilies (optional)

Rub pork in taco seasoning, place in crock pot, cover with jam.  Pour juice on the side.  Cook on low for 8 hours.   Take out pork.  Throw away cooking juices.  Combine pork with BBQ sauce and honey.  Serve warm on buns with a side of coleslaw. 

Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce - 25 oz.  
Sweet Chili Sauce

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Steelhead, Arugula, and Ginger Noodles

Claire had the gall to work this Thursday, on our cooking day, can you believe it? I took the opportunity to make some wonderful steelhead, which needs to be served right away and doesn't lend itself to preparation ahead of time. We made 2 large fillets.  Not one single bite left to take over to Claire to try, although she did manage to score a few of my oatmeal raisin cookies at the end of her double shift. I will admit that the Ginger Sesame Noodles don't really fall in the same food genre as the Lemon Mustard Dressing for the Steelhead.  I have a tendency to mix pan-Asian with anything. This doesn't bother me (or anyone else, since there were no noodles left either), but if you prefer a more traditional pairing, consider the green rice from Bang Bang! Here Comes the Chicken or the yellow rice pilaf from Chicken Adobo and Cake Pops instead.

Don't make this if you want leftovers.
Steelhead (or Salmon) with Lemon Mustard Dressing
It's entirely possible that you're supposed to start with the skin side up, but this is how I always do it, and it always turns out fine.  It's so easy to cook fish this way. So so easy.  I rarely get leftovers with this recipe.

Place fish skin-side down on a large baking pan.  Drizzle olive oil (just a little) over the top, and season with good salt.  Broil on high for 4 minutes. Take out of the oven, and using 2 large spatulas, flip the fish over so the skin side is up. Broil again for 3 minutes. Take out and peel the skin off.  Flip the fish (carefully!) onto your  serving platter. The original side that was up should be up again.  Drizzle dressing over the top and serve immediately.

Lemon Mustard Dressing
The dressing recipe is rom Diane Morgan's Salmon:  A Cookbook.  (See below.) We have an autographed copy.  Pete Watson, who delivered 3/4 of my kids, took the author's photo in the back of the book.  You can also use this dressing for asparagus.

1/4 c olive oil
1 tsp grated lemon zest
2 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 heaping teaspoon dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 c finely minced chives (I used scallions today- it looks greener with the chives)

Whisk together until emulsified.  Drizzle generously over salmon and serve immediately.

Ginger Noodles
A basic side dish.  Make it a full meal by adding either chicken or shrimp. 

1 lb square Chinese noodles (substitute spaghetti if you have to, but it won't be as good)
2 T canola oil
2 c thinly sliced Napa cabbage
1 handful of spinach
1/2 c shredded carrots
1 bunch of scallions, sliced diagonally, very thinly
1 c shitake mushrooms, soaked (you can chop them if you like)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T minced ginger root
1/4 c soy sauce
1/2 c water or chicken broth
1 T sesame oil

Boil water and cook the noodles ahead of time, leaving them slightly al dente. Heat a large wok or skillet and add the oil. Throw in the ginger and garlic. Add carrots and Napa cabbage and stir.  Add shitake mushrooms.  Add noodles, then soy sauce and sesame oil.  Add water or chicken broth as needed.  (If you like a thicker gravy with the noodles, stir 1 T of cornstarch into your water/broth before you add it to the noodles.)  Toss in the spinach and green onions and turn off the heat. Sesame seeds for garnish if you want.

Roasted Asparagus
It doesn't have to be complicated. You don't have to peel asparagus. Yes, it will do funny things to your urine. As my dad put it, be glad you're not in the men's restroom at the Michigan Asparagus Growers Association's annual convention.

Make however much you think you can eat.
I can eat a whole pound by myself.
1-2 lbs of asparagus
olive oil
salt and pepper
shredded parmegiano-reggiano cheese

Snap off the tough, white ends of the asparagus. The asparagus will tell you where to snap it. There's a natural bend right at the point where the woody root meets the tender stalk.  Break it there and toss the root. Wash.  Toss with olive oil, just enough to very lightly coat the asparagus.  Lay out on a baking pan. Season with coarse salt and ground pepper.  Broil on low for about 6 minutes, then jostle the asparagus a little so most of the stalks are flipped.  Bake on low for another 6-8 minutes.  The cooking time will depend on how big your stalks are, and how tender you like your asparagus.   Arrange on a serving platter.  Garnish with fresh shredded parmegiano-reggiano cheese.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
My husband doesn't even like oatmeal raisin cookies, but he ate a ton of these.  The original recipe calls for dark brown sugar, but I used light brown sugar and a teaspoon of molasses. I baked these on the longer side for a slightly crispier cookie, but if you want a chewier cookie, go with 11-12 minutes.

Whisk together
2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt

1 c unsalted butter, softened
1 c sugar
1 c brown sugar
1 tsp molasses
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla

Stir in 
3 c oatmeal
1 1/2 c raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Whisk dry ingredients together, set aside. Cream sugar and butter together, then add eggs, molasses, and vanilla.  Stir in the flour mixture until blended well- do not overmix. Add the oats and raisins, stir to incorporate. Place golf ball sized balls of cookie dough about 2 inches apart on a greased cookie pan.  Flatten the balls slightly.  Bake for 12-14 minutes on center rack until golden.  Let cool on pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.

Aaaaah, lunch....
Wish I had a square plate, would have been a nice visual.
Couldn't decide which sandwich I wanted, so I had a bit of both!
For lunch I kept it simple with 2 types of wonderful sandwiches.  For both of these, I used the regular French bread that you get in the grocery store for less than $2-- you know, the kind that you see sticking out of the grocery bag every time someone on TV or in a movie comes home with groceries.  Warm it up in the oven for a few minutes before assembling your sandwich.  I served it with some fresh, unseasoned jicama, cut into french fry sized pieces, and a side salad.  Voila! Lunch is served.

Tilapia Sandwich With Agrodulce
Who hasn't said to themselves:  I need to eat more fish.  I need to eat more deep fried foods.  I need to eat more arugula.  This recipe will kill all 3 birds with one proverbial stone.  The tilapia fillets are frozen-- make the agrodulce while the fish is baking.  Since I started making this relish, I will actually CRAVE arugula. It's that good, I swear it. 

Heat the bread if desired.  Slice the bread lengthwise in half.  Bake the fish fillets, and place in the bread with a heaping spoonful of agrodulce relish.

Agrodulce Relish
This is also great on top of broiled fish fillets, as a dinner entree.  Despite the arugula, this relish is not one bit bitter- it's actually sweet.   Even my kids will eat it. (Well, except for the kid who doesn't like tomatoes.)  

3 T olive oil
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 small ribs celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint of grape or cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on how big they are
2 T red wine vinegar
1 to 1 1/2 tsp sugar
4 cups arugula, chopped

Heat the oil in a pan, add the garlic and onions.  Add chopped celery, stir. Add the tomatoes.  Add red wine vinegar and sugar.  Add the arugula and stir until it's wilted and well-incorporated. 

Chicken with Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwiches
My sister brought a rotisserie chicken over, so I sliced off some of the breast meat.  I had a few roasted red peppers (purchased) as well as some leftover roasted red and yellow peppers from the day before.  See Verde Chicken in Red for a roasted mini sweet pepper recipe 

Layer sliced rotisserie chicken, or grilled chicken breast if you have that instead. Layer roasted red pepper, goat cheese crumbles, and thinly sliced basil onto french bread.

Please let me know if you try any of the recipes and have any suggestions or comments!!!

Salmon: A Cookbook
Awesome salmon cookbook.
Rose Brand - Gourmet Chinese Egg Noodles 16 Oz.
We can get this at our local grocery.
Look in the Asian food aisle.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chicken Adobo and Cake Pops

This week we planned ahead of time, but still managed to not have a couple of ingredients on hand.  Instead of running to the store, we just left them out this time. No school for the kids, so the olders "finally" (as they put it) got to play.   My sister arrived to join us, and brought with her a bunch of cake pops, so I've included that recipes below.  The challenge this week was to find eggplant that Claire likes. I didn't quite succeed, but I've included my favorite eggplant chutney recipe below anyway.

Chicken Adobo, Yellow Rice Pilaf, and
some roasted veggies on the side.

Chicken Adobo

You will not believe how tender and flavorful this chicken is.  The meat just falls off the bone. My kids loved pouring spoonfuls of the juice over their rice. I've heard this is good with pork, and if you wanted to do a vegetarian version, it would be good with tofu- just don't marinate it as long.

·     4-5 lbs. chicken thighs or drumsticks
·     1/2 cup white vinegar
·     1/2 cup soy sauce
·      4 cloves garlic, crushed
·      1 tsp. black peppercorns
·      3 bay leaves


Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Cover and marinate chicken for 1-3 hours. Bring to boil, then lower heat. Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and simmer until sauce is reduced and thickened, and chicken is tender, about 20 more minutes. Serve with steamed rice. 

We had not a single drumstick leftover.

Yellow Rice Pilaf
I have a confession.  I have never actually made rice in a stovetop pot.  I grew up with a rice cooker, and I've my own since college.  I cook all my rice and grains in that, including couscous, quinoa, etc- and they all turn out perfectly.  What I actually did was to put everything except the almonds and the parsley (which I stirred in at the end) in the rice cooker.  But here is the recipe for the stovetop method. 

3 c chicken broth (I used my leftover homemade)
1 handful of raisins
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 pinch saffron threads
1 1/2 c white rice
1/2 c chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup slivered almonds

Bring broth, raisins, turmeric, and saffron to a boil.  Stir in the rice, cover the pot, and let it simmer on low heat for 18 minutes.  When the rice is done, add the parsley and almonds and fluff. 

Eggplant Chutney
I first made this recipe when I was 15 years old, in high school. It sounded interesting to me, and growing up in the midwest, we didn't have a lot of exotic foods. So I tried it.  I don't remember how I managed to acquire fenugreek or cumin seeds- they didn't just have that at the local Shopping Center.  The chutney is very rich, and is great as a bruschetta topping. It's from The Africa News Cookbook African Cooking for Western Kitchens.  (see below)  Don't let the oil get too hot, or your garlic and other spices will burn, and it won't taste right.

2 lb. eggplant
1 tbsp. ginger, grated
1 tbsp. garlic, pounded
3/4 cup white vinegar
6 chili peppers, sliced lengthwise or 1-1/3 tbsp. cayenne pepper
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. fenugreek
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1/4 tsp. cumin seeds, pounded
1 tsp. turmeric
2 tbsp. sugar
1-1/3 tbsp. salt

Peel the eggplant and cut into one inch cubes. Cover the pieces with cold water in a bowl, and let them sit while you mix the ginger, garlic, vinegar and chilies and pound or blend them to a paste. Next, heat the oil in a pot, and stir in the fenugreek, mustard, cumin, turmeric, sugar and salt. When the mustard seeds stop sputtering, mix in the spice paste. Drain the eggplant, add it to the pot, and simmer until tender. Spoon into clean jars, cool and refrigerate. The chutney will keep for about a month.

Apple Pie with Crumb Topping
My husband's been hankering for apple pie lately because he bought one at a local bakery that was supposed to be one of the best in our area.  When we brought it home and cut into it, it became evident that they don't peel their apples.  Who doesn't peel their apples for apple pie? My sister sings the praises of her apple peeler and corer, but I just used a plain old fashioned knife while one of my toddlers tried to climb on my back.  I used pre-made pie crust to save time. I like the kind you unroll better than the ones in the tins, which always seem to crack (which is not a huge deal).  
Oh, also, I am kind of picky about the apples that I use in my pie.  I'll spare you my full-length apple rant.  The easiest ones to get year round are Granny Smith. Sometimes I will put one or two sweeter apples into the mix, but many eating apples do not hold up well during cooking, and I hate mushy apples.  Never ever even think about using a Red Delicious for, well, for anything really. 

Prepare pie crust as directed. (I like to prebake them for about 5 minutes.)

8 cups PEELED, cored, and thinly sliced apples
Me trying to peel and cut apples
with one of my happy helpers.
1/4 c flour
3/4 c sugar (I used mostly brown sugar)
1 tsp cinnamon
dash nutmeg (also a dash each of allspice, optional)
pinch salt
1 T lemon juice (optional)

Mix ingredients above in a large mixing bowl and pour into pie crust.  Top with crumb topping, recipe below.

1/2 c brown sugar, light or dark
1 tsp cinnamon
1 c flour
1/4 c butter, chilled (one stick)

Using either a pastry blender or your fingertips, mix the ingredients above until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Spread evenly over your pie, and bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown.
*You can wrap the edge with foil to keep it from browning too much.
*Bake it on a baking sheet so that if it bubbles over in a yummy way, your oven won't be a mess.

Yes, that's a pi plate. 3.14159665...
Those of you that know me shouldn't even have to ask.

Also, this is what happens when you don't have chilled butter
when you make the crumb topping.  Still yummy, though.

I had a roll of crescent roll dough in the fridge, and a little bit of filling to spare, so I made Apple Pie in a Blanket.  Just wrap about 1 T of apple pie filling in the dough.  Roll it up and bake it as directed, or until golden brown.  The kids REALLY loved these.  I may or may not have shoved one in my mouth while finishing up the dishes, and another one on my way out the door to work in the morning.  You can't prove anything, and there were no witnesses.

Working Person's Crock Pot Pot Roast
Claire is the expert on slow cooker recipes.  Her tip of the week:  do NOT open the lid to peek.  Every time you open the lid, you have to add 30 minutes onto the cooking time.   I made this ahead of time for tomorrow night's dinner.
3+ lb rump roast
The picture truly doesn't do it justice.
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can French onion soup
1 can Italian-style tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 leek finely diced
1 onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 T Cognac
2 T red wine

Cook on low heat in a crock pot for 10 hours.  Serve with roasted potatoes or noodles, and salad and veggie on the side.  Leftover meat is great for minestrone (see last week's minestrone recipe).

This was our lunch.  Lettuce wraps, borscht, and cake pops!

Chicken Lettuce Wraps
These are so yummy.  The kung pao sauce can have a tiny kick to it, so be wary with kids.  Most of our kids like it anyway because they are so fun to eat.  The lettuce has a nice cooling effect.  You can make your own kung pao sauce and leave out the spice if you want.

1 1/2 lb ground chicken or turkey
10 mushrooms finely diced
2 cans water chestnuts finely diced
2 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 cup kung pao sauce 
dash white pepper
4 green onions finely chopped
1 head iceburg lettuce

Saute ground chicken.  Once cooked, add mushrooms and garlic and saute for 5 minutes.  Add water chestnuts, kung pao sauce, white pepper and diced green onions.  Slice lettuce in half.  Serve cool lettuce as a cup to hold the hot chicken.

*If the sauce is a little watery, you can thicken it by taking out 3-4 T liquid from the pot and mixing it with 2 T cornstarch, and stirring it back in with the chicken mixture.  It should start to thicken within a minute or so. 

Ukrainian Borscht, the real stuff
I am a huge borscht fan, and here's where I come down on several borscht debates.  It HAS to have beets, a lot of them. It has to have oxtail, or at least a handful of cubed beef.  Dill is a must- doesn't taste right without the dill.  And, absolutely sour cream. Some people use vinegar to make the borscht sour.  This doesn't taste right to me. I will tell you that I only used 2 beets for this particular batch- thought I had more, so it didn't turn out the beautiful red that it normally does.  This recipe was given to me by Grandma Nadia, a Ukrainian neighbor that was an amazing cook.  I wish I had more of her recipes. 

4-5 beets, peeled and grated (add last)
1/2 chopped onion
1/2 c diced carrots
1/2 c chopped mushrooms
1/2 c chopped parsley
1 small tomato, diced
1/2 c finely chopped cabbage
2 small potatoes, diced
2 tsp dill weed
8 fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 oxtails
salt to taste

Add everything to a pot, with enough water to give you the amount of broth you like. Add the beets last.  Add a dollop of sour cream for garnish.  Mix it in well and enjoy.

And last but not least....

Cake Pops

Here's what my sister had to say:  I used white cake. I had to finger shape them. I didn't have a cookie cutter. Most of the stuff is available at Michael's now, like the lollipops sticks, the candy melts, and the baggies. The cake and frosting and sprinkles you get at the grocery store

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Trim about 1/2 inch from the perimeter of the cake. Working in batches, crumble cake into the bowl of a food processor; process until fine crumbs form. Transfer to a large bowl and add frosting; blend together using the back of a spoon, until well combined, 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Roll mixture into 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-inch balls; transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with parchment-paper-lined aluminum foil. Transfer to refrigerator until chilled, about 2 hours or to a freezer for about 10 minutes.
  3. Begin to shape balls into cupcakes by rolling balls first into logs. Fit logs into a 1 1/4-by-3/4-inch flower-shaped cookie cutter. Push cake mixture into the cutter halfway so that some of the cake mixture extends beyond the top of the cutter. Shape extended cake mixture into a cupcake-shaped top. Push cake from cutter to remove. Transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Transfer to freezer until chilled, 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, melt chocolate in heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Remove cupcakes from freezer and dip the bottom of each cupcake into the chocolate; transfer, bottom-side up, to prepared baking sheet. To make lollipops, insert a lollipop stick into the bottom of each cupcake. Let chocolate set, 15 to 20 minutes.
  5. Melt white chocolate or pink candy melts in heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water. Dip the tops of the cupcakes into the chocolate and place right-side up on prepared baking sheet or stick lollipop sticks into a Styrofoam square. Place a candy-coated chocolate in the center of each and top with sprinkles. Let dry completely.

Stuff We Like

Better than Bouillon is awesome.  
I converted Claire recently, and she thought we should mention it since we use it all the time in our recipes.  You just need about 1 tsp of it per cup of water.  The broth that it makes is flavorful and healthy, and there is no MSG.  (A lot of chicken broths have MSG in them- I hate that.)  In addition, if you don't need a whole can or box, you can just refrigerate the what's left in the jar for next time.  We get a huge jar at Costco for about $6-7, and it lasts a couple of months. You can get vegetarian and beef flavors, too.

The Africa News Cookbook: African Cooking for Western Kitchens (Penguin Handbooks)
This is now out of print,
but it's worth a look.
It's got a great recipe for
doro wat and quick injera bread.
Lee Kum Kee - Kung Pao Stir Fry Sauce 18.5 Oz.
This is what we used today,
but there are lots of other good brands.

Pi pie plate
Pi plate. This one is the closest I could find.

Cake Pops: Tips, Tricks, and Recipes for More Than 40 Irresistible Mini Treats
For tons of cute ideas, take a look at this.
Great for birthday parties!

Please leave a comment if you tried any of the recipes, or if you made it to the end of this post!