Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dutch Apple Pie

 Adulthood has brought me many good things: a cool job, eating cookies for breakfast if I want, staying up late, being able to drive. All those silly things I wished for as a child.. 

One thing I did not expect to encounter in adulthood was a renewed enjoyment of cooked apples. 

 After swimming lessons one day my mom and I went to McDonald's for breakfast. After enjoying  my delightful little apple pie I threw up promptly when we returned home. It was very traumatic.

It has taken me years to get over this experience, but I have finally made it to a point where I enjoy cooked apples again. What better way then to enjoy them in a warm pie with a gooey insides and crispy sweet topping. Dutch Apple Pie is a bit different than the traditional variety. It has a streusel topping that adds a crunchy, sweet and rich layer to the pie.

This pie is truly terrific and not all that hard to make. If you are not up for making your own pie crust, then a frozen crust will do fine. You can also follow my perfect pie crust recipe I adapted from Just Get Off Your Butt and Bake. This recipe will make 4 crusts. Lucky for you, this delightful apple pie only needs one. The extras freeze really well and can be used for other pies, quiches or even turnovers. 

Ingredients

1 pie crust, chilled
6 Granny Smith Apples, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 large orange, zested and juiced
2 teaspoons apple pie spice
2 tablespoons butter

Topping

1/4 cup or 1 stick of butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1 cup flour
2/3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon



First, roll out the pie crust evenly aiming to make a circular shape. Roll this out in plenty of extra flour to make sure it does not stick to the counter.


After you have rolled out the crust, measure it against the size of the pie plate. Once it is a bit bigger than the pie plate all around, you are good to go. 


Place your crust in your pie plate.


With the edges of the crust, fold the extra underneath. Then crimp the sides of the crust all around. This will be covered mostly by apples and the topping so no need to get too fancy. 


Next, we are going to bake our crust without the filling. This will ensure a very crispy crust. Place a small sheet of parchment over the pie and fill it with beans, rice or pie weights if you have them. Key tip: the beans are not edible once you bake them. I always save mine for the next time I need to use them. Bake this in a 350 degree oven for about ten minutes.


Take all the ingreidents for the filling and mix them together. This may seem a bit dry, but the apples will cook down and create a delicious sauce. Put this off to the side while the crust is still baking on its own.


Next, place all of the topping ingredients into a medium sized bowl. Make sure your ingredients are well chilled. Otherwise they get a bit mushy instead of crispy.


I like to combine everything with a large fork or even a pastry cutter. This really helps squish the cold butter into the other ingredients.


Keep mashing until all the ingredients are combined. By this point the crust should be done baking on its own.


Place the apple filling into the pie crust. Then sprinkle over the topping.


The pie will then bake for another 30 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees or until the top is golden brown and the apples are soft. Just poke at one or two of the chunks to see if they have some give to them.


Let the pie cool for about 30 minutes. The sauce on the inside is lava hot and will burn the dickens out of you. 


Besides, a wonderful smell like this is likely to attract some friends and admirers.


Dutch Apple Pie is great all on its own, but it would be delightful served with some caramel sauce and ice cream.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Mexican Chicken Salad



 I just love roasting a chicken. It's one of life's honest pleasures. The grease is really what does it for me. Pulling the chicken out of the oven, you "oh" and "aww" for the crispy golden outside.The skin, the gravy. It all adds up to be heaven on a plate.

The grease is also like a carriage that turns into a pumpkin at midnight. It's glory has a very short shelf life. The sparkling skin from the chicken emerges from the refrigerator a gross leathery floppy thing no one would dare eat.

But there is a whole chicken that is still so tasty. Mourn the loss of the skin. There is nothing we can do to make that better right now. There are so many good things to make with the rest of the chicken. Chicken salad is always a safe bet. I love my typical chicken salad recipe, but I was in the mood for something a bit more festive.

This Mexican chicken salad hit the spot. Corn, tomatoes and cilantro give this a great freshness while the beans and cheese make it hearty for a filling meal. This salad is a great healthy lunch idea you will adore almost as much gravy. Almost.

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons ranch dressing
3 Tablespoons salsa
1 lime, juiced
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1 1/2 cups corn
1 1/2 cups black beans
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
3/4 cup cheese, cut into small cubes
1/4 cilantro leaves, chopped
lettuce leaves and tortilla chips for serving (optional)


First, combine the ranch dressing, salsa and the lime juice in a large bowl. Then add in the other ingredients and toss to coat everything well. If it seems a bit dry for your liking, add in a little more salsa and ranch. 

 

This would also be crazy good as a wrap or even heated up over nachos. But I love to eat this with plenty of chips crumbled over the top. It's so fresh and tasty!

 

Enjoy!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sweet Potato and Ham Dinner


"It takes no talent to make a ham." These are the wise words of my grandmother who was indeed an outstanding and talented cook. The context of this is a little murky, but I can't really make ham without hearing these words in my head. Ham is a pretty foolproof thing to make in general. Think about it; have you ever really had a terrible ham? Even a bad ham sandwich? Probably not. 

Fortunately, even if you do have some cooking talent ham is still  delicious. I typically love the sauces that go with this porky pleaser more than the meat itself. This slow cooker dish is no exception. The cinnamon, sugar and delicious sweet potatoes add something really special to the ham to make it a terrific dinner. 

Wanting a hot dinner and having a hot kitchen is a problem I face pretty regularly. The slow cooker really helps out with that and gives food great cooked all day flavor. Not to mention your dinner is ready when you get home from work. I see no bad side to this at all. 

Ingredients

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled, and chopped into bite sized cubes
1/4 cup almonds, chopped
2 tablespoons of butter, diced into small bits
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon sugar
1 ham steak, trimmed


 Combine all the ingredients except for the ham steak and stir well to combine. Then add in the ham steak. I like to put about half of the sweet potato mixture under the ham and about half on top of it. That way it absorbs all the delicious flavors.




Cook this on low for 4 to 6 hours or high for 2 hours. This dish is just fool proof! As long as your sweet potatoes are cooked through, a delicious dinner is ready for you.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Apricot Upside Down Cake


 

 

 I just love upside down cakes! I think they are a great way to make really tasty fruit desserts regardless of what is in season. This was not always the case. As a child I was very excited about anything that could be eaten and had the phrase "upside down" involved. That was until I had a crazy weird upside down rum cake that tasted like candle wax with a side of indigestion. 

I have overcome the situation and reignited my love for these cakes. 

Apricots are just a delightful fruit. A bit like a peach's forgotten step sister, these little beauties are just perfect to eat plain or put in a cake. The sweet sugar topping really intensifies the flavor of the apricots making this cake something extra special.

1/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons of butter, melted
8 to 12 apricots, halved
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/4 vegetable oil
1 egg
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
 1 1/2 cups flour



First, measure some parchment paper to fit into a 9 inch cake pan. Cut out the parchment and spray the top with cooking spray. This will ensure the cake will have no chance of sticking. 


Combine the brown sugar and the melted butter in a small bowl. Then pour this over the parchment. This will give the cake a beautiful sheen and the apricots a sweet buttery glaze. 

Squish in your halved apricots. The number you use will depend on the size of the apricots and how they fit into the pan. Mine fit perfectly with a bit of encouragement, but I had plenty of extras in case they didn't. The apricots look so cute, don't they? It's almost like they are little cherub cheeks!


In a medium bowl, combine the remaining ingredients in order, mixing well after each addition. If you were really ambitious, you could combine the flour, salt and baking powder in a separate bowl before adding it to the wet ingredients. I did not, so I will not ask you to do such things. 

Pour the batter over the top of the apricots. Tap the pan on the counter to bring all the air bubbles to the surface. 

Bake the cake for about 25 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees. You will know the cake is done when a cake tester comes out mostly clean. There can be crumbs, but no gooey batter.


Let the cake cool until you can safely touch the pan with your bare hand. When that time comes, you are ready to flip over your cake. Put a plate over the cake pan and flip the whole thing over. Take off the parchment and admire the delicious, butter sauce swimming over the top of the cake.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Slow Cooker Carnita





Carnitas are one of my favorite Mexican foods to make home. Carnitas literally translates to mean "little meats." It's a pretty accurate description of what it ends up being. Little chunks of tender and juicy meat. Traditionally carnitas are the left over pieces of pork that then fried in lard or oil. 

One of our favorite restaurants does this in the old fashioned style. The pork comes out juicy and crispy. As enjoyable as it may be, it is probably not a great idea to eat it every day. So an easy and healthy way to get the same flavors is with this slow cooker recipe. 

This is a great recipe since there is very little prep work. Just dump everything in and go. It is very rare that I make a slow cooker recipe that asks you to brown the meat first. It's just silly. If my true desires were to heat a pan and brown meat, I wouldn't be using a slow cooker, would I?

 Pork shoulder works really well for this recipe. You can buy carnitas but I feel it is a much lower quality meat with a lot more fat. When I have purchased the packaged carnitas, the top third of the slow cooker ends up being grease. Ew. Not only is it money wasted but then you have to clean it up. Ew.

Ingredients

2 pounds pork shoulder (whole or pieces)
2 teaspoons of taco seasoning
3 cups of medium salsa
1 diced jalapeno
 Cooked white rice or tortillas for serving.

This is super simple and easy. First, coat the pork with the taco seasoning and place it in a slow cooker. Throw in the salsa and jalapeno. Cook this on low for about 6 to 8 hours. You can cut the cooking time by cranking the heat up to high, but I find it makes the meat less tender.


This is so simple but delicious! You will know the meat is done when it shreds very easily. My favorite way to eat these is to shred the meat and serve over rice. The rice soaks up all the juices from the meat and spicy sauce. It is also very good with tortillas and cheese

 Be on the look out for recipes on what to do with the leftovers, this is fabulous for any Mexican food you want to make!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Lemon Supreme Poke Cake



Many people who love to cook have an obsession with cook books. I do enjoy them, but it is rare any recipe from them gets made in my kitchen. I usually have them just for the pictures. 

However, I have found an exception to this tendency. My sweet friend Shanna got me an awesome cook book for my bridal shower. I have made tons of recipes from it already. Sometimes cookbooks have overly fancy recipes no one makes. The Better Homes and Gardens Bridal Edition has seriously rocked my world. No, they are not paying me to say that. They have real recipes you can make with things already in your kitchen. 


Shanna is one of those people who is just so sweet you worry she might melt in the rain. Here is a cute picture of us from my wedding! When she requested a lemon recipe for our ladies group I couldn't say no and I knew it had to be extra good. 

This luxurious dessert starts with a light and tender white cake from the Better Homes and Gardens cook book. A layer of creamy lemony goodness is added on top and some whipped topping finishes it all off. This is so good!

Ingredients 


Cake
4 egg whites
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup softened butter
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cups buttermilk

Topping
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
zest and juice of 2 large lemons
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 small tub of whipped topping



This is a very delicate cake. You really do need to let the buttermilk and the egg whites stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before you start. Trust me, it makes a difference.


Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla on medium speed with a mixer for about two minutes. This should be very fluffy. Add in the room temperature egg whites slowly. Once all the egg whites are in, mix for another minute or so to make sure this is very well combined. 


In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir this around a bit until it is combined.


Ok, it is serious mixing time! Add in about a third of the flour and mix well. Once that is combined, add in one third of the buttermilk. Keep alternating until everything is blended very well.When you have everything in, mix for about another 30 seconds for maximum fluffiness.


There are several theories about what to end the mixing with: dry ingredients or milk. Paula Deen says to end with the milk, and Martha Stewart says to end with the dry ingredients. Honestly, I don't think it really matters as well as it's all nicely combined. 


Pour all of this goodness into a well greased 9 X 13 pan. This will bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. You will know the cake is done when a tooth pick comes out cleanly. 


While your cake is baking, combine the condensed milk, lemony goodness and the vanilla in a small bowl. Mix this well so it is ready to go when the cake comes out of the oven. 


Now that we have our beautiful cake baked, we need to make some poke marks in it to allow for our delicious filling to soak through. 


Poke, poke, poke!


When your cake has more holes than a sieve, pour the lemon mixture over the top. It is important to do this while the cake is still hot so it will absorb this better. 


Soon enough the cake will begin to drink up all the delicious filling. If you feel left out of the process, you can continue to poke while the filling soaks in. Once the cake is cooled, cover it with plastic wrap and let it chill in the fridge for about an hour. 


Once the cake has been chilled for an hour, swish the whipped topping over the cake and continue to chill until you are ready to serve. 


This is a rich and decadent cake, so I cut it into small squares. If you are in a hurry, a white cake mix will do just fine instead of making it from scratch. I would encourage you to try out the full recipe, it is so worth it!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Homemade Taco Seasoning



It's no secret that I love spicy food. Lucky for me, my husband does too. His family has even joked our kids will have to walk around with hot sauce in their pocket to make other people's food taste normal to them. I often cook Mexican food at home and I have been on the hunt for the perfect combination of spices to use in my recipes.

Taco seasoning is one of the most common recipes in the spice isle. I have tried many of them and I am not a huge fan of the prepackaged ones. Some are far too salty, some too bland and others too sweet. This is a good in between version. It's not too salty or spicy, but it has a good deal of flavor. Many taco or Mexican spice seasonings are designed just for tacos and have flour in them to thicken up taco meat. This puts a huge dent in the amount of flavor this adds to your recipes.

I like to have seasonings on hand that will work with anything I am making. This is a great recipe for chili, tacos, salsa, quesadillas, and one of my favorite Mexican foods,  burritos.

Taco Seasoning Ingredients

1 part salt
1 part garlic powder
1 part ground chile (Latino foods isle)
1 part cumin

Just like the other seasonings, I just measure out the container and divide by four. Make sure your container is very clean and dry before putting the seasonings into it. Keep in mind, ground chile is not the same thing as chile powder. Chile powder is a combination of different spices. Ground chile is the chile itself made into a powder. It shouldn't be too difficult to find. If you are unable to locate this powdered gold, then chile powder will work well, too.

To use your new seasoning for delicious burritos...


Saute about half of a diced onion in vegetable oil over medium heat. Cook this until it is a bit tender.

Add in about 1/2 pound of ground beef or turkey and brown until the meat is no longer pink. Add in about 1/4 teaspoon of your fresh taco seasoning.  We will add more in later, but you want to make sure each layer of the ingredients has been seasoned well.

Next, add in 1 small can of diced green chilies. I like to use the mild version and add in more heat depending on who I am serving. 


For the last ingredient, add in about 1 to 2 cups of whole beans. You can use canned or homemade if you have them on hand. I like pinto beans, but black beans would work well here, too. If you are using canned beans add in another 1/4 teaspoon of the seasoning. Homemade beans tend to have less salt in them so you can add up to another 1/2 teaspoon depending on your taste.


 The only thing you need for a delicious burrito is a few warmed flour tortillas and a good sprinkling of cheese. This is one of my favorite meals and best ways to enjoy a delicious homemade taco seasoning.