Tuesday, October 30, 2012

crumb-topped apple pie

I just love apple season!  Apple crisp, apple pie, applesauce, apple butter - they are all delicious, especially this time of year.

I've been in search of a good apple pie recipe, and I think I've found one!  Pioneer Woman has truly done it again.  This pie was a cinch to make but tasted like I took all afternoon.  Don't you love it when recipes taste and look more impressive than they are to make? I changed things up a bit by using sweet Gala apples instead of tart apples and drizzling the served pie with caramel sauce.  What can I say...I like things sweet!

Begin by peeling, coring, and thinly slicing three large apples.

In a bowl, mix together sugar, brown sugar, flour, cream, vanilla, and cinnamon (and, if you are feeling feisty, a little nutmeg)...yum!

Pour the cream mixture over the apple slices and stir until the apple is coated.

Pour the apples into a prepared pie shell (unbaked) and then top with a mixture of butter, brown sugar, flour, and pecans.

Cover the top loosely with foil, and make sure the crust is protected as well.  If you don't have a pie shield like I have below, just use foil.

Bake it for an hour, then remove the foil and continue baking for about 15 minutes.

Serve warm, drizzled with caramel sauce.  Or...serve cold.  Honestly, it's good either way!

To see the Pioneer Woman's original recipe, click here.  For my variation, see below!

Crumb-Topped Apple Pie
unbaked pie crust
3 large (or 4-5 small) Gala apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 T. flour
1 cup cream
2 t. vanilla extract
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. nutmeg
7 T. butter
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup pecans (finely chopped)
dash salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Prepare pie pan with pie crust dough.

Mix together cream, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 T. flour, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Pour over apple slices and gently combine.  Pour into pie shell.  Combine topping ingredients and mix until crumbly.  Pour over apples.  

Cover the edges of the crust and lay a piece of foil loosely over the top.  Place pie pan on top of a rimmed cookie sheet and bake for one hour.  Then, remove foil and continue baking until bubbly and lightly browned, about 15-20 more minutes.  Serve drizzled with caramel sauce.

For the caramel sauce:
1/2 cups butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cream
1 dash salt
1/2 t. vanilla
Melt butter and sugar together over medium heat while stirring occasionally.  Let mixture simmer lightly until it starts to bubble and look foamy.  Cook this for 3-5 minutes.  Stir in milk, salt, and vanilla.  Turn burner off, but leave caramel sauce on the hot stove until ready to serve.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

candy corn cookies and nails!

Hey, hey!  Happy Wednesday!  I'm excited to share a guest post from my friend Luci.  We first met in graduate school and had lots of great conversations while sharing an office with one another.  Now that I've moved to Texas, Luci and I continue to chat constantly, sharing paragraphs from our dissertation for the other to edit and (more fun) encouraging each other with our blogs.  Luci has a great blog called Luci's Morsels, where she talks about all things food, fashion, and fun.  I encourage you to go check it out!

Hi Delightful Country Cookin’ readers! I’m so excited to be guest posting here today. Kristin has been so sweet and generous with her time over the last few months, helping me learn to be a better blogger, I thought: what better way to show a bit of thanks than a fun, Halloween-themed cookie post?

I found a candy corn cookie cutter last month and was so excited to try it out. I’m an experienced sugar cookie maker, but I’ve never decorated with royal icing before. It was a learning process – one that I’ll be sharing with you today. For directions on how to do candy corn nail art (along with some other fall ideas for your fingers), head on over to the post on my blog today (here).

When you make royal icing, the key is adding enough warm water. Your icing should have the consistency and shine of toothpaste. You can see the difference in adding enough water from the picture below. The icing won’t spread evenly until you have enough water.

Once you’ve made your batch of icing (recipe below), separate it into three bowls. If you’re only decorating candy corn cookies, then divide the icing according to how much you’ll use of each color (most for yellow, less for orange, and even less for white). To get this yellow hue, I used 15 drops of yellow per ½ cup icing. For the orange, I used 10 drops yellow and 5 drops red (a 2:1 ratio). Remember the key to food coloring – you can always add more color, you can’t take it away. And, it can get messy so wear an old comfy t-shirt and pants!

When you’ve got your colors mixed up, pour them each into a frosting bag with a small round tip. Starting with the yellow, outline the first section. Then squiggle some frosting in the middle. It should fill in most of the outlined area by itself. Use a toothpick to fill in the areas it missed. Repeat for the orange and white areas.

Tip: If you have a problem snacking on cookies and icing while decorating cookies (like I do), chew a piece of gum to help you save room for the finished morsel!

When I serve decorated cookies at a party or take them to a potluck, I leave some of the cookies plain to leave options and provide variety in the display.

Sugar Cookies
**Makes about 3 dozen cookies**
1 Cup butter, softened
1 Cup sugar
3 Cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 Tablespoon milk (nonfat is fine)
Powdered sugar

Beat butter and sugar together. Mix in egg and milk. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add flour to butter mixture. Beat until most of it pulls away from side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half, wrap in parchment paper, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. I like to make mine the night before baking to break up the process.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 375°. Take out one of the dough packages. Unwrap it and let sit out for five minutes. Sprinkle powdered sugar on your rolling surface and the rolling pin. Roll out the dough until it’s 1/3 inch thick. Cover baking sheet with parchment paper or cooking spray. Cut your candy corn cookies out and place them on the baking sheet at least 1 inch apart. Bake until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, about 8 or 9 minutes. After removing them from the oven, let the cookies sit for a few minutes before transferring them to a wire rack or plate to cool. You can store the cookies in a bag or airtight container for up to 1 day before decorating to have fresh cookies.

Royal Icing
4 Cups powdered sugar
4 Tablespoons of meringue powder (available at Michaels)
½ Cup warm water (have more available)
yellow and red food coloring

Beat all ingredients except food coloring together until you get a toothpaste consistency and shine. Divide icing into three bowls. For each ½ cup of yellow, add 15 drops of yellow food coloring. For each ½ cup of orange, add 10 drops of yellow and 5 drops of red food coloring (2:1 ratio).

Place each frosting batch into a frosting bag with a small round tip attached.* Starting with the yellow, outline the top third of the cookie. Then squiggle frosting in the middle of the outlined area. The icing should fill in the outlined area by itself. Use a toothpick to fill in the areas it missed. With orange frosting, outline and squiggle the middle third of the cookie. Ice the bottom third (or the tip of the cookie) with white frosting. Let sit 20-30 minutes to set.

*If you don’t have a frosting bag (like me), then use a small baggie. Cut off a small (start with ½ inch) corner of the bag. Insert a frosting tip. I think the most useful for this method are the tips made for the prepackaged tubes of icing at the grocery store – they have a nice thick rim that is easier to hold on to. With one hand, wrap your pointer finger and thumb around the rim to avoid having the icing gush out of the bag. Gently squeeze the icing out with the other hand.

I hope you all enjoyed my decorating adventures. And thank you so much to Kristin for letting me visit today. This was so much fun!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

twice-baked acorn squash

It's squash season!!!

I just love squash.  Cookie Bandit and I have joked that if we were to walk into a room and be given the choice between a fruit plate and a squash plate, we'd totally go for the squash.  We're weirdos like that.

Most of the time, when you see a recipe for winter squash, it calls for butter, sugar, and cinnamon - apparently, we like turning vegetables into desserts.  While I like sugar as much as the next person, I'm actually a bigger fan of savory squash.  To me, adding the more savory spices brings out the natural sweetness of the squash and allows it to really shine.  And this is my favorite squash recipe of them all.

It's got bacon, spinach, cayenne, Parmesan, green onions...all that is good in the world of food.  I encourage you to try it sometime this fall - I bet you'll love it, too!

First, cut two acorn squash in half.  Take out the seeds and stringy stuff and place them face down on a baking sheet coated with nonstick spray (I recommend lining the sheet with foil first for easier cleanup).

Bake until tender, and then scoop out the flesh of the squash.

In a large bowl, mash the squash pulp with a potato masher until relatively smooth.

Add  cooked bacon, spinach, Parmesan cheese, green onion, butter, salt, and cayenne.

Spread evenly into a greased casserole dish.  Sprinkle with a bit more Parmesan and some crushed butter crackers (to add a little crunch).  Bake until heated through and top is golden brown!

This is so good, we had to eat some before getting our "after" shot.  I hope you enjoy it, too!

Twice-Baked Acorn Squash
2 medium acorn squash (about 1.5 pounds each)
10 oz. package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and dried
2 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
10 T. shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
2 T. thinly sliced green onion
1 T. butter or margarine
1/4 t. salt
1/8 t. cayenne pepper
butter crackers, crushed to garnish

Cut squash in half; discard seeds.  Place squash upside down on a baking sheet coated with nonstick cooking spray.  Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes or until tender.  Scoop out squash and mash until smooth.  In a large bowl, combine squash pump, spinach, bacon, 6 T. Parmesan cheese, green onion, butter, salt, and cayenne.  Spread into a greased casserole dish; sprinkle with remaining Parmesan and cracker crumbs.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until heated through and top is golden brown.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

skillet mac and cheese


I have a confession.  I love mac and cheese from a box!  (Hiding my head in shame now.)  I know it's bad for you.  I know it's full of preservatives and (gasp!) fake cheese.  I love it anyway.  Kraft, Velveeta, doesn't matter - I love me some boxed mac and cheese.

But, I've decided that I need to break away from my love for the box and actually make my own mac and cheese.  After all, when my little Pebbles grows up, I want her eating real food and not inheriting her mother's penchant for processed box food. 

In researching mac and cheese recipes, I finally found one that works for me.  It's as fast to make as the boxed stuff, doesn't require a lot of effort, takes very few ingredients, and produces only one dirty dish.  It's a winner in my book!  I've modified the recipe to make it more to our know...adding a bit more bacon and a bit less onion...and I've tried it with several different types of cheeses.  I loved them all, especially the gouda that the original recipe suggests.  Here's how you do it.

Grab your cast iron or other large skillet and fry up a half pound of bacon.

Remove the bacon to a different dish and cook up some diced onion in the bacon grease.  Stir in some cream and let it simmer for a few minutes until it's slightly thickened.

Turn off the heat and add your cheese.  You can use any cheese you like, just make sure it's shredded or, if it's a soft cheese, diced up into small bits.  Stir until it's melted and well mixed.  Then taste it and add salt and pepper until your taste buds sing.

Add cooked pasta, toss, and serve...delicious!

Skillet Mac and Cheese
adapted from Gouda Stovetop Mac and Cheese on Tasty Kitchen
1 pound pasta
1/2 pound bacon, diced
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 cup cream
1 cup cheese, shredded or divided into small amounts (if a soft cheese, like Brie)
salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta until according to package instructions.  Meanwhile,cook bacon in a large skillet until crispy; remove to a separate plate.  Drain all but about one tablespoon of bacon grease from skillet.  Cook onion in bacon grease until tender.  Add the bacon back to the skillet with the heavy cream; simmer for 2-3 minutes or until slightly thickened.  Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese until melted and thoroughly mixed.  Season to taste.  Drain cooked pasta and toss into cheese mixture.  Serves 4.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

once upon a pumpkin

I found this little guy at the store the other's it a cutie?!  Only $2.99! 

I just love cooking up fresh pumpkin, but it's come to my attention that most people only buy pumpkins for carving.  The reason - they don't know how to cook a pumpkin.

I admit, pumpkins (and squash in general) can be a bit intimidating.  But let me tell you...a pumpkin pie made with fresh pumpkin is absolutely amazing.  So is pumpkin cake, pumpkin soup, pumpkin risotto, pumpkin ice cream, and the list goes on and on.  And the value is amazing!  You can get so much more for your money when you bake your own pumpkin.  From my little pumpkin, I got over 30 ounces of baby food and enough additional pumpkin to bake a pie!

I wanted to share with you something that I found in my mother's cookbook.  It was entitled "Preparation of a Pumpkin (Circleville Pumpkin Show, 1982)".  These are the most thorough instructions I have ever seen on cooking fresh pumpkins, and they've been my guide for years.

Selecting a Pumpkin
In selecting pumpkin for cooking or storing, be sure they are bright colored, firm, unblemished, and of maximum maturity, indicated by good color and a stem that breaks easily from the vine.  Pumpkins should be stored in a cool, dry place away from the danger of frost.  Do not let them freeze; it injures their keeping qualities.

Cooking a Pumpkin
 To Boil: Cut in half and remove seeds and stringy portion.  Peel and cut in small pieces.  Cook covered, in one inch of boiling salted water 25 to 35 minutes or until tender.  Drain and mash.

To Microwave: Place pumpkin pieces cut-side down on a microwave safe plate or tray.  Microwave on high for 15 minutes and then check for doneness.  Continue cooking at 1-2 minute intervals if necessary.

And my preferred method...

To Bake: Halve pumpkin, remove seeds and strings, arrange pieces cut-side down on baking sheet or in a shallow pan.  Bake at 400 degrees until tender, about one hour.  Scoop out pulp and put through sieve or food mill.

Pictures and Tips - To Bake a Pumpkin

Cutting a pumpkin in half is scary!  I used to use all of my big fancy kitchen knives, and I usually ended up cutting myself more than the pumpkin.  Things finally got easier when I discovered pumpkin carving tools (the kind you can buy for just a few dollars at Wal-Mart or Target).  Amazing!  Those little knives are made to cut right through the peel and flesh, and they make cutting the pumpkin a breeze.  Don't be fooled by how cheap they are...get some today!

When it comes to scooping out the seeds and strings, the pumpkin carving set once again came to the rescue.  That little plastic spoon doesn't look like much, but it gets the job done well (and saves my nice metal spoons from being bent in the process).

I highly recommend lining your baking pan with foil before placing your halved pumpkins on them.  Saves a ton of clean-up time when all is said and done!

Baked pumpkin smells soooooo good!  When it's perfectly done, the flesh should easily separate from the peel.  Be's hot!

Preparing Cooked Pumpkin
Blender: If you really want a smooth puree (especially for baby food or ultra-impressive pies), consider using a blender.  Pour 1/3 cup water into the blender for every 2 cups of cut-up pumpkin.  Blend until smooth.  Then - very important if you are using the pumpkin in place of canned pumpkin - cook the puree over medium heat in a shallow pan, stirring constantly, until it is very thick.  Boiling it evaporates all of the water that you added while blending. Use the puree as you would canned pumpkin.

For an even more smooth puree, pass your blended pumpkin through a sieve.  I personally don't do this unless I'm making baby food. 

Canning Your Pumpkin
Cut the pumpkin into medium pieces, remove peel, and steam or boil until tender.  If steaming, add little or no water; if boiling, add only enough water to cover.  Put pumpkin and any remaining liquid through food mill or strainer.  Spices may be added.  Simmer until heated through, stirring often.  While hot, pack loosely into clean jars, filling to within 1/2 inch of top.  Put on cap, screwing band firmly tight.  If canning with a pressure cooker, use 10 pounds pressure, 60 minutes for pints and 80 minutes for quarts.  If using a boiling water bath, process for 180 minutes for pints and quarts.  If freeze canning, packed cooked and cooled pumpkin puree in airtight containers, allowing 1" head space.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

peasant stew

It's finally soup weather!  I'm so excited.  I just love, love, love a nice warm bowl of soup.  We balanced the budget the other night, so in the spirit of being economical I came up with this delicious stew.  It's an awesome blend of wholesome eggplant, zucchini, and kidney beans - easy on your finances and soothing to your palate.

Admittedly, my husband was weirded out by the eggplant.  His facebook status that night was "eggplant - the tofu of the natural world."  I, however, found the eggplant to be an absolutely perfect addition to this stew.  I don't know why I never thought of it before!

To make, begin by peeling and slicing your eggplant and sprinkling salt over the slices.  Why?  Salt will help take away the bitterness of the eggplant.  Let it sit for about 30 minutes or so while you catch up on dishes. :)  Rinse and chop into smaller pieces.

Combine your eggplant with olive oil, zucchini, and seasonings in a large stockpot.  Saute until the vegetables are tender.

Add broth and heat to boiling.  Add macaroni and reduce heat, simmering for 10 minutes or until macaroni is tender.


Peasant Stew
2 T. olive oil
1 medium eggplant, peeled
2 zucchini, thickly sliced
2 t. basil
1/4 t. garlic salt
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup elbow macaroni, uncooked
15 oz.  can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

Slice eggplant and sprinkle with salt; let sit for 30 minutes and then rinse.  Chop.

Over medium heat, heat oil in a large stockpot.  Add eggplant, zucchini, and seasonings and saute until vegetables are crisp-tender.  Add broth; heat to boiling.  Add macaroni and kidney beans.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until macaroni is tender.

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