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Chunky Stovetop Apples

Apples, like almost every fruit in the Pacific Northwest this year, were late in becoming ready for harvest. The mild spring and summer seasons slowed ripening, decreased size and maybe even limited sweetness of the crop. I love tart apples so I am not at all discouraged.

As the weather cools and the leaves turn I begin to crave the fragrance of apples cooking in the kitchen. I look forward to a weekend of making Homemade Apple Butter and Applesauce overnight in the Crockpot. Now that apples are finally dominating the displays at the produce market where I shop I am delighted. They are beautiful, perhaps more so for making their appearance fashionably late this year.

Making Apple Butter is both fun and nostalgic but for a smaller dose of apple goodness, and a quicker outcome, it is easy to prepare a quick batch of cooked apples stovetop. Basically a crustless apple pie, served over pancakes or as a side dish with dinner these cooked apples add a nice taste of the season to any meal.

Chunky Stovetop Apples

4 large tart apples (I still use Granny Smith)
½ cup sugar (or less, according to taste)
3 Tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 cup water

Core, peel and roughly slice apples.

Combine sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Pour over apples and mix thoroughly.

Place apples in a 3-4 quart saucepan. Pour 1 cup of water over. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until soft. Serve warm.


Edible and Easy: Stuffed Mini-Pumpkins

Pumpkin Season

This time of year pumpkins are everywhere. They are practically giving them away at the market, huge orbs of cheerful orange like summer sunsets for only $3.99 each. They seem to inspire the artistic nature in many unlikely artists. You have probably seen your share of creative pumpkin yard art on facebook or email. And who can help but marvel at some of the intricate pumpkin carving even our most practical neighbors occasionally try their hand at these days?

I have never felt inspired to spend much time carving pumpkins for my porch, at least not since my children hit the teen years. Ever a sucker for miniatures, however, I still love the idea of small edible pumpkins carved for use as a bowl to cradle soup or a side dish. I have been cutting out photos and recipes for that kind of pumpkin art for years.

Roasting Mini Pumpkins

Finally, this year I decided to try it for myself. In the end I totally ignored the clipped recipes and instructions. Instead, as I put a chicken in the oven to roast I saw the mini pumpkins I had bought at the market sitting on the countertop and decided it was time to use them. I washed them, pierced each one near the top with a sharp knife and set them in the oven alongside the chicken. You can rub them with olive oil and dust them with salt and pepper if you like but I didn’t bother.

Pumpkins and squash are great for multitasking in the kitchen. They are good at sharing oven space with other recipes as they are small and can be roasted at most any temperature. The trick is to leave them in the oven just until they can be easily pierced with a fork. I roast chicken in a hot oven so these pumpkins were cooked at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes. Allow for a longer cooking time if your oven is set at a lower temperature.

Edible and Easy

Once they were tender I removed the little pumpkins (maybe Wee-Be-Little variety but they weren't marked) from the oven and let them cool for another 20 minutes or so. Once they were cool enough to handle I removed the lids as if I were carving a jack-o-lantern. Then I scooped out the squishy pulp and seeds leaving the sides and hull in place to make a sweet little bowl.

The recipes I have collected recommend filling the little pumpkins with everything from soup to risotto to a sweet custard type dessert. Frankly it all seemed like overkill as I finished the chicken and a vegetable side dish. Maybe next time. This time I opted to keep it simple. I had a rice pilaf made from a boxed mix on the stove and decided to simply stuff the pumpkin shells with the otherwise unadorned rice.

Kicking it Up a Notch

They made a very pretty fall themed side dish and could scarcely have been simpler to prepare. The way I did it this time was super easy. In the future I can see filling the pumpkins with Basic Italian Polenta drizzled with a touch of olive oil or maple syrup. I think they would also make interesting little bowls for individual servings of Corn Salad with Pecan Dressing, or a cup sized serving of Squash and Hominy Stew. They might also be filled with the same herbed rice and pine nut mixture as Stuffed Patty Pan Squash and rebaked according to those directions.

Whether you take the easy approach or try something a bit more complicated these little pumpkins make delightful table mates and edible dishware. Try them. Use your imagination. Enjoy!

The Art of Curiosity: Spoiling Bags

The Art of Curiosity

When I was a child my family lived next door to Aunt Betty. She moved into the house where my grandparents had lived when I was still young. She never married and had no children of her own but she had a warm heart and my brother and I adored her.

Well before she became our next door neighbor, Aunt Betty had travelled the country from coast to coast. She had also been in the navy during World War 2 and after that had worked in town. She always had interesting stories to tell about her days at the Quartermaster Depot and working as a medical secretary at Veterans Hospital. She dressed sharply, could type better than 80 wpm on an old typewriter and worked the crossword puzzle from the newspaper every day.

Not only was her competency interesting and appealing but her curiosity was contagious. She liked to try new things and encouraged us to try them too. While Aunt Hen was a master at traditional recipes and cooking techniques Aunt Betty liked to buy new and interesting food products to share with us. The fun factor definitely appealed to her.

Aunt Betty was the one most likely to buy us kids our favorite variety of breakfast cereal and even in those cute little single serving boxes. Not only was she willing to splurge on our whims, she was as eager as we were to cut open the boxes as recommended to use them as serving bowls. In that time such versatile self-serve packaging was an enigma. We were delighted with such uncommon adventures.

Aunt Betty also brought home other interesting finds from the grocery store with my brother and me in mind. She stocked up for our visits and for other occasions when she could spoil us with these curious indulgences.

Spoiling Bags

Over the years perhaps her most anticipated indulgence came to be known as a “Spoiling Bag.” Whenever the family made plans to go on a road trip Aunt Betty would gather a brown grocery bag full of interesting snacks and diversions to occupy us backseat passengers and keep us from getting hungry. In it we would find snacks both savory and sweet as well as novelty candies and long cellophane packages of gumballs. She would also include small travel games, toys and magazines filled with puzzles. We looked forward to Aunt Betty’s spoiling bags and spent many happy hours exploring the contents on the long way from one place to another.

These days fall is the perfect season for remembering Aunt Betty’s delight in novelty products. Not only was her birthday in October but cruising the seasonal aisles at a local market I am always amazed by the new ideas in flavor combination and packaging applied to autumn decorations and Halloween treats for Trick-or-Treaters. I can seldom resist adding a variety of appealing products to my cart.

Now that my children have grown up my choices have evolved somewhat as I share these discoveries with the young adults in my life who are on their own this season. This year I focused my product search on comfort items and energy snacks, including Emergen–C packets, Kleenex in holographic Halloween packaging, seasonal teas, mini fruit snacks and granola bars, not to mention warm socks and packets of Salted Caramel Hot Cocoa. I used treat-sized packets of Pirate’s Booty like packing peanuts and nestled a bag of homemade Soft Peanut Brittle in the center. After introducing a collection of plastic spiders, squishy mice and friends to the contents I taped up the boxes and shipped them around the state. Within a few days Aunt Betty’s legacy of curiosity and good humor had brightened the journey of a few more young people I know would have adored her.

The Flavor of Autumn? Caramel

Caramel. Just the sound of the word itself, spoken slowly and with distinct elocution, is poetry in its own right.

So simple, caramel is made by applying heat to sugar and cream. You can add a little butter for richness. That’s all it takes to create a mouth watering confection that is sultry, even smokey, and deeply complex. The closer it gets to the edge of burning the more satisfying the bittersweet caramel notes become.

Not only does it taste fantastic but caramel is also truly beautiful; spun into amber threads for decoration, solidified into nut brittles like wedges of stained glass or drizzled like droplets of golden sunshine over desserts.

Caramel is pure kitchen alchemy. Not only is it a paragon of transformation itself but it retains the power to transform when added to other kitchen creations as well. This particular sauce was suggested as an accompaniment for a pear pie with streusel topping by the folks at MyRecipes.com. When I made a second little Ginger Pear Pie this week I remembered the suggestion. I omitted the streusel topping on my pie and served the pie slices drizzled with Caramel Sauce.

It was delicious. So delicious that I invested another five mintues in making a second batch of the sauce that I drizzled on every other dessert I tested this week from Banana Streusel Cake to Spirited Southern Sweet Pototo Bars. I also used it to top plain sliced fruit including pears, peaches, apples and bananas. That done I wiped my finger around the edge of the decanter to get the last taste lest a drop of the golden liquid go to waste. Caramel really is that good!

Caramel Sauce
adapted from MyRecipes.com

1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 Tablespoons butter, softened
small pinch of salt, plain or fancy (if desired)
1 teaspoon water

In a small heavy saucepan, combine the brown sugar, whipping cream and butter. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook one minute. Remove from heat and stir in the salt and water. Serve at room temp or slightly warmed with pie, cake squares, fruit or other desserts.


A Little Pear Pie

Pie Season

With autumn in the air I start thinking about pies. My family, not usually big pie eaters, enjoy fruit pies as a seasonal right of passage. Apple Pie is the most requested. I also like to make Peach Pie and Pear Pie.

As the seasons of my life change, however, I find there are hardly enough folks around my table these days to eat a normal sized pie, especially one made in today's most available pie dish, what seems to me an oversized 9½-inch deep dish pyrex pie plate.

Normally I would use an 8-inch pie dish. I stocked up on those a while back. Still, with just two or three around the table, I am finding even that is larger than I would like.

Finding Just the Right Size

I have been wanting a set of 6-inch pyrex tart pans with a fluted edge. They don't make these anymore but you can occasionally find them on ebay. Unfortunately I’m not so good at the ebay auction process. I "watch" a set from time to time but ultimately forget to check when the auction is ending and am outbid.

Meanwhile I keep making “little pies” in my 8-inch pie plates. Instead of lining the dish with one crust and topping with another I lay the bottom crust loosely in the pan, put in however much filling seems right for the number I expect for dinner, and then fold the bottom crust over the filling topping the exposed center with a little streusel topping or a few cutouts from leftover bits of dough.

This particular recipe provides for a moderate slice of pie for 4 to 6 people. It’s usually just enough to share with my children or another couple while fresh from the oven and still warm.

Streusel Topped Ginger Pear Pie

Pastry for a one crust pie (You can use the recipe for Nearly Foolproof Pie Dough, your own favorite recipe or a ready made pie crust.)

Streusel Topping

1 Tablespoon flour
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon sliced almonds or hazelnut pieces, toasted
1 Tablespoon butter

Pie Filling

3-4 sliced pears (about 3 cups)
½ teaspoon lemon juice
1/3 cup brown sugar
pinch of salt
1½ Tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon finely diced candied ginger

1 egg white
a teaspoon or so of coarse decorating sugar

Fit the pastry into an 8-inch pie dish leaving an unfinished edge of 1 to 1½ inches of dough at the rim. Brush the bottom center of the pie crust with a little egg white. Set aside.

Make the streusel topping: Place 1 Tablespoon each of flour, brown sugar, toasted almond pieces and butter in a small bowl. Mash together with a fork or fingers until crumbly. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.

Make the pie filling: Toss pear slices with the lemon juice.

In a small bowl combine the brown sugar, salt, flour, ground ginger and candied ginger. Sprinkle the mixture over the sliced pears and stir to combine.

Assemble the pie: Pour the pear mixture into the prepared crust. Fold the unfinished edge loosely over the filling. Brush the crust edge with a little egg white and sprinkle with coarse sugar, if desired. Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the exposed pie filling. Decorate with small cutouts from any leftover scraps of dough, if desired.

Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.

Remove from oven. Serve warm.


Roasted Chicken with Olives and Thyme

When the weather begins to cool in the fall I feel the tug of my oven and I long for the scent of chicken roasting, warming the house and offering to fill my family with good savory things to eat.

This chicken dish is perfect for those occasions. It begins with a basic vinaigrette: bright with lemon, sweetened with honey and rich with olive oil. Add dark kalamata olives along with thick sprigs of thyme to the mixture and pour it over chicken pieces before nestling them into the oven to roast. Soon you will have something special beckoning your family to the table.

This fragrant dish satisfies the senses with salty olives and sweet honey as well as aromatic herbs. Served with rice and a salad of fresh tomatoes and arugula it makes a wonderful dinner for family or guests.

Roasted Chicken with Olives and Thyme
from a back issue of Real Simple

¼ cup fresh lemon juice (approx. 1 – 2 lemons)
1 teaspoon honey
1 small shallot, minced
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
zest of 1 lemon, slivered
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small bunch of fresh thyme
1 cup pitted kalamata olives, drained
3 – 4 pounds chicken parts
more salt and freshly ground pepper

Create a basic vinaigrette by whisking together the lemon juice, honey, shallots, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Add the olive oil in a thin stream as you continue whisking until the mixture is emulsified.

Add the lemon zest, garlic, thyme and olives to the vinaigrette mixture, stirring to combine. Set aside.

Rinse the chicken parts and pat dry with paper towels. Place the chicken in a large baking dish in a single layer. Pour the vinaigrette mixture over the chicken and turn to coat.

Cover and place in the refrigerator to marinate up to 12 hours (or, if time is short, skip this step and move right on to the roasting.)

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Season chicken with additional salt and pepper as desired. Place chicken, uncovered, in the oven and roast for 20 -30 minutes, until chicken begins to brown.

Reduce heat to 375 degrees and continue to roast until the chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes more.

Serve, spooning pan juices and olives over the chicken.


Halloween Cakes and Creations

Want to make something special for a Halloween celebration? Here are some favorite recipes and products I have posted over the years. Some are simple. Some take a few more steps.

Take a look. Click through to the recipes. Try one or two. Enjoy!

Happy Halloween!