Monday, September 30, 2013

Slow Cooker Apple Butter-Sauce!

Last weekend we decided to go on an adventure:

Imgage: apples in a tree

apple picking!

It's early autumn and after a dismal crop last year, things in the area are looking up. Judging by the fact that we ended up with a full half-bushel of Macintosh apples in record time, I'd say it was a good year.

The only question was what to do with so many apples?

I scoured The Cookbook seeking apple recipes and found several, which will likely be featured over the next few weeks, but there were also a few that called for the apples to be in a little more cooked down state (apple butter or apple sauce). My mind immediately concocted a brilliant plan: instead of buying apple butter/sauce, why not make my own? Surely, I had enough apples on hand...Couldn't be too labor intensive, right?

Right on both counts!

I found the idea for making apple butter in the slow cooker on Pinterest, which was plenty exciting. Then I ran with it, creating a recipe to suit my own needs.

The hardest part for me was peeling the apples. There are amazing people on this earth who can peel an apple in one continuous loop. I am definitely not one of those people. Eventually I got all 15 apples peeled and it was easy going from there on out.

Slow Cooker Apple Butter/Sauce
Inspired by GuruToTheOutdoors  with heavy adaptations by my crazy brain

15 apples (or however many you need - 15 is what filled my crockpot)
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ginger
3 tablespoons cinnamon
3 tablespoons lemon juice

[What to do]
  1. Peel and core apples. Cut into cubes and add them to the crockpot.
  2. Add lemon juice, stir. Then add dry ingredients, stir again.
  3. Cook on low for 6 hours. Mash up with a spoon. - At this point it is thicker and more applesauce-like.
  4. Continue cooking for another 2 hours. -Now we have apple butter!
  5. If you like chunkier apple butter, leave as is. If you prefer a smooth consistency, blend the butter before canning.
My mixture made about 2 small and 1 regular sized jar as well as about 2 cups left over, which I intended for immediate use.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Stuffed Pepper Soup

It’s getting cold. Can you feel it? Soon it will be Autumn and my favorite time of year: Soup season!

I could wax rhapsodic about my love for soup for many an age. I love soup of all kinds (so long as the amount of celery that ends up floating in the stock is limited -- but that’s an argument for another day). The one I'm about to present to you is one of my all time favorites.

I have a special relationship with stuffed pepper soup (and definitely more memories surrounding this little number than actual stuffed peppers). Many a chilly fall / winter day has been warmed by this soup, but there is one fall day in particular:

It was my junior year of college and having lived in a dorm on a meal plan for the past two years, my cooking skills left something to be desired. Not to mention the fact that college was a rough one emotionally. So, one fall day when things had been particularly rough (though this was still before the time of the bats), my mother showed up with several bags full of ingredients and we got down to making stuffed pepper soup.

Since then, stuffed pepper soup has been on of "our things". Whenever I come home during the fall or winter holidays, we tend to make it at least once. Just last week, she came up to attend a Michigan football game and we made yet another batch.

[ignore the beans; we also made chili]

And so, since this is one of my most requested recipes (especially by my dear friend Jill), I've decided to share its wonderment with you.

Stuffed Pepper Soup
[via mi madre]

2 lb ground beef
1 green bell pepper
1 can tomato sauce
1 diced tomato
2 cubes beef bouillon
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 T soy sauce
2 cups cooked rice

[What to do]
  1. Brown beef over medium heat
  2. Add peppers and saute for 3 minutes
  3. Stir in rest of ingredients (sans rice). Reduce heat to love, cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes
  4. Stir in rice and heat through
  5. Be sure to add some Parmesan  and romano cheese to the top when you serve.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Comfort Food: Zucchini and Tomato Sauce

This is one of those passed down recipes with no explicit instructions.

One of those things that you've been making so long, you could make it in your sleep.

Comfort food.

Everyone has a comfort food or two, whether it be macaroni and cheese or chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. I have...potentially too may comfort foods. Each of them occupy different roles and fulfill different purposes. Different foods to comfort different ailments. Ravioli soothes the savage "missing my family." Potato soup cures illness. Banana pepper and mushroom pizza is good for dealing with rejection letters. But then there's zucchini and tomato sauce - something so utterly simple that only it could be the cure for "I have run out of energy and could sleep solidly for a week."

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has those sorts of days.

Part of the reason it's such a good dish for times like this is it's easy of preparation, limited required commitment, and relative abundance of the necessary ingredients (especially around this time of year).

In order to produce a quality dish of zucchini and tomato sauce, all one must do is slice up a few of the zucchini squash, add it to a pot and douse it with tomato sauce of your choosing. When the zucchini is pretty much cooked down, add some grated Parmesan cheese and stir well.

This was a common side dish growing up in my family, but I'm not ashamed of the number of times it has shown up as a main dish on my own table. Some days, comfort food is exactly what you need.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Prozia's Apple Cake [The Cookbook]

Ideally, I would have posted this last week, but I didn't get around to baking until Wednesday night. 

A few days ago, I noticed one of the trees outside my apartment had developed red leaves signifying the start of fall. Early fall is full of beautiful things, but one of my favorites is fresh apples. What better time to highlight some of the exciting apple recipes in The Cookbook

Since I had fresh apples, I decided to begin with an apple cake recipe, which according to The Cookbook was given to Bisnonna by her sister Celi. My Prozias (great-aunts) will likely appear a lot of this blog as I have many memories attached to their cooking as well. While I don't remember this particular cake, I can tell you that I am -glad- that I made it.

I made a slight modification to this recipe as well. The original calls for 1 3/4 cups of sugar. I substituted 1 cup of sugar and 3/4 cup honey. There's no real explanation for this choice beyond the spirit of experimentation. I also left out the powdered sugar and whipped cream, using it as more of a breakfast cake, but I imagine that it would be scrumptious as a dessert as well.

Apple Cake
Via The Cookbook

3 eggs, 1 3/4 c. sugar, 1 c. oil, 2 c. flour, 1 t. baking soda, 1 t. cinnamon, pinch salt, 4-6 diced apples, 1/2 c. nuts
Bake for 1hr. at 350 degrees or 325 if using a glass pan. Sprinkle with powder sugar, can be served with whipped cream. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Baked Whitefish with Tomatoes

I was struck by the lack of fish in The Cookbook. I've been taught that fish is pretty much a staple of Southern Italian cooking, but there wasn't a single recipe that involved fish within the collection my mother had gathered.

I think it has something to do with Madre not being a big fish fan as well as the expense of fish in general. An interesting aspect of Bisnonna's cooking is how influenced it was by the Great Depression. Lots of the recipes she used sub out the traditional meats or other items for those that could be obtained more cheaply.

So, there were no fish recipes, but I wasn't about to let that stop me. Beside, I ended up with a lot more fish from the farmer's market than I actually meant to buy...[Farmer's Markets make me nervous, what can I say?] So I concocted something of my own based on what I had around and some guidance from Giada DeLaurentis and the BBC.

I do love fish. And in the Great Lakes, whitefish is -the- fish. Whitefish, of course, refers to a variety of fish so far as fisheries are concerned, but the fishery we go to uses the term to refer to Lake Whitefish. As always, when choosing fish, remember to shop sustainably.

Baked Whitefish With Tomatoes
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis and BBC's Good Foods Magazine

[ingredients - serves 4]
2 Whitefish fillets (or other sustainable fish for your region)
1/3 cup Olive Oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 large tomatoes
Basil, Parsley, Black Pepper to taste

[What to do]

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F
  2. Drizzle some of the olive oil in the bottom of a glass baking pan.
  3. Season the fillets and add them to the pan. Cover in rest of oil, lemon juice and tomatoes cut into smaller pieces.
  4. Cover baking pan (I used tin foil) and bake for 25-30 minutes
I served this fish with some brown rice sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.