Thursday, October 31, 2013

Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

Happy Halloween!

Where I grew up in Buffalo, trick-or-treating always took place after dark on Halloween night. Every year I dressed as either a princess or an old lady. The old lady costume was much more practical in the cold climes of my hometown; an ancient fur coat and hat plus a ratty grey wig meant I didn't have to cover my costume with my winter parka and beanie.

The best part of Halloween was obviously the candy. After hours ringing doorbells and scouring the neighborhood for the house handing out king-sized confections, our pillowcases were stuffed with hundreds of treats. My brother, sister, and I would dump our goodies on the floor at home, sort them out, and begin to barter. Johnny would gladly trade his chocolate for SweeTarts. Katy and I would do anything for a Reece's Peanut Butter Cup. And then we would eat candy until we passed out in a sugar-induced coma.

Today we're going to make something salty to balance all of that sweetness: Spiced Pumpkin Seeds. Save the seeds when you're carving your pumpkin tonight and you'll be halfway to this savory treat. Toss them together with some butter and a few spices, and bake until the seeds are toasted and crisp.

Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

1 cup pumpkin seeds*
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss seeds with butter, salt, chili powder, and cumin until they're evenly coated. Spread into a single layer on a rimmed baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes or until seeds are toasted and crisp, stirring halfway through.

*When you've collected the seeds from your pumpkin, rinse off all of the stringy stuff and pat the seeds dry.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Kale Salad with Apples and Seeds

Do you guys watch Top Chef? In one episode this season, they had a challenge about food trends. Specifically, food trends that Dana Cowin (from Food & Wine magazine) wishes were over. Kale salad is one trend that Dana scoffs at. So, guess what I'm making today?

Kale Salad.

Sorry, Dana.

Try it for yourself and let me know, is kale a food trend that should be on its way out?

Kale Salad with Apples and Seeds
Inspired by The Chew
Serves 3-4 as a side dish

4 big handfuls of chopped kale
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 large apple, thinly sliced

Combine kale and olive oil in a large bowl and season generously with salt and pepper. Use your hands to massage the oil and seasonings into the kale for 2-3 minutes. (You want the kale to start absorbing the oil and breaking down. After a couple minutes you'll know it's ready because it gets darker and shrinks down in size.) Toss in 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Taste and see if it's tangy enough for you. If you want more zip, add the remaining tablespoon of vinegar. Top kale with sunflower seeds, cranberries, and apple.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Slow Cooker Pork Chops with Apples and Sweet Potatoes

I'm not a big risk taker. Roller coasters scare the bejeebers out of me. I don't run with scissors. The idea of skydiving gives me a conniption.

For some reason, whenever I use my slow cooker, I feel like I'm taking a risk. Maybe it's because I biffed a few meals in my slow cooker shortly after the husband and I got hitched. One rock-hard pot roast in particular haunts my dinner dreams.

So as my fork hovered over a plate piled with pork chops, I had a twinge of nerves. The autumnal aroma of sweet potatoes and apples hinted at deliciousness, but would the chops be tasty? Or would they be dry and bland? Bravely, I dove in.

And I devoured every bite.

The brine infused flavor and ensured the pork stayed moist. Layered with the sweetness of apples and onions, plus the savory creaminess of sweet potatoes...Good gravy.

If its deliciousness isn't enough, something else to consider about Slow Cooker Pork Chops with Apples and Sweet Potatoes is the leftover potential. I've mentioned before that I like to disguise leftovers. Here are a couple ways to re-purpose this meal:

  1. BBQ Pork Sandwiches: Cut leftover chops into bite-sized pieces. Warm it up in the microwave with a few spoonfuls of the cooking liquid and some barbecue sauce. Serve the pork on rolls with a pile of coleslaw on top.
  2. Sweet Potato Soup: Puree leftover sweet potatoes, apples, and onions with a little bit of chicken or vegetable broth. Serve hot with a big salad and a hunk of crusty bread. 

Slow Cooker Pork Chops with Apples and Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from Cheap Healthy Good
Serves: 6

3 tablespoons Kosher salt
6 tablespoons brown sugar, divided
2 teaspoons black peppercorns, lightly crushed
6 boneless pork loin chops
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 apples*, cored and sliced into thick wedges
2-3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
Salt and pepper
1 large sweet onion, peeled and thinly sliced

First we're going to brine the pork chops. In a large bowl combine salt, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, peppercorns, and a few cups of water. Stir until the salt and sugar dissolve. Add pork chops then add more water until the chops are covered. Refrigerate for 1-1.5 hours.

Remove the pork chops from the brine. Discard brine. Rinse the pork chops and pat dry.

Heat oil in a very large skillet over medium high. Add the chops and cook until they're browned and release easily from the pan, about 5-6 minutes. Repeat on the second side. Remove chops from the skillet and set aside. (Brown the chops in two batches if you don't have a big enough skillet to fit all 6 chops without crowding the pan.)

Add 1/2 cup water to the skillet and boil, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the water is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile toss apple slices with the remaining 3 tablespoons brown sugar. Place sweet potatoes in the bottom of the slow cooker and season generously with salt and pepper. Top with half the onion and half the apples. Add the pork chops and top with the remaining onion and apples. Pour the liquid that you used to deglaze the pan on top of everything. Cook on high for 3-4 hours. Serve the pork chops and sweet potatoes topped with onions and apples.

*I think you can use whatever apples you have on hand, but each variety of apple will cook a little differently. I used McIntosh apples, and they broke down quite a bit. That was fine by me, but if you want your apples to stay more firm, consider a sturdier variety. Also, if you leave the peel on your apples, they will hold their shape more.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon. Savory, sweet, salty. Crisp, crunchy, tender. It's all of the good things.

It began with an innocent trip to Trader Joe's. I had already planned my menu for the week and purchased all of the required ingredients. But I got a little bored and the weather got a little crummy, so I bundled up my little boy for a trip to snag pumpkin spice rooibos tea from TJ's. And I maybe wanted a sample of whatever they were sampling. I'll be honest.

I was sticking to my pumpkin-themed shopping list until I meandered through the produce section. There I came upon a giant stalk of Brussles sprouts. "Danny, look at this!" I breathed with awe. Danny's eyes were wide with wonder, and he demonstrated true admiration by rubbing his drool-y hands all over the Brussels sprouts. He loved them. How could I not buy them? For Danny, of course.

And then this deliciousness happened. What's better than Brussels sprouts? Brussels sprouts with maple syrup and bacon, thankyouverymuch.

Get roasting, people.

P.S. No, Danny did not eat the Brussels sprouts. He only eats graham crackers. Sigh.

Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
Serves: 4

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 strips bacon, chopped into small pieces
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a large, rimmed baking sheet, toss together Brussels sprouts, oil, bacon, maple syrup, and salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, until Brussels Sprouts are golden brown and tender, tossing halfway through.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Canning Applesauce

I will begin this post with two disclaimers:

Disclaimer Number One: I am not a canning expert. I tried it for the first time this year and wanted to let you know how it went from a newbie's perspective. I mentioned the Pick Your Own website in Monday's post, and it was also a great resource for canning. Check it out for legit tutorial from experienced canners. 

Disclaimer Number Two: Canning is not for the faint of heart. It takes a long time, and it's fussy.

With the important stuff out of the way, I will begin at the very beginning. I thought about canning for years, but everyone says it's a pain in the neck (It is. But it's a worthwhile pain in the neck.), and I'm a little worried about getting botulism. Since the pioneers managed to can food to see them through the long, harsh Midwestern winters without getting botulism, I thought I could give it a try. I mean, they didn't even have dishwashers with a sanitize setting. 

So here goes nothing...

Step 1: Preparation
Canning isn't something you decide to squeeze in one afternoon between Maury Povich and Judge Judy. You need to make sure you have all the tools in place. Here's what you absolutely need to can applesauce:
  1. Jars. I ordered pint-sized Ball mason jars from Amazon. Then I realized they were cheaper at the grocery store. Dang it. 
  2. Apples. Obviously.  
Here's what is really doggone helpful but not technically necessary:
  1. Canning Pot with Rack. This is essentially a really big pot with a removable rack for the jars to sit on. You need to lift jars of applesauce in and out of a pot of boiling water. Think that through. How are you going to get the jars out of boiling water? You can't very well reach your hand in there. You can purchase a "jar grabber" tool--essentially jar-shaped tongs--but if I'm going to buy something, I want it to be the thing that will make my life easiest. I bought a Graniteware 21 Quart Canner with Rack.
  2. Wide Mouth Funnel. You could spoon the applesauce into the jars very neatly, but I'm not very neat. I bought a Progressive Canning Funnel. 
Step 2: Sanitize the Jars
You need clean jars to make sure you don't introduce any gross stuff into the applesauce. Remember my fear of botulism? Let's avoid that. Wash the jars and lids in the dishwasher. Then keep them hot until the applesauce is ready. If you don't have a dishwasher, you can wash them in hot, soapy water then boil them for 10 minutes. 

Step 3: Make Applesauce
On Monday I shared my recipe for Crockpot Applesauce. When I was canning, I made one batch of Crockpot Applesauce and one batch on the stove in the biggest pot I have. I used about 40 apples in total, and it cooked down to make nine jars of applesauce. So, if you want to fill a bunch of jars, make a bunch of applesauce.

Step 4: Start Canning
First, fill the canning pot with hot water and bring it to a boil. Since it's a gigantic pot, it takes a while for the water to boil.

Meanwhile, fill your jars with applesauce. Take a clean jar from the dishwasher and use the funnel to pour applesauce into the jar. You want the applesauce to come within 1/4" of the top of the jar. Place a clean lid on top of the jar and screw it on. Repeat until all jars have been filled.

Place filled jars in the wire canning rack. Very gently lower the rack into the canning pot. Make sure the water covers the tops of the jars by 1-2 inches. Bring the water back to a boil. Once the water is boiling, start the timer. Boil the jars for 15 minutes. Once 15 minutes is up, very carefully remove the rack from the water; you don't want the jars to jostle around.

Store the jars in a place where they won't get bumped until they cool completely, probably overnight. Once the jars have cooled, check to make sure they're sealed. (The lid should be sucked down. If you can push it up and down, it's not sealed.)

Now congratulate yourself because you have successfully canned applesauce! 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Crockpot Applesauce

It's time for the annual pilgrimage to the apple orchard, folks. Don't know where the closest one is? The Pick-Your-Own website is a handy resource for all manner of U-Pick information. (And they're not paying me to say that; I just think it's a useful website.) So find a farm and get picking!

{Note: The preceding paragraph about apple picking was really just an excuse to show you a picture of my boy and his fluffy hair when we went apple picking. I have no shame.}

Once you've made it home with your bounty, you'll surely be thinking to yourself, "What am I supposed to do with fourteen bushels of apples?" Then an apple will roll off the counter and smack you on the foot and it will really smart and you'll hang your head in shame. It's really hard to exhibit self control when one is picking apples. Really hard.

Allow me help you out with some of that fruit. Today we're making applesauce, and we're doing it in the crockpot.

I have made applesauce many times. Why in tarnation did it take me so long to make it in my crockpot?! This is by far the easiest way to make applesauce. Bonus: Your house smells unbelievably delicious all afternoon. Seriously. If I could bottle this scent, I'd put Yankee Candle out of business.

This recipe calls for lots of apples, but they cook waaaaaay down. And it's not a bad thing to have extra applesauce on hand. It keeps well in the refrigerator and also freezes beautifully. Or you can get ambitious and can your applesauce. (Which I did. Yikes. More on that later this week!)

For now, let's get (slow) cooking.

Crockpot Applesauce

20 apples* (approximately), peeled, cored, and sliced
1/4 cup light brown sugar (or to taste)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1/4 cup water

Fill your slow cooker with apple slices. I wanted to make a lot of applesauce, so I really piled those babies in there. Sprinkle apples with brown sugar and cinnamon. Pour water over top. Cook on high for about 4 hours or on low for about 6. If you like your applesauce chunky, you're finished at this point. If you like smooth applesauce, you can puree it in the food processor or food mill until it reaches your desired consistency.

*I used primarily McIntosh and Cortland apples. I think that using a variety makes for extra delicious applesauce.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Double Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

Rich, chocolaty brownies studded with mini peanut butter cups and swirled with thick ribbons of peanut butter.

Need I go on? How about a testimonial?

As the husband devoured one of these decadent treats, he stopped drooling long enough to mutter reverently, "This is how every brownie should be made."

And I rest my case. Now it's time for you to make Double Peanut Butter Cup Brownies. It is how every brownie should be made after all.

P.S. Thanks to Mo for the original recipe for these brownies. Click here to check out her version, loaded with ROLO candies and a caramel swirl. They really are ROLO-ver and die good.

Double Peanut Butter Cup Brownies
Adapted from Mo's ROLO-ver and Die Good Brownies

2 sticks butter
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups mini peanut butter cups* (or quartered bite-sized peanut butter cups)
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9" x 13" baking dish and set aside.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, remove from heat and stir in sugar and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition. Add cocoa and stir until well blended. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in peanut butter cups.

Pour batter into prepared baking dish. Heat peanut butter in the microwave for about 30 seconds until it's more liquid and pour-able. Drizzle peanut butter evenly over batter and use a toothpick to swirl it into the batter. Bake for about 35 minutes, until brownies pull away from the side of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before cutting and serving.

*I used mini peanut butter cups from Trader Joe's. If you've never seen them before, they're about the size of a pencil eraser and ridiculously addictive. Be warned that if you don't use them in this brownie recipe, you'll eat them by the handful until the whole container is gone. Not that I know this from experience... Anyway, if you don't have mini peanut butter cups, just use quartered bite-sized peanut butter cups or very roughly chopped regular-sized peanut butter cups.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Taco Salad

Some say that having salad for dinner feels like a bit of a rip off. But when that salad is loaded with sweet corn, protein-packed beans, creamy cheddar cheese, help me...crunchy, salty tortilla chips, well, then salad for dinner seems okay after all. You might even be able to convince naysayers that they're eating nachos for dinner.

There are several components to this salad. Pick and choose what you want to use depending on what's stocked in your kitchen and how much time you have. Let's review the options, shall we?

Steak: If you have a carnivore on your hands, by all means, add steak to your salad. Sprinkle the meat with some chili powder and get your husband/wife/significant other to grill it while you prepare everything else.

Dressing: I took a few extra minutes to stir together a homemade dressing to drizzle on top of our salads. The husband was crazy for it. That said, if you get home late from work, pull out a bottle of Ranch. Everyone loves Ranch.

Salad: Use what you have in your fridge or what's on sale at your market. Swap out Romaine for iceberg or mixed greens. Choose your family's favorite veggies; tomatoes, red pepper, and corn are simply our recommendations. If your avocado is still rock hard on the counter, skip it. My only hard and fast rule? Don't forget the tortilla chips.

Taco Salad
Inspired by Greens & Chocolate
Makes 2 gigantic salads

8 ounces sirloin steak
Chili powder

2 tablespoons nonfat plain yogurt
2 tablespoons lowfat mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
Salt to taste

1 small head Romaine lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 small tomato, chopped
1/2 cup black beans
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 small sweet red pepper, chopped
1 avocado, chopped
1 ear cooked corn, kernels removed (or 1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed)
Tortilla chips

Start by making the steak. Preheat grill (or grill pan) to medium high. Season steak generously with salt and chili powder and rub seasoning into the meat. Grill steak until it's as done as you like, about 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Cover steak with aluminum foil and allow to rest while you prepare the rest of the salad. Slice very thinly before serving.

Next prepare the dressing. Stir together yogurt, mayonnaise, cilantro, chili powder, and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt.

When it's time to build the salad, you can get creative. If you really like tortilla chips, you can start by creating a bed of tortilla chips and piling everything on top. If you're less of a chip-lover, crumble the tortilla chips over the top like croutons. Just pile everything onto your plate and drizzle with a generous amount of dressing.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Corn Quinoa

I keep telling myself that I'm going to cook exclusively fall-ish recipes.

Then the grocery store goes and puts corn on sale. And the corn looks gorgeous. And Danny likes to help me pick the corn because he thinks the silk is funny. And so this recipe isn't quite so fall-ish at all.

But it's good. Let's focus on that.

Corn Quinoa
Adapted from Yahoo
Serves: 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth or water (or a combo)
2 ears corn on the cob* or 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium. Add shallot and saute until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add quinoa and allow it to toast for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until quinoa is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook corn however it's easiest for you. I put corn on the cob in a large skillet with about 1/2" of water and bring it to a boil. Then I cover it and allow the corn to steam until it's just tender, about 4 minutes. Once it's cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the cob.

Stir cooked corn kernels, basil, and lemon juice into the cooked quinoa. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

*This is a great way to use up leftover corn on the cob! I love leftovers.