Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Caramel Apple Pie (with really soft apples!)

One of the reasons I don't usually pick apple pie is because often the apples are hard and the crust is on the burned side. This is probably because people have to cook the pie forever to try and soften the apples! After having a caramel apple empanada at Taco Bell I wanted to make my own caramel apple pie, so I created this recipe and figured out a way to solve the problem, cook the apples first! I have also used pears and it was excellent too. Make it for Thanksgiving or any special occasion :)

I cut each round apple slice into 6-8 pieces so they are bite size and you can cut your pie pieces more easily. Can also use pears instead of apples. Can reduce or omit citrus juice if apples are extra tart.

4-5 cups chopped apple slices (peeled, slice and chop apples into bite sized pieces; Optional: use pears)

2 T lemon, lime, or orange juice (optional: reduce or omit if apples are extra tart)

3/4 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 t salt

1 t cinnamon

double pie crust (recipe at bottom)

Preheat oven at 425.

Combine apples through cinnamon in medium to large sauce pan. Heat over medium heat and stir until sugars dissolve and juices run from fruit and it begins to simmer. Reduce to medium low and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

3 T flour mixed with 3-4 T cold water

Slowly stir in above mixture and cook for an additional 10 minutes, on medium low to low, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile prepare a double crust. 

Remove from heat and let filling cool for 5-10 minutes.

1 egg white mixed with 2 teaspoons cold water 

Pour into pie crust, top with top crust, being sure to seal the edges by pressing the two layers of crust together before fluting. Cut 6 slits in top of pie crust with thin sharp knife. Brush crust with egg white mixture to give the crust a nice glossy finish and prevent burning. 

Place pie pan on cookie sheet before baking in oven (just in case the filling spills out). Bake for 20-30 minutes until crust is golden brown and cooked thoroughly. 

Double Pie Crust

2 ½ cups flour (300 grams)

1 teaspoon salt

⅔ cup white shortening (126 grams regular Crisco)

Ice water

**Refrigerate shortening and flour prior to starting if your kitchen is warm. 

Stir flour and salt together in medium to large mixing bowl. Cut in shortening with pastry blender or two knives until shortening pieces are the size of tiny peas. Sprinkle ice water 1 to 1/2 tablespoon at a time over the flour, stirring quickly with a long fork between each addition. Once the dough starts to aggregate into balls and you can press them together like a firm play dough (and very  little or no dry flour remains) you can stop adding water. Form into a large ball. Divide into two equal balls (if making a double crust) and wrap in plastic wrap until ready to roll out. 

Roll out onto a very lightly floured piece of parchment paper. 

Prior to baking brush any exposed crust with an egg and water mixture (1 egg plus 2 teaspoons cold water) using a pastry brush. This will give the crust a nice glossy finish and prevent it from burning.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Broccoli Spinach Soup

I saw this recipe in the Real Simple magazine while waiting for my car to be fixed. I looked it up online and read the reviews and saw it might need some adaptation to make it more flavorful. I made it tonight with a few changes and it was excellent. It's a keeper and it's pretty healthy. It primarily tastes like brocoli as the spinach flavor came out to be pretty subtle. I served it with these breadsticks.

1 med onion, chopped
4 T butter
1/2 t salt
few cracks of pepper

1 box chicken broth (about 4 cups)
2 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes

1 large or 2 small heads of brocoli, chopped
1 large potato, peeled and chopped
1 tsp minced garlic

1/2 bag of spinach leaves (about 5 oz)

Additional seasoned salt to taste and sour cream for serving.

Saute onion, butter, salt, and pepper over med high heat in a large stock pot until onions are tender (about 10 minutes). While sauteing onions chop the broccoli and potato.

Add chicken broth, water, and bouillon cubes to pot and bring to boil. Add broccoli, potato, and garlic and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until vegetables are very tender. Add spinach and stir until wilted.

Puree soup with immersion blender (I wish I had one) or in batches in a blender or food processor.

***If you are using a blender or food processor let it cool a little first or carefully do small batches as hot liquid can cause the lid of the blender to pop off and you might be burned (no experience here). This time I did small batches and held down a layer of towels over the blender lid to prevent any accidents.

Pour through strainer back into stock pot to get rid of any remaining chunks. Reheat if necessary and add any additional salt/pepper or your favorite seasoned salt to taste.

Serve each bowl with a dollop of sour cream.

Monday, July 29, 2013

How I Freeze Various Foods - bulk food and things I don't use frequently

Buying things in bulk can be a lot cheaper but obviously you need to freeze some of it. Also, somethings you don't use up all at once, like sliced cheese and deli meat, but it doesn't last forever. I freeze a lot of things and it saves tons of time and money and keeps things from going bad. Besides ziplock freezer bags, old cottage cheese/sour cream containers work great for freezing. I just bought some cheap sticky labels to put on them so that I know what they are. Also, if you have space get a deep freezer. It saves a lot of money. We found a great one on Craig's List for around 50 bucks. If you start looking you don't have to pay a fortune.

Here is a list of some things I freeze and how to freeze them.

I wrap individual pieces in plastic wrap or fold over bags and then put those pieces in a large freezer ziplock bag which you can reuse. That way I don't waste expensive freezer bags and each piece can be pulled out and thawed separately. I put a few slices of deli meat in back in its original package if it is resealable.

I put shredded cheese in fold over bags and then put those in a large freezer bag. For presliced cheese I put wax paper between slices so that I can just take one piece out at a time. I put those back into the original bag if it is resealable.

I freeze homemade salsa, salad dressing, etc. in yogurt containers. Then I pop them out and wrap in saran wrap and then put those in a freezer ziplock. Then you can just pull out small amounts when you need it. Or I will freeze large amounts in a recycled sour cream container.

Curry Paste and Canned Chipotle
I puree or chop my canned chipotles before freezing. Measure out tablespoons of curry paste or chipotles onto a big piece of plastic wrap set on a cutting board. Cover them with another piece of plastic wrap and lay it all in the freezer. Cut each tablespoon out and put them into a ziplock bag. Then you can just pull out what you need.

Peppers and Onions
Just chop and freeze in small amounts in fold over bags, and put the fold over bags into a bigger ziplock bag. That way you don't have to burn your cuticles or cry every time you need peppers or onions. They freeze very well. See previous post about this topic.

Green Onions
You usually only need a few green onions in a recipe but when you buy them you gets tons. I chop up the white part and chop up some chives and freeze in yogurt containers or small plastic containers that I got from Aldi. They are a little bigger than an ice cube. I found that an ice cube tray was too small. Put the green onions in your container with just a little bit of water (they will float) and freeze. Then top with more water to completely cover and freeze again. Wrap each frozen aliquot in plastic wrap and store those in a bigger ziplock. Green onions will be a little wilted once thawed but are just fine when put into recipes.

I have frozen leftover whipping cream in a recycled cottage cheese or sour cream container. I just thawed it in the fridge and it whipped up just like it was fresh. 

When raspberries or blackberries are on sale I buy a ton but I have to freeze them. Wash berries and lay out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Freeze and then put into ziplock bags. This way the berries won't stick together and you can easily pull out a few.

Homemade Baby Food
Puree your food and put it into clean recycled glass baby food jars. That way you can just pop out a jar when you need it and pop it in the fridge or microwave to thaw and serve straight from the jar. Texture from thawing won't matter because it will be pureed anyway.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Perfectly Rich and Moist Any Flavor Cake Mix Recipe

This is the recipe I use to make my cakes and cupcakes. I got it from a lady names Sally who made our wedding cake and it is amazing every time. It's always very rich and moist without falling apart and you can enhance the flavor of the cake mix or make a white cake any flavor you want just by altering the pudding flavor. I prefer to use Duncan Hines brand for this recipe

1 cake mix, any flavor (I prefer Duncan Hines)
1 small box pudding, any flavor that coordinates with the cake
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup water
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a medium to large mixing bowl. Beat for 2 minutes with hand mixer. The batter will be very rich and smooth. Bake at 325 if you want your cake to be flatter, like for a layered cake. Otherwise bake cupcakes and other cakes at 350  until inserted toothpick comes out clean. It may take longer than the time listed on the box.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Freezing Chopped Onions

I HATE chopping onions every time I need them for a recipe.  Also, onions are usually cheaper in bulk so if you buy a bag and don't use them right away, you usually have a few go rotten. Fortunately I've realized that onions freeze very well.

I recently started chopping my entire bag of onions and freezing them in small quantities. I like my onions practically pureed for most recipes so I put them in my food processor and put varying amounts in those cheap fold over bags. Then I stuff all those fold over bags into a bigger ziplock bag. You can chop them into whatever size(s) you think you will need and then whenever you need onions for a recipe you just pull the baggie out and thaw it under running water in a strainer. Believe me, this will save you tons of TIME and TEARS. Try it out the next time you buy a bag of onions.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Creamy Cheesy Potato and Vegetable Soup

I really like vegetable cream soups but most of the recipes I have tried turn out ok but not amazing like what you get at some restaurants. So last week I decided to make some cheesy potato soup and just happened to have some left over heavy cream in the fridge and decided to use it up instead of using regular milk like I usually do. The difference was amazing! This soup tasted ten times better than any other cream soup I have made before.

Since I basically made it up I figured I should jot down the recipe before I forgot so here it is. I used potatoes, carrots, and zuchinni, but you could use any other vegetables in place of the zuchinni like broccoli or cauliflower.

1 box chicken broth (they sell them at my Dollar Tree for $1, best deal ever, so check out yours)
about 10 small yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed (or about 2-3 cups of any cubed potato)
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into circles
1 zuchinni chopped into small bite size pieces

In a large pot bring chicken broth to boil and add carrots. Boil about 3-5 minutes. I added the carrots first because they tend to take longer to cook than the other vegetables. Add potatoes and cook until you can easily poke them with a fork or toothpick (but not falling apart, about 8-10 minutes). Add zuchinii or other vegetables and cook until tender then turn down to simmer. 

While cooking the vegetables make the Cheesy Cream Part in a small sauce pan:

1/2 stick butter
1 cup heavy cream
3 T corn starch dissolved in some cold water
1 tsp seasoned salt (like Lawry's)
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1-2 cups shredded orange cheese

Melt butter and slowly whisk in the cream over medium heat. Slowly add the dissolved corn starch and let simmer until it starts to thicken, stirring frequently. Add the seasonings and stir in 1 cup cheese until melted. Slowly pour cream mixture into the pot of broth and vegetables and stir well until everything is well mixed and heated. Then add up to 1 cup more cheese and stir until well melted and mixed in.

Serve with bacon bits if you have them (even the fake kind are good in this soup).

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Crayon Monogram Shadow Box

Now that I've given away a few handmade presents over the last few months I can finally post about them. This crayon monogram shadow box is the perfect teacher gift or would be cute in a child's room to display the first letter of their first name. I used a regular certificate frame (that fit 8.5X11) that I found at Hobby Lobby, it doesn't need to be an actual shadow box frame, just one where the glass is in the front and doesn't directly touch the back so that you have room for the crayons. I found inspiration for the directions here.

First I made a large letter in Word on a paper size template and drew a line as a guide for the height of the letter. I printed off both, the letter on scrap paper and the line guide on nice cardstock.

Then I laid out my crayons and cut them to the right lengths to fit over the letter template. I used an exacto knife to make the cuts. The crayons on the curve must be cut at an angle. Once I had my letter perfect (and in a ROYGBIV color like order) I transferred them one at a time to the cardstock with the line quide (so that I wouldn't have to worry about any of the letter showing through) and glued them with Elmer's glue. I felt more comfortable using Elmer's glue than hot glue so that I had some freedom to shift the crayons around after I set them down. Make sure your cut edges don't have any crumbly edges or else when it is all finished you will have wax crumbs falling to the bottom of the frame, so blow on it to test for any strays.

Then I set the frame on top and cut a piece of thick cardboard to fit the back. I had to make my own backing because the one it came with wouldn't fit right with the crayons. I gave it as a gift to a teacher with a nice stand to display it on.