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Archive for November, 2011

Apple Crisp

I’m aware that back home, it’s not so much fall anymore as it is that brown, damp time that occurs between fall and winter.  The days of tolerably cool weather, with the sun shining through trees that still have [beautifully colored] leaves on them are long gone.  Here in SoCal, however, we live in what I’ve taken to calling a perpetual summer.  This is especially accurate for us Sconnies, as we’ve often endured summers where the high rarely hits 70 🙂  Though it’s been cool and wet by California standards in recent weeks, that actually makes it prettier here.  Things get green and lush and the smog clears away for a few days, providing gorgeous views of the Hills.  It reminds me of that good Wisconsin fall, and I love it.  Combine that feeling with the fact that my mom sent Alison out here with a large bag of orchard apples (Macs or Cortlands, we couldn’t tell…oops), and you create the urge for a yummy fall treat.

Although I enjoy apple pie, my two go-to apple desserts are apple squares (kuchen to those of us with heavier German influences) and apple crisp.  Both easy and freakin delicious.  Apple crisp takes less time, however, so that’s what I opted for.

Any time I cook with apples, I think of my Grandma.  She made a wicked apple pie, and my sisters and I spent many hours helping her peel apples (usually picked in the “orchard” in her backyard on a rickety ladder).  As a reward, she’d use her extra pie crust to make us “pie sticks,” simple strips of crust sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.  I’ll still do the same when I bake at home, however I usually get busy elsewhere and forget them…meaning our childhood treats turn out looking more like bricks of charcoal.  Anyways, we used to compete to see who could make the longest chain of skin while we peeled.  Nowadays, we’ve gotten so good we can pretty much do an entire apple in one go.  We’d also pretend said chains were money (tasty money, too).  My college friends found these stories hilarious.  I find them heart-warming.  It’s cute how easily we were amused.

I don’t recall Grandma ever making apple crisp (why would she, her pie was too good).  The recipe I use is from the Holy Rosary Church cookbook.  Which is wonderful.  As most church cookbooks are.  I mean, collecting all the best recipes of all the little old ladies of the parish in one collection?  You’re just asking to gain 20 pounds.  This recipe couldn’t be easier.  You CANNOT screw it up.  But you’ll get plenty of praise for your slight efforts (Chris just walked downstairs asking “what is that amazing smell?”).  Cortlands and Macs are my favorite baking apples, but I’m sure you all have your favorites.  The rest of the ingredients are likely already in your pantry.

Peel and slice at least 6 cups of apples and put in a 9×9 or 10×10 baking dish.  (This is the great thing about this “recipe”…it’s totally flexible.  You don’t really have to measure out 6 cups.  Just eyeball.)

Sprinkle with a teaspoon each of water and lemon juice (I’ll skip the lemon juice if I don’t have any).

For the “crisp” part, mix:

  • 1/3 cup softened butter (not melted)
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup quick oats
  • 1/2 flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

I always double the amount of topping per pan.  It’s like having streusel on muffins.  You don’t eat the muffin for the muffin, you eat it for the streusel.  Or at least I do.  If I wanted mushy apples on their own, I’d eat applesauce.  I eat apple crisp for that amazing topping!

So, mix up these ingredients and pour over the apples, patting down so they’re all covered.  Bake at 375 for 40-45 minutes and ENJOY!  Preferably hot, with vanilla bean ice cream 🙂

 

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Go figure, it’s been five weeks since I posted anything.  For which I apologize.  However, I haven’t really cooked anything exciting lately.  There was a stretch somewhere in those five weeks where I worked 13 or 14 days straight, often until 7 or 8 at night.  More than once I came home, stood in my kitchen, and ate a bowl of leftovers quick for dinner before showering and passing out 🙂  Not to mention I’ve been busy trying out restaurants in the neighborhood….(Here’s my shout out to The Burger Kitchen…where they not only have awesome burgers, but probably the best fried pickles I’ve tasted yet.  And bacon-wrapped homemade tater tots.  The sheer caloric load of it all makes me feel like I’m back home instead of in vegan and organic obsessed Los Angeles.)

However, Ali and Chris are here now, which means when I cook there aren’t leftovers for several days of meals anymore.  Which means more cooking, and more reasons to blog!

I find it difficult to believe it’s already closer to December than it is to October, and that Thanksgiving is only a few days away.  Probably because, for the most part, it’s 70 degrees here every day and the sun is almost always shining through the smog.  The past few days have been a tad odd, however.  It’s sprinkled a few times and today there was an outright downpour that lasted several hours.  I found it extremely comforting to be watching football in a sweatshirt and wool socks, drinking my coffee and being cozy.  The weather also put me in the cooking/eat a lot of carbohydrates because it’s time to hibernate mood.

We settled on this old reliable Rachael Ray recipe for dinner.  The first time I made this was for Ali while we were holding down the fort at my parents’ in the middle of winter a few years ago.  They were in Florida experiencing record highs, and we were experiencing near-record lows and constant below-zero temps in Wisco.  A big steaming pot of cheesy noodles sounded about right (as did starting a fire and watching Bedknobs & Broomsticks…ha!).

Homemade mac n’ cheese is about as easy as it gets, even though it sounds scary because it involves making a roux to thicken the cheese sauce.  And I know foreign languages in recipes can be quite daunting 😉  Hol and I made a pretty delicious one with bacon and pepper jack last winter.  This one is a little more subdued, but delicious nonetheless:

  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound cavatappi pasta (thick elbow mac works well too), cooked
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 TBSP butter
  • 3 TBSP all purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 2-3 cups shredded provolone
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 3/4 lb. thinly sliced deli roast beef (cut into strips)

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions and season with salt and pepper.  Cook for 12-15 minutes until they’re tender and slightly carmelized.  (This was harder than it sounded for me the first time.  I totally burned the sh*t out of the first batch of onions.  For real…take the full 15 minutes and use lower heat 😉 ).

While the onions do their thing, melt the butter in a small pot over medium-high heat.  Add the flour and cook for 1 minutes, stirring constantly.  Whisk in the milk slowly and bring to a bubble to thicken, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and whisk in 1.5 cups cheese until melted.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

*Let’s take a time out and discuss cheese, shall we?  I’ve made this with provolone, and I’ve made it with Monterrey Jack.  I’ve used brick cheese sliced thinly, which works just fine.  It’s getting melted, after all.  But since this is a cheese-steak inspired recipe, I’d stick with a white cheese.  It just seems proper…*

Preheat your broiler.  Add the beef stock and sliced beef to the onions and cook to warm through.  If your skillet is broiler-safe, add the pasta and cheese sauce at this time, top with the remaining cheese, and broil for a few minutes until the cheese melts/browns.  If your skillet isn’t safe for the broiler, place the mixture in a baking dish that is, and then broil it.  Or just skip the broiling step if you want.  A few minutes in a hot oven will do essentially the same thing.

That pan is probably the most useful thing in my kitchen....

My tummy is nice and full as I type this, but as usual I have a few comments on what I just created.  Though the broiler does give the top layer a nice crunch, I think it would be yummy to add some bread crumbs to the top with the cheese to sort of extend that.  Make it sort of tuna casserole-esque.  And though my cheese sauce turned out fine, I used skim milk.  I’m sure the French, as well as Rachael Ray, would shudder at the thought.  And I’m sure 2% would make it a bit richer.  I just want you all to know, skim works fine.  Don’t worry 🙂

I hope I can find the time to blog more here with the holidays coming up!  But for now, I will wish you all a happy Thanksgiving.  Enjoy that turkey, and while you’re at it…cheer for the Packers!

 

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More California Adventures

If you haven’t noticed, we’ve been pretty quiet lately.  I can’t speak for Danielle (although she has been busy with work and whatnot) but for me it has been due to our recent move.  Chris and I have officially been calling Los Angeles home for a week now.   Which meant a lot of organizing, unpacking, purchasing dining room furniture, and updating resumes.  We’ve also been super fortunate to have a network of friends out here who have helped us out and gotten me a one day job on a corporate video shoot and Chris an interview.  We’ve also managed to squeeze in a little eating, drinking and cooking though so I thought I’d pop back in to catch y’all up.

Our cross country journey took us the same route Danielle and I drove in September, so we knew roughly where we would stop for major meals.  Our first day landed us in Kansas City for dinner so we checked out a different BBQ joint: Arthur Bryants.  I had a burnt ends sandwich and Chris got the beef.  Both were delicious, the beef especially was different as it was more dry and smokey, not like the brisket I expected, but very good in its own way.  The burnt ends here were chopped up bits of meat that seemed to have been hanging out in sauce all day; in other words, yum.  This place is definitely on the come again list.

Our second day, from Wichita to Albuquerque, was shorter so we planned to leave a bit later and grab lunch at Irma’s.  We both got the “No Name” organic, grass-fed beef patties and devoured them between nibbles of fried pickles.  Did I mention we pulled in a few minutes before they opened on a Wednesday and we were not alone?  The place got packed quickly and for good reason, their burgers are amazing and worth a detour to Oklahoma City.

Now that we’ve settled in we’re trying out places in the neighborhood and sharing some recipes with Danielle.  We bought some Sriracha  hot sauce right away, and made her Spicy Thai Noodles.  We made her check out World Market and she took us to Trader Joe’s – where we went gaga over the beer and wine selection.  We also checked out a BBQ place at the Farmer’s Market, found good pizza and wings places that deliver, and trekked out to find a good happy hour close by.  The BBQ wasn’t about to beat out the Missouri places as our new favorite, but it’s a decent place within walking distance if we get a craving.  Rocco’s Pizza delivery was fast and delicious, they offer the standard topping options, along with some interesting ones (peas? eggplant?).  We chose spinach, mushrooms, fresh garlic and prosciutto… did I mention it was delicious?  When Chris craved wings the other night we tried Hoagies & Wings‘ Mambo and Honey Mustard wings.  They were smothered in the  yummy – and in the case of mambo, uber-spicy – sauces.  Both have made our list of places to order from again.

Yesterday Danielle was home early, just after Chris had returned from his interview, so we decided to checkout the neighborhood for a happy hour place.  There are plenty around, but we narrowed our search to somewhere that served food.  We settled on Burger Kitchen, but they weren’t open yet when we walked over, so we headed down the street in search of somewhere else to start, picking Tasca Wine Bar and their $8 happy hour menu.  We shared a pitcher of Sangria and each picked something to eat: Chris the fried calamari, Danielle and I each a potato and chorizo soup.  It was a very good restaurant, but looked like it could get pretty pricey beyond of the happy hour specials.  After finishing the Sangria, we wandered back to Burger Kitchen for a beer and after perusing their menu decided to share a couple of appetizers: sliders with caramelized onions, fried pickles, and bacon-wrapped tater tots.  Everything was awesome, but my favorite was the fried pickles.  It tasted like the pickles were homemade, because you got an initial taste of fresh cucumber before the vinegary bite of pickle and greasy goodness of the batter.  As a bonus, in addition to the “wall of beer” displaying the varied bottled selection they had a handful of beers on tap, including one of Chris’ favorites Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.  We’ve never seen it on tap before, so Chris had to have a pint and it turned out to be smoother than from a bottle.  I tried a couple sips and decided it was so smooth I could probably even drink a glass, not usually being a fan of dark beers like stouts and porters.  We headed home full and happy, with plans to return for more beer and burgers.

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