Monthly Archives: October 2014

Celebrate Halloween with a Caramel Apple Cake!

applesI may have mentioned this before, but I love the fall.  I love the leaves and pumpkins, the cool weather, and the holidays.  While Thanksgiving may be my favorite, Halloween is still up there for me!  It’s that magical time when pumpkins come to life, witches stop by your doorstep, and sweets run a-plenty!  And boy do those sweets run a-plenty for me.  From candy corn to cookies, from candy bars to cake, I love the sweets! So, when I found a recipe for Caramel Apple Cake, it just seemed to combine everything into one amazing dessert, and I had to try it!

sugar and corn syrupEvery year, as fall approaches, I pull out my old magazines and read through the October and November editions for inspiration.  That’s right, I said I save my old magazines.  Kind of crazy, I know, but I really do refer back quite a bit.  My Martha Stewart Living goes back to February 1996…but I digress.  This year, as I was perusing the old issues, I found this recipe from 2010 in the Food Network Magazine.  I meant to try it but never did.  So this year, I wasn’t going to miss out again!  It’s a delicious, completely fall cake, with a rich, apple-caramel topping.  It’s sweet and sticky, and just perfect!

caramelTo start, you need to make a caramel.  Combine 3 cups sugar with 5 tablespoons light corn syrup in a large saute pan.  Heat over medium high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring, until it’s a dark amber color.  The sugar will all melt, and it will bubble.  Be careful, it’s hot!

Once it’s the right color, add 1 cup heavy cream and 4 tablespoons butter.  You want to do this off the heat, and it will still splatter and bubble up when the cold cream hits the hot sugar.  Just stir it and let it settle down before returning to the heat.  Cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes until it’s all combined and smooth.

caramel doneOnce the caramel looks good, pour 1 1/2 cup into a glass measuring cup.  The mixture is hot, so don’t use anything plastic.  Pour the rest into a buttered 9 inch cake pan that has 3 inch sides.  You need the sides because this is a high cake.  I didn’t have a cake pan that was that high, so I used a spring form pan that was the right dimensions.  Some of the caramel did leak in the oven, but I put it on a pan with parchment, so it really wasn’t bad.  Let the caramel cool for about 30 minutes while you prepare the batter.

In a small bowl, whisk together 3 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon until combined.  In a different small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/3 cup orange juice, and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.  Set both of these aside, and take out your mixer.

batterBeat 1 cup butter, softened, with 1 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy.  This will take about 5 minutes.  Then add 3 eggs, one at a time, and beat after they are added until the mixture is smooth and pale yellow.  Probably another few minutes.  Next, add half the sour cream mixture and beat on low till combined.  Then add half the flour mixture and beat on low until combined.  Repeat both, and then use your spatula to scrape the sides and ensure everything is thoroughly mixed.

Now you can get your apples ready.  I didn’t want to do this too early, because I didn’t apples arrangedwant them to discolor.  Get 4 large Golden Delicious apples.  You don’t want to peel them.  Take 3 of them, and cut into quarters.  Cut in half first, then use a melon baller to remove the core, then cut in half again.  For the remaining apple, cut it in half crosswise so you end up with the top and bottom of the apple.  Use the melon baller again to remove the cores, and chop the bottom portion.

Arrange the apples over the caramel in a circular pattern, with the quarters going around the outside, and the top of the half going in the center, stem side down.  You may have tready for the ovenoo many quarters, don’t worry, just use what you can.  Next, pour the prepared batter over the apples, spread evenly, and top with the chopped apples.

Because I had a spring form pan, I wrapped it in foil, and I put it on a sheet pan, just in case it cooked over.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour to 1 hour 20 minutes.  You want the cake to be brown on top and spring back when pressed.

Let the cake cool in the pan, then fill a large skillet with 1 inch of water and heat until simmering.  Run a sharp knife around the edge of the cake, then set the pan inside the bakedskillet.  This will soften the caramel after a few minutes.  And, this works best if you have a cake pan, not my improvised spring form pan.  Remove the pan from the water, and make sure it’s dry. Place a plate on top of the cake and flip. Remove the pan, then soften the remaining caramel you saved in the microwave and drizzle over the cake.

This cake really is delicious, and trust me, you won’t be able to contain yourself.  It’s the perfect cake for fall, especially for Halloween!

Happy Halloween…I need to get my costume on!  What are you being for Halloween this year???

Stuffed Peppers-A Classic!

pepper cupsAs the days keep getting shorter and the temperature keeps dropping, I keep gravitating towards warm, comfort foods for dinner.  One that I’ve been craving for a while is stuffed peppers.  I didn’t really have a recipe for traditional stuffed peppers, with meat and rice, so I went looking.  I have to tell you, there are a ton of stuffed pepper recipes out there, but not a whole lot that are like the classics.  After reading tons of reviews and a bunch of recipes, I came up with this recipe.  It’s the classic combination of rice, ground meat, and tomato sauce stuffed in a pepper, and they are delicious!

chopping topsI was feeding a crowd so I made a double batch of these.  Since you probably don’t need 12 peppers, I’m posting the single version!

Start with your peppers.  Cut off the tops, but just the tops.  I found if you cut just where the sides start to curve, you can then just pop out the stem to discard.  Then you can chop the top pepper pieces to add to the stuffing.  Cut the tops off and clean 6 peppers.  Add them to a pot of boiling salted water, and boil for just 5 minutes, to start the cooking.  Don’t worry, they won’t look very cooked (and they shouldn’t), but this helps them to soften in the oven.  When you take them out of the water, put them in a bowl with cold water and ice to cool.  Set aside.cooked pepperscold peppersFor the stuffing, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saute pan.  When hot, add the chopped onions and pepperstops of the pepper, and cook for 5 minutes, until they start to soften.  Next, add 1 medium onion, chopped, and 3 cloves garlic, minced (or just use that garlic press).  Cook these for about 10 minutes until the onions start to brown and soften, and they start turning brown.  Pour the vegetables into a bowl, and return the pan to the stove.

Next for the saute pan, add 1 lb ground beef and 1/4 lb sausage meat (without the casing).  Stir to break apart the meat, and cook until the mixture is no longer pink, then add to the vegetables.  Add 1 cup cooked rice to the mixture, and 1 cup marinara sauce, 1/2 beef and sausagetablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon ground peppers, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.  Allow the mixture to cool a bit, then add 1/2 cup Parmigiano cheese and 1 egg.  Stir everything to combine.

Another tip here, if you’re tasting for salt and pepper (and you really should), be sure to taste before you add the egg.  Once you feel the seasoning is right, then add the egg. This way you get the seasoning right without having to worry about eating raw eggs.

rice mixtureall combinedstuffingNext, take a 13×9 casserole dish and start stuffing your peppers.  You want to stuff them pretty full, and line them up in the pan.  You should have more stuffing than you need, but just scatter it around the peppers in the pan.  Finally, top the peppers with another 1 cup marinara sauce, cover with foil, and cook at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until hot throughout.

These really are delicious, and I hope you enjoy them.  I also hope you’re getting some inspiration from the fall.  What are you making these crisp fall nights?ready for the oven

A Fall Garden Walk!

Yesterday was pretty much the perfect fall day!  The high was 69 degrees.  The sun was shining.  The skies were blue.  The wind was blowing.  And, because of the cold weather last week and the rain this week, the trees and the ground are covered in amazing shades of brown, gold, and crimson.  As I said, perfect!

After I came home from work, I decided to take a little stroll through the yard and see how things were coming along.  The garden is definitely nearing its end for producing new flowers and leaves, but it still has so much to offer.  I love keeping the dead blooms and shoots in the garden, especially as we near Halloween.  There’s just something perfectly autumnal about it!

So, join me for a little walk around the garden!

purple mumsYou can’t really talk about fall gardens without talking about mums.  Here is a shot of some purple ones that are probably over 25 years old but still doing great!front mumsA front view of the same purple mums.  I love the yellow centers.white mimsA different mum I have in the garden…this one is cream.black eyed susan stemsI love the way the dead stems look in the garden this time of year.  These are black-eyed susans.coneflowerThis coneflower I added this year is doing well and still blooming.asterAsters are perfect for fall color too, and I love the shade of purple for these.roseThis one rose doesn’t want to give up!crabappleThe crab apple looks great this time of year.rose of sharonI’m not sure these Rose of Sharon buds will ever open, but they look great against the backdrop of that tree.red treeA close up of that tree…I love the red leaves it gets in the fall.apple treeI seemed to have caught more sun than apples in the apple tree.pumpkinMy surprise pumpkin plant has a little pumpkin growing.  Not sure how big it will get, but still a nice surprise.  Be careful where you drop those seeds…this year’s trash could be next year’s pumpkins!maple leafAnd certainly the maple tree is getting into the action, putting on quite a show.

I hope the colors are just as inspiring wherever you are.  And I hope you’re enjoying the fall…it’s the best!

One of My Favorite Fall Comfort Foods-Butternut Squash Lasagna!

peeledMany years ago, back in 2005, Martha Stewart published a recipe for Acorn Squash Lasagna in her Everyday Food magazine.  As soon as I saw the recipe, I knew I had to try it.  I love anything fall, and anything pasta, so it was a must.  And, true to form, it was delicious.  However, in my never-ending quest to perfect recipes, when I’ve made it in recent years, I’ve made some tweaks that I think make it even better.

First and foremost, I swap out acorn squash for butternut squash.  There is just something perfectly fall about butternut squash, and this recipe is perfect with it.  I also use a Dave's Gourmetjarred sauce and mix it with the roasted butternut squash.  I know, I know, jarred!  But, if you’ve ever tried Dave’s Gourmet Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce, you’ll understand.  If you haven’t, you need to drop everything and try it right now.  It is absolutely fantastic.  I get it at my local Wegmans, and I’ve even seen it at Marshalls, but I’m not sure who else carries it.  It has the delicious butternut squash with bell peppers, and it’s creamy and delicious.  It’s perfect for this lasagna!

To start, take 1 small to medium size butternut squash and chop it into about 1 inch cubes.  If you haven’t cooked with butternut squash, it’s very easy.  Just peel it, then cut it in half.  choppedClean out the rounded end of any seeds and soft insides, similar to a pumpkin.  Then, just slice and chop what’s left. Sprinkle the squash with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until soft.  Once soft, mash and combine with Dave’s Gourmet Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce, or any butternut squash sauce you like, to make 8 cups total.  I used 2 jars of the sauce, but it really depends on how much butternut squash you cook.

In another bowl, combine 32 oz ricotta cheese with 1 cup Parmigiano cheese, 1 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Stir to combine then set aside.

cheeseTo make the lasagna, I used an 11×15 inch Pyrex pan, but a 13×9 would work too.  You’ll also need a 16 oz pack of no-bake lasagna noodles.  Spray the pan, and put a layer of pasta on the bottom.  It should be 4 across.  Then add half the butternut squash mixture and another layer of noodles.  Next add half of the cheese mixture and another layer of noodles.  Continue with squash, then noodles, and finish with the cheese.  Sprinkle 1 cup Parmigiano cheese over the top.

ready for the ovenCover the lasagna with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes, until it’s nice and golden on top.

If you haven’t had something like it, give this lasagna a try.  It’s delicious.  You can also half the recipe and make it in an 8×8 pan, but why wouldn’t you want leftovers???

Packing My Lunch with Rosemary Chicken Salad

Roast ChickenAlmost 3 months ago to the day, I started a new job.  I absolutely love the new position and the people I work with.  It’s really my dream job, although there is one drawback.  I have had to start packing my lunch.  It’s not that I can’t run out every once in a while, but it just seems to be easier to pack.  So, after about 15 years not really ever packing, I’m back to brown bagging for lunch.  And, one of my favorite things to bring is rosemary chicken salad.

I am a huge fan of chicken salad.  If it’s on the menu, I’ve probably already had it before, or I’m going to order it.  However, probably as a result, I’m pretty picky about it.  I don’t like a Choppedton of mayonnaise, but I like it flavorful and bold, and love chicken salad with fruit or nuts, and this recipe has both.

To start, you have to roast the chicken.  I know some people will disagree and say they boil chicken, or, the trendy way of saying it, poach, but I think it leaves you with a flavorless, rubbery bird.  Instead, I like to roast boneless, skinless chicken, and infuse flavor every step of the way.

I use boneless, skinless breasts for this.  You really could use bone in or skin on, but I find this is easier, as you’re going to take it off.  Keeping the chicken on the bone would impart a Ingredientsbit more flavor, but let’s face it, I don’t have all day.  I rub 5 chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt, pepper, and chopped fresh rosemary.  I like to roast the breasts in a cookie sheet.  Also, I don’t cut out all the fat when I’m roasting the chicken.  I find it’s easier to pick it off after it’s cooked. Put them in a 425 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes, until cooked through, then let them rest and cool.

Once the chicken is cool, I chop it into cubes and put it in a large bowl.  Next, add 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, 1/2 cup dried cranberries or Craisins, and 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary.  Add about 1/2 cup rosemarymayonnaise to chicken mixture there stir to combine.  You may find you need to add a little more mayo if you have big pieces of chicken, or if you like more mayo.  Feel free to adjust.

While I would love a nice, chewy roll to eat with my chicken salad, I go for simple to take to work.  I pack it with some saltine crackers.  It’s easy, and delicious.  Happy lunch packing!