Category Archives: Fall

Caramel Apple Spice Cake…Perfect for Fall!

Now that November has hit, I’m in full fall force! Halloween was great, filled with costumes, candy, and actual trick-or-treaters this year (in past years, we never had anyone).  The trees have been putting on a show for weeks, continually dropping lovely crunching leaves in the yard. And the weather, well, it hasn’t really cooperated for fall, but I’m hopeful it will get cold soon. So, thankfully, with fall comes fall food. My favorite, despite the overabundance of everything pumpkin, are the apples! A few weeks ago to celebrate some important family birthdays, I made a delicious caramel apple spice cake with brown sugar Swiss meringue buttercream, and yes, it was as good as it sounds!

This recipe was features in Martha Stewart Living many years ago, and as soon as I heard the title and saw the picture, I knew I had to have it. The cake is a dense spiced cake, perfect for fall, and the icing is amazing!

To start, heat 1/2 stick butter in a large saute pan over medium heat until lightly browned. Add to the butter 4 cups Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and grated (about 2 lbs apples), 1/2 cup apple cider, and 1 cup sugar. Raise the heat to medium high and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook until liquid has evaporated, about 10 more minutes. Allow to cool.butterpeeled and coredgratedadd applescidersugargolden caramel applescoolingWhisk together 3 3/4 cups flour, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger. Set aside.flour and spicesmore spicesall combined

Beat 2 sticks butter that has been softened to room temperature. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar, and beat at medium high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed and add 4 eggs, 1 at a time. Beat after each addition. Add 1/4 cup flour mixture to the cooled apple mixture. With the mixer on low, add the remaining flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with 1/2 cup sour cream.  Fold in the apple mixture.more butterbeatingsugarbrown sugarcombinedeggsfloursour creammore flourapples

Divide the batter between 2 8×2 inch round cake pans that have been greased and floured. Bake at 350 degrees until golden and a toothpick comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Allow to cool completely before frosting.batterready for the ovenbakedTo make the buttercream, whisk 5 egg whites, 1 2/3 cups brown sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Heat and whisk the mixture for about 5 minutes until it reached 160 degrees. Remove from heat and beat the egg mixture on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 6 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium low and add 4 sticks room temperature butter (yes, I said 4 sticks), 2 tablespoons at a time. Beat for about 3-5 minutes after all butter has been added to make the frosting smooth. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to harden then beat the frosting to a spreadable consistency.seperating eggsready for the double-boiler160ready to be whippedwhippedeven more butterall addedfrostingfirst layersecond layer

The cake is delicious and the frosting is absolutely amazing. I know it has a lot of butter, but it’s a great splurge dessert! Happy fall!done

Beautiful Fall Foliage

It’s amazing how quickly fall changes the landscape from beautiful shades of green to an autumn rainbow. The leaves have been changing here, and being in a new house, I’m amazed at all of the fall color we have. Every day seems like a new surprise, so I thought I’d take you on a virtual tour.rhododendrunIt’s hard to believe but some of the rhododendron are reblooming.dogwoodThe dogwood has great color.firewoodReady for some warm fires in the fireplace.tulip treeOur tulip tree is huge!beautiful skyBeautiful sky.pinecones everywherePine cones everywhere.pine treesPine trees showing some golden color.mapleThe maple tree is putting on a show!leavesLots of fallen leaves.flowersSome flowers are still blooming!

I hope you enjoy the fall color. It will be gone before you know it!

Fall Weather and Beef Stroganoff…the Perfect Saturday!

Today was downright cold. Since it was a beautiful morning with leaves slowly falling and the sun shining, I decided to enjoy my breakfast on the deck. It was perfect, except, after a few minutes, I was freezing. Summer is definitely over. But, the cold temperatures made me think of what else…food…and not just any food…comfort food. Yes, not only is fall perfect with falling leaves, warm blankets, and amazing pumpkins, but it’s also the perfect excuse for warm, cozy comfort food like beef stroganoff!falling leaves

To start, cut 2 1/2 lbs. steak into chunks. I used sirloin, but feel free to use whatever cut you like. You want the pieces to be bite size. Salt and pepper the steak. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. If you’re like me, you may not have a pan big enough, so feel free to use a stock pot. Once the oil is hot, cook the steak until brown and mostly cooked through, a few minutes on each side. With this large amount, you want to cook the steak in batches, probably about three. Otherwise, the pan will be too full, and the meat will just steam, not brown. As the meat cooks, remove to a bowl.beefolive oilcookingbrowningcookedIn the same pan, add more olive oil if there isn’t any remaining. You want about a tablespoon total. Add 1 large onion, chopped. Cook for about 5 minutes until brown, then add 3 garlic cloves, minced. Cook for another minute, then remove to a bowl.onionsgarliconionsbrowningAdd 2 tablespoons butter to the pan. Once hot, add 1 lb. mushrooms, chopped. Again, you will want to do this in batches so the mushrooms brown. I cooked them in two batches.mushroomscookingalmostdoneOnce the mushrooms are all cooked, add the onions, garlic, and rest of the mushrooms back to the pan. Add 1/2 cup red wine, and deglaze the pan. Boil for a minute while scraping the bottom of the pan. Add 4 tablespoons flour, stir, and cook for another minute. Slowly add 4 cups beef broth, stirring to combine. The mixture will be thick as you start adding the broth. Add 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon Worcester sauce, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and boil for about 5 minutes to combine.wineflourcookingthickeningDijonBefore serving, add 1 tablespoon chopped parsley and 1 cup sour cream. Stir to combine. Boil egg noodles according to package directions, and serve the stroganoff over the noodles.parsleyaddedsour creamdoneI hope you enjoy this comforting meal as much as I did. I can’t wait for more as the fall keep coming!

Cookbooks, Cookbooks, Everywhere!

As we approach the holiday weekend, most people are thinking about heading to the shore, or barbecues with friends, or maybe even some “getting ready for fall” shopping. But, for those who have a long list of projects to do at home, it’s a little different. There is a list…a dreaded list…of things that need to be accomplished this weekend, so I’ll be staying in. First up tomorrow is digging up the flagstone walkway and laying rocks and sand for drainage. Sounds like fun, I know, but it is great to continue to see improvements at the house.

One of the things we recently did was purchase new bookshelves for the living room. I love the way they look, and it was exciting to finally unpack the books that I stored away so long ago. The most exciting for me was going through the cookbooks.cookbooks

As I may have mentioned before, I’m a bit addicted to cookbooks. I love to read through, learn, and get new ideas. I flag pages, stick in post-it notes, and even write notes in some. As I’ve been reminiscing through my cookbooks, I thought I’d share some with you.

The first cookbook I ever used, my mom’s Betty Crocker Cookbook. I think I “borrowed” it many years ago, but it still somehow managed to survive the move! I still use this recipe for a fruit crisp topping.
Betty Crockerapple crisp

A few of my favorites appear on this shelf. I got the Gourmet Today cookbook a few years ago, and I love it. The recipes are so creative and different. Of course, no collection would be complete without Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Who doesn’t love Julia Childs? You can see all of my “notes” sticking out of the top. And, of course, Joy of Cooking. It was a must when I was starting out!Gourmet, Mastering, and Joy

I’m a huge Martha Stewart fan. Can you tell? They are some of my favorites, especially her The Martha Stewart Cookbook. It’s a great reference book.Martha Stewart

When we travel, my favorite souvenir is a cookbook, especially if we’re somewhere where the food is different from home. Last summer we were in Greece. It took some searching, but I found a great cookbook, that also happened to be in English. Two summers ago we were in Italy and lucky enough to attend a cooking class in Tuscany. I took copious notes at that one…it was phenomenal!Greek and ItalianMy Notes

My prized possessions, my Mommom Phil’s cookbook and recipe cards. I love that the cookbook is so battered and used, and that the recipes are in her handwriting. Sure, most of them don’t have quantities, and you have to guess at some ingredients, but it’s great to see what she loved. And, bonus, she wrote other recipes all over the cookbook!Mommom's RecipesInside Notes

Of course those were only the cookbooks you saw downstairs. I haven’t even unpacked all of the boxes of magazines filled with recipes! 🙂 I guess that’s why they call it labor day! Happy Labor Day everyone!

Ending the Summer with Orzo with Roasted Vegetables!

It’s hard to believe that the summer is drawing to a close, although I have to say, the cool weather is a welcome change. I keep seeing leaves falling from our many trees, and it’s getting me excited for fall. However, I know, there still are a few weeks left. As your squeezing in those final summer get togethers and Labor Day picnics, take a look at this recipe! Orzo with roasted vegetables is a delicious alternative to potato salad or cole slaw, or whatever you normal take. It’s pretty easy, travels great, and is absolutely delicious.

Peel and chop 1 small eggplant into 1 inch pieces. Chop 1 red bell pepper, 1 yellow bell pepper, and 1 red onion into 1 inch pieces as well. Throw them all on a sheet pan. Add 2 garlic cloves, minced, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Toss to coat all of the vegetables in the oil, then spread out on the pan. Cook at 425 for 40 minutes until browned. Turn them once with a spatula about half way through so they don’t stick and get evenly browned.Ready for RoastingGetting ThereDone!

Meanwhile, cook ½ lb. orzo according to the package directions. If you’re not familiar with orzo, it’s a pasta, similar in shape to rice. You can find it in your pasta aisle. Once it’s cooked, drain and add it to a large bowl. Add the roasted vegetables when they are done, and any delicious liquid that may have accumulated in the pan. Make the dressing by combining 1/3 cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons), 1/3 cup olive oil, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Whisk to combine, then add to the other hot ingredients. Stir, and let them all combine while they cool to room temperature.OrzoRoasted VeggiesJuicing LemonsLemon JuiceOlive OilPepperAlmost Ready

If you’re going to use the salad in a day or so, you can cover and store this salad in the refrigerator before adding the rest. The day you’re going to serve, take the salad out of the refrigerator several hours early to allow to come to room temperature. Add 4 minced scallions (both white and green parts), ¼ cup toasted pine nuts, ¾ lbs. crumbled feta, and 15 basil leaves, thinly sliced.ScallionsBasilPine NutsFetaCombined

Toss everything to combine, and there you go. The recipe is from the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, and really is a delicious one. Give it a try at your next get together. I guarantee you’ll get rave reviews, and lots of requests for the recipe!

Sausage Stuffing for Thanksgiving!

celery onions pepperIt’s almost here, and I can’t wait.  Thanksgiving!  It’s my absolute favorite holiday.  I know, I know, people love Christmas, or can’t get enough of Halloween, and I like them too.  However, as someone obsessed with food, you shouldn’t be surprised that the food fest is my favorite. And for me, one of the crown jewels of that Thanksgiving table is the stuffing.

Growing up in an Italian-American household, there was only ever one type of stuffing. There was no chestnut or cornbread, no pecan or, heaven forbid, Stove Top. Instead, butterit was always sausage stuffing. Amazing, delicious sausage stuffing. I know for some, that may seem strange, however, if you’ve never had it, give it a try. The sausage adds incredible flavor, and the addition of plenty of onions and some green peppers only enhances it. It has ruined plain stuffing for me.  It seems so, well, plain without the sausage.

To start, melt 1 stick butter in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add in 2 medium to large red onions, chopped. Saute for about 5 minutes until they start to soften and have some color.oinionsAdd to the saute pan 4 stalks celery, chopped, and 1 large green bell pepper, chopped. Stir to combine, and continue cooking for 5 more minutes, until the vegetables are cooked. Pour everything into a large bowl, and return the pan to the heat.celerypeppercookedCook 1 lb mild Italian sausage. If you can get loose sausage meat, get that. However, I can never find it at Wegmans, so, instead if just cut the casing and add it to the pan loose. Cook for about 5 minutes, breaking up as you go until thoroughly cooked and no longer pink.sausage

breakingI’ll let you in on a little tip here. When I make this stuffing, I can never seem to break the sausage up small enough while cooking it. You really want small pieces that get incorporated into every bite of the stuffing. Once it’s cooked, I add it to a plate to cool, then I just break it up with my hands into the bowl that has the vegetables. It’s so much easier than trying to break it in the pan. So break it up and add the sausage and any fat or juice from the pan to the bowl.

breadNext, you want to add the bread. I use bagged cubes of bread for my stuffing. I find it much easier then cutting, and I get the Martin’s potato bread that stands up well to the moisture. If you prefer, you could cut up white bread, or get a loaf of Italian bread or even ciabatta would be nice. Feel free to experiment. In total, you’ll want about 24 oz cubed bread, which is about 22 cups, or two bags of the pre-cut stuff.

I add the bread in stages. As it absorbs the liquid, it will start to shrink and some will even fall apart, so I find it much easier. Add half the bread, then add about 2 cups chicken stock. If you have it, use homemade. On Thanksgiving, we always have holiday soup…or you may stuffingknow it as Italian Wedding or Escarole…so I always have stock on hand. If you’re buying it, that’s fine, just get a low sodium variety. The Wegmans store brand is great, and it’s lower in sodium than many others. Also add 1 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Stir to combine, then add the remaining bread. You may need a little bit more stock to make sure everything is moist, but you don’t want it too wet. Pour into a greased 13×9 pan, and cram it in to fit. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes until hot throughout, and ready for the ovenbrown on top.

One note, for Thanksgiving, I usually make the stuffing the night before and just cook it on Thanksgiving. If you’re doing that, take it out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you’re putting it in the oven, and it may take up to an hour to cook through. You want it hot all the way through.

Well, there you have it, my tried and true, favorite Thanksgiving stuffing. Oh, and you’ll notice I didn’t stuff the bird. You certainly can with this stuffing, but I love the crunchy top, and you get much more when you cook it in a pan. However, if you’re a stuffer, go for it!

Birthdays with Chocolate Cake and Salted Caramel Milk Chocolate Frosting

finished cakeLast weekend, I had the pleasure of getting a birthday cake for someone special.  There is a great bakery near where I live, Bakers of Buffington, that makes amazing cakes, so I had planned on ordering from them.  However, one thing led to another at work on Friday, and I never placed my order.  So, instead, I had the opportunity to try something new.

I went searching for a recipe that involved salted caramel.  I wanted it to be the star of the cake, but had some trouble finding something that worked well.  I finally found a frosting recipe that had great reviews, but the cake itself had bad reviews.  I combined the best of both worlds and used the frosting fromparchmentAnne Thornton of the Food Network and the cake from Robyn and her “add a pinch” blog. The cake had amazing reviews for being moist, and that’s exactly what I was looking for. The results were…amazing!

The cake is a pretty simple one bowl recipe.  Start by adding to the bowl of a mixer (or any bowl really) 2 cups flour, 2 cups sugar, 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon espresso powder.  Give it a good mix with the mixer, on low of course, or just whisk together.

eggs and batterTo that mixture, add 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2 eggs, and 2 teaspoons vanilla.  Give that a good stir on medium until combined.  Then, with the mixture on low, add 1 cup boiling water to the mix.  Beat for 1 minute to add air to the batter.  She says to beat on high, but I had to keep it around medium otherwise there was chocolate flying everywhere in my kitchen.

Flour and butter two 9-inch cake pans. I also added disks of parchment paper after buttering to the bottom so it wouldn’t stick.  Then I buttered again and floured.  Actually, I say buttered, but really, I used a spray! 🙂 Pour the cakesbatter evenly into the two pans, then bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.

Allow to cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then turn them onto a cake rack to cool completely.  While that’s cooling, let’s make the frosting.

I will admit, this wasn’t the easiest recipe for frosting, but it is delicious. Start by putting 18 oz milk chocolate chips and 10 oz semisweet chocolate chips in a large bowl and set aside.  Next, add 1 1/2 cup sugar to a heavy bottom saucepan with 1/2 cup water.  Place sugarover medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture starts to boil. Boil until the mixture starts to turn caramel in color, about 8-10 minutes.  Don’t stir during this process though, or the sugar will crystalline.  You don’t want the sugar to burn either, you just want a caramel color.

Once it’s a good color, turn down the heat and carefully add 2 1/4 cups heavy cream.  The mixture will bubble up, so be careful.  Stir over medium heat to combine the cream, and melt any sugar that may have hardened from the cold cream.  Once it’s all incorporated and smooth, stir in 1/2 tablespoon sea saltcaramelShe calls for sea salt, but I’ll admit, I just used kosher salt because it’s what I had. It still turned out great.

Pour the caramel over the chocolate.  As the chocolate starts to melt, stir to combine.  It will start out looking like a mess, but quickly come together.  Put the mixture in the refrigerator until it is completely chilled, about 1 hour.

Once it’s chilled, take the frosting out and beat it with a mixer until it becomes a spreadable icingconsistency.  Add 1 1/2 sticks butter at room temperature, about 1 tablespoon at a time.  Use the mixer to combine well with the frosting.

The recipe says to refrigerate the frosting again for an hour, but I found it got too hard.  If it’s soft, then you can refrigerate it.  If it’s a good consistency, I say go ahead and start frosting.first layerfrostingsecond layerfinished cakeOne thing to note, it did make a LOT of frosting.  I probably had enough for another cake.  Feel free to keep it in the refrigerator and sneak a spoonful every so often, or you could just cut the recipe in half.leftoversEnjoy this delicious cake.  The cake itself is rich and super moist, and the icing is so good, caramely, chocolatey, and salty…perfect!  I got rave reviews for this one, and a very happy birthday boy!