Monday, November 30, 2009

GFCF Spaghetti and meatballs

This past weekend my younger daughter turned 3 years old. She requested her favorite dish: spaghetti! For her that means a plate of plain spaghetti with Parmesan cheese. For the rest of us, it meant the classic spaghetti and meatballs.

About 15 years ago, someone in my family stumbled across a little Italian cookbook that has turned out to have some of the best recipes ever in it. It was so loved, that my mother bought nearly every good friend and family member a copy.

I have made more than a dozen recipes from this cookbook, and each one has been superb.

I decided to use the meatball recipe from this now out-of-print cookbook, and modify it to be free of both gluten and casein.

Because this was for a party with other guests besides just my immediate family, I was a bit nervous about how the meatballs would taste with the modifications. I'm happy to say they turned out delicious and were scarfed up right away.

To compensate for omitting the Parmesan cheese in the original recipe, I mixed Italian sausage with the ground chuck. The Italian sausage added extra flavor and "covered" for the missing Parmesan cheese.

For the gluten free bread crumbs, I used two-day-old gluten free bread that I ran through the food processor to make bread crumbs. I think it would be fine to use regular GF bread without making bread crumbs though.

Below is the original recipe and my GFCF modifications are in parentheses.

Spaghetti and Meatballs (serves 6-8)
1 1/2 cups torn crustless Italian bread (gluten free bread crumbs)
1/4 cup milk (rice milk)
1 1/2 lbs ground chuck (50% GFCF Italian Sausage)
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 eggs
3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese (omit)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup water
2 tsp oregano

In a large bowl, combine bread and milk. Let stand 5 minutes to soften bread. Add meat, eggs, 3 Tbsp parsley, Parmesan cheese (or not if making dairy free), half the garlic, 1 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. Blend to mix well (I used my hands). Form into 2-inch meatballs.



In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil. Add meatballs and cook over a medium-high heat, turning, until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

In large Dutch oven, heat remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until softened. Add remaining garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add tomatoes, wine, water and remaining salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and add meatballs. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 45 minutes. (The longer this simmers, the better. 45 minutes is the minimum.)

Before serving, add oregano and remaining parsley to sauce. Serve over spaghetti.

Unfortunately it was a little chaotic trying to pull all this together for a dinner party of 10 people, so I did not take any pictures of the final product. And to give you an idea of how good it was: there weren't any leftovers for me to take a picture of either!

Acorn squash with apple stuffing

I really love squash. So when I was looking for something to replace sweet potatoes at our Thanksgiving table this year, I decided to go with acorn squash. It's not that I don't like sweet potatoes, I do. But the thing about Thanksgiving is this: the turkey is a given. The stuffing, a must-have. So when it comes to the other sides, I like to change things around from year to year.

This recipe was really easy to execute and it's certainly one that can be improvised depending on what you have on hand. It was delicious with the turkey, but I also think it would pair nicely with pork. Here's what you need to get started:

2 acorn squash
2-3 apples, chopped
approximately 3-4 tablespoons of brown sugar (depends how sweet you want it)
dash of cinammon
dash of nutmeg
small handful of sliced almonds (or nuts of your choice)
butter

Wash the squash and then cut each in half, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and fibers.



Place the squash face down in a baking dish that has about an inch of water in the bottom. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes.



While the squash is baking, wash and chop the apples. Stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and nuts. Set aside.



When the squash come out of the oven, turn them over and fill with the apple mixture. Top each with a pat (or two!) of butter and return to the oven for another 30 minutes.


Enjoy!


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Black Friday leftover "stoup"

Whether you brine it, bag it, baste it or use the kind with the pop-up timer, there's one fairly universal constant about Thanksgiving turkey —there's almost always leftovers.  Ditto for the sweet potatoes, the creamed onions and the green bean casserole... nearly all the side dishes you can imagine.  The age old question always seems to come down to this: to sandwich or not to sandwich and what to do with the leftovers?

Now, I love a good turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce sandwich as much as anyone— mmm, open faced on some thick, hearty rolls or biscuits and covered in gravy? Delicious, but not always practical.  Especially when you're in a hurry or you've been out shopping all day at the Black Friday sales.  The last thing you want to think about after fighting the crowds all day is having to prepare a hot meal, right?  And, somehow, making up a plate of leftovers and warming it in the microwave just isn't very appealing.  Well, okay, sometimes it is; but not this time!

With just a few minutes of effort, and a lot of holiday leftovers, you can make a meal that's hearty and filling.  Best of all, it's simple to make and simple to clean up.

Ingredients:
Leftovers —whatever you want to toss in the pot (or slow cooker; this makes an awesome slow cooker meal).  Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes, corn, green beans...whatever makes you happy.  Do not add cranberry yet.

Gravy.  If you don't have any gravy leftover, don't worry, you can always make some right in the pot.  Just whisk together cold water and the flour or thickener of your choice (GF, whole wheat, cornstarch, etc.), pour it into the pot with all the leftovers.

Add water, gravy and/or chicken broth to make a nice soup base.  Make it as thick or as soupy as you like.  Just remember, the liquid will cook down in a pot on the stove while it will not in a crock pot.

Simmer until the flavors are nicely blended —or until you've finished your shopping (or football watching).  If you're using a crock pot, you could set it going for two hours on high or three to four hours on low and have a nice hot "stoup."

Stir in cranberry and serve with fresh hot biscuits.

Easy peasy.  And so good!

What creative things have you done with your Thanksgiving leftovers?

(Ed. note: Sadly, I did not cook the meal this year so I have no leftovers to make yummy stoup.  Nor do I have any photographs to share.  Use your very vivid imagination to picture a smörgåsbord of leftovers simmering joyfully in your pot.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Crackling Cauliflower

I'm big into tradition. Something about the tried and true really speaks to me, makes me feel warm, makes me feel secure. And so my Thanksgiving table will look like a lot of Thanksgiving tables around the country, with turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes...you expect it, we'll have it.

But, at the same time, I like to spice things up a little bit every now and then. And this year, I'm going to spice them up with cauliflower.

Cauliflower? I can hear you snicker from here. Oh, ye of little faith. Pull up a chair, and let me tell you a little bit about how cauliflower--this cauliflower--can totally ROCK your Thanksgiving table.

A quick note on this recipe: A friend sent it to me--well, actually, to a mailing list I've been part of for almost a decade--earlier this year, and it immediately became my go-to potluck (and now Thanksgiving) recipe, with a few modifications, which I'll note below. My friend, in turn, got it from The Whole Foods Market Cookbook. So it's a little bit of a 'telephone' recipe, having undergone more than one pass-along to get to you. I don't think it's any the worse for wear, though!

Crackling Cauliflower

2 heads of cauliflower, cut into florets [The original recipe had 1 large head or about 6 cups, but I didn't think that made enough for my purposes, so I more-or-less doubled the cauliflower, and then upped the amounts of the rest of the recipe. I'm giving you those upped amounts below.]

1-1/2 cup diced red onions [I've used both white and yellow onions as well, and they've been fine.]

1/2 cup canola oil

1 Tablespoon curry powder

1 Tablespoon garam masala

1 Tablespoon fennel seeds [The first time I made this, I only had anise seed, and it turned out fine. There is a difference, but it's not enough to make a big impact on this recipe.]

1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes [I didn't up this amount, because I'm not a big fan of this kind of heat; you may want to double it.]

1 Tablespoon salt [This is actually a somewhat salty recipe; you may want to start with less, and add more later if you feel it needs it. This actually goes for all the spices here; it's a pretty spicy recipe, and you may personally want to tone it down a bit.]

4 large garlic cloves, minced

2 Tablespoons grated fresh ginger

1 Tablespoon grated lemon zest [My friend says she never bothers with this, but since I have lemons growing in my backyard, I usually include it. I definitely don't think this is a do-or-die ingredient.]

2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

1/4-1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Put everything except peas and cilantro in a large bowl and toss until the cauliflower with the rest of the ingredients.

Pour into a large baking pan and roast for 30-45 minutes, until the cauliflower is crisp-tender and golden-brown, turning the cauliflower every 10 minutes or so, so that it will cook evenly. (The original recipe says to cook for only 25-30 minutes, but I don't think that's enough, especially when you double the recipe. I also don't find that it browns quite so much, though it does pick up a yellow hue from the spices. Your mileage may vary.)

When done, place the cauliflower in a large serving bowl. Mix in the peas and cilantro, and serve. Watch everyone's socks get knocked off.

So, that should pretty much do it for our first Thanksgiving here at (Never) Too Many Cooks. (Well, almost. Check in tomorrow for the great leftovers recipe Niksmom's been taunting me with, but refusing to give me in advance. Brat.) Please let us know what you try, what you like, what you think. Actually, let us know about anything you put on your table that shakes things up, even if it didn't come from here.

We're all ears. (And tongues and lips and jaws and teeth and bulging bellies...)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sweet potato souffle

I have a embarrassingly funny sweet potato story.

Growing up I swore I didn't like sweet potatoes. Truthfully, though, I never tried them. Orange potatoes? Ick, I thought.

When I was about 25-26, it was November and at work we were having a department lunch meeting. I grabbed a piece of pumpkin pie and was noshing away. Hmm, this tastes different.

So I comment, out loud, to everyone, "This is the funniest tasting pumpkin pie I've ever had."

The crotchety old department secretary pipes up (equally as loud), "That's because you're eating sweet potato pie."

The rooms bursts into laughter. I turned 3 shades of red!

But I've been a fan of sweet potatoes ever since!!

This is
arguably my favorite Thanksgiving side dish (squash casserole runs a close second). I always want to make an extra batch to ensure that there is plenty for leftovers the next day.

Sweet Potato Souffle

2 lbs mashed sweet potatoes (about 3 cups)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar

Topping
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 Tbsp flour*
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecan

Preheat oven to 350.

With a mixer, mix all of the souffle ingredients together and place in a 2 quart souffle dish.

Mix topping ingredients together and sprinkle on top of souffle.

Bake for 30-35 minutes.

*For a gluten-free version of the nut topping, use an all-purpose gluten-free baking flour. I have not ever done this, but I'm going to give it a try. If you'd like a tested GF nut topping recipe, click here: All-Purpose Crumb Topping. (I have not tried it, but I've never been disappointed in any of her recipes.)

To make recipe dairy free, substitute dairy free buttery spread in place of the butter.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pear bread



Can you tell how much I love this recipe? Just look at that tattered cookbook page. I will never forget the first time I made this. Thanksgiving 1988. We had been dating for a few months and James (knowing how much I missed my family in California) invited me to spend Thanksgiving with his family on Long Island. I was living in the city in a teeny tiny shared one bedroom on the upper east side. The kitchen was a closet. But I was determined not to arrive at my future in-laws home empty-handed.

Anyway, over 20 years later, and this recipe is still opening doors.

Here's what you need to get started:



1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup yogurt or buttermilk (I use vanilla yogurt)
1 coarsely chopped pear (about 1 cup)
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350, and prepare your loaf pan. I like to use parchment paper for this, but you can grease and flour, or use a cooking spray.

Here's a trick I recently learned: Instead of trying to soften butter in the microwave (if you're at all like me, chances are you didn't plan ahead and your butter is hard as a rock...), cut the butter into small cubes. Set it out on a dish while you prepare the pan, gather your ingredients and chop the pear. By the time you're finished, the butter should be just the right texture.



Okay. Ready? Combine the dry ingredients (except for the sugar) in a bowl and set aside. I like to run a whisk through them to make sure there are no lumps and everything is incorporated. Easier than sifting.

Using a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and mix well. Now add the dry ingredients in batches, alternating with the yogurt.



Stir in the pears and vanilla by hand.



Pour the batter into your prepared loaf pan and bake for about one hour. I like to sprinkle the top with crystallized sugar about 10 minutes before the loaf is ready to come out of the oven.



I've made this so often and been asked for the recipe so many times, that I think it just may be my signature baking item. Sometimes I add cranberries to the batter, sometimes I substitute apple for the pear, and it's always delicious.

I think this makes a great hostess gift during the holidays because it's the kind of thing that can be added to the desert table or tucked into the pantry to save for the next day. It's wonderful for breakfast, or tea time or whenever you're craving a little something that's not too sweet.

What's your signature baking item? Do you have something you love to bake and share during the holidays?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Green beans with shiitake mushrooms

I have never, ever (ever!) liked the traditional green bean casserole served so often during the holiday season. You know, the one with the French fried onions and cream of mushroom soup? Maybe it's the tradition part that makes it a favorite with some. Most of my life I just skipped eating green beans at Thanksgiving.

The one and only year I've ever had a subscription to Bon Appetit magazine was the first year I was married. And that year they offered up this gem of a recipe for green beans with shiitake mushrooms.

I hosted that year (my first-time ever doing that) and without hesitation I ousted the traditional green bean casserole and made this instead.

We have never looked back. Everyone loved it. Fresh green beans, fresh shiitake mushrooms, butter. It is delightful.

This dish cooks fairly quickly. It's usually the last thing I make so I can serve it hot with the green beans still crisp.

Green Beans with Shiitake Mushrooms
3/4 stick (6 tbsp) butter*
8 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps sliced
2 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 lbs slender green beans, trimmed
2/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
Add shiitake mushrooms and saute until tender, about 5 minutes.
Transfer mushrooms to medium bowl.
Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter in same skillet.
Add shallots and garlic and saute until tender, about 2 minutes.
Add green beans and toss to coat with butter.
Pour broth over green bean mixture.
Cover and simmer until liquid evaporates and green beans are crisp-tender, about 10 minutes.
Stir in shiitake mushrooms.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Best if served immediately.


image from epicurious.com

*This year I will be using Earth Balance soy free natural buttery spread in place of butter, making this meal dairy-free. It's naturally gluten-free assuming a gluten-free chicken broth is used.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cranberry sauce you'll gobble up

This cranberry sauce? Right up there? Oh my god, you guys. This sauce is awesome.

Now, I could do a whole intro-to-the-recipe thing about how I never liked cranberries, but when I first got married and started making Thanksgiving dinners, I felt like it was important to include as many traditional foods as possible, and how I found this particular recipe in Sunset magazine (which I used to be completely in love with, despite there being essentially no relationship between it and the reality of my life) and tried it because it was one of the few recipes they had that didn't involve some technique or ingredient I'd never heard of, and then fell completely in love, said love being eclipsed, however, by Baroy's love for it. (He eats it by the heaping tablespoon, all by itself.) But I'm not going to tell that story...OK, I'm not going to tell any MORE of that story.

Instead, I'm just going to say this: Cranberry sauce can be something more than an overlooked, out-of-the-can accompaniment to the turkey and a potential stain on that special white linen tablecloth. No, seriously. This stuff? It's goooood. It's noticeably, ridiculously good. (I blame the vanilla. Actually, I'm pretty much convinced that anything with vanilla in it can't actually taste bad. But maybe that's just me.)

Cranberry Sauce (adapted from Sunset magazine, November 1995; Sunset adapted it from a recipe given to them by the folks at the Lark Creek Inn in Northern California)

2 bags of cranberries (24 ounces total, or 6 cups)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup orange juice
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Tablespoon vanilla

First, a disclaimer. Because of how much my family adores this cranberry sauce, and because we often have a dozen or more people to Thanksgiving dinner, I usually make three or four bags of cranberries, increasing the amounts of the ingredients as needed, and then tweaking them to taste. (By the way, you can use either fresh or frozen cranberries for this sauce. I tend to buy them fresh(ish) in a bag; I buy a whole bunch and freeze the ones I won't use for Thanksgiving for future dinners.)

Second, an explanation. We live in Southern California. There are two prolific lemon trees in my backyard. I am cheap. Hence, the mere idea of buying lemon juice makes me die a little inside. Instead, when the trees are bearing fruit, I make sure to juice as many of the ripe lemons as possible before they go bad, and then I freeze whatever juice I don't use immediately into little citrusy ice cubes. So, those orange ice-cube trays up there? Are my equivalent of store-bought lemons or lemon juice. Unless you live nearby, your mileage will probably vary.

Now, on with the instructions:

1. Put cranberries, both kinds of sugar, orange and lemon juices, and cinnamon into a pot; bring all to a simmer.

2. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally. The cranberries will (and should) start to burst open. Keep simmering and keep stirring until most if not all of the cranberries have 'popped.' The recipe says this takes 8 to 10 minutes; I don't think I've ever timed it, but I feel like it might take a little bit longer.

3. Turn off heat; take pot off burner. Stir in vanilla.

And you're done. This can be served warm (which is definitely the way I prefer it, but we've already discussed this), or it can be made ahead, chilled in the fridge in an airtight container, and served within a week.

Now that I've shown you mine, hows about you guys showing me yours: What's your favorite traditional recipe for Thanksgiving, and what do you do to it to kick it into high gear? Or, if you scoff at traditional anything, what's your favorite non-traditional Thanksgiving recipe? Spill. Now. Please? I'd be ever so thankful...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One pan sweet-and-sour pork

The weather has finally turned a bit cooler where I live (not to mention wetter, thanks to hurricane season) and I've been inspired by some yummy recipes I've read lately.  Armed with a little creativity and a smattering of great ingredients, I had hoped to create a delicious roast pork tenderloin marinated in apple cider and stuffed with wild rice, butternut squash, cranberry and apple. My family, however, had other plans.

Both my husband and my son have been taking turns with whatever flu-like illness is going around right now.  I'm fairly certain it's not H1N1 because my son is in a very high risk group and he never got it quite as bad we'd been told to expect.  Still, he was ill enough that he developed pink-eye, an ear infection and bronchitis on top of the flu.  The time I thought I would get to spend creating in the kitchen was, instead, spent wiping Nik's runny nose, taking his temperature, giving nebulizer treatments and administering a large quantity of medications —by mouth, ears and eyes.

Sadly, as many of you know, there's no rest for the mama and the show meals must go on!  I had to use the pork or lose it; it had been in the fridge past the point where I felt comfortable freezing it for later use.  I had very little time to improvise and I've been craving Chinese food for a long time now (I cannot tolerate soy) so I decided to "scratch the itch" and concocted this one-pan sweet and sour pork which is GFCF and soy free —and so easy to make!  I must warn you that I did not really measure anything; this was a seat-of-the-pants endeavor!


Ingredients:
1 1/2 lbs pork, cubed
1 large red onion, cut into large wedges (1/6 or 1/8 slices)
1 large green pepper, cut into slender strips
1/2 pound carrots, shredded or julienned
1 can pineapple chunks
Ginger juice or ground ginger
Ground cayenne pepper
2-3 TBSP Dark brown sugar
Rice vinegar
1/4 C seasoned flour mixture (rice flour blend mixed w/ ground ginger and ground cayenne pepper, to taste)
Water

In skillet or stock pot, brown the pork in a little bit of olive or canola oil.  If you're feeling adventurous, coat the pork in cayenne.  Add generous splashes of ginger juice (if you have it) or sprinkle with ground ginger along with some rice vinegar.  You could use soy sauce for this, too.

When the meat is done, transfer it to a bowl; you'll come back to it soon!


Toss all the veggies in the skillet/pan.  Add a slight amount of liquid to the bottom of the pan —about 1/4 inch of water, vinegar (or soy) and ginger.  Toss in brown sugar.  Stir frequently to make sure the vegetables all get coated.  Take your seasoned flour mixture and whisk it into a cup of cold water then add it to the pan.  You will think you have too much sauce in the pan.  If you don't, then add more liquid.

The flour mixture should be getting nice and thick and the onions should still have some color —don't let them get totally translucent unless you like your vegetables slightly soft.  I like to have mine slightly crunchy —al dente.

Toss in the browned pork and stir. Serve over rice. Easy peasy, right? 
For a complete meal, add some egg rolls or wonton soup, a bottle of sake and you're all set!



Some variations: 
I added some of my homemade poached plum puree for a bit of fruity tang.  (I made it for my son and had leftover.)  You could just as easily add in a little bit of applesauce.  (Don't knock it 'til you've tried it!)

Be adventurous and pair it with Kristen's delicious rice with vermicelli.

Don't like pork? Don't despair!  Substitute chicken or shrimp and you'll still have a delicious meal.  Looking for inspiration for that shrimp? Goodfountain has some yummy ideas here.

This recipe made six generous portions —enough to get two full meals and a couple of lunches for my husband to take to work.

(ETA: Disclaimer: I made my actual meal slightly differently by coating the meat in the flour mixture before browning.  The browning? Not so much. The sticky gooey mess in the pan? A LOT.  Luckily, I have pans that are a dream to clean. I DO NOT recommend this method if you are using rice flour...gets very gummy.  Trust me and do it the way I suggest...)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Baked salmon

If you were to judge by the recipes I've posted on this blog, you might think all we ever eat is seafood. Not true. But we do eat a LOT of it.

I'm lucky that both of my children seem to like it. Most of the time. We do have our hit or miss days, though, like this weekend when they both refused to eat this dish. Last time I made it though they cleaned their plates. Go figure. Fickle!

This recipe for baked salmon is one that I have been making for many, many years. I have passed it on to numerous friends and everyone always sings its praises. When we removed gluten from our diet, I knew there was no way we could do without this favorite.

So I modified it to be both gluten and casein free. I will share both versions.

These aren't precise measurements for the ingredients, so feel free to adjust to your taste.

Baked Salmon
4 Salmon fillets
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
About 3/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
Melted butter

Preheat oven to 400.
Rinse salmon fillets and pat dry.
Line a shallow pan with foil.

Place salmon skin side down and spread a thin layer of mustard across each fillet.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper (to taste).
Top liberally with bread crumbs and drizzle melted butter over top.

Bake about 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fillets, until appearance is no longer translucent and flakes easily with a fork.

And now for the gluten free, dairy (casein) free version. (We actually like this version much better!)

GFCF Baked Salmon
4 Salmon fillets
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
3/4 to 1 cup crushed Rice Chex
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp melted non-dairy butter (I use soy-free Earth Balance)

Mix the Rice Chex, garlic powder, salt and pepper together. (I usually crush the Rice Chex in a plastic baggy with the spices.)

Spread thin layer of mustard on salmon fillets, top liberally with crushed cereal and drizzle the melted butter on top.

Bake about 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fillets, until appearance is no longer translucent and flakes easily with a fork.

Of all the various ways we prepare salmon, this is our favorite. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Spaghetti with clams

I love rice, but I love pasta too. And having married into a fine Italian family, pasta is a pantry staple in our house. Whenever I have no idea what to make for dinner, I can grab a box of "macaroni",  a handful of roma tomatoes and have dinner on the table in 20 minutes.

I tend to keep roma tomatoes on hand when they are in season, but honestly, a can of whole or crushed tomatoes will get the job done nicely in a pinch.

Since I tend to do most, if not all, of our cooking for the holidays, I like to simplify our evening meals this time of year. I can't organize my grocery shopping to buy what's needed for the Thanksgiving table and make sure I have enough ingredients on hand for the other nights of the week. I'm just not that gifted. And the fridge doesn't really hold that much. Plus, when I'm thinking about turkeys and corn casseroles and roasted acorn squash and baking, baking, baking, dinner has got to be a no-brainer.

And that's why I love this meal.

Here's what you need to get started:




1 box of spaghetti, linguini or long twirl-able pasta of your choice
1-2 cans of chopped or minced clams w/ juice
4-6 roma tomatoes
generous handful of finely chopped fresh parsley
kosher salt
fresh pepper
red pepper flakes
garlic
olive oil

Put a pot of water on to boil and cook the spaghetti according to package directions.



 While the spaghetti is cooking, chop the tomatoes. I like a small-ish diced cut.



 

Once the tomatoes are chopped/diced, swirl some olive oil in a heavy pan and let it heat for about a minute. Pour in the clams and add the tomatoes and garlic to the pan. Season with kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and if you like a little bite, sprinkle in some red pepper flakes.

 

 Let it simmer for about 10 minutes or so (until the pasta is cooked and the tomatoes soften), then throw in the parsley.




Take the pan off the heat. Drain the spaghetti. And mix the sauce and pasta together. I do this in the same pan I cook the sauce in, but you can use a fancy bowl if you like.

 

Sprinkle with fresh parmesan cheese and enjoy!!

 

One of the nice things about this meal, is that I can hold some spaghetti aside for my son, who still prefers his serving with nothing more than butter and cheese.

A word on amounts: If you are preparing a pound of pasta, you may want to use two cans of clams and a couple extra tomatoes. Too much sauce is never a problem with this meal, but not enough can feel skimpy. The sauce is very broth-like and one my favorite things, besides sopping it up with a good piece of crusty Italian bread, is to scoop up what's left in my bowl with a spoon.

I'll probably make this once a week or so right up through the New Year.  It's the kind of thing I can throw together after a day of baking or when we need a change of pace from holiday leftovers. My mother-in-law, by the way, makes it the same way only she omits the tomatoes and the red pepper flakes. Her version is even simpler than mine and just as delicious!!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gluten-free apple muffins

Finding a variety of simple things that my eldest daughter, who is 5, will eat in the morning has been, hmm, challenging shall we say? She used to be a great breakfast eater, but some time in the last 6 months she simply stopped being interested in morning food. Nothing enticed her.

I've made a variety of quick breads for her (banana, carrot) but she wasn't interested. "I don't like this," she proclaims, and then asks for her beloved rice cake. Yes, every day she eats a rice cake for breakfast. How borrrrring!

This week, however, I tried a recipe for apple bread, which I made into apple muffins (cupcakes to her), and I'm pleased to report that she gobbled up her muffin. I also believe it helps tremendously that I involved her in the baking process. I have more success getting her to try new things if she helps make it.

This recipe made 18 muffins. I froze the remaining ones we didn't gobble up right out of the oven. They thawed quickly in the microwave and were just as delicious.

GF Apple muffins
From a pear bread recipe from M.A.G. - Adventures in ASD and GFCF living.

2 small-medium apples, peeled, cored and grated (I used Honey Crisp)
1 1/2 cups all purpose GF baking flour
1 tsp xantham gum
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with baking cups and set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, xantham gum, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, canola oil and vanilla. Add sugar and beat well.

Add flour mixture and continue to beat until mixture is well-blended.

Fold in the grated apples (I used my Cuisinart and my apples were more shredded than grated).

Scoop mixture into muffin baking cups, filling about 2/3 full.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool in pan on wire rack for 5-10 minutes, then remove from pan to finish cooling.

Enjoy!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Biscuits...and more biscuits

There's almost nothing I love more than hot, fresh, home-made bread, straight out of the oven. Challah. Whole wheat. A crispy-crusted French loaf.

But fresh-baked bread and a 9-5ish job? Not even a bread machine can make those sorts of yeasty dreams come true on a regular basis.

Which is why I've become the ultimate biscuit fan. OK, sure. Technically? No yeast. But they're warm and flour-y, they make the house smell good, and my kids squeal with delight when they're on the menu. Plus? I can make them from scratch and still have them on the table in under half an hour.

Can you say the same thing, bread? I didn't think so.

Score one for the previously guilt-ridden working mom.

With Thanksgiving coming up, I thought this little ode to the biscuit would be especially appropriate. Because really, who has time to knead dough and let it rise when you've got a turkey to brine? (What? You don't brine? I'm a total convert, thanks to Alton Brown and the Food Network. Also, I'm a total masochist. But that's a subject for my other blog.)

And, just to raise the ante a bit, I'm going to throw two different biscuit recipes your way. The first is one I just tried for the first time last week, after seeing it in the weekly recipe-laden email the Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen folks sent to me. (By the way. Cook's Illustrated = best cooking magazine ever. Hands down. Yes, I do have opinions, thank you very much. And since you asked, go for the online subscription. The archives are incredible.) The second is from my go-to cookbook, The Joy of Cooking. And having made them both within a couple of days of one another, I have to tell you...they're both scrumptious. Try one, try both. There's no such thing as too many biscuits.

Cream Biscuits (adapted from America's Test Kitchen video recipe)

2 cups flour (no reason--ever, that I can think of--to get bleached flour, folks; go for the all-purpose unbleached)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
approximately 1-1/4 cups heavy cream

The ATK folks like these biscuits because they're really easy to throw together, what with not having any butter to cut in and worry about lying around in too-big chunks. Personally, I don't think there's such a thing as a too-big chunk of butter, but, you know, different strokes and all that. What *I* liked about this recipe is how truly creamy and rich and yet flaky the biscuits were.

Here's how to get them that way:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Mix all the dry ingredients together, then add heavy cream a little at a time, until the mixture is fully wet.

3. Take the dough out of the bowl, and knead it for 20 to 30 seconds on a floured surface. Unlike most biscuits, you can actually treat this dough pretty roughly; I probably kneaded for more like a minute, and it was just fine.

4. The ATK folks then suggest putting the dough into an 8-inch cake pan, spreading it out, turning the pan upside down and dumping it on the countertop, then cutting out the biscuits with a biscuit cutter. Me? I hate washing more dishes than I need to, so I just smoothed it out on the same board where I'd kneaded it and cut it with a round cookie cutter.

5. Place on baking sheet with parchment paper (I'll second Kristen's insistence that it's the only way to go when you're baking), and bake for 425 degrees for about 15 minutes. Serve warm. With real butter. (Or whatever you want. I just love real butter.)

Quick Drop Biscuits (from The Joy of Cooking)

These are based on a more 'conventional' basic rolled biscuit recipe in the book, but I've never been one to care about my biscuits looking all smooth and uniform, and drop biscuits get into the oven and thus into my belly more quickly than do those that require rolling out and cutting. No contest!

2 cups all-purpose flour (another plug for unbleached)
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into smallish pieces
1 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 45o degrees.

2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, then add the butter, cutting it with knives or a pastry blender until the butter is in pea-sized (or smaller) flour-coated pieces. You don't want the butter to melt or get pasty.

3. Add all the milk at once, mixing it into the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until everything is moist and sticky, but not smooth.

4. Drop golf-ball-sized teaspoons of the batter onto a baking sheet lined (yes, another plug) with parchment, spacing the biscuits an inch or more apart.

5. Bake for about 12 minutes, until the bottoms and the spiky peaks on top are nice and golden brown. Serve warm and, need I say? With butter. Mmmmmmmmmm.

So now I'm wondering...Do any of you have a strong preference when it comes to these sorts of things? Like, do some of you really hate the idea of a biscuit whose top is spiky rather than smooth? Are any of you turning up your nose at the idea of a biscuit made without butter? Do biscuits turn you off entirely, being heavier than their various yeasty cousins? I'd love to hear what you think.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Allergy friendly banana bread

I think I may have a problem in my marriage.

Ever since I got my gorgeous, empire red Kitchenaid Artisan stand mixer (with an amazing grinder attachment —*sigh*), I've been having lustful thoughts about all manner of things I can make with it. My poor husband isn't even allowed to touch the thing without me following behind him and wiping off the fingerprints or food spatters.

Much the same way a man might obsess about his shiny red convertible, I am having a serious love affair with my mixer. It is nothing short of amazing. I can't believe I waited so long to get one. For that, I have to say I am actually grateful to my son for not being ready to move beyond pureed and ground foods yet. The cost of buying jars of baby food was getting so outrageous —roughly ten dollars a day— that I was able to make the case with my husband that this sexy new machine would pay for itself in just a couple of months.

It has changed my life. The way I cook, the way I think about the food instead of the work involved to prepare it. Unbelievable. I don't know how I ever lived without it. My husband thinks I'm a tad obsessive.

Pffft, whatever, dear.

Once upon a time, the idea of making banana bread in my minuscule kitchen would have given me hives. Seriously, I only have a few feet of actual work space between my sink and my stove —and that's on a good day. The idea of sifting flours and dry ingredients in one bowl, using the hand mixer to mash the bananas and wet ingredients in another, then coordinating pouring the flour mixture into the batter bowl while mixing and not spilling on the counter and floor? Oy vey. Imagine Lucy Ricardo and you get the idea; it's not exactly motivating to bake yummy things when it takes so much work.

But once my cherry red Kitchenaid entered my life? (Cue sexy siren song...) Easy peasy. *breathy sigh*

Tonight, I simply dumped all the wet ingredients including —gasp— unmashed bananas right into the bowl and let that hot mama do her thing. Then, I dumped in the dry ingredients —measured them right into the bowl as the mixer was running!— and my trusty mixer turned the lumpy goo into a smooth, satiny batter in moments. Moments, I tell you.

The hardest part is waiting as my little loaves bake to their golden, banana-y goodness. What? Banana-y is too a word; I just made it up. So there!

This recipe is so easy even my husband could make it. If I ever decide to let him near my beautiful new mixer, that is.


Ingredients:
2 C all purpose GF flour blend
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 C canola oil
1 C sugar
1 large egg
4 medium ripe bananas, mashed
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 C rice milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease loaf pan or use non-stick pans. (Makes one large or four mini loaves.)

Sift all dry ingredients together and set aside.

In large bowl combine oil and sugar. Add mashed bananas, stir well.
Add milk and lemon juice. Stir well.
Add flour mixture, stirring well until all lumps disappear.
Pour into loaf pan(s). (Be sure not to overfill your pans as the bread will rise during cooking.)



Bake at 350F until toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
For mini loaves, allow 45 minutes.
For large loaf allow 60 minutes.

Turn onto wire rack to cool. Allow to cool completely before cutting. (Resist the temptation! GF flours are very sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity and this will make the bread very gooey.)

A few tips about this particular recipe: I've tried it a number of ways —with egg, without egg, using a sorghum flour blend, using a rice flour blend and adding some flax meal. In my opinion, if you don't need to avoid eggs, add the egg. Otherwise, simply omit the egg —but expect the bread to be much denser and moister than the typical banana bread —a bit sticky; the "mouth feel" will be heavier. If you must avoid eggs, you can add a couple generous tablespoons of finely ground flax which will add some extra fiber as well as absorb some of the extra moisture.

I've read that sorghum flour behaves more like wheat flour in terms of texture and elasticity. However, I think it has a much stronger flavor and competes with the sweet banana flavor of the bread. I prefer a rice flour blend.

Remember how I said I just dumped everything in the bowl and let 'er rip? Here's your proof:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Shrimp feast

I hope you like shrimp. I love it! My whole family loves it.

Problem for a long time was that I didn't know how to cook raw shrimp. I was scared of it. Intimidated by the deveining, worried I wouldn't cook it long enough. I avoided dealing with raw shrimp at all cost, thus relegating me to only enjoying it at the occasional restaurant outing.

That all changed this summer when I went to South Carolina to visit my sister. I asked her to show me how to clean and devein shrimp. Being a teacher, she, of course, took my request very seriously.

After my Shrimp 101 course, I came back home and we started eating shrimp fairly regularly. Both of my daughters love it. We even created a new tradition: Friday Night Shrimp Night.

One of the reasons Friday night works as shrimp night is because by the end of the week, I'm really not interested in laboring too long over dinner. Shrimp cooks really quickly!

Awhile back I started searching for a variety of ways to prepare shrimp. Today I'm going to share with you my three favorite recipes.

But first, if you're at all intimidated about working with raw shrimp (like I was), click here to watch a video demonstrating how to clean and devein raw shrimp. Trust me, it's EASY.

Without further ado, my favorite shrimp recipes.

Fried Shrimp (gluten free and casein free)
1 egg, mixed with a little bit of rice milk (or your preferred milk substitute)
1/2 cup of GF coating mix (recipe follow)
1 lb of peeled, deveined shrimp (I only buy wild-caught American shrimp)
Canola oil

Dip shrimp in egg/milk mixture, then toss in coating mix until evenly coated.

Heat canola oil in pan. When it's hot, place shrimp in pan. Shrimp cooks very quickly. You will probably only need to fry it about 3 minutes per side. You can tell it's done when the shrimp is opaque in appearance, not shiny and translucent.

Remove from pan to a paper towel to absorb excess oil. Serve immediately.

After much online searching and quite a few trial and fail attempts at making a good gluten free breading, I finally found the perfect one. Trust me when I say, look no further. This is the best recipe for breading chicken, shrimp or fish. Just perfect.

GFCF Coating Mix (works great on chicken, shrimp and fish)
This recipe comes courtesy of Erin at M.A.G. - Adventures in ASD and GFCF Living.

1 1/2 cups rice flour
1 cup crushed rice cereal
1/2 cup potato flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
2 tsp chili powder (or more to taste)

Sift all ingredients until well blended. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Use quickly or store in the refrigerator for longer shelf life.

Baked Shrimp Scampi
The original recipe can be found at allrecipes.com (my go-to online recipe site). I made a few modifications, including making it dairy-free.

1/2 cup dairy free butter (I use Earth Balance)
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
1-2 lbs peeled, deveined raw shrimp

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Combine everything but the shrimp in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat.
When butter is melted completely, remove from heat.
Place shrimp in a shallow baking dish, and pour butter mixture over top.
Bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, until shrimp are pink and opaque.

I serve this over spaghetti and with a vegetable. The butter mixture makes a great sauce over pasta.

Lastly, my most favorite of ways to make shrimp: marinated and grilled! This recipe comes directly from allrecipes.com with zero changes to it. It is naturally free of gluten and casein.

Marinated Grilled Shrimp
3 cloves minced garlic
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tomato sauce
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basic
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 lbs peeled and deveined raw shrimp

Mix all the ingredients, except the shrimp, in a large bowl. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Cover and marinate (in the fridge) for at least an hour. I have found the longer you marinate the better with this recipe.

Skewer shrimp and cook on preheated, lightly oiled grill. I haven't timed it, but it takes about 3 minutes per side for the shrimp to be cooked thoroughly. Remember, you know it's done when it's opaque.

I served this several times over the summer with a big salad and corn on the cob. I think we had it 3 Fridays in a row it was so good.

If you have a favorite shrimp recipe, do share! Leave a comment or write a guest post. See sidebar for details.

Rice with vermicelli


You know how Italian families grow up on pasta? I grew up on rice. And I could still eat rice every night of the week. I love it, in all its countless incarnations. But the rice I love best is this rice, the rice I'm going to show you how to make today. It's the rice my mother makes, the one she learned to make from her mother, who learned from her mother, and so on and so on.

Every once in a while I'll stumble upon this rice in a Greek restaurant or a Middle Eastern restaurant, and I'll think, yes, just like home. Because that's what this rice is to me: home.

There are a couple things you need to know up front. First of all, we're going to use butter. And if we were truly being authentic, we would use rendered butter, but honestly, I never have figured out how to actually do that. Second, (and this one is non-negotiable) we need to use Uncle Ben's Converted Rice. No wild rice or sushi rice or brown rice or Carolina rice. God forbid—no instant rice. Uncle Ben's Converted Rice in the orange box.

Here's what you need to make about 4 servings (after double-checking with my mom, we decided it would be important to add that this will make 4 small side-dish size servings. We all love rice so much, that honestly, if we were really going to have four adults sitting down to dinner, I'd double it.)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of butter
  • @ a handful of thin vermicelli noodles
  • 1 cup of Uncle Ben's Converted rice
  • 2 cups of VERY hot water (the ratio is always 2 cups of liquid for every 1 cup of rice; so if you want to double the recipe, you would need 4 cups of water, 2 cups of rice)
  • salt
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan.



Add the vermicelli. If you are using coiled vermicelli, break it apart so it looks like this:



Brown the vermicelli, stirring often. When the color is good, add the rice and stir everything around.



You want the rice coated in the butter. Now add the hot water. Add the water slowly, it's going to sizzle and spit because the pan is hot and the water is hot, so stand back a bit and watch the steam. Add some salt. Be generous. It won't hurt you.



Bring the liquid to a bowl and cover the pan. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.

Now, this is important: Do NOT stir. Do NOT peek. Put the lid on the pan, turn the heat down to simmer and walk away. Set a timer, or watch the clock. When the liquid is gone, the rice is done.



If you want to add a little Middle Eastern flavor, sprinkle some cinnamon on top before you serve it.

I think this rice is delicious plain, but there are so many ways you can vary the recipe. You can certainly use chicken broth instead of water; you can add slivered almonds or toasted pine nuts or golden raisins, or top it with a bit of Greek yogurt or lebne. And it's a great accompaniment to everything from shish kebab to fish. It's a real favorite in our house.

How do you make rice? (On top of the stove? Rice cooker? Microwave?) What's your foolproof method?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Braised chicken with tomatoes and artichoke hearts

I was going to call this chicken cacciatora, or hunter's style chicken. And in some ways, that's not a bad name, since the idea behind chicken cacciatora is to use up whatever you have on hand. Go ahead. Google it. The only common ingredients you'll find behind most recipes are chicken and tomatoes. And maybe garlic.

So, I decided for the sake of clarity to call this dish braised chicken with tomatoes and artichokes, because that's what I happened to have on hand, though it would be equally delicious with eggplant or zucchini or almost any kind of mushrooms. (Yes, I sort of made this recipe up, but one of the great things about it is that it's so incredibly versatile. Once you get the basic technique down, you can substitute all over the darn place.)

I started with this:



Boneless skinless chicken thighs (though you could use a whole cut-up chicken)
1 can peeled plum tomatoes
1 can quartered artichoke hearts (in their own juice; not marinated)
1 onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
3-4 celery ribs, chopped
Garlic
Salt, pepper to taste
Thyme
Rosemary

Season the chicken with salt, pepper and thyme. I like kosher salt for cooking. (I have no idea why.) Then swirl some olive oil in a heavy pan. I used this much:

 

Heat it up and add the chicken. The idea right now is not to cook the chicken through, but to give it some nice color and to let all those yummy tidbits collect in the bottom of the pan. I browned my chicken for about 7-8 minutes per side.



Remove the chicken and set it aside. Throw the chopped onion, celery and garlic into the pan. As the onion and celery start to sweat, they'll pick up color and flavor from the bottom of the pan. Saute for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is nearly translucent.



Now, comes the fun part. Open a bottle of wine. (If you don't have any wine, use the juice from the tomatoes.) Add enough liquid to cover the bottom of the pan and stir it around over a good high heat, scraping all the brown tidbits (is there a name for this?) from the bottom. Layer in the chicken and whole tomatoes. You'll need to use your hands to break the tomatoes apart. You want them broken up, but not chopped or crushed. When it looks like you have enough tomato, stop—and save the rest in the fridge for another day. (I used about half of the can for five chicken thighs).



Next, toss in the artichoke hearts, carrots and the rest of the seasonings. Add enough liquid to cover the chicken and most of the vegies. Remember, if you don't have wine, use the juice from the tomatoes or the artichokes—and if you do have wine, don't add too much. You're better off using some wine and some juice for flavor. The rule of thumb in braising is enough liquid to cover about half of the ingredients. It will look like this:



Cover the pan, and if your pans are oven-safe, like mine are, you can finish cooking it at 350 until the meat is fork tender. If your pan is stovetop-only, finish cooking over a medium heat for as long as it takes the chicken to cook through and become tender. I left mine in the oven a little over an hour. While it finishes cooking, check the liquid a couple times and if need be, add a little more juice from the tomatoes or even water. And, of course, here's where you can taste and adjust the seasonings.

I like the way the oven surrounds the pan with an even heat, so I prefer that method, even for my pot roasts. I'm pretty sure this would also work in a slow cooker. You might need to adjust the liquid at the start, but I would still brown the meat first and then transfer to the crock pot.

I served this over rice, but pasta would also be good. (On Monday, I'll show you how I make rice. It's foolproof. And delicious, and the women in my family have been making it this way for a few centuries, so in addition to it being a crowd-pleaser, it's a time-tested method.)

Okay, here's the recap:
  1. season chicken
  2. brown chicken, set aside
  3. saute onion and celery and garlic
  4. add a little liquid, scraping the pan as you stir
  5. layer in chicken, tomatoes, vegies and seasoning
  6. add more liquid
  7. cover and cook until chicken is fork tender
For a cold day, this is a nice hearty meal, but it's also one of those meals you can fancy up a bit for company. And I love that. I'm all about versatility in the kitchen.



And, in case you are wondering, my son, who typically refuses any food that is cooked in combination with other food, was willing to taste the chicken (after I made sure there was no tomato clinging to it), two carrots and a couple spoons of rice. After which he asked for a bowl of cereal. And since the new rule in our house is: if you taste it and don't like it, you can have frosted flakes (I know, I'm weak), I'm still calling it a win.

Do you have a go-to chicken dish, one that uses up what's in the fridge or requires little more than stocked pantry items? If so, tell us about it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Crock-Pot Applesauce

I like my food like I like my men: Simple.

(Sorry, Baroy. I just couldn't resist.)

But, seriously, I like simple food. Good food, real food, cooked with a minimum of fuss. You'll probably notice that as I contribute here over the upcoming weeks and months. Most of my favorite family recipes are on the sparse side, spice-and-ingredient-wise.

Which isn't to say that I don't like me some seriously exotic curries and layered casseroles. But often? It's a couple of ingredients, and a pinch of salt or sugar.

This is that sort of recipe. Simple, easy. And yet, every time I take the time to make it, I get the sorts of kudos you'd think would be reserved for a souffle. Applesauce is one of those things that most of us assume is just as good out of a jar, not worth the time, not worth the effort. Until we get the real thing.

Just ask Em, who initially ignored the bowls of homemade applesauce I put on the table the other night, until both Baroy and I began spooning seconds onto our plates of leftover chicken and rice. She gave it a quick taste, and looked at me, startled.

"I thought I hated applesauce," she said. "But I guess I like real applesauce. It tastes like the inside of an apple pie!"

"That's because it is the inside of an apple pie," I replied.

Anyway, if you try this recipe and it doesn't do it for you, feel free to re-embrace the store-bought, and I won't say a word, I promise. But give it a go, just once. I'm fairly certain you'll never go back.

Crock-Pot Applesauce

About three pounds of apples (I like to mix it up as much as possible; the ones you see at left are Granny Smiths and Pink Ladies, from my local farmer's market, but any variety of sweet and tart will do.)

juice from one lemon

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Core, peel, and chop up the apples, adding them to your slow cooker as you go. (I "messily" peel my apples; I like the color a little bit of peel adds to the sauce, and it pretty much disintegrates as the apples cook, anyway. But if you're going to want super-smooth sauce, you may want to be more fussy about it than I am.)
After every couple of apples, I drizzle in some of the lemon juice and stir, to try to prevent the apples from browning while I prepare the rest. If you don't care about that, just add the lemon juice after you've finished with the apples.

2. Add brown sugar; stir in with apples and lemon juice.

3. Cover slow cooker with lid; cook on high for 3 to 4 hours.

4. Add cinnamon, but only if you like cinnamon, obviously. No harm, no foul if you leave it out. As for me, I usually start with about half a teaspoon, do the next step, taste, then add the rest if I feel it needs it.

5. Take a potato masher, and mash up the apples. If they aren't super-soft and mashable, re-cover and give them another hour or so in the slow cooker.

6. If you like your applesauce very smooth, you could always puree it with a blender or hand-blender, or put it through a food processor. Me, I like it with a little texture, so I've never done so.

And that's it, my friends.

Well, that's it except for the most important of questions: Served hot, or cold? In my mind, almost all foods are better when hot. Even in the summer, my stomach tends to crave warmth. Baroy, on the other hand, likes it cold. (I was going to revisit that whole "like he likes his women" concept here, but, um...no.) So I actually split this batch into two, put both in the fridge (since we didn't eat it the night I made it), then microwaved my portion for dinner the next night and left his cold. I thought that was big of me. Don't you?

So...What about you guys? Warm applesauce, or cold? Just don't say no applesauce at all. Because that will make me cry.

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