Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Hated Crutches

I'm now six weeks into living with a single foot and life has changed in a very interesting way as a result. I have actually learned quite a bit during my time as a gimp, including how to change my fitness routine to maintain some of my muscle tone, how to properly fuel myself for the long days spent lying around on my back, and that you can somehow irritate your miniscus from inactivity. That's right, I somehow managed to tear my miniscus just from keeping my knee propped up to elevate my foot. I'm pretty sure my body hates me so much right now.

But what I have learned most of all is how to get around while hopping on one foot or with the use of crutches. After using them for the past three weeks, I am utterly convinced that crutches were invented by the devil. I loathe my crutches so much that I cannot think of a way to adequately put my sentiments into words. So, instead, I will sum up in list format what has been my experience living as a gimp with a heavy reliance on those hated crutches for the past three weeks.

1) Dropping the crutches is a constant thing. No matter how carefully or precisely I lean them up against the table, the wall, the vanity, or what have you, the stupid things always slip down and clatter to the ground. It drives us all nuts!

2) They chafe the sides of my ribcage and make the palms of my hands feel as if they are being ripped in two - and this is even with the hot pink support pads that I bought to make moving around on them more comfortable.

3) My arms hurt like I have been deadlifting a rhinoceros after a day of hobbling around on them - making me feel a bit uncomfortable about my own body weight since that's all I've been lifting!

4) I never know what to do with them when in church - do I lay them in the pew? Under the pew? Lean them up against the side (don't do this...they will fall and clatter during the homily causing the entire congregation to turn around and stare at you!).

5) The staccato clicking sounds of the crutches at work loudly proclaim the approach of my pathetic, crippled form and garner more looks of sympathy and compassion from onlookers than I can handle. It's also much worse when I almost trip over one of my own children (or myself) in the process. I thought the constant comments of "You've got your hands full" that I received nonstop before the injury were annoying. Hearing "Good timing on the injury, Mom" more than once during an outing is way worse.

6) Because it takes so much time, effort, and general humiliation to move from place to place, I find myself constantly debating whether the benefits of a given task truly outweighs the effort. Most of the time, it doesn't. Have to go to the bathroom? I can probably hold it for another three hours. Really need a drink of water? I'd rather die of thirst than fetch myself a glass. Really quite bored and want to finish reading the book I started last week but it's lying on the coffee table in the next room? No thanks, I'll just continue staring at the wall instead.

7) This leads me to explaining that carrying items is virtually impossible with crutches. For example, if I want to carry my mug of coffee into the next room, I essentially have to place it on the floor and kick it gently as I go along. Very efficient.

8) Using the bathroom takes 10x more time and I live in fear that the sound of my crutches clattering to the ground (because they almost always fall) will cause Paul and company to come rushing to my aid for fear that I've fallen off the toilet or something. I've already pulled the towel rack out of the wall once during a moment of imbalance.

9) And while we're talking about bathrooms, showering is also interesting. I'm scared to death that I'm going to slip in the soap suds mid hop and break my hip.

10) I should point out that there are some benefit to the crutches. I have successfully stamped out fleeing centipedes and spiders with the rubber bottom of my crutch. Foolproof method to kill household pests - it completely obliterates them.

11) The crutches also serve as a great intimidation factor for both the children and the dog. If they thought an angry Mom was scary before, an angry Mom brandishing a crutch is way more terrifying. The dog is just scared of them period, so anytime I come near on the crutches, he normally keeps his business. Good thing too. I don't need him tripping me and breaking my other foot.

12) The ultimate lesson learned from all this? Get thee a knee scooter. I am now the coolest geriatric on the block with my fully equipped knee scooter with full suspension and off-roading capability.. As an additional plus, I can take Lucy for some pretty speedy rides around the block on it. My favorite feature is the cute little basket in the front which means I can actually carry things from room to room! I helped clear off the table after dinner the other night and felt SO EMPOWERED. If you are laid up like me, screw the crutches and get thee a knee scooter.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Apple Dumplings with Cider Sauce

Life does not stop moving and that is the reason I cling to for being the worst blogger on the face of the planet. First, I broke my foot. Then we discovered that I have a serious pregnancy complication. Next, my husband received a job offer in a city far, far away and after much prayer and discernment we decided to jump at the opportunity. Over the course of a week, we accepted that job offer and listed our home for sale. I've been going crazy packing up boxes, clearing out our home, all while still on crutches and with a growing bump that makes it quite difficult to perform simple tasks like bending over. Oh, and with my pregnancy complication, I'm not allowed to lift over 5 pounds and technically should be resting nonstop. But how can I do that with three little ones while preparing for a move?

Due to all this, my time in the kitchen as been nonexistent. Friends have been gracious and generous enough to bring us home-cooked meals that have greatly alleviated the burden of meal preparation for us, especially since the crutches have made this and other daily tasks ridiculously cumbersome.

However, I do have an amazing dessert alternative to pumpkin pie to share with you today. I actually made this shortly after my injury. In fact, this recipe made me decide that I wanted to spend as little time cooking in the kitchen as possible until my foot completely heals. While this recipe would certainly be fun to prepare with two healthy feet, I was incredibly frustrated with my awkwardness moving about the entire time and declared "Never again shall I cook with crutches!!" to Paul as I angrily moved about. However, again I stress, this recipe is certainly simple and fun to prepare in ideal circumstances. The dough comes together quickly in the food processor and is pretty much fool-proof in my opinion. It folds beautifully over the apple halves and bakes up to a flakey, tasty biscuit-like consistency. Each dumpling perfectly conceals an apple half filled with a delightful mixture of raisins, butter, and brown sugar. The final cooked biscuit is drizzled with tantalizing cider sauce that, while optional, adds quite a bit of flair and additional apple flavor to the humble dumplings so I certainly would not skip it!

I would certainly eat one of these over pumpkin pie!

Apple Dumplings
Recipe from Cook's Country

2½  cups all-purpose flour
3     tablespoons sugar
2     teaspoons baking powder
¾    teaspoon salt
10   tablespoons (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces and chilled
5     tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into ½-inch pieces and chilled
¾    cup cold buttermilk

Apple Dumplings
6     tablespoons sugar
1     teaspoon ground cinnamon
3     tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3     tablespoons golden raisins, chopped
4     Golden Delicious apples (see note)
2     egg whites, lightly beaten

Process flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in food processor until combined. Scatter butter and shortening over flour mixture and pulse until mixture resembles wet sand. Transfer to bowl. Stir in buttermilk until dough forms. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead briefly until dough is cohesive. Press dough into 8- by 4-inch rectangle. Cut in half, wrap each half tightly in plastic, and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Combine sugar and cinnamon in small bowl. In second bowl, combine butter, raisins, and 3 tablespoons cinnamon sugar mixture. Peel apples and halve through equator. Remove core using a melon baller and pack butter mixture into each apple half.

On a lightly floured surface, roll each dough half into 12-inch square. Cut each 12-inch square into four 6-inch squares. Working one at a time, lightly brush edges of dough square with egg white and place apple, cut-side up, in center of each square. Gather dough one corner at a time on top of apple, crimping edges to seal. Using paring knife, cut vent hole in top of each dumpling.

Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange dumplings on prepared baking sheet, brush tops with egg white, and sprinkle with remaining cinnamon sugar. Bake until dough is golden brown and juices are bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on baking sheet 10 minutes.

Serve with Cider Sauce (recipe below).


Makes about 1½ cups

To make this sauce up to 2 days in advance, reduce the cider mixture until it measures 1½ cups, then refrigerate. When ready to serve, return mixture to simmer and whisk in butter and lemon juice off heat.

1     cup apple cider
1     cup water
1     cup sugar
½    teaspoon ground cinnamon
2     tablespoons unsalted butter
1     tablespoon lemon juice

Bring cider, water, sugar, and cinnamon to simmer in saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until thickened and reduced to 1½ cups, about 15 minutes. Off heat, whisk in butter and lemon juice. Drizzle over dumplings to serve.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Amazing Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Still in search of a pumpkin-themed treat to make for breakfast, brunch, or as a midday snack? Can I entice you with a batch of Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls?

I have tried pumpkin cinnamon rolls before and have always been slightly frustrated with the recipe. The dough usually had way too much moisture due to the addition of pumpkin and I found myself adding copious amounts of extra flour just to get it to a point where I could knead it without having the entire mass adhere to my fingers. Not the case with this recipe. I found the proportion of flour, to butter, to sugar, to pumpkin to be absolutely spot on. I perhaps had to add a tablespoon of extra flour when kneading but that was it. It came together very quickly, rose beautifully, and was easy to roll out, fill, shape, and cut.

The smell of these rolls baking fills your house with sweet warm cinnamon, butter, and nutmeg better than any Yankee Candle. The kids love cinnamon rolls and were so excited for me to pull these out of the oven, but were equally disappointed when I told them they had to wait for Halloween to eat them. I always like to try to do something fun for Halloween and figured that a really yummy sugar-filled breakfast will help balance out all the sugar they will be eating the rest of the day. Makes sense, right? I promise I will feed them broccoli or something green before sending them out to trick-or-treat.

Speaking of trick-or-treating, how ironic was it that I had already planned for all three of my kids to dress up as physicians for Halloween before I wrecked my foot? Now, I get to dress up in theme with them - as their patient!

But back to the cinnamon rolls. I had originally planned on making a cookie butter glaze for them but ran out of cookie butter unknowingly. So I made a basic cream cheese frosting instead. However, I am still convinced that a cookie butter glaze would be amazing on this so someone please try it sometime. Basically, you just melt cookie butter in a saucepan and then whisk in a bit of milk to thin. Drizzle over the hot rolls - and that's pretty much it! I've made a pumpkin cake with a cookie butter glaze before and loved it so I can only imagine how fantastic it would be with these rolls. Not to take anything away from the cream cheese frosted version because they are still phenomenal. I hobbled out of the room for a second after frosting these and came back to find Lucy up at the counter, for in hand, happily eating one of the fresh rolls straight from the pan.

"Donuts very good, Mommy!" she confessed through a full, sticky mouth.

From the mouths of babes, folks, the verdict is in. Make these pumpkin cinnamon rolls before the fall season ends!

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted slightly from Averie Cooks

For the Dough:
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, or as needed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
2 1/4 teaspoons instant dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted (1 stick)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg, lightly whisked

For the Filling:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon

For the Frosting:
4 ounces brick-style cream cheese (lite is okay), softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla OR maple extract
3-4 tablespoons half-and-half or cream, or as needed for consistency

To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, add 3 1/4 cups flour, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, yeast, salt. Mix together and set aside.

Melt the butter in the microwave for one minute and then immediately add the buttermilk and the pumpkin. Whisk together.

With the mixer running, add the pumpkin-buttermilk mixture to the bowl. Mix well, then add the egg. Continue kneading the dough for about 7-10 minutes on medium speed. The dough should come together into a nice, moist mass but if it is still stick at the bottom, add a bit of flour a tablespoon at a time. If it is dry and crumbly, drizzle in a bit of buttermilk until it reaches the correct consistency. Remove from the bowl and knead briefly into a round ball on the counter top.

Spray a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray and then add the dough ball to the bowl. Turn to coat and then cover tightly with plastic. Set aside in a warm place to rise for about 2 1/2 hours. This dough will take a lot longer to rise because of the sugar content. If your room is cold, the dough might take even longer. Let it take as long as it needs to double!

While the dough rises, prepare the filling by mixing together 1 cup of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of cinnamon. Set aside.

When ready to shape the dough, butter a 9x13 glass baking pan. Punch the dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured countertop. Roll out the dough to a 26x13 inch rectangle. Using your hands, spread the softened butter all over the dough, then sprinkle the brown sugar mixture over the top, pressing lightly to adhere.

Starting on the long side of the rectangle, tightly roll the dough up. Press the seams together to stick. Turn the rolled log seam-side down and with a serrated knife or unflavored dental floss, cut the log into 12-16 rounds. Place the rounds in the prepared 13x9 pan. Cover tightly with plastic and let rise for an additional 1-2 hours, or until doubled.

While the rolls rise, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. When ready, bake the rolls for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden on top and baked through. Keep an eye on them because the baking time will vary depending on your equipment and how big you sliced the rolls. Remove the rolls from the oven and let the pan cool slightly while you prepare the Cream Cheese Frosting.

To make the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Carefully add the powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla and beat for a few minutes until very smooth, scraping down the side of the bowl as necessary. Taste and adjust sugar/vanilla/salt as desired.

Evenly pour glaze over rolls, lightly spreading with a spatula as necessary.

Enjoy immediately or keep covered tightly in the refrigerator. Heat gently before serving any leftover rolls!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tim Tams

Have you ever heard of Tim Tams?

Labeled as "Australia's favorite cookie" and introduced to American consumers less than ten years ago, the Tim Tam is a fantastic little indulgence consisting of two chocolate biscuits sandwiching a light, malted chocolate filling and finished with a milk chocolate coating. It is heavenly, especially if you are fond of chocolate. I was first introduced to this delightful treat by Roydon, a pilot hailing from New Zealand who grew up on Tim Tams and seems to have made it his life's mission to introduce ignorant Americans to the wonders of this cookie treat by bringing a package or two with him to every dinner party, family gathering, or general meeting of two or more people.

And speaking of Roydon, he's really not a random New Zealander who feeds me cookies every now and then, but rather a soon-to-be relative. Just this past weekend, he proposed to my sister Sophia at the grotto on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. And she said yes!

Aren't they cute?

I'm really happy for Sophie and her life of happiness ahead, but I'm also really glad for me and my stomach - we have access to a lifetime supply of Tim Tams. Because these babies just might be my new favorite cookie.

After first trying Tim Tams, I knew I had to figure out how to make them. And figure it out I did, although they were quite the time-consuming little project. This really upset Lucy who gets excited anytime I start working with chocolate and had to wait literally hours to finally eat a cookie. First, you have to make the biscuit dough which takes five minutes. The dough needs to be rolled very thin between parchment paper and then refrigerated for a few hours so it is easier to work with. Next, the dough needs to be cut into cute little rectangles that are the exact same size. Being a meticulous individual, I actually got a ruler out for this part and while I got those rectangles fairly uniform, I found it all very tedious and frustrating especially when the dough started to warm up and squish together when I tried to transfer one of the cut shapes to a baking sheet.

Once cut, the rectangles are baked until firm. Then they must cool completely, during which time you make the malted chocolate butter filling - which holy cow, I could eat with a spoon, it was so good! After each cookie is filled and sandwiches, refrigerate it to chill while you make the chocolate coating. Once the chocolate coating is made, dip each cookie individually in it until completely covered and then set aside to firm up. Once all the cookies are dipped, they all must be chilled to ensure the chocolate sets. THEN, my friends, you  may eat one. It's a long process, but well worth the effort, especially if you like your chocolate.

While it is far easier to buy these cookies at Target - Roydon confessed that he can buy them there - this really is a fun project if you're into multi-step baking. I found it not-so-fun just because the children expected to be eating cookies within 30 minutes of the announcement that I was making these and thus kept bugging me for hours during the process asking me if they could eat one. Not really an issue with the cookies themselves, more to do with the fact that I have no patience (and neither do my kids, apparently!).

Homemade Tim Tams
from The Sugar Hit

Note: For a more traditional flavor, use regular cocoa powder and milk chocolate for your tim tams. I used Dutch-processed cocoa powder and dark chocolate because that's what I had on hand and I tend to prefer dark chocolate myself. Both forms are delicious here.

For the Biscuits:
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 whole large egg
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
pinch of salt

For the Filling:
4 ounces unsalted butter softened, 1 stick
1 cup powdered confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon malted milk powder

For the Coating: 
7 ounces milk chocolate chopped
1 tablespoon coconut oil

Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl, add the egg and continue beating until the egg is incorporated and the mixture lightens in color. Add the cocoa powder and beat until smooth and no lumps appear. Add the flour and salt until fully incorporated. The dough will be very soft. Turn the dough onto a piece of parchment paper or wax paper. Top with another piece of parchment paper, and roll the dough out into a large rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Put the dough on a baking tray and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Take the dough out of the freezer and slice it into 28 small (1 1/4 x 2 1/2 inch) rectangles. Separate the rectangles and spread them out on the prepared baking trays. Bake for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the filling, cream the butter until soft, add in the remaining ingredients and beat until well combined. Spread a heaping teaspoon of filling onto half of the cookies. Top with the remaining cookies, then place in the refrigerator to chill while you melt the chocolate for the coating.

For the coating, place the chocolate and coconut oil in a heat-proof bowl and melt together in the microwave on High (100%) in 30-second bursts, stirring well after each burst. Once the chocolate is mostly melted, remove and stir gently until smooth. You may also melt the chocolate on the stove over a double broiler.

Take a chilled cookie and carefully coat it in the chocolate.

Chill in the refrigerator and then dip one more time through the melted chocolate if desired. Place back on the baking trays and chill until the chocolate is solid.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Levain Bakery Oatmeal Cookies

Who knew being a dog owner could be so dangerous?

A few days ago, I was heading to answer the door for a visitor when my dog suddenly dashed in front of me causing me to trip and catapult myself head-over-heels into the stairway. The pain in my left foot when I got myself up was so intense that I was positive it was broken. After a few hours of icing, after which the swelling reduced but the pain did not subside, I took myself into the doctor's office where an x-ray confirmed that I had fractured my fifth metatarsal. In a matter of seconds, I went from an active mother with a love of running to a handicapped gimp who takes about 10 minutes to get a pair of pants on in the morning. I have been instructed not to put any weight on my left foot for a few weeks in order to ensure that I do not displace the bones further and then after that it's all crutches for me until the bone completely heals, probably sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The worst part was that when the accident occurred my husband was actually out of town visiting his parents and I was immediately overwhelmed about how I was going to deal with three young kids with a fractured foot. Thankfully, I have some of the best friends in the universe who banded together to ensure that I didn't have to worry about a thing. They took Matthew to school, cared for my girls during the day, brought me food, and tucked the kids in bed for me at night. It took such a load off my mind and helped me survive the few days alone before Paul returned home.

So basically all this means that I have plenty of sit-on-my-butt time and no excuse whatsoever for neglecting this blog. It also means I probably won't have anything interesting to write beyond the recipes I have saved and photographed to be shared. Let's start with this amazing recipe for the Levain Bakery Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.

These cookies are simply unbelievable. They have a wonderfully dense texture, the perfect balance of butter, cinnamon, flour, and oats. I was seriously frustrated because I had just made a batch of Oatmeal Raisin Cookies that I was less than happy with. They came from a new cookbook I recently acquired and I found the recipe very fussy and the results less-than-stellar. Burnt edges and an overly chewy texture that make my molars ache are not really my idea of an enjoyable treat. So I tossed them and tried this recipe next since I have had it bookmarked for ages.

I visited Levain Bakery when Paul and I traveled to New York City a few months ago and found their cookies to be totally worth the hype. While the Oatmeal Cookies were tempting, I opted to try one of their Chocolate Walnut Cookies instead. Based on my first-hand knowledge of the density and texture of Levain's cookies, I can testify that this recipe is pretty spot on. I was completely blown away by them. They were simple to prepare - you don't even have to wait for butter to soften - and I found the choice of ingredients as well as the oven temperature to be a stroke of genius. The cake flour contributes to the tender crumb of the cookies and the high temperature shocks the cookie dough balls to prevent them from spreading as they quickly bake. Genius, genius, genius!

I can't rave enough about these. You'll just have to try them yourselves and see if you are as wowed by them as I am! If you are a fan of ultra chewy oatmeal cookies these probably won't be your favorite but I promise you will fall in love with the flavor. I'm going to go eat another one right now...

Levain Bakery Oatmeal Cookies
from Modern Honey

1 cup Cold Butter, cut into cubes
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
½ cup Sugar
2 Eggs
2 cups Flour
½ cup Cake Flour
1½ cup Rolled Oats
1 teaspoon Cornstarch
¾ teaspoon Baking Soda
½ teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Cinnamon
1½ cups Raisins
1 cup Walnuts, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 410 degrees.

In large bowl, cream together cold butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Add cake flour, all-purpose flour, oats, cornstarch, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and stir until combined. Stir in raisins and walnuts (optional).

Chill dough for 15 minutes.

Separate dough into large balls and place on lightly colored cookie sheet. Lightly press on top of dough to smooth out. If you have a scale, you can make them anywhere from 4.5 ounces - 6 ounces. You will fit 4-6 cookies on one large cookie sheet. The dough makes 8-12 extra large cookies.Bake for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown on the top. Let them rest for at least 10-15 minutes to set.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

French Apple Cake

Some of my favorite memories with my children have been made at the various festivals and harvest playgrounds that pop up during this season. Last weekend, the kids and I traveled to a tiny little historical town for their apple festival. We have gone every year as a family since we've been married and although Paul was unable to join us I had no plans to skip this year! The weather was beautiful and as a result the festival was so incredibly crowded and busy. Aunt Jen was able to meet up with us and the kids always enjoy spending time with her. She's the greatest.

While Matthew was at school during the week, the girls were being particularly good so I surprised them with trip to our local farmer's market where they set up a whole bunch of fun inflatables for the kids to plan on, a petting zoo, a corn maze, and a not-so-scary haunted house. Plus, they have a whole bunch of creative pumpkin displays for the kids to look at - pumpkins decorated as all kinds of familiar characters including Winnie-the-Pooh, Monster's Inc., Mickey Mouse, Paw Patrol, and so many more! The girls were psyched to discover where we were going but for some reason turned into shy little things once it came time for them to climb on the inflatables. I had been secretly hoping that they would go off and play and I could sit and listen to a podcast while observing them. But of course, since they were scared and all, I ended up having to climb up and down all these inflatables with them and spent the majority of our time worrying that my weight was going to pop one of them. Thankfully, that did not happen and we all had a good time but it was certainly exhausting!

We couldn't help but stop and feed the goats, llamas, and alapcas on our way out. The white llama there was extremely friendly. Normally, I find llamas extremely standoffish but this little guy kept nuzzling my shirt with his nose and putting his face in our hands because he enjoyed being stroked so much. I kept trying to take pictures of the girls feeding the littlest goat - he was so adorable - but that llama kept photobombing the pictures by bending his neck in front of Lucy and completely blocking her from the camera. He was a really friendly little llama. 

Afterwards, the girls and I stopped by Panera for lunch where we split a salad, a sandwich, and a few bagels. Their Cherry-Vanilla bagel is back in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I couldn't be happier with that. It's by far their best bagel in my opinion. 

I had a wonderful day with my two beautiful girls! We all came home pretty exhausted and both girls took a long afternoon nap which is highly unusual for them!

As promised, I have a few more apple goodies to share with you starting with this French Apple Cake. French Apple Cake in all its simplicity actually makes for quite the elegant dessert. Sliced apples are cooked in batches in butter, allowed to cool just a bit, and then piled high into a springform pan. A thin batter is then poured over the top of the apples before the whole mixture is baked. The apples and batter in the center of a cake create a custard layer while the batter gathered on the tops and sides forms a thin, cake-like crust. For easier slicing, let the cake cool a bit before being served with cinnamon whipped cream or ice cream. I adore how many apples are packed into this simple dessert and it is way easier than making pie when you have a craving for an apple-themed sweet. Paul thought this would make a great brunch item and I agree that he is right - it is composed of mostly fruit after all!

Give this French Apple Cake a try with all the beautiful apples available!

French Apple Cake
adapted slightly from Milk Street

Note: Please notice that this recipe calls for salted butter!

8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, plus more for the pan
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 pounds granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 pound Braeburn or Golden Delicious Apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch slices
12 tablespoons (149 grams) white sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons brandy or calvados
2/3 cup (95 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 teaspoon baking power 
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Coat a 9-inch springform pan with butter and dust the inside with flour. Tap out the excess and set aside.

In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Cook, swirling the pan frequently, until the milk solids at the bottom are golden brown and the butter has a nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Pour into a small heatproof bowl without scraping out the skillet. Stir the nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice into the butter and set aside.

Add all the apples, 2 tablespoons of the sugar and the salt to the still-hot skillet and set over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all moisture released by the apples has evaporated and the slices are beginning to brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the brandy and cook until evaporated, 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer to a large plate, spread in an even layer and refrigerate uncovered until cool to the touch, 15 to 20 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and 9 tablespoons of the remaining sugar. Gradually whisk in the browned butter. Add the flour mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until smooth; the batter will be very thick. Add the cooled apples and fold until evenly coated with batter. Transfer to the prepared pan, spread in an even layer and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake until deeply browned, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, about 2 hours. Run a knife around the inside of the pan and remove the sides before slicing. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Chicken Taco Chili

I wish I could bottle up and keep Lucy in the current stage she is in forever and ever. Goodness gracious, this little girl has my whole heart and soul. She is adorable, sweet, and possesses such an infectious wonderment and excitement for life. No matter where we are going or what we plan to do, she is always eager to get ready and go.

We need to go to the grocery store. Ok Mommy, I get my shoes on!

We need to go to an appointment at the doctor's. Ok Mommy, I coming! I coming! 

We need to get ready for bed. Ok Mommy, I get my snowman on! (Her "snowman" is her favorite nightgown. Yes, it has snowmen on it. Yes, she wears it all year round because she loves it so much.)

I just love, love, love her so much. I love all my kids equally, but Lucy admittedly has me wrapped around her fat little finger right now.

I've decided to try to put together a little interview for each of my kids and figured I would begin with the most agreeable child at the moment. So, today I am highlighting Lucy. I'll interview the other two troublemakers in the next week or two.

Her responses were pretty much what you'd expect from a two-year-old with the attention span of a fruit fly. It was pretty cute asking her some of the questions and then watching her blink, narrow her eyes, and furrow her brow while trying to comprehend what was just asked of her. I couldn't help commenting on a couple of her responses and my comments appear in parenthesis.

What is your favorite color?
I color at Chick-Fil-A. I color PINK!

What is your favorite food?
My eggs!

What is your favorite treat? 
Ice Cream!!

What is your favorite sport? 
Ummm…Ummmm….(Notre Dame Football is the only acceptable answer)

What is your favorite hobby? 
I love tic-tac-toe!

What is your favorite movie? 
I love Moana. Watch Moana. Hey-Hey So FUNNY!

What is your favorite tv show? 
I watch Daniel Tiger. Daniel Tiger SO FUNNY!

What is your favorite book? 
One more SCOOP! (It’s a line from a book called Just One More).

What is your favorite animal?
I like giraffe. RED PANDA!! At the ZOO!!

What is your favorite song? 
Trolls. (She does love that soundtrack!)

What is your favorite restaurant?
Ummm…Ummm…Uhhhhhh (I’m just going to answer for her. Chick-Fil-A. Without a doubt!)

What is your favorite fruit? 
Blueberry and strawberry

What is your favorite place to visit? 
I have fun with Carrie at the Y.

Who is your best friend?
My house! (That's interesting...)

Who is your favorite cousin? 
I love my cousin.

What’s your favorite thing to do with Emma? 
Go to the park!

What’s your favorite thing to do with Matthew?
Jump on the trampoline with Matthew! But it’s getting darky.

What’s your favorite thing to do with Dad?
Play with Daddy at the park!

What’s your favorite thing to do with Mom?
Play with Mommy at the park! (I’m noticing a theme)

What’s your favorite thing to do with Peyton (pet)?
I tell Peyton to stay! Stay Peyton, STAY! Sit Peyton, SIT!

Where do you think you’ll go to college?
I color at the Y.

Where do you think you might get married? 
Mommy, I want to watch Zootopia.

What do you want to be when you grow up? 
I get French fries when I get bigger. And watch Zootopia.

What is one thing you want to learn how to do?
Umm…ummm….I cook. And watch Zootopia.

What is one of your greatest talents?
That’s Peyton. He’s a little doggie. Little doggie. A cute little doggie. I love Peyton. Cute little doggie. I wish that.

What are some of your other strengths?
Thank goodness it’s Monday. (It’s actually Thursday)

What is something that you wish for? 
Mommy, there are a lot of clouds. I think there’s a storm.

What is something you wonder about? 
I walked into the wall.

Who is someone that you miss? 
The monkeys are loud. At the zoo. We go look at the monkeys at the zoo? We go to the zoo! The monkey house!!

What makes you nervous? 
Matthew’s at school. Then we go to the zoo! (Still hung up on the last question)

What makes you happy? 
Lucy SO HAPPY! Mommy like to color? (We always stay on topic)

The recipe I wanted to share with you today was something I threw together really quickly because I had a super busy day ahead and basically did not want to have to think about dinner. One day a week, I have a busy day that does not end until I come home around 6:00pm and on those days I prefer to walk in the door with dinner basically ready for me. Thus, a crockpot meal is pretty much a must unless we are making something simple like sandwiches or scrambled eggs.

I had originally intended on making a Chicken Tortilla Soup because I figured I had most of the ingredients already in my pantry but, alas, I actually did not have any tortilla chips. So I threw together something I am calling a Chicken Taco Chili because that's pretty much the best way to describe it. Paul, the kids, and I loved it so much that he ordered me to write down exactly what I did so I could replicate it again. So, apologies for the goofy recipe I have put together below, but it is pretty much exactly what I did. Including the part about having too much liquid for my *tiny* crockpot so I ended up having to transfer the finished product to the stovetop for the final simmer stage. If you also possess a smaller crockpot, by all means halve this recipe! Paul was obsessed with this soup so I will definitely be making it again and probably will replicate everything exactly, with the exception of using a bigger crockpot.

And please, please serve with plenty of cheese, sour cream, and (if you a have them) tortilla chips. I also cut up some fresh avocado to sprinkle on top and Matthew - the avocado lover - was especially a fan of this extra fresh flourish.

Chicken Taco Chili

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, seeds removed, minced
1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from the canned chipotle peppers above)
4 cups chicken broth
3 large chicken breasts
1 packet taco seasoning (or make you're own - recipe below)
2 14.5 ounce cans Chili Style Diced Tomatoes
1 28-ounce can plain diced tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 can pinto beans, drained
2 cans Black Beans in Chili Sauce (I like Bush's), undrained and divided
1/2 cup salsa
Shredded Cheese, for serving
Diced Avocado, for serving
Sour Cream, for serving
Crushed Tortilla Chips, for serving
Lime Wedges, for serving

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the diced onion and peppers and saute until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic cloves and saute for an additional 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the minced chipotle peppers and adobo sauce and cook an additional 30 seconds. Pour in the chicken broth and stir well, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. Turn off the heat and set aside for a minute.

Nestle the chicken into the bottom of a very large (8 quart capacity) slow cooker and sprinkle with the taco seasoning (if making your own, use 3 tablespoons). Add the vegetable/chicken broth mixture, tomatoes, tomato paste, pinto beans, and one can of black beans. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 5 hours.

When ready, remove the chicken and shred with a fork. In a blender, add the remaining can of black beans, salsa, and a few ladles of the vegetable/tomato mixture from the slow cooker. Puree until smooth. This is where it gets a little goofy depending on the size of your slow cooker. Either pour into the slow cooker with the remaining soup, or pour into a large stockpot on the stovetop (my slow cooker couldn't handle any more soup so I had to use a bigger stockpot). However you need to do it, combine the pureed mixture with the remaining soup and shredded chicken (feel free to puree more of the soup if you prefer a smoother consistency). Reheat over low heat, adjusting seasoning as needed with additional chili powder, garlic powder, and salt.

Serve with shredded cheese, diced avocado, sour cream, lime wedges, and crushed tortilla chips, if desired.