About Me

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Simply put, I love food. I revel in everything about it: taste, texture, preparation, presentation, etc. The most favored aspect for me is the social aspect of food…learning to cook from one’s mother, preparing food with friends, grilling out, potlucks, dinner parties or simply meeting for dinner. I light up watching the people I love eat the food that I create. It still truly amazes me how food brings us together. So a little about me. Now in my early 30s, I’ve learned all I know about cooking from my mother and grandmothers. My Midwestern roots are definitely reflected in my cooking style and the recipes that I choose as I am very “meat and potatoes” centric and heavy handed with the butter sometimes. More later, but for now Happy Nomming!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Vanilla Applesauce

So apples are about the most perfect fruit on the planet, as far as I am concerned. They come in a multitude of varieties: sweet, tart, crispy, firm and soft.  Whatever your taste, there's an apple variety to suit it. 

Not only that, they're a perfect complement to any meal or food. Com'n does it get any better?  They are great as a stand alone, sublime in salads and don't even get me started on what they can do for a pork dish!  Seriously, some day I will post my sausage, onion, apple, rice dish thingy.  Everyone thinks I'm nuts when I set it down in front of them and then they eat it. I'm pretty sure that's it's changed lives before. Ok, well maybe not, but at least it's given a select few a new perspective on what this crisp fruit can do for a dish.

Fall in Indiana marks so many awesome things, but my favorite is probably the onslaught of apples that hit the Farmer's Market.  I have a lovely friend that helps out with THE apple guy at my local Farmer's Market.  I'd be completely remiss not to mention, Lee's Orchard from Columbus, Indiana, here.  After telling him that I turned his beautiful apples and pears into a vanilla sauce last week, he hooked me up with a whole bunch of 'seconds' apples this weekend.  You know, those apples that aren't as attractive as the others.  The sad, the lonely, the bruised ones at the bottom of the bushel.  Josh informed me that apples split or crack after the first heavy rain following a dry spell. Who knew?  Well, all the same, these blemished (still a strong believer that beauty is in the eye of the beholder) apples sure make a wonderful sauce.

Vanilla Applesauce
1-1 1/2 pounds of sweet pears
4-5 lbs of apples (any variety) cored, peeled and cubed
2-3 whole vanilla beans
juice from one lemon (approximately 2 Tablespoons)
1 cup water
1/3-1/2 cup brown sugar (reduce or omit based on the sweetness of the apple variety you use)
1-2 teaspoons of cinnamon, to taste

First, turn your fingers into prunes by chopping up all of that fruit and throw it in a stockpot or big ol' saucepan.  For this round, I used Goldrush (crisp & tart) & Grimes Golden (softer and slightly sweet).  Last week, I used Lee's Fuji's and the sauce turned out pretty darn amazing as well.

Next, give your sweet dog a few bites of apple because she sat there and watched you diligently as you peeled and cut apples for the last hour. (and, well, because she's adorable!)

Then, split the vanilla beans lengthwise and combine them and the remainder of the ingredients with the apples.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce to a simmer.  Cover and simmer for 25 minutes.  Remove cover and simmer until water all but absorbed, about another 15-20 minutes.   

It smells so good!!!  Remove the vanilla beans and scrape the good inside bits of them into the sauce. Now you have options, you can food process the cooked apples into a smooth sauce or use a manual potato masher and leave it chunkier.

Sweet Potato Pie with Bacon Crust & Pecan Topping

So I've already starting 'practice' cooking for Thanksgiving.  I seriously think my addiction to baking may be getting out of control considering my annual Turkey Day usually consists of about 10-12 family members and a minimum of three pies.  I've typically shown up with some sort of chocolate dessert for this occasion.  I've never understood why more chocolate desserts aren't on the table for this holiday?  Chocolate is so good and, let's be honest, should be a part of every meal and probably the food pyramid or food scale or food rhombus or whatever version of food geometry the FDA is imposing on us these days.

A dose a fall smacked me in the face this week and sweet potato pie just sounded like a good idea. But then again, when doesn't pie seem like a good idea?

The Crust!

1 slightly heaping cup of all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons cold butter
2 Tablespoons of chilled bacon grease
~ 3 Tablespoons ice water

In your handy dandy food processor, mix together flour and salt.  Cube and add butter, pulsing about a half dozen times to cut it in.  Repeat with delicious bacon grease.  Slowly add water 1 Tablespoon at a time until dough comes together.  There's a fine line between perfect and a sticky mess here so pay attention!  You may not need all 3 Tablespoons as indicated above.  Once dough forms a ball, press into a disk with waxed paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more.

The Innards

2 cups peeled, cooked & mashed sweet potatoes
1 cup sugar
4 Tablespoons melted butter
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla (I make my own.  Someday I will post that recipe.)
1 cup milk (I use 1/2 cup heavy cream + 1/2 cup 1% milk)

1/3 cup of brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In your electric mixer (or use a hand mixer),  mix together all of the innard ingredients except the milk and mix thoroughly. Add milk and stir to combine.  Set aside.

Roll out your pie crust on a floured surface to the appropriate size.  *The fats in this crust will soften the more you handle them, and you'll quickly have a gooey, sticky mess if you fuss with it too much. With that, the easiest way to roll it out is under a piece of waxed or parchment paper.

After you get your crust rolled, situated and appropriately scalloped (I don't do this, it's too much trouble) into a beautiful masterpiece in your pie plate, use a fork to prick holes all over the bottom of that thing so that it doesn't bubble up while baking. 

Sprinkle brown sugar all over the bottom of the crust.  Pour the filling into the pie crust and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  If your crust edges start to brown too quickly, tent with foil. 

Cool on a rack for about an hour and then move to the fridge to cool completely.

The Toppin

2 Tablespoons of melted butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add sugar & pecans and mixed until incorporated.  You can add a tablespoon of heavy cream here, if you'd like but it's not necessary. 

Feel free to top cooled pie after the toppin's have cooled off a bit or serve this nut mixture on the side, since some crazy people (my father, for instance) don't like nuts in their baked goods.

And there ya have have it.

Now go forth and add a little bacon to your favorite Thanksgiving classic!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Coffee Cupcake (Literally) with Salted Caramel Frosting

So I part-time at a local tap room/restaurant and absolutely adore the people I work with!  When I started enjoying craft beer, this was the place I'd go.  Now that I've been working there, I've started creating recipes using beer.  This isn't one of those recipes, that was just an A.D.D. moment. 
Regardless, I bake something almost weekly and take it in to the restaurant to share.  Almost everyone has made a request of me at some point or another. Brownies, Cheesecake, MORE chocolate cookies or the occasional "Do you think you good make X?" (Fill in the blank).  Last week, one of the guys was going on about Starbucks' Salted Caramel Mocha and how he's become addicted to them (and this, folks, is why I call it Crackbucks).  He asked if I could make a baked good that tasted like that.  Challenge accepted.  While I don't think I nailed it at all, this cupcake is fridiculous!!!! Yea, I said FRIDICULOUS! Pretty sure the only way to improve it would be to make it a brown butter coffee cupcake and add some bacon...hmmm...maybe next time. ENJOY!

Literally Coffee Cake*
compliments of The Pioneer Woman

2 cups Flour
2 cups Sugar
1/4 teaspoon Salt
2 sticks Butter
3 Tablespoons Instant Coffee Crystals or instant espresso
1/2 cup Buttermilk
2 whole Eggs
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
2 teaspoons Vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two round baking pans or line muffin pan with cupcake liners.  In a large bowl, mix sugar, flour, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside.
Melt 2 sticks of butter in a pot over medium-low heat. While that's melting, add 3 tablespoons instant coffee to 1 cup boiling water. Set aside.

Once butter has melted, add coffee mixture to the butter in the pot. Let it come to a boil for about ten seconds, then turn off the heat. Set aside for just a minute.

In a separate bowl, add buttermilk, eggs, baking soda, and vanilla. Mix until well combined.

Pour the butter/coffee mixture into the flour mixture. Stir the mixture together gently. The purpose here isn’t to mix it together perfectly, but to cool down the heat before adding the egg mixture.
Add in the egg mixture and stir gently until well combined. Then pour into prepared pans (3/4 full for cupcakes). Bake for 20 to 22 minutes or until set for cake rounds. Or, if making cupcakes, drop the temperature to 325 and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Allow to cool completely below icing with the ridiculous recipe that follows.

Salted Caramel Frosting
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy  cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 tsp sea salt
4 powdered sugar

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium to medium-high heat. Stir only until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, and stop stirring. Continue cooking over medium-high heat until the caramel becomes a deep amber brown color, about 7-10 minutes. There's about a 1 minute window between dark amber & burned all to hell so keep an eye on it at 6 minutes. Remove from heat and slowly stir in heavy cream and vanilla. Let cool for at least 30 minutes. Cream the butter and salt together until fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar until fully combined.  Add the caramel (once cooled to room temperature and beat again until fluffy.  You may have to add more powdered sugar to get the correct consistency.

Icing those bad boys and then drizzle chocolate syrup on them (I use dark. Always). Combine 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt with 1/4 teaspoon of espresso powder.  Garnish at will. Don't get carried away here, a few granules on each will make them pretty without being a salty coffeey chaos!