Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Taste of the Irish

Back when I was researching the possibility of going to cooking school, I ran across this quaint culinary school in Ireland, Ballymaloe Cookery School. (Just the name of it gives me warm fuzzies...) A college friend of mine had recently done a series of course there, so it seemed feasible to me at the time. I dreamed of living in one of their cottages, rooming with another zealous culinary artist or two. I would wake up with my fellow classmates early each morning with the first light, and help pick the fresh, organic produce from the garden as the dewy drops hung in suspension still from the leaf tendrils. We would spend countless hours in the kitchen every day learning how to make bread dough rise just so, the exact ratio of flour and sugar to produce the perfect cake, how to cook a beef tenderloin to medium-rare, a myriad of new vegetable combinations for delicious salads I had never thought of before....and that would be just the beginning! The simiplicity was its charm. Every dish would be created using the simplest of ingredients -- nothing unnecessary and all well-balanced.

But the reality of distance and finances hang over my head (maybe some day), so I am resigned to making Ballymaloe dishes in my own kitchen using Myrtle Allen's, The Ballymaloe Cookbook. Forgive me if I speak in an Irish accent when I ask for the flour off the shelf....
In an attempt to use up some more of my never-ending basket of apples, I made this delicious breakfast pastry.
Irish Apple Cake
1 3/4 c. flour
1/4 t. baking powder
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. + 1 T. brown sugar
1 egg
approx. 1/2 c. milk
2 cooking apples
Mix flour and baking powder together. Cut butter into pieces and mix in flour by hand until it resembles course crumbs. Add 1/2 c. sugar, beaten egg and enough milk to make a soft dough. Divide in two. Roll out one ball of dough and place in the bottom of a pie dish. Cut apples into chunks or slices, arrange on top of dough in dish and sprinkle with 1 T. of sugar. Roll out second ball of dough and place on top of apples, pinching down the sides. Cut vents on top. Bake about 40 minutes at 350 degrees F.
Easy as pie. :-)

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Smashing Success

I've been eager to try out this particular smoothie ever since a friend, knowing my love for all things pumpkin, texted me about its existence.
If there is anything better than pumpkin pie and a creamy smoothie, it is the two combined into ONE. That's right...liquified pumpkin pie. The Pumpkin Smash smoothie from Jamba Juice contains all the warm, spicy flavors of Fall, yet you can enjoy it even when it is 80 degrees and sunny. Ah, the beauty of living in California.... ;-)

Friday, October 23, 2009


A lazy Sunday morning enjoying breakfast at Crepeville

I have yet to master the art of French crepe-making. One day when I'm rich I will invest in one of those ginormous, round griddles specially designed for making crepes. But until then I will satisfy my cravings for savory and sweet crepes alike at Crepeville.

Of all the American crepes I have tasted, the ones at Crepeville come the closest to authentic French cuisine. Even if they didn't, they are fantastically stuffed with delicious fillings, such as chicken and pesto, Canadian bacon, cheese and pineapple, marinara and provolone cheese. My favorite is the California crepe with spinach, avocado, onions, provolone, and sundried tomato pesto. Mmm, mmm good. The crepes are served with a generous helping of seasoned, roasted potatoes. Even one who is not particularly fond of potatoes will become a fast friend of these savory morsels.

Sadly, I have yet to try a sweet crepe, the numerous times I have been there, due to the filling nature of the main dish. One of these days -- so many choices: chocolate, raspberry blintz, strawberries and cream....

And on a chilly, blustery day, you can order a pot of tea in one of their nifty golden teapots. Their freshly squeezed orange or carrot juice is another excellent choice for quaffing your thirst.

Comes complete with a tea strainer to keep those pesky leaves out of your tea cup

Crepeville also has omelettes, salads, sandwiches, soups, and several other wonderful selections... none of which I'll probably ever bring myself to try as I love those crepes! ;-)

A friend we ran into on the way back to the car, storing up food for the winter

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pumpkin Scones

If there is one recipe in my collection that is well-worn, it is my pumpkin scone recipe. I have no idea where it came from originally, nor do I ever stick to its stipulations, but it has seen me through many a morning (and afternoon, for that matter).

Enjoyed one this morning with a dab of apple pumpkin butter straight from Apple Hill. I can't think of a better addition...although peanut butter comes in a close second. :-) (Almost didn't make it into the photo I was so hungry!)

Pumpkin Scones

2 c. flour

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/4 t. ginger

1/2 t. nutmeg

1/4 t. allspice

1/2 t. cinnamon

1 t. baking powder

1/4 t. baking soda

1/2 c. butter

1/3 c. buttermilk

1/2 c. pumpkin puree

1 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place flour, sugar, spices, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and mix with dry ingredients until butter is the size of small peas.

Mix buttermilk, pumpkin and vanilla in a separate cup or bowl. Add to large bowl and mix together by hand just until it comes together.

Flour a clean surface. Pat ball of dough into a round about 1/2 in. thick. Cut into 8 triangles. Place on greased baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, until browned at edges.

This morning's scones were made using canned pumpkin pie mix so I left out the cinnamon and nutmeg. Often, I leave all the spices out as the pumpkin pie mix has its own added, but the flavor of the scones is more subtle without the added ginger and allspice. It's at your discretion...

I also like to make the scones with either all whole wheat flour or half whole wheat, half all-purpose. The whole wheat flour gives the scones a heavier texture, still every bit delicious, and they certainly keep you full longer.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Supper

A tradition that I sincerely want to incorporate in my household someday is the tradition of Sunday suppers. An evening to inaugurate the week (or close the week depending on which end your looking from) where loved ones -- family and friends alike -- join together to enjoy each others' company and indulge in a delicious meal. An essential part of life is being in the presence of those you love, and nothing brings people together (and holds them captive!) like a good meal.

We celebrated the beginning of this week with a fabulous Fall supper tonight. That plethora of apples I have acquired is hardly dwindling. I do believe the apples are multiplying, producing baby apples, as they lie in the bag waiting to be cooked. I'm trying to stay ahead of the curve, but am failing miserably. ;-p Hence, I browsed my cookbooks searching for a recipe combining apples and chicken. Voila! Success!

Normandy Chicken and Apple Saute

adapted from The Rustic Table

4 T. butter

8 small chicken breasts

salt and pepper

3 cooking apples (I used Granny Smiths)

1 large onion, cut into thin wedges

1 c. chicken stock

1/2 c. apple cider (or original recipes calls for Calvados if you have it)

1/2 c. half and half

1/2 c. coarsely chopped toasted walnuts

Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat in a large saucepan. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and brown on both sides about 7-10 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Add apples to the pan and saute in the juices about 2 minutes. Remove to separate plate.

Place remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter into saucepan and saute onions until golden, about 3 minutes. Return chicken to pan and add stock and cider. Bring to a slow boil, then place lid on top and let simmer for 20 minutes. Add apples cooking until heated through, about 2 minutes.

Strain and reserve cooking liquid. Place chicken, apples and onions on platter, and cover to keep warm. Return liquid to pan and add half and half. Let boil over medium heat about 3 minutes until thick. Add salt and pepper to taste if needed. Spoon sauce over chicken. Sprinkle walnuts on top and serve immediately.

I was a tad leery of adding walnuts to the dish, but they were the perfect complement to the chicken and apples; it wouldn't have been the same without them.

To complete the dish, I made some mashed sweet potatoes to which I added a dollop of Greek yogurt and a dash of cinnamon, and a green salad.

My brother and his girlfriend whipped up a fabulous batch of pumpkin cookies. I've had to exercise some serious self-control in order to keep from eating the entire plate full.

They have a creamy glaze which fantastically adds to their sweetness.

Side note: These were made using canned pumpkin pie mix as regular canned pumpkin is still missing from grocery shelves...sad day, but we make do. :-)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rainy Day Comforts - Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

I'm not kidding, the second the weather turns bad, I turn to warm comfort foods and Christmas carols. I feel like such a kid right now. ;-) I was banging away on the piano this morning and attempting to belt out Christmas carols with my hoarse, bronchitis-infected vocal chords. Sounds like I've been smoking all my life... My brother tells me he can't take me seriously because I sound so ridiculous. Not quite sure what that means but.... :-)
I'm doing a repeat today of yesterday's lunch -- a grilled sharp cheddar and turkey sandwich on sourdough. I turn to my cheese sandwiches when it rains. To give it a grown-up element, I'm trying to add other things besides just cheese these days. One of my favorite hot sandwiches lately is an open-faced mozarella, turkey, pesto, and tomato with provolone melted on top under the broiler. It is fantastic on Pugliese. (If you are going to use the broiler to heat your sandwich, toast the bread first; otherwise, it can end up a bit cold and soggy in the middle.) Another excellent choice is a grilled bacon, tomato and Dubliner.
What are your favorite hot sandwiches for a rainy day??

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Apple Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies

Ah. It's a rainy day here, the first of the season. I'm feeling all snuggly. I want to curl up with a good book and a hot cup of tea. But, first, some cookie baking is in order.

All those delectable apples I picked from the trees last week are finding their way into baked goods of many varieties. I've enjoyed many an apple crisp -- for breakfast, lunch and dinner! -- an apple cake, baked apples...the list continues.

Today, I whipped out my trusty "Apple Lovers Cook Book," acquired a few years ago on one of my excursions up the hill. In the mood for something to munch while I sip, I searched out a good apple cookie recipe and stumbled on this one...

Oatmeal Apple-Raisin Cookies
1 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1 1/2 c. oatmeal
1/2 c. peeled, diced apples
1/2 c. grated apple
1 c. raisins
Cream butter together with sugar in a large bowl. Add egg and vanilla. Stir in flour, soda, and cinnamon. Mix well. Gradually add oatmeal, then the apples and raisins. Regfrigerate for 15 minutes to an hour. Keep regfrigerated while they bake in batches.
Place walnut-size pieces of dough on a baking sheet. Bake about 10-15 minutes at 350 F, or until cookies are browned. Recipe makes about 5 dozen cookies.

This recipe makes quite a few cookies, although bite-size, so it is quite easy to put away more than a couple. (But only if you're into that kind of thing....) ;-) If you enjoy oatmeal raisin cookies, you'll like these. They hardly taste like apples, really, but are moist and chewy with a nice hint of spice.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How About Them Apples??

Ever since I was just a wee, little babe, the Fall months have always been occupied with frequent weekend trips to Apple Hill to enjoy every aspect of the fruitful harvest. Just recently, however, I have discovered a new favorite past-time involving this bountiful harvest: apple-picking.

It began back in college as a way to amass copious quantities of food at a cheap price, plus it was an excellent way both to procrastinate on homework and get some fresh air. We, a ravenous pack of students, would gather on a crisp Saturday morning, early before brunch, piling into the largest vehicle we could find and head off to one of the you-pick-your-own apple orchards of Northern Virginia. We never returned with less than a large grocery bag each stuffed with juicy, plump apples straight from the tree. The drive home always consisted of plotting the variety of ways we would be spending consuming our horde...

Strangely, in all my trips to Apple Hill over the years, I had never been to a you-pick-your-own apple orchard. Looking back, it is downright scandalous...every child should have the opportunity to earn his apples by the sweat of his brow! But, finally, last year, I went up with some friends who were brave enough to fight the elements in order to enjoy those precious green and ruby gems. Unfortunately, much to our chagrin, we arrived a bit late in the season only to find the trees nearly bare. We consoled ourselves with caramel apples at High Hill.

But, never fear! This year, we were wise and headed up a bit earlier. This past Sunday was joyously spent frolicking around a beautiful orchard owned by a gracious woman who was offering her apples at $5 a half-bushel. Couldn't pass up an offer like that! We'll take two, thank you! Leaping in and out amongst the trees, we found plenty to fill our boxes...and more! A bit of a search was required, but that made it all the more adventurous. Those apples which seemed within arms reach were nearly always about two inches too far. If you jumped and tugged, you usually ended up dodging about half a dozen apples knocked loose as they rained down on you. There was always the option of the apple-picking device (does it have a name?) that one of the guys mentioned might be used alternatively as a lacrosse stick, which, of course, caused an impromptu 'apple lacrosse' match to begin -- duck! It was too bad there was a sign at the front which asked us not to climb the apple trees. That's truly the best way of getting them down...or, rather, I think I'll just sit up there and munch away the afternoon.
Oh, what to bake??

The guards of the orchard

A valiant effort to grab the apples hiding amongst the branches and leaves

We left the hard-to-reach ones to the tall guys....

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Dinner with the Hs

My dear friend, Catherine, got married a couple weeks ago. In honor of her nuptials, I made her an apron of the finest cotton (haha!)....well, the cutest darned apron this side of the Mississippi anyway! :-)

The other evening we broke in her new kitchen making a scrumptious dinner of chicken and potatoes on the fly for the boys. Donning our adorable aprons, we threw together a one-dish supper of chicken breasts, fingerling, purple and red potatoes (red, white and blue...how patriotic!), and carrots, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, pepper, thyme and oregano.

Her awesome hubby was responsible for a fantastic salad, complete with fine carrot shavings in their new, dark wooden bowl. He had to try on the apron too...doubles as a 'manpron'. :-p

They uncorked and shared with us a bottle of rose wine from a winery in Napa made with strawberries. Guess I could have died and gone to heaven!!
the newlyweds :o)
Catherine's favorite shots: taken with mouths full of food...surely to assure the viewer that the food was being enjoyed...or is that a grimace I see on your face, Matt??

We spent the evening stuffing ourselves silly (too bad I forgot to take photos of the enormous bowls of cookies 'n cream and mint chocolate chip ice cream we had for dessert...oh, and don't forget the 3 oreos each!) and laughing until our faces hurt. No better way to spend an evening than in the company of good friends and good food... :-)