Apple vanilla crumb bars

Apple vanilla crumb bars

apple crumb bars

So, of course, I’m still working through the 40 apple dishes for the applepalooza, but apple recipes are so autumn-ish, and I really wanted to do something different with my apples. Something that didn’t include warm cinnamon, zippy nutmeg and earthy allspice. Those flavors are wonderful, but eventually the apple pies start tasting like the apple crisps and apple bettys, and please for the love of everything holy give me something that doesn’t take like red and orange leaves with a dash of pumpkin.

Enter this crumb bar. No fall-spices. No spices at all. A lovely, buttery shortbread crust, some apples doused with a vanilla syrup and a crumb topping. This does not taste like fall spices. This tastes like spring.

I started by making a shortbread crust. That involved mixing up some flour, sugar and salt. [Read more...]

A coffee cake for a (belated) National Coffee Cake Day

A coffee cake for a (belated) National Coffee Cake Day

Hey guys! I’m really excited to share a post written by my super creative, funny, fun cousin, Elisha. She recently celebrated National Coffee Cake Day, with none other than a coffee cake! The coffee cake is light and fluffy with delightful swirls of cinnamon-sugar and nuts!

(Also, have you filled out the readers’ survey, yet?!)

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Happy Belated National Coffee Cake Day!

Several years ago when my way cooler, younger cousin accepted my friend request on Facebook, I thought that I was cool by association.  Then recently she asked if I wanted to guest post on her blog!  Clearly, my coolness factor has gone up no matter what my teenage kids think.  However, what on earth would I blog about?  Then inspiration hit me at work on Friday.

I am the first person you see when you enter the office.  On my desk is a digital frame.  Each day I create slides to welcome clients to the office.  What started out as a joke between my CEO and I has become an office expectation:  I list the holidays that are celebrated each day.  More specifically, I focus on the lesser known holidays.  For example, April 7 was among other things: National No Housework Day (which I made a very dedicated effort to observe), National Beer Day and National Coffee Cake Day.

In addition to it being an office expectation, my family has enjoyed my observance of these lesser-known holidays, as well.  There was the night I made waffles for International Waffle Day, and the time I made a boatload of oatmeal cookies for National Oatmeal Cookie Day and forgot to take them with me to work.  (Don’t get me started on meals based on movie themes… I really hope that when my kids are old and have families of their own and get a good laugh when they remember these moments.)

Did you make Coffee Cake on Monday?  I made Coffee Cake really late Saturday night because I started my observance of National No Housework Day a day early and I knew there was no chance I was making a Coffee Cake after work on Monday.

According to Answers,  “Food historians generally agree the concept of coffee cake [eating sweet cakes with coffee] most likely originated in Northern/Central Europe sometime in the 17th century. Why this place and time? These countries were already known for their traditional for sweet yeast breads. When coffee was introduced to Europe these cakes were a natural accompaniment. German, Dutch, and Scandinavian immigrants brought their coffee cake recipes with them to America.”

For my version, I adapted Taste of Home’s recipe.

I would like to say that I followed the recipe exactly.  And if I said that, I would be lying.  For example, somewhere in my house is a 10-inch tube pan.  When we moved in (a year ago) I must have protected this pan and put in somewhere to keep it super safe during the 4.5-mile move.  So super safe, in fact, that I have no idea where it is.  I used a Bundt cake pan.  It worked.  Also there was a little issue with the sour cream.  And as much as I would like to share that I switched out the sour cream for nonfat Greek yogurt to make it healthier, I would again be lying.  I didn’t make it to Target to pick up sour cream until about 9 p.m., and they were completely out, and I didn’t want to make another stop on my way home.  (Maybe I shouldn’t grocery shop at Target…) Lastly I swapped the walnuts for pecans, for no other reason than I don’t like walnuts.

I started my creaming the butter and sugar together until the batter was light and fluffy.

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Then I added the eggs, one at a time, beating after each time and added the vanilla. [Read more...]

Apple fritters

Apple fritters

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When A.J. and I went apple picking last fall, and I revealed my plans to make 40 different apple dishes, A.J.’s single request was that I make apple fritters.

Nope, I said. I knew apple fritters required deep-frying, and I can’t express to you guys how much I hate deep-frying anything. Not particularly for health reasons. It’s just messy and hot oil is not your friend. But A.J. had a hard week last week, with his car breaking down and then having to rent a mini van for the week to get to and from work.

Perhaps it was six months worth of guilt for telling him no initially, or perhaps it was an urgent need to use up our apples, but I bit the bullet and made the fritters today. He was pleased. And to be honest, so was I. Having never had an apple fritter, they are delightful! Warm, fluffy pockets of apple goodness!

I started by mixing together some flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. [Read more...]

Irish you were here: soda bread

Irish you were here: soda bread

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Soda bread is called such because it uses baking soda and buttermilk as a leavening agent instead of yeast.

So, in case you don’t know, leavening occurs (in any case) when heat heats the agent (yeast, baking soda, baking powder, eggs, beer, sourdough starter, etc.)  which causes carbon dioxide to form bubbles and then pop. That’s why you get little pockets in bread, those are all areas where a bubble popped and forced the dough/gluten to cook around the bubble.

Baking soda came into culinary fashion in the 1800s as a cheaper leavening agent, compared to, say, yeast. But, baking soda needs acid (or technically, phosphates) in order to force the chemical reaction that causes the carbon dioxide to form. So, you need something to introduce acid into the dough. This can be buttermilk, lemon juice, cocoa, cream of tartar, yogurt or vinegar. In the case of this bread, we used baking soda and buttermilk.

So in poor, rural Ireland in the 1840s, cheap bread (with just four ingredients — flour, baking soda, sour milk and salt) was welcomed, and soda bread used to be made every few days over an open fire. Now soda bread has evolved to include bits of dried fruit and nuts.

I wasn’t sure how soda bread would taste — I thought it might taste tin-y, as baking soda can sometimes be, but it’s a delicious quick bread. The crust is hard and chewy and the inside is dense and soft.

I made soda bread to serve with the Guinness beef stew. I thought the raisins might make it too sweet to go with stew, but the raisins really were just a nice little surprise in an otherwise hardy and savory bread.

I started by rinsing the raisins under hot water. [Read more...]

Apple pie bread

Apple pie bread

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Have I talked about brunch with my friends before? Stop me if I have. Or you know, since this is one-sided, scroll to the recipe part. But, when I was in college, my friend, Anna, made brunch for us practically every Sunday. And it was glorious. It was a cure-all for every hangover. And we were often hung over. And mostly it gave us a chance to work through the misery of waking up on Sunday and recap the weekend’s events together. Brunches and Anna’s waffles are some of my favorite memories of college.

So I’m trying to bring brunch back in snowy Natrona Heights. When we moved to Cheswick, I brought with us a bushel or peck or some odd measurement of apples that we had picked that fall. And suddenly they were taking up a lot of space in our smallish kitchen/pantry. So I used most of them up in one weekend, and then our kitchen was overflowing with baked goods. (See applepalooza, Swedish apple pie, applesauce gingerbread, healthy apple bran muffins, apple crisp, etc., etc.) So the best course of action, of course, was to host brunch and get rid of some it!

Thus, a tradition was born. We invited A.J.’s parents over for an apple-filled brunch, and then again for a slightly less apple-filled brunch. And now we try to have them over once a month or so, which is a nice way to start a week. Next time, I’m planning on making my mom’s Christmas breakfast buns. Anyway, I also made this apple pie bread as one of the brunch munchies, and I think it was A.J.’s mom’s favorite.

It has the sweet spices of apple pie in a dense loaf, with small chunks of softened apples sprinkled throughout it. The crust is sort of flakey and crumbly, not unlike a pie crust. The spice created this swirl pattern (purely by accident) throughout the inside the bread, which made the loaf look so pretty.

I started by beating cane sugar together with oil, butter and eggs. [Read more...]

Healthy apple bran muffins

Healthy apple bran muffins

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So there are two things happening in my life right now (other than the usual chaos I mean): One, I am trying to be healthier; Two, I am hosting a brunch on Sunday for A.J.’s parents.

I think those two things don’t necessarily go together, but I’m determined to make it work.

And even though I haven’t given much thought to the entire menu, I know I’m going to serve these muffins. They are made with whole-wheat flour instead of white flour, which means they are more filling, more hearty, a more healthy. They also have unsweetened applesauce, only egg whites and a mere teaspoon of white sugar.

At 93 calories and 23 carbs each, I wouldn’t say you should eat three of these muffins, but I think you could nibble on one without too much guilt.

To make these, I started by soaking some oats in skim milk for 20 minutes. Then those milk-laden oats went into a big mixing bowl along with apple sauce, egg whites, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and sugar. [Read more...]

Apple molasses muffins

Apple molasses muffins

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Molasses is one of those ingredients you need occasionally. Last year when I took the overly ambitious and completely insane project of making a gingerbread house by scratch to enter into a community contest in the professional division, I had to buy a ton of molasses. And after concluding that project, the unopened jars sat in the pantry. So when I came across these muffins I figured it would be a perfect reason to use up some of the molasses.

These muffins also were adapted from the Amish apple cookbook I mentioned earlier.

I started by combining some flour, sugar, baking powder, Vietnamese cinnamon and sea salt. I just used a fork to mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. I added one diced apple to the flour mixture and tossed to combine. [Read more...]

Apple cheddar walnut bread

Apple cheddar walnut bread

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I went apple crazy over the weekend in a frenzy to use up the apples we had picked in October. I ended up making four apple-centered dishes and out of all of them, this bread was my favorite. It wasn’t too sweet, but had a cake-y consistency. I liked the crunch that the walnuts added. I wish I had used a sharper cheese, I think. Also, as far as breads go, this one was pretty easy. No yeast. No waiting. Some baking powder, some baking soda, and it rose to fluffy perfection. Oh, and I had no butter! (I know, what’s wrong with me?) I had no butter, and I used margarine, and it wasn’t completely ruined! So I feel like this bread also allows for some major room for error, and it still turns out alright. The best recipes are the ones you can complete mess up and still end up with a perfect baked good.

This recipe is adapted from a little spiral bound cookbook I got in Smicksburg, when A.J. and I visited the fall festival there. Smicksburg is one of the smallest incorporated boroughs in PA, says Wikipedia, and is known for being situated, tucked away in a mostly Amish area of the state. I found the cookbook in a little Amish shop, run by very non-Amish people. It’s called, Amish and Mennonite Apple Cookbook by Kathy Yoder. Annnnnd apparently it’s available on Amazon, so it’s probably not as genuinely Amish as I thought, but that means you can own it too! But of course, I made some changes to Kathy’s recipe.

I started by beating my margarine and sugar together. (For my bridal shower, I received the KitchenAid hand mixer from my friend Anna. Saturday was the first day I used it, and I’m totally in love with it! It’s a really great mixer and perfect for my super small kitchen, because I don’t have room for my stand mixer.) Then I beat in the eggs. [Read more...]

Apple bird’s nest pudding

Apple bird’s nest pudding

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So there is a lot happening right now.

I just got back from one of the best weekends of my life, where I went to D.C. to celebrate my pending nuptials with my five best friends, and it was amazing. I really, really, really can’t wait to share my bachelorette weekend Project Life pages with you guys.

In addition, I have accepted a job with the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, and I will start that new position on Monday. It’s in downtown Pittsburgh, which is more than a stone’s throw from Ligonier, so I’m really nervous about the commute and making new work friends and the major life change. BUT I’m also super excited to work for an established, historical organization that does such positively focused work.

Thirdly, there’s still a giveaway going on around here, so be sure to take a look how you can get multiple chances to win one of five $50 gift certificates to Exceptionalsheets.com, an online bed and bath linens store.

Between traveling and packing and unpacking, and then finishing my last week working as a reporter for the Ligonier Echo and trying to plan for next week and calling my dad every few hours and demanding pep talks where he tells me how proud he is of me, I feel like I haven’t had any time to meal plan or grocery shop or cook, so I’ve been sort of winging it. Read: I made a really terribly mozzarella macaroni and cheese, but a really delicious apple dessert. That we ate for dinner. Whoops.

This recipe came from my Little House on the Prairie cookbook, which is next on my list of cookbook reviews. The recipes are very primitive and some of them are ridiculously impossible. (Where can I buy a freshly killed jack rabbit or a flock of black birds, for example?) The methods are also hilarious. But sometimes they can be modified fairly easily for modern-day cooking, such as the case with this apple bird’s nest pudding. Unlike the blackbird pie, which uses actual black birds, this recipe has nothing to do with birds. Thank God.

I started by using my apple machine to peel, core and slice (all at the same time!) six apples. I used Golden Delicious, because that is what was on sale.

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I layered the apple slices in the bottom of a glass 8-inch square baking dish, coated with cooking spray.

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Then I topped the applies with brown sugar, poking it down into the spaces between the apple slices. [Read more...]

Pancakes from scratch

Pancakes from scratch

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Here is what I learned yesterday morning:

  • Don’t try to make surprise pancakes for your fiance unless you’re sure you have all the ingredients, including the essential and delicious pancake syrup.
  • The world is very much awake at 5:30 a.m.
  • In Ligonier, the No. 1 morning hangout location is Sheetz, which does not carry pancake syrup.
  • Always wear a bra when you leave the house, no matter how few people you’ll think you’ll see.
  • Giant Eagle opens at 6 a.m. and if you look sad at its front doors a few minutes before that, a sympathetic employee will let you in early.

Also, I used to think that pancakes only came from a box. That is, you had to buy pancake mix to make pancakes. Did you know that is totally not true?! As long as you have some baking basics in your pantry, you can make the most delicious pancakes. No special mix required.

I started with some flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a bowl. [Read more...]