“Mommy, you make the best bread!” Top Gun said as he happily munched on a slice of baked Boston brown bread. We made this to go with our slow cooker Boston baked beans, and the boys later enjoyed slices of it with butter as an after school snack. And like those baked beans, this bread is another easy recipe that the kids can help make, or even make on their own….
Putting a pot of beans in the slow cooker overnight is a great way to cook a meal and have it ready the next day, and it’s also a good way to get the kids to help make the meal, too. Our son Hockey Guy, 9 years old, helped make a pot of Boston baked beans that cooked in the slow cooker, then we put them in the refrigerator and saved them for another day and reheated them in the slow cooker and they tasted even better after another couple hours of cooking….
When the cold of winter comes on, I don’t crave cold salads and raw vegetables, I like my vegetables cooked and my salads warm, or at least want some warmth, and cooked lentil salads are perfect for winter. The thing I like about this lentil dish is they can be a bowl of comfort food unto themselves, with the flavors of the onions and feta and pears balancing out the red wine vinegar, or you can scoop some onto a pile of winter greens for a complete meal. Either way, you’ll have a happy belly….
Sunday dinner, or “supper” as we called it, was always a special time for my family, the one meal that we made sure to sit down and eat together. My mother would make pot roast or fried chicken or one of our other family favorites and all the kids would argue over who got the last helping of mashed potatoes or the last piece of chicken. Now that I have my own family we have our own Sunday dinner traditions, and one of my favorite side dishes to make with a roast chicken is sweet potato soufflé. My take on this traditional Southern dish has a few Indian spices and a slightly sweet and crunchy pecan topping and is easy to make with lactose-free milk. Look for the ground cardamom in your grocery store spice aisle….
Polenta isn’t typically the first dish I think of for Thanksgiving dinner, but after tasting this baked polenta with the roasted butternut squash and smoked Gouda, I’ve changed my mind. This dish would make a delicious substitute for traditional stuffing and has a lovely rustic appearance. The combination of the roasted squash, smoked Gouda, and Grana Padano cheese with the herbs makes for a beautiful dish for special meals….
When it comes to big holiday feasts, one oven just isn’t enough, and I always find myself trying to sort out the intricate timing of turkey, stuffing, rolls, and any roasted or baked vegetables. I sit down with recipes and a schedule and plan it all out. If the turkey is done too early, it sits and gets cold and loses that wonderful fresh-from-the-oven juiciness while waiting for the rest of the dishes to finish.
We’re doing a special Thanksgiving edition of The Kids Cook Monday, because what better time to get the whole family in the kitchen than for one of the most festive meals of the year? There are several parts of the traditional Thanksgiving meal that the kids can help with, and one of our boys’ favorites is the cranberry sauce. It’s also a great make-ahead dish, so you can have it ready in the refrigerator up to three days before….
Chicken Marsala is a classic dish of pan-fried chicken with a creamy Marsala wine mushroom sauce, and it’s easily adapted with lactose-free milk.
Serve with roasted red potatoes and steamed or sautéed green beans….
This rich flan with pumpkin, spices and flavored with a touch of bourbon, is an elegant autumn dessert that can easily be made with lactose-free whole milk….
Turkey may be the main course for Thanksgiving dinner, but in our house the pies play the starring role. I have as much fun planning the pies as the rest of the meal and always have trouble narrowing down the list if we’re having a small gathering. More Thanksgiving Day visitors equals more pies! One pie that is a favorite of mine is butternut squash pie. I make it with roasted butternut squash which gives it a little extra natural sweetness, and it’s very easy to make with lactose-free whole milk….
Wegmeyer Farms is off the beaten path, you might say. The last bit of road that goes out to the farm is definitely country with gravel, dirt, an old single lane bridge, and a number of deep ruts. But it’s a beautiful ride and well worth the trip to see their gorgeous hillside pumpkin field and 30+ varieties of pumpkins, including many heirlooms with a broad spectrum of colors and shapes. I visited their old stone barn and pumpkin field about a week before Halloween and enjoyed the crisp autumn air and scenery….
Autumn at Ticonderoga Farms means pumpkins, hayrides, and plenty of outdoor fun in their huge play area. Their pumpkin patch is a short walk from the entrance or the hayride will take you right there, though I recommend the hayride, which takes you around the bamboo maze and part of the Christmas tree forest. It’s a fun autumn tradition and my boys were screaming, “This is the best hayride ever!” They enjoyed seeing all the Halloween displays and prop animals throughout the ride….
Life always seems to get a little crazy around this time of year. We get caught up in school events, hockey, work, finishing up the summer garden and prepping for winter, but no matter how busy we get, I always set aside time to make apple butter. Whether we use purchased apples or pick them ourselves, I look forward to doing this work every year. I use one of those hand slicers that cores the apple and makes eight wedges, and I toss the apples into the slow cooker as I slice. The boys are usually nearby, sneaking apple wedges whenever they can or asking if they can help sprinkle on the sugar and cinnamon.
As the apples cook down and the aroma fills the house, it reminds me of autumns gone by and the smell of my mother’s fresh baked apple pie, the taste of my grandmother’s apple butter that they made in a large copper kettle over an open fire, the work that they put into the food that we all ate. Every time I make apple butter, I feel their presence, a connection to the past that streams through to the present and infuses my mind with good memories. In some small way, making apple butter pays homage to all the women in my family, a recognition of how hard they worked to take care of all of us.
I can call my mother and tell her about how we made apple butter again, and oh how I wish I could call my grandmother and tell her, too. She could talk at great length about how she prepared food, and I wish I could have one of those conversations with her. Because that is how I remember her; in the kitchen, making food for everyone.
After trying many different kinds of apples, I’ve settled on Galas for making apple butter. They are slightly sweet on their own, and so require less sugar, plus they cook down very nicely. I start a pot of these in the evening and finish it up the next afternoon.
SLOW COOKER APPLE BUTTER
Adapted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger.
Makes 5 to 8 cups.
6-quart slow cooker
apple wedge slicer
immersion blender (or a jar blender)
16 medium to large Gala apples, unpeeled, cored, and cut into wedges (Might be slightly more or less, just enough to fill your slow cooker.)
2 cups (220 g) light brown sugar or raw sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 cup (240 ml) apple cider
pinch of salt
1. Add enough apple slices to cover the bottom of the slow cooker. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of brown sugar and some of the cinnamon over the slices. Repeat until you’ve used all of the apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Add a pinch of salt and pour the apple cider over the apples. Toss the apples with a wooden spoon.
2. Cover and cook on low for 10 to 12 hours, or overnight. Remove the lid, mash the apples down with a potato masher, and stir to mix. Leave the lid off and continue cooking on low, mashing and stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced to about 1/3 and is thick. Turn off the slow cooker and allow the mixture to come to room temperature.
3. Use an immersion blender (or jar blender) to puree the cooled mixture until it’s very smooth. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 months or in the freezer for up to 3 months. You may also process jars using the boiling water method.
Use 1 cup maple syrup and 1 cup brown sugar to sweeten the apples.
Try this spice mix: 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice.
If using a 4-quart slow cooker, adjust the number of apples (about 8 medium to large apples), and reduce the sugar to 1-1/2 cups.
More Apple Recipes
More Recipes With Apples From Around the Blogs
It’s apple butter season! Ok, well, it’s apple season, and just like every year I find myself craving apple butter, apple pie, apple dumplings, apples in salads, apple cakes, apple cider, I could go on for a while. I like Empires, Honeycrisp, Cortland, and Fuji for eating out of hand, and usually bake with Granny Smith or Gala. I’ve tried a number of different apples for apple butter, and finally settled on Gala as my favorite due to it’s slight sweetness and soft texture, which easily cooks down….
Every year I experiment with different ways to cook turkey. Some go over well at home, others not so much and those get passed over for a blog post. When the latest issue of Saveur landed in our mailbox, the turkey photos caught my eye, especially the photo of the roasted turkey pieces laying on top of a pan of root vegetables. It seemed a like a nice casual kind of Thanksgiving recipe, perfect for a small gathering of friends, and so easy because the turkey and vegetables roast together. The original recipe uses cumin and paprika in the butter, but I decided to use sage instead because I’ve learned over the years that I prefer traditional flavors with my turkey….
As the big day approaches, our anticipation grows. For the first time since we moved to Northern Virginia, my whole family will be joining us for Thanksgiving, and we are thrilled that everyone is able to make the trip. When we were kids, our family would make a 22-hour nonstop drive from Kansas City back home to Virginia to spend Thanksgiving with all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Dad would enjoy a little time hunting with his dad and his brothers while the moms and kids stayed home with Grandma, who always had a spectacular southern meal planned for the big day. There were some years that not everyone could make the trip, but many years there were 20 of us gathered around three tables spread throughout the house since we couldn’t all fit in the kitchen or dining room. There was turkey and dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, rolls, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, applesauce cake, fruit cake. It’s not that the food was fancy—we come from farm stock, after all—but we all went back for seconds (and thirds) and Grandma talked about the food, sometimes fussing if one of the dishes or desserts didn’t turn out to her liking….
Monkey Boy has an incredible amount of energy, and he ran us all over the farm during our visit to a local pumpkin patch last week. The farm had cornstalks and pumpkins piled near the entrance and he spent a few minutes touching them all and explaining which one he liked. After the hayride we were dropped off at the pick your own area and though there were little pie pumpkins all over the ground, Monkey Boy took his time and carefully examined each one that caught his eye as he tried to select the best one….
I was very fortunate to meet Shauna and Daniel Ahern at the International Food Bloggers Conference in August. Shauna was on the Food Blogging For Specialized Diets panel along with Alexandra Jamieson and Daniel provided some beautiful gluten-free dishes for the Sunday lunch. Though I’ve read her blog for some time now, this was my first time to hear her speak, and her passion is immediately evident and inspiring. Like Shauna, my sister was diagnosed with celiac disease in her 30s after years of illness and made a total life change, never looking back. So yes, there is a special place in my heart for gluten-free cooking, though I really haven’t ventured into the baking side yet….
That cold snap we had last week really messed with my internal calendar. Even though the wall calendar still said September, my body was thinking November and that set off all kinds of cravings for hot comfort food. I had curry on the brain because along with soup, it’s one of the first things I think of when cold weather sets in. The eggplant that I had bought to make stuffed eggplant was repurposed and instead found its way into a soothing pot of steaming curry with potatoes and chickpeas….
Last year we planted three apples trees: Honeycrisp, Gala, and Granny Smith. All three are dwarf trees, so they won’t get very tall or take up too much yard space as they spread their branches, and each will take a few years to work up to full production. This summer the Gala apple tree had a nice crop of apples going and the Honeycrisp had a few, though the Granny Smith didn’t produce this year, but unfortunately the squirrels like the apples as much as we do and they fought their way through our protective nets and stole every single apple. They chewed the bags right off the trees and made off with their loot like thieves in the night. So much for the nets; now we need to figure out a more permanent mode of protection….
One of our favorite things to do during our German honeymoon 10 years ago was to try local specialties in each city: Kölsch beer in Cologne (Köln), lebkuchen in Nuremberg, schneeballen in Rothenburg, and brezels in Munich. Currywurst is certainly a memorable local specialty, a favorite of Berliners for over 60 years. It’s simply a German sausage topped with tomato-based curry sauce, and they sell tens of millions of these in Berlin every year. The popularity of the dish spread throughout the city and now there are currywurst stands everywhere and even a currywurst museum that opened in 2009. Apparently this is fast food that anyone can learn to love, even if the combination doesn’t sound quite appetizing at first….
Ten years ago Michael and I made a trek to Germany for our honeymoon. We travelled around the country with a tour group—not exactly romantic for a honeymoon, especially since we couldn’t convince the strict tour guide to get us hotel rooms with a double bed instead of two singles—but we had a great time visiting the cities and sampling the terrific wines, beers, and food. We chose an itinerary that would get us to Munich in time for the opening day of Oktoberfest, which we thought would be fun for our honeymoon since the 16-day festival started in 1810 as a wedding celebration. Much to the chagrin of our tour guide, who emphatically told us we would die if we dared venture near the Oktoberfest grounds, we skipped out on most of the scheduled tour itinerary and set off to see the city and festival for ourselves. Since I had been to Munich on a previous trip, I led some of the other travelers in our group on a night tour of the Marienplatz and Karlspatz area and then we went to the Hofbräu Haus for beer….
Our nighttime temperatures settled into the 60s last week, so we could finally plant the basil, peppers, eggplant, and beans. My favorite kind of bean is the very thin French type, aka fillet beans, and we decided to try growing them last year. We planted the Maxibel variety of fillet beans and the plants sprouted just fine, then we agonized as two full rounds of bean seedlings were devoured by ravenous bunnies. We never got a single French bean (or snow pea or sugar snap pea or yellow bean), and the only bean plant they didn’t touch was the asparagus beans. This year we are better prepared after 99% bunny proofing the yard, but of course there’s always a flip side: the bunnies are now terrorizing our neighbors….
Though the days are getting warmer and the summer daylilies have just started to bloom, I still feel the urge to pull out the slow cooker on cool spring mornings. When most of our days are swirling with activity, it gives me a sense of accomplishment to get a meal going in the slow cooker. I know that dinner will be ready later and I can focus on the boys and their needs or the endless to dos and errands and avoid the rush to get something ready for dinner at 5 p.m. when they are all standing around the kitchen telling me that they are starving….