Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, especially on the weekends. While weekday morning are a rush to get everyone out the door and to school or work, I like that we plan to sit down and enjoy a nice breakfast together for one weekend morning with pancakes or muffins, and omelets or quiche. My guys love muffins with any kind of fruit in them, and I like to mix and match the flavors. These autumn muffins are made whole grains, but have a light texture, not heavy at all. I make them with mashed sweet potatoes, cranberries, and butter, and my guys gobble them up. Like all my muffins, I make a double batch and save some for the next day….
When you think of local food in Northern Virginia, maple syrup isn’t the first thing to come to mind. Wine, beef, pork, a myriad of vegetables, and apples all fit in with the general notion of the things you’ll find here. If you are surprised to learn that there is a maple syrup producer in Loudoun County, then join the club because I was very happily surprised when I found out. Word spread through a locavores group in Loudoun and I jumped right email to contact the owner, Daniel LePre of Vale of the Blue Ridge Maple Farm (no website yet). Though the operation has only been at work in Loudoun for a couple years, Daniel grew up in New England and has been making maple syrup since childhood. On a trip to pick up some syrup, I had the chance to meet his delightful wife and talk about their maple syrup business, which is growing. Right now they process in a facility on their property, but they are planning to expand in the next few years and increase production….
Weekday breakfasts are so rushed. I run around making breakfast and lunches at the same time, trying to get the boys moving so they can get to school on time. I usually don’t eat breakfast until they’ve all gone to school and I have a chance to sit for a few minutes by myself and have some tea and leftovers (I love soup for breakfast), or a bowl of Greek yogurt with a little honey and slivered almonds….
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….
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….
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
I grew up on pork, as did both my parents, though by the time my parents met and got married their families were no longer raising pigs. Dad’s family raised pigs when he was younger and did the butchering at Thanksgiving. They would salt the meat down for six weeks and then hang it for up to nine months. They continued raising pigs until the early 1950s when Grandma made Grandpa quit after a new church when up behind them and she didn’t want the pigs in front of their church….
Day 7 of our 12 Days of Cookies extravaganza thing, and the cookie of the day is pecan treats from Cloudt’s in Atlanta. Pecan bars are a Southern delicacy, kind of like eating pecan pie on a shortbread crust, and these are absolutely to die for. Michael kept mumbling “wow” with a mouthful of pecan bar and we understand why they are so popular….
Side dish or dessert? I remember the first time I ordered a side of roasted acorn squash in a restaurant, and I commented on how it was more like dessert than an entree. The restaurant served it with butter and brown sugar, and I had no need for dessert after enjoying that treat. Though I like the sweet treatment with squash, for a meal I prefer a mixture of sweet and savory. Sage is a good flavor to add to roasted squash, and I pulled some fresh from the garden for this preparation. Our sage is still going strong, though we’ve had some freezing nights, and I will have to cut it soon to freeze or dry for the winter….
I’ve had trouble keeping my boys out of this butter! They watched intently as I made it on the stove and kept asking when it would be ready. We have enjoyed it on toast and homemade biscuits and bread, and the boys can hardly keep their spoons or fingers out of it. Hopefully there will be some left for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning!…
This is my new favorite way to fix chicken, partly because of the amazing flavor and partly because it is easy to fix. The chicken is very simple, just salted and browned on the skin side in a pan, then roasted in the oven while you work on the pan sauce. The sauce is started with shallots and thyme sauteed in some of the leftover drippings, then apple cider vinegar deglazes the pan, followed by maple syrup and crushed black peppercorns adding a little sweet and a little heat. The whole thing is reduced by half then poured over the crispy roasted chicken. The smells in the kitchen while this dish is in progress are so good! Serve it with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and some greens, and you’ve got an easy and delicious meal.
The recipe comes from Cooking with Shelburne Farms: Food and Stories from Vermont, a new cookbook that I reviewed last month and fell in love with. I make the recipe as is, except we cook just two or three chicken breasts and use the whole sauce recipe. If we used more breast pieces or cooked a whole chicken, we would have to double the sauce because we love it poured over mashed potatoes and on the side for dipping the chicken….
Homemade applesauce and apple butter are wonderful treats for any age, and my boys particularly love them. I grew up enjoying my grandparent’s homemade apple butter, which they faithfully canned for many years. They are both gone now, and I never did get the recipe from them, but I keep hoping that a relative will suddenly announce that they’ve found the long lost family recipe and kindly share it with me. Family heirlooms like that should be preserved (pun intended)….
Michael’s parents celebrated Christmas with us this year, and as usual they brought some of our favorite foods from New York, including Harrison Bakery pumpernickel bread, Polish kielbasa, and his mother’s delicious Christmas cookies. This time they also brought us a half gallon of organic maple syrup from Adirondack Maple Farms in Fonda, NY. It is absolutely yummy stuff, a nice Grade A Medium Amber, and we’ve enjoyed it on pancakes and waffles, as well as in Maple Raisin Bran Muffins and other baked goods. It adds a nice flavor to this easy and relatively light granola recipe.
[Updated June 18, 2012.]…
Michael’s favorite cereal is raisin bran and we always have a box or two in the pantry. This is a fun and tasty way to get some healthy bran and add a little variety to breakfast. I adapted this from an old recipe I’ve had for years that used oil as a binder. I substituted applesauce to lighten up the recipe yet still keep the muffins nice and moist. The maple syrup adds another layer of flavor, although you can certainly use honey as in the original recipe.
[Updated March 2012.]
- 2-1/2 cups raisin bran cereal
- 1-1/4 cups low-fat milk
- 1/3 cup maple syrup or honey
- 1-3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup applesauce
- cinnamon sugar mix
- Preheat oven to 400º F/200º C.
- In the large mixing bowl, combine raisin bran cereal, milk and honey. Let the mixture stand until the cereal softens, about 10 minutes or so. The mushier the better.
- In the small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and cinnamon.
- Add the egg and applesauce to the cereal mixture and beat well. Fold in the flour mixture just until combined, but don't over mix. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin and sprinkle a little cinnamon sugar on the tops.
- Bake in the preheated oven until lightly browned, about 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from the muffin tin and allow to cool about 5 minutes. Serve warm.
large mixing bowl
12 count muffin tin, lightly coated with cooking spray
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Ina Garten’s recipes doesn’t skimp on flavor, and these tasty scones are no exception. With a full pound of butter and about a million calories in each one (ok, maybe not a million…) these probably shouldn’t be in the regular breakfast repertoire, but they make a wonderful treat for a weekend brunch party. It’s an easy make-ahead recipe, too. You can make the dough a few days ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake. The full recipe makes 16 to 18 scones, so cut it in half if you want a smaller batch.
Although the recipe says that you can use a stand mixer, I’ve found that mixing by hand works better for me….
“Decadent” is the only way to describe these pecan pancakes. The syrup is rich and so easy to make, and these make a fantastic Sunday morning breakfast or brunch. I’m partial to White Lily Self-Rising Flour for pancakes and biscuits. Maybe it’s my Southern upbringing, but that soft winter wheat just seems to make the best, lightest pancakes, even when mixed with whole wheat flour.
[Updated March 3, 2011.]
- 1-1/4 cups (150 g) White Lily All-Purpose Flour
- 1 cup (128 g) white whole-wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups (480 ml) buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 1/2 cup (50 g) chopped pecans
- BUTTER PECAN SYRUP
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup (50 g) pecans, roughly chopped
- 1 cup (240 ml) maple syrup
- SYRUP: Melt the butter in a small nonstick pan over low heat. Stir in the pecans and continue cooking until the pecans are hot and glistening. Pour in the syrup and stir. Cook over low heat for about 5 minutes. If you want a thicker syrup, cook longer, but take care to keep the heat low, otherwise it will burn.
- PANCAKES: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the White Lily Flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and cinnamon.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, and melted butter. Stir into the flour mixture until thoroughly combined, then stir in the chopped pecans. Allow to sit 2 to 3 minutes.
- Heat the griddle or large skillet to medium-high heat. Grease lightly with oil or spray with nonstick cooking spray. The griddle is ready when small drops of water sizzle and disappear almost immediately. The pancakes will stick if griddle is too cool.
- For each pancake, pour about 1/3 cup batter onto hot griddle. Cook one to two minutes or until bubbles begin to break on surface. Turn; cook 1 to 2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from griddle and place on a plate in the oven at 200° F to keep warm. Serve with warm butter pecan syrup.
medium mixing bowl
small mixing bowl
small nonstick pan
To substitute for buttermilk, combine 2 tablespoons lemon juice plus milk to make 2 cups.
[Disclosure: This blog earns a small commission through affiliate links.]