Friday, October 28, 2011

Brown Sugar Apple Upside Down Coffee Cake

Layering brown sugar & apples
I'm not a big baker. My bread is so-so, and my cakes often come out somewhat flat. However, once in a long while I get a real itch to bake something, anything. Today is one of those days. It's snowy out, and by baking I can convince myself that I don't really need to go get wet out there moving fallen branches. I'm doing something USEFUL. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. I snagged a coffee cake recipe off the internet, but during the production of said cake, I made an error. However, due to the Fates loving me, the error turned out great. Aren't you glad I kept impeccable notes, so you can reproduce this delicious thing? I knew you were!

Mixing the ingredients

  • 1/2 cup room-temperature butter
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup raisins (or 1/2 cup raisins and 1/2 cup chopped nuts)
  • 1 apple sliced thin
  • extra brown sugar for layering bundt pan
The batter goes into the pan
Cream the butter (or margarine) with the sugars. I used my MixMaster and it went pretty easily. My butter was a bit cold, though, and it got a bit grainy. The addition of the applesauce fixed that, though. Once the sugar is creamed, add the applesauce and beat well until smooth. Stir in the flour, baking powder and baking soda, vanilla, and your spices. Mix well, then add raisins and/or nuts. 

While all that is mixing, spray the bottom of your favorite bundt pan or grease it with butter. Put a layer of brown sugar down, and on top of it, add thin sliced apples in a ring, all the way around. I made mine pretty but I suppose you could as easily put chopped apples or not be so Martha Stewart about the whole thing. Preheat the oven to 350F.

Freshly out of the oven
Pour the batter carefully on top of the brown sugar-apple layers. It will be quite thick batter, as this is a dense coffee cake. Smooth it out a bit with a spatula, then slide the whole thing into the oven for about 45 minutes (start checking at 40 minutes - mine went to 47 minutes for a perfect consistency). Check for readiness with a wooden skewer, piece of raw spaghetti or a knife inserted into the cake. When it comes out clean (ie free of batter) it's ready. I strongly suggest licking the implements while you're waiting for it to bake, by the way. I did. I don't even feel the least bit guilty about it, either!

The finished product!
When it's ready, take the cake out and set to rest in a cool spot for five minutes, then turn out onto a plate. I hope yours turns out looking as darned impressive as mine did, because I just know my family is going to go ape over this. The only change I would suggest making is that you lightly dust the greased pan with flour before putting in the toppings and batter. Mine stuck a bit on one side (and I was forced to eat the caramelized bits... a true sacrifice on my part, but I'd do it again... for the family, you know...). I think the flour would eliminate that, although I'm not entirely certain.

This should be served warm in my opinion. It has the consistency and flavor of a nice spice cake, being somewhat dense. However, it looks beautiful and would definitely grace a Thanksgiving table well. I intend to do just that for this Thanksgiving, in fact, with the center hole filled with flowers or a candle or some such other frippery. Yay me!

More images of the results of my baking. I can't wait for dessert!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Too many apples . . . ?

It is the season of apples, that's for sure! We bought apples the other day because the Jongolds just looked too good not to get. Besides, we only had one Red Delicious left in the house. Then some friends gave us apples, and the children picked a few of the apples off our tree. So we had quite a few apples, but it wasn't overwhelming. Then our kids went on a field trip to an apple orchard, and each child got a whole bag of apples that they picked themselves. It was starting to get a bit crowded....

And then friends of ours who are moving asked if we wanted to clear off their trees as they weren't going to have time to before they left. Um... yeah, we do want free apples! So we picked two grocery bags FULL of even more apples. Now we have lots and lots of apples.

Lately I've been wondering what to DO with all these apples. After all, we're not going to "just eat" all of them. While I could make applesauce, it tends not to get eaten and also all my canning stuff is still packed Somewhere In A Box. Alright, what else can I do with apples?

I went online and looked up chicken and apples, because that's what I had a lot of for cooking with. I found a wonderful recipe which I tweaked and turned into the following delicious meal for our family.

Chicken, Apple and Onion with Rice

* 2 lbs chicken meat, cut in strips or medallions
* 2 large or 3 medium apples, sliced very thin (preferably in different colors)
* 1 large or 2 medium onions, halved and sliced
* 2 cups jasmine rice, rinsed
* 2 leeks, OR several green onions
* 2 medium carrots
* 2 cups thinly shredded cabbage (any type)
* about 1 cup of sweet red wine (I prefer Sangria myself), OR apple cider
* butter, olive oil, water, and spices as needed

In a large cast iron pan, drizzle a bit of olive oil and a pad of butter (if desired... we like the flavor it imparts to the onions) and allow to heat up but not brown. Add onions and saute until soft, then add apples. Continue to saute until they begin to cook and the pan begins to dry a bit. Add enough wine to moisten the pan (and more oil or butter if necessary) and cover with a loose fitting lid. Cook until the onions and apples are soft and translucent but not falling apart. Carefully spoon out the mixture and add to the bottom of a roasting pan or large dutch oven. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F while doing the next step. Take your chicken (I used medallions because we had chicken breast from a sale, but you could easily just stir fry this) and brown it lightly in the pan you just took your onions and apples out of. I cheated and used a bit of no-stick spray to keep them from crisping. The idea is not to cook the pieces through, but to brown them on both (all) sides to seal in the juice and flavor. Places the cooked pieces on top of the apples and onions in a single layer (if possible; we had to double up in spots). When all the chicken is done, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a bit of Hungarian paprika, pour the remainder of the wine or cider over it, then put into your pre-heated oven for about a half hour (this will be ready when your rice is ready).

Browned chicken on onions and apples.
After thoroughly rinsing your rice in a colander (this can take up to ten minutes!), let it drip dry for a moment while you heat a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan you just used for the chicken. Don't worry that there's a bit of chicken or onion in it - this only adds to the flavor! Add the rice and heat it well in the oil, stirring it constantly until it is evenly coated with the olive oil. Meanwhile, boil 4 cups of water in a saucepan with a tight lid, and then add the hot, oiled rice to the water and cook per the package instructions. If there are any grains of rice in the pan, wipe them out with a paper towel (but do not wash the pan!).

As your rice and chicken are cooking, you can prepare the rest of the meal. Thinly slice your green onions or leeks (I used leeks, pictured left) and yes, they go back into that same cast iron pan you've been using. Add a bit more oil or spray, and saute until the leeks begin to come apart, but before they get mushy. Using a peeler, peel off strips of fresh carrot, making little curlicues. These go into the pan with the leeks. The little inner core that you have left can be fed to children or munched on yourself, because you can never get that last piece to peel.

Add the cabbage and some hot water (about 2 tablespoons worth, but be prepared to add more as the pan deglazes under the veggies). At this point, any vegetable could be added to the mix: mushrooms, celery, squash, peas, corn... Your imagination is your only limitation. I happened to have carrots, leeks and savoy cabbage from our last run to the farm co-op, and so that's what I used. These should be sauteed until soft and perhaps a bit browned, but not mushy. Sprinkle with spices to taste. Again, I used salt, pepper and paprika, and nothing else.

When the rice is ready, mix the vegetables and the rice together well. Your chicken should also be ready, and can be scooped onto a large platter or into a bowl. The finished product should have a somewhat sweet flavor with a hint of salt to it. The rice will be savory, but because it was all cooked in the pan you started with, it should have a hint of the sweetness of the wine as well. We served this with a side of buttered kernel corn, which seemed to round it out well. It was successful enough that I was asked to make it again sometime, and I was also asked to make the apple and onion mixture as a stand-alone side dish! It turned out pretty, smelled heavenly, and the flavors were both delicate and delicious. This served three adults and two (very ravenous) children with one plate worth of leftovers (and lots of left over rice, but that's never a problem).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saving Seeds

The Delicata squash is one of my favorites. It has a plump, small, zeppelin like shape that is largely yellow or yellowish-orange, with long green stripes down its length. It's relatively meaty for its small size, and is quite easy to de-seed. I am cooking Delicatas for with our dinner this evening, something I've been anticipating for days. It's a simple recipe: split in half, de-seed, scrape the innards a bit with a fork, then put a plop of butter and a tablespoon of brown sugar in each half. Place these into a baking pan or cast iron pan (as I did, pictured) with about a half inch of water in the bottom, and bake at 350F for about an hour. It's ready when a fork goes into the thickest parts of the squash with ease.

The result of this cooking creation, of course, was a pile of gooey seeds on my cutting board. I stared at them, grumpy that I don't have a real composting bin right now. It seemed somehow shameful to just toss out those seeds, after all! Then I remembered... these were not squash from the grocery store. They were from the local organic farm! Glory be, I had my spring crop of squash sitting right there waiting for me! I did the happy squash dance for a few minutes, startling Gray and causing him to shoot dirty looks at me. I didn't care, though. Seeds! Oh joy!

I googled "saving delicata seeds" just to make sure I remembered it correctly. I did. Saving winter squash seeds is as simple as scooping them out, washing them off, and drying them thoroughly. They are then stored in a dark, cool place until spring, when you can either wait for a soil temperature of 70F (hah... not in New England! lol) or start them indoors and then transplant them when it warms up.

I washed the seeds up very nicely, using a colander with small holes and running "not quite cold" water. I separated all the goopy parts from the seeds, and trashed those. The seeds were then swished and washed yet again. The result was a pile of quite lovely looking little seeds. Once they're dry, I'll have to pick through them and get rid of any immature ones (tiny ones, or shriveled ones). Still, that's an impressive amount of seeds to save for planting in the spring!

I spread the wet seeds in one layer across a doubled up paper towel on top of one of my dish drying foamies. There they'll stay until they're dry as bones, probably 2 to 3 weeks. When they're ready, I'll pop them into an amber jar and store them away in the back of the pantry cupboard, where they will sleep away the winter with dreams of bright yellow blossoms next spring.

Now, you could try this with any squash, but those that come from the grocery store are unlikely to germinate, and even if they do, there is no guarantee they will breed true. Organic ones would have a better chance, if you want to give it a try, though. Good luck to those who save seeds!

Friday, October 21, 2011


I'm not a huge laundry fan, to be honest. I don't really like doing it. However, when I do it, I know that it's clean, and I know where it's been. That makes it worth it. That and sis's smile when she realizes she doesn't have to do anything when she gets home from work! Moving to the new Freehold didn't have a washer or dryer, and that left me in a quandry. We simply couldn't afford to keep washing at the laundromat ($30 a week?!) and so we bit the bullet. Gray got us a beautiful Maytag washer that is HE and does all sorts of things automagically like sense how much clothing it has so it doesn't waste water! I love it, and the clothes come out of it feeling REALLY clean with 1/3 of the detergent we were using previously. He also resurrected our ancient dryer, which had lingered in the barn at Hinsdale for 3+ years, and breathed new life into it. A bit of rustoleum later and we had a great washer and dryer, working and being put to use.

I've done about 20 loads since arriving here (not only our regular laundry but everything that had been in storage since last spring had to be washed to get the musty smell out of them) and had absolutely no problems whatsoever. I admit that the dry laundry for folding had been piling up in recent days, but at least it was all clean! And then yesterday, the Horrible Thing happened. The dryer stopped.

It was in the middle of a load, had been running fine with no noises or complaints, and the lint screen had just been thoroughly cleaned. One minute it was running, and the next... silence. That is NOT a sound one wants to hear with a load in the dryer and one in the washer and three waiting to be run. Oy.

I've come to terms with doing laundry, really I have. I do it, I even fold clothes most of the time. What I truly despise, though, is line dried stuff. I HATE stiff towels and crinkly jeans. HATE HATE HATE!!! I cannot understand why anyone would hang anything to dry when they have a perfectly good dryer indoors. I do a lot of green stuff, recycle, do what I can for the environment, avoid cleaners that are bad for people and the world, keep a garden, do canning... and all that could easily be considered my guilt payment for my dryer, because you can take away my dryer when you peel it away from my cold, stiffening body.

You can imagine my look of distress when I hunted Gray down. "The dryer stopped," I informed him, a look of grim grief upon my face. He wasn't quite sure why that was so upsetting until I explained to him that the dryer had stopped mid-cycle and wouldn't go anymore. I tried different settings, vacuuming out the lint area, speaking nicely to it... I even thought to offer it spring water and barley, but nothing was making it return to life.

Gray slowly gathered his "household surgery" tools and took my precious baby apart. He poked and prodded, and let me know that it wasn't a fuse (house OR dryer), and then did some experimentation. At one point the dryer roared back to life and I squealed happily. My joy bubble was burst when he explained that he had to order the part that he had just bypassed. Luckily it was still available, but it will take 5-7 business days to arrive.

I sobbed bitterly as I attempted to figure out how to hang the various loads of laundry that were already wet. There is a pull-out clothes line on our covered and screened porch, and after some finagling I managed to get it up (with Gray's help). I spent the better part of an hour hanging things on that plastic line, and I sort of found a bit of peace in it. At least the clothes were clean, right? That's when the clothes line snapped and all my clean laundry fell down on top of the dirty boxes and the garbage.


All the clothes were rescued, and set to hang in the two bathrooms on the curtain rods. Then the next load went up on the doubled outdoor laundry line, which I jury rigged to get working again. Of course the few minutes I had allotted to laundry in my daily schedule were now LONG past. I rushed to get the vacuuming done and to set up the other things that needed my attention. The next thing I knew, sis was walking in the door and I hadn't even started making dinner! Thank heavens she understood... we went to McDonald's and grabbed burgers for everyone, which was less than economical and not nutritionally great, but at least everyone was fed (and I didn't have dishes to do, either!). Whew.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Slowly Moving Forward (and IN)

The view of the road from the beach.
Up the road from our new home, about a five or six minute walk, there is a beach. During the summer months, they shut down the road with cement barriers, and truck in sand to cover it all up, providing the children and locals with a massive, soft sandy beach that seems to stretch on forever. In the fall, when school starts up, they push all the sand back onto the beach and open the road to motorists. The beach itself is still open, though, and on Monday I took the children there. It was 80F and sunny, probably the last "Indian Summer" day to enjoy the water. It was cold as anything, but they paddled about, swam, had a fun time. I took along my fold up beach chair, and just sat in the sand and watched the play. The brightly colored leaves belied the warmth of the air, a hint of the autumn that is both here and coming. Winter won't be far behind.

The view of the lake.
I did stick my toes in the water, but it was too chilly for me. I don't think our children actually feel the cold, though, because they plunged in like it was bath water. I think the sheer excitement of being able to WALK to the beach overcame their sense of frigidity. It was so peaceful down there. The occasional car went by, but mostly it was just quiet wind, the sound of some kids playing off in the distance, and the lapping of the water against the beach. Even though I'm still suffering from my cold, it was nice to just SIT there. I wasn't unpacking (or packing), cleaning, sorting, or anything else. I didn't even really read the book I brought with me, although I sat it in my lap. I just watched them build sand castles and counted my blessings.

Our front door
I must say, I do love the look of our new front door. With the steps the way they are, we were able to put sis's mums there, as well as the giant pumpkins the children wormed out of her. The little watering can in front is also sis's, and looks very charming sitting on the bottom step. Soon the pumpkins will be carved (and I'll be making roasted pumpkin seed snacks!), but for now it's just a beautiful fall display.

On another plus side, our children are completely enamored of this neighborhood and their new school. They have already made friends, have people to sit next to on the bus, and are eager to be out of the house each morning. It's gratifying to have children who are so eager to go to school that they are willing to skip lunch to get back in time!

The family room
Our house is coming together and beginning to become a home. The "family room" is slowly transforming from "space where we dropped things" to "our television and hang out room." There is a rip in the carpet, from where a badly sewn seam came apart, and so we put down our large blue carpet to cover it up. I think it actually lends a kind of "room within a room" feel. We have our television set up, with cable and HBO and all that, and a couple of chairs for lounging in. Now we just need a cheap but cute sofa, perhaps a futon, and we'll be set in there.

The dining room
Other than the shocking pink walls, the dining room is looking pretty good, too. I turned the table around so that the fold-down leaf is on the outside, allowing us to turn the table larger for each meal, but also reducing the general size of it when it might possibly attract junk. The table fits nicely in the space we have, and has potential for being enlarged into the living room (parlor, adult space) if we have many people over for food. We are hoping to get some wallpaper for the walls soon, maybe in a cream or off-white color with red and blue highlights. We'll probably stick with country type patterns, because that's what we like.

I've always wanted to do one of those "before and after" shots, and now I finally have my wish! This was our living room early this morning. It was full of sleeping pads, computer carcasses, laundry baskets, big boxes full of yet-to-be-built end tables, and a ton of boxes and bins. I was home alone all day today, and not feeling well to boot, so I put myself to the task of finding the living room under all that clutter and moving junk. I pressed the air out of the sleeping pads and rolled them up, moved all the computer bits to the office space, put away all the laundry, and did a lot of assembling. I'm rather proud of myself, even if I did have to take the second end table apart twice because I put it together wrong.

And this is the same living room a few hours later. I turned the rug around, tucked it under the couch legs, cleaned up all the clutter, and have the finished tables at either end of the couch. It looks great, and I'm thinking people around here will be happy with the results. I'm tired now, ready for a shower and dinner, and a nap. Still, we're making progress.

The backyard will, in the next couple of weeks, be getting a leaf composting area put in. The previous owners left behind a dog run, the stakes and wire of which I will use to create a nice 5' diameter area for containing the multitude of fallen leaves around our home. Hopefully they will compost into some very nice soil that can amend whatever goes into our raised beds next year!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Exhaustion sets in...

Well... let's see. We're in the new house, and it's becoming home, which is awesome. The image above is of the boy twin sitting on a chair in the corner of the dining room. Please excuse the painfully bright pink walls - those haven't been changed yet, but soon will be. I PROMISE. You can see the beautiful picture window, though, and our snug little table. You can also see the folding chairs which are replacing the kitchen ones we've not yet found among our things. However, we do have the rug down, and we know the color of wallpaper we're going to use to hide those shocking pink walls!

Today, the kitchen got brought into order. Our old dryer, which has sat dejectedly in the barn for 3 years, is now hooked up and working (thanks to CTJ for fixing it!). The top was rather rusted, although the innards were just fine, so I took a can of white rustoleum to it this afternoon. Two coats of it later, it looks almost as good as new.

After seeing the positive results of the paint on the dryer, I decided to try it on the handles of our fridge. During our three years with T&L, the fridge handles become so filthy that the dirt would no longer come out. I tried scrubbing, bleaching, even using CLR. Nothing worked. You know what, though? A little bit of white spray paint made it look almost like new! I took the paint to a few of the dings and dents in it, and it really does look fantastic. I'm glad - there is a LOT of bad blood over that fridge, because it's an incredibly expensive one that we babied, and that other people broke. I feel better now that some of its hurts are covered up.

I re-did sis's room entirely, from the ground up. We took every item out of the room, and I scrubbed it from ceiling to floor. I took off the blinds and bleached the holy heck out of them, then re-hung them. I swiped the windows, scrubbed the sills, then put her bed together and reassembled everything. Now she has her bed, her side tables, a lamp, and even her clothing is hung in the closet. I also put my dry sink (minus the marble top) in her room to set the television on until her dresser makes it here. She was really surprised when she got home, which was rather gratifying. The whole thing just killed me, and I was exhausted.

I also vacuumed and mopped the entire "formal" room, which was good because sis stopped and picked up the new rug we got for in there. It got unrolled and it looks marvelous there. I'm sure there will be pics coming.

After spending the vast majority of the day cleaning things, I sat down to watch Lion King with the family. It was nice to just... sit. My ankle is acting up something fierce. However, I got a lot done, and that feels good. I realized at about 9:30pm that I hadn't made the hamburger soup I'd meant to, and so I browned up the meat and threw the ingredients into our brand new crock pot (see above pic!). Thanks to sis's friend MW, we got some more veggies from the local co-op farm. You can see many of them swimming in the soup there: leeks, celery, potatoes, carrots, and a tomato (though you can't really see that because I also added a can of Mexican crushed tomatoes, because it makes the soup taste so yummy). It'll simmer all night and be ready for a quick and hearty lunch tomorrow. I love crock pots!

I am now going to bed. My hair is finally dry (I didn't get to shower today until almost 10pm), and I need to go fall over. Soon, the garden planning for next year will begin. I have a yard full of leaves to rake up into a compost corral, and raised beds to mark out, and a lawn to mow!