Monday, October 25, 2010

Successful Day in the Kitchen

Last Saturday was one of the most successful days I've had in a while - in the kitchen that is. While living at my sister and her husband's house for a week, watching their absolutely adorable mini doxin, I decided I would do some stuff I was deprived of at school - bake & cook - oh, and carve a pumpkin!

Apple picking last weekend left me with a ton of crispy, delicious apples and I was ready to make my first apple pie of the season.
My sister made a pie last weekend that was incredible, so I used her recipe. I will keep this apple pie recipe forever. Chris - who claims apple pie is the key to his heart - looooved it, so that must say something, right?!

For dinner, we decided on bbq pulled pork and corn bread. Chris picked up a 7 lb pork shoulder and a box of Trader Joe's corn bread mix (which I modified to make sun-dried tomato and smoked gouda corn bread - recipe to come soon!). I looked up a quick, simple, and delicious pulled pork recipe and stuck that sucker right in the cooker.

While the meat was cookin' we carved our pumpkins. Earlier that morning, Chris and I hit up a local farm and each picked out our pumpkins. They were about 20-25 pounds and they were perfect :)

We had a kit handy, but drew our own, personalized, face stencils. I'm pretty sure this was my first time carving my own pumpkin, and it was definitely harder than I thought it was, but so much fun! These are the end results:

So after two Paulander Oktoberfest Biers and two goofy jack-o-lanterns, our meat was almost done. I whipped up the corn bread and stuck that in the oven for 25 minutes while we pulled the pork and smothered it in Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce.

We all know not everything we make comes out perfect, and we all have kitchen blunders - trust me, I've had my share - but my friends, this dish was perfect. The meat was so tender and juicy. The bone pulled out easily and the meat tore effortlessly. There was just enough sauce - not to
overwhelm the flavors of the meat itself. We added Munster cheese, but it really didn't even need it. I even had some of the left-overs for lunch the next day, and it was just as good, if not better!

The corn-bread was yummy, too. I used a box of Trader Joe's mix, but added a few ingredients from a recipe I found in my recent purchase, Things Cooks Love. The bread fluffed up in the pie pan and kept so moist I didn't even think it was done cooking. It was the perfect side dish to the sandwich.

Needless to say, by the end of the night we were stuffed! It was a very successful cooking/baking day, and those days always make me happy :)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Best Apple Pie Recipe

This apple pie is so simple to whip up and tastes delicious! The butter syrup mixture thickens on the stove to make a home-made caramel that gets poured over the crust. I love this pie because it never gets watery and the crust always has a perfect crunch. Perfect after-dinner dessert for those chilly autumn nights.

Trust me, you don't want to miss out on this...

"American" Apple Pie

1 package double pastry pie crust
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp cinnamon
6 apples (Granny Smith are recommended)


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Peel, slice, and core apples. Toss apples with the cinnamon.

Melt butter in a sauce pan. Stir in flour to thicken. Add white sugar, brown sugar and water; bring to a boil. Reduce temperature and simmer for 5 minutes.

Place the bottom crust in a 9" pie pan. Fill with apples. Cover with basket weave crust. Gently pour the sugar and butter syrup over the crust making sure to cover entire pie, but not drip off the edge.

Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 35 to 45 minutes.

Pumpkin Spice Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling

I made Pumpkin Spice Muffins with Cream Cheese filling on Monday, determined to make something pumpkin to celebrate autumn. I found this recipe from a blog called Annie's Eats. These muffins were an absolute HIT with friends, family, and co-workers. They had a moist consistency and the sweet-spicy flavor of the pumpkin and cream cheese combo melt in your mouth. I must admit, they were quite tasty :)

This recipe is actually very easy, but takes a bit of time to prepare. As you'll read in the recipe below, you have to make the filling at least 2 hours in advance so it has time to harden in the freezer. I was surprised by how much filling there was, and decided to make two logs out of it, instead of just one (they were easier to manage this way). I snapped a few pictures along the way to show you how my little logs came out.

I actually left mine in the freezer for a good 24 hours before I actually got around to making the muffins. Hint: Don't take them out of the freezer until you're absolutely ready for them. The cream cheese softens quickly and gets messy.

The mix was crazy simple, just follow the directions below. Dry into wet, you know.

Now this is the secret part of the recipe... your friends and family will most definitely ask you how you got the cream cheese in there, but they don't need to know how incredibly simple it was. You can tell them you slaved over these muffins, stuffing them with cream cheese with just enough so that they didn't explode... you get the drift.

So get out your muffin tins, muffin cups, batter, cheese logs, and topping (which I didn't take a picture of, sorry!) and get to it. This is when you cut your logs up into 24 little pieces - use your best judgment with size. I just cut them about an inch long. Fill the cups with a little bit of batter, place a cream cheese piece in the center, cover her up with more batter, and top that little baby off some sugary goodness (the crumble topping).

There you have it! Now they're ready to be baked.

Warning: You may start to smell a heavenly sweet pumpkin aroma, but please, let them bake the full time and try to control yourself...

And this is what you will come out with :D

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Yield: 24 muffins
For the filling:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

For the muffins:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (I actually left this ingredient out because I didn't have any on hand, and substituted it with an extra tsp. each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
2 cups pumpkin puree
1¼ cups vegetable oil

For the topping:
½ cup sugar
5 tbsp. flour
1½ tsp. ground cinnamon
4 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

To prepare the filling, combine the cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl and mix well until blended and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a log about 1½-inches in diameter (your logs will be messy and difficult to smooth into perfectly shaped logs. Don't worry, they go inside the muffin and no one will see them. Just make sure they're log-like). Smooth the plastic wrap tightly around the log, and reinforce with a piece of foil. Transfer to the freezer and chill until at least slightly firm, at least 2 hours.

To make the muffins, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line muffin pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, pumpkin pie spice, salt and baking soda; whisk to blend. In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the eggs, sugar, pumpkin puree and oil. Mix on medium-low speed until blended. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated.

To make the topping, combine the sugar, flour and cinnamon in a small bowl; whisk to blend. Add in the butter pieces and cut into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender or two forks until the mixture is coarse and crumbly (it's going to be tempting, but do not heat the butter. The cold butter adds the crumbles and melts in the oven). Transfer to the refrigerator until ready to use.

To assemble the muffins, fill each muffin well with a small amount of batter, just enough to cover the bottom of the liner (1-2 tablespoons). Slice the log of cream cheese filling into 24 equal pieces. Place a slice of the cream cheese mixture into each muffin well. Divide the remaining batter among the muffin cups, placing on top of the cream cheese to cover completely. Sprinkle a small amount of the topping mixture over each of the muffin wells.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before serving. (It may be hard to resist immediate consumption, but the cream cheese filling gets very hot!)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Share Your Favorite Autumn Recipe!

Have any unique, fun, delicious, and flavorful apple or pumpkin recipes you can't get enough of?

I'll be on a cooking and baking streak this week and would love any suggestions!

Thanks readers!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Perfect Autumn Day: Apple Picking & Wine Drinking

Apple picking was one activity I was absolutely determined to do this fall (the next being pumpkin carving). It's no secret that I loooove apple desserts, so I wanted my very own hand picked apples to bake with.

So yesterday, Chris and I went apple picking. I
haven't been apple picking since I was a kid in Girl Scouts, so I thought I was due for a nice satchel of apples. After a little research and recommendations, we decided on the Warwick Valley Winery.

What drew us to this place was not only the "Winery" in the name, but also the photos and positive feedback from friends and family. I'll add my two-cents in as well and say that we were definitely not disappointed!

Chris and I were en route by 11 a.m. and arrived a little after noon. The weather was absolutely perfect with not a cloud in sight. We immediately bought our bag ($20 for a half bushel bag) and started toward the orchids. I was on a mission to find the best cooking apples, while Chris's mission was to eat so many apples he'd turn into one. I accomplished mine, Chris came pretty darn close!

One thing I was a little disappointed about was that we must have arrived late in the season and a lot of the apples were gone! We spoke to a fellow apple-picker who said he's been coming to this place for over 10 years and has never seen it this bad. I guess more people are apple-picking this year for some reason.

We walked through rows and rows of Golden Delicious, Mutsu, Macintosh, Honey Crisp, Empire, Cortland, Fuji, Jonagold, Gala, and more I can't even remember the name of. By the end of our excursion, we filled our bag, tried apples we've never tried before, and were ready for some wine and food!

As we approached the Cafe and wine tasting room, the aroma of brick oven pizza, sandwiches, wines, and ciders reminded us once again that we were beyond hungry. Instead of doing the proper wine tasting (it was packed around the table anyway) we bought a bottle of wine and a bottle of hard cider to share. The line for food was quite long by this time, so we hopped on, and poured ourselves some vino - yes, while we were on line :)

Chris and I are both red wine drinkers and the description for the Warwick Valley Black Dirt Red table wine sounded delicious. To our surprise, however, it was different than a typical flat red wine. This one was a bit carbonated and had a touch of sweetness. It sure was tasty, but I think I prefer non-carbonated red wine by the glass. I do think it would make for amazing Sangria though!

We finally got to the front of the line and ordered a margherita pizza and side of fries - because they looked too good to pass up. The pizza was deliciously thin and the fries were coated in crispy goodness. We found ourselves a table and devoured our food, a bottle of wine, and our apple cider.

After we satisfied ourselves with food and drink, we relaxed with yet another bottle of wine and sat on the lawn under the blazing sun. People had blankets laid out and kids were running around. It was peaceful sitting on the grass with our wine talking about things that aren't really important, but eventually, we had to leave.

It was a flawless autumn day and I don't think I could stop smiling. It was a perfect way to spend our two year anniversary :)

How would you spend your perfect autumn day?