Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Apple pie cinnamon rolls

Remember how I told you that I went apple picking not too long ago? Well, I decided to make apple pie cinnamon rolls with some of my fruit. My family loves cinnamon rolls, but I don't make them very often. I'll make them if we have overnight guests, and since my husband's parents were in town, I decided to bake up a batch. I wanted to try an apple pie version since I had a lot of apples left over, and I knew that it would make the house smell like fall.

I need to share my mistakes with you. I followed the recipe to a tee, but the apples were way too liquidy. As I attempted to transfer the apples to the rolled out dough, the apple syrup got everywhere. It caused the apples to slip and slide, and I could barely roll up my dough. In fact, a good quarter of the apples fell out of the rolls so I had to scoop them up and top the rolls with them instead. So, if your cooked apples yield a lot of liquid, drain it out (but save it to top the rolls with). The last thing you want is a sloppy mess and apples all over the counter. Believe me, I learned the hard way.

Despite the messy kitchen, these rolls were divine. The apples paired nicely with the sweetness of the cinnamon sugar and the soft and chewy yeasted rolls. I decided not to top mine with glaze or frosting because I knew that my Fuji apples were already going to be sweet and didn't want to make our breakfast too unbearably sweet.  My in-laws enjoyed the rolls, and my husband and Addie did too. I secretly wanted another roll but managed to hold myself back this time. The next time, I might just eat two.

Apple pie cinnamon rolls
For the dough
  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 and 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup scalded milk, cooled to warm 
  • 1/3 cup melted unsalted butter 
  • 1 egg, room temperature 
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour

Filling
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced (I used Fuji)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
Directions
In a small bowl, add the yeast and 2 teaspoons of the sugar to the water. Allow it to sit and for about 5-10 minutes until foamy.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment or in a large bowl if mixing by hand, mix together the milk, melted butter, egg, remaining sugar, and salt on low speed until well combined. Add the yeast mixture and continue to mix. Slowly add in the flour mixture until a dough forms. If needed, add more flour about 1/4 cup at a time. The dough should be pliable but not too sticky.

Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for about 2-3 minutes. Then place it into a large well-oiled bowl. Cover and allow it to double in size, about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a medium sized saucepan, melt 4 Tablespoons of the butter and sugar. Add the apples and saute until the apples are soft and slightly caramelized. Add 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon and coat well. If the apples are too soggy, drain before the next step. You do not want the apples to be too saucy - you can save the sauce to top the rolls.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Generously grease a 9"x13" pan and set aside.

Once the dough has doubled in size, take off the cover and punch the dough down with your fists. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and roll it out to a 16"x24" rectangle.

In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar with the 2 Tablespoons of cinnamon. Mix with a fork and set aside.

Spread the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter onto the dough rectangle. Then sprinkle the top with the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture and make sure it is spread out evenly. Top with the cooked apples, being careful not to add any of the liquid.

Roll the dough up, jelly-roll style, starting with the longest end of the rectangle. Pinch the seams down and cut the large roll into 12 even slices (a bench scraper works great here).

Place each roll, cut side up, on your prepared baking pan. If desired, you can top with the reserved apple liquid. At this point, you can cover and store in the refrigerator and bake the next day (allow to thaw for about 20 minutes prior to baking), or you can cover it and allow it to rise another time, for about 1.5-2 hours.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Once the rolls have finished rising, place it into your preheated oven for about 20-22 minutes or until the tops start to turn golden in color. If desired, you can add a glaze or cream cheese icing on top. I chose to keep mine plain since they were already sweet enough.

Yield: About 12 rolls

Source: The Hopeless Housewife

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Award-winning apple pie

I am sharing an award-winning apple pie recipe with you today. It is from a woman named Grandma Ople, whose granddaughter shared it on Allrecipes.com.  This recipe won several pie contests and has been rated 5 stars (out of 5) by over 6000 people. Grandma Ople did not provide her crust recipe, so I found one from a cookbook that showcases other award-winning pie recipes.

When I make recipes, I usually have them bookmarked for a while, and I normally have an idea of what I will bake each week. This pie, however, was baked on a whim. I still had a plethora of apples left over from my apple picking adventures, so an apple pie was just screaming to be made. Since Grandma Ople's recipe looked extremely promising, I went ahead and tried it out.

The crust was very easy to make, and it did not require a food processor or too much hands-on time. I grated the butter with a cheese grater so I wouldn't get clumps of butter throughout the crust. It rolled out very easily, and I attempted to create a lattice top as well.

My husband's grandmother apparently made the best apple pie ever, and sadly, I never got to try it since she passed before I met my husband. The good news is that this pie measures up to it. My reaction when I tried a bite of this? "Oh man, this is good." Although I used Fuji apples, which are sweeter than Granny Smiths, this apple pie wasn't too sweet. The caramel sauce is fairly minimal and uses just enough to coat the apples, whereas other recipes have the apples almost swimming in sauce. The crust was flaky and buttery and had a nice balance to the caramel-y apples.

Thanks for this fantastic recipe, Grandma Ople. I hope that it brings much joy to others like it did with my family.

Award-winning apple pie
Crust (makes enough for a bottom and a top crust)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup butter (cold)
  • 5-6 Tablespoons cold water
Filling
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 6-8 apples, peeled, cored and sliced (I used 6 large Fuji apples but Granny Smith will work)
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the crust: In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and cold butter together. I used a cheese grater to grate the butter into smaller pieces and mixed everything together by hand. Add water to blend and to form a soft dough (it may look scraggly). Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into two equal pieces.

Roll out one piece into a circle large enough to fit a 9" pie pan. Cut off excess dough. Place the pie pan in the refrigerator. Roll out the other piece of dough and if desired, form a lattice crust top. Place the rolled out dough on top of a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper and put in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Make the filling: In a small saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir until it forms a paste (like a roux). Add the water, granulated sugar, and brown sugar and mix well. Then add the cinnamon and nutmeg. Allow the mixture to boil and then turn down the heat and let it simmer.

Place the sliced apples in a large bowl.  Pour about 3/4 of the filling mixture over the apples and toss well (work quickly before the syrup hardens). Put the saucepan back over the heat (set on low).

Transfer the apples to your pie pan and evenly spread them over the bottom layer of pie crust. Put the top crust over the apples, and if not using a lattice top, be sure to slice some holes in the dough for ventilation. Pour the remaining syrup over the top of the crust.

Place a sheet pan underneath the pie plate and bake in your preheated oven for 50-65 minutes or until the top crust is golden brown and the apples are bubbling underneath.

Allow the pie to cool before serving. Any leftovers can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for several days.

Yield: One 9" pie (about 12 servings)

Sources: Crust from America's Best Harvest Pies (Michael Glodowski of Verona, WI); apple pie filling and technique barely adapted from Grandma Ople via Allrecipes.com

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Skating Fridays

Falling Hurts


You already know this, but falling hurts. Falling on ice hurts even more (thank you, Captain Obvious). I learned this the hard way last week during a lesson.

Coach B was trying to refine my axel. She noticed that my ice tracing was a bit "curly" and wanted to fix it. We went on a hockey circle and she explained that the axel takeoff should be going away from the circle and the landing should also occur outside the circle.

What I was doing was jumping inside the circle, and therefore landing inside the circle.  Yes, I am getting all the way around and have a technically clean jump, but it doesn't look as pretty. I'm aiming for high grades of execution here, so I want the axel to be as perfect as possible.

Here is a graphic that I drew for you to understand what Coach B is talking about.

LBO: Left Back Outside Edge; RFO: Right Forward Outside Edge (this graphic is correct for 'lefty' skaters like me)
This totally made sense to me. So I went and tried it on the ice. I took off away from the circle and promptly fell. Hard. Somehow, I managed to land on my right hand, and it bruised up pretty badly. Four out of my five fingers became purple (and hurt to bend), and the heel of my hand was black and blue as well. Everyone on the ice stopped to make sure I was OK, and that was pretty embarrassing.

The good news? I had done the exercise correctly.

Several days later, a skater came up to me and asked if I was OK. She and her mom had seen my fall from the previous week. Thankfully, my bruises had healed by then, but it was still embarrassing that my big fall had made such an impact on her.

This week's lesson: Falling on the ice hurts. And if you do fall, don't fall on your hands.






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Caramel kiss brownies

It feels like it has been forever since our last blog swap. We have a new host this year, so thank you to Ashley of Cheese Curd in Paradise for organizing this month's event. I was thrilled when I was assigned Joelen's blog, What's Cookin, Chicago? I have had the pleasure of meeting Joelen twice when I was in the Windy City for work. Joelen was so hospitable and even sweeter in person than online. I knew that once I was assigned her blog for the swap, I would have a difficult task in front of me. Joelen's blog contains thousands of recipes, so choosing one would be nearly impossible.


I finally settled on these caramel kiss brownies and drooled the moment I saw her photo. I love a good brownie, and knowing that this recipe was from Hershey's and contained caramel kisses sold it for me.

These brownies were out of this world. The brownies were nice and chewy and did not dry out. The frosting was good enough to eat with a spoon and hide the rest from my family. I left off the caramel sauce but did cut a few caramel kisses in half and add them as garnishes.

I took these brownies to the rink one evening, and the most common response I received was, "Oh. My. Goodness." My skating friends could not get enough of these, and their reactions definitely made me smile. Yes, these brownies are slightly more involved than your regular brownies, but a chocolate frosted brownie is worth the extra effort.

Caramel kiss brownies
Brownies
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (I used Hershey's Dark)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2/3 cup butter or margarine, melted and divided
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 and 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • Buttercream frosting (recipe follows)
Buttercream frosting
  • 6 Tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 and 2/3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup caramel sauce, optional
  • 1 cup Hershey's Caramel Kisses, cut in half, optional
Directions
To make the brownies: Preheat your oven to 350°F. Generously grease or line a 13"x9"x2" baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa and baking soda. Then add half (1/3 cup) of the melted butter and boiling water to the bowl and mix well until the batter gets thick. Add in the sugar, eggs, remaining melted butter, vanilla extract and salt. Mix until the batter is completely smooth.

Gently fold in the flour and chocolate chips and mix until just combined.

Transfer batter into your prepared pan and bake in your preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until the edges are done.

Turn off the oven and remove the pan from the oven. Allow the brownies to cool completely before frosting.

To make the buttercream: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, cream the butter and vanilla extract on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Alternately add the powdered sugar and cocoa with the heavy cream, and continue to mix until you achieve a thick and smooth frosting.

Frost on top of cooled brownies.

If desired, you can drizzle the caramel sauce and halved caramel kisses over the frosted brownies for a more complete look.

Yield: One 13"x9" pan; about 24 bars (more or less, depending on how big you slice them)

Source: What's Cookin, Chicago?; originally adapted from Hershey's

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Caramel apples

I am spoiled at work. No, really, I am. My office is located on a beautiful college-like campus, and we have such fabulous amenities like a volleyball court, a basketball court, an on-site gym, and our own Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts. Our company also has "fun days," where we take time off work to, well, do something fun. Last month, we took a day trip to a local apple orchard where we spent a few hours picking our own apples, tasting various wines and enjoying a buffet lunch at a tavern. Yes, I get paid to do this, and no, I do not have to pay for the fun event. Now do you think I'm spoiled?

I came back from my apple picking adventure with about 11 pounds worth of apples. Unfortunately, it was raining that day, and we went pretty early in the season. As a result, we only had 4 different apple varieties to choose from that day. I stuck with Granny Smith and Fuji, since those are my favorite apples to bake with and eat on their own.
Mommy's helper


That evening, we went to the grocery store, and Addie immediately saw one a display with candy and caramel covered apples. She asked me if we could make our own, and of course I agreed. I was a bit overzealous and wanted to cover my apples with all kinds of fun toppings, but I found that the caramel was too soft and didn't allow the toppings to stay on very easily.

The process for making the caramels took much longer than expected (it stayed on the stove for at least 30 minutes). Then I took a lot of time cleaning and prepping the apples for dipping. I did manage to add some sprinkles to a few of the apples, but most of it bounced off the apples and onto the floor. Although it did make quite a mess, we loved how these caramel apples turned out. I gave Addie one to try and we gave the rest to her friends and teachers. I wrapped them in clear cellophane and tied them with a pink ribbon (that is Addie's favorite color at the moment). I recommend storing these in the refrigerator so the caramel hardens a bit, but be sure to let it sit at room temperature before eating.

One other thing to note is that although the recipe says it makes enough for 8 apples, I found that to be a big lie. I had a bunch of caramel left over and simply poured it into an 8" x 8" silicone pan. I was able to cut those into at least 24 caramels and we wrapped those with waxed paper and gave them to her classmates as treats. If you don't want to make a pan of caramels, the recipe below should be enough to coat at least 16 large apples, if not more.

Caramel apples
  • 8 tart apples, washed and stemmed
  • 8 popsicle sticks or other wooden sticks
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup corn syrup
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Directions
Place the popsicle/wooden sticks into the apples where the stem normally is. Push the stick in so it is stable (but don't push all the way through the apple).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium, high-walled saucepan, melt the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk over medium heat. Keep stirring until the mixture reaches 248 degrees F (soft ball stage). Remove caramel from heat and stir in caramel.

Dip each apple into the caramel and allow the extra to run off. If desired, sprinkle on toppings like sprinkles, chocolate chips, chopped nuts or M&Ms. Place the apples on the parchment paper and allow the caramel to harden.

Uneaten apples can be stored in the refrigerator or stored at room temperature. These also make great gifts - you can wrap them individually in clear cellophane and tie them with a ribbon.

Yield: At least 8 caramel apples (I got 8 apples plus enough for a thin 8"x8" pan of caramels)

Source: Allrecipes.com

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Pancake cake with maple cream cheese frosting

My college roommate and I were born two days apart, and we try to celebrate our birthdays together every year. This year was no different. I drove down to visit her last weekend, and she mentioned that she wanted to bake this pancake cake with me. We had fully intended on baking this on Saturday afternoon, but the chaos (and fun!) of the day made it impossible.

We made plans to visit one of her favorite brunch places the next morning, but we were disappointed to find out that they didn't open until 10am. I was hoping to return home around that time, so I suggested making this cake for breakfast as an alternative. This turned out to be a fabulous idea since we were both hungry, and what better way to celebrate our birthdays than to eat cake for breakfast?

I was in charge of making the pancakes, and it could not have been easier. I mixed the dry ingredients together, the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and then combined the two to make the batter. We cooked the pancakes on top of a griddle and set them aside. My friend made the frosting and graciously offered to let me lick the beaters (I politely declined) since the cream cheese confection was so good. She stacked the layers on top of each other, and we had our pancake cake ready to eat in almost no time at all.

Each of us had a slice of the finished cake and promptly went back for seconds. Each pancake was soft yet fluffy, and the maple cream cheese frosting was a fantastic addition to each layer. I'm fairly certain we both licked our plates clean.

So for those of you who like to eat cake for breakfast, go ahead and make this cake. It is made of pancakes, so it's perfectly acceptable to eat right after you wake up.

Pancake cake with maple cream cheese frosting
Pancakes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup rye or whole wheat flour
  • 2 Tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the pan
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Frosting
  • 11 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • 5 Tablespoons maple syrup, divided
  • 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
Directions
Make the pancakes:  In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cornmeal, sugars, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the milk, eggs, egg yolks, melted butter and vanilla.

Transfer the milk/egg mixture to the large bowl with the dry ingredients and whisk until everything is just incorporated. Do not overmix.

Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Grease the surface with non-stick spray or butter.

Pour 1/2 cup of the pancake batter onto the pan or griddle and cook for about 1 and 1/2 minutes or until many bubbles appear on the surface. Flip and cook for another 1 and 1/2 minutes. Remove pancake from pan or griddle and set on a plate and allow to cool. Repeat with the remaining batter. You should have about 6 pancakes.

Make the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, mix the cream cheese and Greek yogurt together on medium speed until well mixed. Add in 4 Tablespoons of the maple syrup and powdered sugar and beat until the frosting is smooth and creamy.

To assemble the cake: Place one pancake at the bottom of a plate or cake stand. Spread about 5 Tablespoons of frosting on top. Add another pancake, and repeat. Drizzle the remaining 1 Tablespoon of maple syrup on the top layer over the cream cheese frosting.

Cake is best the day it is made but will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for about 2 days.

Yield: About 6 servings

Source: Epicurious.com; originally from the The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Skating Fridays

Excellent Customer Service Still Exists - Rockerz Rocks


Getting used to my new, shorter blades has been a process, but I realized that there was something else that I needed to consider changing as well - my blade guards.

I had been using cheapo blade guards for decades until a fellow skating friend said that she was interested in buying some Rockerz. I had seen the advertisements in SKATING magazine, but honestly, they didn't appeal to me (perhaps the model depicted in the print ads wasn't speaking to my demographic). Despite my initial hesitation, I bought a pair of Rockerz in May. My world totally changed.

Rockerz are actually shaped to fit the curvature of your skate blade. They are comfortable to walk around in, and there is nothing clunky about them at all. I can easily put them on and take them off. Best of all, they are customizable to the colors of your choosing! (I know, I sound like an advertisement.)

Once I got my new blades, I put on my Rockerz and noticed that I had quite a bit of wiggle room in the guards because of the shorter blades. I contacted Rockerz right away to see what my options were.

The customer service guy said that I could use a professional sander and shave off 6 millimeters from each piece. I didn't own a sander, so that wasn't an option. Cutting the extra portion off with a knife wasn't feasible because the material would be too hard. I had only one option left, and it was something that I was hoping I wouldn't have to do - buy a new pair.

Rather than charge me the full $30+ for the brand new pair, the customer service representative said that I would only have to pay $12. That price included shipping. Whoah, seriously?

My new Rockerz arrived in about 3 business days. Oh, and the customer service guy that was helping me the whole time? Well, it turns out that he is the co-founder of the company. Good guy. Looks like customer service still exists, and I am happy to say that Rockerz has gone above and beyond to keep me as a customer.

Keep it up, Rockerz. You have a loyal customer here.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post and am not affiliated with Rockerz in any way. I am simply a happy consumer and wanted to pass along my (positive) interactions with this company.

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