Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Butternut squash pie

Thanksgiving is tomorrow! Are you still scrambling for a dessert?  If so, read on because I have a great alternative to the traditional pumpkin pie.  Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you... butternut squash pie.

Wait.  Don't run away. It's not as scary or weird as you think.

Pumpkin is a squash, right? Well, so is its cousin, butternut squash. Their respective pies are prepared in similar ways, where you roast the squash, puree it, add some spices and then bake it in a crust.

My husband, who is normally not a huge pumpkin fan, gave this pie a B+ rating. He noted that it was similar to a pumpkin pie in texture and wasn't too sweet. I agree - it was a nice alternative to pumpkin pie though still somewhat similar. The taste is just slightly different, and the brown sugar was more prominent in this pie.

Actually, now that I think about it, if you brought this pie to Thanksgiving and called it a pumpkin pie, I'm not sure if many people would know the difference. Try it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Butternut squash pie
  • 1 unbaked and chilled 9-inch pie shell (I used a refrigerated, store-bought crust)
  • 1 large butternut squash, cooked and pureed (about 1 and 1/2 cups pureed squash)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk or half-and-half
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer), mix the squash puree and brown sugar on medium speed until well blended.

Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix until everything has been fully incorporated.

Pour the batter into the unbaked pie shell for 45-55 minutes or until the pie is set. You can check the pie after 35 minutes and then cover the crust edges with tin foil so it doesn't burn.

Allow the pie to cool before serving. Serve with whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream if desired.

Pie should be stored, covered, in the refrigerator. It will keep for several days.

Yield: One 9" pie (about 8-10 servings)

Source: About.com

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pumpkin spice Greek yogurt muffins with pumpkin spiced chips

Ready for another muffin recipe? This one combines some of my favorite ingredients - Greek yogurt and pumpkin spice. Oh, and I threw in some pumpkin spiced baking chips for a little sumthin' sumthin'.

I finally (!) found a bag of pumpkin spiced baking chips in my local grocery store and naturally snatched it up. I had intended to roll some caramel apples in these chips, but that just didn't happen. So I decided to add them to a batch of muffins instead, because who can turn down chips in muffins? Not me.

My pumpkin spice muffins hold up really well and do not get too crumbly, which is always a plus in my book because that means I don't have to spend an extra 5 minutes cleaning the crumbs off the floor (not that my daughter would EVER do that... ahem).

You can make these muffins slightly healthier by using whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose (you shouldn't be able to taste the difference) and by decreasing the sugar to 1/2 or 3/4 of a cup. The pumpkin spiced baking chips are already sweet, so you can make the muffins a little less sweet to balance the flavors better. Or, if you want to make these over the top, feel free to add a streusel topping and take these muffins to a whole new level.

Pumpkin spice Greek yogurt muffins with pumpkin spiced chips
  • 2 cups all-purpose or whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt (I used 2% Chobani plain)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup pumpkin spiced baking chips
Directions
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Generously grease a standard muffin pan and set aside (I used a silicone pan and did not grease it).

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the applesauce, Greek yogurt and eggs. Fold this into the large bowl with the dry ingredients. Using as few strokes as possible, mix until a few flour streaks remain.

Add in the pumpkin baking chips and fold until no flour streaks remain. The batter will be thick.

Evenly distribute the batter into the muffin wells, filling each about 3/4 full.

Bake in your preheated oven for about 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool before serving.

Muffins should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator and will keep for several days. They can also be frozen and thawed.

Yield: 12 muffins

Source: Inspired and adapted from Julia's Album

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Skating Fridays

Progress, not Perfection


Coach B usually has a ton of advice for me in each of our lessons. Arms here, legs this way, eyes over here, head like this.  I'm usually pretty good at following her directions, but there has been one lesson that has been difficult for me to grasp: progress, not perfection.

For whatever reason, I always seem to choose to participate in activities that require precision. Flute (hellooooo, competitive musicians!), gymnastics (gotta stick that landing), baking (measuring tools are your best friends) and of course skating. I strive to be as accurate and precise as possible, but sometimes things just don't work out that way.

We were having a lesson last week and I goofed something up. My comment was, "Wow.  That was bad."  Coach B told me not to be so hard on myself and that she was proud of the progress that I had made. Sure, things weren't perfect, but I had been making improvements.

Every once in a while, we take a look at at how far I've come. We joke about how ugly my first back sit spins were and how it's become one of my stronger spins. We talk about my early attempts at other skating elements and compare to how much better they are today.

Figure skating, as Coach B says, is a journey. You can't expect perfection overnight. Like a marathon, you have to take one step at a time and work towards your end goal.

So if you are ever feeling frustrated in whatever you are doing, just stop to think about what you have done to make it this far. Celebrate the little wins and the progress you have made and understand that your end goal is a journey. Your hard work and dedication will get you there.

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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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