Quick Tip – Preserving apples

Every year, on “Thanksgiving Eve”, we gather with my mom’s side of the family for Pie Night.

Yes, you read that correctly: PIE NIGHT.
My great – great grandma Kate finally got tired of working so hard to make pies that no one had room to eat after Thanksgiving Dinner, so she declared the Wednesday before to be Pie Night.

For the past several years I’ve been in the process of perfecting the apple pie – trying different methods to see what comes out best.

One issue I’ve had is keeping the apples from browning before I peel and chop them all (I’m not a machine you know, and I’m old fashioned and don’t use a corer or a fancy one-trick pony appliance).

Obviously lemon juice stops the browning, but juicing so many lemons leaves my hands burning and dry.

So, since I have essential oils this year, I decided to try that instead!

First I put some apple cider (only 1/4cup or so) in a large bowl and then added several cups of water and about 6-10 drops of lemon oil.

After I peeled each apple, I put it in this bowl. Then once I was finished peeling all of them, I removed one apple at a time to chop it, replacing it in the bowl.

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Not only did this preserve the apples a bit, but it seasoned them so they tasted very fresh and crisp!

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And, you get all the immunity benefits of the lemon oil!

Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours!

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Spinach, Apple, & Mushroom Salad

The hubs is officially down over 35 pounds since he started working out and eating better! I am so proud of him. He’s been on a spinach kick, which is awesome, since its one if the most nutrient – rich leafy greens out there.

Lately he’s been eating a spinach salad for lunch every day, so I’ve started eating them too. But just plain, raw spinach can get boring after awhile. So I started switching it up.

For the hubs, the winner seems to be spinach with sliced Fuji apples and an Italian/balsamic dressing mix I made. One day I tried adding feta cheese to the mix and loved it.

Today I tried something new and it’s definitely my favorite so far, at least in terms of a quick and healthy lunch salad.

First put your desired amount of spinach in a salad bowl. Slice up your favorite apple and toss some in there.  (For the portions we eat, 5 slices are about right. Sometimes I eat the rest of the apple plain… or dip it in peanut butter!)

Now wash 3-4 mini-bella mushrooms and slice them. Heat a small pan over medium -low heat with about a teaspoon of olive oil. When the pan is hot, add the mushrooms. Let them cook until they start to turn golden brown, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle a little salt, and toss or flip them to brown then evenly.

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Then place them down the middle of the salad, sprinkling feta cheese over top of them.  Drizzle with a bit of salad dressing, and you’re good to go!

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Fresh and healthy. You get crunch and sweet from the apples, warm earthiness from the mushrooms, creamy from the feta, and a bit of acidity from the dressing. The whole combo plays nicely on the strong taste of spinach. So delish!

What are your favorite salad creations or combinations? 🙂

Spruce up ye ol’ Grilled Cheese

Who doesn’t love grilled cheese? It’s almost it’s own food group among kids of our generation. The best grilled cheeses have a buttery, crispy (but not too crunchy or hard!) toast, and warm, melty cheese.

As an adult I still loved grilled cheeses, but after awhile I felt I needed to make it more ‘grown up’. So I started adding ham. Grilled Ham and Cheese. Those are good too.

But today I was remembering a particular grilled cheese I made after I had A. We were living at my parents’, kind of renting their basement, and prior to this I had never really made much at our own home. My skills were limited at best – partly due to budget, partly due to having a TEENY (carpeted) kitchen, and partly due to lack of skill and practice. But at my parents’… well they had a huge kitchen full of ingredients at my disposal!

So one day for lunch, I made myself this amazing sandwich… Grilled ham, cheese, and pear. Yes, PEAR. I toasted the bread, buttered the outside of the bread, spread the inside lightly with cream cheese, sliced the pear thinly, and placed it on the cheesy bread. Then I added a slice or two of cheese and a few slices of ham, and grilled it up in a frying pan until the cheese was melty, the ham was warm, and the bread was golden. DELICIOUS!

Last night the hubs asked me to make him a ham and cheese… just on regular bread, using leftover ham steak slices, with slices of provolone… put in the microwave until the cheese was melted. Not bad, but it reminded me of the one I had made so long ago at my parents’.

So today for lunch, I made a grilled ham, cheese, and APPLE. (Sadly I had no pears.) Because a crunchy piece of sweet fruit just adds a little something special to the world of grilled cheeses!

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One side was a teensy bit overcooked (but still good!)

Here’s a step-by-step guide to making this delicious sandwich:
1. Toast 2 pieces of whole wheat bread just until firm, but not burnt.
2. Meanwhile, slice an apple thinly – Cut vertically just past the core, and cut that half into thin, about 1/4-inch slices. (The slices should still look like a circle.)
3. Butter said pieces of bread immediately after removing from toaster – just on one side. Place butter-side-down on a paper plate.
4. Heat a small skillet over medium heat.
5. Place a piece of provolone cheese on each piece of bread.
6. Place a slice of leftover ham steak (or a few slices of deli ham) on one piece of bread.
7. Place the slices of apple on the other piece of bread.
8. Put the two slices together and place in the skillet. VERY CAREFULLY and WITHOUT WALKING AWAY!, place the paper plate over the skillet to trap the heat and melt the cheese. Let cook for 1-2 minutes on this side. ****WARNING!!! If you have a gas oven I do not recommend this as it is a FIRE HAZARD! I have an electric oven and watch very closely the minute or two the plate is atop the skillet. Also, if you have a skillet with a lid, there’s no need for the plate in the first place.****
9. Remove plate and flip sandwich to the other side, leaving the skillet uncovered. Cook for another minute or two.
10. Remove from pan, slice, and serve!

It’s especially good with water, or herbal tea! (I like Sweet Apple Chamomile, Lemon Zinger, or Cherry Blossom green tea.)

Have you made a unique grilled cheese?? Share in the comments! I love new ideas. 🙂

Spring Pork Loin with Citrus Garlic Ginger Crust and Apple Onion ‘Salsa’

You know what’s great about trying new cuisine or ingredients? You can try them in new ways – or, I suppose, OLD ways with a new twist.

Are you confused? Sorry. Let me explain in detail:
This week I attempted Indian food for the first time – Tandoori Salmon. It was actually AMAZING. I bought fresh ginger for the recipe. I’ve used ginger before, but not very often. The combination of the extra ginger sitting there and the marinade I made for the salmon gave me an idea. I scrapped the recipe I was going to try for my Thursday meal and made up my own instead!

And now I’ll share it with you! I’m calling it “Spring Pork Loin” because I suppose I’m wishful thinking. It is mid-March after all, and the weather has topped 50º more than once this week! (But then again, in Chicago that means nothing. Reluctant prediction: we will get another snow storm in April.)

Pay attention to the captions on the photos – they include instructions!

Here’s what you’ll need:

Not pictured: 1 orange, cinnamon, soy sauce

Not pictured: cinnamon, soy sauce, 1 orange

I started with a 4 lb. pork loin which I patted dry with paper towels. Next I made the marinade, which also serves as our liquid for the crock pot.

1/8 cup soy sauce

1/8 cup soy sauce

Enough red wine to come to almost 3/4 cup - then add the juice of one orange

Enough red wine to come to almost 3/4 cup – then add the juice of half an orange

Now brush that marinade onto the pork.

I always use a pastry brush. I've never used it for pastry. ;)

I always use a pastry brush – which I’ve actually never used for pastry. 😉

I let that sit while I made the “crust”:

Start with about a 1 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger

Start with about a 1 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger

Add 1 Tblspn diced garlic and the zest from your orange

Add 1 Tblspn diced garlic and the zest from your orange

Stir in the Dijon mustard, then brush that ‘crust’ onto the pork:
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Be sure to get all sides and cover thoroughly. (More crust = more flavor!)

Put that baby in the crock pot!

Put that baby in the crock pot! (Fat side down)

Pour the remaining marinade into the pot. Just be careful not to wash away the crust. I poured mine in that little space you see above the pork.

Make the apple onion salsa by slicing an apple (I used Gala and a quarter of a Golden Delicious we had in the fridge. You see, I really do save and use everything. – almost -) and putting it in a bowl. Cut up half of a white onion by slicing vertically through the bulb 3 times, cutting in half crosswise, and then cutting a few times crosswise again to get big chunks. Put in bowl with apple. Add the applesauce, orange juice, and cinnamon, and toss.
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Now (gently) dump that ‘salsa’ on top of the pork! (I’m calling it a salsa because it’s the only word that comes close to a chunky kind of sauce. It’s not a slaw. It’s not a chutney. So it’s a salsa!)
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Cover any bit of the pork that is showing by moving the chunks around.

Now put on the lid and cook for 8 – 9 hours on LOW. I originally cooked mine for 8 on low, but had to cook it for an additional 30 mins on HIGH because it wasn’t as tender as I wanted.
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Here’s the finished product, ready to eat!
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Look at how caramelized the apples and onions were. They not only got soft but also soaked up the juice. The ginger and orange juice are bright against the deep, traditional ‘au jus’ flavors of the marinade, which is further balanced by the sweet apples. And the crust just melted right into the pork. So, maybe it was more of a ‘rub’ than a ‘crust’, since a crust implies crunchy, and crunchy it was not. It did however impart that nice spring flavor and extra layer of texture. All the pork has this great ginger scent. It’s just a hint, not too spicy or overwhelming. The meat was falling apart into shreds – just perfect to make a Second Meal of pork tacos or pork sandwiches!
I served it with a slightly modified version of these 
roasted sweet potatoes (yes, I jumped on the coconut oil bandwagon!).

If you’re craving spring, give this a try and let me know what you think!

Ingredient List:
1 4lb Pork Loin
Marinade:
1/8 C soy sauce
–up to 3/4C red wine
Juice from 1 orange
Crust:
2 Tblspn Dijon mustard
1 tsp fresh minced ginger
1 Tblspn diced garlic
Zest from 1 orange
Apple Salsa:
1 Apple, sliced
Half large white onion, chopped
1/3 C Applesauce
Juice from 1/2 an orange
Few dashes of cinnamon (I used 5)

Whole Wheat Apple & Oat Muffins

With all that’s been going on over here, I needed a baking session to keep everyone’s spirits up – and just to have an easy, healthy snack on hand. These apple muffins are my go-to because they are so easy, quick, and healthy. I often bring them to church when it’s my turn to bake, doing a mini muffin for easy eating. The only problem with them is that they get eaten too fast! Everyone loves these – my kids, my husband, everyone at church, anyone who tries them really. They’re moist and flavorful and great warm AND after they’ve cooled. We eat them for breakfast, with lunch or as a snack. I’ve refined this recipe and use a few different options depending how I’m feeling and what OHI I have.

Are you convinced yet?  😉 Let’s bake.

Here’s what you’ll need:
1/2 C softened butter or margarine
2/3 C sugar OR 1/3 each of honey and sugar
2 extra large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 C whole wheat flour*
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1tsp milk
1 cup applesauce
OPTIONAL:
*one chopped apple (Granny Smith is best, but you can always use your OHI)
*1 c oats
*you can substitute all purpose flour if you prefer, or even do half AP and half wheat flour.
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Start by preheating your oven to 350° and preparing your muffin tins. When I make regular size muffins, I use paper wrappers; when I make minis I just go paperless.

Cream together your butter (or margarine) and sugar (or honey). Most times, in baking, the creaming process has a lot to do with the final product. That’s why it’s important to start with softened butter.

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If using sugar and honey, add sugar first

Here is what a good cream should look like (fluffy and light and combined):
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When complete add vanilla, then eggs, one at a time.
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Scrape the sides of the bowl if necessary, using a rubber spatula. I even scrape the bottom of my bowl to be sure all the butter is not stuck on the bottom. Now add all your spices and baking soda & powder.

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Measure, then sprinkle gradually around sides of bowl for better mixing

Be sure to fully combine before moving on, and scrape side of bowl if needed.

Next you’ll alternate the flour and applesauce.
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Add 1/2 cup flour until fully incorporated, followed by 1/2 cup applesauce.
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Then 1/2 cup flour, the rest of the applesauce, and the rest of the flour. Last add milk a teaspoon at a time if the batter looks too thick. (The more you make this, the more you’ll understand what the final product should be. I think because I used honey this time, it was more dense and needed a little loosening up.)

Lastly add your oats, if desired. Put your mixer on high to break up the oats, otherwise the muffins will be dry. (Add a little milk or more applesauce bifv the batter looks too thick.)
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And/or stir in chopped apples if desired. (Don’t use the mixer!)

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I actually like big chunks best. If you have toddlers or you’re making mini-muffins, you can dice the apples.

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Since I was doing regular sized muffins, I left the chunks bigger:
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If you’re making mini muffins you can dice the Apple, or leave it out altogether.
I love the apples here because they add texture, yet still get soft and warm in the oven. So delicious!
When apples are incorporated, scoop mix into muffin tin. I use a ladle to pour.
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I know many people use an ice cream scoop, but I find this harder to maneuver unless you have one with the little button to push the contents out. Even then you need the exact right size. But you can use whatever you have on hand. Maybe all you have is two tablespoons. That’s ok. Just fill them as evenly as possible so they all cook the same.

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I fill them just about to the top

Bake for about 20 minutes (mini-muffins for 15-17). They are finished when the tops look dry and are a little springy to the touch. If you’re not sure you can always use the classic test – stick a toothpick in the middle, and if it comes out clean, they’re done.
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But wait!

If you want a little something extra, you can cook a bit of oats in a pat or two of butter in the microwave (only takes a few seconds -10 TOPS!) Then stir in some cinnamon and/or some sugar in the raw. Then spoon this on top of the muffins BEFORE you bake. I do this because I feel like it’s healthier, easier, and quicker than an official strudel topping (as delicious as those are!) which is what I was going for when I first made these.

This recipe makes at least 14 muffins, though if you use apples you will probably get another 1-2 from it.
Keep in a plastic bag on the counter for up to a week. Be sure not to completely seal the bag so they don’t get too mushy.

Hope your family enjoys our favorite muffins!

From my kitchen to yours: Enjoy !

Spanish Pork Loin with Apple Slaw

In 24 hours, I have fallen completely in love with this pork loin recipe. Maybe infatuated is the better term. The rub gives you heat, spice, and a little salt. The apple slaw/salsa/whatever you want to call it adds a little sweet, a little sour, a little cooling effect, and good texture. I could probably eat this for the next several days and not grow tired of it. It’s that complex and well thought out.

That said, I wish I had thought of this myself. Alas, I found it on Pinterest or Google or through some other search engine. Click here for the original recipe.  As usual, I modified a bit. Some due to the fact that the original recipe only calls for 1lb of pork (who buys a pork loin that’s only 1lb?!) and mine was a little over 4, but also to adjust so it wasn’t too spicy and my kids could still eat it.

The adjustments I made are below:

THE RUB
Instead of TEASPOON measurements, I used TABLESPOON, plus a little more. I’d say maybe half a tablespoon more than what it called for.
I did not have pimenton, so I used regular old paprika. (Thank goodness, I thought, a mild seasoning!)

THE TRIMMING
I did trim the loin lengthwise, removing a piece of fat that ran the whole length of the pork. But I left the rest of the little bits on for some extra flavor!

THE SALSA
I did not measure anything. I diced one average size Granny Smith, used the juice from one large lime, peeled a little of the peel off, approximated the cilantro, and substituted about 1/8cup applesauce for apple juice (only because I forgot juice at the store – but to our benefit. I think it would’ve been too watery with juice). The only thing that was exact was the jalapeno. I had exactly 1 half left from guacamole I made last week. I finely diced it though (don’t think the kids would appreciate strips of jalapeno!).

THE COOKING
I’m sure this is great on an outdoor grill, but when I made this last night it was 16º during the day time. I wasn’t about to shovel my deck and stand in the freezing cold. So I cut the loin into fourths before I rubbed it, pulled out the grill pan, smoked my best friend out of my house, and finished it in the oven. I would say 6 minutes on each side is pretty accurate. Maybe a few more. You want it still soft and springy in the middle. Then cook it for about 30 minutes at 375º. Slice and spoon the salsa over top. I served it with broccoli and some Parmesan noodles, but Spanish rice would’ve been the perfect compliment.

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DELICIOUS!!! And the leftovers are perfect to use in my “MINEZOLE” soup. (Recipe to follow, stay tuned!)

Bonus: I discovered that apparently this slaw is the only way my 17mos old will eat the WHOLE apple- not spitting it out after she sucks the juice out. Score!