Saturday Morning Apple Crumble

This is one of my most favorite times of the year.  The morning temperatures are a bit brisk but not too overwhelming and the afternoon sun shines across the fields of trees bearing copper, red, and gold leaves.  As I sip on my first cup of morning coffee, I enjoy nature’s beauty and feel blessed to live on a hilly country road away from the hustle and bustle of city life.  The comforting quiet of the weekend morning is something I will never take for granted as I plan my day and bake/cook for the upcoming week.

Yesterday, my daughter headed to a local orchard to pick up some piping hot apple donuts and a variety of crisp, ripe apples for a weeks worth of lunches.  I slipped a few of the apples out of the bag to assemble this tasty, crisp dessert. If I’m in a hurry, I often use homemade apple sauce as the base for this recipe but it’s quite quick to pull together which ever way you choose to make it.  Serve with a cup of coffee or a scoop of vanilla ice cream… It doesn’t get any better than this.


Saturday Morning Apple Crumble

10 cups apples, peeled, cored and sliced

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup old fashioned oats

1 cup + 2 tablespoons flour

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg, slightly beaten

1/2 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 13X9″ pan by spraying with a non-stick baking spray. Place apples in a large bowl, mix sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, and ground cinnamon together, and sprinkle over apples. Let stand so the mixture becomes juicy as water is released from the fruit.

Meanwhile, combine oats, remaining flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda.  Mix in the egg; stir until combined.  Evenly pour apple mixture into baking dish.  Crumble oat and flour mixture evenly over the apples.  Pour melted butter evenly over the top of the assembled dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.


Toffee and Coffee Brownies

This is one of my family’s favorite brownie recipes.  When my twins were headed back to Purdue after a short fall break, I decided to send along a special “study” treat.  The addition of coffee and chocolate in the recipe are sure to inject a bit of a caffeine boost needed for long study and homework sessions.  

Due to the use of a traditional boxed brownie mix, these chocolatey treats come together quickly.  Adding three eggs to the batter makes for a moist and chewy texture, while the toffee bits contribute to the sweet and crunchy topping for this dessert.  I guarantee these treats won’t last long after you cool and frost them!  They are super rich and delicious! 

By the way, finals week for college students isn’t far off…  Wouldn’t every student love to receive a batch of these gems in a care package? Simply bake the brownies, then cool and wrap.  Next, place a jar of pre-made frosting and a bag of toffee bits into a shipping box along with the brownies.  Your student can frost and sprinkle the toffee mixture over the batch after the package has arrived. Don’t forget to encourage your student to share with friends and floor mates.   Oh, yah… You’ll be one popular parent!

Toffee and Coffee Brownies

1 package brownie mix for 13 X 9″ pan

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1/4 cup brewed coffee

1 stick (1/2 cup) melted butter, slightly cooled

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1 cup milk chocolate chips, optional

For Topping

1 16 ounce container of rich and creamy pre-made milk chocolate frosting

2 cups Heath Toffee Bits

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9 x 13″ pan with non-stick baking spray and set aside. 

In a large bowl, combine brownie mix with eggs, coffee, butter, and extract.  Stir in optional chocolate chips.  Continue to stir until thoroughly combined, about 50 strokes. Evenly pour and spread brownie batter into prepared pan.  Bake according to package directions, usually 20 – 28 minutes. 

Allow to cool completely.  Spread a thick layer of pre-made milk chocolate frosting over brownies; sprinkle liberally with Heath Toffee Bits. Serve and store in an air-tight container.

Sweet and Spicy Pickled Peppers

The first day of fall has hit the Midwestern region and it seems that gardens are producing a bounty of veggies that need to be picked and processed before the cooler temperatures set in.  Once again, a few local growers were kind enough to share an abundance of beautiful produce that was beyond what they could consume.  I was thrilled to see a small bag of assorted hot peppers in the mix.  The orange, red, and green, color combination would make for a beautiful display in canning jars. Because I would only have enough to fill one large jar, I decided to make refrigerator pickled peppers rather than canning them with a water bath method.  This is a quick and simple way to make the great tasting flavor of the peppers last as they sit on the refrigerator shelf and marinate in the sweet and spicy vinegar solution.  Use these peppers to top an Italian salad or to add some flavor to a grilled sandwich. Simply delicious!

Sweet and Spicy Pickled Peppers

2-4 cups sliced peppers

2 cups white vinegar

1⅓ cup water

1 tablespoon canning salt

2 tsp sugar

Canning jar(s) with tight fitting lid(s)

Wash jar(s) with warm soapy water; air dry.  Pack the sliced peppers in jar(s).  Set jar(s) aside.

In a saucepan, combine vinegar, water, salt, and sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar completely.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Remove from heat and let cool.

Pour mixture over the peppers making sure they are completely covered. Twist on a tight fitting lid and store in the refrigerator. As the peppers sit, the flavors will develop. Store refrigerated for 4-6 weeks.

Homemade Concord Grape Juice

Well, it’s that time of year again!  Ready for the picking are clusters of deep purple grapes hanging off of the vines in my back yard.  While the last couple of years have brought bumper crops to our lot, this year’s pickings have been a bit slim. This didn’t stop me from making a few of our family favorites…flavorful grape juice and grape jam.

There’s no greater satisfaction than to grow and process your own produce.  Several years ago I planted two Concord grape pods and they have grown to cover a large open area with a plentiful bounty of fruit.  Fresh air, rain and sunshine nourish the plants throughout the summer months until the gorgeous fruit are ready for picking.  I don’t water, fertilize, trim or fuss.  This is my kind of gardening!  The reward for leaving the plant to do what it naturally does; lots and lots of grape jam and juice that will last throughout the year.

Above is the recipe from the Ball Blue Book published by Alltrista Corporation.

Here is another method that produces similar results…
Homemade Concord Grape Juice

2 cups washed and cleaned concord grapes

1/2 cup sugar

Boiling water

In sterilized jar place 2 cups grapes. 

Add 1/2 cup sugar.  

Fill with boiling water leaving 1/2″ headspace. 

Seal jars at once with 2 piece lids. Process in water-bath canner for 10 minutes. Remove from canner and let sit for 24 hours.  Remove metal lid-bands, and label with date and contents.  Let juice stand 3 to 4 weeks before using. (The longer you let it sit, the greater the concentration.) Strain juice from grapes and use juice. Refrigerate after opening. 

For a great tasting homemade Grape Jam, try this Ball Blue Book recipe…

Piper’s Homemade Biscuits

We were recently invited out for a daylong boat ride during this year’s Air and Water Show in Chicago.  Everyone contributed drinks, appetizers, desserts, and other munchies.  As I prepared for the outing, I realized that our hosts would be bringing along their dog, Piper.  I quickly searched on-line sites for an appropriate recipe to make dog biscuits for our four-legged friend.  I remembered the owners mentioning that their dog liked peanut butter so I looked for recipes that focused on this crunchy treat. Here are a few of the recipes that I found…

I decided to make the easiest of the bunch, Gus’ Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits. (I called them Piper’s Peanut Butter Biscuits.)  The recipe includes whole wheat, peanut butter, milk, and an egg.  I laughed as I shared the recipe with the owners and said that these ingredients could make a healthy snack for both dogs and humans!  For added effect, I baked the treats and placed them in a cute container with a bit of ribbon and a cookie cutter.  This way, the owners could make another batch if Piper enjoyed them.  While we didn’t feed her any of the treats on the boat ride, I’m told she found them to be absolutely delicious once she returned home.  

What any easy way to provide your dog with a great snack from your own kitchen…

Late Summer Zucchini Quick Bread

How many of you have loads of zucchini that are ripe and ready for picking?  Just a few plants seem to produce lots of long slender veggies that taste great sliced and sautéed with carrots and onions, diced and cooked into a spicy spaghetti sauce, or shredded and dumped into your favorite quick bread recipe.  

A local farmer dropped off a bag full of produce last week. I was delighted to see the assortment of zucchini that often overwhelm the garden. I graciously thanked my friend and scooped up the zucchini with this delicious recipe in mind.

Tip: I always use my food processor to shred a summer’s worth of zucchini and then place in freezer bags in 2 or 4 cup quantities.  (Label with date, product, and amount).  This way I have zucchini ready whenever I want to bake this quick bread throughout the year.  

This recipe yields four deliciously moist loaves that can be eaten, frozen, or given away as fresh baked gifts from the kitchen.  Don’t forget to share a loaf or two with a local grower who might be inclined to share some freshly picked produce when he/she has more than they can use.

Late Summer Zucchini Quick Bread 

6 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoon baking powder

6 teaspoons ground cinnamon

6 eggs

 2 cup vegetable oil

4 cups white sugar

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

4 cups grated zucchini

2 cup chopped walnuts

2 cups raisins

1 package instant oatmeal for topping, any flavor

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray with cooking spray, four 8 x 4 inch pans.  In a very large bowl, mix flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together.

Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a separate large bowl. Add wet ingredients to the dry mixture, and beat well. Stir in zucchini, nuts, and raisins until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans. Sprinkle flavored instant oatmeal evenly over batter.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 20-30 minutes. Carefully, remove from pan, and cool completely.

Fresh from the Garden Refrigerator Pickles

I was pleasantly surprised this week when a co-worker brought in a big bag of freshly picked pickling cucumbers and plopped them on the break room table.  She announced that the cucumbers were from her father’s garden and that anyone was welcome to take as many as they liked.  Straight away, I scooped up a good majority of the pickles and packed them away for one of my favorite summer projects.  When I returned home from work that evening, I began the task at hand, slicing the veggies for my refreshing refrigerator pickles.  

This recipe yields several jars of a delicious, crunchy, sweet condiment.  Use a variety of green, red, or yellow  peppers to add a bit of color to the mix.  You will love the ease at which this recipe comes together (ridiculously easy). More importantly, you will love the taste of these refreshingly delicious refrigerator pickles!

Fresh from the Garden Refrigerator Pickles

1 cup distilled white vinegar

1 tablespoon salt

1 1/2 cups white sugar

1/4 cup mixed pickling spice

6 cups sliced pickling cucumbers

1 cup sliced onions

1 cup sliced green bell peppers

In a medium saucepan, bring vinegar, salt and sugar to a boil. Simmer until the sugar has dissolved, 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, drop a teaspoon of pickling spices into the bottom of each sterilized canning jar.  

Tightly pack the mixture of cucumbers, onions and green bell peppers into jars. Pour the vinegar mixture over the vegetables, covering vegetables completely.  Twist on lids and store in the refrigerator for three days before serving.