Shhhh!!! Secret Recipe Alert!

Okay, perhaps, not all that secret but here is my way to up the grade on homemade apple pie or apple crisp.

When I first started baking, my mother’s ‘secret’ suggestion was to add lemon juice to the apple dessert prep. Fresh lemon juice does up the apple/cinnamon taste and people often wondered how my mother’s apple desserts were just a wee bit better.

I was an abstract artist in college and this inclination has seeped down into my baking and sewing over the years. In other words, I never leave well enough alone if I get inspired to add something more. So, this is how my latest apple dessert preparations has evolved.

1. Wash, peel, and slice the amount of green apples you will need for your planned dessert. When they are on hand, I will often throw in a couple of sweeter apples, too. They break down a bit more in baking and sort of form an applesauce texture to the more firm green variety.

2. First, I zest the lemons and limes and set it aside. Then toss the prepared apples with the juice and let them sit a minute while I gather the spices and sugar.

3. I usually use up to 3 teaspoons of ground cinnamon. Use a good quality one as the ones on the grocery shelves can be a bit bitter. My go-to for the best cinnamon is The Spice House which is on-line. To the cinnamon, I add half a teaspoon of ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and a smidge of salt.

4. Depending on your recipe, mix the spices into one to two cups of granulated sugar. Add the zest of the lemons and limes.

5. Combine the sugar/spice/zest mixture with the apples. If you really want to deepen the final result, a quarter cup of brandy works very well.

6. Add a quarter cup of cornstarch, mixing in well. This is what will hold the apples together a bit after baking.

7. This is my final secret. Put the prepared apples into a bowl or container, cover and refrigerate at least one day before using them in your recipe. My batch for this Thanksgiving got a two-day soak.

8. When you get to making your pie crust, substitute a quarter cup or so of the water called with vodka. It makes for a more tender crust.

Time is wasting so one guess what I’m about to put into the oven!

Easy Thanksgiving Side Dish!

Okay, I’m old school in that no matter the reason for the meal, there will be either a salad or some sort of vegetable dish in attendance. I recently realized that the lowly and often misunderstood Brussel Sprout can claim a place of note at the dinner table.

Welcome Brussel Sprout Dish

2 pounds of cleaned and trimmed Brussel Sprouts
2 large green apples, unpeeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 medium red onion, peeled and diced in medium pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil . . . or more depending on your tastes
1 tablespoon of Balsamic Vinegar (check the vinegar aisle at the store)
2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
Zest of one lime and one orange
Salt and Pepper to taste

Tose the sprouts with all the ingredients making sure everything gets a shiny coat of olive oil. Place in a baking dish and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until they are just tender. Taste for seasonings and serve.

Thanksgiving Is When?

Somehow, I seem to have misplaced a few days of allotted time and it was suddenly revealed to that Thanksgiving is NEXT week! How could that be as it would mean Christmas can’t be too far behind. First Sunday in Advent is closing in which means that the holiday season is showing up long before I can get my ‘comfort and joy’ into holiday gear!

I have spent the last two days working on my schedule for preparing the Thanksgiving feast. Yes, I have a day-by-day schedule and so help the person who moves it from its place on the counter for easy referencing! Then, the second page sets out the order of the menu along with what days they need to be prepped or completed. My husband deals with the turkey but, given my organizational gene, he gets hourly reminders on that. The third page is my grocery list according to store. You can’t stock up too soon but one does not want to fight the last-minute panic at Walmart and Costco where people grab the pumpkin pies from the harried clerks the minute they appear from the bakery.

Along with the food aspect, I have the house cleaning schedule with a request that each person highlight the job they have accomplished . . . and so help them, if it doesn’t reflect a job well done as they will lose their highlighter marker and go back to step one.

With these happy reflections in mind, I actually don’t mind Monday and Tuesday of THANKSGIVING WEEK, my last two days of sanity! We don’t have a large house but it is amazing how family members can escape me without leaving said house.

Monday is bread baking day and cranberry relish day. With very little prep, these items bake/cook on their own leaving me to hunt down missing relatives who seem to be afraid of me for some reason.

All this, as you might have guessed, is a prelude to sharing my cranberry relish recipe!

Cranberry Relish

4 cups of fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of freshly-squeezed orange juice
Finely grated zest of said orange BEFORE you squeeze it
2 peeled and diced green apples
dash of cinnamon
dash of salt

Rinse the cranberries and add to a large pot with all the ingredients and bring to a boil (stirring constantly) and then reduce to a mild simmer with stirring ever so often. Keep cooking until all the berries burst, the apples soften, and the mixture thickens. If you don’t feel it is thick enough, mix a tablespoon of cornstarch into a quarter cup of water, add to the pot, stir and continue simmering until it reaches a thicker state.

Now, you have a choice! Do you want sauce with the evidence of the fruit basically intact or do you want smooth? When it cools down a bit, you can blend the mixture in a blender until it reaches the texture you like.

A timesaver hint is when you are ready to refrigerate the cranberries, you can put them in the serving dish you planned for them, cover with saran and put in the refrigerator. On the day (and don’t forget them!), you just have to pull it out, remove the saran, add a serving spoon, and place on the table. Want a more rustic approach, get some medium canning jars for the sauce and you can then provide easy access to it for your guests with several jars on the table. You can put a ribbon around the jars to show everyone how classy you are at the holidays. AND, when the party is over, combine the leftover sauce into one or two jars, put the lid on and back into the refrigerator for leftovers time.

Thanksgiving 2016

As the years go by so do changes become more noticeable. Over the years, we have had a person unable to come here and there but there was always next year to look forward to for everyone to once again gather around the table and share food and conversation. Children, however, seem to have grown by leaps and bounds and making their own ways in life. This year, we were missing my older daughter who now lives too far away to come home for a mere dinner. My older son hasn’t made it home for a Thanksgiving in almost nine years. Now, the ‘baby’ of the family had to work on Thanksgiving Day although we did take him a care package of all the fixings the next day.

Our favorite family has shared the holiday with us for probably going on almost ten years now. Their mother and their youngest were not there and missed a lot. The mother was working and the ‘baby’ of her family is now in the convent. BUT, we were joined by a future member of their family, their daughter’s fiance.

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Once the food was set before us, we coped with out them and ate well and happily!

Every year finds me trying one or two new recipes, usually in the dessert department. This year, it was a banana cream pie with layers of said fruit, caramel, and homemade graham crackers with generous portions of fresh, whipped cream. The other one was a cheesecake baked with a layer of pumpkin.

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The day was good, the food was good yet it finished with a bit of nostalgia with all the changes in our lives and the quick passing of time. God is good!

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Preparing for Thanksgiving – The Day Before!

Well, my list and step-by-step notes looked a lot easier to accomplish then the actual work. Why is that? Could it be that laundry, children needing to get here and there for work, and stopping for needed nutrient re-enforcement had something to do with that? Well, we started the morning off with Mass so I suppose things could have gone way wrong or become more tiresome than normally expected. Anyway, done for the day although my poor husband is mopping floors to do. And, like a puzzle, we actually found room for most of today’s dishes in the refrigerator. We have, however, learned to never expect that to be easy and have ice chests standing by for anything that might not make the A-team in the modern appliance.

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Today, was dessert baking day. Since we have gone gluten-free, I’m always looking for the perfect pie crust recipe. Every year, the pie crusts have been more than adequate but not up to comparing with it’s wheat flour version. This year, success! I was even able to bake a crust for filling with chocolate/peanut butter custard and it turned out tender and flaky. Once I saw I was finally on the right track with this gluten-free recipe, it made baking the pumpkin and pecan pies more enjoyable. There is also an apple crisp cooling on the counter for anyone who doesn’t like any of the other choices . . . or wants some of EVERY choice available. It happens at Thanksgiving.

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I read that people generally consume a bit more calories at Thanksgiving. Wow, they figured that out, huh? Seems the calorie count can get up to 5,000. I went with some healthier choices on the menu this year and have three salads ready for tomorrow, too.P1010057

Our new kitten, Buster, doesn’t get up on counters or into too much trouble but is enjoying all the hustle and bustle going on today. Wait until he gets to try his first bit of turkey tomorrow.

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