Cooking

Cinnamon Pear Coffee Cake

Cinnamon Pear Coffeecake

This pear-studded cake is perfect to have with that morning cup of coffee- or for dessert. The tender cake is topped with chopped pears, cubes of cream cheese, cinnamon sugar and a vanilla glaze. The taste is amazing. I used Bartlett pears, but any ripe pear would work.

I will say up front, that this is not the prettiest cake out there. It comes out of the oven kind of lumpy, from all those pears and the tiny cubes of cream cheese. Once you top it with the cinnamon sugar, and later the glaze, it looks a lot better. It is one of the tastiest cakes, though, and isn’t that what’s important?

So if you want to enjoy one of my favorite Autumn fruits in a new way- try making this simple, tasty pear coffeecake. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Cinnamon Pear Coffeecake

1 stick (½ cup) butter

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 c. half and half

1 c. all-purpose flour

1 c. sugar

2 t. baking powder

2 t. cinnamon

1 t. vanilla

½ t. salt

2 lbs. pears, about 4 large, cored, peeled and sliced *

8 oz. cream cheese, cut in small pieces

Topping

3 T. cinnamon sugar

Glaze:

½ c. powdered sugar

1-2 T. milk

½ t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter and pour into a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. In a small bowl, mix together the egg, half and half, flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, vanilla and salt. Pour directly over the butter in the baking dish, but do not stir. Drain pears well. Add the pears, arranging in a single layer as much as possible. Sprinkle cream cheese pieces over fruit. Place in preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until top is golden brown and edges are bubbling. When you remove the cake from the oven, sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar. Set cake aside to cool.  Make glaze by combining glaze ingredients. Add just enough milk for a nice consistency for drizzling. Drizzle over cooled cake. Store leftovers in fridge. Serves 12.

* To keep pears from discoloring place in a bowl with 2 cups of water and 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Apple Pie “Blintzes”

Apple Pie Blintzes

Since I posted the recipe for making your own apple pie filling yesterday, I thought I’d share a fun way to use it- other than in a pie. In tortilla class the other night, we made “blintzes” with the pie filling.

We used flour tortillas for the crepes. Don’t get me wrong, I love making real crepes. But, when you don’t have the time, the tortillas are a fun and tasty substitute.We soaked the tortillas in milk. By soaking the tortillas in milk, they soften up, and can be used like a crepe. Soak them for about 10 minutes, or up to 30 minutes. If you don’t want to soak them in milk, you can use a milk substitute or even juice or water.

After they are filled, the blintzes are toasted in a pan with butter, than dusted with powdered sugar. They are so tasty. Like a warm apple pie. These were a big hit in class

Apple Pie Blintzes

10-12 flour tortillas

1/2 c. milk

2 c. apple pie filling

3-4 T. butter

Powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar, for topping the blintzes

For the filling, I used some of my homemade apple pie filling. If you have fresh apples, you can just peel and slice the apples, then cook them in a little water and sugar until softened. You can make them as sweet as you like. You made need less sugar if the apples are extra sweet. Add some cinnamon and nutmeg, too. If they are too watery- combine a little cornstarch with cold water and drizzle the mixture in until the apples thicken up. Don’t add too quickly or you might them too thick and gummy.

Place tortillas in a shallow pan, drizzling with a little milk as you go. Set aside for a few minutes, so the tortillas will soften.

To assemble the blintzes, place a softened tortilla on your work surface and spoon a little apple filling in the middle. You can do this with hot filling, but cold or room temperature filling is easier to use. Don’t over fill them or you won’t be able to fold them up. I used 8-inch tortillas and used about 1/3 cup of filling for each one. Fold the sides in until they almost meet in the middle and them roll the tortilla up to cover the filling. Place seam side down until ready to fry them.

Heat butter in a skillet, and brown the blintzes over medium heat until lightly toasted on both sides. They will be crispy on the outside, but tender in the middle. Put on a serving plate, sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve while warm. These are fine just as they are, but feel free to add ice cream or whipped cream, too.

I have made these before and use different fruit fillings. I’ve even made a cheese filled version a few times. It seems I usually have a package of tortillas, so it is a go-to dessert for me in a pinch.

How to Can Apple Pie Filling

Apple Pie Filling

While I think the best pie is made with fresh apples, I also like making and canning my own apple pie filling. It is a handy way for me to enjoy local apples throughout the year. It is also a whole lot better than any commercial pie filling I have tried. Loaded with plenty of big chunks of apples and seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg- I think it the next best thing to fresh apples for baking.

I use my canned pie filling  to make pies, but I also use it for kolachy, blintzes, cakes and more.

The hard part, for some, is getting a hold of Clear Gel. It is a special type of modified cornstarch. I buy mine online, but you can find it in stores where the Amish shop. Clear Gel stays thick, even if it is reheated. Regular cornstarch will not. Don’t use Instant Clear Gel, either.

Here is the recipe I use. You can tweak the seasonings to suit your own taste, but keep in mind that spices sometimes get stronger when canned, so don’t go too crazy!! You can always add more spices when you use your pie filling.

Apple Pie Filling

6 qts. apples, sliced and blanched

5 1/2 c. sugar

1 1/2 c. Clear Gel- modified cornstarch available on line and in Amish stores

1 T. cinnamon

1 t. nutmeg

2 1/2 c. cold water

5 c. apple juice

3/4 c. lemon juice

If apples lack tartness, use an additional 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Wash, peel and core apples and cut into 1/2 thick slices. Place in water treated with either lemon juice, citric acid or ascorbic acid to prevent darkening. Remove from solution and drain well. Blanch in boiling water- 2 quarts at a time- for 1 minute. As you finish each batch place in a bowl and cover to keep warm. In large pot combine sugar, Clear Gel, cinnamon, nutmeg, water and apple juice. Stir over medium heat until mixture begins to bubble and thicken. Add lemon juice and boil 1 minute. Add drained apples and stir gently to combine. Ladle into hot, clean jars leaving 1 1/2 inches of headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rims and adjust lids.  Process in a boiling water bath- pints or quarts for 25 minutes. After the time is up, turn off canner and let jars sit in water bath for 5 minutes before removing. This will reduce the chance of siphoning.  Makes 7 quarts or 14 pints.

For only 1 quart

3 1/2 c. apples

3/4 plus 2 T. sugar

1/4 c. Clear Gel

1/2 t. cinnamon

1/8 t. nutmeg

1/2 c. cold water

3/4 c. apple juice

2 T. lemon juice

Halloween Quesadillas

Halloween Quesadillas

OK, maybe I’m taking the whole Halloween theme too far. I was making quesadillas the other day, and realized that the ingredients were black, orange and green. Thought the combination would be perfect for a Halloween party.

Quesadillas are a fun party food already, and by using black olives, orange sweet peppers, green chilies, onions and cheddar cheese,  they fit in well with the color scheme for Halloween. They taste great, too, which is always the most important thing in the end.

Of course other ingredients can be used. In the tortilla cooking class last night, we also had nopales and green enchilada sauce.

I pan fried these, but you can also bake them in the oven. They can be made ahead, and warmed up before serving. Serve with a nice blood- red salsa. Ok, I’ll stop now.

Halloween Quesadillas

Large flour tortillas

oil

sliced or shredded cheese

sliced black olives

chopped orange sweet peppers

chopped sweet onion

diced green chilies, fresh or canned

Mix olives with veggies and set aside. Place tortilla on work surface and spread one half with some of the veggie mixture. Top with some of the cheese and fold over. Press slightly. Repeat with remaining ingredients.  Heat oil in skillet and cook quesadillas over medium heat until golden on both sides and heated through. Remove to cutting board and cut into wedges before serving. Serve on a platter with sour cream and salsa, if desired.

Note: If you would rather bake the quesadillas assemble as directed above. Place on a baking sheet and brush with a little oil. Bake in a preheated  425 degree oven until golden, about 15 minutes.

Pumpkin Cheese Dip

“Pumpkin” Cheese Dip

This is a pretty way to serve dips this time of year. The dip bakes inside the pumpkin- and the pumpkin bakes, too. It is served hot. Fun for Halloween, Thanksgiving, or just movie night with the family.

It really is simple and could be filled with any number of combinations of cheesy goodness. I have included the recipe I used in the picture. I also included my recipe for Spinach and Artichoke Dip, to give you another option.

You could also add a hot cheese sauce and serve like fondue, with long forks and pieces of bread.

You just get a pie pumpkin, about 2-3 lbs. Cut off the top to make a lid and scoop out the seeds, like you would if you were making a Jack-o-Lantern. Wipe off the outside and then just fill it up with the dip mixture. Put the lid back on, bake for an hour, and you are good to go. The fun part is scraping some of the cooked pumpkin in with the cheese dip. More detailed directions follow.

So here is the recipe for making the cheesy filled pumpkin. I think it is simple enough to serve anytime, not just on a holiday. Enjoy!!

“Pumpkin” Cheese Dip

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut off top of pumpkin. Cut in at an angle, so top will fit like a lid and not fall in.  Set top aside. Scoop out seeds and clean out any stringy bits*.  Set pumpkin on a baking sheet. Combine cheese filling of your choice and place inside the pumpkin.  Place the top of the pumpkin back on the pumpkin, and place in oven. Bake for 1 hour. Remove pumpkin and place on heat proof dish. I used a glass pie plate. Remove lid. Serve with crusty bread or crackers.

Smoky Cheese Dip

8 oz. cream cheese, cubed

4 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

8 oz. bacon, cooked and crumbled

½ c. sour cream

¼ c. mayo

¼ c. chopped parsley

½ t. each cumin and smoked paprika

Pinch of nutmeg

½ c. hulled pumpkin seeds

In medium bowl, stir together all ingredients, except the seeds. Place this mixture in the pumpkin when ready to bake. Don’t add the pumpkin seeds until right before serving. Stir them in a little, if you like.

Another nice choice…….

Spinach  and Artichoke Dip

1 (12-14 oz.) can artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped

10 oz. package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

8 oz. cream cheese, cubed

4 oz. shredded cheddar cheese

½ c. diced onion

¼ c. Italian dressing

Dash of hot sauce

In medium bowl, combine dip ingredients, stirring to combine. Place in pumpkin when ready to bake.

* You can rinse off the seeds, lightly salt them and toast them, if you like. Then serve with the pumpkin dip. If you aren’t interested in eating them- please put them outside for the birds to eat.

Homemade Popcorn Balls

Homemade Popcorn Balls

I have fond memories of eating popcorn balls when I was a kid. One memory was during the summer. An amusement park near my home was famous for their popcorn balls. Every time we went there, we would end the day with popcorn balls.

The other memory was making our own, around Halloween. They seem to be a part of more than a few Halloween parties when I was younger.

I don’t make them often, but popcorn balls are always a special treat for friends and family. This recipe is pretty easy. Kids, supervised, could help make them. You just have to make sure the mix cools down enough before you let them form the popcorn into balls.

I am a bit of a purist and enjoy them plain, but you can add Halloween themed candies to the mix, to dress them  up for a party. Candy corn or black and orange M&M’s would both work.

The recipe calls for corn syrup. If you don’t want to use corn syrup, my recipe for a corn syrup substitute, (sugar syrup) is listed below.

Homemade Popcorn Balls

9 c. popped popcorn
1 c. sugar
1 T. butter
1 T. vanilla
1 c. corn syrup*

Place popcorn in large bowl and set aside. Combine sugar, butter, vanilla and corn syrup in a saucepan. Heat and boil until thick, about 4 minutes. Pour over popcorn. Stir until well coated. Let cool until safe enough to handle. With buttered hands form mixture into balls. Store wrapped tightly in plastic wrap until ready to eat. Best eaten within a few days of making. Makes about 8.

*If you don’t have corn syrup- or don’t want to use it here is a way to make a substitute for it.

Sugar Syrup- corn syrup substitute

3  cups granulated sugar

1 cup Water

1/2  tsp. Cream of Tartar

1/4 t. salt

Combine ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and cover the pot. Reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 5 minutes. Uncover and cook to soft-ball stage. Stir frequently.

Soft ball stage occurs at 235-245 degrees. This stage can be determined by dropping a spoonful of hot syrup into a bowl of very cold water. In the water, use your fingers to gather the cooled syrup into a ball. If it has reached soft-ball stage, the syrup easily forms a ball while in the cold water, but flattens once removed from the water.

Remove from heat. Cool and store at room temperature. It will keep well for a month or two.

Mom’s Waldorf Salad

Mom’s Waldorf Salad

I can’t remember the last time I made a Waldorf Salad. Don’t know why it took me so long. The combination of sweet/tart apples with crunchy celery, nuts and raisins is such a classic. I remember my mom when making it. She made such a nice Waldorf salad. It always felt like a special occasion when she did.

The salad could not be simpler. Just a few ingredients, tossed together and seasoned. I went pretty basic this time, but you can add all sorts of extras like proteins (chicken, turkey, ham etc.). You can add different dried fruits, too. Dried cranberries or cherries would be wonderful.

I didn’t peel the apples. I like the peel, but you can peel them, if you prefer. I also used toasted walnuts, but feel free to play around with using other nuts or seeds. This time of year, toasted pepitas, (pumpkin seeds, hulled) would be a nice, seasonal addition.

So hear is the recipe.

Mom’s Waldorf Salad

4 apples, cored and diced, peeling is optional

1 c. diced celery

1 c. raisins or other dried fruit like cranberries or cherries

½-1 c. mayonnaise

1 c. toasted walnuts or pecans*

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine apples with celery and raisins. Stir to combine and add mayo to your liking. Stir in nuts and season to taste. Nice served on a bed of greens. Serves 4.

Variations: Mom sometimes added grapes instead of raisins. She would cut them in half. The grapes will make the salad wetter over time, where the raisins plump and absorb moisture, so add grapes right before serving or leave them whole. Another classic addition is chicken. In this recipe, a couple of cups of cooked, diced chicken make it a different, but still tasty salad. Diced turkey is also fun and a nice way to use after Thanksgiving turkey. Same for ham. Diced ham adds a smokiness that pairs great with the apples. Just use less salt if adding ham.

* To toast nuts, place on a baking sheet and bake in a 325 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, or until nuts are toasted, but not burned.

“Bat” Wings

“Bat” Wings

With Halloween fast approaching I thought I’d share this recipe for bat wings. OK, not really bat wings, but you already knew that. I just add black food coloring to barbecue sauce and use it to color chicken wings. I made a batch for a Halloween party a few years ago and someone actually asked if they were real bat wings.

A word of warning- when you use black food coloring it will transfer to you. No matter how careful you are when you eat the wings, you’ll end up with purple fingers.  Also, for the best effect, keep the wings intact- no trimming off of the tips.  You can separate the drums before serving, if you like. Makes eating a little easier. They look pretty cool when set out on the table. Creepy- but very tasty.

Bat Wings

2-3 lbs. whole chicken wings

salt and pepper

1 c. barbecue sauce- store bought or home made

black food coloring- handle carefully- it stains

Place chicken wings in a roasting pan, season with salt and pepper and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 30 minutes. Meanwhile in medium bowl combine sauce with food coloring. Add just a little black food coloring at a time. Too much will alter the flavor of the food. Remove wings from the oven and dip them in the bowl of sauce. Turn to coat. Place wings on a clean baking sheet and return to the oven. Bake an addition 45 minutes. You can baste them with additional sauce during the baking, if you like.  Place on a serving platter and provide plenty of napkins.

A pile of "bat" wings

A pile of “bat” wings

Butternut Squash Saute

Butternut Squash Saute

Winter squash season is here, and I could not be happier. I love the variety of squash (and pumpkin) at the markets this time of year. They are both beautiful and tasty.

This dish is a combination of butternut squash with onions, garlic, carrots, and finished off with black sesame seeds. It makes a great, seasonal side dish. Might also be a fun dish for Halloween, because of the colors.

I used butternut squash, but you could use any number of hard squashes, or even pumpkin. If you are looking for a different way to cook some of those squash- try this dish. I think you might be surprised at just how good it is.

When cutting up hard squashes, you have to be careful not to cut yourself. A round, hard  squash, with a tough outer skin can be a recipe for disaster. I trim a small slice off one end of my squash, creating a flat side. Then I lay it down on that side, to make it more stable for cutting. With the butternut, once it was sliced on one side, I was able to cut in in half pretty easily.

To peel a hard squash, so you can cut it into cubes, use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin. You will need to run the peeler over the skin a few times to get off all of it. Then cut into cubes.

Thanks, Irene, for the squash!!

Butternut Squash Sauté

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic

4 cups cubed fresh butternut, acorn or Hubbard squash or pumpkin

1/2 cup grated carrot

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 teaspoons black sesame seeds, or a bit more

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and garlic; cook and stir until the onions begin to brown. Stir in the squash, carrot, soy sauce, salt, and pepper; cook, covered, another 5 to 7 minutes, until squash is tender. Sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving.

Caramel Apples

Caramel Apple dipped in Pumpkin Seeds

Making caramel apples is a wonderful childhood memory for me. Every Autumn, we would make a batch. We used those little store-bought caramels. I was often the one tasked with unwrapping them. I can remember unwrapping one after the other. It seemed to take forever.

I wanted to make my own caramel, so that is what I did. It is so much better than the store-bought version.

Caramel is not that hard to make. You do need to keep an eye on it. Stir constantly. Just a hint, be sure your candy thermometer is really secure. Mine was a little slippy on the pan I was using. At one point the thermometer slid into the caramel. Not what you want to have happen!!!

Once dipped in the caramel, you can dip the bottom of the apples in nuts, pumpkin seeds, sprinkles, cereal, or even popcorn.

Homemade Caramel Apples

1/2 c. butter, cut in cubes

2 c. packed brown sugar

1 c. corn syrup*

pinch of salt

1 can sweetened condensed milk

2 t. vanilla

8-12 apples

chopped nuts, pumpkin seeds, cereal, sprinkles, popcorn for dipping the bottoms of the caramel apples, optional

In heavy saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, syrup and salt. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. This will take about 10 minutes. Add milk and bring mixture up to 248 degrees. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Place a Popsicle stick, skewer or chopstick down the center of each apple. Dip apples in the caramel, allowing excess to drip off- or not. Dip bottoms of apples into nuts, seeds or whatever ingredient you picked. Place on wax paper and allow to set up. If you don’t want to dip the bottoms in anything, place the dipped apples on lightly buttered wax paper. Cool before serving. Makes 8-12 caramel apples.

Note: You could also use pears in the recipe.

*If you don’t have corn syrup- or don’t want to use it here is a way to make a substitute for it.

Sugar Syrup- corn syrup substitute

3  cups granulated sugar

1 cup Water

1/2  tsp. Cream of Tartar

1/4 t. salt

Combine ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and cover the pot. Reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 5 minutes. Uncover and cook to soft-ball stage. Stir frequently.

Soft ball stage occurs at 235-245 degrees. This stage can be determined by dropping a spoonful of hot syrup into a bowl of very cold water. In the water, use your fingers to gather the cooled syrup into a ball. If it has reached soft-ball stage, the syrup easily forms a ball while in the cold water, but flattens once removed from the water.

Remove from heat. Cool and store at room temperature. It will keep well for a month or two.

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