Monday, September 29, 2014

Apple Cinnamon Blondies

This is a simple recipe that will quickly get something cookie-like, cake-like, and apple-y ready for dessert or afternoon snacks or lunchboxes. It makes up a pan of blondies studded with apples and walnuts and spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. They are moist, but not quite as moist as, say, an apple cake, and, like other forms of brownie or blondie goodness, are cut into neat, slim, hand-held squares that can easily fill a cookie niche.

This pan of goodies mostly involves melting and stirring, plus a little peeling and chopping of an apple. The only extra step is leaving the butter on the stove a little while just to let it brown a bit. That browning adds just a little extra caramel-y, butterscotch-y flavor to the bars. It’s also worth the few extra minutes for the delightful caramel aroma that only the cook gets to experience when the brown sugar and vanilla are whisked into the lightly browned butter.

I think it’s best to cut the apple into a very small dice and to use an apple that’s good for baking, rather than one that tends to stay crisp and firm. The walnuts are, of course, optional, but I really like them here. You might also dry a different nut, like pecans, or add a dried fruit, white chocolate chips, butterscotch chips (as were in the original recipe) or even peanut butter chips.

I’m also thinking that if you don’t have a 9-inch square baking pan as called for in this recipe, you might be able to put this batter into an 8-inch pan instead. The blondies would be slightly thicker and probably require just a bit more baking time. I really wanted to test this theory myself (as an excuse to make these blondies again!), but I have moved on to other apple baked goods! I hope to have more about that in these pages soon. And I hope you’re enjoying apple season as much as I am!

Apple Cinnamon Blondies
Adapted from Food Network Magazine October, 2014

1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 medium-size peeled, finely chopped apple
½ cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9-inch square pan with nonstick cooking spray or prepare similarly as desired.

2. Combine the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Whisk together and set aside.

3. In a medium-size saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Continue cooking until the butter is lightly browned. Remove from the heat and whisk in the brown sugar until smooth. Whisk in the vanilla. Set aside to cool slightly.

4. Whisk the eggs into the cooled butter mixture. Stir in the flour mixture until smooth. Pour into the prepared baking pan, smoothing the batter.

5. Bake at 350 F for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned and no longer gooey in the middle. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into squares to serve.

Makes 16 servings.

One year ago: Nasturtium Vinaigrette

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Apple Baked Oatmeal

In August, when I was on a little vacation, I had a lovely baked oatmeal dish for breakfast one day. It was exactly what I hoped it would be and exactly what I wanted for breakfast. I decided it was exactly what I was hoping to be able to make at home.

Well, I didn’t really get a chance to search too hard for a recipe after that, but then I was reading through a copy of The Apple Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso, and found one that looked like what I needed. I finally got a chance to try it out on a lazy Saturday morning, and it was delicious! Still exactly what I want for breakfast!

While I went through all the steps of the recipe on the morning I was going to eat it, I think you could do some of the prep work ahead of time to get breakfast on the table a little faster (although this does need to bake for about an hour.) I think you could mix up the dry ingredients, and cover and store them at room temperature, then mix up the wet ingredients and store them in the refrigerator. The next day, while the oven is preheating, you could cut up the apple, mix the wet and dry ingredients together, mix in the apple, pour into your pan and bake.

I used Cortland apples in this dish, a type with which I’ve had mixed results when baking. This time, they kept their shape and much of their firmness, which I didn’t mind. You could use whatever apple you like to bake with, and if it is an apple that cooks down to a softer texture, you would probably get a baked oatmeal that is moister than what I got. The texture of mine was almost cake-like, which, again, I didn’t mind.

This dish isn’t especially sweet, but you could add maple syrup or more brown sugar to your serving if you’d like. My husband threw himself on a second serving to test this concept with maple syrup and gave it the thumbs-up. You could also use different nuts and dried fruits (or none). I quite liked the dried cranberries and walnuts with the apples and cinnamon. I also quite liked that this makes a full 8-inch square baking dish full of breakfast and the leftovers were also great warmed up for a few days after the original baking day. No effort on weekday mornings: now, that’s exactly what I want for breakfast!

Apple Baked Oatmeal with Walnuts and Cranberries

2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup craisins
1 ½ cups diced apples, peel if desired
3 large eggs
1 cups milk
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray or grease as desired.

2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, baking powder, salt, walnuts and craisins. Toss together to combine. Stir in the apples.

3. In a medium-size bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the milk and brown sugar and whisk together until smooth. Whisk in the cinnamon and nutmeg.

4. Pour the egg mixture over the oat mixture and stir to combine. Pour into the prepared baking dish.

5. Bake at 325 F about 50-60 minutes or until the top is brown and the center is no longer liquid.

Makes 6-8 servings.

One year ago: Parsley Hazelnut Pesto

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Split Pea and Vegetable Curry

A giant cauliflower in my refrigerator pushed me toward making this recipe. Okay, not literally, of course. But, you know, I remembered this recipe seems to need cauliflower to make it right, so I found the journal with my notes about it and prepared to try it again. When I looked at the recipe and saw that it only needed a tiny fraction of that giant vegetable, I plunged ahead anyway. It’s good food. So what if it doesn’t require lots of cauliflower.

This is a thick, stew-y curry with a base of yellow split peas, plenty of potato and a variety of vegetables. In my old notes I wrote, “I feel like the cauliflower is essential.” The underlining is in the original note, so who am I to argue with myself. That being said, other vegetables would be welcome in addition to or as replacements for the cauliflower. The same goes for the other vegetables. While I like the zucchini, the original recipe called for eggplant. Green beans are good, but I only had a few from my garden, so I added sugar snap peas to them. Both are fine.

I like the way the split peas and potatoes thicken this stew, so I probably wouldn’t replace those. I also wouldn’t do much messing around with the spices: fresh ginger, garlic, chile, and toasted cumin seeds. It’s a good, deliciously flavorful balance. I used 2 small chile peppers and quite liked the spice level. You can adjust that to your own taste, of course.

In addition to being hearty and delicious, this is also quite a healthy dish, with a high flavor to calorie ratio. It also has a high whole food quotient with all the good stuff that’s in legumes and vegetables. It’s vegan, too, but even if you eat meat regularly, you won’t miss it in this wholesome curry. I served it with flatbread (I wish I’d had time to make this naan to accompany it!), but I think you could serve it over brown rice, instead.

With cooler weather coming on us, this is a great warming stand-by. Now, about the rest of that cauliflower…

Split Pea and Vegetable Curry
Adapted from Eating Well magazine

1 cup yellow split peas
5 ¼ cups water, divided, plus more if needed
2 cups potato (peeled if desired), cut into ½ inch cubes
1 cup cauliflower, cut into 1-inch (or smaller) pieces
1 cup chopped green beans and/or sugar snap peas
1 small zucchini, chopped
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon canola oil (or other neutral oil)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 finely chopped fresh chile peppers (or to taste)
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
juice of 1 lime

1. Place the split peas in a sieve and rinse well in cold water. Drain well.

2. Place the split peas in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the 5 cups water. Bring to a boil and skim any foam that forms on the surface. Add the potatoes. Return to a boil, reduce the heat and boil gently, uncovered for 5 minutes.

3. Stir in the cauliflower, green beans and/or snap peas, zucchini, carrot, salt and turmeric. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and cook at a gentle boil until the vegetables are tender and the split peas are soft, but not falling apart. Stir occasionally and add more water if you think the stew is getting to thick. This should take about 20 minutes, but rely more on the state of the split peas than on the time.  

4. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook about 15-20 seconds, or until sizzling and fragrant. Add the garlic and chiles and cook, stirring often, until the garlic is just beginning to brown, about 30 seconds or so. Remove from the heat.

5. Stir the cumin mixture into the stew. Pour ¼ cup water into the skillet. Swirl the water around the pan and pour into the stew.

6. Stir in the cilantro and lime juice. Taste for seasoning, specifically salt and lime juice, and adjust as needed.

Makes about 6 servings.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Cheddar Jalapeno Cheese Ball

I love snacks. I think that’s why I hang so tightly onto my football fan self, even though I’m so over the celebrity worship that professional sports displays have become. I need to have a time that demands snacks. Indoor tailgating from the comfort of my own couch on my weekends off is how and when these snacks will happen.

Like this Cheddar Jalapeno Cheese Ball. I had never, ever made a cheese ball in my life until I tried this one. Now, I may never stop making cheese balls! This is that delicious! Cream cheese mixed with lots of sharp cheddar, a bit of garlic, some smoked paprika and the spicy kick of jalapeno chiles. Many, many crackers are going to give their lives in the service of this fabulous cheese spread.

There are a million ways you could go with this basic formula, but I really liked this pretty simple direction. I used jarred pickled jalapenos for this, and I think that was a good move (although you could use fresh peppers if you like). I liked that they’re softer in texture than fresh peppers, and I liked the addition of the bit of inevitable briny flavor they carried along. The amount in the recipe below is fairly spicy. You could use more or fewer chiles to taste.

Finally, a word about bacon. I didn’t use any. I know you want bacon. The recipes I looked at in developing this one included bacon, but I left it out. This cheese ball would probably be great with added bacon, but it was delicious without it. Think of me what you will. But make some version of this cheese ball!

Cheddar Jalapeno Cheese Ball

If you don’t have smoked paprika, you could use ground cumin, chili powder, or a combination of the two. You could also use different chile peppers. I think chipotle chiles canned in adobo would be pretty great.

1 small garlic clove
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
½ teaspoon smoked paprika, plus more for garnish if desired
1 teaspoon lime juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped pickled jalapeno peppers
about 1/3 cup crushed tortilla chips

1. Finely chop the garlic clove. Sprinkle with the salt and chop and rub into a paste as described in this post.

2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the cream cheese and cheddar. Add the garlic-salt paste, smoked paprika, lime juice and pickled jalapeno peppers. Stir together to combine well. All the ingredients should be well distributed.

3. Shape the cheese mixture into a ball. (Your hands are the best tool for this.) Roll the ball in the crushed tortilla chips. Sprinkle with a few dashes of smoked paprika if desired. Place the cheese ball on a plate, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and chill for about an hour, or until ready to serve. Serve spread on sturdy crackers.

Makes many snack servings.

Another recipe like this one: Garlic and Herb Vegetable Dip

One year ago: Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Energy Bars (one of my favorite recipes!)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Melon and Lime Cocktail

This is a first on The Messy Apron. A cocktail! Sure I said you could spike this Mulled Apple Cider and you could doctor up this hot chocolate with a liqueur, but I’ve never mixed an alcoholic beverage with other stuff in a glass just to make a particular drink.

This concoction, I suppose, doesn’t actually qualify as a cocktail anyway, depending on whether you hold to a purist’s definition. I’m still going to tell you about it, though, because it’s really good. It’s a simple mixture of Midori melon-flavored liqueur and lime juice riding in a vehicle of club soda. It’s fairly sweet, but that sweetness is tempered by the squeeze of lime. Those sweet and fruity flavors along with the carbonated water make it all go down kind of like soda pop. (Enjoy responsibly!)

I just kind of made this drink up several years ago, and I can’t really remember what I was thinking (except, perhaps, “what am I going to do with this bottle of Midori?”). I really liked it, so I started paying attention to measurements and such so I could tell other people about it.

If you like those fruit-flavored bottled malt beverages and hard ciders, this might be the simple homemade drink for you. Other fruit liqueurs would also work here, and I’m guessing other citrus juices would, too. The Midori is just such a pretty green, though! This cocktail, if you’re willing to let it have that name, is easy to put together, fun to drink, and attractive to look at. That’s a powerful triple threat, but it tastes so good that those other things might not even matter.

Melon and Lime Cocktail

2 ounces melon liqueur (such as Midori)
1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
4 ounces cold club soda
a few ice cubes

1. Combine the melon liqueur and lime juice in a drinking glass. Pour in the club soda. Add the ice.

Makes 1 cocktail.

What to do with the rest of the bottle? Try this Sweet Melon Soup with Mint and Midori