Changing of the Season

Here’s to hoping your shift into the Fall season has been less abrupt than ours.  It felt like we went from glorious, sunshiny days to sad, deary, and cold all overnight.  Such is life in the Midwest I suppose.  You’d think I would be used to it by now.  This week we are due to have a weather swing of more than 30 degrees!  It’s been chilly but since there is still tank top weather visible in the forecast I’m refusing to turn on the heat.

I’m honestly most upset about the toll the abrupt cold temperature swing is having on my garden.  My poor pepper plants all still have flowers on them!  I have little baby poblano peppers that almost certainly aren’t going to achieve their maximum potential….it’s so annoying!  Gardening season is over I suppose….time to harvest what I can salvage, dry all my herbs, and nestle in for winter!

Image result for 60 degrees in fall vs spring meme

This is so true….us Midwesterners know what’s up!

With the changing of the seasons comes a shift in activities.  Twice now I have insisted that The Engineer go apple picking with me!  Additionally, I’ve forced him to stand in front of many a pile of pumpkins while I attempt to select just the right shaped pumpkin for the front porch!  I don’t even generally decorate for fall….why do fall when you can skip straight to Christmas right?!  Something just has me in the mood to switch it up this year I guess.

fall

Would you just look at that?!  Perfectly picked pumpkins, squash, and corn cobs! 🙂

If you pick the apples, you’ll need to do something with the apples.  Nothing will make your house seem warm and cozy….even if the heat isn’t on yet…..than making apple butter!  I hadn’t ever tried my hand at apple butter previously, but I’ve whipped of several of these batches, and I’ve even had it taste tested by several friends and coworkers.  The results have been an overwhelming success, and it honestly doesn’t get much easier than this recipe!

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This first batch of apples was a variety called Cortland…I’m not sure why my bag says mix.

Before I get into the recipe I have an important public service announcement to make!

In case you find yourself preparing to go apple picking and looking up recipes wondering, “How many apples do I need for all this festive, fall fun-ness!?”  Well let me give you a list of what 1 peck of apples will get you.  For those of you not super up on your apple picking terms and quantities….1 peck is roundabout 10 pounds!

From my first peck of apples I made:

  • Nearly 2 full batches of apple butter….the second batch was maybe 5 apples short of full
  • 12 caramel apple and pecan pasties
  • 2 quarts of apple pie filling
  • Random apples for raw eating throughout the weekend

I now return you to your regularly scheduled recipe post!

Apple Butter

Ingredients

  • Apples
  • Brown Sugar
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg

Supplies

  • Crock Pot
  • Immersion Blender — if a smoother texture is desired
  • Canning jars and water bath, or containers for freezing

Directions

Wash, core, and simply rough chop your apples into bite sized pieces.  Fill your crock pot until the very top and you can just get the lid on.  We have a two crock pots, but I used our smaller 4 quart sized pot.  The measurements are relative to that, but feel free to make more or less to suit your needs.

Place the lid on your crock pot and let cook on Low for about 12 hours.  I started mine in the evening and just let it go to town all night long.  There’s no need to add any liquid to the apples!

After 12 hours, stir your apple mixture.  It will be very soft and broken down on the bottom, the top apples might still be a bit firm, depending on how large a batch you’re working on.  To you apple mush add 1 cup loosely packed Brown Sugar, 1 tbsp Cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp Nutmeg.  Again, this is for 4 quarts of fairly tangy apples.  I like to taste the tang in the finished product, but if you like it sweeter feel free to adjust to your own personal tastes.

Recover you crock and let everything stew and simmer together for another 3-5 hours.

After this second cooking, if the mixture is still looking chunkier than you’d like, use an immersion blender, or regular blender, to make a smoother texture.  If you don’t mind it a bit chunky, just skip that step.  I’ve done both and it all comes out just fine, just what you prefer.

If canning, place your mixture into clean, half pint jars.  Process in a water bath for 10 minutes and let rest over night to seal.

4 quarts of apples gave me 4 half pint jars plus a few extra tablespoons to enjoy on the fly!

I didn’t freeze any myself, but my coworker always freezes her.  Bag or place in portioned containers to freeze and enjoy at a later date!

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Cleaning out the Freezer and Hauling in the Veggies

Hunting season has started in states all over the country, and you know what that means?!  You need to get all the old meat out of your freezer before you start adding fresh stock!  Annoyingly, The Engineer and I didn’t draw any deer tags this year.  Frankly we should probably be hoarding our meat for the upcoming winter, but I guess if we have to go vegetarian over the winter that’s what happens.

To go along with our meat, we suddenly had a small surplus of fresh tomatoes out of the garden.  Late summer is a strange time like that.  Surpluses of fresh veggies, fruits, and herbs are all at your disposal, but you freezer might be less with just huge roasts and some less than stellar cuts of meat.  Since discovering that my Kitchenaid is more than capable of grinding up a large elk roast, we’ve become less worried about using up all our pounds of burger meat….we just make more!

I decided it was time to whip up a new recipe, and I really couldn’t have been happier with how things turned out.  It seemed like it had been weeks since I’d spent anytime in the kitchen making dinner, so I decided to really do it up this week!  Due solely to the fact that I don’t every decide to do things until late, prepping dinner actually took 2 days!  Don’t panic, it’s not hard nor does it take that long….I just didn’t have a plan going into things!

STEP 1:  Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

I had probably around 2  or 2.5 pounds of large tomatoes out of the garden.  We have two heirloom varieties, Cherokee Black and Siberian Prince, and they seem to have suddenly kicked production into high gear.  I simply blanched the tomatoes whole until the skin started to split and then peel and rough chop.  I didn’t bother to deseed the tomatoes, I just tossed the rough chunks into a medium sauce pan.  If you don’t have access to fresh, garden tomatoes, start with a quart of canned tomatoes.

To my quart of tomatoes I added:

  • Half a yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
  • 2 tablespoons each fresh minced thyme and oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil….our basil plant had a rough go of things this summer 😦
  • Salt and Pepper

Cook on medium until just before boiling before dropping the temperature to low.  Let simmer for 20-30 minutes.  If you’re going to eat it immediately, you may want to let it simmer longer…..longer is always better!  I of course started this whole process around 9pm….so after it simmered I placed it into the fridge for use later!

STEP 2: Elk and Herb Meatballs

I didn’t have a plan for using my tomato sauce when I made it, I just didn’t want that many tomatoes to go bad before I had a chance to use them!  The next night I was sitting around thinking….and it occurred to me….we need meatballs!  After consulting a variety of cookbooks I had laying around I settled on a variation of  Anthony Bourdain’s recipe of meatball sandwich meatballs and Steven Rinella’s recipe for wild game meatballs.

Anthony recommends a blend a veal, pork, and beef….and while I’m sure that makes a delicious, more traditional Italian meatball….those aren’t the meats I have hanging out in my freezer.  Steven’s recipe calls for raw onions and milk soaked breadcrumbs in your meatballs, but Anthony says to sweat the onions and add dry crumbs…..so I sweated some onion and added crumbs and milk!

In a small pan heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat and add:

  • Half a yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
  • 2 tablespoons each fresh minced thyme and oregano

Sweat the onions, garlic, and herbs together until the onions to translucent and soft.  Set aside and allow to cool slightly.  You’re maybe sensing a theme here, but trust me you really can’t over do the Italian flavors!  See what I mean when I say if I had planned this out better…..just chop double once and you’ll be able to whip up meatballs and sauce together in no time flat.

In a large bowl add:

  • 1 pound ground elk
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 milk
  • Cooled onion and garlic mixture

Mix lightly until everything seemed combined and the herbs, onion, and garlic seem evenly sprinkled throughout.  Form into golfball sized balls and set on a lightly greased baking sheet.  I got 13 meatballs from the pound of meat.  Also, I know it’s probably slightly controversial…but I didn’t add any fat to my meat mixture.  I still think they turned out great, but I feel I’m making Italians grandmas the world over shudder in terror!

My next step might also be slightly controversial…..but just stick with me.  We weren’t going to eat the meatballs that night because once again in was much later than one should be making meatballs.  Third day simply had to be the charm for enjoying this meal so I decided I would toss the meatballs and sauce in the slow cooker so everything would be ready to enjoy right after work.  Sounds fine, but I was suddenly overcome with fear that my glorious, raw meatballs would dissolve in the crockpot and leave me with a delicious meat sauce.  Meat sauce after I had ‘slaved away’ making meatballs wasn’t something I was willing to risk…..so I broiled my meatballs!

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IT WORKED GREAT!

Simply turn your broiler on Low and give your meatballs 8-10 minutes for form a nice crust.  Turn them every couple minutes to prevent burning and provide an even caramelization.

I put a thin layer of sauce down in the bottom of my crockpot, layered in my meatballs, and then tossed the whole thing back in the fridge.  The next morning I topped them with the remaining sauce and set them to cook on low while I went to work.  8 hours later I came home to delicious smells and a crockpot full of happy meatballs and a sauce that had slow cooked to thick, robust perfection.

Serve with your favorite noodles, or in my case spaghetti squash from the garden, and enjoy.  I added cheese, a hefty slice of garlic bread, and a class of wine.  Perfect easy dinner to come home to, and I promise it won’t take you 3 days to get there!

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I Need to Remember I Own a Crockpot

The other day I was scrolling around Buzzfeed and found a collection of crock pot recipes. I rarely make any of those recipes, but one stuck out to me.  It’s from fellow blogger Tieghan Gerard, and her blog Half Baked Harvest.  Her recipe for Crockpot Italian Chicken and Broccoli Rabe Chili sounded like the perfect thing to have cooking away while attempting to brave the last few frozen months of winter on the Northern Plains.

I didn’t change much about her original recipe, but I did make a couple minor adjustments:

  • I have a smaller crockpot, so I used probably a pound and a half of chicken
  • Only three cups of stock, although I will add more when I make it again
  • Just a couple good sized splashes of balsamic vinegar
  • All the other spices and ingredients I used were the same
  • I did substitute chopped kale for the broccoli rabe, but only because I eat kale salads often during the week so it just fit better with my regular food routine.

Her recipe was perfect!  I baked up some dinner rolls, and tucked in on the couch with Scout for some Netflix and way too much food.  It’s healthy, but it’s flavorful and spicy enough that you don’t mind that its healthy.  Plus, that’s just an excuse to eat more, and on cold winter nights that’s what you need!!

I will defiantly being going back and digging through the archives on Half Baked Harvest to find other yummy treasures!

 

 

In totally unrelated news, my poor little MacBook did indeed die last Friday night.  According to the repair dude, it had a major hard drive malfunction.  So, needless to say, I’ve been heming and hawing all week about whether to keep the brand new MacBook I bought on sale at Best Buy, or repair my old one for about half as much.  Side note…..apparently being a mid-2009 model number makes my MacBook vintage…or so I was told!!!  :/

I did eventually settle for fixing the old one.  So the Mac is getting a new battery and a fancy new hard drive, and they promise me that I’ll end up with basically a brand new computer in my old case.  The downfall of this, is that because the old hard drive crashed so hard, they aren’t able to get any of my old photos and documents back.  Let this be a lesson to you kiddos……always use your Cloud Drive!

 

The Gainz Killing Sick Week

It hasn’t been a real exciting week around here.  I’ve been dealing with a chest cold for about a week.  Mostly I’m just getting crabby and pouty because I wake up every night coughing.  I’m being a huge baby about the whole thing, and have skipped several of my usual gym dates.  I mean, I know it could be way worse, but I’m just over the coughing thing.

I’m never sure how sick is too sick to justify skipping a workout.  Does anyone know?!?!  I just know that I’m experiencing severe “skipping” guilt which I think finally means that I’ve gotten myself into shape.  Or at least gotten myself into a healthy habit!

This is usually my every week problem....this week not so much. Side note, Burpees Suck has some really cute workout clothes if you're in the market for such things. Check them out!

This is usually my every week problem….this week not so much. Side note, Burpees Suck has some really cute workout clothes if you’re in the market for such things. Check them out!

Since I’m not feeling up to my usual workout routine, I thought maybe I would write about it.  Sorta a “workout by osmosis”!  Is that a thing?!?!  Idk….I’m making it a thing!

After my last break up about a year and a half ago, I did that thing single girls do where we decide we are gonna work out and become super sexy and amazeballs and really just “show him what he’s missing”.  So…..I joined a new gym in town called Form Fitness.  I really love it.  Having been a dancer and a swimmer, I’m used to working hard in classes, with people, and not having to hang out in a traditional gym setting on the machines.  Form is all classes: rowing, pilates, yoga, barre amped, trx…….it’s all good and it’s all fun.  Plus, Form comes with that added benefits of cute boutique shopping, and the people there are all really nice.  Working out sometimes sucks, but it sucks less if you’re doing with people you like!

So…..my “normal” workout week looks something like this:

Monday – Row and Flow or TRX at noon, Row and Core at night

Tuesday – Barreamped and maybe biking 19 miles after work

Wednesday – TRX at noon, sometimes biking, and Restorative Yoga (if I make it) at night

Thursday – Yoga Sculpt

Friday – Barre and Flow

Saturday – Maybe a class, maybe a run……if I’m in town and not hungover!

Sunday – General laziness and Restorative Yoga at night if I’m in town.

I know it kinda seems like a lot, but it works for me.  I only bike one night a week, usually whenever Pimp Money has time, although the biking season around here is starting to dwindle.  If I start to feel sore in one area, there are always other classes I can swap in, but that’s just the normal routine I try and stick to.

This week I did manage to rally myself for a rowing class on Tuesday night and TRX Wednesday morning.  I was too exhausted, tired, and generally feeling pathetic to make it to anything else.  Everyone was telling me that resting when you’re sick is important.  I get that, but it’s a weird concept for me.  Growing up, we never….ever really took sick days off dance and swimming.  I really only recall missing when I had the chicken pox in high school.  Also, I don’t like the way not working out makes me feel.  I’ve felt like a weird little walrus blob all week.  I know one week isn’t really enough to do much damage, it just feels odd to be out of my routine.

Tomorrow starts a new week, and I shall get back to my regularly scheduled ass kicking.  To cap off my week of laziness, I made myself blueberry muffins for breakfast.  I’m also making Better Than His Mother’s Pot Roast with spicy garlic green beans for dinner tonight.

New day, new week, time to get after them gainz again!

New day, new week, time to get after them gainz again!

I had my first test of the semester this week too, and that didn’t really go as planned either.  Really, the whole class isn’t going all that well.  I’ve had this professor before, and he just doesn’t lecture in a way that makes sense for my brain.  He’s also one of those teachers that basically just reads the text out of the book and the only examples he uses are the one’s published in the text.  I’ve always found this annoying because then you only have the one option to try and figure something out.  Ugh!  I mean whatever, it’s one test, and I’ve already lost my 4.0, but it is a bit annoying because I do pay a lot of money to take distance classes.

Alrighty, so there’s my little pity party for myself for the week.  Time to put the past in the past and more forward with awesomeness!

Better Than His Mother’s Pot Roast

First off, I must confess that this isn’t an original recipe.  I stole it….but I stole it from possibly the sexiest Italian chef ever!

Men....learn to cook!  It's sexy and we like it!

Men….learn to cook! It’s sexy and we like it!

Fabio Viviani is seriously adorable!  On a random side note he once wrote me a comment on Facebook about Fiat 500s.  I did not buy a Fiat, but if anyone could have convinced me it would have been Fabio! Anyway, he used to host a web series on Yahoo! Called Chow Ciao.  I think they used to come out once a week?  I’m not sure it’s been awhile.  I watched them at work because again, he’s gorgeous, and my job is sorta boring.  Oh the joys of being underworked and overpaid!  One of the first recipes Fabio shared was Braised Short Ribs in a crock pot.  These ribs are pretty much the only think I make in my crock pot, but it’s totally worth buying one just to make these ribs!

LOOK AT HIM!!!  Cray Cray Adorbs.....unfortunately I think he's short and because I follow him on several social media sites I know he has a girlfriend......so I'm out.

LOOK AT HIM!!! Cray Cray Adorbs…..unfortunately I think he’s short and because I follow him on several social media sites I know he has a girlfriend……so I’m out.

I used to make these for my ex often because he’s a meat and potatoes sort of guy and he loved them.  Plus it was easy to throw everything together the night before.  This meant that I could spend time with him after his weeks on the road instead of running around the kitchen.  Anyway, before this gets too sappy let’s get on to the food!

The shiz you’ll need:

  • Crock pot – I have smallish one but as long as everything fits in it any size should do
  • Boneless Beef Short Ribs – I buy packages of “Country Style Ribs.” Buy the biggest packs you can because this makes amazeballs leftovers!
  • 1 Dark Beer – I generally use Guinness because I have it at home, but your favorite dark variety will work just fine.
  • 1 Can Beef Broth – I buy the larger boxes of stock and then the pupster gets the extra on her crunchies which makes her a very happy girl!
  • 1 Medium Onion
  • 2-3 Garlic Cloves
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 2 Tablespoons Thyme
  • 2 Tablespoons Basil
  • A sprinkling of Cayenne Pepper
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Option: Flour and Cornstarch

    Get it together people!

    Get it together people!

Alrighty, I could write you up Fabio’s actual version but I’ll give you my hybrid version because:

  1. You can Google his video yourself….and I think you should.  Italian accents all day people!
  2. I’ve made it multiple ways and I can’t tell the difference between his version and my lazy version. Laziness for the win!
  3. I make a flourless version lately in case my gluten free bestie wants to come over for leftovers!

Step 1- Sear off your meat!

Heat a couple tablespoons-ish of olive oil in you largest skillet to about medium.  You want it hot but not smoking.  Generously salt and pepper both sides of all the ribs.  If you want to take the extra initiative you would coat the ribs in flour……totally optional.  Frankly, searing them off at all is option.  They could go directly from the package into the crock pot if you don’t want to dirty a pan.  Throw the ribs into the pan and brown them off nicely on all sides.  Don’t crowd your pan or they won’t brown nicely! 🙂

Remember not to crowd them.  It'll cool your pan down too much and you won't get a nice crust!

Remember not to crowd them. It’ll cool your pan down too much and you won’t get a nice crust!

Step 2- Prep the Crock Pot!

While your meat is searing off you’ll need to slice your onion and smash some garlic.  Whack your onion in half and then slice it up “fajita” style.  Break up the rings and throw them into the bottom of the crock pot to make a nice bed for the meat.  If you’re using whole garlic cloves just whack them with the broad side of your knife blade a couple times, peel them, and throw them on top of the onions.  I had some jarred minced garlic so I used that last time.  Whatever kind works just make sure its fresh….you need the flavor.

I had half an onion last time I made this.....again it's not an exact science but this bed isn't looking as snuggly as it could. :(

I had half an onion last time I made this…..again it’s not an exact science but this bed isn’t looking as snuggly as it could. 😦

Step 3- Assemble!

Once the ribs have been seared on all sides, snuggle them down onto the bed of onions.  Since my crock pot is small I sometimes really have to squish them in but remember is just cooking.  It’s not an exact science so don’t worry about it too much.  I never measure anything and everything always turns out just fine!  Open your beer and add about half of it.  Add beef broth until the meat is nearly covered.  Again, the exact measurements will depend on the size of your crock pot.  More or less broth or beer won’t hurt anything.  Also remember if you’re prepping this in the morning you’ll need to man up and drink that beer.  We can’t have any party fouls in the kitchen!  Sprinkle in the thyme, basil, and cayenne and add the dollop of butter to the top.  Fabio said this “adds creaminess”, honestly I’m not sure it does anything but butter is delicious and never hurt anyone so…..in it goes!  If you want to prep everything the night before this is the place you’ll stop.  Just put the lid on your pot and put it in the fridge.  Unless I’m making them on a weekend I always prep the night before.  I love food but I love sleeping more and I’m not about to get up and sear meat at 6am!

Step 4- Braise!

Throw the lid on, set it to low, and let it cook for 6-8 hours.  Generally I start mine on my way out the door at 8 and I’ll eat when I get home from work around 6ish.  Since it’s braising in all the liquid you really can’t dry it out so don’t worry and just let it cook.  When I get home I turn the heat up to high and let the juices start to boil.  I’ll stir in a good amount of cornstarch slurry just to let the sauce thicken up a bit.  Again, this is an optional step I just feel like it serves a bit better thickened.  I don’t ever measure out the cornstarch, I just use heaping spoonfuls at a time until it looks like its starting to thicken and then I let it cook for maybe 20-30 additional minutes while I prep the sides.

Step 4- Serve!

By now most of the onions and garlic will have dissolved into deliciousness and your meat should be falling apart.  Time to eat!  Typically, I whip up some mashed potatoes and serve them with a rib and a generous coating of sauce.  If you’re feeling extra fancy pants you could broil up some garlic bread.  So much tastiness on one plate!  A green veggie also makes a good side.  I usually only ever have frozen broccoli at home but asparagus is also good.  I just steam them in the microwave…..by this point I’m HANGRY and laziness always wins.

It so happens that I pretty much only use my KitchenAid mixer for mashed potatoes.  Gotta bust out the big guns for deliciousness!

It so happens that I pretty much only use my KitchenAid mixer for mashed potatoes. Gotta bust out the big guns for deliciousness!

Truth be told, apparently the exes mother makes an awful pot roast.  I never had it but I was there one night when he was discussing it with her.  She admitted it so they must be really bad!  These ribs are nothing like bad pot roast.  Actually, that same evening his mother informed me that he gave me the biggest compliment she’d ever heard him say when he told me that my ribs were better than “John’s mom’s pot roast.”  I never had her pot roast either and clearly braised ribs are not enough to hold a crappy relationship together.  At the end of the day, none of that matters.  What really matters is that a gorgeous Italian taught me how to make braised ribs that will trump a mother’s cooking!