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!

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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.

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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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Adventures in the Good Life

The Engineer and I just got home last night from another weekend down in Nebraska.  Mostly we went to see his family and so I could get some practice in shooting my broad head tipped arrows.  It’s easy to find places to practice shooting in town, but broad head practice is essential….however hard to do when you live in town.  Enter…..The Engineer’s Dad’s house and land outta town.  Plus, there were plenty of pumpkins for target practice.

Anyway, Saturday was cold and rainy, so we filled the day with shopping!!!!  It doesn’t do much for practicing “being comfortable being uncomfortable” while hunting, but when fun shopping is so close it’s hard to want to stand out in the blowing rain shooting pumpkins.   The Engineer had never been to Trader Joe’s before, so I decided he needed to experience it all, and I needed to refill on some snackies!

Remember that one time I went to Trader Joe’s and accidentally bought the unsalted peanut butter filled pretzels and they were sorta sad?!  Well, I fixed that, actually paid attention to what I was doing, and got 2 bags of the blue, salted pretzels!  We had to get 2 bags this time because The Engineer really likes peanut butter, and it was the only snack that he actually admitted that he wanted from the store.  It took him a couple minutes to warm up to the whole excitement that is Trader Joe’s…….he felt out of place amongst the hipsters and health mommas.

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SO, SO, GOOD!

I snagged a bag of trail mix, and I’m having severe regrets about not grabbing a couple more bags.  It must be their fall seasonal variety.  Actually, most of the store aisles were slightly over run with pumpkin spice-esk things.  Soups, sauces, pasta, spice mix, beer, pop tarts…..if you want it pumpkin spice flavored Trader Joe’s currently has it.  Don’t get me wrong, I like pumpkin spice just fine, but I don’t necessarily need it to overrun everything in my life.  I did make an exception for Harvest Spice.  If you don’t know what that is, it’s apparently just candied pecans and cashews…..so basically…..deliciousness.  The trail mix is rounded out with almonds, dried apples, and candied ginger chunks.  The bag is basically gone after we munched on it during our running around Omaha and on the drive home.  I probably won’t make it back to Trader Joe’s before fall is over, so fingers crossed Harvest Spice sticks around into early winter!

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The Engineer really perked up when we got to the frozen section.  I had actually never seriously shopped the frozen section because I had always just been to a Trader Joe’s on vacation, but this time we came prepared!  We hauled down a cooler, mostly so we could bring back another haul of elk meat.  Couple that with the fact that instead of a hotel, we stay with him parents, and it meant that I could shop the frozen section for the first time ever!

Our frozen food finds are the orange chicken and steak and ale pies.  Orange chicken is one of The Engineer’s favorite Chinese entrees, so we snagged two bags.  He decided he wants to pair the bags with fried rice from Hy-Vee…or so I thought.  When he texted earlier and said he’d pick up rice on the way home I assumed he’d arrive with takeout boxes of rice.  Instead, he brought home a bag of rice and we had to quick whip up some fried rice….which we apparently did wrong.  It tasted alright, but got a little overcooked because we didn’t fry cold rice…….Google tells me that makes it better.  I had only had Trader Joe’s orange chicken once before, and I wasn’t a huge fan.  We whipped some up tonight with our rice and it still wasn’t my favorite.  I liked it more than I remembered, but I wouldn’t rank it as my all time favorite Chinese food.  It will probably get some jazzing up, but I think it will become a staple purchase item whenever we wind up at Trader Joe’s.

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A decent meal in a pinch, and something worth having in the freezer for lazy nights.

The steak and ale pies I decided to try.  They just looked so warm and wintery, and the box weighs about a ton so I’m assuming each pie is very well stuffed.  Also, my mild to moderate obsession with The Great British Baking Show, Marry Berry, and Paul Hollywood has me convinced that savory pies are a thing I need in my life.  They are always making these great King Henry VIII sized meat pie towers of delicious….I need that in my life.  I don’t even bake and I feel suddenly compelled to turn my kitchen into a prep center for some sort of great hall feast al la history books and Harry Potter!

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If you don’t watch this show, you need to!  Ready……Set…..BAKE!!!!

So……we shall start with frozen Trader Joe’s and move upward from there.  Frankly, I’m not even sure I like meat pies, and it’s much easier to find that out at this stage than halfway through feast prep!  Plus, they seem like they would go excellent with some mashed potatoes….and I’m currently rocking a slight surplus of potatoes.

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I didn’t even notice until now, but each pie is about half a pound!  Should make for a very nice, quick, winter dinner!

The last of my fall/winter snackies is a jug of apple cider.  Some nights it’s just nice to come home and mull up some cider, maybe throw in some rum, and curl up with a good book and a blanket.  I’m hopeful that this won’t be too sweet, I like my cider a bit on the tangy side, so we will try it out and see how it goes.  Worse comes to worse, just add more rum I guess!

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I rounded out the Trader Joe’s haul with a jar of my favorite salsa, the english toffee bars, and a few RX Bars.  All in all, a very successful shopping trip, and I think I converted The Engineer to the glories held within Trader Joe’s.

After Trader Joe’s, we scampered over to Cabela’s to scope out some turkey hunting supplies.  We did find a couple calls in the bargain cave, and I picked up a small multi-tool for my bow case.  I’m pretty sure I just annoyed him all the way back to Fremont trying to learn how to use my mouth call.  I’m not sure I sound very turkey-esk, but dying duck is a sound I’m pretty sure I have down.  There’s a couple weeks left of practice time, so maybe I’ll get my gobbling skills up to par.

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T minus 16 days till the season opens and 25 days until I hit the fields!!! 

 

Paint and Pie

IT’S FINALLY FALL!

It seemed like cooler, sweater weather would never arrive, but I guess good things come to those who are patient!  With the changing of the seasons comes my deep burning desire to spend time cleaning, organizing, and crafting in my garage.  Things that have been laying around all summer I suddenly have a burning need to organize.

The first craft of the fall was trying out chalk paint on some metal decor.  A few months ago I purchased a metal candle holder from Hobby Lobby.  While I do like the original color of the candle holder, it wasn’t really the right shade of blue for my house.  What better to do than throw some chalk paint on it and see what happens?!

Overall, I would say the mini project went well.  The only thing I would change was maybe the amount of distressing I did before I waxed the piece.  The paint chips off rather easy, so in buffing in the dark wax, several extra chunks of paint went flying off.  I’m not sure that in this case the candle holder could be “over” distressed, and since I didn’t have a specific outcome in mind….all is good in the chalk painting hood!  If you were going for a lighter distressed look, I might actually skip the initial distressing step.  Apply your wax, and then if you feel like you need a little extra maybe distress with sandpaper as a final step.

Another glorious part of the shift in the weather is a change in nightly meal choices!  I’m not one of those people who can eat soup and casseroles with its 100 degrees outside, so as the temperatures have been cooling I’ve been ramping up the oven!  Last night I tried out a new recipe…..shepherd’s pie!  I had never had a shepherd’s pie before, but The Engineer has had them and was having a craving.  Coupled with the fact that we watched Gordon Ramsey make some on Kitchen Nightmare meant that I needed to try my hand.  All in all, I think it turned out pretty well!  Used up a bunch of leftover veggies, and anything with cheesy mashed potatoes is a good life decision!!

Shepherd’s Pie

  • 2 pounds ground meat
  • Onion, chopped
  • 3 large handfuls of baby carrots, chopped
  • 5-6 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1ish glass of red wine
  • 6 Tbs worcestershire sauce
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-12oz can of tomato paste
  • 3 cubes of chicken bouillon
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 6-12 oz of water
  • 3 Tbs thyme
  • 1/2 12oz bag of frozen corn
  • 1/2 12oz bag of frozen green beans
  • 1 cup of parmesan cheese
  • 2 pounds of potatoes, peeled
  • 5 Tbs butter
  • 1/2 cup of milk

While I do understand that this isn’t a traditional shepherd’s pie as it doesn’t contain lamb, I’m pretty confident that this recipe would work with any red meat.  The most important quality of the meat, according to Gordon, is that it’s well drained and free of grease.  Elk, for all intensive purposes, is basically grease free and I have a freezer full of it now, so that’s what I used.  If using any wild game meat, remember that you will probably need to add some olive oil to your pan before adding in the meat.  Brown the meat and toss in all the fresh veggies, onion, and the garlic.  Continue cooking until you’re sure the meat is completely cooked, and the onions have gone slightly translucent.

Dump in the worcestershire, tomato paste, wine, bouillon and water.  You could also use any stock you have laying around the house, I just had the cubes to use.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and the thyme.  I used several fresh sprigs from my garden, but dried would also work just fine.

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When you use fresh herbs and your fancy starts showing!

Simmer your meat mixture until the carrots and celery become tender and the mixture thickens….about 45 mins.  Stir often so that the bottom of the mixture doesn’t scorch to the pan.  While that’s simmering, rough cube the potatoes and add them to a pan and boil until fork tender.  Drain and add to a mixing bowl with the butter, cheese, and milk. Basically, just make mashed potatoes the way you always would….only with the addition of cheese.  Maybe you make them with cheese all the time…..I don’t, so that was a little upgrade!

Add your frozen veggies and just let them warm up a couple minutes.  Pour the mixture into a 9×13 baking pan.  The entire mixture didn’t all fit in my pan, in hindsight it would have, but I made a small, additional baking dish and threw it into the freezer for later.  Top the mixture with the mashed potatoes and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.  If the top isn’t as brown as you’d like, turn the broiler on and babysit your pie carefully until the desired level of golden brown is achieved.  Dish up and enjoy your meat, potatoes, and veggies!!

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I raked my potatoes with a fork before baking and topped them with extra black pepper because it’s The Engineer’s favorite!

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PIE!