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.

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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Taking Matters into Your Own Grinder

The Engineer and I are facing a slight crisis….our supply of ground elk and deer is dwindling dangerously low.  We have plenty of steaks and roasts, but our tubes of ground meat are quickly disappearing!

How are we supposed to make tacos without ground meat!?!

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Accurate depiction of The Engineer and I as I demand avocado on my tacos….except he is a crunchy taco and I am a soft taco!

Now I know that I could make steak tacos….pulled pork tacos…chicken tacos…fish tacos……

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ALL OF THE TACOS!

Trust me, we make tacos a ton and in a wide variety of flavors and styles.  However, some tacos require planning and forethought.  I’m not always the best at taking things out of the freezer to thaw in advance, but a pound of frozen solid ground meat is just easy to toss straight into a frying pan!  Basically, having a reliable stash of ground meat in my house is a requirement.

The Engineer bought me a grinding attachment for my Kitchen Aide for Christmas because I had grand visions of getting into sausage making.  I have yet to make a batch of sausage, and so the grinder had just been waiting patiently in a kitchen cabinet to be used for something delicious.  Last weekend we decided to test out the grinder and tackle our meat issue head on!

meat

First things first….thaw out a giant roast!  When The Engineer had his elk processed in Canada, it was cheaper to just get it cut into large roasts.  This makes total sense and is fine, except that the two of us don’t necessarily need to cook up a 4-5 pound roast for a nice dinner at home!  Also, don’t worry if the meat isn’t totally thawed.  The colder, even still slightly frozen, the better.  Also, if you’re going to add additional fat into your ground meat….that fat needs to be frozen!

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The little lurker quickly noticed that tasty meat scraps come out of the grinder after every round of processing….there is always a little morsel left in the auger!

 

The grinder worked great!  I had read some questionable reviews so I didn’t really know what to expect, and I had emotionally prepared to spend most of the day fighting and struggling to get the meat processed.  It was such a smooth process I wish we had thawed out more meat and we could have just done it all at once.  We ground the meat twice, once through the coarse blade, and a second time through the fine.  I’m not sure that a second grind is required if you’re just planning on tacos, chili, casseroles, and such with the meat, but it’s the typically recommended procedure.  Between the rounds of grinding I took apart the grinder and cleaned it out.  It had built up a little ring of tendon, fat, and meat right behind the grind plate, but it was easy to just clean out.  Also, once the flow of meat stops moving down the auger, a small chunk was left that couldn’t be pushed through the grind plate….no biggie and Scout really appreciated the snacks!

The only slight issue we had is that no store in town stocked the “Sausage Kit” with the filling nozzles.  Minor setback, and it worked pretty well to just hold the bags and let the ground meat sort of just fall into the bottom.  Actually, once the bags had some meat in them they sort of just sat themselves up.  Easy peasey lemon squeezey!

done

4 beautiful little tubes of ground elk all ready for delicious things!

Now, if you’re looking for a tasty way to use up some ground meat….might I suggest Mexican Stuffed Peppers!

Ingredients:

  • Drizzle of olive oil (Only needed for wild game as it is super lean and sticks)
  • 1lb ground meat
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup cooked rice or quinoa
  • 1 can Original Rotel
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp cumin and chili powder
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper…or to taste if your spice sensitive
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 2/3 cup shredded cheese, plus 2/3 cup additional for topping
  • 3 large bell peppers

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add meat and onion.  Cook over medium until the meat is fully cooked and the onion is soft.  Add the garlic, Rotel, rice, beans, and all spices to the skillet and mix to combine.  Turn heat off and allow to sit to cool and the flavors to meld for a couple minutes.  Divide peppers in half through the stem and remove all seeds.  Immediately before “stuffing”, stir 2/3 of cheese into the meat mixture.

Divide the mixture evenly between all the peppers….don’t worry about being too neat.  They will be large and in charge!  Sprinkle the tops with the additional cheese, if desired, cover with foil, and bake at 370 for about 30-35 minutes.  I like a crispy, brown, cheesy crust so I uncovered them for an additional 5 minutes.  The cooking time will be reduced if you have smaller peppers, just cook until the peppers are soft and tender.

Serve immediately with any of your favorite taco toppings!  I did avocado….OF COURSE!…..and The Engineer likes his with taco sauce and sour cream.

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Things You Can Do Instead of Homework

Sunday, I planned on doing homework.  I really….with every fiber of my little being intend on committing myself to the two hours of mild boredom and slight torture that is taking lecture notes as a distance student.  This all came crashing down when I got home, during a rain storm…..this becomes important…..to discover that my professor had neglected to upload the Mac compatible version of the week’s lecture.  So here I sat, with a newly repaired MacBook, and nothing to do with it.

Granted, I could have been responsible, gone back to the office, picked up my laptop, came home, and done my lecture.  However…..it was raining, and much like my resistance to snack food, I only have so much.  If the lecture had been right there, I would have done it.  Much like, I’ll only eat snacks if they manage to cross into my house.  If it’s easy I’m all about doing it, doesn’t really matter how much I’d rather not.  I wasn’t however, committed enough to lecture notes to brave the cold, bleak, rainy night for a Windows Media Player compatible computer.  I could go into a whole rant about how this professor should probably spend less time complaining about technology struggles and just figure out how to make things work for the distance students…..but I won’t.  Maybe later…..who knows how I’ll feel about these things later.

I will instead tell you what I did instead of lecture notes……I cooked!!  I basically cooked all the things…..spicy sweet potato hash, blueberry and apple crisp, and bourbon caramel.  I don’t really have recipes for these things, they are just somethings I throw together now and then.

Spicy Sweet Potato Hash

  • 3-4 medium to large sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 can black beans
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs cumin, chili powder, and paprika
  • cayenne pepper to taste
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil

Heat the oil in a large skillet and then combine all the ingredients at once (except the black beans).  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the potatoes soften.  The size of your cubes will dictate how long this takes.  Mine took about twenty minutes the other night.  Once everything has softened, add the rinsed and drained black beans and heat through.  Serve with anything you want…..plain, with eggs, avocado…..anything that sounds yummy.  This recipe lead to a new adventure in adulating…..I’ll explain later.

Blueberry and Apple Crisp

  • 3 apples, diced
  • 1/2-1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 3 tbs flour
  • 1/3 cup white and brown sugar
  • 2 tbs butter
  • cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

Add the apples and blueberries to a baking dish and mix slightly.  In a microwave safe bowl or container combine the remaining ingredients and microwave about 30 seconds.  You’ll just need to melt the butter, and then stir to combine the mixture into a grainy, crumb consistency.  Sprinkle the topping onto the fruit, and back at 350 for about half an hour, until you can see the filling bubbling and the topping becomes browned.  I like mine hot, with vanilla ice cream….and possibly caramel sauce!

Bourbon Caramel Sauce

Usually, I make this on the stove…..in a pan…..like an adult.  This time, I was lazy and just made it in the microwave.  It worked fine, it just takes a bit more babysitting.  You can’t just set it and forget it!

  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbs butter
  • a couple splashes of heavy cream or half and half
  • splash of bourbon

Combine the sugar and butter in a microwave safe dish.  I set the microwave for 2 minutes, but stopped and stirred every 20-30 seconds.  Once all the sugar crystals have dissolved, drizzle in a bit of cream while stirring.  If your cream is cold and you don’t stir it will solidify the sugar again.  If it does get a bit chunky again, just pop it back in the microwave.  Once it’s reached a good consistency, splash in your bourbon, stir to mix and enjoy!

I ended up getting a whole weeks worth of food for a couple hours in the kitchen and some microwave skills!  It was all pretty easy, and a relaxing night.  I had never made the hash before, although I’ve made other hash varieties.  I discovered that my favorite way to enjoy it was with some avocado, some cherry tomatoes, and eggs.  Makes for a super filling and satisfying breakfast or lunch option.  The eggs are what caused me a new adventure in adulting.

I’ve never in my life been one for runny eggs…..or really any kind of egg that isn’t scrambled, hard boiled, or maybe on occasion….fried.  Although, scrolling through recipes online has lead to really like the idea of a poached egg…….so I decided to try something new, and I poached my first egg!  It went surprisingly well all things considered!  Granted, I over cooked it, but I thought that I would start with a more solid yolk, and then back down the doneness scale until I reach a point where I don’t like them.  I will say that I’m a big fan of the texture of the egg whites…..they are fluffier than eggs cooked other ways.

So, this week I’ve made several very cute and successful little poached eggs.  I also discovered that with enough focus I can crack an egg with one hand.  This became necessary because I thought that manicures and egg poaching were two activities that could be done together.  I mean…..they can…..but I don’t recommend it.  I’m sorry I didn’t take any pictures of the adventure, I was a little bit panicky about it.  Horror stories of poached eggs gone wrong were flashing in my brain.  However, I had no disasters, and everything was easier than expected honestly!!

It’s never too late to learn a new skill, and it’s always good to broaden your horizons!