experiments in cooking

Archive for September, 2010

Delicious Mashed Apples, aka Homemade Apple Sauce

I have no idea what motivated some cook years and years ago to take perfectly good stewed sliced apples and put extra time and effort into mashing them up and calling them applesauce. Really, homemade apple sauce is just stewed apples with another name. But someone somewhere decided that mashing those stewed apples was an excellent idea. And, over the years, I’ve discovered that a number of women I know have, unlike me, made homemade apple sauce at one time or another.

They obviously saw the attraction. I never did, until recently. The apple sauce at the store was good enough for me. But over recent weeks, I began to think I might try taking stewed apples to another level and make my very own apple sauce.

It sounds so rustic, so authentic. “Oh, my dear, you buy your apple sauce at the store? Not me, oh no. I make my own apple sauce—from real apples that I picked in an orchard. Yes, this apple sauce is the real thing.”

Of course, as anyone who has made homemade apple sauce should know, store-bought apple sauce and homemade apple sauce are two different foods, really. I imagine that you can get your homemade apple sauce to resemble store-bought apple sauce if you really, really spend time and effort on it. But really—admit it—your average homemade apple sauce is stewed apples that, for whatever reason, possibly boredom, a cook has decided to mash up.

I did it with a potato masher. But let me back up: First I cored and sliced six apples, a mix of Jonathan, Honeycrisp, and Empire. I dumped them in a large skillet and added a ½ cup of apple juice, some lemon juice, and cinnamon. Then I let them simmer over low heat (stirring often) for approximately 20 minutes, mixed in ½ cup Splenda and ½ tsp. nutmeg, and removed the apples from the heat. Then I mashed them up.

I don’t why I needed to mash them up. As I’ve said, I don’t know why anyone originally thought that mashing stewed apples would improve on the dish. Even if you were toothless, it wouldn’t be easier to eat mashed apples than regular stewed apples. But mash them I did, because I didn’t want to be left out of the Homemade Apple Sauce Club.

The resulting mashed apples—not apple sauce, that’s the stuff in the jar that I bought at Walmart—were delicious, I have to admit. Last night I served them warm, as a side dish to accompany French bread pizza. Tonight we are going to eat more of the mashed apples, chilled, with chicken fillet sandwiches.

Anyway, now I can say I’ve done it. I have made mashed apples—okay, apple sauce, to those of you who think it should be called that. And I am now rustic and authentic and all that enviable stuff.

Also, I am now going to find some poor person who has not made mashed-up homemade apple sauce before and make her feel that she is missing out. She really is, poor thing.

Easy Chicken Enchiladas for Those of Us Who Don’t Like Mexican Food

Back when I was a young teen, I refused to eat anything that sounded even remotely Mexican. Then my granny served some chicken enchiladas that I was required to try out of politeness—and I liked them.

Then again, I may not have been especially polite. It’s possible the conversation went something like this:

“I don’t like Mexican food.”

“But this isn’t like most Mexican food.”

“Still, I don’t like enchiladas.”

“You haven’t even tried them.”

“Why should I try something I know I don’t like?”

“You’ll eat the enchiladas if you want dessert!”

“Okay, okay, I’ll taste the enchilada.”

I hope the conversation didn’t go this way. But I’m sure I was thinking all of my side of the above conversation. And, today, I have versions of this conversation at every meal with my four-year-old.

Anyway, these enchiladas weren’t necessarily real Mexican enchiladas, but they involved tortillas and chicken and green chiles and onion and sour cream, and to my surprise, I liked them. And I stopped telling everyone that I hated all Mexican food.

This week I decided it was time to try making Granny’s chicken enchiladas myself, for my family, my parents-in-laws, and my brother-in-law at our regular Tuesday night dinner. I’d never tried to make the dish, and the recipe looked simple. And, even though I often don’t like sour cream, I remembered liking this dish a lot. Plus, I had a thrifty scheme to bake a chicken one night for dinner and use the leftover breast meat for chicken enchiladas the next night. Who doesn’t get a kick out of making really good use of leftovers?

To make the enchiladas, I first preheated the oven to 350 degrees and sprayed a large baking pan with canola oil. Next I shredded the chicken breast meat, chopped a single green onion, and then mixed the green onion and a small can of green chiles into the chicken. Then I thoroughly mixed one can of reduced sodium cream of chicken soup and eight ounces of light sour cream. I added three soup spoons full of the soup mixture to the chicken and mixed it together to bind the onion and chiles to the chicken. Next I divided the chicken mixture evenly into eight tortillas. I rolled up each tortilla and placed them, seam side down, into the baking dish. Then I poured the rest of the soup mixture over the tortillas and, finally, sprinkled a small amount of cheese (shredded fiesta blend) over the top to add a little color and texture. I put the dish in the oven and baked it for exactly 45 minutes. I served them with medium salsa on the side, along with a lettuce salad.

My chicken enchiladas turned out tasting exactly as I remember Granny’s enchiladas tasting years ago. Delicious! I noticed, pleased, that my father-in-law ate two of them, and my husband ate two and a half. I don’t like to encourage overeating, but I have to admit I liked to see the enchiladas disappearing.

Oh, and the way I figured it, everyone who ate one enchilada or two definitely earned their dessert. Everyone, that is, except my four-year-old, Jonah, who did not try an enchilada at all. Like a teenager I once knew, the kid doesn’t like Mexican food, doesn’t eat enchiladas, and doesn’t want to try anything he knows he won’t like.

The Chicken that Wouldn’t Cook – And Cookies to Mend the Ego

The Chicken

It should not be so hard to roast a chicken.

But last night, there I was, standing in my kitchen at 5:30, long after I thought the chicken was going to be done, yelling, “It’s never going to be done!”

My family didn’t really share my concern. Chris told me to calm down (which prompted a loud explanation on my part of why I didn’t need to calm down), and Jonah said, “Mom, you should not talk like that!” He always thinks I’m being naughty. But I was really worked up. “I put this chicken in the oven at 3:45,” I shouted. “We should be eating it right now!”

“Give it 15 more minutes, okay?” Chris suggested.

So I did, although it was a long, long, wait for me. And this time, when the timer went off and I checked the chicken, it was done. After approximately two hours. Then, because I wanted to serve something I felt good about, I made a gravy to go with our chicken and the rolls.

This time I blame the recipe, which recommended I roast the chicken, covered, at 350 for 1 hour 15 minutes. During the final 15 minutes of the long two hours, I checked my Joy of Cooking, which said to bake a five-lb chicken for about 1 hour and 10 minutes at 400 degrees. That’s right—400 degrees, not 350. Next time I’m trying the same time at 400 degrees.

No-Bake Cookies

Besides the gravy, there was one other bright spot in my culinary efforts last night. During the first hour and 15 minutes the chicken was baking, I had a craving for some cookies, so I decided to make some chocolate no-bake cookies since that wouldn’t require use of the oven. I used creamy peanut butter instead of chunky, and I cut back the amount of sugar slightly. Chris ate four cookies, and Jonah ate two (even though he said he didn’t like them, because he was hoping to get something else as a treat in addition to the cookies). Poor Neeley wouldn’t eat one at all. He was feeling sick to his stomach and feverish.

I am still waiting for one time when I can make a roasted chicken without any problems, but at least I went to bed last night knowing I didn’t screw up no-bake cookies. Because that would be embarrassing.

The Michelangelo of Rolls

Before starting to assemble and bake my first apple pandowdy this past Saturday, I thought, Wouldn’t it be fun to have homemade rolls with dinner?

Only, I’d never made my own rolls before.

I wasn’t sure where to start. I bought some quick-rise yeast recently, but I didn’t have a favorite recipe of my own, or even one I was sure I could do. Then I remembered that Angela Zeller, a student who worked in an office with me several years ago, was proud of her family’s favorite roll recipes and had photocopied a page from an old Home Economics Teachers’ Cookbook for me. On it I found a recipe titled “One-Hour Rolls.”

That’s the recipe for me, I thought.

Here is the recipe:

One-Hour Rolls

2 pkgs dry yeast

1 ½ cup lukewarm buttermilk

¼ cup sugar

½ c. melted shortening

1 tsp salt
4 ½ cups sifted flour
½ tsp baking soda
 
Dissolve yeast in ¼ cup warm water.

Combine buttermilk, sugar, shortening and salt in bowl. Stir in yeast, mixing well.

Sift in flour and soda, mixing well.

Let stand for 10 minutes.

Shape into rolls and place in greased baking dishes.

Let rise for 30 minutes.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15–20 min until brown.

As I set out everything I would need to make the rolls, I realized the recipe said nothing about what type of dish to bake the rolls in. I decided to use a baking dish and bake the rolls with their sides touching, as pull-apart rolls. But I didn’t know what size to use.

First I pulled out a 8-inch round dish, but it looked too small. Next I set out an 8×8 square dish, but it looked too small too. So I set out a 8×11-inch dish and sprayed it with canola oil, then set to work making my dough.

When I had the dough ready, I began rolling it gently into balls and dropping them in the baking pan. After one row of rolls was in the dish, I got a feeling this dish wasn’t going to be big enough either. So I set it aside, pulled out my largest cake pan, and put the rolls into it instead. To my surprise, in a few minutes, I had filled the big cake pan with rolls and was filling the previous dish too. I guess with most older recipes, you were cooking for a crowd—not a family of four, including one child who gags on rolls because they might be gross.

I wondered if the rolls would rise much, since the recipe calls for letting them rise for just 30 minutes. But, they did rise, albeit not to twice their original size. And it was a good thing I hadn’t crammed them all into one baking dish.

In just 20 minutes at 400, the rolls were done—golden brown and smelling delicious.

The finished rolls tasted slightly biscuit-y, because they aren’t allowed to rise long and contain buttermilk. But they are definitely real rolls. They remind me of rolls I’ve had at many little Baptist church potluck dinners over the years.

Is it wrong that I feel so proud of myself? I mean, I made rolls! I rather feel that now, I am one with my ancestors, with my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother and my father’s mother’s mother’s mother … Are they looking down on me now, pleased about the baking talents of this female descendent of their line?

Oh, to be honest, I suppose that if they do see me, they’re probably laughing—because they could have made rolls in their sleep. While churning butter, trimming the kerosene lamp, and the sow out of the kitchen. And here I am, thinking I’m Michelangelo of the kitchen.

I know, I know.

But, hey, I made rolls!

Apple Day: Honeycrisp Apples, My New Apple Peeler, and a Molasses Apple Pandowdy

The Orchard – Run on the Honeycrisps

Beautiful Melrose Apples at Martin's Hillside Orchard.

Last week I got an email update from Martin’s Hillside Orchard that several varieties of apples had ripened, including early-season Fujis, Empires, Jonathans, and Honeycrisps. So I immediately planned a Saturday-morning family trip to the orchard, with the intention of using the freshly picked apples and my new rotary apple peeler/slicer/corer to make an apple dessert Saturday afternoon—a new dessert, of course. The one I had in mind was an old-fashioned apple pandowdy described in The Joy of Cooking. Chris loves apples and apple desserts, so he didn’t require much persuasion for the trip, even though he hates getting up on Saturday mornings.

Around 10:30 Saturday morning, all four of us were finally in the car on the way to the orchard, located about 15 minutes north of Lincoln, Neb. As we neared the driveway to the orchard, it became clear that the two cars behind us were also going to the orchard.

Chris was a little worried. “They’re going to take all the apples!” he said. So we had to rush from the car to the orchard, knowing there was a chance Jonah and Neeley would slow us down. So I made Jonah run along beside me and Chris tried to carry Neeley as fast as he could.

I found Alex Martin, the orchard owner, in the Apple Barn. I saw, happily, that we had beat the other two carloads of people into the building. So I got the first chance to ask Alex where to find the apple varieties we were interested in picking. As we turned to walk down the hill to the trees, the people behind us said to Alex, excitedly, “We’re looking for the Honeycrisps.”

As Alex began to describe where to find them, Chris and I exchanged glances. These Honeycrisps must be something good.

We made our way to the Honeycrisps first ourselves, curious. I’d never had one, myself. They were pretty apples, that’s for sure. I think we must have picked a couple dozen of them, exclaiming every time we got a “good one.” It wasn’t long before other people came running along the row. I had to haul Neeley out of the way as they rushed past. Chris heard one young man shout, “He said there’s more of them further down!” And the crowd ran by.

“Forget the other apples,” said Chris. “They’re all about the Honeycrisps.”

Sure enough, as we moved through the orchard to pick a few early Fujis (there weren’t many), some Empires (a new variety to us), and a fair number of Jonathans, we never crossed paths with another human. They were all in the Honeycrisp row.

“Those things must be really good,” I said.

In the end, we purchased $22.50 worth of apples. Back at the car, I noticed one of the Honeycrisps had been slightly damaged in the picking process. It was a huge apple—must have been about 10 ounces. I offered it to Jonah. “Do you want an apple?” I said.

Jonah’s eyes grew huge as he gazed at the apple. “Uh—yeah!” he said.

“It’s a big apple,” I said. “You’ll have to share it with your brother.”

“Okay,” he said.

In the car, secure in his booster seat, Jonah took a bite. “Mmmm!” he said. He took several more bites.

“Want apple!” said Neeley.

So I handed the giant apple from Jonah to Neeley.

“Mmmm!” said Neeley.

All the way back to Lincoln, Jonah and Neeley passed the apple back and forth. Juice dripped down onto Neeley’s jacket until it was soaked. And Jonah kept giggling and saying things like “I like this apple!” and “I’m eating a BIG apple!” and “Neeley likes the apple too!”

Finally I turned around and Jonah handed me the core.

“You ate it all!” I said, wonderingly. “It must have been really good.”

“Yeah!” he said, and added, “Can I have an apple with lunch?”

So we all had apples with lunch.

The Apple Peeler

After lunch, I put Neeley in his bed for a nap and went to the kitchen to try out my new apple peeler. Since Joy of Cooking suggested Empire apples for the pandowdy, I fit an Empire onto the apparatus and turned the handle. In less than 10 seconds, the apple was completely peeled, cored, and sliced. And I was in love with my new gadget.

Because I was squealing and yelling “Come look at this!” Jonah came running into the kitchen to see. He begged to take a turn. It was so easy, he personally peeled the rest of the apples I needed for the pandowdy.

I have never seen such a cool kitchen tool in my life. Why had I never seen one used before? Oh, if only my mom could have had one when I was a child. She would have loved it.

The Apple Pandowdy

I’ve wanted to try an apple pandowdy for several weeks now. An apple pandowdy is like a deep-dish pie—just fruit filling in a dish and a top crust—no bottom crust. According to The Joy of Cooking, it’s traditionally sweetened with molasses. For the one I made on Saturday, I used half molasses and half brown sugar, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, allspice, and a pre-made Great Value pie crust.

I used a 10-inch decorative pie pan for the baking dish. Per the Joy of Cooking instructions, I baked the pandowdy for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, then took it out of the oven, turned the oven down to 350, and cut the crust into two inch sections (like you would a brownie). Then I pressed the edges of the crust pieces down into the apple filling to allow the juices to come through, and I also spooned some of the molasses/apple jelly that was already bubbling up over the top of the crust and spread it over the surface of the crust. Next I returned the dish to the oven and baked it about 30 minutes more.

Early in the assembly process, I did make a mistake; the recipe called for ¼ tsp of cinnamon and ¼ tsp of nutmeg, but I added ½ tsp of both because I picked up the wrong measuring spoon. Fortunately, some people really like cinnamon and fall spices, so the pandowdy was a success even with the extra cinnamon and nutmeg. A friend who tried it Sunday at lunch said something about the fragrant spices—she’s a cinnamon lover.

Now, since pre-made pie crusts come in sets of two, I’ve got one more Great Value pie crust left to use. I will probably try an Apple Galette this week—which is essentially a rustic pie or apple pizza. And I cannot wait to use my new apple peeler again. I thank God for gadgets like this one—I really do.

Two Types of People: Those Who Love Sour Cream, and Those Who Don’t

When I was in college, there was one meal the university cafeteria served that I absolutely loved: poppy seed chicken over rice. Even after I moved off campus in the middle of my junior year, I always ate at the cafeteria the nights they served poppy seed chicken.

A few years later, I was a newlywed compiling recipes for my favorite childhood meals into a personal cookbook, and I thought about that poppy seed chicken. In a fit of nostalgia for the good old college days, I researched poppy seed chicken recipes online and added one of them to my cookbook, along with recipes from Mom and Aunt Marilyn and Grandma Tena and Granny Baker and my best friend’s mom, Linda Hensley.

Last week, I got to thinking that I’d never made several of the recipes in my personal cookbook. I sat down to read through the chicken section, and came across the recipe for “Poppy Seed Poultry Casserole.” Why not? I thought. I do miss that poppy seed chicken.

“Did you like that poppy seed chicken they served in the cafeteria back in college?” I asked my husband.

“Not particularly,” said Chris.

I wasn’t letting anything curb my enthusiasm. So I said, “Mind if I make some poppy seed chicken next Monday?”

Chris shrugged, and I think maybe he rolled his eyes. This means, Whatever floats your boat, Sarah. I guess he didn’t want to argue about poppy seed chicken.

Over the week I purchased a couple of ingredients for the dish that I didn’t have on hand—poppy seeds, dill, and one that concerned me: sour cream. I don’t like sour cream much. I’m not sure why I originally selected a recipe that included eight ounces of sour cream, but maybe back in the early 2000s there weren’t as many recipes online from which to choose. And I don’t mind sour cream when baked in coffee cakes or cookies, even though can’t stand it in a burrito or on top of nachos … I don’t know why I have these feelings about sour cream.

Maybe I wouldn’t be able to taste it in the final dish.

At any rate, I decided to forge ahead with the poppy seed chicken, and when Monday afternoon rolled around, I rushed home from my job and got to work.

While sautéing two boneless chicken breasts (cut into bite-size pieces), I mixed together one can of cream of chicken soup, eight ounces of sour cream, one tablespoon of poppy seeds, one teaspoon of dill, and 3 cups of cooked rice. I added the sautéed chicken, then pressed the mixture into a 9×13 baking dish. Then I mixed some Ritz cracker crumbs with a little butter and sprinkled the cracker crumbs over the top of the dish. Next I placed the dish in the oven to bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

At dinner, I took one bite and knew: I hated this dish. All I could taste was the sour cream, permeating everything. This was not the poppy seed chicken of my memories.

As I sat, trying to force down a few bites, trying to like it, Chris exclaimed, “Hey, I love this stuff!”

I looked up. I paused, then said, “I don’t think I like it.”

“What?” said Chris. “You better not be telling me I’m not going to get to have this again! Because that would be bad.”

“I don’t like the sour cream,” I said, mournfully. “I was afraid this would happen.”

“I can’t even taste the sour cream,” said Chris.

“Well, I don’t think I can finish this,” I said. “And I’m afraid there’s going to be a lot left over.”

“That’s okay,” said Chris. “I’m going to have seconds—and maybe thirds.”

I watched as Chris cleaned his plate, left the table, and then returned, the entire plate heaped with poppy seed poultry casserole (with sour cream). And told me several more times how delicious it was.

Well, I’m glad he liked it. Maybe a lot of people would like it. But now I have to find the dish I dreamed of—I have to find a poppy seed chicken dish that tastes like the one I had in the college cafeteria.

And when I do, will I love it and Chris hate it? No, I won’t believe that. Somewhere out there is a poppy seed chicken and rice dish that we both can love …

I am looking for you, chicken.

Grilled Barbecue Bison Burgers

On Tuesday nights, I have my in-laws and (if he’s not at work) my brother-in-law, Jeremiah, over for dinner. So every Tuesday I have to come up with a meal that will serve four to five adults and two picky children. Most other nights of the week I only have to fix enough food for two adults and the same picky children. These meals are good practice for when the boys grow up and begin to eat real food (they will some day, right?), at which point I’ll be cooking for at least four every night. I say at least four, because I understand that teenage boys can eat way more than enough for one person.

This Tuesday Chris grilled barbecue burgers for his family and ours. My main contribution was buying the meat and making the patties. I always hand-form my burger patties because we haven’t had great results with pre-made or frozen burger patties. Also, I prefer half-bison, half-beef burgers. So, I mixed together one pound of grass-fed ground beef from the Nebraska Food Coop and one pound of ground buffalo (I think I purchased it at Super Saver, from the “Local Foods” freezer). I made 8 full-size patties plus one small patty. That seems like a lot of patties for two pounds, but I think there was actually a little over a pound in each package.

While Chris grilled the burgers, liberally saucing them on the grill, I sliced a tomato that we picked up Saturday morning from the Lincoln Farmer’s Market and tore some red leaf lettuce for the burgers and for a lettuce salad. We also had pickles, dill as well as sweet gherkins, for those at the table who don’t eat salad–namely, Chris’s brother Jeremiah and our boys.

The burgers turned out great, thanks to Chris’s grilling skills. Also, I was happy that the Russ’s Market buns we ate them on cost only 79 cents. I really like to get the better-quality buns most of the time (like Sara Lee’s whole grain white buns), but sometimes I just can’t pass up a deal like 79 cents for a bag of burger buns.

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