What I’ve Learned After Three Years…

It’s been a little over three years that I have written this blog. It’s been fun, challenging and educational all at the same time. It started out as a blog sharing my thoughts and opinions, but I soon found out that I didn’t have as many interesting and provocative thoughts as I would like and no on really cared about my opinions.

During that time I became very interested in cooking and baking. I never had a talent for it and was never mentored in the kitchen so I learned many things the hard way. I decided I would be a recipe critic and review recipes I found on Pinterest. I did that a few times on my blog but quickly got bored with the idea.

Then it dawned on me that if I’d never been mentored in the kitchen there were probably a lot more out there like me who were struggling and just not intuitive in the culinary arts.  So I basically decided to make that the focus of my blog. I never looked back.

A staple of my posts are my lessons learned while making or perfecting a recipe. There are so many things that are not included in recipes that writers simply think one knows. That is not the case. My goal is to share those tidbits that, if unknown, can make or break one’s success in the kitchen. So in sticking to my format, let me share my lessons learned writing this blog over the past three years. Here we go…

Lesson Learned 1 – Have a focus for your blog: Once I had a focus posting became much easier and my readership increased. And if you are looking for people to follow your blog you need to post regularly. The goal I have with my blog is to post one new recipe a week. Sometimes I fall short, especially around the holidays. But most of the time I achieve my goal. I decided the best way to approach my blog was by helping folks avoid viewing cooking and baking as…

funny-cooking-quotes

Lesson Learned 2 – Market your blog and be patient: There are several ways to market your blog. I am not interested in paying for that service so I try just a few simple methods to get more readership. Anytime I publish a new blog I’ve set up parameters to upload the blog to my Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts. I also have a Facebook page for the blog and I post links every time a new blog is published. I also use word of mouth as a tool. I happen to work part time in housewares retail and so I make sure my co-workers and even some customers hear about it. You never know who that connection will be that will get more readers to your blog.

Check out my Facebook page for this site. I could always use a few more “likes”. http://www.facebook.com/youbetchacanmakethis/

Lesson Learned 3 – Pictures, pictures, pictures: Your blog needs to be visually appealing as well or a new reader will immediately click off of your site. You heard the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words…” That couldn’t be more true. Don’t worry about needing expensive equipment. Every picture on this site was taken with an iPhone. Pictures tell a compelling story especially when it comes to cooking and baking.

Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Choose an eye catching featured image and incorporate as many pictures as makes sense. If you check out some of my posts you’ll see they have a minimum of 3 pictures. I also include the featured picture at the end of my blog. People who subscribe to my blog by email don’t see the featured picture as it is shown online and since that one is usually the best I want to make sure my subscribers get it to see it as well.

Strawberry & Raspberry Crumb Cake

Strawberry & Raspberry Crumb Cale

Plus, I don’t know about you but when I look at a recipe I want to see what the end product is supposed to look like. So make sure you use pictures. They are an effective tool.

Recipes on You Betcha Can Make This

Lesson Learned 4 – Never second guess what recipe will become popular: I remember when I posted the recipe for my cream cheese, bacon, spinach and scallion pinwheels. I thought to myself ” This is such a rudimentary recipe, everyone makes these so no one will be interested.” WRONG! This recipe is one of my most popular and it gets tons of hits especially around the holidays and Super Bowl. I almost didn’t publish that blog and now I know not to second guess myself. You never know what will be a hit with your readers.

Cream Cheese Bacon & Spinach Pinwheels

Cream Cheese Bacon, Spinach and Scallion Pinwheels

Conversely, when I posted the recipe below I thought it would be a big hit. And although it does get some face time, it wasn’t nearly as much as I’d expected. But I’ve also seen some of my recipes catch on at a later date. So, don’t give up hope. And don’t be afraid to post something simply because you think it will be of no interest. You may actually be surprised (as I certainly was) at the results.

Salmon and Cremini Mushroom Duxelle En Croute...

Salmon and Cremini Mushroom Duxelle En Croute…

Lesson Learned 5 – Take the time to proof read and edit your blog: I never post a blog the day I write it. I always come back the next day, reread it and incorporate edits. I’m always amazed to see my brilliant writing from the day before all of a sudden become not quite as brilliant. I also read my blog out loud. That way it slows down my reading and I catch typos or mistakes. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve left one ingredient out of a recipe. You certainly don’t want to post that. If you don’t take your writing seriously no on else will. So make sure when you post a blog you’re as grammatically correct and error free as you can possibly be. Also make sure that your blog flows and makes sense.

If you use these simple tricks chances are people will gravitate toward your blog. It takes time, so be patient. There was a point that I wondered if anyone was looking at my website. But now my stats assure me that they are. And it’s fun to know that people are looking at your site and trying your recipes.

So as we face the dawn of 2017 I look forward to another year of posting recipes. As always they will include any lessons learned so the newbies in the kitchen can become more proficient right out of the gate. I leave you with links to three of my personal favorites. May you all have a happy and healthy 2017!

Shepherds Pie Turkey Style...

Shepherds Pie Turkey Style…

Artisan No Knead Bread

Artisan No Knead Bread

Iced Cinnamon Chip Cookies

Iced Cinnamon Chip Cookies

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Candied Pecans…

I haven’t posted recently in my tips and tricks section so today I thought I would add a little tidbit into that category. This little trick is a great way to enhance the flavor of any salad – candied pecans.

The recipe came about when I recently hosted a Super Bowl party. Being that my home town team (the Denver Broncos) was in the game I wanted to have a menu that would allow me to actually watch the game but still serve food that was quick and easy but also special. For one of my dishes I decided to have an apple, cranberry spinach salad and decided that adding candied pecans would dress it up nicely. Needless to say, they were a hit. One guest said she wanted to forget the rest of the food and just eat the pecans. So next time you want to dress up a salad try this recipe. They’re so good and you can make them ahead of time which is always a good thing when you’re having a party.

So let me share a couple of quick reminders when making candied pecans…

Lesson Learned 1 – Make sure you line your baking pan with a silicone mat or parchment paper: Otherwise you will wind up with a sticky mess that will be very difficult if not impossible to clean.

Lesson Learned 2 – It is important to stir the pecans every 15 minutes: If you don’t they will all clump together and not roast evenly. The sugar mixture will harden so you want to regularly loosen it up and prevent having big globs of pecans stuck together.

Other than that, this recipe is very easy to make. But let me warn you, you’ll need strong will power in order to resist gobbling them all up yourself. Enjoy!

CANDIED PECANS…

  • Servings: Several
  • Time: 55 Minutes Including Prep
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 Tbs. cinnamon

1 tsp. salt

8 ounces pecan halves, unsalted

1 egg white

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp water

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a large walled baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. (I used parchment paper and it worked just fine).

Combine sugars, cinnamon and salt. Whisk together till combined. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg white, vanilla and water until the mixture is frothy. Add the pecans and coat them thoroughly in the egg white mixture. Add the sugar mixture and toss until the pecans are completely coated.

Spread the pecans in a single layer onto the baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes making sure to stir the pecans every 15 minutes.

Leave the pecans on the baking sheet until completely cooled. Store in an airtight container.

Candied Pecans

 

Tips N’ Tricks: Knives

I’ve learned a lot about knives in the last few years. Knives are one of the most important tools in the kitchen. They can be your best friend or your worst enemy. And they can cost a lot of money. Knives, in my opinion, are an important investment for any cook but you need to know their uses, their construction and determine exactly what it is that you need and don’t need before making any decisions on what knives you should have. Again I need to add the disclaimer here that I work at Crate and Barrel. I learned a lot about knives by working there but I am not advocating for them or their products.

There are a wide variety of knife manufacturers out there and I am not recommending any brand. What I can tell you is there are certain characteristics common to all knives and you need to be aware of them in order to make informed decisions on what to buy and what to use.

The basics for all knives include:

  • The type of steel that is used
  • The concentration of steel in the knife
  • The angle to which the blade is honed
  • The types of knife/knives you need for your lifestyle and how you cook
  • The way to care for knives

THE TYPE OF STEEL:

German Steel

German Steel

Basically there are two types of steel used in knife blades, standard and Asian. Standard steel,  sometimes called German steel, is a thicker heavier steel.  Asian steel is thinner. Looking at these pictures it is difficult to tell them apart, but when you see them and use them you will understand the difference immediately. So, why do you need to know this? For the burgeoning cook I personally would not recommend working with Asian steel knives. Because Asian steel is thinner if it’s not used properly it can pit or even break at the edge of the blade. Not that standard steel is exempt from pitting or breaking if not used properly, I just feel you have to be more careful with an Asian steel blade. Most cooks who are in a learning phase can tend to be a little heavy handed with their knives. Unless you really know what you are doing I would recommend, at least initially, staying away from knives made of Asian steel. They are very expensive and totally worth the money, but the edges can break easily if not used or cared for properly.

Asian Steel

Asian Steel

Even though I feel I know my way around the kitchen, I prefer German steel knives. This is simply my preference and has nothing to do with the quality or usefulness of either type. I know many cooks who prefer Asian steel knives. I like the feel of standard steel, it feels more substantive in my hand, and it works beautifully for how I cook and what I need. I will say, I do have a few Asian steel knives, namely a santoku and a boning knife. All santokus, whether German or Asian steel, are ground to the same fine edge (16 degrees). So I can choose whether I want the heavier feel of the German steel or the lighter feel of the Asian steel when I use a santoku (my knife of choice) and still have the finer ground edge. For boning I prefer the asian steel as I like the lighter feel and finer edge when I bone chickens and the like. Otherwise all the other knives in my arsenal are made of German Steel. The picture below is the blade of my boning knife. It is Asian steel, and even with the great care I give it you can still see some small pits in the edge of the blade. I hone it regularly (which I will get to in a minute) and use it carefully. The tip is also slightly bent. It still works beautifully but it reinforces my point of having to be very careful, or at least I do, using knives made of Asian steel. One thing I will tell you is the professional chefs I know tend to favor the Asian steel knives because of the lighter feel and the sharper edge. So don’t shy away from them if that is what you really want. Just remember not to hack with them and take good care of them.

Blade of my boning knife, Asian steel.

Blade of my boning knife, Asian steel.

Knowing the difference between the two, the other thing I recommend before buying knives is to go to a store where you can hold them in your hand. Everyone has a personal preference and you want to make sure the knife feels balanced in your hand and the weight and size of it works for you, especially if you plan to make a significant investment in cutlery.

THE CONCENTRATION OF STEEL:

This is so important and something that I did not learn until a few years ago. Inspect your knives carefully and look to see how much steel is in them. The price of knives is determined by two simple factors: the manufacturing process and the concentration of steel. If a knife is forged it will be more expensive than if it is pressed. A knife with a larger concentration of steel will be more expensive than one with a smaller concentration. Simple enough.

So why is this important? The amount of steel in a knife actually helps to balance it when it’s in your hand. There are some knives that only have steel in the visible blade and the entire handle is some sort of synthetic material like plastic. Those knives, although useful, will not be balanced in your hand as the weight of the blade is heavier than the weight of the handle. On the other hand, those knives will also be more affordably priced.

If you are looking to invest in some quality cutlery you need to look for a knife that has what is called a “full tang”. A full tang means that there is steel not only in the blade but also through the handle of the knife. There are various concentrations of steel in a full tang, but if a knife has a full tang, the way it balances in your hand will be significantly different than if there is no steel or only a little steel in the handle.

Knives should function as an extension of your hand and should ideally be balanced from the handle to the tip. The amount of steel in the tang will affect the balance you feel when the knife is in your hand. Below are two pictures that illustrate the concept of tang:

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Both of these knives are exhibiting what is called a full tang – but you can easily see the difference of concentration of the steel in the tang. What you see in the picture to the left is steel that goes all the way through the handle, top to bottom. The synthetic material in the handle is riveted to the steel. The steel in the handle counter balances the steel of the blade resulting in a more balanced feel in your hand compared to a knife that does not have a full tang.

Now compare that to the knife on the right which also exhibits a full tang but with a much larger concentration of steel at the tip. That extra steel creates a perfect balance between blade and handle. The knife on the right is more expensive than the knife on the left. A burgeoning chef may not need a knife to be perfectly balanced in their hands but it’s good to know the difference. The knife to the right is my santoku. It is my go-to knife and so I felt it important to make the investment in this particular knife. All my other knives are like the one on the left, sturdy and nicely counter balanced.

THE ANGLE OF THE BLADE:

Standard steel is generally ground to a 20 degree angle, except for santokus made of standard steel. They are ground to the finer 16 degree angle. Asian steel blades are generally all ground to the finer angle of 16 degrees. For me, the angle to which a blade is honed really makes no difference. It tends to make a big difference for professional chefs who tell me they prefer the finer angle.

For me, the finer angle is prone to more blade issues like denting or pitting, especially the way I cook and how I work with knives. Just be aware of this before you make any decisions. The Asian steel knives may well be your preference and they are fabulous knives. What you really need to think about it how you cook and what you need. Most everyday cooks hardly notice any difference between the two angles of blades common in all knives.

WHAT KNIVES DO YOU REALLY NEED:

I am a big proponent of investing in knives that you really need and not necessarily buying a set of knives that look great on your counter but have knives in them that you never use. Let me show you what I have which I find suits my needs to a tee.

THE SANTOKU:

German Steel

As I mentioned earlier, this is my go-to knife. A santoku is basically another version of a chef’s knife. This is my chop, mince, dice, slice knife. I use this knife more than any other to do a myriad of prep chores for my recipes. This particular knife is called a hollow ground santoku because of the scallops you can see about the edge. Those scallops help to easily loosen starchy things like potatoes from the blade. I prefer this to a santoku that is not hollow ground.

THE BREAD KNIFE:

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Now who doesn’t need a bread knife? The scalloped edges of the blade helps to cut even the softest bread without ripping it apart. One thing to know about a bread knife is that you can get it in a right handed, left handed or both handed blade. Mine is a right handed blade. That means when you hold the knife the right hand side of the blade exhibits a noticeable grind to the edge that is not on the left side. If you want a left handed or full grind, ask for it when you’re buying knives. They do exist but may have to be ordered.

THE BONING KNIFE:

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From my recipes in this blog you can see I prepare a lot of chicken. It’s less expensive to buy whole chickens or breasts with rib meat than to buy them prepared for you. I use my boning knife for this purpose. I also use my boning knife to remove the skin from fish. It is light weight and extremely sharp and with simple strokes this knife makes those jobs much easier.

THE UTILITY KNIFE:

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I use this knife especially for carving meats and poultry before serving. You can also use this knife for some of the more basic kitchen duties, especially for slicing. I tend to use this knife the least but it is my go-to carving knife.

THE TOMATO AND PARING KNIVES:

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The knife with the serrated edge is the tomato knife. It functions somewhat like a bread knife in that it’s designed to cut softer fruits and vegetables without tearing them. The other knife is a paring knife. This knife is designed for chores that require more agility in knife handling. I use my paring knife for deveining shrimp, cutting the skin off of apples, taking out the seeds of peppers and like kitchen prep chores. I use my paring knife almost as much as I use my santoku.

These are my knives. I made conscious choices to have knives that fit my needs and how I cook. There are a lot of different types of knives out there. I would recommend investing in the knives you will use versus buying a bunch and only using a few of them. Learn each knife’s primary function and determine if you really need that in your kitchen.

KNIFE CARE:

If there is only one tidbit of information you take away from the blog let it be this – never, never put a good knife in a dishwasher. First of all I will guarantee you it will annihilate an asian steel knife and even a standard steel if bumped and jostled will pit and break off at the edge. The best way to ensure that you will ruin your knives is to put them in the dishwasher.

wüsthof-sharpening-steel

It is also important to regularly hone your knives. By that I mean giving some tender loving care to the blade surface. It does not mean sharpening them. When it comes time to sharpen them, take them to a professional. I am not a big fan of electric sharpeners as you can wind up taking off more steel from the blade than you really want. If you pay good money for a knife, invest in maintaining it and you can have it for a lifetime.

Honing is a process of realigning the edge of the blade. When a blade is ground there are tiny steel fibers that run all up and down the edge. You can’t see them but they are there. When a knife seems to be a little dull it’s due to the fact that the fibers have separated, which happens naturally as you use a knife. Honing realigns those fibers so that you have a smoother edge resulting in cleaner cut. You can hone your blade with a honing steel like the one pictured above. Honing steels tend to come with knife sets or you can purchase them separately. I am not a big fan of a honing steel and here’s why. In order to use a honing steel properly you have to hold your knife at the correct angle of the blade (16 or 20 degrees) as you move the knife up and down the steel. Now I don’t know about you but I cannot perfectly eyeball 16 or 20 degrees or hold a knife perfectly at that angle the entire time I am honing it.  I prefer a honing device like the one pictured below (which is mine).

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I call this device the knife honer for dummies. If you look carefully at the choices, you can hone an Asian or a standard blade. Each notch is positioned to the exact angle for the steel in those knives. All you have to do is run your knife through one of the notches a couple of times and voila, your knife is honed to the exact angle.

In the picture below you will notice there are two honing choices for each type of steel, fine and course. Fine is for simple honing. Coarse actually takes a little steel off the blade when you use it. Look closely at the coarse notch for standard knives. You can actually see some steel shavings in the notch. When using a tool like this, primarily use the fine notches. I only use the coarse notches maybe once every couple of months. I used the fine notch after I use my knife about every 3 or 4 times. I find it keeps the blade edge nice and clean. I’ve had some of my knives for almost two years and using this maintenance tool I have not had to sharpen them yet. The rule of thumb here – use the fine notch after every 3-4 uses of the knife. Run the blade completely through 3-5 times and you’re done. The course notch use sparingly and when you do, run it through the same amount of times. You will keep your knives sharper must longer by maintaining them this way.

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It’s also important to store your knives properly. I knife block is a great tool. I keep my knives in their original boxes in my knife drawer. I protect them so that they never jostle against anything else.

Many people are afraid of sharp knives. Actually sharp knives are much safer than dull ones. There are more accidents in the home with dull knives than sharp ones. Sharp knives are easier to work with but you still need to be careful when using them.

I hope you found this blog helpful in giving you the tools to make some informed choices regarding knives. They are definitely your best friend in the kitchen and can last forever if you know how to use them and take care of them.

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Tips ‘N Tricks: Making A Juicy Pork Tenderloin

I’ve always loved pork ever since I was a kid. My mother, who was not the cook (nor was she ever really interested in it), would often make it for Sunday dinner. The problem with that is she would make a pork and beef roast together in the same pan, roasting them both for the same amount of time. I know, I know, it boggles the mind doesn’t it. But I did say my mother wasn’t the cook now didn’t I (all apologies to my wonderful mother).

I never really had a flavorful, juicy pork tenderloin roast until I was much older and that only came about through trial and error in learning how to roast it. Pork can be fabulous when it is roasted properly or it can taste like the Sahara Desert – there really is no in between.

Pork tenderloin roasts are easy to find. You see them all the time in the grocery store wrapped in vacuum packaging. You can get them plain or pre-marinated. I find most people shy away from these roasts because they hardly have any fat. You may find a thin layer of skin on one side, but all in all it is very lean meat almost reminiscent of boneless skinless chicken breasts (which most people tend to overcook as well).

My mother believed that meat needed to be completely cooked through. And some people like their meat that way. Not me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want my meat raw but I’ve found, especially with pork tenderloin, that many cooks think the pork is done when the meat is white completely throughout. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pork tenderloin can be slightly pink in the middle and the meat is still thoroughly cooked. The internal temperature should be between 140 – 145 degrees in the thickest part of the meat when you take it out of the oven. Don’t forget some carry over cooking will occur when the meat is resting.

With the technique I use I don’t even need a meat thermometer. As a matter of fact, I haven’t used one to test the doneness of these roasts in years. I simply roast the pork tenderloin at 375 degrees for one hour. Period. After an hour I take it out of the pan, cover it with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes. Then I slice and serve it. That’s all. It comes out perfectly every single time!

I prep the roast by taking it out of the vacuum packaging and drying it thoroughly with paper towels. There is a lot of gel-like substance in the package and I want to make sure the roast is completely clean and free of it. Then I season it, skin side up, with salt and pepper, brush it lightly with some olive oil (I mostly used garlic infused olive oil) and then add some sort of dry herb that goes well with pork. The herb in the picture below is dried thyme.  I place the roast on a rack in a small roasting pan and roast it for an hour, and voila – I get a juicy roast every single time.

I haven’t had a dry pork tenderloin in years. This technique is so easy to do and yet, as you can see by the picture, the roast looks so elegant and good (and juicy). So follow my little trick for these small tenderloin roasts and you will be successful every single time!

Juicy Pork Tenderoin

Juicy Pork Tenderoin

 

 

Tips ‘N Tricks Brussels Sprouts…

Recently I posted a recipe for Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta. I have to admit I am not a big fan of brussels sprouts but my husband is, so I am always looking for ways to punch up the flavor. So here are a couple of tips I recently learned that can add even more flavor to that recipe:

lodge-cast-iron-skillet1. Use a cast iron skillet: I got myself a plain old cast iron skillet for the holidays and it is amazing how evenly it cooks everything. After I boiled the brussels sprouts until they just started to become tender, I sautéed  them with some garlic infused olive oil in the cast iron skillet and the brussels sprouts not only finished cooking but were also evenly browned with the edges wonderfully caramelized.

A cast iron skillet is relatively inexpensive and is one of the best sources for cooking with even heat. Just make sure you season the skillet according to the manufacturers instructions before you use it for the first time. A good seasoned cast iron pan can last for generations if you use it properly.

Also, be aware that cast iron heats up slowly. Give the skillet a little extra time to heat up. Once a cast iron pan is heated it holds the heat beautifully throughout the entire cooking process.

2. Add some shallots to boost the flavor: This time I caramelized some shallots in the skillet (two medium sized ones, sliced) and then took them out while I browned and continued to cook the brussels sprouts and pancetta (and btw, if you don’t have or can’t afford pancetta, bacon works just as well). I added them back in at the end with the sun-dried tomatoes (see next tip) so they would not overcook during the process. Worked like a charm.

3. Add some sun-dried tomatoes at the very end: I saw this in another recipe and thought I’d try it. It was fabulous and really boosted the overall flavor of the dish. I used sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained them, chopped them, added them at the very end and just let them warm through . All I can say is – delicious! The result – the best tasting brussels sprouts to date! This was actually the first time ever that I enjoyed eating brussels sprouts! 

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Holiday Stove Top Potpourri…

 

Whenever the holidays roll around I look to fill my house with the scents of the season. There is nothing like a candle filling a room with the aromatic scent of balsam or pine. I love scented candles but with a young cat in the house I worry about what might happen while he prowls the upper reaches of the cabinets and countertops. So until I can break him of his curiosity, no scented candles this holiday season. Bummer…

I began to research something I could do to create those holiday smells in a way that I was able to provide more controlled monitoring. Low and behold on Facebook, of all places, I found a “recipe” for holiday smells I could simmer on my stove while doing my many hours of holiday baking.

I tried this yesterday and with a few tweaks it worked like a charm. I used water in the mixture yesterday, but next time I will substitute apple cider for water. The “recipe” couldn’t be easier and provides hour upon hour of warm, inviting holiday smells. Enjoy this little trick for the upcoming season!

Holiday Stove Top Potpourri…

1 small pot

1 orange, cut up in chunks

1 cup fresh cranberries

1/8 cup cloves

3 large or six small sticks of cinnamon, broken in half

2 tsp. nutmeg

Cover ingredients with water or apple cider – liquid should cover the dry ingredients and be about 1 inch from the top of the pot

Simmer on stove for hours of wonderful holiday smells

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Homemade Applesauce – Nothing Like It…

I’m including this under Tips ‘N Tricks and not under recipes because I can’t believe I never made homemade applesauce before and I also can’t believe how easy it is to make. There is absolutely no comparison to store bought applesauce. Homemade is far superior, hands down. So if you’ve never tried making applesauce, now’s the time to change that.

This is a great way to use a lot of apples. I used between 4 and 5 pounds of apples and it filled one large mason jar with applesauce. So if you get a windfall of apples, like I did this year, and you’re not sure what to do with them – make applesauce. You won’t regret it.

The procedure is simple. Just peel and slice up apples – (I did 4 -5 pounds but you can do more). Add 1/2 cup apple juice or cider, the juice of a small lemon, 1/2 cup brown sugar, cinnamon to taste and just a pinch of nutmeg. There are a whole bunch of recipes out there so I recommend doing a little research – and there is no limit to the spices you can add – you can really add any spices you want like allspice, or maple syrup or even a little butter. Just be careful with some of the more robust spices like allspice and nutmeg – they can take over the flavor. Be careful not to add too much cider or juice because it will not cook down well. Err on the side of less is more.

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Pour it all into a pot and cook it uncovered for about 25 minutes until everything is reduced down.  The mixture should look somewhat like the picture below.

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After that, just dump the mixture into a food processor and process. I like my apple sauce a little chunky so I pulsed the mixture. You can also just let it go to get a smooth consistency. The choice is up to you.

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I was bowled over by how easy this was. I can tell you this, if I have the choice, I will never buy store bought applesauce again!

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Baking With Flour and Eggs…

It occurred to me that I added a new category to my website called tips and trick and have yet to write a post under it. That ends today. The purpose of this category is to share some tips and tricks that I’ve learned along the way that make cooking and baking easier and better. I am hoping that my readers will also join in with their tips and tricks since I know I’ve still got a lot to learn.

My initial post covers two of my favorite tips, ones that have made a big difference in my baking. I call them knife aerated flour and quick and easy room temperature eggs.

KNIFE AERATED FLOUR:

I’ve often mentioned that my mother wasn’t a very good cook. She simply wasn’t interested in it. But when she did, she was not intuitive and she often made mistakes that affected the outcome of a recipe. One of her big mistakes was how to measure flour. Baking purists will tell you that the only way to measure flour is by weighing it. That may be the case, but I hardly find any recipes that include the weight of the flour in the ingredients. Normally it is listed in cups.

But not all cups are created equal. What my mother used to do is put flour in a measuring cup and then shake it so that the flour would settle. She would continue that process until she got the amount called for in the recipe. Basically she was using packed down flour as her measurement. Not good…

I found the best way to measure flour without weighing it is to use the knife aerator technique. Before I scoop my flour out of my canister into a measuring cup, I take a knife and stir it in the canister to aerate it. Then I put my cup in my canister and scoop out a heaping amount. After that I take my knife and level the measuring cup and voila, I have an amount that parallels weighing it. Easy, quick and recipes tend to work out well using this technique. The only time they don’t is if I need to do a high altitude adjustment. Then I add one to two additional tablespoons of flour and that usually does the trick. If you don’t live in high altitude you don’t need to worry about that.

So next time you measure flour, aerate it and level it in your measuring cup using a knife. You’ll get a much more accurate amount that way.

Use a knife to level off the flour...

Use a knife to level off the flour…

EASY ROOM TEMPERATURE EGGS:

From watching a lot of professional chefs I’ve learned that using room temperature eggs when baking makes the eggs blend more thoroughly in the batter. The problem is, who ever remembers to take the eggs out of the refrigerator in enough time to render them room temperature. Not me, that’s for sure.

But I recently learned a great little trick that in 5 minutes gives you room temperature eggs. Just put some very warm water in a cup deep enough to cover the eggs (I normally use my 2 cup measuring cup) and let them sit on the counter for 5 minutes. Voila, you have room temperature eggs. I do this all the time when I am baking now. It’s a great little trick and it hardly takes any time at all.

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WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE BAKING TIPS N’ TRICKS?

I know there are a lot of tips that can make for better results or are amazing time savers. I would love to hear some of yours. Feel free to share and we can all learn from each other! Enjoy!