Archive | October, 2013

The Perks of Living in the Land of Beer and Cheese

25 Oct

Wisconsin has a reputation for free-flowing beer and an abundance of cheese. This is not a stereotype, folks. This is real life.

Once, I saw this.
heart cheese

We live in a hotbed of local craft breweries, and it’s super cool and exciting. I lived here when I became of drinking age, so the beer I was exposed to was a bit of a step up from the usual collage fare of Miller High Life and PBR (not to say those don’t have their merits on a hot day!). People here really appreciate their beer here, and I have to say I’m among them.

I like those citrusy, bitter IPAs. Fruity, malty belgians. And yeah, I do like those “girly” beers that are brewed with fruit. Yum!

Sunday, we headed over to Ale Asylum, one of several local breweries, for a tour. They’ve grown exponentially in the last few years, so much so they had to build a new, state of the art facility to brew their beers, effectively tripling their output.  It’s pretty impressive!

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malts!

malts!

I love brewery tours. This one was really fun, since they let us grab a pint of our choice first and we got to take it around with us.

Look at all the glorious choices!

Look at all the glorious choices!

pure enjoyment.

pure enjoyment

Chelsea made the mistake of getting the high APV Belgian and I drank mine too fast. Solidarity in lightweights.

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Of course, we all think we can just start our own brewery now, since we’re just experts on stuff. While it would be basically the most fun job ever, it’s a far-away glint of a dream. It’s fun to dream, though, and we’ll probably take a crack at a home brew soon.

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In the mean time, I baked with some beer. I wanted to use one of Ale Asylum’s beers in it, but we had a fridge full of other stuff I needed to get rid of. I made some delicious maple beer quick bread with a pumpkin ale for a touch of fall flavor, along with some hand-tapped maple syrup from Brent’s grandpa’s friend. His grandpa has connections.

Here’s the recipe for the bread. Note that I added more maple syrup and reduced the brown sugar, added a dash of cinnamon, and didn’t use a stout (although, I am sure that’d be delicious). Try it out, it’s a super easy, quick bread to whip up and share!

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Childhood Favorites: Peanut butter and apples

15 Oct

We still have too many apples.

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But, that’s really okay with me. It’s an easy, healthy snack, but maybe I’ve had enough apple treats. I might post one or two more (like that promised apple crisp recipe!) but, this might be the last for a week or two.

Lately, I’ve been indulging in one of my absolute all time favorite snacks: apple slices and peanut butter. Even for a light lunch, this combo is perfect. You get a serving of fruit, a little healthy fat, and some protein in a delicious bite. I could eat this every day.

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Even Rocky wants an apple snack

The other day it occurred to me that I’ve never once in my whole 23 years had a peanut butter apple dessert. Why has this tragedy befallen me?! It’s one of those quintessential flavor combinations, and it’s so obvious.

So, I searched high and low (or, a pinterest search) for a recipe that looked right. All I could find was recipes with caramel. Not that there’s anything wrong with apples and caramel, but it’s a bit overplayed, isn’t it? The recipe I based my bars on is full of way too many flavors (peanut butter, white chocolate, and caramel) that I cut it way back, scaling it to fit my needs.

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The results are just magical. My lovely Holly said, “This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten. I’m being serious.” Although, we tend to wax hyperbolic, but the sentiment remains: these babies are for real. I love that it this is a very simple and straitforward recipe, full of nostalgia. And sugar.

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And even better, you probably have all the ingredients on had (minus the cinnamon chips!) and they’re so easy to throw together. Try not to just eat the whole bowl of batter with a spoon: eggless recipes are dangerous for that reason!

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Peanut Butter Apple Bars (inspired by this recipe from Averie Cooks) 

  • ½ cup applesauce
  • ½  to ¾ cup peanut butter
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 2 cup oats (old fashioned, preferably, otherwise they’ll get too mushy)
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 – 1/2 cup apples, diced & peeled
  • 3/4 to 1 cup cinnamon chips

Directions: Set oven at 350 degrees. Combine applesauce, peanut butter, and butter in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine them, heating up the peanut butter slightly if you keep yours in the fridge. Stir in vanilla and sugar until well combined, and then fold in the oats and cinnamon chips. Fold in apples.  Spread into a foil or parchment lined and sprayed 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 pan.  Bake for 30 minutes. They will be bubbly upon taking out of oven, but will continue to bake up as they cool.

Allow bars to to cool very well before slicing, as they are super gooey.  Put them in the freezer for about 20 minutes if you’re impatient like me. Store in the fridge so they stay nice and firm.

Notes:

I used cinnamon chips because it sounded fun and a great accompaniment to the flavors here. If you like, you can use any flavor chip, adding in sprinkle of cinnamon if you desire.

Friendship and baking: Pie Edition

14 Oct

This weekend, one of my best friends in the world came to visit. Holly and I have been friends for years, and we just get each other. Even if we don’t talk for months on end, once we reconnect it’s like we’ve never been apart.

We haven’t seen each other in a really long time, (maybe a year?!) and it was great to just hang out and catch up. Holly has made it sort of a tradition to take the drive up here every fall, and it’s just about perfect. We were able to cram a lot into a day and a half: we took a zoo trip, did living room yoga, ate at a couple great restaurants, drank boozy apple cider, played and cuddled with kitties, introduced her to Doctor Who, made her watch Rocky for the first time ever (what?!) and….drumroll….we made a pie!

picking the apples

The pie is just another example of why we’re in sync. Brent is even included in this. He suggested we bake a pie, I thought about making one with a crumble on top, and Holly blurted out “a dutch apple pie!” She even brought apples with her…how did she know?

The recipe we chose was very involved, but we were glad to have a project to dive in to. We even made pie crust –  and Brent helped with the apple peeling, coring, and slicing and picture taking.

crust pressing

ignore my crazy hand

The crust is fussy, and neither one of us had any patience for all the refrigeration time (nearly 2 hours, all together), so we essentially cut that in half. I also don’t have a sufficient rolling pin, and our crust is definitely not going to win any beauty contests.

into the oven

But that’s one thing I love about baking. Nothing ever has to look perfect, especially when you know the quality of the ingredients you just threw together. There’s no way butter, sugar, and fresh orchard apples could ever taste bad. Ever.

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Baking is one of those things that is made exponentially better when you do it with someone. Baking with a partner allows you to share the joy and love that goes into it, and you get to taste it together and just wordlessly enjoy the fruits of your labor. I hope my future children share the love I have for baking so I can have some in-house baking buddies!

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Anyways, this pie is incredible. The addition of cream simmered with the sweetened apple juices created a fabulous filling. Since we cut the apples so small, they got nice and cooked through, and the crumb topping added a special sugary crunch. The crust was flaky and buttery, even though we cut the chilling time in half. Although it is very labor intensive, if you’re looking for an impressive apple dessert, this should be your pick.

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We used this recipe from Brown Eyed Baker. We stuck pretty true to the original, but I cheated on the chilling time of the dough, and used brown sugar instead of white sugar in the filling, and increased it to about 1/2 a cup. Don’t fret about the type of apples you may use, just use at least 2 different types. Also, my pie pan was 1/2 inch larger than called for, so my pie crust did not have a lip but it still worked out just fine. Perfectly, in fact! I had never even made pie crust before so don’t be afraid, it’s actually very simple.

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Do you have a favorite apple pie recipe, or any great pie crust recipes?

Happy baking!

Apple traditions with a twist

10 Oct

Like I said in my earlier post, this week is apple week. However, I forgot I came home with roughly 25 pounds of apples. So…in reality, it’s apple month.
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Apple season always meant apple crisp in my house growing up. My mom, bless her, doesn’t bake really at all, but she makes the absolute best apple crisp. Ironically, it’s made in the microwave. I know, this sounds like the worst. But it isn’t.

Somehow this magical apple crisp became a birthday tradition for me. My birthday is in December, and my mom asked if I wanted a cake but I asked for the crisp. I think we had some sort thing on my birthday that wouldn’t let us have a traditional birthday dinner, so I got apple crisp breakfast. I gotta tell you, that’s the breakfast of champions. I miss those!

I didn’t make apple crisp yet, though. (Don’t worry, I will!) I did, though, come up with a new crisp concoction that combines the best part of apple crisp – the sugary, crunchy, buttery topping- and the sweet bite of an apple cake. As much as I love the simplicity of apple crisp, I wanted to see where else crisp could go. I took a variation of my favorite blondie recipe and tweaked it, making an apple blondie base with this incredible topping. The blondie is really more cakey. This could be solved by omitting the baking powder, which I’ll try next time.

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It’s all very exciting.

You can throw this together super fast if you have a nifty apple peeler-corer-slicer combo, and you can pick one of those up for about $20. It’s definitely worth it if you have pounds upon pounds of apples lying around. I have a wine box full of apples right now.

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And please, have some of this for breakfast. It’s bound to make your morning a bit better!

Apple Crisp Blondies

For Blondies:

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • 2 medium apples, cored, peeled, diced
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

For Crisp Topping

  • ½ cup brown sugar packed
  • ½ cup oats (old fashioned or quick)
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice)
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350, prepare a 9×9 greased baking pan (I used a 9 inch ceramic tart pan, and it worked wonderfully). Place parchment in bottom for easier release.

Prepare blondie batter:

In a medium bowl, wisk brown sugar and melted butter together until well blended (a minute or so). Wisk in the egg until well combined. Fold in the chopped apples and pecans. In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon together, and then slowly stir in to your apple mixture; the batter will be very thick.

Prepare Crisp:

Wisk brown sugar, oats, flour, and cinnamon together until well combine. Add in melted butter and wisk until mixture forms small clumps. Sprinkle mixture evenly on top of blondie batter, pressing down very lightly to adhere crumbs.

Bake for 42-45 minutes, letting blondies cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting. I cut mine into wedges, since I used a tart pan. Store these in the fridge – they’re good cold or warmed up.

Apple Adventures: It’s apple time.

7 Oct

I wait for this day all year: Apple orchard day!

Views of Eplegaarden

Views of Eplegaarden

The minute we leave, I can’t wait till we get to go again. I limit myself to one trip a year… we just cannot eat more than 20 lbs of apples in one season. We go to a little, local apple orchard with Norwegian roots. It’s very old fashioned but very family oriented. They have a cash register that has got to be about 100 years old!

Norwegian apple garden experience

Norwegian apple orchard experience

This is our third trip, and it’s turned into a tradition. I turn into a little kid, and Brent joins right in, and we cannot stop ourselves from running up and down the rows, seeing who can pick the biggest apple.

big guy.

big guy.

Giant fortune apple

Giant fortune apple

There were so many types available to pick. We go to a little orchard just a few miles away from us, and they had a great season with tons of rain and extra apples! We grabbed a 20 pound bag and got to pickin’.

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We also did some snacking.

The great part about orchards is the variety you get. There are so many kinds not available in stores, and many we’ve never heard of. This time around, we chose: Golden Delicious Smoothie- an amazing, sweet and sort of tart eating apple, Regent: which was a larger, not super crunchy but still tasty choice, Red delicious redchief for baking, Jonee for baking, Empire apples which weren’t as big as we wanted since they’re so yummy, and Fortune apples, new to us this year and incredibly large.

so. many. apples.

so. many. apples.

I have so many plans for these little guys. Cakes, bars, breads: it’s going to be intense…

We also picked up some squash: spaghetti, butternut, and acorn, and cider.

squash and gourds!

squash and gourds!

To kick off what I declare as Apple Week, I made this amazing savory-sweet apple pork dish with caramelized apples and onions in a rich cider sage sauce from Good Life Eats. I don’t often cook with apples (just baking), so I was a bit nervous. Pork and apples is a classic flavor combo, and add in sage and cider I don’t know where you could go wrong.

No pics for the recipe, but note that I used boneless center cut pork chops (3), halved the amount of apples and subbed in thinly sliced onions, and didn’t use quite as much sugar and butter for the sauce. Please make this, though, you will NOT regret it.

Check back soon for an awesome apple dessert! Happy Apple Week!

yum!

yum!