Thursday, October 23, 2014

Most Amazing Apple Cake Ever!

I'm not even kidding!!!!!


We started with a Sunday afternoon urge to bake. This comes over me and Amanda on Sundays when her husband Paul (Mary Ruth's father) goes to the Buffalo Bills games... and then Amanda comes and hangs out at my house.

Usually I need her to FIX SOMETHING. She's very handy and she built this awesome produce wagon for me this summer.....

But on fall days we like to bake and have football on and sometimes I make her do really fun stuff like scrub off old wallpaper.... She hates that.

But this particular Sunday a few weeks back, we needed to do Apple-y-Goodness. So she found a couple of recipes online and I tweaked them by accident....

And we came up with the most wonderful, splendoriforous apple coffee cake I've ever had. And it all starts with a MIX!


1 Yellow cake mix
2/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup butter, melted
3 eggs
1/3 cup oil

Blend together on low, then turn to medium for two minutes.

Spread half in greased and floured 13" x 9" pan.

FILLING:  (Mix together)

4 big apples, peeled, cored and chopped (about four cups, I don't think there's such a thing as too much apple!)

Mix together:
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup sugar

Spread apples over the cake batter in pan. Sprinkle with HALF the nut mixture. Drop the rest of cake batter onto top of filling, blend to cover apples....

And then top with rest of streusel swirl deliciousness.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 35-45 minutes.

 We used the toothpick test to make sure it was done. Moist crumbs and applishous goodness are okay on the toothpick. Raw batter (while delicious!) messes with the texture!

Take out of oven....

Now you could add a powdered sugar glaze to this.

Some places suggest caramel syrup, drizzled over it.

It really doesn't need any extra calories, this cake is ABSOLUTELY marvelous and tempting and melt-in-your mouth delicious as is!

We loved it. Everyone loved it. It was a huge success!



Dave and I went down to North Carolina to visit our daughter, son-in-law and three precious grandchildren over the last weekend, so I'm playing "Catch Up" with work, but what a great time we had!

This is Annie, their youngest.... She's hysterically funny, she talks non-stop, (I wonder where she gets that from?????) and she's just a little bit BOSSY.... Stinkin' cute, right?

And this was from our family celebration.... Katie is standing behind me, on the right, and Nathan is over my right shoulder.... So we had a weekend with these three and LOVED IT!

We spent a half day at Gettysburg on the way down because I've never been there. I was properly humbled by how blessed we are to have had brave soldiers fighting for freedom for generations.

God has certainly blessed America!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fall Pantry Organization has it's rewards!

The weather's turning colder. Pumpkins are out but the farmers market is getting a bit sparse.
Then there was the reminder to be prepared for pandemics. Not my favorite P word.  But it did make me look in my pantry. Now there's a horror story right there.

I didn't take a before picture. But it was bad. The shelves were half empty. Half full bags turned over on their sides. How had it gotten to it's "after an earthquake"-like state?

Wellllllllllll. We only use fresh veggies in the summer. I don't buy preservative-laced food. If it isn't "clean" food, it isn't in our pantry.  I make it through the winter thanks to freezing. But this year, for a lot of reasons, including very bad spring weather, I didn't get a lot of freezing done.  

It really wasn't the fear of an Ebola pandemic freaking me out when I looked at the pantry. Nope. When you have lived through hurricanes and ice storms, you learn a well-stocked pantry can keep you from traveling roads with folks who think they can drive on slippery asphalt or keep you from starving while you wait a week for the power to come on. Or say everyone in the house has the flu? Do you really want to go to the grocery store in your pjs?

For us, long term storage stocking up means canned goods like chicken noodle soup, canned ravioli and Frosted Mini-Wheats for ManO, gluten-free snacks for me, dried fruit and nuts, oatmeal, and Spam. But most of all, getting my act together meant getting my pantry in order. I'd already decluttered back in the spring but I needed to organize.

Where to get ideas: I researched the net. I visited Pinterest.  Traveled to I looked in TJ Maxx and Target.  Pondered closet organizers in hardware stores. Bottom line?  I decided I'd rather spend my money on food rather than racks and boxes and other storage containers to make my pantry "pretty."  Not to mention, I found out canisters don't necessarily keep out bugs. So I turned my rabid attention to the ZONE method, putting foods together by their use or type of meal.

The Top Shelf:  Water filters, plastic bags, parchment paper and such as well as cookbooks are up here. Sadly, I only pull out the family cookbooks at holiday time. The rest of the time, I'm on  But I broke down and bought a fill it yourself recipe book to keep all my most used GF recipes at hand.  

The Baking Shelf: Gluten free flours, mixes and other grains, condensed milk, pumpkin, spices, extracts and four kinds of sugar for holiday baking. If it wasn't before the holidays, this shelf would be practically bare, even with my reorganization.  Money saving organization: I have baggies of spices and mixes that I stand up in dollar store plastic napkin holders. 

The Quick Meal Shelf: On the left, I put my various sauces and GF pastas, stir fry ingredients, and condiments.  On the right, breakfast stuff like oatmeal and Frosted Mini Wheats. Okay, mostly Frosted Mini-Wheats. ManO is obsessed like a toddler who will only eat one thing. And that thing is Frosted Mini Wheats for breakfast.  Why yes, that is a bag of potato chips on the quick meal shelf. Don't judge.

The Long Term Storage Shelf:  The canned goods here have a long shelf life. There is enough here to survive two weeks. Yeah, I won't make it through a zombie apocalypse but will make it through a North Carolina storm. My rule of thumb is to always replace what I take out but, if I have the option of buying fresh ingredients, ignore this shelf as much as possible for true emergencies. has a list of items you should have on hand in case of an emergency but googling emergency preparedness works too or maybe even zombie apocalypse.

Floor level:  My bulk paper products and bags go here.

Sigh. I've worked over several days on the pantry. But I'm not done. It's a work in progress. ManO keeps moving stuff because he likes it better in one spot or another. I have some dead space that needs to be thought about and used better. But I did mention rewards.

I decided to make my pumpkin ice cream as a motivation.  After three days of hard work, I rewarded myself with a variation of my three ingredient (whipping cream, condensed milk and vanilla) ice cream. You can find the original post and vanilla ice cream recipe hereWhip the cream before folding in the condensed milk, 3/4 can of pumpkin and one tablespoon pumpkin pie spice. Throw it in an ice cream making and voila.

But then I decided to get wild and crazy and top it with a pecan praline sauce.         

It doesn't get much better when you find a praline sauce recipe that doesn't require corn syrup or a candy thermometer. This is my adaptation of several I found on the web. Just remember you must use butter to make this recipe work.

Easy Praline Sauce 

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup organic half and half 
1/2 unrefined organic cane sugar
dash salt
vanilla to taste
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped or pieces (optional)

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Mix half and half, sugar and salt together then pour into the pan, whisking constantly. Continue to stir until sugar is dissolved and sauce thickens. Take off heat, add vanilla and stir. Cool for a half hour or so, stirring occasionally. Add pecans, stir and serve over ice cream. Store leftovers in refrigerator up to four days.

Note: Some folks leave out the nuts and use it as an easy caramel sauce. 

You can also add gingersnaps or other types of cookies on the side to really make it special.
So how is your fall pantry looking? Is there anything you make sure to stock up on before winter, bad weather or flu season set in? Do you have a favorite sundae combo as a reward for good behavior or a bad day?  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Deadlines, Revisits and The End

I don't know about y'all but I'm loving these revisits. Not because they're easy, but because it's like a Best-of. The Who's Who of some of our favorite recipes. So while Jan and I succumb to deadline mania, you get to reap the rewards.

What do you do when your bananas look like this? 
Well, in my house, it calls for a batch of banana nut bread. Over the years I've tried lots of different recipes. Some good, some not so good. The recipe I'm going to share with you today is one of the best I've tried. Of course, it's courtesy of Martha Stewart, so what would you expect.

You're going to need:
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (Martha says unbleached all-purpose; I used the better-for-bread variety)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup mashed very ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan or four smaller pans (I opted for the smaller pans).

With an electric mixer (perhaps one named Edna), cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs and beat well.
Sift the dry ingredients together and combine with the butter mixture.

Blend well. Add the bananas, sour cream (the ingredient I think makes this recipe stand out), and vanilla. Stir well. (I used my electric mixer on the lowest speed)

Stir in the nuts.

Pour into prepared pan(s).

For one large pan, the instructions are to back for one hour, until a cake tester comes out clean. For my four small loaves, I found 40 minutes to be just right.
Turn baked loaves onto rack to cool.

I love keeping these little guys in the freezer so they're ready whenever I need them. Sometimes, I'll put them in a cellophane bag with a pretty ribbon and give them as gifts.
Of course, they also go perfect with cup of tea. I'm having a little one-on-one with some Cream Earl Green. He's so smooth, you know.

Tea's on, gang. Who's ready to join me?

Okay, even deadlines can't keep me from my tea. It's the fuel I need to keep my brain cells firing.
So I've got a Nov. 1st deadline. Yesterday I typed THE END on my rough draft. 
Okay, so my rough isn't that rough. Now it's on to the polishing. A little spit, some elbow grease and, Lord willing, that puppy will come out shining like a diamond. Or at least a CZ. 
And while THE END isn't really the end, there's something about getting the story out of your head and onto the page. Wouldn't you agree?
Now I can fix whatever's wrong. But the story is complete.
Of course, it's just a matter of time before the next characters come knocking.
And so goes the life of a writer.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pumpkin Pie Tutorial, revisited

You can blame it on deadlines....

Jan here, knee-deep in revisions for my next Love Inspired Historical, tentatively titled "A Home in Deadwood," and tentatively scheduled for release sometime next fall.

You remember Deadwood, right? 

It looks like a sweet little town nestled in the Hills, but back in 1877, it was a raw, wild mining camp. Lawless and innocent as a newborn baby.

And filled with people. 10,000 is what one resident estimated in the summer of 1877 - most of them restless men waiting for their chance to strike it rich. To get their share of that lovely, valuable, Black Hills Gold.

But there were others. There were families in this little town. Families who wanted to make this town into something more than the place where Wild Bill Hickok met his notorious end.

And that's where the story starts....

So while I'm living vicariously through the lives of Nate and Sarah, my hero and heroine, my own family is starving. We're trying to make do with crock pot meals and take-out pizza, but by the time October has ended, I can start cooking again. And one of the first things I've promised to make is pumpkin pie.

Here's a visit back to the pumpkin pie tutorial I did for Thanksgiving a couple years ago, complete with photo bombs :)

Pumpkin Pie. THE Thanksgiving Tradition

Okay, you can probably make a case that the turkey is the main attraction at the Thanksgiving feast, but you have to admit it -

even when you're stuffed, pushing yourself back from the table, planning your after-dinner-dishes-duty escape, you're still going to grab at least one bite of that pumpkin pie.

Maybe two.

(Unless your name is Jenny and you live in Australia!)

Today is Pumpkin Pie Day. After all, Thanksgiving is only three days away!

And this is an easy-peasy recipe.

First you need an empty pie shell. Go here to see my recipe, or here for Ruthy's version.

Or buy a frozen pie shell from the store. I won't tell.

Now that you have your pie shell, you need to make your filling.

I use the recipe on the back of the Libby's pumpkin can. I've tried others, but this is my family's favorite, hands down.

Oh, by the way, do you see the pie vulture lurking in the background?

Here are the ingredients you need:

(Before I forget, preheat your oven to 425 degrees!)

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz) Libby's canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
1 can (12 fl oz) evaporated milk

In a small bowl, stir sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves together until blended.

In a larger bowl (I like to use my 2 quart pitcher from Pampered Chef - the pouring spout is so handy!), beat the eggs. Next, whisk the pumpkin and sugar mixture into the eggs. Blend well, and then stir in the evaporated milk. Make sure everything is well blended.

Pour the filling into your pie shell.

Protect the edges of your pie from browning too quickly by using strips of foil to cover it.

Bake it for 15 minutes at 425, and then reduce the temperature to 350 and bake for an additional 40-50 minutes.

And here's the most difficult part - how to tell if your pie is done.

The pumpkin is a custard. One fool-proof method for custards is to stick a knife in the filling halfway between the edge and the center. If the knife comes out clean, it's done.

However, I really don't like to serve a pie with holes in it. So I use the jiggle method :) When you're reaching the end of your cooking time, jiggle your pie slightly. If the center moves like it's a liquid, it isn't done yet. But if it stands up to the jiggle, it's done.

When you take the pie out and remove the foil, it will be puffed up and look like...

WAIT! The Pie Vulture again!

Shoo! Shoo!

Whew. He left. I reminded him he has a paper due.
Anyway, when you take the pie out and remove the foil, it will be puffed up and look like this. As it cools, the filling will fall some and look like the picture at the beginning of the post.

Simple, right?

Except for one more thing. This pie is for Thanksgiving, right?

So lets make it pretty :)

Here's one way to do it:

And here's another:

(disclaimer: take your pie out of the oven when you put the embellishments on to avoid the slightly crooked look...)

So how do you add embellishments and make your pie all purty?

Start with mini cookie cutters. We have a bit of a collection - the autumn shapes are from Pampered Chef, and I picked up the letters years ago when Jell-O was giving them away so you could make alphabet jigglers (remember those?).

Now make an egg wash by beating an egg with a couple tablespoons water.

Use the egg wash on the edge of your pie first - before you pour in the filling. Just brush it on gently. Don't worry if some of the egg drips down into the pie - it'll just mix into your filling.

Now, roll out your extra dough and brush it with the egg wash, and then cut out your desired shapes.

If you're adding shapes to the top of your filling like I did, bake the pie up until about 15 minutes before the end of the baking time - long enough to partially solidify the filling, but still with enough baking time left to bake the shapes. Take the pie out of the oven, place your pie crust shapes on top, and then return it to the oven for the rest of the baking time.

Jan here again, with another view of the area around Deadwood. That beautiful piece of land down there is Nate's ranch, in the valley just to the left of those rocks.

So, while I'm playing in Deadwood today, let's discuss pie. Do you make pumpkin pie in the fall?

And if you've never made pumpkin pie, do you think you might try it this year?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fresh Tomato Sauce with Capers

Hello, everybody! The Fresh Pioneer is back! I found this cookbook at the library and thought it might have a great way to use up some of our fresh tomatoes.
It's called (sideways) The Southern Italian Table. I looooooove Italian food. GIMME, GIMME.
 The recipe is really simple. Fresh tomatoes, a few teaspoons of fresh basil, 2 tsp of capers, two cloves of garlic.
I sent some kids out into the garden to get tomatoes. (It occur to me that by the time you read this, it will be October. So, imagine it's summer time.)
Chop the tomatoes, and throw in a pan with the basil. Add two teaspoons of olive oil.
 Here are the capers. Funny how a little jar lasts forever. Because recipes hardly ever need capers...
Mmmm. I love the way they smell. Mix everything together and mash well. Let it boil for about 20 minutes so the water is mostly reduced. Some people add a little salt or brown sugar, but this was a pretty simple sauce. 
I decided to make some stuffed pasta shells to put the sauce on, so mix two eggs, a carton of ricotta cheese, a cup of parmesan shredded cheese, 2 tsp salt and 2 tsp crushed garlic. Boil the shells, rinse in cold water, stuff, pour on the sauce and bake in the oven.
 Hubby's plate. Man, I wish I could eat like he does and not gain weight. YUMMY.
 I threw in some frozen meatballs because it sounded good.

Have a great weekend and see you all soon!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Copycat Chopped Salad

Missy, here. One of the fun things I've done late summer and this fall is visit colleges with my daughter. Each place, when we have time, we check out a local restaurant. It's been fun!

Last week, we ate at a local pizza place. It was so good! We got the Thai chicken pizza that had curry in the sauce and basil on top. It also had zucchini and eggplant, two of my favorite things. It was spicy HOT! But it was still yummy. And the crust was to die for.

Then we shared a chopped salad. I don't have a photo of the original. But when we both went crazy for it, I decided to make my own copycat version. When I made the salad dressing, I just started dumping stuff in, so these measurements are approximate. Just mix and taste and adjust.

Missy's Copycat Chopped Salad

Salad greens
Kalamata olives
Banana peppers
Cubed provolone cheese
Cubed hard salami (I got this and the cheese in the deli)
red onion--thinly sliced

Red wine vinegar dressing:
2-3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
dash of lemon juice
dash of honey
salt and pepper

Mix the vinegar, honey, and lemon juice. Then whisk in the olive oil to emulsify it. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss the dressing with the greens. Plate.

Then top with the other ingredients. This is my daughter's favorite part--the banana peppers. Mine is the olives. Or the cheese. Or, goodness, I don't think I can choose one!

Here's the finished product! It was delicious and almost like the restaurant! (Pardon the finger in the photos. I was drooling over the salad and got careless.) :)