Easy Dessert Pasta and the Football Widow Goes to the Beach

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I’m prepping for a beach trip with a few other ladies and I thought I’d share this beautiful little pasta salad.  It’s a dessert salad but there is no mayo or marshmallows or weird stuff like in Midwestern dessert salads.  I mean, I like those salads, but this one seems healthier.  And because of the no mayo thing it is safe to take to the beach or on a picnic.

The recipe comes from me after piecing together what goes into a similar salad at the pasta salad stand at Roots Country Market in Manheim, PA.  The proprietor lists the ingredients but obviously not the measurements so I improvised. What I like about this salad is its versatility; the basic ingredients are just categories and you can customize the salad to your taste.

The main ingredients are:

  • 1 regular container of non-dairy dessert topping
  • 1/3 box of very small pasta (Pastina or Acini di Pepe)
  • Fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, mini chocolate chips, etc. to taste

That’s it!  Thaw the dessert topping if it is frozen.  Cook the pasta and drain using a mesh strainer (you could use cheesecloth, too).  Rinse with cold water until the pasta is cool.

11715050_10153971189248098_236019134_o Tiny star pasta!

In a bowl, mix pasta, dessert topping, and fruit.  I used a package of sweetened dried blueberries, ½ c. fresh pitted and quartered cherries, and 1/2 c. cocoa almonds as well as a healthy sprinkle of chia seeds.

mmmm cocoa almonds  I know they have added sugar but these dried blueberries are so good!

I used this Pinterest trick to pit the cherries using a straw.  Not bad for a small batch, though it I was doing a lot of cherries I’d want to use a real pitter.

That’s it!  Refrigerate and serve cold.    Now, cross your fingers that I don’t get eaten by sharks out there!

Yum!

Yum!

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Bacon Apple Pie

I went to a friend’s party last night while Chuck was at the BU game.  The potluck was themed as such:

  • Any savory dish with meat in it must have bacon as a component.
  • Any savory dish without meat must have red peppers as a component.
  • Any sweet desert must have apple as a component.
  • Dishes with alcohol involved get one automatic extra point.
  • Cheating is encouraged and will be rewarded.

I have a penchant for baking, but what if I combine some of these categories?  Obviously my apple dessert contained bacon.

OBVIOUSLY.

Here’s my pie crust recipe.    Well, Actually, my SIL found it in an old pie cookbook.  Still, it’s a fab recipe.

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I know it seems like adding water to the fat wouldn’t work, but if you truly add boiling water and whisk it quickly, you get a beautful lard slurry that becomes a light, tasty, flaky pie crust.

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Lard already has a hearty meaty scent to it.  It seems natural to add bacon.

I cooked up a half pound of thick-cut bacon and crumbled it up.  Half of that went into my pie crust.

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I used Cortland apples.  These are firm, white, tart apples.  I use very small, fine pieces of apple in my pie.

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The crumble is the magical part of this pie.  I don’t mix any flour or seasoning into the apples themselves.  Instead, I use my pastry cutter to blend flour, butter, and sugar (and in this case I used brown sugar and added the remaining bacon crumbles!) and douse the pie.  As the pie bakes, the crumble crisps on the top and some melts into the pie, thickening the juices as the apples bake.

 The pie is done when it’s  bubbling.

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I won a bottle of Kraken.

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Evolution in my Kitchen

This is the story of how I keep it real in the kitchen.  I started with a craving for a local restaurant’s classic southern barbecue and ended up with tiny apple pies.

Chuck and I love going out for southern barbecue.  Our local restaurant, JoBoy’s, serves amazing smoked meats and delicious homemade sides and desserts.  The slow cooking results in a tender pulled meat that they pair with a homemade barbecue sauce.  Basically, it is to die for.

Though I can’t reproduce the unique smoky flavor, I can make a similar meal at home fairly easily.  I threw a pack of chicken thigh/leg quarters into the crock pot and made a sauce with the contents of the door of my refrigerator.  some mustard, ketchup, brown sugar, cola, Worcestershire,  fresh minced garlic, salt, and pepper, simmered on the stove and served in a gravy boat.

Emmi came over and we made these cauliflower latke thingies, but all dairy free.  I have a ton of fake cheese right now.  It helps me a lot.  I loooove cheese.  I might add another egg next time, but they turned out delicious and would be very good with eggs.

Once dinner was over, I loaded the bones and skins right back into the slow cooker, added come carrots, celery, and onion, and coated the contents with water.  I cooked the broth overnight on low.  The whole house smelled amazing!  In the morning, I strained the bones and such out of the broth and shoved it into the fridge.  The fat rose to the top and solidified, making it easy to spoon off.

Here is my cooled broth with the fat scooped off

This morning, I made a double pie crust and popped it into the fridge.

I wasted the rest of my day doing whatever unemployed people do, and then I made a PIE pot pie.  I emphasize the pie because I don’t want you to confuse it with POT pot pie, which is a delicious Pennsylvania Dutch stew that is made with homemade noodles.  Here are the steps I took to make my PIE pot pie:

This is a lard crust. Non-dairy never means vegan in my house!

I cooked a bag of frozen peas and carrots in the fat I culled from my broth. Once the veggies were warmed, I added flour, salt and pepper, and broth to make a gravy-like sauce. I layered leftover chicken with the veggie gravy in the pie crust.

I topped the pie with a crust and put slits in the crust to help air and steam escape.

This deep dish is Polish pottery. So pretty!

I baked the pie for about 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven, or until it was bubbly.

I think it turned out perfect. Chuck thought it should have been creamier, so next time I will add some milk (soy or almond) to the gravy.

Whoops, guess what?  I had extra pie dough.

I cut the extra dough with a cookie cutter, but you could use a drinking glass, too.

I pushed each round of dough into a mini muffin tin and filled it with apples. I used Fiji apples, which are very sweet and crispy. I diced the apples so they would fit into the pie cups and then mixed them with sugar, cinnamon, and flour. I used 4 apples, 2/3 c. sugar, 2 T. flour, and 1 t. cinnamon. I added the apple mix to each pie crust and baked them in my still-warm oven.

These only baked for about 20 minutes, until they were bubbly.  They came out a bit messy, so next time I may use cake liners. A quick jab around the edges with a table knife loosened the pies

Voila!

They are super sweet!  I think they would be pretty with an icing drizzle on them.

And that is how the ADD mind works in the kitchen.

Fall Peanut Butter Blossoms

I made peanut butter blossom cookies today.  This is one of Chuck’s favorite cookies! Here is how I made them:

First, I need to share the super easy recipe that I used.  The recipe is already doubled, so it makes about 6 1/2 dozen cookies.  I suppose you could halve it, but why would you only want 3 dozen cookies when you could have more than that?

Today I used butter-flavored shortening because it keeps the cookies softer and because I used a peanut butter that tends to keep recipes a little drier.  This peanut butter is made and sold locally and contains one ingredient: roasted peanuts.

The dough comes together nicely and you can just make regular peanut butter cookies (the kind that you smash with a fork), but I found fall nonpareils so my cookies had to be a bit fancier.  I used a 1 T. scoop to portion control the dough.  I like when my cookies are all the same size.  Then I rolled each scoop of dough into a ball and coated each ball with colored sanding sugar or sprinkles.    I smash the dough a little bit when I put it on the tray.

After baking, I pushed a nonpareil into the center of each cookie before I moved the cookies to the cooling rack.

Some interesting notes about these cookies:

  • Normally you make these cookies with Hershey’s Kisses.  These are delicious, but require tedious unwrapping and they fall off of the cookies in storage.  The nonpareil candies are flat, so they don’t fall off the cookie when you take a bite.
  • I grew up in a farmhouse in the country, so mice were an occasional seasonal nuisance.  If Mom found mouse droppings, she simply closed the cats up in that room overnight.  My brother Jon and I decided that chocolate jimmies looked like mouse droppings, so we salted the counters with them, thinking our prank on Mom was hilarious.  I still think of chocolate jimmies as “mouse turd sprinkles” in my head.
  • I’m sorry if you can no longer eat chocolate jimmies.  They are my favorite kind of sprinkle.
  • I buy sprinkles and sanding sugar at bulk food stores.  I have an unhealthy collection of various sprinkles and sugars.  Is there something you can’t resist buying when you see it?
  • I used baking stones instead of cookie sheets.  I have a convection oven, so I don’t need to alter the baking time, but if you use baking stones and do not have a convection oven, the baking time will increase.

“Do these have tuna in them?”

Red Velvet Brownies

I’ve noticed that red velvet is always a trendy flavor for sweets.   It’s not a cake flavor my mom baked when I was a kid, but I’ve developed a taste for it and I enjoy the various toppings (pudding, yogurt, cream cheese, goat cheese, white chocolate, and the traditional cooked icing).  Last year my middle little sister Emmi found a recipe for red velvet brownies and adapted it to suit our needs to the Manheim Farm Show.  Emmi entered the brownies and won 2nd place!  I’ve also turned the brownies into brownie bites and brownie pops.  They are moist and have a rich color that really makes eating them a multisensory experience.

Here is the recipe:

Red Velvet Brownies                Adapted from Smells Like Home

6 T. cocoa powder                                 4 large eggs
2 oz (4 T.) red food coloring               2 ½ c. flour
4 t. vanilla, divided                                ½  t. salt
1 c. butter                                                   2 c. white chocolate chipscc
3 cups sugar

    • Preheat the oven to 350°.  Line a 9×13 pan with parchment.
    • Mix cocoa, food coloring, and 2 t. vanilla into a thick paste. Set aside.
    • Cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing well, then add the remaining 2 t. of vanilla.  With the mixer off, add in the cocoa mixture, then beat until uniform in color.  Slowly add in the flour and salt and mix until just combined.  Do not overmix.
    • Add chips and mix in by hand, eliminating any streaks.
    • Bake for 40 minutes at 350°.  Cool in the fridge to make extra fudgy.
    • Optional:  omit chips and frost with cream cheese icing.

I will give you a visual on how much I love this recipe:

One Gallon of Red Food Coloring

Yes, I bought a whole gallon of red food coloring.  The local restaurant supply store price for a gallon is less than the grocery store’s price for two tiny bottles.  It has a bit of yellow in it, but I don’t mind.  I have made the recipe enough times to know it is a winner!

Farm Show Red Velvet Brownies, October 2011

Red Velvet Brownie Pops, February 2012

Awesome stuff I did because Chuck is watching college football on ESPN and working on his blog:

  • Went to one of my favorite restaurants for dinner, JoBoy’s.  I had to pick up cream cheese so of course that was the perfect excuse not to cook dinner.
  • Made a whole Pinterest board about poppies, which are one of my favorite flowers.
  • Baked two batches of brownies in a kitchen without plumbing or countertops.  It can be done.  And now I have used my new oven!  There is potluck at work tomorrow and the stress of washing dishes by hand is (for once) worth it.