Friday, October 28, 2011


For the next four days, we have the pleasure of hosting a very special guest! Paul's identical twin Peter flew in from L.A. to spend some time with our family! We were all so very excited to see him. When Peter first walked into the house, Matthew mistakenly thought he was Paul and ran to give him a hug, stopping just short of doing so upon realizing that something was not quite right. When Paul came in behind, Matthew was super confused and ran back to hide behind Mommy. He quickly warmed up and has been bugging Peter ever since. He especially likes to jokingly punch him.

Paul taught him that.

Such violence.

We took a little hike since it was not too cold outside.

Matthew is rather upset because he had to face his worst fear...

...running water! This child has a serious fear of waves, waterfalls, etc. Rushing water in any form transforms him into a scared and frantic child. We have just gotten to the point where we can bathe him without him writhing and screaming as if we are dipping him in hot oil. After our little outing today, we might be going back to giving him sponge baths in the sink again. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Anyway, it's been a great visit with Peter so far! We've missed this dude. I can't believe we have only seen him three times since our wedding. It's been far too long!

The recipe I'm posting today is for my favorite salad in the entire world. We made it for Peter his first night here because I thought he might like it even though he claims to not be a big fan of "greenery." Well, I'm not sure I converted him with this salad but I think it's delicious and Paul likes to gobble it down as well! I love it as a light main dish, but it also goes superbly as a first course to risotto or pasta. Make sure to use the firmest pears you can find - they will caramelize much, much better!

Roasted Pear Salad with Walnuts and Shaved Parmesan
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

For the pears:
4 very firm D'Anjou pears
2 tablespoons sugar,
1 tablespoon butter, melted

For the vinaigrette:
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cracked black pepper to taste

For the salad:
5-7 cups baby arugula (baby spinach will work too...but you really can't beat arugula in this recipe)
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped and lightly toasted*
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved off the block into thin strips with a vegetable peeler

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees with a heavy duty baking sheet or broiler pan on a rack set in the lower-middle position.

Peel each pear. Cut the ends off each pear and then split in half lengthwise. Using a very small melon baller or scoop, remove the core of each pear half. Cut each pear half into five equal-sized pieces. Place in a large bowl and toss with the melted butter. Sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons of sugar and toss again to evenly coat.

Once the oven has indicated that it has reached 500 degrees, carefully remove the hot baking sheet from the oven and scatter the pears onto it in a single layer. Be sure that each pear piece is lying flat. They should sizzle when they hit the pan.

Return the pan to the oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until the pears are lightly browned on the bottom. Remove the pan from the oven, flip each pear piece, and bake an additional 5 minutes or until the pears appear soft and caramelized. Pay close attention to the pears to ensure that they don't burn!**

Meanwhile, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Use your vegetable peeler to shave the Parmesan. Place the arugula in a large salad bowl. Once the pears are done, toss the arugula with vinaigrette, then add the pears and toss again. Top with the walnuts and cheese. Serve!

*Toast walnuts in a 350 degree oven for about 7-10 minutes (or until they become lightly fragrant)

**I like this salad best served while the pears are still warm, but you can choose to make the pears up to 3 hours before you plan to eat the salad. If you choose to do it this way, leave the pears at room temperature. Refrigeration will negatively affect their taste.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Put Some Coffee in Your Muffins!

Favorite moments this week...

1) Jumping on the bed with Matthew and Paul last night. Paul and I would have Matthew sit in the middle of the mattress and then one of us would jump on the bed so he would go flying into the air. He loved it! This fun little activity also had the added bonus of completely tiring Matthew out so he woke up a little later than usual the following morning.

2) Going to Mass with Matthew and watching him perform the Sign of the Cross with the rest of the congregation at both the beginning and end of Mass. He also turned around and waved at everyone he could during the Sign of Peace (right after giving his Mommy a big kiss!).

3) Sweeping out the garage, vacuuming the cars, and washing cobwebs away with Paul while Matthew took a nap on Sunday. The sun was shining and we had a lot of fun goofing around while simultaneously performing some of our least favorite (but extremely necessary) housekeeping duties. I hope we did not annoy our neighbors too much with our hysterical laughter.

4) Throwing Matthew into the giant leaf piles at the park. His laughter is so addictive!

5) Cheering for Texas in the World Series. After that embarrassing 16-7 loss to the Cards in Game 3, they have played some great ball to lead the series 3-2. I can't wait for Game 6 tonight!

6) Finding and enjoying this little gem. Paul and I had really good laugh over this one. In case you didn't know...we are geeks.

7) Making (and eating!) these delicious muffins. I have never been a big muffin fan - but these combined my love of coffee and chocolate into one of the most delicious snacks I have ever had! They are perfect as a morning treat with a steaming hot cup of coffee. If you're a coffee lover - give these a go!

Coffee-Break Muffins
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours

2 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder (no substitutes)*
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup strong brewed coffee, cooled
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 - 3/4 cup chocolate chips, roughly chopped (optional - but I highly recommend!)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

Whisk the flour, sugar, espresso powder, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Add the brown sugar, breaking it up with your fingers to ensure that there are no lumps. Whisk to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk the coffee, eggs, and melted butter. Add to the dry ingredients and stir just to combine. Gently fold in the chocolate.

Divide evenly among the muffin liners. Pop it in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until a small, thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean (well - at least clean of batter...some melted chocolate might get on there!). Let pan cool 5 minutes on a wire rack before carefully removing the individual muffins.

I found that these tasted even better after resting overnight!

Variations: If you want to make a white chocolate mocha-like muffin, add white chocolate chips! Make them plain and drizzle and, while they're still warm, poke holes and drizzle with caramel sauce for a Caramel Macchiato!

*This is so worth the small investment. I use it all the time in chocolate recipes. For example, try adding a tablespoon or two to your favorite brownie recipe to really kick up the chocolate taste!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pizza Bites: Perfect Football Party Appetizers

We made these little greasy bites of heaven for a recent football game-watch at our home. We shall not speak of any specifics of the game itself, but lets just say that Paul was in a horrible, foul mood during the whole party and immediately sulked his away upstairs to sleep off his frustration after the whole thing was over and done with. Our Irish love to frustrate their loyal fans.

Here are the two men of the household lazily awaiting the arrival of their pizza bites while totally mesmerized by the television screen. In case you were wondering, Matthew is holding a garlic press in his left hand. At least it's not a paring knife or a box cutter.

These were a breeze to make and super fun too! I already had a few balls of homemade pizza dough in the freezer, along with a jar of homemade pizza sauce. I just let them thaw in the refrigerator overnight so they were ready for assembly! This probably took less than 10 minutes to throw together and they were instantly devoured. Matthew loved eating them as well - once they had cooled down a bit!

For the filling, we just stuck with a basic pepperoni and cheese combination this time around, but you could certainly do whatever suits your fancy! Next time, I plan on doing a Hawaiian Pizza variation with ham, pineapple, and mozzarella. Paul is already making plans to fill a pan with BBQ chicken, bacon, and Jack cheese.

Gooey Pizza Bites
inspired by Chaos in the Kitchen

1 batch pizza dough (enough for 2 medium pizzas)
8 oz. block Mozzarella cheese, cubed into 40 pieces
8 oz. sliced pepperoni
Olive Oil (for brushing)
Parmesan Cheese/Italian Seasoning (for sprinkling)
Pizza Sauce, warmed (for serving)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease two cake or pie pans and set aside.

Divide the dough into 40 pieces (I usually eyeball this...but you could most certainly be a little more scientific about it!). Working with one piece at a time, layer a couple pieces of pepperoni and a cube of cheese onto the piece of dough.

Gather and pull the dough up and around the filling and pinch to close. It does not have to look perfect, but should be well sealed so the filling does not leak out into the pan while baking.

Place each ball seam-side down in a prepared pan. Repeat until all the dough has been used and both pans have been filled with about 20 filled dough balls each. Brush the tops of the rolls with some olive oil and sprinkle liberally with Parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning. Paul and I actually ended up sprinkling our rolls with a dried dipping oil blend that we had purchased at a specialty food shop a couple years ago. It was a great way to use it up!

Slide the pans into the oven and bake for 20 minutes or so. When finished, the rolls should be a golden brown.

Remove from the oven and let stand for 1 minutes. Loosen the sides and bottom with a metal spatula and carefully lift the whole bat with a wide spatula and transfer to a serving plate.

Serve with warm pizza sauce for dunking!

Heck, while we're at's an awesome and easy pizza sauce recipe. It's the only one we ever use! I am not entirely certain where the original recipe came from, but this is a modified version of one we have been playing around with ever since we were first married.

Our Favorite Pizza Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large tablespoon chopped garlic (not minced)
1/2 heaping teaspoon dried basil
1/4 heaping teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Dash of red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

Before beginning, measure all the seasonings into a small ramekin or prep bowl.

In a medium saucepan, heat and stir the olive oil and garlic over medium heat until the oil begins to sizzle and the garlic becomes very fragrant (be very careful not to burn the garlic!). Dump all the spices in with the oil and garlic and continue to stir for about 30 seconds. Pour in the tomatoes (carefully!) and give them a good stir. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and let the sauce simmer for about 20-30 minutes, or until it has thickened. Be sure to stir every once in a while to ensure that nothing is sticking to the bottom of your pan. And I apologize if your stove-top receives an occasional sprinkling of tomato juice.

Once thickened, the sauce is ready to use in your favorite recipes. If you plan on freezing or refrigerating the sauce for later time, be sure to completely cool the sauce to room temperature first. Otherwise, the sauce may take on a sour taste.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Do Your Salads Deserve a Massage?

The sun finally broke through the clouds for the first time in what seems like forever!

Unfortunately, it first began to peek through while Matthew was taking an unusually long afternoon snooze. Normally, if we wake him up from one of his naps, he is an angry, disgruntled beast for the remainder of the day. But I could not wait any longer! I needed to get outdoors while that sun was still around. Paul and I grabbed our sleeping bundle of joy from his crib and bundled him up (the sun may be out, but it was pretty darn cold) and headed over to the park. Matthew voiced his displeasure during the entire car ride, complete with a couple piercing screams that more than likely broke a window somewhere. However, as soon as we parked and he realized where we were, he must have suddenly felt quite foolish because he let out a sheepish little giggle of glee and batted his eyelashes at me.

We set him loose and he instantly went running through the grass, kicking at the leaves. He has been loving the piles of fallen leaves that have been popping up at an alarming rate recently. He loves it when I gather up a bunch of leaves in my arms and then throw them up in the air, letting them fall gently all about him.

Matthew has absolutely no fear when it comes to climbing all the play structures, although he really should. His balance and coordination are still very much a work in progress and he has to be watched VERY closely for fear that he might just bounce off the top and break his little arm. While Paul and I know his limitations, Matthew is completely unaware of his handicaps (such as...I don't know...only being 36 inches tall). He even demanded me to help him with the monkey bars (no way, dude). It probably did not help that Paul and I were taking turns hanging upside down, bouncing around the balance beam, and sliding down the poles.

I am really going to miss taking him to the park once the winter comes. It's a great way for him to burn off all that baby energy that normally goes into raiding my kitchen cabinets. I found my blender full of cheerios when I went to make a vinaigrette this evening. I think discoveries like that might become more frequent once the snow converts us into complete shut-ins.

Although a chilly day at the park might call for a piping hot bowl of soup, I had a huge bunch of kale from my trip to the farmer's market that needed to be used up. In the past, I have always used kale for my lunches, convinced that Paul would turn his nose up at yet another vegetable. However, he would just have to deal with it tonight if he did in fact want to eat something besides PB&J (although I did not even give him that option because, knowing him, he just might have gone for it!).

When Paul watched me prepare this salad, he was simultaneously jealous and disturbed by the fact that I gently massaged the kale between my fingers with some kosher salt. Paul's jealousy is rooted in his deep, constant desire for me to give him neck massages and back rubs. When we were engaged and I was still all goo-goo eyes and in the midst of the whole "my fiance/boyfriend is the most wonderful person on the face of this earth" phase, I mentioned to him that once we were married I would gladly provide him with a back rub whenever he wants. This little comment may or may not have been the actual reason he tied the knot with me. Needless to say, things have not exactly gone the way he envisioned. I do not massage his back all that often, much to his extreme disappointment. Yet, I will gently, methodically, and carefully (with no questions asked), rub a strange bunch of kale that happened to find its way into our fridge.


The reason for the massage is that kale is an extremely tough green that requires a little extra TLC in order to tenderize it enough to be palatable. Once you begin to rub the salt into the greens, they will begin to wilt slightly and turn a deeper shade of green. Once their texture has been softened to a satisfactory level, the greens can be toss with a variety of goodies and a simple vinaigrette, producing a very filling and satisfying main dish. Kale, in addition to being absolutely delicious, is also an excellent source of beta carotene, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. In other words, you can have two pieces of pie after you eat your kale!

At least that's what I told my husband.

Although I really did not have to try so hard. He loved this salad!

Go massage some kale today! All the cool kids are.

Massaged Kale Salad
inspired by Mels Kitchen Cafe

For salad:
1 bunch kale, tough stems removed and leaves sliced into ribbons
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 large apples, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup roasted sunflower seeds
1/3-1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

For the vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon or Creole mustard

Whisk together all vinaigrette ingredients. Set aside.

Place kale in a large bowl and sprinkle the salt over the top. Gently begin to rub and massage the salt into the leaves for 2-3 minutes, or until the kale begins to wilt and turn a darker shade of green. Add the apples, onion, and cranberries and toss to combine. Drizzle the vinaigrette over and toss again. Top with the cheese and sunflower seeds and serve!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Spaghetti Squash: A Miracle Vegetable

Chilly fall days, lingering thunderstorms, and overcast skies. That pretty much sums up what the weather has been like over here. Thankfully, we were able to venture out for a short family walk this evening. It was pretty windy, so we were only able to walk for about a mile before Matthew started to whine.

He sported his new Notre Dame hat while we were out. Paul thinks it makes him look like a gnome.

Okay, maybe it does. He's still a cute little gnome.

Matthew always insists on holding my hand as I walk beside him while Paul pushes the stroller. He picked this little habit up this past summer and I love it.

Nights like these call for something warm and comforting for dinner. One of our favorite dishes is roasted Spaghetti Squash topped with some Vodka sauce and Parmesan. Spaghetti squash is one of Paul's favorite things to eat. He really is not a big fan of vegetables unless they are MAJORLY dressed up with butter or a Velveeta cheese sauce (heaven forbid!). However, he could eat Spaghetti squash every day, which is why I have dubbed it a miracle veggie. Spaghetti squash has a solid flesh like any other member of the squash family, including Pumpkin, Butternut, Hubbard, etc. However, once it has been roasted, the insides will fall away from the shell in strands that resemble spaghetti. It can then be scooped into a bowl and eaten with sauce as a great, healthy substitute for pasta. It is absolutely delicious.

Another special guy in my life is also a big fan of Spaghetti Squash. And today happens to be his birthday! Happy Birthday to my wonderful Dad! I miss you and wish I could be there to celebrate with you. One of my favorite memories as a little girl is of you "blowing out the candles" on your birthday pie (normally pumpkin) by taking a napkin and holding it to a candle until it lit, blowing it out, and repeating. Eventually, the napkin erupted into flames and you promptly threw it into Mom's water glass. The look she gave you was priceless. I love you!

Spaghetti Squash with Vodka Sauce
sauce adapted from Cooks Illustrated

For the squash:
1 large spaghetti squash
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the stem end off the squash with a large, sharp knife. Being careful not to cut your finger off, halve the squash lengthwise. Scoop out the seeded innards. Brush the flesh evenly with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Sometimes, we like to smash a couple cloves of garlic and rub the flesh all over with the garlic. Place the squash halves face down on a large cookie sheet. Roast for 30-45 minutes (depending on your squash) or until a small, sharp knife can be easily pierce the skin of the squash.

While the squash is roasting, prepare the vodka sauce!

For the sauce:
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup vodka
1 cup heavy cream
Ground Black Pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

Mince garlic with a press into small bowl. Stir in 1 teaspoon water. Heat the garlic mixture, oil and red pepper flakes in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Be careful not to brown. Stir in the tomatoes and let simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in vodka and simmer 5 minutes longer. Stir in cream, pepper to taste, basil, sugar, and salt. Transfer the sauce to a food processor or a blender. Make sure to cover the top with a kitchen towel and process until smooth. Pour into a bowl and keep warm until squash is ready.

To Assemble:
Once the squash is cooked, remove the baking sheet from the oven. Scoop the insides with a large spoon into a strainer to remove any excess liquid (if any). The squash will be very hot, so I usually wear an oven mitt on the hand holding the squash. Repeat with the other squash half. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Scoop generous amount of squash into individual bowls Spoon sauce over the squash and top with a generous sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan. Enjoy!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Buttermilk Sandwich Bread

One day out of every month is set aside to bake a few loaves of sandwich bread to be used throughout that month for lunches. The price of bread has been rising over the past year (unless you want to buy Wonderbread) and I really prefer the taste of homemade bread over store-bought. On baking day, I usually end up making between 3-5 loaves of bread, reserving one for immediate use, and double wrapping the remainder for the freezer. Paul is obsessed with this sandwich bread and we tend to go through a loaf very quickly because he likes sneaking a thick slice as a quick snack or to use in his famous egg-in-a-hole.

Most of the time, Matthew is a great sport and behaves himself during the dough-making process. This last time, he made kneading particularly difficult. It takes a LOT more effort when you have this bundle of joy attached to your leg:

Anyway, we have made a lot of different sandwich breads around here, including Oatmeal-Honey, Whole Wheat, Classic White, Multigrain, and Rye, but this is the recipe we make the most. Sometimes we'll throw in some grated cheese, chopped jalapenos, or vegetables based on how we plan to use the finished loaf. It's delicious every time!

And a slice of this bread with bananas and peanut butter is one of Matthew's favorite post-nap snacks!

Buttermilk Sandwich Bread
from Baking Illustrated

3 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup cold buttermilk
1/3 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons honey
2 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

Whisk together the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Fit the mixer with the dough hook.

In a large measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, boiling water, butter, honey, and yeast. Turn the mixer onto low speed, and slowly add this mixture to the flour. Wait and watch as the dough comes together, then slowly increase the speed to medium and knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. You may need to scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally. If the dough is still sticking to the bowl after 10 minutes, add a little flour, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough cleans the bowl.

Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead into a ball. Place in a large, greased bowl and turn once to coat. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm place until doubled in size. This will take anywhere from 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Meanwhile, grease a large loaf pan.

When the dough has doubled, turn dough out onto a very lightly floured surface and pat into an 8-inch square. Starting at the edge furthest from you, roll the dough tightly towards you, pressing down lightly with your fingers to ensure that the cylinder is tight. Pinch the seams tightly to seal and then place, seam side down, in the greased pan and press lightly down on the dough to make sure it is touching all four sides of the pan. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until the dough has risen approximately 1 inch above the top of the loaf pan. This will take about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, set one oven rack in the center position and the other in the lowest position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Boil approximately 2 cups of water on the stove top.

Once ready to bake, place a large, rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven. Remove the plastic wrap from the loaf pan and place it in the oven on the middle rack. Pour the boiling water into the baking sheet and quickly shut the door. The steam from the water will create a delicious, sturdy crust. Bake for40-50 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the center of the loaf reaches 195 degrees.*

Remove the loaf from the pan and let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

*If you like to do a lot of baking, I highly recommend purchasing an instant read thermometer. Taking the internal temperature is a much more accurate way to judge when yeast breads have completely finished baking than other observational techniques, including the tapping or browning method.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My husband is the worst baker. Ever.

The rainy, dreary Erie weather has returned with a vengeance over this past weekend. We were so spoiled by the beautiful sunny skies of last weekend that being cooped indoors gazing out at the windy, wet mess is especially painful. After performing a few mandatory chores around the house, Paul and I decided to make something together in the kitchen. We actually enjoy cooking together, although Paul tends to prefer grilling or smoking some type of animal carcass whereas I love to bake. However, on this particular day, Paul agreed to help me make some bagels.

Although Paul is eager to help, I am always a bit apprehensive. Whenever I entrust a project or a task to Paul, something usually goes awry. This is not entirely his fault - he cannot help that he has the attention span of a chipmunk. He starts out strong, but eventually becomes distracted by whatever shiny object may be nearby and then forgets what exactly he had been working on in the first place. For example, a few months ago, I caught a horrible flu bug that confined me to my bed unable to lift my head without feeling as if I was being tossed about on a sailboat in the middle of a violent storm. Paul came upstairs and generously informed me that he did not expect me to make dinner that night.

Gee thanks, sweetheart. What a treat.

He then proceeded to ask me what I would like to eat that evening. I told him a can of Campbell's or just a bowl of chicken broth was all I could see myself stomaching. Paul immediately grabbed his coat and headed out to Wegmans to pick up a can of soup for me. When our valiant hero returned no less than 90 minutes later, he had a grocery bag filled with Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, some Bit-O-Honeys, and a pint of ice cream but no soup. You see, he became distracted by all the junk food that I normally do not keep in the house and became excited about his own dinner possibilities while forgetting the reason he had gone to store in the first place. It's a disease.

Either way, I am always a little nervous when he offers to help around the kitchen. Although he is pretty good at cooking meat.

Making the bagels went very smoothly at first. We mixed up the starter and waited the required 2 hours. Then we set out to make the rest of the dough. We stirred in the yeast and added the flour, honey, and salt. Paul then switched the mixer the highest setting.

Suddenly a mushroom cloud of white erupted from the mixing bowl, covering the counter, the KitchenAid, the floors, the front of my sweatshirt. Even poor Matthew, who had just awoken from a nap and was sitting up at the counter drinking hot chocolate, was suddenly covered with a dusting of flour. This was the state of our kitchen after the incident:

Paul has since been banned from the kitchen. He might be invited back when I need help with Christmas cookies. Sometimes I wonder if he plans this.

Paul just read what I typed so far and asked why I have to make him sound like such a buffoon. I just tell it like it is.

Despite the initial mishap, the bagels turned out wonderful. The recipe is long, but most of the time is inactive. Honestly, we spent more time cleaning up after Paul's flour catastrophe than we did on the bagels themselves. We enjoyed boiling and baking these after coming home from church on Sunday morning and it was a wonderful breakfast treat.

Matthew made a mean latte as a perfect accompaniment.

We like the bagels plain, but you can most certainly get creative and mix whatever fruit, nuts, or spices your heart desires into the dough. You can also sprinkle the boiled bagels with dehydrated onion, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic salt, or cinnamon sugar.

Definitely give these a try! They are a fun project!

Peter Reinhart's Bagels
from the Bread Baker's Apprentice

Note: This is a 2-day process, requiring an overnight refrigeration period before the boiling and baking of the shaped bagels.

For the starter:
4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 1/2 cups water, at room temperature

For the dough:
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3 3/4 cups bread flour
2 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon honey

For the water bath:
1 tablespoon baking soda

First, make the starter. Whisk together the flour and the yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer (the larger professional series stand mixers work especially well for this recipe). Mix in the water with a wooden spoon just until you get a smooth, wet dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until the mixture becomes very bubbly and swells to about double its size. The mixture will probably collapse when the bowl is tapped on the counter top.

Next, make the bagel dough. Sprinkle the remaining yeast over the sponge and stir with the dough hook attachment of your mixer. Add the salt, three cups of flour, and the honey and continue to carefully knead the mixture until a ball of dough is formed. If necessary, gradually add in the remaining 3/4 cup flour, one tablespoon as a time (I did not need to add any extra flour, but you may find it necessary). Continue to knead the dough about 6-10 more minutes, or until a firm, smooth dough forms. The dough should be slightly tacky but not sticky.

With your hands, knead the dough into a ball and immediately divide it into 16 even pieces. Form the pieces into balls and cover with a damp towel. Let rest about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, line two sheets with parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray.

After the 20 minute rest, take each ball of dough and carefully poke a hole into the center of it. Using your thumbs, gently pull and stretch the hole to about 1 1/2-2 inches in diameter. When finished, place the shaped bagels onto the prepared baking sheet, being sure to space them about 2 inches apart. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough. Once finished, spray the top of the shaped bagels and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rest 20 minutes.

After the 20 minute rest, it is time to check the bagels to see if they are ready for to be retarded in the refrigerator. Take a medium bowl full of water and drop one of the bagels into the bowl. If it floats within 10 seconds, immediately take the tester bagel out, pat it dry, place it back on the baking sheet, and immediately cover the baking sheets tightly and transfer the bagels to the refrigerator to rest overnight. If the tester bagel did not float after 10 seconds, return to the baking sheet (after patting it dry, of course) and let the bagels rise an additional 5-10 minutes before repeating the test.

Let the bagels hang out in the fridge overnight.

When ready to bake in the morning, bring a large pot of water to boil. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Once the water is boiling, add the tablespoon of baking soda.

Working with only one pan of dough at a time, drop as many bagels as can comfortably fit into the water bath using a wide, slotted spoon. Let boil 1-2 minutes per side. Boil for 2 minutes if you like extra-chewy bagels (we do!). When finished, transfer the boiled bagels to a cornmeal-dusted baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining bagels. Once all the bagels have been boiled, transfer the baking sheet to the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then rotate the pan. Continue baking for an additional 5-7 minutes, or until the bagels have browned to your liking. Immediately remove the pan from the oven and transfer the baked bagels to a wire rack to cool.

Repeat the boiling and baking process with the remaining sheet of bagels from the fridge.

Enjoy toasted or as is with a good smear of cream cheese!!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Applesauce Granola

This afternoon we had a short break from the constant rain we have been experiencing for the past few days. I took the opportunity to take Matthew outside so he could run around a bit. He has been an absolute beast this past week. I hope he is suffering greatly from an incoming tooth or some other unseen ailment that could possibly explain why my sweet little man has suddenly changed into the little ogre who has been staying with us this week. He is constantly whining, hitting, even biting on occasion. Every time he wants something, he points at me with red eyes narrowed and screams in a shrill, grating voice: "MAAAAAAAAAAA!" When it is something he can't have, such as my cup of coffee, he will come running at me, fists pumping, in an attempt to teach me a lesson for denying his request. If I happen to move out of the way before he can complete his vicious onslaught, he will throw himself across the floor and begin flailing all four limbs in a truly unnatural (and unnerving) manner. This has been happening on and off all week. Yesterday, I actually began counting down the hours until his bedtime, beginning at 7:30 AM because he was already making me want to pull my own hair out.

These were the only decent pictures I took of him this week. Lately, he has been into putting this bucket on his head and just sitting there, drinking his juice. Unless of course he is meditating on the couch while eating a pretzel.

However, he woke up happier today, actually smiling at me when I picked him up from his crib this morning. And, as a result, today has been a very good day. Maybe it was the brief glimpse of the sun and the treat of being able to spend some time outside. Whatever the reason, his mood and behavior has been 100% better. The only minor hiccup we had was while we were outside and I was briefly distracted with watering my plants. Matthew noticed that our neighbor's tiny little shitzu was sitting, staring outside through their screen door. Matthew is obsessed with dogs, but especially little ones. He immediately began running towards the door and before I could stop him, he flung it open and ran inside our neighbor's apartment after the dog. I freaked and immediately ran after him, caught him trying to head up their stairs, grabbed him, and then quickly sprinted back inside our apartment, closing the door behind us. I don't know if anyone saw us enter/leave, but I did not really want to find out. We do not need another reason for our neighbors to dislike us.

For lunch today, Matthew and I made some applesauce and granola. Matthew's new food obsession is yogurt. He can finish off a quart of it in one sitting if I let him. I introduced him to granola and yogurt parfaits (one of my favorite snacks) and he has been in love ever since. My favorite granola recipe actually utilizes fruit puree instead of oil to produce a truly delicious, clumpy, toasted granola. We are still working through all the apples we picked last weekend so I figured this was a great way to continue using them up.

Easy Applesauce

4 large apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
3/4 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a medium pot. Cover and let cook over medium heat for 15-20 minute, or until the apples are very soft. Let cool and mash with a potato masher or a fork. Store in the refrigerator.

Our Favorite Granola
adapted from Nigella Lawson

6 cups rolled oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup pecans
1 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 cup applesauce (or another fruit puree - mashed bananas also work great)
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vanilla
A couple handfuls of raisins, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, chopped apricots, etc. (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Mix together the oatmeal through spices. In a small saucepan, heat and whisk the applesauce, honey, and oil. When heated through, whisk in the vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and stir together to combine well (you might have to get your hands in there to really ensure everything is evenly coated).

Spread everything out onto two large jelly roll pans. Place in the oven and let bake 50-60 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. When finished, the granola should be dry and lightly toasted. If you do not like your granola so crunchy, you can pull it out earlier. Let cool completely on the pan before tossing with the dried fruit of your choice and storing in an airtight container.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Apple Challah

My favorite bread in the whole world is challah. I make it all the time and turn the dough into dinner rolls, sandwich buns, whole loaves, cinnamon buns, or orange rolls. This apple version of challah was another welcome variation. It is not overly sweet and really showcases the complimentary flavors of honey and apples. We enjoyed a good portion of this for breakfast. It was not sweet enough for Paul's taste, so he added a cider glaze to his piece. I personally enjoyed it slightly warmed with a tablespoon of orange marmalade.

The process is incredibly easy albeit a bit messy. Matthew enjoyed watching it bake, but picked all the apples out of his piece when eating it. To him, apples have no place in challah.

Honey Apple Challah
adapted from King Arthur Flour

For the challah dough:
1/2 cup lukewarm water
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast

For the apple filling:
2 large apples, peeled, cored and diced into chunks
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup granulated sugar

For the glaze:
1 large egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Sugar in the Raw for sprinkling (or just some more granulated sugar - but coarse sugar is pretty!)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the dough ingredients and mix with the dough hook attachment until you have a soft, smooth dough. This will probably take about 10 minutes. You may need to gradually add a little more flour if the dough continues to stick to the bottom of the bowl.

With a floured hand, remove the dough from the mixing bowl and gently knead into a ball. Place in a large, greased bowl, and turn once to coat. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. This will take approximately 2-2 1/2 hours.

Lightly grease a 9 or 10-inch springform pan or a 9-inch cake pan that has sides at least 2" tall.

Combine all the filling ingredients in a bowl and toss to coat evenly with the cinnamon and the sugar.

When the dough has risen, gently deflate and pat into a 8" x 10" rectangle. Spread half of the apple chunks down the center of the rectangle. Gently fold the left side of the dough over the apples and press firmly along all edges to seal the dough. Spread the remaining apple chunks over the folded-over dough. Take the right side of the dough and fold it over the apple chunks, pressing firmly on all ends to seal. With a large, sharp knife, cut the dough into 16 uniform-size pieces. This will be unnervingly messy and feel like a war zone. Apple chunks will fly, juices will squirt, dough will appear melty, but do not stress! Lay the dough chunks in the greased pan, trying your best to keep it in a single layer. This will be a tight squeeze. Arrange any stray apple pieces over the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until the dough appears puffy and has risen a generous 2" high, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven.

Whisk together the egg and water. When the dough has risen, brush the top with the glaze and sprinkle with the sugar. At this point, if you are using a springform pan, wrap the bottom of the pan in foil to prevent juice leakage. I wrapped my pan and placed it on a baking sheet (and I'm glad I did!).

Bake at 325 degrees for 50-55 minutes or until the top is browned and the internal temperature of the bread reads 190 degrees. Some of the higher-rising pieces may char a bit, but those pieces taste especially delicious! Remove from the oven and let the bread rest in the pan 5 minutes before loosening the sides. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Apples, Apples, Apples

Last weekend, the weather was absolutely gorgeous. Temperatures were in the upper 70s and there was not a cloud in the sky. It was the perfect weather to take advantage of all the fall festivals taking place all over the state this month. First, we headed up to Franklin, PA for the annual apple festival. The drive through the countryside was simply breathtaking - the colors of fall are finally being fully displayed by the various trees and shrubs. The Apple Fest itself was a little too crowded for our tastes. We could barely shuffle among the various vendors, booths, and activities without having cider spilled on us or a cigarette being accidentally shoved in our faces. Not to mention, we had Matthew in the stroller which made it extra difficult to maneuver through the crowds. We spent a minimal amount of time there and bought only a gallon of apple cider (mainly because Matthew was thirsty and we had failed to bring more water - the thirsty kid ended up drinking half the gallon while we were there!).

On Sunday, we headed north into New York to attend a Fall Festival held at a nearby ski resort. Attending this particular festival has become an annual tradition for Paul and I. We enjoy wandering around looking at different craft vendors, sampling some local jams and jellies, petting llamas, pigs, and yaks, purchasing a bag of kettle corn, and parking ourselves on a nearby hill to munch on it. We look forward to it all year long!

Here are a couple photos of Matthew sitting in the same pumpkin patch this year and last year at the Fall Festival. Talk about pulling at this mommy's heart strings. He has gotten so big! Same annoyed expression on his face though. And no, we did not plan on him wearing almost the exact same outfit both years. Funny how things like that just happen.

Later that same afternoon, we headed over to Girard to an apple orchard. We had intended to swing by for only a few pounds of apples. But the apples were so beautiful, big, and inviting that before long we had closer to 30 pounds. It took a lot of restraint even then to not continue picking. And the whole lot only cost six bucks!

Matthew missed the whole concept of picking apples. Paul and I took turns hoisting him into the air to pick an apple or two off the tree. He successfully managed to pick a few, but then lost interest, choosing instead to take the apples we had already placed into our basket and trying to put them back on the tree (there is a video at the end of this post). It took Paul and I a couple of minutes to notice - basically, we realized that we kept picking apples off the tree, but our basket was not getting any more full. He finally bored of this activity and sat himself down under one of the trees and noshed on a couple apples (taking a large bite out of one before moving on to the next).

With so many apples, Paul and I immediately set to work making a delicious apple pie. We ended up eating a quarter of the pie for dinner. Paul ate the rest for his lunch the next day (and he wonders why his waistline continues to expand). Next, we made some apple butter, applesauce, apple challah, and apple cake. All of these goodies headed to the freezer to be saved for enjoyment during the winter months. I love this time of year!

This apple butter is a merge of many many different sources. I choose to use my slow cooker to make apple butter because it produces a wonderful aroma that fills your entire home. Homemade potpourri! Apple butter is delicious mixed into oatmeal, spread on toast, dolloped on pancakes, and blended with yogurt. It freezes well and makes a wonderful gift for the holidays.

And thanks to this recipe, Matthew discovered the CrockPot. It was love at first sight. Notice how he holds the paddle attachment to my KitchenAid hostage in his grubby little fist.

Oh, and running around sans pants is his new thing. Whatever.

Apple Butter

12 medium-sized apples (I used Northern Spy, Rome, McIntosh, and Mutsu)
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt

Peel, core, and finely dice the apples. Pile them into your slow cooker. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine.

Cover and set the cooker to high. Let cook for one hour. Reduce to the lowest setting and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until dark and very thick. This will take anywhere from 8-11 hours, depending on the type of apples being used. When ready, it should look like this.

Uncover and continue to cook for about 1 hour, whisking vigorously every 10 minutes. Spoon into sterile containers.

And here is a short video we took on my camera of Matthew at the Apple Orchard. I tried to upload this three times before I finally was able to get it to work!

Matthew Picking Apples - October 8, 2011