Criss-Cross Applesauce

I love Fall, it’s absolutely my favorite season. I love the beautiful blanket of falling leaves (it drives me crazy that here in Northern NJ everyone sweeps up their leaves the minute they hit the ground); I love the chill in the air; I love the contrast between the bright blue sky and Mother Nature’s muted colors; I even love the cool, earthy and slightly damp way the season smells. And there is no food that says Fall to me more perfectly than apples.

It seems like this time of year everyone you talk to has either just gone apple picking or has plans to. (Although truth be told, the Greco family prefers to apple pick mid-August in Vermont. Sorry N.J., but you really can’t compete.) Anyway, back to those apples. If you in fact do go apple picking then you’re probably like me and end up bringing home way more than you and your family can possibly eat out of hand. And seriously how many pies does any one person feel compelled to make? So to use up all those lovely fresh picked apples I make applesauce. In the past I would make it on the stove top and just let it cook until it was mushy and “done”. Then I discovered a Martha Stewart recipe for roasted applesauce. Hello delicious!

This is honestly some of the best applesauce I’ve ever tasted. It’s loaded with wonderful spices, takes less than an hour to make and freezes beautifully. My family likes to eat it in the morning with toast, at dinner alongside chicken or pork chops and warmed up with a bit of vanilla ice cream for dessert. I promise that after making this roasted version you’ll never bother with the stove top kind again.

Roasted Applesauce
Roasting the apples rather than cooking them on the stove really gives this applesauce a much more complex flavor.

1/4 cup water
4 tbsp. packed brown sugar
3 tsp. fresh lemon juice
a big pinch of salt
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
3 lbs. apples (about 10-12)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Peel, core and cut apples into medium size chunks. Place in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Combine water, sugar, lemon juice, melted butter and salt in a small bowl. Stir until blended and sugar has dissolved.
  3. Pour sugar mixture over the apples and toss to coat well. Place apples in a large baking dish, cover tightly with foil and roast 40 minutes.
  4. Let cool slightly then mash apples with a fork. Adjust spices (if needed) and serve warm over vanilla ice cream, at room temperature, or freeze for a later date.

*adapted from martha stewart

(Transplanted) Yankee Baked Beans

“The pot of bak’d beans! With what pleasure I view it
Well season’, well pork’d by some rosy-faced dame,
And when from the glowing hot oven she drew it,
Well crisp’d and well brown’d to the table it came.
O give me my country, the land of my teens,
Of the plump Indian pudding and pot of baked Beans.”
~ A. Yankee, 1829

When one thinks of New England a few things come to mind; beautiful Fall foliage, scenic country roads, Mark Twain, lobster rolls and baked beans. And when it comes to baked beans there is one undeniable truth; they’re a classic. Baked beans are a definite comfort food, consumed at many the summertime barbecue, pot luck dinner and full English breakfast. In fact July is National Baked Bean Month, did you know that? Yeah me neither, but it is.

Not wanting to lose touch with my Yankee roots, I started experimenting with my own version of homemade baked beans a few summers ago. I’m happy to say they were an instant hit! It turns out that the U.S. Dry Bean Council (did you know there was such a thing? Yeah again, me neither.) was right, people really do love baked beans. My recipe calls for all the traditional ingredients; small white beans, brown sugar, molasses and some flavorful bits of pork, but it also gets a contemporary update from some fresh herbs, lots of onion and garlic and my oh so beloved smoked paprika.

I’ve found that these beans taste the best after they’ve sat and the flavors have had a chance to meld, so I usually make them a day or two before I plan to serve them. Then a simple reheat on the day of the party and beans are served! They’re fantastic as a side to burgers or chicken, go great with some eggs the next morning and would be the perfect accompaniment to some lovely barbecued ribs (wink, wink!). I won’t deny that these babies take a little time to pull together, they do it’s true, but they’re so totally worth the effort!

Smokey Yankee Baked Beans
Don’t be thrown by the amount of garlic the recipe calls for, after it all cooks down these beans are sweet and delicious, not overly garlicky at all. I promise!

1 pound dried Great Northern beans
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 11 oz. package raw Mexican chorizo, diced small
4 cups onion, chopped
10 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. chipotle chili powder
2 tsp. smoked paprika
3 bay leaves
1 quart beef broth
2 1/2 cups water, divided
3 tbsp. brown sugar
3 tbsp. tomato paste
3 tbsp. robust molasses

  1. Sort and rinse the beans; place in a large pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Cover the pot and let stand unrefrigerated for 8-12 hours. Drain and rinse beans, set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat a large dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the olive oil and heat until shimmering, then add the chorizo and cook 6-8 minutes or until fat begins to render. Add the onion and garlic and sauté 10 minutes or until onion is tender and translucent. Add the beans and stir to coat well with the rendered fat/onion/garlic mixture, cover and let cook for 10 minutes.
  3. Finely chop the herbs and add them and the next 5 ingredients (through broth) and 1 cup of water, bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes or until beans are just tender.
  4. Stir in the brown sugar, remaining 1 1/2 cups water, tomato paste and molasses into the bean mixture. Cover and bake at 350°F for 1 – 1 1/2 hours or until beans are very tender and sauce is thick. Remove from oven, discard bay leaves and serve or let cool and refrigerate.*

*I think these taste the best after they’ve sat for a day. However, when you reheat them you may need to add a half cup of water to thin out the sauce a bit.

*adapted from Cooking Light

‘baby daddy’ bbq ribs

Last night I had a dream about pulled pork. Actually it was kind of a nightmare. I was in some sort of cooking competition and when it was time to serve my dish to the judges I couldn’t find two forks to shred the meat and all I had was paper plates to serve it on. Crazy right? I guess that’s what I get for watching Chopped before bed.

Actually I’ve had barbecue on my mind lately. As you’re aware last weekend was Father’s Day. I asked my children’s father what he would like me to make for our Father’s Day dinner, but he said he was busy with his UPS route that day… so I asked my husband instead. (Ba-dum-bum-CHING! My husband loves when I make that joke.) Seriously though, when I asked my dear husband what he would like for dinner he requested barbecued ribs. Okey dokey, then ribs it would be.

I happen to be a true barbecue lover. I can’t think of a more satisfying summertime meal than finger-lickin’ sauce-covered chicken, ribs or pulled pork with a side of corn bread, some salad and sweet watermelon for dessert. But what I don’t like is commercially produced barbecue sauce full of high fructose corn syrup, liquid smoke and caramel coloring. No thanks. I have found bottled sauce that has a more “natural” list of ingredients, but I usually end up doctoring it up a bit to fit my tastes. So… why not just make my own. It’s super easy, just ketchup (the kind without high fructose corn syrup), a bunch of spices and a little cooking. Yum!

Okay, so back to those ribs. There seem to be as many ways to cook ribs as there are people who like to eat them. You can smoke them, slow cook them, grill them, boil them (bletch) and even fry them. They can be marinated, dry rubbed or simply slathered with sauce. The possibilities are endless! The recipe I use calls for marinating, slow roasting and then finishing them with sauce on the grill. Sure this may require a few more steps than some other recipes, but the total lack of conversation at our Father’s Day dinner table told me it was totally worth it.

Barbecued Ribs
I took all the heat out of this recipe because I wanted it appeal to my kids. 
If you prefer spicy feel free to kick it up with some cayenne pepper in both the marinade and the sauce.

4 lbs. pork spare ribs

For the marinade:
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. Spanish paprika
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp. key lime juice
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp. brown sugar

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and give a quick whisk to completely blend. Add the ribs, turning to coat well, cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Place the ribs in a non-stick roasting pan and add enough of the marinade to just cover the bottom. Cover with foil and cook for 3 hours, flipping halfway through.
  3. At this point the ribs should be just about fully cooked and ready for a quick finish on the grill. Baste the ribs with the barbecue sauce and grill until the sauce begins to caramelize, about 5-7 minutes per side. Serve with additional barbecue sauce on the side and some hot sauce for anyone who wants their ribs a bit spicy.

Homemade Barbecue Sauce
This sauce is super simple to throw together and much tastier than store-bought. It can easily be doubled or made spicier and it’s just as delicious on chicken or fish.

For the barbecue sauce:
1 1/2 cups ketchup
4 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. key lime juice
1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
3 tsp. smoked paprika
3/4 cup water

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens, about 25 minutes. Set aside.

*adapted from saveur

Homemade Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches— Oh Yeah.

I collect cookie jars. Vintage McCoy cookie jars to be precise. I’ve collected them for years, way before I had little people to make cookies with or for. You see I have a weakness for housewares. When I was a young girl I would go to the local department store with my mother and head straight for the fine china department. I would walk around and around the beautiful sets of dinnerware and crystal, dreaming of which patterns I choose one day when I was grown up. This would therefore explain why I own five sets of dishes (we had a yard sale and I sold two “extra” sets), enough serving pieces to easily set a buffet for a hundred, a ridiculous number of tiny antique aperitif glasses, a crazy collection of water pitchers and just about every size and shape cocktail glass you could ask for. Feel like margaritas? I’ve got the glasses… Red wine? But of course, balloon or bordeaux… Champagne? Got it… Dark and Stormy? Yup, swizzle sticks too! I could go on but you get the picture.

Okay, so back to cookie jars… I own many. And while most of them are currently in the attic I do have a few of my favorites in the kitchen. One holds loose change, one holds bric-a-brac that we may need to get our hands on one day and the remainder hold dust, the odd button and perhaps a few pebbles from the beach or an old parkway token. That is except one. If you’re a frequent guest at my house then you know exactly which cookie jar I’m speaking of. It’s the one that’s almost always filled with some homemade delight. Since family and friends have come to expect homemade cookies at our house I do my best to keep it full, but sometimes cookie making gets pushed to the back burner. I always know its time to refill the cookie jar when I hear the lid being lifted and replaced, followed immediately by a sad-faced individual wandering into the room.

It happened to be time for me to whip up another batch for my nearly empty jar, but with the arrival of warm weather the kids have been more inclined to ask for popsicles as a snack than cookies. So, I wondered to myself, how do you think they would feel about cookies turned into ice cream sandwiches?…

I’ll give you one guess as to how they felt about homemade ice cream cookie sandwiches. If these two little people could have hoisted me on their shoulders and marched me around the room I think they would have. Instead I got a “Mom you and these are THE BEST!”, which was even better.

Brown Sugar Double Chocolate Chip Cookies
The addition of a little bit of espresso powder really kicks the dark chocolate flavor up a notch. One batch of these cookies typically makes about two dozen cookies, certainly enough to make ice cream sandwiches and enjoy solo as well.

1 1/2 cups flour
2 tbsp. + 2 tsp. dark cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 stick butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/2 tsp. instant espresso powder, dissolved in 1 tsp. of water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. milk
1 tbsp. plain yogurt
5 oz. dark chocolate morsels* (these are bigger than ordinary chips)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line two cookies sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Mix the flour, cocoa powder and baking soda together in a medium bowl; set aside.
  3. Cream together the butter and brown sugar until thoroughly blended. Add the egg, espresso/water, vanilla, milk and yogurt and mix well. Add half of the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix, add the remaining flour and mix until completely blended. Gently fold in the chips.
  4. Using a cookie scoop or tablespoon place mounds of dough on the prepared cookie sheets.
  5. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the cookies have spread a bit and the tops have begun to crack, but are still soft to the touch.
  6. Transfer cookies to racks to cool and enjoy with a loved one and an ice-cold glass of milk, or use to create ice cream sandwiches.

*In the past I have also made these with 3/4 cup peanut butter chips instead of the morsels. Holy cow they were good!

Ice Cream Sandwiches
Having all the ingredients cold when you assemble these seems to be the key to building a successful ice cream sandwich.

Ice cream in flavors of your choice
Homemade chocolate cookies

  1. Place pre-baked chocolate cookies in the freezer to chill for 15 minutes.
  2. Working quickly, one flavor at a time, place a generous scoop of ice cream in the center of each cookie and top with a second. Place the completed sandwich on a cookie sheet in the freezer and repeat with remaining cookies and ice cream flavors.
  3. Chill ice cream sandwiches for at least an hour before serving. Store in an air tight container in the freezer or gobble up immediately.

Candied bacon…I’m all shook up!

Over dinner one night many years ago, a friend made an out of the blue declaration that “bacon was the perfect food!” Naturally we all laughed and have continued to joke about the perfect food ever since. But the more I think about it the more I think this friend of ours may have been onto something. What would Quiche Lorraine be without bacon? And how sad would that BLT sandwich be without good ol’ bacon? Not to mention my roasted brussels sprouts or mashed turnips. Yes, in-fact I’m beginning to think that bacon may be just a bit more important (and versatile) than it’s been given credit for.

I recently started planning my Easter dinner menu (yes, I do realize it’s still four weeks away!) So perhaps it was just a coincidence or maybe it was predestined, but while flipping through cook books the other day I stumble upon a recipe for Candied Bacon Brownies. “Candied bacon brownies…” I thought to myself “…that’s a crazy good idea! But way too decadent, too rich and too over the top to actually bother to make.” And so I moved on. Then a few days later the Today section of the paper had a recipe for an escarole salad topped with candied bacon.

Seriously, what are the chances of candied bacon popping up in my life twice in a matter of days? I took it as a sign.

I immediately liked the idea of using candied bacon as a garnish, it would allow you to enjoy the salty/sweet aspects of the bacon but not be overwhelmed by it. Since I had already planned to serve my spinach salad with sliced strawberries and goat cheese on Easter, sprinkling a little candied bacon on top seemed like a no-brainer! Now to come up with a more decadent use… I imagined that a combination of chocolate and candied bacon might literally cause some folks to swoon. But I also thought that it would be so rich that any more than a single bite would be too much. So I decided that instead of brownies or even cookies I would make… fudge. Yup, Candied Bacon Fudge. Sounds like something Elvis would have eaten doesn’t it?

Okay, so let me tell you what I’ve discovered about candied bacon… It’s pretty damn delicious! It was a great addition to my spinach salad (actually I can’t believe I ever thought the salad was good without it!) and it turned already delicious fudge into something a bit more special.

Candied bacon doesn’t belong everywhere, but it definitely has its place in my cooking repertoire.

Candied Bacon
I know this sounds like a crazy idea but it really is delicious, and surprisingly versatile. It kicks a plain old BLT up a notch, is great along side a couple of eggs and tastes pretty fantastic eaten all by itself.

1/2 lb. thick cut bacon
1 cup dark brown sugar

  1. Preheat oven the 350°F. Line a jelly roll pan with foil and place a cooking rack in the pan, set aside.
  2. Put brown sugar in a container with sides (something long enough to allow you to lay a slice of bacon out flat). Add bacon, one slice at a time and dredge in the brown sugar. Put the sugar coated strips of bacon on the rack and repeat until all the slices are done.
  3. Sprinkle a little additional sugar over the top of the strips and put into the preheated oven.
  4. Bake for 15-25 minutes (depending on thickness of bacon), turning the pan half way through. When the sugar has melted and the bacon is looking browned and crispy, remove it from the oven.
  5. Immediately peel the bacon off of the rack and lay it flat on a sheet of waxed paper to cool a bit.
  6. Use the candied bacon as a garnish on salad, alongside your favorite breakfast meal or as the “are you insane?!?” addition to chocolate fudge.

*adapted from lords of bacon

Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Goat Cheese and Candied Bacon
This is a great springtime salad and the addition of candied bacon makes it perfect. Feel free to change the toasted nuts to whichever kind you like most.

8 oz. fresh spinach leaves
2 oz. goat cheese
several slices of candied bacon, crumbled
1 cup sliced strawberries
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

  1. In a large bowl create a bed of fresh spinach. Top with sliced strawberries and toasted almonds.
  2. Pinch off small bits of goat cheese and distribute over salad. Sprinkle crumbled candied bacon over everything and serve with your favorite vinaigrette.

Simple Dark Chocolate Fudge
This is my standard chocolate fudge recipe. If you have a favorite of your own or prefer milk chocolate, feel free to modify the recipe.

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 stick unsalted butter
2 cups mini marshmallows
1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cocoa)
1/2 tsp. vanilla

  1. Line a 8×8 brownie pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan combine sugar, evaporated milk and butter. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the marshmallows, chocolate and vanilla. Stir until the marshmallows and chocolate are melted and the mixture is smooth.
  4. Pour the fudge into the prepared pan and chill for several hours, until it’s firm.
  5. When the fudge is set lift the parchment out the pan, gently peel it off the block of fudge and cut into squares. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator.

Candied Bacon-Dark Chocolate Fudge
I know this seems like a crazy idea but I have yet to have a single person try this say it wasn’t delicious. Rich, extreme and they couldn’t possibly eat more than one piece, but delicious.

1/2 lb. of candied bacon
1 batch of dark chocolate fudge (your favorite recipe or mine listed above)

  1. Place half of the prepared fudge in the bottom of an 8×8 brownie pan lined with parchment paper.
  2. Lay the strips of bacon on top of the layer of fudge, making sure to press the bacon down to eliminate air bubbles.
  3. Pour the remaining fudge on top of the bacon and chill for several hours, until firm.
  4. When the fudge is set lift the parchment out the pan, gently peel it off the block of fudge and cut into squares. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator.

*adapted from the kitchn

Baking with my Cookie

“Let’s make cookies!” my daughter says on the way home from nursery school one afternoon. “Oh baby, I don’t have the ingredients for cookies, next time I go to the store I’ll get some.” “Yes you do” she replies, “sugar, flour, milk and eggs…” Hmmm, my two-and-a-half year old budding chef might be right, we in fact could make sugar cookies with the ingredients she just rattled off. So, since she specifically requested a little kitchen time with mom (and I would hate to deny my sweet girl), it looked like we’d be baking after lunch.

Here’s something you may not know about me, I don’t like to do anything if it seems too easy. I guess I equate a certain degree of effort with a successful final product. I’m sure plain sugar cookies would of been fine and certainly would of satisfied my daughter’s desire to bake, but in my little head that would of been too simple. I had to make sugar cookies that were a bit fancier. Cookies with some added cinnamon and nutmeg in the dough and then a quick roll in more cinnamon and sugar before baking. Yeah, those are my kinda sugar cookies!

So how did our little mother-daughter baking session go? Well, as is often the case with a two-and-a-half year old her enthusiasm for the project didn’t last long. Once the ingredients were measured and the stand mixer switched on, she was more interested in pillaging the fruit bowl and helping herself to cheese sticks from the fridge. Oh well, there’s always next time.

But the final results, seriously delicious.

Cinnamon-Sugar Cookies
These cookies are fantastic as is or with a glass of cold milk. They’re even better along side of a scoop of vanilla ice cream.


12 tbsp. Smart Balance spread
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. creme of tarter
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. milk
1 egg
3 cups flour

For the cinnamon sugar topping:
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl mix together the cinnamon and sugar for topping, set aside.
  2. To make the dough cream together the softened butter, sugar, brown sugar, honey, baking powder, baking soda, creme of tarter, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and salt. Add the egg and milk and blend into the butter mixture, then slowly stir in the flour.
  3. Scoop out rounded tablespoons of the dough (it will be very soft), shape them into balls, and roll each ball in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Place each ball on the prepared cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 12-16 minutes, until the cookie is golden brown and the tops have begun to crack.
  4. Allow to cool on a wire rack and then try to eat just one. Store remainder in an air tight container.

* I realize you may think I’m crazy to use anything other than butter to make these cookies. I agree it’s unorthodox but here’s the thing, I tested this cookie recipe three times and on the last try I ran out of butter and substituted Smart Balance. While the butter cookies were good, they got hard very quickly sitting in my cookie jar, but the Smart Balance cookies stayed soft and yummy for days. Like the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”…