Grandma’s Number 1 Perfect Apple Cobbler

Grandma was right. This is definitely “Number 1 Perfect Apple Cobbler”. I don’t recall ever eating this cobbler made by Grandma. She lived out of state and we didn’t get to spend much time together. Maybe twice a year when I was growing up. Even less when I grew up and had a family of my own.  She passed away a few months ago. But my Grandma was something special. She wasn’t stuffy and prudish. Nor was she soft and gentle. But she was warm and fun. She was known to enjoy a couple of beers and she loved to play cards… and smile and laugh. She was in a bowling league for decades into her ripe old age. She was a ‘people person’. I will always remember her smiling, singing and dancing around. And if she wasn’t doing any of that, she was humming. Always. While she worked on her crossword puzzles. Or even when she was just strolling around the room, with one hand planted firmly on her hip. She was a ‘lefty’, and I swear there is just something special about lefties. I do miss her.

I stumbled across her recipe for apple cobbler a week ago. And what do you know? It’s apple season and I had a ton of them in the refrigerator. This apple cobbler was meant to be.

What I love about the recipe (besides that it’s damn good)  is the simplicity. It’s so quick and easy that you could be eating it within an hour of starting the recipe. And it only contains staple ingredients you would find in most kitchens. You don’t need any baking powder (something I frequently forget to restock) or corn starch. It’s just apples, a little lemon juice, sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, eggs and butter. I followed the recipe nearly to the letter because I wanted to taste her apple cobbler. I only needed about 6 apples since mine were fairly large and I used the juice from one not so juicy lemon, which may have been more like 1 1/2 tbs. Her recipe also calls for “oleo”, which makes this recipe even more charming to me. Oleo is an old-fashioned term used sometimes for butter or oil, but usually for margarine. I used real butter.

I should also say that technically, this may be more of a “crumble” than a cobbler, just in case you are looking for a true cobbler recipe. I thought it was a little bit unusual that there was an egg in the topping. Most recipes only call for butter, flour and sugar in the dough. The egg though, is what gave it the extra crunch that I loved so much. I also love that the apple “filling” is just apples and a little lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. No milk or water to make it soupy. No flour to thicken it. No added sugar to sweeten it. Just apples!  (I say to you with both hands in the air! Do you know how happy this simple detail makes me?) I wouldn’t use Granny Smith or cooking apples for this recipe. It would probably end up too tart and too dry. But if that’s all you have then just add maybe a 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of water or juice to the apples. They may also need just a few more minutes in the oven to get them nice and soft. I almost always prefer to use regular eating apples and cut back on the refined sugar in any recipe. I used mostly Golden Delicious and a few Pink Ladies that I bought from Matthews Community Farmers’ Market (my favorite source for locally grown food).

I’m not sure if any of you actually care about the quality of the ingredients that I use. But I have a feeling some of you might. So from now on I’m going to put my first choice for ingredients first and then, in parenthesis the more common substitute in a sort of sliding scale. If I use organic, obviously the regular stuff will work in it’s place. I won’t bore you with every detail on each ingredient, but I’ll share this with you instead. Most of my produce and the little bit of meat we consume comes from the Matthews Community Farmers Market. Everything is grown or raised within 50 miles and the produce is either USDA Organic, organically grown (without the costly USDA certification) or grown with minimal amounts of the safest pesticides or chemicals possible to save crops from complete devastation; and the animals are all raised on pasture. I am confident that this is true because these farmers and vendors feel as passionately about real, unadulterated food as I do. Some of them are members and supporters of Slow Food. The vendors and the patrons all care about things like sustainable farming and the humane treatment of animals. If they didn’t, they’d be selling at another farmers market. This is the best farmers market in the Charlotte/Matthews area, I assure you. Also I usually buy organic when it comes to these big three:  corn, soy and wheat products – to avoid controversial genetically modified food (GMO’s). I wouldn’t be as worried about these, IF they weren’t in the majority of the products found in grocery stores (in one form or another). So here we go:

Mabel’s “Number 1 Perfect Apple Cobbler”

  • 8-10 local, organic apples, peeled and sliced (mine were not organic, but no detectable residues were found on the fruit upon testing, obviously commercial organic or regular apples can be used)
  • 1 Tbs. organic lemon juice (non-organic is probably okay when it comes to citrus juice)
  • 1 c. organic evaporated cane juice  (I used 3/4 cup since my apples were sweet and because I always try recipes with 1/4 to 1/3 less sugar at first. 3/4 cup was enough for our taste. Organic sugar or regular sugar works fine.)
  • 1 c. King Arthur’s organic all-purpose flour (Local and organic is better if you can find it. Hoffner Organic Farms has some, but regular flour will work, whole wheat flour is probably okay too)
  • 1 tsp. organic cinnamon (non-organic cinnamon will do)
  • dash of real sea salt (any sea salt or regular table salt)
  • 1 local, pastured egg, beaten (organic, cage free or free range or regular eggs will work)
  • 4 tbs. oleo (butter), melted (I used Kerrygold unsalted, which is pastured, but imported from Ireland. Organic butter or ordinary butter will work.)

Method:

Pour lemon juice over apples. Mix dry ingredients and egg until crumbly. Sprinkle over apples in 5 x 9 baking dish (a 9″ square pan worked just fine for me). Drizzle with the melted butter. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. “You can use peaches instead of apples if desired.”  (I’ll remember that when peaches are in season!)

Simple, Seasonal Food

Carrots are in season. My kids like them raw mostly, but for dinner we like them roasted with just olive oil, salt and pepper. I roast most veggies at 450 degrees, but how long depends on the size. The carrots I get from the farmers market are small-ish, but still I split them in half so they cook even faster. I roasted these maybe… 20  minutes? I used to think that there was an exact science to using the oven. I wouldn’t dare use it without the instructions from a recipe telling me exactly what temperature and how long. I’m finally comfortable with guesstimating a temperature and cook time.  For most things, precision is not necessary. You can just tell when it’s done, or – use a thermometer. Not done yet? Okay. Back you go. Occasionally I wait too long. But usually overcooked or “charred” food is still edible and tasty… usually.

Carrots from the farmers market are never as uniform as the ones they sell in grocery stores.

Thank goodness, because I like a little fun in the kitchen. Put some clothes on those lady legs!

I split them in half, but kept the “legs” together for a little funny on my girls’ plates. They didn’t even notice.

Carrots and roasted chicken… mmm…. I got this sample seasoning packet from the farmers’ market at Atherton Mills. A Savory Spice Shop is opening in the shopping center next door and they were giving these away to spread the word. Good blend. Can’t wait to visit this spice shop. Roasted chicken was so simple. Rub olive oil or butter, salt and whatever seasoning you like on the chicken and roast it at 375 degrees until temp reaches 180 degrees . Unless you got yourself a pastured chicken like this one. They only need to get around 170 to 175 degrees. A four pound chicken takes around an hour and fifteen minutes. (A meat thermometer is inexpensive and doesn’t take up much space. Totally worth it, especially if you tend to to overcook things like I do (in fear of under cooking). I start taking it’s temperature after an hour. Here’s a tip I’ve picked up somewhere. Stick the thermometer between the breast and thigh so that you don’t actually puncture the meat and allow all those juices to escape. And make sure the thermometer doesn’t touch any bones or the bottom of the pan.)

Oh wow. This is the second time I’ve purchased a pastured chicken from Laughing Owl Farm. So moist and yummy.

Ever heard of Cushaw Pie? Not me. I found the cushaw at a pumpkin patch. I bought it mostly to decorate the front porch along with a few other uncommon varieties of winter squash.

The cushaw is the one that looks like a duck. It’s green and white, kind of like a watermelon.

But then thought I’d see if any of them were good for anything else, like eating. Turns out cushaws makes a good pie. It’s especially good with homemade whipped cream infused with nutmeg and orange zest. However, the pie crust was the best part. I used a basic recipe, but substituted 1/2 unrefined coconut oil and 1/2 butter instead of all butter or shortening (leaf lard works well, but I wanted to impart the flavor of coconut and butter). I also added a tablespoon of sugar and maybe a 1/4 teaspoon of  cinnamon. Simple as that.

I made heart shaped pumpkin pancakes for the girls on Friday. They were out of school for Veteran’s Day. I just added a couple extra tablespoons of flour, about a cup of pumpkin puree and some pumpkin pie spices to my usual pancake batter and cut the milk down just a little. If you’ve made pancakes a few times, you know the consistency. We ate them with a little real butter, 100% pure maple syrup and fresh apples. Simple enough.

I found this brand new heart-shaped pancake mold at my favorite thrift store for only $0.49! According to the tag, it came with a partner. Two would have been better for. sure. Double the pancakes in half the time. Took me like 30 minutes to make 6 pancakes! I sure do heart my girls…

Also found this cute cookie jar for a whopping $1.99. No cookies yet. The girls check every few days.

Sometime this week I’m going to surprise them and actually fill it with homemade cookies. I’m thinking I might even restart a fairly new family tradition: “Friday treats”. Just not every Friday. Last school year we did this and the girls really loved it. In fact so much that they actually drove me insane about it all. week. long. “What’cha makin’ this week? What? That’s not a good treat!? Why can’t you make blah, blah, blah? You didn’t have time to make our Friday treat!? Well then you owe us…” Wait, what?  So, no. Not every Friday.

Pomegranates and Smurphat Family Recipes

I bought two pomegranates a week ago. I looked at them nearly every day and asked myself, “When are you going to crack those things open? What exactly are you waiting for?” My kids asked the same sorts of questions. Truth is I haven’t bought one in years. When I was growing up, my mom would buy them. But she lovingly did all the hard work and all we had to do was pick off the arils. I’ve bought them a few times since then, but was always disappointed and never felt they were worth the trouble. The seeds inside were hard and difficult to chew, making the little burst of juice hardly worth the messy, cutting, peeling, prying, plucking and seed spitting. Now, why did I buy these again? Oh yeah. They are good for you and yummy (even if they are a lot of work). They are rich in vitamin C, B5, potassium and polyphenols (like tannins and flavonoids).

Finally, I decided to open this baby up. But first I had to consult YouTube. Not because it’s all that difficult, but because I figured there was a trick to it and YouTube is my favorite site for how-to demonstrations. I found two ways to do it. Since I had two of them, I tried both ways. Yeah. I’m a nerd like that. The first method involves cutting the thing into manageable pieces then working the arils out by hand in a bowl of water. The peel and membrane floated to the top and the kernels sank to the bottom. Of course when you cut the thing open, just know that it has the potential to look like a scene from some gory horror flick. The juices splatter. In fact, I didn’t even notice they had splattered all the way up the wall and under my cabinets. Also found some on the the paper towel roll the next day. And on the canisters. And toaster. Meh… I prefer the second way, which involves “scalping” the top to reveal the sections and then slicing through the skin and prying the sections apart. It was definitely less messy. And the spoon tapping to release the arils worked okay. Though it didn’t really knock them off, the arils were loosened and easy to pry off after the spoon smacking. (I know, I know. I’m a food nerd.)

As it turns out, the seeds aren’t as bad as I remember. I wasn’t going to mention the seed spitting option to the kids unless they had a problem with it. I didn’t have to. The seeds didn’t bother them. One of them even liked the crunch. Huh. Me too. Go figure. And eating the pomegranate with the seeds is better for you. They contain healthy oils, micronutrients and fiber. Pomegranates are high in sugar. In fact, most of it’s calories come from this sugar. But the fiber helps keep blood sugar levels from spiking by slowing the breakdown of sugar in the body.

They make a great healthy snack all by themselves (I ate quite a few while writing this post), but they were also great on our salads last night:

Speaking of salads, this Sweet and Sour Slaw is what led me to the collection of Smurphat family recipes. Of course the recipe is good as is, but you know me – I added fennel, apples and carrots to give it my seasonal, nutrient dense twist.

The slaw recipe is my mother’s. I had misplaced my handwritten recipe and after searching everywhere, I suddenly remembered that she had submitted the recipe for the Smurphat Family Recipes. No she is not technically a Smurphat (that would be my late grandmother on my Dad’s side), and this recipe actually comes from my childhood neighbor. The recipes were gathered at a family reunion and the “Sweet and Sour Slaw” recipe was my mother’s contribution.  So I dug around and found the family recipe book in a closet upstairs. (Upstairs!?)

Even before I’d found this cookbook, I had been thinking a lot about family recipes. Since I’m cooking more traditionally now, I am always in search of old recipes. I love how naturally good for you they are and I’m fascinated that science is now proving that these tried and true methods and ingredients (a.k.a. slow food) are more beneficial to our health than we realized. Good, simple, unprocessed ingredients, food preparations and cooking methods that have been fine-tuned over centuries and handed down for generations – the culture, the tradition. I’ve been wondering how and what recipes I want to pass on to my daughters. And as I was preparing the slaw, I began thinking about my grandmother. She passed away a few months ago. I wondered which recipes she had contributed. So after dinner I finished my glass of Syrah while perusing family recipes.

As it turns out, quite a few of these recipes called for processed food ingredients like cream of mushroom soup and rolls of refrigerated dough, marshmallow creme, shortening and margarine. I was a little disappointed that these recipes weren’t very traditional, and in fact seem to come from the 50’s era of condensed soup and prepackaged convenience foods.

There were a few gems though. Even some traditional Italian and German Recipes. My grandmother’s recipe for “Number 1 Perfect Apple Cobbler” was included and it just so happens that apples are in season. In fact, Saturday is the last day for apples at my favorite farmers market. Other than the “oleo” (margarine) that she calls for, the rest of the ingredients are pretty traditional. I’m excited to try it.

All this has me wanting to put together a collection of family recipes that use traditional ingredients and methods. You’ll probably be hearing more about this and more about traditional recipes and methods in future posts. I’d love to hear about your family food culture, traditions and recipes. Please feel free to comment below.

Time Change, Halloween, Thrift Stores and More Seasonal Food

I’m in a sort of ‘zen’ mood this week. Last week was rough. I was ready to throw in the towel. But toward the end of the week I found my center. The chaos seems to be running in slow motion at the moment. Slow enough for me to handle. Slow enough for me to step back and see what’s really important.

The crape myrtle in my back yard is one of my favorite things. It’s my calendar. In the fall it looks like this. Green, yellow and red and pink all at once. Even though it’s leaves are dropping, the flowers are still hanging on. Normally, the time change bothers me. But this year, the early darkness seems calming. Evenings feel slightly less hectic. The rest of the world disappears. Only the center of my universe, my family, this house, is visible… at least until morning.

Halloween was fun, but lasted longer than usual. After a full night of trick-or-treating we decided to take the kids to see both sets of grandparents. We ate too much candy. We went to bed too late. We did not hand out boxes of raisins, apples or home made goodies as I wished we could.  Instead we gave out tattoos, lollipops and fruit snacks (organic, with no artificial colors or flavors – except for a few recycled handouts from other places). I also managed to find some decent, individually wrapped dark chocolate that was ethically produced. Expensive chocolate, unrecognized by most, that will probably be left in candy bowls and jars, until all the other favorites are long gone.

The girls were so darn cute. Especially our sweet little Dorothy. I’ll always remember Haleigh the year she dressed as Raggedy Ann, Linsey the year she was Dora the Explorer and now London as Dorothy, with her white stockinged legs and little feet shuffling in a sparkly ruby red blur from porch to porch.

This is the most delicious chicken salad I’ve made yet. I used seasonal ingredients: crisp fresh apples and dried cranberries. And I added a little curry powder. Hey, don’t knock the curry. I found it in this recipe from allrecipes, where it got rave reviews. I thought it sounded interesting. Why not try it? All I have to say is this: curry powder is now a staple ingredient in my chicken salad. Just a tiny bit – 1/2 tsp or so.

This was the best fish I’ve eaten in while. My picture doesn’t do it justice. (I’ll explain it in a minute.) My parents went on a fishing trip recently and came back with a nice sized catch, which they skinned, gutted and filleted themselves in freezing cold weather. And I am so lucky (and thankful) that they shared. Flounder is very delicate, apparently. Too delicate for a clumsy home cook like me. I ended up with a few fairly large chunks and a lot of bits and pieces. But it was a delicious mess – seasoned with salt, pepper, a little garlic and chopped fresh rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme. Every single one of the kids devoured it and begged for more. I reluctantly doled out the remaining “flakes” I thought I might have for lunch the next day, in second and third helpings. How can I say no when they plead for something so good for them?

This oven “fried” coconut and almond crusted flounder turned out much better. Sounds fancy, but I really just substituted regular flour with a mix of coconut flour and almond flour. You could also just use toasted coconut and ground almonds (food processor). Cook it in the oven at 475 deg. for about 8 to 10 minutes. I turned the broiler on at the last minute to get the tops nice and golden brown. The kids love this one too. You get the fried fish taste, without so much oil and again if you are looking for a gluten free alternative to fried fish, here ya’ go. (Also works for chicken, though you’d have to cook it longer. Here’s a recipe for Eating Well’s Almond Crusted Chicken Fingers.) I cut the fish into smaller, more manageable pieces and it turned out a great.  I made enough to freeze for another night.

Here’s another delicious mess of a meal. I found a recipe for carnitas on smittenkitchen.com. I didn’t have any orange juice or lime. I considered running out to get some, but knowing apples and pork go well together, I used some spiced apple cider and lemons that I had in the fridge instead. I also added about a teaspoon of some orange zest I have stored in the freezer. (I keep a stock of lemon, lime and orange zest in the freezer. Before peeling or juicing citrus I wash and grate the peel and store it in the freezer. It’s frugal and I love how this zest can brighten up a dish. I use it all the time.) The recipe is so great by the way, even though I burned it (because I stepped away from the kitchen). All the liquid evaporated out more quickly than I expected and it stuck HARD to the cast iron skillet, which – by the way – you should avoid cooking acidic foods in. I had hoped the lemon juice wouldn’t be too much. Between the burning and the damage from the acidic lemon juice, the “season” on the bottom of my cast iron dutch oven is gone. About a quarter of the pork had to be scraped into the garbage. The carnitas were yummy with the queso fresco and cauliflower I bought at the farmers market. I topped mine with avocado, yogurt, red onion, green onions, cilantro and a few drops of sriracha (hot chilli sauce). Mmm-mmm-mmm…

I had planned to split the pork into two meals. Luckily enough pork remained, even after I burned it. The following night I served the leftover pork with sauerkraut and smashed red potatoes and cauliflower (also leftover from the night before). If you are watching carbs, you should consider mixing potatoes with cauliflower (or even substituting completely). My family didn’t even notice it the first time I mixed our mashed potatoes half and half with cauliflower. Now that they know they like it, I don’t bother trying to disguise it. If you have a picky eater, you might want to try it that way. I don’t bother peeling my potatoes either.

This was last weeks “macaroni and cheese”. To my kids, anything with a white, cheesy sauce is macaroni and cheese. And they’ve grown to expect a few veggies mixed in. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were actually a little spoiled by our macaroni and cheese. The plain stuff just might not be good enough anymore.

The one above has a little bit of ground pork, arugula, peppers, onions, garlic, chives and thyme. The one below from last night’s dinner has a slightly less cheesy, garlic, butter and sage cream sauce. I threw in a few chopped kalamata olives and anchovies to add richness to the sauce. (A few anchovies added to a dish won’t make it taste fishy. It’s like adding any other salty meat, like a little bacon or sausage, to a meal. A little bit goes a long way.) There’s also some Italian sausage, onions, peppers, fresh parsley and chives in there somewhere.

I’ve mentioned that I love shopping at thrift stores. But did I mention it’s a great place to find cool cheap props! I’ve been finding some of the cutest dishes, place mats and other table decorations and kitchen stuff. I’m going to try to take some family photos soon and I’m thinking this is where I’ll find some interesting props.

I love these Italian and French glass canisters that I’ve been collecting from thrift stores. I found the set of four vintage French jars with garden vegetables on them and paid only $0.99 cents a piece. I found a set of three online for $30.00. The cheapest set was $13.00. I got a set of four for $3.96. Woo hoo!

Real Food, Busy Week, Charleston, SC

What a great week! Brian surprised me. He had planned a trip to Charleston for our anniversary. He arranged everything. Sitters were lined up. Hotel booked. We would leave on Friday, as soon as we could wrap up the work week. Meals were a little more hurried throughout the week and Haleigh’s rehearsal schedule is throwing me off. I’d forgotten to thaw the pizza sauce one night (which was leftover from a batch I made a couple weeks ago). Since we don’t have a microwave to thaw it fast, I had to come up with Plan B: a white sauce. I made a roux of one part butter and one part whole wheat flour. Added whole milk, fresh garlic and goat cheese. Too much milk. I reduced it, but not enough. It came out runny and practically disappeared into the crust. But the pizza was still awesome because the sauce and the toppings were so flavorful.

Homemade whole wheat crust, white sauce (flour, butter, milk, goat cheese), sauteed shiitake mushrooms and onions, aji dulce peppers, a few leftover chopped tomatoes, arugula and prosciutto.

My mom makes this wonderful dish with pork, kielbasa, hot dogs and sauerkraut served with mashed potatoes. It was one of my favorites growing up. Since we’ve cut back on the meat around here, I usually choose one of the three meats. This time it was kielbasa. And to put my twist on it and to save time, I made it a one pot dish with diced diced veggies and cubed potatoes, instead of mashed. I threw the sauerkraut on at the end just to warm it through.  This was quick and tasty.  Everyone loved it.

Sausage, Peppers and Potatoes

One day for lunch I used leftover rice to make fried rice. Saute onions in oil or butter. Push them aside then scramble some eggs  (we like a lot, so I use two per person).

One pot meal!

Add sesame seeds and rice. I like to get the rice nice and browned for great texture and flavor. The rice gets a little chewy and even a bit crispy in places. Sometimes I have to add a touch more oil and crank up the heat to get it that way. They don’t call it fried rice for nothing. Then I add the soy sauce and cook it for a little longer. A  tablespoon of butter right on each plate before serving is my little twist. Butter and soy sauce are so good together.

These bars are my “candy” and one of the few processed foods I buy regularly. They are filled with sugar, but the natural kind – from fruit. Dates. There is no added sugar, and usually five or less ingredients. I’ve only been able to find the Coconut Chocolate Chew flavor at Healthy Home Market. Luckily I don’t go there often. The Cashew Cookie is easier to find and has slightly less sugar. It’s good, but cashews and dates don’t tempt me the way chocolate and coconut can.

Chocolate Coconut Chew Larabar

Only five ingredients: Dates, Almonds, Walnuts, Unsweetened Coconut, Unsweetened Cocoa Powder -but 22 grams of sugar!!

This is a healthier snack. One I have more often… and guilt free! Apples dipped in peanut butter (no added oil or sugar, only ingredient is peanuts) and shredded coconut.

My apple dippers with peanut butter and shredded coconut.

And as for the weekend in Charleston… calming and delicious. I researched some restaurants before we went (something I always do before a trip these days) and we visited a few. If you’re ever in the Charleston/Mt. Pleasant area try The Glass Onion (my favorite restaurant – I had fried quail, greens and grits, also tried the deviled egg which comes highly recommended), Crave (I had scallops, lobster risotto and green beans) and Charleston’s Cafe (for breakfast I had the Southern Benedict – eggs, fried green tomatoes and bacon on french bread topped with hollandaise – one warning: “chippers” are potato chips, yummy but not a fan of chips for breakfast). There were so many great restaurants in the area. We visited the Charleston Farmers Market at Marion Square in Downtown Charleston and had lunch there. Brian had a delicious crepe from Charleston Crepe Company (in high demand, we waited around 15 minutes for this crepe) and I had a bowl of homemade lemon, chicken and rice soup. I love exploring places through food! Check out this Chihuahua we found occupying Charleston Saturday morning:

Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup (Autumn)

Last week a friend shared a link with me from smittenkitchen.com for Roasted Tomato Soup. (Thanks Jane!) While looking over the recipe, I instantly started salivating. Memories of childhood and Campbell’s Tomato Soup came to mind (though the soup from smittenkitchen looked a thousand times more appetizing). But I loved the canned soup when I was kid – with obscene amounts of crumbled Ritz Crackers. I tried it again as an adult, years later, and was disappointed. (Why don’t these things ever taste the way we remember?) I so miss enjoying that bowl of soup. I have never tried to make it from scratch. Usually fresh tomatoes peak at the end of summer, when it’s much too hot for soup. However one of the farmers from the market has a ton of late tomatoes this season. So thanks to Jane and late tomatoes, I decided to try and resurrect my love of tomato soup.

What I liked about the smittenkitchen recipe was that the tomatoes were roasted, along with a few cloves of garlic, and I loved the way the recipe married grilled cheese and tomato soup. I also love roasted peppers (especially with tomatoes). And I just happened to have some really great sweet red peppers in the garden. The one below is not yet ready and nowhere near as large as the ones I actually used. They are called Corno di Toro Sweet Peppers and are also great for stuffing (which I have done… and they were good). But if you aren’t lucky enough to have fresh peppers growing in your back yard, then you could substitute with red bell peppers. I also have some medium heat Poblano Peppers in the garden. I used one large one.

Something else that goes well with tomatoes is basil. And I have lots of beautiful basil perking up in my garden thanks to cooler weather. (Isn’t a garden a great place for inspiration?) So here’s my seasonal version of tomato soup:

ROASTED TOMATO AND RED PEPPER SOUP (AUTUMN)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 or 5 medium sized tomatoes
  • 1 large or a few small to medium red sweet peppers, seeded
  • 1 Poblano Pepper, seeded (or other hot pepper)
  • 3 to 4 cloves of garlic
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cups of vegetable or meat stock
  • fresh basil (optional)
  • plain yogurt or sour cream (optional)
  • chives (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Quarter tomatoes and squeeze out some of the seeds and excess water. Put them in a strainer and let them drain a little more while you cut and seed the peppers into chunks. Place tomatoes, peppers and whole cloves of garlic on a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in a 400° oven for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring once or twice during cooking.
  2. Once the tomatoes and peppers are soft and begin to brown they are done. Remove the dish from the oven and press on the roasted garlic with a fork to easily remove the skin. You can either put the roasted veggies and the fresh basil into a food processor or blender until smooth (or chunky if you like it that way, use a blender if you want it really smooth); or you could just skip to the next step and use a hand held immersion blender.
  3. Combine the tomato, pepper and basil mixture and the stock of your choice in a pot over medium heat. (This is where the immersion blender comes in if you haven’t already blended them.) Once the soup begins to boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 20 minutes.

Click here for a printer friendly version: ROASTED TOMATO AND RED PEPPER SOUP

Serve this soup with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream, a sprinkle of fresh chives, maybe a little drizzle of olive oil and a slice or two of toasted, crusty, chewy bread topped with melted cheddar cheese.  When I made the soup on Sunday, I placed the bread in the oven with the cheese, then once the bread was toasted and the cheese melted I placed a couple slices directly on top of each bowl of soup . It went all soft and gooey, which was amazing, but I missed the crunch from those crackers in my childhood tomato soup.

So the next day for lunch, I kept the cheesy toast on the side. I also got it really crispy on both sides before adding the cheese. I put a little olive oil in a pan over medium heat and toasted the bread well on one side, then flipped it, sprinkled it with sharp cheddar cheese and turned the heat off while the other side toasted slowly, giving the cheese enough time to melt.

Some suggest peeling the tomatoes and the peppers, but I didn’t bother and it turned out fine. If the soup is a little on the watery side, you can either add some tomato paste, tomato sauce or canned tomatoes (though you may have to blend it again if you use canned tomatoes), or you could just simmer for a little longer to allow more of the water to cook out. We were in a hurry (because the football game was starting!) so I added a can of Trader Joe’s  fire roasted tomatoes with green chillies.

To save time, you could easily use canned tomatoes and skip roasting them altogether. If there weren’t some available at the farmers market, I would have used Trader Joe’s fire-roasted tomatoes straight out of a can. This recipe is simple and good as is, but I love to play around flavors. Next time I may add rosemary or thyme instead of basil and some red wine to sweeten it up a little. Some heavy cream would make it more velvety. I have not checked the ingredients or sugar content of the Campbell’s version, but my guess is that it’s high (in salt too). Some tomato recipes call for added sugar, which would give it that sweeter taste like Campbell’s, if that’s what you are aiming for. So put your twist on it. I think you’ll like it.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds and Jack O’ Lanterns

One of our favorite family traditions is selecting and carving The Pumpkin, then roasting the seeds. This year we went to Riverbend Farms. There was a $5 per person charge to enter the farm. They are making some serious dough! We’ve had more fun at other farms that don’t charge an “entry fee”. (Next year we’ll go back to Hodges Farm on Rocky River Road.) But we all had a good time. They had some fun slides (fun for adults too), some animals (turkeys, buffalo, goats and more) and some old farm equipment that has been turned into a playground of sorts. I hear they sell ice cream, but we skipped that. There’s also a hayride through the huge pumpkin patch, where we accomplished our goal of finding The One. And then some. They had several varieties of gourds so I chose a few interesting ones.

The girls do all the dirty work, literally. I cut. They scoop out the slimy pulp.

Haleigh wore gloves. Linsey scoffed, “Gloves? Really!? Pshh…”

The girls put the muck and seeds into a bowl. They can’t resist squishing the “guts”, and I let them because it makes it easier to separate the seeds from the pulp later.

This year we carved two pumpkins and had a ton of seeds, so I made them two ways – salty and sweet. Here are my recipes:

Ingredients for Traditional Pumpkin Seeds

  • 2 tbs melted butter
  • salt
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder

Ingredients for Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds:

  • 2 tbs melted unrefined coconut oil (or butter if it’s all you have)
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • ginger
  • allspice
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300°.  Remove large chunks of pumpkin and as much of the strings as you care to. Leaving some of them won’t hurt anything and will even enhance the flavor, if you ask me. Pour them out on a towel and dry them a little.

This will also help remove more of the strings. Combine the seeds, butter or coconut oil and spices in a bowl and mix well. Spread them out in a single layer onto a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes. If you can remember, stir them around once or twice. I forgot, and they turned out just fine.

Pumpkin seeds have excellent health benefits. They are rich with antioxidants, loaded with minerals and can reduce bad cholesterol and may also lower blood pressure. There’s no need to remove the outer shell. Roasting makes them crispy and edible. The hull contains lots of fiber and all the flavor. I preferred the sweet ones, of course. But the sugar content negates some of the nutritional benefits. The unrefined coconut oil imparts a very light coconut flavor on the seeds. (Great for popcorn too.) Mmm…

Store them in air tight container on the counter for about a week or in the refrigerator for up to two months. They only last a few days in our house. They are great sprinkled on salads.

And here are the Jack O’ Lanterns:

Linsey said “Uh oh! You forgot the noses!” Nope. One less thing to carve and more room for a big mouth!