Saskatoon Clafoutis

Some might consider clafoutis (pronounced kla-foo-tee) just a lazy cook’s way to pie or cake, but its truly luscious comfort food complete with a French pedigree. Born in Limousin, in southern central France, a couple of centuries ago to showcase its fresh cherries. Very likely, the creation of a hurried & harried home cook with a glut of cherries to use up. Traditionally made with unpitted black or tart cherries. The pits supposedly added an almond flavor when baked.

The name clafoutis comes from the verb ‘clafir’, a rustic old word that means ‘to fill’ because after you arrange the fruit on a buttered baking dish, you fill the pan with eggy batter. It bakes into a light, custardy confection with a consistency somewhere between pudding, pancake and soufflé.

Clafoutis is a dessert you need in your life. It is neither difficult nor time consuming and it requires few ingredients.

The first time Brion & I ever tasted clafoutis was actually in France in 2001. Strangely enough, I’ve never got around to making it even though we had enjoyed it.

By using one simple batter recipe, you can make a variety of clafoutis by changing up the fruit and flavorings you use. Of course, there are some who would say that a clafoutis made with any fruit other than cherries would be properly called a ‘flaugnarde’, but what’s in a name when it comes to comfort food!

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Saskatoon Clafoutis
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Course Brunch, dessert
Cuisine European
Servings
Ingredients
Batter
Course Brunch, dessert
Cuisine European
Servings
Ingredients
Batter
Votes: 2
Rating: 5
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  2. Place all batter ingredients into a blender. Blend until well combined.
  3. Butter a large pie dish & sprinkle the 1 Tbsp sugar evenly over the butter. Pour the batter into the dish, then sprinkle the saskatoon berries evenly throughout the mixture. Sprinkle the ground almonds over the surface of the clafoutis & place in the oven.
  4. Bake until the clafoutis is puffy & nicely browned on top, about 35-40 minutes. To check if its done, remove it from the oven & gently giggle the pan. It should shake softly, but not look overly liquid. You can also test with a knife tip to ensure its set.
  5. Dust with powdered sugar if you wish & serve immediately.

Fried Meatballs w/ Potato

Meatballs are one of those incredible inventions that travel the world uniting cuisines from across the globe.

Polpette is a word denoting Italian meatballs, traditionally consisting of ground beef or veal that is shaped into small balls. These meatballs are usually enriched with a wide variety of ingredients such as parsley, eggs, garlic, mashed potatoes & Parmigiana Reggiano.

Although some might think that polpette are served with pasta, that is mostly a North American thing. Italian polpetti are typically consumed on their own as a snack, appetizer or finger food.

These little meatballs are incredibly soft due to the good amount of mashed potatoes in them. Instead of being appetizers, I added some extra veggies to make it a main course. We really enjoyed the whole combination.

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Fried Meatballs w/ Potato
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Instructions
  1. In a saucepan, cover the potatoes with cold water & boil gently until tender.
  2. In a large skillet, combine oil with 1/2 tsp minced garlic & the rosemary. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant but not colored. Add the ground meat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Season with salt & pepper, cook stirring occasionally until browned. Drain any fat from meat & transfer to a large bowl.
  3. In a small bowl, soak the bread in the milk for a few minutes; it should absorb as much as possible.
  4. Drain the potatoes as soon as they are tender. Peel them while still hot & mash or rice them. Place in the bowl with the meat; add soaked bread & remaining 1/2 tsp garlic, parsley, 1 egg & the Parmesan cheese. Mix thoroughly.
  5. Break the remaining egg into a small bowl & beat it lightly with 2 Tbsp water. Spread the bread crumbs on a plate. Lightly roll the meat mixture into 1-inch balls. Dip the meatballs first in the beaten egg, lifting them out one at a time & letting any excess egg drip back into the bowl. Roll them in the bread crumbs & set aside on a platter.
  6. Pour about 1/2-inch veg oil into a large skillet & heat. Add as many meatballs as will fit loosely in the pan & fry, turning as necessary, until evenly browned all over, about 4 minutes. Transfer the browned meatballs to a wire rack or paper towels. Continue to fry remaining meatballs. For our supper I added some mushrooms & peppers.

Mandarin Orange Cream Puffs w/ Craquelin Topping

Cream puffs start with choux pastry, a heady mixture of butter, milk, water, eggs & flour. When you combine these ingredients, they become so dense and sticky that it seems impossible they’ll come together as soft, puffy, light, tender. Heat is what initiates the expansion of the dense paste. Steam from the milk and water expands the pastry’s edges, puffing up its capacity until the oven heat provides just enough crispness and structure to hold the puffs’ boundaries. A cream puff expands so dramatically in the oven that it creates a cavern inside to hold any number of things—whipped cream, pastry cream, ice cream or savory fillings.

Cream puff pastry (or choux pastry) is the base for profiteroles (smaller puffs filled with ice cream), éclairs (elongated puffs filled with pastry cream and glazed), croquembouche (a tower of cream puffs held together and drizzled with caramel) and savory appetizer puffs called gougeres with cheese and herbs.

Craquelin (pronounced kra-ke-lan) is a thin biscuit layer that can be added over choux pastries before baking them. It is used to create a crackly appearance, crunchy texture and a buttery sweet taste as well as helping the choux pastry bake evenly to form hollow rounds. This topping reminded me of a similar cookie-like topping used on Mexican sweet bread called ‘conchas’. It certainly dresses up ordinary cream puffs.

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Mandarin Orange Cream Puffs w/ Craquelin Topping
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Mandarin Orange Pastry Cream
Choux Pastry
Servings
Ingredients
Mandarin Orange Pastry Cream
Choux Pastry
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Instructions
Craquelin
  1. In a food processor, process sugar & butter pieces until it forms large crumbs. Add flour, salt & vanilla; process until a dough forms. Bring the dough together to form a disk.
  2. Roll the dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper until 1/16-inch thickness. Place covered in the freezer for at least an hour then cut the dough into (18) 2-inch circles & keep circles in the freezer until ready to use.
Pastry Cream
  1. In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar & cornstarch until it turns pale yellow. In a saucepan, combine milk & orange zest; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, slowly add the egg mixture a little at a time, whisking well until fully incorporated.
  2. Return mixture to heat & keep whisking over medium heat until it thickens. Stir in orange juice. Transfer to a bowl & cover with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the surface of the pastry cream. When it comes to room temperature, refrigerate.
  3. When cooled & you are ready to use the pastry cream, whisk with an electric mixer for 15-20 seconds to a smooth texture.
Choux Pastry
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a saucepan, combine milk, water, butter & salt; bring to boiling. Add flour, all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook & stir until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat & add eggs & egg white, one at a time, beating well with a wooden spoon after each addition.
  3. Place dough in a piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe (18) 1 1/2-inch circles. Cover each with a frozen craquelin round circle.
  4. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden & firm. Transfer to a wire rack & allow to cool.
Assembly
  1. Carefully slice puffs. Fill a pastry bag with mandarin orange pastry cream & gently fill each puff. Place on serving platter & sprinkle with powdered sugar if you wish.

Mushroom ‘Holly’ & Olive Straws

CELEBRATING NEW YEAR’S EVE!

A time to look back on the passing year and generally take ‘stock’ as well as looking forward to the new year approaching. New Year’s Eve means different things to different people. Before covid entered our lives, parties & celebrations were the order of the day, a happy way to speed the old year out and the new year in. Many traditions are involved in the New Year’s celebration, one of which is the singing of ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

The words and music of Auld Lang Syne have evolved over the years. Although the song has often been credited to the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, he never claimed to have written the poem or compose the melody but was inspired by someone singing it. The best translation of the Scottish words are ‘for the sake of old times’.

The traditional melody of the song is rarely heard nowadays and is more folkish. The version we’re familiar with dates to 1929. It was Guy Lombardo, the Canadian born bandleader that helped make Auld Lang Syne a New Year’s Eve tradition in North America. His band, the Royal Canadians, played the song at the turn of the new year in a series of popular radio (and later television) broadcasts that began on December 31, 1929 and continued for more than 30 years. This musical tradition is still sung all over the world, evoking a sense of belonging and fellowship, tinged with nostalgia.

Until I researched this songs history, I didn’t actually know the English ‘translation’ of it. This is what I found it to be:

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

And surely, you’ll buy your pint cup! And surely, I’ll buy mine! And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes and picked the daisies fine; But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine; But seas between us broad have roared Since auld lang syne.

 And there’s a hand my trusty friend! And give me a hand o’ thine! And we’ll take a right good will draught, For auld lang syne.

So here we are, with a new year just around the corner. As a farmer’s daughter, I still hang on to the mind set of my father and that was, that next year will definitely be better.

I am posting a couple of little hors d’oeuvres you might enjoy if you are bringing in the new year at home with family.

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Mushroom Leaves & Olive Straws
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Servings
Votes: 2
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Instructions
Mushroom Leaves
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Using a holly leaf cookie cutter, cut 18 leaves from thawed puff pastry. Place in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate while mushrooms cook.
  3. In a skillet over medium-low heat, heat olive oil & add the shallot & salt. Sauté until beginning to brown & caramelize. Remove the shallot to a bowl & set aside.
  4. In the same skillet, heat the remaining olive oil & sauté mushrooms until tender & moisture has evaporated. Add garlic, thyme & pepper; sauté for an additional minute. Place in the bowl with the shallot. Stir in the cheese.
  5. In a dish, whisk egg & milk. With your finger tip, moisten edges of the pastry leaves with egg wash. Put a tiny bit of mustard in the center of each leaf.
  6. Divide mushroom/cheese mixture between leaves. Bake until pastry is golden brown and puffed, about 25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Serve warm.
Olive Straws
  1. On a lightly floured work surface, unfold 1 (10"x10") sheet of puff pastry. Roll pastry with rolling pin to increase size slightly (about 1/2 -3/4-inch. Cut the sheet in half.
  2. Place about 10 olives, end to end in a straight line across the pastry starting about 3/4 of an inch from the edge. Repeat with 2 more rows, leaving about the same width between each row.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together egg and milk. Brush egg mixture on all exposed spaces between olives. Cover with the other half of the puff pastry, pressing the whole surface of the dough between the olives & outside edges firmly with your fingertips. Transfer to refrigerator; let chill 20 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  5. Using a very sharp knife, trim edges of dough; cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide straws. Lay flat-side down on a baking sheet. Transfer to oven and bake until pastry is golden and crisp, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer straws to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm. Yield: 24 olive straws

Red Velvet Cookies

Red Velvet Cake’s popularity extends far beyond its namesake it seems. Dessert enthusiasts have adapted the original recipe to craft their own, custom made versions of cupcakes, lattes, sundaes, waffles, cookies, pancakes, ice cream etc.

The precise origins of Red Velvet Cake remain elusive, as several times and places have claimed partial credit for producing it, with the different elements coming together as separate puzzle pieces.

One common legend is that it was first created in the kitchens of New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel. Another story surrounding the cake is that the Canadian department store Eaton’s was responsible for its creation, as it was a popular choice in the retail chain’s bakeries and restaurants in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Although the company promoted the cake by saying the recipe was a closely guarded secret, the cake’s deepest roots appear to be traced more accurately back to the culinary traditions of the USA’s southern states.

The term ‘velvet’ was used in Victorian England to describe cakes with a fine crumb and a soft texture, distinct from other confections such as pound or sponge cakes. In the late 1800’s, what we know as brown sugar was commonly known as ‘red sugar’. So, at that time any cake made with red sugar and fine cake flour could be referred to as a red velvet cake.

Attempts to explain the red cake’s inception include use of boiled beets by bakers affected by rationing during WWII to enhance the color of their cakes. Another possibility is that because natural pigment of cocoa takes on a reddish hue when mixed with acidic substances such as vinegar or buttermilk, both of which may well have been included in early chocolate velvet cakes. Unlike today’s more common Dutch process cocoa, the PH of natural cocoa does cause a chemical reaction with acid causing a very slight reddish hue.

The notoriety of red velvet cake was given a huge boost in the 1930’s when the Adams Extract Company of Gonzales, Texas began marketing its food coloring and flavorings with recipes and photos of red velvet cake. Using food coloring was quicker and better, thus becoming a regular part of the red velvet recipe.

Now it seems when it comes to the white icing, the traditional kind used was a French style roux icing, which is also known as ‘ermine’ icing. These days, however, cream cheese frosting and buttercream frosting are much more popular and synonymous with the red velvet cake.

I’m not a food historian but as you’ve probably noticed, I do love delving into food history. Today’s blog recipe is for some red velvet cookies that are perfect for the Christmas season. Some time ago I saw this idea on the internet. I tucked it away in my ‘must-try’ file …. so today’s the day I’m trying my adapted version.

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Red Velvet Cookies
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Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
COOKIES
Ingredients
Cream Cheese Filling
Icing
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
COOKIES
Ingredients
Cream Cheese Filling
Icing
Votes: 2
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Instructions
Cream Cheese Filling
  1. FILLING SHOULD BE MADE AT LEAST 2 HOURS IN ADVANCE OR THE DAY BEFORE.. In a medium bowl and using hand-held mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium-high speed until creamy and light, 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. On low speed, gradually add in the powdered sugar, flour, vanilla & salt. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the filling is light and fluffy.
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a tablespoon-size scoop, scoop out 15 rounded tablespoons of cream cheese frosting onto the prepared baking sheet. Freeze until solid, at least 2 hours and up to overnight. You may have a few scoops left over.
Cookies
  1. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder and salt to combine; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, using a hand mixer or whisk, beat the softened butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium speed until well combined.
  4. Add in the egg, vanilla & red food coloring; mix on medium speed until mixture is smooth and emulsified with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let the mixture rest for 3 minutes, then mix for another 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat the process of resting and mixing 2 more times (a total of 3 rests and 4 mixes) until mixture is thick, smooth, and slightly lightened in color. This step helps dissolve the sugar better, resulting in a thicker, chewier cookie.
  6. Stir in the vinegar. The mixture will separate slightly.
  7. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Do not overmix.
  8. If the dough feels too soft or warm to scoop & shape into firm balls, cover and refrigerate for about ½ an hour or until firmer. Using the same scoop you used for the cream cheese balls, scoop out 2 scoops of dough per cookie onto the lined baking sheet, forming 15 equal dough balls.
  9. Using the back of a wooden spoon handle or your thumb, make a deep indentation into each dough ball.
  10. Take the cream cheese filling scoops out of the freezer and working quickly, peel the filling scoops from the baking sheet and place one inside each indentation of every dough ball. If you're working in a warm kitchen, you might want to keep the frosting scoops in the freezer, taking only one by one as you work, to prevent them from softening.
  11. Gather the dough up over the filling scoops to completely cover them. Roll the dough into smooth balls, making sure the frosting is completely wrapped inside and nothing is peaking out.
  12. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, then either bake immediately or transfer to a large zipper lock bag and freeze for up to 1 month.
  13. Preheat oven to 350 F. Adjust oven rack to middle position.
  14. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide cookie balls between the 2 sheets, spacing them at least 2 inches apart.
  15. Bake until the cookies flatten with a slight dome, and the outer edges start to set yet centers are soft and puffy, 10 to 11 minutes. The centers will feel undone, but they shouldn't be shiny or sticky. DO NOT OVERBAKE or you'll get hard cookies. The cookies will continue to bake after they come out of the oven from the residual heat of the baking sheet.
  16. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for at least 15 minutes before serving. They taste best at room temperature when the cream cheese filling is no longer warm. If you'd like to decorate them with the cream cheese icing, make sure that they've cooled down completely before doing so.
Decorate
  1. In a small bowl, beat together icing ingredients until smooth. Place in a small zip-lock bag & cut a tiny tip off one corner. Drizzle over cookies to create a pattern. Allow icing to set.
Recipe Notes
  • Brion & I found these cookies were best eaten straight out of the FREEZER! I know it seems strange but they are an extremely soft cookie & never really freeze hard. Cold but soft .... Yum!

Sweet Potato Muffin Tops

Not whole muffins, just the tops. The idea was first conceptualized by Elaine Benes, a fictional character on the American television sitcom Seinfeld, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I was not a Seinfeld fan and rarely even watched the show but the series lasted for nine years so obviously many did. It centered around four single friends dealing with the absurdities of everyday life in New York City, USA. Something as simple as soup or muffins became the focal point of the show but with a unique twist that only the actors on the show could make funny and memorable.

In a 1997 episode, The Muffin Tops, Elaine helps her old boss open his own business where they only sell the tops of muffins. ‘It’s the best part (nobody likes the stumps), it’s crunchy, it’s where the muffin breaks free of the pan and sort of does its own thing’.

Nowadays we have specific baking pans made just for making muffin tops and I think most food stores sell them. Muffins are an item I’ve certainly made my fair share of over the years in the food industry. But I have to say, I love the whole thing, especially if its soft and cakey.

This time of year is usually filled with pumpkin and sweet potato dishes and treats. These muffin tops are quite special with a slight sweet potato flavor packed with plenty of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and an added bonus of some pepita seeds.

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Sweet Potato Muffin Tops
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Ingredients
Muffin Top Batter
Streusel Topping
Servings
Ingredients
Muffin Top Batter
Streusel Topping
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Instructions
Streusel Topping
  1. In a small bowl, combine oatmeal, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon & salt. With a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add pepita seeds, mix & set aside.
Muffin Tops
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a MUFFIN TOP PAN or line with paper cups. (This recipe makes 10 muffin tops the size shown in the blog picture). Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt & spices. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the brown sugar & eggs together; add sweet potatoes, oil, milk & orange zest (or vanilla) & whisk again. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients & stir until JUST combined. Do not overmix the batter. Scoop batter into muffin top pan; Sprinkle with streusel topping.
  4. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Swiss Chard & Smoked Sardine Quiche

Quiche is a very flexible dish that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner and allow you to use whatever ingredients you have on hand. As a substitute for spinach, swiss chard adds a tartness and texture that spinach lacks. The ribs are very flavorful and hold their shape in soups, sautés and gratins. Chopped or whole, smoked sardines add something really unique to this egg dish.

Several thousand years ago, people discovered that exposing fish to intense amounts of salt and smoke was a great way of preserving the catch for later. Today, our smoking techniques are considerably more refined, and we do it more for the flavor than as a means of preservation. Its a shame that more people don’t think to reach for smoked fish as an effortless way to add loads of flavor to foods they love.

Let’s face it …. sardines, you either love them or hate them. The name ‘sardines’ is said to originate from Sardinia, a Mediterranean island known for sardine fishing. The canning of sardines started around the early 18th century in Europe. Through the centuries, the popularity of canned sardines spread around the world.

While sardines get a bad rap for being too salty, mixing it with the right ingredients allows these briny flavors to add a lot of depth and bite to other seemingly bland ingredients.

This quiche recipe is full of smoky bacon & sardines, swiss chard, mushrooms, leeks and creamy grated cheese. It definitely changes up the way to eat smoked sardines, but of course, you have to like them to begin with.

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Swiss Chard & Smoked Sardine Quiche
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Filling
Servings
Ingredients
Filling
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Instructions
Rice Crust
  1. Pre-cook rice in broth (can be prepared the day before).
  2. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  3. Lightly butter a 9-inch quiche pan. In a small bowl, combine 30 gm smoked cheddar cheese with cooked rice. Mix well; pat into quiche pan, working it up the sides. Bake for about 5 minutes; remove from oven & set aside.
Filling
  1. In a skillet, sauté bacon until cooked; remove from pan & set aside reserving bacon drippings. Remove stems from chard leaves; chop. Place stems in skillet. Chop chard leaves & set aside. Wash & thinly slice leek using about 1/2 of a leek (both white & green parts). Slice mushrooms & mince garlic.
  2. Heat bacon drippings in skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat & add chopped chard stems, mushrooms, garlic & leeks to pan; sauté 5 minutes. Add chard leaves to skillet; sauté until chard is wilted & no moisture remains, about 10 minutes. Stir in thyme, parsley, pepper, crumbled bacon. Remove from heat & cool slightly.
Assembly
  1. Spread filling mixture evenly over rice crust. Sprinkle with about half of the grated cheeses. Top with drained, smoked sardines ( slice horizontally in 1/2-inch slices). Whisk eggs & milk to combine; carefully pour over quiche. Top with remaining grated cheese.
  2. Bake for 30 minutes or until set. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before serving.
  3. Nice to serve with tartar & seafood sauce.

Carrot Pudding Cake

Recently we purchased a bag of apples that turned out to be a bit too mealy to eat fresh. Making them into applesauce seemed like the best solution to the problem. One thing for sure, there’s no shortage of ways to make use it it, from an oatmeal stir-in to a pork meat accompaniment.

Baking with applesauce to replace some or all of the fat adds fiber and reduces calories in cakes, muffins and breads. Because of its water content, it will also help keep baked goods moist and fresh longer. Applesauce acts like the fat because it keeps the flour protein from mixing completely with the wet ingredients and forming a rubbery texture. I’ve noticed that sometimes you need to lengthen your baking time a bit when using applesauce.

Over the years there have been countless recipes for various pudding cakes. While baking, the cake portion rises to the top and a creamy pudding-like sauce forms on the bottom. This fall version does not disappoint.

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Carrot Pudding Cake
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Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Pudding/Cake
Topping
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Pudding/Cake
Topping
Votes: 1
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9 x 9-inch baking dish with baking spray.
  2. Using a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar & spices.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together applesauce, milk, melted butter, vanilla & grated carrots. Gradually whisk the wet ingredients into dry ingredients; scrape batter into baking dish.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together white & brown sugar & either chopped walnuts or whole pepita seeds. Sprinkle over batter. Carefully pour the hot water over the top.
  5. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until middle is set. After removing from oven, allow to cool for 10 before serving with ice cream or whipped cream.

Italian Sausage Lasagna

Whether you prefer a sweet or spicy variety, there’s no denying the delicious versatility of Italian sausage.

The predominant flavor in ‘mild’ Italian sausage is fennel, or actual anise, a licorice like flavor with a little more earthiness. This emulates the style of sausages in Northern Italy, known for milder flavors with a noticeable presence of both fennel and garlic. It will also typically have a small amount of red pepper flakes to open up the flavors.

The ‘hot’ designation means a higher content of pepper flakes, or the addition of cayenne, giving you that spicier flavor that is more common in the southern regions of Italy.

‘Sweet’ is pretty straightforward, little bit of sugar, milder flavors around that, sometimes some mild herbs, typically a lot of basil and such to round it out.

In this meal, the layers of lasagna noodles blanket a creamy béchamel sauce and a filling with a savory ‘Italian sausage’ flavor and tender artichokes. Truly a comfort food meal.

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Italian Sausage Lasagna
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Instructions
Filling
  1. Drain artichokes (reserving oil) & slice in halves; set aside. In a heavy skillet, heat artichoke marinade oil; sauté garlic, onions & mushrooms for a few minutes.
  2. Add ground pork, sun-dried tomatoes & spices. Cook over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; add artichokes. Remove from skillet & set aside until ready to assemble lasagna.
Béchamel Sauce
  1. In the skillet, melt butter over low heat. Once the butter is completely melted and bubbling, add the flour & mix well. Cook for a couple of minutes until flour just begins to take on some color.
  2. Slowly start adding the milk, whisking continuously to prevent lumps from forming. Continue to simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, stirring often. Season with a pinch of salt, white pepper & nutmeg.
  3. Set aside until you are ready to use, by pouring the sauce into a glass bowl & covering with a buttered sheet of plastic wrap. Cook lasagna noodles. Grate cheeses.
Assembly
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. In a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish, spread 1/2 cup of the béchamel sauce on the bottom. (Set aside 1 cup of the béchamel sauce for the top.) Arrange a single layer of lasagna noodles over sauce; spread some of the filling over noodles, top with a sprinkling of the grated cheeses. (Make sure to reserve a bit of cheese for the topping.) Repeat layers, ending with noodles.
  3. Spread the reserved 1 cup of béchamel sauce over the noodles & top withy the remaining grated cheese. Cover with foil, bake for 35 minutes, remove foil & bake until bubbly & lightly browned on top, about another 15-20 minutes.
  4. Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving.

Apple Sauce Pasta & Cheese w/ Turkey Chicken Sausage

The exact origin of the classic ‘macaroni and cheese‘ is unknown, though it likely hails from northern Europe. Although there were French dishes with pasta and cheese as early as the 14th century, it was an English writer and business woman called Elizabeth Raffald who first wrote the recipe for what we would recognize as macaroni and cheese in 1769. Elizabeth’s recipe was for macaroni, cooked in a béchamel sauce with cheddar cheese added and sprinkled with parmesan.

Many countries have a profound love and deep historical connection to a version of this dish including the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and of course Italy where pasta was first popularized in Europe. It is also possible that some of its origins may trace back to the Alps of Switzerland.

Pasta itself is neither Swiss nor European in origin; it dates to at least 3500 BC in Japan and China, likely spreading to the Middle East and northern Africa via the Silk Road. Some studies believe that the 7th century nomadic Arabs then likely brought it with them while travelling from Libya to Sicily, from where it spread north along the Italian peninsula.

Whatever the truth, this humble pasta w/ cheese dish has become an ultimate comfort food in a plethora of cultures and countries around the world. There have been many inventive twists put on this classic. The 1953 edition of the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, calls for a sauce made from Velveeta, onion and cream of mushroom soup. Other variations sub in Brie, figs, rosemary and mushrooms for the traditional cheddar based sauce. Adding applesauce might sound like a weird addition, but it works. Just like cheddar melted over a piece of apple pie is an unexpectedly delicious treat.

I used some orecchiette pasta, which cups the sauce well and amped up the flavor with smoked turkey chicken sausage. Comfort food at its best!

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Apple Sauce Pasta & Cheese w/ Turkey Chicken Sausage
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Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Dice onion & slice smoked sausage. Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a saucepan; sauté onion until almost tender-crisp then add sliced sausage & continue to cook for a few more minutes.
  3. Bring a pot of water to a boil & prepare the orecchiette pasta according to package directions. When it is cooked, drain it well, drizzle it with the remaining Tbsp of olive oil. Shake it around a bit in the strainer to keep pieces from getting stuck together.
  4. Heat the milk & applesauce in pot that was used to cook pasta, stirring constantly. Do not bring to a boil.
  5. In a Dutch oven over medium heat, melt butter & whisk in the flour. Cook mixture for two minutes, whisking all the while then whisk in the hot milk/applesauce mixture. Cook for 2 more minutes continuing to whisk while the mixture is thickening.
  6. Remove the Dutch oven from the heat & stir in salt, pepper, sage, gruyere (save a bit for garnish if you wish), cheddar, onion & sausage slices. Combine evenly then add cooked pasta & stir until pasta is evenly covered with sauce.
  7. Place the Dutch oven in the oven, uncovered & bake for 30-40 minutes or until the orecchiette on top just begins to turn golden brown at the tips.
Recipe Notes
  • Alternately, you can skip the oven time as the ingredients are already cooked. I thought some sautéed leeks made a nice garnish along with the gruyere.