(Becky, the Mama.)
What is it about being snowed in that turns even makes even the most anti-cooking folks fire up the oven and don an apron? Here’s a recipe that is not only easy to make, and scrumptious, but will make your house smell like Pure Love.
I know, I know… the last recipe I posted was an apple dessert, too. But as you read in that post, I had somehow purchased THREE huge bags of apples and so, forgive me, but since I am still up to my ears in apples…. here’s another fabulous apple recipe I created that used up the last of my surplus. You’ll take one bite and think, “Oh. My. Goodness. This tastes like my grandmother’s home-made apple dumplings.” (And if you didn’t have an Apple Dumpling-Baking-Granny, the Apple Dumplings at Cracker Barrel are a pretty close second.)
A few decades ago, my mother went through a spell of baking Apple Dumplings from a recipe in the red and white checked Better & Homes and Gardens Cookbook. They were delicious! People raved about them and begged for more. But they were also a LOT of trouble. For my taste they were also a little too sweet and there was too much pastry-to-apples ratio.
This recipe is ridiculously fast and easy and creates a just-right-sweet “cobbler” of apples that make their own “dumplin’ syrup” and is topped with just one flaky pastry crust (thank you Pillsbury for making this part simple, too). Serve warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and you’ll be in Apple Dumplin’ Gang Heaven.
One hint: the only time-consuming part of this dish is peeling and chopping apples. To make this effort go faster, conscript every able-bodied adult and child over 8 years-old to come in the kitchen and peel at least 2 apples each, while you do the chopping. Promise them they will be sweetly rewarded for their labor.
Finally, a little bit of fun news from “First Magazine for Women” (you will often see this at grocery check-out counters). Last week the editor of the magazine gave a lovely review for our book, Nourished. Here’s a picture of the article:
As long as you are huddled up inside eating dumplings this week you might as well buy a copy of our funny, uplifting, practical book to cozy up and read as well. 🙂 And our heart-felt thanks to those of you who have already read the book and perhaps posted a review on your blog or on Amazon or sent us a note or email. We are soooo thankful for your encouragement! Be sure to join us on our Facebook Fan Page, too, at We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook.
Apple Dumpling Cobbler
6 to 8 peeled, chopped apples (about teaspoon size pieces) to make about 6 cups total
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1 small to medium fresh lemon
1/2 t. salt
1 T. flour
2 T. butter
Sugar and Cinnamon to sprinkle on top (about 1 T. sugar and 1 t. cinnamon, but just eyeball it to your liking)
Turn oven to 350 degrees
In a large mixing bowl put apples, brown and white sugars, flour, spices and salt. Mix thoroughly. Butter a 9 by 11 casserole pan and pour the apple mixture into it. Squeeze a fresh lemon over the top of the apples and then dot with butter. Place one Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust on top of the apples, tearing it and patching it (pinch pieces together) to create a rustic, “quilted-together” pastry crust as shown below. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Note that you just kind of loosely fold the edges and tuck them around the apples. I also cut a heart shape in the middle, though as you can see, I am not a pastry artist. No worries about it looking messy, it will come out delicious and beautiful.
Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes or until crust is golden and flaky and apples pierce easily with a fork and the juices are golden brown and syrupy. Serve warm, using a big spoon to place in bowls, and top with ice cream.
(Becky, the Mama.)
Yesterday, Colorado was cool, misty and alive with Fall color. I snapped this picture out my upstairs bedroom window . Through the window pane and the mist, the photo came out looking like a painting, so beautiful it seemed almost unreal.
On a day like that, what else is there to do but curl up with a book and a blanket, take a long nap, then wake up, pad to the kitchen and bake pumpkin bread?
I searched for what I hoped would be the perfect recipe for pumpkin bread: I wanted it to be moist, spicy and full of tasty surprises. I narrowed it down to six recipes. In the end, I threw elements from all six recipes into the bowl and pans, adding special tweaks of my own. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I’d doubled the spices, used both brown and white sugar plus a tad of maple syrup, folded chopped pecans and dried cherries into the batter. Then I thought, “Why not?” as I plopped dollops of whipped cream cheese in the middle of the batter. Then I wondered, “What could make a nice sweet n’ salty crunchy top crust?” I reached for brown sugar and roasted salted sunflower seed kernels. Then I popped the loaves into the oven and waited. I had created either a masterpiece, or disaster. I worried I might have tweaked this recipe to death.
Well, I am pleased to announce the results are in and they are a 10. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the BEST pumpkin bread I have ever tasted, moist with deep flavor and so many treats-to-the-senses per bite: the sweet tartness of the cherries, the smooth bits of cream cheese and satisfying chew of baked-in-pecans. The crunchy crust… with a hint of salt and sugar..oh. my.
But don’t just take my word for it. Try it yourself next time the baking mood hits you on one of these cool fall days that beckon you to the kitchen. And feel free to tweak away and make the recipe even more your own– switch out the dried cherries for any dried fruit you like, or use chocolate chips (hmmm… white chocolate chips? Butterscotch chips?). Use nuts you prefer or have on hand. I never let what’s not in my pantry keep me from making a recipe. Go with what you’ve got, what sounds good… and most of all,have fun.
Becky’s Epic Pumpkin Bread
(Makes 2 loaves)
3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger
1/2 t. cloves
1 t. nutmeg
1 t. almond extract (optional)
1 1/2 t. salt
3 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
2 T. maple syrup
2 cans (16 oz each) pumpkin
2/3 cup light oil (I used olive oil as it was all I had on hand. Worked beautifully.)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (can use up to 2/3 cup if you love nuts)
1/2 cup roughly dried cherries or cranberries (can use up to 2/3 cup if you prefer more dried-fruit-per-bite)
whipped cream cheese ( I used a light variety that comes in a tub)… about 1/2 to 2/3 cup
1/4 to 1/3 cup brown or turbinado sugar
1/3 to 1/2 cup roasted, salted sunflower seed kernels (If you can find fresh roasted pumpkin seeds this are also delicious instead of the sunflower seed kernels, as are sliced almonds.)
Heat oven to 350 degrees
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a whisk. Create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add eggs, syrup, pumpkin, oil. Whisk the wet ingredients together as you slowly incorporate the dry ingredients as well. Finish stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula, slowly folding in pecans and dried cherries.
Grease and flour two loaf pans. Pour (or spoon) 1/4 of the batter into each pan, and spread evenly. Then dollop heaping teaspoons of whipped cream cheese across the surface of the batter in both pans. Pour the remaining batter over the top of the cream cheese, dividing it evenly between the two pans. Smooth with spatula.
Sprinkle the tops of the batter with brown or turbinado sugar and sunflower seeds.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until top is golden and a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.
Cool thoroughly before serving. I think the flavors of this bread get better as it sits and cools. Freezes beautifully.
Note: I made this at high altitude with no problem. Many quick breads use more baking soda, but I just hate the after-taste of baking soda. This option rises perfectly, but without that funky soda aftertaste…
“What WERE those things?” my friend Ingrid asked. “They were aaaamzing.”
What those “things” were is my new favorite super easy “cookie” recipe that is impossible to resist. These chewy, peanutty bars with soft butter chocolate frosting have everything going for them:
First, you probably have the ingredients for them on hand right now.
Secondly, they have fiber and protein to help slow down the absorption of sugar, so you and your kids or guests can enjoy an indulgent treat with less of a sugar rush. (I confess to have eaten a couple of them with an ice cold glass of milk and happily called it breakfast.)
They only take about 5 minutes to mix, just 18 to 20 minutes to bake. Cool to the touch, frost, cut and serve a bunch. This makes them the perfect dessert to bake for last-minute guests, to satisfy a gotta-have-it-now craving for a sweet treat, or make n’ take to a potluck or bake sale.
Making a pan of bar cookies is so much faster and easier than baking cookies… and, I’ve not yet met a cookie I like as well as these peanuty chocolate babies. Be sure to save the link to this recipe because I think you’ll use it again and again.
1/2 c. peanut butter
1/4 c. sugar (I use organic)
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. flour (or 3/4 c. flour plus 1/4 c. hemp seeds or ground flax or wheat germ)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. rolled oats
(Becky, the Mama.) I just returned from bringing this simple cobbler to my pastor Hugh Halter’s new ranch house for a pot luck lunch on the back porch. It is mid-January but I do believe God decided to borrow a perfect Spring Day from April, and drop it on us today as an early treat. Hugh is also a passionate author and storyteller (his latest book, Flesh,just released this week), and we share a mutual love of cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. Today he made a yummy creamy lentil soup and a delicious quinoa salad with cranberries, diced sweet potatoes and pears with a light vinaigrette. What can I say? The man knows his way around the Bible, a horse barn and the kitchen.
So it was no small compliment when he strode out to the back porch and hollered out, “Becky Johnson! Did you make that cobbler?”
“I did,” I said.
“Well, it just changed my life. That might be the best dessert I’ve ever tasted.”
I thought about calling this “Change Your Life Cobbler,” but decided that might be over-promising a wee bit. But I will tell you that there are few desserts you can make that will garner as many kudos, for as little trouble to make, as this recipe. It is one of my standard throw-together-in-a-hurry desserts for a crowd.
Using frozen fruit and Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts, you can assemble this dish in about five minutes. It does take about 45 minutes to an hour to cook, however. It’s nice to pop in the oven if you are having company for dinner, while you prepare the rest of the meal. Or if you are having folks over for dessert only, pop it in the oven then you can go take a nice bath and get yourself ready for their arrival. A little Blue Bell vanilla ice cream on top never hurt anybody. Some of the crust may sink a little into the berries as it cooks. No worries as I think this makes the cobbler tastes even better, with the pastry having different textures. You want it look rustic and free-formed, like a farmer’s wife just made it.
Try this cobbler with other combinations of fruit, fresh or frozen. Peaches, Apples, Rhubarb, and Raspberries would also be delicious. If you like you can add a little cinnamon or nutmeg, vanilla or almond flavoring for variety.
Easy Rustic Cherry Blueberry Pastry-Style Cobbler
4 cups frozen blueberries (you may also use fresh if in season and on sale)
2 1/2 cups frozen dark sweet pitted cherries
1 1/2 cups sugar (plus 2 more T. for sprinkling on top later)
1/2 c. flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of one fresh lemon
2 T. butter
2 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts, unrolled
Preheat Oven to 375 degrees.
Put the fruit in the biggest bowl you have (can be frozen or thawed at this point). Toss with sugar, flour, salt and lemon juice. Pour into a lightly greased, large, oblong Pyrex pan.
Take small pinches of the butter and dot it all over the top of the fruit.
Place one pie crust at the end of the pan, and lightly tuck it in to place. Tear the other pie crust in pieces to fit the oblong plan as best you can, and pinch any seams together, free form, like a patchwork quilt. I like to make an edge and flute it a little bit, but do not worry about making it perfect. Using a sharp paring knife, cut a few designs in the pastry to allow the juice to steam through. Sprinkle the top top of the pastry with 2 T. sugar.
Bake for 1 hour if the fruit is frozen, for about 45 minutes if thawed. You want the pastry to be very golden and juice to be thickened. Let it sit at least 15 to 30 minutes before serving. Is wonderful plain or with a bit of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
MOIST Chocolate Layer Cake with Buttery Mocha Frosting (& Story of My Daughter’s Unforgettable Birth)Posted: December 28, 2013
Today is my daughter’s 30th birthday! Sadly, Rachel lives too far away to celebrate with in person today (she is in Texas, and I am in Colorado). So I’ve had to make do with texts, Facebook posts, emails, phone calls, Twitter and now, a blog in her honor!
I have great stories about each of my children’s entrances into the world, but Rachel’s birth story wins the Most Exciting Award, hands down.
She was born three days after Christmas. From December 23 to December 28, I was the proverbial pot waiting to boil, only in my case my visiting family was waiting for me to give birth. It was the coldest winter on record in Texas and ice had frozen inside the windows. After enjoying my two sons who were age 3 and 5, I could not help dreaming of a baby girl. Ultrasound pictures were rare in those days, so we did not know the sex ahead of time.
Because my previous home births had involved long painful labors, when I woke up with contractions this third time around, they weren’t terribly painful. So I decided to just lie still, on my side, in the peaceful darkness and labor quietly by the light of the Christmas tree. I didn’t want to wake my husband, parents or sister who were visiting us over the holidays, until I was sure I needed help. This plan went surprisingly well, until I felt something like the urge to push.
I decided to wake up my husband with this news. His eyes grew large as he announced, “Becky, I see the baby’s head!” This set off a Three Ring Circus with my Dad manning the wall phone in the kitchen talking to the midwife, then shouting directions to my mother who was standing in the living room, who relayed them to my then-husband standing at the end of my bed, like a baseball catcher. My college-aged, organized little sister, who is not fond of feeling out of control was, I believe, hiding in the guestroom taking notes in her journal under“Things I Must Never Ever Do.”
The ice on the highways was so thick, and I’d waited so long to sound the “Baby is Coming!” alarm, that the midwife could not possibly get there before the baby’s entrance. Rachel slipped into the world and soon, into my arms, fairly easily. However, she was not breathing on her own, so I reached into our “Home Birth Kit”, grabbed a suctioning bulb and went to work. It wasn’t long before she took her first beautiful breath. We looked in each other’s eyes and made friends immediately. I named her Rachel Praise, after my sister Rachel. Interestingly, the two Rachels in our family both prefer less-crazy, less-messy lives than I’ve lived. Lives where they keep schedules, know what day it is, give birth in hospitals and don’t mind “bothering” other people when they go into labor. However, all three of us love to laugh and ended up writing books of family humor. (My sister’s latest is The Well-Lived Laugh –ebook download is just $1.00 this week, and ours is We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook.)
As soon as I could stand and walk, I scooped up my new daughter and headed to a store, with her big brothers dressed in cowboy boots and hats trailing behind. I walked in and bought 3 lacy bonnets. Before the days of hair bows on stretch lace, it was a frilly bonnet that would say to the world, “Baby GIRL here!” and I wanted the world to know my beautiful newborn was a SHE.
Besides remembering the story of Rachel’s birth (as I do every year on this day in some way), I decided to have a piece of this incredibly moist and buttery, made-from-scratch homemade chocolate cake in her honor. In fact, I had it for breakfast… because these are the kinds of sacrifices mothers make for their birthday girls.
This cake is a variation of the famous recipe on the back of Hershey’s Cocoa. The frosting is extra rich, soft and fluffy – made with lots butter and melted chocolate.
You are most welcome to join us in celebrating Rachel’s birthday today by whipping up this cake. Then stand back and watch people swoon. Seriously it is the kind of chocolate cake that provokes moans not unlike those of Meg Ryan’s in the movie,”When Harry Met Sally”.
Happy Birthday, Dear Rachel! I am so glad you were born. So proud of you as a wife and mother. So thrilled that we got to write a blog and book together this year. So many good things have happened in the world, because you were born.
Now, let’s eat cake!
MOIST, Chocolate Layer Cake with Buttery Mocha Frosting
Ingredients (Adjusted for High Altitude, See “Normal Altitude*” measurement adjustments below)
2 cups minus 2 tablespoons sugar*
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey’s cocoa
1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder*
1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda*
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk*
1/2 cup light oil such as sunflower, canola or light olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water mixed with 1 T. instant coffee (or 1 cup strong hot coffee, brewed)
Heat oven to 350°F.
Grease two 9-inch round cake pans. I use Pam spray. Then cut a circle of wax or parchment paper to fit in the bottom of the pan. Re-spray the top of parchment with Pam lightly.
Sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add sugar, eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Carefully, stir in hot coffee, with the mixer on low, or use a hand whisk. The batter will be very thin. Pour batter evenly into prepared cake pans.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with fluffy mocha frosting.
- Normal Altitude Measurements: 2 cups sugar, 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 cup milk
- Vegans: substitute milk with soy or almond milk; use Earth Balance Butter Sticks in place of dairy butter, and Ener-G Egg replacer for eggs.
Buttery Mocha Frosting
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or morsels (Vegans use dairy-free chocolate chips)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature (really important this be at room temp) (Vegans use Earth balance butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 – 5 Tablespoons Strong coffee, cooled
Carefully melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler or use the microwave but watch carefully, only nuking 10 seconds at a time, just until you can stir it smoothly.
Beat the butter until it is light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, the melted chocolate, and then add one tablespoon of coffee at a time until the frosting is smooth and creamy and will spread easily, but don’t whip it. Spread immediately on the cooled cake.
This cake is best served at room temperature. If I make it a day ahead, I put it in the fridge and then let the cake sit at room temperature for several hours so the frosting will soften up to serve the next day. My favorite way to handle leftovers (if there are any) is to cut slices and wrap them individually, very well, in plastic wrap. Then when I want a piece, I unwrap it and put it on a place, and microwave it about 15 seconds to soften.
I just returned home to Denver after a fabulous road trip with my husband Greg, to visit my daughter (co-author, co-blogger, co-conspirator), Rachel and her little family in Texas.
Her little boy Jackson, the most cheerful 2 year-old in the Lone Star State, greeted us at the door as if we’ve never been gone, and we were instant buddies again.
We loved watching him play in his “beach” (sandbox), help his dad out with yard work….
and make himself at home in the kitchen.
(He disappeared for 20 seconds and Rachel found Jackson eating this tub of vegan butter, and when she took it from him – quick as a flash, he grabbed another unopened tub and ran with it to the other side of the house, as if the butter tub was a football and he was toddler quarterback.)
Speaking of football and butter…. funny lady Anita Renfro posted this cartoon yesterday that cracked me up, because this could easily be me and Rachel watching Chopped, while our husbands watch Monday Night Football.
And speaking of cooking and football…
I just may have created the perfect football snack. These Crispy, Nutty Cocoa Energy Bars are a cross between a granola bar, a Pay Day candy bar, a Reeses and Rice Crispy Treats. They are also vegan, gluten-free (if you use gluten-free oats), chocked full of protein, healthy fiber, Omega 3s. But your guests and kids will never guess these treats are mostly good for them.
The great thing about this basic recipe is that you can really be creative with what you like, and what you have on hand to make it your own. They are perfect to tuck into your kids’ lunches. Kids prefer these to cookies, in fact, and you can be sure that they are getting plenty of fiber and protein to help slow the absorption of sugar. So no sugar crashes as happens so often with cookies.
Go, Team, Go!
Crispy, Nutty Cocoa Energy Bars
½ cup peanut butter (I used the natural kind)
½ cup agave nectar (you can substitute honey or brown rice syrup if you prefer)
1 ½ T. coconut oil (or olive oil)
2 T. pure maple syrup
¼ cup brown sugar
½ t. sea salt
1 t. vanilla
2 cups oats (use gluten-free oats if you want to make this recipe gluten free)
2 cups cocoa crisped rice cereal (I used a brand from the natural cereal section)
½ cup hemp seed or wheat germ or flax meal
2/3 cup chopped peanuts (I used a mixture of plain roasted and honey nut. They were already in fairly small pieces so I didn’t chop them.)
Preheat 350 degree
In a saucepan mix the first 6 ingredients and bring to a slow boil for 2 minutes. Turn off heat. Add vanilla. In a large bowl place oats, rice cereal, hemp seed (or wheat germ or flax), and nuts. Pour the hot peanut butter mixture over the dry ingredients and combine well. Pour all into a pan that has been greased with coconut oil or olive oil. Pat the mixture down firmly, using a piece of plastic wrap to keep it from sticking to your hands.
Bake for 15 minutes, let cool and then let harden in fridge (or freezer, if you are in a hurry). Then using a sharp knife, cut into squares or rectangles. (Or footballs, if you are feeling creative!)
Variations: Add coconut, chocolate chips or dried fruit. Use other nuts besides peanuts, and another nut butter instead of peanut butter, especially if you worry about peanut allergies. Almonds and almond butter or cashews and cashew butter would be delicious. Try another kind of crispy, light cereal for cocoa rice crisp cereal. (I have used Corn Chex, crushed, with good results.)
This week marked our wedding anniversary. I asked my six-year-old grandson George if he’d like to help me make an “Anniversary Pie” for his Poppy.
“Is it your secret recipe?” he asked. (He saw a cooking show where some chef talked about a secret recipe and has been curious about any “secret recipes” I might have lurking in my brain.)
“Yes!” I said. “It will be OUR secret recipe because I’m making it up right now, with you.”
“How long have you and Poppy been married?” Georgie asked.
“For nine years now!”
“And you and Poppy never fight and you never died! You did good!”
Indeed, that might be the hallmark of a great marriage: you don’t fight and you don’t die. In fact, in a great marriage, you thrive, you blossom, you grow.
Here’s what I wrote on my Facebook Status about Greg, my husband, the Love of My Life:
“Nine years ago today, I married Greg Johnson, and each day of those nine years have been the happiest and most peaceful, fulfilling and giving, romantic and stable of my entire life. When you live with someone whose eyes always mirror love, delight, acceptance… when you know you are cherished every moment of every day, it changes you into the best possible version of yourself. And you have so much more to give to the world, because your brain is no longer working so hard to simply try to survive or make sense of your life. Being well loved expands your capacity to love and be more present to others. I love and adore you, Mr. Johnson for who you are and who you have helped me become when I am with you. Who knew marriage could really be like this, ‘after all these years’?
A wonderful marriage is definitely worth celebrating. One of my husband’s favorite treats is mint chocolate chip ice cream. One of my favorite treats is warm chocolate sauce. This ice cream pie, like us, is the perfect marriage of both.
Now that I’ve shared our secret to a happy marriage (choose to cherish each other daily), I’ll go ahead share my “secret recipe” (shhhhhh, don’t tell anyone) for this absolutely mouth-watering, silly-easy, pie. It’s wonderfully refreshing on a hot summer day, and you’ll spend just a few minutes in the kitchen putting it together.
Chocolate Mint Ice Cream Pie with Warm Fudge Sauce
One pre-made chocolate graham cracker or chocolate cookie pie shell
1 quart of your favorite chocolate chip ice cream (I’m from Texas and partial to Blue Bell “the best ice cream in the country”)
One recipe chocolate sauce (below)
About 10 Andes Mint Candies
1 c. half n’ half
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ t. vanilla
Let ice cream soften just enough so that you can scoop and pack it into pre-made chocolate pie shell. Decorate the top of the ice cream pie with Andes Chocolate Mints, by cutting them at a diagonal and placing around the pie in a pretty design.
Cover with plastic wrap and let harden in freezer.
Simmer half n’ half in a small saucepan, add the chocolate chips and stir until the chocolate is melted and well mixed. Add vanilla and salt. Remove from stove and let cool until warm but not piping hot. (Leftover sauce will keep in fridge for a week or more. Just microwave a few seconds to reheat and liquefy.)
Cut and serve the ice cream pie, drizzling some of the warm sauce over the top and serve immediately.