Applesauce is back in my life

I’ll cop to the second item on Susan’s list of excuses reasons for our silence: “New Baby.” That’s right. James and I made a cute little human, and thus, applesauce has returned to my life.

Georgia_Jeans

Cute Little Human/Excuse to Not Post in Over a Year

Even after years of not eating the stuff, I still can’t tolerate store-bought applesauce, because our mom always made it from scratch (and still does). Georgia would probably not know the difference (not YET anyway), but I enjoy hanging with her in the kitchen, she in her high chair banging wooden spoons on the tray and terrorizing the cats, and me in my apron, making ridiculous faces at her while coring four pounds of Galas.

Bonus benefits: it makes the house smell wonderful, and gives James hope that, after all these years, I am finally into cooking.

I have now made 5 or 6 batches of applesauce, all with different types of apples. Here is what I’ve learned:

  • Jonagold apples produce the sweetest applesauce in the land.
  • Pink Ladies aren’t bad either.
  • Peeling apples sucks, so don’t do it (more on that later).
  • Gala apples make boring applesauce.
  • A food mill is something you should invest in.
  • Adding sugar to this naturally sweet goodness is just overkill.

Essentially, after some experimentation, I’ve taken Martha’s Classic Applesauce and combined it with my mother’s recipe to produce something we’ll call “My Mother’s Applesauce with a Hint of Lemon.”

You’ll Need:

  • 3 pounds of apples (Jonagold, Pink Lady, McIntosh, Braeburn are good. No green ones, please, unless you’re into that kind of thing.)
  • A giant pot like a dutch oven
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Lemon
  • Cinnamon
  • Food mill or wire sieve

You’ll Do:

  • Core and chop apples into one inch chunks, LEAVING THE SKINS ON.
  • Throw chunks into dutch oven with water over medium heat. Make sure no seeds make it into the pot.
  • Squeeze in some lemon. Watch out for those seeds, too.
  • Simmer uncovered. When water boils, lower heat and let cook down, uncovered, until apples are soft and falling apart (about 45 minutes).
  • Stir occasionally. Play with baby.
  • Once apples are soft and falling apart, turn off heat and whip out the food mill. Place that thing over a bowl using the finest setting, and spoon in the apple chunks. This is how you remove the skins from the apples. 
  • This part is a little tedious, but you’ll get the hang of it. The payoff is the most beautiful, crimson colored applesauce that tastes and looks way better AND you don’t have to peel the apples.
  • Add cinnamon to taste.

These photos are of a batch made with Galas, and it didn’t turn out as perfectly pink and sweet as I wanted it to. Don’t use Galas!

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Birds of a…

[Editor’s Note: I drafted this three weeks ago but forgot to publish, because FALL IS CRAZY AND NO ONE CAN ENJOY IT PROPERLY.]

In November, Kevin Sharkey recommended stuffing some stray feathers and nuts into a bell jar to decorate for Thanksgiving, like so…

Feather Centerpiece

Cut to my dining room sideboard, which sported a VERY SIMILAR feather ‘n glass thing long before Sharkey’s piece.

My Feather Centerpiece

Bell jar. Wine carafe. Whatever. The thing is too heavy for me to lift, so it gets feathers (apologies to Mike and Ritsuko. It’s still a great gift!)

Point is, Sharkey and I – in addition to using the same skin care products – are basically related.

Gluten is bad; Brownies are good.

Last night, Someone Who Will Remain Nameless (whose name rhymes with Romenick) hollered, “Gluten is the Devil!” as I reached for a mini biscuit at a fancy event that rhymes with Mystery Makers, to which I replied, “I just made gluten free brownies this weekend, so back off bub and pass the cheese balls!”   And those brownies were damn good. Possibly because they contain loads of sugar and cornstarch, but not ONE IOTA of gluten. No sir.

Romenick meant well. He really did. I forgive him. Make these today and get in on this gluten hate-fest.

Gluten-Free Fudgy Pecan Brownies

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for pan
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch (spooned and leveled)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup chopped toasted pecans

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides. Whisk together cornstarch, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. In a large microwave-safe bowl, microwave butter and chocolate in 30-second increments, stirring each time, until melted and smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in sugar and vanilla. Stir in eggs, one at a time, until combined. Add cornstarch mixture and stir vigorously until mixture is smooth and begins to pull away from side of bowl, about 2 minutes. Stir in pecans.
  2. Pour batter into pan and smooth top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 35 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Using paper overhang, lift cake out of pan and cut into 16 squares.

Martha Crosses Potomac; Signs New Cookbook

Gas up the car, Central Virginians. Our hero will be in Leesburg, Va, this Saturday signing her new cookbook, “Martha’s American Food.” I’m thinking Mother’s Day gift.

Book Signing Details

At a Costco, no less. Don’t they have Williams and Sonomas in Leesburg?

The cookbook, which is her 77th book (I had no idea), contains 200 recipes for food that “all Americans love to eat.” Arranged by region, the TOC promises chowder, ribs and fish tacos, as well as more Martha-grade dishes such as Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Meyer Lemon, Arugula, and Pistachios, all with sidebars explaining the relationship of the dish to the region from which it hails. I can’t wait to see what she picks for Virginia. Please don’t let it be something related to ham.

 

Meringue Madness: A Cake That Uses All Your Eggs

The night before Easter, I had a dozen eggs and a choice: dye them neon per Martha’s suggestion in the April issue or use them in one of her egg white dessert recipes, also in the April issue. I didn’t have much use for a bowl of fluorescent-hued eggs except to make the world’s brightest batch of egg salad, but desserts are always welcome in this house, so Raspberry White Cake it was!

(Also, I friggin’ love raspberries.)

I had never made meringue frosting before and when I realized that this is basically the cake version of a Tastykake Jelly Krimpet, I considered bagging the frosting altogether because Krimpets rule. But frosting exists to a.) remind us why sugar and eggs were invented and b.) to cover up ungraceful cakes made by inattentive bakers like me. I used two different types of cake pans, so the layers look ridiculous, and went way overboard on the raspberry preserves between the layers. SHOOT ME. I was high on Easter candy.

I would still eat this as is.

But I had all these eggs just dying to be de-yoked and beaten within an inch of their lives, so I went for it. Five egg whites later, the result was not quite as elegant and bright white as Martha’s, which I think is because I heated the corn syrup a few degrees too high and burned it slightly. (That stuff heats up quickly!) I also think I beat the egg whites for a little too long so the stuff was a little fluffier than it should have been. It was like trying to ice a cake with a cloud. Meringue is a strange, strange thing.

A very tasty cloud though! In spite of my rookie mistakes and its less than perfect appearance, this cake tasted really, really good. At the behest of my mother, who conveniently showed up in time to help frost the cake and lick the beaters – a signature Howson move – I scrapped the coconut topping in favor of raspberries and lemon rind, but in hindsight I would keep the coconut.

Admittedly, the frosting was a good idea.

You're saying all the right things, cake.

Verdict: Marthable, but pay attention to the damn corn syrup!

Rustic Glam Baby Shower in 8 Steps

What do you get when you cross a low maintenance pregnant couple, autumnal decorations, and a slew of talented friends? A Rustic Glam Baby Shower, that’s what. You probably know by now that Marthable’s very own Susan Howson has – in addition to her usual array of actual baked goods – the other kind of bun in the oven. Check it out!

How cute is this? Is she even pregnant?

Earlier this month, we threw a shower for Susan and her baby daddy Cam. Here’s how it went, in eight easy steps.

Step #1: Conception. Success! Good job, guys.

Step #2: Location/Date. Val and Ross offered up their lovely northside home, and we decided to hold the shower during month 8 so that a.) Susan and Cam would have plenty of time to figure out what in the heck they needed, b.) the party committee would have plenty of time to plan, and c.) Susan would be super pregnant, making for cuter pics. We all know, however, that the true host was JR.

"We are hosting this thing!"

Step #3: Recruit. At a noisy bar one night back in July, Amanda, Anne and Kate enthusiastically agreed to help out, although no one could hear anyone else, so for all they knew they were signing up to go to Kings Dominion the next day. Fortunately, when approached again in the harsh light of day, they were still game. Victoria and Lauren also offered their services.

Step #3b: Delegate. Amanda headed up the Food Committee (as well as did a million other things), and Emily and Chris agreed to provide a backdrop and props for our DIY photo booth, as well as extra photography of the party. (In full disclosure, I recruited Emily and Chris just two weeks ahead of time, for which they are probably still cursing my name. Thanks again, LaCroixes!) Decorations and favors were my job, with critical support from Team Roanoke, which spent an afternoon at my house painting pumpkins and shoveling spices into cheesecloth.

"I am out of my comfort zone but still manage to look adorable!"

"I am in my comfort zone and also look adorable!"

Step #4: Theme (or not). Given that this was to be a co-ed shower and that Susan is not a pastel colored/themed shower kind of girl, we decided to capitalize on the season and throw a Rustic Glam shower. This basically means take the pumpkins, pine cones, and gourds that you already have this time of year, spray paint them gold, cover them in glitter, and place them all around the party. if you happen to have some deer antlers and a bunch of feathers on hand, throw those in too. We weren’t entirely sure how it would all look, but it turns out that fall decorations are a perfect glam canvas and nicely complimented Cam and Susan’s vision of a family-friendly party with lots of delicious homemade food and autumnal drinks.

Val and Ross's mantel already sported some sweet brass candlesticks, seasonal gourds, and a great wreath. We added the gold pumpkins, which spelled B-A-B-Y in glitter, some mini pumpkins dunked in glitter, feathers and fall foliage, and a gold garland.

An embarrassing # of items in this centerpiece belong to me.

Glittered letters on a ribbon hung from the front door knocker. I've threatened to make Susan wear this across her chest while giving birth.

Step #5: Favors. This was a difficult one. We were expecting 40+ people, and decent favors aren’t cheap. One hundred Etsy searches later, I had almost given up hope until I stumbled upon this other rustic glam baby shower, which a.) made me feel highly inadequate, and b.) inspired this idea: because we planned to serve mulled cider at the shower, wouldn’t our guests like some mulling spices of their very own?  And a new mug from which to drink cider? I wasn’t sure, but I was intent on ripping off at least one idea from this girl.

And so, I bought mugs from the dollar store, mixed up some nutmeg, orange peel, and cloves, and wrapped a tablespoon of the mix in cheesecloth tied with kitchen twine  (way cheaper than individual bags). Each mug got a spice sachet and a cinnamon stick, then was wrapped in cellophane and tied with ribbons, feathers, and a piece of card stock instructing each guest to, well, “Mull.” Pro tip: For a co-ed, kid-friendly shower, only make enough favors for half of the guests. Parents with small children don’t necessarily want more stuff to carry.

I didn't include instructions in these. Hopefully everyone has figured out by now that you throw these spices into a crock pot or saucepan, pour store-bought apple cider over them, and warm on low heat.

Step #6: Food. Amanda came up with a delicious menu that included deviled eggs, polenta bites, crostini, finger sandwiches (watercress, salmon, ham), fresh fruit, crudite, madeleines, macaroons, and lemon bars. Not surprisingly, the Food Committee knocked this out of the park.

The "tablecloth" is a remnant from U-Fab.

We used our own plates and some Val found secondhand. Glassware also came from our own cabinets, and none of the food required utensils, so this party generated very little trash.

Step #7: Activity. Chris and Emily tacked up a remnant, laid out some fun props, left out a camera on a chair, and bam: DIY PHOTO BOOTH! Kids and adults alike love this, and it’s less intrusive and time intensive than baby shower games. We also set out a book for Baby Messages, which continues to circulate among showers and family gatherings and says god knows what.

Step #8: Shower! Arrive early, decorate, play with the hosts’ adorable child (and ask him nicely if he’ll share his toys with the 10 kids that will descend upon his house later), try not to spill glitter all over their house, warm the cider, assemble last minute snacks, glitter last minute pumpkins, construct photo booth, and put a paper and pen near the gifts for note taking (NOT in your purse way up in the coat room). Then pour yourself a mug of cider, add a drop or two of bourbon, sit back, and enjoy the party.

Congrats, Susan and Cam!

MSL, with the assist!

The September Living might be the “home” issue, but so far to me it’s been the “issue of do-able recipes.” Beginning on page 152, Martha lays out a batch of dinner recipes that can be made in just one pan. I REALIZE that this concept is not new, but we’re talking about MSL, a magazine that measures the success of its recipes by their use of every pot, pan and implement in your kitchen. I don’t know how Sarah Carey slipped these by her boss, but I’m glad she did.

Dirty Little Secret Alert: I don’t enjoy cooking dinner on weeknights and very often do not. The timing just doesn’t work. By the time I get home and turn on the stove, it’s like 8:30pm, and I want to be in bed reading by 10pm. This simply does not leave me sufficient time to cook a meal, catch up on episodes of Jersey Shore Charlie Rose, and clean up. Or often I have to attend an After Work Event, where I fill up on five pounds of chunk cheese and decide to power through until breakfast. This entire situation fills me with anxiety and guilt, mainly because my housemate picks up the slack. He considers it therapautic to cook a meal after a long day, whereas I prefer to cook when I have a good 2 – 3 hours to devote to the entire process.

But none of this matters any longer! MSL 9/2011 lays out some one-pan dinners that will solve all of my problems.  These aren’t cop-out meals either. You won’t find a “a packet of Lipton soup mix” on any of these ingredient lists. Instead, how does Baked Rice with Chorizo and Clams sound? Or Broiled Shrimp with Tomatoes and White Beans. Pretty good for a Tuesday night, right? We tried the Braised Chicken with Potatoes, Olives and Lemon, which was delicious, although I’d use two lemons instead of one.

Next, we’re doing Fried Eggs with Greens and Mushrooms, probably with mustard greens or kale, with Optional Sage-Chili Butter. (Why would that ever be optional?)

In fact, the only drawback of one-pan dinners is that they’re not that interesting to write about, so I’ll pay a little homage to this issue’s home focus. On page 144, the MSL team shows us how to jazz up our interior doors with painted shapes, upholstery tacks and wallpaper. At first I thought this was ridiculous but then I re-read it and reconsidered. I mean, how beautiful is this?

This issue also takes us inside Editor-in-Chief Pilar Guzman’s Brooklyn brownstone in all its Danish Modern “we love kids and their patina” glory, as well as a piece by Sharkey on monogrammed pillows, about which I want to write a snarky post but don’t want to offend my friend Beth, who is a monogram nut.

September, is that you already?