Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pumpkin Carving 101

Somehow over the course of my life, I never managed to carve a pumpkin. Last year, I even picked out a pumpkin and a little kit with pumpkin knives but to no avail. Things got hectic and the pumpkin...got soggy. :( It was very sad. This year the trend is broken! Tiffany and Argie came over to visit this past Saturday. They talked about the pumpkins they had carved and all I could think about was...I want to but when. Sometimes there's no time like the present. Since they were experienced pumpkin carvers and I had only watched my mom when I was small, it seemed like a great plan to carve a pumpkin while they were here. Everyone was involved...even the cats...well at least Jack.

Step 1: Cut out a large hole around the stem of the pumpkin. It is useful to make a notch so you can easily reinsert.

Step 2: Remove all the inner gook! We set the seeds aside for possible baking with salt..MMMM.

Step 3: After removing the gook, select the side you want to carve. Using the scoop tool, thin the pumpkin wall from the inside by scraping. Don't forget to also scrape a flat spot on the base for a candle to sit. The flesh of the pumpkin may come in useful for pumpkiny goodness like pumpkin muffins or pumpkin rolls, so it can be saved for later. Notice Jack is keeping a careful eye out for misplaced pumpkin bits. (When my hands were free, he was promptly shooed off the stove.)

Also notice, Sookie was not so into the pumpkin process. She decided to hang out in the bedroom and rest.

Step 4: Tape the pattern to the pumpkin. Fold lines help the paper wrap around the rounded surface.

Step 5: Use a roller punching wheel to trace out the lines of the pumpkin.

Step 6: After punching out all lines, remove pattern in sections and cut out using the mini pumpkin saws.

Step 7: Carefully push out the sections to be removed. If one catches, go back with the saw blade and ease the pressure rather than forcing and breaking a delicate design.

Step 8: Insert candle, light, and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Caramel Apple Crisp

Last September, Mel and I peeled a lot of apples to make 2 apple pies for someone's birthday. By the time we finished peeling, we sort of promised ourselves not to do that again without a good reason. I'd like to say I learned from that experience. I can say that I didn't forget but when September rolled around again, I came upon a deal on apples that I couldn't resist. I thought about fried apple pies, apple sauce, apple crisp...yes I believe I had a short lived case of apple fever. In short, I picked up a half bushel of cooking apples not really realizing what I was doing to myself. I was planning to make 2 apple crisps. Clearly I had no clear concept (even when looking in the box of apples) as to 1) how many apples were in half a bushel and 2) how long it takes to simply cut up cooking apples. I convinced myself that I wouldn't need to peel them and it would save me lots of time. Remember that line in Lord of the Rings, "but they were all of them deceived"? The apple fever deceived my logical thinking. If you were ever wondering how many apple pies or crisps you could make with a half bushel of cooking apples, I can tell you that you can make at least SIX 9x13 pan with SIX cups of apples in each and still have apples left. How about those apples?

On a different note, the excessive amounts of apples I had gave me the opportunity to test variants on apple crisp. I started with a base recipe I found on recipezaar. This is a good basic recipe BUT 6 medium cooking apples tends to cook down and give a pretty thin apple crisp. I decided I wanted a thicker crisp. I also wanted to give a whirl to a caramel flavor rather than the traditional cinnamon and brown sugar. Further, to test all the variants, it seemed important to try the crisp with caramel AND brown sugar cinnamon filling. Last year, we tried an excellent caramel apple pie. We didn't even change the filling..which was a pretty unusual thing. Since I remembered it being well liked, I decided the caramel sauce might be a perfect compliment to the apple crisp. The result was delightful! I tried a combo of caramel sauce with cinnamon and brown sugar. This combination is quite good. To get an enhanced flavor, I think it might be optimized by doubling the cinnamon and brown sugar addition. Either way, the options are tasty.

Caramel Apple Crisp

Caramel Sauce

1/2 cup unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup water

Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Option (can double this part)

6 Tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

Crisp Topping

1/2 cup flour

1/2 brown sugar

1/2 oatmeal

6 Tbsp butter

1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/8 tsp. salt

Fruit Inside

6 cups sliced and cored apples (around 8 large apples, 10 medium apples or probably 14 small cooking apples)

2 Tbsp lemon juice


1. Prepare fruit: Core and slice apples. Place in cool water to prevent them from turning brown.

2. Prepare caramel sauce: In a small sauce pot, melt butter for caramel sauce. Stir in flour listed for caramel sauce to make a paste. Add the two sugars and water listed for caramel sauce. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. When the sauce comes to a boil, reduce the temperature to low and simmer 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. The longer you boil, the more caramel flavor you will have but your sauce will be reduced. If you boil too long, you will burn the sauce.

3. Prepare crisp topping: While the caramel sauce is boiling, use a pastry cutter or fork to combine the flour, brown sugar, oatmeal, butter, baking powder and salt listed for crisp topping. I suggest cutting up the butter first and then adding the other components because it makes the butter a little easier to work into the mixture.

4. Brown Sugar/Cinnamon (optional) : Combine together brown sugar and cinnamon.

5. Combination: Place apples in 9x13 pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice. If adding brown sugar/cinnamon, sprinkle on apples and stir around. Pour caramel sauce over apples. Sprinkle crisp topping over the apples.

6. Bake at 350 F for 35-45 minutes.

This is quite enjoyable with vanilla ice cream. If you want to drizzle caramel sauce from the bottom of the pan, it is likely to increase the smile and happiness factors.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Fresh Baby Spinach....in progress

I'm excited to introduce you all to part of my baby spinach row! I decided to go for a fall planting since it gets rather warm here for spinach unless it is planted in early spring or fall. I planted and waited. It rained a lot last week so there was not enough sun to bring them out of the ground until the last few days. Hopefully it won't frost before my spinach is ready to harvest!