Crock Pot Apple Butter

>> Thursday, September 24, 2015

I guarantee that when you make apple butter, the entire house will smell like every holiday rolled into one day. This recipe comes form my mother, Kathleen Tarr Helbling, and my sweet German friend, Talea Bloom. If you are not blessed with the gift of a bushel of their gnarled, flavorful organic apples, there are plenty of other varieties to try.

Apple butter doesn't actually contain any butter, and is completely fat-free, and I think the name comes from its smooth, rich consistency. This sweet-sour and spicy recipe doesn't take all the fussing and hovering that a lot of jam recipes demand. You just cut up the apples and let them simmer all day in a crock pot, stirring and mushing once in a while, then boil the puree until thick and can them at the end.

This tastes fabulous on whole-wheat honey bread. Yum.


4 lbs of firm-fleshed, tart apples (McIntosh, Jonathan, or Granny Smith are my favorites)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
1 lemon, quartered (note: old lemons have bitter peels; try to find a fresh, plump-skinned one)
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt
White granulated sugar or Splenda (about 2 cups, see cooking instructions)
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice


Cut the apples into quarters, cutting out damaged parts. Don't peel or core them, or pick out the apple seeds. Put the apple pieces into a large crock pot, add the lemon, vinegar, water, and brown sugar, and cover. Turn the crock pot on high and allow to simmer for 6- 8 hours, stirring occasionally and crushing the fruit with a spoon. It is ready when the consistency is similar to applesauce. You can also let the mixture simmer overnight in a crock pot on low, but increase the time to 10 hours and stir it if you get up in the night to use the bathroom or get a snack.

Strain out the solids through a colander. Measure the apple puree. Stir in 1/3 cup of white sugar for each cup of apple pulp. Stir in the salt, cinnamon, ginger, ground cloves, and allspice. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Pour into a heavy, wide-bottomed saucepan. Simmer on medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until thickened and reduced, about 1 hour. Test if it is ready to jell by pouring a spoonful on a plate and letting it sit in the refrigerator until cool. It should be thick as jam.

Pour into sterilized pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace, and wipe the rims. Screw on lids hand-tight and lower into a hot water bath canner. Boil 15 minutes once the pot reaches a full rolling boil. Remove from the canner and allow to cool. Test the seals before storing.

Makes 3-4 pint jars.


Chicken and Dumplings: American Comfort Food

>> Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Chicken and Dumplings - American Comfort Food

American food gets a bad rap sometimes - unfairly, I think. We're unimaginative, we make unhealthy foods and ridiculous proportions, all we want is fast food.

This is American comfort food. Every tradition has some of these. Chicken and dumplings is a healthy, hearty, and inexpensive dinner that brings my childhood back with every after-dinner burp.

Many Americans have their own version of Chicken and Dumplings, some with light, fluffy bread-like dumplings, but this one makes hearty, egg noodle-like dumplings. It was given to me by my sister-in-law Carolyn Coe, a talented cook who used to work for a restaurant in Clear Lake, Iowa. She's used to cooking for a crowd. She cooks for church events and 4H meetings, and bakes dozens of pies for the County Fair each summer. Watching her wield a paring knife without even looking is like watching a master sculptor.

The original recipe proportions would have fed an entire 4-H troop, so we cut it down to an average family portion. This is especially good in the fall or winter. When the recipe fell out of my cookbook, I was seized with comfort food mania and made it at once.

Chicken and Dumplings


2 eggs
1//3 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups flour

6 cups chicken stock
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 rib of celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 cups cooked diced chicken


Beat together all dumpling ingredients except flour. Add flour slowly, stirring until smooth and very stiff. Roll out 1/4" thick on a floured surface. Allow to dry one hour. Cut into one inch squares.

Bring chicken stock to a boil. Stir in all vegetables and cook for ten minutes. Add dumplings and cook until tender, approximately 12 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking. Add chicken and cook for ten more minutes.

Serve in bowls with a side of fruit or a salad.

Serves 4-6.


Cheesy Sweet Pea Spread with Bacon Dust

>> Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Cheesy Sweet Pea Spread with Bacon Dust

We made this crostini spread for our big Labor Day family BBQ in Iowa and it was a hit! Out in Clear Lake and Ventura IA, they take their holidays seriously (Clear Lake's fourth of July celebration makes many lists of  "-- Things to do Before You Die").

Summer in Iowa. Peaceful.

We spent part of the weekend at a picnic in an old maple grove next to Joe's family's cattle ranch. The rest of the time we boated around Clear Lake and watched the weekend sailboat Regatta. What a wonderful way to relax!

Regatta, Clear Lake IA

We tried a first version of this pea spread before making some tweaks. It's wonderfully different with the sweetness of the green peas and the garlic/parmesan combination. If you're fortunate enough to have fresh green peas - say, if you grow them yourself - it will be even better!


4 slices of bacon, cooked crisp
1 loaf baguette bread
2 tbsp oil

For the crostini spread
10-ounce package frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup ricotta
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 stalk green onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp chopped basil
Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice the baguette into 1/2 inch thick rounds and place on a baking sheet. Brush oil on the crostini slices, then bake 15 minutes, or until slightly crisp. Finely chop the bacon slices.

In a blender or food processor, process the sweet pea crostini spread until smooth. Spread onto the bread slices, then top with a sprinkle of bacon crumbs.

We liked this best at room temperature. We made it a day ahead of time since we were traveling to Iowa, and it tasted better the second day.

Serves 10 as an appetizer.


Chickpea and Feta Salad

>> Thursday, September 3, 2015

Chickpea and Feta Salad

After a cooler and wetter than usual summer, Chicago is experiencing a hot and muggy Indian Summer. I was on a conference call with a contractor in Seattle last week, and she said she had heard that summer in Chicago is extremely hot and humid.

"It's extremely hot and humid, then it's hot and bone-dry, then it gets extremely cold," I said. "In fact, the weather here is just extreme." I LOVE the city of Chicago, but I need to move some place without these kinds of temperature mood swings!

This chickpea and feta salad is good for a hot weather dinner. It's hearty enough for lunch or a  a substantial side dish, too. Because it's so flavorful, we like it with a simple grilled fish or chicken. Try sprinkling the meats with Joe's Greek Meat Rub before cooking, for a Mediterranean-style dinner.


2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup sweet red pepper, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1/4 cup green onions, chopped
1/3 cup cucumber, chopped
1/3 cup chopped Kalamata olives
1/2 cup feta cheese
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp ground fennel


In a large bowl, stir together the chickpeas, garlic, pepper, parsley, onions, cucumber, olives, and feta cheese. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, pepper, and fennel. Drizzle over the salad and stir until well combined. Allow to marinate for an hour at room temperature before serving.

Makes about 4 cups.
One cup is 4 points + in the Weight Watchers system.

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