Apple Breakfast Cake

A happiest Thanksgiving to you and yours. It’s a great honor and pleasure to share a few words and a recipe with you here each week. As I sit down to write this article, I am near the fireplace watching the flames bounce and pop. One of my children is drawing at the kitchen table, occasionally calling to me to spell out words. I’m sure we’ll be treated to a story at dinner later. The other two are playing with our rambunctious kitten, intermittently squabbling yet remaining together, passing the kitten back and forth lost in their imaginary game. My husband is tending the fire, hopping up to putter around the house, never one to sit for long. Dinner is cooking in the oven, a roast cooked with onions and carrots, lots of garlic and a big glug of red wine. If the meat tastes half as good as the house smells, we’ll be in good shape.

Let me be honest though, my home and life are rarely this idyllic. We have hardships and stress. We worry; sometimes we argue. I think we can all relate that way a little bit. Life can be really hard sometimes. But tonight is a good night, and it seems right on this Thanksgiving holiday to pause a moment in gratitude.

I think even in the chaos and challenging times, when we look around at our surroundings, we can be delighted by the many good things we find. I’m grateful for a warm house and dinner in the oven. For happy children and a family to call my own. For a few moments to jot down a few words, to share the food and connections that bring us to the table over and over again.

And the weekend is just getting started. We have a houseful of guests with a trek up to the mountains planned, football to watch, leftovers to eat and maybe a hike or two to try and balance out all those leftovers.

This week’s recipe is an apple breakfast cake. It’s a quick one-bowl cake that you can swap for any fruit you like. I used Autumn Glory apples, a new varietal growing here in the Yakima Valley. With a firm crunchy texture and a subtle cinnamon flavor, they were the perfect apple to use for this recipe. If you can’t find Autumn Glory apples; honeycrisp, golden delicious or Braeburn all work well too. Perfect for breakfast with a dollop of vanilla Greek yogurt or a drizzle of Copper Pot Carmel sauce never hurt and takes it from breakfast to dessert.

Apple Breakfast Cake

• 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

• 2 teaspoons baking powder

• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

• ½ teaspoon cinnamon

• ¼ teaspoon nutmeg

• 1/2 cup granulated sugar

• 2 large eggs

• 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

• 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

• 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

• 1 cup chopped and peeled apple

• 18-20 thinly sliced pieces of apple to top the cake

• Powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter and flour a 10-inch cast iron skillet, if you don’t have one, you can use a cake pan.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, and butter.  Whisk in the vanilla and almond extract.

Add the buttermilk mixture all at once to the dry ingredients.  Stir until just combined and no lumps remain. Fold the chopped apples into the batter. Spoon batter into the prepared pan.  Arrange the apple slices on top the cake is a single layer.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Allow cake to cool to room temperature before slicing to serve. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Cake will last, well wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days.

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

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We found a tiny little six-week-old kitten in the orchard adjacent to our house a couple weeks ago. My 7-year-old son happened to spot him and with the help of my husband, they gently coaxed the kitty down from the apple tree it was hiding in. Soaking wet (from the rain) and terrified, the kitten was lost, alone and hungry. They brought it up to the house and with very sad and pathetic eyes, oh so nicely, asked if we could keep the kitten. Who am I to say no to a tiny kitten?

We took the cat to the vet and found out it’s a male, very healthy with only a minor case of fleas. A round of flea treatment for all our pets and a bill of clean health, we headed home to negotiate a name and redistribution of household responsibilities. I might have said yes to the kitten, but I had promises from all three of my children they would help care of him. The jury is still out on their overall helpfulness but they certainly adore this new addition.


Rex, the kitten, now runs the house. My daughter carries him around like a baby and occasionally wraps him in a blanket and takes him for a ride in her doll stroller. My boys play endlessly with the kitten, chasing him around the house, digging him out from under beds and behind the couch. Obviously, we’re all a little smitten by this little ball of fluff. He was a sweet surprise on a rainy cold Saturday and it’s one I won’t soon forget.

I want to offer some good old-fashioned comfort food this week. October was a month of soups (and a batch of pumpkin muffins because I couldn’t resist) to get in the mindset of fall and winter, but November is all about the cozy, warm meals perfect for this time of year.

Roasted butternut squash makes a silky rich sauce without being heavy. The salty bacon and roasted cauliflower add texture and flavor to the dish. I recommend buying the pre-cut butternut squash to save yourself a few minutes of work. I know you can find it at Safeway and Costco, but I’m sure other grocery stores carry it too. Fontina cheese is very mild which is why I chose it for this recipe but a smoked gouda or sharp cheddar would be delicious as well. I have a decadent ‘all-cheese’ mac and cheese recipe on the blog if butternut squash isn’t your thing. It has bacon and smoke gouda, parmesan and the creamiest most delicious sauce you’re ever tasted. Recipe is HERE if you want to take a look.IMG_9771

Roasted Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 12 ounces pre-cut, cubed and peeled butternut squash (about 2-2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 medium cauliflower, chopped into bite size pieces
  • 1 cup Fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 box pasta, penne, shells or cavatelli all work well
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 3 pieces center cut bacon, diced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On a baking sheet spread the cauliflower and butternut squash evenly on the pan. Toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, use a spatula halfway through to flip the vegetables so they cook evenly. The vegetables should be golden brown and cooked through.

In a saute pan, cook the onion and bay leaf in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil for 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic to the onion and continue to cook for an additional 2-3 minutes until the garlic is fragrant and the onions are soft and translucent.

In a food processor or blender, pulse the butternut squash, half of the roasted cauliflower (set aside the other half for later), the onion and garlic until smooth. Make sure to remove the bay leaf from the onions! Slowly add the chicken stock (you could also use vegetable stock, water or milk) until the sauce is smooth and silky. Add nutmeg, cayenne, salt and pepper to the sauce.

In a large pot, boil the pasta in heavily salted water. Drain the noodles when they are not quite finished cooking, you want them to still have a bite. Put the noodles back in the large pot and pour the sauce over the noodles. Stir in the roasted cauliflower and mix the shredded cheese into the pasta.

Spray a 9×13 baking pan with cooking spray. Spoon the pasta into the baking pan and spread the diced bacon evenly over the dish. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the bacon is cooked through and the edges are bubbling, about 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle the dish with dried parsley and serve immediately.

Pumpkin Muffins

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It just wouldn’t be fall without a batch of pumpkin muffins. I went on not one but two pumpkin patch field trips last week, traversing the corn maze with a group of preschoolers, herding them through the pumpkin patch until they found just the right pumpkin. Two days later, my first grader got his turn and we had a blast riding the tractor, eating lunch with friends and of course, picking out the perfect pumpkin.

We are in the idyllic couple of weeks when everywhere you look is quintessential fall. The Poplar trees I look at out the windows of my house are brilliantly yellow and I find myself stopping to marvel at their beauty several times a day. The apple and pear orchards bordering my house boast deep red and golden orange leaves, waving in the wind, almost as if they’re showing off. The backdrop of blue sky and green grass with the desert hills beyond is breathtaking and a scene I don’t want to take for granted.

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And when fall is this beautiful, it seems not only right but downright necessary to make something pumpkin. I’m the first to roll my eyes at all the pumpkin spice hype. I get it, the saying ‘too much of a good thing,’ is very real. But these pumpkin muffins will bring you right back around again — light and chewy with a crunchy cinnamon-sugar crust along the top — you’ll make batch after batch of these all fall long.

Sometimes I throw a handful of chocolate chips into the batter for my kids and the other week, I skipped the cinnamon and sugar on top and instead sprinkled granola on the muffins. They were delicious! Whatever you decide to do, you can’t go wrong. And if you’re local and can carve out a little time this weekend, go for a walk on the Cowiche trails or along the Greenway and enjoy the beauty of the Valley before it’s blanketed in snow.

Pumpkin Muffins (recipe adapted from Gourmet Magazine)

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice
  • 1 1/3 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon raw sugar (if you don’t have any, just use regular granulated sugar)

 

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put liners in 12 standard-sized muffin cups.

Stir or whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spice in medium bowl.

In a larger bowl, whisk together pumpkin, oil, eggs and 1 cup sugar. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir until just combined. Divide batter among muffin cups (each about 3/4 full). If you want to add chocolate chips, stir in one cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips to the batter before spooning into muffin cups.

Stir together tablespoon of raw sugar and teaspoon of cinnamon. Sprinkle over each muffin.

Bake until puffed and golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool in pan on a rack five minutes, then transfer muffins from pan to rack and cool to warm or room temperature.

Slow Cooked Brisket Over Pappardelle

We spent an idyllic day on my husband’s family’s property over the weekend. It was surprisingly cold and foggy which only magnified the incredible colors of the changing trees. Everywhere you looked deep reds, orange and gold leaves mixed with the dark evergreen trees. Wild turkeys walked past us and the fire we kept going all morning kept us warm and cozy. The kids had a blast running around, putting sticks in the fire and helping Aaron. It’s literally my husband’s favorite place on earth so we all came home with our tanks filled, grateful for such a good weekend together.

When we got home Sunday night I was in the mood for a hearty and cozy meal. My freezer is looking pretty sad and depleted meat-wise as we are a few weeks away from getting our portion of the cow we buy each year. That said, there’s a few cuts that I often feel a little intimidated to use and therefore they sit and sit in the freezer waiting for me to finally do something with them.

I eyed the brisket with a little weariness thinking the only thing I could do is smoke it (which I didn’t have the time or energy to attempt). But I flipped through a couple cookbooks anyway and I found a recipe in Small Victories for brisket. I really had to improvise on the ingredients but I went for it anyway.


This happy accident of a recipe ended up being a home run. I cooked it in the oven for about 5 hours and let it sit in the juices for another couple hours while it cooled down. The sauce ended up being savory and slightly sweet (not bbq sauce…but kind of) and the meat was so tender it fell apart in big chunks in the pot. When we were ready for dinner, I quickly boiled pappardelle in salted water. When the noodles (and you could use any egg noodle or spaghetti squash, which we did when we ate leftovers) were ready, I tossed them in a little butter, fresh parsley and a handful of parmesan cheese. I topped the pasta with a few slices of brisket and we all dug in. Scarlet was the only one to reject dinner but she can’t be trusted these days. One day she eats like the world is ending and the next takes two bites of yogurt and calls it a day. This is definitely a dish I’ll make again and again.


Slow Cooked Brisket Over Pappardelle

  • 1 3-4 pound beef brisket
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 12 dried apricots
  • 6 dried figs
  • 2 cups organic chicken or beef stock
  • 1 15 ounce crushed tomatoes
  • kosher salt and black pepper

In a large dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Liberally coat both sides of the brisket in salt and pepper (don’t be shy! use lots!). Sear each side of the brisket for 3-4 minutes until both sides of the meat have a golden brown color on it. Remove from the pot and set aside on a plate. Turn the heat to low and start cooking the onion. When the onion has softened, add garlic, spices and tomato paste. Cook for another 4 to 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, apricots and figs. Stir in the stock and add the brisket back to the pot. Cover the pot with the lid and cook at 325 degrees for about 4 hours. Check the meat halfway through, flipping the meat so the sauce covers the meat.

To serve the brisket, remove the meat from the pot and slice diagonally across the meat. In a separate pot, boil water. Stir in pappardelle and cook to the package instructions (the noodles cook fast, 5ish minutes). Turn off the heat, drain pasta and put back in the pot. Mix one tablespoon butter, two tablespoons fresh chopped parsley and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese into the pasta.

Spoon a few noodles onto each plate. Top with several slices of brisket and a drizzle of the sauce over everything. Enjoy!! If you’re feeling really energetic that day, roast some broccoli in the oven and serve it on the side.

 

Pasta with Bacon, Caramelized Onions and Spinach

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When it comes to writing, it’s always the first sentence that’s the hardest to spit out. I can stare at a blank screen for what feels like hours before those first few words finally crystalize.

It’s most definitely that way today.

I want to tell you about how beautiful the weather is lately and how fast the boy’s hair and limbs and feet seem to be growing.  Jackson got a retainer a few weeks ago and he has a darling little way of talking with the giant device on the roof of his mouth as well as a minor drooling problem, and it’s all so endearing I can’t stand it. He had to do a self-portrait art project at school and for the first time ever he included his freckles in his drawing and it makes me realize how quickly he’s growing these days, noticing so much more about the world and himself. I hope those freckles continue to be worthy of self-portraits.

And Luke. My darling, charming, tender Luke. First grade has been a little bumpy, not the easiest start to the school year. He’s had to grow up a little bit, face some mistakes and learn to work hard at things that don’t necessarily come easily. Those are some big challenges for a 7-year-old and he has risen to meet them head-on with determination. I couldn’t be prouder of him.

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Scarlet turned five at the end of September which doesn’t seem possible in one breath and yet impossible to think she was ever not here. She is so full of spunk and sass, pestering her brothers and announcing to the world her next big project and then like a light switch she is carrying her baby around, dressing up in princess dresses, begging me to read her book after book. She is a firecracker for sure.

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Life feels unreasonably busy this fall and we’re all feeling the effects of it a little bit. Crummy colds took us all out for a few weeks and sports schedules seem to rule our life. Work projects piled up out of nowhere and I don’t tell you all this as a complaint it’s just the way it is sometimes. I’m sure you’re feeling the exact same way.

Today’s recipe is quick, easy and the perfect comfort food on a cold fall night. Pasta with bacon, caramelized onions and a big handful of spinach is filling and flavorful without being heavy. A sprinkle of parmesan cheese and maybe a hunk of crusty bread and your dinner is complete.

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Pasta with Bacon, Caramelized Onions and Spinach

  • 1 box penne or rotini pasta
  • 2 large yellow onions, sliced 
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 4 pieces center-cut bacon, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4 cups fresh baby spinach
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • parmesan cheese for garnish

In a large pot, boil pasta in heavily salted water until just cooked through. Drain and set aside but reserve a cup or so of the pasta water.

In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter over low heat. Spread onions evenly over the pan, stirring occasionally, cooking for about 30 minutes until deeply caramelized. When onions are finished cooking, scoop onto a plate and set aside. In the same pan, add last tablespoon of olive oil and turn heat to medium-low. Cook bacon until brown and crispy, add garlic to the pan and cook for two more minutes until the garlic is fragrant.  Add pasta, onions and spinach to the pan mixing well until the ingredients are well-combined. Splash a spoonful or two of pasta water into the pan if needed. Salt and pepper liberally and add a pinch of red pepper flakes (completely optional). Scoop into bowls and top with shredded parmesan cheese

Meal Planning and Steel Cut Oats

Today is a little departure from the usual. My column in the Yakima Herald today is about basic meal planning. Do you meal plan? My version is fairly informal but it’s a system that works pretty well for us. At the bottom of the post is a recipe for our favorite steel cut oats. I make a big batch on Sundays and keep it in the fridge all week for easy breakfasts. We’re almost to the weekend friends.


I have a friend who is an excellent meal planner. She sits down every week with her husband and they decide on dinners for the week. They make a grocery list of the items they need and one of them goes to the store. They assign dinners to each night based on their weekly schedule and then cook their meals according to the schedule. It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But for so many of us, it’s not that simple at all.

For the left-brained creative-types and the flustered, busy, over-tired parents, for those that aren’t sure they even like to cook, and everyone in between, planning an entire week’s worth of meals is more than a little intimidating; it’s downright daunting. At least that’s how I feel most weeks.

But I also know that to make healthy fresh food for my family, I need a plan. Daily trips to the grocery store with three young kids is out of the question and I don’t want to rely too heavily on take-out and frozen pizzas.

What works for me is to spend a few hours on the weekend preparing foods I want my family to eat during the week. I’ve found that having produce readily available, washed, cut-up and in plain view ensures we all have an easier time reaching for a fruit or vegetable first.

Each week I hit my local fruit stand. Right now I’m buying bags of plums and nectarines, peaches, bell peppers, corn on the cob, potatoes, onions, cucumbers, melons, zucchini and green beans. This is where I start with planning meals for the week. After I’ve made my haul in the produce department, I head to the grocery store, list in hand with the remaining items I need.

On Sundays, when I typically have more time to putter in the kitchen, I do the bulk of my prep for the week. I wash and chop fruits and vegetables. I usually make some kind of salad for easy lunches and muffins or a quick bread for easy breakfast for my kids. Sometimes I make an egg dish and roast a pan of vegetables but mostly it depends on what looked good at the store and what I’m in the mood to cook.

Breakfasts and lunches get exponentially easier on busy weekday mornings. The kids choose between cereal and whatever I’ve prepped for the week and they help themselves. It’s the same for packing lunches; they choose from the fruits and vegetables I’ve already prepared, we throw a sandwich together and they fill their water bottles.

This week I made a loaf of pumpkin bread and a big pot of steel cut oats. I also made tuna salad and chicken salad and some whole-wheat couscous. I cut up cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, bell peppers and washed and trimmed grapes. When I open my fridge, these are the items I see first and what I build meals around all week.

Everyone in my family loves oatmeal, so I thought I would share my recipe for steel cut oats. Hearty and delicious, the only downside to steel-cut oats is the time it takes to make them. I get around this by making a big pot on the weekend and storing it in the fridge. On weekday mornings, we spoon portions into individual bowls and pop them in the microwave. We top ours with a spoonful of peanut butter and a handful of frozen blueberries but raisins and cinnamon or a fresh sliced peach and a drizzle of honey is lovely too.


Creamy Steel-Cut Oats with Chia Seeds

  • 2 cups steel-cut oats
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds

In a pot combine water, milk, salt and oats. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. As soon as the liquid begins to boil, turn the heat to low. Cook oats at a simmer for 20 to 30 minutes stirring frequently. When oats are finished cooking, gently stir in maple syrup, cinnamon and chia seeds. Spoon oats into individual bowls and top with favorite toppings. Save remaining oats in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.

 

Pretty Great Pumpkin Bread

I want to call this the best-ever pumpkin bread or maybe easy and perfect pumpkin bread but the reality is there are approximately 27,432 recipes for pumpkin bread out there and I would wager a bet that 90 percent of the recipes you stumble onto are pretty great.

So here’s another pretty great recipe to add to your list when you’re in the mood for something pumpkin and feeling all those fall vibes.

Me? I’m not feeling fall-ish yet, but I’m going for it anyway. I live in a town absolutely enveloped in smoke from wild fires surrounding us on all sides. It’s been hot (brutally hot actually) and the smoke is thick and choking. It makes your throat sore and your eyes burn and sometimes you see ash falling from the sky. The kids can’t go outside for recess and outdoor practices and games have been cancelled going on two weeks.

It doesn’t particularly feel like fall where I live but doesn’t feel like summer either…or any season really. Obviously all of this pales in comparison to very real tragedies and natural disasters happening all over the country/world in the last little bit. I was texting with my mother-in-law today and as she was telling me about a school shooting that happened today in the town I grew up in, we both agreed we feel helpless and defeated by so much hurt all around us. It’s a heavy, worrying, hard hard time for so many.

And pumpkin bread won’t change any of that terrible hurt but it might put a smile on your kid’s faces when they come home from a hard day at school. Or you could double this recipe and drop a loaf off for a friend as a surprise. And you could absolutely slice it thick and slather it in butter and enjoy it slowly with a cup of coffee and maybe those five minutes will recharge you in some small way.


This is one of those easy one-bowl recipes that are great for little people to jump in and ‘help’ with. The other great thing is that the recipe calls for one whole can of pumpkin, which is perfect since I hate wasting the last bit of pumpkin out of the can but I also never have any ideas how to use it up except to make more treats. One can. One loaf. Done.


Pretty Great Pumpkin Bread (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 heaping teaspoon pumpkin pie spice mix
  • Two pinches of ground cloves
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a LARGE loaf pan, grease with butter and flour or a piece of parchment paper. 

In the bowl of a large mixing bowl beat pumpkin, coconut oil, eggs, vanilla and sugar until well-combined with no lumps. Using a wooden spoon or spatula stir in flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and all spices. When batter is just combined, scoop into loaf pan. 

In a small bowl combine one tablespoon raw sugar (regular white sugar is fine too) with one teaspoon cinnamon. Sprinkle over the top of the bread. Bake for approximately one hour or until a toothpick  poked in the center of the bread comes out clean.