Hurricane Survival Candy

Dearest Hurricane Sandy: way to mess up a perfectly good week.

Instead of drinking hot cider, eating an obscene number of FUN-SIZE candy bars and watching Hocus Pocus until my brain reached the consistency of wet bread, I spent most of this last week watching the news. As if the inundation with smear campaigns wasn’t enough; I’m watching the Weather Channel. I hate that about you, Sandy.

I try my best to look on the bright side of things—past the generator that’s still running my parents’ refrigerator from the garage, the houses that are in the middle of highways and the lives that are turned completely upside-down. I had two extra days off and a bottle of red I most definitely deserved (a 70 hr work week does that to a girl).

With the risk of losing power at any moment, I cooked everything that required heat from our electric stove or would be ruined if left without refrigeration. Drinking an excessive amount of coffee helped get me through the milk. “Garbage eggs” accounted for all dead and dying vegetables living in the dark places on the bottom shelf. Chicken and dumplings took care of a frozen bird, some old carrots, potatoes, lemons and the remains of a bottle of white wine I believed to be long dead.

The problem: while we had some great meals to look forward to, we lacked snacks. It was raining far too hard to venture out for anything crunchy and the few pieces of candy we had were still alive for a reason—without naming names, I’ll say that waxy milk chocolate is not my thing. No amount of rainy day boozing would get me to that point…

I started digging and found some chocolate chips. With only butter in house, I couldn’t make myself make cookies but hatched a plan when I found the hidden emergency Oreos, cream cheese and some Triple Sec (we have 3 bottles for some reason). I love the bittery sweet flavor of triple sec because its gives the full flavor of orange without tasting synthetic like some liqueurs can. Plus, together orange and chocolate can do no wrong.

So, I failed miserably at my first attempt to make Oreo chocolate truffles. Apparently chocolate is a touchy substance that does not like liquid. When water, or in this case some delicious orange flavored Dekuyper, came in contact with melted chocolate, the chocolate actually freaked out. Seizing, as it’s called, can’t really be solved but the chocolate can be repurposed. So I tossed the Oreo idea and salvaged the lumpy chocolate with more triple sec and heavy cream to form a ganache. When chilled, rolled and dipped into more melted chocolate – which I was very careful to keep clear of all liquids and liquors—I managed to make some pretty amazing truffles.

So, thank you Sandy, for giving me the time to look around my cupboards, get covered in dark chocolate and have a great reason to log some extra miles as soon as it stopped raining. I love running in the cold anyway…

Sandy’s Triple Sec Truffles

  • 2 C Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
  • ½ C Heavy Whipping Cream
  • ¼ C Triple Sec
  • 1 C Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips
  • Toppings!

I’ve seen some folks start with the chocolate chips in a regular bowl, but I found that the ganache formed easier with a little heat (maybe it’s cold in my apt?)—so I put my chocolate chips in a double boiler set to low. In a small sauce pan, bring heavy cream to a boil. Add triple sec. Pour cream mixture over chocolate chips and let sit for about 2 minutes. Slowly stir the mixture until smooth and shiny. Refrigerate for about an hour or until hard.

Using a spoon or melon baller, scoop out hardened chocolate and form into balls. The chocolate will melt in the warmth of your hands, so don’t mess around with them too much. I kept mine on a plate over ice to keep them cool. Once all of the ganache balls are formed, place in freezer. Melt remaining chocolate chips in a double boiler over medium heat. Once melted, drop heat to low or turn off completely to avoid burning chocolate. Be careful to avoid any water vapors or condensation from getting anywhere near the chocolate.

Prep cookie sheet with foil or parchment. If you have fondue forks, this is a great place to use them. If not regular forks, spoons or corn picks work great for rolling the ganache balls in the melted chocolate. Roll them one at a time and place on tray to dry. I rolled mine in some toppings—salted caramel hot chocolate mix, peppermint hot chocolate mix (W&S fix), and Himalayan pink sea salt—to mix things up a bit. Orange zest, flavored sugars and cocoa powder work great, too! Store in a cool, dry hiding place.

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Booze for Thought: Dessert Vodkas

It’s completely normal to spend a decent part of a Sunday afternoon in the liquor store, wandering dreamily down the aisles, considering every bottle that catches a glint of sunlight and tosses a come hither look my way…right?

Some would say I’m like a kid in a candy store. They really don’t know how right they are…

The number of whipped cream, marshmallow, caramel, bubblegum and s’mores flavored bottles there are in existence is pretty amazing. Dessert vodkas have been steadily increasing their shelf space since Pinnacle was introduced to the market in 2009. I never paid them much attention especially after seeing quite a few of these sweet spirits crust over on the bar shelves where I used to work — where one bottle lived for over a year—but after seeing the shelves today, I’m wondering why are there so many?

There’s something inherently wrong about infusing liquor with children’s snack flavors. Artificial flavoring (because there is definitely not a piece of cookie dough infusing flavor in those blue bottles), and steering under-agers to drink aside, I worry about any drink that doesn’t taste like alcohol is involved. These types of liquors will almost always be mixed with a concoction of juices or soda and before you know it, heywhahappened?! you’re wasted. The hangover to follow might make you wish for death. There’s just no reason to do that.

More importantly than that is that the experience of the flavors is removed. There’s no texture battle between the layers of sweet pastry and rich frosting. There’s no fruit filling or little bits of wax from birthday candles that burned too long. You don’t get to search out the perfect stick to roast that marshmallow or try to avoid hitting anyone when it bursts into flames and you’re trying to put it out in the most laughable way possible. You didn’t have to stick your thumb in half the contents of Russell Stover’s Holiday Pack to find what you were looking for.

Oh, and remember this scene? It’s exactly why I won’t walk down the liquid dessert path. Thanks for the warning, Willy…

There’s something to be said for simple pleasures. Creating a memory around a set of flavors instead of forgetting everything because of them seems like the better route. Expect to see me cook with some of these puppies — can’t tell me salted caramel won’t make a killer icing — but I’m not sure they’ll ever see my cocktail shaker.

I do love my sweets though but for me Frangelico, Domaine de Canton and Limoncello are just enough…

It’s Pumpkin Season…

There is a time and place for every beer. Like seasonal produce, beers appear as the weather changes to match up with the early sunsets, hay rides and naked tree branches that come every fall. But let’s face it: even with fantastic Oktoberfest specials, Harvest ales, and ESBs (Extra Special Bitters)—we all know its pumpkin season.

Breads, pies, cakes, cookies, candles, seeds, soups—you name it. For the next few months, everything will be inundated with the sweet, orange richness of everyone’s favorite squash. With spices like ground ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and allspice dancing through the fall brews in different proportions, pumpkin beers replace dessert with the liquid version of pumpkin pie.

After some kick-ass pumpkin pancakes, I developed a taste for pumpkin in the morning. Naturally, I want my pumpkin (beer) for breakfast. Starting a day off with the best fall has to offer helps ward away the 9-5 blues.

Breakfast beer poses significant issues for most—especially on weekdays when getting to work sober is more than a bit important. There’s something about having an adult beverage before heading out in the AM that is (understandably) socially unacceptable. Though I’m not sure many people could tell the difference between my beer buzz and my coffee buzz, I’m not looking to find out any time soon. But–of course there is a but–if beer is added to a recipe that’s cooked, it will lose most of its punch.

Most pumpkin beers will range from 4-7% ABV (Check out Beer Advocate for some great notes on loads of Pumpkin Beers), and when simmered for 30 minutes, according to this 2003 study by the USDA’s Nutrient Data Laboratory, only 35% of the alcohol will remain. So even with a stronger beer as an ingredient, that’s nowhere near enough to do any real damage.

I sat down with a pumpkin bottle and a can of pumpkin puree for about an hour to chat about how they could help me have a lovely, pumpkin filled breakfast experience. My beer of choice was the Schlafly Pumpkin Ale for its sweetness and well-rounded spice without going overboard on the nutmeg like some others. It’s a great representative of what a pumpkin beer should taste like. The canned pumpkin puree was there for moral support—in case the pumpkin flavor got lost in the mix.

They didn’t say much.

In the end, it came down to me diving into the can of pumpkin, while drinking the beer—same mouthful, very strange—but I came up with this little beauty: an homage to the jars found lining the “shelves” at farmers markets that are increasingly populating the streets of Philadelphia. Was there a sale on street permits, or what?

Schlafly Pumpkin Beer Butter

…your toast will never be the same

  • 1 Can Pumpkin Puree (not pumpkin pie mix…there is a difference)
  • 1 C Schlafly Pumpkin Ale
  • 1 C White Sugar
  • 1 t ground ginger
  • 2 t cinnamon
  • 1 t nutmeg
  • 2-3 dashes cayenne pepper

Combine pumpkin, beer, sugar and spices in a saucepan and stir well. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes –the mixture will be thickened in the end. Be sure to stir frequently.

Chill in the refrigerator before serving. Great on toast when you’re running out the door and (almost) late for work every day!

Bloody Genius, BloodyMary!

Even though I was the kid who rinsed off hot wings (yes, in the sink), I find myself loving spice lately. There’s just something really cleansing about the eye watering, nose running and deep belly fire that’s better than Bikram in August for a good full body rinse.

Spice helps raises metabolism, rids the body of toxins, clears out sinuses, and lowers blood pressure among other things. The fact that we inadvertently take in all kinds of toxins on a daily basis is a good reason to get rid of a few here and there.  Spicy foods like hot peppers actually help to dilate (open up) blood vessels and increase blood flow. Better blood flow = less crap. Less crap, happier body.

After a long, fuzzy weekend of purposeful toxin guzzling, I need as much blood flow as possible.

While the truly perfect solution has always involved chewing (read: cheese omelet with mustard, greasy hash browns and dry wheat toast and about 2 gallons of water), sometimes food is not quite what I’m looking for…and not yet what I’m able to manage. To make sitting upright possible, spicy drinks are the secret. They help to hydrate, satiate and get me firing on all cylinders again. If the burning in my stomach can distract from the burning behind my eyes — even better.

The Bloody Mary is the answer.

I hate to admit that I had my first Bloody Mary about a month ago. I wish I knew about this for most of my 20’s as I suffered through many long days of brain-dead zombie-time. I probably deserved that suffering though. Builds character says my dad.

Life is a learning process.

A lot of seasoned vets will tell you extra horse-radish is the way to go—but after seeing horse-radish nearly kill a woman on “1,000 Ways to Die”, I just can’t take the chance any more. After developing what seems like an immunity to the attempts of Tabasco, I knew shit was about to get real. It was time to play with fire.

I’d love to take credit for this gem—but it was Matt who decided to shove 3 of his home-grown what-do-I-do-with-them-now? jalapeños into a bottle of Absolut at the beginning of the summer. The heat emanating from this bottle is the only reason it’s been living here for more than a few weeks.

If it’s survived this long, it might really know something I don’t know…

If you’ve got a long weekend ahead, run out and grab these ingredients–it’ll save your life come Sunday. Promise.

Bloody Genius, Mary!

  • 3/4 C Tomato Juice
  • 1/4 C Jalapeño Infused Vodka*
  • 1 t horse-radish
  • 1/2 t lemon juice
  • 1/8 t Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/8 t Steak Sauce (A-1)
  • 1/8 t Tabasco Sauce
  • 1/8 t Sriracha sauce
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Lemon wedge, lime wedge, Hot Pepper Pickled Asparagus** spears to garnish & take the place of celery as a stirrer

*Quick note on infusing vodka: it’s very easy! You don’t need to use a whole bottle if you don’t want that much jalapeño vodka. Slice up peppers and soak. It will get stronger the longer it sits. 24 hrs. will suffice.

**Quicker note on the Hot Pepper Pickled Asparagus: I used a variation on the recipe found on Food In Jars. Even though she has a great recipe for pickled asparagus, I like the “quick pickle” version. And these are ridiculously good.

So you’ll need to prep those two things in advance if possible. Consider it pre-gaming.

Combine all other ingredients over ice, garnish with lemon, lime and asparagus spears and you’re cured!

StillSpilling!

…I tried to resist the reference. Really, I did.

In the end, I couldn’t get that damn theme song out of my head. It’s too catchy. So, welcome back.

Many things contributed to my hiatus: loss of camera battery charger, starting a new job, drinking my booze instead of cooking with it, living on popsicles because it was too hot to cook inside…all major contributors.

But with a chill in the air, a fridge full of pumpkin beers and these guys living above it, I’m excited to jump back in, share some ideas I’ve been toying with, offer up some new recipes and dig deeper into the world of booze cooking…stay tuned!

Quick Wine Poached Salmon

Since I work pretty long hours and get home well after what some people consider “dinner time”– I get it, Mom. I’m sorry for all of the times I gave you crap for dry chicken and one-pot meals.

At the end of the day: simple is the best option. Finding bread that’s not moldy for a PB&J sandwich at 1am after a 14 hour day is pretty close to nirvana for me these days. When I’m hungry and tired and I just need something to eat so I don’t turn into a gremlin (which I readily admit happens if I don’t eat on a regular basis), I remember to just keep it simple.

And I work from there.

I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve prayed in front of the refrigerator door before. Wishing and willing food to have withstood time, warded off mold, slime and freezer burn is perfectly reasonable, right?

Frozen or dried foods would seem to be the answer but I can’t stand the thought eating my dinner from a plastic tray. Or from the microwave. And I like things that are actually green and taste like what they are supposed to.

So I’ve been grabbing flash frozen, vacuum sealed pieces of wild caught sockeye salmon from the grocery store and packing them away for desperate times. Wild caught fish is never really going to be cheap but it’s definitely tastier than the stuff in a can, will keep for a couple of weeks when going to the fish market is not an option (or you get home after it closes–I do!) and makes me remember why I love salmon in the first place. This isn’t the oily, petal pink crap you might think of when salmon comes to mind. It’s almost red. Like when someone says “that’s not pink, it’s salmon.” It’s really supposed to that dark.

With a little olive oil and a few cloves of crushed garlic, I seared the outside of the fish–careful to not leave any behind when flipping and searched my produce for some citrus only to find that my only lime looked like a kiwi (read: brown and furry and required tongs to get to the trash can).

Knowing that the wine I had planned packed enough punch, I dumped the contents of my glass and the some more from the bottle when that burned off. It was light, very crisp, almost grassy and full of the crazy citrus needed to dampen any fishiness from the fillet. Sauvignon Blanc in general is a great wine to use because it hits all of the light citrusy notes you’d want with fish but I really like the Sea Glass Saugivnon Blanc for poaching  because it’s pretty inexpensive (less than $10) AND it’s delicious. I’m not much of a white wine drinker so finding one that I like is a big step.

My version of simple food is a little different from the pasta dishes I ate as a kid but the heart is still there. It’s quick, clean, healthy and easy.

White Wine Poached Salmon

  • 6 oz Portion of Flash Frozen Sockeye Salmon (Whole Foods/Wegmans/Trader Joes are all awesome)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 3/4 C Sauvignon Blanc
  • Fresh Dill to garnish
  • Mixed baby greens
  • cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 T Italian Salad Dressing

Thaw fish in refrigerator over night (if possible) or thaw under running water (don’t nuke to defrost!!) In large frying pan on med-high, heat oil and garlic for about 1 minute–stirring to prevent garlic from burning. Place fish in pan and cook for about 2 minutes or until beginning to brown. Carefully, flip with a spatula and cook 2 more minutes until brown.

Lower heat, add wine (if you forget to lower the heat, you’ll know why I said to do it), and some dill, cover and cook on medium for about 8 mins or until fish flakes easily when pushed with the side of a fork.

In the meantime, rinse off your lettuce (I like to chop mine and put in a bowl of ice water to let it get crispy, but to each his own), cut up tomatoes and other salad accoutrements and pick your dill. I also like to toss some herbs in with the lettuce (dill, cilantro, mint are great surprise bites) if you have them readily available. Toss lettuce with dressing, top with fish and serve. High protein, low carb, and one dirty pan…nothing better than that!

Not Your Mamas (or Grandma’s) Chocolate Chip Cookies

The first time I baked chocolate chip cookies in my own kitchen with my own pans and ingredients I purchased with my own money, I panicked. I’d gone too far, was instantly way too independent and far from home. Baking cookies was a family thing. Something we did together and only at holidays and there I was on a Tuesday (or whatever day it was) in my crappy little West Philadelphia apartment surrounded by the thick scent of old paint and industrial cleaning products, throwing tradition to the wind and doing it because I needed chocolate.

It was wrong.

But…I really wanted chocolate.

So I reverted to the exact mechanics of Christmas Eve baking in an attempt to make it right—holiday apron tied tight, The Waitresses blaring, I flipped spoonfuls of dough onto the cookie sheet, carefully making sure that I had four blobs across and six blobs down on each tray per my grandmother’s strict training. She always said that if you couldn’t fit 2 dozen cookies on a pan, you were no baker—a sentiment that my mother loved to reiterate if my spoonfuls grew too generous.

When cookies are that small, they break all the laws of baking time and temperature–I must have missed something in the kitchen when it came to making these adjustments. My resulting cookies were black bottomed and stunk of burning chocolate.  

So, I made them bigger. No one was there to smack my hand with a spatula or pinch off the extra dough or tell me I was doing it wrong. And they were better (I’m sorry, Gram). I started messing with other things—chip type, Crisco in place of butter, size of eggs, dark and light brown sugar—until I found a way to make my perfect cookie.

Perfect is really boring, by the way. Dependable and delicious…but boring.

Ruth Wakefield took a chance when she made the first chocolate chip cookie at the Toll House Inn in 1930 and in celebration of National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day (May 15th), I got to baking.

I searched out a substitution for the traditional ingredients from my standard recipe on the yellow chip bag. I’ve had a bottle of ROOT—a Pennsylvania brewed, root beer flavored liquor that dates back to the 1700s—sitting on the top of my refrigerator for about a year collecting dust so I decided to work with that instead of the traditional vanilla that the Toll House calls for. The sweet, herbal combination of birch bark, cinnamon, wintergreen, cardamom with hints of vanilla were the perfect substitution, giving the resulting cookie a taste that was more herbal than sweet vanilla.

It wasn’t quiet enough of the in-your-face Root Beer flavor I was going for, so a little paint brush (new, of course) full of booze painted the top of each cookie was the little extra “oomph” these guys needed.

I’m not a big dunker–milk just isn’t my thing–but a glass of CRW (read: cheap red wine) was the perfect pairing for this late night treat…no need to share with any kids.

Root Beer Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 1/4 C Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 C Crisco
  • 3/4 C white sugar
  • 3/4 C packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 2 t ROOT (+ 2 T for brushing)
  • 12 oz Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Pre-heat oven to 350. Combine flour, salt and baking soda — be sure to stir!–in a bowl and set aside. Cream the Crisco, dark and white sugar until fluffy. (about 1 minute on high).

Add in the eggs and 2t ROOT–beat again on high for about 1 minute until completely incorporated.

Add the dry ingredients into the sugar/Crisco/egg/Root in 4 parts–mixing between each addition until flour is incorporated. Add in chocolate chips — mixing by hand so the chips don’t get annihilated.

Spoon or roll into balls and place onto cookie sheet — allowing space between dough balls for cookies to spread (I do 15 on a sheet). Place in oven for 5 minutes — rotate the pan–and cook for 5 more minutes. *I only do one pan at a time so they cook evenly.

Remove cookie tray from the oven and allow cookies to settle for about 1 minute on the tray before removing (onto a cooling rack if you are so inclined or a kitchen towel).

Once cookies are cool, brush remaining ROOT onto the top of each using a pastry brush (or small, clean paint brush). Put all dishes in sink, pray that someone else does them, pour large glass of red wine and enjoy!!

Tasty Lil Cow Pie

The beauty of working in a restaurant is that I get my days off during the week and I have time to cook instead of foraging in the refrigerator and cabinets. Don’t get me wrong, I still dig around and make things from what I have. The difference is that on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, my dinner won’t be between two pieces of bread.

I stared into the depths of drawers, cupboards and shelves last Wednesday trying to figure out what to do with one steak — it had to feed two people. With not enough vegetables for a stir fry and not enough anything for fajitas, I pulled the single NY strip from the shelf and looked back and forth from it to the smattering of possible partners. “Do we have any potatoes?” I asked my brother without looking up from the refrigerator.

“Did you look in the drawer?” he yelled from the couch.

“…no.”

Sure enough, they were there and along with a sad-looking bag of carrots, I hatched a plan. I’d had a staff meal of shepherd’s pie at work a few weeks before and — while I’m not really keen on lamb — the delivery was genius. The sweet, rich meat, roasted vegetables and gravy all stuck to the whipped mashed potatoes making every bite the perfect bite.

I grabbed the potatoes, peeled and cubed them and put them on the stove to start the mash. With a bag of frozen peas, it was a meal that really began coming together. But what to do about a sauce?

The chef at work used Guinness but we didn’t have any. The beer — with its roasted malt, coffee and bitter chocolate flavor — was the center of the dish. A stout was what I needed. A Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout was what I had. “Hey, Matt–do you think I could use this Chocolate Stout for this?” I asked.

“Um…that’s my dessert beer,” he answered with sadness in his voice “And it’s out of season so I can’t get any morebut if it means you’ll cook and I’ll have food soon, go ahead. If you must.”

Satisfied with the plan, I sliced and browned the meat with some onion and garlic, added in the beer and waited. I leaned in to see if what I was doing was working and my whole face was filled with the sweet swirls of singeing beef, earthy chocolate, and garlic.

“How’s it going in there?”

“I think you’re beer would be pleased with how it’s being sacrificed.”

With meat braising (read: to cook by browning in fat and then slowly cooking in a covered pan with a some liquid), I mashed the potatoes with butter and cream and layered the ingredients in a casserole dish — meat, carrots, peas and potatoes — covered and put in the oven. I pulled the lid off for the final few minutes to get a good crust on the potatoes and to make it look as I’d seen in the weeks before at work.

We dove in to find the meat dissolving to the lightest bite, full of the deep, woody, bittersweet chocolate of the beer. The creamy mashed potatoes held onto the gravy for dear life; the carrots and peas little life boats of respite from the richness.

Matt looked at me in disbelief. You just made this up?

I shrugged. I was hungry, he was hungry and I was afraid the meat was going to go to waste if we didn’t cook it. “Yea?”

You can make stuff up any time you want to, ok?

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout Shepherds Pie

  • 2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 T butter
  • 1/4 C cream
  • 1 8 oz NY Strip Steak, cut into strips
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 1 bottle Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout
  • 1 C Baby Carrots, chopped
  • 1 C Baby Peas

Pre-heat oven to 350.

Peel and cube potatoes. Place in 4 qt. stock pot with enough water to cover them and boil until potato is tender to fork — about 20 mins.

While potatoes are cooking, dice carrots and onions and set aside. Remove large portions of fat from outside of NY Strip. Slice steak into 1/4″ strips. In a frying pan, heat olive oil and garlic on high, stirring to ensure garlic does not burn. Add meat — cooking until lightly browned. Add onion and 1/2 bottle of beer. Cover, cook on low until potatoes are ready.

When potatoes break easily when pierced with a fork, remove from heat and drain. Return potatoes to stock pot and mash until no lumps are visible. Add butter and cream. Beat with electric mixer until smooth.

In casserole dish, layer meat, carrots, peas, the rest of the beer and the potatoes. Cover and cook for 25 minutes. Remove lid and broil for 5 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

*The only sad thing about this dish is that Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is only released in the winter — it’s a bit heavy for the summertime. BUT so is this dish…enjoy!

Apple Jacks Sauce

If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a million times: South Jersey is a great place to grow up. We had the option of going to the ocean, the mountains, open fields, major cities, farms, lakes, zoos, museums–you name it, I day-tripped it and was home in time for dinner.

My parents are both originally from the North East PA so it was important to them that my brothers and I liked to be outside because they grew up outside–climbing trees, getting dirty and hanging my little brother from a make-shift game hoist in my grandmother back yard were all a part of childhood.

My mom loved to take us to the farms just outside of the Pine Barrens to pick blueberries in the spring, corn and tomatoes in the summer and apples in the fall. We’d spill in the front door after a long day of running between the rows of plants, covered in dirt and juice with stomach aches from stuffing our faces with the ripe, fresh fruit and more in bags than we knew what to do with. My mom and I would pick out the best looking specimens to save for fresh snacks and set to work on the rest — peeling and chopping for pies, sauces and jars.

The apple sauce was my favorite.

We only ever picked McIntosh Apples so that’s what made up our sauce — tart, juicy white flesh cooked down to a soft, caramelly brown mellowed with the addition of grated cinnamon sticks, some lemon zest and just a touch of sugar. Since it was a pretty healthy snack, and my mom made it in vats, I ate it to the point of near combustion on more than one occasion.

And I miss it. My sweet tooth craves a taste of fall afternoons long past, when a bad day meant I had too homework or got in trouble for staying too late at the playground.

So I set out to make my own. On the odd side of New Jersey apple season.

Braeburn, Rome, Cripps Pink, Royal Gala, Golden Delicious, Pacific Rose and Fuji all ready for action.

With McIntosh apples not looking so hot, and too many other options to pick just one, I decided to compromise: I bought one of each. Working with Betty Crocker and her guide to Apples-and-Their-Uses, I found a good combination of sweet and slight tart apples that are good in sauces and made a well-balanced mashup.

And while I was slicing and peeling, I remembered that my I used to love buttered noodles, white bread, and I thought that dark chocolate tasted like dirt — my childhood palate was pretty boring. I need spice. Some kick. Some heat.

This stuff needed whiskey.

So instead of water and sugar, I added Jack Daniels…and then a little more. The oaky blend pulled the spice from the cinnamon out of hiding and gave my apple sauce a slap in the face. It was a mouthful of crisp fall evening, a faint fire burning somewhere — it even lingered in my nose the same way.

Apple Jacks Sauce

  • 3 lbs of Apples
  • 1/4 C Jack Daniels Whiskey
  • 1/2 C Water
  • 2 T Cinnamon

Peel, core and slice all apples and place in a large stock pot with water and whiskey. Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring regularly. Add cinnamon. Cover and continue to cook on low heat for another 30-40 minutes.

This is fantastic when served warm over vanilla ice cream or spooned over a pork tenderloin and roasted. Or you can eat it like I do : out of tupperware without even closing the refrigerator.

next to of course pb&j chili i

love you.

The high heat, full mouth fire that burns into my nose and smoulders in my belly warms me to the core and fills me right up. It’s also a meal that requires one pot and very little attention. So, what’s not to love?

The difficult thing with chili is to narrow down exactly what I put in it — it’s a gut-feel kind of meal. Sometimes, I only put one type of kidney bean or only a green pepper instead of an assortment of colors. I have, on occasion, completely forgotten onions. Sometimes, my guts are feeling risky and I add a few more chili peppers.

Oh, the chili peppers.

When I first asked my mom how to make her chili, she rattled off the ingredients and instructions. Meat, onion, chili powder, kidney beans, tomato paste. I was shocked. She used McCormicks Chili Powder. No actual peppers were invited to her pot. Finally, I knew then why toed the line of being a spicy Hamburger Helper with beans. I’d head chili that made me sweat and my stomach burn for days. That’s what I was looking for. So, I took the basics from her recipe to create my own.

My chilis of choice: Guajillo, Chili de Arbol and Chipotle peppers, respectively. The guajillo peppers add a very light touch of sweetness but have a slap-in-the-face of heat once swallowed. Chili de arbol provide more spice up front that fill the entire mouth, give that tongue tingle and burn up into your nose and eyes (in a good way). And the Chipotles — well they just give the whole thing a greatsmoke. The chipotle pepper is really just a smoke dried jalapeno, but the smokiness is bolder than any hotness of the pepper. If you don’t like it really hot, you can split the peppers and remove some or all of the seeds. Taking them out of the pot after a few minutes also helps if you don’t want to sweat.

My gut also tell me that whatever I’m drinking, the chili pot should, too. My favorite addition to a chili pot is a IPA (Dogfish Head 60 Min to be exact) for it’s slight bitterness and lemony notes that slice up some of the spice and pull at the zip from the bell peppers.

I start with ground turkey meat — some fat here is needed, so a 93% lean is what you want — a big stock pot and some olive oil. Once it starts to brown up a bit, in goes about half a bottle of beer, the chilis, and some cayenne powder for good measure. I let them sweat for a bit while I chop (and open) up everything else. A few different types of bell pepper, some onion, kidney beans, diced tomatoes and voila!

Now here’s the only hard part: not diving in right away. The chilis need a while to release all of their oils and get the spice to cook into everything. I add the rest of the beer, cover and drop the heat to low to cook for about an hour until it looks more like it should…might not be so pretty, but its sure to get folks hot and bothered.

Spills Chili

  • 1 lb Ground Turkey, 93% lean
  • 1T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
  • 1 Guajillo Pepper, split down the center, seeds removed if desired
  • 2 Chili de Arbol peppers, split down the center, seeds removed if desired
  • 3 Chipotle peppers, split down the center, seeds removed if desired
  • 2 T Cayenne Powder
  • 1/2 small white onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1 orange bell pepper, diced
  • 1 15.5 oz can dark red kidney beans, drained
  • 1 15.5 oz can cannellini beans
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • Grated chedder cheese to garnish

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil. Add ground turkey. Once almost all meat is browned, add chili peppers, cayenne powder and 1/2 of the beer. Simmer 15 minutes. Add diced onion, bell peppers, kidney beans, cannellini beans (with liquid from can), diced tomatoes and the rest of the beer. Cover and simmer 45-60 minutes or until desired thickness is achieved. Top with cheese and serve.