Fun Food Fact—Apple Cider vs Apple Juice

Apple juice and apple cider are equally delicious beverages made from apples, but the two are very different. Both apple cider and apple juice are made by cutting and grinding apples into a puree that is a similar consistency to applesauce. The puree is wrapped in cloth and put on racks in layers. A press then squeezes the racks and the fluids flow into refrigerated tanks.

Apple cider does not undergo any additional processing and is bottled immediately. The residual pulp is what gives cider that cloudy appearance. Cider does not typically have any sugar added. With apple juice, the fluid is filtered to remove any solid particles and is pasteurized so that it stays fresh longer. Often times sugar is added to apple juice to help sweeten it.

Note: For a festive holiday treat add a splash of Torani Classic Caramel Syrup to a hot cup of cider. Snuggle up and enjoy! 

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Recipe—Cranberry Orange Sauce

What’s Thanksgiving without the cranberry sauce? Out of all the traditional holiday sides, cranberry sauce is by far one of my favorites. It is a must have! This recipe is the perfect balance of sweet and tangy. The inclusion of orange and lime sets off the tangy flavor of the cranberries really well. Not only is this fantastic with turkey, but it is also great with cream cheese on a toasted bagel. After you try this you will say sayonara to that canned stuff!

Note: I recommend making this recipe at least 6 hours before serving. I typically do it the day before. It allows the sauce to thicken and set. If you would like to preserve this, spoon into sterilized jars, cover tightly, and refrigerate. This will last up to one month.

INGREDIENTS
2 c sugar
1 orange, juice and zest of
1 lime, juice and zest of
1/4 c cider vinegar
1/4 c red wine
1/2 c dried cranberries
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/2 c fresh cranberries
1/4 c Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

STEPS

  • Combine sugar, zests, juices, vinegar, wine, dried cranberries, and the cinnamon stick in a pot.
  • Cook over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves, stirring constantly.
  • Bring to a boil and let boil for 3 minutes.
  • Fold in fresh cranberries and orange liqueur.
  • Simmer and stir occasionally until most of the cranberries break open (approximately 15 minutes).
  • Remove from heat and allow sauce to cool.
  • Dispose the cinnamon stick and transfer to your serving dish.
  • Place in the refrigerator and keep chilled until ready to serve.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Recipe—Apple Pie Bites

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is the sweet aroma of fresh baked pies wafting through the house. These apple pie bites are so delicious and easy that you will be making them year round. You know the saying “easy as pie,” well these are easier than pie. They take about 10–15 minutes to assemble and 14–18 minutes to bake. Serve up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and oh my goodness! They are delish! I baked them for my son’s fall harvest festival at school and they were much less cumbersome to serve and eat than an actual pie.

Note: Allow pie crusts to sit for 10 minutes before using. They will be much easier to work with. I use parchment paper on my cookie sheet to help with easy clean up. The melted sugar can caramelize and get messy.

INGREDIENTS
1/2 c sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 package refrigerated pie crusts (15 oz)
3 tbsp melted butter
2 apples, each cut into 8 wedges

STEPS

  • Preheat oven to 425º.
  • In a small bowl mix sugar and cinnamon, set aside 2 tbsp.
  • Unroll both sheets of pie crust on a large cutting board.
  • Brush the pie crusts with 2 tbsp of the melted butter, leaving some to brush over the top.
  • Evenly sprinkle the pie crusts with the sugar mixture.
  • Cut each sheet into 8 triangular strips approximately 8 inches long.
  • Wrap a strip around each apple wedge with the sugar side of the crust against the apple starting with the wide end.
  • Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper as you finish each one.
  • Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tbsp of sugar mixture.
  • Bake at 425º for 14–18 minutes or until golden brown on top.
  • Serve warm and enjoy!

Recipe—Marinara Sauce

Marinara sauce tossed with spaghetti and meatballs and topped with parmesan cheese

Marinara sauce tossed with spaghetti and meatballs and topped with parmesan cheese

Who doesn’t love a big bowl of pasta smothered in a thick flavorful marinara sauce? It certainly is always a big hit in our household. I find jarred pasta sauces to be far too sweet for my liking. After trying this marinara recipe you will never again want a jar of Prego. I typically double the recipe and freeze it for future use. I’m sure canning it would be great also. This recipe makes a fantastic sauce to be used on homemade pizzas, over chicken parmigiana, paired up with your favorite pasta, or even as a dipping sauce.

Here’s a little history for you. Marinara sauce is the term for a simple tomato sauce cooked with herbs. It dates back to Italy as far back as 1550. The name loosely translates to “sailor-style” sauce in Italian. One theory for the name was because marinara could easily be prepared on ships. Due to the high acid content from the tomatoes, and the absence of meat, the sauce did not spoil easily, making it ideal for those at sea before refrigeration techniques existed. The other theory on the origins of the sauce is that the wives of sailors developed it. Marinara could be prepared quickly once the wives caught a glimpse of the ships offshore, making it possible to serve their husbands a hot meal as soon as they returned home, often serving it with the sailors fresh catch.

Note: For some extra veggies I occasionally add in some chopped mushrooms and green bell peppers when cooking the onion. If you would like to make a rich meat sauce brown 1 lb ground beef and 1 lb Italian sausage with your onion and garlic, and follow the rest of the recipe as usual. The meat sauce is killer in lasagna! (Lasagna recipe coming soon)

INGREDIENTS
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp dried parsley flakes
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried basil
2 (14 1/2 oz) cans diced tomatoes
3 (14 1/2 oz) cans tomato sauce
1 tsp red pepper flakes

STEPS

  • Brown onions and garlic in olive oil.
  • Add remaining ingredients.
  • Bring to a boil.
  • Add water until sauce reaches desired consistency. I typically add about a 1/2 cup. Feel free to add more water as it cooks.
  • Keep in mind that it will thicken up quite a bit as it simmers.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer for one hour.

Mangia!

Recipe—Zucchini “Pasta” with Basil Cream Sauce

In this recipe the zucchini replaces the noodle in what I would consider a flavorful spinoff of pasta alfredo. I have served it with just garlic bread but it also goes great with a grilled chicken breast for some added protein. The most time consuming part is slicing up the zucchini and carrots, once you get that done the meal comes together really quickly. To get a jumpstart on dinner cut up your vegetables the night before or in the morning and this dinner will take you less than 10 minutes.

INGREDIENTS
3/4 c chicken broth
1/2 c white wine (If not available substitute additional broth.)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 large carrot cut into julienne strips
2 large zucchini, cut into 1/8” strips
2 yellow squash, cut into 1/8” strips
1 tbsp fresh basil, minced
1/4 c parmesean cheese, grated
1/4 c mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 c half and half
salt and pepper to taste

STEPS

  • In a large skillet bring stock, wine, and cayenne pepper to a boil over high heat.
  • Add zucchini and carrot, cover and cook until tender, about 3–4 minutes.
  • Drain off most of the liquid.
  • Add remaining ingredients to skillet and toss together. 
  • Cook just until the half and half comes to a boil and the cheese is melted.
  • Garnish with a fresh basil sprig and serve immediately. 

Kitchen Tip—Olive Oil

Olive oil is something that I cook with on a daily basis. Yesterday I discovered that I don’t know nearly as much as I thought about this wonderful ingredient. Did you know that extra virgin olive oil is not the best type of olive oil to cook with? I thought I would share some of my findings with you.

Today olive oil is primarily produced in Spain, Italy, and Greece. Together these three countries produce more than 70 percent of the world’s olive oil supply. The flavor of the olive oil can vary dramatically depending on the source, the variety of olive, the soil conditions, weather, etc., just like wine. Olive oil is produced by grinding olives and extracting the oil by mechanical or chemical means.

Olive oil for consumption is broken down in to four categories, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), virgin olive oil, pure olive oil, and lite olive oil. You should have at least one bottle of each in your kitchen as they are all intended to be used very differently.

  • EVOO is the most flavorful and considered the finest. The word “virgin” indicates that the olives have been pressed to extract the oil; no heat or chemicals have been used during the extraction process. The flavor of EVOO is best when uncompromised by heat. It is intended to be used in salad dressings, marinades, or to finish off a dish. For example, drizzle it over your caprese salad, bruscetta, or pasta. Note: Look for bottles that say “cold press” on the label. If it’s not cold-pressed, the heat from the extraction process changes the chemistry and quality of the olive oil.
  • Virgin olive oil is perfect for garnishing and is great hot or cold. It’s essentially a low grade EVOO with a more mild flavor.
  • Pure olive oil is intended for your every day cooking. It has a mild flavor and is perfect for anything cooked over heat. It is actually a blended oil product of refined pomace oil and virgin olive oil. Pomace is produced by processing the leftovers of the virgin olive oil.
  • Lite olive oil is the least flavorful of the olive oils. It is not lower in fat as one might assume. It can withstand heat up to 470º and has a high smoke point. This makes it ideal for frying and baking as it can withstand high temperature cooking and the flavor is not compromised.

Regardless of the type of olive oil you use, be sure to find one with a green tint to it, not yellow. Good quality olive oils should appear green in color.

To delay spoilage of olive oil, be sure to store it in a cool dark place.

Use this chart to convert the quantity of butter called for in a recipe to the required quantity of olive oil for easy substitutions.

Conversion table

Recipe—Harvest Corn Chowder

Harvest Corn Chowder

What is better than a bowl of steaming hot homemade soup on a cold fall day? This recipe is one of my all time favorites. It is a hearty corn chowder packed with fresh veggies. I made it over the weekend and was surprised that it was even a big hit with my 21-month-old son.

If you have room in the freezer consider doubling the recipe and freezing some for quick meals to enjoy later. (Just be sure you have a large enough pot.) I put leftovers in both small and large containers. The small containers are a perfect size to take to work for a quick lunch and the larger sizes are convenient for a quick family dinner. Dinner could be ready in as little as 10 minutes and you hardly have to lift a ladle. To round out the meal add a grilled cheese sandwich or some fresh rolls.

Note: For a healthy alternative cut out the bacon and replace the half and half with non-fat milk.

INGREDIENTS
6–8 slices of thick cut bacon chopped
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 small yellow onion chopped
2 tbsp butter
5-6 large ears of corn cut off the cob (or a 16 oz bag of frozen corn)
2 medium zucchini chopped
2 large potatoes chopped
1/2 red bell pepper seeded and chopped
2 bay leaves
leaves from 5 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp paprika (add a couple dashes of cayenne pepper too if you like a little extra punch)
salt and pepper to taste (I use about 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp pepper)
5 tbsp flour
5 c chicken stock
2 1/2 c half and half
1/2 c fresh flat leaf parsley chopped

STEPS

  • In a large soup pot, cook the chopped bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Drain off the majority of the fat.
  • Add in garlic, onion, and butter. Cook until the onion is tender.
  • Add in the corn, zucchini, potatoes, and bell pepper, stirring well between each ingredient added.
  • Add the bay leaves, thyme, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Cook for 8–10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the veggies begin to soften.
  • Sprinkle the flour around the pot and mix for one minute.
  • Stir in the chicken stock and bring it to a boil.
  • After it thickens up a bit, stir in the half and half.
  • Simmer for 10–15 minutes stirring occasionally.
  • Add in the chopped parsley and allow the chowder to simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and be sure to discard the bay leaves. 

Enjoy!

Recipe—Cheesecake

Cheesecake with a chocolate crust topped with Ghiradelli chocolate shavings

With the holidays quickly approaching I thought what better recipe to post than one for cheesecake. Everyone needs a straightforward cheesecake recipe and this is mine.

Note: I recommend using a 10″ spring form pan but you can also use a 9″ x 13″ pyrex or two 9″ pie dishes. 

STEP 1: CRUST
2 c graham crackers or chocolate wafers crumbled
1/2 c butter, melted
2/3 c sugar

  • Mix ingredients together.
  • Press into bottom of pan (and up sides if using a pyrex or pie dishes) using the back side of a large spoon or rubber spatula.

STEP 2: FILLING
2 lbs cream cheese
1 c sugar
6 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

  • Preheat oven to 350º.
  • Mix well and carefully pour over graham cracker crust. (Be sure you leave plenty of room for your topping if using pie dishes. I usually fill a pie dish about 2/3 of the way.)
  • Bake in oven for 30–40 minutes.
  • Allow to cool and do not cover.

STEP 3: TOPPING
2 pints sour cream
½ c sugar
2 tsp vanilla

  • Preheat oven to 375º.
  • Mix ingredients well and pour over cooled cake.
  • Bake at 375º for 10–15 minutes.
  • Allow cheesecake to cool completely and then place in refrigerator.

 Note: This is also great with scrumptious toppings. Cherry pie filling, fresh strawberries, or shaved Ghiradelli chocolate are my favorite.