Apple Hand Pies | Holiday Recipes: Desserts for Non-Bakers

As an Italian, the sweet table at holidays rivals that of our dinner table. I come from a family of bakers and not just average bakers, great bakers. Pie making, pastry wielding bakers. Bakers that make me feel incompetent with a whisk and mixer. In case you haven’t caught on, I’m not a baker. Sure...I can whip out a muffin or two, brownies and easy one-bowl creations. But I hate to measure and I certainly don’t have the patience for butter to soften. Have you noticed that any recipe I’ve shared that uses butter in baking, it’s always melted? Simply put, I don’t have the patience for baking. When I need to make desserts, I want them to be easy and brainless. That’s what inspired me to come up with a few recipes for other people like me this holiday season who are not born bakers and would rather whip up a pot of Coq au Vin than measure out perfectly portioned cupcakes. Starting with these scrumptious Apple Hand Pies that take a shortcut for the hard part…

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National Pumpkin Day! Pumpkin Cinnamon Chip Muffin Recipe

Happy National Pumpkin Day! Happy Friday! Today is a great day because pumpkin day and Friday happened to land on the same day this year. That calls for celebration! Celebration in the form of these super tasty, borderline addictive Pumpkin Cinnamon Chip Muffins. I’m one of those people who believes pumpkin is a year-round flavor but I still love celebrating its abundance in the fall. Especially in the form of baked goods. Considering my love for pumpkin, I was a bit shocked at the lack of pumpkin recipes in the index! Clearly that needs to change, starting with these muffins…

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National Apple Day! Jumbo Apple Cinnamon Muffins | Apple Season Recipes

Happy National Apple Day! I got back from a two-week east coast trip this week and it’s been a whirlwind getting back into a regular routine. Organizing my planner last night, I realized that I have only two free weekends as of right now through the end of the year. Goodbye sleeping in, productive hours of writing, movie nights, delightful Sunday night dinners, and freedom. The last few months of the year are always the craziest as many of you can probably relate to as well. I can’t help but love them anyway. The 31 Nights of Halloween is on the TV every night like clockwork lately...I’m regretting that Sweeney Todd movie night. I just bought a bunch of pumpkins for the front porch too. ..

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Brownies | Pumpkin Recipes

It may be December but I’m not over pumpkin season yet! With this recipe, you won’t be either. While the pumpkin pancakes a few weeks ago were pretty unbeatable, these brownies will cure even the strongest sweet tooth. Moist, dense and satisfying, pumpkin and chocolate come together for an unstoppable combination. Even better, they whip up in one bowl with a handful of ingredients that are most likely already in the pantry. It’s hard for even the most challenged bakers to mess this one up.

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These pumpkin chocolate chip brownies follow a standard blondie recipe with a small twist of pumpkin. While you could just add in the pumpkin pie spice for a subtle pumpkin flavor, adding in canned pumpkin adds depth to the flavor and also keeps these brownies super moist. With that said, trust your gut when you think they’re done. Since the color is different than a typical brownie and there’s extra moisture from the pumpkin, they may not seem like they’re done but they are. Use the toothpick or knife trick where you stick it in the center to see if it comes out clean. If there is a lot of batter, put them back in. If you get a few specks and chocolate, they’re good to go. Also remember that they will continue to cook sitting in the baking dish so if it seems a teeny bit under cooked, turn off the oven and let it sit for a few extra minutes.

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While I love pumpkin season and I will continue to celebrate well through winter...most likely into spring...I’m also looking forward to all the holiday themed dinners, desserts and drinks. I already got my first peppermint mocha and I can promise you it won’t be my last. Tell me in the comments your thoughts on pumpkin and what seasonal flavors you look forward to most.

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Brownies
Ingredients:
¾ cup Butter
¾ cup Brown Sugar
1 Egg
½ tsp. Vanilla
1 cup Flour
½ tsp. Salt
½ tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice
½ cup Canned Pumpkin
1 cup Mini Chocolate Chips

Directions:
1 - Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan, prepare to brown the butter. Melt it over a low heat and slowly swirl for about 8-10 minutes until it turns a rich brown color and has a nutty aroma. You will be swirling for a few minutes without seeing any results until around the six minute mark. Keep the butter moving or it will burn! Set the butter aside to cool once browned.

2 - Once the butter has cooled, add it to a mixing bowl with the brown sugar and mix until smooth. Add in the egg and vanilla, mixing again until smooth. Slowly add in the flour, salt and pumpkin pie spice and mix until just combined. Fold in the pumpkin followed by the chocolate chips.

3 - Add the batter to a greased square baking dish (9x9 inches). Smooth the batter over the top for even cooking throughout the whole batch of brownies. Bake 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool just enough to cut into neatly and serve.

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French Cooking Friday: Croquant Ratatouille & Double The Desserts!

When dinner fits into a large bowl, you know it’s a good one. Today’s main dish from A Kitchen In France boasts a meaty and veggie filled meal perfect for chilly spring days. Slow Cooked Lamb with Croquant Ratatouille is one of those recipes that make the entire house smell incredible all day. It even lingers into the next day making everyone who enters your home hungry and jealous of your professional cooking abilities. The other two dishes we have for you today are desserts. One, a simple fruit and wine combination that is pure culinary sophistication. The other, simple and elegant yet delicious. Take a look and dig in!

MAIN: Slow Cooked Lamb with Croquant Ratatouille
The slow cooked lamb starts on the stove and finishes for a few hours in the oven. It bakes low and slow all day in a broth that has onions, garlic, carrots, herbs and celery. Instead of lamb, I used a pork roast because it was already in the freezer. It turns out a little milder in flavor and less gamey but still delicious. The pork roast (depending on its size) doesn’t need as much time to cook so as you’re checking on it every two hours, be careful not to let it over cook. You’ll end up with a dry, stringy piece of meat.

The Croquant Ratatouille is a delicious mixture of vegetables sauteed on the stove. The vegetables cook in two batches before coming together so everything cooks even. It takes hardly any time to bring this together. The chopping gets a little tedious since the vegetables need to be diced rather than chopped but it’s well worth it. Instead of plating this as a side, I used the Croquant Ratatouille as a bed for the slow cooked pork and spooned some of the liquid from the roast all over the top. It’s such a comforting dish and the leftovers are equally delicious.

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DESSERT #1: Pears a la Medocaine
If you’re not a baker and prefer desserts that are almost impossible to mess up, this one is for you. Start by making the red wine syrup. A few ingredients come together on the stove to a boil. The pears soak for a few minutes before everything gets transferred to a bowl. The pears refrigerate for about 24 hours and your dessert is ready. No cooking, no baking. Just a little boiling and stirring before calling it a day. I used red pears for this treat. I find them a little sweeter than green pears which works well with the dry red wine. A few things to note: make sure the pear is still slightly firm otherwise it will be hard to manage and start to disintegrate in the wine syrup. Second, choose a wine that you’d enjoy drinking. If you don’t like the wine itself, you won’t enjoy the dessert.

DESSERT #2: Apple Tart with Orange Flower Water
For those of you like me who are not particularly confident in their baking abilities, I introduce you to the apple tart. Tart dough is not as temperamental as pie dough making it much easier to throw together. The filling is also simple. Homemade apple sauce and sliced apples layer together for the simplest fruit dessert you’ll ever make. It’s also such an elegant presentation. It’s a great option to bring to parties or serve guests when you don’t want to go overboard.

Catch up on our French Cooking Series HERE. In case you’re new or haven’t had a chance to read about our journey cooking through A Kitchen In France by Mimi Thorrisson, read our very first post HERE

French Cooking Friday: Pumpkin Soup, Flavor-Packed Potatoes, A Galette & More!

It’s been a minute since we posted in our French Cooking series and we hope you missed it because we sure did. There has been plenty of kitchen work lately getting meals created and desserts perfected. While it would be delightful to say that it’s been a breeze, there have been a handful of incidents. Some have caused laughter, others frustration. Regardless, this has become one of my favorite series to date and it’s a little bittersweet that this will be our last leg of posts for it. Fear not though, we have several weeks ahead of French meals...so many that it will actually take us into March! If you’re catching up, read about our venture into A Kitchen in France by Mimi Thorisson and scroll through past posts HERE. Bon appetit!

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STARTER: Pumpkin Soup
Confession, I have two individual containers of this left in the freezer. This soup is so delicious that it’s worth all the hassle to create. What hassle, you ask? This soup requires you to peel and dice a pumpkin. Sure, it sounds simple enough. 45-minutes later you’re just about ready to throw the knife across the room and give up on the pumpkin. Who knew a small pumpkin could yield so much work. A few more ingredients, a little milk and an immersion blender’s magic later, you have a masterpiece. Creamy, sweet and savory soup perfect for winter with a taste of fall.

MAIN COURSE: Quail Grilled Over Grapevines
This dish consists of two things that are impossible to find where I live: quail and grapevines. While I may never be able to taste the flavor Mimi raves about in her book and on her blog that only comes from grilling with grapevines, a girl can dream. Quail, on the other hand, might be more accessible but still not particularly easy to find. This is one of those times when I really want to try a recipe but I need to use a ton of improvisation. So here is how I turned a very French fall meal into a simple dish that you can make regardless of your location.

Original main ingredients: 4 quail, 4 thin slices of pork belly, pancetta or bacon, 4 teaspoons of butter, 4 garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs. My ingredients; 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 4 slices of prosciutto, 4 teaspoons of butter, 4 garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs. Rather than placing the rosemary, butter and garlic inside of the quail, I sliced each chicken breast lengthwise but not all the way through to butterfly it. Inside of the fold, I place the butter and rosemary then wrapped a slice of prosciutto around the chicken to seal the deal. Finally,  I halved the garlic cloves and scattered them around the chicken before placing it in the oven to bake. I’m sure this is a completely different experience from the grilled quail but as baked chicken, this recipe was pretty fantastic.

SIDE DISH: Potatoes a la Lyonnaise
This is officially my favorite potato recipe on the planet. It’s a simple dish but out of this world. Potatoes, onions, parsley and a ton of butter come together for the most satisfying potato side you will ever have the pleasure to eat. It takes a minute to prepare but so worth it. The potatoes are first boiled to soften slightly. Next they are sauteed with salt, pepper and a ton of butter for a nice, fried flavor and texture. Onions are sauteed separately, again in butter, and then mixed together with the potatoes. Finally, the mixture is baked so the tops get a nice little crunch. It’s spectacular. If it weren’t all carbs, I’d eat it as a main course!

DESSERT: Galette Perougienne
A specialty from the small town of Perouges, near Lyon, this bite of heaven is a light, lemony cake. The dough is topped with sugar and butter before baking for a delicious, caramelized crust. It’s less like cake in texture and consistency and more like bread, which I actually believe it is, but the sugar and lemon give it a sweet flavor making it more of a dessert. This is no doubt my favorite dessert so far in A Kitchen In France. I think I ate half all on my own and it’s so simple to make that there’s no reason not to try it. Please, if you’re cooking through this cookbook, do not skip this treat.

Yes, that is a Halloween tablecloth beneath the cake. Seems that when I made this, I intended to write about it closer to Halloween! Whoops :P

Yes, that is a Halloween tablecloth beneath the cake. Seems that when I made this, I intended to write about it closer to Halloween! Whoops :P

Next week, we continue with a very hearty dish that stands strong on its own as well as two desserts perfect for the cold of winter. What have you been eating lately?

Peppermint Chocolate Brownies For Brownie Day!

Happy National Brownie Day! This is one of the best food holidays of the year. Nothing beats a warm fudgey brownie with a cold glass of milk. Am I right? Since we're getting close to Christmas, we went a little more festive with this recipe. I mean, it is a day of celebration. These dense, rich brownies are the perfect finish to any meal and even great for snacking. The peppermint candies throughout the brownies add a little extra touch for Christmas and you know what? They're actually pretty low calorie for a brownie!

I am not a registered nutrition. I don't know how to expertly lighten up recipes. But I do know how to add the ingredients into MyFitnessPal and get the nutrition contents! My friend and I are doing an accountability program together so we only have so many calories we can take in each day. We both wanted a brownie one day and decided to plug it into MyFitnessPal to see how much damage it would actually do. The answer...not much at all! And if you cut each brownie in half, one serving comes out to under 200 calories. Scroll to the bottom of this post for full details on calories, sugar, etc. 

Brownies are a non-baker's dream. They're simple to make and hard to mess up. The biggest challenge is to not eat the batter. This particular recipe uses bittersweet chocolate that needs to be melted down. This is a bit more challenging than just mixing traditional ingredients into the bowl but it's completely worth it. This will give the brownies an extra depth of richness and fudginess that is irresistible. Just be careful while melting the chocolate and butter because it's easy to burn yourself. Fill one saucepan just under halfway with water so it doesn't overflow. Bring it to a boil and turn the heat down to low. Add another saucepan or heat-proof bowl on top of the water and this is where you'll melt your butter and chocolate. Keep it moving so that neither ingredient burns. It will melt pretty quick. 

Serve the brownies as is or garnish them with mini candy canes and broken peppermint pieces. I did a mixture of both so people who might not want to eat the candies can easily take off the whole candy cane rather than a bunch of small pieces. These will make a great addition to your sweets table at Christmas. 

PEPPERMINT CHOCOLATE BROWNIES
Ingredients:
1/4 cup Cocoa Powder
2/3 cup Flour
1/2 Salt
1 stick Butter, melted
4 ounces Bittersweet Chocolate
3/4 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla
1/4 tsp. Peppermint Extract
3 Eggs
1/4 cup Crushed Peppermint Candies

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking dish with butter or cooking spray. 

2. Mix together cocoa powder, flour and salt. Set aside. Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Using another sauce pan or a heat-proof bowl, melt the butter and chocolate over the saucepan with boiling water and stir constantly to prevent burning. Once melted, remove from the heat.

3. To the butter and chocolate mix, add the granulated sugar, brown sugar, vanilla and peppermint extract. Whisk until well-combined. Add eggs one at a time until all of the ingredients are mixed together completely. Using a rubber spatula, add the dry ingredients into the chocolate mixture. Once the batter is smooth, fold in the crushed peppermint candies.

4. Transfer the batter to the baking dish, using the spatula to spread it evenly. Bake 40-45 minutes until a toothpick comes out slightly fudgey. Remove from the pan and cool on a cooling rack. Add peppermint candies on top for garnish and serve.

Yields 9 Large Brownies

Nutritional Information per serving (calculated through MyFitnessPal):
Calories: 346
Total Fat: 15g
Cholesterol: 89mg
Sodium: 235mg
Total Carbohydrate: 46g
Sugars: 35g
Protein: 4g

Celebrating Apple Day! Mini Apple Cinnamon Loaves Recipe

Happy National Apple Day! Bushels of these babies are all over the place and in all kinds of colors as well. They're probably used the most out of any other fruit in baking. The apple pie itself is considered an American staple! I don't have an apple pie recipe for you today but you can check out our recipe for an Apple Cinnamon Galette or you can stick around and try this recipe for Mini Apple Cinnamon Loaves. These delightful treats are easy to make and worth the effort, not that you need much because they're so simple.

In full disclosure, I had one aunt tell me that these weren't sweet enough. I'll admit, I held back on the sugar but in all fairness I didn't want these to be super sweet. If you prefer your quick breads to be sweeter, simply double the sugar measurement and you should be set. Another suggestion would be to add a glaze. I think a vanilla glaze would be delicious or maybe a brown sugar glaze. I used to be intimidated by glazes but they've since turned into my favorite final touch. I'm not a frosting person, I kind of hate it so a glaze is the perfect solution.

Dice the apples fairly small. I'm not super consistent with the size but if you really like a uniform end result, I would recommend making sure they're as similar in size as you can get them. The milk, butter and applesauce ensure these are very moist loaves one thing you don't have to worry about is dry mouth. Michael's sells mini loaf containers that you can bake in the oven which are great for gifts. If you can't find these, using a mini loaf pan will work just as well. Whatever you decide to use, make sure you grease it well. I prefer greasing with butter because it doesn't change the flavor or leave a residue but cooking spray or oil should work just fine as well.

MINI APPLE CINNAMON LOAVES
Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups Flour
1/4 cup Sugar
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1/5 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/4 tsp. Nutmeg
1/2 cup Applesauce
1/4 cup Milk
2 Eggs
1/2 cup Butter, melted
1 tsp. Vanilla
1 cup Apples, peeled and diced

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease loaf pan or baskets with butter or cooking spary.

2. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. 

3. In another bowl, whisk together applesauce, milk, eggs, butter and vanilla until well-combined. Add in apples. 

4. Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix until fully combined. The batter might be slightly lumpy which is ok. It will also be on the thin side which might be alarming but don't worry. They will turn out just fine. Pour the batter about 1/2-1/3 of the way full in the loaf pan or baskets. Bake 35-40 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on a rack.