Things That Are Smooth: Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge

Rose petals

Here’s my entry for Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge: Things That Are Smooth. As a recent lucky recipient of some roses, I enjoyed their look, scent, and the soft smoothness of the petals.

Different colors of fiestaware

This image shows some of my everyday dishes, which are Fiestaware. Besides the beautiful range of available colors, I love the feel of these dishes–smooth and heavy, they are sturdy and don’t chip very easily. Plus, I love Fiestaware because it’s an American classic. It’s been around since the 1930s, it’s widely available today, and the manufacturer, Homer Laughlin China Company, started in 1871. I would love to visit them someday in Newell, West Virginia, for a factory tour and a look around the company museum and store.

With help from The Bread Kitchen's video, I did a 5-strand braid!

This was my first attempt at making my own challah. I love working with bread dough, and often find that “kneading until smooth” turns out to be quite a lot of work indeed.

golden delicious, pinata, granny smith, opal, pink lady, gala apples
From top left, Golden Delicious, Pinata, Granny Smith, Opal, Pink Lady, Gala apples

This collection of smooth apples was part of a tasting that we did at home, when it seemed that the grocery store had too many varieties to keep track of. They were all pretty yummy.

Roasted Squash Soup

Roasted squash and apple soup, with bacon garnish

I made another soup this week, using roasted squash and apples. The result was a creamy soup that warmed the kitchen and the people who ate it. Once in the bowl, it ended up looking very similar to my carrot soup from Sunday. Luckily I had the bacon for garnish this time.

I started by roasting the squash, then putting through the food mill (because I’m fussy, but you can probably omit this step), cooking the onions/garlic/apples in a pot, adding stock and squash puree, then blending it all together.

Red kuri squash and long pie pumpkin, roasted
Sweet red kuri squash on the left and mild long pie pumpkin on the right

This recipe will easily adjust to whatever quantities of ingredients you happen to have. Just keep tasting as you go, so you can get the right balance of flavors that works for you.

Ingredients

  • Squash, about 5-6 lbs. I used one red kuri squash and one long pie pumpkin
  • 1-2 TB oil or butter for frying
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 apples, chopped
  • 3-4 cups stock or broth, depending on how thick or thin you like the soup to be. I used a combo of turkey stock and chicken broth (so I could finish an open carton that I had)
  • Grated fresh ginger or powdered, 1 tsp or to taste
  • Thyme, parsley, salt & pepper
  • Cayenne gives it a nice flavor boost, a dash or two to taste

Method

  1. Cut squash into large chunks, remove seeds and rub with coconut oil, olive oil, or butter.
  2. Roast the squash on 375° for an hour or until tender.
  3. Scoop squash out of skin and put through a food mill to remove stringy parts (this is probably unnecessary because it will be blended, but I like a very smooth soup so I do this extra step)
  4. Sauté garlic, onion, apples, and seasonings in a large pot with oil.
  5. Add some broth and simmer until everything is soft and cooked through.
  6. Add squash and season if needed.
  7. Working in batches, purée soup in blender (or use immersion blender), adding more stock if needed. The consistency is up to you–it can be thicker or thinner. You could even leave some chunks, if you like.
  8. Return everything to the pot, check once more for desired thickness and taste, adjusting broth and seasoning as needed.
  9. Enjoy!

Apple Blossoms, Pink and White

apple blossoms

What I love about these apple blossoms are the different shades of pink that you can see by looking in just one small area. The buds are darker and brighter, and some blossoms are streaked with various soft shades and some are all white. From a distance, you don’t notice any pink, and a row of apple trees in bloom looks simply white. What a nice surprise when you take a closer look.

apple blossoms

Canning Apple Butter and Making Gingerbread

three ball jars of apple butter
Three pints of apple butter

In the fall I tried canning for the first time. One of my projects was apple butter.

Apple butter that I made and canned
Extra apple butter that didn’t fit in the jars

I like apple butter, but maybe not so much that I needed to can three pints of it. It’s nice to spread on toast, but I prefer cherry or apricot preserves. So I decided to try using it in baking, and found this recipe for Apple Butter Gingerbread Loaf (I didn’t bother with the flavored cream cheese).

three mini loaves apple butter spice cake
Three mini loaves

The recipe was OK, but a bit too spicy for me (I can’t believe I’m saying that but it’s true). I think the amount of spice you add to the bread depends on the strength of the flavor of your apple butter, and mine was quite heavy handed with the delicious fall flavors of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and  clove. But, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and for me this was too much. If I make this again I will dial down the spices in the loaf.

I also thought the texture was a bit off: kind of light and squishy like angel food, not “bready” enough. I wanted it to have more of a solid, quick bread feel.

apple butter gingerbread
I liked the gingerbread warmed and topped with maple whipped cream. (Whip some heavy cream with a bit of maple syrup to sweeten)

I might make it again but will probably try some other recipes too. For now I’m using the apple butter here and there, adding a tablespoon or two to other baked goods just for flavor. And occasionally on toast.

I had planned to post this back in October, but, better late than never.

Apple Tasting featuring Opal and Pinata

golden delicious, pinata, granny smith, opal, pink lady, gala apples
From top left, Golden Delicious, Pinata, Granny Smith, Opal, Pink Lady, Gala apples

Feeling bored with the grocery store’s produce section the other day, I looked around for something to spice up the monotony of winter food shopping. I noticed a surprisingly large variety of apples available, including two that were new to me: the bright yellow Opal and one promising a “tropical twist,” the Pinata. I thought an apple tasting would be fun for the family.

I grabbed a few familiar flavors as a control group (Gala, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith) as well as a Pink Lady, because, well, they’re yummy too and the price was good. I also wanted the Golden Delicious and Granny Smith to compare their color to the garish yellow of the Opal. Without looking at Opals next to something familiar, it’s hard to understand how freakishly yellow they are. At first glance, I was a little thrown off by the color. I thought, “What did they do to get it so yellow? Is it GMO?” But, I’m happy to learn that it’s all natural, in fact, it’s the first US apple variety to carry a label from the Non-GMO Project verifying its status as non-GMO.

Notes:

The Opal had a good crunch, much sturdier than a Golden Delicious, which can be mealy at times. The flavor was pleasantly sweet and mild. I didn’t pick up much tang, but then again I was comparing them to Pink Lady and Granny Smith, so perhaps on its own it has a little bit of tanginess. I learned that these apples resist oxidation after cutting, so they will not turn brown as quickly as other varieties, according to the Opal apple website.

The Pinata was also crunchy and firm. I tasted some slight orange flavors, while my husband tasted pineapple and kiwi. The kids gave it a thumbs up. This was probably our favorite apple of the day. The Pinata apple website says it is a cross between Golden Delicious, Cox’s Orange Pippin, and Duchess of Oldenburg. I’ve never heard of the latter two, but as the Pinata was developed in Germany, those varieties may only be available in Europe.

The apple tasting was fun. I think Pinata could easily be my family’s new favorite apple, for as long as it’s available. Pink Lady, which we all enjoy, is sweet and mildly tart, but not often easy to find in stores. Granny Smiths are too tart for me, but everyone else likes them. My go-to apple is Gala, and I think I’m the only one who likes Golden Delicious.

What’s your favorite apple? What unique or new variety have you tried?

Strawberry Picking at the Farm

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to go strawberry picking at a nearby farm. The weather was beautiful, the kids were in a good mood (for the most part), and things were just about perfect.

two pints of strawberries
Picked our own strawberries

My dad always loved strawberry picking, and my siblings and I spent many our Saturday mornings in June wandering through the strawberry patch of a local farm. If we were grumpy about having to leave our precious Saturday morning cartoons behind, we would forget it by the time we rode back home, returning with stained clothes, hands, and faces.

red and green strawberries growing
Some for today, some for tomorrow

My kids seemed to have fun. I hope they grow up to enjoy stuff like this and to appreciate what it means to get such fresh food. I suppose I took it for granted at the time but now can see how special it was to do that as a kid. It’s still special to do now.

a pint of strawberries in the sunshine
They were small but sweet

In the background are some apple trees. Picking apples was another tradition in our household growing up, and I still love to do that, too.

strawberry plants and apple trees
Strawberries in front, apples in the back

In just a few months, we’ll be eating fresh apples. I’ll come back for these guys when the time is right.

tiny apples growing
See you in September, baby apples!

Here are some of the farm’s peony bushes. I am still enjoying my bouquet that I brought home.

peony bushes
Peonies line the fences at the entrance to the farm.

I love the light pink and the white flowers. The dark pink is beautiful also, but I think the white is my current favorite. Probably because we didn’t have white ones at my parents’ house. They had several bushes of dark pink, with maybe one or two light pink plants.

white peonies
The mysterious white peony

So, I guess the white seems the most rare to me, followed by the light and dark pink. But no need to split hairs, I love them all!