How can you save money on groceries, save time in your day, and still please the whole family? With a recipe that takes advantage of a cheaper cut of meat by cooking it all day in the crockpot, making for an easy dinner when you get home in the evening.

My oldest son LOVES pork loin, and when he saw a pork loin roast on sale in the paper, he began waving the ad in front of me. “Please, mom, please will you get this?” You’d think I never fed the boy meat, but he is a teen after all, so any meal eaten more than ten minutes before doesn’t count.

I realized at the store that this was a loin roast and not the pork loin that I usually buy on sale. Nonetheless, for $1.78 a pound, I was willing to experiment.

Since this son is gluten-intolerant, I have to adapt many recipes to make them work for our dinner table. In an online search, I found two recipes that sounded great. I took my favorite ingredients from each, eliminated the flour, and a new family hit was created:

Crockpot Brown Sugar Glazed Pork Roast

1 pork loin roast

1c. brown sugar

1 T. Dijon mustard

2 T. apple cider vinegar

2 cloves garlic

1/2 t. chili powder

1 t. salt

1/2 t. black pepper

1/2 t. cumin

1t. cinnamon

Place the pork loin roast in a crockpot. Mix all other ingredients together in a bowl to form a thick paste. Rub it all over the roast, set the crockpot to cook for 8 hours, and you’re done.

In the evening, I cooked up some rice in the rice cooker and heated some vegetables to go with it. The roast in its own juices over the rice was great, but if you like a thicker gravy, you could add some cornstarch or flour just before serving.

If you try it, let me know what your family thinks!

There is nothing better than a bowl of hearty soup on a cold day – and we have a cold day in Tennessee today! It will be down in the single digits tonight, and yet for all the shivering and high heating bills, we don’t get the fun of any snow. Oh well, at least we can enjoy snuggling together and warming up our insides with something yummy!

One of my family’s favorite winter soups is hamburger vegetable soup. The beauty of this soup, besides how easy it is to make, is that you can use whatever vegetables you have on hand and it always turns out great. l always double or triple it so it will last at least an extra day. Give it a try; it may become a family favorite in your house, too!

Hamburger Vegetable Soup

Ingredients:

1-1/2 lbs hamburger meat

1-2 onions

2-3 cloves garlic

1 can tomato puree

1 box ( 4 cups) beef broth

4 cups of vegetables: your choice of carrots, celery, green beans, corn, peas, lima beans, chopped potato

salt, pepper, basil, bay leaf added to taste

Directions:

Brown hamburger meat with onions and garlic. Add tomato puree and beef broth. Bring to a boil and add vegetables. You may need to add more broth or water if you add a lot of vegetables. Simmer for about two hours. Serve with fresh bread or crackers and a salad.

Get out your party hats; it’s time for a celebration! Today is National Bittersweet Chocolate and Almonds Day. I don’t know who came up with that idea, but it seems like a grand excuse to enjoy a delectable dessert. In searching for a yummy recipe to try, I came across one that serves two purposes. First, it contains the required ingredients, bittersweet chocolate and almonds; and second, it is a nearly flourless torte. What is the purpose in finding a flourless torte, you may ask. Well, my oldest son must eat a gluten-free diet and so I am always in search of delicious recipes that are easy to adapt for him. If you’ve never had to deal with a gluten intolerance, let me just tell you that almost everything prepackaged in the grocery store contains gluten or flour in some form or another. Finding gluten-free alternatives for a teenage boy is no small task. So, I was very excited to discover this easy to follow recipe. It contains only three tablespoons of flour, which can easily be substituted with three tablespoons of rice flour. This is a gooey, fudgy cake that goes great with vanilla ice cream. It doesn’t take long to prepare and your friends and family will be impressed! On that note, I am delighted to share a scrumptious recipe for Bittersweet Chocolate and Almond Cake.

Bittersweet Chocolate and Almond Cake

Bon Appétit | May 1999

by Michel Depardon, St.-Rémy, France

yield: Serve 10 to 12


Ingredients

  • 12 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 3 tablespoons cake flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups chilled whipping cream

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Stir chocolate and butter in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until smooth. Cool mixture to lukewarm.

Finely grind 1/2 cup almonds, flour and salt in processor. Using electric mixer, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla in large bowl until thick, about 2 minutes. Fold in almond mixture, then chocolate mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack (center will fall). Press edges down with fork to level top. Cover; refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

Cut around cake; remove pan sides. Beat cream in large bowl to firm peaks. Mound cream atop cake; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup almonds.

Traditions are the glue which helps to hold a family together. Some traditions are based on holidays or seasons, while others are unique to each family, created because of the interests and loves of those particular people. Fall brings both holiday traditions and seasonal memories, often based on the foods that are popular during the season. Today, I took a walk down memory lane thinking of traditions in our family that have grown up around one of the most popular and versatile fall fruits, the apple.

“To appreciate the wild and sharp flavors of these October fruits, it is necessary that you be breathing the sharp October or November air. What is sour in the house a bracing walk makes sweet. Some of these apples might be labeled, “To be eaten in the wind.” It takes a savage or wild taste to appreciate a wild fruit. . . The era of the Wild Apple will soon be past. It is a fruit which will probably become extinct in New England. I fear that he who walks over these fields a century hence will not know the pleasure of knocking off wild apples. Ah, poor soul, there are many pleasures which you will not know! . . . the end of it all will be that we shall be compelled to look for our apples in a barrel.”

– Henry David Thoreau

My kids may not know the pleasure of knocking off wild apples, but they would argue that some of the best tasting apples in the world come from a barrel – provided it is near an apple orchard. They and their grandparents have a lovely fall tradition of going together out to an apple orchard, selecting the best tasting apples they can find, and bringing them home to make homemade applesauce. They wash and cook the apples, feed them through the strainer, add just enough sugar to take out the tartness, and package it all in freezer containers. It is truly a labor of love, and one whose fruits we enjoy for the rest of the year. Fall just wouldn’t be the same without their applesauce making weekend!

My grandmother was a baker – not by profession, but by habit. She was a country woman at heart and she baked a few pies every day whether she needed to or not. I always loved her pies, but I really miss her apple dumplings. To me, they were the ultimate comfort food, and a mighty good breakfast with some milk poured over them! She also participated in making apple butter the old-fashioned way with a group of friends, cooking it all day in a huge black kettle and then canning it for the winter. In her later years, she began making her apple butter in a crockpot. All of the flavor, none of the hassle.

I have carried on the apple butter tradition -the crockpot version, not the Little House on the Prairie version. It takes two days in a crockpot, so plan it on a weekend if you work away from home during the week, but it doesn’t require much effort. I freeze mine in canning jars, but you could freeze it in plastic containers or can it and store it on a shelf. It’s not hard at all, so if you’re looking for a good way to bring home the taste of fall and wow your friends with your domestic abilities, then try this apple butter recipe:

Crockpot Apple Butter
4 c. sugar ( I use brown sugar or succanat)
8 c. cooked apples
1/2 c. vinegar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Wash. peel and slice apples thin. Pack into crockpot until full. Add only enough water to keep from sticking to the bottom. Cook all day, covered on low; that night, add 4 cups of sugar to 8 cups of cooked apples (adjust sugar if less than 8 cups). Add 1/2 cup vinegar; stir well and cook all night, covered on low. The next morning, add spices. Cook, uncovered, on high for 3 hours. Fill jars and freeze them when cooled to room temperature, or fill jars and seal, if canning.
Yummy! Makes great gifts, too!

Nothing says happy kids in fall like caramel apples, so why wait for the fall carnivals to get them? Caramel apples are easy to make and a delightful way to enjoy some of the bountiful fall harvests. Yes, they can be messy when eaten, so for younger kids especially, make them a outdoor treat. You just need some small to medium sized apples, caramel candies, popsicle sticks, and wax paper. Stick the popsicle sticks in the apples, melt the caramels in a saucepan, dip the apples in the caramel, set them on the wax paper, and put them in the fridge for an hour to cool. We made a dozen in about a half and hour this weekend, but nobody wanted to wait a full hour for them to harden. The result: We had a major tug of war battle between the caramel and the wax paper, but those who didn’t mind chewing on a little wax paper still had a scrumptious treat.

What about your family growing up, or your family today? Do you have favorite fall memories or traditions with apples? What new traditions do you want to start? What apple recipes do you love? Please share with us!

I participated in a mystery dinner the other night where each of us brought several ingredients, but only one person knew the secret recipe. We watched in anticipation as each person shared their contribution – rice, chicken, chicken broth – so far, so good. Pineapple, cheese, and black olives? Chow mein noodles, coconut, and green onions? Where in the world did she get this idea? Java, as it turns out. For those of you, like me, who have forgotten our high school geography, Java is an Indonesian island in Southeast Asia. My friend picked up this recipe from a missionary to Java many years ago. Since many Indonesian and Asian dishes are quite spicy, I suspect that this one has been modified for American palates. Though we looked at the table with a bit of hesitance at first, everyone who tried the meal loved it. Apparently, there are meanings to each of the toppings, which I would love to find if anyone knows what they are. The title of the dish, Snow on the Mountain, refers to the coconut which is sprinkled on top. The rest of the toppings, though mysterious in meaning, were quite tasty combined together. If you’re ready for an international meal without a lot of work, give this delicious dish a try:

Snow on the Mountain

1 lb chicken, cooked and cut into bite sized pieces

4 cups cooked white rice

1 cup chicken broth, heated and thickened with 1T. cornstarch

toppings: chow mein noodles, green onions, sliced almonds, black olives, pineapple chunks, shredded cheese, coconut

Put rice on the plates as the base, followed by chicken and the toppings. Pour thickened chicken broth over all and enjoy!

They were calling to me today – zucchini, tomatoes, pumpkins, and corn.  I wandered through the farmer’s market near our house in rapt delight as I passed each booth. Our little farmer’s market is growing, and I was as excited as a kid in a candy store.  There were probably twice as many booths today as there have been, and it was busy even though I arrived later in the morning than usual.  Is it crazy to get excited about fresh produce? Maybe. But the thought of feeding my family well strikes a chord deep within me and brings comfort to my soul in a way that I can’t explain.  It just feels right to buy fresh produce and meat from local small farmers rather than the big box stores.  After all, feeding my family is about much more than just putting food on the table.  As Andi Ashworth shares in her gem of a book Real Love for Real Life, “One of the vital functions of a home is to nourish, both physically and emotionally, the people who dwell there. When the art of cooking is not practiced, more is lost than good food…A tangible sense of well-being comes to rest on a home where someone is bustling about in the kitchen preparing food that will nourish the body and act as a catalyst for conversation.”

In my attempts to better nourish both the bodies and souls of my family, I have also been learning more about the benefits of buying local.  I do buy meat, milk, and eggs from local farmers when I can find it, I grow a small garden in the summer, and take advantage of the available produce at the farmer’s market.  But do I read labels in the grocery store to see how far my food has come?  Not usually. Did you know that, according to a 2005 study in the journal Food Policy, it is better for you and the environment to buy local than to buy organic?  That is because the organic produce often travels so far that the environmental impact outweighs the benefits of it being organic.  We have not one but two fabulous new super-grocery stores opening up within a couple of miles of my house in the next two weeks.  While I know that everything will be visually appealing and tempting, I will challenge myself to read the newly required Country of Origin Labels and do my best to buy local. If I get really wild and crazy, I may take the Eat Local Challenge. Anyone know where to buy Tennessee bananas?

I love my rice cooker. I know you’re not supposed to love inanimate objects, but anything that saves me time, money, and aggravation in the kitchen should be worthy of at least a little affection.  I confess that when rice cookers first appeared on the market, I thought they were one of the biggest money-making, worthless gadgets I had seen.  Why did I need another appliance to take up room in my kitchen when I can boil rice on the stove in a pan that I already own?  Ever had rice turn out as a sticky glob or tried to scrub a pan after you burned the rice on the bottom?  You might fall in love with a rice cooker, too!

Back in the days before we owned a rice cooker, my husband would dutifully eat rice when I fixed it, to set a good example for the kids, of course.  As long as I dressed it up with some type of topping, the whole family would usually eat it. Then came dinner at my sister-in-law’s house.  She pulled out a rice cooker to prepare the meal, and I laughed. But when we sat down to eat, everyone actually loved the rice – without any sauce or gravy on top.  My husband said that he would happily eat rice more often if it tasted like that.  I purchased a rice cooker that very week and I have never regretted it.

Now, there are a few guidelines to achieving perfect rice. Everyone knows about the cheap, short-grain white rice that is readily available in most grocery stores.  Do not buy that stuff. Look for jasmine or basmati rice, also sold in the same section, but much more aromatic and flavorful.  If you like a nutty flavor, look for wild rice.  Do not be fooled by the boxes of rice mixture loaded with sodium, but find a bag or bulk bin of pure wild rice or long grain and wild rice.  Please don’t let the instant rice commericals fool you into thinking that cooking rice from scratch is too difficult or time consuming.  It is much cheaper per serving than packaged rice and it only takes 25 minutes.  Just pour in the rice, pour in the water, turn it on and forget it. If the rest of your meal is not done then, never fear. Your new servant will keep the rice piping hot, ready whenever you are.  And the best part –  no burned pans to scrub!

Rarely does a new recipe meet with rave reviews by all five family members at dinner, but amazingly, last night it happened. And it wasn’t pizza or macaroni and cheese. It was a vegetable. It was healthy, but please don’t tell my kids. The award- winning centerpiece was the lowly butternut squash. Since my own garden has been ravaged by drought and midsummer neglect, all that remains of it are tangles of twisted, dead vines and a few stubborn tomatoes. So, I headed to the farmer’s market last Saturday in hopes of enjoying the fruits of someone else’s summer labors. I came home with, among other things, two butternut squash. The bright orange flesh looked enticing, but what do you actually do with a butternut squash? I did what I always do when faced with an unsolvable dilemma – I googled it! I combined two recipes I found on the internet and came up with a sweet and spicy , flavorful palate -pleaser for kids and adults. The taste of the squash is a cross between a sweet potato and pumpkin, while the spices add the traditional brown sugar taste with a kick. Many thanks to Ina Garten and Fine Cooking Magazine for the original inspiration. My recipe for Spicy Caramelized Butternut Squash is below:

Spicy Caramelized Butternut Squash

2 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

1/2 cup melted butter

1/4 cup brown sugar or succanant

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon each of the following: cumin, coriander, paprika, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, cloves

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450. Spread squash in a shallow baking pan. Combine melted butter, succanat, and spices. Pour mixture over squash and stir until all pieces are coated. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the pieces are soft. Stir once or twice while baking. Enjoy!