12 Days of Cookies and FREE Book Giveaway!

Happy Holiday Season, Everyone!

It’s time to find your aprons, rolling pins, and cookie cutters, because we’re kicking off a 12 Days of Cookies extravaganza! From December 1st – 12th, we’ll feature a new mouthwatering holiday cookie EVERY DAY. To celebrate, we’re offering a Rafflecopter giveaway featuring a free, author signed copy of How to Bake a Chocolate Soufflé. Wouldn’t that make a great Christmas gift for the bookworm on your gift list?

How to Bake a Chocolate Souffle Blue Cover

 

Readers are welcome to enter the giveaway contest EVERY DAY! Please SHARE with fellow bakers. Happy Cookie Baking!

WIN_20151117_163720

 

Top Ten Affordable Kitchen Gadgets (Great Gift Ideas!)

kitchen gadgets

Here you have it – the Crowded Earth Kitchen “Top Ten” list of affordable kitchen gadgets we simply love. There are no status symbols on this list… if you’re looking for a TV show food processor that costs more than many people pay for rent, you’ll need to look some place else.  We’re pretty frugal and low tech around here. Check out the “old standbys” that we use often and highly recommend!

1) CANNING SUPPLIES.  Cooks who learn to preserve food through simple, hot water bath canning save more money than cooks who don’t. Investing in a few basic canning supplies will pay off quickly!

Granite Ware 0718-1 Enamel-on-Steel Canning Kit, 9-Piece

2) A STOCKPOT.  You can get away with saucepans and little one-quart pots when you’re living on ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese, but when you get serious about cooking, you need a stockpot.  Yes, you do.

Excelsteel 16 Quart Stainless Steel Stockpot With Encapsulated Base

3) AN IMMERSION BLENDER. I resisted this for a while, and tried ladling soup back and forth from a stockpot to a standing blender. The first time I burned myself, I stopped being (quite so) cheap and bought an immersion blender.

Conair Cuisinart Smart Stick CSB-75BC 200 Watt 2 Speed Hand Blender (Brushed Chrome)

4) A BUNDT PAN. I don’t have a huge assortment of baking pans, but I do love my Bundt pan. I use it for everything from delicious, light sponge cakes to decadent pecan rolls. The shape looks fancy – anything baked in a Bundt pan makes a great buffet centerpiece!

Cuisinart AMB-95FCP Chef’s Classic Nonstick Bakeware 9-1/2-Inch Fluted Cake Pan

5) A FRENCH PRESS COFFEE MAKER. Best… coffee… ever! Just add coffee grounds and boiling water – this couldn’t be any easier. It works with tea leaves, as well.

SterlingPro French Coffee Press –8 Cup/4 Mug (1 liter, 34 oz), Chrome

6) INDIVIDUAL RAMEKIN DISHES. These are great for serving appetizers and desserts.

Norpro 6 Piece Porcelain Ramekin Set

7) OIL FREE, MICROWAVE POTATO CHIP MAKER. I wouldn’t have believed it if my mother didn’t buy one first to try it out, but this little gadget is amazing! You can make awesome snack chips out of potatoes and other vegetables (sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, you name it) without any added fat. How cool is that?!

Joie Healthy Microwave Potato Chip Maker / Slicer / Cooker (Colors May Very)

8) Silicon Mat for Macarons. After several trips to France, I have developed a borderline obsession with macarons. These silicon mats are perfect for beginners, and are less than $5! Recipes coming soon…

1 X Silicone Macaron macaroon Baking Sheet Mat Muffin DIY Chocolate Cookie Mould Mode – 48 Capacity

9) Ninja Master Prep. This blender is absolutely fabulous, and completely affordable! For approximately $30, this blender will do everything from quickly pureeing soups to effortlessly crushing ice. How cool is that?

Ninja Master Prep (QB900B)

10) 17-Piece Tools and Gadgets Set. Look, Everybody needs these things in their kitchen, especially if they’re just starting out. Whether you need to stir, whisk, ladle, peel, measure, scrape, open, or grate, this set does it all.

KitchenAid Classic 17-piece Tools and Gadget Set (Black)

There you have it… a short list of Crowded Earth Kitchen favorites! What’s your favorite gadget in your kitchen? Feel free to comment below!

Caramel Apple Jelly

caramel apple jellyInstead of spending the holiday weekend shopping, why not spend an afternoon making pretty jars of delicious Caramel Apple Jelly for the loved ones on your gift list? Caramel Apple Jelly takes a bit of time to prepare, but the steps are easy to follow and your kitchen will smell wonderful. As an added bonus, Caramel Apple Jelly is a very economical recipe! Pick up a few bags of apples to make applesauce or a festive German dinner, and save the cores for this recipe. You can always cut the recipe in half, to make 4 jars instead of 8.

Ingredients (makes 8 half-pints)

30 apple cores

3 cups sugar

3 cups brown sugar

6 tablespoons powdered pectin

2 tablespoons loose caramel-flavored tea

picture011Directions

Step 1) Place apple cores and tea in a stockpot and just barely cover with water.

Step 2) Bring stockpot to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

picture014Step 3) Place a strainer in a slightly smaller bowl and line with a tightly woven, clean towel (or several layers of cheesecloth) as shown.  It is important that there is room in the lower bowl, below the bottom of the strainer, for juice to collect!

~

picture031Step 4) Carefully transfer the apple cores and juice into the towel-lined strainer.  Be careful to avoid overflow… you may need to ladle a few cups of juice out of the lower bowl and into a second bowl (for temporary storage) right away.  Be patient, and allow an hour or so for all of the apple juice to collect in the bottom bowl.

Step 5) Combine sugars and pectin.  Set aside.

Step 6) Measure 5 cups of apple juice, and bring to a rolling boil in your stockpot.

Step 7) Add sugar mixture to stockpot and, with constant stirring, return to a rolling boil.  This may take a few minutes.  After a rolling boil has been maintained for one, solid minute, remove caramel apple jelly from heat.

picture042 (2)Step 8) Ladle caramel apple jelly into sterilized, half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Wipe jar rims clean, and top with lids and bands.  Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Enjoy!

Jars of homemade caramel apple jelly make wonderful gifts.  Remember, making jelly is a fun and economical way to make use of fruit cores!

Easy Pumpkin Cream Cheese Pie

WIN_20151118_203406So, you agreed to bake pie for the big dinner this week. You had high hopes of learning to make crust from scratch, complete with fancy edges, a lattice top, and all of the frou-frou that you saw on that gourmet food magazine. Then life intervened and you got busy. Don’t worry. Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we’ve got you covered!

To save time and sanity this holiday week, we’re starting with a store bought, roll-out pie crust. If you’re feeling obligated to make a scratch crust, that’s cool – click on the link above and we’ll walk you through it. But seriously, nobody is going to shun this awesome Pumpkin Cream Cheese Pie because you skipped a few steps with the roll-out crust. I doubt they’ll even know the difference.

Let’s get started!

WIN_20151118_155802Ingredients

1 roll-out pie crust

1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 (15 oz) can pumpkin

1 cup (8 oz) evaporated milk

2 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground mace

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

WIN_20151118_174029Directions

Step 1) Roll pie crust into a glass pie pan. This is easiest when the pie crust has been allowed to rest on a counter top for about 10 minutes before unrolling. If you try to unroll the pie crust right from the fridge, it will crack. If you let it get too warm, it will stick. 10 minutes is just about right!

Step 2) Trim the pie crust even with the edge of the pie pan. Cut little shapes out of the scraps if you wish, to use as a garnish.

Step 3) Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Spread mixture on bottom of pie crust as shown.

Step 4) In a medium size mixing bowl, beat eggs and pumpkin. Add sugar, spices, and salt. Finally, add evaporated milk a little at a time until fully incorporated.

WIN_20151118_185524Step 5) Pour pumpkin mixture carefully into your pie crust. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees, and continue baking for 40 minutes.

Step 6) If using small crust shapes as a garnish, set small crust shapes on a baking sheet and place in the oven for the final 10 minutes of pie baking time. Place baked crust shapes on top of the baked pie.

 

 

How to Make Homemade Gravy

WIN_20151118_181452Easy peasy! Today’s post is more “technique” than “recipe”. If you’re roasting a turkey, baking a ham, or cooking any other large portion of meat in the oven, you may as well make homemade gravy! Let’s get started.

WIN_20151118_180101Ingredients (Makes 2 cups)

Drippings from roasting pan

1 tablespoon cornstarch

water

Directions

WIN_20151118_180349Step 1) After you remove your turkey (or other meat) from your roasting pan, scrape all of those funky looking drippings into a sieve placed over a saucepan (see photo). Discard the solids in the sieve.

Step 2) Measure the liquid from the drippings. You need approximately 2 cups for gravy, but you may not have two cups of liquid from the roasting pan. No worries! If you have one cup of liquid from the pan, add 1 cup of broth (chicken broth works for turkey drippings) or water. Make sure you don’t add more water than liquid from the pan. For example, if you only have 1/2 cup of liquid from the drippings, then you can add 1/2 cup of water or broth to make 1 cup of gravy.

Step 3) Bring your liquid to a gentle boil.

Step 4) In a small container (a coffee mug works well), combine 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of cold water. Whisk together until absolutely smooth… there should not be even one tiny little lump in the cornstarch mixture! Alternately, you could use a small plastic container with a tight fitting lid, and shake the cornstarch/water mixture until smooth.

WIN_20151118_181250Step 5) Slowly drizzle your smooth cornstarch mixture into the boiling liquid and stir! Keep stirring with gentle boiling until gravy mixture thickens. This should take about 5 minutes.

Step 6) If you want thicker gravy, use an additional tablespoon of cornstarch and repeat steps 4 and 5.

DO NOT ADD POWDERED CORNSTARCH DIRECTLY TO THE GRAVY WITHOUT FIRST BLENDING WITH COLD WATER. Seriously. You will end up with a weird, lumpy mess. I, ah, know someone who made this mistake once because she was, ah, in a hurry. Or so I’m told. It was gross. Or at least that’s what a little bird told me.  😉

You’ll notice that we didn’t add any seasoning to our gravy. This is because I’m assuming that the meat you roasted was seasoned, and those seasonings have already flavored your pan drippings. Taste your gravy. If it’s bland, add salt and pepper a PINCH at a time, tasting after each pinch. You can always add more salt and pepper, but once it’s in there, it’s in there. Don’t overdo it.

That’s all! Easy peasy!

Rosemary Lemon Roast Turkey

WIN_20151118_175731For many years, I was apprehensive about roasting a turkey. I’m not really sure why. The first year I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner in my own home, I ordered a turkey from a deli – precooked, with ready-made gravy on the side! At the time, it seemed like a brilliant idea. Now, I don’t understand what the fuss was all about.

Roasting a turkey is really, really easy. Before we get started, here are a few pointers. Other cooks may disagree – if so, please join the turkey conversation by posting a comment below!

  1. If there’s not a big price difference between fresh and frozen, buy a fresh turkey. They’re juicier, which is wonderful because roasting is a dry cooking process. I bought a fresh turkey at Aldi for 99 cents per pound.
  2. Unless you have 5 or 6 days to allow a frozen turkey to thaw in your refrigerator, you need to buy a fresh turkey. I have never… not once… seen a frozen turkey fully thawed after only 3 days in my refrigerator (which is what the directions on the turkey wrapping often promise).
  3.  Bigger is not better. If you’re feeding a lot of people, consider buying two small turkeys (10 – 12 pounds each) instead of one, massive bird. Smaller turkeys roast more evenly, and because they require less time in the oven, they are less likely to dry out.
  4. You don’t need a special roasting pan, a baster, a “turkey bag” (to cook a turkey in plastic??), or any other strange turkey paraphernalia. A 10 pound turkey will fit in a 9×13 cake pan. A larger turkey will fit on a jelly roll pan, or any baking sheet with sides at least 1 inch high.

Let’s get started!

WIN_20151118_131852Ingredients (Serves 8)

1 small, fresh turkey (10 – 12 pounds)

2 lemons

6 sprigs of fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon salt

WIN_20151118_1336221/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons butter (not margarine), melted

Directions

Step 1) In the kitchen sink, remove your turkey from the wrapping. Find the bag of giblets and remove it from your turkey. Check both ends of your turkey for that bag of giblets!

Step 2) Rinse your turkey with cold water on the inside and the outside. Lift the turkey and turn it upside down to drain for a moment. Pat the turkey dry with a clean kitchen towel (and put that towel immediately in the hamper, so you don’t accidentally use it for anything else).

Step 3) Place your turkey in a pan or on a roasting sheet. Rub salt and pepper onto the skin.

Step 4) Poke a few holes with a paring knife in each lemon. Insert rosemary sprigs into several of the holes in each lemon, as shown.

WIN_20151118_133827Step 5) Insert one of the rosemary lemons completely inside of the turkey. Rest the other rosemary lemon near the opening of the turkey cavity.

Step 6) Coat the outside of your turkey with melted butter. Don’t use so much butter that it drips all over the pan (try to avoid that), but make sure at highest part of the turkey is covered. The butter will spread down the sides of the turkey as it roasts, sealing in flavor and giving the turkey skin a golden color.

Note: We are buttering our turkey skin instead of basting. It’s easier and prevents the meat from drying out. A buttered turkey will have a slightly darker color than a basted turkey (or a turkey in a bag), and the skin will be crispy. The end result is delicious!

Step 7) Showtime! Place your turkey in a preheated, 325 degree oven on the lowest rack possible. Your turkey needs to slowly roast until a meat thermometer poked into the thickest part of the turkey (but not against a bone) registers 165 degrees. Your turkey might have a little red timer attached (see photo) – this timer will pop out when your turkey is done. It’s STILL a good idea to check the temperature. Your turkey needs to reach 165 degrees in order to prevent food-borne illness!

How long will your turkey need to roast? That is the million dollar question! Every turkey and every oven is a little bit different. At 325 degrees, a 10 – 12 pound turkey will require approximately 3 hours of roasting time. Check your turkey after 2 1/2 hours, but don’t open the oven door before then!

Step 8) Let your roasted turkey rest on the countertop for 15 minutes before carving. A “tent” of aluminum foil (just a very loose covering of foil) can be used to prevent heat loss, but that’s not entirely necessary.

Enjoy your roasted turkey!

PS  – Don’t wash that pan! In our next Crowded Earth Kitchen post, we’ll show you how to make gravy with the drippings on that turkey pan!

Apple Cranberry Pie

WIN_20150822_102136I originally made these Apple Cranberry Pies for my cousin’s wedding celebration. It was a magically homespun sort of wedding… think outdoors with perfect weather, wildflowers everywhere, mason jars and homemade pies. The bride looked like she stepped right out of a fairy tale. Sigh. I digress.

Back to the present… apple cranberry pie would be lovely for Thanksgiving! Pressed for time and leery of homemade crust? Feel free to pick up a box of rolled-up, ready to use pie crusts in the refrigerator case at your supermarket and skip right to Step 4. I won’t tell anyone.

Ingredients (serves 8)

Crust:

2 1/2 cups white flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

2/3 cup cold, unsalted butter (please use real butter for this!)

6 tablespoons vodka

4 tablespoons cold water

2 eggs

WIN_20150822_085150Filling:

6 cups peeled, sliced apples (I used 4 Macintosh and 4 Cortland apples)

1/2 cup cranberries (frozen are fine)

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 cup shredded coconut (optional)

pie1Directions

Step 1) Combine 2 1/2 cups flour, salt, and allspice in a small mixing bowl. Add cold butter. Cut butter into flour mixture using a pastry cutter, until mixture resembles a bowl of pea-size crumbs.

Step 2) Sprinkle water and vodka over butter mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time. Don’t dump the liquid all in one place! Gently incorporate until a ball of dough forms. If you need to use your hands, that’s fine.

pie2Step 3) Divide dough in half. Roll each half on a lightly floured countertop using a lightly floured rolling pin until the dough is approximately a 12 inch circle. It doesn’t have to be a perfect circle, no matter what some cookbooks tell you (we’ll fix it later, don’t worry).

Step 4) Fold one of the dough circles over the rolling pin to transfer to a deep dish pie pan. Simply pat the dough lightly into place. If the dough tears, don’t panic, just patch it back together with your fingers. I won’t tell anyone, and seriously, nobody will notice if your crust isn’t picture perfect. Carry on…

pie3Step 5) This is why we don’t care if the crust is a perfect circle… use a small knife to slice off all of the dough that hangs past the edges of your pan! We’ll make it look all fancy in a moment, but for now, we just want the dough even with the edges.

Step 6) Using a tiny cookie cutter or other mold, cut tiny shapes (approximately 1 square inch) from the dough scraps. Sprinkle with colored sugar if desired. Set shapes aside.

Step 7) Cover your pie crust with a towel, and make your filling… Combine your apple slices, cranberries, sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, cinnamon, and cardamom in a large bowl. Mix gently until ingredients are combined.

WIN_20150822_090102Step 8) Sprinkle the bottom of your pie crust with shredded coconut. This is entirely optional, and you really won’t taste the coconut. This steps helps to absorb excess liquid from the pie filling. If you don’t like coconut, try sprinkling the bottom of your pie crust with finely ground pecans.

Step 9) Pour your apple cranberry pie filling into your pie pan. Isn’t it pretty?

Step 10) Top your pie with the second circle of dough. Use your fingers to gently crimp the top and bottom crusts together. Don’t worry if the edge doesn’t look fancy like a cooking show pie crust… just say your pie crust is “rustic” and move on with your day.  😉

WIN_20150822_092220Step 11) Cut a few slits in your top crust for steam to escape. Brush beaten egg over the top pie crust, and stick on the little dough shapes you cut a few minutes ago. Just work with what you have, and try to space your little dough shapes evenly. There, look at that lovely pie crust! No perfect circle required. Sprinkle with coarse sugar if desired.

Step 12) Bake your apple cranberry pie on a low rack in a preheated 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!