strawberry balsamic pie

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I know it’s not quite strawberry season yet, but after the long winter we’ve been experiencing I was in need of a little summer.  Fortunately for me, I still had two bags full of strawberries that I picked last summer in my freezer.  Once I opened up the bag of strawberries– I kid you not, it smelled like summer.  There’s just something about freshly picked berries that are so much more fragrant (even after 8 months in the freezer, apparently) than the fresh strawberries at the supermarket this time of year.  Heavenly.

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Also very fortunately for me, for Christmas I received an awesome pie cookbook by the Four & Twenty Blackbird sisters and wanted to try a recipe from it.

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As with any pie, you start with the crust.  Their all-butter pie crust recipe was slightly different from other crusts I’ve made as it called for a little cider vinegar to be incorporated along with the ice water which intrigued me.  It added a nice little tang to the crust, though once baked was not super noticeable.

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In addition to the main event of strawberries, the recipe called for a baking apple to be grated into the filling.  I am guessing this might be to help thicken it up, since the berries break down to a liquid, and once baked I really didn’t pick up on the apple flavor so the trick worked.

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Into the filling the recipe also called for balsamic vinegar, which is what intrigued me about the recipe since I liked the combination of strawberries and balsamic so much last summer when I made them into ice cream; the recipe also called for a few dashes of Angostura bitters to be added as well.  The authors say they think bitters add a little something to the pie, and though I can’t put into words exactly what that is, I would have to agree.

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Just look how summer-y the filling looks before getting a top put on it!  You can almost feel the warm sun.

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The recipe recommended a lattice crust, but I was short on time so just did a standard top crust (or “ceiling,” as a friend of mine calls it) and carved an “S” for strawberry into it for venting.

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This pie was so good.  I brought it into work to share and it got rave reviews.  I highly recommend making it if you too are wanting to bring a little summer into your world right about now.  If you close your eyes while eating it you can almost feel warm sun on your face, I swear.

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Strawberry Balsamic Pie (adapted slightly from “The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book” by Emily Elsen & Melissa Elsen)

  • All- Butter Crust for a 9-inch double-crust pie (see recipe below)
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 pounds fresh strawberries, rinsed and quartered (5 to 6 cups) NOTE: I used frozen strawberries and it turned out just fine
  • 1 small baking apple (such as Norther Spy or Golden Delicious)
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons ground arrowroot
  • 2 grinds fresh black pepper, fine setting
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Have ready and refrigerated one pastry-lined 9-inch pie pan and pastry round or lattice to top.

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the granulated sugar over the strawberries.  Stir gently to combine and allow the fruit to macerate at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Peel the apple and shred on the large holes of a box grater.  Drain the strawberries of excess liquid and combine with the shredded apple.  Sprinkle on the balsamic vinegar and Angostura bitters.

In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, arrowroot, black pepper, and salt.  Gently fold the sugar mixture into the strawberry mixture.  Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell, arrange the lattice or pastry round on top, and crimp as desired.

Chill the pie in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to set the pastry.

Meanwhile, position the oven racks at the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown.  Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees F, move the pie to the center oven rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling throughout, 35 to 40 minutes longer.

Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours.  Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at rom temperature for 2 days.

All Butter Crust for Double Crust Pie (from “The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book” by Emily Elsen & Melissa Elsen)

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup ice

Stir the flour, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl.  Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a bench scraper or spatula.  With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-sized pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; be careful not to overblend.)

Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup or small bowl.  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix and cut it in with a bench scraper or spatula until it is fully incorporated.  Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using the bench scraper or your hands or both) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining.  Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with more small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary, to combine.  Divide the dough in half and shape the dough into flat discs, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow.

Wrapped tightly, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.

good stuff: sausage-apple stuffing

I’m deep into my preparation for next week’s Thanksgiving meal but as I’m posting the recipe and pictures for this stuffing that I made last year I’m having second thoughts about the stuffing I’m planning to make this year because the sausage-apple stuffing was so good!

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One of the things that I love the most about Thanksgiving food is all of the fresh herbs that get used and this recipe calls for the Thanksgiving trifecta: sage, rosemary, and thyme.  (Cue the Simon and Garfunkel song.)

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This stuffing also incorporates another of my favorite food combinations: mixing salty and sweet components– in this case, adding apples and sausage to the rest of the more standard stuffing ingredients of bread, celery, leeks, and chicken broth.  There is one more unexpected stuffing ingredient in this dish and that is parsnips.  I love parsnips, (as seen here and here) and they really do add a different dimension that is a little sweet and a little spicy which compliments everything else that is going on.

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You’re going to need a REALLY big bowl or pan to mix all of the ingredients up together, and fortunately my mom saved my grandma’s old oversized roasting pan for just this sort of thing.  In fact, I think this is the one time of the year the pan comes out of the attic to shine, and shine it does.

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Mmm, look at that golden goodness.  If I remember correctly there were no leftovers of this particular dish, so if you are in need of a stuffing recipe for your Thanksgiving meal I highly recommend this one!

Sausage-Apple Stuffing (recipe by Alex Guarnaschelli found at www.foodnetwork.com)

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for tasting
  • 6 medium firm apples (such as Macoun or Braeburn), peeled and cut into large cubes
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 12 slices white sandwich bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 pound spicy Italian sausage, casings removed, broken into bite-size pieces
  • 10 sage leaves, cut into thin strips
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 4 leeks (white and light green parts only), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 6 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1 pound small parsnips, peeled, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it melts and starts to brown; add the apples, reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until slightly tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in the honey and vinegar, then transfer to a large bowl to cool.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in the same skillet over medium-low heat. Add the bread cubes and toss to coat, then transfer to one side of a large rimmed baking sheet; add the sausage to the other side. Bake until the sausage is cooked through and the bread is toasted, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the sausage and bread to the bowl with the apples; add the sage, thyme and rosemary.

Heat another 1 tablespoon butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add half each of the leeks, celery and parsnips, and 2 tablespoons water; season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are translucent, about 8 minutes, then transfer to the bowl with the sausage-apple mixture. Add the remaining leeks, celery and parsnips, and 2 tablespoons water to the skillet, season with salt and pepper and cook about 8 minutes; transfer to the bowl and toss. Warm a spoonful of the stuffing in the skillet with a touch of butter and taste the seasoning; adjust as needed. (It’s so important to taste your stuffing while it’s hot to get a sense of the seasonings and flavors.) Add the chicken stock to the bowl and toss to moisten all of the ingredients.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Brush a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter. Transfer the stuffing mixture to the dish and dot with the remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 40 minutes, then uncover and continue baking until golden brown, about 40 more minutes.

fall is my favorite / apple cake

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Do certain songs or albums remind you of a particular season or time of year?  For me, Ryan Adams “Love is Hell” always takes me back to one particularly cold January when I spent my evenings driving through neighborhoods in metro Detroit looking for “for rent” signs for a new apartment.  To this day when I hear a song off of that album I swear I can see my breath in the air and snow piled up on the streets.  The album that will always be fall to me is Carole King’s “Tapestry.”  It reminds me of being in the kitchen with my mom, listening to Tapestry with a chill in the air and the distinct smell of apples baking.  Last week I heard “I Feel the Earth Move” on the radio and I knew it was time to start some fall baking.

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I’ve never made an apple cake before but I had clipped a recipe for one by the chef Marcus Samuelsson out of a magazine years ago and since I have an abundance of apples right now from a very prolific tree in my parents’ yard it felt like the right time to bust it out.

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It’s a very simple recipe (which I love) and called for both chopped up apple to be mixed in with the batter and sliced apples to be placed on top of the cake decoratively.  The other ingredients were: half a stick of butter, half & half, flour, white and brown sugar, cinnamon, an egg, and baking powder.  All things I had readily on hand.

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I did my best placing the apples in an attractive manner on top and since there was extra cinnamon and sugar juice from the apples I thought it might be a good idea to pour that on top of the sliced apples too.  Can’t hurt, right?

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The resulting cake is so moist and delicious and versatile enough to be served as dessert or even for breakfast that it will for sure be added to my regular rotation of favorite recipes.  Happy Fall!

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Marcus Samuelsson’s Apple Cake (slightly adapted)

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 Granny Smith apples (I used 4 small Macs)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 large egg
  • 1-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring the pan
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2/3 cup half-and-half
  • 2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and lightly flour.

Toss together the granulated sugar and brown sugar. Set aside.

Peel and core the apples, then slice one apple into 16 wedges. Combine the cinnamon and 1/3 cup of the sugar mixture in a medium bowl. Add the apple wedges and toss to coat. Roughly dice the remaining apple.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and the remaining sugar mixture on medium speed until light, fluffy, and lemon colored, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and mix until combined. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour and baking powder. Slowly add the half-and-half, and mix until combined. Fold the diced apple into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Arrange 14 of the apple wedges fanned along the outer edge of the pan and place the 2 remaining wedges in the center. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the center is golden brown.

Remove from the oven to a wire rack to cool completely. Run a small offset spatula around the edges to release the cake from the pan and remove the springform. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, then cut into 12 wedges.

braised cabbage, two ways

A while back, before the ground froze and things were still growing in these parts, a dear coworker shared her garden with me.  She gave me cherry tomatoes, green peppers, and a beautiful, ginormous head of cabbage.

I love cabbage but apart from making coleslaw a few times I haven’t really done much with it so decided to seek out a new way to prepare it and in the process could not decide between two different recipes in the same Mark Bittman cookbook so opted instead to make both.  Since the head of cabbage was so large I chopped it in half and had plenty to use with each recipe.

I braised the cabbage two ways, first with wine and nutmeg, and the next time with apples and cloves.  Both were very good but I think I prefer the wine and nutmeg method.  It had less ingredients so was a little simpler to prepare and also think it really complemented the flavor of the cabbage.  Of course if you are a person who likes savory and sweet together than the apples and cloves version is the way forward.  Just don’t pull the move that I did and think that if 3 cloves are good than 5 must be great because they for sure overpowered the dish… lesson learned!

Braised Cabbage with Wine and Nutmeg (from “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
  • 1 head cabbage, preferably Savoy, about 1 ½ pounds, cored and shredded
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Place the olive oil or butter in a large, deep skillet that can later be covered, over medium heat.  Add the cabbage and stir until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes.

Add salt and pepper, then the wine; let the wine bubble away for a few moments, then add the sugar and nutmeg.  Cover and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes.  Check the seasoning and serve.

Cabbage Cooked with Apples (from “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman)

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 pounds Savoy or other cabbage, trimmed and shredded
  • 1 to 1 ½ pounds sweet apples, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
  • 3 cloves
  • ½ cup chicken or vegetable stock, or not-too-dry white wine, apple cider, or water, plus more if needed
  • 2 tablespoons apricot or raspberry jam or currant jelly
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or cider vinegar

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large, deep skillet, saucepan, or casserole.  Add the cabbage, apples, and cloves and cook, stirring until the cabbage is glossy, about 3 minutes.

Add the liquid, turn the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or more, until the cabbage is tender and the apples have fallen apart.  If the mixture dries out, add a little more liquid.

Stir in the jam or jelly and season with salt and pepper.  Add the lemon juice or vinegar a few drops at a time, tasting after each addition, until the sweetness of the cabbage and ales is balanced by a nice hint or acidity.  Discard cloves and serve.

chai apple pie

I love pie. A lot. I also love that others love pie so much that there are entire bakeries, blogs, and cookbooks devoted to just it without cupcakes or cookies or other filler. One can do a lot with pie.

Recently I purchased one of the aforementioned pie-only cookbooks, “A Year of Pies” by Ashley English, and have tried out a few of the recipes including the star of this post, an apple pie made with chai tea spices. Now I love me some chai tea and it totally sounded like a very clever and logical thing to do to pair it with apples, and boy was it.

The cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and black pepper (yes, black pepper!) turn it up a notch and add a little excitement to the classic apple pie recipe. I brought it in to work and one coworker who had a piece told me it was so good she dreamt about it that night. High praise!

Some people have told me they are intimidated about making pies but I really think they are one of the easiest things to make as long as you have an ounce of patience when it comes to making your own crust. It’s really not that hard, I promise! The crust recipe below calls for half shortening, half butter, though you could make it with entirely one or the other if you like. In general I avoid shortening like the plague as it is usually so processed that a tub of it would outlive us all and then some, but I have found an organic, 100% palm oil version from Spectrum that I really like and feel better about using. It does add a nice flakiness to the crust.

Chai Spice Apple Pie (adapted slightly from “A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies” by Ashley English)

  • 1 recipe Basic Pie Dough

Chai Spice Blend

  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds or ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon black tea
  • ¼ teaspoon whole cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger

Filling:

  • 3 pounds apples, peeled, cored, quartered, and cut into ½-inch-thick slices
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced, for dotting the filling

Remove one dough disk from the refrigerator. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and fit it into a 9-inch pie pan. Trim the crust overhang to 1 inch, then place the crust in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Using either a mortar and pestle or a spice or coffee grinder, grind the cardamom seeds (if using), black tea, while cloves, and peppercorns to a powder.

Pour the ground spices into a fine-mesh sieve placed over a small bowl. Gently shake the sieve so all but the larger pieces fall through. Discard the larger pieces left in the sieve.

To the freshly ground spices in the bowl, add the ground cardamom (if using), cinnamon, and ginger. Whisk well to combine.

Combine all of the filling ingredients, including the chai spice blend, in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Using either clean hands or a large spoon, toss until all of the ingredients are fully combined and the apple slices are evenly coated.

Pour the apple mixture into the prepared crust, mounding in the center. Dot the surface with diced butter.

Roll the remaining dough disk into a 12-inch circle. Use a small pastry cutter to cut decorative images in the dough, if desired.

Roll the top crust loosely over your rolling pin and unroll it over the filling in the pie pan, making sure it’s centered. Trim the top crust overhang to 1 inch and tuck the edges under the bottom crust overhang. Crimp the edges decoratively.

Place the pie in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Place the pie on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil to catch overflow juices and bake at 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperatures to 375 F and continue baking for 30 to 35 minutes longer, until the crust is golden and juices are bubbling in the center of the pie.

Cool at least 1 hour before serving.

Basic Pie Dough (from “A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies” by Ashley English)

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • ¾ vegetable shortening, chilled and cubed
  • ¾ cup ice water

Mix the flour and salt together in a medium-large bowl.

Using a pastry blender or two forks, cut in the butter and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal (you should still have some rather large bits of butter and shortening when you’re done.)

Slowly drizzle in the ice water and stir with a large spoon until the dough begins to clump.

Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and, using your hands, fold it into itself until the flour is fully incorporated into the fats. The dough should come together easily but should not feel overly sticky.

Divide the dough in half, shape it into two balls, and pat each ball into a ½-inch thick disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

sweet & tart

I was inspired by my adoptive state of Wisconsin to experiment with cranberries. Wisconsin is the largest producer of cranberries in the US…did you know that? I didn’t either until I moved here. One of these days I’m going to get myself up north to see the harvesting of the cranberry bogs. I bet it’s neat.

Every year on Thanksgiving I make a cranberry chutney that inevitably gets forgotten about in the fridge until we are nearly finished with our meal. What a shame. I thought it might be nice to make cranberries into more of a featured part of the meal and what could be more featured than dessert? No one forgets about dessert.

A few years back I tore a recipe out of a magazine for a cranberry-apple crisp and decided to test it out here for you. When the apples and cranberries were cooking down on my stove it smelled like the holidays. I wish the internet had smell-o-vision so I could share the scent with you– it was heavenly.

The topping for this crisp couldn’t have been simpler– it consists of oatmeal, flour, butter, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt.

I took this into work for a co-worker’s birthday and it was a big hit. I think it was a nice contrast to all of the overly sweet desserts that others had brought in. There is definitely a tartness to this crisp but it works. It’s even better warm with a little vanilla ice cream which I also tried. This could be the perfect ending to your Thanksgiving meal!

Cranberry-Apple Crisp with Oatmeal Streusel Topping (found at www.epicurious.com)

Yield: Makes 12 servings

  • 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 12-ounce packages cranberries
  • 1 1/4 pounds Golden Delicious or Fuji apples (about 3 medium), peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons apple juice or cider
  • Vanilla ice cream

Combine brown sugar, oats, flour, and salt in large bowl; toss to blend. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture comes together in moist clumps. Cover; chill while preparing filling. (Topping can be prepared 1 day ahead; keep chilled.)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Generously butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Combine cranberries, apples, sugar, and apple juice in heavy large pot. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring often. Boil until cranberries are tender and juices thicken slightly, about 5 minutes. Transfer filling to prepared dish. Sprinkle topping over.

Bake crisp until filling bubbles thickly and topping is crisp and deep golden brown, about 40 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes. Serve with ice cream.

the easiest recipe you’ll ever make

Growing up I got spoiled for life on applesauce because my Grandma Molly used to make the most awesome chunky sauce that she would freeze and share with family.  Best gift ever.  I remember fondly the mornings when my mom would thaw out a container for us to eat for breakfast.  I’ve never been able to enjoy the store-bought kind as a result…

So last fall I decided to recreate my grandma’s applesauce in my own kitchen.  As long as you don’t mind peeling, coring, and chopping apples it really could not be simpler, especially with the aid of a slow cooker.

You just throw the chunked, skinless apples into the slow cooker with some cinnamon and water and let it do its’ thing on low for a few hours and then you stir in a little brown sugar and voila.  Comfort-y heaven in your mouth.  It has seriously been motivating me out of bed on weekdays for the past week so I highly suggest you get on board and make yourself some and forget you ever once purchased that junk they sell in the grocery store…

Slow Cooker Applesauce

  • 14 apples (I used a variety of sweet and tart apples), peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

Place apples in 4-quart or larger slow cooker and sprinkle with cinnamon.  Add water.

Cover.  Cook on low for 2 to 4 hours, or until apples become mushy.  Stir in brown sugar and mix well with an immersion blender or potato masher.