Category: Recipes

Thankful Thursdays: Apple Cider

One of my favorite drinks to have during the fall and winter is apple cider.

There are a couple different recipes I like to use and I like interchanging some of the ingredients.

A friend of mine here in Delhi showed me a new cider recipe that I’ve been making a lot recently. It just uses regular apple juice, a couple of tea bags, and some cinnamon. You throw it all in a pot on the stove and let it warm up. It’s quick, easy and it makes a lot for bigger gatherings.

But my favorite cider recipe wraps spices and orange peel in a cheese cloth and lets them simmer in the cider all day. I like to put it in the Crockpot so that by the time you sit down in the evening, it’s ready to drink and the whole house smells like warm cinnamon and cloves.

And that’s the best part about making cider, especially here in India, because it reminds me so much of home. It’s such an easy way of recreating the same feeling you get right around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Here’s a recipe for you to try out some time!

Hot Apple Cider

6 cups apple cider
1/4 cup real maple syrup
2 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
6 whole allspice berries
1 orange peel, cut into strips
1 lemon peel, cut into strips

1. Pour the apple cider and maple syrup into a large stainless steel saucepan.

2. Place the cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice berries, orange peel and lemon peel in the center of a washed square of cheesecloth; fold up the sides of the cheesecloth to enclose the bundle, then tie is up with a length of kitchen string. Drop the spice bundle into the cider mixture.

3. Place the saucepan over the moderate heat or 5 to 10 minutes, or until the cider is very hot but not boiling.

4. Remove the cider from the heat. Discard the spice bundle. Ladle the cider into big cups or mugs, adding a fresh cinnamon stick for stirring.

**Optional: One reviwer on the website makes this helpful suggestion:

I just added one thing which is an old trick I recently learned from a New York State apple farmer who’s family has been making hot cider for 150 or so years. Thinly slice and or chop up some McIntosh apples including the peel into small pieces and drop a small bunch of the apple pieces into each cup of hot cider just before serving. This makes a wonderful addition to this recipe, which I would say is the best hot cider I have ever tasted. Thanks so much for posting this great recipe. IT IS WONDERFUL!” – rgirl


Biscotti on a budget

Michael and I would like to celebrate our new budgeting system by baking a coffee-lover’s favorite, Brownie Biscotti!

One of the main reasons I ended up making these was to find a way to use what I had on hand. Michael and I are trying out a new budget over the next few weeks and meal planning is one of our big changes. Ideally, we want to schedule all of our meals ahead of time to last over the course of two weeks. The goal being to prevent those little trips to the store (not even for the tiniest thing, like… mini chocolate chips) thereby reducing our grocery costs.

Well, since I like keeping sweet snacks on hand for Michael to take to work, I decided on making biscotti. I scanned the recipe to check off ingredients and found I had everything I needed to make them – except those pesky “mini” chocolate chips. Which really in the scheme of things, is like a negative eight on my crisis scale. So I made an executive decision and used regular-sized chocolate chips.
Mini chocolate chips are for lightweights
The result came out even more yummy than usual. In fact, I’m not even going to bother using the minis in this recipe anymore. It’s just one less thing for me to keep on hand. I buy those big bags of Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips at Costco anyways, so it’s not like we’re experiencing a chocolate chip famine over here.

In the past I’ve had problems with the biscotti sticking, so I always spay the cookie sheet with Pam, use a couple sheets of wax paper, then I spray more Pam. Spraying the cookie sheet helps the wax paper from moving, and spraying after helps the loaves from sticking. I formed the “loaves” on the sheet and baked them for 20 minutes.

Unbaked “loaves”

Cocoa is notorious for making desserts drier, so I also have trouble with this recipe being on the brittle side when I’m slicing the loaves. To help with the breakage and crumb problem, I used a pizza cutter instead of my bread knife. Worked like a charm. I kept the baking temperature at 375°F when I put the biscotti back in to harden. Each side baked for eight minutes, rather than the ten to fifteen the recipe calls for.

Fresh baked loaves, waiting to be “biscottied”
They came out perfectly firm and crunchy. I went ahead and melted some Lindt 85% cocoa with vanilla almond bark and drizzled it over the biscotti. I always reserve the corners for “taste-testing” and hands-down, this ended up being one of my best batches.

Who knew budgeting could taste so good?
Where’s a hot cup of coffee when you need one?

Is budgeting easy or difficult for you? Can you think of ways to reward yourself for your good budgeting habits?

Almost house church strawberry muffins

Each Wednesday I make, bake (and sometimes decorate) a special something for our pot luck meal at house church. This past one was no different, except for this one small little detail: we didn’t end up going.
I was in a muffin kind of mood when Wednesday rolled around, so I went to my trusty to find a new recipe. I decided on these Blueberry Cream Muffins.

These turned out great.  I used a white sugar-flour topping combo from another recipe to give them a little crunchy texture. I didn’t have any blueberries on hand, and even if I had, I still would have used strawberry since I’ve been getting my blueberry fix from Mrs. R’s scones. I used our BlendTec to chop up the whole frozen strawberries and I increased the amount of sugar the recipe called for. I also used a combination of half brown-half white sugar and added cinnamon for more flavor. The result made for soft, moist and moderately sweet muffins.

Other changes I would like to make in the future include increasing the amount of fruit by another cup at least, and using a brown sugar and crushed almond topping rather than the sugar-flour combination. I also wouldn’t mind toying around with a healthier alternative by substituting yogurt for the sour cream, coconut oil for the vegetable, and using all brown sugar instead of only half and half.

So my muffins were baked, packaged and ready to go. All was going according to the usual plan… until Michael came home about an hour and a half later than normal. He has recently transitioned onto a new process team at work and the hours have taken some getting used to. Instead of working eight hour days, the new normal will be for him to work a minimum of nine to ten hour days. But, as the old proverb says: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.” (Ecc. 7:14) So he strikes while the iron is hot and while there is work to be had.
When Michael eventually got home he was exhausted, so we decided to stay in. But that left me with sixty muffins to deal with… So, I kept some out (for taste-testing of course!) and froze the rest. I plan on pulling what’s in the freezer out for next Wednesday and bringing them to our house church potluck meal. Crisis averted.

 When have you’ve spent a long time preparing for something only for plans to change or cancel at the last minute? How do you handle unexpected changes in scheduling?

A scone that stands alone

Monday I had the pleasure of joining a friend of mine for a tea and bake date at her home. Mrs. R is a part of the house church I fellowship with in Kansas City. And since she also shares my love of baking and good conversation, it basically makes her a woman after my own heart. The recipe on the agenda for the day? A trusted family favorite: Blueberry Scones.

Typically assumed to be Scottish in origin, scones are identified by their buttery and flaky qualities. They are similar to American biscuits and can be classified as a “quick bread” since they do not require yeast to rise. Scones are so popular in the UK however that, according to a study released in 2005 by the market research firm, Mintel, the 500 year old pastry brings in a total of £64 million pounds a year – that’s roughly over $90 million USD! [1]
I confess I did absolutely nothing to contribute baking-wise during our tea and bake date at Mrs. R’s. Unless you count sitting on a barstool, sipping Earl Grey and keeping her distracted by talking about education, politics and rearing children. The recipe she used comes from “The Pie and Pastry Bible” by Rose Levy Bernabaum. And true to their reputation, these scones were perfectly firmed on the outside while flaky and soft on the inside. They delivered a buttery and mildly sweet flavor, with the dried blueberries adding a nice tang. I enjoyed them so much, in fact, that I immediately searched for the recipe on the internet after I got home. I eventually found this blog, which had the Orange-Cranberry variation of the recipe Mrs. R used.
When I decided to make these myself this weekend I felt a little intimidated by the whole rolling out and folding technique, as I am notoriously clumsy with a rolling pin. But it proved to be a simple enough task and I was able to use my cake lifter as a way to keep my edges straight. Before rolling out the dough, I separated it into halves using chocolate chips in one bowl (for the DH) and dried blueberries again in the other. I was more than pleased to find results were consistent with Mrs. R’s. I was also happy to report the chocolate chip scones passed the famed “Michael-safe” test. I think after the forth one he determined they were compatible with coffee and so worthy of our dessert rotation.

In baking, I’m extremely partial to recipes with culturally-specific tradition and history. There’s just something about preparing a pastry, bread or dessert that you know has been passed down generation after generation after generation. I especially feel this way when I know it’s a personal family recipe, like my family’s Norwegian kringla or their German egg noodles. And even though this particular scone recipe was no family secret, I still found myself imagining that in some way I was helping to preserve a small piece of Scottish tradition. (I say imagine, because to my knowledge I have no known Scottish ancestors – but I do love Braveheart & bagpipes!)
  I’m looking forward to trying these scones with the original dried cranberry and orange zest ingredients (referenced in the blog link above). I’d also like to look into how well these freeze because I think they’d make a perfect dessert for the meals I take to Veronica’s Voice.

What is one of your favorite desserts to make and why? Do you ever try a different recipe for that dessert, or do you stick to the same one every time?

1. Macphie Launches New Ultra Scone | Macphie. High Quality Bakery and Food Ingredients Suppliers and Manufacturers, UK. | Macphie. Macphie, 13 June 2005. Web. 15 May 2011. .

My Poopy Cupcakes

For Mother’s Day Michael and I made plans to spend the afternoon with his grandma. I made the chicken pot pies ahead of time and froze them, but I waited to make a dessert. I was hunting for an orange-chocolate cupcake combo and decided on this recipe from Chockylit’s Cupcake Bakeshop blog. Then I did a little more searching and used this frosting recipe over at
I really wanted to like these cupcakes. I really did. Unfortunately the flavors of the Cara Cara orange simply killed this recipe (and I don’t mean that in the recently popularized “good” kind of way).

Please note the delicious “cat poop” inspired frosting.

There were so many things that went wrong with this baking experience… Starting with not planning ahead. Instead of sitting the butter out and waiting for it to soften gradually – I nuked it. Yes, I committed one of the seven deadly sins of baking and microwaved my butter. Then, also due to my lack of preparedness, the proper oranges for this recipe remained sealed away in my freezer, hence the Cara Cara oranges. But the most damaging blow was over-mixing the batter. The end result was like biting into a orange-cornbread-textured cupcake with a chocolate flavored turd on top.

A poopie look to match an equally poopie flavor.

Oh.. and at the time the decorating choice was completely unintentional. But in hind-sight, maybe it was a bit of a Freudian slip, eh? Needless to say, these were “reserved” for Michael to hawk up to his co-workers rather than grace his grandmother’s taste buds.

Would you still try to give away a dessert you knew was less than your best, or would you rather chuck it and pretend it never happened? What’s one of your worst meal disasters and how did you respond?
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