Apple and Blackberry Crostata

When I'm in a hurry to make a dessert, I simply reach for whatever fruits are in my kitchen (today it was apples and blackberries) and I whip up a crostata.

And you know me...there is NO recipe involved.

I peeled and sliced 4-5 apples and threw them in a bowl with some brown and some white sugar, a pinch of salt, about 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, a splash of citrus (today it was key lime juice...because I had a bottle in the refrigerator) and a tablespoon or two of flour.  I stirred it all together, and folded in the blackberries so they wouldn't get crushed.  Then I piled the mixture in the center of a "store-bought" pie crust I had sprinkled with about 1/2 tablespoonful of more flour.  (I eyeball that step based on how juicy I think the apples will be.)

I ALWAYS bake a crostata on parchment paper for easy clean up since they almost always "leak" onto the cookie sheet and I HATE burned on messes to clean up!

I brushed the crust edges with a beaten egg, and I sprinkled a cinnamon/sugar mixture on the crust and the filling.

Then I baked it at 350 degrees until the apples were tender and the filling was bubbling and thickened.  Maybe 30-40 minutes...I didn't set a timer...Sorry!

It literally takes ten minutes to prepare...
And the finished product?

All we need to add is a big scoop of vanilla ice cream...

And an extra perk?

Your house will smell like Autumn as it bakes!

Game Day Grub...

The Iowa Hawkeyes were playing "on the road" this week...and for only the second time since 1973 we stayed home from the "away" game in Madison.

And since some foods seem just right for lunch at home on a football Saturday, we settled down in front of the TV with this...

A bowl of steaming hot homemade Chili, and a Grilled Gruyere Cheese Panini...

And for dessert?



Way to go, Hawks!!!  You pulled it off...even without us!

(And that BADGER dessert really hit the spot.)

Fresh Herbs...Warm Bread...And AWESOME Students!

Recently I had the pleasure of spending two days in a class room at Regina High School in Iowa City. And when I say PLEASURE... I  mean it.  Literally.

Regina (and the students, teachers and staff) will forever hold a special place in my heart, since that is the high school our sons attended...and loved.  And the friendships forged with both students and faculty continue to this day for our sons, and also for my husband and me.  It's a special place, on many levels, and it always feels like home when I walk through the door.

It has become an annual Autumn tradition to be a guest in Stacy Sueppel's Family and Consumer Sciences classroom to teach her senior students about fresh herbs.  I show them how to identify, to taste, and to cook with herbs...and to be adventurous when combining flavors.  And each year I am confident that EVERY STUDENT in those Regina classes will be interested, respectful and anxious to learn. It's an incredible feeling.  (I only wish every teacher in every classroom in America could experience that same amazing, rewarding and gratifying workplace environment.) to Regina I went, with a basket full of 17 fresh herbs from my garden.  But one of those herbs is actually TWO herbs in one you could consider it 18 herbs in all. (More about that two-fer later!)

Mrs. Sueppel made a list of all 18 herbs on her high-tech computer screen...(Some things HAVE changed over the years.  Forget those old, dusty overhead projectors from MY "Olden/Golden Days"!)

I arranged all of the herbs on a table, in no particular order, and I numbered each of them.

When class began, the students washed their hands, and I asked each student to number a paper to 18. Then they were instructed to try to identify each herb by smelling and/or tasting it.  It's a challenging task, but I'm often amazed by students who do know many of the herbs and their culinary uses.

It is so much fun to hear the student's guesses and comments, and to watch as the smells of certain herbs evoke memories of certain meals...especially sage.  It's the smell of  Thanksgiving dinner and that delicious sage stuffing...

Ahhh...My Mom's Thanksgiving dinners...One of MY favorite food memories!

So after a few minutes of discussion and questions, it was time to put those herbs through their paces. First, in a beverage...

I had prepared a refreshing drink filled with lemons, limes, cucumbers, lemon balm and lemon grass...and even the most hesitant students tasted it...and they loved it.  (In fact, some kids filled their personal water bottles to take with them when the class was over.)

And then we moved on to the part of the hour the students really look forward to every year...the EATING!  

The first herb-filled French bread was a Dill Seed Herb Bread...

Here is the link to that recipe I have previously posted here on my Blog:

After twenty minutes in the oven, and more time spent discussing the various uses for the herbs I'd brought to class, it was time for that first taste test...that dill pickle flavored, buttery herb concoction...

And the verdict?

Next, we moved on to a Ricotta And Herb Bruschetta.  I simply put a dollop of ricotta cheese into two separate bowls, and we stirred different combinations of herbs into each bowl.  In one we put dill, basil and parsley...and in the other we added rosemary and thyme.  We then spread the mixtures on to toasted bread that had been brushed with garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil before baking. The cheese mixture was then topped with a sprinkle of coarse kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper...

And again...A BIG thumbs up...and that tray was soon empty.

And finally it was time to create my third herb combo of the hour...

My "Every Herb But The Kitchen Sink" Garlic Cheese Bread!

My "Every Herb But The Kitchen Sink" Garlic Cheese Bread...The RECIPE (sort of!)

We discussed what herb flavor combinations sounded good together, and I asked the students to find and identify those herbs on the table and to bring the ones to me which we decided to use.  (This time we used garlic chives, onion chives, basil, thyme, marjoram, parsley, a little sage and some rosemary.)  I finely chopped the herbs and I added them to a bowl with one stick of butter and some of the olive oil and garlic mixture left over from the bruschetta.  Then I stirred in some Parmesan cheese and a pinch of salt and some fresh cracked black pepper, and we slathered the mixture onto another loaf of bread. And after twenty minutes in a 400 degree oven and a very quick pass under the broiler...

Another successful introduction to the fresh flavor combinations of herbs....straight from my garden.  (And THAT entire loaf vanished before my eyes...)

And speaking of those herbs...the one herb plant that is actually TWO?
When the plant is young and green, the leaves are known as Cilantro, used in so many Mexican and Latin American dishes.  But when the plant dies and goes to seed, those round, dried seeds are known as Coriander.  (Who knew?)

As I said before, every year these Regina students are a JOY to be around, and Mrs. Sueppel is an amazing educator.   And the student's comments during the classes were the best payment any teacher could ever hope to receive...Like the young woman who told me one of the breads we made was the best bread she had ever eaten in her entire life.  (Now that's saying something!) And a young man who announced he was going home that night to make the ricotta cheese bruschetta for his family...herbs and all!  And the chorus of students who asked if I would cater their graduation parties...  (Thanks...but no thanks!)  Those comments (and MANY more) warmed my heart.

Like I said, the Regina family is filled with faculty and staff who know how fortunate they are to be immersed in such a positive and receptive teaching environment.  And they also know how blessed they are to have students who are eager to learn and who are ready to make a real difference in the world after they graduate.

And as for me?  Mission accomplished.  

Thanks to Mrs. Sueppel, this Herbs class has become an annual event... 
And I treasure every moment I spend in her classroom at Regina.

It really does feel like home.

Cold Feet...Warm Chili!

After a very busy morning (details on that later) I came home...and I couldn't seem to get warm!  It is, after all, Autumn in Iowa, and I seem to be developing a case of my annual "Florida snow bird blood"!

So I stirred up a BIG pot of Chili for dinner...just to warm me from the inside out.

COOKING TIP: A reminder when using tomato paste...Use your can opener to cut BOTH ENDS of the can,,,and simply push the bottom lid up through the can, sort of like one of those orange push up pops we used to love as kids.  (If you are reading this and you have no idea what an orange push up pop is...ask your Grandmother.  And I feel sorry for YOU, because they were delish!)

 Warm chili on a Chilly Night...

 And to go with that pot of chili, I threw together some buttermilk biscuits, and we loaded them up with butter and honey...right out of the oven!

And for dessert?

A BIG bowl of fresh cantaloupe, grapes and blackberries, drizzled with a small amount of honey...and I added a sprinkle of fresh mint leaves and purple basil.

Not a bad way to spend a chilly Autumn evening in Iowa...

Hmm,,,,I wonder what people were eating in Fort Lauderdale tonight?

Skay Automotive Service, Inc.

The SKAY way...

You can tell lots about a car repair shop by the condition of the waiting room.  And based on Brian Skay's attention to detail and decor in THAT department...I think you'll get the picture!

My hubby made a routine appointment for our car today...but he forgot to mention that I had an iron clad appointment scheduled for Noon.  And I had to have our car fixed FAST so I could run all the errands I needed to run before driving off to that appointment.  So I decided to head to the garage as soon as it opened to see if owner Brian could help me out by taking our car in first.  And Brian cheerfully obliged.  (He's just that kind of guy!)

Owner Brian Skay
I sat down to wait for our car, and I began to look around...

First of all...the waiting area is so clean you could eat off of the floor.  And that tells me how particular Brian is.  And when you are putting your car in a repair person's hands, you want to feel sure he will find and fix any problems that could lead to trouble (or even disaster) on the road.  And we feel that Brian treats our car as if his family would be riding in it.  A comforting thought, for sure. you look around the room, you'll soon realize that Brian BREATHES all things cars. Just check out the amazing, beautiful and unique decor he has created...And he is quick to give much of the decorating credit to his talented wife, Dawn.

Hang your coat...on a gear shift!
No need to plug THAT meter...
A 1950's throwback...Many family dinners served here, I'm guessing!
Coffee...From a tool bench!
No details are overlooked...

Number Please!
I LOVE this picture on the wall!

A tire coffee table?  Yup!
I LOVE this basket...made totally out of old tools and nuts and bolts!
 And I even checked out the sparkling clean rest room.

Of course, it too was SPOTLESS, and it is also filled with antiques and unique items...

Skay Automotive Services even provides baby-changing supplies!  (I'm guessing wife Dawn had something to do with this thoughtful addition...although being a Dad to two daughters, Brian has probably had some practice, not only with oil changes on cars, but with diaper changes on babies too!)

In all of our travels, we look for every opportunity to miss the big box stores and to look for hidden local gems..whether it's restaurants...or a business like Skay's. 

Small businesses are the backbone of America.  And when they are owned and operated by fair and qualified professionals like Brian Skay it only makes sense to support them.

Brian and his entire staff deserve to have our business.  They have earned it.

And that waiting room...It's definitely one of a kind...Just like Skay's!

Joyce's BEST EVER Chocolate Chip Cookies

After all the times I have made these cookies (and shared the recipe with friends) I recently realized I have never posted the recipe on my blog.  So here it is...with my own variation added too!

My dear friend Joyce made these at their home while I was attending a conference in Dallas. Both Joyce and her hubby Dick always went out of their way to insure that all their guests were happy and well fed...and these cookies were ALWAYS a requested item on the agenda!

The recipe makes a LARGE batch, (Remember...Everything is BIGGER in Texas!) and they freeze beautifully.  Some folks like them slightly under baked so they remain soft and rather gooey, but others like them fully baked and sort of crunchy.  It's up to you.

So thanks to Joyce and Dick for all the awesome Dallas memories...and for this DELICIOUS recipe.

Joyce's BEST EVER Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/2 sticks Butter Flavored Crisco (Do NOT substitute here!)
2 1/2 C. brown sugar
4 T. milk
2 T. real vanilla extract
2 large or 3 small eggs
2 tsp. baking soda
4 1/2 to 5 C. flour
2 bags of milk chocolate chips
1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Cream the Crisco and the brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the milk, vanilla and eggs and mix well.  Mix in the flour and the baking sold and combine.  Fold in the chocolate chips to combine.

Chill (if you have time) and then bake at 375 degrees for 11 to 13 minutes.  Cool for several minutes on the cookie sheet and then remove to wire racks to cool completely.


And the last time I made these cookies I added a new twist of my own...
I LOVE cooking with fresh I finely minced some mint leaves and stirred them into the last pan of cookie dough...just to test it out...because we all know how well chocolate and mint go together...

I baked the cookies as I usually would...

And the verdict???


Now...please pass the milk!