Kindred Kitchen: “Fallin'” for Simple Apple Salad

An Authoritative List of the Best Parts of Autumn

  1. Sweater Weather — Current sweater count is at 18. I’m coming for you cooler temps.
  2. Watching nature slowly decay and die — so colorfully.
  3. Watching the seasonal transition in Target from “School Supply September” to “Christmas Comes Early October.”
  4. It’s socially acceptable to drink hot beverages again.
  5. No shave November (and all the other months until Spring).
  6. Jumping in leaf piles — being itchy has never felt more fun.
  7. Great television returns! And then we wait for it to get uploaded to Netflix/Hulu.
  8. Duck boots are back — arrival of the L.L. Bean catalog is the Midwest version of Fashion Week.
  9. Lower electric bills and more blankets.
  10. Forget the NFL! Apple orchard season is back!

If it’s at all possible, please situate your home within a comfortable driving distance to an apple orchard. Should you have enough land and dirt that can actually sustain life, please plant an apple tree. Mother Nature blessed my childhood with both and I enjoyed the literal fruits of the orchard and my grandparents labor. Pies, apple sauce, apple dumplings, apple butter, oh, the sweet taste of an apple-y autumn. It’s a scent and a season Bath and Body Works can’t fully capture.

This salad is an easy way to break into the realm of apple-related delicacies. A super-simplified take on the Waldorf Salad, cooks can get their apple crunch in about 10 minutes.

Ingredients:

1 large crispy-type apple (my favorites are Gala, Fuji or a Honeycrisp. You can read up on more apple varieties and their various attributes here).

1 large rib of celery

1/2 cup of nuts, preferably walnuts or pecans

2 tablespoons of salad dressing, like Miracle Whip

Optional – 1 cup of mini-marshmallows

Directions:

Wash your fresh producer. Dice the the unpeeled apple and then dice the celery. Slightly chop the nuts. Take care to keep all fingers attached during this process. Combine everything (including the optional mini-marshmallows) in a bowl with the salad dressing, adding more dressing if needed. This makes about 2 small servings, so double to triple everything for an extra helping.

Everyone has their own appreciation for an apple recipe — What’s your favorite? Please share and compare in the comments below.

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Kindred Cookbook: Sweet, end of summer biscuits

The temperature outside has dropped into the sweater weather range and bakers all across the Midwest can now comfortably turn on their ovens without transforming their kitchen (or in my case, entire apartment) into the third circle of Hell. Bring on the casseroles, the soups and the gorgeous pies. I shan’t roast alive while making a pot roast!

Summer sings its swan song with these “Best-Ever Biscuits.” A bold naming choice from my grandma, but not one that I would argue. They are nice little multitaskers, serving happily on the sidelines or as a foundation for the main course (hello, chicken and gravy over biscuits, my old friend). As my grandma so wisely wrote, “Nothing is tastier than a biscuit hot from the oven. If a meal is not quite large enough, a pan of biscuits become a special treat.”

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar (this is optional, depending on whether you’re going for a sweet or savory biscuit)

1/2 cup shortening

2/3 cup milk

1 egg

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Revel in the fact you can do this without turning the kitchen into a hot yoga studio. Sift together in a bowl the flour, baking powder, cream of tartar, salt and sugar (if added). Beat the egg in a separate bowl, adding the milk. Set aside.

Using a pastry blender (pictured above), cut in the shortening to the dry ingredients. PRO TIP: If you don’t have a pastry blender already, invest $5. It is the first line of defense in keeping your mitts from becoming butterfingers and we’ll use one for all of our upcoming pies (gasp, spoilers!). Mix the shortening and dry ingredients until you have a crumb-like texture.

Add the egg-milk mixture into the bowl, stirring until it’s just gathered together. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface (I use a pastry cloth, available a most retail stores and not gas stations (if you were searching)). Very gently knead 12 times and 12 times only. Tender and flaky biscuits depend on you not manhandling them. Basically, pretend this is a first date and it’s all about eye contact and accidental brushes of the hand.

To knead, fold dough in half and rotate. Then fold over again.

Roll or pat out the dough to about 1/2 inch thick and cut out the circles of goodness with a biscuit cutter. Snuggle them up in a pan and bake for about 12 minutes or until golden brown.

Please be wiser than I and make sure you actually own a biscuit cutter before starting this entire process. A jam jar lid worked as a means to an end, but the biscuits featured are a wee bit pint-sized. No less tasty. A dab of butter or jam and you’re just a pot away from tea time. Cut up some of the last summer strawberries and its a rustic strawberries and cream. If the McDonald’s drive-through is longer than the line for the new iPhone (or if you’re saving for the new iPhone), you’re just an egg and cheese slice away from having a scrumptious breakfast biscuit. Hmmm, I’m loving it.

Kindred Kitchen: Bake Sale-Ready Banana Bars

Hmm, the smell of back-to-school hits like a leafy September freight train. The air grows a bit crisper, the sunsets a bit more glowy and I walk longingly through the back to school items at Walmart. All I want is a fresh pack of crayons and new pencils, man!

Though the first few days of the school year may be sweet, they give way to the dreaded season of fundraising. Cough it up parents, your students needs cold hard cash for [insert organization, trip, sports item, etc. here]. And they need it by Monday. Door-to-door sales were never stronger than in my middle school and high school years. Armed with a black pen, a calculator and a disarming smile, I’ve sold magazines, Avon, knives, braided bread, frozen food and tickets to sub-par soup suppers. “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers,” was an underlying theme for our prepubescent salespeople.

While most groups have moved to *professional fundraiser groups,* the crumbs of some tried and true classics do remain. Ah, the bake sale. Thrown together the night before with a desperate request for thousands of delectable treats due, oh I don’t know, tomorrow morning? By 8 a.m., please? Don’t worry, stressed and sweaty parents, here’s your bake sale-ready banana bars.

Bar Ingredients

1 cup butter

1 1/2 cup sugar

1 cup sour cream

3 mashed ripe bananas (you likely have some you’ve been eyeing with some trepidation for awhile now. Throw them in!)

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

Dash of salt

Frosting Ingredients

3 oz. softened cream cheese

1/2 cup butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups powdered sugar

Directions

You ready for this? Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss all the bar ingredients in a bowl and blend with a mixer. Pour into a big, jelly roll pan so to maximize the batter and pan space. You’ll want the batter to be fairly thin, otherwise you’ll move from the realm of bars into cake-land. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown (during which is the perfect time to literally whip together the frosting).

For the cream cheese frosting, mix everything together until it’s a smooth and spreadable consistency. Bam! Watch a 30 minute episode of choice reality TV while bars cool and then frost like the dickens. These sinfully moist little suckers will go like hot cakes as soon as they hit the bake sale table. Pro tip – cut a few squares into test-taste size cubes and quickly convert people to the dark side. After all, we have banana bars there.

Kindred Kitchen: Non-Conforming Cupcakes

If baking was a beauty contest and the participants were cupcakes, mine would fall somewhere near the bottom tier. Their frosting isn’t piled high like a luscious bouffant and they opt to go sans accessories. The golden oven coloring is a bit uneven, like they got a beautician-in-training to apply the fake tan because it came at a discounted price (no, I’m not drawing from personal experience). Instead, my cupcakes have traded the cutesy names and add-ons for some homemade realism.

These vanilla cupcakes served a sweet purpose, making their way into both my grandma’s and mom’s school lunches. Grandma once described her lunch pail as basically an old tool box, small in size but made of heavy metal. She lugged all sorts of rustic samplings to country school, varying from sandwiches on homemade bread to soups in the winter. The kids would bring potatoes, putting them on the single stove that kept the one-room school house and its occupants warm. Hmmm, country chic and a far cry from today’s cardboard pizza.

In 1945 and at just 17 years old, Grandma went from the student to the master, getting a temporary license to teach country school. After turning 18, she qualified as an educator for kindergarten through the 8th grade (so, teens, what have you done lately?). After getting married in 1953, Grandma stacked and packed homemade meals for her growing family. For several decades, making lunch boxes was a daily task and one my grandma took very seriously (a trait passed to my mom). And if these cupcakes made the cut, you know they’re good.

The 4 Minute Cupcakes

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

1 1/3 cups sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup shortening (Crisco)

2/3 cup milk

Using a mixer, combine the above ingredients in a bowl, beating for two minutes. Then add…

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/3 cup milk

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat for another two minutes until creamy. Using the care and steady hands of a brain surgeon, transfer your batter into a paper cup-lined muffin tin, filling each cup about 3/4 full. I squeezed 19 cupcakes out of this recipe. It’s worth noting Grandma says NOT to double the recipe (reason unknown… world destruction possibly?). Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and bake for about 12 to 15 minutes or until golden like a co-worker who scraped together enough PTO to go on vacation to Miami.

Homemade Frosting

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons of butter (not margarine)
1 to 2 cups of powdered sugar. Start with 1 1/2 cups and go from there, depending on consistency. You might need more, but we’re playing this whole thing by ear.
1 teaspoon of vanilla
Half and half cream
Directions:
Using a mixer, cream together the butter, powdered sugar and vanilla and a small bit of half and half. If you want a larger amount of frosting, then add some more of the sugar and enough half and half to make it creamy in consistency. Not too runny and not too stiff. You just have to do a little bit and a little bit, pretending your Goldilocks in the kitchen. You want it just right.
Add food coloring too for some pizzazz. If you end up with extra leftover, it freezes just fine.Easily fooled, I thought the title “4 minute cupcakes” meant these desserts would push along quickly. The recipe was simple, but prep and cook time took about an hour and a half for both the cupcakes and frosting. Was it worth the extra effort to do the homemade frosting vs that in a can? Yes. Did they taste as delicious as they would if they had two more tablespoons of frosting and three extra flavors? I’d say so.
There’s a beauty in simplicity and the rich flavor of a family tradition that made it’s way from many lunch boxes to this blog.

Kindred Cookbook: Potato Chip Cookies (they’re a thing)

 

First, I brought you “salad” with whipped cream and marshmallows. Now, I share the satisfyingly sweet and salty potato chip cookie. No, my depravity knows no bounds.

I’ve been making some fairly decent life decisions as of late, both in regard to my health and you know, life trajectory. So, I decided I needed to make some bad or at least questionable choices. As I flipped through my recipes filed under “BEWARE – UNTESTED,” my first thought was “How can I undo everyone’s bikini body goals and send their blood sugar level soaring to levels doctors have not yet calculated?” Grandma, bless her,  had the answer. Written in demure print, right underneath the recipe for Cash Money Cookies, was this little number.

Potato Chip Cookies

Yes. You read that correctly. Buckle your seat belt.

Ingredients:

1 cup shortening

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups crushed potato chips – think more along the lines of Lays vs Doritos. If you’d be interested in more crunch, you could try kettle cooked.

8 oz. of butterscotch chips

1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Directions:

Stop hyperventilating.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cream the shortening and sugars together using a blender. Add the two eggs and mix well. Then slowly add the flour, baking soda, vanilla, blending well. Go against all of your cooking instincts and mix in the crushed potato chips and the butterscotch chips. A word to the wise – avoid a giant crumby mess and measure the potato chips into a Ziploc bag and then smash. Slightly less chaotic.

Shape and place cookies on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for seven to eight minutes or until golden brown and smelling like your wildest culinary dreams. Makes roughly two dozen cookies, depending on how much dough you consume in the baking process.

You will have an increasing level of skepticism as you’re mixing these ingredients together, but my goodness, when these little clusters of butterscotch sweetness hit that oven… It’s heaven. My kitchen, nay, my apartment was only what I imagine The Three Broomsticks smelled like in Harry Potter’s wonderful fictional world. Yes, I’m implying this recipe is *magical.* 

How this recipe came to be in the family collection is something of a wonder. Shortly after graduating from college, my mom used her writing prowess and passion for delectable dinners to pen a weekly column for the Indianola Record Herald and Tribune. In 1982, she visited the humble kitchens of women in southern Iowa, recording some of their best recipes and kitchen hacks. Besides sharing some county fair-winning recipes, my mom recorded bits of the culinary history of rural Iowa. I would put her akin to Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, but with more gravel roads and less (as in no) international travel. Also unlike Anthony Bourdain’s Emmy Award-winning series, the ingredients are readily available and are perhaps slightly more appealing. I’m certain that potato chips and cookies combined would do well on the international baking circuit.

Kindred Cookbook: Don’t pass up pistachio salad

From a young age, my mom and grandma instilled in me a truly wonderful state of mind — a dish can contain marshmallows and you can still call it a salad. How liberating! Take it one step further, adding in Cool Whip and it’s still a salad. No kale, spinach or the resemblance of anything that could improve my bodily state and I’m able to slap the salad category on not just this recipe, but others. This is the equivalent of the 1960’s free love, but with food.

Either way, this sweet salad is the ultimate throwback to the days of a party salad, the dish people brought to both cheerful get-togethers or church funerals. That is again a testament to its versatility on the plate. It’s light green color reminds me of shag carpet, macrame and bell-bottom jeans. And hey, one of those things are coming back into style, so this salad surely isn’t too fair behind.

Pistachio-Pineapple Salad

Ingredients

20 oz. can of crushed pineapple

Box of instant pistachio pudding mix

8 oz. container of Cool Whip

1 1/2 cup of mini-marshmallows (multi-colored if you’re daring)

Optional – A bit after the fact, mom told me you can also add maraschino cherries or pecan bits to the salad for a little extra kick.

Directions

Place pineapple with juice in a mixing bowl. Add dry pudding mix, mixing well with a spoon. Gently fold in the Cool Whip and then marshmallows. Chill overnight before serving to allow the pudding to set up.

From Christmas to summertime picnics, the pistachio pineapple salad has appeared on my plate. Small wonder considering it’s my mom’s favorite salad (I think partly due to the taste, but also the fact it takes about 10 minutes to make and serves 10-12 easily). Interestingly, Mom shared that this dish was originally called a Watergate Salad following President Nixon’s infamous blunder. How a political scandal translated into a fluffy feast of whipped cream and pineapple, I’m not entirely sure. It makes me wonder if five years in the future, all dinner parties will have a spot for Russian Probe Pudding or Email Scandal Eclairs.

Kindred Cookbook: Preferred type of exercise – Rhubarb Crunch

There are three types of people in this world: those that love rhubarb, those that detest it and the blissfully ignorant. I now have the wonderful opportunity to sway one of those blissfully unaware people to the tangy and sugar-laden dark side, and this is the recipe I chose to do it.

It’s always a shock to hear someone has never set fork and knife to a dish that is as common to Midwesterners as county fairs. My mom and both grandmothers have rhubarb patches, of which I have accidentally mowed over once or twice (ditto with the asparagus patch). Rhubarb has a limited season, best from April to June. That makes the window for others to experience this tart and tasty treat rather narrow. Thank goodness for the frozen fruit section.

I don’t remember the first time I ever had rhubarb, which is a taste profile you’d think would have ingrained itself in my memory. I do vividly remember my mom bringing in the large stalks of green, pink and red into the kitchen from the backyard. Her one small plant provided us with pies, crisps, jams, and Jello salads. I wanted to share some semblance of these memories with those who haven’t had the gumption to pick up a package of this odd court-declared fruit. Yes, you read that correctly. The U.S. Customs Court in Buffalo, New York issued a ruling in 1947 that rhubarb should be considered a fruit as it is typically used like a fruit. For more on rhubarb’s colorful and sometimes toxic history, read on here.

But from the very beginning, my grandmother’s recipe didn’t make it an easy one to share.

Rhubarb Crunch

Ingredients:

4 cups of rhubarb pieces (unsweetened if you get frozen)

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

Topping:

1 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

4 teaspoons red* Jello – optional

*Either Grandma was just vague here or forgot the color red is not a flavor. Anyway, I used strawberry.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss the rhubarb with the 1 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of flour. Put the mixture in a 8 to 9 inch baking dish and spread.

Stir together the topping mix of sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and Jello. Then beat one egg and add to the topping batter to make it crumbly. Spread over the rhubarb dish. Bake until the rhubarb is tender and the crumb top is nicely browned (for me, that was about 30 minutes).

I would highly recommend serving this dessert with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or even just cream. Basically, dairy. Any light sweetness to counteract the tang of the rhubarb plays well on the plate and palette.

As a reminder, I’m cooking recipes from a handwritten book my mom and grandma compiled when I moved into my first apartment. Concerned I would starve, they pulled some of their classic concoctions, ranging from wintery soups to 1950s Jello salads (we have a deep and passionate love for flavored gelatin). The book itself is an heirloom, but I’m afraid it does require some reading between the lines…and a few phone calls home.

Bd. p. Bd. p. I stared at this abbreviation written in my grandma’s hand for the rhubarb crunch recipe. What is this? The strange code was keeping me from recreating a good crunch. Oddly, my first thought was peanut butter. That was clearly wrong after a call to my mom revealed it was likely either baking powder or baking soda. We hedged our bets and went with baking powder. After getting off the phone about 40 minutes later, (my mom and I don’t really do “quick” calls) the recipe was complete. With so few ingredients and such an easy recipe, its very likely my grandma would often just whip this decadent dessert together from memory, not needing to read the recipe through four times (like me). I have yet to reach that level of skill, but this dessert may be the perfect start.

Today, I’m packing up the dessert in little containers, distributing them at work like a rhubarb crunch prophet, hopefully converting a few to this tart and tangy way of life. And sorry, I’ll open the gates of flavor heaven for you, but it’s BYOIC (bring your own ice cream).