Apples, Apples, Apples: Sauced, Stewed, and Baked

During autumn and winter, at least in Michigan, we have three staple fruits that aren’t usually too costly: bananas, oranges, and apples. In honor of Alan’s being a doctor (and absolutely loving apples), I’ve changed that old adage about “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” to “an apple a day keeps sickness at bay.” That might be a slight exaggeration, but fresh apples are definitely a family favorite for lunch and snacks, and if I’m looking for a healthy dessert, some form of apple something often makes the dinner menu. Today I decided to share three similar but very simple ways to prepare apples that never fail to please: apple sauce, fried apples, and baked apples. I’ll start with baked apples (the very simplest for small numbers) but touch on all three. All of them have lots of pluses: They are even easier than pie to make, not to mention having only half the calories and all the best (gooey, fruity) stuff!

Baked Apples Ala Mode
(one apple per serving)

Core one apple for each servingPlace each apple  in a dish and top with:
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar (or less if you want)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or a few good shakes of your spice bottle)
1 teaspoon water

Microwave for 10 minutes if you’re in a hurry. If you have your oven going anyway and have time, add 2 teaspoons water, cover them loosely with aluminum foil and bake at 350°F. for 30 minutes or until completely tender. Serve warm with ice cream (and/or whipping cream on top)!

Stewed Apples (aka “Fried Apples”)

Do exactly the same thing as above for baked apples, except place all the apples plus the 2 teaspoons water per apple in a frying pan and cook on medium-high heat until the apples are tender and somewhat caramelized. I have no clue what the real recipe is at Cracker Barrel (where they serve  yummy fried apples), but I was inspired by this restaurant, and “frying” apples this way provides a pretty close replication. (I think Cracker Barrel removes the skins, and you can do that. There are health [and financial] advantages to using the skins. The peels have fiber and vitamins. If you’re one of the many people who are concerned about pesticides on the skins, consider  buying organic, and then you won’t have to worry about the skins being contaminated.)

Applesauce

Last, but not least, is homemade apple sauce. This is pretty close to divine as far as I can tell. It’s basically pie filling without the crust. For apple sauce, I generally peel the apples and cut them into smaller chunks, but otherwise use exactly the same proportions of apples, butter, sugar, water, and cinnamon. Cook them over medium heat in a covered sauce pan, stirring often to ensure they don’t burn on the bottom. For applesauce, you can also use granulated white sugar instead of brown sugar. Either works fine, but brown sugar (pictured above) comes out a darker, richer color. Some apples, like Macintosh, break down and become mushy more easily. Honey crisps taste great but hold their shape more, so if you prefer smoother to chunkier sauce, you may want to use Macintosh, or a combination of honeys and macs. Frankly, I’ve made applesauce out of any and every kind of apples out of my refrigerator, and I’ve yet to get any serious complaints from the peanut gallery. Also, some cooks like to make their applesauce smooth by running it through a food processor, but I don’t like to take the time and think “chunky” seems more authentic for some reason (like real bits of potatoes in mashed potatoes). One of my mantras is: Fuss less; savor more! I hope you savor lots of apples and apple concoctions this winter! Keep those illnesses at bay!  🙂

For I will restore health unto thee,
and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord
” (Jeremiah 30:17).

Savory Green Bean Casserole with Mushrooms and Onions

Do you have a system for storing favored recipes? I have a loose-leaf notebook, but my mother had a recipe box with 3X5″ cards, which I inherited. The last time my oldest son was home, he was interested in enjoying a couple of her specialties remembered from childhood. One of our mutual favorites was a casserole made with french-style green beans, mushrooms and crispy onion rings on top. I altered it slightly, to include fresh mushrooms (rather than mushroom soup) and onion straws, but otherwise, this is an authentic throw back to days of yore.

Green Bean Casserole with Mushrooms and Onions
(Serves 12)

1. Start preheating the oven to 350°F.2. In a shaker or other means of mixing well, blend:
1/2 cup flour
1 cup milk
(I also inherited my mom’s copper shaker, which has outlasted and worked better than the Tupperware shaker I bought as a newly wed!)3. In a skillet, sauté:
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, chopped or sliced
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

4. When the veggies are browned and tender, add:
The flour and milk mixture
1 tablespoon garlic  5. Heat until the flour mixture becomes a gravy, then add:
16 oz. frozen, french-style green beans
1/2 cup french-fried onion straws

6. Heat until everything is hot.
7. Pour into a 8X10″ baking dish.
8. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes at 350° F.
9. Remove cover and top with 1 cup french-fried onion straws.
10. Bake about 10 more minutes until the straws are a crispy golden. 11. Serve piping hot, hopefully having timed it to finish when you’re ready to serve dinner. I will love thee, O Lord, my strength.The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower” (Psalm 18:1-2).

Some Tips from Dr. Moyad on “What Works and What’s Worthless” in Medicine

Recently Alan and I enjoyed a really fun and provocative lecture by Dr. Mark Moyad, who is the director of Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the University of Michigan. My first clue that he probably knows what he’s talking about is that he says he has no hobbies, which is basically true for Alan and most of the best physicians I know (who seem to have no time for anything beyond practicing their craft). 🙂           Actually, it’s obvious that his hobby is his passion: Medical research                                                         and promoting health. His lecture lasted over an hour and a half, so I’m just going to skim over a few of the high points that were particularly striking to me. He really recommended senior citizens getting vaccines for flu, pneumonia, and even the new SHINGRIX, not only to avoid these infectious diseases, but also for possible benefits to our heart health. He does not accept funding from any companies so feels free to say what he really thinks, and for the most part, he doesn’t think supplemental vitamins and minerals have been proven effective for most conditions and believes that a healthy diet can still provide most (or even more) than what we need. Dr. Moyad recommends weight control and exercise (of course). He is a big fan of fiber and a critic of fruit juices, which are high in calories and sugar with virtually no fiber.  Eat your fruit, don’t drink it!Speaking of fiber, he’s also a big fan of high-fiber diets, exercise, and proper fluid intake to help combat one common problem among older folks: constipation.He personally eats a shot glass full of bran buds daily and was so enthusiastic about the numerous health benefits that Alan and I decided to add it to our diet (on trial). This morning was our first day, though, so I don’t know if it’s going to be a lifelong addition to our menu or not. (Mixed with granola it tasted fine, but I’m not so sure how to incorporate it into bacon and eggs or french toast . . .) Concerning diets, Dr. Moyad (who’s a very engaging speaker) poked a little fun at all the fad diets out there, but he did offer some general guidelines and said that if you’re going to try to lose weight, keep these thoughts in mind:

Five parameters for dieting:
*Calories matter: No weight-loss diet is a good diet unless you lose weight
*3 B’s: blood pressure, body mass, and blood sugar should all go down
*Brain health: make sure your diet doesn’t make you grouchy or depressed. A good diet should make you feel positive about yourself and the world around you

As Michigan just passed a bill allowing the use of recreational marijuana, Dr. Moyad had a few cautions about its use: Thoughts on marijuana:
*It’s super expensive (up to $35,000 for a year’s supply of medical marijuana)
*It’s highly unregulated, so most of the time you probably won’t know what you’re getting
*There are many untested substances in marijuana, so how it may interact with other drugs and substances isn’t known yet
*It has a high placebo effect, so how much it actually helps is still in question

He said that personally, he’d like to live in a country where people get up in the morning and drive safely to work. Sounds right to me. Well, there’s just too much to share on one post, but those were some of the highlights, and I thought he made a lot of sense. If you’re interested in reading more, the latest addition of his book on health issues should be coming out about now, so look for a 2018 or 2019 work (which is what I’m doing), but otherwise here’s the link to his old 2014 addition: https://www.amazon.com/Supplement-Handbook-Trusted-Worthless-Conditions/dp/1623360358/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1542038332&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=Dr.+Moyad

Dr. Moyad didn’t comment on vegetarian diets, and I’m not a vegetarian, but I definitely think people would be better off eating more vegetables and less meat. This was demonstrated in the biblical literature by Daniel over 2,500 years ago: “Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead” (Daniel 1:11-16).

(P.S.—My apologies to any of you who read the first part of this earlier. I was working on today’s post some time ago and accidentally hit the “publish” rather than the “save draft” button before I’d finished!)

Joel’s Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

One of our favorite winter suppers features butternut squash soup, and my son Joel has made it so many times that he’s got it down to an art. As with most recipes, it’s morphed from the template he used years ago into something that tastes even better than the original, so I want to share it with you today.

Joel’s Creamy Butternut Soup
(Makes 8-9 cups)

In a large saucepan with deep sides, saute:
1/2 stick (4 oz) butter
1 medium, chopped onion until tender.   Then add:
1 large butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1-2-inch cubes1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup apple cider
Enough additional water to cover the squash
4 chicken bouillon cubes    Cover the pan and bring to a boil, then simmer until the squash is tender (about 20 minutes).  Add:
8 oz. cream cheese, and blend everything together with an immersion blender until it is completely pureed and smooth.  Heat to a simmer again (but don’t allow it to boil) and serve it piping hot! If you combine it with a tossed salad, fresh bread and cheese, with apples for dessert and a glass of water, it becomes a very nutritious and fairly low calorie but fully satisfying dinner!

He casteth forth his ice like morsels: who can stand before his cold?”
(Psalm 147:17)

Goulash

December already! Again already! How was your Thanksgiving? We had such a lovely time, and the older I get, the more I savor every opportunity to be together! It occurs to me that the holiday season (at least around my home) is heavy on the treats, so I thought maybe a recipe for a good main dish would be in order to start off the month right! Here’s another old family favorite from my childhood. I never see it on restaurant menus anymore, but that’s all the more reason to serve it at home!

Old Fashioned (American-Style) Goulash
(Makes about 12 cups)

1. In a large pot or frying pan, sauté together:
1 pound ground beef
1 chopped onion (How big? How much do you like onion?)
1 chopped red pepper (green, or whatever color you prefer)
8 oz. chopped mushrooms
1 tablespoon fresh, pressed garlic (or crushed garlic flakes)
1 teaspoon steak seasoning (I like Montreal, but suit yourself)
1 teaspoon seasoning salt (I use Lawry’s, but your favorite is fine)
1 teaspoon crushed oregano
1 teaspoon crushed basil (or some fresh, chopped leaves)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 bay leaf  2. When the meat is thoroughly cooked, add:
2 cups macaroni (I used cavatappi, but any type works fine)
1  28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup tomato paste or sauce (I used Prego 3-cheese spaghetti sauce)
1 can small, pitted black olives (6 oz. dry weight)
2 cups water  3. Press down the macaroni to make sure it’s immersed in the juice, cover the pan, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes on medium/low  heat until the pasta has softened and absorbed the juice. 4. Serve with grated cheese (your favorite; I used “Italian 5-cheese”)  5. A tossed salad and some fresh fruit make for a healthy, satisfying supper on a cold winter’s night . . . or a warm summer night!

He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. He hath given meat unto them that fear him: he will ever be mindful of his covenant” (Psalm 111:4-5).

Sugar-Sweet Steamed Pears

All of Michael’s kids seem to have inherited the family sweet-tooth, so there were lots of requests to make desserts while I was visiting. If you’re looking for an easy and pretty nutritious dessert to make with your children or grandchildren, this one is perfect for the fall, when all the pears are sweet and juicy! Their Uncle Joel had sent along as a gift The Redwall Cookbook, in honor of Eowyn finishing the twenty-two book fantasy series, and they were very eager to try the recipe for sugared pears found within! Although we made them together, I didn’t write down the recipe, so this will be “inspired by” but not a 100% replication (which might be against copyright law at any rate)!                                             Sugar-sweet Steamed Pears

Prepare your pears. Choose one firm and ripe (but not mushy) pear per two people. Wash the pears, slice lengthwise, and core (but do not peel) them.Melt over medium heat in a frying pan (one with a lid you can use to cover it):
1 tablespoon butter per pear
1/4 cup granulated (or brown) sugar per person; we used white, but I’d use brown next time
Dash of cinnamon per pear (about 1/2 teaspoon for four pears)  Stir until the mixture is bubbly and completely melted. Turn the heat to low, and  add the pears, flesh side down. “Fry” for one minute, or just long enough for the flesh to begin cooking and absorb with sugar and butter. Gently turn the pears over and repeat on the skin side. Remove pears to a plate just long enough to add to the frying pan 2 tablespoons of water per pear. Stir until you have a light syrup in the pan.  Return the pears, flesh side down, into the pan and cover with a lid. Allow the pears to steam for about 10 minutes on very low heat, or until fork tender. (This could take 6-12 minutes, depending on how ripe the pears and high the heat!) Check the pears every few minutes to make sure they aren’t burning and there’s still liquid in the pan. If there isn’t much syrup left, add a little water as needed.  When the pears are steamed, gently remove them from the pan and place them in a dish, spooning out all the syrup from the bottom of the pan. Keep warm in a covered dish until you’re ready to serve them, hopefully after you’ve had a delicious and nutritious dinner! Although they can be served with whipped cream, ice cream, nuts, or caramel syrup on top, they are excellent just the way they are: warm & sweet! Speaking of God’s wisdom, the Bible reminds us: “My fruit is better than gold, yea, than fine gold; and my revenue than choice silver” (Proverbs 8:19).

Fresh’n’Sweet Tomato Soup

When you were little, did you have a favorite soup? How about now? When I was little, my favorite lunch was tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, and this is still the favorite lunch of my youngest son’s lifelong buddy (who’s now an adult). Also, on our recent cruise of the North Sea, we were served tomato soup several times and discovered that it’s popular not only aboard ships but on land as well…from Iceland to India. Therefore, I believe it’s an international, inter-generational classic!Alan and I have enjoyed many iterations of tomato soup, such as this unusual bowl of tomato soup with spinach and pasta. Tomato basil soup has become quite popular with hipsters and in upscale restaurants. My “Little Sister, Liz” made some from scratch last time I visited her in Washington D.C. , and it was outstanding!However, I think possibly the best tomato soup I’ve ever tasted was served at Friðheimar, a restaurant near Selfoss, Iceland, while Alan and I were on the  “Golden Circle Tour.” It was basically super fresh and creamy, with a swirl of yogurt and a sprinkling of parsley on top. Of course, I don’t know exactly what ingredients go into fabulous dishes, but I can usually come pretty close, so I want to share what I dreamed up, inspired by mulling over the delectable tastes and smells of that wonderful meal and dedicated to the memory of Iceland. If you’re the chef at Friðheimar and find this recipe, please feel free to share “the real” recipe with us. I looked online trying to find your recipe, but all I found were reviews that said things like, “the best fresh tomato soup I’ve ever tasted,” “we just instantly fell in love with the sweet’n’fresh tomato soup,” “simple but so tasty,” “amazing soup,” “gorgeous soup,” etc. That’s just the way we felt too! So, I tried, but mine is not as amazing as my memory of Friðheimar’s. Maybe I’ll write and ask him if he’ll share his recipe. Meanwhile, here’s a bright, healthy soup to warm you up on a chilly autumn day.

Fresh’n’Sweet Tomato Soup

In a large stock pot, combine:
2 tablespoons butter (turn on heat and melt), then add
1 medium onion, finely chopped (I only used half of the one above)
1 garlic clove (or 1 teaspoon pressed garlic; I just used 1 clove of this bulb)
1/2  teaspoon salt
1  teaspoon (your favorite; mine is Lawry’s) seasoning salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper. Saute until the onions start to brown. Then add:
2 tablespoons flour; stir until absorbed into the juices before adding:4 large tomatoes, cubed
1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon crushed basil
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 cups chicken broth (or 2 cups of water and 2 chicken bouillon cubes=2 tablespoons of chicken bouillon powder) Simmer for 30 minutes on medium heat.  Let it rest 15 minutes, then run it through a food mill or use a blender or immersion blender to puree. At this point, I believe Friðheimar must have run the puree through a strainer to remove skins and seeds, but I tend to think all sources of healthy fiber are good for  you, so I didn’t. Suit yourself on this one.Next, taste it, and possibly add more salt and pepper per your personal taste.
Just before serving, reheat to make it piping hot, and serve with some swirls of yogurt and sprinkles of parsley (fresh or crushed).

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is,
than a stalled ox and hatred therewith
” (Proverbs 15:17).

P.S.—In the picture above, I had stirred extra yogurt into the soup (trying to match the color I remembered and add protein), but it wasn’t as yummy with the yogurt as without, so I left it out of the recipe above. Tomato soup is very light, however, so it’s good to combine it with something like fruit and fresh bread with cheese or a grilled cheese sandwich so you don’t end up hungry in an hour! 🙂  )