Pickled Banana Peppers

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Food Whisperer: Pickled Banana Peppers! Harvesting a vegetable garden has its advantages: convenience, great taste, chemical-free, and healthy. We’ve pretty much been of the theory, “Plant it and it will grow.” A little neglect will only make it thrive, right? So why in the world does my husband go overboard with so many plants? They all act like they’re on steroids in some kind of competitive race, so I end up with produce bursting off the vines. In any event, I often shrug my shoulders, come up with creative recipes, and make the best of it. A gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do.

PICKLED BANANA PEPPERS

Ingredients:

1 cup vinegar

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon celery seeds

2 garlic cloves, whole

1/2 pound banana peppers, seeded and sliced

Instructions:

In a 2-quart pan over medium heat, combine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, sugar, celery seeds, and garlic cloves. Bring to a rolling boil. Add the banana peppers. Keep them submerged under the pickling liquids. Remove the pan from heat. Let sit for 8-10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the banana peppers and garlic to a clean jar. Ladle the pickling juices to fill the jar within 1/2” of the top. Wipe off the rim and add the lid. Store in the refrigerator.

Apple Butter Bars

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Food Whisperer: Apple Butter Bars! What if I told you there was no “butter” in apple butter? Would you wrinkle your brow and say, “Whaaat?” It’s true. Apple butter is made by slow-cooking apples a long time until the sugar content caramelizes, giving it a deep brown color. I skipped the homemade process by choosing to purchase an organic brand made by one of my favorite country restaurants. You can, too, by visiting local farmers who are more than willing to share their bounty this time of year. It’s Applelicious!

APPLE BUTTER BARS

Ingredients:

3/4 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2 cups natural apple butter

1 gala apple, peeled and chopped

1/3 cup peanuts, chopped

1/4 cup brown sugar

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 9”x13” pan. Set aside. Cream together butter and sugar. Mix flour, sea salt, and baking soda together. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture. Spread 3/4 of batter in the prepared pan. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon. Spread apple butter on top. Layer chopped apple pieces over all. Fill in with chopped peanuts. Crumble remaining batter on top. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake 30-35 minutes. Cool slightly and cut into 24 squares.

Yumolicious GF Harvest Muffins

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Chow Down: Yumolicious GF Harvest Muffins! Have you discovered the silky taste of almond butter lately? I recently came across a gourmet item that enhanced the almond butter with cinnamon and chia seeds. Because it works with this muffin recipe, I went ahead and used it. Obviously, if chia seeds are not your thing, no worries. The butternut squash is the star attraction, in my opinion. It has a natural sweet flavor that surpasses the pumpkin patch variety that is more common. Since I recently made a batch of glazed pears, they were added to the “harvest”, but you can certainly substitute with a delicious apple instead. If I haven’t piqued your interest by now, let me further add the fact that these yumolicious muffins are gluten-free. See? It works. You learn something new everyday.

YUMOLICIOUS GF HARVEST MUFFINS

Ingredients:

3/4 cup butternut squash purée

1 cup almond butter

1/3 cup maple syrup

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 pear, finely chopped

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 tablespoon almond flour

2-3 tablespoons old fashioned oats

2 tablespoons sunflower seeds

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 325°. Use muffin cup liners for 12 muffins. Line the muffin tin; set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine butternut squash purée, almond butter, maple syrup, beaten egg, cinnamon, and baking soda. Mix well. Fold in the chopped pears. Fill each muffin cup 3/4 full. For the topping, mix brown sugar, softened butter, almond flour, and old fashioned oats. Mixture will be crumbly. Sprinkle each muffin with streusel topping. Top with sunflower seeds. Bake 30-35 minutes or until muffins pull away from paper liner. Watch carefully.

USA Happy Snack

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Foodstuff Redefined: USA Happy Snack! Did I ever tell you I spent my childhood surrounded by apple trees? It’s one of my favorite memories, growing up in the Midwest. If I was in a feisty mood, I’d nibble on sour green apples. Forget that my impatience may have caused a tart pursing of the lips and a slight ache in the stomach. As the apples ripened, I’d pluck the prettiest one off the tree, rub it against my knee for a mirrored sheen, and admire its beauty. Sometimes I’d twist the stem until it broke, reciting my ABCs. Whatever letter I was on when the stem splintered away became the name of my next boyfriend. But not if it matched my brothers’ names. That didn’t count. Here’s to all-American healthy food wrapped up in a little nostalgia.

USA HAPPY SNACK

Ingredients:

1 Gala apple, cored and sliced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

3 slices smoked Virginia ham

4 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, sliced thick

Fresh mint

Instructions:

Brush the sliced apples with lemon juice to prevent browning. Cut the ham slices in half. Take one apple slice and place it on top of a piece of cheddar cheese. Wrap them with one piece of ham, seam side down. Tuck a sprig of fresh mint into the snack. Enjoy!

Jiggers of Apple Cider Jello Shots

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? After the Holidays: Jiggers of Apple Cider Jello Shots! It’s a chilly winter’s evening where the crackling flames encompass the fireplace logs. My husband and I are snuggling under woolen blanket throws as we binge-watch another series on Netflix. I think we’re addicted. No judgement, please. Outside the windows, the ground takes on a blueish tint as the snow and ice reflect the elusive rays of fading daylight. From time to time, gusts of air beguile the wind chimes into dancing around in synchronized motion. It’s times like these where I slip my toes into sherpa-lined slippers and pad my way to the kitchen for a sinfully delicious elixir of life. You may, too. For adults only.

JIGGERS OF APPLE CIDER JELLO SHOTS

Ingredients for Jello Shots:

1 cup bourbon

2 cinnamon sticks

1 cup apple cider

1/4 cup sugar

2 packets gelatin

Ingredients for Serving:

1 cup sugar

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Lemon wedge

Whipped cream, for garnish

Star anise, for garnish

Instructions:

In a glass jar, combine bourbon and cinnamon sticks. Cover. Infuse flavor for two days; remove cinnamon sticks and discard. Set aside. Lightly spray 10-12 shot glasses with nonstick oil. Wipe away excess. In a saucepan, combine apple cider and sugar. Sprinkle gelatin over top. Allow to sit for 3 minutes, or until surface has a wrinkled appearance. Warm mixture on medium heat until sugar and gelatin have dissolved, about 2 minutes. Mixture will be smooth. Stir in spiced bourbon. Pour into prepared shot glasses. Refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours. To finish, combine sugar and ground cinnamon. Transfer mixture to a plate. Rub the lemon wedge around the rim of the shot glass. Dip into the cinnamon sugar topping. Place shot glass on a tray. Repeat with remaining desserts. Keep refrigerated. To serve, add a dollop of whipped cream and a star anise. Serve chilled.

Fried Cinnamon Sugar Pears

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? After the Holidays: Fried Cinnamon Sugar Pears! Impulse buys. We all get lambasted as soon as we step through the automated doors of the supermarket. The colorful array of succulent fruit and glistening vegetables appear as lush as if they were grown in the Garden of Eden. Before you know it, the grocery cart is overflowing with a mountain of luxuriant produce. In your mind, you’re already forming mental images of gastronomic creations where you spin around the kitchen like Julia Child waving a wooden spoon in the air. That is until you get home. The fruit is ripening faster than you can say, “go bananas”. Now two weeks in, you’ve already exhausted several different ways of consuming that box of winter pears. Allow me to offer a quick ‘n easy side dish. It goes especially well with pork loin or spiral ham. I promise you, your family will be singing your praises from now on.

FRIED CINNAMON SUGAR PEARS

Ingredients:

6 Oregon pears, peeled, cored, and sliced

2-3 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup apple cider

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Fresh lemon thyme, for garnish

Instructions:

In an iron skillet over low heat, warm butter. Combine sugar, brown sugar, and ground cinnamon in a bowl. Mix well; set aside. In another bowl, whisk together apple cider and cornstarch. Set aside. Add sliced pears to melted butter. Coat well; increase heat to medium setting. Stir gently for about 3 minutes. Sprinkle sugar mixture over pears. Stir. Cook 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until pears are fork tender. Pour apple cider liquid over pears, stirring constantly for 2 minutes longer. Remove iron skillet from heat. Allow fried pears to cool slightly and thicken. Ladle into small bowls. Serve warm.

Apple Cinnamon Slab Pie

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? After the Holidays: Apple Cinnamon Slab Pie! For those who were lucky enough to be gifted with one of the spectacular supermarket fruit baskets and are now wondering how to eat everything before it spoils, think outside the box. Citrus fruits can be refrigerated, as long as you don’t forget about them out-of-sight in the crisper drawer. And we all know what happens to bananas in the fridge. Ugh. Not a pretty sight. But today we’re going to talk about everyone’s favorite fruit, the mouth-watering juicy apple. In reality, slab pies are the grown-up version of a pop tart, only better. The apple filling is honest-to-goodness fruit instead of a smearing of sugary jam. And the crust is more than a pastry shell of dry dough. Its layers of flaky goodness and buttery deliciousness are magically separated by pockets of air.

APPLE CINNAMON SLAB PIE

Ingredients:

2 9-inch pie crusts, refrigerated dough

8 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon flour

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon warm milk, if needed

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick oil. Set aside. Place sliced apples in a large bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Gently toss. In another bowl, combine sugar, flour, cinnamon, sea salt, and nutmeg. Mix well. Pour over sliced apples. Toss to coat. Roll one prepared pie crust to fit the baking sheet. Trim the dough to only fit the bottom of the pan. If necessary, use the extra dough to fill in the corners. Spread apple filling over bottom crust. Roll out second pie crust. Place over the apple filling. Pierce top of dough with a fork in several places. Sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired. Bake 35-40 minutes. To make the glaze, combine powdered sugar, melted butter, and vanilla extract. Stir until smooth. For a slightly thinner consistency, add the warm milk. Remove Apple Cinnamon Slab Pie from oven when the crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbly. Cool slab pie on a wire rack for 10 minutes before pouring glaze over top. Spread to edges. When pie is cool, slice to serve.

Upgraded Lunch Break

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Elevated Edibles: Upgraded Lunch Break! For those original gamers from the 1980’s, today’s snapshot may detect a slight resemblance to a popular video game character known as Pac-Man. I assure you, that was not my intention. My kids played that harmless game all the time, staring at a screen that literally ate its way to a high score. Then again, I seem to remember them requesting pizza delivery more often as a result of it. At least nowadays I can choose a healthier alternative with multigrain baked crackers that have wheat, corn, and oats. Plus it won’t cost me a roll of quarters.

UPGRADED LUNCH BREAK

Ingredients:

6 multigrain baked crackers

3 slices cherrywood smoked ham, deli-style

1 golden delicious apple, sliced in wedges

Fresh chives, for garnish

Instructions:

Arrange multigrain crackers on a platter. Cut each slice of ham in half. Form into an accordion shape to create “wells”. Secure one end with two strands of fresh chives. Tie securely. Place the ham onto a multigrain cracker, fanning out the hills and valleys. Insert apple wedges where possible, allowing them to stand upright. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Bored With Cheese?

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Talking Points: Bored With Cheese? Anyone who has perused a deli market understands how confusing the cheese categories have become. The choices appear endless. Cheese can be aged for months, hand-rubbed with robust Italian spices, shelf-cured for optimal quality, or made with passion from a local dairy. Who knew? I recently picked up a “cheese flight” of three Wisconsin varieties. I loved the description detailing the best pairing options for fruits, nuts, and beverages. Not only is it a great way to try mild or robust cheeses, it turns a charcuterie board into a win, win for the night.

BORED WITH CHEESE?

Ingredients:

3.5-ounce wedge Tuscan-rubbed fontina cheese

3-ounce wedge parmesan cheese

1.5-ounce edge bleu cheese

1 Granny Smith apple, cored and sliced

1/2 cup walnut halves

Crackers and baguette slices

Instructions:

Arrange cheeses, apple slices, and walnut halves on a cutting board. Serve with crackers, sliced baguette, beer, and wine.