Monday, October 29, 2012

Slow-Cooker Meatloaf

In the world of comfort food, meatloaf has to rank in at least the top five. It is inexpensive, easy to prepare, popular with just about everyone, and makes great sandwich leftovers the next day. In our household meatloaf may be at the top of the list since I know The Picky Eater loves it. Plus I can make it healthier with the right ingredients, such as leaner ground sirloin, or even ground pork or turkey added to the mix.

Now I've discovered a way to make meatloaf weeknight-dinner heaven by using my slow cooker. Just mix up your favorite meatloaf recipe, put it in the cooker, turn it on low, and head out the door. You will return home to the wonderful aroma of meatloaf that is ready to serve. Just microwave some baking potatoes and cook-up a favorite vegetable (we like green beans) to complete the meal.

I adapted this recipe from the mini-meatloaf one I posted this past summer. It took about 6 hours to cook. There are a couple of tips to remember: Spray the slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray or rub with oil before placing the meatloaf inside. Plus keep the meatloaf away from the sides of the slow cooker, which means you need to shape the loaf to conform with the shape of your cooker.

This recipe will be a regular addition to our weeknight meal plan.

Slow-Cooker Meatloaf
Serves 4, with leftovers

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/3 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 tablespoon minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste

For topping:
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons dry mustard

Spray the inside of the slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray or rub with oil.

Place the ground beef into a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until just blended. Shape into a loaf that will conform to the shape of the slow cooker without touching the sides. Place inside the slow cooker.

In a small bowl, whisk together the topping ingredients until well blended and spread over the top of the meatloaf.

Put the lid on the slow cooker and turn it to the low temperature setting. Allow the meatloaf to cook for 6 to 8 hours, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Blueberry-Corn Muffins

Good morning! How do you like to begin the day? I ease into my morning with a warm cup of cinnamon coffee and the daily paper. Peace. Quiet. No television and I don’t get my daily dose of NPR on the radio until I’m getting dressed and ready to head out the door.

I also like to cook in the morning. Often while the coffee is brewing I get dinner started in the slow cooker, or I mix-up a batch of cookies to chill in the refrigerator for later.

This morning I was in the mood for a quick bread or muffin for breakfast. I have a freezer bag full of summer blueberries from the farmer’s market, and when I went to look for a recipe, I spotted True Blueberry: Recipes for Soups, Salads, Desserts, and More by Linda Dannenberg tucked away on a cookbook shelf.

The first recipe in the book was this one for blueberry-corn muffins. I love blueberry muffins. I love corn muffins. So this is a perfect muffin combo: light, fluffy and sweet with blueberries with a bit of crunch and body from the cornmeal.

This recipe is a keeper!

Blueberry-Corn Muffins
Adapted from True Blueberry: Recipes for Soups, Salads, Desserts, and More by Linda Dannenberg
Makes 12 muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup milk
1 large egg
1 cup fresh, frozen or dried blueberries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray the muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray or grease with butter. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cornmeal, and sugar until well blended. Set aside.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the egg and milk. Pour the milk-egg mixture and the melted butter into the flour mixture and stir together until just blended. Do not overmix. Fold in the blueberries.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin tin. Sprinkle the tops with a little sugar. Bake until the muffins are golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the muffins from the tin. Serve warm or set on a cooling rack to cool. Store in an air-tight container.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Schnitzel with Chunky Spiced Apple Sauce

My love affair with apples continues, this time paired with my love for schnitzel. Before you think this traditional German dish is too complicated to make, just realize that you probably already do! Have you ever breaded and skillet-fried a piece of meat? That’s schnitzel!

I got the inspiration for this recipe from Jamie Oliver’s cookbook, Cook with Jamie. I liked his idea of serving schnitzel with a spicy apple sauce. The sauce’s sweetness and seasoning matches nicely with the crispy meat.

Schnitzel can be made with pork, chicken or veal. I went with pork…two center-cut boneless pork chops, to be exact. I also used panko bread crumbs for extra crunch, mixed with some dried sage for extra flavor. (I love sage with pork.) Plus, since I knew The Picky Eater wouldn’t care for the apple sauce, I made some oven-roasted French fries seasoned with a little rosemary, inspired by the Highlands Ranch Foodie.

The Picky Eater cleaned his plate, and so did I! Next time I may add some red chili pepper flakes to the apple sauce for a bit of heat and savoriness.

Schnitzel with Chunky Spiced Apple Sauce
Adapted from Cook with Jamie by Jamie Oliver

For the apple sauce:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Zest and juice of half an orange
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3 all-purpose apples, pealed, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces (I used Jonathans and Red Delicious)

For the schnitzel:
2 center-cut boneless pork chops
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 egg, beaten
Panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon dried sage
Olive or canola oil for the pan

To make the apple sauce, melt the butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the orange zest and juice, plus the sugar and spices. Bring to a bubble, and then add the apples. Cover and simmer over low heat until the apples soften and begin to break down, about 20 to 25 minutes. Keep warm or allow to cool to room temperature, depending on how you like it.

To make the schnitzel, place the pork chops in a gallon-sized zipper bag, but do not close. Flatten the chops with a meat tenderizer or rolling pin until they are 1/4-inch thick.

Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a skillet between 1/8 and 1/4-inch deep over medium heat. Set up 3 shallow dishes: 1 with flour, 1 with the beaten egg, and 1 with the bread crumbs and sage. Salt and pepper the pork chops, and then dip into the flour. Shake off the excess. Dip the chops into the egg and then into the bread crumb mixture, pressing down in the bread crumbs to make sure the chops are well coated and the bread crumbs stick to the chop.

Test the oil in the skilled by dropping in a couple of bread crumbs. If they sizzle, you are ready to fry. Place the pork chops into the skilled and cook until the chops are golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the chops over and continue to cook until golden brown. The internal temperature should be 145 degrees. Place the chops on a paper-towel-coverd plate, season with more salt and pepper if desired, and allow to rest for 3 minutes.

Just before serving, spritz the top of the pork chops with a little lemon juice. Serve with a spoonful of the apple sauce on the side.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Slow Cooker Vegetable Beef Soup

Busy? I don’t know about you, but this autumn has been a very busy one for us so far. After The Picky Eater’s week in the hospital, my days are full of writing deadlines, afternoons teaching my preschoolers, and evenings helping my love with his work. Plus doctor’s appointments, dietary changes, and keeping track of medicine schedules…whew! Before I know it, 24 hours has passed and a new day begins.

Thank goodness for slow cookers! It's so nice to just put ingredients into the pot, turn it on, and have dinner ready a few hours later. With the cooler weather, mine has been churning out a lot of soups and chili, and I plan to find other creative ways to turn out a meal with this slow cooking wonder.

One of our favorite recipes is this Vegetable Beef Soup. I make it with low-sodium broth (something I’ve always used) and without added salt for my sweetheart…and he likes it!!!  

This soup will be a regular meal to warm our autumn evenings and winter days.

Slow Cooker Vegetable Beef Soup

1 to 1 1/2 pounds stew meat, depending on how “beefy” you want the soup
1 can (14.5 ounces) petite diced tomatoes
2 cans (14.5 ounces each) low-sodium beef broth
1 cup low sodium tomato juice, or more, to taste
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
1/2 large onion, diced
2 large potatoes, diced
6 to 12 ounces frozen vegetables, depending on how “veggie” you want the soup
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place all of the ingredients into the slow cooker. Turn on low and cook for approximately 8 hours, or until the beef is fall-apart tender. If you like crispier vegetables, only add half of the frozen vegetables at the beginning, and then add the remainder 1 hour before serving. Also, just before serving, remove the bay leaf and the garlic clove. If there is a lot of fat from the beef on top of the soup, just skim it off before serving.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Baked Apple Oatmeal Pudding

I have craved apples ever since the first hints of autumn began to change the leaves from green to russet, gold, and orange. So I was thrilled when W. W. Norton and Company sent me a copy of The Apple Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso. All you could possibly want to know about apples can be found in this book, from the history and a primer on what apples work best in particular dishes, to cider tasting notes and where to buy mail-order apples.

Plus, Traverso has included a large recipe selection, both sweet and savory. You should see all of the Post-It flags sticking out of my copy. I’ll be making apple dishes well into winter!

My first selection was Baked Apple Oatmeal Pudding, primarily because I was hungry for breakfast at the time. This recipe is similar to bread pudding, except old-fashioned oatmeal is used instead of bread. The flavor was wonderful. I tried it first served warm with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt, as the recipe suggested. It was good, but I liked it even better the next day warm with a bit of half and half poured over the top. Just reheat a bowl full in the microwave and then pour on the half and half. Cream would also be lovely, whipped or not.

My only recipe adjustments were to increase the amount of cinnamon and add a little nutmeg. Plus I used walnuts instead of the called-for pecans, only because that’s what I had on-hand.

Yummm! Now I have a warm, delicious and satisfying breakfast for the entire week.

Baked Apple Oatmeal Pudding

Adapted from The Apple Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso
Serves 6

2 cups rolled (old-fashioned) oatmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup roughly chopped dried fruit (I used regular and golden raisins.)
1 3/4 cup diced firm-sweet apples (I used Red Delicious from the farmers market.)
2 cups milk (I used non-fat.)
3 large eggs
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter the inside of a 2-quart baking dish and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the oatmeal, baking powder, salt, walnuts, dried fruit, and apples. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir in the oatmeal mixture to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish. Place into the oven and bake until the center is set and the top is golden brown, between 50 to 60 minutes. Serve warm.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Sometimes you just have to stop and celebrate autumn, even if just for a moment.

The Picky Eater and I are still adjusting to our new “normal” life after his hospital visit. I’m amazed at how much time is consumed with adjusting medications, follow-up doctors’ appointments, and shifting to a more heart-healthy diet, plus writing deadlines and teaching. Thank goodness I’ve written a number of articles in the past about nutritious eating, so I know what to look out for when cooking or eating at a restaurant. I would hate to think about how much more time-consuming this would be trying to learn it all from scratch!

Unfortunately, my blog has taken a backseat to the rest of life for now. However, I did have this recipe ready to post last week before our unscheduled hospital detour. Hopefully next week I’ll be able to return to blogging normal, this time featuring some recipes adjusted to fit The Picky Eater’s new plan.

To me, autumn means apples fresh from the tree (or in my case, farmers market.) I developed this coffee cake recipe eight years ago for a magazine that had a photo they wanted to use but needed a recipe to go with the image. This morning treat is like having apple pie in cake form, thanks to the delicious layer of apples that is found in the middle.

When it comes to baking, not all apples are the same. Some will turn to mush.  For this recipe, I used Golden Delicious, a sweet all-purpose apple. Other all-purpose varieties that would taste nice in this coffee cake include sweet Fuji apples, tart Granny Smiths, or Honey Crisps, with their combination of sweet and tart. Just keep in mind you may need to adjust the amount of sugar used in the filling depending on the sweetness of the apples.

Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake
Serves 9

3 Golden Delicious or other baking apple, peeled and sliced thin
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Juice of half a lemon

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup old fashioned oatmeal

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spay the bottom of a 9-inch square baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside

Place filling ingredients into a medium bowl and toss well until the apples are coated. Set aside.

For the batter, in a medium bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a mixer, blend the softened butter and sugar until creamy. Beat in the egg, milk, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix well.

Spread half of the batter in the bottom of the baking dish. Spread the apple filling on top of the batter, and then drop the remaining batter by spoonfuls over the top. (You won’t think you have enough batter, but don’t worry. You do!)

In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the topping, suing your fingers to break up the butter until the mixture is combined but crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the cake.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick stuck in the middle of the cake comes out fairly clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving. Best served warm.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Wheat Bread and a Change of Plans

He changed his mind.

In the early morning hours on the day my husband, The Picky Eater, was to have quadruple bypass surgery, he pulled me close in the darkened hospital room and quietly said, “I don’t think surgery is the right thing for me. I want to try something else first. And I need you to stand by my decision.”

At first, I thought my sweetheart was just afraid, but it soon became clear he truly believed deep down inside that surgery wasn’t the right path for him to take. So we broke the news to nurses, doctors, family, and friends. After a lot of shocked reactions and serious discussions, everyone rallied around him and came up with a new plan. He hasn’t ruled out surgery completely, but for now, we are trying new medicines and diet changes to keep his heart as strong as possible.

So instead of spending Friday waiting for word from the operating room and giving comfort in the intensive care unit, we came home to begin adjusting to our new “normal” life. Our daily activities are the same as before this hospital stay, but now there is always that small realization in the back of my mind that something is different.

I’m trying very hard not to be a hovering, worrisome, nagging wife…but sometimes I can’t help it. As each day passes, my stress level lessens as I learn to turn my worries over to God, since He’s the one ultimately in charge.

Thank you to everyone who sent get-well wishes and support on this blog and also through Facebook and Twitter. I can’t tell you how much your thoughts meant to me.

On our first full day home from the hospital, I made wheat bread. There is something comforting in the process of mixing flour, yeast, and water together to create this basic dietary staple. Since I find kneading dough by hand stressful (I never seem to get it right!), I let my handy-dandy Kitchen Aid mixer do the work.

As the smell of baking bread filled our apartment, my anxiety was quietly replaced with a sense of home and well-being. And The Picky Eater liked it!

Everything will be okay.

Yield: 2 loaves
Author: Linda Ditch
Wheat Bread

Wheat Bread

A basic, delicious wheat bread adapted from a recipe that came with my Kitchen Aid mixer.


  • 1/2 cup fat-free milk
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (about 110 degrees, or just warm to the touch)
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3 to 4 cups all-purpose flour


  1. In a small saucepan, heat the milk, honey, salt, and butter just until the butter has melted and the honey and salt are dissolved. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of the mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the whole wheat flour and 2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour. Add the milk-butter mixture. Mix with the dough hook on speed 2 for about 1 minute.
  3. With the mixer still running, add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough is cleaned from the sides of the mixing bowl and clings to the dough hook, about 2 minutes. Continue to mix for an additional 2 minutes to knead the dough. When finished, the dough should be smooth and slightly sticky to the touch.
  4. Place the dough in a greased bowl, making sure to grease the top of the dough, and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Place in a warm spot free from drafts to let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. (I preheat my oven at 400 degrees for just 1 minute, shut it off, and place the bowl with the dough inside to rise.)
  5. After the dough has risen, punch it down and divide it in half. Roll out each half on a lightly floured surface into a 9- x 14-inch rectangle. Starting from the 9-inch side, roll the dough into a log. Pinch the seam to close and tuck under the sides. Place the dough, seam side down, into a greased loaf pan. Cover with a towel and allow the dough to rise again until doubled in bulk, about one hour.
  6. Place the loaf pans into a preheated 400-degree oven and bake until golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the baked loves immediately from the pans and allow to cool on a wire rack.