Sweet of the Week: Apple Sunday

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA For some reason I had apples on the brain this weekend.  So, I decided to embrace my craving, commemorate my second Sweet of the Week installment and make two dishes.  I am pleased to say that I executed both apple based recipes in a remarkably short amount of time–mostly because of my #1 food rule: if the creation of a single ingredient deters me from making a recipe then I buy the ready-made version.  This week’s example: ready-made pie crust.  Shhh…no one will know.

Recipe #1: Applesauce (courtesy of the Pioneer Woman)


Check out the link above for the Pioneer Woman’s apple sauce recipe, it turned out delicious and served as a yummy accompaniment to grilled pork loin on Sunday night.  (I opted for apple cider rather than apple juice for my liquid ingredient choice and it was perfect).

Recipe #2: Smitten Mitten Apple Pie

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIngredients: brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, flour, apples, lemon juice and a ready-made pie crust

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPrep your apples by first coring/cutting them into eight chunks and then slicing each chunk into 3-4 smaller slices.



Mix your apples, lemon juice, cinnamon, flour, nutmeg and brown sugar together.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnroll your pie crust and add your apples, leaving a 2 inch border.


Fold your pie crust over your filling and back for 35 to 40 minutes (until crust is golden).  Cool, slice and serve warm with vanilla ice cream :)


Sweet of the Week: Apple Pie
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 6-8
  • 1 ready-made, rolled pie crust (refrigerator section of your grocery store)
  • 2 large apples of different varieties or 3 medium apples (I usually use a jonagold and a jazz)
  • juice from ½ a lemon
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 TB butter (cut into 4 pieces)
  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Remove one rolled pie crust from the box and allow it to come to room temperature while you prep the filling (leave it in the bag until you are ready to unroll it).
  3. Peel both apples.
  4. Use a combination apple corer/slicer to cut your peeled apples into eight chunks.
  5. Cut each chunk into 3-4 smaller slices.
  6. Add all slices to a mixing bowl along with the lemon juice, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir to combine.
  7. Unroll your pie crust onto a cookie sheet.
  8. Pour your filling into the center of the crust, creating a mound and leaving a 2 inch border around the entire pie.
  9. Fold the border over the filling and nestle your butter pieces into your apple filling.



(Pizza) Baked Spaghetti

I love, love, love pasta.  Any shape, any size and any sauce.  In particular I love the components of lasagna and its layers of flavor.  Since true lasagna (which does not include Barilla’s nOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAo cook noodles according to my hubby) is not an easy endeavor to pull off on a weeknight: cue the baked spaghetti!

This recipe is one of my winter staples since it is both fast and husband-approved.  Although, in the interest of full disclosure I should point out that a crucial ingredient is missing from this version of the recipe – pepperoni.  Normally pepperoni would be the final ingredient, added to the cheesy top layer, but alas I forgot to add it to my shopping list which means I forgot to add it to my shopping cart.  So in truth this is the 90% husband approved version.

Here is our staring line-up in order of appearance…ground beef, red bell pepper, spaghetti, jarred tomato sauce, roasted red pepper flakes, cottage cheese, egg, and pepper jack cheese.


Plus!  My secret-weapon, spaghetti sauce ingredient…drum roll please…

Worcestershire sauce!

Trust this gem with only your closest friends.


Start by bringing your pasta water to a boil while you brown your ground beef and soften your red bell pepper in a non-stick skillet.  When your water is boiling add your spaghetti and cook according to package directions.


Drain your pasta and pour it into a pie plate that has been greased with cooking spray.  Spread out your pasta so that it fits up the sides of the pie plate.  Also drain the fat from your browned meat and softened bell pepper.


Add the jarred sauce, Worcestershire sauce and drained meat mixture back into the skillet and simmer for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, mix your cottage cheese and egg in a small bowl before spreading it over top of your pasta.


Add your simmered sauce mixture to your pie and top with the pepper jack cheese.  (Next would come the pepperoni if you opt for the pizza version of baked spaghetti).


Bake for 20 – 25 minutes at 350 degrees until the cheese browns as it would on a pizza.

(Pizza) Baked Spaghetti
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
  • 4 oz spaghetti noodles
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
  • 1 jar spaghetti sauce (14 - 16 oz)
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 cup cottage cheese (small curd)
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup pepper jack cheese
  • 1 TB Worcestershire sauce
  • Pepperoni (optional)
  1. Bring pasta water to a boil, add pasta and cook according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, brown ground beef and red bell pepper in a non-stick skillet.
  3. Drain fat from the ground beef and return to skillet.
  4. Add jarred spaghetti sauce, red pepper flakes and Worcestershire sauce to the meat mixture. Simmer for a few minutes.
  5. Drain pasta and add it to a pie plate that has been greased with cooking spray. Spread pasta so that it covers the bottom and sides of the pie plate.
  6. Mix cottage cheese and egg together in a small bowl. Spread evenly over pasta layer.
  7. Add spaghetti sauce mixture to the pie plate.
  8. Top with pepper jack cheese and pepperoni.
  9. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes.
  10. Rest for 5 minutes, slice and enjoy!

Tuesday Night White Chicken Chili

Everyone has a busiest day of the week or most tired night of the week.  For me, it’s Tuesday.  Monday comes right after the weekend, Wednesday has a certain sense of accomplishment as the halfway point, Thursday is almost Friday and Friday night technically starts the weekend, right?

Needless to say, no matter what your busiest night or most tired night of the week may be, this is the chili for you.  The added bonus of this recipe is that it can also be assembled solely using staples from your pantry and refrigerator.

Some of you may have also read my recipe for Smitten Mitten Chili.  I mentioned that I had entered a white chicken variety in previous chili cook-off contests and this is that fabled concoction.  Smitten Mitten Chili is definitely worth the effort but the recipe below is still my favorite…and not just because it’s super fast.

This recipe is also close to my heart because it came by way of my mom.  Her version has 1 can of chicken, 1 large rather than small jar of great northern beans and only 1/2 a jar of salsa.  Jesse and I are more meat than bean lovers and love spicy food so our modified version is found below, but both are delicious.

Side Note: If you are a fellow Michigander and live in the vicinity of a restaurant called Adobe, substitute a large container (or 1/2 container if you aren’t as fond of spicy food as us) of their hot sauce for the Pace Picante sauce mentioned in the recipe, you won’t be sorry!

 Ingredients: great northern beans, Pace picante salsa, cumin, canned chicken breast, chicken broth and colby/pepper jack shredded cheese.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  Mix everything except the cheese into a large stock pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.


Whisk in the cheese and simmer for another 5 minutes, whisking frequently.


Garnish with sour cream, avocado or tortilla chips and enjoy!

White Chicken Chili
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: American
Serves: 4-6
  • 2 cans of chicken breast (12.5 oz each)
  • 1 small jar of great northern beans
  • 15 - 18 oz jar of Pace Picante or Adobe salsa
  • 24 oz chicken broth
  • 1 TB cumin
  • 2 cups colby/pepper jack cheese
  • Garnish Options: tortilla chips, sour cream and avocado
  1. Add chicken, beans, salsa, broth and cumin to large stock pot.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Whisk in cheese.
  4. Simmer another 5 minutes, whisking frequently.


Sweet of the Week: Jesse’s Favorite Cookie

Exciting day!  Today is the first installment of my “Sweet of the Week” series.  As the name suggests, my intent is to post a new recipe each week that showcases a yummy sweet treat that I have baked.  However, this plan may get derailed by the fact that my hubby is in love with this week’s recipe.

Let me explain…

Shortly after we moved into our new house I bought a bag of Heath Bar Toffee Chips that were on sale and looked tempting.  Honestly, they sat in the cupboard for a good two months before I discovered them one Saturday afternoon (I’ll blame it on craziness of home renovation – more on this later).  Soon after I decided to go searching for recipe online that incorporated this promisingly sweet ingredient.

J & WAfter much searching I stumbled across the recipe for what has become, “Jesse’s Favorite Cookie.”  And when I say favorite I don’t mean that he prefers them, I mean if I make nearly anything else I am suddenly not living with one puppy dog who can put on a sad face, but two puppy dogs with incredibly sad faces.  Needless to say…I hope that I will successfully bring you a new sweet each week but if I don’t please know that it’s due to “Jesse’s Favorite Cookie” edging out any competition.

Follow this link to “The Dough Will Rise Again” and discover their delectable treat.  I usually halve the original recipe since the full batch makes a ton for just the two of us.  Halving it is easy to accomplish since there are two eggs and two sticks of butter in the original recipe.

Check it out, you won’t regret it.  (I intended to take pictures of my most recent batch that was baked on Saturday but they are M.I.A. already!)

Side Note: My Sweet of the Week series is also partially inspired by an idea from The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  One of Pollan’s food rules is that you can eat as much junk food as you want…as long as you make it from scratch yourself.  My goal is to not buy any grocery store, ready-to-eat sweets and see if we snack less.  Fingers-crossed!  These cookies are definitely worth the time and effort!



Award Winning? Smitten Chili


It’s game time!  No, I don’t mean the NFL Playoffs, but come to think of it….go 49ers!  It’s chili cook-off season and after seeing the decked-out golden ladle trophy my colleagues created to acknowledge the winner I decided to bring my A-game to this year’s high school throw down.

Our cook-off is an OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAannual tradition that has helped fund school projects and student scholarships.  This year our proceeds are going to a cause close to all of our hearts–supporting our principal and his family while he begins his battle with leukemia.  I know our chili entries will make him proud!

This year my A-game is a modified version of a chili recipe originally published by America’s Test Kitchen.  Using their recipe as a model I made a few minor tweaks that will hopefully lead me to victory tomorrow at high noon in the high school cafeteria.  (Two confessions at this point.  One, I prefer chicken chili and two, I’ve entered the same chicken chili recipe two years in a row to no avail so I’m benching the poultry and starting the beef).

Smitten Chili required a serious time commitment this Sunday afternoon and resulted in some delayed essay grading that will be waiting for me when this post is published–but the golden ladle is on the line, sleep sacrifices must be made!

Check out the recipe below to see my best effort toward winning the golden ladle trophy tomorrow.

Step 1 ingredients: 4 dried ancho pasilla  chiles, 6 California dried chiles, 6 TB cornmeal, 3 tsp dried oregano, 4 tsp cumin, 4 tsp cocoa powder and 1 cup of chicken stock.


First, I broke the ancho pasilla chiles into 1 inch pieces (discarding the seeds and stems) and toasted them in a non-stick skillet until they softened and became fragrant (when they were ready to come out of the pan their consistency was similar to reconstituted sundried tomatoes).


Next I put the toasted ancho chiles into my food processor along with the California dried chiles (sans stems and seeds), cornmeal, oregano, cumin and coco powder.  I processed these ingredients until everything was a smooth powder-like consistency (60 – 90 seconds).


After the spices and chiles were combined, I slowly poured 1 cup of chicken stock into the processor while pulsing the mixture.  This created a tasty spice base that will hopefully give my chili an edge tomorrow!


Step 2 ingredients: 2 large(ish) sweet onions and 2 jalapeno peppers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA After putting the chile paste into a separate bowl, I roughly chopped up my onions and jalapeno peppers.  I put the chopped onions into the food processor and pulsed 5 to 6 times.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext I added the jalapenos to the processor and pulsed both veggies 4 or 5 more times.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Then it was time to get cooking!  I added 1 TB of olive oil to my porcelain-coated cast iron pot followed by the onion and jalapeno mixture.  (Handy tip:  when cooking veggies don’t heat the oil prior to dropping in the veggies.  If you add the oil and veggies to a cold pan the flavor of whatever you’re cooking will be better preserved once you turn on the heat).  I cooked the veggies until they softened and were no longer watery – about 6 minutes.


Step 3 ingredients: 6 garlic cloves (yes, I buy the pre-chopped stuff, it’s so much easier… 1/2 tsp equals 1 clove of garlic), 2 cans (14.5 oz each) of diced tomatoes and 1 TB molasses.


It was time to add the garlic!  And cook it for about a minute (stir it consistently so that the garlic doesn’t burn).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter my garlic minute was up I added the tomatoes, molasses and chile paste to my veggie mixture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI stirred everything together and allowed it to simmer for 2 – 3 minutes.

Step 4 ingredients: 1 jar of (drained) pinto beans and 3 more cups of chicken broth

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext it was time to stir in the beans and 3 more cups of chicken broth.  I brought everything to a boil (stir frequently to avoid your chile paste or beans from sticking to the bottom of your pot).  After bringing the pot to a boil I reduced it to a simmer (still stirring frequently) while I completed step 5 below:


Step 5 ingredients: 3 – 4 lbs. of flank steak cut into 1/2 inch pieces, 1 (12 oz.) bottle of beer and 1 tsp of Wildtree Java Rub

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext a 1/2 TB of olive oil went into a non-stick skillet on medium-high heat.  I added 1/2 of the meat and 1/2 tsp of the java rub.  Once the meat browned I transferred it to my slow cooker and completed the steps again with the other 1/2 of the meat and java rub.  I also added the beer to my slow cooker (mostly because it wouldn’t fit into the other pot!)

I should probably take a moment to clarify my choice of Shiner brand Black Lager.  My father-in-law and brother-in-law are the beer connoisseurs of the family and I had a few bottles left over from their most recent trip to GR.  Shiner Black Lager is rich and dark and seemed appropriate for a beefy chili…however the only other variety of beer in my fridge was a can of Leinenkugel’s Summer Shanty, so the choice was kind of made for me.  Happily the flavor is amazing!



Lastly and carefully I added the ingredients that had been simmering on the stove to my slow cooker.  I cooked it on low for 5 hours before allowing it to cool completely.  The chile is going to rest up overnight in the fridge before reheating in my slow cooker for the big cook-off tomorrow!  Wish me luck!



A fresh start

The new year always seems to bring a desire to renew, reinvent and reflect on everything from faith to food to family.  The duration of this renewing, reinventing and reflecting somehow seems to only last until mid-February if I’m lucky – can anyone else relate?  I need something to help me stay accountable and something to give me an outlet of creativity that feels lacking in my life somehow.  I should clarify that I am a full-time high school social studies teacher, so in truth the ability to be creative presents itself every morning at 7:50 am when 30 sleepy-eyed sophomores begin to stare at me and expect some entertainment.

More specifically,  I am looking to be creative in a zone outside of my conventional life.  I am one of those teachers who can legitimately say that I always wanted to teach.  In 2nd grade I wanted to teach 2nd grade, in 5th grade I wanted to teach 5th grade, so it’s probably no wonder that I ended up teaching high school.  I love my job but something seems to be missing and I am hoping this blog will help me find some answers.

My husband proposed to me approximately a year ago and also surprised me on that same day by closing on our first home.  I am a lucky girl who is ready to continue cooking, decorating and learning what it means to be in a lifelong partnership.  These loves made me consider starting a blog last year and what better time to begin a new chapter than in January…right, friends?

Well here we go…I’m Nicole and I’m Smitten in the Mitten and hoping to be Living my best life.

Jesse, Nicole & Wrigley