Easy Homemade Applesauce

This year, I am going to try very hard to give away as many homemade holiday gifts as possible. Every year I try to do more and more homemade projects, and one of these years, every gift I give will be homemade.

I thought a good place to start would be with a big case of fresh, organic apples — I’m lucky enough to have a great local CSA subscription service where I can include a huge case of certain types of produce along with my weekly box of delicious items.

caseofapples

Using my trusty slow cooker, I made 12 quart jars of delicious spiced apple butter.

apple butter jar

Check out my recipe for apple butter, as well as other great crock pot recipes, here.

I also found a way to use my slow cooker for applesauce, which was easier than I ever could have imagined. Luckily, my appliances did all of the work: my crock pot simmered the ingredients, my immersion blender pureed everything, and then it was done.

Crock Pot Applesauce

(using a 5-quart slow cooker)

  • approx 4 lbs of apples, chopped (enough to nearly fill the crock pot)
  • 2-3 tbsp raw, organic honey
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 splash vanilla extract (optional)
  • 2 tbsp ground cinnamon (optional)

Yes, you read that right. Only three ingredients, unless you opt for additional flavoring. Just apples (of any type), a bit of acid (lemon juice) and some honey. You don’t even need to peel the apples, just scrub them and chop them. The crock pot does all the work, and 6-8 hours later, the apples will be soft enough for your immersion blender to puree into a smooth applesauce.

homemade applesauce

Note: a longer slow-cooking time will make the applesauce sweeter. If you prefer your applesauce less sweet, cook for 4-6 hours. Cooking for 8 hours or more will make the sauce extra sweet.

Update:

Pin this recipe card for easy sharing!

applesauce recipe card

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5 sweet foodie gadgets you can’t live without

I should preface this by saying that I am not, in principle, a gadget person. I have a small apartment on the beach with a kitchen befitting my apartment’s size (you don’t even want to know my square yardage), and frankly I don’t need a lot of things that take up a ton of space and are only good for one thing. Although, as you can see by this list, I totally broke my own rule for a few items.

I get a lot of questions from readers about what sort of products I would recommend, so I decided to make a quick list of the gadgets I use regularly. Since as you know (and much to my mother’s chagrin), I do not get paid to write this blog or to recommend or advertise any product. If I tell you I like a thing and that you should buy it, it’s because I own it myself and I like it.

Also, I eat a lot of yogurt and rice, so I have a yogurt maker and a rice cooker as well. They take up very little space, and the yogurt maker especially saves me a lot of money in store-bought yogurt with who-knows-what added to it.

1) Everyone needs a slow cooker.

I use my crock pot for about a third of the meals I make — from pork carnitas to beans and greens to smoked chicken stock to every kind of chili or soup you can imagine, to apple butter for canning  (or not) and bacon jams for just about everything.

Plus, a crock pot, or slow cooker, isn’t technically a gadget, right? Everyone should have one. They’re cheap, they last a long time, they don’t require anything fancy, and most slow-cooker recipes are pretty fool-proof.

Even if you buy a really fancy and expensive one, it’s worth it. The first time you enjoy a hot, homemade soup that has been cooking slowly all day while you’ve been at work, the thing will have paid for itself.

crock pot stew

2) Princess.

I bought a Masterbuilt M7P 7-in-1 Outdoor Cooking system a few years ago. I bought it on Overstock, which for certain purchases gives you free shipping, and I paid about $160 total (although I have seen it on other websites for similar prices or cheaper). I paid another $40 for a used propane tank and another $30 or so for a fancy digital thermometer (which I would recommend regardless of the smoker).

The M7P use both charcoal and propane, and can be a grill or a smoker. It can also be a campfire grill  (you simply remove all but the base and you can lay firewood on it) a boiler (use the giant pot in the kit on the flame without the drum-shaped piece), and a steamer (add the big steamer pot to the other pot).

My M7P 7-in-1 Outdoor Cooking System. Best $150 I ever spent.

My M7P 7-in-1 Outdoor Cooking System. Best $150 I ever spent.

In addition to the insanely amazing smoked turkeys, chickens, hams, and grilled foods, I have been known to make a pretty kick-ass crab boil using my M7P.

beer can chicken and ribs
Even if you opt to not buy this particular model, I think everyone should have the ability to smoke their food … or at the very least, grill it outdoors. Don’t just use that propane grill or that charcoal smoker for special occasions, or even just for meat. Try roasting some pumpkins or squash for soup in it, or smoking some garlic and peppers to use for other dishes. Try smoking your wings.

3) I kill plants. Yet I love this mini-garden for non-gardeners.

How about THIS thing? Cool birthday present, a four-level seed sprouter. As you can see below, it takes up very little space on your countertop and it’s easy-to-clean plastic.

sprouter

It’s also very simple to use … you get some seeds. A few come with the kit, plus I got a few more as part of my present, but they generally cost less than $4 a pack. You soak the seeds for a few days, then spread the seeds on the sprouter.

seed sprouts

Once it’s done, you have a great pile of sprouts, perfect for sandwiches, salads, and a myriad of other dishes.

sprouts
4) Farmcurious fermenting set

I won this set in a cool contest from Killer Pickles this spring, and I’ve been using it pretty much nonstop. It’s basically a set of caps and airlocks.

Farmcurious set
This was my first use of the kit … some red cabbage, fermented with green garlic and green apple.
fermented red cabbage
fermented red cabbage and bratsIt made its debut with some Bratwurst at a Memorial Day party this summer, and it was SO AMAZING that I had to go buy some half-gallon-sized mason jars, which is the largest size jar you can buy and still fit the airlock caps. So … I’m not new to fermenting, but I needed to try all of my previous recipes using these bad boys.

Since then I’ve made some amazing pickles …

fermented dill pickles

… and tepache …

tepache fermenting

… and now some peppers are fermenting for sriracha.

fermented red jalapenos

I also fermented some pears with spicy peppers. I think they’ll be amazing on a cheese plate.

fermented spicy pears

5) Preserving on a different level with a food dehydrator.

I’ve been making homemade jams and pickles and preserves for a few years now, and I had been focusing on them so much that I neglected one of the best and oldest forms of preservation – drying. I scored a Nesco brand dehydrator — a promotional version of the 4-tray dehydrator called a “Jerky XPress” that comes with a jerky gun and spices and curing salts for making jerky.

parmesean kale chipsdried strawberries

Of course, it can be used to dehydrate anything … lately for kale chips with parmesan cheese, fresh berries, and spicy peppers.

Check back later to see what I’m making with those dehydrated peppers. 🙂

 

October Unprocessed: Butternut Squash Chili

Last week, I got a big butternut squash in my CSA box and wasn’t sure what to make with it. Someone on the October Unprocessed Facebook page recommended tossing it into a chili.

I am a huge fan of chili, particularly in the cooler months … it seems to go so well with football and cold, windy weather; but also with cold beers and slices of watermelon in the summertime.

I have found in my years that people who are into chili take their chili very seriously and like it a certain, specific, personal way. Some people don’t like beans in their chili, some don’t like the meat. Luckily, chili is also one of the most easily adaptable dishes in the world. I don’t think I have ever made it exactly the same way twice.

Personally, my signature chili is with ground meat (beef, turkey, lamb, pork, or a mixture) and beans (usually more than one kind). It always has tomatoes (canned and/ or fresh) and usually has corn, and depending on the style, has some sort of chili pepper in it. Since this one is already packed with levels of flavor, I didn’t want to overdo the spiciness, so I used dried chili powder to taste and chopped sweet peppers. Also I would usually load a bowl of chili up with sour cream and grated cheddar, maybe even served over the contents of a bag of Fritos. This month I am doing the October Unprocessed challenge, so I am just eating it “plain” … if you can call this plain. It’s not.

But chili is a personal thing; if you don’t want meat in your chili, or you don’t want the beans, or you would rather have a wicked hot jalapeno pepper, then by all means, adapt this recipe to your tastes. This is just my way. I basically adapted my standard chili recipe to include the squash and some other Autumn-y flavors.

Seriously I think this is the best chili I’ve ever made.

butternut squash chili recipe card

Butternut squash and beef chili

A note about how to get into that butternut squash: Some of you may recall that last year, when I first ventured into cooking fresh pumpkins, how happy I was to have discovered an easy way to get the most out of the gourds. I pretty much have used the same technique with Red Kuri squash, pumpkins, and now butternut squash. Basically, if you have a type of squash with a very hard peel, and you are using it for the meat inside (as opposed to say, a baked acorn squash where you just stuff the squash and leave the gourd intact), it’s super-simple: cut it as much as you can, into workable chunks, and then broil, grill or roast it.

How to roast pumpkin

Personally, I use my outdoor grill to roast the squash, mostly because it’s fast, simple to use, and doesn’t require turning my oven on (which always makes my apartment really hot — even in the fall, it’s too much). So I hacked the butternut squash into 4-5 hunks, and put them, dry, on my grill over high heat for about 30 minutes. Keep an eye on them if you roast them over an open flame like that, or do them in your oven for about 30-45 minutes, or until they get a little bit soft (but not too soft).

Once the pieces of squash have cooled a little, the peel will come off very easily.

Butternut Squash and Beef Chili

(*Feel free to omit the beef and use vegetable stock only to make this totally vegetarian)

  • 1 butternut squash, roasted and peeled (see above for tips)
  • 1 lb ground beef*
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, diced
  • 3-4 sweet peppers, diced
  • 1 large can of stewed tomatoes
  • 1 can sweet yellow corn
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 can white beans
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 small can of tomato paste (about 8 oz)
  • 1 bottle of good beer
  • 1 quart vegetable* or beef stock (or both)
  • 2-3 fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. each of cumin and coriander
  • 2 tbsp. chili powder (omit or reduce if you don’t like it spicy)
  • 2 tbsp. dried parsley
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh cilantro, as a garnish

By the time my squash was roasted and cooled, I had already started to brown about a pound of ground beef, a few diced cloves of garlic, and a diced onion in a big pot. Once the meat and onions cook down a little, add the diced carrot, a diced, peeled sweet potato, and the cans of corn, tomato and beans. Mix together well and add chopped sage and other spices, then add the beer and stock. Make sure there is a lot of liquid (it might even look like too much, but don’t panic), then add the tomato paste and squash, and bring to a boil.

Once the whole mixture has reached a boil, cover the pot, reduce to a simmer, and let it simmer for at least 2 hours. The liquid – which might have seemed excessive earlier — has now been absorbed and it should be nice and thick.

Butternut Squash and Beef Chili

You can also just brown the beef and roast the squash, dump everything into your slow cooker, set it on low and let it cook for 6-8 hours.

As with most chilis, the longer you let it cook, the more flavorful the final product will be.