Hot Cheesy Apple Pie Dip

I love apples and cheese, so much, and the thought of a pumpkin pie spice dip was just too much to not try it. So I played with a Kraft recipe and made very few changes. This dip is perfect for fall, as a football snack, to munch on during the holidays, or whenever you want. The fact that it is so easy, so fast (10 minutes in the oven!) and so delicious, makes it one of my new favorite fall-winter holiday dips.

If you’re having a crowd, double the ingredients, but for a handful of guests this is great. The original recipe said it served 16, but I’m guessing they were not related to my family, because we like food too much to divide this up 16 ways.  We did stick with the wheat thins, and they were perfect, but if you want to try it with other crackers, go for it!

So gather these ingredients:

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 apple, chopped ( Granny Smith is divine for this)
  • ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped pecans
  • Crackers like Wheat Thins

Ok, so preheat the oven to 375F.

Mix the cream cheese, brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice in a small bowl. Stir in half the apples.

Spread cream cheese mixture in bottom of a pie pan or small baking dish. Top with remaining apples, nuts and cheddar cheese. If you wish, you can now do what I did and sprinkle cinnamon- just a dash- and about 1 tsp of brown sugar over the top. This is not in the original recipe, but makes it even yummier.

Bake 10-12 minutes or until heated through. Serve with wheat thins. So good. Wow. I’m going back for a couple more right now.

Let me know what you think!


I made the best ‘quick’ black olive hummus today…



I love hummus. I can remember the first time I had it, and how I couldn’t stop eating it. Then I had to try each flavor, and found that the black olive was my favorite. Sort of. I mean I won’t turn any down, love it all. But from the time I was four or five, and sticking black olives on all my fingers and then eating them off, slowly, as I sat watching cartoons, until I grew up and did the same thing (okay, I don’t actually still put them on my fingers), they are one of my favorite snacks. And they blend perfectly with hummus.

Ok, so if you just read the word “tahini” and freaked out because you have never used it, and have absolutely no idea what it is, it’s just pureed sesame seeds. You can find it in most grocery stores, often in the ethnic food section. Now I have heard of folks trying to substitute peanut butter for tahini in making hummus. I have never tried that, and a purist would never think of trying that, but hey, if you’re just playing around with food, which I encourage, go for it.

This recipe is fairly basic, and easy to make changes to. For instance you can spice it up easily with cayenne, increase the garlic, etc. I personally love hummus with pita bread, but I think it’s quite nice with tortilla chips or crisp toast points too. So versatile, ya gotta love it. This recipe is a bit of a few others I’ve tried, with my own changes.



  • 1 can of garbanzo beans, drained
  • 3 tbsp tahini
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • ½ cup black olives
  • ½ tsp minced garlic
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


Put all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Season to taste. If it’s thicker than you like add water. When it’s to your liking, try drizzling olive oil over it and garnish with chopped black olives. So easy, so good. Tell me what you think!



Apple Peel Jelly


Yes, I made jelly from apple peels…

After making apple sauce a few days ago, I wondered if I could make jelly with the cores and peels. And guess what? Yes, I could and did! There is natural pectin to be had, I tell you! I didn’t need to add any at all. I just took those peels and cores, put them in a sauce pan and added enough water to cover, and let it simmer for about half an hour. Then I poured it all into a strainer over a medium bowl, and returned the liquid right back into the pot. I gave it a dash of lemon, sugar and cinnamon, stirred it again, put my candy thermometer into it and let it cook to the jelly temp of 220F.

It takes a while to get anything that hot, so while I was waiting I sterilized a few jars and rings and lids, and got everything ready. It reduced down about half, and I got a little more than two jars of the best jelly ever, from peels and cores!! Seriously, this was one of the better ideas I’ve had lately, so I just had to share.

So when you come back with your ginormous haul of apples from Julian’s “Apple Days”, now you know what to do with the scraps! Then you can compost (preferably) or toss.

~Susan (yes, this was posted earlier in the week, twice for some reason. When I tried to delete the 2nd one they both left)

Farmer’s Cheese: Easy and Delicious!


Let’s Make Cheese!

I started making cheese about a year ago, and expected it to be really hard to do. It’s not. I had visited my cousins in Ireland over the summer, and learned about a wonderful chef named Darina Allen. She wrote a book that a cousin’s wife, also named Susan, swore was her bible, so of course I had to get it. It’s called, Forgotten Skills of Cooking. Oh my goodness, I have had a lot of fun with that book.

So my cousin Fergus and I decided to both try some recipes out. Next thing you know we were sharing YouTube videos on cheese making and having a blast. It helped take the edge off leaving them all to come home, I suppose.

The first cheese I tried is a soft cheese. Some call it Farmer’s Cheese, others call it Fromage Blanc. I believe some even call it Buttermilk Cheese. It’s all of those and doesn’t matter what you call it because it’s wonderful.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 qt of whole milk. (Unpasteurized would be perfect, but as long as it’s not ultra-pasteurized it’s fine)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsp lemon juice (or lime juice or white vinegar)
  • ¾ tsp salt ( I use cheese salt, but for this recipe it can be regular salt)
  • Cheesecloth, string, a colander and a heavy bottomed pot.

I actually forgot to take the pictures I intended of the ingredients and the first stages of this recipe. But I’m hoping my easy to understand instructions will get me off the hook. And I did begin taking pictures with the curd in the cheese cloth. So let’s start:

Pour the milk into a pot with a heavy bottom, over low heat. Heat it to 175F, occasionally stirring it to keep it from forming a skin on the bottom of the pot.  If you don’t have a thermometer, when there is a good amount of bubbles formed around the edge of the pot, and it begins to steam, that’s when you add the buttermilk and lemon juice and slowly stir to begin the separation of curds and whey. Turn off the heat, and let it set for about 10 minutes.

Ok, while you’re waiting for the curds to separate from the whey, line a colander with a few layers of cheese cloth. Set the colander into something to catch the whey, because you know how I am about wasting anything. Or you will if you are just meeting me, but I digress…

Once the timer goes off (that you remembered to set because you’re better than me), go ahead and begin to ladle the curds into the cheese clothed lined colander. When you get tired of that, go ahead and pour the rest of the pot into it.

Gently fold the cheese cloth over and with the back of a spoon press lightly to get a head start on draining some of that whey out. Let it set now for 5 minutes or so, then pull up the edges of the cheese cloth and tie it as close to the cheese as possible (see picture) then tie again around a spoon to drain over the colander some more. Leave it alone for 30 minutes.Image

When you come back, more of the whey will have drained out. Unwrap it and put it in a small bowl, and sprinkle the salt over it. Image



Work the salt into it with a flat spoon or whatever you have handy.  Roll it into a ramekin or other small dish, and press lightly to shape it to the dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.


You did it, you made cheese! NOW, what about the whey? There is a ton of it, right? Well you can save it to add to soups or stocks during the week for extra nutrition, or:

  • Freeze it, even in ice-cube trays to add to soups and stocks later
  • Use it in grain and bean preparation as a soak that helps avoid indigestion
  • Cook your vegetables in it
  • Use it in smoothies
  • Give it to the dog, or chickens, they love it!

There are more ways I have not tried, I’ve even heard of folks adding it to their preserves when making jam, or using it in homemade shampoos. Something I am actually just starting to make.

I hope you try this, and share your results with me! Or the cheese, share the cheese.

To serve, turn out of the ramekin onto a plate, if you’d like, to slice and spread on toast or crackers. I like to drizzle a little olive oil over it when I turn it onto the place, then grind a little pepper over it. I dress it up with fruit and crackers to make it look like I went to a lot of trouble.

Hope you love it, let me know!

Mango Salsa, yum!


A few years ago, while on a mango craze, I discovered mango salsa.

It’s not a dance, it’s food, and it can be sort of addicting. The first thing I discovered while on this craze, is that cutting the mangoes is not as much fun as eating them.

I mentioned this bit of trivia to a friend who is a garden reporter in Florida, Robert Bornstein, who happens to grow mangoes and knows all about cutting them. He made a YouTube about it, for heaven’s sake–boy, did I mention it to the right person!

Anyway, lest I bore you with all the details of that conversation, let me just get to the gist of what he told me: you need to cut the seed away before you begin to cut–or even peel–the mango.

Holding the mango, feel for the flat seed, which is huge and takes up much of the fruit, and insert a sharp knife into the top of the mango (not into your fingers, I might add). Do this on a cutting board and separate the seed by slicing it off. You now can scoop or cut the mango out of the peel. Do the same thing with the other half, and try really hard to save, not eat, the mango, since you can’t make this recipe if you eat it before you begin…

Here is yet another hot (ok, pun intended) tip: Wear rubber, not latex, gloves to cut the jalapeno. You cannot wash the capsaicin off your skin for days, so please trust me about this… I’d like to say someone just told me about how they burned their eyes later, and that I, in fact, would never do this silly thing, but I did. So wear rubber gloves, and do as I say, not as I did.

Here are the ingredients you will need to gather, wash, peel, cut, etc:

  • 1 mango, peeled and diced (see attached YouTube clip)
  • 1/2 cup peeled, diced cucumber
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno (ok, I add a little habanero, too)
  • 1/3 cup diced red onion (it doesn’t have to be red, but red is so pretty, eh?)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves (I use a lot more, but who’s counting?)
  • Sea Salt (regular salt works too) and pepper

Now it’s getting exciting.

  1. Go ahead and combine the mango, cucumber, jalapeno (and habanero if you’re brave), red onion, lime juice and cilantro leaves and mix well.
  2. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Yum, that’s amazing. Try to save some for the rest of the family. Or just double it, as I always do. Then try to save some for the rest of the family… same rule even when you double it. I’m telling you, this stuff is addicting!

Besides the typical tortilla chips, this works out great spooned onto grilled salmon, or any fish, and I’m going to make chicken tacos with it tomorrow.

I’m swooning just thinking about it.

Robert Bornstein on how to cut a mango the easy way!

Curry Butternut Squash Soup


Curry Butternut Squash Soup

(taken from, with minor changes)

Happy Autumn, Ramona readers! I am so excited by this season, with the cooler temps, Apple Days in Julian, fires in the fireplace, Halloween, all of it! Not quite cool enough to plant lettuces and broccoli yet, or other fall crops, but almost! One of my favorite things about cooler weather is soup. And this is a great time for butternut squash, my favorite soup in the world. After trying a few different recipes, this is the one I love the most, and the one I now make for my family. And so easy, once you realize what a simple soup this is, I’ll bet you’ll make it often too.

Ingredients List:

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 onion, minced ( I am using 2 small ones today)
  • 1 tsp butter or oil
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • (optional) cayenne- dash or 2

Peel and cut squash in half. With a spoon, scoop out the seeds and pulp (Wait! Don’t throw those seeds away, read note after recipe). Cut into chunks. In water, boil squash and onion about 25 minutes. I have a 2 ½ quart Pyrex bowl, that I now transfer it all into, then into the blender with a ladle, about 1/3 of it at a time or so, and puree. At this point I might add a tad of chicken broth to thin a bit, then back in the pot. The reason I transfer it first into a pyrex bowl, then the blender, is that I need to puree it in 3 batches, and as I finish each batch I return it to the pot. So now put it back on stove and add rest of ingredients. Simmer until heated through. Note on chicken broth/water: The amounts really depend on the size of the squash. I don’t measure anymore. Just add more broth or water if it seems too thick.

That’s it! This will make between 2-3 quarts depending on how thick you like it. I used to buy cartons of butternut soup at the grocery store, now I always make my own. It’s one of our favorite soups to have with sandwiches, besides homemade mushroom and homemade tomato- those recipes coming soon!

Note on seeds: I rinse the seeds free of pulp, in a small strainer, and spread them out on a plate to dry for a few days. If you use a paper plate, they will try to glue themselves onto it, so you will have to keep moving them around as they dry. I use a dinner plate after that one time I ended up with a paper plate with glued on seeds that looked like a preschool project. But I digress.

You can save these seeds for next year’s garden, OR you can bake the seeds and eat them. If you choose to bake them, after rinsing and removing pulp, place in a bowl with a small amount (1 tbsp or less) of olive oil and a little salt sprinkled in, and mix that up and spread them on a cookie sheet. Place in a 275 degree oven and bake for 15 minutes or so until they begin to pop. Let cool and enjoy!

Enjoy, and tell me what you think!


California Quail come to visit…


When we moved here, and all these critters came to visit, I was not expecting most of them. Definitely not quail. These show up in pairs, always in even numbers. I had been throwing cracked corn out for the turkeys, and the quail came too. I think California Quail are the coolest looking birds I’ve ever seen. The plume is way more pronounced on the males, as are the markings. Below is a female.


One of the funniest things to see is the way they sort of glide across the street when going from my neighbors’ house to my house. They seem to live in their yard more than mine, but are always back and forth. When crossing the street they don’t really bob up and down or fly, they run in a funny gliding movement.