Blue Ribbon Apple Pie

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I first made this pie as a teenager.  My dad liked my version (which has some extra spices) so much that he asked for this pie for his birthday every year after.  Now my husband also wants this pie every year for HIS birthday too.  It’s that good.  I guess I should call it “birthday pie” since it seems to be a yearly request from the people I bake for.  This pie, however, has a new memory attached to it.  I recently helped my daughter make this pie for a 4H baking competition and she won the grand prize!  She cut the 4H emblem in the top crust and, foolishly, I neglected to take a picture of her pie.  It was so pretty!  Sorry, you’ll have to settle for pictures of my pie instead. Here she is with her ribbons though (the blue ribbon is for the pie and the white ribbon is for rolls that she entered as well).

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If you make a pie for Thanksgiving, I urge you to make this one.  It’s a grand prize blue ribbon favorite in my family!  ~Erin

 

Ingredients:

2 deep dish pie crusts (confession:  I often use frozen but Mom’s recipe is below if you prefer from-scratch)

8 Granny Smith apples

1 c. white sugar

¼ c. light brown sugar, lightly packed

2 T. flour

1/8 tsp. salt

¾ tsp. ground cinnamon

¼ tsp. nutmeg

2 T. butter

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Instructions:

In a large bowl, stir the white sugar, brown sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg until well combined; set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

If you made the crust, roll out one disc to ¼ inch thick and press gently in the pie pan, leaving some overhang.

Peel and thinly slice your apples.  Throw them right in with the sugar mixture and toss to coat.

Pour the apple/sugar mixture into your prepared bottom crust.  Don’t leave any sugar behind!

Dot the top of the apples with some bits of butter.

Roll out the top crust (cut a design or slits to vent), then place it on top of the apples and crimp the edges together with the bottom crust.

Place the pie on a sheet pan (in case it bubbles over!) and bake in the center rack until golden brown (about 45 minutes).

 

Mom’s Deep Dish Double Pie Crust:

4 cups flour

2 tsp. salt

2 sticks butter (1 cup)

1/3 cup vegetable shortening

Approximately 12 T. ice cold water

Stir the salt into the flour.  Cut butter and shortening into flour mixture using a pastry cutter or forks, until it resembles a coarse meal.  Add water and knead until the dough comes together and is no longer crumbly, but not to the point of being sticky though.  Divide into 2 discs, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to use.

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Real Deal Macaroni and Cheese

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Growing up, macaroni and cheese was oftentimes made from a box.  Our Mom, who is a fabulous cook herself, had four daughters within eight years (can we have a moment of silence thanking the Lord that she maintained her sanity?).  So let’s face it….there had to be some shortcuts made somewhere.  Now that the processed food fad of the 70s and 80s has faded, homemade macaroni and cheese is all the rage.  I mean, you can get it on your burger in some restaurants.  If you are a connoisseur of amazing cheesiness as we are, and ready to take steps away from the box  (oh, please do), this is the recipe you need to try! ~ Tracy

3 c. uncooked elbow macaroni

6 T. butter

6 T. all-purpose flour

3 c. milk

1 ½ t. salt

1 ½ t. sugar

1 lb. cubed Velveeta

2/3 c. sour cream

1 1/3 c. cottage cheese

2 ½ c. shredded cheddar cheese

1 ½ c. shredded Swiss cheese (you can tear up slices if you can’t find shredded Swiss)

15 Ritz Crackers

¼ stick butter, melted

Cook & drain macaroni according to package directions.

In a medium sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat.  When butter is melted, stir in flour and mix well (the mixture will form a buttery paste).  Add milk and cook until the mixture begins to thicken.  Add salt, sugar, and cubed Velveeta.  Stir until Velveeta is melted.  Remove from heat and immediately add sour cream and cottage cheese, stirring well until blended.

In a large bowl, combine cooked macaroni noodles, cheddar cheese, and Swiss cheese.  Pour the hot creamy mixture over the macaroni and stir well until cheeses are melted and combined.

Pour the entire mixture into a greased 9 x 13 casserole dish.

Crush Ritz crackers and pour into a bowl.  Combine crushed crackers with melted butter and stir to coat well.  Sprinkle the crackers over the macaroni.

Bake at 340 for 45 – 50 minutes.  If crackers begin to become too brown, cover the top with a loose piece of aluminum foil and finish baking.

Cranberry Salsa

Our cranberry salsa is just the tart treat you’ve been craving as the holidays approach. But beware, if you set it out as an appetizer, it’s usually all gone before the meal.  Consider a double batch if you have a crowd. And it pairs perfectly next to some turkey and stuffing (I eat it by itself with a spoon that way).

I snagged this recipe from a former colleague who already knew the recipe was such a hit that she brought copies of the recipe with her (she’d taken it to other events and had so many requests she learned her lesson & knew to come prepared)! And it was that fantastic and more.  So if you stumble across this sometime, Julie T., a huge thanks from my family (and I mean my entire massive God-bless-us-every-one extended family as seen in our brownie post) to yours.

I’ve tweaked it a titch to make it just right for us, so I hope you’ll share it with those you love as well – and save the paper by telling them to visit Four Sisters Dish of course. Do it for the rainforest and for the Moore sisters! ~Robin

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Ingredients:

1 16 oz. bag of cranberries

¼ c. cilantro

2 – 3 T. of fresh lime juice (one lime or a little more)

2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced

¾ c. sugar

Tortilla or pita chips for dipping

Cream cheese (optional)

Directions:  

Place cranberries and cilantro in a food processor; pulse until cranberries are to the desired chopped size – you want small chunks but not to liquefy them. You need some texture.

I then hand-mince my jalapeños because I don’t trust the processor not to pulverize them a bit too much.

Fold in jalapeños and sugar until well combined.  Serve over cream cheese if desired (I love it by itself on a chip, but cream cheese just adds some richness).

Weight Watchers Info.:  Makes ten ¼ cup servings at 4 SmartPoints each.  Note:  If you use sugar substitutes (I don’t so can’t advise on amount needed; use to taste), this recipe could be 0 SmartPoints.

Southern Sweet Potato Casserole

For a long time, I worked with a fabulous group of people. One of my favorite things was holiday potluck lunches. This recipe was shared with me years ago. I made a couple of minor adjustments to the original recipe. It has been a family favorite ever since. Even those that swear they don’t like sweet potatoes (ahem, Tracy) can’t get enough of these!
This would be a great addition to your (any day is a good day) holiday spread!  ~Kathy

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Sweet Potato Layer Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes*
3/4 cup brown sugar
6 T. of butter, room temperature
2 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
¼ cup milk or half and half
½ tsp vanilla

 Topping Ingredients:

1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1 stick butter, soft
1 cup chopped pecans, optional

Instructions:

Combine the sweet potato layer ingredients well; spread evenly in a 13” x 9” pan.

For the topping, mix butter into flour and brown sugar until crumbly.  Sprinkle pecans over potato mixture, if desired; then evenly distribute the sugar crumble on top.

Bake at 350°F until hot and bubbly, and topping is crisp (about 30 minutes).

*I prefer baking the sweet potatoes instead of boiling, but either way they turn out great!

The Perfect Charlotte Girls’ Weekend

None of us had ever been to The Queen City, but we decided to give it a try for our girls’ weekend this year. It did not disappoint!  By the time we arrived Thursday evening, we were getting pretty hungry and tired, but we were greeted with quite tasty warm cookies and a super friendly front desk staff, and we perked right up!

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Robin, Kathy, Erin, Tracy

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So, Where Should You Stay in Charlotte?

The Double Tree Suites by Hilton Hotel Charlotte — SouthPark, undoubtedly. We chose this hotel because it was a great buy in a great location, but we were absolutely wowed by the staff! We were more than comfortable with all four of us – and all four of our ever-growing shopping stashes – in our spacious suite with separate living area and two-queen bedroom. We were also pleasantly surprised to find a full kitchen in which we could have cooked if we’d really been wanting to save.  But it was the girls’ trip, so we did not turn on any kitchen appliances (though it was nice having the fridge for our tastiest leftovers).

It was a beautiful, super safe area – we walked day and night.  For us, the proximity to the fantastic SouthPark Mall (where we pretty much spent the day Friday), a lovely park, and the more upscale shopping area, Phillips Place, were all big draws to this hotel. We also happened upon the Specialty Shops Southpark just across the street from our hotel, and it had a lot to offer too — we can always spend some time in Williams-Sonoma, after all!  Beyond the location and the cookies, other perks were serious water pressure, endless hot water (4 women were showering in succession at some points, and it never cooled one degree!), and an onsite restaurant and bar.  We really enjoyed our breakfast there overlooking the lovely courtyard.

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The thing we LOVED even more than all of that was the fact that everyone from the hotel engineer who helped us find our room when we got back from shopping (we’d been traveling and then shopped until we dropped, don’t judge) 🙂 to the woman who drove us to dinner whom we were tempted to invite to join us from the front desk. She, by the way, turned out to be New York-transplant front-desk supervisor Christina Wyche, who had the best dinner recommendation we’ve had in a while and was so excited when we got back after we said we loved it that she threw her arms up in celebration.  I thought we were gonna hug, and we’d have been up for it; not gonna lie.

The center courtyard in the center of the hotel is really cozy with lots of green.  A wedding was held there the Saturday we were there, but I imagine most the time it’s accessible for relaxing with a glass of wine from the bar.  And in October, the weather was perfect –highs in the 70s each day.

Travel Tip: We got this recommendation on the area we should stay by calling the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce and letting them know what we were looking for…great shopping and dining options in walking distance with easy travel to Uptown Charlotte.  One way we save is that we very rarely rent a car.  We took a towncar service Uptown (arranged thru the hotel) the day we spent there, and the cost was no more than you’d pay for a cab.

Where to Eat?

You’ve got to grab brunch at Mert’s Heart and Soul.  Fantastic Western omelets and well-coooked greens (there is pepper sauce on the table so you can spice them up to suit yourself). French toast was great, but the stars of the show here were the sweet potato pancakes. They were so scrumptious we couldn’t even leave room for the very tempting case of cakes calling to us. The sweet potato came through really well but they weren’t too sweet.  Best. Pancakes. Ever.

 

 

For dinner Bricktops was excellent. It is a chain but not one available anywhere near home for us.  The chicken Milanese was absolutely killer, and we had some food envy gazing at others’ plates nearby. Kathy had steak, and it was equally fabulous. The pineapple martini is perfect – not too dry but not overly sweet so the tartness comes through, and the raspberry martini deserves a mention too – awfully tasty. The bread pudding was just right – not at all greasy as they so often are, but still decadent.

These are the before and after dessert pictures.  Time between shots:  4.2 seconds.

 

 

7th Street Market

The Seventh Street Public Market was mainly food (which is always great for us) – from gourmet cheeses to multiple wine shops, from awesome soft pretzels to sushi.  It has a little bit of everything, including some fun booths of local goodies too if you need some souvenirs.  Awesome for people watching, it brings in everyone in the city and lots of visitors too.  This place would also be great for families, sandwiched between The Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and The Levine Museum of the New South. The latter looked amazing but we did not have time to do it justice — another draw for another visit!

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We also loved Amelie’s French Bakery just down the road, another Charlotte must. It’s a really hip space, and you can watch the goodies being made while you eat your own selections.  And go back for more if you’re so inclined. This picture pretty much speaks for itself. We are still arguing about which was better: the honey bun or the peach tart.  You’ll have to decide for yourself.

 

Finally, if you’re a meatloaf person, Firebird’s Wood Fired Grill is not to be missed.  With a nice outdoor dining area or a great atmosphere inside, you’ll have a great experience here either way.  Also, if you’re debating whether the [onion] rings are worth the calories of eating a fried side…yes, yes they are. They are the perfect crunchy treat to go with pretty much anything you order. This pasta was fabulous as well. A great “little bit of everything” stop!

 

 

NASCAR Hall of Fame

A short walk is the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  The cars around this showroom would be a huge draw for any fan, and a person could spend some time (and cash) there. We did not spring for the museum, but we did pick up some great treats for the kids in the gift shop.

 

 

As per usual, we had a blast, but the people of Charlotte are what made this trip extra special. Hands down, the friendliest city we’ve ever visited. Forget tea — we’ll be back for more dinner and drinks with the queen.

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Tracy, Robin, Erin, Kathy

 

 

 

Slow Cooker Beefy Pinto Beans

BeansLogoThis is my husband’s recipe for beefy pinto beans.  He made this for me when we were newly married and honestly, until then, I didn’t know how to make pinto beans.  Sounds silly because they are like the easiest meal in the world to make.  If you can run water, you can make pinto beans.  I just never had done it before we got married and didn’t know where to start.  (The basic directions are usually on the package, I found out later.  Duh!)  The good thing about beans is that they are customizable and basically take on the flavor of whatever you cook with them.  I grew up with ham in my beans.  My husband, who was raised on a cattle ranch, always had ground beef in his beans.  I like them both ways, but I prefer this beefy version over the ham… especially with some chopped up jalapenos and fresh cornbread mixed in!  If you’ve never tried making pinto beans, try them this way.  The beef and seasonings add so much flavor!  I think you’ll love them.  ~Erin

 

Ingredients:

2 pounds dry pinto beans

3 T. seasoned salt (I use Lawry’s)

1 lb. 93% lean ground beef, browned

Water

Optional: pickled jalapeños

 

Instructions:

Rinse your beans in a colander and remove any beans that don’t look normal.  Place the beans in the slow cooker pot and cover them with 2 to 3 inches of water above the top of the beans. They will expand a lot.  Allow the beans to soak overnight at room temp.

In the morning, pour the water off the beans and rinse them again.  This doesn’t have to be a perfect rinse job.  Just pour as much off as you can without dumping them in your sink, run water over them, and repeat a couple times.

Finally, fill the pot with enough to cover the beans with about an inch to an inch and half of water over the top of the beans.

Cook the beans on low for at least 10 hours.  When about 2 hours of cook time is remaining, stir in the seasoned salt* and cooked ground beef and continue to cook for the last 2 hours.

Serve the beans with cornbread and, if desired, chopped pickled jalapenos.

Weight Watchers Info.:  This recipe makes 11 servings.  Each serving is 8 ounces (about 1 cup).

Old SmartPoints:  9 SmartPoints

New Freestyle SmartPoints:  2 SmartPoints

*The salt is not added until the end of cook time because, if added too early, it inhibits the tenderizing process.

 

Shrimp & Peppers Cajun Skillet

This shrimp & peppers Cajun skillet is great all by itself.  And it hit me after I’d made it a couple of times that it would make a mean shrimp fajita too, if thrown into a nice warm tortilla.  Barry flips every time I make this–definitely one of his favorites.  I make it a little too spicy for the kids so I make sure I’ve got some leftovers for them so I don’t have to be conservative with the jalapeños.

As an aside, we love this blackening seasoning so much that we’ve started making a double batch most of the time…that quantity fits really nicely into a regular sized spice container. For easy storage, I reuse another emptied spice container.

You could tone down the spices if needed – tips for doing that in the recipe below. I love the heat though. It tastes just like I imagined one of Justin Wilson’s dishes would have when I watched him with Pappaw as a kid.  Enjoy!  ~Robin

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Ingredients:

Four Sisters Dish blackening seasoning (see recipe below)

12 oz. frozen container of deveined, peeled shrimp

3 T. olive oil, extra virgin, Divided (EVOO)

8 The Little Potato Company baby boomer fresh creamer potatoes, quartered

1 white onion, cut into 1” wedges

1 T. minced garlic (I use Spice World brand when I use jarred garlic – or fresh if it’s handy).

1 jalapeño pepper (slice into rings, then half the rings*)

1 bell pepper, green, cut into 1” chunks

2 bell peppers, red, cut into 1” chunks

1 tsp. garlic salt (sprinkle over veggies before add shrimp back to skillet)

Ingredients for Four Sisters Dish blackening seasoning: 

1 3/4 tsp. light brown sugar

1 ½ tsp. garlic salt

½ to 1 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (1 ½ tsp. is VERY hot – most will want ½ tsp. — or 1 tsp. if you want to go pretty spicy.  I love spicy food but 1 1/2 was almost too hot for me – tissues needed nearby.)

2 T. paprika (smoked paprika if making for lighter fish fillets; regular paprika for all other meats, shrimp included)

Instructions:

  1. Thaw shrimp; then pat to dry. Set aside.
  2. Mix up blackening seasoning (using regular paprika), stirring together all ingredients. Set aside.
  3. Begin heating a T. of EVOO in a skillet on medium heat.
  4. Coat a plate well with the Four Sisters Dish blackening seasoning. Place shrimp on the plate, then sprinkle the tops with the spice mixture as well so both sides are coated.
  5. Cook small shrimp on medium heat for 8 minutes (do not stir or they’ll lose the seasoning), turning to the other side halfway through cook time. When fully cooked, set aside.
  6. Do not wipe out the pan. The spices will help season your vegetables.
  7. Add remaining 2 T. of EVOO to the pan. Then add potatoes and onion; then lightly sprinkle them with blackening seasoning too (just to add a little flavor, not to coat them). Cook for 5 minutes.
  8. While the potatoes and onion cook, carefully remove the tails from your shrimp (be sure it’s cool enough before attempting).
  9. After potatoes and onions have cooked for five minutes, increase heat to medium-high and add jalapeño, bell peppers, & minced garlic. Sprinkle vegetables with 1 tsp. of garlic salt.  Cook for 9-11 minutes on medium-high heat until vegetables are seared and have picked up some of the spice flavors.  Be sure potatoes can be cut easily with a fork as well.
  10. Reduce heat to medium. Add shrimp back to pan, cooking another minute or just until shrimp is heated well.

Weight Watchers Info.: 4 SmartPoints per serving; serves 5 (serving size: 1.5 cups).

*You could seed, then mince the jalapeño to make it less spicy.  However, if you don’t like things at all spicy, you could also use less than the whole pepper or none at all.