Category Archives: Freezer/Make-ahead

So, Uh… What Do You Do With Crab Apples?

Canning Crab Apple Butter :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

My husband and my daughters left for a little while the other day and came back with a bucket of crab apples.

Me: “Uh… what do I do with em, honey?”
Him: “I dunno. I figured you’d have some cool idea.” ūüôā

Internets to my rescue! Time for my favorite thing… research!

Canning Crab Apple Butter :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

These smell delicious. I knew I wanted a recipe that would evoke how I feel right now. I want Fall. I’m really tired of the heat. Summer, I’m done with you. It’s time for Fall. Apple butters always make me feel like the air is crisp, the leaves are crunching beneath my feet, and the most delicious smell of spiced everything fills my house. So, I decided that crab apple butter was going to be my first venture into canning! My first! I gotta say, it was a MAJOR success.

I am hooked.

Canning Crab Apple Butter :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

After doing some foodie research, I started by following the advice on this video to take the extra time to put some love into my butter. I cut off the blossom ends, took off the stems, and cut them in half to better access the natural pectin in the seeds. I put them in a bit of citrus water to keep them from browning as I cut them. It didn’t take too long, especially the second time around when my hubby helped. I strained off the water, weighed them to assess how much sugar I would need, and added them to a big pot with 1/2 a cup of water per pound of crab apples. I cooked them until they were soft. I decided to use my hand blender to make everything like applesauce, help things along. Then I put it through my strainer, but if you had one of those applesauce grater-things, that would probably be good too.

Canning Crab Apple Butter :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals
Before straining out the seeds

I added the sugar, 1 cup for every 3 pounds of crab apples, then the spices. In all the recipes I researched, they didn’t seem to have enough spices. So I doubled or even tripled what I had seen called for. It was a good choice too. In the recipe I’ll give you at the end, I’m going to give you the very least of the spices, but more is better, take it from me. Also, I didn’t have ground cloves so I put in whole cloves, which I later had to fish out (annoying!). But the second time around I left out the cloves entirely, and I liked it better without cloves. What you use is up to you.

Canning Crab Apple Butter :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals
Adding sugar and spice after straining

This goes on the stove to simmer uncovered for two hours. I know, it seems like a long time. But it gives the crab apple butter a chance to thicken, lose some water, meld flavors, and whatever else it does. So we went outside to take pictures of the sunflowers, and the bumblebees who had decided that the sunflowers are delicious. Little beauties!

Sunflowers :: Pen Pals and Cookin' GalsAfter the two hours were up, things were looking pretty much like I thought apple butter should look like. I then canned the crab apple butter in half-pint jars. I found the recommendation for boiling apple butters according to safe home canning procedures. I don’t want to be responsible for killing anyone.

Little Helper :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals
Lucky me! I had this cute little helper who came in to help model rings as bracelets as I was working.

This is a beautiful, versatile, and delicious recipe that will help you herald Fall each year. I know it will become a yearly tradition for our family. My house smelled delicious. The whole family got involved. It was a wonderful way to start my canning journey.

Canning Crab Apple Butter :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

I’m going to give you relatively small amounts of ingredients for this recipe because I always find it easier to multiply a recipe than to divide it. Here’s the recipe….

Spiced Crab Apple Butter (for canning)


3 pounds of crab apples, free from holes or bad bruises, stems and blossoms removed

1 1/2 cups water for boiling (more for canning later)

1 cup white sugar *

at least 1/2 tblsp ground cinnamon

at least 1/2 tsp ground allspice

at least 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

(optional) 1/2 tsp ground cloves

*I don’t know of a sugar substitute to use in place of white sugar when canning. I have found that you can use a light honey, just cut down the amount of water you use. For those who are diabetic and want a sugar substitute, I’m sorry! I haven’t seen anything that compares to what sugar does in jams, jellies, and fruit butters. Using Splenda is apparently not recommended if you want to store jams and jellies, since odd things can happen, separation and taste changes, etc. Everything I see says to just leave out the sugar. This recipe needs sugar since the crab apples are so very tart. If you know of an alternative, please let us know all about it in the comments!)¬†

Cooking Method:

1.) Cut off blossom end, cut in half, the pick off stems of ripe, reddish crab apples. Leave seeds and cores. Seeds are where much of the the natural pectin is. Weigh the crab apples, add water, then boil until soft stirring now and then.

2.) Strain out seeds. Add the crab applesauce back to the pot. Add the sugar and spices. Taste. Add more sugar/spices if desired. Your crab apple butter should taste sweetly tart like cranberry sauce. Cook on medium-low for two hours, stirring now and then.

3A.) Spoon crab apple butter into clean, sanitized jars leaving a bit of head space.  Seal with a new, clean lid. Add rings, lightly tightened. Leave these on the counter for 24 hours then store in the refrigerator to eat within the next couple of months.


3B.) Process jars according to safe home canning procedures. Here is the info for apple butters:

Table 1. Recommended process time for Apple Butter in a boiling-water canner.
Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar Size 0 – 1,000 ft 1,001 – 6,000 ft Above 6,000 ft
Hot Half-pints or Pints 5 min 10 15
Quarts 10 15 20

This page has a wonderfully comprehensive rundown on canning apple butters if you think you need a little more information than I have given you.

Disclaimer:¬†If canned incorrectly,¬†Clostridium botulinum¬†is a real and dangerous risk. Pen Pals and Cookin’ Gals is not responsible for how this recipe is used, use of poor canning practices, or canning errors.




Kick the Can! Homemade Tomato Soup From Scratch

I learned recently, after reading this popular article, ¬†that canned tomato products are really, really bad. Like, enough for me to boycott anything with tomatoes that is not in glass. BPA leaching out into my family’s food? Ugh. No. Here’s a great article talking about why it’s bad and what else we can do.

So in my effort to do away with this evil in our lives, I have to find a boxed or glass-jarred equivalent to the Campbell’s soup my family loves so much. No luck yet. But I looked at all the tomatoes in my garden and on my counter, and I had an idea. I went in search of a recipe to try. I thought I would have to get all witches cauldron on it to make it taste like Campbell’s. As soon as I smelled the first step of this recipe cooking, I knew I already had a winner. So here you are, the freshest, BPA-free, Campbell’s soup fake-out that had my family begging for seconds. The key to that memorable tomato soup flavor? Cloves!


I chopped up my tomatoes, between 2-3 cups worth, and added some homemade chicken stock. A friend suggested using bone broth for added nutritional benefits, which I think is a spectacular idea. Next time I will plan ahead and use bone broth. I was so thrown off by the call for cloves that I almost didn’t put them in. I’m glad I did!

Once they had simmered for a while, I used my stick blender to help things along. I then ladled it into my sieve and used the back of the ladle to push everything but the seeds and skins through.


I put the seeds and skins back into my garden. Maybe we’ll get volunteer tomatoes. ūüôā

This beautiful tomato juice was what I got. But there’s another important step. Roux.


You’ll make a light brown roux of butter and flour, 2 tablespoons of each. I almost let mine go too far while I was taking pictures. Plus I had a screeching toddler on my leg. This is a bit forgiving though. Mine turned out delicious nonetheless.


Slowly add the tomato-ey liquid, making sure everything is smooth and creamy before adding more. It’s so interesting to me how the roux seizes up and then smooths back out again. Cooking is cool.


When I was all done, I tasted it and added salt and sugar until it tasted right. Mine needed more sugar than the recipe called for. I’m sure it will be different for every batch and for every cook. We spooned in a dollop of sour cream, added some fresh basil from the garden, a sprinkle of pepper (for the adults), and dipped gooey grilled cheese into our soup.



I followed the recipe I found exactly, aside from the amount of sugar at the end. You can find it at this link.

Throw out those disgusting cans. Try this delicious soup and you’ll give your family the chemical-free dinner they deserve! Added plus: this freezes well (according to my bone broth offering friend, thanks V!) so it’s just as easy to pull out and heat up as a can of soup.

For the love of food…

Kid-Pleasin’ Zucchini Apple Muffins


It’s that year again! Tis’ the harvest season. And, though I’m sure this happens everywhere, there is a joke in the Mormon community, “You might be a Mormon¬†if you have to lock your car in the church parking lot to keep it from being filled with¬†zucchini, tomatoes, and eggplants.” It’s a total knee-slapper, right? Yuk yuk.

Well, the point is, whether you are overrun with zucchini or are looking at the one on your counter wondering if you can choke down any more zucchini bread, having another recipe up your sleeve can come in handy! This recipe also makes a delicious addition to your toddler food repertoire.

Here’s why, two reasons:

  • Fiber – Keep the skin on (only if you know your zucchini are organic!) and you’ve got lots of hidden fiber.
  • Vitamin A – Zucchinis are high in this vitamin that is important for eye health and immune function.

I was happy to see my kids (4-years old and 20-months old) chowing down on these healthy snacks. We even had some for breakfast one day.

And when I shredded the zucchini for this recipe, I just shredded all the zucchini I had on hand in my food processor, used what I needed, then froze the rest in 2 cup allotments for next time. I tracked down the original recipe here.

And now, without further adieu. The recipe for these delicious muffins.


Zucchini Apple Muffins

Makes 18 large muffins

  • 2 cups flour or flour substitute (for gluten-free)
  • 1 cup brown sugar (Try sucanat as a cleaner substitute. it has a mild brown sugar flavor.)
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ginger
  • 1/8 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 1 medium apple, skinned, cored, and grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1/2 cup oil (y’all know I use coconut)


Mix the flour, sugar, spices, and salt in a large bowl. Add the shredded zucchini and apple In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients. Add this mixture to the rest and stir until just combined. Spoon the batter into lightly greased or paper-lined muffin tins. Fill them almost to the top. Bake on 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Pull them out when a toothpick comes out clean. (Tip: No toothpicks? Use a piece of dry pasta!)

These freeze amazingly!

You won’t be disappointed in these moist, flavorful, healthy muffins. Thanks to Try It You Might Like It for the recipe I ended up seeing in!



Make-Ahead Freezer Breakfast Burritos

My busy family always needs easy-to-grab breakfasts. Often, my husband gets up with the girls while I sneak in one more hour of sleep. What a lucky girl am I! The way that I make sure that everyone eats something healthy and filling, while I am checking the backs of my eyelids for holes, is to make freezer-friendly breakfasts up ahead of time that my husband can heat up quickly. I most often have homemade waffles, muffins, ham/sausage and egg breakfast sandwiches, and these delicious breakfast burritos waiting in the freezer. Here’s where I got the original idea many moons ago.

Tips for make-ahead meals:

  • Start with a clean kitchen.¬†
  • Get all your bowls, pans, and utensils ready. Huge bowls come in very handy.
  • Get all your ingredients washed and prepped.
  • Have a kitchen helper to wash as you go. My sweet hubs tackles this job.
  • Make it easy on yourself and cut up extra potatoes, onions, and peppers that you can store in the freezer (cooked or uncooked, as you prefer), and cook extra meat for later meals in the week or month.

The ingredients and method:

Make-Ahead Freezer Breakfast Burritos :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

How much of each to use? Well, it depends on how many you want to make. I make as many as possible. Last night, we made 30 burritos. We used 18 eggs, 2 lbs of ground sausage, 3 peppers, 2 cups of chopped onion, and a whole 5 lb bag of potatoes.

Exact quantity of the ingredients doesn’t matter so much. But about 10 burritos would take about 6 eggs,¬†about 1/2 to 1 lb of sausage,¬†1 to 2 bell peppers, about 1/2 to 1 onion, and¬†about 2 to 3 med potatoes¬†(give or take). And then whatever you add or subtract and how you measure out the ingredients in the wrapping process change how many you get from this. We do huge batches and just cook up as much¬†stuff¬†as we can so that it’s one night, rather than many.

Make-Ahead Freezer Breakfast Burritos :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

OVEN ROASTED POTATOES: Start your potatoes first because they take the longest. I am a make-it-easy gal, so we use the food processor to grate our potatoes quickly. I have cut them into cubes and roasted them that way, but honestly, it’s very time consuming. My kids make it hard to spend lots of time in the kitchen, so quicker is better at this point in my life! When using the food processor, you must drain the shredded potatoes. Or do what I do and enlist your helper’s strong hands to squeeze out the extra liquid that comes from the potatoes. No one wants a soggy burrito.

I toss my potatoes with thyme and lightly spray with olive oil; but any of your favorite herbs and spices will bring it to the next level. I then spread the potatoes on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Easy clean up is also a priority. Bake at 425 degrees F for about 15-20 minutes or until softened and lightly browned, turning once.

SCRAMBLED EGGS: I crack all my eggs into a large bowl, add sea salt, pepper, and sour cream for a creamier, less watery texture than milk. The best way to cook bright and fluffy scrambled eggs is to never turn the heat above medium, depending on your stove, and to keep stirring and gently scraping the cooked eggs off the bottom of the pan. I have to do two pans simultaneously when I use 18 eggs.

SAUSAGE/OTHER MEATS: Cook the ground sausage according to package directions until browned and crumbled. Drain. I have also added cooked and crumbled bacon and ham to my burritos. We left out the bacon to cut the fat (I don’t even buy it anymore), and I didn’t have any ham. It does add a lot to the flavor. So add what you like. You can’t go wrong.

BELL PEPPERS AND ONIONS: After I remove my sausage for draining, I add the peppers and onions to the sausage pan,. Might as well use that pre-seasoned pan! Cook on medium-high heat, covered, until they are softened, and then uncover until all the liquid has cooked off.

Here’s a make-ahead tip: Take a bag of onions, remove the skin and cut into quarters, then use your food processor to grate the onions in a giant batch. The onions will put off a lot of water. Squeeze out the water with your hands or a fine sieve, and store the shredded onions in freezer bags. Press score lines for easy removal of portions from the bag later. These can be added to any of your cooking preparations. And save the onion “water”. It can be added to stews, soups, and marinades for extra flavor that plain water just doesn’t provide. From one 5 lb bag of onions, I got 2 quarts of onion “water”. I like prepping these easy-to-grab onions as I’m making my burritos because the large batch accommodates using many onions anyway. We might as well take these extra few minutes while everything is out, right?

ADD-ONS or SUBSTITUTIONS: Beans, tofu, tomatoes, summer squash, quinoa, rice, meat substitutes, gourmet cheeses, TVP (soy protein), tempeh, ¬†and pretty much any veggies – shredded or cut small and cooked. You can also add whatever sauces or dips you’d like with these to the inside for easier on-the-go eating. Think: Ketchup, hot sauce, salsa, Sriracha, etc.

Make-Ahead Freezer Breakfast Burritos :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

Mix everything together in a giant bowl. I use large flour tortillas, but you can use small ones if you prefer. 1/4 cup cheese and about 3/4 cup of the “filling” is the perfect amount for my burritos. Below is my process:

Burrito assembly :: Make-Ahead Freezer Breakfast Burritos :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

Layer cheese and filling. Turn up sides. Turn up the edge closest to you. Roll to the other edge. My kitchen helper (hubs) wraps these in paper towel for easy individual microwave cooking later. Then we place them in the bag that the tortillas came in (re-use, re-cycle!), write the date, and freeze!

Make-Ahead Freezer Breakfast Burritos :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

We pull them out one (or three) at a time. Then we re-heat them in the microwave for 1.5 minutes, flip it, and another 1.5 minutes on the other side.

The hubs and I once figured up what this saves us per month. He used to buy breakfast burritos (or another gas station breakfast) about 2-3 times per week. These cost anywhere from $3-5 each. That’s $24-60 per month, and $288-720 per year. At the very least, we’re cutting out the cost of at least one bill! What do they cost to make? That depends on where you live and what time of year it is. Do you get free eggs from your chickens, or buy in bulk at a club grocery store? Ours run about .75 cents to ¬†$1.00 per burrito. We’re saving quite a bit and feeding our family food that will not only be healthier than greasy gas station food, but will also fill their tummies better. Adjust these to make them vegetarian, gluten-free, high protein, spicy, kid-friendly, gourmet, whatever you like.

*The nutrition will vary depending on what you put in them. I figured mine up and if you did it exactly as I did, the nutrition info is as follows. Rough estimate only.

Nutrition Info: ~400-450 calories, ~40 g carbs, ~20 g. fat (use low fat sausage or substitute to lower this number), ~20 g. protein, ~1000-1500 mg sodium (use low sodium whenever possible to minimize this impact), ~5 g. sugar.

Happy eating! I hope you try these and that they make your life easier. That’s always my goal. We made a party out of it last night and got the whole family involved. Kids eating, chopping, stirring, and mixing. Husband washing, wiping counters, and kid wrangling. It’s really better to do this with company, music, and help. Making memories in the kitchen is the best part.