Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Always room for chocolate

Now that the weather has turned chilly (we're expecting lows in the 40s this week), I'm in the mood for fall baking. I'm already making lists in my head of all the cookies and treats I want to bake for Christmas this year (definitely molasses cookies, but should I try something new?) So I was tickled to find several new cookie recipes in the last issue of "Taste of Home" magazine.

I took some time off work last week to do some "tinkering" in the kitchen. I tried this recipe for "My Kid's Favorite Cookies." (Must register to view.) It was a super easy recipe that called for ingredients I already had in my cupboards, including coconut and brown sugar. The only ingredients I needed to buy from the store were the Hershey candy bars.

The cookies turned out great, although I may have undercooked them a little at just 10 minutes in the oven. I like my cookies golden brown on the bottom. It was fun to press the Hershey chocolates into the cookies and watch them melt on contact.

This recipe made a big batch, nearly five dozen. Of course, my husband stole a few as he walked by.

Although they are the "kid's favorite cookies," I wouldn't say they are my favorite. They were a little too plain-vanilla for me, although the coconut added some nice texture. I'm still going to keep this recipe for possible future use, just because it's so easy. And I bet these treats would look great on a Christmas cookie plate. (Can you tell I can't wait for holiday baking season?)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Martha Mondays: Apple Brown Betty

"What's an apple brown betty?" my husband asked, when I started my Martha Mondays assignment late last night. You see, an apple brown betty isn't well known here in the Midwest. We're more familiar with its cousin, the apple crisp. In this apple brown betty recipe from the Martha Stewart Web site, toasted bread crumbs replace the oats in the Iowa-version of the apple crisp. And my favorite apple crisp recipe uses a whole lot more brown sugar, so the end result is almost caramelized.

I was reluctant to tinker with one of my favorite desserts, but I was willing to give the apple brown betty a try. It certainly was an easy recipe, with a minimal number of ingredients. And I always like an excuse to break out my food processor, this time to create the bread crumbs from scratch.

Unfortunately, I ran into problems early on. When I baked the bread crumbs for 8 minutes, they came out of the oven nearly burnt to a char. I salvaged what I could to finish the recipe.

The dessert smelled great -- a terrific combination of cinnamon and melted butter. Not sure if the photos really do the dessert justice, it looked pretty impressive coming out of the oven. My husband added the zinnia flower in the above photo, just to pretty it up. But this betty looks great piled on plate.

I have to admit, though, that it still doesn't compare to an apple crisp (made of Iowa-grown apples, of course). My sister gave me this recipe for apple crisp, which was given to her by a friend's mom. It is absolutely the best!

Mom's rhubarb crisp

  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. all purpose flour
  • 3/4 c. quick oats
  • 1/2 c. melted butter
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 4 c. sliced apples (or rhubarb)
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 Tbls. cornstarch
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

In a bowl, mix brown sugar, flour, oats, butter, cinnamon until crumbly. Press 1/2 the mixture into butterd 8-inch square pan. Top with apples (or rhubarb). In a sauce pan, mix sugar, water cornstarch, vanilla until clear. Pour syrup mixture over apples. Top with remaining crumb mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream (Iowa-made Blue Bunny ice cream, of course!)

Thanks, Martha and Me! Once again, it was a fun challenge.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tropical twist

Tried a new bread recipe tonight. Found this one in the King Arthur Flour Baking Sheet newsletter. I've fallen in love with the King Arthur Flour folks and their wonderful recipes. In their summer newsletter, King Arthur featured blue-ribbon bread recipes from the 2008 Iowa State Fair. I'm a big fan of the Iowa State Fair cookbooks, so the article immediately caught my eye. The first recipe I tried tonight was pineapple upside down rolls. They are like cinnamon rolls, only with a pineapple/coconut/brown sugar topping, instead frosting.

The rolls turned out pretty good -- not great. They were a little dry for my liking, and the topping was a little skimpy. But the flavor combo was fun, especially for a pineapple fan like me.

Earlier this week, I had a day off of work. I was waiting for the cable guy to show up, so I decided to fill some time by making apple butter from the locally grown apples I bought at Fareway. It was my first time making apple butter, and I really enjoyed the whole process. But it took forever! I spent 7-1/2 hours in the kitchen just to can 10 small jars of apple butter. Thankfully, the apple butter turned out great, so it half-way justified the time. Better than watching daytime TV shows all day, at least.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cupcake creations: Banana split cupcakes

Writing this blog has inspired me to try all kinds of recipes that I've kept stored away in my closet but never tried. This weekend, I dug out my old Taste of Home cupcakes magazine, and one of the first recipes listed was for banana-split cupcakes.

I love banana bread, and I love frosting even more. So this recipe was a dream come true. It turned out fantastic. I made a special trip to a local craft store to find colorful paper cups to match the fun cupcakes.

The chocolate on top is actually a melted Hersey milk chocolate bar. There's also a broken piece of the bar inside the cupcakes.

These cupcakes look so pretty in a group. Can't believe I made them! And my family loved them. My husband ate half of the batch in one sitting. It was hard for me not to go back for seconds.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Martha Mondays: Donation bag

This week's Martha Mondays challenge was to create a charitable donation bag. The idea is to hang a tote bag in a convenient location; fill it with any clothes or household items you want to give to charity; and grab the tote bag on your way out the door when you're ready to take the items to a donation center.

It's a terrific idea. Right now, Ihave the bad habit of just throwing unwanted clothes on the bottom of my closet, and then when there's a pile, I'll bag them up and take to Goodwill. There's a new Goodwill store just a few blocks from my route to work, so it would be pretty convenient to drop off a small bag every now and then, instead of making one big trip with multiple garbage bags full of clothes.

I placed this old tote, which I got "free-with-purchase," on a hook in the back of my old closet.

Since my husband and I started to order a lot of our household supplies on Amazon to save trips to town, we've got a regular supply of big boxes. I've already filled up a couple boxes full of clothes to take to Goodwill. I'll probably drop them off this week, while I'm thinking about it.

Also decided to put a "donation box" near the upstair closet, which tends to fill up with books I've already read. Thought I could fill this box with books and take them to our local library, which holds a book sale fundraiser twice a year.

Thanks to Martha and Me for another great challenge!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wild 'shrooms

My husband surprised me the other day with a box full of wild mushrooms. And, boy, were they giant! He's been looking for two years for the elusive "hen of the woods" mushroom. Last week, he got a call from a guy he met through work who had seen wild mushrooms in a local cemetary. Josh went to check it out, and he came back home with these beauties.

He added the dollar bill to show just how giant the one mushroom was. He was so excited about his find. It really was an amazing mushroom.

Josh washed it off and cut it up into pieces like cauliflower.

He put a bunch of the pieces in baggies to freeze. The rest of the giant mushroom is still in the fridge. He fried up a few pieces in oil so we can try a few small batches to make sure it wasn't poisonous. Thank goodness, we felt fine in the morning. The mushroom had a nutty flavor, almost like a fried hashbrown. Josh heard that the mushrooms were terrific with eggs. We're going to have eggs and mushrooms tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tomato hunters

Josh and I went on a "tomato hunt" through Boone County last weekend, since my garden refuses to yield any ripe, red tomatoes. We had to stop at two farms to get enough tomatoes for canning. It's getting pretty late in the season, so this will probably be my last attempt at canning crushed tomatoes. We're planning to use these for Josh's famous chili this winter.

Sorry only one photo this time. My husband took the camera with him fishing this weekend. He wants photographic proof the next time he catches the big one!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Martha Monday

Welcome to the first edition of Martha Monday! In my quest to learn how to cook, bake and garden, I've developed a fascination with all things Martha Stewart. It started with clipping a few recipes out of a Martha Stewart Living magazine. Then I discovered the Martha Stewart show on television thanks to TiVo. I just adore her lessons on crafting, cooking and appreciating the "good things" in life.
I recently stumbled onto the wonderful Martha and Me blog, where the author attempts to incorporate Martha's homekeeping tips in her everyday life. On a whim, I decided to join the blog's Martha Mondays group. Each week, I'll try a new Martha project and share my results with all of you.
This week's project is molasses spice cake. I was sold on this recipe the first time I saw it. Molasses, cream cheese frosting and caramel topping, how could I not fall in love?
With all the canning and bread-baking I've been doing lately, it was such a treat to make a cake from scratch. And it seemed very old-fashioned, in a way. No multiple layers. Just a simple round cake.
The cake baked up beautifully, and the spices smelled so good right out of the oven. I found the recipe yielded way too much cream cheese frosting, so I took a couple tablespoons of frosting off the top. The caramel topping was amazing; I wanted to dip an apple in it.
My husband couldn't wait until I took the picture before digging into the cake.
However, I have to admit that this cake was just "OK" for me. The molasses flavor was a little strong, and I couldn't find fresh ginger in my small-town grocery store, so I had to add the powdered stuff. But still a show-stopping cake. Can't wait for next week's project!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Apple of my eye

Apple season is finally here! I took a trip to the Center Grove Orchard in Cambridge this week and came back with a bag of Paula Red apples. It's an early season variety that is supposed to be terrific for making sauce. (The orchard carries more than 30 varieties of apples through the beginning of November, so I'm sure I'll be back often this fall.)

Aren't these apples beautiful? They have such a beautiful red and green color, and the flesh is bright white when peeled. The flavor is a delight, too; it almost tastes like a berry-flavored apple.

I'm still new to making applesauce from scratch, so I keep trying different recipes until I find one I really like. Last night, I used a recipe from one of my favorite Web sites, allrecipes.com. The recipe is called Sarah's Applesauce. It's a five-star recipe with more than 500 reviews, so I figured it was definitely worth a try. My only alterations were that I added a little lemon juice for flavor and to boost the color of the apples. I also used half the sugar called for in the recipe. In the end, the applesauce turned out a little on the tart side, so maybe next time I'll add a little more sugar.
There's nothing better than homemade applesauce. And it took less than a hour to make, including peeling the apples by hand. Love the addition of cinnamon in the recipe!

Attempted to get a close-up view, but I'm using my sister's camera. My husband took the camera out fishing tonight. Never know when he's going to catch the big one!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Blue-ribbon bread

I dusted off my copy of the 2008 Iowa State Fair cookbook last weekend and found an easy recipe for raisin bread. There aren't any cinnamon-sugar swirls; it's just raisins studded in fluffy bread. The bread turned out terrific on the first try, so this recipe is a keeper.

I accidentally added 2 cups of whole wheat flour to the bread dough before I realized that I grabbed the wrong flour bag from the cupboard. It didn't affect the final result, however; and it gave the bread a nice golden color.

I also experimented with a recipe from my new "Joy of Pickling" cookbook. I made one of my husband's childhood favorites: watermelon rind pickles. Actually, they are dark watermelon pickles. The dark brown color comes from the whopping 5 cups of brown sugar I added to the pickling liquid. The recipe description said these pickles were more like a confection, and I totally agree. They turned out sticky like caramel. And no, these watermelon pickles aren't bright green or red, like some of the recipes that call for food coloring. Josh remembers his grandmother serving green watermelon pickles every Christmas.

A special thanks to my husband for cutting up the watermelon rind for me while I went out to watch the "Julie & Julia" movie. By the way, it was an amazing movie. I read both the books the movie was based on, and I think the movie did a great job of representing the true stories. I was so inspired, I'm thinking about putting together a Julia Child costume for Halloween this year.
Here's my not-so-impressive attempt to get a close up shot of the watermelon rind pickles.

One more bit of good news: My zinnias finally opened up to show off their rainbow colors. The first dahlia flower also bloomed. I picked a bunch of garden flowers and put them in my favorite ceramic vase. If these colors match, it's purely by coincidence. I'm not that great at color coordinating my garden. I just like anything with bright colors.

The dinner-plate dahlia is a biggie!

The yellow glads make me think of spring tulips, for some reason.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

You say tomato

Driving through my neighborhood, I see dozens of tomato plants with ripe, red tomatoes on the vine. Yet my garden hasn't yielded one ripe tomato, until last week. Here's my first red tomato. It's not so pretty, but it's mine!

Since I can't do much with one tomato, I bought 10 pounds of tomatoes this week from Black's Heritage Farms in Ames so I could can tomatoes. Once again, canning tomatoes was suprisingly easy, except for the time involved. I decided to break out the pressure canner for the first time. However, it took well over an hour to pressure-can the tomatoes. Next time, I'll probably just process them in a boiling-water bath.

I found blueberries on sale at Fareway, so I also baked blueberry muffins while I was waiting for the tomatoes to process. These muffins have quickly become our favorite. I always make several batches in the summer, put them in the freezer and then heat one up in the microwave for breakfast.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Back to the 60s

My sister, Kristi, took part in a 1960s-themed birthday party for one of her DMACC instructors. So she got the urge to make a tie-dye T-shirt for the big event.

Neither one of us had ever made a tie-dye shirt. But my husband had a little experience with it and said he would help. Kristi bought a $20 tie-dye kit at Wal-Mart and a couple of white cotton T-shirts. She was surprised at how easy it was to dye the shirts. Just fill up a couple of squirt bottles with dye, twist up the shirts and apply the color.

Kristi did a great job with her first-ever tie-dye project.

I was super busy making pickles last weekend, so Josh went ahead and made this shirt for me. So unique.

On a completely unrelated note, I drove up to LeMars today for a story, and I absolutely had to stop at the Blue Bunny ice cream visitors' center. Believe it or not, this was a single scoop of my fav flavor, Bunny Tracks.

Love the ribbons of fudge, caramel and the peanut butter-filled chocolate bunnies. I ate this whole cone on my 3-1/2 hour drive from home. Boy, did I get sleepy! But so worth it.
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