Sunday, January 31, 2010

HBin5: Soft Whole Wheat Bread

I'm loving how easy it is to make the recipes in "Healthy Bread in 5."  This week's challenge was soft whole wheat bread and a few of its variations.  I mixed up a batch of the bread dough about a week ago and let it sit in the fridge for at least 24 hours, as directed.

The bread turned out great on my first attempt.

I enjoyed eating this bread with homemade apple butter.

A week later, I used the rest of the dough to make the apple struesel bread.  I was so excited about this recipe.  The bread has a swirl of diced apples, walnuts, raising and raw sugar.  It's like a healthier version of cinnamon-raisin bread.  It looked beautiful right out of the oven.

The only strange thing is that both loaves of bread ended up with a "crack" in the top crust.  It was especially noticeable with the apple struesel bread because the filling was oozing out.  I made sure to put the swirl's "seam" on the bottom of the loaf, so I'm not sure why it cracked.  Is anyone else having the same issue?  I'm wondering if it has to do with the "gluten cloak."

I didn't have time to make the hamburger/hot dog buns for this week's challenge.  Plus, I used up all the dough making the soft whole wheat bread loaf and the apple struesel loaf.  I must be making my loaves too big, because I usually can only get three loaves out of a batch of dough, not the four that the book calls for.

Anyhow, I enjoyed the apple struesel bread for an afternoon snack today, with a cut up pear on the side.  So good!

Really enjoyed this week's project.  I'm pretty excited about the next project: red beet buns and chocolate tangerine bars.  It will be quite a culinary adventure! 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Peanut butter goodness

Another winter storm kept me home last week, so I decided to warm up the house by turning on the oven to bake.

A few weeks back, I found refrigerated cookie dough on sale.  I could probably count on my hand how many times I've bought ready-made cookie dough.  I love to bake from scratch, and cookies are so easy to make.  But I've been itching to try the Pillsbury Cook-Off million dollar winning Double Delight Peanut Butter Cookies.  So I picked up a tube of cookie dough at the grocery store.

I've been craving peanut butter like crazy this winter.  Not exactly sure why, but I've been eating a lot of PB&J sandwiches and adding a spoonful of PB to my hot oatmeal in the morning.  It really helps curb the mid-morning slump.  So I loved the idea of a peanut butter cookie with a surprise peanut butter filling.

First, I mixed together peanut butter and powdered sugar, then rolled mixture into tiny balls.

Then I wrapped peanut butter cookie dough around the PB balls.  Rolled the cookie dough in cinnamon and sugar, then popped them in an oven.

Ten minutes later, these lovelies were done. they aren't much to look at.  But, boy, did I love these.  Lucky for me, my husband doesn't really like peanut butter cookies, so I had the whole batch pretty much to myself.  Wahoo!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Martha Mondays: Maple granola

I took a hiatus from Martha Mondays because of the holidays, the blizzards and the traveling.  Now that I have the luxury of free weekend, I set aside some time to make this week's Martha Mondays project, chosen by Maryann and Stirring It Up with Meg.  This week's pick was a good one: Maple granola from page 24 of the February issue of Martha Stewart Living.

My husband and I love granola, so I was excited to give this recipe a try.  I've tried a few other granola recipes before, always with mixed results.  The most difficult part of making granola is trying not to burn it.  The coconut and nuts in the granola, plus all the sweetener, can turn a little too brown too quickly if I'm not watching it.

Martha's maple granola was pretty standard:  maple syrup, coconut, walnuts, brown sugar and nutmeg.  We ran out of olive oil, so we used grapeseed oil (a favorite of my husband's) instead.  I skipped the sesame seeds and added chopped dried pears, since we're still trying to get through a box of dried fruit my husband bought on a whim this summer. (He wanted snacks for his fishing trips.)  I made a stop at a local health foods store, hoping to find unsweetened coconut chips, but I couldn't find them.  So I just added sweetened shredded coconut.

This may be my new favorite granola recipe.  I loved the sweetness of the maple syrup.  I poured a little milk over the top, trying to replicate the picture in MS Living.  My one complaint is that this granola may be a touch too sweet for my taste.  But it's very possible that I may have measured something wrong.  The granola actually turned the milk a light tan color, I'm assuming from the maple syrup.

I'm going to file this one away in my recipe box, but make a note to maybe reduce the maple syrup and/or brown sugar a tad.  Loved this week's Martha Mondays pick!  Thanks for the challenge!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Icy mess

What's worse than a winter of record snow?  How about a week of freezing rain and ice.

I tried to drive to work yesterday even though my truck was covered in one-quarter inch of ice.  I ran into a curb just outside my house because I couldn't stop.  But instead of turning around and going home, I got on the Highway to drive to work. I could tell right away that was a big mistake.

I ended up sliding off the road just 10 miles outside of town.  My truck actually slid into oncoming traffic and stopped on the opposite side of the road, right before I hit the snow drift.  I'm very lucky that traffic was light and no cars were coming down the hill.  But it was so icy on the shoulder of the road, I couldn't manuever myself out.  My husband drove down to rescue me.  He brought a bag of ice and a shovel, and he managed to get my truck off the ice.  I'm still pretty shaken up about the whole experience.

When I got home, several large branches littered the ground. The branches broke under the weight of the ice.

So I spent another snow day stuck inside my house.  I've been day dreaming about my summer garden quite a bit.  I even went ahead and bought a few seed packets from Renee's Garden.  Many of the seeds are promoted as good for small gardens or container gardening, which I'm planning to experiment with this year.

The seed packets include:
  • Baby lettuce
  • Kohlrabi
  • Carrots
  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • Nasturiums
  • Radishes
I'm also going to try to start a few tomato and pepper seeds this winter.

And, no, you aren't just seeing things.  That's shag carpet, baby!  We still have one room in our old house with the original shag carpet.  We took out the olive green shag that covered the entire first floor and steps when we moved in.

Also, here's a week #4 photo update of my AeroGarden:

The plants are growing slowly, but they are definitely starting to pop up.  It's been fun to see them grow literally right before my eyes every time I walk by it everyday.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tied in knots

I finally got around to finishing my latest crochet project.  It's a shawl that actually ended up being way, way too long for me.  So now I have it on display draped over my living room couch.

I taught myself crochet last winter.  It was completely on a whim.  My husband had mentioned years ago that he thought I would like crochet.  I was looking for a new hobby to keep my hands busy while I caught up on my favorite TV shows.  (Lost, 24 and Grey's Anatomy are my favorites now.) 

I visited a Barnes and Noble with a friend over Christmas break.  She was looking at quilting books, and my eye caught a glimpse of the crochet book section.  I found a book called, "Teach Yourself Visually Crochet," and I bought it on the spot.

I spent at least three months practicing almost every crochet stitch in the book.  Whenever I'd get confused, I would turn to YouTube to find a instructional video demonstrating the stitch.

I've only completed two projects: a cowl and a shawl.  The pattern for this shawl came from the January/February 2009 issue of Crochet Today magazine.  It's a great source of modern crochet projects.  I especially love that it lists all the yarns used in a project, so I can order them online instead of traveling to multiple craft stores located many miles from my home.

Here's a few more pics of my shawl.  It turned out OK for my first big project:

Friday, January 15, 2010

MSC Club: Coconut Cupcakes

Don't tell Martha.  But I cheated.

I used store-bought frosting on these gorgeous coconut cupcakes, the January pick for the Martha Stewart Cupcake Club.  I was too scared to try the recipe for Seven Minute Frosting.  I've burned myself on hot sugar syrup one too many times.  So I decided to play it safe, even though it means ignoring my obsession with following every recipe as written.

Can I tell you, I adored these cupcakes.  These are my favorite so far from the Martha Stewart Cupcakes book.  And they actually turned out like a cupcake, not a muffin!  I love that there is shredded coconut in the batter.  I'm an absolute nut for coconut!  Reminds me of my trip to Hawaii, where my husband and I ate coconut shrimp and drank Pina Coladas every night.

Don't they look like Hostess snowballs?  Ador-a-ble!

And so yummy and rich!  But I have to admit, I'm not sure I like the canned "vanilla" frosting.  I'll be making these again, if I can perfect the frosting.  Thanks to Cinema Cupcakes for the great pick this month!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

HBin5: Whole Grain Artisan Bread

Hello everyone! We're having a heat wave here in Iowa -- temps reached over 30 degrees today! The snow if finally starting to melt a little, and my spirits are high!

Over the past few months, I've had so much fun writing this blog and taking part in the Martha Mondays and Martha Stewart Cupcakes Club. I've truly enjoyed connecting with people from all other the country (and the world) with the same interests as myself. Sometimes, I feel a little odd that instead of going out to eat all the time, I'd rather stay at home and do some kitchen experimenting. The blog clubs have really inspired me to try something new.

So with this newfound courage, I decided to join a new blog group. More than 100 bloggers are embarking on a two-year journey to try recipes from the "Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" cookbook. Long story short, the book is a whole-grain version of "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes Day."

I've had my eye on the "Artisan Bread" book for a while. I checked it out from the library to figure out how the book's no-knead recipes work. It sounded too good to be true. Just mix the dough, let it rise in the fridge, then bake. No need to knead or rise.

So I finally broke down and bought a pizza stone and the two books. Soon after, I learned of the HBin5 blog group. I immediately signed up. It's a great incentive to actually try these recipes and make my investment in the pizza stone worth it.

I mixed up my first batch of dough last week. I followed the recipe exactly, and miraculously, it turned out great, even for a beginner!

I can't believe something so beautiful came out of my oven! I topped it with butter and my homemade apricot jam. It's a great breakfast bread!

The texture was also terrific. I expected the bread to turn out tough and dense, but it's a nice combination of chewy and soft. I have to admit, I still prefer the white flour verision of this bread, but I'm sure I'll be making this again if I feel like something a little healthier.

Another great thing about the book is you can make multiple recipes from one batch of dough. I had the dough in the fridge for more than a week, and it was still fresh enough to make these chili crackers.

Admittedly, I was in a hurry when I made the crackers. I didn't roll them out as thin as directed in the recipe. But they still looked like crackers when they came out of the oven. However, I probably won't be making these crackers again. They were a little too much work for me, and I didn't like the chili powder. Maybe another spice would work?

Also on our HBin5 schedule was a wreath-shaped bread, but I didn't have the kitchen shears to make the design. So I skipped it for now.

I had so much fun with this project. I'm looking forward to trying more HBin5 recipes.

If you'd like to learn more about the group, visit Big Black Dog for a list of other participating bloggers.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Emerald City

I'm barely awake as I write this blog entry tonight. It's been a whirlwind of activity the past couple days. I arrived in Seattle last night to attend the American Farm Bureau annual meeting.

I had big plans to visit the Space Needle and a few museums in Seattle. But my plans were cancelled due to problems with my flights. Turned out that my flight out of Des Moines was delayed four hours because someone forgot to leave the heater on in the airplane overnight. The plane's water line froze in the subzero temperatures, and the plane couldn't take off until the pipes thawed. So I missed my connecting flight to Denver, but luckily secured a ticket on a later flight. I had to run through the Denver terminal to catch the flight. I was exhausted when I arrived in Seattle (I woke up a 2:30 a.m. for the flight out of Des Moines), so I didn't have the energy for sightseeing.

But I woke up early this morning to check out Seattle's Pikes Peak Market before I had to walk over to the convention center.

I loved to see all the fresh seafood on display. It was so exotic to a landlocked Iowa girl like me.

How did this pig end up in Seattle? It looks like it belong in an Iowa barn.

More seafood under ice...

Now this is something you definitely can't find in an Iowa grocery store. (Sorry about the fuzzy picture. I was in a hurry.)

The displays of bright, fresh fruits and veggies were so beautiful, I couldn't take my eyes off them. The only color I've seen in the last month is the bright white of snow.

Wish I could have done more sightseeing, but at least I got to see the famous Seattle market, even if it was for just a few minutes. Now, off to bed so I'm well resting to sit through meetings tomorrow :)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Snowed in

Is this the Arctic Circle? No. It's Iowa.

I took these photos while waiting for my work colleague to pick me at a Park & Ride for Central Iowa commuters. It was -14 degrees outside when I took these photos from the comfort of my pickup truck.

Today, I'm stuck at home again. Another snowstorm moved through last night, dumping 5 inches on top of the almost 2 feet of snow already on the ground. Today, the winds are so strong, the snow is drifting over the roads and creating "white-out" driving conditions.

Here's the lovely view from my front porch.

Brrr! And the view from my back porch.

My husband was in the middle of a home improvement project and didn't clean off the back deck before the snow arrived last month. The snow has really piled up on the deck.

At least I have my new AeroGarden to brighten up my house! The first sprouts appeared this week.

The Twinkle Phlox are a little slow, but I see a few sprouts poking up.

My husband has also taken his hobbies indoors. He's been spending a lot of time on his 75-gallon aquarium. He loves to grow plants in his aquarium.

There are a few tetra fish swimming around his tank, although he needs to restock it with some more plant-friendly fish.

Boy, it's hard to take a picture of a moving fish!

Monday, January 4, 2010


So far, we've had three consecutive days of subzero temperatures here in central Iowa. Tonight, the temps are dropping to -14 degrees F, according to the weather forecasters. It's literally an icebox outside, folks. Iowa has turned into the new North Pole.

I'd like to say that I've been taking advantage of the 2-foot snow drifts by breaking out cross-country skis or snow shoes and making fresh tracks in the powdery snow. But I'm not. Instead, I'm in full-blown hibernation mode.

Between my extra busy days at work, the holiday rush, an awful head cold, the shorter daylight hours and the frigid temps, I have to force myself out of bed or off the couch. If there's a plus side, it's that I've finally caught up on my TiVo recordings of "The Office" and "Glee." I probably shouldn't be bragging about that, though.

I came home from work early on New Year's Eve and saw my backyard in the daylight for the first time in weeks. Everything is covered in at least a foot or two of snow.

I'm conducting an informal neighborhood contest to see which house on my block has the largest icicle. I'd say we're winning the contest, hands down, with this giant icicle. I'm thinking it's got to be at least 4-feet long. Of course, my husband reminds me that's not a contest we should be proud of winning. It means that the insulation in our roof, which we added when we first moved in five years ago, isn't doing its job. Also not a good thing to see a giant icicle hugging the power line to our house.

It makes me giggle to see all the rabbit, squirrel and cat tracks in the snow. Shouldn't they be hibernating like me?

Anyhow, I want to apologize to my fellow Martha Mondays colleagues for taking a break from the projects. It's been hard to find the motivation to leave the house to shop for supplies. Plus, I'm heading into my busy season at work, so I might miss a few weeks this month, as well.

And although this may be a few days late, I do have some New Year's resolutions I'd love to put down in writing. I'm already a fitness junkie, so my resolutions have more to do with my homemaking goals than my health goals (although I think those two things go together for me).

Here are more goals for 2010, in no particular order:
  • Learn a new skill by taking cooking and crafting classes through Des Moines Public Schools Continuing Education.
  • Practice the art of bread-making.
  • Finally, finally, finish the quilt that I started three years ago.
  • Remodel one room in my century-old house. (Every room could use some sprucing up.)
  • Make better use of my small backyard garden through container gardening, etc.
  • Laugh more, stress less.

That last goal is especially important to me because I've been taking life way, way too seriously. Do you know what I mean?

I look forward to sharing my homemade journey with you all in 2010. Thanks for your support! It means so much to me!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Gingerbread house

This week, I had the good fortunate of being invited on a holiday light tour with some of my classmates at our small-town fitness studio. We took a limo (my first ever limo ride!) to see the Jolly Holiday lights display in Des Moines. On our way back, we stopped by the most amazing light disply at an old country-style home. The family encourages visitors to walk along their sidewalks, around their home, to see their entire display. Such a geneerous gift to the community! A sign at the entrance tells the story of their gingerbread house.

"Welcome to the gingerbread house! This display began in 1999, when my girls were young. Now that they are grown, we put it up for others to enjoy! Please feel free to walk the path into the backyard and go up on the front porch to see the Santas in the windows! This is our gift to the 'kid' in all of you! We do not take donations, but would appreciate it if you would take an envelop out of the red box and make one to Special Olympics Iowa! Merry Christmas! Bob, Lori, Michele, Ashley, Melissa and Jordan."
A Christmas tree was featured on the side of their house. I can't believe their collection of Christmas decorations. The "ornaments" on the tree are adorable.

Could this bike be a present from Santa?

Many of their decorations were nearly buried in 2-foot snowdrifts.

Their yard was completely filled with an assortment of Christmas decorations, including a beautiful snow-covered Nativity scene, up close for all to see.

It's so wonderful to see the Christmas spirit is alive and well in our Iowa towns.
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