Wednesday, March 31, 2010

HBin5: Carrot bread

Hello everyone!  I found time this weekend to bake the Carrot Bread for the Healthy Bread in 5 blog club.  I was really curious to try this recipe, since I often bake carrot quick bread and carrot muffins as breakfast treats.  I wondered how the HBin5 version would compare to my favorites.

Once again, the carrot bread was super easy to make, with ingredients I already had in my pantry and refrigerator.  I used a "Cherries and Goldens" dried fruit mix that my husband bought in bulk a while back as an grocery deal.

The carrot bread wasn't as pretty as some of the other HBin5 loaves I've tried.  I had a little trouble forming the "gluten cloak" with all the shredded carrot getting in the way, which may be why the loaf looked a little lumpy coming out of the oven.

Like the other HBin5 recipes, the texture of this bread was wonderful -- very tender and moist.  But I have to admit that the carrot bread was just OK to me.  It didn't have the same sweetness as my other favorite carrot bread and muffin recipes (although that's probably a good thing, health wise).  So in the future, if I'm going to take the time to grate carrots, I'll probably turn to my good ol' morning glory muffins.

But this was still a fun recipe to try.  Please visit Big Black Dog to see how the bread turned out for the other participating bloggers.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Martha Mondays: Silk-dyed Easter eggs

Hello everyone!  I had the opportunity to pick this week's Martha Mondays project.  I thought it would be fun to try one of Martha's wonderful Easter egg creations featured on her Web site.  In particular, I've been wanting to try her famous silk-dyed Easter eggs.  I saw this project featured on her TV show last year, and it looked super easy.  Plus, you don't have to work with the messy dyes.

I cut up an old silk scarf that I never wear anymore.  I wrapped it around the egg, then wrapped a piece of an old white cotton sheet around the silk.  Then I boiled the eggs for 40 minutes, with a little vinegar added to the water.

When the eggs cooled, I unwrapped the silk.  I hoped for the best, but I'm afraid my eggs didn't quite turn out.  Maybe it was the scarf, or maybe I didn't let the eggs simmer long enough. 

I would like to try this project again next year with another silk scarf or tie to see if it would work better.  It's such a simple way to dye eggs.  Thanks to Martha and Me for letting me pick this project this week.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Milk & Cookies Friday: Puffed-up Chocolate Chip Cookies

I thought it would be fun to start a Milk & Cookies Friday on my blog.  Cookies and bars are my favorite baked goods to make, other than yeast and quick breads. And I'm adding (chocolate) milk because I'm a huge fan of milk, yogurt, ice cream and cheese. And I always enjoy visiting dairy farms across the state. 

I'd like to share one of my favorite cookie recipes.  It's a very unconventional recipe for a favorite cookie: Puffed-up Chocolate Chip Cookies.  I found this recipe years ago from Cooking Light magazine.  I love recipes for healthy sweets, and this one delivers.  Applesauce replaces shortening in the cookie recipe.  As a result, each cookies is only 78 calories! But the magazine stresses that the applesauce must be strained first to remove some of its liquid.

My husband adores these cookies, even though they don't have the same texture as a traditional chocolate chip cookie.  These cookes are very soft, and the fruity flavor of the applesauce really makes the chocolate chips "pop".

Give these Puffed-Up Chocolate Cookies a try if you're looking for a healthier way to tame your chocolate cravings.

Puffed-Up Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • 1-1/4 C. flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 c. applesauce
  • 1 C. packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 C. butter, softened
  • 1 Tbl. vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 C. semisweet chocolate chips
  • Cooking spray
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Stir well with a whisk.

Spoon applesauce into a fine sieve over a bowl; let stand 15 mintues. Discard liquid. Scrape drained applesauce into a large bowl. Add sugar and butter; beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Beat in vanilla and egg. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed until well-blended. Fold in chips.

Drop by level tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes or until almost set. Cool on pan 2 to 3 minutes or until firm. Remove cookies form pan; cool on wire racks. Yield: 3 dozen.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Grandma's treasurers

My mom and stepdad are moving back to my hometown this summer when they return from Arizona.  My grandfather moved into an assisted living apartment, so they are moving into my grandparent's house just a few blocks away.

Even though it's just a one-story home, they still have quite a few of my grandparent's belongings that they need give away or sell.  When I stopped up for my grandpa's birthday last week, my mom asked if I'd be interested in taking a few of my grandmother's items.  I couldn't believe my ears when she asked if I'd like to take home my grandmother's sewing machine and, the most practical item of all, her accordion!

When I opened up the accordion case, my mouth dropped.  It's the most beautiful accordion I've ever seen, with red and white keys.  And like everything my grandmother owned, it's in mint-perfect condition.  My hubby couldn't resist breaking it out as soon as we got home.


And no, neither one of us plays the accordion.  But I'm sure going to learn how!

The sewing machine is also a beauty.  It's made from metal, not plastic like the ones in discount stores today.  It will be great to have two sewing machines, so that I can work on more than one project at a time (when I find time to get back to sewing, that is.)

I miss my grandmother everyday, and it's so nice to have a few items that make me feel a little more connected to her.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Happy B-Day, Grandpa!

Last weekend, the whole family got together for my grandpa's 90th birthday.  He's been excited about this for so long, it was great that the weather was perfect for traveling and we were all able to attend, including my cousins from Colorado and Florida.  Even my mom and stepdad took a quick break from the winter stay in Arizona to host the party.  And that was tough for them!  They love it Arizona this time of year.

My grandpa likes to tell stories about how he got started in farming when he was in his early 20s.  One of my favorite stories is how he purchased his first tractor.  Back in WWII, tractors and other farm equipment were scarce because steel and rubber were saved for the war effort.  My grandpa saw a train carrying new tractors parked in a nearby town.  He asked the dealer if he could purchase one of those tractors, and the dealer agreed. 

However, grandpa wanted a tractor with lights and automatic start.  Back in those days, farmers used a hand-crank to start up the tractors.  The dealer said he could equip the tractor with the extra, but it would cost more money.  "How much do you think it cost?" my grandpa always asks me.  "$20! That's it." And the tractor cost him less than $250.  Today, a new tractor costs more than my house!

My grandpa also wanted his first tractor to have rubber wheels, instead of the steel wheels common back then.  But he had to ask the county rationing board for permission to buy rubber.  They granted him permission, and he ended up with one of nicest, "fully" equipment tractors in the county.

I love it when grandpa shares stories about the "good ol' days."  Really makes me appreciate all that I have.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Time to build an ark

What do you get when a record amount of snow starts to melt a little too quickly?  We've got another "100-year" flood on our hands.

I traveled with my family back to my hometown in north-central Iowa last weekend.  We were surprised to see the town park flooded by the Shellrock River.

Everything was under water in the park, including the softball fields, concession stand and playground equipment.

Here in central Iowa, the Des Moines River is supposed to reach "major" flood stage over the weekend.  I drive over the river on my commute, and each time I cross the bridge, the water looks to be a few feet higher.  (Sorry no pictures, but it's a narrow bridge without a place to park.)  They are closing Highway 30 just north of us because of the flooding.

We're lucky to live just far enough away from the river to avoid the flooding.  Honestly, I'm just happy that the snow is finally gone.  The weather forecast tomorrow calls for 60 degree temperatures!  That's the warmest weather I've seen since November!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spring has sprung!

With all the traveling I've been doing lately, I haven't had time to do much of anything at home.  So I didn't make any cupcakes or bread this weekend. But I thought I'd share a few photos of something I haven't seen for months -- my backyard!

We've had rainy, 40 degree weather here in central Iowa for the past two weeks, and the snow, which has been at least a foot deep since December, is almost gone.  It's an absolutely muddy mess to have that much snow melt so fast, but nobody here is complaining.  We're glad to see it gone.

I could finally see my garden again.  In another month, I'll plant radishes, lettuce and carrots here.

My perennial garden is nearly snow-free, too. The first flowers to pop up will be the bleeding hearts.

My husband noticed right away that the ornamental cabbage I planted last fall is still bright purple, even after being buried under 3 feet of snow.  I need to remember to plant more of this next fall.

I'm also happy to report that my AeroGarden is doing remarkably well.  The plants have actually outgrown the container. 

And there are flowers blooming inside my house!

The herb garden also is growing like crazy.  So cool that I have a ready supply of basil, chives and thyme.

Just think, a few more weeks, and the chives will start popping up in my backyard.  Can't wait!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Prettiest town in Iowa

I've been traveling a lot for work lately, mostly in the northeast corner of the state.  Earlier this week, I made my first-ever visit to what could be the prettiest little town in Iowa, Elkader, just 30-plus miles away from the Mississippi River.

The town's Main Street is surrounded by limestone bluffs. The Turkey River, a popular spot for fishermen and canoers, runs right through downtown.

Elkader is one of the oldest towns in Iowa, with more than two dozen buildings listed in the National Historic Registry. A limestone bridge over the Turkey River is also a historic landmark.  They don't make bridges like this anymore.

The county courthouse along the banks of the Turkey River looks like something out of an Old West movie.

Even more impressive, this town of 1,400 people has a restored opera house for community theater performances, a single-screen movie theater that now shows 3D movies (including Avatar!), a coffee shop and an antique mall.

I'm already planning another trip up to this beautiful town this summer.  I have a feeling there is a lot more to discover.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Martha Mondays: Chocolate marble quick bread

I love baking quick breads.  They are so simple and easy to make, and the results are almost always delicious.  So I was thrilled to try this week's Martha Mondays pick, Chocolate Marble Quick Bread with Ganache.

I usually have terrible luck with "marbled" recipes -- the swirls tend to just mush together.  But for this recipe, the batter was thick enough that it didn't all run together and it was easy to create the pretty "swirl" in the bread.  And the chocolate ganache frosting is a brilliant addition.  I ate more than a couple spoonfuls of the ganache all on its own.

My quick bread turned out a little dry, but I think that's because I don't have the right size pans.  Has anyone else noticed that all the bread recipes call for an 8 inch pan, when all I can find at the local stores are 9 inch pans?  I have the same problem with cake and pie recipes.  The recies always call for smaller pans than I can find at the store.

Anyhow, this was a fantastic recipe, and it was so much fun to make on a rainy day.  Thanks to Megan's Cookin' for the recipe.  Please visit Martha and Me to see how the other bloggers did with the recipe.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Last look at winter?

I am thrilled to report that the snow is finally melting!  Daytime temps have been above freezing, and we're expecting 40-degree weather this weekend.  Yippee!

Earlier this week, I looked outside I saw that our giant icicle fell off our roof.  It shattered into pieces on the ground.  Thankfully, the gutter is still intact, although a little bent out of shape.

Before the big thaw, my hubby and I drove to a nearby state park to see if there were any ice-fishing huts out on the lake.  We saw a few pick-ups parked on the ice, and more than a dozen snowmobilers scooting around on the frozen lake.

We also saw a group of kids sledding down a giant hill...

I need to get a sled!  Yippee!
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