Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 year in review

Thought it would be fun to look back on all my milestones from the past year.  The great thing about blogging is that I can look back and remember all the fun times I've enjoyed.  It's amazing how much I forget, even in such a short time.

Here are a few of my favorite accomplishments in 2011:

1) I got to milk a dairy goat & drive a team of draft horses.

2) I ended up growing a huge batch of banana peppers, which I canned as pickled banana pepper rings.

3) I ran 10 road races this year and rode a half-day of RAGBRAI on my old Huffy bike.

4) I checked out several new bike trails, including the High Trestle Trail in central Iowa.

High Trestle Trail

T-Bone Trail

Raccoon River Valley Trail

Grant Wood Trail

Wabash Trace Trail

5) I took two non-work-related trips -- one to Arizona and the other to Colorado.

Apache Junction, Ariz.

Golden, Colo.

6) I baked a lot of bread & cookies!

7) I made a lot of good memories with my family.

8) I saw the craziness that was the Ames straw poll.

9) I tried new foods at the World Food Festival, Greek Food Festival and Iowa State Fair.

10) We brought home our first real Christmas tree!

I'm excited to see what adventures await in 2012!  I just want to thank all of you for following my blog over the past year.  I definitely appreciate all your comments and encouragement. And I enjoy learning from all of you, too. Have a great 2012!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Making lefse: A flour-covered kitchen

I spent an entire day making a batch of Norwegian lefse for our family's Christmas dinner.  Lefse dough is very sticky to work with, so I had to use a ton of flour to keep it workable.  The goal is to roll out the lefse as thin as possible, but not so thin that the dough tears when you lift it from the cloth-covered board.

Before the day was done, there was dough and flour everywhere.  And I mean everywhere!

But all the mess was worth it in the end.  I ended up with a nice batch of lefse to send home with my family at Christmas!

If you're interested in my grandma's lefse recipe, check out my earlier lefse post.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Cookie Friday: Peanut butter blossom cookies

When Christmas rolls around, I get a little obsessed with cookie baking.  I pour through all my cookbooks, trying to find a new recipe that will wow my family.  But I always crave my old favorite, Peanut Butter Blossoms, with the Brach's chocolate stars, just like my mom made when I was a kid.

I've tried a couple different recipes for this cookie, but my favorite so far is the peanut butter blossoms recipe from Land O'Lakes.  Be sure to eat one of these cookies fresh from the oven, when the chocolate star is melting on top.  Yum!

We'll be leaving out a plate of peanut butter cookie blossoms for Santa this year!

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, all my blog friends!  Wishing you all the best and brightest of the season.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pella Dutch letters

Last week, a work colleague sent a package of Dutch letters to our office as a thank-you.  I had never tried a Dutch letter until a couple years ago.  But now I'm hooked!  The best Dutch letters I can find come from Pella, Iowa.  As you can see, the Pella Dutch letters are shaped like an "S," but I read last year in the Des Moines Register that the home bakers in Pella actually make Dutch letters in any shape.

The gift box of Dutch letters came from Vander Ploeg's bakery in Pella.  

I only got a chance to eat one of these delectable Dutch letters, because my husband polished off the rest in one day!  We're both big fans of Dutch letters.  And what's not too love?  Flaky, buttery pastry. A sweet almond paste filling.  Crunchy sugar sprinkled on top.  Yum!

I've got to stop in Pella sometime so I can see these Dutch letter bakeries in person!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Apple streusel muffins

One of my favorite food magazines is Seasons from Hy-Vee, an Iowa-based grocery store chain.  I used to pick up a copy of Seasons whenever I saw a new edition at Hy-Vee.  But then I figured out I could sign up to have the magazine delivered to my house -- for free!  No yearly subscription!

Like the name suggests, Seasons features recipes that are perfect for the season.  This month's issue offers Christmas baking and seafood recipes (which I can't wait to try for New Year's this year.)

As for the baking recipes, I had a few overripe apples in my refrigerator, so I decided to bake up a batch of the Baked Apple Crumble Muffins featured in the fall issue. The recipe was a little more complicated to make than the typical muffin recipe.  But I loved all the different spices, particularly the "heavy" (1/2 tsp.) dose of cloves.

My husband wasn't too excited when he saw these muffins cooling on the counter.  But he ended up loving them.  "I don't usually like muffins, but these were good," he said.  So I'm sharing the recipe with all of you.  Hope you enjoy it!


Baked Apple Crumble Muffins (or Apple Streusel Muffins)

From Hy-Vee's Seasons magazine

  • 1/2 C. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 C. sugar
  • 1/4 C. plus 2 Tbls. packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1-1/3 C. flour
  • 1/2 C. chopped walnuts

  • 1-1/2 C. packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 C. vegetable oil
  • 1/3 C. unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 large egg
  • 1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2-1/2 C. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1 C. buttermilk
  • 1-1/4 C. chopped walnuts
  • 2-1/2 C. chopped apple

For topping: In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Remove pan from the heat and add the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Stir with a rubber scraper, pressing when necessary, until smooth.  Add flour and mix until well-blended and pasty.  Fold in chopped walnuts; set aside.

For muffins:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, oil, applesauce, egg and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, soda, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and ginger.  Stir oil mixture into flour mixture alternately with buttermilk.  Stir in walnuts.  Fold in apples, mixing until just combined.  Spoon into greased standard-size muffin cups, filling almost full. Break up the topping mixture with your fingers into medium-size pieces.  Evenly sprinkle the topping pieces over the muffin batter. Bake 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown and tops spring back when lightly touched. Yield: 18 muffins.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Allspice in East Village, Des Moines

This weekend, I was in the mood for a little adventure.  And for me, a little adventure means exploring close to home.  I've been hearing a lot about a new shop, Allspice, in downtown Des Moines' East Village.  I love shopping in the East Village. So many fun stores and restaurants, all within walking distance.  If you're looking for a unique Christmas gift, check out the East Village.

I found Allspice on Locust Street, and the store was packed!  I parked myself at the tasting bar, where I tried several different olive oils and balsamic vinegars.  I really liked the "fruity" flavors, such as the red apple balsamic.  I ended up buying a couple small bottles of pomegranate balsamic and blood orange olive oil.  I plan to use these in stirfries and salad dressings.

I also bought a few baking supplies: cocoa nibs, which I've always wanted to try, crystallized ginger (one of my favorites) and maple sugar powder, which I plan to add to my morning bowl of oatmeal. Allspice was a foodie paradise, and I'm sure I'll be making many more visits in the future.  Plus, I'm always looking for an excuse to visit the East Village!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Iowa recipes: Caramel corn

I wasn't going to post this recipe. But my husband said I should go ahead and share it, even if it didn't turn out perfect.  He said it'll make my blog "more real."

To be fair, I don't think it was the recipe's fault.  It's a pretty standard caramel corn recipe, which I found in an old 4-H cookbook.  This caramel corn was very good, and my husband and I ended up eating the entire batch. But the texture wasn't right.  I think it has more to do with my inexperience with a candy thermometer than with the recipe.  The "caramel" on the popcorn crystallized when it cooled.  The flavor was excellent, but the texture wasn't as smooth as it should be.  (Does that make sense?)

Think I'm going to give this recipe another try this weekend.  I'll let you know if it turns out, and tell you what I did differently.  Do you have any advice for making caramel corn?  The recipe looks so simple; I just need to get over my fear of the candy thermometer!


Caramel Corn

  • 1 C. butter
  • 2 C. sugar
  • 1/2 C. dark corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 6 quarts unsalted popped popcorn.
Combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup and salt in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Cook for 5 minutes or to 240 to 248 degrees on a candy thermometer, firm-ball stage, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

Add the baking soda, beating well. Pour over the popped popcorn in a bowl, stirring to coat.

Spread on a  large baking sheet. Bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Yield: 20 servings.
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