Monday, April 29, 2013

Oatmeal raisin cookies

I've been trying to go back to the basics lately and find good, classic recipes.  I've never had much luck with oatmeal raisin cookies, for some reason.  Most of the recipes I've tried don't have a lot of flavor.  I decided to try this King Arthur Flour recipe for Soft and Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.  My hubby and I liked these cookies so much that we ended up gobbling up the whole batch over the weekend.  Thankfully, it wasn't a big batch of cookies!  My only complaint is that the cookies were too soft the next day and fell apart.  Not sure why that happened.  But otherwise, these were excellent!  If you give this recipe a try, let me know how they turn out for you.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Seed starting: Week 4

Just a quick update on my latest attempt at seed starting.  So far, everything is growing good.  I keep the grow light on for about 15 hours each day, and I water the seedlings whenever they look dry.  But other than that, I'm just watching these little pepper plants grow.

I also planted tomato seeds about 2 weeks ago.  They're looking a little spindly right now, but they're already forming their first true leaves, so I'm taking that as a good sign.

In another month, they should be ready to plant outside. Fingers crossed that I can keep them alive until then!

Monday, April 15, 2013


My hubby's favorite bars are blondies, so he's always requesting them.  Only problem is, there are a lot of variations on the blondies recipe, and each one turns out a little different: either too dry or undercooked, too thin or too thick.  But my hubby really enjoyed this blondies recipe I found on the Taste of Home website.  They're a little thin, but they weren't too dry.  We ended up finishing the whole pan ourselves!

Do you have a favorite blondies recipe?  I'm still looking for the perfect one to add to my recipe box.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Kale salad

If you remember a few weeks ago, I visited the Berry Patch Farms in Nevada, Iowa, to see how they grow lettuce in greenhouses during the winter. Well, they let me take home a bag of red kale to sample, and I loved it so much, I had to find more.

You can find Berry Patch Farm's lettuce and kale at Wheatsfield Co-op in Ames.  It will only be available in the winter months, however, because they switch over to growing tomatoes and zucchini in their greenhouses in the summer.

Anyhow, back on topic, what I love about the red kale is that it's extra tender, and very pretty, with feathering leaves.  I knew just the recipe I wanted to try with this beautiful kale, Luann's Kale Salad from Iowa Girl Eats.  And the salad is excellent!  Very bright tasting, and it's fun to "massage" the kale to make it even more tender.

I apologize, but I didn't get a photo of the finished salad, because I accidentally dumped about 1 Tablespoon of pepper on top of the salad right before taking a photo. (We have issues with our pepper shaker.)  I managed to salvage the salad by discarding the pepper-covered leaves, but there wasn't much left to photograph.  So please visit Iowa Girl Eats for her beautiful photos of Luann's Kale Salad.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Iowa recipes: Egg salad

Just for fun over Easter weekend, I played around with food coloring and dyed Easter eggs.  I haven't done that since I was a kid, and it was just as much fun as I remembered!  Nothing fancy, just pretty pastel eggs.

I promptly refrigerated these hard-boiled eggs after I dyed them. Then, on Easter Sunday, I peeled the eggs and mixed up an egg salad recipe I found in an Iowa cookbook.  The recipe was a little different than the standard egg salad; it includes cream cheese in the mix, along with mayo.  The recipe also calls for smoky mustard, but I just used classic mustard and it turned out pretty darn tasty.  We ate the egg salad on leftover white rolls, and my husband kept coming back for more, so I'll take that as a good sign!

Sorry for the terrible photo.  I was too hungry to take a decent photo, but it gives you an idea of what it looks like.

Here's the recipe, if you want to give it a try.


Egg salad

  • 1 dozen hard-boiled eggs
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 C. mayo
  • 1-1/2 tsp. smoky mustard
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 C. celery, finely chopped
  • 2 T. chopped chives (I used chopped green onion)

Peel and chop hard-boiled eggs. Combine cream cheese, mayo, smokey mustard and sugar until smooth. Add the chives, celery and eggs. Toss together. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Seed starting

My husband and I enjoyed the orange blossom tomatoes I found at the Ames Farmers Market last year. So I decided to try to grow them from seed at home this spring.  I've made a couple other attempts at seed starting before, but never had much luck. Mostly because I wasn't very scientific about it.  I just planted seeds in the trays, put them near a window and hoped they grew.  But the seedlings were always spindly, or they would mold in the wet trays.

So this year, I did my homework and invested some cash to make it work.  When I've got money sunk into a project, I'm a little more committed to seeing it through.  I went to Earl May and bought a seedling heat mat ($40) and a 2-foot grow light ($90). Yes, I could have bought them cheaper online, but I liked buying them from a local store.  And my friend who is a master gardener told me that a grow light is a must and worth the investment.

I started out by planting mini lunchbox pepper seeds, a new veggie I would love to grow at home. Pepper seeds take longer to grow than tomatoes, so I started these seeds in mid-March, as recommended by Iowa State University Extension.  I've been following the seed starting instructions from ISU Extension, which are available online.

I'm using a seedling starting tray I got for free from Gurney's. I'm signed up for Gurney's emails, and the company offered a free 10-pod tray as a one-day special, as long as I paid the $4 shipping and handling costs.  I couldn't pass up the deal.

I placed the seedling tray in the basement, on top of the heat mat.  Unfortunately, our basement got too chilly when the March temperatures dipped below freezing, so the seeds didn't germinate a week after I planted them.  I moved the seedling tray upstairs, and the seeds germinated immediately.  A few of the seeds didn't make it, though, because they got moldy after sitting in the cold, damp basement.

I panicked when the seeds didn't pop up after a week, so I bought another seed starting tray at Wal-Mart to plant a second set of seeds.  It's a Burpee Eco-Tray, and it was only $2.  They are just peat-moss planters with a cardboard tray for catching the water.  Then I covered them with plastic wrap.  After just six days, the seeds started to germinate.  So I guess the $2 tray was worth the money!

So far, everything is looking good.  I've got the seedlings under the grow light now, and I'm trying to let the trays dry out a little before I water them, so I don't run into anymore mold problems.  I planted the tomato seeds this weekend, and I'll keep you updated on how it all turns out.  I figure if I can't make it work in time for spring planting, I'll try to grow broccoli, lettuce and cauliflower seeds this summer for fall planting.

Do you start seeds at home?  Any advice for a newbie?  I really want to make this work, so it's not just another expensive hobby.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Frosted sugar cookies

I wish I could say that a 9-year-old decorated these sugar cookies, but it was all me.  I guess that I don't have a hidden talent for cookie decorating!

My hubby gave me a cake decorating set for Christmas.  I finally gave it a try to make these Easter sugar cookies.  I found all the necessary decorating tools at Wal-Mart: cake frosting dye, blossom shaped cookie cutters.  The bunny and chick cookie cutters are from my own personal collection of antique cookie cutters.

For the cookies, I tried out the frosted sugar cookie recipe from the Two Chicks from the Sticks cookbook.  They turned out exactly as I hoped -- a nice, soft, cake-like cookie that was easy to roll and cut.  I would share the recipe, but I don't want to discourage anyone from buying the cookbook, which is excellent.  I'm thinking about baking my way through the entire cookbook as a fun project.

Can you tell which cookie my husband decorated?
 To get the full use out of my decorating set, I also tried to decorate a few cookies following these terrific instructions from one of my favorite blogs, Brown-Eyed Baker. I think they turned out pretty good for my first effort. And it was way easier to mix up the frosting than I thought it would be. 

Can you tell this is a bunny? It's about as artistic as I get!
I'm already looking forward to making cutout cookies for the next big holiday.  I'm thinking star cookies for the Fourth of July.  Can't wait for summer!

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