Thursday, July 25, 2013

Peaches and cream popsicles

I bought a set of popsicle molds a couple years at a local kitchen supply store. But I have to admit, I've only used them twice.  I've been seeing a lot of homemade popsicle recipes floating around the Internet again lately, so I thought it would be fun to dig these out again.

I bought these popsicle molds because of the non-stick silicone. However, I wish I would have just bought one of the cheaper popsicle mold sets at Wal-Mart. It's a little difficult to get the popsicles out of the molds when they are frozen. And the drip tray actually makes it hard to eat the bottom of the popsicle.  Here's a photo of the popsicle in the mold. Definitely cute but not very practical.

I ended up making the peaches and cream popsicles from Skinny Taste, and they were excellent.  I used non-fat milk instead of almond milk, because that's what I keep in my fridge.  I've been eating these popsicles as an after-workout snack, which has really hit the spot in this hot weather.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Container vegetable gardening tips

I have a small vegetable garden plot in my backyard. This year I'm growing four different varieties of tomatoes, two varieties of peppers, cucumbers, carrots and a few flowers to attract pollinators.  We're lucky to have excellent, black soil for growing a veggie garden.  But we still don't have a lot of sunny spots in our yard to grow a couple rows of sweet corn, for example.

That's why I was so excited to find the new patio sweet corn variety from Burpee this year. Not sure if you can tell from my photo, but I'm growing the sweet corn in a galvanized feed bucket, which I bought for less than $20 at the local farm store.  My hubby drilled a couple of holes in the bottom for drainage.  So far, the corn has been growing well.  It's actually tasseled since I took this photo.  About the only issue is that the corn started to "fire" or turn yellow at the base of the stems.  I figured that the corn is probably sucking up nitrogen with its recent growth spurt, so I gave it a dose of all-purpose fertilizer. 

I've actually had really good luck the past couple years growing tomatoes, peppers and strawberries in 5 gallon buckets instead of planting them in the ground.  What I love about container gardening is that I control how much water and fertilizer the plants get.  And I can move the containers around whenever I want to change up the look of my garden.

This year, I took the advice of a local farmer and planted a ground cherry plant in a container.  When I bought the plant, it was just a tiny stem.  Look how it's bushed out!

I've also planted a "bush" summer squash variety in a bucket.  It's the first time I've planted squash in a container.  So far, it's growing good.  Every morning, it's loaded with squash blossoms, but I don't see any tiny squash forming yet.  But that's kind of up to whether the pollinators are finding the blossoms or not.

I'm also growing a sweet 100 cherry tomato in a bucket. Again, this little tomato was just a stem with one leaf when I bought it.  It's really filled out since then.

The only thing to remember when growing flowers or veggies in pots is that you need to keep the containers well watered, because they will dry out much faster than if you plant in the ground.  We're going through another dry spell this July, and I water the pots every day in the early morning before I drive to work.  The veggies also do well with a dose of all-purpose fertilizer once every two weeks.

While I'm sharing tips about my garden, I might as well share a few of my favorite photos from the garden as well.  The hollyhocks are blooming like crazy this year.

And I just had to share this photo of the garden gnome my husband bought me for my birthday.  I've got my soaker hose well positioned to give this little guy a "shower" every once and a while.  It makes me giggle everytime I see him out in my tomato patch.

I'm using the soaker hose as a cheap alternative to drip line irrigation in my garden.  I move the hose to a different spot in the garden whenever needed.  Veggie gardens need about 1 inch of water per week.  We haven't had a measurable rain in more than 2 weeks, so things are looking pretty crispy outside. There's rain in the forecast tomorrow, though, which is a good thing.

How's your garden growing this year? Do you have any container garden tips to share?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Blueberry muffin bars

I love baking with fresh blueberries.  I found this recipe for blueberry muffin bars in the latest King Arthur Flour newsletter.  The magazine calls them blueberry brownies, but I think they taste more like muffins in bar form.  My husband and I gobbled these up.  They go great with coffee, or even a morning treat. Give this recipe a try if you enjoy baking with blueberries as much as I do.


Blueberry brownies
Adapted from King Arthur Flour's Baking Sheet

 1 C. butter
2 C. sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 C. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 C. blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13 inch pan, line with parchment paper or foil and grease the paper or foil.

In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugar and vanilla. Beat in the eggs. Scrape the bowl, then add the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix until combined, then stir in the blueberries. Transfer the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes if using frozen berries, 30 to 35 for fresh, until edges begin to pull away from pan. Remove from oven and cool for 20 minutes before lifting out of the pan to cool completely. Yield: 24 brownies.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Homemade strawberry ice cream

I've been having all kinds of fun with my grandma's old ice cream maker.  A few weeks back, I took a day off work to go strawberry picking at Berry Patch Farm in Nevada, Iowa.  I came home with 12 pounds of strawberries.  And it was really heavy to carry home!

After picking strawberries in the morning, I spent the rest of the day making strawberry jam, strawberry ice cream and strawberry pie.  Even as I'm typing this, I can't believe I did all that in one day!  Maybe I should relax on my vacation days, like a normal person, instead of spending all day in the kitchen! But how good does this strawberry pie look?

Even though I loved the pie, what I was really craving was ice cream.  So I looked through magazines and cookbooks and came up with a super-easy homemade strawberry ice cream recipe. I decided to go with another eggless ice cream recipe, because it was quick to whip up, and I needed the extra time to make strawberry jam.

Here's the recipe for homemade strawberry ice cream, if you want to try it at home.  FYI:  I doubled the recipe, and it turned out terrific. Enjoy!


Strawberry ice cream

1 C. heavy whipping cream
1 C. half-and-half
1/2 C. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
12-ounces fresh strawberries
1/4 C. sugar

Put the strawberries in a bowl and mash them a bit with a potato masher. Then add 1/4 C. sugar. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Whisk together the 1/2 C. sugar, cream, half-and-half, vanilla extract and salt in another bowl until thoroughly combined. Add strawberries. Process entire mixture in ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions. Transfer ice cream to a freezer-safe container. Freeze. Makes 4 servings (1/2 cup servings).

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My grandma's fancy plates

I inherited these fancy blue plates from my grandmother.  My mom told me that she remembers how these plates were quite a big deal at the time (maybe the '50s or '60s?). My grandmother actually bought herself a set after her mom got these dishes.  They would use them whenever they had friends over for lunches or afternoon get-togethers, which probably involved a game of cards, because my grandparents loved to play cards.

A few weeks ago, one of my co-workers made cucumber sandwiches for a bridal shower for another co-worker.  I thought it would be fun to unpack these blue plates and put together a little tea party for my sister when she came to visit.  While these aren't the prettiest plates, they do look nice when they are covered by tiny sandwiches.

By the way, I made the cucumber sandwiches with a tiny loaf of rye bread (you can find it in the bread aisle), vegetable cream cheese spread, cucumbers and then sprinkled with dill. Very easy and quick to make.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Roasted banana bread

Every once and a while, I like to visit the bookstore and buy a bunch of cooking magazines, not necessarily to cook every recipe, but to keep up on all the latest food trends. I especially enjoy the Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications. The photography and design are so beautiful and fun, even if the recipes tend to be a little above my cooking skill level. (But most everything is!)

I ended up buying a copy of the latest BH&G publication, "Cook's Secrets."  And, boy, is this issue a keeper.  I recommend you pick up a copy if you find one at the store.  Lots of basic recipes for a so-so cook like me.

The very night I brought the magazine home, I broke out my mixer and made the roasted banana bread recipe.  Unfortunately, I didn't remember to take a photo of the finished banana bread (but I'm sure you know what banana bread looks like).  I did snap a few photos of the roasted bananas as they came out of the oven.  Yes, they are supposed to look black!

The recipe says the benefits of roasting the bananas are that you can use bananas at any stage of ripeness, and you don't have to mash the bananas, just mix them in. Here's a video I found from BH&G that explains the roasting banana process and how to make the bread.  If you try it, let me know how it works for you.
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