"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." ~Confucius

Thursday, December 30, 2010

What is that?

Jason and I are quite perplexed by the appearance of this little guy, especially since we have never planted any type of squash in our garden! We're thinking zucchini, but it could quite possibly be a whole mess of things considering the variety of things we have in our seed stash.

Anyone want to offer their opinion?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Utility Jam: Strawberry Preserves

Today was a cold, wet & dreary day here in Paradise City, so what better way to warm up our house and our spirits than by baking some bread?!? I should have made this post a long time ago considering how much we love this Banana-Berry Jam Bread! It never lasts long, rain or shine!

The great thing about this recipe is that it will go good with whatever leftover jam, jelly or preserve you happen have lingering in the fridge. Today we had the option of either strawberry or apricot, and if we had had more bananas then I probably would have made both! I also like to change the nuts with each batch depending on which jam I use. Here I used walnuts because I had some leftover from another recipe, but I'm dying to do a batch with sliced almonds. But that'll have to be a post for another day!

The link will send you to Marisa's post over at Food In Jars, but the actual recipe comes from Shae and her blog "Hitchhiking To Heaven."

Dark Days: Christmas Dinner

I've cooked a few meals that qualify for the Dark Days Challenge, but this is the first time I have got around to posting any of them. For those of you who don't read food blogs on a regular basis, the challenge is in it's 4th year and runs from December 1st, 2010 to April 15th, 2010. The objective is to create one meal per week that focuses on SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) foods in an effort to draw attention to the fact that even the coldest seasons supply a bounty of choices for those maintaining a locavore diet.

Everything here was purchased at our local farmer's market, except for the salad dressing which is Ken's Lite Accents Honey Mustard. It's the one dressing that all of us agree on, so we continue to purchase it in the grocery store. The roast is a 3 pound sirloin tip from our friends at Da-Le Ranch with a Cranberry-Maple Rub from Just Spice. The beautiful roasted tri-colored carrots are from our neighbor's at Suzie's Farm and the potatoes, salad greens and watermelon radishes are from Maggie's Farm. I can't really remember which stand we bought the onions and red bell peppers from, but I'll try to pay attention to that on our next trip.

We also had a side of beets from Suzi's Farm, that we made following the Orange Beets recipe from one of my favorite blogs called "Susan Can Cook." The orange juice and zest we picked up from another random booth at the market. The flour, sugar, salt and pepper used were all bought out of the bulk bins at OB People's Food Co-op and the butter was purchased from Spring Hill Cheese Company

Honestly, this was by far the best Christmas dinner I have ever made! I think it was because I kept it simple instead of making everything I could possibly think of. But nothing was lacking and we were so stuffed afterwards that we had to settle down for a long winter's nap!

And of course a big THANK YOU to all of the farmer's who made this meal possible!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Old Fashioned English Muffins

Out with the new, and in with the old! Old Fashioned that is. And our new old fashioned favorite is English Muffins! Jason made a batch of these last night so that I can make Eggs Benedict on Christmas morning. Well now he is going to have to make more because we can't stop eating them! They were the first thing on my mind this morning when we woke up, and we each ended up having two spread with some of our Vanilla Pear Butter. Last night we had them with organic butter from Spring Hill Cheese Co. and a bowl of our homemade Chicken Chili.

They are much better than any store bought muffin we've ever had AND we could have made 5 or 6 batches for the price of one package in the grocery store. These freeze exceptionally well, so you could easily double the batch and keep some in the freezer to have on hand whenever you need them.

Ingredient List:

1 cup milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons if you're buying in bulk)
1 cup warm water (approx. 110 degrees F)
1/4 cup melted shortening
6 cups a.p. flour
1 teaspoon salt


Warm the milk. Mix in sugar until dissolved. Let it cool. In a separate bowl, mix yeast and warm water. Let stand 10 minutes until foamy. Combine the two mixtures with the shortening and half of the flour. Mix until smooth. Add the salt and remainder of the flour and knead to a soft dough. Cover and let rise approximately 1 hour or until doubled in size. Punch down dough and roll out to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut rounds to preferred size*. On a cookie sheet with greased parchment, cover and let rise 30 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees F for 8 minutes on each side.

Our Notes~

*We used a 3 inch round cutter and got 17 muffins from a single batch.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Giveaway: New Year, New Hobby!

Jason and I are always hearing from people, "I wish I knew how to can!" We try to explain how easy it really is to learn, and how just a few short years ago we were canning virgins until we taught ourselves via the internet. So while we were out auditioning for the WWE on Black Friday, we picked up something that we thought would be perfect for our first giveaway.

TAAADAAA! The Ball Home Canning Discovery Kit!! This kit has everything you need to get started canning today. Included is a canning rack with lifter that fits any large stock pot, 3 jars with rings and lids, and a handy dandy little guide book with step-by-step instructions (with pictures!) and some great recipes perfect for a beginner.

The Catch. You knew there was going to be one, right?!? Well all that we ask is that you sign up as a follower of our blog AND leave a comment on any of our posts between now and the end of the year. You can also comment on any of our previous posts as well. Each comment (max of 1 comment per blog post) enters you into the random drawing that will take place on January 1st. After the winner is announced we will contact them via the Blogger site to arrange shipping, so you must sign up as a follower and provide your email address. Anonymous comments will not count as giveaway entries!

We look forward to hearing from all of you!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Blueberry-Lemon Syrup

Jason and I shared a pleasant evening working together in the kitchen, listening to Fleetwood Mac, while cooking, cleaning and canning simultaneously. We got three batches of syrup done this evening, more of our beloved Blackberry, more Raspberry-Mint for us to keep, and our new favorite Blueberry-Lemon. Oh man, does this sucker take the cake! (Or should I say it takes the pancake?!? LOL!!) I was worried because at first the lemon was a bit overpowering, but it mellowed out nicely after an extended simmering. I also have to mention here how blown away I was by the stunning royal purple color of this syrup. It definitely looks as yummy as it tastes! I am glad that it made an extra half-pint because I promised to give some to the farmer for giving me such a good deal on the berries.

Once again, there is no particular recipe here. Just throw the berries in a saucepan with 1/4 to 1/2 of a cup of water and the zest of one lemon (I added the juice of half the lemon as well as the zest in this batch) and let them simmer while you mash away! Once it thins out into a nice juice, run it through a fine mesh strainer or through a food mill to get the majority of the seeds and pulp out. You're never going to get it all, especially if your using raspberries, because a lot of times the seeds are too small to catch. I usually find that in this case the seeds are softer, so you'll hardly notice them if they do make it into your final product. Then measure the amount of juice you have, and pour it back into the (washed) saucepan. Add 1/4 cup of sugar for each 1/4 cup of juice you have. Bring it to a boil to fully incorporate the sugar and then bring it back down to a simmer. Pour the syrup into half-pint jars and then water bath process for 10 minutes and YOU'RE DONE!

If you love Blueberry Syrup then you have to make this! It's so much better than store bought syrup, and super-easy to boot!! And if you can't find fresh blueberries in your area this time of the year then use frozen berries instead. It will brighten up your winter breakfast table, we promise! 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cranberry-Eggnog Muffins

Jason and I were very busy in the kitchen this past weekend! In one day alone we made a pot of Turkey Noodle Soup from our leftover Thanksgiving turkey, two loaves of Sandwich Bread, and a dozen and a half of these yummy little muffins. We found the recipe in this month's issue of the Food Network Magazine (on page 101), and luckily this was one of those times when the planets aligned and the refrigerator and pantry gods blessed us with everything we needed to try out the recipe!

Here is the recipe from the Food Network website!

For the muffins:
  • cooking spray
  • 1 cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup rum or apple juice
  • 2 1/2 cups a.p. flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
For the topping:
  • 1 1/2 cup a.p. flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar


Prepare the pan...Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Mist a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray.

Prepare the muffins...Warm the cranberries and rum in a small saucepan over medium heat, then remove from the heat and let steep 5 minutes. Drain. Whisk the flour, baking powder, brown sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk the butter, eggnog, eggs and vanilla in another bowl. Gently fold into the flour mixture. (The batter will be lumpy; DO NOT overmix.) Fold in the cranberries. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

Prepare the topping...Mix the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, butter, salt and brown sugar in a bowl with your fingertips until it looks like wet sand. Sprinkle generously over the batter.

Bake until the muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly in the pan, then carefully remove to a rack.

I would like to add a couple of things here. First, we soaked our cranberries in rum because that is what we had on hand. While I wished that I had some apple juice instead, I was pleased to discover that the rum flavor had diminished completely after baking. And I really liked the way that it reconstituted the dried cranberries, so I can't really complain. Also, I found that the recipe calls for way too much topping! Our batch made 16 muffins (4 more than the recipe states) and I loaded them up with as much topping as I could, but I still had at least half, if not more, of the topping leftover. IMO, the muffins would be better without any topping at all, but if you like that crumby top on a muffin then I would still recommend cutting the topping recipe in half because you will have plenty...I promise! We've been sprinkling the rest on toast and it's really yummy! We will definitely be making these again. They would be great to freeze and use when we need to have breakfast on the go, but I don't think I will make the topping again because it was far too sweet for me. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Kai in the Kitchen: Turkey Cookies

About a week before Thanksgiving, Kai was watching Nick Jr. and saw this Turkey-Hand Cookie project. He wouldn't stop talking about it, so when we were doing our shopping for Thanksgiving we took him to Great News in PB and let him pick out a piping bag and some decorating tips.

We really wanted him to feel included in the dinner preparations, but we knew that there was no way the three of us could work together with so much going on in our tiny kitchen, so we had him mix and bake the cookies the night before.

Here is a link to the recipe that he used for his Sugar Cookies!

I'd like to add here two things here! One, that we cut the recipe in half because we didn't need that many cookies with all of the other desserts we had on the menu. Two, that I did take her advice in the recipe and used almond extract instead of vanilla. To me the cookie dough seemed a little bland, so I snuck the flavoring in even though Daddy and Kai liked it the was it was!

Next Kai traced out his hand onto a piece of parchment paper, then cut out the shape and used it as his cookie cutter. As many of you know, Kai has a very meticulous (almost annoying at times) attention to detail, which in this case was a good thing because he cut out the cookies very precisely.

We baked them four to a pan, but we could have done six at a time because the cookie kept their shape very well. This was where we stopped for the night, so the cookies had plenty of time to cool before we iced them. Jason made a simple powdered sugar frosting, again substituting almond extract for the vanilla. Then we divided the icing into three bowls and added food coloring to make red, yellow and brown. Kai insisted on not using orange, much to my dismay.

The beaks are leftover candy corn from Halloween and the eyes are mini chocolate chips, both are attached with a drop of yellow frosting. Kai had a very strong opinion of how they were supposed to be decorated, so they are all identical, but it was his own unique design and not the one from the website, so I have to applaud him for his creativity!

Here is the link to the original project idea on the Nick Jr. website!