Why This is Not A Cooking Blog

If it is still a blog at all with my pitiful lack of posting.

I hate when bloggers go into a long drawn out explanation about why they have not blogged so here is my short and sweet version.

A baby.  13 weeks of maternity leave over. 

I have tons of stuff to blog about which is the first step…now just finding time to write coherently about it. 

Or at least semi-coherently since some babble could be excused due to sleep deprivation.

Anyway, I was excited for this recipe for a couple of reasons.  1) I love pumpkin dips 2) It was super quick and easy 3) It meant we were actually going to a social function that required us to bring something (remember the whole three month old thing).

The name if the recipe is Pumpkin Fluff and I found it on Allrecipes.com.  I am not going to post the entire recipe, but here is the short and sweet version.

Pumpkin Fluff

1. Get the ingredients- Cool Whip, canned pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, instant vanilla pudding, and graham crackers.

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2. Realize you are an idiot for not reading the sizes of said ingredients on the original recipe.  Meaning you have too little cool whip and pudding.  Which you figured out after you took the picture thinking “oh I am so going to blog about this”. Way to be with it.

3. Decide to cut the recipe in half.

4. Realize you have left over cool whip in the fridge. 

5.  Put somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 of the amount of ingredients the recipe calls for in the mixing bowl.

6. Mix.

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7. Serve.

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8. When you serve it make sure you put a little sign by it indicating what it is or make a big announcement.  Or your friends will assume you are a weirdo serving hummus with graham crackers and no one will touch it. Until you tell them and then everyone will love it.

Just don’t mention that you messed up the ingredients.  And then don’t blog about it so they don’t figure it out.

Oooops.

C-O-O-K-I-E-S

I love sugar cookies.  And I love making sugar cookies.  And I love giving sugar cookies. 

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And I think people like them too because I am always being asked for the recipe.  So last year my sugar cookie recipe was part of the cookie week at Kim’s.  (click here for the recipe).

This year I was going to make something different than sugar cookies.  I scoured magazines looking for that perfect recipe.  But either because of my nut allergy eliminating tons of them or my affinity for the dough, I was led right back to the old standby.

This time with a twist.  That actually makes them quicker and easier.  And while not better than the original…different and amazing in their own way.

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Peppermint Chocolate Sugar Cookies

Ingredients
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • chocolate chips
  • candy canes
Directions
  1. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg; set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg, vanilla and sour cream until well blended. Stir in the sifted ingredients. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch in thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters or random round object (I used a glass). Place cookies 1 1/2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
  4. Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler (or a makeshift one using a Pyrex bowl and a saucepan…hey it worked). 
  5. Put candy canes in plastic bag and crunch them.  Multiple techniques for this include the rubber mallet, stomping on them etc.
  6. Dip cooled cookies into the melted chocolate halfway and then set on wax or parchment paper. 
  7. Before the chocolate hardens, sprinkle the peppermint chunks on top.

Yummy!  Make sure you head over to Kim’s to sample all the yumminess over there!

Pumpkin Yumminess

Fall decorating has been a major fail at our house this season.  Other than the wreath I busted out of the basement to stick on the front door, fall has stayed in the box.

Is is not that I don’t love fall or am not inspired this year.  Because I do and I am.

I think it has more to do with working on other projects ( like the should be done in a single night and yet never ending dining room ceiling project) and the flu getting the best of me. 

But my fall decorating difficulties have not banished pumpkin from the kitchen (before I got sick of course….no germ infested baked goods here).

First up was a pumpkin gingerbread quick bread.

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It was super easy and oh so good.  And double bonus….it froze incredibly well.  So a couple of weeks later we were able to enjoy it all over again.

Here is the recipe (from allrecipes.com)

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Ingredients
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease two 9x5 inch loaf pans.
  2. In a large mixing, combine sugar, oil and eggs; beat until smooth. Add water and beat until well blended. Stir in pumpkin, ginger, allspice cinnamon, and clove.
  3. In medium bowl, combine flour, soda, salt, and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture and blend just until all ingredients are mixed. Divide batter between prepared pans.
  4. Bake in preheated oven until toothpick comes out clean, about 1 hour.

 

And the pumpkin did not stop there.

I also whipped up a pumpkin cream cheese dip. 

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Again more yumminess.  And by whipped up I threw it together in 7 minutes as I was running out the door to an work thing I had to bring something to.  And I forgot about it until that evening. 

But I don’t think it was obvious I threw it together.  And it was the perfect fall appetizer.

Ingredients
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 (15 ounce) can solid pack pumpkin
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon frozen orange juice concentrate
Directions
  1. In a medium bowl, blend cream cheese and confectioners' sugar until smooth. Gradually mix in the pumpkin. Stir in the cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and orange juice until smooth and well blended. Chill until serving.

Again from allrecipes.com.

Any other great pumpkin recipes out there?  Something has to feel like fall around here.

With a Cherry on Top

I thought this would remain my favorite canning book of the season.  I mean it has tons and tons of great recipes like the delicious salsa.  What could top that?

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Well I also found this book at the library.IMG_2866

And while it does not nearly the amount of recipes the the Ball book, it has such a unique and delicious twist on canning recipes that it is still in the running for my favorite.

Like this….

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That picture made me drool and who doesn’t like wine?

So after investing in a cherry pitter and some really cheap wine we know have five pints of this goodness

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And it was heavenly with cream.   So heavenly it was gone before a picture was snapped.  Not to mention the way the kitchen smelled while it was simmering.

I was not a lazy canner this time and actually went through the whole process so that these lovelies can sit in the pantry for a long time.  And when we have last minute guests, we can just break open a jar and add some cool whip and voila….an easy elegant delicious dessert.  Or we could just keep it all to ourselves. 

But if cherries are not up your alley this book has tons of other unique recipes I can’t wait to try.

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Yummy……

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Zesty Salsa

One of my garden resolutions this year was to have a better preservation plan so when we have piles of perishable produce (say that 5 times fast) that it would not go to waste.

So when the tomato plant started producing, I was ready with some salsa making activities.  Kim at Newly Woodwards almost convinced to start with pizza sauce with pictures of her canning yumminess, but since I also had tons of peppers, we decided salsa was the best bet.

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I went to the library and checked out some great canning books.  I find my salsa recipe in this one.

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Actually it had tons a great recipes (salsa and otherwise) and I picked out Zesty Salsa to start with.  No particular reason besides it sounded good and honestly it was the one that utilized the most of the types of pepper we had in the garden.

Here what went into it-

10 cups chopped cored peeled tomatoes

5 cups chopped seeded bell peppers

5 cups chopped onions

2 1/2 cups chopped seeded chili peppers (we used jalapeno)

1 1/4 cups cidar vinegar

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Everything came from our garden except garlic, cidar vinegar, and cilantro that met an early end this year.

For the first round of salsa, the tomatoes were just beginning to ripen so I made a half batch which yielded 5 pint jars. IMG_2678

Well this picture shows 4 and a half but that was just because it was so good that we had to sample some.  Trust me there were five.

And being lazy I decided not to can them and just stick them in the freezer.  I had bought freezer safe glass jars and I figured that we could eat it by the time 6 months had passed.

Well  it was amazing, because three days later only two jars remained in the freezer.  But before you think we are total salsa pigs, let me tell you that I did give a jar to our neighbors.

Luckily we had a lot more tomatoes (and a random cantaloupe but ignore that part)….

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And plenty more peppers so we made a second full batch this time.  And since Derek was helping the jalapeno has a bit more kick. 

So we now have 9 pint jars in the freezer and giant tupperware of yumminess in the fridge.  Hopefully that will last much longer this time, because the next round of tomatoes is destined for pizza sauce.  But just writing this post has me crazing some more and heading to the fridge so that might still be up in the air……

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Pretty in Pink- Chive Flower Vinegar

In the spring we, had a slight problem with overgrown chives.

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The rest of the garden had just been planted and they were spilling everywhere.  The purple flowers were pretty and I thought about bringing some inside as cut flowers….but the distinct onion scent wasn’t what I was going for.   So what to do with all of them because they obviously needed to be harvested and there was no way we were going to way that many baked potatoes??  Hmmmmm…

After some googling I learned that you can make Chive Flower Vinegar.  Different sites had slightly different procedures so I sort of mixed it all together and came up with this,

First, I harvested all the pretty flowers.  That basket was totally full.

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Then I washed them thoroughly and put them through the salad spinner to get all the excess water off.

Next, I put them in some glass containers with lids and then added boiling white vinegar over them.

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They sat in a sunny window for a week.   It was the perfect kitchen table centerpiece.

Then I strained out the flowers that were looking a little less purple.

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And was left with pretty pink vinegar with an onion scent.

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I bottled it in pretty jars and put it in the dark kitchen cabinet for another week

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So what does it taste like?  On a mixed green salad there is a slight hint of onion.  I think next time I will leave more of the stems  on and possibly refresh the flowers with new ones to increase the flavor.  But i love the color and it could make a great gift or look  fun on a table next to a salad when you are entertaining.  And best of all it is quick, easy, and uses parts of plants that were going to be composted.

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Holiday Yum

Call me boring and unoriginal, but my all-time favorite Christmas cookie is the sugar cookie. I loved decorating them every year when I was growing up and would eat them before any one else had a chance. Also since I have a nut allergy which eliminates 70% of holiday cookies, this variety is an easy favorite. When I began to make my own sugar cookies as an adult, I started the hunt for the perfect recipe. There are so many recipes out there that it was difficult to narrow it down to the good ones. I like my sugar cookies thick and soft so that was the main criteria.
After a lot of trial and error recipes from Allrecipes were the definite winner. I have not made a batch of them this year yet (because frankly the entire batch would disappear within a couple of days because I have no self control with these babies) so my pictures from last year were more for documentation and not very blog worthy or pretty. I will take better pictures this year....promise.

Sugar Cookie

Ingredients

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Directions

  1. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg; set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg, vanilla and sour cream until well blended. Stir in the sifted ingredients. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch in thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies 1 1/2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Frosting

Ingredients

  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 4 teaspoons milk
  • 4 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • assorted food coloring

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, stir together confectioners' sugar and milk until smooth. Beat in corn syrup until icing is smooth and glossy. If icing is too thick, add more corn syrup.
  2. Divide into separate bowls, and add food colorings to each to desired intensity. Dip cookies, or paint them with a brush.


I roll the dough out pretty thick in order to get a really soft cookie. They only rise slightly when you bake them, so use that is a guide for how thick you decide to roll them out. For Christmas, I just use a top of a drinking glass to make the circle shape. Then I use the paste food coloring (the liquid kind does not give me bright enough colors in my opinion) to make red and green. I put a dallop of red and a dallop of green on each cookie and swirl it with a kabob skewer (a fork would work as well). The icing is a little drippy so have something under the cooling racks to catch it. It hardens to a shiny marble finish which I think looks great and is super easy. And everyone will be impressed that you took so much time on them (or at least that is what my friends and coworkers say....they could be lying)

I also give tons away as gifts to coworkers which has resulted with many requests for the recipe. It is a super easy to just slip them in a bag and add a cute tag.

Also with a quick color change you can use these cookies for many occassions like favors for a baby shower-

Or for secretaries day-

And while this has nothing to do with a recipe exchange, no post about the sugar cookies is complete without the story of the cookies of Christmas 2008.

The story stars Jack as the main culprit-
And Winter and his trusty sidekick-

Two weeks before Christmas, I had made four batches of cookies and had them all allocated for staff at my different schools as well as other gifts. I put the first batch in bags and took them to work with me and left the rest in sealed Pyrex at the back of the counter.

I came home to this-
No cookies to be found. Jack and Winter never jump on the counter and we do not even crate them during the day when we are at work because they usually stay out of trouble. Luckily they did not have any glass stuck in their paws and if they ingested any while extracting the cookies, it all worked out OK. At this point I had no time to make any more so one of my schools got jipped out of their cookies because of misbehaved puppies. So a word of warning: do not leave these cookies on your counter even in a sealed glass container as your pups will still somehow sniff them out and have a sugar feast while you are away.

This recipe is part of the DIY blog party at the NewlyWoodwards. This week the Dare To- Eat Cookies and I can't to try some concoctions of the talented bloggers out there!

Dare to DIY


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Sweet and Spicy

In my quest to preserve as many vegetables as possible I have been searching for recipes, especially for jalapenos....because honestly we can only have Mexican night so many times. Luckily my bowl full of jalapenos was saved by Derek's aunt with this recipe.


Jalapeno Jelly
3/4 cup seeded and ground green peppers
3/4 cup seeded and ground jalapeno chile peppers
6 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 (16 oz.) bottle liquid pectin
Green food coloring

Mix green peppers, chiles, sugar and vinegar and bring to a rolling boil. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add pectin and 4 or 5 drops of food color. Mix well. Strain into hot sterilized jars and seal. Makes 6 half pints.





When I chopped the jalapenos I busted out the gloves to make sure I did not burn my skin.

I was planning on taking canning pictures step by step because it was the first time I attempted it and it was a process.

But I got so crazy between the sterilized jars, straining , and sealing that the camera sat by itself on the counter. When it was all said and done, it looked like a green gel bomb went off in the kitchen. Literally it took two loads in the dishwasher to get everything cleaned up. But that just might be because a) I am always a messy cook and b) I had no idea what I was doing.

Here is the final product-
Twelve total jars from the recipe (2 were already eaten when this pic was snapped:))

And with some cream cheese and crackers....yum.

It turned out to be the perfect mix of sweet and spicy and I cannot wait to give away the little jars to all of our friends!

"Secret" Family Recipe

Conversation at Home Depot last May-

J: Should we put a tomato plant in the garden since we aren't big tomato eaters?
D: Let's just get one and that way we will have just a couple for some salsa

Guess I need to stop fertilizing.......

Last weekend this was our "bounty" with still tons of green tomatoes still on the single plant. So we either needed to find a way to preserve them or set up a road side stand.

Derek's family is Italian and they love to make their own sauce so we had the idea to use the family recipe and all the tomatoes to make some homemade pasta sauce to freeze for nights we don't feel like cooking.

Some background on and Derek and my cooking styles- Derek is not a big recipe follower. A little bit of this, toss in some of that etc. No measuring cups or spoons are needed when Derek is cooking. I, on the other hand, like to follow recipes closely. I like to have them come out the same way every time and have been described by my husband as a "chemist" in the kitchen with all the measuring I do.

OK now that you have background, I bet you can guess how the family recipe was given to us. Yep totally in Derek's style.

J- How much onion should I chop?
D- I dunno....my mom said a lot
J- How much is a lot? Like how many cups? Or even how many onions?
D- Don't know....chop up one more and that looks right.
J- What do you mean it looks right....how do you know that your definition of "a lot" and your moms is the same?
D- Trust me

So we boiled, chopped, smushed, mixed and simmered. The house smelled awesome all day. And I have to admit it tasted awesome too. Which works out well considering this is what our beer fridge freezer now contains-

No more Ragu for us! I would post the recipe but as you can see from above it probably would not do you much good. I am sure there are tons of awesome ones online and overall this was a great way to spend some time on a Sunday preserving food.

But as of tonight here is our counter again-



Maybe salsa next???

Multi-Functional Herb Garden

When I purchased my herb garden from Bluestone, I made a couple of additions. One of those was a mint plant.
Why a mint plant? To flavor tea? To use in cooking? Nope.....for Mojitos!

Sunday night was the first time we made this summery drink and they turned out perfectly. There are many recipes as well as how-to videos. Some of them differ from each other but overall they are similar. If you have a mint plant it is so quick and easy to make and so much cheaper than ordering one from a restaurant or bar. Here is the recipe I used.

I used 12 mint leaves (24 are in this picture for two drinks)
And half a lime cut into wedges...

Then I muddled it together. Since I did not have the proper tool I used the end of a wooden spoon but I am going to be on the hunt for this for the next time. Next, I added 4 tsp of sugar. I think when we have people over and making many drinks I think I will make simple syrup so it will dissolve better. But just for the two of us the sugar worked just fine.While I was muddling our house looked exactly like this...

And I had this guy's "flair" with the bottle....

Then I added ice, 1.5 ounces of rum (about the amount of a shot glass) and club soda. The recipe called for a "splash" of club soda, but I added more.
Voila....the finished product-
The mint plant is officially the first plant out of the herb garden to be put to use.....and in my opinion very good use.

Hellooo Summer

Again I have been a bad blogger....but I have an excuse. The last week was crazy at work and I was trying to make progress on the laundry room reno. But after taking the weekend to relax (and make more progress on projects) I am ready to go again.

One of the things I love the most about working in education? May. There is nothing more exciting than the last day of school and I am lucky enough to get to experience it over and over again. Take last Friday, the final bell rings and an euphoric yell rises into the hallways. You thought I was going to say June/July/August didn't you? Well I sadly do not have all that time off so I am going to stick to May. I also love that when everyone comes back (kids and staff) in August that things also look brighter and happier because it is a brand new year. It's like a new years resolution every August....with that new crayon smell to boot.

One of my summer resolutions is to get to the pool more often. When we bought the house last year, a neighborhood pool was on my must-haves list. I was not willing to compromise on it and was so excited when the pool opened last year. Know how many times I went? Zip. I blame it on the kitchen renovation. And the impact the kitchen renovation had on my waistline- too much eating out did not inspire me to want to put on a swimsuit. Since we are (unfortunately) not doing any big renovation this summer I am going to get to the pool....I hope.

Derek got a new smoker for his birthday and spent a large part of the weekend experimenting with it. So we were eating BBQ every day and I will say even though he is a newbie at the smoker thing it turned out quite good.

When we had friends over on Friday I found a new recipe that I wanted to share-Strawberry-Goat Cheese Bruschetta (from Better Homes and Gardens). It was delicious, easy, and the best part looked a lot more complicated than it was. I can't wait to make it again.

Here is the recipe (too lazy to re-copy it)

It is not the healthiest or most economical recipe but I think I will be making it many times this summer.

Hope your Memorial Day Weekend was great! Mine left me with the question of why all weekends can't last three days?

Yummy

In honor of Administrative Professionals' Day I whipped up a batch of sugar cookies for all the secretaries that I work with in a fun flower shape.

I found the recipes on Allrecipes.com a couple of years ago when I was looking for a good sugar cookie recipe for Christmas. Since Derek and I are allergic to nuts, we are both rather limited in the Christmas cookie choices so I wanted a really good recipe. I love sugar cookies that are thick and soft and this recipe totally hits the mark. Here is the recipe for the Icing and here is the recipe for the Cookies.

Since I have discovered this awesome combo, I make them all the time for events and they are always a hit.

Here was Christmas 2008 (at least until two furry friends were naughty...but that is a story for another post).

I also made them for my best friends baby shower for favors. (they are cut in the shape of a baby carriage in case you can't tell.....Derek couldn't).
The recipes are pretty simple, but the dough has to be refrigerated overnight. I make quite a mess applying and swirling the icing (I believe Derek's phrase is "It looks like a sugar bomb went off in here") but two pups are under me feet in case I drip anything. They also enjoy the dough (I swear this is only after the dough is safely in the refrigerator and I am cleaning the bowl....no doggy slobber ends up in the final product)-

One batch of dough makes about 12 large thick cookies and I made 6 times the amount of icing in the recipe for all of them. I like the swirly look because well....it is easy to do. One thing I did learn is if you want bright icing colors, you need to buy the paste food coloring that comes in the jars and not the liquid stuff you can get at grocery stores. They are always a huge hit so bring lots!