Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hearty Blueberry Muffins

The little man in my household gets up really, really early.  To make this more pleasant, I like to keep nice breakfast foods in the house.  Muffins are my favorite these days because they take very little energy or concentration to prepare in the morning- just peel off the paper.  Less work than even a bowl of cereal!  Great when my brain is not yet fully functioning.
Made these last week and was really pleased with how they turned out.  I tweaked the basic muffin recipe in my Better Homes cookbook to create something that I can feel pretty good about eating.  I have also been looking for ways to use all the blueberries that are now in season.

1 cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup oats
1/4 cup flax seed meal
2 tea. Baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk
¼ cup oil
2 cups blueberries
Combine flours, sugar, oats, flax and baking powder in a medium bowl.  Combine egg, milk and oil in another bowl.  Add wet ingredients to dry, stir until combined.  Stir in blueberries.  Spoon batter into muffin pan that is greased or prepared with paper cups.  Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.  I can’t remember exactly how long mine stayed in the oven.
This recipe makes 12 regular sized muffins.  And they are yummy.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lighten-up Carrot Cake

I baked a carrot cake for my husband's birthday this weekend.  I needed to redeem myself from this cake disaster so I probably shouldn't have messed around with the recipe.  But I did, and thankfully it still turned out well!  This is not the recipe for carrot cake you want to use if you a completely decadent, rich cake.  It uses whole wheat flour and less vegetable oil and icing than others I've made.

I used this recipe as a guide and tweaked it a bit, mostly by substituting whole wheat flour, and adding more spices and some applesauce.  What I especially like in this recipe was the cream cheese frosting that had lemon juice in it- it gave the cake a really nice flavor, different from the plain traditional frosting.

I wanted it to look pretty, and was not about to make little icing carrots like you sometimes see.  So I topped it with toasted coconut and pecans.  Just grabbed a handful of each, spread it out on a baking sheet, and put it in a 400 degree oven.  I took out and stirred every minute or two and took it out when it looked good to me- it only took a few minutes.

Lightened-up Carrot Cake

2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 ¼ tea. Baking powder
1 tea. Baking soda
½ tea. Salt
1 ½ tea cinnamon
¼ tea. Nutmeg
¼ tea. Ginger
1/8 tea. Cloves

2 eggs
2 eggs whites
1 c. sugar
1 c. light brown sugar
½ c. applesauce
½ c. vegetable oil

3 c. grated carrots

Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  In another bowl, beat eggs and sugar until combined;  beat in applesauce and oil.  Gradually add wet ingredients to dry, beating until combined.  Fold in carrots.  Pour mixture into two greased, 9 inch round pans.  Bake for 20-25 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  Check here for the recipe for the icing.

I enjoyed this cake more knowing it wasn't so bad for me!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

anti-extreme couponing

I recently watched TLC's new show "Extreme Couponing."  Have you seen it?  If you haven't- this is basically the jist of it: the women on the show go on one giant shopping trip and save something like 95% of the bill.  They do this by collecting many, MANY copies of coupon inserts that come in newspapers, matching the coupons they have with items at the store that are on sale, and shop on a day when the store is doubling or tripling coupons- so they get most of their items nearly or totally "free."  They buy multiples of the sale/coupon items so that they will not need to buy them again for a long time.

Sounds pretty good on the surface.  But to do this the women spend HOURS organizing and clipping coupons, as well as researching and planning their shopping trip.  And most disturbing was the way their couponing ways take over the house.  On the episode I saw the lady called her stash of coupon-ed goods her "stockpile."  Seriously.  They had entire rooms dedicated to storing all the stuff, but it seemed to overflow to closets and rooms all over the house.  One lady had metal shelves stocked with,  I don't know, laundry detergent or ketchup of something, IN THEIR BEDROOM.  Another lady had a literal tower of plastic egg crate bins filled with coupon flyers in what looks like it was once her kids' playroom.

I have been thinking about the whole idea of "shopping ahead" lately, even before I saw this show.  I know it is better to stock up on something you use when it is on sale, and I know that it is less expensive to buy in bulk or in greater volume.  But recently I became frustrated with how difficult to organize and messy and my pantry and cabinets were getting because they were just too full, and I decided to change the way I shop and just buy what I need from week to week.

I really do not need to have a several boxes of cake mix, 5 different shapes of pasta, and 2 "back-up" boxes of cheerios in my pantry.  I also do not need 25 rolls of toilet paper all at once, even if it is cheaper to buy them that way.

A few weeks ago I "splurged" and bought the smaller bottle of mouthwash that could actually fit in the medicine cabinet in our bathroom.  It has been so convenient (and easy to pour) that way- I have been using it more often!  Could I buy the big one, pour it into the smaller bottle for daily use, and store the large under the sink?  Yes, I thought about doing that.  But it's crowded enough down there.  And maybe the few cents per once differance isn't worth the time, effort, and inconvience.

So I have to say I am "anti-extreme couponing."  (Extreme anything is usually not a good thing)  I still use coupons and buy things on sale- but only if I need them.  The stores and manufacturers don't give us coupons to be nice- they want us to buy more stuff.  And we aren't really saving money if we are buying more than we can use or need. 

So if I run out of peanut butter and don't have an extra bottle in the pantry, it's okay.  I can wait till it goes on sale again.  I probably eat too much of it anyway, haha, but that is a different story : )

Where do you guys stand on the couponing/buying in bulk thing?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

I have always loved and appreciated my mom, but becoming a mother myself has definitely made me appreciate her even more.  Motherhood is awesome, but exhausting. 

Before we had baby G I swept the kitchen floor once every week or two.  It really didn't get that dirty.  Now I sweep it two or three times a day, and honestly, it probably should be swept more than that.  Part of every snack and meal makes it way to the floor these days. 

Not only does having kids produce much more of a mess, it also makes it ten times more challenging to do the now increased cleaning that needs to be done.  Either I have to wait until he is sleeping, or sweep with a little person literally hanging on my legs, or trying to eat the cheerios out of the dirt pile.

This week I found myself wishing there was a drain in the middle of the room so I could just hose it all down at the end of the day.

But of course every time I look at that little face I know it is worth the hundreds of extra times I will need to sweep the kitchen floor.

This mother's day I am feeling very blessed to be a mother.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The most hideous cake of all time

This weekend I had plans to make a lovely 3-layer white cake with lemon filling and marshmallow frosting.  Sounds good right? Yeah...

The lemon curd came out great- I have a recipe I cut out of a county living magazine years ago that I love.  Simple, homemade, delicious.  Baked my cake layers, they came out fine.  Right before we were ready to have dessert I made my frosting- it's a marshmallow frosting, a lot of similar recipes call it "7 minute" frosting, the recipe I use actually calls it "finger frosting" and I will explain why later.

Anyway... this is where it all started going downhill.  The frosting didn't fluff.  Wrong word- peak.  I beat it on high for 20 minutes hoping it would do its thing, but it did not.  So I put it on the cake anyway.  But it was kind of heavy and soupy. 

Lovely, right?  It gets far worse.  I put dowels in the cake to support all the layers.  But the top layer started the break apart and slide off.  I tried to save it with more dowels, but to no avail.

One chunk fell off, followed by others...

The structure was severely compromised... so I gave up and scooped it into a dish. 

It was pretty sad.  Thankfully, my family is so great that they all ate it anyway.  Where did I go wrong?  I have reflected on this a little bit and I have some ideas...

First of all I wanted to make a 3-layer cake using box mixes.  A box mix makes 2 9-inch layers, so I thought I would use 2 boxes, make 3 layers, and use the rest of the batter to make 12 cupcakes that I could freeze and use later.  But when I poured my batter into the 3 9-inch pans I thought to myself, there is a lot more rooms in those pans... if I just add a little more batter to each I could have some nice thick layers!  So I did.

Also, I was tired.  I did not feel like greasing and flouring the pans.  So I sprayed them with Pam.  Same thing, right?  They are nonstick pans anyway, what's the point of having nonstick pans if you still have to grease and flour them?

Okay.  So when I took them out of the oven they were a little more dome shaped than I would have liked.  I knew I would need to trim them so they would be flatter.  Then it was time to take them out of the pans... which went okay.  But the middle of the cakes stuck a teeny tiny bit, and made a few little fissures in the center.  Didn't fall apart though.

Next step... the frosting.  The recipe is called "finger frosting" because you mix up all the ingredients in a pot on the stove with your finger until it gets too hot to touch.  Then you know it's done, and you transfer it to the mixer and beat it on high for 10 minutes.  So this finger method... not super precise.  I mean, it relies a lot of the cook's tolerance for pain.  First time I made it I stuck my finger in and thought, "ouch, must be ready!"  them my mom stuck her finger in and was like "that's not hot!  needs more time!"  My mom is a toughie.

Anyway, so first of all I do not like stirring it with my finger the whole time, so I was wisking it with a wisk.  And I was talking to my brother while wisking.  Maybe a little distracted.  When I finaly stuck my finger in it was really hot... well, what I considered to be really hot.  So I put it in the mixer.

Did I overcook the frosting?  I think I may have.  Did that cause it to not peak properly?  It's possible.

So then when I assembled the cake, it fell apart.  Were my layers not flat enough and/or too heavy because I used extra batter?  Maybe.  Was it all aggrevated by the fact that the center of the layers had cracks and were therefore more likely to split?  I'm pretty sure that is the case.  But are the tiny cracks the result of not greasing and flouring the pans properly?  I'm not completely sure.

Anyway, next time I attempt this I will do less "winging it." 

I feel like I need to go bake something pretty right now to redeem myself.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spinach Pie

A vegetarian friend of mine has been asking me for this recipe : )  My mom has been making this for as long as I can remember, and it is one of my favorite recipes of all time.  It's so good that even the spinach haters in your life will be asking for seconds.  Trust me, I know from personal experience.

1 pie crust
2 (10oz). packages of frozen chopped spinach
1 large minced onion
3 tbsp. butter
3 eggs
1/2 tea. salt
1/2 tea. pepper
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup milk or cream
1 cup parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350.  Defrost spinach and squeeze to remove excess water.  Saute onion in the butter over medium heat until translucent.   Stir in spinach, salt and pepper.  In a large bowl, combine eggs, ricotta, parmesan and milk.  Mix thoroughly, then add the spinach mixture.  Stir until blended, then pour into a pie crust.  Bake at 350 for 50 minutes or until set and lightly brown on top.

Oh man I am about to have seconds right now.

Some notes:
 I usually lighten up this recipe by using low fat milk and ricotta.  You could omit the pie crust too, but I love it so I usually don't.  Also, you can substitute crumbled feta for the parmesan - my husband loves when I make it like that.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Chicken and Cornmeal Dumplings

Last week's ice storm- pretty to photograph, bad to drive in.

I am not the biggest fan of snow and cold.  Warm and cozy food helps make winter more bearable.  So today I wanted to try a new cold weather meal.  Read a few different recipes, then created my own.  Happy to say this was one experiment that had great results!  So yummy I had to share.  

5 cups chicken stock
2 dried bay leaves
1 large onion, cut into thin strips
2 cups carrots, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1.5-2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into chunks
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups frozen peas

For the dumplings:
½ cup cornmeal
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ½ tablespoons butter
½ cup milk

In a large pot, bring the stock, bay leaf, onions and carrots to boil.  Simmer for around 10 minutes.  Add salt, pepper and chicken, and simmer for about 20 minutes longer until carrots are soft and chicken is cook through.

While chicken is simmering, make the batter for the dumplings.  Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.  Cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, then add the milk and mix until combined. 

In a very small bowl, melt 3 tablespoons butter in the microwave.  Stir in 3 tablespoon flour and combine to form a paste.  Remove the bay leaves from the pot and whisk in butter mixture until it is combined with the liquid.  Add 2 cups frozen peas.

When the pot begins to simmer again (the frozen peas will cool it down temporarily), add the dumplings.  Form 1 tablespoon batter into a fat disk by rolling it in your hands then flattening slightly.  Place dumplings on the top of chicken and vegetables.  When all the dumplings are formed, cover and allow to simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, until dumplings are plump and cracked on top.

Use a ladle to share chicken and dumplings into bowls while hot.  Recipe serves 4-6 people.

Oh man, I cannot wait to eat some leftovers tomorrow!  I wish I was hungry enough to eat more right now, haha.