Holiday baking!! EEEK!

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Wow….it has been a long time since I’ve written here.  Pregnancy was not fun for me, and the little one takes up more time than I ever imagined.  Now that the kiddo is 9 months old, I have a little extra time to write again.  Maybe. We’ll see how much I get done before she wakes up from her nap 🙂

It’s December and you all know what that means.  It’s time for holiday treats.  I decided to make the first batch of holiday cookies today and my hubby requested peanut butter with chocolate chips.  More specifically, extra soft peanut butter with chocolate chips.  I’ve made several different recipes in the past and some of them have passed muster with DH, but I never seem to note which recipes those were.  I’m going to try to be better about that. So this year, I’m going to post whatever treats I’m making and the results, so I can be more efficient in future baking endeavors.  Hopefully.

So enough chatting, more cookies….

I found several recipes that looked promising and ended up doing a combo of several.  I wanted a cookie that was very peanut-buttery (is that a word?) plus lots of chocolate, and of course, they have to be SOFT.

I used my trusty Kitchen Aid mixer and blended 1 stick of butter, softened (use the real stuff please, or why bother?) with 3/4 cup of peanut butter (we like smooth, but I’m sure either would work fine).  After that’s blended, add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and 1/3 cup brown sugar.  Mix again and then add 1 egg, a teaspoon of vanilla, and 2 tablespoons of half and half (milk would probably be fine, but we were out).  Beat at medium speed until fluffy.

In a separate bowl, combine 1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour with 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt using a fork.   Then slowly add this dry mixture to the wet ingredients in your mixing bowl.  I ran the mixer on low while I slowly poured the dry ingredients in.  Once everything is combined, mix in 1 and 1/2 cups chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet, but I bet milk or dark would be equally yummy.) Refrigerate dough for 20 min or so (or long enough to get the kiddo down for a nap).

Roll dough into balls (approx 1 tablespoon or so) and flatten slightly with your fingers, about 2 inches apart on un-greased cookie sheets lined with silicone mats or parchment paper (I use the silicone mats. These are my favs.  http://www.amazon.com/Artisan-pk-Non-Stick-Silicone-Baking/dp/B00629K4YK/ref=sr_1_1?s=kitchen&ie=UTF8&qid=1417978155&sr=1-1)

Bake for 8 minutes at 350 with the convection setting (375 degrees standard). Let cool on pans for 2 minutes or so, then move to wire racks to cool completely.  They will have the slightest light brown edge when they are done, and if you try to move them from the baking sheet too quickly, they will break on you.  Enjoy (preferably warm) with a tall glass of milk (unless you are out like I am, lol)

I’ll add a more printer friendly version of the recipe to this post once I can figure out how to do that.

Here comes the sun…

Wow!! What is that strange glowing orange sphere hovering in the sky?  Oh wait….the sun.  It’s been so long since I’ve seen it, I had forgotten what it looked like.  I’m not really a big fan of winter.  I believe that it should only snow on Christmas Eve and even then, it should only be a light dusting.  I don’t even mind the cold weather that much, but the GRAY.  I can’t stand the gray.  This past winter seemed to be even longer and grayer (is that a word?) than usual.  I think I started anxiously awaiting springtime sometime in early January and then the groundhog had to go and lie to all of us springtime lovers.  As usual, I helped myself get through those dreary days by getting my seedlings ready for the garden.

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This year I decided to plant tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, spinach, leaf lettuce, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, and sugar snap peas.  I also have basil growing on my windowsill.  I tend to go a little crazy when shopping for seeds, but I try to limit my choices to veggies my husband and I will eat regularly.

The winter seemed to go on forever this year.  We even got blanketed with snow at the end of March when we just one year prior the trees had been in bloom for a month.  Finally, last weekend we had our first good springtime days.  My husband and I jumped at the chance to get outside.  My big goal this year was to get a new trellis option for my sugar snap peas and cucumbers.  The ones from last year just weren’t up to snuff.  This is where I relied on my handy hubby again.  Check out the trellis he built!

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PVC pipe is awesome!!! For just a few dollars, we were able to build this uber-sturdy trellis that will (hopefully) last us for several years.  I used twine to create the individual support structure and I realize that it will probably need to be replaced (possibly even this year) but I didn’t want to use anything heavier until I knew exactly how I wanted it.   You can also see the effects of my awesome irrigation system.  Most of those lines don’t have anything planted yet, but I wanted to get the placement right when we were doing all the set up.  Hopefully, we will have good luck this year.

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Here you can see the baby sugar snap peas beginning to climb up their lines.  I only planted the seedlings for the peas and lettuce for now.  It’s still too early for the other plants.  I planted the lettuce and plan to have spinach in the two rows under the trellis.  That way, as the cucumbers and peas grow, they will provide shade for the others.                                                                    

                                                     

           

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When I was digging up the garden to prepare it for this year’s crops, I realized that some of my kale survived the winter…snow and all.  So here is my last kale harvest leftover from last year. Score!

After picking the kale, I borrowed a tiller to turn over all the soil.  Then, I added a few bags of manure and peat moss, plus the contents of my worm farm/compost bin to the soil.  I ran the tiller over it all a few more times to get it mixed in well. I set up the trellis and planted some seedlings.   Now the really hard part….waiting.

Once I got my foot in the door… (also known as “landwar part 2”)

The first year of my actual gardening (2011) was a bit of a struggle to convince my husband to give up even a small patch of his turf, but I loosened his grip.  The next year was much easier.  My garden of 2011 was great, but I was sure we could do better.  As far as gardens go, better means bigger, right?  Yeah, baby.

I engaged my husband’s inner handyman and we designed a new, considerably (like 5 times) larger, raised bed.  The new dimensions are 8x16ft.

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Wow! What was I going to do with all this newly acquired space? More space =  more veggies.  I purchased two more greenhouse trays to go with the one I saved from last year plus the handy-dandy refill peat pellets.  

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I planted tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, bell peppers, sugar snap peas, green beans, kale and jalapenos. We purchased trellises for the cucumbers, sugar snap peas, and green beans.  They turned out to be too small, but hey, you live and you learn.

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If you look closely at this picture, you can see the best part of my handy man husband’s contributions…an irrigation system!

In 2012, the midwestern US had a summer of nonstop oppressive heat and very little rain.  Luckily for my baby plants, the irrigation system quenched their mighty thirst.  Unfortunately, it didn’t do much to help all the heat.  All in all, the garden still fared pretty well.  We harvested bumper crops of zucchini and cucumbers.  It was super exciting at first, but then I was running out of things to do with all these veggies.  My husband isn’t a big vegetable eater on his own.  I added zucchini to spaghetti sauce, several batches of zucchini bread, and even some zucchini brownies.  I also tried canning for the first time.  I grew enough tomatoes and jalapenos to produce 2 quarts of salsa and I canned 4+ gallons of pickles (I lost count.)  I think my favorite of all the garden rewards was the kale.  I LOVE baked kale!  It’s so easy.  Just rub your torn kale leaves with some olive oil and salt.  Roast on a cookie sheet at 350 for about 20 min.  They are even better with sriracha.  Drizzle sriracha over the kale pieces after coating with the oil and salt, bake as before.  Yum!  I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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Never get involved in a land war in Asia…

One of the best things about living out here in suburbia is the SPACE.  We have a lovely spacious yard.  Now, my husband and I disagree about what should fill that space.  My husband is in LOVE with his lawn.  Even in mid August, we have a lush green outside carpet.  I admit, it is nice to look at, and even nicer on the bare feet, but not very useful for anything else. Several years ago, I voted for a swimming pool, but I was vetoed in favor of the sprinkler system.  My next request was a garden.  My husband looked at me cross-eyed.  Tear up even a small section of his beautiful park? Initially, he suggested one of those upside-down hanging gardens.  I agreed to try it out, and it was a dismal failure.  I’m still not sure what we did wrong, but trust me, it was nothing like “as seen on TV.” Is anything…ever?

I realize I’m making my husband sound stingy with his lawn, but in his defense, I’m not always the best at follow-thru with my little pet projects. The following year, I restated my commitment to home-grown veggies and suggested a small raised bed garden. He was still dubious, but then I informed him that if I was successful, it would mean fresh, homemade salsa for him.  Bingo!  My husband graciously agreed to give up a small parcel of his green gold.  I quickly went shopping for the seeds and accompanying gear.

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I picked out a greenhouse box with these little peat pellets.  You soak the pellets in water and they expand to form perfect little seed homes.  Because of the promise of homemade salsa, I planted tomatoes, Habaneros, and jalapenos.  I put the lid on the box, placed it in a sunny window and volia….plants!

These babies stayed inside until about mid-May when it was time to be moved to their new home in the great outdoors.

We found one of those kits with particle boards.  It’s basically a 3.5x7ft garden in a box….snap sides together, lay on grass, cover exposed grass with newspaper, and fill with soil.  Easy peasy.

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This worked great for our first attempt as amateur gardening.  We harvested a somewhat successful crop of tomatoes and a few handfuls of peppers.  We created some mighty nice salsa and some pepper infused vodka for bloody mary’s.  Yum.

 

 

 

 

My salsa recipe is pretty basic. We like it pretty spicy though, so be careful. 

  • 3-4 large tomatoes, diced (seeds removed if you prefer)
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped 
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (you can leave this out, sometimes I do)
  • 3-4 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced (when you remove the seeds, you remove most of the heat)
  • 1-2 Habanero peppers, seeded and minced (you may want to wear gloves when you chop the peppers)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice or white vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt

Mix and enjoy!

Pinterest obsession meets crocheting

UPDATE:  My crocheted creations are now available on etsy!!!  http://www.etsy.com/shop/WhoMadeTheCake

I am a Pinterest addict.  When I first was introduced to Pinterest, I wondered, “why would anyone use this? It just makes me feel like I’m not doing enough.”  After a few minutes though, I was hooked.  The next thing I knew, an hour had passed and my boards were filling up fast.  I pinned everything from crafting and cooking to style and gift ideas.  Much of my meal planning is a direct result of pinning on Pinterest.  It’s funny because I actually now think of Pinterest as a time saver. How weird is that?

With a my Pinterest pinning, I have come across a number of crocheting ideas.  I have been crocheting for many years.  My grandmother first taught me how to chain stitch when I was only 4 or 5 years old.  I quickly progressed to crocheting small blankets for my dolls and stuffed animals.  Scarfs soon followed.  I loved watching the ball of thread transform into something new.  I would watch my grandmother working on a new pattern for an afghan and she would teach me how to create it too.

Fast forward several years.  I came across a darling crocheted angel Christmas ornament.  I thought to myself, “I could make this. I’ve crocheted for years.”  I ordered the pattern and when it arrived, I was shocked.  What is this?  It looks like it’s in another language.  Because my grandmother always explained how to complete each project, I never learned to read a pattern.  It was quite the wake up call. My grandmother had passed away, so I couldn’t ask her about it.   I called my mom to vent about my apparent ignorance and she confessed having similar problems with complicated patterns as well.  I eventually got through that angel ornament pattern, but I was so frustrated through the whole process I couldn’t bring myself to make any more.

Fast forward a few more years.  I was still crocheting, but only the tried and true old patterns that I had created over and over again since my childhood.  Patterns so familiar that I never had to look in a book or reference the back of any yarn labels.

These patterns were ingrained in my memory and I preferred it that way, but this new Pinterest thing was bugging me.  I found all these great new patterns and finally I convinced myself to try again.  Armed with trusty Google, I worked my way through a simple hat and flower pattern.

My confidence with crocheting grew exponentially.  I saw my friend Kendra pinned this great scarf pattern on PInterest.  It was a scarf designed to look like a fox.  Too cute!  I thought about making the scarf as a gift for her because I knew she didn’t crochet.

After I thought about it for a while, I thought I’d really rather make an opossum scarf instead of a fox.  Anyone that has met my friend Kendra know that the is OBSESSED with opossums.  She loves them!  Have you ever tried to find opossum stuff?  It’s not easy.  I searched high and low for an opossum scarf pattern.  Maybe I could make my own opossum pattern.  I was too intimidated to design a pattern from scratch.  I purchased the fox pattern from http://www.etsy.com/listing/77751829/pdf-crochet-pattern-for-fox-scarf-diy.  I changed the colors of the scarf and redesigned the nose/face, ears, legs, and tail.

I realize that the market for an opossum scarf is probably pretty small, but Kendra absolutely LOVED it.  It really turned out great.  Now I feel that I have the tools to create more of my own patterns in the future.  Yay!

Embracing autumn

I am a Christmas girl.  Every year at this time, I get so excited about the upcoming Christmas holidays.  It seems that my decorations go up earlier and earlier.

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This year, I decided to try to embrace autumn instead of racing towards winter.  Although I could probably trim several homes for Christmas, my Thanksgiving decor is seriously lacking.  I began searching online and came across this wreath from Williams Sonoma.

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t have $100 to spend on a wreath that will decorate my door for maybe 2 months.

I decided to try to create my version of the fall wreath.  My next stop was Michael’s.  The grape-vine wreath worked very well because of its inherent natural quality.  I didn’t have to worry about covering it completely like you would with a foam ring.  I used a smaller number of pumpkins and gourds.  After experimenting with several different placements, I ended up going with an asymmetrical style.  Finally, I chose the green ribbon for a bigger pop than the original brown ribbon.

Here is my wreath.  I apologize for the glare in the photo.

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I am very happy with my finished product.  With trimmings like this, the wait for Christmas isn’t really so bad.

Sunday dinner

As I look back at my childhood, Sunday dinners are especially memorable.  I should probably start with some background info.  I come from a long line of cooks.  They were not trained chefs mind you, but these women fed my family. The women in my family show their love through food.  This isn’t great for the waistline, but it’s wonderful for creating those warm fuzzies.  Although I have food memories of most holidays, Sunday dinners stick out the most.  My mother would usually prepare something that took all day to cook.  As the day progressed, the house would fill with the most delightful aromas. Whether it was roast beef or hearty Italian style meat sauce, we eagerly awaited the dinner bell.  These dinners brought so much comfort to me.

Now that I am married with a house of my own, I find myself trying to recreate those feelings.  I often spend considerable time combing through my grandmother’s and mother’s recipes.  Pinterest can also be useful in this endeavor.

Last week, my husband asked if I would make the brisket in our freezer for dinner on Sunday.  I had never cooked a brisket, nor do I remember my mother or grandmother preparing one.  Honestly, the only reason we even had a brisket is that we have started buying our beef in bulk.  I wanted to start eating all grass-fed, hormone free beef and now we get it one-half cow at a time.  Because of this, I am faced with unfamiliar cuts of beef. So, I fired up my laptop and started searching for recipes.  I really had no idea what I was doing.  The only kind of brisket I remember eating is the smoked kind you get at a barbecue joint.  We don’t have a smoker and we don’t have a charcoal grill.  After some frustration, I turned the job over to my husband.  He came across this recipe from Paula Deen.  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/texas-oven-roasted-beef-brisket-recipe/index.html

Initially, I was not impressed by this recipe.  I did have all the ingredients on hand, so it became a winner in my book.

Here is what Paula’s brisket looked like.

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My first doubts about this recipe were quickly squashed.  It was exceptionally easy to put this together. And once it was in the oven, it required very little attention.  I made a few changes to the recipe after reading some of the user comments on the food network website.  I used a Lagunitas IPA to add to the beef broth instead of water and I added some liquid smoke.  The house quickly filled with lovely smells of roasting beef.  This brisket was the perfect dinner to replicate my memories.

Here is my version.

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It was delicious.  Although it tasted similar to a traditional pot roast, the dry rubbed crust made it distinctively different.  Finally, this recipe was great because it created wonderful leftover meals.  On Monday, I sautéed thin slices of the beef with chili powder, garlic, cumin, red pepper, onion powder, and paprika.  I served it fajita style with sautéed onions and red bell peppers.  Yum!  Later in the week, we had French dip sandwiches with provolone cheese.  The juices from the brisket made an excellent dipping sauce.  This brisket not only made a wonderful dinner, but made my life easier in the week to come.

All in all, it was just what I wanted for Sunday dinner.