Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Princess Crown Braid

I was feeling experimental with Blockette's hair so I tried out a new braid.  I call it the crown braid, but the tutorial from Princess Hair Styles called it a "never ending French braid bun." 

I won't get into the hows and whatnot of how to make the braid because Princess Hair Styles has a great video tutorial, which explains the technique much better than I could.

 This is what I call the wonky side, where the braid ends.  I think I could have tucked it into the other part of the French braid a little better.  Over all, I think it's not too shabby for the first attempt.

 ...and the "nice" side.

The hairstyle took a bit longer than regular French braids. This is most likely due to the fact that it is awkward to braid the part by her neck and then up the "nice" side of the braid.  I had to have Blockette sit with her head down on her lap which she was not happy about.
 Blockette wore this hairstyle when we went out to visit her Grandparents.  We went out to dinner and a couple people stopped us and told us how cute her hair was, just like a princess.  I asked Blockette if it was worth the extra trouble to have her hair styled like this and she said she loved it as a sometimes fancy hair do.

By the end of the day her hair did sag a bit but held together through a few hours of vigorous playtime crawling on the floor playing with Grandma's spunky kitten. I don't think many hairstyles would survive those sort of crazy activities.

Oh and as for the short sleeves in the middle of winter?  It was nearly 60 the day this photo was taken. Crazy Chicago winters.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Drunk Pork Chops

I have been doing a bit of cleaning in my freezer making sure that some of the meat in there gets used before it goes bad.  It's sort of like shopping in your own kitchen.  To my surprise, I discovered three boneless thick cut pork chops!

This recipe from Rumbly in my Tummy for Drunk Pork Chops sounded like it would be fun to try.  We like cooking with beer, and Mrblocko got two six packs of Indio beer for free over Christmas.  (Heinekin has an office branch in the building he works in and every year they pass out a new brew.)

For some reason the chops didn't want to cook.  Because they were handled more than they should have the breading started to fall off.  What a bummer!  That's my favorite part.

Mrblocko and Blockette thought the chops were great.  Mrblocko even laddled the sauce over his mashed potatoes.

 And me...well...the sauce tasted ok.  Which was odd, because I thought it smelled bad.  Specifically, I thought it had that musky ammonia sent of cat pee. 

I'm sure this was some freaky thing of nature.  And my own broken-ness.  I repeatedly asked Mrblocko if he thought it smelled off.  He thought it smelled just fine. 

I can't figure out what the deal was.  I mean the ingredients in the sauce are pretty much the same things in certain BBQ sauce.  And I Like BBQ sauce.  It had to have been me.  Maybe my hormones were wild and crazy?  Maybe it's this cold that won't go away?  A Full Moon?  A case of the crazies?  I don't know.  I DO know if Blockette thought something smelled funky she would not have kept her opinion to herself!

Drunk Chops from Rumbly in my Tummy
5-6 pork chops- bone-in or boneless,- I used 3 thick cut boneless
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 cup of flour
1 bottle of beer
 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup ketchup
1 chicken bouillion cube
1 tsp hot sauce *to taste

Put a little bit of extra virgin olive oil in the bottom of a skillet. Combine the flour with the salt and pepper, dip each chop in the mixture, and place into the skillet to brown both sides.

While pork chops are browning, combine beer, ketchup, bouillion, hot sauce, and brown sugar in a bowl. Pour sauce mixture over the pork chops and simmer for 40-45 minutes.

Serve over mashed potatoes or rice.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Crockpot Soda Pop Chicken and Rice

I had seen this recipe for chicken and rice over at Six Sisters' Stuff last year and thought it sounded quick, easy and tasty.

 Maybe there is something off with my crockpot because neither the chicken or the rice wanted to cook.  After cooking the chicken on low for 3 hours and then on low for another 2 hours after I added the rice the chicken was still undercooked in parts and the rice was crunchy.

So I cranked the heat on the crockpot up to high for another hour and a half.  This cooked the chicken thoroughly, but the rice was still slightly underdone.

I was pretty hungry by this time so I decided to just live with the rice on the crunchy side.

Also, because I had to check on the chicken more than I wanted to, most of the chicken broke up into chunks.  I opted to shred the chicken into large pieces so they were more uniform.  This also allowed for an equal distribution of the sauce.

The sauce was ok.  I think it was on the bland side for our taste buds though.  When Blockette and I ate some of the leftovers, I added some lemon pepper and shredded Mexican cheese blend.  The cheese had a bit of jalapeno in it which gave the dish the flavor we thought it was lacking.

We also ate our portions with carrots as a chunky sort of dip.  This also added another flavor dimension with the added benefit of eating lots of veggies.

I don't know that I would make this dish again.  I can never seem to get a slow cooker recipe that calls for rice to work out properly. Last time I had the opposite problem and the rice turned into gummy mush.  Although out of the two recipes that called for the rice to be cooked in the crockpot, I'd say this one was the winner.  At least I could reheat this dish in the microwave with a bit of water and steam the rice a bit more so it was fully cooked.  Once rice is over cooked and mushy there is no turning back.

Crockpot 7-up Chicken and Rice by Six Sisters' Stuff
3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I used 4)
10.5 oz. can of cream of chicken soup
12 oz. can of 7UP or lemon lime soda (I used Sprite Zero)
1 c. rice (Minute Rice is best apparently, but I only had regular long grain rice)
1/4 c. chicken broth (I had to use water as I was mistake that I had chicken stock in the freezer)

Place chicken breasts in the bottom of your slow cooker.  Cover with soup and 7UP.  Cover and cook for 2-3 hours on low.  Add rice and chicken broth and cook for 2-3 more hours until chicken is cooked through.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Chalkboard Journal Fail

This Christmas I decided to make something crafty for Blockette.  She loves journals and notebooks to write and draw in.  I thought that this Chalkboard journal from No.2 Pencil would be perfect.

Except that it wasn't.

I don't know what happened.

This time I followed the directions exactly.  Not even taking a single short cut.

I even used 6 coats of Martha Stewart chalkboard paint compared to the 4 in the tutorial.  Just in case.

I rubbed the surface with chalk and then wiped it off with a damp cloth.   Just like the directions say.

Then I wrote on the journal cover.  Seemed fine.  I erased it with a dry cloth.

So I wrapped it and it sat around for a week.

Blockette was so excited when she opened it along with a brand new box of colored crayola brand chalk.

So of course she grabbed a piece of chalk and went to town on the cover to see if it worked.

This is what happened:

If you look in the upper right hand corner you can see 2 games of tic tac toe she played with her father.

How sweet!


They will NOT come off.

I tried wiping it off with a dry cloth and paper towel.

Then I made it damp.

Neither thing got the chalk off.

I even tried rubbing more chalk on the cover with the side of the piece of chalk.  All that did was scratch the cover and change the hue to a slightly different shade of blue.

I don't know why it scratched the cover.  I wasn't using my super Hulk like strength super powers or anything.  Just a light gentle hand.  Maybe I AM the Hulk?

Any tips or suggestions about what I might have done wrong?  Or what I can do to fix this craft disaster?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

America's Test Kitchen Pork Roast

It's been years and years since I've made a pot roast.  I always used to just stick the roast in one of those bags that come with seasonings in them.  I thought they tasted pretty good.  At least I thought so until I made this Roast with Peach Sauce from America's Test Kitchen.  There is absolutely no comparison.

This particular recipe uses a specific cut of meat called pork butt or Boston butt/shoulder.  Don't try to get all crazy and use something else.  America's Test Kitchen did all sorts of variations and the pork butt will result in the most tender meat when cooked low and slow.
 I know. I know.  The roast looks like it's burnt.  That's just the poor lighting in my kitchen.  The part that looks blackened is actually the caramelized cracklins.  I'm not usually one for gnawing on fat, but the fatty part of this roast was heavenly.  Crispity crunchy pieces of heaven.  Blockette didn't want to try any at first.  Then she saw the look on my face after I had a bite.  You know the one, where your eyes roll back in your skull.   Yeah, she changed her mind real quick.  Then she couldn't get enough of the tasty caramelized fat.

This roast was only about 4 lbs.  That was about half the size of the roast called for in the recipe.  I assumed that it would take less time to cook.  It didn't for some reason.  This roast took about 5 hours for the internal temperature to register 190F.

Those of you that cook a lot of pork are probably saying, why 190F?  The USDA says you only need to cook pork to 145F.  Well, that's true, but with this cut of meat, if you cook the roast slowly, the connective tissues won't break down until 190F.  Attempting to speed things up by upping the temp on your oven will only result in a hard dry brick of a roast....and sadness.

You will not believe how tender this roast is.  Man!  See how the bone is sticking out?  The roast practically fell apart when I removed it from the pan.  All I had to do was wiggle the bone the tiniest bit to remove it.  This was great because I had no idea how I was going to carve around that peculiarly shaped shoulder bone.

Blockette did not care for the sauce at all.  Who knows why, cause it was divine.  The sweet-tart flavors pared nicely with the salty savory meat.  I liked the sauce so much, I ate it on mashed potatoes, and even on toast one morning.

There was a considerable amount of drippings remaining after preparing the peach sauce.  I didn't want to waste it so I made crock pot lentil soup, replacing part of the stock called for in the recipe for the defatted jus. I don't know how, but the jus gave the soup an almost beef-y taste.  (How does that work if the jus was from pork???) I'll be saving the jus from roasts to use in lentil soup again for sure.

Pork Roast from America's Test Kitchen
1 bone-in pork butt, 6 to 8 pounds
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
Ground black pepper

Peach Sauce
10 ounces frozen peaches, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 2 cups) or 2 fresh peaches, cut in 1/2" wedges (I used frozen)
2 cups dry white wine (I used Arbor Mist Peach Chardonnay)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

1. FOR THE ROAST: Using sharp knife, cut slits 1 inch apart in crosshatch pattern in fat cap of roast, being careful not to cut into meat. Combine salt and brown sugar in medium bowl. Rub salt mixture over entire pork shoulder and into slits. Wrap roast tightly in double layer of plastic wrap, place on rimmed baking sheet, and refrigerate at least 12 and up to 24 hours.

2. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Unwrap roast and brush off any excess salt mixture from surface. Season roast with pepper. Transfer roast to V-rack coated with nonstick cooking spray set in large roasting pan and add 1 quart water to roasting pan. (I didn't have a v-rack that fit into my smaller roasting pan so i made a large ring out of foil so the meat would be up off the bottom of the pan.  This worked really well for me.)

3. Cook roast, basting twice during cooking, until meat is extremely tender and instant-read thermometer inserted into roast near but not touching bone registers 190 degrees, 5 to 6 hours. Transfer roast to carving board and let rest, loosely tented with foil, 1 hour. Transfer liquid in roasting pan to fat separator and let stand 5 minutes. Pour off ¼ cup jus; discard fat and reserve remaining jus for another use.

4. FOR THE SAUCE: Bring peaches, wine, granulated sugar, ¼ cup vinegar, ¼ cup defatted jus, and thyme to simmer in small saucepan; cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 2 cups, about 30 minutes. Stir in remaining tablespoon vinegar and mustard. Remove thyme, cover, and keep warm.

5. Using sharp paring knife, cut around inverted T-shaped bone until it can be pulled free from roast (use clean kitchen towel to grasp bone). Using serrated knife, slice roast. Serve, passing sauce separately.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pumpkin Crisp

I made this pumpkin crisp from Rachael Schultz when we went out to see my Mother-in-law back in December.

I was slightly overwhelmed with all the baking I had lined up for myself (see here, here and here).  I wanted something I could whip up the night before with minimal effort.

Boy did this ever fit the bill.  It's a dump and go sort of recipe.  Not only was this super easy to throw together, the flavor was amazing.  I think a big part of that may have been that I used a box of caramel cake mix instead of the yellow cake mix as suggested in the original recipe.

Why I had that box of caramel cake mix in the pantry, I just don't know.  I must have purchased it for something specific and then promptly forgot what it was!

Anyhow, I highly suggest using the caramel cake mix if you can find it.  I know it's hit or miss at the store by me.  I'll be keeping my eye out for more caramel cake mix as my mother-in-law suggested insisted I make this again.  I'm more than happy to oblige.

Pumpkin Crisp from Rachel Schultz
Serves 9-10
15 ounce can pumpkin
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 package cake mix - caramel if you can find it
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup butter, melted
Whipped cream(optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine pumpkin, evaporated milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour into a 9×13 baking dish. Sprinkle cake mix over pumpkin mixture in an even layer. Arrange pecans on cake mix. Pour butter evenly over pecans, moistening all the cake mix. (I found the best way to make sure all the cake mix was covered was to use a spoon and drizzle.  If I had poured it  from a bowl or measuring cup I would have had pools of butter in spots and dry cake mix in others.) Bake for 70-80 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool and top with whipped cream. Serve warm. (We ate ours room temp and found it needed no whipped topping of any kind.)

Monday, January 21, 2013

The sky isn't falling...anymore.

 When we bought the house we are living in now, the stairwell by the dinning room and kitchen had a nasty crack.  We had the crack repaired, but 7 years later, it came back.  Back with a vengeance.  It brought a few friends with it too.

The ceiling is actually worse than the picture shows.  You can't see the small cracks connecting up to the larger one.  The larger one looks darker because the dry wall is actually sagging.  If you stomped up the stairs little bits of dry wall would fall on your head.  Not good times.

Here's what it looks like now:

The part where the dry wall was sagging wasn't attached to anything!  Not so good. 

However, now the hallway needs to be painted.  Bleck.  The up side is the ceiling in the kitchen and dining room are repainted.  The stain from the green yogurt Blockette flicked onto the ceiling as a toddler are no more!  Yay!

Of course, now that the ceiling isn't going to cave in on us the kitchen sink has started leaking and an outlet stopped working.  Isn't that how it goes? When you cross one thing off the to-do list, two more things get added.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Peachy Cranberry Chutney

Before Christmas we went to visit my Mother-in-law. One of the things she gave us was a bag of cranberries. This might sound weird, but I was really excited about it!

I'd never cooked with fresh cranberries before.  With dried cranberries being so inexpensive and readily available, it just didn't cross my mind.

I always love the opportunity to learn about a new ingredient.  I think half the fun in cooking is finding out about new things, or new ways to prepare something you've eaten the same way for ages and are just sick of it.

So I went on my usual recipe hunting quest and found this amazing chutney from Averie Cooks.

why yes...that is our Thanksgiving wishbone on the stove...

 I used tangerines and peaches instead of oranges and mangoes.  I accidentally bought tangerines that had seeds in them.  Blockette wanted nothing to do with them, and I'm not a fan of oranges that don't come out of a can, so Mrblocko was having a difficult time eating the entire bag himself before they went bad.

The peaches also seemed like a great choice as I had exactly the right amount of frozen peaches left from making a glaze for a roast.  (Oh I will talk about that roast in another post...the best roast I've ever made/eaten.)

 Once the chutney had boiled down to the thickness I liked (for me, it was about 20 min), I mashed the whole thing with a potato masher.  I wanted some chunks, but not huge ones.

I feel I should warn those of you, like me, who have never cooked with fresh cranberries...they are going to make all kinds of crazy popping noises as the mixture comes to a boil.  This is normal.  Cranberries have 4 air chambers, which causes them to float when the cranberry bogs are flooded for harvesting. The popping noise is from the air in these chambers expanding, which causes the cranberry to crack, or pop open.  So don't be like me and freak out!  The freaky weird noise is perfectly fine.

I don't think Mrblocko liked the chutney at first.  I'm pretty sure it was the seeds that threw him.  He's not a big fan of seeded jams and jellies.  I reminded him that dried cranberries also have seeds in them and he never seemed to have a problem with the seeds in anything I made with dried cranberries.  Or maybe this chutney is so darn good that he is able to overlook the seeds.

This recipe made 3 small containers of chutney.  I froze 2 and we're now down to the last jar.  (sob!)

I'm very happy to say that this chutney freezes wonderfully.

I've been mostly eating this as a dip for wheat thins, and instead of sour cream and salsa on quesadillas.  Seriously, as a condiment for quesadillas, this chutney is amazing.  I got the idea from the flavor combination from Cranchiladas, and the jelly sauce that you get on the side when you have a Monte Cristo Sandwich.  Ah.May. Zing.

Cranberry & Orange Ginger Mango Chutney from Averie Cooks

1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
1/2 of a peeled orange, diced (about 1/3 c) (I used a whole nectarine, seeds removed)
3/4 c mango, diced (I used frozen peaches)
1 1/4 c water
1 c white sugar
1/4 c brown sugar, packed
1 tsp ground ginger, or more/less to taste (I used 1 1/2 tsp)
1/2 tsp cinnamon, or more/less to taste (I used 1 tsp but I love cinnamon)

 Combine all items in a sautee pan on the stovetop and bring to a rapid boil and then turn down the heat and let it simmer until desired thickness is reached.  For me this was about 20 minutes but will vary on how thick you want the chutney and the rate/heat of your simmering on your stovetop.  I could see this being “done” for some people at about 10-12 minutes and for others, 30 minutes.
Yields: approximately 24 ounces of chutney (3 small glass jars).  Will keep in jars in the refrigerator for week(s) so you can make a large batch at once.  This freezes well too.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Pinterest Fact or Fiction: Foil Bananas

So I saw this thing on pinterest that if you put foil on the tops of your bananas, it prevents them from ripening too fast.

I thought this was an easy enough thing to test out so I wrapped our bananas when I got home from the store.
 Note: the yellow banana in the above photo is one week old for a reference point.
Here is what is left after a week from the same bunch of bananas from the above photo.

They had quite a bit less black spots. The bananas themselves had no mushy spots either.

This made me think that this was a pinterest Fact.

Until the next week....
At 5 days the remaining bananas had mush spots and were just as black as ever.
Then the same thing happened the following week.

Maybe we got a really good bunch of bananas that first week, or a really bum bunch the following week. 

If this was something that really prevented the bananas from getting over ripe then it should work every time. It's for that reason that I'm calling this one a pinterest fiction.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Two Homemade Mustards

Lately I've been seeing a lot of things online for homemade mustards. The whole process seemed quite simple so I thought I'd give it a try myself.

I chose the recipe for Homemade Mustard from James's Recipes.  I made one batch with Red wine (with pomegranite and acai) vinegar and honey, and another with Cider Vinegar and brown sugar.

 I let them cure for a week like the directions said before testing them.

The verdict was....undecided.

I had Mrblocko bring one of the jars with him to work to spread on his sandwiches instead of the store bought grainy mustard.  After about a week he decided that he just didn't like it.  Neither of us could figure out how to make the mustard more palatable. 

Was it too salty, not salty enough?  Too sweet, or not sweet enough?  Too acidic, not acidic enough? 

We just couldn't say.

Maybe we just like the chemicals they put in the store bought stuff? 

Anyhow, this is one experiment I won't be attempting again.  I'll leave that to the professionals!

Wholegrain mustard from James's Recipes
2 tbsp Yellow (white) Mustard Seeds
2 tbsp Brown Mustard Seeds
100ml White Wine or Cider Vinegar
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
1 tsp Sugar

In a small (non metallic) container, jar or glass tumbler, add the mustard seeds and cover with the vinegar. Leave to stand for 3 days – do not refrigerate. To prevent the kitchen from smelling of vinegar, cover with cling film. Check periodically – the seeds will swell as they absorb the liquid. Add additional liquid to prevent drying out, It doesn’t matter if you add too much. After 3 days, drain of the surplus liquid and reserve. User a hand blender, food processor or pestle & mortar to grind the seeds into a paste. Add the salt, sugar and continue to blend. Add a little extra of the liquid to get a mustard with a good consistency Bottle into sterilized jars and if possible leave to mature for a few days before using. It should keep for several months and doesn’t need refrigerating.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Ham and Penne Bake

Let's discuss the recipe Penne with ham, mushrooms , peas and cheese from Real Mom Kitchen.

Ok. Alright.  There isn't anything to discus regarding this recipe.  It's not like it's the recipes fault that it turns out weird when the chief can't manage to perform to a basic cooking technique.

Translation: I messed up on the rue so the casserole was a soupy mess.

I think perhaps Julia Child just rolled over in her grave.

Note to self: sauce will not magically come together in the oven if it hasn't thickened in the pan.

Fortunately, it was a tasty soupy mess.

When I strained the food from the "sauce" it looked like this!

Not too bad.

Aside from the problem with the sauce, I made a few other small changes to the recipe.

First, instead of a cup of chopped mushrooms, I added an entire 8 oz package of mushrooms.  For some reason I decided to chop them up in small pieces.  While this tasted great, there was much unhappiness from Blockette.  Small pieces of mushroom are difficult to pick out.  And she might accidentally eat one.  Apparently, the time where she actually wanted to eat mushrooms was only for two short months in the summer.  Probably because they were grilled.  Grilling makes almost everything taste good.  Even fish!

The second alteration I made was to add a half of a roasted orange pepper.  (I didn't have any red pepper.)  I was basically too lazy to measure 3T of chopped peppers out.

Third, I made my usual swap of Small curd Cottage cheese for the Ricotta.  Yeah.  I'm weird.  I don't like Ricotta.  I know.  No one complains when I use the cottage cheese so that's how I roll.

Fourth, I used a full 8 oz of shredded Swiss.  I knew that I wasn't going to use the Swiss cheese up before it got fuzzy so I used the whole brick.  Can you really ever have too much cheese?  No.  No you can't.

Fifth, I used 8oz of pasta instead of 6.  I had half a box so I cooked that whole sucker up.

Finally, I made the dish in a 9x13 pan because of all the changes I made to the dish.

I'm posting the original recipe here instead of a revised one with all my changes.  Just in case the weird things I did were the cause of the soupy nature of the casserole.  (Really, it was my improper preparation of the rue, but I'm drifting ever so slightly into denial.)

Layered Penne with Ham, Mushrooms, and Peas from Real Mom Kitchen
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
3 Tbsp. chopped red bell pepper
3 Tbsp. chopped green onions
1/4 cup butter or margarine
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 cup milk
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 cups (10 oz.) diced smoked ham
1 cup frozen small peas, thawed
6 oz. penne pasta, cooked and drained
1 cup Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese
1 cup (4 oz.) Shredded Swiss Cheese
1/4 cup (1 oz.)Shredded Parmesan Cheese

Cook mushrooms, red pepper and onions in butter in medium saucepan over medium heat 3 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in flour and pepper until smooth. Stir in mustard. Gradually stir in milk and broth. (This is where I screwed up.  GRADUALLY people.  gradually.) Heat to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Boil and stir 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in ham and peas.

Place 1 cup sauce in bottom of 8×8-inch baking dish. Layer half of penne over sauce. Spread with 1/2 cup Ricotta cheese, half of remaining sauce, 1/2 cup Swiss cheese and 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Repeat with layers of pasta, 1/2 cup Ricotta cheese and sauce.

Cover and bake in preheated 375°F oven 30 minutes. Uncover; bake 10 minutes more. Sprinkle with remaining Swiss cheese and Parmesan cheese. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serves 6

Friday, January 11, 2013

2013 Thankful Thursday #2 (belated)


1. Stopping coughing from the dry wall dust long enough to fall asleep.

2. Getting the ceiling fixed before it fell down.

3. Getting back into the usual work and school routine.

4. Appreciating, not dreading, winter break.

5. My car died on the way home from work, not on the way too work.

6. I could walk home from work.

7. The weather is quite springlike.

8. It only rained on my walk to work Thurs afternoon, not during work.

9. Mrblocko gave me a ride to work this AM so I didn't have to get up early.

10. Cloudy days are beautiful in the morning the way the light changes as the sun gets higher in the sky.  I saw such gorgeous shades of blue-ish purple-y gray. 

Lower Sugar Pumpkin Mug Cake

Back in November I made this pumpkin mug brownie. The only bad thing about it was it was so sweet.  I wondered how it would taste if I cut the sugar in half.


I'll be making the reduced sugar version from now on.

Then I got curious about a white chocolate version...             
The first time didn't work out so well.  I used whole wheat flour, didn't have enough pumpkin, and over baked it.

It was Ok, but on the dry side.  Definitely not a version I'd make again.

The second attempt was much better. 

I used maple syrup instead of brown sugar, and unbleached flour instead of whole wheat.  I also only microwaved it for 45 seconds instead of a full minute.  I was pretty leery of overcooking it again, it wasn't quite set up like cake.  It was more like a warm pudding.  Which was really amazing.  Think gooey crustless pumpkin pie.  I think I like this version better than the chocolate one!

Revised Low Sugar Chocolate Pumpkin Mug-o-Brownie
2T br sugar
1/4c flour
2T cocoa powder
2T pumpkin
2T milk
1T chips
1/2t each pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a small mug or ramekin and microwave for 45-60 seconds

White Chocolate Chip Mug Pudding Cake
2T maple or pancake syrup
1/4c flour
2T pumplkin
2T milk
1/2t each pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon
pinch of salt
1-3 T white chocolate chips

Combine all ingredients in a small mug or ramekin and microwave for 45-60 seconds

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Vegan Pumpkin Crumble Ice Cream

Ice cream in the winter?  Yes.  I'm one of those weird people.  Growing up ice cream was such a treat that I would eat it when offered, no matter the weather.

This ice cream is healthy to boot!  Well, healthier than a poke in the eye.  And it's Vegan too.

I guess this ice cream could be super healthy, but I had to go and ruin that!

The original recipe called for pumpkin, bananas, vanilla and spices.  I added 1/4 maple syrup because the banana taste was too strong for me.  I think I also over seasoned the ice cream.  I added 1 t of cinnamon and 1 t of pumpkin pie spice.  Next time I'll reduce the spices to 1/2 t each.

As if adding maple syrup wasn't enough, I had to go and add a crumble crust topping!  Do you remember this Dutch Apple Pie with a crumble crust?  Well I used that crust recipe for the topping.  Yes it was amazing!

OK.  Maybe Mrblocko didn't think it was amazing.  I think he is all pumpkined out so what does he know.  Blockette and I sure enjoyed it!

Vegan Pumpkin Crumble Ice Cream adapted from Vegan Ventures and My Culinary Companion
3 1/2 bananas, frozen and cut into coins
heaping 1/3c pumpkin puree
1/2 t each pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon
1 t vanilla
1/4 c maple or pancake syrup

1c flour
1/2 c br sugar
1/4 c oats
6T margarine

Puree all ingredients in a food processor until smooth.  Chill for 2 hours.  While the ice cream is hardening, preheat the oven to 350F.  Combine the topping ingredients and press on a silpat or parchment lined cookie sheet.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until light golden brown.  Let cool and break into bite size chunks.  The edges will be crispier than the middle.  We liked having the mixture of crunch and soft pieces in our ice cream.  Serve the ice cream in bowls and sprinkle with crumble pieces!   Don't eat it too fast or you'll get a brain freeze!


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Pumpkin Rolls

These Browned Butter Pumpkin rolls from Baking Bites are hands down THE best rolls I have made to date.

They were just the right amount of fluffy soft, and had a great crumb to them.  None of them had huge bubbles in them either.  Hooray!

Never have I been more proud of a gluten based product.

The rolls only have a slight hint of pumpkin to them.  Just enough to go, "Is that pumpkin?"  So all you pumpkin haters might actually be able to choke one of these bad boys down.

I'm totally a browned butter convert.  It takes just a little bit of extra time to brown the butter, but it brings out such a rich, almost nutty flavor, that it is worth the effort.  Try it and I guarantee you'll be hooked.

I probably ate 90% of these rolls because I am a huge pig. A greedy selfish piggy pig. And to that I say "oink oink!"

Browned Butter Pumpkin Dinner Rolls from Baking Bites
2 1/2 tsp active dry or rapid rise yeast (I used rapid rise)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups water, warm (110F)
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup browned butter, melted and cooled – divided
4-5 cups all purpose flour, plus more for kneading
2 tsp salt

In a large bowl, or bowl of a stand mixer, combine yeast, sugar and half warm water. Allow to stand 5-10 min, til mixture foamy. Add remaining water, pumpkin , 1/3 c browned butter and 2 c flour. Stir well. Add salt. Gradually add remaining flour, stirring til dough comes together into a slightly sticky ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. This can also be done in the stand mixer with the dough hook attachment.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 3-4 min, until dough is smooth and elastic. If using a dough hook, you can knead on medium-low speed for 3-4 minutes. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hrs.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Gently punch dough down into a large rectangle. Divide dough, using a knife or a bench scraper, into 15 even pieces. Shape each piece into a ball.
Arrange dough balls in a lightly greased 9×13-inch baking dish, making three rows of five dough balls each. Let dough rise for 25 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375F. Brush dough balls with some of the remaining browned butter (reheat it in the microwave, if necessary). Bake 30-35 min, til rolls are golden brown. An internal read thermometer inserted into the center of the rolls should come out reading 195-200F.  Brush rolls with remaining browned butter again when they come out of the oven. Allow to cool before serving.
Makes 15 rolls.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Pumpkin Pancakes

It's been a while since we talked pumpkin. Did you think my freaky pumpkin fascination had diminished with the passing of fall? You did?  Well you were wrong! Get ready for another week of pumpkin goodies!

Can you even handle it?  No? Sorry bout that!  Pumpkin is awesome.  Embrace it.  You'll feel better. 

Anyhow...I made these pumpkin pancakes from Texanerin Baking.

 OK.  So when I say I made these pumpkin pancakes, what that means is I chose the recipe, gathered all the ingredients and smooshed them together.

Mrblocko did the ACTUAL cooking and flipping of the pancakes.

Because, apparently, I CANNOT cook pancakes.

I'm ok with that cause Mrblocko can.

I will assure you that while the pancakes are dark, they are most definately NOT burnt.  (Although, if I cooked them they would be little flat disks of coal.)  The pumpkin is obviously going to make them darker, but the sugars in the pumpkin caramelize and add a darker brown to the finished product.

Overall, I'd say these pancakes are darn healthy.  Can you believe there is only 2 T of maple sugar in the whole recipe?  And no other sugars either?  I had to double check that it wasn't a misprint.  But no.  Super duper low on sugar.  I loved that because I could actually have them with syrup.  Usually pancakes and waffles have so much sugar that I get sick if I have more than a tiny bit of syrup.  Not so with these babies!

These pancakes also have oats and whole wheat flour, a veggie, and extra protein from the cottage cheese. 
I said cottage cheese. 

My family balked at that too.
You can't taste it at all. And since it gets all whirled up in a blender/food processor, you can't see it either.

I think I may have over mixed the batter on these pancakes.  They were so delicate that after they had syrup on them, they would fall apart as they were being stabbed with a fork. We found that the solution to this problem was to have the syrup in a small bowl on the side for dipping.  This also resulted in us using far less syrup than if we'd poured the syrup on top of the pancakes.  See!  This recipe is an all around win win.

Healthy Pumpkin Pancakes from Texanerin Baking
1/4 c old-fashioned or rolled oats
1/4 c whole wheat flour
1 Tbaking powder
2 t cinnamon
1/2 t ginger
1/2 t allspice
1/2 t nutmeg
4 eggs
3/4 c cottage cheese (I used small curd)
1/2 c + 2 T pumpkin puree
2 T canola oil or coconut oil (I used veg oil)
2 T maple syrup (I used pancake syrup)
1 T vanilla

Pour oats in the food processor and give it a few pulses. You want them to be a little finer is all. Then add all the other ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined. There definitely shouldn't be any lumps. Because we're using cottage cheese here, I don't recommend making these without the help of a food processor or a good blender.

Cook in a medium pan over medium heat. For mrblocko, it took two minutes before I flipped them, and then another minute on the next side.

Notes : You can use 3 1/2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice in place of the separate spices. (I did this.)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Mug Cozies

I've been on this massive crochet kick lately.

Here is one of the things I've made recently:
 It's a mug cozy!

What's a mug cozy you ask?

It's a thing that goes around your mug so you can actually hold onto it without burning your hands.  It also functions as a coaster as the cozy goes under the mug as well.

I had so much fun making one, I decided to make one for each of us. 

As you can see from the above picture, they really fit almost any mug.  Even Mrblocko's weird slanty sided mug.

They've really come in handy this week as I've been drinking gallons and gallons of tea in hopes that it will magically cure my cold.

Oh, and as an added bonus....
The tea cozies also do double duty as stylish hats for your old men cats.

Doesn't Basil look like he LOVES his new hat?

He's so fashionable.

If you'd like to make your own mug cozy/cat hat, I got my pattern from Micah Makes as a free download.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2013 Thankful Thursday #1

1. Quiet nights in.

2. Time off of work.

3. Not falling asleep before midnight on new years eve.

4. The gift card to Chili's from one of our Sunday School kids = not having to make dinner when I was feeling miserable.

5. The slightly burnt bread was still tasty.

6. Taking down the Christmas decorations only took about a half hour.

7. My mom is done with physical therapy.

8. Sleeping almost the entire night in bed.

9. Making time to read.
10.  1,000 POSTS!!!!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Dec Reads


 One poor sad lonely book read for the whole month of December.  You'd think I was busy or something.

 Anyhow Book of Wonders by Jasmine Richards was a neat variation on Arabian Nights. Scheherazade/Zardi is the main character.  Instead of telling stories to the Sultan, she goes on a quest of sorts to save her sister.  In doing so, she runs into characters from the traditional telling of Arabian Nights.  A fun twist on a classic tale.  The end of the story is set up for a sequel. The book is geared toward tweens and early middle schoolers. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013