29 October 2009

Mini Taco Salad

Here I am with another miniature version of dinner. My kids love minis, and they're fun! This time I made miniature taco salad shells (or bowls; H and I couldn't decide which term was a better fit). Note: only make as many as you need for the meal. They end up unpleasantly chewy the next day.

I started with warmed corn tortillas, so they'd be more flexible. See my method here. I let them cool slightly, then pushed them down into muffin tins. I used a jumbo muffin tin, but the regular size would work, too.Then I popped them into a 375° oven for 10 minutes. They came out crispy on top, but still soft on the bottom. I waited a few minutes for the bottoms to crisp up, but they didn't.
So I flipped the shells over in the muffin tin, and put them back in the oven for 3 minutes or so.
The next step would be to fill as desired, of course. We filled ours with romaine lettuce, seasoned kidney beans (which really should have been black beans. At any rate, they were seasoned with lime juice, salt, cumin, and chili powder, and stirred all around in my still-warm skillet.), grated cheddar cheese, plain yogurt (which we use instead of sour cream), salsa, and avocado.

Apple Butter

Last week I attempted my first ever batch of apple butter. I figured I was making tons of applesauce anyway, so why not keep cooking one batch and spice it up?

So I did just that. Now, on my kitchen counter, I have a little scrap of paper with quantities on it. But for the life of me, I can't remember where I found the recipe. It just wouldn't be fair to post the recipe here without proper credit. Besides, I really didn't follow the spice quantities--I added some, tasted, and added more until I was satisfied with the level of spices.

So here's the basics:
  • Make applesauce, but with apple cider instead of water. I used about 5 lbs of apples and about 2 cups of apple cider.
  • When cooked, cool slightly and puree the applesauce.
  • Put back into pot, add little bits of the following: ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground ginger, ground nutmeg, allspice. Taste, and keep adding bits of whatever you think it needs until it tastes the way you like it. (You can also add sugar if you like, but I didn't.)
  • Cook on medium low for hours. Two or three hours, probably. Mine took about four, because I had the heat too low for a while. You want it to bubble a little, maybe one bubble burst every 2 seconds or so. Warning: this will splatter on your stove and/or countertop and/or walls a bit.
  • While cooking, stir frequently. For me, I stirred once every ten minutes.
How do you know when it's done? Good question. This blogger suggests dropping a spoonful on a chilled plate, and if no water accumulates around the blob of apple butter, it's done. I did this, but feel it could have been cooked a little longer. Frankly, though, I was so tired of stirring after four hours, I just called it good. It still works, it's still yummy, it's just not as brown and thick as commercial apple butter. Could be because it's homemade. How do you make apple butter?

28 October 2009

Meat Hand

Photo source: not martha
Megan of not martha has created the most disgustingly awesome Halloween dinner I've ever seen. She has full photo instructions on her blog. It's almost too gross to eat. I love it!

Note: I made meatloaf the other night in a cat shape for H and a snake for J. I took photos and was all set to post my fun meatloaf, but the photos looked awful. It was turkey meatloaf, and it looked more like cat food than something I would actually want to eat. (Even though it was very tasty!) I feel more satisfied now that I can plug in a meatloaf post that actually looks good.

Autumn Card

I love autumn, so when birthdays come around during this season, I tend to make autumn-themed cards. This one was made for my sister-in-law. (Whose birthday happens to be today. Happy birthday Megan!)

I found these leaf-shaped buttons on clearance several months ago. I thought they were so cute, I knew I'd find something to do with them. Ha--I have boxes full of such impulse clearance buys that I haven't yet used. So I was pretty happy to use these within the same calendar year of purchase. :)

27 October 2009

Spaghetti Squash with Curried Apples and Turkey

This is a decidedly autumn dish that I prepare every year at this time. The apples and squash are at their peak and I can find them grown locally. The curry is just the right spice to bring all the ingredients together. It's great for lunch the next day, too.

Spaghetti Squash with Curried Apples and Turkey
1 lb ground turkey
4 cloves garlic, minced or squished through a press
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 medium crisp apples, chopped (I've used Gala, Braeburn, Hanner's Jumbo...any tart-sweet apple that holds its shape during baking will work well)
2 tsp curry powder (or more, to taste)
1 small spaghetti squash (should be slightly smaller than a football)
Salt & pepper to taste
  • Prepare the squash by washing it, piercing the flesh several times, then baking it whole in a shallow baking dish at 375° for one hour. (This would be a good time to chop the onion and apples.) When it is fully cooked, a knife will slide easily through the flesh to the center and back out again. Remove from oven, slice in half lengthwise, and allow to cool.
  • Brown the ground turkey in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and apples and cook until softened. Add the garlic, curry powder, and a little salt (1/4 tsp). Mix everything together well; reduce heat to low.
  • Pick up one half of the cooled squash and scoop out the seeds and gooey-looking strings from the center. (I should have taken photos of this. There are some good photo instructions here.) Use a fork to rake the spaghetti-like squash flesh into the turkey-apple mixture. Repeat with the other half of the squash.
  • Stir everything together and taste. Add more salt, if needed, and pepper if you like.

26 October 2009

Halloween Challenge: Completed!

Here are some photos of the kids in their costumes. The dog costume is complete! The shoe covers were way easier than I thought, since I'm not planning on keeping them past Halloween. (If you'd like instructions, just leave a comment and ask.) I don't think I'm going to cover up the stripes on the jacket because, frankly, I'm tired of working on the dog costume. :) It's good enough and I received lots of compliments on it at our Halloween carnival Saturday.Oh, and in case you're wondering, I didn't do much for H's costume. I made her tail and some black cat paws that match J's doggy paws. The rest was purchased. She has a cute little velour jacket to go with it (not pictured) because she wanted to "have fur all over."

If you have costumes you've been working on for yourself or your kids, leave me a comment with a link. I'd love to see them! Happy Halloween!

23 October 2009

Repurposing: CD Tower to Stuffy Holder

I saw a post on Ohdeedo about organizing and displaying stuffed animals. Courtney of two straight lines used a canvas shoe hanger to organize her son's stuffed animals. It's fabulous, and reminded me of our own DIY stuffy organizer. We repurposed an old CD tower that was destined for a thrift store. We attached it to the wall with furniture straps so it wouldn't tip over, and let H cram all her stuffies into the shelves. We all love it. It makes clean up easier and allows H to find her desired fabric friend at a glance. (This is critical at bedtime, because she snuggles with a different pair each night.)

22 October 2009

Pink Applesauce

I first discovered pink apples last fall. I purchased some Pink Pearl apples from a local orchard, which looked perfectly ordinary with their pearly pale green skin, but promised to reveal red flesh underneath. They certainly did. I made pink applesauce for my daughter, and she was so thrilled with it, she asked me to make it again this year.

So I drove back to the same orchard (which has an amazing array of apple varieties) only to find that I was too late for the Pink Pearls. Luckily, they had another red flesh variety just on its way out--Hidden Rose. See what I mean? It looks like an ordinary apple. But when you cut into it and see pink juice bubbling up through the cut, you know you're in for something special.I promise you, none of these photos have been enhanced in any way. Normally I fix up my photos with a little Photoshop help, but these I intentionally left unedited. Isn't that red flesh amazing?

Do you know how easy it is to make applesauce? You cook the apples with a little water or apple cider and mash them. That's it. Well, there's peeling and coring and rough chopping involved, too, but it's so worth it. Here are my Hidden Rose apples, peeled, cored, and thrown in a big pot with a little water in the bottom. I'd say probably 2 cups water to 5lbs apples, but I never measure. You just need enough water to produce steam and so the apples don't burn. Heat on high until the water boils...

...then turn the heat down to medium, cover, and simmer. Check in 10 minutes--they'll either need to be stirred or they may already be done.
You can tell they're done when all the apple pieces mash easily with your spoon. We like our applesauce chunky, so I just stir the cooked apples a bit and let them cool. If you prefer your applesauce more uniform and saucy, you can run the cooled apples through a food mill or blender. A potato masher would give you a consistency somewhere in between--mostly saucy with small chunks. (Your apple choice can affect the texture, too. If you choose a crisp apple, you're more likely to get chunks than if you choose a variety that tends to be mushier--like a Red or Golden Delicious.)
To store, place cooled applesauce in sealable containers and keep in the refrigerator. I make multiple batches and freeze them. Applesauce can also be canned, but if you're a canner, you already know that. Oh, and some people add sugar and/or cinnamon to their applesauce, but I prefer to leave mine plain. Even the tart apples sweeten up a bit when cooked. Mmmm...lovely.

21 October 2009

Tiny Caramel Apples

Last week, I took my kids to a local apple orchard and picked up quite a variety of apples, including these tiny Lady Apples. As I've said before, my daughter loves anything tiny--just her size--so when she saw these apples, she begged for some.

I had been putting them in her lunchbox for school, but with Halloween approaching, I was reminded of caramel apples and knew these would be just perfect. After all, when you get done eating the caramelly outside, who wants to eat all that leftover plain apple? When you use tiny apples, every bite contains caramel and apple.
Now, I'd love to tell you that I made my own caramel from scratch, but I didn't. I bought a bag of caramel at the store, unwrapped all those sticky little cubes, melted them in the microwave, and dipped away. Too easy. You should go find some tiny apples and try it yourself. :)

20 October 2009

Pumpkin Spice Latte

One of the most highly anticipated Starbucks events of the year is the arrival of the Pumpkin Spice Latte each fall. Last month, The Kitchn supplied a recipe for making your own pumpkin spice latte at home. I tried it, and it was great, but it was a lot of work. Plus, I was too lazy to blend the ingredients together, so I wound up with all these gritty spices floating in my cup.

So last week, I made this pumpkin butter (which is fabulous by the way, and so easy) and noticed the similarities between the Kitchn's recipe and the pumpkin butter recipe. I, your kitchen scientist, took it upon myself to attempt a dangerous experiment--could making pumpkin spice lattes at home really be as easy as stirring in some pumpkin butter?

Oh, yes it is. I made myself a latte, stirred in a great big glob of pumpkin butter (1Tbsp) and tasted it. Pumpkin spice latte--just like Starbucks, just like The Kitchn, but it only took two minutes, dirtied only one spoon and one mug, and didn't have any gritty floaters.

Now my challenge is to get through a day without adding those sugary calories to my coffee. :)

19 October 2009

Sage Biscuits

Oh, these biscuits. If you've never made biscuits before, I encourage you to try this recipe. If you don't like sage, leave it out and just make plain biscuits. They're so easy and don't pretend to require special biscuit cutters. Serve them with some kind of warm soup or stew. We had them with corn chowder last week, but usually we like them best in chicken and dumplings, or Ina Garten's Chicken Stew.
But I will admit, I think the sage is the best part of these biscuits. I have a sage plant in my garden that is still alive today for the sole purpose of enhancing these biscuits. I make the biscuits every fall/winter. The rest of the year, I look longingly at my sage plant, dreaming of the day the weather turns cool again and I can make some more biscuits.

This recipe is from Better Homes & Garden, so you know it's foolproof. Honestly, the hardest part is cutting in the butter, and even that is not hard! I'll give you the recipe here, with this link to BHG for an easily printable version.

Sage Biscuits
(adapted from BHG's Herb Mini Biscuits)
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup butter
1/4 cup finely snipped fresh sage
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or lemon juice + milk, see below*)

1 egg white
1 Tbsp water
Ground sage, sesame seeds, cracked white pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degree F. Grease large baking sheets; set aside. In a very large mixing bowl stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (I cube the butter first for more manageable pieces.)

This is "cutting in."

Stir in sage. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture. Add buttermilk all at once. Using a fork, stir just until moistened.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. (It will be messy, floury, and falling apart. This is OK.)

Knead dough lightly for 10 to 12 strokes until nearly smooth. (I do this by folding the dough in half, pressing down gently, giving it a quarter turn, and repeating. The dough will come together smoothly, like this.)

Lightly roll dough to a 15x9-inch rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Cut dough into 1-1/2-inch diamonds. Sprinkle with additional flour. (If you roll yours on your countertop, like I did, make sure you press very gently with your knife when cutting, so you don't scratch your countertop.)

OK, so mine isn't quite a rectangle. No matter. And I made my diamonds less than mini. You can make them as big or as small as you like.

I just love this photo of them all lined up.

Optional: Instead of sprinkling with additional flour, combine egg white and water; brush biscuits with mixture and sprinkle with ground sage, sesame seeds, and/or white pepper.

Place biscuits 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden.

Remove biscuits from baking sheet to a wire rack; cool. Makes about 48 biscuits.

To make ahead and freeze: Arrange in covered containers and freeze up to 1 month. To serve, thaw at room temperature for 1 hour. Split biscuits and arrange on serving trays.

* I never have buttermilk, so I use this substitute: Place 2-3 Tbsp lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup. Add plain milk until the total reaches 1 1/2 cups. Allow to sit for 15 minutes. The result will be a little lumpy, but that's OK.

16 October 2009

Mexican Tomato Soup/Dip

I had some leftover canned pumpkin sitting in fridge the other day, and no idea what to make for dinner. I went "pantry shopping" and combined those findings with the pumpkin and ended up with a pretty yummy dinner.

I call it "soup/dip" because it can be either. We ate it like a thick soup, but also dipped tortilla chips and veggies in it. As a dip, it would be a great addition to the football snack assortment this weekend. You could also easily add 2 cups of vegetable or chicken broth during cooking to make a thinner soup.

Mexican Tomato Soup/Dip
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 cups pumpkin puree
15 oz can black beans
1 Tbsp dried minced onion*
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp smoked paprika (optional; or regular paprika)
Juice of 1 or 2 limes (optional)

*I used dried minced onion because it was a last-minute addition. Next time, I would probably substitute 1/4 cup chopped and sauteed onion for more flavor.
  • Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan.
  • Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10-20 mins.
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5-10 mins.
  • Puree the mixture with an immersion (stick) blender or by carefully ladling it into a standard blender or food processor.
  • Place in individual bowls or large serving bowl and top with lime juice, if desired.
This is best served warm or at room temperature, with tortilla chips and veggie sticks available for dipping.

14 October 2009

Halloween Challenge: Dog Costume (Part 5--the Paws)

Ah, we're almost done with this dog costume challenge! And I think it's a fair assumption that I will be able to create all my pieces from one fat quarter. Hooray!

Welcome to Part 5--the paw mittens. The "mitten" part was super easy. Making them look like paws, on the other hand, was not.

First things first. I traced J's hand in a mitten shape (so, I didn't trace all individual fingers, just fingers together and thumb) on a piece of paper. I drew another line 1/2" out from my original line and cut there, to make sure I had enough room for my seam and some wiggle room for fingers. Then I used the pattern to cut four mitten pieces out of my fabric, making sure the thumb sides matched up when I put them together.

To make them look like paws, I used some scrap pink fabric and cut, freehand, little shapes to make applique paw pads. Then I pinned the "pads" in place. Note: I did this before sewing the mitten pieces together. That allowed me to machine sew the appliques. Otherwise I would have been forced to do it by hand. (Shudder.)

Although, I must say, machine sewing the appliques wasn't that much easier. Please don't look too closely at my stitching. It is absolutely atrocious. I zig-zagged those little pieces in place and despite the pins, both fabrics slipped and scrunched and made a big mess. But perhaps the wrinkles make them look more realistic? In addition, I was using leftover pink thread and had just enough. The end of the thread was literally off the spool and making its way down through my machine as I was stitching the last applique. Phew. It was a stressful sewing night.After wrangling with the appliques, I placed the mitten pieces right sides together (one with pads, one without) and stitched them together. Turned them right side out, hand sewed the wrist hem, and they were done.

One wrist is a little snug, but I have enough length that I can trim some off and re-hem to fix it. I think they look pretty darn cute.With the remainder of my fabric, I will attempt to make shoe covers and, if I have enough left, some patches to cover the stripes on the fleece jacket I found for the top portion of the costume.
If not, oh well...$7.50 for a fleece jacket was too good to pass up, even if I have to deal with orange and white stripes. When the jacket arrives next week, I'll get J all dressed up and post a pic of the finished costume.

Halloween Challenge: Dog Costume (Part 4--the Tail)

I promise you, the photo above is a tail. It could be seen as many other things, but it is, indeed, a doggie tail. This is Part 4 of my costume challenge. To follow from the beginning, click here.
I began by cutting the tiny strip of fabric remaining on one half of my fat quarter. It is about 15" long by 2-3" wide. I folded it in half and cut in tail-shaped contours, with the folded edge being the tip of the tail.Then I sewed up the sides, right sides together, leaving the unfolded edge unsewn for turning.

I turned the tail right side out, and gathered some stuffing and the thickest wire I had in my craft desk--20 gauge. I doubled it to make sure it would be good and sturdy, and folded over the sharp edges.I stuffed the tail first, then inserted the wire through the middle, taking care to keep it buried in the stuffing and away from the fabric.
Then all I had left to do was fold the open edges in and sew it shut. It would have been prettier to hand sew it, but I just ran it through the machine. The fabric hides the stitching anyway, and this way I'll have a little band to facilitate safety-pinning the tail to J's pants.

Next step: the paws.