Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels

This will blow the skirt right up on your holiday snack mix.  Who needs chex mix? 

Last night I was really jonesin' for a cinnamon sugar pretzel from one of those places in the mall.  Now, the mall isn't remotely near my house, and even if it were I simply can't eat one of those carbo-sugar-loaded pretzels.  So here's what you need to do make these cinnamon sugar pretzels.
Melt 1 stick of butter.  It probably doesn't matter if it's salted or not, but I used unsalted.  Plus the pretzels are already salty.
Once the butter is melted, add about 4 tablespoons of sugar [I used white but you can use brown] and 1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon.  Stir together nicely and then stir in the pretzels.  I did this in batches to make it easier.   I used a 16-oz bag of regular pretzels.  In a single layer, bake the pretzels at 250 for about 15 minutes, just to get the cinnamon-sugar to stick. That is, if you don't eat all the pretzels before you bake them.  Before I put them in the oven I sprinkled extra sugar on top.
Maybe that was rude what I said about the chex mix.  I think you could add these to it and give it some interest.  Happy holiday eating!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Intervention [aka: Pie Crust]

We need to have a talk. 

You might want to sit down.

Ok, here goes.  I know about those store-bought pie crusts you've got lurking in your refrigerator. 

Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about.  The ones in the--ahem--red box with the chubby little dough-boy?  The ones that are so "easy" that you can just fit into a pie plate and fill with whatever your little heart desires? 

I don't understand the drama that surrounds pie crust.  Store-bought,while only about $3, is still more expensive than making it from the pantry staples that you already have.  Homemade pastry crust has about 7 [or less] ingredients, depending on your method, whereas store-bought has about a bagillion ingredients---most of which are unrecognizable. 

Making your own pie crust is actually really easy.  And I'm going to teach you to conquer this pastry dragon. Save the drama for something serious, like boning a duck.

I should tell you that there are many different pie crust recipes.  They all start with flour, a little sugar and salt, and a fat.  The fat may be butter, shortening, or a combination of both.  Some call for ice water and others for milk and/or an egg.  The important thing to remember is that the fat needs to be cold.  Having cold fat results in the fat being evenly distributed, creating a flaky crust. 

I don't always use the same pie crust recipe.  It just depends on what I need the crust for.  For instance, last night I was making homemade pop tarts, so I went with an all butter recipe because I find that using all shortening yields a more delicate crust.  I like the durability and flavor of an all butter crust, more often than not. 

[from King Arthur Flour]
Yes, that is a lot of butter.  Eight ounces or 2 sticks, same difference.  It needs to be cubed and very cold.  You should cut it up into half inch or so cubes and then place them in the freezer to get really chilly.  Remember, cold fat is key to a great crust!

You can do this all by hand, but I recommend using your food processor.  If you don't have a food processor, don't stop reading!  Use a pastry blender, a fork, or even your hands.  I've done that plenty of times and it works just fine.  Whirl together 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 1 Tbsp sugar, and 1 tsp of salt.

Then you'll add in the butter and pluse until it starts to look kind of like clumpy sand.  If it holds together in your hands, you know it's ready. 
Seperately, whisk together 2 Tbsp of cream or milk, and one egg.

Add the egg/milk mixture into the food processor and turn it on low.  It will quickly turn into a ball and that's when it's ready!

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and just need it until it comes together.  Don't over work it; you'll be able to feel the smoothness and know that it's ready.

Split the dough in half, and wrap in plastic.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.  You can even leave them in the refrigerator even for a couple days, or freeze it.  From start to finish, the whole process takes less than 10 minutes.  SCORE!

How hard was that?  Let's review.
2 cups All Purpose flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tsp salt
*Pulse in food processor
8 oz. cubed, very cold butter.
*Add in flour mixture
Whisk together 2 Tbsp cream/milk and 1 egg.
*Add in flour mixture and pulse until it turns into a ball.  Turn it onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it just comes together and is smooth.  Divide in half, refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.

I hope I have given you hope that it's not too late to make homemade pastry crust for your Thanksgiving pies.  If you've already bought the kind in a box, save it for a rainy day.  It makes a great item for kids to play with, just make sure they don't eat [too much of] it.  You're creative, you'll think of a way to use it up.  And please, if you're making pecan pie, please refrain from using all that corn syrup.  Agave syrup, honey, maple syrup, or any combination of the 3 make a great and natural substitute.  But my thoughts on corn syrup are a subject for another intervention...

Here are a few links that you may find helpful:
Homemade Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts
Pumpkin Cream Pie [This one doesn't actually use a pastry crust, but you should look into it anyway.  You could even go crustless if you have wheat/gluten allergies!]
How to make a double crusted pie [video!]
Easy NO ROLL pie crust
Pumpkin/CreamCheese/Streusel Pie[This is what I'm making for Thanksgiving!]

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change..."  James 1:17

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How to make your own pumpkin puree

Ain't nothin' wrong with Libby's, but ya'll should try this some time. 

Hello little sweeties.  You looked great on my front porch for awhile, but I've got other plans for you.
Begin by slicing off the top of the pumpkin, just as you would if you were carving it.
You'll want to use a very sharp knife and be very careful.
And here we see the triumph of the knife.  Even with this really sharp knife, I had a hard time removing the tops.  The pumpkins were very resistant.
Next, you'll want to cut the pumpkins in half, revealing all of their seeds.  I don't think it matters which way you halve them, but I cut from top to bottom simply because I had more knife control.
I like to use an ice cream scoop to get out all of the seeds.  Don't worry about getting all the pulp; you can get the pesky parts out easier after it's roasted.
Don't throw the seeds away.  You can make a nice and healthy snack with those later.
Quarter the pumpkins and place them on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Some people add a little oil and salt, but I'm a pumpkin purist.  I left them naked and placed them into a preheated 350 degree oven.

Here's what they look like when they're done: the same, with fork marks.  The roasting time depends on the thickness of your pumpkins, but it will take at least 45 minutes.  You'll want them to be fork tender.  Mine took almost an hour.

After they've cooled for a few minutes but are still warm, you can easily remove the skin from the meat of the pumpkin.  Place chunks of the pumpkin in your food processor.

Then just whirl away!  You'll probably need to add a couple ounces of water to help smooth it out while it processes.  I recommend doing this in batches so as to not overcrowd your machine.

You can see that from my first batch I got a little over 3 cups of puree.

I measured out 2 cups per freezer bag.  I ended up with just under 6 cups of puree altogether.  Economically speaking, it's probably not any different to buy canned or make your own.  It depends on how much you pay for your little pie pumpkins.  It is definitely more economic if you grow your own, though.
It's important to note that you probably don't want to do this with big carving pumpkins.  I've heard of people doing it, but it's a different flavor and texture altogether.  I'm always an advocate of doing things yourself if for no other reason than to feel more connected to what you're eating.  Anything you make at home is still going to be healthier than something processed in a big factory.  Besides, this was a lot of fun and not that messy.  It would be a great activity to try with your kids.  I can't wait to try it in some pies next week!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stormy weather... and peas

This morning we awakened to a torrential rain and it's been pouring ever since.  Well, except for the last few minutes.  The rain stopped but the wind has picked up, and from the radar map I can tell more is on the way.  Here's some photos I snapped whilst--ha ha, whilst!--standing in my slippers on our wet back porch.  Please ignore the fact that the houses in our neighborhood are no more than 14 feet apart.  I hope you like these, because I got my slippers all wet just so I could share them with you.

I guess the good thing is that it's about 10 degrees warmer today than it was yesterday, otherwise we'd be having sleet.  The wind is howling so I guess I should go bring my pumpkins inside!
Ok, so who likes peas?  Anyone???  Not that the above photo gives any sort of justice to the dish I am about to share, but a visual always helps.  Well, maybe not in this case.  I don't really like peas, but I don't dislike them either.  I'll pretty much eat anything except for raw onions, raw peppers, and olives.  Oh, and organ meat.  That one's probably not going to change.  Nevertheless, being always of conscious effort to add new side dishes to my repertoire, I decided to pick up a bag of frozen peas last week at the store.  Later on, I had an insatiable craving for some kind of veggie salad.  So I made this.  It sounds weird, even unappetizing at first, but trust me, it's good.  Even my husband, the arch-nemesis of peas, gobbled this up. Well, perhaps gobbled is a strong word.  He ate it without being forced, and said he "kind of" like it.  WIN!
You will need:
1 10 oz bag frozen peas, thawed but not cooked.  If you're impatient like I am, you can just microwave them and put them in the fridge to chill while you gather up everything else.  You also need 2 boiled eggs, 2 tablespoons of mayo [or Greek yogurt if you want some tang], 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.  That's it!  Chop the eggs and then add everything together with the peas.  You can serve it cold or at room temp.  I liked it cold.  Or was it room temp?  I can't remember.  You can decide for yourself. 
Meanwhile, I'm going to continue to hunker down here but you, you should go make this pea salad.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Hello, Monday.  Nice to see ya.  Didn't know you were gonna bring all this frost with you, though.  You should know that I'm sitting here, dressed in flannel and fleece from the neck down, with no less than 3 blankets and 1 dog trying to get warm.  Also, I have a piping hot cup of coffee which tastes like heaven.  It's a whole bean coffee we purchased from a small roaster in Gatlinburg, Tn.  It's the 'Holiday Traditions' blend and it's got vanilla, nuts, and a little chocolate flavor.  You can see all of their blends here, but I'm not sure if they're available for online purchase.  I think you can order them over the phone.

So, Thanksgiving is in about 10 days.  We have yet to decide what we're going to do.  We made a declaration last year that we would not travel on Thanksgiving but that anyone and everyone is welcome at our house.  At that time, we lived about 7 hours from either side of the family.  Now, we live 2 hours from Justin's family and 11 from mine.  Needless to say, Christmas will be at my folks and Thanksgiving will be....?  Family dynamics during the holidays can be especially awkward.

To ease the awkwardness, I recommend making these Pumpkin Pie Bars.  They're like pie, but not.  They have a crust and they have a filling, so they're not all that different.  I'm pretty sure that you could serve these in place of pumpkin pie and no one would be mad.  Just put some homemade whipped cream on them and call it a day.  People don't usually complain about something that has whipped cream on it.  Normal people wouldn't complain.  And if you decide to ditch the family gathering and just have Thanksgiving with your husband, you don't have to share 'em. 


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

Finally, a recipe for the elusive whole grain pizza crust.  We started making homemade pizzas about a year and a half ago, but I usually picked up the dough from Trader Joe's or Publix.  Nothing wrong with that.  It saves time, that's for sure.  It's easy to just run in the store and grab pizza supplies and you can have supper done in a jiffy.  When I became more conscious of our whole grain consumption, I tried the whole wheat dough from Trader Joe's.  It was ok, but kind of grainy, know what I mean?  Then I started making pizza dough at home.  Oh my.  Your world will change when you do that.  You can find my regular recipe here
While I enjoy regularly delving into a delicious homemade pizza, I feel I could enjoy it more if there were whole wheat in my crust.  I've tried several different recipes that I've not been happy with.  But I found a great one and tried it out this weekend and I just had to pass it along.  I found it at Eating Well.

Whole Wheat Pizza Crust
1 cup [organic] all-purpose flour
1 cup [organic] whole wheat flour
1 package yeast [2 1/4 tsp]
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
3/4 cup hot water
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Using your food processor or stand mixer [I like the mixer method], combine the flours, yeast, salt, and sugar.  Combine the hot water and oil in a liquid measure, and slowly add to the flour mixture while the mixer/processor is on low.
Mix or process until the mixture becomes a ball, then mix or process for another minute or so to knead it. 
If you're using "rapid rise" yeast, you can just turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, cover it in plastic and let it rest for about 10-20 minutes before rolling it out.  If you're using traditional yeast [which is what I use], put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, turning it to coat.  Cover with a clean towell and sit in a warm place until about doubled in size.  I let mine sit out for about 3 hours, but it will probably be ready in about 1 hour. 
When you're ready to make your pizza, just roll it out to the size of your stone and you're good to go.

This is a picture of our BBQ chicken pizza, before it went in the oven.  I don't know if you can tell, but the dough is really soft and soooo easy to roll out.  Other whole wheat doughs I've tried in the past have been hard and full of too much protein, making it difficult to roll.  In case you're wondering, here's how we make our BBQ chicken pizza.
For the sauce, we mix some of our homemade BBQ sauce with sour cream, in equal parts.  Then we smear that on the dough.  We then top with a layer of mozarella, followed by sauteed onions, crumbled cooked bacon, and grilled chicken that we've marinated in BBQ rub.  Top with another layer of cheese, drizzle of oil, and you're ready for the oven!  One other thing we like to do is sprinkle fresh cracked black pepper around the crust.  I like to heat the pizza stone in the 500 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  I think this aids in making sure the crustis completely done, even through the center.  I sprinkle a little cornmeal on it, throw the dough on, and top as desired.  It usually takes about 15 minutes for the cheese to bubble and the crust to finish.  I let the pizza sit for about 5-7 minutes---if we can stand it!---before cutting.  SO GOOD!  Here's a picture of this pizza, post oven.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Holidays

Just in case you're wondering, I'm still cooking.  In fact, my kitchen has been a well-oiled machine as of late.  Bake something, load the dishwasher, unload the dishwasher, pack up said baked good, deliver it......

We were on vacation, and then we were home.  And then Justin's grandpa died.  So we were gone again.  Funerals require lots of food.  It's how people cope.  I'm not much on the eating part, but yeah, the cooking part, that's how I help.  If something bad ever happens to you, count on me to show up with cookies and lasagna.  Actually, nothing has to happen to you at all for me to come bearing food.  But that's another story.

In the last few days, I have made homemade flour tortillas, pumpkin pie bars, cinnamon swirl bread, and applesauce.  To name a few, naturally.  I have to bake a cake for someone tonight, and I don't really want to.  My kitchen is a little ticked at me.  I've been in a hurry and haven't spent enough one-on-one time with it.  It's been all about the eaters this week.  Also, mopping needed to happen like yesterday.  I guess I'll get to that tomorrow.

In the last few days, I've been asked no less than 7 times if I'm 'ready for the holidays'.  The answer to that is a resounding NO.  And stop asking me.  It makes me feel panicky.  The expectations are high in the food category.  What if my yule logs become yule mud puddles?  What if I make 20 pumpkin rolls and only sell 12? 

It's interesting that people call it 'the holidays' when really, we westerners seem to skip right over Thanksgiving, thus making the word singular.  Of course, we westerners are really the only ones who celebrate it so I guess we can make up the rules as we go.  It seems like Thanksgiving is just a caviat for shopping and watching football.  Although, I predict that positively no one will watch the Cowboys and Lions this year. 

We always look forward to Thanksgiving.  Yes, it is exciting because Christmas is right around the corner, but I urge you to enjoy it in spite of or in addition to that fact.  Spend the next few days leading up to it being reflective.  Do something nice for someone else.  If turkey and stuffing aren't your thing, buy it for someone who needs it and make burgers instead.  That's what I'd do.  When you're making your thankful list, be serious.  Don't be thankful for all your stuff.  Well, do, but think about the things we take for granted.  Like unlimited access to clean water and electricity.  A government that protects women and children.  Healthcare.  A  society where everyone has the ability to be somebody.  Be thankful most of all that we have the ability to tell others about a Savior, and then go and do it.  When you're done being grateful for the things that matter, find a way to meet the needs of people who can't even imagine the things I've just mentioned. 

And then you can enjoy your pie.  Or milkshake.  Whatever you like.

Monday, November 8, 2010

No Help At All

I think I speak for most Americans [at least the ones who abide by the standard time change rules] when I say that I prefer falling back as opposed to springing forward.  There's no actual 'springing' involved, that's for sure.  I look forward to shorter days and longer nights, accompanied by cold weather and Christmas decor.   We don't need the Christmas decor right now, however.  Especially not when one still has one's Halloween decorations up.  Not that I have a neighbor who has done anything like that.  See: giant inflatable snow globe displaying Santa, and just behind it, the black and orange lights with the pumpkins on the porch. 

We typically go to bed pretty early on Saturday nights since Sunday is technically a 'work' day for my husband.  We were pretty tired so we were in bed by 11, which was really 10.  I was assuming it was 10 at this point.  So I thought it would be pretty nifty to get two extra hours of sleep. 

However, around 5 am I woke up.  I was trying to figure out why I had awakened, besides the fact that my husband had taken all of the covers and I was shivering [that's normal].  I began to hear a scratching sound.  The dog was in her bed on the floor next to me, snoring, and the scratching was coming from across the room.

Startled, I sat up and held my breath so I could figure out what was making that sound, and if it was able to get in my bed with me or not.  I thought it would be a good idea to find out how necessary it was for me to panic.  After a few moments of listening, and almost passing out from holding my breath, I determined that there was a small woodland creature lodged in the wall that seperates our room from our closet.  Which happens to be near the entrance to the attic, which explains how something may have gotten stuck in the wall. 

But it kept scratching.  By this point, Justin was awake, which had awakened Bailey [our fierce protector].  I should tell you that when Bailey wakes up in the middle of the night, we put her in our bed so we don't have to walk her.  She just conks out by my feet and we're good to go.

Don't judge me.

Anyway, we tried to get her to investigate, but she was useless.  I was unable to sleep for fear of the creature chewing through the wall and getting in the closet.  I found some relief in the knowledge that my clothes are not in that closet.  But then I realized it would be terrible if a squirrel/rat/large beatle were to destroy the Gap men's franchise that is my husband's wardrobe.

The good news is, I haven't heard the scratching since yesterday afternoon.  The bad news is....where is it?  I'm assuming it has died.  I'm hoping it won't smell.  We're going out of town for a couple days so I guess we'll know when we get home.

What lesson did I learn?  I can't depend on Bailey for anything.

She would rather spend her time trying not to look guilty.  As if I can't see my socks underneath her paw. 


Friday, November 5, 2010


If the above photos aren't any indication to you, the weather here today is scary cold.  Also, I hope you are picking up on the Seinfeld reference from the title and opening sentence.  If not, well...it's ok.
As far as I know, the high temperature today has only achieved 46 degrees.  I saw ice pellets falling from the sky when I was in the next town over having lunch with Justin.  It seems to have gone from summer to winter in a hurry around here.  I know its cold when my husband runs in his tights.  That's something I don't have a picture of, though.  I'll have to work on that.
Here in KY, the sky tends to look this way throughout winter.  I remember in college, when the sky looked this way, I would go to class [most of the time] and then rush back to my dorm to make coffee and just sit around in my sweatpants.  Those were the days...  Wait, I'm doing that right now only I'm drinking tea and I'm in my house.  But other than the tea and the house part, not much else has changed.
We are making pork and pumpkin chili tonight.  And I have a mess of persimmons that need to go somewhere.  Perhaps tomorrow.  It's hard to feel like cooking after vacation.  I got kind of used to being cooked for.  What do you like to cook when the weather is gray and cold?
Well, that's all she wrote.  Literally.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Back and Better Than Ever

Alright kids, I'm back.
Where was I?
Here's a clue:
We went down to Atlanta because Justin was in a wedding of some dear friends of ours.  We also got to see the 'grand opening' of the new building[s] at the church we used to attend.  It was lovely to spend time with friends in a place that still feels like 'home', and we were welcomed back by our church family on Sunday morning.   It felt like we had never left.  We were kind of surprised at the people literally running up to us and hugging us, asking if we were moving back.  Definitely didn't expect that.  We got to stay with the wonderful Kirtleys, who have always treated us like part of their own family.  Here are a couple pictures from the wedding weekend.

After we left Atlanta, we headed up through the mountains to Gatlinburg, Tn.  If you ever get the chance to travel from Atlanta on highway 441 north, you should do it.  Lots of mountains, great scenery, and fun places to stop.  I spent many parts of my childhood in the north Georgia mountains, so we stopped at some of the hokie things that still cloud my memory and have shaped me into the redneck that I am today. 

This place used to terrify me down to the very fiber of my being.  But I'm ok with it now.  I think....
This tree is at a Dairy Queen in Clayton, Ga.  This Dairy Queen has been around since my dad was a kid.  We used to sit on this low tree branch and eat ice cream cones. 
We used to eat at this restaurant in Dillard, Ga with my grandparents. 
Well, we ended up in Gatlinburg, Tn on Halloween night.  If you've never been to Gatlinburg [like my husband], you're missing out on a real gem.  You can get married, buy a timeshare, and purchase a commemorative airbrushed t-shirt all in the same store.  You can also get your name engraved on a piece of wood or take an old-fashioned photo with your husband.  If he will let you, that is.  This wasn't the year for the old-fashioned photo, but maybe next time.  Eventually, I will wear him down on this issue. 
The scenery was really awesome since the leaves were so colorful.  It wasn't too cold, either.  We didn't do most of the touristy things; it was just nice to be away.  I think it's important to do that sometimes.  This was our first vacation since our honeymoon. 
While we were there, the whole town was putting up its Christmas decorations.  Before we left for this trip, which was before Halloween even, the town we live in had put up its "Happy Holidays" flags downtown.  We went in the Christmas village in Pigeon Forge, stores are already playing Christmas music, and the commercials are even playing!  I am feeling extremely stressed about the holidays right now.  Some people I know are already putting up Christmas decorations.  Stop the madness!  These people are playing mind games with me, making me think I have less time when in all reality, we have more time.  Also, it doesn't help that the word "snow" was tossed around in the weekend forcast for this area.
Does anyone else feel this way?  I'm quite sure I'm not the only one.  Let's take time to enjoy what is actually happening, which is the middle of fall.  Let's prepare ourselves for Thanksgiving, and spend this month feeling a strong sense of gratitude towards our loved ones and especially to our Savior, who has blessed us with abundance in many different ways.  I hope you enjoyed this little photo montage of our vacation.  I'll be back with more recipes tomorrow.  That is, if I ever get this house back in order.  It was clean when we left...I swear.