Catch Up

This may have been the least relaxing summer of my life. I don’t know that I had a single day in the whole month of July to do exactly what I wanted and nothing else. I didn’t completely realize how busy it was until today when I did only things I wanted to do. It was heavenly.

I did squeeze in some things that were fun though.

This was Jack.

This was Liz (deciding she was tired of me taking pictures)

They were some of the best kittens we have had since Cutty. Hopefully they have already found forever homes.

I baked a pie.

It was made from fresh peaches and blueberries from the farmer’s market. I used a tutorial I found on The Pioneer Woman’s website for homemade crust. It was fabulous.

I tried my hand at knitting two socks at a time on two circulars. At first it seemed to be taking forever to make any progress because I was doing everything twice.

But then at the end it was totally worth it because when I finished them I was finished with BOTH of them! I will definitely do this again.

Then I made a pair of socks and coordinating hat for baby J and my friend AO’s baby shower. I totally failed at taking pictures. This is the only one I have of the set. I did my first crocheting in a long time to make the bear. I used a pattern for the socks and hat but the bear I made up as I went along. It is truly one of  a kind. (and this was my first time working with Debbie Bliss baby cashmerino and I am in love with it)

There were cookies at the shower, too. They were the first ones since the graduation. Maybe I have lost my cookie mojo.

I also found some new blogs. This one (fieldwonderful) inspired me to make these Kalajoki socks. You can see the river pattern starting on my first sock. I chose a blue green since the pattern is based on rivers- original I know. But I truly love what fieldwonderful did with the yellow. Plus she is a fellow Kentucky girl! Yay!

I am branching out and have decided to have two projects going at once. This is different for me because I usually make myself finish one before I start another. However, I wanted something simple and mindless going while I was trying to read a charted pattern for the first time so . . .

I cast on for a shawl called pendulum last night.

So how am I going to end my hectic summer? By starting grad school in 10 days. You know, ’cause it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Smashing Strawberry Muffins

Disclaimer: These are not super sweet muffins. I have been eating healthier muffins for the last two years so I forget that sometimes. I just wanted to warn you. However, if you are looking for something high in fiber, low in calories and super easy for breakfast this could be the right thing. (They still have a sweetness to them and if you wanted to add more sugar you could. Or better yet, add some Splenda or Truvia for some calorie-free sweetness)

I have been making whole wheat muffins for years using recipes from Eating Well. I love them because I make a batch and then freeze them. Each morning it takes only 30-45 seconds in the microwave and I have a hot breakfast! They are each only about 200 calories and full of fiber so I stay pretty full.

This morning I didn’t really have the ingredients for any of my recipes. So I experimented with what I had. The two main ingredients I wanted to work with were frozen strawberries (no sugar added) and unprocessed wheat bran.

I didn’t want to wait for the strawberries to thaw, and since I planned on mashing some with a fork, I thought it would be OK to defrost them in the microwave. Again, it was an experiment so I just thought I would go with it. In the meantime I mixed the other ingredients from what I remembered of other recipes. The proportions always seem to be slightly different with each recipe, so I figure the most important thing was to get the ingredients right and worry about the amounts I used later. If you want to play around with proportions it will not hurt my feelings in the slightest. I mixed the wet ingredients in one bowl; two eggs, 3/4 cups sugar and 1/4 c canola oil. In a larger bowl I mixed 1 cup whole wheat flour, 3/4 cup all purpose flour, 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp baking soda, plus 1/2 cup of the wheat bran. Here is where I use a little trick.

Powdered buttermilk. You can find it in the baking aisle. I really only use buttermilk for muffins so it doesn’t make sense to buy it fresh. Plus, once opened and refrigerated it has a very long shelf life. All you have to do when you are ready to use it is add water. I have learned from experience that the best time to add the powder is at this point into the process. Add the powder itself to the dry ingredients and the amount of water required to the wet ingredients (the back of the container will tell you what to add to get the correct volume). I found that if I tried to mix the powder and water up on its own and then add it to the other ingredients, the buttermilk just looks like lumpy water. Much better to add the separate parts to their respective bowls.

Now, what to do with the strawberries. I used a strainer to separate the strawberry pieces from the liquid, and there was a lot of liquid. I hated to waste all of that fluid and I thought it might add a little extra flavor to the muffins. I took 1/4 cup of the left over strawberry liquid and then 1/4 of the strawberry pieces (which were already very mushy) and smashed them up with a fork (This is where I came up with the name smashing strawberry muffins. I think up silly things like this in my head when I am alone. Sorry.)

When there didn’t seem to be any big pieces of strawberry left I added it to my bowl of wet ingredients and wisked them all together. I then poured the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Using a wooden spoon I gently combined everything. It is important when making muffins not to over mix the batter. When all of the ingredients were combined I added the rest of the strawberry pieces. I had tried to squeeze a little extra fluid from the remaining strawberries since the batter is pretty moist. Gently mix those pieces in. Then scoop into a muffin tin sprayed with cooking spray ( I used a 1/3 cup measuring cup). Once each tin was full I used what was left over to even them out. The cups were quite full.

I baked them for 12 minutes first, then added 5 minutes and then 3 minutes. So after 20 minutes the tops of the muffins bounced back when touched and I took them out to let them cool.  After a few minutes I took a muffin out to try. Sorry, I ate half of it before I remembered to take a picture.

You can tell they have a lot of whole wheat in them, but they have a nice gentle strawberry flavor and every once in a while you get a bite with a piece of strawberry in it.  Plus, they are pretty large so I think it will make me feel like I am eating more. I calculated that they have about 190 calories a piece, so right on track with the other muffins.  To freeze them you have to individually wrap each muffin, either in plastic wrap or ziploc sandwich bags. In the morning take them out of the plastic and wrap in a paper towel. About 45 seconds in the microwave will do the trick.

Here is an easier to read copy of the recipe:

  • 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 c canola oil
  • 1 c buttermilk (or 4tbsp buttermilk powder + 1 c water)
  • 1 c whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 c all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 c wheat bran
  • 15 oz frozen strawberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Defrost strawberries in microwave. Prepare muffin tins with cooking spray. In a bowl whisk sugar, eggs, canola oil and buttermilk (or water). In a separate bowl whisk whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, baking powder and baking soda, and wheat bran. Strain strawberries and reserve 1/4 c of fluid. Mash 1/4 cup of strawberries with a fork and mix with reserved fluid. Add mixture to wet ingredients. Add all of wet ingredients to dry and combine gently with a spoon. When combined, add remaining strawberry pieces (pat strawberries first with paper towel to remove excess fluid) and stir to combine. Scoop into muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes or until tops of muffins spring back when gently touched. Let cool a few minutes before removing from tins.

I think there is still room to play with this recipe. I might use 1 egg instead of two, or add more whole wheat flour. I might use brown sugar instead of granulated. If you try anything different please let me know what works!

And finally, here is a gratuitous picture of Cutty. He sat in the kitchen the whole time I was baking and meowed at me, as if to say please stop playing with the camera and food and come play with me!

Marshmallow Playdough

OK not really. I recently found myself in need of some fondant. I don’t really like the taste of fondant and I didn’t like the idea of buy a bunch of it for the tiny little project I needed it for. I remembered reading about homemade marshmallow fondant on The Decorated Cookie and went back to check out what was involved. She had included several other links so I checked those out as well. I also googled “marshmallow fondant” and read some of the recipes that popped up.

Then I decided to wing it.

Here is what I did, it is in no way a perfect recipe for this stuff. I am sure I did several things wrong. I just used things I wanted to from some sources and didn’t do things I didn’t like from others. I will share what worked and what didn’t for me. I think this stuff is pretty forgiving so just play around with it until you get what you want.

First, I thought I would grease the bowl I was going to be working in. This stuff sounded sticky and lots of recipes recommended it so it sounded like a good idea.

This is a trick I learned from my mother. I take a sandwich bag and put my hand inside. I then use my fingers to scoop up vegetable shortening, aka Crisco (That’s what I am using here. If I am using this technique to prepare a cake pan I use butter). I like it because you have super control of where the shortening is going.

Then I poured in about 2 cups of marshmallows. One recipe said to make sure you use a good brand. I used the store brand. I honestly don’t know if it made a difference.

I sprinkled 2 tbsp water over the marshmallows and then did something none of the recipes mentioned. I used a wooden spoon to mix the marshmallows and water. I just felt like they needed to be coated. I don’t know why. I will say that after I microwaved them, the ones around the edges that didn’t have water on them didn’t seem as puffy and melted. It could be I was just wanting to think that my little technique worked, but I can definitely say it didn’t hurt anything. So if you want to stir your marshmallows and water, have at it.

Microwave time was something that no one seemed to agree on. One recipe said 30-40 seconds, another said 2 minutes. I did 45 seconds at first. When they didn’t seem melted enough I added about another 25 seconds. So my total was 1 minute 10 seconds. I probably could have done longer, but in the end I don’t think it mattered.

They come out of the microwave looking like this.

As soon as you start to stir them they lose their shape and become like marshmallow soup. I had a few chunks in mine, which made me think I could have used more time in the microwave, but I am stubborn and so I just mashed the pieces of marshmallow until they smoothed out a little. I think it is ok to have a few little pieces because soon you will be using your hands to knead the mixture and everything gets really smooth then.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: I forgot to mention, before you start to stir the melted mallows coat your wooded spoon in vegetable shortening. I did this and stuff still stuck to my spoon. Really slather it on there.

I measured out 1 lb (16 oz) powdered sugar.

I had read different amounts but since I wasn’t following a recipe I couldn’t remember which amount corresponded with the amount of marshmallows I was using. So I started adding it a little at a time. A few recipes told you to add this mixture to a stand mixer (bowl and blade coated in vegetable shortening of course), but I am not about to make more dishes for myself. One bowl worked fine for me.

About this point I wished I had gotten my mixer involved. It was getting very hard to mix with the spoon. Then I thought, since you have to get your hands in it later anyways, why not get started now.

I slicked up my hands with shortening (noticing a theme here?)

And kept adding powdered sugar until the dough wasn’t sticky anymore. I ended up using about 9 ounces. I think my dough was a little too dry, but since I don’t have much experience I wasn’t sure. 8 ounces might have worked better.

OH YEAH! I almost forgot! Quite a few recipes called for greasing up your counter top or cutting board to knead the dough. I did all of the kneading inside the bowl. I am all for having to clean the fewest surfaces possible. It worked perfectly fine and made this a one bowl/one spoon project. Perfect!

I did put down some wax paper to add my coloring. The skin tone and grey weren’t too bad, but while mixing the blue my hands were completely dyed!

The next morning I had to make some green and brown and I began to wonder if there was a way to do it without turning your hands into rainbows. I started with my ball of white fondant. I flattened it into a pancake and dropped food coloring in the middle. I folded the edges in and then wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap and started kneading. The plastic wrap kept the dye off my hands, but was really difficult to work with. It also seemed at times that it was so thin it would bust and spill food coloring everywhere.

So then I made anther ball of white, flattened it and added color. This time after I folded the edges in I dropped the whole thing into a sandwich bag. Not perfect, but a lot easier to manipulate the dough. Also the extra dye stayed on the sides of the bag not my hands.

When I had mixed most of it in I took it out of the bag to finish evening out the color. What little green came off on my hands washed easily away with a little soap and water.

So I hope that helps. It is not a perfect recipe, but it worked for me. Again, I used:

  • 2 cups mini marshmallows
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 8-9 ounces powdered sugar
  • lots of shortening for coating things
  • food coloring
  • sandwich bags
  • and of course 1 bowl and 1 spoon

What did I use the fondant for? You’ll have to wait and see on Tuesday!

Last of the Christmas Cookies. . .or so I thought

Not a lot of words this time, pretty self-explanatory.

Ornaments.

Christmas lights (kind of love these).

Wreaths. This was another cookie I didn’t think I would like but then ended up being pleasantly surprised with them. Recently I had been struggling with making my icing too runny and for this batch I ended up with icing that was too stiff. You can’t tell in the picture, but it was really frustrating to decorate with.

Not the most cohesive group of cookies, but they are festive and edible and that’s what counts!

So this was my last group from the 8 dozen cookies I had made earlier. However, as we speak there are cookies in the oven. I made some more candy pieces because those seem to be really popular (they are smaller so I think people reach for them first) and some small circles. I had icing left over and just couldn’t let it go to waste.

Hubby said I have a cookie addiction. I told him I’ll take that as a compliment.

Happy Halloween

Guess what. . . I got another idea from my friend Ashley (and Pinterest).  I wasn’t in the mood to spend the whole day making cookies so I thought I would try a treat with a little less time involved. That is, less active time. This treat needs to chill for  a while. You can get the original recipe and wonderful instructions for Candy Corn Fudge by clicking the following link.  http://www.somethingswanky.com/2011/10/fudge-candy-corn.html. This is her recipe, I am not in any way taking credit for it, I am just documenting my own adventure with it. In fact I am not going to give any proportions for the recipe because you need to visit her site and give her credit for her work.

The first thing you need is a beautiful fall day to walk to the grocery and buy the following ingredients.

Really simple, right? Condensed milk and white chocolate chips. I don’t normally buy name brand but today they were on sale and cheaper than the store brand. Also, you cannot buy my fabulous Americolor food coloring at the grocery store. I read about how great these gel colors were on other blogs and finally bought mine (on amazon.com) and now I have to spread the word. They are AWESOME!

Then you line your 9×9 pan with wax paper. I didn’t know how to make the corners pretty, so they just aren’t. You also need your laptop on the counter so you can check the recipe (see link above).

All the ingredients have to go in the pan, so start with whatever you want. If you have a nifty mini-spatula your mother in law gave you it will come in handy to get all of the sweetened condensed milk into the pan.

Then add the white chocolate chips. (speedy tip:1 of the 12oz. bags of chips equals 2 cups)

Start to heat the pan on low-medium. When you first start to mix it, the fudge will look gross and lumpy. Do not turn the heat up – even just a little bit – to try to speed up the process.  A gross film will form on the bottom of the pan. Ask me how I know this.

Once it started to melt and smooth out, I started to freak out. It was not white at all! It was very beige. Maybe it would dry white, but since I didn’t know for sure, and I had a secret weapon, I thought I would use it. I use white food coloring in all my cookie icing. It definitely makes the white whiter but I have heard it also makes the other food colors more brilliant.

So if you have white food coloring, add that now.

This next part has a lot of stopping and waiting. Pour 1/3 the white mixture into the lined pan. Take the rest of the fudge off the heat so it doesn’t burn. Put the pan in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Right before the 15 minutes is up put the fudge back on low heat to melt it again. Pour 1/2 of the remaining fudge in a bowl and add orange food coloring. Do this quickly because it will start to harden!!!. Then pour this on top of the white layer. You will repeat this for the yellow layer, although you don’t have to transfer it to the bowl. You can just color it in the pan because it is the last one.

Let it chill overnight. The next morning you have this:

Then you cut off long strips and begin cutting those strips into triangles.

Does anyone else see the problem with this? Half of the triangles are going to have the white part at the bottom and real candy corn always has yellow at the bottom. SweetSugarBelle did a post about it when she made her candy corn cookies   (http://www.sweetsugarbelle.com/blog/2011/09/slice-and-bake-candycorn-cookies/) I might not have paid attention to it otherwise, but on this occasion I just decided it was OK and to let it go. Besides, when they are all mixed together who is going to notice?

HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!!!