Saturday, September 20, 2014
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pizza pocketsOur summer has been filled to the brim with softball games, family road trips, and impromptu picnics around town. To make packing lunches a little easier, we decided to make some homemade sandwich pockets to keep on hand. They are a quick lunch or snack at home, and are an easy, healthy option to pack up for quick picnic fare. As an added bonus, this recipe is simple for kids to help at any step — by measuring ingredients, mixing & rolling dough, choosing & adding filling, sealing, and topping with seasonings.

Pocket Sandwiches (adapted from abeautifulruckus.com) 

Makes 10 Pockets

3 cups flour

1/4 cup powdered milk

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 tablespoon yeast

1 cup warm water

Diced, cooked meat and/or veggies

shredded or sliced cheese

 

2-3 tablespoons of milk to brush tops of pockets (and help adhere sprinkles)  more cheese or spices for topping, including parmesan cheese, garlic powder, Italian spices, etc.

Combine flour, powdered milk, sugar, salt, yeast, and water in a stand mixer or in a bowl and knead well.

Once the dough is well combined, divide it into 10 equal portions. Take each portion, and roll with a rolling pin to form rectangles. Top each rectangle with filling, and then fold in the sides and ends to create a pocket. Place pockets, seam side down, on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Brush with milk, then top liberally with cheese and seasonings of choice. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly brown.

Serve while warm, or cool completely, then wrap and store in the freezer.

With one batch, we chose pepperoni and mozzarella cheese filling, topping with pizza spices and grated Parmesan cheese. My taste-testers gave these two thumbs up served warm, with or without marinara sauce. For another batch, we filled with ham and cheddar cheese, topping with shredded cheddar, and these, too, were a hit. They’re great at room temperature, and simple for kids to warm in the microwave for a quick bite.

Additional savory filling options we’d like to try include diced chicken, cooked broccoli & cheddar cheese, scrambled eggs & sausage, grilled vegetables & shredded cheese. Really, whatever flavor combinations your family enjoys will probably make tasty hot pocket fillings. Sweeter filling options could include cream cheese & berries, or Nutella & preserves, sprinkled with powdered sugar or icing once the pockets have cooled completely. Not to rush past summer, but these would be great in lunchboxes in the fall.

 

Ever since I first discovered the concept a few months ago, I had been intrigued to try a swap party. Just what the heck is a swap party, you ask? Basically, it’s a great way to make time to get together with friends, share some food and drinks, and swap for some cool stuff. The items for swapping are as vast as the number of ‘pins’ about swap parties you’ll find on Pinterest. For my first foray into swapping, I decided to limit the number of guests to around 10, and limit the items to something that was handmade or foraged. This worked well for our group, as each person brought 10 items, no one brought the same item, and everyone brought something as fun and fabulous as they are. But more about that later.

Untitled-1Here’s how a swap works. First, decide what type of swap you’d like to hold — it could range in theme from food, to health & beauty, home décor, clothing & accessories, plants or seeds, books, toys, or whatever your little heart desires. Next, send out invitations well in advance to give people time to make, sort, organize or forage for the items requested. Make sure to let them know the type of item you’re looking for and the quantity to bring. We kept it simple and did a one-for-one swap, which worked well. Lastly, provide food and drink. To keep it simple, and because this was the first swap, I decided to provide a light lunch, drinks, and dessert for everyone. (If you’re so inclined, you could throw a potluck affair.)

I’m so glad it worked out — it was a fun ladies’ afternoon of eating, chatting, and swapping fabulous stuff — and I’m really looking forward to doing it again. Here are the fun things we swapped: Homemade cavatelli pasta from Lori, gazpacho soup from Chris, lemon crinkle cookies from Christin, backyard eggs from Debbie, apple butter or rhubarb hibiscus jam from me, honey and homemade laundry detergent with wool dryer balls from Beth, creamy body lotion from Linda, quilted potholders or mug mats from Ellie, and handmade jewelry, cards and other crafty items from Julie. Your results may vary, depending on the coolness and talent of your friends. By the way, swaps, and my friends, totally rock!

We shared a simple lunch of potato soup and bread, and then had carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for dessert. This recipe was a big hit, free of chunky nuts or raisins, and perfect for a spring afternoon soiree.

 

Carrot Cake(courtesy of onehundreddollarsamonth.com)

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

4 large eggs

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups carrots, grated

Frosting

1 1/2 cups cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

5 cups powered sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour 2 round 9-inch cake pans and set aside. Sift together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, and baking powder and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and stir to combine. Fold in the shredded carrots.

Divide the batter between the 2 prepared pans. Bake for about 45- 55 minutes {or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean}. Cool cake pans on wire racks. Remove cake from pans, wrap in Saran wrap, then aluminum foil. Place on a cookie sheet and chill cake layers for several hours or overnight.

To make the frosting, combined the cream cheese, butter and vanilla in a medium-size bowl with a wire whisk until creamy. Slowly add in the powered sugar. Place one layer on cake plate or stand, top with frosting, then add 2nd layer. Frost cake with remaining frosting, then garnish as desired.

After dessert, and as the chatting continued, the swapping began.  It was an afternoon of food and fun, and our only issue was figuring out how to carry our fabulous stash of goodies home. Next time, I’ll plan to have boxes, bags or baskets for each guest. And maybe try an evening event with appetizers and cocktails — the options are as endless as the items to swap!

He stands erect, like the captain of a ship, gazing out the upstairs window at the sea of lawn that surrounds our home. “We’re under attack!” he bellows. “I didn’t work by butt off all this time to let those worthless grubs destroy the yard I worked so hard to grow.” I ask him to calm down. My protests are met with exasperation. “Just look at this. We’re surrounded,” he hollers.

He would prefer to handle the offending pests ‘Chemical Ali’-style, by dousing the nasty buggers in enough caustic cocktail to kill them instantly. Preferably holding up little white flags of surrender before their untimely demises. I prefer a more natural approach. At least he realized that running through the yard, tearing up patches of lawn to squash every grub he saw, made him look, simply put, like a crazy person.

It doesn’t matter that we’ve spent money to introduce beneficial nematodes into the yard, trying to help get nature back in balance in our little corner of the world. We had to order them through the mail. He compared it to waiting for a packet of sea monkeys to arrive. He just applied our sea monkeys to the lawn yesterday afternoon. I ask him to give them a few days to take effect. “You clearly don’t understand,” he says, retaking his position at the healm, er, upstairs window.

We are at a stalemate in this battle of the grubs. And all I can think, rather flippantly, is, “Let them eat cake.” Chocolate cake, to be exact.

 

Chocolate Cake (recipe and photo courtesy of addapinch.com)

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

¾ cup unsweetened

cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

1½ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon espresso powder

1 cup milk

½ cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup boiling water

chocolate frosting

 

Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or buttering and lightly flouring.

Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk through to combine or, using your paddle attachment, stir through flour mixture until combined well.

Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix together on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed and carefully add boiling water to the cake batter. Beat on high speed for about 1 minute to add air to the batter.

Distribute cake batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool completely. Frost cake with chocolate frosting and enjoy. Perfect for spring holidays or insect debates alike.

 

 

recipeThey say you can’t buy happiness. But, you can buy donuts, and it’s hard not to feel happy while eating a donut. The folks at Peace, Love, and Little Donuts seem to agree with that statement. Since 2009, when they opened their first donut shop, they’ve grown to 10 locations of, “the grooviest donut shop this side of the Milky Way.” There are three area locations to “feed your inner hippie,” with some of their funkadelic flavors like Oreo™, apple pie, s’mores, or maple bacon donuts.

If their tasty little works of art don’t have you doing a happy dance, then the 1970s inspired décor and music just might do the trick. And dancing burns calories, so it’s ok to eat some cute little mini donuts every now and again. To find a location near you, visit peaceloveandlittledonuts.com. To make your own mini-donuts at home, use this basic recipe, adding your own special toppings to craft the groovy donuts of your dreams.

 

Baked Chocolate Glazed Mini Donuts 

(courtesy of bakerbettie.com)

 

Ingredients – Donuts

5 TBSP unsalted butter, softened

½ cup sugar

1 egg

½ cup milk

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp baking powder

pinch salt

1 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

 

Ingredients – Glaze

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup whole milk

optional: sprinkles, coconut, mini chocolate chips, or the groovy topping of your choice

 

Preheat oven to 325ºF, or plug in electric mini-donut maker. Lightly oil mini donut pan or donut maker and set aside. (If you don’t have a mini-donut pan or maker, you can use mini muffin pans.)

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg, milk, and vanilla and mix until combined.

Mix in the baking powder, then the salt, until incorporated throughout. Then add in the flour and cocoa powder, stirring just until combined. If using mini donut pan or donut maker, transfer mixture into a zipper baggie with the tip cut off. Pipe into the pan only filling ½ of the way fill. If using the mini muffin pan, fill each well ½ full. Bake at 325ºF for 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool before glazing.

For the glaze, combine the powdered sugar, vanilla and milk in a saucepan over medium low heat and whisk until well combined. Dip donuts in warm glaze, top with sprinkles, if desired, and let them cool before enjoying.

You might start out having a nothing-special day, but after a few special mini-donuts, you just might be in a groovy state of mind. Can you dig it?

 

This weekend, I had the opportunity to make some homemade mozzarella and ricotta cheeses with some friends, and the results were simply delicious. Although ricotta cheese can be made using basic ingredients most of us have in our kitchens, I chose to use a cheese-making kit, which includes everything needed to make either ricotta or mozzarella — you simply add the milk.

The kit contains cheesecloth, a thermometer, and enough rennet, citric acid, and cheese salt to make 30 batches of either ricotta or mozzarella cheese. It also includes simple recipes and tips to help you get stated. Since the process was so simple, I thought I’d share the recipes and step-by-step instructions, in case you want to try it for yourself. You can use your fresh cheese on pizza, in lasagna, or in any recipe you wish.

We sliced our mozzarella and arranged it over sliced tomatoes, sprinkled it with torn basil leaves and drizzled olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top. We enjoyed the ricotta spread on crusty wheat bread, topped with a splash of olive oil, chopped sundried tomatoes and Italian spices. Any combination of those ingredients would make a wonderful Italian-style grilled cheese sandwich. The possibilities are endless — so what are you waiting for? Get cheesy!

Mozzarella Cheese (Makes about ¾ pound)

Ingredients

1 gallon milk (make sure your milk is not Ultra- Pasteurized)

1 1/4 cups cool, chlorine-free water

1 1/2 tsp. citric acid

1/4 rennet tablet

1 tsp. salt

 

Tools

1 gallon stainless steel pot

thermometer

slotted spoon

colander

knife

glass bowl

 

First, dissolve 1/4 rennet tablet into 1/4 cup of cool water and set aside. Then mix 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid into 1 cup cool water and pour into your pot and stir until dissolved. Then add the milk into a large stainless steel pot and heat to 90 degrees while stirring constantly.

Remove the pot for the stove and add the rennet mixture, then stir the mixture for about a minute.  Next, cover the pot and let it sit, undisturbed, for five minutes. After five minutes your mixture should congeal and look sort of like a floating mass of tofu. (If not, let it sit for another few minutes.) Take a knife and cut the curd into small squares, then place your pot back on the stove and heat to 105 degrees while slowly moving the curds around with a spoon.

Once the temperature has reached 105 degrees, remove the pot from the stove and continue to stir the curds for another three to five minutes.  Then pour off the liquid, which is called whey, and use a slotted spoon to transfer the curds into a large glass bowl. Reserve the whey for another use*.

Next, microwave the curds for 1 minute. Then drain any excess liquid, shape into a ball and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Place the cheese ball back in the bowl and microwave for another 30 seconds.  Drain, and check the temperature — The cheese must be 135 degrees to stretch properly. Stretch the cheese a few times and form it into a log or ball.

Place your stretched cheese in a bowl filled with cool water and let it sit for five minutes. Then add one cup of ice cubes to the bowl, and let it sit for an additional 15 minutes to cool down completely. You can now eat the mozzarella, cook with it, or store it in an airtight container for up to a week.

Ricotta Cheese (Makes 1 ¾ – 2 pounds)

Ingredients

1 gallon milk (make sure your milk is not Ultra- Pasteurized)

1 teaspoon citric acid

1 teaspoon salt, optional

 

Tools

large pot

thermometer

measuring spoons

cheese cloth

strainer

mixing bowl

slotted spoon

 

Pour the milk into a large pot and set it over medium heat. Let it warm gradually to 195°F, stirring constantly.  Remove the milk from heat. Pour in the citric acid and salt, stirring gently to combine.

Let the pot of milk sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. After this time, the milk should have separated into clumps of milky white curds and thin, watery, yellow-colored whey. Set a strainer over a bowl and line the strainer with cheesecloth. Scoop the big curds out of the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the strainer. Pour the remaining curds and the whey through the strainer. Reserve the whey for another use*.

Let the ricotta drain for 10 to 60 minutes, depending on how wet or dry you prefer your ricotta. If it becomes too dry, you can also stir some of the whey back in before using or storing. Use your fresh ricotta right away or refrigerate it in an airtight container for up to a week.

 

*Don’t dump that whey! You can use it in place of equal parts water in bread or pizza dough, or add it to smoothies for an added source of protein.

 

It seems that most everyone is Irish, at least on Saint Patrick’s Day. And although my family is truly Irish (just ask Grandma Flanagan!), we haven’t inherited a love of many of the Irish foods typically served this time of year. Sorry, Grandma, but cooked cabbage has been pretty much banned from our house due to its pungent aroma, and corned beef, looking all red and stringy, is just not our cup of tea either. While we do enjoy potatoes, since they’re such a menu staple, they don’t bring on the St. Patty’s Day spirit. My husband and children would be content to celebrate with Lucky Charms cereal, which is also a staple in our home (don’t judge!), but I want to go with something a little more traditional. And while Irish and Irish-for-the-day traditionally celebrate with green beer, whiskey, Baileys, or Irish coffee, I’m looking for a more family-friendly way to mark the day at home. 

“Maple syrup is a unique product made in a limited part of the world, and Ohio is fortunate to be located in the heart of it,” explained Nate Bissell, owner of Bissell Maple Farm and board member of the Ohio Maple Producers Association. Bissell and his colleagues at the Ohio Maple Producers Association want you and your family to visit them to find out how they make this local treasure during the ‘Maple Madness Drive It Yourself Tour,’ which starts this weekend.

This week’s installment is a little light on recipes, and heavy on the rambling part. But I’ve got a very good reason. Because this Saturday, February 15th, the nice folks at the Burton Chamber of Commerce will be holding their annual Tree Tapping Ceremony. This event signifies the official start of Maple Syrup Season, and hopefully, the end to this seemingly eternal bitter winter weather we’ve been having. So for those of you who, like me, are desperate to see ANY sign of spring, maple tree tapping is a pretty big indicator that some day soon, we’ll be seeing forsythia and daffodil blooms in places where snowdrifts have taken up residence the last few months. 

If you’re feeling the effects of the ice and snow of an unusually cold Northern Ohio Winter, you’re not alone. And now that all the major holidays, including Groundhogs’ Day are over, you can spend a little extra time pampering yourself. There’s no time like the present to give yourself the gift of a few at-home spa treatments.

First, let the eyes have it. If you wake up some mornings looking a little puffy eyed due to lack of sleep or poor indoor air quality, use this super quick tip to give your eyes to some serious TLC. For a simple eye de-puffer, here’s all you need to do. Make a cup of tea for you and a friend using one chamomile tea bag per cup. Remove tea bags and place them in the refrigerator until chilled. Place cool tea bags on closed eyes for 10 minutes, then remove from your well-rested eyes. In addition to helping de-puff your tired eyes, drinking chamomile tea is also purported to be good for stomach pain, migraines and in helping induce sleep.

Now that your eyes have been treated, it’s time to address the rest of your face. Try this hydrating facial mask to combat the freeze-dry effects of the latest Arctic Blast.

 

Milk and Honey Facial Mask 

(courtesy of Bath by Bettijo)

4 T powdered milk

2 T warm water

2 T honey

 

Combine ingredients and stir until smooth. Spread mixture on face, avoiding mouth and eyes. Wet a washcloth with warm water and let it rest over the mask for 10 minutes. Rinse the mask off, then pat dry.

Now that your face is feeling fresh and full of moisture, it’s time to address the dry skin on the rest of you. This simple to make body scrub is full of natural ingredients. And coconut oil makes it perfect for banishing dry, scaly winter skin. I’d like to give a shout out to my friend Lori for introducing me to this fabulous treat.

Brown Sugar & Coconut Body Scrub 

(adapted from onehundreddollarsamonth.com) 

1 1/4 cups brown sugar

6 T coconut oil

2 T vanilla extract

small jars or tubs with lids for storing

Melt the coconut oil in a microwave-safe bowl until soft, and then combine with brown sugar, mixing to remove any lumps.  Add vanilla extract and mix well.  When the mixture is completely combined, transfer to jars with lids and save for personal use, or share with friends. And now that you’ve pampered yourself a little, hopefully the final six weeks of winter won’t seem so long.

Photo: courtesy of heygorg.com

 

The start of the New Year is a great motivation to make small changes to help make life run a little smoother. Since everyone must eat, one easy change to incorporate is in the area of meal preparation. This is where a little pre-planning can make your life a whole lot easier. Start by making modifications to recipes you already use. When making your usual soup, stew, meatloaf or sauce recipes, it doesn’t take much extra time to double the recipe and freeze the extra portion for an easy meal another day. Just remember to label and date the contents, and include any cooking instructions right on the freezer bag for a convenient future meal when time is short. And the Internet is full of prep ahead freezer meals and slow cooker recipes to make dinnertime less stressful.  Here’s a simple crock-pot recipe to use now, or prep for later, that’s simple, yet delicious.

This time of year, Santa isn’t the only one who’s making lists and checking them twice. If you enjoy giving handmade gifts, here are some simple spice mixes that are sure to appeal to the foodies on your list. Individually, they make great stocking stuffers. Package them together with some kitchen tools for an even bigger impact. 

What do you do when you’ve got a plethora of apples? That was the question this fall at the Turner house, where we’ve been buried in apples since autumn first began. Over the previous few years, our ancient apple orchard didn’t bear much fruit due to insect problems, overzealous pruning, or late frosts. That all changed this year, in a big way, as we’ve been fortunate enough to harvest several front-loader buckets full of apples this season. We’ve shared them with friends and neighbors. We’ve made countless jars of applesauce, apple pie filling and apple butter. We’ve pressed gallons and gallons of apple cider. Our apples even made it into an award-winning county fair pie.