Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pumpkins Aren't Just for Carving!

Pumpkin pie, pumpkin pudding, pumpkin cookies, and the list goes on. All these things have one thing in common: pumpkin puree! (OK - maybe two: they are delicious!) All things pumpkin signify fall. And it is easier to make your own than you might think. This time of year, there are pumpkins readily available that you need not trek to the nearest patch - although there is plenty of fun in that. All you need is a pie pumpkin - smaller than your average carving pumpkin. A 4 oz. pumpkin should yield 4 cups of puree. Here are the steps:

1. Cut your pumpkin in half or quarters, whichever is easier (and safer) for you. Using a serrated knife is generally easier.

2. Scope out the seeds and guts using a spoon. Separate the seeds from guts by placing in a shallow pan of water. Keep the seeds to plant next year or for roasting.

3. There are many methods out there for how to cook the pumpkin - but I chose to steam mine on the stove. Use a large pan to ensure enough water throughout the process and big enough to hold the pumpkin. If you don't have a large enough pan, you can do it in batches. You can also microwave the pumpkin or cook it in the oven. The thought of cooking something in the microwave for 20-30 minutes (not to mention I didn't have a big-enough glass container) or heating my oven for this were the reasons I chose to steam. (Just google 'pumpkin puree' to learn of the other methods.)

4. Steam the pumpkin for 20 minutes over medium heat. Check the pumpkin. It should be VERY soft, almost falling off from the rind. If it isn't - keep cooking. I cooked mine for 40 minutes.

5. Pull the pumpkin out of the pot. Depending on how tough you are, let it cool until you can scoop the pumpkin from the rind. It should come out very easily using a spoon. You can also place the pumpkin in a bowl to make it easier to scrape, and this requires less handling. Note: the longer the pumpkin cooks, the softer the puree. BUT the more likely the rind is to fall apart easily. I think next time I will only cook it for 30 minutes and take it out to cool immediately.

6. Once all the pumpkin has been scooped out, you can either mash with a fork or potato masher, or use an immersion blender to reach the desired consistency.

7. Let cool. Either use or freeze in labeled containers for later. I made mine into pumpkin cookies!! The rest I will use for pumpkin soup (recipe to follow soon!) in the coming weeks. I saved a few seeds for planting next year, and the rest I roasted for snacks and salad toppers.

Pumpkin is the perfect fall food - low in calories, and high in potassium and beta carotene. It's no trick - just the perfect treat!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Better Late Than Never

So in August, I listed a few things I had made and received a request for the following two recipes. Here they are. Finally.

Choco-Zucchini Cupcakes
2 cups shredded zucchini (about 8 oz.) - if using frozen: thaw and squeeze out all water first
3 eggs
2 scant cups sugar
3/4 cup cooking oil
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips (optional)
1 recipe peanut butter frosting (follows)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 24 2 1/2 inch muffin cups with paper bake cups or lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together zucchini, eggs, granulated sugar, oil, and vanilla. Add flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and if desired, chocolate chips; stir until combined. Spoon batter into prepared pans, filing cups about half full. Bake about 25 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near centers comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove from cups. Cool completely on racks. Frost with peanut butter frosting.

Peanut Butter Frosting

In a medium mixing bowl, beat 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/3 cup softened butter, 1 Tbsp. milk, and 1/2 tsp. vanilla with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Gradually add 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, beating until combined. If necessary, stir in 1 to 2 tsp. additional milk until frosting reaches desired consistency.

**Recipe from

Tub Scrub
1 cup baking soda
1/2 cup (approx.) castile liquid soap*
5 to 10 drops antibacterial essential oil, such as lavender, tea tree, or rosemary (optional)

Pour baking soda into a medium-size mixing bowl. Add soap a little at a time, stirring continuously. Stop adding after your mixture has begun to resemble frosting (Note: not to be confused with the frosting above!). Mix in drops of essential oil if using. Store in an airtight container for up to a year.

*I use peppermint castile soap and it smells fresh and clean!!

Use this soap in place of of the toxic cleaners lurking under the bathroom sink.



So I have been taking a hiatus, or maybe a sabbatical, but really - I have just been plain busy. But who isn't? What does the term "busy" even mean anymore. It is one of those misnomers we so frequently use - because we think we have to be busy to be productive, or because it is an easy response to "how have you been?" So I declare a strike on "busy" - on the word, and everything it implies.

But I digress....

What does having many to-do's and not enough time in the day (how's that for a strike!) have to do with making things from scratch?

Well, as with anything that is planned and contains thought - it just works out better. I find this true for food. When I plan out my meals - they are healthier, cheaper, and I feel so much better knowing that after a long day I don't have to think about one more thing.

So let's throw mismanaged time out the door and PLAN a few meals, a grocery list, time to cook - and most of all - time to enjoy.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Homemade CD Case

As a result of music downloads and CD making, I have many unprotected CDs. What to do? Make paper cases (envelopes) from old magazine or calendar pages! After consulting Google, I created a pattern from a few different online versions, as well as looking at the store bought version of a paper case.
Envelopes are easily made to fit the size of your letter, CD, or just about anything you need to store or mail. (I credit my sister for the CD case idea - she has given me a few over the years.) Making envelopes recycles items lying around the house and adds unique style to something that is otherwise fairly boring. How fun to get a letter (a what!?) inside of a homemade envelope!!

The finished product - 2 cases for CDs I just burned for Christmas gifts!

Monday, August 31, 2009

My Latest Projects

I have been in a crafty mood lately. Here are the results....I am learning to knit!! I started while in a meeting in Denver. I was bored and watching a women knit in front of me. I talked to her on one of the breaks, and mentioned how I was wanting to learn. She said if I came back the next day with needles and yarn - she would teach me - and she did! This is the start of my scarf!

I made a few "reconditioned" cards - from previously used items. The above card is from my leftover wedding invitations and my dad's old daytimer. "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!" I gave this card to my sister for her birthday.

Here are the rest of the cards from the batch.

My last project of the weekend - a painted onsie for Grayson!! I purchased a pack of white onsies that I plan to applique, paint, and anything else that catches my fancy. For this particular one - I dyed it in tea to create a nice kakhi color, and then painted on these fun trees!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Taste of Home

One of my favorite treats growing up - and still today - is an old-fashioned ice cream soda. Homemade chocolate sauce, seltzer water, and vanilla ice cream. YUM! Now - there is something to be said for growing up with said treat vs. trying it for the first time when you are older. I am used to flavors that aren't over-sweetened, salted, and laden with preservatives because that is how I grew up. However, if one is not used homemade flavors, homemade chocolate sauce may not taste as great to you. Cool thing about taste buds - we can retrain them! I will start with something easy....

Chocolate Syrup
1 cup cocoa
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 tsp. vanilla
dash salt

Combine cocoa and sugar in saucepan and mix well. Add water and stir gently. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until mixture boils. Boil only 1 minute! Remove from heat, add vanilla and salt. Store in refrigerator.

Use for ice cream sodas - even better - chocolate martinis!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yogurt a Go-Go

As promised - the summary of my yogurt making adventure: Well - really the adventure was to get the milk, the yogurt making process itself is pretty boring - but pretty easy!

The Ingredients:
1. Half-gallon whole milk (8 cups)
2. 1/2 cup store-bought plain live/active culture yogurt (This is the starter. Once you have your own, that will serve as your starter)

The Process:
Note: while it is easy, it does take time. I recommend the weekend or another time when you will be home all day.
1. Dump the milk into a 4 qt. crockpot and turn to low. Cover and cook for 2 1/2 hrs.
2. Unplug crockpot. Leave the cover on, and let sit for 3 hours.
3. After 3 hrs., scoop out 2 cups of the warm milk and put in bowl. Stir in 1/2 cup of store-bought yogurt. Dump this mixture back into the crockpot. Stir to combine.

4. Place lid back on crockpot. Wrap a heavy bath towel all the way around for insulation.

5. Let sit for a minimum of 8 hrs. (I found 8 hrs. was not enough - mine sat for 8 hrs., and then overnight as well)
6. The yogurt will have thickened to the consistency of low-fat plain yogurt.
7. Stir in fruit, add toppings, enjoy!
Store in clean, leftover yogurt containers. Your homemade yogurt will last 7-10 days. Don't eat it all - you need to save 1/2 cup for the next batch!
We ate our first batch of homemade yogurt for breakfast today. We added fresh strawberries and my homemade yogurt topping. My husband even added some to his strawberry flavored store-bought yogurt!