Monday, August 27, 2012

Healthier Chocolate Chip Cookies

I recently started a subscription to Eating Well magazine.  From the first issue I saved a recipe for Bev's Chocolate Chip Cookies.  It stayed on the refrigerator a few weeks.  Yesterday morning I decided to bake them.  I left them cooling while I went to town to run errands.  When I came home, only one cookie was missing.  I took that to mean that W did not like them.  He came back inside and said that he had run in the house for a moment and only had time to grab one cookie. 

He ate a few more and declared them the best chocolate chip cookies I had made.  I told him they were healthier than the others and asked if he wanted to know what was in them.  He quickly replied, "No".  I did not tell him, but I will tell all of you.  I used almond flour, whole wheat flour, and coconut oil.  The cookies are very moist and not overly sweet.

Even if you are not normally think of whole wheat cookies as yummy, give this recipe a try.  I do not think you will be disappointed.  I think if I had failed to mention to W that the cookies were healthier, he would have been none the wiser.  I will not go so far to say they are good for you, but they are certainly a better choice. 

I ended up with two dozen cookies using my medium cookie scoop.  I also only used about 3/4 cup of chocolate chips since that was what I had left in a bag.  As stated earlier I replaced the oats with almond meal and used coconut oil in place of the canola oil.  I will be tossing out my other chocolate chip cookie recipes and sticking with this one.

Holiday Grand Plan

Each year at this time summer starts to wind down, and I can begin to feel autumn in the air.  My mind starts to wander to the upcoming holidays.  I also drag out my Holiday Grand Plan notebook and start making lists.  Can I just say how much I love lists!  I make lists of the lists that I need to make. 
Over the years I have tailored the plan to fit my needs.  This week is List Week.   The plan focuses on cleaning as well as holiday prepThis year I opted to get a head start on the cleaning mainly due to the fact my house was a wreck after garden season.  This week's cleaning area is the front porch.  I will spruce it up a bit and make note of any items that need to be repaired or replaced.
Here is a peek at my to do list for the week:
~Make gift lists (who, ideas for what to buy, and budget guidelines)
~Update Christmas card list
~Think about foods for holiday parties
~List of freezer meals
~Order promotional materials for Operation Christmas Child (I coordinate this at my church.)
~Start making Christmas cards
~Plan Christmas card photo
~Clean porch
I know it seems early to be thinking about the holiday season.  It is closer than you may want to think.  Even a little planning goes a long way.  I will update you at the end of the week on what I accomplished. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cooking Dried Beans

Dried beans are a wonderful bargain.  I find that many people shy away from using them.  I realize that canned beans are simple.  I would like to point out that dried beans can be almost as simple.  They are also very healthy.  You can control the amount of salt.  The ingredients could not be more basic - dried beans and water. 

I normally soak the dried beans overnight.  They need to be sorted as you will find the occasional rock.  Place the beans in a pot and add six to eight cups of water or enough to cover.  I cook one pound at a time normally but have done two pounds.  In the morning drain off the water and add fresh water back to the soaked beans.  They can be cooked in a pot on the stove, but I prefer to cook mine in the crockpot.  I do not have to worry about them boiling over.  With no salt added they cook in four hours on high.  Added salt increases the cook time.  Old beans also take longer to cook. 

When they are done to your satisfaction, drain off the water and rinse if you choose.  When they cool slightly, package them in the appropriate serving size and freeze.

Here are the chickpeas I cooked last week.  I love roasted chickpeas.  I paid $1.50 for a pound of dried beans and ended up with six cups of cooked beans.  I honestly have not priced cans of chickpeas recently.  I am sure they are more than 50 cents per can, and mine homecooked beans have no salt or other added ingredients. 

The little bit of work in advance means I now have cooked chickpeas that are as convenient as opening a can.  Give the dried beans a chance!  This frugal ingredient can help your grocery budget by starring in meatless meals or stretching the meat in your meal.  My homemade burritos included a bit of meat with plenty of beans to make a hearty meal. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Pineapple

At the end of last week, W and I harvested the pineapple from the plant in our backyard.  It was obviously much smaller than what is available for purchase in the grocery stores.  The flavor was wonderful - very sweet and juicy.  The top was huge.  It is as big as some of our one year old plants.  It did not get thrown away though.  We prepped it and have place it in a wide mouth quart jar to root.  We did have to wait 2+ years for this homegrown pineapple, but it was free and certainly worth the wait!

Monday, August 13, 2012

How to Make Cream Horns

Cream horns are quite simple to make with one basic item..... a set of cream horn molds.  I ordered two sets with some of my birthday money.  One sheet of puff pastry makes 12 cream horns, and two sets meant I could bake a dozen at once.

Butter or grease each of the molds.  Roll out the thawed sheet of puff pastry a bit and cut into twelve strips.  Wrap a strip around each of the molds starting at the small end.

Place these back into the freezer.  When frozen, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare an egg wash and brush each unbaked cream horn.  (I forgot this step.)  You can also sprinkle a bit of sugar on top.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until puffed and brown.  Allow to cool completely on the mold.  When cool, remove molds and fill with whatever you like.  The puff pastry itself is not sweet so these would work with savory fillings if you omitted the sprinkle of sugar prior to baking.  I filled mine with sweetened whipped cream.

I want to try making my own puff pastry in the future.  The frozen puff pastry is easy to work with and convenient.  These would make impressive appetizers or desserts but are really simple to create!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Long Week

It has been a busy week here.  Sometimes you just need to stop and take a break.  In the case of this little Polish chick, that means sitting down on a pecan and taking a nap. 

A basic post today but I thought this was too cute not to share!  Have a great weekend!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Decluttering - Are There Definite Rules?

I have been slowly working on some deep cleaning and decluttering.  I felt I needed a little encouragement so I have been reading It's All Too Much.  I found some helpful tips and agreed with much of the book until I reached the kitchen section.  A list of rarely used kitchen items as included.  I own seven of the items on the list.  Here it is in case you are curious:

Fondue Pot
Bread Machine*
Crepe Maker
Ice Cream Maker*
Slow Cooker*
Waffle Iron*
Propane Torch
Cookie Press
Banana Rack
Pizza Stone
Egg Slicer*
Apple Corer*
Pizza Cutter*
Grapefruit Spoons

I own the items with asterisks.  The ice cream maker is the main seasonal item.  It gets used almost weekly during the summer.  I suppose I could do without the apple corer.  The egg slicer is also a mushroom slicer and strawberry slicer around here.  The waffle iron gets used monthly for a bulk cooking session of waffles which are frozen for use throughout the month.  The slow cooker is used at least weekly.  I have used it twice this past week.  The bread machine.....I own three.  Two are purchased from people who would probably agree that it is a rarely used item.  I use mine a minimum of once a week.  W is proud to tell everyone that I often have all three going at once. 

These items do take up space in our home.  All of them are well used however.  I think the basic point of the book and good advice for decluttering is that if you use and/or truly love an item it is worth keeping.  I have purchased items with good intentions and never used them as I imagined I would.  I have struggled with guilt over the wasted money.  Keeping but not using the item is not helping at all.  Then there are the items that I use occasionally.  Where is the line?  I need to seriously think about what I have room to store.  My house is mostly neat.  I tend to do a bunch of things myself rather than buy them premade.  Again it goes back to items actually being used. 

I am looking forward to letting go of some things I have been holding onto when I start the Holiday Grand Plan later this month.  The marked rarely used kitchen items will definitely be staying though!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

More Stuffed Jalapeno Peppers

My four jalapeno plants have been producing like crazy this year.  I am still undecided if it is the variety I planted or the epsom salt I added a few times in lieu of fertilizer.  Over the course of four days I picked 100 peppers.  Crazy me decided to halve and stuff them all in one day.  I started that morning by halving and seeding each pepper.  I put them in the fridge and took three pounds of cream cheese out of the fridge while I went to run errands.  Back home I mixed the cream cheese with some salt and shredded cheeses.  They I settled in to stuff 200 pepper halves.  I had just enough homemade bread crumbs but ended up layering them in one big foil pan. 

I have called myself officially done with jalapenos.  The plants are still going strong, but I am now giving the peppers away.  Even though I am not sure why they have done so well, I plan to use the same variety and epsom salt next year. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Snake Wreath - Finally

I know I am late sharing this, but I only recently finished adding in all of the snakes.  I kept finding them as I cleaned the craft room.  Last week I finally took it outside and added the last layer of paint.  I used a regular grapevine wreath.  The snakes came from Oriental Trading.  I have tried gluing them on twice, but they never stayed very long.  This time I wired each snake onto the wreath.  It was a bit time consuming.  However, I know they will stay on.  The first time I painted the wreath I used a glossy paint.  This time I had flat paint on hand so that is what I used.  I actually like it much better.  It seems a bit more creepy to me.

Here is a close up.  The wreath hangs right over the doorbell on our front porch so visitors will get a close look at it this Halloween.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Grain Mill

I read about grain mills in one of my country living magazines.  I did a bit more research on the internet and decided to start saving for one.  Last week I finally decided which one to purchase and ordered it from Amazon.  I chose the Nutrimill.  Due to some negative comments I had a few reservations about how it would work.  Those were quickly put to rest once I tried the mill myself.

First of all, it does not spray flour all over the kitchen.  In fact it has not sprayed flour at all.  The flour bowl locks firmly in place keeping the flour contained.  Second it was supposed to be horribly loud.  Is it loud?  Well, a bit, it is grinding grains so it is not exactly a silent process.  It is no louder than my vacuum cleaner, and the mill only runs for a short time. 

I used hard white wheat berries and was pleased with how the flour turned out.  The resulting flour is so light. I have to add a bit more to the recipe than usual, but it is not packed like purchased flour would be.  I baked a batch of hamburger buns.  W is not completely fond of whole wheat bread, and it does not get more whole wheat than this.  I used vital wheat gluten, and the bread turned out soft and light.  The flavor was very good and nothing like typical whole wheat bread.  He gave his approval to the hamburger buns.  I also ground some flour to make pizza dough last night.  He made a comment of how good the rising dough smelled.  The real test however will be sandwich bread which I will make later in the week. I can also use popcorn to grind corn meal.

I will have to see how much I use it in the long run, but initially I am thrilled with the purchase.  It is easy to use, and I can see no cons yet. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Canning Pears

We have one pear tree in a back corner of our yard.  This one tree produces more pears that we can use, give away, and feed to the goats and chickens.  It is nice to have free pears but they only last for so long.  Canning becomes necessary to preserve them for the winter.
I started off by making pear jam (far right).  I used the Pomona's Universal Pectin so it is a lower sugar version.  Next time I would probably reduce the sugar even further.  The pears are nice and sweet on their own.

The middle jar is pear halves.  I put them in a bowl of water/lemon juice as I peeled prepared them.  They are in a light syrup of water, sugar, and Fruit Fresh.  I was thrilled with how fresh they look.

The jar to the left is apple-pear butter.  I have had apple butter, but I wanted to make use of the pears.  I made up my own recipe.  I used equal parts apples and pears.  I added some vanilla, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  I chose to cook it in the crock pot.  I used an immersion blender to get it all nice and smooth. 

Everything was processed in a water bath.  I used my $5 pot bought at a yard sale and the $0.25 rack my dad found me at a yard sale.  I know we will enjoy eating all three this winter when the fresh pears are a memory.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ducks and Chicks

The baby ducks are not so small anymore.  Here they are with their mother.  We had to separate them from the the boys for a short time. 

We also have more baby chicks.  One of the setting hens hatched five babies.  The second hen is starting to hatch hers and has two so far.  All of the babies are moved to the nursery pen.  They generally start going outside with the older chicks at a week old.

The two below are the newest babies, two buff cochins.  They are only a few days old and spend most of their time in the brooder.  Soon they will be out scratching in the dirt with the others.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Bit from the Garden

This time of year these is very little left in my garden.  The tomato plants look a bit sad but are blooming again.  The jalapeno pepper plants are still going strong.  My thoughts turn to the fall garden.  Of course it is still quite hot here in the south.  A little over a week ago I planted carrot and radish seeds to have some free food for the rabbits. 

The top picture is the carrots and the bottom the radishes.  I opted to grow them in containers.  The rabbits prefer to eat the tops of these vegetables so I am not concerned about having roots. 

The pineapple is growing well.  In this picture you can see the pineapple.  This is the original top which is now leaning over to the side.  We still have a few months to wait before it is ready to eat. 

The large piece that looks like the main part of the plant is actually one of the suckers.  It has grown so fast.  The plant looks almost the same as before the pineapple started to grow.

Just a random picture to end.  I saw this moth on the oregano yesterday.  I could not resist running in and grabbing the camera for a close up.