Thursday, May 22, 2014

Knitted Things!

I started knitting about five years ago.  Taught myself from a kid's learn to knit book and YouTube.  (Thank goodness for YouTube!)  I was really gung ho at first, then stopped for awhile.  I worried knitting was going to be like a lot of other pursuits I started enthusiastically, then eventually stopped doing (I'm looking at you scrap booking and stamping!)  But, I found I still enjoy it and really love it.

I really love starting a project and seeing it come together.  I have knitted two sweaters for myself since starting to knit and it is always exciting to see it grow on the needles, and also a little worrisome to see if it will fit when it is all done.  I love making things for others, too.  Especially baby gifts.  Who can resist tiny, handmade clothing?

Here are a few of the items I've made recently. 

These are socks that I still can't believe I made and enjoyed making!  I have seen my brother-in-law knit countless pairs of socks and always shook my head.  Who in their right mind would take the time to knit socks?  Then I found some sock yarn on clearance and decided to give it a try.  It was in my first year of knitting and I gave up when I realized I would have  to make a second sock when I finished the first.  The sock sat on my needles for 3-4 years until this February.  I ripped out the partially knitted sock, re-rolled my yarn into a ball, and started this sock pattern.  I love the results and I am even thinking I want to knit more socks!  Glad I changed my mind!

I made this little set for my daughter's classroom teacher.  She got married in the Fall and now is due with her first baby (a little boy) in September!  She has been an amazing teacher to my daughter and I couldn't resist the opportunity to make a little something for her.  I learned seaming and mattress stitch for this project and I'm so glad I did!  I've only knit raglan (or circular yoke) sweaters up to this point because I was so afraid of the seaming process.  Now I don't have to be!  Mattress stitch is amazing!  It is almost invisible and while a little tedious, the results are worth the effort.

Made this sweater (only my second one for me, and my first non-cardigan) for our upcoming trip to Ireland.  I wanted something easy and pretty.  I used a cotton yarn, which I would not do again.  While very soft, it is a bit heavy.  But overall I'm happy with how it turned out.  The lace part was hard to work once the sleeves were added, but I'm glad I stuck with it. 

Next up will be some baby sweaters for my cousins twin girls due in September and hopefully a cardigan in a lovely brown wool for me!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Goat Cake

My ten year old daughter is obsessed with goats.  I don't quite know how it happened, but it did. And now for the last two years, when anyone asks what she wants for her birthday, Christmas, 4th of July, etc, she says, "A goat."  Her Grandpa even got her a really nice stuffed animal goat for her 9th birthday.  She loves it.  She named it Fitzgerald Goatpants.  But still she asks for a goat.

As you can imagine, she won't be getting one.  We live in a suburb.  We don't have a fenced yard.  I don't have the slightest idea how to take care of a goat.  And have you looked at goats lately?  They are adorable as babies, but when they are adults - yeeesh!  Those crazy eyes aren't very pretty to look at. 

So we buy her shirts and sweaters with goats or sheep on them.  We check out books about goats from the library.  We let her set the background screen on the ipad to a goat photo.  We made sure to pet the goats at Cedar Point last summer.  (I know - who would think Cedar Point would have goats?  They do!)  My eleven year old daughter drew her the cutest goat picture for her birthday.

And me?  I make her a birthday cake in the shape of a goat, exactly as she requested.

The cake conversation went like this:
     Me: What kind of cake do you want for your birthday?
     Daughter: lemon (Good girl! Yum!)
     Me: Great.  But what do you want on the cake?  What do you want it to look like?
     Daughter: Can you sculpt a cake.
     Me: Ummm, no.
     Daughter: Can you make it 3-D?
     Me: You mean, something on top of another cake, like a cut out?
     Daughter:  Yes.
     Me:  Yes, I could do that.
     Daughter:  Great.  I want the bottom cake to be a grass cake, and I want a goat on top.
     Me:  ooooookay.

That kid cracks me up.  So I looked for a few cute pictures of cartoon goats online and found a really cute one.  I printed and enlarged it.  Then I baked two 9x13 inch cakes, one lemon and one french vanilla.  I made the french vanilla one thinner because I was going to cut the goat out of that cake.

I frosted the lemon cake green and then covered it with green frosting using the Wilton grass tip.  I froze the french vanilla cake for about a half hour.  When I was ready to cut the goat out, I took the cake from the freezer and placed the enlarged goat picture on top of the cake. With a sharp knife I cut around the picture until I had a goat shape in french vanilla cake.  I carefully pulled the excess cake from around the cut out goat and then transferred the goat to the top of the grass cake.  I initially thought I would just frost it with a knife, and then decided stars would look nicer.  I frosted the horns first, then started squeezing stars all over the goat.  I finished with a few lines to better define the legs and then the eyes and nose.

I showed it to my daughter who absolutely loved it!  And so do I.  One of the things I like most about it is that I didn't copy anyone else's cake.  I listened to what my daughter wanted and made it happen.  I love knowing that she is happy and is getting exactly what she wants for her birthday cake.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins

In continuing on in the theme of making snacks to replace the ones I previously bought my kids, I came up with this little muffin recipe.  It is a rework of a favorite chocolate chip muffin recipe in my repertoire.  I stopped making muffins from a box years ago, but hadn't used whole wheat or whole grain flours very regularly.  This recipe was originally for full sized muffins and made with all purpose flour.  I tweaked it a little to be 100% whole wheat and completely poppable into the mouth whole.

My kids used to love those little muffins you could buy that came about 5 to a pack.  I didn't buy them often because they were expensive, but as an occasional treat for their lunches, I would indulge when they were on sale.  No more!  The junk that was in those is crazy, especially when I can make these so easily and feel good about my kids eating them.  I usually make a big batch and then put three to a snack size baggie and then let them throw them in their lunches when they are packing them.  I often freeze them this way (in the baggies, then in a large Ziploc plastic container or another, larger zip top bag).  The kids will get them out the night before while packing their lunch, or the morning before school and they will be thawed by lunchtime.  A great, and relatively healthy sweet treat, for their lunch.  Everyone is happy!

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins

1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
⅓ cup brown sugar
⅓ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
⅔ cup milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Grease and flour mini muffin pans, or use mini muffin wrappers.

In a mixing bowl, stir together the flours, sugars, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, thoroughly mix the milk, eggs and vanilla. Pour into dry ingredients and stir to combine slightly. Add melted butter and stir just until all ingredients are combined. Fold in mini chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into prepared pans (muffin cups about 3/4 full) and bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes or until muffin tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then remove to cool completely on rack.

Yield: about 40 mini muffins

You can make these as regular muffins, but the cook time will be longer.  You may also want to use regular sized chocolate chips with them.

Bagged mini muffins for lunches

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Our Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

Back when I started on this real food adventure, I knew there would be a lot of pushback from my three kids.  They hate that I won't buy Kraft Mac & Cheese, pop tarts or American cheese slices.  They grumble that Hostess snacks and Entenmann's Little Bites are never purchased for packed lunches.  (I actually rarely to never bought Hostess snacks, but my kids have been known to eat a Twinkie or two.)  So when my husband said the kids might take it easier if the former snacks and foods were replaced by something equal, but healthier, things might go easier.  Queue the whole wheat chocolate chip cookie recipe.  I would not necessarily call this cookie healthy.  But, I do know what ingredients are in it, and compared to the gmo laden processed crap at the grocery store, they're fantastic!

I found this recipe online originally at the Betty Crocker website.  I read the reviews and tweaked the recipe just a little.  I reduced the sugar just a bit and upped the flour by 1/4 cup.  They come out perfect every time and my family scarfs them down faster than I can make them.  They make a large batch, and you can feel good that everything that goes into them is all natural.  Give them a try, you won't be disappointed.

Before baking

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from: Betty Crocker recipe here

⅔ cup sugar
⅔ cup packed brown sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 ¼ cups whole wheat flour, regular or white whole wheat
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 package (12 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Mix sugars, butter, vanilla and egg in large bowl until well combined. Mix in flour, baking soda and salt. Stir in chocolate chips. Make 1 inch balls of dough by rolling in your hand. Place about 2 inches apart on parchment lined cookie sheets.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until bottom edges of cookie are lightly browned. Cool on cookie sheets 2-3 minutes, then remove to wire rack to cool completely. Store in airtight container.

Yield:  about 4 dozen

Friday, January 17, 2014

Cinnamon Spiral Bread

I will spare you all my despair over not updating my blog, including completely not doing my annual 12 recipes of Christmas.  It seems almost every time I blog, I try to explain why I haven't.  Let's just say I kinda suck at keeping this thing up to date.  That being said, I still enjoy blogging occasionally, so let's jump back in with both feet!

My awesome sister got me this fantastic new cookbook for Christmas this year.  I have checked it out of the library and renewed it too many times to count.  That's how I knew I needed to own it.  Now I do!  Squeeeeee!

So with my King Arthur Whole Grain Baking cookbook in hand, I sat down and made a loooooong list of recipes I wanted to try, including page numbers.  This is what I do for fun, leaf through cookbooks and make lists of all the things I want to make.  And knit.

I came across the Cinnamon Spiral Bread and read the description.  "This dark-brown, spiraled loaf resembles nothing so much as a giant cinnamon bun."  Done!  This is it!  I have to try this!!!! And so I did, and I thought I would share the results with you!

Cinnamon Spiral Bread - after baking before icing

Close-up  - Mmmmmmm!

I will start by saying this recipe has a lot of ingredients and a lot of steps.  It took me most of the day to make it, although most of that time was waiting for it to rise twice.  It is worth the hard work, though, as it is so tasty and delicious!

Cinnamon Spiral Bread
Adapted from : King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking

1 cup white whole wheat flour
½ cup cool water
pinch of instant yeast

All of the pre-ferment
½ cup milk, heated to lukewarm
3 tablespoons orange juice
3 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into 6-8 pieces
¾ cup white whole wheat flour
⅔ cup old-fashioned rolled oats, ground in food processor
⅔ cup old-fashioned rolled oats, left whole
1 cup all purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
1 ¼ teaspoons cinnamon
2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast

¼ cup powdered sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon water
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt
3 to 4 tablespoons milk

Make the pre-ferment first. Do this the night before you want to bake the bread. Mix the pre-ferment ingredients in a small (2-3 cup) bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter overnight at room temperature.

To make the dough:
Combine the pre-ferment and all of the dough ingredients in mixer bowl. Mix until combined. Switch mixing paddle to dough hook and knead on speed 2 for about 5 minutes or until dough is soft and smooth. Alternately, knead by hand after mixing.

Place dough in greased bowl. Turn to grease top and cover and let rise until nearly doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours.

Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan. Prepare the coating by mixing together the powdered sugar and cinnamon.

Deflate the dough and on lightly floured countertop, roll it into a 40-inch-long snake. The dough should be very soft. Sprinkle the length of the dough with the cinnamon sugar topping, turning to completely coat in the mixture.

Coil the dough in the prepared pan. Scrape any remaining cinnamon-sugar off the counter and sprinkle it over the dough in the pan. Cover it loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap. Allow it to rise until it fills the pan and has close to doubled in size, 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

While the oven is preheating, make the topping. Stir together the sugar, water, vanilla and cinnamon. Drizzle topping evenly over the risen loaf.

Bake for 33-35 minutes, tenting with foil after 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and after 2-3 minutes, turn bread out onto wire rack. Flip over again onto another rack or serving plate to cool completely.

When bread is completely cool, make the icing. Mix together the powdered sugar, vanilla, salt and enough milk to make a thick but pourable glaze. Drizzle over the cooled bread and let set until firmed slightly. Cut into wedges and serve.
Managed to snap a picture before the kids gobbled most of it up!

 A few notes:  My kitchen was very cold when I made this.  It took my loaf a full two hours for the first rise, and I had to turn my oven to 200ºF to warm the area where the dough was rising.  The recipe originally called for traditional whole wheat flour, but we prefer white whole wheat, so that is what I used.  When making the ground oats, measure the oats whole, then grind.  Do not measure after grinding.  This is delicious heated up slightly.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

100% Whole Grain Pancakes

So I promised I would be sharing some of my new favorite healthy recipes.  This is one of the first ones I made.  During Lent, we eat pancakes for dinner every other week.  Now that Lent is over, we still eat them for dinner, just not quite as often and usually accompanied with bacon or sausage.

I took my family's favorite pancake recipe and gradually changed it until it was 100% whole grain.  I started slow, just substituting a little bit of whole wheat flour for the white flour.  Each time I made them, I added a little more and a little more until I had the recipe at 80% whole grain.  Then finally I made the jump to 100% whole grain by using some oat flour in place of that last bit of white flour.  And let me tell you, my kids LOVE them!  And I love that I am feeding them something I know is good for them.  It's a win/win!  This morning I made a huge batch of these pancakes, individually froze each one, then wrapped them in packs of three and put them back in the freezer.  Now whenever my kids (or husband) want pancakes, I have premade, healthy and delicious pancakes ready to go.

100% Whole Grain Pancakes
(adapted from "Favorite Pancakes" in Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book)

2 eggs
2½ cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup oat flour
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, using a whisk, beat eggs well. Whisk in buttermilk and soda. Add all remaining ingredients and whisk or stir until fairly smooth.

Drop by 1/4 cupfuls onto hot griddle and cook as you would for pancakes.  Serve with butter and maple syrup.

Yield: about 26-28 pancakes

These really are so easy and so yummy!  I hope you think so, too!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Getting Healthier

Last year was crazy in so many ways.  The biggest and craziest part of the year was the diagnosis of both of my parents with cancer.  My Dad had prostate cancer, my Mom had liposarcoma.  My Dad had surgery in August and appears to be cancer free!  My Mom's cancer was inoperable and she passed away in September.  I can't say for sure if it was my mom's death or any number of other things that got me started into looking to eat healthier, but I do know it was one of the reasons.

I have struggled to lose weight the last 3-4 years.  I'm not looking to lose a lot, about 10 pounds or so, but have struggled to do so.  I was also tired and definitely had food cravings most days.  I really just wanted to feed myself and my family better. 

So I started looking into things.  I looked at what some of my very healthy friends were feeding to there families.  I looked online at what other people were doing to eat healthy.  I went to Bible study where my friend Katie served delicious banana muffins that had no sugar in them and were completely whole grain!  I did more research online.  I started to think about the obesity epidemic in the USA.  I thought back to the no fat/ low fat craze of the late 80's early 90's. 

I started to think something wasn't adding up.  Here we are, one of the most developed and advanced nations in the world, and huge amounts of our population (including our children) were overweight.  I had long ago switched to butter when the trans fat information came out.  I had long ago switched to whole wheat pasta when the low carb revolution took hold.  But I was still giving my kids 1% milk,  I was still buying what I thought was a better brand of margarine to spread on my rolls and toast, I was still feeding my kids boxed mac and cheese.  Then I started reading labels, looking up what the ingredients on the label really were, finding out how many products have high fructose corn syrup in them (among other things), and questioning why I was feeding this not only to myself, but to my husband and kids as well. 

I started reading, a lot.  Most low or no fat dairy products have additives in them to make them seem thick and creamy like the real, full fat versions.  Pre-shredded cheese has a mold inhibitor and anti-caking agent in it that most block cheeses do not (and you are eating those things).  Most processed foods are that, highly processed.  Eggs are from chickens that are kept inhumanely cooped in cages and fed diets that are not natural to them.  Same with most of our meat supply.  (Cows are ruminants, they are supposed to eat grass - not corn and soybeans.)  I started wanting to know that the meat and dairy products my family consumes comes from humanely treated animals that are also not treated with unneccessary hormones or antibiotics. 

I started to wonder if God had a better plan for us.  He created so many amazing fruits, vegetables, grains and animals for us to be stewards over.  Was I doing my job there?  Was I taking care of not only my body but also the animals and land that we are tasked to care for? 

So I started making some small changes.  I changed the oils and fats we use to now only butter, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil.  I started cooking and baking with more whole grains.  I started making more and more meals form scratch.  I started buying my eggs from a local farmer who raises her chickens humanely.  I found a local farmer of 100% grass fed beef and started purchasing my beef there.  I started buying grass fed butter, whole milk, and whole milk yogurt.  I try to use honey and maple syrup as my primary sweeteners.  I eat more fruit and veggies. I make a hot breakfast for my family once a week - totally form scratch.

And guess what?  I have lost some weight.  I have very few cravings any more, and when I do they are satisfied more quickly with a small amount of a snack instead of lots and lots of it.

 I have come to the conclusion that all this low fat, no saturated fat is nonsense and not good health.  Eating real foods, healthy natural fats, is far more satisfying to the body and soul.  Do I still have a sweet tooth, yes.  But I satisfy it with naturally sweet things like fruit and yogurt smoothies.  And I don't crave the junk anymore, and I feel better.  I hope to get my kids and husband as excited about this transition as I am, though it has not been easy.

I am planning on sharing some of my new, healthier recipes in the coming weeks.  Not all of them are sugar free, and not all of them are 100% whole grain, but they are good alternatives if you are just starting this journey into the land of healthier eating.  To make it easier for my kids, I have adapted a lot of my regular recipes and subbed in whole wheat flour and healthy oils.  They haven't complained about the muffins with less sugar and whole grains, since they were used to eating the white flour versions of these.  Stop by in the next few weeks, you may find a few new favorite recipes that are healthier for you, too!