Friday, August 10, 2012

Flashback Friday: Summer Time Cakes

It’s hot here in the South.  I mean H-O-T hot!!  So hot that the only thing most kids want to do, is jump in a swimming pool and splash around all day.  And I mean, who can blame them?

So when my (distant) cousin, Caroline, was getting ready to turn another year older, her mother planned a great swim party for her birthday!  Ugh, talk about jealous!!  My birthday is in February, and when I was growing up, I was always so jealous of everyone who got a pool party for their summer birthdays.  My birthday was never that cool… [well it was cool, and that was the problem].

Anyway, her mother asked me to make a cake to look like their new pool, and also a few cupcakes on the side.  Looking back at these pictures makes me want to grab a yummy cupcake and jump right in a sweet, sweet pool for the rest of the day.  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Basil: Grown with Compost

A few months ago, shortly after I started this blog, my husband and I started vermicomposting.  I promised to get a post up about how we started it, since so many friends were interested.  But life happened and I didn’t.  I will eventually, I’m sure … but not yet.

At the beginning of the summer, on one of our last days before the baby was to be born, we took a trip to our local farmers market.  I love going there, browsing through the rows and rows of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other homemade goodies.  Believe me, that was just what I needed when I already looked like this:

One booth we passed had fresh basil plants for a very decent price.  They smelled so good, I almost cried.  You moms out there know exactly what I mean.  When you smell something amazing, those pregnancy hormones hit a whole new level and you have to have it.  So we couldn’t leave that day until I got a few basil plants … and hubs got some roma tomatoes.

Usually these are the things that we were start ourselves, from seeds.  But with all the preparations for Baby, we just hadn’t had time to get the seeds started.

Fortunately, we had had time to keep our vermi-compost going.  I love the bin that we have – it makes harvesting the compost so super easy.  We took out the bottom tray, which was completely compost, and mixed it in with the soil as we re-planted the basil.  Ideally, the bottom tray, which has already been processed by the worms, should be worm free.  It’s not.  But it’s ok.  You can just add that right into your soil.  They can only do good in there.  We didn't measure anything.  We just divided the compost as evenly as possibly between the three pots that we had.

Compost bin.  Soil mixed with compost.  Purchased basil re-potted with compost.
So there you have it.  We used our first bit of compost.  Did it help?  You tell me.  The above picture was at the beginning of June.  This was taken at the end of July:

Our basil exploded!!  I can only assume it was from the wonderful compost that we got.  I’m so excited to have all this basil.  I’ve been making so much with it!  It’s so nice to be able to go out on our patio and pick dinner.  It doesn’t get more local than that!  With all the abundance of basil that I have left over, I plan on making lots of pesto and freezing it.  So this winter, when all I want is Chicken Pesto Pizza, I can have it!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Zucchini-Spice Cupcakes

Every summer there always seems to be an abundance of zucchini.  What a great problem to have!  Zucchini can be very healthy for you.  But recipe after recipe, I couldn’t find any that really tasted great.  The only way I liked zucchini, so it seemed, was diced into some Asian dish.  And I don’t cook Asian.  I go to Asian restaurants.  [sidenote: I just purchased a wok, so I’m hoping this changes soon].

Enter, Martha Stewart.

If you haven’t invested in this book and you are a cupcake fan, then let me convince you.  Every single thing I’ve tried in here has been phenomenal.  Not good.  Phenomenal.

My absolute favorite [so far, I’ve yet to try all the recipes] is Zucchini-Spice Cupcakes.  They are definitely one of my most requested cakes, and it’s easy to see why.  Not only do they taste aaaamazing, but there’s just a little part of you that feels like it’s not that bad for you.  I mean, come on.  They’re zucchini.  ;)

The recipe calls for 3 cups of grated zucchini.  I usually use one medium size zucchini.  But if all I have is a large one, they I’ll save the rest for the second batch … or maybe I freeze it.  [ok let’s be honest, I just make more cupcakes, ok?  Can I help they make a yummy breakfast??]  But back to the grated zucchini.  I don’t know if you all are still using hand graters.  You know, ones I’m talking about.  Well, don’t.  Ugh!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scraped myself on the knuckle or lost the tip of my fingernail using one of those things.  Gross!!  A few years ago, I upgraded to the Townecraft King Kutter:

It’s such a wonderful kitchen gadget.  Recently, I got the Kitchen Aid attachment (which is so similar to the King Kutter, it’s kind of crazy).

Use one of these to grate your zucchini.  Your fingers will thank you.

Ohhh and one more tip.  The recipe doesn’t say anything about it, but I always leave the seeds mixed in with the zucchini, and bake it into the cake.  Why not?  It’s just added fiber, right?  :)

I’ll leave the rest to Martha …

Zucchini-Spice Cupcakes
3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 cups packed light-brown sugar
3 cups packed grated zucchini (about ½ zucchini)
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Cream-Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. In another bowl, whisk together oil, eggs, vanilla, and zest until well blended; whisk in brown sugar until smooth. Stir in zucchini, then add flour mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in walnuts.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.

To finish, use a small offset spatula to spread cupcakes with frosting. Refrigerate up to 3 days in airtight containers; bring to room temperature before serving.

Cream-Cheese Frosting

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 pound (4 cups) confectioners’ sugar
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and cream cheese until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add sugar, ½ cup at a time, and then vanilla, and mix until smooth and combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.

If not using immediately, frosting can be refrigerated up to 3 days in an airtight container; before using, bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth again.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Lady Jane

A few months ago, I met up with some friends from college for lunch.  I was the first one at the restaurant, so instead of waiting at a table by myself, I decided to explore a few shops around the town until the others got there.  I stumbled upon an amazing vintage boutique called “The Lady Jane.”  What this place lacked in size, it far exceeded in character.  The collection of rustic, romantic antiques was perfect!!  It was immediate love at first site.

Shortly after falling in love with nearly every single piece in the place, my friends called and I had to leave.  That was probably best for my wallet, but my heart was broken.  I couldn’t wait to grab my sister and haul her off for an afternoon spent in this little shop, completely dreaming up how we’d redecorate our entire houses, as if money were no object.

Last week, Lady celebrated her one year anniversary of being opened.  She, being the awesome lady she is, decided to host a week of giveaways.  Of course, I entered every chance I could.  On the second day of giveaways, she gave away my absolute faaaavorite item – a small glass domed cupcake holder.  Eeeeekkk!!!  I just hhhhhad to have them.  Y’all know how much I bake!  And wouldn’t you know I *just* whipped up a batch of these:

Ohhh so pretty, but wouldn’t she be beaut in her own cupcake holder??  I just had to win.  I just had to!  No one could possibly want this as much as me!

Well, I didn’t.  Bummmm-er.  I knew she had more in the store, but with the 5-week old baby at home, would I ever get back to the shop to snatch it up before someone else did?

The next day I tried to redeem myself and entered the next giveaway from Lady Jane.  This time it was for a gift certificate.  One for you and one for a friend.  Wouldn’t you know, it was for the exact amount that those cupcake holders cost?  And wouldn’t you know… I won!!!  And the perfect thing was, I gave the other certificate to my sister!

So on Saturday, we did just what I planned.  We packed up the stroller, took little man along for the ride, and spent the afternoon gabbing about how we’d redecorate our entire spaces with antiques.  And this little puppy came home with me.

See!  Doesn’t she look so much happier in her own stand?  :)

I know I’m blessed.  There’s no doubt about that!  But this is just another example of the little things that God does in our lives.  He knows the desires of our heart.  And when we let Him, He gives them to us.  I know it was just a silly little material position, and as much as I wanted it, I knew I didn’t need it.  So when I got it, I was just a little giddy, and very, very thankful.

Now, about those Zucchini-Spice Cupcakes?  Well, they are sooooo delish!  You’ll want to save all the zucchinis out of your garden for making these cupcakes alone.  They are amazing!  Definitely one of my most requested cakes.  And believe me, I get a lot of requests!  ;)

I’ll share the recipe soon.  But if you already have the Martha Stewart Cupcakes book, it’s page 44.  You’re welcome.

Thanks Lady Jane!  I love it!!  :)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Flashback Friday: Cold Camping, Warm Fire

Back over the fall, Matthew’s family got a phone call saying that the family’s old homeplace was being sold and the children, grandchildren, etc needed to come take any of the remaining items they wanted and clear the house out.  So Matthew’s parents reserved a few things for us that were near and dear to our hearts – a set of elk antlers that belonged to Matthew’s grandfather (maybe even his great-grandfather) and a very old claw foot bath tub (one that his grandmother bathed his mother in when she was an infant).  We just had to make the couple hour trip to the homeplace to pick them up.

Matthew suggested we make a trip of it.  He convinced our friends, Gabe and Elizabeth, to go with us (Gabe to help Matthew move that several hundred pound tub down a flight of stairs; and his wife Elizabeth to keep me company!)  The fellas were completely in charge of the trip – they planned for us to go camping on the family’s land and even bought all the essentials and groceries that we would need to stay.  How sweet!  [this was Matthew’s ploy to get me to camp; otherwise I would have stayed in my warm comfy bed at home!!]

So we went.  On possibly the coldest weekend we had that fall.  I was 8 weeks pregnant.  And it was 36 degrees.  So guess who I made hold the flashlight every time I had to get up to pee that night?  My wonderful husband!!  But I don’t think he minded much.  Me?  I just kept envisioning soaking for an hour in that claw foot bathtub!

That night, I slept with underarmor leggings, sweat pants, two pairs of socks, a shirt, a sweater, a sweatshirt, a toboggan on my head, and a headband/ear warmers on my face (over my nose).  It was ridiculous!!

And here’s what my husband wore:  

I may have been pregnant, but I hadn’t gotten to the “hot part” of pregnancy yet.  Darn.

Despite the cold, we had so much fun!!  The guys found a canoe and made their own oars.

While hunting through the woods, Gabe found a spread.  Matthew found a bear…

We visited the family graveyard, and what was left of the original house.

Was this an old organ??

Oh, hello, snake skin.

It was amazing to discover all these things and see the life of my husband’s family.  Not only was it such a gorgeous place, but it was just something about it.  When we visited the land, the old home, the family graveyard, I felt a connection to these people that I (or my husband) had never been able to meet.  Maybe it was the feel of it all, or maybe it was just the pregnancy hormones, but I found myself several times in tears.  It was such a wonderful trip!!!  Even if I couldn’t feel my toes or noses and had to rough it way out of my comfort zone for one night. 

We went to pick up material possessions, but the things we discovered were much grander than that.  The things we got to bring home … they were just a bonus.  The claw foot bathtub, may need a little work.

But those elk antlers fit perfectly around our fireplace.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Taco Pie

Last night I tried something new.  I’ve been doing a lot of new things, come to think of it.  But this was something I was shocked I had never done before.  Let’s face it – I know my way around the kitchen, and sometimes I think I practically live there.  There have been days/nights I wondered why I didn’t just throw a cot in the corner for cat naps and keep going in the kitchen more.  Even through that all, I have never… EVER made… a pie.

Isn’t that ridiculous?  I own several pie plates.  I have a pie crust shield, pie crust rolling mat, I even have pie weights.  But nope.  Never made a pie!

So enough was enough.  Let’s just take the plunge.

Can I confess though, that I feel like I cheated?  No, I didn’t buy a store bought crust.  But this wasn’t your typical fill-it-with-fruit-or-some-other-gooey-goodness run-of-the-mill pie.  It was Taco Pie.  I found it on Pinterest, here.

Be still my heart.  YES it was delicious!!

[ohhh and I only feel like I cheated because it doesn’t have your typical pie-crust.  It’s more like a crust that you’d find on… cheesecakes.  Now cheesecake.  I’m experienced with those!!]

The crust is butter, milk, taco seasoning, and potato flakes.  Yes, I have potato flakes in my pantry, and NO I do not eat imitation potatoes.  I use them in other things.  Mashed potatoes have to be … mashed po-tat-oes!  *steps down from soap box*

Mix those things, mash it in the bottom of a pie plate.  Add browned meat and onions (that’s been seasoned with taco seasoning and BBQ sauce).  The original recipe said to bake it for 30-35 minutes.  Mine was in there 25 minutes and as you can tell, it shouldn’t have taken that long!

Once it cools a little bit, add a layer of cheddar cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes.  Top it with sour cream if you’d like.

WOW it’s yummy!!  It was all the greatness of tacos, but with less mess.

Although I will warn you.  If you try to serve it fresh out of the oven (as I did because 1 – I could not wait to try it, it smelled sooooo good and 2 – Oliver could not wait for mommy to feed him!) it will fall apart.  Don’t all good pies do that anyway?  :)  just trying to reassure myself.

After feeding the littlest one, I came back for seconds and it had cooled enough to actually maintain pie form.  It was just as delicious either way.

Taco Pie
¼ cup butter
⅔ cup milk
1 package taco seasoning mix
2 ½ cups mashed potato flakes
1 pound ground beef (or deer burger, as I used)
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup barbecue sauce
1 cup shredded lettuce
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 cup sharp cheddar, shredded
sour cream, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium sauce pan, melt butter.

Add milk and 2 tablespoons of taco seasoning mix. Remove from heat and stir in potato flakes until incorporated. Press mixture over bottom of 9 inch pie plate.

In a medium skillet, cook beef and onions until beef is browned and onions are tender. Drain off fat and stir in remaining taco mix and barbecue sauce. Cook while stirring until bubbly, then pour into prepared potato crust.

Bake uncovered in oven for 25 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, and then top with cheddar cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. Cut and serve with sour cream.