Baked Pumpkin French Toast

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Here we are on the brink of the holiday season and I am feeling peculiarly calm. In past years, I often end up frazzled and overwhelmed with the thoughts of the china that needs cleaned, gifts that need purchased, cards to be mailed, cookies to bake, and negotiating work and vacation time. So much so that I would basically breathe a sigh of relief when January rolled around. I really don’t like that trait about myself; the fact that I am always thinking ahead to the next step and I forget to enjoy the present. There is a quote I really love, “Wherever you are, be all there.” My goal this holiday season is to be all there. To soak it up and to actually savor the Thanksgiving turkey we’ve worked so hard to prepare, to sing along with the Christmas tunes blaring through the speakers, and to put my phone away when we’re curled up on the couch watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

One of the ways I’ve improved my ability to be more relaxed during this hectic time of year is to make dishes that can be prepared ahead of time (superb timing for a cookbook release, Ina Garten!). This baked pumpkin french toast is a perfect example and would be great for Thanksgiving weekend if you have guests staying over or it would make a fabulous addition to a Christmas morning brunch. It’s warm and comforting and really lovely served with a little drizzle of maple syrup and a tall glass of cold milk.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Here’s to focusing on the now and enjoying today.

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Baked Pumpkin French Toast

Yield: Serves 12

Ingredients

  • 1 loaf stale French Bread (stale bread soaks up the liquid better than fresh)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (I used almond milk when I made it)
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the streusel topping:

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into pieces

Directions

1. Grease a 9×13 inch casserole dish with cooking spray. Cut the french bread into 1 inch cubes and place in the dish in an even layer. Set aside.

2. Make the streusel: stir together the flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Scatter the butter over the flour mixture and use your (clean) hands to combine until it looks like oatmeal flakes. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

3. Assemble the french toast: Place the milk, pumpkin, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl and whisk together until well-combined. Carefully pour this mixture over the bread. If the bread pieces aren’t fully submerged or they start to float, you can gently press them down with your fingertips. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

4. When you are ready to make the french toast, remove the casserole dish from the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven preheats, sprinkle the streusel topping on top of the bread chunks. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the french toast is puffed up and golden brown. Remove from oven and serve with maple syrup. Enjoy!

Source: Two Peas and Their Pod

Homestead Living: Making Apple Butter

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My mother-in-law’s family has a rich tradition of making homemade apple butter in a big copper kettle. As it was our first year back in the country, we thought it would be fun to have our city friends up for a weekend with a little cultural experience, if you will.

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The whole process starts very early on a Saturday morning when someone (not me!)  fires up the heat source and begins cooking down several gallons of fresh apple cider.

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Once the cider has been reduced to about half of the volume, things start to get a little cray cray.  A large stockpot of homemade applesauce (made with local golden delicious apples and cider) is added, followed by several cups of granulated sugar. Then, according to the lore of the apple butter masters, one must keep stirring the mixture AT ALL TIMES until the desired consistency is achieved. This way, the sauce doesn’t burn and everyone’s day isn’t ruined. The stirring is done with this long, wooden apparatus, pictured below, and the passing off between stirrers can be compared to an intense relay. Or maybe it just feels like that to me.

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When the optimal apple butter thickness has been achieved, the kettle is removed from heat and a sprinkle (not more than a teaspoon) of ground cinnamon is mixed in. An assembly line is formed and the piping hot delicious goodness is ladled into clean jars, topped with lids, and allowed to seal.

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When it was all said and done, it had taken us about 5 hours from start to finish to create this tasty topping. I made a brunch for everyone to enjoy and there was plenty of hot coffee and donuts to fuel us through the rest of the day. A fun time was had by all and I am hoping we can extend this lovely tradition into the future and continue to include both our families and our friends.

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Spooky Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies

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Halloween week is here! This year is extra exciting because it’s our first time celebrating with our little beefcake. Since he is crawling and on the move, I decided to make Smith a turtle costume so he could participate in the fun. My sewing abilities leave much to be desired, so the turtle shell may not make it through All Hallows’ Eve. Oh well. I am hopeful my costume-making skills will improve exponentially as Smith grows older.  After all, Halloween has long been one of my favorite holidays and I want to share (and probably vicariously relive) that same fun and excitement with my kids.

I have so many fond memories of Beggar’s Night.  Trick-or-treating wasn’t widely-celebrated in our part of the county, so my parents would take us to a neighborhood across town where some of my parent’s good friends lived. Oh baby, was it the motherload of all neighborhoods. The majority of the houses handed out full-sized candy bars and there were fabulous decorations. There were even a few people who foolishly left baskets of candy unattended outside. Looking back, I’m wondering if this was some sort of child psychology experiment; in which case, I surely failed.

After we’d made our rounds in the subdivision, we would go home and divide our candy into piles and revel in all the sugar that sat before us.  I can vividly remember lying on the carpet in our living room one Halloween, still in my costume, and pouring all of my candy over my body in pure joy. Life, for the moment, was perfect.

As for the recipe…. I made these spooky chocolate sugar cookies in the spirit of Halloween this past weekend. They are a great break from the traditional sugar cut-out cookies and I will definitely be keeping this treat in my mind for future baking endeavors. Smith is still too young to eat cookies, but I’m hopeful he and I can start baking up Halloween sweets in the years to come. Right now, though, I’m having too much fun enjoying my little turtle. 😊

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Spooky Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies

Yield: 3-4 dozen cookies (depending on the cutters you use)

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

For the royal icing

  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 6 tablespoons water

Directions

1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside. In a small bowl, stir together the vanilla and instant espresso so that the espresso powder begins to dissolve. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar and butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides as needed. Next, add in the vanilla/espresso mix and the cocoa powder. Beat until well-combined. Scraped down the bottom and sides of the bowl to ensure the ingredients are well-incorporated. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

2. While the dough chills, make the royal icing. Place the powder sugar and meringue powder in a bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk together the powdered sugar and meringue powder. Gradually add in the water. You may need to add more based on the desired thickness. Store in an airtight container until ready for use.

3. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out a fourth of the dough on a lightly-floured surface to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cut out cookies using the cutters of your choice (I used a standard gingerbread cookie and bat for this particular batch). Place unbaked cookie cut outs on baking sheets lined with silicone sheets or parchment paper. Bake for 9-11 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow cookies to cook on a baking rack.

4. To decorate, place royal icing in piping bag fitted with small round tip. Pipe decoration as desired. Allow the royal icing to harden completely before adding facial features with toothpick and black food coloring.

Source: Cookies slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen 

Apple Bran Muffins

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This past month I have been trying to change my eating habits for the better. While I do make an effort to cook a lot of meals from scratch and we have limited supplies of pre-packaged snacks/treats in our house, I do tend to gravitate towards recipes that are higher in sugar and saturated fats. Yes, new research shows that real butter is much better for us than the trans fat-laden margarine; but, as with most things in life, moderation is the key. Ain’t that the hard truth?  Rats.

My breakfast of choice is usually oatmeal, cereal, or a smoothie; but on the days that I work, I prefer a quick meal I can eat on the go. Enter these muffins. Most muffin recipes are just disguised as cupcakes without frosting. These particular bran muffins, however, are different. There isn’t much added sugar and they are chock full of wheat bran and fruit and whole wheat pastry flour replaces the standard all-purpose flour. I make a batch and store them in the freezer so I can easily grab one as my little guy and I are shuffling out the door in the morning on the way to drop him off at Grandma’s.

Another bonus is that you can easily substitute other fruits and/or add in nuts. It’s very much a customizable muffin. If you’re looking for a fast and nutritious breakfast on those busy mornings, this is the recipe for you.

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Apple Bran Muffins

Yield: 2 dozen muffins

Ingredients 

  • 2 2/3 cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups wheat bran
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons raw sugar (or regular granulated sugar), for sprinkling on top
  • 2 cups chopped apples (I used Golden Delicious)
  • 1 cup raisins

Directions 

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line 2 standard muffin tins with cupcake liners. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, vegetable oil, brown sugar, and vanilla. In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (wheat bran, pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt).

Gently fold the dry ingredients into the buttermilk mixture, being careful not to over mix and stirring until only a few streaks of the flour mixture remain. Add in the apple chunks and raisins and mix just until combined. Again, do not over mix.

Using a large spoon, or 2 inch ice cream scooper, evenly divide the batter into the muffin tins. The liners will be pretty full. Sprinkle the raw (or you can use granulated) sugar over top of the muffins. Bake for 16-18 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time. Remove from heat and allow to cool on a baking rack for about 10 minutes. Remove from the tins and allow to cool longer.

Source: Adapted from Smitten Kitchen 

Maple Vinaigrette

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After 28 years of deliberation, I have decided to declare October my favorite month of the year. The Autumn sunlight is gorgeous against the rich hues of gold and burgundy saturating the leaves,  it’s perfect weather to break out those throw blankets and candles and watch Harry Potter movies, I adore the earthy flavors of the seasonal produce, and I love to reminisce to my days of trick-or-treating in my youth every Halloween. As our first Autumn back in the country, I find myself especially inspired by all the beautiful scenery. Sometimes the views are so breathtaking that I feel compelled to pull my car over when I’m driving to/from work and snap pictures on my iPhone. I’m usually disappointed that I can’t capture what I am experiencing. Autumn involves all five senses and there just isn’t an Instagram filter for that, folks

Onto the recipe…

Though I know maple syrup is collected and boiled down in the spring (thanks to  the knowledge of our friends who started to tap their own sugar maple tree), I crave this local topping in the Autumn. It pairs so well with the flavors of fall and I recently found an especially delicious maple vinaigrette for our greens.  It is the perfect combination of tart and sweet and it is positively scrumptious served with a salad that is adorned with chicken, goat cheese, sugared walnuts, dried cherries, and apples.  My own green vegetable-leary husband gladly chowed down on our dinners when this dressing was available. Do yourself a favor and add this simple vinaigrette to your repertoire. You will be happy you did.

Happy fall, everyone. To get you in the spirit, I’ve included some pictures of Autumn at our homestead below.

 Maple Vinaigrette 

Yield: About 3/4 cup dressing

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Directions

Place all ingredients into a mason jar with a lid or a dressing shaker. Shake vigorously until ingredients are well-combined. Serve over salad of your choice. Store leftovers sealed in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Source: Adapted from Smells Like Home

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The view from our from our front porch. I took this particular picture on a chilly Sunday morning when I was still dressed in my red pajamas, robe, and bright pink slippers. I wonder what our Amish neighbors think of their crazy neighbor who is always snapping photos outside. :)

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These are our sheep: Molesly (in the back), Daisy (on the left), and Mrs. Patmore (right). They are fabulous lawn mowers and they will eat grain right out of your hand.  In other news- I will never eat mutton again. IMG_2767

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Smith got to go on his first 4-wheeler ride. We went at a snail’s pace and used extreme caution. He loved it!

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My little pumpkin and his mini pumpkin that his cousin Jack gave him.

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Vanilla Bourbon Caramel Apples

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It’s a caramel apple with a kick, folks. Except the “kick” is cooked off in the process and is present to simply add a little bit of extra dimension to the standard Autumn confection. I made these bad boys for a friend’s baby shower over the summer. The theme was “The Giving Tree” and it only seemed fitting. This treat is much more appropriate now that apple season is in full swing.

As always, making caramel can be finicky and I often get myself all flustered and nervous in the process that I almost undoubtedly ruin the first batch. That’s exactly what happened in this case. I should have calibrated my candy thermometer before I started, but I didn’t, and I thought it would be wise to let it go just a touch past the 245 degree mark; just in case. I’m not really sure why I thought that was a good idea; but I had morphed into a semi-panicked, self-doubting lass as the process neared its end. I had the same feelings of unease as I did while I was watching the final scenes of Argo. Clearly, I have a bit of a warped perspective on caramel-making. It was no surprise when the caramel started to cool that it had reached the hard-ball stage and could easily be used as a make-shift weapon. So those ingredients went down the drain and I started again. I got it together, and the end product was much better.

I’m hoping to make these again soon. With a renewed sense of confidence in my back pocket.

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A few pictures from the shower I co-hosted with my lovely friends, Jess and Chelsea. 

Chelsea constructed this adorable tree

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Jess made most of the delicious, apple-themed food

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Chelsea’s cheese “branches” and chocolate pretzel “bark”

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I made apple cupcakes (vanilla buttercream)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I made apple cupcakes (vanilla bean with vanilla buttercream)

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The beautiful new mama

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And, of course, the apple of my eye. My boy.

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HAPPY OCTOBER!

Vanilla Bourbon Caramel Apples

Ingredients

8 medium-sized apples (I used Gala)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup bourbon
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

8 wooden craft or popsicle sticks

Directions

1. Remove stems from apples and push the popsicle stick inside each. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly coat it with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan (bigger is better to avoid overflow), stir together the sugar, cream, bourbon, corn syrup, butter, and salt. Cook over medium high heat , stirring constantly, and bring to a boil. Attach a candy thermometer to the side and cook without stirring until temperature reaches 245 degrees F (about 20-25vminutes). Do not leave the caramel because it can heat very quickly towards the end of the process.

3. Once it reaches 245 degrees, remove from heat. Carefully stir in vanilla (it will bubble violently). Dip apples immediately, sprinkle with toppings (if desired) and place on wax paper. Let sit in the fridge until firm, about 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container or wrap in cellophane to keep them fresh for a few days.

Source: Slightly adapted from How Sweet It Is

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

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Do you feel that crisp bite of cold in the morning air? Autumn has officially made its debut in Ohio. We’ve been in our new home for over five months now, and I am already adoring our first Fall here as a family. There are beautiful shades of maroon and yellow leaves starting to sprinkle the view from our front porch and it has validated our decision to move back to the country even more. Our area even made National Geographic’s top 10 list of places to see Autumn Leaves  (we’re number three!).

Another inevitable feature of this time of year is the pumpkin mania. Everywhere you turn there are people running around, all jacked-up with crazy excitement over this squash. I understand these feelings, and I am probably one of those people; but, while I do love this seasonal flavor, I try to keep the crazed love of all things pumpkin spice in check until the weather and calendar starts to reflect its arrival. Call me an old curmudgeon, but I was kind of disgusted with Starbucks’ decision to serve Pumpkin Spice Lattes before Labor Day. Midwest humidity and hot, nutmeg-laden drinks don’t mix, folks. Just my opinion. I’m sure Starbucks could serve PSL in June and tons of people would buy them.  To each his own.

Anyways, moving on to these pancakes.

On the particular Sunday morning that I made this breakfast dish, our little rump roast was up and ready to party at 5am. I scooped up my little ball of meat and cuddled him in our living room while the morning sun peaked above the trees. It was a chilly morning and I got the urge to add an Autumn spin to our favorite Sunday Morning Pancakes. All it took was cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and pumpkin puree and it was a little Fall explosion in our kitchen. Robert isn’t crazy about pumpkin spice, but he gave these pancakes a thumbs up. And, wouldn’t you know it- our little  two-toothed baby boy also enjoyed these for a special breakfast treat.

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Smith approves.

 

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Pumpkin Spice Pancakes 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 2 Tbsp canned pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 heaping tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp pumpkin spice

Directions

1. Preheat a skillet over medium heat. Use a pan with a nonstick surface or apply a little nonstick spray.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. In a separate small bowl, mix together the egg, buttermilk, pumpkin puree, and oil. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk together until smooth. Allow the batter to sit for about 5 minutes.

3. Pour the batter by a 1/4 cup measuring cup into the hot pain, forming 5-inch circles.

4. When the edges appear to harden, flip the pancakes. They should be light brown.

5. Cook on the other side for the same amount of time, until light brown. Do not press down on the pancakes with a spatula- this makes them dense as opposed to light and fluffy.

Recipe from: Adapted from A Treasury of Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur

 

 

 

Caramelized Onion and Spinach Egg Casserole

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Sometimes, if I am lucky, my workday schedule works out well enough that I am able to eat lunch and catch up on documentation at a Panera Bread in the next county over. I’ve been there enough times now that I have noticed that there is an elderly couple that eats there on a regular basis. Being as I work with many members of the geriatric population, I know that not all old people are “cute” as I have heard many people say. In fact, there are a lot of really not-so-nice individuals in this age group just as there are in every other age range. However, this aformentioned couple is absolutely adorable. The husband dotes on his wife, they share their food, and they swap sections of the newspaper with each other. The employees call them by their first name and pay extra special attention to this couple. Whenever the staff are giving out free samples, they always start with these two. An observation I have duly noted, by the way.

Their love for each other is so endearing, I can barely stand it. The last time they were there when I was, I found myself daydreaming of Robert and me starting this tradition when we retire. Finding a cute little cafe to go to, where we can eat a couple times a week; and there will be nothing else on our schedule for the day. Though retirement is a long (LONG) way off, I hope that if this dream is realized, we will be enjoying dishes similar to this caramelized onion and spinach egg casserole. In my opinion, it’s the perfect dining option for a leisurely brunch. Caramelized onion, spinach, crusty artisan bread, and sharp swiss cheese make for a fabulous and hearty meal.

I served this for a get together with some dear friends about a month ago and it was very well-received. Robert was a little hesitant because of the spinach, but I know he will come around before I make this again. At least, he better get on board in time for all of the glorious lunch dates I have planned for us in about 35 years.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Make it extra special by whipping up this casserole.

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Caramelized Onion and Spinach Egg Casserole 

Yield: 8-12 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 cups 1-inch cubed day-old bread (I used leftover Artisan Bread)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced (lengthwise)
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
  • 12 oz fresh spinach, cleaned well
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 10 large eggs
  • 8 oz (about 2 cups) sharp Swiss cheese, grated and divided
  • 2 oz (about 1 cup) Parmesan cheese, grated and divided
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter and oil. Add in the onions, sugar, thyme, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Allow mixture to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are a golden brown (about 30 minutes). Add the spinach to the pan over the onions and cover the pan. Cook for 2 minutes and then start mixing the spinach into the onions with tongs. Cover the pan and cook for another minute; continuing to stir until spinach has wilted into the onion mixture. You may have to gradually add in the spinach, depending on the size of your pan. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  2. While the vegetables cool,  add the cream and milk into a large bowl. Whisk in the mustard, eggs, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper until well-beaten. Stir in 1 ½ cups of the Swiss and ¾ cup of the Parmesan cheeses.
  3. Spread the cubes of bread in a greased, 9x13in baking dish. Top the bread with the onion-spinach mixture. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the bread and onion-spinach mixture, making sure to cover all of the bread. Scatter the remaining cheese over the top. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.
  4. When you are ready to make the casserole, remove the casserole from the refrigerator to allow the dish to warm up while the oven preheats. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Place the dish on a baking sheet. Bake until the casserole gets puffy and is golden brown, about 65-75 minutes. Allow the casserole to stand for 5 minutes before cutting and serving. Enjoy!

Source: Barely adapted from Smells Like Home 

S’mores Cupcakes

 

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I made these cupcakes for my beloved childhood friend, Jamie, last week. She turned the big 2-8 and I wanted to make her something special. S’mores are such a ubiquitous summer treat and they always bring back such happy memories. I often think back to those hot and balmy Ohio summer sleepovers spent with Jamie and our close group of girlfriends. The crickets chirping and fireflies lighting up the night sky. It sounds like a cheesy country song, but we had a lot of fun. We’d laugh into the early hours of the morning and talk about the boys we had crushes on and who was the hottest member of The Backstreet Boys (I was always fond of Kevin.) There also may or may not be “lost” footage of our homemade music videos somewhere in the stratosphere. This was the time period when I was under the delusion that I was a good dancer. My signature move was the shoulder shrug.

I remember wondering, back then, how life would be when we all “grew up.” Fast forward almost 2 decades and here we are. Some are married, some have children, and all seem to be doing very well in their respective careers. I still try to keep in touch with most of the group (social media can be productive), but I am closest with Jamie. She is such an exceptional person. I often marvel at her ability to make friends with anyone as well as her intellectual mind and hilarious wit. Whenever I have the pleasure of getting together with Jamie, I always leave feeling enriched and re-fueled. Some friendships withstand, and even strengthen, with the test of time. I am lucky to say that is the case for Jamie and me.

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Celebrate this summer and make these portable campfire treats today!

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S’mores Cupcakes

Yield: 2 dozen standard cupcakes

Ingredients

For the Graham Cracker Crust:

  • 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 5 1/3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

For the Cupcakes:

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons freshly brewed coffee
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Marshmallow Frosting:

  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

1. Make the graham cracker crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place cupcake liners in 2 standard cupcake pans. Set aside. In a small bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter until mixture is combined. Scoop a heaping tablespoon into each cupcake liner and gently press down to pack the crust. Bake for 5 minutes and allow to cool on cooling racks while you make the cupcake batter. Keep the oven on.

2. Make the cupcakes: In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip together the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium, then add the eggs one at a time until well combined (scraping down the sides as necessary). Add in the vanilla and mix well.

In another medium-sized bowl, whisk together the sour cream, buttermilk, and coffee. Next, in a third bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt). With the mixer on low, add the buttermilk and flour mixtures alternately in thirds, beginning with the buttermilk and ending with the flour. Be careful not to over mix the batter- mix until just combined.

Scoop the batter into the cupcake liners that are filled with the graham cracker crust. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely.

3. Make the marshmallow frosting:  Place the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in a bowl set over a pan of a few inches of simmering water. Warm the mixture, whisking constantly, until it reaches 160° F with a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and move the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Begin mixing at low speed and slowly move to medium-high speed until stiff and shiny peaks form. Mix in the vanilla until well-incorporated.  Place the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a closed star tip and decorate as desired. Toast with a kitchen torch and top with chocolate, if desired.

Source: Cupcakes from Ina Garten, Frosting and Graham Cracker Crust from Annie’s Eats

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homestead Living: How to Make Homemade Pizza

 

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If there’s a food I can eat every week (maybe even everyday), it’s pizza. There are so many variations that it’s hard to tire of it. Plus, who doesn’t love melty, bubbly cheese and chewy bread?

A few years ago, Robert bought me a pizza stone and a pizza peel after we discovered the life-changing book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. We made a lot of bread; but then we decided to start dabbling with homemade pizza. We experimented with several different oven temperatures and doughs as well as different methods of getting the pizza onto the stone. This involved making a lot of pizza and also creepily watching the chefs in the kitchens of pizza joints when we went out to eat. It was a pretty rough assignment. And by pretty rough, I mean it was glorious.

I’m happy to report that all of that “hard work” has paid off and Bert and I are now able to make delicious pizza in our own kitchen. It’s fast, easy, economical, and i think I may even prefer our version to take out. I usually make a batch of dough about once every 2 weeks and leave it in the fridge for nights where I don’t have as much time to prepare a meal. On those nights, I grab whatever ingredients we have on hand and make a pizza pie for us to enjoy. That’s amore, my friends.

In order to make the best homemade pizza, you will need to invest in a good ceramic pizza stone. This really is key. You can get away with not having a pizza peel, but the stone is crucial. It allows the pizza crust to start baking as soon as that dough hits the hot stone and it provides you with that fabulous, chewy bread base that we all crave. I also like to use parchment paper underneath the pizza when I transport it onto the stone. I’ve tried putting cornmeal on the peel, but it ended in a calzone-gone-bad tragedy 9 times out of 10. I just decided to play it safe and keep the parchment paper handy. And, as I stated above, you don’t need a pizza peel if you don’t want one. You can transport the pizza to the stone using a cookie sheet or cutting board as long as you keep the parchment paper underneath.

Once you have your stone, you are ready to start making your very own scrumptious homemade pizza! I promise you you won’t be disappointed.

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First up…. You have to make the dough. And it couldn’t be easier. Here is the no-knead recipe we love:

Olive Oil Dough

Ingredients 

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 3/4 cup lukewarm, NOT HOT,  water (I microwave mine for 1 minute in the microwave)
  • 6  1/2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

Directions

Place the yeast, salt, sugar, olive oil, and water in a large plastic bowl (I use a 1 gallon Rubbermaid container with a lid).

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Next, add in the 6 1/2 cups of flour. I have substituted whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour in the past, but I found the taste is best if you use half whole wheat flour and half white flour if you are looking for a little extra nutrition in your pizza crust.

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Use a wooden spoon to give all the ingredients a good stir until the dough starts to come together. It’s okay if a few clumps of flour remain. It usually takes me about 20-25 stirs of the spoon to get the right consistency. You will need to use a little elbow grease, but it will be worth it!

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Lightly place a lid on the container on the dough. Don’t seal it completely. Allow the dough to rest for 2-5 hours in a warm, dry area. I always allow my dough to rise on our kitchen countertop, away from the sink. The dough will puff up and start to press on the lid. At this point, you can either fasten the lid and refrigerate the dough for a later time or you can use the dough immediately.

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When you are ready to use the dough, dust your hands with flour and take a grapefuit-sized hunk from the bowl. Use one hand to grab a small handful of flour and then dust or “cloak” the dough with flour and smooth it into a ball. Place the ball of dough on a sheet of parchment paper and allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes (if you are using the dough right after you let it rise, you don’t need to let the dough rest and you can proceed to shaping it right away). The resting allows the dough to warm up, which makes it less elastic and easier to stretch into a beautiful base.

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While the dough rests, place your pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven for a solid 20 minutes. If you are using a standard “bake” setting on an oven, preheat to 515 degrees. If you are using a “convection” setting, preheat to 485 degrees. These may seem like really high temperatures and you may be concerned that your oven is going to explode, but the temperature is the key to getting a great crust. I recommend using an oven thermometer to ensure the temperature you are setting your oven on is correct. You’d be surprised how inaccurate some appliances can be.

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While the oven is preheating and your dough is resting, you can prepare your toppings. Get creative- the possibilities are endless!

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Once the dough has rested, it’s time to assemble your pizza pie. Shaping the dough can take some practice. The important thing to remember is to respect the dough. Don’t fight it. If you start trying to stretch it and it is still pretty elastic or you are tearing holes in it, carefully mold the dough back into a ball, and place it back down on the parchment paper and let it rest for a little longer. The more your work the dough, the more the gluten develops and it can cause a tough crust if you get overzealous. If the dough is sticky, you can always dust your hands or the dough with more flour.

There are a few ways you can stretch the dough. You can hold the ball between your hands and gently let gravity pull the dough downward and then you can carefully turn the dough, kind of like your are turning a steering wheel. You can also stretch the dough a little bit and then drape it over your fists and then gently pull the dough outward with your knuckles and even flip the dough in the air (this never ends well for me). Or, if you are wanting to ease into the dough-making business, you can just push the dough out into a disc on the parchment paper and then tug it outward until you achieve your desired base.

Always leave more dough at the edge as this will be your crust!

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Next up, add your sauce. Tomato-based, pesto, ranch dressing, olive oil, whatever tickles your fancy.

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Then, add the cheese and toppings. Again, get crazy. This your pie!

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Once all the toppings are on and the oven has preheated, it’s time to bake the pizza. Slide a pizza peel or a cookie sheet underneath the parchment paper and pizza. Open the oven and carefully transport the pizza (with the parchment paper) onto the stone. I’ve found it easiest to do this by getting the pizza peel (or cookie sheet) as close to the stone as possible and at about a 45 degree angle. Then, you flick the wrist that’s holding the peel to scooch the pizza and parchment onto the stone. Again, you can try to do this sans parchment paper. A lot of people use cornmeal, but I’ve never had a lot of luck getting the pizza perfectly onto the stone without the parchment paper. The parchment can withstand high heat and it won’t impact the way the pizza bakes.

Note: parchment paper and wax paper are NOT the same thing! Wax paper will melt onto your pizza at these temperatures. 

If you are using the “bake” setting at 515 degrees, bake for 12-13 minutes. If you are using the “convect” setting, set the timer for 10-11 minutes. You’ll know the pizza is done when the cheese is brown and bubbly and the crust is a golden hue.

When you are ready to take the pizza out of the oven. Use you the peel (or cookie sheet) and place the tip on the edge of the stone and carefully tug the parchment paper and slide the pizza onto the peel completely. Remove, allow to cool, and cut into slices. Enjoy!

Congratulations, you just made homemade pizza. :)

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Source: Dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day