Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Pumpkin Spice Kettle Corn

Have you ever made homemade kettle corn? It's not much different than making Stove-top Popcorn. You just add sugar in with the salt when you pop it. (The foil lid trick that I learned from watching Alton Brown is genius, so make sure you employ that! I explain it here.)
    Well, I just completed making my Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice, and Little Bit (my youngest) asked me to make popcorn, and Squishy (my second youngest) amended that request to be the "caramel kind." I asked her if she meant kettle corn, (which is a rare treat around here because it requires granulated sugar) and she affirmed my assumption. She wanted kettle corn, and I wanted to use my new spice blend, so I combined the two. The final product was delicious, and I knew I couldn't keep the recipe to myself.  The spices do cause it to be a little darker than normal, but nothing that's off-putting. It just speaks more of fall.

Here's the recipe:

Pumpkin Spice Kettle Corn

3 Tbsp organic coconut oil
1/2 cup organic popcorn kernels (mushroom popcorn if you can find it)
1/3 cup organic cane sugar
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp organic Pumpkin Pie Spice**

Place the oil and a few popcorn kernels in a 6-quart metal mixing bowl, or large pot. Cover with heavy-duty aluminum foil and poke 10 slits in the top with a knife.
Place the bowl (or pot) over medium-high heat and shake constantly using tongs to hold the bowl. (I use oven mits when I use a pot.) Once the kernels pop, carefully remove the foil, and add the remaining kernels, sugar, salt, and pumpkin pie spice**.
Re-cover the bowl and return to medium high heat. Continue shaking constantly until the popcorn finishes popping, about 3 minutes.
Remove the bowl from the heat and carefully remove the foil. Let it cool before eating.
**If you are worried about the spices burning, you can sprinkle the pumpkin pie spice blend on after the kernels are popped, before it cools.

Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice

    I don't like the cold. I love the rain, and the cooler weather (in the Spring and the Fall), but I don't like the cold. The one thing that makes it bearable is to be able to cook and bake to my heart's content, without running the risk of making my house unbearably hot. So, while I'm dreading a northern winter that is going to come sooner than I would like, I'm enjoying the fall right now.
    When the weather starts turning cold, I start craving everything that makes me think of fall. The biggest flavor being Pumpkin Pie Spice. I used to get the pre-made spice blend from Trader Joe's to make my fall goodies (like Pumpkin BarsChocolate Pumpkin PiePumpkin Magic MuffinsPumpkin ButterCheesecake Pumpkin Filled CakeChewy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip CookiesCreamy Pumpkin PieNutella Pumpkin Swirl BreadEasy Pumpkin Whoopie PiesPumpkin Cake with Chocolate Ganache, etc.) but sadly, the closest Trader Joe's is now nearly 4 hours away, and I am all out. I don't trust the other blends in the small town store I have to shop from, so I decided to make my own.
     After searching the internet, and my cook books, I decided on this particular blend. It is the exact one that is listed in my Betty Crocker cookbook, and also the one that The Pioneer Woman uses. Those are two of my go-two places for basic recipes, and if it is good enough for them it is good enough for me. (I should note that I found this blend to be a little shy on the nutmeg for my taste, so I add another 1/2 tsp. You should feel free to customize this to your taste. Increase or decrease the amounts of each spice based on what you and your family enjoy. And FYI: I never cook with cloves, but it is something that is included in this blend. I personally think that clove is too strong on it's own for any of my baking needs, so I didn't have any on hand, but Amazon came to the rescue. I order nearly all my organic spices from them, and the 2 day shipping is a life saver! I think the cloves are nicely tamed in this blend, but you can completely omit it, if you are that opposed to it - I know my sister in law is.) ;)
   Immediately following my completion of my new spice blend, I added it to my Postum, my hot cocoa, and my kettle corn. (Yes, I did eat all of that today; and yes, they were delicious.) I wanted to make Pumpkin Spice Pancakes, but I thought I should wait for another day, since my sweets consumption has been more than met today.)
   I hope you enjoy this blend. If you have a blend you like better, let me know! I would love to try it out. And I'm always welcoming new Pumpkin Spice recipes. Keep them coming, all fall long!!

Here's the recipe: (all organic ingredients are encouraged)

Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend

3 Tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg (I add another 1/2 tsp)
1 1/2 tsp ground all-spice
1 1/2 tsp ground clove

Mix all ingredients until thoroughly combined. Store in an airtight container.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Scotcheroos (And explaining my absence)

     I have been MIA for almost a year now. My life has been turned upside down, and I was having a hard time getting through each day with the normal mommy of 5 duties - forget about blogging. But I think I'm finally in a place where I can pick it back up again.
    So, what happened? My mom died. One day she was here, and the next she's waiting on the other side of the vale with all those who have passed before her. I talked to her on the phone, the night before she passed. No life changing conversation, just the usual ever day chit-chat that we found ourselves in multiple times a day. It was just a couple days after Thanksgiving, and we were talking about how the holiday went and what we were doing with left-overs. She had been sick previously, with her yearly annoyance of bronchitis that she always got that time of year, but she said she was pretty much recovered. Completely on the mend and I had planned on seeing her at church the next day. The next morning, I get a call from my dad at 8am saying that my mom passed away. There was no definitive explanation. It was assumed to be a heart attack. She had passed away that morning while getting ready for the day. My dad came downstairs and saw her slumped on the floor by the couch. He asked if she was o.k., and when she didn't answer he came to her and noticed she wasn't breathing. He started CPR and called 911. The paramedics came. She was still warm. They worked on her, and transported her to the emergency room where they continued to try and resuscitate her for 20 minutes until she was pronounced dead. She had just turned 62.
    There was no warning. No drawn out sickness or disease that could have prepared me for losing my sweet mother and best friend. I thought she would be around to see my kids get married and hold her great grand children. She was so young. I thought we had more time. It was just her time to go, and she went. I miss her every day. And even though I still ball my eyes out when I have to think about her passing (like now), I know that this is not the end. She instilled in me a love of the gospel and a testimony that this earthly life is not all there is. We lived before we came here and we will continue on after we leave. It is but a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things, but I have a hard time being patient until I can see her and hold her again.

My mom. Senior year.
    So, that was the first life shattering event that happened over this last year. The next is my wildland firefighter husband getting a captain's position out of state. He accepted the job, and within a few short weeks we moved from southern California to Northwest Idaho. Going from one small town to another, but not having the luxury of being close to a large town. We now live in a sleepy mountain town and I frequently drive hours just so my kids can participate in after school sports. There are no friends or family nearby, and I have felt isolated, alone, and completely out of my element. However, I am adjusting. It's been just over 9 months since my mom passed, and 5 months since we moved. There are positives in everything, you just have to look for them. And I'm looking hard!

My old view looked out onto a town of about 1600 people, but just over the hills I could find myself in towns bigger than 200,000 people. Every restaurant and store imaginable, available to me on every whim.
And a warm sandy beach wasn't that far off either.

This is my current view looking out over a town of about 1100 people, and I have to drive 1 1/2 hours to get to the closest "big" towns that are about 30,000 people. And forget about a warm ocean beach.

I do miss the beauty of the desert sometimes.

Especially the sunsets, that I have yet seen to be matched.

But, the mountains do have a beauty all their own. And I consider myself blessed to live here. I just have to keep focusing on the positives, to keep going every day. Views like this make that a much easier task.

So what now?
    I will continue to blog my recipes for you guys (and myself).  As you may have noticed over the last 2 years, most of my cooking lately has been all organic and free of any highly processed sugars/foods (white sugar/white flour, etc.). But, I will be posting some recipes that hold fond memories, like these Scotcheroos, that don't fall into my healthy eating lifestyle, but are a part of me non the less. My grandma used to make these, and my dad now makes these, and my mom even made them from time to time (although she much rather enjoyed eating them than making them). I haven't made these in over a year, but it was the last blog post that I was working on when my snow-globe of a life was given a good shaking, so I thought I would start here.
    The recipe is not healthy, and is full of processed ingredients, but it is a childhood memory for me, and something that makes me think of my family, especially my mom, so here it is. (I have been tinkering with making a healthier version, but I haven't worked out all the kinks yet. I'll share it when I get it just right.)
   Have you had Scotcheroos before? When I was little, I surmised that they were called Scotcheroos because of the butterscotch chips and the O cereal made the "oos." I'm not sure what the reason behind the name is, but if you've never had it before it's yummy. A chewy peanut butter mixture holds together cereal into whatever shape you want, while butterscotch and chocolate chips are the finishing touches on top. You can mix the melted chips together, layer them, or decoratively splatter them all over the top like I did to make the simple cereal treat look extra special. There's not really any way to mess these up. They always taste delicious.

Here's my grandma's recipe:

Chocolate Scotcheroos

1C sugar
1C white corn syrup
1C peanut butter
6 cups o shaped cereal
1 bag chocolate chips (2 cups)
1 bag butterscotch chips (2 cups)

In a saucepan, over medium heat, stir together the sugar and corn syrup. Bring to a boil, and then remove from heat. (The longer you boil it, the harder the treats will be.)
Stir in the peanut butter until smooth, then add the cereal. Press the mixture into a buttered 9x13 pan. Melt the butterscotch and chocolate chips and pour/spread over the cereal mixture. Let set before cutting.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Pumpkin Bars

    The other day it rained. It rained hard. Not just a downpour, but I'm talking monsoon type water accumulation. The rain and hail came on suddenly and would not quit. Mudslides soon followed, with people and vehicles getting swept up in the currents and buried in a matter of moments. The accompanying lightning and thunder were just the lights and soundtrack to complete the "apocalyptic" weather event that had descended upon us. I've never seen a storm like that before, and I read that it was a once in 1,000 year event. Lucky us.
   Well, thanks to the lovely weather, my family and I were trapped indoors. But, we were all safe, healthy and warm with plenty of provisions to see us through until the storm passed, and the wreckage left in it's quake could be addressed. So, what do I do when it looks like the world is ending outside? I bake of course. Wouldn't you?
    I first made my kids some homemade hot chocolate (cocoa powder, milk, vanilla and pure maple syrup), at their request, and then got to baking. I had a few cups of fresh pumpkin puree ready to use, so I got out my cookbooks and started searching. I came across a recipe for Pumpkin Bars in my local church cookbook, but as I was reading the recipe I saw that it was full of highly processed ingredients (white flour, white sugar, vegetable oil) that I'm trying to weed out of our diet, so I decided I would change things up. I used whole wheat pastry flour, pure maple syrup and butter as substitutions. Yes, I still use butter. It's not as processed as vegetable or canola oil and it's good for you. I promise. Look it up. :)
    Well, the end result was delicious. A moist cake that is just sweet enough, but not cloyingly so, that is topped with a delectable cream cheese frosting (or whipped cream if you prefer). I just had to share it with you. I bet you're thinking, "Wait. I thought this was supposed to be a bar recipe. Why did she just say it's a cake?" Well, while reading through the original recipe I noted that it seemed to me that it would be more of a cake than a cookie bar (because of the amount of eggs, and the inclusion of a fair amount of both baking powder and baking soda) and I was right. This is definitely a cake, but if the original author can call it a bar, then I will too. (You can cook it on a sheet pan if it makes you feel better - like you are making a cookie bar, instead of a cake. But don't be mad at the end result. It will be soft, moist and tender like a cake. Not at all crispy, gooey or chewy like a cookie.)
    Ok, now down to the recipe. As I mentioned before, I swapped out less processed ingredients to fit our healthier life style, and I also added some ground flax seed for extra nutrition. I reduced the amount of sweetener, not only because I wanted to keep it on the healthier side, but also because I opted to use pure maple syrup instead of white sugar, and it's pretty pricey. (100% Pure Maple Syrup is my sweetener of choice, though, so if you haven't tried it you really should. I find the best price in my area is at Costco, but definitely shop around to find a good deal where you are. I keep jugs of it on hand, since we only use that and honey for most of our sweetening needs anymore. I should really buy stock in it!)
Do you have any favorite healthy swaps? I'd love to hear about it.

Here's the recipe:
adapted from Shauna Young's Pumpkin Bars 

Pumpkin Bars

1 1/3 cup 100% pure maple syrup
4 large eggs
1 cup butter, melted (I always use salted)
2 cups fresh pumpkin puree (can sub 16 oz can pumpkin)
1/2 cup ground flax seed (I use Bob's Red Mill Organic Golden Flaxseed Meal)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon)
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Whisk together all the ingredients, except the flour, until smooth. Slowly mix in the flour until fully combined. Spread the batter evenly into a prepared 10x15 baking dish, or a sheet pan. Bake 20-30 minutes (until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean). All ovens are different. Check after 20 minutes, and then go from there. Cool, and serve with cream cheese frosting (recipe follows) or sweetened whipped cream.
Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup salted butter, room temperature
3 Tbsp pure maple syrup (to taste)

Blend with an electric mixer until all ingredients are smooth. Mix for an additional 5 minutes on high (to get it light an fluffy). Refrigerate if the frosting gets too runny, and then whip again before icing the cake/bars.  


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bake Sale

   Tomorrow, the elementary school that my kids go to is having it's annual Fall Festival. It's the biggest fundraiser for the year, and this year they are going all out. They are having a rock wall, inflatable slides and obstacle courses, a magic show, a book fair, dancing, games, food, and a silent auction for some amazing prizes. For the past few years, the Ball Room Dance group at the school also does a bake sale at the festival. My son is a proud Ball Room Dancer and so I do what I can to support him and the group in any way I can. My task today is to bake copious amounts of goodies for the bake sale. So, while I know these things aren't healthy, and they don't fall in line with my healthier lifestyle that my family and I have been living recently, I am making desserts. I actually had to make a run to the store to buy some white flour, because I haven't had a need for it since I made Ramona's Cinnamon Rolls. We only keep 100% Whole Wheat Flour in the house anymore.
  So, after I got everything together, I decided to make a few of my favorite sweet indulgences that could easily be portioned out for sale at the festival. These are the recipes I decided on:
Texas Canyon Lemon Bars, Snickerdoodle BlondiesNutella Pumpkin Swirl Bread (that I'm actually making as little muffins), Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, and Pumpkin Scones with a Maple Glaze (I replaced the sweet potato in this recipe with pumpkin and added 1 tsp of pumpkin pie spice). I love these recipes and I'm sure they'll stand out from the usual chocolate chip cookies, and store bought cupcakes sold at your everyday bake sale.
   If you try any of them, or have a favorite, let me know! What's your favorite thing to eat/buy at a bake sale?

Texas Canyon Lemon Bars,

Pumpkin Scones with a Maple Glaze
(Sweet Potato Pecan Scones with a Maple Glaze)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

German Chocolate Fudge Bites

So, last month I was asked to talk a little about healthy eating to the women in my church. I was honored and flattered, of course, but if you've ever looked at the countless sweets on my blog than you know I'm not a complete health nut. It is true, however, that over the last year or so I have been steering my family onto a journey of better health. This includes only eating "real" food (no weird chemicals or preservatives that I can't find in a normal household kitchen), and trying to cut out highly processed foods (like white flour and most sugars). Most people call this "clean eating." We do have occasional treats with the "bad stuff" (white flour/sugar) but we try to stay away from those ingredients in our day to day meals and snacks. Becuase they aren't completely "bad" they are just empty calories without any benefits.
  The whole family has taken to this way of life pretty well, and the kids are even checking the ingredients lists on packages before they ask me for anything in the grocery store! (Win!) Watching the movie Fed Up with them was all it took for them to be on the no sugar band wagon with me. (Even if we take occasional hops off the wagon and jump back on, it's much better than the way we were previously eating.) If you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend it.
   While on my journey to discovering better health and "real" food I was in desperate need to find substitutes for my chocolate desserts that I love so much. I actually made my own chocolate (another story for another day), and I am finding new ways to get that chocolate flavor without using the factory produced chocolate chips and bars that are so near and dear to my heart. These German Chocolate Fudge Bites are one of those ways.
   This recipe was shared with me by a friend, Chelsi, that was heading up a clean eating challenge. I did the challenge, tried this recipe and I fell in love with it. My kids call them "chocolate balls" and have no idea that they have NO processed sugar in them at all. These treats are only sweetened with dates! They are raw, gluten free, and can easily be made nut free if needed. I knew this was going to be the dessert that I shared with the ladies at church. (If you're curious, these are the other 4 recipes I shared with the group.) You should definitely try them, because they are delicious, not because they are healthy. That's just a bonus!

This is how it starts: It's all made in the food processor. You'll need a package of Majule dates. I multiplied the recipe by 5 for the church group, so when you make yours it won't be as many ingredients. But it will be the same ingredients as what's in the picture.
These dates were HUGE, so a normal recipe would only need 3 of these giant guys, or 6 of the normal size. (3/4 cup)

Don't forget to take the pit out of the dates! Just break the date in half. See the pit inside?

Then take the pit out. The pit is discarded and the rest of the date goes into the food processor.

For a single recipe you will need 3/4 cup of pitted dates. But, like I mentioned before, I multiplied the recipe by 5 so I have a lot more here.

I like to blend the dates up a bit, just to make more room in the food processor, but this step isn't really necessary.

Then all the other ingredients are added: Unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Hershey's Special Dark), or you could use raw cocao powder if desired.

A little salt,

pure vanilla extract,


and pecans go into the bowl of the food processor with the dates.

Just turn the sucker on and let it go. When the mixture comes together it's done!

You can make your fudge bites as big or as small as you would like, but I find that a rounded teaspoon full is perfect for us.

Just scoop them, and roll them in your hand.

It's a messy job, so beware! This was after about 40 balls. :)

When all the balls are rolled out, then just store them in an airtight container. I usually put them in a zip-top sandwich bag, but since I was making so many I opted to put them into a glass Pyrex container with a lid.
When it was time to serve it to the ladies I put each one into a mini muffin liner. They were adorable. (I regret not taking a picture.)
   I hope you enjoy them and they inspire you to find healthier alternatives to your every day treats/snacks. :)

Here's the recipe:
from Chocolate Covered Katie

German Chocolate Fudge Bites

3/4 cup pitted dates 
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/16 tsp salt
2 tbsp cocoa powder (or raw cacao powder)
2 tbsp shredded coconut (sweetened or not is your choice)
1/3 cup raw pecans

*If you really need more chocolate, you can add some chocolate chips, but I don't.
Blend all ingredients in a food processor, until the mixture comes together in a ball. Scoop and roll into desired sized balls. Store in an airtight container

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Whole Wheat Pita Bread (With Crock-pot Chicken, Garlic Tahini Sauce and Lemon Dill Yogurt Sauce)

So about a month ago, I participated in a clean eating challenge. Part of eating clean is to only eat "whole" ingredients. That means nothing that is highly processed, and definitely no white flour or refined sugar. It was during this challenge that one of the participants shared a recipe for whole wheat pita bread. Since whole wheat flour is perfectly acceptable while eating clean, it was a great recipe to share. I had never made pita bread before, but I was anxious to try my hand at it. I made the recipe she posted and it was very salty, and a little dry tasting. So, with a little tweaking I came up with a recipe that I am happy with.
   About a week ago I was asked to talk to the ladies of out church about healthy eating. I gave them a few general healthy eating rules to live by, and talked about some foods to consider adding into their every day diets. At the end I was going to talk about all the yummy food that I had brought for them to sample, but I ended up running out of time so I basically just said: here you go. I served a basic crock-pot chicken recipe (that can be used in any number of healthy eating recipes), and had all the fixings to eat it as a pita sandwich. Of course, I made the whole wheat pita bread and had it for everyone to use. Everything was well received, and I got numerous requests for the recipes. I had hard copies for the people in attendance, but I thought that I would post them on my blog as well, so that everyone who wanted the recipes could have them. (I will be posting the chicken and sauce recipes at the end of this post, and then later I will be posting the German Chocolate Fudge bites that I served as well.)
   Unfortunately, there are no step by step pictures for the pita bread, but the recipe and directions should serve you well. If you have any questions/comments just let me know and I will help you out as always. :)
   I consider pita bread to be one of those recipes that is like culinary magic. You roll out the dough and put it in the oven (sure that there is no way it will puff and turn out like it should) and then magically it does. The dough rounds puff up like little pillows and turn out wonderfully. I hope you enjoy making (and eating) them as well!

Whole Wheat Pita Bread

2 cups warm water (110F-115F)
4 tsp dry yeast (I like rapid rise/instant yeast)
1 tsp honey (optional)
1 ¼ tsp salt
3 ½ -4 cups whole wheat flour (all purpose or bread flour)
½ cup ground flax seed meal (I use Bob's Mill Organic Golden Flaxseed Meal)

Combine water, yeast and honey into a bowl and set aside to get foamy. (5 minutes). Whisk in the ground flax seed, 1 ½ cups of the flour, and the salt until smooth. Add 2 cups more flour and knead until a smooth, slightly sticky, dough forms. (Use all 4 cups if the dough is too sticky.) Put in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled (about 1 hour). Roll out dough and divide into 11 balls. Let sit for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 500F while the dough is resting. After resting, roll each dough ball out into circles (6 -8 inches) with as few strokes as possible, making sure NOT to roll the edges flat. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake on the bottom rack for 5-6 minutes, until puffed and slightly browned. When cool, cut in half and fill with desired ingredients.

I like to eat the pita bread with this crock-pot chicken, cucumber, lettuce, tomato and both the garlic tahini sauce and the lemon dill yogurt sauce. (recipes follow)

Crock-pot Chicken

3 lbs boneless skinless chicken (breasts or thighs)
½ small onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, grated
1 ½ cups greens, finely diced (I like to use a mixture of baby spinach, baby kale, and baby           chard, labeled as "power greens" at the grocery store. Measure after cutting, it's about 4 cups before cutting)
1 tsp whole dry thyme
½ tsp ground dry rosemary
1 tsp salt (plus more to taste)
Fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
Juice of ½ lemon (about 2 Tbsp, plus more to taste)

Put all ingredients into the slow cooker. Cook on low 6-8 hours or on high 4-5 hours. Cut or shred the chicken and use in any recipe. Taste and add more salt and/or lemon juice if desired.

Garlic Tahini Sauce

¼ cup water
½ cup tahini
3 tsp minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
¼ tsp ground cumin
Juice of ½ lemon (about 2 tbsp)
Salt and pepper

Stir all ingredients together until smooth. All ingredients are to taste. 

Lemon Dill Yogurt Sauce

½ cup plain Greek yogurt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 ½ tsp dry dill (can use mint if you prefer)
1 tsp minced garlic (about 1 clove)
¼ cup grated cucumber (without juice)
Salt and pepper

Stir all ingredients together until smooth. All ingredients are to taste.