October 31, 2011

Pumpkins Part II

I made my own pumpkin puree this weekend, so easy and economical. I need to buy up some more pumpkins before they disappear from the stores, make more puree and freeze it. This is a good step-by-step instructional for making it.

I needed a hostess gift to give this weekend for some friends who had us over for dinner. I used my pumpkin puree and made these Pumpkin Apple Struesel Muffins and this easy Pumpkin Butter. Both turned out wonderful and you know what's really wonderful? Smearing the pumpkin butter ON the pumpkin muffins (of course, I had to try both before giving them as gifts!)

I changed the recipes just ever so slightly so I'll reprint my versions here.

Pumpkin Apple Steusel Muffins
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups peeled, cored and chopped apple

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons butter

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease 18 muffin cups or use paper liners.

In a large bowl, sift together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, pumpkin and oil. Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture, stirring just to moisten. Fold in apples. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.

In a small bowl, mix together streusel toppings until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle topping evenly over muffin batter.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.

Pumpkin Butter
2 cups pumpkin puree
1/4 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all in a saucepan; stir well. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or until thickened. Stir frequently.

Transfer to sterile containers and chill in the refrigerator until serving.

Here they are:

Linking to Tempt My Tummy Tuesday


Friday night was our burg's annual Halloween party downtown that includes a fun pumpkin decorating contest. My son & I have entered the past 4 years and my crazy creative kid has WON the kids' division for the last 3 years!! This year he came up with a design of a spooky pumpkin escaping a haunted graveyard. He did everything absolutely all by himself except for me spray painting the box lack. I wish I could've got a video of when they announced that he was the winner, he was so excited!!

Here it is:

A close-up of the gravestone and Otto trying to escape the grave:

And I struggled trying to decide how to decorate my pumpkin. I poured over google images trying to find something unique and fun. I stumbled across this idea from a neat blog I found, That Artist Woman. I just fell in love with the diorama idea! This was the one she featured:

I changed my design somewhat, here is my final product:

The purchased items include the owl (World Market), red credenza (Dollar Tree), skeleton & rat (Dollar General). I made the curtains & foot stool out of sticks and fabric scraps. The window panes are sticks. His chair is made from a toilet paper tube. I had the little pumpkin in my fall decor already and the rest of the stuff is from the back yard! Sticks, grass, leaves...I made even the little broom, that was fun. The welcome mat & Halloween sign are birch bark that my son gathered when he was out searching for supplies for his. To hold it all together I used a LOT of hot glue, tacky glue and straight pins. It actually ended up very secure and made the trip there & back in the trunk with no problem.

I used two battery powered tea lights on the "ceiling" to illuminate the inside of the pumpkin. I carved out a place up top then used two long kabob sticks to hold them in place.

Unfortunately I did not win the grand prize (voted by a few judges) but I did win the "people's choice award" which was still plenty exciting for me! I had so much fun making it and I'm already coming up with plans for next years, I'll definitely do another diorama but something a bit different. I hope for my sanity's sake I start a bit earlier this year, though I think I work best under pressure.

I call it the "skeleton bachelor pad." I think he needs to turn his lights off and go to bed....which is where I'm headed too.


October 23, 2011

The Easiest (and possibly the yummiest) Potato Soup Ever

My mother-in-law gave me this recipe a few years ago, it's so easy and so good that it's hard to believe this soup is low-fat. It's so rich and yummy! I misplaced my scribbled copy so I was thankful to find it online HERE. Just a note, when buying the gravy mix, look at the ingredients and try to find one without the hydrogenated stuff. I've used McCormick and surprisingly enough the WalMart store brand is without it as well. Low-sodium broth is always good to use too.

The last couple times I made it, it was so thick it really needed more water or some milk to thin it out for it to truly be a soup. But the kids liked it thicker, it's more like a big bowl of mashed potatoes & gravy when made as written. And really, who doesn't love that?!

Reduced Fat Potato Soup
1 package frozen loose-pack hash brown potatoes
2 cans fat-free chicken broth
1 package fat free country-style gravy mix
1/2 cup water

1/2 cup chopped green onion for topping
1 cup shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese (optional)

In a stockpot or Dutch oven, combine the hash browns and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 10 minutes.

In a separate bowl, stir together the gravy mix and water. Stir the gravy mixture into the potatoes, and allow to simmer until thickened. Remove from heat and let stand for a few minutes before serving.

Serve hot topped with chopped green onions and grated cheese.

Linking to Tempt My Tummy Tuesday

October 17, 2011

Hunger-Squashing Snacks

I got another helpful email from Eat This Not That people. This is "12 Hunger Squashing Snacks." Good timing because lately my snacking is a bit out of control and mostly consisting of sugary carbs. Seems I always have my hand reaching in a cereal box or grabbing crackers or muffins or bread. Nothing totally unhealthy, just things that don't keep me full for long and often leave me feeling tired and/or bloated. Many of the snacks on this helpful list are protein rich which is what I need to keep me full longer and not cause that sugar crash that I get sometimes.

I really like the articles on this site, but I find it annoying that you have to click through each one to see the next featured food, restaurant, whatever. I know they do that to up the advertising opportunities, but sometimes it takes so long that I just give up. I'm listing these snacks here more for my benefit than anything, to have them in a place that I can refer back to when I need ideas. So here they are:

12 Hunger Squashing Snacks

1-Warm toasted nuts: Toss a combination of nuts - pecans, almonds, peanuts, cashews - with chili powder, black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne. Roast in a 400 degree F oven for 10 minutes, until warm and toasty.

2-Ants on a Log: Slather celery with smooth or chunky peanut butter. Dot with raisins.

3-Boil a few cups of frozen edamame until tender. Drain and toss with a light coasting of sesame oil, red pepper flakes, and kosher salt.

4-Make your own souped-up trail mix: Combine 1 cup almonds, walnuts, or cashews or a mix of all three) with 1/2 cup sunflower seeds and 1 1/2 cups dried fruit: raisins, apricots, apples, prunes, and/or banana chips

5-Spread the inside of a pita half with plenty of hummus and top with sliced tomato, onion, and lettuce.

6-Stuff cherry peppers or bottled Peppadew peppers with soft goat cheese or mini balls of fresh mozzarella.

7-Lay a slice of swiss cheese on a cutting board. Top with a slice of deli turkey and a spoonful of hummus or guacamole. Wrap like a jelly roll and eat.

8-Cut fresh mozzarella into 1/2-inch cubes. Skewer on toothpicks with pitted green olives and sundried tomatoes.

9-Pop a bag of popcorn. While it's still hot, toss the popcorn with a half cup grated Parmesan and a good amount of chopped fresh rosemary.

10-Combine a can of tuna with your favorite salsa. Use Triscuits for scooping.

11-Pop a bag of popcorn. While it's still hot, toss with a tablespoon of melted butter, then 2tablespoons of sugar and a teaspoon of cinnamon.

12-Pave a slice of toasted wheat bread with peanut butter and banana slices. Top with a drizzel of honey.

Don't those all sound good? Except for the olives and goat cheese, ick! And I have no idea what Peppadew peppers are, but I'm willing to find out cause they sound really fun. And that last one actually confused me at first with that word "pave." I thought that was some fancy food term pronounced pa-vay, like it was French or something. But now I see it's just the word pave. Like pave your bread like you'd pave your driveway. I think my brain is officially fried from spending most of my waking hours with a crazy 3 year old. That's my only excuse.

Happy snacking!

October 16, 2011

New Kitchen Decor

Lately I've been inspired to spruce up the house a bit (having company over is great motivation). Anyway, I have/had a lot of empty spaces that needed to be filled. I framed a few pictures that I'd been meaning to frame for a while and put hubby to work hanging things. He just loves drilling holes in the walls. I didn't have a very big budget for knick knacky things so I went to Goodwill and found a few fun kitschy things for the kitchen area that called my name.

Here's the first one, Mr Squirrel

I don't particulary like squirrels but I love nuts and thought it would be fun to store some of mine inside of his. I hope that doesn't sound too naughty.

Here's another critter, a cute rooster.

Here they are on my kitchen shelves. That Dansk pot up top I bought at Goodwill to sell (they do fairly well on Ebay) but I decided I liked its funkiness as well so it's a keeper.

Here's my new napkin holder on the kitchen table atop the mushroom placemat I made a while back.

And this next one is not cheap nor silly, I received a very nice frame for my birthday from my favorite aunt & uncle (I don't think any of my aunts or uncles read this blog so I feel pretty safe saying that). They framed a cute birthday card in it that I left there for a while, then I decided I was tired of being reminded that I just had a birthday. I thought it looked nice on my bar counter in the kitchen right above where I do most of my food preparation, but I didn't really have a good picture to put in it. So I decided to find a kitchen poem or saying and frame it. I just googled "kitchen sayings" and found a couple then doctored them up on Picnik. Here's a few of what I came up with-

Those two bottom ones say, "A pinch of patience, a dash of kindness, a spoonfull of laughter and a heap of love." So cute, but I ended up using that top middle one. Here it is in the frame-

That vase beside it is another one of my Goodwill finds. It's a Haegar vase and I really love it with my World Market "twigs".

I don't really have a decorating style and I've always struggled with choosing things for the house fearing that I'm breaking some sort of rules. But I've decided that's silly and I should just choose things that make me smile or remind me of somebody or something that I love. These few new little things make me happy!

October 11, 2011

Squash Pie

I bought a butternut squash the other day, they were only 39 cents a piece! I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it, I thought maybe make some good soup or something. So, today I decided to peel it and cut it up and while I was doing that I realized that it looked, smelled and even has the same seeds and slimy innards as a pumpkin. Then I remembered my son saying the other day how much he liked pumpkin pie. So I did a little searching and found this recipe for "Better than Pumpkin Pie." Really, just think about it...butternut squash. Butter. Nut. Squash. Its name just screams "make a dessert out of me!" So, I did. I think most people forget that pumpkins are squash too. Anyway, I already had a ready-made pie crust in the fridge and strangely enough had evaporated milk in the pantry (I don't even remember buying it). And so I whipped up this pie and it turned out really good!

I'm actually not a huge pumpkin pie fan but I honestly think it's pretty yummy (especially with whipped cream on top). If I didn't know it was butternut squash I wouldn't even give it a second thought, I would think it was definitely pumpkin. I might even sneak this into Thanksgiving dinner this year.

October 10, 2011

Chicken Enchilada Soup

This is nothing really new or groundbreaking, and it's very similar to the tortilla soup I make quite often but this recipe was just different enough that nobody complained that it was the same old thing I always make. It is a combination of simple tortilla soup and another recipe I had cut & pasted, not sure where it originally came from. It's a super simple dump everything in the crock pot meal, perfect for a lazy Monday.

Chicken Enchilada Soup

Put in the crock pot-
2 or 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can ro-tel
1 small can tomato sauce
1 packet of taco seasoning

Cook this on high for 2-3 hours or till the chicken is done. Then cut up the chicken into small pieces. I have been known to just mash it all up with a potato masher, usually the chicken gets soft & tender enough for that to work.

Then add-
1 can black beans (drained & rinsed)
1 cup frozen corn
1 can cream of chicken soup (I used reduced fat/sodium)
1/2 soup can of milk

Cook for another hour or so. Then, it's done!

I mixed lime juice & cilantro into some sour cream and dolloped that on top along with some pepper jack cheese, green onions and diced red pepper. I forgot that I had some tortilla chips, they would've been good crushed up on top too.

Here's mine-

And my daughter insisted I take a pic of hers. She doctored it up all by herself.

She loved the soup and finished her whole bowl. It helped to have the motivation of seeing Barney at the bottom when she was all done.

And today I'm proud to say we had several foods from the 'foods you should eat everyday' list. Breakfast was oat pancakes with walnuts, we had yogurt for our after school snacks, the soup had black beans and tomatoes and we had some carrots & peanut butter for our before bed snack. That's 6 out of 8. Not bad!

October 04, 2011

8 Foods You Should Eat Every Day

I got an email today from the "Eat This Not That" people and I thought it was very interesting! It said you can get all the nutrition you need if you eat these 8 foods every day plus some kind of lean protein.

* Spinach
* Yogurt
* Tomatoes
* Carrots
* Blueberries
* Black Beans
* Walnuts
* Oats

I don't think I could swing JUST those 8 for me or the family but I've decided that next week when there's a little more grocery money in the tank that I'm going shopping and I'm going to try to incorporate as many as I can into our meals & snacks every day for a week.

I just love a challenge (and all the foods sound really yummy to me!)