Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Herb Drying for Dummies

Although my normal garden is nothing to brag about, I do have a fairly lovely herb garden. Which is just great. Until it's the end of October and my basil is falling over itself and everything needs to have something done with it if I want to preserve some for myself over the winter. Which I do. But then the idea of cutting off leaves and hanging it or putting it in the dehydrator for days or making a pesto with it or slow oven-drying it, or any of the other methods for herb preservation that I've ever tried made me want to put my head under the covers and hibernate. Often I do have the time and energy for these things and I enjoy them, but this fall, it just made me heave a fat, dramatic sigh. Still, the cheapskate in me just couldn't let them all freeze and go to waste.

(Note: The following is an unnecessarily long story of how I accidentally learned this herb-drying-for-dummies trick. Interestingly many of my for-dummies tricks are discovered quite by accident while I, myself, am acting (for research purposes of course) like a dummy. Anyway... continue on with the story if you will or hop to the instructions below for the method...)

Finally, I went out and chopped down the basil. I figured I'd let it sit on the table and maybe it would, uh, dry itself or something. It didn't. A few leaves started getting funky and I figured, "Okay, I'm not going to let it just sit here and mold." So I took off all the good leaves and figured I'd just dry them in the oven. I had way too much basil to throw in the dehydrator and oven-drying seemed a little easier than making pesto, (and it didn't involve any expensive ingredients that I may or may not have had).

Generally, to oven dry, I do this: 1) Turn the oven to lowest setting. For me this is 175, which is a little too high for herbs, so I let it get almost there and then I turn the oven off and let it sit, and then when the oven has cooled a few hours later, I turn the oven back and then repeat that process. For a small amount of herb, it's not a big deal. But for a large amount, it takes forever. And you have to keep "tossing" your basil so some doesn't dry while the other stuff accidentally steams/cooks/gets weird. And then if you really have a lot of herb, you need to take the stuff that has dried out and let the other stuff keep going. Blah blah blah.

And I seriously had a lot of basil. It would have taken days and been super annoying and commandeered my oven. And I was sure I'd forget it was in there and pre-heat the oven for something and ruin the basil.

So I turned on the oven and let it heat. Then turned it off and let my basil sit in the warm oven. Then it was bedtime. And my basil sure wasn't all dry. So I gave my basil a toss and then turned on the oven light to remind me the basil was there so I wouldn't accidentally cook it all while preheating the oven for something non-herb-related the next day.

And guess what? The next morning, my basil was perfectly wonderfully, effortlessly dry. Crumbly, fresh-scented, awesome. When I took the pans out, they were warm to the touch. The light I'd left on had kept the oven just warm enough to be the perfect temperature. And leaving it overnight was the right amount of time (though I'm sure they could have been left for longer).

Herb Drying for Dummies

1) Take the leaves off the stems and spread leaves out on large cookie sheets. It's ideal if the leaves don't overlap, but I certainly broke that rule and had overlapping leaves and leaf clusters just everywhere.

2) Heat your oven to its lowest setting. As soon as it gets there or close, turn the oven off.

3) Turn the oven light on.

4) Let sit overnight. Note: If you have a ton of herbs (especially if they're overlapping), give them a little toss before you go to bed to get the bottom ones on top and visa versa).

5) In the morning, they should be crumbly and perfect. If not, leave them a few hours longer with that oven light on.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Shamelessly Self-Serving Post

This isn't about food. It's not even about cheap stuff.  It does involve a coupon. That's something right.

Recently, I bought a candle as a gift for a friend. When I did, they gave me this coupon code and said that if someone else bought a candle, they would get $10 off and I would get a free candle. (Here's the code if you're interested: http://my.cndl.es/x/qka7y8).

I thought that sounded like a pretty good deal. For me of course. And for you too if you were thinking of buying a scented soy candle for yourself or someone you love. And not just any soy candle--a soy candle with a ring hidden inside. Like--you burn the candle and in the wax is this ring in a bag/foil. The ring comes with a code that could score you a valuable ring (one ranging from $100-5000 in value--you have supposedly 1 in 100 chance for the $100 ring; 1 in 1000 for the $1000 and 1 in 5000 for the $5000).

I've been slightly obsessed with this concept for a while (why oh why did I not think of it myself). They're like Cracker Jacks for grown ups. (Some might say that they're like crack, but I'm not quite willing to go that far.) Some people consider the idea lunacy--why not just go out and buy yourself a ring if you want one? My brain understands that question, but my inner child is all about fishing some waxy bag with a piece of jewelry out of a scented candle. I don't know. My cheapskate can't justify the idea, but I may or may not have recently bought a candle for myself (for research purposes of course, and because soy candles are supposed to be better environmentally and burn cleaner and I did need a nice scent for winter and all...). And I'm obviously trying to find a cheaper way to score another one. Shameless.

If you would like to feed your inner child rather than your party-pooping grown up. Or if you know someone whose inner child is alive and well, then feel free to click on this link and get yourself $10 off. I believe that this link is good for another three days. And, who knows, after you make your purchase, maybe you'll get a link to send to all your friends so you can get yourself a free candle. Go on, spread the lunacy. Happy wax fishing.

$10 off Diamond Ring Candle:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Oatmeal Coconut Cookies

I've been really inconsistent in my posting days. So recently I decided to post every Monday and then one other day in the week. That seemed like a reasonably low bar. Apparently not low enough as Monday came and went and this post only got half-written.

Fall, my friends, is here. Oatmeal cookies feel like fall to me--the spices, the oats, the oven on. The coconut adds a touch of sophistication and I LOVE it. I think it's the best oatmeal cookie recipe I've found. Enjoy.

Oatmeal Coconut Cookies
adapted from Averie Cooks
Makes 12-18 cookies
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes per batch
Cost: $2.00
egg: .10, coconut oil: .50, brown sugar: .10, white sugar: .05, vanilla: .10, coconut: .25, oats: .05, flour: .10, chocolate chips: .75

Note: The source for this recipe warned against using more chocolate chips than this recipe calls for. I thought she was crazy. Nope. She's right. If you use more than it says your chips will fall out of this slightly unusual dough. So just follow the recipe already.

1 egg
1/2 C coconut oil, melted into its liquid state (though you don't want it hot for the recipe or your chocolate chips will melt as you mix them in)
1/2 C brown sugar
1/4 C granulated sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch salt
1 C sweetened shredded coconut (do NOT pack it in--just lay it loosely into your measuring cup)
1 C old-fashioned oats (not instant or quick)
1 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 C chocolate chips

Combine egg, coconut oil, brown sugar, white sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt.

Add coconut, oats, flour, and baking soda. Stir.

Stir in chocolate chips. You'll notice that they're going to fall out of this dough. Just fold them in or grab the dough and knead those chips in till they stay. This is a slightly odd dough--crumbly-ish, but oily. Just trust. It will all work out.

Scoop cookies onto cookie sheet. You may want to squeeze them into balls to ensure those slippery chocolate chips don't keep trying to fall out.

Now here's where you have to delay gratification: You've got to chill these for several hours. Otherwise (at least this is what the source recipe warned), these will spread like crazy. So chill them. (Note: I did NOT do this on the cookie sheet. I just balled them up and put them in a bowl.)

Preheat oven to 350. Bake 9-ish minutes. The coconut can burn, so err on the side of underbaking rather than overbaking.

Cool these for a few minutes and then enjoy.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dumb Easy Dinner: Pizza Crescents

This is the first installment of my Dumb Easy Dinner series--which is not to promise that I will post Dumb Easy Dinner posts on a particular day of every week or any such promise that I probably can't keep. It is to say that sometimes (okay, maybe often), I post recipes that are just too easy and awesome to pass up. From now on when I post them, they will have the lovely introduction/heading of "Dumb Easy Dinner." Now isn't that nice.

I may even, if I am gripped by loads of enthusiasm and energy, go through my own blog and highlight some of my past Dumb Easy Dinners (although--note: They were not called "Dumb Easy Dinners" because that is a new thing I am starting as of today. Thank you.)

Today we begin with these Pizza Crescent Wrap Ups that were a super ridiculously huge hit in our house and took all of 5.5 minutes of work for me (of course I scientifically measured the time it took by using precise scientific instruments, like guessing). They are not a whole food. But they're not total junk either. Especially if you dip them in a nice healthy marinara sauce. If you do that, then you can feel fully that you met the vegetable requirement for the night. If you serve a salad with this (even if it is a salad-from-a-bag), then you can consider yourself a bonafide Really Good Person. And that in less than 10 minutes of prep time.

If the idea of such an easy dinner is repulsive to you, then make them for your next party as an appetizer. 

The other intensely awesome thing about this meal is that it can be popped into a lunch box the next day and possibly compete with Lunchables for coolness.

(Look, it's just like those Pinterest moms.)

Pizza Crescents
adapted from Taste of Home
Makes 8 rolls, which will serve 2-4 people--not counting teenaged humans (we need to double or even triple this amount)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time 12-14 minutes
Cost: $2.00 (that's $.50-1.00/serving)
crescents: 1.30 (Aldi prices), pepperoni: ..40, cheese: .30

1 package refrigerated crescent roll dough (the tubed stuff; yup--not a whole food)
16 round slices pepperoni
1/4-1/2 C mozzarella cheese

Unroll your dough and lay out the triangles.

Sprinkle cheese on each triangle. Put two pieces of pepperoni on each triangle.

Roll up as you would if you were making crescent rolls.

Bake according to the time requirements. Err on the side of too blond instead of too brown if you're going to err at all.

Eat with a little dip of marinara sauce thereby.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Honey Oat Bread--Secret Recipe Club

This month for Secret Recipe Club, I had Cindy's blog, "Hun...What's For Dinner?" She had a ton of recipes, but the ones that attracted me most were the breads. Maybe that's because autumn is here and I'm ready for some hot-from-the-oven loveliness. The bread I finally settled on was this Honey Oat Bread. It seemed virtuous, but not overly so--which is really nice in a bread. And I'm so glad I picked it. Truly it's the perfect autumn loaf. It's just a little sweet, just a little earthy. I absolutely loved it. I made it to go with a homemade bowl of soup and found I liked it best with butter and honey. Enjoy!

Honey Oat Bread
adapted from Hun...What's For Dinner?
makes 1 loaf bread
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Rise time: 90 minutes
Cost: $1.20
honey: .50, roller: .10, whole wheat flour: .20, flour: .20, oat bran: .10, other stuff: .10

1 C warm water
1 T vegetable oil
1/4 C honey
1 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp salt
1/2 C rolled oats
1 C whole wheat flour
1 1/3 C bread flour (or all-purpose, though you might need a tiny bit more)
1/4 C oat bran (optional, but I used)

Combine water, oil, honey, and yeast.

To this add oats, salt, and whole wheat flour and oat bran.

Then add the rest of the flour in 1/2 C increments. When it gets too difficult to stir, turn it out to knead. Knead it for 5-8 minutes or until it doesn't stick to your hand, but is still soft and pillowy. [Note: For bread maker instructions, see Cindy's blog post.]

Let rise in bowl--45-60 minutes.

Shape into loaf and put in smaller loaf pan (7x3 1/2 inches I believe). Let rise again--about 30 minutes.

Bake for 30 minutes or until top browned and is about 180 degrees on an instant read thermometer.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Bacon Jalapeno Cheesy Bread

This isn't the type of bread that usually flies in my house. It is not smooth. It contains a real-life vegetable. And it is not "normal," by which I mean that you cannot put jam and peanut butter on it (well, I guess you could...).

But my sister raved about this recipe, repressing any doubts about the fact that I might get stuck eating a loaf of cheesy bread all by myself. And then I found myself with a bag of jalapenos from a friend. And a pot of potato soup for dinner. That potato soup called to this bread.

And so I made it. And, yes, it is completely awesome. For purposes of full disclosure, I should tell you that Kip picked his jalapeno bits out. But otherwise, he really loved this bread. I count that as a win in the house of pickiest people on earth.

It's almost biscuit-like, but without the bad qualities of biscuits (namely their dryness, flavorlessness, or sometimes-too-salty-ness). This bread is seriously the perfect savory bread. And if you hate jalapenos, leave them out. If you're vegetarian, skip the bacon. You can't skip the cheese though. Sorry vegans.

Bacon Jalapeno Cheesy Bread
adapted from Call Me PMC
Makes: one 9x5 inch loaf
Prep time: 10 minutes to cook bacon, 10-15 minutes to mix up the bread
Cook time: 50-70 minutes
Cost: $4.60
bacon: 1.00, flour: .30, cream cheese: 1.00, jalapeno: .30, cheddar: 1.50, buttermilk: .35, other stuff: .15

6-8 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped into little bits (the original recipe called for 2 cups of chopped bacon; I used significantly less than that)
3 C all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 C diced jalapeno--2 medium (I left out the seeds, but you could chop and use if you like heat)
2 C cheddar cheese (I used sharp, but milder will work)
1 1/2 C buttermilk (or scant 1 1/2 C milk with 1 1/2 Tbsp vinegar)
1 Tbsp canola oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9x5 inch loaf pan

In large bowl, combine cream cheese, jalapenos, bacon, and cheddar cheese. Stir to combine.

In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Whisk.

To the flour mixture, add cream cheese mixture, the oil, and the buttermilk. Mix until just combined. Don't overmix.

Pour into greased pan. Bake 50-70 minutes (original recipe said 45-50, but mine took much longer, so check it early, but don't be surprised if it takes longer. The top should start to brown and when you stick a knife in it, it should come out clean.

Let cool for a few minutes. Then turn out and cut. It's delicious warm or cool. And it rocks a bowl of potato soup.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chocolate Beet Cake (or Cupcakes)


I never thought this would work. My kids have bloodhound noses and the taste buds of the king's poison taster. Did I really think I was going to sneak beet puree past them? But I had two honking beets and had already made my favorite beet salad. I figured it was worth a try and, as long as I thought of the beets as "something that would moisten chocolate cake," instead of "I'm trying to add a weird vegetable to chocolate cake," I didn't psyche myself out too much.

Even so as I pureed those beets, each one of my kids commented on the grossness of the smell (note: the kids did not know what the beets would be used for). Then when I made the batter, it was distinctly purplish-pink. And then as those cupcakes cooked and I could catch the faint whiff of beetiness, I had to wonder if I'd be eating a bunch of beetcakes all by myself.

When they came out, I could still smell the beet just faintly, but after they'd cooled it was gone. As was any beety color--these are a nice, rich chocolate color. The cake was intensely moist with a perfect delicate crumb. And they were delicious. I had made a fudge frosting for them as a sort of backup plan--thinking that if they were just a little beety, I could cover that sin with some decent frosting. But I found I preferred them without the frosting--as a sort of slightly-indulgent-muffin. (Note: Don't worry--when I asked my kids if they would like to eat these without frosting as chocolate muffins for breakfast or with frosting as chocolate cupcakes for dessert--they chose the frosting/dessert option. And, no, I never told them they contained beets.)

Seriously, I plan to make these again and again when I've got a couple leftover beets hanging around. I must add that beets or no beets these are not exactly health food. But I should also add that they are absolutely no worse than many "muffin" recipes floating around the internet. And surely more healthy than any "muffins" you would buy in a store or bakery.

Chocolate Beet Cake
Adapted from Taste of Home
Makes about 24 cupcakes or 2 9-inch cakes
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes to boil the beets, 20-30 minutes to cook cupcakes
Cost: $3.20
chocolate: .60, butter: 1.00, sugar: .40, beets (mine were free, so this is a guess)--1.00, flour: .20, other stuff: .05

4 oz semi-sweet chocolate (about 2/3 C chocolate chips)
1 C butter (2 sticks), divided
1 1/2 C brown sugar (a combination of brown and white will also work)
3 eggs
2 C pureed beets (2 large beets will make about this much, or 4 normal ones)
1 tsp vanilla
2 C flour (I used just a touch of whole wheat flour--probably about 1/4 C)
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Boil your beets (you can also roast them) until they are tender--you should be able to easily stick a butter knife into them. Let them cool. Then you can slide the skins off. After this, you'll need to puree the beets. I did this in my Magic Bullet. (Note: Naturally, it's time saving to cook many beets for different recipes at once. So if you're making beet salad, cook your beets for this too. You can puree and freeze the puree or the beets themselves will keep cooked for a good week in the fridge.)

Set the pureed beets aside.

Melt chocolate with part of the butter (I used 1 stick--1/2 C). I did this in the microwave in 30 second intervals--stirring in between. When the chocolate is melted, combine it with beets and vanilla.

In a separate (large) bowl, cream remaining butter and all the sugar until it's light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Now add your chocolate/beet mixture. It might look a bit separated (and generally like it will be a big failure--don't despair).

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Mix.

Bake as cupcakes for 20-30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs.

LET THEM COOL. This is essential. If they don't cool, they'll still have beety hints to them.

Frost if desired or dust with powdered sugar.



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