Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm making yogurt in my crock pot!

Woohoo! I'm excited. :)

I'm recently addicted to this blog, written by a mom who took on the challenge of using her Crock Pot every single day for a year. A YEAR! I'd come across it somewhere or another months ago, but with the shift in seasons comes a whole new set of meals I look forward to preparing. There's something wonderful about throwing a mix of ingredients into the stoneware, smelling it come together all day long, and having a slow-cooked, homey, cozy meal at the end of the day with little preparation.

I love using my Crock Pot, but we tire of roast, beef stew, and chicken and noodles pretty quickly. So, when I saw that Stephanie has a cookbook out now, I got very excited! I sat in Barnes and Noble last week for over an hour perusing through her book. (I had nothing else to do while waiting for the faulty brake light switch in my car to be switched out.) So many recipes, and such unique ones at that! Sure, there's definitely things that won't work for our family, but lots of them will... or I'd be willing to try it at least!

I've already made her Pumpkin Spice Lattes (in keeping with the pumpkin theme) and Peppermint Mochas (which is what I'd really order in Starbucks). I made her Brown Sugar Chicken for dinner last night, and was QUITE excited about the leftovers for lunch today... until I found out Jimmy John's had $1 subs today, so we had that instead. I'm looking forward to leftovers for lunch tomorrow though! (And the more I talk about it, the more I want to have a pre-dinner snack right now...) I'm planning to make Cream Cheese Chicken this weekend to have awaiting us when we return from taking Sassy trick-or-treating a little early.

And right now, I am making YOGURT in my Crock Pot! Really! If it turns out as well as the recipe says it should, I will be thrilled! Sassy is going through a stage that she would eat yogurt at every meal, and those little individual YoBaby cups get expensive! There is absolutely nothing expensive that goes into making it, and if I can whip up a big batch in one day that will last us about a week to a week and a half, it will totally be worth it.

I'm looking forward to trying out many more of these recipes. My cookbook has been ordered!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A pumpkin convert

I'll admit -- I don't love the flavor of pumpkin. I love the look of them. I love the smell of them. I love the "seasonal" factor about them. But not so much the taste.

When Sassy was on baby food, I made almost the entirety of what she ate. She very seldom had the store-bought stuff, not because I'm against it, but because I had been hearing for months about how easy it was to make your own babyfood. And it was -- and cheap, too! I figured out that I spent HALF what I would have had I bought the regular stuff on the shelves at Walmart.

Pumpkin was one of the foods I was really excited for Sassy to try, and although she didn't love it at first, it did grow to become a favorite. It's a fairly versatile food, actually, and we tried all different combinations. For a while, pumpkin and blueberry was a hit, though it doesn't sound appetizing to me!

Now that she's almost two, she's significantly more picky with what she will and will not eat. I was really curious to see if she'd groove on pumpkin again this year or not. And since I really cannot STAND the smell of canned pumpkin, and since I remembered the ease of making my own pumpkin puree, I tried it again this week. Seriously, the hardest part is cutting through the pumpkin. Once you accomplish that, you're golden!

If you've never tried it before, all you need to do is cut the pumpkin in order to scrape out the seeds (which I saved for later and roasted, if you like that kind of thing). Put the pumpkin face down (though I've heard face up works just as well) on a lined baking sheet. (The natural sugars caramelize in the oven, so unless you want to be standing at the sink scrubbing pumpkin juice off your baking sheet, break out that aluminum foil!) It's not a terrible idea to prick the skin with a fork or a sharp knife a few times, just to let some of the steam escape if you're roasting skin-side up. Roast at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until you see that the skin is puckered. The "meat" of the pumpkin literally will fall away from the skin when it's done. Throw it in a food processor, add a little water for consistency if needed, and voila! Homemade pumpkin puree that is ready to go into any number of fall recipes!

Coincidentally, I made pumpkin spice muffins with some of my puree.

One pie pumpkin yielded approximately 35 ounces of puree... definitely cheaper than buying it canned!

And as an aside... letting your toddler play with a pumpkin awaiting its roasting fate? Good idea.

Letting your toddler get so attached to said pumpkin that she runs screaming in the other direction when she sees THIS come out of the oven?

Bad idea. Please note this accordingly.

Anyway. Ice cube trays are a great way to store the fallen comrade -- uh, pumpkin puree.

I found these nifty trays last year that came with lids. They're made by Oxo. When your food cubes are frozen, just pop 'em out...

...and store them in a freezer bag.

And here's a helpful hint: it's easier to write a label on the bag before you add the contents. Next time I'll follow my own advice. See? You're smarter already just from reading this blog post. I should write a book.

I pulled out a couple of cubes to defrost in the fridge overnight to add to Sassy's oatmeal for breakfast the next morning.

And the best part about the trays? Dishwasher safe!

I wanted to use some of the fruits of my labor (is it still considered "labor" if it's really no effort at all?) by trying it out in pumpkin spice muffins. Now, I told you -- I'm not big on pumpkin flavor. But stick with me. Oh, and for super easy measuring, each cube is one ounce. I needed a cup of pumpkin puree, so eight cubes went into this cup to defrost in the microwave.

Dry ingredients included flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar (that was kind of an accident), baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.

By that time, the puree was defrosted.

Add the pumpkin, along with some milk.

Two eggs.

I beat them in the measuring cup I used for the pumpkin. Because I'm a fan of not dirtying more dishes than are absolutely necessary.

Crisco and vanilla go in also.

The batter was a little runny... I added a little more brown sugar. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I love experimental baking.

Muffin cups. Because, again, the dirtying dishes thing. This way, all my muffin pan needs is a quick wipe-down. By the way, does anyone else's muffin pan (or baking sheet, or casserole dish) look like this? Oh, for the days when everything was nice and new and perfectly clean. So anyway... fill the muffin cups with the batter.

And then some of the batter goes and does this. So much for the clean pan, right?

It's a really good thing I used those muffin cups so my pan didn't get messy, huh? Sprinkle some cinnamon, sugar, and nutmeg (or whatever combination of seasonal spices you like) on top, and bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes.

And they come out beautiful, golden brown, and smelling YUMMY! My oven smelled like a giant Yankee candle.

And then there's this one. How interesting. But he was delicious!

Pumpkin spice muffins... even if you don't love pumpkin flavor, try them out! I've had three.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pumpkins and pacifiers

Sounds like a "Jon and Kate Plus Eight" episode, doesn't it? Or "Kate Plus Eight." Or "Jon Minus Kate." Or whatever they are today.

We're headed to the pumpkin patch and apple orchard tomorrow. I'm excited! Sassy LOVES pumpkins... I mean, they could almost qualify as a "favorite toy" right now. I can't wait to see her face when she sees a field full of them!

We're going to pick apples. I've never been apple-picking before, but since I have all the canning supplies, I'm going to try making homemade applesauce to can. Sassy could eat applesauce every single day if I let her, so I'm really curious to see how much cheaper it is to make my own. Maybe I'll even try making cinnamon apples for dessert tomorrow night. Yum!

I wanted to make her a cute pumpkin shirt this evening, but just ran out of time. When putting her to bed, she HANDED me her pacifier. That has NEVER happened before! I asked "Do you want Mommy to have your paci?" and she just laid there... so I took it with me, closed the door, and braced myself for the screaming. Which came... and lasted for the better part of an hour. I watched her on the monitor, and every time I debated going in, she would quiet down. Around the 45-minute mark, I went in her room, and all she wanted was to be held. It was so sweet... so precious... and gave me hope for the day when we actually WILL give up the pacifier that she might just be comforted by our presence. Which, by the way, that day is not today. We caved. She went to sleep approximately 1.483 seconds after getting that darn thing in her mouth again. *sigh*

So, since I had no intentions whatsoever to start paci-weaning tonight, and since I decided to get caught up on other things instead, Sassy will be wearing a decidedly non-fallish purple cable-knit sweater with a bow to match. (I had already started cute little korker clips to match the pumpkin shirt I had envisioned.) Oh well! It'll be too cold to go sans a coat anyway.