Plans for Christmas Present (Christmas blog hop)

Haha, Christmas Present, I crack myself up.

Anyway, I forgot to write a blog post last night, so I’ve missed a day of the hop. Bad llama! I got busy playing videogames with friends last night and just … completely forgot. The baby cooperated for once and slept on my lap. It was wonderful to goof off again.

I’ve been trying to think of something special to cook for Christmas Eve. When I was growing up, we always had the big family get together on Christmas Eve, and we’d do a big dinner and stuff. Since our family was so big (six kids), we kind of winged it every Christmas. Some years we did Mexican buffet platters. Some years we did do-it-yourself sandwiches. Some years we did clam chowder in bread bowls. I know that turkey and stuff is traditional, but man, it’s all the same food you eat at Thanksgiving. Why not mix it up?

I was thinking about the clam chowder bread bowls, in particular. As it gets cold, I have this insatiable appetite for soups of all kinds. I’ve made potato soup lots of times, but I’ve never made clam chowder, even though I love it. And the kids have never experienced the wonder that is bread bowls. Makes me think of the song from Willy Wonka: “You can even eat the dishes!”

We have no family or friends down here to do holidays with, so I’ll just be cooking for us. Fortunately, there’s eight of us, so it’s not exactly lonely, heh!

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Christmas blog hop day 2: Cinnamon roll cake

This past year, I discovered the glories of Pinterest.

Pinterest is like having stacks of magazines on any topic imaginable. Any time you want, you can pull them out, flip through them, and admire the gorgeous photography. This is especially true in regards to recipes.

Every so often, I’ll go on a pinning spree and collect all kinds of recipes I’d like to try someday. One of these was called cinnamon roll cake.

Cinnamon roll cake is a coffee cake with caramelized cinnamon sugar swirled through it. It’s delicious, especially if you add sliced apples to the bottom. My mom made it for me right after I had the baby, and it was the best thing I ever ate.

So, yesterday, as the kids were decorating the Christmas tree, I whipped up another one. And, oh man, was it good. I had to beat the kids off it so my husband could have some when he got home.

So if you’re looking for a tasty, easy-to-make treat for the holidays, here’s a good one.

Other blogs in the hop:

My Field of Dreams

Pom Pom’s Ponderings

Melissa: https://boyett-brinkley.blogspot.com/

Granny Marigold: http://grannymarigold.blogspot.com/

Karen (Happy One): https://lifeisgood-smile.blogspot.com

MK: https://mkatchris.blogspot.com/

Elizabeth: https://eroosje.blogspot.com/

Volcano-brain and strawberry cake

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Calbuco’s Rage, a wallpaper from InterfaceLift

My brain has looked like this lately. All these ideas just exploding out the top of my head, endangering passersby.

For the past few weeks, I’ve had this cold that turned into laryngitis, and then on into an eye infection that my daughter brought home. It’s pretty lame when you not only can’t speak, you can’t bear to look at my kind of screen for any length of time. So, writing hasn’t been happening.

It makes it hard to look after kids, too, when you can’t yell somebody’s name. “Hey you! Get that room picked up!” I was relegated to being this ghostly person who drifted around, unable to say much, and not much interested in, you know, LIFE.

But I’m finally on the mend, and dying to work on my projects. I gotta get Werebear off to the editor! I have a full round of edits to work through on Malevolent! I have this space opera mystery series eating at my brain like a mouse nibbling at cheese!

Volcano-brain. Explode.

In other news, my oldest daughter’s birthday is this week. She asked for a strawberry cake. I went online and found one that includes strawberry jello, carefully sifting the flour, and so on. I had my doubts that I was up to making it.

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Then I found a recipe that just calls for a regular cake recipe, to which you add strawberry syrup and diced strawberries. My morale has returned. I can totally do that. And strawberry buttercream? Sign me up, man!

How to toast hazelnuts

Nutella and hazelnut coffee are my only experience with hazelnuts. I didn’t even know what they looked like.

Then I was at the store, and they had little bags of shelled hazelnuts!

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Hazelnuts via Wikimedia Commons

They also had dried currants. But one new food at a time.

So I tried them out raw. They were eh. Kind of oily and bitter. Where was that lovely Nutella flavor?

Then I happened across the blog Chocolate and Zucchini, and she has a lovely section on roasting hazelnuts. All you do is:

Toss the nuts on a cookie sheet under the broiler

Broil until the skins turn black and crack off. (I messed with them about 10 minutes.)

Then pour the nuts into a dish towel and rub them to flake off all the bitter skins.

You’re left with a pile of delicious golden brown Nutella-tasting hazelnuts. They’re completely different than their raw flavor. Like how almonds change when roasted.

Now I have to figure out what to do with them! I might do granola. Or baked oatmeal. Or just candy them. Mmmmm!

Duck, duck, goose

It being the Christmas season, I’ve been thinking of how tired I am of turkey. I mean, seriously, Thanksgiving is quite enough turkey for me, thanks! We still have leftovers in the freezer.

Ham is a big seller, but we eat ham all the time on sandwiches. I can’t get real excited about cooking 10 pounds of ham.

So, as I circulated around our grocery store’s meat department, I happened to glance into the fridge bin and spotted … DUCK. And GOOSE, even!

I’ve never had duck or goose. No idea if I can cook them or if I’d like them.

I did find this really good article (with pictures) on how to cook a duck. And a big website of how to cook wild duck and goose!

Duck and goose seem to be considered red meat, because you do things like pan-sear breast meat to medium rare. But I’ve never had it, and I’m unsure how to cook something I’ve never tasted.

Anybody ever tried duck or goose? How do they taste? Any recipes stood you in good stead?

Thanksgiving recipes!

I always try to cook something for Thanksgiving. We always go to family’s on the day of, and I like to contribute, even if its only a dessert.

This year, what with a new baby (who insists on being held at all times), I’m limiting myself to just a pie. What pie, do you ask? Why, my sister in law’s decadent chocolate mousse pie!

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I had a hard time finding this recipe–apparently mousse is usually made with whipped egg whites, not heavy cream. But I wanted the heavy stuff. Plus it’s really easy to make.

Then hubby came home from the store saying they were out of pre made Oreo pie crusts. HORRORS! Wait, can you make those from scratch?

Yes you can!

So, if the store is still out, I can make my own delicious chocolate cookie crust. I’d rather just buy it–new baby and all–but desperate times and desperate measures. 🙂

Adventures with fermented foods

In my research into how to feed my family nourishing foods, I’ve been skirting the crunchier areas of the Internet. It’s a weird world out there. Anyway, I experimented with making homemade yogurt, which is pretty easy when cooked in a slow cooker. It turned out more or less yogurt-textured, and tasted great.

Encouraged by this success, I tried out lacto-fermented sauerkraut. Which in layman’s terms is just sauerkraut with yogurt whey as a starter. It strove to escape the jars and tasted exactly like store bought, except not pasteurized. (They have to kill the good bacteria or the jars would explode on the shelves.)

Pickled peppers
By Ted Sakshaug, via Wikimedia Commons

Then my sister in law gave me the Nourishing Traditions cookbook. This is the big guns of crunchy. It’s persuaded me to try organ meat and coconut milk and other strange things. Probably the tamest thing in it are the lacto-fermented recipes.

From Wellness Mama:

Probiotics- Eating fermented foods and drinking fermented drinks like Kefir and Kombucha will introduce beneficial bacteria into your digestive system and help the balance of bacteria in your digestive system. Probiotics have also been shown to help slow or reverse some diseases, improve bowel health, aid digestion and improve immunity!
Absorb Food Better- Having the proper balance of gut bacteria and enough digestive enzymes helps you absorb more of the nutrients in the foods you eat. Pair this with your healthy real food diet, and you will absorb many more nutrients from the foods you eat. You won’t need as many supplements and vitamins, and you’ll be absorbing more of the live nutrients in your foods.
Budget Friendly- Incorporating healthy foods into your diet can get expensive, but not so with fermented foods. You can make your own whey at home for a couple of dollars, and using that and sea salt, ferment many foods very inexpensively. Drinks like Water Kefir and Kombucha can be made at home also and cost only pennies per serving. Adding these things to your diet can also cut down on the number of supplements you need, helping the budget further.
Preserves Food Easily- Homemade salsa only lasts a few days in the fridge- Fermented homemade salsa lasts months! The same goes for sauerkraut, pickles, beets and other garden foods. Lacto-fermentation allows you to store these foods for longer periods of time without losing the nutrients like you would with traditional canning.

Anyway, while going through the recipes, I thought fermented marmalade sounded pretty good. So I hacked up an orange, dumped in whey and salt, and left it on the counter to work its magic.

It tasted…alarming. As if I’d picked up an orange where it had been on the ground for six months and squeezed the fermented juice into my mouth. The orange peels remained tough as leather, and chewing was a chore. I ate it on plain yogurt and had zero stomach problems. In fact it made my stomach feel gloriously content. It was worth the alarming taste and chewing.

Then cherries went on sale, so I made some cherry chutney. Fermented cherries are just as alarming as oranges, but they’re a lot easier to chew.

And again, it was worth it to have zero stomach problems.

So I went through the recipes again and decided to try some raisin chutney. It has a lot more spices in it, and I figured it would help with the alarming fermented taste. And oh man, did it! Stirred into yogurt, raisin chutney is a treat. I’d almost given up on fermenting anything but sauerkraut and pickles.

Speaking of which, last weekend I started some sauerkraut and pickled bell peppers (in two separate jars) on the counter. It’s just the veggies, filtered water, salt, and whey. My cabbage was leftover from another recipe and I have a ton of bell peppers. Man, they ferment right up. My peppers sit and bubble like a carbonated beverage that never goes flat. Halfway through the week I tasted my peppers and decided I wanted them spicier, so I added a diced jalapeno.

I opened them both today to eat on hot dogs. Oh man. The sauerkraut is really good, but those pickled peppers. My goodness. They have that salty, sour taste of pickles, they’re lovely and crunchy, but the jalapeno gave them this extra bite. I think I could sit and eat the entire jar. I’m going to pickle a whole bunch more of them.

So those are my adventures with fermented foods. Since I started trying to eat them, my morning sickness dropped to nearly nothing. (Well, that and the coconut milk I was adding to my breakfast cereal.) My insomnia is completely gone and I haven’t had any problems with allergies. And that’s eating one spoonful of fermented stuff on yogurt every night before bed. That’s all!

Halloween ’12

We had a pretty nice Halloween. We used the pirate and cat costumes from last year:

The munchkins in their costumes with their jack o’ lantern.

A neighbor gave us an extra pumpkin they didn’t want, so we merrily carved it up. In the above picture, the kids didn’t have their makeup yet.

Kitty nose and whiskers!

A pirate scar!

I hadn’t done a scouting trip around the neighborhood this year, so I didn’t know where to go to get candy. Seems like all the fun people have moved out over the last year, because we only found one house giving out candy. So we went home and it turned out to be just enough. The kids got to have a small binge, and didn’t bounce off the walls TOO badly afterward.

Today I grabbed the jack o’ lantern and turned it into pumpkin puree. (You have to cut it up and bake it until it’s fork tender, then cut the flesh off the skin and puree it in a blender with some water.)

Sorry, Jack. You’ll be very tasty in a pie.

I’ve been fantasizing about pumpkin bars with a cream cheese frosting … yum …

Also been thinking of canvasing the neighborhood and seeing if anybody else will give me their jack o’ lanterns for processing. The only problem is that I’m completely out of freezer containers and bags. :-p

Caramel cake

My birthday was this past weekend. I didn’t feel much like any sort of sugary sweet, but the munchkins associate birthdays with cake. So I thought, why don’t I make a cake so good even I can’t resist it? Like, just a white cake with caramel drizzled over it?

Caramel cake

I’ve been determined to conquer the Bundt cake pan. Last time I made one, it stuck to the fluting and tore in half. So this time I buttered and floured the heck out of it. Then I let it cool completely, then ran a rubber spatula down the fluting. The cake popped right out. Conquered!

I also mixed some chocolate chips into the batter. Forgot to mention that little detail. (The cake recipe was a generic cake recipe, but you could do this with any cake mix or recipe you please.)

For the caramel sauce, I actually used a butterscotch sauce recipe. It’s brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, and a shot of heavy cream. I only had milk, so I used that. You couldn’t tell. It was lovely. Also some vanilla once it’s cooked.

You’re only supposed to let it boil five minutes, but I let it go more like ten or fifteen because I like my caramel thick. It turned out thick, all right. Like, the-outside-of-a-candy-apple thick. After it cooled on the cake, nothing induced it to move.

But boy, was it good.

The munchkins (and hubby) couldn’t wait to devour the whole thing. I managed to make it last 24 hours, and then it was gone. Good thing, too. I shouldn’t make cakes I can’t resist.

Stalking acorns

Picture by Curtis Clark, from the Wikimedia Commons

These are acorns from Coast Live Oaks (or something similar). They’re long skinny torpedoes that dive to the ground. They’re stuffed with nutmeat. The squirrels and jays are going crazy over them right now.

Also, they’re cheap as free. 😀

Since about June, I’ve had the idea to stockpile acorns, treat them so they’re edible, and use them in recipes that call for walnuts or pecans. On Friday I walked to our local park, which has lots of big, mature trees, to scout for oak trees.

Lo and behold, along the back side of the park, I found about ten big, mature coast live oaks.

Coast live oak, picture free use from Wikimedia commons. The ones at the park are much prettier than this sorry specimen.

I enlisted the kids’ reluctant help, and we picked up about half a pound of acorns. I needed a sample to try out. After I went through the whole leaching process, I still might not like the taste.

I referred to this website about acorn preparation. Those jokers on the Yahoo answers pages have no idea what they’re talking about.

I elected to skip the drying step, since this was a test anyway. I got my needle-nose pliers out, and sat and shelled acorns. It’s much easier than shelling pecans. More like doing an almond. I’d just cut the top off the round end, peel back the soft outer shell, and the whole meat pops into your hand like a yellow bullet of goodness.

Bitter. Oh my, I’ve never tasted anything so bitter in my life. That’s from the tannic acid in the acorns, which acts as a preservative. It’s also poisonous to humans. But there’s ways to remove it. I wanted my acorns as whole as possible, so I broke them all in half (again, like an almond) and boiled them.

You boil water, dump the acorns in, and turn off the heat. Let it stand for half an hour. Pour off the water and do it again. After the first three boilings, start tasting the nuts to test the bitterness. You can save the tannic acid from the first boiling for treating bug bites or tanning hides. I was surprised that it has a nice smell. I expected it to stink. It just smells like nuts.

Anyway, I boiled mine over and over for three days (mostly because I kept forgetting about them). Finally this morning I caved and did a rough chop on the acorn meats. They say if you can’t get the bitterness out, to grind them up and boil the meal. Two boilings after my rough chop, the bitterness was completely gone. They taste like a very mild walnut, but without the bitter aftertaste. (All nuts have some tannic acid in them.)

So now they’re spread on a cookie sheet in the oven under low heat, dehydrating. I mean to freeze them afterward. Without the tannic acid, they spoil quickly. As soon as our 100 degree streak breaks, I’m headed back to the park for a bunch more acorns. They’re cheaper than paying 7 bucks a pound for pecans!