Mint Simple Syrup

To my surprise, the mint plant that died a horrible death last year, came back with a vengeance earlier this spring. I need to move it to a bigger container as it is straining at the seams. While we were picking basil yesterday, we also gathered enough mint to make mint simple syrup.  I used this recipe from The Hungry Mouse and it was very simple, if you’ll forgive the pun.

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I gave my mint leaves a quick rinse and spun them out in the salad spinner.  Then, I followed the steps in the recipe. The only change I made was to heat the water to boiling in my electric kettle and then whisk it with the sugar until dissolved. The syrup sat and cooled while we had dinner and then I strained it into a pint sized mason jar.

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As you can see, there’s still a few little bits floating around.  A second straining through some cheesecloth would fix that, but I’m not sure I care enough to go to the trouble.  Mint is not my favorite flavor, but I’m hoping this syrup will go well in mixed drinks and lemonade.  So tell me, what would you use it for?

 

First Harvest

Thankfully, the garden survived the high temps while we were gone over the weekend.  In fact, I think it flourished with the 90º temps, thanks to the good soaking I gave it before we left.  The straw bales seem to be doing a good job keeping the tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchinis hydrated. I’ll try to get a picture in the future, but these were not from the straw bale part of the garden.

The foods from my first harvest were from the original garden bed that came with the house and some containers of herbs.

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Sugar snap peas, larger than expected.  Rex thought they were delicious and scarfed one down before they made it into the house.

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Enough basil to make pesto for dinner.  Rex loved pulling the leaves and was very sad when we were done picking.  I washed up the basil and then threw it into the food processor with some parmesan cheese, a few walnuts, lots of garlic, and some salt. I blended it up while drizzling grapeseed oil in until it looked about right and p(r)esto!

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I served the pesto up on some organic pasta from Costco (I don’t remember what this shape is called) with a side of asparagus.  Rex had three helpings of pasta in addition to his asparagus!  I’m hoping my basil plant will continue to flourish and there will be many more pesto dinners in our future.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the mint that was picked with the basil. It became something else entirely.

One Loaf to Rule Them All

I have finally found it. The homemade loaf from the bread machine that is light and fluffy, but chewy with a soft crust.  It is the closest I have ever gotten to the texture of store bought, but still shining through with the flavor of homemade. I could go on and on about this bread, but I won’t.  You just need to go make it.

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Chewy Sandwich Bread

Adapted from Melanie Cooks.

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Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups half & half
  • 2 tbsp grapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking rolled oats
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

Directions

Warm half & half in the microwave for 30-60 seconds, or until it feels warm (not hot) to the touch. Combine all ingredients in your bread machine in the order specified by the manufacturer.

  • Cycle: Basic/White bread
  • Loaf size: 1.5lb
  • Crust: Light

Allow to cool thoroughly before slicing.

Homemade Hot Dog Buns

It finally happened.  I’ve been thinking about trying homemade hot dog buns for yearsWhen we all decided that hot dogs were what was for dinner, I had the chance.  Hot dog buns are not something I keep on hand.  So, I hit up Pinterest, looked over a few recipes, picked one, modified it, and hoped for the best.  The results?  Delicious!

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They are fluffy and chewy with great texture.  The bit of whole wheat makes them more filling than your average $1/bag buns from the store. I made mine as directed, going with 3oz of dough per bun for 16 buns.  That proportion made fairly large buns which were a tad big for our turkey dogs. I think next time, I would make smaller buns and greater quantity.  This recipe also lends itself well to hamburger buns with the addition of an egg wash and sesame seeds.

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You can crunch the time of the second rise by warming up your oven a bit and then turning it off and putting the dough in.  I have a “keep warm” setting on my oven that heats it to 170º.  I turned that on while I was portioning the dough out and then turned it off and let the dough rise with the door closed.  They were perfect size in less than 30 minutes.  I also used the dough setting on my bread machine to do the work of the mixing and first rise.  If you don’t have a bread machine, just use a stand mixer and follow basic bread dough procedure through the first rise.

Homemade Hot Dog Buns

Adapted from this recipe at Baking Obsession.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 cups half & half, warmed slightly
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

Directions

For Hot Dog Buns:

Add all ingredients to your bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer and set for dough cycle.  After the dough cycle is complete, portion your dough out into 20 equal portions (roughly 2.5oz each) and shape into logs.  (I shaped mine like rolls (folding all the edges under and pinching them together) before rolling into logs.)  

Place on a greased 9×13″ sheet pan and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled and dough is touching.  Bake at 375º for 20-25 minutes.  Buns should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Allow to cool before slicing.

For Hamburger Buns:

Follow same procedure as hot dog buns until shaping, portioning into 16 equal pieces (approx. 3oz each).  Shape into rounds and flatten slightly.  Place on a greased 9×13 sheet pan and allow to rise about 30 minutes in a warm place.  Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1tbsp water or milk) and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Bake at 375º for 25-30 minutes.  Buns should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Allow to cool before slicing.

Both types of buns are best eaten the same day and will last shorter than store-bought buns.  They freeze nicely, warming up in the microwave in 15-30 seconds.

Homemade Chicken Nuggets

Have you heard about Momables?  Before you roll your eyes and wander off at yet another lunch post, just bear with me.  I’m really digging this site lately for lunch inspiration and great recipes that give you alternatives to processed foods and ways to make your time go further.  How to freeze rice is genius! (I used a large cookie scoop to make portions.)  But my current favorite is the homemade chicken nuggets recipe.  

I’ve been tinkering with it for a few batches now, and I’ve finally found the version that makes my family say “YUM!”.  They reheat nicely and the kiddos scarf them down.  We get our ground chicken from the local butcher shop at a ridiculously cheap price, so these are also extremely economical.  Add to that, this latest batch used homemade breadcrumbs* from homemade bread and a DIY taco seasoning mix (recipe below), and we’re talking delicious food on the cheap.   This version is toddler approved and makes a large batch, perfect for freezing.

2014-03-02 14.52.23Nuggets, frozen and ready for storage (unbaked).

Large Batch Homemade Chicken Nuggets

Adapted from Momables

Ingredients

  • 4lbs ground chicken
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup shredded jack cheese
  • 4 teaspoons taco seasoning, divided
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs

Directions

In your food processor, pulse oats, cheese, and 2 teaspoons taco seasoning until combined.  Add chicken and oat/cheese mixture to your stand mixer and stir until combined using the paddle attachment. (Alternatively, you could mix by hand or do in batches in your food processor.)

In another bowl, combine remaining 2 teaspoons taco seasoning with breadcrumbs and mix well.  (You can also shake the mixture in a jar or bag before pouring into a bowl.  A perfect job for that helping toddler!)

Form chicken mixture into small patties and press into breadcrumb mixture. Place on parchment lined baking sheets and bake at 375 degrees until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees (roughly 15-20 minutes).

Freeze unbaked chicken nuggets on parchment lined baking sheet for 1-2 hours.  Transfer to freezer bags or vacuum seal.  When ready, bake following directions above, adding roughly 3-5 minutes to cook time.

2014-03-02 14.52.49Homemade taco seasoning.

Taco Seasoning (Pepper Free!)

Adapted from Spoonful

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup Black Canyon chili powder**
  • 1/8 cup cumin
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a mason jar.  Close lid and shake well.

*I used the instructions from The Homemade Pantry, which are perfect if you’re using frozen bread.  I have a bag in the freezer and throw ends and slices in as available, making up a batch when the bag is full.

**Black Canyon chili powder is from Savory Spice Shop.  Available online or in store.  Feel free to substitute regular chili powder.

Easy Turkey Ranch Wrap

I’ve been doing pretty good at packing Rex a lunch most days, but packing a lunch for me is harder. I love my homemade bread, but not for sandwiches (it’s just too thick).  I really prefer hot lunches, but that’s just not feasible when out and about with a toddler.  So, I’ve been doing a lot of wraps lately and it seems to be working well.  Here’s a simple one that is consistently yummy and fast to make.

Turkey Ranch Wrap

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Ingredients:

  • 1 burrito size flour tortilla
  • 3-5 slices turkey lunch meat
  • 1 spoonful ranch dressing (or desired amount)
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Thinly sliced cucumber (about 1/4 cucumber)

Directions:

On flour tortilla (slightly towards one side), spread ranch dressing and sprinkle cheddar cheese on it. Place sliced cucumber and lunch meat on top of cheese.  Roll it up, burrito style.  Slice in half if desired.

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This wrap works equally well with hummus and feta subbed in for the ranch and cheddar.  It’s filling without being heavy and doesn’t get soggy.  Whats your favorite easy lunch wrap combination?