August 26, 2012

Carrot Orange Muffins

We are back from vacation and settled into the routine of school. For the first time ever we have an actual schoolroom to have our homeschool class. We ended up bunking the boys together and the girls together and that gave us an extra bedroom to finally dedicate to homeschooling. It's wonderful to finally have all of our books, supplies, art stuff and science kits all in one place!! Before, we forever carting things around the house and trying to keep the baby from getting into them. There have been plenty of times when scribble magically appeared on someone's workbook. That baby is so smart, she can already operate my cell phone and the dvd player!

Back to school or back to homeschooling, however you roll in your house, you are gonna need to eat. These are the BEST snack, breakfast or lunchbox muffins going. My kids loved them and I'm sure yours will too. They have lots of good stuff in them including nuts for protein. I used pecans, but you could use walnuts, cashews, whatever you like. 

These freeze well. Do what I do and wrap each one a plastic wrap and then throw them all in a freezer bag. When you need one, just pull it out. They thaw very quickly and it's such a timesaver!

Carrot Orange Muffins

1 c flour
1/2 c brown sugar
1/3 c grated carrots
3/4 c oats
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 c buttermilk
3 tbsp butter, melted
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 oz roasted nuts, chopped
1/2 c dried apricots, chopped finely
1 tbsp poppy seeds
1 lg orange, zest and juice
1 egg
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 c granola cereal

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the flour, baking powder, soda, cinnamon, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add nuts, carrot, apricots, poppy seeds, oats and orange zest. Mix well.

In a medium sized bowl, mix buttermilk, egg, melted butter, and orange juice. Pour this wet mixture into the dry mixture bowl and stir together lightly with a spoon. Leave lumps. Lumps are good when making muffins or quick (non-yeast) breads.

Spoon mixture into greased or lined muffin pan. Bake for 15 minutes.

August 23, 2012

Canning Tomatoes

It's tomato time. After we got back from our Florida adventures, we had tomatoes coming out of our ears, enough to fill up a 5 gallon bucket twice and my garden basket (and make that yummy gazpacho).

I knew we couldn't eat the rest right away. Time to get out the Ball jars and the pressure canner and get to work. I have never canned tomatoes before, but I figured it might work out better than the freezing method I have been using. I wanted to capture the taste of home grown tomatoes for wintertime soups, pasta dishes and casseroles. I have to say after going through all of this work, they better taste good! Buying store canned tomatoes is pretty cheap and easy, so I can't say if I will go this route next year unless they taste super fantastic. But I knew I needed to try it out just to say I could do it! :) I'm I the only one who thinks like this or are there things you do just to prove you can??
Canning Tomatoes

17 pounds ripe tomatoes
14 Tbsp of bottled lemon juice
7 tsp salt
7 quart sized jars with lids and rings

Fill pressure canner with water about 1/3 full and bring to a boil.

Fill a large saucepan ¾ of the way full and bring to a boil. Gently lower tomatoes into the HOT water. Cook for about 30 seconds and the skins will split. Immediately plunge into a cold water bath to stop cooking and make the tomatoes all cozy and touchable (the opposite of flaming hot). Then you can easily pull off the skins. Dice the skinned tomatoes and put into hot clean jars. Pack them in tightly. (This is a messy step in my kitchen.)
Put 2 tbls of lemon juice and 1 tsp of salt in each jar. Make sure tomatoes have juice covering them, adding from the bowl if needed. Leave 1/2" headspace. Release air bubbles if you have them, wipe the rims and seal with lids and rings.
Process jars in boiling water pressure canner for 25 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure. Start timing them only when the gauge starts spinning and the water is boiling. After 25 minutes, remove canner from heat and allow to sit until pressure drops. When cooled, remove lid and remove jars using a lifter. Cool jars on a towel. Check for sealed lid (no give in lid when pushed down). 


August 21, 2012

Gazpacho - Cold Tomato Soup

It's the end of summer and I love this time of year. For me, it's the change in seasons that I adore. When winter ends and spring begins I feel alive and joyful. When summer warmth comes I am ready to run around in flip flops and tank tops. I have to say, I really think fall is my favorite. Warm days with crisp nights. We get out the marshmallows and drag branches to the fire pit for smores bonfires with friends. We go camping and hang out watching the starts. Fall is bliss.

I've worked all summer long, in the garden and the harvest is paying off, but these days my garden is winding down. The beans are finished, the squash kaput, the peppers producing less each day. Today we pulled up two dead tomato plants, but at least the other are still going. We have different varieties of tomatoes planted. Last year I introduced the mini orange ones and they were amazing. This year, my new plants were Cherokee Purple and Mr. Stripey heirloom. Both had interesting color, but tasted not as bold as the traditional Better Boy that is our mainstay. They were also not as pest resistant. In fact, I'm pretty sure more bugs enjoyed my Mr. Stripey than I did! 

Better Boy, Purple Cherokee, Mr. Stripey all ready for soup
I did can (that soooo should be "jar") some of these tomatoes, which I will share with you tomorrow. It was pretty easy considering I usually only can jam. The canning jars look beautiful with the different color tomatoes in them.

Today however, I wanted to enjoy the end of summer. Today I made gazpacho. I have to say, I've never...ever had gazpacho. I'm sure it wasn't for lack of it being offered. My Mom loves the stuff, so I know she tried to get me to like it. I always declined. As usual, my Mom was right, I should have come around much sooner than this.

I'm pretty sure it was the name that put me off. It sounds Like it might grow hair on your chest tough. Like take your lunch money away tough. Gestapo tough. I was intimidated. But as I've said before with souffle - wusiness needs to be confronted. I had to make this stuff. I'm proud to say...

I...have..conquered...gazpacho!!! And I actually liked it.

Of course, now that means I want you to conquer gazpacho as well (or at least be able to spell it). You may be an old pro at it like my Mom, or you may be a wussy newbie like me, but if you like fresh tomatoes, you are going to love this recipe. All you need is a food processor - no cooking involved. That's my kinda summer cooking.

from Southern Living

8 tomatoes, peeled and chopped (I used several types of tomatoes, just be sure they are flavorful and ripe)
2 cucumbers, peeled and seeded
1 large bell pepper
1 small red onion, peeled
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded
1 large clove garlic
1- 32 oz bottle of tomato or vegetable juice
1 lemon, need 1 tbsp zest, 1/4 c juice
1/3 c red wine vinegar
2 dashes of hot sauce
3 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp paprika
sour cream

Cut tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper, and onion into quarters. Put all the chopped vegetables, the jalapeno and the garlic into the food processor. Pulse until chunky (or you can keep going til it's smooth if you don't like texture in your soup), scraping the sides when necessary. Pour into a large plastic container and add the rest of the ingredients. Stir, cover and put in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Serve with sour cream and a sliced avocado. 

If the Tomato Peach Salad is summer on a fork, this is summer on a spoon! Thanks Mom for having patience and letting me grow into my taste buds.

August 1, 2012

Tropical Pink Dragonfruit Limeade

I've discovered a tropical paradise here in South Florida....Robert Is Here produce stand. Robert has one of those fun stories that I love sharing with my kids, stories of personal achievement. As Robert told me himself, it's a lesson on hard work, honesty and integrity. 
Robert and I talked...a lot!
Robert started his business at the tender age of six years old. He set up on a road to sell his father's cucumbers with a giant sign that said "Robert Is Here" and the name stuck, so the place is still called Robert Is Here. He soon progressed into hiring his neighbor to work for him when he was at school. Today, many years later, his business is still thriving with many friendly employees, loads of exotic fruits, fresh vegetables, and the MOST amazing milkshakes!! We came for the key lime milkshake, which was a perfect blend of sweet and tart - delicious, but we loved the mamey and the guanabana flavored milkshakes just as much, if not more. They were made with fresh fruit and they were delicious, creamy and vanilla with the fruit taste too - seriously good stuff. 
Sharing a mamey milkshake
We stopped at Robert's on our way to Key Largo, the northern most key and had such a delightful time, we stopped at Robert's again on the way home. We stocked up on avocados (and made guacamole three times while on vacay), the most delicious juicy Kitt mangoes that the staff was happy to slice up for us. They were so perfectly ripe that the juice dripped down our arms while eating them.
juicy mango!
We enjoyed longans (like lychee), key limes, jack fruit, tomatoes, and intriguingly named dragon fruit. 
Source: Tropical Fruit Nursery
Dragon fruit is strange looking from the outside, but the variety we had was beautiful fuchsia pink with small black seeds on the inside. I cut it in half and just scooped the fruit out with a spoon, much like an avocado.

Look at this beauty...

With this color, I knew I wanted to make something fresh to show it off. I figured it would make a beauitful drink and boy was I right. We had some limeade concentrate in the freezer which I mixed up and added the chopped dragon fruit. When stirred up, it all became this gorgeous pink color. It didn't change the flavor of the drink because the dragon fruit flavor is so mild, something like strawberries. I think this fruit would make an incredible mixed drink with natural coloring.

Tropical Pink Dragonfruit Limeade
1 can limeade concentrate
1/2 dragonfruit

Mix up limeade with water and stir in chopped dragonfruit. Let sit in fridge for at least 30 minutes to overnight. The color will deepen over time. Add tequila for an adult dragon-rita.
We tried it in orange juice too and it created a beautiful translucent coral color. A a little of the fruit goes a long way in coloring a drink so I had plenty of fruit to make different drinks.

Next time you are having a party and need a punch or fun drink to make, give dragon fruit a look. You won't be disappointed with this kinda color!!



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