Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Twice-Baked Butternut Squash

A few years ago I got caught up in an email chain-letter of recipes. I got several gems, and here's one of them:

Twice-baked Butternut Squash

1 large butternut squash
Olive Oil
5 Tablespoons of butter
One sweet onion or two shallots
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 and cut the butternut squash in half and scoop out the seeds and stingy part. This can be difficult -- I recommend a large, sturdy knife. Place cut-side down on an oiled, foiled cookie sheet.

Stick it in the oven for half an hour. After half an hour has passed, sauté your garlic and onion/shallots in olive oil and a tablespoon of butter.

When the total cooking time for the squash has reached 45 minutes, remove the squashes from the oven and flip them over (I recommend the glove kind of pot holder). Pour the garlic/onion/butter yumminess into the  softened hollow of the squash and add a 2 tablespoons of butter to each half.
Mix it up with a thin metal spoon or fork. Coat with bread crumbs if desired. Garnish with parsley (not pictured.)

Return to the oven for a final 15 minutes. Serve warm. Happy fall!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Yummiest Popcorn (Sweet)

Thanks to my fellow crafting friend Sara, I was introduced to "folksy crack" about a year ago. Be forewarned, it is impossible to stop eating this stuff.

Caramel Corn
adapted from Damn Good Sweet by David Guas and Raquel Pelzel

10 cups freshly popped popcorn (this is about one "load" in a air popper... but for a lighter caramel coating, try two loads and spread the love)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 - 2 cups plain peanuts (can be omitted, or you can use almond slivers for a different taste)

Preheat oven to 250* (see note), and line a rimmed baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper.

Pop popcorn and place on parchment lined baking sheets and sprinkle peanuts (or almonds, or nothing) on top.

In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, mix sugar, corn syrup, butter, and salt with 2 tablespoons of water. Pre-measure your vanilla and baking soda in a small prep dish, as you won't have time once the caramel reaches 250 degrees.  Heat over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until a candy thermometer reads 250 degrees (this should take less than five minutes once the caramel is at a simmer). Do not try to make this recipe without a candy thermometer. Working quickly, remove the pan from the heat and stir in baking soda and vanilla. Pour the caramel over the popcorn and mix with a spatula until it is well coated.

Bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes, making sure to get the caramel and peanuts off the bottom of the pan and onto the popcorn. If you don't stir/flip/toss/rearrange the popcorn, the caramel will burn and you will be sad. Let cool, and break up any large clusters of popcorn that have formed before serving. 

This popcorn makes a great gift... if you resist eating it long enough to give it away!

* Note: some ovens go into "broil mode" at this low temperature. If this is the case with your oven, place the rack as far from the active heat coil as possible and check often to ensure your popcorn isn't burning. Because that would be absolutely tragic.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Save Some Green and Stay Clean

Most of us are concerned with saving the planet. So here are two of my favorite cleaning tricks to help you keep your house clean and green.

Cut up old t-shirts to use as cleaning rags. These are reusable, free, and better for the planet than paper towels. Tired and stained bath towels and washcloths work too. Keep them in a special drawer, basket, whatever.

Dilute your chemicals. Most bathroom/surface/everything cleaners are much more potent than they need to be. So don't be afraid to water it down -- your Clorox spray will still get the job done, and be less stinky, and the bottle will last longer. If your bottle is new, try pouring some into a reusable spray bottle and diluting both bottles. You can keep one in the bathroom, and one in the kitchen. Look, that just saved you 30 seconds walking back and forth to get cleaning supplies! Everybody wins.

If you're cool without harsh chemicals, use natural cleaning aids. Diluted vinegar is great for disinfecting bathrooms and kitchens, and water with a bit of lemon juice is a great all-purpose surface cleaner.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yummiest Popcorn (Savory)

I generally try to stick with common ingredients. But this one is worth tossing a few extra things in your cart.

Pop some plain popcorn. Sprinkle with melted butter. Toss. Sprinkle again with Bragg's Liquid Amino Acids. Toss. Sprinkle with a few heaping tablespoons of nutritional yeast (available in bulk food aisles in health food stores). Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Soft Pretzels with Cinnamon Sugar

This tasty treat is a hit with all ages, but especially amongst my preschool and kindergarten students.

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white flour, plus extra for forming shapes
One package baking yeast
1 tsp salt
3 Tbs sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Stir one package of baking yeast into 1.5 cups warm water. Allow to sit for 5 minutes.

Mix 2 cups whole wheat flour with 2 cups white flour. Add a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of sugar. Stir in the yeast-water.

Place on a floured surface and make into shapes. Preheat oven to 350. With kids over 5, this is a great Play-Doh-like project they can eat afterward!

When the dough has been formed into shapes (make sure none are too thin, or they will burn), transfer onto a buttered cookie sheet and brush on a layer of beaten egg. Sprinkle with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar (or salt instead, if you want a more traditional pretzel).

Bake for 12 - 15 minutes. Serve with fresh fruit and smiles.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Double Chocolate Toffee

Melt 1.5 sticks butter in a medium saucepan. Add 1 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons water, and a tablespoon of corn syrup and slowly bring to a boil. When it's boiling, add a square of unsweetened baking chocolate. I like to sprinkle in a hint of cinnamon. Clip on a candy thermometer and allow to bubble steadily, while stirring occasionally.

Put a sheet of foil in a medium casserole dish and place chopped walnuts or almond slivers evenly across foil.  Do not use a cookie sheet as pictured, the toffee will be too thin, thus very brittle.

When mixture reaches 290 degrees, pour it into the foiled casserole dish. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Allow to cool for 3 minutes.

Sprinkle surface with chocolate chips, and allow to sit until melty.

Spread evenly. After 10 minutes, stick it in the fridge for awhile. Break into pieces and store in the fridge until serving. You need to provide your guests with napkins :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Banana Bread

I was moving my hanging fruit basket today and squished some bananas. This calls for banana bread.

This is my recipe I adapted from the Epicurious recipe. It's healthier (less oil, less sugar), tastier (more nutmeg) and less time-consuming (less relentless mixing.)


  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • dash of nutmeg

  • dash of ground cloves

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    Set aside.

  • Mix with beaters on high for 5 minutes:

  • 4 large eggs

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar

  • 1/3 cup applesauce or brown rice syrup (or a few tablespoons of honey if you have neither)

  • Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 bread loaf pans.

    Then add to egg mixture:

  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil

  • 5 or 6 very ripe bananas (make sure they get all mashed up)

  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche, or yogurt, or sour cream, cream cheese or... leftover cream cheese frosting

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

  •  Combine with dry ingredients, then stir in:

  • 1 1/3 cups walnuts (or however much you want to put in, if you choose to at all),

  • Pour into pans. Bake for 50 minutes, then test with knife. When it comes out clean or with crumbs, take out. Let sit for 10 minutes, then flip and allow bread to slide out of pan. 

    I always stick one loaf in the freezer for a later date, in case I'm running to a party and don't have time to make a dish. Or just so it doesn't go to waste.

    One of my favorite things about banana bread are the many things you can enjoy on top of it. I particularly enjoy toasting a slice and spreading some cream cheese on it. But you can also enjoy it with butter, jam, honey butter, Nutella... the possibilities go on.

    Watermelon Salad

    This unlikely combination of ingredients is a hit with 99/100 people who try it. Credit goes to my friend Amy, who made it for one of our weekly Girls' Nights a few months ago.

    • Half a large watermelon, or a whole small watermelon
    • A few ounces of crumbled feta or goat cheese (I prefer goat cheese for the flavor, but feta holds together a little nicer)
    • Mint leaves, chopped
    • Balsamic vinegar (I was recently introduced to White Balsamic, which would be nice, as it wouldn't discolor the watermelon)
    • A sprinkling of pepper (optional)

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    Back-to-School Cookies

    Sadly these cookies could not be served at the school I work at, as they contain peanut butter, which we don't allow due to some severe allergies. But JT is a middle school teacher and eats PB & J for lunch every day. We'll see how this variation* goes over...

    1/2 Cup Butter (1 Stick), softened
    1/2 Cup Honey
    1 Large Egg
    1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
    1 Cup Peanut Butter
    1 1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
    1 Cup Old Fashioned Oats

    1 Tsp Baking Soda
    1/2 Tsp Salt
    Jam, Jelly or Preserves

    1. Place the butter and honey in a bowl or a standing mixer and beat for 1 minute.
    2. Add the egg, vanilla and peanut butter and beat another minute on medium speed or until smooth.

    3. In a separate bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and mix to combine.

    4. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix to incorporate.
    5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    6. Drop 1 tbsp of the cookie dough onto a silpat or parchment-lined cookie sheet and using your finger make an indentation in the center of each cookie.
    7. Fill the indentation with jam.*

    8. Bake for 10-12 minutes.
    9. Cool and serve.
     The result? Yum.

    *After step #7, freeze the unbaked cookies for 30 minutes on the cookie sheet and then place the par-frozen cookies in a ziploc bag, label and freeze for up to 4 months. When ready, pop them on a silpat or parchment lined cookie sheet and bake adding an additional 1-2 minutes.

    R.I.P. Sewing Machine, 2006 - 2010

    Sadly, my beloved sewing machine was not able to be resuscitated from its sudden, untimely and premature death. R.I.P. Pfaff. You are already missed.

    So it's cooking and non-sewing crafts for now.