Archive for the ‘DIY’ Category

Whole Wheat English Muffins

I don’t eat a lot of sandwich bread. Brad can finish off a loaf of bread in three or four days, even faster if he’s trying to eat at home. I, on the other hand, have a tough time getting through even half a loaf before it takes a turn for the moldy.

I’ve always tended to prefer my breads in other forms. Tortillas, bagels, biscuits, cornbreads, and baguettes are much more likely to appeal to me than a loaf of sandwich bread. And more recently, English muffins.

Homemade English Muffins

Considering that I love finding ways to replace my store-bought staples with homemade versions, I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I really haven’t spent a lot of time focusing on breads. I do have some go-to recipes for quite a few quick breads, but not many that I cook on a regular basis (the dramatic exception being my favorite, favorite cornbread, which ends up on my menu quite frequently).  So when I ran across a recipe for this, my current bread-of-choice, I decided it was time.

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Homemade popcorn

With another wedding cake baked and spring semester in my rear-view mirror, I finally feel like summer has begun. No, summer isn‘t quite the same as it used to be; the three-month vistas of free time I enjoyed from age 5-22 no longer lie ahead. I’ve been nostalgic for those childhood summers lately: sleeping in, spending the day flitting about town with mom, attempting badminton on the lawn with my sister, eating dinner off the grill in the cool Colorado evenings. Bliss!

After the sun set, summer nights in our house usually involved a movie. And where there are movies, there sure as Sam was gonna be some popcorn.

Popcorn!

Admittedly, most of the popcorn I remember eating at home was microwave popcorn, though there was also brief stint where Kelli and I found an air popper almost as entertaining to watch as whatever movie was selected for the night. I do remember, quite vividly, one attempt to pop corn on the stove and the ensuing clouds of smoke that followed when it cooked too fast and burned to a crisp. Perhaps scarred by this event, up until recently I had mentally relegated popcorn popping to the arts of yesteryear, one that I was unlikely to ever master. But then, after seeing some friends pop corn at a party — quite casually and deliciously and with no clouds of smoke, I might add — I bravely bought a bag of cheap yellow kernels and decided to give it a shot.

OMG.

Revelation. Perfection. Obsession. Sublime happiness.

It turns out making popcorn is really easy. And really fast. I’m really not sure now what happened that fateful night as a child when I developed a fear of popcorn-making, but I am now here to say that if any of you have similar fears, give them up! Tonight! You can make freshly-popped popcorn with just a few kitchen tools that you already have.

Here’s how:

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Pizza for dinner

Brad and I sometimes grapple a bit when it comes to ordering pizza. Brad likes lots of toppings: meats, mushrooms, onions, veggies, goat cheese, herbs… and I actually like those, too. But if I ever have a choice, if I’m ever ordering pizza just for me, I get cheese. Beautiful, glorious, unadulterated cheese pizza.

But the shocking truth is that until last week, I’ve never made a cheese pizza at home. I know. I know. I can’t explain myself. I’ve been making pizza regularly now for a couple of years, but I’ve always dressed it up. It was high time I build my own perfect cheese pizza from scratch.

Making crust

This pizza started with my go-to pizza crust recipe. I have another crust that I really love, but I only make it when I have excess whey from a batch of homemade mozzarella. This recipe, on the other hand, is super-easy to whip up when you need dinner in less than an hour. It’s a no-fuss crust that requires little resting time and rolls out easily.

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Best Ever French Fries

Every once in a while, I come across a recipe for a homemade version of a dish that I’ve previously classified as “will-never-be-made-as-well-at-home” that blows my mind. It’s the culinary equivalent of an explorer uncovering an ancient temple, a researcher finding stunning results, an eager learner having their first philosophical epiphany. I’ve felt this on a number of things I’ve shared with you here: yogurt, fresh mozzarella, handmade pasta, beef jerky… all products that, a few years ago, I never would have considered being possible.

Such was my opinion with french fries. I always heard other people talk about making them, but I was firmly convinced that they couldn’t possibly be as good as fries I could get from my local burger joint. I’d learned that the best fries are cooked twice: once to actually cook the potato so the inside of the fry is light and smooth, and again to give that light-and-smoothness a crisp outer shell. There was no way I could be bothered to hand-cut my own fries, purchase large quantities of oil, possibly a deep-frier, and then cook TWICE a side dish that I could have exactly perfect in 10 minutes from a dozen restaurants near by.

Folks, I have never been so wrong.

Potatoes and oil

This method, which I’ve repeated already and plan to again, is SO easy and SO satisfying. No special equipment is required beyond what I’ll wager you already have in your kitchen. The ingredients are simple and few. And let me repeat: it is breathtakingly easy.

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Marmalade for the holidays

I’ve always strongly associated oranges with summer. Their summery orange glow, bright flavors, and balmy geographic origins have all contributed to this perception. And yet I also remember that my dad always brought home the best grapefruits, even in thoroughly NOT balmy Colorado, in January and February. Occasionally, we’d receive boxes of citrus as Christmas gifts, and I even recall the local chapter of FFA selling them to neighbors as a fundraiser in the weeks preceding the holidays.

Citrus is cultivated year-round in many of the southern-most states of our continent, but it really shines in the winter. Not surprisingly, when I was driving back to North Carolina from a late-November trip to Florida with the fam, I simply couldn’t resist stopping at a roadside stand for a bag of this fruit so far outside my normal local fare.

Florida souvenirs

I probably could have just eaten or juiced each and every one of these golden orbs, but I’ve been curious for some time about marmalades. I don’t remember growing up with marmalade in the house, though my mom confirms that she loved it when she was a child. Our spreadables tended to be homemade from the berries and stone fruits my grandma and grandpa grew in their garden, so perhaps that accounts for the marmalade vacuum of my youth. I’ve heard from some that marmalade is an acquired taste, that it’s a bitter product not suited for those who prefer sweet jams. I wanted to give it a shot, but wasn’t sure how I would feel about a bitter final product. I ran across this recipe, a blend of oranges and cranberries, and thought that it might be just the transitional product between sweet and bitter I was looking for.

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I’m not entirely sure where November went, but December (and with it, the holiday cooking season) seems to have arrived quite suddenly. Before Thanksgiving, I felt like I was finally on it for my holiday planning: I had lists, I had a rough cooking schedule (don’t judge me), I had some hard-to-find ingredients ordered. But now we’re here, hurtling through the first week of December, and I feel overwhelmed and scrambled and concerned that I won’t get everything done. As usual, I’ve probably scheduled waaaaaay too many recipes to try, I decided months ago that throwing a food-filled holiday party this weekend would be a good idea, and I have a fantastically busy schedule at work.

However, at least one of my gift-giving projects is already under way and is actually right on schedule. And just in case you think it’s a swell idea too, I’m gonna go ahead and ruin the surprise for those of you on my Santa list this year.

Everyone on my list is getting homemade mulling spices! And, because it’s fun and I like sharing, I’m hosting a little giveaway so that three of you readers can have some too!

Last year, my holiday crafty-gift-project was making these little hot chocolate sticks. They were a hit, and they make a mean mug of hot chocolate, but this year I wanted to come up with something a bit more versatile. After seeing tiny containers of mulling spices being sold at a market in Ohio, I knew I had found my next project.

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I told you on Thursday, when I posted this Ginger Apple Chutney, that I would have a recipe utilizing it that would blow your dang socks off. This, my friends, is it.

I must be honest: until about one year ago, I never so much as ordered potstickers or Chinese dumplings as take-out. I thought they looked, frankly, kind of gross. So sad and pekid compared to the seemingly superior fried wontons farther down the menu.

Oh, how times have changed.

Suddenly, I’ve become obsessed with these tiny pouches of savory filling. I order them whenever I find them on a menu and often abandon any pretense of planning to order an entree, simply doubling up on potstickers. As someone who loves ravioli, finger food, and anything dippable, I really can’t say why it took me 25 years to see the salty, potsticker-y light.

And what better way to truly embrace the potsticker than to make them from scratch? Having found this fantastic recipe for filling, I also wanted to try my hand at making homemade wonton/potsticker wrappers. That’s just sort of what I do here.

While it is a bit time-consuming and I totally understand if you want to buy yours from the store, I urge you to try it at least once from scratch, especially if you have a pasta crank. These homemade wrappers are soft, not at all rubbery, and can be made in any size that you want (though I found a 3-inch diameter to be absolutely perfect).

Like most doughs, homemade wonton wrappers start with a sifter full of flour, some warm water, and a fork.

Once the dough is mixed, barely pliable due to its low moisture content, it needs to sit for a while. Just cover the bowl with a damp cloth so the little moisture that IS in this dough doesn’t escape.

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Ginger has never really been something I’ve thought about very much. Occasionally, my dad would add some ground ginger to stir fry, or I’d use some in fall desserts. But the farmers near Durham have been showcasing mounds of baby ginger at their tables for the last few weeks, and my curiosity about this knobby little root grew with each table I passed.

And with fortuitous timing, I came across this recipe for ginger apple chutney. Combined with apples & onions, also plentiful at local markets, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to buy a chunk of ginger. The recipe wasn’t written as one for canning, but I suspected the acid content would be high enough for canning and checked with a deft canning blogger to be sure.

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Apple cider. It is,without question, my favorite thing to drink. I’m rather fond of apple cider cold and unpasteurized, straight from an orchard, but I also believe that apple cider is truly at its best served warm, in a cozy little mug, for a soothing drink on cool nights in the fall and winter. From early October to New Years Eve, I need only the tiniest hint of a social gathering to bust out the crock pot and a half gallon of cider and am forlorn when parties I attend elsewhere don’t feature this essential holiday beverage.

The singular challenge I face with my affection for spiced hot cider? Unless I am hosting a party, I simply need one mugful. I’ve tried various packets of instant cider mix, but I usually find them far too sweet and not apple-y enough for my tastes. And the Caramel Apple Spice from Starbucks? Tasty, but not good for the wallet. And again with the too sweet.

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I spend a lot of time contemplating my groceries. And frankly, rather a lot of time getting them. The bulk of them come from the farmers market: stall by stall, I buy some eggs here, zucchini there, a pound of pecans or cheese when I’m feeling flush. But I am rarely able to get everything I need at this weekly market. Due to rather restrictive small dairy laws in North Carolina, it’s nearly impossible to get liquid dairy products (like milk or cream) from a small farm. Needless to say, my cart at the grocery store often suggests that I need a cow of my own. Milk, cream, yogurt, cream cheese, cottage cheese… I get a lot of funny looks from cashiers.

Well I can’t have a cow. I’m sure the neighbors below us wouldn’t appreciate it. But I CAN mark another dairy product off the list of things to buy. It turns out yogurt is really, really easy to make. No rennet, no citric acid, no stretching, no aging (well, 8 hours), no cheese wax: all you really need to start yogurt is milk. And, of course, a little bit of yogurt.

At the risk of sounding icky, it’s important to know what yogurt is to understand why this method works. Yogurt is essentially milk that has been fermented by bacteria, and in most yogurts, the bacteria remains active. Seen the phrases “pro-biotic” and “active” on your yogurt? That’s a nice way of saying it’s basically alive. But don’t be grossed out! These are happy yogurt bacteria. With smiling little bacteria faces.

Anyway.

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