Melissa's Cuisine: September 2011

Friday, September 30, 2011

One Bag Event

We did it!  We hosted a fiesta for our couples' group from church and generated less than half a bag of trash!



As I prepared for the party, I kept in mind that the goal was to create a minimal amount of trash.  With that in mind, I planned a menu with fresh items that could be composted and other items bought in bulk.  Here's what we ate:
Tacos with fresh toppings, stuffed jalapenos, tortilla chips and salsa, churros, and un-fried fried ice-cream (not pictured)!
And you can't go Mexican without imported Mexican beer (in recyclable bottles) and Margaritas (in reusable glasses)!  We also used real dishes and silverware.

Side note:  I do apologize for the quality of the pictures, I was in a hurry as our guests were arriving!  I didn't think to take pictures of us enjoying the food either, I was too busy eating!

I was able to compost the seeds and some stems from the jalapeno peppers, the stems from the tomatoes, and the unedible parts of the lettuce.  I recycled the box from the ice-cream and bag from the flour.  The only things I had to throw away were the styrofoam containers from the ground beef and a few other small items. 

Of course you can't have a fiesta without a pinata! Don't worry, the pinata was made out of cardboard so I was able to recycle it as well!



I would say our party was a huge success! 

We've learned a lot from this past month's adventure.  How have you put what you've learned the past few weeks into practice with your family?

As part of the Glad Brand Ambassador Program through Foodbuzz, I received Glad products, a trash can/recycling bin, a composting bin, and a stipend to cover my expenses. Even though I was compensated for these posts, the opinions contained in the post are all my own.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

S'mores Popcorn

One of my absolute snacks is s'mores.  There's something so irresistible about the golden brown marshmallow melting a piece of chocolate on a graham cracker.  However, I'm not always around a campfire to roast marshmallows, so I have to turn to other ways to enjoy s'mores.

Another one of my favorite snacks is popcorn.  When I was growing up, Friday nights were always popcorn nights at our house.  My dad would pop a huge bowl of popcorn, pour melted butter over it, and sprinkle it with salt.  Then we'd settle down to watch a movie and munch on popcorn.

I decided to combine two of my favorite snacks into one: S'mores Popcorn.  I found it absolutely delicious and irresistible and I hope you will too!
S'mores Popcorn

Makes 10-12 servings

You will need:

6 quarts popped popcorn (3/4 cup kernels)
3 cups brown sugar
1 cup water
1 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup margarine
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons vanilla
12 graham crackers
2 cups mini marshmallows
1 cup chocolate chips

1.  In a medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, water, corn syrup, margarine, and salt.  Stir constantly until brown sugar dissolves.

2.  Use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature, and boil the sugar mixture until it reaches 270 degrees.  Stir occasionally.

3.  While sugar mixture is boiling, break 12 graham crackers into bite-sized pieces.  Put in a large bowl with the popcorn and marshmallows.

4.  When sugar mixture has reached 270 degrees, stir in vanilla.

5.  Pour over popcorn, graham crackers, and marshmallows.  Stir until everything  is coated in the caramel.

6.  Pour caramel covered popcorn mixture onto cookie sheets lined with wax paper.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips.

7.  Allow caramel to harden and then break into pieces.  Store in an airtight container.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Strawberry Cream Cheese Bread

There's nothing better than a thick slice of fresh bread, still warm from the oven.  Pair it with a cup of hot chocolate or tea, and you have the makings of a delicious snack!

It's time again to reveal our posts for September's Secret Recipe Club.  This month, I was assigned to Wendy's blog, The Weekend Gourmet.  As I browsed through her collection of delicious looking recipes, I made a list of all the ones that looked good to me.  Then came the tough part--choosing one of those recipes to make and feature this month.  Since strawberries are one of my favorites fruits, I was drawn to her recipe for Strawberry Cream Cheese Quick Bread.

What a scrumptious loaf of bread!  I loved the added layer of strawberry cream cheese, that's really what put this loaf of bread over the top.  I chose not to make the Strawberry Whipped Butter as I prefer my bread without butter (this goes for all bread--I know, I'm strange!)  I'm sure the butter would make this bread delicious too.  I think this bread would be delicious with other berries as well--maybe I'll try blueberries next?
Strawberry Cream Cheese Quick Bread

Makes 1 loaf, about 12 servings

You will need:
For the Cream Cheese Layer:
6 ounces cream cheese
2 Tablespoons strawberry jam
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar

For the bread:
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup milk
1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped strawberries

1.  Make the cream cheese layer by mixing the cream cheese, strawberry jam, egg and sugar in a medium bowl.  Put the mixture in the fridge while you make the bread batter.

2.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, eggs, brown sugar, sugar, and vanilla.

3.  Add milk, flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon to the wet mixture and mix well.

4.  Carefully fold in the chopped strawberries.

5.  Pour half the batter into a greased 9x5 loaf pan.

6.  Pour the cream cheese mixture down the center. (My mixture ended up quite runny and when I did this step, it looked like a mess. It still turned out great!)

7.  Top with remaining batter and smooth if necessary. 

8.  Bake at 350 for 55-60 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. 

9.  Remove bread from oven and let it cool in the pan for about 15 minutes.  Remove from pan and place on a wire rack to continue cooling.  Be patient--the bread will crumble apart if you cut into it too soon!

Source: The Weekend Gourmet




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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dumpster Diving

Let's continue our discussion about reducing waste!  Have you started to apply anything you've learned to your own life?



As part of the Glad Brand Ambassador Program through Foodbuzz, I received Glad products, a trash can/recycling bin, a composting bin, and a stipend to cover my expenses. Even though I was compensated for these posts, the opinions contained in the post are all my own.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Egg Muffins

One of my favorite breakfasts (or dinners) is omelets.  I love the combination of eggs, cheese, bacon or ham, and sometimes vegetables.  Omelets are great because they're so versatile, you really can fill them with whatever your heart desires.  Plus, it's a perfect protein-packed meal. 

I decided to make "mini-omelets"...actually more like egg muffins, as I decided to call them.  These are the perfect size for a quick snack or breakfast, or grab a few for a satisfying dinner.  I made a dozen one night and froze them for quick breakfasts.  I did make some with just egg whites, and some with the whole egg--either way, they're delicious!
Egg Muffins


Makes 12

6 eggs
3 Tablespoons milk
3 large potatoes
4 slices bacon
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus extra for topping

1.  Beat eggs and milk together in a medium bowl.

2.  Shred potatoes into the bowl with the eggs.

3.  Fry bacon until crisp and then crumble into egg mixture.

4.  Stir in cheese.

5.  Pour into greased muffin tins.

6.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until eggs are set.

7.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with cheese.  Serve warm.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Carrot Bran Muffins

I think bran muffins get a bad rap.  They're considered healthy, bland, tasteless, and dry.  Let me tell you, the only one of those adjectives that describes this bran muffin is healthy.  My mother-in-law makes delicious bran muffins, they're enormous and super-moist.  I asked her for her recipe and then tweaked it a bit to reduce the amount of fat and add in some extras, like the carrots and raisins.  I was very pleased with the result, a delicious and moist bran muffin, full of good things.  These muffins make a satisfying breakfast or healthy snack.
Carrot Bran Muffins

Makes 36 muffins. (I like to freeze mine and thaw them in the microwave when I want a quick breakfast.)

3 cups bran flakes, crushed
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce (you can use sweetened, just decrease the amount of sugar)
1 cup boiling water
2 eggs
2-1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
2 carrots, grated
1 cup raisins

1.  Mix together crushed bran flakes, shortening, applesauce, and water.  (Be sure to crush your flakes, I learned this the hard way once and ended up with inedible muffins!) Let it sit for about 10 minutes to allow bran flakes to get soggy.

2.  Stir in sugar and eggs.

3.  Mix in flour soda, salt, and buttermilk.

4.  Carefully stir in grated carrots and raisins, being careful not to over mix your muffins.  If muffins are over-mixed, you'll end up with peaks...I grew up with muffins like this, we called them mountains and thought they were the greatest things!  So, if you want to, go ahead and over-mix! :)

5.  Scoop muffin batter into greased muffin tins, filling each cup 2/3 full.

6.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes until done.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Homemade Vanilla

Are you looking for a fun homemade Christmas present?  Or maybe you're just looking to save some money in the kitchen.  I have a fun solution for you--homemade vanilla!  As a baker, I would be thrilled to receive a bottle of homemade vanilla from a friend.  It would be even more special knowing that they made something for me!  Plus, making your own vanilla can add up to significant savings. Take a look at these numbers:

One 8oz bottle of good quality pure vanilla extract costs about $14.99!!

Whereas,

One 1.75L (about 60 ounces) of Vodka cost me $11.97 and 40 Vanilla Beans cost me $9.99.  I spent a grand total of $21.96 to make 60 ounces of homemade vanilla.  The cost for 8 ounces works out to be about $2.93!  So very much cheaper than buying it! 

If you start soon, you'll have just enough time to whip up a fabulous homemade Christmas gift.  Vanilla takes about 3 months to reach it's full strength (some people give a shorter period of time, some longer).  Just follow my easy step-by-step directions and you'll be on your way to homemade vanilla in no time!

1.  Gather your ingredients.  One 1.75L bottle of vodka, 40 vanilla beans, and a glass jar big enough to fit it all (I used an empty pickle jar).  You don't want to use the cheapest vodka, nor the most expensive.  Go somewhere in the middle.  I used Madagascar Vanilla Beans. 
2.  Cut your vanilla beans in half down the middle.  I cut mine almost all the way apart, leaving about 1 inch at the top of the bean still intact.

See those beautiful seeds?  That's where the amazing flavor comes from!
3.  Put the sliced vanilla beans into a large glass jar.
4.  Pour vodka over vanilla beans.
5.  Seal the jar and give it a good shake.  Put it in a cool dark place (I put mine in the back of my pantry) and shake it every few days.  I noticed after 2 days that the vodka had already taken on a dark brown color and there were millions of tiny vanilla seeds floating around.
After about 2 months, you'll end up with your own homemade vanilla extract. 

6.  Remove the vanilla beans from the jar.  You can choose to drain the extract, using a coffee filter or paper towel, to strain out the seeds, or you can leave the seeds in the extract.  Pour the vanilla into small jars and store or distribute to your friends.

See, I told you it was easy!  I'm looking forward to giving this gift to my friends and family at Christmas.  I think I'll buy some small amber bottles and make my own labels. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The 3 R's

We all learned them in elementary school...Reading, wRiting, and 'Rithmetic, right?  Well how about the other 3 very important R's?  Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.  Today we'll talk about those 3.  When I was in school, we focused on the latter group of 3 R's around Earth Day, in March.  However, that was only one day a year, and unfortunately the lessons weren't always put into action.

Do you know how easy it really is to Reduce the waste you make, Reuse products (to reduce waste), and Recycle?  It won't add a lot of work into your busy schedule and there are so many products out there to make it easy for us to help our environment.  For instance, check out this trash can I received from the Foodbuzz Tastemakers program!  From the outside, it may look like a regular trash can, but on the inside, it's so much more.

Outside

Inside
This trash can is split down the middle, one half is for recyclable items and the other half is for waste products.  It makes it so simple to put things in the recycle bin rather than taking the easy way out and throwing it away!  Plus, this bin is super neat because it has a motion sensor so I can throw things away without making a mess.

Another way I reduce the waste we generate is to reuse products like Cool Whip and Margarine containers.  Instead of recycling them (or worse...throwing them away!), I wash the empty containers out and use them for other foods.  They are great for packing food in Mike's lunch, storing leftovers, and freezing items.  I also reuse plastic Ziploc bags, they typically don't get ruined after one use so we'll wash them out, let them dry, and use them again.
Something new to me is composting.  Growing up, my grandparents always had a compost bin.  They had two containers under the sink, one for trash and the other for compost.  They had a compost bin behind their house that they used for their garden.  Now that I have my own garden, I'm trying to keep it organic, and using compost is a great way to achieve that.  I got a great compost bin from Foodbuzz, and I keep it under my sink.  It's actually sold by Gaiam and I love it because it has a filter to prevent the items from making my kitchen stink. 

I put all my peels, leftovers from fresh fruits and veggies, and crushed egg shells in my bin.  Basically, you can compost anything that comes from the ground, but no meats or anything covered in fat.  Then I take it outside and add it to my large compost bin.  I learned that it's important to add some "brown" material to the "green" matter.  That is, you should mix in some leaves or grass clippings (browns) with the fresh items (greens) that you are adding to your compost.  I'll mix it up once a week or so and come next spring, I'll have a great fertilizer for my garden!

What about you?  What ways do you reduce your amount of waste?  What do you reuse?  Do you compost?

As part of the Glad Brand Ambassador Program through Foodbuzz, I received Glad products, a trash can/recycling bin, a composting bin, and a stipend to cover my expenses. Even though I was compensated for these posts, the opinions contained in the post are all my own.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Peach Buckle

I think some of the neatest things that can be passed on from generation to generation are recipes.  When Mike's grandpa passed away a couple years ago, we helped to clean out his condo.  His parents allowed us to take some things that we wanted.  Mike chose a few items that had sentimental meaning to him, and I chose some cookbooks.  I was recently looking for a recipe using peaches and I decided to look in a cookbook from his grandpa.

This cookbook was printed in 1963 and belongs to Mike's grandmother.  As I flipped through the pages, several handwritten recipe cards fell out.  I tucked them away to make someday, knowing they were special recipes.

The pages of the cookbook are yellowed and worn.  Some pages have food stains and tears on them--a sign of a well used cookbook!  I can just picture Mike's grandma flipping through the pages as she decided what to make for her husband after a day of working on the farm.  What about you?  Do you have any cookbooks or recipes that have been passed down through your family?


Peach Buckle

Serves 9

6 peaches, peeled and diced
3/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup margarine
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1.  Sprinkle peaches with 1/4 cup sugar (use more or less depending on how sweet your peaches are).  Let them sit for about an hour until a sugary syrup forms.  Drain and reserve syrup.

2.  Cream together margarine and 1/2 cup sugar.

3.  Mix in eggs.

4.  Stir in baking powder, salt, and 1 cup flour.  Mix until just combined.

5.  Spread batter in a greased 9x9 pan.

6.  Top batter with peaches.

7.  Combine 2 Tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and reserved syrup.  Pour over peaches.

8.  Sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.

9.  Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes.


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