Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cinnamon Apple Cider Jelly


 
We love jams and jellies at our house and because we are surrounded by great berries where we live and great tree fruits across the mountains, we have ample opportunity to make LOTS of homemade jam.  Seriously, I think I'm up to 60+ jars now.  My minions love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (still!) and we tend to give a lot away as gifts, so it's not as totally obscene as it sounds.  However, a twelve step program for jam making could be in my future.
 
This jelly is one of our new favorites.  My boys and husband are huge fans of the taste, and I love how easy it is to make.  I used store bought apple cider for this one (which means you could make this year round whenever it strikes your fancy!) but I'm looking forward to making more with apple cider pressed at a friend's farm.  Yum-my!
 
I found the recipe HERE at this really cute blog I stumbled upon.  The only thing I changed was that I upped the amount of cinnamon.  I really like cinnamon and didn't think a 1/2 teaspoon was going to do it for me.  I'm glad I did, as I really like the cinnamon flavor alongside the sweet apple cider.  It comes together super quickly and processes in a water bath canner.  Give it a try; we've found it's yummy on everything from sandwiches, to pancakes, or with bagels and cream cheese.  Next time, I'm even thinking of adding some hot peppers in place of the cinnamon to make it more savory.  
 
Cinnamon Apple Cider Jelly
 
5 cups apple cider
1 package powdered pectin
1 tsp. butter
1 tsp. cinnamon
7 cups sugar

First, sterilize jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes. Place lids and rings in a pan of hot water just under a simmer until ready to use.  Don't bring them to a boil or it could damage the seal.

Next, pour the apple cider into a large pot and slowly stir in the pectin. Add the butter, and bring the mixture to a rapid boil that cannot be stirred down.

Add the cinnamon and sugar and stir to combine. Bring to a full rolling boil and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat and skim the foam, if any.

Fill the jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Place the lids and screw on the rings, then process for 10 minutes in a water bath canner.  This recipe should make about 6 jars of jam give or take.  Enjoy!!


 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

God, do I have to be the salmon? Thoughts on a new school year...




I was contemplating life as a homeschooler the other day.  Usually the beginning of a school year is filled with excitement for me.  A new year filled with possibilities and learning; new history eras to study and science topics to discover; the joy of watching my children daily grow and morph into these wonderfully creative, curious, capable humans.

This year is a little different.

This year my eldest enters the high school years.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little daunted by that fact.  The ugly, honest truth is I’m quite terrified.  What if I mess this up?  What if I keep the wrong records or not enough?  Am I preparing him to be the best he can be?  Am I teaching the right things, encouraging the right traits, and choosing the right battles?

And my baby, the middle-school guy coming up behind him…I don’t want to short change him in my effort to do all. the. right. things. with the high schooler.

And that’s when it happens.  That’s when I question whether this homeschool journey that has been such an integral part of my being and our family’s existence for so long is really the right path to take.

Maybe, just maybe, regular high school IS the way to go.  My husband and I were public school kids and we turned out relatively okay…didn’t we?  I mean, in public school it’s all planned out; the well worn path is in place.  It’s the way it’s been all of my life and for my parents before that.  Why not?  It’s the way most everybody does it…why not go with the flow?

 Maybe, I can’t do this.  Maybe, I don’t have to do this.  Maybe, I shouldn’t do this.

Doubt.  Fear.  Worry.  The anxieties sink in deeper and deeper with an overwhelming crush.   The ever helpful internet will be happy to provide me with a thousand and one reasons by experts, laymen, and everyone in between on why this fringe homeschool movement is ruining our children.  Why it is selfish.  Why it is poorly thought out.

All the reasons why I can’t and shouldn’t do this.

But then, mercy and grace fall.  In a moment of silent prayer, crying out to the One, the Creator, the Sustainer, He who IS Peace…the doubts, the critics, the worries, the challenges, and the attacks are stopped.  I am wrapped in my Father’s love and He reminds me why.

Why I can.  Why I should.  And why I want to choose to do this.

Because I am called.  And because I am called, I am equipped. 

It may not be perfect.  It may be messy and crazy and difficult and overwhelming at times.  But it is mine and I am not alone.  I am guided, and walked with, and readied for just this purpose that He has called me to.  And in my obedience I will be blessed.  Blessed with the joy of watching my children learn.  Blessed with the time I am able to spend with them.  Blessed as my heart overflows watching them blossom into godly young men with a will and a desire for Him.  Blessed as I turn these two boys and their training over to the only One who could ever meet their every need and prepare them for every path, challenge, and opportunity that lies ahead. 

I realize I am called to be the salmon in this area of my life.  It may not be easy and I will fight against the swift current; beating myself on the rocks some days to complete the journey that has been written into my very being.  There will be bears and predators who will try to stop me along the way; but there will also be protection and most of all, joy.  Joy in the journey and joy when I finally see my Lord and can stand before Him knowing that I obeyed His call and swam diligently in the river.

 I lift my head and find Peace has driven out the anxieties.  Where there was fear and worry now lives hope and, yes, even excitement.  I can give you a thousand and one reasons why I should and can homeschool…but there is really only one that matters.

There will be days when the current is strong, but I am encouraged and renewed to continue.  I can do this.  I will do this.  We will do this together, in God’s plan, and we will do it well.   I know it’s not His plan for everyone, but it has been made abundantly clear through the years that it is His plan for us.

I am reminded that he has faithfully provided for us at every point on this journey.  In Psalm 32 He promises, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.”  In Proverbs 3:5-6 we are told, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not upon your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your path.”

We are all called to be the salmon in different ways.  My prayer is that we would passionately seek His will and be steadfast and obedient to it; trusting in Him to fulfill his promises and allowing Him to direct our paths...even when those paths are so different from from the family, friends, and world around us at times.

For my fellow homeschooling moms, may your new school year be filled to the brim with blessings, encouragements, and glimpses of God at work in your children’s hearts and minds.  May you feel His hand guiding you and filling them with every good and perfect gift.   It’s a challenging swim…but it is worth every single moment you can put into it.
Trust.  Faith.  Believe.  And swim on strong and joyful for you were made for this.

 

 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Apple Cider Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting

 
 
 
 
The calendar tells me it's just about fall.  In the Pacific Northwest however, we are being blessed with a beautiful, warm late summer that just about speaks perfection to me.  Sunshine, warm breezes....SUNSHINE!  I'm so enjoying it while it's here because, alas, fall and winter will truly descend upon us soon and the grey rains will crowd out my sunshine.  But it's okay, because fall for me means lots of good food:  soups, breads, pumpkin, and apples.
 
Apples are the star ingredient in these delectable cupcakes; well, apple cider that is.  Although, I do believe that adding a little shredded apple to these babies might just put them over the top.  The original recipe found here calls for using some apple butter to fill these guys, but honestly, it was more effort than I was willing to put forth...besides, I have yet to make my homemade apple butter and I'm too cheap to buy it in the stores.  True story.
 
I've doubled the recipe because you really will be sad if you only make a dozen of these.  See, the smell will waft out your windows and you'll have neighbors, mailmen, and cousins twice removed popping up on your doorstep to beg cupcakes from you.  And you know, when you give a cat a cupcake....oh, nevermind.  Just try these sometime soon.  Your taste buds (and extended relatives) will thank you!
 
Apple Cider Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting
 
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/3 cup sugar
4 eggs
3 1/3 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups apple cider
 
Frosting: ***
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups butter (2 1/2 sticks)
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
2 (8 ounce) bricks cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
 
Preheat oven to 350.  Grease or line 24 cupcake wells.  In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.  Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, then 1/2 of the cider, and repeat, ending with the last of the flour and mixing only until incorporated.  Pour into prepared cupcake pan, filling each cup 3/4 of the way full.  (I did have some leftover batter that I put in a small round pyrex cup to bake.)  Bake 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean.  Cool thoroughly. 
 
For the frosting melt brown sugar and 1 stick of butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Stir until sugar dissolves.  Bring to a boil over medium heat; remove from heat.  Whisk in cream and blend well.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  Place remaining 1 1/2 stick butter in large bowl with cream cheese.  Beat with a mixer until smooth.  Beat in vanilla and salt.  With mixer running, slowly pour in cooled brown sugar mixture.  Beat until smooth.  Add sifted powdered sugar gradually, beating well until completely smooth.  I chilled mine in the refrigerator for about 45 minutes to make it firmer and easier to pipe.  Frost cupcakes; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar if desired.  Enjoy!!
 
***This recipe makes LOTS of icing.  If you like an average amount of frosting, half of the recipe listed here will probably be just right for you.  I think I have enough frosting left after making these for at least another half-dozen to dozen cupcakes...and I frosted very generously.
 
 


Friday, January 20, 2012

Roasted Chicken Breasts with Balsamic Bell Peppers


We love the sweet, tangy goodness of balsamic vinegar around here.  So when I saw a recipe that included chicken, peppers, and balsamic vinegar, I knew we had to give it a shot.  I adapted this from a Cooking Light recipe, which means it rates fairly high on the healthy scale as well.  I'm thrilled to report that it was a hit with all members of my family and will become a regular on our menus.  Not only was it tasty, but it has a low difficulty level as well.  It is a two step process, but it produces some really moist and flavorful results.

Roasted Chicken Breasts with Balsamic Peppers

For the rub:
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon oregano

4 chicken breasts
2 Tablespoons of oil
2 cups sliced red bell pepper
1 cup sliced yellow or green bell pepper
1/2 cup sliced onion
1 cup chicken broth
11/2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 450. 

Brush both sides of chicken breasts with 1 1/2 teaspoons of oil and sprinkle with rub.  Add 1 1/2 teaspoon oil to skillet and heat over medium-high heat.  Place chicken breasts in skillet and cook 3 minutes.  Flip chicken over and cook 1-2 more minutes.

Remove chicken from skillet and place in a sprayed 9x13 baking dish.  Bake at 450 for about 10 minutes or until the internal temperature registers 170.  (I had some very voluptuous chicken, so I ended up cooking mine for about 15-20 minutes.)

While chicken is baking, put 1 Tablespoon olive oil in skillet over medium high heat and add sliced bell peppers and onion.  Saute for about 3 minutes.  Carefully pour in 1 cup chicken broth and stir to deglaze pan.  Reduce heat to medium low and allow to simmer 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes, return heat to medium high and stir in balsamic vinegar, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper.  Cook 3-5 minutes more, stirring frequently.  Serve over chicken.  Enjoy!

We served this with Parmesan risotto and peas.  It was a hit all around our house.  Hope you enjoy it too! :)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Flatbread Snackers


As I posted yesterday, I was so excited to find a recipe that was similar to our favorite Olga's snackers!  We tried to make them two ways...baked and fried.  Baked, while healthier, didn't have the same familiar texture as I remember.  Which is really too bad; I was so hoping to make them more heart healthy!  The key ingredient, though is this magic blend:


Based on comments I've read online, this is the actual seasoning used in the restaurant.  I'm not sure if that's 100% true or not, but it definitely tasted like a Snacker to me!  I found this at Safeway in the spice aisle.

To make the snackers, first make the bread.  You can find the recipe on my previous post here.  Next, all you need to do is heat some canola or olive oil over medium to medium high heat in a skillet; toss in your cut up flatbread; stir and cook for a few minutes until the bread is warm and just a tad toasty on the outside; and finally remove from the oil, drain, and sprinkle liberally with the seasoning.  Voila!  Snackers!!  In the restaurant this is served with a Swiss almond cheese spread.  We never cared for it, so I haven't tried to replicate that.  But I hear that Kaukauna cheese makes a very, very similar blend.  Look for it in a cup with the cheese spreads at your grocery store.

I love things that are so simple, tasty, and remind me of home.  Hope you all get a chance to try this.  Let me know what you think...is it like the snackers that you remember?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Olga's Kitchen Flatbread!!!

Of the many things I miss about living in the midwest, certain foods definitely make my top ten list.  This is one of them.  Olga's is a restaurant that started in Michigan and has found its way throughout the midwest.  They are famous for their flatbread filled sandwiches.  We are huge fans of Olga's and always try and have lunch there when we're back home.

So imagine my absolute giddiness when I found a recipe for our beloved flatbreads online!  THIS is where I found my new ambrosia.  They even make an appetizer called Olga Snackers with this yummy bread, and I've figured that one out as well!  I'll post that recipe tomorrow...the troops ate all the goodness before I could take pictures!

Here's the recipe...it's not very difficult and while you do need to give it about an hour to rise, each flatbread only takes about 30 seconds to cook.  Once you've got them made, they are great filled with your favorite sandwich stuffing.  My personal favorite is grilled chicken with lettuce, tomato, and honey mustard.  My eldest says they make a mean pbj; and my husband will eat them filled, unfilled, or anywhere in between.  Try these out and let me know what your favorite ways to eat them are.  And be on the lookout tomorrow for that Snacker recipe!

1 cup milk
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 package yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees F)
1 teaspoon sugar
4 cups flour
1 egg

Combine warm water, sugar, and yeast.  Set aside for 10 minutes to allow yeast to proof.  In a small saucepan, bring milk to just below boiling.  Remove from heat and mix in honey, butter, and salt.  Allow to cool 5-10 minutes until somewhat lukewarm.  Once it's cooled a bit, add the milk mixture and 1 1/2 cups flour to a mixing bowl and beat well.  Add egg and yeast mixture and combine well.  Add remaining 2 1/2 cups flour (1/2 cup at a time) and beat until dough forms.  Knead 2 minutes.  (I use the dough hook on my KitchenAid because I am a lazy baker!)  Take out the dough, spray the bowl with Pam and put the dough back.  Cover with plastic wrap and a tea towel and allow to rise for about an hour.  It should double in size.

When your hour is up, punch the dough down.  Cut into 16 pieces and roll each piece in a circle about 1/8 inch thick. (This is where I discovered I'm apparently incapable of rolling things out in rounds.)  Heat a skillet (I use my cast iron) on medium to medium high heat.  Place rounds one at a time in dry skillet.  Allow to cook about 15 seconds, then flip and allow it to cook 10-15 seconds longer.  You should get a nice toasty look to each side of your bread.  Then fill (or not) and enjoy!

Hope your families enjoy this as much as ours!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chocolate Almond Monster Cookies


I'm baaaackkk!  It's been a crazy, fun, adventure filled year; but I miss being able to share great recipes that I've come across.  So, I'm back....and hopefully for good. I've been wanting to return to blogland for some time now, but I have to admit that the thought holding me back was finding time to cook and take all of those pictures.  I've decided to streamline a bit and go back to one or two pictures per recipe.  I'm hoping it will take my self-imposed pressure off and give me more opportunity to share all the recipes I've been wanting to blog.

Because we're in full holiday swing, I thought I'd start back with some of my old and new favorite cookie recipes.  Monster cookies have always been a favorite in our house.  Our cookies are a tad off standard though; we don't add M&M's!  I know that sounds almost sacrilegious and I have to agree.  It seems my dear husband doesn't like M&M's in his cookies.  He did keep this to himself until after I said "I do" though, and it's probably a good thing.  The no M&M clause could have been a deal breaker. 

Instead, we add extra nuts and chocolate chips to ours.  I'd like to add in dried cherries or apricots as well.  I think it would add a nice tartness to counter the sweet.  You could also add chopped pretzels, coconut, or butterscotch chips.  Really, if you think about it, monster cookies are kind of like stir fry:  You can toss in whatever tidbits of goodness you have left and come out with something really tasty.  So go crazy and find your family's favorite combo.  Enjoy!!

3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon corn syrup
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cup peanut butter
4 1/2 cups oats
1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
3/4 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350.  In a large mixing bowl combine eggs, sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, and corn syrup.  Add melted butter and peanut butter and mix well to combine.  Stir in oats, flour, baking soda, and salt.  Finally add in chocolate chips and sliced almonds and stir well.  Give your dough about 15 minutes to rest.  For each cookie use about 1/4 cup dough and flatten a bit with your fingers on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.