Thursday, October 30, 2014

Crochet Pattern - Pumpkin Hat for Baby



Remember the Strong Man Quilt I made for my niece?  Well, I was right.  Her baby is a strong little man!  

This strong little baby decided to make his grand entrance into the world six weeks early!  And my niece's labor was only like 2 and a half hours long or something like that!  WOW!  I couldn't believe it.  

The baby arrived at a wopping 3lb 8 ounces and 17 inches long.  Tiny but healthy! The little booger is strong as an ox!  He only needed oxygen and a feeding tube for a few days.  He also got sent home from the hospital when he was only 4lb 1 ounce.  The hospital said they usually keep babies until they are 5 pounds, but this little baby needed nothing from them so they sent him home.  

The only thing this little guy really needed  at home was that he had to wear hats to keep his body warm.  My niece commented one day that she only had one hat and that she needed to wash it.  I told her "You needed only to tell me that!  Aunt Gigi and her crochet hook to the rescue!"  

Overnight I was able to crochet for him four little hats of various patterns. 



 I made one like a football (Just a simple double crochet beanie changing colors for the white stripes at the top and bottom of the beanie like the, similar to the one I made for my other great nephew when he was a baby.  It's here:


I also made the new baby a simple, soft mint green one and a solid gray one.  I think the BEST one I made was the pumpkin hat!  And they all fit his tiny head perfectly.

I didn't have a pattern on hand for a pumpkin hat, but Pinterest to the rescue as usual!  I made this hat over my lunch hour and on the ride home from work, with yarn that I already had on hand.  It was so easy and quick to make.  So easy, in fact, that I made another one for another great nephew a few days later (just increasing my stitches to make a bigger hat).  

Anyway,  here is the pattern for the pumpkin hat.  It's on Ravelry.  And the author of the pattern encourages you to make these and donate them - like to a hospital charity.  I'm sure she does not authorize sale of these hats using her pattern as she stresses donation in her message.  I love crocheting baby hats so much that I'm definitely going to check out donating them to the NICU units of our local hospitals!  

Here's the link to the pattern!  So easy even though I only have a limited knowledge of crochet - I regularly use google and You Tube for help with my work.  If I can do it, you can do it!


(You have to register with Ravelry but registering is free and you will find so many wonderful patterns there.)


Enjoy!


Gina

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My apple pies always SMILE! (Recipe)



Years ago, I was a big time reader Taste of Home magazines.  I read them cover to cover and gleaned many wonderful tips and recipes from them.  There were always cute and funny pictures, comments, and memories shared back in the day (before Taste of Home changed to its more recent, more professional format).  It was in one of those magazines that someone shared a picture of their apple pie smiling.  So, being a mom of two little girls, the next time I made an apple pie, I made cuts in the crust to make my own smiling apple pie.  I never made an apple pie after that without giving her a smile.

My girls are both now grown.  They can make their own pies in their own kitchens, but once in a while I get to spoil them.  A couple of weeks ago, my college daughter was home and I baked a whole smiling apple pie for her to take back to Kansas City and share with her boyfriend.  She was thrilled!  And just as it was coming out of the oven, my older daughter came in the house and said,  "MMMmmmmm!  I just LOVE apple pie!"  It was torturous because I was sending the whole pie home with Rachel LOL.  (Although, I never expected Rebecca to want to eat the pie.  Rarely does she eat sweets.)


Last night I was making a big pot of homemade spaghetti sauce and Rebecca was coming over for supper, so I surprised her with a smiling apple pie.   I decided to share the picture (because new traditions are always fun) and my basic recipe (for future reference) on the chance that your family might like a Smiling Apple Pie!  (My crusts are not beautiful but this pie is yummy!)


Here's how I make Smiling Apple Pies AT HOME MY WAY:




Smiling Apple Pie

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Crust (for double crust pie):

2 cups all purpose flour (not straight out of the bag - fluff it a little before measuring)
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cups shortening
6-8 Tablespoons ice cold water

Mix flour, salt well.  Add shortening and use a fork to blend well until shorting is crumbly the size of peas.  Add water, stir to blend as well as possible.  Knead with hands-getting all the flour in - until if will form a round/disc.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.

After refrigerating, divide the disc so that one half is slightly larger than the other (larger half is the bottom crust).

Roll on floured surface and place in your pie plate.  Roll the other half so it is ready.  Trim the crust in the pie plate slightly larger than the plate.  Leave unbaked until you add the filling and the top crust.

(I sometimes cut these crusts to the right size and roll them with wax paper, and freeze in zip bags just like store bought crusts.  They work perfectly once thawed.  That way I don't have to make homemade crusts every time I decide to make a pie.)

Apple filling:

7 cups apples (peeled and sliced) (I use granny smith or jonathan apples)
1/2 cup white sugar 
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons flour
1 Tablespoon butter/margarine

Blend sugar, cinnamon, and flour, then stir in apples and pour into the crust that is already in your pie plate.  Place random small pieces of the margarine/butter on the apples.

Gently lift the top crust and place on the apples to top your pie.  Trim, leaving a little overlapping the bottom crust.  Seal the top and bottom crust together, and crimp edges.

Sprinkle with some cinnamon sugar.

CUT THE SMILE:  I use my knife and cut two upside down U shapes for the eyes and a nose and a big fat smile.

Sprinkle with Sugar.

Bake in preheated 425 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Then, turn oven down to 375 degrees and bake for another 40 minutes.  

You can cover the edges with foil if they seem to be browning too fast but I didn't need to do that.

TIP:  I place my pie on a cookie sheet in the oven so that any apple juices are caught instead of burning in the bottom of my oven.


Enjoy!



Gina




Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Homemade Crackers (Saltines)



So... yesterday I posted a recipe for Homemade Tomato Soup.  And you gotta have crackers with tomato soup, right?

YUP!

This weekend I also tackled my first batch of homemade crackers.  Crackers are one of those "bucket list" recipes for me that not everyone would think to make at home, but I really wanted to try them.  I found my recipe on a favorite, one of the most informative sites ever- The Prudent Homemaker.  This site is a wealth of information for making everything homemade and for all kinds of tips on how to save the hard to earned buck.  I encourage everyone to hope over there and check it out!

I was very pleased with the crackers.  They will be a terrific base recipe for adding all kinds of seasonings, oils, cheeses. I made Brandy's basic recipe and added my own twist on seasonings, a little salt, etc.  They turned out GREAT!  The key is to roll them absolutely as thinly as possible.  Note that they don't rise so very little space is needed between crackers on the cookie sheet.  Storage seems to be a key also.  I find that storing the completely cooled, crisp crackers in glass jars or tins keeps them crispier.  Of course, I didn't manage to get them as crispy as your favorite boxed saltine, and they are more like a pita chip in texture and that is perfectly fine with them.  I know what's in them!  That's the key!

(I might try to roll them in a pasta maker one of these days!)

One more item where I can "Ditch the Box"!  Success!

I think the possibilities are endless.  I think I will try using butter for the shortening or even olive oil.  I think I will try blending in some parmesan cheese and cracked pepper or garlic powder.  Also maybe taco seasonings or chicken bouillon?  

My only advice for making this is that this recipe makes a ton of crackers.  Halfing this recipe the first time seems like a wise choice so that you don't get burned out on cracker making.  

Also, I think young children would have a ball cutting the crackers into shapes with cookie cutters- a fun activity that would produce a savory snack instead of sweets (cookies).

Here's how I made Homemade Crackers (Saltines) AT HOME MY WAY:

Homemade Crackers/Saltines

  • 4 cups all purpose flour (a little more for rolling/cutting)
  • 8 Tablespoons shortening (melted) (I plan on trying olive oil)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (more for sprinkling)
  • Optional (spices:  I used 1 teaspoon onion powder)
Instructions:

In a mixing bowl combine flour and salt.  Combine melted shortening (or oil) and water.  Stir all ingredients together.

On a well floured surface, knead for 3-5 minutes.

Divide dough into six even pieces.

Roll each piece as THIN as possible!  Cut and move pieces to a lightly sprayed cookie sheet.  

Brush crackers on the cookie sheet with water (a spray bottle would work GREAT here) and sprinkle with more salt.  I also pricked a few holes in my crackers with a fork to give them the "cracker look".

Bake in a fully preheated 400 degree oven for 10 - 12 minutes.  Make sure the crackers are just browning before removing them from the oven to insure crispiness.

Let them cool in the air, uncovered, until completely cold before storing them (glass works best).


Enjoy!



Gina


Here are some pictures along the way!


Rolling & cutting.



Brushed with water and a few holes pricked.



Starting to brown in the oven.  (The puff up a little.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Can the can! Homemade Tomato Soup!



This week I had a powerful craving for tomato soup!  Mmmm... I love the stuff.

Being the eccentric little cooker that I am, I - OF COURSE -wanted to try my hand at homemade!  Surely my ingredients would be simpler and better for me than these (which are found on canned tomato soup)!

INGREDIENTS

TOMATO PUREE (WATER, TOMATO PASTE), HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, WHEAT FLOUR, WATER, SALT, POTASSIUM CHLORIDE, FLAVORING, CITRIC ACID, LOWER SODIUM NATURAL SEA SALT, ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), MONOPOTASSIUM PHOSPHATE.


I searched around and found several variations of "copycat" tomato soup recipes.  Most called for canned tomatoes, some called for tomato paste, some even called for chicken broth.  My favorite canned soup had no chicken broth in it!  So, I kept looking.

I ran across a recipe found on a blog that is new to me but which I LOVE called "Produce on Parade".  Lots of good recipes!  And vegan recipes at that!  I'm always on the lookout for good and diverse recipes.  Katie's pictures are beautiful and so far I'm sold on the recipes!  Check it out HERE.  Katie's recipe (and pictures) for the tomato soup are HERE.

This tomato soup recipe is SO perfect and is even better than my old favorite canned soup!  The only things I really changed about Katie's recipe is that I used corn starch instead of xanthum gum and I added salt to the recipe.  I've never used xanthum gum but corn starch worked just fine for this purpose!  I believe from my reading that arrow root powder would also work.  

I don't personally have a blender that works right now so I used my food processor.  My food processor didn't blend out the tomatoes as velvety smooth as canned tomato soup, but I LOVED that about it.  It's a rich, deep tomato soup and I can tell you that I will probably NEVER buy another can of tomato soup after tasting this (other than to send with a college kid or something...).

Here's how I made "Can the Can-Homemade Tomato Soup" AT HOME MY WAY.  Try it!  And you'll be a believer!



Can the Can
Homemade Tomato Soup

  • 2 (28oz) cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup COLD water
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (not packed)
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste (not the whole can!  I had to buy a small can since my small town doesn't sell tubes of the stuff)
  • 1 teaspoon season salt (I used Lowry's)
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch
  • 2 whole bay leaves 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • black pepper (I used about 1/2 teaspoon)


Instructions:

First, Mix the cold water well with the corn starch.  Blend until smooth.  Then place that and all of the other ingredients EXCEPT BAY LEAVES in a blender/food processor.  Blend until as smooth as you can get it.

Place this mixture in a pot on the stove.  Add the WHOLE bay leaves and simmer 10 minutes, stirring often so it doesn't scorch.

Remove BAY LEAVES BEFORE SERVING.

Serve piping hot with your favorite dipping selection (grilled cheese, crackers, pretzels, etc.).

I'm going to freeze single servings of this for my lunches.  Bye-bye canned tomato soup!

Here's a few pics of the process:




My ingredients!




All blended in the food processor.



Ready to start cooking!



Lunch at work, all made by me 
(homemade cracker recipe coming tomorrow)!


Enjoy!



Gina


Monday, October 20, 2014

Crockpot Caramel Sauce - One Ingredient Only!



It's apple season here in mid Missouri!  Nothing like fresh apples from the tree.  I grew up near orange groves and had never seen an apple tree until my family moved to Missouri so I still find it somewhat magical to see those ruby red orbs taunting me from the trees!

One of my favorite ways to eat apples is sliced and dipped heavily in caramel!  Caramel apples on a stick are wonderful in their own rite but those things are hard on the teeth!  This is a much easier way to enjoy a fall favorite.

I had long heard of making homemade caramel sauce with sweetened condensed milk by boiling the cans in water-which I couldn't believe!  #1-sounded dangerous - boiling unopened cans-NOPE, not for me!  #2-sweetened condensed milk tastes nothing like caramel, right?  (Wrong LOL!)  I decided to give her a whirl and see what I could come up with.  I didn't like the idea of boiling an unopened can of something in water on my stove.  No way!!  I also was not a fan of heating anything in a can.  BPA leaching into my food did not sound like something I wanted to worry about.

I decided to pour my sweetened condensed milk into canning jars.  (You boil them to water process them, right?That's what I thought!)  I also decided to cook mine in the crockpot-even easier because I could see the contents and see the color changes and I didn't have to sit right there by the stove watching the pot boil!  Two wins!

It worked-deliciously!  This caramel sauce ranks right up there with the delicious stuff you buy next to the apples in the grocery store.  It's creamy and deeply caramel flavored.  Lovely stuff.

OK, here's how I made homemade Crockpot Caramel Sauce AT HOME MY WAY:



Crockpot Caramel Sauce
(One Ingredient Only!)

Ingredients:
  • Sweetened Condensed Milk (not evaporated milk)
Other Supplies:

  • Crockpot - tall enough for water to completely cover the jars
  • Water
  • canning jars with lids (I used half pints.)
Instructions:

Pour sweetened condensed milk into small canning jars, fit with lids/rings.  (Two cans of sweetened condensed milk made three half pints of caramel sauce.)  (Leave a little head space-do not fill brimming full.)

Place the lidded jars of sweetened condensed milk in the crockpot.  Fill with hot water, covering the jars with at least an inch or two of hot water (just hot from the tap).

Cover the crockpot with the lid.

Cook on HIGH 4-6 hours (all crockpots are different) (start checking them at 4 hours!).  Take a peak at your jars to see the color of the caramel as the time passes.  You want a medium caramel color.  Once they look "caramel" colored-at whatever time frame that is for you, they are done!  Take them OUT of the hot water so they don't keep cooking.  This last time I made caramel sauce, I cooked mine about 5 hours and they were a little too done.  Still delicious but a little too thick for my preference. 

Store in the refrigerator after cool (it will get super thick in the fridge).  Also, note that I replaced my lids/rings on the cooked caramel with clean lids/rings because my water left hard water grit on the lids.  

To use after refrigerating, bring to room temp or warm in the microwave until you can stir to a creamy consistency.

Uses for caramel sauce:
  • Dipping apple slices
  • Adding to brownie batter
  • Ice cream topping-milk shakes-sundaes
  • Gift giving
  • Drizzling over desserts like angel food cake, cheesecake, etc.

I find the store bought caramel sauce highly overpriced and will only be making my own from now on!



Enjoy!



Gina


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