Friday, October 30, 2015

DIY Root Cellar

Besides being Halloween tomorrow,  it's also the very last farmers' market of the season. We grabbed some last items a week ago since we wouldn't be able to attend.  It always makes me sad to see another season go, but it makes waiting all the more worthwhile.

For now, I have a decent supply of seasonal produce to stretch into the cold, winter months. I am no expert in this area, but I've had some questions and inquiries to share on how we made our own little makeshift root cellar.

Cool Spot
When setting up a cold storage, your first concern is finding the darkest and coolest spot in your home or basement. Typical temperatures should be between 34-50 degrees. This will help to slow down the chemical process that ages your food. I don't recommend the garage, just because it can get quite cold, especially if you live in the Midwest like I do. I've left a box of apples there before, and while they do last into December and maybe January. By the time those frigid temps come, those apples will freeze and turn to mush. We are using a spot in our basement, but another possibility could be a closet in your home that stays fairly cool.

You certainly do not need any fancy gadgets to store your produce for winter. I am a fan of making do with what you already have on hand. My husband's grandfather had made these awesome wooden crates before and we actually thought about purchasing materials to make more of our own. Instead, the hubby had the great idea to re purpose an old daycare shelf we were not currently using. It's working great so far! Maybe you have some old plastic type crates laying around? Baskets, any old storage unit not in use or heck, even boxes can work.

So let's talk now about what to stash away:

Squash is a great and easy option for long term storage. If all goes well, there is no reason why it couldn't last at least until spring. They've got a hard, protective skin that will last. I've got butternut, acorn, spaghetti and sweet potato squash in my cold storage shelf. Butternut will last the longest of these varieties.

Pumpkins will keep for a few months, definitely in time for those holiday pies. Read here for how to roast a pumpkin and preserve the puree in your freezer.

I had a co worker grab me fifty pounds of potatoes when she traveled to Wisconsin one weekend. The cost was $8 and I just couldn't pass that up. We're honestly not big potato eaters but I have a couple ideas in the event we need to use them up quicker than anticipated.  The hubby got a little antsy and dumped the whole bag into my shelving unit. It's better to leave them in their bag for longer storage, so we'll see how these turn out. My husband's grandmother said to put an apple in there to help them last longer. I don't know of any truth to that myth. Any ideas??

Apples are great to have through those cold months but can be a little tricky when it comes to preserving. They can bruise easily and then causing others in the box to rot quicker. That's why this year we're storing ours a little differently. I recently read about wrapping each individual apple in newspaper to protect them a bit more. That way if and when one becomes bruised, it's not as likely to affect the others in the bunch.

I took some time yesterday morning preparing our stash for the winter. Small to medium size are best for keeping for long term, they just seem to last longer. Start with tearing newspaper into small sections.

You'll then want to wrap each apple in the newspaper, Gather all ends and pull up and sort of twist the newspaper together at the top. Be careful not to twist too hard though, otherwise you'll tear the paper.

Then lay each apple into a cardboard box or crate like we're using. They're then ready to be stored in your chosen cool spot. Take note to not store apples right by other produce, especially potatoes. Apples release a gas that can spoil other food at a faster rate.

Garlic and Onions
I've always had good luck with garlic and onions lasting for long periods of time. We would always receive an ample amount of garlic in our CSA boxes and I loved being able to carry that over into the winter months. I scored a nice mesh bag of it last week at the market, so I'm looking forward to using fresh, local garlic all winter long. I know garlic can last longer stored in some sort of mesh bag like this, but honestly I've even left it on our counter for long periods and it's done just fine too.

These just happen to be the items we focus on storing in our house. I have read that carrots and even cabbage are other great items to long term storage, if done properly. But I have no experience in that area. Maybe someday. However, if those are items that you've been successful in, feel free to let us know in the comments. I'd love to hear any suggestions!

Again, I am no expert and these are just ways that are working for our family right now. Feel free to use any of the ideas I've shared, but also ask around your area. See what is working best for your climate.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Pumpkin Layered Bars

Remember those ridiculously easy seven layer bars that everyone loves? Well these remind me of those, but with pumpkin. I mentioned I was busy baking with the pumpkin last weekend, and these bars were at the top of my list. I spotted them in a recent issue of Simple and Delicious magazine and they caught my eye.

I adapted the recipe just a smidge, mainly using up some raw coconut chips I had in the fridge. Honestly, I wasn't sure how well the coconut would bake; praying it wouldn't burn. But the raw chips did just fine.

These bars really capture the many great flavors of fall! The creamy pumpkin filling is just like enjoying a slice of pie. And I love cranberries, they add a nice sweetness to the bars without being too sweet.

I will definitely be adding these to my favorite fall treats to make each year. They're perfect for large gatherings and the holidays coming up. Do me a favor and make sure you add these bars to your baking list this fall! I know they'll go over well with your friends and family.

Pumpkin Layered Bars

11 oz box vanilla wafers
4 tbsp butter, melted
3 oz cream cheese, softened
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
15 oz can pumpkin puree
1-1/2 cups coconut {I used raw coconut flakes}
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place wafers into a food processor and pulse into crumbs. Dump crumbs into a 9x13-inch baking pan. Drizzle melted butter over crumbs and combine together using a fork. Press into bottom of pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese, milk, pumpkin and pie spice. Pour over crust. Layer with coconut, chocolate, cranberries and pecans.

Bake in oven for 45 minutes or until golden brown and bars are set. Remove from oven and let cool before cutting into bars. Make sure to refrigerate any leftovers.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Pumpkin White Hot Chocolate {+Book Review}

I might be a little late to the game, but I broke out the pumpkin this past weekend. Twice. And it was really good.

I received this cookbook a few weeks back. It's one that I've been anxiously waiting for all summer long. It also came at the perfect time, as I was home with sick children for three whole days. You can catch up on a lot of reading in that amount of time. I tried my hardest to savor the new book, but finished reading it from cover to cover in two days.

I fell in love with Alana's first book, The Homemade Pantry so I wasn't really surprised that The Homemade Kitchen did not disappoint one bit. Broken down into chapters or rather principles to live by, Alana Chernila teaches her readers how to cook and more importantly use the ingredients you have near. I love one of her phrases in the book; "Do your best and then let go." It's so simple, yet something I think we all struggle with. As moms we aim to feed our families the best we can, yet there's always so much controversy surrounding food.

You'll find techniques perfect for the beginning cook such as: how to cook an egg or any type of vegetable, ways to use up those kitchen scraps, recipes for delivering meals to friends in need, entertaining ideas and new dishes to try with your own children in the kitchen. Oh and so many beautiful photos! There are plenty of recipes that captured my attention, but I knew I had to give this hot chocolate recipe a try first.

I'm not a coffee drinker, so I've never gotten into those overpriced caffeinated beverages. But considering how decadent this drink is, I can see how easy it is to become hooked. It was like enjoying a slice of pumpkin pie but in liquid form. This time of year, you just can't get any better than that my friends!

Now, I did make just a couple minor changes to the original recipe, mainly using white chocolate in place of bittersweet. You can see which you like best. I'm sure it wont be long before I'm experimenting with the latter.

Oh, and this book. It will have a nice little spot in my kitchen, always within arms reach.

Pumpkin White Hot Chocolate

1-1/2 cups 2% milk
2 oz. white chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
whipped cream, for serving

Bring milk to a low boil in a saucepan on stove.

Place chocolate in a blender, pour 3/4 of milk over chocolate.  Let sit for a couple minutes and then blend together. Add in pumpkin and spice, blend together well.

Return mixture back to pan and stir well into remaining milk. Let warm back up on stove and then serve in mugs. Top with whipped cream, if desired.  Serves 2

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this cookbook courtesy of Blogging for Books. However, all opinions are my own.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Weekly Menu 10/18

Sundays are my favorite, it's one of our only days of relaxation in the week. It's a day for family, finishing up the long to-do list and getting a head start on the upcoming week.

I let last week get the better part of me and didn't find much extra time for blogging. However, this weekend has been much better and I've got some new posts ready to go for you! I've also got our meal plan ready for the busy work days and that always makes me feel a little more organized.

Here's to a great week!

Yogurt parfaits
Breakfast burritos
Toast w/fruit

Ham salad sandwiches
DIY lunchables {meat, cheese, crackers}
Italian pasta salad
Popcorn, string cheese, fruit, veggies

Chicken pot pie
Bacon cheeseburger soup
Slow cooker beef tips w/potatoes
Pretzel crusted chicken
Barbecue ribs

Summer sausage and cheese

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Weekly Menu 10/11

It's been a couple weeks since I've posted a menu, between illness and busy schedules, I let it get away from me. I did at least have somewhat of a plan for dinner most nights but I feel much more organized and ready to go for the week when it's all laid out.

Today we're planning to go pick out pumpkins from the pumpkin farm. The girls are looking forward to choosing their own and anticipating the arrival of Halloween. I'm hoping to spend a little time in the kitchen processing some of the apples we picked last weekend. Enjoy your Sunday friends, I hope it's a relaxing one for you!

Oatmeal cookie baked oatmeal
2-minute ham and egg bowl

DIY lunchables {ham,cheese,crackers}
Whole wheat mini pumpkin muffins, yogurt
Baked potatoes w/fixins

Spicy grilled chickenmaple roasted butternut squash
Spaghetti squash
Sloppy joes
Cobb salad
BLT wraps
Walking tacos

Fresh fruit/veggies
Parmesan ranch munchie mix
String cheese

Friday, October 9, 2015

Baked Apples w/Streusel Topping

 This past Sunday I celebrated my birthday; as a family we had planned to travel to a nearby apple orchard. Of course it ended up being one heck of a week with illnesses taking over the family and by Sunday I felt it creeping up on myself. But in the end we decided to go for the short drive and spent a little bit of our morning picking apples together, enjoying a nice hay ride around the orchard and of course, sampling yummy cider donuts!

With each picking season, I love making lists of what I plan to make with my fruits. I do this for all seasons and always have more on my list than what I have time for, but that's really just the fun in it all. I always aim to fill the freezer with applesaucecaramel apple crisppies and maybe some apple butter. Now that I've dipped my feet in canning, I'm excited to try canning some of my own applesauce and maybe even pie filling.

These baked apples were another at the top of the list for this year. Something I've always wanted to make and I'm glad we did. They're like a healthier apple pie. And so very easy too!

I used some of my fruit crisp crumble topping I had in the freezer, and ended up adding just a bit of cinnamon to give it that homemade apple pie taste. We served our warm apples with a little bit of vanilla ice cream and it was certainly a delicious treat. Seriously, just like an apple pie!

Make sure to add these to your fall baking list this year. It'll be something the whole family enjoys!

Baked Apples w/Streusel Topping

6 medium apples
1 jar of fruit crisp crumble
1 tsp cinnamon
vanilla ice cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash and core each apple, careful to not cut out the bottom. I found it helpful to use a small paring knife.

Add cinnamon to about half of the crumble, you can store the remaining for another recipe or back in the freezer. Fill each apple with crumble topping, piling on as much as you'd like.

Place the filled apples into a small baking dish. Bake in oven for about 35 minutes. Apples will be soft. Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes before serving warm with ice cream.

Serves 6

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Fall Soup Swap {Iowa Blogger Style}

Soup season is officially underway and what better way to celebrate than with a soup swap? By now the weather might be cooling down in your area and the crock pot has been turned on a few times already. We don't always have soup real often at our house, but I'm hoping to incorporate such nights into our meal plans this fall and winter season.

I've gathered a few friends to host our own soup swap in just a couple weeks. Similar to my traditional freezer swaps but this time we've chosen to only prepare a soup. We're planning to meet at my house on a Sunday with our prepared recipes times four, that way everyone can go home with a different soup to try.

You could also plan a soup swap just as you would do for a holiday cookie exchange. Invite your friends and family to bring along a favorite soup, along with printed recipes and extra containers. Plan to provide small bowls and silverware for sampling the soups, along with crackers and bread for soaking up that wonderful goodness at the bottom of each bowl. Each guest can then fill their containers with soup to take home and enjoy with their families or stash in their freezer. I love my cookie swaps before Christmas, but I seriously can't wait to give this a try!

For today though, I've gathered a few of my blogger friends and have asked them to share some of their favorite seasonal soups. Anything from traditional classics like chicken noodle and chili to the drool worthy loaded baked potato and fiesta pork soup. You'll want to keep this close by as you're planning your menus out this fall and winter season...or perhaps planning your own soup swap.  Which one are you anxious to try first?

Stove-top Cassoulet

Pork and Barley Soup

Italian Veggie and Chicken Soup

Fiesta Pork Soup

Creamy Chicken and Rice Soup

Cheddar Bacon and Potato Soup

Taco Soup

Easy Chili

French Onion Soup

Zuppa Italiana Soup

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

Comforting Chicken Noodle Soup

Ham and Corn Chowder

Friday, October 2, 2015

Freezer Meal Gift Basket #3

I've decided, if I ever receive the chance to publish a cookbook, it will be on the topic of preparing these meal baskets. Filled with tons of ideas and recipes to help you create the perfect plan for new parents, a neighbor recovering from surgery or just to say "I'm thinking of you" to a friend. And of course everything featured will be inviting enough that you'll want to recreate the dishes for your own family.

So I became an aunt on September 11th! Quite exciting for my side of the family as my girls were the only grand kids thus far. And it's a boy, so even more fun. Throughout their showers they received the majority of the main essentials plus more. My mom and I talked about preparing some meals for them after the baby arrived. I knew I wanted to create another basket perfect for their little family.

After the birth, mom took them meals of chili and chicken and noodles. I know they enjoyed the warm meals and the fact of not having to worry about dinner on those nights. So that's definitely one way to go about it.

But I really love these meal baskets. Because my brother's family does not have a deep freeze, I tried to scale back a bit on the freezer aspect. I tried to keep in mind of all meals plus snacks. With only the two of them in the house, I figured they might appreciate snacky type meals too.

Here's what I included in the basket:

Veggie Lasagna (I left the ground beef out this time)
Orange Rosemary Chicken
Monster Cookie dough balls
French Toast Sticks
Taco Dip (recipe below)
Local Apple Cider- perfect for these chilly evenings
Local Apples, for snacking

And a new book for my nephew, of course!

*Not pictured: brown rice for chicken meal and tortilla chips for dip.

The basket itself, I found at Target. Very inexpensive and something they can end up using in their own home.

I'll leave you with the recipe for this simple layered taco dip. I'm sure you might already have your own version. I figured with football season underway, a good appetizer might be appreciated for game watching.

If you're thinking of putting together your own meal basket, feel free to check out my other two posts for ideas- here and here. Think of your own favorite recipes or what your receiver enjoys most. Remember it doesn't have to be anything fancy!

Layered Taco Dip

14 oz. can refried beans {or homemade}
16 oz. sour cream
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp garlic salt
Shredded lettuce
Diced tomato
Diced pepper, olives; if desired
Grated cheddar cheese
Tortilla chips, for serving

Spread beans into bottom of desired pan. This will make enough for a large 9x13 pan, but I divided it into two 10-inch pie tins.

Mix seasonings into sour cream until fully incorporated. Then spread over bean layer. Layer dip with lettuce, cheese, tomato and any other desired toppings.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with tortilla chips.
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