Monday, October 29, 2012

Pumpkin Picking and Apple Crafting

Last week it rained leaves all over town, buckets and bucket of leaves!  Covering our yard and driveway and filling our gutters completely.  The temperatures dropped and our Sunday walk to the neighborhood Fall Festival felt a whole lot more like early winter than late fall.

We stayed just long enough to see a few friends, take a tractor hayride, pick our pumpkins and then hurry back home to warm up...

This upcoming week is always a busy one, especially when Halloween falls on a weekday.  We've got school parties, parades and last minute costume adjustments on the agenda.  Charlie started sniffling and coughing yesterday, I just hope he doesn't come down with a nasty cold right before Halloween.  For his classmates we put together a fun little craft that I thought we'd share with you...

We stamped small jute bags with apples cut to look like jack-o-lanterns and filled them with Halloween s'mores and a few spooky spiders. The bags were purchased here.  I cut the pumpkin shape using a paring knife and bamboo skewer.  Then brushed on acrylic craft paint with a sponge tip brush and held it on the fabric for about 10-20 seconds.

Once dry, I added a painted leaf.  Super fast craft.  Less than 15 minutes and Charlie helped do the stamping.

Lastly, I celebrated my birthday on Saturday!!  The day started with a Halloween themed relay swim meet and ended with an incredible dinner at my parents.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Recipe | The Perfect "Sunday Dinner" Roast

When I redid my blog design several months ago and indexed my recipes, I became very aware that the majority were either breakfasts or desserts.  Interesting, because I prepare dinners more than anything else but photographing them is another story.  For one thing, it is darker outside, making photography without a flash more challenging, plus I am busier at dinner time, entertaining Charlie, helping Andrew with homework, all while chopping and stirring, so stopping to take pictures isn't always possible or fun.  However, I personally use my blog recipes all the time and having them at my fingertips, versus rummaging through my recipe box, is a real time saver -- I WANT more main courses on here, even if the pics aren't so great! This is definitely one of those recipes that I will double check often in the coming colder weather months, when a proper Sunday dinner, full of comfort food, is in order. It is easy, makes the house smell amazing, and everyone loves it. The cooking trifecta! Growing up, Sunday dinners were always special and I try {doesn't always happen} to do the same.  It is a nice way to end the week, gathered around the table, filling up on a favorite family meal before we tackle the week ahead.  I've been making pork roasts for many years, but my Mum recently updated her recipe and I followed suit.  The addition of roasted vegetables is so good.

The Perfect Sunday Dinner Roast
1, 2-3 pound boneless, pork loin roast {2 pounds is enough for a family of 4 and still have left overs}
2-3 large carrots, chopped in 2 inch chunks
1 large onion cut in eighths
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
Kosher salt
Sweet paprika
Fresh ground pepper
Olive oil
Chicken stock for deglazing

To start, sprinkle the roast with salt, pepper, and a little paprika.
Then brown the roast in olive oil on all sides in an oven proof skillet, over medium high heat.
Add chopped carrots and onion and a few springs fresh thyme, under the roast and around the pan and place it in a 350 degree oven (or 325 convection roast)...

Cook the roast 20 minutes per pound.  Remove and check temperature. {the roast usually requires and additional 10-20 minutes at this stage}  I cook mine to 160 degrees.
Remove from oven. Remove roast and cover with foil to let it rest.
Remove vegetables and set aside.

Place pan back on stove,  over med low heat. Careful, the handle will be HOT!
Deglaze pan with chicken broth and scrape up little brown bits.  Let it reduce a bit, and you'll end up with a delicious pan sauce.

{browning the roast before placing it in the oven keeps it super tender and juicy!!}

{not the most appetizing picture, but trust me, it's DE-licious!!}

PS.  I know you are anxiously awaiting kitchen pictures!  I'm sorry to keep stringing you along.  I will post pics when window treatments are finished.  A few weeks longer. Hopefully, it's worth the wait!!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Recipe | Homemade Caramel Apples {that work!}

Did you all see the October cover of Martha Stewart's Living magazine?  It was a single perfect caramel apple with a twig for the stick.  Such an iconic fall treat.  I have no trouble with caramel popcorn, however, the perfect caramel apple was something I hadn't yet conquered.  Past attempts resulted in caramel that was too runny or caramel that hardened so much you needed a hammer to chisel through it.  I know you can buy the little individually wrapped caramels at the store and melt them, but with our need to keep artificial color and flavor out of Andrew's diet, those weren't an option.  So, I rolled up my sleeves and gave it another go.  And guess what? They worked!

A creamy, delicious caramel, with the perfect combination of great flavor and consistency.  I made them for Charlie's party.  And will definitely make them again! {Recipe adapted from here}

Printable Recipe

Classic Caramel Apples
9 assorted apples, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream, room temperature
optional toppings: white chocolate, flaky sea salt, chopped cashews

Insert twigs or stick into apples. I used a long bamboo skewer to "pre-drill" a hole and then inserted the stick. I found this worked much better.

Combine sugar and corn syrup in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan, and stir.  Cook over medium high heat until sugar melts. Continue to cook, swirling occasionally, until mixture is dark golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and slowly drizzle in cream {make sure it's at room temp} Stir until smooth and transfer to small metal bowl.  Let it thicken for about 3 minutes. Test with bottom of an apple, if caramel slides off, let thicken for another minute. Dip in apples one at a time, {sprinkle with nuts or sea slat at this stage, if you like} place on parchment paper sprayed lightly with cooking oil to cool.   {If caramel starts to get too hard {mine did} soften it up over a pan of simmering water for a few minutes.} Once apples have cooled, drizzle with melted white chocolate and place back on parchment to fully dry. I melted white chocolate in microwave and then put it in a disposable pastry bag with tip cut off.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Charlie's 4th Birthday!

{I'm 4!!!!}
{sunshine, where are you??}

{we squeezed a small table in the playroom to serve as a buffet, it was tight but worked}
{post on caramel apples coming soon too!}

{Party favors were superhero Golden Books. }
On Tuesday, the 16th, Charlie turned 4!!!
We had a happy little family celebration at home {for which I will post pics of later} 
and yesterday we celebrated with a costume party for Charlie and 9 friends.
All week long it was predicted that we would have sunny skies, and then Saturday
rolled in bringing nothing but rain.   Costumes were adjusted with rain boots, while tables and food were moved indoors.  Since we have a relatively small house, the idea  of 10 little children 
+ parents running wild with abandon made me a little antsy. 
We compromised by playing our games outside in the garage {not very cute or picturesque}
it wasn't perfect {nor blog worthy! ;)} but the kids had fun.  
Then we set up a long table in the playroom for cupcakes + snacks.
While I think age 4 is the perfect age to introduce party games, the real fun comes when
all the pomp and circumstance is over and they can just relax, be wild, run and play.
They managed to do this in the garage, princesses yielding Nerf guns and the boys acting like Hulk.
Everyone left with all limbs intact and surprisingly no tears despite rather wild antics at times.
Charlie felt special and loved and I got to be a little crafty, just enough.
The top picture in this post is my favorite of all the ones I snapped.  
My gorgeous 4 year old, smiling and sweet.

ps. A BIG thank you to my Mum for heading up the vacuum and hand/face wiping patrol 
and to my Dad for being the back up camera crew!  :)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Halloween Sugar Cookies | Ghosts of All Sorts

I realllly shouldn't be blogging, but I was so busy wrapping C's gifts, baking his birthday cake
and tidying up the piles of clothes I had yet to put away from last week's trunk show that I'm now WIDE awake.  So, if you haven't guessed, October 16th is C's 4th birthday! He has requested pancakes for breakfast, spaghetti "with sauce" for dinner and chocolate (of course) birthday cake.  We will have friends over Saturday for a costume party with MORE cake and lots of games.  Today we spent some time making treats for his class.  Since the theme for the day is going to be "ghosts of all sorts" we decided ghosts cookies would be fun!  

Charlie cut out all the cookies and I did all the decorating.  They don't look professional, but they sure do taste it!! I used the same recipe I did for Easter cookies.  I'll share it again in this post, but if you want more details on my icing "technique" click here.  I wanted to make cute little labels too but my printer has a mysterious paper jam.  I was in there with a flash light and saw no such thing, but it wasn't budging, so I kept it really simple: cellophane bag + bow! Those happy little faces are making me smile!! 

My Favorite Sugar Cookies
1 c unsalted butter, softened
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 c sugar
1 egg
pinch of salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract {optional}
3 c flour

Cream butter + sugar until fluffy, add sugar and mix. Add egg, salt, vanilla + almond extract; mix well. Add flour. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour. Let sit on counter for 5-10 min before rolling out.  Roll on a well floured surface, be liberal with the flour so the dough doesn't stick. Roll to 1/4 inch for a softer cookie, roll to 1/8 inch for a crispier cookie.  Cook at 375 degrees on parchment lined baking sheets for 10-13 minutes until edges are just golden.  I do not recommend using a convection oven setting for sugar cookies, it changes the texture.

My Favorite Royal Icing
3 egg whites
4 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
water or fresh lemon juice

Combine egg whites + powdered sugar + vanilla in mixer with the paddle attachment.  Whip until thick.  I use the thick consistency to outline the cookies.  Then I add a splash of water or lemon juice {and whip again} to thin the icing to flooding consistency for the inside of the cookie.  {If you are concerned about using raw egg whites you can add 5 TBS meringue powder to 1 pound of powdered sugar.}

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Our Weekend | I Know It's Autumn When...

The second week in October is alway the most beautiful week of fall in the midwest.  Typically, the air is crisp and the skies a pretty blue.  It has long been my favorite week of the year.  I don't think I truly appreciated it until I was in college in Indiana and I would walk to class under a shower of falling leaves.  Ever since then, I look forward to this week all year.  This weekend the skies were a bit hazy and the weather sort of unpredictable, but the colors were still spectacular!   A favorite book of mine to read to Charlie this time of year {and to Andrew when he was younger} is "I Know It's Autumn."  The begining of the book goes, I know it's Autumn when, the morning light comes late and there's a pumpkin muffin on my breakfast plate.  The pictures in this post made me think of that story, except change pumpkin muffin to apple scone...

Here are the highlights of our weekend...
1. All three boys ran in the Warrior Run, a 5K run in our town.  The run comes right down our street and I literally stepped foot outside with my camera and saw my crew speeding on by.  Had I been 30 seconds later I would have missed them.  They did great!  
2.  I have been practically LIVING in my new kitchen now that it is finished. I couldn't be happier with how it turned out and I look forward to sharing it on the blog soon. This weekend it was filled with the smells of lemon and white white roasted chicken in the evening and warm apple, cinnamon scones in the morning. {recipes coming} I was in heaven.
3. We made it to a pumpkin farm on Sunday and had a blast on a "spooky" hayride that took us through corn fields and wooded farm land.  We also got a bit lost in the corn maze. {very typical for us}
4. And there was lots of raking and {even more} playing in the leaves. LOTS!