Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Taste of Home Cooking School: Online Courses!

Taste of Home Cooking School has just created 5 online courses! I am a volunteer Field Editor for Taste of Home Magazine and I thought I'd share these news here. The courses are $14.95. 

I have a promo code for those of you visiting my blog that will take $10 off one course! Use promo code TAKETEN when enrolling online.

The courses are: 

Tips, Tricks & Techniques from the Test Kitchen

Let me know what you think if you enroll in the courses. I'll be checking them out myself this weekend !

*All images courtesy of TasteofHomeCookingSchool.com

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Garden Geek 2014 vol. 5

Pics from the late summer/early fall garden.

 Caught this smiling guy on our deck railing one sunny morning.

Check out the brilliant camouflage on this Black Swallowtail caterpillar. I was so impressed that I let him have a few carrot tops.  

These bees seemed frantic, even for bees. Maybe they had a bet going on who could count up the Fibonacci sequence first.  

I couldn't catch them in my pic but there were more frantic bees scampering around inside this just-opening sunflower. 

These plucky, sweet little tomatoes just won't quit. Even now in October I still get to pick and eat them! 

I fished this giant dragonfly from the pool. Exhausted, he hung out in the sun for a good hour before flying away. The body was about 3" long and wingspan was 3" or 4". In addition to the green he also had bright Caribbean blue on his body. Possibly it is a Green Darner?

 My artsy picture of morning glories twining up and reaching for the sky. 

Here's another critter I rescued from the swimming pool. I love salamanders, just look at that cute little face!

The brilliant, ruby red of blueberry bushes in fall. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Taco Pizzas

It is any given late afternoon and not surprisingly I have been distracted by something (Pinterest, a food magazine, the episode of 'Phineas & Ferb' playing in the living room.) 

Suddenly it is 5:15 pm and I have no plan for dinner. The members of the household begin to enter the kitchen, zombie-like with their eyes glazed over, mouths agape, and arms outstretched. Arms grabbing at the pantry door, the refrigerator door, and finally they come for me. "Food. Need food. Are we having dinner? Are we having dinner right now? Should we just grab whatever we can find?" 

Ah, now that last one is tempting! Yes, by all means grab whatever you can find. Grab the half-full bag of chips, the can of Spaghettios. I'll eat a couple slices of cheese and then return to my pressing tasks: pinning ideas for Halloween decorations, or getting absorbed by the adventures of Perry the Platypus. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Doctor Who-Inspired Cupcakes

Before school resumed we had a late, friends-only birthday party for Logan. Swimming, dogs and burgers from the grill, Nerf gun battles - Logan and his four best buds had a great time! 

Instead of asking the kids' families to bring presents, we had them bring ice cream toppings instead (Logan helpfully suggested kids bring toppings AND presents. We held firm.) We provided the ice cream and they made their own sundaes. The two best toppings provided were Hershey milk chocolate bars which we froze then smashed to sprinkle over the tops, and marshmallow bunnies. Not Peeps brand, just little mini marshmallows shaped like bunnies. I suspect they may have been leftover from Easter (squirreled away under this child's bed perhaps?) They were still soft though and they were devoured. A few Nerf gun darts also found their way onto sundaes, after first being launched through the air in the kitchen over the heads of shrieking tweens. I don't believe they were eaten, fortunately. 

For one additional boost of sugar before these kids went home I also made cupcakes. I wanted to do something on the theme of Doctor Who - a favorite of Logan's and of his parents. There are some amazing, elaborate, and breathtaking Doctor Who cakes out there. Just go to Pinterest and search for 'Doctor Who cakes'. I would love to attempt one of these creations some day - unfortunately I did not have time before this party. Additionally, the hot, humid days of August and a house with no AC do not provide an ideal environment for working on a delicate cake. 

Adipose aliens, 'Doctor Who'. From BBCAmerica.com.
I saw several ideas for making Adipose aliens (from Doctor Who Season 4 Episode 1 "Partners in Crime") out of marshmallows, and decided to combine these with cupcakes dyed Tardis-blue. Adipose are very cute, baby aliens (if you don't know what they're made from) and the marshmallow versions are, I think also very cute! 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Syrup: for Coffee, Lattes, and Tea!

My friend and colleague Natalie asked me this week if I had ever tried to make pumpkin spice syrup for mixing into coffee. ("Pumpkin's back!" The commercials have been pummeling this into our brains over the last couple of weeks.) She had tried a recipe she found online, which included pumpkin puree. The syrup that she got was tasty, but very thick and sweet. When she stirred it to her coffee it settled on the bottom, making for weak pumpkin spice taste for most of the coffee and then WAY too much sweetness and sludge at the end of the cup!

Noodling it through at home (and realizing at 9:00 that evening that I had no pumpkin puree on hand) I decided to make a simple syrup with just the pumpkin pie spice.  A favorite quote from Garrison Keillor is, "Pumpkin pie is just a vehicle for nutmeg." Pumpkin love (pie, bars, bread, pumpkin spice lattes) is really just about the spices.

The syrup itself is pretty easy and requires only a few minutes cooking time on the stove. The spices took some adjusting, as at first the cinnamon was the only thing I could taste. It was scrumptious, and tasted like those little cinnamon candies - but not like pumpkin pie. Boosting the allspice and especially the nutmeg and ginger did the trick. Once cooled the syrup is thin, which means it mixes into hot drinks very smoothly and doesn't settle to the bottom. 

Natalie tried it in her coffee and later in some hot Chai tea. She declared it to be perfect! "It was so good and reminds me of Fall. I am so excited I can have pumpkin coffee with going bankrupt at Dunkin' Donuts!" 

Aww, she's as sweet as this syrup.

Pumpkin Spice Simple Syrup

1-1/2 c. granulated sugar
1-1/2 c. water
1-3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1-1/2 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Stir in the spices. Reduce heat slightly and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. 
Pour through a cheesecloth-lined funnel into a glass mason jar (to strain the syrup.) Allow to cool completely. Cover and keep refrigerated for up to 3 weeks.  

Makes about 1-1/4 c. of simple syrup.