Posted in Food, Gardening

Harvesting Honey

Today we had the pleasure of experiencing our first honey harvest. Our bees have been busy visiting fields of clover and Queen Anne’s Lace over the past several weeks. After watching hours of video focused on harvesting honey and rendering beeswax, we finally took a leap of faith and carefully extracted the liquid gold produced by our very own bees.

Here’s a step by step look at the process:

We carefully swept the bees off of the short, capped honey frames to prepare for extraction.

We set up the extractor and a screened sieve to remove the honey and filter out the wax and other unwanted items. A clean and organized area is imperative. We had buckets of soapy water with sanitizer and tarped surfaces in the extraction area.

After the extractor does its work (we have a hand crank version), the gate can be opened to pour unfiltered honey into a clean, food-safe bucket. The sieve and filter will take out the impurities.

We cleaned and sanitized our honey containers prior to setting up our bottling station.

The filtered honey is ready for bottling. We used 12 and 16 ounce jars. We wanted to try a mixture of plastic and glass jars.

We were able to bottle 12- 12 ounce, 12- 16 ounce, and 2- 4 ounce jars. What a delight to get so much honey from just 8 short frames.

I order a few different labels from Amazon to finish off the process. I think I’ll order a set of more personally printed labels for next year.

Now, it’s time to render the filtered wax to make our own beeswax blocks for future projects.

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Posted in Baked goods, Baking, Bread, breakfast

Fresh Blueberry and Cream Cheese Breakfast Braid

Nearly every Saturday, I peer into my over crowded refrigerator to see what left-over ingredients I can pull together to make a few quick weekend meals. This past Saturday, I wanted to make a warm coffee cake for the breakfast table. As I poked around the fridge and rummaged through various containers, I found all the ingredients needed to make this delicious, fruit-filled braid. If you’re looking for a quick baked treat, this is the one for you.

Fresh Blueberry and Cream Cheese Breakfast Braid

1 package crescent dough sheet

1 pint blueberries

8 ounces package of cream cheese, softened

¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon flour

2 teaspoons lemon juice

¼ cup milk

¼ teaspoon almond extract

½ cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On a slightly floured surface, carefully roll out the crescent dough into a thin, rectangular sheet. In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese and 1/4 cup of granulated sugar until smooth and creamy.

Spread the cream cheese mixture onto the center of the crescent roll sheet. Leaving about an inch and a half of dough on either side of the mixture. In a separate bowl, toss the blueberries with the tablespoon of flour, lemon zest, and teaspoon of sugar. Carefully spread the blueberries over the cream cheese mixture.

To prepare the dough, make diagonal cuts into the dough from the exterior and cut about 1 ½” into the center on the long ends of the dough. Make roughly 8-10 cuts on each side. Pull the strips of dough over the top the blueberries, alternating sides. Transfer to a cookie sheet. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.

While it is cooling, whisk together milk, almond extract, and powdered sugar to create a glaze.

When the blueberry braid has slightly cooled, drizzle the glaze over the top and serve.

Posted in appetizers/snacks, Baked goods, Baking, Pizza, Uncategorized

Spicy Garlic Chicken Pizza

I found this recipe many years ago as I sat in the dentist’s office waiting for my children to finish up with their annual checkup. When I read the ingredient list and noticed how simple the recipe appeared, I walked to the reception desk to see if I might be able to take the magazine home with me. This was an old edition and I thought they might let me have it. The receptionist was quick to agree as she said they just threw out a number of old magazines and this one must have been overlooked. Here is the original recipe as pictured in the magazine several years ago:

You can see that it’s been well used over the years… Sending along a thank you to Better Homes and Gardens and the contest winner, Kelly for a delicious weeknight recipe.

(I often add a teaspoon of fresh minced ginger to the recipe to add an Asian flair.)

Spicy Garlic Chicken Pizza

12 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

½ cup sliced green onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons rice vinegar or white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil or cooking oil

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper or 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil or cooking oil

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 16 ounce (12-inch) Italian bread shell (Boboli)

½ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

2 tablespoons pine nuts or sliced almonds

½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Cut chicken into 1/2-inch pieces. In a large bowl combine half of the green onion, the minced garlic, rice or white wine vinegar, soy sauce, the 1 tablespoon oil, the crushed or ground red pepper, and the black pepper. Add the chicken pieces; stir to coat. Cover and let stand 30 minutes at room temperature or for 1 hour in refrigerator. Drain, reserving marinade.

Heat remaining oil in a large skillet; add chicken pieces. Cook and stir about 3 minutes or until no longer pink. Stir cornstarch into reserved marinade. Add to skillet. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Spoon evenly atop bread shell. Sprinkle with Monterey Jack and mozzarella cheeses. Bake, uncovered, in a 400 degree F. oven for 12 minutes. Top with remaining green onion and nuts. Return to oven for 2 minutes more. Makes 6 main-dish servings.

Posted in appetizers/snacks, Baked goods, Uncategorized

No-Bake Snacking Crackers

While enjoying the 4th of July holiday with family, we took advantage of all of the festivities happening around town. Local vendors celebrated by keeping shops opened late on Friday evening while providing live music, street food and a festive atmosphere. I love supporting local vendors so we headed over to the town square to visit all of the unique boutiques, bakeries, and kitchen shops. One of the shop owners had a few taste testing stations and a selection of dry mixes that could be combined to make various snacks and dips. I purchased one of the packets but I felt I probably could make a similar mix on my own. So when I returned home, I scoured some of my cookbooks and settled on a recipe that I changed up to work with ingredients that I had on hand. Boy oh boy, these crackers didn’t last long! Everybody loved the mild spiced flavor. I’ll certainly be making these again!

No-Bake Ranch Snacking Crackers

2 – (1/2 ounce) packages ranch dressing mix

2⁄3 cup canola oil

1 tablespoon dried dill seed

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 (10 ounce) package oyster crackers OR 1 box Ritz crackers

In a small bowl, combine ranch dressing mix, oil, dill and garlic powder. Mix well.

In a large air-tight container (Tupperware), pack crackers. Then, pour oil mixture over crackers and toss well until coated. Cover.

Flip mixture every 10-15 minutes for 2 hours. Store in the air-tight container.

Posted in Crafts

Making a Market Basket

Once again, I was able to join a great group of individuals at one of the local county parks for a day of basket making. I took several pictures throughout the day to capture the steps used to assemble this potluck or market basket. For those of you that are interested in basket making, I strongly suggest you find a class in your area. This is a dying art and learning the basic skills will build toward ideas for advanced methods. Local libraries, park district programs, and 4-H program leaders often offer hands-on opportunities to assemble basic baskets. Many basketmaking supply shops also offer classes. I really enjoy the process and certainly, the complete project. I always sign my baskets as I look forward to handing them down through the generations.

Sharing a few basketmaking tips…

We experienced some weather difficulties so we relocated to the interior of the old 1920’s barn. This June morning was cold and rainy. We usually meet in a covered pavilion but the winds were very strong and continued to blow away our supplies.

First, I measured 15 inches of weaving material (strips) for the length of the basket.l

I numerically marked all of my strips to help me weave a pattern on one side of the handle. Then, I duplicated the process on the other side of the wooden handle. Centering the project is very important.

Then, it was time to start working on the sides. I wanted to maintain my pattern up the side of the basket, so I used clothes pins to help me achieve this. The first row is always the most difficult to manage. The clothes pins act as another pair of “hands”.

Continue working up the side of the basket, adding any details desired. I added a colorful pattern of dyed strips. Make sure to alter the starting point for each strip, rotating the basket a half turn for an altered starting point for each row. Continue to shape the basket while building the sides.

Trim and bend alternate strips along the top edge of the basket making sure to leave enough length to insert strips under the existing basket weave.

Now it’s time for the finishing touches. An edge is placed on the top of the basket and sea grass is placed between the (half-round) edging strips. Once again, clothes pins act as extra “hands” to hold it all in place.

Lashing is used to complete the project and pull all of the finished edge pieces together.

A final dip in a black walnut wash finishes off the project by adding a weathered or aged look to the basket. Here the baskets dry in the shade of the old barn.

I love the size and shape of this beautiful basket. I can’t wait for our next basketmaking session!

Posted in Salad, Uncategorized

Brown Derby Cobb Salad

We’ve been Disney Vacation Club members for over twenty-five years. One of the “must-do” activities that is always on our vacation checklist is a trip the Hollywood Brown Derby located in the Hollywood Studios theme park. There is really no need for us to review the menu after being seated in the beautiful wood-paneled dining room. We ALWAYS order the Hollywood Brown Derby Cobb Salad. The salad includes a wonderful, finely chopped mix of greens, eggs, tomato, bacon, avocado, and turkey. Their signature salad dressing brings together this light and flavorful salad. We always visit the restaurant for the lunch hour, as the salad is delivered to the table in a large bowl and served as an individual entree. Delicious!

When entering the main dining area, looking to your left, a small shelf holds menus, coloring pages and crayons for the little ones. Sitting squarely on top of the shelf, you’ll usually find a small stack of derby-shaped recipe cards for those visiting the restaurant. The Cobb Salad and Grapefruit Cake recipes are usually available to take home with you. Both recipes are absolutely amazing. While I have made both recipes many times, nothing compares to the original prepared by the extraordinary staff at the Hollywood Brown Derby.

Here’s an adaptation from the original recipe…

Brown Derby Cobb Salad

1/2 head each of iceberg and Romaine lettuce, chopped

1 small bunch curly endive, torn into small pieces

1 small bunch watercress, large stems removed, chopped

2 Tbsp snipped chives

1 cup fresh tomato, diced

1 cup roasted chicken breast, diced

6 strips uncured bacon, cooked, diced

1 avocado, peeled and diced

3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped fine

1/2 cup Roquefort (or substitute your favorite blue cheese) crumbled

Brown Derby French Dressing

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 tsp sugar

1 1/2 tsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

3/4 tsp dry mustard

1 small clove garlic, peeled and minced

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3/4 cup grapeseed oil

In a large cruet or shaker bottle, combine all ingredients. Shake vigorously until dressing begins to emusify. Chill.

Combine chopped lettuces in a large shallow bowl. Top salad greens with rows of the remaining ingredients. At table, toss salad with dressing and serve.

Posted in appetizers/snacks, Desserts, Food, Kids in the Kitchen

4 Ingredient Fruit Pops

As the temperatures rise and children return to outdoor play, this simple recipe provides a healthy dose of potassium, vitamin C, folate, and dietary fiber. Adding a few tablespoons of local honey makes for a sweet and nutritious summertime treat.

If your family is anything like mine, these fruity popsicles won’t last long in the freezer!

4 Ingredient Fruit Pops

1 ripe banana, peeled and sliced (frozen bananas work best)

12 strawberries, cleaned, trimmed, and halved

1/2 cup pineapple chunks

2 tablespoons honey

Combine fruit and honey in the food processor. Purée until smooth and creamy. Fill and cap popsicle molds. Freeze for four hours. Loosen popsicle molds by briefly running under warm water. Serve immediately.

Posted in Baked goods, Baking, Bread, breakfast, Brunch, Cake

Cinnamon Roll Cake

I just love easy, semi-homemade recipes. Last week, just before the Easter holiday, stores throughout my neighborhood had great deals on baking staples like sugar, flour, eggs, and cake mix. I took advantage of many of the sales buying lots of sugar for our bees and lots of cake mix for easy recipes like the one listed below. This is always one of the first items to go when set along side other items on the breakfast buffet. This cake also travels well so taking it to Easter brunch or a summer holiday party is great. Just slice the cooled cake into 1 ½” squares and serve it right out of an attractive baking dish.

Cinnamon Roll Cake

1 box yellow cake mix

4 eggs

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sour cream

1 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 cups powdered sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9×13 Baking pan with nonstick spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, oil, vanilla and sour cream. Mix on low for 30 seconds and then raise the speed to medium and mix for 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Spread the cake batter evenly into your prepared pan. In a medium bowl whisk together the brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle this evenly on top of your cake.

Using a butter knife gently swirl the cinnamon sugar throughout the cake batter. (Ribbons of sugar and spice.).

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick entered into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool cake for 15-20 minutes.

In a medium bowl whisk together the powdered sugar and milk. Pour this over the slightly cooled cake.

Posted in Baked goods, Baking, Bread, breakfast, Brunch, Crock pot, slow cooking

Slow Cooker Apple & Cinnamon French Toast

A cold snap bringing a dose of freezing rain and light snow showers has made for an icy, Midwest spring morning. Last evening, before heading to bed, I loaded the slow cooker with a mixture of bread, eggs, milk, cinnamon and spices. I had looked at the forecast earlier in the evening and the weather sure didn’t look pretty for the early morning hours. I thought it might be nice to have a warm and toasty slice of French toast casserole ready for the family upon waking. A fresh pot of coffee and a few fruit & yogurt parfaits would round out the meal.

As the “baking” takes place in the crockpot, the house smells heavenly. The aroma alone acts as a warm hug wafting through the house. A tip that works great; cover the slow cooker with a clean, dry towel before placing the lid on the vessel. This helps to reduce excess moisture making the French toast less soggy. If you so desire, add a handful of chopped walnuts before sprinkling the final product with maple syrup and powdered sugar. Delicious.

Slow Cooker Apple & Cinnamon French Toast

15-20 slices of day old bread

10 large eggs

1 1/2 cups milk or half-and-half

1/3 cup brown sugar, packed

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoons salt

pinch ground nutmeg

2 small apples, diced

Maple syrup, for serving

Powdered sugar, for serving

Grease a 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Slice bread into 1” cubes; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, milk, brown sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, vanilla, salt and nutmeg and beat until well combined. Gently fold bread and diced apples into egg mixture making sure each piece is well coated. Place mixture into prepared slow cooker. Place a clean, dry dish towel over the slow cooker before covering with lid. (This helps to reduce moisture build up and prevents a soggy French toast.)

Cook on low for 2 ½ to 4 hours, until the French toast is warm and cooked through. Carefully lift the entire round out of the slow cooker with a spatula.

Serve warm with chopped walnuts, maple syrup and powdered sugar.

Posted in Baked goods, Baking, Bread, breakfast, Brunch

Cherry Jubilee Scones

I just love when the kids return home for the weekend. After graduating, they seem to have settled into different parts of the United States. This weekend, our town held their annual spring run making this a great kickoff to one of my favorite seasons.

Friday evening, after a long week of work, I was disappointed in myself as I hadn’t had the opportunity to plan a few meals and gather some groceries. This morning, as my pack of runners was out enjoying the spring race, I jumped into action and scoured the freezer, fridge, and pantry. To my surprise, I actually had the fixings for a great mid-morning breakfast. My pantry was chocked with items that I had unknowingly pushed to the back of the shelf over the course of many weeks. A tall container of old fashioned oats, an unopened package of dried “cherries jubilee” and some turbinado sugar sat on the shelf. I quickly opened my baker’s cabinet and scooped up the flour, sugar, almond extract, and leavenings. I remembered a blueberry scone recipe that I had so I rummaged through my blog of past posts and tweeted the recipe to make it work. To round out the breakfast, I found a bag of frozen hash browns, a pound of bacon, a carton of eggs. Opening the carton, there were only three… Grabbing my phone, I quickly sent a text to the group requesting they stop by a mini-mart to purchase two cartons of eggs. Scurrying around the kitchen, I completed each dish. I would then quickly cook the scrambled eggs as everyone showered after returning home. Laying everything out on the kitchen counter, plates were filled and tummies were satisfied.

What a delight… the scones were a hit… everyone enjoyed the meal as they slathered a good dose of butter on the warm scones and gobbled them up. Before they disappeared, I set aside a few for a Sunday visit with extended family. I’m sure I’ll be making these again.

…Great memories shared as we welcome the first days of spring!

Cherry Jubilee Scones

1 1/2 cups whole oats

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup white sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

6 tablespoons butter, cubed

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup dried cherries

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Combine oatmeal, flours, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a medium sized bowl. Use a pastry cutter or two forks and cut in the butter with the flour mixture until crumbly and well blended. Stir milk and extract into the flour mixture until just combined. Lightly fold in the pecans and cherries. On a lightly floured surface, collect the dough into a ball and pat into a large circle about 1″ thick. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of turbinado sugar (optional). Cut into 8 wedges, and place on prepared baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes.