Friday, July 25, 2014

Homemade syrup


We have an apricot tree. We love it...that is, when it grows apricots. This year we got NONE. Last year, we got like 200. Utah has crazy spring frosts that can be detrimental to early bloomers such as the apricot tree. So sad.

We were pleasantly surprised when a kind soul brought us a big bag of apricots a couple of weeks ago from trees that had made it through the frost. That meant we didn't have to go without our beloved apricot syrup this year!

If your apricots are naturally sweet, you can really limit the added sugar. I like to add as little sugar as possible so I'm not covering my breakfast with candy. The fruit on our own tree is always very sweet and delicious. We prune our trees and thin the fruit. I have gotten away with adding as little as 1 1/2 cups of sugar to my syrup. Many syrup and jam recipes call for equal amounts of sugar and fruit puree. I think that's insane. If your apricots haven't been thinned or ripened, they might have little flavor and require more sugar. This was the case with the apricots that were gifted to us. I had to use 3 cups of sugar.

This syrup, or you could call it a sauce, is delicious. Enjoy!

THE RECIPE:

6 c. apricot puree
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Bring a pot of water to boil. Set a bowl of ice water nearby. In batches, place whole apricots in boiling water for 1 minute, then remove and place in ice water. This is called blanching. The skins will slip right off the apricots now. They should also break open very easily so you can remove the pits. I never need a knife, but I do get a little messy.

Puree apricots in a blender, then pour into a pot, along with lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. The sugar will dissolve, and the puree will eventually boil up then back down. At this point it starts to look glossy and more syrupy. It will never get really sticky, though, like pancake syrup because I don't add enough sugar for that. That's a good thing. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. The syrup can be canned or frozen.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer refresher


Try this coconut limeade slush for a unique and delicious way to cool off this summer. My whole family downed it. The recipe came from Smitten Kitchen, but I had to increase the sugar because Deb's version, which was 3 tablespoons, was too tart for my taste. There was coconut milk leftover from the can, so I made a mini batch after the first since we hadn't had our fill yet. Yum.

THE RECIPE:

2 1/2 c. ice
1 c. coconut milk (shake can first)
1/3 c. lime juice
6 Tbsp. granulated sugar

Puree ingredients in a blender until very smooth and creamy. Serve immediately. Makes 3 cups.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Super fast fish tacos


If you are looking for a really easy dinner, make fish tacos using frozen fish sticks! My husband and I loved these. There is a delicious sauce that you can adapt to suit your tastes. The version below is very mild but very flavorful. And, of course, you can use whatever toppings you have on hand. The fish sticks take about 20 minutes to bake, but other than that, there's very little time commitment. The sauce tastes better the longer it refrigerates, so make it first. Don't we all love achieving great results with very little effort?

THE RECIPE:

20 frozen fish sticks, baked according to package directions
10 6-inch tortillas (I used flour)

Optional toppings:

Corn
Chopped tomatoes
Shredded cheese
Lettuce, spinach or cabbage
Green onions
Cilantro

Sauce:

1/4 c. sour cream
1/4 c. mayonnaise
1/4 c. milk
1 tsp. lime juice
1/8 tsp. each chili powder, cumin, salt, onion powder, garlic powder and dried basil

Mix sauce ingredients and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using. Assemble tacos as desired, using two fish sticks per tortilla. Top with sauce.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

All the right attributes


Everyone loves this strawberry pretzel Jell-O. It works as a dessert, or it could be a side dish for a holiday cook-out. It has all the best attributes -- creamy, salty, sweet, crunchy. Note that this dish requires several hours of refrigeration time.

THE RECIPE:

2 c. chopped/crushed pretzels
1/4 c. sugar
2/3 c. butter, melted

8 oz. cream cheese
1/4 c. sugar
8 oz. Cool Whip

6 oz. package strawberry Jell-O
1 c. boiling water
1 c. cold water
1 lb. fresh strawberries, sliced

Chop pretzels in food processor. You'll get a nice mix of chunks and powder. I found about 4 cups whole pretzel sticks reduced to 2 cups chopped. Mix with sugar and butter, then press into 9x13 baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Let cool completely.

Place cream cheese and sugar in dish and microwave until soft so sugar can easily be stirred in. Let stand to room temperature. Stir in Cool Whip. Spread over pretzel crust, ensuring that cream mixture reaches edges of baking dish and seals off access to pretzels. Refrigerate several hours.

Stir Jell-O into boiling water until completely dissolved. Stir in cold water, then sliced strawberries. Pour over cream layer, which should be firm enough by now to handle liquid. Arrange strawberries evenly. Refrigerate about 3 hours, or until Jell-O is set.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Pumpkin year-round


I am aware that it's springtime, but for some reason I wanted to open a can of pumpkin. I don't know what got into me. I made this pumpkin mac 'n cheese, and my whole family was happy with it. It's something different from the ordinary, and it's fast and easy to make. We will definitely remember this one for when fall rolls around.

The recipe is adapted from Taste and Tell. The ingredients are kind of crazy, so I recommend going on faith. Don't taste the sauce until it's all put together. Then you'll love it! I could have eaten it like a soup.

THE RECIPE:

8 oz. whole wheat penne*
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground mustard
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
Shake of cayenne pepper
1/2 c. chicken broth
1 Tbsp. honey OR brown sugar
1 c. milk
1 c. pumpkin puree
2 1/2 c. shredded sharp cheddar, divided

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt butter in large saucepan. While it melts, put flour and seasonings in a small bowl. When butter is melted, whisk in flour mixture until smooth, then whisk in chicken broth. Mixture will start to thicken quite rapidly. Mix in milk and honey and continue cooking until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Whisk in pumpkin, then 2 cups cheese.

Preheat broiler to high. Combine pasta and sauce in 9x13 dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese and place in oven. Broil until cheese is melted, bubbling and browning in spots.




*Don't substitute enriched noodles. This isn't just a health thing. The ingredients are written to complement the nutty flavor of whole wheat, and it makes a huge difference. I made this recipe both ways, and my entire family thought the whole wheat version was way better. The enriched version lacked flavor.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Not your everyday breakfast


This praline french toast casserole makes a delicious breakfast for special occasions. I adapted the recipe from one by Paula Deen. I cut the butter in half and used whole milk instead of half-and-half. I'm sure the original was....to die for. My version is still plenty decadent, and my family loved it. This is a make-ahead dish. It's extremely easy to throw together, but plan for a long bake time. Enjoy!

THE RECIPE:

1 16 oz. loaf french bread*
8 eggs
3 c. whole milk
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt

Topping:

1/2 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. chopped pecans
2 Tbsp. corn syrup
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

The night before serving, rip french bread into chunks and place in greased, deep 9x13 baking dish. Whisk together casserole ingredients and pour evenly over bread. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. Combine topping ingredients thoroughly with fork, then cover and set aside for later use. No need to refrigerate. (Or just make the topping in the morning.)

The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place casserole, still covered, in oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and plop small blobs of topping all over the casserole. It's easiest to just use your fingers. Bake, uncovered this time, for 55 minutes more, or until a knife inserted in the middle of a bread portion of the casserole comes out clean. (Paula Deen listed a total of 40 minutes baking time, which was completely off for me. I live at a high altitude, though, so you might want to keep an eye on your dish.)


*I like to rip up my bread a couple of hours before assembling the casserole and leave it on the counter to dry out. Dried out bread often has better absorption. Paula Deen didn't do this, though, so it might not be necessary.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Homemade refried beans


I made my own refried beans the other day. I'm not in love with refried beans, but I thought these homemade ones tasted better than the ones in the can. I used them in seven-layer dip -- a huge win -- and then we ate the dip for dinner. Some nights are just like that.

These refried beans are all-natural and fat-free. They are very easy to make. Most of the work is done in a slow cooker. The beans can be frozen for later use -- tacos, burritos, etc. Making them at home is a good way to use the dried beans you have in your food storage. The recipe came from Mel's Kitchen Cafe.

THE RECIPE:

1 lb. dry pinto beans, rinsed and sorted for any stones
1 tsp. salt
1 yellow onion, cut into large chunks
4 large cloves garlic, smashed
1 can diced green chilies
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
Chili powder to taste
Cumin to taste

Place beans in large saucepan with plenty of room and cover with water by at least an inch. Bring to a boil and cover, cooking for 15 minutes. Drain beans, then place in slow cooker and cover with water by 2 inches. Add 1 teaspoon salt, onion, garlic. Cover and cook on high for 4 to 6 hours.

When beans are tender, ladle out a cup of cooking liquid and set aside before draining remaining liquid. Puree beans and veggies, along with vinegar and green chilies, with an immersion blender OR in a food processor. Add reserved liquid as needed until desired consistency is reached. I only needed about 1/4 cup. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and sprinkle with chili powder and cumin. The final product has a mild flavor. Makes 5 1/2 cups.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A taste of my history


This bowl is full of nostalgia for me. My Papa (grandpa), who died when I was 13, used to make this rice pudding. It was his specialty. His mother, my great-grandma Pearl, made it before him. It's a little old-fashioned, but we think it tastes great, and it's creamy goodness is imprinted on the memories of generations of Griffins.

Papa made it in a huge stainless steel salad bowl. It was probably the only thing big enough to hold all the milk. In keeping with tradition, I do the same thing. If you have a baking dish large enough to hold the mixture, feel free to try that instead.

THE RECIPE:

3 eggs
1 1/2 c. sugar
8 c. whole milk
1 c. uncooked long-grain rice
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large oven-safe bowl, combine all ingredients thoroughly, except cinnamon. Sprinkle cinnamon generously over top. Bake, uncovered, for 2 1/2 hours. Stir once or twice partway through. Pudding is done when rice is tender and milk is mostly absorbed. It will look like there's still a layer of milk on top, but when you stir it, everything comes together in a creamy way. It will thicken a little more as it rests. If you accidentally overcook it, and it's pasty and thick, just add milk. Serve warm. Makes 8 servings.


*NOTE: I have made this with short-grain pearl rice, which chefs will tell you is the preferred rice for making pudding. I made it in a deep 9x13 pan, and it took 2 hours to cook. The results were excellent.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sweet and sour specialty


This is a recipe passed down from my grandma to my mom to me. Everyone enjoys these sweet and sour meatballs. Feel free to make your own meatballs, as long as they are really flavorful, but I just use frozen ones for a quick and easy weeknight meal. My whole family eats this meal like it's going out of style. It's tasty stuff!

THE RECIPE:

14-16 oz. frozen precooked Italian meatballs, thawed
20 oz. can pineapple chunks, juice reserved
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
3 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1/3 c. water
1/3 c. sugar
1 green bell pepper, cleaned out and sliced into strips

In a saucepan, stir together pineapple juice (should measure 1 cup), cornstarch, soy sauce, vinegar, water and sugar. Stir while ingredients are still cold, or cornstarch won't dissolve. Over medium heat, bring mixture to boil and stir for a minute, until thickened. Add peppers and cover, cooking until peppers reach desired tenderness. Stir in meatballs and pineapple chunks. Serve over rice.