Monthly Archives: December 2011

Gift Knitting

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas!  Now that the exciting day is over and my knits aren’t such a secret, I can finally share them with you.  Right around Thanksgiving I decided that a bunch of my family needs a nice warm and comfy hat for winter.  It all started when I made one of TFA’s Grammy’s Hats for myself…


I then had to make one for my mom’s Birthday gift, which I’m counting as part of my Christmas knitting since it was only a month beforehand, and the beginning of my hat kick…


Then I realized a couple of these would make great Christmas gifts for our niece and nephew…


While I was on a roll, how could I forget that my aunt and my cousin had put in a request for a red one and a grey one?  Being the great cousin and niece that I am, I didn’t forget, and wanted to surprise them with a little holiday cheer…


Turned out I loved that yarn, I picked up this Universal Yarn Classic Shades while on Thanksgiving vacation and it’s so soft, such a great deal, and packed with a lot of yardage.  197 yards for 8.50, and did I mention really soft?

Next I decided that my dad, brother, and husband need a new comfy hat…

And with the completion of dad’s hat, the clock ticked to Christmas Day.  So I am now working on my hubby’s, then will make my brother’s, THEN the Christmas knitting will be done!  I’m making their hats with the same yarn (different colors) as in my dad’s, Cascade Yarns Eco Cloud, and I love it!  It’s 70% undyed merino wool and 30% undyed baby alpaca, so it is really soft, comfortable, and I love the natural color.

Actually there is one more knitted gift that is missing here, and I will have to get a picture and share that later.  I made a simple but lovely pair of Grammy’s Mitts for my mom, to go with her hat of course.

I think I am Tanis‘ biggest fan of her Grammy’s Hat pattern!  It is simple and quick, but the 2×2 and 2×6 rib provide a little texture and gives you a very comfy, one-size-fits-all hat.  Perfect for gifts.

Eight and a half gifts down, one and a half to go!  And yes, I’m counting my own, because every knitter has to make a gift for their self every once in a while!  =)

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THE Perfect Holiday Treat : Apple Zeppoles

I am so excited to share these with you.  Good things are even better when shared, right?  These little babies are so, SO yummy!

I think if my blog ends up being good and useful for one thing, I’d hope that it’s this recipe that gets put to use!

I made these Apple Zeppoles at work this last fall, and now over this holiday season I’ve made them (big batches) two weekends in a row.  Last weekend I cooked up more than 50 for a holiday get together with some friends, and they were a huge, HUGE hit!  Everyone really loves them.  Not to mention my husband who said, as I was cooking all these up and he had a couple, “Maybe we shouldn’t go anywhere…  We could just stay home and eat these.”  Ha!  Good suggestion, honey.  😉  So this weekend we had some friends over for a little dinner, and I had to make them again, of course.

Zeppoles are an Italian dessert like a small fritter or doughnut, and are made with a Pâte à Choux dough.  This pastry dough can be made sweet for lovely treats like profiteroles, or cream puffs, eclairs, beignets, or zeppoles; or it can be made savory for something like cheese popovers.

I started making choux pastry several years ago while working in restaurants, always using it to bake into profiteroles.  But over this past fall season I was having fun using apples in new yummy ways, and I realized how versatile this dough is and what an amazing little zeppole treat it can be turned into.

They’re so comforting and perfect for this time of year, all warm, soft and airy on the inside, with the outside all crisp and rolled in cinnamon and sugar.  If you haven’t made these before, or any choux pastry, don’t shy away!  It is really easy.  Frying up a big batch of the Apple Zeppoles does take a little time, but trust me it is very well worth it!

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::Apple Zeppoles::
(Adapted and modified from Giada’s Apple Zeppole)

  • 4-5 apples, or 3 c. peeled and grated apples, Granny Smiths work well
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter
  • 1 c. water
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 2 c. AP flour
  • 8 eggs
  • Canola Oil for frying, can combine a little olive oil and/or vegetable oil with it
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar + 1-2 T cinnamon combined in a pie dish

In a large saucepan or deep frying pan, pour in the oil(s) to 2-3 inches deep.  Use a candy thermometer and heat the oil to 360 deg F over medium heat.  Crack all eggs into a bowl and set aside.  Grate all peeled and cored apples (food processor is quick).  I squeeze out the liquid in the grated apple by handfuls as I move it all to a bowl.  You can stir in a little lemon juice and set aside.

For pate choux: In a med/large saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, water, and salt and heat until it’s all melted and starts to boil.  Once it reaches a boil, take off heat and stir in two c. flour with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.  Keep stirring, set back on hot burner, for 2-ish minutes until the dough forms a ball and is all clumped together.

Transfer the mixture into the bowl of your stand mixer and using the paddle, turn on medium speed and add in the eggs one by one.  Incorporate each egg completely before adding the next.  Beat until smooth and slowly stir in the grated apples.

Set out a baking sheet with paper towels on it, have a soft-tipped tongs or a ‘spider’ ready to use.  Once the oil reaches 350 – 360 deg F, drop in spoonfuls of dough, about 1-2 T each, using a small cookie scooper or a tablespoon.  You want them about 2″ around once cooked.  They will drop to the bottom of the pan and pop back up.  I let each one pop up to the surface before adding the next.  Work in batches so not to over crowd the pan.  Let cook for about 2 minutes then flip over for another 2 min., using the nylon-tipped tongs or the spider.  They will puff up and be very golden brown when done, remove and lay onto paper towel lined baking sheet.  Roll them in the cinnamon + sugar while still warm.  Move them to a serving platter or baking dish and enjoy!

Notes:  Monitor the oil temperature while cooking, it will drop once all the dough is added in so you can turn the heat up a bit while they’re cooking.  If you want to cook up the remaining batter later, the oil can be cooled and set aside (covered) and the batter can be covered with plastic wrap and set in the fridge and used within four or five days.

So the method part is a little long-winded, but don’t run away from this thinking they’re too much work!!  I so hope you make these, you (along with your friends and family) will be glad you did.  =)

And if you so desire, make up some delicious whip cream to complete them:

::Cinnamon Whipped Cream::

1 to 1 1/2 c. whipping cream
3-4 T powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla
1-2 t cinnamon (optional: cardamom, nutmeg, allspice, ginger.. they’re all good here)

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk, whip the cream to medium-stiff peaks.  Halfway through add in the powdered sugar, vanilla and cinnamon spices.  Set in a bowl and enjoy immediately or set in fridge for later.

Enjoy!  And I hope you’re having a lovely week-before-Christmas.  =)

Cheesy Baked Tortellinis

Since we’re in the midst of the busy holiday season, I wanted to share a favorite dinner recipe with you.  It’s not so much a great idea for all of the holiday parties, potlucks, and plans for entertaining as it is a great one for the busy weeknights where you just need a delicious home cooked, satisfying, and easy dinner.

When I’m in the mood for some comfort food, a little pasta, or just want to make a really quick and easy dinner, I make this Baked Cheese Tortellini dish.  It’s comfort food at it’s best and I love it.  And my husband loves it too, he’s always very happy when I tell him it’s what’s for dinner.

I originally found the recipe here, and just simplified it a bit and made it how I like it.  I often buy these Cheese Tortellinis when I’m at my cousin’s Italian specialty food store, All Things Italian.  I think it’d also be great with some of the fresh tortellinis you can buy in the refrigerated section in the grocery store.  Then this dish would be even quicker and easier to make.  =)

::Cheesy Tortellinis::

~ 1/2 lb cheese tortellinis
2 c. marinara sauce
4 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced
1/4 c. grated parmesan
optional: fresh basil or parsley

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cook the tortellinis in boiling (salted) water until al dente, about ten minutes.  Drain, leaving just a tad bit of the pasta water in the pan.  Return the cooked pasta to the pan and gently stir in the marinara.  Pour into a small baking dish, sprinkle on the parm, s + p, and lay on the slices of fresh mozzarella.  (If using fresh pasta, just set in the baking dish, pour in the marinara, give it a little stir, and top with the cheese).  Bake for about 20-30 min.  I opened the oven door at the end and finished it under the broiler for a couple minutes.  Garnish with optional fresh basil or parsley.

This is so great when you’re in the mood for something easy and cheesy!  Enjoy! =)

A Misplaced Elf, Perhaps

I’ve been thinking, maybe Santa has misplaced one of his elves from his wood working shop.  One of those handy guys must have made his way down here to live in our garage and help Will build some furniture.  I’m not saying that because I think that he needs the help and guidance from a wood-working expert, but because he built all this in just the last week…

I love finding furniture plans on Ana White‘s site, and we’ve been wanting to build this Coffee Table for a while now.  So Will got busy and built it, along with a couple End Tables and a Sofa Console to go with it.

A lot of Ana White’s furniture plans are made to mimic Pottery Barn furniture, which I why I love them.  This set looks just like their Hyde Coffee Table, the Hyde Side Tables, and their Sofa Console.  $1296 for these four pieces, PB??  Thanks anyway!  =)

I love that they’re solid wood (Pine) and so sturdy.  Also love that Will modified the plans a little to add on a shelf at the bottom of the end tables and the sofa table.

I’m pretty excited about our new furniture!  I’m going to help him with all the sanding and staining this week.  We should be able to put it all to use soon! =)

Homemade Beef Stock

The day before I made the big pot of Beef and Bean Chili, I cooked up a pot of Beef Stock for the first time.  It turned out good, and to my surprise was very easy and very much worth the effort.  Homemade beef bone stock is inexpensive to make, and when made right and with good quality ingredients, it is nourishing and has health benefits as it’s rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, gelatin which is good for your hair, nails, and joints, and glucosamine and chondroitin which is also beneficial for your joints.  There is a good article here at Nourished Kitchen on the benefits and advantages to making your own bone stock.

When I asked the Chef that I work for now for some suggestions on making beef stock, he said roast the bones first, and that he wouldn’t use much for fresh herbs in it, especially if you’re making a lot of it and freezing it for later.  Then if you go to use it later on it would be good to use for just about anything, from a Stir Fry to a big ol’ pot of Chili or Beef Stew, or some gravies and sauces.  He also suggested simmering it down for a long time to a very concentrated stock would be helpful if you are making a ton and your freezer space is limited.  Then when you go to use it, just add water to reconstitute it.

(There’s a little foam on there, you’re supposed to skim off the foam as it simmers, especially in the beginning.  It’s kind of difficult to get an appealing photo of simmering beef stock indoors and at night!)  =)

Well I kind of cheated and made up a quicker version.  I didn’t roast the bones first, I didn’t add in vinegar (which helps the nutrients and minerals to leach out of the bones into the broth), and I didn’t let it simmer for 48 hours.  I just threw my beef soup bones into my stock pot along with chopped yellow onion, garlic cloves, carrots, celery, peppercorns, and filled the pot with cold filtered water.  I brought it to a boil in the evening, reduced it to a light simmer and let it go overnight.  After it simmered for about 14 hours, I strained it the next day, set it in the fridge to cool completely, then took it out to remove the top layer of fat.  Voila, a beautiful and flavorful soup stock!

It was really nice having a stock simmering overnight in the house too, made it feel really home-y.  I woke up a couple times in the night to check on it and it felt kinda like there was really something special waiting for me in the morning, and the house smelled that way too!

I did get some soup bones with all the meat from the yearling we got in the freezer, but for this stock I just stopped in to the local meat processing shop and asked the butcher for some beef soup bones.  The bones have the marrow in them, and the more knuckles the better since those will give you a very gelatinous stock.  It’s so easy to use those soup bones from the butcher since there’s no preparation with them and they are very inexpensive!

It turned out great and made the Chili very yummy.  Next time I’m going to try roasting the bones first, use a little vinegar in it, and let it go for about 24 hours.  =)

…Our furry friend Jackson really appreciates that I grab a bag of the marrow bones to keep in the freezer for him too!

{Heartwarming and Nourishing} Beef and Bean Chili


I recently started cooking with the grass-fed Montana beef we got stocked in the freezer this Fall from the yearling that my husband’s rancher friend butchered for us.  The first thing I wanted to cook up with it was a big pot of Chili, and while I was at it I managed to make a pot of Beef Stock too.  It all turned out so good, there’s nothing better than a big bowl of hot, homemade, heartwarming soup or stew, with a little bread to go with it this time of year.

Since the ground beef and stock was as local and all-natural as I can get it, I decided to soak my beans to keep it healthy and nourishing.  I used kidney beans and black beans, covered them with warm water and a little lemon juice in a large bowl to soak overnight, then after 15 hours of soaking they were drained and rinsed, then covered with water in a pot and simmered for about three hours.

With the help of my cousin over at Born in the Wrong Century, reading this blog post over at Nourished Kitchen, and my Nourishing Traditions cookbook, I have recently learned a little about the benefits of soaking beans, grains, and legumes before cooking them.  Basically soaking is an old traditional method of preparing and cooking these items and it enhances the nourishment and nutrient value in them by reducing the effects of the anti-nutrients, the phytates and enzyme inhibitors, which keep the minerals from being absorbed by your body.

This preparation neutralizes the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors and breaks down the difficult-to-digest complex sugars.  This then allows them to be completely digestible and the essential minerals and nutrients to be well assimilated and absorbed.  I can definitely tell a difference when I eat Chili made with soaked beans (vs canned), there is almost no problem with gas or bloating, no need for Bean-o!!  And the taste and texture is so much better.  If you’re wanting to learn more about soaking, the links above are a good place to start.

::Basic Soaked Chili Beans::

1 c. kidney beans
1 c. black beans
1 c. pinto beans
3 T. fresh lemon juice

Place dry beans in a large bowl and cover with warm water, add in the lemon juice.  Set aside in a warm place for 12-16 hours.  Drain out the soaking water, rinse, pour beans back into pot and cover with water, and add in optional spices: 3 T chili powder, 1 T  garlic powder, 2 T kosher salt, 1 T black pepper.  Bring to a boil, skim off foam, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2-4 hours, adding water as necessary to keep beans covered.  Cook until they’re tender but still a little firm… al dente.

::Beef and Bean Chili::

1 yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, halved or quartered and sliced
1 lb grass-fed ground beef
2 t. chili powder
1-2 t. dried oregano
pinch of red pepper flakes, optional
1 t. salt
2-3 T tomato paste
1 (15 oz) can crushed (unseasoned) tomatoes and the juices (or 4 big organic garden tomatoes, pureed in food processor)
1 (28 oz) can diced (unseasoned) tomatoes and juices
6-8 c. combination of kidney, black, and pinto beans, soaked, drained, simmered, drained
3-ish quarts beef stock, or as needed to get desired consistency

Heat about 4 T olive oil in bottom of a large soup pot, when hot add in onion and saute until translucent, about 5-7 min.  Add in garlic, cook 2-3 min., sprinkle in salt and pepper, add carrots and saute another 5 min. stirring often.  Add ground burger and cook until browned, meanwhile adding in the chili powder, oregano, red pepper flakes.  Stir in tomato paste, crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes along with their juices.  Stir and then add in enough soaked beans and beef stock to get desired consistency.  Let simmer 1-2 hours, salt and pepper to taste.

Well that’s about what I did, when I make big pots of soup I just throw it all in as I go, cooking up all the layers of flavors.  So these are not my exact* measurements, but very close.  We just got done eating this Chili for the last four nights, and I’m telling you, no gas/indigestion/bloating problems at all!  It’s a very flavorful, comforting, old fashioned Chili.  If you’ve never got into the habit of soaking your beans before cooking with them, I hope you are inspired to try it out!  It takes some thinking ahead, but really is quite simple to toss them in a bowl covered with water and lemon juice in the evening and let them set until you cook ’em up the next day.  I also like to soak black beans overnight, simmer the next day, then keep them in the fridge to use for burritos and yummy mexican dinners for the week.

I wanted to also share my first Beef Stock experience, but that will have to wait until next time.  =)