Sunday, July 12, 2015

Design a cookie

To say that I love cookies is an understatement.  I grew up sitting on my grandma's counter, spoon in hand, stealing dough out of her bowl when she was pretending not to notice.  She is responsible for my deep addiction to cookies.  However, as much as I adore cookies, to this day I still prefer the raw dough.  The risk of getting salmonella from raw dough is minute at best but it's still a risk I prefer to avoid with kids.  From that, this dough was born.  It's eggless but produces a super light, chewy cookie.  It can handle a million different combinations and flavors.  I've added ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, white chocolate chips, and dried cranberries which makes a wonderful chai-spiced winter cookie.  Yesterday I decided to really test it out. I made a batch of the dough and gave a bowl of it to my 2 year old, a second bowl to my 6 year old, and kept a bowl for it for myself.  The kids giggled like little hyenas as they scoured my pantry looking for things to add to their doughs. E opted for a blue and lime green motif that included: chopped colored white chocolate disks, chopped marshmallows, large green sugar pearls, and blue/green dolphin sprinkles.  C chose large purple sugar pearls, white chocolate chips, and pearlized sprinkles.  I'm pretty sure she ate more chocolate than she put in the cookie but that's ok.  I went for 1 tsp of coconut extract, shredded sweetened coconut, chocolate chips, and white chocolate chips. E's cookies were the least successful just due to the sheer amount of "stuff" he mixed in.  The marshmallows also melted during the cooking process leaving a weird sticky void throughout them.  So while I recommend skipping marshmallows, do use pretty much anything else.  Get creative!



Design-a-Cookie
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
3 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups add-ins (chocolate chips, chopped chocolate, nuts, dried berries, coconut, sprinkles, oats, etc)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment or a silicon baking mat.
Cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the Vanilla. Sift together dry ingredients and then add them to the butter mixture.  Beat until well combined.  Stir in add-ins.
Place a medium scoop (about 2 tbsp) on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes or until edges are looking light golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes on cookie sheets before moving to wire racks to cool completely.


Homemade French Fries (Baked!)


We love french fries. We do own a small deep fryer but it's a pain in the neck to heat up often so it's reserved for chicken wings.  It's also not super healthy to be eating fried food constantly.  So this is our compromise- baked fries. They're just as crispy and delicious as their deep fried cousins.  Husband can eat an entire batch of these by himself.  Straight out of the oven, they're perfection but they aren't very good as leftovers.







Ingredients

  • FOR THE SEASONING MIX:
  • 2 Tablespoons Seasoned Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Dried Basil
  • 1/4 teaspoons Cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoons Black Pepper
  • FOR THE FRIES:
  • 4 whole Medium Russet Potatoes (Russets make the crispiest fries)
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Grated Parmesan Cheese (optional)

Preparation

Combine seasoning ingredients in a small bowl; set aside.  Wash and peel the potatoes. Cut off the ends. With a very sharp knife, cut the potatoes into thin slices about 1/4 inch wide.  Add the fries to a large bowl and cover with ice water. Allow them to soak for at least 1 hour but they can soak for as long as overnight. (Place in the fridge if soaking more than 1 hour.)  After the fries have soaked, drain, rinse, and lay the fries on a clean towel-lined cooling rack to dry while you preheat the oven to 400ºF. Blot the tops with paper towels to absorb any excess moisture. 
Line a baking pan with parchment paper or foil and spray with nonstick spray. Make sure the previously used bowl is dry and add the potatoes to it. Add 1-2 tablespoons of oil and half of the seasoning mixture. Toss around to mix.  Evenly line the baking pan with the fries in a single layer. Don’t overlap or they fries won’t cook properly. Bake for about 30 minutes, flipping with a spatula once or twice after 15 minutes of cooking. Remove fries from the oven and turn the oven up to 425ºF. Return the fries to the oven until they are golden brown and the ends look a little burnt. Sprinkle the fries with the remaining seasoning mix and Parmesan cheese (optional). Serve immediately.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Cheesecake Stuffed Blueberry Muffins

Cheesecake?! Inside of a muffin?! Yes. Yes, that's what I said.  Ok, well not actual cheesecake but it might as well be.  It tastes the same! You can make these with or without the filling and with or without the topping.
These need no butter, no jam, nothing. They're perfect to take to a party, or to the new neighbors that just moved in, or to a family that just had a baby, or because it's Tuesday and you want them.  Cut the grass and didn't complain- then these are for you.  Stayed up late with crying kids during a thunderstorm- you deserve these. They're that good! And a bonus: they stay delicious for several days on the counter without turning into bricks.  They're a bit more work than a standard muffin but just look at 'em! They're worth it.









MUFFIN INGREDIENTS:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 egg            1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh (or frozen) blueberries

DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Line a muffin tin with liners.
2. Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Add oil, egg, and milk to the dry mixture. Do not overmix or they will be tough. Fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups halfway, add 1 generous Tablespoon filling (recipe to follow).  Cover filling with remaining muffin batter and sprinkle with crumb topping mixture (recipe to follow).
3. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown and cooked through.

FILLING INGREDIENTS:
8 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
-Beat all ingredients together

CRUMB TOPPING INGREDIENTS:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4  cup old-fashioned oats
1/4  cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg ( a big pinch of it)
3 T salted butter, melted
-Mix all ingredients together until crumbly

UPDATE!

What a spring/early summer it has been!!! Holy cow have we been busy!  Having a newborn in the house makes life exponentially more enjoyable and tougher at the same time.  Luckily she is wonderfully sweet and easy.  She started sleeping through the night a few weeks ago.  On top of everything else, our newly turned 2 year old decided she is done with diapers (YES!).  So I now spend hours a day following her into the bathroom and waiting with her.  It's all worth it in the end though. Here's what we've been up to.

First: The chicken coop and run are finished and house our flock of 14! We have 5 Australorps, 5 Delawares, and 4 Plymouth Barred Rock hens.  The girls are approaching 16 weeks and should start laying very very soon. Due to the sheer number of pictures I took of the process, their coop build has its own post.

Second: We had our private road and 1/4 mile long driveway graded and paved- it is SO nice not to bottom out going down the driveway!  Brother-in-law came and stayed with us for another week and used an excavator to dig out our old torn up pavement and compact a new base layer.  The guys also dug new ditches and planted them with grass and clover to keep water from washing the ditches away.  It was a tough few days trucking the kids up and down a steep half mile drive until it was dry and cured enough to drive on.  Luckily my sister was in town and "happily" hauled groceries with me.  No worries- I paid her in beer and food.  ;) The entire exterior of our house is now new- new siding, roof, windows, driveway, and landscaping is in progress. The decks and fences will be upgraded and stained next.

Third: Husband and I took up building furniture! (As if we didn't have enough going on already...) We built a picnic table and two benches off a picture we saw online.  It came out better than we hoped.  He did most of the building on this one.

Fourth: We hosted family in town for C's 2nd birthday!  We went with a Minnie theme and had so much fun.  All of the food was pink!  Chicken salad in pink pasta shells, pink cherry fluff salad, Minnie mouse 'club'house sandwiches, pink raspberry mousse pie, pink savory beet dip from my own beets, chips and salsa, pink cupcakes, pink cosmos (for the adults), and pink strawberry lemonade.

Fifth: I finished the dining room curtains. It was a surprisingly easy project but they look phenomenal. keep your eyes peeled for a tutorial

Sixth: We made a trip to 2 separate zoos: Ft. Wayne Children's Zoo and the Smithsonian Zoo in D.C. Both were fantastic.


Seventh: We put the kids to work at my Aunt and Uncle's dairy farm.  It's E's favorite place to visit.



If you have questions about anything here (especially the coop), need something clarified, or are interested in more detailed measurements- send me an email at oursouthhouse@gmail.com.  I am happy to share.

Chicken Coop Build Time-Lapse

When we decided to get chickens, we started thinking about the type of coop we'd want.  I drew up this awesome one that I thought would be cost-effective for its size.  I was wrong... again.  We took the picture and list of lumber to different lumber yards to price it all out.  The cheapest quote- just under $1000.  Do you have any idea how many eggs I'd need to produce and eat to justify that?! I ripped it up and tossed it. Onto Plan B. Plan B was to take an existing structure, modify it, and add a run. I scoured craigslist and local yard sale type sites looking for the perfect playhouse/ treehouse/ shed.  I found none that were cheap and in decent condition.  Then Husband remembered our newly moved-in neighbors had a tree fort on their property they had no use for.  Knowing we had kids, they offered it to us.  If only he had remembered this before I spent an entire afternoon scouring the internet. Oh well.

Husband loaded up the bucket of the tractor with tools, (and beer) and headed out.  He returned hours later with the playhouse in tow.  He literally used the swing that it came with to drag it half a mile to our house. During the take-down, the legs holding it in the tree snapped too early and the house tumbled down and rolled twice.  Since it survived that, we knew it could withstand a few chickens.

The "sled" was build out of leftovers from taking the porch apart. 

The windows and door were already framed in.


This is the scrap that came with it.

The trench that held the 4"x4"s for the base

The bottom got a bit torn up so we replaced the 2"x6's. 

4' x 8' base

I took a piece of chalk and scribbled my plans on the sides- those changed as I wanted the clean-out door and peak in specific spots. 

The legs were temporarily held together with 2"x4"s until they were screwed into the coop base. 

The base buried. 

Checking for fit. 

Using a tractor to lift half of the house to place the legs under. 




The view from my kitchen: Pool, garden, chickens. 

The run taking shape. If you come to visit us- be prepared to help build (or demolish) something!


Corrugated metal roofing. 


3 nest boxes framed in and covered with some scrap and some new T-111. 




The girls' first time in the coop. I had to bribe them with fresh greens to venture out into the run.

 

They've all almost reached full size.  Each chicken's personality is beginning to show through.

 We made PVC gravity feeders and have a 5 gallon bucket plumbed in with chicken waterer nipples but that will be replaced by a 55 gallon rain barrel.  The outside of the run was covered in hardware cloth to keep predators out.  The girls free range most days while someone is home and get locked in at night.  Our dog has become a fantastic chicken herder and makes the farming part of my life exponentially easier.