RECIPE: White Chocolate Coconut Grape-Nuts Cookies

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I am still trying to make my way through a box of Grape-Nuts I had to buy for my scout troop's cooking badge work. I ended up making these little yummies this weekend, and they were unbelievable. The nuttiness of the brown sugar and the grains matched with the creaminess of the coconut flakes and white chocolate just melts in your mouth. Meanwhile, you get this chewy-crunchiness from the Grape-Nuts. It's a party in your mouth. And you don't feel too guilty eating them, either. These are packed with whole grain and fiber. But the kids won't know they're good for them. That's how good they taste.

I won't tell if you won't.

White Chocolate Coconut Grape-Nuts Cookies

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup Grape-Nuts Cereal
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
12 Tbsp. softened butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350˚. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.


In a medium bowl mix the flour, oats, Grape-Nuts, baking powder and soda, and salt. Set aside.




In a mixing bowl, whip the butter until light and creamy. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla beat until thick and fluffy. Turn the mixer on low and add the dry ingredients, and mix until combined. Turn off the mixer, and by hand add the white chocolate chips and coconut.


Let the batter sit for 10 minutes. This allows the oat groats and the fiber to absorb some of the moisture and soften up. The batter will stiffen up as it sits. That's OK.


Then drop the batter in well rounded teaspoons about 2" apart on the baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden and set. Let cool on wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Farm Fresh NOW Installment #2; Quick Snow Peas with Lemon Herb Butter

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Article © Terra Brockman
Photo © Cara Cummings

PEAS: Sugar Snap and Snow  

There is nothing quite so graceful as trellised pea plants in full swing. And nothing quite so tasteful as a crunchy sugar snap pea eaten straight off the vine. And nothing that so captures the essence of spring as peas--all kinds of peas.

Peas love cool, wet weather, and so are often only in season for a few weeks, when you will find local farmers bringing in the irresistible sugar snap pea, the Chinese or snow pea, and the good old fashioned shell (or English) peas.

Snow Peas: Healthy and Cosmopolitan
Snow peas are long, thin, nearly flat pea pods, with teensy proto-peas inside. But you're not after the peas in this case; it's the tender pod itself you'll love. Traditionally found in Chinese and other Asian cuisines, they now appear in all sorts of dishes from salads to pastas to stir-fries.

Some say the name snow pea comes from the slight whitish tint reflected from the pods in bright sunlight. Others say it's because they are a cool weather crop-best in the early spring or late fall, when they just might be covered with light frost or even snow. But no matter the name, or where it comes from, snow peas are sweet and crisp and delicious-and an excellent source of fiber, iron, potassium, and vitamins A and C. Snow peas are also among the most venerable of vegetables, with evidence of their cultivation going back more than 12,000 years along the Thai-Burma border.

Sugar Snaps: The Back Story
Way on the other end of the pea timeline, one of the newest pea cultivars is the sugar snap pea. Calvin Lamborn of Twin Falls, Idaho began crossing snow peas with shell peas in the 1960s. He was going after a pea that would have the edible, non-fibrous pod of the snow pea, plus the full-size interior peas of English peas. His hybrid was finally perfected in 1979, and has become a favorite of gardeners and market farmers ever since.

Both the pod and the peas are plump, succulent, and sweetly irresistible. The French call them mange-tout, which tells you what to do, "eat the whole thing," preferably on the way home from market for maximum nutrition and enjoyment. As with all legumes, peas host beneficial bacteria in their root nodules, which make nitrogen in the air available as a fertilizer in the soil for themselves and whatever crop is planted there next. They are one of the true heroes of our fields and tables-so enjoy!




Quick Snow Peas with Lemon Herb Butter
Fresh peas cook really fast, so keep an eye on them, and take them off the heat as soon as they turn bright green.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
2 teaspoons finely chopped herbs of your choice (suggest half and half finely chopped tarragon and flat-leaf parsley)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound snow peas, trimmed

Instructions

1. Stir together butter, zest, herbs, salt, and pepper.
2. Cook peas in boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Drain well.
3. Transfer hot peas to a bowl, then add lemon herb butter and toss to coat.

Seasonal Cook's Notes:
Snow Peas and Sugar Snap Peas can be used interchangeably in just about any recipe. Sugar Snaps are also great raw as part of a vegetable tray or a box lunch.

The best way to enjoy healthy, seasonal produce is to buy it from your local farmer. To locate the nearest farmers' market or farm CSA near you, search for "Local Harvest" online. 



Farm Fresh Now! is a project of The Land Connection, an educational nonprofit that preserves farmland, trains farmers in resilient and restorative farming techniques, and connects people with great locally-grown foods. This series is made possible with generous support from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

RECIPE: Tarragon Chocolate Velvet Cookies

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Out of all the herbs that are growing happily in our garden this spring, tarragon is by far the most aggressive. It is already a foot and half tall, with long-leafed tendrils that sway in the breeze. I was inspired by it this weekend. It seemed to call to me. I wanted to make a tasty treat using chocolate  as chocolate and tarragon are a match made in taste-bud heaven. These cookies have a velvet texture, and the batter is thick. You roll these into balls and in powdered sugar versus just dropping them onto your sheet like typical cookie batter.

If you have never tried combining chocolate with tarragon, you are missing out. Add it to your bucket list, or better yet, go make these RIGHT NOW.

You're welcome. :)

Tarragon Chocolate Velvet Cookies

Ingredients:

2 cups flour
1/2 cup dutch process cocoa
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 sticks butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1/2 cup powdered sugar in a plate or bowl for rolling

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325˚. Line baking pans with parchment paper and set aside.


In a small bowl, mix the flour with the cocoa, baking powder and salt. Set aside.


In a mixing bowl, whip the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar and whip until light and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla, and whip until light and fluffy. Add the tarragon and whip until well combined. Turn mixer on low and add the flour mixture. Mix until well combined, but don't over mix.


Roll the batter into 2" balls, then roll in the powdered sugar. Set them on the prepped baking sheet about 2" apart. Flatten balls with the bottom of a glass to make discs. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Cookies should be puffed up, beginning to crack and lightly golden on the bottom and set on the top edges  Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for a week or so-but they won't last that long!

FARM FRESH NOW Installment #1: Spinach Salade Lyonnaise

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Hello followers and friends!

I have been invited by a wonderful group, The Land Connection (in partnership with the Department of Agriculture) to be part of their blogger group to support and promote the use of local, seasonal produce! I am SOO excited. As you may know, I am a big gardener and farmer's market girl. I love to cook and bake with all those fresh ingredients, too! So I will be making a weekly food & recipe installment based on what is local and seasonal! And this week, I give you....
SPINACH, and Spinach Salade Lyonnaise!

A big thank you to The Land Connection who is able to supply all of this material to us! And a big thanks to the Illinois Department of Agriculture specialty crop grant that makes this healthy, happy and yummy information possible.

If you wish to become part of the cause, or get the newsletter in your inbox, visit www.thelandconnection.org/sveggies.  Please tell other farmers, local food fans, bloggers, and others that they too can sign up for these free weekly vegetable profiles at this link!





SPINACH: The Prince of Vegetables 
For many baby-boomers, the constant refrain of "Eat your spinach, it's good for you!" and the olive green glop of canned vegetable that accompanied the words, led to life-long spinach avoidance. Well now is the time, if you haven't already, to overcome your spinach phobia. One nibble of a local farmer's sweet and vibrant fresh spinach will do the trick.

The first spinach you see every spring is most likely from seeds that your farmer planted late last fall. Those seeds germinate and barely start to put down roots before the frigid weather descends and they go into dormancy under the ice and snow. At the first hint of spring, however, they start growing like mad, and soon the leaves are huge, thick, juicy and sweet--unbelievably rich and meaty. You really have to taste it to believe it.

If great taste alone is not enough, remember that spinach is high in vitamins A and C, and in iron and folic acid. It's also a good source of fiber and magnesium, and is very low in calories.  

And if you're still not convinced, wine fortified with spinach juice was the healing elixir traditionally given to injured French soldiers. And the Persians, who cultivated the leafy green from at least the 6th century, recognized spinach's sophistication and called it "the prince of vegetables."

Article © Terra Brockman
Photo © Cara Cummings

Spinach Salade Lyonnaise
The best thing to do with any fresh vegetable is almost nothing. But I confess that I have become dangerously enamored of this Fresh Spinach Salade Lyonnaise. It is quick and easy to make, yet fit for a king with the combination of meaty-leaved spinach, crisp bacon, barely cooked eggs, and warm, sharp Dijon vinaigrette. (If you want to go vegetarian or vegan, just leave out the bacon and egg, adding another few tablespoons of olive oil to the dressing.) Keep this salad in mind when fall greens like frisee, escarole, and radicchio roll around because the hot dressing will soften and sweeten those sturdy leaves.

4 cups torn spinach, or a mixture of spinach, lettuce, escarole, and other greens
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
About 1/4 pound (or less) good bacon or ham, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 to 4 tablespoons sherry or wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt
2 eggs
Black pepper

1. Put greens in a large salad bowl. Put olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the bacon and cook slowly until crisp all over, about 10 minutes. Add vinegar and mustard to the skillet and bring just to a boil, stirring, then turn off heat.

2. Meanwhile, bring a couple inches of salted water to a boil in a small pan, then lower heat to barely bubbling. One at a time, break eggs into a shallow bowl and slip them into the bubbling water. Poach the eggs for 2 minutes, until the white is set but the yolk is still runny. Remove each egg with a slotted spoon, and place onto the greens.

3. Pour the bacon dressing over the greens (they'll wilt a bit). Toss the salad, breaking the yolks of the poached eggs and distributing them evenly over the spinach. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, with croutons or toast if you like.
Serves 4 as a side dish, or 2 as a main course.

The best way to enjoy healthy, seasonal produce is to buy it from your local farmer. To locate the nearest farmers' market or farm CSA near you, search for "Local Harvest" online. 

Farm Fresh Now! is a project of The Land Connection, an educational nonprofit that preserves farmland, trains farmers in resilient and restorative farming techniques, and connects people with great locally-grown foods. This series is made possible with generous support from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.



RECIPE: Mascarpone Filled Red Velvet Doughnuts with Cream Cheese Glaze

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It had to happen sooner or later, the perfect marriage of the new obsession with my doughnut pan, the love of red velvet anything, and the magic I see in using Mascarpone cheese in baking. These took some playing with. My first batch did not have a firm enough filling with any binder to help it stay put. So the Mascarpone filling melted into the doughnut. I would say it was a huge fail, except that all that butterfat made the doughnuts delicious, even if there was a giant hole in the middle. They were gone in minutes at work, ironically. But I played with the filling, and these turned out awesome! I used the full 4 tablespoons of flour, being overly cautious about making sure that filling stay put. But the filling was a little firmer than I would have liked, so feel free to use less flour in the filling. It should work just fine.

Put this recipe out on accident and maybe hubby will make these tomorrow for you for Mother's Day??? Maybe?

Happy Mother's Day!

Mascarpone Filled Red Velvet Doughnuts with Cream Cheese Glaze

Ingredients:

1 cup cake flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. water
1/2 Tsp. or more of red food coloring
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. buttermilk
2 Tbsp. melted butter, slightly cooled
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. white vinegar
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Mascarpone filling
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. soft Mascarpone cheese
1 egg white
2-4 Tbsp. flour (more flour makes a firmer filling, less makes it softer)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup powdered sugar

Cream cheese glaze
2 oz. well softened cream cheese
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar
2-3 Tbsp. milk (more or less as needed)

Equipment needed; Piping bag, doughnut pan (mine is from Nordic Ware)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425˚. Spray a nonstick doughnut pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour with the sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In another bowl, whisk the Mascarpone cheese with the egg white, flour, vanilla and powdered sugar. Let chill for 15 minutes until ready. 
In a small glass bowl, mix the cocoa with the water and red food coloring until it's a paste. Feel free to add a little more water to make it workable. Set aside.

Next, whisk the egg with the buttermilk. Add the vanilla. Add the red-cocoa paste until just dissolved. Check on your color, if it's not red enough, add a few more drops of coloring. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, whisking until just combined. Add the melted butter and combine.

Finally, add the vinegar. Things will foam up and lighten as you whisk. Set aside as you spoon the Mascarpone filling that's been chilling into a piping bag with a simple 1/8-1/4 inch tip.

Carefully spoon the batter into the doughnut molds, about 1/3 full. Next, pipe the filling twice around on top of the batter. Then spoon a layer of batter over the filling to just cover. Bake for 8-10 minute. They will puff up a lot. Let cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Then gently transfer to a cooling rack to cool them completely.




While you are baking the rest and cooling the others, make the cream cheese glaze. In a medium bowl whisk the cream cheese with the vanilla and powdered sugar. Add the milk until you have a glaze that is of a firm, drizzling consistency (not runny). 



Place the doughnuts into the glaze top down, gently pull up and twist your wrist turning the doughnut right side up to get a smooth coating. Drizzle with sprinkles and let set on racks enjoy!

COOKING: How to Make an Award Winning Pie Crust (video)

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Today I'm sharing my best kept secrets on making the best pie crust ever. I have won some contests in my time with my pie prowess, so I thougth I would share what I do. Many of my techniques I have learned from Rose Beranbaum (author of The Pie and Pastry Bible). She is the DIVA of all things baking, and we should all bow down at her alter of yumminess.

I want to apologize for how long these videos are. My husband, who edited them for me, kept saying "GEEZE! This is long! You must have been up all night making this pie and this video!"

Yes, yes I did.

This comment proved to me that my husband doesn't know what goes on in our own home half the time. I mean, what did he think was making all that racket at 1 in the morning in our kitchen, and who did he think I was talking to? Our resident ghost? But I digress. I shouldn't tease the hubster, after all, he edited my video on his own time...so SMOOCHES hubby!

The pie video is long (2 parts in fact, thank you Youtube for your silly rules) because true pie making is an endeavor. It takes time and love. But it isn't really labor intensive. The issue is time, time to relax the dough over and over and over again. And then an hour in the oven and 2-3 hours for pies to set. SO yeah, pies take a long time. Therefore, next time you enjoy a truly homemade pie, give that baker a giant kiss. She or he deserves it.

 



Mommyhood: The Best Mother's Day Present? The Gift of Time.

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I was asked to participate in a fun blog contest to describe what the best Mother's Day present would be under $25 by nerdwallet.com (http://www.nerdwallet.com/coupons/contests/). After thinking on it for a while, I realized that the best present for me, and...well, for any mother really, is time. Blissful, sweet, luxurious time. A gift that practically costs nothing to give, and is priceless in it's value to any mom.

Every mother is pulled in various directions, and dedicates her life in taking care of others. I am reminded of a wonderful old book I read years ago by Anne Morrow Lindberg called "Gift from the Sea." In it, she describes a woman's life like the spokes of a wheel. Her core radiates outward from her center, and each spoke is a role she plays in supporting her "wheel of life". She is a mother, wife, girlfriend, sister, friend, niece, aunt, granddaughter, grandmother-the list goes on and on. But she rarely focuses inward. The way of the mother is always outward, and always spinning around going somewhere.

So I would suggest that everyone should give the mom in their life time. Husbands, take that 25 dollars and take the kids to the movies, a playlot or use it on gas to run errands with the kids. Take the kids away for a little while so that Mom can have some guilt-free time all to herself for once.

Time for a bath without someone banging on the door or yelling for you.
Time to read an extra long novel-or a short trashy one.
Time to garden with wild abandon.
Time to watch a Downton Abbey marathon with your cat and a vat of popcorn the size of an elephant.
Time to catch up on scrapbooking, or sewing, or painting, or crafting or writing.
Time to do absolutely nothing but sit on your deck with a cup of tea wine.
Time to do your nails and actually let them dry properly.
Time to take a walk.
Time to work out.
Time to fill new boards on Pinterest.
Time to actually...wait for it....take a nap.

Time for mom to do whatever she wants to do for herself (and usually its just small things) and not feel an ounce of "mom-guilt" doing it.

And for extra brownie points, if dads/kids are really thrifty with that 25 bucks and found a cheap/free way to leave the house with the kids without having DCFS called, then put that money toward some yummy groceries and make a cozy dinner together as a family. Mom will be all refreshed and excited to spend time with her family after all that indulgent "me-time."

Now excuse me while I go print out this post for my husband.

Happy Mother's Day, and please share what you would do with your gift of time!

How to Prune your Rose Bush for Springtime

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I have been getting asked...well...told...that I should do more videos. Fulfilling this request is wrought with anxiety. Who will shoot the video? How rediculous will I look in these videos? How many weirdos will say creepy things on YouTube under the video? How many people will just be mean in the comment area? I started feeling like I was in middle school all over again.

But my maiden voyage into video how-tos with my container pond was relatively successful. My sweet daughter (who was 7 at the time!) shot it. I had a few weirdos say off-color comments and quite a few constructive comments were added as well (I named a water plant wrong, and many people felt the need to tell me over and over and over....you get the picture.) It was fun to respond to a lot of questions and I recieved a lot of positive feedback, too. The audience for video is pretty extensive, allowing bloggers to be part of a bigger community.

So here I am again on video (though hubby shot this one) to show you how easy it is to prune your rose bush this spring. The roses here in the Midwest are finally waking up, so now is the time to give them the pruning boost they need heading into summer. Don't delay! Your gardening gloves want to get out more. Hop to it!

 

Oh, and please be kind about the video. I'm still getting used to this unforgiving medium!

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