Vote over at Eat, Play, Love for Chopped Challenge 2014

I love the blog Eat, Play, Love and all the great food adventures the family gets into.  I was recently asked to provide food ideas for a dessert basket for their annual Chopped Challenge.  Check it out here and don’t forget to vote for my dessert basket of hot peppers, dark chocolate, pepitas, and eggs.

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Homemade Vanilla Sugar

Apparently there’s this thing called vanilla sugar.  And I could’ve been baking with it all these years!  It’s used in a lot of European cookie recipes and things like that.  But I made it for some chai mix.  It’s really easy to make and I have heard that it’s really expensive if you buy it from a store.  It’s really just regular white sugar and vanilla extract.  Be sure to use pure vanilla extract, not vanilla flavoring, or imitation vanilla.

I needed three cups for my recipe so I made that much, but this recipe can easily be scaled either up or down.  The vanilla sugar will also keep, just store it the same way you store white sugar.

Vanilla Sugar

3 cups sugar

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Mix the sugar and vanilla extract together as much as you can.  I found it helped to use the back of a spoon to mush out the lumps in it.

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Leave the bowl lightly covered overnight.  I used a Pyrex and just placed the lid on top, but didn’t fully put it on.  When you come back to it, it will be hard and stiff.  Just stir it back up and break up any more lumps.  Use in whatever yummy recipe you’re making!

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In the recipe, I had to pulse the mix in a food processor, so I didn’t really stir it up after I let it sit overnight.  I just dumped it in with the rest of the ingredients and let the food processor stir it for me.

Also, It makes your kitchen smell amazing!

Anyone got any other good recipes to use this in?

A Rainbow Birthday Party Without Food Dyes

A while ago I posted about these great cupcakes that my friend had made for her son’s birthday.  She had made the caterpillar from the Eric Carle book and used mint leaves and strawberries for the colors.  Well, the minion recently celebrated her first birthday and we had a rainbow themed party.  This created a few hurdles where the food was concerned.  I wanted to have rainbow snacks with no food dyes.

We ended up going with a variety of fresh fruits and veggies and some blue corn chips.  We also threw in some humus for good measure.

Red – cherry tomatoes

Orange – baby carrots

Yellow – pineapple chunks

Green – bell pepper slices (the last of the pepper harvest from our garden)

Blue – blue corn chips

Violet – purple grapes

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We didn’t want the minion stuffing her face with a really sugary and unhealthy cake so we made her a watermelon cake.  It was a small watermelon that the hero cut into a circular cake shape with a dip on the top that I filled with organic yogurt and decorated with fruit.   We also did lemon cupcakes for everyone else with the same fruits on them.

Red – watermelon

Orange – mango

Yellow – pineapple

Green – kiwi

Blue – blueberries (that my grandmother had frozen from her harvest this summer because she’s awesome)

Violet – beautyberries (that I foraged without knowing what I was going to do with them)

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We had an amazing time and the minion loved seeing her friends and family, tearing the wrapping paper, and messing up her cute birthday outfit with yogurt!

Personal Banana Pies

This is a quick and easy dessert I like to throw together whenever.  I tend to keep the ingredients on hand and it can be made in a few minutes.  If you want to show me up, you can make your own pastry dough, but I just use a package of Immaculate Baking Co crescent rolls.

Miniature Banana Pies

3 bananas sliced

1 package Immaculate Baking Co crescent rolls

aprox 1/4 cup brown sugar

aprox 2 Tablespoons cinnamon

The brown sugar and cinnamon amounts are estimations and can be changed to taste.  Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and banana slices together in a bowl.  Don’t completely crush the bananas but some of them will mix with the cinnamon and brown sugar to form a syrup.

Lay out half the crescent rolls dough I usually use two rolls together for each side of the pie.  This will make 2 pies of 2 servings each.  Heap the banana mixture in the middle of the dough.  Cover with the rest of the dough and press down the sides to form a pocket.

Bake according to crescent rolls package.  12-14 minutes at 350°.

I haven’t tried, but it might be possible to do this with different fruits.  I encourage experimentation!

How to Make Pumpkin Purée

I tried to grow pumpkins in the garden this year.  I had visions of our porch at Halloween covered in pumpkins and cans upon cans of pumpkin purées and butters.  We got one pumpkin.  The vines are still out there so I guess we could get another, but I think we might end up with just the one.

But that one pumpkin got us two jars of purée at least.

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Cut your pumpkin in half and scoop out the innards.

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Then put them flat side down on a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes at 350º F.  When they’re done, take them out and let them cool before cutting the rind off and purée in a food processor.  Et Voila, pumpkin purée.  I used one of my pint jars to make a pumpkin pie and the other I plan to freeze.  It’s not as orange as commercial pumpkin purée, but so much yummier!

Chili Chocolate Chip Cookies and Freezing Dough

I just made four giant batches of chocolate chip cookie dough.  I’m not having a party or eating 50 cookies tonight.  I promise.  I only baked up about 20 cookies.  The rest of the dough, I froze so that I can make up some yummy homemade cookies at a moment’s notice.  I used the recipe on the back of the package of chocolate chips but you should be able to freeze any cookie recipe like this.

I laid down a square of aluminum foil and then a square of wax paper to put the dough in.

I know, that’s not the most reusable and eco-friendly option, but I used 100% recycled aluminum foil and plan on recycling it again (aluminum can be recycled an infinite number of times).

I then put about as much dough as commercial frozen cookie dough has and rolled it up.  I taped a piece of paper with baking instructions on each roll and stuck them in the freezer.  The last batch, I baked up for us to eat now!

In a moment of inspiration, I added chopped up cayenne pepper to a little bit of the chocolate chip cookie dough and baked them as normal.  They are really good.  Just spicy enough to compliment the chocolate and sugar but not too spicy so you can’t taste anything else. I used one small dried cayenne pepper for about 8 of the cookies that I made.  I just chopped it up into small pieces and added it when you add the chocolate chips.  I will definitely keep this in mind for when I thaw out some of our frozen dough.

What other unique mix-ins do you like to put in chocolate chip cookies?

Cinnamon Ice Cream

Paprika is the hero’s go-to spice and cinnamon is mine.  Thus, I made cinnamon ice cream.  I used the vanilla recipe I have used before and dumped a bunch of cinnamon in it.  I would estimate about a tablespoon of cinnamon.  It was really good.  Really good.  REALLY good!

Do you have a go to spice?  Or any crazy ice cream flavor ideas?

White Chocolate Mint Leaves

I had just a little bit of chocolate left over after making another recipe.  Much to the delight of children everywhere, there’s only so much you can scrape out of a bowl.  I figured out a way to use a little bit more of that chocolate.  I did this with white chocolate but it probably would work with milk or dark chocolate.

Basically I just scraped the bowl that I had melted the chocolate in with mint leaves and then patted them face down on wax paper to spread out the chocolate.  Super easy and frugal!  After peeling the leaves off the wax paper, I left them to solidify face up in the freezer.  This gives a very thin layer of chocolate on top of the mint leaves.  They are tasty even before they solidify, but I didn’t sneak any or anything…

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They were also delicious frozen.  These would be a perfect classy finish to a meal.  A little bit of sugar and a lot of mint.  Very high class.

Queen Ann’s Lace White Chocolate

I’m really enjoying foraging for  yummy things to eat.  Like dandelion leaves and day-lily buds.  I look at the world around me very differently now.  Riding down the road in the car I see edible flowers, greens, and berries everywhere.  I also see a lot of plants that I don’t know but wonder what they are and if I can eat them.

Queen Ann’s lace is a flowering weed.  It is related to the carrot and is also known as wild carrot.  It is edible.  It goes especially well with white chocolate.

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I melted a bar of white chocolate and brushed it with a pastry brush onto wax paper on a baking sheet.  I brushed a very thin layer in one direction then another very thin layer in another direction and so on.  I did about 10 layers in various directions.  Then I took some Queen Ann’s lace blossoms and tore off the very tips and laid them on the sheet of chocolate.  It was a little tedious to lay out each little flower but it smelled really good.  Then I took the rest of the chocolate and put it in a snack bag with a tiny corner cut off as a makeshift pastry bag.  I drizzled the rest of the chocolate on the top of the flowers, not covering them completely.  Then I let it solidify, broke it up, and ate it!

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It tasted good, but the flower taste wasn’t quite strong enough.  I might try a denser layer of flowers to add more of their taste to it.  But overall it was surprisingly yummy.  Definitely very delicate and an adult taste, kids probably wouldn’t enjoy it.  But a very classy finish to a meal.  Maybe even a foraged meal!

Cilantro Flavored Ice Cream

We have recently started experimenting with making our own ice cream.  While I love traditional ice cream flavors like chocolate, mint, and extreme moose tracks, I also love unique flavors.  I’ve had rose, green tea, violet, and spicy pepper chocolate flavors and loved each one.  I decided to try making cilantro flavored ice cream.  Because we had it in the garden and why not?

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I used the same recipe we had tried before for vanilla I just took the cup of half and half and put a bunch of cilantro in the blender before making the recipe.  I still put the vanilla extract in also.

It turned out alright.  Not amazing but still pretty good.  There is a pleasant cilantro aftertaste.

I’m encouraged to try more unique flavors.  Anyone got any ideas?