I cook because I have nothing better to do

The title is a pretty true statement at the moment, and I even have a photo album on Facebook with the same title.  It’s not that I dislike cooking (although I MUCH prefer baking, and eating such baked goods) but while I was in NYC, I really didn’t have the space, utensils, or desire to accumulate large amounts of ingredients, so I stuck to the basics.  I pretty much lived off of canned goods (cheap, student food), or the poverty diet, as some may refer to it.  Lovingly, I’m sure.  But, I swear I made very tasty things from those cans.  Beans (any kind), crushed tomatoes (Basil & Garlic were the best), meat if I had any, and some veggies.  Usually the veggies consisted of frozen spinach. I used to put it in everything!  Healthy, balanced, what more do you need?

BUT, back to my point 🙂  Now that I’m home and have a huge, fully-stocked kitchen, and a lot of time on my hands, I want to cook and bake.  And I’m now trying to challenge myself to make things I had never even thought about making before.  As I make more and more things, I’m getting more ideas of challenges I’d like to take on and it’s fun!

I really do have to start working eventually, but until then, I’ll be in the kitchen!  Before I decided to start the blog, I made a few yummy things that I want to share now.  First, is my Butternut Squash Pizza that I cooked on the grill.

We go the pizza dough from a local pizza place and reshaped it into smaller, quite rustic looking, pizzas.  I completely experimented with the Butternut Squash Puree.  Onion, garlic, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pepper, cumin…I don’t really measure, and I didn’t write it down, unfortunately.  I do believe in tasting as you go, and that’s what I did.  I played with this for a long time in order to get the right balance of sweet and savory.  For toppings we had bacon, italian sausage, fresh mozzarella (well, as fresh as I could get in Walmart…), roasted corn, and green peppers.

The inspiration for this creation came from a trip to the Arthur Avenue Little Italy in the Bronx,NY.  We hit a local restaurant for lunch and had a coal oven-baked pizza with butternut squash puree, smoked mozzzarella, and pancetta.  We were in love instantly!

While discussing my applesauce recipe, I believe I mentioned that we had an abundance of plums in our house for awhile.  After pizza, we had Plum Upside Down Cake for dessert.  I had never made an upside down cake, nor have I ever wanted to make one, but this was delicious and SO pretty!  It was also pretty easy, expect for having to scrape off all of the plum sugary goodness that got stuck in the pan and attempting to replace it perfectly back on the cake.

I cannot remember the source of my recipe, but I just googled plum recipes and found it.  Honestly,there weren’t that many plum upside down cake recipes, so I have faith you can find it if interested. 🙂  I’m still learning how to work this thing, which explains why the cake picutre is up with the pizza pics when I wanted it down here.  Learn as you go, I suppose!  Enjoy your evening!!

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Photo Walk and Some Backstory

You might not know it from my posts so far, but I’m trying to live a healthy lifestyle full of healthy foods and fitness., (Note: I do believe in moderation because, honestly, what’s life without desserts?!)

Only 7 months ago, I was about 20 lbs lighter and felt happier than I had in a long time.  I was addicted to Zumba and spent at least 5 hours in the gym each week, plus I walked a ton (had to walk 1.5 mi. roundtrip to work).  In March, when I decided that it was time to leave NYC and move back to MI, I let the stress of uncertainty get the better of me and the weight slowly came back.

For a job, I went back to NY and spent the summer in a job where I was unable to workout regularly and was constantly sleep-deprived and depending on caffiene and sugar to keep me going.  Even more weight came back and I let it.  So, when I left NY for MI again in September, I vowed to get back on track.  I have been pretty good for the last few weeks, but have already gotten lazy.  One windy, cold, day, and I decided to stay inside rather than taking a walk.

Today, I almost convinced myself to stay inside again.  But, then I thought about this blog, and the opportunity to take some pictures that I could post, so I put my shoes on, picked up my camera, and went outside.  It was cold but beautiful.  I didn’t walk fast or even very far, and I stopped often to get a good shot, but I went, and I walked.  I truly believe that that is what matters the most.  I’m thankful that I took the walk, because it produced some beautiful photos (if I do say so myself).  I hope you enjoy!

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Wild Grapes and Granola

But not together.

My dad brought home some wild grapes that he picked just outside of town and told me I should do something with them…or just eat them.  I’m not sure that I have ever had a wild grape before and they’re pretty sour, but also slightly addictive.  They’re more jelly-like than I’m used to for grapes, but the flavor was so fresh it made me think, “this is what a grape is supposed to taste like.”  And, honestly, they reminded me of a grape Jolly Rancher or similar candy, more than the grapes I usually buy from the store.

I found a blog post about Wild Grapes and there was a recipe for jelly.  I knew I didn’t have the patience for that so I went with the alternative recipe, grape syrup.  I took the grapes of their stems, put them in a pot with some water, and cooked them until they burst.

I then strained the grapes to get the juice into another pan.  I then added about 1/2 sugar and let it cook for about 20-30 more minutes until somewhat thick.  As I was making the syrup, I was still unsure of what exactly I was going to do with it.  What goes well with tart grape??  My first thought was peanut butter, obviously.  I also thought about one of my favorite brunch meals ever, Pumpkin Pancakes with Cranberry Maple Syrup ( a la Blue Water Grill in NYC) and thought that mixing this syrup with some natural maple syrup would work really well.  So, I made up some pancakes (from a mix, as I had spent enough time in the kitchen today to do it from scratch) spread some peanut butter between the 2 pancakes, and put a little on top, then poured on the grape/maple syrup.  Pretty delicious, I must say.  Then again, I had been tasting the grapes/juice/syrup all day, throughout all of the stages because I literally could not get enough, so however the result ended up, I knew I wasn’t going to hate it.

End Result: PB Pancakes with Wild Grape/Maple Syrup

These were good as they were, but my mom and I both added more syrup to get the grape flavor.  Then, we each had one more small pancake with just the syrup.  Yeah, the syrup was the star of this dish, for sure.  Even though my dad was only able to find a small amount of grapes, I was happy with how much syrup I was able to make.  I refrigerated the rest and will definitely be using it in the near future.  I could barely deal with wasting the non-juice part of the grapes so I don’t see myself letting this deliciousness go uneaten.  If you can get your hands on some Wild (or Fox) Grapes, I highly recommend you trying them.  They have seeds and a weird texture, but the flavor is worth it.

On to other things, my grandma was joining us for dinner last night so I wanted to come up with a dessert.  I threw a few apples in a pan with some water, lemon juice, sugar, brown sugar, and a little butter, and just let it cook.  Ended up being a yummy cross between applesauce and apple pie filling.  Instead of topping it with ice cream, which I really wanted to do, I decided to attempt making homemade granola.  I looked at some blogs for inspriation and came up with my own recipe.  I really should have followed a tested recipe, since mine ended up burning.  I think I was baking it too high (350) and hadn’t added enough oil/moisture.  I’ll definitely try this again, since even my recipe-less granola wasn’t half-bad.

Now that my belly’s full of pancakes, I’m going to spend the rest of this cold and rainy evening snuggled up watching good Monday night TV!

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Thanks to this lovely apple gadget, my latest project was made much simpler!

I'm so glad I finally figured out how to make this thing work. Made all the difference in the world!

Don't you want to eat that!?

I love fall produce, but we’ve been accumulating so much lately that it’s hard to figure out what to do with it all.  The other day, my dad brought home a big bag of apples that he had gotten from a tree on a job site.  I love apple things, but making them is usually quite a process and I’m pretty lazy when it comes to that kind of thing. Just being honest.  But, I knew we had this peeler/corer/slicer gadget, I just hadn’t yet mastered it.  Thankfully, when pulled it out yesterday, it worked!  It made making this healthy, all-natural, apple/plum sauce a breeze!

I don’t know exactly how many apples I used, but I used a lot.  To keep them from browning before I started cooking them, I put them in a bowl of cold water and lemon juice.  When I had finished the apples, I placed them in a big pot along with about 1 cup of water, a tsp. or so of lemon juice, and lots of cinnamon.  I also threw a few plums in, since we still had some sitting around after my grandma cleaned out a plum tree in someone’s yard.  There’s nothing like fresh and free produce, though, so I’m happy!  I’m glad I added them too because the result was not only delicious, but also a nice pretty pink color.  I brought everything to a boil, covered the pot, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.  Since the apples were sliced so thinly, it didn’t take long to cook.

I’m not a fan of wasting things, especially food, so I kept peeling apples.  I thought I might as well since the magic apple gadget was out and I had already successfully destroyed the kitchen with apple juice and seeds.  I peeled enough apples to fill a gallon-size ziploc bag and promptly placed that bag in the freezer.  This way, when I want to make an apple pie in the future, the hard part will be done.  As I type this, I’m looking at even more apples that I will need to do something with.  Perhaps more freezing? More applesauce? Not sure, but something.

I’m still developing ideas for this blog and have some plans for some fun installments so check back in!

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I Love Fall

Today is windy, rainy, and a lot cooler than it has been for the last week or so.  It feels very fall-like, with the leaves falling from the trees. And, I love it!  Minus the rain, why can’t it look and feel like this all the time?!

One of my favorite things about Fall in Michigan is Cider Mills. Particualarly the hot apple cider and fresh apple cider donuts covered in cinnamon and sugar. Yum!  I’ve been spending a good amount of time browsing blogs lately (I’m unemployed at the moment) and came across a recipe for homemade cider donuts. I’ve been putting of making them because the last thing I need around the house is donuts, but I finally gave in today.  I struggled a bit with the dough and had to use way more flour than the recipe called for.  But, in the end, they are delicious!  And, since I used the heart idea from the ladies of Our Best Bites, they’re pretty cute as well.

I’m new to this, and as much as I’d like to have the photos displayed throughout the post, I’m not savvy enough to figure out how to make that happen.  Well, just as I’m a work in progress, so is this blog. So I guess it works!

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First Post!

Ok, so I have to admit that I have started (and quit) 2 blogs before this one, but I’m vowing to make this one different!

I’m not sure exactly which path this blog is going to take, but I can guarantee it will include lots of photos (because I LOVE taking them) and lots of food/baking/recipe experimenting.  I can’t claim to be a great cook or baker, but I love to try new things, and I’ll be happy to share.

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