Friday, October 17, 2014

Fruit and Family on the Ridge: Youngquist Farms #MichiganApples

Fruit and Family on the Ridge: Youngquist Farms #MichiganApples
Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a Michigan Apple Blogger tour, hosted by the Michigan Apple Committee. It took place in Grand Rapids and the surrounding area, on what could not have been a more perfect representation of an autumn day in Michigan.

Let me back it up a few steps to tell you why I was (still am) extra excited about this opportunity. First and foremost, though I live in Indiana now (but literally just a stone's throw—or should I say apple's throw—over the border), I will always be a Michigan-girl at heart. I grew up in Michigan (coincidentally in the same area that the tour took place). I attended (the best) college in Michigan. And yes, I still hold up my hand to reference where I live, even though I have to point to the top of my wrist nowadays.

Plus, my family probably eats double our weight in apples every year—so yeah, there's that. Since we aim to eat local produce as much as possible (unless we're craving tropical or citrus), my youngest son is forever asking me if it's apple season. Fortunately, with the development of Controlled Atmosphere Storage, that makes apple season (sort of) last eleven months of the year. But that's something we'll talk about in my next installment of the #MichiganApples series. Today, it's all about where the apples begin...the orchard! So yes, Michigan apples are available basically year-round, but there's something special about that roughly 7-week harvest window.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Havarti Ham Apple Braid {Bread Baking Babes}

Havarti Ham Apple Braid #bread |
I'm am such a sucker for a soft, pillowy pile of risen dough. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Ninety-nine percent of of the time (maybe more), it produces the type of bread that disappears in the blink of an eye in my house, as well. A soft white bread with a tender, sometimes chewy (depends on how it is formed and baked) interior, enclosed neatly inside a golden crust. That is exactly the category that this loaf falls into.

This braided loaf is my interpretation of this month's Bread Baking Babes challenge, as chosen by our hosting BBBabe kitchen of the month, Katie at Thyme for Cooking. Now, Katie's choice was actually a braid stuffed with caramelized onions, herbs, and cheese. I basically ignored that filling idea, instead going in an entirely different direction. It's not that I don't love caramelized onions (I totally do), my brain just wouldn't latch on to the concept this month. Apparently, I wanted meat.

So, the day before I made this loaf, I'd stopped at the deli and ordered a pound of shaved tavern ham (my favorite type of ham). While the slicer was doing its thang, the lady behind the counter got busy, and I got lost in thought. That resulted in what we'll call an enthusiastic pile of shaved hame. Apparently they don't want to stick any shaved ham in the deli case alongside the thicker slices (or she was just in a good mood), because after weighing out the pound and giving me that price, she threw the extra ham into the bag. Score!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Smoked Salmon Chowder inspired by Pike Place Chowder in Seattle

Smoked Salmon Chowder inspired by Pike Place Chowder in Seattle #soup #salmon |
So, people often refer to two types of trip-takers: the "planner" and the "explorative" traveler. I can firmly say that I fit directly in the center of the two types—I'm equal parts obsessive and spontaneous.

I have to go in with a plan. Nothing rigid, but definitely an outline. I do a little research on the area. I grab a map, because I am totally obsessed with maps—always have been. I make a list of attractions, areas, and destinations for my trip that I must visit (especially if it'll be my first time there). I don't make a timeline, or even a certain day that each thing has to be done, but I do try to map things out and get an idea of what would make sense. That's what I consider my "planner" side.

Once I arrive, I take it all in. I ask locals for recommendations. I walk around and look for interesting places. I try to get a feel of the area. I go back and look at my outline, and plug-in the new additions. THEN, I map out a loose plan, give myself plenty of time, and just go. That's what I consider my spontaneous side.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Vegan Pumpkin Bread inspired by How to Bake a Man {book tour + giveaway}

Vegan Pumpkin Bread #vegan #quickbread #pumpkin
Let me start off by saying that this book is pure fun. I took along with me to read on my flight to Seattle a few weeks ago, and finished it shortly into my return flight. I was disappointed after I turned the final page, not because of the book, but because I didn't want to stop reading.

How to Bake a Man is a fast, light-hearted jaunt into the world of 27-year old Becca who hasn't quite figured out yet what she wants to do with her life—other than bake (because that's what she's truly good at). Just as she's about to go back to school for her MBA, she decides that she'd rather push a food cart filled with baked goods through an office building. She's a feeder, and anybody who loves to cook or bake knows that her choice is inevitable (oh she who speaks from experience...).

With a cast of characters that includes (but is in no way limited to) a long-distance best friend, a handsome and confident snakeskin boot-wearin' neighbor, an evil doppelganger,  the perfect man, and a menu full of tempting food—I found it hard not to lose myself in the world of Becca's Best.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Veggie Lovers Lasagna + an #IHeartDreamfields giveaway

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Dreamfields. All opinions are 100% my own.
Veggie Lovers Lasagna #IHeartDreamfields #meatless |
Today I'm partnerting with Dreamfields Pasta to celebrate National Pasta Month. I can think of no better way to celebrate than with a pan stacked with wavy lasagna noodles that are layered with tons of veggies, and accented by a light cream sauce that has been flavored with sundried tomatoes. I'm pretty sure that even the carnivores in your life will be sated after eating a slice of this meatless lasagna.

So, I know lasagna sort of seems like a weekend dish. A dish that you need some time to prepare. But really, once you have all of your components ready (noodles cooked, sauce stirred, veggies chopped)—it's just a matter of layering things into the pan. Hands-on time is only about 20 minutes. Once that part is complete, the oven does all of the work while you finish up some homework, throw in a load of laundry, or set the table and wrangle everybody to the table. I'd say it's very possible to make lasagna a weekday meal.

Since this week of National Pasta Month with Dreamfields is all about vegetarian meals, I left out the meat sauce and loaded up on the veggies. I wanted to use a white sauce, but drenching it in Alfredo didn't seem quite right, so I chose a light Alfredo (if you're making it at home, use skim milk) and then fortified it by swirling in a little sundried tomato pesto; basically a creamy flavor-bomb.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Mission Organize Pantry: a #POPtober Challenge with @OXO

OXO POP Containers - commence Mission Organize Pantry for POPtober
I organize. I am an organizer. I feel better when things are organized. Order feels better than chaos. My inner hippie-chick is frowning. She wants to be carefree, to go where the wind carries her. Fortunately (I guess), outer responsible-adult usually quashes those notions of yesteryear.

However, just because being organized makes the world seem a saner place, it doesn't mean that I actually am organized. There are not enough hours in my day, nor room in my "cozy" house to make it so. I do my best, know how life usually has its own ideas. So, when OXO and The Container Store issued me a challenge to (re-)organize an area in my kitchen, I took it as a sign. Challenge accepted.

Oh crap. That meant facing something very scary, something insanely out of control, something overrun by a few too many months of neglect {duh duh duhhhhh!!!!!} — my pantry. I'm embarrassed to show you this, and you may want to brace yourself. Are you ready for it? Okay, here goes....

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Steel Cut Oat Sausage Crumbles, plus an OATrageous Oatmeals blog tour + giveaway

Steel-Cut Oat Sausage Crumbles #vegan #glutenfree #oats |
I'm not a vegetarian or a vegan. I don't claim the title gluten-free, or paleo, or dairy-free. But, that doesn't mean that I don't work those ways of eating into my family's everyday life. Many of our meals do fall into these categories, but we are also bacon assassins and slayers of juicy steaks. Ask my youngest child what his favorite meal is, and he'll say chicken. Just chicken. You know I couldn't do without my fresh fish and seafood. But, since we're fortunate enough not to be "forced" into a category, I prefer the term varietarian.

Until, of course, I looked up my brilliant new term and realized that somebody had already claimed the term - and they didn't include pork or beef in the definition. How you can exclude things purposefully and still claim to be a varietarian is beyond me. I'm still claiming varietarian as a diet based on variety.

But, I digress—as usual. My whole point in talking about special diets was to highlight the fact that today I'm sharing a recipe that is vegan, soy-free, and gluten-free as part of the OATrageous Oatmeals blog tour! This is the newest cookbook by the very talented (and all around awesome lady) Kathy Hester.