Category: Summer Sucks Series


Good grief, it’s been almost a year. A year!! SO MUCH has happened in that year, and I wasn’t sure if I would ever get to come back. I’ve wanted to, but it just hasn’t been in the cards until now. I wasn’t sure if anyone would even care at this point if I came back. But I’ve heard from a few loyal readers (I have loyal readers! I had no idea!) and they’re asking for more. That is so incredibly gratifying, you guys. Seriously. It almost made me cry. I’ve always said that if my blog helps one person enjoy food a little more, I’ll keep going. So here I am, in the kitchen again, with recipes to share. I have some truly amazing food to show you, starting next week 🙂

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So after being informed by my BFF that the print feature I added awhile back actually prints the entire blog post instead of only the recipe like I wanted it to, I have (with a little help from a more experienced blogger) figured out how to make only the recipe in each post printable. Yay! So from now on you will be able to print only the best part of each post: the recipe! And when I get time here and there I will go back and add the feature to all of my other posts (which number 72 as of today, so it may take me a little while to get it done). Thank you all for sticking with me thus far! ❤

I’ve had some requests for a “print recipe” feature, so I looked around and found one of those! You can now find a new button on each post. It’s labeled “print and PDF” and it can be found at the very bottom of each post along with the sharing buttons. You’re welcome and thanks for your continued support! ❤

As I write this, the people of my hometown are beginning the long road to rebuilding their lives after a catastrophic flood. I am from Estes Park, Colorado- “The Gateway To Rocky Mountain National Park”. The floods you may have heard about on television have devastated Estes, Glen Haven, Drake, and several other towns. Thankfully no one in Estes or the surrounding area has “officially” died (there are 2 missing, presumed dead but no confirmations yet and we all know there will be a death toll- they just have to be found first). Miraculously many have made it to safety with fairly minor injuries. I wish I could say the same for the houses and a large number of the businesses too but I can’t. So many homes and so many livelihoods have been simply washed away. So many people I know personally- that I went to school with, that I worked with, that I’ve been friends with for decades- have had everything they owned taken from them. This has not been a week for fun recipes and snark. This has been a week for staying by the computer waiting for new news, praying like mad, and taking my phone with me everywhere- even to the bathroom- as I wait for some word from my BFF. I finally heard from her Saturday and I wept. I wept for joy that she and her family are unharmed. And I wept because the dream they have worked for for so long hangs by a thread.

Summer is finally over and I am so very glad for it. The harvest moon is tonight and Autumn officially starts (by the calendar, anyway) this weekend. I plan to greet this new season with open arms and joy. And as soon as I possibly can I plan to head up to Estes and see what I can do to help- even if it’s something small. I encourage you to do the same- even if you’ve never even heard of Estes Park, Colorado. Even if all you do is pray for the town & it’s people, please do something. If you prefer to do something more tangible, I have included the link to the Estes Park Flood Recovery page on Facebook.

https://www.facebook.com/epfloodrecovery

It’s been hot again lately. Really hot. Because the air conditioner is no longer functioning. And it’s been in the high 90’s outside again, therefore it’s been in the mid-80’s to low 90’s inside. Sigh. Summer sucks. So I’ve been trying to keep meals on the cool side of the spectrum. But I also know perfectly well that “cold” meals all the time gets tiresome quickly. So there are times when I have to use the stove. One of the things I’ve taken to making in this situation is pressed sandwiches. They’re technically hot sandwiches, but making them doesn’t heat the house up too much. You don’t have to have a panini or sandwich press to do them either. I was recently given one by a dear friend but up until then I made do just fine without one. They are fun- and useful for several things besides pressed sandwiches- but in this post I will be showing you how to make a go of it without the actual press.

All you need is a skillet and a pot big enough to cover the sandwich you’re making, but small enough to fit inside the skillet. Assemble your sandwich(es) and heat the skillet on medium-low. While the skillet is over the fire, fill your pot with water. Not enough to slosh over the side, but enough to give it some heft. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?

Indeed; you’re going to use the pot to press the sandwich while it cooks on each side. So brush, spray, or otherwise add lubricant to the skillet. Add the sandwich, then put the pot of water on top of the sandwich and press down- thusly:

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Depending on the bread or roll you’ve used you may need to stand there and hold the pot of water on the sandwich. Even if you don’t have to hold the pot in place, don’t go anywhere. With the added weight the sandwich will cook faster than a non-pressed sandwich so you really have to keep an eye on it. Once it’s browned on one side, brush (or spray) butter or oil on the uncooked side and flip the sandwich over. Put the pot of water back on top and check the sandwich after 30 seconds to minute, depending on how dense the bread or roll is; this side will cook faster. Once the second side is browned, move the sandwich to a plate to cool for a minute and then enjoy! If you need to do more than one sandwich you have a couple of options; one being to just cook them and not worry about keeping them hot. If you’re only doing 2 or 3 you don’t have to worry about keeping the cooked ones warm because it won’t take that long to make the rest so long as you have them assembled & ready to go before you start cooking the first one. And if you have a skillet & pot big enough you can do at least 2 at a time. Problem solved. But if you’re doing more than a few, or you really feel like you HAVE to keep ALL of your sandwiches piping hot, then your only real option is to go ahead & turn the oven on to “warm” or the lowest setting it has and keep the pressed sandwiches on a pan or tray to keep warm. That will heat the house up more (soon that won’t matter, but as it’s still hot here that’s what I’m trying to avoid) but your sandwiches will stay hot.

Here is what I made for breakfast this morning…

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Sausage, egg and cheese- yummy! I was fiddling with taking pictures so I let it cook a little too long on the first side (the bottom), but it still turned out well. It only needed about 30 seconds on each side- so it’s a fast option too! In the time it takes for the panini grill to heat up you can already have your sandwich done when you do it this way! This is a great way to make a fast, portable dinner for those (hopefully rare) nights that you have to be running at dinnertime instead of sitting as a family and enjoying a meal. Just make up some pressed sandwiches, wrap them in paper towels or parchment, grab a drink, and you’re out the door.

So we’re down to a week & a half of summer. 10 days. It’s finally coming to an end. As I write this, it’s dark, rainy, and cool, and I’m in heaven! It’s supposed to stay like this for the rest of this week and then heat up again going into next week. After this wonderful little break in the weather I think I might just make it through the next bout of hot weather before the first hard frost. I do hope it comes soon though!

I have come to the realization this year that I really can’t complain about this summer too much. I started the Summer Sucks Series as a way to get through what was promising to be an incredibly hot and miserable summer. It was a way to continue blogging like I wanted to but also to help myself and all of you out there in internet-land to enjoy a season that can be miserable. This summer, however, really hasn’t been all that unbearable. Yes, we’ve had some super hot days but they were mostly at the beginning of the summer. Up until last week, the weather has been cooler and we’ve had MUCH more rain than we had last summer. It’s been downright tolerable- nigh enjoyable. But I won’t go too far; we are back up into the 90’s after all.

As I said in my last post, summer is very close to being over and that means it’s nearly time for me to start planning for Christmas. I do this so incredibly early for a variety of reasons- one of them being that the really good sales on baking supplies will start soon, as they keep moving these things earlier & earlier in the year. Pretty soon the holiday baking sales will start sometime in May! But the deals really are too good to pass up simply because it’s too warm to start thinking about Christmas. So today’s recipe is a way to get into the holiday planning spirit as well as lift my morale and help me make it through the last leg of summer. Frozen Hot Chocolate is an incredibly tasty way to while away some time during the summer; whether it’s sitting at the desk making out the menu for Christmas dinner or sitting in a chair in the shade, dreaming of the cold weather to come!

You only need a few ingredients…

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(I do apologize if the pictures aren’t up to even my fairly low par. I’m having to get used to Windows 8 now and there’s definitely a learning curve when jumping from Vista to 8!) 

There are a few hot chocolate-type things you can use for this.  I happen to have some hot chocolate mix from last year hanging around in my pantry. It was part of a gift someone (who had no idea I would much prefer to make my own rather than use a mix- and I’m not ill-mannered enough to say anything; it was a GIFT after all) gave me and I hate wasting things, so I figured I’d use it for something. Turns out it works perfectly well for this. But you could also use Ovaltine, chocolate milk powder (such as Nesquick), or a homemade hot chocolate mix (there are dozens of versions out there. I urge you to find one that strikes your fancy and forgo the mixes). This recipe is done in two parts: making the chocolate mixture and blending everything together. You can make the chocolate mixture and then go work on your to-do list- like weeding the garden- while it cools, then come back and put the whole thing together and enjoy your frosty reward 🙂

You’re going to use a bain-marie, or double boiler, for this recipe. A lot of people find this intimidating because they’ve heard horror stories of scorched chocolate and steam burns from people who weren’t paying attention while they worked. Naturally these people made it sound as though they were minding their own business, being careful like the needed too, and the double boiler just burned their chocolate for no reason or steam just maliciously flooded out from the lower pan and gave them a nasty burn for no reason at all. In reality they weren’t paying attention and let the water boil dry in the lower pan and they ended up scorching the chocolate because the heat was too high. Or they decided they could just pick up the upper bowl without being careful; either not remembering or not caring that there is, in fact, steam in the lower pan and that it will burn you if you’re not paying attention. Anyway, it’s incredibly easy to make your own double boiler. No one needs those ridiculous double poiler pan inserts they sell at the store. Here’s my rig:

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A pan with about an inch of water in the bottom (or 2 if you’re using a pan as big as mine) and a bowl that will fit inside snugly without touching the water at all.  Bring the water to a simmer and keep it there- all you’re doing is creating enough heat to gently melt the chocolate in the bowl.  If your water starts to get low, add more and keep the simmer going. But as you’re only melting a few ounces of chocolate you should be fine with just the initial water.

Once the chocolate is melted and smooth, add the sugar and chocolate powder of choice. You’ll get something that looks grainy and no longer beautifully smooth…

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That’s how it should look- don’t worry. Now add 1/2 a cup of the milk, slowly. You may want to switch to a whisk for this. I found it made things easier. Keep the heat under the double boiler while adding the milk so that the chocolate doesn’t cool too quickly and make things harder to mix. You’ll end up with a nice, smooth mixture:

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Very nice! Now let this sit for a little while and come to room temperature. Once it’s cooled you’ll need the rest of the milk and some ice- about 3 cups. Add the chocolate mixture to the blender as well and hit the “icy drinks” button until everything is as smooth as your blender can get it. You end up with…

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Something frosty and intensely chocolatey! I used semi-sweet chocolate chips for this batch and it’s almost too chocolatey for me, not being a huge chocolate fan.  Normally I make this with milk chocolate chips or bars but I was out. This is also fantastic with a little mint extract or candy canes crushed and added before blending. A drizzle of caramel wouldn’t go amiss either 🙂 I should also warn you that this WILL NOT taste like a milkshake- just like hot chocolate tastes a bit different than regular chocolate milk. This tastes like hot chocolate, just cold!

I know, I know; I skipped a week. I was a fool to think that I could get a blog post done while getting ready to send my girls off to their first day of school (Zachariah is in preschool and they didn’t start until this week). So I missed a week. I am sorry about that. But the up side is that this week I get to write that there’s only TWO MORE WEEKS OF SUMMER LEFT!!! YAY! I am so done with the heat that has made it’s way back to our little part of the world and I am beyond ready for Autumn!

The Recipe: 

3 Oz Chocolate of Choice (I prefer milk but you can use anything you like/have on hand)

5 t Sugar

2 t Hot Chocolate Mix (Homemade, NesQuick, Ovaltine, or any kind of hot chocolate mix works)

1 1/2 C Milk, divided

3 C Ice

The Method:

*In a double boiler (as described above), melt the 3 ounces chocolate until smooth.

*Add the sugar and chocolate powder and stir to combine.

*Add 1/2 C of the milk and whisk until smooth, still over the heat in the double boiler.

*Remove mixture from the heat and let cool to room temperature. (This will only take about 15 minutes)

*Put ice, remaining milk, and chocolate mixture into the blender and blend until smooth (as smooth as you can get it. It seems every blender leave a little ice un-crushed.)

*Pour, garnish as desired, and enjoy!

I have to take this week off so that I can put my time and effort into something even more fun than making food for my blog: my youngest sister’s wedding! She is getting married to her very own beloved this Friday and I am helping my mom with the food for the wedding as well as dinner later that night for the family that is visiting for this wonderful event. With all of the huge things in limbo in our family right now I just can’t do the wedding food and the blog post I had in mind this week in addition to everything else. Things would go badly. So I decided that the blog post can wait, it’s the least important- I’ll only get the opportunity to help with my sister’s wedding once!

I couldn’t leave you with no recipe at all this week though. One of the things I will be making this week is a huge batch of my BBQ Sauce that I will be canning as well as using for Saturday night’s dinner.

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Sweet, smoky, a tiny bit spicy…  It’s perfect for the BBQ beef I’m making or anything you could be putting on the grill this weekend!

I’ll be back next week with a tasty little concoction that will cool you off but put you in the mood for Christmas at the same time! With only FOUR WEEKS left of summer it’s nearly time for me to start thinking about Christmas morning breakfast as well as Christmas dinner & dessert. 🙂

I don’t know about your kids but mine can’t eat the minute they get out of bed in the morning. They need to be up and around for at least 20 minutes before they can eat a good breakfast- my son especially. He needs at least 30-45 minutes of being awake & out of bed before he can eat. This creates a problem- in 2 different ways. First, during school the kids only have a set amount of time to get everything done before the bus gets here. So I have to find breakfast foods for them that have a goodly amount of protein and will help fill them up but it can’t be anything that makes their tummies feel heavy. And second, by the time they are ready for breakfast on a typical summer day it’s too hot to actually cook anything. My kids like cereal ok but it’s not their favorite and they can’t eat it too many days in a row as the main attraction at breakfast. Especially since I try to stick to the “healthy”, non-mainstream cereals, which limits the variety somewhat. In trying to find a solution to these problems I came across recipes for drinkable yogurt and it’s become a favorite for my kids. I make it fairly often and the hardest part is washing the blender- which is not hard at all 🙂

Surprising no one, The Humble Food Snob refuses to buy drinkable yogurt. No, it’s not because of the recent press about Dannon using ground cochineal bugs in their red colored products. Those have been used as a coloring agent for various things for centuries- I have no problem with them at all. And if you realized what the government allows into processed foods and in what amounts (try searching “how many rat hairs are allowed in food?” and see what you find) my bet is you wouldn’t have much of a problem with cochineal as a food coloring anymore either. No, what I have a problem with is the fact that the stores charge such an exorbitant amount of money for those tiny little bottles of drinkable yogurt. My kids gravitate to those like moths to a flame and I have to explain, once again, that they are far too expensive for what you get. Eventually they’ll understand. And it’s never too early to start teaching value for money and how to be effectively thrifty but not stingy. My kids already have an appreciation for homemade things and normally ask for them. It makes this home maker very proud 🙂

Drinkable yogurt is a very personal thing and can be made at home according to your personal taste so this will be more of a method post instead of a recipe post. Do you want thick, tangy, almost UNdrinkable yogurt? Then use very little milk or juice and extra fruit. Would you prefer a nearly imperceptible yogurt flavor and a consistency that will easily be drinkable from a to go cup? Then use more liquid as well as fruits that puree easily in the blender (like bananas and strawberries). This differs from a smoothie in that you don’t add any solid things like chocolate chips, crushed cookies, oatmeal, ice, or the like. This is just straight yogurt, liquid, and fruit (if desired). So if you’re looking for something that will fill you up and be all that you have for breakfast this will probably disappoint- you should go with a smoothie. But if you want something light and/or something that will go along with, say, a granola bar then this is for you!

Here’s what I typically use for drinkable yogurt:

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If you don’t want to use milk you can substitute fruit juice of some kind. Pretty much any juice works- it just depends on what you want the finished product to taste like. My kids & I are very partial to pineapple juice with the banana to make a very tropical drink but as I didn’t get any from the store this trip, I’m using milk. Apple juice will give you a nice, fairly neutral flavor, and orange juice will give you an almost Orange Julius type drink. And if you want to use plain yogurt that’s fine too. Use whatever you’d prefer for all of the ingredients- that’s what makes this so easy!

Unfortunately I can’t give you a whole lot in the way of measurements. I’ll try to give you good pictures of the side of the blender so that you can see about how much I use to make enough for the kids to have about 6-8 ounces apiece.

Here’s the yogurt and 2 bananas:

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Now all that’s left is the milk:

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Now blend this thoroughly and check to make sure you have enough milk to make it drinkable. My kids love to drink with straws (what kid doesn’t?!) so I make sure mine has a VERY liquid consistency. I end up with 3 small glasses of breakfast time happiness…

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This makes a great snack too! Why, I bet this would even make great popsicles 🙂

We’re down to 5 weeks of summer! The kids start school in 2 weeks (well, the girls do- my son has to wait another week after that) and they are so very ready to go back! I’m ready for them to go back too, for that matter 🙂

The Ingredients:

Yogurt

Fruit

Milk (any kind) or Juice

The Method:

*Blend all ingredients together until drinkable.

I bought something recently that I’d been wanting to buy for several years now and kept putting off: popsicle molds. I’ve seen SO many recipes in various places for popsicles and said “Oh I wish I had popsicle molds- that would be so tasty and fun!” But every time I had the extra bit of money it went to something else that was needed. That, and I’ve never been keen on having to buy popsicle sticks all the time. So when I would find a set of molds for a reasonable price it would invariably be a kind that required sticks to be purchased separately. But this summer I’ve been striving to make cooking and eating more enjoyable despite the heat and I decided that this was the year I was going to really do some research and find some popsicle molds I would be happy with. So I went to Amazon.com (where we buy pretty much everything but clothes and food) and started looking. I found the perfect molds and bought two sets; as we have 5 in our family and need more than 6 popsicles at a time. I spent less than $15 and got 2 sets of exceptionally sturdy molds from Ikea. Boy, have I become the coolest mom in the world!

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(*Disclaimer: This is a stock picture of the molds from Amazon.com. I forgot to take a picture before I filled them and now they would be all frosty on the outside- not how I wanted them in the picture. So I snagged this one. If anyone has a problem with that I’ll remove it! Oh- and these are AWESOME molds! They should hold up for years to come.*)

See, as it turns out, the easiest popsicles in the world are just a bottle of fruit juice away! You can use the same bottle of juice you had with breakfast and have healthy popsicles after dinner! The kids were astonished 🙂 I chose a 100% juice berry medley and put that into the molds the very day I received them in the mail (after a thorough washing, of course) and the kids were ecstatic at the thought of making our own popsicles out of pretty much anything we wanted.  They started coming up with all kinds of ideas for things to make popsicles with. But they stood in awe of their favorite cook when I told them that we could make popsicles out of my homemade pudding.

I was born in 1979, so I was able to enjoy the original Jell-O Pudding Pops. Anyone 30 or over will remember Bill Cosby hawking Jell-O’s creamy, super tasty popsicles and savoring the amazing taste and texture of those little frozen gems. Then they disappeared without warning and the freezer section of the grocery store was a slightly sadder place for it.

Fast forward a decade or so and Jell-O tried to bring back the pops we all knew and loved and get a new generation hooked. It worked great: there were people all over the place doing double takes in the freezer section (literally! Not only was I one of them but I actually saw several other people do the same!), then rushing to grab a box and introduce their kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews to them before they disappeared again. Then we all tried them… they were a vile mockery of the pops we had loved so much! Grainy from ice crystals and slightly chalky, they had an incredibly off-putting flavor that made me throw most of the box away uneaten. It was a very saddening experience.

Fast forward a bit more to the present. I made a double batch of my amazingly yummy banana pudding. We ate half of the batch for dessert after dinner and the other half got stirred together a bit and put into the newly purchased popsicle molds. What came out of those molds was nothing short of nostalgia-inducing bliss! The pudding was smooth and creamy, the whipped cream even more so, and the little pockets of vanilla wafer were a wonderful treat to bite into- even if they didn’t strictly keep with the classic pudding pop theme. The only problem was the chunks of frozen banana. They added fantastic flavor, but they were the one discordant note in a symphony of creaminess. They froze just a little too hard and the texture just didn’t fit with the rest of the popsicle. Other than the chunks of banana and the bits of vanilla wafer, these were remarkably similar to Jell-O’s Pudding Pops! The bites that didn’t have chunks of things definitely had the taste and mouthfeel of those original little wonders from the 80’s. I do believe I’ve done it! Yay me!

To make these more like the store bought Jell-O pudding pops of old, leave out the vanilla wafers and mash the banana very well before mixing it in with the pudding. But to make these into down-home, Southern banana pudding popsicles proceed like this…

First, make your pudding. All you need for homemade pudding is milk, sugar, flour (you can use cornstarch, but the amount will differ), eggs, flavoring, and a pinch of (sadly not pictured) salt.

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Can you believe it? It’s that easy! That is all you should have in your pudding. Go check the box at the store and see if the ingredient list looks even remotely similar. Go ahead… I’ll wait… 😉

Now, about the eggs: you only need part of them; the yolks. To separate the eggs you can either a) crack the egg on the counter, carefully pry it apart at the equator, and use each half as a little cup to transfer the yolk back and forth as the white falls away into a bowl underneath, b) crack the egg as before and pour it out into your hand held over a bowl with your fingers apart a tiny bit to let the white fall through, or c) go buy an egg separator. I disdain egg separators.  They only thing they are good for is separating eggs. And what happens when you leave the separator near the stove and it melts? Then you have to use either option a) or b) and you could have saved yourself the money and done that in the first place!

Anyway, all you have to do is dump the flour, sugar, salt, and milk into the pan and whisk over medium heat. Once the mixture begins to just barely boil, shut the heat off and get ready to temper yourself some egg yolks. This really is super simple- people just make it out to be much harder than it is. All you’re doing by tempering is slowly bringing the temperature of the eggs up to the temperature of the mixture you’ll be adding them to. Otherwise you’d end up with a milk mixture with little chunks of scrambled egg in it. Yuck! So here’s what you do…

Using a gravy ladle or spoon (the gravy ladle is PERFECT for this job though!) in your off hand- for me it’s my left- take up a small amount of the hot mixture. With your dominant hand- the right for me- start whisking the egg yolks as quickly as you can manage with one hand. It doesn’t have to be fast- you just need to keep them moving. Now slowly pour the mixture from the ladle into the yolks, whisking the whole time. Keep the whisk moving! That’s what prevents the eggs from scrambling.

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Do this 4 or 5 times- enough to add about a 1/4 cup of the hot mixture to the egg yolks, and you have tempered eggs! That’s it! Nothing to freak out over! Now slowly pour the tempered eggs into the rest of the hot mixture, return the mixture to medium-low heat, and start stirring with a spoon (you can get rid of the whisk now). You don’t want the mixture to boil, but if the heat is too low you’ll be standing there stirring for half an hour before it gets thick enough. The pudding will start to gradually thicken as you stir. You want it to “coat the back of the spoon”- that’s how you know it’s done. To check this, take the spoon out of the pudding and run your finger horizontally down the back. Or you can use a small measuring spoon which is what I do because the hot pudding is HOT!  When the line you made stays there, it’s done. Here are a few visuals for you…

Too runny:

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STILL too runny:

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This one is just right!:

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See how the pudding stays nice and thick on either side of the line and doesn’t run? That is exactly what you want. Personally I will cook the pudding an additional 2 minutes after this point because I like a nice, THICK pudding- especially if I’m layering it for a dessert.

Now you can let this sit for a little while so you can get the pan ready. If you want to make actual banana pudding (for popsicles or just for dessert), get a 9 inch pie plate and put a layer of vanilla wafer cookies in the bottom. Then add your sliced banana. Ok, mine wasn’t sliced for this. I decided that since I was going to make popsicles out of this batch, I would mash the banana and see how it turned out. Normally I make a double batch of this and therefore get at least 2 layers. But the recipe as it appears below is for a single batch- enough to make 12 smallish popsicles. Anyway, here’s my cookies and fruit:

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My bananas are a bit darker than they should be because I had to freeze them. It would be best to use freshly mashed banana because it has less liquid. When I stirred the pudding with the whipped cream the cookies were almost liquified. Not very pretty to look at but tasty nonetheless!

Once you have the cookies and fruit in the pan, add the warm pudding and then put a piece of plastic wrap right up against the pudding so it won’t form a skin in the fridge, like so:

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Put this in the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled- overnight is best. After the pudding base has chilled completely you can make the whipped cream. Yes; you COULD just buy some Cool Whip & call it good. But Cool Whip counts as food only in the sense that it’s something you can ingest without dying. It is chock full of chemicals that are rather horrifying, really. Do yourself a favor and make your own whipped cream. Heavy whipping cream and sugar is all you need. You can add a little vanilla if you want, but I don’t here because the pudding has plenty. But homemade vanilla whipped cream can truly be a dessert all it’s own. My kids LOVE it when I give them a small dish of it for dessert. It’s a great treat indeed!

When making whipped cream your utensils need to be ice cold- literally. Whether you do this with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer the bowl and whisk attachment(s) need to be put in the freezer about 20 minutes before you actually whip the cream. And you really do need to use a glass or metal bowl for this- plastic WILL NOT hold the cold in long enough to be useful.

Do your bowl & attachments look like this when you take them out of the freezer and the room temperature air hits them?

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No? Then put them back in the freezer for at least another 10 minutes. Yes? Then carry on. Measure your whipping cream into the bowl, add half your sugar, and start mixing on medium speed. Once the cream doubles in volume, add the second half of the sugar and continue mixing. You’ll know it’s properly mixed when it looks like this:

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See the waves from the mixer? They should stay like that even after you’ve stopped mixing and there should be little peaks that stand up (stiff peaks). It will also start to take on a slight yellow hue. That is the cream going from whipping cream to butter (you did know that butter is made from cream, right?!) Once the cream is stiff and just slightly yellow stop mixing or you will, indeed, end up with butter and you’ll have to start over again. But you’ll have some very tasty butter to drain and use!

Spread your freshly whipped cream over your pudding base and then take a spoon and mix the whole thing up a bit, thusly…

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Don’t mix it completely- you want a swirl if you’re making the popsicles with the cookies and whipped cream.  If you don’t use the cookies or cream you would just mix the bananas into the pudding while it’s warm, chill the mixture, and then fill your molds. You wouldn’t be able to make quite as many but it would make really fantastic popsicles! But for now we’re doing it this way, so once mixed, you can spoon this into your molds. Ours have a fill line so we fill accordingly. Do yours however your molds require…

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Now put the sticks in or the lids on and put into the freezer until frozen solid. I usually let them sit overnight. Here is what you’ll end up with:

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These are so incredibly good that they never last more than about 2 days at our house. My dad sampled one from the first batch and couldn’t believe that anything could taste so good- especially something so easy. He actually told me “I’m glad I don’t live at your house- I’d never stop eating these!” High praise, indeed 🙂

Only 6 more weeks of summer left! I think I can hold on that long! Actually, we’ve been having a fairly good summer this year so I can’t complain too terribly much. We’ve had so much rain that the severe fire restrictions that were put into place shortly before Independence Day have been lifted, and we should have a major cool down here in Northern Colorado over the next few days. I’m still ready for summer to be over and Autumn to arrive though!!

The Recipe- Banana Pudding Base:

1/2 C Sugar

1/8 C Flour

Pinch of Salt

1 1/2 C Milk (can be whole or 2%, but nothing less than that)

4 Egg yolks

2 t Vanilla

1/2 Pinch Nutmeg (optional, but I never leave it out. The flavor it gives is wonderful!)

2 Large Bananas, sliced or mashed, if making popsicles

Vanilla Wafers

The Method:

*Mix sugar, flour, and salt in a heavy bottomed sauce pan.

*Add milk, and whisk over medium low heat.

*Temper the yolks as above, then add them into the pan.

*Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until custard coats the spoon as described above.

*Remove from heat and add vanilla extract and nutmeg (if you want to use the nutmeg).

*If all you want is vanilla pudding, transfer pudding to a bowl, place plastic wrap directly over the top of the pudding, and chill completely.

*If making banana pudding, place the vanilla wafer cookies and the bananas in layers into a serving dish with the cookies on the bottom- a 9 inch pie plate works perfectly- then pour the hot pudding over the fruit and cookies, place plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pudding, and chill completely.

The Recipe- Whipped Cream:

3/4 C Heavy Whipping Cream, very cold

1/4 C Granulated Sugar

1 t Vanilla extract (optional- I normally add the vanilla but in this case the pudding has plenty of vanilla so I leave it out)

The Method:

*Chill the glass or metal bowl you’ll be using in the freezer for at least 20 minutes prior to whipping your cream.

*Pour the cream and half of the sugar into the bowl and start mixing on medium speed.

*Once the cream doubles in volume, add the rest of the sugar.

*Continue mixing at medium speed until the cream is very thick and forms stiff peaks.

*Spread over the banana pudding base or use as desired.

I have a confession to make: I hate grilling with commercial charcoal. No matter what I do I can’t keep it lit. I’ve tried tricks & tips from numerous sources and none of them work for me. And I hate the smell of burning charcoal. It’s so… harsh. And unnatural. When I grill with commercial charcoal I have to shower and wash that set of clothes immediately afterwards because the smell lingers- especially in my hair. And propane? No thanks. Then we’d have to buy propane all the time. And propane grills do a fine job of getting the food cooked, but you lose that “grilled” flavor that is the whole reason you’re cooking out in the first place. But this summer my husband & I have hit upon a solution: grilling over an actual fire. We make our fire in an old charcoal grill and it’s perfect! Build a base of tinder: dryer lint, wood shavings, newspaper, or dry grass from the yard all work very well. Then around that put some kindling. Larger dry sticks work fine or you can cut some of the larger pieces of wood into sticks with a hatchet. We use a small amount of dimensional lumber. You DO NOT want to use this as your only wood for a cooking fire because it does contain some very not good for you things- a lot like commercial charcoal briquettes. But we just use it to get the fire going. You should have something like this: IMG_0172 Now put some fire to your tinder and blow on it if it doesn’t catch completely. Gently!! Blow on the baby fire gently! You want to give it some extra oxygen- not blow it out. Once the kindling catches well, add some larger pieces of wood- but only a couple. If you add too much too soon your fire will die and you’ll have to start over. Or call on the pizza fairy to visit your house. IMG_0176 Good! Now you’ve got your fire established. You can add another piece or two of wood. Now put your grate over the top and let the fire burn down until it’s hot enough that you can only hold your hand over it for about 5 seconds. Now you can add your room temperature meat. Did I not say to let the meat come to room temperature? No, I didn’t. Sigh. Well, I’m not re-writing the post. You should be reading through the instructions before you begin anyway. So really I’m just keeping you on your toes 😉 But seriously, you don’t want to try to cook meat straight from the fridge. It’s too cold- it won’t cook properly. I’m using flank steak for this post but we’ve also cooked chicken this way and it’s equally awesome! Anything you can cook on a conventional outdoor grill you can cook this way. You just have to keep an eye on the heat. I wish I could tell you exactly how hot it will get or exactly how to control the heat but I can’t. It’s something you have to work with for a bit & get to just know by sight and feel. It doesn’t take long. If you’re paying attention while you cook you should get the hang of it after one or two tries. Trial & error isn’t a bad thing. Learning for yourself teaches you SO much more than having every last detail laid out for you. And this is a great way to learn for yourself. Figuring this out gave my husband and I a wonderful sense of accomplishment! IMG_0179 We bought a cooking grate at the local camping supply store because the grate that came with the grill was left out to rust (not by us, thank you very much). We have wood stored here at the house from my father in law’s forays into tree trimming. We have apple, cherry, and plum to work with and they each add their own special flavor to whatever goes over them. The smell is much softer, much more natural, and far more pleasing than commercial charcoal. In fact, it’s fun to just sit by the fire and chat while we wait for the fire to be ready and then while the food is cooking. That’s definitely not something we would consider with commercial charcoal. I always thought it was the ranting of people who are obsessed with camping, but everything really does taste better cooked over an open fire! And the materials are fairly easy to lay your hands on. If you have a regular charcoal grill you have all you need except the wood. If you don’t have a charcoal grill, you can use a fire pit. You know; the ones people buy for decoration that they swear they’ll sit next to every night in the nice weather so they spend $200 on a nice one and then never actually use it. Craigslist is filthy with them. Cheap. And usually brand new or nearly so. Go find one, buy it, and actually use it! As for the wood, if you have trees in your backyard see if the need trimming. If it’s a hard wood, you’re ready to go! Or, once again, Craigslist or any local newspaper usually has all sorts of people trying to get rid of wood. Check it out- this is completely worth it! So the actual recipes! Finally, right?! I’ve seen a few recipes for pineapple salsa over the years and thought to myself “that sounds really good!” and then never thought of them again. But I saw one recently and decided that this time I would actually put it into the menu plan. It was good! But not great. Certainly not great enough to make the same way again. So I played. Because that’s what I do. I have a basic pico de gallo recipe that is easily turned into pineapple salsa- just add some grilled pineapple. Don’t like pineapple? No problem. Don’t add it. Without the pineapple this is just basic pico de gallo and is super good on tacos or nachos! IMG_0195.JPG (2) (*Disclaimer: I have to be honest- this picture was taken AFTER I made a plate of tacos for my husband (pictured below). So this is not a full batch; the ingredients listed below will make more than this. We got enough for 10 tacos using the smaller sized flour tortillas.) If you’ve made pico de gallo before, you’ll notice that I don’t have any cilantro pictured here. That is simply because I don’t like cilantro. If you would like to add it you’ll need about 1/3 of a cup, chopped. Or you can substitute flat leaf parsley. I just leave the leafy green stuff out altogether. For the best flavor, the pineapple needs to be a bit charred. And since this tastes better if it gets to sit for an hour or more, it can’t really wait until the pineapple can go over the fire. So I just drain the pineapple slices very well and put them in a dry pan. About 2 minutes per side on medium high heat does the trick. Now you’ll need to seed the tomatoes. DO NOT just cut up the tomatoes and throw them in the bowl for pico de gallo. The gel and seeds will add too much moisture and a bitter flavor. To seed tomatoes just slice the fruit into wedges, lay the wedges on their sides, and run your knife between the tomato flesh and the gel. They should look like this when you’re done: IMG_0164 All you have to do now is dice all of the fruits & veggies into small pieces (I mince the jalapeno), add a bit of kosher salt and a squeeze of lime juice, stir, cover, and let sit it in the fridge. (When you take it out there will be quite a bit of juice but it’s ok. The salt has drawn it out- it’s supposed to be there.) On to the steak. The steaks I buy take about 6-7 minutes per side over the fire to get to the point of very rare in the middle, which is where you want them if you’re going to be cooking them one more time after slicing. Once the steak is rare I put it on a platter, cover it with foil, and let it rest for 15 minutes. This is essential! If the steak doesn’t rest all the juices will come flooding out when it’s cut and the steak will end up dry. But this 15 minute stretch of time is perfect because now you can make your taco seasoning! You didn’t honestly think I was going to use a packet of seasoning, did you? If I did I might as well quit this blog right now. Taco seasoning is SO easy to make! In fact, I would bet that you already have all of the ingredients in your pantry or cupboard already. I found a very simple, very tasty recipe here and adapted it a bit. This is also incredibly simple to make into a large batch and store away for later. IMG_0181 Now THAT is what taco seasoning should look like. It’s the color of spices you actually have in your cabinet- not that weird orange color that you really can’t quite identify. So once you have your seasoning made and your steak has rested for at least 15 minutes, you can go ahead and slice that beautiful piece of meat. Since the flank steak is so wide I cut it lengthwise down the center, with the grain, before I cut it into slices. That way the meat is easier to eat and fits in the tortillas better. Use a very sharp knife and make the slices as thin as you can without shredding the meat, thusly… IMG_0184 Yes; you want it that rare. If you cook it anymore than that you will end up with very tough meat after you cook it with the taco seasoning. If you were going to eat this straight from the grill you could cook it more. Now put the slices in a pan or skillet on medium high heat, add the seasoning (about 1 tablespoon, but you can use more or less according to your preference), about 1/4 cup of water, and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer (lowering the heat if necessary) until the seasoning has made a nice thick sauce. IMG_0189 Mmmmm…. so tasty!! Now remove the pan from the heat, get the pineapple salsa out of the fridge along with any other taco toppings you fancy, and go to town! IMG_0191 These are SO good and SO easy that you’ll be astonished that people actually leave home and pay someone else to cook them! Of course, you don’t HAVE to cook the steak over an open fire. You can just grill it like normal people. Or you can pan sear it. You’ll need a heavy bottomed pan that’s large enough to fit the steak. Add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and heat the whole lot over high heat (about 3/4 of the way to the “high” mark on the knob). Once the oil is shimmery and giving off tiny wisps of smoke, add the steak and cook it for 7 minutes on each side for a 3/4-1 inch thick steak (this will be a very rare steak). Proceed as above for resting, slicing, etc. You WILL need to use the exhaust fan and you WILL need to open the windows if you pan sear. But it’s worth it- even in the winter 🙂 So only 7 more weeks of summer left! That thought makes me happy! The kids are already excited to start school again and I am absolutely longing for Autumn to arrive. Knowing there’s only 7 more weeks of summer is making things a little more bearable 🙂

The Recipe: Pineapple Salsa 4 Slices Pineapple, drained well, charred, and diced

1 Large Tomato, seeded and diced

1/2 Medium Red Onion, diced

1/2-1 whole Jalapeno, diced fine (I use half but if you want the pico spicier use the whole thing. Or if you’re really crazy, use 2)

1 t Kosher Salt Juice from half a small lime

The Method: *Drain the pineapple slices very well.

*In a dry pan heat the pineapple slices for about 2 minutes on each side. You want some charring but you don’t want them blackened.

*Seed the tomato by cutting it into wedges and running a knife between the flesh and the gel where the seeds are. Discard the cores. (Ours go in the compost bin so they aren’t wasted.)

*Dice the fruits and veggies, add the salt and lime juice.

*Stir, cover, and refrigerate up to 3 days.

The Recipe: Taco Seasoning 1 T Chili Powder

1 t Garlic Powder

1/2 t Onion Powder

1/4 t Red Pepper Flakes (more or less, depending on how spicy you want it. Remember: you can always add more so err on the side of caution.)

1/2 t Paprika

2 t Cumin

1 t Kosher Salt (you can adjust this as you like. I don’t buy the mainstream media’s reports of how evil sodium is so I use the whole teaspoon)

1 t Black Pepper

The Method:

*Mix all ingredients.

*Use about 1 tablespoon of seasoning and 1/4 cup of water for each pound of meat you’re cooking. You can adjust this to suit your tastes. (Another perk of making your own!)

*Bring to a simmer and continue simmering until the liquid has reduced to a sauce.

***UPDATE: You can make this seasoning more like store bought, which forms a thick sauce, by adding 1 heaping teaspoon of cornstarch to 1/2 C of water instead of 1/4C. Add the seasoning to the meat and then pour in the slurry. Boil and cook until the sauce thickens.***