Pool Noodle Stick Horse

We had an awesome Pioneer Day party in July that I sort-of organized. We had a blast.  One of the activities/games that I thought would be fun would be to have horse races, that is to say stick horse races.  What's not to love, amiright?  The problem was that I didn't have any stick horses.  Hmmmmm.  I went to Goodwill - nothing.  I went to the toy stores around here.  Oh, there were stick horses all right.  Fancy stick horses.  Stick horses that made sound.  Stick unicorns.  Stick horses with glitter and ribbons.  The problem was that not one stick horse was under $25 dollars.  Each.

While wandering Target in a stick horse funk, I spotted pool noodles for $1.25.  An idea was born.

I like to sew.  Liking to sew has its advantages, one of which being a stash of sewing and crafting supplies. Using my stash, I found felt, safety eyes and stuffing.  I was in business.

The horses were a hit.  The little kids immediately went for them.  They galloped and trotted all over the park.  It was a challenge finding 4 horses for the races.  All but one of the horses were adopted, I am happy to say.

Each horse took me about 15 minutes each (I am pretty quick with sewing stuff) and cost the price of the pool noodle.  Awesome.  Here's what I did.

I cut a notch about a foot down from the end of the pool noodle.  (don't judge)

Duck tape the noodle to make an angle.  It doesn't need to be pretty.  No one is going to see this part.

Out of felt, cut out a horses head.  Make sure the head is a little longer that the pool noodle head section. It doesn't need to be perfect, just wing it.  Leave an inch or so above the neck and head to cut for the mane.  Sew, wrong sides together, along the neck and head for the mane. 

Cut 2 ear shaped pieces of felt.  Fold them so they will stand up.
Sew ears onto the right side of the head.  Attach eyes.

Turn head inside out and sew the rest of the head and neck.  Turn right side out and cut mane fringe. (Emily did this part).

Add a little stuffing/batting to the nose and cheek of the horse.  Slide horse head onto the pool noodle.  Duck tape around the bottom of the head to hold it onto the noodle.  Tie twine around the muzzle and then tie the ends loosely around the neck.

Gallop like crazy around your house and neighborhood.  Make enough for your whole family.  Make a herd.  Enjoy.


No-Knead Bread

In the early 80's I lived in France for a while.  If you have never been to France, let me tell you about the bread.  It is unlike bread here.  It is fresh.  It is crispy.  It is flavorful.  The French feel strongly about their bread.  In France, you buy bread every day.  Every day.  You would never eat bread that is over a day old, unless you are making it into something else (think Pain Perdue which means, literally, lost bread).  I have been searching for that bread since I left France.  I have come close when buying the bread in a bakery, but have not been able to make it at home.  This is the closest I have come.

This bread is SUPER easy.  There is really no kneading!  I was worried about the amount of yeast (only 1/4 teaspoon!), but it worked, too!  This recipe was first published in the NY Times in 2006.

Everyone should make bread at least once!  If you only make one loaf of bread, this is the one.  It is crispy on the outside, and tender on the inside.  The smell in your house as the bread bakes will make you do a happy dance, maybe even break into song!

Yes, it's that good.

I'm going to walk you through it.

First, right before bed, dump 3 cups of bread flour in a large bowl.  Dump in the rest of the ingredients.  Get your wooden spoon and stir it up.  It's going to look like a big shaggy mess.  That's just fine.  Cover it up with plastic wrap, tell it goodnight, leave it on the counter and go to bed.

When you get up, have breakfast, take care of the kiddos and the puppy and get around to remembering the bread dough (about 10-12 hours), it should look like this.

On a lightly floured surface, using a wet spatula, dump the sticky dough onto the floured surface.  Now, you don't want to incorporate more flour into the dough, you just don't want it to stick.  I wet my hands instead of flouring them just to keep the wet/dry ratio equal.  Form the dough into a rough ball and plop it into a bowl that you have lined with a floured towel or a parchment paper (this is the one I recommend - less laundry.)  If you use a narrow bowl it will be a taller bread.  If you use the counter or a wide bowl it will be flatter.  It all tastes the same.  Cover it with a clean towel and let it rest for a couple of hours.

About 1/2 hour before the dough is done resting get the baking pan and the oven ready.  You are going to need a heavy duty pan with a lid.  I use my cast iron enameled pan.  The pan needs to be pretty sturdy because it is a HOT oven.  Round, oblong, it doesn't matter - but it needs to be at least 4" tall.

Stick your empty pan and lid in the oven and crank up the oven to 450 degrees.  Let the pan and oven preheat for about 1/2 hour.  Just do it.

After pre-heating, remove the hot pot from oven. I sprinkle corn meal on the bottom of the pan, but I don't think you have to.  Now plop this wobbly dough into the hot pot. Doesn’t matter how it lands – actually, the messier it lands, the more “rustic” it looks. (That's it!  My house is not messy, it's "rustic"!) Shake pot a bit to even out the dough. 
Cover and put back into the oven. Bake covered for 30 minutes.  This is what it looks like at the 30 minute mark.
Then uncover and bake further for 15-20 minutes. To check – you can either tap the bread (should sound low, hollow, like a drum) or take its temperature (should be 210F in middle).
Remove and let cool. The No Knead Bread really does sing – the crust crackles as it cools. Listen to it!

secret: Because the bread has such high water content- the crust will not stay crisp forever. If you aren’t eating soon, you can re-crisp the crust by re-heating it in a 350F oven for 10 minutes.

That's it! You will be rewarded with a thin, crunchy brown crust, large, open holes. The bread is slightly chewy, flavorful and perfect texture.

Try it.  It will make you feel fabulous!

I found the No Knead Bread Recipe from The Steamy Kitchen Blog who got it from Mark Bittman of NY Times who got it from Sullivan Street Bakery.

No Knead Bread

3 cups bread flour 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast1 teaspoon fine table salt (or 3/4 tablespoon of kosher salt)1 1/2 cups warm water
Covered pot (five-quart or larger cast iron, Pyrex, ceramic, enamel...something that can go into a 450F oven.)


1. Mix dough: The night before, combine all ingredients in a big bowl with a wooden spoon until the dough just comes together. It will be a shaggy, doughy mess. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit 12-20 hours on counter top.

2. Shape & preheat: The dough will now be wet, sticky and bubbly. With a wet spatula, dump the dough on a floured surface. Fold ends of dough over a few times with the spatula and nudge it into a ball shape. You can use your hands if you like, just keep your hands wet so that the dough does not stick. Place a large sheet of parchment paper on counter. Plop your dough onto parchment paper. Lift parchment paper up with dough and place into a large bowl. Cover bowl with a towel. Let it nap for 2 hours. When you've got about a half hour left, slip your covered pot into the oven and preheat to 450F.

3. Bake: Your dough should have doubled in size. Remove pot from oven. Grab the ends of the parchment paper and lift entire wobbly dough blob out of bowl into pot. Doesn't matter which way it lands. Shake to even dough out. Cover. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover, bake another 15-20 minutes or until the crust is beautifully golden and middle of loaf is 210F. Remove and let cool on wired rack. If not eating right away, you can re-crisp crust in 350F oven for 10 minutes.


Marinated Beef and Vegetables

This is a really easy and fast meal.  I love the Asian influences.  I was going to call the veggies "stir fry", but since I didn't use a wok, I balked.  This meal is never exactly the same.  I always use whatever I have in the fridge for the veggies.  It all works.  Just don't over cook the veggies, with the exception of the onions and peppers.  I like those well done because it brings out the sweetness.  The meat would have probably been better on the outside grill but it was SOOOO hot and humid.  Being a hot weather wimp, I pulled out my George Foreman Grill and cooked it on the countertop.  Very tasty.  I poured the drippings in the drip pan back over the meat for an extra punch.

Grilled Beef and Vegetables

2 or 3 good size round steaks
Marinade, 1 bottle (I used Kikkoman Toasted Sesame. Teriyake is good, too)
3 cups cooked rice
1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 cup fresh green beans
1 summer squash, diced
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
2 mild banana peppers, sliced
1/2 bag of pre-cut cabbage (cole slaw mix)

A couple of hours before dinner, place all the beef in a gallon ziplock back.  Add 1/2 the bottle of marinade.  Seal bag, pushing out the air as you go.  Marinate in fridge for 2-8 hours, turning the bag if you remember.

Heat grill.  Cook the beef 5 minutes per side.  Let rest on a cutting board for 10 to 15 minutes.  Slice against the grain.

While the beef is cooking add oil to a hot saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add onion and pepper to oil.  Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft and starting to brown.
Add the rest of the veggies until then are hot but not soft, stirring frequently. 

Add the cabbage and the remaining marinade and heat through.  Don't overcook the veggies.
Serve beef and veggies over rice.


Mexican Lasagna

I love Mexican food.  What's not to love?  This is one of my "go-to" recipes for a Mexican flavor.  It is easy and fast and my family loves it.  We also love the red rice.  This rice is not the spiced kind you might get in a restaurant.  It is just like my Mom made it, with tomato juice - although hers was better because she always used home canned tomato juice.  It is lovely.

Mexican Lasagna

18 corn tortillas
1/2 rotisserie chicken (about 2 cups of cooked chicken)*I have made this without the chicken and increased the beans :)
3 cans , 10 ounces each, green chili enchilada sauce (red is good, too)
 1 can (14 ounces) black beans, drained
2 cups frozen corn
1 cup sour cream
2 cups grated cheese (I use cheddar or Monterrey jack)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a 13x9 baking dish, cover bottom with 6 tortillas.
Spread 1/2 cup sour cream over the tortillas.  Spread 1/2 the chicken, 1/2 the beans, and 1/2 the corn on top of sour cream.  Sprinkle 1/3 of cheese on top of this.  Pour 1 can of enchilada sauce over this mixture.


Top with 6 more tortillas, 1 can of sauce and the remaining cheese.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, until heated through.  Let sit 10 minutes before cutting.

Red Rice

2 cups white rice, NOT instant ( I like medium grain for this)
4 cups tomato juice OR 1 can (14 ounce) tomato sauce and enough water to make 4 cups
1 Tablespoon oil (canola)
1 teaspoon salt

Put oil and  rice in a large sauce pot.  Heat over medium high heat until the rice begins to be more opaque, about 2 minutes.
Add tomato juice and salt.  Stir.  When the rice begins to boil, reduce heat to low and cover.  Let cook, covered, for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, turn off heat, stir, and let sit, covered for an additional 5-10 minutes or until the rice is soft.


Peaches, peaches, peaches (salsa, jam and jam)

Nothing says summer like fresh, juicy peaches.  I love it when you bite into them and the juices run down your chin while your taste buds do a happy dance in your mouth.

I bought peaches.  We ate peaches.  A lot of peaches.  So I bought more peaches and even more peaches.  Then, lo and behold, my family said that they were done with peaches.  How about pears or apricots?, they said.  So, what do I do?  That's right, I start canning peaches.  This year I made normal peach jam, peach jam with vanilla and sweetened with agave, and peach salsa.  Yum.

I do peel peaches when I can them.  For the jam, you want them mashed.  If they are ripe, you should be able to just squeeze them over your bowl, after peeling them, and have the pulp and juice fall into the bowl.  Have your kiddos do this.  It's pretty fun.

I don't double jam recipes.  Whenever I have it has not set up.  According to Alton Brown (who knows), pectin (which is made from apples) breaks down quickly.  When the batch is too large the pectin breaks down quicker than the temperature can reach the correct point, thus not allowing the jam to set properly.  Cool.

For the salsa, I like the peaches diced.  I peel the peach, cut horizontal rings around the peach, then cut them vertically like I was sectioning an orange. Works every time.  My salsa turned out a bit spicy this year due to the spiciness of the jalapenos from my garden.  That's okay.  We like it hot.

You need to get your canning supplies ready - hot water bath, jars, new lids, rings, jar lifter, etc.

Peach Jam

 4 cups finely chopped or mashed pitted peeled peaches
4 tablespoons lemon juice
7 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin

Prepare canner, jars and lids.

In a large saucepan, combine peaches, lemon juice and sugar.  Over high heat, stirring frequently, bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.  Stir in pectin.  Boil hard for 1 minute.  Remove from heat and skim off foam.

Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space.  Wipe rim.  Center lid on jar and screw on band.

Place jars in canner, making sure that the boiling water covers the top of the jars and boil for 10 minutes.  Place jars on dishtowel on counter to cool.
  Check seal.

Peach Jam with Vanilla and Agave

5 cups crushed peaches (about 4 pounds)
1 1/4 cup agave syrup (Costco has it for a good price)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar (if needed-I used it)
1 box +1 teaspoon low-sugar pectin (3 Tablespoons+1 teaspoon)

Combine peaches, agave, vanilla, and lemon juice in a large saucepan.  Taste it.  If you think it needs it, add sugar.  Sprinkle pectin on top (it could clump) and mix into peaches.  Bring to a hard boil.  Cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Ladle into jars, leaving 1/4 in head space.  Wipe rims of jars.  Place lids and rings on jars.

Place jars in a boiling bath canner.  Return to a boil.  Process 10 minutes.  Cool on a towel on kitchen counter.  Check seal.

Peach Salsa

1/2 cup white vinegar
7-9 cups chopped pitted peeled peaches
2 cups chopped onion (red onion is pretty)
4-5 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 cup loosely packed chopped fresh cilantro
2/3 cup liquid honey
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
juice of 2 limes
1 Tablespoon salt

Prepare canner, jars and lids.

In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients.  (I combine the vinegar and peaches first so the peaches don't turn brown.)  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.  Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Ladle hat salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Wipe rim.  Place lids and rings on jars.  Place jars in canner.  Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes.  Remove jars, cool.  Check seal.


Caramel Corn

My mom made caramel corn a lot when we were growing up.  I love it.  I don't like buttered popcorn very much, and I don't like movie popcorn or microwave popcorn at all.  When I moved out of my parents house, I would occasionally buy caramel corn.  It's my favorite.  Then I had my oldest kiddo who came with a severe peanut allergy.  All of a sudden, I couldn't have caramel corn because I couldn't find any that didn't have peanut traces.  Sad.

Then I remembered Mom.

This caramel corn is really not hard.  I know, I know, many of you are afraid to try the candy-making thing.  Don't be afraid.  You can do it.  Remember, I've doubled it in the pictures.

Caramel Corn

Popped popcorn - about 2-3 batches in your whirly pop (about 1 cup unpopped corn) or 2-3 bags of microwave popcorn (seriously, do it on the stove, it's soooo much better)
If you want salted caramel flavor, salt the popcorn.

2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/4 - 1/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon baking soda

Place the sugar, butter, molasses and water in a large pot.  Heat to boiling, stirring frequently.  Keep boiling until candy reaches 275 degrees on a candy thermometer. 

If you don't have a candy thermometer, drop a bit in ice water.  If it forms a hard mass - like candy -  it's ready. 
OR, do like I do, if a drip from the spoon spins a thread, like a spider web, that flits around in the air - it's ready.
Take off of the heat.  Add the baking soda and stir like crazy.  It will bubble up.  It's pretty cool.
Pour over your popcorn and stir until the popcorn has cooled and hasn't clumped together.


Easy Homemade Ice Cream

We have a church party today.  A few weeks ago, in a moment of insanity, I said that I would make homemade ice cream for this party.  Hmmm.

As I sent the kiddos to the garage to get the ice cream freezer (you know, the old-fashioned kind that you add ice and salt to freeze), I was thumbing through "Woman's Day" magazine.  I saw a recipe for easy ice cream that you don't use the specialized freezer with.  You just whip it up and put it in your freezer until it is hard.  I thought I would try it.

It is fantastic!

Easy.  10 minutes labor, tops.  I made 6 gallons.  Vanilla, fresh peach, oreo and banana.

When I followed the recipe exactly, it was a little too sweet.  That was fine for the vanilla and peach flavors, but I decreased the sweetened condensed milk for the oreo and banana flavors.  One quart of cream makes one gallon of ice cream.  I doubled the recipe - hello 6 gallons - but you can do what you want.

Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. 
 Beat until stiff.
Place in a freezer safe container.
Freeze overnight.

This is really a rich ice cream, emphasis on the cream.
You can add any flavor you want.
I added things after I beat the cream, before I put in the container.
What I added:
peach: 5 chopped and slightly mashed ripe peaches
banana:  4 mashed bananas (I was going to add chocolate chips to this one, too, but didn't have any)
Oreo:  oreos (duh), about 1/2 a container, broken into pieces