Store bought or homemade?

Lets talk about cookies.

There are nights when all I want is a store bought cookie. Do you have those? The deliciously sweet brightly colored cookies. Whether it’s the pink wafer cookies or Oreos for the nights when I feel like eating cookies non-stop or Pepperidge Farm mixed boxes that I try to eat with tea and feel a little sophisticated. Whatever kind of cookie it is I want it bought and not homemade. Did I mention that I tend to binge eat cookies? About an hour after these cravings pass comes the guilt. The guilt for all the cookies sitting in my cookie jar that have not been eaten. The cookies I do not deem eat-worthy anymore. I have two kinds of cookies in my cookie jar right now; flour-less chocolate chip fudge and ice box. Both are rather delicious but after weeks of eating the same cookies I’ve been craving a store bought. So alas the homemade cookies I felt so proud of just sit there looking longingly out at me while I refuse to give them a second look.

Lately I’ve been noticing all these recipe posts on pinterest and Food52 that boast homemade store bought cookies. Yes, I said homemade store bought. Basically they are a homemade version of the store bought cookies that you love so much. The ones where the ingredients are hard to pronounce and you wonder how to get a cookie to be that shockingly pink! If you are like me you’ve been wondering if they really do taste like the store bought versions, if they could really take the place of all the processed sugar you shift out of your mind while eating them, and, if they can take that place are they really going to be worth all the effort? I don’t know the answers to those questions, sorry if you were expecting me to give them to you. I did however decide to make the homemade Pepperidge Farm brussels cookie from the recipe that I found on Food52. Their picture of the cookie looks so similar to a real brussels cookie that I had to give it a shot.

Here is the recipe: http://food52.com/recipes/19279-diy-brussels-cookies

(A few things for this recipe: I accidentally added 8 TBLS of butter instead of 7, I really just forgot to cut off that one tablespoon. So I added an extra teaspoon or 3 of the oat bran. And my cookies were perfectly browned and crisp at 15 minutes in the oven. I also didn’t add any cream to my chocolate. I cheated and heated it in the microwave.)

Now I didn’t have an actual brussels cookie with me to taste test but I have to say that this recipe comes pretty darn close. Man gave them an 8 on a scale of 1-10. 10 being the most like a brussels cookie and 1 being nothing like it. (I’m not sure if he really knows what a brussels cookie tastes like, but I’ll take it!) Do I think that the homemade version will substitute the store bought version from my life? No. Will I make these again? Most definitely yes, but probably when I have visitors so they can appreciate my crafty cookie making skills.

My point is that as much as people try to tell me that the homemade version tastes better than the store bought, I have to call bullshit. There are delicious chemicals in the store bought version that makes it taste so good that I simply can’t replicate at home, nor do I really want to. It isn’t that the homemade version tastes bad, it just usually doesn’t taste better, because it is made of different things. Do I think the homemade versions are better overall? Yes. Because they are made with real ingredients and you can control what goes into them. Its a beautiful line to cross.

Next stop, homemade Mint Milano Cookies!

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Homemade Yogurt

I’ve been on this kick where I want to be as self sufficient as possible. Making as many things on my own that I can; including bread, granola, snacks etc. For the most part it is going well. The granola I’ve made is delicious and the bread is satisfying. Lately, I have been stuck on yogurt. I have been wanting to make it forever. Every recipe I’ve read says it is so easy and tastes so much better than store bought and is a hell of a lot better for you without all the preservatives that go into it. Finally I decided to give it a try.

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My two recipes.

I compared two recipes that I have, one from The Homemade Pantry (my favorite cook book right now) by Alana Chernila and another that I tore out of Edible Wasatch a magazine from back home in Utah. They both said around the same thing, mirroring each others instructions. This comparison is what gave me the strength to try it out. Basically you heat the milk, let it cool, mix in some store bought yogurt (for the bacteria and enzymes) or a yogurt starter, put it in your containers (mason jars) let it sit somewhere warm (like a slow cooker) and you are good to go! For me, it was not that easy.

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Heating the milk to 180 degrees and the letting it cool to 110.

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My 1/2 cup greek yogurt!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I patiently waited for the milk to heat up to 180 degrees, let it cool to 110 degrees, mixed in my half cup of greek yogurt that I bought at the store, divvied the mixture up nicely into my little mason jars, put the jars in the warmed slow cooker and waited. I waited for 8 hours before putting the jars in the fridge overnight.

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All my cute mason jars. (And thats not mold I swear, just coffee grounds.)

Now, I have to admit that I tried making this twice back to back. The first night I let the yogurt sit for 5 hours before putting it in the fridge overnight. I woke up disappointed in the runny mixture that was not yogurt. I immediately went out and bought some more whole milk to try again, convinced that I just did not let it sit long enough in the incubation period. I was wrong.

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Here are my cozy little jars. Lined with tea towels.

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My cozy jars covered in the slow cooker.

I followed the instructions to a T; let the incubation period last longer than before and yet I still woke up mildly disappointed. I’m convinced it was either that the milk I bought was too pasteurized, which wont cause it to thicken properly because the majority of the bacteria is gone, or it is that I used the wrong kind of yogurt, which was not specified in either recipe, leading me to believe any yogurt would be good. I read that even if it is runny it is still good to eat and can be used in smoothies or over granola. So I had some for breakfast with my granola. It was pretty good, but not the consistency I prefer.

 

Next time I try to make yogurt I will have a powdered starter and a proper yogurt maker. I have decided that will fix my problems and I’m itching to buy one. Eventually I will have one, but for now I’ll have to be content with store bought yogurt.

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My runny yogurt, that is still pretty darn good. It looks more like milk than yogurt. 

If you do decide to make your own yogurt make sure the milk isn’t ultra-pasteurized. My dad said I should try making it with raw organic milk. Maybe that was the only thing I did wrong. If I try it again I will let you know the outcome. Below is the written recipe and instructions from The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila. I condensed it down to the main points.

  • 4.5 cups whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
  • 1.5 teaspoons powdered yogurt starter or 1/2 cup plain unsweetened full-fat yogurt
  • heat milk with a candy or cheese thermometer over medium heat until the milk hits 180 degrees, 15-20 min.
  • remove pot from heat and let milk cool to 110 degrees
  • empty the powdered yogurt starter or yogurt into a 4-cup liquid measuring cup. Add 1 cup warm milk from the pot and whisk until fairly smooth. Add  the mixture to the pot of warm milk and whisk until slightly foamy.
  • if using a yogurt maker, transfer half of the milk mixture back into the liquid measuring cup and pour into individual cups of yogurt maker. Continue to refill according to yogurt maker instructions
  • if using mason jars, fill a large jar and a small jar (or a bunch of jars) and screw the lids tight. Wrap jars in a towel to keep warm or place in an insulated cooler, or a slow cooker that has been warming. If using a slow cooker make sure to turn it off before putting jars in.
  • Wait for 5 hours. Check to see if yogurt is firm. If not allow to sit for two more hours. If it is put in the fridge for at least 2 hours before serving. This is easiest done overnight where you can wake up and have your delicious yogurt!

Hopefully you have better luck than I did!

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Visitors, or, Staycation

I’ve just gotten over a flurry of visitors and familiarity. The past couple of weeks have been busy, exhausting, expensive, involving lots of alcohol and friends; they have been absolutely fabulous. We had my sister-in-law (one of my bff’s) and her boyfriend who is my husbands bff come stay with us for a week followed by another friend of Man’s staying for the weekend followed by another friend of mine staying for the weekend. See, exhausting and phenomenal.

 

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Four friends on the Connecticut Coast

I don’t think I ever realized the strain of having guests stay with you for long periods of time. I now completely understand how frazzled my mother used to get when we would have family in town. The stress of making sure the house looks spectacularly clean, that you have fresh towels, extra snacks and three kinds of foods for the three meals of the day for at least every day your guest is staying, just in case you decide to not go out to eat! There is also the pressure of keeping people entertained. It is like taking a stay-cation at your house with your friends but you are the concierge. You get to suggest things and take them around town and show them the sights. It really is an exciting thing because lets just be honest, you aren’t going around to see the landmarks and sight-see unless you have friends in town or are new to the area (like me!).

It was a month filled with wine tastings, tours of the Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe houses, the 2nd best wings in the country, lots of wine and beer and gin and pretty much every type of alcohol, trips to the coast, oysters, mini golf, homemade donuts, eating too much, walks along the farmington river, and best of all laughs with some of the best family and friends!

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Even Ringo wanted to play cards.

If you didn’t already know, I love hosting and having people over. It doesn’t matter how stressful it is trying to clean, feed, and entertain people, I LOVE IT! Come visit me, I’ll take care of you. You’ll even get your own room and mini shampoos!

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Visiting Seattle

Holy cow, I just realized that it has been three weeks since I posted on my blog. That is such an internal let down since one of my goals was to post every week, I promise to do better! I have been meaning to post about our trip to Seattle for a while now but for some reason time has escaped me.

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Not the best picture, but the only picture of us in Seattle.

Now, it is known that Connecticut is just a minor pit stop in our life plan. We will be in Seattle eventually, hopefully a year or so at the most. Seattle has always been the ultimate goal and I was lucky enough to get to visit in March. I was in Seattle March 14th – 18th while Man was there until the 21st. He went for work and I went to tag along and explore one of my favorite cities and soon to be home town. We landed in the afternoon and met up with Man’s family, who had come in to town to see us. We were given a quick tour of Pike Place by my sister-in-law who lives in Seattle with her boyfriend. They showed us their tiny apartment where we pondered about how one day all of our furniture will have to fit into a whopping 700 square feet (I’m convinced we can do it). We then had a delicious family dinner at some place called Purple.

The next couple of days I had to explore on my own since Man had to work. I spent time with my sister-in-law and some family friends walking around the mall area. I really like how in Seattle (at least where we went) there isn’t just one central Mall. There are stores all over the place. You can stumble upon a Nordstrom with no other mall like stores around but then walk down the street and there is a Banana Republic. There also might be a hot dog place across the street and it absolutely works. It is refreshing from the typical suburban mall and It was great to see the city and be out with family. We had some lunch at the Dog In The Park, which isn’t in a park at all but rather the middle of a shopping area stuck in the side of a building encompassing probably around 100 square feet. These two nice boys made our hot dogs and they were so delicious. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t have taken a photo.

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I have a friend, Tawnee, who moved out to Seattle the same time that I moved to Connecticut. Her husband has a job at a restaurant called Bottle House in Madrona, about 15 minutes outside the city. There is a picture of us below with our deliciously filling charcuterie board. This place has the most delicious wines served in both a glass and a bottle. If you happen to be the only ones there they might even make you a custom flight.

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IMG_0693 After dinner we went to a few smaller, local, quieter, speak-easy type bars. They weren’t anything special but I took this photo and am showing it because it reminds me so much of my favorite bar in SLC, Bar X. There aren’t bars like this in Connecticut, at least not that I’ve found, so I had to make a small tribute to the small, dark, speak-easy bars that I love and miss.

The next few pictures are just me being a tourist and walking around Seattle by myself. Drinking in the city and picturing what my life will be like once we live there.

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This is the cutest bookshop I found in Pike Place. Who doesn’t love a good reading nook? Or to be surrounded by books?!

IMG_0714I took a ramble through the Seattle Public Library, it is definitely worth a peek if you have time. This is the view from the top floor down to the bottom. The library has the most amazing architecture and reminded me of the library in SLC, fancy shmancy. I will definitely have a library card, everyone should have a library card!

Tawnee and I took a ferry to Bainbridge Island. Below is the view from the ferry on our way out. It takes about 30-40 min to take the ferry across the bay but it is worth it. It felt so nice to be on the water, even if it was incredibly windy. The town of Bainbridge is one of those places where you can’t help but want to live and grow old. Especially with the city being a boat ride away! We didn’t get to spend too much time there, just a quick yummy lunch, but I will definitely go back.

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View from the ferry. Me and my friend are on our way to Bainbridge Island, aka the cutest town I could ever hope to live in!

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A windy ferry ride!

The first time I went to Seattle I did not know that the gum wall existed. This time however, I was prepared! It was disgustingly cool. So much ABC gum.

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The gum wall! Always worth a trip.

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Of course, while in Seattle one must check out The Pike Pub. I tried a flight of 6 of their beers (pictured below) all were delicious. Tawnee and I didn’t really eat there, just a quick snack and some beer. Oh, did I forget to mention that it was also St. Patricks day and Man’s brithday? The Pike Pub had an awesome Irish band that came to play.

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This is what the back entrance looks like. The front entrance is through the market.

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The bagpipes are one of the coolest instruments!

Overall, I had the very best time in Seattle. My only complaint was that I didn’t get to do any exploring with Man while I was there since he was working the whole weekend/week, also that I had to leave on the red eye Monday night or Tuesday morning depending how you look at it. I could have spent the whole week exploring on my own!

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Disney World; every child’s dream

Recently I took one of those silly online quiz’s that is supposed to tell you what your mental age is. Surprise surprise I got 10. I don’t think it is supposed to be an insult or anything. I don’t have the brain capacity of a 10 year old, I just like 10 year old things. And as I sit here writing this and watching Pocahontus on Netflix I realize that yeah, okay, the test is fairly accurate. To top it off we went to Disney World a couple weeks ago. But, whoever says that Disney is just for kids is missing out and probably doesn’t have the best imagination in my opinion. The Man and I had the best time at Disney World. We went to 3 of the 4 parks, unfortunately the Magic Kingdom was blacked out for us so we couldn’t go there. We went  to Epcot, The Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I don’t know if I would ever take children to Epcot, but we sure had a hell of a time drinking around the world. We also had some of the best people watching. Here are some silly photos of our trip.

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This is Epcot from the outside. We got there pretty early and stayed until mid-day before going to the Animal Kingdom. Me on the left posing in front of a pillar from “France”.

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Here I am with the Hulk in the lego store, he is made out of legos! The lego store is at Downtown Disney and is a fun place to go shopping and try out the different restaurants. Me and Man on the right are standing in front of the NYC backdrop at Hollywood Studios.

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The LARGEST (and probably unnecessary) ice cream that I had on our last day and a palm tree. I took the palm tree photo on our way to the airplane to go back home. Our flight left around 9:30 am but the bus to the airport left at 6am!

I don’t really feel like I went to Florida at all, rather a small Disney bubble. We stayed at a Disney Hotel, got around on Disney buses, ate at Disney restaurants and spent all day at the parks. But, overall this was a fun, yet exhausting, weekend. I’ve already started planning next years trip to go to the Magic Kingdom and Universal Studios (HARRY POTTER LAND!!). I would recommend going to Disney World or Land without your kids at least once to just enjoy some sunshine, fast rides, and drinks. It was a lot of fun. I honestly don’t know how families take their babies and itty bitty kids on these trips, talk about twice the exhaustion! But you could argue that it is twice the fun.

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Some of my favorite things; muffins, tea, espresso, rain

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It has been raining for over 24 hours, and before that it was snowing. I enjoy the rain, especially when it is a tad warmer and in today’s case that means a stifling 34 degrees! I even tried to go running before remembering that there are no sidewalks around my neighborhood and the local walking path is covered in at least two feet of snow, at least I tried to exercise!

Now usually during this kind of weather I cook a whole bunch, but I made a delicious Jambalaya last week that has lasted us nearly an entire weeks worth of dinners. Usually I save left overs for when I don’t want to cook but this meal was so good and I was so excited about how long it lasted that we just kept eating it night after night. But today with the rain I decided I had to make something and I have been eyeing the oat bran that has been in my pantry cupboard for what seems like forever and decided Bran Muffins where the way to go.

I don’t know what it is about bran muffins but I absolutely love them, I can’t help myself. Usually they are moist and feel slightly healthier than any other type of muffin. I haven’t made them in the past because most recipes seem like they try to make bran muffins too healthy. I don’t keep things like ground flaxseed or safflower oil around and I don’t believe I would have bought oat bran on a whim but someone gave it to me and I kept it. Once I found a reasonable recipe I got very excited and had to share.

I adapted the recipe below from a blogger who adapted it from someone else. Both links are to be found at the end of this post.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter, extremely soft (mine wasn’t as soft as it could have been and it made it a little hard to mix up)
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar (increase to 1/3 if you would like a little sweeter)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup yogurt (I used one self serve container of Chobani’s Honey Greek Yogurt that I had in the fridge, use whatever you think sounds good)
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 cup wheat flour (I used wheat flour because that is what I have, use whatever flour is in your kitchen)
  • 1 cup oat bran (I have a generic Trader Joe’s brand which is as good as any)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional – I add cinnamon to everything)
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled (optional, I added because I had some lonely looking carrots left in the bottom of my fridge)
  • 1/2 cup extremely chopped almonds, or nuts of any kind (optional, I added for extra fun)
  • Below is what my mix looked like before I put it in the muffin tin, so if it starts out looking weird have no fear, it will turn out!

IMG_0622Instructions: easy as eating pie, because easy as pie doesn’t make sense as pie isn’t that easy to make.

  • heat oven to 400 degrees
  • beat your sugar and butter
  • add the rest of the wet ingredients; egg, yogurt, molasses, vanilla – my mixture was really wet so don’t worry if it doesn’t appear to be quite right
  • combine your dry ingredients in a separate bowl (or just toss in the mixer like me)
  • I added nutmeg, cinnamon, carrots and almonds to my muffins but you can add whatever sounds appealing. Chocolate chips, dried fruit, walnuts, coconut or zucchini shavings all sound like they would make some good additions.
  • Once everything is all mixed up go ahead and fill your greased muffin tin. I found that these muffins don’t rise a whole lot after the first batch so fill liberally.
  • Bake for 15 minutes
  • I ended up with 20 muffins, but my first batch was a tad short since I wasn’t sure how much the muffins would rise.

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Above you will see my short little muffins.I find that these are best enjoyed with your favorite beverage and a good read. The links for the original recipes are below. I am not sure how the other blogger made her muffins look so perfect, but it is the taste that matters right?

  • Recipe I adapted from: http://www.digthischick.net/2009/05/bran-muffins-chicken-names-etc.html
  • Original recipe: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2007/02/a-meatover-and-a-muffin/

Enjoy!

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