January 2017 Reads

1:21 PM

I've set out to read 45 books this year.  This would be the most books I've read since 2012.  In 2012, I was commuting over an hour each way to work (often an hour and a half) and started listening to audiobooks.  Nowadays, I'm in the same boat, with a long-ish commute, thankfully of which is only an hour each way.  I cherish my time listening to books and catching up with family on my way to and from work.  We'll see if this year I can conquer 45 books.  So far I'm on track according to Goodreads!

Faithful by Alice Hoffman - pretty wonderful

Faithful was by far my favorite read of the month.  The main character, Shelby, drew me in and and her story kept me interested the entire book.  I found something charming about this coming of age story.  It was thoughtful, real, and kept me excited to get in my car and tune in everyday.  It was my first, and so far my favorite, read of the year.

The Secret Sister by Brenda Novak - mehhh

First off, I did not realize this book was a romance novel.  Not really my genre.  I liked The Secret Sister okay, but was thrown off by the sex scenes.  Overall, I felt like the novel was predictable.  And I'm not very good at seeing even the most predictable of plot lines.  It was okay, but I certainly don't think I'd recommend it to anyone.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance - interesting/ thought provoking

Though I was interested in reading Hillbilly Elegy for my own, I read it for our talking coming up in February at work.  My overall feeling towards to book was that it overgeneralized a bit too much.  I also wish that it had given more of a historical look at why the people of the Rustbelt have fallen on such hard times.  My coworker shared this article, which I thought was helpful at adding a bit of history to the conversation.  I realize that Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir, so I think it's unfair try and wish it covered more ground in terms of providing history and context.  I enjoyed discussing it with my coworkers and will be excited to discuss it at our talk in February.


Blood Orange Marmalade

10:00 AM

I was so excited to see that Marisa from Food in Jars is holding a year long preservation challenge.  The Food in Jars Mastery Challenge is a year long, skilled-based challenge.  Each month focuses on a different aspect/ skill set of preservation.  I was so excited to see that January was marmalade.  I've made my fair share of jam and pickles, but I've never tried marmalade.  

I've always been intrigued by marmalade, but it was something we really didn't having growing up.  I can't even remember the last time I had marmalade or what it even tasted like.  In the Mastery Challenge Facebook Group, there has been lots of talk about the bitterness of marmalade.  I wasn't really sure where I stood, so I choose to make the most bitter kind of marmalade that uses the whole fruit.  

I choose the whole fruit method, as I was intrigued by creating a bitter preserve and also because the cut rind method would require slicing away the zest, which I don't quite have the proper tools for.  Turns out, I don't mind the bitterness.  

I used Marisa's Blood Orange Marmalade recipe and was very happy with the result.  It took quite a while for it to set, but with patience I have a looser set that pleases me.  I added some pectin which helped it set a bit better.  I also loved that I spilt this recipe up between two days, which made the process feel less time intensive. 

Blood Orange Marmalade
1 pound blood oranges
3 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar

Day 1:  Cut and core the oranges.  Pull out any seeds you find (tip: some blood oranges don't have seeds, so don't worry if you don't find any!)  Place cores and seeds inside cheesecloth, closed tight so they cannot escape.  Slice oranges into small strips.

Place oranges in a bowl with three cups of water.  Submerge bag of seeds and cores within the water.  Cover with plastic wrap and let soften in the fridge overnight.

Day 2:  The next morning, mix oranges and water with 2 1/2 cups of sugar in a large non-reactive pot.   Bring to a simmer and let reduce by half.  Using a thermometer, bring mixture to 220 degrees.  When finished cooking, ladle marmalade into prepared jars.  Wipe jars clean, put on lids and rings, and process for 10 minutes.  Let cool at room temperature for 24 hours. 

Recipe Review

Baked Peanut Butter Apple Oatmeal

2:36 PM

I love making big breakfasts on Sunday that will last me throughout the week.  With a long drive to work, I have to leave the house before I have a chance to eat breakfast.  Baked oatmeal makes a great breakfast to easily eat and enjoy when I get to work.  I love that this recipe is hearty and helps keep me satisfied until lunch time.

Baked Peanut Butter Apple Oatmeal

Slightly modified from Two Peas and Their Pod

2 cups old fashioned oats
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups skim milk (or milk of your choice)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup creamy all-natural peanut butter
1 1/4 cups diced apples (leave the skins on, about 1 large apple)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8x8 baking dish.

In a medium bowl, mix together oats, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon.  In a small bowl wish together milk, egg, and vanilla extract.   Add milk mixture to oats.  Stir in peanut butter until smooth.  Mix in apples.

Place oatmeal in 8x8 baking dish and bake until golden brown, 35 minutes.

Recipe Review

Recipe Review: The Best Banana Bread

10:45 AM

I'm always on the hunt for "the best" recipe for simple, everyday baked goods and dinners.  I think I've finally stumbled upon that for banana bread.  Simply Recipes recipe for banana bread has almost 1,000 comments and I can see why.  I love this recipe.  It makes a consistently good loaf of banana bread every time.  

My favorite thing about it?  The flexibility.  Sometimes I have two bananas that need to be used up, sometimes I have three.   Sometimes you want your bread a little sweeter, so you can adjust the sugar accordingly.  This time around I added some cranberries for a tart compliment to this sweet bread.  It came out wonderfully.

Recipe: Banana Bread
Source: Simply Recipes

2 - 3 very ripe bananas, peeled
1/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 - 1 cup of sugar (I usually go with 1/2 cup!)
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
optional: add-ins such as walnuts, chocolate chips, or cranberries!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mash bananas with a fork in a large mixing bowl.  Once bananas are fully mashed, stir in melted butter.

Add baking soda, pinch of salt, sugar, egg, and vanilla.  Once combined, slowly mix in flour, making sure not to over mix.  Add any add-ins if using.

Pour mixture into a greased 4x8 baking pan.  Cook for 50 minutes to an hour, until done all the way through.  After 20 minutes of baking, I always place aluminum foil over the bread to prevent over brown.

Cool bread on a wire rack once fully baked.

Cooking Goals for 2017

6:32 AM

I'm not a huge New Years resolution person, but there are some goals I would like to set in the kitchen for the coming year.

1.  Keep up with meal planning - I feel like I did a pretty good job meal planning in 2016.  With the exception of July, I kept up with my meal plan pretty well.  I would like to continue this habit into the new year.  It helps me keep our grocery budget down.  And it helps for me to keep sane during the work week.

2.  Wastes less - Even though I meal plan, we still semi-regularly have things that get lost to the trash bin.  Whether it's freezing food, making smaller portions, or coming up with new ways to use leftovers, I would like to better combat waste.  While I know it could be a lot worse, there is always room for improvement

3.  Cook more from cookbooks - I find myself always drawn more to cooking from food blogs and other online sources than I do from cookbooks.  I think I gravitate to online sources as that's where I make my grocery list, set my meal plan, ect.  But there's something really nice about cooking from a cookbook and I know there are a lot of recipes to be found hiding on my shelves!  I'd like to set a goal of utilizing my cookbooks a bit more.

4.  Try some new recipes - I'm always trying new recipes, so I'm not really sure if this should be a goal.  But, I do want to jot down some specific recipes that have been on my radar for awhile.

Here's to a tasty 2017!