Homemade Instant Hot Cocoa Mix

DIY Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix from Brittany's PantrySo…um….yeah.  This weather sucks lemons.

Before we get to todays recipe and my witty ramblings, I want to point out the handy dandy little icon on the top right of this page.  YES!  The rumors are true! Brittany’s Pantry has joined INSTAGRAM!!!  Do you know what this means, faithful readers?  It means that you now have photographic visual aids to keep up to date with my kitchen, my cooking, my failures, and yes, my pantry!  So click on the link to join me and while you are at it, check out Brittany’s Pantry on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter!

So.  Between the church cancelations, school closings, impassable roads, and dangerous cold here in central IL, it is safe to say that we are kind of stuck in the house for a bit.  I’ve made soup, roasts, stews, baked desserts, and I am finally breaking free from the comfort food coma and heading in a lighter direction tonight; Roasted Fish with veggies and Baked Garlic Brown Rice.  I am still using the oven to give that warm, cozy feeling to the main floor of the house, but with something a little healthier than a baked/chicken/pasta/cheese/cream/bread crumb/butter type of casserole.  But this meal is no less comforting.  The rice is going to make the house smell deeeee-VINE ( a kind of…pre-requisite for food made during a winter storm) and the rest will be hot and tasty.  *sigh*  I can’t wait for dinner.

Between meals that could sustain olympic swimmers with their sky-high calorie count, you need to sip something just as warming to your soul.  For me, that will always be hot chocolate.  If you are a long time reader of this blog you know my obsessions with hot chocolate.  I have no less than three different recipes for it in archives here and I am always looking for different versions.  No matter what kind I make, it is always from scratch.  I am a bit of a snob when it comes to hot chocolate and I haven’t bought anything in a packet in years.  Why would you when you can make it sooooo much better yourself?

That said, I am the mother of three and sometimes, I just need the convenience of the already mixed up instant stuff.  Luckily, my Mom is the mother of six and wouldn’t ya know-she used to make her own!  This is not a revolutionary idea, but strangely, I don’t know many people who do this.  The monetary savings are enormous, but that aside, it just tastes better!  And the fact that I know exactly what is in it gives me that same warm fuzzy feeling that drinking it does.  Sometimes I make different versions of this that contain actual grated chocolate instead of cocoa powder, but my master version does not.  The cocoa powder adds incredible chocolate flavor while allowing you to control the level of sweetness.  Is it the best hot chocolate in the world?  No.  But it is cheap, easy, super fast, adaptable, and last a long time.  That is a major success in my book and definitely earns it a spot here to be shared with all of you.DIY Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix from Brittany's Pantry I have made a ridiculous number of versions of this over the years and the main goal has always been to create a mix that doesn’t actually taste like a mix.  It should be rich.  It should be chocolatey.  It should make you go ‘Mmmmmmmmmmm’ (like Will Farell does in elf when he adds the booze to his coffee thinking it is maple syrup) instead of ‘Mmmm-Hey!  I can taste the preservatives and high fructose corn syrup in here.  Can you?’

Because that is most defiantly NOT comforting.

So when it comes to a hardy, non-perishable mix, this is what I use.  When I was a kid, my Mom used to make this in huge double batches (6 kids, remember?) and store it in an empty gallon ice cream pail.  Come to think of it, we stored a LOT of stuff in ice cream pails.  They seal tight on the top and they have a handle.  What could be better?  Snack mix, cookies-all kinds of things.  Either way, my batches aren’t doubles, but we do store ours in an gallon ice cream bucket too.  It tastes even more nostalgic that way.  In the picture above, the last of the mix-we had been using it quite a bit before the weather cooperated enough for me to photograph it-in a quart tupperware container.  A gallon plastic bag works great as well, for mixing and for storing.  Obviously this would be fantastic gifted to friends and family around the holidays, but when the weather turns ugly, it is a handy thing to have tucked in your pantry.

And that is very comforting.DIY Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix from Brittany's Pantry One Year Ago: My Go-To Sloppy Joes
Two Years Ago: Forgotten Kisses (Peppermint Meringue Cookies)
Three Years Ago: Honey Waffles & Filet Au Poivre & Fettuccine W/Spinach Alfredo & Shrimp Quesadillas

Homemade Instant Hot Cocoa Mix
This is OK made with hot water, but it is MUCH better made with milk.  Use whole milk if you are being particularly indulgent, but I have made it with skim and it is still lovely and creamy.  A heaping spoonful added to cup of coffee gives you a nearly perfect mocha.  Feel free to add Tablespoon or so of cinnamon to the batch to make a spiced hot chocolate mix.

Sift together:
2 c powdered sugar
1 c cocoa powder (dark is fine)
2 c powdered milk
1 c powdered non-dairy creamer
heavy pinch of salt

Combine ingredients well and store in an airtight container.  When ready to use, fill whatever size mug you are using about half full of mix and fill the mug with hot water or hot milk.

Whiteout Smoothie

Whiteout SmoothiesHave I ever mentioned how much I love white?

I don’t like to to wear it-that is just an accident waiting to happen-but I love it in my house, my dishes, my kitchen, my decor, and now, in my smoothies.  My cupboards are white, my appliances are white, and I collect milk glass to display all over my house.  If it wasn’t so darn impractical, my couches would be white.  I love the look of a clean blanket of new snow, and if I can ever get my husband to agree, my dream bathroom would be ALL white.  It looks great with everything and makes any color it is with that much more beautiful.  Naturally, my heart rate accelerated when I recently came across a recipe for white hot chocolate.  Even though I don’t plan on ever making it due to my usual and wildly selective aversion to white (read: fake) chocolate, I couldn’t take my eyes from the pure white drink.  All white.  Clean.  Creamy.  Starkly gorgeous.  White on white on white.  Classic.

With that in mind, I was whipping up smoothies for my kids this week when I realized I didn’t have any fresh spinach left to make this recipe.  So I decided to forgo color all together.  A few fine tuning adjustments and this final recipe was the result.  It is wonderfully thirst quenching and chug-able since it has nothing fibrous to make it super thick.  Its clean and refreshing and a fantastic change of pace from the berry/spinach/kale/ broccoli concoctions that are so popular right now.  And you know what else?  Its white.
Whiteout SmoothiesThe above picture is my special smoothie transporter.  I got it a bajillion years ago when my aunt was cleaning out her Tupperware supply and tossed this into the box that I was getting.  It holds as much as a large drinking glass and the lid seals tight and secure.  If I have a busy morning planned for the next day, I fill this the night before, shake it up on my way to the car, and pop the lid while driving to my destination.  It feels so retro.  My kids like the fun straws and the biodegradable kind are particularly awesome! Because EVERYTHING tastes better when it is inhaled through a fun straw!
Whiteout SmoothiesWhiteout Smoothies One Year Ago: Asian Smokies
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Whiteout Smoothies
If your avoid smoothies because you don’t fancy the thick texture, this is a great alternative.  It is thinner but no less nutritious.  It also makes a great base to add other fruit to, thus making it a ‘non white’ smoothie!  The amount of honey you add will depend on the ripeness and sweetness of your bananas and your overall individual preference for tang.

2 c plain yogurt, low fat-I use half of a large 2 lb container
2 c unsweetened refrigerated coconut milk
2 bananas
2 T honey (or to taste), preferably local
1 T ground flax seed

Blend all ingredients together in a blender.  Taste a bit to see if you need to add more honey.  This makes two large servings for breakfast or four 1 c servings to share.

I LOVE my to-go tumblers from Tupperware. Mine are the retro version from my childhood, but they still sell them! And in super fun colors too! The lids hold really well and they wash up great. I use them for TONS of stuff! Find them here!!

Outrageous Caramel Dip

The BEST Caramel Dip I stumbled across this recipe on another food blog and the picture of an apple doused in hot caramel dip drew me in.  Actually, ever since I was pregnant with my second, caramel has been at the top of my ‘eat it’ list.  I haven’t been a very big caramel fan in the past, but ever since Eli, it started tasting really good.  And that yummy taste hasn’t waned.  Unfortunately.

I really love this cold, creamy dip for apples.  But friends, I am telling ya.  Todays dish is a whole other ball game.  A horse of a different color.  Totally different dip, people.  I can see it making a legend out of you.  It is that kind of recipe.  You bring it to a party or get together just once, and you will forever thereafter be known as the-one-who-brough-that-amazing-caramel-dip.  I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that it tastes best when devoured with a spoon, but if people are watching, you generally want to be a bit more civilized and use an apple slice or pretzel.  If you happen to be among family who will love you no matter what, just put the bowl in the middle of the table with a handful of spoons and announce, “Dessert is served!”
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The BEST Caramel Dip
Recipe adapted from Bless This Mess
This is good with pretzels, but even better with apple slices.  Warm it up and douse your vanilla sundae or hot pancakes with it!

1/2 c (1 stick) butter
1/2 c brown sugar
3/4 c light corn syrup
1-14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla

Put the first four ingredients in a small, heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium/medium low heat.  Stirring constantly, melt all the ingredients together and bring to JUST below a bubble.  It will scorch if it gets too hot, but you want to go just until the brown sugar is melted. Remove from heat and store at room temperature for a day or two or in the fridge for up to two weeks.  Caramel will become extremely firm when cold, but setting it out at room temperature will make it pliable enough to dip.  This also freezes great so make it ahead if you need to, or freeze half for later.

Holiday PUNCH!

Holiday Punch has an irresistible tangy flavor! Add vodka to make it a cocktail! {Brittany's Pantry}A few weeks ago, my local Mom’s Group had our second annual Holiday Home Tour.  Five brave souls volunteered to open their homes to the whole group to serve treats, pour some drinks, and show off their Christmas decorations to a bunch of sleep deprived, exhausted local mommies.

And it was fabulous.

We talked, we laughed, we oohed and aahhed over the beautiful Christmas trees, and we had some much needed down time during what can be a pretty stressful season.  I volunteered to be the final stop that night and had a dessert buffet laid out to ensure that no one went home hungry!  I served good ole Spiced Apple Cider, Mulled Wine, regular wine, lemon and cranberry ice water, Ginger Chai Blondies, Fruit & Nut Rum Balls, Cherry Pistachio Butter Cookies, Cocoa Candied Almonds, Chocolate Eclair Dessert, White Chocolate Cranberry Cheesecake, Carmel Dip with pretzels and cookies…..and I think that was it.

However, it was this punch recipe that I couldn’t stop thinking about.  I chugged down two huge glasses at another house and it completely hit the spot.  After hopping in and out of the car all night, talking (probably way too much) in the truck while driving between houses, and chuffing through the snow that had fallen the night before, I was ready for something peppy.  This punch was cold and tangy and zippy and incredibly thirst quenching.  Like I said, I drank two huge glasses-withOUT vodka- and could have downed a third if there had been time.  So so so good.  I made sure to get the recipe from the hostess and now my family will enjoy it over ice as a special treat these few days over Christmas.

My kids call this ‘Rudolph’ punch because its red.  We have also called it reindeer punch, red punch, Christmas punch, and ‘that red stuff that is so good’.  But whatever you call it,  be glad it makes a big batch.  It is lovely to sip for kids and grown-ups alike.  Perfect wether you are staying in by the fire or to get you through a marathon of family gatherings.Holiday Punch has an irresistible tangy flavor! Add vodka to make it a cocktail! {Brittany's Pantry}Holiday Punch has an irresistible tangy flavor! Add vodka to make it a cocktail! {Brittany's Pantry} One Year Ago: Simple Fudge
Two Years Ago: Chai Hot Chocolate & Fruit and Nut Rum Balls
Three Years Ago: Mini Corn Muffins & Brown Sugar Shortbread

Holiday PUNCH
Recipe from Katie Fulton
The PUNCH part comes from the alcohol so add as little or as much ‘punch’ as you want!

1-64 oz bottle pomegranate juice, cold
1-64 oz bottle Cran/Grape juice, cold
1-2 liter bottle of ginger ale, cold
vodka, optional
fruit for garnish

Mix all ingredients together and serve over ice with the vodka on the side or mixed right in.  Feel free to experiment with different flavors of vodka to make it your own.  Garnish with blackberries, cranberries, raspberries, and/or orange slices. Serve.

Note:  This would be fantastic on a hot day in the middle of summer, or even blended with ice and tequila for a tangy margarita!

Christmas Munch

White Chocolate Christmas Munch is full of addictive snacks and drenched in just a tiny bit of white chocolate! Truly special for a holiday treat! {Brittany's Pantry}This may come as a surprise, but there is a bit of a story that goes with this recipe.  I know.  Shocker, right?

Years ago, during a pre-children Christmas get together, my husband and I were catching up with a bunch of his cousins.  We were stuffed to our ears with holiday food and had retired to the couch to digest, chit chat, and take turns trying to master Guitar Hero.  My cousin-in-law set a bowl of some kind of snack mix in front of me and I nearly fainted from just the thought of another bite passing through my lips.  Strike two was the fact that it appeared to be covered in white chocolate; not my favorite food.  If it isn’t swirled into a cheesecake, whipped into buttercream, or mixed with dark chocolate and espresso, I generally avoid it.  White chocolate isn’t actually chocolate at all, but I’ll stay off that soapbox until another day!

Needless to say, I smiled politely and declined.

But this cousin was sneaky and she knew the power of a Cheerio, peanut, and M&M combo.  She innocently left the bowl there and what happened next was nothing short of shameful.  I ate it.  All.  Every crumb.  It was seducing with its creamy sort of sweetness and addicting crispy crunch.  The sweet and salty combination just kept wooing me, pulling my fingers back for just one.  more.  bite.

I never forgot that day.  It has haunted my holiday dreams for more than a decade and about a year ago, I caved and emailed said cousin.  Did she possibly remember that snack mix, and would she be willing to part with the recipe?  Of course! was her reply, and I anxiously awaited the time of year when it is again acceptable to repeatedly serve unhealthy foods to friends and family.  A time of year when one batch of something is large enough to be used for a dessert buffet, a snack for that work meeting, after school munchies, and the unexpected treat that you now realize you forgot to make for you kids school holiday celebration.  It stays fresh and crunchy for several days so make sure you plan to throw this together on a family candy making day.  It looks beautiful in clear cellophane bags tied with ribbon.  It also makes a great gift for teachers, church volunteers, neighbors, or just a quick sweet treat to whip up that the kids can help with.  Fun, festive, and hauntingly good.

It tastes even better when you eat it while playing Guitar Hero.White Chocolate Christmas Munch is full of addictive snacks and drenched in just a tiny bit of white chocolate! Truly special for a holiday treat! {Brittany's Pantry} Chillin on our screen porch.

White Chocolate Christmas Munch is full of addictive snacks and drenched in just a tiny bit of white chocolate! Truly special for a holiday treat! {Brittany's Pantry}White Chocolate Christmas Munch is full of addictive snacks and drenched in just a tiny bit of white chocolate! Truly special for a holiday treat! {Brittany's Pantry} One Year AgoThe Best Creme Brûlée
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Christmas Munch
Recipe adapted from Katie Arcand

2-12 oz-bags good quality white chocolate or 24 ounces of white chocolate chopped-NOT ALMOND BARK
3 T vegetable or canola oil
4 c Cheerios or other toasted oat cereal
4 c Rice Chex or similar cereal
2 c small twisted pretzels
2 c salted, roasted peanuts
1-12 oz bag plain M&M’s in festive Christmas colors

In a medium glass bowl, microwave the white chocolate and oil in 30 second intervals, stirring between times to distribute the heat.  Be careful that you don’t let the chocolate burn!  If only a piece or two of chocolate are yet unmelted, stir vigorously and the mixture will become smooth.  Meanwhile, gently toss the remaining ingredients together in a super duper large bowl. Divide the mixture between two if needed.  Pour the melted chocolate over and carefully mix until everything is lightly coated. Spread the munch out on two sheet pans that have been lined with wax or parchment paper.  Cool until set and break into smaller pieces.  Store tightly sealed.

Brown Sugar Banana Nut Muffins

Brown Sugar Banana Nut Muffins I see Banana Nut Muffins as a pretty standard type of baked good.  When I set out to create this recipe, I wanted all the great flavor but with just a tweak (just a smidgen) of an update.  So I made it heart healthy but kept the classic brown sugar taste that I love with banana.  Nothing all that fancy; just a healthier version of a great muffin that just may become your ONLY version.  It is for me.  And I am not saying that just because I can’t stop eating them.  I generally like to eat my muffins the way I was raised to; sans butter.  But when I smeared a good ‘ol salty glob of the good stuff on these muffins, I nearly dropped to my knees in thankfulness.  Stellar.
Brown Sugar Banana Nut MuffinsOne Year Ago: Pork & Prune Stew & Ginger Chai Blondies
Two Years Ago: How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree & Garlic Herb Bread & Pumpkin Dinner Rolls
Three Years Ago: Piggy Pudding & Broccoli, Bean, & Cheddar Soup

Brown Sugar Banana Nut Muffins
Of course these freeze beautifully and this recipe makes exactly 12 muffins.  If you are feeling particularly fancy, sprinkle the muffins with a pinch of extra brown sugar just before you bake them!

3 ripe bananas
1/3 c canola or grape seed oil
1/3 c buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 T ground flax seed
3/4 c brown sugar
1 c all purpose flour
1 c white whole wheat flour or standard whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 c chopped walnuts-pecans would be fine too

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the first 7 ingredients until bananas are mashed and everything is evenly incorporated.  Add the dry ingredients and mix just until barely combined, then add the nuts, stirring the last few times by hand to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 1 dozen count muffin tin or line it with baking papers.  Divide the batter evenly into the 12 muffins wells.  They will be full, but not overflowing.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until puffed, golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 5 minutes in the pan and then turn the muffins out onto a cooling rack.

Homemade Herb Mix for Veggie Dip {Brittany's Pantry}I came across this recipe via 100 Days Of Real Food and even though I have a reliable ranch dressing recipe that I use, I liked the flavors and thickness of this one for dip.  The fact that it is a spice mix that you make ahead is extremely appealing to me.  Just as convenient as the little pre-made spice packets at the supermarket, but without all the added mystery chemicals, maltodextrin (I looked-I don’t have any of that in my spice cabinet), and MSG.  This is fresh and quick and easy, so I decided to give it a whirl.

I am so glad I did!  Great flavor and perfect for those days when I am trying to put together lunches for the kids, but want to send them with something other than hummus or bottled dressing to dip their carrots and peppers in.  I have smeared this in wraps with sliced chicken, fresh spinach, tomatoes, and cheese, and have future plans to use the dregs of the last batch as a cold, tangy dip for spicy chicken wings.  Its great with a roast beef sandwich too.  Heck!  You could put the dried spices together and send it out in cute little bottles at Christmas with directions to make the dip!  Don’t you think that a homemade dip for veggies would be a nice change of pace from all the cookies?Homemade Herb Mix for Veggie Dip {Brittany's Pantry}Homemade Herb Mix for Veggie Dip {Brittany's Pantry} One Year Ago: Gluten Free Apple Carrot Muffins
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Instant Veggie Dip
Recipe from 100 Days Of Real Food, originally from 5$ Dinners

1/4 c dried parsley
2 tsp dried dill
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp cracked black pepper

1 c sour cream (I use light)
2 T spice mix
salt to taste

For spice mix, combine all ingredients and store in a sealed jar or container.  Don’t forget to label it!  When ready to make dip, combine sour cream, spice mix, and a pinch of salt.  Let sit so the flavors can meld at least an hour.  Stir the dip well and taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary.  Just before serving, stir and taste again.  Dip can be kept sealed in the fridge for several days.  This spice mix makes enough for exactly three batches of dip.

The Ultimate Apple Butter Recipe

The Ultimate Apple ButterOk. Last apple recipe for awhile.  I can’t help it.  They have kinda dominated my kitchen for the last two weeks.  And can I just say check out the serious sunshine in the photo above shining in my screen porch windows and onto my breakfast plate!  I love fall!

So yes, I have been canning, freezing, baking, cooking, roasting, and eating apples.  I confess that I had actually sworn off making apple butter this year.  One, I was on GO mode and apple butter just takes too long to make.  Its not the labor involved, its the waiting!  Secondly, I have made a LOT of apple butter over the years and even though it is all good, none of my versions have ever been ‘the one.’  I like all kinds of apple butter so how do you pick one that tastes the best?  You don’t!  You just wander aimlessly, eating all the apple butter you can find and exclaiming, ‘Oh!  I like this one! ‘ or ‘This one is super yummy too!’ or even ‘This is so good I could bathe in it!’  But none of them really stood out.

Until now.  I realized the error of my ways.  I needed two things.  Rum and vanilla.

Now, I am kinda classic when it comes to apple butter, but when I was elbow deep in the sticky, turn-my-fingernails-brown apple trenches, my friend posted this recipe.  I read the title (Vanilla Rum Apple Butter) rolled my eyes and exclaimed out loud, “FINE!  I’ll make apple butter!  Twist my arm, why dontcha…”  About 5 minutes later, it was in the crock-pot and cooking away.  The only change I made for that batch that was different from her original recipe, was to add some brown sugar (my apples seriously lacked flavor) and mine were peeled because I was using this handy dandy contraption mentioned in the last post.  Other than that, I made them the same, crossing my fingers that the lack of spices you usually see in apple butter wouldn’t be missed.

So…um…yeah.  Not missed at all.  It was so amazingly yummy, a friend of mine said she “…could slather that on my face, its so good.”  Another said she would eat it scraped off the floor if necessary.  While that certainly wasn’t called for (although once I did eat spinach artichoke dip that I had scraped off the oven door…) I was thrilled that they liked it so much.  As I stared at my seemingly never ending pile of apples, I decided to rinse out the crock pot and do it all over again, but this time I would add the spices I so so love in apple butter.

The result??  The Ultimate Apple Butter Recipe!  It is rich and full flavored and balanced and lovely.  I will never make apple butter any other way ever again.  And here it is for you!
Apple Butter I can not really stir it yet, but there it is piled in my crock pot and nestled on the counter amongst empty canning jars, full canning jars, and a very sad looking banana…
Apple Butter Ten hours later and it stirs to mush. Ready to puree!
The Ultimate Apple ButterSmooth like buddah!

One Year Ago: How To: Caramelize Onions
Two Years Ago: Salmon Nicoise
Three Years Ago: Overnight Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

Ultimate Apple Butter
My recipe is inspired by this recipe.  The flavor isn’t as traditional as mine, but it is ah-ma-zing.
Some kinds of apple butter are so spiced they kind of reach up and smack you in the face.  I prefer to actually taste the apples instead of just smearing cinnamon paste on my toast.  If I could thin this down, I would suck it through a straw.

apples, cored, peeled and chunked small about 10 cups-enough to fill a standard 4 quart slow cooker (any NON-tart, soft apple is good for this but use whatever you have)
1/2 c spiced rum
1 c pure, no sugar added, apple cider
1/2 c brown sugar
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Pile the apples in the slow cooker, adding more if needed to fill it to the top.  Add the rest of the ingredients on top, EXCEPT THE VANILLA!  Stir it a bit if you can, but don’t worry if you can’t.  Set the lid on tightly and turn the pot on low. After an hour or so, stir it if you can as it starts to cook down to distribute all the spices and coat all the fruit in the rum! 🙂  Leave it on low, until the apples get so soft that it breaks up as you stir it, at least 8 hours.  It will depend on what kind of apple you use and the ripeness of the fruit.  When it is mushy, stir in the vanilla and puree using an emersion blender, or transfer to a blender or food processor and puree in batches.  Can it or freeze it and enjoy!

Chunky Applesauce Years ago, my Mom brought me all her canning supplies, complete with about 40 quart jars, a huge canning pot with a rack for up to 7 jars at a time, and all the tools of the trade.  What she didn’t know at the time, is that she also brought with her a wealth of memories from my childhood.  Rows and rows of brightly colored jars filled with tomatoes, peppers, beans, pears, sauces, and apples.  A tiny, steamy kitchen in an non-air conditioned house in August with pots for boiling, pots for sterilizing, and pots that were bubbling.  It was hot.  We burned our fingers.  It was (and still is) sticky, dirty, seemingly never ending work.

And I loved every minute of it.

There is something supremely satisfying about taking a perishable food item and lining it up neatly with its fellow bounty, like portly soldiers waiting to be called up to duty on some unspecified future day, and knowing it will be just as spectacular then as it is at that moment.  Preserving food is not a new concept and while it was mostly done out of necessity and survival, there is a certain respect that goes along with canning foods.  One doesn’t can-or freeze or dehydrate-food unless we love it.  We want the flavor to last and the waste to be minimal.

And what is more classic than applesauce?!  Its gluten free, vegan, made with refreshingly few ingredients, healthy, and has a bazillion uses.  I like to make a few batches of unsweetened sauce that I make a bit smoother and then use just for baking and cooking with.  The chunky version shown here is great on pancakes or waffles, and I stir it directly into plain oatmeal all the time.  After trying this recipe, you will never spend money on the high fructose corn syrup laden, super processed store bought versions again!  Try it spooned right on the plate at lunch or dinner.  I like to send it in my daughters lunch or serve it to her as a cold, right from the fridge snack with whole wheat graham crackers for dunking!
Chunky Applesauce Two Years Ago: Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Three Years Ago: Apple Cider Syrup

Chunky Applesauce
I like using a natural, no sugar added, pure apple cider when I make my applesauce.  It needs liquid so that it can cook, but you might as well add flavor while you are at it!  After many different versions of applesauce over the years, I discovered that the best flavor comes from minimal plain white sugar and a bit of cinnamon.  The pure apple taste comes out and it isn’t masked with a bunch of other flavors.  Feel free to omit the sugar and cinnamon entirely and just make an unsweetened version for eating or cooking.  If you are making this into baby food, use only water as the liquid and add three times as much.  No sugar or cinnamon and puree the soft apples in batches in a blender or food processor or with an immersion blender until very very smooth.  Freeze in ice cube trays and then pop out the cubes and store in labeled plastic bags.  This recipe yields about 4 quarts of finished applesauce.

16 cups peeled, cored, and thinly sliced apples-soft apples work best since you are cooking them down anyway (Golden Delicious, Cortland, Fuji, MacIntosh, or in my case, whatever you get free from your friends and neighbors)

2 c apple cider or water or a mix of both
1 c white sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Lets get started!
Chunky ApplesauceThese were directly off my neighbors tree.  Beautiful!  Regardless of where your apples come from, give them a good rinse before peeling.
Chunky ApplesauceI have a hand crank that attaches to my counter.  It peels, cores, and slices all in one fell swoop.  A major time savor when you are dealing with 6 or 7 bushels of apples, which is what I had!  You can find them just about anywhere this time of year and this is the one I have.  However, I highly recommend this one.  It suctions to the top of the counter which is way easier for clean-up than the clamped base one.
Chunky ApplesauceThis is one batch of apples for applesauce-16 cups.
Chunky Applesauce In your largest, heavy bottom pot, add your apples, liquid, sugar, and cinnamon.  Stir it if there is room!
Chunky Applesauce On medium low to medium heat, cook the apples, stirring occasionally.  Lower the heat if it starts to burn.
Chunky Applesauce Keep cooking.  This will take awhile…
When you have the space and the apples are starting to break down, mash with a potato masher to break up the pieces.  If the fruit is getting too dry as it cooks down and evaporates, add a bit more liquid.
Chunky Applesauce Cook the apples more, several hours, stirring often.  Continue to mash the apples to aid them in cooking.
Chunky Applesauce When the fruit is cooked through, and you can now mash or puree if you like, but I prefer my applesauce thick and chunky, not smooth like babyfood.  Taste the sauce to see if it is sweet enough and add a bit more sugar if your apples are especially tart!  The total cook time will depend on the size and density of your chunks of apples, and the moisture content of the fruit.  Every year I have to adjust the cooking time and sweetness and liquid because the apples I use change, but this recipe is my starting point.
Chunky Applesauce And there you go!  Eat, freeze, can, enjoy!  The picture above also has some of my jars of plain apples in cinnamon syrup.  If you are canning the applesauce, pour it hot into clean and sterilized jars leaving 1 inch of headspace.  Wipe rims clean, top with a sterilized lid and ring, and process in a boiling water canner with the water at least and inch above the lids for 20 minutes.  Remove, cool, and check that all jars are sealed.  Enjoy any unsealed jars right away!  If freezing, pour the applesauce into freezer proof containers, or into heavy duty, gallon ziptop plastic bags.  Lie flat until frozen solid.
Chunky Applesauce Look at that texture! Mmm.

Spicy Ginger Syrup

Spicy Ginger SyrupUhg!  Sometimes I hate how behind I get with blogging!  But, alas, ones time to deal with 5 pecks of apples is limited.  Canning, freezing, baking, testing, tasting, experimenting, and saucing.  Love it all.  If you have forgotten, I love fall.  Love it.  Love love love love it.  Jeans and a sweatshirt are my go-to outfit anyway, so bring on the weather that allows me to wear it everyday and be appropriate.  Heh heh.

And may I just say, there is something about cooking with apples that just brings out the season.  Dontcha think?  I can make apple crisp in June, but it doesn’t have the same affect on me.  Like grilling in February-mmmmmmm……nope!  Tastes good, but doesn’t make you stop and take a deep breath of outdoor air with as much pleasure as it does in July.  Also, if you are grilling outside in February and you are anywhere North and you take a deep breath, your nose hairs freeze so it is just a better idea all around to wait until summer.

Speaking of seasons, today’s recipe is a kind of bonus recipe.  Not necessarily something you will make all the time, but defiantly worth whipping up during the colder months.  The Spicy Ginger Syrup will make your house smell good, yes, but its versatility is its charm.  I can’t wait to discover how you guys and gals will use this!  I keep adding to my list (almost daily) of ways to use it up, but mixing it into drinks seems to be the hands down favorite around here.  I have gone through several versions of this recipe, trying to get the spicy/sweet balance right, and my dedicated friends have graciously been taste testing and  reporting.  It is rough living in my neighborhood, I tell ya…

This would be outrageously popular to give as gifts during the holidays.  But I wanted to share it now, because it lends itself so much to this time of year.  Make it now, and you will find ways to enjoy it all the way to New Years.
Spicy Ginger Syrup Spicy Ginger Syrup Spicy Ginger Syrup One Year Ago: Open Face Tuna Melt
Two Years Ago: Pumpkin Pie Muffins & Hot Apple Cider
Three Years Ago: Apple Crisp & Remoulade Sauce

Spicy Ginger Syrup
Adapted from Martin Yan (Yes!  The Yan Can Cook guy!)
As you can see from the photos above, this stuff is just beautiful in a jar.  The everyday reality is that it sits in my fridge in an airtight rubbermaid container, looking plain and unassuming.  Oh!  How looks can be deceiving!  Please see below for the list of delicious ways to use up this golden wonderfulness!  Be sure to add your own ideas or successes to the comments!

1 c peeled and coarsely chopped fresh ginger root
2 c water
2 c sugar
pinch of cayenne (optional)

In a blender, combine the ginger and 1 c of water.  Blend until nearly smooth and pour into a medium saucepan.  Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.  The ginger will have a bit of heat on its own, but the extra punch of the cayenne gives it a really nice kick. If you aren’t sure, hold off on it. You can always add it in later if you like. Heat the syrup just until the sugar is all dissolved and then remove from the heat, letting the syrup sit for 30 minutes more.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer and store in a fridge in a tightly sealed container.  This will last for months and months!  Use in any of the ways listed below, or try your own!

* Add a splash to apple cider, hot or cold

* Stir some into a cup of hot tea-BONUS! Ginger is known to settle an upset tummy!  This would be great for a sick child or expectant mommy!

* Swirl it around in a tall glass of ice tea or simply sparkling water with lots of ice-so refreshing!

* Drizzle it over vanilla ice cream

* Vodka + ginger syrup + ice = the new favorite drink in my neighborhood

* I am told it is also good with rum…

* A little bit over some roasted pears for dessert is amazing

* Stir some into your next batch of homemade applesauce

* Drizzle this over a pan of apple crisp, either before you top it with crunch and bake it, or after, just before you dig in

* Add some to your morning oatmeal

Banana Peach SmoothieFinally!  A recipe!  I have been busy in my kitchen, but canning and freezing, not cooking real food.  But after some last minute tweaking, this recipe is ready for you!

I know that a recipe for a smoothie can be a bit of an oxymoron; smoothies are generally a-throw whatever you have on hand in the blender-type of meal.  But while I do that a lot of the time, I like to have some consistency too.  It is not fun when you throw something together, absolutely fall in love with it, and then have no luck trying to recreate it later.  This happens to me more than I would like to admit.

“So Mom!  That awesome thing you made last week with the strawberries?  Remember that?”
“Of course I do!”
“Can we have that again?”
“Ummm…..soooo…..yeah.  Uh…”


“This is so great, Mom!  I love this recipe!  What’s in it?”
“Hmm.  About that…” as I look desperately at the items still scattered around the counter.

So when the kids and I tasted this creation and looked at each other with delight over the rims of our glasses, I made sure to write it down.  I have made it a few times to make sure we like the balance of flavors in it, and I have now been instructed by my four year old not to change ANYTHING!  I am a huge fan of putting fresh baby spinach in my smoothies since it adds a ridiculous amount of nutrition and is practically tasteless, but I left it out of this one on purpose.  We were in the mood for a change.  And this is certainly a refreshing one.

This makes a big batch.  It fills my blender the brim which is perfect for our whole family to share for breakfast alongside a healthy muffin, setting us all up for a long day.  But it doesn’t separate or set up, instead staying nice and creamy for hours, so I like to chill any leftovers and bring it along in a to-go cup for my daughter as an after school/pre-ballet class snack.  After a long day, an ice cold, fruity smoothie hits the spot and the boost of nutrients keep her energized until dinner.
Peach & Banana Sunrise SmoothieOne Year Ago: Apple Butter Bran Muffins
Two Years Ago: Baja Fish Tacos & Double Chocolate Banana Bread

Peach & Banana Sunrise Smoothie
Sometimes, even smoothies can be a bit heavy on my tummy in the morning.  Not so with this recipe.  It has a bit more liquid in it than usual, making it refreshing and super easy to slurp down!  Use organic ingredients here when you can.

1 bag (10 oz) of frozen peach slices
1 c plain non-fat yogurt -low fat vanilla is good too
1 c orange juice
1 c coconut milk-for smoothies, I like the stuff in the carton from the refrigerator section
1 banana, peeled (duh)
1 T ground flax
honey to taste

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth.  Taste for sweetness.

Spicy Meat & Cheese Roll-UpsOne of my favorite things about food are the associations that you make with it.  A certain dish or meal that makes you think of a time or place in your life, triggering a memory.

I love that.

This is one of those foods for me.  Years ago, while catering with two especially lovely ladies, I learned this super quick, make-ahead dish.  One bite takes me back to those crazy, fun years of my youth.  When I found out that the secret to making them so blasted addicting was taco seasoning, I couldn’t believe it!  How simple!  How easy!  How genius.  It lands on the Back To School Series list because it travels well and can be made the night before you need it; two things that make it prefect for the inevitable early morning dash to the school bus.

Today’s recipe is just one way to use up that taco seasoning we talked about a few days ago.  You can sprinkle that spice mix in chili, marinade chicken or skirt steak with it before grilling for fajitas, or fold it into your favorite hot and cheesy dip.  This sandwich roll-up is just to get you started.  Please don’t limit these to just the lunchbox!  These make a great snack for a party.  Since you can make them the day before, it frees up your time to do other things.  You just slice them up and set them out on a pretty platter.  I have made these for hundreds of people and for just a few.  They are so easy, the effort is about the same and they are usually one of the first things to go!  My kids think it is kinda special to have them show up in their lunches, but what they don’t know is that it is just as easy as pb & j.  And just a bit more memorable.
Homemade Taco Seasoning Spicy Meat & Cheese Roll-UpsOne Year Ago: Oatmeal Caramel Bars
Two Years Ago: Summer Berry Pudding
Three Years Ago: Good Lookin’ Man Potatoes

Spicy Meat & Cheese Roll-Ups
Assuming that you aren’t making these for dozens of people, you will have leftover spread.  It is fabulous smeared on a hamburger or as a quick dressing and tossed with hot roasted potatoes.

1 c mayo
1 T taco seasoning
thinly sliced ham, turkey, or roast beef
sliced cheese-cheddar, colby, provolone, or swiss
baby spinach
large tortillas-any variety

Mix together the mayo and taco seasoning until well incorporated.  Smear thinly, but evenly over the surface of the tortilla, nearly to the edges.
Spicy Meat & Cheese Roll-UpsLayer on your meat, then cheese, then spinach last.
Spicy Meat & Cheese Roll-UpsRoll this up as tightly as you can.
Spicy Meat & Cheese Roll-UpsIf making these ahead of time (as in the night before a party or school day) wrap individually in plastic wrap, or if you are doing several, store in a large zip top bag and chill overnight.
Spicy Meat & Cheese Roll-UpsWhen ready to serve, place toothpicks across the roll-up about an inch apart and trim off the ends, if desired.
Spicy Meat & Cheese Roll-UpsSlice between the toothpicks, keeping the roll-up secured and together.
Spicy Meat & Cheese Roll-UpsPlate or pack them up and enjoy!
Spicy Meat & Cheese Roll-Ups

Banana Soft Serve Sundaes

Banana Soft Serve SundaesI am taking a tiny step away from my Back To School Series and instead, have taken a giant leap toward a post that can be filed under the Holy Swiss Cheese It Is Freaking Hot Outside category.

My daughter’s school has been let out early due to heat for most of this week.  Old buildings plus a heat index over 100 equals overheated and red faced children.  Even though we have been back to school for a few weeks now, and Labor Day (read: unofficial beginning of fall) is just around the corner, we are deep in the hot and steamy throws of a heat wave.  Yuck.  We have played in the sprinkler, splashed in a kiddie pool, eaten popsicles, hunkered down in the air conditioning and watched Looney Tunes, but we were still in the need for something refreshing and cool.

Enter the worlds most easy ice cream!  Although it isn’t actually ice cream at all.  And yes!  I know I know I know.  This recipe has been circling the web for forEVER now.  This dish is so popular it is even printed on the stickers attached to the bananas themselves.

But its hot.  Really hot.  And on the off chance that you have never seen this before, I am posting it so that you too can benefit from its healthy, yet temperature reducing properties.  Cold, creamy, heart healthy, and delicious.  Just what we all need when its 102 in the shade.

And congratulations to Daria from PA for winning the honey giveaway!
Banana Soft Serve Banana Soft Serve SundaesOne Year Ago: Roasted Tomato Pasta
Two Years Ago: Caramelized Onion Dip

Banana Soft Serve Sundaes

4 or 5 bananas, nice and ripe

Toppings-chocolate chips, peanuts, chocolate sauce, macadamia nuts, almonds, caramel sauce, toasted coconut, honey, cinnamon, walnuts, a drizzle of rum, chopped strawberries, or anything else that sounds good with bananas!

Peel the bananas and break them into smaller chunks and freeze until firm.  Dump them into the bowl of a food processor and whiz up for several minutes until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl so that everything gets processed.  Enjoy immediately and top with whatever floats your boat.  Or freeze in an airtight container for later!

HummusDon’t be misled by the title of this post!  When I say ‘instant’ hummus, I don’t mean it is a mix or prepackaged, but rather that it is so easy and quick, it comes together in almost an instant!

Of course you could purchase the hummus from the store.  And most of the popular brands are quite good!  But I like to cook.  I like to bake.  And making something this simple from scratch seems the logical thing to do.  I can use my own great ingredients and know for sure that my family, and in turn, myself, are eating quality food.  My kids watch the dip wiz up in the food processor and they know that there are garbanzo beans in hummus, not just read it on a label.  They dip in a finger and tell me they want more lemon juice added this time.  They laugh and joke around, dipping grapes in the bowl, only to wrinkle their noses and deem them NOT good in hummus.  They fight for a foothold on the step stool so they can watch the mixture turn colors when I add a roasted red pepper or pulse in chopped olives.   These are all very good things.

Using dried beans is the next step here and we will cover that another time, but for now, I just wanted to share my straight up hummus.  All hummus recipes are usually quite similar and my version pretty much sticks to the classic formula.  I always kind a thought it was missing a little something though, and so, never felt comfortable posting it. But after eating a spicy hummus at a cafe a few months ago, I realized what I needed.  Cumin.  Not enough to be a prominent flavor, but just enough to boost it a bit.  Bingo!  I hit the mark!

The beauty of hummus is that you can make it totally your own.  Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the recipe and read the variations and of course, feel free to add your own ideas to the comments below.  I just don’t recommend grapes…

And don’t forget to head over to the previous post and enter the HONEY GIVEAWAY!!  Who wouldn’t love to get sweet treats in the mail!-CLOSED
HummusOne Year Ago: Lunchbox Chocolate Chip Cookies
Two Years Ago: Pesto, Chocolate Zucchini Bread
Three Years Ago: Tortellini W/Shrimp

Instant Hummus

2 cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas) rinsed and drained
3 T tahini
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T lemon juice
3/4 tsp cumin
1/3 c water
1/3 c extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
salt and pepper to taste

Pulse all ingredients in a food processor, adding more olive oil to achieve desired consistency.  Continue to process until the hummus is as smooth or as chunky as you like!  Taste for seasoning. Store tightly sealed in the fridge for up to 4 days.  Serve the hummus smeared on a sandwich with cheese, spinach and tomato, rolled up in a tortilla, or with crudite, pretzels, crackers, pita chips, or naan.


-add 1 whole roasted red pepper, seeds removed, and process
-add 1/4 c grated parmesan
-coarsely chop one can of drained artichoke hearts and pulse in
-stir in 1/2 c chopped black olives to the final dip
-pulse in 1 tsp of black pepper and a few splashes of hot sauce
-use 1 recipe roasted garlic instead of freshly minced

Whole Wheat Zucchini Spice MuffinsHere we are again!  More back to school recipes and ideas!

This recipe came about fast and furiously.  Much like the way zucchini grows.  It sneaks up on you unexpectedly and then BAM!  You have a garden full of green bats that could feed a whole vegetarian army.

I was in the mood for a super healthy, plain, spiced zucchini muffin and I didn’t feel like searching through all the recipes in my archives to find one and test it.  So I just started from scratch with a pen and paper.  The first batch was just blegh!  Into the trash it went.  The second batch was much better  and the the third and fourth were perfect.  Boom.  There.  I did it.  Problem solved.  Then I went to the computer and erased all my other zucchini muffin recipes.  Into the virtual trash you go, inferior and less-healthy zucchini muffin recipes!

Recipe development is extremely satisfactory for me.  My husband thinks I’m crazy but doesn’t complain because he gets to take all the UN-perfect batches of food to work.  Like…um…I don’t know, say…the first 10 batches of oatmeal raison cookies that didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to.  Batch number 11 is slated for tomorrow, but thats neither here nor there.  The point is, I love it.  I love it love it love it.  And even though the challenge is against no one by myself, it is one of the things I love most about being in the kitchen.

I of course tackled this recipe with a plan.  I wanted to use honey as the sweetener, use all whole wheat, no dairy, and make it super spiced.  So I did!  I had to tweak the sugar a bit at the beginning as the honey just didn’t have enough umph to hold its own against the spices.  I was however walking around using my best Schwarzenegger voice and repeating the phrase, “I am da zucchini shreddah!” whilst filling bowl after bowl of the veggie ribbons in preparation.  Because cooking should be fun, right?  Or at least filled with 90’s movie references….?  But they turned out great and more batches have already collected in my freezer.  The plan?  Snack on them, eat ’em for breakfast, throw them at my hubby when his blood sugar gets low, and tuck them into my daughters’ school lunches when she starts a new year in a few weeks.  She loves getting muffins in her lunch (pulled right from the freezer, they defrost by lunchtime) as they fill her up perfectly when paired with some fruit salad and low fat string cheese.  I always send her with water to drink since she is getting milk at afternoon break, dinner, and sometimes breakfast.
Whole Wheat Zucchini Spice MuffinsThe kids rolled their eyes to the heavens when I presented them with these this morning.  I took that as a good sign.  Or maybe they were just glad I was done shredding zucchini…

Here are some other great, bake ahead, healthy lunch recipes!

Earth Bread: There is a reason this is one of my most popular recipes.  Its darn good!  Baked as muffins, they are just as yummy to pull from the freezer as these zucchini ones.  Baked in loaf form, it is a great snack or addition to a lunchbox.  But two slices with cream cheese between them, and you have one stellar sandwich!  My daughter’s favorite!

Blueberry Maple Muffins: Healthy and a fruity change of pace!

Apple Carrot Muffins-Gluten Free: These delightful little nuggets are addictive to just about anyone!  Bake them up in a mini-muffin tin and add 3 or 4 pop-able bites to your brown bag!  They also make the ideal afternoon snack!

Homemade Granola Bars: One of these babies can easily sub out for a sandwich.  After you cut them up, wrap them individually in cellophane and throw them all in a gallon zip top freezer bag.  Just pull from the freezer and toss in your lunch box!

Pumpkin Pie Muffins: These are easily up there in the #1 or #2 spot as the most favorite muffin in our house.  They are simply awesome.  Yes they might remind you of fall.  But make them anytime of year and after one bite, you won’t care.

Oatmeal Raisin Snack Bars: Despite the title of the recipe, they are great as the main attraction in a school lunch.  So healthy and soooo good.

Banana Bran Muffins: I have no words.  These are just so good.  A freezer with a bag or two of these inside makes for a happy household!

Also, if you follow Brittany’s Pantry on Facebook, you heard about the Muffin Caper in our house.  This all happened while I was trying to photograph this recipe!
Whole Wheat Zucchini Spice Muffins Whole Wheat Zucchini Spice Muffins Whole Wheat Zucchini Spice Muffins Whole Wheat Zucchini Spice MuffinsCutest thief ever if you ask me!

One Year Ago: Summer Salmon
Two Years Ago: Oatmeal Cherry Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Baked Pasta W/Summer Veggies
Three Years Ago: The BEST Margaritas, June Bugs, Herbal Iced Tea, BBQ Pulled Pork

Whole Wheat Zucchini Spice Muffins

In a large bowl, combine:
1/3 c canola oil
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1/2 c honey
1/4 c brown sugar or raw sugar
2 eggs
2 c shredded zucchini, lightly packed
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
Mix till thoroughly combined.  Fold in:
1 1/2 c white whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder

Gently fold dry ingredients until just combined.  Don’t over mix!  Portion into 1 dozen paper lined, or sprayed muffin cups.  Bake at 350 for 20-22 minutes, or until lightly golden and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool slightly and enjoy. If freezing, cool completely before sealing.