Birthday Pumpkin Spice Bread Pudding

Yesterday was Casey’s birthday.  I usually try to make him one of his favorites when we celebrate.  He loves bread pudding! I’ve never made it for him and this is the year! Since I’m trying to do pumpkin recipes during September, I decided to put a pumpkin spin on traditional bread pudding. That turned out to be a real good idea!

Bread pudding comes in many forms but it’s basically cream, eggs, vanilla and bread baked all together. What’s not to love?

Casey likes more of a custard type bread pudding. As I reviewed recipes, I concluded that to get a more custard like texture, the cream should be cooked and the entire thing should be baked in a water bath.

I wish I could tell you I took the simple route but I really wanted to make this incredible for him. Therefore, I made a few components that all came together to make one spectacular explosion of flavor!

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This thing is layer after layer of flavor! Let’s get into making it!

First off is a Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise. Huh? I didn’t know much about that but it’s rich and full of half-and-half, vanilla beans, egg yolks and sugar. Simmer the half-and-half and vanilla bean and seeds then slowly whisk into the eggs and sugar mixture. Strain it and cool in an ice bath. Look at all the pretty vanilla bean flecks. It should be smooth and beautiful! Pop it in the fridge until it’s time to dish up your dessert.

Spicy Caramel Bourbon Sauce is not difficult to make, but it definitely requires your attention because there’s boiling sugar involved. The flavor of this sauce is not for people who fear flavor. I’m one of those people who love flavor and concluded this sauce belongs in everything. I added it to my coffee. I kept thinking about it hours after I finished making it. It’s unique and so, so good! I’ve never used star anise in anything before. It packs a little punch! Oh, and there’s bourbon.

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You just have to watch that sugar and catch it right when it’s at the amber color stage and quickly whisk in the warm cream a little at a time. This sauce can be made ahead of time, just stick it in a jar in the fridge. Well, I mean, after you put some in your coffee. Warm it up later to pour on top of the bread pudding.

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Now it’s time to get going on the main dish. You may already have your pumpkin pie spice and pumpkin puree made if you caught my last couple posts. You get to use them in this recipe! Cream, milk, eggs, sugar, spices, pumpkin, vanilla, bourbon and BREAD!

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I’m using challah bread. You can certainly use pumpkin bread but I’m sticking with challah since Casey isn’t as crazy about everything pumpkin as I am. Challah holds up well and soaks in all the custard. A nice french bread would also work well.

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Make the custard, cube the bread, pour the custard over the bread and bake.

Take a deep breath. Lots of steps and lots of dishes to be done. Grab ya a swig of bourbon. Chase it with some of the challah bread dunked in the caramel sauce. Do the dishes and wait for the smell of the bread pudding to find its way into your kitchen.

Carrie had a field hockey game after school so I made this and left to go to her game. When we got home, I heated up the sauce, Carrie made whipped cream, I got all spun up making sure each one was assembled correctly, we sung, blew out candles and dug in!

Start with the layer of Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise, add the warm bread/custard, drizzle with the warm Spicy Caramel Bourbon Sauce and top with fresh whipped cream. AMAZING!

We all loved it! Casey approved and we were practically licking our bowls. I was pouring sauce on pieces of bread from the pan and shoving them in my mouth. You know, the stuff you eat right out of the pan doesn’t count, right? 🙂 The only change I’d make is to use less bread or make more of the custard. Ummmmm. More custard! I’ll do that next time. There will be a next time on this one!

This is one of those desserts that takes time if you want to make all the sauce components (which, I highly recommend). If not, just make the bread pudding part and top it with ice cream or whipped cream and call it a day. You can experiment with different spices, breads and flavors.

Happy birthday, Casey! Thanks for always supporting and trying my baking ideas! I loe you (I know there’s no v…it’s our thing).

Birthday 2019

From the heart,
Shannon

Pumpkin Spice Bread Pudding

Bread Pudding
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons bourbon

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Combine the cream, milk, vanilla bean and seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
  3. Whisk together the yolks, sugar, maple syrup, and pumpkin puree in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the hot cream mixture until combined, remove the vanilla pod, and whisk in the bourbon. Strain the custard into a clean bowl.
  4. Scatter the bread cubes in a buttered 9 by 13-inch baking glass baking dish.
  5. Pour the custard over the bread, pressing down on the bread to totally submerge it in the custard. Let sit for 15 minutes to allow the bread to soak up some of the custard.
  6. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan and pour hot tap water into the roasting pan until it comes half way up the sides of the glass dish. Bake until the sides are slightly puffed and the center jiggles slightly, about 1 hour.
  7. Remove from the oven and water bath and cool on a baking rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
5 large egg yolks
1/3 cup pure cane sugar

  1. Bring the half-and-half and vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer in a medium saucepan.
  2. Whisk together the yolks and sugar in a medium bowl until at the pale ribbon stage.
  3. Slowly whisk in the hot half-and-half, return the mixture to the pot, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon.
  4. Strain into a bowl and set over an ice bath. Stir until chilled.
  5. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

Spicy Caramel Bourbon Sauce
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup apple juice
1 star anise
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
4 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 TBSP apple cider vinegar
1 to 2 TBSP Kentucky bourbon

  1. Combine the cream, apple juice, star anise, ginger, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and nutmeg in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let steep for at least 20 minutes. Strain the mixture into a clean, small saucepan and place back over low heat while you make the caramel.
  2. Combine the sugar, water and, vinegar in a medium saucepan over high heat and cook without stirring, until it’s a deep amber color, about 8 minutes. Slowly whisk in the warm cream mixture a little at a time, and continue whisking until smooth. Add the bourbon and cook for 30 seconds longer. Transfer to a bowl and keep warm. The sauce can be made 2 days in advance and refrigerated. Reheat over low heat before serving.
Recipe modified from foodnetwork.com and my own brain.

Pumpkin Purée + Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Last Saturday, I picked up pie pumpkins at Countryside Farmers’ Market. I got some from Martha’s Farm and Log Cabin Organic Farm. Pie pumpkins are smaller and sweeter than carving pumpkins.

When I’m at the market and meet the people who’ve planted, nurtured, harvested and given life to their crops and the earth, I feel compelled to bring that food into my home and savor it. I want to give vegetables and fruits even more life and enjoy all they have to offer in taste and nutrition. It’s important to me and a real blessing to have access to wonderful food. I also believe food should be fresh, simple and easy to prepare.

Homemade pumpkin purée is super easy to make and it tastes better than the stuff you find in stores. You just need a little time, an oven and a food processor or blender to whip up your own puree. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used my share of canned pumpkin. It’s convenient and most of the organic ones I’ve tried are just fine. We eat a lot of pumpkin goodies in my house and most days there’s no time to make my own. However, sometimes, I’m reminded to slow down, enjoy the harvest and cherish the process of making my own ingredients.

This color alone should be motivation enough for you to make your own pumpkin purée! I use pumpkin in a variety of things: breads, pancakes, waffles, beagle food, lattes, pasta, risotto, cookies, pies, cakes, puddings…you name it and I’ll find a way to incorporate pumpkin!

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It all starts with the pie pumpkins.

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Simply cut the tops off and split them right down the middle.  A nice, sharp knife makes this pretty easy.

Scoop out the seeds and keep them.  We’ll talk about roasting those later!

Daisy Mae smelled pumpkin and came to scope out the situation in the kitchen! Be patient, girl!

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Once all the pumpkins are clean, place them flesh side down on a cookie sheet and add a little water then bake at 375 degrees for about an hour or until a fork pierces through easily.

Once they’re nice and tender, take them out of the oven and let them cool.  Scoop out the meat of the pumpkin and place in a food processor or blender.

Process or blend until smooth. Transfer to jars or containers of your choice. It freezes well!  If you freeze it, just thaw in the fridge when you need it. If you plan to use some right away, it will be just fine in the fridge for about a week.

Homemade pumpkin purée is silky and flavorful. Pumpkin is a great source of potassium and beta-carotene and contains some minerals including calcium and magnesium, as well as vitamins E, C and some B vitamins.

Using ingredients I pick up at the farmers’ market gives me a sense of place in the local food cycle. There’s something special about knowing where it all came from and interacting with the people who worked incredibly hard to produce something so delicious and nutritious. It’s pretty amazing that I get all those good feelings from making pumpkin purée from local pumpkins, huh? I’m such a food geek!

I hope you make this and enjoy the process! Find a market or farm, choose your pumpkins and spend the afternoon getting to know your food and truly appreciate it. See it, feel it, smell it then taste it! I have so many plans for my pumpkin purée and I can’t wait to share them with you! Also, Daisy loves it!

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Don’t forget the seeds, they’re one of the best parts! There’s no easy way to clean them.  Just try to pull out most of the stringy orange pieces and soak the seeds in warm water and keep rinsing/soaking a few times to get them clean. The strings will keep sinking to the bottom. Once they’re all clean, lay them out to dry.

I experimented with three flavors for my seeds:
Sweet: raw wildflower honey + brown sugar + pumpkin pie spice + vanilla
Brighton Wool and Honey’s Raw Wildflower Honey is YUMMY! Don’t get me started on their laundry detergent, bee pollen and soap.  Yeah, they’re just fantastic all the way around!

Spicy: olive oil + spicy blossom honey infused with Carolina Reaper + hubby’s Ghost Pepper salt
This honey from Fuego Spice Co is pretty amazing!

Spicy/Sweet: olive oil + chili powder + brown sugar

I divided the seeds into bowls and used 1 cup of seeds per flavor with 1 TBSP of the oil or honey then added in the sugar and spices. I let them soak for at least an hour then spread on parchment and baked at 375 for 10-15 minutes. Store them in glass containers to keep them crisp. Get creative! You can literally do any kind of spice combination!

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That’s all the pumpkin I’ve got for now! Let me know if you make the purée and what you plan to use it for! Go the extra mile and make the seeds for snacking or, better yet, take a jar to your local farmer!

From the heart,
Shannon

Pumpkin Purée
Ingredients
4-6 pound pie pumpkins
Instructions
1. Cut the tops off the pumpkins
2. Cut the pumpkins in half
3. Scoop out the insides and save the guts
4. Place the pumpkins flesh side down on a baking sheet and add about 1/4 inch of water
5. Bake at 350 for 60-90 minutes, checking periodically after 60 minutes; when a fork pierces through easily, they are finished
6. Let the pumpkins cool and then scoop the meat out into a food processor or blender
7. Process the pumpkin until smooth and transfer to jars or containers
8. Store in the freezer and defrost when needed or keep in the fridge for up to one week

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Pumpkin Spice Rolls

Hi! I feel fall in the air. Even though the temps here in NE Ohio are quite warm, the air feels different. I’ve been studying all sorts of fall recipes and feeling downright giddy about one of my favorite baking seasons. Please give me all the pumpkin baked goods in the world! My Pinterest boards and baking notebook are overflowing with all the things I want to make! What better way to spend September than by sharing all things pumpkin?

Pumpkin Spice Rolls topped my fall baking list. I really hope you make these! They’re worth every single second you’ll spend planning, baking and eating them. I made this version a few years ago to sell at one of the farmers’ markets. My original cinnamon rolls always sold out. It was fall, I was feeling pumpkin-y and these marvelous rolls were discovered. My regular customers enjoyed them and I liked that they looked like fall. The pumpkin taste is subtle and gives the dough the most beautiful color and texture. Swapping out the cinnamon filling for a pumpkin pie spice filling is a scrumptious change.  If you’re like me and start making pumpkin recipes before stores sell pumpkin pie spice, here’s my recipe to make your own.

When you make these rolls and take that first bite, your life will be changed and you’ll probably never want a regular cinnamon roll again! Never say never. However, these are super special.

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This is a yeast dough recipe. Don’t be scared, it’s so simple to put together. Start with good (mostly local) ingredients. Get the sugar, milk and yeast mingling then add the rest of the ingredients and let the dough hook on your mixer do the work.  You can also knead by hand.

The big difference in this recipe is the addition of pumpkin and spices.  They really transform the texture and flavor of the dough. Once the dough comes together, place it in a bowl and put in a warm place to rise.  Step one is complete!

While the dough is rising, mix up the filling. Brown sugar and lots of pumpkin pie spice. Line a pan with parchment and butter it. The parchment is a must!

Gently roll out the dough. Once it’s rolled, smear butter all over it. Some people melt their butter to do this step but I like the butter to just be soft enough to slather it. Think back to your kindergarten finger painting days! Want in on a little secret? I write words or notes in the butter. Yep. I’ve always done that. Depending on my mood, they can be pretty interesting! Have fun and put some love into these babies!

Next comes the spices. Don’t skimp and generously sprinkle them over the butter layer! Roll the dough towards you and slice. I’ve seen all kinds of methods for slicing. The one that works best for me is my good bread knife. Try to keep the rolls tight.

Place the slices in the prepared pan and let them rise again. When they’ve doubled in size, bake them and enjoy how amazing your house smells! If you bake these in the morning hours, you will not have to beg anyone to get out of bed! The first picture below is before the rise and the third picture is after. If you don’t want to bake them right away, don’t go through with the second rise yet. You can stick them in the fridge and get them out about an hour before you want to bake them to let them rise.

While the rolls bake, make the icing. It’s a simple vanilla cream cheese base. I also like to add bourbon. I didn’t on this batch but if you want to kick them up a notch, experiment with adding bourbon or maple syrup or more pumpkin pie spice. Even more pumpkin would be yummy!

Frosting these is somehow very therapeutic. I always do it when the rolls are warm. You can use as much or as little as you wish.

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This next step is very important. Get one out of the pan right away, sit down, take a deep breath, don’t think about anything else, and dig in. The first bite will get you feeling like this is what’s been missing from your life. The next bite will ensure that it will never be missing again. Ever.

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Are you doing a Pumpkin Spice Roll happy dance? Maybe it’s just me but I’ve been known to break out in dance when I eat something so good!

The day I made these, I was home alone.  I’ve been on a really clean eating plan and I haven’t had any sugar for a few weeks. Don’t even get me started on why I ever thought that was a good idea. That all flew out the window when I pulled one of these out of the pan to take photos. I was already sipping a glass of homemade cold brew (full of cream and pumpkin pie spice). I couldn’t resist and ate one of these big rolls in a matter of seconds. I love all the things about them and I enjoyed the heck out of it with my afternoon coffee. Feelings of comfort and joy came over me and I actually felt pretty darn happy in that gooey, pumpkin, spice filling, frosting, coffee moment!

I took one with me to give Carrie when I picked her up from school. She immediately lit up, thanked me, inhaled it in the car and got right to her homework as soon as she walked in the door.  See?  Life changing.

From the heart,
Shannon

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Pumpkin Spice Rolls
Dough
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut up, room temperature
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 cup lukewarm whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 tsp instant yeast or active dry yeast

Filling
1/3 to 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed (you can use light or dark or mix them)
3 to 4 TBSP pumpkin pie spice

Icing
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 TBSP unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract or bourbon or maple syrup
3-4 TBSP whole milk

Directions
To make the dough: Place milk and sugar in your mixing bowl.  Sprinkle the yeast on top and let sit for 4-5 minutes.  Add remaining dough ingredients to bowl and mix together and knead all of the dough ingredients to make a smooth, soft dough. You may need to add more flour if it’s too sticky.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to grease all sides, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for 60 minutes, or until it’s nearly doubled in bulk.

To fill and shape the buns: Gently deflate the dough, and transfer it to a lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough into a ~16″ x 21″ rectangle.

Spread the dough with the 1/3 to 1/2 cup butter. Write a cute word or note in the butter (do it!). Mix the brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice, and sprinkle it evenly over the dough.

Roll the dough into a log and cut it into 12 slices (about 1 inch thick).
Place the buns in a parchment lined and buttered 9″ x 13″ pan. Cover the pan and let the buns rise until they’re nearly doubled, about 30 minutes. If you aren’t planning to bake now, stick in the fridge and get them out about about an hour ahead of baking time.

While the buns are rising, preheat the oven to 400°F.
Uncover the buns, and bake them until they’re golden brown, about 15 minutes. While the buns are baking, make the icing. You can also make the icing ahead of time and keep it in the fridge for days, just let it soften up.

To make the icing: In a small bowl, beat together the cream cheese, butter, sugar, and vanilla.

Remove the buns from the oven. Spread the icing on the buns while they’re warm.
Serve buns warm, or at room temperature. Wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for a day or so; freeze for longer storage.
Yield: 12 large buns.

Pumpkin Pie Spice

It’s here!  Pumpkin spice season has become such a big deal.  It’s in everything and it’s everywhere. I’ve loved it forever. There’s just something about it that’s comfy and pleasant. I feel cozy whenever I add it to a food or drink.

The challenge I encounter this time of year is that pumpkin pie spice is in everything but it’s hard to find the actual spice. It seems like it’s not available until end of October and I get on the pumpkin baking train in September. Maybe August.  It’s also kind of expensive. I make my own. I actually like it more than store bought.

You can make as much as you want. Some for you and some to share. I like to include a small jar with a pumpkin baked good as a gift. It just makes it feel more special!

Start with really good spices.  You’d be surprised at how many extra ingredients are added to spices.  No need for the preservatives or anything else that’s not the spice name. The great thing about making your own pumpkin pie spice is you can MAKE IT YOUR OWN! This is the combination I like! Bring on all the warmth with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and ginger. Combine and store in a jar or container.

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I use this mixture in all my fall pumpkin baked goods and drinks. It’s yummy in cold brew and hot coffee/tea (I add it to my coffee grounds before brewing) and much less expensive and more healthy to make your own seasonal drinks at home. All the pumpkin things need the spice: breads, crème brûlée, cinnamon rolls, pies, cookies, french toast, oatmeal, coffee, cocktails and anything else you can put a fall spin on.

I indulge in this spice throughout the fall and winter seasons. As a matter of fact, since typing this, I’ve felt the urge to put on a big sweatshirt and enjoy a little pumpkin pie spice treat (that recipe will be posted tomorrow)! Cozy up, friends!

From the heart,
Shannon

Pumpkin Pie Spice
3 TBS Ground Cinnamon
2 tsp Ground Ginger
2 tsp Ground Nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp Ground Allspice
1 1/2 tsp Ground Cloves

Combine and place in an airtight jar or container. You can double or triple this to make enough to share.

Zucchini Bread

Yesterday, I went to my favorite farmers’ market, Countryside in Howe Meadow.  After being gone for most of July, I’m back in the swing of things and getting my hands on as much local, summer fruits and veggies as possible!

I’ve always liked zucchini.  Before the days of zoodles, I prepared it all sorts of ways.  I grilled it, baked it and baked WITH it.  It’s versatile and healthy.  Zucchini has a decent amount of potassium and is loaded with vitamin C.  It’s good for your heart!

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Zucchini bread is one of those seasonal indulgences that just feels right about this point in the summer.  Sliced and toasted with good butter or cream cheese. Yum!  While at the market, I picked up a jar of cashew almond butter from my friends at Nosh Butters.  If you haven’t tried their nut butters, I encourage you to partake in their samples the next time you see them at an event.  All of their flavors are delicious as well as vegan, gluten free, and palm oil free.  I’ve been known to hang out with a jar of nut butter and a spoon on occasion and theirs are some of my favorites.  Plus, their business philosophy is right on and it’s another local, small business we can support!

While hanging at their booth at the market, it dawned on me that nut butter would be delicious smeared on zucchini bread.  Yes!  The cashew almond variety is mellow and has just the right texture to slather on some beautiful bread.  I covered up all the pretty green flecks of zucchini before I took this photo.  I promise, they’re in there!

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If you’re loving all the zucchini and looking for ways to bake with it, try this recipe and get some Nosh nut butter to take it over the top! My recipe is light and not weighed down by tons of brown sugar like some of the ones I’ve seen.  You can certainly make this your own by substituting gluten free flour, adding nuts, berries and change the oil type to suit your taste.  This recipe can simply serve as a guide!  🙂

Summer harvest is upon us and I’m digging it!  What are some of your favorite ways to make zucchini?  I’d enjoy hearing new ideas!  Happy baking!

From the heart,
Shannon

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Zucchini Bread
You don’t even need a mixer for this recipe! It can be made in a regular loaf pan, mini loaf pans or a lined muffin tin.  I usually double or triple it and make tons to freeze or hand out to neighbors, friends and local businesses.

Ingredients:
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon aluminum free baking powder
1 to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup coconut oil melted (or whatever oil you like to bake with)
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups shredded zucchini (12 ounces)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted (optional)
Cooking spray

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350°.
Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through baking soda) in a large bowl. Combine wet ingredients in a large bowl; add sugar, stirring until combined. Add zucchini; stir until well combined. Add flour mixture; stir just until combined. Stir in walnuts (or fruit) if using.

Divide batter evenly between 2 (8 x 4-inch) loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.  Adjust baking time depending on what size bread you’re making.

West we go!

Right now I’m sitting in a hotel in Reno, NV.  Today is the first day we haven’t logged some serious miles since last Wednesday when we set out for our summer adventure to the western part of the U.S.  We’ve already had some amazing experiences on this trip.  My husband, Casey, suggested I write about our trip and share it here.  I’ve always thought of this blog as a place for recipes and sharing food ideas.  We were talking in the car somewhere between Colorado and Nevada that the flour on my apron can be anything that makes me happy.  Carrie gave me a whole different perspective on what it means to have “flour on your apron.”  Therefore, this Floured Apron site can be a place to share joy, even if food isn’t involved.  I may be sleep deprived and a little bored from staring out the car window for days but I think she’s onto something and I’m going to go out on a limb here and make this post about our adventure and not about food!  I’ll mostly focus my posts on food but sprinkling in some of our life could be fun too! 🙂

This is the second consecutive year we’ve made the drive from Ohio to California.  Yes, it’s long.  Yes, it’s hard.  Yes, it’s exhausting.  It’s also fun and cool to see many things we otherwise wouldn’t from the air.  When we get to where we’re going, we kind of forget how much it sucked to be in the car for hours on end.  It’s ok when we’re in areas that are well populated and offer some healthy food options or we’re still able to enjoy our homemade snacks.  When we get out in the middle of nowhere, things get tough and we get crabby!

I’m married to a pilot which means we should be able to fly for a discount and get where we want to go.  So, why don’t we?  Two words:  Daisy Mae (our beagle).  I know we could kennel her or find a dog sitter but she really does enjoy the trips we take.  Also, we like to have a car to get around and not spend the money on flights, rental cars and other things.

Last year’s drive left me with a sense of accomplishment.  We planned to drive to Lake Tahoe to spend a couple weeks.  Casey, my husband, couldn’t be with us on the trip out, so it was Carrie, Daisy and me.  We drove from Ohio on Route 80 through IN, IL, NE, IA, WY and UT.  We met up with Casey and finished the drive to Reno and made our way to Lake Tahoe.  Long days of driving, audio books, car games, DQ Blizzards, rest stops, coffee, truck stops and hotels made for a tired mama.  Did I mention I had to unload and reload suitcases, dog stuff, snack stuff and whatever else couldn’t be left in the car about 80 million times?  After several hours of driving.  However, when we saw that beautiful blue lake, the frustration and exhaustion turned to excitement and energy!

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This year, we planned a similar vacation because we’re combining it with a summer camp experience for Carrie.  We all hit the road last Wednesday with a plan to visit Denver, CO then go to Tahoe.  Route 80 was the lucky highway!  Last year, Carrie and I found a silly go-kart place in Nebraska.  She really wanted to go back, which made me happy that some of the little fun things we did mattered and stuck with her.

After miles of corn fields, it was time for go-karts and bumper boats.

That was a nice break from the car and definitely gave us all some laughs!  From there we pressed on to Colorado.  The next day, we made a quick stop at the U.S. Air Force Academy.  The campus is huge and impressive.  This is the Cadet Chapel.

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The next morning, we met up with my brother who just happened to be driving through the area.  He’s a truck driver and was returning from California.  Bonus!  Look at that cute hat Carrie picked up at the USAFA!  🙂

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While we were in the Colorado Springs area, we went to Garden of the Gods Park, a registered National Natural Landmark.  It was incredible!  We did a short hike and climbed on rocks.  There were prickly pears blooming and the landscape was stunning.  Don’t get me started on that blue sky and all the colors in these photos.

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The next day we left for Salt Lake City.  That portion of the drive was eight hours and we decided to stop at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.  Best. Decision. Ever.  We took my brother’s advice on a shorter route (191N) and that portion of the drive delivered magnificent scenery.

Arches was designated as a national monument in 1929 by President Herbert Hoover.  It was designated as a national park 42 years later.  The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins and giant balanced rocks.

It was extremely hot and dogs aren’t permitted on the trails so Casey and I tag teamed with Carrie to get as close as we could to those amazing works of art.  Seriously, some of the most breathtaking landscapes that Mother Nature has to offer.

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Skyline Arch

The drive through the park was about 14 miles.  Going in and up was great but the drive down gave us a more incredible show.  I’d highly recommend driving to the end and take it all in on the way back down!  We stopped in the visitor center to grab t-shirts and post cards not realizing they would be closing in 5 minutes.  It was a quick selection and sprint to the car for a wallet.  We were all moved by this National Park excursion and the enormity of it all.  Thank you, Moab and Arches for showing us your beauty!  If you haven’t been, add this one to your list!

We made it to the hotel in SLC for a night of sleep then we pressed on for the final eight hour stretch to Reno, NV for a couple days.  By this point, we’re still smiling but feeling the fatigue and sense of not being settled.  Lots of time in the car, in and out of hotels and gas stations isn’t for the weak!  We got this and we all know what’s waiting for us!  That’ll be the next post.

Have you taken a big road trip?  I’d love to hear about it along with any travel tips!  I have a long way to go with my packing skills (sorry, Casey!) and hotel finesse.  I don’t like hotels but I’m grateful for them when we all need a break.  I absolutely love Colorado and I’m thrilled we were able to see more of it.  The mountains and trees are gorgeous.  I’m excited to get into our rental at Tahoe because it’s one of my happy places!

The journey over the past week has filled my soul and put some new flour on my apron!  Enjoy wherever this 4th of July takes you and, if you get a chance to see the wonders of this country in person, I hope you do it.  America is BIG and BEAUTIFUL!

From the heart,
Shannon

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Doggy Treats

Hi!  I hope your summer is in full gear and you’re finding time to slow down a little and enjoy the outdoors and sunshine!  We’re on our second road trip this month and ready for more adventures in July!

First, there’s a little celebration in order for our sweet beagle, Daisy Mae.  She’s two today!  That adorable girl stole my heart when she was just a few weeks old.  Those long velvet ears and white tipped tail were just too much cuteness!  We brought her home when she was 7 weeks and I’m thankful I get to live among the tribe of dog mamas!

The foodie side of me kicked in shortly after we got her and I started researching all types of dog food and what’s best to feed beagles.  She certainly gets her fair share of homemade food and treats.   In fact, we joke that she eats better than most humans!

This was the day we brought her home and she’s had our hearts ever since!

I recently started making Daisy treats.  I’ve made her food and homemade broth for a while but never got around to making treats.  This recipe is super easy and she loves them!  It’s just 4 ingredients and healthy. Daisy’s birthday seemed like a great time to share a doggy treat recipe.

I didn’t get a photo of the oats and bananas before I mixed the dough together.  I put oats, mashed bananas, coconut oil and peanut butter in my mixer bowl and mixed it all together.  Coconut oil is so good for dogs!

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Next, roll out the dough.  It’s kind of sticky so keep adding oats, as needed, and roll it out.  You can use any shape cookie cutter or just cut into bars.  I added dried blueberries to half my dough.  Add ingredients or modify for your doggy’s taste!

They smell really good while they’re doing their thing in the oven!

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Daisy Mae knows what’s up when Mama’s been baking!

I’m more thankful than ever for this sweet girl and what she’s given me.  I’ve had quite a few friends and family members lose their pets lately and it makes me so sad for them.  I never considered myself a dog person, until Daisy joined our family.  Since then, I’ve fallen head over heels for her and have a whole new appreciation of the bond between humans and their pets.   I’m giving her extra love and hugs today!  Happy 2nd birthday, Daisy Mae!

Try the recipe below and let me know how you like it!

From the heart,
Shannon

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Doggy Treats
Ingredients
3 cups old fashioned oats (you may need a little more)
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup all-natural peanut butter
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine oats, bananas, peanut butter and coconut oil.  Keep adding oats until the dough is no longer sticky.
  3. Knead the dough until it comes together.  Roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch thickness.  Using a cookie cutter, cut desired shapes and place on baking sheet.  If you want to just cut small bars, that works too!
  4. Place in oven and bake until the edges are golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.
  5. Let cool completely.  Store in fridge or freezer.  Daisy loves them frozen and they’ll keep longer.

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Berry Jam

Happy Saturday!  I mentioned in my previous post that I’d share my easy jam recipe.  I don’t use pectin or spend hours making jam.  This jam is bright and fresh and can be modified to include your favorite seasonal berries.  I’ve made variations with strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and mixed in different herbs like thyme and basil.

I love it and everyone I’ve made it for loves it!  It’s yummy on toast, scones, biscuits and makes an incredible topper for ice cream.  If you’re like me and scooping up all the fresh, local berries you can right now, give this jam a try.  It’s easy and delicious!

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Start with berries.  It’s strawberry season so that’s what I’m using.  Slice them and place in a medium saucepan.  Lightly mash the berries.  Add maple syrup, lemon juice, orange juice and herbs if you’re using.

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Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 55-60 minutes.  Cool and jar it up!

Super simple.  This also makes a fun gift that’s jam packed with love!  🙂  The full recipe is below. Have fun!

From the heart,
Shannon

Berry Jam

Ingredients
About 6 cups berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries–use one kind or mix)
1 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
Optional:  2 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or basil or rosemary leaves

Directions
Place the berries in a medium saucepan. Lightly mash the berries (you can use a potato masher, pastry blender or a fork). Add the maple syrup, lemon juice, orange juice and herbs if using. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for 55-60 minutes until thick. Cool for about 2 hours. The jam will continue to thicken. Refrigerate in air-tight jars for up to 1 month. Spread on everything!

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Strawberry Fields and Cake

It’s summer break and we’ve had lots of rain here in NE Ohio.  School’s out and our schedules have shifted nicely to planning days packed with fun and nights that go a little later to allow for a decent amount of hammock time, games and star gazing (and more wine).

One of the many things I love about this time of year is all the fresh, local produce.  It fills me with joy!  A couple weeks ago, we grabbed strawberries from Huffman Fruit Farm at the Countryside Farmers’ Market.  We almost ate all of them before we got home!  All of a sudden, it tasted like summer.  I’ve been making a list of recipes I want to make over the next couple months and Strawberry Chamomile Olive Oil Cake with Honeyed Ricotta (mouthful), was on deck.  I found the recipe on one of my favorite blogger sites, Half Baked Harvest, and I knew it would be amazing! Everything I’ve tried on her site has been simple and yummy.

We decided to pick strawberries at Rittman Orchards and what a fun time!  We took Carrie’s friend and Daisy and started picking.  The weather was perfect and the view was incredible!

I couldn’t wait to get started on making something strawberry!  I made jam ASAP (I’ll share that recipe next) and then prepped everything to get going on the cake.  I’ve never made an olive oil cake before and my daughter, Hannah, and I were talking about making one the next time we’re together.  After making and eating this one, I’ll make an olive oil cake anytime!

This cake is light and refreshing and made me feel happy while I ate it.  It’s not too sweet and just melts in your mouth.  I love the simplicity.  It’s quick and easy to prepare for summer get togethers, brunch, birthdays or the upcoming Father’s Day weekend.  What dad wouldn’t love this?

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It all starts with fresh ingredients.  The cake is easy to prepare and using local eggs makes all the difference.  I used eggs from Mud Run Farm and that color is just what you want for this cake.

Once the cake was in the oven, I steeped chamomile tea bags in local honey from Brighton Wool and Honey.  The sliced strawberries took a dip in the infused honey.

This picture captures the moment nicely.

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Next up, was the honeyed ricotta.  Ricotta with honey and lemon whipped in the food processor until smooth and fluffy.  Easy.

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Did I mention Carrie’s friend slept over?  Here’s a view of our kitchen while I was making cake and breakfast.  This is real life and pictures that usually get posted don’t always share what’s really happening behind the scenes.  I love it! Could there be more going on in that small space?  🙂

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The cake finished baking, the strawberries were soaking and the ricotta was setting up in the fridge.  On our way back from taking Carrie’s friend home, I saw daisies growing on the side of the road and a bunch came home with us.  Some went in a mason jar while others adorned the cake.  So sweet.

I had so much fun putting on the finishing touches and photographing this cake.  It was even more fun to eat and I highly recommend making it! Just look at the inside.  It’s a beautiful color and texture.  I am delighted when baked goods turn out so well!

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As we were eating it, we talked about what we’d change or add.  It would be amazing with blueberries or raspberries!  I liked the ricotta but I think I’d substitute mascarpone next time.  I love the taste and texture of mascarpone and think it would compliment this very well.  You can also do whipped cream but the idea of whipped ricotta or mascarpone make it feel a little more special and unique.  Try it.

I did some research on how to share recipes I’ve found in cookbooks or online.  I made slight changes to the recipe, but not enough to take any credit for it.  Go to Half Baked Harvest to follow it exactly.  While you’re there, try all of her recipes.  She’s amazing and I’m thankful she shares her love of food with us!

This cake is versatile and you can easily modify to make it your own!  Let me know if you make it and how you like it!

From the heart,
Shannon

School’s Out (and a banana bread recipe)

It’s the end of the school year.  Wait, what?  Wasn’t it just December? We were so exhausted from all the homework, studying, play rehearsals, field hockey games and practices, voice lessons, ski club, swim meets, theatre classes, lacrosse games and practices, birthday parties and everyday school and work life.  It felt like there was no end in sight!  Yet, here we are and school is winding down and summer break is here and I’m not at all sad about it!

Last summer, was the summer dreams are made of.  We went on an amazing trip out west.  Carrie, Daisy (our beagle) and I drove across the country from Ohio and met up with Casey (my husband) in Salt Lake City, then headed to Lake Tahoe.   The drive was long, tiring and exhilarating all at once!  Daisy was so confused but quickly learned about long stretches in the car, bathroom breaks at random gas station grassy areas and hotel elevators.  It was quite the adventure driving to Tahoe.  Once there, we hiked, swam and played continuously for a couple weeks.  Carrie turned twelve in Tahoe and I wanted to stay in those moments forever.

We left (reluctantly) and she started 7th grade with all the excitement the start of the school year brings.  We heard this year would be brutal and that was no lie.  She’s learned a great deal about time management, BIG school projects, hours of studying and relationships (good and bad).  I learned a lot about patience, acceptance and letting go and maybe some new wines I hadn’t tried. 🙂  Middle school is hard!  Of course, she got through it and I’m so proud of her for trying new things, getting good grades and navigating through some tough situations!

We usually go all out on end of the year teacher gifts.  Last year, we made these cute baskets for DIY Sparkling Rosemary Lemonade and relaxation.  Big surprise…I like to go the homemade route!  They were so fun and the teachers loved them!  As a matter of fact, most of them told me the only thing missing was vodka.  Truth!

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This year, Carrie’s a little older and we’ve done teacher gifts throughout the year and I’m not sure it’s still “cool” to give teachers big homemade presents.  So, for the last day, we chose to do something a little more simple by making homemade banana bread and include sweet notes and gift cards from Carrie.  Teachers work countless hours and we hope this small, but loving, treat helps them know how much we appreciate them!

I’m sharing a banana bread recipe I’ve made for years.  It’s not heavy because it calls for yogurt instead of a ton of butter and oil.  You can also make it your own by adding all sorts of things like coconut, chocolate chips, toasted walnuts, pecans, cinnamon…the sky’s the limit!  Go BANANAS!  I’ve included other options below in the recipe.

You’ll start with some super ripe bananas (I didn’t get a picture of those before I started making this recipe).  Measure out your dry ingredients, prep loaf pans and combine the small amount of butter and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy and add eggs, one at a time.  Then add mashed bananas, yogurt and vanilla.

I made three recipes here and I wanted to make mini loaves.  I wash and reuse the foil loaf pans and simply spray them with coconut oil.  You can use a larger pan or make muffins, just adjust baking time. I also use really good vanilla when I bake.  My favorite is Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract and I mostly buy it on Amazon. I buy in bulk and just keep refilling my smaller jar.  Can you tell it’s been with me forever?

Once the batter is combined, pour into pans or muffin tins.

For this recipe, I kept the batter plain because I didn’t want to worry about nut allergies or anything.  To make it feel a little more special, I love to sprinkle raw/turbinado sugar on top to give the bread a little crunch and fun sparkle.

Bake the bread and let cool slightly, then remove from pans and allow it to completely cool on a rack. By now, your house will smell amazing and you should probably make sure the bread is everything you want it to be.  Have a fresh, warm slice.  Smear it with almond butter or peanut butter or cream cheese or honey.  Brew a pot of coffee.  Take a moment to breathe and indulge.  Yes, please do all of this because it’s almost SUMMER!

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Back to the task at hand.  Once our loaves cooled, we placed them in bags and attached notes from Carrie.  I love that she enjoys hand-writing thank you notes.  She took some time and reflected on her school year and thought about what each teacher means to her.  Writing thank-you notes and giving a homemade gift is such a win-win.  It feels good all around!

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This bread is so easy, makes the perfect gift for anyone in your life and can be frozen for special weekend breakfasts and snacks.  Heck, you don’t even have to wait for the weekend!  I saved a loaf to have for our first official day of summer break breakfast.  Yes! I hope you make it and love it and give it!

Classic Banana Bread

Ingredients
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour or use whole wheat pastry flour (I love King Arthur flours)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar (you can use coconut sugar or granulated white sugar)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 bananas)
1/3 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking spray (coconut is my preferred)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt, stirring with a whisk.
  3. Place sugar and butter in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 2 minutes).
  4. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
  5. Add banana, yogurt, and vanilla; beat until blended. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until moist.  Spoon batter into an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan (or mini size pan or muffin tins) coated with cooking spray.
  6. Bake at 350° for 1 hour (or less if you use a smaller pan) or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack. Wrap or place in a storage container to keep fresh. Freezes beautifully!

Your can make this banana bread fit what you’re craving by following some of these options:
Marble style: Stir 1 cup batter and 1/2 cup melted semisweet chocolate chips together in a small bowl. Spoon plain batter into pan, alternating with dollops of chocolate-chip batter. Drag a knife through batter to swirl. Bake as directed.

Berry style:  Fold 1 cup fresh blueberries into batter. Bake as directed.

French-toast: Cut bread into 3/4-inch slices. Toast until slightly crisp on both sides. Whisk together 2 eggs, 2 Tbsp. milk, ground cinnamon and nutmeg to taste as well as a pinch of salt in a shallow bowl. Dip bread in mixture, let excess drip off, then place on a hot griddle, turning once.

Chocolate-chip style: Fold 1 cup dark  or semi sweet chocolate chips into batter. Bake as directed.

Streusel style: Combine 2 Tbsp. rolled oats, 2 Tbsp. flour, 1 Tbsp. brown sugar, 1 Tbsp. butter, melted, and 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg in a medium bowl. Divide batter among 12 paper-lined muffin cups. Top with streusel. Bake at 350°F until done, about 25 minutes.

Coconut style:  Fold 1 cup shredded coconut into batter.  You can even add lime juice and zest or make a lime glaze for the top to take you away to the tropics.  Bake as directed.

*Recipe adapted from Cooking Light magazine