Egg-Free No-Cook Cinnamon Roll Ice Cream March 22, 2013

Filed under: Food — VisibleBlue @ 1:41 pm
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Cinnamon Roll Ice Cream

A few months ago, my husband got me an ice cream maker attachment for my Kitchenaid stand mixer. Since that time, I’ve made a number of tasty ice creams, but none have been so easy with such good results as this one – described to me as “Cinnabon in ice cream form.” I served it with fresh apple crisp, but honestly, I think it’s better on its own. Maybe a smidge of caramel sauce, if you’re into that sort of thing. A few almonds wouldn’t hurt either. Without further ado, the recipe:

Cinnamon Roll Ice Cream

Makes about 1 quart

  • 1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk (chilled – I stuck mine in the freezer for about 20 minutes while I made the apple crisp)
  • 1 1/4 c whipping cream
  • 1  c whole milk
  • 1/4 c sugar (I used raw for a richer flavor)
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • 1 t pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 t almond extract
  • 2 t ground cinnamon
  1. Add all the ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk rapidly to dissolve the sugar and salt.
  2. Freeze according to ice cream maker directions, 20 minutes or so.
  3. Transfer to sealed container to set in the freezer, at least 4 hours.

To be honest, I had pretty large granules of sugar at the bottom of my mixture and if you wanted to heat the milk separately and dissolve the sugar and salt, you could absolutely do that, but you would need to chill the mixture for several hours before churning. At that point, you might as well use eggs! My mantra for ice cream is (almost) the same as the one we repeat when brewing our own beer: “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew homechurn(?).” The ice cream turned out fine – creamy and rich – and I haven’t even once crunched on an un-dissolved sugar or salt crystal. It stays scoopable after freezing and has a lovely subtle buttery flavor that reminds me so much of my Mom’s cinnamon rolls!


Square Foot Gardening – Post Mortem November 1, 2012

Filed under: Food,Gardening — VisibleBlue @ 10:29 pm
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Last weekend, Hurricane Sandy brought a cold front through my neck of the woods, and with it, an end to my gardening season. Sure, I still have a few squares of lettuce and the kale and nasturtium are going strong, but pulling down yards and yards of (still flowering!) tomato plants broke my heart. Still, with the end of one season comes the planning of the next, so here’s what worked and didn’t work for me, and what I’ll do differently for next year.

For the record, I live in zone 6a.

Garden, late June. You can see the tomatoes on the left side, already at the top of the trellis, and pumpkin on the right side, already invading the neighbor’s yard.

General setup: Two 3′ by 4′ boxes, each 6″ deep, filled with the Mel’s Mix recipe. Two 4′ by 6′ trellises, on the east side of the boxes, against a fence. (I know, I know, horrible placement for a garden, but I have a small yard in the city, and not a lot of choice on where to locate!) I did not add fertilizer or anything other than water throughout the season. When replanting squares, I replenished with compost.

Spring Planting: 

  • 2 squares red onions (variety unknown) – 30 small-medium sized onions harvested. Next year I will do a smaller variety or plant the larger ones 9 to a square, as well as plant a sweeter yellow variety.
  • 2 squares ‘Super Sugar Snap’ peas – Harvested occasionally until hot weather, but never enough at one time for a side dish. Next year I will do at least 4 squares. Peas are my favorite!
  • 2 squares ‘Winterbor’ kale – Still going strong, in November, and nearly 3′ tall at this point! They have escaped the box and are annexing the sidewalk.
  • 2 squares ‘Short ‘n Sweet’ organic carrots – around 25 harvested.
  • 1 square ‘Salad Select’ spinach – A handful of leaves harvested. This was one of my bigger disappointments, and I’m not certain if it was lack of light or something else, but I will try at least one square next year.
  • 2 squares ‘Rainbow Blend’ microgreens – I never really ended up using these, but I could have harvested plenty…
  • 3 squares ‘Burpee’s Looseleaf Mixture’ lettuce – Very prolific, and I was able to harvest well into the hotter days of summer. I will do at least 2 squares of this next year.

Summer Planting:

100% garden-sourced salad.

  • 2 squares ‘Jewel Mix’ nasturtium – 50/50 results on this. One plant limped through the season, producing really weak foliage and just a few flowers, while the other plant did great and is still going. I’ll probably do these in containers next year, but it was nice to have some color in the garden beds.
  • 3 squares ‘Bush Blue Lake 274’ organic beans – These did horribly. The cucumber beetles devoured them and I never got a single bean. If I have some open squares next year I may try again, but these will not be a priority.
  • 2 squares unknown squash – One turned out to be a pumpkin, and the other never produced fruit. This was a fantastic example of why not to plant volunteer squash in a square foot garden, though. The two plants completely overtook my trellis, started in on the other trellis, ended up over the fence in my neighbor’s yard, and sprawled about 12 feet into the rest of my yard. We had every pest imaginable, including squash vine borers, cucumber beetles, squash beetles, and what I think was powdery mildew. It was a mess, but for my trouble I got 5 cute small pumpkins, which were actually fun to carve instead of the tedious giant ones we usually do at Halloween. These plants also completely blocked the light of the surrounding squares, essentially rendering that box unusable until fall.
  • 1 square basil – I only had one plant left after something ate the other four. It did okay, but didn’t get much light after being shadowed by enormous tomato plants.
  • 1 square cumin – Never sprouted (thanks, giant squash plant.)
  • 1 square dill – Ditto above.
  • 1 square serrano pepper – Harvested about 20 peppers. I probably would have been able to get more, but the plant produced one pepper, and didn’t flower anymore until after I harvested that one. I wish I had cut it sooner. The plant was still flowering when I pulled it over the weekend.
  • 1 square ‘Rose de Berne’ tomato – Least favorite of the tomatoes I planted. Harvested a handful around mid-summer, and just a few since then. I’ll pass on this one next year. Still, even the smallest and least prolific of my tomatoes was over 6′ tall and still flowering at the end of October.
  • 1 square ‘Valencia’ tomato – We loved this one, and got a lot of tomatoes off the plant. They look so pretty in a salad or salsa!
  • 1 square ‘German Johnson’ tomato – Very prolific, very HUGE. This one went all the way up the trellis, then folded over the top and went all the way back down, and started going up again! We got some nice fat tomatoes, at least 6″ in diameter, as well as some smaller ones.
  • 1 square ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes – Definitely my favorite garden item this year. I could not believe how big this plant got, and we’ve been swimming in cherry tomatoes since before the fourth of July! They are so juicy and sweet, my son ate handfuls every time we went outside.

Side view of garden in mid-July.

Autumn Planting:

has pretty much been a failure this year. Everything went in kind of late because I had to get rid of the squash first, and everything’s getting eaten up by animals of some sort. (I hope it’s not my dog!) Still, here’s what went in:

  • 2 squares carrots – Maybe I’ll see them next year?
  • 1 square looseleaf lettuce – 2 plants survived.
  • 1 square ‘Tom Thumb’ butterhead lettuce – Still holding out hope for this one.
  • 1 square spinach – Another miserable failure.
  • 2 squares (8 heads) hardneck garlic – So excited about this one! See you in 2013…

So what will change for next year? First of all, I plan on putting in 2 more boxes, on the other side of the yard. (Yes, next to a fence on the west side. Sigh.)

One 2′ x 4′ box will be only for tomatoes, and I’ll do a taller trellis (using the entire 10′ length of conduit, I think) perpendicular to the fence. I’ll be making this change for several reasons: first of all, the foliage of the tomatoes shaded everything in the box except the kale, which escaped onto the sidewalk. Secondly, 6′ was just too short for even the smallest tomato plant I grew this year! And orienting the trellis perpendicular to the fence will make harvesting easier – on a few occasions, I had to have my monkey-armed husband reach the tomatoes on the very inside of the plants. I need to be more careful with pinching the suckers – I was very good about it, until we had to abandon our house for a powerless week. When I came back, it had grown so much that I just gave up and let them go. I’d like to do 6-8 different plants next year, and add a paste-type tomato or two.

I will also be building one deeper box, for root vegetables. I really want to try growing potatoes next year! I’ll put the carrots and onions in there as well.

With the squash out of the picture, I’ll have room for cucumbers on my trellis. I grew a few of the ‘Homemade Pickles’ variety in a pot, but I’d like to see how they’d do in the SFG, with proper support. I also want a bell pepper plant (we got tons of these in the CSA this year, but we won’t be joining next summer) and possibly another chili pepper. I’ve also got  a whole list of herbs I’d like to try, though I’m not 100% sold on doing these in the boxes if I don’ t have room. Even though space is an issue for me in my yard, square foot gardening helps me to get a ton of different crops into the limited area I have!


Square Foot Gardening – a Revelation August 1, 2012

During the dead of winter I was at the library with my son, in the kid’s section. I spotted a book on the reshelving pile called Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew. Intrigued by the picture on the front, I picked it up and glanced through. I was impressed and curious about what I saw inside. I took it home with me and waited impatiently for the growing season to begin.

Square foot gardening is a re-engineered version of the traditional home garden. It has a few major tenets:

  • Gardens are built in raised boxes with a grid divided into one square foot sections
  • A special soil mix fills the boxes – you don’t use existing soil, which means you can put your garden anywhere you like, with minimal digging/weeding/etc.
  • The garden is located in an often-used part of your yard
  • You plant only the seeds you need, and store the rest for following years
  • Plants are grown in groups of 1, 4, 9, or 16 within the square divisions, not rows

Some of the major benefits of square foot gardening are space conservation (plants grow in 20% of the space required in a traditional bed garden), water conservation (only water the roots of your plant instead of the entire garden), easy upkeep (weeding takes very little time, and doesn’t need to be done often, since you’re using brand new soil), and natural crop rotation (when one square’s crop is done, replant with something else!)

I live in a fairly urban area, so my backyard is about the size of Buckingham Palace’s bathrooms. In past years, I tried to garden on the side of the house, but you know what they say – out of sight, out of mind – and by midseason, my garden would invariably be a tangle of weeds and crowded, sickly plants. Last year I attempted to do all my gardening in containers on the deck, but that failed even more miserably as I wasn’t able to keep them watered properly. I assumed gardening just wasn’t for me and that I would never grow more than a few tomato plants.

SFG Garden

Sorry for the cell phone picture!

When I decided to try SFG, I opted to put the boxes on a patch of weeds and bone-dry dirt between my neighbor’s fence and the path to our garage. Nothing would grow there anyway, and it was heavily trafficked, so it seemed like an ideal location. The area was almost exactly 3 feet deep, so I built two 3′ by 4′ boxes. The cost? Nothing, I just used some lumber we had sitting around in our garage. I’m no carpenter, but I was able to build the boxes in an afternoon mostly by myself (I needed a hand cutting the lumber to size.)

The soil, Mel’s Mix, is a blend of 1/3 each of vermiculite, peat moss, and compost. The vermiculite and peat moss I was able to buy at our local nursery, and we’ve been composting kitchen scraps for years, so I had no shortage of compost. You fill the boxes and affix some sort of grid to the top. I stapled mini-blind slats to the boxes to create my grid – each box held 12 1′ squares.

In addition, I built trellises for each box for vertical gardening. I made these out of electrical conduit, cut to size, and attached at the corners with some plastic plumbing parts. Each trellis was slid over rebar hammered into the ground, which both keeps them vertical and gives you the option to put the trellis away when it’s not in use. Finally, I tied nylon trellis net (available at garden centers) to the top and sides to form the trellis itself. These fixtures are extremely strong, and have held up in 70 mph+ winds. Here is a great video tutorial on building your trellis.

Now, we’re mid-summer, and here is a list of things I have successfully grown in just 24 square feet of previously unused yard space: kale (2 plants), basil, cilantro, peas (16 plants), carrots (2 squares), onions (2 squares), tomatoes (4 plants), nasturtium (2 plants), microgreens, green beans (3 squares), lettuce (3 squares), squash – but I’m not sure what kind yet, they were volunteers – pumpkin, maybe?, Serrano peppers, and spinach. The kale, tomatoes, and squash have done particularly well – my tomato plants are over 12′ tall, and just LOVE the trellis. I’m harvesting at least 20 cherry tomatoes a day off a single plant. The squash has sort of taken over – it covers the entire trellis and has moved on to the rest of the yard and is trying to annex my neighbor’s yard as well, so I have to keep it in check. At the moment I have about 6 empty squares just waiting for fall’s crops to go in.

If you’re interested, the best place to get started is Mel’s book, but there are lots of resources available online to help you, too. One excellent reference for plant spacing and other information specific to SFG is My Square Foot Garden. So, what I’m trying to say is that I can’t believe this gardening technique isn’t more popular. I haven’t even listed half the benefits – it’s amazing what a little fresh thinking has done to revolutionize what is a centuries-old process.


Jam Math, and a Recipe (Cherry-Berry Ginger Jam) July 31, 2012

Filed under: Food — VisibleBlue @ 1:28 pm
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A year or so ago, my mother-in-law gave me a bunch of canning jars and a canner that someone was trying to get rid of.  I found a new home for them on an empty shelf in my basement, and they’ve been there ever since. After all, I have a freezer, right? Can’t I just store everything in there?

Well, after a nasty weekend-plus-long power outage and a summer full of tasty berries from my CSA, I see the value in canning. I bought a few lids and gave myself a crash course in canning by cobbling together little tips I found all over the internet. One thing I noticed over and over again was the warning not to alter a jam recipe, or it won’t set. But that’s not my style! If I can’t personalize and experiment with my cooking, I’m just not interested.

Homemade Zesty Dill PicklesFeeling daunted, I started small with this Zesty Dill Pickle recipe I found. Technically, it doesn’t involve canning at all, but I did get to use the jars and lids. I haven’t tried them yet as they take a few weeks to pickle, but the brine smelled fantastic. (As fantastic as something that’s half vinegar can smell, anyway.) I did one batch of cucumbers and peppers and another of green beans.

After that, I decided to go ahead with the jam. Worst case scenario – a learning experience and lots of runny ice cream topping, that doesn’t sound so bad! I didn’t have a recipe to go off of specific to the fruit I had on hand, so I tried using a little math to find the sugar to fruit ratios myself.

First on the list of fruit that had to go – blueberries. After crushing them, I had about 2 cups of fruit, which was about 40% of the fruit required for the blueberry jam chart in the pectin box. 40% of the sugar in that recipe was 1.6c, so I wrote that number down and went on. I also had about 2 cups of crushed blackberries and raspberries, a little over 30% of the fruit called for in the raspberry jam chart. 30% of the sugar was 1.38c. At this point, I had 70% of the fruit accounted for, so I filled the last 30% with sweet cherries. 30% was 1.5c of cherries and .9c of sugar. Adding the sugar totals together produced about 3.88c of sugar, so I just rounded it to 4 cups even. I used grated fresh ginger as well as ground ginger to add a little more depth to the flavor, and a bit of lemon juice and zest.

At this point, I followed the directions in the box of pectin. (You can find those here if you need more detailed directions.) The process wasn’t difficult, just time consuming. The jam turned out great, but maybe a little sweet. It had a fairly firm set so I’m sure you could reduce the sugar by at least 1/4c, if not more, or use sour cherries instead. The ginger adds a nice bite to counteract some of the sweetness. This recipe made about 7.5 cups, so there’s a half-jar in my fridge that we’ve been enjoying!


  • 1 pint blackberriesCherry-Berry Ginger Jam
  • 1 pint raspberries (crush with blackberries to make 2 cups total)
  • 1 quart blueberries (crush to make 2 cups)
  • 2.5 cups sweet cherries (chopped in food processor to make 1.5c)
  • 4 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 box less/no sugar needed pectin
  • 1 inch grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • half a small lemon, zested, plus a generous squeeze of juice

Combine crushed fruit, 1/4 cup sugar, and pectin in a large saucepot. Bring to a full boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in remaining sugar, return to a full rolling boil, and boil exactly one minute. Remove from heat and skim foam if desired. Fill prepared jars to within 1/8 inch of the top, wipe the rims, and cover with two piece lids. Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes (at sea level.) Let stand 24 hours at room temperature.

I’m thrilled that the experiment worked out – here is the formula I used to arrive at this recipe, in a little clearer format than the rambling words above. The reason I needed to use the formula was because I wanted to make a full batch of jam with the whole box of pectin, but I didn’t have enough of any one fruit. This method requires that each original recipe uses the same amount and type of pectin (if any) as they are not interchangeable. I can’t guarantee it’ll work for every recipe, but it seemed to do the trick in this case! Sorry if this is unclear – as you can see, math is not my strong suit. Feel free to leave a comment with any questions and I’ll do my best to explain any confusing areas!  (Example in red.)

fruit on hand (crushed) / total fruit in original recipe = percentage of fruit 
--- do this for each fruit, until the percentages add up to 100%
2 cups raspberries (crushed) / 5 cups berries in original recipe = 0.4, or 40%; 
2 cups blueberries (crushed) / 6.5 cups berries in recipe = 0.31, or about 30%;
1.5 cups cherries (chopped) / 5 cups in recipe = 0.3, or 30%

sugar in original recipe * percentage of fruit = new sugar amount 
--- again, do this for each fruit you're using
raspberries: 4 cups sugar * 0.4 = 1.6 cups sugar;
blueberries: 4.5 cups sugar * 0.3 = 1.35 cups sugar;
cherries: 3 cups sugar * 0.3 = 0.9 cups sugar;

fruit 1 new sugar amount + fruit 2 new sugar amount + ... = total sugar
1.6 c (rasp) + 1.35 c (blue) + 0.9 c (cherries) = 3.85 c sugar total (I rounded up to 4)


Easy Summer Snack – Banana “Faux-yo” May 29, 2012

Filed under: Food — VisibleBlue @ 11:09 pm
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A quick post for a quick treat – what do you do with your past-their-prime bananas in summer? It’s too hot for banana bread, so try this instead. The prep: peel your overripe bananas and wrap each banana individually in plastic wrap.  Freeze for 2-3 hours, or do what I do and store them in a bag or container in the freezer to be ready at any time.

Banana “Faux-yo”

  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 6 oz. container Greek yogurt (any flavor is fine, but I like a simple vanilla)

Break the banana into 2-3 chunks and add to your blender. Spoon in the yogurt (pour extra liquid off the top if you’re not using Greek yogurt.) Blend! Look for a thick consistency like soft-serve frozen yogurt – you don’t want to turn it into a smoothie!

This recipe works better with an immersion blender – I just put everything into a cup, blend, and then I can eat it right away with a spoon. It’s great for kids, too – my son loves this as an afternoon snack. It is so similar to ice cream, you’ll feel like you’re cheating if you eat it for breakfast.


What’s blue, googly-eyed, and in my downstairs fridge? April 5, 2012

Filed under: DIY,Food,Kids — VisibleBlue @ 9:55 pm
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Cookie Monster Cupcakes

I giggle every time I open the refrigerator door.

My little boy is turning two tomorrow, and loves Cookie Monster. What better way to celebrate than with Cookie Monster cupcakes? I saw these on Pinterest and I just knew I had to make them for his birthday. Wanna do it yourself? Check out tips here, here, or here.

I chose to use frosting instead of coconut (husband: “Ew.”)  for the shaggy fur effect. I used a Wilton grass/hair tip (#233 I think?) and this totally delicious buttercream frosting recipe with a healthy dose of bright blue paste food coloring. I halved the recipe and it frosted a dozen normal size cupcakes with just a little left over. Clearly, I’m not a pro at piping, but I’m happy with the results anyway.

For the eyes, I used vanilla melts and chocolate chips. While I planned on attaching the pupils with a dab of icing, my husband came up with the great idea of just melting the two together, so I just pressed the flat side of the chocolate chip on a warm pan and stuck it to the melts. After sitting overnight in the fridge, they were firmly adhered.

Now all I need is a good blue-frosting-stain-remover for the party aftermath!


Out of meatless Friday dinner ideas? Look here! February 22, 2012

Filed under: Food — VisibleBlue @ 2:02 pm
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I used to dread meatless Fridays during Lent – now I  love them as a great excuse to try out some new vegetarian recipes. I’m not Catholic, but my family is, so I try to make things we’ll all enjoy. Sick of fish and chips every week? Try one of these great recipes:

Black bean burgers – Forget the expensive store-bought kind! These are easy to make and delicious – plus, you can customize them however you like. I add corn and a chopped tomato when I make them. Bake, grill, or fry.

Quinoa and sweet potato cakes – I haven’t tried these yet, but I’m making them tonight.

Fish tacos – Use whatever kind of fish you want – I like to use a beer batter, or for a shortcut, you can use frozen fish. Serve with avocado yogurt sauce (clove of garlic, pinch of salt, plain yogurt, and an avocado – blend them all together) and tomatoes on soft corn tortillas. It’s also great with seared cabbage and red onions with a squeeze of lime juice.

Tofu parmigiana – If you’re scared of tofu, don’t be. You won’t miss the chicken at all! I like to make this with tofu that has been frozen for a meatier texture – just drain and wrap the tofu in paper towels, squeezing out all the moisture, and then wrap in plastic to freeze.

Baingan Bharta (eggplant curry) – A very mild curry, even my 2 year old likes it. (But he’ll eat just about anything.) Eat this with garlic naan.

Falafel – Make the cucumber sauce with Greek yogurt (or strained regular yogurt), and leave out the mayo.

Vegan split pea soup – This recipe makes a TON of super hearty, thick soup. I make this on a regular basis, and sometimes I’ll make it with chicken broth or ham chunks. Serve it with a nice crusty bread.

Spinach roll-ups – These are great to freeze ahead. This recipe is missing some garlic though! (I add garlic to everything.)

Pesto Frittata – I whipped up a batch of this when trying to get rid of some leftovers the other day, and will definitely be rotating it into regular meals. In a bowl, beat several eggs with pepper, diced onion, diced tomato, a little milk, and some prepared pesto (I used a homemade garlic scape pesto – yum!) Heat a skillet with a little olive oil and toss in some cooked spaghetti (sorry, I don’t really do measurements in my kitchen when I’m not baking. If you need a recipe, a quick Google search will net you plenty.)  When the spaghetti is warm, pour your egg mixture on top. After several minutes, flip the frittata with the help of a large plate and cook until the egg is set. A few minutes under the broiler will get you a crispy browned top, if you like.