Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Pizzas on the Grill - A Summertime Fave

Summer is here and that means grilling season. So today I'm going to revisit one of my favorite things to grill - pizza.

Some of you are probably raising a brow right now, but just hang with me and you'll see how easy, and delicious, it really is WITHOUT heating up the kitchen.

For starters, you've got to have the right crust. Yes, you can use the pre-made store-bought crusts, but they won't satisfy the way a good homemade crust will. And if you're going to take the time to make a good crust, you may as well make extras to keep in the freezer. Then you can have pizza anytime you like.

For one batch of dough, you will need:

  • 1 cup lukewarm water (105-115 degrees)
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • one packet (or 2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast (I use the rapid rise)
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 3/4 tsp. coarse salt
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil 

Mix water and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Sprinkle yeast over the top of the water and let mixture stand until foamy, roughly 5 minutes.

While you're waiting, pulse flour and salt in food processor to mix.

Add the olive oil and yeast mixture and process 20-30 seconds, until the dough comes together in a sticky ball.

Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for 5 minutes.

Form into ball and place dough in a large, oiled bowl, turning until dough in coated.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm, draft free area until doubled in size (about an hour).

Punch dough down and turn onto lightly floured work surface.
Using a large knife, quarter dough.
One at a time, shape dough wedge roughly into a ball. Place the dough ball on the work surface and, with your hand cupped over it, roll it on the work surface until the surface of the dough is smooth.
Place dough balls in a large resealable plastic bag and refrigerate up to 48 hours. The dough will continue to rise, but this resting period is what makes the crust soft on the inside, crispy on the outside.
Let dough sit at room temperature for 1 hour before shaping, or freeze for up to two weeks, letting frozen dough sit at room temperature two hours before shaping.

On a floured work surface, press each dough ball into 9-in. round. To make mini pizzas, cut each dough ball into three or four pieces before shaping.

Now this next part varies, depending on what type of grill you have. In general, you want to use indirect heat. Oh, and if you don't have a grill, feel free to use a 400 degree oven.

Here's how to do it on the grill:

Lower the heat on one side of the grill to low. Oil the grate on that side of the grill. Move the shaped dough to the grill. Lower the edge of the dough onto the oiled grill. (Mindy says, the size of your rounds will determine how many you can comfortably fit on the grate at one time.)
Cover the grill and cook for roughly 3 minutes, until crusts begin to bubble and brown. Loosen crusts with a metal spatula, recover and cook for one more minute. Flip crusts over; cook until beginning to brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes.

Top pizzas as you please and return to grill until toppings are hot and cheese is melted. Sorry, I was so busy cooking everyone's pizzas, I forgot to take a pic of the finished product. But it sure was delicious.

This is especially fun for a party, because everyone gets to build their own pizza. Simply set up an assembly line of every pizza topping you can think of, along with plenty of grated mozzarella, maybe some parmesan... Oh and don't forget the sauce. I usually make my own by pulsing Italian style tomatoes (the ones with the basil, oregano and garlic) in the food processor, then adding a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste. Then just let your guests have at it. (Note: Have the crusts pre-baked before everyone arrives) 

We've done this many times over the years and everyone loves it. Why have pizza out of a box when you can make it an event!

Now it's your turn. Do you love to grill? If so, what's your favorite thing to grill? What's the weirdest thing you've ever grilled?


Three-time Carol Award finalist, Mindy Obenhaus, lives on a ranch in Texas with her husband, the youngest of her five children, two dogs and countless cattle. She's passionate about touching readers with Biblical truths in an entertaining and sometimes adventurous manner. When she's not writing, she enjoys cooking and spending time with her grandchildren. Learn more at mindyobenhaus.com

Monday, June 18, 2018

Touring the Black Hills: Welcome to Mystic

Jan here, with another trip to my favorite place - the Black Hills of South Dakota.

One of our goals this year is to hike on trails we haven't explored yet. Actually, that could be our goal for the next ten years - there are a lot of places within a short drive that we haven't been to yet! 

Ever since spring arrived, we've been packing a picnic lunch, sticking the cooler in the truck, and heading up into the Hills at least once a week.

A few weeks ago, we chose a trail in the northern Black Hills, in the Mystic area.

Lovely, isn't it?
We parked at the parking area along Mystic Road and headed up the trail.

It was a beautiful day in May, and the trail was easy to follow...

...as long as we could see the trail markers. That's our trail - number 40. There are also deer tracks on the signs in case we forgot the number.

Our trail followed the Mickelson Trail for a quarter-mile or so. The Mickelson is a Rails to Trails project. It is 109 miles long and extends through the length of the Black Hills. Bicyclists, hikers, and horseback riders are allowed to use the trail. No motorized vehicles, which makes the hike pleasant.

And yes, just like the railroad, you get to go through tunnels and over trestles!

Before long though, we found our turn-off.

You can tell we've gotten a lot of rain this spring!

And I found a patch of my favorite spring flowers - Shooting Stars!

Do you see them nestled along that bit of rock?

This part of the Hills was the home of gold mines and prospectors 125 years ago...and today Mystic is nearly a ghost town.

This area's rocks are very different from the granite around Mt. Rushmore!

After an hour, we headed back toward our truck, but we'll be back on the hiking trails soon. The mountains call with a siren's song.

Next week, I'll take you to a place that is so different from the Mystic area that you'll think we've gone to another planet!

Until then, where are your favorite places to explore?

Jan Drexler lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband and growing family. When she isn't writing, she loves hiking in the Hills or satisfying her cross stitch addiction.

You can find Jan on Facebook, Jan Drexler, author, or her website, Jan Drexler.com.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Creative Ice Cream Flavors!

Missy Tippens

Have you ever been inspired by something creative...like ice cream flavors?

I was inspired recently when we went to an ice cream shop I'd been hearing people rave about: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. We went to the one in Decatur (Georgia). I've also heard you can buy it at the grocery store as well! Or order online, apparently.

Here are some of the cool flavors I saw in the store. I had such a hard time deciding...

Yes, I ended up getting the goat cheese flavor. It was so good! I really want to go back soon to try more.

Next time you're doing something creative, try something different. Combine different flavors or shapes or colors...or (for us writers) different character combos.

Maybe combine characters from two towns. Or two families from different series.

And if you need inspiration, try visiting a cool ice cream shop. You never know what you might dream up. :)


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Chicken Alfredo with Bacon

by Mindy Obenhaus

Okay, so the title of this post alone is pretty much 'nuf said. But, of course I will elaborate. 

I'm still in that ho-hum phase when it comes to fixing dinner. I don't want the same old same ol'. So when I decided to fix Chicken Alfredo the other night, I thought to myself, "What can I do to make this different? Better."

Well, as we're fond of saying around our house, bacon makes everything better, so why not.

I started with two pieces of thick-sliced bacon because I didn't want to go overboard. Ha! We're talking bacon. Is there such a thing as overboard? And while two were good I think I'd go with three or four next time. 

Cut the slices into small pieces, toss them in a skillet and fry until they're crisp. Then remove the bacon from the skillet onto a paper towel, leaving the rendered fat in the pan.

While the bacon is cooking, cut two boneless, skinless chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces. Add those to the hot skillet, along with salt and pepper to taste.
Stir those around until thoroughly cooked.
Stir in bacon chunks and remove from skillet.
See why I said I'd add more bacon next time?

Drain and wipe out skillet with paper towel then, with skillet over low heat, add one stick of butter. 
Once that's melted, add 1 cup heavy whipping cream and 1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese.

Whisk until smooth and creamy Add salt and pepper to taste. 

When you're ready to serve, simply add your favorite cooked pasta to a shallow bowl, add the chicken/bacon mixture and top with sauce.

Sorry, I got a little ahead of myself and started eating before taking this pic. But it was so worth it. That little bit of bacon flavor took your average chicken alfredo and boosted it to another level. Easy and delicious. My favorite kind of meal. 

And now for a couple of gratuitous baby pictures. Fawns are starting to show up all over the ranch, though deer are much more skittish than cows, so photo opps are harder to come by. But would you look at this tiny little fawn.
He or she was struggling to keep up with mama. Its little legs so wobbly. Oh, how I love the babies. 
And guess who has graduated to cereal?
Isn't she adorable? Though there's definitely a bit of mischief hiding behind those baby blues. Me thinks she's going to keep mama and daddy very busy in the coming months.

Three-time Carol Award finalist, Mindy Obenhaus, lives on a ranch in Texas with her husband, the youngest of her five children, two dogs and countless cattle. She's passionate about touching readers with Biblical truths in an entertaining and sometimes adventurous manner. When she's not writing, she enjoys cooking and spending time with her grandchildren. Learn more at mindyobenhaus.com

Monday, June 11, 2018

Summer Means Blueberries!

by Jan Drexler

I spent the past three days at a reader's and writer's event in Deadwood, and you need to feel sorry for my family! I have done no cooking at all as I prepped for the event and spent my days away from home.

The weekend was fun - I made a lot of new friends and met some of my Facebook friends in person - but exhausting! I'll be glad to get back to writing!

Before I do, though, we have something to celebrate in our family. Today is our daughter and son-in-law's anniversary! (Can you believe it's been two years?????)

Next week I'll be heading out to join some of my favorite authors for a weekend writing retreat in Minnesota! The retreat is hosted by Gabrielle Meyer and Erice Vetsch and is being held in an historic mansion along the Mississippi River in Minnesota. I'm so ready for this! I'll have photos to share in a couple weeks!

Meanwhile, I'm beginning to think of how to work some of my favorite summer recipes in around our busy summer, and I came across this recipe again. It's been a few years since I made it, but I have blueberries in the freezer!


Blueberry Buckle

In the mid-west, June means strawberries, but July means blueberries!!!!

I bought these at Sam's Club. The price was good, and they're pretty good for grocery store berries - my only option for now.

But seeing these in my fridge awaiting recipes took me back to my earlier life - when I was growing up in southwest Michigan in the 1960's and '70's.

Boy, those were the decades, weren't they? We were all so busy storming into the future that we lost many of the traditions, not missing them until twenty or so years later....

But some traditions never died, and one of those was the yearly trek to Leduc's Blueberries in Paw Paw to pick pounds and pounds of berries to freeze.

If you've never been to western Michigan, you're missing out on some of the best fruit anywhere - berries, apples, cherries, peaches...on and on. Between the Lake (that's Lake Michigan) tempering the winter winds and the sandy soil, it's a perfect place for orchards. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the vineyards! If you're into wine, Michigan rivals California in quality, if not quantity.

But my foray into my childhood memories was complete when I found that Leduc's is still around - check it out here: http://www.leducblueberries.com/

I was sad to see they no longer allow U-Pick. The last time we went picking there was when the children were small - but with four children and my mom along, we picked enough blueberries to last all year in no time!

And even though we now live miles and miles from southwest Michigan, if I'm visiting in July, we'll pick up some berries to bring home! I have an aunt and uncle who drive from Missouri to Michigan every year to fill their freezer.

A highlight at Leduc's are the recipes they supply (available on the website). On Saturday I attempted one I had never tried before - Blueberry Sour Cream Cake.

When I got to this point, I thought maybe something was wrong.

The cake layer was too much like a cookie layer, but I kept going.

It looked okay. It even tasted okay - but it was a bit dry. I'll keep experimenting with this recipe. I have a feeling something was left out when the recipe was printed....

But - never say die, right?

Sunday I made a tried and true Leduc recipe....

Welcome, Blueberry Buckle!

1/4 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Cream 1/4 cup butter with 3/4 cup sugar, then add the egg and beat well.

In a medium bowl, stir together 2 cup flour, baking powder and salt.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with 1/2 cup milk, beating until smooth.

Fold in blueberries, and pour into a greased 9-inch square pan.

For the topping, combine the ingredients and blend well to form crumbs, and then sprinkle the topping over the batter.

Bake at 375° for 35 minutes.

The buckle came out of the oven at 6:00 Sunday evening - just in time to take it to share at our Sunday evening service.

Oh yes, it was delicious.

And those who walked in at the last minute? Well, they shared the crumbs with me :)

This is a quick and easy recipe. Do you know what really makes it, though? That bit of cinnamon in the topping. Mmmm.....

And it's a good thing I have a couple more cups of berries left - more buckle tomorrow!

Jan Drexler lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband and growing family. When she isn't writing, she loves hiking in the Hills or satisfying her cross stitch addiction.

You can find Jan on Facebook, Jan Drexler, author, or her website, Jan Drexler.com.