Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tutorial : How To Make Your Own Extracts

I wanted to post this before Christmas but couldn't because it was what I gave to everyone in my family as part of Christmas this year. So I am posting now. In hopes that it encourages some of y'all to play around and make treats for yourself and others this year.

What kind of treats?  Homemade extracts!

Does anyone remember this post that I did?  That included the photo below?

I didn't have a par-tay, y'all!  Or get all boozy in the corner of my bedroom.  But I did use up both of those bottles of cheap vodka in about a half hour.  Making extracts.  And it was the most fun!

You will find zillions of recipes tell you to buy two and stick them in a big jar of vodka and three weeks later you have vanilla extract. Um...that's a lie. It will likely make really really strong vodka with a hint of vanilla. So if you want a drink base, do that.

Vanilla Extract

* Vodka
* Whole Vanilla Beans

* For a bottle of vodka similar to one pictured above, remove about 1/4 of the vodka and place in a mason jar for later use.
* Using kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, split 15-20 vanilla beans in half, revealing the black stick beans inside.
* Place all of the split beans inside the vodka bottle.  Be sure that they are all covered in liquid- if not add a little of the excess back in.
* Shake the sealed bottle every day for the first two weeks.  After that, shake the bottle once or twice a week for at least two months.  Best after three to four months. 
* Keep vodka bottle in a cool, dark place (such as the back of a pantry). 
* Strain liquid of beans and pods before pouring into dark amber bottles.

You can get great quality Madagascar vanilla beans at a great price from Amazon, ebay and a variety of other online sources.  Don't buy them in the grocery store- those are waaaay too expensive per bean.
Doing this give you really strong, pure vanilla extract!  And per ounce, it's actually a lot less expensive than purchasing it from a store.

You know how Ina says in every episode to "use really good quality" fill in the blank ingredient?  This is what she is talking about. It makes amazing, pure vanilla extract.  Just the smell is insanely good!

Want to do something crazier with the extra vodka in the mason jar?  Well if you want more vanilla, just shove more split vanilla beans in there too.  Or...you can make one of the other flavors I made this past year that included: nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and rosemary!

To make nutmeg extract, I first placed several whole nutmegs in a plastic baggie.  With a rolling pin or meat tenderizer, smash them up into big chunks.  Not into a powder- but do break them up into pieces.  Add them into a jar with vodka.  Same deal as the vanilla extract.  Shake shake every day for a few weeks and then let it sit quietly in a cool, dark corner for several months.  Shaking every so often.  I add a dash to sauces and soups all the time.  Nutmeg is especially great in creamy soups.

Rosemary, cinnamon and clove are easier (if you consider splitting vanilla beans or smashing whole nutmegs difficult).  Simply add fresh rosemary or whole cinnamon sticks or whole cloves into a jar with vodka.  And again, same thing with the shaking and then letting it do it's thing in a dark corner for several months.  Add rosemary to soups, sauces, and salad dressings.  I've added clove and cinnamon to baked goods, tea and coffee so far.

By far my very favorite is the cinnamon!  OMG it is insane.  Smells outrageous.  And the flavor....just out of this world.  I used it to make cinnamon marshmallows this Christmas too and they were everyone's favorite.  Crazy good in hot cocoa.  Sort of makes it a little like Mexican hot chocolate with the spicy cinnamon added.

Now I had intended to order labels from etsy.  However, I waited too long and was sweating getting the bottles before Christmas even.  They arrived a few days before.  So given my lack of time and energy, I simply used what I had on hand.  A gold paint pen.  I just wrote right on the little bottles and called it a Christmas gift.  Hard to see in the photo below but I do promise they were all labeled.

I did also make one more thing with the vodka but that's coming in a second post when I get around to taking a photo.  So stay tuned...

Linked up...
The Kurtz Corner
Tatertots and Jello
Polkadots on Parade

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sorority Girls....Do You Need An Initiation Dress?

Both Images

Girls, I just spotted this deal on The Limited.  Actually, I spotted it this past weekend when they have 15 more selections, including long dresses.  But they all immediately made me think of college girls looking for white dresses off season for Bid Day and Initiation Day. 

They are all under $50 and seem to be selling out quickly.  I know how hard it is to find the elusive white dress mid winter though so figured someone might appreciate me posting this sale.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Can You Believe That Was 26 Years Ago?

Where were you when the Challenger blew up 26 years ago?  Or were you even born yet?  I was in the first grade and can honestly say I was profoundly impacted.  I think about those astronauts often and wonder how the family of Christa McAuliffe is doing today.

It's so odd the things that prove to be long-lasting, major life moments.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


My Christmas tree is still up. 

The ornaments have been down for about a week but the tree (fake and pre-lit) is still up.  And I still turn it on in the evening.  I mean, if it's up, why not turn it on?  I'm thinking of putting the red ornaments back on and just calling it a Valentines day tree.  That just seems easier than actually taking it down.

Obviously my New Year's Resolution to stop procrastinating is working famously.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Making Things

Kelly's Korner is hosting a Show Us Your Life this week about making things and I thought it would be fun to participate.  So let me show you what I make....

Onesies for twinsies.

Coffee cup cozies.

It's never too early to learn to twirl.

Lobstah fabric via Canada.

Ice cream cozies.

Super hero powers!

As seen in the US Senate Gift Shop!

As seen in the US Senate Gift Shop!

As seen in the US Senate Gift Shop!

Preppy pink and green grosgrain ruffles with Lilly Pulitzer liner.

I am in the process of (another) new website.  But if you are ever in the market for baby or girly gift items, please don't hesitate to chat with me.  I love working on custom orders!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Free Subscription To Martha Stewart Is Available Again!

OK now if y'all don't get Martha Stewart Living for FREE by now, you just have no excuse.  I've posted links to get it free three or four times in the last year.  Looks like it is again available (these don't last long though) so if you still need to get sign up, just click the image above and get going.  You have to take a silly quiz- usually about breakfast foods or watches- but start to finish it takes under five minutes.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

Secret Tip To Take Any Brownie Recipe (Or Er...Box Mix) Up A Notch

The other night I tried a new (to me) brownie mix.  Bob's Red Mill gluten free brownie mix.  It's tasty but the directions have a glitch.  They say bake for 20-25 mins but after 45 at the specified temp, mine are still rather gooey in the middle.  Like not totally cooked.  But I was jonesing for a browning something fierce so out they came anyway. 

So Better Batter still wins for me, based on accuracy of directions, for gluten free brownie mixes.

But that's really not the point.  Because the Bob's brownies do in fact taste yummy.  Especially because I added my secret brownie weapon.

Now this is super duper secret so please dear friends, mum's the word. 

Ready?  Are you sitting down?  Feet firmly on the ground?

I add one of these single packs or about 1 tsp. of instant coffee (or espresso).

That's it.  That's my secret.  I am telling you, it changes everything.  It makes the chocolate more chocolaty.  Gives a slight mocha note in the background but if you didn't know they contained the coffee, you might know be able to pin point it.  You would just know they had something extra in them.

So the next time you bake a batch of brownies, from scratch or a box mix, try adding a bit of instant coffee to the batter.  I promise you will roll your eyes back in your head with delight!

OK I do have one more trick, but it's not quite as amazing as the instant coffee.  About two minutes before my brownies are finished baking, I pull them out of the oven and sprinkle them with a handful of chocolate chips.  Then pop the pan back in the oven.  Two minutes later when you are bring them out of the oven for good this time, spread the now melted chocolate chips all over with a spatula.  Allow to cool as normal.  Sooo good and stupid easy.

It's funny because I don't really love chocolate.  With one exception.  Brownies.  I LOVE a fudgy, chocolaty brownie.   

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Muffin Cakes

I've told this story on here before but it never fails to make me giggle so I'm retelling.

When Bestie and I were in college (we were roomies), we liked to cook and bake and host dinner parties.  Instead of keg parties (we tried hosting one and hid in my room until it was over.  not our scene.).  We made muffins A LOT.  Like a few times a week. 

So one late night while taking a study break to bake muffins, Bestie and I were deep in conversation.  And one of us said something to the effect of "we should invent a new food and call it muffin cakes.  It would be like cakes but in the shape of muffins!"  The other one proclaimed this to be the most brilliant idea ever!  Muffin cakes.  Muffin cakes!!  Cakes in the shape of muffins.  Little tiny cakes make in a muffin tin- so genius.

I don't remember who said which part of that conversation and it doesn't matter.  Because we were equally excited about the world's most brilliant invention of muffin cakes.

Until we realized...it sort of totally very much already existed.


Dammit!  Someone already had our genius idea.  Sad face.  Big blonde moment.

But this past weekend when I tried out a new recipe that I saw Giada make, I thought of this exact moment with Bestie.  So B, this one's for you.  I present....MUFFIN CAKES!  They are really yummy, if I do say so myself.  Gluten and refined sugar free, too.

Carrot Zucchini Mini Muffin Cakes

1 cup almond flour

1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 cup grated carrots (from1 medium peeled carrot)
1/2 cup grated zucchini (from 1 medium unpeeled zucchini)
1/2 cup raisins

Frosting (optional):
1 cup cream cheese, at room temperature (about 8 ounces)
1 1/2 tablespoons honey

*For the muffins: Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 mini-muffin cups with (1 1/2-inch) paper liners. Set aside.

*In a medium bowl, sieve together the flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add any solids leftover in the sieve to the bowl and mix in.

*In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the oil, syrup, and egg. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Mix in the grated carrot, grated zucchini, and raisins.

*Using 2 small spoons, fill the prepared muffin cups 3/4 full with the batter and bake until light golden, about 15 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes. Transfer the muffins to a wire rack to cool completely, about 30 minutes.

*For the frosting: In a small bowl, mix together the cream cheese and honey until smooth.  Spread on with a knife or use a zip top baggie, cut tip off and pipe on top.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Unrest. Or Why It Grosses Me Out That Everyone Is Celebrating Joe Paterno.

I need to be honest here.  I was grossed out yesterday evening when I finally got online for the first time and saw a zillion posts on Facebook and Twitter regarding Joe Paterno's passing.  All, every single one, said something like "Despite the recent news, a legend has been lost."

I'm sorry, but knowing something horrible happened and doing nothing about sooo over-rides any sports records. 

Lives were destroyed and Joe Pa contributed.

I am sorry for his family.  And I certainly did not wish him any ill will.  At all.  But I think the celebrations are completely uncalled for given recent admissions. 

It all just made me feel so uneasy and sad that society thinks sports and entertainment success overrides rules and morals and general humanity.  People keep paying Lindsay Lohan, Michael Vick, Paris Hilton, and Charlie Sheen.  Why?  Why would you pay ex-cons whose biggest claim to fame is their ability to consume alcohol or abuse the innocent?

Again, I do wish Mr. Paterno and his family peace.  But a celebration of such chaotic proportions is completely insane.  How would you feel if "The Legend" ignored the fact that your child, relative or friend was abused instead of going to the police?

American Pride

I just think Gabby Giffords is awesome!  Doesn't she make you proud to call her a fellow American?  She is leaving Arizona with big (yet petite) shoes to fill.  Best wishes on your continued road to recovery, Gabrielle Giffords!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bacon Makes It Better!

An article titled 50 Things To Make With Bacon.   Hello, delicious!  Honestly, I feel so strongly about the fabulousness of bacon that I think, in my humble opinion, it should be it's own special food group.  As My Martha would say, it's a good thing!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

More Magazine Subscription For Free

Here's another freebie mag for y'all.  Just click the image to request your FREE one year subscription to More magazine.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tutorial : How To Sew Pottery Barn Basket Liners

Fair warning, this is a LONG post with LOTS of photos...

When Bestie decided on her nursery design, she asked me to help her with a few sewing projects.  That I totally dragged my feet on it and then dragged my feet when it came to shipping to her.  But I digress.  Part of the project was to sew several liners for her Pottery Barn Baby changing table baskets.  She sent me an actual liner so that I could have the measurements, thankfully. 

I was actually surprised to see that the top was much larger than the bottom.  I mean, it makes sense as they have a drawstring.  But I guess I never gave basket liners much thought before this little project.  The PB liners are actually really well made.  They are fully lined and that totally impressed me.  Bestie said she didn't need hers lined though.  And I am guessing if you are making them for your home use, you won't care either.  You don't see the lining part anyway.  It's only real function is during washing/drying.  But I think if you just stick them in a laundry bag, they will probably be OK.  Plus, how often do you really wash a toy basket liner?

Step #1:
Cut fabric.  Piece 1, drawstring, 2" W x 62" L.  Piece 2, liner bottom, 10.25" H x 10.25" W .  Piece 3, liner body, 16.5" H x 48" W .

Step #2:
Iron fabric.  Piece 1, drawstring.  At each short end, iron down 1/4" to prevent fraying.  Then iron in half, lengthwise- so make the 2" width into 1" width.  Then iron both of those halves in half towards the inside fold, so no raw edges are showing, taking the 2" width to just 1/2" width.  I don't have a photo but take your two hands with palms together, forming a V.  That's like the first in half step.  Then take your fingers and bend down toward the palm/V.  That's like that second step.  Make sense? 

Step #3:
Sew drawstring.  I used a straight stitch but a zig zag is fine too. 

Step #4:
Take liner body, the largest piece #3, and place short ends together.  Measure 1 1/2" down from top and mark with pin (see photo).  Measure 1" down from that first pin and mark with a second pin (see photo).  Sew 1/4" seam, leaving the space between the two pins UNSEWN.  So you will need to start and finish above the first pin, then move your needle/fabric and start and finish again under the second pin down to the bottom.  The 1" between the two pins needs to remain open for the drawstring!!  This is seriously the most important step.  You will be so frustrated if you get to the end and realize you neglected this step.

Step #5:
Iron fabric.  Piece #3, liner body.  Iron open the seam so that the 1" you remembered to leave open and unsewn in step #4 is fully open.  Then iron down the top (the part closest to the 1" unsewn hole) 1/2" (see photo below).  Last, iron down 1" from the first fold (see measuring tape photo below).  This fold will be right at the start of the unsewn hole.  So you are making a crease at 1/2" and at the 1 1/2" point. 

Step #6:
Place drawstring in place, feeding ends through the unsewn hole.  This is a lot easier than trying to run the string through after you are finished.

Step #7:
Push drawstring up towards the top/crease.  Pin fabric down.  I pinned it (as shown in photo below) with the pins on the wrong side.  Then flipped it right side out and re-pinned.  I only put 5-6 pins in, just enough to keep the drawstring in place.  For me, this seemed to be easiest. 

Step #8:
Sew drawstring tube.  I just lined my foot up close to the drawstring (see photo below).  So I guess I sewed it about 3/4" down from the top.  I went back and forth an extra time or two when I came to the drawstring opening as I figured this area would get the most tugging.

Step #9:
Take piece #2, the liner bottom, and fold each side in half to find the centers (see photo below).  Mark with a pin on each of the four sides.

Step #10:
Fold the liner body in quarters and mark with a pin. So the seam gets a pin and the find the quarters from there by also doing my super technical fold in half method.  Mark the bottom (not the side with the sewn side and drawstring).

Step #11:
Match up the center pins on the base piece with the center pins on the body piece.  Pin together.  Add more pins to keep in place, leaving corners open.  (see photo below)

Step #12:
Sew the bottom to the body.  OK this gets a tiny tricky.  But not really.  So the corners are going to be open at the end of this step.  I promise we will close them up.  Because the body of the liner is longer than the base.  So start @1/2" down from the corner.  And end again @ 1/2" up from the corner.  Do that on all four sides.

Step #13:
At this point, all of your sides are sewn but your corners are left holey.  See photo below where I am Vanna White-ing it with the tiny scissors to point out the corner hole..

Step #14:
Place the liner on a flat surface.  At one corner, straighten out the fabric so that you are measuring straight up from the corner of the liner base.  Then measure up 6" and mark with a pin.  Do this on all four sides.

Step #15:
Position fabric on machine so that your needle is @ 3/4" from the corner of the bottom.  Basically you are sewing up those holes and making the liner fit better in the bottom of the basket.  Ah- this is why I don't write many tutorials- I am not as good at describing things in writing as I am in person.  OK...let me try to be clearer.  What you are doing is sewing from the point that you started/stopped sewing the bottom to the body.  If you started and stopped 1/2" in, that's about where you will start with this step.  So I overlapped a bit and started @ 3/4" in (see photo below).  Pull the bottom fabric out though so that you don't sew it all inside the base.  Then sew a straight line up that gradually angles inward and ends at the pin marking the 6" point.  You're making a dart I guess. 

You can leave the fabric as it- it will all be inside the basket so no one will see it. Or you can do what I did and use pinking shears to cut off the excess fabric. (See photo below.)

Step 16:
Open it up and you are ready to use!  Remember that the right side is on the inside as it will flap over the basket. 

Now you can make liners to perfectly match your nursery, playroom, den or office!

Thanks for the finished nursery pics Bestie (and Bob).  She said they fit perfectly - I hope she was telling the truth!

*Linked up to Tatertots and Jello and The Kurtz Corner and Rae Gun Ramblings  and Be Different Act Normal      


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