Category: general tips & tricks

Q & A time: why aren’t my pickles crisp? … and more!

Why aren't my pickles crisp? And other burning questions- answered!

You probably thought you were so smart. You looked everything up, or bought a book. You sterilized your jars, you made sure to boil your brine, and you washed all your produce thoroughly. You used your canning rack & processed them, and proudly went to open a jar a few months (or days) later and…

Limp pickles. Gross, limp, soft pickles.

I feel your pain, and I’m here to help.

Continue reading

Brown butter donuts? Vanilla bean glaze? YES.

WARNING: These donuts are CRAZY.

I wasn’t even going to post them. Not really. I made them for Jay’s partner who helped him out moving some stuff, and because they were so insane I decided I had to make them again & post them for you. Seriously.

I also upped the ante a bit.

Brown butter donuts with a thick vanilla bean glaze!

See… the first time I made them I made a regular vanilla bean glaze. Half a bean scraped into some milk & confectioner’s sugar. Bam. It was delicious. Jay’s partner loved ‘em, we loved ‘em.

But I knew that it could be BETTER.

Brown butter donuts with vanilla bean glaze. They're baked, so they're good for you. Right?

Continue reading

Saying goodbye to summer with tomato jam.

Wow. Hey there, end of summer.

You snuck up on me, as you usually do. But this time I feel like I really haven’t been expecting you at all. By this time in years’ past I have already thought about you once or twice, usually around my birthday. I have perhaps even dwelled upon you, sadly, as I acknowledge the days already getting a smidgen shorter, & the cicadas song plays the finale. But this year? You got me good. Suddenly, it’s the unofficial end of summer: Labor Day.

A delicious tomato jam; try it with goat cheese on toasted bread for a different spin on bruschetta!

I feel like I haven’t made a whole lot of things I wanted to this summer. Having a blog makes you a bit crazy, see. I wanted to make all these awesome things over the summer & then blog about them. I wanted to take some tomato canning classes at The Brooklyn Kitchen. I had big plans for recipes- Miemo’s mama’s eggrolls, paella. Things like that. Things that were new to me (kitchen-wise), things that I never made before. I did make one-pan pasta & homemade butter, though, both of which are things I’d never done. But the other, more complicated things? Nope. I got caught up in the enjoyment of summer… the corn on the cob, the cookouts, the lazy sticky days & humid starry nights roasting marshmallows, drinking frozen alcoholic drinks, the soaking in of the sun, eating fresh fish after a day at the beach, the making of pickles & jams, the cutting of herbs, the inhaling of said herbs (frequently heard around here: “OH MY GOD that fresh basil/cilantro/oregano/rosemary smells AMAZING!”). Then I was tricked by the unseasonably cool weather (not a day over 90 degrees in August) & I was lulled into having the windows open with cool air blowing in. But I still forgot all about the end of summer. Basically, I got distracted living life.

There are worse things.

Stepping away from the internet is a good thing. Anyway… I got distracted & forgot that summer was about to end. Summer is weird that way; it starts to end the minute it begins and before you know it you’re catching up, trying to squeeze in the last bits of it any way you can. Now, suddenly, it’s tomato time.

Fresh grape tomatoes... about to be turned into tomato jam.

Continue reading

Millions of peaches, peaches for me.

A big ol' box of Washington State peaches!

Please tell me I’m not the only one who thinks of that Presidents of the United States of America song when I see peaches… please… someone… anyone? I sing it to myself in the supermarket. At the farmer’s market. Anywhere I see peaches. And I distinctly remember the video; specifically seeing it on MTV at my aunt & uncle’s house when I was in 9th grade. I believe that was when Jenny McCarthy was the host of Singled Out, not to mention when the show was actually popular.

Damn I’m old.

I don’t mind being “old”, though. Not really. I mean, let’s face it… 32 isn’t really old. I’m being facetious here. But either way, old people are my favorite kinds of people, so I don’t care about “getting old.” I’d rather spend my time knitting, baking & listening to Wingy Manone or Dean Martin with the Golden Girls than hanging out with a bunch of gum-snapping Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift fans ANY DAY.

Beautiful fresh peaches.. turned into a vanilla brandied peach jam!A quick wash & dry does a lot to make them even more beautiful…

 

And let’s face it: some of my favorite pastimes used to be considered old fashioned. It used to be (and not that long ago) that baking pies or making jam were outdated concepts. That “home-y” domestic stuff was something that was relegated to history books or old WWII propaganda posters. It was old fashioned. It was for old ladies. It wasn’t cool for a while there to have anything to do with the kitchen. It was the in thing to act as if you couldn’t even boil water or stored sweaters in your stove. Blame Carrie Bradshaw, blame whoever you want, but it was a fact. Women who stayed home & liked to be domestic were once frowned upon, looked at as boring or even worse, dubbed “ambition-less.” That sucks. I’m just glad things have changed. I’m glad there are people like Erica from P.S. I Made This who show that you can be quirky, crafty & love to cook but also be cool, & have a wicked sense of fashion. Not to mention that a career can be made from it! Whoda thunk it. Move over, Martha, there’s more of us.

Continue reading

Tea towel apron D.I.Y.

Also known as: sewing for the lazy & talentless.

I’m going to preface this by saying that yes, I went to F.I.T., also known as the Fashion Institute of Technology, for Fashion Design. This is true. Yes, I have a dressmakers mannequin in my house, which you will see shortly. And yes, I spent a good many hours seated at a massive industrial sweatshop-style sewing machine, once even witnessing a girl sew her fingers together. This is all true. And yes, I also took draping & patternmaking classes. I did very poorly in them, though, to be quite honest. Yes, I also made my own dress with a Peter Pan collar, skirt with a zipper up the back & light summer-weight coat. Yes, I did also create patterns for a business suit with a Batman-style collar & fishtail skirt out of muslin. But they weren’t exactly loved by the faculty. Not the design aspect- but the patterns (and consequently the poor sewing of said patterns) themselves. My strong suit was not the actual making of the clothes, but the designing. And yes- Professor Wong made it quite clear that in order to DESIGN them well one must understand how to CREATE them well. I understand.

That’s also why I transferred to Fashion Illustration shortly thereafter. I make a better artist than seamstress, and I despise patterns.

However, that’s not to say I can’t do some damage with a needle & thread. I’ve made- all sewn by hand, mind you- skirts, shirts, handbags & scarves. I spend a fair amount of my time sewing Jay’s police uniforms as well. I’ve had a sewing machine of my own in the past, but it wasn’t a very large or expensive one & all it was good for was straight seams on thin fabric. Investing in a really good machine for me would be dangerous. First of all, I might injure myself or sew my own pants to whatever it is I’m trying to make, and second, it’s very possible I might become obsessed and never stop making things.

Make your own half-apron out of a tea towel! Insanely simple, and can be sewn by hand or with a machine!Gettin’ myself all ready to be crafty!

Then nobody would eat, and this would become a sewing blog. In the words of Sweet Brown: “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

So because of all this, I rely on the professionals to make my aprons, as a rule. I have beautiful vintage ones, gorgeous Jessie Steele ones, whimsical Anthropologie ones and amazing aprons handmade for me by the wonderful Yoyo of topstitch.org. I love them all to bits, but sometimes I feel guilty wearing a stunning apron & then getting it covered in wet flour (which basically becomes a super glue once it dries) & other messy stuff. I mean, let’s be honest- they’re too pretty to get really dirty. And when I make strawberry or cherry jam, and I know I’m going to get splattered on, I actually avoid wearing one of my super cute aprons because of that. ‘Cause I know I’ll NEVER get the stains out, and I’ll be crazy sad for the rest of my life (especially since every apron I own is either one of a kind, vintage or limited edition, so I can’t replace them). However in my internet travels, I happened upon this blog post with a how-to on making your own tea towel apron, and I thought “Oh crap! I HAVE that tea towel!” One Ikea shopper can spot another, you know. Then, I was surfing the internet & found this post. I figured that the fact that I found these two posts within a short amount of time was kind of kismet, and anyway, Yoyo is always saying how fun it is to make half-aprons from tea towels, and it seemed so stupidly easy, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I went out, bought some ribbon and made one with that very same Ikea tea towel.

D.I.Y. tea towel apron: super easy to make, takes about 15 minutes if you sew it by hand!

I love it.

I’m not afraid to get it dirty & wipe my disgusting dough-&-batter covered hands all over it.

How to make your own tea towel half-apron using just ribbon & a towel. No sewing machine required!

Yet it’s still cute! It actually looks like a skirt from the front, not an apron. Functional yet still adorable… sounds good to me! Plus, it took me basically 15 minutes to make it by hand. If I had used grosgrain ribbon (easier to fold than satin) & had a sewing machine, it would’ve been finished in 5. It’s that easy. It makes a great gift, too. Maybe for a wishing well gift; make the apron and give that plus the three other towels from the pack with some wooden spoons. I’d even dip the ends of the wooden spoons in a paint to match.

What you need: 1 tea towel (or one piece of fabric cut to 21″ x 27″ and hemmed 1″ around), 1 spool of wide ribbon (thin ribbon doesn’t quite work) needle & thread (or sewing machine). Any tea towel will work, as long as it’s cotton or linen. Don’t use those terry cloth ones or ones that feel like a bathroom towel. Ikea has a ton of options; from the set I got mine from to fancier ones. I personally love the cupcake printed ones, the rose print/pink gingham or the multi-colored stripes. And they’re all inexpensive yet they look beautiful. But you can buy yours anywhere! Even the dollar store.

Okay… so here’s the how-to, direct from Slow Mama:

  • Cut two pieces of ribbon for your ties that are one and a half yards long each. For each piece of ribbon, put a quarter-inch fold in one end, then fold again and press (this will keep your cut edge from unraveling). On the back of your towel, align the folded end of each ribbon along the top edge of the towel so that the folded section is centered over the towel’s side seam. (I set it up so the wider edge of the towel went around my waist)
An insanely easy Do-It-Yourself apron made from an Ikea tea towel!Very simple to do this with fabric as well. Just cut & hem it to size (the size of the towels are 20″ x 26″) and then sew your ribbon on.

  • On your sewing machine, position the needle over the seam of the tea towel, then stitch a few lines back and forth over the ribbon (this will hide your new seam from the front). If sewing by hand, the same principle applies. See photo above. Repeat for both sides.
  • Try on the apron to check the length of your ties and trim as needed, then put the same fold in the free end of each tie and stitch those closed, too. If you want, you can switch thread color to match the ribbon. I didn’t. Also, using satin ribbon makes the folding harder, unless you iron it first- which I didn’t. Grosgrain would make it slightly easier… but either way, it’s really not that big of a deal. I stitched just the sides, but you can stitch across if you like. Or use a serger to prevent the ribbon ends from fraying.

The easiest apron tutorial on the internet. 15 minutes from start to finish, even if sewing by hand!

And that’s it! Your basic apron is done. Now you can add things if you want; add a pocket made from another towel, add a monogram, etc Also, just a random thought, but if you’re making it for a little girl (or boy!), depending on their size you could make a full apron from this tea towel. It wouldn’t be that hard to just turn it around the other way, sew some ribbon for around the neck and then sew some halfway down for the waist. You could also use slightly thinner ribbon. Make one for you, then make one to match for your little one!

Big thanks to Yoyo, Simple Simon & Company & Margaret Cabaniss from Slow Mama for the inspiration to finally make one of these. It was so quick & fun, I might just make more.

So what do you guys think… should I post more D.I.Y. stuff or household-y stuff on here? Or should I stick to the edibles?

Fill your heart with frosting.

I wish I could say I love surprises, but I really don’t.

Deep down inside somewhere, I kinda do; I kinda do get excited about being surprised. But more often than not, it’s just an overwhelming sense of “What am I missing out on?!” and it drives me bananas. I hate not having control over things. I like knowing what’s happening, what time it’s happening, and where it’s going down… I like being dressed appropriately & I like being mentally prepared. Jay can tell you numerous times when I almost ruined birthday gifts, Christmas gifts or trips with this twisted way of thinking. I think the problem is when I know I’m going to be surprised. If you just spring a surprise on me, then I don’t have time to over-analyze or try & figure out what it is. Yeah I know- I’m a f#%!ing wack job who ruins everything. It’s not that I’m a control freak, though, not at all. I’m extremely laid back when it comes to most things. You can plan anything, take me anywhere, give me any gifts, etc, and I’ll be totally cool with it. I just really prefer to know ahead of time.

All that said, however, a cupcake surprise is a different story.

See, these cupcakes aren’t frosted traditionally. Instead, they’re filled with a surprise. And by that I mean they’re filled with a light, fluffy pink-colored vanilla buttercream through a convenient little cut-out heart shape. I used a little heart-shaped cookie cutter from Sur la Table that cost me a whopping $.76. I know, it almost bankrupted me.

Just bake your cupcakes, whatever kind you want, and when they’re all cooled cut out the shape using a small cookie cutter. I went down pretty deep so the entire cupcake would be filled, but you can just do a bit from the top. Then fill the cut-out shape with frosting using a piping bag & small round tip (for the size of my cookie cutter, Wilton’s 2A tip was perfect). Donesky. If you want to do the confectioner’s sugar thing, just dust them AFTER cutting out the shape but BEFORE filling with frosting. That would look awesome with a red velvet cupcake, too. Any & every combination works: chocolate with vanilla filling, red velvet with chocolate filling, red velvet with cream cheese filling, vanilla with strawberry filling, chocolate with strawberry filling, vanilla with chocolate filling, strawberry with chocolate filling… etc, etc. The sugar dusting just won’t be very visible on a vanilla cupcake, though. But that’s okay… it’s pretty without it, too. On that note, I’ve seen it done as a vanilla cupcake with lemon curd filling as well, which would be nice for spring.

*heart cake stand also from Sur La Table

You can use any flavor cupcake, any flavor or kind of frosting, and any shape cookie cutter. Stars, snowflakes, shamrocks, etc. Even just a circle! Here are some recipes, if you need them:

I used Wilton’s heart-shaped silicone baking cups to bake the cupcakes in. Any kind of shape will do, you don’t have to use hearts, nor do you have to use the same shape as your cookie cutter. A round cupcake with a heart cut-out is just as cute! Another excellent idea: letters. Cut out letters on top to spell out a message, or someone’s name, or just use one letter; maybe your kid’s initial for a birthday party. I’m partial to hearts, and the color pink, so obviously I was going to make ones like this for Valentine’s Day. But of course, this idea can extend far past Valentine’s Day.

I like the spelling out of a message idea, myself. Like maybe…

“Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Just a thought.

printable-valentine-cards-cupid-inside-red-heart

The perfect November pound cake.

;

Ah, November. You crept up on me this year. I wasn’t expecting you so soon! It seems like literally yesterday I was posting on the first day of October. And I’m still in Halloween-mode, to be honest. Mainly because I feel like there was no Halloween. Hurricane Sandy came & that was that. I just got power back last night- I had been without power since Monday night! But the calendar doesn’t care what I’m thinking, does it? No it doesn’t. Nor does Mother Nature. If you can spare a few bucks, or some pocket change, please donate to the Red Cross & help those affected by Hurricane Sandy. I’m lucky to have power, food & a house. Not everyone is. Please help feed, clothe and shelter your fellow human being in need.

I’ve mentioned before that when you’ve got a food blog, or you just bake often, you get a lot of requests. My dad always wants lasagna or blueberry cake/pie/cupcakes, Jay always wants beer bread, maple cookies or applesauce cake (even in the middle of summer), my aunt wants strawberry jam, etc, etc, etc. The list goes on. And my mother…. well, my mother usually has an entire list of things. I’m forever getting e-mails from her that contain recipes, or recipe ideas. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s just outright- “Hey, make this for me?” And that means that a good percentage of the time, I’m making things I don’t really like or I wouldn’t eat. Which is fine by me. Not only does it give me more blogging material, it spices things up a bit. Who wants to make the same vanilla cupcakes over & over?

So when I’m presented with an opportunity to use cranberries & orange in something, I jump at it. It’s November, guys. It’s cranberry time.

;

This is all Entenmann’s fault. When I was a kid growing up, Entenmann’s baked goods were the bomb dot com. Everyone- I mean everyone- had an Entenmann’s cake or box of donuts in their kitchen. The glazed Pop’Ems, the marshmallow iced devil’s food cake, the Holiday butter cookies, the French all butter crumb cake…

Entenmann’s is a company that is over 100 years old and originated in New York. In the 1800s, William Entenmann immigrated to New York in the United States of America. William learned the trade of baking from his father in Stuttgart, Germany, and used his acquired skills to work in a bakery in the United States, eventually opening his own bakery in 1898 on Rogers Avenue in Brooklyn.[1] Later, William moved his bakery to Bay Shore, Long Island. Home-delivery was a substantial part of the bakery that William owned, eventually turning into 30 home delivery routes by the time his son, William Jr., took over the bakery.[1] While William Jr. headed the bakery, it flourished; Frank Sinatra was a weekly customer.[1]

William Jr. died in 1951 leaving the bakery to his wife Martha and their sons, Robert, Charles and William. The family decided to phase out bread, focus on pastries and cakes, and start supplying grocery stores as opposed to home delivering. In 1959 the Entenmann family invented the “see-through” cake box that is used by many today.[2] In 1961, the business grew, with new bakeries and factories in Bay Shore, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Plans to expand nationally stalled in 1970. Entenmann’s Bakery, with the assistance of new product consultants at Calle & Company reformulated heavier New England style baked goods into lighter offerings more suitable for hotter, more humid test markets such as Miami, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia. Entenmann’s successful national expansion quickly followed suit. In 1972, Entenmann’s started to sell chocolate chip cookies and has since sold more than 620 million cookies.[2] Since its first opening in 1898, Entenmann’s has been selling “all butter loaf cake” and sold more than 700 million to date.

The pharmaceutical company Warner-Lambert purchased Entenmann’s in 1978 and sold it to General Foods in 1982. General Foods merged with Kraft in 1990. Kraft sold its bakery business to CPC International (later Bestfoods). Bestfoods was purchased by Unilever in 2000, which sold its baking division to George Weston, a Canadian baked goods and supermarket business, the next year. Weston sold its United States interests including Entemann’s in 2008 to Mexican conglomerate Grupo Bimbo. Other Bimbo Bakeries USA holdings include companies such as Thomas’, Brownberry, Boboli, Arnold, Oroweat, Freihofer’s, and Stroehmann.[3]

-Wikipedia

A couple of weeks ago, I was food shopping with my mother. She had hurt her ankle, & was limping along with my assistance. She spotted the Entenmann’s display and made a beeline for it. My mom is a big fan of anything sweet; baked goods, cookies, candy, candy bars, etc. So she saw the display, and immediately zoned in on the seasonal Cranberry Orange loaf. She picked it up and I said, “No, ma, really. Come on. I can make that for you.” She initially resisted a bit, there were a few longing looks (and I think she might have said, “Are you sure?”… what is THAT about!?), but then she gave in. There is no bigger insult to someone like me than a family member buying a supermarket cake or box of cookies. At least buy stuff from a bakery. Just please don’t buy the styrofoam cupcakes that Costco sells. I’d permit Entenmann’s… in certain dire circumstances… but seriously… I bake ALL THE TIME. How are you gonna be in the supermarket with me & pick up BOXED CAKE. No. No, no, no.

I know she really wanted that cake. But mom, why buy it when I can make it for you!? And… uh… make it better.

;

‘Cause see, the Entenmann’s cake might be scrumptious. But it doesn’t come with an orange butter rum sauce on top, which mine does.

And just so you know- that brown Kraft paper makes things a hell of a lot easier to clean up. Especially when you’re using a messy sauce or glaze & want to take photos (or maybe if you have kids… *cough*). I highly recommend it. Plus it’s great not only as a “tablecloth”, but as wrapping paper. A gift wrapped with Kraft paper, twine & some dehydrated citrus slices is rustically beautiful. Even to give this loaf as a gift, it’s a great wrapping idea. Okay, sorry- back to the cake!

CRANBERRY ORANGE LOAF CAKE

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2-3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons grated orange peel
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries*

Directions:

  1. Butter and flour a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan, set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla, orange juice and orange peel. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream. Fold in cranberries.
  3. Pour into the greased pan. Bake at 350° for 65-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
  4. Spoon orange butter rum sauce (if desired) over the top. Wait 3-5 minutes for it to set, then serve.
*You could use fresh cranberries too (& you can also toss in some walnuts, or even unsalted shelled pistachios, if you like)

;

ORANGE BUTTER RUM SAUCE

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Directions:

  1. Add the orange juice, flour, sugar and heavy cream to a medium saucepan. Cook (constantly stirring) on medium heat until combined, then add the butter.
  2. Stir until the butter is melted, combined, and the mixture is thickened. Add the rum. Continue cooking until thick & smooth. Stir it constantly while it cooks, or it’ll scorch & burn.
  3. Remove from heat, and let sit 5 minutes.
  4. Spoon over pound cake.

The butter rum sauce isn’t terribly attractive on it’s own, but it tastes spectacular. Especially on the cake.

;

The cake is moist & delicious, not too much cake-y, not too much bread-y. Just perfectly in the middle of a pound cake & loaf cake. Just as good in the morning as it is at night.

And here’s a little tip. If you’re making this for a large crowd, you can double the recipe and make it in one 10″ tube pan, or just double it and make two 9″ loaf pans. The same goes for most pound or loaf cakes, or even regular cakes, actually. Here’s a conversion table for pan sizes. And most cupcake recipes that make 2 dozen will also make two 9″ cake layers. Same goes for the reverse: if you find a recipe that calls for a bundt pan or tube pan and you only want to make a small cake, then you can usually halve it (or in some cases maybe quarter it), and most layer cake recipes will convert into 2 dozen cupcakes (sometimes a little more). This particular recipe would definitely be amazing doubled and made in a 10″ pan, a great Thanksgiving dessert. But this way, it’d make a great Thanksgiving breakfast. Keep the sauce on the side if you want, that way people who aren’t into rum sauce for breakfast can avoid it. But seriously? It’s a holiday. You can so have rum sauce with breakfast!

And before I go, just a reminder. Make sure that all you U.S. citizens who are registered to vote get your asses to the polls on Tuesday! It’s important, and it’s something we’re privileged to be able to do. I really don’t care who you vote for… just vote. And if you aren’t registered: for shame. But consider this a kick in the booty to register for next time. And I know it’s going to be hard for those displaced by Sandy, but there are still places for you to vote. Pass this info & this info on if you know someone affected by this tragedy, please. The election will NOT be postponed because of the hurricane, so we need to get out there & get people voting.

;