Friday, September 30, 2011

Interesting Things

Here are some interesting things I bookmarked this week:

Awesome looking fall inspired turnovers

Frito Pie-believe it or not, I have never eaten this

Peanut Butter Dog Treats-I am always looking for an easy homemade dog treat for my sis's dog

Delicious things to make with frozen pie crust-I especially love the leaf shaped hand pies!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chai Tea Concentrate

 When I was in college, our dormitories had a contract with Starbucks.  The cafeteria provided only Starbucks coffee.  My particular dorm had late night food and provided Starbucks coffee beverages.  This is where I had my first chai tea latte and I was hooked.  I thought it tasted just like Christmas!  I would order one almost every day.

Eventually I worked my way up to espresso based lattes, only choosing the poor chai on occasion.  I never became a true coffee drinker, needing to sweeten the black stuff with loads of milk and sugar.  After some time and some minor health issues, I decided to stop drinking coffee and get back to tea.  I had learned through my dorm that the Starbucks chai tea lattes were made from a concentrate.  I was so excited a couple of years ago to learn that I could purchase said concentrate in my grocery store.  Yay!  No more need for $4 chai tea.

Then I was fortunate enough to stumble upon this recipe from Tasty Kitchen for chai tea concentrate I could make in my own kitchen.  I made it once and I was totally hooked.  Now I make it almost every week.  I modified the original recipe some to accommodate what I typically have in my kitchen.

Chai Tea Concentrate adapted from Tasty Kitchen user thecatnipcat
makes about 1 quart of concentrate
10 tea bags (sometimes I use all black tea, sometimes 5 black and 5 green)
4 1/2 cups boiling water
4-5 anise stars
20 whole cloves
7 cardamom  pods
dash of nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 drops orange oil
2-3 small pieces fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon powdered ginger

Boil water.  Steep tea bags, anise stars, cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon, and ginger in water for about 20 minutes.  Strain.  Mix in honey, sugar, vanilla, and orange oil.  Pour into container and refrigerate

To make tea: mix 1/2 cup chai tea concentrate with milk and heat.  (I microwave mine for about 1 minute and 30 seconds).  My sister prefers to drink hers cold and I must say, that is quite tasty in the summer.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fun and Easy

I whipped up this cake last weekend for a get together with my parents.  I was just supposed to bring desert, nothing fancy, however I wanted to dress it up a little bit. 

I seem to collect sprinkles like they are going out of style, but in reality I hardly use them.  I took this opportunity to break some out.  I took one of my leaf cookie cutters and set it in the icing.  I then filled in the center of the cookie cutter with orange, yellow, and white nonperils.  Afterward, gently pull the cookie cutter off the cake.  Little lines are left imprinted in the icing but I liked the look.  If I would have had a bit more time, I would have piped around the leaf with icing to help hold the sprinkles in place, but overall I thought it turned out cute and was super fast.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Interesting Things

Here are some interesting things that I bookmarked this week:

A tasty looking sandwich rye bread with dill pickle juice as an ingredient

Pumpkin spiced cream cheese

This caramel chocolate cake looks amazing.  I am totally making this next week for project night.

As someone who still shoots with primarily her kit lens, I loved this article about how to love your kit lens.

Totally cool spider cake in a jar

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Uncle Al's Sweet Pickles

This summer, I decided to grow a garden.  For the past four summers I have attempted unsuccessfully to grow a container garden.  But this year, I put it in the ground.  And miraculously, it grew.  One of the things I had to have was pickling cucumbers.  I love love love pickles.  It was my goal to learn how to can this summer and I could think of nothing better than to make pickles.

These sweet pickles have been a favorite of my family for several generations.  When I was a kid, I used to eat these straight out of the jar.  They are super easy to make, however, a bit time consuming.  They are almost like candied cucumbers.  They make a nice snack and are also a great contrast to a big burger with a nice salty cheese.

To start with, wash 10-12 small (2"-6") pickling cucumbers and place in a crock.  Some of the pickles in the photo above are a little large to be ideal pickle cucumbers.  If they grow too large, they become very seedy and then when the seeds fall out, there are holes in your pickles.  However, I didn't watch my garden very well and consequently got big cucumbers and thusly holey pickles.  Holey pickles are alright though, they taste good. 

About the crock, my mother said that it's crucial for the flavor of the pickles.  Honestly, I don't know, I haven't made them any other way.  I would imagine that a non reactive bowl would work just fine.  But don't quote me on that, because my mother did tell me that a crock is the only way to go.  Whatever you decide, make it a large bowl.  It has to hold a lot of liquid for a significant amount of time.

The next step is to pour boiling water over the cucumbers.  You need enough water to cover all of the cucumbers.  If they feel like floating, put a plate on top of them to hold them under the water.  Leave them there overnight.  Drain and do it again the next day.

On the third day, drain the cucumbers and slice them up into pieces.  On the third day, the brine is made.

1 quart vinegar
8 cups sugar
2 tablespoons table salt
2 tablespoons whole pickle spice (for real it is called pickling spice, my husband thought it must have another name)

Bring all of the brine ingredients to a boil.  Pour over the sliced cucumbers.  Allow to sit for 24 hours.  The next day, drain and keep the brine.  Bring the brine to a boil again and pour over the sliced cucumbers.  Do the for 7 days.  Then, your pickles are ready.  You can can them or simply pour the pickles and brine into sterilized jars and into the refrigerator.  However, this recipe makes several jars of pickles, so I would recommend canning them.  I use my mom's copy of the Ball Canning Guide for times and canning technique. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

James' First Birthday

This was my nephew James' first birthday cake.  It was my first time making a three tiered cake and also my first time making a cake for that many people (50-55 people).  I learned a lot on this cake.

The tiers were 8", 10", and 12".  The 12" cake was by far the largest cake that I have ever made and also covered in fondant.  I also learned that I need to allow the 12" cake to cool for a considerable amount of time before turning it out of the pan, the first cake I made ended up in a million pieces on my counter because it was too hot and fell apart.

For some reason I couldn't decide what kind of fondant I wanted to use, and ended up with each tier having a different kind of fondant.  The red is Fondarific, which was easy to use and tasted good, but is pretty expensive.  The blue fondant was Wilton, my least favorite taste.  I learned to use Wilton fondant in my class though, so I knew how it would act.  Also, it's reasonably priced for store bought fondant (especially with a 40% off Michael's coupon).  The green tier was homemade marshmallow fondant.  Taste wise, this is far and away my favorite, however I have only made it a few times and the consistency was more difficult to work with.  As you can see from the photos, the green homemade fondant also showed more lumps and bumps than the other two.  I learned that if the budget allows, Fondarific is the way to go in the future, if not, I need to work out the kinks in my marshmallow fondant recipe.

The animals were all made from Wilton store bought fondant.  The yellow 1 was made of gumpaste.  The stand for the seal was made from melted green Candy Melts in a prep bowl, however it difficult to remove from the prep bowl.  Next time I would probably make it out of fondant.

At the suggestion of Rose Levy Beranbaum in her classic book The Cake Bible, my husband sharpened a dowel rod and gently tapped it through the three layers before placing the animals on.  This dowel rod made transport so much easier!  I would recommend that trick to anyone.

I also made him a 6" round smash cake with an elephant holding a candle on a ball.  Did I take any photos?  No, of course not.  I was running late. 

Even with all of the learning, the cake itself turned out ok.  My sister was happy with it and that is all that I can ask for.

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