Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

DIY Jewelry Display

During one of my first introductions to TJ Maxx on our Illinois trip, I picked up a bunch of stuff for the apartment since we had a bunch of basic things we needed.  Among my finds was the softest bath mat I've ever met.  I seriously could have rubbed my face on this forever, but that's beside the point.  I also picked up a cheap slack rack for all my work pants, which are doing nothing but occupying closet space at this point.  After a fun filled trip, we came home from Illinois and promptly forgot all of our TJ Maxx goodies and my shoes.

Thankfully, we got it all back in the mail a few days later, but the slack rack was a bit worse for the wear.  The hanger part of the rack was missing and thus wasn't going to do well holding slacks so I put it off to the side (okay really it sat in the middle of the living room) while I debated what to do with it.

I've seen a bunch of jewelry holders using chicken wire stretched across a picture frame and had been considering making something like that for a while, so I decided to turn the broken rack into a jewelry display.  The best part is that it works well for rings, earrings, and necklaces, which the others I've seen didn't.

I'm thinking about cutting off the purple foam and maybe spray painting it, but for now, it works great!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Homemade Apple Butter

It's been years since I've had homemade apple butter.  I remember my mom making it when I was younger, but not recently.  When we were visiting the orchard during our trip to Illinois over Labor Day, one of the treats we bought was a jar of apple butter.  We have thoroughly enjoyed it, especially as a topping for homemade oatmeal.

One of the downsides of buying apple butter was the cost.  The 19 oz jar we got from the orchard was 8 or 9 dollars, which is a bit steep if we want it more often than one jar a season. Turns out apple butter is just as easy as applesauce to make, although it does take longer to cook.

The recipe I used was from Dream Home DIY and it uses a crockpot, so most of the time was just idle cooking time.

My first batch was only 1/4 of the original recipe because I only have a small 2.5 quart crockpot.  This batch went really well, but I did not want to do another 4 or 5 tiny batches like this.

Thankfully, Steve's mom let me borrow her 6.5 quart crockpot, which easily handled the whole recipe.

After 11 hours of cooking it had reduced by about half.  Since I didn't peel the apples I used the cone colander to strain it because I wanted a smoother texture.  If you don't mind the pieces of apple peel mixed in, skipping the straining would be an option.

I didn't properly can the apple butter; instead I plan to freeze it.  From 1 1/4 batches I used about 7 pounds of apples and got 13 cups of apple butter.  Orchard bought apple butter was about $3.80 per cup so we saved about $49 making it ourselves!  Realistically this is a bit high because I did have to add a few other ingredients and use electricity for the crockpot, but these were pretty negligible expenses.

I've still got about 6 or 7 pounds of apples left so I'm trying to decide what other goodies to make.

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Party Desserts

I love making food for pot lucks because it's a great chance to make new desserts without having to feel the need to eat all of them.  For our recent family gathering I went all out and made five desserts, four of which were new.

I made:

While I mostly did a good job making everything, I did a mediocre job taking pictures of it all.  I didn't get a picture of the truffles or any of the brownie roll out cookies either.

The brigadeiros are a Brazilian sweet that I had at a party in Saudi and fell in love with.  They are pretty easy to make; the hardest part was getting the right consistency when cooking it on the stove.  Turns out that chocolate pudding consistency was the way to go.

Traditionally, they're served in tiny paper cups, but I had none and no desire to hunt down such an obscure baking accessory, so I used a Jello jelly bean mould tray instead.  Yay improvising!

I've made the malted milk cookies several times in Saudi and they quickly became one of my favorites.  Making them here was trying at best.  In Saudi we didn't have regular malted milk, just chocolate malt milk powder, so I added a tablespoon of cocoa to the regular malted milk to emulate what we had in Saudi.

Baking them turned into a disaster of a learning experience.  Do not start baking on a new stove with different ingredients and use a full try of cookies because when they go terribly wrong you end up with a whole plate of pathetic ruined cookies.  I ended up ruining four more batches of single cookies before I got everything mostly worked out.  More flour, cooler temperature and less time in the oven than when we were in Saudi.  And always write notes for next time; way fewer future screw-ups that way.

The toffee bars were really easy to make, but I forgot to take a finished picture.  The only thing missing from this picture was the chocolate layer on top.  I had high hopes for these, but they ended up being somewhat of a disappointment.

The white chocolate lemon truffles were pretty easy to make and a big hit for everyone except the little kids. Only advise for this one is to make a double batch and microwave cautiously.  I accidently had a butter explosion because I was doing too many things at once.  Sadly, no final picture here either.

The brownie roll out cookies were fun to make and easy, but weren't good enough to make again.  They weren't bad by any means, just not my style.

Overall, the party desserts turned out really well and I thoroughly enjoyed trying some new recipes.  I definitely have more dessert recipes to try than any other kind!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Another Weekend, Another Trip

I love that we've gotten to travel to so many foreign destinations, but sometimes the best trips have nothing to do with foreign countries and everything to do with being around family.

One of the many blessings in my life is an amazing extended family who works so hard to stay connected and involved as we get older.  In yesteryear, we always had certain holidays to look forward to, knowing we would all be together.  These days we have to try a lot harder to get it to work with everyone's complicated schedules, but two weeks ago we finally got together for the first time since Steve and I got home.

Words don't really adequately describe how lovely it was to spend time with everyone and it was so sad to have to leave to drive back to Michigan.

Poor Allie spent a serious portion of the day immersed in homework even though she was on fall break.  The constant busyness is something I often miss and simultaneously do not regret leaving behind from my college days.  (Sidenote: what do you think of the size of the portraits vs landscapes? I can't decide if I like the portraits or if they're just too big for most normal screens)

Part of Allie's homework was taking photos for one of her film class projects, but unfortunately the film in her camera wasn't advancing so she ended up with a lot of nothing.

A new forming tradition at our get togethers is a few rousing games of catchphrase, which always results in much hilarity watching everyone describe and guess clues.

Everybody brought a little of something to the party and we had more than enough to eat.  I brought desserts (more deets tomorrow!) as there is no better way to make five desserts without worrying about promptly eating them all.

To top it off, we all got to drink out of awesome skull cups in celebration of the upcoming holiday.

Monday, October 17, 2011

More Cabin Time

We've made several trips down to the cabin lately and each one results in so much progress.  Last time we were down there the goal was to get the extension under roof, which promptly became impossible when the generator started leaking gas.  With a fixed generator and a few extra pairs of hands, we set off a couple weekends ago to give the roof another go.

Mom looking anxiously towards the open roof.

First roof joist is up (but not attached)

Steve working hard.

It was flipping cold that weekend and with no electricity, Allie and I spent a good deal of the day huddling around the kerosene heater trying to stay warm.

Allie spent a lot of time playing this iPod game, so much so that it killed the battery.

Thankfully, I brought my awesome hat, which proceeded to keep me much warmer than I thought possible. A small tree was leaning into the roof space so the sawzall and I became good friends hacking it down.

There's even a tiny pile of wood for a future bonfire!

When they put up the barn siding last time, they covered the windows and door, so Steve had to cut openings for all of them.

Yay for extra help!

Another roof joist waiting to go up.

After a lot of work, we (the guys) were making great progress on the roof.  We only had to go to the hardware store once for more plywood.  I was all over that trip because it involved a heated car and it was awesome.  I almost didn't get out of the car after that.

Cookie break!

OH NO looks like someone lost a head.

They even got the tar paper stuff down on the roof before it was time to go.

If everything had gone as planned, we would have gotten the door and the windows in too before leaving for the weekend, but as we're all learning, nothing goes as planned when it comes to this little project.  It turns out that none of the windows actually fit in the window holes, which is a wee bit embarrassing, but not unfixable.  All of the windows are going to have to be a smidge taller by redoing the supports under the windows.  However, that is a project for another day, and we ended by covering all of the window and door holes with plastic sheeting to keep out the elements.

I wish that was the end of the adventure, but alas it wasn't.  We had an outrageously long trip back because we had to stop numerous times for Allie to get sick.  Turns out she had some kind of 24 stomach bug that decided to hit as soon as we got in the car.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Homemade Applesauce

Making grape juice a couple weeks ago was so much fun that I really wanted to try making something else, and being fall, apples are in abundance so I thought applesauce or apple butter would be good options.  Both store well frozen, so I don't need to worry about diving into the world of canning; we'll leave that for next year perhaps.

As with grape juice, I got my applesauce recipe from Simply Recipes and again it worked great.  I started with 24 pounds of Jonagold apples so I could have made about 2 1/4 gallons of applesauce.  To start I only made one batch using 4 pounds of apples and that made about six cups of applesauce.

Again, as with the grape juice the whole process was made considerably easier with the core colander I've not so temporarily borrowed from my mom.  Because I had this, there was no need to peel the apples, saving considerable amounts of time.

I only used about half the sugar called for in the recipe and probably would reduce the lemon juice in any future batches.  The best part about this was how quick it was to make; it cooked for about 25 minutes and coring the apples didn't take long either.

This probably isn't the most cost effective use of time or apples considering store-bought applesauce is so cheap, but I think the overall quality was much higher and it ends up exactly as sweet as I like.