Easy Restaurant Style Greek Salad

greek salad with vinegar dill pickles

There is a greek place on the corner of my apartment block that I just LOVE.  Their salads are fresh and amazing, but expensive, and something I treat myself to once in a while.  The problem is, I could eat this salad every day, and I have…and though my taste buds were totally satisfied, my wallet was NOT.  So, I set out to mimic their simple salad, but I just couldn’t get it right.  I made tzatziki, marinated chicken, mixed up a vinaigrette, and even tried different types of oregano. After some (many) more orders of take out, I finally figured out an easy solution to make a salad taste like the pros – quick, dill “pickles!” Ok, so they aren’t really pickles, but they are soaked in just the right amount of “brine” so that they pick up that vinegar bite, but keep their crunch.  You have to try this one…you really can’t go wrong!

greek salad with dried dill cucumbers

Ingredients:

– romaine lettuce – as much as you need for a large salad

-1 large cucumber

– grape tomatoes

– red onion

– red wine vinegar

– quinoa, any style

– vegetable broth

– 1-2T dried dill, or about a handfull of fresh dill

– dried oregano

– fresh cracked pepper

– feta cheese, crumbled

– cooked chicken (optional)

Instructions:

Cut up your cucumbers into bite sized chunks, and place them in a container with a tight sealing lid.  Dice about a quarter of a red onion, and add to the cucumbers.  Crush the dried dill in your hand, and sprinkle over the cucumbers.  I bought a bunch of dill the first time I made these cucs, and thanks to Hayley’s post, I dried it out before it went bad!   Next, pour in about a third a cup of vinegar, close the container, and shake.  Set the container in the refridgerator to chill – this can be done days in advance.  Chop all of your vegetables as you’d like to present them in your salad, and prepare your quinoa according to the package.  I used red quinoa for color, and cooked it in vegetable broth for added flavor.  When your ready to serve, add all your ingredients together, and add feta and chicken, “if desired.”  I like to finish the dish off with some crushed oregano and black pepper.  The dilly-cucumbers are so, so good.  And so easy! The vinegar and dill acts like a dressing that brings all of your ingredients together – I can’t imagine how this could get any more simple.  You don’t even really have to cook anything for this recipe, and it will still be a hit. I make this for a week’s worth of lunch once a month, and I never get sick of it.  Is it lunchtime yet??

greek salad feta dill quick pickles

 

French 75 Cocktail

French_75_cocktail_4

Okay, you caught me. This is not a recipe that I developed in my own kitchen. The French 75 is a classic champagne cocktail, invented in Paris around 1915. It packs a punch, and is said to have the same potency as the 75 mm field gun used by the French army during World War I, hence the name. Though I didn’t invent this one, I did give it a small twist. Remember the lemon simple syrup that we made along with the candied lemon peel recipe a few posts back? It’s perfect for this cocktail, so I replaced the regular simple syrup with that!
French_75_cocktail_1
Here’s what you will need:

– 1.5 oz gin
– 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
– 1/2 oz lemon simple syrup
– 3 oz champagne

This is an easy drink to make. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the gin, lemon juice, and lemon simple syrup and shake well. Strain into a glass over a few ice cubes, then top it off with champagne. Garnish with a twist of lemon or a lemon wedge, and serve! Your guests will love this one, it’s refreshing and not too sweet.
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The French 75 is traditionally served in a champagne flute, but we didn’t have any, so I used a stemless martini glass instead. Sometimes you just have to break the rules…
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While gin isn’t usually my favorite, I am a big fan of this cocktail. It tastes like a very sophisticated hard lemonade. Give it a try for your next get together, I promise it will be a crowd pleaser!

Double Take: Coffee Cans

coffee can upcycle 

 

 

Today we are introducing a new series of posts called “Double Take”.  For these posts, we will select one item – a recipe, material, craft idea, anything – and come up with our own, individual projects involving that item, in secret.  There will be NO communication about the project between the two of us until we’re totally finished.  Then we will reconvene to write the post together!

While the two of us are great friends and get along amazingly (most of the time), we are TOTALLY different people.  You can see it in the topics we cover, and even in our writing styles – we have very different imaginations and thought processes, and we love that!  Our new “Double Take” feature will showcase our uniqueness, and give our readers double the DIY in one post!  Plus, because we’ll be highlighting the same item, we’ll really get to stretch our creative legs to come up with some cool final products.  There’s always more than one (great) way to look at something!

For our very first Double Take feature post, we decided to find a creative way to use an empty coffee can. We each started with one, and set out (separately) to remake it. It’s a classic upcycle, and we had a lot of fun keeping what we were working on a secret from each other, then coming together to write this post! Here’s what we did:

mosaic coffee can planterHayley’s coffee can became a flower pot, covered in a mosaic made from broken plates.

To make it: Punch some holes in the bottom of the can with a drill, to allow the plant adequate drainage. For the mosaic pieces, smash up some old plates with a hammer (wrapped in a towel to control the shrapnel!), or purchase some ready-made ones. Then adhere theses to the outside metal surface.

Note: I used a multipurpose glue called Weldbond to attach the pieces to the can and it worked just fine, but to be honest, if I did this project again, I would choose to use a thin-setting mortar instead. Weldbond is a great glue for mosaics, but it works better on a flat surface. On a curved surface, it makes the process take a bit longer, since for each “row” of pieces you glue down, you need to wait for the glue to dry a little before rotating the can, so that the pieces you just glued don’t go sliding off! A thin set mortar would take care of this issue.
mosaic how to Once the glue has had about 24 hours to dry, use some premixed grout to fill in between the pieces. All of the above mentioned materials can be found at your local hardware store, and you can follow the directions on the container for each! After the grout has dried (another 24 hours), clean up the surface of the tiles with a scrubby sponge and you will have a cute new flower pot!

burlap coffee can fabric flower cake stand

Katie’s coffee can became a cake stand, decorated in burlap and cloth fabric for a trendy, natural look.

I used a cardboard coffee can for this project, and started by removing the label and cleaning out the inside with a kitchen wipe.  Next, I cut strips of burlap garland in half and hot-glued three rows around the can.  You won’t need a lot of glue for this, as the burlap is light.  Also, take note that you will be able to see the glue through the burlap, so use small dots and place them strategically, like near the seams of the layers. I then made some fabric roses using a bright tea towel to add some more detail to the cake stand.  To make the roses, cut the towel into strips about 2-3 inches wide, and trim off the seams.  Fold one end of a strip into an angled triangle, and secure with hot-glue dots.  Next, roll the folded section around itself to form the center of the rose.

burlap and cloth flowers cake stand

When you get to the unfolded part, you’re going to start to form the petals.  To do this, fold/twist the fabric downwards towards the center of the flower and rotate at the same time.  It sounds tricky, and it is – but you can get the hang of it with practice.  Don’t forget to glue as you go!   I glued the roses on to the stand along the seams to hide those glue dots.  I also added a piece of corkboard that I had to the top of the can to give the stand a more finished look.  If you don’t have corkboard, don’t worry!  Most plates will nest into the top of the can easily, and won’t wobble.

What To Do With: Chalkboard Paint – in the Kitchen!

      What to do with Chalkboard Paint

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to better organize my kitchen.  My favorite way to stay organized is by writing things down, and as a DIY and crafting enthusiast, I make a pretty mean list.  I use different colors, pictures, and fonts to categorize and plan out how and when I’m going to execute all of my to-dos.  I’ll even include quotes for the day!  That being said, my lists can be pretty extensive and not very change-friendly.  What better way to write and draw things in a more dynamic and sustainable way than on a good ol’ chalkboard?  I had some chalkboard paint lying around and plenty of space in my kitchen, so I got to work.   Though I might not have stuck perfectly to my “kitchen organization” plan in all of my ideas, I’m so happy with my new, easy, and fun chalkboard additions!

When using chalkboard paint, it’s important to read and follow the instructions on the paint label.  Different brands and styles of paint may specify unique drying times and painting strategies – chalkboard paint is not a “dry to the touch, ok to use” type of medium.   With this type of project, if you don’t wait long enough between steps or you skip one, you might not be able to wipe the chalk off the board – nobody wants that.

For all of my projects, I applied one layer of chalkboard paint using a vertical stroke pattern, let it dry for one hour, then applied one layer of paint using a horizontal stroke pattern.  For the door and glasses, I repeated this process twice.  After painting each item, I waited 24 hours for the paint layers to be fully dry.  Next, I “cured” the chalkboard paint by lightly scribbling some chalk lines on the painted surfaces and blending the chalk with my fingers.  I waited another hour, then used a dry paper towel to gently erase the chalky blur – after that, all the chalkboards were finished, and I put them to use!

1) Kitchen Door Chalkboard

I love my kitchen door chalkboard.  When I painted the door, I thought I would use it for grocery lists, chore reminders, or other miscellaneous household needs.  Turns out, this door became the perfect vehicle to have the kitchen ready for every season, and mood.  This door often has congratulatory quotes, holiday pictures and greetings, and in this case, a Happy Birthday message for my roommate.  I particularly like it when we leave the chalk out when we are entertaining, and our “4th of July” themed board gets taken over by the creative minds of our guests – it’s always a funny surprise during morning clean-up.

The easiest part of this craft? Most doors have indented rectangles or raised edges along the outer part of the door, so you won’t need to measure any of your shapes to ensure they’re sides are straight and centered!

Kitchen Door Chalkboard Paint

2) Chalkboard Martini (or Wine) Glass Labels

I bought these martini glasses because they were HUGE and I love a good martini – plus, they were only $1 on clearance!  There are only a few people that frequent my apartment that like martinis.  Ok, there is only one person (aside from me) that is always in the martini-mood, and that’s my dad.  Fortunately for him, I got two glasses so we could both enjoy our drunks!  Unfortunately for me, they match, and because my dad and I drink identical cocktails it would be impossible to distinguish who’s is who’s when we are together.  Chalkboard paint to the rescue!  I painted the bottom and top of the base of the glasses, and left the stems unpainted.  Now, we can write our names (or the type of drink) on each glass to avoid any martini-mishaps.

Martini Glass Chalkboard Paint

3) Freezer Contents Chalkboard

When you cook for one, your freezer can be your biggest asset – so many bulk purchases and leftovers!  Every time I try and keep a tally of what’s in there, I end up with five or six different slips of paper with notes and no idea as to how they connect.  What’s even worse?  I end up just buying more of what I already had!  This project fixes everything.  I painted a scrap piece of wood and used velcro strips to mount it on the wall.  I can take the board down, update it, and stick it back on the wall – no more confusion!  I had to get at least one true “list” chalkboard in my kitchen, and this was a great way to do it.

Wooden Chalkboard Sign for Kitchen

 

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Oven dried tomatoes with bread and cheese

We had an over-abundance of tomatoes in our garden this year, and needed to choose a good way to use them up as soon as possible. I absolutely love sun-dried tomatoes, and so I decided that was the direction I wanted to go. The weather is pretty variable in New England this time of year, so actually drying them in the sun for several days was not really an option. I used my oven instead. I am absolutely thrilled with the way these turned out, they are delicious! So, I am really excited to share the recipe and drying process with you all today.

Oven_dried_tomatoes_1

Of course you will need some tomatoes. A bunch, actually, because when dried, the tomatoes shrink down by at least 50%. My tomatoes were from our backyard vegetable garden. We grew Roma and Bistro tomatoes this year, so that is what I used.
Oven_dried_tomatoes_2
Wash all of your tomatoes and pat dry. Slice off the stem end of each one, then slice in half. Some people think a serrated knife is needed to get a good slice through a tomato, but this just isn’t true. If you take good care of your kitchen blades and sharpen them regularly, a straight edged blade is even better. If you ask me, one good, sharp, chef’s knife is all you really need for cooking!
Oven dried tomatoes prep
Over a bowl, give each tomato a good squeeze with your hand to loosen up the seeds and juice inside. This part can get pretty messy (and fun!), so try not to wear a white shirt. Use a spoon to scoop out all the seeds and juice from inside. After you’ve scooped them out, you can slice the biggest tomatoes in half again if you would like, but remember that they will shrink significantly in the oven.
Oven_dried_tomatoes_4-2
Lay the tomato halves cut side up on a foil lined baking sheet, spaced out enough so that they are not touching each other. Then sprinkle with a generous amount of salt and pepper. I also added a bit of garlic powder. Lay whole stalks of fresh thyme on top of the cut tomatoes. The taste of that fresh thyme will seep into the tomatoes during the drying process, and it really ramps up the flavor. Finally, drizzle everything with extra virgin olive oil. I actually keep some olive oil in a small spray bottle in my cabinet for giving foods an even coating, and I used that here.

Set your oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and get ready to wait… These will take between six and eight hours to fully dry, depending how large and how juicy your tomatoes are. You don’t need to poke or turn them during this time, so you can just let them do their thing, slowly drying away in the oven while you go about your business. Just stay nearby so you don’t burn your house down or anything.
Oven Dried Tomatoes finished
When they are done, the tomatoes will have turned a deep dark red, decreased in size, and have a shriveled, leathery appearance. Turn off the oven and let them cool slowly inside.
Oven dried tomatoes storage
Once the dried tomatoes have cooled, pile them up in a jar and cover with extra virgin olive oil. Push them down in the jar with a spoon to release any air pockets. Top off with a little more oil to make sure they are fully covered. You can store the whole jar in the fridge like this, or go through the regular canning methods to seal and store in the pantry for even longer.
Oven Dried Tomatoes yum
These oven-dried tomatoes taste great and are also really versatile. Try them on a piece of french bread with some good cheese, or in a pasta dish or salad. If you sealed your jars, they could even make a lovely hostess gift! As for me, there are still more tomatoes ripening in our garden, so I plan to make another batch next weekend!

Roasted Portobello Mushroom Florentine

IMG_9056

This quick brunch side was inspired by a Saturday cafe date I had with two of my best friends – Portobello Eggs Benedict.  The original dish had artichokes, poached eggs, and creamy holandaise.  It was delicious, but with the sauce and runny yolk I found it a little too soupy.  I loved the idea of using portobellos in place of English muffins in a brunch dish, and took a stab at my own.  These roasted portobellos are layered with flavor and come together in no time at all – I ate the one pictured as a mid-morning snack!

Ingredients:

-4 portobello mushroom caps

-10oz bag of baby spinach

-2T olive oil

-1t minced garlic

-riccotta cheese, or whipped cottage cheese

-2t total of dried Italian spices (parsley, basil, oregano)

-salt and pepper to taste

-your favorite jarred bruschetta – here, I used my go-to Trader Giotti’s, but don’t be afraid to use your own!

-eggs (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 350.  Rinse and dry your portobello mushrooms, and remove the inner stem.  With the top side of each mushroom down, brush the bottom with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes.  Next, heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat the pan with about 1T of olive oil.  Add the minced garlic, and stir – cook about 3 minutes or until the garlic is slightly toasted.  Add in the entire bag of spinach, and toss to coat.  I like to use tongs when sauteeing greens – it’s easier to move them around.  The spinach should wilt down in about 5 minutes.  By this time, your mushrooms are probably roasted and can be removed from the oven to cool.

 

Roasted Portabello Mushroom Caps

Now, for the topping.  I know it seems odd, but low-fat whipped cottage cheese is an identical replacement to part-skim ricotta.  It is salty and creamy with a slightly lumped texture, and in my opinion, is much more flavorful than ricotta when eaten raw, especially when you add in the spices.  I put this cottage cheese – spice mixture over eggs, in pasta, and even eat it by itself.  It’s really good, is normally cheaper, and it even has more protein!  I wouldn’t recommend substituting cottage cheese for ricotta in baked recipes, however, as it will release much more moisture when cooked.

Italian Seasoned Whipped Cottage Cheese

For the assembly, layer the spinach on the roasted portobello, and top with the spiced cottage cheese and bruschetta.  So simple, and so good.  I had a ton of leftovers, so I cooked up some eggs and ate it as breakfast for a few days – didn’t mind my early morning desk routine this week!

Portabello Florentine Eggs

 

 

DIY Wool Felt Laptop Sleeve

DIY Wool Felt Laptop Sleeve 3

I recently got a new Macbook (yay!) and realized that I needed a case for it ASAP. When you have a shiny new device, its only natural to want to avoid bumps and scratches for as long as possible! I loved the look of some wool laptop sleeves that I saw online, but being the thrifty crafter that I am, decided I could totally make one myself for much cheaper. (Are you sensing a trend with me yet?)

DIY wool felt laptop sleeve supplies

You won’t need a lot of supplies to make one of these, just a half a yard of nice wool felt in your color of choice, a fun colored thread (since your stitches will be visible) about 2 feet of nylon webbing, and a couple pieces of velcro or snaps if you prefer. You will also need a sewing machine and the accompanying tools, a ruler, and some glue.

Felt Laptop Sleeve 2

Step 1) Place your laptop down on the felt and fold the fabric over it so that one edge comes just to the end of your computer. You will want to have a good amount of excess fabric at the top, this will be the fold-over flap.
Step 2) Cut the excess felt to be twice the length you would like your flap to be, and then fold it down so that the edge meets the top of your laptop, creating a double-thick layer for the flap.
Step 3) This is where I chose to dock the corners of the flap. If you like that look, then measure one inch from the corner on each edge, and make a dot with a marker. Then, using a ruler, mark a line connecting these two dots, and cut along the line. You will be cutting a small triangle from both corners of the flap, through both folds of fabric.
Step 4) Stitch around three sides of the flap (picture 1 above).
Step 5) Measure and cut two 10 inch pieces of webbing, and melt the ends slightly with a lighter to avoid fraying.
Step 6) Pin them to the back of your case so that they overhang the edge of the flap by two to three inches, then stitch in place (picture 2 above).

Felt Laptop Sleeve 3

Step 7) Measure and cut a second piece of felt slightly smaller than the top of your laptop, and lay it on top. This will be the front pocket.
Step 8) Fold the flap down to see where the ends of the webbing meets the front pocket, and pin two pieces of velcro there. Lift off the pocket piece and sew these in place.
Step 9) Lay the pocket piece back down onto the front of the case, pin down, and then sew around three edges (picture 3 above).
Step 10) Place your laptop into the main fold, and pin snugly on both sides. Stitch both sides closed, then trim off the excess.
Step 11) Attach the opposite velcro pieces to the ones you already stitched down, and put some glue on the back of each (picture 4 above).
Step 12) Fold down the flap and press the end of each webbing strap onto the glue. This will assure that your velcro is perfectly placed. After pressing down firmly, gently peel the velcro apart and place some clothespins or bulldog clips to hold the velcro tightly to the webbing until the glue dries (give it a couple hours to be on the safe side).
Note: you can just as easily stitch these pieces on rather than gluing them, I just preferred not to have visible stitches for this part!

DIY felt laptop sleeve 8
Once the glue is dry, you’re ready to go! Go hit up your local Starbucks and bask in the glory of how cool and original your new gear is. I’m feeling more productive already…

DIY wool felt laptop sleeve 2

Cracked Pepper Crock Pot Turkey

crock pot sliced turkey

 

Cooking protein in the crockpot is probably the easiest part of my cooking routine.  I buy chicken, turkey, and even red meats in bulk, put them in the crockpot right before bed with some seasonings, and wake up to a finished product!  Typically, plain old chicken breast is my go-to – just set the crockpot on low for about 8 hours, shred, cool, and store.  This time around, I wanted to see if I could make an un-shredded protein, to use in a sandwich instead of traditional deli meat.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good sub from the local shop, but I don’t want to even think about what “nitrates, nitrites, added water…” are, so why not try and make my own?  I used a turkey tenderloin instead of a cutlet, and coated it in tons of cracked pepper and a sprinkling of salt, and ended up with thick, juicy slices of meat perfect for lunch time.  And because it’s so simply seasoned and cooked all on it’s own, it’s perfect for the freezer!

crock pot turkey tenderloin

Ingredients:

-1.5 – 3 lbs turkey tenderloin, or turkey breast (if using a bone-in turkey breast, this might be up to 5 lbs)

-salt

-freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

Liberally coat the turkey with the salt & pepper mixture, and place in the crock pot.  Set the crockpot to cook on low for 6 hours.  When the time is up, remove the turkey from the crockpot and place on a plate to cool – I use tongs, the turkey will be hot!  After cooling for 5-10 minutes, slice the turkey using a sharp knife to the desired thickness.  Don’t be alarmed if the turkey pulls apart a little – it just means the turkey is tender!

cracked pepper crock pot turkey

That’s it.  There’s maybe about 5 minutes of preparation, and while the turkey is cooking away you can do anything else you’d like!  I caught up on some TV and worked on some new non-cooking kitchen projects to share!  Stay tuned…until then, sandwich?

crock pot turkey sandwich

Candied Lemon Peels

Candied_lemon_peels

What to do with Lemons, you ask!? How about eating the peels? Sounds strange, right?

When my Albanian coworker first introduced me to candied lemon peels, I was skeptical… She had the candy store near our office special order them for her (sans chocolate) and urged us all to try them. It turns out that they are chewy and sweet and pack some serious lemon flavor, without any of the sourness. Frankly, they’re kind of addicting!

I was curious to find out how these unique sweets are made, so I did some research and discovered that they are actually quite easy to make at home, and only require two ingredients: lemons and sugar! I combed through a dozen or so different recipes online, and adapted my own version which I’ll share today.

Candied_lemon_peels_1
You’ll need a bunch of lemons and some regular granulated sugar. I used eight lemons for this recipe. First things first, give the lemons a good wash, since you’ll be eating the peels.
Candied_lemon_peels_2
candied_lemon_peel_3
Cut each lemon into wedges and carefully pull the flesh away from the peels. The easiest way to do this is with your hands, peeling back the skin the same way you would peel an orange. Don’t let that lemon flesh go to waste! You can store it away in the fridge for another purpose.
candied_lemon_peels_4
Using a spoon with a sharp edge, scrape away some of the white pith from each peel. This is the part of the lemon that will have a bitter taste. You want to remove enough to cut the bitterness, but not so much that your peels become too thin later on. When you start to see the pattern of pores on the outside of the peel, you’ve gone far enough. Don’t worry about being perfect. Variation is good here!
candied_lemon_peels_5
Slice the peels into thin strips, about a quarter inch wide.

Place the peels into a medium sized pot, and add enough water to cover. Heat over the stove on high until you’ve reached a rolling boil. Boil for 1 minute, then drain. Repeat this boil and drain process a second time and set the drained peels aside. Boiling and draining the peels this way will cook out the bitterness from the fibrous portions of the fruit.
candied_lemon_peels_6
In the same pot, measure out three cups of sugar and three and a half cups of water. Heat until sugar is dissolved, then add the peels. Heat this mixture on high until boiling vigorously, then reduce to low-medium heat and simmer for at least an hour, or until peels are easy to bite through. (The exact timing will depend on how thick your peels are, mine needed about 75 minutes.) At this point the sugar solution will have boiled down and thickened quite a bit.

Take the peels off the heat and let them cool in the pot for ten minutes. Then pour off the liquid and set aside, because guess what! You also just made lemon flavored simple syrup.  You can use this later for cocktails! Lemon drop martini, anyone?
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On a parchment lined baking sheet, spread the peels out to dry. They will need to dry overnight, so put them somewhere out of the way. Once they are cool, you can sprinkle them with some extra sugar, but this step is optional.
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You can keep these candies in your refrigerator for a couple weeks, or wrap them up and give as a gift. I reserved a batch as a surprise for a certain lemon-loving coworker.
Lemon_simple_syrup
Don’t forget about that simple syrup! It should go in the fridge also, and will keep for a couple weeks.

Buttermilk Pumpkin Scones with Spiced Cream Cheese Drizzle

buttermilk pumpkin scones with spiced cream cheese drizzle

Fall is almost here!!! And that means, PUMPKIN EVERYTHING.  I love all things pumpkin.  Pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin yogurt, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin bread, pumpkin napkins, pumpkin posters, pumpkin picking, you name it.  And though I love my coffee and lattes, I’m not a huge fan of the famous PSL.  I know, I’m in the 1% with that one and to be honest, I was feeling a little left out.  Why not make something pumpkin to go with my lattes to rid me of that FOMO feeling?  Though pumpkin scones might not be original, these little minis are definitely one of a kind.  With a little less sugar and some additional fall flavors, the pumpkin and warm spices are the highlight of these scones – you’ll want to make these ASAP.

buttermilk pumpkin scones ingredients

Ingredients:

Buttermilk Pumpkin Spiced Scones

-2 cups flour

-1t baking powder

-½t baking soda

-2t cinnamon

-¾t cloves

-½t ginger

-½t nutmeg

-¼ t salt

-1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

-⅓ cup dark brown sugar

-1T molasses

-½ cup pumpkin puree

-1 egg

-1T vanilla

-⅓ cup buttermilk

 

spiced cream cheese drizzle pumpkin scones

Spiced Cream Cheese Drizzle

-½ cream cheese

-¼ – ⅓ cup sugar

-¼t of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg

-1t vanilla

-⅛ cup milk

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 425.  Using the “fluffing” technique, measure your flour, and stir in the spices, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Unlike typical baked goods, scones don’t require keeping the dry and wet ingredients totally separate until combined.  This, along with the ratio of the dry to wet ingredients, helps to keep them crumbly and separates them from being a muffin.  Cut up the butter into small pieces and sprinkle the pieces over the dry ingredients.  Because I don’t have a butter-cutting tool (more important for pastries, where the butter needs to stay cold), I used my hands to combine the butter into the spiced flour by stirring and crumbling until I was left with a coffeecake topping-looking mix.  Next, stir in the sugar, molasses, and pumpkin until combined.  The molasses will help to highlight those spices, and really deepen that pumpkin flavor.  Then add the egg, vanilla, and buttermilk, and continue to stir until the mixture is consistent – I used a rubber spatula.  For mini scones, scoop the batter into lined cups, or butter and flour the cups and almost completely fill each one with the batter.  Bake for about 8 minutes, and let cool.

cut butter into scones cut butter into dry ingredients by hand scones mini buttermilk pumpkin scones mini buttermilk pumpkin scones muffin tin

While the scones are cooling, combine the drizzle ingredients using an electric mixer – if you think your mix isn’t thin enough, add some more milk until you get the consistency you’d like.  I kept mine on the thick side, and used a plastic bottle to drizzle over the cooled scones.  This tart frosting is the perfect pair for a spiced scone.

mini pumpkin spiced scones mini pumpkin scones with spiced cream cheese drizzle

As you can see, I made some larger scones too.  They cooked up in about 10-12 minutes, and were perfect for breakfast.  And they freeze really well!  I froze a bunch and thawed in the microwave and on the counter, and they still taste great.  I have about a dozen left…but I bet that’ll change soon.

pumpkin scones with spiced cream cheese drizzle

 

Recycled Flannel Infinity Scarf

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Last Fall shopping season I wanted a plaid flannel infinity scarf. I looked everywhere, but never was able to find one. The time of year for new sweaters and pumpkin lattes is quickly approaching, and I still want that scarf! But this time, I decided to make it myself and do a little earth-friendly recycling to boot!

recycled_flannel_infinity_scarf_1I picked up this XL mens flannel shirt at my local thrift shop for $5. It was thick, well worn, and just the colors I wanted, so I brought it home and gave it a wash. Then I went about taking it apart.

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First, using a seam ripper, I removed the front pockets. I wanted to preserve the large area of usable fabric underneath the pockets, so I tore out these seams carefully.

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Next I removed the sleeves and cut them open along the seams. This gave me two more large pieces of flannel to work with for my scarf. I also cut off the cuffs and collar, and opened the shoulder seams so that I had the largest, flattest panels possible. In order to figure out about how much fabric I would need, and what I wanted the length and width of my finished scarf to be, I used one of my other favorite scarves as a reference.

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Next, I laid out my largest usable pieces and cut them into rectangles of the width I wanted. I ended up with three pieces: one long strip from the body of the shirt and one from each sleeve. (Luckily, Lu was available to offer his assistance with this step…)

flannel_infinity_scarf_hemI sewed each of these three pieces together at the ends, creating one long rectangle of flannel. Then I added a thin, single fold hem down each side. (If you cringe at the thought of exposed raw edges, you can simply make this a double fold hem, but it saved me some time and I didn’t mind the look). Finally, I sewed the two short ends together to make the infinity loop.

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The finished scarf is soft and warm and long enough to loop around my neck twice. It’s not officially Fall yet, but the cool weather sneaks up fast here in Massachusetts. Autumn layers are my favorite seasonal style and this thrifted DIY piece will make a great addition to my cold weather wardrobe!

Browned Butter Bourbon Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

browned butter bourbon bacon chocolate chip cookies and milk     

Remember the meat party?  Well, as a baker I’m not too sure it can be a real celebration without some type of dessert.  So after sticking to the strict meat-only rule with my mini-meatloaf cupcakes, I had to bring a real sweet treat that would keep me in theme just enough to appease the hosts.  Your classic back-of-the-bag chocolate chip cookie recipe would taste great with a crunchy bacon add-in, but to combat the side-eyes I knew I’d get from the B.Y.O.M. attendees I knew these cookies had to be a little bit jazzier. So, I added in the bacon crumbles and drippings, browned the butter to deepen the flavor, and boozed them up with a “little” bourbon…how could you go wrong?

browned butter bourbon bacon chocolate chip cookies

Ingredients:

-2 ½ cup flour

-1t baking soda

-1t salt

-1 stick butter

-½ cup bacon fat

-¾ cup brown sugar

-2 eggs

-2T vanilla

-2T bourbon (optional, or use less)

-about half a pack of bacon

-4oz. semi-sweet chocolate

-4oz. bitter-sweet chocolate

Instructions:

If you’re going to bake the cookies right away, preheat your oven to 350.  Step one, cook the bacon over low heat.  We want fully cooked-through, crispy bacon with no burnt pieces, and low heat will help us get there.  After you cook the bacon, set it to drain on a plate with paper towels, and CAREFULLY pour the bacon drippings into a bowl.  More often than not, these drippings are put in an aluminum can to cool to only be disposed of, but not today.  The bacon fat is going to amount to half of the fat we put into these cookies, and will elevate that bacon flavor.  As the drippings cool, brown the butter.  Put the butter in a small sauce pan and let it melt over medium-low heat.  Once it starts to turn into a liquid, start watching the pan more carefully, and swirl it to stir often.  This part requires concentration, as you don’t want to over brown your butter.  Browned butter looks well, brown.  But it has a nutty aroma and makes the butter taste even more endulgent, if you can believe it.  Burnt butter also looks brown (I know, not ok) but it is NOT rich or wonderful, it tastes awful.  Really, really awful.  It stinks, and will mask all other ingredients in your recipe and ruin it.  So, once the butter starts to bubble a bit, gets really transparent, and has the slightes bit of brown, take it off the heat and keep swirling. The butter is still hot and will change to a slightly-toasted brown, and you won’t have any problems with burning.  If you’re still nervous about burning the butter, cut 1-2T from the stick of butter before you brown it, and once you get to that off the heat stage, throw in the reserved butter to cool the melted butter down (I did this, partly due to paranoia, partly because I didn’t have any more butter to waste).  Pour in the reserved bacon fat – which should amount to half a cup – and let the mixture cool to room temperature.  In the meantime, get your dry ingredients together, crumble the bacon, and cut up the chocolate into bite sized pieces.

browned butter bacon fat

browned butter

The rest of the steps are much easier, and are exactly the same as any cookie recipe.  Cream the sugar with the fat, add in the eggs, then blend in the vanilla and bourbon.  Add in the dry ingredients one step at a time until you’ve got your dough pretty consistant.

browned butter cookies

bourbon bacon chocolate chip cookie dough

browned butter bourbon bacon cookie dough

Note: This will be a pretty greasy dough, and that’s ok!  Any time you use a liquid fat, the dough is going to appear to be a little thinner and much shiner than what you’d normally get with unmelted butter.  After the dough is combined, stir in the chocolate and bacon, cover the bowl, and put it in the fridge to chill.   I chilled the dough for about an hour because I was really hungry, but you can even chill the dough overnight.  (Gotta love the make-ahead recipes).  If you’re OK with raw dough, this is where you taste test.

chilled bacon chocolate chip cookie dough

Shape and bake the cookies on a parchment lined tray for about eight minutes, or until just done.  I always err on the side of less-cooked because like the butter, the cookies will hold the heat and continue to cook even when out of the oven.  Let the cookies rest on the cookie sheet for about two minutes before moving them to cooling trays.  Or, if you’re really hungry, eat them immediately!

 

The cookies will be a combination of sweet and savory, chewy and crunchy, and bacon-y and boozy, and will keep for a week in an air-tight container.  You can even serve them cold!

Make Your Own Wax Seal with Crayons

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I have always loved the look of traditional wax seals on envelopes and packages, but considering its 2014, and most mail these days comes electronically, supplies for sealing your snail mail the old fashioned way are hard to come by. I had heard you could get a similar effect by putting an old crayon into a hot glue gun, but I didn’t really want to ruin a perfectly good glue gun, so I decided to experiment a bit for myself. It turns out you can get a very official looking seal using just a crayon, a lighter, and some old buttons!
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To make your seal, gather some crayons, a long handled lighter, some oil and some metal buttons with interesting designs. If you don’t have any buttons like these, take a look around your house, in your junk drawers. There are lots of different things that you can press into your wax to achieve this effect.

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*Before you begin, rub a bit of oil on the face of your button, to prevent the wax from sticking to it. Any kind of cooking oil or non-stick spray will do the trick.

Remove the paper from your crayon. Then, holding the tip of the crayon over the area that you want your seal, melt the end with the lighter, turning gently and letting the wax drip onto the paper and pool. The long style of lighter (the kind you use with your grill) is best for this task, since a small lighter would be difficult to hold for this long without burning your fingers.

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Allow your pool of hot wax to solidify just a bit. The timing is a little tricky, because you don’t want it to be completely liquid, but not all the way solidified either. When you see that the edges have begun to harden, firmly press your button into the wax, then hold the paper and gently lift away. It took me a few tries to get the hang of it, so I recommend practicing on a piece of scrap paper first.

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I am a believer in preserving the art of handwritten correspondence. There’s nothing better or more personal than receiving a bit of snail mail from a friend. I love the way this little project turned out, and I can’t wait to send someone a letter topped off with an old fashioned wax seal. Wouldn’t that be so fun to find in your mailbox!? Give it a try on your next thank-you note!