Easy Felt Halloween Coasters

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Halloween Themed Felt Coasters

In preparation for the Halloween mixology experiments Hayley and I will be preparing for our parties, I thought I’d come up with another way to make each beverage look more festive – Halloween coasters!  These coasters are super easy, and really fun to make.  They take almost no time to pull together, and can be altered for any party theme.  Plus, they are fairly inexpensive, so if they get put to really good use, you can toss them afterwards and not feel guilty!

Easy Halloween Felt Coasters

You’ll need:

-3D Fabric Paint, any colors you’d like

-sheets of stiff felt – you can get six coasters per standard 9″x12″ sheet

-A sharp utility knife, and a surface to cut on

First, cut your felt into 6 even rectangles – for a standard size, each coaster will be 4″x4.5″.  Next, you get to be creative!  I chose spiderwebs for my theme, and made two different patterns.  To make an easy spider web, start by painting an “X” on your felt.  Then, paint a “+” so that the lines all go through one center point – we will call all of these lines, the “base lines.”  Starting close to the center point, start to connect your base lines with the curved parts of the web, and spiral around the web until you’ve run out of room on the felt.  Let the paint dry.

Spider Web Felt Coaster

 

DIY Felt Coasters

To make the solo-web coasters more dramatic, I used my utility knife and cut along the curved lines to remove any excess felt.  I will definitely be making these coasters for another holiday – they’re a great last detail to pull the theme together!

Halloween felt Coasters

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Paper Mache Pumpkins

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paper mache pumpkin

Today I am going to share a fun craft tutorial for making decorative pumpkins out of paper mache! I think the last time I did any paper mache was in elementary school, so I had a lot of fun getting my hands messy with this project and taking a little trip down memory lane. Plus these cute little pumpkins are made entirely of recycled material, so you can feel good about them too. Eat your heart out HomeGoods!

Here’s what you will need to make some of your own:

– plastic grocery bags
– newspaper
– masking tape
– flour
– paint

paper mache pumpkin forms
To make the underlying form, fill a small plastic grocery bag with crumpled up pieces of paper (old magazines or newspaper). When it reaches a size you are happy with, twist the top of the bag and wrap with a piece of masking tape. I used the tied-off end of the bag to form the stem of my pumpkins. Fluff the bag into a round shape, and then use the masking tape to create some grooves to form the lobes of your pumpkin. I wanted mine to be chunky and cartoonish, but for a more realistic looking fruit, make thinner divisions.

To mix up the paper mache paste, mix flour and water until you have a consistency like pancake batter. I didn’t measure, but used roughly a 2:1 mixture of water to flour. Then add a few teaspoons of salt (this prevents any risk of mold). Now lay out some plastic or a drop cloth over your work area, because the next part is going to get messy!

paper mache how-to
Rip up some newspaper into strips and small chunks to use for the paper mache. Start with the top half of your pumpkin, saturating strips of paper with paste and laying them over the form to cover the entire top surface. Once you have one solid layer, let it dry a bit and then keep going! For a sturdy pumpkin, you’ll want 3 or 4 layers of paper. Let the top half dry completely. This will probably take overnight if you are working indoors.

Once the top is completely dry, flip the pumpkin over and rest in a cup or bowl so that you can work without crushing the stem. Cover the bottom of your pumpkin in paper mache, in the same manner as you did the top, and let dry again. (This project will take a couple days to finish!) Once your pumpkin is fully dried, use a utility blade to carefully cut a circle from the bottom, and gently pull out all the paper and plastic inside.

At this point it is ready to paint! It’s a good idea to give the whole thing a coat of white paint as a primer, unless you are painting your pumpkins a dark color. I painted mine a predictable orange this time, but I think next year I will make some black ones!
three paper mache pumpkins
If you want to make this project a little more exciting, you can accessorize your pumpkin with anything you like! You could also bring back that utility knife and cut out a face or design, then place a flameless candle inside. I plan to use mine in my Halloween mantel display.
paper mache pumpkin mantel display

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Easy Restaurant Style Greek Salad

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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

 

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French 75 Cocktail

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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.
French_75_cocktail_2
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…
French_75_cocktail_3
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!

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Double Take: Coffee Cans

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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.

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

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      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

 

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Oven-Dried Tomatoes

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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!

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Roasted Portobello Mushroom Florentine

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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

 

 

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DIY Wool Felt Laptop Sleeve

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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

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Cracked Pepper Crock Pot Turkey

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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

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Candied Lemon Peels

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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!
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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.
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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.
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Don’t forget about that simple syrup! It should go in the fridge also, and will keep for a couple weeks.

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Buttermilk Pumpkin Scones with Spiced Cream Cheese Drizzle

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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

 

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Recycled Flannel Infinity Scarf

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DIY_recycled_flannel_infinity_scarf

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!

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Browned Butter Bourbon Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

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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!

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Make Your Own Wax Seal with Crayons

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DIY_wax_seal_with_crayons_4

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!
DIY_Wax_seal_with_crayons_supplies
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!

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Vanilla Milk Iced Coffee

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homemade vanilla milk

There is nothing better than a cup of coffee for an early morning wake up.  A large cup of coffee.  A very large cup of coffee, delivered to my bed.  I need coffee in the mornings.  Ok, so maybe I don’t need coffee right when I wake up, and to be honest if I had to stop drinking coffee for whatever reason, I probably could.  But there’s something about the routine of coffee – waking up to a cup, and drinking it while still having time to actually wake up – that really makes my morning.  Think about it…you are taking a break before you’ve even done anything.  Combine that with a caffeinated pick-me up, and I’d say coffee is pretty much the best thing ever invented.

You know what’s even better?  You can take that coffee break whenever you want.  I like to take a  coffee break after work, to break up the afternoon and keep me more productive.  With this summer’s heat, my afternoon coffees have been iced and in an effort to tame my coffee-house vice, I came up with a way to make my own coffee treat with homemade vanilla milk!

Ingredients:

Vanilla Milk:

-really good vanilla beans (not the extract)

-milk (skim is OK, but I find a little fat helps the flavor stick, I used 1%)

-sweetener, optional

*Use maximum 2 cups milk per one half vanilla bean, I used 1½ cups

 

Iced Coffee:

-coffee, cold or at least room temperature

-frozen coffee ice cubes

 

Pour some room-temperature or already chilled coffee into an ice cube tray, and freeze until set.  Make sure to save some coffee to pour over the ice later!

frozen coffee iced coffee cubes Iced Coffee Ice Cubes

Next, pour milk into any storage container that has a lid.  I use glass mason jars, so that I can shake them up every once in a while to mix the vanilla beans through the milk, and so that I can see the seeds freckled throughout the milk.  You can find organic vanilla beans in the spice or baking aisle – I highly recommend that you buy these.  They are more expensive, but much more flavorful, and you’d be spending more if you got the barista beverage at your local chain.  Slice your vanilla bean (pod) in half – all the way in half – lengthwise.  Using the dull edge of the knife, scrape the seeds out of the pod, tap them off of the knife into the milk, and add the pods.  Try not to use your hands, because the seeds will stick to the oils in your fingers and you won’t be able to get all of the seeds into the milk ($$).  Here is where you would add sweeteners, if you wanted to.  I made two batches – sweetened and unsweetened – because I don’t like sugar in my coffee, but I do like a little sweetener in my lattes.  I also used coconut nectar as my sweetener, but you can substitute this with any one that you like.  Coconut nectar is a newer product, and can be found in most health food stores big and small.  It’s made from the meat of coconuts, has a lower glycemic index than most sugars, contains healthy amino acids, and is less processed than regular sugars and syrups.  And it doesn’t taste like coconut!  It tastes like an earthy sugar, sort of like maple syrup without the maple.  Try it!  The milk will last just as if it were non-vanilla, if you can make it last that long.  I find myself drinking the unsweetened vanilla milk all by itself.  It’s so good!

how to cut a vanilla bean

how to scrape the seeds out of a vanilla bean

When all is frozen and vanilla-d, pop your ice cubes into a glass, pour in some additional coffee, and the milk.  That’s it!  I like to make mine more of a cafe au lait, and just pour over the milk and give it a stir – you can really taste that vanilla when you do that.  This would also be a good method for iced lattes – just replace the coffee with espresso cubes!

frozen coffee iced coffee cubes with vanilla milk

I love vanilla milk in this iced coffee and latte, and I can’t wait to try it with some oven-hot chocolate chip cookies!

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Mini-Meatloaf Cupcakes

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mini-meatloaf cupcakes with mashed potato frosting

As an invitee to a highly anticipated “B.Y.O.M” (Bring Your Own Meat) party, I anxiously sought out a recipe that would look great and appeal to many different pallets.  After brainstorming for a while and coming up with some pretty stellar ideas, I decided that I didn’t want to risk trying a fancy meat recipe for the first time and end up with a disaster, so I settled for a comfort food classic – meatloaf!  As good as this recipe would have been in loaf form, I wanted to amp up the presentation and make them more appetizer friendly – mini-meatloaf cupcakes were born!  These little appetizers are simple and delicious, and can be served at any temperature for the ultimate party-win.

mini-meatloaf cupcakes ingredients

Ingredients:

Meatloaf “Cakes”

  • 3 lbs ground meat (I used 85% lean)
  • 1 large white onion
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2t minced garlic, or 1-2 cloves
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • ketchup, to cover
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • cooking spray

Mashed Potato “Frosting”:

  • about 10 smaller potatoes, peeled
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2T butter, unsalted
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • chives, for garnish (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350.  Heat a large frying pan on the stove on high, and drizzle enough olive oil in the pan to almost coat the bottom (about 2T).  Finely dice the onion, toss it into the hot pan, and reduce the heat to medium low.  To really get that good caramelized flavor, be sure to be patient and cook them over lower heat – we don’t want the outside to be crisp and the inside to have that raw onion bite.  Once the onions are done, remove the pan from the heat, add the garlic, and stir.  The garlic adds a little extra flavor (and aroma) without being overpowering if it’s not sautéed in with the onions.  Let the mixture cool for about 5 minutes, so that it won’t burn when you blend it into the meat.  Place the meat in a large bowl, add the cooled onions, a few shakes of Worcestershire, 2 eggs, the breadcrumbs, enough ketchup to just coat the top, and salt and pepper to taste.  Now, I know that there’s a debate about eggs to meat ratios, and after talking with some expert chefs, I’ve learned that there is no real answer.  The egg serves purely as a binder – it doesn’t really help to make the meat moist or enhance flavor or texture – and you don’t need to add one per pound of meat you use.  I used two because three pounds of ground beef is a lot of beef, but for servings under 2 ½ pounds, I’d say stick with one.

caramelized onion meatloaf

I mixed up my meatloaf by hand, mostly because that’s how I’ve known it to be done, but also because it’s easier to tell if the mixture is consistent throughout.  Spray the mini cupcake tin with cooking spay, and fill each cup up with the meatloaf mixture.  Remember, these are not real cupcakes, and will not rise or take form of the pan unless you make them – so press the meat into the cup to prevent any misshapen mini-meatloaves.  Bake the meatloaves for about 10-15 minutes, or until the meat is cooked completely through.  You can use a larger tin for the cupcakes – just be sure to add on some cooking time, maybe 18-22 minutes.

Now for the frosting.  While the “cakes” are cooking, peel and boil potatoes until tender.  Mine took longer than expected – about 15-20 minutes – but I was also using a very small pot.  To check for doneness, you want the potato to fall off a fork but not completely break apart in the water. When they’re done, drain the potatoes, add in all ingredients (except for the chives), and using an electric mixer, whip the potatoes for a nice, creamy consistency.  You want to avoid lumps here – lumpy mashed potatoes are difficult to pipe and will be very frustrating.  Chop the chives, and set aside.

When the meatloaves are all cooked, set them aside to cool to the touch.  Prep your icing bags with a star tip, fill with potatoes, and frost your cupcakes.  I sprinkled over some chives for color.  Because these were for a party, I made the meatloaves the night before – try to make the potatoes the day of to keep the texture just right.   Just like regular meatloaf, these are great hot or cold, as two bite appetizers or mashed up on an italian roll with gravy for lunch later in the week.

sour cream mashed potatoes

I’d show you a picture of that sandwich I was talking about, but there were no leftovers…

mini-meatloaf cupcakes with sour creal mashed potato frosting

 

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Air Drying Herbs from your Garden

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air_drying_herbs

I love cooking with fresh herbs from my garden, but unfortunately, up here in New England I’m not able to grow these plants year-round. Drying excess herbs in the summer when they are fresh, and storing them for winter use, allows me to get the most out of my garden even in later months.

There are several techniques to dry herbs, and some work better than others for different types of plants. Air drying is the most simple, and perhaps the best if you don’t have a lot of time. It works best for herbs that have sturdier leaves and lower moisture content like rosemary, thyme, sage, or lavender, but with a little extra monitoring and good air flow, leafier herbs like basil, parsley, and mint can be dried using this method as well.
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To start, pick some herbs from your garden, wash, and lay out on paper towels to dry completely. For the larger leaf varieties like basil, sage and parley, pull leaves from the main stem to reduce internal moisture flow into the leaves while drying. Gather your herbs into small bundles, and tie together using twine or string.
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Hang your bundles upside down in a place that gets good air flow. Indoors is usually better as humidity outdoors can be very variable, and direct sunlight can bleach out color and flavor. If you like, you can cut a hole in the bottom of some small paper bags and drape these over each herb bundle to keep the dust off. (I chose not to this time, but it can be helpful). Leave your herbs hanging to dry. This can take anywhere from 10 days to several weeks, depending on the type of herb and the humidity and air flow in your area. Hot and dry is obviously best for this process, but we can’t always control the weather! Check them every few days, particularly the leafier greens, to make sure that no mold is developing. (If you do get mold on any of your herbs, throw them out and start over!)
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Herb bundles will feel dry and crunchy to the touch when fully dried. Some retain their green color better than others. (If you are not having success with your more tender leaved herbs, you may want to try a quicker drying method, such as oven drying.)
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To prepare dried bundles for storage, remove the dried leaves from their stems and crush. You can use a mortar and pestle for this, or just your fingers.
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Store your herbs in airtight containers for later use. I love these pretty glass jars for mine, since we have open shelving for spices in our kitchen. When you are using theses herbs later in your fall and winter recipes, be sure to crush them up a bit more just before using to release the flavors. Also keep in mind that dried herbs are stronger, so you can use a bit less than you would when cooking with fresh.

Learning this process is all about trial and error, but its really fun, looks pretty, tastes great, and can save you a bit of money on your grocery bill. I can’t wait to make some fall soups with mine!

 

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Roasted Graffiti Eggplant and Yellow Zucchini Salad

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You can find some pretty interesting things at a farmers market, and on my last trip I snagged some graffiti eggplant and yellow zucchini – not squash, neon yellow zucchini.  To be honest, I had never seen these vegetbles before, but was excited to take them home and experiment.  I made big plans for these finds – grilled vegetable skewers, using a few veggie add ons I had at home – but quickly realized that I’d have to come up with a new idea, due to “equiptment restrictions” (I don’t have a grill).  Roasted vegetables are great as a side dish, or sprinkeld over some greens  for a savory lunch salad, and in retrospect, I’m so happy to have roasted these veggies.  Graffiti eggplant’s opaque white center becomes completely marbled in the oven, and the zucchini skin retains it’s vibrant yellow color – it was a great surprise, and a great lunch add-on!

Ingredients:

  • 2 graffiti eggplant (they are about half the size of a standard eggplant)
  • 1 yellow zucchini
  • half of a red onion
  • 2T (or more) extra virgin olive oil
  • Spices, to taste
  • spinach or other salad greens
  • 2 cups balsamic vinegar
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 350.  Chop the eggplant, zucchini, and onion into any shape or size that you want to eat – just remember that the vegetables will shrink down when you roast them so don’t cut them too small.  Because I keep the skin on my vegetables, I also have to cater my shapes to the texture of each one.  For example, eggplant skin can be chewy when roasted, but the flesh stays soft, so I cut mine into smaller cubes as opposed to round slices – if not, you’d end up mashing the middle to cut through the skin when you’re ready to eat.  Next, place your vegetables on a foil-lined baking sheet, drizzle over the olive oil, and toss the veggies to coat.  Sprinkle over your spices, and toss again.  I used salt, black pepper, and a mix of oregano, basil, and parsley.  If your spices are dried like mine were, crush them between your fingers before sprinkling them over the veggies to release the flavors.  Distribute your veggies inthe pan, and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are roasted, but not too soft.  I used the onions as a judge for this one – once they were translucent and browned but not completely mushed, I knew they were ready.

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I used my 25-ish minute wait time to make a balsamic reduction to dress my vegetables.  I used to think that this was a complicated, fancy dressing, but really it just sounds fancy and complicated, and you can bump your chef-cred in no time.  Take 2 cups of balsamic vinegar and 2-3 cloves of garlic, and heat on medium-high for about 30 minutes, or until the vingegar has reduced by about half, stirring often – cool before serving.  The vinegar will bubble and simmer, and reduce into this syrupy-sweet drizzle, perfect for a salad.  You can make the reduction without the garlic, or subsititue in any other flavors that you’d like – sage leaves, thyme sprigs – just cater the spices to those you’ve already used on the vegetables.  I love garlic, so I used 3 cloves that I had roasted earlier to enhance the flavor.

When the veggies are done, and the balsamic is cooled, assemble your salad, and enjoy!  I also added baby heirloom tomatoes for an extra color boost – add in whatever you like!

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Bow Ties for Kitties

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Sometimes, for that special occasion, a bow tie is just the thing… I’m talking about for your cat, of course! Today’s tutorial is for all you crazy cat ladies out there (I count myself among you). My kitty, Lu, is one classy gent, and now with his new collection of bow ties, he can always look the part! So if you too have a special kitty in your life, who maybe needs some more adorable accessories, how about a bow tie!?

Kitty_bowtie_suppliesYou will need:
– scrap fabric
– self-adhering velcro dots
– needle and thread
– pins
– rotary cutter or scissors
– ruler
– a sewing machine*
– iron

*I made this project using a sewing machine, but if you don’t have one, you could easy adapt this tutorial for hand sewing.

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Step 1. Cut out three rectangles of your fabric: one 7″x7″ square, one 2″x4″ rectangle, and one 1.5″x10″ strip. Please note that this last measurement is based on the size of your cat (10″ fits my cat, but may not fit yours). I would suggest using an existing collar, or a piece of string to estimate.

Step 2. Fold your square piece so that two ends meet in the middle, then again in the same fashion. Pin in place.

Step 3. Fold this piece in half, so that the two raw ends meet, with the pinned side facing outward. Then sew across the raw edges.

Step 4. Carefully turn this loop right-side-out, and pinch the middle together. This will be the “bow” part of your bow tie.

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Step 5: Fold the 2″x4″ rectangle in half, lengthwise, with the right sides together. Pin and sew along the raw edge, creating a tube.

Step 6: Carefully turn this tube right-side-out. I find that the best tool to use for this is a regular pencil with an eraser. The eraser end does a good job of gripping the fabric so that you can more easily push it through.

Step 7: Press this piece flat with an iron, and wrap it around your bow piece with the wrong side facing out. Pin, sew across, and trim off the extra fabric.

Step 8: Turn the small loop that you just made right-side-out and slip onto the center of your bow piece to hold the shape.

If you like, you can stop here and simply slide this cute little bow onto your kitty’s collar! To make and attach a matching collar band, read on…

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Step 9: Using your long strip of fabric, fold lengthwise with right sides facing in, sew, and turn right-side-out in the same way that you did with your last piece. Turn the raw ends of the tube in on themselves about a quarter inch, and press flat. Then, sew a few stitches across each end to close.

Step 10: Slip the collar piece through the back of the bow piece, position the bow in the center, and secure all three layers together with a couple of hand stitches, using a needle and thread. Finally, stick two opposing velcro dots onto the ends of the collar. You can put extra dots if you would like this accessory to be a bit adjustable.

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Check out Lu modeling his flashy new bow tie in Blue! Doesn’t he look dapper!? =^..^=

Dapper_Kitty*A side note on pet safety – I chose to use velcro with this project as it pulls apart easily. This is important for your kitty’s safety, so that if his or her new fashion statement gets caught on something, it will easily detach so as not to cause any risk of choking or injury! Choosing a “safety collar” for all of your pets is very important! Meow!

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Dark Chocolate Almond Biscotti with Walnuts

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Italy is to biscotti and espresso as England is to scones and high tea, and as America is to fries and vanilla milkshakes.  The pairings are deep rooted in heritage, tradition, and respect – they are like history and sentiment in edible form, and they are delicious.  Luckily for me, my dad appreciates nothing more than those exact things – Birthday Biscotti it is!  These italian twice-baked cookies are crunchy-crispy, semi-soft centered, and chocolate-y, and inspired by my dad’s favorite flavors.

 

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Ingredients:

Dry Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • ¼ heaping cup of dark cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • 2t instant espresso powder (you can omit, but you won’t taste it – it boosts the chocolate flavor!)
  • 1t baking powder
  • 1t salt

Wet Ingredients

  • 1 stick of butter (unsalted)
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 2 eggs, whole
  • 3t almond extract
  • 2t vanilla extract

Extras

  • ½ cup of dry roasted, unsalted almonds
  • ½ cup of raw walnuts
  • OR 1 cup of any nut, dried fruit, or chocolate chip combination that you’d like

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 350°.  Measure out all of your dry ingredients, whisk them together, and set aside.  When measuring flour, I use a sort of fluffing technique – there’s no need to bring out a sieve.  Using a spoon, fluff up the flour before sprinkling it into the measuring cup, and when you’ve got a heaping pile of aerated flour in the cup, level it off with the back of the spoon.  This method of flour measuring is one of the most useful I’ve learned to date.  Ever follow a recipe completely, but your cookies still turn out too dry, or your brownies are cake-y, or your pie crust just crumbles?  Just remember that you can always add an ingredient, but un-adding one requires a complete recipe re-work.  I once added too much flour to a recipe – I know, what was I thinking – and my double dark chocolate chip cookie recipe turned into a tin full of rocks.  Literal, rocks.  People were simultaneously “enjoying” the cookies and making dentist appointments because their teeth chipped.  Horrible.  Don’t add too much flour.

Now that that’s settled, on to the wet ingredients.  Using a mixer and a separate bowl, beat your sugar and butter together until they are creamy.  Not grainy, creamy.  If your mixture still looks ricey, keep beating.  The butter is already butter, so there’s no need to worry about overworking your dairy.  Next add in both eggs, and the extracts.  Note to the reader: Whenever I give a measurement for an extract, I almost always add a spill more and I rarely leave out the vanilla.  Like the espresso, vanilla is a flavor enhancer, and really rounds out any baked good.  Because your butter sugar mixture was so well incorporated, mixing in the eggs and extract should be pretty easy.  Once your all blended, begin mixing in the dry ingredients a little at a time, until incorporated, chop up the add-ins and fold them in until evenly distributed.  You also want to be sure to not over-mix at this stage in a baking recipe unless specified.  I think there is a science behind it involving gluten or something, but all I know is that mixing my brownies 25 turns of the bowl gets me not-good-chewy chocolate things, and that 20 turns gets me of the best things I’ve ever created (you’ll have to wait for December for that one, but it will be worth it).

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When you’re all mixed, divide your dough into to sections, and with floured hands, form two biscotti loaves on a parchment lined baking sheet, 2 or more inches apart.  There’s no perfect width or length for these cookies – make them the shape you want to eat them, just know that they’ll expand a bit when baking.  Bake the biscotti for 30 minutes or until set.  Leave the tray to cool for 15 minutes, then using a serrated knife, gently cut your biscotti into sections, lay back on the tray, and bake for another 8 minutes.  These treats aren’t too sweet, and are the perfect texture to eat alone or to enjoy with coffee, tea, or milk.  Be sure to store your biscotti in an air-tight container, that is, if they last longer than the hour they take to make.

 

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Summer Blackberry Margaritas

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It’s August, and the blackberries in our back yard are finally getting ripe! I went out to pick some after a long day at the office, and after a few pricks and snags (blackberry bushes are VERY thorny!) I decided the best way to put these little gems to use would be in a batch of margaritas!

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Margaritas are one of my favorite summertime cocktails, they always seem to put people in a relaxed and festive mood. Blackberries make a great compliment to the traditional tangy lime flavor, not to mention add some rich color (and probably some health benefits too, right???)

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For a batch of 4 you will need:
– 2 cups of fresh blackberries
– 1/2 cup of simple syrup (or to taste)
– 1/2 cup of triple sec
– 2/3 cup of tequila
– juice of 3 limes
– coarse sea salt for the rim of your glasses

DSC_0695Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth, about 10 – 15 seconds should do. Next, pour the liquid through a mesh strainer into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. This step can be a bit tedious, but is definitely necessary, because getting tons of raspberry seeds stuck in your teeth is really no fun. You can help the process along by pressing the juice against the strainer with a small rubber spatula.
DSC_0723Now tighten the lid and give that baby a good shake. Prep your glasses by running a lime wedge around each rim, and dipping each glass into a saucer of sea salt to coat. Fill up each glass with ice cubes, and pour. Garnish with a lime wedge or a few whole berries and sip away!
DSC_0715Cheers to Summer! It’s not over yet!

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DIY Carved Cork Stamps

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Today’s project combines two of my favorite things: crafts and wine. It’s really a match made in heaven, don’t you think? So why not break out that stash of wine corks you’ve been saving for some undecided creative project (everyone has one of those, right?) and make yourself some fun, bold stamps!?

carved_cork_stamp_DIYAll you need for this project is a few corks, a utility knife, and some paint or stamping ink. Personally, I prefer to use paint with these, because it fills in all the little nooks and crannies of the cork and makes a fuller looking stamped image.

soaking_corks_for_carved_stamps_2Start off by soaking your corks in a bowl of warm water. This will help when you begin carving, because the cork will be less crumbly when it has absorbed some moisture. It should be noted that you can use those plastic-y corks as well, and this step can be skipped for those.

carving_cork_stamps_1Draw your design on the flat end of the cork. Bolder, simpler designs usually work best, unless you are extremely skilled with that exacto blade (I am not).

carving_cork_stamps_2Then begin to carve away the negative space around your design, trying to cut straight down at the edges of the shape. You don’t need to go very deep, a couple millimeters will do.

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Finally, using a foam brush or flat paintbrush, load up your carved surface with some paint, and get stampin’!

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I like to use these to make customized cards, tags and wrapping paper. But they could work equally well on fabric. I’m already thinking about some hand-stamped tea towels for my kitchen!

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Summer Fruit-nola Parfait

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Yogurt is NOT boring.    But eating it on its own or with the same-old granola can be, and though delicious, grabbing an off the shelf flavored yogurt isn’t always the best option.  Making your own yogurt topping with mixed fruit and crunchy add-ins lets you control the flavor combination and ingredients, and turns up the volume on this otherwise plain snack.  I like to think of it as a hydrated granola, with the emphasis on the fruit instead of the oats and nuts.

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Ingredients:

  • fresh, seasonal fruit (strawberries, black cherries, raspberries, pomegranate seads)
  • the juice from half of a lemon
  • crunchy add-ons (dried coconut, dark chocolate coated cacao nibs)
  • yogurt of choice (I used non-fat, plain greek)

 

Instructions:

Wash and roughly chop your fruit, add lemon juice, toss in pomegranate seeds, and mix.  I had a red on my mind, so I chose strawberries, black cherries and raspberries.  You can serve this mixture as a topping for yogurt, pancakes or waffles, or with some cinnamon pita chips as a fruit-salsa.  The mixture will be sweet enough like a granola with a little crunch from the pom seeds, but I like to add in dried coconut and dark chocolate coated cacao nibs for texture and flavor.  The coconut will be fatty and slightly salted, and paired with the bitter nibs and sweet fruit, you’ve really covered all the bases.  You can make the fruit mixture in advance and even assemble a parfait to-go,  but hold off on adding in any other ingredients until right before serving to keep the crunch.  I make a large batch of the fruit-nola and keep it in a bowl in the refrigerator, overnight.  The lemon and fruit juices mix together to make a natural syrup – can you say ice cream topping?  If you are going to chop your fruit in advance, stay away from fruit that might brown like apples or bananas.  Next time, I think I’ll try mangos, blueberries, pineapple, and lime juice, with some roasted and salted pistachios and dried goji berries.

Yogurt is even less boring when its served out of a wine glass, as a Gilmore Girls snack, on a weekday.

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What to do with Driftwood

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I’m a beach scavenger. Any time I spend a day at the beach I find myself coming home with at least one or two prized pieces of ocean debris. One of my favorite finds are pieces of perfectly sand-smoothed driftwood. The project possibilities for driftwood are endless, but today I thought I would share a few of my favorite driftwood crafting ideas in case you too have a few pieces tucked away after combing the sands this summer.

1.) Driftwood Bead Necklace

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For this project, take a smooth driftwood branch, and using a small hack saw, cut it into 1-2 inch cylindrical sections. Drill a small hole through the center of each cut piece. Paint the flat ends of each of your newly crafted beads in a bright color. Once dry, string the beads onto a length of cord, (I used waxed cotton) alone or with any combination of glass or wooden beads. Tie on a clasp and get ready for compliments!

2.) Painted Driftwood Photo Holders

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This project is really fun and easy! It makes for a super cute way to display photos or cards that’s different from the average frame and easy to interchange. To make one, take a small piece of driftwood and flatten a lengthwise section with a piece of sandpaper. This will give your photo holder a steady base to keep it from rolling off the table. Next, using a small hack saw, make a straight cut about one quarter of the way into the piece, lengthwise from the top. Then have some fun painting designs to give the piece a nice pop of color. Stick a photo or postcard into the groove, and place on a flat surface to display.

3.) Driftwood and Leather Jewelry Hanger

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For this project, find a piece of driftwood that is about a foot long. Wrap both ends of a long piece of leather cord around the stick, about two inches from each end, and tie off. Screw a few mug hooks into the bottom (you should be able to do this with your fingers, but a pair of pliers can be helpful). Hang against the wall from a small nail or tack and use the hooks to keep your jewelry organized and neatly displayed!

We would love to see your project ideas too! Send us an email, comment below, or hashtag a photo of your project with #WTDWLemons!

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