Friday, August 31, 2012

How many different kinds of cinnamon are there anyway?

Do you know how many different kinds of cinnamon there are? Until recently, I didn't. I also thought they were all the same. Then I bought some in bulk from a specialty grocery store. I thought the cinnamon was old, or a poor grade. It was so bitter, not at all the warm cozy spice I love. Then it happened, a Penzey's Spices was built in our town. The first time we visited I made a bee line to the baking section and was amazed to see FOUR different kinds of cinnamon. All claiming to taste slightly different! Boy, did we have fun smelling them all! I just kept sniffing until I narrowed it down to the one that smelled warm, cozy, sweet and spicy. Now you my be thinking, they ALL smell that way. Not at all, if you have them all in a row for a test, you will see!
Sweet and mellow, Indonesian cinnamon is the type of cinnamon we all remember from our childhood. Fragrant Indonesian cinnamon is as strong as China cinnamon, but smoother and not as nippy. (from Penzeys Spices.)
Complex and fragrant, with a citrus overtone and rich buff color. Although Ceylon cinnamon is less strong, its hint of citrusy flavor and lack of any bite whatsoever makes it the favorite in both England and Mexico where it is preferred for all uses. (from Penzeys Spices.)
Extra sweet, spicy and strong. Perfect for everything from cinnamon rolls to apple pie, Christmas cookies to French toast. (from Penzeys Spices.)
Vietnamese cinnamon is the strongest, richest, and sweetest cinnamon around. For traditional cinnamon recipes such as gooey cinnamon rolls, the vibrant flavor of Vietnamese cinnamon really shines. It is so strong, that in most recipes it should be cut back by about a third, but it is perfect used full strength in any recipe where cinnamon is the main, delicious flavor. (from Penzeys Spices.)
My favorite is the China cinnamon. My sister, who loves spices and likes to have them bite back at her, buys the Vietnamese variety. I haven't tried the Indonesian or Ceylon Cinnamon yet. In the store when I smelled them, the Chinese smelled the nicest, so I have stuck with it. Someday I might try the other ones.
The first thing one thinks of when talking about cinnamon, is Cinnamon Rolls! So I am sharing our favorite recipe. This is our go to recipe when we need a fast breakfast or a quick comfort food fix.
Quick Cinnamon Rolls
4 cups flour
8 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup melted butter
1 1/3 cups milk
Pretty much just dump everything in a bowl and mix into a dough. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead a few times until not too sticky. Roll out into a square about 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle sugar (we usually use brown or a mixture of brown and white) and cinnamon over the dough in a nice layer. Starting at one end roll up the dough into a log. Slice into pieces, placing cut side down on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 425 for 8-12 minutes.
They best way to eat these is right out of the oven with butter melted on top! Yum!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Live, Love and Laugh

For those days when you need a bit of extra cheer, or maybe want to get the party, these flags are fun and versatile. They look great on muffins, cupcakes, or maybe even to top off your banana split. You don't have to limit youself to decorating food, pop one in the mail to a friend, bunch them in a bouquet in a tiny glass....
     All you need is a few toothpicks, ribbon and a dab of glue! 

 This large piece of cake looks like a ship ready to sail away......does anyone have a fork?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

That's So Corny!

What could be better than a few ears of lovely corn to start your autumn decoration? Scatter them on the table for your Thanksgiving feast or hang them in a group on your door, here they look so comfortable in my basket by the door. The best part is that they won't get old and moldy.

  It started when I saw a few cloth ears of corn at the local craft store. They were made out of different patterns of fabric but I liked this upholstry fabric that was just the right texture, only it was brown and tan. I lightly brushed yellow acrylic paint on the fabric, I didn't care if it was blotchy in places, going for a very organic look.

In keeping with the organic style, and also very easy, I didn't use any kind of pattern for the corn, each and every ear that grows is different anyway. I just cut each piece freehand and machine sewed as I went along, leaving the top open for turning and stuffing. I did use a stronger waxed thread, mostly because I wanted to use it up and also it was a little heavier for the fabric.

Leftover quilt batting was cut into strips for the stuffing, it was a great way to use up those pieces trimmed from the edges of quilts. I turned the top edge to the inside and did a quick running stitch to close it up, it left a small hole, perfect for inserting the raffia for the top.

 After wrapping the raffia in loops around my four fingers, I stuffed one end in the corn top, then I poked my needled through the raffia, securing it to the fabric on the other side. I went back and forth with the needle through the raffia about eight times so it wouldn't pull out.

Then I clipped the top of the raffia so it would feather out, and crunched it in my hands to create a texture.


Ready for a feast!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Acorn Season

When we go for our walks this time of year, we crunch through masses of acorns. In honor of the season I made Acorn Cookies!
 I used our Favorite Sugar Cookie recipe, with chocolate butter cream frosting. K-Dee, I used Dutch processed cocoa in the frosting. It came out so yummy!
I used a new acorn cookie cutter, which makes the Perfect sized cookie! About two bites worth! The acorns in the park are mostly the "hairy" cap kind, so that is the look I was trying for. They came out really cute.
 My "smooth" cap acorn look. I piped the frosting on using my vintage cake decorating set. My arm got a bit tired of making hairy caps......
 I love them scattered all over the table, just like they have fallen off a tree! The saying goes, "the more acorns there are on the ground, the harder the winter we will have". I wonder if we have more acorns this is hard to tell.......

Monday, August 20, 2012

Partridge Pillowcase

We do have a mania for old sitcoms and for a while it was The Partridge Family. When I saw the crazy daisy fabric, I instantly thought of Shirley Jones and her gang. It took me a long time to decide what to make out of this fabric, but I decided if I loved it and just wanted to stare at it, a pillowcase would be useful and accomplish that idea.

I had to sew the pink edge on three or four times before I figured out how to get it on with no raw edge to unravel and create a mass of strings after washing. I finally decided to fold the edge under on the wrong side. Now I just need to make my husband a matching one with a blue edge. How could he not wake up in love?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Homemade Dill Pickles

We all eagerly await pickle season, there is nothing like the crispy crunchy tangy dilly taste of a fresh dill pickle!! This year, unbeknownst to us, we planted English cucumbers. Not good for pickles at all! So we have to rely on our local farmer's market for our cucumbers.
The best way to make crispy pickles is to put the cucumbers on ice for half an hour before canning. And even though the "official" sources can't recommend it, it is best to not hot water can your pickles. They get soggy and who wants soggy pickles?!
After you have your jars sterilized and hot and all ingredients are ready, it is time to start packing!

Start with a few springs of fresh dill and 2-3 cloves of garlic in the bottom of the jar. Pack in as many cold cucumbers that will fit, place more dill and more garlic on top and pour hot vinegar/water/salt brine over everything. Then quickly place hot lids on jars and screw rings on tight.

All done and ready to cool! Now comes the hard part...... waiting for the cucumbers to turn into pickles!! And trying not to eat them all in one month!

Pickle Brine Recipe
 6 cups of water
3 cups of vinegar
1/2 cup canning salt
1/2 tsp alum
Makes enough for 4-5 quart jars.
(We are always on the hunt for the perfect pickle recipe, this one is our current favorite.)

Word to the wise: Quart jars take a lot longer to seal then pint jars!! In other words, You have to be more patience with pickles then with jam to hear the tops pop. In other words, One doesn't need to panic after 30-40 minutes if they haven't popped, there is no need to dump them all out and re-heat the jars and brine thinking that it wasn't hot enough. Yes, it is true, we have done that too!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Knit Your Bit -- 1 month update

Hello!  I hope everyone has had time to cast on their favorite knit your bit scarf and have been knitting! 

I cast on my scarf during the opening ceremonies and did not make much head way.  Here is what I have done so far.  It is starting to look a little too wide so I think I might have to rip it back and make it a bit skinner. 

I dug up this yummy yarn looking for a purpose. It is a wool and silk blend and so soft! I wish I had more, but I think our local yarn shop has discontinued carrying it. My favorite pattern is the "V" for Victory scarf! It is a basic pattern with a garter stitch edge and a "v" worked in reverse stocking stitch. I think I will make another, as soon as I can find some yarn......

My scarf is ravelry pattern Knick. It has all knit stitches, no purls! I did modify it a bit, instead of knit 5 stitches I knit 3, making the repeat a bit narrower. It makes a very soft and squishy scarf, and very easy to knit! I tried it first on some soft chunky yarn, it came out very nice, but I did not have enough yarn for it. So I found this yarn instead, a sport weight acrylic. I would like to some day make it with the chunky yarn again!      

Let us know what you have got done!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Nectarine-Honey Experiment

I was at it again in the kitchen, with nectarines and honey this time. I did measure a few things but sort of made it up as I went along. I found some fabulous nectarines on sale at our local grocery. We couldn't get any peaches this year, well not any that I felt were good enough to preserve.
The nectarines were fabulous though, so I substituted them in a peach jam recipe. Then I realized I didn't have bottled lemon juice, so I used real lemons as I didn't want to go back to the store. I am not sure why the recipes call for bottled lemon juice .A word about lemon juice that I heard from my mother-in-law; Make sure to read the ingredients, your generic store brand may sell a bottle that is not 100% lemon juice!
Another substitute was honey. I make the low-sugar jam anyway, but I decided to add one cup of sugar only and one cup of honey. I wasn't sure how the honey would flavor the jam but I don't think you will notice. I also left the skins on the nectarines, it added more color to the jam and they boiled down anyway.

From left to right a few canning essentials: A good apron made by sister, a magnetized stick for fishing the lids out of the simmering water. What is that called anyway? A ladle, better if its a brighter color only because it seems more exciting. Tongs to grab the jars out of boiling water, rings for the jars and a crocheted pot holder that I use to hold the hots jars while I am screwing on the lids.

Here you can see how beautiful the jam looks.  Sadly you can't smell how great it is, I certainly enjoyed it. I was trying to get another shot of the great apron with its cool buttons that fasten at the waist, no ties to get in the way.

 And success! Love hearing those lids give a satisfied pop. After all the jam was canned, I realized that I hadn't even tasted it so I made a piece of toast, then I made another one, my husband ate both of them and I only had an empty plate to photograph. I got the idea that it was a successful experiment. Maybe you will make some and let me know how it turns out.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Bit of Decorating

We are all busy in different directions this week, so I apologize in advance if our posting schedule is a little screwy. That being said, it looks like today I am left holding the bag and need to conjure up a post. 
Well enough of that! Let's talk about something interesting! A little decorating, perhaps?
The easiest way to perk up a room is to change thing about or add a bit of color and one of the nicest ways to add color is to pick/buy a bouquet of flowers.! Don't you agree? Nothing is more cheerful.
 So my little decorating tip for today is-add a small glass plate under the vase! Especially if you have a plain vase, it adds an extra touch! It would even give a canning jar a lift. We also like to put glass saucers under our potted plants, it makes a much nicer drip catcher then a bit of plastic. This idea first came to us when we couldn't part with a few random mismatched saucers our Grandma had given us. They were just too pretty! So we decided to make them useful. Anyone have more ideas for making odd glass plates useful? I would love to hear! Now that I have an excuse for buying them, I might end up with quite the collection!

These are peonies from our garden this spring.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Embroidery Successful!

Embroidery is such a beautiful and elegant way to dress up a simple towel, pillowcase, shirt etc. I have long admired the texture and simplicity of it but only recently have I successfully mastered the art of embroidering. Believe me, many sorrowful projects have been discarded on this road to success. It seemed like every weekend this summer there was a wedding or a shower taking place, I whipped up a stack of these flour sack towels for gifts and enjoyed every minute of it!

 I was always told that a truly good piece of embroidery had a neat and tidy back. I am proud to show that mine is relatively neat. I used the Basic Outline Stitch on all these, on the radishes/turnips I did some longer satin-type stitches. It's really pretty simple once you get the hang of the stitch and you can easily take it out and do it again if a certain stitch doesn't look right. And of course vegetables are always a good theme for a kitchen!

I think I need to make myself some, don't they just match my table-cloth perfectly?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Not Italian Cannoli

I am not sure when the idea came to us, but one day we got the brilliant idea to use waffle cones as cannoli shells. If you haven't ever had a cannoli, you are missing out on a great Italian dessert!! Our local deli makes the most delicious ones daily.
 I used my favorite waffle cone recipe with about 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. You only need about a tablespoon and a half of batter in the waffle maker for each shell. This will make about  15 mini sized ones.
Cook until a medium brown in color (more cooking = crispy shells) and roll while hot around a form.
 Since this was an experimental batch we weren't quite ready to invest in cannoli forms. So we dug through our kitchen utensils and found a whisk and the handle to the waffle cone form that were perfect sizes!
 After the shells are nicely cooled, it is time to fill them.
 I mixed 2 cups ricotta cheese with 3/4 cup powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla for the filling. Mix thoroughly and chill. The easiest way to get the filling in is to use a pastry bag or plastic bag with the corner cut off. Fill first end, getting the middle filled also, then turn around and fill the other end. Dip ends in mini chocolate chip (or pistachios, walnuts, sprinkles) and dust with powdered sugar.
The only trouble I had with these, was keeping the shells crisp. There was an hour interval between making and eating and in that time they got soggy. (it was also a very very humid night!) Next time I think I will fill and eat right away!