Saturday, January 29, 2011

Homemade French Bread

There is nothing like the smell of fresh baked bread! 

Homemade French Bread

3 1/2 C. warm water
1 pkg. yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
1/4 C. sugar
2 Tbsp. salt
8-9 C. unbleached flour

Dissolve yeast in 1 1/2 C. warm water.

Place remaining 2 C. water, sugar, salt and 3 C. flour into mixer.  Stir to combine.  Add in yeast mixture.  Add remaining lour 1 C. at a time until smooth dough is formed. Knead 5 minutes. 

Place dough into greased bowl, turning once to coat, cover bowl.

Let rise in warm spot until doubled in size (about 1 - 1 1/2 hours).

Divide dough and shape into 4 loaves and place on greased cookie sheets (or in french bread pans).  As you can see, I am not real exact with shaping my loaves, close enough works for me.
Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 min.  Make diagonal slashes on bread and brush with one egg mixed with 1 Tbsp. water. 

Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.

-This is my family's favorite bread for garlic bread.  I am lucky if it last more than 2 days when I make it!

*To make this whole wheat --replace 2-3 C. of the unbleached flour with whole wheat flour and add 2 Tbsp. olive or canola oil.  If you have too much whole wheat flour it just doesn't bake up as light and seems to heavy for french bread.

(Tomorrow I will be posting my recipe for Bruschetta which is a great way to use your homemade french bread and mozzarella!)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Homemade Mozzarella Cheese

Mozzarella is one of the easiest cheeses to make, it only takes 30 minutes and the taste can't be beat!

The ingredients are simple although a couple of them you may have to search a bit for, but the end result is worth it--especially when you can say "I made it myself!"

Homemade Mozzarella Cheese

1 gallon whole milk (just be sure that it is not Ultra-pasteurized, any other kind will work, store bought, fresh from the cow (or goat))
1 tsp. citric acid*
1/4 rennet tablet*
2 tsp. cheese salt*
A big pot
Slotted spoon

(please ignore the mess in the background, we still haven't finished putting things back together after our wall project)

Place milk in large pot with thermometer.

Sprinkle 1 tsp. citric acid over milk and stir.

Turn heat on med-low and heat milk to 90 degrees, stirring occasionally.

While you are heating the milk, dissolve 1/4 rennet tablet in 1/4 C. cool water.

When milk has reached 90 degrees, turn off heat.  Pour rennet over slotted spoon into milk and stir for 20-30 seconds.

Remove thermometer and let milk sit undisturbed for 8-10 minutes. 

Milk should be like a thick gelatin.  Cut the curd into a grid pattern.

Stir gently for a minute and then remove the curd using your slotted spoon into a microwave safe bowl, trying to leave as much of the whey (the yellowish liquid) behind.

Pour off as much liquid as you can without losing any curds.  Heat in microwave for 1 minute. Stir, pour off liquid and heat for 35-40 seconds more.  Stir and pour off any liquid.  Cheese should start to stick together and look stringy.  If the curds are not sticking together you can heat for 35-40 seconds more.

Once your curds are sticking together and you have removed most of the liquid, add your cheese salt.  I usually sprinkle a little on, knead, and sprinkle more on until all the salt is incorporated.

After your salt is incorporated, heat the cheese for 35-45 seconds more until it is stretchy like taffy.  The cheese will be really hot, so it helps to wear gloves to work with the cheese.

Pull and stretch cheese until it is shiny and smooth.

Shape cheese into a log by kneading on counter top.

Place cheese into a bowl of ice water for about 5 minutes to firm it up.
One gallon of milk will yield about 1 pound of cheese. (I paid $2.39 for the milk, so 1 pound of fresh mozzarella was less than $2.50)

Now the fun part, deciding how to use your homemade cheese!

* Citric acid, rennet and cheese salt can often be found at local beer and wine supply stores or in some specialty grocery stores.  If you cannot find it locally, you can order it online from New England Cheese Supply.

The first couple of times I made my own cheese I was sure I was doing it wrong, but I am always amazed that at some point it all seems to come together and I have cheese, so don't get discouraged.  I discovered the brand of milk I used can really make a difference in the finished product, so if the first batch doesn't work out, try a different brand.

I will be sharing some recipes next week that highlight your homemade cheese.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Easy Toffee Crackers

Some days you just need a quick, easy and sweet treat to make your day (or someone else's) just a little brighter!  Today has definitely been one of those days around here.  Not only are we gearing up for yet another snow storm promising to dump a foot or more of snow on us but we wanted to give a little gift to some friends who could use a little cheer. Here is a perfect little treat to fit the bill, I remember making these with my grandma when I was little.

Easy Toffee Crackers

1/2 C. butter (margarine will work)
1/2 C. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 sleeve saltine crackers
1 C. chocolate chips (semi-sweet or milk chocolate)
chopped nuts or sprinkles (optional)

Place butter, brown sugar and vanilla in a small saucepan over med-low heat.  Stir until butter is melted and brown sugar is fully incorporated.  Bring to a boil.

Boil 3 minutes WITHOUT stirring.

Line a cookie sheet with tin foil or parchment paper. 

Spread crackers out over cookie sheet with edges touching.

When sugar mixture is done, pour over crackers and spread to cover all the crackers.

Bake in pre-heated 400 degree oven for 7 minutes.  Crackers will be bubbly looking.

Sprinkle chocolate chips over hot crackers and let sit for 1-2 minutes to soften.

Spread chocolate chips over crackers. 

Top crackers with chopped nuts or sprinkles.

Allow crackers to cool completely.

Break crackers into chunks.

Enjoy or share with a friend.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Paint and God's Plan

Last night we painted our living room (well, at least part of it) in the dark. Not the dark, as in no lights, but in light with funny shadows and dark corners where you can't really see what you're doing, but it needs to be done. There was that moment when I thought, “What have I done?” I was tired, cranky and the color was not looking like what I had envisioned. I was close to tears and ready to quit, it has been a long week of working on the house. We have torn out a fake brick wall, gutted and painted a room in our basement and a bedroom, built platforms, moved furniture (lots of furniture) around, cut and installed trim, hauled stuff to the dump, installed drywall and mudded it, primed walls and trim for hours on end and we were finally to the point of painting the walls and regaining some order out of the chaos we have been living in for the last week. And there I was standing in the middle of the room, paint roller in hand with tears ready to spill over because I was sure that the paint was going to look horrible. My husband reminded me that paint always looks different when it is dry and it would look much better in the morning—and it does. The color is much richer than I thought it was going to be, and while it is not exactly what I thought it was going to be, it is better.

Sometimes life is just like painting walls, we make choices or decisions that we are confident in, but somewhere along the way we find ourselves questioning those choices. Is this really what God wanted? Can He really make this work for good like He promises? We stand in the middle of our choices and let the dark shadows of doubt and fear cloud our hearts and minds, ready to give up before we are barely even started. We grow weary from the battles that have already been fought and discouraged at the thought of battles to come. Satan knows that if he can keep us from pushing forward and clinging tightly to the promises of God, he has already defeated us.

God is faithful, and like the morning light that revealed more than I hoped for, God's grace and mercy will bring us through and reveal the very rich glory of His purpose for our lives. Hold fast to His promises! Do not be discouraged, because morning will come and God's radiance will illuminate your life and then you can see the true beauty of what is before you!

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

“But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever,
the purposes of his heart through all generations.” Psalm 33:11

“For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100:5

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Roll-out Sugar Cookie Recipe

This is my favorite recipe for sugar cookies.  It is simple, virtually foolproof and doesn't require refrigeration which means when the baking bug bites, you can have cookies fast! 

 You can cut out your cookies and freeze the shapes for baking later,simply layer between waxed paper on a cookie sheet and freeze until solid and then place in bags.  Frozen cookie dough is prone to breaking so handle gently.  Place frozen cookie dough on cookie sheets and bake as directed.

Vary the extracts for your favorite flavor.  I love almond extract in these!  You can also tint the dough with a little food coloring.  Try peppermint extract and a little red food coloring for candy cane shaped cookies, maple flavoring and leaf shape cookies for fall, or lemon flavored cookies for Easter.

Roll-Out Sugar Cookies

1 C. butter or margarine
1 C. sugar
1 Large egg
1 tsp. extract (vanilla, almond, peppermint)
2 tsp. baking powder
3 C. flour
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cream butter and sugar with mixer.  Add in egg and extract.  Add dry ingredients one cup at a time.  The dough will be very stiff.  DO NOT REFRIGERATE!  Divide dough in half. (you can work in a little food coloring for colored dough).  Roll out dough 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut out with cookie cutters.  Bake approx. 12 minutes  or until LIGHTLY browned.

~Sorry, no picture today, we are still working on rebuilding the wall in our living room and everything is crazy.

Monday, January 17, 2011

And the Winner is..........

..........All three ladies who entered to win Shortcut Cooking:Saving Time and Money in the Kitchen!

Since there were only three entries, I decided to go ahead and bless each one of them with a copy.  I hope that they can each find something useful that will make their lives easier! If you entered and didn't get an email from me, please contact me so I can send you your book!

We are knee deep in home repairs this week, but I have a couple of things I am working on and hope to get them posted later this week along with some before and after pictures of the house.

Here is a sneak peek at our project we are working on--this used to be a faux brick wall in our living room.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Grocery Update

Before I share my shopping totals, a couple of people have asked me to clarify what I include in my grocery budget.

For my shopping budget I include:

*All of our food items including any snack items purchased at a convenience store
*All of our paper products (toilet paper, paper towels, kleenex, etc...)--try to use cloth napkins and regular towels for most things except for greasy spills.
*All of our cleaning products (window cleaner, all purpose cleaner,soap, toilet bowl cleaner, laundry det., etc....)--I make most of my cleaning products from baking soda, vinegar and essential oils so they only cost me pennies.
*All of my wine making ingredients (yes, I drink the occasionally glass of wine as well as cook with wine)--I can make 30 bottles of wine for less than $3 each and it last me a year or more

What I don't include:

*Over the counter medications--I consider these part of our medical budget
*Dining out--because our budget is tight, we consider eating out an extra and are lucky to eat out once or twice a month, if the budget allows
*Any catering or cooking for others that I am reimbursed or paid to cook

I know that some people don't include their cleaning supplies in their grocery budget and consider it a household expense or they have a separate cleaning budget.  The reason I include it in my budget is most of the ingredients are cooking items (baking soda, vinegar) and are also used for cooking.

I hope this clarifies a little bit for those of you who had questions, feel free to email me if you still want more info.

Now, onto my shopping expedition. Friday a friend and I took a road trip to the nearest Aldi (about an hour away).  I only go here every couple of months because it is so far away, but there are certain things that I buy that are so much cheaper it is worth the drive occasionally.  The Aldi is only about 15 min. from the nearest Ikea and I needed a couple of items from there for the house, so I was able to make the trip worthwhile!

I spent $123.49 at Aldi, and that included a couple of convenience food for the next week as we rip out a wall in our living room and replace it.

My second stop was at Sams Club today.  I spent a total of $88.32 on groceries, most of which was meat.  I was able to purchase a case of chicken breasts for $1.52 a pound, which is a staple in our house.  A case is approx. 40lbs and will make 30+ meals for my family. 

Even with buying some "easy" foods for the kids to prepare this week while we walk on the wall, I spent less than I was expecting to spend.  I do have one more stop to make in the next day or two and that is to pick up my Coconut Milk Creamer for my coffee--dairy and I do NOT get along :( .  I will add another update after I make that purchase.

YTD Total Spent:  $211.81
YTD Budget: $300.00
Remaining Budget: $88.19 

There is still time to enter to win a free Shortcut Cooking ebook--see this post.

Friday, January 14, 2011

2011 Grocery Budget Goals and Giveaway

What are your grocery budget goals for 2011?  Spend less money?  Buy less convenience foods? Stock your pantry? Menu plan more? Learn to can?

How can I help you cut your grocery budget this year?

In 2010 I spent $308.94 a month on groceries, which was slightly over our $300 a month budget.  We do a lot of entertaining, have 3 teenagers (and friends) that we feed, and spent several weeks without a functioning kitchen so I was excited to see we came very close to our budget. 

In 2011 our goal is to keep our $300 budget.  We bought a house last summer, so I hope to be able to put in at least a small garden for this year.  Most of our yard is currently unusable thanks to years of neglect and too many trees, so I won't be able to grow all that I want this year, but every little bit helps!  I am also hoping to put in an herb garden. I planted garlic in the fall (my first attempt so I hope it grows) and have a nice space outside the door to plant lots of other herbs that I use!

I also plan to preserve a lot more food this year.  I finally have space to store home canned goods as well as having an excellent food dehydrator.   I inherited a ton of jars from my sister-in-law a few years ago when she moved and I am looking forward to filling them up.  My main goals for canning this year are to make all of my jams, jellies and preserves and all of my own spaghetti sauce.  I would also like to learn to pressure can dried beans so that they are quick and easy to use (without all the sodium of store bought beans).

One of the biggest areas I already save on groceries is in making my own mixes.  I haven't been as good at keeping up on the mixes the last few months because of all of our house stuff going on, but I am hoping to soon have all of my jars labeled and filled.  I will share a picture when I get it done!

Today I am off for my first grocery shopping trip of the year!  We are out of just about everything because we were hit with several unexpected expense at the end of last year.  I figure this will be one of my more expensive trips of the year as I need to stock up on some essentials, but then I won't have to shop for a while!

I would love to hear what your grocery budget goals are and what skills you would like to learn this year to help keep your budget under control.  Leave a comment below and one person will win a free copy of my ebook Shortcut Cooking: Saving Time and Money in the Kitchen

I will pick a winner Monday morning!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cinnamon Roll French Toast

A couple of weeks ago we treated the kids to a movie in the theater (a rarity for us) and afterwards we had lunch at one of our favorite restaurants Cracker Barrel.  While we were there my son had one of their seasonal dishes, a cinnamon roll french toast, and he loved it.  Seeing we don't eat out very often, I decided to come up with my own recipe as a surprise treat for him.

Cinnamon Roll French Toast

1 loaf of cinnamon swirl bread (ours is homemade, but store bought would be just as good)
1 recipe cinnamon roll filling (see below)
1 recipe cinnamon roll icing (see below)
3 eggs
1  C. milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
fresh grated nutmeg

Mix eggs, milk, vanilla and nutmeg is shallow bowl.  Whisk thoroughly to combine.

Dip bread slices in batter and then place on hot griddle.  Cook about 4-5 minutes, flipping halfway through, or until both sides are lightly browned and bread is cooked through.

Spread cooked bread with cinnamon roll filling.

Place bread on plates and drizzle icing over the top.


Cinnamon Roll Filling
1/3 C. butter or margarine, softened
1 C. brown sugar
3 Tbsp. cinnamon

Mix together thoroughly. 

*This recipe can be doubled or tripled.  Store in refrigerator or freezer.
*This is the recipe I use to make cinnamon rolls or cinnamon swirl bread.  At room temperature it is easy to spread on the dough and not as messy as spreading each ingredient separately.
*Use a mixer to get the filling thoroughly mixed.

Cinnamon Roll Icing

2 Tbsp. butter or margarine, softened (I use the leftover piece of butter from the filling)
2 C. powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3-4 Tbsp. water

Mix softened butter with powdered sugar.  Add vanilla and 3 Tbsp. water.  Mix well.  Add more water if you want a thinner icing.


After I made this I had some egg mixture and cinnamon roll filling leftover, and rather than throw it out, I made a yummy cinnamon roll bread pudding.

I took and cut up a half a loaf of bread that I had sitting around into approx. 1 inch cubes.

I layered the bread cubes and cinnamon roll filling in a greased bread pan.

I took the leftover egg batter, added 1 egg and another 1/2 C. milk, and poured it over the bread.

Let it sit for about 15 minutes to absorb the milk.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, until set and browned on top.  Drizzle icing over the top.

*You could serve this for brunch or even dessert.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Rose Kissing Ball Tutorial

Finally!  I know I have been promising this tutorial for a while now. 

I was inspired by many different versions of kissing balls that I had seen, but my favorites have been the ones covered in roses.  All of the directions I found for making the roses involved using hot glue to make the roses, and after a nasty burn, I decided to find a better way to make them.

All you need is some crepe paper streamers (I used two rolls (approx. 100 ft. each)).  Glue sticks (I used 4 glue sticks for this project).  A stryrofoam ball (your choice of size) and a hot glue gun (for attaching the flowers).

Cut or tear your crepe paper into strips about 20"-24" long.  I varied my strips a bit so I would have bigger and smaller roses.

Crumple your strips up, this makes them more flexible and life-like.  (This would be a great job for the kids to help with!)

Unroll the strips and fold over the top edge 1/4"-1/2".  I wasn't very exact with this, you just want a folded edge to make the petals look softer.

Now comes the sticky part.  Use your glue stick to apply a line of glue along the bottom edge.  I found it helpful to work on a piece of wax paper.  Be careful not to push to hard or the crepe paper will rip.  You want to get enough glue that the paper will stick to itself as you are rolling.

Starting at one end, roll the strip to form the center of the rose.

Keep rolling and gathering the crepe paper around the center.  Be sure to pinch the bottom edge together.  It helps to have a damp towel nearby to wipe your fingers on when they get too sticky. The more you gather the flower the fuller it will look.

Roll and gather the whole strip, pinching the bottom to keep it together.

Make a pile of roses.  To attach to the ball, I folded the bottom edge over, added hot glue, and glued onto the styrofoam.  Nestle the roses up close to each other.

You can add a ribbon for hanging.

More uses for the crepe paper roses HERE.

Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent

A couple of people have asked me about powdered laundry detergent.  Here is the recipe:

1 cup grated Fels Naptha Soap (I use the fine side of a hand grater for this to be sure the soap fully dissolves)
1/2 cup washing soda
1/2 cup 20 mule team borax

Mix together and store in a container.  Use 2 Tablespoons per load.  A lot of powdered drinks come with a 2 T. scoop that you could use.

I do not use the powdered detergent very often because it is not as cost effective as the liquid, but it is great for camping or traveling when you don’t want to have to lug a big bottle of detergent along.  I have never used any other soap than the fels-naptha for this (I bought a case), but you could always try it with castille or Ivory soap.

Car Registration Tutorial

This would make a great gift for a new driver!

We recently switched our car insurance when we had to add our teenage son, so we could afford for him to be able to drive.  While I was hunting through all the junk in the glove box for the old insurance, I decided it needed a special holder to make it easier to find and keep it from getting all wrinkled.  The bonus, if I ever get pulled over, maybe I can distract the officer with my well presented paperwork (hey, a girl can hope!).

1 Fat quarter  (cut 2-9 1/2″ x 5 1/2″ pieces and 2-2″ x 18″ strips)
1 piece timtex or other heavy weight interfacing 9 1/2″ x 5 1/2″
2 pieces clear vinyl 5 1/2″ x 4 “  (I used a clear viny tablecloth remnant)
1/2″ wide double fold bias tape
1 piece industrial strength velcro

Step one:  Sew bias tape onto 5 1/2″ side of clear vinyl.  Set aside.

vinyl with binding
vinyl with binding

Step 2:  Sew the 18″ strips together on short end, iron seam open, then iron strip in half longways with wrong sides facing.

sewn and ironed strip
sewn and ironed strip

Step 3: Place one rectangle of fabric face down, place timtex on top, then place other rectangle fabric right side up.  Position vinyl pockets on each end with binding towards the center.  Using binder clamps, clamp all the layers together.  Round corners using spool of thread as guide.  DO NOT use pins–you put holes in the vinyl!

Step 4: Using folded strip, sew strip  on side with pockets around the outside edge using 1/4″ seam.

Step 5:  Flip binding to back side of holder, using binder clamps to hold into place.

 Step 6:  Sew binding in place.

Step 7:  Sew a straight seam down the center for the fold and apply velcro.

All Finished!  Insert registation and proof of insurance.