Filtering Vanilla

Four months after starting my vanilla extract, it definitely looked done. And it smells so good! I got a 4 ounce glass bottle from The Container Store and filtered the vanilla bits out as I poured it in.

Little Vanilla

And now I have my own pure, non-imitation, high fructose corn syrup-free vanilla extract. So exciting!

Vanilla

I topped off the old bottle with more vodka and put it back in the pantry to continue infusing. From what I’ve read, I’ll get to keep topping it off for many, many years, so this definitely was a good investment!

Vanilla Extract - Before

I’ve read over and over again about how much cheaper it is to make your own vanilla extract. The problem for me was I never have vodka in the house. Well, I finally got some, so problem solved!

Vanilla Beans

The process is really easy. Take your vanilla beans (I used 16 Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla beans for a 750 ml bottle of vodka), split them in half, leaving about 1 inch not cut to keep the bean still in one piece. Put in vodka. Don’t forget to take out a little vodka to account for the volume of the beans.

Vanilla Extract - After

And voila! Now just wait at least 8 weeks and you have homemade vanilla extract without the corn syrup additives that some companies like to add. Now let’s look at the cost. I spent around $5 on the vodka and $15 on the vanilla beans to make 750 ml of vanilla extract, which is about 25 fluid ounces. That comes out to $0.80 per ounce, not including that you can top it off and make it last even longer. The lowest price online I found for pure vanilla extract was about $2 per ounce (before shipping). I’d say this turned out to be a pretty good deal!


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A few weeks ago some friends and I threw a diaper shower for our friend Ellie, who is expecting a little baby girl. I baked The Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Rolls, and they were quite a hit. I've never made homemade cinnamon rolls before, but these were very easy and so delicious!

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We thought some pretty flowers for the nursery would be nice, so I made a felt flower bouquet using this tutorial.

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We made a couple of banners, including a diaper banner since it was a diaper shower,

Lots of Diapers!

and for our gift, Beth and I made cloth diapers. Actually, Beth did all of the sewing, but I did some cutting! We got the PUL from these two shops, based them off this pocket diaper tutorial, and used butter suede fabric from Hancock for the stay-dry lining. They turned out really cute. Congratulations, Ellie! We're so excited for you!

Happy Thanksgiving Cupcake Toppers
image by AForestFrolic via Flickr Creative Commons
It was a lot of work, but Thanksgiving dinner turned out wonderfully. Here's a breakdown of what we thought of each recipe.

Turkey with Gravy: Loved the gravy. I didn't quite follow the recipe exactly, but it still turned out great.

Creamy Delicious Mashed Potatoes: I still haven't decided how I feel about these, and hubby didn't like them. I think we're stuck on our traditional mashed potatoes, and the cream cheese flavor was much stronger than I expected.

Homemade Cranberry Sauce: I didn't end up liking this either, but I think it was because I used orange juice instead of cranberry juice. Hubby loved it. I'll try this again next year with cranberry juice.

Mom's Green Bean Casserole and Mom's Stuffing: Perfect. Yum.

Skillet Cornbread: Ok, I can't figure out why I never can make cornbread that we like. We're big fans of the cornbread at Boston Market, and theirs is so much sweeter than any recipe I've tried. I think if we weren't so picky, this would have been good.

Bread Machine Buttery Rolls turned into Buttered Rosemary Rolls: A-ma-zing. So, so, so good. I will be using this pair of recipes again. I love that I can make rolls without having to do any work - the bread machine does it all for me. I should note, though, that my machine needed 2 hours for the dough setting, which was longer than I expected.

The Pie That'll Make You Cry (Pecan Pie): I didn't cry, but this was pretty good. I've never actually had pecan pie before, so now I'll probably be spoiled. It did need an extra 20 minutes to get the pie firm enough to remove from the oven. (The pie crust recipe referenced in here, Sylvia's Perfect Pie Crust, was in fact perfect, and is a keeper.)

Pumpkin Pie: Better than I expected. When this came out of the oven (30 minutes after the recipe stated - my pumpkin pies always take forever), it did not look like pumpkin pie. The top looked like a crumbly apple pie topping! I was very afraid to try it, but it actually tastes like traditional pumpkin pie. Impressive.

"Healthified" Apple Crisp: Delicious. Will definitely be making this again.

I baked the two pies, rolls, cornbread, and green bean casserole, and cooked the cranberry sauce on Wednesday, and left the mashed potatoes, stuffing, apple crisp for Thursday morning. Now we have enough leftovers to feed an army. I think next year I'll cut some of the recipes in half!

Happy Thanksgiving
image by John-Morgan via Flickr Creative Commons
Happy Thanksgiving! It's 80 degrees here today, so it doesn't really feel like Thanksgiving should be here already, but oh well. It'll be cold tomorrow.

Thanksgiving at the Trolls
image by floodlama via Flickr Creative Commons
I'm so excited for our meal tomorrow. For the first time ever, and without the help of my mom, I'm making everything from scratch. Aaaah! We looked at getting a meal from a restaurant/grocery store, but it was so expensive, and I knew I could make much better food for much less money. (I was right on the money part - I only spent $50 for everything!) Most of the recipes are from The Pioneer Woman, who has never let me down, so I'm confident that everything will turn out amazing. Here's what I'll be making today and tomorrow:


And for leftovers, I'm planning on Turkey Pot Pie and Mom's Turkey a la King (my absolute favorite, and a after-thanksgiving must).

I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving!

Let me just say, wow. Homemade yogurt is delicious. Especially when flavored with homemade jam. I made mine using this recipe, but I thought you all might enjoy some pictures of the process.

Milk In Crockpot

Pour 1/2 gallon of milk into your Crockpot. I used skim, but I think next time I’ll use whole. Turn the Crockpot on low for 2 1/2 hours. If you have a big Crockpot like this one (4 quart versus 2 quart), add an extra 15 minutes. Once done, unplug and let sit on the counter for 3 hours.

Overnight

Next, take 1/2 cup of yogurt with live cultures and whisk with 2 cups from the Crockpot. Pour the mixture back into the Crockpot, put the cover back on, and wrap a towel around the Crockpot. Let sit overnight.

Yogurt

When you wake up in the morning, voila! You have yogurt! If you like your yogurt this consistency, you’re done. If you want it to be thicker (greek-style), keep reading.

Before Straining

Take a thin kitchen towel and line a strainer. Place over a bowl. Put your yogurt into the strainer, and place the entire setup into your fridge.

After Straining

Twelve hours later, this is what you have. Rich, creamy, thick and tangy yogurt.

Greek Yogurt

Yum. (mouth watering)

Whey

This is what is left in the bottom of the bowl – whey. You can use this to bake with, mix into smoothies, add to your pet’s food, water your roses with… It’s full of protein, so don’t let it go to waste!

Homemade Greek Yogurt

Congratulations! You’ve made your own homemade Crockpot yogurt. Now put some in a bowl and add a little homemade strawberry jam. Mmmmm. I’m heading for the fridge right now.

Canned Tomatoes

Some friends and I had our second canning party this last Saturday. I canned a bunch of quartered tomatoes before everyone arrived,

Canning Day

and then we canned pickles, pickled okra, apple butter, and jalapeno-spiked cherry preserves. Yum. If only the pickles didn’t have to cure for 4 to 6 weeks!

I also hosted book club this month and made these amazing stuffed mushrooms and this raspberry lemonade. Soooo good. And while I’m on the subject, these lettuce wraps are incredible as well. Mmmm, food.

This is what I did last weekend.

Canning Party

Yum. Three lovely ladies canned with me: Sarah made raspberry fig freezer jam, Andrea made blackberry jam, Pearl made peach jam and strawberry jam, and I made jalapeño jelly (with jalapeños from my garden) and lavender infused strawberry freezer jam. My previous canning experience was limited to pickles, jalapeño jelly, and blueberry jam, so most of these recipes were new to me, though the process is basically the same. I thought I’d share a few of the things we learned this time around.

  • If you want your fruit pureed, use a blender. If you just want it smashed without doing it by hand, use a stand mixer (e.g. KitchenAid). Make sure you have a pouring shield for the bowl that goes all the way around, because those berries sure will fly across the kitchen.
  • Having an eight cup measuring bowl was very useful. Most of the recipes required 8 cups of berries, and it’s nice to have it all in one bowl at once.
  • I still think this canning kit is absolutely required when canning. It makes life so much easier than trying to make do with tongs and regular funnels.
  • The canning rack I currently have is only good for pint jars; the half-pint jars fall down between the cracks. This canning rack says small jars won’t fall out, so maybe I need to go buy it.
  • Freezer jams take the least amount of time to make; jams that use added pectin take a little bit of time; jams with no added pectin take forever. You have to stir the jam until it reaches its gelling point, which took between 30 and 45 minutes for one batch. Freezer jam definitely has a different consistency than cooked jam. We’ll see what the taste difference is, if any, between the last two methods!

We got most of our recipes from this book, and a few others from the Ball website. I made the jalapeño jelly label last year, and the others were printed from Sweet Preservation. I made a canning playlist that started from Sweet Preservation’s list, and ended up here:

  • Peaches by The Presidents of the United States of America
  • Cherry Pie by Warrant
  • Georgia Peaches by Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Jammin’ by Bob Marley
  • Rotten Peaches by Elton John
  • Apples. Peaches, Bananas and Pears by The Monkees
  • Blackberry by The Black Crowes
  • Cherry, Cherry by Neil Diamond
  • Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries by Lisa Loeb
  • Strawberry Fields Forever by The Beatles

We were able to sample the jelly that didn’t fill up the last jar from each batch, and they were all very, very good. Especially on fresh French bread with goat cheese. Mmmm…



Go here to download a free summer grilling cookbook from Martha Stewart Living Radio. It looks full of yummy recipes! Thanks, For The Mommas!
I had quite a fun and busy weekend over Labor Day, which included:

some painting on walls (thank you to my mom, dad, and brother for helping),


and on some picture frames. (Yes, I know there is nothing in them. I'm going to wait and see if I can't get some free 8x10 prints of my peach tree pictures that I took in the spring.)


Some really amazing food,


and the sewing of some quick curtains. The blinds that we took down to paint the stairwell apparently were always too big for the window and wouldn't go back in without putting a hole in the drywall. But they were ugly, pastel, vertical blinds. So I'm not sad to see them go. If only that light had been broken also....


Lastly, some additions to my craft wall: a bulletin board (which will be covered in fabric eventually), a thread rack (which will be painted in the future), and a fabric-covered frame. Lookin' good.

It feels great to have gotten so much done. If only every weekend was this productive!