Thursday, October 11, 2012

Gearing up for the Holidays

Been pretty busy lately, but trying to make more time to blog.  I've gotten a part time job, and have begun gathering supplies in anticipation of the holidays coming.  As a special Halloween treat for the people who actually read my blog, I will be offering free shipping on any item when you enter the coupon code: JACK0LANTERN

Monday, September 24, 2012

How much is a peck of peppers?

On September 7th 2012, I attended the 17th annual Chili Pepper Festival, in Bowers PA. I had a great time listening to live music, browsing and sampling the pepper related wares of the vendors, trying unusual foods containing peppers, and picking my own peppers. I came home with several pounds of peppers, 2 pepper plants, a bottle of strawberry jalapeno wine, and a bag of cayenne pepper peanut brittle. I will definitely be going back next year, but I will plan better.
The highlight of the pepper festival was picking my own peppers on the field excursion at Meadow View Farm. There were thousands of pepper plants, and over 200 varieties, it was a bit overwhelming. With so many beautifully colorful peppers, it was difficult to choose which ones to pick, I wanted them all. There were sheets available listing the names of the peppers, where in the field to find them, their heat rating, and their price. The prices were great, $1.00 a pound for heavy or large hot peppers, $3.00 a pound for all other hot peppers.

My main reason I wanted to go to the pepper festival was to get peppers to make pepper jams and jellies. The recipes that I had been looking at called for jalapenos and habaneros, so that was mostly what I picked, but since the ghost pepper is supposed to be the hottest pepper in the world, I felt the need to get a few of those, as well as some peppers that caught my attention because they were especially pretty, or the name was interesting. When I saw the Medusa peppers I felt like I needed to get some, mostly because I liked the name, I also found the plants to be very interesting. I was able to take a few pictures before my phone died. Even though I got there on Friday, some of the pepper plants were already picked clean. I overheard other pepper pickers, who I assume were veterans of the festival, say that you have to get there early to get the best pick, and on the second day the fields will be pretty much picked clean.

The live entertainment that I experienced at the pepper festival was a bunch of fiddle players, a guy on a keyboard, and a DJ. I wasn’t into this that much, they played some polka and classic rock type music, it wasn’t bad, just not my thing. I feel like a good festival should have music, and the music seemed to fit the scene.

The first thing I purchased at the festival was some pepper plants! I don’t remember who was selling them, but they were selling many different varieties of pepper plants, all edible, and all $15.00 each. I got two, a peach habanero, and a mystery plant that I felt like I needed because it’s so colorful! I should really figure out what the mystery plant is, they told me, but I forgot. The people selling the plants said that they will continue to grow and produce peppers throughout the year, and for many years to come, as long as I keep them indoors when it’s cold. I very excited about having peppers all year long!
There were many unusual foods, most of them containing peppers. There was pepper ice cream, pepper peanut brittle, many different kinds of stuffed peppers, jalapeno cheddar pirogies, a lot a chili, and so many more that I just can’t remember them all. I tried a couple different things, kielbasa chili, crabby stuffed peppers, and zucchini carrot pancakes, and some cayenne pepper peanut brittle. The kielbasa chili was very good, probably my favorite of all the foods there, but it was a bit more like a soup than a chili. Of course it was full of peppers, onions, beans, and usual chili spices, but contained pieces of sliced kielbasa in like a hot spicy chunky tomato base. I found the crappy stuffed peppers a bit disappointing. They were expensive for what you got, you got one small jalapeno pepper for $3.00, it was stuffed with cream cheese and crab meat, and smoked. The smoky flavor overpowered all of the other flavors, and I felt like there was too much cream cheese, and it was cold. I liked the zucchini carrot pancake a lot. It was like a potato pancake, but made with carrot and zucchini instead of potato. I purchased some cayenne pepper peanut brittle to take home, it’s not overpoweringly spicy like some of the things there were. I’m going to try to make some similar peanut brittle of my own.
There were many vendors at the festival, but my favorites were the ones selling wine, jam and honey. Cardinal Hollow Winery was giving out free samples of their beverages. I tried the honey jalapeno mead, and the strawberry jalapeno wine. I liked the mead, it was a bit harsh on the first sip, but by the time I got down to the end of the shot glass/Dixie cup that they gave me, it seemed very sweet and didn’t burn much anymore. The strawberry jalapeno wine was also good, much milder tasting in comparison to the mead. It was like sweet strawberries with just a bit of a kick from the jalapenos as an aftertaste. I got a bottle of the strawberry, and my dad got a bottle of the mead. I like that Cardinal Hollow has a website that you can order from, (if you live in PA) it might be a good place to order Christmas presents. There were many vendors selling different types of honey, the wasps and flies seemed to like them. I would have considered buying some, or at least trying them, if they weren’t covered in wasps. Maybe next year I will be brave.

I will definitely be attending the pepper festival next year, and hopefully I will be more organized. I am going to make a list of what varieties of peppers, and the quantity of each that I will be purchasing. I ended up making a whole bunch of jams and jellies, (I will be putting up pictures and recipes later) and drying whatever was leftover. Oh, and next year I’m bringing a real camera, fully charged.   

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tea Cakes, Shortbread, and Zucchini Bread

Yesterday I made two different types of cookies, Russian Tea Cakes, and Classic Shortbread.  

The Russian Tea Cakes came out really good.  I took them out after 8 minutes though because they were done earlier than the 10 to 12 minutes that the recipe says.  I'm not sure where my mother got this recipe from, I will have to ask her.  I know she altered it though, cause she told me the original recipe calls for Vanilla Extract, but she always uses Almond.  Oh, btw, these cookies are also sometimes called Mexican Wedding Cakes.

Russian Tea Cakes
1 Cup Butter Softened
1/2 Cup Powdered Sugar
1 tsp Almond Extract
2 1/4 Cup Flour
3/4 Cup Walnuts Ground or Chopped Fine
1/4 tsp Salt
Powdered Sugar to Coat

Preheat oven to 400
Mix Butter, 1/2 Cup Powdered Sugar and Almond Extract in bowl
Stir in Flour, Nuts, and Salt.  Mix until dough holds together.
Shape into 1" balls.  Place about 1" apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until set, but not brown.  (I found that about 8 minutes was right the oven I'm using)
Remove from cookie sheet while still warm, and roll each one in Powdered Sugar to coat.  Let cool completely, then coat again with Powdered Sugar.

I got both recipes from my mother, but found out she uses the shortbread recipe from the shortbread pan she has.  I bought a shortbread pan yesterday so, my baking would go faster.  It's really pretty, it's the Norwegian Woods Shortbread Pan by Brown Bag Cookie Art.  The pan makes a bunch of cookies, and then you cut them out along the lines.  This particular pan has trees and deer on it.  I'm ok with how they came out, but I'm going to try to see if I can get them to come out better on Saturday.  They were a little too dark I think, so I'm going to try cooking them at a slightly lower temperature, and checking on them a lot more.

Classic Shortbread
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
cream butter, combine powdered sugar then vanilla.  Work in flour.  knead until smooth.  spray shortbread pan lightly with oil, or brush lightly with oil.  firmly press dough into the pan.  prick dough surface.  Bake at 325 F for 30 to 35 minutes.  cool for 10 minutes.  loosen edge with knife  turn onto board.  cut into pieces. 
I put a plate or something flat on top and turn

While I was at it I made some Zucchini bread, using another recipe my mother sent me.  This came out awesome!  I love Zucchini bread.  I didn't have nutmeg or baking powder, so, I used extra cinnamon and some cream of tartar.
Zucchini bread
1 and 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
3/4 cups sugar I usually use brown sugar
1/4 cup oil
3 eggs
1 and 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cloves (I usually use nutmeg in place of this)
1/2 cup  (optional) raisins, walnuts or chocolate chips or any combination of.  I used chocolate chips this time.)
spray loaf pan with oil or grease pan.  bake at 400 for 10 minutes and turn down to 325 for approximately one hour.
Loaf = 24 pieces at approximately 80 calories each, 14 g carbohydrates

I need to start going to the gym again :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Today was too crazy to make cookies.  I was going to make Russian Tea Cakes tonight, but some things came up with the family, so, I'm making them early tomorrow.  There will be two cookie recipes posted tomorrow.  I might be getting a new cookie mold tomorrow :)

Monday, December 5, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Cookies - Day 1

Today I made Peanut Butter Cookies, they are a favorite among my family and friends, plus it's very simple.  Even as a young child I would help my mother in the kitchen, this is one of the simple recipes that I was able to help with.  I remember we would read the recipe together first, then I would help measure ingredients and mix.  Baking is a lot of fun to do with children, I love cooking with my nieces.

I used the Irresistible Peanut Butter Cookie recipe from the package of Crisco Butter Flavored Baking Sticks.  I always remembered getting the big tub of Crisco, but they didn't have the butter flavor available in tubs at the store I went to.  Anyway, here are the ingredients:

Peanut Butter Cookies

3/4 cup Peanut Butter
1/2 stick Crisco Butter Flavor Baking Sticks or 1/2 cup Butter Flavor All-Vegetable Shortening
1 1/4 cups firmly packed Brown Sugar
3 tablespoons Milk
1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
1 Large Egg
1 3/4 Flour
3/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
3/4 teaspoon Salt
I also got a bag of Hershey's Kisses to put in some of them, this was my friends idea.

This recipe is supposed to make about 3 dozen, but I made mine smaller, so I ended up with a total of 54 cookies

Step 1: Gather Ingredients and Tools
My brand new nesting doll measuring cups and spoons(just came in the mail today), mixing bowls, a fork, a knife, 2 baking pans, butter flavored cooking spray, and my ingredients.

Step 2: Preheat Oven

Make sure that the rack is in the center of the oven, and preheat oven to 375  F

Step 3: Combine Peanut Butter, Shortening, Brown Sugar, Milk, and Vanilla in a Large Mixing Bowl

I measured out the 3/4 cup of Peanut Butter, and put it in my large mixing bowl.  The recipe on the package said to use Jif Creamy Peanut Butter, but I used this creamy natural peanut butter instead.  I think it came out better this way, I like the texture and taste of the natural peanut butter.
Next I added the 1/2 a cup of Butter Flavor Shortening.
1 1/4 cup Brown Sugar firmly packed.  It's amazing how much more Brown Sugar fits into a measuring cup when you pack it down.
Added 3 tablespoons of milk to the mix,
1 tablespoon of Vanilla Extract...

Oops!  I accidently added the egg next, which didn't seem to be a big deal.  The recipe says to mix the egg in after the rest of the ingredients are mixed well, but it didn't seem to make a difference to me. 

Step 4: Mix Well

Then I mixed together all the ingredients with a fork, making sure to crush up all the lumps of brown sugar and crisco.  This is the low tech version, the recipe actually says to use beat it together in an electric mixer on medium speed, until well blended.

Step 5: Combine Flour, Baking Soda, and Salt
Now I'm adding 3/4 teaspoon of Salt

3/4 teaspoon on Baking Soda

and 1 3/4 cups of Flour

Step 5 Mix All Ingredients Together

The recipe said to mix at lox speed until well blended, but I just mixed it with my fork again.  The photo above is what I ended up with.

Step 6: Prepare Baking Sheet with Cookies to Go in Oven
I sprayed the cookie sheet with butter flavored cookie spray

Then, formed the dough into little round balls, about the size of a large marble,

and pressed it down with the fork, to make the crisscross pattern on top.

This is what they should look like.  

Next I put them in the oven, on the center rack, and set the timer for 8 minutes.  This was a bit too long, the first batch came out a bit darker than I would have liked, so I put the others in for 7 minutes.  Bringing it down to 7 minutes made them come out lighter for the most part, but the ones towards the back of the oven were still a little dark.  The next batch I put in the oven for 4 minutes, rotated the cookie tray, and put it back in for another 3 minutes.  The batch that I rotated came out best. 

 Step 7: Take Cookies Out of Oven, Add Hershey's Kisses to some, and Let Cool

While cookies were still warm, I pressed a Hershey's Kiss into the center of a few of them

Once cookies were cool enough so they wouldn't fall apart, I transferred them from the backing sheet with a thin spatula...

to metal racks to cool.

I'm pretty happy with the way these came out.  I'm excited to try another recipe tomorrow!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Feeling it

It's starting to feel like the holiday season to me now, and I have so many things that I would like to accomplish!  The best way for me to get things done is to just keep moving, force myself to be constantly busy.  One of the things I have decided to do is make a bunch of different cookies for my friends and family, for Christmas.  The plan is 12 different types of cookies, in 12 days... hopefully starting this Monday.  I am calling this my "12 Days Of Christmas Cookies."  I'm going to post about my experience making the cookies, and I will include the recipes.  One of the cookie recipes are supposed to be prepared, then put in the fridge overnight, so, I might have to take two days to do that one if things get really crazy.  Might make some candies and stuff also, but they won't count as part of the 12.  Even though I have them all planned out, I want them to be a surprise each day so, I won't be telling you what kind of cookies I am making.

I finished the pincushions that I was working on
These will all be for sale in my etsy shop as soon as I finish posting them :)
Trying to multitask.  I have the embroidery machine running, and I'm going back and forth trimming, cutting fabric, editing photos, and playing on the internet.

Friday, December 2, 2011

My New Pincushion

I've decided to make some new pincushions for my etsy shop, so I made a prototype that I'm going to use.  I was thinking that mini pincushions would be cute stocking stuffers.  Here is the test pincushion that I made for myself:
I have lots of pretty ribbon purchased from HollandFabricHouse, this one is my favorite.  I thought the ribbon would look cute with the green fabric, and it's useful for holding my scissors that I use for trimming, since I'm always using them.  I'm really happy with how it came out.  I've finished one other one:
This one is for sale in my etsy shop.  Here is the link if you are interested:
More mini pincushions will be finished soon.