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HOW TO STRETCH YOUR GROCERY BUDGET

HOW TO STRETCH YOUR GROCERY BUDGET

How to stretch your grocery budget

I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy through all the coronavirus chaos.  I don’t normally post to the blog on a Saturday night, but with all the frantic grocery store shopping going on I thought any helpful advice I can give should be NOW and not later… not even a day later.  Just like you I’m watching the news, feeling nervous and confused.  So many people are suffering right now from being sick, losing loved ones, or having lost their source of income.  It makes me sad and I just want to help.

We all need to eat, and when it comes to our grocery budget we all like to save and stretch our dollar.  With many restaurants closing and grocery store shelves bare, now it’s more important than ever to watch our grocery budget.  But not only is stretching our dollar important, shopping for the right foods is crucial right now for keeping waste down.  I’m here to share all my grocery shopping, budget, and storage tips to help.  Just like you, I’ve been to the grocery store to stock up (not hoard) groceries.  I’ve noticed what other people have in their carts and I can’t help but worry a little.  I’m not judging what people buy, just wanting to help.  I’ve seen a lot of frozen tv dinners, chips, ice cream, etc.  While these are ok (and yes we also buy these items at times) they’re hard on your grocery budget, and they don’t provide long term meal options.

I’ve racked my brain over the last few days with every helpful idea I’ve ever used, I hope you find these tips as valuable as I do.  Ok… are you ready??  I’ve got A LOT of tips… grab some coffee, sit down, and let’s get going.

Save money buying bulk food

MY FAVORITE MONEY SAVING GROCERY TIPS

Buy staple items – It’s time we all get back to cooking basics with crucial staple items.  Yeah, your meals won’t be readily available but with a small amount of time and effort you’ll save money and have the building blocks to make a meal at a moment’s notice, plus these items have a long shelf life.  Stock up on the basics like flour, sugar, rice, dried beans, oatmeal, pasta, nuts, oils, vinegars, and other essentials.  Also check out the bulk foods section to save even more money.  Amazon also sells bulk foods.

Prepare meals that keep on giving – Don’t just make a meal, make one that keeps on giving!  I frequently will roast a chicken for dinner with a few sides, day 2 we pick any leftover meat off the bones for a soup, salad, casserole – or to throw in the freezer.  Then we make stock out of the bones.  It’s the perfect way to stretch your dollar.  Roasts and other meats work well too, one night it’s a main dish, and the others can be turned into tacos, sandwiches, or soups.

Batch cook – When you have lots of fresh ingredients cook in large batches and then freeze.  You can easily get enough food to feed a family for days and you can freeze individual portions for single meals.

Refrigerate citrus and apples – Yes that bowl of lemons and apples looks gorgeous on the counter but did you know you can extend the life of citrus and apples by weeks if left in the refrigerator?

Invest in a produce keeper – My heart breaks when I throw out expensive produce that’s ruined.  Lettuce, greens, and herbs are partially vulnerable in the refrigerator.  Investing in a produce saving crisper can save you so much money in the long run.  You can purchase crisper inserts for vegetable drawers, this is especially crucial for older refrigerators without humidity technology.  You can also buy produce saving containers, which I use for my fresh herbs, they’re expensive!

Freeze meat – Unless you’re a vegetarian we all need some frozen meat in our freezer!  I try to buy meat in bulk, then I weigh them into smaller portions and freeze them.  I do this with raw and cooked meat depending on my needs.  Be sure to clearly label everything with a date and whether it’s raw or cooked.  For food safety avoid thawing meat on your counter.  It’s best to thaw a day or 2 in advance in the refrigerator.

Sort food by expiration dates – Expired food happens to the best of us, it usually puts me on the verge of tears to see something go to waste.  So check expiration dates and store food items accordingly, this is especially necessary with fresh produce!

Save every vegetable scrap – If you’re throwing away savory vegetable scraps you’re basically throwing away free flavorful seasoning.  I’ve talked about my veggie scrap bag before and it’s still crucial in our household.  Use vegetable scraps (especially celery, onion, carrots, herbs, and garlic) to make delicious stocks.  Even if the veggies are limp as long as they aren’t moldy or shriveled they still work, and save all of those onion skins too!  You can make chicken or vegetable stock to make delicious soups or to cook rice, couscous, or sauces.  It’s free flavoring for your food and makes such a difference!  I like to save my scraps in the freezer.

Limit snacks and instead encourage real meals –  Yes we have snacks occasionally but I try to limit them for everyone.  Snacking encourages mindless eating which is hard on the budget and the waistline.  It’s so easy to eat half a bag of pretzels and not even realize it. Snack food is typically expensive, not very filling, lacks nutrients, and prevents us from eating a proper meal.

Avoid buying boxed and frozen meals – I’m not saying don’t ever buy these items, we all need a last minute meal to grab.  These items are not only budget killers, they take up a lot of storage space and don’t usually provide a well rounded meal.

Create a “clean out the refrigerator” meal – This is one of my favorite tips.  Sometimes you just need to clean out all the leftover miscellaneous items from your fridge but don’t throw them away.  A few random vegetables or scraps of meat can be transformed into a delicious pasta, casserole, or stir fry.  You probably have an entire meal that can be made from refrigerator scraps right now!

Freeze bread leftovers – Have a piece of leftover stale bread?  As long as it’s not moldy save it!  Throw it in a freezer bag and save it and make homemade croutons (yum), put it in the food processor to make bread crumbs, bread pudding, or make a savory bread dressing.

Write out your meals – Sometimes I plan out my meals in my head and that does come back to bite me occasionally.  I say write it out, it’s so much easier to plan meals and save necessary ingredients when you see it written out.  It’s an extra step but it’s also fool proof.

Freeze leftovers after 2-3 days – Don’t worry I’ll eat that, cut to a week later and you’re throwing it out.  Life happens, and we forget about leftovers so do yourself a big budget favor and freeze uneaten leftovers within 2-3 days!  Is it worth risking good food going to waste?  Nope.  Trust me you’ll be thrilled to find a leftover piece of pizza, grilled chicken, or cup of soup when you’re hungry, broke, or can’t leave the house!

Freeze tortillas – Whether corn or flour tortillas, keep a stash in your freezer at all times!  They freeze and thaw quickly and beautifully, and they can help you create a ton of meals at the last minute.  Use tortillas for scrambled eggs, leftover meat, and vegetables for a quick meal.  Flour tortillas can also be quickly made into thin crust pizzas.

Freeze milk, butter, and cheese – I’m constantly freezing butter and cheese, you’ll lose a little quality in the texture, but they still taste and work great in recipes.  You can freeze butter for 6-9 months, cheese can last you a good 3-6 months if not more, and milk too.  Be aware that frozen milk turns yellow, although that doesn’t affect the taste.  Frozen milk is best used within 3-6 months, don’t forget to pour a small amount out for expansion.

When possible store pantry items in clear bags or bins –  It’s easy to lose track of essential items when you’ve got nothing but a sea of boxes in the pantry.  I’ll go into this during my next blog post, but life is so much easier when all of your food is clearly displayed in front of you.  It prevents waste and non-essential purchases, and seeing your food helps your brain go into creative cooking mode easier.

Get your kids to help with budgeting – I’m well aware that kids don’t always handle food budgeting well, trust me.  They want their fruit snacks now.  Why not get the kiddos involved to make it less challenging?  This is a great time to teach the basics of whole food and cooking from scratch.  Teaching your kids to cook is one of the best gifts you can give them.  Kids usually love to eat anything they’ve helped make.  Make food budgeting a fun game, see if your little one can skip their afternoon juice box and have water instead.  It can be a fun game where they earn stars.

Avoid non-nutritious sugary drinks – This can be hard for some, but sodas and other sugary drinks can kill the budget.  Don’t worry I’m not saying to give up coffee but consider swapping out juices and sodas for water or even home brewed ice tea can save you so much money, not to mention space in the fridge!

Staple pantry items

FOOD ALL STARS

Rice – We love rice, I usually have at least 3 different varieties in my pantry at all times!  It’s cheap, lasts forever, and goes beautifully in nearly everything from soups, casseroles, burritos, as a side dish, and let’s not forget rice pudding!

Carrots – Oh how I love carrots, they’re cheap, full of vitamin A, and they last so long in the refrigerator!  They make a great crunchy snack raw but they also taste delicious in so many other ways.  You can make a delicious pureed carrot soup (add a bit of cumin yum!) and my favorite is my roasted carrot recipe.

Eggs – So affordable and versatile.  How about scrambled eggs over roasted asparagus?  A nice quiche or frittata will give you a high-protein, inexpensive meal easily.  If you have some chicken or vegetable stock you can easily make a satisfying egg drop soup.

Potatoes – Mash them, roast them, fry them, or bake them they’re so versatile.  Throw them in a soup or in a breakfast burrito, and is there anything more satisfying than a bowl of creamy potato soup?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Canned tomatoes – Yes I love fresh tomatoes but canned tomatoes are a HUGE staple in our house.  From making marinara sauce to soups, casseroles, and just about anything else you can think of.

Whole Chicken – Like I mentioned above I love meals that keep on giving days later and in many forms. I am constantly roasting whole chickens for dinner or just roasting them to shred the meat for soups and casseroles.  Then I make chicken stock from the bones, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.  We can stretch a chicken out for so many meals.  You can always freeze the bones in a ziplock bag until you’re ready to make stock.

Onions – We go through so many onions in our household it’s ridicious.  Onions are the base for nearly all the delicious food I make.  If you have an onion you’re pretty much guaranteed to come up with a delicious meal, they generally last a long time too.  Remember to save every onion scrap for stock making!

Lemons – Another item I’m always stocking up on.  Lemon zest tastes amazing pretty much everything, the juice is great for marinades, salad dressing, drinks, and let’s not forget lemon bars!  Lemons pack a punch and elevate your food in so many ways.

Couscous – Is also so versatile and it makes me feel fancy even though it’s really not.  Bought in bulk, it’s very affordable and makes a perfect side dish, or turn it into a main meal with some onion, tomatoes, olives, chick peas, and feta cheese.  Add fresh herbs if you’ve got them and a squeeze of lemon, it’s a very affordable vegetarian meal.

Legumes – I love keeping dried green split peas to make a comforting and budget friendly split pea soup.  I love the fact that you don’t need to soak them.  We also keep a variety of beans in the house to stretch out casseroles and soups or to provide as a side dish.  They’re full of protein, have a long shelf life, and are also super affordable… and filling.

Oatmeal – It’s affordable and healthy, and it’s a staple breakfast food.  Mix in creative additions so you don’t get bored with your oatmeal.  I love adding a few scoops of canned pumpkin, or some dried cranberries and chopped nuts.  Don’t forget you can make a savory oatmeal as well!

Money saving grocery tips

So now that I’ve given you my money saving tips are you wondering what’s in our house?  In the next blog post you’ll be seeing exactly what’s in my just-built pantry and how I organized it, but I’m glad to share our staple items now.

WHAT’S IN MY PANTRY?

Oatmeal, green split peas (love them!), corn meal, cocoa powder, couscous, pasta, assorted rice, nuts, flours, sugars, breadcrumbs, chocolate chips, spices, oils and vinegars, canned tomatoes, beans, olives, tuna pouches, non-perishable produce, and yes a few snack items and boxed meals.

WHAT’S IN MY REFRIGERATOR?

Essential produce, herbs, citrus fruits, apples, cheeses, milk, fresh meat that I’ll soon cook, condiments, and lots of eggs.  We love eggs!

WHAT’S IN MY FREEZER?

Meat and seafood of all kinds, chicken, beef, vegetable and seafood stock, leftover bones for stock making, butter sticks, frozen cheese -blocks and shredded, pie crust that has yet to be rolled, bread, yeast, leftovers, vegetables, soups, casseroles, and yes a few fun things like ice cream and sweet potato fries.

Money saving grocery tips

What works for one family doesn’t always work for another I know.  I just want to encourage everyone to get back to the basics and cook with real food while saving money and preserving all the ingredients we currently have to make life easier during this crisis!  As my husband would say, “Happy tummy?”  Yes I want everyone to have a happy tummy while stretching their grocery dollar to the max.

It’s great timing that we just finished building a new pantry in our kitchen, it’s been in the works for months.  I’ll be sharing my new pantry and organization tips next on the blog post.  Take care my friends, stay safe, healthy, and sane.  Until next time.

10 FREEZER HACKS EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW

10 FREEZER HACKS EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW

10 Freezer Hacks Everyone Should Know

Last week I was drinking my morning coffee and planning my blog posts.  I use my emotions, the seasons, and my life at home for inspiration, and that’s when it hit me…my freezer tips!  Having a fully stocked freezer with the ingredients I commonly need is such a good feeling for me!  Especially when I know busy stressful days are coming up, it calms me to feel freezer ready.  Sometimes I feel like Mama squirrel burying nuts in the yard, except I’m using my freezer.

I have 10 of my favorite tips to share, ones that I’ve been doing for years.  Not only do they help save time, they help save MONEY.  Some of these you may already know about and some you may not, but I find all of them so incredibly useful!

10 Freezer Hacks Everyone Should Know

1.  KEEP A VEGGIE SCRAP BAG

Saving vegetable scraps is one of my favorite tips!  I’ve been doing this so long that I can’t remember how it all started.  I keep a large freezer bag in the freezer, and any time I have leftover onions or celery they go into my veggie bag.  I save anything that could be used for making vegetable or chicken stock.  Whenever I dice up an onion I save the peel, the ends, and any leftovers for the veggie bag.  Limp celery and leaves all get thrown in the bag too.  Sometimes I’ll save a piece of garlic or fresh thyme, basically anything that works well to make a savory broth.  As I collect scraps I’ll throw them into the bag with the existing frozen ones.  Then when I’m ready to make stock I dump the frozen ingredients into a pot with water.  It’s free and tastes delicious!  I reuse my veggie freezer bag many times until I start a new one, so once it’s empty it waits in the freezer for new scraps.

2.  KEEP YOUR CHICKEN BONES

Every week I roast a few chickens for dinner soups or sandwiches, and we make sure to always save all the chicken bones.  After every bit of meat has been picked off the bones I either immediately start making chicken stock or we freeze the bones in a freezer bag.  I save all the bones, even the little ones.  Be sure to save the spine and cartilage, those are the essential parts – sorry to all the vegetarians reading this!!  Then when you’re ready to make a batch of stock, grab your veggie bag with leftover onion and celery and you’re good to go.  You have free chicken stock!  Sometimes I’ll save up several batches of chicken bones and make a huge batch of stock.  One of these days I’ll get around to posting how I make chicken stock I promise!  We can’t live without homemade chicken stock, we use it in everything.

Freezing chicken bones

3.  FREEZE RIPE BANANAS

Please don’t ever throw away over ripe black bananas… you’ll make me cry.  As scary as they look on the outside the flavor inside is amazing!  You’ve never had truly amazing banana cake or bread unless it’s been made with black bananas.  As long as your bananas aren’t moldy keep them and put them into the freezer until you’re ready to use them.  They usually thaw within 3-4 hours and the watery liquid you can just mash up with the bananas.

Slow cooker freezer meals

4.  FREEZE MEALS FLAT

I can’t believe back in the old days I would throw a frozen meal upright in the freezer.  Geez what a freezer space killer!  It was one day I saw this tip in a magazine and I had this “why didn’t I think of that” moment.  When you freeze meals flat your freezer storage space quadruples, and it’s so much easier to find what you need.

5.  FREEZE MEAL BUILDERS

Freezing entire meals is great, but don’t forget about freezing individual meal building ingredients.  Sometimes I like to cook a fresh meal in the kitchen, but I also want some time-saving meal builders.  Meal builders should be versatile ones that could be used in a variety of meals.  Some of our favorite meal builders to freeze are cooked shredded pulled pork and chicken, cooked ground beef, rice, and my marinara sauce.  Any food that you use often that freezes well should work.  We hate the way pre-shredded cheese tastes, so sometimes I’ll even shred a block of cheese and freeze it.  The texture gets a little crumbly but it cooks great and works excellent in casseroles.   Cauliflower and regular pizza crust is especially helpful to us.  I’ll line the pan with parchment paper, freeze the crust into the pan, and once frozen wrap it in foil.  This works great for last minute pizza.

10 Freezer Hacks Everyone Should Know

6.  FREEZE TOMATO PASTE

Most of my recipes never call for a full can of tomato paste.  Seriously, so many recipes call for a few tablespoons of tomato paste!  In the past I would save leftovers in the refrigerator, and usually when I needed more tomato paste my leftovers would be old and moldy.  The solution is to freeze tablespoon sized portions on wax paper, and once solid store them in a freezer bag.  When I’m cooking on the stove I’ll add my tomato paste blobs to the pan frozen and they thaw out really fast.

10 Freezer Hacks Everyone Should Know

7.  FREEZE BROTH INTO ICE CUBES

We all need some frozen broth ice cubes on hand.  This is such a handy way to quickly thaw out broth or stock.  I do freeze larger quantities for soups and things, but so many recipes call for small amounts of broth.  Measure out your ice cube trays, I found mine to be about an ounce each, so if I need 1/2 cup of broth I just grab 4 ice cubes and thaw.  This is a great money and time saver whether you use homemade or store bought broth.  It can be frustrating when you open a can of broth for a small portion, you refrigerate the leftovers, and they expire before you can use them.  Instead try the ice cube trick.

10 Freezer Hacks Everyone Should Know

8.  FLASH FREEZING

Flash freezing is where you take individual items and freeze them solid on a baking sheet, then simply store them in a freezer bag.  This prevents foods from sticking together and lets you use amounts as needed.  Some of our favorite items to flash freeze are my homemade sausage balls, our own healthy chicken nuggets, and cookie dough rolled out into balls.  This is a great trick for kid snacks or last minute house guests.  We cook our items frozen and just increase the baking time by a few minutes.

9.  FREEZE SLOW COOKER MEALS

Everyone needs a few frozen slow cooker meals on hand for hectic days!  You can find tons of recipes online with just a simple search.  The concept is to freeze the mixed ingredients in a bag.  Then when you’re ready for an easy meal you just thaw overnight and throw them into a slow cooker.  Sometimes the meals are still partially frozen, but as long as you can break up the chunks and fit them into a slow cooker you’re good to go.  Soups are some of my favorite slow cooker freezer meals, my Grilled Rosemary Balsamic Chicken can also be thrown in the slow cooker on low 6-7 hours and served with rice.

10 Freezer Hacks Everyone Should Know

10.  FREEZE CLOTHING

Not food related but this is also an amazing tip!  I recently blogged about how to properly store your fall & winter scarves but this works for so many clothing items.  Freezing fabrics such as silk, wool, and cashmere is great for killing moth eggs and larvae keeping your clothes in tip top shape.  The freezer trick also works to eliminate bacteria and odors from smelly clothing or shoes.  It also prevents sweaters and scarves from shedding and works great for dark denim.  Washing dark denim too often can cause fading quickly so a great trick is place your jeans in the freezer to freshen them up.  I recommending wrapping clothing in a bag for protection and freezing for 24-48 hours.

I hope you find these tips helpful, I know I do!  Friday on the blog I’ll be sharing some of my favorite budget decorating tips.

PERFECT HARD BOILED EGGS

PERFECT HARD BOILED EGGS

The simple way to make perfect hard boiled eggs in minutes.

Hey friends I’m back!  I really needed some time to decompress over Spring Break.  We have some huge changes coming into our life, but I’m not quite ready to discuss them on the blog because we’re still working out some kinks.  I’ll announce soon what’s been going on with us, I promise.  As for now I’m ready to jump back into the blog, and since today is the first day of Spring why not talk about making perfect hard boiled eggs?  This goes hand and hand with Easter and also my love for low carb.  A perfect hard boiled egg is the perfect high protein snack that curbs my hunger!

How to make perfect hard boiled eggs the easy way

The perfect hard boiled egg can be different to everyone, but one thing remains clear…. there should not be a green/gray colored ring around the yolk.  That’s right, hard boiled eggs can be overcooked!  That colored ring is a sign you’ve got an overcooked, rubbery egg on your hands.  But have no fear, boiling the perfect egg is easy as can be!  I’ve tried the oven method but I’m just an old fashioned girl who prefers to boil.

If you’ve ever had trouble peeling a boiled egg hang tight… I’ve got some tips to help you out!

How to make perfect hard boiled eggs the easy way

You want to start with placing your eggs in a pot with cold water.  Make sure you use a pot deep enough so the eggs can be topped with a good 1-2 inches of water.  You also want to make sure the eggs are in a single layer and not overcrowded.  Yeah I probably could have fit another egg in the pot, but I get the best results when I give them a little breathing room.

How to make perfect hard boiled eggs the easy way

Now simply bring the pot to a boil, waiting on this pot can be a little tedious.  Ever watched a pot waiting for it to boil?  It takes forever but odds are if you walk off they will boil too long and you’ll risk overcooking.

Once the water comes to a full boil turn the heat off and immediately place the lid on the pot and set a timer for 12 minutes.  Let the pot remain on the stove so the eggs retain the heat.

How to make perfect hard boiled eggs the easy way

Now don’t skip that cold water bath!  This is very important to stop the cooking process and it helps the eggs peel easier.  Once you set the timer to let the eggs finish cooking prepare a bowl with ice and water.  Any size will work as long as the eggs fit and you can use multiple bowls if needed.  Use a slotted spoon and place the cooked eggs fully into the ice water for 5 minutes.

How to make perfect hard boiled eggs the easy way

After about 5 minutes the eggs should feel much cooler, similar to room temperature.  I recommend 12 minutes with the lid on and the heat off, but keep in mind results can vary with your cookware, stove top, and also personal taste.  Those who like like their eggs on the softer side you can try 8-10 minutes.

How to peel hard boiled eggs

Now the real drama starts… let’s talk about peeling the eggs!  Those who love eating hard boiled eggs we’ve all peeled an egg and had it look shredded full of craters, but fear not I have some tips that will help!

We’ve all been trained when cooking to use the freshest eggs, however eggs that are about a week old are a lot easier to peel, so just keep that in mind.  Another trick is to peel the eggs before you place them in the refrigerator, room temperature boiled eggs peel much easier than cold eggs.

To start peeling an egg I gently tap the bottom and then under cool running water I slowly start to peel away the shell making sure to remove that tricky membrane.  Once you feel the smooth egg texture you know you’ve got it and you can start to peel larger chunks, and that’s it, you’re good to go.  It’s time for some yummy delicious snacks!

How to make perfect hard boiled eggs the easy way

Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs

Ingredients

  • eggs
  • water

Instructions

  • Place eggs in a single layer in a pot and fill with 1-2 inches of cold water above the eggs.  
  • Heat on high until the water comes to a full boil.  Once the water starts boiling turn off the heat and immediately cover with a lid.  Let the pot remain on the stove and set the timer for 12 minutes.  
  • Meanwhile, prepare a a bowl with ice and water.  After 12 minutes carefully remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and place in the cold water bath for about 5 minutes, then remove the eggs.  The eggs will be cool to the touch and will peel best when done immediately.
  •  To peel, gently tap the the bottom edge and peel under running water.

How to make perfect hard boiled eggs the easy way

I love adding just a dash of salt and pepper and when available some fresh herbs.  Nothing beats this clean healthy snack!  Our family is getting excited for Easter and very soon I’ll be blogging our favorite way to dye easter eggs.  Not only is our method budget friendly it’s super fun and you can come up with so many unique variations.  Talk to you soon!

THE PUMPKIN PIE SECRET YOU NEED TO KNOW

THE PUMPKIN PIE SECRET YOU NEED TO KNOW

I can’t believe how quickly Thanksgiving is approaching!  I’m so excited to be hosting this year, and I’m always looking for creative ways to put a spin on food, especially desserts.  Today I’m going to share how to take an ordinary pumpkin pie and turn it into what looks and tastes like a culinary masterpiece.  You can do this with a homemade pie or store bought.

Here’s the secret, a biscuit cutter.  Yep that’s all I used to cut these adorable pumpkin pie circles.  Now, one thing I must warn you about is you need a biscuit or circle shaped cutter that’s deep enough for the pie.  Also make sure there aren’t any kind of obstructions inside the cutter.  I think this set I have from Amazon is perfect, it comes with a variety of shapes, and with prime shipping it will arrive quickly.  I used the largest circle but I think smaller ones would be good too.

Make sure the pumpkin pie is COLD before you begin cutting.

Before you start cutting make sure you are just far enough into the pie to avoid the angled pie crust edge.  After cutting, drizzle the pies with caramel topping, whipped cream, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  It was an incredible winning combination!  I think you could get creative too, maybe butterscotch, chocolate, or how about a cranberry sauce drizzled on?

The kids were amazed at how pretty these looked and I think your guests will be impressed too.  Below are the simple steps.

1. Place the biscuit cutter away from the pie edge and press down.  Make sure you push all the way into the pie crust, to make sure you’ve done this rotate it a few times making sure you feel you’ve reached the pan.

2. With a gentle almost wiggle motion just lift the biscuit cutter up and place directly to a serving platter or plate.

3. It might feel like it’s stuck, don’t panic, it’s not.  Take a small piece of wax paper and gently press around the sides of the cutter on top of the pie.  It should slide out and then just peel the wax paper off.  We sprayed the inside of one cutter with Pam cooking spray and it made no difference.

4. Rinse the biscuit cutter and dry with a paper towel each time you start a new circle.

5. On a serving platter or individual plate drizzle with caramel sauce.

6. Once ready to serve, top with whipped cream and sprinkle with cinnamon.

So are your wondering what do do with the pie scraps?  Anything really, you can always snack on the leftover scraps, or get creative and make a pumpkin pie trifle or something. Wasn’t that simple?  You’ll be looking like a gourmet kitchen star this Thanksgiving and it’s incredibly easy!

Shop some of my favorite kitchen favorites below!

ARE YOU USING THE RIGHT WINE GLASS?

ARE YOU USING THE RIGHT WINE GLASS?

Cheers!  Did you know that tasting wine is actually so much more than just taste, it also involves your other senses as well.  Everyone knows that your sense of smell plays heavily into the total concept of flavor, but your vision, touch, and even hearing all play an important role too.  Think of the last glass of wine you enjoyed.  In addition to smelling and tasting the wine, whether you realize it or not, you also looked at it in the glass.  It’s color and clarity were seen, and perhaps some tiny bubbles or swirling caught your attention.  You felt the weight and balance of the glass in your fingers as well as the smoothness of the wine on your tongue.  And you might have even heard a gentle effervescence.  All your senses are put to use when you enjoy a glass of your favorite wine.

My husband and I recently attended a wine glass workshop by Riedel, one of the world’s oldest manufacturer of wine glasses.  Riedel (pronounced “REE-dul”) is a 300-year old crystal company in Austria.  They claim to be the first company to recognize the fact that the shape of the wine glass affects the taste.  They have even gone as far as designing specific glasses for specific wine varietals.  We were able to taste wines in the various glasses, and I can tell you we were blown away at how much of a difference there was in terms of the bouquet and flavor of the wine.

They have glasses for all the most common wine varietals, such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Riesling, Chardonnay and of course Cabernet and Merlot.  They also have glasses for dessert wines like port and sherry.  Each glass has a different shape to accent the flavor profile of that particular varietal.  The design is so intricate, even down to the shape of the glass and the size of the opening.  This allows just the right amount of air to enter the glass, and it also helps to direct the wine onto the most ideal points of your tongue for maximizing the flavor.  They even have an app for your smartphone that helps you to pick the correct glass for the wine you are drinking.

Since attending this class, Brian and I have only enjoyed our wines with these glasses, and I honestly don’t think I can do them justice, you just have to try them yourself.  You can just feel the quality of the glass in your hand, and you will probably find new wines that you might not have liked before.  Brian used to hate pinot noir, but we found out that we were just using the wrong glass.  Now that he drinks it from a proper Riedel glass he thinks it is delicious.

I strongly recommend these wine glasses if you are serious about enjoying the flavor of your wine, not just the alcohol haha! I guarantee that if you serve your wine in these glasses at your next party or get together, your guests will think that you are a supreme wine connoisseur for picking out such delicious wine.  Whether or not you tell them the secret is up to you.

You can find Riedel stemware around at many stores such as Macys, Bloomingdales, and Amazon.  Right now they’re on sale at Macy’s and I see they have monogram stemware available.  Amazon is also a winner with prime 2 day shipping.  Try them out and let me know what you think.  Salut!

 

MAKE YOUR OWN VANILLA EXTRACT

MAKE YOUR OWN VANILLA EXTRACT


I can’t believe that summer is coming to an end.  Where has the summer gone?  Oh yes…I remember…watching Netflix , taking my kids to the pool, and drinking wine.  Ok, maybe I can believe it.  I love summer but the heat always makes me excited for fall.  With fall baking around the corner it’s time to get a batch of homemade vanilla extract going.  You can do this, it’s super easy.  Your inner Martha Stewart is dying to come out.  You want to give your vanilla extract a good 2 months to be ready, so grab your supplies and let’s get going so we’re ready for fall.

Supplies you need:

vodka

glass bottle or jar

vanilla beans

Any cheap vodka will do as long as it’s unflavored.  By all means save your money and use the cheapest.  Using a higher quality vodka isn’t necessary but it’s what I had on hand.  We aren’t big vodka drinkers so I’m using a higher quality because otherwise it will just sit in my cabinet…I don’t even remember why I bought this vodka.  It was probably that time I made Moscow Mules.   You want to use a glass jar or bottle, size-wise it should hold at least 8 ounces.  I bought the Hermetic Glass Flask from The Container Store, it holds 17 ounces.  That store is my drug!  I love everything in there, it seems I can’t stay out of that store!!  They also sell smaller bottles that are perfect for giving smaller amounts away as gifts.  You can also probably find a variety of glass bottles on Amazon.

 

Besides vodka the next step is to track down some vanilla beans.  I almost ordered some off Amazon but with some negative reviews I chickened out last minute.  I’ve made my own vanilla extract for years and I’ve always been very pleased with the quality of the Madagascar vanilla beans from Beanilla.  So I went back to my trusty source.

I have seen vanilla beans sold at a grocery store, but they seem very overpriced, thin, and hard.  A speciality grocery store could have better quality than the ones I found.  These beans from Beanilla are plump and soft, similar to raisins.  This is not a sponsored or affiliated post, I just really like the quality you get at Beanilla.  Shipping is pretty quick as well.  When you open the sealed package of vanilla beans the smell is incredible!

How many beans should you use?

There are so many different formulas for this.  Beanilla recommends 7 beans per cup of vodka.  You can certainly use their formula but I find that a bit high so I’ve always use less.  A good rule of thumb is at least 3-5 beans per cup of vodka for the best result.  Some people use more and some use less.   I used 7 beans for 12 ounces of vodka.  I try always try to use less to make it more cost effective.  So always use at least 3 beans per cup of vodka and 5 or more is icing on the cake.  If you use less you may just need it to age a little longer.   My 7 vanilla beans from Beanilla were $36.95 plus the cost of the vodka whatever that was.  I know this can seem high but seriously I have vanilla extract that will last me for years.  Plus you can top if off with a little extra vodka as you use it up.  Your homemade vanilla extract will be higher quality than any grocery store vanilla you can find I promise!

What kind of beans should you use?

Madagascar has that smooth classic vanilla flavor.  Mexican has a slight spice to it while Tahitian beans have a more floral fruity flavor.  My usual go to beans are Madagascar but you can certainly experiment and create different blends. Vanilla beans can seem expensive  but then again so is a small bottle of vanilla extract.  You’re making such a large and high quality batch of vanilla extract the cost of the beans is still economical, especially when you realize how long it will last you!

Exactly how long should it age?

Many people will recommend 2 months at least, in my experience for the best flavor I always go a minimum of 3 months.  I feel at 3 months my vanilla is ready for use.  However some say up to 6 months is best.  Honestly the longer it sits the better it tastes but you can absolutely use it at the 2 or 3 month mark.  You can start using it at the 3 month mark for great flavor and it will continue to age to perfection.

With a knife carefully slice along the bean leaving the ends intact.  Cut deep enough so the beans open up and you can see the squishy seed part but try not to cut all the way through the bean.

Measure your vodka out per how many beans your using and pour it into your jar or bottle.

My husband came home to a nearly empty vodka bottle on the counter.  Haha…I had to explain to him that I didn’t need rehab I was just making vanilla extract.

Add your vanilla beans to the vodka filled bottle or jar, add the lid and give it a good shake.  Oh by the way while slicing your beans if you had any vanilla bean goo leak out you can add that to the vodka as well.  You can even have a little taste, I personally love it!

The presence of the vanilla bean flakes is just fine, it adds a homemade touch and says yes I’m the real deal.  Plus those little vanilla flakes will only make your food better I promise.  While your vanilla is aging over the next couple months you can occasionally check on it and shake it up.

Be sure to date your vanilla because I’m telling you, you think you’ll remember when you started but you probably won’t.  You’ll be scratching your head trying to remember how long your vanilla has aged.

When storing vanilla extract it should be kept in a dark cool space.  So no storing above your oven, near the dishwasher, or in a sunny spot.  My vanilla is hanging out in a dark spot in my pantry and has made friends with the almonds and peanuts so luckily it’s not lonely and won’t mind chilling for a while.

 How long does vanilla extract last?

Store bought imitation vanilla extract can last you about 2-4 years.  Homemade vanilla extract should last indefinitely.  So make a big batch and rest assured you’re covered with amazing vanilla for years!

Look at this, we have a big bottle of vanilla extract!  We’re ready to bake pies, cookies, cakes….anything your heart desires!  Plus as it ages you’ll get even more rich vanilla goodness!

Gift giving

In terms of gift giving I recommend giving vanilla extract that has aged 3 months.    At this point it has a nice rich color and full flavor.  If you started late then at least wait 2 months before gifting.  I’ve seen some people that give small bottles of freshly made (clear) unaged vanilla as gifts with instructions to let it age before use.  I think if you want to make the best impression for a gift it should be ready to use immediately.  When gifting your aged vanilla extract I recommend adding a bean or half a bean.  Not only does adding a vanilla bean give a really great visual and a decorative homemade touch,  it lets the vanilla aging process continue.  You do not need to use a new bean, a previous soaked bean from your larger bottle is just fine.  Pour your extract in a smaller bottle, add a ribbon and a tag and what an adorable gift you have!  It’s very cost effective for you and it’s a very useful fun gift to receive!

You can absolutely bargain shop other places for beans and try to get your vanilla extract cost even lower.  Regardless of cost, any time I make my own vanilla extract my desserts, cocktails and baked goods tastes amazingly better compared to store bought extract!  As you use your vanilla you can gradually add little bits of vodka to replenish your stash.  Just make sure it maintains its rich color.  You can even add a bean here and there if needed.

If you’ve experimented with different beans and blends or know of other recommend vanilla bean suppliers leave me a comment and let me know.  I love to share and I love to learn through others!  Happy baking!