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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ganache Truffles in Pretty Boxes

I have started referring to this week as "Birthday Extravaganza Week" because most of my favorite friends have birthdays right in a row.  Seriously, five friends in five days.  In honor of my favorite girls, I wanted to whip up a celebratory treat and to me nothing says "let's celebrate!" like chocolate.

I used my old "Luscious Truffles" recipe and switched out the corn syrup for honey and the peppermint and orange zest for espresso powder and raspberry extract.  Yummy.  I have been hoarding saving some small empty jewelry boxes, knowing that someday I would find some use for them and I finally did: they are perfect for truffles.

Double-stick tape was all it took to adhere pretty, coordinating paper to the lids.  Mod Podge would have worked well too, I just didn't want to wait long enough for it to dry.  I lined the boxes with parchment, filled with the truffles, and tied with twine.  Cute and easy.

That's all, folks.

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Black Truffle Salt

Just the other day, I got my first whiff of that swoon-worthy truffle aroma and man, was it delicious.

My husband has an Oregon-based colleague who truffle hunts in her spare time.  Knowing I like to cook, she shared a black winter truffle she and her intrepid hound unearthed just days before a meeting both she and my husband were attending.  I used the advanced notice we got to do truffle research, flip through recipes, and find something that would produce paper-thin shavings of truffle.  (FYI, I got a Microplane chocolate shaver and it worked great for truffles and also for garlic chips that I've done since I got it.)

We invited some friends over for lobster risotto, but even after generously shaving truffle over each bowl (and our side salads), there was still quite a bit left.  Rather than go on a two-day truffle binge, which definitely has it's merits, I decided to stretch out the truffle experience by making truffle salt.  Just a sprinkle of this earthy, infused salt is perfect for finishing anything that needs an umami boost.  And what food wouldn't benefit from a little more umami?  Did you know truffles contain three different umami substances?  That's instant delicious right there.

Here is what you need:

a fresh black truffle
good sea salt (I used Real Salt--sea salt that's pink and speckled because of the minerals still in it, just like Himalayan pink sea salt, but mined in the US; it's great stuff!)

Here is what you need to do:
  1. Put some salt in a glass bowl/jar, then shave in some truffle.  Cover the shavings with salt, then shave a little more truffle in, then cover than with salt.  Repeat and until you've shaved all the truffle you want to shave and make sure it's all covered in salt.  Seal the bowl/jar with a lid so it's air-tight.
  2. Now let it sit.  For a while.  How long you let the flavor infuse is up to you.  I left mine for about two weeks.
  3. Dump the salt and truffle shavings into a food processor and pulse until there are no more large truffle pieces.  Then put the salt back in the glass container OR into smaller jars and give it out as gifts.
A quick note: truffles are moist and add moisture to the salt.  If you're using a sea salt like Real Salt that does not contain anti-caking additives, the truffle salt will be slightly moist and clumpy.  Just so you know.

Okay, so what if you don't personally know someone who can hook you up with fresh truffles?  You'll have to buy one and that's tricky because it's hard to know sometimes exactly what you're getting or how fresh it is.  I found Earthy Delights online--they are based out of Michigan and sell fresh in-season Oregon truffles packed in rice to keep them fresher, longer.  For European truffles, go with a tried-and-true like fine grocer legend Dean & Deluca.

What would you make if you found yourself with a fresh truffle on your hands?

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Craft Day: Stenciled Canvas Totes

As much as I like craft projects that take lots of steps and different supplies, I also like crafting with friends and that's usually the time for a quick and easy project.  These tote bags are about as close to crafting instant gratification as you can get.

Picture this: you invite some friends over, put out a spread of sparkly beverages and savory finger foods, and set up a paint station on a paper-covered table.  Everyone does a little painting, then you all sip and snack and chat, then when everyone is ready to leave the bags are dry and ready to take home (maybe with some yummy homemade goodies tucked inside).  Sounds good?

One note on the paint before we get started.  You could definitely use fabric-specific paint for this project, or even craft paint.  I prefer to use latex wall paint and here's why:  it comes in any color imaginable and you get more in a paint sample jar than in a bottle of craft paint for about the same price.  Also, the smears and drips I've gotten on my paint clothes over the years don't wash out, so it's a pretty safe choice for using on fabric.

Get your hands on these supplies:

blank canvas tote bags (I got mine here, they're cheap and have lots of color and size options)
paint samples or craft paint
foam brushes
painter's tape

1.  Prep your surface.  Paint isn't something you want getting smeared places.  Maybe keep some paper towels handy, too.

2.  If you're using a pre-made stencil, hold or tape it in place on a bag, shake up your paint, and get to work.  Canvas is thick enough that the paint shouldn't soak through to the inside of the bag.

Another stencil option is to make a design on the bag using painter's tape.  Make sure the edges are smoothed down so there isn't any bleeding before you start painting.

3.  Set the painted bags aside to dry.  Dry time depends on all sorts of factors, but the paint should be dry in an hour or so.

Pretty easy, right?  This is also a great way to make goodie bags for kids' parties instead of buying themed paper bags.  My oldest did this for his birthday and all his friends were excited to go home with a bag with their name painted on it.

Bye for now,

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

DIY Wool Dryer Balls

I'm just going to come out and say it, I have a thing against dryer sheets.  The scented ones smell too overpowering and chemically for me.  The unscented ones might smell better, but I know they're still leaving chemicals on my clothes and I'm pretty much always going to vote against adding chemicals to my life.  At some point in the last year or so I decided that I just wasn't going to use dryer sheets anymore, but I started the search for a replacement because, really, who wants to wear stiff clothes?

I saw some wool dryer balls on The Grommet and they got stuck in my head.  According to the description, these magical balls of wool last forever, soften clothes, remove wrinkles and static.  Those would be sooo much better than dryer sheets.  And then I realized, they're just felted balls of wool.  Felted, like when you accidentally wash a sweater in hot water and it mats together.  Felted, like that thing you can do at home with yarn and your washing machine.  I think you see where I'm going with this.

I made some dryer balls and after using them for months, I can honestly say that they make a difference.   Not only does the laundry come out soft, but I would also say it's less wrinkled.  I also notice that when I don't find all the dryer balls to put in the next load, the ball-less load is more static-y, so the static thing seems to be true as well.

Want to make some of your own?  It's really easy.  You need some 100% wool yarn--if it's not wool, it won't felt.  Color doesn't matter.  A non-dyed yarn is more natural, but if you have yarn in your stash to get rid of, like I did, that works great, too.

Here's what you need to do:

1.  Make a ball of yarn.  I made my yarn balls 25 grams each (using my handy kitchen scale) and that's been a really good size.  Make sure you tuck the yarn tail under other yarn to secure it.

2.  Put the yarn balls inside a sock tying off each ball in it's own section of the sock with an extra piece of yarn.  This will keep the yarn from unraveling during the initial trip through the wash.

3.  Wash the yarn balls on hot with a little bit of soap and some laundry.  You need agitation for felting to work, so a load of jeans or towels is perfect.  Then dry the yarn balls and repeat the cycle once again.

4.  After two laundry cycles, free your new dryer balls from their sock cocoons and they should be good to go.  You will still be able to see yarn strands, but as long as the balls aren't unraveling, you can start using them and they will continue to mat together with each subsequent load.

If you want scented laundry, put a few drops of an essential oil you like on each dryer ball and that will make your clothes smell nice without the nasty chemical undertones.


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Saturday, January 18, 2014

And now I'm back . . .

. . . from outer space.  I'll pause to let you finish singing.

Okay, now we're all back.  I never meant to be gone from blogging for so long.  I meant to take an unplanned several-week-long break and get right back to it, but obviously, that didn't happen.  I wish I had a good excuse involving spotty internet coverage and something cool, such as climbing K2 or trolling Loch Ness for a monster or actually going to outer space.  But alas, no such excuse exists, because here is the truth:

I was lazy.

It's sad, but entirely true.  A weird thing happened in my absence, though.  While I was off gallivanting and not blogging, my blog kept growing.  My little website is more popular now than it ever was and for that, my heartfelt thanks goes out to both the original readers who've stuck with me and the new readers who joined on while I was gone.  Much gratitude also goes out to those family and friends who have asked why I haven't posted for a while and encouraged me to keep the blog going.

Lately, I have really missed posting and connecting with all of you, so when I was listing out my goals for the year, I added "write one blog post a week" to the list alongside "try a new vegetable each month" and "have a monthly marriage check-up".

What I'd like to know from you is what kind of posts you'd like to see this year.  Are there any foods or crafts or projects you think I should try?  Let me know and I'll get right on it.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Paleo Banana Pancakes Formula

There are a lot of paleo pancakes out there.  Really, I just Googled "paleo pancakes" as I typed this and got 1,380,000 results.  I guess pancakes are the thing that no one wants to give up making the switch from the Standard American Diet to paleo eating.  And I speak from personal experience, along with cookies, I wanted to know I could still eat some sort of pancake before I made the change.

I may have mentioned this before, but I grew up eating pretty healthy.  My parents still aren't huge carb-eaters, but they make these amazing from-scratch buttermilk pancakes that are much anticipated by the whole family when we have breakfast-time visits.  However, paleo eating negates the consumption of these pancakes.  One great thing about my mom is that she's on-board with healthy food changes, so she immediately set out to fix the pancake problem.  I mean, what else are we supposed to eat when we go over for breakfast?  Well, my husband would say the sausage-pepper-onion egg thing my mom also makes, but eggs are not my thing (kind of ridiculous, no?).

So this is the baseline new pancake recipe in a handy formula format.  Just take "one" of each of the ingredients and you get eight pancakes which will feed one hungry adult (with maybe a pancake or two leftover) or two hungry kids.  We've fancied it up from time to time and I'll post that sometime in the future.

Let me just put this out there: if you are used to pancakes made from mix that comes from a box (gasp!) that are fluffy and bounce a little when they hit the plate, this is not going to be your recipe.  These are great pancakes, I really think you'll like them, but they will not pass for regular pancakes (and neither will any other paleo pancakes out there, no matter what the recipe says).

Want a printable copy?  Click here or on the image of the recipe.

If you were switching to a new way of eating, what's one food you would absolutely still need to be able to eat?  Pancakes?  Cookies?  Ice cream?

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Technique of the Week: DIY Lip Balm

I used to love those lip balm orbs--they look cool, the colors are fun, the flavors smell fantastic, and the ingredients are natural and junk-free.  I had a couple in my purse and a couple at home and I used them all the time.  Until I had some sort of reaction to the lip balm, yuck.  I'll spare you the details, but I had to cease and desist and find something else, which was irritating because there isn't much out there that's more natural or free of unnecessary chemicals.

So I did what any normal person would do and looked into making my own lip balm.  Because all the normal people I know are cooking up lip balm in their kitchens.  Right?  You guys are, aren't you?  Turns out, it's quick and easy AND you have the benefit of complete control over all the ingredients you use.

The basic recipe is one part wax to two parts solid oil, plus essential oils for fragrance.  Here's what I used:

2 ounces natural yellow beeswax pellets
3.75 ounces coconut oil
0.25 ounce pure lanolin
lemon essential oil
peppermint essential oil

Put the beeswax, coconut oil, and lanolin in a small saucepan and melt over low heat.  I just put my tiny saucepan on my kitchen scale and measure everything right into it, since the measurements are by weight anyway.  Once the ingredients are fully liquified, remove from heat and add essential oils to your preference.  Make a little sample to make sure you like the balm by dipping the tip of your finger into the mixture and trying it.  Pour the lip balm into whatever container(s) you are using and let it solidify.

I had some standard lip balm tubes that I used a pipette dropper to fill and I found that I needed to keep the liquid lip balm over low heat while I filled the tubes, otherwise the pipette would quickly clog with solidified lip balm.  The above recipe filled twenty lip balm tubes and I had some leftover that half-filled a quarter-cup container.

So far I love this stuff and the family and friend consensus is that it's an exact copy of store-bought lip balm.  Win!  I ordered all the supplies at Bulk Apothecary, except for the coconut oil already in my pantry and the lanolin I found at my local food co-op.  Another bonus to making your own lip balm?  It's a lot cheaper when you make it, approximately 50 cents or less per tube (including the tube and depending on where you get your other supplies).

Are you a lip balm fanatic or could you live without it?  Do you have a fave or will anything do?

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