Infused Sugar In Only 2 Steps

 

Okay, I’ll confess that I don’t eat a lot of sugar anymore….but….I used to LOVE my sugar!  In my tea, coffee, iced tea, in cereals, on my winter squash and sweet potatoes.  I unabashedly had a love affair going on with the sweet stuff.  Today, I try to avoid it but when I do indulge, it’s a real indulgence.  (No sugar in my coffee, but I would love a sliver of sweet tater pie, thanks!)  If we choose to indulge, shouldn’t it be of the best quality and the most amazing flavor possible?  That’s my thinking.

Now our grannies have been making infused sugar for ages…not only did it flavor the sugar, it also dried and preserved whatever they added TO the sugar.  Bonus.  And you know how I love bonuses!  Infused sugar is a simple way to add a kick of flavor to everyday foods, use food scraps (such as citrus peels) to reduce waste and it’s also a great, frugal gift that the giftee will appreciate every time they use it!  As with most edibles, there’s a ton of room here for personalization, so if these recipes sound a little meh to you, use your imagination to create blends you will love!

How To Use Infused Sugars

Oh my word, you can use infused sugars anywhere and in anything!  Imagine lemon-infused sugar in your hot tea, lavender infused sugar in your sweet tea, a chili-lime infusion for flavoring ribs or a pork loin, a cayenne infusion for dusting your hot cocoa (trust me!)  or an orange-vanilla bourbon infusion to glaze a ham or to flavor whipped cream for a pound cake.  You could also sprinkle it on top of pancakes or oatmeal, sweeten your coffee, dust fresh fruit with it or add it to your buttered toast.  Doesn’t that sound amazing?!  I gotta tell you, this is making me rethink the whole sugar-free diet thing lol.

 

What You Need To Make Infused Sugars

So as I stated above, the sky is the limit when it comes to infusions, but there are a few rules.  No, not rules, guidelines. There are a few guidelines.

    1. Whenever possible, buy organic sugar.  I know sometimes it feels like you’re being beat over the head with this whole organic thing, but I think in terms of sugar, it’s important to use the best quality product, even if that means spending an extra dollar or two.  With something as elemental as flavored sugar, the difference in taste really will shine through.  Now you CAN use plain old white beet sugar, but brown sugar, cane sugar or even coconut sugar will yield the most interesting flavors, so I highly encourage them!
    2. As much as possible, use dried herbs, flowers, citrus or flavorings.  To yield the best results, you need to use the driest ingredients possible.  It’s not a deal breaker, BUT any moisture you add can create hard lumps and slow the infusion process, so drier is better!
    3. To store the finished product, you need a glass container with a tight-fitting, sealed lid.  No plastic containers please, as it can give an undesirable flavor to the sugar.  I love the old bale-top storage jars, but for gifting, a simple jelly jar with a 2-piece lid works great.

How To Make Infused Sugars

This is the easy part, friends!  To make infused sugar, simply combine the flavorings with the sugar, seal tightly and let it sit for a couple weeks so that the flavor is spread throughout the sugar.  Now there is an exception and I’ll get to that in a minute.  But first, some simple recipes!

Vanilla sugar:  Cover 1 vanilla bean with 1 cup of sugar.  Seal tightly in a jar.

Espresso sugar:  Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 tablespoon of crushed instant coffee granules.  Seal tightly in a jar.

Lavender/floral sugar:  Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 tablespoon of dried culinary flowers (lavender, rosebuds, chamomile, etc).  Seal tightly in a jar.

Cinnamon sugar:  Cover 1-2 cinnamon sticks with 1 cup of sugar.  Seal tightly.

Pumpkin spice sugar:  Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1/4 teaspoon each ground cloves, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg and ground ginger.  Seal tightly.

Cayenne sugar:  Combine 1/2 teaspoon of ground cayenne with 1 cup of sugar.  Seal tightly.

Now we’re going to branch off and make a few sugars using fresh, liquid ingredients.  The procedure isn’t that different, but you have to leave the jar sitting open at least overnight so that moisture from the ingredients can evaporate.  If you don’t, you’ll have some seriously lumpy sugar!  Before you seal these sugars in jars, stir them and check for moisture.  If the sugar feels moist, let them sit opened for another 12-24 hours.

Citrus lime sugar:  Combine 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder and 1 tablespoon of fresh lime zest.  Mix thoroughly then let sit opened overnight for best results.

Citrus vanilla bourbon:  Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 tablespoon of fresh orange zest, 1/2 vanilla bean and 1/2 teaspoon bourbon.  Shake thoroughly to combine then let sit opened overnight.

But don’t stop there!  Imagine your favorite liquors (especially rum and amaretto) or citrus infused into sugar to garnish drinks.  Any combination of spices (cinnamon, allspice, ginger, cloves, nutmeg) will give a warm, holiday flavor to any drink or even better, sprinkled over a dessert.  Brown sugar, sea salt and pungent spices such as black pepper, cayenne, chili and cumin would make an incredible dry rub for a bbq!  Any combination of sweet, spicy and pungent that suits your taste buds is perfect by me!

Again, if you plan on gifting these, think presentation.   Use a small, air-tight container; no Gladware, unless the recipient really likes Gladware, whatever, but be sure the seal is tight or you’ll end up with one giant sugar cube.  Go to Pinterest for some cute downloadable labels and accessorize with items you think may go along with your sugars: some good quality loose leaf tea, your favorite cocoa, a homemade sugar cookie mix, barbeque accessories or whatever floats the recipient’s boat.  I guarantee this will be a handmade gift somebody is going to love!

South Carolina-Style Mustard BBQ DIY

 

 

Alrighty, last week I shared my favorite eastern Carolina sauce with you and while it’s still my all-time, favorite, go-to sauce for smoked meats and earthy greens, I also like a good mustard-based BBQ sauce now and then.  Another quick and easy holiday gift for your foodie friends for Christmas, this sauce also has it’s roots in the immigration of the 1700s.

During the early days of South Carolina’s statehood, the rich soil along the Santee/Broad River watershed was available via land grants to German immigrants wanting to establish family farms (as opposed to English plantation-style farming).  Along with their Lutheran faith and European farming methods, the German settlers also brought mustard with them, which they adapted to fit the smoked and grilled meats they encountered in the Carolina Lowcountry and Coastal Georgia.  And so, South Carolina BBQ sauce was born. There’s your history lesson for today, boys and girls! 

While slightly sweeter than it’s eastern cousin, South Carolina sauce packs a 1-2-3 punch of vinegar + yellow mustard + hot sauce that is only slightly mellowed by the addition of brown sugar.  Amazing on beef brisket, roasted chicken, pulled pork or any other smoked meat, it’s also delicious on fried potatoes and served on a cheese plate with crackers, cheese and sliced meat.  I don’t discriminate, my friends: I’ll eat this stuff on anything.

Now if you try this and you find it’s a bit piquant, it’s so easy to adjust the flavors.  Adding a touch of molasses or honey will both sweeten and add an earthy flavor.  Tomato paste will add body and sweetness.  Chipotles in adobo sauce will add a kick of smokiness and extra heat.  What I’ve posted below for you is a basic, all-purpose sauce, but you can doctor it anyway you want to make it suit your palate.

To make a South Carolina BBQ sauce you need the following ingredients:

3/4 cup of cider vinegar

3/4 c prepared yellow mustard (any brand)

1-2 T light brown sugar ( to your taste)

1 1/2 T butter or oil

2 t salt

2 T Worcestershire sauce

1/4 t fresh ground black pepper

2 t hot sauce to taste (we like Texas Pete’s)

Directions!

Combine all ingredients in small saucepan. Whisk to combine and stir occasionally while simmering for 20-30 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning to your taste.  Let cool and refrigerate overnight before using.  You’ll want to use this within 2 weeks, give or take.    To preserve it, simply ladle into 1/4 pint jars, cap with plastic storage lids and freeze.

This recipes  DOES take a little more time than the vinegar-based eastern Carolina sauce, but it can easily be doubled and frozen in Mason jars for use later, so it’s worth your trouble.   And like the eastern Carolina BBQ sauce, this isn’t found in most national grocery store chains, so it will be a real treat to friends who enjoy tastes of other regions!

Now if you’re planning on giving this as a gift, you’ll need to keep the BBQ sauce frozen til last minute.  (This could probably be safely canned, but given the variation in the acid levels of prepared mustard, it’s best just to freeze it.)  To gift this sauce, I’d create a simple cheese plate with crackers, sharp cheese, pickles,  smoked sausage and a jar of the sauce tucked into a basket with a cheese knife and a small Cutting Board.  OR, go the BBQ route and stock a small Grilling Basket with a BBQ mop, bar towel, a thermometer and a jar of last week’s eastern Carolina sauce.  Both are very inexpensive, very practical gifts that you can personalize for the lucky individual you’re giving it to.

Shared on Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop

Homemade Skincare

The last few years, I’ve been experimenting with homemade skincare and have experienced great success with it.  After my children were born and my thyroid went south, my skin was a wreck!  Dry, dry, I mean uber-dry, sensitive, prone to chaffing, this girl was a hot mess!   So I stopped with all the commercial products and began using what I could find in the kitchen.  Coconut oil, olive oil, oatmeal, honey, natural abrasives and my skin has greatly improved.  Here’s the thing:  our grannies had beautiful skin long before the advent of Pond’s cold cream, commercial astringents, under-eye serums and retinol lotions.  And they had beautiful skin without worrying about the parabens, petroleum by-products and endocrine disrupters that OUR beauty products are laden with.  What if we try something new and do it the old way?  Here are a few quick and easy beauty products that you can make with simple kitchen products.  Added to a pretty jar, they also make beautiful gifts that no women is going to refuse!

Whipped Body Butter– This is so crazy easy I’m almost embarrassed to share it with you!  You need 2 ingredients for this body butter:  coconut oil and essential oils, which are optional.  Add approximately 1 cup of solid coconut oil to your mixer and whip til the coconut oil is light and fluffy, almost like whipped cream.  Add a few drops of your favorite oil:  cinnamon for “warming”, peppermint for “cooling”, lavender for “relaxing” or whatever fragrance you happen to enjoy.  Mix well then scoop gently into a covered container.  To moisturize, just allow a few dabs to soften on your fingertips then massage into your skin.

Invigorating Peppermint Sugar Scrub- This is so, so good for dry wintertime skin and it smells like Christmas, which is a total bonus!  For this simple scrub, combine 1/2 c oil (olive, coconut or sweet almond) in a mixer with 2 cups of granulated sugar and several drops of peppermint essential oil.  Mix til thoroughly combined then pour into a cute covered container.  To use, simply massage into your skin while in a warm shower using your fingertips or a cloth, then rinse well with warm water and pat dry.

Soothing Oatmeal Facial Scrub- I love this for irritated, dry skin!  Combine 1/2 cup of finely ground oatmeal, 1 cup of coconut oil, 2 T of olive oil, 1 T of honey and 1/2 cup of brown sugar.  When mixed, store in a covered container.  To use, apply a small amount to your damp skin and massage very gently.  Rinse well and blot dry.

Simple Homemade Astringent- No more of that odd-smelling stingy stuff!  This astringent is about as simple as it comes!  In a glass container, combine 1 cup of distilled water, 1/4 cup of organic apple cider vinegar and up to 10 drops of essential oil.  Lavender and lemon are nice, but tea tree oil would be great if you have troubled skin.  Shake well and store out of direct sunlight.  To use, simply dip a cotton ball and wipe your face.  Blot dry and moisturize.

Homemade Honey and Aloe Facial Cleanser-  This gentle cleanser is great for sensitive skin, especially during the harsh winter months and only requires 3 ingredients!  Combine 1/4 cup of raw honey, 1/4 cup of aloe vera gel and 1 T of olive or sweet almond oil and pour into a covered container such as a mason jar.   To use, simply massage into skin and rinse well.

As you can see, with the exception of perhaps the aloe vera gel, most of these ingredients can be found in your kitchen cupboards right now.  And as you know, they are naturally anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-acne, and some folks even say anti-aging.  I can’t speak to those things, but I can tell you my skin has never felt better.  No more tight, drawn skin, no more outbreaks and people swear I’m not in 40s, so I’ll take it!  LOL

Okay, as I stated in my Homemade Holidays post, presentation is everything!  If you’re going to give these items as gifts, make the packaging and presentation as beautiful as the product.  For the body butter and scrubs, I would use a basic 4 oz Mason Jar but for something as thin as the facial cleanser and astringent, a better option would probably be Pump Bottles. To finish the look of the bottle, turn to our good friend Pinterest for cute labels.   I love the old-fashioned looking apothecary labels but these Mason jars are adorable too!   You’ll want to be sure to include the product name,  ingredients and the date you made it, for safety’s sake.  Last, be sure to accessorize, my dears!  To your homemade goodies, add a hand-knit spa cloth, perhaps a pair of aloe-infused slippers or a seriously relaxing CD such as Marconi Union Weightless to complete the spa experience!

Care to share some of your favorite homemade skincare ideas?

*Posted to Homestead Blog Hop!

Homemade Holidays!

Okay friends, we’ve turned that corner and we’re officially in the holiday season now and I have to confess that as much as I love Thanksgiving and Christmas,  I get so dreadfully anxious over them.  Or at least I used to.  There’s so much pressure for everything to be “just so”….I blame the Hallmark Channel and Martha Stewart.   A few years ago, it occurred to me how silly it is to trade gift cards with people we don’t talk to or see.  How silly it is to stress over buying the “it” toy of the season that’s going to be set aside 3 days after Christmas and never picked up again.  And my personal non-favorite, running myself ragged trying to accommodate every extended family member in the tri-state area.  Silly.

Now listen to my heart, friends; I’m not against gift buying or decorating or baking or visiting if that brings you joy;  I love all those things!  I’m against the pointless consumerism, stress, debt, anxiety and waste that accompanies the holidays.  That’s not what Thanksgiving and Christmas were meant to be.  We’ve taken 2 beautiful holidays, meant to be times of praise, joy, thankfulness and celebration and turned them into burdens.  Isn’t that just like America?!  My sweet friends, how about we unburden ourselves this year?  Over the next few weeks, let’s deconstruct these frantic times we live in and re-learn to celebrate the holidays like our grandparents did.  Simply.  Thankfully.  Frugally.  How about we share some favorite recipes, homemade gift ideas, start creating realistic traditions and learn to reconnect with our people?

Sound like fun?

Let’s get started by talking about some thoughtful, homemade gifts that we can share with the adults on our lists.  Understand that I’m not under the delusion that our husbands would be thrilled over a pair of hand-knit socks…(Pa Ingalls would but my Mr Lynch, probably not, though he would rave over them for my feeling’s sake!)  But what if we use our talents as a means to stretch our gift budget?  Instead of grabbing a gift card or marked-down appliance or gadget for our parents, neighbors, friends and teachers, what if we made something meaningful?  Something that required our effort instead of our credit cards?  I’m going to throw out some suggestions, just little things I’ve given over the past few years that were well received.

 

  • Tea baskets.  All you need is a simple inexpensive basket, lined with a tea towel and tins of your favorite loose leaf teas.  Bonus:  make your own blends with herbs from the grocery or your own garden.
  • Breakfast Baskets.  Again, a simple, inexpensive basket, lined with a tea towel and filled with goodies for a traditional breakfast.  Tea or quality coffee, a homemade muffin or pancake mix in a Mason jar, an assortment of homemade jams, jellies or butters and a bottle of local maple syrup or honey.
  • Felted Wool items.  Years ago, I made a pair of felted wool mittens and a beanie for a niece and she wore them for years.  Decorated with buttons, bells and ribbons, they can be made into really stylish accessories.
  • Family History book.  Some 10 years ago, I put together a book with family photos, documents, birth certificates and stories for my in-laws and they loved it.  The grandchildren also loved seeing pictures of their grandparents as children.  When the grandparents passed, it quickly became a family heirloom.
  • Cook’s Basket For the person who enjoys time in the kitchen, put together a basket of homegrown herbs, handmade extracts and perhaps copies of treasured recipes.  Salt-preserved herbs and baking extracts are incredibly easy and inexpensive and you are only limited by your imagination!
  • Spa Baskets In years past, I’ve given spa baskets to teachers and bus drivers at my children’s school.  I used cute Wooden Berry Baskets filled with raffia and added a homemade soap, homegrown luffa sponge and a hand knit spa cloth.  Now I’ll be sure to include a lotion bar too!
  • Sweets sampler.  These are always well-loved, especially when they’re stuffed with samples of baklava, potato candy, peanut butter fudge and Guinness Stout cake.
  • Cheese Plates.  On a cute, reusable Cheese Board, I packed summer sausage, homemade pickles, homegrown pickled peppers,  quality hard cheese and homemade candy.  This was my father-in-law’s favorite gift each year, hands down!
  • Flavored Vinegars and Homemade Hot Sauces.  Before I learned to make my own vinegar, I learned to flavor store-bought with the simplest of ingredients such as herbs and berries.  And if you’re looking for something unique for a foodie friend, I’ll be sharing my Carolina-style bbq sauce next week!

When giving a homemade gift, pay extra attention to presentation; that seems to make all the difference, in my humble opinion.  Invest in quality, reusable bins, baskets or containers instead of buying gift boxes that will be thrown away.   And take the time to dress up your package.  Recycle brown paper bags or Sunday comics as wrapping and tie them up with simple cotton string.  These are a few of my favorite things…..

But seriously, look to your talents and your resources to both bless people and stretch your budget.  The object isn’t to spend the most or buy the biggest or impress but to bless others by using the gifts we’ve been gifted with.  I can honestly say I’d rather receive a homemade-ugly gift that someone put their heart into than an As Seen On TV gizmo that will be donated to the Goodwill in January.   Are you willing to say the same?

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting numerous homemade-simple DIYs that you can give for gifts.  I’ll be posting recipes for homemade spa products, my favorite Carolina-style bbq sauce, hot-process lye soap, flavored sugar, a few very simple canning recipes, an old family-recipe toffee, and anything else I can dream up.  My goal is to present you with an idea for everyone on your list…don’t know if that will happen, but we’ll give it a try!  Til next time!

 

Posted to Homestead Blog Hop!