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!

3 Steps to a No-Stress Cheese Plate

 

Cheese plates are one of my favorite things.  I know you’re shocked about that, especially after the confession in my most recent Waste Not! post, but it’s true.  I love to search out seasonal and regional cheeses and enjoy them as a snack or simple lunch.  But beyond that, I also love to put together more elaborate cheese plates for both holidays and quiet nights at home in front of the fire!  In fact, one of my children’s favorite things to do during winter is to enjoy a cheese plate (which they call a snackie supper) in the living room while watching a family movie—it’s the ONLY time that we don’t eat at the table, so it’s a really special treat for them.  And it’s totally hygga and an escape from the winter blahs!

I think for many people, there’s a real apprehension about serving a cheese plate, especially for a holiday party, because they believe there are so many elaborate “rules” about how to prepare one.  I’m assuming that’s because cheese plates are rooted firmly in French culinary tradition and man alive, do French culinary folks love their rules!  That fork here, this wine there, this course, that sauce, pinky up, elbows down, don’t slurp.  Frankly, it’s exhausting and I have no desire for their rules.  But here’s the thing:  all cultures going back hundreds and hundreds of years or more have their own version of the French cheese plate.  If you deconstruct the idea, a cheese plate is nothing more than an offering of small amounts of seasonal, regional foods.  A few ounces of cheese is combined with fresh fruits, a regional condiment and perhaps a bit of bread or meat and turned into something nutritious and filling.  It’s a great way to turn humble homemade, homegrown or foraged foods into something amazing and I think that’s the direction we need to take when we’re putting together a cheese plate.  Forget the French rules, mon petit ami, and concentrate on the nutrition, flavors and experience!

So I’ll not give you any rules.  I’ll not tell you how to pair cheese, fruit and wine together because who needs that stress?!  But I’ll tell you there are only 3 steps to putting together a primo cheese plate that would be suitable for any humble supper OR holiday party and they are: 1) choosing the cheeses, 2)picking out complimentary foods and 3)presentation.  This is what works for me, but you change it up however will work for you!

Choosing The Cheeses

When assembling a cheese plate, I try to pick out 3-4 good quality cheeses and for my home, I only have 1 hard, fast rule:  No Velveeta or American singles.  Those barely qualify as food; in fact, the package indicates it’s not even a cheese, but a pasteurized cheese food product.  (What the heck IS that anyway?!) I typically go for a fresh cheese (such as a marinated mozzarella), an aged cheese (sharp white Irish/English cheddar), a cheese in the Swiss family (Gruyere or Emmental) and a hard or blue cheese depending on what’s available.  There’s no magic combination when you’re picking out cheese; just go for a range of flavors and textures that you think everyone will enjoy.  If possible, shop local cheese shops (Young’s Jersey Dairy, y’all!) but when that’s not possible, just look for the best quality you can afford.  My general rule of thumb is to plan for 4-6 ounces of cheese per person, give or take.  But that’s not a rule.  More of a guideline.

Complimentary Foods

After I’ve chosen the cheeses, I try to add at least one each of the following foods:  a sweet, a sour/spicy and a salty/savory.  That sounds complicated, but it’s really not.  The goal is to provide a variety of flavors as well as nutrition and what you use is entirely up to you.  For me, it’s an opportunity to raid my pantry and showcase homemade goodies, but I’ll also use whatever happens to be available in the fridge at the time.  Don’t get hung up on this:  serve what you enjoy.  That’s the bottom line.  For my family, our normal cheese plate includes:

For the sweets: apple slices, dried fruit, honey or even good quality fruit preserves or chutney

For the sour/spicy: pickles, pickled peppers, marinated olives, mustard, jalapeno jelly

For the salty/savory: brined olives, toasted nuts, dipping oil, roasted red peppers, cured meats, caramelized onions

Whenever possible, I try to offer seasonal items too.  In summertime, we love a handful of ripe cherry tomatoes and fresh raspberries; in fall, ripe pears and apples;  in winter, cranberries, black walnuts and orange marmalade; in spring, strawberries and fresh herbs.

If the cheese plate is a side to a simple meal like a salad or quiche, I’ll stop here.  If however the cheese plate IS the meal, I generally bulk it up with some thinly sliced ham, cocktail shrimp or smoked turkey and a crusty loaf of bread or crackers.  That will provide enough fat and protein to satisfy any appetite!

Presentation

Again, don’t get hung up on the rules.  We don’t need no stinking rules!  I encourage you to make it look beautiful and easy to pick from, but beyond that, it’s your call.  I generally use a large wooden cutting board lined with parchment paper or a heavy  platter for serving and I go for an orderly-disorderly look.  Wedges, crumbles or rounds of cheese are placed between piles of sliced meats, small bowls of preserves, chutneys and pickles with a scattering of nuts and dried fruits here and there.  Really.  That’s it.  The only caveat I would offer would be to keep plenty of space between the cheeses so your mozzarella doesn’t end up tasting like your blue cheese.  Ick!

Listen to my heart, friends…I know that many of you, like my family, live on modest budgets.  At the end of the week, when the bills are paid, the kids are fed and our obligations are met, there’s not a lot of time or money left over for hosting holiday parties.  BUT I also know, based on the response to my Practicing Hospitality post, that many of us want to be people who welcome others into our homes.  So let me challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone.  Use these 3 simple steps to create a holiday cheese plate and then open your doors to your friends and neighbors.  Simple fare, a silly game and a bit of holiday music will make for a night of fun and fellowship!  My best—-A

 

Posted to the SimpleLifeMom Homestead Blog Hop

 

Easy Homemade Baking Extracts

 

Homemade baking extracts are a simple, 2-step process!

It’s early October and you know what that means?  It’s time to start considering Christmas gifts in earnest!  I love making baking extracts for gifts; poured into a cute container with a pretty label, it’s a gift my foodie friends are sure to enjoy.  Honestly, there is no simpler or more inexpensive gift you can make that will be so eagerly anticipated and enjoyed each year than homemade baking extracts.  And with the varieties of herbs and fruits available, the possibilities are limited solely to your imagination.

Let’s get started with vanilla, lemon and cinnamon baking extracts.

As with most extracts, with vanilla you need only 2 ingredients:  quality vanilla beans and a potent alcohol.  I’ll be honest with you, I was shocked the first time I shopped for vanilla beans.  I thought OH LARDY as I researched brand names, country of origin and price.  Especially price.  But as with most things, you can have quantity or you can have quality.  Go for quality.  You’ll taste the difference in the finished project for certain.  Here’s a link to a good quality, fairly priced vanilla bean:  Vanilla Products USA 10 Grade A Prime Gourmet PNG Bourbon Type Vanilla Beans ~5″ (12.5 cm)  Now moving on to the alcohol, for most extracts, a plain, inexpensive vodka is all you need; with vanilla extract, brandy, rum or bourbon are quite nice too.  It just adds another layer of flavor to an already delicious product.  To make your homemade vanilla extract, add 2 vanilla beans for every 4 ounces of alcohol, so for a standard fifth of liquor, you’ll need 10 vanilla beans.  Split the beans from top to bottom exposing the seeds, place the beans in a large bottle or quart Mason jar, add the vodka or bourbon and add a lid.  Set in a cool, dark place, such as inside a kitchen cabinet for at least 6-8 weeks (though longer is better!), giving it a good shake every few days.  When Christmastime rolls around, pour your vanilla baking extract into a cute 4 ounce jar with a single vanilla bean (for presentation) and add a pretty label.  There’s one baking extract done!  Let’s move on to the next!

Lemon baking extract is as easy as the vanilla, but far less expensive.  For this baking extract, you’ll need 2-3 organic lemons and a fifth of inexpensive vodka.  Wash your citrus well then carefully peel the fruit with a paring knife or veggie peeler, taking extra care to avoid the white pith.  (It’ll turn your extract bitter.)  Stuff the citrus peel into a quart jar, cover with vodka and let sit 6-8 weeks, giving it a shake at least once a week.  If you’re gifting this extract, pour the finished product into a pretty jar, label it and it’s ready to go.  Now if you’re exceedingly clever, you can mix the lemon extract with a simple syrup for a very passable limoncello.  But I’ll leave that project up to you.

Last up, cinnamon baking extract!  For this extract, you need 3 inch cinnamon sticks and again, inexpensive vodka, though bourbon would probably be delicious here too.  For a full fifth of vodka, you’ll place approximately 18 cinnamon sticks in a Mason jar and pour the alcohol over it.  Allow it to sit and steep for 6-8 weeks, shaking it up once a week.  If/when you pour the cinnamon baking extract into cute, gift-sized bottles, place a fresh cinnamon stick in the bottle…it just makes a very pretty presentation.  This cinnamon baking extract is fantastic for adding to cakes or cookies, flavoring whipped cream or just added to a favorite coffee for a fantastic kick of flavor.

Not everyone is going to want quarts of flavored vodka sitting around the house, (that’s a LOT of baking extracts!) so let me break this down into smaller, more manageable portions that you can share or keep for yourself!

Vanilla Baking Extract

2 vanilla beans

4 ounces of vodka, brandy, rum or bourbon

Lemon Baking Extract

peel from 1 lemon

4 ounces of vodka

Cinnamon Baking Extract

3-3inch cinnamon sticks

4 ounces of vodka or bourbon

But don’t stop there!  Use that extra vodka or bourbon to make mint extract (1/2 cup of fresh leaves to 4 oz vodka), coffee extract (2T of crushed whole beans to 4 oz vodka), berry extract (1/2 cup muddled berries to 4 oz vodka), orange or grapefruit extract (peel from 1 fruit to 4 0z vodka), coconut extract (1/3cup shredded, unsweetened coconut to 4oz vodka).

I know some of you don’t like the idea of alcohol in your food and home, and I totally appreciate that, so there’s a non-alcoholic option for you!  Vegetable glycerin (VG) makes a very good, alcohol-free baking extract.  Following the same recipe, use VG in a ratio of 3 parts VG to 1 part water.  For the small bottles we just discussed, you’d use 3 ounces of VG and 1 ounce of water to 1 lemon peel, 3 cinnamon sticks or 2 vanilla beans.  Make sense?  Here’s a link to a quality, Kosher vegetable glycerin: Glycerin Vegetable Kosher USP – 1 Quart (43 oz.)

If you plan on gifting these extracts this Christmas, I encourage you to try some pretty bottles like these
(12 Pack – 4 oz. Amber Glass Bottle with Lid for Vanilla Extract, Perfume, Oils, Light-Sensitive Liquids, Refillable Boston Round Bottle from California Home Goods) as the amber glass and tightly-sealing lid will protect your finished product.

And to top it all off, peruse our dear friend Pinterest for cute, free printable labels.  I think these and  these are perfectly adorable for our homemade vanilla extract and I’m sure there are others out there for various other extracts as well.  Give it a try and tell me what you think, sweet friends!