Monday, December 26, 2011

Quick Cinnamon Rolls

EDITED: I added pictures this year, but the pictures are of a double batch!  Doubled, the rectangle measured 9" x 26" when rolled out.  Merry Christmas! 

Happy Holidays everyone!  Growing up, my family always had Pillsbury cinnamon rolls for breakfast on Christmas morning.  They’re a treat, they’re fast, and we could eat them in the living room while we played with our new toys.  A few years ago, I got sick of how gross they were, even if they were tradition, so I decided to make them from scratch.  The first year I made the recipe from New Best Recipe, which is my all time favorite cookbook, but I didn’t care for how many ingredients there were, and they had cloves in the filling, which in my mouth didn't jive.  So I went about putting together my own version, and this is what eventually formed.  I will warn you, these are SWEET, but since we only have them once a year, they are an awesome treat, and still a great thing to eat in the living room while the next generation plays with their new toys.

You will need

For the dough-

2 cups flour ($3.29 per 5 lb, $3.29/80 oz = $.04 x 11oz = $.45)
2 ½ tsp baking powder ($1.59 per 10 oz, $1.59 per 10oz, $1.59/ 59.06 tsp = $.03 x 2.5tsp = $.07)
2 tablespoons sugar ($3.67 per 5 lb, $3.67/ 80 oz = $.05 x .94oz = $.05(ish))
5 to 6 Tbsp organic butter plus 1 to 1 ½ for brushing ($4.99 per box, $4.99/32 Tbsp = $.16 x 7.5 Tbsp = $1.17)
¾ cups organic milk ($6.35 per gallon, $6.35/128 oz = $.05 x 6oz = $.29)

For the filling-

¾ cup unpacked dark brown sugar ($.99 per 16oz, $.99/ 2.35 cups = $.42 x .75 cup = $.32)
¼ cup granulated sugar ($3.67 per 5lb, $3.67/80 oz = $.05 x 1.88oz = $.09)
2 teaspoons cinnamon ($1.97 per 2.37oz, $1.97 x .067 oz = $.13 x 2 tsp = $.26)
1 tablespoon melted organic butter ($4.99 per box, $4.99/32 Tbsp = $.16)

For the icing-

2 tablespoons organic butter, melted ($4.99 per box, $4.99/32 Tbsp = $.16 x 2 = $.32)
1 cup sifted powdered sugar ($1.77 per 32 oz, $1.77/7.5 cups = $.24)
3 tablespoons organic milk ($6.35 per gallon, $6.35/128 oz = $.05 x 1.5oz = $.08)
½ teaspoon homemade vanilla ($.01 per ml, $.01 x 2.46 ml = $.02)
Spencer uses the pastry blender to mix it up.
Heat the oven to 450.  Combine the flour, sugar, and baking powder in a bowl.  Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  Add the milk and mix it in with a rubber spatula.  Add a bit more milk if the dough isn't cohesive (Side note- this is essentially a biscuit, so mess with the dough as little as possible or it’ll get tough).  Dust a rolling surface with flour, and pat the dough into a rectangle.  Brush the dough with 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons melted butter.

In a small bowl combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and butter.  Spread this evenly over the dough, leaving a bit of room around the edge.  Press the sugar into the dough.  Roll the dough longwise into a log.  Cut the log into eight pieces by cutting in half, the cutting the halves in half to keep them uniform.  Fit the rolls into a greased 9" round cake pan.  Bake on the middle rack for about 23 minutes or until the tops are dark golden brown. 

Meanwhile, combine in a small bowl melted butter, powdered sugar (if you don’t  sift it, it looks terrible but will taste just fine), and vanilla for the icing.  Add enough milk to make the icing slightly runny.

Always a hit, there won’t be any left! Hence the lack of pictures....
Try It:

$3.59 for 8 buns

Buy It:

$2.00 for 8 buns


Worth the extra $1.59 and time, I promise.  Try It.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Marshmallows, Take II

After posting my Hot Cocoa link on Facebook, one of my many awesome cousins, Meghan, asked if I had tried Marshmallows.  I told her I had, but they were horrible, so she offered her favorite recipe plus a few tips so I could try again.
Homemade hot cocoa with a homemade marshmallow.

The recipe comes from Martha Stewart, back in 1996.  It’s really not so different from the AltonBrown recipe.  Though I followed them loosely, Meghan's tips were definitely helpful:

1.       Watch the candy thermometer closely.
2.        Pour out onto a silicone sheet.  Dust top and sides with cornstarch then flip and coat that side. This makes everything a lot less sticky for cutting.
3.       Coat scissors with vegetable oil then cut over a bowl of cornstarch so they fall in there. Fish them out and shake off excess powder. (using cornstarch instead of confectioner's sugar helps to keep them from becoming overly sweet)

You will need

2 ½ Tablespoons unflavored gelatin -about 3 packets of Knox ($1.79 per 4 packets, $1.79 x .75 = $1.34)

1 ½ cups granulated sugar ($3.67 per 5 lb, $3.67/80 oz = $.05 x 11.25 oz = $.52)

1 cup light corn syrup ($2.49 per 16 oz, $2.49/2 = $1.25)

¼ tsp salt ($.47 per 26 oz, $.47/ 30.69 tsp = $.02/4 = less than $.01)

1 Tbsp (homemade) vanilla- recipe called for more ($.01 per ml, $.01 x 14.7867648 ml = $.15)

Confectioner’s sugar or corn starch for dusting
Watching the thermometer with all the patience I could muster!

Steaming mixer
Beautifully glossy mallow.

I followed the recipe closely, up until the part where you pour it into an 8 x12 glass baking dish.  I couldn’t find my silicon mat, and I didn’t have a glass 8 x 12, so I heavily dusted a 9 x 11 metal cake pan with confectioner’s sugar, patted out the mallow with confectioner’s and wet hands like it said, and let it sit overnight…. Okay, more like 22 hours, I got distracted what with the holidays and visiting family.  Then I pried it out of the pan with a long icing knife (it did not release easily).  

I cut it with a chef's knife; I wanted them to look uniform because if they turned out well, I would gift them.  Working in batches I tossed the cubes of mallow in a lidded bowl of cornstarch.  To shake off the excess I rolled them in my palms like they were cookie dough balls.
My block of marshmallow turned out onto the cutting board
My messy but effective cubing process
They were easy to make, not a hassle.  But I have two big issues with food in general, made a little ridiculous with pregnancy: 
1.       I am very smell sensitive, always has been.
2.       I have weird issues with texture, which is why I don’t care for shrimp or fish roe or jello. 

What does this have to do with marshmallows?  Well, I never got over the smell of the gelatin.  I thought it was a good idea that there was a full day between the making and the tasting, hoping that the memory of the smell would fade.  Not so.  As for texture, it was actually quite nice.  I think watching the thermometer like Meghan suggested helped that a lot. 

In the end, I just didn’t care for them.  To me, they just taste like barn.  I don’t think that other people taste what I taste, though.  My sister liked the first batch, and my mother-in-law liked these okay, too.  I think it’s just me!

Try It:

$3.26 for 26.4oz, or $.12/oz.

Buy It:

$.97 for 10oz, or $.09/oz for store brand regular sized marshmallows. 


I think for my personal use, I’ll Buy It.  Other people seem to like them, so I think I’ll still gift them, but this is the last time I try gelatin based marshmallows.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hot Cocoa Mix

I used to drink a lot of Swiss Miss.  I know, it’s not that exciting, but coffee is out of the question for me after about 4 o’clock, and I love to wrap myself around a mug in the afternoon.  I decided a while back that I wasn’t going to buy anymore hot cocoa, I was going to make some myself.  Now that it’s getting chilly, I thought I’d actually get on that.

I did a lot of looking for both drinking chocolate (the uber-thick rich kind) and hot cocoa (like Swiss Miss).  As much as I love drinking chocolate, it sounded like something you need to make a batch of and enjoy with grown up friends, not something you can spoon out and warm up and sip on the couch while your kid runs around like a crazy person.  

Among all the hot cocoa recipes, I liked Alton Brown’s the best- it was simple, it had good ratings, and despite the disgusting marshmallows, Alton generally makes great stuff.

You will need
2 cups powdered sugar ($1.77 for 32 oz, $1.77/ 7.5 cups = $.24 x 2 = $.48)

1 cup cocoa powder ($3.00 for 8 oz, $3.00 x 2.8125 cups = $1.07)

2 ½ cups powdered milk ($3.89 for 3 cups, $3.89 x 5/6 = $3.24)

1 tsp salt ($.47 per 26 oz, $.47/ 30.69 tsp = $.02)

2 tsp corn starch ($1.49 per 171 tsp, $1.49/171 tsp = $.01 x 2 = $.02)

1 pinch cayenne pepper (less than $.01)
Hot Cocoa ingredients, ready to mix.
All shook up.
 Throw it all in a Tupperware and shake it up.  He doesn’t say so, but I would highly recommend sifting the cocoa and sugar.  I hit a couple clumps when I was drinking, and it was not pleasant.  I scooped a ½ cup of the mixture into two different mugs.  I poured hot water in one, and whole milk in the other.  The water one was very cocoa-y, and very tasty.  Then I tasted the milk one- it was rich and creamy and delicious.  I will say that once it cooled a bit it tasted a little sweet, so I may tone down the sugar next time, but milk is the way to go if you ask me.

Milk on the left, water on the right.  Both delicious!
Try It:

$4.83 per batch that makes 5.56 servings, or $.87/serving.

Buy It:

Swiss Miss is $5.49 for a 19oz canister that makes 28 servings, or $.19/serving.


Well, it was tasty, but was it 4.5 times tastier?  It’s a tough call, but I’m going to say yes.  This will be a Try It for me from now on.  The price will go down a little if I buy the larger sizes of powdered milk and cocoa, but not by much. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Vanilla Extract, Part 2

Hey, remember those two mason jars full of vodka and vanilla I put aside months ago?  No?  Well, feel free to read the first part of this post from back in August.   Technically the vanilla was ready last week, but I needed to choose a worthy test of vanilla extract before I could write about it.  In the end, I chose Vanilla Pudding for its simple flavor and uncomplicated recipe to make the comparison.  

First of all, let's talk about the look and smell of the vanillas.  Store bought is the familiar dark dark brown, with the scent of rubbing alcohol.  Homemade looks like murky water, and smells like, you guessed it, vodka.
When I was looking into making vanilla back in August, I read so many reviews of various recipes that complained that their vanilla smelled like vodka, not vanilla.  I don't think they every stuck their nose in a bottle of vanilla.  It smells terrible!  Oh- the comparison vanilla is Food Lion brand.  One thing that the Food Lion vanilla has that mine does not on the ingredient list is corn syrup.  I don't really know why that would be there, and I'm equally baffled at the "Pure Vanilla Extract" label when clearly it is not.

Anyway, onto the pudding.  I tasted them over and over again, and I really couldn’t tell the difference, but I thought it might just be my pregnant taste buds.  The store bought vanilla made a pudding that was very slightly darker and thicker.  I asked my husband to help me out, and he thought the pudding with store bought vanilla was very slightly more “vanilla-y”, but when I said that maybe my vanilla needed a few more beans, he said that was unnecessary.  
Side by side comparison

So, I think I’ll say the verdict is Try It.  I still may add a bean or two to each jar to strengthen it a bit before Christmas.  Once we’re close to gift giving time, I’ll strain it though cheesecloth, and pour it into some small bottles or jars to give out to my loved ones.  Anyone else have some vanilla going that they’ve tested?     

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cranberry Sauce

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday.  It’s not built up, or dragged out, it’s just a great meal with family and friends, and a day set aside to be thankful for everything and everyone we have around us.  What a concept! Plus, the food is generally simple and inexpensive, mostly native to the US, and always delicious. 

We always had canned cranberry sauce growing up.  I never could stand cranberry sauce, I disliked the texture, tartness, and presentation.  I clearly remember the first time I had homemade cranberry sauce.  I was in college, and my sister had just moved to New Orleans.  She wasn’t going to make it home for Thanksgiving, so I went down to spend the holiday with her.  We made a whole feast, even though there were only three of us.  I don’t know what made us decide to make the saucy leap, it might have had something to do with the combination of our first Thanksgiving we cooked ourselves, and the fact that my sister had spent the previous Thanksgiving in Ireland, and was keen on doing it up right.  In any case, at the time, it was mind blowing for two reasons:  It was so tasty, and insanely easy.

I have tried a few variations since that New Orleans feast- apple cider infused, orange cran.,  and they’re fine, but I prefer the basic recipe on the back of the Ocean Spraycranberry package myself.

You will need

1 cup sugar ($3.00 per 5lb, $3.00/80 (servings per bag) = $.04)

1 cup water

12 oz cranberries, fresh or frozen ($2.50)

I love how they all pop in the heat.
Bring the water and sugar to a boil over medium heat.  Add the cranberries, bring it back to a boil.  Then turn the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Pour it into whatever you’re going to serve it out of, and let it cool to room temperature covered.  Then refrigerate till you’re ready to use it.
Cooling on the counter
Ready for Thursday, one for each end of the table.

Try It:

$2.54 for 22.5oz, or $.11/oz.

Buy It:

$1.50 for 14oz can of whole berry Ocean Spray sauce, or $.11/oz.

It’s the same price, has no corn syrup, and is actually worth eating!  Absolutely Try It if you haven’t already, even if you always thought cranberry sauce was disgusting!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thin Wheat Crackers

We eat a lot of Wheat Thins in this house, generally accompanied by hummus or cheese, but also just by themselves.  I was a little nervous about making these because we are all so fond of the store bought variety, but I thought  it was worth a shot.  I followed this recipe from Allrecipes.
Ingredients, ready to go
You will need
1 ¾ cups stone ground organic wheat flour ($1.39 per lb $1.39 x .656 lb = $.91)
1 ½ cups organic all purpose flour ($1.39 per lb, $1.39 x .516 lb = $.72)
2 tsp salt ($.79 per 26 oz, $.79/122.75 tsp = .006 x 2 = $.01)
1/3 vegetable oil ($2.49 per qt, $2.49/ 12 1/3 c servings = $.21
Mix it all up
Roll it out and transfer to a baking sheet
The secret to these is rolling them very thin, and baking them till they are decently dark.  If they aren’t thin or crispy enough they taste like salty cardboard.  Baking them for 25 to 30 minutes lets all the moisture out and allows the wheat flavor to shine.  The recipe says it will all fit on one sheet, which is what I did, but they were too thick.  The edge pieces were good, but the center was too thick, and too cardboardish.  Someone on the site recommended a pasta roller which sounds like a really good idea, but I don’t have one.  There also bands you can buy to put n your rolling pin to ensure even thickness, but I don't have those, either.
Score the dough into small crackers, poke it all over with a fork, and throw some salt on it.
once they're cool, break them on the score marks and enjoy with your favorite dip
Try It:
One batch cost $1.85, for about 20 oz, or $.09/oz
Buy It:
A Family Size box of Wheat Thins cost $4.49, or $.28/oz
They’re not my favorite.  I would Try It once, and see how you like it.  They’re so easy and cheap you won’t set you back anything, but I don’t know if I’ll make them again, I’d rather Buy It.
Anyone have a better cracker they’d like to share?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Christmas Tree Ornaments

Crazy as it is, Christmas is upon us once again.  By the beginning of November I like to have at least a basic plan for gifts, since a few years back I switched to making bags of homemade things in lieu of store bought gifts for most of my family.  One thing I like is homemade ornaments.  There’s a whole range of homemade ornaments on our own tree- We have hand carved wooden ones from my father in law, mixed medium ones from my sisters in law, crocheted ones handed down from my husband’s grandmother, and re-purposed items turned into ornaments (a tradition in my family).
Old toys make great ornaments!

hand carved boot and beautiful dove from my father in law

Fun wire and bead ball from my sister in law

Heirloom crocheted balls and my crocheted snowflakes

Handcrafted ornament from my sister in law

There are also two things I made on our tree.  Last year I taught myself to crochet from watching youtube videos so I could make snowflakes.  I found these great instructions on MarthaStewart, and cranked out enough for two styles for each of my recipients.  There are also these adorably hokey reindeer I figured out based on ones on our tree growing up.  My favorite part is that it’s the perfect size to hide a Hershey's kiss inside!

You will need

Googly eyes ($2.99)

Brown or tan pipe cleaners ($.99)

Brown yarn ($2.99 for 364 yards)

Plastic craft grid ($1.99)

Small red pom poms (about $.99, we've had them for years)

Large needle- either a tapestry needle or a plastic canvas needle, not a yarn needle, it's too big ($1.29)

Glue (craft or Elmer's) ($1.49)

Cut out three 10 x 10 squares out of the grid, snipped at the lines so there aren’t stubs on the edges.  Cover all three grids on yarn, working diagonally over the crosses.  Connect the three squares, tucking all the yarn in, knotting and tucking as needed to secure the ends.   On the mouth, go around the edge to cover the plastic around the edge, going through the corner three times to cover the whole corner.  Poke the pipe cleaner through the top sides and bend to shape the antlers.  Glue the eyes and pom pom nose on.  A little ridiculous? Sure, but wonderful all the same.

I kept going onto the second square for efficiency's sake, then bound two sides to form 1/2 the mouth

This shows the back of the squares.  Notice the yarn has been threaded though the yarn on the back so I could sew up the whole 1/2 mouth in one go.

1/2 the mouth and the back

Third square, two sides bound to form the other 1/2 of the mouth.
Looking at the side, while holding the mouth shut.

All sides bound and put together, ready for the trimmings!

The antlers are stuck through the back towards the top.

And done!  the antlers are just twisted, and the nose and eyes are glued.
 Try It:

If you had to buy everything new, you're looking at $12.73 to make oodles of reindeer. At this point in my crafting career, I had to buy nothing.

Buy It:

Well, I doubt you will find this for sale, but ornaments span the whole price range depending on what you're looking for.


Really, this is a decision based on aesthetics.  For me it's Try It, because I really love funky ornaments, but I realize it's not for everyone.

Monday, October 31, 2011

costume cloak

So in case you didn’t notice, I never posted last week.  It’s not that I didn’t make anything, I just ran out of time between work, an essay I had to write, preparing for Halloween, and everyday life.  What I did make was a big mess that was supposed to be chocolate haystacks (my chocolate seized), and a Halloween costume for my 2 year old.
My little Hobbit

My son happens to be obsessed with the animated version of The Hobbit, so it was only fitting to make him a Bilbo Baggins costume for Halloween.  (Don’t know what I’m talking about?  It’s on youtube in 6 parts, check it out!)  The whole thing cost me about $9, mostly in fleece for his cloak.  The cloak was so easy, and came out so well, that I thought I’d share.  While I realize this is not helpful for this Halloween, if you or someone you love likes to dress up on a regular basis (like my kid, or my college roommate), it's an easy project.

You will need:

Fleece material (depends on the size of your cloak, I needed 40”) ($5.55)

Coordinating thread (free, left from previous projects)

marker and a string (free, found in the house)

I used this very helpful though somewhat odd set of directions for the cloak.  I’m embarrassed to admit I had to look up the formula to find the diameter of a circle in order to measure the cloth needed: d = c/π (my Algebra teacher husband wasn’t home).  
Measure around the neck for the inner semi circle.  Measure from the collar to the end length for the flat edge.  So in our case, the neck was 5½“, and the length was 27”.  To cut this part of the cloak out, fold your cloth in half and smooth it out.  Tape your string to the sharpie, measure out your radius (27¾“  in our case), and hold the non sharpie end to the corner.  I did this with a large sewing needle taped to the string shoved into our carpeted floor, but you could just hold it steady.  Hold the sharpie as level and steady as possible, and draw a quarter circle onto the fabric.  Repeat this process for the inner circle (in our case, a 1¾“ radius).  Using your sharpest scissors, cut out your cloak with the fabric still folded.  Keep in mind that there is no hemming, so this edge will show!  Cut carefully and be mindful of which side of the sharpie line your cutting on so it doesn’t show up on the cloak.  

The second part is the hood.  This is a rectangle.  The short side is the depth of the hood; if you like an overhang, add a few inches.  The long side is the length from your shoulder, up over your head, down to your other shoulder.  To create the hood, fold the long side in half and sew it up.  Sew the hood to the neck semi circle of the other part.  My hood length and collar length didn’t match, so I sewed it on, matching the halfway mark of both pieces up, then I laid the cloak down on my cutting mat and just cut off the excess diagonally (leaving the full depth of the hood on top, but getting all the extra hood off at the collar).

Laid out, it doesn't look great, but it shows the diagonal cut on the hood
The only thing left to do is to figure out how you’re going to close it.  I thought about buying a cool metal closure, but it would have added $4 to the cost, so I opted for ties instead.  Using the scrap fabric, I cut ½“ thick ties about 6” long.  Using my sewing machine, I tacked it to the cloak collar.  After cutting all the dangling threads off, it’s done!

Wow, that took a lot to explain.  Definitely look at the original instructions here for some visual help.

Try It:  

 The fleece was on sale for $5.55

Buy It: 

The cheapest cloak I saw on the Halloween Express website was $12.99.


 As a rule, I’m a big fan of homemade costumes.  The cloak took about an hour, and was fun to make.  I will note, this is strictly for dress-up.  It's not a professional wear everyday type cloak.  But for someone like Spencer, I will definitely say Try It.