Wednesday, October 22, 2014

DIY Cough Syrup

Hello! I'm usually fortunate in that I rarely getting sick, even when I've been exposed to people all around me coughing, sneezing and wheezing with whatever's going around. 

But suddenly this past weekend I woke up with nasty chest congestion and achiness all over; I'd been fine at bedtime the night before! Guess I'm not invincible after all, darn it. I attributed this sudden sickness to the overall stress of the home repair/remodeling I've been overseeing for about a month now, plus I've had the added "fun" of  painting the parts of the dining room and kitchen not covered by our insurance claim: sizable amounts of trim, plus doors, a china cabinet, cabinets and shelving units. 

I don't generally like to take a lot of medicines, but I did succumb to some aspirin to help with the overall achiness. Unfortunately, I then developed a cough, which is a drag when you're trying to sleep. Had no cough syrup on hand, but was curious to see if I could find an all-natural version online to make with ingredients I had on hand. 

Came across an easy one via Pinterest - all it has in it is honey (raw preferred) apple cider vinegar (an organic one like Braggs preferred), ground ginger, cayenne and water. I confess that although I had Braggs ACV in my pantry, I had to settle for - gasp - commercial honey. 

I didn't take a photo of the concoction, but basically it looks like a watery reddish-brown solution. It tastes plenty peppery, so if you have a low tolerance for spicy foods it may be hard for you to swallow. I'm of "the more heat the merrier" mindset when it comes to hot peppers, though, so it tasted good to me! And darned if it didn't calm that nasty tickle in my throat.

I can't say whether this will hasten my cold's departure or halt the coughing once and for all, since I took my first dosage only about 20 minutes ago. However, there's a lot of praise for the recipe on the website, found HERE.  So, it looks like I'm in pretty good company by giving it a chance. 

Hope this helps anyone out there! And I also hope I'm spared any more colds this fall and winter. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Thrifty Acres: Vintage Goodies

Hello! Was fortunate this week with vintage goodies making their way to me. The first round was courtesy of a nearby estate sale I attended. Prices were reasonable, so I purchased a few things:

 Postcard with a Dutch scene. The graphics make me think it dates from the 1920's or 1930's. 

An "all metal fireproof" Season's Greeting sign, still in its original package. Not sure of its date, but likely from the 1940's or 1950's. To hammer home the lack of flammability, we are also told that the item "will not burn". The concern over fire made me wonder what sort of flame-prone decoration this sign was meant to replace. 


A trio of hand-crocheted potholders, two shaped like dresses and the other resembling a pair of bloomers. They're in need of a little cleaning but I'm okay with that. 

A close-up of some of the details:


I was a little sad - all that handiwork ended up with a stranger, me. But I will gladly display these potholders in my kitchen, where they'll join a couple of their ilk that I already have.

Not shown is the small bag of vintage handmade doll dresses that I also bought. The fabrics were cute; that was the draw. I thought they'd be fun to hang up for a display. They're in need of some laundering before I can show them off, though. 

But I have to admit, there's one thing even better than low estate sale prices, and that's getting vintage goodies for free! And I was lucky earlier in the week when my friend Libby surprised me with a purchase from a local antiques dealer who occasionally has garage sales. 

Libby had remembered that I'd brought some vintage items back from a garage sale I'd attended while visiting Atlanta this spring. She purchased similar things for me from the antiques dealer, such as:


Above, one of three sets of cotton spun head toothpicks - I think these were supposed to adorn cupcakes or maybe other treats like cubed cheese. All three sets are marked "Japan". I love these! But instead of using these to decorate party foods, I think they cry out to be turned into small dolls.

Vintage Easter decor can be pricy, so I appreciated these as well:


A pair of hard plastic Easter bunnies; their carts are large enough to hold candy or maybe even an Easter egg. Both have a busted ear, but that's fine - it's common to find these in less-than-perfect condition. This duo will join the ones I brought back from the South, seen HERE. They make me wish it was Easter already - but I guess I have to wait for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine's Day first!

Thank you so much, Libby - your thoughtfulness and generousity is much appreciated! 







Thursday, October 16, 2014

Eats: Peanut Butter Penuche

Hello! When I was a kid, class parties to celebrate holidays like Halloween and Christmas were the norm. Nobody seemed to care how many sugary treats and junk foods we ingested on such days either. And with close to 40 students in my class, there was always a ton of cookies, candies and other goodies brought from everyone's homes for party refreshments.

Nobody seemed to have a peanut allergy as well, for the twin sisters in my class, Pam and Patty, often handed out a delicious peanut butter fudge their mom made as their contribution to the parties. This fudge was medium brown in color, slightly grainy in texture, and tasted wonderful to a peanut butter lover like me! 

I can remember the times my own mother made gumdrop cookies for me to pass around at the class parties, but I can't remember what treats the other kids brought - except for that peanut butter fudge. I never thought to ask Pam and Patty for the recipe, though. I wasn't really friends with them, and my mom frowned on candymaking most of the time anyway.

My husband doesn't like peanut butter, so I never sought out recipes featuring that ingredient. However, our daughter came along and she likes peanut butter as much as I do. So, a hunt for a peanut butter fudge like the one I had in grade school was on. 

I tried a couple recipes that sounded promising, but while they were okay, they didn't have the texture that I remembered from my classmates' candy. But a few years back I made the recipe for Peanut Butter Penuche from Gooseberry Patch's Welcome Home For The Holidays cookbook. Lo and behold, besides being very easy and quick to prepare, it came very close in flavor and texture to that long-ago sweet.

Flash forward to the present: we're going to visit our daughter at college over the weekend. I always like to bring her a homemade treat when we do so, but an ongoing kitchen remodel means whatever I made had to be simple. Peanut Butter Penuche to the rescue!

If you'd like to make it yourself, here's the recipe:

Peanut Butter Penuche (adapted from Gooseberry Patch's Welcome Home For the Holidays; recipe was contributed by Betty Monfort)

3/4 cup milk
1 pound light brown sugar
2 cups white sugar
12 ounces peanut butter, either smooth or crunchy
3 tablespoons marshmallow cream (but see my notes below)
2 teaspoons vanilla

Grease a 9x9 pan. Combine milk and sugars in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil; boil three minutes. Remove from heat. Add the peanut butter, marshmallow  cream and vanilla. Beat for a short time, then pour into prepared pan. Cut into pieces while penuche is still warm for easier slicing. Serve after penuche has cooled; it will be quite firm then. 

Notes: the recipe indicates crunchy peanut butter, but my daughter and I prefer smooth, so that's the kind I always use. 

Up until tonight, I'd always added the amount of marshmallow cream listed. However, the one fault this fudge has is that it seems to dry out after a day or two. Working on the assumption that more marshmallow cream would hopefully result in a less dry fudge, I added more to the mixture. How much more? I didn't measure it precisely, just spooned out three blobs of the stuff. It probably was at least double the specified amount in the recipe. Time will tell if the extra marshmallow cream makes a difference in dryness or not, but I thought it worth a try.

I find it helpful to measure the peanut butter and marshmallow cream in advance; that way they're both ready to dump into the cooked mixture right away after it's been taken off the stove. You can do this step while the milk and sugars are being heated to boiling. 

I find that I don't need to beat the penuche any further once the peanut butter and marshmallow cream have blended evenly into the cooked mixture; this candy seems to set up quickly without prolonged beating. See what I mean by very easy and quick?

Keep in mind that the milk/sugar mixture will increase in volume when it reaches its boiling point, so make sure you use a large enough pan. A cooked sugar mixture that has boiled over from a too-small pan = a too-big mess!

The recipe doesn't give a yield, but the amount of penuche made fills up the 9x9 pan pretty well. There's plenty to share and still keep some for yourself if you've got the same peanut butter sweet tooth that I do! 

Here's how my peanut butter penuche turned out, by the way:

One small tin, ready to give to our daughter. I made sure to give her enough to share with friends - not only is that a nice thing to do, but also prevents me from over-indulging in the rest of the batch!



Sunday, October 12, 2014

Eats: Horseradish-Cheese Spread

Hello! I don't recall horseradish being used much as a condiment when I was growing up, as my parents seemed to have a preference for mild-tasting foods. But somewhere along the way I acquired a taste for this pungent flavoring. 

From time to time I've purchased commercial versions of cheese spreads flavored with horseradish; just something to have on hand for a quick snack along with crackers. A couple of years ago I decided to try making this spread at home and turned to the Internet for a good recipe. 

I ended up using one of the simpler ones, which called for Velveeta cheese, horseradish and a few other ingredients. The recipe is named after a well-known cheese spread that originated in a Michigan restaurant called Win Schuler's. 

Win Schuler's Bar Cheese Spread (adapted from an unknown source)

1 pound Velveeta, cubed
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 ounces prepared horseradish
8 drops Tabasco sauce, or to taste (I used more)
4 drops Worcestershire sauce, or to taste (I used more)

Melt Velveeta, then combine with remaining ingredients. Adjust seasonings to taste. Place in covered storage container and refrigerate until of spreading consistency. Serve with crackers, pretzels, etc. 

That's it. The recipe didn't mention how long the cheese spread would keep, but when I made it with commercial Velveeta, it seemed to keep forever. Supposedly, DIY Velveeta is supposed to be good for one month, so I'm guessing that's the optimal storage time for a spread made with it as well. Thus, I only made half of the above recipe.

MY DIY Velveeta worked fine, although the softness factor affected the consistency of the spread. Even after chilling for several hours, it was still more like a dip than a spread. However, I came to realize that the mistake was mine and not the DIY Velveeta recipe's. You see, I used unflavored gelatin that came from a bulk package and evidently wasn't careful enough when I weighed it out on my kitchen scale. I remeasured unflavored gelatin on the scale yesterday and learned that because of my previous error, I'd used less than half the amount of unflavored gelatin in my Velveeta clone. No wonder it had turned out too soft! 

Oh well, it still makes a good grilled cheese sandwich, and also made a tasty bar cheese spread (even if a bit on the thin side):


I don't think I've had the Win Schuler's product, so I don't know how close the recipe is to the real thing, but as a horseradish lover, it's good enough for me!




Friday, October 10, 2014

Eats: DIY Velveeta

Hello! Let me begin by saying I'm not really a Velveeta fan - it seems kind of fake to meHowever, I did buy some a couple of years ago to make a particular cheese spread recipe that called for it as the major ingredient. And I've seen other recipes calling for Velveeta that look good, but was reluctant to try them - just didn't feel good using it.

But then I read a recent email from the folks at King Arthur, extolling the ease of making a Velveeta clone at home, using only grated cheese, powdered milk, a bit of unflavored gelatin, and water. When a commenter mentioned that she and her husband use Velveeta for grilled cheese sandwiches, I decided to try the clone recipe. I do like a good grilled cheese once in awhile, but it always seemed like the bread browned before the cheese melted.

The King Arthur recipe tester said she used pre-shredded Cheddar  cheese, but I opted for buying some chunks and grating it myself. While in the cheese aisle, I also studied the ingredient label on a block of Velveeta - the list was longer than that for the Kraft cheddar I purchased.

As promised in the King Arthur write-up, the DIY Velveeta was easy to make; a blender or food processor makes it so (I used the latter). I whipped up the recipe last night, then refrigerated it. It's supposed to set, chilled, for at least 12 hours. 

Had the moment of truth when it was time to unwrap my Velveeta clone at lunchtime earlier today:

I'd used  an 8x4 loaf pan (lined with plastic wrap first) as my "mold". This resulted in a block about 1" high. I think next time I'll put the mixture in a smaller pan to give it a shape closer to that of the commercial product. 

Other than the shape being different, my clone looked just like Velveeta. However, I found it a bit soft when I sliced it for my grilled cheese sandwich.  It was close to spreading consistency, so I ended up doing just that on a bread slice. I don't know if the softness is typical for this recipe, or maybe I was just used to Velveeta's rubbery texture. 

But at least by starting out with something that's already on the soft side, I wouldn't have the problem of the bread being done before the cheese is. Here's how my grilled cheese sandwich turned out, perfectly cooked:



Ta da! Behold, DIY Velveeta, tomato and grilled hot banana peppers on homemade potato/whole wheat sourdough bread. It was nice comfort food after several days of dealing with various home repair issues - very tasty, and a nicer cheese taste to boot. Some commenters said  they think the DIY recipe makes for a less salty product as well.

I used Kraft sharp cheddar for my version, but you can use any cheddar you want (different brands, mild vs. sharp, etc). And I wouldn't be surprised if this worked equally well for other cheeses that melt nicely on their own, like Swiss for example. I don't know if the recipe would work with reduced-fat cheeses, but it wouldn't hurt to try. 

Now I can try that cheese spread recipe I had abandoned, as well as other Velveeta-based recipes I'd been loathe to make! 

If you'd like to make your own DIY Velveeta, start HERE. Within the article is the link to the recipe from a blog called Brown Eyed Baker.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Another Northern Michigan Excursion

Hello! My husband had a couple days off from work earlier this week, so we headed back to northern Michigan for another look around (we'd gone there in August for an overnight trip). 

Headed to Traverse City first - forgot to take photos, sorry about that. I would have liked some pics of the parking lot near the edge of the downtown area that appears to be the domain of the local food trucks. I know that in some cities there's been hassles over where food trucks should park, so having them all in one location seems to be a practical solution! We'd already had lunch on the way up north, so I didn't buy any food truck goodies, but it's something to keep in mind for another visit. 

Poked around the various shops in the downtown area; didn't buy anything but enjoyed window shopping. It was interesting to note what a difference seven weeks can make - that's when we were last there. At that time, pre-Labor Day, downtown Traverse City was swarming with people. Not so much this past Sunday, but most of the stores were still open. 

We drove over to Short's microbrewery in nearby Bellaire for dinner once more. Again, not as crowded as it'd been during the last visit, so we didn't have as much trouble finding a place to sit. Good food, good beers. 

We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Traverse City Sunday night. It's located across the road from the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay (part of Lake Michigan); how cool is that? We took advantage of the nearby pedestrian overpass to cross the road and walk along the beach for awhile. 

The pedestrian overpass is for the benefit of campers staying at the Keith J. Charters Traverse City State Park, down the road from the hotel. As we passed the park entrance on our way to the pedestrian overpass, we saw a sign advertising trick-or-treating at the park. It was to occur sometime that day, I think; nice bonus for families staying there that weekend!

We drove up to Petoskey Monday. More window shopping, although I did buy a used book at the Petoskey Public Library. (always good to support those institutions!)I was also intrigued by a particular category of items being sold at Meyer Home & Hardware: supplies for maple sugaring. That's not something I've typically seen in hardware stores. 

One year when our daughter was grade school, she learned about maple sugaring. As part of the lesson, she was told that although sugar maples are the type typically tapped, other maples can be tapped as well. We have a huge silver maple tree in our backyard, and I've thought from time to time that it'd be fun to tap it and make my own maple syrup. Was tempted to buy the supplies I saw at Meyer Home & Hardware, but decided I'd better read up on maple syruping before I purchased the equipment.



Did manage to take a couple of photos around downtown Petoskey:

This sign was outside a home interior store, naturally to encourage people to update their decors. In my case, a current remodeling of two rooms will give me a reason to "evolve our home". 

Fall decor was evident outside many of the businesses:


Also saw corn shocks, scarecrows and more. I admit, I'm too cheap to go whole hog when it comes to decorating with pumpkins, gourds, corn and the like, but I enjoy seeing others' fall displays!

Since we weren't too far from the Straits of Mackinac, my husband decided we ought to drive up there to see one of the enduring symbols of the state of Michigan:

For those readers not familiar with the above structure, it's the Mackinac Bridge, whose five mile length connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan (the land mass seen in the photo is the Upper Peninsula). Before the bridge opened in 1957, car ferries were the typical means of crossing the Straits of Mackinac. (and again, for those not familiar with the region, the Straits of Mackinac is a narrow waterway of Great Lakes Michigan and Huron). 

Here's a longer view of the bridge:


It's pretty awesome to behold! We've been on it many times, but didn't cross over to the Upper Peninsula this day. Instead, we walked around on the waterfront park, which is part of the Fort Michilimackinac State Park. 

The main feature of this state park is the reconstructed 18th C fort. Saw a banner near its entrance advertising "Fort Fright", two evenings of scary activities this coming weekend. It'd be a perfect setting for that sort of thing, I bet! If I lived there I'd certainly think it was worth checking out. 

Turning our attention away from the bridge, we saw this:


Also part of the state park is the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. The fog signal dates from 1890 and the lighthouse was added a couple of years later. Deactivation occurred after 1957 after the Mackinac Bridge was opened. The bridge is lighted at night, so it became the "lighthouse" of the straits. 

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse became part of Fort Michilimackinac State Park in 1960. Like the fort, it's open for tours, but it was getting late in the afternoon, so we opted for photos instead. 

Headed back toward Cadillac and spent the night there. No lakeside view at the Hampton Inn there, but we were fortunate in that the local farmer's market was in operation the next morning. It's smaller than the one in our town, but we still got some great deals on broccoli and hot peppers. 

It had been a short trip, but still a nice one!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Eats: Jumbo Brownie Cookies

Hello! So let's see - I have a daughter at college who's craving chocolate, a chocoholic husband, and a crew working on our house that I want to keep happy. What can I bake to satisfy all those taste buds? 

Jumbo Brownie Cookies, that's what! Here's the recipe:

Jumbo Brownie Cookies (adapted from a Taste of Home recipe submitted by Rebecca Cababa of Las Vegas, NV)

2 2/3 cups (16 ounces) chocolate chips
1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter, cubed
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant coffee powder, optional
2/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 package (11 1/2 ounces) semisweet chocolate chunks

1. In large saucepan, melt chocolate chips and butter over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat; cool slightly. 

2. In small bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, vanilla, and (if desired) instant coffee powder until blended. Whisk into chocolate mixture. In another small bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt; add to chocolate mixture, stirring well. Fold in chocolate chunks. 

3. Drop by 1/4 cupfuls 3 inches apart onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes or until set. Cool on pans for 1-2 minutes. Remove cookies to wire racks to cool. Yield: about 1 1/2 dozen.

Notes: the recipe actually calls for bittersweet chocolate chips, and the optional "instant coffee" is actually supposed to be instant espresso powder. I chose to use the less intense-tasting semisweet chocolate chips and instant coffee powder to better suit the variety of people I would be sharing the cookies with. And I used just one teaspoon, not two, of the instant coffee powder. 

I happened to have a bag of the specified semisweet chocolate chunks on hand, but if I hadn't, I would have just used regular chocolate chips. I'm sure any other flavor of baking chips would have been fine tossed in - or leave them out if you think the recipe is sweet enough already! 

The dough is pretty soft, so do follow the 3-inch spacing mentioned in the recipe. The cookies spread a bit. I made them the specified size, but I'd bet they'd be fine smaller as well. May need to adjust baking time downward a bit if you opt for a smaller size.

Here's how they turned out:

The picture doesn't do this cookie justice - it tastes even better than it looks! These are very rich, which is why I suggested a smaller size as a possibility. 

The recipe yield is about 1 1/2 dozen (I got 19), but this is an example of a little bit going a long way. Between shipping a package of the cookies off to our daughter, two days of work crew breaks, and two days of dessert for my husband and myself, there was enough to go around and still have 1 1/2 cookies left for my husband and myself for tonight's after-dinner dessert. (I'll be nice and let him have the whole cookie). These are really good! No wonder one of the workmen requested a copy of the recipe.

In retrospect, they may have not been the best choice to mail off to our daughter, as these cookies are on the soft side. I wrapped each one individually in plastic wrap before packing them in the shipping box. They may arrive a little mushed up, but I have a feeling she won't complain. 

I highly recommend these making these as a treat for the chocoholics in your life - especially if that means you! I can't see any reason why these wouldn't freeze well (individually wrapped and then put into freezer bags or containers) if you don't have chocolate-loving children, spouses or work crews around to help you eat them. Enjoy!