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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Michgian Apples, Cider Mills and My Own Chaos

I know, I have said before that I got a job. The transition of stay at home mom and student back to a working mom has been crazy. Crazy is the right word, crazy fun, crazy busy, crazy stressful and sometimes I think I might go crazy. I mean, my coffee maker went out on me one day during the week. Oh... My...Goodness, I didn't quite admit to myself how much I like my morning coffee until I had to get it from a gas station one morning because I was not facing 1st Grade without it. 

My Ladies
Even though, my life and path have taken a bit of a turn, evolved if you will, I still practice much of what I preach when it comes to simple living. I think America, shoot, the world, needs to get back to basics. What is back to basics you might be wondering...Well to me, it is doing more things for my family, friends and community. It is enjoying the things in life that really matter. Self sustainability is high up there for me too. I try to rely on foods that I prepare and grow as well as what I can buy from my local farmers markets. Am I 100% self sustainable? No. Absolutely not, but I strive to make the best decisions on what I buy as a consumer to be responsible. Mostly, I like to bake bread, garden, can and buy my children popsicles when they want them...which is pretty often. lol

Stopping to smell the roses... It means not wanting to get so wrapped up in working and shuffling kids to and from sporting events that I forget to breathe.  It is September and in Michigan, the roses are not as easy to stop and smell, so instead we have to stop and smell the apple cider. Michigan has an abundance of apple orchards. As a State, we are the 3rd largest apple producing State in our fine Country. Apple picking and Cider Mills are part of a long standing Michigan tradition. I happen to be lucky enough to live in a County that has quite a few within a short drive from my quiet little Village home.

This weekend my family visited with 2 Orchards. The First was Diehls Orchard in Holly, MI (  While I was there, my youngest son and I, enjoyed cider donuts sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar that were still warm. We also bought some of their honey. The cider was cold and I like to dunk my donuts in the cider. Aaron, thought this was quite gross, but that kid doesn't know what he is missing. Next weekend, September 29, 2012, Diehls will be hosting their 31st annual Ciderfest. There are always fun activities for the kids and a favorite of mine...Apple Cider Slushies. Oh My Goodnes...they are spectacular.

The next orchards we visited was Ashton Orchard in Ortonville, MI. ( This little Orchard is home to my absolute favorite cider and donuts. They also have fresh apples, pies that they bake as well as breads. There are a variety of fruits that you can purchase but their Honey Crisp Apples are my favorite. My mother and I stopped in there today with my young nephews to pick up apples and some cider and donuts. The boys also scored Carmel Apples. Aunt Shannon is a sucker for the littles one.

With my cider, I made some cinnamon apple bread. I would like to think this is a one of kind from scratch recipe, but it isn't. I use a boxed Spice Cake mix... The shame...well not really because it is very good.

Mmm cake/bread
I take 1 box of Spice Cake, 2 cups of Apple Pie Filling (homemade or canned is fine) mix that in a bowl with 1/4 cup of apple cider. I then pour this in loaf pans and top with rolled oats. Bake it at 350 degrees for around 25 minutes. Depending on your apples, it could take up to 30. Insert a tooth pick to see it if comes out clean to check doneness. This quick bread is much like a zucchini bread or pumpkin bread. I love the large chunks of apples that bake into it.  It's great with coffee in the morning or topped with a bit of vanilla ice cream for a desert.

Speaking of vanilla... My homemade extracts, both have turned very dark in color but I am really loving the smell that the brandy vanilla has. I am beginning to think my crap-shot of an experiment with that combination is really going to work out. The Bourbon vanilla still smells more of bourbon than of vanilla. I am starting to contemplate adding another vanilla bean to the bottle. I will keep you posted.

My goofy group of Cider Mill explorers

: )
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Monday, September 10, 2012

What Has Been Up?

 Gosh, I feel as if I have not had a chance to blog in just about forever. Well world, I sadly had to resign from my position of assisting a master cheese maker. You see, I have a degree, I went to school for just about ever and I had an opportunity come up where I could use that degree working in an Elementary school. Getting back into the swing of working all day has been quite the challenge. I am lucky, truly lucky, to have been able to stay at home with my children while they were little. I now get to work while they are in school and am home in time for the youngest to get out of school. I do not have to miss out on any of the sporting practices or games. I get to be home for dinner and homework. It is an ideal situation for me, but it has been hard finding a routine. I have been so used to grocery shopping, preparing food, cleaning, laundry all that fun stuff while I was home all day and the kids were in school. Now, I am learning to multi-task on a whole other level. Instead of spending hours washing, drying and folding clothes, I am now throwing in a load and heading out to football practice. I can dry it when I get back. lol All these old tricks are coming back to me slowly but surely.
Cross section of a Ball

In my new found position as a working mom, I am trying to still keep up on all the things that I used to do for my boys, Husband included. Sunday Football gives me that opportunity. We like to watch football all day at my house. Grazing on snacks and appetizers that I set out gets us by in place of a large dinner. One recipe I love to make is a cheese ball. I started out buying them from our local market but then I thought...Shoot I can do that. So I set about trying to perfect my recipe.

You will need:
1 package of softened Cream Cheese
A bunch of green onions
Some Ham diced up, about 1/2 a cup
2 cups of extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded.... 1 cup is for rolling the ball in after the mix is made
1/2 teaspoon of cummin
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
Black pepper to taste
*I do not salt this, the ham adds enough salt for my family's taste but feel free to add if you want.*

In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients except for 1 cup of shredded cheese. Mix well. Once combined, I then roll the mixture into a softball shape. Once that has happened, roll the ball around in the reserved extra sharp cheddar until the outside of the ball is covered. Refrigerate for at least an hour to harden and let the flavors come together. I serve this with a variety of crackers. It is a big hit at my house and there never seems to be any left over for Monday Night Football.

On another side note, I recently went to the Michigan Renaissance Festival, in Holly, Michigan. What is there not to love about a Renaissance Fair? I was super excited to find a vendor that was hand making brooms. Is there anything cooler than that?! Probably but not at that moment. I had to have one. I hung it on my wall next to my whiskey barrel table. I love the combination, enough country flare for my taste and not too much for the Husband's. lol Compromise ; )

My Broom and Barrel
Enjoy : )
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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract, every baker has experience with this ingredient. In the store, you pay an arm and a leg, maybe even your first born child for a couple of ounces of Pure Vanilla Extract. It’s used in recipes from cookies and cakes to sauces and drinks such as hot chocolate and vanilla milk. The scent of vanilla extract has also been said to have many homeopathic remedies besides just smelling good. I have read that it can ease nausea as well as treat minor scrapes.  All these fine uses for the extract, and it only comes in small bottles for high cost at the super market. 
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So, I had set out to make my own extract. Liquor is needed to extract the vanilla flavor from the bean. It is important in my opinion to use quality liquor. Like when cooking with wine, there is a flavor profile that the spirit will give your cooking and you should find that flavor to be pleasing.  From my experience extract made with vodka has a “purer” taste of vanilla.  The liquor is a clean distilled, basically flavor neutral, medium to make pure vanilla extract. You place 3 beans, split length wise in 1 cup of liquor. Place them in a glass jar, bottle or any glass sealable container and leave them in a cool dark place for 2 months or longer. Every few days, give the glass a quick shake to help incorporate the flavors. Like the liquors that are used to make the extract, time helps the flavor profiles to develop. Aging is a good thing. 

Once my first batch of extract was completed and I was in love, I could not resist the urge to experiment. What other flavor profiles and notes could be added to the vanilla by using other liquors besides vodka? Today, I set out and made 2 batches. The first one I used Makers Mark Bourbon and in the second I used E&J VSOP Brandy.  In two separate glass bottles I Poured 2 cups of liquor and added 6 vanilla beans, split length wise to glass "olive oil" decanters. It is going to be a long 2 months to wait to try my newest experiment. I am hoping that the Bourbon adds an earthy smokiness to the vanilla.  Brandy, which is fermented from grapes and not grain, will hopefully add sweet woody notes to the vanilla. It will be interesting to do a bit of a vanilla extract tasting…or at the very least smelling.  I can't wait to try it with cookies and in my french toast egg batter.  The timing of when these two batches should be ready to be sampled will be during Holiday cooking season. What better time to try out new recipes and ideas...especially new vanilla extracts : )
I love the color already

 Give it a try and let me know what you think of different liquors for making vanilla extract. I’d love to hear of past trials of making the extract. 

As always…Enjoy

: )
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