Thursday, August 30, 2012

Small Batch Canning - Habanero Gold Pepper Jelly

Habanero Gold Pepper Jelly

1/3 cup finely, sliced dried apricots
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped seeded red bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped seeded habanero peppers
3 cups sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin

1.  In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine apricots and vinegar.  Cover and let stand at room temperature for at least 4 hours or overnight.

2.  Prepare canner, jars and lids.

3.  Add red onion, red pepper and habanero peppers to apricots.  Stir in sugar.  Over high heat, stirring constantly, bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.  Stir in pectin.  Boil hard, stirring constantly for 1 minute.  Remove from heat and quickly skim off foam.

4.  Pour hot jelly into prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Wipe jar rim.  Center lid on jar.  Screw band down until fingertip-tight.

5.  Place jars in canner.  Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes.  Remove jars, cool and store.

*To enhance particle suspension, cool jars upright for 15 to 30 minutes or until lids pop down but jelly is not fully set.  As soon as lids are concave, gently twist and/or tilt individual jars to distribute the solids throughout the jelly.  Do not shake or invert jars!  Doing so might prevent jars from properly sealing.  

(Note:  My jelly was pretty well set once the lids popped.  But, my peppers and onions seemed to be very well distributed throughout the jelly.  I chopped them finely using my food processor and that may have helped with the even suspension).

The recipe yielded 3 and half pint jars of jelly for me.  I placed the half jar in the refrigerator for immediate use, instead of processing.  We scoffed it down with some cream cheese over dinner!

This was my first time using liquid pectin while canning.  Very simple and just a slightly different procedure than powdered pectin.  With powdered pectin, you add the sugar in after the fruit and pectin has come to a full rolling boil.  With liquid pectin, you add your sugar in with fruit at the start.  Bring the fruit and sugar to a full rolling boil.  Then, add the liquid pectin and boil hard for 1 minute.  My jelly seemed to set better with the liquid pectin (didn't need to do the sheet test).  So, I might just try it with my other jam and jelly recipes.

Happy Canning!

Mary Ellen

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mia Love - Republican National Convention 2012

Mayor Mia Love of Saratoga Springs, Utah speaking before the 2012 Republican National Convention. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Review - NEW! Nice 'n Easy Non-Permanent Hair Color

I love making changes to my look!  In my clothing, my hair styles, my makeup or accessories.  In my college days, I'd go for some extreme changes (burgundy hair!).  These days, subtle is more my style!  So, I was very excited to be selected by Vocalpoint to try the NEW Non-Permanent Hair Color from Nice 'n Easy.

The new Nice 'n Easy Non-Permanent Hair Color allows you to flirt with a color before you commit.  The ammonia free colors (12 shades available) subtly enhance your own color and wash out gradually within 28 shampoos.  And the application, could not be easier!  In a short 15 minutes, you are on your way to a beautiful new color!

How did the new Non-Permanent Hair Color work for me?  See for yourself!       

My own hair is dark brown-black, with auburn tones.  In selecting my hair color, I went for a darker shade of my natural color (#83 Black).  I love the subtle change to my hair color!  It's truly black now, which enhances my skin tone (you kind of get a blah look when your hair and skin are so close in color!).  The black also adds to my "retro" look.  And most importantly, there's no sign of that one stubborn gray hair.  Take that gray hair!

Ready to date a new color before you commit?  Find out more at Vocalpoint!

Disclosure:  I received a coupon for a free box of New Nice 'n Easy Non-Permanent Hair Color in order to conduct this product review.  All opinions expressed are mine.

Mary Ellen

Friday, August 24, 2012

Thoughts of a Black Republican - I am the 0%

A recent NBC poll stated support for President Obama among Blacks was at 94%.  While Black support for presidential candidate Mitt Romney was at 0%.  Zero percent.  While it's often said the Republican party ignores Black conservative voters, apparently the liberal media doesn't even believe we really exist!  Yes Virginia, there are Black Republicans.  Our numbers may be small (but growing!).  And our voices aren't always heard (they're usually shouted down by others who wish we would tow the racial party line).  But, we will be at the ballots come November!


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bread Making

Homemade Garlic Knots
Recipe from Simply Scratch

Lately in the kitchen, I've been working on my bread making skills.  I do well when it comes to things like cinnamon buns and pizza dough.  But, I want to expand to rolls and loaves.  And have a finished product that is actually soft and edible and not like little bread bricks!  I've come across a couple of tips and wonderful recipes that have put me on the path to bread making success!    

Helpful tips -
*from someone who is by no means an expert, but learning!

(1) Proof your yeast - This is probably something everyone else already does when making breads, but I've always neglected this very crucial first step!  Before I add my yeast-water mixture to my flour, I add one or two teaspoons of sugar or honey to my measuring cup, add the warmed water called for in the recipe, then add my yeast and allow it to sit for 5 minutes.  The yeast gets all bubbly and foamy, which means it's alive and ready to go!

(2) Mixer attachments - Instead of starting out with the dough hook attachment on my KitchenAid mixer, I now use the paddle attachment to blend the flour and any other dry ingredients.  I also use the paddle attachment while I'm pouring the yeast-water mixture into the flour.  Once its incorporated, then I switch over to the dough hook and mix  until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

(3) Getting dough to rise - One of my biggest difficulties with past bread making attempts was getting my dough to rise.  I tried sitting my dough on the dryer while it was running (didn't work).  Even placed my mixer bowl with the dough in a preheated over (worked, but dried my dough out).  Now, instead of placing both the dough and the bowl in the oven, I just warm the bowl itself! 

I actually happened upon this by accident.  One of the bread making books I've been reading suggested using a glass bowl instead of the metal mixing bowl for rising.  I was making dough and had just run a load of dishes in the dishwasher, so my glass bowl was still very warm.  That dough rose beautifully!  So now while I'm mixing the dough, I place a glass bowl in a cold oven and set it to preheat to the lowest setting (which is 150 degrees on our oven).  When the dough is ready, I take the warmed bowl out of the oven, pour a little olive oil in the bowl, put the dough in, roll it around to coat it with oil, then cover the bowl with a cloth napkin and dish towel.  My dough rises great every time now!

A few words of caution - DO NOT place a cold glass bowl in a warm oven.  The glass could shatter (which you probably already knew!).  Also, my glass bowl is PYREX brand and oven safe.     

Homemade Garlic Braids

Great recipes - 

I loved this recipe for Garlic & Herb Breadsticks from Simply Scratch.  The first time I made the recipe, I shaped my rolls into knots.  The next time, I did the braids pictured above.  The rolls were a big hit with the family and made me feel like a bread making pro!

Homemade French Bread

Also from Simply Scratch, this recipe for Easy Homemade French Bread.  It really was easy and the bread turned out great.  Just as good as what I typically buy from Trader Joe's.  But made by my own hands!

Happy Bread Making!

Mary Ellen  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Last Week of Summer Vacation

There are so many wonderful things I love about Fall.  Pumpkins, apples, cinnamon spiced baked goods, the State Fair, my birthday, the changing color of the leaves and cooler weather.  But, I always feel a tinge of sadness as this time of year approaches.  Why?  Because the kids are headed back to school.  Call me crazy, but I just love having my little chickadees at home during the Summer!  Nice and safe in Momma's nest!  I love our long, lazy Summer days.  I love keeping our own schedule and not having our mornings and evenings so rushed.  And to add to the emotions of seeing Summer come to an end, my BABY will be headed off the Kindergarten!  Where, oh where did the time go? 

As the new school year begins, there are some things to look forward to.  Seeing old friends, making new friends, learning new things.  The kids are excited, especially Reed.  He'll finally be able to go to school with his big sister and big brother!  A new season approaches, time to embrace it.  But, I am looking forward to the start of next Summer! ;)     

Mary Ellen

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Canning Sliced Peaches (Hot Pack Method)

Local Peaches from the Sandhills of NC

Peach season is winding down in our area.  But, before they disappear from our market for the season, I wanted to try my hand at canning sliced peaches. 

To remove the skins, rinse the peaches then drop them in a pot of boiling water for a minute or until the skin starts to crack. Next, quickly move them to an ice bath.  The boiling did make the skins a little easier to remove.  Though mine didn't seem to come off as easy as the illustrations from here!  I probably should have left them in the boiling water a little bit longer.  After the skins are removed, pit and slice the peaches.  To prevent my sliced peaches from browning, I sprinkled them with Fruit Fresh (a produce protector containing ascorbic acid - Vitamin C).  

Next, prepare a simple syrup.  The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: 400 Delicious and Creative Recipes for Today recommends using a medium or heavy syrup for peaches canned using the hot pack method.

For medium syrup - 3 1/4 cups granulated sugar + 5 cups water
For heavy syrup - 4 1/4 cups granulated sugar + 4 1/4 cups water

Combine the sugar and water in a stainless steel saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved.  Reduce heat to low and keep warm until needed, taking care not to boil the syrup down.

Once the syrup is prepared, add sliced peaches and warm until heated through (mine took about 5 minutes).  

Using a slotted spoon, fill prepared canning jars with warmed peaches leaving a 1/2 inch headspace.  Then, ladel hot syrup into jars to cover the peaches leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed by adding hot syrup.  Wipe rim of jar, center lid and screw band down until fingertip-tight.

Process jars in a water bath canner - 20 minutes for pint jars and 25 minutes for quart jars.

This truly was small batch canning for me, as my 1/2 peck of peaches yielded only 2 pint jars of canned sliced peaches.    

Mary Ellen

Monday, August 13, 2012

Vintage Pillbox Hat

Vintage Pillbox Hat 

I have a love for vintage and vintage-inspired, if you couldn't already tell!  So, I'm always excited to make a trip to SuzAnna's Antiques to browse all their wonderful treasures.  I literally want to buy the entire store.  But for now, my budget only allows for vintage hats!  My recent purchase, a navy blue, straw pillbox hat with a pearl and rhinestone brooch on the top.  So simple, yet so cute!      

Here's me with my new hat and my navy Ruby Rox retro dress

And Ashleigh took this picture of me with my hat as I was on my way to the farmer's market.  Got lots of compliments on the hat and dress from the other market patrons and vendors!

Mary Ellen

Friday, August 3, 2012

Who Says It's Not Work?!

Dressed for a day of working at home

While the kids are on Summer break, I like to use vacation time when my schedule allows, to spend time at home with them.  My recent days at home reminded me of a conversation I had with a co-worker.  We were chatting about dream jobs and when she asked me what my dream job would be, I told her being a homemaker.  She quickly replied, "That's not a real job!".  Granted her view of homemakers are ladies who are retired and spend their afternoons golfing and lunching.  But, as a wife, mother of three and keeper of a home of six people and four fluffy kitties, I can tell you firsthand homemaking most definitely is work! 

There are three square meals to be made.  And, it seems like when I've cleaned up from one meal, it's time for another one to be prepared.  Dishes, dishes and more dishes!  On weekends and weekdays I'm home, there are usually four (or more!) full dishwasher loads.  Floors to be swept and vacuumed daily - or twice daily (I have a thing about clean floors!).  Cleaning - the pleasant chores and the not so pleasant ones like toilets and litterboxes - ewww!  Reading and doing lessons with the children.  Grocery shopping, errand running and even doing the little things that make our home pretty and comfortable.  When I'm at home, I'm pretty much on the go from the time I get up, to the time I go to bed at night.  It's a full day, moreso than the 7.5 hours spent in the office.  But at the end of the day, my soul feels satisfied!  It's kind of hard to explain.  But, it's the satisfied feeling you get when what you're engaged in is fully aligned with your purpose.

So yes, homemaking is work!  Not paid work but invaluable nonetheless.  The health of our society ultimately depends on the health of our homes and families.  And that takes work!

Mary Ellen                

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Before & After - Trash to Treasure Dresser

Introducing NADIA!
So named for my latest cooking show obsession Nadia G's B------ Kitchen

Nadia G


Much to my husband's delight, I finally finished this trash to treasure dresser project and cleared up some needed space underneath our garage!  Before it was just a your average three drawer wooden dresser.


But this ordinary dresser was transformed with a coat (several actually!) of eye-poppin', high gloss cherry RED!

I also replaced the original hardware with these cute black drawer pulls from Michael's (found on clearance!).

Since we're not currently in need of a dresser, I listed it on Craigslist to see if there would be any interest.  After a "just looking" visit and several emails expressing interest but with no follow up, we finally found Nadia a new home!  I love color, so I think it just took a little time to find another kindred spirit that appreciated bold colors too.  Though for my next project, I will probably go with something more neutral.

Dave and I have painted numerous pieces of furniture for our home.  But, it's been only recently that I've given thought to turning this hobby into a viable income generating stream.  It would certainly be nice to earn a little extra for savings without having to take on more work outside of the home.  And since any income would be extra, there wouldn't be much pressure or risk of turning something I love to do into to something I hate!

To refine my painting skills, I've been reading the informative ebook offered at Altar'd - Paint Your Furniture.  I can't wait to apply what I've learned to my next project! 


Mary Ellen

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What I Wore to Work - Navy Blue Ruby Rox Retro Dress

Dress - Ruby Rox (Goodwill)

A recent Goodwill trip turned up another one of my absolute, most favorite of dresses - the Ruby Rox retro inspired dress!  This one is navy blue with white stitching around the waistline and large white anchor buttons.  These Ruby Rox retro dresses fit so nicely and give an instant vintage inspired look.  I get so many compliments about these dresses.  Lots of people comment it makes me look like a 1940s pinup!  So happy I found another one to add to my growing collection! 

Mary Ellen 

pleated poppy