Dried. Mushrooms

While grocery shopping there are certain foods I pick up knowing I will use it in the next several days. If I do, then it is all fine and dandy. But sometimes, life happens and I don’t make the dish I was planning on. Most produce will carry my over for a week or more, but mushrooms don’t. They really need to be used within a few days or they are garbage fodder. Or, occasionally, I might see a really good sale on them. I am not a fan of freezing mushrooms beause I think they become chewy. That is why I learned to dry them.

Drying mushrooms is one of the easiest foods to put up for long term storage. You can use the same process no matter what type of mushroom you want to dry. After washing, cut the mushrooms into large chunks. Slices will become too small. I cut these mushrooms into quarters. You can have the pieces as large as you want, it will just take longer to fully dry. Place a cooling rack onto a cookie sheet and spread the mushrooms on top. You can see how little space one 8 ounce package of mushrooms takes up. If you want to fill the pan it will take a couple pounds worth.

Button mushrooms ready to dry and it only takes a couple minutes of prep.
Button mushrooms ready to dry and it only takes a couple minutes of prep.

Place the cookie sheet into a 175 degree oven. Mine only goes down to 200 so I prop the door slight ajar with a small pan.

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Two hours later I have fully dried mushrooms. To store I just put into a canning jar and in the pantry. I use them in dishes that allow them to rehydrate such as soups or Salisbury Steak.

Waiting to cool down enough to store.
Waiting to cool down enough to store.

The awesome part is that to buy dried mushrooms is horribly expensive but now you can build up your own supply for a fraction of the cost. These are great to have on hand when you don’t have any that are fresh. But, they are even better to pack when going camping and making meals in a jar. If you would prefer to rehydrate before adding to a dish, simply soak in water, broth or your favorite wine.

I am so excited!

Woot woot! I am so darn excited! My company has announced where our annual trip will be this year! For those who do not know, I have my own business and partner with Younique. I sell naturally based cosmetics that are fabulous! Have you see pictures of that amazing Mascara all over facebook? That is me!

Ooo la la lashes!
Ooo la la lashes!

Anyhow, Younqiue loves on it’s employees all the time and this year they are filling a cruise ship to Jamaica! Anyone can earn the trip and I am going to be one of them. Mamma needs a vacation! I have never been and have always wanted to do a cruise. Anyone can earn it, even new Presenters. My business has already been a blessing to me as I have made new friends and it helps pay my bills every month. Jamaica is just the cherry on top of  bro really grat sundae.

Tropical breezes and great food await!
Tropical breezes and great food await!

What are you excited about in 2015?

Freezer Egg Rolls

Certain foods are just so yummy to make at home, but the time it takes means I don’t do it very often. That is why I like doing freezer prep. I take many foods or dishes and make a lot at one time, and out in the freezer. This helps get dinner to the table quickly on an average weeknight. Chinese food  is one of those  things that can really benefit from doing freezer prep. Below is the recipe I used, but keep in mind that egg rolls are very forgiving. You can substitute whatever meat you like, or leave it out totally. The same goes for the vegetables. This batch made 60 for me. Which means, you can also make them up this week and save them for your New Year’s Eve part or the Super Bowl on February 1st. GO SEAHAWKS! (Sorry, had to throw that in)

INGREDIENTS

4 pounds Pork  Sausage

3 cups shredded Carrots

1 1/2 cups finely shredded or diced Onion

1 large head of Green Cabbage shredded

2 Tb Garlic Powder

Salt to taste

60 Egg Roll Wrappers

Parchment Paper

Cookie Sheet

cup of water

Begin by cooking the sausage and set to the side on paper towels to soak up excess grease. Using the grease in the pan, cook the vegetables. As you go, set on paper towels to soak up excess grease. Combine all ingredients into a large bowl and pull out the egg roll wrappers. I prefer that the ingredients have all cooled before rolling, I think it keeps the wrap from getting soggy.

Put approximately 2 tablespoons of filling on the corner of each wrapper. I do one at a time, it goes really quickly.

Too much filling means the wrapper won't fully cover the ingredients and it will break open while frying.
Too much filling means the wrapper won’t fully cover the ingredients and it will break open while frying.

Fold over the point, and roll slightly so all the filling is now covered. Fold over the left and right corners as if making an envelope.

Most wrapper packages have a diagram of how to do this. Always roll from the bottom point, or it won't seal correctly.
Most wrapper packages have a diagram of how to do this. Always roll from the bottom point, or it won’t seal correctly.

Use your finger to wet the top corner with water. As you finish rolling this ensures it will seal shut. The biggest thing to watch for is to make sure the ends are tucked in all the way. Otherwise you risk having greasy egg rolls when they are done frying.

You can see on the right the bottom isn't tucked in all the way. This risks a lot of grease getting inside and being trapped, or filling to fall out while frying.
You can see on the right the bottom isn’t tucked in all the way. This risks a lot of grease getting inside and being trapped, or filling to fall out while frying.

Place then on a covered cookie sheet. Once the pan is full, cover it with a towel and place in the freezer. A couple of hours later they are frozen solid and ready to be bagged up.

Cover the cookie sheet with parchment paper to ensure the rolls don't stick to the pan while freezing.
Cover the cookie sheet with parchment paper to ensure the rolls don’t stick to the pan while freezing.

To fry, heat oil to 350 degrees and cook frozen. This will take 5-9 minutes depending on how much filling you actually used in each one. A good sign is that it will be floating. Test one to see if it heated all the way through. The wrapper should be a nice golden brown. Serve with your favorite dipping or soy sauce. I learned this trick from my best friend Thao in high school. In Vietnam they don’t put a lot of veggies inside. Instead, they serve each roll with a piece of uncooked cabbage leaf wrapped around it. This gives extra flavor and crunch while devouring them. If stored in a freezers bag with the air sucked out they will keep for months in the freezer.

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Toffee

There are a few things that I try to only eat around the holidays. Not only because it limits how much sugar I consume, but it means they are even more of a treat. Almond Rocha is one candy that I only eat at Christmas. That sweet caramel flavor, a bit of chocolate and nuts just go together perfectly. And I admit, I love opening that gold foil from a famous brand we all know, but making my own means I am also controlling the ingredients. It is a simple recipe with only 5 ingredients, and I bet you have most of them in your pantry right now.

Please read all the instructions before beginning this recipe.it can easily be cut in half.

INGREDIENTS

2 pounds Butter

32 ounces Brown Sugar

24 ounces Chocolate melted

2 cups chopped Pecans (or favorite nut)

Sea Salt

TOOLS

2 quart Sauce Pot

Candy Thermometer

Tin foil

2 Cookie Sheets

Candy making is a simple process and it is done the same way no matter what you are making. You melt sugar and a few other ingredients in a pot, bring it up a very specific temperature, and the end result can be fudge or lollipops. The temperature is the hardest thing to control and is the most important. Cook your fudge too long and it will become hard. Don’t cook your sugar long enough and your peanut brittle is chewy,

You will read terms such as soft ball stage and hard crack stage in every candy recipe. When the sugar and other ingredients reach a certain temperature they behave in a certain way. If you take a bowl of water with ice cubes in it and drip a little of your candy in it, how hard it becomes tells you what kind of candy it will become. For example, in the soft ball stage it forms a soft ball that is easily smooshed between your fingers while a hard crack stage will produce hard strands making it perfect for homemade suckers. An experienced candy maker learns to use ice water to get their candy at the exact stage they like, but if you have never made candy before I highly recommend using that candy thermometer.

The trick is to keep a close eye in your temperature. It starts off painfully slow, but it can jump 20 degrees in less than 2 minutes. One needs to be ready to pull the pot off the burner right before it hits the correct temperature. It is so hot it will continue cooking those last five degrees while you are moving the pot and starting to use it. The hotter the candy becomes it moves quickly from a soft to hard candy and not moving quickly may not produce the results you want. I don’t say this to scare you, only to ensure your first batch turns out perfectly.

When reading your candy thermometer if it is electric, that is pretty simple. I use the old-fashioned kind, I just prefer it for some reason, to read it properly you must bend down and look at the numbers straight on. Looking from above skews those numbers and as I have stated, it is very important you can take an accurate readying. I also suggest having a cup of ice water handy so if any happens to splatter on your hand you can cool it down immediately.

Now for the fun part! Melt 2 pounds of butter in your pot. Once it is melted add the brown sugar and begin stirring. At first you can walk away for a couple of minutes but once the temperature hits 150 I don’t move from that pot.

It takes awhile for the two ingredients to incorporate at first the sugar will settle onto the bottom of the pot.
It takes awhile for the two ingredients to incorporate at first the sugar will settle onto the bottom of the pot.

Once it begins to bubble it will also start foaming. Don’t freak out as this is part of the process, you haven’t ruined anything. While the candy is coming up to temp, cover the cookie sheets with tin foil and use the wraps from the butter cubes to lightly grease it.

Keep stirring, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pot.
Keep stirring, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pot.

Ironicly, as it gets closer to 280 degrees, the foam begins to dissipate. As soon as you see it hit 300, remove the pot and pour onto your prepared pans. It will begin to cool immediately so you need to work fast. It is best to not pour in just once place so that you have very little to spread around.

All those bubbles will disappear on their own.
All those bubbles will disappear on their own.

Allow the candy to cool for two hours before covering with the melted chocolate. I prefer using dark chocolate but you can use semi-sweet or milk chocolate. Sprinkle your favorite chopped nuts on top and finish with a little sea salt.

Chop your favorite nuts coarsely with a chef's knife. This time I used pecans.
Chop your favorite nuts coarsely with a chef’s knife. This time I used pecans.

The easiest way to break the candy is with a steak knife. Push the very tip of the knife near a corner into the toffee and you will hear it crack. Work your way around the pan. For bigger pieces space where you push the knife farther apart.

A little sea salt amplifies the flavors and adds another dimension to a purely sweet candy. Once you try it you will always use it.
A little sea salt amplifies the flavors and adds another dimension to a purely sweet candy. Once you try it you will always use it.

Serve on a platter or place in cellophane bags to give away. Tied with a ribbon and attach a tag to make it really festive.

Add a festive ribbon and gift tag and they are ready to go.
Add a festive ribbon and gift tag and they are ready to go.

I hope I have inspired you to add candy making to your holiday baking list this year.  It is a thing of beauty!

Italian Biscotti

I think one of the best parts about a eating a good cookie is dunking it. That is why I try to avoid buying Oreos, I could dunk that whole package in ice cold milk if I wasn’t careful! I love a good biscotti for the same reason. Biscotti is a perfect match with hot chocolate or coffee and once you have mastered the process, you can get creative and make whatever flavors you like. The problem is that store bought varieties are not only expensive, but typically over baked and flavorless. This is a basic recipe of vanilla with chocolate that I made and bagged up for gifts.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup Butter room temp

3/4 cup Sugar

2 Eggs

1 tsp Vanilla

2 cups Flour

1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder

1/4 tsp Salt

3/4 cup chopped Chocolate

3/4 cup chopped Nuts

1 cup melted Chocolate

This time I used milk chocolate in the batter, and dark chocolate for dipping. The cool thing is that you can choose whatever you prefer as they interchange easily. I prefer walnuts, but you can also use peanuts, pecans or even pistachios. Just changing the chocolate and nuts creates a whole new biscotti so you can give a bag full of a variety of flavors as a Christmas gift.

To get started, put the butter in your mixer and whip it until nice and fluffy. You will see it begin to change color as it moves toward where you want it. Now you don’t want it to get really warm and begin in to melt, so low speed works great it just takes a little time. When it is nearly where you want it, slowly pour the sugar into the butter.

It almost becomes a white color when it is ready.
It almost becomes a white color when it is ready.

Add the eggs and vanilla until incorporated. Separately, combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl until throughly blended. Now is when you add your chopped chocolate and nuts.

Don't you just want to lick that paddle clean?
Don’t you just want to lick that paddle clean?

Cover the bowl with serane and place in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes. While this is going on you can clean up the kitchen, work on the next batch or let your kids lick the beaters. Yes, I am one of those moms who isn’t worried about raw dough. Because I was baking so much I double the recipe in this photo. This works fine, I just split it in half before I chill the dough. Once it has firmed up a little it is easier to shape into a flat log. Preheat the oven to 325.

Cover a cookie sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. I cannot emphasize this enough! I have tried this directly on a cookie sheet and it just doesn’t work as well. The logs should be about 12-14 inches long and 2 inches wide. It is okay if it isn’t perfect what matters is that the entire length and width of both logs are consistent. Unlike a cookie, the top needs to be smooth. Don’t rush this because you won’t like the results if it isn’t. I sprinkle a little flour on my hands to keep the dough for sticking to my hands while I do this.

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Place the pan on the middle rack and bake for 25 minutes. You do not want any pans on the brown rack or the bottom of your biscotti will be overdone. We are baking more than twice the amount of time for a regular cookie and being too close to the elements will make the bottoms very dark and possibly have burnt flavor. After 25 minutes the logs will be set and only slightly browned.

You don't want them to be brown, that occurs in the second bake.
You don’t want them to be brown, that occurs in the second bake.

Allow to cool 5 minutes before slicing. Don’t slice on the pan, you need to transfer to a cutting board. If you are nervous about lifting the entire log,cut in half first.slice on the diagonal, not straight across. This is done for two reasons. One, it gives more of a cut surface area to dry out. Second, it provides a much longer biscotti cookie. Each cut should be 1 inch apart. Once they are sliced, put each piece back onto the cookie sheet, slightly apart. Place the pan back into the oven for another 10 minutes and allow to cool on a rack.

Long and petty
Long and petty

Now is when you get to have fun with the melted chocolate. I chose to coat the bottom of each biscotti but you can also dip one end or drizzle over the top. If you are making several varieties, drizzling slightly different on each one can help you to identify each one. I bagged them up in pretty bags of 6 each. Before I give away I will attach a pretty ribbon.

Ready to give away.
Ready to give away.

Pretty simple, right? Nw that you have made a batch here are some ways to change it up.

Substitute coconut flavoring for the vanilla and shredded/flaked coconut for the chopped chocolate.

Use Orange Liquer instead of vanilla and 2 Tab grated orange peel.

Add 1/4 cup Nutella and substitute hazelnuts for the walnuts.

Drizzle chocolate on top and sprinkle sea salt on top while it is still wet.

Crush nuts and while the melted chocolate is still wet, dip into the crushed nuts.

Add 1/2 cup of your favorite dried fruit.

Use white and milk chocolate in the dough.

For a gift, place the bag into a coffee cup and attach a tag inviting your friend over for coffee.

Are you inspired to make this classic Italian treat? I hope so! Let me know how it goes or if you have any questions.

Chocolate Lava Cake in 10 Minutes

Chocolate. Now that I have your attention, what if I said chocolate lava cake, are you drooling yet? I have a recipe that you are going to love because not only does it taste good, it is super easy. Here is what you need.

Ingredients
Chocolate Cake mix
Eggs
Oil
Water
Can of Chocolate Frosting

Choose your favorite chocolate cake mix and frosting, just not a whipped version.
Choose your favorite chocolate cake mix and frosting, just not a whipped version.

Make the cake per the directions on the box. We have all done that, right? I am working on finding the right cake from scratch to vary the recipe, but for now a cake mix will do.

Cake batter all ready to go, easy breezy!
Cake batter all ready to go, easy breezy!

Pour the batter into a greased, 2 quart casserole dish suitable for the microwave. Plop the frosting by dollops into the batter. So far, a really simple recipe, right? So easy that the kids would have fun doing this one.

Big or small, the size of the dollops don't rally matter, just spread it out.
Big or small, the size of the dollops don’t rally matter, just spread it out.

Now here is the tough part, put the lid on and microwave it for exactly 10 minutes on high.

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While the cake is baking you can have one of the kids clean up the kitchen. Now it needs to cool for 10 minutes so this is a good time to pull out the ice cream to get soft. Here you go, an ooey, gooey lava cake!

If you save some of the frosting you can put it on top now.
If you save some of the frosting you can put it on top now.

For a little variety, break up some walnuts or pecans and sprinkle on the batter under the frosting, it will appear in the lava later on.

If you don't have ice cream a little whipped cream would be good too.
If you don’t have ice cream a little whipped cream would be good too.

Isn’t it a thing of beauty? And since you likely have all the ingredients in your pantry you can make this as a last-minute dessert if guests show up this holiday season. Enjoy and let me know what you think. 🙂

Cleaning Makeup Brushes

We get up in the morning, shower, wash our face, apply moisturizer and then our makeup. Every day is the same routine and we really don’t even think about it much. If I may ask my Beauties, how often do you clean your brushes?

Our face constantly produces oil with natural bacteria present which can transfer to our makeup. This is why we toss it every so many months. But those same oils and bacteria can also transfer to our brushes. The oils and bacteria not only transfer back into our makeup, but our clean faces and is often partly to blame for breakouts and rashes. Also, brushes are made with either animal hair, human hair or synthetic fiber. Don’t you wash your own hair or a wig on a regular basis? Our makeup brushes should get the same treatment. It keeps them soft and in good shape for years and these babies are an investment that should last many years. Let me show you how it is done.

First assemble your tools. There are a variety of options and while most people have a preference they all work. Shampoo is designed to clean hair so it is a natural choice for your brushes. Makeup remover and face washes like Younique’s Illuminate line are designed to remove makeup and also work well. Both of these options are nice because you already have them in your bathroom. Many people opt for a brush cleaner that is specifically for this purpose. While they can be expensive, many feel that because they are often marketed as antibacterial it is better, especially if you use brushes on other people.

Shampoo, face wash, makeup remover or brush cleaner
Shampoo, face wash, makeup remover or brush cleaner

Next grab all of your brushes and lay them out. Not pictured is a wash cloth to wipe them with.

Let's get those brushes clean!

For the sake of this tutorial I am using a cup with warm water but I normally do this in my bathroom sink. I am simply not skilled enough to hold brushes under running water while taking a picture with my iPad. I have asked Santa for a third hand this year but I don’t think I will be getting one. Anyhoo, get your brushes good and wet. I don’t let them sit in water as water would run down the handle. I have copper ferrule brushes which won’t rust, but that isn’t true of all brushes so just don’t make it a habit.

Put a little face wash in your hand. If using a brush cleaner some will have a spray nozzle so you can saturate the bristles directly.

Wet brushes

When cleaning your brushes do not push down on them in such a way that is not natural to their shape. This will damage them over time. If it is a flat brush, move it back and forth as if applying makeup. A blush brush I move in a circle so it will pick up the cleaner and work it’s way down. Gently squeeze and rub the bristles to work the cleaner all the way through.

Get the cleaner on the bristles without changing the direction and shape they were designed to be.
Get the cleaner on the bristles without changing the direction and shape they were designed to be.

You can see how much makeup came off just 1 crease brush by how dark the color became. (Just pretend you don’t see how dry my hands are right now.)

Icky yucky oil and makeup
Icky yucky oil and makeup

Thoroughly rinse the brush, if any cleaner is left it will not only affect how well it works the next time you use it, there is a good likelihood it will end up in your makeup. Once they are rinsed, use the wash cloth to gently squeeze dry and reshape. Lay them flat on the counter to dry. If you have a lot, leave them on a washcloth so they are not sitting in water that drips off the bristles. Many like to have them hanging slightly over the edge of the counter but I am a big enough klutz that I would knock every one of them onto the floor so I keep them nice and safe next to the sink.

Air dry laying flat.
Air dry laying flat.

Experts disagree on how often you should clean them and say anywhere from every week to once a month. I use such a variety of eye shadows that I clean them every week and often rinse them off when I am done using them daily. I always clean before using on a client. This really only takes about 5 minutes to do and I will often do them during the weekend when I am hanging out at home and cleaning my bathroom. Cleaning them is taking care of an investment and well worth the effort.

I love to hear from you! Do your regularly clean your brushes? Did you notice a difference in how well they worked after cleaning them? Take care and enjoy your weekend.