Friday
Nov212014

DIY Christmas: Vanilla Sugar

It's less than a week until Thanksgiving, which means that Christmas is coming up fast. If you're at a loss when it comes to gifts this year, then why not consider giving something edible. Trust me, I don't know a single person who would turn down a tasty treat they didn't have to make themselves. If I'm honest, gifts like these are always my favorites and sometimes it doesn't seem like Christmas without them. My aunt always brings me a huge plate of cookies when she comes to visit, but since I've missed coming home for the holidays the past few years I've missed out on the cookies too. I'm pretty sure my little brother decided to eat my share, because that is what little brothers do.

I've been giving home made treats for gifts as long as I can remember. It's such a long standing tradition that on the odd occasion I haven't been able to send them, I get a few phone calls wondering what happened. Last year my husband was in the hospital during the holidays which left me little time for baking. I received no fewer than a dozen phone calls, not asking how my husband was doing, but asking what happened to the cookies I normally send. I'll be honest, it was nice to know they were missed.

While I normally send cookies to the people on my list I've decided to switch things up a bit this year. I made a huge batch of vanilla sugar that I'll be including in what I've dubbed my Christmas cookie care package. It's something that is incredibly easy to make and adds a ton of flavor to otherwise simple foods. I'm partial to sprinkling it on toast or in my coffee, but it's a great addition to fresh strawberries as well as crème brûlée. It's the kind of gift that has limitless possibilities.
Vanilla Sugar
makes 4 quarter pint jars 

 Ingredients

2 Vanilla Beans
2 Cups sugar
4oz Dry Herb Jars, 4pk 

Directions

  • Open the vanilla bean pods with a knife and scrape the insides into a large container filled with sugar. Add the vanilla bean pods to the sugar, close the container, then shake until the vanilla bean seeds are well distributed.
  • Let the container sit for 2 - 3 weeks allowing the sugar to infuse with the vanilla. Make sure to give your jar a good shake every few days so the vanilla is evenly dispersed.
  • After several weeks you can divide your large container of sugar into smaller jars to give as gifts. 

Notes

I use a large canning jar to make my vanilla sugar so there is plenty of room to mix the vanilla pod scrapings. When I'm ready to give them as gifts I separate them into quarter pint jars (4oz) with shaker lids so the sugar can be easily used. You can purchase a 4 pack of these jars on Amazon for under $10, just use the link I've included above.

Don't throw away your vanilla bean pods. You can either cut them up and put it in the smaller jars so they continue to infuse or start a new batch of vanilla sugar.

If you need a last minute gift, but waited too long to start this project, don't worry about the 2-3 week wait time. Put a "use after" date on your jar so your recipient will know when their vanilla sugar will be ready to use.

Disclosure
This post contains my Amazon affiliate links. I try to keep advertising unobtrusive and to a minimum in order to provide you with the best experience possible. Please keep in mind that this is a necessary evil to cover my expenses in running this blog so I can continue to provide you with quality content.
Tuesday
Nov182014

Tuesday Tea - Tea Co-op November Box - Simple Loose Leaf

The New Tea Co-op:

This is the first month for the new format of the Simple Loose Leaf box, now called the Tea Co-op. While the bones of the subscription are still very similar to the previous plan there were a few changes made. Most importantly, you now have the option to reorder the teas you've enjoyed from your monthly box. When you sign up for your subscription you're provided with a membership ID number. When you're ready to reorder you enter that number in the discounts section at checkout and you receive 50% off your teas. It's a pretty straightforward process and a huge step forward for Simple Loose Leaf. My biggest complaint about their previous subscription plan was that I couldn't reorder the teas I had enjoyed from my monthly box.

This month the box included five ¼ ounce samples as well as some pretty nifty reusable tea filters. If you've subscribed to the box before you'll notice the amount of tea has decreased significantly from the pervious plan, but then again so has the price. I find that the smaller amount of tea doesn't bother me like I thought it would. It is enough to have several cups of tea and determine if it is something I want to reorder and doesn't leave me with a lot of leftover tea if I don't care for it. I'll be honest, there have been plenty of teas I've been sent that I just haven't loved enough to drink more than a few cups of. Now I can enjoy trying something new every month and not worry about what to do with the leftover tea that wasn't to my tastes.

Where to Purchase: 

You can use coupon code NotStarvingYet for a 50% discount on your first month’s membership at Simple Loose Leaf 

November Selections:

Kukicha Green
Four Horsemen Black (see our previous review)

Large Leaf Masala Chai
Magnolia Oolong (see our previous review)
Seven Seas Herbal

Seven Seas Herbal

Review:

I didn't enjoy the herbal tea included in the box this month, so I'm glad the sample size was small. It means I didn't feel as bad about immediately sticking it in my swap box. The mixture of cinnamon chips, ginseng root, peppermint, echinacea, sarsparilla root, licorice root, and organic south african rooibos may have smelled wonderful, but had a flavor that is what I imagine dirty gym socks would taste if I had decided to boil them up and make tea out of them. It wasn't entirely pleasant, but if you're a fan of "detox teas" then this is probably right up your alley. 

I may not have enjoyed the herbal sample this month, but I have previously reviewed several of the other teas that were included in my box. Magnolia Oolong and Four Horsemen Black both happen to make the list of Top 5 teas I've wanted to reorder from Simple Loose Leaf. 

My Rating: 41/100

Would I order this again? No. I wasn't impressed with the flavor of this herbal tea.

Not Starving Yet readers, use coupon code NotStarvingYet for a 50% discount on your first month’s membership at Simple Loose Leaf 

Disclosure:

In an effort to be open with my readers I want to let you know that Simple Loose Leaf has provided me with a free subscription to their service. As always, all opinions are my own. 

Monday
Nov172014

Antipasto

Since our family lives so far away I don't get the opportunity to entertain much during the holidays, but when I do you can almost guarantee that the meal is not going to be on time. For some inexplicable reason I can't seem to get my timing down and my guests are often left waiting. Personally I chalk it up to the fact that up until recently I'd never cooked for a large group of people. I always went to my grandparents house for the holidays, but now winter often prevents us from traveling home and we have friends over instead. They all know that I have a pretty well established pattern of not getting our meal on the table in a timely manner (we won't mention the time Christmas dinner was over two hours late.)

These days I make sure to have an assortment of yummy nibbles for everyone to enjoy while I try and pull our meal together on time. I like to set out antipasto since it requires a minimal amount of work and doesn't take my focus off the main meal. I make sure to include a few old favorites and a few new items so even the less adventurous eaters among my guests can find something to keep them satisfied. The possibilities are endless and I always love it when someone tells me they've discovered something new and exciting. If you plan on doing any entertaining this holiday season or need something easy to bring along to a party, consider making an antipasto platter, your guests won't be disappointed.

Antipasto
serves 6 - 8 

Ingredients

4 ounces Capocollo
4 ounces genoa salami
Assortment of Mezzetta® olives, drained
Assortment of soft cheeses, any variety
Fresh baguette, sliced

Directions

  • Arrange salami, olives, and cheeses on a platter and serve with sliced baguette.

Notes

The antipasto platter can be made in advance, then covered and refrigerated until you're ready to serve. If you're using soft cheese be sure to let them come to room temperature before serving so they are easy to spread.

For this platter I used Castelvetrano (not pictured,) Spanish Queen, and Garlic Stuffed olives. The cheeses were Rougette Bavarian Red, Port du Salut, and Roquefort. Feel free to try these if you can find them or substitute your favorites.

Disclosure

In an effort to be open with my readers I want to let you know that House Party and Mezzetta have provided me with free or discounted products that I've used to create this recipe. As always, all opinions are my own.