Friday, October 19, 2012

Ode to Apples

It is the season when cool weather, warm drinks and crisp apples are all I want to think about!  I love this time of year.  Apples are at their ripest and cheapest, so let’s take advantage!  We wanted to give apples the credit they deserve, so this post includes how to can apples to have on hand all year long and a collection of our very most favorite apple recipes.

Canning Apples

Canning apples is the easiest thing to can and, in my opinion, tastes the best.  It is simple but time consuming, which is why you should can with a friend!  Amy M and I have spent many hilarious hours canning crap.  Trust me, can with a friend, it's way more fun.  Aside from having a blast with a friend there are many reasons to can apples.  They are so healthy and you can adjust the simple syrup recipe to be low calorie, and the end result is like candy, but healthier.  I purchased my apples from a local farmer that sets up a tent in the grocery store parking lot.  Amy M bought hers from a farmer's market.  We both bought half a bushel and it was less than $20.00 each. We both used Golden Delicious, but any variety would be great, get what you like.

What you will need:
1/2 a bushel of apples
12-16 quart size mason jars and lids
8 1/2 cups sugar or sugar substitute (ie: Splenda)
1 Container Fresh Fruit Anti-Browning Powder
Water bath canner
Whole cinnamon sticks (optional)

The Method:
First things first, get your water on the stove.  Water bath canners are pretty affordable, usually around $30.00 at almost any store.  Fill it up to within 6 inches from the top, put the lid on and crank the heat to high.  It takes a long time to get the water boiling in a pot that big.

In another very large stock pot mix your simple syrup and turn the heat up to high on it as well.

Recipe for Simple Syrup:
2 1/4 cups sugar or sugar substitute
5 1/4 cups water
*Be prepared to quadruple this recipe for canning half a bushel of apples.  You can mix it all at once or do half and half.

While everything is heating up prep your apples.  You have to peel them and halve them or slice them.  Amy M and I have a great little device that peels/cores/slices apples all in one step.  I bough mine from The Pampered Chef and I've had it for 12 years and it is as good today as the day I got it.  

Amy's slicer is a little different because instead of having a clamp to attach it to the side of the counter hers has a suction cup.  It works just as great and came from any kitchen supply store.  Look at all those apple peels, I'm not saying the process isn't messy, I'm just saying it's worth it.

The apple spring is what you end up with after you've run it threw the apple peeler/corer/slicer.  My kids love these, although they are very skilled at not actually getting any apple in their mouths when they play with them.  Cut your springs in half and, viola! Beautiful apple crescents ready for the jar.

Once your apples are peeled and cut take the extra few minutes to keep them from browning by filling a large bowl with water and adding about 3 tablespoons of Fresh Fruit anti browning powder.  You can find it in the canning isle of any grocery store.  Just put a handful of apple slices in the treated water, let it sit for a few seconds, remove and put directly into your simple syrup, which should be boiling by now.

Let your apple slices simmer in the simple syrup for about 3-5 minutes or until heated threw, turn off the heat and then using a slotted spoon pack as many apple slices into the jars as you can get.  
*You can absolutely can apples without cooking them in the simple syrup first, and that's what Amy M and I did.  Just prep your apples and put them in the bath to stop browning and then put them directly into the jars.  You still need to heat the simple syrup for the purpose of completely dissolving the sugar, but if you're using a sugar substitute that dissolves easily you don't even have to heat it.  However, you can fit more apples in the jars if you cook them in the simple syrup first.

Once all of your jars are full use a ladle and ladle the syrup into each jar to within 1/2 inch from the top of the jar.  If you like to flavor the apples with a little cinnamon, simply stick 1-2 whole cinnamon sticks into the jar after it is full of apples and juice.  Remove the bubbles by running a butter knife along the inside of the jar, and adjust head space again if necessary.  Wipe the rim of the jar and screw on your lids finger tight.  

By now your canning water should be rolling pretty furiously.  Place your filled jars into the canning basket and carefully place the whole thing into the water in the canning pot making sure the jars are completely submerged but the water is not over flowing.  Put the lid on and process (fancy word for let it boil) for 20 minutes for both pint and quart jars.  After the time is up, remove the canning lid and wait 5 minutes and then remove the jars and allow to cool.  Amy M and I forgot the 'wait 5 minute step' and ended up with jars that oozed syrup a little.  After they are cool the lid should be concave.  If it is not, it did not seal properly and you should eat those suckers immediately.

The last step is cleaning up the massive amounts of apple juice and guts that are now, undoubtedly, covering every inch of your kitchen.  Did I mention this is a messy process?  Messy but worth it.  

Check out the creepiest and most hilarious thing, Amy M accidentally canned a bug in her apples.  We didn't notice until we pulled the jar out of the canner to cool.  At least it was on the edge so we could see it.  We don't recommend canning bugs with your apples...silly Amy...

Eat your canned apples all by themselves, put them over oatmeal (there is a link to a great recipe for oatmeal on this very post!), or use them in any of the excellent recipes we have collected for your enjoyment....

<3, Sharla and Amy M

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Guest Blogger
Cassie Walker
Throws a Party!

So, we have some pretty cool friends around here, and they do some pretty amazing things.  Cassie Walker is one of those amazing people.  She’s a good friend to us ladies on the blog, and a great supporter.  Well, she’s also crazy talented, so we bullied her into doing a guest blog spot for us (I’m sure this won’t be the only one).  Click here to check out her collage of birthday cakes and party ideas, or click the Guest Blogger button at the top of the blog.

Friday, October 5, 2012

 Jail Front Tutorial

So, do you like the jail front in the pic above?  I have included a turorial on how to make it (yay!).  Now, I made this several years ago so I don’t have any pics on the actual assembly, but it’s pretty straight forward.  Put this puppy in just the right place with something creepy being trapped behind makes for a scary night.  It’s also a great background for photo ops.  It’s easy, light weight, and cheap!

2 Peices of 2x4 boards cut 3 1/2 feel long
7 Pieces 3/4” PVC pipe cut 7 1/2 feet long
4 Large black wall brackets
28 2” long screws
2 Cans black spray paint
Drill for attaching screws
Measuring tape
*These are the measurements for the jail front I created, but you can adjust your measurements to make your jail taller, shorter or longer.  However, if you make it longer, I would add additional wall brackets on the bottom to increase balance.
**When you buy your materials, most home improvement stores will cut your wood and PVC pipe for you at no additional charge.

First, mark your two pieces of 2x4.  One will be at the top and one at the bottom.  Start on one end of the board and mark every 6” on both boards.  You should end up with 7 marks (a mark for each pipe, see what I did there?).

Next lay them out and grab your PVC pipe and drill.  Use one screw  at the top of the board and one at the bottom per pipe.  To allow maximum stability, I lined the PVC up with to top of the board.  After you’ve attached each pipe to the top board finish up by screwing the bottom of the pipes to the bottom board with two screws.

Now you need to make it stand up, right?  Grab your wall brackets and screw two onto the front of the jail on each side of the boards.  Stand it up and screw the other two to the back of the boards.

The last, easiest and funnest part is to spray the whole thing black.  

I attached an extra screw at the top so that I could hang my goull from it.  Easy, pleasey, zombies weazey.  :)

Now, go scare up some fun!
<3, Sharla

Spooky Halloween

Now, I’m not saying that Amy A, Amy M, and I are the best there are when it comes to Halloween decor, but we do love to decorate for this holiday.  I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that I have more decorations for Halloween than for any other holiday (sick, I know).  So, we thought it might be fun to just do a post with pics of our decorations, and if you find inspiration in what we’ve done, then be our guest to recreate it.  We also thought it might be fun if our followers would be interested in adding your own pics in the comment section of this post.  We LOVE new ideas, and would love to see yours.

 Here is my front porch.  Isn't the enormous weed growing out of the right pot in front of the stairs  amazing?  Yeah, I planned that (no, I didn't, I just really hate weeding).

 Check out the fireplace.  All Halloween decor you see was $20 or less, collected over years.  The Medusa pic was super cheap at a Halloween shop.  The large spider webs were on sale at K-Mart last season for $2.99 each.  The gargoyle was a Target purchase, as well as the owls and jug of floating eyeballs.  The spiders are my most favorite purchase.  They are big, durable and cling to the stone on the fireplace.  Unfortunately, I bought them several years ago and the store that carried them never got them back.

Smiley plush spider hanging from the light, I like him.

Amy, Amy and I made these last year.  Easy Pinterest project.  Three candle sticks, three jars, black spray paint, and super heavy duty glue.  The bats are rubber decals I stuck on for the holiday.  All of these craft supplies came from Hobby Lobby.

Anyone recognize the spell book on the table?  Don't worry, it's just the most amazing DIY project you can find on this very blog!  The spiderweb table cloth was from a party magazine, the other nick knacks are from Target.  Notice the creepy spider web on the light?  Everyone is selling what they call "spooky material".  Just go to Home Depot and buy a packet of cheese cloth for $4 and rough it up a little.  It's all the "spooky" you'll need. 

 This is a collection of some of my favorite decorations.  The coffin fogger is a Target purchase and that's my kid's favorite, but not mine.  The pic on the left of the storm trooper holding Yoda and Minnie Mouse hugging his leg is from a Halloween several years ago.  It's my family decked out for Halloween night.  I just had it made into an 8x10 and put it in a frame.  The original idea was to replace the pic each year, but I never got that far.  But it is one of my favorite things to put out.  I think my next project will be printing and framing smaller pics of different Halloweens.  So fun.  Also, the witch at on the lamp was a dollar store purchase.  Cheap touch that adds a lot.

Here's another pic of the same stuff, I just wanted to show off the glittered pumpkins from the $1 bin at target beneath the table. 

This is a fun corner.  The skull fogger is from Target, the other skulls are just cheap Styrofoam from various Halloween stores and the snake is a prop from the year my husband was Voldemort.  I am a firm believer in using old costumes to decorate with. 

I cannot remember where this chain came from, my best guess is Target, but I have two and I like to hang them above entryways like spooky garland.

 These red lanterns live in my entryway, so I just dress them up with black candles.  The snake is sitting in a plastic cauldron I bought on clearance from Michael's.

This jail front is one of my favorites.  I didn't make it for Halloween, I made it as a backdrop for taking fake mug shots in front of.  But when I was done taking the pics I thought, "hey, that's kinda spooky...." and this is where it ended up.  I have included a tutorial on how to make your own.  Just keep reading...

Now, send us your pics of your decor and we'll include them on the blog.  Can't wait to hear from you!
<3, Sharla