Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Kindergarten Graduation Cake

I was thrilled at the end of May when my friend and next door neighbor asked me to make a cake for her son’s kindergarten graduation that served at least 76 people. 

I was a little concerned about the size I would need to make it in order to feed that many, so after looking at design ideas and figuring out servings for a few days I decided to make a cake that is similar to this one I found on the Wilton Cake website called “Tomorrow’s Stars”.   I did mine in the school colors and of course, it’s not exactly the same.  Their’s is pretty cute but I must say, I think mine is cuter. ;)


I realized as I was making the little fondant people that for some reason I could not for the life of me find a gingerbread girl cookie cutter in my 101 cookie cutter set that I got for my wedding from someone who must have had great foresight.  Now I’m wondering if the older version’s of the set don’t include a girl.  If not that’s sexist isn’t it?! ;)

So, I had to compromise and kind of “create” the bottom of the people by using a knife and other cutters I had to make them work without having to go out and buy more supplies.  I totally did not break even with this cake so I’m starting to re-think ever using ideas that aren’t my own as a basis again!  Whenever I make a cake idea from a company I always seem to spend WAY more than I wanted to.

I think it did turn out pretty cute though despite having to improvise.  Because I had to make 15 children I made them all different.  Here are some  close-ups:

The front:


The left side:


The back:


The right side:


A little more to the right and around to the front a bit:


I really had a fun time making this cake.  I had my own little emergency during it (like a trip to the doctor for an x-ray) but despite all that, I think it turned out pretty cute.  I really wish my people hadn’t basically melted because I tried to keep them but they turned to mush… Oh well, it was joyous to watch the kindergartener’s and their delight at this cake for them and there was pretty much a character on the cake that looked similar to each classroom child…The one little blonde girl in the class actually begged (and got permission) to take the little blonde girl home which I thought was sweet.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Green and Red Pepper Jelly


After canning salsa, I still had a lot of peppers left so I decided to make red pepper jelly and green pepper jelly.

If you’ve never had either, you’re really missing out on a delicious condiment!  The way I like to eat this stuff is you take a block of cream cheese and smother it with the jelly and have it as a dip with crackers.  Sooo yummy!  Sometimes we have it with tortilla chips too.  It’s a Southern tradition and I got my green pepper jelly recipe from my aunt who lived in Nashville for a while and would make it for Christmas every year.  I added jalapenos to give it a little more kick so that’s an option you can try if you like a little more spice. { Just remember if you add jalapenos, you may want to wear gloves.  I forgot and touched my eye to take out my contacts that night and even though I had washed my hands I felt that lovely burn for a few hours because some of the oils from the jalapenos must have still been in my nails or something.}  The recipe is so sweet I think the jalapenos are a perfect compliment. 

This would make a lovely part of a neighbor gift for Christmas and would be really cute if you put it in a small basket with a serving plate, crackers and cream cheese and maybe a wooden serving spoon.  So if you find yourself with an over abundance of peppers.  Try this recipe.


Susan’s Green Pepper Jelly

6 large green peppers, cut in pieces

1-2 jalapeƱos (cored, seeded and chopped)

1 1/2 cups cider vinegar (4%-6% acidity)

Green food coloring

6 cups sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. crushed red pepper

1 bottle liquid pectin

Put half the peppers and half the vinegar into blender container and process at LIQUEFY until pepper is liquefied (or you could use an immersion blender like I did).  Pour into a saucepan.  Repeat with remaining peppers and vinegar.  Add red pepper, sugar and salt.  Bring to a boil and add pectin.  Boil until mixture thickens when dropped from a spoon (about 20 minutes).  Add a few drops of green food coloring.  Pour into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace, and seal.  Makes about 4-6 half-pints.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bottled Tomatoes: How to make it a little less time consuming…


So after all my adventures making pickles, I got really adventurous and decided to buy 50 lbs. of organic tomatoes that I got from the co-op for less than $0.70 a pound.  I had no idea how many jars of tomatoes it would.  I figured, with the facts that tin cans can’t be that great for us, that I use tomatoes in recipes ALL the time, and that I LOVE tomatoes; it would be fun to can them.  Honestly, it was fun but it took time and felt pretty lonely some of that time.  My friend Julie and I have decided that we will can together because it’s much more fun to can if it’s a “social” thing.

I think I must have a slow learning curve.   Because the first couple of batches went pretty slow.  I did, however, finally figure out a system to get things going a lot faster.  The most important thing about my speeding things up was to get things in a organized manner.  So here are my personal ideas on how to set yourself up to can (or preserve) tomatoes as efficiently and quickly as possible.

*STEP 1: Have a cutting board, two large bowls (preferably metal so as not to melt them), two medium sized bowls and one small bowl ready and handy on the counter by the stove (as you can see, it doesn’t have to be a lot) as well as a pairing knife and a metal sieve.  Keep a large stock pot on the stove with boiling water ready.

*If you’re planning to can these you’ll want to have your jars, lids and rings washed and sanitized and ready to use.  Lids that are boiled prior to sealing seem to seal the best.  I’m a cheater and just put my jars in the dishwasher on “Sanitize” while I am busy doing the other steps it takes to prepare for canning. 


STEP 2: Fill the front large bowl with ice water, the medium sized bowl with washed (and de-stickered) tomatoes and leave the other two empty for now.


Step:3  Core tomatoes and cut a little “X” shape on the bottom.  Set tomatoes aside in large back bowl.  Use the small bowl to collect the cores.  The more you do in this step the faster time will go. When the water is ready and boiling, fill sieve with cored tomatoes and drop them in the boiling water until the skins start breaking away.  Remove from boiling water and plunge into ice water “bath”.  


Step 4: Take tomatoes out of ice water and skin them by pulling off the skin (adding to the small bowl…you may have to empty by now).  Once Tomatoes are skinned, you’re ready to bottle them or make salsa, chutney or sauce!


CANNING TOMATOES STEP 1:  So now that your tomatoes are all ready to go into bottles, get salt, lemon juice, a flat spatula,  bottle tongs, a lid lifter, a teaspoon and a tablespoon (I like to keep the spoons in a little bowl just to keep them clean) along with jars, lids (I just keep mine in a little sauce pan on the stove with water waiting), and rings. 


Here’s an overhead shot…. (My jars are steamy in the dishwasher).


STEP 2: So then all you have to do is stuff the tomatoes in the bottles (along with a teaspoon of salt and a Tablespoon of Lemon juice for Pints) until they’re a half inch below the top then you take the spatula and squish the tomatoes to the side to get rid of any air bubbles.  Add more tomatoes if needed and top with a lid and ring.

SIDENOTE: I like to put my Tablespoon of Lemon juice and teaspoon of salt BEFORE I add the tomatoes but some people tell me they do it afterwards.


Then you are ready to either give them a water bath or steam them in a steam canner.  Check your basket or steamer for times/directions for your altitude.


Aren’t they beautiful?  I did tomatoes, Tomato and Apple Chutney (which is AMAZING with roast beef),and  Zesty Salsa all from the official Ball Canning site: as well as some freezer tomato sauce (which isn’t in the picture because it’s in the freezer).  I really think I’m hooked on this whole canning thing!  Yummy!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Organizing all those clips…

As my daughter is growing out of being a baby and more into a little girl *sigh*, she is also accumulating more hair.  Her hair is pretty curly so if I don’t have a clip in it, it’s basically a guaranteed disaster of knots, tangles and frizzes.  Being totally straight-haired myself, I’ve never experienced the joy of having to tame my tresses.  In fact I’ve always pretty much had to do a lot to get more body and volume.  Anyway, I digress….IMG_8291

Yesterday as I was looking into the messy abyss of my daughter’s hair item drawer the thought occurred to me that she needed “containers”.  The whole “office drawer divider” thing was NOT working because for some reason rubber bands crawl, clips creep, and bows bounce around in drawers.  I needed containers with lids.  So of course, I hopped online and pulled up lists and list of various storage containers….and then I was hit over the head with a thought: “I have little containers with lids.  Lots of them!  In fact, my husband was trying to get me to throw them out just two days ago when we were renovated our pantry (more on that later).”

What were these little containers you ask?  Baby-food containers of course!


Gosh, I love it when I come up with free solutions!

Monday, June 20, 2011

My Macaroni Salad

If you’re looking for something to bring to your next summer picnic/potluck.  You really might want to try my recipe for a totally addictive macaroni salad if you do make it and you don’t share it, you may end up eating a lot of it yourself…at least that’s my problem.  After years of making it and getting requests to share my amazing combination of ingredients in the dressing (which is the secret sauce so to speak) I’ve finally written it down for all to enjoy.  If you make it and love it, let me know!  I’d love to have your feedback!IMG_8150

Heather’s Perfect Macaroni Salad

1 16 oz. package Ditalini


1 cup Mayonnaise

1 cup Miracle Whip

1/2 cup parmesan cheese grated

Salt (to taste)

White pepper

1/2 Tablespoon prepared mustard

1 teaspoon lemon juice

4 Tablespoons sugar

1 Tablespoon sweet relish

Optional Mix-ins:

Cubed Cheese

Chopped Celery

Chopped Carrots

Halved grapes


canned chicken (or tuna if you like this taste)

Chopped red bell pepper

Frozen peas (thawed at room temperature)


Cook pasta according to package directions. In a medium bowl combine the dressing ingredients together.  Next add desired mix-ins.  Chill at least 4 hours or overnight.  Best if made ahead so flavors can “marry”.  Enjoy!