Jars, Bottles, and Tins, Oh My!

Lately I have been getting more into finding ways to be a better steward of the earth, as well as more thrifty in household and décor items. One of the things that this has included has been saving and repurposing jars that held pasta sauce, jam, and such, as well as tins that tea came in, and cool looking bottles, etc. for new uses.

A recent trip to Costco led me to finding and purchasing a large bag of nice, long, thin spears of asparagus.  Asparagus can be pretty expensive at the grocery store, and often is on the short, fat, and tough side, so I was excited to find such a large amount of nice looking spears for a good price.  But when you get a large quantity of fresh produce, you either need to use that large amount very quickly, or find a way to keep it fresh for longer.  Luckily I figured out a trick a while back, when I had a fairly sad looking head of broccoli that I wanted to salvage.  If you cut off the end of the stem, exposing a fresh portion of it, and set it upright in a little cold water in the fridge, it helps revive it, and your previously sad produce is looking good and appetizing again!

So, I put a few of my empty jars to use for keeping my bulk amount of asparagus nice and fresh until I can use it all up. I filled the bottom  of the jars with a little bit of water and placed the freshly trimmed asparagus spears upright in them! Yay for jars getting reused for helpful purposes!

I also found a great way to reuse both a small jar, and an empty TAZO Zen Green Tea tin a while ago to use for a flower arrangement.  I filled the jar with water and placed it inside the tea tin, and then arranged the flowers with their stems going down into the water jar, hiding it from view, creating a very cute little coffee table arrangement.

Another reused item along the lines of home decorating is my Patrón Tequila bottle vase.  Thats right. I’m using a Tequila bottle as a vase.  I’m not ashamed to say it.  It is a cool shaped bottle, made of blown glass, it’s lovely, and it was free (courtesy of my Landlords’ bbq/party).  Their friends/family polished off a bottle with a few rounds of shots, and I found the empty bottle in the bushes (how did it end up there?) a day or two after when I was helping clean up the yard.  I thought, “This is a pretty cool bottle, I should reuse it for something.”  And then it became my vase.

Penne Pasta with Butternut Ricotta Cream Sauce

Last night I was feeling like trying something new out that would use ingredients that I already had, and I also felt like inventing it myself.  No Recipe! I love doing this every once in a while, I think that making something tasty that you came up with on your own gives a greater sense of achievement. I hope that as I get more experienced in cooking and baking that I will be able to do this more and more. (Also I think experimenting helps me to get better at cooking, so I guess it goes both ways.)

I was thinking about making some sort of Ricotta Cream sauce to go on Pasta, since I had a good amount of Ricotta Cheese left over from the frosting I made a few days ago, and I also had heavy cream on hand.  Then I remembered that I had some leftover Herbed Whipped Butternut Squash from a previous dinner too.  Then I got really excited. This was gonna be good!

I started boiling water and looked at the different pastas that I had in the pantry and thought the Penne would be the best partner to my Butternut Ricotta Cream Sauce.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 Cup herbed whipped butternut squash [butternut squash that has been cooked and then whipped with a stand or handheld mixer with some butter, salt, pepper, and herbs of choice (I used herbs de provence)]
  • 1 Cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/3 Cup parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 teaspoon herbs de provence
  • 1/3-1/2 Cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste

NOTE: these are approximations, I didn’t actually measure the ingredients when I made this.  Make adjustments to quantity where desired to achieve flavor and consistency that you are happy with.

Instructions:

In a small heavy sauce pot heat olive oil over medium flame and add minced garlic. Cook for a few minutes stirring occasionally and then add the butternut squash, ricotta, parmesan, and herbs de provence. Stir well to incorporate, and continue to heat over medium stirring occasionally until heated through.  Add cream a little at a time, incorporating between additions, until sauce has reached your desired consistency. (I left mine a little bit on the thick  side so that it stuck to the pasta well.) Add to about 14 ounces cooked pasta and stir to coat. Serve immediately. Makes about 3 servings if it’s the only course.  Probably about 5 servings if you are having salad and bread with it.

I was quite happy with the results.  This was fast, easy, and delicious! I will definitely have to do some more original, no recipe, creations in the near future. Enjoy!

Cupcake Negotiations

On Friday while shopping at Costco with my husband, a glorious three tiered stackable cupcake carrier caught my attention.  My eyes lit up, and I gasped in delight! Following my gaze, Tyler caught sight of the object of my desire. I oohed and awed over it for for a bit and then we continued on towards check-out, but I kept talking about how cool it was. Tyler then threw out an offer of letting me get it, if I baked him enough cupcakes to fill it (36) the next day. I was tempted but voiced my concerns over not getting my homework done if I spent a bunch of time baking.  He responded, “Alright… Guess you’ll have to hope they still have it next month when we come back…” This caused concern because Costco is often swapping out the items that they have available, so you can never be sure if something will still be there the next time you go (especially when you only go once a month like we do). So I agreed to the offered negotiation from my husband and hurried to go retrieve the carrier and add it to our cart.

The next day I decided to make Piña Colada Cupcakes, consisting of a Coconut Brown Sugar Cake, Pineapple Rum Filling, and Coconut Frosting with just a pinch of lime zest and a small lime wedge on top. I have made the brown sugar cupcakes a few times before, and they have always turned out great, so I just adapted it slightly by replacing the milk the recipe called for with coconut milk.  I will give the recipe for a dozen cupcakes, since not all of you will be needing to meet the requirement of 36 cupcakes like I had to.

Coconut Brown Sugar Cake

(adapted from Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 Cups + 2 Tablespoons (8 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 Tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 Cup (6 1/4 ounces) firmly packed dark brown sugar (I used golden brown because thats what I had on hand)
  • 1/4 Cup + 1 Tablespoon (2 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 2 (3 ounces by weight) large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 Cup whole milk (I substituted coconut milk)

Instructions:

Put a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Line a 12-cup standard nonstick muffin pan with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder.  Add the salt and set aside.  In a large bowl, using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a handheld mixer, cream together the butter and brown and granulated sugars on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until light and fluffy, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until incorporated.  Beat in the vanilla.

On low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions and the milk (or coconut milk) in two additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and beating after each addition for about 15 seconds, or until combined. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin-pan cups. (I used a pastry bag to fill them, it gives me greater control over how much I fill each cup and seems to cut down on drips that end up all over when I try to spoon the batter into them.)

Bake the cupcakes, rotating the pan after about 10 minutes, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden and a skewer inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, gently loosen the cupcakes from the pan, and then let them cool completely in the pan before removing them.

Pineapple Rum Filling-FAIL

I didn’t refer to anything for creating this, I just decided to be inventive.  I heated Rum, Pineapple juice, and sugar in a sauce pot and added corn starch mixed with a little cold water and let it thicken up.  It wasn’t terrible but it also wasn’t amazing, so I didn’t end up using it.  Suddenly my Piña Colada Cupcakes were missing a crucial element to receiving that name, and therefore were re-titled: Coconut Cupcakes. Not as fancy, but it would do. Since I didn’t end up filling these cupcakes, I will leave the instructions on how to fill a cupcake for another day… so stay tuned!

Coconut Frosting

(adapted from Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts)

Ingredients:

  • 6 Tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
  • 3 ounces (about 1/3 Cup) cream cheese, softened but still cool (I used ricotta cheese as an experiment, and it turned out very yummy but not as smooth as it would be with cream cheese)
  • 3 Cups (12 ounces) powdered sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons (2 1/4 ounces by weight) coconut milk
  • coconut shavings ( You can either incorporate them into frosting or just garnish cupcakes with them at the end.  I incorporated mine into the frosting)

Instructions:

In a bowl, using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a hand-held mixer, cream together the butter and cream cheese on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy.  Sift 1 1/2 Cups (6 ounces) of the powdered sugar into the bowl and stir until smooth.  Pour in 2 Tablespoons of the coconut milk and again stir until smooth.  Repeat with the remaining powdered sugar, followed by the remaining coconut milk. Add and incorporate coconut shavings if desired. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days and let come to room temperature before using. You should have about 2 Cups.

Once I finished all the cupcakes, I got to use my wonderful new cupcake carrier to deliver cupcakes to a bunch of my friends. (I convinced Tyler that there was no way we were going to eat 36 cupcakes, and that we needed to share them.) I think food is best when shared with lots of people that you love!

And here is my prize! Hooray! Now I can bring the joy of baked goods to the masses with ease. It can transport 36 cupcakes with the stackable cupcake inserts, or you can place the included little plastic sheets onto the stackable layers and be able to store cookie, brownies, etc. on the flat surface, or you can leave out the inserts all together, and transport a large layered cake.