Saturday, October 29, 2011

Espresso Mocha Ice Cream

If you are a chocoholic that cannot do without your daily dose of espresso, this recipe is a must.

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk 
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup Espresso Mocha Syrup
  •  dash of salt

Make espresso mocha syrup ahead of time and refrigerate. Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate for 3 hours and up to 3 days. When cold, stir and pour mixture into the ice cream maker. Run machine about 20-25 min until the mixture thickens. When the ice cream is finished, put it in a container and then in the freezer for at least 3 hours.

Making Hard Candy

Although learning to make my own hard candy has not been entirely easy, I can say that it has definitely been worth it.  Of course you can always buy natural candy on-line, but making it on your own is much more rewarding and of course more economical.  So if you are considering starting up your own personal candy factory, here are some hard candy making tips and links to notes I've taken along the way.

Hard Candy Making Tips
  • Once your candy reaches the right temperature, it will be important to remove it from the heat right away, add flavor and color and start pouring into the molds.  The candy will cool quickly and will no longer be pourable.  So, always be sure to prepare everything before starting the candy.  Have your molds oiled and set out in place, have a pan with ice water set to the side for testing the candy stage, have your candy thermometer attached to the pan, and have your food color and flavor out and ready.  
  • Pot size is very important. switch pot before cooking if too big or small.
  • Medium high temp is best.  Anything higher and the candy will cook too fast and anything lower will result in you waiting forever for the candy to get to the right temperature.
  • Cover sugar cane syrup as well as candy when it reaches a boil.  Keep covered for two minutes.  This method works better than brushing down the pan with water.  However, I like to brush down the pan after removing the lid just to make sure none of the crystals remain on the inside of the pan.
  • Do not stir once the sugar is melted.  This will cause the candy to crystallize.  
  • Do not put the same spoon in the mixture twice since this may also cause crystallization. 
  • Watch the mixture closely while cooking.  If the temperature is rising too quickly, lower the heat a little.  If it is not moving at all, raise the temperature a little.  The temperature should climb steadily and noticeably.  You don't want to take your eye off it too long since, the sugar will start to hit the caramel stage if you let it go up past the hard crack stage.
  • Some flavor extracts don't work well with hard candy.  Try using more than what is asked for in the recipe.
  • Likewise, some natural colors don't work well with hard candy.  Try mixing longer or just find another brand.  "Select" brand seems to work nicely with hard candy.
  • Grease molds with cooking oil very well before pouring molten sugar into them.  Shortening is not advised.  Canola, vegetable or walnut oils work well.  
  • For best results make sure the mixture reaches the minimum advised temperature before removing even if it seems to have reached the right stage.  If you take it off too early, the suckers will be soft and will droop out of their form in a matter of days.
  • Once candy has cooled in the molds, place them in the freezer.  Unless you live in a very cold place, the candy will be difficult to pop out and you will have more breakage if they are too warm.
Links to notes on each of my batches: 
Hard candy batches number 1- 4 7/12/2011
Hard candy batch number 5 29 Oct 2011
Hard Candy (suckers) sixth batch - 1 Nov 2011

Hard Candy - Fifth Batch

I used the sucker molds for the second time but this time I used walnut oil instead of shortening for oiling the molds.  I am hoping that the type of oil I use is the deciding factor for making the candy turn out right.  My broken glass candy turned out great when I used vegetable oil to grease the pan. As for the other ingredients, I used sugar cane syrup, store bought natural orange flavoring, and Select brand Orange food coloring which was made from annatto seed.  Hopefully this time the suckers will pop out without breaking and will not crystallize.  If they end up becoming brittle, I will have to blame it on the food coloring.  However I'll use vegetable oil next time to be safe if it does go brittle.

So far everything looks fine though.  The candy is clear (not caramelized) and the color is bright.  The taste is good as well.

This time I used a small ladle and this made it much easier to pour into the small molds without making a mess.  I also had enough time to pour the candy in all the molds and then do some touch-up before the candy started to harden.

I will post the results once I remove the suckers from the molds, and of course, in a couple of weeks I'll look to see if the candy is still in good shape or if it becomes crumbly.

Return to Hard Candy Making Page

Friday, October 28, 2011

Guide to Buying Healthy Economical Cheese

Since most cheese comes without additives, I wasn't that concerned about the cheese I purchased until I moved to an area with high groceries prices.  It was then that I started to look closer into the cheese issue.  Luckily, I discovered I could save considerably on monthly grocery expenses as well as avoid unwanted preservatives found in certain types of cheese.

So, when buying cheese, the first thing you'll find is that all cheese is not created equal.  Look at your labels and you will find that some cheese is filled with artificial ingredients and additives.  These are usually the wrapped pre-sliced varieties, the individually wrapped cheese snacks and the shredded cheese.  Fortunately, it is very easy to avoid these types of processed cheeses.  Instead of buying the processed cheese, try getting your cheese from the deli or grabbing a brick of your favorite type of cheese and cut it on your own once you are at home. 

Buying Cheese in Bulk
Though slicing your own cheese may seem like a time consuming hassle, it really isn't.  As long as you know what you are doing, you can buy large bricks of cheese at your wholesale store of choice; Sams Club or Cosco, and then keep it in your refrigerator for months.  There are only a few things you need to know before getting started.
  1. Avoid touching the cheese.  Touching the cheese with your fingers will begin the process of molding.  
  2. Keep your brick in air tight packaging.  Prolonged exposure to air will promote the growth of mold.
If you follow these two guidelines, you will be able to slice, shred or chop your own cheese and a large brick of cheese will last for quite a long time.

How to Cut and Slice Bricks of Cheese
So once, you've purchased a large brick of cheese, you'll need to take measures to be sure the cheese will last once cut open.  So, in order to prevent molding, the best thing to do is to place the brick of cheese on a cutting board and make a clean cut right through the plastic.  If you are cutting cheese in order to make slices for sandwiches, only cut a chunk big enough for what you think you'll use in the next two weeks.  Once you've cut the chunk off the brick of cheese, immediately wrap the exposed end of the brick with cling wrap.  Pull the plastic tightly over the exposed portion of cheese so that no air touches it, and then wrap another piece or so of cling wrap around the sides of the brick to assure the first piece of plastic stays tightly fastened to the cheese.  Place the brick of cheese back in the refrigerator.  This will assure your brick of cheese will last a long time.

Next you will take the chunk of cheese that you cut from the brick and cut it with a sturdy cheese slicer.  If you've never used a cheese slicer before, play with the angle with which you slice the cheese in order to get thin or thick slices.  If you want to shred the chunk of cheese, do so immediately and store unused portions in a plastic bag.  For longer storage, try to remove as much air as possible from the bag without crushing the shredded cheese.  Shredded cheese can also be stored in the freezer for quite some time.  However, it will last longer if left on the brick and refrigerated, so try to shred only what you will need in the next couple of weeks and refrigerate it.

So whatever you need to use cheese for, I'm confident you will find that buying cheese in bricks and doing your own processing will be much more economical as well as help you to avoid unwanted food additives.

Freezing Herbs

I haven't tried freezing fresh herbs yet, but it seems like a great idea since some frozen herbs may work best for recipes that call for fresh spices.  Plus, some fresh herbs are not available year round so having some frozen leaves or herb cubes can be beneficial in this case.

Here's a great resource for freezing spices:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Espresso Mocha Sauce

This is a great sauce to use as an ice-cream topping, for making ice-cream, or for stirring into milk.

  • 2 shots Espresso (further instructions below)
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • Dash of Salt
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
Espresso instructions: If you do not have an espresso maker, this recipe can be made using a cup of coffee in its place.  To prepare the espresso needed for this recipe, add enough grounds for two shots of espresso.  Turn espresso machine on and allow machine to run past the two shot mark until the liquid is equal to 1 cup.  Note: This may be gross if drinking it plain, but it works wonders for this recipe.

In a medium saucepan, combine esspresso, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissovle the sugar. Reduce the heat to low and whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. Simmer 3 minutes.

Add the butter, stirring until melted. Simmer 3 minutes longer. Use at once or let cool and refrigerate, covered. Store refrigerated and covered for up to a week.

Espresso Mocha Ice Cream Recipe

Making Cheese Sauce

It is certainly easy to buy a jar of Alfredo sauce, heat it up and pour it on your pasta; however, making your own Alfredo sauce is just as easy and of course much healthier.  This recipe includes approximate measurements to allow for adjusting serving size and for varying ingredients to taste.

 Easy Alfredo Sauce
  • 1 - 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1-2 Tbsp corn starch
  • 1/4 - 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • pinch - 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2-3 Tbsp butter
  • 1/3 - 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese (shredded) 
In a medium sized bowl, whisk corn starch, garlic salt and pepper into the milk. Add butter and stir consistantly over medium to medium high heat. If sauce does not thicken after a few minutes, stir less frequently but enough to assure the sauce does not burn to the bottom of the pan. Once the sauce starts to thicken, stir in Parmesan cheese until it is melted into the sauce. Pour sauce over pasta on individual plates or stir pasta into the sauce before serving.

Some Notes on Cheese
*This recipe can be used to make many types of cheese sauce such as cheddar sauce or four cheese sauce. White cheeses can usually be added while the burner is still on.
* If adding yellow cheese such as cheddar, remove sauce from heat and then add the shredded cheese. This will keep the cheese from curdling.
* Also, it is best buy chucks of aged hard cheese and grate it on your own.  Cheese that comes grated has additives to keep it from sticking and of course is much more expensive.
* To store unused grated cheese, place it in a plastic bag and roll it so the air is removed. Hard grated cheese will store well for quite some time.
* This makes the recipe even easier since you can shred the cheese ahead of time and grab the bags of cheese whenever you're making cheese sauce.

Taking Advantage of Low Milk Prices

Very often our local grocery store will run specials on milk.  Sometimes the prices are unbelievably low, but if we only consume a certain amount of milk in a week, how can those prices really benefit us?  Well, if you have a list of recipes on hand that require milk, you can make those recipes when the prices are low and stock up on homemade dairy foods such as ice cream, cheese, and much more.  Here are a couple of recipe ideas for taking advantage of those occasional low prices.

Milk Drinks: The easiest thing to make with milk is dessert drinks.  This may sound like a no-brainer, but you may not think about making such desserts unless you have an excess of milk on hand.  Some of the milk drinks to consider are making chocolate milk by stirring in homemade chocolate syrup, making natural milk shakes by throwing some of your favorite homemade fruit syrups in the blender with milk and ice cream, or making espresso drinks such as lattes, cappuccinos, or frappes.  These dairy treats will not use up a ton of milk, but if you are making dessert for the whole family, it will be a wonderful way to make a dent in your stock pile of low priced milk.

Yogurt: Yogurt is an excellent choice of food to make if you have a lot of milk on hand.  Though homemade yogurt should be used within a week, there are plenty of things you can make with yogurt once it is made.  To name a few items, you can make Greek yogurt to eat or cook with, you can mix in some fruit syrup and throw it in your ice cream maker to make frozen yogurt, or you can strain it to make flavored cream cheese.

Gelato: There is no better way to use up milk than to make homemade gelato.  Gelato is special since it has a similar texture to ice cream, but it has a lot less fat since you can make it with whole milk and a thickener such as eggs, gelatin or corn starch in the place of heavy cream.  This means you can use a lot of milk to make a couple batches of gelato.  When the gelato is done, pour it into Popsicle molds to make pudding pops or pour it into a container.  Either way, it will last for months in the freezer.

Ice Cream:  Making ice cream is actually a runner up to making gelato since most ice cream recipes call for heavy cream or half and half in addition to milk.  So you may use a cup or so of milk if you are lucky, but ice cream can be made much quicker than gelato and maybe you have some heavy cream to use up as well.

Cheese Sauce: If you're looking to use up milk, why not make some cheese sauce to top noodles or spaghetti.  You'll use a little over a cup of milk to make this easy Alfredo sauce recipe.  In addition to Alfredo sauce, you can make cheddar sauce, four cheese sauce, or your own cheesy sauce creations in the same time you would take to open a jar of store bought cheese sauce, heat it up and pour it on your pasta.  Homemade cheese sauce is best when eaten right after making it since it may not regain its creamy texture when heated up.

Cheese: I listed Cheese last since this may take a little longer to learn how to make.  However, once you get the hang of making cheese, you can use extraordinary amounts of milk and the cheese you make will last quite a long time depending on what type you make.

Eggnog: Making your own eggnog is easy and definitely economical.  Plus, you don't have to wait for the stores to stock it.  Eggnog can be a great holiday treat but you can also make it whenever you want.  Use it for making eggnog ice-cream or steam it to make eggnog lattes and cappuccinos.

Of course there are plenty of other recipes you can make using milk, but these are recipes that store well or use up a lot of milk.  So I hope this guide will help you take advantage of those super low prices whenever your local grocery has milk on sale.

Homemade Espresso Drinks

Making your own espresso drinks may take a little bit of practice to perfect, but nevertheless, it is worth the effort. The first step to making your own espresso, lattes, cappuccinos, etc. is to purchase a good quality espresso maker.

Espresso Machines
This is where you will need to decide just how much of a caffeine addict you really are.  If you consume an espresso drink once in a blue moon, you may consider investing in a less expensive machine.  Though if you go this route, I must warn you that machines which are under $50 are more likely to give you headaches.  I started off with a less expensive machine and had to deal with several messes when I first started.  If you opt for a more expensive machine, you will have an easier time operating it and will have much better tasting espresso.

Either way, there are many machines to choose from.  Just be aware that there are two basic types of machines.  One machine type has nobs which is a manual machine and the automatic machine has buttons.  I prefer the machine with nobs since espresso made by hand is almost always better than when it is made from an automatic machine.  I recommend the Mr Coffee ECMP50 Espresso/ Cappuccino Maker.  If you chose this model, you will need to purchase a carafe or demitasse in addition to the machine. 

Selecting Espresso Beans
Although espresso is usually ground just prior to making, it is possible to find already ground beans.  If you prefer to start with already ground beans, just be sure the container says "espresso" on it.  If you do not have a coffee bean grinder but want to buy whole beans, simply buy a small bag of beans that say "espresso beans," and dump them in the grinder at your grocery store.  Set the grinder to espresso so that it will give you a fine grind, and put the bag in the machine so that it will catch the grounds.  Once you get home, be sure to put the espresso grounds in the freezer.  If you have a coffee grinder, you will be free to buy espresso beans in bulk.  Just be sure that whatever brand you decide to try says "espresso" on the container.  This will give you the best results when it comes to flavor.  If you like grinding your beans just prior to making espresso, be sure to keep the bag of beans in the freezer so they will stay fresh and will not go bad.  You will always have a better flavor if the beans are kept frozen after opening the container.

Getting Started Making Espresso
Once you have your espresso machine, read the instructions well and follow them closely.  You will need to learn the right amount of pressure with which to tamp the grounds in order to get the best tasting espresso.  You will also need to get used to steaming milk.  If you like lattes, you'll need to learn how to steam milk without making foam.  If you like cappuccinos, you'll have to learn how to steam the milk so it will make foam.  Since every machine has different specifications for tamping the grounds and steaming, I cannot really give you advice on how to do this.  The best thing will be trial and error and of course, following the instruction manual.

Once you've become familiar with your machine, it may be a good time to invest in an espresso making book or guide.  I am a fan of Cappuccino Espresso: the Book of Beverages.  This book gives a good history of the drink as well as tips for buying espresso beans and a guide for making good espresso.  You will also find plenty of recipes for different types of espresso drinks to include recipes frappe drinks, which are well known from Starbuck's "Frapuccino." 

Overall, if you are a big coffee drinker, you will love this investment.  Espresso drinks are so much better than regular coffee that you may never want to make drip coffee again.  If you are already a big consumer of espresso drinks, you'll find that you'll easily make your money back since you'll be able to make your own cappuccino or latte before running out the door instead of dropping $4 or more for every visit to Starbucks.

Espresso Mocha Sauce Recipe

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Basil Garlic Infused Oil

This is a quick method for infusing oil which results in a strong but murky oil which must be used shortly after it is ready.
  • small pack of fresh basil leaves
  • 4-5 large garlic cloves (crushed)
  • Approximately 1 cup of regular olive oil

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a pan or in a double boiler.  Meanwhile, crush garlic basil leaves with the back of a spoon or a mortar and pestle.  Once the oil is warm, drop garlic and basil leaves in the oil, remove oil from heat and allow to cool.  Pour the oil, garlic and basil into a clean canning jar and seal. Store the oil mixture in a cupboard for 2-3 days before using.

Remove lid from jar and place a piece of cheesecloth loosely on top of the jar.  Secure cheese cloth with a rubber band around the top of the jar.  Pour infused oil into a clean bowl and discard the basil and garlic. Oil should be used shortly after the three days waiting period to insure it does not go bad.

Return to Infused Oil Page

Mint Flavoring Oil

  • approximately 1 cup fresh mint
  • canola, walnut, or almond oil
Clean and sanitize a small canning jar. Wash, strain, and dry mint leaves. (removing stems is not necessary). Using a mortar and pestle or the back of a spoon, slightly crush mint leaves to assist in the release of its natural oils. Stuff small jar full of mint leaves and then pour oil until the jar is full. Seal jar with a used canning jar lid and store in a cool dark place for at least two weeks.

Once the oil is ready, loosely place a piece of cheesecloth over the top of the lid, secure it with a rubber band, and drain the infused oil into a bowl. Put infused oil in a clean jar and store away from light.

Return to Infused Oil Page

Mint Flavoring Oil #1

So today I washed and dried a bag full of fresh mint.   I threw most of it in the food processor, then spread it out on a cookie sheet to dry, and I reserved a handful of leaves for making mint oil. Through all of the methods and recipes that I read for making infused oils, I decided that the best method for making oil for flavoring chocolate would be a cold infusion method.  Though this method does not advise bruising of the leaves, many recipes say to do so.  I chose this method over others since it is supposed to result in a clear (non-murky) oil and since there are some concerns noted in various on-line recipes with respect to bacteria when leaving the jar outside in sunlight.  By using a cold infusion method I am hoping to have a longer period of use (3-6 months) before having to use it up or throw it out.  I will be sure to post the results of this experiment but in the meantime, here is the exact recipe I used.

Mint Flavoring Oil Recipe

Return to Infused Oil Page

Monday, October 10, 2011

Homemade Wine #2

I didn't do anything different with this recipe other than trying a new type of juice concentrate and letting the wine mature a little longer than last time.  This time I used one Welche 100% grape and one can of Apple Cherry juice concentrate.  The Apple Cherry did not turn out as well as the grape.  This juice made a white wine that was a bit tart.  With both gallons, I waited a little longer than 4 weeks to filter.  It was most likely 5 to 6 weeks.  After filtering and re-bottling the wine, I let it sit even longer (probably several weeks longer).  The result was that the grape wine was quite impressive.  Since I've been told that my own taste in wine cannot be trusted, my "wine taster" passed the judgement.  So it is official that my balloon wine is good and I am not tooting my own horn :)  As for the Apple Cherry wine, letting it age several weeks longer made it less tart and drinkable.  However, I don't think I'll try that flavor again.

The next batch will be made using an airlock instead of a balloon.

Return to Wine Making Page 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Caramel Pecan Chocolates

  • Candied Pecans (Candied Nuts recipe) - replace walnuts with pecans in this recipe
  • Homemade Caramel (Caramel recipe) - replace corn syrup with sugar syrup in this recipe
  • Dipping Chocolate (chopped)
Advanced Preparation
Make candied pecans and store in an air tight container.  Make homemade caramel and store covered with wax paper in an air tight container.  Refrigerate caramel before making the candy.

Candy Centers
Once all ingredients are ready, take a spoonful of caramel and press a candied pecan half into the caramel. Candy can be made by forming the caramel completely around the pecan half.  Set candy center aside while making the other candy centers.  When the centers are ready, refrigerate or freeze so the caramel does not melt in the dipping chocolate.

Dipping Chocolates
Slowly melt the dipping chocolate in a double boiler. Be sure the water does not come to a boil since the steam will cause the chocolate to clump. Once the chocolate is melted, remove centers from the refrigerator and dip one candy at a time. Coat the candy with chocolate, remove with spoons, and place on a wax paper lined cookie sheet. Stir chocolate in between each candy. Continue making chocolates until you run out of centers or chocolate. If you run out of chocolate first, keep centers refrigerated for a future batch. If you run out of centers, use the remaining chocolate to coat candied nuts, or mix in chopped nuts to make nut clusters. Drop each cluster on the wax paper.

Return to Homemade Chocolates Page

Homemade Chocolates

How to make Quality Chocolates

Use bakers chocolate (using a recipe) or dipping chocolate.  Melt chocolate slowly in a double boiler.  Be sure the water does not boil since the steam will make the chocolate clump.  Pour the chocolate by spoon fulls into ungreased chocolate molds.  Once a mold is filled completely, tap on the table to get rid of air bubbles and then place the mold in the freezer.  Once the molds are filled and frozen, turn mold out onto a cutting board.  Candies should fall out of the molds.  If they do not fall immediately press them out by pushing on the back of the mold.  Mix the remaining chocolate with chopped nuts and drop onto wax paper. 

Peanut Cashew Chocolates Recipe
Holiday Chocolate Crisp Suckers 
White Chocolate Candy Cane Bars 

Melt dipping chocolate slowly in a double boiler to avoid steam coming into contact with the chocolate.  Once the chocolate is melted, place the nut or cold chocolate filling into the chocolate to coat.  Remove chocolate covered center and place on wax paper.  This is a lot more difficult than filling molds and there are many more techniques involved than what I've mentioned.  The temperature of the chocolate will effect how the chocolate turns out.  Be sure to keep stirring the chocolate in between dipping nuts or fillings.

Melting and Texture
If you are making chocolates with baking chocolate, you may run into the issue of the chocolates melting and then solidifying before they are consumed.  When this happens, the chocolates will have a gritty texture instead of a soft texture like chocolate is supposed to have.  To avoid this happening you can keep chocolates stored in the refrigerator or use the chocolate chip trick.  When melting your chocolate, add a little bit of chocolate chips to the baking chocolate.  Depending on how many chocolate chips you add, this will make the whole chocolate mixture pour less readily and harden quicker.  So be ready to pour quickly or paste the chocolate into the molds with a spatula.  You will then be free to store the chocolates however you like since they will keep their soft texture.

Caramel Pecan Chocolates Recipe

Homemade Pasta #2

Our second try at making homemade pasta was once again successful.  Just like last time, we used a simple recipe consisting of two eggs and two cups of all purpose flour.  Though we used the same recipe, this time I threw everything in a food processor to do the hard work for me.  The only draw back to doing this was that I had to kneed in more flour before rolling the dough in the machine and also in between rolling it since it was sticker than when I mixed it with a fork.  However, once the right amount of flour was rolled into the dough, it was just as it should be and cut just fine.

Though the end result was great and quite tasty, making the pasta did not come without some difficulty along the way.  At one point the pasta machine began to come detached from the table.  This created some annoyance and caused us to have to re-roll some dough due to it tearing.  Another issue came when I tried cutting the dough when it was to sticky.  This caused the dough to stick in the machine.  Though I was not happy with this at the time, it was an easy fix.  I just grabbed the crumpled strips of pasta, pressed it back into a ball and rolled it again with more flour.  The dough did not suffer in the least from being cut, re-rolled and cut again.

So our next step in pasta making will be trying a new recipe.  I think the best thing will be to stick with eggs for now but to try whole wheat flour.  After that, we'll try spinach pasta and maybe another flavor before trying pasta made without eggs.

Homemade Pasta #1

Return to Homemade Pasta Page

Homemade Pasta

Though a lot of the processed pasta is made without preservatives or artificial ingredients, you will find that making homemade pasta is worth the effort.  The biggest reason for making homemade pasta is taste.  A lot of the time homemade pasta can be purchased at your local farmers market.  Start by buying several different flavors to see how you like it.  I'm confident you will be hooked.  The second biggest benefit to making homemade pasta is that homemade pasta only takes 2-4 minutes to cook compared to 15 minutes for store bought pasta.  Though I'm not quite sure how this happens, it definitely is nice to have the option of making a healthy and delicious meal on the fly.
The last benefit to making homemade pasta is that it is extremely economical when compared to the price of homemade pasta at your local farmers market.

Getting Started
Though there are benefits to making homemade pasta, you will most likely be encouraged to make it just for the challenge or for something fun to do with the family. To get started, you should have a pasta machine and a pasta drying rack.  Pasta machines roll the dough into a fine strip and also cut the dough into spaghetti or any type of pasta cut that comes with the machine.  Machines come with a crank for manually rolling and cutting the dough through the machine or a motor that does the work for you.  If you get a machine without a motor, be prepared to have a helper close by so one person can crank the dough through and the other can catch it.  Pasta drying racks come in all shapes and sizes and some people even make their own.

How to Make Homemade Pasta Easy
Though making pasta can be quite a chore, the process can be made easy.
  1. The first step to making it easy is to get a good pasta machine which does most of the work for you.  Unfortunately, I started with a hand crank pasta machine.  Though it requires more work to crank the machine, I make it a family activity, which makes it easier and also fun.
  2. The second way to make homemade pasta easier is to use a food processor to mix the dough.  Though I got this idea from an on-line recipe, I did not follow the recipe.  Simply use the recipe that comes with your pasta machine and add water little by little until the dough begins to stick and clump together in the food processor.  Then turn the dough out onto a floured cutting board and kneed until you achieve the right consistency.  Believe me when I say that your arm will thank you for this.  
Homemade Pasta #1
Homemade Pasta #2

Basil Garlic Crouton Recipe

  • 1/2 loaf of homemade french bread
  • 1/2 - 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Fresh garlic (chopped in half and crushed)
  • 1 1/2 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
Bread can be made ahead of time and can be stale. Use oil, basil and garlic to make an infused oil.  This should be prepared at least 2-3 days before making the croutons.

Basil Garlic Infused Oil
To make the infused oil, heat olive oil over the stove or in a double boiler.  Meanwhile, crush enough basil leaves and garlic to fill up a small jar.  Pour the warm oil over the basil and garlic and seal the jar. Store the mixture for 2-3 days before using. 

Once the infused oil is ready, strain the oil into a mixing bowl. Cut the French bread into bite size pieces and toss with the infused oil.  Spread the bread pieces on a foil lined cookie sheet and bake at 250F for 30 minutes to an hour or until hard and crispy.

* The same recipe can be made with other types of bread such as whole wheat or regular white sandwich bread.
* The recipe can also be made with extra virgin olive oil, dry spices, garlic salt, or crushed garlic. Using infused oil will give the croutons a stronger flavor.
* Though homemade ingredients are preferred, this recipe can also be made with store bought bread and infused oil.  Whether or not you use homemade ingredients, this recipe will still be quick and easy since homemade bread and infused oil can be made days in advance.

Return to Homemade Croutons Page

Homemade Croutons

Though there are many recipes on-line for croutons, you will find that they are so easy to make, that you will most likely go without a recipe and start making your own version.  The basic concept behind making croutons is to cut up fresh bread or left over/stale bread heels into bite sized pieces and then toss them with herbs and the oil of your choosing.

For my own purpose, I prefer making an Italian flavored crouton by tossing the bread pieces with Italian seasoning and extra-virgin olive oil.  After partially coating the pieces (not soaking), spread them out on a foil lined cookie sheet and cook at 250 F for 30 minutes to an hour or for however long it takes to make the croutons hard and crispy.  A lot of recipes say to cook at 350 F; however, I prefer a lower temperature for a crispier crouton and less chance of burning.  Croutons made from olive oil should be stored in an air tight container in the refrigerator.  In addition to being great for salad, they also make a nice snack.

Since homemade croutons are so easy to make, I usually toss them in the oven before I start making dinner and they are ready in time for dinner to be served (approximately 1 hour).  Here are some homemade crouton recipes to get an idea of the different things you can do.

Basil Garlic Croutons (my own recipe)
Butter and Garlic Croutons
Garlic Croutons  
Italian Salad Crouton

Infused Oils

Before making homemade infused oils, we should first consider the two types of flavor oils.  One type of oil is the type of oil used for cooking candy and flavoring chocolate.  The other type of oil is an herb infused oil used for dipping bread or for flavoring croutons.  Since I've had little luck making an infused oil that is suitable for candy making, I'll be talking about

Herb Infused Oils
There are several different methods for making homemade herb infused oils.  The method I like best is to heat the oil on the stove or in a double boiler, bruise the fresh herbs being used, stuff the herbs in a clean jar, and fill the jar with the warm oil.  The jar should sit for several days before the oil is ready to use.  If you like, you can also use a similar method by filling the bruised fresh herbs in a container with the carrier oil and placing this container outside so that it is exposed to sunlight.  Though there are many ways of making infused oils, it is best to find a recipe that you like and then try that recipe.  This way, you will be sure of your results and will have some idea of how long your infused oil will last.  Here is a good information source which gives a rundown of the different methods of infusing oil.

Basil Garlic Infused Oil Recipe
Methods for making herb infused oils