DIY: Crushed Red Pepper

by Shawnda on September 3, 2012

in Condiments,DIY,Garden

Homemade Crushed Red Pepper

One of the biggest pains in the garden this year, besides fire ants and weeds, has been the Serrano plant. It’s a hold over from last year’s garden and the only reason it got a reprieve was because I got it mixed up with the jalapeno plant.

Serrano peppers are hot. Really hot. Too hot to eat as casually as we eat jalapenos and they’re not really meaty enough to candy. So what do you do when you’ve got over 100 peppers, screaming to be picked?

You ignore them.

Homemade Crushed Red Pepper

More than once this summer, we decided that we were just going to rip out the serrano plant but I’m really glad that I was too lazy to pull the trigger. Because we found the perfect use for the 71 red serrano peppers that I picked last week: homemade red pepper flakes. (The other 40-ish will meet the same fate as soon as they turn red.)

Crushed red pepper is one of those things that, once you make at home, you’ll never want to buy again. And it takes no real special equipment although some modern conveniences will make the crushing go faster. And with less eyeball-stinging and therefore probably much less cursing.

Your jar of homemade red pepper flakes will be a vibrant shade of red, hinting at the life in each bite. But even more than the heat, which of course I loved, was the texture – crisp and crunchy.

A coarser grind (done by hand, blender, or food processor) will give you a crispy, crunchy bite when sprinkled on top of a bowl of honey sesame chicken and couscous. A finer grind (done with a spice grinder) will give you a powerful powder for seasoning a mean pot of chile.

Homemade Crushed Red Pepper

There’s no real recipe here – after all, there’s only 1 ingredient: Fresh red peppers (I used serrano). I don’t have a food dehydrator so I simply used the “Keep Warm” setting on the oven – it’s 170 degrees. One day, I’m going to try Alton Brown’s DIY dehydrator method (2 AC filters, a bungie cord, and a box fan) but for now, the oven is about as unmessy as it gets.

We cut the stems off the peppers and cut them in half down the length of the pepper. I put them on on an ungreased baking sheet in the oven at 170F (the “keep warm” setting) for 6 hours and then I shut the oven off and let them sit overnight. By morning, they were perfectly crispy and will crumble when squeezed. And shatter into a million pieces when dropped on the floor and stepped on.

Homemade Crushed Red Pepper

Peppers can be crumbled by hand – but only if you have gloves; crushed in a plastic bag, run through a food processor, or coarsely ground and then transferred to a spice grinder.

71 peppers yielded over 1 cup of coarse red pepper flakes. And I’m a little disturbed at how fast we’re tearing through it.



DIY: Homemade Garlic Chile Sauce

by Shawnda on July 11, 2012

in Condiments,DIY

Homemade Garlic Chile Sauce

Oh, sriracha. I adore that stuff. At some point in the last year or so, it supplanted Tobasco as my favorite hot sauce. It’s sweet, it’s spicy, and with a nice dose of garlic, it’s far more flavorful than the little bottle with the red lid.

And with only 5 ingredients, it’s so easy to make your own garlic chile sauce at home. Fresher. And with less (no!) xanthum gum.

The red bell peppers give body to the sauce as well as sweeten it naturally (no added sugar!). And then you’ll get the heat. If you’re not big on heat, consider using less peppers than the recipe calls for (the original recipe called for 4 habaneros or other spicy red or orange peppers).

I used tepin chiles after my 2-year-old stumbled upon a small bush growing wild in our backyard. “Strawberry hurt” were the first words she finally muttered after several minutes of crying and drooling like she had rabies. And for good reason – tepin chiles are hot.

Tepin Chiles

Like, crazy *@&!#% hot. They’re either almost as hot as habanero peppers or as hot as habanero peppers, depending on which site you look at. They’re the official native pepper of Texas (the distinction is important so as not to offend jalapenos) and mostly grow wild because the seeds won’t germinate unless they’ve passed through a bird.

Our wild little plant is growing in the neglected corner of the backyard… right under a power line.

Because the sauce doesn’t have any commercial thickeners, the texture will resemble a fresh, homemade tomato salsa. And after the flavors get a chance to settle for a few days, you’re only problem will be figuring out how to work a spoonful of the vibrant red-orange sauce into everything from breakfast to dessert :)
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DIY Milk Bottle Photography Prop

Raise your hand if you, too, could easily go broke buying pretty things to use for food styling or as photography props for your blog?

Don’t be shy.

It’s an expense that can easily get out of control… and probably land me in divorce court pretty quickly. We mostly take the second-hand route, but when you have a specific item that you’re looking for, you might get stuck looking for a long time. You’ve got a couple of choices: shell out the cash, make your own [fill-in-the-blank], or keep waiting.

Take these cute little milk bottles, for instance.

I’ve been hoping to get lucky and just stumble on a couple at my favorite Goodwill (my teenage self just died) but no one seems to have, or be parting with, cute little milk bottles. I know I could purchase them online, but shipping costs for just a couple of bottles or having to buy them in large volume has kept them planted them firmly in the “I’ll just wait” category.

I got tired of waiting.

DIY Milk Bottle Photography Prop

A while back, I pinned a cute idea from a baby shower to convert Frappuccino bottles into milk bottles.

And for quite a bit less than the cost of a single bottle purchased online, I made 4 milk bottles. Besides the frap bottles, I already had everything else on-hand. The total cost of my project?

Less than $6!

DIY Milk Bottle Photography Prop

Materials Needed
Empty 9.5 oz Starbuck’s Frappuccino bottle, rinsed and dried (I picked up a 4 pack)
Cotton balls
Goo-Gone (or your favorite sticky gunk remover)
Paper Towel

DIY Milk Bottle Photography Prop

I used the alcohol and cotton balls to remove the screen printed date/lot number from the bottles. You’ll need to put some pressure behind it and scrub pretty hard for ~10-15 seconds or so.

DIY Milk Bottle Photography Prop

And then maybe 5 seconds more.

DIY Milk Bottle Photography Prop

Remove the labels and spray Goo Gone onto the sticky gunk left behind (or dab it on with a paper towel if your bottle isn’t the spray bottle variety… we, um, go through a lot of Goo Gone). Scrub the adhesive off and wash the bottles with soap and warm water to remove the Goo Gone.

DIY Milk Bottle Photography Prop

Fill with milk and a cute paper straw (Amazon!) and then shoot!



Before & After: Refinished Cutting Board

If you’ve ever emailed/chatted to ask me where I got a specific prop, there’s a really good chance that I responded with either “Goodwill” or “garage sale.”

Those are by far my top two sources for photography props and food styling accessories. They’re extremely budget-friendly and most of the pieces are well-worn and pretty unique when compared to, say, the small stack of 2-yr old napkins and placemats that I have from Target.

Before & After: Refinished Cutting Board

A few weeks ago, I picked up a second-hand wooden cutting board at Goodwill. I loved that it was worn and that the surface has definitely seen it’s share of serrated knives, chopped tomatoes, and sliced onions. And I loved that it had been used as a “holy crap, this thing is hot!!” trivet. And I super loved that it was priced at 99 cents. Seriously. 99 cents!

What I didn’t love? That golden, honey-yellow finish. What I wanted was a darker surface with that patina/aged wood look.

But I’m married to a hobbyist woodworker so I know that golden, honey-yellow finish is easily banished and that patina/aged wood look is just minutes away.

We stumbled across a pretty neat technique to quickly age wood when researching finishing methods for a house project: a mixture of tea and iron solutions can turn wood from bright “I’m brand new” yellow to “someone left me on the patio for 2 years” grey to even a “yeah, you just try to get this deep a color with regular wood stain” dark brown.

The science is simple. Okay, simple-ish. The iron solution is made from steel wool and vinegar. When brushed on wood, it reacts with tannins in the wood to mimic the aged patina that time and weather impart. And when extra tannins are applied to the wood in the form of a very strongly brewed tea, that stain gets even darker.

Before & After: Refinished Cutting Board

Top to bottom, that’s walnut, aspen (the wood that we used for our tabletop props), and pine using a 24-hour old iron solution. Left to right, that’s the wood in its natural state, painted with the iron solution, and then painted with tea and iron solutions. Oh, and I painted the walnut scrap backwards. Doh!

We used the new staining technique on the cutting board and ended up with a richly-stained, aged piece of wood that almost looks nothing like the original. And with the exception of the steel wool, we actually had everything else on hand. Total cost of the project was under $10. Not. Too. Shabby :)

And the solution gets stronger as it sits. After 72 hours, we were able to turn the surface of pine nearly black. It’s a beautiful finish for an otherwise budget cut of wood and definitely not one that’s easily achievable with ordinary wood stain.

Materials Needed
1 pad of 0000 steel wool – 0000 (it will state as such on the package) is the finest grade of steel wool and will disintegrate faster. Using a more coarse grade of steel wool will likely be okay, but you might not get as strong a reaction as quickly. Note that this is not the scrubby SOS pad you’ll find at the supermarket. You’ll want to go to a hardware store or a home improvement store to find it.
3 cups vinegar, I used cider
3 family-sized standard-brew tea bags
1 1/2 cup water
Medium-to-fine sand paper – it really depends on the condition of your wooden subject.
A wooden subject – any real wood will do, different woods will exhibit different staining characteristics.
2 paint brushes
Finishing wax or other food-safe wax/oil to polish the finished piece, if desired.

I lathered the steel wool with a few drops of dish soap to remove any oil. After rinsing it very well and shaking off excess water, I stretched apart the steel wool so it wasn’t so compacted, and then placed it in a large glass container.

I made the iron solution by heating the vinegar just until bubbles formed in the pan and then slowly poured that over the steel wool. (I poured about 1/4 of it in, swirled it to warm the rest of the glass, and then slowly poured the rest in.)

I set the lid very loosely ajar and placed it on the patio overnight to allow the chemical reaction to get going. See the bubbles? Chemical reaction.

Before & After: Refinished Cutting Board

We’re all adults here, probably, but just in case we’re not… I am not an official source for material safety data, but there are some extremely important common sense-type things to note here:
– Chemical reaction = safety equipment recommended. Take precautions as you see fit. You know, gloves, goggles, work outside so there’s plenty of ventilation.
– Chemical reaction = fumes produced. Do not store this inside your house, do not hang out over the top of the jar while inhaling deeply.
– Chemical reaction = gas produced. Do not secure the lid without providing for ventilation first. When your project is over and you decide to secure a top to your jar, either drill a hole in the screw lid or use something like a rubber-banded cloth/plastic wrap/cheesecloth lid so gas can escape.
– Chemical reaction = not water supply friendly. From a fellow municipal water consumer, please do not pour this down the drain. The “recipe” above might be too big for you if you only plan to stain 1 small piece of wood. Consider cutting it down by as much as needed if you do not wish to store the extras on your “wood stain” shelf in the garage like us :)

The next day, I brewed up the tea. I boiled 3 tea bags with 1 1/2 cups water until the liquid was reduced to ~1/2 cup. I let it cool, squeeze out the used bags, and transferred the tea to a small, clean jar.

I lightly sanded all sides of the board just enough to get rid of the shiny finish so that the raw wood could take in the stain. I wanted to keep as many of the knife marks as possible.

I brushed tea onto the top and sides with a paint brush. After that soaked in, I brushed on a second layer.

Before & After: Refinished Cutting Board

After the second coat of tea has soaked in, brush on your steel wool-vinegar solution using a second (clean) paintbrush to apply it evenly.

Nothing out of the ordinary appears to happen at first, but by the time the vinegar soaks in and dries, the magic will have happened. You might want to brush on a second coat – I did.

I also only did the top at first to have the back as a reference for contrast.

Before & After: Refinished Cutting Board

And after I took that picture, I sanded the black streaks away and stained it using a red wine (tannins!) reduction in place of the tea. The resulting stain was a bit lighter.

Before & After: Refinished Cutting Board

After the wood completely dries, wipe it down with a dry paper towel, and apply a finishing wax or other food-safe oil. My board had a very flat, chalky/ashy appearance to it that went away after using the finishing wax. I was left with a barely-there sheen and a richly stained cutting board.

Before & After: Refinished Cutting Board