Mrs. Sell's Blog of Household Management

Archive for the category “recipes”

Bread-baking tip: winter edition

If your kitchen is way too cold for bread to rise, stick the dough in the oven with the light on — the light provides just enough heat to warm up the dough. Just be sure to take it out before turning the oven on!

bread rising in oven

(Honey-Wheat Bread recipe by Slate)

(Large Loaf Pan in Lapis by Le Creuset)

Book review: The Food Lab

When I was first learning to cook, fear was a big obstacle: mainly, fear of investing a bunch of money and time into something and 1) having it not work because I couldn’t figure out how to do it right, and 2) doing it right, but the recipe itself just wasn’t very good.

What I found then, as a baby cook, and what I find now, as someone who still can’t afford to waste very much time and money on stuff that doesn’t work, is that a good recipe is worth its weight in gold, and finding good recipe developers/writers is the best way to find good recipes.

For me, those writers have been the great Julia Child, and Kenji Lopez-Alt. They both put mountains of time and effort into recipe development, working out the flaws and debunking the myths so that by the time the recipe gets into my hands, the results are virtually guaranteed. And in the process of learning to do things the right way, I pick up tips, tricks and techniques that I apply to all of my cooking, whether it’s one of their recipes or not.

If you’ve followed this blog for very long, you know that I’m been waiting very impatiently for YEARS for Kenji’s book to come out — and it finally has!

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(Kenji, sorry for always nitpicking at you on Serious Eats about the release date! I promise to stop for a while, at least until the next volume is due out!)

I haven’t had time to do more than skim it once or twice, but it is everything that I expected: the writing, the science, and the recipes are all top-notch, and I was thrilled to see that it includes three of my already-beloved Kenji recipes: basic red sauce, grilled naan, and the leg-of-lamb that I make on Easter! (My recipe notebook is full of recipes entitled “[name of food] a la Kenji” for brevity’s sake.)

It is a HUGE book at 6+ pounds, but it was supposed to be two volumes originally, so I guess they compromised. When I get a new book, I usually like to carry it around with me for a few days to read in spare moments, but this one is a tome. That didn’t actually stop me from carrying it around to classes the first day, though… And for the record, this is not the most unwieldy cookbook on my shelf; that honor goes to Julia’s The Way to Cook. So phooey on whoever left that 1-star review because it was “too heavy.”

The only tragedy is that I’m too busy now to just start cooking through it, one recipe at a time. (I guess I still could, but it will take longer.) But I’ve already noted TONS of recipes I want to try, and I know that they will all be amazing.

Bottom line: if you cook, want to cook, are learning to cook, need more practice cooking, or just enjoy reading intelligent, funny prose, buy this book!

 

 

 

Quick caffeinated breakfast drink

This light breakfast is super quick and super simple. If I’m running out the door first thing in the morning, this is my first choice for getting something into my stomach. And if I use a canning jar and handy plastic lid, then there’s barely any clean-up!

What you need:

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I love these vintage-style blue canning jars. Not all of my jars have measurement markings on the the side, but these do, so they’re perfect for this. I use the pint size because that leaves plenty of room to mix the drink.

What you do:

1) Pour six ounces of milk into the jar:

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2) Then pour in 2 ounces of coffee concentrate:

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3) Pour in your breakfast drink packet:

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4) Top with a plastic jar lid:

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5a) Agitate vigorously:

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5b) Maybe even more vigorously:

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6) And it’s all frothy!

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7) You’re done! You’ve got your fat and protein from the milk, carbs and vitamins from the breakfast drink, and sweet, sweet caffeine of life from the coffee!

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I love the plastic canning jar lids; I use canning jars all the time, but I never actually can with them. So the plastic lids are more practical for me: they’re only one piece, they’re reusable, and they don’t rust. I use them for storing things at room temperature and in the fridge, and of course for using jars to mix drinks and salad dressing and stuff.

When I’m making this drink, depending on the flavor of coffee I have going, I usually use a chocolate or vanilla breakfast drink mix. Any of the chocolates would be good (milk, dark, malt), and the vanilla is good, but I’m not sure how the strawberry would go with coffee. I have yet to try it.

Sometimes in the winter I will heat the milk and coffee together on the stove, then stir the drink mix in at the end, but it’s not quite as good warm. The drink mix just doesn’t taste right hot; maybe because you’d expect it to taste like hot chocolate when it most certainly does not.

Once I start college next week, I fully expect this to become a daily routine.

Pumpkin sheet cake

How on earth did I miss this?!?!

I thought I had a comprehensive list of every pumpkin recipe Pioneer Woman has ever made!

It must be mine! Is it too early to make a pumpkin sheet cake? Gosh, it’s like a month until the equinox, which is when I usually start all the autumn stuff… Maybe I could just start on September 1st and call it good.

I don’t know how long I can wait to try it! Why does autumn have to take so long to come? Grrr…

It’s starting… Fall Preview 2015

While I absolutely refuse to dilute the sheer bliss that is autumn by beginning it too early, the marketing profession does not hold themselves to such standards. So, while we’re broiling through the August heat, pumpkin spice and other autumn products have begun to appear in stores.

I took this picture at my local Wal-Mart last week:

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And Starbucks has the pumpkin spice world in a tizzy with their announcement that they’re going to put actual pumpkin in the Pumpkin Spice Latte this fall! I say, don’t mess with something that works, but we’ll see how it goes…

I know that some people complain about the artificial scarcity of pumpkin spice products, but to me, that’s the whole point: if I gorged on pumpkin spice stuff all year long, it would quickly lose what makes it a treat. Even without the products in stores, I could make pumpkin spice things all the time; I deliberately choose not to so that it will remain special.

Here are some things that have popped to prominence in the wake of the Starbucks announcement:

Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes from Culinary Couture:

pumpkin spice latte cupcakes at culinary couture

Pumpkin Spice Latte Jello Shots from That’s So Michelle:

pumpkin spice jello shots at that's so michelle

I’ve never made Jello shots before, but I figure that Pumpkin Spice Latte ones are perfect for practicing on!

And here’s a list of 31 fall-flavored products (pumpkin spice, as well as things like apple and maple). Once fall actually starts, I’ll go through and review all the ones I can!

Recipe: smashed burgers

Smashed burgers have taken the world by storm (relatively), and they’re SO EASY to make at home. This is honestly one of the fastest meals I can make.

I made these after Pioneer Woman featured them, although I saw the recipe first on Serious Eats. (By the way, Kenji’s book is available for pre-order! Buy it! Buy a dozen!)

Smashed burgers:

What you need:

  • 4 ounces 80%-lean ground beef per burger
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 slice of American cheese per burger
  • buns, with butter if you’re toasting them
  • whatever toppings your little heart desires, although these burgers are so flavorful they hardly need any!

What you do:

1) Preheat a griddle or skillet to hot.

2) While the griddle is heating up, butter your buns (using the soft butter in your butter bell)

buttered buns

and toast them before the grill gets too hot.

buns toasting

3) Measure out your beef into 2, 2-ounce balls per burger. That’s right, you’re actually making two small patties per burger.

meat balls weighed

For maximum accuracy, weigh the beef on a scale, but you can also do a good job with your hands. If you buy a pound of ground beef, you can hold it in both hands, then divide it in half. Repeat this until you have eight balls per pound. (I’ve found that my hands are remarkable good at dividing things evenly in half; I can tell by the weight and size I’m holding in each hand.)

4) Befor you start grilling the burgers, unwrap your American cheese, and stage whatever burger toppings you’re using on the toasted buns. The burgers cook really fast, and your hands will be full, so you won’t have time after.

5) Now this goes really quickly, so I wasn’t able to get good pictures of everything, but I’ll do my best to describe it: Place one ball of beef on the hot griddle, then immediately smash it flat with something large and flat (I use a giant metal spatula that I dipped in water so it wouldn’t stick, and a mug for pressing).

smashing

Do that to 2 balls of beef, then lightly sprinkle salt and pepper on each one.

patties 2

6) Cook them until the bottom is nice and brown and the top is just starting to look cooked through in places, then, using a heavy-duty, straight-edge spatula (or a metal bench scraper, or a wall paper stripper), scrape the burger up off the grill and flip it. You want to get every last bit of the browned bits that are going to want to stick to the pan. This is the hardest part; at least one of mine always falls apart, but I just shove it back together. (I need a better spatula.)

7) Immediately place the slice of American cheese onto one burger, then place the other burger on top.

burger finishing

8) Let it cook until the cheese melts, then scoop it up off the pan and drop it right onto the bun, and you’re done!

burgers done

For as simple as these are, they are SO GOOD. They are hot, flavorful, and filling, and don’t require any prep work or planning ahead (unless you have to thaw out the meat). Now if I would learn how to make my own French fries, I’d never have to get fast food again!

Lodge Reversible Pro Grid Iron Grill/Griddle on a glass-top stove

Can you use the Lodge Reversible Pro Grid Iron Grill/Griddle on a flat-top electric stove?

griddle flat

The short answer is yes, you can.

When we moved, I went from having a (very basic) gas stove to this glass-topped, electric monstrosity (gimme a ‘BOOOOO!!!!!). I could go on and on about the travesty of this type of stove (gimme a ‘HIIISSSSSSS!!!!), but for now let me focus on a basic challenge with them: usually, in order for the ‘burners’ to work properly, you need to have as much contact between them and the pan in question.

This causes problems from the get-go, because there are many pans that are not perfectly flat on the bottom. Inexpensive pans can warp slightly with use (I had a regular pancake griddle that didn’t sit quite flat; it was fine on the gas stove but I had to replace it after we moved), or, they can be shaped like this:

griddle ridges side

I’ve got a couple of grill pans; this one is the Lodge Pro Grid Reversible Grill/Griddle, or some version of that long name. The idea is that you have one side that’s flat for pancakes and stuff, and the other is ridged for steaks or whatever you want grill marks on. The problem is that, on the glass-top stove, very little of the pan is actually touching the stove, whichever way is up. With gas, it’s no problem, because the flames just reach up and heat the pan, but no, that’s not the way glass-top stoves work.

The caution is that if the ‘burners’ on the glass-top stove aren’t in contact with the pan, they can overheat, or other bad things. It also takes FOREVER to heat the pan, because first the electric coils have to get hot, then they have to make the glass hot, then the glass has to make the air above it hot, then the air has to get hot enough to heat the pan, which then has to get hot enough to heat whatever’s in it. (Whereas with a gas stove: you apply fire directly to the bottom of the pan. Much more efficient.)

You also have to be super careful moving cast iron pans around on a glass stove, because it’s easily scratched. (WHY WOULD YOU MAKE A SEARING HOT COOKING SURFACE THAT FRAGILE?!?!?!!?)

The good news is that it is possible to use your cast iron reversible griddle on a flat-top stove, as long as you use a little care and common sense:

1) Heat your pan gradually, and no hotter than necessary. You should always be doing this anyway, but I’m much more careful about it when the burners have so much air over them. I start off with the burners on 2 or 3, then gradually increase to 4 or 5, then usually max out at 6 or 7. The good thing about cast iron is that you don’t have to turn the burners way, way up in order to get the pan searing hot.

2) Move the pan around carefully. I have a pair of welding gloves that I use for moving heavy, hot pans, and I’m always super careful with this one. For one thing, it weighs a ton; for another, it gets HOT. So I carefully place it so that it covers as much of the burners as possible, then try not to move it. Once I’m done with it, I let it cool for a while on the stove before I take it off.

Next time I’ll show you the grill in action with the best burgers you can make in your kitchen!

Make your own: cold-brew coffee

I am one of those people who has always liked the scent of coffee more than the flavor. Seriously, how can something that smells so good (especially when freshly ground) taste so much like burned dirt?

So for most of my life, I got my necessary caffeine from soda, with the occasional coffee (during Starbucks holiday season). Eventually, though, I got tired of buying heavy soda bottles and cans and lugging them from the grocery store, then having them take up tons of space on my countertop.

I still needed caffeine, though, so I had to find some way to make coffee work. The main problem was that if I made regular coffee in my little coffee pot, it took way more sugar than I really wanted to ingest every morning just to make it palatable, and even then the bitterness was very unpleasant.

I’d always liked iced coffee, though, and so set about finding out how to make it myself! It turns out that iced coffee is not quite as simple as making a pot of coffee and chilling it. You can certainly do that, but it doesn’t produce that smooth, mild flavor that iced coffee traditionally has, and it still has all the acid that a turns a lot of people away from hot coffee.

I finally found the best method of making iced coffee, using a cold-brew method that I got from several sources. There are many good things about this method: each batch you make will last at least several days, if not longer; the concentrate can be used for iced coffee OR for hot coffee; the result is much less acidic than hot coffee, so you can still drink it if you have a sensitive stomach; and the flavor is so much nicer; it tastes a lot more like coffee grounds smell!

I got my method from The Pioneer Woman, with additional information from Imbibe Magazine and Serious Eats. I use the proportion from Pioneer Woman, but as always with coffee, adjust the strength to your own taste.

What you need:

coffee stuff all

  • coffee (I love Millstone’s Chocolate Velvet and French Vanilla, and I also have a bag of Marshmallow from Target – so good!)
  • a container with a lid to brew and keep your coffee in (I use this wonderful canning bottle from The Container Store. It’s an Italian brand and a little expensive, but I have several of their bottles and jars and they are SO TOUGH: I have dropped these bottles on the floor multiple times and they do not break. But you can use any container you want: a pitcher, a large measuring cup, a bowl, almost anything will work in a pinch.)
  • a funnel (if your coffee container has a small mouth)
  • a kitchen scale (if you want to scale up or down the recipe, this is the easiest way to do it. But I’ll explain other ways in a minute.)
  • a sieve and a coffee filter (or cheesecloth) for straining the coffee
  • another bowl, pitcher, bottle, or other container for straining

What you do:

I use Pioneer Woman’s proportion of 1 pound of coffee (the easiest way to measure: just buy a 1 pound bag!) to 2 gallons of water, except I reduce it to 2 ounces of coffee to 1 quart of water. Normally I just set the bottle and funnel on the scale, zero it out, then pour the coffee straight from the bag until I hit 2 ounces. But this time, I used a little bowl so I could measure the volume of 2 ounces of coffee.

coffee scale bowl

It turns out that 2 ounces is 10 level tablespoons of medium-ground coffee, or 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons.

Once I had it measured, I went ahead and poured it into the bottle as I would normally:

coffee pouring

This is what I normally get: 2 ounces of coffee, straight in the bottle:

coffee scale bottle funnel

Then I just fill the bottle with water as high as it will go. I usually end up with something under a quart, just because of the size limitations of the bottle. If I really wanted a full quart of coffee concentrate, I’d have to use a bigger container.

coffee bottle separated

When you first add the water, all the coffee grounds will float, so you want to either put the lid on the bottle and shake it, or use a long spoon to carefully stir it if you’re using some other container. The coffee grounds should all be wet so you get the most flavor out of all of them. The bottle makes it easy:

coffee bottle combined

I lidded it, shook it up, then made a little hillbilly label with the flavor and the time I started it. The longer you let it sit, the stronger the concentrate will be, but it needs to sit for at least 8 hours. (A lot of people start it in the evening to be done the next morning.) I’m probably going to leave this sitting until tomorrow morning, shaking every now and then to make sure all the grounds stay wet.

THE NEXT DAY:

The coffee has now been brewing at room temperature for about a day. I need coffee, so I’m going to strain it and drink it!

The first thing you do is take your strainer (all by itself, without the coffee filter), and pour the coffee through it into another container. I use my plastic batter bowl, because it is plenty big enough, and it has an easy pour spout.

coffee first pour

It’s nice to have a strainer with handles so it will rest on the sides of the bowl. The majority of the grounds will end up in the strainer, with some of the smaller bits passing through into the coffee.

grounds first pour2

Dump your grounds in the trash or compost, rinse and empty the bottle until there are no more grounds stuck to the inside, and rinse the strainer so grounds don’t go into the final straining of the coffee.

Now it’s time for the last straining!

If the mouth of your storage container is small, place a funnel in the opening, then put the coffee filter in the strainer and set it on top of the funnel. I have to hold mine so the whole thing doesn’t tip over, but occasionally when I don’t mind washing another bowl, I’ll strain it into something wider so the strainer stays up by itself, then just pour it into the bottle when it’s done.

final drain setup

Now slowly and carefully pour the coffee into the filter and strainer, being careful to stop before it overflows. It will take a lot longer than the first straining, so you just have to be patient and wait. Although if you use cheesecloth instead of a coffee filter, I hear it goes much more quickly.

final drain

The coffee trickles down through the filter, strainer, and funnel, and into the jar. Slowly. Once I get close to the end, I start helping it out with a spoon, gently scraping the bottom so the filter doesn’t get clogged.

final grounds

I keep going until it’s not soupy anymore, just wet grounds. The more you get out, the more coffee you end up with. See how much is left after the first strain? Trust me, you don’t want to skip the second step, no matter how long it takes. Unless you like crunchy coffee.

Then toss/compost the filter and remaining grounds, and your coffee is ready for use! I leave the label on so I know what flavor I have going.

final bottle

(The level here is lower than it originally was because I poured out some to drink before I took the picture.)

The great thing about this coffee concentrate is that you don’t have to drink it iced! Yes, you can pour it over ice with milk and sweetener, but you can also dilute it with some boiled water for hot coffee, or heat it with milk for a warm morning drink – my favorite! And it keeps in the fridge for quite a while; if I had room I’d probably make more than a quart at a time. But this way I get to switch up the flavor every ten days or so, so it works out.

Recipe: Chicken Cheese Quiche

chicken cheese quiche

Normally, when I make a quiche, I don’t really follow a recipe. I may look to make sure that I get the ratio of eggs to milk correct, but I usually just throw in whatever bits of meat and cheese and veg I have in the fridge, and that’s dinner.

But the other night I threw together a quiche that was so amazing, I immediately wrote down EXACTLY what I put in it, so I could make it again, and again, and again… And now I want to share it! (That’s what recipes are about, in my opinion.)

What you need:

  • 1/3 recipe Perfect Pie Crust from The Pioneer Woman (Note: I used half butter and half butter-flavored shortening for my crust. The Pioneer Woman usually says that the recipe makes two crusts, but I find that it makes 2 HUGE crusts, so I divide it into 3 parts for normal-size pie pans and things. Like she says, this crust keeps wonderfully in the fridge or freezer for whenever you need a quick crust. It’s great!)
  • about 1 cup Tyson grilled chicken breast strips, diced and warmed in a skillet (Most grocery stores have these, either in the frozen meat section, or sometimes up with deli meats. I usually try to avoid processed foods like this, but these taste DELICIOUS, and they can go from the freezer to the table in about 10 minutes. I usually keep a bag in the freezer and pull them out on days when I don’t have a lot of time to cook; they’re amazing on pasta with sun-dried tomato alfredo sauce, in any kind of quesadilla, on Caesar salad…)
  • 4 ounces Colby Jack cheese, grated (I buy usually buy cheese in 1-pound bricks, and when I get home I cut it into four 4-ounce pieces, wrap them individually in plastic wrap, then put them in zip top baggies according to type and stick them in the freezer. Then when I need cheese, I just pull however much I need out and thaw it. Yes, this is a huge pain, but I got tired of throwing out so much expensive cheese because it got moldy in the fridge.)
  • 2 ounces pepper jack cheese, grated (The pepper jack came in an 8-ounce brick, so I divided it into four 2-ounce pieces.)
  • about 1/8 cup chopped chives
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 2 tiny sprinkles cayenne pepper
  • 2 tiny sprinkles paprika
  • salt and pepper, to taste

What you do:

1) Preheat your oven to 400º.

2) Roll out the crust and place it in a deep-dish pie pan (or quiche pan, if that’s how you roll).

3) Sprinkle the grated cheese evenly over the bottom of the crust, then layer the chopped chicken pieces and chives over that. (I always place my quiche fillings in the crust before I pour over the egg mixture. It ensures that the fillings are evenly distributed, and putting the cheese on the bottom gives a layer of protection so the crust doesn’t get as soggy. Not that you’ll care with this crust, it’s delicious anyway!)

4) In a bowl, blend the eggs, half-and-half, seasonings. Whisk everything together so that it’s as even as possible, then carefully pour over the fillings in the crust. The filling shouldn’t reach the top of the pan; quiche rises as it cooks and you don’t want it to overflow.

5) Set the quiche pan on a rimmed baking sheet (in case it does overflow), cover lightly with foil (I just set a square of foil on top; don’t tuck it around or anything), and bake for 40-45 minutes. At the end of that time, remove the foil and continue baking the quiche for 10-15 minutes until it is set. Before serving, let rest for 10-15 minutes, if you can wait that long.

I honestly don’t know what makes this quiche so amazing. The chives? The bit of pepper jack cheese? The seasoning on the chicken? All I know is that it was incredible.

Note: The only thing I might do differently next time is to reduce the Colby jack cheese to 2 ounces. Normally a quiche this size uses only 4 ounces total, and I didn’t bother reducing the Colby jack when I added the pepper jack. This is a very cheesy quiche. This was the quiche reheated a day later, and the cheese is still overwhelming. (*drool*)

chicken cheese quiche 2

Another note: Monterey Jack cheese (the base of both Colby jack and pepper jack) is a very melty, gooey cheese. If your quiche looks like the egg whites are still raw, look more closely and see if it isn’t just the jack cheese being itself. I almost overcooked this because melted Monterey Jack looks so much like uncooked egg whites. But it tastes amazing!

As with any quiche recipe, feel free to change this to your liking – that’s the great thing about quiche! Hopefully you’ll make your own quiche that is as pleasant a surprise as this one was for me!

Make your own: simple syrup

Simple syrup is usually associated with mixing cocktails, but there are actually several non-alcoholic uses for it, like sweetening iced tea and iced coffee, or even glazing desserts. I recently started making my own cold-brewed coffee (for the method, see here and here) and tea (see here), and found that trying to stir granulated sugar into cold liquid is a big pain. Plus I had a bunch of vanilla sugar that was getting too hard to use, so I decided to mix up some simple syrup with it.

Simple syrup is probably the easiest thing ever to make.  You need water. And sugar. And a pot. And a stove. And a spoon. And something to keep the syrup in. There you go.

My wonderful, amazing-smelling vanilla and bourbon sugar was sitting on my counter, but I often forgot to use it, so the liquid was making the sugar clumpy and hard.

sugar with vanilla specks

Aren’t the vanilla specks pretty? And this stuff smells SO GOOD. Here’s the problem:

sugar clumps

This also smelled amazing, but the hard clumps were difficult to stir into anything that needed sweetening.

sugar water and beans in pot

Fixing it was as easy as dumping it into a sauce pan, adding some water, boiling it, then simmering it down a little.

I found several instructions for making simply syrup, but this one had the most information about different proportions for different types of syrup.

The main thing to remember is that the weaker your syrup is, the more extra liquid you’re adding to your beverage. If you make the syrup stronger, you’ll need less of it and the less you’ll water down your drink. Ultimately, you just have to play with it until you get a strength you like for whatever your application is.

I made mine pretty strong, but didn’t cook it down very long, so it’s a pretty thin liquid. I poured it into an old jar, and the vanilla specks are lovely:

simple syrup in jar with specks

(Note: I reused this jar because the caramel smell in it wouldn’t interfere with the vanilla-bourbon syrup. I wouldn’t use an old tomato sauce jar or anything like that for this purpose to avoid transferring the flavor. That’s also why I bought new jars specifically for making vanilla extract. If you buy your own canning jars for storage, though, you can reuse the jars if you get new lids. Even if you don’t actually can with them, the lids are the things that pick up the smell and flavors the most; the glass will clean up nicely but it’s hard to get the smell out of the lids.)

You can infuse your simple syrup with just about anything: any herb, spice, fruit, vegetable, random plant part you found on the ground outside, whatever you want. You can even make it with tea instead of water! If you’re into mixed drinks (which I’m not), you can probably think of tons of great flavors for your drinks. Just keep it in a sealed container in the fridge, and it will stay good for a while.

Honestly, though, the best thing about this syrup was how my kitchen smelled when I made it. And this was the best-smelling mess I’d ever made:

wonderful-smelling mess

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