Search The South Padre Island Flip Flop Foodie Blog!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Homemade Marinara Sauce

Yes, I snuck in some carrots!

We love pasta and it can always be counted on for making a quick week-night supper.  I am generally fine using a good quality jarred Marinara sauce, but always kick it up by adding things we enjoy - extra basil, ground beef seasoned with garlic and onion... that sort of thing.

My granddaughters, however, inform me their Dad never uses pre-made sauce.  He always makes his own.  So, I decided I would make the effort and make some sauce of my own, freeze it, and have it available for those days this Summer when the grand-kids are here and pasta is on the menu.

I've done it before but it always seemed to not thicken.  Today's effort is going to involve a longer cook-down time, hopefully reducing more of the water from the sauce.  Dinner tonight is to be an all vegetable sauce over Cappellini.  So, let's get started!

Debbi's Marinara


1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
3 cups water
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 medium onions - medium diced
2 small carrots - small diced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
3 cloves garlic thinly sliced with my Martha Stewart Garlic Slicer/Press
3 cloves garlic rubbed with kosher salt to make a paste
2 of my ice cubes of olive oil with fresh basil
1 Tbsp granulated sugar

More fresh basil to finish with
Salt and pepper to taste


Add olive oil to bottom of stock pot and heat on medium.  Add onion and carrots and sprinkle with salt.

Cook gently until soft but not browned (about 6 to 8 minutes).  Add all of the garlic, the dried oregano and the "ice cubes" of olive oil and frozen fresh basil (see this post for how to preserve your fresh basil).

Stir for about 3 minutes to soften garlic.  Do not let it brown.  Add some pepper at this point - I added a large pinch.   If you like a little kick to your sauce, this might be a time to add some red pepper flakes.

Add tomato paste and stir for 2 to 3 minutes to remove the raw taste, then add the large cans of crushed and whole tomatoes.  Finally add the cubed tomatoes, sugar, more pepper if desired, and a few pinches of salt.  Mix everything thoroughly.
My husband grew up where they can
Red Gold tomatoes - if they have it
at our grocery store - I always try
to use their products!

Add three cups of water (I rinse my tomato cans with about a cup of water - so this amount is an estimate) - stir to combine.

Bring to low simmer for one hour.  Check for taste - add more salt and pepper if it tastes too bland.  You want to season little amounts throughout the process, remembering that as it reduces, it becomes more concentrated.  An "average" amount of salt now, might taste too salty at the end of the process.  Be conservative.
You can see how much it has reduced.  All the veg is nice and
soft and ready to move to the  next step!

Continue on simmer for another hour.  Check to ensure all vegetables are falling apart soft.  If so, use an immersion stick to blend everything to a "roughly smooth" texture and allow to cook another hour (three hours total - as a minimum - I let it go for a total of 5 hours on a very low heat for the last two after blending).

Taste for final salt and/or pepper needs - add some fresh basil  - amount determined by your taste (roughly chopped or torn leaves) and allow to cook for 10-15 more minutes.  Serve over pasta at this point or cool completely and bag for freezing.  I made dinner with some of the sauce, bagged up 3 FoodSaver bags full for the freezer, and loaded up a jar for the fridge (which will be used within the week).  This sauce had a wonderful texture and a light, summery taste!

All-in-all a good day of cooking.  The house smelled great. Dinner tasted delicious.  Mr. Flip Flop said it was very good ... alls well that ends well!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


Monday, May 18, 2015

Saving Fresh Basil...for later use!

I always have more fresh basil than I can use from my little pots on the deck.  Every year I think "I need to find a way that works to preserve this basil"!  Yet, I never do.  Either bugs or the first cold snap gets them and I start over the next Spring.  Drying has never garnered a happy result and none of the other "saver" systems seem to work for me.

This year, I bought some plastic ice cube trays from the dollar store and tried the "freeze in olive oil" method I'd heard of in the past.

The unfortunate thing was the ice cube trays were hard plastic.  When I banged them to get the olive oil and basil ice cubes out - the trays cracked and broke.  I was able to get the cubes out with a sharp knife along the edge - but lesson learned.  If you want to try this, get some soft plastic ice cube trays that bend so you may twist and pop out the end product...otherwise, you will be throwing away the ice cube trays!

I did these a few weeks ago and didn't take pictures, but it was a really easy process.  I harvested all of the basil that had new growth starting - my plants looked bare, except for the baby leaves, but they have already filled out again (per the photo at the top) and it will be time to harvest again very soon.  I'm always pinching them back so they don't flower and seed as well.

Once I had my "harvest" - which was the amount of a loosely packed freezer size Ziploc bag - I brought them in and rough chopped on the cutting board.  I equally divided the chopped basil between each ice cube compartment and added olive oil to fill just below the edge of the compartment.  I placed the ice cube tray on a small baking sheet and popped it into the freezer and left it over night.

The next day I took them out and began the previously mentioned debacle of getting them out of the ice cube tray.  I did realize that the longer I messed with them, the more the warmth of my hands began to melt the olive oil, which allowed some to slide right out.  They did eventually all come out, but then I had leaky olive oil cubes.  I refroze on the baking sheet for about thirty minutes to take care of the warmed olive oil and then quickly transferred them to the quart-sized Ziploc freezer bag for storage.

I'm so pleased with the outcome.  I'm using a couple of these for the first time as I make a new Marinara Sauce recipe.  I'll post the link as soon as I finish writing the post!  For now - this was a viable way to preserve my Spring and Summer basil harvest.  I envision popping these cubes into various food preparations calling for both olive oil and basil!  Love having an option beyond dried basil in my food supplies! (I also think you can do pesto this way - but I haven't tried it...YET!)

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Vanilla Citrus Roll-out Sugar Cookies

Simple miniature daisies coated with Lemon Drop Glaze
with a small yellow center piped from thickened, colored glaze.
When it is Spring, my head thinks of lemony desserts.  Happens every year.  The tart sweet combination of lemon and sugar is a flavor explosion for me!  I decided to make a recipe for a roll-out cookie dough utilizing some of my favorite flavors.  I think it turned out fairly well and is really just a simple rendition of the most popular cookie dough I make, the Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie.

These cookies are great with a simple lemon glaze or they can be beautifully decorated with royal icing flavored with either vanilla or fresh strained lemon juice.  Yum.

Here's what I did.

Vanilla Citrus Roll-out Sugar Cookies


1 cup butter - room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg - room temperature
1 Tbsp Vanilla Bean Paste
1 Tbsp Cream
1 tsp Lor-ann's Lemon Emulsion
Zest of medium lemon (finely zested - with a Microplane - don't get the pith!)
Juice of that same lemon (after zesting) - should be about 2 Tbsp

3 cups All Purpose Flour - unbleached preferred
1/4 tsp. baking powder (may use up to 1 tsp of baking powder if you want a higher rise)


In bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until well mixed.  
Add egg and mix until incorporated.  
Add vanilla bean paste, cream, lemon emulsion, zest, and juice of lemon.  Mix until smooth.  
Measure flour and add baking powder to flour, stirring to combine throughout.  
Add 1/2 of flour mixture to mixture in bowl and mix on low setting of stand mixer.  
Add the rest of the flour after all incorporated, again on low.  
Stop and scrape all the way to the bottom, pulse again.  
Re-check for crumblies on the bottom of the bowl and scrape up into dough with a spatula.  
Pulse again to fully incorporate all dry ingredients.  Don't over mix.

Love the flecks of lemon zest and vanilla bean that show in
the dough.  Wonderful flavor!

Divide dough in half, pat into a fat pancake shape, and wrap each half in plastic wrap.  
Chill in refrigerator for at least an hour.  Roll between two sheets of parchment for easier rolling of this sticky dough.  If you need to roll on the bench - flour generously to avoid sticking, or add an additional 1/2 cup of flour to the dough when mixing the dry ingredients in.  I always place my baking sheet with cut-outs on it into the freezer for about 15 minutes.  Since this is such a soft dough, I want to ensure the butter firms up and doesn't spread too much when baking.  After the freezer time, it is easy to brush any excess flour from the cookies with a pastry brush before baking.
Dip cookie cutter in flour so it doesn't
stick in this sticky dough.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until the bottom edge of the cookies are just barely starting to turn a light brown.
That can take anywhere between 10 and 18 minutes, depending on the size of the cookie and the particular pan I'm using.    These minis took about 12 minutes.

Remove when done and place pan on a cooling rack.  
Rest for at least 15 minutes.  
Remove from cookie sheet onto a cooling rack until completely cooled.  
I made a batch of  Lemon Drop Glaze and dipped the cookies upside down, placed on rack over the lined baking sheet and allowed to drip down the edges.

With the leftover glaze, I added more sifted powdered sugar and 2 drops of AmeriColor Electric Yellow gel color, and stirred until it was thick enough to pipe.  Using a #3 tip, I piped a little yellow circle in the middle of the daisy.  They were completely dry within 4 hours and able to be stacked between sheets of waxed paper in a container for storage.
Use at least a #3 tip so the zest doesn't clog the tip.
I had one of these this morning - it is a 2 or 3 bite cookie (if you are dainty - one bite if you aren't).  Wonderfully fragrant and full of flavor, enjoyed with a hot cup of tea or coffee.  These are not going to hang around very long I'm afraid!!!
Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


Friday, April 3, 2015

Paint-Your-Own Cookies

Ready to package!

This is really just a quick share!  If you want to learn how to make these cute cookies, there is a wonderful tutorial online via Montreal Confections' Patreon page.  It is a subscription - but for as little as $1 per month you can have access to many of her tutorials.  I enjoy learning from Marlyn and I bet you would too.  She was the original creator of the PYO (Paint-Your-Own) cookie - often copied in the cookie world!  She always says she's happy for people to learn and use her designs.  I do think, however, it is important for cookie artists to attribute the source of their design ideas in social media.  That's why you often see my posts including where I learn things.  I'm a little creative...but not THAT creative.  The link to her YouTube channel above shows samples of the types of PYO cookies you can learn to do on her Patreon Channel.  The actual tutorials are on Patreon at this point.

These were my first PYO cookies.  I made them for my grandkids and some friends of my oldest son...everyone seemed happy to get them!  They were also happy to see I had used my Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie dough.  It's the family favorite.  These cookies were really large and sturdy.  They measured 6 1/2 inches tall and were rolled 3/8" thick.  I only used 1/4 tsp. of  baking powder to prevent spread (but I used a tiny bit so I would have some lift - it's a fine line)!

Simple designs or more intricate.
You can gear it more towards
the age of the child by piping
larger patterns, easier to paint
and stay in the lines...
although staying in the lines
is not at all necessary!

A little tag stapled to the top of the packaging gives
instructions on how to activate the colors.
I loved that this particular project used
food color air-brushed M&Ms for the color dot
instead of more royal icing..
Tasty addition to the PYO line-up!
 Thanks Marlyn, for sharing your creative genius with the world.  I have learned so much from Obi-wan Marlyn!!!

Happy Easter Everyone!!!  May you be blessed with spending the day with your family and/or friends!  Those who don't celebrate Easter - just have a marvelous Sunday!

I just received a photo of one of the painted cookies.  Yay!  Thanks for sharing the art work :-)

Photo Courtesy of James Harris


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Easter's on the Way!

A very light violet royal icing stenciled onto base-coated
cookies - these three were all using Designer Stencils
products.  The flowers were learned by taking  two
different classes on Craftsy - SweetAmbs Sweet Elegance
and Wilton Piped Flowers.

Cookie show and tell time.  I've been working on these Easter cookies for the last few days.  I needed to have them finished by today and I met the deadline.  This isn't everything but I did end up with three dozen that I'm happy with!  I've been taking a lot of "online classes"... Montreal Confections, McGooU, Craftsy, and a lot of quickie tutorials I see on Facebook and YouTube.  Most of these were planned based on something I've learned online.  So, here we are!

I love the baskets of flowers I made based on my class at McGooU.  The basket and handle were piped white with a PME 1.5 tip and then, when dry, painted with a mixture of copper AmeriMist color, some gold petal dust and even a little pink in the middle one - gave it an interesting depth of color.  I like that there is some bare cookie showing with visible flecks of vanilla bean seeds in my Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies.  I worked on flowers every time I had extra stiff icing.  Stored in air-tight containers, piped royal icing flowers last for a really long time!  I keep several containers on hand for days like this.  Love the look!  My grandkids will love eating the "candy flowers".

Montreal Confections posted a video for this project this week on her Patreon channel.  Patreon is a wonderful way to support artists you admire.  I enjoy getting tutorials before others and sometimes they are available only to Patrons.  It's a worthy cause in my book.

I had already baked these little guys and was overjoyed to see her detailed visual on decorating them pop up.  I think they turned out cute and I used most of her technique but made a few slight changes.  I didn't cut out and use her template, but I did print it out to look at it while I piped.  I also did not want to drag out my airbrush so I used some dry orange petal dust to lightly highlight the edges of their cheeks and wings.  Love the depth it gave.  I also used dry luster dust on the was a deep pink with a little sparkle.  This cookie cutter is from Wilton and actually has a bow tie for the little chick.  I bake really thick 3/8" cookies and should have rolled the bow-ties thinner.  After I decorated them, they looked funky because the stuck up so high, so I opted not to use them.  I'm happy with how they turned out - very cute little chicks.

Next up, also learned from Montreal Confections, were these cute 3-D bunnies using a cutter from Chicago Metallics.  I had learned my lesson from the chicks and cut these guys at 1/4".  I would cut the hind legs even thinner if doing again. Pretty much followed Marlyn's tutorial except that I piped a dot of dark gray and lay in a pink 4mm sugar pearl for the eyes and then, using a needle tool, I dragged a bit of the dark gray into these are girl bunnies :-)  Marlyn showed grass down by the bunny feet but I liked the idea of painting on some flowers.  I used a very fine paint brush (I finally found one I love) and just did little dot flowers. They remind me of the beautiful wildflowers currently being seen on Texas roadways and acreage.  Also loved this little project (especially that they stand up so easily).  The paint brush I found at Michael's or Hobby Lobby I'm sure.  It is a LaComeille 18/0 Liner #7350.  I love that it has a thicker handle with a tapered grip which allowed me to hold it in such a way that I had a bit more control.  I tend to get shaky hands :-)

I make chicks every year.  Nothing new here beyond some little wings I piped on.  I found this tiny little carrot cutter in my box of Easter cutters.  I used some leftover icing to pipe the carrot and then used orange food color to paint some stripey looking color - going for a more realistic carrot!

I don't know where I got this bunny cutter with a tail.  I saw lots of people using this cuter this year but using it face-forward.  I was working on trying out some stencils and decided to do the rear-facing bunny on the left and some bunnies stenciled onto an egg on the right.  Stepping away from the "expected" with these two.

These were all stenciled and painted with food color as well.  The bunny ears and eye lashes were painted, the flowers and grass on the left also painted.  The center bunny was stenciled, then dots piped for flower centers and leaves/stems painted two shades of green.  The bunny on the right utilized half of a stencil which I masked off using Press 'n' Seal so the eyes and ears didn't end up with a design on top of them.  These are some of my favorites.

A simple stenciled bunny.  She's pretty in purple.  Very light purple!

By the time I got to these last three cookies I was getting weary.  I used a glass etching stencil for the hummingbird over the flowers.  Trying to hold the stencil still while changing colors with my palette knife was challenging, but it turned out nicely.  The butterfly was stenciled in light blue and then I highlighted with painted accents using that new extra fine paint brush.  The flower spray on the right was the same stencil I used on the bunny above except I didn't paint it.  I was really tired by this point!

Thanks for checking out my cookies - I keep thinking I should start a second blog just for cookies but, darn it, I'm just too lazy!  My blog is kind of like my life - scattered with a variety of interests - I enjoy sharing whatever I find that I like!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


Friday, February 27, 2015

Liam's Steak House & Oyster Bar

I remember wanting to go to Liam's for the last two "event" dinners...and Mr. Flip Flop groaned about putting on "real clothes".  We have REALLY gotten into the casual mode over our years at the coast!  This year, I thought "heck, it's the island, wear what you want"!  We sure aren't trying to impress anyone. LOL!  If you have 'em, put on some blinged out flip flops and go on with your bad self.  We saw folks in their work clothes, tropical shirts and shorts, dresses, slacks, etc.  The island is well-known to be a "no tie zone" so no one should let the fact that they didn't bring any upscale clothes with them on vacation stop them from eating at one of the finest restaurants on the island.

The service was outstanding, the food was exceptionally delicious, and while a bit pricey, it was worth every dollar spent.  A great addition to our list of places we will go for celebratory dinners.

We decided to skip alcohol since it was a week-night and his shift Friday was likely to be long and arduous.  So, we splurged instead on an appetizer of Calamari - a beloved favorite.  This dish was outstanding.  Light textured crust and a generous plate of perfectly cooked nuggets of squid tentacles and rounds made us both smile!.  Topping this dish with delicious slices of large green olives lightly dusted with Parmesan cheese was a surprising, yet scrumptious, addition to the plate.  A crock of warm and spicy, chunky tomato dipping sauce was the perfect complement for the Calamari.  Two huge thumbs up.

They also served a hot loaf of French bread with a scoop of soft butter.  Delish!  Best of all, the service was prompt and attentive, but never intrusive,  The table setting was minimalist and lovely (you know I'm always checking out the dishes) with a crisp white tablecloth giving it the steakhouse vibe.  The decor was definitely coastal, centered by a gorgeously appointed wooden bar with several people seated there sipping drinks.  Quiet and "restrained" - which is a nice switch from some of the more hectic environments you sometimes find on a tourist concentric island.

Now, on to the rest of our dining experience.  Mr. Flip Flop ordered the Prime Rib.  It was served with asparagus and a loaded baked potato as well as a bowl of au jus.  There was a small condiment bowl of creamy sauce, but I didn't even notice it until I was looking at the photo.

The angle of the photo above (because I'm leaning across the table while my spouse rolls his eyes at my wasting his time with photographs of his plate of food) makes the really quite large piece of meat look smaller than it really was.

This angle gives a better idea of how thick and meaty this delicious prime rib actually was.  He said everything was very good and he had to bring home part of the slab of meat as it was so big and thick.  I'm sure it was the breakfast of champions before work this morning!  The man loves eating leftovers for breakfast.

Now, I had heard the Cobb Salad was outstanding, so my decision was basically made before I arrived. The only thing I had to decide upon was my choice of beef filet, chicken, or shrimp as one of my toppings.  It was a deliciously classic Cobb so my brain wanted to go with the chicken.  However, those who raved about this salad had specifically raved about the Filet Cobb - so I went with that.  I am so happy I did.  It was too huge to finish but I did put a healthy dent in it.  I also made sure to eat every bite of the tender, melt-in-your-mouth filet, the perfectly ripe avocado, the boiled eggs, and as much of the bacon and bleu cheese as I could.  I was about to pop.  I now know why my lady friends raved!

I will have to say I am glad it was a little dark in Liam's... I asked for my filet to be medium and that's a little more edging towards medium rare in my opinion.  However, it was probably the better service for the meat - it literally melted in my mouth.  Really glad I couldn't see it all that well at the time though!!!

Bottom line...go there.  It was delightful and everything I could ask for (except a view) upon the occasion of my 22nd wedding anniversary!  I give it my highest rating and will be back again soon!  They are a small venue, so reservations are recommended during the busy times on the island.  We fortunately didn't need them  - but it wouldn't hurt if you want to avoid a potential wait!  I didn't see a single soul hurrying through their dinner!  Be safe, not sorry!


5 – OMG – that was an outstanding meal!  I can’t wait to go back 

Liam's Steakhouse and Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon


Friday, February 20, 2015

Causeway Cafe - Port Isabel

In our continuing tradition of "ladies who do lunch", my friends and I decided to try a relatively new spot for lunch this month.  Iris had already been before and vouched for it being quite good.  Well, let me tell you, it was better than good!  This is a coffee shop and then some!

Causeway Cafe is on the South side of Lighthouse Square and if you are at the light going towards the island, just look to the right - it's the last shop before the Causeway.  Plenty of parking, outdoor seating, lovely indoor decor.  My friend and I just looked at each other and were both going "wow"!  This is just what Port Isabel needed.

Lovely staff, gracious serene surroundings, delicious food, good coffee, lovely coffee cups and dishes.  I was in happy overload!  Another friend had posted how nice it was to have a place to go and sip a good cup of coffee in Port Isabel and, after hearing that, I should not have dragged my feet in getting there.  I can picture myself with a latte and a book, whiling away a morning.  I didn't even notice the pastries, but I'll give an update when I go back!

I brought home a menu but I'm not going to post my pictures - because it is easy to find on their website which I am linking here.  They have a nice little lunch menu and I selected the daily special.  It included one half of a sandwich and a cup of soup for $7.99.  The soup of the day was a Sirloin Vegetable Minestrone I believe - it was delicious.  I selected the seasonal Albacore Tuna Salad on Croissant for my sandwich. It was described as wild-caught tuna blended with relish, mayo, onions, fresh herbs, and spices. Served on a plate with a pickle it was exactly enough for a light lunch.  The flavor of both the soup and sandwich were really outstanding.  Tea and the lunch special totaled right at $10.

Iris had Vickie's Chicken Salad which she gave high praise.  She said the addition of cranraisins was an outstanding touch to go with the all natural chicken breast, walnuts, gala apples, mayo, fresh herbs and spices.  She opted to have it as described on the menu with tomato, onions, and spinach.  She could have had it as a sandwich or over field greens if she preferred.

Our non-eating friend always has coffee and she smiled happily at the generous clear glass cup and the coffee within.  You could tell we were all having a most excellent time as we grinned through most of our time there and lingered longer than we usually do over lunch!  Causeway Cafe had a great vibe!

I can't wait to go back.  I am, of course, posting this in February, so all I know are Winter Hours - 8:00 to 3:00 Tuesday through Saturday - closed Sunday and Monday.

I didn't see breakfast items on the menu, but I did see mention of Muffins!  This will be a great place for Mr. Flip Flop and I to go on those "on-call" week-ends he has wherein we are land locked and can't go over to the island.  Yay!  Love new places!

UPDATE 2/27/2015
Planned my day of errands and appointments to include a second visit to Causeway Cafe - all alone - so I could just sit and take it all in.  Lunch special today included a most excellent Tomato Basil Soup and my half sandwich choice to go with it was the chicken salad on a croissant (what Iris had last visit but as a sandwich).  OH MY - it was to die for.  There was a lot of foot traffic as I sat there - Winter Texans ending their visit and others just coming in for the first time.  Nice to see the place was hopping.  I was happy to find they did have WiFi and I spent a little time staring out the window and reading my book before I decided to have a coffee for dessert.  I selected a White Chocolate Mocha Latte with Half and Half with Whip. O*M*G!!!  It was beyond delicious.  Next time I'll have a double shot of espresso - in it - but for today it was absolutely perfect.

I also had the opportunity to view, but not taste, an array of desserts in their pastry area.  They have gluten free muffins, pies, bars, cheese cake...and I was told the offerings changed regularly.  If I hadn't been so full from lunch and coffee I'd have wanted a piece of something - likely the lemon bar.  I love lemon!

So, take two lived up to the first visit and then some!  YAY!!! (Pssst... I hear they are soon going to have a deck and wine and beer...I think I heard right.  Can't wait to see that happen. I'm hoping that means they might extend their hours some in the Summer.  They didn't mention that, but I can always hope.) Lovely place.  Check it out if you haven't already done so!


4 – Lip smackin’ - good quality – flip flops will definitely be parked under their table again!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!

Causeway Cafe on Urbanspoon


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tricks of the Trade

I often ask myself "why didn't I think of that?"  Yep, it's the million dollar question, isn't it?  I suspect many of us ask ourselves that question when we stumble across something that makes life easier! This post is eventually about creating pods from tipless bags...but first I have to wax on a bit about the creativity that abides in the cookie decorating world.

Fabulous edible art in the cookier world is being created by creative people every day.  Everyday items are also being repurposed by creative cookiers everywhere!  They see a problem and they propose a solution...and before you know it, someone has created a new way to perform a task, and sometimes it evolves into a product that meets the specific need!  Entrepreneurs abound in the cookie world!  Tooth picks to boo boo sticks to needle tools, using craft tweezers to pick up tiny little sugar beads, using a bead tray to corral our sanding sugar and non pareils and safely return them back to the jar. The group of people we all longed to be with started with Cookie Camp, evolved to  CookieCon, and then someone said "hey, how about a CookieCruise?" Learning via online tutorials from Montreal Confections, Haniela, Sweet Ambs, Julia Usher, and McGooU (and so many more)!  Blogs by the awesome Sweet Sugarbelle, CookieCrazie, Glorious Treats, The Enchanted Oven, and Ali's Sweet Tooth (those were my early ones to follow - I follow a LOT more now). There aren't enough words to describe what Julia Usher's CookieConnection has meant to the cookier world!

More tools - Ikea Bevara clips to hold your bags closed, cookie stencils in glorious multitudes of designs and shapes, magnets to hold your stencils in place and free up your hands, the Stencil Genie to get away from using 8 to 16 little round magnets, embroidery hoop with mesh to hold a home made paper stencil, stencil masks to hold down the round stencils that don't fit in the square Stencil Genie, painting on cookies by creating a palette of dried gel colors in an artist's palette, a box of pressed dusts to use like a paint box, BRP Boxes to showcase our cookies, and a Notta Cookie to practice on...OMG, the list goes on and on and on.  The cookiers who read this will likely be able to identify each and every cookie artist who DID "think of that".  I know I have followed and learned from many of them... maybe all of them.  Amazing people one and all and I didn't even go down the path of specialized cookie cutter creations!  Plaque cutters alone could take an entire blog post.  Remember when we just had a big circle or a big rectangle to use as a plaque?  Airbrushes, the KK, now miniaturized projectors....I have to stop and get on to the point of this particular blog post! (Talk about run on sentences and a gushing style - oh well, that's me)

One of my favorite newish products is a very thin piping bag, commonly called a "tipless bag" because it can be cut with a tiny little hole and used to pipe words, or a larger hole to outline and fill a cookie...all without the mess and fuss of using a coupler and tips if you so desire.  It's an import (the downside) and is therefore, longer in shipping time, but it's cheap and very flexible and it doesn't hurt my hands as much as "regular" disposable piping bags do after hours of piping.  They are branded as Master disposable piping bags.  I know I have heard of others in the U.S. who sell these online, but I have only bought mine on eBay and just use the search term "disposable piping bags" to find them.  Arrival time is anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks - so don't order expecting to receive them day after tomorrow!

I was washing out other brands of disposable piping bags so I didn't have to throw away bags that could really be used more than once.  I was freezing my leftover icing with the coupler still in so as not to waste frosting and bags...lots of hoops being jumped through to stretch my pennies.  I didn't jump on the tipless bag craze at first because I LIKED using tips.  So, when I first tried them, I used the couplers and tips and just enjoyed the softer bags in my hand.

However, I noticed more and more artists in the cookie world were being seen with a tipless bag in their hand in photos and videos. I am now all happy about that after using them regularly since Christmas decorating....still, often with a coupler and tip.  Another craze that's been around a while is the icing "pod".  I am not 100% certain, but I think it was the idea of that crafty Karen of Karen's Cookies - the beloved supply shop with the happy yellow tissue paper wrapping their goods for delivery.  Also, of course, Karen is the  CookieCon maven along with her husband Mike.  I never fell in love with the icing pod because, well, I'm a bit clutzy and I slung an entire pod of icing around my kitchen when I tried to make one and instantly went "oh hell no".  Others reported better luck with the Press 'n' Seal product to reduce the potential for icing slingage (that's a new word)...but, I just wasn't going there again.  I was kind of stuck in my ways and I walked away from the pod.

But wait, there's more!  While discussing an unrelated topic, I was talking about these tipless bags in a Facebook group for Texas Cookiers, when Rosilind, from The Dough Bar Co. piped up (haha, no pun intended) and said she used the tipless bags for pods, sealing the ends with a sealer tool.  Sirens went off in my head ... "say what????"  Well, Rosilind, aren't you the brilliant girl!!!  When I decorated my Valentine cookies, I used tipless bags as icing pods within coupled tipless bags for the entire endeavor.  Holy smokes was that an awesome thing!  I didn't seal them, but I'm going to do so from here on out!  I'm always kind of slow to evolve.  Everyone in my family will tell you I really don't like change. LOL!
Prepare a coupler bag as usual and put to the side.
Have a second tipless bag ready to prepare the pod.

Using even the unsealed pod just made everything so much easier, across the board.  Now I know why the pod people love their pods so much!  Preparation, utilization, clean up, saving icing...all easier with a pod!  I am on that band wagon from here on out!  I was able to rinse out several of the outer bags and reuse them because they only had a bit of icing around the coupler insert, and the ones that did get overly messy, I felt free to toss.  I used a lot of icing this year so I had DREADED cleaning up the mess!  With this trick,, so much easier.  I tossed the leftover flood icing - it had sat too long and separated so not worth saving in my opinion.  The piping icing was still perfect so it was sealed and prepared to be frozen.  I was able to flatten it out for much more effective storage in my small freezer.
I used this ultra thin little rubber bands from the hair department
to wrap around the cut tip
These were actually sealed after use - but they held!  Frozen
pods are put in a gallon freezer bag and lay on the bottom shelf
taking up very little room in the freezer.

After a quick thaw, I squished the icing around to
ensure it didn't need re-mixing.  It was good.
Pushed the icing down into tip of bag, twisted, and the pod was
ready to use again.  Piping did well, flood, not so much..
I find flood needs remixing every time after thawing.
I tend not to save flood icing.
I do mark the icing bag with an F or a P to
indicate thickness (use a Sharpie) so I know
what I have when I pick up a bag.

I made a couple of pods of the same color during the heavy use of pink for Valentine's.  It was so nice to just slip out the used  pod, slide in the replacement and on I went.  It even seemed easier to change tips.  I let the inner bag fall gently back into the outer bag while I changed out, then, tipped it forward again and it was ready to go - no muss no fuss.  In the past, I've refilled bags and everything was crusty at the top and, well, regardless of care taken, crusty bits always seem to fall into the icing and, of course, plug up the tips at the most inopportune moments in piping.  Hugely frustrating.  Pods solved that problem and I knew if I didn't use the extra pod of icing, into the freezer it could go and all happy we would be. (that's the royal we...there is no we in decorating at my house...I'm strictly solo unless I have grandkids visiting)

Life changing, Rosilind...just purely life changing for this hobby cookie artist!  Thanks for sharing your marvelous trick of the trade!  I'm sharing the word!

Making a fresh pod in easy steps!

STEP ONE:  Add icing to the bag you will use as a pod.  I find it easiest to suspend it in a glass with the bag top pulled over the rim.

STEP TWO:  Push out as much air as possible, moving the icing as far into the tip as you can.  There is always a little pocket of air at the tip, but that's okay.

STEP THREE:  I use my FoodSaver and seal for 4 to 5 seconds; 3 seconds wasn't enough, 6 was too many.  Before I tried sealing the pod, I used a Wilton Icing Bag Tie for the inner pod. Sealing is easier and lots more efficient when freezing leftover icing.  Also - no crust!  But, still quite doable if you don't have anything to seal with.  Or, if you just want to use it without couplers - this is where you stop - either sealing or tying the back end.  Sometimes I start with the tipless bag and when I am ready to pipe details that need a coupler and tip - I treat it as a pod at that point.

STEP FOUR:  Drop the pod into the bag prepared with a coupler and pull the uncut pod tip through the coupler.
STEP FIVE:  Using your preferred method for closing the back side of your piping bag (I like the clips), secure your bags together...or if you have used a bag tie on the inside, push it down and clip or band above it.  Holding the bag set with tip end up, cut an opening in your inner bag, slide on a piping tip to your coupler, screw on the outer coupler ring and check your flow to ensure it is coming at the speed you want it to.  If you need to cut a larger hole, lean the bag backwards and cut your hole larger in the inner bag, then reapply tip.

When you are finished, unclip, remove the pod, squeeze out the icing in the tip using two tightly pinched fingers, and close with a little rubber band.  Move on to the freezer as described above...or discard if you don't freeze or save your frosting.

Thanks again Rosilind for such an outstanding idea - I just never would have thought of it!!! (Hey Rosilind, if you do it differently, please leave a comment so we know from the originator that there is a different way to do this. I do moderate so it takes a bit before the comment shows up.)

Thank you readers for hanging with me on this very long post.  I love you guys!!!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!