Homemade Suet Cakes

Our family loves wildlife and we spend a lot of time looking out the windows watching the birds. Slowly our boys are learning some of the more easily identifiable species, like robins and cardinals. Not too shabby for two year olds!  To keep our avian entertainment steady we hang bird feeders. When the weather starts getting cooler with winter around the corner I like to provide suet cakes. Suet cakes provide a high energy, easily digestible food source which is invaluable in winter months when regular meals can be harder to find. They are also really easy to make yourself! Since they are made from beef fat (suet) and they can go rancid sitting on a store shelf for months at a time coupled with the fact that ingredients like peanuts and fruit can support mold growth, Serious birders recommend making your own suet cakes rather than purchasing them. Oh! And they cost about .50 cents each to make, so if that doesn’t push you over the edge on your decision I don’t know what would. Take care to only feed suet cakes in the winter months when temperatures are freezing. Feeding suet in warm weather can cause birds belly feathers to get coated in suet during nesting season. When they sit on their eggs the suet can coat the porous shells of their eggs, thereby preventing the embryo from getting the oxygen it needs for proper development.

Beef suet that has been rendered (a product now called “tallow”) that has been cooled then cut into chunks to be used in various applications.

You can visit your favorite butcher and ask for suet by the pound, it’s really cheap. I like to buy 5 pounds at a time and I ask them to cut it up into small chunks, or better yet grind it up for me. Then I put it in the crock pot on low until it is melted (there will be some solid pieces floating around) then using a paper towel lined mesh strainer, strain the now rendered suet into a bowl. Toss out the solid pieces – that is of course unless you enjoy cracklin’s… From here you can go straight to making your suet cakes.

Add 5 cups birdseed to 4 cups melted suet.
Allow the mixture to cool until it begins to turn opaque. This helps the seeds to stay suspended in the fat.

 

Working in small batches, stir 5 cups of birdseed into 4 cups melted suet. Let this mixture set until the suet begins to cool and turn slightly opaque, then stir it well to make sure the seed is evenly disbursed. This ensures that all the seed will stay suspended in the suet rather than sinking to the bottom. Pour mixture into a paper milk carton with the top cut off to make suet cakes to fit in square suet feeders. Allow it to cool at room temperature on your counter, or to speed the process place it in your fridge. When they are solid cut away the paper carton, allow them to come to room temperature and cut into 1 ½ inch chunks with a hot knife just like an ice cream cake! My favorite way to make these is to pour the suet mixture into a mini bundt or doughnut pan to make wreaths, and there is no cutting involved! They make awesome gifts for any bird lover! Store finished suet cakes in the fridge or freezer until needed. – The “flavor” possibilities are endless too, add peanuts and peanut butter, meal worms, cranberries, dried fruits, and any variety of seeds you wish!

Cut the suet cakes with a hot knife
Homemade Suet Cakes
Alternately, you can pour the suet mixture into molds that make for easy hanging.

I hope your family enjoys making these as much as we do!

SUET CAKE RECIPE:

4 Cups rendered beef suet

5 Cups Bird Seed mixture of preference

Cranberries, peanuts, peanut butter, meal worms, dried fruit of your choice (optional)

Yield: 1 paper carton = about 4 suet cakes or 6 mini bundt wreaths

Working in small batches, stir 5 cups of birdseed into 4 cups melted suet. Let this mixture set until the suet begins to cool and turn slightly opaque, then stir it well to make sure the seed is evenly disbursed. This ensures that all the seed will stay suspended in the suet rather than sinking to the bottom. Pour mixture into a paper milk carton with the top cut off to make suet cakes to fit in square suet feeders. Allow it to cool at room temperature on your counter, or to speed the process place it in your fridge. When they are solid cut away the paper carton, allow them to come to room temperature and cut into 1 ½ inch chunks with a hot knife just like an ice cream cake! Or pour into mini bundt or donut pans.

Giving Canning Rings A New Life

Once every 2 or 3 years, our family likes to leave the traditional tree decorating fare in the attic, in favor of handmade adornments. This is just such a year. Is it coincidental that we also have a fledgling walker this Christmas? Hmmmm…I think not . In short, this little tradition helps us remove the stress of breakables, find beauty in the mundane, and brings us together creatively (while being easy on the budget!).

To prepare for this, we set aside Sunday afternoons throughout late October, and November to create. Five of our six children (the fledgling supervised) were involved, so we kept the projects very realistic. On the list were traditional cinnamon ornaments, dried citrus slices (grapefruit slices are our favorite), button icicles, paper roses, popcorn strands, pinecones in a few variations (glittered, plain, and some that were transformed into owls), and up-cycled canning rings. We did make an exception to the handmade rule to include candy canes.

Dried Citrus Slice
Button Icicle & Cinnamon Star
A handmade paper rose!

For now, let’s focus on the jar ring ornaments. I know you all have a box of rusty rings existing deep in a closet somewhere because none of us can bear to throw them out. After all, we might need them someday when that last minute, September truck load of tomatoes comes rolling from a well-meaning friend (who’s really just sick of canning for the year) and you just may need those extra rings-rust and all! But I digress….

Pull out those rusty rings and then head out to the barn. Yes, the barn. You need baler twine. Now grab your glue gun and any embellishments you may desire: buttons, scraps of ribbon, felt, florals etc. You are now ready to begin.

Using hot glue to hold the twine in place, wrap the ring tightly.

Start by putting a glob of hot glue inside the threaded area of the ring and secure the end of your twine there. (I like to hold the twine in place with a pencil until the glue firms up to avoid third degree crafting burns on fingers that just recovered feeling from the above mentioned canning season.) After that, it’s simple, just wrap until you can no longer see the rusty ring. Glue the tail in place and then glue on another loop for hanging purposes. Add the pretties you chose and voila, you have a mini wreath ornament!

Upscale Country Monogram, Wrapped in ribbon.

Another option, for those who desire a little more polish and class in their up-cycle, is to follow the above steps but use ribbon in place of twine. I like a wide grosgrain, but any ribbon will do. Wider ribbon=faster results, because who has time??? For this one, I also used the jar lid from the green beans we had for dinner. I simply hot glued scrap fabric to cover it and my handy dandy gold paint marker to add a fancy “L” for our family name. Getting the lid into the wrapped ring may require calling on a little brute strength, but with a small amount of effort, you should be able to press it into place. It should fit tight enough that you will not need to secure it with anything. So easy!

There you have it! Simple, cost effective, stress free holiday décor!

As always, Striving4Simplicity

Sandra

Fully adorned homespun Christmas tree!

Extra Cinnamony Cinnamon Rolls

I am always looking for ways to improve my cinnamon roll game, and I think I have finally created cinnamon roll perfection. Go figure there is a secret ingredient that’s a smidge unusual…TEA! Yep! Instead of using plain water or milk I went the extra mile and infused rich cinnamon flavor into the dough. I used Cinnamon Hearts Pu’erh from Steeped Tea, it’s a warm black tea with cinnamon and cassia and is probably the most cinnamony tea I have ever had the pleasure to drink, I love a warm cup of tea on a cool day with a splash of milk and a spoonful of honey so it seemed ideal for this recipe. It smells like a cinnamon roll even before it becomes a cinnamon roll and I think I’m in love…not only with these rolls but with the endless possibilities of tea flavors that could be used! Here is the recipe and I hope you give it a try, you will not be disappointed.

EXTRA CINNAMONY CINNAMON ROLLS:

1 package active dry yeast, dissolved in warm water according to product directions

3 cups flour, plus more for kneading

¼ cup maple syrup

¼ cup melted butter

1 tsp salt

1 egg lightly beaten

1/2 cup warm not hot cinnamon tea (I got mine here)

a splash of milk

 

For Filling:

1 stick softened butter

½ cup or more cinnamon sugar

½ cup brown sugar

 

For Frosting:

1 stick softened butter

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla

4 cups powdered sugar

1-2 Tbs milk

Combine all ingredients with mixer and set aside.

Start by dissolving yeast packet in water according to the directions on the packet. While the yeast is doing its thing, in a medium sized bowl, add 3 cups flour, & salt. To this add the maple syrup, melted butter, egg, warm tea, and milk *Note: Do NOT use hot tea, hot liquids will scorch the yeast and render it useless, allow the tea to cool until warm before adding it to the recipe.

Add dissolved yeast and stir until a nice dough is formed. Depending on the day you may find that you need to add more flour or more tea/milk. I find that humidity plays a huge roll in bread making.

Grease the bowl the dough was mixed in with oil and place the dough in the bowl to rise in a warm place.

When dough has doubled in size turn out onto floured surface sprinkle with flour and knead once more adding flour until no longer tacky. With a rolling pin, roll dough flat.

Spread softened butter onto flattened dough with the back of a spoon, sprinkle liberally with cinnamon sugar, then sprinkle with brown sugar.

Starting at one end, begin rolling the dough into a log. From here you can cut the roll into a log the length of a loaf pan to make a cinnamon loaf, or cut into1 ½ inch disks and arrange in your favorite pan.

Bake in oven preheated to 350 degrees and bake for 25-35 min depending on the pan you choose, watch them closely.

Allow cinnamon rolls to cool, then frost and serve!

Roll out the dough
Spread surface with butter and sprinkle cinnamon sugar liberally over the top
Sprinkle with 1/2 cup brown sugar
Roll it up and cut into loaves for cinnamon swirl bread, Allow to rise a second time.
Or cut into 1 1/2 inch disks for cinnamon rolls, and allow to rise again.
Cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven