Friday, March 30, 2012

Cutest Bunny Cupcakes

With Easter only a little over a week away, I thought I'd focus on some fun spring and Easter foods and crafts for kids of all ages.  A few years back my middle child wanted a hippity hoppity bunny party at a bouncy house.  Her birthday is in May and thank goodness she told me early because I was able to stock up on tons of Easter clearance, and it turned out just fabulous.  I will post the entire party with details soon, but in the mean time, I thought I'd show you these cute little bunny cupcakes!


Well aren't these the most adorable things you ever done laid eyes on?  So sweet.  My inspiration came from a cross between a family fun bunny cupcake and a Wilton bunny cupcake.  Here I will give you a close up so you can see them in detail, for upon closer inspection you will discover an irresistible urge to pinch their fluffy little bunny cheeks:



Here is what you will need to make the cupcakes:  (click here for printable directions)

Ingredients:

24 cupcakes baked
2 cans of store bought white/vanilla frosting (not whipped, regular)
Mini M&M's for eyes
1 bag regular sized marshmallows 
1 bag wedding mints (pastel)
Pink sugar sprinkles
Pink jelly belly beans (can get small bag of 1 color in bulk sections
1 round tip to make puffy cheeks (Wilton tip 6)

Directions:

  • Make all the ears first, by cutting marshmallows in half and dipping the sticky side in pink sugar sprinkles.  You can kind of shape them into more of an ear shape here, and set aside.
  • Frost cupcakes normally with white frosting
  • Put some frosting in a Wilton bag with round tip and pipe two balls a little lower than center
  • Place the pink jelly bean nose and two white wedding mints for the teeth
  • Place two brown mini M&M's close to each end of the jelly belly bean
  • Put two smaller balls (Wilton tip again) where the ears will go near the top of the head.  Place the marshmallow ears at the base of this dot. Make sure you leave enough room that the ears will sit on the face and not tip off the back off the cupcake.  The frosting dot will hold the ears in place.

And BAM!  You've got your finished little bunny cupcakes gazing up at you and ready for some hippity hoppity fun.  Mine all hopped in line here and were ready to bounce off to the birthday party.  (The kids by the way went ga-ga over these)!



This by the way would make a great Easter craft with the kids or grand kids, fun for a class party, or a bunny party any other time of the year.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Oh Easter Tree, Oh Easter Tree...

Last Christmas, we bought two mini Christmas trees for the girls to use as night lights in their rooms.  They got to pick out the color, mini ornaments, and got to decorate it all by themselves.  They have made very pretty night lights for months and we were about to take them down.  See them here sadly removing all the Christmas ornaments and putting them lovingly in a bag.  :(  Poor things.  But our rooms will be so DARK says one of them.

Then, momma gets a bright idea (ha, pun intended).  I remember seeing some cute, pastel, mini foam/sparkle Easter eggs at the dollar tree, and I thought wait a second, we can KEEP your nightlights girls!  What?  Hooray, so we ran to the store to pick up a few packs, three for each tree.
 
In no time at all we were gussying up the trees with adorable little mini eggs.



Our finished handy work!  Not bad.  I'm going to have to come up with a cute bunny topper or something

 
Executive decisions were made that the pink tree would get solid colored eggs, while the purple tree would get all the stripped ones.  They proudly and carefully placed them back in their rooms and waited for night time to come.
In the meantime, mom was getting artsy doing rack-focus shots with the macro setting. (FUN) 



So after what seemed like an "eternity", night time was finally upon us.  Here is a shot of our Christmas/Easter night lights which we can now keep up for at least another month or so, much to the glee of the wee ones.


It leaves me to wonder if they will want to put spring flowers or 4th of July flags on them in the coming months... Hmmm I guess only time will tell.  I keep you posted.  :)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Excellent Painting Tips

So a few posts back I talked about taking one entire weekend recently to reorganized a spare room, thanks to the "exercise machine chain reaction of 2012", and part of gussying up the new room was to paint it.  When we first moved into this house, we had come from a townhouse with all white walls we couldn't touch.  I vowed that when we were homeowners, we would get some color up on the walls and make this place our own.  Flash forward to present day, and we have completed nine rooms that are fully painted, and I for one, have found some handy tips and tricks along the way I'd like to pass along.

Before you start painting any room, there comes the all important (and sometimes tedious) prepping the room for paint.  Start by taking off all the light switch and power outlet covers.  Then get yourself some brown or blue thick masking tape, and tape off all door frames, window frames, and closet areas.  Make sure the seal is tight so no paint can leak through.  Don't do the floorboards though, I have a GREAT tip for that.  See this little beauty below?  Well you will find it next to all the painting/tape supplies.  It is a great little invention that will save you time, AND many stains on your carpet.  The best thing about this is that it's TWO steps in one!!


Turns out this little baby is both tape (for the taping off the floor boards) AND a plastic drop cloth. Once you get it in place, the plastic then unfurls to reveal 24 inches of roomy plastic that acts as a drop cloth.  It's akin to a Christmas miracle in my book!

Tape and drop cloth in one!  GENIUS
This is so great because the tape and plastic are one unit, there are no gaps between the wall and the floor, thus NO drips can find your carpet.

Next, let me introduce you to my "little friends".  I am in LOVE with these two little gizmos.  Matter of fact, I could easily paint an entire room with them (and I have).


The 4 inch roller pad and the 1" trimmer pad - purchased these at Fred Meyer, but I'm sure you can get them anywhere.
Are they not adorable?  The 4 inch pad is possibly the best invention for painting a room I have come across.  See those little wheels along one side?  Well you use that to make perfectly straight lines.  It works awesome in places like the ceiling line, and between wall colors in the corners (if you are doing two color shades in one room).


Check out this bad boy in action.  Look how straight that edge is!  You just dip the pad into the paint tray, lightly wipe of excess, start a bit below where you want to be and move your way up to the ceiling line, and let the little wheels do the work for you as you roll merrily along.  (Another great tip is: If you are painting over another color, find some of the original ceiling color and with a medium brush, paint the ceiling color down 1-2 inches into the old color and let it dry as we have done here.  That way you are sure to get a perfect edge with the new color)

Here is a close up of the completed line:  Super straight and perfect.  I can hear all the OCD peeps out there clapping with glee.



Now onto the 1 inch pad.  These are stellar for edging around windowsills, floor boards, and sometimes small places like door frames or around outlets.  As long as you have the tape securely fastened to the wall, you can press this pad (sort of has a spongy quality to it) into the wall and really get into all the nooks and crannies for complete paint coverage.  I usually do a 3-5 inches off the base boards and then finish off the wall with a paint roller.


Here is a major TRICK I have learned with base boards, tape, and plastic.  Finish the wall of course with the roller but remove the tape and drop cloth soon after you finish.  Do not wait until the paint is completely dry.  If you do, there might be dry chunks that pull off with your tape and leave chips/holes near the base board.  Pulling it off while the wall is still drying is the BEST way to make sure you will get a clean, straight line.

By the way, speaking of rollers.  They have even done some improvements on these too in recent years! We've have been using a "paint stick" that seems like a roller paint brush at first, but the awesomeness here stems from the fact that the handle holds tons of paint that you suck up directly from the paint can!  This is fabulous because you can do entire walls without stopping for a refill.  They claim you can paint your walls in 1/3 of the time of regular rollers, and we can attest that it really is another great time saver.  

I have found them in the $25-$40 range at a few different stores and they have lasted through multiple projects as long as you clean them well.  These are also so great for painting ceilings or above your head.  Our bedroom has a very high, vaulted ceiling and we used this technique the whole time with little to no dripping (They do come with a "splatter shield" that fits around the roller that you can adjust at will to minimize splatters and leaks).  LOVE IT!

Now if you have never painted a room, or have not painted a room in a long time, I challenge you to go and try out some these new handy gadgets that really can help cut down on time.  

A quick new coat of paint can brighten up/change the outlook in any room, and that can help you get to your happy place just a wee bit faster.  Kids rooms, play rooms, even bathrooms are another great place to pick a fun color and experiment. Add some new bedspreads, or throw pillows, hang some new decorations on the walls or a new shower curtain, and it's like you have a whole new room.  So go get creative!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Recycled Costco Planters

Speaking of green things... I have a great tip that I got from my sister-in-law Sara.  Both she and my brother work for Costco and a few months back she posted on FB there was a great way to reuse your old apple containers. So, being from the Northwest where the spring weather can be a bit delayed, I thought we'd try it.


Her idea was to plant seeds in them, and then use them for starters in your garden!  Now I must say this will be the 4th year of us attempting to garden.  The first year we only grew flowers and pumpkins with our then toddlers.  Each year we have added to it bit by bit.  The second year hubby made me a raised rock garden in the back yard where we tried a number of new veggies.  Last year, he went ahead and made me a second raised rock garden and we did some of the same veggies, but added some new things as well, so by the end of the summer we had: tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, corn, zucchini, a few different kinds of peppers, artichoke, mint, rosemary, basil, lettuce, blueberries, strawberries, AND we have wild blackberries coming over our back fence, so it was quite the powerhouse of a mini garden back there.  This will be the first year we are attempting to grow plants from seeds, and thought these Costco apple cases would make the perfect place to start.

First we filled all of them with gardening soil.  We thought we'd try corn and watermelon seeds to start with.

Next grab a near by four year old and have her help you plant the seeds.
.

Also, be sure to have two out of your three cats come out into the backyard to "help" you organized everything.  They make great seed supervisors.
Hemi looking quite regal                                                            Henry is our acrobat/stunt kitty
Once you get all the seeds planted correctly, have your seven year old help moisten each pod with a little bit of water.  Also it really seems to help if they don't have all their teeth for that maximum joy factor...

After that, place them in a sunny window. It was a tight squeeze, as our window ledge was already full of pepper plants we saved from last year, but we made it work.  We rotated them for a few days to maximize sun exposure.

A few days later, we started to see leafy green things.  Almost every corn seed we planted started to come up!  The watermelon though, was another story.  Absolutely NOTHING came up.  We found out later that even IF something had come up, that watermelon do not take kindly to transplanting.  Plus, I'm not even sure watermelon would even like it here, as I assume they prefer it to be hot and sweaty like in the deep south.

So here they are, our little green sprouts!  We will keep you posted if they survive the transplant into the garden and how they are growing a little later in the season.

So if you do happen to have a few of these lying around, see if you can make them some recyclable seed starters.  I bet they would work great for flower starters too!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Extra Lucky Four Leaf Clover Waffles

I thought I would pop in here and show you our St. Patrick's day breakfast we had this weekend.  I took my heart shaped waffle iron and dyed the batter green, then formed them in to four leaf clovers with a tasty sausage stem.  Turned out pretty cute and nummy.
lucky four leaf clover with sausage stem for St. Patrick's day
The girls seemed to like it, not to mention we served it with the "required" the green milk.

Also we had quite a lot of fun making those shamrock sun catchers I posted about in my last blog, an idea from the blog Serving Pink Lemonade. Shaving the crayons, finding different colors of green, daddy helping us with the iron part, tracing and cutting out the shamrocks.  It was a fun craft for the whole family.

We decided to tape them to our front window instead of hang them, but as luck would have it, we made 20 shamrocks only to find out our front window had spaces for 20 shamrocks. It was perfect.  Or should I say "purfect" because our kitty Haley sat on the window ledge and admired them for some of the day.  Then we got an extra beautiful surprise, as we were treated to a rainbow, (actually a double rainbow) which we thought was extra lucky on St. Patrick's day.  Does that mean there are two pots of gold?  Hooray!

Friday, March 16, 2012

St. Patrick's pancakes with (green) brown sugar applesauce

When we were kids, my mom always made a big deal about holidays.  Whatever the color theme for that particular festivity was, she would try and dye all our food that color for the day.  So for Valentine's day, everything would be pink, shades of red.  For St. Patrick's day she would dye everything green.  She'd dye the milk green, the eggs green, the potatoes green, and even the french toast green.  More than once she tried to serve us green tuna noodle casserole, which, let me just warn you is a clear test of "mind of matter" and sheer will power to eat.  One of our family favorite meals for St. Patrick's day that I have carried on to my own family, is quick, easy, and can be served for breakfast, or dinner.
St. Patrick's day pancakes, with warm brown sugar applesauce and whip cream.
Of course these are just your regular run of the mill pancakes with some green food dye added, but the topper is what makes this dish divine.  Take some homemade applesauce (store bought works too) and pour some into a small pan on the stove and warm up.  Add a dash of brown sugar and heat until the flavors blend.  You can do this anytime of year, but be sure to dye it green for St. Patrick's day.  Then, pour over warm waiting pancakes.  If you have never had apple sauce as a pancake topping, you are in for a real treat.  Think warm apple pie... it's totally to dye for (pun intended).  You can even get all extra fancy and turn the whip cream green and add green sprinkles too for that extra big "WOW" factor.  It's sure to be a new family favorite in no time, and I promise your little Leprechauns will gobble it up .

Oh and for goodness sake, don't forget to dye the milk green too.  They go together like green eggs and ham!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Shamrock Shakes

Not to be confused with my last post, shamrock shapes, we now move on to shamrock shakes.  Tis the season for the sweet green milkshakes that only come out once a year. Thick and creamy, minty and refreshing.  I always find it a cool surprise when my hubby shows up with two that he's secretly stashed in the freezer for us to share after the kids go to bed. And look how adorable they've made it now with a ruffle of whip cream and a cherry on top. A cute little tasty treat to splurge on now and again. It seems in recent years, that as we get closer to the 17th most of the McDonald's have already run out of the delectable stuff.  I found out this year they actually start selling them mid February and that is the reason they are mostly gone by the actual holiday.  You'd think they'd plan ahead for that, right?

In a round about way, I can sort of attribute shamrock shakes to making some really good friends I've had for over thirteen years now.  I believe it was summer time or late fall right before Y2K (member the panic?) when I got a wicked craving for a shamrock shake.  Of course there weren't any to be had, so I went a searching the internet (wow I can't really even say googling, this was way back in 1999) and I came across a copy cat recipe site that had a shamrock shake recipe you could make from home.  

So I cracked out the blender and tried it that weekend.  Not too bad and definitely satisfied the minty taste I had been pining for.  Oh and those friends I mentioned, well I found a group of ladies on that cooking site that ended up started their own cooking site/recipe exchange and we have been friends all these years.  We are from all over the country, and most of us have never met in person, but we have been there for the births of babies, death of loved ones, highs and lows, and all the fun stuff in between. That was on top of sharing fabulous recipes and cooking tips, and all of that thanks to a little ol' shamrock shake you say?  It's funny but completely true.  Here's a little shout out to my Zesty girls (Bee, Sammi, Joanie, Stacy, Kelly, Christie, Tammy, Michelle, and Kim)!

Well as you know, shamrock shakes can be a little pricey, and of course you want the option of having them year round if possible.  So I went a googling recently (I can say google now, since it's modern day) to try and find another copy cat recipe that we could make from home, and here is our result (sans the cherry).
Homemade shamrock shakes
The recipe was almost self explanatory, and though close, I am still on the look out for one that is thicker/closer to the original.  Am I the only one who really feels that the shamrock shake is their eggnog shake (minus the spices) with mint added.  I really think it has an underlying eggnog background flavor, anyone with me here? Defend or Discuss.  Ok so I will link to the recipe we used, with simple ingredients of milk, ice cream, mint extract and green food coloring.  My first thought is the next time we make these, to use chocolate chip mint ice cream for an extra dash of mint flavor, not to mention chocolate chunks are always a bonus.The real test will be to make these next Christmas, when I can add a dash of eggnog in there to see if my suspicions are correct.  I will keep you posted.  In the meantime, enjoy the minty goodness one refreshing sip at a time!



Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Shamrock Shapes

In honor of St. Patrick's day coming up in a few days, I thought I'd post some things related to this rather green celebration.  Every holiday that goes by I try to do crafts with my kids using the colors and themes of the season.  So needless to say I was pleased as punch yesterday, when my oldest, on her own, re-purposed some foam valentine stickers to make shamrock shapes to decorate some paper plates.  Yeah!  She's a mini me!  She and her sister both had fun gussying up both sides of the plates, only trouble for me now is choosing which side to proudly display on the fridge.  Here is their handy work.
three and four leaf clovers made from heart foam stickers
So that's a great thing to remember that heart shapes make great clovers when you put the tips end to end.  I have this heart shaped waffle maker that makes 5 mini hearts into a flower shape.  Now the wheels are already spinning on how they are going to get green shamrock waffles for breakfast on St. Patrick's day this Saturday.  
I was also looking around the interwebs for a few more craft ideas, and I found a few we want to try this week.  Here is the first one, found on a  blog at Silly Eagle Books using these same foam stickers to make a shamrock shaped stamp by gluing them to a recycled lid.

Heart shamrock stamper as created by Vanessa at "Silly Eagle Books"
You can dip these in paint, a stamp pad, or even color over them with markers to transfer tons of fun shamrock shapes onto paper.  Matter of fact you could use any foam shape and make some easy stampers out of them.

Another great idea for a St. Patrick's day kid's craft are these beautiful shamrock sun catchers from the blog Serving Pink Lemonade.  (Ironically, it's snowing today, in mid March, so a few pretty sun catchers in the window might just do the trick to help get our minds on spring time).
Beautiful shamrock sun catchers from Jeanine and Amy from "Serving Pink Lemonade"
You can make these beauties using wax paper, crayon shavings, and an iron. Click on the link above for full instructions.  You could really use this technique for any upcoming holiday. We for one are up to our eyeballs in half broken and paperless crayons, thanks to one, tireless 4-year-old who should be hired on full time somewhere for her love of disassembling crayons and creating confetti.  Now we can put her crazy love of shredding to good use in a lovely craft project for the whole family.


Have fun with the kids this week and get creative!  It's not easy being green... or is it?!

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Extra Creamy Cheesiest

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So as you can tell, I've been on a "make it homemade" kick with all my recipes. From homemade strawberry ice cream, new soup attempts in Big Blue Mama, and even homemade pizza dough and cheesy bread I am really enjoying the art of cooking lately.  One day I decided to tackle one of the most loved dishes in all of childhood, the boxed mac and cheese.  I had this feeling I could make a tastier version without having to run to the store, and using things I already had on hand in my pantry.  I wanted to keep it mom friendly though, and tried to mimic the steps from the box, so it would feel familiar and easy to whip up at a moments notice.  This is what I came up with.
Cheesy cheesy goodness.  Your kids will beg for this one
Now doesn't that just scream ooey gooey deliciousness?  What kid wouldn't want a big ol' bowl of this golden cheesy goodness? Plus you can make a big pot with only FIVE ingredients. (full printable recipe at end of post)
A few ingredients you probably already have on hand
So there are only a few common ingredients to make this delectable comfort food.  
Noodles (any kind will do, but shells are great for holding a lot of sauce), 1 can evaporated milk, 
1 can cheddar cheese soup, 1-2 cups of shredded cheese, butter, and salt and pepper to taste (or Johny's seasoning salt).

After cooking and draining your noodles, add them back to the same pot.  
Add your butter and stir it around til the warm noodles melt it.  (Just like you would on the box)

I'm assuming you know how to boil water, cook noodles, drain, then add 4 TBSP butter ;)

Next stir in 1 can of cheddar cheese soup (this would be like adding the cheese packet here)
Add some cheddar cheese soup to the party
Next you will want to add about half the can of evaporated milk and stir until combined.  
(This is like adding the milk on the box) Now we're starting to look like something yummy is about to happen!
Get in my belleh!  (Ok not yet, but SOON)
When combined, then it's time to add the grated cheese.  This is really at your own discretion, but between 1-2 cups of cheese works great. (You can leave the burner on medium low or low to help melt things together) Start with one cup and mix in, if you need more, add a little at a time.  
(This is where we add real cheese to so called mac and CHEESE, what a concept!!)
Any medium/mild cheddar will work, I used Tillamook cheese (popular on the NW coast)
The reason you keep some of the evaporated milk back is that after the cheese melts, if its a tad on the thick side, add a touch more milk and stir until you have your desired consistency.  This is a good time to taste and season.  The KEY here is seasoning.  I normally would use Johnny's Seasoning salt, which has salt, pepper, paprika, garlic and onion powder in it, BUT then my kids will see the little black specks of pepper as "POISON" and deem the dish inedible.  So I use a sea salt grinder and give it a couple cranks. It's all white and therefore kid approved. Taste and check the levels here.  Add a bit of extra seasoning to taste. 

Now we are done!  Serve it up to the small fry and watch them beg for more.  It's ooey gooey comfort food that I think is as easy to make as a box mix, but has a ton more flavor and appeal, and you can customize it to your family's tastes.

Enjoy!  Here is the printable recipe:

Easy Extra Creamy Mac & Cheese

Ingredients:
1 16oz box pasta (shells, macaroni, bow tie) I used 3/4 or 12 oz for this recipe
4 Tablespoons butter
1 can cheddar cheese soup(10 3/4 oz)
1 can evaporated milk (12 oz)
1-2 cups grated cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste or seasoned salt (like Johnny's)

Directions:
Cook and drain noodles.  Add back to warm pot, stir in butter, cheese soup,
and half the can of evaporated milk.  Stir until combined. 
Add 1 cup of cheese to start with, add more until desired cheesiness.
Keep the burner on low to help melt things together.
If it gets too thick, add some reserve evaporated milk to thin down
Add salt and pepper to taste

Serve warm as side or main dish.  Enjoy!

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Chain reaction weekend

So sorry for the delay in posting this weekend.  I have 3-4 things to share but alas there was a chain reaction of a home improvement downward spiral that took the entire weekend to do.  It has  happened before in the "Plasma TV chain reaction" of 2007.  This time we sold a very large piece of exercise equipment that had been taking up half our spare room for years.  (In our defense, we bought it before the P90X craze where all you need is a pull up bar and some resistance bands).  After we sold it, the whole room was open to new possibilities.  That lead to cleaning out closets, deep cleaning the whole room, getting rid of bags of stuff, then deciding to paint, prep for paint, move heavy furniture, including a heavy computer desk and unloading 2 large book shelves of books to  make them light enough to move, then purging/sorting through books to sell, donate, or keep.

After painting (I have some great painting time saver tips to share in an upcoming post) we moved things back, cleaned some more, moved cabinets from the hall into this room, and cabinets in this room down the hall to make some extra towel/blanket storage.  This then led us to reorganize all towels, sheets, comforters, old baby blankets. Ug.  Then back to the, room reorganizing book shelves, making a craft/color area for the kids... it was a crazy domino effect for sure.  We worked from Friday afternoon, to Sunday night late.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel now, thank goodness and the room is looking much better, not to mention we will be using it much more, hooray!  Still got a few things left; hang curtains, get some cute decorative storage boxes, hang some art, etc.  But I think we are on the right track.   

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Don't cry for me Onion-tina...

OK, so you might want to brace yourself.  I'm going to give you a nice little cooking tip that is possibly going to rock your entire world as you know it (that is, if you have not already heard of it).  I discovered a little short cut in my day to day cooking that has turned into a real time saver, and even more importantly, an eye, nose and stinky house saver.  

It seems to me that most recipes start with a bit of butter, some minced garlic, and... wait for it... chopped onions.  Onions give great flavor to everything.  Chopped, diced, sauteed, fried, simmered, stewed.  I even like them "bloomin".  They are the "Baking Soda" of the vegetable world.  Only down side to these little babies are the eye watering fumes (nerdy term here would be propanethiol S-oxide) that waft up from your chopping board and scorch your retinas .  I've tried a bunch of online tips and techniques to get ride of those pesky vapors.  Opened windows, burned a candle close by, and even donned on sunglasses at night to avoid tearing up.  Recently I have found a way to now end all that... so without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to my little friend:  Frozen chopped onions.
A little bit of lazy mom heaven right there in your grocers freezer aisle
I picked up a couple of these babies and keep them at the ready in the nearby freezer.  One 12 oz bag is usually good for two different meals, so if you do the math, that puts them at the SAME price as a regular onion you would have to chop yourself.  These are great for soups, stews, sauces, ground meat, stir-fry, anywhere you would put fresh chopped onions.  Just dump them in frozen (I like to smack the sealed bag around on the counter -  to break up the onions AND release any pent up aggression at the same time) then dump into your waiting pan.  I must say they are exceedingly handy in the morning if you are throwing a recipe in the crock pot.  There is just something about the smell of meat or onions at the crack of dawn that turns my stomach a bit.  It is so NICE to just measure what you need and go on about your day.  In case any of you are wondering, I have not turned my back on regular onions.  I use them just as much as these newfangled ones.  But I AM enjoying the option of using these whenever the mood strikes, so I try to keep a few bags lurking in the freezer for just the right time.  It seems lately when I use them, I feel like shouting from the rooftops Look MA... no TEARS!!  Hallelujah.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Culinary Crochet: Cupcakes

Shortly after I taught myself to crochet a year ago on YouTube thanks to a very nice lady name Teresa who posted a ton of how-to videos (you can too, click here), I had the sudden inspiration to stray away from the first thing I had learned, which was hats.  For some unknown reason I still can't quite explain, I could not shake the persistent idea I wanted to make realistic food out of yarn.  That little idea sent me on a search around the internet, until I was shocked to discover there is a whole crochet genre subculture out there called amigurumi, where you make dolls, animals, and sometimes realistic food using crochet and then stuffing them so they take on a three dimensional shape.  The first pattern I found was for some adorable cupcakes.  I just fell in LOVE with them, they were so cute and tasty looking.

The free pattern for these cupcakes is found here
In no time at all I had a platter full of yummy looking cupcakes.  First I made them all "devils food" but shortly after I did "vanilla" ones and even some "red velvet" ones (not pictured).  It was fun to mix the frosting colors with the cupcake flavors.  

These would make adorable pin cushions and I did a few that way using colored straight pins  through the top layer and they became the "sprinkles".  The other option is they make a great play kitchen food.  My girls instantly had these on a pan in their pink kitchen and having cupcake tea parties as soon as I'd get one finished.  

These could also make a lovely birthday present for a friend to keep around her desk (but with none of those pesky calories that normally come with baked goods).  This was my first attempt at crochet food, and since then I have done many more food items, (donuts, cheeseburgers, tea and cocoa cups, fried eggs and bacon, carrots) which I will share with you in future posts.  It has been fun to try and get them as realistic looking as possible.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Bakin' Bacon

A good friend tipped me off the other day that bacon does not have to be a spitty, spattery, grease-ball fry pan mess.  I must confess in recent years I have even avoided making the heavenly meat due to the oily mess that ensues during, and after the frying process.  I was so intrigued by this thought. I pressed on with more questions, only to find out that - brace yourself - you can bake bacon in the oven.  The oven.  Say what??  Why was I not informed?  Did I miss a memo?  How could I have existed on earth all this time and NOT known about this?  So, armed with that tidbit of priceless information as the only inspiration I needed, I was to try this out for myself.

Bacon Bacon Bacon  (The next phrase that comes to mind is: Dog's don't know it's not bacon...)
Ok so I took out a slab o' bacon and proceeded to lay them out nicely on my half sheet pan (a gift from my hubby this Christmas because of my love for all things food Network related and they seem to use them all the time on shows like Chopped, Iron Chef, and the Barefoot Contessa.  It's like the law or something, if you want to be a wanna-be chef you MUST have a few of these lying about).  OK back to the bacon.  I laid out every strip in the package.  Perhaps I should have placed a few less strips so they weren't so packed in there, but come on now, you really can't have too much bacon, can you??

Next step was to put it in a 400ยบ oven for 20 minutes or until desired crispiness.  It was almost too easy.  That's it?  Set it and forget it?  No turning the strips over?  No grease jumping up and hitting your wrist?  No way.  OK, rock on.  Let's see what we get after 20 minutes.
Behold, the beautifully baked bacon

So I left it in a tiny bit longer than 20 minutes, mostly because I'm a big fan of "heading towards crunchy" bacon.  Nothing worse then chowing down on some bacon and having some undercooked section of white fat hanging there staring at you.  As you can see above, there was some major shrinkage going on, but on the good side all the bacon is perfectly straight and not bendy.  All that is left to do now is remove bacon from this pan onto a plate or pan lined with some paper towels to help soak up residual grease.

{One side note here:  I realized after the fact, that the bacon was so close together on the pan that they stuck together as a whole like a big cozy bacon blanket, which I'm sure Homer Simpson would have adored.  Can't you hear him saying in a dreamy fashion "Mmmm... Bacon Blanket.  When I tried to remove just one piece, the whole thing wanted to come up together.  I took two metal tongs and gently pulled them apart as I laid them on the plate to dry.  But now hey, if you EVER need a bacon blanket (to wrap around your meatloaf, omelet, grilled cheese, or your turducken) now you will know how do DO it!  Um, wait a sec, wouldn't we have to call it a Bacturducken?  Either that or a Turduckenon.  We will have to see on that one. Any more syllables and it's going to start sounding like an infectious disease or something, and I think we can all agree THAT is not appetizing.   
OK so final result?}

MMMmmmm Bacon.   Bacon = MEAT CANDY
 
Now THAT is what I'm talking about.  Isn't it just beautiful?  Maybe you should put your nose up closer to the screen and see if you can take a whiff of that wonderful bacon-y goodness.  Smell-o-vision would be a great invention right about now, no?  I'm thinking of using this lovely picture as a screen saver this month as I blog and salivate alternately.  Alright so this turned out to be one heck of a GREAT experiment.  If you have never baked bacon in the oven I recommend you try it as soon as possible. You will be in hog heaven.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Big Blue Mama

I just realized I've been a little remiss in introducing one of my most favored, most loved, and one of the newest kitchen gadgets in my cooking arsenal.  I guess you haven't been formally introduced yet, but I'd like to take the time to introduce you to someone whom I affectionately call "Big Blue Mama".  
"Hello, " says Big Blue Mama, "nice you meet you."

Isn't she a beauty?  I bought her about 6 months ago as a nod to my increasing love of the Pioneer Woman's cookbook and she has quickly turned into my go-to pot for many a recipe.  This particular pot here is a Lodge 7.5 quart dutch oven in Caribbean blue, and I took the advice of many Amazon reviewers and opted to also buy the stainless steel Le Creuset replacement knob, because she originally came with a plastic knob that was rumored not to stand up to high oven temperatures.  Le Creuset, by the way, is the much fancier, Frencher, (MUCH more expensive), version of this same pot, sold in the $240 range. (Not to mention use of a fancy French pot requires you to use a long cigarette holder, look down your nose a lot, and mumble "oh la la" and oui" as you simmer your soups).  My Big Blue Mama here on the other hand is still a high quality kitchen tool, and an excellent investment at a much more reasonable price of $73.  Sometimes you can find a great sale and get one in the $50 range.

First of all, she is HEAVY.  You definitely need two hands to do any lifting.  Matter of fact, she's heavy with nothing in her.  This can be handy though, if you need some extra upper body strength training.  Unlike Rapunzel and her deadly fry-pans, I'm not sure how this could dissuade any home intruders, attackers or palace soldiers, well unless you dropped it directly on their toes...  The inside of her is white sealed ceramic, which has a nice smooth surface for even heat distribution, and incidentally also makes clean up a breeze.  Clean up, by the way is hand washing with warm soapy water. 

Plus, these little babies are VERSATILE.  Anything you can do in a crock pot you can do in a dutch oven.  Anything on the stove top and almost anything cooked inside the stove can be prepared in a dutch oven.  They cook soups and stews beautifully, big hunks of meat for roasts, whole chickens, hot oil for frying, desserts, you name it, Big Blue Mama can handle it.  I've heard you can even do casseroles, bacon, biscuits, pizzas, artisan crusty loaves of bread, pies and cakes.  Low and slow is the best route with these bad boys and my food has been turning out wonderful so far.  Since I'm planning on using her a lot in the near future with my new soups and recipes, I just thought I should give her a proper introduction.  Next, I might even write her a catchy theme song.

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