Nov 3

Rock Candy - Complete

Brandy at Gluesticks has been playing around with making different types of home-made candy. Apparently homemade rock candy is incredibly easy to make. There are many variations and links online to help you along the way, but thankfully she shared her version of a successful recipe.

Project estimate::

  • Sugar (lots of sugar), on hand or up to $5
  • Water, on hand
  • Food Coloring, on hand or up to $2
  • Bamboo Skewers, on hand or $1
  • Funnel, on hand or $1
  • Jars or Glass Cups, on hand
  • Clothespins, on hand or $1

Total cost: Free or up to $10


After following her instructions, just wait 7 days, and voila! She had a great time watching them grow and sampling the finished product. She did not add any flavorings to hers, just sugar and water, but it might be fun to try that sometime.

Oct 25

wax tart skull

I got these silicone ice cube molds at the dollar store that are shaped like skulls. I thought of several projects you could make with them, and have posted tutorials for a bunch of them over at Dollar Store Crafts. I didn’t realize just how fun a one dollar mold could be! I still have four or five ideas I haven’t had time to make yet.

Recycled Wax Tarts are my most recent project (photo at top of post). Wax tarts are scented wax you can use in a potpourri warmer. I made them from recycled wax off of a cheese – yes, yes you can do that!

Molded Papier-Mache: this technique was new to me, and made for fun teeny tiny Day of the Dead calavera decorations.

Molded Sugar Skulls: a fun twist on traditional sugar skulls, and you can eat them! Serve them with coffee or tea.

Melt & Pour Soap on a Rope: cheap ‘n easy soapmaking project using the dollar store skull mold.

A few other silicone mold crafts:

Sep 7

Make Edible Sugar Skulls -written instructions at Dollar Store Crafts.

My son and I made these molded sugar skulls yesterday with a silicone ice cube mold that I got at the dollar store. It was very simple, and my 4 year-old had fun molding and unmolding sugar. After we were done, we just baked them for 10 minutes at 200° F, and they hardened.

I think they’d be a lot of fun to take to work and set next to the coffee maker on Halloween/Day of the Dead. But, I don’t go to work, so I’ll just settle for serving them to my sons next time they have a tea party.

Aug 18

I am not a great cook. Cooking is quite a chore for me (yes, I’m a lazy mom), but I enjoy baking. One of my favorite foods to make are muffins! I love how versatile muffins are, and I love that you can throw just about anything in them and they’ll taste good. Growing up, my mom’s muffins ranked as my favorite thing she made for us (even above cookies!).

I have made tons of muffins in my life, and I usually improvise heavily. However, I have learned a few important tricks for making sure your muffins turn out yummy every time.

My Secret Muffin Tricks:

  1. Use enough sugar/sweetener. If you want people to love your muffins, don’t skimp on the sweetener. This is an important point if you’re making muffins to share with others (at work, or as a housewarming gift). If you’re eating them at home when they’re hot, you will still love your muffins even if they only use 1/4 cup sugar. The best muffins are always sweeter, though! And people are used to “muffins” at Starbucks or a bakery, and those things are basically cake.
  2. Always add sugar sprinkles on top. Use either turbinado sugar (“Sugar in the Raw”) or clear sprinkles from the cake decorating aisle. These up your muffin game exponentially.
  3. Make sure there’s a WOW ingredient. Don’t just make muffins with no additions. Plain flour muffins are completely missing the whole point of the muffin. Muffins with shredded veggies will be moist and delicious, and people won’t know why. You can use ugly fruit up and make it delicious in a muffin. You can use up leftovers, even weird ones. If you make juice with a juicer, don’t overlook the leftover pulp as a great addition to muffins. It adds fiber and flavor.
  4. But don’t add too many WOW ingredients. For an improvisational cook, it’s tempting to throw craisins, coconut, AND chocolate chips in a muffin (they’re alliterative!), but trust me when I say you really don’t want to add them all. Choose one, or maybe two. Save your other great ingredients for your next batch.
  5. Use cupcake liners, but grease them with nonstick cooking spray. Pop them into the muffin tins, spray them down, add muffin batter. Nobody wants to lose half their muffin on an unforgiving paper liner.
  6. Don’t overmix. They get tough if you stir them too much.
  7. If you want them to keep a few days longer: add more sugar, more oil. These help to keep them moist longer. Or, pop them in the freezer and they’ll keep for quite awhile.

My favorite base recipe is the Tightwad Gazette Universal Muffin Recipe. I use it as a rough guideline and generally use the following ingredients in a batch of muffins:

A note about sour milk: I like to use multiple leavening tricks because muffins can be notoriously heavy. Therefore, I always use sour milk (milk + vinegar) and baking soda, and it doesn’t hurt to add an extra egg. Blending the egg in the blender also helps!

Mix in a large bowl (dry ingredients):

  • 2.5 cups of flour (white, whole wheat, or any other kind of flour)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (only if you use vinegar or buttermilk, otherwise, omit – the soda & the vinegar make a reaction that adds lightness)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sweetening ingredient (sugar, honey, etc.)
  • Spices, possibly, as desired

Mix in blender (wet ingredients):

  • 1 cup milk plus 1 tablespoon vinegar (sour milk makes tender, delicious muffins! Or, omit the vinegar and don’t forget to skip the baking soda too.)
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1-3 eggs (3 eggs make a really nice fluffy muffin; 1 egg is more economical)
  • Flavor extract (I like vanilla and/or almond)

Stir dry ingredients together. Blend wet ingredients. Combine in bowl until just mixed. Spoon into paper liners (sprayed with nonstick spray) in muffin tins. Bake at 400 F for 17-20 minutes.

Additions:

Additions can be pretty much anything, from raw or cooked veggies (carrots and zucchini are favorites) to leftover popcorn (yes, you can use it in muffins – it’s pretty good, too!), berries or other fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, healthy stuff (wheat germ, bran), and so on. If you have a leftover that you need to get rid of, you might do well to use it up in a muffin.

You’ll have to decide whether these additions go with the wet ingredients in the blender, or the dry ingredients, or whether you’ll fold them in after the principle ingredients are combined.

To blend or not to blend:

  1. Figure out if you want the addition to be a prominent flavor (if you don’t, then blend it)
  2. Figure out if the item is wet or dry (duh, right?)
  3. Figure out if the item will be mashed beyond recognition unless you fold it in at the very end (I’m looking at you, blueberries!)

If you blend it:

  • The item will be turned into pulp, with nearly no discernible pieces in the muffin. It will also reduce the strength of the flavor of the item. For example: you can blend a ripe banana in the blender and the banana flavor will be harder to detect (it won’t taste like banana bread at all). If you blend blueberries, the delicious berryness will be undetectable. Don’t blend your star ingredient.
  • Instead of chopping them, just blend raw veggies like carrots or zucchini to shred them. Just put them in the blender first with about 2 Tablespoons of liquid. Blend until they’re cut up into small pieces.
  • If you want to add color, shred a bit of the colorful ingredient with the wet ingredients (half a cup of berries will give your muffin a fun tint).
  • If you use a lot of pureed cooked veggies or fruit, your muffins will have a tough outer crust, but added inner moisture. For lower fat muffins, you can omit oil if you use pureed fruit.

If you don’t blend it:

  • You might want to mash it (as in bananas)
  • You might want to fold it in gently after all the ingredients are combined (again, berries)

This info is all by Heather Mann. Please do not reprint in any form without permission!

Aug 12


The Fair Square

The Iowa State Fair starts today. They boast more than 50 foods served on a stick! I think we could create some of these, don’t you? Since I don’t live anywhere near Iowa, I’m gonna have to try to make some of these myself!

Here’s the list of foods on-a-stick that will be served at the fair:

  1. Fair Square: “Introducing the official treat of the Iowa State Fair, Fair Squares!  Each Fair Square is four ounces of crispy rice cereal and made-from-scratch marshmallow, in plain or peanut butter flavor. All proceeds from each $2 treat will benefit the Blue Ribbon Foundation to improve the Fairgrounds.”
  2. Chocolate-covered tiramisu on-a-stick
  3. Turtle mousse bar on-a-stick
  4. Strawberry cream bar on-a-stick
  5. Twinkie log on-a-stick (frozen Twinkie dipped in white chocolate and rolled in cashews)
  6. Octodog (hotdog in the shape of an octopus
  7. Frozen s’more on-a-stick
  8. Chocolate-dipped cake on-a-stick
  9. Chicken club on-a-stick
  10. Buffalo chicken on-a-stick
  11. Chocolate-covered peanut butter round on-a-stick
  12. Chocolate-covered key lime round on-a-stick
  13. Carmellows on-a-stick
  14. Pretzel rods dipped in caramel or chocolate
  15. Pickle on-a-stick
  16. Pork chop on-a-stick
  17. Corn dog
  18. Cheese on-a-stick
  19. Cajun chicken on-a-stick
  20. Sesame chicken on-a-stick
  21. Carmel apple
  22. German sausage on-a-stick
  23. Teriyaki beef on-a-stick
  24. Corn on the cob on-a-stick
  25. Cotton candy
  26. Veggie dog on-a-stick
  27. Turkey drumstick
  28. Nutty bar
  29. Fried pickle on-a-stick
  30. Hot bologna on-a-stick
  31. Shrimp on-a-stick
  32. Chicken on-a-stick
  33. Monkey Tails (chocolate covered banana on-a-stick)
  34. Taffy on-a-stick
  35. Honey on-a-stick
  36. Ice cream Wonder Bar
  37. Deep fried Snickers bar on-a-stick
  38. Deep fried 3 Musketeers bar on-a-stick
  39. Deep fried Milky Way bar on-a-stick
  40. Deep fried Twinkie on-a-stick
  41. Lamb on-a-stick
  42. Meatballs on-a-stick
  43. Deep fried hoho on-a-stick
  44. Fudge Puppy (waffle drenched in chocolate syrup and topped with whipped cream)
  45. Chili Dog on-a-stick
  46. Funtastick Pork on-a-stick
  47. Dutch letters on-a-stick
  48. Turkey tenders on-a-stick
  49. Deep fried hot dog on-a-stick
  50. Chocolate covered cheesecake on-a-stick
  51. Potato Lollipop (4 thick slices of russet potato deep fried and on-a-stick with dipping sauces)
  52. Pineapple on-a-stick (Fresh pineapple dipped in funnel cake batter and deep fried)
  53. Chicken lips on-a-stick (breaded chicken breast smothered with hot sauce, served with blue cheese dressing).
  54. Cornbrat on-a-stick (bratwurst dipped in corndog batter)
  55. Frozen fudge brownie on-a-stick
  56. Ice cream cookie sandwich on-a-stick
  57. Rock candy on-a-stick
  58. Salad on-a-stick
  59. Hard-boiled egg on-a-stick

Additional Resources:

Aug 10

My older boys are getting old enough to enjoy the occasional movie night, which has been a lot of fun this summer. A couple weeks ago, I took my 4 year-0ld to rent videos while my 2 year-old stayed home to make pizza. When we returned, he had also made a candy pizza! He made it with leftover candy from a recent birthday party, so the toppings were, uh, eclectic. He had a ball making it, though. Look at that proud little face.

The candy toppings on this pizza ranged from sour straws to chocolate-covered sunflower seeds to sour Smarties (as opposed to the non-USA chocolate Smarties). The citric acid-heavy candies did not taste great on the pizza, although the 2 year-old didn’t notice. The 4 year-old stopped eating his pizza after two bites, though!

Despite the interesting flavors of this particular pizza, I think the idea has potential. I have some tips for making it work:

  • Make sure all the candies are in the same flavor family: chocolates together, etc.
  • Avoid sour/citric acidic candies
  • Add sprinkles or nuts
  • Using pizza dough for the crust is fine as long as it’s not garlicky (ours wasn’t, but I’m just sayin’)

Candy pizza was definitely a memorable end to pizza and movie night!

Apr 24

One fun-to-drink item that is also fun for toddlers to help “cook” is a fruit smoothie! These are a great afternoon snack, and a good way to sneak in some fruits and veggies for a toddler who might not want to eat any. Toddlers love adding ingredients to the blender, and pushing the button to start and stop the blender. Just make sure the lid is securely on, and never let a toddler near a blender unsupervised! Here are my instructions for how to make a smoothie.

You can use almost anything you have in the kitchen for a smoothie. You just need to have:

  • a liquid (milk or juice are good) – about 1 cup per person
  • a fruit or veggie (banana, berries, sweet potatoes, pumpkin puree)
  • optional mix-ins (peanut butter, cocoa powder, vanilla, sweeteners, yogurt or frozen yogurt, wheat germ)
  • a few ice cubes
  • a blender is pretty much a must, too!

Tips:

This Drink is Bananas: One of the best items to include in a smoothie is a banana. The more ripe the banana is, the sweeter it is. Making a smoothie is a great way to use up an overripe banana that you aren’t interested in eating. I usually buy too many bananas just so I will be able to use the one or two leftovers in a smoothie! Also, bananas are a great binder and give a smoothie a good consistency, and help other ingredients to incorporate well. If you don’t like the flavor of bananas, reduce the amount to a third or half a banana. You will still get the binding properties without such a strong flavor.

Ice, Ice, Baby: A few ice cubes are a good addition (especially if you use milk in your smoothie) because they help break up excessive foam that might be generated from whipping milk in your blender. They also make the smoothie cold and refreshing, of course! I usually add 1/2 a tray to start with, and work my way up from there. If you add too many ice cubes, the consistency of your smoothie can get chunky (especially if you aren’t using a banana!)

Sweeteners: I use sugar-free vanilla syrup or Splenda, but you can use honey, agave, sugar, stevia or other sweeteners as well. Remember, if you are using a ripe banana, you might not need any additional sweetener!

Good Pairings: You can use almost any fruit in a smoothie, just be mindful of how you pair the fruits together. The real trick is choosing the right liquid base. If you want a more milkshake-like smoothie, choose a milk base and a non-citrus fruit. For a refreshing and tangy smoothie, start with a fruit juice and maybe add some yogurt (fresh or frozen).

Fruit: You can use fruit in nearly any state: fresh, frozen, or canned. Some suggestions: Fresh — mango, pineapple, banana, berries, peaches. Frozen — berries, multi-fruit mixes, peaches. Canned — peaches, pineapple, sweet potatoes, pumpkin puree.

Mix Ins: If you have ever purchased a smoothie at a juice shop, you know they have a large number of items you can add into a smoothie. Things like vitamin boosters are common. In your case, you probably won’t have too many vitamin boosting powders, but you can add extras that will make your smoothie taste good or will boost nutrition. Frozen yogurt will trick you into feeling like your smoothie is like a milk shake, as will cocoa powder, peanut butter, and extra sweeteners. Any of these are good ways to indulge in a healthy way! Something like wheat germ will boost the nutritional value of your drink.

Leftovers: Smoothies don’t save well, so if you have leftovers, pour them into a popsicle mold or ice cube tray. Don’t worry if you don’t fill a mold up all the way! Just add some complementary fruit juice until the mold is full. If you use an ice cube tray, just throw the smoothie ice cubes into your blender next time you make a smoothie.

Infinite Smoothie Recipe:

I call it “infinite” because there are infinite ways to mix this smoothie up to get a custom drink. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Basic recipe for one or two people:

  • 1-2 cups of liquid
  • 1 cup of fruit (or 1 banana)
  • 6-12 ice cubes
  • Optional items (mix-ins, sweeteners, spices and flavorings)

Blend for 1-2 minutes or until fruit is pureed and ice is completely crushed.

Elvis Smoothie:

If a peanut butter and banana smoothie is wrong, I don’t want to be right! I drank these almost daily during the last months of my pregnancy with my third child! Because PB has about 100 calories per Tablespoon, it’s a good idea to share this one with a friend.

  • 2 cups of milk
  • 1 banana
  • 2-4 Tablespoons of peanut butter
  • 6 ice cubes
  • Sweetener, if needed

Easy Banana Smoothie:

  • 2 cups of milk
  • 1 banana
  • 6 ice cubes
  • Sweetener, if needed
  • Clove powder

Sunshine Smoothie:

  • 1 cup of orange juice (or a cup of water and 2 T. frozen orange juice concentrate)
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 1 banana
  • 6 ice cubes
  • Sweetener, if needed

Apr 19

I love brown sugar! I love coffee! Wonder twins unite! Form of: Brown Sugar Latte!

Yum!

This is a yummy, slightly sweet latte. The brown sugar dissolves easily into the milk, and tastes warm and cozy. Everything’s better with brown sugar!

You need:

  • a shot of espresso or half a mug of strong brewed coffee
  • a cup of milk
  • 1 Tablespoon of brown sugar (or to taste)

To Make:

  • Prepare a shot of espresso, or pour half a mug of strong brewed coffee.
  • Steam milk using espresso machine, or
  • To steam milk in the microwave: pour milk into a jar, cover and shake vigorously for 30 seconds or so. Heat in microwave (without lid) for 30-45 seconds.
  • Dissolve brown sugar in warm milk.
  • Pour coffee or espresso into milk.
  • Top with foam, and sprinkle foam with brown sugar.

Sit back and enjoy your delicious beverage!

Apr 5

What do you do when you don’t feel like baking cookies? Make no-bake cookies! They’re a cookie that you make in a saucepan on the stove, and were a staple of my childhood in the 80s. I haven’t seen anyone else in blogland post about them, so I don’t know if they are just WAY out of fashion, or if nobody knows about them, but I am sharing the top-secret recipe with you today.

One of the great things about these cookies is that you can use all kinds of mix-ins to make them unique (and also to use up leftover bits in your pantry). I added coconut, Cheerios, and raw oatmeal to mine, but you can use any kind of cereal, pretzels, nuts, or whatever you have on hand.

My mom makes a family recipe book every 10 years or so (which is highly-sought after and prized, by the way!), and this recipe comes straight outta the 1980s version of the cookbook.

Peanut Butter Drops (No Bake)

  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 to 2-1/2 cups puffed wheat
  • 2/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts
  • 1/2 cup coconut
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

In a saucepan, combine sugar, butter, flour, and milk. Bring to a full boil. Boil for 3 minutes (be sure it’s a full three minutes – 30 seconds more might be better), stirring constantly. Remove from heat; add remaining ingredients. Drop by teaspoonful onto waxed paper. Cool. Makes 60.

Notes about making this recipe:

  • Prepare the mix-ins in a separate bowl while the butter is melting in the pan. It should be completely ready to dump in the saucepan at the moment the candy-coating is done boiling.
  • Put out the waxed paper/aluminum foil to drop the cookies onto before you mix everything together, too.
  • Be sure to boil for the full 3 minutes (or a tad longer – about 3-1/2 minutes). You’re basically making candy, so you want to be sure it reaches the right temperature to set properly. If you don’t boil it long enough, the cookies will never harden. If you boil it too long, they’ll be a little dry.

To substitute dry ingredients: you’re basically adding 3 to 3-1/2 cups of dry ingredients (puffed wheat, nuts, coconut as listed in the recipe), so just make sure your dry ingredients add up to about 3 cups or so, and you should be fine. Any cereal-like ingredient will work, as will dried fruit, nuts, etc.

Sorry, my photo isn’t appetizing. I tried to make them pink with food coloring, then I added sprinkles to further the insult! :) Craftfail, maybe, but they tasted good!

Apr 1

This was our wheatgrass on about day 4. We tried planting it in several different containers: an owl ceramic container (no drainage hole), a bamboo utensil cup (also no drainage hole), a large green terracotta planter, several small terracotta planters, and a dollar store metal cake pan.

My favorite is the cake pan because it’s visually high-impact! A tray of grass is just cool! The roots end up taking a bit of space at the top, so if you go this route, you should DEFINITELY leave about an inch of clear space (no soil) in the pan when you plant to avoid showing off the roots.

The pan is an awesome spring/Easter centerpiece (I even saw a tray of wheatgrass as set dressing in a Pottery Barn photo).

Now I just need to figure out what I can do with my wheatgrass (beside just looking at it!)

About Growing Wheatgrass:

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