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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

October 26: Gingerbread Bat Cake & Halloween Crafts

Today's post is more an idea than a recipe since I used a box of Hodgson Mill whole wheat gingerbread cake mix that I've had in my cupboard for way longer than one should have a boxed mix in her cupboard. And then I followed the directions on the box with regard to what I added to the mix. Oh, and I baked it in my adorable new bat stoneware dish (I got it at HomeGoods for 7.99!)

Assuming you do not have a past-its-use-by gingerbread cake mix already in your cupboard, a quick Google search reveals that Pillsbury, Betty Crocker, Krusteatz, King Arthur's Flour, and Trader Joes all have fresh gingerbread cake mixes you can buy. Who knew? Not this girl.

If none of these tickle your fancy, you could make one of your own using this recipe or even this recipe.

Or, if gingerbread cake isn't your thing, you could even substitute in the flavor of your choice. As long as it's somewhere in the 14oz range when dry.

For this mix, I needed 1 1/2 cups milk, 1 egg, 2 Tablespoons melted butter, 2 Tablespoons apple sauce (or 1/4 cup melted butter and no applesauce). Adorable pint-sized helper optional. Since I still have quite a lot of apple butter left and I've been making far too many sweet treats lately, I decided to go the applesauce route, and subbed in my homemade apple butter. It worked just fine!

You can see how the Hodgson Mill brand uses whole grain whole wheat in their mixes so it's got those big grainy grains running through there.

Then I poured it in my nifty bat dish. Which I'd greased with a thin layer of butter so my cake didn't stick.
I baked it using the cook times as a low guideline. Since the recipe estimated 30-35 minutes in an 8x8 pan, I knew mine would take longer because it's a little thicker. In the bat it took about 45 minutes.

Because my older daughter is obsessed with those Sweetzel Spiced Wafer cookies and isn't a big fan of icing of any kind (whose kid is she???), I decided not to ice this. But when I had a slice for dessert, I may or may not have squeezed a healthy dollop of my now-almost-gone cream cheese frosting (leftover from these) on top and it went WONDERFULLY WELL. (My husband, alas, was most distressed to discover this wasn't chocolate. He had ice cream for dessert, instead.)

While this baked, my younger daughter whined that she was bored and asked if we could do some Halloween crafts. We selected a few from our $1 craft stash and got cracking.

We worked together on that spiderweb paper craft and she led the charge on her Halloween headband. (Except for the hot glue part. I did that. And burned myself only once.)

And here's a couple she and her older sister did the other day.
 Foam art
Sun catchers

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

October 25: Lollipop Spiders (and Ghosts)

Omigosh, these are too cute.

Even if they are spiders.

I found directions for this clever, easy craft over at One Little Project (at a Time) blog. Though it was the first time I'd ever visited the blog, I'll definitely be going back. I noticed quite a few thumbnails for crafts and so forth that I'd like to try in the future. Good times! And her photographs were nice and clean. (That's one thing I'd definitely love to work on--I know my photos are amateurish at best, and one of the things that makes most of my favorite blogs my faves is their quality photography. Taking a class at some point is on my to-dos! Until then, thanks for bearing with my less-than-WOW pix.)

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I'll be sending these in with my older daughter for her class Halloween party next Monday. (They're going to be a prize for a game, according to the room parent.) I decided to tackle them this week since I have to save the brownies I'm making for my younger daughter's party until Sunday so they're fresh. Although I'd been disappointed not to be baking for both events, I'm thinking now maybe this was a blessing in disguise.

Technically, the sign-up sheet requested "Lollipop Ghosts." Since I'd been planning to make these spiders this season and I'd already purchased a bag of googly eyes, some black pipe cleaners, and a bag of Tootsie Pops at the dollar store, I jumped on the lollipop concept but said I was going to try the spiders instead. (Turns out, I ended up doing both because I had an odd number of pipe cleaners. Thus, I decided to make 20 spiders and 10 ghosts. Best of both worlds!)  Besides a pair of scissors and a glue gun (though you could use regular glue, too), that's all you need to make these.

Here's the process.

1. Start with a lollipop (the size and shape of the Tootsie Pops seems ideal. I feel like a Blow Pop might be too top-heavy and a Dum-Dum would be too small.) and 2 black pipe cleaners.
My pipe cleaners are sparkly and plastic--rather than felt--so those little 
black specks you can see on the paper there are the plastic shedding.

2. Bend the pipe cleaners in half and cut so you have 4 relatively even pieces.

3. Line up the 4 pieces so they're laid out evenly. Then lay your lollipop about a third of the way from the edge, as pictured. (Also? Buy felt pipe cleaners to avoid all the gross shedding!)

4. Wrap the long end all the way around the lollipop so that it ends on the same side on which it began and both sides are about the same length. (And seriously- buy felt pipe cleaners.)

5. Gently splay out each "leg" and gently bend each end downward to make "feet."

6. Preheat your hot glue gun. (Again, you can use regular glue for this but it will take longer to dry and the eyes may not stay on as well. On the other hand, you won't burn your fingers.)

7. Glue two plastic googly eyeballs on the stick side of the spider.

As you can probably tell since I seemingly randomly changed my "example" lollipop from red to blue (oops!), I broke up this task into more than one sitting. Last night (whilst watching clips from Last Week Today with John Oliver and The Tonight Show with Stephen Colbert), I completed steps 1-4. Today, I completed the dangerous part of the task--you know, working with the glue gun. On the bright side, I only burned my fingers 3 times, and the incidents were relatively minor. Hurrah!

I'm really glad with how they came out.

Oh. I almost forgot about the ghosts. While I didn't take step-by-step photos of those, I did snap a picture of one of the finished products. I'm willing to bet you can figure out how to make these without instructions.

But just in case:
1. Take a tissue and wrap it around the bulbous part of the lollipop.
2. Secure the "neck" area with either a ribbon (which would likely look a lot nicer but take longer), a small rubberband, or, if you were making spiders and had an odd number leftover, a pipe cleaner.
3. Use a marker to draw two eyes and a mouth.

 All told, I spent $3 on 30 lollipops, $1 on 40 black pipe cleaners, and $1 on googly eyes, and under an hour to produce these cute little party favors/prizes. Frightfully fun.

Monday, October 24, 2016

October 24: Dried Apples

Well, friends, we're nearing the end of our month of tricks and treats. The fun isn't over yet, of course, but there's only a week remaining. That's right. If you haven't gone out and bought your Halloween candy yet, now is the time. And if you volunteered to make something for your kid's Halloween party next Monday...I've got you covered.

I'll be making Frankenstein brownies for my younger daughter's class (at least, that's the plan, barring any unforeseen baking crises) and spider lollipops for my older daughter's class. (At my kids' school, there are guidelines for party foods. Each class is allowed 1 baked good, 1-2 crunchy snacks, 2-3 healthy snacks, water to drink, and 2 non-food items. I wanted to do the baked good for both, but it was already taken which is why I jumped on the lollipop craft situation. Oy.)

Enough about the future! Let's switch gears to discuss today's trick instead.

Brace yourself: I'm about to tell you something that may shock you. Ready? I have tons of apples left.

I know, I know...I don't understand it either since I feel like I've made a hundred apple recipes!

But they're still in there, like a Mary Poppins-esque carpetbag filled with apples.

Worse, though, is that they're starting to go bad. I've thrown out two or three in as many days that have rotted from the inside. Sad face. Which means I need to use up these apples before I have to toss any more of them. The pressure!....of a name....(that's a Pretty Woman movie quote but it's NSFW so I'm not linking to it.)

Luckily, it just so happens there's a recipe called Apple Cinnamon Energy Bites that I've wanted to try for weeks now. The reason I haven't featured it yet is because one of the main ingredients is dried apples (not freeze-dried). I could have bought some at the market, but how can I justify buying apples when I have so many apples?! Obvi, I need to make my own dried apples. I'd planned to do it last week but it's kind of a time-consuming process so I put it off.

There's no more time to put it off, though. I've gotta dry these apples or they'll be unusable!

So here's how to dry apples (without a dehydrator). You can use them in recipes like the one above--as I will be doing--or you can eat them plain like apple chips. I made some last year. Mmm.

As you can see from the photo, I picked a bunch of ugly-looking apples for this process. Since we're drying them out and they're already slightly shriveled, I'd say this is a perfect use for them.
I peeled and cored mine, but that's an optional step. I'm not a big fan of dried skin and that center area near the core always pokes my mouth or gets caught like popcorn kernels in my teeth, and I hate that. But that's a preference thing.
Then I used a mandolin slicer to quickly cut very thin slices of apple. You could do this by hand, of course, but it would take longer.
I read a "recipe" online that suggested soaking the apple slices for 30 minutes in lemon water (to help prevent browning.) But, honestly, I don't think I'd bother about that step in the future since it actually added another step (having to dry them), slowed down my progress (could've put them in the oven 30 minutes sooner), and seems pointless (they turn brown during the baking process anyway.)
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Dry the apples as much as possible. Lay apples in a single layer on parchment-lined baking sheets.
Cook for 1 hour. Remove from oven, flip apples, then return to the oven for another hour (for soft apples) or two hours (for crunchier apples).
Then turn off the oven but leave them in there for 1-2 more hours.

When you take them out, you will marvel that the three trays of apple slices made from 7 medium-sized apples has shriveled down to less than a pan's worth.


But they're quite tasty. And I look forward to putting them into those energy bites soon.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

October 23: Baked Spice Donuts, 3 Ways

Today. What can I say about today? It's cool and breezy. The leaves are bright hues of orange, red, yellow, and green-- the color palatte of autumn. Tonight is the long-awaited season premier of Walking Dead (who did Negan kill? We shall soon find out!)

It's a day for football (not for me; football isn't my thing. But my husband LOVES it and is actually at the game as I type this.) It's a day for leaf raking. It's a day for fang-wearing.
AND it's a day for DONUTS!

Oh yes, donuts.

But not the (delicious) fried kind. Because, for one thing, I've already told you I don't like frying things at my house (no matter how good they end up tasting). [Oh, and guess what? The night I made those fried bat wontons? The damned oil ruined my favorite pair of navy khaki pants! When I was dealing with the grease after it had cooled down enough to handle, it spilled all over the counter and splashed on my pants. I'm still quite bitter about it. So no fried donuts.] For another thing, they're really quite bad for you and there's no real way to justify a family of four (or, today, three) finishing an entire batch of them in one afternoon.

So that's why I deal in baked donuts, friends. They don't ruin your fave pants and, after you've gorged yourself on donuts, you can still fit in your fave pants. Hurrah!

I've been baking my own donuts since I bought the Sally's Baking Addiction cookbook. In fact, I feel safe in saying that her Baked Powdered Donuts recipe is the one I've made the most times. My girls LOVE those powdered donuts. (Even my picky older daughter who loathes yogurt and from whom I had to hide the fact that one of the ingredients is yogurt...Not to worry. She knows now. And guess what? She STILL loves them.)

The recipe I made today is a cross between these and these.

I was jonesing to try the newer Chai Spiced variety, but the girls get goofy if I stray from their favorite. (Though, it should be noted, I've made--and they've enjoyed--the chocolate donut holes and the chocolate and vanilla glazed varieties, too. Both of which you can find at Sally's blog. But their favorite remains the powdered kind.) Thus, I decided to compromise and throw some of the chai flavors I wanted into the base recipe they love so much, and to vary the coating so they get their powdery fun and I get my sugar and spice and everything nice. Guess what? IT WORKED.

Baked Spice Donuts - 3 Ways

Yield: 6 large donuts & 6-8 small donuts


For the donuts- 

1 cup (125g- weigh it! I beg you) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons melted butter, slightly cooled

For the coatings- 

NOTE: these are approximate measurements. You may need more or less of each depending on how many and what size donuts you coat with which ingredient. Because my girls prefer the powdered sugar coating, I coated all 6 of my large donuts and 1 of the small ones in that; and I coated 3 each of the small donuts in the cookies and the sugar.

1-2 Tablespoons melted butter
1 cup powdered sugar
2-4 Tablespoons chai spiced sugar (use the recipe "for rolling" section of this delicious Chai Snickerdoodle recipe. You'll have some leftover, but you won't mind. Trust me.--btw: I made these last Christmas and they were ah-mazing!)
2-4 Tablespoons reserved spiced cookie-graham cracker crumbs from the crust of the Nutella Pumpkin pie I posted the other day


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray donut pans lightly with cooking spray (I use Pam's Baking variety for my baked goods) and set aside.

2. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and spices. Set aside.

3. In a different medium bowl, whisk together egg, milk, butter, yogurt, vanilla extract until smooth.

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until everything is moistened. Batter will be thick, but don't over mix.

5. Set up a freezer baggy in a glass. Scoop the batter into the freezer bag, snip the tip, and pipe into the donut pans. Fill no more than 1/2-2/3 full or you risk having a teeny, tiny donut hole shape in the middle of your donut (and you'll get fewer donuts).
6. Bake for 9-10 minutes, until donuts are lightly golden.
7. While donuts bake, clean your dishes and set up your coating station. In a small bowl, melt 1-2 Tablespoons butter. In another small bowl, add your cookie crumbs (to one side) and your spiced sugar (to the opposite side). Finally, in a ziplock baggie or storage container with a lid, place your powdered sugar. (I was at the end of my bag of powdered sugar, so I just left it in the bag.)
8. Shortly after the donuts come out of the oven (while they're still warm), you'll coat them.

For the powdered donuts: Place the donuts (I prefer doing them one at a time since the batch is small) into the powdered sugar and give it a shake so they're coated.
For the cookie-coated and sugar varieties: Dip one side in the melted butter. Then dip the buttered side into either the crumbs or the sugar. (The butter makes it stick AND taste delicious.)
I tried to get spooky and copy picture I saw on the internet of pressing some plastic fangs into the donuts... but as you can see from my photo, the fangs were a bit too strong for my tender donut and cracked it apart. So I aborted mission on that and just let the girls wear the fangs. (Which was a big hit!)

And there you have it! Fresh, delicious, warm-from-the-oven donuts with your choice of toppings. I can't decide between the spicy crunch of the cookie coating and the buttery sugar coating as my favorite. Honestly, none of these toppings will fail you. I'd call that a Sunday success!!!