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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Upcycling and Sanity-Saving: DIY Plastic Charms


It's Spring Break time up in here and that can only mean one thing: I'm about to have a meltdown because WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH MY KIDS FOR THE NEXT 9 DAYS??

Luckily, the weather is nice so they've been able to play outside a lot, but there are always lulls in between activities or those situations wherein someone runs in crying because her friend is no longer her friend until five minutes later when they're friends again. It is in those moments they need to be distracted with something else and I am drafted as Reluctant Cruise Director.

Never fear, fellow RCDs, I've got you covered.

The other day, I saw a Cleverly video on Facebook. It showed a person cutting up a plastic takeout container, marking it up, punching a hole in it, and putting it in the oven where it shrinks down and--like magic--becomes a thick plastic charm!

What is this sorcery, I wondered? (Turns out, it's pretty much a homemade Shrinky Dink-type situation. I had Shrinky Dinks as a child but I'd completely forgotten what they were until about five minutes ago when I started typing this.)

It looked like it could be good fun, so I saved the video and, a few days later, my husband went out to lunch and brought home half a sandwich in a plastic container. BINGO. I stashed that bad boy away to use at a later date. (To be clear, I'm talking about the plastic container here and not my husband.)

Today was that day.

Even though I'd watched the video, I was kind of dubious this procedure would work. But guess what? It totally worked! And it was fun. And now I have an idea for a writing/reading-themed charm bracelet I want to make.

You MUST try this craft. 

Here's what you need:

- the flat part of a clear plastic takeout container
- colored permanent markers (preferably fine point- I used Sharpies)
- a hole puncher
- scissors
- parchment paper
- sheet pan
- oven (330 degrees F)

The process:

1. Preheat oven to 330 degrees F and line a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper.

2. Using scissors, cut the flat parts (top and bottom) out of a clean plastic takeout container.

 Plastic takeout container
 
The flat part cut out of the plastic container

3. Using permanent markers, either trace or draw freehand a picture of your choice onto the plastic. We traced some -- the shark, the goldfish, the cat in the boat, the cake -- and drew the rest free hand. I suggest doing all the outline work in black and then filling in the other parts with color.

4. Punch a hole into the plastic above the drawing and then cut out the picture. I left 1-2mm of clear plastic around the periphery if the outlined portion and around the hole. (If you squint, you can sort of see it in the photo below.) Place onto the parchment-lined pan.

Full-sized pieces on the pan
5. Bake for 3 minutes. 

6. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a couple minutes before handling (the plastic is warm).
You'll notice the flat plastic is no longer flat.


I took a couple pictures of the before and after so you can get a sense of how they shrink down.

 4 pieces arranged on my hand to show scale

The same 4 pieces now teeny-tiny and all fitting on my hand

From this...

To this.

And that's all there is to it! Charm-ing, no? ;-)

Monday, October 31, 2016

October 31: Chocolate Decorations & Other Ways to Use Up Extra Candy Melts

I'm sitting here on the couch dressed as Harry Potter's teacher, Professor McGonagal, eating a caramel apple and enjoying the calm before the storm. Frankly, I'm exhausted and it's only 4:17.

So far today I've been to and from my kids' school four times (my husband got our daughter at pickup time so that shaved one trip off the expected five trips), banned my younger daughter from eating any more candy, and told my older daughter, no, she can't NOT wear her $25 robe--pretty much the bread & butter of her Hermione costume--tonight when she goes trick or treating. Sigh. 

Mmm. That apple was good, but now my teeth hurt. Waaaa.

Anyway, let's do a post because pretty soon I have to get up and throw some frozen pizzas in the oven before the trick or treating commences.

Today I'm going to give you a few ideas of what you what you can do with candy melts if you ever happen to melt way more than you need. I do that quite frequently when melting things down for piping on decoration, though not as often when melting things for dipping. In general, it's better to have too much than not enough, especially since stopping midway through decorating is a pain and slows things down a ton and, in some cases, can even ruin a final product. That said, having a lot leftover can be a bummer in its own way because throwing it out is wasteful.

So here's how to NOT throw it out.

Option 1: Chocolate-cover all the things!

The easiest thing to do is to grab some pretzels or potato chips or cookies and dip them into the melted chocolate.

Option 2: Make Candy Bark

A second option is for you to make that extra into candy bark. If you go with this option (like I did last night when I melted 6 oz of chocolate to decorate the Frankenstein brownies), your best bet to minimize waste is to leave the bag of chocolate on your counter to harden. Then, when you're ready to deal with it, you can peel away the baggie (yet another reason to always use freezer baggies since they're thicker and won't rip apart IN your chocolate), dump the chocolate into a microwavable dish, re-melt the candy in the microwave, then spread it in a thin layer on a Silpat-lined baking sheet. Press whatever candies you have laying around into the chocolate while it's still wet, then pop into the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to set. Break apart and--presto--candy!


Option 3: Create Chocolate Melt Decorations 

A while back I melted way too much white candy. I decided to make these decorations which can be used on ice cream sundaes, as a hot cocoa topper, or even as a decoration on top of, say, a pancake. Heck, you can even eat them plain.

Spider sundae
Boney Sundae
To make them... start with your baggie full of candy melt. Set a piece of waxed paper or parchment on the counter.
Pipe shapes, free hand, onto the paper. Keep in mind that the more intricate the design (like the thin spider webs or spider legs), the more likely it is to break. The thicker ones (like ghosts and bones and witch's hats) stay in tact better. Let sit on counter to set.
 Once set, cut the paper so there's one shape per paper.
 When ready to use, you can peel away the candy from the paper.
 Stack extras in an airtight container to use as needed.

Happy Halloween to everyone!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

October 30: Frankenstein Brownies & Fun Pasta

Things have been busy busy busy up in here today with last-minute Halloween prep combined with regular getting-ready-for-the-school-week prep. Basically, whosoever decided Halloween should fall on a Monday this year needs a swift kick in the pants!

Tonight for dinner I made the Halloween pasta I bought several weeks ago from HomeGoods. The pasta is in the shape of bats, spiders, carved pumpkins, and ghosts.
I'd been planning on serving it tomorrow night but decided to switch gears and serve pizza instead since "cooking dinner" doesn't fit on my list of agenda items for tomorrow. I don't know if your schedule is as ridiculous as mine will be since a significant chunk of my day tomorrow is going to be spent driving to and fro between my house and my kids' school. Five round trips, to be exact. INSANITY. Morning drop-off, a return trip for the ten-minute kindergarten parade, another trip to pick up my kindergartner, yet another trip to attend the full-school parade, then the final trip to pick up my third grader. I'm not exactly looking forward to it, but Halloween comes but once a year so I'll deal. I may or may not complain about it all day...

Tomorrow during the first drop off, my daughters will be bringing their treats. I'm sending my 3rd grader with the lollipop bats and ghosts. Thank goodness I did those in advance. I would not have had time to do them tonight since I was busy putting 8 mini braids in my 3rd grader's hair so she's got a little wave in it tomorrow as Hermione Granger. (While I was busy braiding, my husband tied 2 Gryffindor ties--one for Hermione and one for my kindergartner going as Harry Potter.) That same kindergartner will be bringing today's featured treat: the Frankenstein brownies.

I've been excited to make these since I first saw them on the Like Mother Like Daughter blog. For some reason, the Frankenstein treats I make turn out looking the best. These did not disappoint, despite my making a few errors along the way. Luckily, green frosting hides a multitude of sins and Frankenstein is sort of a banged-up dude anyway. So messiness isn't all that big a deal. How convenient!

Frankenstein Brownies

Yield: 20 brownies

Ingredients/Supplies:

1 box 13x9 brownie mix (18.4oz) & ingredients as per box
1 container green frosting
20 mini M&Ms, yellow
40 candy eyeballs
4 oz chocolate candy melts, melted
10 thin pretzel sticks
20 jumbo cupcake liners

Directions:

1. Prepare brownies in a 13x9 pan according to package directions. Allow to cool completely.

2. Spread green frosting on the brownies, then cut them into 20 segments (I did five rows of four) and remove from the pan, placing each into a jumbo cupcake liner. Aim for them to be kind of rectangular in shape.

Note: I made the mistake of removing my brownies from the pan because I thought frosting them in the pan would make them harder to remove. Perhaps this would have been an okay plan had I lined the pan with parchment or foil hanging over the edge for easier removal. But I didn't. Unfortunately, since they're fudgy brownies, they didn't release from the pan the way a cake would. Therefore, I had to take them out in sections and then a few of them broke apart. EEK! I managed to piece them together, but I think frosting them first and then removing them from the pan one at a time would have probably been a better plan.



3. Orienting your brownies so that the longer edge is along the side. Then build your face. Add two eyeballs about a third of the way down and a yellow mini M&M under the eyes as the "nose." For the "neck bolts," break a thin pretzel stick in half (I actually broke mine into 4) and insert the pieces into the side of the brownie about a third of the way from the bottom.

4. Melt your chocolate candy melts according to package instructions and then add to a freezer bag. Snip the tip, then pipe the melted chocolate along the top third of the face as spiky "hair" and in the place of the mouth. I made a straight horizontal line with three vertical lines to serve as both his scar and his mouth.

Seriously, how cute are these little guys? So cute. I love how they turned out. I'm sure they'll be a hit at school.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to sip a caramel apple mimosa and watch Walking Dead. Next time we see each other, it'll be Halloween!!!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

October 29: Pumpkin Carving and Roasted Pumpkin Seeds 3 Ways


Last night we carved our pumpkins. It was a big mess (as carving pumpkins is wont to be) and lots of fun. In fact, my younger daughter walked around to my side and said, "Mom, I really love doing family projects, and I love our family." That girl is such a little love bug. (She also has a habit of calling in to me from the other room, "Mom?!" I always assume she's going to ask for something but she says, "I love you." It gives me the feels every time.

She was quite intent on doing her own pumpkin this year--and she did a fabulous job cleaning out the gloppy innards. I watched her work diligently, even as I finished cleaning out my own, carved it, and ended up cleaning out my older daughter's pumpkin. But my little one didn't want my help, even when I offered. When she was ready to carve, she was quite miffed that I had to step in and help her with the knife, but I let her direct me and keep her hand with mine, so her final pumpkin was very much her own.

My older daughter was much less interested in cleaning out her pumpkin. She doesn't like getting messy--never did, actually, even as a toddler--and would only touch the gloopy pumpkin stuff a couple times. But after I took over (in an effort to speed things along), she did her own carving. She wanted to do a Harry Potter theme, but that didn't work out, so then she ended up doing her own version of a kitty.

My husband carved his annual grinning jack o' lantern. He pretty much does the same thing every year--he feels strongly that the classic needs to be represented.

As for me? I went political. Because I'm with her.
From left: Hillary "H" * Classic Jack o Grin * Cat * Pumpkin Head
I think they turned out well.

All the mess notwithstanding.

We also tried something new: we reserved some of the seeds so we could try roasting them. I'd intended on roasting them immediately so we could enjoy them whilst carving, but A. there was much too much going on, and B. we were full from all the nachos and dessert nachos.

I washed them last night and laid them out to dry. Then I roasted them today. 

I'd planned on using a taco-flavored pumpkin seed recipe I found in Taste of Home (to go in with my nacho night, frankly), but I saw a few more online that sounded intriguing so I tried a few different savory options to see if we had a favorite.

My favorite source - both for flavor inspiration (though, interestingly, I didn't end up making any of hers exactly as written) and roasting recommendations - was the Wholefully blog. She also has great tips for cleaning the seeds. Head on over to her blog and check them out (and check out her other yummy flavor options).

For today, I decided to make Fiery, BBQ, and Parmesan Dill flavors.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds 3 Ways

Preparing Your Seeds
I rinsed mine in a bowl, then poured them in a strainer and continued rinsing, picking out any clumps of pumpkin goo that stuck to them. Once clean, I poured them onto a clean towel to dry. Then I poured them, mostly dry, onto parchment-lined baking sheets and left them on the counter overnight to dry the rest of the way. (I read on Food Network- linked below- that you should dry your seeds in a 300 degree oven for 30 minutes prior to tossing them with the liquid and seasonings and baking. If you don't have time to do things overnight like I did, try this method. It's said to make crunchier seeds.)


Fiery (source recipe Taste of Home)

1/2 cup fresh pumpkin seeds 
1 teaspoon Louisiana-style hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon chili powder 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin 
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
1/8 teaspoon pepper





BBQ (inspired by Food Network, but had to figure out the amounts myself so used the Wholefully blog's Sweet and Spicy flavor as a guide)

1/2 cup fresh pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin







Parmesan Dill (I made this one up myself, but was inspired by a marriage of two flavors at the Wholefully blog!)

1/2 cup fresh pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dill weed
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder






Ultimately, I saw several different ways to roast-- one source recommended 300 degrees for 20-30 minutes (stirring a few times throughout), one source said 250 degrees for 45-50 minutes (stirring occasionally), one source said 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. I even saw one that said 425 degrees for 8-10 minutes! In the end, I decided to go with the 300 degree oven temperature because when I make granola, 300 seems to be the sweet spot for toasting the ingredients while not burning the nuts.

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line sheet pans with parchment paper. Set aside.

2. Measure out dry spices for each flavor and set aside.
 From left: Parmesan Dill, Fiery, BBQ
 
3. Toss pumpkin seeds with the liquid ingredient (olive oil or hot sauce, for these recipes), making sure each seed is coated.
Add dry spices to the seeds and toss to coat.

4. Spread seeds on prepared baking sheets in a single layer.
(Photos from top: BBQ, Parmesan Dill, Fiery)

5. Bake at 300 degrees for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 8 minutes, until golden brown but not burned. (NOTE: Your bake time will depend on the thickness of your cooking sheet. Both my Parmesan Dill and BBQ flavors were on a standard-weight baking pan. Those became crispy and golden in 24 minutes. The Fiery flavor was on a heavier-weight, darker baking pan and needed the full 30 minutes to reach the same level of crunch. In sum, you'll need to keep your eye on them as you open the oven every 8 minutes to stir.) Mine were perfectly golden and none of the seeds or the ingredients burned. (I was concerned for the brown sugar.)

6. Cool before eating. They become crunchier as they cool.

We had a great time taste-testing these.

My daughters agree with one another--SHOCKING!-- in both their comments and preferences. They like the Parmesan Dill flavor best (and think it tastes like popcorn), then the Fiery ones (which they don't find all that spicy), then the BBQ (which they find the spiciest).

My thoughts? I also like the Parmesan Dill flavor--and agree it tastes like a cheesy popcorn--but I prefer the spicy-sweet foil of the BBQ more than the straight up spice of the Fiery. However, I find them equally spicy--I found the heat hits different parts of your mouth.

My husband is still sipping his coffee so he won't taste them yet. Killjoy!

Enjoy your Saturday!

Friday, October 28, 2016

October 28: Caramel Apple Nachos!

 Olé peeps!

It's nacho day up in here. Tonight we are carving our pumpkins (I'll feature the finished products--and a recipe for the seeds!--tomorrow.) so it's sort of going to be messy already. I decided I might as well go for broke and do all the messy things in one fell swoop.

Also? I used up our leftover roast and shredded chicken for the dinner portion of our night. They were scrumdiddliumtious .

Then it was time for dessert nachos. In the form of caramel apples. I saw these in pictures on Pinterest, but I didn't visit any blogs to check how they did theirs. I used my own procedure and favorite ingredients to build them. One of the great things about this "recipe" is that it's completely customize-able. Another great thing is it's relatively simple. And the best thing? It's DEEEEEELICIOSO!

Caramel Apple Nachos

Ingredients:

2-3 medium apples, skin on, seeds removed (I still have about 9 apples left! ugh!)
20 Kraft caramels (half a bag)
1 Tablespoon water
1.5 oz chocolate candy melts
1.5 oz vanilla candy melts
1 Tablespoon mini chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon mini M&Ms
2 Tablespoons honey-roasted peanuts, chopped

Directions:

1. Cut each apple into 8-10 wedges. Arrange onto a plate in a circular pattern.
2. Melt caramels with 1 Tablespoon of water in a pan over low-medium heat, stirring constantly.
3. Drizzle caramel over the apples. I used the spatula and worked in circular pattern. You can zigzag or do whatever.
4. Melt the candy melts in the microwave according to package directions. When melted, drizzle each candy melt in turn over the apples. (So that it looked nicer, I transferred my melted chocolate into baggies and snipped the tip so I could pipe it over the apples in a controlled way. I would have preferred to simply use a spoon to drizzle it, but it was thick and I felt like it would glob which I didn't want.)
5. Sprinkle desired toppings on the still-wet ingredients (so they stick).

And, if you have any leftover caramel in your pan...make one "classic" caramel apple just so you can say you did.