Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How To: Birthday Banner

This upcoming Thursday is my brother's birthday, so I thought I would get a jump start on things with today's post: how to make a birthday banner. This one is very simple and can turn any room into a party room. All you will need is some colored paper, a marker, string and a hole punch (or anything that can punch holes).
The first step is to cut your paper into small shapes, one for each letter that you are wanting to spell. (For "Happy Birthday" you will need 13 pieces). I chose to cut mine into squares with rounded edges. You can choose to cut the shapes as large or small as you would like, but generally 2"x2" is a good size. Once you have your paper cut, take your marker and write out one letter on each piece. Next, punch a hole on the right and left side of each paper. Take your string (I used birthday wrapping ribbon) and cut it into long strips. You will want a strip for each word, making them slightly different lengths so that the banners droop at different levels. Take your first string and thread it through each letter for your first word. To make things easier for myself, I threaded the middle letter of the word first and worked my way out. When you thread your string/ribbon through the letters, make sure you are threading it so the string is on the back of the letter. Once your first word is spelled out on your string, repeat the steps until all three words are threaded onto their string. Finally, arrange on your wall to display!

Even though I chose to make my banner a birthday banner, you can easily use it to spell out anything, or for a variation, you can easily make this craft into a garland by making the strings longer and using blank shapes instead of letters :)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Cookie Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

Today's inspiration comes from a blog post on Picky Palate about oreo stuffed chocolate chip cookies. This original post has received a lot of attention in the blogging world, though I do not follow Picky Palate's blog, I have seen quite a few other blogs linking to her stuffed chocolate chip cookies. As soon as I saw her idea, I knew that it was something I would attempt on my own. Originally I wasn't in a rush to make them, but after seeing it linked on Yahoo, I felt it was time to jump on this oreo stuffed cookies trend before it was too late. For my oreo stuffed chocolate chip cookies, I chose to a recipe from a random baking book I have. Picky Palate included her own recipe, but honestly, any chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe will do. Below are my instructions for stuffed chocolate chip cookies:
First, make your chocolate chip cookie dough using whichever trusted recipe you normally use. As mentioned before, you will want to use a recipe for a chewy chocolate chip cookie, so one that forms a thicker dough. If your cookie dough is not thick enough to mold, simply chill it for a half hour or so. Once you have your cookie dough, use a cookie scoop to scoop out some dough. Normally I make level scoops, but for these cookies I found that scooping large unlevel cookies was the perfect amount. Scoop the chocolate chip cookie dough onto a single oreo. Press the dough around the oreo so that the oreo is completely enveloped with the chocolate chip cookie dough. Because chocolate chip cookie dough spreads when baked, you only want to use enough dough to cover the oreo with minimal extra. After the oreo is covered, place on your greased cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, rotating the pan half way through. Once baked, cook on a cooling rack and enjoy! I think half of the appeal to these cookies is their appearance, so make sure you cut a cookie in half to witness your masterpiece.
Now, as much as I love oreos, I wanted to try other types of cookies stuffed into chocolate chip cookies, so as a variation, I chose to make nutter butter stuffed chocolate chip cookies and... thin mint stuffed chocolate chip cookies! To make these variations, follow the directions as above. Again, you only want just enough dough to cover the cookie, so you will use a lot more chocolate chip cookie dough for the nutter butter than you would for the thin mint :)
WARNING: These cookies are very rich and calorific. I wanted to try each type of stuffed cookie tonight, so I had 3 halves of the cookies and I still feel stuffed! Don't let this scare you away from this recipe though, because this is something you don't want to miss out on. These cookies are delicious. I think that visually, the oreo stuffed cookie was the best, but its flavor was far more subtle than the nutter butter or thin mint cookie. I think your favorite would really depend on which cookie you like the most. My favorite was probably the thin mint, with the oreo stuffed cookie falling closely behind. That being said, I am not a huge fan of nutter butter cookies, but if you love peanut butter, those are for you :)

Thanks for dropping by!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Homemade Easter Grass

Growing up, my mom never wanted to use Christmas tinsel or Easter grass because we would continuously find the plastic strands months after their respected holiday. With Easter coming up, I find myself facing the reality that I too do not want to find plastic strands for the next few months, so I have decided to adopt a new solution: homemade Easter grass. All you need is a few pieces of green or pastel colored construction paper, some scissors and a pen (or something with a comparable shape).

The steps are simple and are as follows:
First, cut the construction paper into strips. You can make these strips at varying lengths and widths to add contrast to your "grass".  Once your strips are cut, take a strip and curl it around the pen. You want your curls to be tighter rather than looser because they will naturally loosen up on their own. Slide the curl off of the pen and stretch to create its shape. Then, just repeat with the rest of the strips! You will learn how curling the strips at different angles and tightness will alter the shape of the finished spirals. Play around with these different angles, along with different colors and sizes to produce the most diverse grass. This one is easy and will save you a lot of hassle, so try it on your own :)

Don't worry, I have a lot more challenging and fun Easter posts to come, so be sure to check back! 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Banana Bread Cookies

I bought a bunch of bananas last week as part of my eating healthier attitude, unfortunately, I didn't get to eat two of them and they became very brown. This may seem like a bad thing to a lot of people, but whenever I have two or more bananas that brown, I think of yummy banana bread. This time, I decided to venture out of the mold and go with banana cookies instead. Naturally, I went to Martha, and she did not disappoint! I used her recipe for Banana-Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies. Doesn't the name itself make your mouth water? So, I grabbed my near-black bananas and my apron and went to work.
So next time you have brown bananas, don't throw them out! Freeze them until you buy the other ingredients to make these delicious cookies. Once you try them, you will be thanking me (and Martha). Thanks for stopping by! ♡

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Help Daffodils Last Longer

Spring time means cheap, fresh flowers! Daffodils were on sale at my grocery store and I remembered stumbling upon this section on Real Simple's website that helps you maintain fresh flowers longer. I felt I should extend their short paragraph into a tutorial to show you how to help daffodils last longer. All you will need are daffodils, scissors, water, cotton balls and a vase. Here's what to do:

Cut a few cotton balls into small pieces (about as big as a pea) and set aside. Take your daffodils and cut about 2 inches off the end. Once cut, you should see that their stems are tube-like. I noticed that the flowers that were closer to bloom were the most hallow. Fill up one of your cut daffodil stems with water, then take a piece of cotton ball and use it to plug the stem. Repeat these steps with the rest of your daffodils and place in a vase of water. That's it! I will update this post to let you know how long my flowers last :)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Homemade White Hot Chocolate

Because of the rainy, cold weather, I thought I would share how to make homemade hot chocolate. Specifically, white hot chocolate. Once you try this, you won't go back to packaged hot cocoa mix. The taste doesn't even compare! To make a single cup of hot chocolate, all you need is one cup of milk, a third cup of chocolate chips (I chose white chocolate) and a marshmallow. 

Now here are the steps:

Take a small pot and fill it with about an inch of cold tap water. Bring the water to a simmer, then place a heatproof bowl on top of the pot. You want to make sure the bowl is over the water, not touching it. Pour the milk into the heatproof bowl. Once the milk is warm, add the chocolate chips and stir. Keep stirring until the chocolate melts. While you are heating your milk mixture, take your large marshmallow and cut into smaller pieces. Trust me, you want to use scissors for this and not a knife. Just be sure to wash your scissors before and immediately after cutting your marshmallow! Once the chocolate is melted into your milk, continue heating until it has reached the desired level of heat.

Finally, pour into a mug, add your cut up marshmallow and enjoy while listening to the rain!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Alphabet Potato Stamps Tutorial

I found a Martha Stewart stamp pad on sale about a month ago and I couldn't resist buying it, even though I don't own any stamps. For my solution I took a page from my childhood memories and decided to make potato stamps! Personally, my favorite kind of stamps are letter stamps, so I decided to transform one large potato into a variety of letters. Very cheap, easy and (admittedly) fun! Also, because I thought of the few things I wanted to spell before making the stamps, I only used a third of the potato. To make your own, here is what you will need:
A large potato (or several), cookie cutters and a small knife
You can also use other things to carve out your stamps. Just look around and be creative! I ended up using some icing tips in addition to these items. Now to start making your stamps! The first thing is to  decide how big you want your stamps to be. Because I decided to make letters, I wanted mine fairly small. Take your knife and cut the potato in half or in thirds (depending on your size preference). Next, cut the curved edges so your potato pieces are as rectangular as possible. Then, just cut into smaller rectangular pieces, making them as big or small as you like. Once your pieces are cut, you can start carving out your stamps! Because I made my pieces long and thin, I was able to carve a stamp shape on both ends of my potato piece. I'm sure you could also carve shapes into all four sides if you'd like to as well! I found that cookie cutters were the easiest and most useful for carving, especially for carving curvy shapes! In the picture below, I used the leg of my giraffe cookie cutter to make my "O". One thing that I somehow forgot while carving my letters is to make sure you carve the mirror image of the letters. As you can see in my picture, I originally carved my "N" incorrectly, but I was able to easily chop off the incorrect "N" and carve out my new one :)
After all of your stamps are carved, you are ready to stamp! Here are a few of my stampings:
I am planning on having some more fun with these stamps as they should keep in the fridge for about a week! I hope you try this on your own and I would love to see your pictures if you do! As always, thanks for stopping by :)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Go-To Cookie Recipe

Tonight is the end of what felt like a very long week. That being said, all I wanted to make tonight is my go-to cookie. These cookies have been called a variety of things such as everything cookies, out-on-the-range cookies or in the case of my recipe, outrageous chocolate chip cookies. Regardless of the name, these cookies all have the same idea, stuffing a lot of yummy ingredients into one cookie! My particular recipe calls for oats, peanut butter, and chocolate chips. You can easily add a bunch of other things to this mix. Some ideas are chopped nuts, coconut, dried berries, or potato chips! (There is a cookie recipe that uses potato chips that I have been dying to try). No need for a tutorial for this one as I included my favorite go-to recipe.

Well I hope everyone enjoyed their St. Patrick's Day/March Madness festivities! If you are also wanting a yummy snack while still being able to relax, I strongly recommend these. Thanks for stopping by! 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March Madness: Basketball Streamer Tutorial

With March Madness beginning tomorrow, I chose to make a basketball decoration for those of you who are planning on hosting a March Madness party. With some orange paper, a black marker, string, scissors and tape, you can make this easy and festive garland. Here are the steps:

Using something round, trace circles on an orange piece of paper (you will want multiples of 6). If you want your basketballs to have a black edge (as in the middle circle above), trace the round object with a thick black pen and cut outside of the lines. Otherwise, trace and cut as you normally would. Once all of your circles are cut, draw basketball lines on the circle. You can reference my picture for line placement. After the lines are drawn, take 3 circles and fold them in half, pen side in. Glue this group of 3 together. Repeat this step with the rest of the circles so that you have glued groups of 3. Now, take your string/twine and tape it to one of the groups of threes. Then, glue two groups together, making sure the string is in the very center of all of the folded paper. You now have one basketball on your garland! Simply repeat these last steps until you have all of your basketballs on your garland :)

I apologize that my step-by-step pictures above do not have the basketball lines drawn in right away. I realized after taking these pictures through trial and error that it was easier to draw the lines before assembling. Anyway, I hope you take advantage of this easy craft as it can quickly make your room ready for a basketball party. Make sure you fill out those brackets right away if you are planning on it! I must admit, I still have to make my selections. Well enjoy the games and thanks for stopping by! ♡

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How To: Edible Pots of Gold

Last week when I was thinking of St. Patrick's Day ideas, I came up with this treat to share with you! It's a simple recipe with a twist on presentation/preparation that creates a delicious edible pot of gold. Here is how I did it:

I started off with a chocolate cookie recipe. I used Martha's chocolate sandwich cookie recipe found in her baking handbook. If you don't own this book, you can find a similar recipe here. Make the dough following the recipe's instructions. Once mixed, chill the dough for 30 minutes. As you place the dough into the fridge, preheat the oven to 350 and grease a muffin pan (I used a regular sized 12-muffin pan). After the dough is chilled, drop individual scoops of dough into each muffin mold using a cookie scoop. Using a greased spoon (or your thumb), press the dough against the bottom and sides of the muffin mold, making sure you don't spread the dough too thin (you don't want it to burn in the oven). Bake the cookies for 12 minutes, rotating the tray half way through. After the cookie cups are baked and cooled, remove  from the pan. Now you have the pots that will eventually hold your gold! 

Now to make the gold, you can do a few different things. My first idea was to use yellow m&m's, but because I decided to use ingredients I already owned, I chose to make gold frosting instead. The recipe I used was the frosting from the sandwich cookie recipe. I added food coloring to it and a drop of caramel. Once the frosting was made, I frosted the pots of gold and topped it off with gold sprinkles. The recipe I used ended up being far too sweet, so I would recommend using the butter cream recipe I formerly used for my Valentine's Day cookies. So there you have it, edible pots of gold, just in time for St. Patrick's Day! I hope that you try out this recipe, with the m&m's or the icing. As always, thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful St. Patrick's Day :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

How To: Ruffled T-Shirt Necklace

With the sun shining and time being on my side, I am happy to be posting my St. Patrick's Day craft for you! After perusing the aisles of the nearby drug store and discount store for inspiration, I decided to make something with the materials I already own: ribbon, embroidery thread and needle, scissors, and an old green shirt. The finished product is a ruffled green t-shirt necklace that will keep you from being pinched this Thursday :)

Here's how to make your own:
First, lay out the green shirt that you are going to use. Cut off the bottom hem of the shirt and discard (or save for a different craft). Cut 5-7 strips parallel to the bottom hem about 3/4" thick. These strips will actually be circles (rings) of fabric. Cut off one of the side hems on each ring to form true strips of fabric.

Thread your embroidery needle either with a color matching the shirt or the color of your ribbon. Sew lengthwise through the first strip of fabric leaving several inches of thread on either side. The closer you make your stitches, the smaller the ruffle will be. Pull the thread tight after the first strip has been stitched. Repeat this process with the rest of the strips of t-shirt. For my necklace I stitched the first and last strips close together to make the ruffle smaller than the middle of my necklace. You can experiment with the different sizes to find the combination you like the most. Once all of the strips are ruffled onto your thread, you can arrange the strips to your desired spacing. Think of the ruffles as accordions: you are able to expand and compress each strip. Throughout this process, you may want to hold the unfinished necklace up to you in order to determine how many strips of fabric you wish to use. If you decide that you need more, simply cut more strips from your tee. After arranging your ruffles the way you want them, snip the thread leaving several inches on either side of the fabric.

For the ribbon part of the necklace, you can either cut two pieces of ribbon that will be tied in a bow at the back of your neck, or if you are making a longer necklace you can choose to use only one longer piece of ribbon. (For the second option, you have to make sure your necklace is long enough to fit over your head.) To add the ribbon, thread one end of your necklace (this is why we saved several inches of thread on either side of the ruffles), sew the ribbon at the end of the ruffle. You probably will want to use a loop stitch for this. Once you feel that the ribbon is securely fastened, knot the embroidery thread and snip close to the knot. If you are creating the necklace with two pieces of ribbon, simply repeat this step on the other side. That's it!
It may sound like a lot, but it is very manageable. Also, if you don't have a green shirt laying around, you can use anything made of green fabric. All you have to do is cut it into strips and the steps are the same! If you need any clarification just write me a comment. I would be more than happy to help :)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Craving Chocolate Chip Cookies?

Today I found myself craving the classic taste of chocolate chip cookies. I turned to my new Martha Stewart Baking book and looked up her recipe. I'm sure everyone reading this has a go-to chocolate chip/chunk cookie recipe, but if you are wanting the one I used, just leave a comment below :)

I must admit, I only recently began to buy quality ingredients. It may seem hard to pay for chocolate chips that cost twice as much as the generic brand, but it truly does make a difference. Especially for something that is such a staple to the cookie. A good rule to bake by: if the ingredient is part of the cookie's name, splurge for the best quality. I actually happened to buy these Ghiradeli chocolate chips on sale, but my favorite brand is Guittard. Just try not to eat all of the chocolate chips plain with a glass of milk before you make the cookies! I have learned to apply a lot of self control to my baking ingredients. Mostly by reminding myself that baked goods are always better than the sum of their ingredients.

Anyway, I feel that a chocolate chip cookie tutorial is unnecessary, but I will share with you some of my learned tips:
- as I mentioned above, splurge on the chocolate chips
- make sure the butter is not warmer than room temperature (this will turn your cookies flat)
- never over-mix the batter
- always use unsalted butter (this helps you control your sodium intake)
- for fluffiest results, chill for up to 36 hours (The NY Times explains this in a 2008 article)
- make sure you have plenty of milk in the fridge :)

All this cookie talk has awakened my taste buds. To the cookie jar I venture. Be sure to check back soon because I am brainstorming some sort of St. Patrick's Day craft for you!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hanging Paper Flowers

I found today's craft on Martha Stewart's website. For less than $10 and less than a half hour, you can make 10 of these decorations! They are great for any room, or special occasions such as a wedding or baby shower. Here are the supplies needed:

5 Paper Bags, Scissors, Twine and Double-Sided Tape
I chose brown paper bags and twine because they are very inexpensive in addition to the fact that my bedroom wall is lined with brown butcher paper, so it matches my theme. If you wanted to make these flowers in a different color, you can easily purchase colored paper gift bags. At Rite Aid they were about 50 cents a bag, so still cheap. I know that Martha Stewart already has a pretty extensive how-to, but I thought I would write my own as well :)

The first step is to fold the five bag's bottom in half. Once that is done, cut off all of the bottoms. Cut one bag into a petal shape, then use this bag as a guide and cut all of the others to be the same size/shape. Once all five bags resemble flower petals, take a hole punch, and punch a hole at the bottom center of each bag. You want the hole to be fairly close to the bottom of the bags, but be sure not to have it too close to the bottom in case of tearing (because it is only paper afterall). Once the bags have been hole punched, thread a piece of twine (or yarn) through the holes and tie it loosely. Also during this step, take double-sided tape to tape the 5 bags together. You should use two strips per bags. The strips of tape should be placed as shown above (bottom left picture). Once the bags are taped together, tape the top bag to the bottom bag by opening the bags around the string. 

That's it! The result is a paper flower ready to be hung. I will try to upload another picture soon so that you can see it in scale. They turn out to be a bit larger than a frisbee. I hope you try this one out. It is very very simple and as I mentioned before, you will have enough supplies to make ten :)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Zest and Glaze: Citrus Muffins

I would like to start by apologizing for posting about muffins, again. It is difficult because I want to be able to share with you the recipes that I use, but I feel like that would be going against copyrighting laws (right?), so I sadly must refrain. Yesterday, I was pleased to try a new muffin recipe from my 1 Mix, 100 Muffins book: citrus muffins. My previous hesitation for making this recipe was that it calls for finely grated rind from a lime, lemon and orange. Having no zester (or a grater for that matter) to my name, I was unable to even attempt this recipe, but thanks to Ross Dress for Less, I now own one! Despite this achievement, I was still hesitant to try to make these because I had never zested anything before. I suppose it is due to the fact that I usually choose chocolate over fruit, but being nutrition month, I am willing to change. So even though I cannot post the original recipe I used to make these muffins, you can easily make plain muffins into citrus muffins by adding the finely grated rinds (1 of each kind) as I mentioned above.

One thing I realized is that zesting is very time consuming. You should have everything zested and ready to go before you start mixing any other ingredients. Usually making muffins takes me around 30 minutes (including baking time), but these took me around an hour. Also, if you are asked to grate the whole rind, zest down to the fruit, but no further. Finally, be careful. I know this may sound obvious, but I zested my thumb and doing anything without using the tip of my thumb is proving to be very difficult. Hopefully you see my mistakes and you will not have to make them :)

Also, I have an exciting addition to my cookbook collection! The Borders store near my apartment is closing. As unfortunate as this is, a positive (temporary) result is a bookstore full of discounted books! I am happy to say that I now own Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook! As soon as I bought it I skimmed through every page. I am so excited to try everything in her book. Well one thing she already taught me is how to cool muffins: cool them on their sides inside the pan. I have always wondered the best way to cool them. If I take them out of the pan and put them upside down, their tops get dented or stick to the rack, if I put them right-side-up, their bottoms flatten, and if I keep them in the pan, they continue to cook. Martha's solution is brilliant. Next time you make muffins, try it. You will be thanking Martha too :)

While my muffins were cooling, I chose to make a citrus glaze. The muffin recipe asked for cream cheese frosting, but my boyfriend hates all things cream cheese, so I switched to a glaze. The glaze I made can be found here on Martha Stewart's website. I didn't add the course salt and instead of measuring the juices, I went off of taste, and it turned out amazing! I know that frosting the muffins seems to defeat the healthy purpose of making them, but I couldn't resist! Also, if you use the glaze as opposed to a frosting it makes storing the muffins much easier because the glaze will harden :)

So don't be discouraged about making anything with citrus or zesting in the future. Just be more attentive than I was, and you will have a tasty result without any casualties!

Also, I should be posting a craft how-to in the next day or two so be sure to check back! ♡

Friday, March 4, 2011

Marking the Read Across America Week!

Being the last day of Read Across America Week, I decided that making some bookmarks would be more than appropriate. I am so happy that I made some bookmarks. I tend to use random things I find (scrap papers, business cards, etc.) to mark my page, but I think my books deserve better. Here are the bookmarks I made:

I tried to make quite a variety, and all are so easy to make! I'll briefly explain how to make each one.
Starting with the simple orange one (top left), I used these three items:

The first is a piece of cardboard I cut out from a box of plastic utensils, the second is a piece of scrapbooking paper and finally, a doily left over from Valentine's Day. I just glues the three together to make a study, lace looking bookmark. 

For this next bookmark, I just used some paper. I took a strip of scrapbooking paper and folded it in half. Then I took a black piece of paper and cut it into a shape. I chose the circle to mimic the pattern on the paper. I have always liked bookmarks like these because not only do they mark your page, but they also mark the exact line, which helps to easily pick right up where you left off. I also decided to have some fun and write the word "read" on this bookmark, which can be read both upside down and right side up! Kind of a challenge, but I think it ended up working well. The important thing to note for this bookmark is that you want it to be able to be versatile. It should look "right side up" when it is flipped every which way.

For the next bookmark, I simply placed sticker letters onto a piece of paper to spell out my name. Then, I cut the paper with an exacto knife to make a thin border around the letters. This works best with cursive letters so that it is one continuous chain, but you can also choose to use other letters too and let the background paper be the connector. Other words like "imagine," "discover," and "dream" are also great to use!

Finally, my last bookmark I created by cutting a picture. Find an image that you can easily cut into a bookmark shape/size. Then using an exacto knife, cut a shape into the top of the picture. Make sure that you do not cut the entire shape! It looks best if you cut out all but the highest points of the shape. You can see how I cut out my heart shape in the picture. This is definitely simple, personal, and looks great! 

I hope that some of you try out these bookmark designs! I would love to see your pictures if you do :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

National Nutrition Month: Blueberry Muffins

Yesterday, being the first day of March, marks the first day of National Nutrition Month! As you can see from my groceries, I have decided to take this to heart and eat more fruit.

That being said, I am a person that is constantly craving sweets, so I will still be baking all month, but I thought I would start on a slightly healthier note by making muffins. Previously to this year, I had never attempted to make muffins. For whatever reason, the thought had never crossed my mind. Fortunately for me, I stumbled across an amazing muffin cook book for such a good price, that I couldn't resist. The book is 1 Mix, 100 Muffins. This book is wonderful. All of the recipes derive from a basic muffin recipe, so it is easy to create your own alterations, though it's not quite necessary with the 100 included recipes. Anyway, I chose to make a blueberry muffin with a crumble top. Easy and delicious.

Thanks for dropping by! ♡