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Monday, August 29, 2011

ANYONE Can Cook! Part 2

I hope you considered trying some new things after my last post.  Did anyone try the zucchini cakes?  I have two more cooking ideas for you, and then some tips.

My husband said he wanted something different for breakfast, and suggested granola pancakes like they have at Cracker Barrel.  I looked online and found a granola recipe, and a pancake recipe.  I made them both.  
Aside from the adventure of making something new, my granola really did turn into an experiment, because I made a few purposeful changes--and I didn't really read the directions carefully until it was too late....

The granola called for almonds and dried cranberries.  In an effort to save money, I bought a bag of almonds, sunflower seeds, and cranberries and put them in the food processor to chop them up. 

 Then, I added the oatmeal and wet ingredients and realized I should have used a bigger bowl.  

After pouring the mixture onto the aluminum foil in my oven, I read that I was supposed to add the cranberries after cooking.  Too Late!  

Before Baking                                   After Baking

The granola is really good, even though I didn't follow the recipe exactly, and the pancakes turned out very nicely.  
By the way, if you decide to make the granola, it makes a lot.  And--the pancakes are deceptively filling.

The third "experiment" I did is this "Stained Glass" Candy from Food Gawker.
Let me tell you about this adventure.  I decided I was going to make this recipe, and I bought the chocolate chips.  I have been to five stores (each carrying marshmallows) and none of them had the multicolored ones.  I really wanted to make these, though, and so I tried to think of things I could substitute.  I wanted something chewy, and I needed something that would show up like the marshmallows when I sliced them.  I went with a bag of dried fruit, and because it wasn't as big as a bag of marshmallows, I added extra nuts.  They were good, but I wasn't extremely impressed.  I thought about how I could improve this one.  I think if you used bigger pieces of fruit, like the chunks of papaya, mango, or pineapple, that would be good.  The pictures below go with the instructions in the recipe from the link.


My husband and I also thought of spice drops.  We had two little girls staying with us, and so for fun, we made it again using gummy worms and fruit slices.  I also substituted milk chocolate chips for the semi-sweet ones, because I like sweeter things.  Again, I learned something--gummy worms do not get hard in the refrigerator, and so they are difficult to cut.  We put them in the freezer and that helped.

The girls had a good time with the cooking, and I thought the end result looked pretty good.  By the way, since there were two girls, I divided the recipe and used two bowls, so each girl got to make a roll.

I have been eating the candy for the past week, and both Tommy and Rachel said they tasted fine.  
Will I continue to experiment with this recipe?  Probably.  Will I use gummy worms again?  Definitely not.   I do want to try it with the spice drops (although Tommy says I have to pull out the minty ones) and I would also like to make the actual recipe--if I can ever find the marshmallows.  

If you want to branch out with your cooking, I have these tips:
1.  Don't be afraid.
2.  Start with simple changes, like leaving out or substituting for a spice that you do not like/do not have on hand.
3.  Ask yourself the questions, "What could I do to make this better?" and "What could I use that would be LIKE this ingredient that I am missing?"
4.  Be brave.  Check out Food Gawker.

I know you can do this.  You'll be great!  What are your favorite recipes?  Leave us a link in the comments!

Monday, August 22, 2011

ANYONE Can Cook! Part 1

Soooo.... I was introduced to an amazing website for food.  Food Gawker has over one hundred thousand pictures of food, and when you click the pictures, a new window with the site where the recipe is listed pops open.  You can search by food type, or browse everything.  Perhaps the best part is that you can sign up for a free account and save your favorites.  I have been looking at it almost everyday, and I've tried a few things from it.

After I finished writing this, I looked at how looooonnnnnnnnggggggg it was, and I broke it into two posts.  Part two will follow soon.

Here's where my information for you comes in.  My goal in this blog is to make things and explain them so anyone can replicate them--even those of you who say you are not good at crafts, or cooking.  I have heard of some people who NEVER experiment in the kitchen, and can't make anything without a recipe.  Well, if you are an experimenter, try the recipes I linked to, because they are really good.  If you aren't an experimenter, read the rest of this, and be BRAVE.

Now, I will admit, I have made a few things that weren't edible.  Like the steak that was so charred it couldn't even pass for beef jerky, or trying to make alfredo sauce with a package of cream cheese (trust me, you don't want to try that experiment), but if you consider everything I've tried, the inedible ones are few and far between.  And if you try something, you might like it!  Or you might say, "Never again!"  But you will have learned something for next time.

Something you might be interested in knowing:  I rarely actually measure things.  I might use a measuring cup, but even then, measurements are approximate.  I say this for one reason--Even though I don't measure much, people still seem to like my food.  You don't have to worry about things being perfect.  (My grandmother says BAKING involves science, and so you have to be more careful.  I DO measure carefully when I make cakes.)

If you are one who never tries anything new, an experiment might just be trying a recipe you have never used before.  I started to use this recipe last weekend, because I found it on Food Gawker and thought it looked delicious:
Zucchini Cakes
We were having company, and I was making them while my friend was in the kitchen.  She thought they looked good, but she didn't think she wanted the nutmeg in there, so we left it out.  You know, they were still delicious.  I made them again Saturday (still without the nutmeg) and I made them thinner, which was nice.  My husband's family started calling them Zucchini burgers, and they loved them.

I have two more recipes that I have tried, with pictures.  I will put them up soon.  In the meantime, leave a comment with your favorite recipe, experiment, or if you're brave, a disaster you tried.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Decorative Balls for Tables

As I said before, I love picking up shells.  Have you ever been to Sanibel Island?  It is full of shells.  My husband and I went, and it really looked like someone came in the middle of the night with a dump truck and left huge piles of shells on the beach.  When we went, they were worried about red tide, so we couldn't go in the water.  Since I was there for the shells, that didn't bother me too much.  We did wash our shells in a diluted bleach solution when we got back to make sure that there was no bacteria on what we picked up.  (I have found that if you have a crab claw or carapace, soaking it in bleach will take all of the colors out of them, so that may not be the best plan.  The shells are okay.)  Today's post is an idea we came up with for using our shells and decorating our home.

I decided to make some of those balls that people put in bowls and canisters to decorate their homes.  I like the results, and I also made some smaller ones that I turned into ornaments for a Christmas tree.

Here is the tutorial:

You will need plaster of paris, styrofoam balls (white will probably work better than green)(the size and shape is up to you--some of my ornaments are egg shaped), and a disposable container to mix the plaster in.
Mix a small amount of plaster according to the package directions.
Roll the styrofoam ball in the plaster.  A thin coat of plaster will stick to the styrofoam.  I must give a warning about this part.  I cannot do this step without getting the plaster on my fingers.  The box of plaster of paris warns that the plaster can burn.  I have never had any problems with this, but I wouldn't want you to hurt yourself!
Once your styrofoam ball is covered with a layer of plaster, let it dry.  The plaster will be lumpy.  You will be covering a lot of it up, so this won't matter.
Now, to decorate.  You should decide if you want to make a hanging ornament or balls to put in a bowl. I used the 4 inch size balls to put in my bowl, and I used the 2 inch balls and eggs for ornaments.

If you want to make an ornament, add a hanger.  I used a glue gun to attach a loop of ribbon to the top of my ornament.  I try for an X shape with the ribbon.  You can add a small bow here if you want.
Next, choose the shells you want to feature and use the glue gun to attach them to the plaster.  You will end up with some plaster showing between your shells.  The amount of space in between is up to you.  I did some balls with more and some with less.  I like them either way.
Once you have added all the shells that you care to, arrange your balls in a container and hang your ornaments!  I added a piece of driftwood as an accent.  Enjoy!

What else would you try decorating these with instead of shells?  Leave a comment so we can try something new!