Category Archives: Tutorials

Chocolate Crescents

One word… YUM!

I volunteered to bring the bread to our Mother’s of Preschoolers brunch this morning. I couldn’t bring just a plain old sliced baguette or anything, but we’re feeding roughly 10-15 women (hopefully more someday!) so I need my assignment to be three things: simple, tasty, and inexpensive.

Crescent rolls are one of my favorite breads to pair with a meal, morning, noon, or night. Their buttery flakiness pairs perfectly with whatever you decide to serve them with. But I didn’t want to bring plain crescents. I went to the store and figured that a brilliant idea would hit me at some point.

Well, crescents were on a deep sale last week ($1.68 per roll!) and as I was checking out I noticed that Hershey’s chocolate bars were only 50¢ each! I tossed a few of those into my order and decided that my brilliant simple idea was nearly complete.

Once I got home I had the thought to dress them up just a bit more with a little egg wash and some chunky raw sugar.

Line ’em up, plunk down a piece of chocolate onto each triangle, and roll ’em up. So easy.

This step isn’t necessary, but it only takes a minute. Beat up an egg with a couple tablespoons of milk, brush some over the top of each roll, and sprinkle on a bit of sugar. I love Sugar in the Raw, it gives anything such sparkle because it doesn’t just melt into whatever you’re baking like granulated sugar does.

Bake them off as your package instructs. Mine said 11-13 minutes at 375°.

Don’t they look pretty? All golden brown and sparkly on top! You can’t see it now, but there’s a beautiful little melty nugget of chocolate waiting for you inside. Enjoy!

Lastly, how can you beat making 3 dozen dessert breads for just over $10? That’s just the sale prices too, if you are a couponer I bet you could make these for close to free!

Orange Chicken

Last night I pulled together and made a truly amazing main course. I hadn’t realized how quickly it would be ready, so I completely forgot to make the side dish of veggie fried rice. Oops!

Well, before I could even get two bites into my own mouth, Jason was nearly finished with his plate. I asked if he wanted me to make some Minute Rice, and he replied “Nope, I’m very content. This was really good.” I beamed. 😀

Here is my recipe for Orange Chicken. I was browsing through a few highly-ranked recipes online and read through some of the most helpful of the comments. I sorted through it all in my head, implemented some of the suggested changes, and made a couple of changes of my own (because I didn’t have a couple of the ingredients that I didn’t realize I’d need). As I said, it turned out fabulous, but I’ll tell you what changes I made so that you can switch it back if you’d like.

Step 1: Heat about 2 tablespoons of cooking oil in a large pan. Saute 4-6 chicken breasts in the oil until cooked through.

Step 2: Combine the following into a medium-sized saucepan:

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar (I didn’t have the usual rice wine vinegar, so I substituted apple cider vinegar, tasted great)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest (I prefer to make curls out of the orange rind because it looks prettier, but to each her own)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger (I didn’t have any fresh ginger root to mince, so powdered it is)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons dried minced onion or about 1 small fresh minced onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more to taste if you like it hotter)

Bring the sauce to a boil. Once the brown sugar is dissolved, turn the heat down to a simmer while you make your rice (next step).

Step 3: This is the step that I skipped on my first attempt at this recipe. I didn’t think to make the rice ahead of time and keep it warm, I just didn’t realize the chicken and sauce would be finished so quickly! Anyhow, this would be a fabulous time to make some white rice to mound up on your plate as a nice bed for your saucy chicken. If you’re like me and prefer fried rice, make the white rice ahead of time so it can be ready for you to fry up at this point. Kate at Cooking During Stolen Moments has a really great fried rice recipe. When I use her recipe I swap out the 2 1/2 cups of meat for about the same amount of diced veggies (peas and carrots usually, sometimes some corn for more sweetness even though it’s not an Asian veggie).

Step 4: Turn the heat back up to get the orange sauce good and bubbling again. Stir together 3 tablespoons of cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of water. Once it’s nice and smooth, add it to the sauce and whisk it all together quickly to thicken.

Step 5: This could go one of two ways. Either add the chicken pieces to the orange sauce and stir to coat, or lay the chicken on top of your rice and spoon some sauce over the top. I prefer to do both, coat (to get the chicken warmed back up) and then add more sauce on top of the plate.

Delicious! Good grief I wish I had pictures. I’m going to make this again next week and will definitely take photos to share.

This recipe is linked to Tasty Tuesday at Balancing Beauty & Bedlam. Head over there for lots more recipe inspiration.

Handpainted Child’s Stool

Several of the children in my family received a wooden stool when they were between two and three years old. All of them were handpainted by a wonderful old woman in our hometown. Each was different but they all looked uniform. They all came from the same blank so they were all the same size and shape. Here is a picture of my 25-year old stool:

It was personalized with my name and a very sweet little poem:

“This little stool is mine

I use it all the time

To reach the things I couldn’t

And sometimes things I shouldn’t.”

As you can see, the years have been rough on this treasured piece of my childhood. There is a significant crack that my mother patched with a piece of clear packing tape.

My 2 1/2-year old son Jeremy has fallen in love with my stool. I keep putting it away to keep it from being broken any further, but he always drags it out from wherever I’ve stashed it. He loves to “help” me do dishes, cook, and do all number of things as long as he can stand on the stool (even washing his hands!).

In my wanting to foster this creativity and helpfulness in him, I decided that he needs his own stool. The talented lady who created the stools for my sister, cousins, and I passed away more than fifteen years ago. I can only mark her absence by the fact that my youngest two cousins (who are now 13 and 15 years old) did not receive stools as children but my 19-year old cousin did.

I could probably have just purchased a simple wooden stool from the craft store and painted it all a basic color, but I want my son to have a stool with the same amount of love and individuality as the stools we received as kids. A plain painted stool wouldn’t be special to him like my stool is to me. Even my two oldest male cousins took special care of their stools. When the legs eventually gave out, they removed them and hung the stool tops on the wall with the family photos. No, a plain stool will not do for my son.

I could probably have searched out a local artist to paint a cute design on a simple wooden stool for my son. But alas, I am not flush with money and cannot afford to pay someone for an original piece of art, so matter how special the gift.

So, it lands to me to create this item that I so fervently want to give my son. I like to call myself crafty, but my skills do not lie with the liquid arts. I’m better with yarn (crochet) and thread (cross-stitch). I have, however done well in the past with stain and a woodburning tool, so I figured that if I take a lot of care with this project, that I could achieve success.

So, here we go…

Step 1: Purchase the necessary craft items.

Pre-assembled wooden stool (I chose a 10″ diameter), fine sandpaper (220 grit for me), desired shade of wood stain (I chose Golden Oak), graphite paper, sharpened pencil, acrylic paints (I picked up my set of twelve colors for $6.99), paintbrushes, and  a can of  varnish to seal your work.

Step 2: Sand your stool.

{Pretend there is a photo of my diligent sanding job here. My camera ate it.}

Be sure to get it nice and smooth without any standing grain or rough spots. The stain will absolutely darken any inconsistencies more than the nice soft spots.

When you’ve sufficiently sanded your stool, wipe off the dust with a clean cloth. Or you can ask your little person (who’s been standing by watching with much interest) to help you do this.

{I had an awesome photo of my 2 1/2-year old son helping me wipe the stool clean of dust. Darn camera ate it too.}

Step 3: Follow the directions on your stain. You can use a can of spray-on stain, but my craft store didn’t have any and I wasn’t up to a special trip to the hardware store just for that.

I chose to apply my stain with a folded-up section of paper towel instead of a paintbrush.

Step 4:  Let the stain sit for at least 8 hours to make sure it is completely dry. If you have quick-drying stain, go with the directions on your container. After the stain is set, apply a layer of sealant to the stool. This will protect the wood from the acrylic paint seeping into the grain of the wood. Allow the sealant plenty of time to dry.

Step 5: While your stool is drying, choose a picture, poem, whatever you want to paint onto the seat of the stool.

I chose a cartoonish ship with a pirate boy sailing the high seas. I went through scads of websites offering free clipart. Then, once I found the right picture, I scoured my beloved Random House Quotationary for just the perfect saying to write next to the pirate boy. I chose a snippet from Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, “Now and then we had a hope, that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.” For those of you who don’t know my family and I in real life, we really enjoy participating in Rennaisance and pirate-themed faires. For the past year and a half that my son has been coming along, he has been enthralled with pirates. I wanted to remember this special phase in his childhood by marking his fascination in the stool design.

Step 6: Transfer your image(s) to the stool using graphite paper and pencil. Another option is to purchase a stencil-making kit from the craft store. You can print out your design on the thick plasticy-paper and cut them out (or, if you’re into scrapbooking, you can use one of those fancy schmancy Cricut machines). I chose not to do that because the stencil pages were expensive and I don’t need to reuse my design afterward. I think they may be a good option for if you wanted to repeat this design somewhere in your child’s room as a theme, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

Here is my design having been completely transfered. The lines of the little pirate boy are very faint because there were two layers of paper to push through as well as the graphite paper. Next time I’ll remember to keep the design to a single page thickness.

Step 7: Color your paper design.

Borrow some of your kid’s crayons and color-in your design on paper. It’s a lot easier to change the colors on paper if you’re not happy at the start than it is to change the colors in paint. This makes the painting process a lot simpler.

Step 8: Paint your design.

It sounds simple, but it’s the step I’ve been both dreading and looking forward to. In my project, the design is the most integral piece of the whole thing – meaning, there’s a lot riding on my unpracticed ability.

Once I got into the painting, I got over my worry that it wouldn’t look exactly like the clipart. The ship looks great, the little boy is a bit more cartooney than he started out, but he’s cute. My child isn’t expecting my artwork to be professional quality, so why should I? Years down the road he will just remember that his mom made this for him out of love and be darned with my non-professional painting ability.

After the main design is dry, go back and add the little details. In my case, the edging around Jeremy’s name, the skull and crossbones on the top flag, the words of the quote, the stool’s legs, and some love notes on the underside.

(The legs are blue, but the lighting in my kitchen is pretty dark here.)

Step 9: Wait for the paint to dry.

Sorry, that doesn’t sound like much fun at all, “Like watching paint dry,” but it needs to be completely dry before you seal it. If you use spray-on sealer, it will create little pock marks in semi-dry or tacky paint. If you use paint-on sealer, it will smear the paint. Either way, if you don’t wait, all your hard work will be ruined and you’ll have to sand it off and start over.

Step 10: Apply sealer to the entire stool.

You can use varnish (as I am), lacquer, clear spray paint, whatever your heart desires, as long as the product can be used on wood and over acrylic paint. There are some products that won’t work on either or both of those mediums, so check to be sure you buy the right kind.

Step 11: Wait for the sealant to dry.

Again, no fun. As cute as they may be, you don’t want little feet, hand, or butt prints stuck on your new piece of art, do you? (Well, unless that’s the design you chose.)

Step 12: Deliver your new piece of usable art to it’s new owner.

That’s it! After the sealant is completely dry, hand this over to your little person and let them enjoy it to their heart’s content.

Jeremy loved his new stool. Too bad I messed up my flash settings when I snapped this photo of him smiling. He was being goofy and it’s all out of focus. Oh well.

I hope you enjoyed my little tutorial on creating a wonderful little stool for a child. My sister, cousins, and I used our stools throughout our entire childhoods. They served as the requisite stepping stool for the kitchen and potty, and any other place out of small reaches, chairs for when we’d eat dinner at the coffee table instead of the dining room, ottomans when we got too big to sit on them, tables for our Barbie/stuffed animal tea parties, and hundreds of other uses. I don’t think our moms and grandparents knew back when they bought us these that they would be so treasured and hold so many wonderful memories. They probably just thought they were getting us cute matching stools.

Jen’s Lemon Pie

As my very first post on my brand new blog, I’d like to share my absolute favorite pie in the entire world. I love Baker’s Square’s Lemon Supreme Pie, I go wild for it. Unfortunately, the closest Baker’s Square is a few cities away from where I live now and I can’t just take a walk to get a slice of pie like I could when I was a kid. So, I decided to make a copycat recipe. I must say, my first attempt was fantastic! I hit it on the nose on the first try. Without further ado, here is my recipe for the very best lemon pie you’ll ever eat.

 

This pie is created in three layers: crust, cream, lemon curd (with a little whipped cream for garnish).

Layer 1: A Simple Pie Shell, 9″ or 10″.

You can use a boxed mix, your grandma’s recipe, (LifeasMom’s Gramma John’s Pie Crust is really fantastic), prebaked, or the refrigerated kind that you unroll and put in the pan. Whichever crust option you choose, just make sure you let it get completely cool before adding the next layer.

 

Layer 2: The Cream Filling.

– 8 oz. of softened cream cheese

– 8 oz. of frozen Cool Whip

– 1/2 cup of granulated sugar

First of all, please please please do not use light or fat free cream cheese or Cool Whip. You need the full fat versions of both of these or else your cream filling won’t set up correctly. I’m not pretending this is a diet pie, so just go with the full fat stuff. Read to the end of this post to see why I caution you here.

Beat the cream cheese and sugar in your mixer.

Fold in the Cool Whip until just incorporated. Do this by hand to keep from overmixing or it’ll get too thin. Just get the big lumps out, it’ll all come together and be delicious in the end.

Spread the mixture into the baked and cooled pie shell.

 

Layer 3: Lemon Curd.

– Zest and juice of 3 large lemons

– 1 cup of sugar

– 4 eggs

– 1/2 cup of melted butter

Whisk together all of the curd ingredients. (Yeah, my butter wasn’t completely melted. It’s alright, the little pieces will all melt in a minute.)

This is how is looks at first. Notice the very light smear of liquid and zest on the edges of the bowl. Continue whisking and cook over a double boiler for 5 minutes or until the mixture is thickened.

This is how it will look when it’s finished cooking. Notice the shiny smooth surface and the much thicker coating on the edges of the bowl. Perfect.

Allow it to cool for 10-20 minutes on the counter before moving to the refrigerator. Once it is completely chilled, spread the curd over the cream layer.

Refrigerate the entire pie for at least 15 minutes (longer is better if you can stand to wait) before serving.

I also like to add a ring of whipped cream rosettes around the outside of the pie. It dresses up the edge and creates a nice finished look.

Gorgeous, just gorgeous!

This is how it should look inside with a nice heaping slice now residing in your belly. See how the cream filling is all set up and beautiful? This is right, very very right.

This, however, is wrong. All wrong.

Remember when I told you that you absolutely must use full fat cream cheese and Cool Whip? Well this is exactly why. Without enough fat in the cream layer, the filling won’t set up correctly no matter how long you refrigerate it. As soon as you take out a slice, the curd will slide down due to not enough support from the cream layer and your whole pie will be a smush. It tastes just fine, but it’s not pretty. If you’re going to try for a low-fat version, you might as well just toss some vanilla ice cream in a bowl and top it with the lemon curd because that’s exactly what your pie will look like. Now, the curd tastes just delicious on some ice cream, but we’re making pie here. 😉

 

I hope you make my favorite pie and enjoy it as much as I do. It’s been fun chronicling the how-to for you.


This post is linked to Amy’s Finer Things Friday.