Saturday, December 22, 2012

Suncatcher Ornaments - Sis 1

Every year, I like to let my kids make some ornaments and give one to their school teachers, along with some sort of goody for Christmas.

This year, we made suncatcher ornaments. They are SUPER easy and difficult to mess up. My 3-year old made several of these and they're nearly as good as the ones made by my 10-year old.

First buy some transparent plastic beads. I'm pretty sure that any style will work.

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees farenheit and turn on the fan.

Now let your kids put a single layer of beads in the metal container of their choice. The round one shown was done in a muffin tin. The heart was done in a metal cookie-cutter sitting on top of a cookie sheet. We also did star shapes, but they didn't come out as well because of all the corners. Maybe if we had put a few beads more than a single layer they'd have filled in better.

Bake your beads in their metal molds for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Pop your ornaments out of the cookie cutters or muffin tins. To get some of the ornaments out of the tins, I had to flip the tin upside down and give it a sharp tap with a butter knife. The rest came out easily.

Now for the holes to string them with: Use a power drill and your least favorite drill bit. Place a piece of scrap wood under the ornament and drill through the plastic. It really becomes more of a melting than a drilling, once the bit heats up. I found it helpful to let the plastic spin through the other side of the hole for a few seconds to remove extra plastic buildup from the drill bit. I also had to pull the plastic from the tip of the bit while it was still warm so that it would work on the next ornament. I broke all of the plastic off of the bit when I was finished, but it wasn't extremely easy.

We put the ornaments around the necks of sparkling juice for our teachers. I wrote "To Mrs. Blank from Child's Name 2012" on the backs (flat, unshiny side) of the ornaments in mirror letters with a very-fine tipped sharpie. You can read it better through the shiny side than from the side you wrote on.

Cold Porcelain Photo Ornaments - Sis 1

This project took A LOT of trial and error. I knew what I wanted, but I didn't know how to get it. I also took pictures of nearly every step, but somehow my SD card is now unreadable, so I only have the finished product to show you. I made a set of ornaments with photos of all of the grandkids for my mom, and wrote their names and the year on the backs. Then I made a set of just my kids for myself, plus a bunch with different pictures of the Saviour  that I liked (seeing as how this is His holiday.)

I started out by making cold porcelain. If you've ever made cooked playdough, the process is very similar, but the ingredients are much different.

Cold Porcelain

1 lb white school glue
1 lb cornstarch
2 Tbs. lemon juice
4 tsps. petroleum jelly

Get a medium to large saucepan that you aren't in love with. I was able to get everything off, but I may have been lucky. Put all of the ingredients in the pan and stir over low heat until it pulls away from the sides of the pan and looks doughy instead of gooey. Be prepared to use some muscle. It was not easy to stir this (and don't use a weak spoon.)

Remove from heat and let cool enough that you can touch it without burning yourself. Start kneading. Once the dough is all smooth, roll it out, again, this is difficult, because it's stiff dough. Cut out. I used a vaguely flower-shaped cookie cutter. (If you don't have a cookie cutter you like, you can always make one.) Then I punched holes in every bump with a large drinking straw. I used a slightly smaller drinking straw to punch holes inside the ring of bigger holes. If you wanted, you could use coffee stirrers to make another round of smaller holes, if you wanted.

To use a straw for a punch, the easiest way is to use the bendable straws and cut it off just above the joint section. Press the original sipping end into the dough and hold onto the contracted joint as a handle. To clear the dough out of the straw, stick a toothpick through the joint and push the "holes" out the other side. You may need a couple of each size of straw because they aren't terribly sturdy.

Once the shapes are cut, you can air-dry them for several days or dry them in a 175 degrees farenheit oven for a couple of hours. Either way, turn them over once in a while, because they start to curl and you want these flat.

Here's where the adventure started. I wanted to print photos and transfer the images directly onto the ornaments. These are the methods I tried:

Inkjet print-out on waxed paper, then dampen the ornament and rub picture face down onto it. Didn't work. Very blurry. With less water, the ink didn't come off of the waxed paper.

Inkjet print-out on velum, then hold the ornament over steam and rub the image face down onto the ornament. The image on the ornament was very undefined.

Inkjet print-out on transparency film pre-sprayed with spray hair-gel. Rub image face down onto the ornament. The image on the ornament was again, very undefined.

Inkjet print-out face-down on ornament with rubbing alcohol rubbed on back of paper. No transfer of image at all.

Laser print-out face-down on ornament with rubbing alcohol rubbed on back of paper. No transfer of image at all.

Laser print-out face-down on ornament with acetone rubbed on back of paper. No transfer of image at all.

Laser print-out mod-podged face down on ornament, then (attempted) to remove the paper. Came out a gooey, sticky mess.

Here's the thing about the laser print-outs, though. before going to get laser print-outs of my photos, I tried it out with a laser-printed bill from a utility company. The ink was only black, and it worked on the cold porcelain with both rubbing alcohol and acetone. The color print-outs I got didn't work at all, though. I don't know if it was a different kind of laser printer, or if it was the fact that it was color, but it didn't work.

And the thing I learned about every one of the ink-jet methods is that it worked very well and transfered a nice clear image onto paper or papertowel, so in the future, I could use this on other projects, perhaps, but it doesn't work on cold porcelain.

I gave up on the image transfer bit and decided to just cut the pictures out and glue them onto the ornaments. I wanted to print it onto tissue paper, so it wouldn't be as obvious that it was cut and glued on, so I tried to send a piece of tissue paper that was taped onto a regular sheet of copier paper through my printer. (I assumed that tissue paper isn't stiff enough. Maybe I should have tried it anyway, because then at least I'd know.) But the paper jammed both times.

In the end, I glued laser print-outs onto the ornaments and covered them with another thin layer of glue. If I'd had matte mod-podge, I would have liked to use that, but I didn't want to wait another few days to get it in the mail. I used the laser print-outs because they wouldn't smear when I put the glue on top of them like inkjet prints would.

I still like the results, but I still wish I could have made the image transfer idea work.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Spinach Artichoke Dip - Sis 1

I remember the first time I had Spinach Artichoke Dip. Sis 2 brought it to a dinner party at my house and I was smitten. I've ordered it at several different restaurants and been disappointed every time. I think I got Sis 2's recipe, but I changed it a bunch, because that's just how I cook. I used that version for several years, but lately, I've been on a yogurt kick, so I redid the recipe again. It has less fat (I'm not going to pretend it's low-fat, because it isn't, but now it doesn't have a pool of grease on top when you reheat it.) and tastes every bit as good.

Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip

12 oz. plain non-fat yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, plus more for top
½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 tsp. italian seasoning
1 (6.5 or 7 oz--I've used both) bottle marinated artichoke hearts
1 cup chopped frozen spinach, thawed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit. Mix first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Drain artichoke hearts, then chop them into 1/2 inch pieces. Now pick them up in your clean hands and squeeze them over the sink, as if you were wringing a dishtowel. They need to be as dry as possible, or your dip will be runny. Put the artichoke hearts into the bowl. Now squeeze the spinach juice out the same way. Stir the artichokes and spinach into the other mixture. Since you squeezed them so hard, they'll be in clumps that need to be broken up.

Spread dip into a loaf pan, pie plate or 8x8 pan. Sprinkle extra mozzarella cheese over the top, just to produce a light layer.

Bake 30 minutes, or until top is bubbly and golden-brown.

Serve hot with crackers, chips or bruschetta.

Honey Orange Ham - Sis 1

Due to the "Obama Lunches," my children are very reluctant to eat school lunch. They often take sandwiches and I have been buying lunch meat, something I haven't done on a regular basis in years (OK, never.)

I was reading a post by Donna Freedman on MSN Money--I like a lot of her ideas--and was reminded that actual real meat costs less than lunch meat and tastes A LOT better, too. So I bought a ham. The way I cooked it makes it fall-apart tender, though, so I might have to chill it a while before I can slice it thinly for sandwiches.

Honey Orange Peel Ham

the peels from 1 medium orange, in pieces
1 ham, bone in is good
1/2 cup honey

Place orange peels in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and drain water. Repeat. (This will take the bitterness out of the peels.)

Pour 1 cup of water into the bottom of a large crockpot. Place the ham inside. Drizzle honey all over the top of the ham. Drop the orange peel over the ham. Put the lid on and cook on the high setting for 6 hours. If you happen to be home, turn the ham over about halfway through cooking.

 Remove the ham and strain the orange peels out of the juices. (You can eat them, if you want.) Serve the ham and put the juices (still in the crockpot) in the fridge. I'm using it to make soup for tomorrow.

Chocolate Pie Crust - Sis 1

It's just too easy and cheap to make a chocolate cookie crust. There's no reason to go to the grocery store and buy one. In fact, I would wager that you can have it made in the time it would take you to drive to the store, buy one, and get home.

Chocolate Cookie Pie Crust

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dutch cocoa powder
1 pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit. Mix sugar and oil in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave 1 minute and stir again. Mix in flour, cocoa and salt. Stir until mixture resembles crumbs. Press into pie plate. Bake about 15 minutes, or until crust appears to be done. (Specific, huh?) Cool and fill with any filling you would normally use in a chocolate cookie crust.


This year for my daughters' friends, we made ornaments filled with cocoa mix. I bought the plastic ornaments from amazon. (I have Prime, and I live in a very small town where I can't find a lot of the things I'd like to buy.) You could probably get them at a craft store like Jo-ann, or, you might even get the clear glass ones and use a funnel to fill them.

I also had to order the ribbon online because I couldn't buy it in town like I thought I could, so these were a bit later than I had hoped. I already had Tulip Slicks fabric paint in assorted colors, but I only used 3, black, red and green. I wrote Each girl's name on a ball and embellished it with holly. (I'm no calligrapher, but the girls are between ages 6 and 11, so I'm hoping they don't mind.)

I let the balls dry overnight, then I filled them with cocoa mix, attached a candycane and instructions with a ribbon, and viola! a yummy, personalized gift for a little girl. For boys, I wouldn't have done their names in cursive, and maybe I'd have drawn snowmen instead.

Hot Cocoa Mix

1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 1/4 cups powdered dry milk
1 1/4 cups non-dairy creamer
1/8 teaspoon salt, scant
3/4 cup dutch cocoa powder
1 large box jello, raspberry or orange, optional

My powdered milk is very fine, like creamer, so I just dumped everything together in a big bowl and mixed it up with a wire whisk. If your powdered milk is coarse, like some is, you may have to use a food processor to make it a nice powder first.

Since I was giving candycanes with my cocoa mix, I didn't add the jello for the girls, but I made another batch with it for our family. Yum!

Mix 3 heaping tablespoons of mix with one cup hot water. Enjoy!