Sunday, October 30, 2011

All Bark and No Bite

I love trying new recipes.  I especially like quick and easy ones.  This one is especially quick and easy.

Cake Batter Chocolate Bark

What does that mean?  Think chocolate bark.  Maybe you've had it before?  Raisins or nuts mixed with milk or dark chocolate is probably the most common variety.  Or maybe you've had white chocolate with some crushed candy canes mixed in (perfect for Christmas).  Now think cake batter.  Ever had cake batter ice cream?  Like that.  Mix the two together and you get Cake Batter Chocolate Bark.

I found this fantastic idea on How Sweet It Is.  It was super easy to make and took about 30 minutes to whip up (including clean up time).  Also, it only had 4 ingredients.

You can go here to get the recipe.  It's very simple and easy to follow.  You'll need:

White chocolate & dark chocolate melting chocolate wafers (you should probably taste a few just to make sure the chocolate is safe to use).


Cake mix

Melt the chocolate & spread it on a cookie sheet.  First the dark...

Then the white...

But mix the cake mix into the white chocolate before you spread it on the dark chocolate.

Then sprinkle away!

Once cooled, break into pieces.

For some reason all my dark chocolate separated from the white chocolate when I broke it up.  I followed the recipe instructions to put the chocolate in the freezer between layers but maybe it was too cold?  Or maybe I didn't spread it thinly enough.  In any case it's still chocolate.  And it's still delicious.  Maybe you could try mixing the sprinkles into the white chocolate too as a lot of them fell off as I was breaking the bark up.  My counter looked like the murder scene of a clown.  Seriously.

In any case, this is delicious.  And highly recommended.  If you know how to keep your chocolate in one piece let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Perfect Pillowcases

The easiest (and probably most used) sewing project I have ever done has been making a pillowcases.  Or should I say pillowcases as I've made many many of them.  They're so easy!  Can you sew three straight seams?  Then you can make a pillowcase.  And it will be way cooler than any other plain, solid colored, boring pillowcase that came with your plain, solid colored, boring sheets.

When my husband and I got married a year ago I made a quilt for our bed.  Since then I've been meaning to make some pillowcases to match but kept having other more interesting things come up.  But this weekend I decided to just do it.  So I did.  They turned out pretty awesome.

I also tried my hand at making decorative throw pillows.  They turned out better than expected.

So after looking at these you're probably thinking to yourself, "Wow, those are awesome!  I want to make some!"  Good.  You've come to the right place.


I'll start with the easy pillowcase.  You will need the following:
-- 3/4 yard of main color fabric
-- 1/4 yard of accent color fabric
-- spool & bobbin of matching thread
-- cutting mat, straightedge, and rotary cutter (or other means of trimming/straightening your fabric)
-- iron/ironing board
-- straight pins

Recommended fabrics are cotton and flannel.

Sometimes when they cut your fabric off the bolt at the fabric store it doesn't turn out square.  To be certain you have enough fabric get a little extra.  By "a little extra" I mean about an extra 4 inches or so (that would be 7/8 and 3/8 yard for the main and accent colors respectively).

Step 1: Boring Pre-Craft Preparations

You should wash (read: pre-shrink) your fabric before cutting it out.  This step isn't absolutely necessary but it guarantees that your fabric won't shrink after you sew your magnificent pillowcase.  Often this process unravels the edges of the fabric so you'll probably be thankful for getting the extra few inches.

Next you should iron your fabric to get all the wrinkles out.

Step 2: Cutting the Fabric

Now you need to cut your fabric to size.  I made pillowcases for standard size pillows and cut the main color piece to 42 inches by 26 inches and the accent color to 42 inches by 9 inches.  Your fabric is probably 42 inches from selvage to selvage (aka the uncut part that doesn't unravel on either side of your fabric).  If it's 43 or 41 inches, don't worry.  It will all be OK.  I promise.

To make your cuts, fold your piece of main color fabric in half, matching up your selvage edges.  Line up your fabric on your cutting mat with the selvage edge along a line.  The sides which are unraveling are probably not quite even.  Even them up by lining them up with lines on the mat.  I lined them up and evened them off at the edge.

You will need to make your fabric 26 inches wide.  Fin the 26 inches mark on your mat and line up your straightedge.  Make sure it lines up at the bottom....

...and at the top.

Now run your rotary cutter along the straightedge to make a nice, neat, straight cut.

Yay!  Your fabric is now 26 inches wide!  Next you need to cut your accent color fabric.  Use the same method as you just did with the main color fabric but cut it 9 inches wide.  Line the fabric up and even it off first.

Then cut it so it's 9 inches wide.

Good job!

Step 3: Sew the Pieces Together

Fold your accent fabric piece in half raw edge to raw edge (the edges that want to unravel which you should have just trimmed up).  Your folded piece will be 4.5 inches by 42 inches.  Match up the corners neatly.  You should have a really long, narrow rectangle of double thick fabric.

Next match the accent piece to a raw edge of the main color piece.  They should be about the same length.  Make sure that you pin it to the right side of the main color fabric (the side you want to see when the pillowcase is done).  Pin in place.

The selvage edges should match up.

Next sew along the raw edge.  Leave a 1/2 inch seam allowance.  Backstitch at the beginning and end of the seam to secure it.

Don't forget to remove your pins BEFORE the presser foot runs over them!

Once you have completed your seam (1 down, two more to go), press open the seam with your iron.

One side of the pressed open seam - the side of the accent color fabric - should have a double thickness (see picture below).

Step 4:  Sew the Pillowcase Seams

Match up the selvage edges (trim them so they're even if necessary) and pin into place.  Make sure that the seam you just sewed lines up.

Sew along the side you just pinned (it should match the above picture).  The seam allowance should again be 1/2 inch and don't forget to backstitch at the beginning and end of the seam.  The backstitch part is particularly important in this step.

At this point you should have a tube.  Pin up the end of the tube that doesn't have the accent fabric.  Sew another seam along this edge with a 1/2 inch seam allowance, backstitching at the beginning and the end.

Step 5: Finish the pillowcase

Trim the hanging threads and then turn the pillowcase inside out.  Push out the corners as shown.  Put one hand inside a corner.  Hold the outside with your other hand.

Push out with the hand that's inside the pillowcase so that the corner is crisper.

Iron if you so desire and then put it on a pillow!  Congratulations, you made a pillowcase!  Have your cat help you model them on your bed.


This one is for the more adventuresome.  You will need the following.

-- Strips of fabric in a few coordinating prints; the amount will depend on how wide you want your stripes
-- spool & bobbin of matching thread
-- cutting mat, straightedge, and rotary cutter (or other means of trimming/straightening your fabric)
-- iron/ironing board
-- straight pins

I used cotton fabric but you could use flannel or even a decor fabric if you're feeling extra adventuresome.

Step 1: Cut Fabric into Strips

You'll need to cut your fabric into strips (or calculate how much fabric to purchase).  Math time!  (You never thought word problems could be applied to crafts, did you?)  Your strips will need to be sewn together to be about 29 or 30 inches wide.  If you want 4 stripes they'll each be about 7.5 inches wide each  and you'll need to add an extra inch for the seam allowance so you'll cut your four strips 8.5 inches wide.  If you want more stripes or stripes of varying widths calculate accordingly (remembering to add 1 inch to the width of each strip for the seam allowance).

Step 2: Sew the Strips Together

Sew the strips together in whatever order you like, backstitching at the beginning and end of each seam and leaving a 1/2 inch seam allowance.

Step 3: Press the Seams Open

This will take a little bit since there are probably a lot of seams.

Step 4: Finish Selvage Edges

The edges of all the strips probably won't be even.  Fold over so that the shortest piece has been folded over about 1/2 inch.  Iron in place.

Then sew a seam along the folded over edge.  I used a fancy stitch on my sewing machine.  If you use a straight stitch sew it about 1/4 inch from the edge.

I really like the way this finished edge turned out.

Step 5: Sew Side Seams

You want these edges to end up on the back of your pillow.  Fold the two finished edges to the middle of the "back" of the pillowcase.  Instead of being folded in half with the edges along the edge of the rectangle formed by the fabric, the edges should be in the middle.  I hope this makes sense as I didn't get a good picture.  Overlaps the edges a little bit (about 1.5 or 2 inches) and line up the raw edges of the sides.  This picture shows the overlap.

Pin the edges.

Sew seams along the sides with a 1/2 inch seam allowance.  Then turn right side out.  The finished edges should overlap a little bit.

Put the pillowcases on your pillows and enjoy!

This picture shows how the opening should be a "slit" across the back of the pillow in approximately the middle of the pillowcase.

You could do all sorts of things to spruce these pillows up.  Here's a few ideas:
-- put buttons as decorative closures to close the back of the fancy pillowcase
-- embroider your name on the accent part of the simple pillowcase
-- stitch a fancy, decorative stitch along the edge of the accent part of the simple pillowcase
-- make the stripes go the other way on the decorative pillowcase
What ideas do you have to make these more interesting?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bite Sized Balls of Bliss

Finger food is so easy to eat.  It doesn't require utensils, and often it doesn't even require a plate.  The best finger foods are, obviously, desserts.  Cookies, fudge, candy, chocolate covered name it, it's delicious.  Recently, I had heard about a fancy new-fangled finger food dessert: cake balls.

The concept is easy: form balls of cake, dip in chocolate, and eat.  Last weekend I attempted to make some of these decadent delights and I must say that they turned out pretty well, even if they were more time consuming than I anticipated.

To make cake balls, you will need the following ingredients:
- Cake mix and required water/oil/eggs/etc. (or ingredients for a from scratch cake recipe)
- Jar of frosting (or from scratch frosting)
- 1 lb. chocolate candy coating
- Any desired decorations/toppings

Use any combination of flavors that you think would be good.  I used devil's food cake, fudge frosting, and milk chocolate coating and they turned out very chocolaty and rich.

Follow the directions to make your cake mix or cake recipe.

Pour your batter into a 9x13 pan.  It doesn't really matter what kind of pan you use but I think that a 9x13 pan is the easiest to clean.  It also has the least amount of edges (which didn't seem to crumble well later in the process).

And then bake your cake according to the directions.

Mmmmmmmmm.  Take the pan out of the oven and let the cake cool.  Once the cake has been cooled, get a bowl out.  With your hands take chunks out of the cake.  This part is fun.

Then crumble up the cake into the bowl.  You should get a nice fine crumble.  The edges don't always crumble as nicely so you might want to leave those out.

Next get out your jar of frosting (or make your frosting).  Add it to the cake crumbles a little bit at a time, mixing in between with a mixer or a spoon.  Stir in enough frosting just until the mixture starts holding together.  I only used half of my 16 oz jar of frosting so if you're making your own frosting I would recommend only making a half recipe.

Next you'll want to roll the mixture into little bite sized balls and place on a wax paper lined cookie sheet.

The balls should be about 1 inch across.  If you have a melon baller or cookie dough scooper those would come in pretty handy during this step.  I got 54 balls out of this recipe.  The last couple were really sticky and didn't turn out very smoothly because they had some frosting that hadn't gotten mixed in well.

Place this cookie sheet into the refrigerator for a little while until the balls firm up.  Maybe about 30 minutes or so.

When you're ready to dip the balls in the chocolate coating, pour about half the wafers into a microwave safe bowl and microwave on a low power for about 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between.  I microwaved at 30% power for a total of about 1.5 or 2 minutes.  Stir in between each 30 seconds and stop microwaving when it's mostly melted.  Stir until the last couple pieces melts all the way.

Then get your cookie sheet out of the fridge and dip the balls into the chocolate.

You can use a spoon, toothpicks, or whatever else you like to stir the balls around and coat them.  Once coated, remove from the bowl and place back on the cookie sheet.

Once all the balls are coated you can put the cookie sheet back in the fridge until the chocolate sets.  If you desire you can sprinkle things on top of the cake balls or roll them in things to make them fancier.  Sprinkles, nuts, coconut, and crushed candies would all be delicious.  If you have another color of chocolate coating you can drizzle some of that on top in a pretty pattern to make them fancier.  Use your creativity!

Once the chocolate is set you can remove them from the cookie sheet and store them in containers in a cool place or in the fridge.  After taste testing, of course.

These are very versatile and can be made in many flavors combinations and can be decorated to look very fancy.  They would be perfect for all sorts of occasions from picnics to baby/wedding showers to birthday parties.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Personalized Stationery

Maybe you feel like making something nice for yourself.  Maybe you need a relatively quick gift idea.  Maybe your creative side is crying out for a fun project for the afternoon.  You want to make some personalized stationery.

To make this stationery you will only need a few supplies:
-- Blank note cards (scrapbook paper or cardstock cut to size would also work)
-- Rubber stamps and/or clear stamps and blocks  (you can find some great ones in the dollar bins at Michael's or Pat Catan's)
-- Rubber stamp ink pads
-- Wet paper towels

Start off with your stamps.  You can find some nice, inexpensive rubber stamps.  (Six of these only cost $1!)

And gather some clear stamps, too, if you would like.  You can find $1 bin clear stamps too!  Clear stamps usually come in packages or sets of related stamps rather than individually and are usually a bit more expensive.

Take each blank card (or paper cut to size) and stamp an image or a monogram on the front.  You can make your cards top fold or side fold.  Mix it up and have some stamps centered and others off center.  Maybe you want a set of cards with identical stamps or perhaps you want a variety of covers on your stationery.  Have fun with it!  Make the project yours!  For a special touch, you can even stamp a medium sized letter on the envelopes next to where the return address goes.

As you stamp you can let the ink dry by standing the cards up on their sides to maximize space on your table. Once dried you can tie the packet of cards with a ribbon and voila!  Adorable!

$10       --  40 pack of blank pastel note cards
$5         --  three ink pads
$1-$15  --  stamps  (this will vary depending on how many you purchase, how many you already own, etc.)

And the best part is that most of those supplies are usable for future projects!