Friday, May 29, 2009

In the Kitchen: Banana Pineapple Cake

As promised, here is this week's recipe just a few days off schedule! Today I have a delicious cake that I especially love during the warmer months because it is light and refreshing and a bit tropical. Most of the recipes I share with you are very easy to make, but this one really takes the cake. Yep, pun intended. You'll find a link for a printable recipe card at the end of this post.

Prep Time: 20 min  |  Cook time: 30 min  |  Serves about 18

What you'll need:
1 box yellow cake mix
3 bananas
1 large can crushed pineapple
1 tub cool whip

Prepare the cake mix as directed on package and bake in a 13x9 pan. Set aside to cool for about 20 minutes or so. You can also put it in the fridge to cool faster, if you are impatient like me.

In the meantime, drain the crushed pineapple well, reserving the juice in a bowl.

Slice the bananas into thin strips. I find it easiest to cut the banana in half first. You should need about 3 bananas but if they are smaller or you like thicker slices, you may need 4.

Soak the bananas in the pineapple juice (they don't need to soak for long). This prevents the bananas from browning. (This also works on other cut fruit, too, as does lemon juice)

Lay the sliced bananas in a single layer across the cake. You can cut them or tear them into pieces to fill gaps if needed.

Next layer the crushed pineapple on top, followed by the cool whip and you're done! Easy, right?

And since I've had such incredible luck lately (italics = sarcasm), I lost all the lovely pics I took of a finished slice of cake, so all you get to see is this whip cream. The inside shall remain shrouded in mystery, so you'll just have to make it yourself!

This cake is perfect for a summer picnic and stores well for some time in the fridge. I actually find it gets better over time as the juices soak down into the cake. It's also fun to make with the kids because its so easy. If you're really adventurous, you can make this as a double layer cake with the fruit and whip cream in between and on top. Whoa doggy. I hope you give it a try and enjoy! Find more easy and delicious recipes here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Crafting: Reusable Tea Bags

Last time I showed you two ways to make homemade tea bags perfect for gifts and favors, and as promised, here is part two, reusable tea bags. They are quick and easy to make, though you do need a sewing machine. These tea bags are great for the eco-friendly tea drinker and also make a great gift set when given with a few bags of loose tea.

What you'll need for each tea bag:
4" x 3" piece of lightweight untreated fabric (muslin, cotton, etc)
14" piece of cotton string (I use size 10 crochet thread)

With the fabric flat in front of you (back side facing up if patterend),
4" wide x 3" tall, punch two small holes on either side about 1/4" in and 1/2" down. You can use an awl, exacto knife or other sharp pointy object. Thread the cotton string through the holes as shown above. Fold the top fabric over the string and pin in place. Stitch along the edge as shown, this forms the drawstring.

Next fold the rectangle in half, inside facing out, and pin in place. Stitch along the bottom and the up the side, about 1/8" in. Be sure to keep your drawstring ends toward the inside folded edge of the bag so you do not sew over them.

Flip the bags right side out and you're almost done! The next step is to add a bead to the end of the drawstrings to keep them from coming out and to weight the tea bag.

I love using these metal tag-like beads I found at my local craft store but any bead with a large hole will do. First, loop the two strings over loosely, as if to tie the bag. Thread the two ends through your bead and double knot to secure. Trim any extra long ends.

Now you're ready to fill with your favorite tea and enjoy! Here I'm brewing a homemade blend of green tea, chamomile and bee pollen.

When you're done with the bag, loosen the draw string and hang it on the edge of your sink or elsewhere to dry. Once dry, you can easily dump the used tea and rinse if needed, though I often find it's not necessary. It's nice to have a half dozen or so on hand for company or to use while another is drying.

Aside from enjoying them yourself, a set of these with a few bags of loose tea and some homemade 'recipe cards' for blending suggestions would make a fantastic gift.

I promise one day soon I'll have myself together and get some PDF instruction sheets available for download on all my Crafting posts, and I'll be sure to let you know when they are ready. In the meantime, enjoy making some tea bags (I'd love to hear about how it goes!) and you can find other fun Crafting projects here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In the Kitchen: Mexican Lasagna

I was going to share an easy and delicious recipe for banana pineapple cake with you today, but after a slight banana mishap, I am now sharing an easy and delicious recipe for Mexican Lasagna instead! Mostly basic ingredients, one skillet, a baking dish and 30 min in the oven makes you a hearty pan of stick to your guts goodness that is sure to please. You can easily customize this recipe to suit your tastes by adding or changing ingredients and any leftovers reheat well in the oven or microwave. You will find a printable recipe card at the end of this post.

Prep time: 20 min | Cook time: 30 min | Serves 6-8

What you'll need:
1 lb. ground beef or turkey (I use turkey)
2 cans (8 oz) tomato sauce
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can whole kernel corn, half drained
1 small can chopped green chilies or jalapenos
2 Tbsp chili powder
2 Tbsp minced onion
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp oregano leaves
6 small flour tortillas (soft taco size)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350°. Brown the meat in a deep skillet, add the tomato sauce, beans, corn and chilies. Stir in the five seasonings. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

In a 2 quart baking dish, coated with cooking spray, line the bottom with three tortillas. I place one whole tortilla in the middle then I tear about 1/3 off the other two, place the larger pieces on either end, tear the small strip in two again and fill the gaps. 

Top with half of the meat mixture.

Next top with half of the shredded cheese and repeat with another layer or tortillas, the remaining meat mixture and the remaining cheese.

Bake at 350° for about 30 minutes until mixture begins to bubble and the cheese melts. Let stand for about 10-15 minutes before serving to allow the center to cool and set. 

Though I've never made this recipe with chicken, I imagine it would be equally as delicious. You can also leave the meat out completely for a vegetarian dish. I serve it with my Fiesta Breadsticks and occasionally a side of spanish rice though it's hearty enough to stand alone. It's also good with a dollop of sour cream on top. Enjoy!

> Click here for a printable recipe card.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Crafting: Tea Bags for Gifts and Favors

Today I have a fun project that anyone can do. I will be showing you two different ways to make homemade tea bags and sharing lots of great ideas for what to do with them. One method requires some simple sewing while the other requires none at all. I also have a great project for making reusable tea bags and will show you that next time.

The materials needed are basic and I was able to make mine using scraps I had on hand. All you need is some lightweight fabric, cotton thread (I use size 10 crochet thread, you can also use embroidery floss), and loose tea. Use can use cheesecloth, muslin or any other lightweight fabric you have around. I had some left over from some sheer curtains I made, which is what I used today. Just be sure it's clean and untreated.

First I'll show you the no-sew method:

Start with a 6" square of fabric. Place about 1-2 Tbsp of tea (depending on what kind you use) at the top center. Begin rolling the fabric until you finish with the end in the middle.

Fold the roll in half and secure with a 12" piece of cotton thread. Wrap it around and knot it tightly a few times to make sure it is secure. If needed, you can trim the top. All that is left now is to make a little tag for the end of the string, which I show towards the end of the post.

Next I'll show you the simple sewn method:

Start with 3" x 2.5" rectangles of fabric. You will need 2 for each bag. Pin them together and sew along three edges, about 1/4" from the sides, leaving the top open. Be sure to double over your beginning and ending stitches. And don't worry about fraying edges, I think they add to the aesthetic!

When sewing around sharp corners, I find an easy way to continue at the end of a line is to leave the needle through the fabric, lift the foot, rotate the fabric, then put the foot back down and finish sewing.

Next you will hand stitch the closure thread onto the bag. Starting at one end, thread the string back and forth loosely until you get all the way around. Be sure to not sew the bag shut, you'll only go through one piece of fabric at a time. 

Now you are ready to make a tag for the ends of the string:

Here is just one way of making tag. This applies to both styles of bags shown. I made my tags 1" x 5/8" rectangles and you can download my design here if you would like, or you can make your own. If using my template, print it to size on the paper of your choice, I used a natural stock with some flecks in it. Cut out the tags along the crop lines and fold them in half. Apply a dab of craft glue or cover tag if using a glue stick, center the strings, fold and press until secure.

You can make your tags in a variety of shapes and colors and can also label them with the flavors. Another fun idea is to use craft punches in different shapes and different colored paper for each flavor, then make a key showing what shape is what flavor. This would be nice if you made a boxed set of these as a gift.

There are many great uses for both styles of these tea bags. The no-sew bags makes great gifts, perfect for Mother's Day coming up! Find a cute box or tin and make a little set. They also make great party favors. You can leave them in a basket for guests to pick up or package them individually in bags or envelopes - get creative!

The simple-sew bags are perfect for having a 'tea bar' at a party or shower. I think I'm going to do this at my wedding shower so I will be sure to share photos. Lay out the empty sewn bags on a table along with bowls of various loose teas. Guests can make up their own tea bags to drink at the party, or put out bags or envelopes if they would like to take them home. You can design the tags to match your event or include names and dates. 

You can also use the sewn bags to make a gift set by including the empty tea bags along with a variety of loose teas for the recipient to make up their own combinations. The possibilities are endless but there is no doubt this creative and unique gift will be much appreciated.

You can find lots of loose teas on Etsy, as well as other websites and local stores. The teas shown here are from Etsy sellers Tea for all Reasons, ruaTea and The Gypsy Caravan. You can find many interesting blends or buy the basics and make up your own.

Get creative! This project is easy, fun and inexpensive. I'd love to hear about your experiences if you try your hand at making tea bags and will soon be starting a flick group for you to share photos of your own projects. Have fun!

Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day Flower Cones

Happy May Day, everyone! May Day (May 1st) is celebrated in many places around the world. The traditions and stories surrounding May Day vary from place to place but there is one thing that is similar in most celebrations - the use of flowers! One of the most popularly known May Day traditions is to hang spring flowers and/or other small gifts on a neighbor's doorknob. One fun and easy way to do this is by using homemade paper cones. Here I show you how to make a small one but you can easily adjust the size by starting with a larger piece of paper.

What you'll need:
7" square of paper (or larger if desired, 8" - 10" work well)
30" length of ribbon (longer for bigger cone)
decorative edged scissors
hole punch
craft glue or glue stick
flowers - fresh, silk, even paper

Use the decorative scissors to cut a scalloped edge (or other design of your choice) along two sides of the paper. These will be the top.

Lay the square flat, face side down, in a diamond shape and apply a dab of glue to the left point. Begin rolling the cone using a pencil to shape the bottom point and hold the glue corner in place until secure.

Next you will punch the holes for the ribbon. Punch three in the front, one on either side and two in the back (see photos for reference). Begin threading the ribbon from the back, putting one end in each back hole, leaving a length to use as the hanging loop.

From the inside, thread the ribbon back out through the next holes, back inside through the outer front holes and finally both ends to the front through the middle hole. Tie a bow and you are done! This size cone will hold a small sprig or a handful of daises or tulips but you can start with a larger square of paper to hang a more impressive bouquet. About 10" is the largest piece of paper you would want to use.

Now all you have to do is fill it and find a doorknob to hang it on! Wouldn't it be a lovely surprise to come home to or wake up to tomorrow morning? And don't worry if you are a day or two late, this May Day tradition can be celebrated through the weekend.

Find more fun and easy craft projects here.