Monday, August 18, 2014

Summer Recipes

This is another off topic post, but these are two recipes
that I get a lot of requests for during the summer.

First up are zucchini bars. The original recipe can be found at
This is my modified version.

Zucchini Bars 

3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup flaked coconut
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
3/4 cup craisins
2 cups grated zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour 9x13 inch baking pan.
Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Mix 1/4 cup of the dry mixture with the coconut, chips and craisins. Set both aside. 
In a large bowl cream together the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar.
Mix in the eggs one at a time and vanilla until fluffy.
Mix in the dry ingredients on low until just combined.
Stir in the zucchini. Then stir in the mixture of coconut, chips and craisins.
Spread batter into the prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Cut into bars when cool.

Variations: To make chocolate zucchini bars substitute 1/4 cup of the all-purpose flour with Dutch processed cocoa.

Any dried fruit, nuts, and baking chips can substituted for the coconut, white chips and craisins. If you don’t want quite so much stuff, you can pare it down. Even just a cup of morsels will still result in tasty bars. So have fun playing around with different combinations.

My kids love the chocolate version with semi-sweet chips, chocolate chunks and white chocolate chips. Another favorite combo is coconut, white chocolate and butterscotch chips.

Note: Use unsweetened coconut flakes, not that nasty shredded stuff that tends to lurk in the baking isle. I find the coconut flakes in the natural foods section in most stores.

A few tips for zucchini virgins: Don’t be afraid of the zucchini. It doesn’t have a strong flavor, you won’t even taste it. All it does is give the bars their moist texture. If you ate these bars blindfolded you’d never know it was there. 

When you shred zucchini, shred the whole thing peel and all. Quarter larger zucchini’s lengthwise and remove the seeds before shredding. Don’t worry about tiny, paper thin seeds, they’ll cook down.

Sometimes the zucchini can be too moist and you end up with a dense layer on the bottom of the bars where the extra liquid has settled. It’s still perfectly tasty and edible, but to avoid that you can remove some of the moisture by laying the shredded zucchini between layers of paper towels or you can roll it up in a clean lint free cloth, such as cheesecloth or a dish towel and wring the juices out. You can even grab fistfuls and squeeze it out Hulk style.  Take care not to squeeze all the liquid out, you still want it to be moist.

The second recipe is fairly common in these parts. I’ve only made a
few minor tweaks, but people always want the recipe, so here it is.

Veggie Pizza

2 - 8oz packages refrigerated crescent rolls (Pillsbury Crescent Seamless Dough Sheets make this even easier)
1 - 8oz package cream cheese, softened
1 small container (5 - 7 oz.) or 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (Fage 2% is my favorite)
1 - 0.4oz package Hidden Valley Ranch Buttermilk Recipe Salad Dressing and Seasoning mix
1 tbsp fresh dill
2 cups assorted veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, assorted bell peppers, grated carrots, mushrooms, cucumbers)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375
Roll out crescent rolls onto 12x17 jelly roll sheet. Let stand 5 min then pierce with fork.
Bake 8 minutes or until golden brown, let cool.
Combine cream cheese, Greek yogurt, dressing mix and dill. Spread the mixture over the cooled crust and top with assorted veggies and cheese.

A few tips:

Be careful, all those Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning packets look the same. I accidentally grabbed the Original Ranch Dips once and it was way too salty. The Original Salad Dressing mix isn't too salty, but I still prefer the Buttermilk one. Either way they contain MSG, if that is something you are concerned about.

Adding a tablespoon of fresh dill makes it awesome and growing dill is so easy, it’s very forgiving of poor growing conditions and neglect. If you let some of it go to seed, it will reseed itself the next year.

Don’t following the baking time on the Pillsbury crescent roll package, it’s way too long.

Mushrooms and cucumbers should only be added right before serving because they don’t retain their texture well.

I actually think it's better without cheese, but I seem to be in the minority in that.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Painters Tape Skulls

Last post I got a little patriotic with the painters tape, but I couldn’t leave it at that.  I’ve never met a craft I couldn’t bend to my nefarious vision
 and I’m not about to start now.
This cute skull was created using painters tape as a stencil.
He’s pretty simple, but I’ve become rather attached to the little bugger and have decided to adopt him as my unofficial trademark.
My son really liked my bag, and wanted me to stencil his backpack, which led to the creation of the guy below, who definitely has my son’s personality. 
  Even though I designed it for him, he said it’s ok to share it with the rest of the world. If you do use it, we’d love to see what you do with it.
To make a tape stencil, print out the template and glue it onto the matte side of plastic coated freezer paper.  I’m sure wax paper would work as well. On the shiny side layer strips of painters tape.  Layer strips horizontally and then vertically overlapping by a ¼ inch.  Cut out the pieces along the lines and remove the freezer paper.  In between use, the pieces can be stored on another piece of freezer paper.  
The surface is a black backpack.  Here are all the pieces in place except for the gear piece.  I painted that area with puffy fabric paint, because it was blue, permanent and it's what I had.  I used a brush to spread it in a thin layer, brushing away from the edges of the tape.   
Just for fun after the paint dried I made random
lines using metallic permanent markers. 
Once that set I covered it with the corresponding tape piece.
Carefully remove the skull piece, it helps to use something pointed like a pen tip to push the little nose pieces in place.  For the skull I used an acrylic paint pen, again because it was permanent and that's what I had on hand in white. The paint pen needed a couple layers. I don't worry about even coverage, I think it gives it character.
The white really bled under the tape on the right hand side.  I don't know if I just got sloppy with the white paint, but I suspect it had more to do with not having an even layer of blue puffy paint. 
Lucky for me one of my metallic pens was a pretty close match for the blue paint so I touched things up.  I touched up the eyes and nose with a black permanent marker and added a bit more white. I like the way the pen the strokes show through when it's not a solid white.
Here's another skull with red from an acrylic paint pen.  I just randomly pounced it on, you can really see the difference where the paint was layered more. 

The surface here is white watercolor paper. Start with just the skull piece and throw down some color all around it.   
After it dries lay the gear piece down and sponge some color around the edges. 
Then pull up the gear piece and lay down the outline of the gear piece. 
Sponge on some color, making sure to get the eyes and nose. 
Pull up all the tape and SHAZAM!
Using tape and this template from Skull-A-Day, I dressed up an old hat. It was never a cool looking hat, I love it for its awesome sun blocking abilities, but now it has some style. I don't think the template was ever intended to be reduced under four inches.  It was a pain to cut out and some of smaller details didn't really come through the painting process.  By the last skull the smaller pieces of the stencil had torn off, but hey it's tape so I could stick them in place. Using tape as my stencil also gave me a lot of flexibility.  I was able to stencil skulls halfway on the brim going up the side without missing a beat.   
And that folks, is how to creep things up with painters tape.