Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Shape Up Your Cupcakes

First off, I'd like to introduce myself. Hi. I'm
Melody. I will be guest-blogging on Fresh Juniper from time to time at the invite of your
hostess with the most-ess, Reecea. Most of what I post about will be simple, low-budget craft/kitchen fun projects. For example,today's nifty update is on how to make your own shaped cupcakes!


Now I don't know about everyone else on the planet for sure, but I'd bet my left toe that when you hear the word "cupcake," you get a little excited, just like me. However, I hate cleaning muffin pans. And worse, I don't even own one at the moment, having just moved to a new apartment. For years now, I've been using foil cupcake cups with paper liners to bake with, so that I might just set them on a baking pan without the support of a muffin cup.

The downside? The bottom few of each stack tend to get a little, well, wonky. they're either too wide or bent out of shape, and the cupcakes don't look as cute as they should.
Cupcakes NEED to be cute. Not long ago, in preparation for Valentine's Day, I attempted to shape just such a wonky cupcake cup into a heart, and fortunately it worked out! Strawberry, heart-shaped cupcakes with chocolate frosting and a strawberry garnish?


My Valentine was very impressed. I spent maybe an hour on them, but he doesn't need to
know that.

Step one: Have a cupcake batter ready.
My personal favorite, Strawberry Cream Soda Cupcakes, are just the boxed Strawberry cake mix, substituting 1/4 Cup of the water required for 1/2 cup strawberry cream soda, Big Red is fantastic with
this recipe. Also note, the foil/paper cups by BakeFresh pictured, they're about $0.89 at the grocery store for a package of 50.
Baking Tip for Apartment Dwellers/Shared Fridges:

Stirring in a large pitcher instead of a mixing bowl makes storing over 1-3 nights ridiculously easier. It takes up less space than a large mixing bowl in the fridge, plus the spout makes it easier to control where you pour the batter, so that more of it actually gets into the cup instead of all over the pan.

Step Two: Shaping those bad boys.

Start with a single foil cup (I honestly haven't tried shaping more than one at a time, for fear they'd just get stuck together upon separation and end up wonky again).

This particular version will make a flower. Take a small portion of the border of the cups (both paper and foil still together) and pinch them between your fingers, just a small pinch ought to do it, 3-4 pre-made curves should be altered altogether upon this first pinch. Now do the same thing over again. I like to have about the width of my fingertip in between each pinched portion so that it's detailed but manageable.

Continue this all the way around until you come to the first pinch you made. Your cupcake cup should look something like this:

Do this to as many liners as you like, or get creative and try some other designs, fill, and bake!

Now a word to the wise, the more inside-pointed pinches a cup has, the less it will hold, so the faster it will bake. The predicted baking times are a good guideline, but make sure to check on the cupcakes 5-7 minutes before the recipe says they will be done, and at intervals between until they are finished.

Decorating tip!!!
Remove the foil from the cupcake once baked so that it will cool faster.

I like to cool mine on the windowsill. I know, the old-fashioned way to do that is with a pie, but these are just too cute and delicious, I couldn't help but want my neighbors to have some, so when they got home from work and commented on their cuteness and delectable aroma, I got to share. Below I'll post a few of the other shapes I made, the mushrooms are inspired by my gentleman friend, Matt, a fellow geek who likes old video games such as Super Mario Brothers, just like me.
Decorate with swirls of icing, I suggest either chocolate or strawberry. The extra strawberry gives it that extra fruity burst, but the chocolate is my favorite, because the cupcakes taste like chocolate covered strawberries.

Monday, March 19, 2012

DIY Popcorn Bar

This Popcorn Bar was set up at an event recently as part of a theme that included a focus on old-fashioned values.  To reinforce the idea of old-fashioned values, we decided to use simple decor and refreshments: tissue paper flowers, burlap and gingham fabrics, popcorn, paper sacks, and punch.  We all love popcorn and Pinterest, so we decided to set-up a popcorn bar and post the results!

The set-up for this one is very simple and affordable. Here is a short list of materials:
  • Gingham - assorted colors for tablecloth and buckets
  • Burlap to cover washtub
  • Brown Paper Grocery Bags and Metal Washtub for popcorn
  • Brown Paper Lunch Bags for popcorn
  • Small Aluminum Buckets for toppings
  • Fast Drying Concrete - 3 to 4 bags for base of stand
  • Two 12' 2'x4 boards for base of stand
  • One 8' to 12' 1"x2" board for top of stand
  • Two 5 gallon buckets for base of stand
  • Decorative Paper or Vinyl for invitations and signs
  • Tissue Paper for flowers
  • Nylon Fishing Line for flowers
  • Cordless Screwdriver for stand assembly
  • 2 Wood Screws for stand assembly
  • Tissue Paper Flowers
  • Empty Spice Jars  with shaker tops to be placed inside the buckets and dispense the toppings

RB designed and made these popcorn bag theme invitations.  She is a whiz with her Cricut.

Popcorn Theme Invitations
Books were stacked underneath the fabric at the back of the table to raise the height of the toppings and make them easy for guests to view.  Burlap covered the basket holding the grocery bags full of popcorn.We chose to offer our guests their individual servings of popcorn in plain brown paper lunch sacks.  RB also made our "POPCORN" sign which matched the invitations.  She is so talented.

RB had these little buckets that we used to hold the jars filled with popcorn toppings.  Each bucket was a different flavor. RB made these themed signs for each flavor.  The values we were focusing on for this event were FAITH, DIVINE NATURE, INDIVIDUAL WORTH, KNOWLEDGE, CHOICE & ACCOUNTABILITY, GOOD WORKS, INTEGRITY, AND VIRTUE.  We decided on a nicely balanced variety of both sweet and savory toppings:  Spicy Maple Bacon, Cheesy BBQ, Cajun, Cinnamon Toast, Parmesan Nacho, M&M's, Cheesy Herb, and Sweet Chili.  As you can see in the photo below, the guests could view both the topping flavor and the value represented, thanks to RB and her sign-making talents.

RB brought her popcorn popper and it worked like a champ all night.  Aren't popcorn poppers wonderful!  I love the smell of fresh popcorn, don't you?  Mom used to pop it over the stove in a huge kettle, till  she discovered Jiffy Pop popcorn.  We were amazed by Jiffy Pop and the way it worked.  Okay, excuse my minor digression, but the point is that popcorn is fun and can inspire nostalgia.

Also important to your Popcorn Bar Set-Up is butter and butter spray.  The popcorn needs to be slightly moist so that the toppings will adhere to it.  Otherwise they just drop to the bottom of your bag and don't really flavor anything.  Butter and butter spray is key here.  I chose unsalted sweet cream butter which we melted in the microwave and served in a vintage glass salad dressing cruet.  There is no 'cute' way I've found to serve canned butter spray.  We made sure to have both options on the table with the toppings.

In keeping with the simple and old-fashioned feel of this event, we built an economical frame to decorate our table and hold the lovely Tissue Paper Flower decorations.  My wonderful HUBBY got the buckets, Quikrete, and lumber at Home Depot and mounted our 2" x 4"s in the fast-drying concrete. You can see in the photo below that the boards should be supported until the concrete is dry enough to hold them upright and centered. 
12' High 2"X4" Board Mounted in 5 gallon bucket filled with Quikrete .

When it was time to set up the Popcorn Bar for the event, we carried the base of the stand decoration (boards mounted in the buckets) to the location.  After we got there and positioned the base, we laid them down flat on the floor, and HUBBY used his cordless screwdriver to mount the remaining 1"x6" board to the top of the bases with a couple of wood screws. While it was laying down, we used clear nylon fishing line to hang the Tissue Paper Flowers from the top of the stand, then stood it upright.   Gingham fabric was used to cover up the bright orange buckets at the bottom of our base.

Completed Popcorn Bar Set Up and Ready To Serve Guests

The lunch bags were perfect for serving the popcorn. 

This photo is taken from behind the Popcorn Bar.  Our honored guests are having a little fun in the serving line.
We lined the hallway with tissue paper flowers, too.  We used the fishing line to hang them from the suspended ceiling.  We just tied a paper clip onto the end of the fishing line and then stuffed the clip under one of the tiles along a metal support.

The young women attending this event had made these flowers shown here at a prior activity. What nostalgia this inspired for me.  I remember being their age and learning to make these pretty flowers during the early 1970s. I think these young ladies did an excellent job making the flowers.  What do you think?

We had a lot of fun with this one.   If you decide try it, good luck.  I'd love to hear about it.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Heavenly Help

This is the description with THE MESSENGER painting by Greg Olsen taken from www.gregolsen.com:


Often there are times in life when we go through difficult periods, times when we feel as though we’re wandering in the wilderness – seeking direction, solace, and answers. And often, during those trying times, if we allow ourselves, it is as though we receive a subtle signal in the form of some small wonder.

It may be something as simple as turning on the radio and at that very moment, hearing the lyrics of just the right song, or opening the scriptures to a verse with poignant meaning, or even having a little songbird land nearby to cheer us up. These are some of the small things that have helped me along at such times, causing me to look heavenward, smile, and say a quiet, “Thank You!”

During a time in my life in which I had an important decision to make, I was trying to sort out my thoughts while hiking. As I looked out over the horizon, I noticed that the billowing clouds resembled a figure that seemed to me to point the way that I should choose. And while I know they were only clouds, like an angelic messenger sent to one needing help along the way, they were just as beneficial as all the other small wonders that I’ve experienced when I needed them most.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul…who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind: who maketh his angels spirits…” (Psalms 104:1, 3-4).

Greg Olsen -2002

You have probably heard the song Angels Among Us by Alabama.  The music and lyrics (found on Angels Among Us Lyrics)   are inspiring:

Angels Among Us
Songwriters: Hobbs, Becky; Goodman, Don;

I was walking home from school on a cold winter day
Took a shortcut through the woods, and I lost my way
It was getting late, and I was scared and alone
But then a kind old man took my hand and led me home
Mama couldn't see him, oh but he was standing there
And I knew in my heart, he was the answer to my prayers

Oh well I believe there are angels among us
Sent down to us from somewhere up above
They come to you and me in our darkest hours
To show us how to live, to teach us how to give
To guide us with the light of love

When life held troubled times, and had me down on my knees
There's always been someone to come along and comfort me
A kind word from a stranger, to lend a helping hand
A phone call from a friend, just to say I understand
And ain't it kind of funny at the dark end of the road
That someone lights the way with just a single ray of hope

Oh well I believe there are angels among us
Sent down to us from somewhere up above
They come to you and me in our darkest hours
To show us how to live, to teach us how to give
To guide us with the light of love

They wear so many faces, show up in the strangest places
To grace us with their mercy, in our time of need

Oh well I believe there are angels among us
Sent down to us from somewhere up above
They come to you and me in our darkest hours
To show us how to live, to teach us how to give
To guide us with the light of love
To guide us with the light of love

I have been blessed with so many witnesses in my life and I know that I'll never walk alone, that there are truly angels among us, and that the help we seek is available to us, even in our darkest hour.

I love this witness from an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, Elder Bednar, called The Tender Mercies of the Lord:

There is heavenly help available to us all, no matter our circumstances.  I know this is true.  There are truly angels among us.   The tender mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ is real. Seeing the incredible art by Greg Olsen was my 'tender mercy' from the Lord.  I needed that inspiration today.  I'm sharing it with you in case you need some, too.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Popcorn Topping Recipes

Having spent a lot of time searching, shopping, planning, and preparing topping recipes for an event where popcorn was served in individual size containers for about forty people, I have three good reasons to share the recipes and Popcorn Bar set-up tips with you:
  1. Popcorn toppings are a fun topic.
  2. People that attended requested the recipes.
  3. There are not many all-inclusive posts on Popcorn Bar set up and non-messy, non-gooey topping recipes that taste great and work well for this type setting.
Lets start with the recipes.  Every one (except for Spicy Maple Bacon) is a dry mix designed to be sprinkled over lightly buttered popcorn.  Once you've prepared the toppings, each can be carefully poured into its own clean, empty spice jar when you're ready to serve it.  Please note that a few adaptations have been made from the original recipes:

Cajun Popcorn Topping from marthastewart.com
6 tsp paprika
3 tsp onion powder
3 tsp garlic powder
5 tbsp salt
  2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, (optional)


Cinnamon Toast Popcorn Topping from mrfood.com

Cinnamon Toast
9 tbsp confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon


Popcorn Topping Recipes from tipnut.com

Parmesan Nacho
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (grated)
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (grated)
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic salt

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp oregano (dried)
2 tsp basil (dried)
lemon pepper or black pepper


Sweet Chili Popcorn Topping recipe from yummly.com

Sweet Chili
12 tbsp sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
4 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
 1 tsp cayenne pepper
 6 tsp paprika


Saveur Maple Bacon Popcorn Recipe
 My adaptation of Saveur's Maple Bacon Popcorn  was the crowd favorite. If you'd like the recipe, you can get it from my blog post here:

Spicy Maple Bacon Popcorn


If you'd like to know how to make your own Popcorn Bar, get it from my blog post below the photo:

Here is the tutorial for creating your own Popcorn Bar.  This is the one I helped put together.  I want to say a special thanks to my friend RB.  She led the planning and provided most of the cute decorations for this event.  She also provided the photos of our Popcorn Bar.

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The Country Cook: Weekend Potluck #63 

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Rig Steak House in Cowtown

What do you think of when you see an oil derrick in Texas?

Stacks of cash?

James Dean as Jett Rink, a character based on McCarthy, in the 1956 film Giant. From Everett Collection; digital colorization by Lorna Clark.

James Dean in the movie Spindletop?

When you drive south down Interstate 35W through Cowtown, you might be surprised to see an oil derrick just off the South Freeway near the Altamesa exit. Unless you're familiar with restaurants in Tarrant County, the idea of oil derricks doesn't automatically make you think of a steak dinner This derrick is a landmark sign for The Rig Steak House.

The Rig is built in the classic 1970's era Texas steak house style.

As you set foot inside this one-story brick and mortar restaurant,  you notice something different.  It's hard to describe, but for me, it is the closest I've ever come to traveling back in time to my teenage years and eating dinner at one of our family's favorite steak house restaurants.

  It might be the only steak house in town that still offers a BIG lunch for under six bucks.

One thing that brings this home for me is the self-service Salad Bar.  It even has a cute little sign that says "Salad Bar".  This is different than Cici's Pizza salad bar.  The Rig offers lettuce, pasta salad, pickles, tomatoes, bell peppers, and marinated mushrooms, and they even have different flavors of Jell-O gelatin.  I think it is quite reminiscent of old-style salad bars.

This mural is the central feature of the main dining room.

This decorative map of the Lone Star State, filled with symbols of Texana, is displayed above the cash register near the entrance.

But, this is not a museum.  We are talking about a restaurant, right?  How is the food?  The steaks are very tasty. The Chicken Fried Steak Dinner is pretty good.  HUBBY had this one with baked potato, pinto beans, and an RC Cola.

The Pork Chop Dinner is a new personal favorite for me.  Dinners come with two veggies plus a salad bar.  I had green beans and mashed potatoes.  Be sure and save some room for dessert.  The Rig serves slices of old fashioned, meringue topped cream pies in different flavors.

If you get the chance, visit The Rig Steak House in Fort Worth, Texas.  The address is 6308 South Freeway  Fort Worth, TX 76134 and the phone number is (817) 293-7027.  Reservations are not required.