October 28, 2015

Puff Pastry Sand-Witches

When my friend invited me to a Halloween party in her new apartment, I told her I'd bring some real food. Like, actual non-dessert type food. I figured she'd need that more than the cupcakes that I will likely still bring with me, since Halloween is the holiday of pure sugar. The only problem is, I wanted to do something themed, and there's not nearly as many savory Halloween recipes as there are sweet. So for once in my life, I decided to go simple. I took some Halloween cookie cutters and made some easy puff pastry sandwiches.

Except, since it's for Halloween, I decided to call them "Sand-Witches," and I can't type the word sand-witch without thinking of this scene in Dreamfall Chapters:
It's one of my favorite scenes too. I'm now mad I didn't think to cosplay as the Sand-witcher for NYCC.

I also had to laugh because when I realized that I had a Halloween cat cookie cutter, all I could think of was this:
Kitten carpaccio.
I thought it was funny.

I realize that none of you will get this reference because none of you are playing Dreamfall Chapters, but it was impossible for me not to make the reference. Like, it would have caused me physical pain to not tell you about the Sand-witcher. Moral of the story: everyone should be playing Dreamfall Chapters. So go do that. (It's written by a guy who is basically the Norwegian Joss Whedon. If that's not reason enough to play, I don't know what is)

Kian's adventures in food aside, my sand-witches are super simple, and don't even include any cured Elgwan, mostly because that's impossible to find here in Stark. (Stark is our world, the world of technology. Arcadia is the world of magic. Which you would know if you played the game)
All you need are five ingredients, one of which is totally optional: puff pastry, cold cuts (I used ham), sliced cheese (I used American), honey mustard (you can use any sandwich spread you like, or skip and serve with condiments on the side), and an egg wash to make everything all golden brown and pretty.
Use some Halloween cookie cutters to cut the puff pastry into season appropriate shapes. Add some cheese. Spread the honey mustard on top of the cheese (to prevent soggy pastry). Add some ham. Place another piece of puff pastry on top, pinch the edges closed. Brush with egg wash and bake.
I also scored the pastry or cut some holes for it to vent. Where I could, like this haunted house cutter, I tried to make the holes decorative.
Pumpkins obviously became jack-o-lanterns.
These are quick and easy appetizers you can make last minute for a Halloween party, but it's also a great make-ahead recipe. They can be served warm or at room temperature, can be adapted for any preference, and are something even the kiddos can help make. I think it's a win-win.
Puff Pastry Sand-Witches
Yield: Approx. 6-8 sandwiches, depending on the size of your cutters

1 pkg. puff pastry
6-8 slices of cheese (I used American)
Honey mustard (optional)
6-8 slices of ham (or your favorite cold cuts)
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Use Halloween cookie cutters to cut the puff pastry, cheese, and ham into shapes-- you need two pieces of pastry, one slice of cheese, and one slice of ham per sandwich.

Assemble the sandwiches: start with the first piece of pastry, place a slice of cheese on top. Spread a thin layer of honey mustard on top of the cheese, if using (this will help prevent sogginess if making ahead). Add a slice of ham, and top with the second piece of pastry. Pinch the edges of the pastry together to seal in the filling. Use a sharp knife to score the top, and brush with the beaten egg. Bake on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Serve warm or room temperature.

Tip: Flatten the pastry slightly before assembling the sandwiches, so it will be easier to pinch the edges closed. If making ahead, keep refrigerated in an airtight container, and put the sandwiches back in the oven for a few minutes before serving.

Recipe by Kim

And once last word from the Sand-witcher:

October 20, 2015

Life is Strange Blue Butterfly Cupcakes

Who knows what today is?

Okay, yeah, it's the 20th. Yes, it's also Tuesday. Do you know what else today is?

National Brandied Fruit Day? Interesting. But not the answer I was looking for.

Today is the day they release the final chapter of Life is Strange! You may remember that I've talked about Life is Strange before, when I played the first chapter and was super excited about the rest of the game. Well, today is the day they're releasing the fifth and final chapter and I'm still so super excited about the game, especially since Chapter 4 ended on an epic and horrible cliffhanger (full disclosure: I saw it coming. But apparently I'm an aberration, because a lot of people on the forums claimed it didn't make any sense. I think I'm just really good at anticipating surprise "twists" which is why I'm not a fan of mystery novels).
I was so excited about the Life is Strange finale that I knew I had to celebrate. And how do I celebrate? With cupcakes, obvi.

The blue butterfly is a major thematic element in the game, so I knew immediately they had to be blue butterfly cupcakes. The first time Max, the protagonist of the game, found out she had a unique ability to rewind time, she had just taken a photo of a blue butterfly.
Butterflies also appear throughout the game, usually to give the player hints or to highlight something significant. Really, I had no other option. And since they were going to be blue, I decided to add some frozen raspberries so they would be blue raspberry cupcakes.
These butterfly cupcakes are ridiculously simple to make. Bake some cupcakes, let them cool. Use a paring knife to cut a shallow round from the middle. Fill the hole you just made with whipped cream or frosting (I used a whipped buttercream). Take the middle piece you cut out, chop it in half, and put it on top of the frosting with the rounded edges facing in so they look like butterfly wings. And serve. Seriously, even the most novice of bakers could figure this one out.
I tried doing the chocolate butterfly thing from Hello Cupcake! but then I remembered how much I hate using melted chocolate in a pastry bag, and when I tried to do fancy swirlies with the toothpck like the instructions say, it looked awful. This one has no fancy swirlies, which is probably why it looks halfway decent, so I decided to use it. If you are not toothpick swirly incompetent, the chocolate butterflies are supposedly pretty easy.
If you've played Life is Strange, you know why I have a deer as a photo prop. If you haven't played it, you should go do that, and then the deer will make sense.

(Seriously though, even if you're not much of a gamer, you should play it. Gameplay is simple enough for a non-gamer to pick up, and the game is story driven rather than kill-the-monsters driven. And it's a really good story).

Blue Raspberry Butterfly Cupcakes
Yield: About 24 cupcakes, depending on recipe used

1 recipe vanilla cupcakes
1/4 tsp. raspberry extract
blue food coloring
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
Whipped cream or your favorite frosting

Prepare the cake batter according to recipe instructions, adding in the raspberry extract along with the vanilla. Add enough food coloring to reach your desired shade and fold in the raspberries. Bake according to the recipe instructions and cool completely on wire racks.

Use a small, sharp knife to cut out a shallow hole in the middle of the cupcake. Fill the hole with whipped cream or frosting. Take the circle of cake you just cut out and slice it in half. Place the two halves on top of the frosting with the rounded edges facing in, to look like butterfly wings.

October 7, 2015

It's My Very Favorite Gun: DIY Vera Prop

Hey guys! So, I know I kind of unexpectedly took the summer off. I didn't mean to, I just had my cousin's wedding in Florida, and then I got sick, and then I got lazy. *innocent whistling* It was way too hot this summer anyway for serious cooking/baking. I subsisted mostly on rice and frozen veggies because my rice cooker does not heat up the kitchen, so I really had nothing to share with you. But I have some fun stuff planned for Halloween!

I did meet Felicia Day, though, so that was exciting. It was at her book signing, I didn't like meet her on the street or anything. She was super cool and I actually managed to have a coherent conversation with her. (In your face, social anxiety).
The way the signing was set up, I gave my book to one of her handlers, who made sure she had my name before I even got to her, so when I stepped up to her table, she was already signing it and didn't see me right away. I stepped up, and not knowing what to do, I said hi. She asked me how I was, I said, "Good, how are you?" (I was going for coherent, not sparkling conversation, okay?)

She finished up, and goes to hand me my book as she says, "I'm goo-- *gasp* oh my god, I love your shirt!" I was wearing my Knights of Good Guild t-shirt, and I nearly died at how excited she got. "That is an OG Guild shirt, man!" she said, as she got up to take a photo with me. So I told her how Clara was my first ever cosplay, and she hugged me.
Her handler took these pictures with my phone. I didn't know until later that he took this one too.

She told me to tweet her a picture later. As I was about to leave, she stopped me and said, "You'll like the book; there's a lot of Guild stuff in there." And I replied, "Thank you," because that's clearly the correct response, and I stumbled out of there in a fog of fangirly bliss.

Not that it's actually necessary for you to know any of this, but it's so rare that I have cool stories like this to tell people. Also, you should totally read her book, because it's really good and pretty funny.

Anyway, NYCC is this week, yay! (And Felicia Day is going to be there. My mom says I should ask if she remembers me. I find it very doubtful that she would, even if a tiny part of me has decided we're totally BFFs now) The brother and sister-in-law finally watched Firefly about a month ago, after I loaned it to them about a year ago and decided they want to go as Jayne and Kaylee. I told my brother he should get a toy gun and paint it as an easy Vera-like prop. He just looked at me with this perplexed look, so I told him I would do it for him.

This isn't exactly a tutorial, since I really didn't know what I was going to do until it was actually on the gun itself, but I did take some in-process photos, so I can kind of walk you through what I did.
This is the reference photo I worked off of. I knew I was never going to get it screen accurate, but I did want it to be clearly based off of the show prop. So, it's more like Vera's little sister, related, but not the same.

You want to start off with a toy gun. I got mine from Wal-Mart for $10 (it was part of a set with a big machine gun, a hand gun, a knife, a grenade, and string of "bullets"). I forgot to take a before photo, and I can't find a picture of it online, but it was Kid Connection brand, which I think is just basically generic Wal-Mart brand. It was very cheaply made, but that ended up working out better since I could easily cut off extra parts.
The first thing you want to do is take it apart, lightly sand everything down with fine grit sandpaper, and clean it (I did this part in my tub because that just seemed easiest). Wipe it all down with rubbing alcohol and let it dry. When that's done, just spray paint everything with a flat black paint that works on plastic.
The gun I used didn't have an ammo clip, so I made one out of cardboard and craft foam. You'll notice that cardboard and craft foam are a bit of a theme. I painted some of the fake bullets that came with the gun gold and cut a window in the clip so it would look like it was full of them. I just tried to match color and design to the reference photo.
For the muzzle, I used a cardboard tube from a roll of aluminum foil I just finished, I cut it down to a size that looked right, and hot glued it onto the gun. Then I painted craft foam silver, cut out alternating notches, and glued it on top.
You can see that the scope in the reference photo sits on top of a silver bar, which worked for me, because my gun had a handle there I needed to cover. I bent cardboard over the handle, and covered it with silver-painted craft foam. The scope is just a pirate telescope I got from the dollar store painted black.
The show prop had a weird metal piece attaching the clip to the gun, so I recreated that out of more craft foam. Then I painted sections gold and antique copper to add more visual interest. The antique copper paint is by Folk Art, and it was a really pretty color that covered very well, so I recommend it.
I just finished off with some weathering, which was more fun than it should have been. For areas that needed to look more metallic, I dry brushed on some more silver paint. To add some grime, I used some watered down black paint and immediately wiped it off, which is especially effective in areas with a lot of raised detail, or I dry brushed more black paint on. For some "battle damage," which I went a little overboard on, I took a cheap brush, hacked it up so it was uneven, and used it with more silver paint to add random scuffs and scratch marks

Like I said, it's not screen accurate, but I think it ain't too shabby, considering.

Nathan Fillion is also going to be at NYCC, so I plan on telling him all of the weird things people have Googled about him that have lead them to my blog (including "Nathan Fillion singing peanut butter song.")

And because I know you want it, here's Needy McSnuggles, "helping":
 He fell asleep on my open toolbox. And you can't see it, but he's on a bag of screws. Comfort

I put down cardboard to measure and cut, and he immediately decided it was his new bed

UPDATE: I got Nathan Fillion and Jewel Staite to sign Vera! I was a little disappointed I couldn't get Gina Torres to sign it too, but her line was too massive. Nathan recognized it immediately as Vera and said I did a great job on it, before quoting, "it's my very favorite gun." (!!!) So she's officially Mal approved. Jewel Staite didn't say anything about it, but I got the feeling she was tired, and probably didn't make the connection. She was still super nice though.
We were instructed not to take up Nathan's time with extra conversation, since we were at the tail end  of the photographing session, and he had a schedule to keep, but he didn't really pay attention to that and was being his friendly, charming self to everybody (the SIL was fangirling too hard to notice he was being especially charming to her, which is a thing I will never let her live down. EVER.)

Felicia Day did not recognize me, as expected, not that I asked "hey, remember me?" But I brought my Guild Companion for her to sign, so we had another short conversation about Guildie things. She was about to close the book and hand it back to me, when I mentioned how I identified with Codex, and she opened it up again to write "you rock!" So you could say my plans of becoming best friends with Felicia Day are right on track.
So now I have Con Crud, but the fact that Nathan Fillion appreciates my crafting skills and Felicia Day thinks I rock makes me feel a lot better. XD