Sunday, February 21, 2010

Deviled Chex Mix

You know, I just LOVE Chex Mix. But what I've noticed is that since it's become widely available in bags in the grocery store, no one seems to actually make it anymore. And that's a shame, because frankly, in my opinion, the bagged stuff just doesn't compare to the taste of the mix that you make yourself at home. Also, the bagged stuff is expensive! Anyway, one day last fall, I needed something to bring into work for one of our many food celebrations, and I decided to make Chex Mix, which I hadn't made in ages. I couldn't get over how delicious it was! Then, a couple of months later, I was reading something online and there was a link to the Chex cereals website. Apparently General Mills (the maker of Chex cereals), exhibiting its marketing genius, has a contest every year for the best new Chex Mix recipe. This year's winner and runners-up had just been announced and the recipes were on the website.

Now, the contest winner was Buffalo Chex Mix, which I can't comment on because I haven't made it yet. (I'm going to, though, so stay tuned.) But one of the runners-up was the mix pictured above, Deviled Chex Mix. I know, I know, it looks pretty much like regular old Chex Mix, doesn't it? Oh, but it's not! I just love things that are "deviled" -- you know, that great combination of sweet and spicy. So when I read the list of ingredients, I knew this was the mix I had to try first. Did my family like it? Let me just say that I've made this recipe SEVERAL times since I first found it. Yup, it's THAT good.

So, without further ado, here is my slightly altered version of the recipe:

Deviled Chex Mix

3 T. sugar
1 tsp. ground chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 T. paprika
1 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup mixed nuts (I used just peanuts)
3 cups each Rice, Corn and Wheat Chex cereals
1 cup miniature pretzels
1 cup Parmesan flavored fish-shaped crackers

In small bowl, mix sugar with all spices and set aside. In small skillet, heat oil; add spice mixture to oil and heat through for a few minutes. Place remaining ingredients in a large, microwave safe bowl and stir to combine. Pour oil and spice mixture over contents in bowl; stir until mixture is evenly coated with oil and spices. Microwave for 6 minutes, stirring every two minutes. Spread mixture on paper towels to cool; store in airtight container.

Now, I must tell you that my 10-year-old liked this, but he thought it was just a little too spicy. So if you have young kids, take note. When I make this for the family again, I might cut the black pepper to 1/2 teaspoon. But, if I'm making this to take into work or to bring to a party, I might actually ADD a bit of cayenne pepper, maybe 1/4 teaspoon or so. It's wonderfully spicy but I just can't help thinking that a little bit of cayenne would be a yummy addition. It's seriously addicting just as it is, though, so don't say that I didn't warn you.

Well, now I've gone and gotten myself all focused on Chex Mix and how yummy it is. Sunday is my usual grocery day, and I'm thinking I might have to pick up some Chex cereals at the store today, and make a batch of Deviled Chex Mix tonight!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Quick, Inexpensive Mini Album

Last week, I posted some Valentines I'd made using mostly items from the dollar bins at Target. Well, I'm kind of continuing that theme in my post for today, which is of course Valentine's Day.

I happen to have a friend whose birthday is on Valentine's Day, and I wanted to do a little something for her this year. She is one of those people who tends to get a little bit "blue" in the winter, waiting for the snow and the cold to go away. So I thought maybe a mini-album with a few photos of her family might be just the thing to keep her spirits warm.

I used one of the chipboard mini-albums that you can find all the time at Michael's these days for one measly dollar -- the book I chose is shaped like big tags. Since I didn't have die cut paper to go along with the book, I figured the tag shape would be relatively easy to trace and cut out. I started with a package of 12x12 Valentine-themed scrapbook papers and a package of matching chipboard embellishments from, once again, the Target dollar spot. There were, I think, twelve sheets of paper in that package -- for ONE DOLLAR! And, the patterns were actually pretty cute and useable. I simply traced the tag shape on the back of various papers, and then traced a bunch of additional half tag shapes, so that I could feature two papers on each layout of the album.

When I make quickie gift albums like this, I like to follow a simple format. Here, I combined two patterned papers on each layout, then put a family related quote on the left side, and a picture or two (cropped, of course) on the right. I added some simple rub ons to some of the little chipboard tags that were in the embellishment package (some were printed, but others were blank), and stuck everything down with glue dots. Here is an example of one of the layouts inside the mini album:

And another inner layout:

If you aren't familiar with how to cover chipboard with patterned paper, it's easy. I applied my hand-cut papers to each chipboard "page," and then sanded the edges to take off any excess and to make the paper kind of blend right into the page base. After sanding, I brushed all the paper bits off and then inked all of the edges with a dark brown chalk ink pad. For the "border" or shorter papers, make sure to ink the cut edge that will be on the inner part of the page before you stick the piece down. Oh, I had originally planned to use one of my cute edge punches on the edges of the "border" papers, but I tried it and it just looked too busy with the already-busy paper, so I simply cut the "border" papers straight instead. It still gave a nice contrast.

For the cover, I simply printed out a title block, inked everything, added a small photo, one of the chipboard hearts, and part of a circle rub on, and I was done. I liked the way this heart looked hanging off of the cover page:

I finished off the album by tying some cute ribbons onto the album's binder ring.

And that's it! A cute gift album that took me maybe a couple of hours from start to finish, and cost $3 plus a trip into my scrap ribbon bag and my rub on drawer. Besides the fact that I know my friend will love this little keepsake, I'm pretty proud of myself for using one of those chipboard albums from Michael's! I've got ones in every single shape and just don't use them as often as I'd like. But, as you can see, they really do make fun, inexpensive gift albums.

Friday, February 5, 2010

8 Valentines, 2 Bucks

My mom always sent all three of us kids Valentines, even after we were grown up and married and had long ago left home. Sometimes she slipped $5 in there, too, just for fun. It was just one of those sweet, loving things she did. She sent us little Easter baskets filled with goodies each year, too. Anyway, partly, no doubt, due to my mom, I have always had an especially warm spot in my heart for Valentine's Day. Not so much as a day to be all romantic with my hubby (although that's fun, too), but more as an opportunity to tell those I'm close to that I love them. So, I usually make some sort of little Valentine cards or notes each year, and then on the big day, I slip them in my kids' lunchboxes, leave them in sneaky places for co-worker friends (uh, female co-worker friends only, I don't need any rumours floating around the office that I've got an unrequited love for one of my male co-workers), and leave one where my hubby will be sure to see it in the morning.

So, I went down to my craft room a few nights ago and started digging out Valentine's stuff. I found a package of eight generic note cards with hearts on them (and red envelopes!) that I'd found at the Target dollar section, and I also pulled out a set of cheapie chipboard embellishments that I'd also found there. I grabbed my envelope of scraps in the pink and red color category, and I was ready to go. I just starting playing around with the the stuff and making some very simple, but cute, cards. Four of those are pictured above. Ok, I just noticed that on the card on the top left, the little line of chipboard hearts managed to detach itself during the scanning process. I'm too lazy to rescan, so please just picture that line of hearts right underneath the "so sweet" sentiment, where it's supposed to be, okay? The other four Valentines are below:

As you can see, in addition to scraps, I used some rub-ons from my large rub-on collection, along with a few mini-brads. The pen-stitching on some of the cards was done with my white Signo Uni-ball pen, the BEST white pen in the world. At the moment, the cards are blank inside, but I may stamp a simple sentiment in some of them before giving them away. Others, I'll leave blank so that I can add a newsy note to a friend inside.

As I finished up this little project (which took me maybe a couple of hours, start to finish), it hit me. I now had eight cute Valentines, at a total cost of ... 2 bucks! Well, 2 bucks plus odds and ends from my scrap drawer and a few rub-ons. How's that for cost efficiency?

Anyway, the point of this post isn't necessarily for you to copy my designs for Valentine cards, although you're certainly welcome to do that if you want to. The point is to keep your eye out for inexpensive, versatile card-making supplies when you find yourself at places like Target and Michael's. When I initially bought the chipboard set, I thought I might use the cupcakes on a birthday page or something like that, but I love how they really spruced up these Valentine designs. Both Target and Michael's almost always have sets of simple (notice I said simple, not necessarily plain) notecards in their dollar bins, and I encourage you to look at these gems in a new light. Think of them as bases that you can build your own cards on -- a great start on a set of themed notecards, with just the addition of a few embellishments or bits of paper and letters. When we see, in particular, printed notecards (like the heart ones I used for my Valentines), we tend to think of them as complete, finished products. And of course, they can be used that way. But adding a few handmade touches to commercially produced cards is a quick way to personalize them, spruce them up, and make them lots more special. And who doesn't love getting a handmade card in the mail?