Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Prettiest Deviled Eggs

I'll bet you are wondering why the title of this post is the "prettiest" deviled eggs.  Seems like it should be the "yummiest" deviled eggs, or the "tastiest," right?  Well, the thing is that pretty much everyone has their own special way of making deviled eggs that their family raves over.  Just like potato salad.  You can share your recipe for potato salad, but when someone else makes it, they are apt to say "Well, this isn't right!  There is no sweet pickle in this recipe!"  Or whatever.  Because every family gets used to their own way of making certain dishes such as potato salad and deviled eggs.  So, if I titled this post "The Yummiest Deviled Eggs," you'd probably harumph (and rightly so) and think, who is she to tell me that her deviled eggs are yummier than mine?  I would never praise the virtues of my deviled eggs over someone else's family recipe.  Deviled eggs are just too personal.  Thus, this post really isn't about a recipe for deviled eggs, as much as it about presenting them.

I love bringing deviled eggs to parties and get togethers in the spring and summer.  Everyone loves deviled eggs, but for some reason, no one else usually brings them.  At a big get together, there might be four different pasta salads and three cheesy potato casseroles and several plates of brownies, but there probably won't be another platter of deviled eggs.  So they make a great party food to bring along.  Also, I have a weird thing about collecting deviled egg platters.  I simply can't pass up a cute deviled egg platter, so I have quite a few of them.  How many?  Well, let's just say that my older son ribs me about how many I have, remarking that no one makes deviled eggs enough to use so many plates.  But, no matter.  The platter in the photo above is one of my absolute favorites.  It's white and a simple rectangular shape, but it's big.  It holds 24 deviled egg halves, which is a great number to bring to a picnic or gathering.

But, of course, there is no law that says that you have to use an actual deviled egg platter to serve deviled eggs.  That's just my preferred way of serving them.  This post is really about the presentation of the eggs themselves, and how to make them look pretty and also appetizing.

Ok, here is my first secret.  Bacon.  You know how bacon seems to be in everything these days, including desserts at upscale restaurants?  Well, turns out that bacon tastes really great in deviled eggs, too!  To the yolks of a dozen hardboiled eggs, I added about six slices of bacon, cooked and then crumbled up.  I did save a few spoonfuls of the bacon crumbles for garnish.  As far as the other ingredients, I mash up the egg yolks with Miracle Whip and yellow mustard to taste, and I like to add a little finely minced onion and celery, as well as a dash of pepper and a dash of celery seed.  I don't ever use salt in my deviled egg mixture, because if you are using any vegetables at all (I'm using the onion and celery), the salt will just bring out the water in the vegetables and the whole mixture will become watery after awhile.  So, no salt.  If you're using the bacon, that will add plenty of saltiness to the mixture, anyway.  Fold the bacon in after you've mixed all of the other ingredients together.

The second secret to pretty deviled eggs is to turn the mixture into a big Ziploc baggie.  I use one big enough to hold the entire batch, but you could also fill and refill if you only have smaller baggies.  Seal the bag at the top, and then cut a SMALL hole in one bottom corner of the baggie.  Not tiny, but not huge.  I'm going to be honest with you here.  In the picture below, the hole in my bag is TOO BIG.  I messed up but had my son take the pictures anyway.  Once he took a few pictures, I actually cut the OTHER corner of the bag using a smaller hole, and finished the eggs that way.  Start small, and if the hole is too small, increase it just a bit.

All you do is squeeze the filling into the eggs from the bag through that hole, just like you might have done with cupcake frosting.  Using the bag is amazingly quick and easy, and best of all, you get eggs that look like they came out of a professional deli or something.  It's easy to get the perfect amount of filling in each egg, and if you kind of pipe the filling in circles, the filling will look pretty and poufy.  Yes, that's a professional cooking term.  The bag also makes it easy to go back and add a tiny bit more to various eggs to even them all up and make sure that you use all the filling.  And, of course, the other great thing is that bag is then tossed in the wastebasket!  Love that!

Once all of the eggs have been filled, I take a small spoon and just smooth the top of each egg just a little bit.  Then I sprinkle a tiny bit of paprika on each egg for color, and top with a few crumbles of the bacon.  The result is deviled eggs that both look and taste great!

Oh, a final tip.  Only try the bacon idea if you are sure that all of the eggs are going to be eaten that day.  While the bacon tastes fantastic in the deviled egg mixture, the crunchy texture doesn't hold up longer than a day.  By the next day, the bacon (even the bacon on top of the eggs) will get kind of soggy and it won't be crisp and delicious.  So these are definitely one-time-only eggs.  But they are soooo worth it.  You know, I wasn't actually planning on doing deviled eggs for Memorial Day this year, but looking at these pictures is making me consider making a batch!  Why don't you make a batch, too?  Come on, you know you want to!  Happy deviling!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Polka Dot Flower Pots

Aren't these polka dots pots the cutest?  My original thought in making these was that I'd use them as a gift for a neighbor of ours who was moving away.  She is a lover of all things gardening, so a set of pots plus some packets of herb seeds seemed like a nice, useful gift for her new home.  But once I got started and bought all the supplies, I decided I might as well make a whole BUNCH of these adorable pots!  In addition to the set I made for my neighbor, I ended up keeping a few for myself and giving the others away as little Mother's Day gifts for some of my co-workers.  Mother's Day is over for this year, but a set of these pots in pretty colors would also make a lovely bridal shower gift (I'm thinking the pots would make a nice presentation nestled in a window box), end-of-year teacher gift (perhaps with a gift card to a local gardening center tucked inside), birthday gift, or a cheery "just because" gift for a gardening friend.

So here are a few instructions and a few photos on the process I used for making my pots.  Let me start by saying that I got the idea for the pots from Crafts 'n' Things magazine.  I had never seen this magazine before grabbing it off the shelf at the library a few weeks ago.  Once I started going through it -- wow!  I was amazed at all of the cute, easy to make projects inside, including these polka dot beauties.

First, I gathered the supplies I'd need to paint the pots.  I used plain old 6" clay pots with a rim, but you could use any size and shape that you'd like.  I chose these, frankly, because they were cheap!  They were $1.49 each at my local super store.  I also bought a few bottles of regular old craft paint in bright pastel colors, plus a bottle of white.  I used inexpensive foam brushes to apply the paint, because I wanted something that would be easy to clean.  I made sure I had one brush for each color, though, just so I could keep things moving along.

I painted my pots in two "sections," the bottom first, and then the rim and top.  I found that by doing it this way, there was always a dry part of the pot that I could handle and I was able to manipulate the pot easily.  For most of the colors, it took several thin coats (let dry in between each coat) for the pot to really look good.  For the yellow and light green, it took a couple of additional coats.  So just be aware that some colors may need more coats for really good coverage.

Here is what my pots looked like while drying, with just the bottoms painted.  Acrylic craft paint doesn't take long to dry between coats, but I allowed an hour or so (in a bright, sunny area) to be sure the paint was completely dry before adding another coat.

Once all of the pots had their base coats of color, I added the polka dots.  I'm going to admit here that it took a bit of trial and error to find a "tool" that would work really well to make perfect polka dots.  You may have to look around your house for something that will work.  I ended up using the item shown in the photo below, a round sponge dauber that is mounted on a wooden handle.  I think I bought a bunch of these daubers at a stamping or craft show years ago, and I've only used them once or twice.  Turns out they worked perfectly for this project!

While painting the body of the pots, I poured the paint into little cups, but for the polka dots, a paper plate worked much better.  For each pot, I squirted just a bit of the base color onto the plate and then added enough white paint to turn it a few shades lighter than the "base" color.  So, the polka dots on the pink pot are really pale pink (pink mixed with white), on the blue, they are light blue (blue with a few squeezes of white), etc.  This gives a nice contrast against the base color of the pot, but the dots "blend in" better than stark white dots would.  As far as technique, it was trial and error there, too.  I found that what worked best was to get quite a bit of paint on the flat "tip" of the dauber, then apply it to the pot and twist a little bit to get a perfect (well, almost perfect) circle.  You can just stamp random dots all over the pots or, you can do what I did and stamp them on in spaced rows.  I just started out by painting a dot along the bottom, then a dot on the exact opposite side, then I added dots along the opposing sides (so I had four, evenly spaced dots along the bottom edge).  I then filled in the row with a dot between each of the other dots.  I did the same thing for the top row (right under the rim), and then the middle row.  Then I went back and added a vertical row of two dots between each vertical row of three dots.  Finally, I painted dots around the rim (using the same "divide the pot in quarters" technique).  I let the now-dotted pots dry thoroughly.

I wanted my gift recipients to be able to use their pots outdoors if they wanted to, so that necessitated finishing the pots with varnish.  The stuff in the photo above is what I used, but any varnish made for outdoor use will work.  Just read the labels.  There are a lot of products made ONLY for indoor use, and those won't stand up to weather.  I also bought a fancy-schmancy fat foam brush with a plastic handle to apply the varnish.  (You'll also need something to clean your varnish brush with if you don't have paint thinner or another cleaner at home.)  WARNING:  You definitely have to varnish in a well ventilated area.  The fumes from this kind of heavy-duty varnish can be dangerous, so do it outside on a nice day, if possible.  I varnished my pots in my sunporch, with all of the windows open so I had a good cross breeze blowing.

I'm going to be honest here -- the varnishing was the most tedious part of this project.  It has to be applied very thinly so it doesn't run or drip, and of course, it has to dry between each coat.  It takes longer for a coat of varnish to dry than for a coat of craft paint, but still, drying didn't take that long since the coats were so thin and I did the varnishing on a warm, dry, breezy day.  I used three coats of varnish on my pots, and they ended up with a rich, glossy finish.  Actually, I used a semi-gloss varnish, but there are matte and glossy varieties if you prefer those finishes.

The wet varnish, of course, is sticky, and you really have to do the whole pot at once rather than in two parts like I did for the base paint coats.  This required me to come up with a clever way for the pots to dry in between coats of varnish.  The photo above shows what I came up with.  I simply inverted the wet, varnished pots on tall, sturdy acrylic tumblers.  The tumblers were sturdy enough to hold the pot securely, but easy to move around if I needed to.  Following that third coat of varnish, I let the pots dry overnight.  The next day, after turning the pots over, I swiped a little bit of varnish along the top edge of each pot, to seal that little rim of color.  After letting that final bit of vanish dry, the pots were complete.  I decided to include with each pot that I was gifting a packet of herb seeds, but even the pot alone makes a sweet gift.

Here's another look at the finished pots.  As you can see, the varnish really makes the difference in terms of eye-appeal.  It also makes the pots super-useful, since they can be placed indoors or out.  And, as I think I mentioned, these pots were easy on the budget.  I made a dozen or so pots for around $35 total, and that includes the quart of varnish which was about $10.  If your hubby has some suitable varnish in the garage, you won't even have to spend as much as I did.  So, the next time you find yourself wanting to give a crafty little gift to someone special, remember these darling polka dot pots.  Allow yourself a weekend to do all of the painting and varnishing so you don't have to rush.  You'll end up with a usable gift that most anyone with even a slightly green thumb will truly enjoy.