Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Years

Doing a few links that might come in handy for New Years Eve and New Years Day...

Martha Stewart's Printable Checklist on How to Stock a Bar (if for some reason it loads to the first slide - it is slide 3 that has the how to to stock a bar check list)

Martha Stewart Holiday Dips and Spreads - most of them look fairly easy to me. Some that I would like to try: Cheese Ball 3 Ways, Blue Cheese and Walnut Spread and Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut

Martha Stewart Quick Appetizer Recipes - just too many to name that I would like to try or that I think are super easy. Some that look very pretty for being would look pretty on a tray for a party.

Food and Wine's Party Dips
- It is a slideshow that goes as soon as you open it. I paused it and went through it at my speed. Quite a few I would love to try and bring to a party...just a few favorites to share...Guacamole with Charred JalapeƱo and Scallions, Deviled Egg Spread, Potato Crisps with Chive–Sour Cream Dip and Warm Piquillo and Crab Dip

Food and Wine's Value Champagne

Epicurious has a How to Plan a Cocktail Party - I am linking to the part on setting up the bar. Has an equipment list and just a how to set it up that makes sense for a party.

Martha Stewart's New Years Party Crafts

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fruits and Vegetables

With produce being out of season and prices skyrocketing, it's important that I buy it right the first time- and store it properly.

I still consider myself a kitchen "n00b", and it's not unusual to find myself standing in the midst of the produce section at the grocery store, utterly confused by the bins and bins of similiar items.

There's nothing worse than having spent hours preparing a meal only to find that that particular type of potato was too mealy for that casserole. Or that apple was too tart for applesauce, and you've had to add more sugar than apples.

The Cook's Thesaurus is my savior. Especially the sections on apples and potatoes.

This website is packed with a variety of produce information.

This site gives terrific hints on how to tell if produce is fresh. Here's another with fresh produce buying and storing tips.

This site has a table, about mid-page, on what not to store together, and what will spoil the fastest.

20 frugal tips for buying produce.

Now that we have all those fruits and vegetables, what do we do with them?

This recipe has become a family favorite. I double it to fill my 6 quart slow cooker and I rarely have leftovers. Plus, it's so good on a chilly winter evening. It definitely fits the bill for "comfort food".

I got this one from Mandy, a contributer here. :)

Hamburger Heaven

16-oz. Ground beef.
2 cups diced raw potatoes
1 ½ cups sliced carrots
1 cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped onion
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn
1 10-oz can tomato soup
½ cup water
1 tsp parsley

Brown meat and onions. In a slow cooker sprayed with Pam, combine meat mixture, potatoes, carrots, celery, peas and corn. Stir in tomato soup and water and parsley. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook on low 6 to 8 hours. I add in a generous sprinkle of garlic powder, and serve it with cheddar-garlic biscuits.

(If you use lean meat and Healthy Request tomato soup, this recipe is 1 point per serving for Weight Watchers.)

Finish with a fruit salad like this one for dessert, and we've had a healthy meal and used up lots of produce.

Over the Rainbow Fresh Fruit Salad

3 cups mixed berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries)
2 cups seedless grapes (red or green)
2 crisp sweet apples
3 peaches, nectarines or 6 apricots
2 bananas, sliced thin
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (3 Valencia oranges)
Nutmeg (optional)

Chop fruit and mix gently in large bowl. Pour fresh orange juice over fruit, stir and refrigerate. Serve with dash of nutmeg.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

After the Holidays....Storage Tips

* Store display items together - Such you have a holiday village you put out? Pack them all together so that you aren't going through 5 different boxes just to get that village scene out and up next year. All garland, ornaments and lights for the tree should be stored together. All the decorations that go to a specific room or area packed together such as all the guest bathroom decorations are packed together.

* Save boxes - I am one of those people that can't stand to save boxes normally. But for holiday items it can come in handy. Do you have a nativity scene with small pieces? Having a box that they fit in perfectly with the other pieces help keep them safe as well as together. Some ornaments are similar - just fit really well into their original box.

* Label everything - There is a piece of garland I hang in our dining room that just fits. I put that in one of those big big ziplocks and labeled it. Label plastic tubs that have tree decorations or the decorations for the kitchen and so on.

* Holiday Lights - Use a piece of cardboard, a paper towel or gift wrap tubing (cut down) or the original box to wind the lights around. I wind the lights around the whole box and then tuck the ends into the inside of the box. (pictures will come in a few days as a tip on it's own)

* Tool Kit - I have floral wire that I only use for my holiday wreath, thin ribbon that I use to attach Christmas tree ornaments, ornament hooks, spare lights and fuses - all in a little plastic pencil box that gets labeled and also stored with holiday items.

* Storage and Planning for next year - Right now everything fits perfectly into the tubs I have - there can't be one more thing bought. So I need to start thinking of how I will need to store things differently next year as I am sure I will have more holiday decorations. Are there things I can get rid of now? Donate? Repurpose for another holiday? Maybe I want to use the new wreath I bought so the old one can be maybe recycled/recreated for another holiday.

* Time to Save on purchases for next year - After-holiday sales are a great way to save on greeting cards, wrapping paper, decorations, ornaments, lights and storage solutions. Check what you might need a few days before Christmas and make a list of things want to purchase.

* Create a holiday planning book - write down recipes, menus, treats made, decorating things that worked and didn't work, guest and gift lists, what you would like to do next year, measurements that are important - such as you might need a new table cloth next year so write down the size you need while looking for after-holiday sales or any other useful information. Did a certain brand of cranberries work better in your cranberry salad this year? Did you run short on cider? What was a hit on the menu? Did the table centerpiece looks better this year then it ever has? Make a notes and include pictures or anything else that might be helpful. Such as I used Yukon gold potatoes last year so included the tag from the potatoes so I know which brand I used.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gingerbread Muffins

We are going to be out of town for Christmas this year or otherwise I would be making these muffins on Christmas morning. Last year I made them on the 24th because I wasn't sure how they would turn out but they were a hit! They smelled so good baking and tasted even better!

Gingerbread Muffins
Makes 8 Muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
dash of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp all-spice
1/4 tsp ginger
3 tbsp cooking oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Line with paper baking cups or spray with cooking oil eight muffin cups. In a small bowl stir together flour, baking powder, soda, cinnamon, all-spice, ginger and salt. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, stir together oil and brown sugar. When blended add molasses, milk, egg and vanilla. Mix until blended. Add flour mixture and mix until blended. Spoon mixture into prepared muffin cups.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when pressed lightly in the center. If desired sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve warm or cool.

Monday, December 21, 2009

This and That

I have had a few people write and ask what almond bark is so I took a picture of the kind I use...

I know each store carries it's a different brand. But look for Vanilla Flavored Coating or Vanilla Flavored Candy Coating. Ask clerks in the store too - this time of year they usually know exactly where it is or if they have any left. Our Safeway usually has a special baking display right as you walk in and they almost always have some of it there. But usually I find it in Wal-Mart by chocolate chips and Baker's Baking Chocolate.


I got a notice in my inbox Amazon is doing $5.00 Magazine Subscriptions again - only of course on select ones but it would be a great last minute gift or stocking stuffer.

Finally a few links for creating your holiday table....

BHG - Set a Stylish Tables

Martha Stewart Christmas Table

Martha Stewart Centerpieces and More (had some cute place setting card ideas)

Real Simple 35 Easy Elegant Recipes for Christmas Dinner

Holiday Tipping Check List

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Getting Grease Stains Out

surrenderedsoul shares a tip that comes in handy during Hanukkah and the holidays. Thank you!!

If your family is anything like mine, then when frying anything a mess is made! I have found over the years the following to hold true in order to get grease stains out of clothing or off of the ceiling. (splatter is a horrible thing!)

To get grease stains out of clothing:

Step 1: Use a papertowel and dab the area to remove as much grease as possible, for freshly stained items. Dab the material on both sides of the garment.

Step 2: Choose a cleaning product. There are two cleaning products which remove grease stains. They are Ivory bar soap or any kind of dishwashing liquid that is made for grease, such as Dawn. If you are using the bar of soap take the soap and wet it slightly. Take the soap and rub it across the stained area and allow it to sit for about five minutes. If you are using the dishwashing liquid, squirt some onto the stain and lightly work the liquid into the stain using your fingertip.
Step 3:Place the item into warm water after using the cleaning product. Allow it to soak about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the stain. After soaking, place the garment into the washer and wash as normal.

Step 4:After washing check the garment for the stain. If the stain is still present repeat steps 2 and 3. If the stain is gone dry normally

To get grease stains off of the ceiling: Magic Eraser works wonders! I cannot say enough good things about this product. OxiClean also works, but I have found sometimes that OxiClean will alter the color of the paint, so unless you are using a true white paint on the walls, I would suggest the Magic Eraser instead.

Hope your Latkes & Jelly Donuts turn out well! Happy Frying.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Favorites

Alton Brown's Hot Cocoa Mix
I don't know about anyone else, but a monthlong streak of rainy, chilly weather has me craving some warm drinks by the fire. Alton's recipe is super rich and super comforting- and the cayenne pepper is just the right touch!

This also makes great last minute gifts for other cocoa lovers. If you gift it, be sure to add...

Smitten Kitchen's Homemade Marshmallows
I'm not even a marshmallow person but this recipe may convert me! Although part of me just wants to make a batch, not let it set, and just make Rice Krispie Treats.

Make your own mulling spices
Because I don't always want to spend $10-15 on mulling spices from the local foodie store. Whether you mull wine, or cider... the house smells A-Mazing when you have something mulling on the stove. This recipe is simple, the site offers gifting ideas (including printable premade tags with instructions!) and best of all: it has a Mulling Spice Calculation Worksheet in case you need to make a smaller amount.

Almond Biscotti
Another recipe I've been craving since my hot beverage intake is on the rise. It also looks like it would make an excellent gift for a friend of mine, presented with a bag of dark rich coffee beans or exotic tea.

Epicurious Guide to Entertaining (featuring Clinton Kelly)
Granted... I'm a little biased here. One of my fantasies entails a week of shopping, lunches and fabulous parties with Tim Gunn and Clinton Kelly. So that alone would make this link worthwhile (for me). But I know not everyone crushes on fabulous stylish 'lifestyle gurus'... but the videos themselves are pretty good. In the "cocktail party/home bar" video, he talks about different ways to offer beverages for small or large parties, including using recipe cards for guests to make their own drinks, or serving a signature cocktail so it's easy to have made ahead in batches, and how to calculate how much to plan (ice, booze) per guest. Pretty fun, fast paced videos to watch, and some handy little hors d'oeuvres recipes.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cookies-n-Cream Bark

I have made a lot of candy (to many to name) and popcorn (butterscotch, chocolate peanut and zesty parmesan)the last 2 days.

The easiest candy recipe I have made is Cookies-n-Cream Bark. It looks pretty in jar as a gift too. Which is what is happening to most of the bark I made - even though I believe someone in this house would like it to stay of course some of it will for him.

1 pkg. (6 squares) White Chocolate, melted (not almond bark or white chips - white chocolate - I use Baker's White Chocolate)
10 Oreo Cookies, crumbled, divided 5 for the semi-sweet chocolate and 5 for the white chocolate (generic brand of sandwich cookies that are like Oreos work fine too)
1 pkg. (8 squares) Semi-Sweet Chocolate, melted (I use Baker's)

Stir 1/2 the crumbled cookies into the melted white chocolate and the other half into the melted semi-sweet chocolate.

Drop spoonfuls of the chocolate mixtures onto waxed paper-covered baking sheet, alternating colors of chocolates. Spread and swirl with knife.

Refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm. Break into pieces and it is ready to munch on!

I melt the chocolate in the microwave. I start at about 40 seconds and then stir and do another 30 to 40 seconds and stir again. And then usually it only takes one more time and it is melted.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Homemade Jelly Dougnuts

surrenderedsoul reflects on the meaning of Hanukkah, her own family's celebration, and a recipe for Jelly Doughnuts that sound very yummy! Thank you!!

One of the beautiful things about the celebration of Hanukkah (or Chanukah if you prefer) being 8 days and nights long, is it allows you time to focus on family and family activities. Or if you are without a family of your own it allows you to take the time out of every day life to do something different.

Many of those that I know who celebrate this holiday enjoy taking time to make homemade jelly donuts. A tried and true recipe that I have used over the years (as have others that I know) is below:

Jelly Doughnuts

Prep Time:3 hrs
Cook Time: approximately 1 hr
Serves: 12 servings.

4 to 4 1/2 cup white bread flour, plus more for dusting (you can use wheat flour but I have found it makes the donuts VERY heavy)
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 ounce (.6 ounce) cake fresh yeast or 1 envelope dry active yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
1 cup lukewarm milk (room temperature milk works fine as well)
2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for dusting
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled (it is important for the melted butter to be cooled before using)
1/2 cup preserves of choice (our family favorite is raspberry preserves, but any flavor you like will work)
Vegetable oil, for frying
Cinnamon and sugar, for rolling doughnuts

In the bowl of a mixer, combine 4 cups flour and salt. Add the yeast. In a small bowl, combine the milk and 2 tablespoons sugar. Add with the remaining milk to the flour. (If using dry yeast, mix the yeast with 2 tablespoons of the milk and 2 tablespoons sugar and let sit until foamy, about 5 to 10 minutes and add to the flour.)

Add the eggs and butter to the flour mixture. Begin to mix the ingredients into a soft, but not sticky, dough.

Add a little extra milk, 1 tablespoon at a time. Work in extra flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. (You can do this in a mixer fitted with a dough hook.) Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Punch down the risen dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few seconds. With a lightly floured rolling pin, gradually roll out the dough to about 1/2-inch thick. When rolling dough, let it rest periodically to relax. Cut out into 3 to 4-inch rounds with a lightly floured biscuit cutter. Re-roll the scraps to make more rounds. Place the doughnuts on lightly floured baking sheets, spacing them apart, and cover lightly with a dry towel. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 20 minutes.
Transfer the risen doughnuts to a heavy pot filled 3-inches high with vegetable oil at 350 degrees F. Fry the
doughnuts, a few at a time, until golden and puffed, turning frequently, 5 to 7 minutes.

Lift the doughnuts from the oil using a slotted spoon and roll on a plate lined with granulated sugar and
cinnamon mixed together. Let cool slightly.

fill a pastry bag, fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip with jelly preserves. Insert the tip into the end of each doughnut and pipe approximately 1 to 2 teaspoons preserves into them and serve.

** side note ** it is of course easier to buy bakery fresh jelly donuts, but making them homemade at this holiday has a few benefits. The first is the joy of sharing this baking time with your loved ones. It's fun for kids to help out (well not with the frying part). It also serves as a remembrance of the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days & nights when there was only enough oil for 1 day & night. and it makes the whole house smell yummy.

Kitchen Essentials

Build your own Smitten Kitchen: A Practical Gift Guide
An outstanding list of essential kitchen items Deb's compiled, that make your life easier, everyday. Excellent list to consider for gifts this year.

In her words: "My interest is in items that are practical, well-constructed, clever enough to multitask, pretty enough to move from kitchen to table, and — look, this is just my personal schtick as I fear things that melt close to temperatures I routinely use when cooking — involve as little plastic and silicone as possible."

And while you're there, check out her gift worthy section of amazing recipes.

I originally had my eye on the Coffee Toffee, but now I'm drooling over the salted chocolate caramels...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Clothes Pin Magnets

Want a quick, fun, easy stocking stuffer? Clothes Pin Magnets. I made these last year and stuck them in almost every stocking and package last year.

I bought a package of clothes pins at the dollar store (36 in a package). I painted them with a foam bush using the cheapest acrylic paint. They did dry very quickly because I didn't put the pain on thick - just almost a thin wash of it on the clothes pin. Once dry I took rubber stamps to stamp them with images. It didn't matter if the image fit or not...them running off the edge worked still. And then I attached a magnet to the back.

They would be cute too if you stamped names on them or to-do, urgent, read and so on them for an office or teacher. Michael's sells tiny alphabet stamps for $1 that work well on them.

Out of Control

Well I am up at 3am because there are not enough hours in the day for me right now. I think we all go through those times where things just aren't going smoothly. And you have so much on your plate you don't know where to start.

That is where I am at right now. Last year I was ahead in all my holiday prep....this year a string of events happened that cause me to get so behind that I have to basically make up 3 weeks of work in one. We haven't even got our tree up yet which is unusual.

Just posting this to let you know I may love all things domestic but I fall behind and don't do a good job at always juggling all my priorities. And so sometimes I have to do things like stay up until 3am.

What do you do when you have too much to do? How do you stay organized to get it all done?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cardamom Cut-Out Cookies

This recipe is orginally from Epicurious. But I made a few changes. This cookie not only looks good, it smells good and tastes just amazing with the espresso, bittersweet chocolate and cardamom. When people see this cookie - even before tasting it - they are asking for the recipe. It is by far my most requested recipe.

For cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

For espresso and chocolate icings
1 teaspoon instant-espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons milk
1 cup confectioners sugar
3 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), melted

Make cookies:
Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cardamom, cinnamon, and allspice in a bowl.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes in a stand mixer (preferably fitted with paddle attachment) or 4 minutes with a handheld. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low, then mix in flour mixture until just combined.

Form dough into 2 balls each on its own sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap and chill the dough until slightly firm, about 1 hour. After chilling, I remove the first ball of dough. Roll out and cut out with holiday cookie cutters.

Put oven racks in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 350°F.

Arranged about 1 inch apart (chill remaining dough, wrapped in plastic wrap).

Bake cookies, until edges are golden, 10 to 12 minutes total. Cool on sheets 3 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely. Make more cookies with remaining dough on cooled baking sheets.

Ice cookies:
Whisk together espresso powder, vanilla, and 1 1/2 tablespoons milk until espresso powder is dissolved, then add confectioners sugar and enough additional milk to make a thick but pourable icing. Drizzle the espresso glaze over the cookies.

Melt chocolate and then drizzle over cookies.

Let cookies stand on racks until icing sets, about 2 hours.

• Dough can be chilled 5 days or frozen, wrapped in a double layer of plastic wrap, 1 month (thaw in refrigerator just until ready to roll out).
• Cookies (with or without icing) keep, layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment, in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week.

Makes about 6 dozen.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Traditions of Hanukkah (latke recipe)

surrenderedsoul reflects on the meaning of Hanukkah, her own family's celebration, and a recipe for a traditional favorite: potato latkes. Thank you!!

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah lasts for 8 days and 8 nights. This year it starts at sundown on Friday December 11th and ends at sundown on Sunday December 19th. For each night of Hanukkah (can also be spelled Chanukah), we light one candle on the menorah to symbolize the miracle of the oil that lasted in the temple for 8 days when there was only enough oil to last for one day.

In the United States, Hanukkah has become a very large gift giving holiday. Through out most of the rest of the world, Hanukkah is not a gift giving holiday, but a smaller celebration of the remembrance of the miracle of the oil and the destruction and subsequent clean up of the temple many many years ago.

In the United States, many families enjoy Hanukkah gatherings that include traditional foods such as latkes and jelly donuts. Jelly donuts are one of the symbolic foods because they use the oil to fry the donut, and also symbolize a sweet holiday season. Also many families exchange gifts, usually one for each night of the holiday.

In my family growing up, we always had a very large Hanukkah party on the last night of Hanukkah. We would celebrate nightly with our immediate family and my mom would always make foods like latkes, kugels, jelly donuts, brisket, and other assorted yummy items. then on the last night we would gather with all of my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and friends, and have a large feast and exchange even more presents.

But a favorite thing to do on Hanukkah was play the dreidel game and sing songs. It was just a festive time to be happy and enjoy the company of family & friends.

Below is a recipe for potato latkes. I hope you enjoy them.

  • 12 medium potatoes, peeled & washed.
  • 2 medium onions (I prefer Vidalia onions)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup matzah meal (you can use flour instead if you wish)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • vegetable oil (for frying)

Shred the potatoes and onion into a large bowl. Press out all excess liquid.(if using a food processor, use the chopping blade for 2 or 3 seconds after pressing out liquid to avoid stringy fly-aways). Add eggs and mix well. Add matzah meal gradually while mixing until the batter is doughy, not too dry. (you may not need the whole amount, depending on how well you drained the veggies). Add the baking powder, salt and pepper and mix well. (don't taste the batter -- it's really gross!). Don't worry if the batter turns a little orange; that will go away when it fries.

Heat about 1/2 inch of oil to medium-high heat. Form the batter into thin patties about the size of your palm. Fry batter in oil. Be patient: this takes time, and too much flipping will burn the outside without cooking the inside. Flip when the bottom is golden brown.

Place finished latkes on paper towels to drain. Eat hot with sour cream or applesauce.

Sanna's Gingerbread

Wouldn't you know that as soon as I mention that my oven is broken, one of my evil friends taunts me with a recipe.

Though I haven't tried it (yet), I'm sharing it here because it's perfect for the holidays. Also because I'm going to need help with it and all of you Domestic Goddesses can do that!

First she warns: They're not healthy. No way. They're yummy, fatty, time consuming and comfortfood - did I mention yummy? (Those are my favorite recipes, dontchaknow.)


Here is Sanna's Gingerbread:

2½ sticks of butter, assuming they're 4oz each. (Use REAL butter, real dairy butter, no less than 75% fat!)
1 cup of dairy cream, 40% fat
10oz white sugar
4oz brown sugar
5oz sugar beet molasses (there's usually white, light and dark - look for the light or dark one)
2 tbs ground ginger
2 tbs ground cinnamon
2 tbs ground cloves
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground allspice
2 tbs baking soda (bicarb)
2.5-3 lbs all purpose flour, unbleached

Add the spices, minus bicarb, to a pot (if one likes gingerbread to be a bit stronger, 3tbs of spice is prolly better). Heat the pot for about two minutes. Add butter, so that it melts. Add molasses straight to pot.
Mix the sugars in a big bowl of some sort. Whip the cream smooth in another bowl. Take a third (YES!) bowl and add 2 lbs of flour and the bicarb.

Pour the melted butter-spices-molasses mix in the bowl with sugar. Add about half of the flour. Add the whipped cream. Add the rest of the flour.
Now add more flour if needed. The dough shouldn't stick to your fingers, be soft but still firm enough to knead.

Cut in four pieces. Curse over the grease getting everywhere. Wrap pieces in plastic, put two in the fridge and two in the freezer. The freezer ones are
so that you won't need to make more dough once you run out of cookies. Let it rest for several hours or even days. The dough in the fridge will keep at least 14 days. Bake out when you've got the time.

Take HALF of one wrapped piece of dough and wrap the rest again. Put it back in the fridge. Quickly do your thing with the cookie cutters and stuff, before the dough melts on you. Add more flour if needed. They should be about 1cm (uuuh... just under ½ inch) thick before going into the oven. Add cookies onto a bakingplate on bakingplate paper.

Bake in the middle of the oven at about 300F, for 7-10 minutes depending on how you like them. Get them off the paper and set to dry on a rack. Store in large tins. Protect them from children, who will devour them before supper.

The recipe should give you about 200-300 cookies, btw. ;) Enjoy!

Merry Christmas


She and I then discussed the "sugar beet molasses", which is something I'd never heard of. I've found that sometimes trying to share recipes with people who live in other countries, the language barrier can be a stickler.

Though she did a terrific job changing the measurements for me. I'm only slightly confuddled having to calculate oz and lbs to cups. ;-)

Anyway, here's what she said about the molasses: I checked it on Wikipedia, and I was wrong about it being molasses. I'm quite sure you can use your regular gingerbread molasses, but the stuff I'm using is called Golden Syrup in the US. It may be hard to find in the US outside of Louisiana, apparently. Do your best, otherwise turn to molasses and adjust the recipe accordingly.

Now, I've never heard of gingerbread molasses either. In fact, I've never cooked with or used molasses ever. Do we have any molasses experts reading along? Can anyone shed some light upon what that ingredient would be in the states?

Another question would be to verify if the "40% fat dairy cream" is heavy whipping cream? Or is it milk? I'm assuming it's heavy cream but again with that language barrier. I want to be sure.

And lastly-- 200 to 300 cookies! Holy Cookie Abundance! Any ideas on if the recipe would work just as well being halved?

I can't wait to try this!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Favorites

With Chanukah now upon us (December 11-19, 2009), surrenderedsoul is sharing her Friday favorites. Thank you!!
This site is great for historical information on Chanukah, as well as fun things like songs, recipes etc. It showcases some videos as well. But it isn't just a great site for Chanukah but for all things Jewish. It breaks all the holidays down into different sections and is a wealth of information.

This site is a bit more religious in it's design and information but is a good source of knowledge for Chanukah facts, Jewish Law, and over all discussions about this holiday and all things Jewish. it even has a section where you can ask a Rabbi any questions you might have that have gone unanswered.
If you are looking for a website to send religious gifts pertaining to Chanukah or other Jewish holidays, this site is helpful. They have some keepsake items for sale, as well as practical items such as kiddush cups, Challah Boards, and Mezuzahs. A little on the pricey side, but their quality is good and customer service is excellent when needing to return an item.
If you are in need of a website to explain Chanukah to children and a place where they can learn while having fun playing games about Chanukah, then this is the site for you. Even my 23 month old daughter enjoys going to this site because the characters are cute. It would also be great for children ages 3 to 10 who can work more independently.

My Jewish
This site is nice in that if you provide them your email address they will email you a new recipe weekly for your favorite Jewish recipes. As it gets closer to each Jewish holiday the recipes pertain to that holiday. Over the years I have gotten some really great recipes from this site. But what I like most about it is that you just sign up and they do the rest. I don't have to search for anything or try and think up a new dish to make. It is provided for me via email and I just have to open, read, shop, and cook.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Chocolate Chip Peppermint Cookies

I guess Nieman Marcus has a Christmas cookie that has peppermint bark in them. I have never had them but heard about them so thought why can't I make my favorite Chocolate Chip cookie recipe and add my own homemade peppermint bark. And here they are....

2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup white sugar
1 package instant vanilla pudding mix
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup peppermint bark - broken up into fairly small pieces (homemade recipe below but store bought is fine too)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In one bowl, whisk flour and baking soda and set aside. In a larger bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar and white sugar. Blend in the pudding mix until smooth, then the vanilla and eggs. Slowly work the flour mixture in. Finally, add chocolate chips and peppermint bark.

Make them into little balls and drop them onto your cookie sheet (or just spoon drop on to cookie sheet). You can flatten them a little, because these don't spread very much. But I really like puffy cookies so I don't flatten many of them. Even flattening them though they still make pretty rounded cookies. They keep their size and shape really well. Bake for 12-14 minute

Peppermint Bark
2 lbs. white almond bark (1 package - I think that is 2 lbs)
1 1/2 c. crushed peppermint candy

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper (I use a jelly roll pan). Break and cut bark into smaller pieces and place in 2 quart bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes and stir and then microwave 2 to 1 minute(s). Stir every 1 to 2 minutes and repeat process until pieces are completely melted. Crush either peppermint candy canes or peppermint hard candy in blender until in very small pieces or close to a powder. Mix hard crushed candy with melted white almond bark. Spread on lined cookie sheet. Let it harden and break into pieces. I break some in small pieces for the cookies and the rest in larger pieces to serve as candy.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Gift Idea - Handmade Calendar

One year I made a calendar for some friends. This took a while but it could have been simplified by doing just a single image - such as stenciling a trio of leaves on a piece of tweed fabric, cutting them out and gluing them down on the card stock for November. Really this idea could be implemented in so many different ways - using photos, paints, rubber stamps, fabric, quotes, scrapbook supplies, the computer (such as photoshop) or whatever you have around your house. I used card stock as the base and then just let my imagination go. After I was done, I just used a binder clip to hold them together and it also can be hung on the wall by that.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ritz Mint "Cookies"

I am not a big fan of Ritz crackers. I know probably very odd. So when I saw this recipe I thought that doesn't even sound good to me. But Master loves minty sweets so I decided to make them. And oh my how I love them too. They were an unexpected surprise the salt from the cracker against the mint and chocolate just tasted really good to me.

This recipe is from Kraft - I got it from their Food and Family magazine.

1 pkg. (8 squares) Semi-Sweet Chocolate, melted, slightly cooled
1/4 tsp. peppermint extract
1 sleeve Ritz Crackers (36 crackers)
1 candy cane (6 inch), crushed

Mix chocolate and extract.

Dip crackers in chocolate, turning to completely coat each cracker. Carefully scrape off excess chocolate. Place crackers in single layer on waxed paper-covered baking sheets; sprinkle with crushed candy.

Refrigerate for 30 min. or until chocolate is firm.

I have never done the variation because Master doesn't like peanut butter but I know know I would love them!

Chocolate-Peanut Butter "Cookies"
Omit peppermint extract and candy cane. Spread each cracker with thin layer of peanut butter before dipping in the melted chocolate.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Favorites

Holiday Baking Essential List - must haves for baking during the holidays

DELISH: 8 Easy and Elegant Christmas Candle Ideas - just a quick do's and don't when decorating with candles

Simply Recipes Turkey Leftover Recipes, BHG Fresh Ideas for Leftover Turkey, and Food Network Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes - all sites with ideas for your Thanksgiving leftovers

Martha Stewart Handmade Cards - if you are mailing out cards...this is the time to finish up handmade cards or to buy some (photo from Martha Stewart)

5 dollar magazines - Amazon is having a special $5 for a year subscription to Real Simple, House Beautiful, Food and Wine, Southern Living and several others.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Cooking Tips

These are Thanksgiving day
(and day before) cooking what to do if your turkey is still frozen, reminder to clean out your fridge so it has room for those make ahead dishes and left overs, what do do if you over salt your gravy and so on.

Eat Turkey - Holiday Cooking Tips

Food & Wine Thanksgiving Tips

BHG Thanksgiving Kitchen Tips

Holiday Cooking Q&A

10 Trick for a Trouble-Free Thanksgiving

Make Fool Proof Gravy

How to Fix 10 Common Problems

Martha Stewart Turkey Tips

How to Carve a Turkey

BHG Thanksgiving Kitchen Emergencies

Martha Stewart Recipes for Leftovers

Butterball Turkey-Talk Line - 800-BUTTERBALL (800-288-8372)

ADDING: BHG Roasting Guide -- This is REALLY a great link but I think you need to be a member. Being a member is a free sign up. And you can opt out of their mailings. I get a few of the newsletters though as they are good. Anyway back to the link it is has more then just how to roast a turkey it does it for beef, chicken and so on. But you put in when you want the turkey to be done, the weight and it will tell you so much great info on how to get that turkey done by the time you want.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christmas Cookies: Peanut Butter Blossoms

* 48 Hershey's Kisses
* 1/2 cup shortening (or butter)
* 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
* 1/3 cup granulated sugar
* 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
* 1 egg
* 2 tablespoons milk
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* Granulated sugar

Heat oven to 375°F. Remove wrappers from chocolates.

Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate into center of each cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. About 4 dozen cookies.

This recipe can be doubled also as they make good gifts.

High Altitude: Add an extra 1/4 cup flour and I grease all my cookies sheets

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Travel For The Holidays

Instead of me outlining my domestic godessness (cough) to all of you, I'm asking anyone out there to give it to me.

We're traveling for the holidays. We'd be leaving on Tuesday night, arriving on Wednesday night, and eating at noon on Thursday. That'll include one night in a hotel before we get there, and when we get there, very little time/space to contribute to the cooking of the Thanksgiving feast. My mom will have the stove occupied with the turkey and other trimmings.

So I'm looking for recipes of things that will travel well. At best, I can bring a cooler and keep it cold with ice. I'd have to cook it on Tuesday so it also needs to store for two days without losing flavor/form/whatever.

Any suggestions for awesome Thanksgiving recipes? Anything from potatoes and side items to desserts to hors d'oeuvres? Even something I could whip up quick on Thursday morning, if it didn't require oven use?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Favorites

These are a few of my favorite things...

Thanksgiving chat with Alton Brown: Admittedly, everyone I know that's brined a turkey has done so after watching Alton Brown do it on Good Eats. The chat's from 2001, but Alton Brown weighs in on everything from side dishes to desserts to turkey and ham, including recipe ideas and alternatives for traditional dishes.

Chipotle Bacon Jam Recipe: Because bacon makes everything better. Well, nearly everything... and what it won't fix, I bet new shoes will!

Seriously... how yummy does a simmered concoction of bacon, garlic, chipotle, Mexican hot chocolate and coffee sound? This is definitely on my must-make list. If you aren't a chipotle lover, try
this version.

Crafty Love: Perfect for
knitters, crocheters, designers, spinners, and dyers... Ravelry is my addiction. And I'm not alone... over half a million have joined this site. It's one of the best laid out social communities I've seen, that helps me keep track of my yarn, tools, and patterns, and look to others for ideas and inspiration. My favorite part? The ability to see what other people have done with the same yarn that I have no idea what to do with.

Tyler Florence's French Onion Soup
One of my favorite comfort foods is French Onion Soup. Not the ones that taste just like broth from a can with cheese on top... I want the complex richness of wine and seasonings, perfectly paired with the right amount of cheese. Especially during the holidays... this is one of those dishes to savor and unwind over.

5 Homemade Bath Salts & Soaks I'm a big believer in devoting some time to relaxing and unwinding-- especially during the holidays. Here's some recipes for homemade bath salts and soaks, as well as recipes for homemade foot soaks. (Great for gifts, too!)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sinful Torte

I have seen this recipe under many names but I call it sinful as it is oh so good.

First Layer: 1 cup unsifted flour, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 cup butter or margarine softened, 1 cup finely chopped walnuts (have used almonds too)

Mix together flour, sugar, butter and walnuts until crumbly. Press in the bottom of a greased 9x13 baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes - until lightly brown. Cool.

Second Layer: 8 oz. package cream cheese - softened, 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 cup cool whip

Beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Fold the whipped topping. Spread over cooled crust.

Put the pan in the fridge while you prepare the third layer.

Third Layer: 1 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 3 cup whole milk, 4 egg yolks, 3 tbls butter, 1 1/2 tsp vanilla, 3 squares unsweetened chocolate - chopped

In a medium saucepan combine sugar, flour and salt. Gradually stir in milk and chocolate. Cook over medium until thickened and bubbly. Stir constantly. Reduce heat, cook and stir two minutes. Remove from heat. Separate eggs. Beat yolks slightly in bowl. Stir 1 cup of the chocolate mix into the yolks. Return all to saucepan, bring to gentle boil, cook, stir 2 more minutes. Remove from heat - stir in butter and vanilla. Cool in fridge before gently spreading over second layer.

Forth Layer: After the third layer is cool, spread the rest of the whipped topping. Keep refrigerated until serving.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Holiday Prep: Nov. 16-22

This is what I would like to get done this week in preparing for the holidays...but I am sure it won't all get done as we have to go out of town for business for 3 days. But here is it anyway...

1. Finalize Thanksgiving menu (I would normally do this earlier but we were unsure if we would have an oven for Thanksgiving - but we will. It is delivered today.)
2. Make out shopping list for Thanksgiving
3. Start watching grocery store sales to see what I can start buying for Thanksgiving but also holiday baking and party needs.
4. Make a list any more supplies needed to make Christmas gifts (I did a budget last week to know how much I can spend)
5. Start updating holiday-card mailing lists (We have 2 lists - business holiday cards we send out and then personal)
6. Get holiday cards out (I bought them last year - if I hadn't I would start making them or buy them now)
7. Get Thanksgiving linens out - make sure laundered and pressed
8. If making any table decorations for thanksgiving, get started on those.

Here are some good links for holiday prep...
Plan-it Thanksgiving from Ocean Spray - the site not only has a printable calender but it has tips for stress-free prep, menu planning, a serving calculator, table setting help and other helpful tips in planning Thanksgiving.

Free Thanksgiving Planner - this is lovely. It is a pdf file that you print out - it has a place for shopping list, recipes, menu planning, guest list, a calendar, seating arrangement and then just a place for notes and ideas. It looks prettier then the one I have for my holiday planning folder so I am going to print this one out for this year. And try to create one just as pretty for next year.

From Real Simple 10 Tricks to a trouble-free Thanksgiving - it has problems with solutions.

Real Simple Thanksgiving Timeline

(meant to post this yesterday but of course the internet went down just as I was going to)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Baked Brie with fruit and nuts

This is a great "prepare ahead" appetizer that is always well received!


• 1/2 cup apple, chopped
• 1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
• 1/4 cup pecans, chopped
• 1/4 cup dried cranberries
• 1 Tablespoon brown sugar, packed
• 1/4 teaspoon cassia cinnamon
• 1 Tablespoon butter, melted
• 1 round (8 ounces) Brie cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Coarsely chop apple with food processor. Combine apple, apricots, pecans, cranberries, brown sugar and cinnamon in small bowl and mix gently. Stir in butter just until ingredients are moistened.
3. Cut Brie in half horizontally. Place one half of the round, rind side down, on pan. Spoon half of the apple mixture onto bottom half of Brie, spreading evenly. Top with remaining half of Brie, rind side up. Spoon remaining apple mixture over top. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until cheese is soft and just begins to melt.
4. Serve with sliced French bread.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tips from Woman's Day for the Holidays - Part 2

Part 2 of the Woman's Day November 17, 2009 issue holiday tips. It had quite a few tips on how to save money around the holidays...I thought I would share some of my favorites but with my spin on them.

I couldn't find a link to the whole article but I did find a link to one little section of tips on 4 ways to host a cheap party. I really love doing a party that just has appetizers and desserts. The other tip about sticking to one drink is a good idea. A friend had a Halloween party this year and she served 2 mixed drinks and that was it...everyone loved it.

I also suggest having a hot-cocoa party. If you want to do a little gift for your guests to take away, make some handmade ornaments, some homemade hot-cocoa mix or give them tins with cookies. Maybe do a Holiday movie night with different flavored popcorns and the hot-cocoa bar. Many possibilities in making a party less expensively.

For gift giving...
They had tip called the "rule of 20" - which was sit down and make a list of everyone you have to give a gift to and then whittle that down to 20 gifts.

Family Gifts - Such as if you have a your whole brother's family why not just do a family gift instead of 6 gifts for every person in the family. I think good family gifts are board games, a classic movie on dvd and a box of microwave popcorn, a popcorn popper with some popcorn and popcorn seasoning (that is good to make at home too), tickets to a play or movies, family memberships to the zoo or a museum, a box of fruit, a basket of different hot cocoas and teas or a basket of hot cocoa (make it homemade) with different add-ins homemade marshmallows, caramel syrup, red-hots or peppermint sticks, candied ginger (look here for more add-in suggestions).

Co-workers - Do you have to give to all your co-workers? Why not just bring in food. Such as holiday cookies and candies or bring in breakfast - make an egg casserole or muffins and fruit salad.

Friends - Get all your friends together for brunch or lunch. And say that being together is your gift to each other. One year all of us got together to go to the local museum and then to lunch and that was our gift to each other quality time together during the holidays. It was much needed during the stress of the season so was a great gifts to have fun and laugh with my favorite girlfriends.

Gift Exchange - pick names, rotate names with your family one yer have Aunt Sue and then the next your brother-in-law or do a secret santa. All these things help spend less money on gits. If you are only buying for cousin Joe instead of 13 family members that is going to cut your holiday shopping list down.

What to give...
The friend with expensive tastes - they suggest if the friend likes designer things - do a key chain or wallet. One year I did exactly that I gave a friend a key chain by her favorite designer. During the holidays they usually put those things on sale too.

The friend who is struggling - I really like what they suggested in the magazine...if it is a family that is struggling maybe pay for soccer or dance so their kids so that don't lose those activities. Or ofter to babysit. When I lived in Ohio, I had a friend really struggling and I told her I was coming to pamper her. I told her I would be making dinner while she soaked her feet and read a novel. That way I brought over bags of groceries. Much more then was needed for dinner. And stocked her fridge and pantry. The dinner I made - made plenty of left overs that I froze so she could take to lunch or have for dinner on busy nights. She also got to just sit in a chair and relax for a bit. And indulge in some pampering which when you are struggling that is something that doesn't happen often. I also have done gift certificates for this at places that I know they can get staples such as I have given gas gift cards or gift cards for Target or Walmart knowing they could get groceries if needed with it. Because if they are struggling those things are needed although I would love to give them something more personal sometimes what is needed is more meaningful.

The friend who has everything - They suggest looking at their daily life - do they go to coffee everyday? do they use put out fresh flowers weekly? do they listen to music on their way home from work? Use those things to brainstorm....maybe a travel mug with a gift certificate to their favorite coffee place, a new vase with flowers or a cd you think they would like. In The Art of Giving book they suggest homemade things - cookies, flavored vinegars and oils for cooking, infused liquors, shoe bags, coasters, sachets, candles, soaps and bath salts. And that is usually what I go for when the person has everything or the person is hard to buy for also.

The person who never likes anything - WD suggests giving the person what they already like...a bottle of wine they like, a perfume they like, music from an artist they like and so on.

Mom and Dad - WD suggests hobby gifts. Ask a person who already does that hobby what they really liked as a gift. The hard thing for me on this one is my parents really don't have hobbies. Their free time is spent with their church and family. So I usually look to that category above people who have everything or are hard to buy for. I do think it is a good idea though to go to hobbies for that person that has everything too. Maybe give that knitter a really extravagant yarn (ask another knitter what to get) or a walker might really like certain water bottle.

How do you save money at the holidays? What are you favorite gift giving ideas?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Favorites

Tank Top Totes - Master doesn't see that I need many purses as I go almost every where with him. So I don't have very many purses. But when we travel I am or go out on jobs I carry a tote. And so these caught my eye. Inexpensive to make and so cute! Also eco-friendly as you are recycling by repurposing. In addition to those wonderful qualities, I think these would be great holiday presents. (Photo from Crafty Nest)

Slow Cooker Favorites by Cooking Light - During the holidays time is a premium so I use my slow cooker non-stop as it just saves me so much time. These recipes to me are different and look so good. I can't wait to try a few out.

Love to Know Crafts - Card Making - One gifts I gave years ago was handmade cards. I made different occasion cards - birthday, anniversary, get well, blank cards, congratulations, wedding and so on. I put them in groups of 12 to 24 cards with some stamps and stickers to my grandparents. And they loved it. Not only did it save them money since they are on a fixed income. But they were handmade and they loved the thought of giving someone a handmade card especially one made by their granddaughter. I also made thank you notes one year for Master as a gift for his business. I used his logo and info on the back so it those getting it would have that on hand.

Retail Me Not - This is a place for coupon codes and discounts. I have used it MANY times. Whenever I am ordering something I stop there first to see if I can find a discount - often I at least save on shipping which I like. It also has printable grocery coupons too.

Easy Handmade Bows from BHG - Some very lovely bows and some that I never new how to make. So excited to try out.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tips from Woman's Day for the Holidays - Part 1

Woman's Day November 17, 2009 issue had quite a few tips on how to save money around the holidays...I thought I would share some of my favorites but with my spin on them...(I can't find the article online or I would link to it.)

Shop for less...

in your house - I often have things I bought throughout the year to give as gifts and then forget about. So make sure you look around your house before you do any shopping to see who you already can mark off your list.

online - they said that if you can't touch it you are less likely to buy the $130 dollar scarf verses the $30 one you found online. So shopping online will save you money. Also find places that have free shipping or direct shipping of gifts to your recipients so that you save money on mailing.

craft fairs - handmade items that are beautiful, thoughtful and usually cost less. Also you can combine this one and the one above by shopping online at

thrift stores - It has to be the right item to me but I agree with this one. One year I found a really pretty necklace that I knew was the perfect style for a friend so got it for her.

Something not to spend money on...wrapping paper.

* We have tourist information not to far from us and we stop in often so I can pick up a free Colorado map to use in art. But this year I am going to wrap gifts in a map. I am going to circle where we are on it. Maybe do some decoration around it. And then I will put a tag on it that says something about from M & d in Colorado to....the names of the people getting it. I might print off a little section of map from where they live and make a tag out of that saying from Colorado to...whatever state they are in.

* I also had a couple beautiful calendars last year and the year before that I saved I think I will use them as wrapping paper and also to make bows like I described in the book review of Simply Green Giving.

* If you have kids, give them some blank pages of newsprint or other paper to draw on and use that to wrap gifts.

* Fabric - I have some cream colored muslin that I could use fabric paint on or I could hand stitch some holiday shapes such as stars, candy canes or stockings on it. Or just tie it up with a pretty holiday ribbon.

* Newspaper isn't my favorite wrapping - but if you do it so that the lines are crisp and decorate it with a pretty tag and bow then it can look stunning.

* Brown paper sacks with rubber stamping on them or cut out silver foil stars or last years greeting cards and glue on to it.

Reinvent your spending less then $10.

* lights - One year we went to a friends house that had a couple trees in their home but one tree was just lights and use an item she already had as a tree antique silk shawl that I had seen her wear often but now looked so pretty as the tree skirt. When I was growing up my Mom put around the front door a string of lights and green garland (whatever she found cheapest - evergreen, on). And that simple decoration always gave a holiday glow that said home to me.

* music - playing music at home sets the mood for the whole house.

* family photos - Dig out the old holiday photos and replace the ones you have out right now with those. Buy some dollar store plain frames and apply red or green buttons on it. Or decoupage some gift wrap on to it. The holidays are about family so having those memories scattered throughout the house creates a great holiday decoration.

* fabric - hit the fat quarters and least inexpensive fabrics to make a table topper or cover over an existing pillow. I saw a really cute picture in Better Homes and Garden of a pillow covered with red fabric. They wrapped it up just like a package and then tied it with a pretty green ribbon. And had pretty pillow packages on the couch.

They had a lot of tips so I think I will split this into a 2 part post.

Monday, November 9, 2009

100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do

Excellent article on service from a restaurateur's perspective

Part 1 (tips 1-50)
Part 2 (tips 51-100)

My favorite: 9. Do not recite the specials too fast or robotically or dramatically. It is not a soliloquy. This is not an audition.

Book Review: 2 Christmas Books

Christmas: Making the Perfect Celebration by Carolyn Bell

If you want a complete guide that gives you ideas for food, entertaining, decorations, gift giving and crafts for the holiday season - this is the book for you. The book begins with a countdown to Christmas, with helpful tips on what to buy when, and which preparations should be done first. It includes a week-by-week countdown to help you plan and organize your Christmas shopping and cooking, plus a timetable for preparing food on Christmas Day and suggested holiday menus. I found the recipes and projects to range from simple to complex. There are projects on how to create a festive table setting, how to decorate your home with projects to make wreaths, garland and candles, how to make homemade ornaments to decorate your Christmas tree and how to create your own holiday cards and gift-wrap. It has a whole section of crafts to make with kids too. Their are menus and recipes for holiday dinners, vegetarian meals, party foods and buffet dishes. The recipes include several different stuffing recipes, sauces and preserves, desserts and treats, drinks and cocktails and edible gifts. There were some recipes that sounded delicious to me and others that I didn't sound appetizing to me at all. I really enjoyed the vegetarian meal selections. The book also included techniques on how to test cakes to see if they are done, how to make almond past and royal icing, how to stuff and roast a turkey, how to make a glaze and so on.

As I said it is a complete guide to Christmas...with over 200 recipes, 50 projects and 1400 color photographs.

Although I think the book was very well done and has so much to offer I didn't make notes while I had this checked out and I didn't create any of the crafts. I am not sure if that though was because I checked it out in the summer and wasn't yet really in the holiday planning stage. I do think it would be worth another look. I remember really enjoying the edible gifts recipes and many of the crafts.

Christmas in Minutes: Festive Crafts in Less Than an Hour by Carol Cox

Product description:
Who isn't busy during the holidays? Clear, concise instructions teamed with brilliant yet simple ideas make this new book a must-have for holiday crafters with little free time on their hands. Taking only five to fifty-five minutes to complete, each project can be fitted into a busy schedule. The 30 projects are arranged in sections according to the time required to complete them. For example, gift tags decorated with bay leaves and rosemary sprigs can be made in under 15 minutes. It takes only 30 minutes to make a calla lily centerpiece. Forty-five minutes is plenty of time to make door wreaths, a glimmering silver twig tree, or an elegant eucalyptus garland. Designs use simple and available materials (natural or artificial) such as pinecones, fruits, ribbons, cinnamon sticks and grapevine wreaths to give your home that handcrafted feel without a lot of work.

If you are intimidated by flower arranging or using flowers in your decorating, this book might be a good start. It has some simple projects to do in 15 to 45 minutes that look elegant and just perfect for the holidays. I am not going to say it is great book. It does have some good arrangements but some of them are also a little busy - to me. But for a start - I think it would be a good to even just read to get ideas.

Some of the projects...
Cally Lily Tree (on the cover)
Dried Apple Ring
Berry Heart Chairback
Festive Pinecone
Clove studded and carved limes
Leaf Wrapped Candles

Also how-to instructions on how to make a triple bow, dry fruit, make lime roses, moss rope and so on.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Repurpose Containers for Holiday Giving



We get the big tins of nuts at SAM's and so throughout the year I keep them to decorate and give Christmas cookies and candy in as gifts. The nuts are great for the holiday season to make chex mix or candy clusters.

The tins can be decorated in many ways. Cover it with scrapbook paper or decoupage it gift wrap or scrap paper. I painted them with gesso first. It is a primer that helps the paint stick. I then just sponge painted over the gesso with the inexpensive craft paint. A few I handpainted with Christmas trees.

For the lids - some of them I used gesso on some of the lids and sponge painted them too. And others I cut round template from paper and covered with paper. A few I rubber stamped like the on in the picture. Others I just covered with solid red or green paper and did a little note or tag on the top for the recipient. Others I hung the tags off the side like in the picture.

I didn't buy any tins or containers last year to give gifts. Everything I gave was in a repurposed container. I used oatmeal containers, glass jars, plastic tubs (cool whip, margarine or yogurt) and crystal light containers (that are a tall tube) covered with scrapbook paper or wrapping paper. Every jar or container I use I try to think of another way to repurpose it. They are easy to decorate and great for giving holiday treats.

(I will try to post a few more pictures of containers that I repurpose this year.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Favorites

Epicurious Thanksgiving - recipes, menus and videos

Kaboose Thanksgiving - recipes, decorations, crafts

Thanksgiving Crafts - BHG thanksgiving crafts - paper crafts, table top crafts and crafts to do with kids

Handmade Gift Guide - a huge list with links to handmade gifts to make for kids, grandparents, men, co-workers and so on.

Martha Stewart Christmas - Christmas crafts, cards, decorations, cookies, gift wrapping ideas, gift ideas

(Photo from BHG link - easy table decorations)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Book Review: The Art of Giving

The Art of Giving: Gift Ideas to Delight the Senses by by Liezel Norval-Kruger

This is from description from publishers:
Gift giving is a universal custom, but in today's harried world many of us have moved away from the more considered and creative aspects of what should be a very personal act. It should be a gesture of love, friendship, celebration, acknowledgment, and thanks. The Art of Giving is filled with inspirational ideas and practical information for the discerning gift giver on how to achieve beautiful, artful, and thoughtful gifts.

Taste, smell, and touch are the pivotal chapters. They draw on our capacity to indulge ourselves and those we love through each particular sense. Each chapter is filled with ideas and tantalizing images, as well as practical information on how to create and present wonderful gifts. Another chapter, on wrapping, will show you how to achieve expert finishing touches and inspired solutions to the most awkward of gift shapes. From handcrafted soaps and homemade potpourri to beautifully wrapped candies and an entire picnic for two, the endless variety of ideas in this book offer something for everyone. Turn to the back of the book for recipes, templates, diagrams, labels, and other do-it-yourself essentials to tell you how to do it all. For anyone who wants to create and give gifts that are more expressive, meaningful, and heartfelt than something grabbed off the shelf or ordered over the phone, The Art of Giving offers a wealth of inspiration and practical advice.

I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the photos and the style of the gifts and ideas. The Art of Giving is filled with lots of DIY gift ideas that are inexpensive, attractive and simple to make. Also this is a great book to find ideas for those on your gift list that are impossible to shop for people. The book I previously reviewed about green giving...was good but this book has better ideas that could be implemented with green options. Such as it has tubes covered with paper, photos or postcards. Or gifts wrapped in news paper and then tied pretty ribbon that don't look cheap but look like it was wrapped professionally because the folds are so crisp. Or wrapped with felt and embroidery thread to do simple stitches to close it. All their examples were lovely and I can't wait to try some of them out this year for holiday giving.

The book includes recipes, craft templates and instructions and label templates in the back of the book also.

Some crafts and recipes I want to try and give....
Milk & Honey Bread
Infused Brandy
Fresh Feet Bath
Shoe Bags
Sewing Kits (that would be good for men or women)
Beaded Coasters
Hot Chocolate Cream

Plus MANY MANY more ideas.

If you can't get to the book before the holidays, here are a few links to help inspire and create.....

Felt Sewing Kit by Martha Stewart

Altoid Tin Sewing Kit - I don't think this one is done as well as it could be but it does provide inspiration

Mending on the Go Kit

Cocktail Times - Pear Infused Vodka - look at the related links too - they have herbal infused vodka, cranberry spiced infused vodka and a couple others.

Married with Dinner - Pear Brandy - I like the tag she did on the bottle too

Amateur's Guide to Drinking - Infuse This - Pear and Vanilla Infused Sake & Strawberry and Cherry Infused Brandy

Betz White Shoe Bag Tutorial

Craft Ideas - Shoe Bag Instructions

Beaded Coasters by Martha Stewart

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book Review: Simply Green

I am going to do these reviews together since they are very similar books by the same author. These are books I wouldn't necessarily buy but check out from the library. Both give some really creative green alternatives.

Simply Green Parties: Simple and resourceful ideas for throwing the perfect celebration, event, or get-together by Danny Seo

I really enjoyed the photos/styling of this book. I enjoyed many of the ideas. Seo brings the concept to reduce, recycle and reuse upfront in party planning. Very nice ideas about reusing household items or getting items at thrift stores to repurpose for party decor. Many of the ideas are very chic and can be adapted to fit your needs.

Okay so the bad things....There were some things I didn't get why he felt they were green. I mean there shouldn't be a lot of trash after a green party. And he suggested using bamboo paper plates. Now that is more eco-friendly then the plastic disposable plates or regular paper plates...but what would be even more eco-friendly is using real everyday plates. Getting a plain white porcelain plate - and you can plan any party around that. Or picking up odd sets at thrift stores and mixing and matching is always to me a better choice then paper. He also did bottled water. Plastic bottles water bottles....I loved what he did with them making flavor waters but why not pitchers of filtered tap water with fruit in them instead of plastic water bottles.

Simply Green Giving: Create Beautiful and Organic Wrappings, Tags, and Gifts from Everyday Materials by Danny Seo

I liked this book better then the party book. Again I really enjoyed the photos/styling of this book. He really hits the concept to reduce, recycle and reuse over and over. Some nice ideas about reusing household items or getting items at thrift stores to repurpose to wrap your gifts, make handmade gifts and gift tags.

I enjoyed seeing him make bows from the scented perfume cards in magazines. He tore them out very carefully. And then opened up the scented edge. He cut 1/2-inch strips across the sheet, starting at the scented edge and stopping an inch from the end. Then you fold it up accordion style - neatly stacking the strips on top of each other. With a pair of sharp scissors take each strip and curl by pulling it over the blade. The quicker you pull it over the blade the curlier it will get. And then attach to gift. The colors and images on the bow turn into a bouquet of colorful ribbon.

He also used the same concept of curling ribbon by pulling VHS tape out of the plastic tape cassette. And he wrapped a wine bottle in newspaper leaving 5 inches extra on top and cut that into strips and curled also.

Some things I didn't feel looked great. He took an old string of christmas lights to tie around a package but I just didn't think it looked good. I believe it probably could have but I just don't feel it was styled right in the book. Something else I wasn't sure about was that he used the inside of silver foil part of potato chip bags to wrap gifts. He washed them of course and then wrapped so the silver was showing out. But I just wonder how someone would feel opening a gift wrapped in a potato chip bag? I guess if they knew you were going green maybe they would accept it but would they think you were weird? Does it matter to save the environment? I don't know. But I thought it was odd. It looked pretty in the book - just wasn't sure how someone would feel opening a gift wrapped in it.

Overall the book did give me ideas for wrapping and decorating gifts more eco-friendly. I think often people forget repurposing is a green option. I will be posting a few things I did last year to wrap gifts by repurposing containers - nut containers, frosting and even a grated Parmesan cheese container.

Meanwhile check out these links for gift wrapping and especially green gift wrapping...

Gaiam Life - 10 Green Gift Wrapping Ideas

Passionate Homemaking - Frugal and Green Gift Wrapping

Green Package Wrap Ideas

Earth Easy - Gift Wrapping Alternatives

Also I posted these links before but are good ones at the holidays...
Paper bow making - Recycling magazines, old books and scrapbooking paper

There is also a great article on gift wrapping in Simply Service Holiday 2008 issue by marg_it.


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