12 Days of Christmas Crafts and Recipes: Better-Than-Presents Cake

peppermint fudge cake better than sex heath bar christmas baking holiday recipes

I think everyone has had some version of the acclaimed Better-than-$&# cake.  In my family, we innocently call it Heath Bar Cake but the result is the same – decadent, moist, fudgy deliciousness with a pillow of whipped topping and covered in crunchy bits.  This is the Ultimate dessert, and for good reason, just check out the ingredients! Absolutely no health benefits here, this is pure indulgence. :)

I changed up the recipe slightly for some holiday festivity, using the Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge boxed cake (the original uses Devil’s Food) and some peppermint bark from Trader Joe’s (the original is crushed up Heath bars).  I might prefer the original just for nostalgia’s sake, but this is definitely a fun and festive variation!

Ingredients:

peppermint bark cake better than sex heath bar holiday dessert recipe

  • 1 box of Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge Cake mix
  • 1 can sweetened, condensed milk
  • 1 jar Mrs. Richardson’s hot fudge
  • 1 tub Cool Whip
  • 6-8 ounces Peppermint Bark, like Trader Joe’s, coarsely chopped

peppermint fudge cake cool whip better than sex heath bar holiday baking recipes

Directions:

Bake chocolate cake according to box instructions. Allow to cool, slightly.

peppermint bark cake better than sex heath bar holiday dessert recipe

Using back end of a wooden spoon, poke holes through the cake.

peppermint bark cake better than sex heath bar holiday dessert recipe

Pour consdensed milk over top of cake, making sure milk gets down into poked holes.  Wait a few minutes until condensed milk is absorbed.

peppermint bark cake better than sex heath bar holiday dessert recipe

Warm up your hot fudge to a spreadable consistency, then pour over top of cake.  I like to then tap the pan against a kitchen towel on the counter to encourage the fudge to run down into the holes.

peppermint bark cake better than sex heath bar holiday dessert recipe

Refrigerate fudge-topped cake overnight for best results.

The next day, top cake with Cool Whip (that you shave stored in the fridge, not the freezer, otherwise you have to thaw and final consistency can be too wet, just ask me how I know) and sprinkle chopped peppermint bark pieces on top.

peppermint fudge cake cool whip better than sex heath bar holiday baking recipes

Don’t be a grinch now, share!

 


12 Days of Christmas Crafts and Recipes: Persimmon Cake

David Lebovitz persimmon cake holiday christmas dessert epicurious recipes

Earlier this year, my husband and I moved into a cute little rental in a charming, established neighborhood, replete with mature fruit trees.  Imagine my delight when, come autumn, my next door neighbor had not one, but two, persimmon trees bursting with the gorgeous orange orbs!  I eat the Fuyus raw and put them in salads, but the Hachiyas, which I used in this modified recipe from David Lebovitz, are great for baking.  Hachiyas should feel heavy and soft, with skins about to burst when ready to use.

Ingredients:

Cake

David Lebovitz persimmon cake holiday christmas dessert epicurious recipes

  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup whiskey
  • 2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups persimmon purée
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Icing

  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 4 or 5 teaspoons water

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Use an empty butter wrapper to grease the inside of a Bundt cake pan.

David Lebovitz persimmon cake holiday christmas dessert epicurious recipes

For the cake:

Prepare persimmon puree by scooping soft flesh from persimmons into a bowl, discarding skins and stem.

David Lebovitz persimmon cake holiday christmas dessert epicurious recipes

Transfer pulp to a blender and blend until smooth.  Measure out 1 1/2 cups for this recipe, then store any extra in an airtight container in the freezer.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the cranberries and whiskey to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and let cool.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the sugar and softened butter on medium until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat on medium-low until just incorporated. Gently mix in the persimmon purée and 2 teaspoons vanilla.

David Lebovitz persimmon cake holiday christmas dessert epicurious recipes

Add flour mixture to bowl, in 3 parts, beating just until incorporated. Fold in the cranberries and the walnuts. Do not overmix.

David Lebovitz persimmon cake holiday christmas dessert epicurious recipes

Scrape the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Once cool, invert the cake onto your cooling rack, which has been positioned over a jelly roll pan.

David Lebovitz persimmon cake holiday christmas dessert epicurious recipes

For the icing:

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese and 1 tablespoon butter on high speed until smooth. Beat in the 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and the lemon juice, then gradually add the powdered sugar, beating on high speed until smooth. Add the 4 teaspoons water; the icing should be pourable. If necessary, add 1 more teaspoon water.

David Lebovitz persimmon cake holiday christmas dessert epicurious recipes

Pour the icing around the top of the cake, then tap the plate on a folded kitchen towel on the countertop to encourage the icing to run down the sides of the cake.

David Lebovitz persimmon cake holiday christmas dessert epicurious recipes

Transfer cake to your favorite cake platter and serve.  While my icing technique has never been great, this cake is gorgeous! Think of a decadently wholesome and delicious version of fruitcake, without any of those strangely fluorescent gooey things.  So good!

David Lebovitz persimmon cake holiday christmas dessert epicurious recipes

 


High Time Halloween Ideas

We decided to throw together a last-minute party for Halloween this year so I hit up the Dollar Store to see what I could find.  Never a big fan of anything cheesy (though my husband is all about giant blow up lawn ornaments and the like – we’ll battle that one out at Christmas, I’m sure!), I tend to look for inexpensive basics that I can dress up.  What I found on my recent trip were black serving plates, a black plastic tablecloth, some cheesecloth, the fake spiderwebs you find at most places, and some lovely rubber rats. I went to the dollar store specifically looking for black construction paper, which I unfortunately did not find, so went through my scrapbooking stash and luckily found about 4 sheets of black cardstock (which you can buy at Joann’s or Michael’s).

So, for a whopping $6, I turned my food table into a spooky serving place by layering the cheesecloth over the normally-tacky black plastic tablecloth, adding the rats for some extra creepiness.  I used the fake spiderwebs to add some festivity to the front door and the coffee table and used last year’s decor to top it off.

halloween decorating ideas cheap craft diy dollar store bats spooky creepy

With the black scrapbook paper, I decided to make some bats to hang from the ceiling, after a summer road trip through Austin, TX where we watched the Congress Ave bats take flight at dusk.

halloween decorating ideas cheap craft diy dollar store bats spooky creepy

To do this, I found a silhouette image of a bat on the internet, traced it onto a piece of paper (don’t yet have a printer in my new house), cut it out and copied it onto scrapbook paper. A trick for less tracing/cutting: fold your paper edge over and line the bat up so he is bisected lengthwise. This way, you don’t spend as much time cutting AND the crease makes the bat look like he’s in flight!

halloween decorating ideas cheap craft diy dollar store bats spooky creepy

Use a needle and fishing line, or in my case, invisible thread which I had on hand, to hang from the ceiling with clear tape.  I love the way it turned out!

halloween decorating ideas cheap craft diy dollar store bats spooky creepy

To continue with the bat theme, my husband has loved the idea of a conceptual costume ever since we donned chick magnet and deviled egg costumes a few years back. This year, we decided he would be a “dingbat”.  Easiest costume ever! Your base: black shirt, pants and shoes. Then, you need some scrap black fabric, about half a yard, for your wings, and a desk courtesy bell that you can find for cheap from your local office supply store.

All I did was cut wings from the scrap fabric by laying the shirt flat with arms stretched out at 90 degrees, lining up the corner of the fabric and scalloped the edge from wrist to hem to look like a bat wing.  When done, simply glue the wings onto the shirt seams, then hot glue the desk bell to the front of the shirt.  Hit the bell, and up go his arms! A hit with the kids, who couldn’t stop dinging him! We fashioned a quick set of bat ears with a headband and some leftover black felt, though my dear husband took the liberty of cutting them without consulting me first and he ended up looking more like a flying dingcat.  But you get the picture. :) And doesn’t my doggy make the cutest shark?

halloween decorating ideas cheap craft diy dollar store bats spooky creepy


Paddy’s Day Party Prep

St. Patrick's Day entertaining menu recipes corned beef and cabbage irish soda bread

I love to entertain.  Over time, I’ve found the more gatherings you host, the better you get in terms of time management.  Like the best known entertainers will tell you, you host events to spend time with your guests…and how much time are you spending with them if you are constantly in the kitchen?

St. Patrick’s Day gatherings at our house have become a yearly thing.  Luckily, the food is so easy to prepare, and so naturally flavorful and good that getting an algorithm down for preparation isn’t half bad.  It is a meal that is a good place to start if you are just getting into entertaining.

My usual menu goes a little something like this:

Appetizers

  • Cheese plate with crackers/fruit
  • Pretzels with a fun mustard
  • Crudites with some type of dip
St. Patty's Day entertaining recipes hosting meal planning

*I always try to stick with a theme when entertaining.  For St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll typically pick up an Irish Cheddar, a stout infused cheese and something like an English Cotswold or an Apricot Stilton or some other fun variety.  For veggies and fruit, I choose what I serve using yellow, green and white as my color palette.

St. Patrick's Day entertaining menu recipes corned beef and cabbage irish soda bread

Main meal

  • Corned beef and cabbage (and carrots and red potatoes)
  • Irish Soda Bread
  • Salad of mache, crisp green beans and tomatoes with a white wine-whole grain mustard dressing
irish soda bread recipe St. Patty's Day menu planning hosting entertaining tips tricks

*I find that the traditional corned beef in a bag that you get from your grocer is sufficiently delicious for this meal. It is so easy to not have to worry about brining and seasoning…it always comes out great!  So, to amp up the foodie factor, I spend time making my own bread and a nice salad.

Dessert

  • Rich chocolate stout cake with a ganache drizzle and french vanilla ice cream
  • Coffee and Bailey’s
chocolate stout cake recipe St. Patty's Day menu planning hosting entertaining tips tricks

* This meal is so rustic and simple, it almost demands a decadent dessert for a strong finish! A great way to round out a fabulous meal.

The key to a smooth evening is prep earlier in the week.  Cut your veggies (cabbage into quarters, red potatoes halved or quartered , depending on size and carrots peeled and chunked for your CB&C and slice your crudites for appetizers) 1-2 days ahead of time and put them in easy to grab ziploc bags or reusable containers.

St. Patrick's Day entertaining menu recipes corned beef and cabbage irish soda bread
St. Patrick's Day entertaining menu recipes corned beef and cabbage irish soda bread

I love to add blanched green beans to a simple mache and heirloom tomato salad with mustard dressing – blanch your green beans ahead of time, slice your tomatoes and make your salad dressing early.

St. Patrick's Day entertaining menu recipes corned beef and cabbage irish soda bread
St. Patrick's Day entertaining menu recipes corned beef and cabbage irish soda bread

One thing I love to do, since a cheese plate is always a staple, is cut the label from a cheese wrapper and affix it with scotch tape to a simple toothpick.  Trader Joe’s has a great cheese selection and particularly cute labels, so it is identification and cute decoration, all-in-one!  Place unwrapped cheeses in a reusable container, ready to plate!

St. Patrick's Day entertaining menu recipes corned beef and cabbage irish soda bread

If making Irish soda bread the day of (which should definitely be eaten right out of the oven!), get your wet/dry ingredients portioned out in mixing bowls and cover in plastic wrap so they are ready to go. I typically pop my unbaked loaf into the oven just after guests arrive as it takes a little over an hour to bake.  Nothing better than the smell of fresh baking bread! And don’t forget to take some butter out of the fridge the morning of to allow to soften for serving.

St. Patrick's Day entertaining menu recipes corned beef and cabbage irish soda bread

Clear out one shelf in your fridge and stick everything for that day there, so you don’t have to search for things.

St. Patrick's Day entertaining menu recipes corned beef and cabbage irish soda bread

Plan out what servingware you’ll use, pre-wash them, and set them out how you want them arranged the night before.

St. Patrick's Day entertaining menu recipes corned beef and cabbage irish soda bread

Iron your fabric napkins and polish your silverware and glassware with a clean cloth.

St. Patrick's Day entertaining menu recipes corned beef and cabbage irish soda bread

And most importantly, have a great time and enjoy your guests the day of!  Happy Entertaining!

entertaining for St. Patrick's Day

Bake Love

Valentine's Day treats cupcakes desserts rose buttercream frosting champagne chocolate covered strawberry

When you think of Valentine’s Day, what comes to mind? Love, romance, Cupid…<snore>, let’s get a little more tangible, people.  How about roses? Chocolate covered strawberries? Champagne, maybe? What if you were to combine all of those elements into one perfect edible little package…in the form of a mini cupcake? A delicate champagne cake, topped with a rich, rose-scented buttercream, garnished with a white chocolate drizzled strawberry slice. One, maybe two bites if you’re being polite, the interplay between these subtle, yet distinct flavors delivers one lovely treat.

As always, I’m a scourer of recipes, so this is a combination/adaptation.  Many thanks to Gimme Some Oven (how great is that name?) for the cake recipe and the peeps at epicurious for the fabulously pipeable buttercream frosting base. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

For the Champagne Cupcakes:

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1.5 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup champagne
  • 3 egg whites

For the Buttercream Frosting:

Valentine's Day treats cupcakes desserts rose buttercream frosting champagne chocolate covered strawberry

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3.5 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon rose water (found at specialty food stores and your local middle eastern market)
  • 1 drop red food coloring (optional, though festive)

Directions:

To Make The Cupcakes:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare a mini cupcake pan with liners.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together, and then blend into creamed mixture alternately with champagne.

    Valentine's Day treats cupcakes desserts rose buttercream frosting champagne chocolate covered strawberry

  3. In another large clean bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. You should be able to hold the bowl above your head and nothing should move.

    Valentine's Day treats cupcakes desserts rose buttercream frosting champagne chocolate covered strawberry

  4. Fold 1/3 of the whites into batter to lighten it, then fold in remaining egg whites.  Fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 full.

    Valentine's Day treats cupcakes desserts rose buttercream frosting champagne chocolate covered strawberry

  5. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

    Valentine's Day treats cupcakes desserts rose buttercream frosting champagne chocolate covered strawberry

To make the frosting:

  1. In a large bowl, mix the butter, sifted powdered sugar, salt, milk, and rose water until smooth. Mix in food coloring if using.

    Valentine's Day treats cupcakes desserts rose buttercream frosting champagne chocolate covered strawberry

For your strawberries:

Valentine's Day treats cupcakes desserts rose buttercream frosting champagne chocolate covered strawberry

  1. Wash, hull, and slice your berries into ~4-5 slices per berry.  If making minicupcakes, smaller strawberries seem to make a more proportionate garnish.

    Valentine's Day treats cupcakes desserts rose buttercream frosting champagne chocolate covered strawberry

  2. Lightly dry berries by using paper towel to remove excess moisture and place berry slices on a sheet of parchment paper.

    Valentine's Day treats cupcakes desserts rose buttercream frosting champagne chocolate covered strawberry

  3. Temper your melting chocolate and use a spoon to drizzle melted chocolate over berries (obviously, there is some room for improvement in my drizzling technique!).  Allow to dry.  Garnish your cupcakes and share the love!

    Valentine's Day treats cupcakes desserts rose buttercream frosting champagne chocolate covered strawberry


Cake Poppin’

red velvet cinnamon cream cheese frosting cake pop valentine's day treats dessert

When I first saw little cake balls on a stick at Starbucks, I honestly wasn’t very interested.  The idea of frosting and cake covered in more candy/chocolate sounded overly sweet for my preferably savory tastebuds. Then, along came Pinterest and all it’s pretty pictures…all of a sudden, just like that, I HAD to make them.

Thank goodness for Bakerella and her lovely YouTube video!  If you’re a first timer, be sure to check it out for helpful tips – you really can’t go wrong.

As Valentine’s is coming up, what better combo for a cake pop than my favorite, dreamy red velvet with cinnamon cream cheese frosting, doused in a white chocolate shell and adorned with some festive red sprinkles?  Simply, sinfully, scrumdeliumptious.

If you have a recipe for 12 cupcakes, it’ll make enough cake for about 48 cake pops.  I didn’t have enough frosting for that many, so I cut the baked cake in half.  I <gasp!> do not own a cake pan, so poured my prepared cupcake batter into a loaf pan and baked for ~45 minutes at 325, until a toothpick came out clean.

red velvet cinnamon cream cheese frosting cake pop valentine's day treats dessert

I cut the loaf in half and crumbled it up,

red velvet cinnamon cream cheese frosting cake pop valentine's day treats dessert

Added about 1/4 – 1/3 c of Cinnamon Cream Cheese frosting (I made a batch of 24 mini cupcakes the same day and frosted them – this was the amount that was leftover)

red velvet cinnamon cream cheese frosting cake pop valentine's day treats dessert

Mix the cake and frosting together and, using a cookie scoop, roll them into uniform little balls that hold together.  Stick the balls in the freezer for 15 minutes to firm them up, then switch them to the fridge – you do not want frozen balls!

red velvet cinnamon cream cheese frosting cake pop valentine's day treats dessert

Meanwhile, get your chocolate ready.  I used the narrowest and deepest microwavable vessel I had on hand, which turned out to be my trusty Pyrex liquid measurer. I filled up my Pyrex cup with my melting chocolate, put it in the microwave for two, 30 second intervals and used a spatula to stir from the inside out (just like you would if using a double boiler to melt your chocolate) to make sure everything is melted, incorporated and smooth. DO NOT OVERHEAT or your chocolate will not set properly.

red velvet cinnamon cream cheese frosting cake pop valentine's day treats dessert

Take a lollipop stick and dip 1/2 inch or so of the tip in melted chocolate.

red velvet cinnamon cream cheese frosting cake pop valentine's day treats dessert

Insert tip into firm cake ball, about halfway through (not all the way through!)

red velvet cinnamon cream cheese frosting cake pop valentine's day treats dessert

Using a straight, vertical motion, submerge your cake ball in chocolate.

red velvet cinnamon cream cheese frosting cake pop valentine's day treats dessert

Use the turn of your hand to make sure all cake is covered (do not twist the stick!)

red velvet cinnamon cream cheese frosting cake pop valentine's day treats dessert

Lift cake pop straight out of vessel, pausing to let excess drip off in a vertical fashion, THEN, turn cake pop 90 degrees and slowly spin stick in your hand.  Use your opposite hand to gently tap your palm to allow all excess to drip off as you spin (watch the video – it is easier than it sounds!)

red velvet cinnamon cream cheese frosting cake pop valentine's day treats dessert

Before chocolate has fully set, sprinkle your cake pop with your favorite adornment. Place finished cake pops in a thick styrofoam base to allow them to set and dry.

red velvet cinnamon cream cheese frosting cake pop valentine's day treats dessert

To serve, I set mine in mini cupcake papers – helps contain the sprinkles!

red velvet cinnamon cream cheese frosting cake pop valentine's day treats dessert


Positively Persimmon

PERSIMMON COOKIE RECIPE  FALL DESSERTS THANKSGIVING TREATS FLAVORS

I.LOVE.PERSIMMONS. What’s not to love about the crisp, vibrantly orange, lightly spicy-sweet fruit? It wasn’t so long ago that I didn’t understand why you would choose a strange piece of fruit after Thanksgiving dinner over traditional desserts like pumpkin pie and ambrosia (alright, alright, I probably don’t ‘choose’ so much as make room for both or all).  My uncle always has a plate of fresh Fuys out and, one year, they just looked so perfectly plump and pretty that I had to try one…and I’m so glad I did!

Now, I always look for them in the fall and buy them in numbers. Usually, I’m the only one in my household eating them and this year I actually let a few get <gasp!> overripe.  What’s a girl to do with overripe fuyus?  Same thing you do with bananas – bake ‘em up! Perusing the web, I came across this lovely photographic blog and a persimmon cookie recipe that sounded pretty tasty and decided to give it a whirl (literally!). The original recipe  (and most persimmon baking recipes) calls for Hachiyas but the Fuyus worked out great; whichever variety you choose, just make sure the persimmon is so ripe that the skin is almost translucent and bursting at the seams. The flavor and texture of the finished cookie reminds me of fall with flavors very similar to pumpkin spice.  Tasty little guys either on their own or with ice cream…butter pecan, anyone?  :)

Persimmon Cookies

PERSIMMON COOKIE RECIPE  FALL DESSERTS THANKSGIVING TREATS FLAVORS
  • 1 cup persimmon puree (about 3 persimmons)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange rind
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

For the persimmon puree, remove the stems from the persimmons and cut the fruit into chunks. Puree the chunks in a food processor until the mixture is smooth. Use a sieve to strain pulp  and remove skins.

PERSIMMON COOKIE RECIPE  FALL DESSERTS THANKSGIVING TREATS FLAVORS
PERSIMMON COOKIE RECIPE  FALL DESSERTS THANKSGIVING TREATS FLAVORS
PERSIMMON COOKIE RECIPE  FALL DESSERTS THANKSGIVING TREATS FLAVORS

Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Mix in the the orange rind, egg, vanilla, and persimmon pulp.

PERSIMMON COOKIE RECIPE  FALL DESSERTS THANKSGIVING TREATS FLAVORS

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.  Add flour mixture to wet ingredients in 2-3 batches, mixing until just incorporated. Stir in the walnuts and cranberries.

PERSIMMON COOKIE RECIPE  FALL DESSERTS THANKSGIVING TREATS FLAVORS

Drop the dough, using a small ice cream scoop onto the prepared cookie sheets.

PERSIMMON COOKIE RECIPE  FALL DESSERTS THANKSGIVING TREATS FLAVORS

Bake cookies for 20 minutes, depending on the size, rotating pan halfway though.  Allow to cool and enjoy!

PERSIMMON COOKIE RECIPE  FALL DESSERTS THANKSGIVING TREATS FLAVORS

Yarn-Wrapped Vases

yarn wrapped vases cheap craft ideas party decor hot glue gun

What to do with the leftover yarn from your Party Animals wire animal project? Pick up some cheap tin cans of varying sizes from your favorite discount store and turn them into coordinating centerpieces, that’s what! Flowers are a must for me at any type of event and when you can get them gorgeous and on the cheap from your local Trader Joe’s, this craft really is a no-brainer! We ended up using the smallest can as a utensil holder…another great way to add some texture and color to your table!

Here’s what you need:

yarn wrapped vases cheap craft ideas party decor hot glue gun

  • leftover yarn
  • hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • washed and dried tin cans (I went to Big Lots and bought the cheapest cans I could with the best size variation)
yarn wrapped vases cheap craft ideas party decor hot glue gun

Here’s what you do:

  1. Remove outer paper label from tin can and thoroughly wash both inside and outside of can.
    yarn wrapped vases cheap craft ideas party decor hot glue gun
  2. Once dry, use hot glue gun to tack end of yarn to edge of can.
  3. Wrap tin can 10-20 times or so, keeping some tension.
    yarn wrapped vases cheap craft ideas party decor hot glue gun
  4. Scrunch yarn down to cover up any openings and to create the textured look.
    yarn wrapped vases cheap craft ideas party decor hot glue gun
  5. Continue wrapping in sets of 10-20 until you reach the upper edge of can.
    yarn wrapped vases cheap craft ideas party decor hot glue gun
  6. Cut yarn and glue down on edge.  Voila!  Gorgeous vase in less than 10 minutes!
    yarn wrapped vases cheap craft ideas party decor hot glue gun

Cost: Under $4 for five vases.

yarn wrapped vases cheap craft ideas party decor hot glue gun
yarn wrapped vases cheap craft ideas party decor hot glue gun
yarn wrapped vases cheap craft ideas party decor hot glue gun

 


Party Animals

DIY birthday party crafts kids wire hangers yarn wrapped project decorations

I had the privilege of helping out in the decorating department recently for a very special one year old’s birthday.  The parents had sent out an Evite with animal silhouettes, so when I saw the brightly colored print below on sale at Joann’s, I knew it had to be apart of the celebration.  In typical thriftycrafter fashion, I made a few table runners and a new bunting to incorporate the print, but still wanted some type of wall/hanging decoration to carry the animal shape theme.

DIY birthday party crafts kids wire hangers yarn wrapped project decorations

I remembered seeing a super cute craft that a very talented friend of mine did for her sister’s baby shower that involved wrapping colored string around the wire frame of an old lampshade; I loved the textural look of it and knew I had to incorporate this technique somehow.  I decided to mimic the animal shapes from the print by bending re-purposed wire hangers from the dry cleaner, then wrapping them in interesting textural yarns that matched the colors in the fabric.  The best part?  Most of the yarn came from Big Lots and was $1/skein…now that is a thrifty craft!

We hung them along the backyard fence with invisible thread for some extra outdoor festivity.  I think they turned out so perfect and cute…the giraffe is my favorite.  What’s yours?

DIY birthday party crafts kids wire hangers yarn wrapped project decorations
DIY birthday party crafts kids wire hangers yarn wrapped project decorations
DIY birthday party crafts kids wire hangers yarn wrapped project decorations
DIY birthday party crafts kids wire hangers yarn wrapped project decorations

This last one is supposed to be a hippo, but I think the consensus was that he ended up looking like either a pig or an aardvark. :)

DIY birthday party crafts kids wire hangers yarn wrapped project decorations

Here’s what you need:

  • wire hangers
  • wire cutters
  • pliers
  • yarn
  • hot glue gun
  • scissors

Here’s what you do:

  1. Use your wire cutters to remove the top portion of the wire hanger.
    DIY birthday party crafts kids wire hangers yarn wrapped project decorations
  2. With the print in front of you, use pliers to bend the hanger to mimic the shape of the animal. Each of my animals needed wire from two hangers to complete.
    DIY birthday party crafts kids wire hangers yarn wrapped project decorations
  3. Use hot glue gun to tack separate pieces together.  Allow to cool slightly, then mold glue while it is warm (not hot!) to minimize any bulk.
    DIY birthday party crafts kids wire hangers yarn wrapped project decorations
  4. Once your wire animals are complete, spot glue end of yarn to hanger.  Wrap yarn around hanger 10-20 times, then cinch down and pull taut to create the textured, rugged look.  Repeat until you’ve covered the entire wire frame.  This part of the project can be tedious, but it is perfect if you need some mindless activity or need to catch up on your tv programs! Once completely wrapped, snip your yarn and use hot glue to affix end.
    DIY birthday party crafts kids wire hangers yarn wrapped project decorations

Cost: While 4 of my skeins were only $1 at Big Lots, I spent $9 total on yarn for the 6 animals in order to get the right bright coral and bright green for the rhino and turtle.  Still, not bad and certainly a lot of bang for your buck! Look for sales, shop your discount stores and use your Michael’s and Joann’s 40% off coupons!

DIY birthday party crafts kids wire hangers yarn wrapped project decorations

Easter Treats: Carrot Cake Cupcakes



Carrot Cake cupcake recipe easter springtime dessert ideas lemon cream cheese frosting

When I think of springtime treats, lemon desserts and carrot cake are the first things that come to mind. So why not combine the two to give you the best of both worlds?  Since I prefer the individuality of cupcakes, especially when I am making treats for different groups of people, I used this delicious-looking and rave-reviewed recipe for carrot cake and adjusted the time down for cupcakes.  To top them off, I used the lemon cream cheese frosting recipe from my archives, adapting it so that is presentable and sufficiently stiff (cold cream cheese is the key!). The results were scrumptious!  The cake is incredibly moist and delicious and the lemon zest really ties it all together.  Just don’t make yourself sick licking the frosting off the beater!

Carrot Cake Cupcakes (makes 24):

Carrot Cake cupcake recipe easter springtime dessert ideas lemon cream cheese frosting

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups grated carrots
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 4 eggs
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line muffin pans with your favorite springtime liners.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice and salt.

    Carrot Cake cupcake recipe easter springtime dessert ideas lemon cream cheese frosting

  3. In another bowl, stir together the carrots (use a food processor for fast shredding!), chopped nuts, coconut and raisins.

    Carrot Cake cupcake recipe easter springtime dessert ideas lemon cream cheese frosting

  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the sugar and oil together on medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one by one, and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear.

    Carrot Cake cupcake recipe easter springtime dessert ideas lemon cream cheese frosting

  5. Gently mix in the chunky ingredients. Use ice cream scoop to portion into cupcake liners, filling until about 2/3 full (any more full and they will spill over!).
  6. Bake for 20-24 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan for 5 minutes, then gently run a knife around the sides of the cupcakes to transfer them to cooling racks.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting (makes enough for 24 cupcakes):

Carrot Cake cupcake recipe easter springtime dessert ideas lemon cream cheese frosting

  • 16 ounces cream cheese, cold
  • 10 TB unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4.5 c powdered sugar, sifted
  • zest of 2 lemons, grated
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  1. Have the cream cheese cold and the butter at room temperature. In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, lemon juice and zest until blended. Add sugar one-third at a time and beat just until smooth and the desired consistency. If frosting is too stiff, beat for few seconds longer. Do not overbeat.
  2. To finish, use a piping bag to frost cupcakes. If you want a garnish, a toasted walnut half would be cute.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

red velvet cupcake recipe valentine's day hummingbird bakery cinnamon cream cheese frosting

I never really understood the whole hype with Red Velvet cupcakes until I started baking a few years ago.  I always thought it was weird to eat something with such a strong artificial color to it, and was a bit averse to making them.  After some perusing, I found another baker with the same thought process, and discovered this recipe on Joy the Baker (a fabulous blog, if you haven’t yet stumbled upon it).  These Red Velvets have the delicious, lightly chocolate cake the type is known for, but are a subtle shade of rouge that won’t make you feel like you’ll be peeing red. :)

red velvet cupcake recipe valentine's day cinnamon cream cheese frosting pernigotti unsweetened cocoa powder

À la Martha, I tend to prefer Dutch processed cocoa for its milder flavor and use gel pastes for my food coloring, so those changes are reflected in the recipe below.  I finish it off with my trusty, pipeable Cream Cheese Frosting, adding a bit of cinnamon for a surprise and finally top it off with a cinnamon candy heart in honor of the holiday.  Enjoy and remember to share the love!

Red Velvet Cupcakes

adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

makes 12 cupcakes

  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tablespoons dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa powder (like Pernigotti)
  • 1/4 tsp red gel paste food coloring
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 5/8 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
  1. Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about three minutes.  Turn mixer to high and add  the egg.  Scrape down the bowl and beat until well incorporated.
  3. Add in cocoa, vanilla and red food coloring, mixing thoroughly until completely combined.  You may need to stop the mixer to scrape the bottom of the bowl, making sure that all the batter gets color.
    red velvet cupcake recipe valentine's day cinnamon cream cheese frosting pernigotti unsweetened cocoa powder
  4. Turn mixer to low and slowly add half of the buttermilk.  Add half of the flour and all of the salt and mix until combined.  Scrape the bowl and repeat the process with the remaining milk and flour.  Beat on high until smooth.
  5. Turn mixer to low and add baking soda and white vinegar.  Turn to high and beat until well incorporated.
  6. Scoop batter into a paper lined cupcake baking pan and bake at 325 F for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center cupcake comes out clean.
    red velvet cupcake recipe valentine's day cinnamon cream cheese frosting pernigotti unsweetened cocoa powder
  7. Let rest in the pan for 10 minutes, then place them of a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

(makes 2 cups, more than enough for 12 cupcakes, maybe closer to 16)

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, cold
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted (measure, then sift into bowl)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  1. Have the cream cheese cold and the butter at room temperature. In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until blended. Add sugar one-third at a time and beat just until smooth and the desired consistency. If frosting is too stiff, beat for few seconds longer. Do not overbeat. Stir in cinnamon to taste.
    red velvet cupcake recipe valentine's day cinnamon cream cheese frosting pernigotti unsweetened cocoa powder
  2. To finish, use a piping bag to frost cupcakes. Garnish each with a cinnamon heart.

12 Days of Christmas Crafts and Recipes: jeweled napkin rings

My final Christmas post…whew!  I don’t know how the craft bloggers of the world do one post a day, unless that is their primary job. As a practicing dentist, wife, and mom of a not-so-independent dog, 12 days in a row is certainly a commitment for me! But, I digress.  :) For our last Christmas-inspired project, I’ve created some napkin rings for your festive holiday spread using oversized buttons and silver jewelry cord.  Paired with bright red linen napkins and set against crisp white porcelain, these little sparklers certainly pop!

DIY jeweled napkin rings holiday craft dritz beading cord sparkle inexpensive

Here’s what you need:

  • stretchy metallic beading cord, like Dritz
  • oversized buttons (mine were found at Joann’s)
  • hot glue gun and scissors

Here’s what you do:

DIY jeweled napkin rings holiday craft dritz beading cord sparkle inexpensive

  1. Cut your jewelry cord into 12-inch pieces.
  2. Feed one end of cord through button opening and tie ends together in a double knot.  Snip excess.  From end of loop to base of the knot, length should be around 5.25 inches.
  3. Use hot glue gun to secure knot to backside of button, making sure to seal off the ends of the cord.
  4. Use loop end to wrap around napkin and over button.
DIY jeweled napkin rings holiday craft dritz beading cord sparkle inexpensive

12 Days of Christmas Crafts and Recipes: chocolate peppermint crunch cookies

andes peppermint crunch double chocolate cookies holiday christmas recipes

A few years ago, a patient brought in some delectable chocolate cookies that incorporated Andes Peppermint Crunch candies, found in stores during the winter holidays.  I decided to attempt to remake the soft and chewy cookies, using Martha’s Double Chocolate Cookie recipe as a place to start, and tweaking it based on ingredients I had on hand.  I think the results are delicious! If you are a chocoholic and like the refreshing taste of peppermint, you must give these a try!

Ingredients

Makes about 4 dozen

andes peppermint crunch double chocolate cookies holiday christmas recipes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (like Hershey’s)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 4 ounces 72% cacao dark chocolate (I get mine from Trader Joe’s for cheap!), broken into pieces
  • half of a 9.5 oz bag of Andes Peppermint Crunch, cut into 1/4-inch chunks
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
  2. Melt dark chocolate with the butter in a small heatproof bowl in the microwave for ~45 seconds.  If chocolate is not completely melted, stir mixture until it is. Let cool slightly.
    andes peppermint crunch double chocolate cookies holiday christmas recipes
  3. Put chocolate mixture, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until combined. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture. Fold in Peppermint Crunch chunks.
    andes peppermint crunch double chocolate cookies holiday christmas recipes
  4. Using a 1.5 inch ice cream scoop (like this one from Crate and Barrel), drop dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Optional: this dough is easy to pick up and roll into balls for perfectly round cookies, which is what I did after using the scoop.
    andes peppermint crunch double chocolate cookies holiday christmas recipes
  5. Bake until cookies are flat and surfaces crack, about 12 minutes (cookies should be soft). Slide parchment sheets onto wire racks and allow cookies to cool. Cookies will be soft at first, but after cooling will maintain their shape – parchment paper is a must!

Note: Martha’s original recipe called for Dutch-processed cocoa powder, which I was out of.  I used natural Hershey’s cocoa powder so had to change the amount of both cocoa powder and baking soda to get the right acidity.  I used information on this website to make my conversion.

andes peppermint crunch double chocolate cookies holiday christmas recipes

12 Days of Christmas Crafts and Recipes: raspberry rose gin rickeys

Need a new, festive cocktail for your annual holiday gathering?  Sweet-tart raspberries and a splash of rose water add some holiday flair and interest to this classic gin-lime juice-club soda combo. Hendrick’s is a Scottish gin infused with cucumber and rose petals, and is a natural choice to bring out the flavors in this recipe.

raspberry rose Hendrick's gin rickey bon appetit holiday libation cocktail drink recipe

Ingredients:

  • fresh raspberries
  • 24 oz gin
  • 4 oz fresh lime juice
  • 8 tsp rose water (found at specialty foods stores and Middle Eastern markets)
  • soda water
  • ice
raspberry rose Hendrick's gin rickey bon appetit holiday libation cocktail drink recipe

Preparation:

Combine rose water, lime juice and gin in a pitcher. Meanwhile, place 3 raspberries in each cocktail glass and crush with a muddler. Add ice and top with cocktail mixture.  Finish with a splash of soda water.

For a sweeter version, try this recipe from Bon Appetit.


Share the Warmth

Need something new to bring to your Thanksgiving celebration this week?  Warm up everyone’s appetite with this delicious Baked Artichoke Dip.  Artichoke hearts are swirled into gooey cheese sauce,  accented with lemon and thyme, then covered with a crunchy panko topping.  Serve with warm, crusty sourdough bread and fresh, crisp winter crudites.
baked artichoke dip thanksgiving holiday christmas entertaining appetizer recipes

Recipe adapted from  Martha Stewart Living

serves 14 to 16 (in the picture above, I halved the recipe to feed a smaller crowd)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cans (14 ounces each) artichoke hearts in water
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter,room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk, warmed
  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (3 ounces)
  • 1 cup grated pecorino cheese (3 ounces)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped, plus leaves for garnish
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • Sliced fennel, radishes, carrots, cauliflower florets, and sourdough bread for serving
baked artichoke dip thanksgiving holiday christmas entertaining appetizer recipes

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Remove leaves from 1 artichoke heart; pat dry, and reserve. Squeeze excess water from remaining artichokes and thinly slice.
  2. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Whisk in milk, and bring to a boil.
    artichoke dip thanksgiving christmas holiday entertaining appetizer recipes
  3. Add salt, pepper, and cayenne, and simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in cheeses.
    baked artichoke dip thanksgiving holiday christmas entertaining appetizer recipes
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook 3 minutes. Add thyme, garlic, and sliced artichokes, and cook for 3 minutes.
    baked artichoke dip thanksgiving holiday christmas entertaining appetizer recipes
  5. Add to cheese mixture along with zest. Transfer to an 8-cup baking dish. Top with reserved artichoke leaves. Sprinkle with panko breadcrumbs.
    baked artichoke dip thanksgiving holiday christmas entertaining appetizer recipes
  6. Bake until golden and bubbling, about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly. Garnish with thyme leaves. Serve with crudites and warm, crusty bread.

Cost-Saving Tip: Trader Joe’s carries most of the ingredients for this delicious dip at reasonable prices.


Thanksmas Entertaining

Ever wanted to throw a fall dinner party that isn’t a full-on Thanksgiving or host something the weekend after Thanksgiving, when, in your mind, it is still a bit too early to decorate for Christmas?  If you’re like me, who celebrates the bountiful holiday at someone else’s home, you have all of these beautiful gourds and pumpkins that haven’t yet their moment in the spotlight.  So, what’s a girl to do for decor between major holidays?  Try mixing some silvers and purples into your existing fall color scheme and see what you get.  You might be pleasantly surprised!

This table setting was inspired by some clearance napkins I found at Cost Plus World Market in the summer (again, the key to entertaining thriftily is thinking ahead and always being on the lookout for deals!).  They have a gorgeous mix of plum, deep purple, natural white, burnt orange and woodsy browns:

fall thanksgiving centerpiece ideas crafts entertaining placemats tablescape place setting

When I saw the napkins, I immediately thought of the plum table runners I’d made for my wedding a few years earlier that were still sitting in storage at my in-law’s house.  Since I prefer to use placemats as opposed to runners, I thought, how easy would it be to convert a few of these gorgeous runners (that I’ll almost never use again) into placemats?  Even if you don’t have table runners that you no longer have a need for, it is quite easy to make your own placemats, since they are basically two rectangles sewn together!

What you’ll need:

fall thanksgiving centerpiece ideas crafts tablescapes place settings entertaining

  • 1.25 yards of interesting, textural fabric (I used a weave from Ikea)
  • 1.25 yards of plain backing fabric (I used a simple broadcloth from Joann’s)
  • matching thread
  • sewing machine
  • scissors
  • long ruler or measuring tape

Here’s what you do:

  1. Iron material prior to cutting.
  2. Pin fabric together.
  3. Cut out six 13×19 rectangular pieces out of pinned fabric (if your fabric is the standard 45″ you should be able to measure 19″ from the end, then cut out three 13″ pieces with ~6″ of  leftover scrap, repeat a second time for a total of six placemats).
  4. Thread machine with matching thread and sew 3 sides of rectangle with 1/4 – 1/2 inch margin.
  5. On fourth side, start from one end and stitch until left with a 3 inch unstitched area.
  6. Turn fabric out and iron edges.
  7. Turn unstitched area in and sew closed (you could also do this by hand with an invisible stitch, if you wanted, though it takes longer).

fall thanksgiving centerpieces craft ideas entertaining tablescapes place settings

Now for the centerpieces!  I was inspired to make something fun when I saw some Styrofoam balls that I found at Tuesday Morning for much less than craft store retail prices.  What I ended up doing was using a combination of things I had (excess muslin from previous craft projects, twine, and Indian corn husks) and new materials (preserved leaves and dried pinto beans) to create natural-looking, fall-into-winter centerpieces.  All of my materials incorporated colors that are in the napkins.

Here’s what you need:

  • two sizes of Styrofoam balls (Tuesday Morning or retail craft stores)
  • hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • scissors
  • craft spray glue
  • preserved leaves (Michael’s)
  • jute twine (Big Lots or 99 Cent Store)
  • muslin (retail craft store or Walmart)
  • purple Indian corn husks (local grocery store in produce section)
  • 2 bags dried pinto beans (Big Lots $1 per bag)
  • galvanized or silver rectangular trays (I used my trusty tart pans again!)

Here’s what you do:

for leaves:

fall thanksgiving centerpieces craft ideas entertaining tablescapes place settings

  1. Remove leaves from their stems.
  2. Use hot glue gun to secure leaves to styrofoam ball in an overlapping fashion until ball is covered.  In my example, on one large and one small ball, I displayed the waxy side of the leaf and on another two, I displayed the underside.

for muslin:

fall thanksgiving centerpieces craft ideas entertaining tablescapes place settings

  1. Rip fabric into 1-inch strips
  2. Cut strips into 1×1 inch squares
  3. Use hot glue gun to secure fabric squares to ball in overlapping fashion until ball is covered.

for corn husks:

  1. Remove purple corn husks from Indian corn, being careful not to tear or rip the husks.
  2. To soften and use the inner, shiny side of the husk, heat some water to boiling in a tea kettle and lay husks over opening to relax leaves with steam.
  3. Use hot glue gun to apply corn husks to styrofoam ball in an overlapping fashion until ball is covered.

for twine:

fall thanksgiving centerpieces craft ideas entertaining tablescapes place settings

  1. Secure twine to one pole of styrofoam ball with hot glue.
  2. Apply craft spray glue in sections and wrap twine around styrofoam ball.
  3. Once ball is completely wrapped, secure end of twine to opposite pole with a spot of hot glue.

Note: As you move from a smaller diameter to a bigger one, this wrapping is easy.  However, as you hit the equator and start to move from a larger diameter to a smaller one, this craft can become frustrating as the twine will want to roll toward the smaller diameter pole.  Have patience, or if you don’t, you can always snip, glue end and start wrapping from the opposite pole and have your twine meet in the middle.  I prefer the uninterrupted look, myself.

Finally, pour pinto beans into trays and arrange your covered ball decorations to your liking!

all thanksgiving centerpeice ideas decorating entertaining tablescapes place settings

A Match Made in Fall Flavor Heaven: Pumpkin & Gingerbread

chocolate gingerbread cupcake pumpkin cream cheese frosting fall flavors cupcake recipe Trader Joe's

Last Halloween, my husband and I hosted a themed dinner party, with a menu full of rich foods like aged french mimolette cheese, lemon-mascarpone stuffed dates wrapped in prociutto, and lacquered short ribs.  For dessert, I wanted to finish with something a bit lighter and more refreshing, and opted for gingerbread cookie ice cream sandwiches, filled with smooth and delectable Dreyer’s Pumpkin Ice Cream. This year, since the pumpkin-gingerbread combo was so delightful, I’ve scoured my cookbooks and favorite websites to put together this gingerbread cupcake with pumpkin cream cheese frosting.

This recipe is not for the faint of heart – the flavors in this cupcake are strong and decadent.  If you prefer something a bit more mild in terms of molasses, or maybe you’re a busy mom and want something a little easier, try Trader Joe’s boxed Gingerbread Mix and top with the same pumpkin cream cheese frosting.  Most of these ingredients were purchased at Trader Joe’s, which makes for nice, one-stop shopping! Enjoy!

chocolate gingerbread cupcake pumpkin cream cheese frosting fall flavors cupcake recipe Trader Joe's

Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes (a combination recipe adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts and Martha Stewart’s Cookies):

makes 12 cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 c unsulphured molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 TB freshly grated ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 c unbleached flour
  • 1 TB unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 c boiling water
  • about 6 oz dark chocolate, cut into 1/4 inch chunks

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.  Line muffin pan with paper liners.
  2. In a bowl, combine flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cocoa powder.
    chocolate gingerbread cupcake pumpkin cream cheese frosting fall flavors cupcake recipe Trader Joe's
  3. In an electric mixer, beat pumpkin puree, sugar and fresh ginger until well incorporated.  Add molasses and egg and beat until smooth.
  4. In a separate cup, dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water.
  5. Add half of flour mixture to mixer, mixing just until combined. Beat in baking soda mixture, then finish with the other half of the flour mixture. Stir in chocolate pieces.
    chocolate gingerbread cupcake pumpkin cream cheese frosting fall flavors cupcake recipe Trader Joe's
  6. Use scoop to portion batter into cupcake liners.  Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating once, until the cupcakes are slightly springy to the touch.  Cool for 3 minutes in the muffin pan, then transfer cupcakes to a cooling rack.

Note: the original Moosewood recipe calls for 1/4 c of butter, which I completely omitted and substituted canned pumpkin for in an attempt at a slightly healthier version.  You don’t miss the butter at all, and the canned pumpkin really keeps things moist.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Frosting:

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, cold
  • 5 TB Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter
  • 1 TB softened butter
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted (measure, then sift into bowl)

Directions:

  1. Have the cream cheese cold. In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, pumpkin butter, and regular butter until blended. Add sugar 1/2 cup at a time and beat just until smooth and the desired consistency. If frosting is too stiff, beat for few seconds longer. Do not overbeat.
    chocolate gingerbread cupcake pumpkin cream cheese frosting fall flavors cupcake recipe Trader Joe's
  2. To finish, use a piping bag to frost cupcakes.

Hosting a Book Club

daughter of fortune by isabel allende host your own book club entertaining ideas

My recent book club read, Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende, inspired me to host a themed book club last month.  Set in the mid 19th century, it is the story of a young Chilean girl, Eliza Sommers, who is raised by a well-to-do British family in Valparaiso, Chile.  At 16, Eliza finds her first love in Joaquin Andieta, a young man who, like many Chileans at the time, takes off to California to seek his fortune in the gold rush.  Months later, Eliza follows him, and in an elusive search for her lover, embarks upon a journey of self-discovery.

This novel is full of inspiration when it comes to hosting a themed book club evening.  There are many images and elements from the story to draw upon: Chile itself, the Victorian clothing of the period which incorporated lace, gold to symbolize the Gold Rush, luxuries to Chileans at the time, including chocolate, and the fact that our heroine is an incredible chef and baker and resourcefully makes empanadas while in California as a means to a living.

hosting a themed book club entertaining ideas cupcake recipes appetizers wine charms

For our meeting, I served Chilean wine, empanadas, and an olive and spanish cheese plate with marcona almonds and black grapes.  We finished the evening with Martha’s devil’s food chocolate cupcakes with a velvety smooth dark chocolate ganache frosting. While the idea of topping my cupcakes with a sprinkle of edible gold leaf was divine, the $28 price tag from Sur la Table didn’t make it thriftycrafter friendly, so I had to omit it!

hosting a themed book club craft decorating ideas recipes entertaining

Gold chargers, crisp white plates and black lace adornments decorated the table and super easy to make hand-fashioned wine charms (this is, after all, a wine, er, book club!), marked our glasses. Finally, I made a simple garland out of leftover gold Christmas ribbon and white paper doilies from the Dollar Tree.  Thanks to apartmenttherapy.com for the inspiration!

host your own themed book club entertaining ideas recipes llace table runner

First, the crafts!

Wine Charms

hosting a themed book club craft decorating ideas recipes entertaining paper wine charms


Here’s what you need:

host a themed book club crafts recipes cupcake appetizers wine charms doily garland

  • cardstock
  • eyelet stickers (alternatively, you could use a stamp or these great rub-ons from Paper Source)
  • compass with pencil
  • scissors
  • hammer, nail and wooden block
  • jewelry ear wires
  • gel pen or other marker for writing

Here’s what you do:

  1. Use your compass to create circles on cardstock.  I made mine with a radius of 5/8 of an inch.

    host a themed book club crafts recipes cupcake appetizers wine charms doily garland

  2. Cut out circles and adhere lace stickers to cover just more than half of the circle.

    host a themed book club crafts recipes cupcake appetizers wine charms doily garland

  3. Cut excess edge of sticker and write your characters’ names below the arc.

    host a themed book club crafts recipes cupcake appetizers wine charms doily garland

  4. Use hammer, nail and wooden block to pierce tag where you want your ring to go.

    host a themed book club crafts recipes cupcake appetizers wine charms doily garland

  5. Use wire bending tool to bend end portion of your hoop up to create lock and feed through hole in tag.

    host a themed book club crafts recipes cupcake appetizers wine charms doily garland

Cost: less than $5!

Doily Garland

hosting a themed book club craft decorating ideas recipes entertaining paper doily garland

Here’s what you need:

hosting a themed book club craft decorating ideas recipes entertaining paper doily garland

  • paper doily pack
  • stitch witchery
  • iron and ironing board
  • 1/2 inch width ribbon or thicker
  • scissors or Fiskars paper trimmer

Here’s what you do:

  1. Use scissors or paper trimmer to cut doilies in half.

    hosting a themed book club craft decorating ideas recipes entertaining paper doily garland

  2. Rip stitch witchery in pieces that measure the diameter of your doily, place between the ribbon and doily, and use iron on low setting to adhere.

    hosting a themed book club craft decorating ideas recipes entertaining paper doily garland

  3. Repeat until desired length of garland is achieved!

Cost: less than $3!

Adorned Cake Plate

host your own themed book club entertaining ideas recipes lace adorned cake plate

Here’s what you need:

hosting a themed book club craft decorating ideas recipes entertaining lace adorned cake plate

  • cake plate
  • strip of lace, in the measured circumference of your cake platter
  • Zots

Here’s what you do:

  1. Adhere Zots to cake plate rim every 1.5-2 inches.

    host your own themed book club entertaining ideas recipes lace adorned cake plate

  2. Starting with one end of your strip of lace, press lace against zots, keeping correct amount of slack, until lace band encircles your platter.

Cost: less than $5!

Now, onto the food!

I used an empanada dough recipe found on Epicurious.com for my mini empanaditas, a beef filling recipe from Susan Feniger (of Border Grill and Ciudad fame) and a pork filling recipe from Food & Wine Magazine.

Empanada Dough:

Doubling the recipe made just under 4 dozen 3.5 inch empanaditas

  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup ice water
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  1. Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.
  2. Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. (Mixture will look shaggy.)
  3. Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Form dough into a flat rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour.
  4. On lightly floured surface, roll dough out to 1/8 inch thickness and use 3.5″ cookie cutter to make discos.

Beef Filling:

host your own themed book club empanada filling recipe entertaining ideas

Makes enough for 4 dozen mini empanadas (I halved the recipe to make two dozen)

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/3 cup toasted almonds coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup dark raisins
  • 8 Italian Roma tomatoes
  • 3 serrano chilies
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. In a large heavy skillet, over a medium high heat, saute the ground beef until the meat is browned, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain off the excess fat.
  2. Add the onion and saute 2 minutes. Then add the garlic, almonds, and raisins, and saute 1 minute.
  3. Place the tomatoes, chilies, lime juice, salt, and pepper in a blender and puree until smooth.
  4. Add the puree, cumin, cloves, cinnamon and salt and pepper to the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes to get rid of any excess liquid. Cool.
  5. Place a spoonful of filling in the center of each circle of pastry. Fold over the pastry and seal the edges. Let the empanadas rest in the refrigerator 1/2 hour or freeze immediately. (Bake the frozen empanadas without defrosting.)
  6. Empanadas may be glazed (1 egg and 2 tablespoons milk, well beaten) and baked until golden in a 400 degree oven, for about 15 minutes.

Pork Filling:

host your own themed book club empanada filling recipe entertaining ideas

Makes enough for 4 dozen mini empanadas (I halved the recipe to make two dozen)

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, very finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/4 pounds pork tenderloin, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup amber beer
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese chile-garlic paste or sambal oelek
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 jalapeño, seeded and very finely chopped
  • 3 hard-cooked eggs, coarsely chopped
  • 6 pitted kalamata olives, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon golden raisins
  1. In a medium skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is browned, about 8 minutes longer.
  2. Meanwhile in a large skillet, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chopped pork, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat until the pork is golden brown on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Stir and cook until no pink remains, about 3 minutes longer. Stir in the browned onions, beer, soy sauce, paprika, chile paste, cumin and jalapeño and cook for 1 minute. Transfer the filling to a large bowl. Stir in the hard-cooked eggs, olives and raisins and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  4. Brush the empanadas with the egg wash. Bake them for about 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until the empanadas are golden brown, then serve.

Devil’s Food Cupcakes:

host your own themed book club devils food cupcake recipe entertaining ideas

Makes 32 cupcakes

  • 3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream, room temperature
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together cocoa and hot water until smooth. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Melt butter with sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring to combine. Remove from heat, and pour into a mixing bowl. With an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat until mixture is cooled, 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add vanilla, then cocoa mixture, and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, and beating until just combined after each.
  3. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three- quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 15 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.
Chocolate Ganache Frosting:
Makes 4 cups
  • 1 pound good-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 1/3 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  1. Place chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring cream and corn syrup just to a simmer over medium-high heat; pour mixture over chocolate. Let stand, without stirring, until chocolate begins to melt.
  2. Beginning near the center and working outward, stir melted chocolate into cream until mixture is combined and smooth (do not overstir).
  3. Refrigerate, stirring every 5 minutes, until frosting just barely begins to hold its shape and is slightly lighter in color. Use immediately (ganache will continue to thicken after you stop stirring).
  4. To finish, use a small offset spatula to spread cupcakes with frosting. Refrigerate up to 3 days in airtight containers; bring to room temperature and garnish just before serving.

Baking with Almond Meal

Trader Joe's almond meal baking recipes sour cream coffee cake moosewood restaurantMy husband and I recently discovered Trader Joe’s Almond Meal as a great alternative to breadcrumbs or flour when our dinner recipes call for our protein to have a breading or coating.  What is almond meal, exactly?   Almond meal is just ground up almonds, usually with the skin still on. It has the same nutritional profile as whole almonds: high in protein, as well as healthy monounsaturated fats. Why not add some good fats, protein and nutty flavor to your baked goods, while cutting some carbs at the same time?

While I try not to bake too much for the two of us anymore, I do enjoy the process of it and recently made a coffee cake for my inlaws as a thank you (or a bribe!) for dogsitting for us while we were out of town.  Since I had the almond meal, I thought it would be a perfect way to 1.) try out a new use for it and 2.) get at least some nutrition into my thank you gift.

Trader Joe's almond meal baking recipes sour cream coffee cake moosewood restaurant

Adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts, this sour cream coffeecake uses almond meal to replace a third of the flour in the original recipe, giving it a moist, nutty texture.  You generally should only replace up to half of the flour in a baking recipe with almond meal if you want your product to hold together.  The inside did slightly crumble when cut into, so you could tweak the recipe and only replace a fourth of the flour with almond meal and see if it holds together better.  It was still pretty delicious, though.  Next time, I may also try whole wheat flour, just for the extra fiber and nutritional benefit.

Trader Joe's almond meal baking recipes moosewood restaurant book of desserts sour cream coffeecake

Ingredients:

  • 1 c butter, room temperature
  • 1.5 c  sugar, plus one TB
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 c light sour cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp baking power
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 c all purpose flour
  • 2/3 c almond meal
  • 1 c pecans, toasted
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter and flour the bundt pan.
  2. Cream the butter with 1 1/2 c of sugar.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly blended.  Stir in the vanilla and beat in the sour cream.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, almond meal, baking power, baking soda and salt. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients in 3 equal portions, making sure each addition is fully incorporated before adding the next.

    Trader Joe's almond meal baking recipes sour cream coffee cake moosewood restaurant

  4. Toast your pecans until fragrant, let cool.  Coarsely chop and toss with 1 TB sugar and the cinnamon.
  5. Spoon half of the batter into your prepared bundt pan.  Sprinkle all of the nut mixture evenly over the batter in the pan.

    Trader Joe's almond meal baking recipes moosewood restaurant book of desserts sour cream coffeecake

  6. Spoon the rest of the batter into the pan and bake the coffeecake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes.  Cool the pan on a wire rack and turn it out onto a plate after 10 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Great Balls of Fire

dyed coffee filter craft tissue paper pom poms pomanders 4th of July wedding shower party decoration

I didn’t have a chance to get this post up prior to the 4th of July holiday due to lots of house and kitchen prep, but wanted to share this craft since it can be used in different colors as decoration for other holiday parties, bridal or baby showers, and even weddings.  For those who appreciate a more natural or vintage spin, using unbleached, kraft-colored coffee filters or dying the white ones with tea bags would make for a gorgeous display.

Sometimes I’ll head to the Dollar Tree or 99 cent store, just to get inspired by what I find in the aisles.  This last time around, I picked up a package of plain, white coffee filters which I ended up stapling together, then pinning to small styrofoam balls to make big frilly pomanders.  I dyed about 30 ‘bunches’ with red and blue gel paste food coloring, and while this worked to a certain extent, the end product was more remnicient of a romantic Monet painting than the spectacular display of American patriotism I was going for.  So to liven it up, I made three plain white ones, then added some smaller red and blue tissue paper pomanders that Martha made so popular a few years back.  Hung above the food spread, these are sure to bring some festivity to any get together!

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 packages of plain white coffee filters
  • stapler
  • gel paste food coloring
  • medium mixing bowls with water
  • rubber gloves
  • aluminum foil
  • jelly roll pan (baking sheet with a rim)
  • box of straight pins
  • 2-inch dense styrofoam balls
  • colored tissue paper
  • scissors
  • floral wire

Here’s what you do:

For the white coffee filter pomanders:

  1. Take 3 coffee filters at their base and bunch together.  Staple.  Make about 15 of these for one ball.
    dyed coffee filter craft tissue paper pom poms pomanders 4th of July wedding shower party decoration
  2. Use stright pin to affix bunch to styrofoam ball.
    dyed coffee filter craft tissue paper pom poms pomanders 4th of July wedding shower party decoration
  3. Repeat Step 2, clustering the bunches together.  Fluff to desired shape.
    dyed coffee filter craft tissue paper pom poms pomanders 4th of July wedding shower party decoration

For the dyed coffee filter pomanders:

  1. Take 3 coffee filters at their base and bunch together.  Staple.  Make about 15 of these for one ball.
  2. Mix 1/4 tsp gel paste food coloring into mixing bowl with water.  Adjust amount of food coloring/water depending on how vibrant you want your color to be.
  3. Place coffee filter bunches in the mixing bowl and leave for a few minutes.  Do not overcrowd.
    dyed coffee filter craft tissue paper pom poms pomanders 4th of July wedding shower party decoration
  4. Line jelly roll pan with aluminum foil and place dyed bunches upright to dry.  Turn oven on to lowest setting and allow to dry (this takes a few hours).
    dyed coffee filter craft tissue paper pom poms pomanders 4th of July wedding shower party decoration
  5. (optional) If color isn’t where you want it after first drying cycle, dip and dry again.
    dyed coffee filter craft tissue paper pom poms pomanders 4th of July wedding shower party decoration
  6. Once dry, use straight pin to affix dyed bunch to styrofoam ball.
  7. Repeat Step 2, clustering the bunches together.  Fluff to desired shape.

For the tissue paper pom poms:

  1. Remove tissue paper from packaging, open and cut stack in half.
    dyed coffee filter craft tissue paper pom poms pomanders 4th of July wedding shower party decoration
  2. Accordion-fold each half in 1-1.5 inch width and use floral wire to wrap the center.
    dyed coffee filter craft tissue paper pom poms pomanders 4th of July wedding shower party decoration
  3. Use sharp scissors to cut the edges of your tissue paper – to simulate ‘fire’ I cut my ends to a sharp point.
    dyed coffee filter craft tissue paper pom poms pomanders 4th of July wedding shower party decoration
  4. Delicately begin to separate the layers, pulling from the base.  Fluff to desired shape.
    dyed coffee filter craft tissue paper pom poms pomanders 4th of July wedding shower party decoration

Cost: $5.  While some stuff I already had, you can find everything needed for this project at Walmart for cheap, cheap!

dyed coffee filter craft tissue paper pom poms pomanders 4th of July wedding shower party decoration