Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pretty Gifty

Thanks to my lovely DVR (best invention ever!) I had taped a bunch of Holiday specials on the Food Network and while watching "Paula's Cookie Swap" last night I learned some great tips for packaging cookies. I thought they would be helpful for those of you giving cookies or other treats as gifts this holiday season!

1. Chinese Take-out boxes are an excellent, unexpected way to package those sweets for the sweet! They only cost about $1 at most local craft stores and some may even be less then that. I know our local Michael's sells them in solid colors in packages for about $5.99. If you use one of those 40% off coupons you'll get a great deal! When packaging your cookies, add a little paper shred in the bottom of the container. Also make sure to purchase a couple sheets of food-safe paper, such as Vellum, and cut it into little squares a little smaller then the cookies. As you place each cookie, or each layer of cookies in the container, add a sheet of the paper in between so they don't stick to each other. After you have filled your container add embellishments such as ribbon and an ornament to make it more festive!

2. Glass jars are also a great option. You can either put your treats into the jar as is or you can cut templates out of Vellum paper to match the size (height) of the jar and wrap it around the inside. You can add stickers, a strip of ribbon in the center, or anything else you desire to personalize the paper. To add your liners in between the layers, use the bottom of the jar as a template to cut matching circles from the Vellum. Use the circles as your liners between your treats. Add a ribbon or other embellishment around the top of the jar or handle if it has one on the lid.

3. When making cookies that require you to slice them from a log of dough, cut them a tad thicker and insert oven-safe lollipop sticks (available at your local craft store) before cooking. Once they are done, you have adorable cookie Lollipops - a treat that someone special is sure to remember! Just make sure to place a treat bag or cellophane wrap around the cookie and tie at the base with a ribbon to keep them fresh. To give as a gift, you can peruse your craft stores, dollar stores and even stores such as Target or Kmart etc to find a deep bowl, pail, etc on sale. Add a small block of florist foam cut to fit into the bottom of the bowl or pail (about halfway up the side of the container). Stick the pops into the foam and put shred on top to hide it. Add embellishments such as ribbon around the top of the bowl or anything else you might like to add to personalize your gift!

And don't forget that the best way to ensure that your gift stays fresh is to make it 24hrs before you plan to give it!

I also found this great article on the Food Network website that features tips for keeping your food gifts fresh and also for shipping them! Here it is.......

Whether you're sending homemade treats to a neighboring town or across the country, here are some helpful tips to ensure it reaches its recipient in perfectly shipped shape.

Choose your gifts wisely. Do not mail highly perishable items such as dairy- or meat-filled foods. If you're sending baked goods, moist and firm, rather than brittle and delicate, ship well and arrive in the best form. Include a note on the best way to handle the food once it arrives. Holiday baked goods that travel well include:

  • Cookies: To prevent cookies from breaking, create a cushion on the bottom of the container with crumpled wax paper or parchment, and then layer the cookies, wrapped in airtight wrap or in zippered plastic bags with crumpled wax paper in between. Separate crisper cookies from moister to preserve textures. Cookie tins are really ideal ? find them at craft and hardware stores and also at yard sales and flea markets (just wash them well first).
  • Pound cakes, loaf breads, brownies and fudge: Bake in disposable foil pans and ship them in the pan. Cover the cooled pan with plastic wrap, place in a zip lock bag (leave air in the pan to act as a cushion, and then ship in a cushioned box. These baked goods may also be baked and shipped in decorative new pans, with the intention of including the baking pan as a gift, too.
  • Cakes and candies: pack compactly in tins. Candies should be placed in cups or layered on cushioned papers. Make sure there is no headroom or the confections may crack or crush.
  • Bottles of oils or vinegars or jars of chutney, sauces or jam: Before packing, make sure bottles are tightly sealed and packed in sturdy jars. Wrap the bottles or jars in bubble wrap and then place inside an air-filled zippered plastic bag. Pack the items in a shipping box lined with plastic wrap (a large plastic garbage bag works well), filled with crumpled newspaper, bubble wrap, foam peanuts or air-popped popcorn. Pack heavier items at the bottom of the box and make sure there is cushioning between each item. A good rule of thumb: Calculate two to three-inches of packing material on all sides for optimum cushioning. Pack the top of the box so there is no headroom or items may shift.

Always use sturdy, unused corrugated shipping boxes. Use packing tape to securely close the box. Fill out your labels with a waterproof pen. Mark the carton "perishable" and ship it via the fastest means possible.

Perfectly packed and properly shipped, you can be sure your treats will be welcomed with opened arms — and mouths.

I hope you enjoyed the tips I learned from Paula's Cookie Swap and the wonderful article courtesy of the Food Network website. More tips to come!

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Shop Til Ya Drop!

I have been getting some great discounts in my email inbox so I thought I would share! I will put them in order by experation date. Enjoy!

J.CREW - 20% off $100, 25% off $150 and 30% off $200 or more including sale items! Also includes Free Shipping on orders of $100 or more. Code: HOHOHO Expires 12/11

SNAPFISH - Free Shipping. Code: SHIP08 Exp 12/11

VICTORIA'S SECRET - 20% off entire order. Code: 20PERCENT Exp 12/11

GAP - $20 off $100 or more plus free shipping. Exp 12/14

SEPHORA - 15% off entire order. Code FYP96 Exp 12/14

AMERICAN EAGLE - Buy 1 get 1 at 50% off the entire collection. Additional 20% off your entire order! Code: 68491578 Exp:?

Happy Shopping!!!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Fun Holiday Craft for Kids

While thinking about fun craft ideas for my son's upcoming class holiday party, I had a fond memory of an adorable little ornament I made when I was in 1st or 2nd grade. I remember this little reindeer I made in class out of clothespins and it was the cutest little thing. So I decided to do a google search and peruse all the instructions for these charming little critters. They are really easy and inexpensive too!

Clothespin Reindeer Ornaments
You will need......

3 Clothespins
A set of googly eyes
A permanent marker in brown or black
A small sheet of felt in black or brown
A little pom pom, sequin, bead etc (for the nose)
Small pom pom for the tail
Any other embellishments - ribbon, etc
Strong glue (craft glue, hot glue, etc)

1. Using your marker, color in the bottom of two of the clothespins to look like hooves (see picture above)
2. After the marker dries, glue the two clothespins together to form the body and four legs.
3. Turn the remaining clothespin upside down and glue the top part ( where it is not open) to the top of the body - as shown in the picture.
4. Place the googly eyes on the front and glue your nose in place
5. You can use the felt to cut out ears (as shown) a saddle and other details you may want to glue onto your reindeer. Glue your tail in place.
6. To finish tie a piece of skinny ribbon around the neck to hang on the tree or if you just want to give to someone as a toy, you can tie a little bow around the neck.

You can personalize it any way you want. Some ideas might include ....

~ A letter on the saddle
~ Putting glitter on the front of the antlers
~ Using something else for eyes or a nose
~ Paint your reindeer with craft paint and let dry before gluing your details

Have Fun!!!

Homemade Holiday Gifts

As promised, here are some great homemade gift ideas for adults and children to make this holiday season! There are some wonderful gifts here that I think anyone would appreciate and love to recieve. I am going to be posting a handful of my favorites - but there are so many good ones on the site! All of these gifts are featured on the Martha Stewart Website. I will post a picture of the craft and then underneath will post a link to the instructions. Please make sure to click on any templates included in the crafts featured here and additional crafts on the site. A lot of them include printable gift tags and labels as well. Happy Holidays!!!


Homemade Holiday Gift Tips....

~ Dress up parchment paper or wax paper with pretty tags, ribbon and other inexpensive embellishments and don't forget to make sure the paper for food gifts is food safe!

~ Use a site like Martha Stewart's that gives you templates to print your own beautiful gift tags for much less then the stores.

~ Take advantage of those Michael's, AC Moore and Joann Fabric coupons! You can use these to buy all of your gift embellishments and supplies. Take advantage of those sales, stock up and use those coupons to your advantage!

Click here for the full directory of Martha's gift how-to's including her Christmas Workshop!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Jeweled White Chocolate Lollies

This is the last featured recipe for today and I think these would make such excellent little gifts! I couldn't resist adding this last recipe. Enjoy!



Jeweled White Chocolate Lollies
Makes: 2 Dozen
Prep: 35min

One 12oz Bag of White Chocolate Chips
1/3 Cup Dried Cranberries
1/3 Cup Golden Raisins
1/3 Cup Shelled Pistachios

1. Preheat the oven to 200F. Line 3 baking pans with wax paper. In a small bowl, microwave the white chocolate chips at high power, stirring every 20Sec until smooth, about 1min.

2. Working with 1 baking sheet at a time and rewarming the chocolate as needed, drop the tablespoonfuls of the melted chocolate onto the wax paper, stagerring the drops if necessary. Using the back of a spoon, spread the chocolate to make Twenty-Four 2 1/2in circles. Before the chocolate sets, press a lollipop stick midway into the center of each circle. Decorate with the cranberries, raisins and pistachios. If the chocolate sets too quickly, placed the baking sheet in the heated oven for a few seconds.

3. Refrigerate the baking sheets until the lollipops have hardened, about 5 minutes. Serve at room temp.

For more recipes like this visit Rachael Ray Magazine

Jeweled Lace Cookies Recipe

Here is another great recipe from the Rachael Ray magazine issue mentioned below!

Jeweled Lace Cookies
Makes: 4 Dozen
Prep: 15min Bake: 10min


1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Corn Syrup
4 Tb Unsalted Butter
1/2 Cup Rolled Oats
1/4 Cup Flour
1 pinch Salt
1/3 Cup Dried Cranberries
1/2 Cup shelled Pistachios, chopped

1. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 325F. Grease 2 cookie sheets. In a medium saucepan, stir together the brown sugar, corn syrup and butter over medium heat until smooth and bubbling, about 4min. Remove from the heat. In a bowl, whisk together the oats, flour and salt; stir into the pot, then stir in the cranberries and pistachios.

2. Drop rounded teaspoons of the mixture about 3in apart onto the prepared cookie sheets. Bake until bubbly and a shade darker, 9 to 10min. Let cool for 1min before quickly transferring each cookie to a rack using a thin metal spatula; let cool completely.

**Tip**

~ Having a hard time removing your cookies? Pop the pan back in the oven for a min to soften them.

For more recipes like this visit Rachael Ray Magazine

Spiced Thins Recipe

I just bought the new issue of Rachael Ray's magazine with the holiday cookie blowout and I just couldn't resist posting a couple of my favorites on here! There are some really great recipes. Here is one of my favorites.....

Spiced Thins
Makes: 8 Dozen
Prep: 20min (plus chilling) Bake: 40min



1 Cup packed Brown Sugar
1 Cup Vegetable Shortening, at room temp
1 Tb Pumpkin Pie Spice
1/2 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
1/4 Tsp Ground Cloves
1 Cup Unsulfured Molasses
4 Cups Flour
1 Large Egg White, beaten
Sanding Sugar, for sprinkling
Wax Paper & Parchment Paper

1. Using an electric mixer, beat the brown sugar and shortening at high speed until fluffy, about 5min. Mix in the pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla and cloves at low speed until blended. Mix in the flour at low speed, scraping the bowl as needed. Divide the dough into quarters, shape into disks and wrap in wax paper; refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

2. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 325F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a disk of dough until paper-thin. Using a 3in cookie cutter, cut out the cookies; using a metal spatula, transfer to the prepared cookie sheets. Repeat with another disk of dough; reroll the scraps and cut out more cookies to fill both cookie sheets. Brush lightly with the egg white and sprinkle sanding sugar on top. Bake, switching the pans halfway through, until browned and set in the center., about 20min. Transfer to racks to cool. Repeat with the remaining disks of dough.

**Tips**

~ Coat the measuring cup with cooking spray when measuring sticky ingredients like molasses.

~ Cool the cookies on brown paper grocery bags instead of racks.

for more fabulous recipes like this visit Rachael Ray Magazine

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Well it can be for some and it can be utter chaos for others! I absolutely love this time of year. I love the pretty, twinkly lights. The festive events and holiday drinks at all the local eateries. And most of all, the general nostalgia that the holidays bring to me - all the wonderful memories and that "warm, fuzzy feeling". But I feel stress just like everyone else! Even thought I adore picking out gifts for loved ones, it is one of the most nerve-wracking thing that I endure every single year. The pressure of finding that perfect gift, expectations, and also the possibility of making someone feel awful if you buy them a gift but they didn't buy one for you. One of the biggest solutions I have come across is to make a nice batch of homemade gifts! They are heartfelt and much appreciated. Your friends & family will truly feel the love you put into each and every little gift you made. You can either give them alone or include them along with an extra store-bought gift. Either way, it will make a HUGE impression that the special people in your life will not forget!

Here are some of my ideas that I have used in the past that include either personalized gift sets/baskets, store-bought items and also homemade gifts.

1. Hand-made ornaments. You can find recipes for these on the Martha Stewart website as well as all over the internet.

2. Home-made candies. I will be posting some different recipes from past Martha Stewart Holiday issues that I have made over the last couple years over the next couple weeks.

3. Cozy Gift Basket - A DVD, Mug(s), Hot Chocolate, Marshmallows and a warm, fuzzy blanket.

4. Movie Night - Two DVD's, microwave popcorn, movie snacks like mike & ikes, sour patch kids, goobers, etc and a warm blanket to cuddle up.

5. Dinner for two - a bottle of wine, spaghetti, tomato sauce, and whatever other ingredients you would like to include in the meal wrapped up with an oven mitt in a nice pot or basket.

6. Gourmet Gift Basket - One of your favorite cookbooks along with an oven mitt and the dry (non-spoiling) ingredients to make one of the meals in the book all wrapped up in a nice basket.

7. Day After Christmas Breakfast - pancake mix, muffin mix, maple syrup, bacon (non-spoil), coffee, and a couple mugs wrapped up in a nice basket.

8. Have a cookie night with friends. Everyone brings some ingredients to make a few batches of their favorite cookies and some trays. At the end of the night you each keep a small tray and split up the rest to give as gifts!

So that's all my ideas for now. I will be adding various recipes and ideas that I come across over the next couple of weeks!