Tag Archives: Holidays

The 20 Minute, $12 Christmas Wreath

This post is a little late, considering Christmas is in just a few days, but better late than never! I decided to make my own Christmas wreath this year for the front door because I’m too cheap to pay for one (those things are EXPENSIVE!). So I went to Michael’s and bought two tubes of large ball ornaments (14 total), three tubes of small ball ornaments (21 total) and a wreath form. Because everything was on sale, it only cost me $12! Using a hot glue gun, I glued the ornaments onto the wreath form, making sure to alternate the colors and patterns. It might not be perfect, but I think it turned out pretty good! And it’s totally doable for a busy mom, or it could be a good project to do with your little one. The only change I would make is that I recommend getting four tubes of small ornaments rather than just three to help fill in any holes.

 

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Everyday I’m Trufflin’. . .

My friend Dori gave me a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated for my birthday this year. While it might not be the flashiest of magazines, it has quickly become one of my best cooking resources. There are really great tips sent in by readers and home cooks, as well as tried and true recipes that have been executed multiple times in America’s Test Kitchen until perfect. So I decided if I was going to try making truffles for the first time, the Chocolate Truffles recipe featured in the January 2012 issue would be the one to start with. It’s a bit time consuming, mostly waiting around for the ganache to cool and chill, but the results are well worth the wait! I gave these to my coworkers for Christmas (along with yummy homemade cookies, which I’ll post about later!), and they were a HUGE hit!

Chocolate Truffles
(From Cook’s Illustrated, January 2012)

Ganache

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped (Mom Machine Note: I used Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate baking bars)

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in to small pieces and softened

Coating

1 cup Dutch-processed cocoa

1/4 cup powdered sugar

Mom Machine Note: I actually rolled my truffles in three different coatings:  pistachios, coconut and cocoa. You could also do powdered sugar, crushed toffee bits, chopped hazelnuts, really anything you like. If you do alternate coatings, just lower the amount of the cocoa mixture, since you won’t be using it for all 64 truffles. Since I did three different coatings, I only used 1/2 cup of cocoa and 1/8 cup of powdered sugar.

Optional coatings 

1/2 cup roasted salted pistachios, chopped super fine

1/2 cup flaked coconut (I actually used shredded coconut, and I think flaked would work much better)


Make a parchment sling for an 8-inch square baking dish by folding 2 long sheets of parchment so that they are as wide as baking dish.  Lay sheets of parchment in pan perpendicular to each other, with extra hanging over edges of pan.  Push parchment into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing flush to pan.

Microwave chocolate in medium bowl at 50% power, stirring occasionally, until mostly melted and few small chocolate pieces remain, 3 to 4 minutes; set aside.  Microwave heavy cream in measuring cup until warm to touch, about 30 seconds.  Stir corn syrup, vanilla extract and salt into cream and pour mixture over chocolate.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap, set aside for 3 minutes, and then stir with wooden spoon to combine.  Stir in butter, one piece at a time, until fully incorporated. Using rubber spatula, transfer ganache to prepared pan and set aside at room temperature for 2 hours.  Cover pan and transfer to refrigerator; chill for at least 2 hours.

For the coating, sift cocoa and powdered sugar twice over a large cake pan using a fine mesh strainer and set aside.Gripping overhanging parchment, lift ganache from pan.  Cut ganache into 64 1-inch squares (8 rows by 8 rows). (Mom Machine Note: From Cook’s Illustrated- run your knife under hot water and wipe dry before cutting to make it easier. I actually recommend doing this step before each cut. It helps keep the chocolate from cracking.) 

Dust hands lightly with cocoa mixture to prevent ganache from sticking and roll each square into ball.  Drop balls in cake pan with cocoa mixture and roll evenly to coat.  Lightly shake truffles in hand over pan to remove excess coating.  (Mom Machine Note: This works best if you do this assembly line style, so recruit help if you can. My hubby did the rolling while I handled the coating. It took about 15 minutes to do all 64 truffles.) Transfer coated truffles to airtight container and repeat until all ganache squares are rolled and coated.  Cover container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 1 week.  Let truffles sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before serving.


Virginia is for *Wine* Lovers!

My day perked up considerably this afternoon when the UPS guy dropped off an unexpected package. It perked up even more when I opened the box to discover a bottle of wine. What’s this, mysterious bottles of wine are suddenly appearing on my doorstep? (Not that I’m complaining, mind you.) Then I read the card sent with the bottle. Family friends of ours gave us a 6-month membership to the Virginia Wine of the Month Club for Christmas! I love this idea— not just because it involves the delivery of wine but because it supports our Virginia wineries (something near and dear to my heart since my stepmom is Creative Director for the Williamsburg Winery). Each month, we’ll be receiving a bottle of the finest red the Old Dominion has to offer.

If you’re interested in giving a membership as a gift, you can choose the number of bottles per month (1 to 4), type of wine (red, white, sweet, or a variety), and the length of the membership in monthly increments (from 3 to 12 months). Prices start at $47.85 for a 3-month membership, one bottle a month.

Time to go spread some Christmas “Cheers!”

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Teach Compassion This Holiday Season

For as far back as I can remember, my family has made giving back part of our holiday tradition, even if all we could afford to give some years was our time. My parents didn’t just tell me that it was important to give to those less fortunate, they showed me. My entire family volunteered to ring the bell for the Salvation Army each Christmas; we painted our elderly neighbor’s house; I helped deliver Meals on Wheels with my grandma; I served meals at the soup kitchen downtown and visited the nursing home to sing (yes, sing, this probably wasn’t so charitable) Christmas carols to the residents.

Having a daughter of my own now, I  want to provide for her in every way that I can so that she never wants for anything. But I also want her to learn compassion for others and the importance of giving back. I want her to understand just how fortunate she is and fully appreciate everything that she has. The holidays are a perfect time to teach our children about empathy and charity. Here are some great organizations that can help you get started:

Toys for Tots  The Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation has been collecting and delivering toys to needy children since 1947. Take your little one shopping so he can pick out a toy for another child who isn’t as fortunate, and take the opportunity to explain why it’s important and what that toy might mean to that other little boy or girl. Visit www.toysfortots.org to find a drop-off location near you.

Share Our Strength®  Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is working to end childhood hunger in America. Each dollar you donate provides up to 10 meals for a hungry child, and your donation will be matched dollar for dollar through December 31st! Visit www.shareourstrength.org to learn how you can double your gift.

SHARE (Self-Help and Resource Exchange)  The SHARE Food Network helps families make the most of their food budget by putting together nutritious groceries at an affordable price. You can get involved by donating your time as a volunteer or purchasing healthy food for a family in need. My neighborhood actually has a SHARE program where we can purchase a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal for a family in need in our area. It’s great to know that our donation is going to help another Burke Centre family. If you’re in the Washington, D.C. area, visit www.sharedc.org for details. Otherwise, you can Google SHARE in your area to find a network near you.

Photo courtesy The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army  Donating to The Salvation Army can be as simple as dropping your change into one of the thousands of red kettles nationwide, volunteering your time as a bell ringer, or selecting a child in need from the Angel Giving Tree. I always loved selecting angels from the tree, shopping for the things on their wish list, and imagining the looks on their faces when they opened their gifts! Allowing your child to select an angel their same age and gender can help them learn empathy, since they can more closely relate to their angel. Visit www.salvationarmyusa.org for more information.

If you’re still looking for some other way to give back, try www.volunteermatch.org. This web site provides resources to help match volunteers with civic opportunities in their area.


Aaannnnd We’re Back. . . With an Ornament

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. To say that things have been pretty nuts around here this week would be an understatement. My husband has  a sinus infection, my daughter is fighting a cold, and we had a death in the family, so we’ve been out of town for the past few days. But we are home now and back to blogging, so without further adieu. . .

One Christmas tradition we have started with our daughter is to give her a new ornament on Christmas Eve to add to the tree. This year, I thought we’d do a DIY ornament, since she’s so little, it’s not like she’s going to remember opening it anyway. I found a cute thumbprint reindeer ornament on Pinterest (from Little Bit Funky) and figured we’d give it a shot. It was surprisingly easy! I found the ornament itself at Michaels for $1.99. The paints were Martha Stewart Multi-Surface Satin Acrylic and were $1.99 each, also from Michaels. I decided to add my daughter’s name and the year to the ornament. It will be fun to one day look back and remember just how tiny her little fingers once were!

 


Caramel Apple Pie

This was my first attempt, ever, at making an apple pie. It hit me halfway through the baking process that perhaps feeding a bunch of hungry people at Thanksgiving wasn’t the best time to try something new (ever since the infamous cannoli cake debacle at my husband’s birthday, I like to test recipes out before going public with them). But my fear turned out to be unfounded— this was one of the best apple pies I’d ever had!

Caramel Apple Pie

1 refrigerated or frozen pie crust (or you can be ambitious and make your own- I used Pillsbury refrigerated crust)

1/2 cup sugar

3 tbsp flour

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

6 cups of peeled and sliced apples (Granny Smith or another tart variety work best)

Dash of salt

Topping:

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup quick oats

1/2 cup butter, softened but still chilled

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Caramel sauce for drizzling (like Smucker’s ice cream topping)

Vanilla ice cream (because apple pie isn’t complete without it!)

 

Prepare your pie crust according to the directions. If using the rolled, refrigerated pie crust, you do not need to pre-bake the crust. Just unroll it in a pie plate and trim and press the edges.

Stir together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the apples and toss to coat. Pour the apples into the pie crust.

In a separate bowl, mix the brown sugar, flour, oats, butter and pecans for the topping. It should have a coarse, crumbly texture. Sprinkle the topping over the apples and press it down lightly, making sure to cover to the edges.

Cover the edges of the pie in aluminum foil, and bake at 375° for 25 minutes. Remove the foil edging and continue baking for another 30 minutes. Drizzle with the caramel sauce and allow to cool for several minutes before serving with a scoop of ice cream.


Today, I am thankful

For…

My beautiful, healthy, and happy family; having friends that love, support and don’t judge me—no matter how crazy and neurotic I can be; having this creative outlet that allows me to write, edit and learn every single day (thanks for reading and following—I appreciate the support more than you know!); the fact that my office closed early yesterday :o) (it’s the little things); that there are Targets even out in the country—it was a lifesaver last night when I realized that, despite my copious lists and organization, I somehow managed to forget to pack any underwear or socks; and, finally, for Crunchy Caramel Apple Pie and the best Green Bean Casserole this side of the Mississippi (my mom’s recipe, of course)! Since it’s probably too late for anyone to make these for today’s festivities, I’ll post the recipes in the coming days. . . there are always holiday parties!

Wishing you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!

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Halloween Cupcakes

I love Halloween. More than that, I love Halloween parties. And to go with all tricks, you need some yummy treats. I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to bake up some of these adorable Halloween cupcakes with me. Until then, guess I’m just going to have to enjoy these myself!

Photo via sugarturntable.com

Photo via zombiewagon.com

Photo via bhg.com

Photo via celebrate-creativity.com

Photo via cutefoodforkids.com


Trick or Treat!

As I’ve been looking around for ideas for my daughter’s Halloween costume, I have come across some pretty funny/disturbing/genius costumes. Some are DIY and some can be purchased online. Here are a few of my favorites:

Tin Man via coolest-homemade-costumes.com

Candy Dots via babble.com

Spaghetti and Meatballs via parenting.com

Nacho Libre via babble.com

Colonel Sanders via craftster.org

Little Pig via chasing-fireflies.com

Max from "Where the Wild Things Are" via etsy.com

DIY Owl via alphamom.com

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