Friday, December 24, 2010

Chocolate Mousse

This recipe makes me a chocolate lover!!!


1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 tablespoon cold water
2 tablespoons boiling water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup Hershey's cocoa (the powdered stuff for baking)
1 cup (1/2 pint) cold whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional garnish: chocolate shells, whipped cream, chocolate shavings, fresh fruit (raspberry, strawberry)


In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over cold water; let stand 1 minute to soften. Add boiling water; stir until gelatin is completely dissolved and mixture is clear. Cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, stir together sugar and cocoa; add whipping cream and vanilla. Beat on medium speed of electric mixer, scraping bottom of bowl occasionally until mixture is stiff. Pour in gelatin mixture; beat until well blended. Spoon mixture into serving dishes.

Refrigerate about 30 minutes before serving. Garnish if desired. Cover; refrigerate leftover desserts. Makes 2 cups.

Chocolate Almond Brittle

This is an easy brittle recipe that does not require a candy thermometer!!!


1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely chopped almonds
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 pound dark or milk chocolate candy coating


In a 1-1/2 qt. microwave-safe bowl, combine the sugar, corn syrup and salt. Microwave, uncovered, on high for 2-1/2 minutes. Stir in almonds; cook on high for 2-1/2 minutes. Add the butter and vanilla; cook on high for 1 minute.

Stir in baking soda. As soon as the mixture foams, quickly pour onto a greased metal baking sheet.

Cool completely. Break into 2" pieces.

Melt chocolate coating in microwave. Dip one side of brittle in chocolate and place on waxed paper to harden. Store in an airtight container. Yield about 1 pound.

Butterscotch Cheesecake

I LOVE cheesecake!!  But, I have found that there are so many recipes that just really don't have much flavor and are definitely not worth the extra calories!  This is one that I love!  It has a lot of great flavor and doesn't lose the delicious cheesecake taste that I love!  I noted some optional lower fat options I use since sometimes it does ruin a recipe - in this case mine turned out great!


1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs*
1/3 cup brown sugar*
1/3 cup butter, melted*
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk (I used fat free)
3/4 cup cold milk (I used fat free)
1 package (3.4 ounces) instant butterscotch pudding mix
3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened (I used the lower fat version)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Whipped cream and crushed butterscotch candies, optional garnish

Special Tools Needed:

9" springform pan (I used a 9 1/2 " pan which just made my pie a little shorter)
Large baking pan that springform pan will fit in


Place a greased 9" springform pan on a double thickness of aluminum foil.  Securely wrap foil around pan (but not over edges).  In a small bowl, combine cracker crumbs and sugar; stir in butter.  Press onto the bottom of prepared pan.  Place pan on a baking sheet.  Bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

In a small bowl, whisk the milks and pudding mix for 2 minutes.  Let stand for 2 minutes or until soft-set.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth.  Beat in pudding and vanilla.  Add eggs; beat on low speed just until combined.  Pour over crust.  Place springform pan in a large baking pan; add 1" of hat water to larger pan.

Bake at 325 degrees for 75 minutes or until center is almost set and top appears dull.  Remove springform pan from water bath.  Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

Carefully run a knife around the edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer.  Refrigerate overnight.  Garnish if desired.

*Add additional if you want the crust to cover the sides of the pan.  I did not do that for these pictures but I actually prefer crust on the sides.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Scented Cinnamon Ornaments

My kids and I always have fun making these! They are great to scent your house or to give with gifts. We hang them on our tree, the garland on the staircase, and on the outside of wrapped gifts!


1 cup cinnamon*
2 tablespoons white glue
1 tablespoon ground cloves
3/4 cup applesauce
1 tablespoon nutmeg
Cookie cutters
Ribbon or string for hanging


In a medium bowl combine cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Add applesauce and glue. Stir. Knead for 2-3 minutes or until dough is smooth and ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Use cookie cutters to cut into desired shapes.

Use a toothpick to remove any rough edges and to make a small hole (large enough for the ribbon/wire you plan to use) in the top of each ornament. I usually make a small hole in the miniature ornaments and use fish-line to hang it. The larger ornaments can support a larger hole to use ribbon. Or you can simply leave out the hole and place them in a decorative dish. Just make sure no one mistakes them for cookies! Place them on parchment paper and allow them to dry for several days at room temperature. To dry ornaments evenly, turn over once each day.

Thread ribbon through hole in ornament.

Tip: make sure you keep these away from food products/gifts or it may change the flavor and scent of the food.

*Yes - it's 1 cup of cinnamon!! To keep my cost down I go to my local dollar store and buy a big container for just $1. You are not eating these so expiration dates and quality are not important.

Cocktail Reubens & California Cocktail Reubens

I came across this recipe for cocktail reubens and thought it might be interesting to try since my husband loves California reubens. Of course, the California reuben is the only version I have made since that is what my family will eat but I wanted to add the original recipe for those of you who might want it. These recipes make 24 small sandwiches.

California Cocktail Reubens


48 slices of rye cocktail bread
Soft butter
Thousand Island dressing
8 oz. thinly sliced turkey
1/2 lb thinly sliced Swiss cheese
Coleslaw, well drained (approx. 1 cup)


On a flat griddle, place as many slices of bread as will fit, with butter on the side to the cooking surface.

For each sandwich, spread the bread with Thousand Island dressing, and then layer cheese, turkey, and 1/2 tablespoon of coleslaw.

Close the sandwich, and then butter the top. Turn the heat on to medium high, and grill the sandwich's until toasted, and then flip.

Continue until all the sandwiches are finished, putting them on a plate and covering with tin foil until ready to serve.

Cocktail Reubens


48 slices of rye cocktail bread
Soft butter
8 oz. thinly sliced corned beef
1/2 lb. thinly sliced Swiss cheese
14-oz. can of sauerkraut, well drained
Deli mustard


On a flat griddle, place as many slices of bread as will fit, with butter on the side to the cooking surface. For each sandwich, spread the bread with mayonnaise, and then layer corned beef, Swiss cheese, and 1/2 tablespoon of sauerkraut. On the sandwich top, spread one side with deli mustard, close the sandwich, and then butter the top. Turn the heat on to medium high, and grill the sandwich's until toasted, and then flip. Continue until all the sandwiches are finished, putting them on a plate and covering with tin foil until ready to serve.

Painting Gift Set

Here's a gift idea if you have someone to buy for that loves painting. In this case, I wasn't sure what to get for a young girl on my list but I know that she loves arts and crafts and that her family really supports her desire to be creative.

I started planning and buying early for this gift so I could provide something nice but within a budget. I found a lot of great deals at a craft store in my area and eventually ended up with a gift that I think the recipient will enjoy. Some of the things it includes:

Variety of paint
Variety of paintbrushes
Paint well tray
Variety of things to paint based on the recipients personal interest
Something to hold it all together - I already used a plastic tote as part of a past gift for this person so I decided to go with a white photo box that she can paint.

Tip: Make sure that the gift is age appropriate and that the family will be supportive of it. I remember when I was little giving a young cousin a beauty set that included fingernail polish. Her mom didn't think it was great when she found her daughter painting her walls with it - Yikes!

Baked Goods as Holiday Gifts

Here are some things that I put together for teacher gifts this year.

The second I saw this snowman hat basket I knew I had to make a cookie bouquet out of it! I used a square foam piece in the center to hold the sugar cookies. Then I added a variety of homemade cookies in holiday bags around the sides for extra support and treats. The great thing is that they can use these as center pieces over the holidays!

I wanted to give the bus driver and teachers aids something too but I didn't want to do the usual holiday plate or tin. I found these cute stockings at a great price! I stuffed them full of baked goods that were stored in holiday themed treat bags.

I was assigned to bring cookies to my daughter’s pre-k holiday party so here is a sample what I made. It was a huge hit!

Tip: I made sure that all of my baked goods would hold up well in the packaging I selected. There are some that I normally make that I did not for these gifts because I knew they would get crushed.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Old Fashioned Hard Candy (Rock Candy)

"Rock Candy" is one of the great memories I have as a little girl at Christmas time! My great grandmother made it every year and I LOVED helping her. Of course it is a hot candy to make so my participation was usually the part of smashing it into little pieces :) This candy is also hard to get it to turn out so I highly recommend that you have a candy thermometer to make sure your mixture reaches the correct temperatures.

Ingredients (makes a small batch):

2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cups light corn syrup
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon candy flavoring
1/4 teaspoon liquid food coloring
Powdered sugar (optional)

Example of candy flavor options - my favorite is cinnamon.

In a medium saucepan, mix together sugar, corn syrup and water. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring mixture to a boil without stirring. When syrup temperature reaches 260 degrees, add color. Do not stir; boiling action will incorporate color into syrup. Remove from heat at 300 degrees or when drops of syrup form hard, brittle threads in cold water. After boiling action ceases, add flavoring and stir. Use caution when adding flavoring to avoid rising steam. Pour syrup into lightly oiled candy molds or onto greased cookie sheet. When cool, break into pieces and dust with powdered sugar to prevent sticking.

Store in airtight container until you are ready to gift or serve.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Little Gingerbread Houses

This is a cute craft that my kids do in school every year. It's appropriate for many ages and easy to do at home or for a party. You start with a "gingerbread house".

Just simply hot glue graham crackers to a small empty milk container and then glue that to a small paper plate.

Next, give your decorators a small cup of soft frosting with a plastic knife to spread the frosting on their house. In a common shared area of the table you can have bowls of a variety of items to use for decorating. Some suggestions:

• Gummy Bears
• Christmas Candy Corn
• Miniature Candy Canes
• Teddy Grahams
• M&M's
• Skittles
• Fruit Loops
• Licorice
• Chocolate Chips
• Pastel Chocolate Chips
• Gum Drops
• Gumballs
• Mini Pastel or Holiday Marshmallows

We let our 3 and 5 year old children have freedom to decorating their own houses. Here are some pictures of their creations :)

Holiday & Other Celebratory Greeting Cards

I have mentioned in previous blog posts that my family is on a mission to reduce, reuse, recycle in any way we can. This idea is one that I got from my step-mom who always finds creative ways to wrap gifts for my family.  She has to ship them which isn't always good for using bows on the top.

If you are anything like me, you get a ton of cards during the month of December. And let us not forget birthdays and other celebrations through the year. Instead of throwing them in the trash at the end of the celebration you could recycle them. Or you could reuse them. Yes - I said reuse! Look at the beautiful covers of many of these cards! They are much prettier than many gift tags that you buy. So why not use them as gift tags??? My step-mom ships our gifts with cute greeting cards taped to the top as the gift tag. When my kids were really little they were excited about these "gift tags" more than the gift! Now, it provides them with extra excitement about the gift as they wait for the day they can be opened. Using cards as gift tags is also great for larger gifts that need a large tag.

What do you do? When I am done with my cards I:

1. Set aside the cards I want to keep for sentimental reasons (including photo cards).

2. Out of the remaining cards I select the ones that might be nice to use as a gift tag in the future.

3. Out of the "gift tag" cards I only use the front cover of the card so I verify that there is no personal information written on the back of the front cover. If there is I don't use it.

4. Cut the cards so that only the front cover is remaining (the part I am using as a tag).

5. Store the "gift tags" with the rest of my wrapping supplies.

6. Recycle the remaining cards and cut pieces.

Now you have a beautiful supply of gift tags to use in the future!

This one was used as part of a shipping label on a box.  My kids were really excited!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Paper Gator

A couple of years ago my family decided that we needed to do more to "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle". One of the ways we do this is through the "Paper Gator" offered at our kids' schools. Maybe you have seen these around and didn't know what they were for. Lucky for you I am doing this blog post ;-) A couple of things made me think of this today: gift wrap and the arrival of my new phone books. These are all recyclable through Paper Gator!

What is "Paper Gator"? I was surprised to find through my research for this post that it is located in Byron Center, Michigan! I would have thought it was a national program. Hopefully there are similar programs in other areas of the country!  Here is the website for detailed information My short summary: You save up your unwanted mail (shred if personal), catalogs, magazines, newspaper, gift wrap, and phone books. Take them to a Paper Gator bin to recycle. Paper Gator picks up the bin contents and pays that non-profit location $35 for every ton. It may not sound like a lot but it adds up and it's free for the non-profit location. I know the schools that we recycle through greatly appreciate their Paper Gator money to help supplement some of their budget cuts! We love this program so much that we even collect paper products from my in-laws to recycle through Paper Gator.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Candy Cane Hearts

I saw this on a blog and just had to try it! It's very simple, cute and fun for little ones to get involved.

What you need:

Wax paper
Chocolate (I used white and milk chocolate chips)
Miniature candy canes


Place the mini candy canes on the wax paper to form hearts (see picture).

Melt the chocolate. It depends on how many you want to make but I didn’t need a lot of chocolate. I used a pint size freezer Ziploc bag to melt the chocolate in so I could then use that to pipe the chocolate into the center of the candy cane hearts. Add sprinkles!

Simple and cute! We are setting one aside for Santa's cookie plate :)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

If you like sweet potatoes this is a must try recipe!


6 medium sweet potatoes
1/4 cup butter, cubed
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
6 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled (as a vegetarian I do not add this)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper


Scrub and pierce sweet potatoes. Bake at 375 degrees for 1-1/4 hours or until tender.

When cool enough to handle, cut a thin slice off the top of each potato and discard. Scoop out the pulp, leaving thin shells. In a large bowl, mash the pulp with butter. Stir in the cheese, bacon (if you are using), salt, and pepper. Spoon into potato shells.

Place on a baking sheet. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until heated through.

Of course you can reduce the ingredients to make a smaller portion (I usually make 2 potatoes instead of 6 for my small family).

Pizza Loaf/Ham & Cheddar Loaf

I originally came across this recipe for a ham and cheddar loaf many years ago. We really liked it but quickly we started to think of how great it would be with pizza toppings. Ever since it's been a meal that we make often!


1 pound frozen pizza dough, thawed
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
Flour for rolling


Pizza Loaf - 1/2 cup pizza sauce, 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, and pizza toppings of your choice (I use pepperoni, mushrooms, onion, green olives).

Ham & Cheddar Loaf - 9 ounces shaved ham, 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, and 1/4 cup miracle whip.


Roll out dough on a floured surface.

Pizza Loaf: top with pizza sauce leaving a border around all sides. Next, top with cheese and any pizza toppings you would like to add.

Ham & Cheddar Loaf: top with ham (overlapping slices). Leave a border around all sides. Mix cheddar cheese and dressing. Spread/crumble over ham.

Moisten edges of the dough with water. Fold 1/3 of the dough over the filling then repeat with the other side. Pinch ends of the dough together to seal. Place seam side down on a lightly greased baking sheet (I use a foil lined pan instead for easy clean up).

Cut small slits in the top of the dough. Brush evenly with egg. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Let cool for a little while before serving.

Some other things we have added to our pizza roll:
• Oregano or pizza seasoning in with the toppings
• Sprinkle with garlic powder on the outside of the dough.

The possibilities are endless!