Google Analytics

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Homemade Gifts #7: Cookie/Goody Box

I made a cookie/goody box for each of my staff members, which included all the yummy treats I blogged about previously + Louisiana Pecan Balls (recipe here) + jam I made from the berries my friend Leigh and I picked back in August (post here).

I got the boxes/tissue/ribbon from a local craft store, and used cupcake wrappers to keep the spiced nuts and pecan bites from shifting in transit.

Homemade Gifts #6: Peanut Butter Cookies

I don't consider peanut butter cookies to be typical Christmas cookies - but my husband made a special request for them and I felt compelled to oblige, since he never makes requests.

The recipe I used (here) has only 6, easy to find, ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry, which means you can whip up these puppies in a pinch.  Stack them in a treat bag with a couple other goodies, and give to your friends/co-worker/family.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Homemade Gifts #5: Pecan Squares

Out of all the goodies I made last week, these pecan squares (click here for the recipe) were my absolute favorite.

Give yourself plenty of time to make these, as its a two-step process (crust & caramel) and there's cooling in-between.

I cut my pecan squares into perfect little two bite pieces - and ended up with enough for a few goody bags, cookie boxes for my staff, and a bit left over for a party.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Homemade Gifts #4: Chocolate Almond Toffee

If you like to live on the edge, here are a couple short cuts you can try when making this recipe for Almond Toffee:

(1) Instead of cutting, melting, and tempering the chocolate in a double boiler or heat proof bowl - use chocolate chips and simply sprinkle on top of the warm toffee.  Once they melt, spread evenly and top with almonds.  WARNING:  this short cut caused me a LOT of anxiety when my melted chocolate REFUSED to set.  After 2 hrs, I started scouring the internet for tips on how to fix chocolate that won't set.  I ended up putting the toffee in the refrigerator for 5 minutes and saying a prayer.  When I woke up in the morning, all was well, but if I could do it all over again I'd save myself the anxiety and nix the short cut.

(2)  Use slivered almonds or almond pieces instead of whole almonds.  This tip is a no brainer and will save you the grief (and possibly injury due to flying projectiles) of trying to chop whole almonds.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Homemade Gifts #3: Spiced Nuts

My friend Tamara gave me the idea for AND sent me the recipe for these utterly delicious spiced nuts (recipe here).

I plan on serving them ( least what's left, I've already eaten my way through 1/4 of the batch) at my holiday get-together on Friday, and giving the rest to my staff in treat packages I'm going to put together for each of them.

Helpful hints: if you don't have the necessary spices sitting around the house, look for a place that sells bulk spices (grocery store, spice store, farmer's market).  It's usually MUCH cheaper to scoop out the amount you need from the bulk bin, as opposed to buying a whole jar of each spice at a premium price (a few cents as opposed to several dollars).  Also - bulk bins may be the place to get your nuts as well, unless the nuts in the baking aisle are on sale.  Make sure you compare prices (price per unit is usually in fine print on the price label affixed to the shelf).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Homemade Gifts (Idea) #2: Soy Container Candles

This is a homemade gift "idea" since I'm not making/giving these babies as gifts this year (I did last year, see post here) - although I probably have enough raw materials sitting in my craft closet to make candles for everyone on my gift list.

What you'll need to make approx 10 candles:

Large Pyrex container or double boiler
wicks (10)
heat proof containers (10)
soy based wax (2lbs)
candle safe fragrance (2 oz)

approx total cost: $18.84 (+ $10.20 shipping) at or check out your local craft store

Directions: Melt the wax in either a double boiler or the microwave (work with 1lb of wax at a time).  Once the wax is melted, stir in the fragrance oil (make sure you stir well! 1oz fragrance/1lb wax).
Dab a little hot wax on the bottom of each wick, center in your container, and hold until the wick adheres.  Use pencils or skewers to keep the wicks in place.
Pour the melted wax into the containers and let cool.  If the surface of the candle has imperfections, use a blow-dryer or heat gun to smooth it out.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments section!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Homemade Gifts #1: Peanut Brittle

Peanut brittle (recipe here) is deceptively easy hard tricky to make.  Trust me.  While I was measuring the temperature of my concoction - 300 degrees is the key, otherwise it won't set - it transformed from a light caramel to burnt umber in the blink of an eye.

I tried to sell the over-cooked batch as interestingly smoky brittle - but Ed wasn't believing it.


Oh well.  On the upside, peanut brittle has few, inexpensive ingredients and only takes a matter of minutes to make.  Put it in a pretty package, and peanut brittle makes a great gift for friends/family/co-workers.

Just remember to watch it like a hawk when its cooking.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Resort Time

Yesterday I got an email from with a link to their 2010 Resort line, and I immediately started dreaming of sandy beaches and warm weather outfits - even though its cold, rainy, and gray out.

I'm definitely going to have to add a swimsuit and a new pair of sunglasses to my vacation wardrobe this Spring - but if I somehow come into a lot of $$$ or lose all my good sense (late night + bottle of wine + internet shopping?) - I'll pull the trigger on these items:

Similar items at a MUCH lower price

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cider-Glazed Chicken with Brown Butter-Pecan Rice

Since we're currently in the food lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and most of our waist bands are a little tighter than they used to be, it's probably a good idea to throw a couple light dinners in the mix.

May I recommend this recipe for Cider-Glazed Chicken with Brown Butter Pecan Rice?

Even though I: (1) used regular brown rice instead of the "boil in the bag" rice (it would have been sacrilegious for me to use the bag stuff - I'm from Guam for goodness sake) and (2) filleted a couple chicken breasts myself instead of buying cutlets - it probably took me all of 35 minutes to complete this dish from start to finish.

One hint: when you're toasting the pecans, watch them like a hawk.  One minute can mean the difference between perfectly nutty yummy toasted-ness - and the charred black specks you see in my rice (pic above).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Black Bean Tomato Soup with Cilantro Lime Cream

The nice thing about cooking for one (the hubby is on a business trip) is that you're left with tons of leftovers - which means 40 minutes of effort can feed you for days.

I made a quick soup on Monday, pictured above - find the recipe here, and I finally polished off the leftovers last night. 

The ingredients for the soup were inexpensive and it tasted perfectly smoky and (really) spicy, although the cilantro lime cream helps to temper the heat.

I omitted the bacon from the recipe, used olive oil when sauteing the onions/celery, and added 1/4 tsp of smoked paprika to kick it up a notch.

It's another great soup for a cold winter night.