My Favorite Gingerbread House Recipe

I love traditions...to me they make the holidays more exciting and special, something to anticipate...we have a lot around Christmas...here are some, just to name a few, sometimes they change, sometimes we don't fit them all in, sometimes we make new traditions. I would love to hear some of yours!
We always decorate the day after Thanksgiving, starting with going to get a tree from a farm (which sadly had to change as we moved south this year).
The kids draw names & get to go shopping for their brother or sister (this tradition started with my family when I was little...and we still do it, we draw families...which lightens the cost of Christmas a little, and is a lot of fun).
We have Christmas Eve dinner (so on Christmas we can just relax and eat leftovers) followed by reading the story of Jesus' birth and opening one present (always jammies from Shorty & Papa...Grandma & Grandpa).
One of our favorites that we added about 4 years ago is making gingerbread houses...sometimes one, sometimes everyone gets a small one...we always have a great time...they are never perfect, maybe when my kids get older we will have pristine, beautiful gingerbread houses...but I love the way they turn out now...with my kid's unbridled creativity flowing. One Christmas we spent with my family...every family decorated one and we had a contest (in which everyone won a category...ours was the yummiest) :)

Here is my favorite Gingerbread House & Royal Icing Recipes...


1 c. butter or shortening
1 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. dark molasses
1 egg
1 Tb. ground ginger
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
5 to 5 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1. Beat butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer (I use my kitchen aid...makes it easier) at medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses until well blended. Beat in egg until well blended, scraping down side of bowl occasionally. Beat in ginger, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and cloves until well blended. Beat in 2 cups flour at low speed until well blended, scraping down side of bowl once. Gradually beat in remaining 3 to 3 1/2 cups flour until stiff dough forms.

2. Form dough into 2 discs. Square corners. Wrap disks in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour or until dough is firm.

3. Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease 1 or 2 large baking sheets (16 x 14 in. without sides). Working with one disk at a time, unwrap dough and place in center of baking sheet. Roll out dough evenly to cover entire baking sheet with lightly greased rolling pin.

4. Place sheet of wax paper over dough to prevent pattern from sticking. Lay pattern pieces on waxed paper at least 1 inch apart. Cut dough around patterns with a sharp knife; remove patterns and waxed paper. Lift scraps from sheet; press together. Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate scraps until ready to use.

5. Bake cookies 8 minutes or until no indentation remains when touched in the center. Immediately place cardboard patterns lightly on cookie; trim edges with a sharp knife; discard trimmings. Return cookies to oven.

6. Bake 5 to 8 minutes more or until cookies are very firm. Cool on pan 3 minutes. Remove cookies with large metal spatula to wire racks; cool completely. If cooled cookies remain moist in the center, bake in 250 oven 20 to 45 minutes. Do not burn. Cool completely on wire racks. Repeat with remaining dough and scraps.

Royal Icing:

1/4 c. meringue powder
6 Tb. water
16 oz. powdered sugar

1. Beat meringue powder and water in medium bowl with electric mixer at low speed until stiff peaks form.
2. Beat in sugar at low speed until well blended. Beat at high speed until icing is very stiff. Cover icing with damp cloth to prevent icing from drying.

To Assemble (I do this the night before):

Spoon icing into a piping bag (or Ziploc bag) cut off tip or use a large circle tip (line of icing squeezed out should measure 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick).

Pipe royal icing onto the bottom and side edges of one piece, "gluing" bottom edge to platter or covered cardboard, stabilize with two heavy cups or canned goods. Attach remaining sides. Allow to dry (I also like to pipe a bead of royal icing along the seams on the inside to reinforce). When dry pipe royal icing onto top edges and attach roof. Allow house to completely dry.

Decorate with candies of your choice, attaching with royal icing...have fun!


Christmas Goodies...

if you are getting a box of Christmas goodies from me this year...and want to be surprised...read no further...
If you just can't wait anymore...go ahead and peek :)
I LOVE to bake & make candy around the holidays...each year I do something a little different. And to keep me from eating all of it I send it away to my family (which they love) who all live very far away from me...I rarely can be there at the holidays to cook for them, so this is the next best thing :)

This year the array of goodies include (I always do a selection...with a little of each for everyone)

1. Pretzel Turtles
these can't really be counted as cooking in my book...they are so easy & you just have to assemble them...
You need:
square "snaps" pretzels
chocolate covered caramels
pecan halves
Preheat oven to 300. Arrange pretzels in a single layer (now is a good time to use your silpat...or line your cookie sheet with parchment paper). Top each pretzel with 1 chocolate covered Caramel.
Bake for 4 minutes...if you use "Rolos" bake for the full time, if you use dove bake only for 3 minutes, and be careful...a lot of my caramel tended to ooze out of the dove chocolates :(.
Remove from oven and press 1 pecan half into the top...let cool to re-harden.

2. Cinnamon Glazed Pecans These don't really look that tasty in the pic...but they are sooo yummy...you have to try them :)

You need:

2 egg whites
1 lb pecans
3/4 c. sugar
2 tsp. cinnamonBeat egg whites until stiff. Stir in pecans, add cinnamon and sugar. Spread on a cookie sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper. Bake one hour at 200, stirring every 15 minutes.

4. Candy Cane Two Minute FudgeFollow the recipe on the sidebar...omit nuts and add some crushed up candy canes (a good way to use them up...ours never get eaten) and some white chocolate chips.

Also try adding marshmallows & almonds (rocky road); a peanut butter swirl (mix a little peanut butter with powdered sugar to taste...swirl into warm fudge); cherries (candied or dried); caramel bits; or chopped pretzels...or really anything you enjoy with chocolate :)

This is my favorite cookie cookbook of all time...the pages are all dogeared and blotted with vanilla...I have tried so many of the recipes in it and none of them have disappointed yet :)

This year I chose to make...
5. Holiday Bonbons
(yummy sugary cookies with an almond paste filling...then dipped in chocolate)

6. Lace Cookies
(yummy, thin and crisp...buttery, brown sugar oatmeal cookies)

From Martha Stewart I tried these two recipes:
7. Coconut Balls

8. Lollipops
(my first attempt ever...they are shaped in a mold of Santa's head)
I substituted lemon extract for cinnamon extract...they were very mild (but perfect for little my nieces and nephew)

I also like to make my own bags from wax paper...just fold a piece into thirds & tape...roll up the bottom two times and tape...open and fill, then close it how you like. So easy and inexpensive (I always have it on hand anyway)
Here are a few other recipes that we love this time of year....Enjoy!
Coconut Swirls
Melt 2 T. Butter in a 2-quart saucepan. Remove from heat and add 3 T. water and 1 tsp. vanilla. Mix together 2 cups sifted powdered sugar and 1/2 c. instant dry milk, add to butter mixture, about 1/2 c. at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in 3 cups coconut. Drop by tsp. onto waxed paper. Melt 6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate over hot water. Swirl about 1 tsp. melted chocolate over each coconut drop, then chill. Makes about 30.

1 (16 oz) package powdered sugar
1/2 c. butter or margarine
2 T. evaporated milk
4 to 5 drops peppermint flavoring (or 1 tsp. extract)
food coloring (optional)Combine all ingredients, except food coloring, and beat until well blended. Kneed until smooth, add food coloring. Shape into balls and mash with a fork making a "plaid" design on top. Put on a paper towel lined baking sheet, cover with another layer of paper towels. Let dry overnight or 24 hours.
Merry Christmas!


Christmas Time Is Here!

The Perfect SnowflakeI like to use 9 x 12 in. tracing paper to make my snowflakes...it is inexpensive, looks great, and is easy to cut through many layers at once...

I made 4 different sizes...whole page (about 9 in. square); half page (about 6 in. square); quarter page (about 4 1/2 in. square); and the smallest out of scraps (about 3 in. square).


Christmas Countdown

This is my kids' favorite countdown...and it is so easy (if you are willing to spend some more time wrapping) :)

Gather together Christmas, Holiday, Winter, or any other appropriate book for the season...you will need 1 for everyday you count down (we started on the 1st...so 24 for us). We add a Christmas book or two every year, and I make up for the ones we don't have by printing off Christmas stories or poems I find online...Wrap and number each book.
Each night before bed we find the appropriate numbered book and open it...we take turns, luckily 24 is evenly divisible by 3 :) and read the story together. It is a great way to spend a little extra time together and feel the spirit of the season a little more each day.

Have a great Holiday Season!

p.s. I found my stories online here...
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints :)


Thanksgiving Crafts for Kids...And a few Side Dishes

I like to have a little craft for the kids to do...alone...on Thanksgiving morning (while I am cooking). Here is one we made back in 2008...
Cute Turkey Napkin Rings/Place Cards
You need:
*toilet paper rolls, cut into 3 sections
*brown construction paper
*assorted colored construction paper
*black marker
1. cut a strip of paper slightly wider than cut toilet paper roll, and long enough to wrap around + a little extra.
2. Cover roll, if you like notch the excess and each side of roll, wrap inside of the roll and glue down.
3. Decorate...no template needed...let the kids make their own designs, the turkey body/head is a peanut shape (bottom part glued inside of roll), and have them make feathers however they like...if you scroll down, my youngest son's feathers are crazy big...but he was 3, and that is what it was what he was able to cut out...he was happy with it, so I was too :) .
4. Write names on the side, roll up a napkin and stuff inside, place on (or near) each family members' plate.

Another thing the kids really enjoyed was our
"I am Thankful" Table Runner
All you need is freezer paper...cut to whatever length you like and markers. I wrote "I am thankful for..." on each side and drew a border. They had fun before dinner filling it in with what the were thankful for...anything from home, family, friends, and church...to balloons and play dough. It was a really good way to have the kids really think about what they were thankful for...there was a lot of space to fill up :)
This year I am not cooking Thanksgiving dinner (which makes me a little sad...we usually have our own little family thanksgiving the Monday before- if we are going to the grandparents' house...I like to cook, and we love the leftovers, but not this year)...we are heading back up north to see family and all is required of me is a side dish. I haven't really decided what I will make yet, so here are some of my favorite things to make...

First of all Artichoke Dip...which I already posted here...
Praline Sweet Potatoes
8 medium sweet potatoes, about 5 lbs, peeled and cut into thirds
1/4 c. sugar
1 c. pecans
5 T. butter
1/2 c. milk or orange juice
1 1/4 tsp. salt
brown sugar to taste about 1/4 cup(optional)
cinnamon to taste...1 to 2 tsp. (optional)

In a large sauce pan heat sweet potatoes in enough water to cover, to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to med. low; cover and simmer 20-25 minutes until fork tender. Remove from heat, drain; return to sauce pan.
Meanwhile, grease a cookie sheet. In a 1-quart saucepan, heat sugar and 1/4 cup water, stirring gently, over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium and boil rapidly, without stirring, about 7 minutes, until syrup turns a light golden brown. Working quickly, stir in pecans and 2 T. butter until combined. Spread pecan mixture in a thin layer on the cookie sheet, cool. To sauce pan with sweet potatoes, add milk (or orange juice...which I prefer), salt, 3 T butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Mash sweet potatoes until almost smooth. Heat mixture over low heat until warmed throughout.
To serve spoon potatoes into a large serving bowl. Break pecan mixture into small pieces; sprinkle on top of sweet potatoes. Serves 10.

Cranberry Pecan Tassies
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. all purpose flour
1 egg
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
dash salt
1/3 cup finely chopped cranberries
3 T. chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 325. In a bowl combine cream cheese and butter. Stir in flour, mix well. Shape dough into 24 balls; press one into each cup of a mini muffin tin.
For filling, beat together egg, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt until smooth. Stir in cranberries and pecans. Spoon filing into pastry lined cups. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until pastry is golden brown. Cool in pan. Makes 24.
Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!


Craft Fair Goodies...

I have been very hard at work...to say the least...in a little less than a month I have made...

4 birthday party kits
(which include 10 invites, 10 thank you notes, 10 favor boxes,
10 place cards, 2 gift cards, 1 banner, & a birthday card)

*Jungle Birthday*

*Safari Birthday*

*Circus Birthday*

*Flower Birthday*
...my favorite :)

33 cute little notepads

12 mini banners
(3 inch circles)
*give thanks*
*happy holidays!*
*it's a girl !*
*it's a boy!*

59+ cards

17 sets of 4 gift tags

37 gift card holders

and about 71 elastic bookmarks
(by the way, any leftovers will be in my etsy store next week... if you would like to see anything close up, let me know and I will post a picture)
Let me know what you think :)



It's November...beautifully colorful,sweet smelling, cozy November, that is also the home of the most delicious holiday...Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving (partly because I love to cook & bake)and anticipate its coming even though it is sandwiched between,and often overshadowed by Halloween and Christmas. November really starts my baking season, and is the return of some of the most comforting meals that I love to cook...I thought I would share a few of them with you. Check back later to see what I decide to make for Thanksgiving, & for some crafts & decorating tips. Enjoy...

P.S. on a side note I am preparing for my first craft fair & the restocking of my etsy store....look below for a sneak peak (and let me know what you think).

Perfectly Roasted Chicken
...it's not as hard as it seems, really no one needs to be daunted by the task of roasting, I think it's one of the easiest ways to cook. Here is my favorite way to go about it...

you will need:
1 whole roaster chicken, to fit the size of your family
1 whole head of garlic, chopped in half (peels and all)
1 lemon,cut in half
A few sprigs of fresh herbs...Thyme is my favorite
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil

Preheat your oven per instructions on the package of chicken. Clean your chicken, take the neck & little package of gizzards,etc. out (I discard these), rinse the cavity of the chicken out. Generously salt and pepper the inside of your chicken (make sure you have a small bowl of salt and pepper to use, you don't want to cross contaminate). Stuff the halves of garlic and lemon and the fresh herbs into the cavity, tie the legs together with kitchen twine (no need to truss the whole bird) and place it in a roaster. Drizzle olive oil over the skin and rub in, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for the specified time (I like to tent in the last couple of minutes if the chicken is browning to much, but usually I don't need to). Enjoy!
Hot Open-Faced Roast Beef Sandwiches
to me this dinner oozes of fall goodness, its warm and hearty and fulfilling...I love it, and by chance it is easy to make.

you will need:
1 roast, again to fit the size of your family (I generally go for a bottom round or chuck roast (or whatever is least expensive)...it cooks all day so that is perfect
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 stalks celery,roughly chopped
3 whole garlic cloves
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 dried bay leaves
veg or canola oil
salt & pepper
2 cans beef broth
2 Tb. butter
2 Tb. flour
thick sliced bread
(or if you are a potato person, mashed potatoes)

Preheat your crock-pot to high, preheat a large pan on the stove with a few tablespoons oil on high or medium-high (you want the pan really hot for a good sear...you might want to turn on your exhaust fan too). Trim your roast, cut away any unwanted fat, salt and pepper generously. Carefully place in the hot pan and brown on every side. Meanwhile, add all the vegetables and the bay leaves to the crock pot. Add roast and the two cans of beef broth. Cover and allow to cook, mine usually goes all day, the longer the better, for at least 6 hours. When ready to serve remove roast to a cutting board and let rest. In a large sauce pan melt butter and add flour to make a roux, let it cook for about a minute then slowly strain the broth from the crock pot into the pan, whisk broth with roux and bring to a boil to thicken. Shred or slice the beef (it should just fall apart). I usually don't keep the vegetables, they are just there to flavor my sauce (I don't care for cooked celery and carrots), but if you like chop them up and add them to the gravy with the meat (be sure to remove the bay leaves), stir to combine and serve over bread (or mashed potatoes).
My Mom's Fantastic Double Braided Bread
this is a stand out in my food memories...every holiday meal, or any other meal that welcomes a warm loaf of bread, mom made this, and of course we all loved it...

you need:
3 Tb. sugar
1 pkg. yeast
3 Tb. butter
6 cups flour
2 cups water

Mix sugar, yeast and salt. Add 2 cups of the flour and mix well. Heat water and butter and add to flour mixture. Mix well. Add remaining four and knead until smooth. Let rise to double. Divide dough in half and each half into thirds, braid, starting at the center. Stack the two braids and let rise again. Bake at 350 degrees until the bread is browned and sounds hollow when tapped.

Maple Bars (my favorite donut of all time)
I think my love for maple doughnuts is all nostalgia, I remember when I was young and we were visiting my Grandma in Seattle, and Dad took me for a walk one morning and we got a maple doughnut...I have loved them ever since...

you need:
2 pkg. yeast
1/2 cup warm water
a little sugar
2 cups hot water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 cups flour, plus more (about 6 cups total)
2 eggs
Dissolve yeast and sugar in the 1/2 cup warm water, let proof. Mix together 2 cups hot water, butter, sugar and salt. To hot water mixture add 2 cups flour, eggs and yeast mixture. Mix well. Add additional flour until it resembles a bread dough. Knead until smooth and let rise once. Roll out and cut into bars (or doughnuts if you like) and let rise a little. Fry in hot oil (a oil & candy thermometer is a must here...to hot gooey centers, too cool oily doughnuts). Drain on a rack over paper towels.

For icing mix together 2 Tb. softened butter, 2 T. half and half, 1 tsp. maple flavoring, and powdered sugar to make desired consistency...frost cooled doughnuts & enjoy!

Here is what I have been working on (and still have much, much more to do). I have been playing with an idea for "appliqued" cards, decorating notepads, and making elastic bookmarks (that stretch over your cover and stay in place) I will also be making some birthday party kits...and more cards among other things. I will keep you updated...FYI the craft fair is Nov. 21st & things will be up on etsy shortly after. Let me know what you think!


It's the Spookiest Time of the Year

We LOVE to decorate for holidays in our house...and Halloween is second only to Christmas. We love having a month of spooky fun where our decorations can range from creepy to silly without a second thought. This year we went for our "usual"... easy, inexpensive, with a big impact; but threw a couple of new ideas in. Here they are...

1. Bats Everywhere.
These are probably the easiest decoration out there.
I cut as many out as I can out of construction paper ,the large I cut out of black poster board, I do this while I watch T.V. I tape some to the walls and hang some from transparent thread (you can find this in any store that carries notions, or use thin fishing line), this adds depth, almost creating an "optical illusion". I like to hang mine in a semi-orderly fashion...like the bats "know" where they are going. Mine start in the entry way, swarming the light, move through a corner of the living room and end up hoovering over the table in the dining room. Be sure to not space them too evenly, cluster them, have a few hanging back alone.

2. Creepy Cobweb Windows
Usually I hang these completely around my enclosed porch, but since the move I opted for the living room windows (which was convenient since I haven't decided on my real curtains yet). All you need is cheese cloth (and something to hang it from..I just used tacks, you could replace your usual curtains with these, and use your usual rod). You can find cheese cloth in the craft paint area of craft stores & hardware stores. First cut the length that you need, remember it does NOT need to be perfect, varying lengths work great, and hang it up. Then proceed to cut it, stretch it, rip it, and tear holes in it...making it as spooky as possible. You want it to look old and ragged.

3. Spooky Art
This year I needed something that I could do that made a big impact, but didn't really cost anything...so I decided to replace my usual black and white family photos with spooky silhouettes, poems and eyes darting this way and that. I found all my silhouettes by just googling "Halloween silhouettes"...there are a ton out there.

For my tree branches, I just found a dead branch outside and spray painted it gray...black would be good too, I just didn't want mine to blend in with the frames behind it. Then stretched spider webs across parts of it & added a few spiders.

4. Spiderwebs

These are just the spiderwebs that you can find at any store for about $2.99 this time of year...I put them everywhere that seems like a spider might invade. A few tips : STRETCH THEM OUT as far as you can...no clumps, make it look spooky and realistic; Make you spiders seem like they are headed somewhere (think "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets"); and last, don't worry if you pictures are a little crooked, it is Halloween after all.
Have fun decorating!
Have a very spooky Halloween!


A Break

I will be taking a break from blogging while I move my family from Michigan to Maryland. I'll be back at the end of summer, all settled in our new home, ready to throw some parties and with lots of new ideas...I hope to see you then.


My Favorite Party Dip

I love Artichoke Dip,
so I serve this when ever I can...It is always a big hit.
1 bar cream cheese, softened
1 cup mayonnaise (do NOT use "Miracle Whip"!)
2-3 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 can artichoke heart, drained and roughly chopped
A Lot of Parmesan Cheese, fresh grated is always better (to taste...I use about 3/4 to 1 cup)
Baguettes, sliced, for serving
***Mix all ingredients, bake in a 9x9" pan at 350 until bubbly, serve warm.


The Best Birthday Treats To Bring To School...

Don't you love when you pick up your kids from school and they are covered in neon blue (or pink) frosting?
The solution:
Cake Pops!
They take a little extra work to make, but they are well worth it, and packaged individually they make the perfect non-messy birthday treats to bring to school.
(Plus the teachers think you are awesome) :)
For cake pop how-to and more ideas go to:
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