Wrapping Things Up…

In the midst of all of the holiday hoopla and Christmas shopping, I realized that there may be a load of practical gift cards that might be received far better than any piece of clothing or fancy kitchen gadget.  For students, especially those living in highly populated cities, transportation can be an issue.  Gift cards focused on shuttling a person from one destination to another might be much more appreciated versus a piece of clothing.  Train passes, Uber gift cards, bus passes, etc. are all good ideas.  Last year my sister in law gave my children transportation gift cards and they were used to shuttle them to the local grocery store, to the airport, and home from the local burger and brew joint.  (Each of my children are in college and over the age of 21.). They also received gift cards from the local drug store where they were able to by toiletries, milk, and basic groceries while on campus.  Another great idea for college students, gifts cards for sandwich shops and local eateries.  Many dorm cafeterias are closed on Sunday evenings so having a gift card for a local diner is always appreciated.

Be creative as you think of ways to “wrap” your gift cards.  Think of using beautiful paper scraps, college themed papers, Christmas wrap, or themed scrap book papers.  I recently purchased some high-end soap from a local discount store.  The soap was wrapped in a beautiful heavy weight paper that I just couldn’t throw away.  This gave me the idea to use the paper as a wrap for a small gift; hence, a gift wrap for the gift card.  Here’s what I did…

I found a template here. Or, Google various gift card envelope images for the shape you prefer.



I gathered an assortment of scrap paper, and the beautiful wrapping paper found on some milled soaps.

I printed the template and traced the outline on various scraps.I penciled in some fold lines.

I thought it might be nice to have a contrasting liner.Using a few paper punches, I fashioned a gift tag.



Use Christmas paper, shopping bags, newspaper… Whatever you like.This is an enjoyable way to personize and make personal, an ordinary, yet purposeful gift card.



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Dry Soup Mix in a Cone

A couple of weeks ago, our local woman’s club held a holiday craft-making session for all of its members.  During one of the sessions, I saw a group assembling a dry soup mix in a cone shaped bag.  The leader of the session had carefully measured out ingredients for all to use for their individual bags.  The layered mix looked colorful and interesting.  I complimented her on the clever idea of making such an inexpensive gift packaged in a compact and attractive cellophane bag.  Two days later, she left a couple of different soup packages on my desk while she visited my office.  She included a little note card explaining how each of the soup mixes should be cooked.  I was so appreciative of her gift.  What a kind gesture!

Naturally, I made a pot of soup when I returned home that evening. The Italian Curly Soup recipe made just the right amount and tasted delicious poured over a few mini-meatballs.  Warm and flavorful with a crisp green salad and some crusty bread…

I’d like to send a big shout out to my dear friend… Thank you for the delicious mixes.  Can’t wait to try the Wild Rice Soup recipe.  This is a great and inexpensive “anytime” gift to pass along to someone special in your life… A warm and wonderful gift from the kitchen.

I recently remade the soup  and I have posted a slightly different recipe below…

Italian Curly Soup In a Cone

Layer in a cake decorating disposable cone (or quart sized-jar) the following ingredients:

  • 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 2 T beef bouillon
  • 1/4 C minced dry onions
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 3 cups rotini or curly tri-colored pasta
6 cups water
1 jar of Curly Soup Mix
1 (14 oz) can crushed or diced tomatoes
 
Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a large soup pot. Add the Curly Soup Mix and can of tomatoes. Bring back to a boil. Lower heat and simmer uncovered for 12-15 minutes or until pasta is tender. Tip: For a full meal pour over Italian sausage pieces or min-meatballs; sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with crisp salad and crusty bread.
 
 
 

How about a piping hot bowl of wild rice soup?   


Here’s another great soup in a jar recipe…

http://foodchannel.com/recipes/creamy-wild-rice-and-mushroom-soup-in-a-jar

 

Footed Market Basket

I had a wonderful time attending a local basketmaking workshop held at a rustic county park in my area. The weather was beautiful and the scenery was gorgeous. We sat under a shelter with several picnic tables that were lined up for all of the class participants. Just prior to the session we were mailed a list of supplies needed for the construction of the basket. We each brought along an old towel, some clips to hold the basket in place, scissors, a large bucket and a spray bottle to keep the wooden strips wet while working with them. We carefully listened to the instructor as she effortlessly managed teaching and assisting the 20 students before her. The item that we would be constructing is called a Footed Market Basket. I tried to take pictures as I worked through the steps while making this adorable basket.

…Can’t wait to sign up for another session!

Melt in Your Mouth Christmas Cutouts

The holiday season is upon us and it’s just about time to start our Christmas baking.  We had a great time this weekend as we welcomed a few young guests to share in the fun.  I was happy to have found some package labels (last year’s clearance aisle) to wrap up our tasty treats for gift giving.  As one of my favorite cookie recipes, I posted it several years ago… You can find it here.  These tasty morsels truly do “melt in your mouth” and they are relatively simple to make.  Great little gifts for those that we share our lives with… Coworkers, colleagues, the mail carrier, our anyone else that you care to share a heartfelt gift with.  

Wishing you the blessings of the season as you celebrate the holidays with your family and friends.




Toffee and Coffee Brownies



This is one of my family’s favorite brownie recipes.  When my twins were headed back to Purdue after a short fall break, I decided to send along a special “study” treat.  The addition of coffee and chocolate in the recipe are sure to inject a bit of a caffeine boost needed for long study and homework sessions.  

Due to the use of a traditional boxed brownie mix, these chocolatey treats come together quickly.  Adding three eggs to the batter makes for a moist and chewy texture, while the toffee bits contribute to the sweet and crunchy topping for this dessert.  I guarantee these treats won’t last long after you cool and frost them!  They are super rich and delicious! 

By the way, finals week for college students isn’t far off…  Wouldn’t every student love to receive a batch of these gems in a care package? Simply bake the brownies, then cool and wrap.  Next, place a jar of pre-made frosting and a bag of toffee bits into a shipping box along with the brownies.  Your student can frost and sprinkle the toffee mixture over the batch after the package has arrived. Don’t forget to encourage your student to share with friends and floor mates.   Oh, yah… You’ll be one popular parent!

Toffee and Coffee Brownies

1 package brownie mix for 13 X 9″ pan

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1/4 cup brewed coffee

1 stick (1/2 cup) melted butter, slightly cooled

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1 cup milk chocolate chips, optional

For Topping

1 16 ounce container of rich and creamy pre-made milk chocolate frosting

2 cups Heath Toffee Bits

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9 x 13″ pan with non-stick baking spray and set aside. 

In a large bowl, combine brownie mix with eggs, coffee, butter, and extract.  Stir in optional chocolate chips.  Continue to stir until thoroughly combined, about 50 strokes. Evenly pour and spread brownie batter into prepared pan.  Bake according to package directions, usually 20 – 28 minutes. 

Allow to cool completely.  Spread a thick layer of pre-made milk chocolate frosting over brownies; sprinkle liberally with Heath Toffee Bits. Serve and store in an air-tight container.

Homemade Concord Grape Juice

Well, it’s that time of year again!  Ready for the picking are clusters of deep purple grapes hanging off of the vines in my back yard.  While the last couple of years have brought bumper crops to our lot, this year’s pickings have been a bit slim. This didn’t stop me from making a few of our family favorites…flavorful grape juice and grape jam.

There’s no greater satisfaction than to grow and process your own produce.  Several years ago I planted two Concord grape pods and they have grown to cover a large open area with a plentiful bounty of fruit.  Fresh air, rain and sunshine nourish the plants throughout the summer months until the gorgeous fruit are ready for picking.  I don’t water, fertilize, trim or fuss.  This is my kind of gardening!  The reward for leaving the plant to do what it naturally does; lots and lots of grape jam and juice that will last throughout the year.


Above is the recipe from the Ball Blue Book published by Alltrista Corporation.

Here is another method that produces similar results…
Homemade Concord Grape Juice

TO EACH STERILIZED QUART JAR
2 cups washed and cleaned concord grapes

1/2 cup sugar

Boiling water

In sterilized jar place 2 cups grapes. 

Add 1/2 cup sugar.  



Fill with boiling water leaving 1/2″ headspace. 

Seal jars at once with 2 piece lids. Process in water-bath canner for 10 minutes. Remove from canner and let sit for 24 hours.  Remove metal lid-bands, and label with date and contents.  Let juice stand 3 to 4 weeks before using. (The longer you let it sit, the greater the concentration.) Strain juice from grapes and use juice. Refrigerate after opening. 

For a great tasting homemade Grape Jam, try this Ball Blue Book recipe…



Piper’s Homemade Biscuits



We were recently invited out for a daylong boat ride during this year’s Air and Water Show in Chicago.  Everyone contributed drinks, appetizers, desserts, and other munchies.  As I prepared for the outing, I realized that our hosts would be bringing along their dog, Piper.  I quickly searched on-line sites for an appropriate recipe to make dog biscuits for our four-legged friend.  I remembered the owners mentioning that their dog liked peanut butter so I looked for recipes that focused on this crunchy treat. Here are a few of the recipes that I found…

https://www.cesarsway.com/dog-care/nutrition/recipes-for-quick-and-healthy-dog-treats#link2

http://www.pauladeen.com/gus-peanut-butter-dog-biscuits

http://www.rachaelray.com/2011/11/make-your-own-dog-biscuits

I decided to make the easiest of the bunch, Gus’ Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits. (I called them Piper’s Peanut Butter Biscuits.)  The recipe includes whole wheat, peanut butter, milk, and an egg.  I laughed as I shared the recipe with the owners and said that these ingredients could make a healthy snack for both dogs and humans!  For added effect, I baked the treats and placed them in a cute container with a bit of ribbon and a cookie cutter.  This way, the owners could make another batch if Piper enjoyed them.  While we didn’t feed her any of the treats on the boat ride, I’m told she found them to be absolutely delicious once she returned home.  

What any easy way to provide your dog with a great snack from your own kitchen…