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

 

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.




Festive Cranberry, Pecan and Feta Salad

I recently attended a daylong training in Indianapolis.  A soup and salad lunch was served mid-day.  One of the local restaurants was asked to provide a bounty of fresh rolls, piping hot turkey chili and a fabulous cranberry and feta salad.  I passed on the rolls and chili but piled a healthy portion of the salad on my festive plate.  As I munched on the salad, I was reminded of a recipe that I used to make years ago and made a note to look through my cookbook collection to remake the dish for the Thanksgiving table (for some lighter fare.) Here is the version that I made… I don’t recall where the recipe originated, I have a handwritten note with the dressing ingredients loosely estimated.  We sure enjoyed this recipe. To save time, I’ve used a bottled raspberry vinaigrette or poppy seed dressing.  I have also added some freshly sliced pears to the mix. Super easy and delicious! Great for the upcoming holidays.

 

Festive Cranberry Feta and Pecan Salad

2 tablespoons raspberry or apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon sugar or the equivalent sweetener

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

6 tablespoons olive oil

6 cups mixed salad greens, rinsed and dried

3/4 cup dried cranberries

3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 cup pecan halves, lightly toasted

In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper; mix until sugar and salt dissolve. Slowly whisk in olive oil.  In a chilled  glass salad bowl, toss together the greens, cranberries, pecans, and cheese. Drizzle with vinaigrette, and gently toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Low-Carb Peanut Butter Mini Loaf

As we move into mid November/December, the holiday season ushers in a plethora of tempting chocolatey treats, sweetly seasoned baked goods, and a bounty of party trays that seem to line the expanse of grocery store isles all over the country.  As the season of eating (and over-eating) begins, I am forever looking for recipes that will help me to stay away from the carb-laden sweet treats that show up everywhere. Yesterday, while I was shopping for a few pantry staples, my neighborhood grocery store shared with customers an array of cakes, pies, and pastry samples.  Turning every corner of each isle offered a new taste of tempting delicacies including shrimp cocktail, hot sugary beverages, hors d’oeuvres, and various sweet treats.  Store owners even offered a full Thanksgiving lunch with all the trimmings so that customers could sample the items and entice them to place early dinner orders for upcoming holiday gatherings.  Food, food, and more food…Yikes!

As an alternative, this Peanut Butter Mini-Loaf is one of the recipes that I turn to for a small sample of low-carb deliciousness that has no flour, a slight bit of sweetener, and a portion size that is certainly doable.  I use peanut butter with ingredients that include only peanuts and less than 1% of salt.  (I use the Smucker’s brand in the glass jar.)  Sometimes I mix a 1/2 cup of cinnamon with a packet of sweeter to make my own version of cinnamon sugar.  I store it in an airtight container and sprinkle a bit of it over the top of a buttered slice. Oh my, simply delicious…



Low Carb Peanut Butter Mini Loaf

1 cup natural peanut butter, creamy 

3 large eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vinegar

1/2 teaspoon  baking soda

2 individual packets sweetener 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 1 quart mini loaf pan or 2-3X5″ loaf pans.  In a medium bowl, combine beaten eggs and peanut butter.  With a spatula, mix until smooth.  Add vinegar, baking soda and sweetener.  Hand whisk until smooth and creamy. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan(s).   Bake for 30-35 minutes until bread is fully cooked and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before slicing into thin slices with a sharp knife.

 

Pistachio Crunch Loaf



The holiday season is upon us and I am getting an early start on my baking for the upcoming Thanksgiving meal.  This week we will be traveling east to enjoy the holiday with my youngest sister and her family.  I have volunteered to bring all of the desserts so I have started baking and packaging some of our family’s favorite recipes.  It’s so much easier to bake ahead of time and then refrigerate or freeze the baked goods until just a few hours before the event.

This Pistachio Crunch Loaf is a long standing family favorite.  The festive green color comes from the packet of pistachio pudding mix added to the batter.  For an extra boost of flavor, try substituting the sour milk with pistachio flavored yogurt.  

It’s always fun to contribute an item (or two) to the family table over the holidays.  But, if you’re one of those people that always forgets your favorite platter or covered casserole dish when it’s time to go home, then here’s a great tip when traveling for the holidays…  

For the last several weeks, I’ve been purchasing decorative holiday tins of various shapes and sizes from local resale shops. (They range in price from about 50 – 75 cents.) I wash and dry them well when I get them home. This way I can pack all of my goodies into festive tins, stack them into reusable bags and conveniently store the tins when arriving at our destination.  When we are ready to bring out the treats, I’ll simply open all of the beautiful tins and lay them out on the buffett for guests to nibble on while enjoying time with family and friends.  The left-overs can be covered and stored in a cool dry place so we can continue to snack throughout the weekend.  No mess, no fuss!  If there is anything left by Sunday, I will leave the inexpensive tins behind without a thought.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Pistachio Crunch Loaf

1 package Pillsbury yellow cake mix

4 eggs

¼ cup canola oil

1 small package instant pistachio pudding mix

1 cup sour milk ( 1 scant cup of milk +2 teaspoons vinegar)

Sugar Mixture:

1 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 8×4″ loaf pans.  In a medium bowl, combine the cake mix, eggs oil, pudding mix and sour milk. Beat until all of the ingredients are well blended into a thick batter.

Spread half of the batter into the greased loaf pans. Sprinkle half of the cinnamon and sugar mixture over the batter, dividing it between the two pans. Repeat the layers, adding the remaining bread batter and the remaining cinnamon sugar mixture on top. Lightly swirl batter with a butter knife (optional).

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of the bread should come out clean.  Cool loaves completely before removing from pans.

Pineapple Sheet Cake

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I had high hopes for baking one of my husband’s favorite cakes for Valentine’s Day. Pineapple Upside Down Cake is rumored to be at the top of his list. But, as fate would have it, the weather outside today is horrible and we are currently under a blizzard warning. Getting out to the grocery store to pick up maraschino cherries and pineapple rings just wasn’t going to happen today.
So, I searched through the pantry for the can of crushed pineapple that I had purchased last week and remembered my recipe for Pineapple Sheet Cake that would surely act as a close second to the highly favored upside down cake. While this cake is delightfully simple to assemble, over-mixing can make the cake a bit rubbery, so take care to use a spatula to combine all ingredients completely without over doing it. A light, homemade cream cheese frosting usually completes this cake. Today’s bake is topped with a canned version of the original. Once again, the weather conditions would hold me back and I had to settle for ingredients that I had on hand.
I nibbled a sliver of the cake just before plating it, and to my delight, it turned out wonderful. Not too bland, not too sweet…just wonderful. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours!

Pineapple Sheet Cake

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 (20 ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13×9″ baking pan. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, mix until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan, spread evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until center springs back to the touch. Cool completely. Frost cake with cream cheese frosting. Sprinkle chopped or ground walnuts over the frosting. Optional: Omit the frosting and lightly sprinkle with powdered sugar.