Friday, December 30, 2011

Pepperoni Pizza Quick Bread -- Great Appetizer Idea!

I just love Jenny over at Picky Palate ~ she has the best, original ideas!  I usually stick to drooling over her dessert posts, but today I poked around the "appetizers" section to find some great party-apps ideas.  And of course, she came through for me!  Check out this divine Cheesy Pepperoni Pizza Quick Bread ~ serve with some slightly warmed marinara sauce for dipping, and you've got a hit!

Cheesy Pepperoni Pizza Quick Bread

1         cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2   tsp baking powder
1/4      tsp baking soda
1/2      tsp kosher salt
1/2      tsp freshly ground black pepper
2         large eggs
2         Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3/4      cup buttermilk
1/4      cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 1/2   cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
1         cup quartered pepperoni slices, about 32 slices
1/2      cup marinara sauce {plus more for dipping}
1         tsp Italian seasoning
1/4      cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and spray small bread pan {9 x 5 x 2 3/4 in} with non-stick cooking spray.

Place flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper into the bowl of a stand or electric mixer; mix to combine.  Slowly add in eggs, oil, buttermilk, Parmesan, Mozzarella, and pepperoni until just combined. 

Pour half of batter into prepared pan.  Top evenly with marinara sauce; pour remaining batter over sauce.  Top with Italian seasoning and additional Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 45-55 minutes or until toothpick comes clean from center.  Let cool for 30 minutes before removing from pan.  Slice and serve warm or room temperature.

Makes 8 servings.

{Click here to see Picky Palate's step-by-step pics...otherwise, all her directions are here}.  Cut slices thinner or cut each slice in half to make this recipe go further.



Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pesto Crescent Swirls

Hosting or attending a New Years bash?  Try out these Pesto Crescent Swirls from Pillsbury.  I'm a big fan of flavorful pesto, and when aren't crescent rolls a hit?  With just three to four ingredients {including the garnish!}, you can whip these up in a jiffy!  This recipe yields 12 'swirls', but is a snap to double if you need more.

 Make your crescent swirls with green pesto, red pesto ~ or both!

  Spread pesto across dough sheets

 Roll up dough, slice, and bake!

Pesto Crescent Swirls 
1     can refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
1/4  cup basil pesto
1/4  cup sun-dried tomato pesto or roasted red pepper pesto
1     Tbsp fresh chopped basil leaves

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Unroll dough; separate into 2 long rectangles.  On 1 dough rectangle, spread thin layer of basil pesto.  Reroll dough; cut roll into 6 (1/2-inch) slices.  Place slices on an ungreased cookie sheets.

Repeat with remaining rectangle of dough and tomato pesto.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or just until golden brown.  Remove from cookie sheet to serving platter.  Garnish with a sprinkle of basil.  Serve warm.

If you prefer to use just one type of pesto, use a 1/2 cup of your preferred pesto and eliminate the other.


{photo credits:}

Cute Jewelry for a Great Cause

I recently came across this website, Rachel's Cure by Design, that's full of fun, handmade jewelry that benefits a great cause.  I'll let Rachel tell you in her own words...

Hi! I’m Rachel and here’s my story.

In 2005, at the age of 12, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  Since then, I’ve been supporting the work of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and their mission to find a cure for diabetes through the support of research.
To help this important organization, I began designing and selling a unique collection of handmade beaded bracelets and donating a portion of the proceeds.  I am proud to report that from the sales of my Cure by Design jewelry, I have donated over $42,000 to the JDRF Western PA Chapter.
I invite you to visit often as I continue to create new designs for my jewelry and add to my Cure by Design product line.
All of my bracelets have a sterling silver “hope” charm that symbolizes my hope for a cure for diabetes.  This charm can be your symbol of “hope” for opportunities and challenges you and your family may face as well.  On behalf of myself and the 23.6 million people who suffer from diabetes, thank you for your kindness and support!
 ~Rachel T.

Check out  for all of Rachel's designs ~ bracelets and necklaces ~ or to donate to Rachel's Walk to Cure Diabetes fund. 

Grab a new piece of jewelry and do a good deed?  What could be better?!


{photo credit:}

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Yummy Triple Berry Cobbler

I made this Berry Cobbler {courtesy of Betty Crocker} for dessert at my mom's house on Christmas Day.  I didn't even take pictures of my own creation because I didn't realize it would be impressive enough to share.  Let me tell you though ~ this cobbler was so good!  Between the five of us {and my mom eats like a bird so she almost doesn't count}, the entire cobbler was gone in under 20 minutes.  Everyone thought it was delicious, and it was a nice change from the super-heavy sweets that are typical this time of year, like rich chocolate treats and dense, creamy cheesecakes.

This was originally called a "Merry Berry Cobbler", but there isn't anything overly "Christmasy" about it.  I would be comfortable serving this year round {in the summer, you can use fresh berries!}.  I offered both Cool Whip and whipped cream to top off the cobbler ~ either way works!

Triple Berry Cobbler

1      cup granulated sugar
1/3   cup cornstarch
2      cups fresh or frozen raspberries
2      cups fresh or frozen blueberries
2      cups fresh or frozen blackberries
2      Tbsp lemon juice
1      cup all-purpose flour
1/4   cup packed brown sugar
3/4   tsp baking powder
1/4   tsp salt
1/4   tsp ground nutmeg
1/4   cup butter or margarine
2-3   Tbsp hot water
        Whipped cream or Cool Whip

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease 2-quart casserole with shortening.  In a 4-quart Dutch oven {I just used a large pot}, mix granulated sugar and cornstarch.  Add berries and lemon juice; toss until evenly coated.  Heat to boiling.  Boil 3 to 5 minutes {7 to 10 minutes for frozen berries}, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened.  Spoon into casserole.

In a large bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.  Cut in butter, using pastry blender or crisscrossing 2 knives, until mixture looks like coarse crumbs.  Stir in enough hot water until mixture forms a soft dough.  Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto berry mixture.

Bake cobbler 25 to 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown.  Serve warm with whipped cream or Cool Whip.


{photo credit:}

Monday, December 26, 2011

After-Christmas Sales -- Online and In-Stores!

Got some gift cards in your stocking this year?  Or, even better, the gift that always fits and never goes out of style ~ some beautiful, crisp Christmas cash...that's now burning a hole in your pocket?  Well then, you're in luck!  Retail stores and sites are rolling out super savings starting today, so while they use extreme markdowns to get in a last-minute fourth quarter revenue boost, you can pick up some great bargains!

Check out the list below for online and in-store deals I've come across ~ be sure to check the websites themselves for exclusions and fine print!

Aerie ~ in-store and online
Up to 60% off ~ online only
75% off {and more!} on thousands of items, including artwork and apparel

American Eagle ~ in-store and online
All jeans on sale

Banana Republic ~ in-store and online
In-store ~ Take an additional 30% off already-reduced items, for savings of over 60% off original prices
Online ~ 30% off already-reduced items with code BRSALE30

Barnes & Noble ~ online and in-store
Various savings, including 50% off top books and calendars, up to 50% off toys, games and electronics and up to 75% off music

Bath & Body Works ~ online and in-store
Up to 75% off as part of the semi-annual "Hello Yellow!" sale; plus, $10 off any purchase of $40 or more {online code HELLOYELLOW or in-store code 5463}

CB2 {owned by Crate & Barrel} ~ online and in-store
Up to 50% off furniture, rugs, and home accessories {including Christmas items}

Children's Place ~ online and in-store {today only!}
Online ~ Up to 80% off {online prices reflect discount}
In-store ~ Up to 80% off when you use your 30% savings pass {if you have one}

Crate & Barrel ~ in-store and online
Up to 50% off furniture, rugs and home accessories {including Christmas items}

Express ~ in-store and online
Last day to use code 9544 to receive $90 off a $300 purchase, $60 off a $200, $30 off a $100, or $15 off a $60, plus free shipping off a purchase of $100 or more; also, up to 50% select items

Gap ~ in-store and online
In-store ~ extra 50% off sale items {today only!}
Online ~ extra 20% off sale items with code GAPSALE {today and tomorrow only!}

Godiva ~ online only
40% off select items

Groupon ~ online only
Up to 50% off Conde Nast Beauty and Fashion magazine subscriptions {including Allure, Glamour, Bon Appetit and Vogue}
Over 50% off the 75th Anniversary Edition of "The Joy of Cooking"

Mixbook ~online only
30% off off Thank You cards and New Years cards {use code CARDSAVE30}

Neiman Marcus ~ online and in-store
Up to 60% off already-reduced items

Juicy Couture ~ online only
Flash Sale!  Additional 50% off select sale items

Old Navy ~ in-store and online
In stores ~ up to 75% off
Online ~ up to 50% off and free shipping {over $50}

Sephora ~ online only
Extra 20% off sale items {code EXTRA}

Williams-Sonoma ~ online and in-store
Up to 50% off already-reduced sale items
One week only ~ White Sale!  20% off all regular-priced tabletop items, with code WHITESALE


Thursday, December 22, 2011

How to Set the Table -- Properly

Feel like impressing the fam at your holiday dinner?  Follow this guide from the November 29, 2011 issue of Family Circle to set your table the way it's supposed to be set {who knew?}. 

Charger, dinner plate and salad plate are stacked in the center of the place setting.  Dinner fork is placed directly to the left of the plates, and salad fork is to the left of that {on the napkin, if the napkin is not folded on top of plates}.  The knife is placed, sharp side facing in, directly to the right of your plates; the soup spoon {only if needed} is placed to the right of the knife.

The top left of your place setting is reserved for the bread plate, with a butter knife laid across it.  Directly above the plates, place your dessert spoon and dessert fork horizontally.  And finally ~ feeling thirsty?  Place the water glass, red wine goblet and white wine goblet in the upper right section of the place setting.  {Again ~ only if you are serving all three.  Extraneous glasses can be removed when you know what your guests are drinking}.

Bon appetit, darlings!


Red Velvet Whoopie Pies with Peppermint Filling {12th 12 Days Recipe}

When I buy special-edition holiday baking magazines, I hang onto them and store them with the rest of my cookbooks.  They're chock-full of great, timeless recipes that I can tap into year after year ~ everything from cookies and bars to cakes and pies, from appetizers and side dishes to cocktails.  I made a few batches of classic chocolate whoopie pies a few years ago, and they were a hit.  This year, I decided to try out a red velvet whoopie pie recipe from the same 2009 Better Homes and Gardens "Christmas Cookies" publication.  The pretty red-and-white color combo looks perfect on a Christmas dessert table, and whipped up with a peppermint filling, they're sure to be a favorite!

Red velvet cake traditionally pairs with a cream cheese frosting, and BH&G suggested a cream cheese and peppermint filling to give these cakes a holiday kick.  I added mint extract to a traditional white filling instead {skipping the cream cheese} to accommodate the lactose-intolerant people in my life {yes, I know it still has milk and butter.  My brother can have milk if it's cooked and butter in small doses.  If you have someone who is completely lactose-intolerant in your life, you may want to opt for a canned vanilla frosting mixed with a teaspoon of mint extract}.  For those red-velvet-and-cream-cheese purists {I hear ya!}, I've included the suggested cream cheese filling recipe here as well.

As you can see, the magazine topped their whoopie pies with crushed peppermints.  I crushed a few candy canes up and rolled the sides of a finished whoopie pie through it, but I decided I liked the way they looked plain better.  If you'd like to add crushed peppermints or candy canes to your whoopie pies, sprinkle some on top right before serving.

Red Velvet Whoopie Pies
with Peppermint Filling

Ingredients {Whoopie Pies}
1/2  cup butter, softened
1     cup packed brown sugar
2     Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2  tsp baking soda
1/4  tsp salt
1     egg
1     tsp vanilla
2     cups all-purpose flour
1/2  cup buttermilk
1     1-oz bottle red food coloring {2 Tbsp}

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper; set aside.  In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.  Add the brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Beat until combined, scraping the bowl occasionally.  Beat in egg and vanilla until combined.  Alternately add flour and buttermilk, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined.  Stir in red food coloring.

2.  Spoon dough from a rounded measuring teaspoon 2 inches apart onto prepared cookie sheet.  {Keep mounds as rounded as possible}.  Bake in the preheated oven for 7 to 9 minutes or until edges are set.  Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes.  Transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool.

3.  Spread filling on flat sides of half of the cookies.  Top with remaining cookies, flat sides down, pressing lightly together.  Serve immediately.

Makes about 40 sandwich cookies

To store:  Layer cookies between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.  Let cookies stand at room temperature for 20-25 minutes before serving.

Ingredients {White Filling}
3/4  cup milk
1/4  cup all-purpose flour
3/4  cup butter, softened
2     cups powdered sugar
1/2  tsp vanilla extract
1/2  tsp peppermint extract

In a small saucepan, combine the milk and flour.  Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly {note:  don't leave unattended.  This will thicken quickly and will scald and burn if not stirred constantly}.  Cook and stir 2 minutes more.  Remove from heat; cool.  In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.  Beat in powdered sugar until fluffy.  Beat in vanilla and peppermint extracts.  Beat cooled milk mixture, one large spoonful at a time, into butter mixture.  Beat on high for 1 minute or until filling is smooth and fluffy.

Ingredients {Cream Cheese Filling}
6   ounces cream cheese, softened
3   Tbsp butter, softened
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
3    cups powdered sugar
      Milk, as needed

In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, butter and peppermint extract.  Beat with an electric mixer on medium-low to medium speed until light and fluffy.  Gradually beat in 3 cups powdered sugar.  Add milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to make a filling of spreading consistency.

Have a very Merry Christmas, everyone!


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies {11th 12 Days Recipe}

These pretty swirled cookies pair that classic holiday combo, chocolate and mint, and the swirled design looks so impressive to guests, without creating too much work for you.  {Food Network's Alton Brown ranks them on the difficulty scale as "intermediate" ~ the trickiest part of the process is rolling out the doughs to the same size...not too tricky!}.  I made these cookies last Christmas and they were gobbled up fast.

Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies

1 batch Sugar Cookies, recipe follows
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 cup crushed candy canes or peppermint candies

Divide the dough in half; add chocolate and vanilla to one half and incorporate with hands. Add egg yolk, peppermint extract, and crushed candy to other half of dough and incorporate with hands. Cover both with plastic and chill for approximately 5 minutes. Roll out doughs separately to approximately 1/4-inch thickness. Place peppermint dough on top of chocolate and press together around the edges. Using waxed paper or flexible cutting board underneath, roll dough into log. Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate for 2 hours. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Remove dough from the refrigerator and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Place cookies 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat and bake for 12 to 13 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking time. Remove from oven and let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Sugar Cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat until light in color. Add egg and milk and beat to combine. Put mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl.  Follow directions above.

Yields approx. 3 dozen cookies


Monday, December 19, 2011

Chocolate-Dipped Grahams {10th 12 Days Recipe}

I started working on this post because I had a serious craving for s'mores, with several obstacles in my way.  It's not really s'mores season, for one; also, I live in an apartment with no yard, so I don't have the grill or firepit required for appropriate s'mores-making.  {And don't try to make them in the microwave ~ the marshmallow will expand enormously, if not explode, and then become chewy and tough...I speak from experience}.

I set out to make an indoor s'mores-style treat, and one that could be packaged up in gift bags would be even better!  I started with marshmallow sauce {the ice cream topping kind}, because I figured Marshmallow Fluff would be too thick and more likely to make the graham crackers break {it doesn't spread incredibly easily}.  Coating the grahams in marshmallow sauce just made them soggy, though, and dipping them in chocolate first and then drizzling them with marshmallow sauce was a good alternative, but the marshmallow sauce took days to set, so they weren't easy to pack up for storage or gifting.

I finally admitted defeat and decided to just stick with a chocolate-dipped option with Christmas-colored sprinkles on top ~ simple, yummy, and decidedly less frustrating.  A handful of ingredients is all you need, and the chocolate hardens up super fast, making these a quick and easy last-minute dessert option.  {Read all the way to the bottom to see how I finally mastered the s'mores-style graham last night!}

 Graham crackers, chocolate, and sugar sprinkles ~ simple!

My husband pitched in to help while I took pictures of the dip/swirl/smooth process
~ those are not my hairy hands! ;)

 Let the dipped grahams set and harden for a bit 

All finished and ready for snacking!

Chocolate-Dipped Grahams

Honey graham crackers, broken into smallest rectangles
Semi-sweet chocolate chips
Toppings:  sprinkles; nonpareils;  crushed candy canes; for drizzling:  marshmallow sauce, melted peanut butter, melted colored candy melts

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper.  Break graham crackers along perforations into small rectangles  {the bigger the cracker, the more likely it will break during the dipping process, so the smallest option is the best}.

Melt chocolate chips in the microwave or in a double-boiler, stirring frequently and taking care not to let chocolate burn.  {I use the microwave and use 1/3 - 1/2 a bag, and melt more as needed}.  Holding one end of the cracker, drag it through the chocolate on one side and then the other.  Use a spoon or spatula to wipe off excess chocolate and cover any missed spots.

Place dipped graham crackers on wax paper.  Dip and place 4-6 grahams, and then sprinkle with toppings {if using}, while chocolate is still very wet.  If you are using a drizzle topping, you can wait until you're finished dipping all your grahams.

Allow grahams to cool and harden before packaging or serving.

And for a chocolate-marshmallow treat....

 Spread Marshmallow Fluff on one side of a cracker

 Use spoon to help coat graham, leaving a little bit of fluff exposed


After a trial-and-error process, I mastered the s'mores-style dipped graham cracker yesterday!  Spread a bit of Marshmallow Fluff carefully on one side of a graham cracker piece ~ fluff on both sides will make the cracker soggy within an hour or so.  If you've ever made a peanut butter and fluff sandwich {and I've been told most people outside of Massachusetts don't even know what that is?}, you know that fluff is notorious for ripping apart the bread because of it's thick, super-sticky consistency.  Use a small amount of fluff and spread carefully, and you'll be fine.

Follow the same dipping process as above, but use a spoon or spatula even more to help coat the marshmallow side ~ otherwise each dip and swirl will leave more and more fluff behind in your bowl of chocolate.



Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chocolate-Peppermint Bark {9th 12 Days Recipe}

There are a lot of different ways to make a chocolate bark ~ with nuts, with fruit, with pretzels, with just about everything but the kitchen sink.  For Christmastime, though, nothing beats a bark that combines dark chocolate and peppermint.  The great thing about a bark is that it's supposed to look rustic and imperfect, so it's really hard to mess up.  It also comes together in a snap ~ you could throw it together a few hours before you need it without a problem.  And my version requires only three ingredients!

 White baking morsels, semi-sweet chocolate morsels, and candy canes ~ that's it!

Stir in crushed candy canes

 Spread mixture on a wax-paper-lined cookie sheet ~ it may not spread the full length of the pan

 Cover set white/peppermint layer with melted chocolate

 When bark is completely set, break into pieces and package or serve

Bean's Chocolate-Peppermint Bark

1 12-ounce bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 12-ounce bag white baking morsels
3 candy canes, crushed

Line a small cookie sheet with wax paper and set aside.

In a double boiler over a low to medium-low flame, melt white baking morsels, stirring frequently.  {Tip:  you don't need more than an inch or so of water in the bottom pan of the double boiler.  Water shouldn't touch the top pan or bubble over the sides}.  When morsels are melted and smooth, stir in 2 crushed candy canes.  

Immediately spread mixture across prepared cookie sheet.  It may not spread all the way to the edges.  Spread to your desired thickness in a rectangular shape and place sheet in the freezer for 20-25 minutes to set.

Clean and thoroughly dry top pan of double-boiler ~ any water inside the pan can cause the chocolate to "seize" up and become impossible to work with.  

Once pan is clean and dry and the white/peppermint layer is just about set, melt the semi-sweet chocolate in the double-boiler.  When melted and smooth, drop dollops of chocolate across the surface of solid white/peppermint layer and quickly smooth it out of the edges.  Immediately sprinkle remaining crushed candy cane across the surface and place back in the freezer for another 20-25 minutes to set.

When bark is completely hardened, remove from freezer.  Break into pieces and package or set out to serve.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Chocolate-Dipped Marshmallows {8th 12 Days Recipe}

Looking for a super easy Christmas treat to gift friends and family?  How about one that's super easy, while also being simultaneously festive and unique?  Then try Good Housekeeping's red, white and chocolate Hot Chocolate Dippers!  {Hints:  chocolate chips melt easier than block chocolate, red sprinkles can be used instead of red nonpariels, and candy canes with the curved edge broken off can be used if red-and-white straws can't be found}.

 Hot Chocolate Dippers

Large marshmallows
Red nonpareil sprinkles 
Drinking straws

Skewer marshmallows on straws, then melt chocolate in a small vessel (such as a shallow microwave-safe bowl). Dip in marshmallows, leaving white tops exposed; lift sticks straight up, letting excess chocolate drip off. Cool briefly on waxed paper, but dip marshmallow bottoms into sprinkles while chocolate is still slightly soft.

Place several dipped marshmallows in a festive treat bag {like the ones available from Wilton} and secure with a red ribbon, or display on a holiday plate for serving.

{photo courtesy:}

Astrological Sign T's {On Sale Now!}

I was Christmas shopping for my brothers yesterday when I wound up in Charlotte Russe {I'm not sure why I thought I would find something for my brothers there ~ but I did find two great pairs of sparkly high heels!}.  I wasn't really looking through the clothing racks thoroughly, but I happened across these super-adorable zodiac sign Ts.  The front features the symbol and word for each sign, and the back has three words that describe that sign.

The best part?  Online, these shirts are on sale for $10!  {They may be $10 in-store too ~ call your local Charlotte Russe to check}. They come in sizes S/M and M/L and have every astrological sign available.  The model pictured is 5'11" and wearing a M/L {I love when sites include that info}, so as you can see they're definitely more of a juniors-type sizing and a M/L would probably fit up to a size 12 comfortably, but size 14+ girls {like me!} may find it a bit too snug.

At $10, these shirts can fit just about any budget, and would be a great birthday {or Christmas} idea for the teen {or fairly slender adult} in your life.  I love reading about astrology and the characteristics of different signs, so if they ever release this shirt in a L/XL, I'll be the first to snag one!

Click below for a direct link to each astrological sign T:

Capricorn T
Aquarius T
Pisces T
Aries T
Taurus T
Gemini T
Cancer T
Leo T
Virgo T
Libra T
Scorpio T
Sagittarius T


Friday, December 16, 2011

Britney Spears is Engaged!

One of my fave girls {whom I've never met}, Miss Britney Spears, is engaged to former agent and longtime boyfriend Jason Trawick, People and Us Weekly are reporting.  Friday morning, Britney tweeted a hint of the engagement...

Britney Spears
OMG. Last night Jason surprised me with the one gift I've been waiting for. Can't wait to show you! SO SO SO excited!!!! Xxo
The proposal reportedly took place during a private birthday dinner for Jason last night, and my girl Britney is said to now having a dazzling Neil Lane rock on her ring finger.
Click here to read People's write-up on the early engagement news, and here to read Us Weekly's account.

Glad to see Britney happy and doing well.  Congratulations, girl!


{photo credit:}

Mint-Chocolate Brownies {7th 12 Days Recipe}

Chocolate and mint ~ what a great winter flavor combo!  Impress your friends with these from scratch Martha Stewart brownies, complete with a cool and refreshing mint center!

Mint-Chocolate Brownies
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 25 small (1 1/2 inch) peppermint patties

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on all sides; butter foil. Set aside.
  2. Place chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of gently simmering water. Stir occasionally just until melted, 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat. Whisk in sugar and salt until smooth; whisk in eggs. Gently whisk in flour and cocoa powder just until smooth (do not overmix).
  4. Spread 1/3 of batter in prepared pan. Arrange peppermint patties on batter in a single layer, leaving a narrow border on all sides. Top with remaining batter, and smooth surface. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 45 to 55 minutes.
  5. Cool completely in pan. Use foil to lift from pan; peel off foil and discard. Cut into 16 squares (4 rows by 4 rows).


{photo credit:}

Adorable Aprons!

Still looking for that perfect gift for your mom, sister, best friend ~ even daughter or niece?  Jessie Steele aprons make the perfect gift for the girl in your life who likes to cook, bake, hostess...or just look cute in the kitchen!

In polka-dots, paisleys, florals, and more, there are a variety of styles and patterns to choose from.  Some are classic, some are sassy ~ but all are adorable!  They're one size fits all and for the most part are around $30.  Many are in the classic tie-at-the-waist, fit-and-flare style, but some {like the peacock print above} tie under the bust in an empire-waist. 

Some of the prints are available in children's sizes for around $20.  There is a "Sale" tab as well, and some aprons come with matching accessories like dishtowels and oven mitts {like the sailor-themed set below}.

Jessie Steele also offers salon aprons, pajamas, and robes, but they're mostly known for their cute hostess aprons, like the ones pictured here.  I bought myself the Cherry Cupcake apron at Anthropologie several years ago, and I got such a kick out seeing Charlotte wear it in one of the Sex and the City movies after the fact!

Super cute, right?  Hope you're finishing up your holiday shopping with ease!


{photo credits:  all photos}

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Make Your Own Rings {Great Gift Idea!}

When I saw this post about making homemade rings out out buttons on, I knew I had to share it for all my crafty readers out there.  These unique rings {no two are the same!} would make a great handmade holiday gift, or you could make your own custom statement pieces to wow friends and family with!

What you need:
Buttons with a metal shank {she found hers at a local shop that carries decorative vintage and new buttons; she also suggests finding buttons on Etsy}
Wire cutters or tin snips
Adjustable ring blanks {find at craft stores like Michael's}
Jewelry glue or other heavy duty adhesive

How to:
1. Snip the metal shank from the buttons, getting as close to the base as possible.
2. Apply glue to the surface of the ring blank and attach to the back of the button.
3. Set it face down to dry and cure for 24 hours (see glue label for when total adhesion and curing occurs).

If you have a ring that’s difficult to dry face down, make a small ring of aluminum foil and rest the ring inside to support it while it dries.

Happy crafting!

{photo credit:}

Cake Balls and Cake Pops {6th 12 Days Recipe}

By now I'm sure you've heard of cake balls or cake pops.  They've become all the rage in the past year, and with good reason ~ they're adorable and delish.  Bakerella didn't invent cake balls and pops, but she did help them bring them into the mainstream last winter through her blog and her book.  Last January Starbucks added cake pops to their bakery selections, and I was so glad that I had introduced my friends and family to them ahead of the curve in my Christmas baskets.

I haven't made any cake balls or pops yet this season, so I used Bakerella's pictures for this post.  I've made both red velvet and Funfetti cake balls in the past, with both white and chocolate coatings.  All are super yummy, but the red velvet with chocolate coating are probably my favorite.

Below are Bakerella's instructions for cake balls.  To go the cake pop route instead,  use lollipop sticks from the craft store.  Dip one end of the stick into your melted chocolate and then insert into the cake ball before coating the ball {so the stick "glues" itself to the inside of the ball}.  I then stick the lollipop sticks in a Styrofoam block to cool and set without losing their shape.  For the themed cake pops pictured above, follow the links at the bottom of the post.

You can substitute any flavor cake mix for the red velvet, although the red color is perfect for Christmastime.  I also use plain white frosting instead of cream cheese in mine for the lactose-intolerant people in my life, and I've found that Candy Melts {you can find them at Michael's in the baking section} work great in place of chocolate bark.

Red Velvet Cake Balls

1 box red velvet cake mix {cook as directed on box for 13 X 9 cake}
1 can cream cheese frosting {16 oz.}
1 package chocolate bark (regular or white chocolate)
wax paper

After cake is cooked and cooled completely, crumble into large bowl. Mix thoroughly with 1 can cream cheese frosting {using your hands will make it easier to mix}.  Roll mixture into quarter size balls and lay on cookie sheet. {Should make 45-50. You can get even more if you use a mini ice cream scooper}. Chill for several hours. {You can speed this up by putting in the freezer}.

Melt chocolate in microwave per directions on package.  Roll balls in chocolate and lay on wax paper until firm. {Use a spoon to dip and roll in chocolate and then tap off extra}.

***Only melt a few pieces of chocolate bark {or a small amount of candy melts} at a time because it starts to cool and thicken. It’s easier to work with when it’s hot.

For the Christmas Tree, Reindeer and Santa Hat cake pop instructions, click here.

For the Snowmen cake pop instructions, click here.


{photo credit:  all photos}