Friday, December 13, 2013

Oh How I love those "Smiles"! - Quick Christmas Ideas...

Do you believe it??...Christmas is almost here...  This year there were too few days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The time between the two holidays is a time when every women has to use her God given talents and organizational skills to keep everything on track.  It's definitely a juggling act for most of us.  Making lots and lots of lists; grocery lists, Christmas card lists, Christmas present lists, things to do lists, party lists, appetizer lists, food lists, and on and on and on....I'm sure you can all relate. 

Although it's a crazy time, I try to keep my eye on the prize.  I love giving home baked items to everyone at work and either home made gifts or food items to relatives and friends.  My list is long.... but now that the kids are all grown up, it's a labor of love.  Being a crafter in another life really helped me become an assembly line worker (LOL!). I don't think I have ever made just one thing.  It seems like the list of friends, co-workers, and family keeps growing, which is great for this assembly line worker.  Like I said in my post , ("It's a Party! Easy Party Planning) I'm always looking for smiles.  I sometimes think that's what my ministry in life is.  What a wonderful ministry... making people smile!  Every smile that is received only gives me more fuel to make more things and get more smiles.


Cafe Hoffy - "Tried and True Recipes"
Food seems to be the best smile maker.  This year I made 28 loaves of Cranberry bread for gift giving.  In my last post, Cranberry Yogurt Bread I shared the recipe for cranberry bread made with homemade yogurt.  You can find the recipes here. I was lucky enough to attend a Cranberry Festival in Stone Lake WI where I purchased lots and lots of cranberries.  Along with the bread, I created a "Cafe Hoffy" tried and true recipe cookbook to also include with the bread.  Pinterest came in handy for many of the recipes I've tried, along with recipes that I have collected over the years.  I also included a few Pinterest stocking stuffers with the bread and cookbook.  They aren't huge gifts, but they are gifts that generate those wonderful smiles.

I also love cake decorating.  Again, another assembly line job from a past life.  I love to make cupcakes, because they are quick and everyone loves cupcakes, as we know.  So for our maintenance crew at work, I make small trays of cupcakes, cookies, and candies. Guys seem to love those cupcakes.  I have to admit, I make a great cupcake!  My secret? After you bake your cupcakes, freeze them.  When you are ready to frost them, let them defrost for about 30 minutes and then start frosting them.  The frosting holds  the moisture in the cake.  The cupcakes will melt in your mouth.


In this picture I assembled cookies, caramels, and holly adorned cupcakes on a tray purchased at the Dollar Tree.  The cost is minimal, but the smiles are priceless... I made the holly with homemade fondant.  The recipe for homemade fondant is here.  The leaves and holly can be made well in advance and stored for future use. This is a really easy recipe and a lot cheaper than store bought fondant. I always place the cupcakes in plastic cups so they are easy to transport. Once the trays are assembled, I wrap it in clear plastic wrap and add a colorful bow to finish it off.  The cupcakes stay nice and fresh because they are sealed.  I usually bake the cupcakes well in advance and then freeze them until I'm ready to decorate.


Here are a few items I made for Christmas-giving along with links to some stocking-stuffer items that I found on Pinterest that were quick and easy to make.

As we all know Pinterest has millions of great ideas for every holiday, birthdays and a thousand events.  I saw this Snowman Candy Bar Wrapper on Pinterest.  I purchased the snowman face clipart from here.  You will need Hershey bars, red fleece fabric, a few buttons, and red gingham ribbon and a glue gun.  Wrap the candy bars with the face clipart. Cut the red fleece and glue it together and shape into a tossle cap.  Clip the top to make the fringe and wrap with a piece of ribbon.  That's it... simple, but so cute!  


I tried a new recipe for caramels this year.  They turned out really good.  However, this is the second year that I have made caramels.  Last year they were a little too soft and had to be kept in the refrigerator.  This year I let the caramel cook to almost the hard ball stage and they turned out much better, but not exactly the way I like them.  Next year I plan on cooking them to the hard ball stage for sure.  At that point, they should be the exact firmness that I like.  No matter what, homemade caramels are the best!


Cream Caramels

Yield 100 1"x2" caramels
Ingredients:
4 C. sugar
1 1/2 C. light corn syrup
1 c. unsalted butter
1 quart (4 c.) heavy cream

Directions:
  1. Lightly butter a sheet pan or jelly roll pan, line it with parchment paper, and lightly butter the parchment. Please the pan on a flat surface on one or two hot pads so it's ready for the hot caramel
  2. In a large pan, mix together all of the ingredients except 2 cups of the cream.
  3. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
  4. Gradually add the remaining 2 cups of cream.
  5. Continue stirring. It will thicken significantly and darken a bit
  6. Cook to the soft ball stage, or to 240 degrees, or until a dab dropped onto a saucer filled with cold water forms a soft but defined ball.  (I would keep cooking to 250 degrees or hard ball stage)
  7. Pour the mixture quickly into the pan and tilt the pan to distribute it into an even, glossy sheet. Allow it to cool at room temperature.
  8. When the caramel has cooled, run a knife around the edge of the pan, and remove it from the pan on its parchment liner. Slice a one-inch strip off the caramel with a sharp knife and pull it away from the rest of the block.  Slice this strip into two-inch lengths, separating them as you cut. The caramel will stick if you leave it touching. Continue cutting the caramel into rectangles.
  9. Wrap each caramel in a square of waxed paper and twist the ends closed.
  10. Store the caramels in a tin at room temperature.  They keep for a few weeks.



This was another cute idea , I found it here.   All you need is a cooking whisk.  I found them at Walmart for a very reasonable price. I filled them with Tootsie Rolls and Hershey Kisses and then wrapped them in cellophane wrap purchased at where else but the Dollar Tree and added ribbon and label.  A quick and easy stocking stuffer.








I love wine...and I especially love wine slushes.  We went to a craft show in November and they were selling the mix for $8.00 each.  I knew that you could probably make the mix a lot cheaper. So the hunt was on....I found a recipe here on the internet on how to make a "slush" mix.  It's very easy, only two ingredients, sugar and citric acid.  I looked in the grocery store for citric acid, but didn't find it.  So, I checked out the internet and found it here.  I purchased a pound of it. 
 You mix 1 3/4 cup of sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid.  I was able to make lots and lots of slush mix.  I packed plastic bags with the mix and made a label on the computer and added it to the goodie bags I was going to give.  I made the mix first to make sure it was good...and it was great! So another gift to give that was inexpensive, but made lots of smiles.

Well... there you go... a few creative ideas from Pinterest and Cafe Hoffy.  I do hope these items stir your imagination and give you fuel to get those "smiles" that are so very important to everyone    ... especially these days!