Things I Learned From Hosting Easter Dinner

With another Easter now done and gone, I am reflecting back on a few things that I could have done a little differently so that everyone would have had a safe and happy holiday! Such as:

1.  Use cheese in the garlic smashed potatoes-lots of cheese. This year I attempted to make things that were a little healthier and not so creamy and cheesy, so I omitted the cream and cheddar cheeses in the smashed red potatoes recipe…MY BAD. So instead of being yummy and gooey, they were kind of dry and chunky…even with the added melted butter. Use cheese, people!

Easter Dinner Roasted Potatoes2. On that same note, DO NOT USE FAT FREE CREAM CHEESE WHEN YOU ARE MAKING CREAM CHEESE FROSTING for the carrot cake. Did you read that? Well, remember it. Because otherwise, your carrot cake will have a oozy, bulgy middle and weird consistency and everyone will be saying “yeah, what happened to that cake- you usually make such good cakes!”

Easter Dinner Cream Cheese Disaster3. Secure the paintings to the wall with heavy duty screws, or else it may fall off and hit your mother and brother in the back of the head on its way to the floor. Heavy, framed pictures and little nail hangers from the dollar store do not go well together.

Easter Dinner Brackets PictureMake sure you use bolts to secure it to the wall or your dog will take a fall…fortunately it hit the chair rail before it hit them…

Easter Dinner Disasters Dog Pictre4. When you are done dusting the wine bottles on the cupboard shelves in the dining room while making the room pretty, make sure you push them all the way back into the rack so they don’t fall out during dinner and nearly take out your niece and your future daughter-in-law!

Easter Dinner Wine Bottles5. Make the damn green bean casserole. It has been a family tradition over the years to have green bean casserole on Easter, but I had been noticing that I was throwing more away than people were consuming. So I sent out a group text asking for a show of hands on who actually LIKED green bean casserole. The only yays were from my two kids. The remaining conversation looked like this:

Easter Dinner TextsClearly my family has a sense of humor…so I made lemon- roasted green beans with garlic, mushrooms and onions. I am throwing away most of that dish too.

Easter Dinner Roasted Green BeansI am thinking we need a new vegetable.

6. Ham has always been the go-to meat for this particular holiday, and as usual, I had Coach purchase one that was the “size of a basketball”.  This year, I also made some roasted turkey tenderloins for the guests who do not particularly care for ham. What I have noted is that, while the turkey is long gone, we still have a large platter of ham left over that Coach and I now have to eat.

Easter Dinner Leftover hamSo, for future Easters, we will be serving turkey or some other meat that is not pink and basketball-shaped.

Other than that, it was a wonderful holiday filled with fun and laughter…and thankfully, no fatalities. I hope yours was as well! Now, I need to find some recipes to use up the rest of that ham…any suggestions?? (Please do not say pea soup. I do not make, or eat, pea soup…) Susan

 

Being Sick (& Yummy Sea Salt Caramel Pretzel) Bites

I’ve been sick these past few+ days with some sort of flu or cold or whatever is “going around”. Sick as in I couldn’t go to work, couldn’t attend the annual neighborhood Christmas party and essentially just found myself lying on the couch for hours watching Hallmark Christmas Movie Marathons. This week so far has been a total frustrating fail for me. I kind of felt like this guy-agghhh!

Sea Salt Caramel Bites SnowmanNo big DIY projects, no blogging, no nothing, other than trips back and forth from the couch to the fridge to the pantry to open yet another can of soup or box of crackers. Coach would leave saying “my poor darlin'” and come home hours later with me still in the exact same position on the couch and say “really??”-lol-he’s not used to seeing me doing nothing, and I mean nothing-not a paint brush or sandpaper in sight-for days. But, you know, it hasn’t been all that bad. This little forced break given me an opportunity to step back and take stock of what I’m doing with this blog and the barn shop and start implementing a plan moving forward that doesn’t result in me being so run down and exhausted that I end up lying on the couch watching endless Castle reruns and stocking up on kleenex tissues whilst staring at a large, dark green evergreen in the corner of my family room.

Blank Christmas TreeThe house is not even close to being decorated, because I just didn’t have the energy to open up all of the giant bins and sort them out, never mind actually placing the items somewhere decoratively. Coach and I finally got a tree Monday night (good thing I’m not part of any of those blogging holiday house tours…) & it finally has lights but no ornaments.

Lighted Christmas TreeBUT, today marks a new day and newly inspired (and sugared up : ) by our annual work cookie swap which took place yesterday,

Cookie Swap Platter WrappedI’m on the mend and ready to add some holiday spirit to our home : ) In the meantime, I figured I’d share this yummy recipe for Sea Salt Caramel Pretzel Bites I used for the cookie swap. (And I assured my co-workers that I did not breathe on them and repeatedly washed and disinfected my hands before handling!) The original recipe for Salted Caramel Pretzel Pecan BonBons

Salted Caramel Pecan Pretzel BonBons by Baker By Naturewas via BakerByNature...but mine didn’t come out exactly as the photo (aren’t these gorgeous?!?), but they were still pretty tasty, if not a bit extra chewy! Here’s the how-to:

1. Assemble ingredients: Bag of caramels, bag of pecan 1/2’s, bag of mini pretzels (these I did not have in my pantry),

Sea Salt Caramel Pretzel Bites Ingredients from Walgreenssome melting chocolate, sea salt, holiday sprinkles (these I had on hand). I didn’t have any of the main three ingredients at home, so I ran over to Walgreens since that is the closest store to my home, and I figured they would have the basic snack bags the recipe required. Which they did, which made me happy, so I didn’t have to trek all the way to the grocery store. And they had more kleenex and cough drops too, which made me healthy (sort of). And that is why they are at the corner of Happy & Healthy. So that was a win.

2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place a piece of parchment paper on a large cookie sheet. Or a small one depending on the # of bites you wish to make. The beauty of this recipe is that you can make small batches as you go.

3. Place the number of mini-pretzels equivalent to the number of bites you wish to make. 12 makes a dozen. 24 makes 2 dozen. Simple math.

Sea Salt Caramel Pretzel Bites on Parchment Paper

4. Unwrap the caramels…meh, not fun. When my kids were little and I needed unwrapped caramels, I used to have them race to see who could open them all the fastest-worked every time!

Unwrapped CaramelsBut the only “little one” I have around me these days is a Frenchie named Bartlet,

Bartland unwrapping caramels is near-impossible without opposable thumbs, unless you want caramels with drool and bite marks. Place an unwrapped caramel on top of each mini-pretzel. The recipe mentioned above called for chocolate mixed with coconut oil and vanilla, so I skipped that step by buying caramels that were coconut and vanilla flavored. Right?!?

Sea Salt Caramel Pretzel Bites Caramels on Pretzels

5. Place in oven and bake just until they soften. Now the original instructions said 7-8 minutes, JUST TO SOFTEN. But, I left mine in a bit too long (I swear I was watching them, but then I got distracted and…they over-melted. So I scrambled to put the caramel back onto the pretzel by taking a small knife and scooping it back up.

Sea Salt Caramel Pretzel Bites Over Melted Caramel

6. Quickly place a pecan 1/2 on each one. These look pretty messy because I was placing pecans and scooping up oozing caramel lava as I went along.

Sea Salt Caramel Bites Scooping Melted Caramel Over Pecan

If you melt them correctly, you won’t have this problem. Lightly sprinkle each with sea salt. Good thing sea salt is a thing right now, because I have this giant cannister full that will probably last me forever!

Sea Salt

 

 

7. While they cool, you melt the bag of chocolate in the microwave according to the directions. These are the bags of Wilton Candy Melts you can get at your local crafts store. They have many flavors and colors, but I happen to like my chocolate dark, especially when mixed with salted caramel.

Sea Salt Caramel Bites Wilton Candy Melts Dark Cocoa

I always use a heavy bowl and cook in the microwave on high, the first go round for 30 seconds, then take it out and stir.

Sea Salt Caramel Bites Melting Chocolate Disks

Then every 15 seconds until the chocolate is drippy and all the little disks are melted.

Sea Salt Caramel Bites Melting ChocolateDO NOT OVERCOOK. OR YOU WILL HAVE A BIG SCORCHED BLOCK OF CHOCOLATE.

8. I dipped the bottom of the cooled pretzel in the chocolate, then flipped them over on the parchment to let them dry.

Sea Salt Caramel Bites Dipping Base in Chocolate9. Once dry, I flipped them back over, reheated the chocolate just enough to melt,

Sea Salt Caramel Bites Drippy Chocolate

then drizzled it over the top,

Sea Salt Caramel Bites Drizzling with Chocolateadding a few holiday sprinkles.

Sea Salt Caramel Pretzel Bite DecoratedCoconut is optional as well.

Sea Salt Caramel Pretzel Bites by Country Design Home

10. Allow to dry, then store in the fridge or a cool, dry place. Like my family room. Because we don’t turn the heat past 55. Sweaters, folks!! Unless I’m sick, in which case I got to turn it up to 60-lol! Then you share the goodies with friends and family, because you can’t eat all of them yourself. Or could you….have a sweet Thursday everyone! Susan

S’Mores Chocolate Pie Bites-YUM!

One of our  annual Thanksgiving family favorite desserts is chocolate cream pie. Over the years, I have baked many an apple, pumpkin or squash pie, only to see them get pushed aside in favor of the creamy-chocolate-graham-cracker-crust delight. This year, I made the chocolate pies (shhh, no one knows that I served one, but there is another one left in the fridge), but also created a new family favorite: S’Mores Chocolate Pie Bites!

S'Mores Chocolate Pie Bites from Country Design HomeThese yummy little clouds of toasty chocolate goodness were a fam favorite, and sure to become another traditional holiday treat! I originally saw these marshmallow melted cups transformed into shot glasses, but since this was a kid-friendly holiday, I decided to create the pie bites instead. Here is the How-I-Did-It:

These are quite simple to make and only require four key ingredients: Chocolate Pudding Mix… I used the Jello Cook and Serve Chocolate Fudge Pudding.

Jello Cook "n Serve Pudding

I was making the pies at the same time and planned to use the pudding as the filling, but you could certainly save some time and make the instant stuff.  Milk to make the pudding according to the box, Large Marshmallows…these Jet Puffed Marshmallows

Jet Puffed Marshmallowsare just that-large and fluffy. These misshapen sugary lumps were sent off to the land of misfit marshmallows.

S'Mores Pie Bites Misshapen MarshmallowsI figured if they weren’t straight before I toasted them, they would become melted molten messes once the heat hit them. Saving them for some hot cocoa action : )

 Keebler Graham Cracker Crumbs…

Keebler Graham Cracker Crumbsyou can make your own crumbs, but I happened to have these already crushed and ready to go. OK, ready?

1.Toast the marshmallows. If you are lucky enough to live in a part of the country where freezing cold weather is not a factor, then do this outside on your firepit or campfire. We, unfortunately, had quite a snow fall on the day I was making these, so the stove top burner it was. Mine is a glass topped burner, so I just cranked it to high.

S'Mores Pie Bites Hot BurnerWARNING!!!! Do NOT TOUCH THE HOT BURNER. THIS IS NOT A KID’S PROJECT. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DO THIS AFTER HAVING A WEE BIT TOO MCUH SPIKED CIDER… THIS IS DANGEROUS!!!!

2. Spear the marshmallow with whatever implement you wish to use. I tried a single metal skewer but the marshmallow kept turning as the inside melted. This three-tined fork was the perfect length and the tines created heating holes that caused the inside of the marshmallow to melt more evenly.

S'Mores Pie Bites Three Tined Fork

Now, don’t ask me why, but the fork handle never got hot to the touch. Which was interesting, because the hot glow from the burner on HIGH made me feel like I was under a sun lamp!

3. Starting with the bottom, hold the marshmallow over your heat source approximately 1-2 inches above the surface.

S'Mores Pie Bites Holding Marshmallow Over Heat

DO NOT TOUCH THE BURNER. Hold it there until you see a light smoking from the marshmallow, this means the sugar is starting to melt. Time to turn the marshmallow. Look at that-a thing of golden sugary beauty!

S'Mores Pie Bites Golden Toasted Marshmallow Bottom

4. Repeat around the sides, turning when you see the pale smoke trail as you lightly brown each side until the entire marshmallow,

S'Mores Pie Bites Toasted Marshmallow Sidesexcept the top,  is a light golden brown.

…this is what happens when Coach distracts you and asks a question about the upcoming Holiday Fair in the Barn at Todd Farm.

S'Mores Pie Bites Flaming Marshmallow

5. Remove the marshmallow from your fork using another implement- DO NOT USE YOUR FINGER!! The interior of the marshmallow is HOT and melty.

S'Mores Pie Bites Removing Marshmallow From Fork

6. Place toasted marshmallow on foil to cool.  Not wax paper, that will melt. And then you’ll have a S’Mores Pie Waxed Paper Bites. As they cool, you will notice that the marshmallow centers begin to implode, but the toasted exteriors stay upright. The hot melted middles sink down, creating the cup vessel you will need to hold the pudding. So cool!!

S'Mores Pie Bites Sunken Middles

7. Make your pudding according to the instructions on the box. This is the cook-‘n serve style, so it takes a few minutes cooking in a sauce pan to get to the molten lava stage.

S'Mores Pie Bites Molten Pudding in Pan

8. Using a teaspoon, fill the toasted marshmallow cups to the top (each one will take about a teaspoon of pudding). I was a bit worried that the hot pudding would disintegrate the marshmallow cups, but they were little toasty troopers and stood up fine.

S'Mores Pie Bites Filling Marshmallow Cups with Pudding

9. Immediately sprinkle with the graham cracker crumbs. This is a sprinkle-as-you-go project…you have to add the crumbs to each one after you fill them.

S'Mores Pie Bites with Graham Cracker Crumbs

If you wait until the pudding has cooled, the crumbs will just fall off. And you cannot have a S’Mores Chocolate Pie Bite without graham cracker crumbs!

10. Cool in fridge. An hour or so should do, since each S’Mores Chocolate Pie Bite only holds about a teaspoon of pudding.

S'Mores Pie Bites Cooling in Fridge11. Arrange on pretty platter and serve. The best part is no serving implements required, just pick up with your fingers and enjoy!

S'Mores Chocolate Pie Bites from Country Design Home

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving that you shared with family and friends. Now it’s time to go continue with the kitchen clean-up…hope you’re planning s’more fun today! Susan

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Everything AND The Kitchen Sink!

As you all know by now, we have now opened our vintage shop in the Barn at Todd Farm,

Barn Postcard no emailsand so far things are going very, very well! Lots of our rescued, re-cycled and re-furbished pieces have been sold, and shoppers appear to be very excited about the variety of vintage goods we are offering.

Todd Farm Display PMFollowing our first Sunday (which seems like a lifetime ago, but was actually just a mere three weeks ago!) I realized we needed to make a change in our displays. When we set everything up and stepped back to admire our work that first day, we all said “this is great, as long as nobody buys these big pieces that have all of our dishes and pottery on them”.

Todd Farm Kitchen Display Area BeforeBUT, that is exactly what happened, leaving us scrambling to find new spots for pie plates and Pyrex and pots and pans. So, I decided that we needed a permanent, dedicated spot to safely and attractively display our kitchen wares. The perfect solution, in my mind, was an old kitchen sink and countertop with shelves above it, so off to Craigslist land I ventured and found this awesome old General Electric porcelain sink for $40!!! A steal!!!

Vintage Kitchen Sink BeforeOnce I had acquired the sink, it really was just a matter of building a solid base that would be sturdy enough to hold the weight of the sink and anything else we put on it. I started with a plywood top, cut with an extra 1/2 inch around the perimeter, and a hole cutout for the sink. Which turned into several cuts, which in turn created a nice new Mustachio for Coach.

Vintage Sink Coach's MustachioWho, by the way, was really not on board with this whole sink thing. He did help me, but reluctantly, not seeing my vision and thinking that I was wasting valuable time that could have been spent working on other “saleable” projects.

The legs were built from 4×4 scraps Coach had hanging around somewhere behind the barn, cut to standard countertop height of 35 inches.

Vintage Sink Plywood Base for SinkI simply attached those with large L brackets and some screws, then created some cross-pieces for stability, attaching those with smaller L brackets as well.

Vintage Sink on BaseI would show you the rough-cut details, but they are really not very pretty and you can’t see them anyway : ) Once that was completed, I added an old, chippy shutter for the front panel,

Vintage Sink on Base with Blue Shutterand then I added some of these little metal strips (I have a big bin of these I grabbed at a yard sale. Have no idea what they are for, but they make a nice 1 inch decorative edge. Got plenty more if you need any…)

Vintage Sink Metal Bracketsfor the decorative edge trim. Conveniently, there are holes already drilled in the strips, so I just used some brass tacks to attach them to the plywood edge.

Vintage Sink Metal Bracket TrimFor the sides, I affixed some burlap panels with a dowel and some tacks. Nothing fancy. We don’t really have any kind of a storage area in the barn shop, so the burlap panels allow us to use the under-sink for keeping bags and tools, etc.  The sides are simple blue burlap panels, but the front panels are actually made from old burlap potato sacks (which we have plenty of for sale in the shop : ).

Vintage Sink Burlap Potato SacksNot crazy about how those look, so I’ll be changing those this upcoming weekend. Once we brought the sink to the shop, it was simply a matter of finding the perfect spot to build it in, then adding the shutter shelving and filling it up with our kitchenware and painted mason jars.

Vintage Sink adding Shutter ShelvesWe even added an old window because everyone loves to look out the window when they are at the kitchen sink, right??

Todd Farm Kitchen Display AfterSo, what happened when we opened up the shop 6 am Sunday morning?? Every person walking by and into the shop went right to my sink display and admired it, inspected it, asked how much it was. Initially shocked that folks were interested in buying my old sink, Coach quickly recovered and started asking $650. Wait, what?!?!?! THE SINK IS NOT FOR SALE. REPEAT. THE SINK IS NOT FOR SALE!

Todd Farm Vintage Sink Side Profile PMBut both Coach and Lisa (his partner in crime this week) were hell-bent on selling that sink out from under me. Soooo, I compromised and used the old “if I really don’t want to sell it, then ask a ridiculously high price and if someone really wants it, they can have it trick”. $1000. FIRM. In the meantime, I am off to paint the pieces that I didn’t get a chance to paint because I was building the kitchen sink. Have an unsinkable Wednesday, everyone!! Susan

 

 

Mason Jar 3-Berry Cobblers

So, you would think that after that whole Cupcake Tower of Terror disaster that I would be staying away from baking for weddings, right? Well, that is the case where cakes are concerned-no more falling frosting fiascos! But, for the same wedding, I created some yummy individual three berry cobblers in little personalized mason jars as favors for the guests to enjoy. Those did NOT fail, or fall for that matter!

Three Berry Cobblers in Mason Jars Wedding FavorsThe recipe was a tried-and-true favorite from a co-worker (thanks, Krista!) that was adapted for the mini jelly jars, and two batches was enough for 6 dozen jars. Here is the how-I-did-it:

1. Prepare the jars. These are 1/2 pint, wide-mouth Kerr glass jelly jars I purchased from a local Ace Hardware store, ordering them online and picking them up at the store. Despite the fact that they were factory sealed in plastic, I still ran them through the dishwasher to ensure cleanliness.

2. Prepare the crumb topping/crust. This recipe is enough for one 13 x 9 pan of cobbler, or 3 dozen mini jars. So double it for the 6 dozen:

 TOPPING/CRUST

2 Cups All-Purpose Flour

2 Cups Rolled Oats (I used instant and it didn’t seem to matter at all)

1  1/2 Cups Packed Brown Sugar

1 Tsp Gground Cinnamon

1/2 Tsp Ground Nutmeg

1  1/2 Cups Cold Butter

Combine all dry ingredients in large bowl, then cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Set aside.

3. Prepare the berry filling, literally just mixing the berries and sugar in a large bowl and set aside.

FRESH FRUIT FILLING

1  1/2 Cups Fresh Blueberries

1  1/2 Cups Fresh Blackberries

1  1/2 Cups Raspberries

4 TBLSP Granulated Sugar

I used fresh blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, but you can use any berry combination you would enjoy. This recipe was enough for three dozen jars, so I doubled it to make the 6 dozen. One thing I noted: the large whole raw berries (like the raspberries) take up more space, but once cooked, they collapsed and left extra room in the jar so it didn’t appear as full. Next time (and for these there will be a next time : )  I will slightly chop the larger berries so more fits into each jar prior to baking.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place as many jars that will fit onto a cookie sheet and spray the insides with non-stick cooking spray.

Cobbler Mason Jars Non-Stick SprayTake 1 TBLSP of the crumble mixture and lightly press down into the bottom of each jar. I used this wooden thing that was in my pastry drawer. Don’t know where it came from, don’t know what it is, but it worked perfectly! Continue until all of the jars have the base crust.

Cobbler Mason Jars Tamping Down Crust5. Fill each just with the berry mixture, until it is about 1/4 inch from the top. Leave room for the crumble topping!

Cobbler Mason Jars Filled with Fruit6. Add 1 TBLSP crumble topping to each jar, pat lightly to secure. You can adjust the crumb topping/crust ratio as you like, but remember to adjust the recipe as well!

Cobbler Mason Jars with Crumb Topping7. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the filling is bubbly and the topping is lightly browned.

Mason Jar Cobblers Baked8. Remove from oven and cool. You can serve these warm from the oven with a bit of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, or save them for later. I kept them lightly wrapped, but did not seal the tops on until it was time to assemble them as favors. Which I did with the help of my dear friend-thanks Alice!

9. The personalized labels were purchased on Etsy from Snappy’s Boutique. The owner was great to work with and the labels were beautifully printed on vinyl round stickers, one for the top of each jar.

Vinyl Round Stickers for Mason Jars 10. The bamboo wooden spoons I stamped with cute little sayings like “berry happy” and “sweet love”. Of course, you could paint them or decorate them or simply leave them blank.

Mason Jar Cobbler Wood Spoon11. The spoons were attached to the jars with purple raffia ribbon-the wedding color- (and a little scotch tape to keep them from sliding off!)

Mason Jar Cobblers with Bowsand then we added a second bow for pretty : ) This was the best tool-a fork stuck in a ribbon reel taped to the counter-to tie the tiny bows with the chiffon-like material. Ah, necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Shark Tank, here we come!

Cobbler Bow Tie Fork12. I picked up the unfinished crate at Joanns (with a coupon, of course : ).

Unfinished wood crate from JoannsIn order to make it appear somewhat rustic, I “stained” it with paint thinned with water,

Cobbler Crate Stained with Bluethen added another coat of blueish-purplish-white paint that I dry-brushed to give it a more rustic look.

Dry brushed crate13. The little chalkboard was also from Joanns, that I backed with some fringed burlap, then added the chalk graphic.

unfinished crate from Joanns I used my easy chalkboard transfer method for the Three Berry Cobbler sign. Click the link for the DIY.

Three Berry Cobbler Graphic

14. To safely stack the jars in the crate,

3 Berry Mason Jar CobblersI added separators made from burlap-covered cardboard panels.

Cobbler Crate Layer SeparatorDone! Now who doesn’t love a rustic crate filled with pretty jars of yummy three-berry cobbler that is easily and safely transportable?!? Well, this girl does : )

Mason Jar Berry Cobblers in CrateAnd hopefully the guests did as well… Have a berry-licious Thursday everyone!! Susan

Cupcake Tower of Terror

These past few weeks have been so incredibly busy with 2 destination weddings and a law school graduation (with the accompanying parties : ) thrown in for good measure. All of which has left precious little time for blogging, never mind DIY’ing! For a spectacular wedding in the clouds this past weekend,

Wedding on Pinnacle Mountain

I had volunteered to make some desserts, specifically cupcakes and mini fruit cobblers in mason jars.

Mini Cobblers in Mason Jars

(I’ll share the successful cobbler story later. Today’s blog is about the cupcakes. And the tower.) Remember those Life-Changing Cupcakes I made last year for a wedding shower?

Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt Cupcakes

Well, I decided to use that recipe again, since those were such a big hit, but we had decided on two flavors for the wedding. The trouble really started with the lemon cupcakes. As I was baking the batches, one would come out OK, the next batch would collapse as soon as I took them out of the oven. As someone who has been baking since I was a kid, and having made my share of wedding cakes as well, I was baffled by this. But, I just kept baking until I had the necessary 6 dozen for the wedding guests. Those fallen lemon cupcakes were a sign…

Fallen Lemon Cupcakes

Now, everyone knows that the proper way to serve cupcakes at a wedding is to buy build a cupcake tower so that it has the appearance of a wedding cake, right? So, I did a little Pinterest research and came up with the best plans (or so I thought) for creating a strong and sturdy tower that would show off the decorated cupcakes. Here is the How-I-Did-It (but don’t you do this…)

5 stacked shelves were created, beginning with a 16 inch base and cutting them smaller in 2″ increments to the top. I purchased a package of cake rounds (these are moisture resistant cardboard that you can purchase at your local arts and crafts supply store).

Cupcake Boards and Foam Core Stacked

For added strength and support, I sandwiched a layer of foam core board that I cut to the same size for each shelf. For the supports in between, I took some old, empty, clean tin cans (OK, MISTAKE #1, they should have remained full to add extra weight to the tower), wrapped them in white craft foam cut to fit and hot glued into place

Cupcake Tower Wrapping Tin Can

(it looked like fondant, so I was quite happy with that).

Cupcake Cans Covered in Foam

But then I needed some sort of trim, so I used that foam faux wainscoting from my country cupboard makeover, cutting it along the ridges

Foam Wainscotting for Trim

and then hot gluing it into place for a nice clean edge. For a final trim, I glued purple satin ribbon around the edges.

Cupcake Tower Glueing Ribbon Trim

Once I had all the top layers ready, I stacked and hot glued as I built my tower, with the covered cans centered (MISTAKE #2-the top one was not quite centered, but once they were hot glued into place, there was no going back…) For an extra decorative touch, I cut some paper doilies

Cupcake Tower Lace Doilies

to fit around the edges and glued into place to create a lacy scalloped look.

Cupcake Tower Glueing Doilies

For the base, I used a 16″ scalloped plastic cake round on feet that is typically used for just this purpose. But, it was pretty plain, so I added the lacy doilies to that, but then also placed a scalloped, foiled cake round in the center. MISTAKE #3. Finally, I glued the entire tower to that foiled round (did I say MISTAKE #3 ?!?)

Cupcake Tower Completed

For the topper, I baked one six inch round, decorated it and then added a beautiful bouquet in shades of purple that was created by our friends at Parker Florist in Wakefield.

Parker Florist Cupcake Topper Bouquet

OK, everything was transported safely to the venue on the top of a mountain, the cupcakes tucked into these awesome boxes I picked up at Michaels (they have inserts with holes big enough to fit my fat fingers around the cakes to remove them once it was time to fill the tower.) Aren’t they so pretty!?

Cupcakes in Carrying Boxes from Michaels

Once the ceremony was performed and the delicious wedding dinner was finished, it was time to assemble the tower. So, with the help of my BFF’s,  we walked down the hill from the main house to the tent where the reception was taking place, me carrying the tower, them carrying the boxes of cupcakes (did I mention that it was raining as well?)

Wedding Venue Tent

The tower was settled down onto the designated table, which, because we were outdoors on the soggy lawn, had a bit of a tilt to it. (MISTAKE #4. NEVER ATTEMPT TO STACK A CUPCAKE TOWER ON A TILTED TABLE). I placed the floral round on the top (MISTAKE #5. DO NOT REST THE CAKE TOP ON THE TOP OF THE TOWER-IT MUST BE SECURED). As we were stacking the cupcakes on the tower, it started to wobble forward-remember, it was on a tilted table. So I decided to start stacking from the back to balance it. Reaching around behind to add more cupcakes, I accidentally hit the tower, which instantly fell forward, spilling cupcakes all over the table and ground.

Fallen Cupcakes in Grassy Box

And my shoes.

Cupcake Tower Frosting on Shoe

In an instant we went from Cupcake Wars to Cupcake Disaster. As the tower was plummeting to its grassy grave,  my dear friend Alice caught the flower topper as it was flying by, resulting in a splotch of bright purple frosting on her brand new jacket!! (Alice, please send me the dry cleaning bill : ) At one point, I attempted to put the tower back together, but if you recall MISTAKE #3, the piece that was glued to the foiled round based gave way, so there was no way to re-attach it to the base. Apparently, hot glue and foil don’t adhere well. Lesson learned.

Cupcake Holder After the Break

As we were scurrying around, attempting to save the remaining cupcakes, I was convulsed in laughter, thinking that this could have been an episode of I Love Lucy.  Turning around to see the table of guests directly behind me with their mouths agape, watching the spectacle unfolding before them,  I said “nobody saw that, right!?”, which resulted in more laughter from everyone involved. Now, if someone had been recording this, we most definitely would have won top prize on America’s Funniest Videos, which I then could have used to purchase a fabulous wooden cupcake tower like this one of these beauties on Etsy.  But, alas, I didn’t even have my camera with me until it was over! So, the remaining unharmed cupcakes were set out on the table for the guests to enjoy,

Cupcakes After the Fall

which they reportedly did. The bride graciously laughed it away and the party danced on into the night. My heartfelt congratulations to the bride and groom-hopefully this is the first and last disaster for many years to come. So, you ask, what’s my take-away from all of this? NEVER AGAIN. Don’t ask, I won’t bake them. I’m sticking to wood and paint, from this day forward. Hope you have a memorable Memorial Day, everyone! Susan

#tbt Photo Memory Cake

It’s #throwback thursday! I’m not certain who came up with this idea, but it’s kinda fun to see so many friends and family posting old photos of loved ones on social media. This week’s throwback is actually a post I penned back in 2012, when I first started blogging (boy, that seems like a lifetime ago…) Back then, I had about 5 followers, maybe a half dozen “likes” on Facebook and I had no idea what Instagram even was! Since hardly anyone actually saw this post, I thought I would re-share it. Hopefully it inspires you to try one too!.

So, in the spirit of #tbt, here is the Memory Cake that I created for my sister’s (ahem, milestone) birthday, using old photographs that I printed on icing sheets. And, if you have a faded photograph of someone you hold near and dear, don’t forget to share it!!

“Faded photographs, covered now with lines and creases”. When it’s time to celebrate a special family occasion, such as a milestone birthday, people often create videos or scrapbooks using old photographs. This year, for my sister’s (I am not going to divulge the year she was born, but let’s just say Elvis was in the building) birthday celebration, I decided to add a sweet twist to an old idea. A photo cake!!  I have made hundreds of cakes over the years for birthdays, anniversaries, even weddings, but I have to say that this particular cake was really special, as it touched my heart, as well as my sister’s.  I am not going to give you a full tutorial on how to create a cake like this. It is not simple, and you do need a basic understanding of cake decorating and using fondant. However, I will provide you with what I think are the most important things a cake artist needs in his/her “tool box” in order to create a memorable photo cake.  Let’s start with the cake. You need a good solid cake that will hold up to the heavy fondant and piped icings. I normally make mine from scratch, but when I am pressed for time, I sometimes us a box cake mix, doctored up. This is a great basic

Once you have all your layers baked, cooled and chilled, it’s time to start decorating!!  I used to freak out when my cakes weren’t level, or pieces pulled off around the edges, but then I started watching Ace of Cakes. Duff Goldman describes cake decorating as using”‘smoke and mirrors” to get the desired results. He, by the way, has a line of awesome cake decorating stuff at Michael’s Crafts. A little extra glob of frosting here, a bit of fondant there can make what initially looks like a disaster into a beautiful edible work of art. This handy tool, a cake leveler (I know, it looks like a hacksaw, right!?) levels each layer so that they stack properly. When cakes bake, they rise and end up with a “dome” in the middle which needs to be planed down. This leveler makes a perfectly even cut, and you can use it to cut exact layers as well. I use a basic buttercream frosting recipe, especially if the cake will be covered in fondant, which is actually just sugar and water cooked until it becomes a pliable sweet dough. You can find fondant pre-made in your local arts and crafts store, but this recipe is super easy, a lot cheaper and the fondant actually tastes really delicious! Rolling out the fondant smoothly can be tricky- you have to keep covering your work surface with confectioner’s sugar to prevent sticking.  Once it is rolled out to your desired thickness (it should be 1/8-1/4 inch thick) and size, you simply roll it right right onto your rolling pin and then transfer it to the cake. It is important that the frosting “crumb” layer of the cake be smooth, as you will see every bump and lump through the fondant! Unfortunately, they don’t make “spanx” for cakes!!

Stacking the layers is the next step. Place each layer on it’s own base! Stick dowels or sticks into the layer below, cut exactly at the level of the fondant.  Without this step, your cake could end up unintentionally looking like the Leaning Tower of Pisa,

Family holding up leaning tower of Pisaas the weight of the higher layers will eventually sink into the one below.  Next up, adding the photos.

On this cake, the photographs were “pasted” on using a watered-down buttercream frosting. “Now where did she get those photographs, and are they edible?!?” you ask. The photos were printed on my Canon IP3600 photo printer, using special frosting paper from Icing Images (yes, its actually frosting on a plastic back that you put in your printer!) with special food coloring inks,

which make for edible decorations. (Disclaimer: on this cake, some of the photos became non-edible, as I ran out of food coloring ink at the last minute and had to switch to regular ink instead. Luckily I was there to cut the cake and remove the pics prior to serving : ).  The final touch: the ribbons. I was going for a “movie reel” look, but couldn’t find ribbon or tape anywhere.

So I fused these two ribbons together to make one long continuous piece to wrap around the cake and give it a vintage look. The topper was just a sparkly plastic Happy Birthday from the dollar store. And, again, I am not going to divulge the actual number of candles on the cake, but there was enough heat to start it on fire-lol!!! 

So there you have it. Photo cake deconstructed. Now,  I think there is some leftover pound cake that should go well with my morning coffee!! Have a sweet day everyone!

And a very special happy birthday to my big sister. XOXOXO Susan

Hearty Oatmeal Jam Squares

Oatmeal Jam SquaresI have been making these super easy, delicious Oatmeal Jam Squares forever! This recipe was from an old, dog-eared Quaker Oats Wholegrain Cookbook.

Oatmeal Jam Squares Quaker Oats Cookbook

They only take a few moments to prep, make minimal mess because you mix it all in one bowl with mostly (I would guess) stuff you already have in your pantry and fridge, 25 minutes to bake and done. Delish! Here’s the how-to:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. I have an electric oven, so I always set it 25 degrees less as I feel it cooks faster and hotter than gas, so mine was set at 325. Grease 13 x 9 pan and set aside. This pic looks a little weird, because I used cooking spray and it squirts out rather than lightly sprays. Whatever works…

Oatmeal Jam Squares Grease Pan

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups quick oats

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed (you can use either light or dark brown, but I feel the dark brown gives the bars a richer flavor)

2 sticks (one cup) butter or margarine, softened, not melted

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (Optional)

1 1/2 – 2 cups jam or jelly or preserves, any flavor Note: The original recipe called for 3/4 cup. You can use as much or as little as you like. The more jam, the gooier the bar : )

Measure out all dry ingredients, set aside.

Oatmeal Jam Squares IngredientsPlace softened butter in large mixing bowl (I used one margarine, one butter. Not sure why, I just do that)

Oatmeal Jam Squares Softened Butter

and mix just until sticks are broken apart, not creamed. I used dough hooks in my mixer, you can use those, or mix by hand with wooden spoon.

Oatmeal Jam Squares Blending Butter

Dump in all the dry ingredients on top of the butter in the large mixing bowl.

Oatmeal Jam Squares Ingredients in Bowl

Mix with dough hooks, or by hand with a wooden spoon, until mixture is crumbly and well-blended.

Oatmeal Jam Squares Dough Hooks

Remove and reserve 2 cups of mixture, set aside.

Oatmeal Jam Squares Mixture

Place remaining mixture into prepared pan and pat down until firm crust is formed.

Oatmeal Jam Squares Crust in Pan

Do not compress too much, but make sure there aren’t any errant chunks scattered around.

Oatmeal Jam Squares One Cup Jam

Spoon jam onto crust

Oatmeal Jam Squares Jam in Pan

and smooth out to the corners, completely covering the crust.

Oatmeal Jam Squares Jam in Pan Smoothed

As you see here, I am using two types of jam,

Oatmeal Jam Squares Jam Jars

but you can use whatever you happen to have available. I have used everything from orange marmalade to grape jelly, and it all tastes great! Sprinkle remaining topping over the jam, evenly spreading to corners. Bake for 25-30 minutes until jam is bubbling around the edges, the crust is light brown and set.

Oatmeal Jam Squares Baked

Remove from oven before crust over-browns! Over-browning is bad. Makes the bars crunchy instead of gooey. And I like gooey. If you like crunchy, then leave them in a bit longer. Cool completely. Cut into squares and serve.

Oatmeal jam SquaresThese are delicious (and nutritious) enough for breakfast and snacks but sweet enough for dessert. Have a yummy Wednesday everyone! Susan

Sweet & Easy Sopapillas

Here is a recipe for a simple and sweet dessert-Sopapillas!

Sweet 'n Easy Sopapillas Framed

These are a traditional Mexican dessert typically made with dough, but we are skipping the rising dough part and using store-bought flour tortillas instead. Perfect for a quick sweet treat, dessert or brunch. They only take about 30 minutes from start to finish, and require just a few ingredients you would most likely have in your pantry. Here is the how-to-do-it:

1.Ingredients you will need: Vegetable Oil, Honey, Sugar and Cinnamon, 6 inch Flour Tortillas.

Sopapilla Ingredients

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut 6 inch flour tortillas into quarters. Set aside.

Sopapilla Tortilla Triangles

3. Heat oil in skillet on medium-high heat until at “water sizzling” temp. (This is when you drop a tiny bit of water into the hot oil and it bubbles and sizzles.)  Don’t overheat as you will burn the oil and the Sopapillas!

Sopapilla Oil in Pan

4. Drop the tortilla quarters into the hot pan, one at a time and not overlapping. Cook until lightly browned on the bottom. This only takes about 15 seconds so watch carefully!! Flip over and brown the other side. They will puff up in the middle too, similar to a piece of fried dough.

Sopapilla Golden Brown

5. Once golden brown, remove from heat with tongs (careful, this is hot stuff!)

Sopapilla Using Tongs

or slotted spatula and place on paper towel to drain.

Sopapilla Draining on Paper Towel

Once drained, place all of the chips into a large roasting pan.

Sopapilla In Roasting Pan

6. Once all of the tortillas are done and in the roasting pan, melt a stick of butter in a clean skillet.

Sopapilla Melting Butter for Topping

Add 1 TBLSP of honey and 2 tsp. cinnamon and sugar mix and stir just until melted and mixed. Do not overcook!

Sopapilla Butter & Honey Topping

7. Drizzle the honey butter mixture over the tortilla chips in the pan.

Sopapilla Drizzling Honey Mixture

Toss to coat thoroughly.

Tossing Sopapilla in Pan with Topping

Place in 400 degree oven for 10 minutes, tossing mid-way through, just until warmed and all the pieces are coated.

8. Remove from oven and sprinkle with additional sugar and cinnamon to desired taste.

Sopapilla Sugar and Cinnamon Topping

You can also sprinkle with a dusting of sifted confectioner’s sugar.

Sopapilla Sprinkled with Confectioners Sugar

9. Cool slightly and serve with drizzled honey or caramel sauce.

Sopapilla Drizzled with Caramel Sauce

Of course, serve them plain as well,  but I usually have a jar of Hot Fudge and Caramel Sauce in my fridge (in case of a sweet tooth emergency : )

Sopapillas with Hot fudge and Caramel Sauce

A quick, delish dessert for little $$ and time. Perfect for a light dessert. Hope you all had a sweet weekend… Susan

PS: I have a very sweet announcement to kick off the New Year! Check back 12/31 for details…

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