Tree & Wreath Cupcakes

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This weekend is the grand bake-palooza in our house. I have the bags of pre-scooped cookie dough ready, and went on one last Target run for necessary ingredients for Mom’s fudge, Elf’s Mix & a few other recipes that I’ll be sharing on here soon. :-) I just love making these gifts every year…edible gifts are always a winner, and it’s fun to package them up. I’m a sucker for treat boxes, cellophane and a ton of curling ribbon. :-)

This week, I was just itching to throw some cupcakes together. Sometimes, I just have to take those old Wilton tips out and go crazy with buttercream. I actually first attempted these with a grass tip, and they just looked so messy. However, a star tip (#21) did the trick.

I didn’t take pictures of every step with these cupcakes, because they’re pretty simple to pipe out, and you can easily see where I piped the stars.

I started off by thinly frosting (completely cooled) cupcakes with a layer of un-dyed vanilla buttercream (I used this recipe for the buttercream). To make the trees, I started with 5 stars on the bottom, then a row of 4 (between each star in the 5 row), and then 3, 2, 1. For the wreaths, I piped two stars next to each other, and continued in a circle around the whole cupcake. To make the bows, I just used a small round tip (#5) and piped a sideways “8”, and added the edges. The ornaments were made using the same tip, in small, random dots in the gaps of the piped stars. The tree trunks were piped with the same round tip in brown frosting.

I think these cupcakes would be especially festive with a funfetti cupcake recipe, using holiday colored jimmies!

Are any of y’all baking this weekend for the holidays? I’d love to hear about what’s baking in your kitchen. :-) I’m sure I’ll be tweeting about the flour/confectioner’s sugar clouds in my kitchen.

Holiday Cards from Minted & A Giveaway!

As much as I love Christmas, one thing I’ve always gone back and forth on was our Christmas card. Since it’s just me and my husband, nothing really changes in the pictures from year to year, and we don’t really take many posed photos together. Since we never have a picture of us for a Christmas card, who were we going to feature?

Well, one year I decided to take pictures of our dog, Millie. I wasn’t sure if it would be well-received or not, but people loved them! It became our little tradition. Every year, I found it so fun to put Christmas decorations around her (closely watching her, of course), and take probably 100 pictures, praying that she didn’t move since there was a large treat above the camera lens for her to stare at and drool over (which usually resulted in the perfect puppy smile).

Time to fill my stocking, Momma!

This was last year’s picture. I mean seriously…how adorable is that?

So, this year, when I was looking for Christmas cards, I was hoping to find a card with a more pet-centric message. Usually I’d buy something that said “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” from (our last name) and leave it at that. However, this year, I discovered these holiday cards from Minted.com, and included in that are some cards that are specifically meant for pet photos!

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Christmas Cookies & A Giveaway!

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It’s now socially acceptable to decorate with all of the Christmas things! I just felt like stating that to you guys. :-P

Since it’s now officially the holiday season, I think I’m going to ask a certain husband who isn’t afraid of heights to go in the attic and grab all of the Christmas decor. ::fingers crossed:: I seriously can’t take 3 steps on a ladder without taking deep breaths and telling myself “I think I can…I think I can…”.

I just love making cookies for the holidays. I bake so many for gifts, since it’s always a winner with coworkers and neighbors. I learned a great trick when it comes to baking in bulk for the holidays…make your dough in advance to freeze and then bake them all later. It makes things a lot easier when you’re making dozens of cookies at once. :-)

What also makes things easier while baking is knowing that your favorite recipes will always come out the same when using quality ingredients. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that good, quality ingredients really do make a difference in your baking. For example, I used to grab store brand flour, and the results of my baking weren’t always consistent. I really thought it was me making a mistake in the recipe, but when I switched to a bag of King Arthur Flour, my favorite recipes come out the same way every time. I will admit that King Arthur Flour is slightly pricier than store brands, but to me, it’s worth it to use a brand that has such high quality standards when it comes to flour. You don’t have to order their flour online only either…they carry their flour at so many stores now (I recently saw their flour at Walmart for $3.95/bag!). Also, I’ve seen quite a few of their baking products, like espresso powder (which is so hard for me to find anywhere else…is it just me?) and specialty extracts, at Sur La Table. :-)

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Peppermint Swirl Sugar Scrub & A Giveaway!

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**NOTE: This gift is NOT edible. This sugar scrub is NOT for consumption…it’s a bath/body product.**

I just thought I’d get that out of the way, since all of the other gifts in this blog series are food related….this one is not, due to the use of essential oils.

I love this time of the year, but one of the biggest issues I face is how drying the winter is, especially on my hands. I use so much lotion throughout the winter, and sadly, with all of the cooking/baking that I do, the constant hand washing doesn’t make things any better. It’s probably because the winter sucks the humidity out of Louisiana, but I’m always prepared with shea butter hand lotion and some sort of moisturizing scrub. I know a scrub sounds counter-intuitive, but a sugar scrub exfoliates with the sugar and also moisturizes your skin using the oil. It always leaves my hands feeling nice and soft. I thought that it would be a great gift idea to make these for the other women in my family, since we all go through the same thing this time of the year!

When I saw this idea for a Peppermint Swirl scrub on Dixie Crystals’ website, I knew that this was going to be a winner. I just love minty scents around this time of the year, and since I’m making it myself, I’m able to control the scent (which is great, because some mint scents can smell too overpowering).

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Cinnamon Rolls & A Giveaway!

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It’s amazing how quickly one can go through butter for holiday baking, so it’s essential for me to stock up when it goes on sale! Usually $2/lb. is my stock-up price, and when I stock up, I usually buy 10 lbs. at a time. I have to wonder what the cashier thinks of me when I purchase all that butter, and I’ve been asked if I own a bakery once. Nope…I just LOVE to bake!

This recipe for cinnamon rolls goes through some butter, y’all. At first, I thought there was no way all of that butter was going to go in the cinnamon rolls…no way. However….yup…I used over a pound of butter in a batch of cinnamon rolls. 4 sticks alone served as part of the filling! Now, this recipe isn’t just for 8 rolls…I got 48 rolls out of this recipe. It’s the perfect recipe for gift-giving, and it comes from someone who is always cooking for a crowd: The Pioneer Woman.
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I’ve heard so many wonderful things about her cinnamon roll recipe, but since it’s such a large recipe, I felt like I needed an occasion to make these. Well, how about the holidays? When this recipe makes 6 pans worth, you could totally get away with gifting this to neighbors, family, friends….whoever you want! I took a tip from The Pioneer Woman, and baked them in cheap disposable baking pans. While they aren’t the prettiest, you can totally dress up the pan by dying the icing, adding sprinkles on top of the rolls & wrapping the pan in holiday cellophane paper! How awesome would it be to give something like this to a loved one?

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These cinnamon rolls were divine. Just…divine. This is my first time making cinnamon rolls from scratch, and I firmly believe that the scent of butter/sugar/cinnamon/dough needs to be in a candle. Holy moly…it smelled like king cake in our house! The rolls themselves were a tender, fluffy texture, thanks to Red Star Platinum yeast. I first heard about Red Star Yeast when I attended a King Arthur Flour seminar a couple of years ago. We were given samples at the seminar, and when I baked with the yeast, I was so surprised at how well the dough rose! I ended up purchasing a full 1 lb. block of Red Star Yeast the next week. I’m definitely a fan of their yeast.

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Lumps of Coal & A Giveaway!

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I’m ridiculously excited about this week’s posts. As you guys may already know, I’m a big fan of the holiday season. One of my favorite things to do during the holidays is to DIY some of the gifts, and this week is going to be all about homemade holiday gifts that you can easily make from the kitchen. So, everyday this week (with the exception of Thanksgiving), I’ll be featuring a fun homemade holiday gift idea, along with a giveaway from some very generous companies whose products I love to use!

Today, I wanted to share with you guys how easy it is to make these adorable “lumps of coal”.

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Red Stick Spice Company & A Giveaway!

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Up until a few years ago, I really had no idea what a difference good, quality spices make in cooking/baking. I’ll be honest…back in the hot dog/blue box macaroni cooking days, I thought that spices never expired! I also thought that you could get away with purchasing the cheapest spices in the store, and you’d still get the same result. However, I learned that spices usually have a shelf life of a couple of years, and it’s always smart to purchase good quality spices.

I remember going to a specialty spice store for the first time when I went to Houston with my husband, and we really stocked up, since we knew that Baton Rouge had nothing like this. It was a bummer, since Louisiana is such a food-centric state…why wouldn’t we have more stores like this? However, a couple of years ago, I first heard of this business called Red Stick Spice Company (in case you didn’t know Baton Rouge is French for Red Stick). I looked up their website, and decided that the first free weekend I had, I had to visit this business and see what they were all about!

Let’s just say I was hooked. I’m pretty sure I purchased 1/2 cup of cinnamon for my holiday baking when I went for my first visit, as well as some other hard-to-find spices that I wanted to use for some recipes. I didn’t shop there very often, because let’s face it, how often do you need to replenish spices? However, they were my go-to when I had a big spice related purchase to make! At some point, the owners decided to sell this business, and I’ll be honest…I was worried about what would happen to this spice store that I’ve just fallen in love with. Well y’all…GREAT things have happened since the new owner, Anne Milneck, took over!

I went to the store for the first time since the new owner took over a few weeks ago, and it was awesome! I’m a sucker for great logos/branding, as well as a store with lovely displays, and this store definitely has all of that!

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A Bunch of Randoms

1. This past weekend, my husband and I had the opportunity to attend the naming ceremony for the Carnival Sunshine. The Sunshine is a ship that had a multi-million dollar renovation, and it was making it’s US debut in New Orleans this past week. This is the first time we’ve ever attended something like this, and we had a wonderful time! As many of you may remember, we went on a cruise last year with Carnival and we had a blast. We enjoyed it so much that we’re going on a cruise on the Sunshine as well, and we cannot wait! We could use a vacation after the year we had. :-\

They also had the Saints game on the big screen….now THAT is the way to watch a game (along with a punchy rum drink with a cute umbrella). :-)

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Oh, and do you want to know how to gain a ridiculous amount of weight in a day? Run 5 miles, and then eat a dinner like this. Whew…I wanted to eat nothing but carrots the next day!

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2. If you’re from the New Orleans area, you probably nodded your head so many times while reading this that you now have a headache. Am I right?

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3. This was a whole handle of vodka. Well, it was a whole handle of vanilla extract. It took me two years to use it…..you think I have a baking hobby? Maybe a tad… Another handle of vodka is being made into extract at the moment, and it should be ready any day now. I couldn’t have planned that better if I tried. Ah, holiday baking!

4. Do you LOVE holiday movies/shows as much as I do? I don’t know about y’all, but this Holiday TV Guide is going to be printed and take permanent residence on our table next to the sofa.

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5. That rope toy? I’m pretty sure that’s something dogs dream about. I wonder how our dog, Millie would react….hmm…maybe Santa will leave this for her since she’s such a sweet girl. :-P

Disclosure: My husband and I attended the Carnival Sunshine naming ceremony at no cost to us. There was no blog post required, but we had such a great time, I thought I’d just share how it went!

The Time You Save & A Calphalon Giveaway

With the holiday season just around the corner, time with family and friends is so important. The holidays can be very hectic, between the shopping and party planning, but if you can save some time on the day to day tasks (like cooking for your family/cleaning up afterwards), you can definitely etch out some time with your loved ones.

Calphalon recently relaunched their popular Contemporary Nonstick line, and is all about helping families save time with “The Time You Save” campaign. One of the key new perks about the cookware is that it’s now dishwasher safe! So, you can make your quick, weeknight meals, rinse the pot/pan out & place it straight in the dishwasher with your plates & utensils. Calphalon realizes that The Time You Save is valuable, so taking away the task of doing the dishes after a meal is great! You can now take some time away from the kitchen, and instead, enjoy that time with your family decorating the house, wrapping gifts or building a gingerbread house for the holidays! :-)

Also, along with Calphalon’s “The Time You Save” campaign, I wanted to share a couple of recipes with y’all, featuring their new cookware that requires very little hands-on time in the kitchen. :-)

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Calphalon sent me their new panini pan, as well as their 8 quart multi-pot with steamer to use for some time-saving recipes. I used their panini pan to make a chicken panini, using leftover roasted chicken, and I used the multi-pot to make a chicken tortilla soup.

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Training Tuesdays: Week 3

Well, I’m 1/4 of the way done with training. Completely nuts. During my runs, I’m always thinking about race day. Will the adrenaline kick in and help me run a bit faster? Will I be able to actually do 13.1 miles? I keep questioning myself on my decision to train for this, when I’m not even close to being done with my weight loss journey. If I were 60 lbs. lighter, I imagine this would be a whole lot easier.

I’m also facing this killer plateau. I’ll admit, I’m not 100% on calorie counting, but seriously…I’m running 12 miles/week. Shouldn’t I be losing SOMETHING? I’ve read a few things about muscles building the first few weeks of training, so I’m hoping that’s it. I also hope the terrible urge to eat everything goes away soon. I’m ALWAYS hungry! My usual meals aren’t filling me up, and I’m craving chocolate….all.the.time!

This week was hard. 3.5 miles as my short run? That’s more than any race I’ve ever done! And don’t even get me started on 5 miles. Goodness. I ran 5 miles on Sunday. I also noticed that my pace was pretty terrible this week, which is so discouraging. I’m trying to not let it get me down, because I know I’m challenging my body in crazy ways right now with this training. I’m also 240 lbs. I know it’s not supposed to be easy to carry that for 5 miles.

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I was actually pretty proud of this run. I stayed under 16 min/mile pace, and there was a cold front going through that evening. Talk about windy!

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This was the hardest run for me to face, to date. My legs were heavy, and I just couldn’t get my mind off of the running. Usually, I can start letting my mind wander and think about other things in life, but oh man…every stride was just annoying. Thanks so much for your encouraging comments on Instagram, Twitter & Facebook. It made me realize that a run is a run. :-) Doesn’t matter the pace (except for race day lol).

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5….flipping….miles. I was so shocked by this one! I think I could have gone faster, but can I tell you…Louisiana sucks right now. Tuesday’s run was in the 50s (and dropping towards the 30s)…Sunday’s run was 75 and so humid. I had to peel clothes off of me…so.dang.sweaty. Sorry if that’s TMI…just keeping it real.

All in all…I survived. I did the miles, and I’m so glad that I didn’t quit (even on that Thursday run). :-) I’m going to TRY not to beat myself up anymore when a run gets bad….as long as I finish, I should be proud of myself. Heck….three years ago, I couldn’t even run for a minute straight!