Homemade Christmas Gifts

Merry Christmas!

In my house, Christmas doesn’t truly end until Three Kings Day.

Granted, it’s not quite as magical anymore after the 25th. Also, Cupcake’s birthday is before Three Kings Day, so we do want to pause Christmas & give her her own special day. BUT STILL – Three Kings Day marks the “official” end of Christmas around here. (Also, it really is the end of the 12 Days of Christmas!)

One of my Golden Year Bucket List things was to hand-make most of my Christmas gifts. I can now officially cross that off my list!

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Here are the gifts I made for my dear family:

Snockerdoodles

These cookies were gifted to my brother. I used this recipe to make a cakey crackle cookie (say that 3x fast!) with a whiskey kick!

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Baby ‘Print Ornaments

The grandparents (plus Auntie Tina) received ornaments made from Cupcake’s handprint or footprint. I also helped my niece make some to give as her gifts!

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Inspired by these Pinterest posts.

Homemade Taco Seasoning

I really wanted to give a jar gift to my sister-in-law & when I saw the taco seasoning on this post I knew that was it! I deviated from the original recipe a bit & I think it came out great! My favorite part is the decorations on the jar.

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Fruit Cake Biscotti

These fruit cake biscotti turned out even better than I could have imagined! I tweaked this recipe a bit & the results were fantastic. I feel inspired to make more biscotti!

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Did you make any of your Christmas gifts?

 

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Cranberry Bliss Bar Ice Cream

Every single year at Christmas time I look forward to Cranberry Bliss Bars coming back at Starbucks. This year, I somehow got the idea to turn my beloved bliss bar into an ice cream flavor.

Call it divine intervention.

Cranberry Bliss Bar Ice Cream - Mrs. Dessert Monster

This ice cream recipe captures all of the essence of the Starbucks bar, but in a creamy frozen treat.

I didn’t want to just throw a cranberry bliss bar into some vanilla ice cream. I really thought about how to make this ice cream blissfully special.

A cranberry bliss bar is essentially a blondie with cream cheese icing, white chocolate, & dried cranberries. There’s an almost hidden citrus-y component to them – orange zest. I wanted my ice cream to encompass all of these wonderful flavors.

Cranberry Bliss Bar Ice Cream - Mrs. Dessert Monster

My cranberry bliss bar ice cream is a cream cheese ice cream with dried cranberries, white chocolate chips, orange marmalade, & Biscoff cookies.

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I love Biscoff cookies! I just learned that this is what a speculoos cookie is! I totally get the Trader Joe’s speculoos hype now.

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Cupcake loves them, too.

Biscoff/speculoos cookies are the perfect way to represent the blondie without having to make a blondie. I left them in large-ish chunks & they get wonderfully soft in the ice cream.

Cranberry Bliss Bar Ice Cream - Mrs. Dessert Monster

I like a lot of stuff in my ice cream. If you’re not a huge fan of lots of bits in your ice cream, just cut the amounts listed below for the mix ins in half. The cream cheese ice cream alone is SO GOOD. I’m quite proud of myself for it!

This Christmas treat came out even better than I could have imagined.

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Bonus picture of the baby watching the ice cream machine.

Cranberry Bliss Bar Ice Cream

Makes 1 quart 

  • 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup dried canberries
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  • 8 Biscoff cookies
  • 2 tbsp orange marmalade
  1. Using the whisk attachment, whip the softened cream cheese until smooth.
  2. While the cream cheese is whipping, soak the dried cranberries in water.
  3. Add sugar & a pinch of salt to the cream cheese & continue to whip.
  4. Add lime juice, heavy cream, & milk. Mix until smooth.
  5. Pour cream cheese mix into ice cream maker. Churn for 20 minutes. Transfer ice cream to a freezer safe container.
  6. Strain the cranberries & add them to the ice cream along with white chocolate chips. Break up Biscoff cookies & add to ice cream. Swirl mix ins throughout. Finally, stir in orange marmalade.
  7. Freeze for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. If ice cream is too hard to serve, let it sit on the counter for a few minutes before scooping.

 

 

 

Crockpot Dulce De Leche

I’ve seen several Pinterest posts about the ‘hack’ of making dulce de leche from a can of condensed milk. I always kind of chuckle to myself, because my family has been doing that for generations! I have vivid memories of my mom boiling cans of condensed milk either in the pressure cooker, or just a regular pot on the stove top. Over the years, canned dulce de leche became more readily available & we haven’t had to boil leche condensada in a while.

Until this week.

I made a dulce de leche Pumpkin Pie (along with dulce de leche whipped cream) for Thanksgiving, so naturally I needed some dulce de leche! I was kind of shocked that it was $3.50/can at my local grocery store. I needed 2 cans – $7! I mean, it’s not gonna break the bank, but since I no longer bring in the income I used to, I see it my job to save money where I can. And I noticed that condensed milk was only $1.29/can.  So for less than the cost of ONE can of dulce de leche, I could make 2.

I called my mom for guidance & she told me to Google it. Seriously, Mami?!? She did eventually give me some instructions, but she encouraged me to look it up anyway in case there was a better way. So I did, & saw this post for doing it in the crockpot.

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I’ve written before about how I’ve really come to love my crockpot. I’m constantly impressed at just how versatile it is. The impression I had of slow cookers growing up was that it was a gringo thing that made mushy food. But here I was making dulce de leche!

A lot of the non-crockpot recipes to make dulce de leche involve keeping a close eye on your cans so that the water level stays high enough to cover them. With crockpot, that’s way less of an issue. I checked on mine every couple hours & it was almost unchanged the whole time. After 8 hours, I turned off the crockpot & opened the lid to let it cool a bit before taking the cans out of the water. I then waited until the next morning to open the cans – partially to make sure they were cool, but mostly because I wasn’t going to make the pie until then.

The dulce de leche was beautiful!

This method of making it is perfect for me. I didn’t have to watch a boiling pot on my stove for hours while also wrangling a baby! If I see dulce de leche in stores for a good price, will I buy it? Probably. But when I have some time to spare & some condensed milk, I will turn to my trusty crockpot!

Pie recipe, whipped cream recipe, turkey assembly instructions

Crockpot Dulce De Leche

Makes 2 cans

  • 2 cans sweetened condensed milk
  • crockpot
  • water
  1. Peel the labels off of the cans of sweetened condensed milk. Place the cans on their side inside the crockpot.
  2. Fill the crockpot with water, covering the cans by about an inch. Periodically check to make sure there is always water completely covering the cans. Add more if necessary.
  3. Cook the cans in the crockpot for 8 hours on the low setting. Once done, let the cans cool completely before opening. ***There is risk of explosion if you open a hot can!

     

 

 

‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ Housewarming Gift

When we first bought our house, our friends Beth & David gave us the housewarming gift made famous by ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’.

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Last summer our dear friends moved away & now they have a home of their own in Delaware. I wanted to be able to give them the same great housewarming gift, but the distance forced me to get creative.

I decided to make them a canvas wall hanging.

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I printed the text on some pretty craft paper, painted the elements (& the edge of the canvas) with acrylic paint, outlined them in permanent marker, & sprayed the whole thing with an acrylic sealer.

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It was a fun project! It took me several days – probably would’ve only taken me 2 or 3 in my pre-baby days, haha.

Once Beth & David were settled in their new home, I shipped it off to them.

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Though I miss them dearly, I am so happy for their new adventure.

Can’t wait to visit them in January – wish us warm-blooded Floridians luck!

Operation Christmas Child

It’s National Collection Week!

OCC National Collection Week

This is my 8th year participating in Operation Christmas Child.

I love this practical & hands-on opportunity to give back. When you pack a show box, you don’t just give a child material goods. You give them the gospel.

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You give them Hope. Capital H Hope. God’s Hope.

This year, my husband & I took our 5 year old niece, L, & Cupcake with us to the dollar store to buy the items for our boxes (one for a boy, one for a girl). We showed L this video before we left so she would know what to pick out.

She did a great job! She understood the concept & picked out great things for the kids. She was really fair & made sure that both kids got the same number of items. When we got home, she drew a picture for each kid. We had a lot of fun packing the items in the boxes, & Cupcake had fun watching us.

Then we gathered & prayed over the boxes. That’s the most important part.

We prayed for a better world for the children that are receiving these boxes, but we also prayed for better hearts for us senders. That we may be generous with what God has given us everyday.

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 L had fun marking the label. I always make sure to include the donation for shipping. It comes with the added bonus of being able to track the boxes.

In 2016 our boxes went to Angola. I look forward to finding out where they’ll end up this year & looking up that country with my niece.

Cowboy/Western Trunk or Treat

This year my church did a big Fall Festival. It was awesome! There was a bounce house, hay rides, a bake sale & contest, food, games, & trunk or treat.

Along with contributing to the bake sale, we decorated our car for trunk or treat.

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We dressed Cupcake as a cow for her first Halloween! I bought her pants online, her daddy made the onesie with some iron-on paper, & I made her headband from a dog costume. Semi-homemade Halloween costumes for the win!

Naturally, we had to be a cowgirl & cowboy to accompany Cupcake.1509387295928.jpg

The trunk decoration was fairly simple.

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A big toy horse, cardboard ‘fence’, some rope, & a blue sheet as the backdrop.

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Cupcake was really the star of the show. Everyone got a kick out of the baby cow in the (play)pen! We had other toy farm animals in there, too.

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For a little bit she was even in the trunk, too! It was a windy day, but there was not a cloud in sight & the sun was beating down. How crazy is it that Tropical Storm Felipe had passed really close to us just the night before?

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I hand painted this ring toss game to go along with our trunk, but it was too windy to play. Also, I think my pegs were too short, which made the game super hard. Lesson learned!

We all had fun passing out candy & checking out everyone’s costumes. Cupcake loved all of the attention she was getting. Once the trunk or treat portion of the festival was over, we checked out the rest. It was an amazing production! Over 1,000 people attended throughout the day.

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I’m very proud to say that the pumpkin chocolate swirl cake with pumpkin spice buttercream I entered into the baking contest won 3rd place!

It was a great day!

Easy ‘One-Banana’ Banana Bread

Our family buys bananas often. I try to be strategic when I buy them so that we can have a few days of perfectly ripe bananas, yet there always seems to be one lonely banana left that turns too black too quickly.

There are lots of ways to use overripe bananas, but most of the time you need more than just one.

I wondered if you could make banana bread with just one banana, maybe just make a small batch of muffins or something, & then I found this recipe.

Banana bread using only one banana? Could it be?

Yes!

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This recipe produces a moist but dense bread with awesome banana flavor. I love this recipe because it’s not too mushy. I add slivered almonds for extra texture & flavor.

Since discovering this recipe, I’ve been a little bit banana bread obsessed. I have made it more times than I’ve made anything else in my life, ever. It’s just such a great, easy recipe! Not only that, but banana bread makes a great breakfast, snack, even dessert.

I love that it’s a ‘dump’ recipe – you literally just put everything in a bowl & mix it all up. I’ve made it with all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, & a combination of the two. It has worked with all of those variations – I just made it a full cup of milk when using whole wheat.

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One week we had 2 bananas that were too far gone, so I made two loaves. My husband took one to work & he says it was gone in minutes!

Easy ‘One Banana’ Banana Bread

Makes 1 loaf

  • 1 large overripe banana
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, plus enough milk to make 1 cup liquid
  • 1 stick butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • slivered almonds (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease your loaf pan.
  2. Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix with an electric mixer until all of the flour is incorporated, being careful not to over-mix. Mixture should be slightly lumpy, but not have large chunks.
  3. Pour batter into loaf pan.
  4. Bake for about 55 minutes. The bread is ready when the top no longer looks gooey & a toothpick comes out relatively clean (it is a moist bread, afterall!).

My Golden Year

It’s my birthday!

29 on the 29th!

It’s my *Golden Year*.

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I learned that term from my friend, Ryan. It’s the year that your birth date is also your age. I intend to live it up & make it my best year yet!

Since it is my golden year, & next year I’ll be 30, I thought I’d do a variation on the ’30 before 30′ lists I’ve seen floating around.

Here are 29 things I’d like to accomplish my 29th year:

  1. Read the Bible regularly.
  2. Volunteer.
  3. Lose weight.
  4. Get more serious about fitness.
  5. Make Spanish more of a priority at home.
  6. Throw a fancy dinner party.
  7. Go to a gun range.
  8. Go to local high school football games.
  9. Read more books.
  10. Learn a (simple) new make up look.
  11. Get more serious about my book business.
  12. Paint more.
  13. Build something with my hands.
  14. Donate blood.
  15. Grow my hair long (& healthy) to donate.
  16. Visit a new city in Florida.
  17. Fast.
  18. Pay for someone else’s coffee.
  19. Send a care package to a soldier.
  20. Bake a soufflé.
  21. Be more intentional about making new friends.
  22. Hand make (most) Christmas presents this year.
  23. Pay off debt.
  24. Go on a painting/cooking/activity date with my husband.
  25. Go see more local shows/events.
  26. Go to one of the Orlando theme parks.
  27. Work on knife & butchery skills.
  28. Write more letters to friends.
  29. Grow in my relationship with God.

Happy Birthday to ME!

1,000 Days Of Marriage

I always say it’s the little things that make the biggest difference in marriage.

Yesterday my husband & I celebrated 1,000 days of marriage.

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I got the idea to celebrate a while ago, when we celebrated 100 days of marriage. I set a reminder on my phone & just kept it in mind to do a little something special for my hubby on 9/15.

Hurricane Irma hit Florida on 9/10. Thankfully, our home was spared from serious damage & our extended family is safe as well. Hundreds of trees were blown down. Several areas flooded. Many neighborhoods & traffic signals are still without power a week later. My parents stayed with us for 5 nights before their power was restored. It was scary during the storm & stressful after it.

The situation helped me see exactly what my husband is made of. I got to see how much love he has for Jesus as he suggested we pray together over our house before the storm hit. I got to see him selflessly help friends, fellow church goers, & family members put up shutters. He was my rock & comforted me as I got more nervous about the forecast. He was a saint & gave our bed to my parents while they were here. He is the best father, provider, & friend I could have ever hoped to marry.

So to celebrate our milestone, I used some of the cardstock from our wedding signs (yes, I still have tons) to make him this card (pictured with mason jars & cake topper from the wedding, too).

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I put a $10 (1,000₵) giftcard inside for us to use together. It was just a small token to show him how much I appreciate our marriage.

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I look forward to thousands more days with this amazing man!

Christmas Red Wedding

Mary Berry’s American Victoria Sandwich

Are you as obsessed with The Great British Baking Show as I am?

I’m actually quite sad that the latest season just ended.

For the finale, the contestant’s technical challenge was to make Mary’s Victoria sandwich without a recipe.

A Victoria sandwich is is a two-layer light sponge cake filled with a layer of jam & buttercream.

Seeing as how I am not British – not even close – I am only able to take Mary Berry’s word that this is a classic cake & that the jam should be raspberry (with “all the bits”, as she says).

I’ve been wanting to try to create one of the recipes from the show since I started watching Season 1 on Netflix earlier this summer. I figured this one shouldn’t be terribly difficult. Not like the Prinsesstårta!

The only thing is that Mary Berry’s recipe is written in U.K. Measurements. I have no idea how much 225g of self-raising flour is. The PBS website is nice enough to link to this conversion site at the bottom of the recipe, but it only converts grams to ounces – not cups. I still have no idea how much 8oz of flour is. So with my little food scale & Google, I came up with the below recipe conversion.

Hence this is Mary Berry’s American Victoria Sandwich.

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One key difference for me is that I do not have self-raising flour. Therefore, I used all purpose plus extra baking powder. (Side note: God is real, you guys. I had JUST enough flour to make this!)

I also made my own caster sugar with a food processor. I was going to skip it but I read that regular granulated sugar wouldn’t give the sponge the right texture & could be grainy. To make enough caster sugar for this recipe, I pulsed 1 1/4 cup of sugar in the food processor for about 30 seconds.

I was all set to follow Mary’s proportions for buttercream (7 tbsp buter, 1 3/4 cup powdered sugar if anyone is interested),  but then I accidentally threw the whole stick of butter in the mixer. So 2 cups of powdered sugar it was. It’s so much easier to use the whole stick of butter anyway!

I did cheat a little & used store bought raspberry jam – seedless. Sorry, Mary. I know you like “all the bits”, but my husband does not!

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My 2 sponges domed up more than I would have liked in the middle, so I did trim them. But that just meant I got to taste test them before serving them to my friends!

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I cannot tell you how this compares to the British original.

I can only tell you it was delicious!

Mary Berry’s American Victoria Sandwich

Victoria Sponge

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour, lightly spooned – not scooped
  • 2 level tsp baking powder
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease two 8in round cake pans & line with parchment paper.
  2. Break the eggs into a large bowl. Then add the sugar, flour, baking powder, & butter. Use an electric mixer to mix together until well combined, being careful not to over-mix. (According to Mary, “The finished mixture should be of a soft ‘dropping’ consistency.”)
  3. Divide the mixture evenly between the cake pans. Use a spatula to gently smooth the surface of the cakes.
  4. Place the cake pans on the middle shelf of the oven & bake for 25 minutes. Don’t open the oven door to check them until at least the 20 minutes mark.
  5. When the’re done, remove them from the oven & set aside to cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Then transfer onto a rack to cool completely.

Buttercream

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1-2 tbsp milk
  1. Using electric mixer, beat the butter in a large bowl until soft.
  2. Add half of the powdered sugar & beat until smooth.
  3. Add the remaining powdered sugar & 1 tablespoon of milk. Beat the mixture until creamy & smooth. Add the remaining tablespoon of milk if the buttercream is too thick.

To assemble:

  1. Choose one of the sponges to be the bottom & put it down on to a serving plate.
  2. Spread the raspberry jam (store bought or homemade) on the cake, then pipe the buttercream on top of the jam.
  3. Place the other sponge on top & sprinkle with caster sugar to serve.