Friday, December 19, 2008

Decorating the Christmas Table

A Christmas candle is a lovely thing; It makes no noise at all, But softly gives itself away; While quite unselfish, it grows small. ~Eva K. Logue

Today I have some easy and pretty ideas for the Christmas table and kitchen.

Cranberry Centerpiece

You'll need:
Two tray--one larger than the other by 3 inches or so
Fresh greens
Fresh cranberries
4 holiday colored/scented tea candles
Small colored glass ornaments

Place smaller tray on top of the larger tray. Spread the fresh cranberries (you can freeze them first if you wish for a shiny look) on the smaller tray. Place a tea light in each corner-nestled in the cranberries. In the middle you can place a grouping of ornaments, or a holiday figurine of some sort-even a pillar candle. On the larger tray, using the part that is around the first tray-arrange fresh greens, and a few more cranberries. This is best done right before using, and keep the greens misted and make sure they aren't touching or near the tea lights.

Inexpensive Floral Centerpiece

You'll need:
Wicker basket
Fresh greenery from your yard--boxwood, holly, pine etc.
one inexpensive holiday bouquet
doily or lace cloth of some type

Lay the doily or piece of cloth in the basket so that a nice bit of it hangs over the front of the basket. On the bottom of the basket place a piece of plastic or paper to protect the cloth from sap, etc. Cover this with the greens you collected. Take your bouquet and cut the flowers down under running water and stick in with the greens making a nice arrangement. Notes: I get these bouquets for as little as $3.99 from floral departments fresh, but you can also use silk flowers. This doesn't last long, so make it before your dinner and mist it. You can soak some floral foam and place the greens and flowers on top of that to give it some moisture.

More Simple Ideas:
Buy a bag of natural raffia and use it to tie up the napkins inserting a sprig of rosemary, lavender, sage or a fresh bay leaf. Do the same on several large pillar candles. Make place cards out of simple card stock, writing the guests name on with a gold gel pen. If you have decorative edged scissors you can cut the paper with those. Think simply...but when you are done it will look elegant.

Using raffia again, you can combine it with gold for a very elegant look. Gold apple ornaments, floral picks with gold accents, gold ball ornaments...Target has a great selection of gold accents and ornaments, and most are only $2 or so.

Decorate wreaths, candles, fill baskets with greens and gold,use gold bows on the back of chairs....use your imagination!

You can use fresh fruit to decorate platters,tables and mantles. Here are some suggestions:

-Pomegranates and kale or other leafy vegetables surrounding your main meat platter.

-Use a gold pen to write your guests names on pomegranates or dark green leaves such as magnolia greens.

-For a whimsical look try using red and green chili peppers,along with corn husks and greens in baskets, on wreaths or swags.

Try this easy simmering potpourri to scent your house during a dinner or open house:

Simmering Potpourri

Mix together:
2 broken Cinnamon sticks
4 tbsp. whole cardamom seeds
2 tbsp. whole cloves
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground ginger

Place two tablespoons of potpourri in two or more cups of water, allow to simmer or steep slowly.Be sure the water doesn't evaporate while heating. Add more if necessary.

On OFL we have tips for using fresh greens to decorate this season:


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Open House Favorites

Christmas is for children. But it is for grownups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chill and hide- bound hearts.
~Lenora Mattingly Weber

I don't know about you, but I always have gatherings to bring dishes to during the holidays-- open houses,potlucks, family dinners etc. The recipes below can all be used if you are having an open house or any one of them are great potluck dishes as well.

Cinnamon Praline Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 1/2 tablespoons butter, chilled
1 extra large egg, beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup pecans, finely chopped or crushed
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and prepare baking sheet with parchment paper. Chop the chilled butter into small pieces. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and 2 tablespoons sugar. Using a pastry blender or your finger, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles crumbs. In a small bowl, combine the egg and cream and add to the flour mixture. Mix until just blended. Turn out the batter onto a lightly floured board and knead for 1 minute. Roll dough into a rectangle approximately 8 x 12 inches. Brush the dough with the melted butter. Combine filling ingredients and spread on the dough. Roll up, jelly-roll fashion, and seal the long seam by pinching it together lightly with your fingers. Cut the roll into twelve 1-inch thick slices. Lay slices on the baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden.

Hot Cranberry Franks

2 pounds cocktail franks
1 can whole cranberry sauce (15 1/2 oz.)
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. dry mustard

Combine cranberry and soy sauce, ginger and mustard in a 2 quart saucepan. Bring to a boil; turn heat down to medium. Add franks and let simmer 20 to 25 minutes. Serve with toothpicks. This can also be transferred to a slow cooker after the boiling step. This can also be made with smoked kielbasa that is cut into round slices about 1/2 inch thick.

Cream Cheese Tarts

Tart Crust:
48 graham crackers crushed
1 1/3 sticks butter, melted
6 tbsp. sugar

Tart Filling:
2 pounds cream cheese
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Optional toppings:
Fruit pie fillings
Drizzled chocolate, white and milk chocolate
Fresh fruit
Crushed chocolate graham cracker or Oreo crumbs

For crust: Blend all ingredients together well. Press about 1 tsp. mixture into mini muffin tins, lined with muffin papers.

For filling: Blend all ingredients together well. Place about 1 tablespoon filling over crust. Bake 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Cool and refrigerate. Before open house remove all of the tarts from the refrigerator to add toppings.

Suggested toppings:
Cherry, blueberry or lemon pie fillings-sprinkle very lightly
with confectioners' sugar after adding a small spoonful of
filling over the top of the tart.

Crushed Cookie Crumbs: Oreos, gingersnaps, vanilla wafers
or cinnamon graham crackers.

Drizzled Toppings: Melt milk or white chocolate, caramel or almond bark gently over a double boiler and drizzle with a tsp. onto each tart.

Crockpot Hot Apple Cider

1 gallon apple cider or juice
12 whole cloves
3 sticks cinnamon
2 whole nutmegs
2 large pieces crystallized ginger

Place all ingredients in crockpot. Heat on high for 2 hours,and on low to keep warm until ready to serve. This makes about 20 servings. Keep another batch ready to go in the kitchen in a second crockpot or in a large pan on the stove simmering at the lowest temperature.

On OFL we have cookie exchange tips and recipes:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Frugal Gift Wrapping Ideas

May the star that shone in Bethlehem brighten our path each day. ~Theresa Mary Grass

Wrapping gifts each year is always a challenge for me because I just can't bring myself to spend a lot of money on fancy wrapping paper that gets torn and thrown away. I'm always looking for creative alternatives. Try these fun and easy felt bags this year:

Easy Felt Gift Bags

You'll need:
green and red felt
green or red yarn
large needle

Cut two 6x7 pieces out of green or red felt or another color if you wish. Sew the sides and bottom of the pieces together to create a bag. Turn the pouch right side out. Thread the large needle with yarn in a different color than the felt and weaving the yarn in and out the felt about 2 1/2" from the top of the bag. Cut the yarn leaving enough length to tie a bow. At this point you can decorate the bag with fabric paint or cut-outs made from the felt, or my favorite--old buttons! You can glue on ric-rac, sequins or other decorative items. Use the bags to put gifts in, or line it with a plastic bag and fill it with cookies.

You can make the bags smaller or larger depending on your needs. If you don't have a sewing machine you can easily hand stitch the sides and bottom and still make the bags. I did this one year by stitching on the outside of the bag with a contrasting thread and kept the stitches a little longer and even. It made it look decorative! You can also use other material and ribbon instead of yarn to create fancier bags.

Some other creative gift wrap ideas:

-Photocopy a collage of family photos on paper and wrap smaller gifts with the copy.

-Use last years Christmas cards for your gift tags. Cut out rectangles from the cards, fold in half, punch a hole and attach a piece of raffia or a skinny silk ribbon to tie it to a gift bag or tape it to a package!

-Wrap kitchen, tea, coffee or cooking related gifts in pretty tea towels, or if you are giving kitchen gadgets place them in an oven mitt and tie a gift tag to it!

-Garden themed gifts can be placed in a pretty planter, then wrapped with colored plastic wrap, fabric or tulle---gather at the top and tie with a matching ribbon. You can also place a small amount of rubber cement on the back of seed packets, allow it to dry and then stick the packet to a gift bag or card for a neat gift.

On OFL we have tips for creating a memory album:


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Homemade Gift Mixes Part II

May you have the gladness of Christmas
which is hope; the spirit of Christmas which is peace; the heart of Christmas which is love. ~Ada V. Hendricks

Below are two more great gift mixes, plus the link below has many more. They are all perfect for teachers, mailmen (and ladies), the paper kids. Keep a couple of spare mixes made up for unexpected guests!

This was shared by jdsmom on our forum:

Cookie Mix:
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
mix with 1 tsp. baking powder and 1/2 tsp. baking soda
8 large Reese's Peanut Butter Cups cut into 1/2" pieces

Mix the flour, baking powder and baking soda before you
layer ingredients. Wrap the candy in plastic. Layer the
ingredients in the jar in order given. Press each layer
firmly in place before adding next ingredient.

Recipe to attach to jar:
Remove candies from jar and set aside. Empty cookie mix
in large mixing bowl; stir to combine. Add 3/4 cup softened
butter, 2 eggs slightly beaten and 1 tsp. vanilla; mix until
completely blended. Stir in candies. Roll the dough into
walnut-sized balls. Place balls 2" apart on lightly greased
cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes or
until edges are lightly browned. Cool 5 minutes on baking
sheet. Remove to wire racks to cool completely. 2 1/2 dozen.

Lina shared this yummy brownie mix to give.

White Chocolate Brownie Mix

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cocoa
2/14 cup white sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Layering Dry Mix:
Combine flour, baking powder and salt.Place mixture into
quart jar.Layer remaining ingredients into jar in order listed,
packing firmly after each addition. Tip: Use a tart tamper or
the bulb end of a baster to pack layers. Adjust cap. Makes
one quart jar.

To Prepare Brownies, Add: 3/4 cup butter, softened and 4
eggs slightly beaten. Preheat over to 350 Place contents of
jar in a large mixing bowl and combine. Add butter and eggs.
Mix until completely blended. Spread into a lightly greased 9
by 9 inch pan. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes or until brownies
just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool and
cut into squares. Makes about 16 brownies.

Be sure to add a recipe card complete with ingredients to
be added and baking instructions. Decorate the jar with fabric
rounds, raffia and a gift tag...

I have had this recipe for about 10 years and make it often,
I got it from the Ball/Kerr company

More Gift Mixes on OFL:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Homemade Gift Mixes Part I

It is the personal thoughtfulness, the warm human awareness, the reaching out of the self to one's fellow man that makes giving worthy of the Christmas spirit. ~Isabel Currier

Today I have some more easy mix recipes to give. These are not only simple to make but frugal as well! Tomorrow I will have part two.

Here is a recipe for Country Cappuccino Mix in a Jar.This recipe makes one quart jar of mix. ~Lina

2/3 cup instant chocolate drink mix (we used Nesquik)
2 1/2 cups dry milk
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup instant coffee granules
1/2 cup French Vanilla flavored non-dairy cream

Mix together in a large bowl and then put into jar.

Directions: Mix 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup mix to 6 or 8 ounces hot water and stir well.

I loved making these last year and folks liked them too...enough for these folks to ask for more...I made a Mexican Theme basket and put this into it. ~donnag

Tortilla soup mix in a jar

Ingredients for the jar:
1 cup converted long grain rice
2 to 2-1/2 cups crushed tortilla chips
1 (5 oz.) can chicken

Mix the following and place in a zipper sandwich bag.
2 T. chicken bouillon granules
2 t. lemonade powder with sugar
1 t. lemon pepper
1 t. dried cilantro leaves
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. salt
1/4 cup dried minced onions

Size of jar: Quart

Place ingredients in jar in this order:
Place rice in jar first. Seasoning packet into jar next. (Gently flatten bag so it is visible from all sides of jar.) Fill jar with tortilla chips. Put lid on the jar. Attach can of chicken to top of jar. Decorate jar and attach the following recipe.

Tortilla Soup Directions:
Carefully empty tortilla chips from jar into a dish. Set aside. Remove seasoning packet. Set aside. Place the rice in a large pan. Add 10 cups water, 1 (10 oz.) can of diced tomatoes and green chilies and seasonings from packet. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and
simmer 20 minutes. Add the tortilla chips. Cover and simmer 5 more minutes. Serve immediately. Makes 12 cups soup.

I am going to make these up, put them in the pantry (I do this with many of the different mixes) so I just have to pull out and add the additional ingredients. ~Lina

Oat Pecan Cookie Mix

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 cup crisp rice cereal

Additional Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter softened
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and
powder. In a 1-quart glass container, layer the flour
mixture, brown sugar, oats, pecans and rice cereal,
packing well between each layer. Cover and store in
a cool dry place up to 6 months. Yield: 1 batch about
4 cups total)If you give this as a gift remember to add the instructions...

To prepare cookies: In a mixing bowl, cream the butter.
Beat in egg and vanilla. Add the cookie mix and mix well.
Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on greased
baking sheets. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes or until golden
brown. Cool for a few minutes before removing from pans
to wire racks...Yields about 3 dozen.

From Country woman Issue Nov/Dec 2003