Sunday, December 11, 2011

Festive Outdoor Christmas Decorating

Yesterday on my daily walk through the neighborhood, I noticed some really striking Christmas decorations. In the evenings, you see a lot of pretty Christmas lights on houses and shrubs and those blow up figures. During the day, you notice evergreen swags and wreaths and red velvet ribbons and figurines. This year I am seeing a lot poinsettias sitting in planters and hanging baskets.

At first I wondered if they could be real but that's just not possible in this climate. Poinsettias like a warm climate of  about 60-70 degrees. They had to be silk or plastic and they were just beautiful.

I saw some arranged in planters sitting on steps and in hanging baskets on porches. They look best with a little greenery.

I made a planter for my own front step. I had a planter full of dirt still sitting outside from the summer. I stuck in some evergreen branches that we had cut off the bottom of our tree. I went to the dollar store and bought a couple of bunches of poinsettias and a large plastic candy cane and arranged them in the pot. I love the way it looks!

This morning I took some pictures of the poinsettia decorating in my neighborhood and will post some of the better ones including the pot I made. You can get really creative with these pots by arranging ribbons, ornaments, birdhouses, lights, etc. to your greenery.

Another great idea is to make a little tree from an old tomato cage. Just turn it upside down, secure it to your pot with some u shaped states or cut some from an old clothes hanger, wrap with garland, and decorate.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hot Chocolate Weather

The Crafty Cupboard

I am in love with McDonald's Hot Chocolate. It is so  hot and creamy and sweet. They add whipped cream and fudge sauce to it. A small nonfat serving with whipped cream has about 250 calories. The problem is, I've had a large one for the last two days. The large hot chocolate with skim milk has 460 calories so with whipped cream and fudge sauce, I'm probably looking at a 600 calorie drink. All the good foods have too many calories in them!  I wonder how many calories are in an eggnog shake? I'm not sure I want to know until I've had one because that will surely ruin it for me!

We had our first snow yesterday. It was only flurries but was very pretty. I love the first snow - hate it the rest of the winter. Snow puts me in the mood for hot chocolate.

Hot drinks are very soothing on these cold, dark and dreary days of pre-winter. They truly warm you from the inside out. Hot chocolate, coffee, tea, cider, hot buttered rum - any of these can make you feel toasty warm.

It's quick and easy to make a cup of hot cocoa by dropping a package of hot cocoa mix into a cup and adding some hot water. However, with a little time and effort, you can make a truly rich and delicious cup of cocoa using a few basic ingredients.

Hershey's  Easy Microwave Hot Cocoa
2 tbsp. sugar
2-3 tsp. Hershey's cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. vanilla
dash of salt
1 cup milk
Mix cocoa, salt, and sugar in a large mug.
Heat milk in microwave oven for 1 - 1/2 minutes or until hot.
Gradually add milk to cocoa mixture in mug stirring until well blended.
Stir in vanilla.
Variations: Use  up to 2 tablespoon of cocoa for a richer chocolate. Substitute artificial sweetener and nonfat milk to cut calories.

All has a variety of hot chocolate recipes and also some recipes of hot chocolate mixes you can make and give as gifts.

Here are some hot chocolate making tips:

 1. Using whole milk or cream will make a creamier drink but you will need to stir it more often as it cooks to keep from scorching.

2. Whisk until foamy to make a more creamier and tasty drink.

3. Garnish with marshmallows, whipped cream, cinnamon, coconut, hot fudge sauce, caramel sauce, sprinkles, or chocolate candies.

4. Experiment with different flavors. Try dark chocolate, white chocolate, milk chocolate powders or chips. Try adding different amounts or combinations of milk and cream. Add liqueurs such as Kahlua, Grand Marnier, peppermint schnaps, amaretto, rum cream, and Baileys. Add other ingredients such as a tsp. of peanut butter or a tsp of brown sugar.

There are a large variety of hot cocoa mixes that can be bought in grocery stores. You can jazz them up by using hot milk instead of water and by adding a dash of vanilla and any of the garnishes and additions listed above.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gingerbread Cookies

The Crafty Cupboard
I love the taste and smell of gingerbread and gingerbread men are so cute! I decorate my kitchen with gingerbread men every Christmas. I have gingerbread towels, dishcloths, potholders, garlands, cups, ornaments and even a teapot. My family and friends love to give me gingerbread stuff for Christmas.

Gingerbread cookies are delicious. Gingerbread cookie dough can be quite expensive and time consuming to make. Spice and molasses can be costly. As an alternative, you could buy a packaged mix at the grocery store for $1.99 and Pillsbury has refrigerated slice and bake gingerbread cookie dough. Check out the free Pillsbury baking coupons on the web. You can print out and save a lot of money. Pre-made dough can be sliced and baked as well as rolled and cut into shapes.

I've always used the gingerbread cookie recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook. I like to roll out gingerbread men and decorate. It's fun to eat gingerbread men and kids love 'em. I did see a really cute cookie that I am going to make this year. It is easy and very quick to make. They are called Gingerbread Snowmen. You need a round cookie cutter or you can use a glass. You could also use the slice and bake method or even a drop cookie. Frost with white icing. Decorate the face with mini chocolate chips and a piece of candy corn for the nose.