Monday, April 27, 2009

Gift Bags Made From Envelopes

I may never buy a little gift bag again- what a perfect idea for when you are in a pinch and don't have time to run to the store (and don't have any small gift bags in your recycled stash!). These are so easy to make and you can use white envelopes, colored envelopes, even USED envelopes (just reseal with glue). Any sized envelope will do; the bigger the envelope, the bigger the gift bag. You can decorate the envelope with stamps or markers or just leave it plain and use a pretty bow for the pizazz. These would make great May Day baskets! Just stick some flowers or treats inside and secretly hang on the door handle of a friend.

What you need:

An envelope
Scissors (decorative or plain)
Double sided tape
Ribbon and a paper punch(optional)

What you do:

1. Seal the envelope.

2. Cut off one end of the envelope. I also used a paper punch to punch some decorative holes into the top of one.

3. Fold one side in toward the center (maybe about an inch or slightly less). Do the same with the other side, then fold the bottom up by the same amount, making creases in the paper.

4. Put the bag over one hand. Use your other hand to shape a flat bottom for your bag, pushing the bottom center crease downward, causing the side folds to buckle out. Crease the corners of the bottom into triangles.

5. Use a bit of double-sided tape to stick the corner triangle flaps to the bottom of the bag.

6. Reverse the folds along the sides of the bag to give it shape.

7. If you like, punch holes and thread ribbon through for a handle. If you choose not to add a handle, it will still look cute just standing open! Or you can fold it down and staple it closed.

April Daring Bakers-- Cheesecake

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

I joined The Daring Bakers one year ago this month and the first challenge I did was Cheesecake Pops. What other way is there to celebrate my one-year DB Anniversary than with Cheesecake again? One can never have too much cheesecake. It's simply one of my favorite things to eat.

The challenge this month gave us a lot of freedom to be creative. The recipe was given, but we were allowed to use any toppings, flavorings, liqueurs, sauces, etc. that we preferred.

I'm not one to go crazy with unique flavors and I'm not one to accessorize my food with over the top creations. I couldn't decide if I wanted to make blueberry or chocolate cheesecake... so I decided to make both.

Instead of making two full size cheesecakes (not that they wouldn't have been eaten!), I decided to make Cheesecakelets. I halved the Daring Baker recipe for the plain blueberry cheesecake, so that I could adapt the remaining ingredients for the chocolate cheesecake. I modified a recipe that I received from a dear friend and adapted it a bit to bake along with the plain cheesecake recipe.

The Daring Baker cheesecake recipe was delicious. I almost skipped the lemon juice, since I really do not like citrus flavors, but I went ahead and added it and couldn't even taste it. My cheesecakelets did not crack, which is a bonus when baking cheesecake! My chocolate cheesecakelets did crack, which I'm assuming is user error, not the recipe. I modified the recipe I had-- one that I've made on several occasions and it's never cracked. But I baked it at a different temperature, for a different amount of time, in a different sized pan and in a water bath-- all things that I think contributed to the cracking. But a few cracks here and there never affect the taste!

What follows are the full recipes for the Daring Baker challenge, the blueberry topping and the chocolate cheesecake.

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake:


2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 stick melted
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract


3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

**Cheesecakelets - put in muffin tins, ramekins, or custard cups. Try baking 20-35 minutes, or until still a little jiggly, and cool as before.

Blueberry Topping:

1 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup water
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon butter

In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar, cornstarch, and
water. Bring to a boil. Stirring constantly, cook 3 to 4
minutes. Mix in the remaining 1 cup blueberries. Reduce heat,
and simmer 10 minutes, until the blueberries burst.

Gretchen's Chocolate Cheesecake:

3 packages cream cheese
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 c. sour cream
2 t vanilla extract
1/2 cup Hershey's cocoa
2 tablespoons flour
3 eggs

Prepare crumb crust (recipe below). Heat oven to 450*. Beat cream cheese and sugar until blended. Add sour cream and vanilla - beat until blended. Beat in cocoa and flour. Add eggs, one at a time, beat until just blended. Pour into crust.

Bake 10 minutes. Reduce oven to 250, continue baking for 40 minutes. Remove from oven to wire rack. Cool completely before removing from pan. Loosen cake with knife before removing side. Drizzle with chocolate. Refrigerate 4 to 6 hours. Store covered in refrigerator.

Combine 1 cup chocolate graham cracker crumbs (put one of the little packages into a ziploc bag, and roll with a rolling pin until all crumbled) with 1/4 cup melted butter. Press into bottom of 9 inch springform pan.

Place 1/2 cup chocolate chips and 2 teaspoons shortening into small microwaveable bowl. Microwave 30 seconds. If necessary, microwave an additional 15 seconds at a time, stirring after each heating, just until chips are melted. Pour into baggie, and snip the tip of the baggie off with scissors and squeeze drizzle back and forth over top of cake.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cinnamon Sour Cream Streusel Loaf

I love breads. I could easily make a loaf of just about any kind of bread and eat the entire thing by myself. This recipe is no exception. (Jeff-- fair warning... the topping of this bread is a close second to the topping of the Banana Crumb Muffins!)


1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Beat butter at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating well. Add egg, beating until blended.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; add to batter mixture alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended. Stir in vanilla.

Combine pecans and remaining three ingredients. Pour half of batter into a greased and floured 8×4 inch pan (or 3 mini loaf pans); (make sure to spread batter into an even layer before sprinkling on the streusel)sprinkle with half of pecan mixture. Pour remaining batter into pan; top with remaining pecan mixture, pressing down lightly.

Bake at 350 for one hour for 8×4 pans, approximately 35-40 minutes for mini loaves, or until toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool in pan on wire rack 10 minutes, remove from pan, cool completely.

If streusel gets too dark, tent pan with foil. (I tented mine when there was about 15 minutes remaining). I also only baked mine 55 minutes total.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wine Charms

  • Don't buy wine charms at the store when you can make your own! I've made these for myself and I've also made "sets" for people and given them as gifts. There are so many different varieties as to what your charms will look like. You can mix and match colors, you can do solids, you can stick with a consistent "filler" color and then just throw in a repeating colored bead to make a "set". You can make them specific to any occasion you'd like!

    What you need:

  • Any variety of beads; seed beads, glass beads, acrylic beads, etc.
  • Wire- the higher the gauge, the thinner the wire. You want a gauge that will bend and hold it's shape, but something that is also pliable. I think I used about 20 gauge.
  • Needle nosed pliers

    What you do:

    Cut your wire to be the length you want. I cut mine to be about 10 inches.

    Use the pliers to fold over the end of one side of the wire.

    Slide your beads onto the wire in any order you want.

    Leave about 1/2 inch of unbeaded wire at the end. Use the pliers to fold that end over, securing all of the beads.

Be sure to not secure the beads too tightly or it won't wrap nicely around the stem of the wine glass. You need to leave a little "give" for the beads to bend without popping off an end. Also, be sure the folded ends of the wire do not have any sharp edges exposed.

Wrap around the stem of a glass as a way to identify whose glass is whose. Remove from stem before washing glasses.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tissue Box Easter Basket

Cut away the top of an empty square tissue box. For each band of color, cut a 2-inch-wide strip of colored paper. To make fringe, clip edge of one side of each strip. Glue strips to box. For handle, glue ends of a chenille stem to opposite sides of the box's interior

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Easter Ideas

Don't forget these ideas from last year!

Easter Carrots

Easter Bag

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Spring Chick Nests

These neat little nests, crafted from crunchy chow mein noodles and melted marshmallows, are perfect for nestling chocolate eggs or jellybeans and make sweet place settings for springtime celebrations. What a perfect Easter treat! My friend Diana was sweet enough to think of me when she saw these, and shared the recipe with me.


* 2 cups miniature marshmallows
* 1/4 cup butter
* 4 cups chow mein noodles

Cooking Instructions

1. Butter a 12 cup muffin tin.

2. Combine marshmallows and butter over medium heat in a saucepan; stir until the butter and marshmallows have melted. Stir in the chow mein noodles, coat well.

3. Butter fingers and press the mixture into the bottom and sides of the prepared muffin tin. Refrigerate until firm.