Reusing A Chocolate Advent Calendar - Yes, they can be refilled!

It takes about 10 minutes from start to finish and then about an hour for the candies to set at room temperature (or speed it up to mere minutes in the freezer or refrigerator if you need to).  You can also flavor the chocolates with whatever flavoring extract or oil you wish, or my personal choice - to use sugar free chocolate to make your own sugar free chocolates!  (If you or your children can't have sugar for health reasons you can remove and throw away the chocolate and refill with the sugar free version you can have).

Re-Using Advent Calendars

1 chocolate candy Advent Calendar from a previous year
1 cup chocolate chips or candy disks (sugar free, regular, white chocolate, mint, butterscotch, etc.)
1 t shortening or butter
extract or oils if you wish to flavor (or 1-2 t peanut butter, 1 crushed oreo, etc.)
ziploc baggy

Turn the package over and carefully slice open the top to remove the plastic candy mold from inside. Carefully wash the mold with hot soapy water and let dry completely.  Make sure there are no drops of water inside your molds.   Melt 1 cup of  candy chips of your choice with 1 teaspoon butter or shortening.  I used white chocolate chips and crushed an Oreo fine to make cookies and cream.  Use whatever flavor mixture you wish.  Melt either in a pan over simmering hot water until smooth or microwave.  Do not over cook or your chocolate with seize and harden.  Place in a ziploc baggy, trim one corner to make a small opening and squeeze the melted filling into each little candy crevice.  Pick up the tray and drop it or tap it firmly against the counter top about 5-6 times to settle the melted candy, flatten them evenly and remove air bubbles.  Let set to harden.  Place back in the cardboard package. 

slice open the package
remove the candy mold

wash and dry completely

decide your favorite filling or just use chocolate chips

fill each little mold with melted candy

let harden before replacing in the cardboard package to reuse

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2 ingredient cupcakes? Yep! Pumpkin and a cake mix!

Pumpkin and a cake mix...  cupcakes!

I admit this post isn't up to typical standards, but it's the Thanksgiving/Black Friday/ Decorate the House for Christmas Weekend!  So...  you get a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants post.    This is a quick photo I snapped when I whipped up cupcakes to use up an open can of pure pumpkin. 

No oil, no eggs, just a can of pumpkin, a dry cake mix and enough water to make it a typical batter consistency.  Since I was using up pure pumpkin puree, I didn't use a whole cake mix.  I used about 1/3 of a dry mix, 1 cup of pumpkin and a little water until it looked like typical cake batter.  I have a mini-cupcake maker so I used that instead of heating up the oven and in mere minutes we had cupcakes!  I can't say they are 'healthy' as they use a store bought cake mix - but they are 'healthier' as they have no fat or oil added, and the addition of pumpkin makes them packed with vitamins and nutrients as well keeps them moist!  So moist, that you will want to eat these within a day or so.  After that they tend to 'deflate' and aren't as puffy and cute.

You might be interested in the cupcake maker I own;

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Tiny Little Cookie Cutters to Apply the Finishing Touches to Your Homemade Pies

Using tiny cookie cutters (I used Autumn leaves above) you can match the shape to the event, holiday, season or celebration and lay them on top of your pie before baking.

For Christmas, I've used tiny holly leaves with a sprinkle of green tinted sugar, but you could use any shape you wish.   After preparing your pie, cut as many small shapes as you wish and using an egg wash as the 'adhesive', apply them to your pie.  You can sprinkle with white sugar before baking if you wish (you can leave them plain of course too), but if you want to use tinted sugars, I'd suggest applying them after baking as they can get too brown.  Before serving you can simply brush the shape with a tiny bit of water just to dampen it, and apply the sugar to stick.

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Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Ready to go into the oven!

About a month ago I started to crave pumpkin.  However, we didn't have any so my craving just grew in intensity.   Finally, I bought two large 32 oz. (?) cans - the big ones - and I started to put pumpkin in everything.  I started with pumpkin bars of course, but went on to make more pumpkin pasta, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cupcakes.

My latest 'pumpkin' inspired recipe was deciding to add it to my homemade cinnamon rolls.  I made a large double batch so it made two (2) 9X13" pans.  This way I already have Christmas morning breakfast in the freezer and ready to simply take out on Christmas Eve and let them raise in the pan in the refrigerator for a delicious breakfast for our entire family that takes no time whatsoever!

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

1/2 c water
1/2 c milk
1/4 c butter
1/2 c brown sugar
1 t salt
1 t vanilla
1 1/3 c pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling, just pumpkin)
1/2 c warm/barely hot tap water
2 pkg. yeast (or about 4 1/2 teaspoons)
2 eggs
7 c flour
2 t cinnamon
1 3/4 c brown sugar
1 T cinnamon
1 t powdered vanilla (optional if you have it)
1 1/2 sticks butter (about 3/4 c)

In a microwavable bowl, place the water, milk, butter, brown sugar, salt and vanilla.  Microwave for a minute or two until melted.  Add the pumpkin and stir or whisk smooth.  In a mixing bowl pour the warm tap water and add the yeast.  As soon as it's foamy, add the 2 eggs and the pumpkin mixture.  Mix just until blended.

Add about 5-6 cups of the flour and the 2 t cinnamon.  Using your bread dough hook, mixing and kneading.  (I often make my dough in the bread machine as well;  just use your 'dough' setting).  As soon as the flour is incorporated, add the last 1 1/2 cups (or so) until your dough is no longer sticky.  When it is forming a nice ball and isn't sticking, let it machine knead about 4-5 minutes more or take it out and knead it by hand.  Let it rise in the bowl under plastic wrap until doubled in size.  Punch down.  Divide in half.

Mix the last brown sugar, cinnamon, powdered vanilla (if you have it) and butter.  Mix with your fingers (or cut in with two forks) until crumbly.  

Roll out the half dough ball to a large rectangle.  When it's roughly about 12 inches by 16 inches, spread half the topping mixture over it.  Starting with the longer 16 inch side, roll it up and squeeze the end to form a log.  Use a sharp knife or utensil to cut equal slices.  You slice them as thin as 1 inch or as thick as 2-3 inches.  It depends on how thick you like them and how many you need to make!  I like them about 1 1/2" side and get about 12 of them this way.  Place in  a greased baking pan (anything around 9X13" size works fine).  Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and let them double in size.  Bake at 375 (ish) around 20 minutes.  They will be golden brown and bubbling.  Let the rolls cool for at least 7-10 minutes before adding icing if you wish to top them.  Can be served as they are or with an icing recipe or even store bought frosting.

Easy Icing:
Start with 1 to 1 1/2 c powdered sugar. Add 2 T soft butter and about 1 tablespoon heavy cream. Turn on the mixer and mix until completely smooth. If it's too thick add more cream (or milk) but only 1 teaspoon at a time as you don't want to add too much and have 'soup'. Frost the rolls and serve warm.

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The Best French Dip Sandwich So Far....

French Dip Sandwich... my teenage daughter's favorite!

My 16 year old daughter loves French Dip Sandwiches.  She used to work at a restaurant, and when she got her dinner break it was fairly likely this would be her choice of meal.  A French Dip is easy to make because you simply place a roast in a slow cooker or Crock pot with a lot of water and spices and about 6-7 hours later you can serve it with very little work on your part.   

There are two basic recipes that most people use for this.  One includes an onion soup mix (the dried kind that comes in an envelope).  That isn't the kind we prefer though.  The kind our family likes starts with a soy sauce base and does not include onions.  (I KNOW!  Can you believe it?  I'm a girl who would eat onions at every meal in one way or another... but this is one recipe that simply doesn't need them).     

French Dip (Sandwiches)

1 T chopped or minced garlic
1 beef bouillon cube
1 T rosemary
3 bay leaves
3/4 c - 1 cup soy sauce  (I use approximately 1 cup, give or take)
about 6 cups water
1 beef roast (chuck is affordable and tastes the best)
provolone cheese

Put all ingredients in a Crock-pot or slow cooker.  The size of your roast can be anything from 3 pounds to about 4 or 5 but 3-4 is best for the amount of juice left for dipping.   Cook on high 6-8 hours until tender and falls apart easily when you pull with a fork.

Remove roast from slow cooker and shred with two forks, pulling all the pieces apart.  Remove the bay leaves from the juices in the slow cooker.   Place the shredded beef back in the crock pot and keep on 'warm' setting until needed.  Open a roll, spoon meat on and cover with a slice of cheese.   Broil in the oven just until the cheese is melted.  Spoon liquid into small cups on the side for dipping.

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Basketball Cookies in a Gift Basket for a Special Teacher

This week is teacher appreciation week at one of my daughter's high school.  It is a 'secret Santa' style appreciation where each student in a certain school club secretly treats a teacher with little appreciation gifts.  The teacher my daughter has happens to be a basketball coach as well so it was only fitting to make him some yummy basketball cookies.  A simple sugar cookie cut into rounds with the addition of orange and black icing was all it took for a great and easy cookie.  We continued the basketball theme by purchasing a red wire basket and a stuffed basketball at the Dollar Store.  A very frugal gift, yet was very cute!   (See the gift basket image at the bottom of this post).

If you are making these cookies for fun or for an event that they do not need to be stacked or packaged, I would use your own favorite frosting recipe.  I opted for a sturdy Royal Icing instead only because they were going to be stacked and packed into a gift basket.

 Sugar Cookies

1 1/2 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 c butter, soft
2 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
4 c flour
1 t baking soda
1 t cream of tartar
1 t salt

Combine  sugar and butter, beat until creamy with your electric mixer.  Add eggs  and vanilla.  Beat well.  Add dry ingredients and mix until blended.   Chill dough until it's easy to work with;  30-60 minutes.

On  lightly floured surface roll the dough to 1/4 inch thickness.  Cut out  cookies.  Bake at 350 until the edges just start to turn golden brown,  about 10 minutes.  Cool on wire racks.  Frost.

 Royal Icing  (Frosting)

4 c confectioners' sugar
3 large egg whites
1/2 t cream of tartar
1/2 t vanilla
1 T water

Beat 4-6 minutes on high.  (Add more or less water depending on stiff it is and how stiff you want it).  Will be very hard when it dries.

I drew some basketball shapes on paper to practice my designs

The final gift basket was a great $2 investment from the Dollar Store

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It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Time for Ghirardelli Holiday Bark!

Welcome Winter with Ghirardelli Chocolate
  Long term readers of An American Housewife know I'm not a big fan of chocolate.  In general I prefer yummy vegetables or something crunchy and salty like a chip.  However, there is one chocolate candy I am too weak to pass up and look forward to every year;  Ghirardelli Holiday Bark.

Not only do I love it and look forward to buying it each and every year at the holidays, it is so beautifully wrapped that I love to have an assortment in a candy dish for guests.  The brilliant colors are eye catching and elegant.  Something you can be proud to offer guests.

As I munched on one tonight,  (or perhaps it was two or maybe three?) I realized;  this is what could give my husbands employees this year for Christmas!  Their gift towers are impressive and beautiful.

If you click the image link above of the basket, you will see Ghirardelli offers baskets and gift sets and bags for any occasion.  From simple bars to bags to gift sets, chocolate drinks and baking mixes; I found a wide range of price points and the gift 'towers' are exactly what I was considering ordering this year.

It's a quality,  premium chocolate (most are also certified Kosher) I can be proud to give and I know it will be well received.

*Currently offering free shipping with a $60 order! See their website for details and the coupon code.

I received a variety package of  chocolates from Ghirardelli to try their new flavors;  however the decision to write about and all opinions of the product are mine.

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Easy Artisan Bread Rounds

Yesterday afternoon was a nice lazy, Sunday.  I was relaxing on the couch with my laptop and reading random news stories when I found myself on the website of our 'old' hometown.  Or should I say 'home city'?  There was an old, archived "lifestyles" segment from the Star Tribune which featured a video of a quick Artisan Bread.  I watched the video (no written article or written recipe) and thought to myself that it was so quick and easy, I'd give it a try.

Some details weren't given in the quick video, but common sense can fill in where the video lacked.  I made it purely by memory so that should tell you how quick and easy it is!  I believe this is the book that features the recipe if you need or want more details or love it so much that you want to purchase the cookbook. (Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking).

I LOVE this recipe.  Only 4 main ingredients and you can mix it up with a wooden spoon in a bucket.  No kneading.  No fuss. 

Artisan Bread

1 ½ T yeast
1 ½ T salt
3 c water, lukewarm
6 ½ c flour
1 bucket with lid
Baking/Pizza Stone

Dump yeast, salt and water into a bucket or container.
Add flour.
Mix with a wooden spoon just until the flour is incorporated. No dry flour, no lumps.
Put the loose lid on. Not air tight.  Let set at room temperature about 2 hours.
Sprinkle bit of flour so your fingers don’t stick. Cut off grapefruit sized piece with serrated knife.
Work in your hands to make a ball, pulling top layer to bottom.  Round and smooth.
Place on cornmeal sprinkled board.
Let set 40 minutes.
Sprinkle with flour, slash the loaf with a few slices.
Bake at 375 preheated oven with an empty pan in the bottom.
Slide on middle shelf baking stone.
Pour a cup of water in the hot empty pan and close door quickly to steam the bread.
Baked till top is golden brown.
Hard crust and moist, soft bread!

Mix the yeast, water and salt right in your container

An ooey gooey mess.  Perfect.

Lid on... but not air tight! Make sure your container is big enough to allow for rising.

Formed into rounds. Scoring the tops with a knife.

Fresh from the oven - let it cool.

I couldn't let mine cool. I cut into right away!  Crisp and crunchy crust - moist and chewy inside. PERFECT.

You might be interested in;

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14 Thanksgiving Dinner Recipe Ideas and Photos!

A MUST MAKE tradition in our family; Cupcakes that look like a full tiny Thanksgiving Dinner! (ALL CANDY!)

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and if you are starting to make your menu and get recipe ideas and your shopping list ready, then todays post is for you!

I started this website back in 2006.  After almost 7 years, I have thousands of recipes and obviously, a nice little slice of that recipe 'pie' includes Thanksgiving posts.  This morning I decided to do a random search using the search bar on my site (just above this post) and typed in the simple search;  "Thanksgiving".   From there, I grabbed 14 of my previous Thanksgiving posts to share with my readers.

Thanksgiving is a time for traditions;  and we make traditional food.  I will always serve some of the same dishes that are steeped in tradition, but I also always add 'something' each year.  For sure we will have turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cheesy corn, green bean casserole and rolls.  What might change is the style of cranberry sauce or dessert, the pumpkin desserts, or maybe the addition of a green bean and almond side dish.  You just never know!

So this year, how about keeping the old, but adding something new?  I'm also including in the list, directives on how to carve a turkey!

Mini Thanksgiving Dinner Cupcakes - a full sized cupcake that looks like a turkey dinner!
Perfect Thanksgiving Day Gravy - a make ahead option
Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes
Green Beans with Gorgonzola
Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Garlic 
Toffee Dream Pie
Green Beans with Mushrooms
Mashed Potatoes with Greek Yogurt
Real Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Pumpkin Cheesecake
Pumpkin Dessert
Smoked Salmon Cheesecake Appetizer
How to Carve a Turkey
Pumpkin Gingersnap Cheesecake

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Crustless Coconut Pie

I can't say or type the words 'coconut cream pie' without thinking about Gilligan and Mary Ann and the island they were stuck on for years in the 1970's. But this post isn't about old television shows from my childhood... it's about a delicious and easy pie I plan to make this Thanksgiving! I am not, however, going to use the caramel on the top. I will serve it with the pie, but I prefer mine sans-caramel. My family however, will be drizzling.

Crustless Coconut Pie

3 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
nonstick cooking spray
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
3 cups freshly grated coconut
3 cups heavy cream, whipped
1 cup fresh shaved coconut
Caramel Sauce

Sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup water, and let stand until softened, about 5 minutes. Spray a 10-inch round nonstick springform pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

Bring half-and-half to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add gelatin mixture and sugar and cook, stirring, until gelatin and sugar have dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Stir in almond extract and grated coconut; stir in whipped cream. Transfer pudding to prepared springform pan and transfer to refrigerator until chilled and set, 2 to 3 hours.

Unmold pudding onto a serving platter and sprinkle with shaved coconut. Serve with caramel sauce. Print Friendly and PDF


Cream Filled Cupcakes (with a hint on an easy way to fill)

This week I celebrated an "Anniversary" of sorts.  It was one year ago that our house "up North" sold and I was able to make the 1000 mile drive to join my family in the new city and state he was promoted and relocated to.  To celebrate, I made cupcakes.  And not just cupcakes, but cream filled cupcakes.  Easy peasy.  No, really.

Actually, you don't have to remove any part of the cupcakes in order to fill them.  I've been making filled cupcakes since I was in elementary school and never, for 20 years, removed any of it to fill.  However, since I already own an Apple Corerand such a simple device makes it quick and easy to remove a plug of cake to allow for a little more filling...  I do.

This isn't really a recipe today, as I cheated and used a boxed mix.  I only made half of it - making 6 jumbo cupcakes.  Instead, it's just a simply hint to show you how you can use an apple corer to pull out a bit of the cake to make more room for your frosting or filling.

I frosted my cupcakes by using;

1 tub store bought frosting
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 t vanilla

Whip the cream with an electric mixer until hard peaks form.  Fold into the frosting until mixed complete.  Place in a decorator bag with tip and insert into the cupcake, press filling through until full.  Stop and then reapply the tip to frost the cakes as you wish.

I just use an apple corer to scoop out a little cake

Fill with whatever filling you wish

Frosting and decorate

You might be interested in an apple corer from Amazon;


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