Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Crafting on Scoutie Girl today!

I'm so excited to be a guest on one of my favorite blogs this week, Scoutie Girl!

Click here to check out my tutorial for crafting a keepsake ornament out of all the pretty holiday cards you received this season.

Happy crafting!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Crafting: A Ribbon Poinsettia Wreath

Today I have a fun holiday craft project that lends itself to so many applications, making ribbon poinsettias. I'll be showing you how to make a wreath out of them but you can also make single blooms or a small cluster to sew on a hat, wear as a brooch or to decorate your holiday gift packages.

What you'll need:
A styrofoam wreath form (I used an 8" for the finished wreath shown)
Satin or velvet ribbon, 1.5" width, various colors
Straight pins
Artificial flower stamen (or beads)
Thin craft or floral wire

When choosing a color scheme, you can go traditional Christmas with red, gold and pine green or try something different like yellow, goldenrod and seafoam green.

Start by wrapping your wreath form with ribbon. Secure the ribbon end with straight pins and wrap tightly around until completely covered. Secure end with pins. I used ivory ribbon but in hindsight, I think green would have looked nice as well.

To make the flowers, cut the ribbon end into a point. You can experiment with different angles of the point for slightly different sizes and shapes. Fold the ribbon over on itself and cut the other end to match the point. Also cut different length pieces for a variety of bloom sizes. I used ribbon pieces measuring 3" - 4" from point to point. You will need 3 cut pieces for each flower.

Note: Handle the ribbon with care as the edges will start to fray the more you work with it. You can also seal the edges with a fray block or similar product.

Fold each piece of ribbon in half, with the top on the inside, then fold each flap down in half. Hold with a straight pin and repeat with the other two pieces of ribbon. Place them on the same pin.

Holding all 3 'petals' together, wrap tightly around the center with wire and remove the pin. Then wrap around once in between each petal, this helps to spread them out a bit. Secure the wire at the back and trim loose ends. You can then shape the flower.

To make the leaves, cut a length of ribbon about 4.5" long. With the back facing up, fold on an angle at the center. Next fold the left tail shown above back behind the first fold. Pinch together at the bottom and secure with a piece of wire.

Note: I used a wired ribbon for the leaves because it was all I could find in the green I liked. It worked with no problems but you'll need ribbon without wire for the flowers.

To add the stamen, cut the tops off the artificial stamen and secure with clear craft glue. You can also glue or wire beads on as well.

Secure the flowers and leaves to the wreath using straight pins. I think it actually looked quite lovely with just 3 flowers and a leaf on the ivory wreath, so you can play around with different designs. You could also wrap a piece of thin red ribbon around the exposed ivory wreath for a cute candy cane effect.

You can hang the wreath from the wall on a nail or hook, or you can loop a ribbon around the wreath to hang it from on the wall or a doorknob. Aside from a lovely decoration, I think this would make a very special gift.

I'm making a larger 12" wreath in yellow and goldenrod for myself so I'll be sure to share some photos when it is complete. I'd love to hear what you think about this project and how it goes if you try your hand at making these little ribbon poinsettias. Happy crafting!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

In the Kitchen: Chocolate French Silk Pie

This delicious pie is a holiday staple in my family. Either my Mom or I make it every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, and if Tyler is lucky, he gets it on his birthday. I won't lie and say it's super easy to make, but it's not technically difficult. There are just a lot of steps and it takes some time, but the results are well worth the work. I make my own crust and my own whip cream, but you can easily use store bought. You will find a printable recipe card at the end of this post.

Prep time: 40 min | Chill Time: 5 hours | Serves 8 - 10

1 baked pastry shell
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate pieces (6 oz)
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs yolks, beaten
3 tablespoons whipping cream
1 cup whipped cream

Beat two egg yolks in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a medium heavy saucepan combine 1 cup whipping cream, the chocolate pieces, butter and sugar.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the chocolate is melted (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat.

Gradually stir half the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks. Add the egg mixture back to the remaining chocolate in the pan and continue cooking over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture starts to thicken (about 5 minutes or so).

Remove from heat. Stir in 3 tablespoons of whipping cream.

Place the saucepan in a bowl of ice water, stirring the mixture occasionally, until it begins to stiffen (about 20 - 30 minutes).

In the meantime, prepare your pastry shell. You can use homemade or store bought but it needs to be baked before you fill it.

When the chocolate is done chilling, transfer to a medium bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes or until light and fluffy.

Spread the filling in your pastry shell, cover and chill for 5 - 24 hours.

Before serving, top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. I make homemade whip cream but you can use store bought, Cool Whip works good. I also use a deep dish pie pan when making this so I can get a good thick layer of whip cream.

Since Thanksgiving was a bit ravenous at our house this year, I didn't have the chance to get a pie slice photo before it was gone! Though I'm sure you can imagine how scrumptious it looks, and now you'll just have to try it yourself. I'd love to hear what you think!

And find more easy and delicious recipes here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Circle: My Favorite Gingerbread Cookies

The lovely Roxana of Illuminated Perfume recently invited me to be part of her holiday blogging collaborative and I just couldn't pass up this fun opportunity! It's a blog-o-rama Advent-ure which began on November 29, correlating with the first day of advent. Each day, a different blogger adds their sparkle to this gathering of light by sharing their thoughts and memories about scents and the holidays. Today I light a candle with my contribution and by Christmas Day, all the candles on the tree will be lit.

In true lillyella fashion, when I think of scents and the holidays, I think of food and crafting — my two favorite things! Does crafting have a scent, you ask? You bet it does! The aroma of bubbling hot glue, the smell of my sewing machine engine working at high speed, dried lavender, I could go on and on.

When it comes to food, that pretty much speaks for itself, but there is one scent that unmistakably says Christmas for me, and that's gingerbread. It's the only time of year I bake my favorite gingerbread cookies, which I now, in my seventh year of doing so, have my friends, family and neighbors asking for come December 1st.

The recipe is simple, but it's one I adapted and perfected over a few batches many years ago. The perfection lies in not overcooking them, but only if you like 'em soft and chewy. If not, this recipe isn't for you.


8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter, or shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Sift the dry ingredients into a small bowl and set aside. In a medium/large bowl, beat the butter with the sugar and molasses, then mix in the egg.

Add the sifted dry ingredients to wet mixture and mix well. Chill in the freezer for about an hour or in the refrigerator 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 350°. Roll out a portion of the dough about 1/4" thick on a lightly floured surface or silicone cooking sheet. Keep the remaining dough chilled while working.

Cut out with cookie cutters and and place on greased cookie sheets or sheets lined with silicone mats. Bake for 8-10 minutes (depending on cookie size) and don't overbake! They should be pretty soft when they come out and almost seem like they aren't done yet. That's the key to their deliciousness :)

Let cool completely before decorating with icing, candy pieces, powdered sugar or cinnamon and enjoy!

You can follow along with the rest of this collaborative blogging Advent-ure by visiting the Illuminated Perfume Journal each day to see the next contribution. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

In Valorie's Kitchen: Broccoli Stuffed Shells

Pasta. It's one of my favorite comfort foods and is so versatile. But being so full of calories in the ways I like to prepare it, I'm lucky if it makes the way to my dinner table more than once a week. I'm always looking for ways to make my pasta dishes more lean and/or more nutritious without serving a skimpy marinara over noodles because, hey, that gets old after a while.

One of my favorite pasta tricks is to use the Barilla Plus noodles which are made with whole wheat, omega-3 fatty acids, and egg protein for added nutritional benefits. The texture is way better than most of the other crumbly, whole-grain noodle varieties available, but it doesn't come in one of my favorite shapes: jumbo shells!

So when I make my favorite stuffed pasta dish, I have to settle for a reduced-fat filling and regular shells, but it's still full of good-for-you ingredients without a lengthy or complicated recipe.

15 ounce box of jumbo pasta shells
15 ounce carton of reduced-fat ricotta cheese
24 ounce jar of prepared marinara sauce
10 ounce package frozen, chopped broccoli (thawed)
4 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon each fresh basil and oregano leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon each dried), finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup grated, reduced-fat mozarella cheese
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 400° and then prepare the pasta shells according to package directions.

While they're boiling, combine the ricotta cheese, broccoli, mushrooms, seasonings, and 3 tablespoons of the marinara sauce in a bowl. Whisk these ingredients together until evenly mixed and set aside.

Spread about half of the remaining sauce evenly across the bottom of a shallow baking dish. This will give the shells a sauce to cook in and will also keep them from sticking to your dish.

Next, drain the cooked pasta shells and rinse them thoroughly with cool water and then shake off any excess moisture. They need to be cool enough to handle and not dripping wet.

Gently open each shell and spoon in 2-3 teaspoons of the filling. Do this carefully, as they are delicate and tend to rip easily.

Once filled, place each shell upright into your baking dish. Repeat until your dish is full.

Spread the remaining sauce over the shells. Cover evenly with the mozarella cheese and then sprinkle the Parmesan last. Bake uncovered at 400° for 25-30 minutes, or until the cheeses are melted and beginning to brown on top. Serve with your favorite salad.

Yields about 4 servings

> Click here for a printable recipe card.

I hope you enjoyed Valorie's contribution to the lillyella kitchen this week! You can browse more of Valorie's recipes on her site Kitchen Improv and find previous In The Kitchen posts here.

Stop back on December 22 for the last In The Kitchen post of 2009 where I'll share some delicious holiday drink recipes!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In Valorie's Kitchen: A Little Butternut Love

The leaves have turned, the air is crisp and cool. It is definitely fall, and pumpkins are beginning to appear in every nook and cranny throughout the neighborhood. They're also turning up in just about every edible delight this time of year, too, from pie and bread to soup, chili and even coffee.

I love pumpkins, both to look at and to eat. However, the pumpkin varieties worthy of a good recipe are only available in the fall and can even be hard to find in a traditional grocery store. Add to that the inferiority of canned pumpkin, and you have a very short time span when enjoying recipes with fresh pumpkin is possible.

Enter the butternut. A winter squash, butternut has bright orange flesh with a texture and sweetness similar to pumpkin. Available amost anywhere and at most times of year, it makes a good substitute for fresh pumpkin. Not only is it perfect in sweet recipes like pie, bread, and cookies, it fits nicely in the savory scene as well. I love to use butternut in fillings for homemade ravioli, or baked and topped with butter as a simple side dish. Most of all, I adore the creamy texture and rich flavor of a butternut squash soup.


What you'll need:
1 large butternut squash, about 3lbs
1 medium shallot, peeled and finely minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon madras curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4-6 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup heavy cream

First, prepare the butternut squash by cutting it in half lengthwise and scraping away the seeds and any stringy, tough flesh from the center. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the halves flesh-side-down onto the paper. Bake at 350° for 45-50 minutes, or until the texture is soft under gentle pressure. The skin beginning to shrivel slightly and the juices starting to caramelize around the edges are good signs that it's done. Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool.

Use a spoon to scrape the cooled flesh out of the shells and into a large (8-quart or bigger) sauce pan. Set this aside.

In a small skillet, warm the olive oil. Add the shallots and sautee them with a pinch of salt until they are soft and begin to brown slightly. Add the remaining salt, curry powder, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix and continue cooking for about a minute more when the combination becomes fragrant.

Add this mixture to the squash. Add about 4 cups of the chicken stock to the sauce pan. Using an immersion blender, puree the squash until the texture is smooth and free of any chunks. Add additional stock, as needed. Alternatively, the shallot & squash mixture can be pureed in a food processer in small batches.

Heat the mixture over a medium flame until it reaches a very gentle and slow boil. Add the maple syrup and cider vinegar, mix, and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Next, add the cream, stir, and cook for five minutes longer. Remove from the stove and serve immediately topped with a little grated parmesan or a drizzle of maple syrup. This is great as a cup-sized starter with fresh bread and butter, or in bigger portions, as a main course along side a green salad.

Yields 4 to 6 1.5 cup servings

> Click here for a printable recipe card.

I hope you enjoyed Valorie's contribution to the lillyella kitchen this week! Stop back on December 15 when she'll be sharing a delicious recipe for Stuffed Shells and I'll have one more pumpkin recipe for you on December 1!

You can browse more of Valorie's recipes on her site Kitchen Improv and find previous In The Kitchen posts here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In the Kitchen: Pumpkin Cake Roll

My pumpkin extravaganza continues with what I consider a fall dessert staple, Pumpkin Roll! Last Christmas I asked for jelly roll pans just so I could make this very spiral of deliciousness. With the right tools, this recipe is fairly quick and easy and the results are nothing less than impressive. You will find a printable recipe card at the end of this post.

Prep time: 40 min | Bake Time: 15 min | Serves 8 - 10

3 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsps ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup sugar (I use Splenda and up it to 1 and 1/4 cups)
2/3 cup canned pumpkin
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional, I left out)
sifted powder sugar

Cream Cheese Filling:
6 oz softened cream cheese
1/4 cup softened butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar

Allow eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, grease a 15x10x1 baking/jelly roll pan. Line the bottom with waxed paper or parchment paper, grease the paper. Set aside.

In a small bowl combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, ginger, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375°. In a large bowl beat eggs on high speed about 5 minutes or until thick and lemon colored.

The volume of the eggs will significantly increase (shown left).

Next, gradually beat in the granulated sugar. Stir in pumpkin and lemon juice. Fold flour mixture into pumpkin mixture and mix well.

Spread evenly in prepared pan. If desired, top with chopped walnuts.

Prepare a towel for rolling the cake by sifting powdered sugar over it.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched. Do not overbake or it will get spongy.

Immediately loosen edges of cake from pan and turn out onto the prepared towel. Remove the wax paper. Position a short side of the cake at the end of the towel.

Begin rolling into a spiral, cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, prepare the cream cheese filling. In a small bowl beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until smooth each time.

Spread filling onto cake to within 1" of edges.

Re-roll the cake. I find it helps to kind of lift a bit as you roll, otherwise you just push all the yummy filling right out the end. Once rolled, trim the ends clean. Cover and chill for 2 - 48 hours. Store in refrigerator.

Sift a little powdered sugar over the top before serving and enjoy!

Between you and me, the real reason I love making this so much is because of how cute it looks on my favorite vintage serving tray ;)

You can find more easy and delicious recipes here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Our Wedding Cake Buffet

The very first thing I thought about when it came time to plan the wedding was cake. I mean, it is the most important part, isn't it? I knew from the start that a five-tiered, fondant covered masterpiece was not for me. I needed color, I needed interest, I needed flavors and by golly, I needed cake stands!

Tyler and I searched all of our favorite antique stores until we found the perfect collection of cake stands (see them in detail here) and we ended up having eight cakes at the wedding, enough for everyone to have at least two pieces, and of course they were all different flavors!

Meet the bakers! Our best friends Jim and Sal. They went above and beyond creating these masterpieces for us. We would have late night ichat video sessions to discuss flavors and decorations, they even made sample cakes and brought them over for taste testing. How we got so lucky is beyond me, but the day wouldn't have been the same without their special touch and I can't thank them enough.

My mom gave us this cute bird topper as a shower gift and I absolutely loved the white chocolate 'nest' that the guys created around it.

I had small birdbaths filled with taffy at either end of the table, along with a vase of flowers and a candle.

The cake buffet was by far the highlight of the evening! We had everyone come up to be served, giving them the chance to see all the cakes and pick the flavors they wanted. Some people even sampled every flavor! I was so pleased with how it all came together and it really added a unique and special touch to the day.


I knew I wouldn't be able to find the perfect sign holders for the cake flavor cards, so we of course just made some ourselves! I don't have photos of all the steps because things were a little hectic at this point before the wedding, but you can get the idea.

We started with precut wooden bases in different shapes that we picked up at JoAnns. I also found the small wood flowers there, which we glued to the center of each base. We next drilled a hole through the flower into the base to hold a wood dowel and glued them in place.

We figured out the measurement needed for each stand (because they were all different heights) and cut the dowels. I picked up the small wooden beads at my local craft store to use on top of each dowel to hold the flavor card.

The holes in the round wooden beads weren't quite large enough to fit over the dowels so we drilled them a bit larger, glued them in place and sanded them smooth.

We then used a scroll saw to cut a small slit into the center of each one to hold the flavor card.

We painted them with a light base coat of some leftover paint from our living room. After it dried, we painted them with a darker color and them wiped most of it off, just leaving some dark accents.

To make the flavor cards, I started with the shape I created for the candy bar tags and designed seven different complimenting shapes so that each could be different, like the cakes. I colored them to fit with our palette but also with the corresponding cake. I printed them on heavy cardstock on my inkjet printer and cut them out by hand with scissors. I couldn't have been happier with how it all came together.

If you would like to use this art for your own DIY wedding projects (or anything else!), here are some editable files you can download:

Click here to download an EPS file of the flavor cards (You will need a program that can edit EPS files to use this)

Click here to download the font, Honey Script (Which is a personal favorite of mine, regardless of the use!)

It's tough to save the files in a format that everyone can use, but hopefully I'll have some time in the next week to save a few more formats for you. Please feel free to contact me with any requests or questions in the meantime and check back soon for additional downloads. (p.s. If you share this file elsewhere, please give proper credit - thanks!)