Simply Sweet Home

Recipes, Decor, Crafts, Product Reviews, Giveaways and more.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Recipe of the Week: Christmas Pinwheels

This week I decided to post an appetizer recipe for the recipe of the week. These pinwheels are very easy to make and will look great on your party table or buffet. And as far as holiday recipes go, this one is pretty light and a perfect counter to all the cookies, candies, and other sweets you'll be eating this month. Enjoy!

2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese softened
1 package (.4 ounces) ranch salad dressing mix
1/2 cup minced sweet red pepper
1/2 cup minced celery
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1/4 cup sliced stuffed olives
3 to 4 flour tortillas (10 inches)

In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and dressing mix until smooth. Add red pepper, celery, onions and olives; mix well. Spread about 3/4 cup on each tortilla. Roll up tightly; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Slice into 1/2-in. pieces. Yield: 15-20 servings.

My Tips & Suggestions
To make this dish even more festive, arrange the pinwheels on a platter in the shape of a Christmas tree. Also consider placing the pinwheels in the shape of a wreath. In the center place a bowl of dip, vegetables, or crackers.
For kids - If you have kids or adults coming over that may not like every ingredient in the recipe, make a separate batch, leaving out one or two ingredients. (ie - a lot of people are not fans of green olives) As long as you have the cream cheese and salad dressing mix, you can do anything with this recipe. Obviously the red and green colors make this a festive looking recipe, but you could also add cheese and/or bits of ham or chicken for the non-vege lovers out there.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Christmas Tree Toppers

One of the most important things to go on a Christmas tree is the topper. I'm a little partial to the traditional star, but angels, Santas, snow flakes, and bows can be just as beautiful. When buying a new topper, you should be very selective. After all, toppers are a little more expensive than a lot of ornaments, and usually people will use the same topper for several years.

When I was little my dad cut a homemade star out of tin. Perhaps that's why I like stars so much. But whether you buy a topper or make one yourself, you should buy one that fits your own personal style. Also, if your tree decor has a particular color scheme, you should buy a topper to match. Here are a few of the toppers I have found. As usual the photos are linked to a website where you can purchase the item.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Shopping for Holiday Decor

I love browsing in the Christmas section at the store. My mother and I collect ornaments, and even though I have more than enough to fill my Christmas tree (and my China cabinet) I just cannot help but look. I got to looking around at decorations online, and I decided to make a quick list of sites that sell ornaments and other holiday decorations. Some of these are the "usual" places, but hopefully I have a few new ones here for you as well.

Christmas Mouse
Current Catalog
Christmas Express Online
Holiday Decorations Direct
Home Depot

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Christmas Wreath Ideas, Part 2

Here are some more wreaths for you.

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Christmas Wreath Ideas, Part 1

I love Christmas wreaths. Whether they're placed on a door, on a wall, or over a mantel, they add color and just the right amount of Christmas spirit to your home. Another great thing about wreaths is that you can buy them in a number of styles at any local department store or craft outlet, or you can save money and have fun making your own. Here are few ideas to get your started. Each photo is linked to a site which tells you how you can make the wreath yourself or how you can buy it.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Recipe of the Week: Nacho Turkey Casserole

Here's a recipe to spice up your left over turkey. If you don't have any left over turkey, chicken is great a substitute. Enjoy!

5 cups slightly crushed tortilla chips
4 cups cubed cooked turkey or chicken
2 16-ounce jars salsa
1 10-ounce package frozen whole kernel corn
1/2 cup dairy sour cream
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded Monterey Jack cheese with jalape�o peppers or mozzarella cheese

Lightly grease a 3-quart rectangular baking dish. Place 3 cups of the tortilla chips in bottom of dish. In a large bowl combine turkey, salsa, corn, sour cream, and flour; spoon over tortilla chips.
Bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree F oven for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 cups tortilla chips and the cheese. Bake, uncovered, for 5 to 10 minutes more or until heated through. Makes 8 servings.

For 4 Servings: Prepare using method above, except assemble in a 2-quart square baking dish.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giving Back: Operation Home Front & Ecarepackage

One of the great things about Thanksgiving and Christmas is that it promotes the spirit of giving. I’d like to take the opportunity to spotlight a charity that is doing great work for our men and women in uniform. No matter what your political beliefs are I think we all can and should agree that we owe a lot of gratitude to our military.

Operation Homefront works to help out the families of servicemen and women. This Christmas they are partnering with the Dollar Tree and hosting a toy drive. All the donated toys will go to the children of military personnel. - Ecarepackage is a part of Operation Homefront. At this website you can “adopt” a soldier or adopt a military family. When you sign up, you get to choose the state that the serviceman is from, as well as the branch of the military they serve in, and where they are deployed. Upon choosing from these three options, you will be directed to a list of military personnel to choose from. The list gives you the name of the soldiers as well as their interests and things they would like.

I like this program because you get to decide who your gifts go to, and it gives you the opportunity to learn a little bit about the person your helping and makes it more personal. If you decide to adopt a solider or military family through Ecarepackage, you may want to send them some snack items. Recently did a post on the 40 best cookie recipes for shipping. You can view this list here. And the following links will give you some instructions on shipping food items:

I hope everyone will consider donating to these wonderful causes.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving Recipe: Marshmallow Pilgrim Hat Cookies

24 chocolate-striped shortbread cookies
12-ounce package of chocolate chips
24 marshmallows
tube of yellow decorators' frosting

Set the chocolate-striped cookies stripes down on a wax-paper-covered tray, spacing them well apart.
Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave or double boiler.
One at a time, stick a wooden toothpick into a marshmallow, dip the marshmallow into the melted chocolate, and promptly center it atop a cookie.
Using a second toothpick to lightly hold down the marshmallow, carefully pull out the first toothpick.
Chill the hats until the chocolate sets, then pipe a yellow decorators' frosting buckle on the front of each hat.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Guide to Organized Holiday Shopping: Black Friday, Part 2

Here is part 2 of my Black Friday holiday shopping guide. I hope you'll find it helpful.

5. Making a shopping list - On a sheet of paper make a list of each store you plan to go to and under each store's name, make a list of the items you plan to buy there. Put a star next to the items you are most interested in. This will help you to prioritize your list.

6. Prioritizing & organizing the stores on your list - At this time you should prioritize and decide which stores you want to go to first. In my opinion, this is the most important step. There are a number of factors to base priorities on. You can use these factors to make one list, or a make a couple of lists based on these factors and coordinate the two.

  • Time of sale - Each store ends its sale at a different time. Some go until 11am or noon. Others are over by 10am. Then there are others that have sales for the entire weekend. Obviously you should first go to the stores that end their sales earlier.
  • Items you are most interested in - If a particular store has something that you especially want, you should go there first thing. Many of these items will be in limited quantities at the stores, so you should get there early.
  • Location of stores - In order to save time and gas, you should keep the locations of the stores in mind. Think of how close they are to your home and how close they are to one another, and map out your shopping route to avoid driving back and forth.
  • Normal everyday items versus the extraordinary - Keep in mind that many of the items in the sale ads are not going to sell out. In fact some of the items, namely bath and perfume gift sets, movies, and clothes, will be available for the next month, so try to save yourself time and buy these items later. Meanwhile focus your efforts on the "extraordinary." Popular toys and electronics may or may not be available later, so you should put these as a top priority.
  • A store with one good item versus several - Some stores on your list may only have one thing that you want, whereas others will have an entire stock of things you are interested in. I would advise going to the stores that only have one or two items that you want first. Then when you go to the store that has several items, you'll have more time to look around because you will have already been to the other stores. However, if you feel time slipping up on you, you may want to skip a couple of these stores that only have one item that you want, so that you can get to these other place before the sales end.

Once you have your priorities straight, and you have a well organized list, you should be ready to brave the shopping world. Don’t forget to bring your shopping list and your ads with you on your shopping trip. Also remember not to stress too much, and try to be patient and friendly with fellow customers. Getting the latest Elmo toy is not a matter of life and death. Don’t yell at someone if they get in your way or pick up the item that you wanted. The most important thing is to have fun and stay safe. Happy Shopping!

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A Guide to Organized Holiday Shopping: Black Friday, Part 1

Many people buy into the "day after Thanksgiving" shopping hype, and if you don't, then you at least know someone who does. And who could blame you, if you do? It is a great opportunity to buy quality Christmas presents at discounted prices. You may even find a few goodies for yourself. But before rushing out to battle the crowds...and I mean literally battle the crowds, here are a few "day after Thanksgiving" shopping strategies to keep in mind.

1. Making a list of what you hope to find - Before ever looking at any ads, think about what kinds of items you are hoping to find. Maybe you'd like to find a deal on a new computer or a digital camera. Or perhaps you are looking for sweaters to buy for family members. Make a list of exactly what you are looking for. This will help you to set limits for yourself and prevent you from going completely overboard.

2. Organizing ads - Nowadays you can view ads on the internet, but I like to do it the old fashioned way. Just buy a newspaper. There will be more ads than you will know what to do with. Start by discarding any ads for stores where you never shop and stores that have no items which you are interested in purchasing. Next sort the remaining ads into organized groups.(For example: Walmart, Kmart, ect. would go in one group. Electronic stores would go in another group.) Now that you've put the ads into like groups, you can pick up a small stack of ads at a time and look through them. By dividing the ads into groups, it is easier for you to compare prices and to stay focused on one thing at a time.

3. Viewing & Comparing Ads - As you view the ads, have a pen handy and circle any items that you find interesting. Place any ads you don't like into the discard pile. As you are looking for the items on your wish list, you will find that some of the stores will have similar items. You may decide to buy one over the other by looking at the price or taking into account how close the store is to your home, or maybe you have a customer rewards card with one of the companies. (These three factors are especially important for items like clothing, movies, cds, and kitchen appliances, where the items will be the same or similar brands, and the items are pretty much interchangeable, regardless of where they are bought) However, some item comparisons are a little more involved. For items like electronics and tools put the ads side by side and read the specs for the items to decide which is actually the better deal. This all sounds like a timely process, but in the end it will save you money and time in the stores.

4. Create a stack of "good" ads. - After discarding all unwanted ads, and any ads that did not win in the price comparison race, you should be left with only small stack of good ads. At this time you may want to make a list of all the stores you plan to go to. If you still have a large stack, keep in mind, there are only so many hours in a day. Think of how much time you want to spend shopping versus how many ads you have, and try to weed out a few more ads.

Check back to read part 2.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Recipe of the Week: Easy Pecan Pie

3 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup corn syrup
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups pecans
1 (9 inch) unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Place pie shell in a 9 inch pie pan.
In a medium bowl, gently beat eggs. Stir in sugar and flour, then the syrup, butter and vanilla. Fold in pecans. Pour mixture into pie shell. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes; knife inserted in center of pie should come out clean.

Digg it

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

12 Tips & Shortcuts for Your Holiday Party

Whether you are having guests over for the holidays, or you are the guest, nearly everyone is responsible for doing some cooking. It can be stressful, especially if you are not used to cooking for a lot of people and you have several recipes you have to make. Here are some short cuts and tips to help make your holiday cooking a success:

1. Potluck - If you are the host, have your guests to each bring an item. Even if you are a do-it-yourself kind of person, if someone asks you if she can bring something, make a suggestion. Chances are if someone asks to bring something, she's going to bring something even if you say no. You might as well make a kind suggestion like, "yes, i really love your potato salad." Meanwhile, if you are the guest, try to bring something to the party, even if your host swears she doesn't need any help.

2. Gathering Recipes - The week before your holiday party, gather all your recipes so that you can begin making a shopping list of everything you'll need to cook with.

3. Clean out fridge and pantry - You should clean out your refrigerator and you pantry. Check the expiration dates, and throw out old ingredients, in order to make room for all the new food you're going to buy and so that you'll have room for all the left overs. Also, you can use this opportunity to do an inventory and make a more accurate list of what you will need to buy.

4. Shop early - Buy everything you're going to need the week or weekend before the big day. This way you can beat the crowds, and you won't have to stress about the shopping trip anymore. Plus, if you wait and shop at the last minute, there's a good chance the store might be out of something you need, and you'll be more stressed and more likely to forget something.

5. Buy bags and containers - This would be a good time to buy extra ziplock bags and storage containers. Not only will you be storing leftovers, but you may also want to make a few "to go" plates for your guests.

6. Microwave - Consider using the microwave to cook certain items faster. You can use it for baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, canned vegetables, frozen vegetables, and certain breads. It's also a good place to keep your side items warm till the rest of the food is ready.

7. Rolls - Save time by getting rolls from a bakery, or buy rolls that can be baked within just a few minutes, out of the bread, frozen, and refrigerated sections of your grocery store.

8. Frozen Vegetables - Frozen vegetables are often better than canned and are the next best thing to homegrown. Depending on what you buy and your method of cooking, most frozen veges can be cooked up in 20 minutes for less.

9. Cooking several days before - You can save time by making pies several days before the party. Simply make your pies and then freeze them. Just don't forget to get them out in time to thaw before the party. If you place pies that are traditionally eaten warm (such as apple) in the oven for a few minutes before your meal, they'll come out tasting warm and fresh like they were just made. Holiday candies are also a good item to make several days ahead, especially the ones that take a long time to make. Just be sure to look at the instructions on the recipe to find out if they can be stored in a container at room temperature, or whether you need to have them chilled in the fridge.

10. Cooking the night before - Other time consuming recipes can be cooked the night before such as potato salad and deviled eggs. You can also make dressing and casseroles the night before. Simply mix them up, and place them in a dish, and then all you'll have to do is bake them the next day.

11. Crock Pot - Often people forget about the slow cooker. What is great about it is you can place your ingredients in it, and it does the cooking for you. You don't have to do a lot of prep work, and you don't have to constantly watch it. Use it to cook your dressing, a stew, meat, beans, or side items.

12. Clean up - When you have a lot of cooking and baking to do, you may not have much time to clean your house. So try doing the majority of your cleaning the week before your party. Be sure to clean your bathroom, kitchen, and living area, and don't forget to clean the guest room if you are having people sleep over. If you do most of the cleaning ahead of time, you'll be a lot less stressed, and then you can do just a quick clean up the day before the guests arrive

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Thanksgiving Recipes: Hashbrown Casserole


1 lg. bag hashbrowns
1 sm. bag hash browns
1 stick melted butter
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 bag shredded Cheddar cheese
Small sour cream
1 can cream of mushroom soup

Combine all ingredients together in a 9 x 13 inch casserole. Sprinkle more Cheddar cheese on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

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Thanksgiving Recipes: Green Bean Casserole

Green Bean Casserole
Prep: 10 minutesBake: 30 minutes

1 can (10 3/4 oz.) Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. soy sauce
Dash ground black pepper
4 cups cooked cut green beans
1 1/3 cups French's® French Fried Onions

MIX soup, milk, soy, black pepper, beans and 2/3 cup onions in 1 1/2-qt. casserole.
BAKE at 350°F. for 25 min. or until hot.
STIR . Sprinkle with remaining onions. Bake 5 min.

TIPS: Use 1 bag (16 to 20 oz.) frozen green beans, 2 pkg. (9 oz. each) frozen green beans, 2 cans (about 16 oz. each) green beans or about 1 1/2 lb. fresh green beans for this recipe.
For a change of pace, substitute 4 cups cooked broccoli flowerets for the green beans.
For a creative twist, stir in 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese with soup. Omit soy sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup additional Cheddar cheese when adding the remaining onions.
For a festive touch, stir in 1/4 cup chopped red pepper with soup.
For a heartier mushroom flavor, substitute Campbell's® Condensed Golden Mushroom Soup for Cream of Mushroom Soup. Omit soy sauce. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped red pepper with green beans.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

An Inviting Thanksgiving Craft

A lot of people don't send out invitations for their annual Thanksgiving parties, but if you do, here is a very cute idea for you. This idea could also be used for place cards or thank you cards. And if you change the color of the paper and use poinsetta leaves, it would be great for Christmas invitations. For full instructions on how to make these cards, visit diy network.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Thanksgiving Centerpieces

Dress up your holiday table or buffet with a nice centerpiece. It will add color, warmth, and personality to your dinner party. You can order them online or at a local florist, or you can save money by making your own at home. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

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Top 5 Things to Clean Before Your Holiday Party

1. Bathroom - Nobody wants to use a dirty bathroom. Be sure to clean your toilet, sink, and your floor. Use cleaners that are antibacterial and deodorizing. I would say, if you're not having overnight guests, you could probably skip cleaning the tub/shower. Just close the curtain and make sure the outside appears clean. Add potpourri, an automatic sprayer, or a scented oil plug-in for a pleasant, clean smell.

2. Refrigerator and Freezer - Whether people are helping you cook or just looking for a drink refill, they are going to look in your refrigerator. In my opinion, if you're going to some one's house for dinner, the last thing you want to see is a dirty fridge. Take the time to do an inventory of your fridge. Check the expiration dates on the food and throw out all foods that are out of date. Also, toss out any old left overs. Empty out your fridge entirely and wipe down the shelves and walls with a sponge or rag. If it's been a while since you've cleaned the shelves, you may want to take them out and wash them in the sink or dishwasher. This may take a while, but you'll be surprised how great it will after a good cleaning. Plus, cleaning out the fridge will help you figure out what you need to buy for your Thanksgiving feast, and it will help you to make room for your Thanksgiving groceries & leftovers.

3. Kitchen Counter - Before cooking (and after cooking) you should make sure that counters are cleaned and all spills have been wiped up, especially if you are preparing meat on the counter. If you're having a lot of company over this may be the perfect time to take everything off your counter top and wipe off any crumbs or dust that might have gotten behind or in between canisters, appliances, and the walls.

4. Kitchen/Dining Room Table - Before decorating or placing food on the table make sure the area is cleaned good with an antibacterial cleaner. Also, inspect the chairs, especially if you have kids, to make sure that there are no crumbs or anything sticky in the seats. You also may want to clear the table of items like fruit baskets, center pieces, or anything else that takes up space, if people will actually be sitting at the table to eat. If you want to have decorative items out, consider placing them on a buffet, a coffee table, or somewhere else in your home where they'll be seen.

5. Floor - Even if you don't do a massive clean up job before you have company, you should at least clean the floors in the rooms in which your company will be. This shouldn't be too big of a job, as this should be limited to the kitchen/dining room, living room, and bathroom. (unless you have overnight guests) First of all, for some reason having a clean floor makes an entire room look so much better. Secondly, if any of your guests have small kids, they will probably be crawling on the floor, playing with toys on the floor, and sometimes they tend to put things in their mouths after it's been on the floor.

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Friday, November 9, 2007

Recipe of the Week: Easy Air Freshener

Here's an easy recipe you can use to make homemade air freshener:

1 1/2 cups warm water
4 cinnamon sticks broken into pieces
1 tsp. imitation vanilla
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 1/2 tsp. vegetable oil

Place the ingredients into a crock pot and mix together. Let simmer. Be careful to watch the crock pot, and add additional water as needed, as the heat will cause the water to evaporate.

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