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An Apple Bake Off Party with DIY Decor Inspirations for a Late Fall Harvest

An Apple Bake Off Party with DIY Decor Inspirations for a Late Fall Harvest

apple harvest decorations
An abundant apple harvest | Image courtesy flick’r user Onnola

The frosts of winter will soon blanket the trees around my hometown with a frozen sparkle, but, first, there’s a final harvest of my favorite handheld snack—the apple. Late fall always means a visit to the local cider mill and farm where my favorite Braeburns are ripe and plentiful, just in time to make a medley of baked treats for the upcoming holiday celebrations.

With a basket full of juicy Jonagolds or Galas at hand to inspire my holiday dessert making, I’ll soon have an overabundance of farm fresh goodies to share with my friends and family. So this year, I’m throwing an apple harvest bake off to exchange favorite recipes and enjoy the spoils of the autumn orchard, together.

Hosting an Apple-Inspired Recipe and Gift Exchange

Sweet apple recipe cards. | Image courtesy Etsy seller ThePaperBasket
Sweet apple recipe cards | Image courtesy Etsy seller ThePaperBasket

I’m not the only one of my friends who likes to play Betty Crocker this time of year, so I asked them each to bring a delectable apple-themed baked good or dessert to our get together, like cider-spiced cupcakes, apple fritter bread, or cranberry apple cheesecake to name a few. Along with their treats, they each brought enough copies of the recipe to share—and wrapped baking tools for our gift exchange.

Before the party, I asked my friends to join an online gift exchange with me so they could make personal wish lists of baking supplies currently missing from their kitchen’s repertoire. Names of confirmed guests were then swapped with each other, and we shopped for our assigned giftee based on their kitchen gadget wish list. I requested a French macaroon baking sheet and a cute new apron, while my friend Alex added a vintage flour sifter, a couple recipe books, and a set of silicone loaf baking pans. 

An Apple Harvest Tablescaping How-To

The Apple Cookbook | Image courtesy Amazon seller/author Olwen Woodier
The Apple Cookbook | Image courtesy Amazon seller/author Olwen Woodier

As a fun group activity, I prepared a demonstration on how to display seasonal dishes at family celebrations—every time I host a party, I get a bunch of questions about my festive tablescapes that perfectly tie the food offerings into the decor.

Before my guests arrived, I set up an extra table for all the mouth-watering goodies everyone would be bringing. Meanwhile, my dining room table was clean and table-clothed, but otherwise empty, ready to show my friends each step of the tablescaping process. With supplies laid out and organized, I was ready to show my guests how to dress the table in the gorgeous hues of the apple harvest, creating an autumn banquet tablescape in eight simple steps:

  1. Drape your table with a richly autumn-hued cloth in a subtle pattern that won’t distract from the rest of the decor.
  2. Find a couple boxes of varying sizes and heights—shoe boxes, shipping boxes, cereal boxes, or wooden crates. Whatever is on hand will work once covered. If a box is on the thin side and can’t bear too much weight, I fill it with books for support.
  3. Next, round up some fabric remnants in a complementary color. I love the look of a lighter shade layered on a darker tablecloth. Again, whatever is on hand can work—pillowcases, curtain panels, or another tablecloth are some of the fabrics I’ve used in the past.
  4. Cover the boxes with fabric, and stack and arrange them at varying angles in the center of the table. The fabric cover should be tucked under and around the boxes so that it’s no longer visible. It doesn’t need to look perfect—in fact, all the folds and billows around the base of the boxes will add to the overall look.
  5. Bend and shape a four to six-foot autumn swag around the base of the boxes.
  6. Fill in any sparse areas around the swag with loose decorative leaves, apples, acorns, and pinecones. Add small groupings of these loose decorations around the corners of the box platforms as well.
  7. Arrange platters and dishes on the table and platforms as desired, shifting the loose decor items—and adding in some fresh apples—to best fill in gaps.
  8. Once everything is on the table and ready to serve, I like to add a little extra warmth with a few candles.

tablescape-with-candles-close-up-center-2

 

Crafting Whimsical DIY Apple Votive Holders

As part of our DIY decor demonstration, I passed out apples to my friends for making some fresh and fun candle holders that will perfectly accent our autumn tablescape. Here is my method for crafting these fall apple tea light holders:

apple candle

  1. Making sure they’ll remain flat and balanced when set on a tabletop, we lightly trace around a tea light candle at the top of our apples with a pen.
  2. Using a carving knife, we carefully cut into the apple, following the circle we traced.
  3. Next, we dig a hole with a spoon just big enough to house the tea light candle.
  4. Once we have carved out the right amount of apple, we spray them with a bit of lemon juice to keep them from browning as they add a flickering light to the ambience of our tablescape.

These adorable autumn votive cups are a wonderful way to bring the colors and warmth of the apple orchard to our holiday tables, along with a touch of creative whimsy. For a more kid-friendly event, I would omit the real flame candles for their flameless counterparts, and add a string of warm lights around the swag.

Now that our tablescape is festively dressed, we add our decadent desserts, including my offering of a warm caramel apple crisp. We pause briefly to bask in the beauty of our combined creative efforts before digging in to enjoy all the sweet, apple goodness.

 

Enjoying the Apple Harvest—Together

apple harvest decorations
An apple harvest basket | Image courtesy flick’r user Onnola

Sitting down with plates of apple pastries at hand, we kick off our baking gift exchange. Megan raves on and on about the ceramic pie dish she’d been hoping for, and Amber knows precisely how she’ll break in her new mini muffin trays using the spiced apple cider muffin recipe Angela handed out. And there are smiles all around as we share our newly inspired schemes for harvest tablescapes while polishing off our plates of sweets.

Eventually, my guests make their way to the door, bellies and heads full, recipes and baking supplies in hand. I can’t think of a better way we could celebrate the fall apple harvest than with warm pastries and gifts shared amongst friends—and I know I’m not alone in my delight. Best of all, the great autumn tips and treats we complied today will be adding to the joy of each and every one of our family holiday feasts this year.

Let the elves help you find the perfect autumn table trimmings with our Thanksgiving Must-Haves. Learn how to host a gift exchange of your own, and find loads of ideas to combat the autumn chill with festive warmth on our Facebook, Instagram @Elfstergram, and Twitter @Elfster.

Urbanite Inspirations for a Rustic Farmhouse Dinner Party

Urbanite Inspirations for a Rustic Farmhouse Dinner Party

embroidered leaf table runner
Falling leaves, even on a towel, means it is time to get inside. Image courtesy Etsy seller EmbroideryByJudy.

Rolling up the sleeves on my flannel, and feeling the creeping cold rustling through my beard, I picked up the bale of hay, and threw it over my shoulder. “You look,” my wife said, “absolutely ridiculous.”

I admit she had a point. After all, I was pulling the hay out of our compact sedan, which I had just parallel parked on our busy city street, and was preparing to carry it up to our third-floor urban apartment. It’s safe to say this was one of the first times hay had been introduced into the building.

But there was a reason. We were having a dinner party. And not just any dinner party. We wanted to craft a feast that transported our guests, to imbue our city walk-up with an atmosphere that ignored the horns and sirens, tall buildings and streetlights. A dinner that made us all forget that our jobs depended on the ticking of a clock, and not the rising of the sun. In short, we wanted a farmhouse dinner party.

Preparing Your House for the Harvest

We hoped to imitate how it must have felt at the end of the harvest season—all the smells and flavors of a chill air descending on now-barren fields, with warmth provided by a roaring fire (or candles), great food, and the convivial love felt for each other as we passed around dinner plates and bottles of wine. When we first started thinking about how we would go about this, we decided to focus on the colors, specifically the orange of late harvest combined with the thatchy, dried-husk look of early November.

fall flower mason jar centerpieces
Centerpieces command attention, but shouldn’t distract. Image courtesy Etsy.

See, I’m obsessed with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, especially the weirdly melancholic scenes of Snoopy imagining the South of France, and walking across its harvested fields. It appealed to me as a child, a rural and changing world I never knew. I wanted that look.

So to the country we went! At a rural pumpkin patch, we bought tall cornstalks, bereft of corn, of course, but that added to the mood—it was postharvest, after all. We didn’t even try to resist bringing home the bundles of hay big enough to sit on.

Allison and I both thought bringing the country back into the city with us was pretty cool, though admittedly I was a bit more into it. Arranging our stalks and bales around our apartment, especially in the dining room, made fall seem more real—it’s a season of transformation, and our apartment, too, became a changed place.

Actually, it was pretty close to idyllic. The leaves were in full glory at that point, and had really started to fall, blowing around the sky and rattling at our windows. We brought those harvest colors in by displaying fall flowers in rustic-looking mason jars on the dining table.

We’re lucky enough to have a beautiful reclaimed farm table that one of our more handy friends made us for a wedding gift. With wood from the Wisconsin Northwoods that actually did once belong to a barn (granted, an old horse barn in the city, but still), it gave the dinner an authentic feel.

There was something about the whole atmosphere, augmented by apple-scented candles and plenty of gourds, that truly did transport us—our four guests all commented on how the room felt strangely out of time, that we didn’t just decorate, but actually created something new and strange.

Granted, all the old wood and fall-themed runners in the world won’t do anything if you’re serving frozen pizza. So we dug into our cookbooks and found something with the feel of a feast after a long season of hard work.

The Fall Farm Menu

Our hearty meal was greatly inspired by one of my wife’s favorite food writers, Mimi Thorisson, and her book A Kitchen in France: My Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse. Mimi pretty much has the life we both want: huge French farmhouse, beautiful kitchen, amazing ingredients everywhere, and a knack for experimenting while remaining true to her roots. Our dinner was pretty French-inspired (another nod to Snoopy) but really, yours doesn’t have to be specific.

A Kitchen in France: My Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse
A Kitchen in France: My Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse. Image courtesy Amazon seller Mimi Thorisson.

The Soup

Our first course was a soup she called “L’Ami Jean Parmesan Soup.” This is a rich and hearty soup, made with butter, cheese, and heavy cream. It’s not super healthy, but after working in the fields for months, you’ve earned it!

There’s a ritual to serving this soup. You make the soup (which also has chicken stock, salt, and pepper), put it in a tureen, but then bring out bowls with croutons, chives, crumbled bacon, and shallots in the middle, in four quarters. It sort of looks like, as one of our guests put it, “a deconstructed soup.” Then you ladle the actual soup in, and there’s a sudden warmth in the air as the flavors come together and delicious smells pour forth.

The Main Course

After the soup settled, we had a nice salad—a very light arugula, apple, and parsnip mix with a not-too-light buttermilk dressing. It had a very fall taste, and also served as a nice palate cleanser. Then, after some more wine, it was time for the main course.

 

 

I had spent most of the last two days preparing a large cider-brined pork roast. The brine, which sits overnight, consisted of:

pumpkin soup bowl
Yes, we used a pumpkin, just like on a real farm. Image courtesy Amazon seller Boston International.
  • Brown sugar
  • Slat
  • Bay leaves
  • Coriander seeds
  • Peppercorn
  • Cider

The day of the meal, I made a coriander rub, decorated the roast with bay leaves, put it in a roasting pan, threw in quartered potatoes and onions, and let it cook for a couple of hours (after browning, of course). It sat for a half hour after coming out of the oven, which turned out to be the perfect time to serve the salad! It struck me as a lucky break, but I guess chefs know what they’re doing. Our roast turned out beautifully! And one of our friends was wonderful enough to bring a spiced bundt cake with apple caramel sauce. That was the decadent finale.

The Highlight of the Feast

I know what you might be thinking—what’s the highlight after all those yummies? Well, it turned out that the food was secondary to the evening. It was the center point, it was what was on the table, it was the ostensible reason for being there, but it wasn’t what brought us to the table.

giant roasting pan
This wouldn’t have been possible without a big roasting pan. Image courtesy Amazon.

No, what brought us to the table was our friendship, the time we had spent together in the past, and the time that, as we grow older, we spend apart. Maybe fall is perfect for that. Maybe fall is meant for that. The leaves turn colors and drop, and the seasons pass. You don’t really notice it sometimes, until suddenly it’s winter.

That’s something we want to avoid with our friends and loved ones. We want to hold them close, and sit around a warm table, protected from the wind outside—but still able to notice it, and appreciate the table and its warmth all the more for it.

Maybe we don’t harvest anymore, most of us anyway. But the farm feast reminds us of a different time, a time when what mattered most was gathering close to those you love and sharing a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, a pork roast if you were lucky, and just being happy to be near one another. Unlike the leaves and the seasons, that never changes.

Whether you’re a city dweller or a country maven, Elfster can help you party plan, from our gift guides and wish lists, to tips and tricks on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, and Instagram @Elfstergram.

DIY Fall Paradise Party Ideas for Hosting an Out-of-Season Luau

DIY Fall Paradise Party Ideas for Hosting an Out-of-Season Luau

aloha paper banner
Photo credit Etsy seller prettypaperparty

Only the leaves blowing past my living room window gave evidence of the day’s chill—the weather in my house was a balmy 80 degrees, and not a cloud in sight. Crepe paper Hawaiian flower banners were strewn across the mantle and apple-scented candles were lit in tiki torches—the party vibe was strong, ready to transport my guests from a world of pumpkin spice to palm trees.

A month into fall, the novelty of the beautifully colored leaves and apple cider flavored everything had started to blur into the realities of stormy weather and wet dashes to my car. The forecast kept calling for rain, so I dreamt up a fall luau party to bring a spot of sunshine to a stormy weekend. By blending tropical flowers with colorful maple leaves for decor, and serving up a delicious grilled tropical fish dinner paired with pumpkin mochi cake, I was ready to break out my corn husk hula skirt and throw a Tropi-Fall Paradise Luau!

Crafting a Tropical Autumn Oasis

To set the tone for a spectacular fall luau, I draped the edges of my dining room table with grass skirting and strings of sunflowers, then propped up tiki god totem poles fashioned out of stacked apple picking baskets with construction paper faces. Pinecones became pineapples, once painted yellow and topped with a few spikes of green paper glued into place.

pineapple pinecones
Photo credit Etsy seller SouthernEscentuals

Since pumpkins are aplenty this time of year, I also crafted a simple sea turtle centerpiece to “swim” in the middle of our food display. Cutting a large pumpkin down the middle, I used one half to create a turtle shell with tribal patterns carved into it, and carefully sliced the other half into arm and leg fins, and a cute turtle head. Even more pumpkins were used to make tiki god heads with autumn-inspired jar candles lit inside them.

But I couldn’t be the only one bringing the beach vibes! I had challenged everyone to get creative with their party attire—Trevor and Emily stole the show in their get-ups of matching leaf-print sweater vests, paired with floral board shorts for him and tropical flower leggings with fluorescent rainboots for her. John also rocked the fall luau garb in a “grass skirt” he constructed out of fall leaves worn over a wetsuit—snorkel securely in place.

A Fall-Inspired Luau Menu

handmade tropical flower cookies
Photo courtesy Etsy seller ALittleBitOfParis

An underground spit to roast a full-sized pig would have meant battling the autumn winds—not to mention a huge hole in my backyard—so I served up fresh grilled mahi-mahi crusted with macadamia nuts. The recipe was simple enough to make while my guests arrived and mingled:

  1. Before the party, I combined roasted macadamia nuts, butter, and panko in a pan and set aside. I also brushed the mahi-mahi with vegetable oil, sprinkled it with salt and pepper, wrapped the fillets in foil, and placed them in a baking pan.
  2. Once we were ready to eat, and the oven was heated to 425 degrees F, I baked the mahi-mahi for 5 minutes while warming the butter, nut, and panko mixture until the butter melted, stirring occasionally.
  3. Next, I pulled the pan from the oven to quickly brush the fish with coconut milk, and to top each fillet with the nut mixture, before baking for another 5 to 10 minutes.

cookies decorated like leaves
Photo courtesy Etsy seller MegCobbCreations

I also prepped some simple teriyaki chicken and veggie skewers to pull in more flavors of the tropics. By simply brushing a teriyaki marinade on kabobs of chicken, bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms, I was able to grill them up nicely in the oven—no BBQing in the rain required. A friend even brought fried spam and rice, Hawaiian classics.

A variety of tropical fresh fruit cut into shells, starfish, and leaves using cookie cutters paired perfectly with a light and fluffy pumpkin mochi cake. And I ordered handmade cookies decorated as a blend of Hawaiian flowers and autumn leaves—they were so cute they doubled as table decor!

Beach Party Games for the “In” Crowd

After our feast, someone turned up the tunes and we danced like our bare feet were in hot sand. With the dance party well underway, I introduced this funny spin on a hula dancing contest:

  1. I collected a few empty tissue boxes, painter’s tape, and plenty of acorns.
  2. After filling the tissue boxes with 10 acorns each, I taped a tissue box to the backside of each participating guest’s pants.
  3. Then, we cranked up the ukulele music and watched to see who could hula the hardest until all of their acorns fell to the floor like out of a wind swept tree.

tiki head mugs
Photo courtesy Etsy seller RowhomeVintage

Once everyone had shaken out their acorns and loosened up their nerves, we set up a limbo stick made from a cornstalk. As the classic Limbo song and other Luau melodies played on the speakers, we all got a little bent out of shape vying for the coveted prize of a vintage tiki head coffee mug to add a little extra feeling of warmth to a fall morning cup of joe.

To cool off after all the dancing and shaking, I filled a kiddie pool with water so everyone could bob for mangos. It was a riot to watch, as we soon discovered that mangos are a bit more challenging to bite than apples—a bit of water ended up splashed about my kitchen, and more than a couple of my friends nearly submerged themselves trying to get the mangos out.

Gifts of Pocket-sized Paradise

Once we had danced our best hula, limboed the night away, and feasted on luau favorites new and old, it was time to call it a night—and come back to the reality of the fall weather outside. But I wanted to make sure my friends took a little bit of the warmth of the tropics with them into the chill as we said “aloha,” so I sent them off with favor bags filled with Hawaiian mango sugar scrub and a Tiki Room-inspired candle to bring a spot of sunshine to their own homes. I hope it becomes a new tradition for my friends to gather together and soak up some chill beach party vibes each autumn at a Tropi-Fall Paradise Luau.

The Elves are professionals at bringing the warmth of paradise to your fall party! Check out our Luau must haves, and keep the party going by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter @Elfster, and sending some Luau love to our Instagram @Elfstergram.

Fourth of July Party Ideas : Decorations of Independence

Fourth of July Party Ideas : Decorations of Independence

Fourth of July Party Ideas - Decorations of Independence

 

Looking for some pretty ways to show your patriotism this Independence Day? Well, thank your lucky stars and stripes, because Elfster has a handful of helpful hints. This weekend, we’re celebrating the land of the free by rounding-up a few complimentary party-planning ideas to help make your Fourth of July sparkle.

Take a look at these great tips and tutorials from our favorite holiday events bloggers, and feel free to join the blog party by adding your own ideas and links!

 

Pretty Printables- Sparkler Holders

Porch Decoration- Patriotic Bunting

Party Favors – Let Freedom “Ring”Photo credit- Simply Creative Insanity

3D Cookie Cupcakes- Tutorial

Berry Lemon Napoleon- Dessert Recipe

Polka Dot Tablescape

Star Medallion- Tutorial

Pennant Banner Printables

Pie Decoration and Party Ideas

Tee-Shirt Pom-Poms- Tutorial

Strawberry Shortcake Popsicles

Red, White and Blue Kabobs

Confetti Popper Rockets- Tutorial

Photo credits: Lisa Storms , Simply Creative Insanity
Friday the 13th : Spooky Treats by the Baker’s Dozen

Friday the 13th : Spooky Treats by the Baker’s Dozen

Friday the 13th - Spooky Treats by the Baker's DozenJust hear us out. If Christmas in July can be a “thing”, why can’t Halloween in May?

Friday the 13th isn’t just about avoiding ladders and knocking on wood. (That stuff is mere “Child’s Play”, if you ask us!) No, this day is the perfect excuse to dust off the culinary cobwebs and revisit some sinfully sweet Halloween treats.

Though you might be hesitant to go anywhere near the kitchen on such a notoriously unlucky day, here are a few recipes from our favorite food bloggers for those of you willing to tempt fate.

 

1. Ghost Crepe Cupcakes

2. Owl-Ween Treats

3. Meringue Bone Cookies

4. Black Cat Cookies

5. Gingerbread Skeleton Cookies

6. Silhouette CookiesFriday the 13th - 1

7. Spider Web Shortbread

8. Owl Cookies

9. Mini Ghost Cupcakes

10. Gingerbread Sandwich Bats

11. Spooky Sugar Cookies

12. Mini Cookie Cut-Outs

13. Nutter Butter Ghosts

 

Photo Credits: Cupcake Project , Celebrations at Home
Elf Week Kick-off: The Rookies n’ Milk Marathon!

Elf Week Kick-off: The Rookies n’ Milk Marathon!

We’ve gone Macadamia Nuts these past few weeks preparing for Elf Week’s opening event, The Rookies n’ Milk Marathon.  From stretching our stomachs at the All-You-Can-Eat Pancake Palace, to growing our milk mustaches just the way we like them, we haven’t worked this hard since Rudolph got stuck in the doggie door!

Well, it’s now officially “crunch time” and we’ve got all the delicious details of the Rookies n’ Milk events, right here on the Elfster Blog!

Remember, if you’re following the Elf Week competitions at home, be sure to keep an eye out for all of our updates this week, and check out these official Rookies n’ Milk “Elf-Help” articles in the meantime!

Current Rookies n’ Milk Standings

Elf Julie is presently in the lead, having successfully scarfed the North Pole’s entire population of gingerbread men.  She is now speed-skating over Lake Freeze-Pop with the finish line in sight.  But don’t count your turtledoves before they hatch!  Julie is recovering from a brain freeze injury last week, and only time will tell how she holds up for the final moments of the race.

Buttered Rum is no match for Elf Peter who is chugging for Second at the Sleigh Bell Saloon.  He may be a savvy sipper, but a lot can change in this stage of the game.  Oddly, many an elf has gotten stuck in the Buttered Rum leg of the journey… We can’t imagine why.

In Third Place, Elf Stephanie is still slip-sliding her way through the Grease-the-Pan portion of the competition.  On a baking sheet the size of a Hockey rink, she’s got to toboggan a giant pad of butter down the slope, earning a minimum of 12 “Santa Style Points” to make it to the next round. But even that might not be enough to help her advance.  (Judges were aghast earlier when she pre-heated her oven to a mere 349° and not the required 350°…)

Elf Adrian was a particularly eager participant in the day’s first trial, The Eskimo Pie Eating Contest.  Though he doubtlessly demonstrated the healthiest appetite, his refusal to leave the table has only landed him in Fourth Place, where he is still “competing” as we speak.  The last time he took a breath he was quoted as saying, “You all go on without me… I’ll just stay here and clean up.”

Stay tuned for more Elf Week coverage in the next few days.   Tomorrow’s event:  The Wrapping Paper Relay!

Photo Credits:  lara604, poppet with a camera, zackzen
Eggcelent Eggnog Alternatives

Eggcelent Eggnog Alternatives

Like the great debate of “glass half empty or glass half full,”  eggnog, too, can be a divisive subject. We elves happen to love the holiday staple even in our breakfast cereal, but we also understand that it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. That’s why we compiled a short list of eggnog alternatives for you to try at your next holiday party….
Okay, so our motives aren’t as pure as the driven snow (more eggnog for us), but that’s not to say we don’t think these recipes are every bit as delicious. Try them, and if you care to add a little “holiday spirit” to the recipes, we won’t tell Santa, either!

Cinnamon Apple Shakes

3 cups vanilla ice cream
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup cinnamon applesauce
1/4 cup caramel ice cream topping
1/2 tsp. rum extract (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Process until smooth. Pour and serve!

Chocolate Peppermint Frappe

4 Round Peppermint Candies
1 pint Frozen Chocolate Yogurt
2 cups Cold Milk
1/2 cup Chocolate Syrup

Place peppermint candies in blender or food processor. Whirl until pulverized. Add frozen yogurt, milk, and chocolate syrup. Whirl until smooth. Serve at once. Garnish with peppermint candy sticks if you wish.

Kid-Friendly Pumpkin Latte

1 cup canned pumpkin
1 tbs vanilla extract
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp cinnamon
dash of each: ginger, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, sea salt
4 cups whole milk
2 cups water
Whisk together in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until almost simmering and then serve.

Hot Vanilla

1 cup milk
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 pinch ground cinnamon
Place milk in a microwave-safe mug. Microwave 1-1/2 minutes on high power or until hot. Remove from microwave; stir in honey, vanilla and cinnamon.

Hot Buttered Rum

1/2 gallon premium vanilla ice cream, softened
1 pound butter, softened (no substitute)
1 (1-pound) box powdered sugar
1 (1-pound) box dark brown sugar
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients and mixing well. Place in a freezer-safe container and store in freezer until ready to use.
To serve: Place 1 ounce rum in mug with 2 TBSP frozen mixture. Fill mug with boiling water and top with additional nutmeg, if desired.

While you’re saying “Bottoms up!” to these tasty new beverages, here’s another heads up on Elf Week:  The Rookies n’ Milk Marathon is exactly two weeks away… So get chugging, elves!

Photo credits: Alan Cleaver, izik, chickiepea, a little tune
Recipe credits:  Meriden and Wallingford, Flora’s Drink Hideout, Chickiepea, CDkitchen, Bellaonline
Santa’s Choice: World Cookie Recipes

Santa’s Choice: World Cookie Recipes

This Christmas, don’t be caught with your oven mitts off!

We know your egg timer is counting down the minutes to the Elf Week “Rookies n’ Milk Marathon”, so now is the perfect time to start training with some savory sweets.

To help you pre-heat, we’re giving you a list of Santa’s all-time favorite cookie recipes from around the globe. He knows a thing or two about dessert, so thanks to some great international food bloggers, here are the Claus’s “Top 10” picks:

.

.

Crumb roll, please…

Raspberry, Olive Oil and Thyme Shortbread (Great Britain)
Meringue and Raspberry Baskets “Korzinki” (Ukraine)
Ma’moul Cookies (Lebanon)
Chocolate-Dipped Palmieres (France)
Almond Cookies (China)
Alfajores (Nicaragua)
Nutmeg Tea Cookies (Indonesia)
Hamantaschen (Israel)
Sweet Potato Cookies (Liberia)
Amaretti (Italy)

With these international favorites on the plate, Santa is sure to stop by your place first this year!

Photo credits: Steven Depolo, The British Larder, Foodista, Global Cookies, Gourmet Traveller 88
A Taste of Fall

A Taste of Fall

Little Pumpkin with Fallen Orange Autumn LeavesWe elves may make a mean cup of eggnog, but by the time autumn rolls around, we’ve only got pumpkin on the brain! We don orange body paint and sit patiently in the patch for hours on end.  We plead for families of four to take us home. We contort our faces, holding toothy grins for longer than is probably advisable… This works up quite an appetite.  That’s why we love this recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins! Forget the fancy Indian corn and pretentious sprigs of wheat. From now on, we’re filling our Horn of Plenty with these bad boys…
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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

makes 12 muffins

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice mix (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

muffinsStart by preheating your oven to 350 degrees and lining a muffin pan with liners. In a large bowl, mix together the almond milk, vegetable oil, pumpkin puree, and vanilla extract until smooth. In a different bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix to combine, and add in the chocolate chips. Add the dry ingredients to the large bowl with the wet ingredients. Mix together until combined, but don’t over work it! Spoon the batter into the muffin pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Photo and recipe: Another One Bites the Crust
The Art of Moon Cakes

The Art of Moon Cakes

DSC01677 (1)Photos and recipe courtesy of i bake for you

If you’re Chinese or know anyone who is, you’ve probably noticed the big red boxes of mooncakes springing up in stores and homes around the world. The gorgeous boxes contain intricately made and packaged sweets that are sure to make you salivate! Thanks to the popularization of these decadent cakes, you can now find unique and modern adaptations, using chocolate, ice cream, pistachios, cheese or espresso beans! Seems like everyone wants to get on the moon cake train!

Mooncakes not only symbolize the moon at one of its roundest nights, but was used as a sacrifice for the upcoming change in seasons. If you’re interested in making your own and don’t mind a challenging (but oh, so worth it) recipe for “snow skin” mooncakes, we have just the thing!

Ingredients

makes about 21 medium moon cakes

Skin

  • 40g wheat starch (tang mien flour)
  • 300g fried glutinous rice flour (koh fun)
  • 245g icing sugar
  • 65g shortening (I used melted copha, a vegetable shortening)
  • 350ml cold water
  • matcha powder
  • yam/taro powder
  • vanilla extract

Custard (fake egg yolk)

  • 100g sugar
  • 25g corn flour
  • 20g low protein flour
  • 20g custard powder
  • 50ml coconut milk
  • 80ml milk
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 10g butter, melted
  • few drops of yellow coloring

Filling

  • 250g  of taro paste, or any other flavors you prefer
    Chinese markets generally sell pastes of lotus seed, green tea and red bean, to name a few

DSC01648Directions

  1. Make the custard first. Sift all the dry ingredients.
  2. Add the liquid ingredients apart from the butter.
  3. Add the melted butter when all is mixed.
  4. Steam for 30 mins or until cooked.
  5. Let cool, then roll into little balls that resemble egg yolks.
  6. For the snow skin, sift all the dry ingredients together.
  7. Split into bowls for as many flavors you’re making.
  8. Add matcha powder and other powders to bowls.
  9. Split the water into the bowls equally, as with the shortening.
  10. Add vanilla extract to taste.
  11. Mix until a dough is formed. If too sticky, add more fried glutinous rice flour until it can be handled.
  12. Wrap some of the filling around each ‘egg yolk’. Then wrap some of the snow skin around that. (I used the matcha snowskin with green tea paste, the vanilla snowskin with white lotus paste and the yam/taro snowskin with the taro paste). You should now have a three layered ball (outer snowskin, filling and inner custard ‘egg yolk’).
  13. Dust with fried glutinous rice flour. Dust the mooncake molds as well. Press gently into the molds and carefully remove.
  14. Refrigerate overnight, consume within a week.