Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Tree Cheese Appetizer

This is an old Southern Living recipe that I have been wanting to make for years. I altered some of the ingredients a little, but constructed it just like the directions.

1/4 cup chopped onion
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup wine (the recipe called for white, all I had was red)
3 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
2- 8oz pkg cream cheese, softened
Coatings: fresh parsley, finely chopped pecans
1 (12") Styrofoam cone
plastic wrap
2 tubs soft cream cheese
1 (10 oz) package Wheat Thins
1 large jar jumbo pimiento-stuffed olives
1 red bell pepper

Saute onion and bell pepper in butter until tender. Add wine and simmer, uncovered, until liquid has evaporated. Set aside. (If you don't want to do this step, you can just add the raw onion and bell pepper).
In a food processor, combine cheeses and onion mixture. Process until smooth and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Shape mixture into 3/4 inch balls. Make sure to keep them small. Roll half in chopped pecans and half in the fresh parsley. (I chopped the parsley as well as the pecans in the food processor). Place on a wax paper-lined pan and chill for about 2 hours. (I put them in the freezer for about 30 minutes).

Wrap the cone with plastic wrap, covering all surfaces. Spread softened tub cream cheese over the plastic wrap, making about a 1/2" layer. Sprinkle the parsley over the cream cheese.

Press a row of the crackers into the cream cheese-coated cone at the base. Attach a row of cheese balls just above the crackers with wooden picks, alternating the parsley-covered balls with the pecan-covered ones. Attach a row of olives above the cheese balls, using the wooden picks. Press another row of crackers above the olives, creating a shingled effect. Repeat these steps until the cone is covered completely.

Using a sharp knife, cut the red bell pepper into a star shape. I actually cut two, and placed them back to back, and attached them with the wooden picks.

Serve the remaining cheese balls on crackers at the base of the tree.

Wrap the cone with plastic wrap, making sure to cover all surfaces. (This cone is actually made of oasis, and that's only because that is what I had on hand).

Spread the tub cream cheese over the plastic wrap:

Then sprinkle with the chopped parsley:

Begin attaching the crackers at the base:

Using the wooden toothpicks, attach the cheese balls. I found it easier to place the toothpick into the cone first, then the cheese ball onto the toothpick:

I chose to alternate the first row with small olives:

This is the almost finished product:

I had to transport mine to my sister-in-law's, so I held it in my lap. I didn't want a Christmas Eve disaster on my hands.

Place the extra cheese balls on crackers at the base of the tree:

This project requires a good bit of time and effort, but has a really wonderful presentation. It is also quite delicious.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Candles with a Sparkle

I like to do a dressy Christmas table for my dining room. Last year I did candles that I covered with paper. This year I chose ribbon and beads. I found these candles at World Market. They are unscented, which is nice. The other supplies I used were tacky craft glue, (E 6000 glue - optional), clear gold beads, ribbon, gold braid trim, and a disposable foam paint brush.

I decided that the gold braid would make a pretty accent to the ribbon, so I glued some onto one side of it. Then I glued the ribbon onto the candle. I used E 6000 craft glue to attach the ribbon to the candle because it works really well. It does have a strong smell, however, so make sure you are in a well-ventilated room. You may find yourself frolicking around the room for no apparent reason if you don't. That DID NOT happen to me. The strong odor will subside after about 24 hours.

I placed my beads in a bowl. Then I applied the tacky glue, full strength, to the area above the ribbon.

I sprinkled the beads onto the glue by hand. They attached themselves like magnets. Then I repeated the same steps to glue the beads onto the bottom half of the candle. Use the ribbon to hold onto throughout this process.

The glue will dry clear and you will be left with this beautiful scattering of sparkle on your candles.

I found this charger at Hobby Lobby and I chose it as the base for my candles.

So simple to do. Such a surprisingly elegant result.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Make Your Own Christmas Village

This is part one of two posts I will be doing about this village. I enjoyed this project more than just about anything I have ever done. For starters, it was very inexpensive. The total cost for these three pieces was $4.20, which was 40% off at Hobby Lobby. I used regular acrylic paint, tacky craft glue, and clear glitter to give them the effect I wanted.
They are just plain little cardboard houses:

I pulled off the bottoms of each house:

They now look better and this also will enable me to put battery tea candles in them after they are finished.

I painted them ice cream colors:

I diluted the glue with a little water and painted it on. I poured glitter over the wet glue and shook off the excess. I repeated this process for each part of the house until they were covered.

This is how they turned out. All sugary and magical.

I also cut a tiny piece of lace for each window in the 2 houses and some of this print tissue for the church windows. It looked just like curtains and stained glass windows.

The way I did it was to apply the glue from the craft stick to the insides of the windows with my finger, then attach the lace or tissue paper. Sorry I don't have a picture for that.

Part two of this post will show you how they looked with their window treatments and where I put this village, so stay tuned!

A Fantasy Christmas Tablescape

This post is part two of my adventure painting a tiny Christmas Village. In the above picture, you can see the curtains I added to the houses and the stained glass windows I added to the church. (You can click on any of these pictures to enlarge them).

I had already decorated my kitchen table for Christmas, but by the time we ate off of it a few times, the tablecloth needed washing, so I decided to use another favorite tablecloth and do a totally different looking table. This tablecloth is made of a soft flannel and is covered in a snowy Christmas scene. I decided to use the tiny Christmas village I had just completed as my centerpiece.
I found this cute picket fence at Hobby Lobby. I decided to use batting for the "snow." I traced around the fence and cut it to size.

I already had a few trees, but I bought some more at Kmart. You can also find these at Michaels and Walmart.

I wanted sugary, magical candlelight to go with my village, so I applied tacky glue (slightly diluted with water) to my candles and then poured clear glitter on them and shook off the excess.

I also did that to the rim of the votive holder.

This is how they turned out:

I added the trees and a snowman to complete the scene. I placed battery tea lights inside the church and the houses to give them a nice glow.

This is an aerial view of my new real estate. The snowman sees us.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Spinach Manicotti

This is a delicious Italian recipe that takes a few minutes to prepare, but the results are wonderful.

Spinach Manicotti

1 -8oz pkg manicotti
1 carton ricotta cheese
1 pkg frozen spinach, frozen and squeezed dry
1 pkg (2 cups) freshly grated Italian mix cheese (I used a mix of parmesan, asiago, mozzarella, romano)
2 eggs
3/4 lb ground chuck, browned and drained
salt and pepper to taste
1 jar pasta sauce

Cook manicotti according to package directions. Drain carefully in a colander and allow to cool. Combine ground chuck, spinach, eggs, ricotta cheese, and 1/2 of the grated Italian cheese. Spread a small amount of the pasta sauce into a 15 x 10 inch baking dish.

Carefully stuff each manicotti with the meat and cheese mixture by hand. (There is enough of the filling for about 11 manicotti). Place on top of the sauce. Pour remaining sauce over the manicotti and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Spread a small amount of sauce in your baking dish:

Drain and cool the pasta:

Stuff by hand. The pasta can tear during this process sometimes. Don't worry. Just turn the split side down. It still tastes the same.

Place over sauce:
Pour on remaining sauce and sprinkle with cheese:

Bake 30 minutes. The cheese will be yummy and golden:

I served it with french bread and a green salad.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Personalized Jars

As I stated in a previous post about my kitchen, we have several cabinets which we chose to leave open. I enjoy decorating them with some of my favorite Christmas serving pieces and knick knacks. The frolicking snowman in the photo above is balancing on one foot and managing to stay put because I attached his foot to the cabinet with that yellow gooey gum that you can buy on the office supply aisle of most stores. He is very showy.

I use some of my shelves for dishes and glasses, and some for decorations. There is no real rhyme or reason for what I like or why I like it. I just enjoy things that are cute, silly, tiny, and/or sentimental. I cover the bottoms of each shelf with "snow", which is a messy process, but well worth it.

The jars on the bottom shelf are for each member of my family. They are Martha Stewart jars that I found at K-mart a couple of years ago. I poured Epsom salt in the bottom of each one to look like snow, then placed an ornament that best represented them on the inside. Then I personalized them with sticky scrabble letters and tied them with bows.

Here is a close-up of the one I did for Gil, who is a world traveler. A globe spanner. I actually suspended his ornament. The tiny angel band that can be seen playing in front of Gil's jar was one of my mom's favorites, so now it is mine as well.

My jar has a nurse figurine in it. My mom's name was Joy, and the ornament I always place next to mine is an angel I bought for her that had Joy painted on it. When you see it close up, it looks like I am looking at her. I miss my mom.

I chose a guitar for Zac, drums for Nathan, and a pretty girl with a mirror putting on make-up for Amby. It doesn't truly define Amby, but I haven't found the perfect one for her yet.

I like some soft light behind the jars, and this year I have used some cool battery tea lights
that Amby gave me. They add a nice glow.

This project is really fun and easy, and would make a great gift. It is also nice to make them just for your family.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Coordinating Your Wrapping Paper

My sister-in-law, Karen, attends Briarwood Presbyterian Church, and a couple of weeks ago she invited me to tour the Caroline House, which is a lovely guest house on the church's property. Each room was beautifully decorated for Christmas. One theme I noticed throughout the house was the use of a certain color scheme: browns, golds, copper, and mossy greens. I love warm earth tones, so this color combination really appealed to me. I decided to coordinate my wrapping paper this year in those colors.

I found wrapping paper at several different places. One of my favorite stores for all things paper is the Paper Works Outlet. (I mentioned them in a previous post about box lunches). You can buy wrapping paper by the foot there, and I chose the gold moire on the far left, the tree design, and the coppery brown paper in the middle. They also carry Caspari paper, which is the one on the far right. I found the other paper at Smith's and at Target.

These two beautiful rolls of ribbon came from K-mart. I check K-mart every year at Christmas because I love Martha Stewart designs, which is what these are. The greenish-gold mesh came from Paper Works.

These little brown boxes and the polka dot drawstring bag also came from Paper Works.

Now it's time to start wrapping!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Simple Christmas Tablescape

I love to decorate for Christmas. I have collected various things over the years that are very sentimental to me. I usually do a dressy table for my dining room and a fun, casual table for my kitchen, which is the table I am posting about today. I found this tablecloth at Target a couple of years ago. I really like it because it has a vintage feel to it. I enjoy using it despite how nightmarish it is to iron.

I have a set of Christmas dishes that my dad gave me as a surprise many years ago. I get it out every year and we use it as our every day dishes for the month of December. I also collected tiny individual salt and pepper shakers which I like to use at each place setting. I posted these cranberry candles last year. They are very quick, easy, and inexpensive to make.

I made these napkins out of white sheeting, but really nice white cloth napkins can be found in all price ranges. I found these napkin rings at Target a few years back.

It really doesn't have to cost a fortune to create a cozy Christmas tablescape.

So now my table is all set to have our good friends over for chili and cornbread.