Gifts from the Kitchen: Cardamom-Orange Coffee {To Go}

cardamom orange coffee to go

My friend Sheila of Alice and the Mock Turtle knocks my socks off with her creativity. Her active mind is always churning with ideas and new ways of looking at things to come up with such unique solutions and fun stuff of all kinds.

One of her recent blog entries totally blew me away with its simplicity and just sheer genius! She used empty tea bags to create individual instant coffee bags and dressed them up for gift giving. I didn’t even know you could buy empty tea bags! 

Anything with the word coffee instantly grabs my attention, so I was all over this idea like white on rice (or brown, I guess I should say) and I started thinking about how I could incorporate this into my gifts from the kitchen for Christmas.

And since I can’t leave well enough alone, I began dreaming of different flavored coffees – my own coffee blends, so to speak – that could be placed into these little tea bags for sheer coffee-drinking pleasure. Cardamom-Orange Coffee to Go is the result of that mental brainstorming.

coffee bag

Sheila had found these amazing press-and-seal tea bags that you can iron after filling to create a completely sealed envelope of coffee. For some reason which I can’t remember now, I opted to go with Teavana’s PerfecTea paper filters instead. These tea bags don’t require any ironing (not my favorite chore), but neither do they have any way to seal them at all. I found that for my own  use, simply folding over the top (as they were designed to do) was sufficient, and not even one teeny tiny coffee grind found its way into my coffee.

For gift-giving, though, I wanted to be sure that the envelope didn’t spill, so I simply used a doubled length of thread and a needle to make a running stitch through the top of the folded filter. I left a 3″-or-so length of thread on either side and tied those together into a knot. Not only did this keep the coffee grinds from spilling out of the bag, but it also created a useful handle for pulling the filter in and out of a cup of hot water. And it gathers, so it can be used to help squeeze out all the coffee goodness! The whole process took maybe 30 seconds for each coffee bag (and I am by no means a proficient sewer!).

Unfortunately, it’s too late for you to order the tea bags in time for Christmas at this point, but they may be available at your local Teavana store (or other tea specialty shop). If you can find the tea bags, filling them up is super quick and easy, making them a great Christmas gift or stocking stuffer!

Some gifting suggestions:

  • in a coffee-themed basket for a coffee lover (with mugs, coffee-themed decor, flavored syrups, etc.)
  • in a tin full of home-baked goodies
  • with homemade (or storebought if you’re running out of time!) biscotti
  • by itself in a jar, as Sheila suggested, together with cream and sugar
  • in a portable re-usable coffee mug (I did this for a friend)
I had some small “transparent archival plastic bags” (similar to these, except not self-sealing), that I used to hold the coffee bags, both to help keep the coffee fresh, and to give it a nice clean look. You can just use a plain old zip-top plastic bag if you don’t have anything like that, or a jar, like Sheila used.
And just to make it all the more elegant for gifting, I even created some tags to go with my original coffee blend. I made it into a PDF just for you, friends! Cardamom-Orange Coffee {to go} label
Now… what to put in the coffee bags?! You can just use some plain good quality coffee beans, like Sheila did, or you can get all adventuresome with me and try out some exotic homemade naturally infused flavored coffee blends! I’ve been working on this cardamom-orange coffee flavor for a couple weeks now, so I’ll share it with you, but the sky is the limit as far as what you can put into the coffee to flavor it. Pretty much any spice or dried (dried to the point where it can be powdered) fruit can be added to the coffee beans to produce delicious flavored blends. If you experiment and come up with an awesome new flavor, tell me about it so I can try it, too!
And here’s a tip: the easiest way to get dried orange zest is to take the peels from an orange or clementine and set them out in a single layer on a plate to dry. When they’re completely dry, run them through the coffee grinder. I even just added a couple of the pieces of orange peel into the grinder with the whole coffee beans.
To use the tea bag, just place about 3 tsp of this coffee blend into the bag, seal as desired (or as required by the manufacturer), then place in a coffee mug. Pour 6 oz of hot water over the coffee bag and allow it to steep for several minutes, or until desired strength. I found that the tea bag filter limited the strength of the coffee, so any more than 6 oz of water resulted in a rather weak cup of coffee.
Once you have your little tea bags full of this yumminess, you will have super QUICK coffee at the ready wherever you are. You can fill your to-go cup with hot water , place one of these babies in there and run out the door!
Just as EASY as plain old coffee! OK, dealing with the paper filters is a little more effort, but not much.
Purchasing the filters is some additional expense that I normally don’t have, but for gift-giving, it can’t be beat! Definitely a CHEAP option for all the coffee-lovers in your life. And it’s way CHEAPer than buying the famous nationwide-brands line of naturally infused flavored coffee blends. Or even their instant coffee (does anybody really pay that much for instant coffee? You do? May I ask in the name of heaven WHY?!)
Infusing your coffee with natural elements like orange zest and cardamom is a lot HEALTHY-er than purchasing the artificially (read: chemically) flavored kinds available elsewhere.

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Gifting from the Kitchen in Style {the QECH way}: Brown Paper Packages

Now you can trick out your canisters with the best of them, and transform your empty egg cartons into muffin holders. We’re going further into upcycling gift wrap territory by using an even lowlier receptacle: the lowly shopping bag. 

Not a plastic one. I haven’t figured out how to beautify those yet. No, I am speaking of the lovely, sturdy brown paper bags that you can find at places like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, or even a few mainstream grocery stores.

And it doesn’t take much to beautify a brown paper bag, honestly. In fact, all you have to do is cut it apart and wrap it with the outside facing in. Does that make sense to anyone here? No? OK, I’ll try again.

Step by step transformation of a grocery bag into wrapping paper:

  1. Remove the handles. Just pull ‘em off!
  2. Cut straight down along one corner of the bag, all the way to the bottom.
  3. From there, cut off the bottom of the bag.
  4. Lay the bag out flat, with the designs from the outside facing up.
  5. Lay your gift on top of the bag and wrap as you would any present.
Clear now? OK, good.
This works best if you are wrapping a box, which makes it a little more difficult for using to gift from the kitchen. It’s easy enough, though, to line a cardboard box with tissue paper and place carefully wrapped homemade goodies inside. Some things I think would work particularly well wrapped this way:
  • a collection of salt dough ornaments
  • homemade jam or other canned goods
  • a selection of homemade chocolates and truffles (you can find some great recipes in our HealthyHolidays free eBook!)
  • themed gifts such as a spaghetti dinner (with noodles and sauce), ice cream fixings, or movie night
And of course, it’s limited only by your creativity! Whatever you need to wrap up can be wrapped in this style. Furthermore you can dress it up in a lot of different ways. I had some fun when I was wrapping presents the other night for my family, coming up with some different ways to dress up the paper bag.

Use fancy or plain string and tie it in the old-fashioned way with a big ol' bow on top.

The easiest way to dress up brown paper: pretty fabric ribbon in any design or color. You can also write directly on the package in a coordinating marker or pen.

Cut apart old Christmas cards, and punch holes into them. Tie them onto the package for instant - and free - decoration.

Add natural elements - either real or fake - like cinnamon sticks, poinsiettas or sprigs of pine boughs.

Tie on a candy cane for embellishment. Other ideas: trinkets and small ornaments.

If you go to Trader Joe’s, their bags right now actually have some adorable designs on the side panels that make great gift wrap for small gifts! If you don’t have Trader Joe’s bags, you can accomplish the same thing by drawing designs with markers.You could also use stamps and other tools of the scrapbooking trader for a similar effect. (Hint: Set your kids to the task!)

Check out the fun print from the side panel of the Trader Joe's bag!

I find that the brown paper actually has a rustic elegance that is easily adaptable to both fun and glitzy looks. I even prefer it to wrapping paper, and plan to wrap the majority of my presents in it this year!
It’s almost as QUICK as using a roll of wrapping paper.
It’s almost as EASY: the paper is definitely more stiff and is therefore a little more difficult to work with. However, that same quality also makes it a lot sturdier.
It’s certainly CHEAP! I love taking trash and turning it into something useful and beautiful.
And it’s HEALTHY, I suppose. Healthy for the earth, at any rate.
Here are some more creative ideas for wrapping with what you have around the house from My Blessed Life.
Shared at Frugal Friday, and

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Gifts from the Kitchen: Salt Dough Ornaments (Including Wheat-Free Version)

This is not an edible gift from the kitchen, but it is made from common ingredients that everyone has in their kitchen. And it’s made in the same manner as sugar cookies or other rolled cookies, by rolling out the dough and using cookie  cutters to make the shapes. Just don’t eat it. And if you do, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And this particular from-the-kitchen gift can also be made together with your little ones, making it a perfect gift for grandmas, grandpas, aunties and uncles who will oooh and ahhh in delight. (If you happen to be the grandma, grandpa, auntie or uncle of My Certain Little Someone and Baby Boy, just pretend you didn’t see this post and don’t forget to ooh and ahhh in delight!) My 3-year-old Certain Little Someone helped me in every different phase of this project: mixing the dough, cutting out the shapes, poking the holes with a straw, painting, and even threading the ribbon through the hole.

I even have a wheat-free version for you, in case your child, like mine, is allergic to wheat and would break out in hives if he touched dough with wheat flour in it. The non-wheat version is very similar, it just requires more salt than the original. I’ve found that Bob’s Red Mill rice flour on Amazon’s Subscribe & Save is often the cheapest wheat-free flour available.

You still have time to make these before Christmas, but be sure to allow several days for the ornaments to dry thoroughly. You can also dry them in the oven on the lowest setting for several hours, but I haven’t personally tried that. I’m just afraid to burn them!

I tried adding some peppermint extract to make some Christmas-scented ornaments, but after painting and sealing them, it was kind of pointless. If you choose to leave them au naturel, then you can add some scented oil or extract, about 1/4 tsp.

To make a dark color, you would need a lot of food coloring. Which is OK, because you’re not going to eat it! I squeezed quite a bit of food coloring into my dough for a beautiful pastel color, so I would recommend adding the food coloring before adding the water so you don’t alter the texture of the dough.


The brown rice flour ones are, predictably, a little more fragile than the wheat flour ones, so it would be helpful to keep those ones nice and thick to prevent crumbling.

These aren’t QUICK because they take a while to dry.

They are relatively EASY – perhaps not as easy as a cut and paste project, but definitely do-able, even with children.

This is definitely a CHEAP gift idea. Even the paint was only a couple bucks, and I had a can of sealer hanging around. Cheap enough to give to all the myriad aunts and uncles we have around here!

HEALTHY? Well, I wouldn’t eat it if I were you.

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Gifting from the Kitchen in Style {the QECH way}: Tricked Out Canisters

Homebaked goodies are a delicious frugal gift this time of year (that everyone loves, even if they groan at the thought of one more sweet treat), but there’s always the dilemma of how to present them. You saved all that money by making the gifts yourself, only to go and spend a fortune on the packaging? Doesn’t make sense, does it? That’s why I’ve learned to put together some pretty creative – and even elegant – packaging without spending a dime. I just scrounge around my house and come up with junk that does a decent job of containing my kitchen creations, and then dress it up a bit for the occasion.

It looks a lot better than it sounds, I promise.

Last week, I showed you how to make a cute little muffin (or truffle) holder using a humble egg carton. This week, we’re going to take a plain old can to new heights of fashion it never even dreamed existed.

And it doesn’t matter what kind of can. Ideally, it should be large enough to hold approximately a dozen cookies (although vegetable cans would make cute little mini-gifts, too), so we’re thinking more along the lines of a canister. For example:

  • coffee tin
  • oatmeal container
  • formula can
  • large can of pumpkin puree
It can be metal or cardboard, doesn’t really matter. Just so long as it’s cylindrical, hollow, and capable of containing cookies, it will work.
Here’s how you turn it into a rock star:
First, clean the container. Nobody wants your coffee grinds in their Christmas cookies. Sometimes a simple rinse will suffice, especially if it’s a more fragile cardboard container. As long as there’s no residual dust or goo from the original contents, then you’re good to go.
If it has a wrapper, peel it off. It will just get in the way.

my naked can

Grab some kind of decorative paper, like:
Here’s the trickiest part of the whole thing, so pay attention:
You will need to cut your paper to fit your canister. I used scrapbook paper this time, so that’s what we’re going with in this example (but I’m sure you can figure out how to adjust these instructions to any kind of paper you choose to use!).
First, measure the height of the can, then mark that measurement on the back of your decorative paper.
Use a ruler to help you draw a straight edge the length of the paper, using this measurement as your guide. Cut the strip of paper.
Glue each end of the strip of paper and press it firmly onto the canister, wrapping it around as tightly as you can, and smoothing out any wrinkles as you go. My piece of scrapbook paper didn’t quite fit around the circumference of the canister, as you can see.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, you have several options:
  • Make a focal point out of the blank space by using some complementary paper to fill it in. You can even write a greeting here or use it as a gift tag, or use it as a backdrop for a  big dramatic bow.
  • Cut another strip of the same paper and glue it over the gap for a more seamless look.
  • Find a larger piece of paper that will fit all the way around.
I went with option #1, as you can see. If you want to do the same, here’s how:
Measure the space, adding about 1/2″ on either side, and cut out your piece of complementary paper. Glue it on, smoothing out wrinkles as you do. You may need to clip it on with some clothespins to hold it in place until the glue dries. You can leave it at this, and simply tie a big bow around the canister, and centering it here. Or you can add some embellishments if you have a lot of scrapbooking materials. I took yet another piece of complementary scrapbook paper and centered a square of it on this patch. I wrote “Merry Christmas” on it to add some festive flair.
Here’s what it looks like with a bow. I think it doesn’t even need the Merry Christmas label, but it’s too late now.
On to the last bit now. If your container has a lid, you will want to decorate it, too. This part’s a little bit tricky, too, because you’ll want to cut out a circle that fits inside the rim of the lid. Trust me, it won’t work to try and glue a circle that goes all the way to the edge. The best way that I found to do this is to set the lid upside down on a surface, and place the paper (decorative side down) on top of it. Feeling the inner edge with your fingers, trace your pencil around it. Cut out this circle, then glue it (decorative side up, naturally) on to the top of the lid.

Yes, I know, I should have chosen papers that complemented the lid color!

If you don’t have a lid, or don’t want to deal with the lid, no worries! The solution is quite simple. Simply poke a hole on either side of the canister, about an inch down from the top. Make sure the holes are lined up halfway through the diameter of the can, so it won’t wobble when you’re done. If you have a metal can, you will need to use a hammer and a sharp nail to make the holes, but if your can is cardboard, any sharp object will do the trick. (Just be careful, I dont’ want you to poke your eye out!) Once you have your evenly spaced holes, thread some ribbon through them and tie a bow to form a handle. Cover your treats with tissue paper or a tea towel.

Voila!

This is a pretty QUICK project, too (unless you have to dig out all the papers from their hiding spot like I did).
It’s also very EASY, and very forgiving. Pretty paper covers a multitude of errors!
Very CHEAP, almost free (especially if you use clearance scrapbook paper!).
HEALTHY all depends on what you put inside it!

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Gifting from the Kitchen in Style {the QECH way}: Egg Carton Muffin “Tins”

My approach to crafting is much the same as my approach to food (and life in general): quick, easy, and cheap. Might as well throw healthy in there, too, except that health doesn’t often get involved, unless it counts that I attempt not to glue myself with the hot glue gun or stab myself with the scissors.

So if I ever offer a craft of any sort on this blog, you can rest assured that it is neither time-consuming nor difficult, and most certainly not expensive. Probably not especially creative either, but that’s where other people (and Pinterest!) come in. If I had to rely on my own ingenuity for crafts, the end result would be nothing to blog home about.

When gifting from the kitchen - my favorite way to give at the holidays – I try not to spend too much on the gift presentation. After all, part of the purpose of gifting from the kitchen in the first place is to save money, and it would be silly to then spend waste money on mere packaging. I am therefore always on the lookout for new and creative ways to re-use and upcycle various containers around my home with which to gift my baked goods. Throughout the holiday season, I’ll be sharing you how to make some creative gift packaging for your home-baked goodies without wasting a precious dime. (Positive side effect: you will be very trendy, and all of your friends will be amazed and delighted by your ability to repurpose and upcycle with the best of them! Be sure to throw around those words, too; they just make you sound totally cool.)

This particular project was one of the gems I came across on Pinterest, and have kept it in waiting for the perfect occasion. Now the perfect occasion (otherwise known as Christmas) has arrived, and I have wasted no time trying it out.

The container for this gift is the humble egg carton. Think about those little sockets that formerly held elliptical orbs of goodness. What else can fit in there? I came up with the following shortlist, and I’m sure you creative people out there can think of even more:

  1. mini muffins
  2. donut holes
  3. cake balls (no stick needed)
  4. truffles
  5. no-bake cookies
  6. any round cookie

I chose mini muffins, simply because they were the quickest and that was my pressing need at the time. That was also the original suggestion on the tutorial by Fiskars that I more or less followed for this project.

I promise you – and I can’t repeat it often enough – this is a craft for non-crafty people. I know because I am one! Seriously. I used a glue stick, OK? Does that tell you anything? (Now, if you have one of those fancy rolling adhesive tapey thingies, than by all means, use it! But if you don’t, a glue stick works just fine.) I also rounded my corners with good old-fashioned scissors because I don’t have one of those totally cool paper punches. Good for you if you have one, but in case you don’t… it’s totally not necessary for this little craft.

To make this Mini Muffin Egg Carton, you will need:

  • an empty and clean (i.e., no dried egg goo) egg carton
  • 2 pieces complementary scrapbook paper
  • a length of coordinating ribbon
  • a brown paper lunch bag (optional)

So here’s how it’s done. Keep in mind that egg cartons vary slightly in shape, size and style, so all measurements are approximations at best. (OK, they were the measurements I used, so they’ll be perfect for you if you have the exact same egg carton.) Also keep in mind that this little project is totally customizable to what you have on hand.

First of all, if your egg carton is like mine, and has a piece in the top that inserts into the bottom, you’ll have to cut it out. I just used my scissors (an exacto knife would work better if you have one, but I didn’t feel like getting mine out of the hall closet.) to cut out the whole rectangle so that the surface would be flat for the paper to adhere. Leave the middle piece intact or your whole carton will fall apart.

If you have one flat solid surface on the top of your egg carton, you can of course skip that step, and then cut out 2 10.5″ by 3″ rectangles. If you have the ridged kind of egg carton, you’ll need two smaller rectangles for the inside, so in that case cut out 1 10.5″ by 3″ rectangle, and then 2 4.75″ by 3.25″ rectangles. Round the corners with your scissors or a paper punch.

Glue the rectangles carefully to the outer and inner surfaces of the carton lid, smoothing out any wrinkles. For the inside of the lid, cut out two 3″ by 2″ rectangles from the complementary paper and glue them onto the first paper, centering carefully. (If you have one long surface unhindered by the ridge in the middle, you can just make one big rectangle, or you can go ahead and use the 2 smaller rectangles.)

Cut out 2 3″ by 2″ rectangles from the top of your paper bag (or from a solid color paper). Use a coordinating marker to write your greeting on the paper (Merry Christmas, for example). Glue the greeting onto the paper you already have in place.

Now, if you want to make a tag, simply cut off the bottom of your paper lunch bag, and glue all the open ends together. Fold it in half like a book and firmly crease the edge. Use your remaining scrapbook paper to cut rectangles to fit on the front “cover” and in the middle of the open “book”. Use remaining scraps from the lunch bag to cut smaller rectangles where you can write a greeting or short note. Glue them into the center of the front and the middle. Punch a hole in the corner of the little booklet.

Fill your egg carton with muffins or whatever goodie you’ve chosen, and then wrap the ribbon around it, being sure to secure your tag.

I kept getting interrupted by one thing or another, but all in all, this was a relatively QUICK project. and now that I’ve made one, I can whip out several more in probably the same amount of time. I probably also wont’ make the tag every time. It’s cute and all, but it takes a little too much time!

It’s very EASY, or I wouldn’t have done it! Most of you have been cutting and pasting since kindergarten, so I think you can handle it.

Super CHEAP! I paid almost nothing for this particular one. Of course, the egg carton was free (a bonus for buying eggs!), the paper was on clearance at Hobby Lobby, the lunch bag was dug out of the bottom of my pantry, and the ribbon was 70% off at Michaels on Black Friday.

Um, HEALTHY? Well, I didn’t notch any fingers or glue myself to the table this time, so I guess one can consider it healthy.

Sharing at Handmade Christmas Gift Carnival

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Gifts from the Kitchen: Scone Mix in a Jar

We often think of scones as a British food, I guess because it’s a very British-sounding word. But when Brits say “Scone” they mean something very different from what we as Americans mean when we say “scone”. A British scone is very much like an American biscuit (although a British biscuit is very much like an American cookie or sweet cracker).

And to think, we speak the same language.

I don’t really know if the American scone has a counter-part in English cuisine, and I’m not sure why they’re always cut in triangles, or why we think they are British. There’s a lot regarding scones that confuses me, as you can see.

All of that aside, as Americans, we enjoy eating scones and pretending to be very British, because it is a lot of fun. And because you can make scones in so many yummy different flavors, kind of like biscuits and cookies.

At a tea party recently, where we were pretending that high tea was something we did on a regular basis with our pinkies in the air, I made some scone mix in a jar to give away as door prizes. Scones were on the menu, made by the fabulous Touche Touchet Bakery in town, and it just seemed fitting to offer my guests a way to bring the experience home. Plus, it was cheap (Shh! Don’t tell the prize winners!).

Whether you are hosting your own tea party, or you do have high tea regularly, here’s how to make your own scone mix in a jar (original recipe from Savings Lifestyle). Give it as a hostess gift or as a favor, or even as a present for a tea-loving friend.

To make this or any kind of mix-in-a-jar, you will need a quart-size canning jar, and wide-mouth jars are best because it’s easier to get all the ingredients in and out. A case of 12 wide-mouth canning jars costs about $25, making each one just over $2.


A QUICK gift – and a QUICK way to make scones! Keep some of the dry mix handy for your own scone preparation.

So EASY, even the most non-cook can do it.

A very CHEAP gift (which is why I chose it).

And pretty HEALTHY, too, with the whole grains, raisins, and no sugar.

Lisa's Gluten-Free Advice and Healthy Living

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Have a Cupcake: Birthday Celebration Cupcake Mix in a Jar

cupcake gift

The funnest (I know, not a word) part about planning my mother- and sister-in laws’ cupcake-themed birthday party was coming up with the cupcake-themed gifts. I’m actually just a wee bit envious of the gifts I gave them, and wish I had given one to myself.

That’s OK. I just need to collect a few more Swagbucks, and then I can order them myself for free from Amazon.com! (Yes, those are affiliate links, just in case you want to click on them and earn me some money! ::wink, wink::)

I love baking cakes, cupcakes and muffins with my silicone pans because silicone pans are by far the easiest to remove baked goods from. By far, I say, with added emphasis. And this is not a paid review; it’s just my honest opinion. For a low-level home cook and baker like myself, I like tools that help me get the job done professionally without the necessary professional skills. So if you have trouble, like me, getting your baked goods out of the pan in their entirety, silicone is the way to go! Even though my MIL and SIL have no such problem (they both make amazing desserts!), I knew they would enjoy these fun silicone cupcake cups:

Aren’t they fun?! I’d love a set for myself, and I happen to have my own birthday coming up here soon (hint, hint, for any family reading…). You can use these silicone baking cups like any other silicone baking pan: simply place them on a cookie sheet, fill with batter, bake at a maximum of 450F (which covers pretty much any normal baked good), cool after removing from oven, then tip over and easily remove your delicious cupcakes! Or, you can leave them in the cup for serving, whichever you prefer.

The cupcake pans were only part of the gift, though. I also gave them

  • canned frosting (unfortunately, the storebought kind because I didn’t think any homemade frosting would store long enough for gift giving, and then they’d have to use it right away instead of at their leisure)
  • cupcake decorations
  • cute spring tea towels
  • and the other star of the show: cupcake mix in a jar.

cake mix in a jar

Let me tell you, I searched long and hard, high and low looking for an easy to mix and easy to use (with few additional ingredients) cupcake mix in a jar. There are lots of recipes out there but either they involve too many ingredients or too involved instructions. Quick and easy is my thing, you know. I finally found the perfect recipe, and also discovered it could easily be adapted into two very different – but both amazingly delicious – flavors. I’ll give you the instructions for the mix I used, and then a simple variation. You can come up with your own variations, too – please tell me if you do so we can share with everyone else who may want them!

cake mix in a jar

recipe tag

That’s it! To make Apple Spice Cupcakes, simply:

  1. Add 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp ground cloves to dry mix.
  2. Use apple juice instead of orange juice.

I finished off the cupcake theme by decorating two very basic gift bags ($.50 each at Target) with more coordinating paper cut out in a cupcake shape, as you can see in the picture below.

cupcake gifts

I used 3 1/2 sheets of scrapbook paper from my stash to make the invitations, cupcake  in a mix jars, gift bags, and popcakes. Less than a buck for all of it!

This is a QUICK last-minute gift idea, perfect for birthdays, holidays, Easter, hostess gifts, you name it! Even (or especially) a non-cook will enjoy the ease and simplicity.

It’s EASY to prepare for giving, and easy to bake upon receiving. What more can you ask?

It’s also a great CHEAP gift idea (shhh… don’t tell my in-laws!)! Here’s the breakdown of what I spent total for both gifts:

  • $1.00 for the gift bags
  • jars from my stash = FREE!
  • $1.15 for flour and sugar
  • $10 for cupcake baking cups (one set was free with my Swagbucks gift cards to Amazonmore shameless affiliate links)
  • $4 for clearance cupcake decorations
  • $4 for tea towels from Target
  • $1.60 for 2 cans frosting
  • TOTAL: 21.75

Cupcakes aren’t HEALTHY, really, just fun!

Suzy's Artsy Craftsy Sitcom

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Gifts From Your Kitchen: Artisan Bread

I’ve mentioned the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day bread-making method before: it’s my go-to method for baking bread now and I almost always have a bowl of dough in the fridge. I love its simplicity, but also its versatility: it can be made into sandwich bread, free-form “artisan” loaves, rolls, pizza, and even pita bread. It is easy to adapt, as well, to create different flavors with different grains.

When thinking about what gifts to give my friends this year, I wanted to go a healthier route than usual, without being a Scroogy BahHumbug! Although I love making decadent and delicious Christmas treats to share, the truth is everyone gets more than enough of those this time of year. I just wanted to do something fresh and different this year for a change of pace.

After some thought, I decided to put two of my new kitchen skills – homemade jam and artisan bread – to the test and prepare them for my friends as gifts. I’ve been wanting to share both of these with you, as well, so it gives me the perfect opportunity!

You can find the Master Recipe for Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day here. I cannot take any credit whatsoever for the brilliance of this method – that goes entirely to the authors and developers! I do want to share with you my slight adaptations to the recipe just to show you how flexible it really is.

For one thing, I adjusted the ratio of whole wheat to white flour, mostly for the benefit of my DH. I like a good crusty whole wheat bread, but he prefers it a little lighter. For another, I omitted the vital wheat gluten because that’s an extra grocery item I just don’t need to buy, and because I wonder how healthy it really can be when one considers the ever-increasing occurrence of celiac disease (perhaps we are a little overloaded with gluten?). I also sometimes like to use whey, the liquid drained from yogurt, to make a small part of the liquid (about 1/4 cup or less) called for in the recipe. This increases the health factor and adds a bit of a sour-dough-like tang to the taste.

And with my slight adaptations…

TIPS:


*I generally use slightly less than 4 cups of water in the dough because otherwise it is just too wet to work with.

*You don’t have to use a pizza peel and baking stone: you can bake the bread in a regular old loaf pan if you want. I find I get the best results, though, by following their method exactly.

*I used to (and sometimes still do) take the bread out of the oven way too early. The top  looks done well before the dough inside is thoroughly baked. The biggest sign of readiness is the bottom: it shouldn’t be gooey or undercooked at all. Check the bottom of the bread before removing from the oven.

*The dough really is almost impossible to handle the first day. I have found it necessary to plan ahead and mix the dough the day before I actually need to use it.

*To make my Christmas gift loaves, I baked 3 small round loaves at once on a large baking stone. I cut an X shape into the top of each, just to make it pretty. One batch of dough makes 6 small round loaves of the size you see in my pictures.

To present the bread as a gift:

When it is thoroughly cooled, place in a large plastic baggie (not the zippered kind). Tape the excess plastic on the bottom where it won’t be seen.

Wrap a pretty ribbon around the bread and tie it in a bow in front.

Line a basket with a Christmas tea towel and place the bread inside. Add jam or other condiments or treats as desired.

This is a QUICK method of bread-baking, with some caveats. Hands-on time is definitely minimal: 5 minutes a day or less as the title indicates. However, there is a LOT of resting and rising time, especially if you want to make loaf bread (flatbreads do not require the resting time, which is why I’ll make a foccaccia or the like when I’m in a hurry). Plus, as I mentioned, it’s really best to make the dough the day before you need to bake it, so some planning ahead is involved.

It is super EASY, though. There is something of a learning curve, even if you’ve made bread before, and I will admit I’m still learning more about this process. But anyone can do it! I love that there is no kneading involved, which is often where many would-be bakers trip up.

What could be CHEAPer? When you omit the vital wheat gluten, the other ingredients are so basic that the cost is minimal. I even like to use more expensive flours (like white whole wheat), but it’s affordable enough that I make a batch at least twice a month, sometimes every week. And as a gift? Unbeatable!

In fact, I’ll break the entire gift down for you, so you can see how affordable it can be:

Basket (purchased used at thrift store): $0.50-$1.00
Tea Towel (purchased a package of 5 on sale and with a coupon at Hallmark for a total of about $2.50. Similar deals can likely be found at Bed Bath and Beyond): $0.50
Loaf of Bread: approximately $0.25
Jar of Jam: $2 or less
TOTAL: approximately $3.75

This is a great price to give acquaintances and people you want to acknowledge at Christmas time, but don’t have a large budget to spend on them. Teachers, party hostesses, hair stylists, mail deliverers, doctors, etc. all would love a homemade gift like this!

It is very HEALTHY, too. I’ve actually been reading in different places recently that some research suggests using half white and half whole wheat flour might be gentler on your digestive system than using strictly whole wheat. The jury’s still out on that one, but it makes me happy to hear, since that’s what I usually do! The book contains a recipe for an entirely whole wheat bread if that is what you are looking for, but I have to admit I’ve never tried it.

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