Saturday, February 15, 2014
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
This recipe is very similar to the String Bean Chicken at Panda Express. It takes about 30 hands-on minutes to make, but it's quite yummy and comes together with ingredients you probably have on hand. Give it a try. Woof!
Monday, February 10, 2014
Sunday, December 29, 2013
After making Gingerbread Houses for a few years now, and hosting our Second Annual Gingerbread House Decorating Party, I have a few tips I'd like to remember and pass along. Don't forget to check out our First Annual Gingerbread House Decorating Party here. There are a lot of valuable tips in that post too!
1. It's much easier to weigh out ingredients when possible, especially when you're making a big batch. This recipe will give your mixer a workout. I use my heavy duty Kitchen Aid.
Gingerbread Dough Recipe (for about 9 mini-cottages)
720 grams all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 grams ground ginger
12 grams ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
288 grams brown sugar
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) butter
2 large eggs
1 cup molasses
2. Here's what you'll need to buy to make about 50 Gingerbread Houses. That's about six recipes. Surprisingly, all these ingredients cost me only about $40.
10 pounds flour
1 container baking powder (Buy a fresh one, and you'll have it for all your other holiday baking!)
salt (You probably already have this on hand.)
1 container ground ginger (Not the small size. This comes to 42 grams.)
1 extra large container of cinnamon (You'll need 72 grams.)
1 small container of cloves
4 pounds of brown sugar
2 pounds + 1 stick of unsalted butter
1 dozen eggs
5 - 12 ounce jars of molasses
extra wide parchment paper (Use the name brand kind!)
powdered sugar (More on that below...)
1 small container of meringue powder
piping bags (More on that below...)
3. It's easier to make all this dough when your ingredients are at room temperature. I found that I very rarely had to scrape the bowl when I put the brown sugar in first, followed by the butter. I didn't have any butter sticking to the bowl.
4. I divided the dough into thirds before wrapping and refrigerating it.
5. I've found the best way to roll out the dough is on floured parchment paper. I put two tea towels underneath to stop the parchment paper from sliding around so much.
6. You can buy frosting or make it. It's much cheaper to make it. All you need is powdered sugar, meringue powder, and water. You need about a pound of powdered sugar to make 5 bags of frosting. Each bag will easily provide frosting for two gingerbread "cottages". Guests can share! Meringue power can be purchased at a craft store like JoAnn's or Michael's. Just be sure to bring one of those coupons.
7. I've tried using plastic baggies for piping the royal icing, but the baggies tend to split open. You can buy disposable piping bags at a craft store like JoAnn's or Michael's. Just be sure to bring one of those coupons. I bought mine online.
8. The first weekend in December seems to be a good weekend to host this type of party. It's a nice way for you and your guests to get into the season, but people's weekends aren't typically booked solid yet! As a bonus, your guests will go home with a festive decoration/a delicious treat to begin their holiday.
9. This year I added a taco bar pot luck poll to my Evite. I suppose you could do a general pot luck, but I set the theme to tacos, since I'm a control freak like that! Either way, it was so nice not having to think about feeding my guests too. I did make the taco meat, but that was super easy and inexpensive to make ahead of time. I kept it warm in my Crock Pot during the party. Guests were very generous, and we had plenty of food to go around!
10. Another poll that I added to my Evite was a candy poll. You'll want your guests to bring a bag of candy to share, and the poll allows for a good variety.
11. I'm a big dessert fan, but for this party I did not make a dessert or request that guests bring one. The candy table was plenty sugar! However, I did set up a hot cocoa bar. My mom's church loaned me a big hot water dispenser. I bought a big container of hot cocoa mix from the supermarket along with a big bag of marshmallows. I also made some chocolate and candy cane covered spoons; like this. They were simple to make and the guests really enjoyed them. All in all, the hot cocoa bar was a big hit!
12. I always have a difficult time scheduling activities for any party. I like for things to happened naturally, but, as a guest, it's nice to know what's happening when. Next year, I'll be more specific. Something like this, "Please join us for a Gingerbread House Decorating Party from 1-4pm. We'll eat promptly at 1:30 and start story time and decorating shortly after." What actually happened was quite nice. Our guests arrived at 1 and their kids played. At about 1:30 some people started eating. By 2pm, I asked one of my teacher friend guests to read The Gingerbread Cowboy. Kids were then directed to get decorating.
13. Story time is a great idea for the younger crowd. Who doesn't love a good story? Plus, it allows you to round up and calm down your younger guests before the actual construction and decorating begins. In addition to The Gingerbread Cowboy, some other favorites include The Gingerbread Pirates and The Gingerbread Baby.
14. I kept the unassembled gingerbread pieces out of sight so we could all start decorating together. It would help to have several gingerbread house models pre-assembled in the different stages of construction. One great tip I learned this year is to draw a square, in frosting, on the plate base to "glue" the house to the plate with. With these "cottages", you'll need to attach the pentagon to the inside of the square. It's much easier to show this than to explain it.
15. And finally, you'll want to decorate your home a bit for the party. We put everything up in the days after Thanksgiving, save the Christmas tree. Not putting up the tree saved me some time, and allowed for more space in the house for my guests.
Saturday, November 9, 2013
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Last December we hosted a Gingerbread House Decorating Party for about 30 guests. It was a lot of work to prepare, but everyone had such a great time decorating, socializing, and creating new traditions. Now that Fall is here, I hope this post inspires you to host your own Gingerbread House Decorating Party.
One of the great joys of parenthood is creating traditions with your children. One of our family's favorite holiday traditions is decorating gingerbread houses. A few years back, I went to the store to buy the usual kit, but none were to be found. Anywhere. Switching gears, I did a quick web search and found a fantastic Gingerbread House recipe and photo tutorial from Simply Recipes. I altered the template, and came up with Gingerbread Cottages. This way, everyone could decorate their own house. What started out as a cottage for everyone turned into a cottage for EVERYONE!
I like to make cottages so that everyone can go home with their own creation. This link explains how I did it. I found it was easiest to roll out the dough on a floured piece of parchment paper. I had a tea towel under that to keep things in place. A sharp knife helps cut out all those pieces.
One recipe is enough to make at least 9 cottages. Depending on how many guests you'll have coming, that's a lot of creaming and rolling and cutting and baking and phew! I made my dough ahead of time over the course of a couple of nights and then took the next three or four nights to roll, cut, and bake. Remember, it's gingerbread. You can make this stuff a month in advance.
Sheet 1: 12 squares
Sheet 2: 12 rectangles and 1 pentagon
Sheet 3: 11 pentagons
You'll need an airtight container big enough to store all this gingerbread. I purchased a rectangular storage tub for this purpose. Layers are separated with paper towel. When the tub was all filled, I wrapped it like a giant present for our guests to open! More on that later...
It was a blast to see each guest channel their inner engineer! The cottages were assembled with royal icing. If you're having a small party, or just doing this for your family, go with canned icing. It works just fine. For a large group, that can get expensive, so I went with Royal Icing made from Meringue Powder purchased at a craft store. The recipe is on the can. Use one of those 40% off coupons from your local craft store and you're good to go. The other ingredient is just powdered sugar, which I purchased in bulk from a warehouse type store. Plastic baggies made for simple piping bags.
For the party, I asked each guest to bring a bag of their favorite candy. I sent the invitations via evite, and added a poll at the end listing as many types of candies I could think of. Kind of like a pot luck sign-up. This way, everyone can see what everyone else is bringing and you don't end up with 20 bags of candy canes and no gum drops.
Some suggestions include: mini candy canes, gum drops, gummy circles, chocolate covered raisins or nuts, marshmallows, coconut, gummy bears, pretzel sticks, sticks of gum, sprinkles, m & m's, hard candy circles, peppermint circles, etc...
One guest brought ice cream cones which everyone used to create "Christmas trees" out side of their cottages.
And now, for the actual party...
As guests arrived, I took their candy and got the young ones started on a ginger bread man/woman foam craft that I found at the local craft store. I also had a cardboard playhouse pre-assembled and ready for the kids to color, along with this adorable "doodle". These casual activities, some light snacks (fruit, veggies, crackers...), and socializing kept everyone busy until the official start.
When all the guests had arrived, my good friend A., gathered the kids around and read them The Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett. In this charming tale the mischievous gingerbread baby eludes capture, saying, "You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread baby." Finally, the hero bakes and decorates and gingerbread house to catch him. I placed a clue at the end of the story for my friend to read to the kids. It was a riddle leading them on a hunt for the gingerbread!
Off they went. The first riddle directed the kids to the goat pen. This was the clue my friend A. "found" at the end of the book. It went, "Run, run as fast as you can. You can't catch me I'm the Gingerbread Man. Weeds are good, but oats are better. Catch me if you'd like something better."
The clue at the goat pen led the kids to a bouncy trampoline in the back yard. It read, "Run, run as fast as you can. You can't catch me I'm the Gingerbread Man. Bouncy, bouncy into the sky. You can't catch me because now I can fly."
Next up was the piano. (On the left hand side of the picture below, you can see the roof of the cardboard house the kids had been decorating before the official start of the party.) "Run, run as fast as you can. You can't catch me I'm the Gingerbread Man. A B C D E F G. Listen closely if you want to catch me."
The last clue led the kids to the laundry room where they discovered a try of gingerbread babies. "Run, run as fast as you can. You can't catch me I'm the Gingerbread Man. It's as hot as the oven from where I came. Don't spin me or fluff me or I won't be the same."
I then directed the kids to a large rectangular wrapped box. They tore it open and discovered the parts needed to make their own cottages. Everyone got to "work" and had a messy, sticky blast!
I made some gingerbread trees with leftover dough.
I knew there would be a lot of candy sampling going on, so I didn't make a dessert for this party.
My engineer brother-in-law crafted this two story masterpiece!
Our guests constructed their Gingerbread Cottages on sturdy, medium sized paper plates. You're dealing with a structure that's basically 3 inches wide, 3 inches deep, and about 5 inches high. I had bags available for guests to place their creations in, along with festive ribbon and bells to tie it all up.
chili and baked potatoes. It ended up being very budget friendly and simple to make. Other simple, serve yourself ideas include a taco salad bar or a baked potato bar. Yum!
I plan to make this an annual tradition. Follow along on my Gingerbread House Party Ideas Pinterest board for lots of great ideas.
Do you host or plan to host a Gingerbread Party? Tell us all about it in the comments section.