Oh How I Love Those Smiles!!!

Do you believe it? Christmas is almost here...The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a time when every women has to use her God given talents and organizational skills to keep everything on track. It's definitely a juggling act for most of us. Making lots and lots of lists; grocery lists, Christmas card lists, Christmas present lists, things to do lists, party lists, appetizer lists, food lists, and on and on and on....I'm sure you can all relate.

I thought it would be fun to write a post that included some fun, easy and inexpensive gift and food ideas for the holiday season. Below are some ideas and recipes that I believe anyone can make. The recipes are delicious and the crafts are so much fun... I hope you take a few minutes to check this post out.

Projects on this post:
Hershey Bar Snowmen 
Cookie Trays
Candy Cane Centerpiece
Wine Slushies
Caramels...The Best!
Cute Whisk Stocking Stuffer
Family Cookbooks

 Christmas Trays for Gifts...                         
Although it's a crazy time, I try to keep my eye on the prize. I love giving home baked items as litte Christmas gifts to friends and family. My list is long.... but now that the kids are all grown up, it's a labor of love. Like everyone else, our family has a Christmas cookie day. Although the kids have grown up, it's always fun to get together and make those wonderful Christmas confections.

Being a crafter most of my life really helped me become an assembly line worker (LOL!). I don't think I have ever made just one thing. It seems like the list of friends and family keeps growing, which is great for this assembly line worker. I'm always looking for those smiles. I sometimes think that's what my ministry in life is. What a wonderful ministry... making people smile! Every smile that is received only gives me more fuel to make more things and get more smiles.
I also love cake decorating. Again, another assembly line job from a past life. I love to make cupcakes, because they are quick and everyone loves cupcakes, as we know. So for our maintenance crew at work one year, I make small trays of cupcakes, cookies, and candies. Guys seem to love those cupcakes. I have to admit, I make a great cupcake! My secret? After you bake your cupcakes, freeze them. When you are ready to frost them, let them defrost for about 30 minutes and then start frosting them. The frosting holds the moisture in the cake. The cupcakes will melt in your mouth.

Cookie, cupcake and candy tray...another great gift for the holidays
In this picture I assembled cookies, caramels, and holly adorned cupcakes on a tray purchased at the Dollar Tree the cost is minimal, but the smiles are priceless... I made the holly with homemade fondant. The leaves and holly can be made well in advance and stored for future use. 

I always place the cupcakes in plastic cups so they are easy to transport. Once the trays are assembled, I wrap it in clear plastic wrap and add a colorful bow to finish it off. The cupcakes stay nice and fresh because they are sealed. I usually bake the cupcakes well in advance and then freeze them until I'm ready to decorate.

How to Make Homemade Fondant
Fondant is really easy to make. The video below shows exactly how it's done...easy, peasy! It's much cheaper than store bought fondant. About the only cost is the marshmallows.

Hershey Bar Snowmen
These cute Snowmen are made with Hershey bars and the kids just love them. What a cute stocking stuffer for those little kiddos. Also a great idea for your kids to give to their friends.

I saw this Snowman Candy Bar Wrapper on Pinterest. You can purchase the faces from Laurie Furnell Designs on etsy for $1.00. I have the link below. Just click on the link and you will be redirected to her website for the design. You will need Hershey bars, red fleece fabric, a few buttons, and red gingham ribbon and a glue gun. Wrap the candy bars with the face clipart. Cut the red fleece and glue it together and shape into a tassel cap. Clip the top to make the fringe and wrap with a piece of ribbon. That's it... simple, but so cute!

The Best Caramels You'll Ever Eat! 
I finally found the best, best, best caramel candy recipe. What a find and oh so easy. I always had issues with all the ingredients burning. It drove me crazy. I came across this recipe and it changed everything. 

This recipe is the easiest caramel recipe I've ever used. You probably have the ingredients in your cupboard right now. Just a few easy steps and you'll have the most yummy caramels you have ever tried.
You'll need the following...
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar (white, granulated)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup Karo syrup
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated mile)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • salt flake for the op of the caramel (optional)
Notice that the measurements are so easy. Five ingredients (1 cup each) plus salt, vanilla and salt flakes (optional)
Melt butter, add sugars, karo syrup, sweetened condensed milk, (not evaporated milk) and salt. Cook in a semi deep frying pan until it reaches 240 degrees. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Stir until incorporated and then pour into a parchment lined 9X13 cake pan. Let cool and cut into size of your choice. That's it! Easy peasy and delicious!!!
The How To Video for the Best Homemade Caramels...
The video I watched said make sure you use a non-stick pan. Well my pans are pretty old, so I went out and purchased a non-stick high sided frying pan. I needed a new one anyways. Also, when you are working with sugar, you should never use a metal instrument to stir. The metal tends to heat up and burn at the bottom of the pan. Always use a wooden spoon to stir the hot sugar mixture. That made the work easy and the caramels wonderful. A great recipe from The Carefree kitchen blog. I owe her a great big hug for sharing this basically 5 ingredient recipe! Here's her video on how these yummy caramels are made!
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar (white, granulated)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup Karo syrup
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated mile)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • salt flake for the op of the caramel (optional)
  1. Prepare your baking dish.  Grease a 9 by 13 baking dish with butter.  Do not use non-stick cooking spray for this or it will give your caramel a strange flavor.  Set it aside until the caramel is done cooking.
  2. In a non-stick pan, add the butter, sugar, brown sugar, Karo syrup, sweetened condensed milk and salt.
  3. Cook in a deep saucepan (I used a high sided frying pan and it worked fine) over medium heat, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved and the butter is melted.
  4. Stirring constantly, cook the caramel mixture until it comes up to 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. (Note: I cook it to the "firm ball" stage. I find the caramels are firmer, but not hard).  If you don't have a candy thermometer, use the cold water method. (Put a couple of cups of cold water in a cereal bow. Drop a tablespoon of caramel into the cold water.  Move the caramel mixture around with your fingertips.  If the caramel forms a "softball" it's ready.  If the caramel dissolves or runs through your fingers, keep cooking it.)
  5. Take the caramel off the heat immediately to stop the cooking and add the vanilla.
  6. Pour the caramel into the greased, prepared, 9x13 baking dish.  Let the caramel cool before cuttings...about 3 hours.
  7. Sprinkle with salt flakes if desired...enjoy!
Stocking Stuffers or Cookie Tray add-ons...Kitchen Wisk filled with Tootsie Rolls & Hershey Kisses 
A quick, easy Christmas gift...add a tray of cookies and viola' something special for a neighbor or friend! I filled the whisk with Tootsie Rolls and Hershey Kisses and then wrapped them in cellophane wrap purchased at where else but the Dollar Tree and added ribbon and label. Add the kitchen whisk to a tray of cookies and caramels...an instant gift! A simple, cute idea!

Homemade Wine Slushy Gift Pack
I love wine...and I especially love wine slushes.  We went to a craft show in November and they were selling the mix for $8.00 each.  I knew that you could probably make the mix a lot cheaper. So the hunt was on....I found a recipe on the internet on how to make a "slush" mix.  It's very easy, only two ingredients, sugar and citric acid.  
You mix 1 3/4 cup of sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid.  I was able to make lots and lots of slush mix.  I packed plastic bags with the mix and made a label on the computer and added it to the goodie bags I was going to give.  I made the mix first to make sure it was good...and it was great! So another gift to give that was inexpensive, but made lots of smiles.

Family Recipes Cookbook 
Food seems to be the best smile maker. This year I made 28 loaves of Cranberry bread for gift giving. In my post Cranberry Yogurt Bread I shared the recipe for cranberry bread made with homemade yogurt. I was lucky enough to attend the Cranberry Festival in Stone Lake, Wisconsin where I purchased lots and lots of cranberries. Along with the bread, I created a "Cafe Hoffy" (sister to Handmade by Hoffy) tried and true recipe cookbook to also include with the bread. Pinterest came in handy for many of the recipes I've tried, along with recipes that I have collected over the years. I also included a few Pinterest stocking stuffers with the bread and cookbook. They aren't huge gifts, but they are gifts that generate those wonderful smiles!

I made the cookbook with a Print Shop program. I'm sure you could just use a word processing program also. Then just create a cookbook cover and viola' you have a very nice Christmas present. The first picture is of the completed cookbook. I included a spiffy front cover, an introduction, index and section dividers for each category. My program allowed me to print two recipes per page. I then just printed out all the pages and at the time I made these I had a binder at work to put them together. 

As I have made other copies of this cookbook, I used separating binder rings and they worked just perfect. You can purchases them online or at Hobby Lobby. I think they call them book rings.

One Final Thought...
Well... there you go... a few creative ideas from Handmade by Hoffy and Pinterest, of course!  Some gifts to eat, some gifts to share and some really good recipes. I do hope these items stir your imagination and give you fuel to get those "smiles" that are so very important to everyone...at Christmas or any time of the year...enjoy!

Always remember..."Life's short...eat dessert first!"...words to live by!