How to Elevate Boxed Cake Mix, Just in Time for Valentine’s Day

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Hi Everyone! It’s Nicole, Annette’s friend and web-manager, and I’m back with a fun, festive post for Valentine’s Day. Let’s start at the beginning: I am a pretty good cook! I enjoy putting my own twists on recipes, and my specialties are sauces and condiments. I make a mean aioli.

That said, I am absolutely not a baker. It’s just not my forte. I enjoy adding a dash of this or a pinch of that here and there, so the precision of baking just isn’t my thing. But, since I love chocolate, cookies, and creme brûlée just as much as the next gal, I’m always looking for ways to incorporate baking…kind of. My current favorite trick: elevating boxed cake mix.

While you can elevate boxed cake mix many different ways, there are two no-fail ways to take boxed mix from drab to fab. First, bake it in a fun dish.

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This serves two purposes: one, it instantly makes the cake look like you spent more time on it. Two, you can serve your cake directly from the dish. Presentation is huge!

I picked up these ceramic bakers from HomeGoods for a steal. One thing to remember: if you are baking in ceramic, you have to watch the cooking time. I added 5 minutes to the cooking time of the Godiva boxed mix I picked up, but I kept a keen eye on the cake the entire time it was baking.

Another way to elevate boxed cake mix? Make your own fabulous icing. Icing is so easy. Truly. It requires just a few ingredients (namely butter and sugar). I used a recipe found on Jenny Steffens’ blog for a chocolate glaze. It tastes almost exactly like your grandmother’s Texas sheet cake icing and by the end of the afternoon, I was eating it with a spoon. Whoops! Note: I used 2 cups of powdered sugar when I made mine.

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For even more festive fun, you can add a creative design using sprinkles or chocolate pearls – which will only make it look even LESS like boxed cake (win!).

I love the idea of impressing your significant other or girlfriends with a fun, semi-homemade cake like this one for Valentine’s Day. They’ll all be impressed, and you’ll be stress-free!

xo, Nicole

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Big Game Recipe:: Sausage and Peppers

The Big Game is this weekend, and this recipe is perfect for those of you planning to watch. When hosting a party for the Big Game, easy recipes fit for a crowd is key. Keep it masculine, sporty, simple, and in season with my Sausage and Peppers recipe. It’s perfect for a crowd because you essentially toss everything together, pop it in the oven, and serve it right from the baking dish. No fuss required!

Here’s the recipe which is from Picture Perfect Parties, my cookbook. Give it a try and let me know what you think. May the best team win!

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Sausage and Peppers for a Crowd
Serves 8
You will need:

– 6 Italian sausage
– 2 red peppers sliced
– 2 hot banana peppers sliced
– 1 jalapeno pepper minced
– 2 green peppers sliced
– 2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
– 4 cloves of garlic minced
– ¼ cup olive oil
– 1 teaspoon salt

To prepare:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Slice the peppers and the sausage into bite size pieces. In a large bowl toss all the ingredients and mix well. Place mixture into a ceramic baking dish. Bake for 1 ½ hours and serve warm. Garnish with assorted herbs like rosemary, parsley, oregano, or chives.

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Holiday Entertaining: Italian Fruit Cake Recipe

While perusing through my archives, I rediscovered this Italian fruit cake recipe and felt like with the holidays in full swing, I should share it again.

A few years ago, I asked my friend Skye McAlpine to put together a little holiday cheer in the form of a post for my blog, and she delivered in a big way! She put together this absolutely stunning (and delicious) Italian fruit cake recipe. While perusing through my archives, I rediscovered it and felt like with the holidays in full swing, I should share it again.

On Skye’s recommendation, this cake is lovely with a sweet red wine, like Port. If you have a local wine merchant, picking up a Port to finish a holiday dinner party. It’s such a fun ending to a fun evening.

While perusing through my archives, I rediscovered this Italian fruit cake recipe and felt like with the holidays in full swing, I should share it again.
Certosino di Natale: Honey, Pinenut and Almond Fruitcake
Serves: 8-10

For the cake, you will need:

– 40g raisins
– 40g mixed candied peel
– 30ml dry red wine or Marsala
– 320g flour
– 30g cocoa powder
– 2 tsps bicarbonate of soda
– 300g honey
– 40g butter
– 70g sugar
– 1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
– 1 tsp ground cinnamon
– 3 tbsps water
– 60g pinenuts
– 200g blanched almonds
– 60g dark chocolate

For the decoration, you will need:

– 2 (heaped) tbsp apricot jam
– 2 tsp water
– 10-12 slices of glacé orange
– 3 glacé pears
– 10-12 glacé cherries
– handful of blanched almonds

To prepare:

Add the raisins and candied peel to a medium sized bowl and pour in the wine, then leave to soak overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, grease and line a 25cm cake tin. Sift the flour, cocoa and bicarb into a large mixing bowl and set to one side.

Add the butter to a small saucepan along with the sugar, honey, fennel seeds and cinnamon, then set over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Stir now and then to make sure that nothing burns on the bottom of the pan.

Add the raisins (with all their juices) and pine nuts to the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl, stir well.

Roughly chop the chocolate and the almonds, then add them too. Stir again.

Now pour in the melted butter and honey, and stir until well combined. The batter will be quite stiff, so stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. If needs be, add another splash of red wine.

Pour the cake batter into the tin and bake for 45 mins to 1 hr, until it’s golden on top, and when you press a skewer into the cake, it comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

To decorate, spoon the jam into a small saucepan with the water; set over a low to medium heat until the jam becomes syrupy and begins to bubble. Take it off the heat and use a pastry brush to glaze the cake, then lightly press the glacé fruits and nuts on to the top of the cake leaving no gaps. Brush the remaining glaze over the nuts so that it is all shiny.

For those of you that need measurements in cups see the conversion chart here

Photos by: Skye McAlpine

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Everything But the Turkey:: Use Leftovers

Thanksgiving

Today is my last post in our Everything But the Turkey series. I hope that throughout the past few weeks, you’ve become equipped with some fantastic recipes and entertaining ideas for Thanksgiving. I can’t believe that we’ll be surrounded by family and friends enjoying a huge festive spread in just a few days.

It’s no secret that I love takeaway gifts. Who doesn’t love getting a little something to take home after a great party? Of course, Thanksgiving shouldn’t be any different, and the secret is to use leftovers!

I like to give guests a few leftovers to enjoy the next day. I always think Thanksgiving leftovers are better the next day anyway, don’t you? Be prepared with a few microwaveable containers ready on hand to load leftovers into. That way, when guests take them home, the leftovers can be popped right into the fridge until the next day.

Of course, I love any excuse to add a little pizzazz. Make leftovers look special, and leave a sweet burlap bag at the front door for guests to grab on their way out. It’s a simple detail that can make all the difference.

Grab a copy of my book, Picture Perfect Parties, for more great holiday entertaining ideas.

xx Annette

Photo Credit: Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

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Everything But the Turkey Decor:: Pumpkin Pepper Place Settings

Tie pumpkin peppers onto a napkin roll for Thanksgiving to create the perfect pumpkin place settings. Tie pumpkin peppers onto a napkin roll for Thanksgiving to create the perfect pumpkin place settings.

Pumpkin peppers are one of the cutest, most festive fresh items out there this time of year. You can typically find them in the cut flower section of Whole Foods or even at Trader Joe’s. They are branches filled with tiny baby “pumpkins.”

A few years ago, it occurred to me that they’d be super sweet tied onto a napkin roll for Thanksgiving to create the perfect pumpkin place settings. To spruce them up a little bit more, attach the pumpkins to a cinnamon stick using linen ribbon and add a tag with the guest’s name to tell them where to sit at your table.

Sometimes inspiration is just sitting around waiting for you at the grocery store, right?

xx Annette

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