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

AJSVday4

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.

AJSVday1 AJSVday3

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.

AJSVday2

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

baking celebration cooking dinner party Entertaining Holiday love Parties party tips Recipes Uncategorized valentine's day valentines day : Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!

Layout 1

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.

All books celebration cookbook collection cooking dinner party Entertaining Events Fall Food fall menus great easy menus Parties party tips Picture Perfect Parties Recipes Uncategorized : Tags: , , , , , ,

The Best Cocktail for Christmas Brunch

This is the best cocktail for Christmas brunch, but it's also perfect for any party this season. It's great for a crowd too!

Hi Everyone! It’s Nicole, Annette’s web-manager and friend, and I am thrilled to be guest posting today to bring you a festive holiday cocktail: pear prosecco punch.

In my house, I always make a huge Christmas brunch to enjoy after opening presents. The feast starts with sausage balls & pigs-in-a-blanket (oldies but goodies) and coffee for breakfast while we all tear through gifts. Late morning, I pop everything in the oven, and we sit down to a huge brunch complete with berry French toast, quiche, fruit, and of course, a festive cocktail.

This is the best cocktail for Christmas brunch, but it’s also perfect for any party this season. It’s great for a crowd because it’s just a few simple ingredients. You can place everything on a bar cart, or designated bar area, with framed instructions and let guests mix their own.

One trick: freeze a bag of cranberries and keep them on hand in your freezer. Warm prosecco (or wine or holiday punch) isn’t tasty. Frozen cranberries can be used in place of ice to keep your cocktails cold. They won’t water-down your beverage, and they’ll look festive, too!

Pear Prosecco Holiday Cocktail

Let me know if you give this a try! I’d love to hear what you think. Happy holidays!

xo, Nicole

Pear Prosecco Punch
serves 1

You will need:

– 2 oz Pear concentrate (I use Looza)
– 4 oz Prosecco
– Rosemary sprigs & frozen cranberries for garnish

To prepare:

Pour pear concentrate into a champagne or wine glass. Top with prosecco. Add a rosemary sprig and frozen cranberries for garnish.

photos by Nicole Letts

All celebration Cocktail of the Week Cocktails dinner party Entertaining Holiday Holiday Entertaining Holidays party tips Recipes specialty cocktails Uncategorized : Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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

All behind the scenes celebration dinner party Entertaining Events Fall Food fall menus Holiday Holiday Entertaining holiday guide holiday recipes Holidays Parties party tips Picture Perfect Parties Thanksgiving the art of a party Uncategorized : Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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

All celebration dinner party Entertaining Events Fall Food fall menus flowers and prep Holiday Holiday Decor Holiday Entertaining Holidays Parties party tips Thanksgiving the art of a party Uncategorized : Tags: , , , , , , , , ,