Tag Archives: parties

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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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

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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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Everything But the Turkey Recipe :: Pumpkin Bread Pudding

This pumpkin bread pudding is so easy to make and is a great alternative to pumpkin pie. Prepare it ahead of time to wow your guests at the end of the meal.

This pumpkin bread pudding is so easy to make and is a great alternative to pumpkin pie. Since it makes a large batch, you can easily make as much as you need to fit your crowd. Plus, you can alleviate some stress by making the raisin bread ahead of time. Or, simply use a good-quality store bought bread. Your guests will never know the difference, and you’ll be stress-free hostess.

Assemble this dessert first thing Thanksgiving morning, cover it with foil, and place it in the fridge until you’re ready to bake it. You can pull it fresh from the oven and serve it warm. Don’t forget a dollop of fresh whipped cream (or even ice cream), too. Look for this and more recipes plus great entertaining tips in my book Picture Perfect Parties. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Makes 8 servings

You will need:
– 1 cup heavy cream, *milk can be a substitute for cream
– ¾ cup canned solid-pack organic pumpkin
– ½ cup sugar
– 6 large eggs
– ½ teaspoon salt
– ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
– ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
– 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
– 6 cups cubed (1-inch) day-old raisin bread
– ¼ cup chopped toasted walnuts
– 1 stick unsalted butter, melted

To prepare:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Whisk together cream, pumpkin, sugar, eggs, salt, and spices in a bowl.
Toss bread cubes with butter in another bowl, then add pumpkin mixture and toss to coat. Transfer to an ungreased 8-inch square baking dish and bake until custard is set, 25 to 30 minutes.
Serve with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Photo Credit: Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

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Feeling like Fall: The Pumpkin Monk Cocktail

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Now that November is here, we can set our sights on the next holiday: Thanksgiving. It will honestly be here before we know it. This month on the blog, I’ve decided to do a series: Everything but the Turkey. I’ve rounded-up a few of my favorite recipes and entertaining tips for one of my favorite events of the season.

Using these recipes and entertaining ideas, you’ll be armed with everything you need to throw a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner – minus the bird of course. But don’t worry, I’ve got a great recipe for that too. I wouldn’t leave you stranded.

Today, I’m kicking it off with a fabulous cocktail, the pumpkin monk.

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I have always loved Frangelico; it is a hazelnut liqueur that is traditionally served as an after dinner digestivo. There is a legend that Frangelico was made by Friars in the Piedmont region of Italy where hazelnuts are abundant, it has a beautiful, nutty flavor profile.

Every year I try to come up with our signature Thanksgiving cocktail, and this one is a palette pleaser and crowd favorite. It’s not too sweet because the citrus notes take care of the sweetness. Plus it has a lovely mouth feel.

Grab a coupe and enjoy the flavors of the season.

xx Annette

The Pumpkin Monk

You will need:

– 1 oz. Frangelico
– 1 oz. Appleton Reserve Rum
– ¾ oz. lemon juice
– ½ oz. pumpkin spice syrup

To prepare:
Shake all ingredients and either pour over ice in a rocks glass or serve up in a coupe. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

*Optional Note: run it through a strainer before adding the cinnamon stick and serving.

For the Pumpkin Spice Syrup
*
this makes 1 cup which is 16 servings

You will need:
– 4 teaspoons cinnamon
– 2 teaspoons ginger
– 1 teaspoon nutmeg
– 1 teaspoon allspice
– 1 cup water
– 1 cup sugar

To prepare:
Place in a pot, then bring to a boil and reduce about 10 minutes, set aside to cool.

Photo Credit: Dane Sponberg

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