Passing Along Two Blog Awards

The craziness of the holidays are coming to an end and now that I can begin to catch up on so many other aspects of my life outside of work, I need to take a few minutes and thank two fabulous bloggers for awards that they passed on to me.

Early in December, I received two very nice awards and before the month ends, I would like to first thank each one and also pass it on to other great bloggers.

Kate at Serendipty presented me with this award and I'm very thankful and honored that she thought of me. I've enjoyed ready her fabulous blog and learning more about her and the wonderful country of Belgium, where she currently resides.

This award came with some fun instructions:

1) Post the award on your blog. Present this award to seven others whose blogs you find brilliant in content and/or design, or those who have encouraged you.

2) Tell those seven people they've been awarded HONEST SCRAP, inform them of these guidelines, and ask that they link back to you.

3) Share TEN HONEST THINGS about yourself.

I always seem to have a hard time coming up with these types of lists about myself--it's always much more interesting to read other people's lists. So I will just try to list them without over thinking it.

Jill's Ten Honest Things:

1) As an adult, the longest I've lived anywhere is 4 1/2 years. By around 3 years, I start to feel antsy for change. (Since I left home for college, I've lived in Idaho, Utah, Connecticut, New York, Vermont, Hawaii, Washington, California and now back to Oregon--where I've been for three years this month...hmmmm, is it time for another change?)

2) I am a SUMMER person. I love the hot, sunny, warm weather and despise the cold, icy, rainy, snowy winter weather. The minute it officially becomes winter, I begin a countdown of the days till spring (it's 79 days).

3) I would consider myself an animal person, but I do not like animals (cats, dogs, etc.) in the house. I believe they belong outside. (I'm not a fan of animal smells or hair or other things that come from an animal being in the house or on my clothes or furniture).

4) I crave ORGANIZATION. New Year's Resolutions, to-do lists, organized drawers, new planner pages, clean car, clean house, things organized in binders--all of it, bring it on!

5) I love BOOKS, especially cookbooks. I once heard a chef in culinary school say that if you have at least one great recipe in a cookbook, then it is a book worth owning. This has been my motto ever since and I never feel guilty when purchasing yet another cookbook.

6) Let's see, since this is a food blog and all, my favorite food is any type of Hawaiian or Asian Cuisine. Give me a good plate lunch and I'm very content.

7) Card games or board games bring out the COMPETITIVE side in me and I will hang my winning score sheet on my refrigerator for all to see. :)

8) I secretly dream of living in France, finding and trying out all the best Patisseries and traveling around Europe for a few years (not so much a secret now that I've posted it here.)

9) I've never had a cavity. I've never worn glasses or contacts. I've never had major surgery or stayed overnight in the hospital. I did break my wrist in the 5th grade from roller-skating when I should have been doing chores (I refer to that as my dis-obedient accident).

10) As much as I LOVE TO PLAN, I hate the question, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" For some reason when I'm asked this, it completely stumps me and I can't think of a single thing to say.

WHEW. I made it!

I'm passing on the HONEST SCRAP award to:

Threads Talk (Thanks for always encouraging me and understanding what it's like to own a small business)
Feasting on Art (I learn something new every time I visit this blog)
Barbara Bakes (So many great recipes and ideas are found here)
Marcellina in Cucina (I recently discovered and am a fan of this great blog)
Delicious Dishings (I always feel inspired after reading her posts)
The Ungourmet (Another newly discovered blog that I enjoy reading)
Chocolate Chip Trips (A blog that I've followed and always print out her recipes)

The second award I received this month was from Msmeanie at Chocolate Chip Trips. Her blog is a great read with wonderful recipes and awesome pictures of her food. She too, is a fellow Daring Baker and I really appreciated her thoughtfulness in passing this OVER THE TOP award to me.

I'm in turn, passing this OVER THE TOP award to another two blogs that are AMAZING and truly over the top:

Julia at Melanger to Mix (Very inspiring blog to read and her photography is just BEAUTIFUL)
Mandy at What the Fruitcake?! (Each post has wonderful photos of her food creations and is enjoyable to read)

Thank you again to both Kate & Msmeanie for these awards. They really made both my day and month!

Daring Bakers: Gingerbread Houses

Gingerbread Houses--one of my favorite Christmas traditions!

When I found it was this months Daring Bakers Challenge, I began planning immediately how I would fit it into my schedule. But before I get into those details, let me introduce our two fabulous hostesses!

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

A few days later I had a client ask if I was selling Gingerbread Houses on my holiday menu this year. I explained that although it wasn't on my menu, I'd be happy to make one for her to purchase. It worked out great, since I was already planning to purchase the supplies (candy) for one house, what is one more? And then I had a second client order another house as well. I used my long-time favorite family recipe for my client's gingerbread houses, since I knew exactly how the dough would turn out.

I set aside a few hours and began to make what ended up being three batches of my favorite gingerbread dough and one batch of Y's recipe. I decided to try Y's recipe because I was intrigued by the Scandinavian dough that didn't have any molasses in it and my recipe did. Y's recipe yielded a bit more than I had expected, so I made a large house and a smaller house; turning the three gingerbread houses into four!

Gingerbread House for Client #1:

Gingerbread House for Client #2:

My favorite aspect of creating desserts is the decorating part of the process. I enjoyed every single minute and hour in creating those gingerbread houses for my clients, but I was antsy to begin work on my own house. Finally after about four or five days of being extremely busy with Jillicious Desserts orders, I was able to start construction on my houses.

Jill's Gingerbread Village (I don't know if two houses make a village, but it has a village-like feel to the scene):

I really enjoyed creating these houses and I probably went a little picture crazy, but I just wanted to share all the fun details from this project.

Large Gingerbread House:

[Close up view of front door.]

[Windows made from melted butterscotch candy pieces. I used a battery-operated tea light inside the house. It fit easily through the front door and the light flickered through the candy windows.]

[Star is also made from butterscotch candy pieces & the Christmas lights are chocolate covered sunflower seeds. They were the perfect outdoor light shape!]

[The roof is made out of chocolate frosted mini-wheat cereal.]

[The rocks on the chimney are chocolate candies--I love how they look like real rocks. One of my favorite elements are the candy cane trees that I found at one of the supermarkets while searching for candy.]

[Every gingerbread house I've made over the years always has some sort of peppermint candies on it; this one has mini candy canes and the round peppermint candies.]

[Aerial view of large house and Santa with all nine reindeer.]

The second part of my gingerbread project was the Bake Shop. This was probably my favorite house to create, because I had nearly a week to decide what I wanted to do with it. I made several small, very small bake shop items and most of them you can look through the door and see them in the shop. Next year, I may have to make another one, but larger, so it's easier to see inside.

Jill's Gingerbread Bake Shop:

[Notice the door with the open sign on the Bake Shop; in honor of the Jillicious Online Bake Shop that opened earlier this month.]

[This is the only picture I took while putting the houses together. I got so involved in the process, I completely forget to take step-by-step pictures. This was taken before the front and roof was attached.]

[All of these were made out of fondant and the writing was from an edible ink food pen. They were so much fun to make and I just love how cute they turned out!]

[The roof was made from Christmas hard candies, something I remember getting in my stocking every year as a kid. I really had to track this candy down and finally found them in the fifth store I went to.]

[View from the large house--one of my favorite views of Santa.]

[Santa, his sleigh and the reindeer were all made from fondant. The trees are made out of chocolate, each layer piped separately, then attached with chocolate to create the tree shapes.]

[More Santa pictures, because he is just so dang cute!]

[View from the back of the houses.]

Now for the recipe! I was pleasantly surprised at how good this gingerbread dough tasted; especially since it didn't have molasses and I was worried at the amount of cloves it had in the recipe, but it was really good.

Thanks for sharing it Y!

*My notes are in green.

Y's Recipe:
Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water
5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]

1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight. *I chilled my batch for about 2 hours and it was enough time.

2. Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard.

3. Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place. *I used a really good technique I've used for years with gingerbread dough. Line the baking sheet with foil and place the dough in the middle. Using a regular rolling pin, roll the dough from the middle to all four corners, until the dough is evenly rolled out. The dough should be smooth and even (see pictures below).

4. Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet. *After 15 minutes, remove the foil from the pan, with the gingerbread still on it and carefully move the pieces to a cooling rack.

Royal Icing:

1 large egg white
3 cups (330g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon almond extract

Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe on pieces and allow to dry before assembling. If you aren't using it all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. Piped on the house, this will set up hard over time.

Simple Syrup:
2 cups (400g) sugar

Place in a small saucepan and heat until just boiling and the sugar dissolves. Dredge or brush the edges of the pieces to glue them together. If the syrup crystallizes, remake it. *I didn't use the simple syrup, but many Daring Bakers said it worked really well.

I wish you all a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Monday Must Have: Christmas Stocking Gift Ideas

PSST!! I have a secret to share with you...

Yep, that's right, I'm not quite ready for Christmas, because I've been busy baking Jillicious Dessert orders and helping others get ready for their Christmas celebrations. So, although I should be stressed, I'm just taking it all in stride and I'll get done what I can and not worry (too much) and just call "late" presents, gifts for the New Year.

YOU probably have all your shopping done, packages wrapped and now you are just enjoying the holiday festivities. But for the few of you who still need some gift ideas, here are my top five stocking stuffer gifts that are all under $20 and make great presents.

Jill's Top 5 Monday Must Have Gift Ideas:

1) Lemon Stretch Wraps (a.k.a. Lemon Shower Caps)
[Click here for more information about these cute and handy little caps]

2) The Scoop
[Click here for more information about some of the uses these handy gadgets provide]

3) The Melon Baller
[Click here for examples of what you can use this handy tool for in your kitchen]

4) The Microplane Zester/Grater
[Click here for more information of one of THE best kitchen gadgets ever!]

5) The Citrus Squeezer or Reamer
[Click here to decide which one is your citrus gadget of choice]

Happy last minute shopping!

The Bake Shop is OPEN!

Drum roll please...

After battling a 2-week cold and working many, many hours in figuring out website details and information, I'm pleased to announce that the Jillicious Desserts Online Bake Shop is now OPEN for business!!

QUESTION: Can you ship some of your Jillicious Desserts?

ANSWER: This is a question I've gotten quite often from family and friends over the last year or so and the answer is YES!

During this time of year, you can order Holiday Candies and Cookies to be shipped anywhere in the United States (sorry to those of you outside the U.S.) and everything is baked fresh to order.

And yes, as of now, I'm only selling Jillicious Candies and Cookies at the online Bake Shop.

QUESTION: What about Jillicious Cakes, Cupcakes and Cheesecakes?

ANSWER: That is another question I'm asked often and while I'd LOVE to be able to ship these items too, here is why I'm not able to do so.

Many of the cakes, cupcakes & cheesecakes are decorated with fresh fruits (during the spring & summer especially) and some with fresh whipped cream and elegant, yet fragile chocolate curls. Because of the delicate nature of these dessert decorations, freezing them is not an option and would ruin the integrity of the dessert.

It's very important to me that every dessert I create not only looks fabulous, but tastes even more delicious than it looks. I won't compromise either taste or decoration, as most of the decorations add to the overall flavor of the dessert. If and when I can figure out a way to keep both of these elements in tact and successfully ship them, then I will. In the meantime, I am focusing on shipping the desserts that will remain fresh and delicious when they arrive.

I hope this answers any questions about which desserts can be ordered online at the Jillicious Desserts Bake Shop.

I've really appreciated all the support and suggestions that everyone has given me over the last couple of years in making Jillicious Desserts even better.

THANK YOU so very much and enjoy the rest of this Christmas season!

*Visit the Jillicious Desserts Bake Shop website here.

Monday Must Have: Chocolate Truffle Sauce & Gift Idea

Are you wishing it was still the weekend? Or maybe any other day than Monday?

I have three words that should make your Monday better from this point on:

Chocolate. Truffle. Sauce.

Tell me your heart just fluttered, because mine did. Just the mere mention of chocolate and you have my attention. And let me just say, that you NEED to try this recipe and share the love.

A couple of years ago, my Mom came across this fabulous recipe in the paper and after a few adaptions, we created what I think is a SUPER DELICIOUS Chocolate Truffle Sauce. It's the perfect homemade gift and easy to make.

Any type of food-grade jar will work for the chocolate truffle sauce. This year we decided to use the small 4 oz. mason jars, which can be used again and they are the perfect size to give someone a nice treat.

The Decoration:

To decorate the jars, cut out holiday material with pinking shears for a festive look. Just place the material over the lid and place the ring over the material. You should be able to tighten the lid even over the material.

You can also tie a ribbon with the directions attached around the lid of the jar. Because this sauce should be refrigerated, at the very least I like to include these simple directions:

- Refrigerate sauce immediately.
- When ready to use, take out of jar & warm for 20 seconds in microwave.
- Use as a topping on ice cream with whipped cream & nuts for a wonderful dessert.

You could also include the actual recipe with these directions.

The Recipe:

Chocolate Truffle Sauce
Adapted from Jan Dominquez's "My Special Chocolate Truffle Sauce" recipe.

Yields = Makes about 2½ cups sauce.

8 oz. Guittard Milk Chocolate Chips
8 oz. Guittard Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1 1/3 cup heavy cream
5 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1) Place the chocolate chunks into a large, heat-proof bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan filled with hot (not boiling) water. Let the chocolate mixture begin to slowly melt.

2) In a small, heavy saucepan, bring the cream to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and immediately pour it over the chunks of chocolate, stirring constantly until the chocolate has melted. Keep the bowl positioned over the hot water because this will help keep the temperature at the melting point.

3) Once the chocolate is smooth and creamy, stir in the butter and vanilla and continue stirring until the mixture is well blended and smooth. *I've found that at this point, if I strain the chocolate mixture (a fine mesh strainer or china cap strainer will work great), it will be very smooth and you can sift out any tiny pieces of chocolate that didn't melt completely.

4) Pour the sauce into clean jars and let cool completely before screwing on lids. Refrigerate the sauce. It will become firm, but just scoop out the sauce as needed and either warm in a pan on the stove or at low power in the microwave. Or enjoy directly from the jar.

If you like to have a bite from time to time, this is what it looks like straight from the refrigerator:

Or if you prefer to warm it up, you can use it has a sauce over ice cream or other desserts:

*My favorite combination is a really good vanilla bean ice cream or a peppermint ice cream, with the chocolate truffle sauce and crushed peppermint candies--and yes, even though it is so COLD here (it's only 27 degress so far today), I did look for some ice cream and nope, there wasn't any in the freezer here in the Jillicious Kitchen (which is why I only have a picture of the toppings).

I love giving something homemade to my family and friends and this chocolate truffle sauce is always appreciated.

What is your favorite homemade gift that you like to share?

Using What You Have to Create Something New!

Thanksgiving was a blur--since I spent most of the weekend sick in bed and although I'm not back to 100%, I am getting better and in a few more days, I should be back to better health. Thank you to all the kind comments I received and emails--they were very much appreciated.

Yesterday, my Mom hosted a large dinner party at our home and we had spent the day getting ready for it--cleaning, decorating, baking and cooking. I love getting the house ready for the holidays, putting up the Christmas decorations and making our home look and feel all cozy. This year is the earliest we've ever put up our decorations and we have everything up, except for our tree, which we will go get next week.

As we were re-arranging things in our home (you know how it is, moving regular items that sometimes get put away, to make more room for the holiday decorations), we were almost finished putting up the holiday decorations and found we still needed to find places for a few things.

One of them was a white pitcher that had to be moved and we didn't know where to put it. We jokingly put it on our table in the breakfast nook, since we had taken down the autumn centerpiece and then I looked around to see what we could put in it. I had a bag full of large candy canes sticks that were just purchased as ingredients for a few of the holiday desserts and I was still looking for a place to store them.

Then an idea hit!

Why not arrange them in the pitcher/vase for a festive holiday look? My mom happen to have some holiday ribbon that she fashioned into this fabulous bow and voila!

A fun, festive, holiday centerpiece! I love taking everyday items and creating a new look--and we got many complements that evening for something that was made from items we already had.

Candy Cane Centerpiece:

Vase or pitcher (medium size)
Holiday Ribbon
Candy Cane Sticks (large)

What are some of your favorite holiday decoration ideas?

Daring Bakers: Ran out of time...

I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving yesterday.

Today is the reveal date for this months challenge: CANNOLI! I know, doesn't that sound so yummy?!

Well, the month flew by, and this week I had lots of Thanksgiving dessert orders to fill (so happy for a busy week) and then in the middle of it all, I began to get sick. So here we are and because I'm feeling so dang awful, I can't even pull off the challenge at the last minute.

Be sure to visit our hostess with the mostess; Lisa Michele at Parsley, Sage, Desserts & Line Drives to read about this fantastic challenge and the how-to in creating it yourself.

After I'm feeling better, I'll see if I can do a late posting of this awesome challenge. Right now, I plan on staying in bed the rest of the weekend.

Stay tuned.

Monday Must Have: Be Thankful For What You Have

In honor of Thanksgiving this week, I think it's very appropriate to pause in our very busy lives and think about what we are thankful for in our lives. I've had the topic of gratitude on my mind for the last few days and it's been good for me to reflect about the many blessings in my life.

Here are ten (of the many things) that I am grateful for:

1) My Mom--She's always there for me and supports me in all that I do.
2) My spiritual beliefs
3) My health
4) Doing what I love for a living
5) Friends
6) Opportunities for education & learning
7) Good books
8) Being able to share my talents with others
9) Experiences I've had in all aspects of my life
10) The hope of what lies in the future

I would challenge you to take a few moments during this holiday week to write down what you are thankful for at this time in your life.

P.S. A couple of weeks ago I received a nice surprise from Anula over at her blog Anula's Kitchen. Thank you Anula!!

This blog award is just another wonderful example of how supportive people are in the blogging community which I really appreciate and am grateful to be part of this online community.

I am passing this award to five blogs that I've really enjoyed following. Reading each of these blogs have made my days a little brighter and I thank you for that!

Sue at Munchkin Munchies
Kate at Serendipity
Julie at Willow Bird Baking
Kate at Apple & Spice
Cooking School Confidential

Monday Must Have: Find your favorite kind of CAKE!

Let's talk CAKE.

I have a theory...there are two kinds of people:

Group #1) Those who like cake, and
Group #2) those who say they don't.

I find this interesting, especially the second group who claim that they are not cake people. To them I would say that they haven't had the opportunity to taste a really GOOD cake. I've been given this reason time and time again, when meeting with clients for a wedding cake tasting during a consultation. Actually, when I hear that, I have to hold back a grin, because I know that they are soon going to change their perception and move to the first group of those that like cake. I take them on as a challenge to help them open their eyes to the wonderful world of cake; quality cake that is.

I think there are several reasons why people say they don't like cake. Their experiences have included poor quality frosting or too much frosting, dry cake, or cake made with inferior ingredients. I know that some people love boxed cake mixes, but a box mix can't compete with a cake made from scratch, using quality ingredients.

Most celebrations revolve around the cake; weddings, birthdays, baby showers, office gatherings, and holidays. We have all had some kind of cake at one time or another. And on top of that, there are many flavors of cake to choose from--white, yellow, chocolate, marbled, cherry, red velvet, lemon, orange, strawberry, carrot, and on and on. Everyone has their preferred flavors and then you could really divide the cake people into chocolate lovers and the rest. But that is another topic for another post.

What makes a cake really GOOD?

I believe that there are three key aspects that make the difference between a "just OK" kind of cake and a "WOW, this cake is AMAZING". They are: ingredients, technique and the correct ratio of a QUALITY frosting to the amount of cake layers. All three of these attributes are very important and when they are done correctly, you will have a DELICIOUS cake. If even one of these are missing, then the cake is less than excellent and just becomes another cake that isn't memorable (or at least not memorable in a good way).

Ingredients = Need to be fresh, of good quality and the amounts need to be measured accurately, so the cake will come out correctly every single time it's made.

Technique = A cake needs to be mixed using the correct method. Cake batter can be over mixed, under mixed, ingredients incorporated at the stage or at the wrong temperature--all of which can result in problems during the baking process and ultimately the final product.

Correct ratio of a QUALITY frosting to cake = More frosting is not necessarily better. The icing on the cake should compliment the cake or enhance the flavor, not take over completely. And a quality buttercream makes all the difference. Ever eat a cake with too much frosting and the taste leaves a lingering unappealing aftertaste on your tongue? You know the kind I'm talking about--this can ruin a potentially good cake. Picture a smooth, creamy buttercream that is so silky and is filled with a vanilla flavor that works with the moist cake, so that one bite is never enough. That is what GOOD cake should taste like.

I know I haven't mentioned the appearance of a cake. Yes, it should look appealing, because seeing the cake is the first of several senses we use and that first impression is important. My goal with every cake I make, is to make it beautifully delicious; which means it needs to look inviting and with that first look, you just know that the taste will match or exceed its appearance.

Back to those clients I have had over the past several years that have come in to taste wedding cake samples. I'm happy to have them come in and sit down to taste different flavors of cake to help them make a decision for their big day. I've even had the bride or the groom mention again, how although they really aren't cake people, that they just need to find something that will be suitable for their guests. I just smile and say, "It's OK if you don't eat the entire piece of cake, but just give it a try." I cut them a piece of the cake, made just hours before, and set it in front of them.

And then I watch and wait.

The bride loves cake and digs right in. The groom, tentatively cuts his with his fork and takes a small bite. I watch as a look of surprise passes over his face. He goes in for a second bite. Neither is saying anything, but I'm hearing sounds of enjoyment. And then it happens--the moment I've anticipated and enjoy every single time. The bride asks the groom, "So, what do you think?" The groom doesn't say anything, because he is on the last bite of cake and the plate is almost as clean as it was before the cake slice was laid on it. Finally, I hear "WOW, this cake was so GOOD! And I don't even like cake!"

And just like that, another non-cake person experiences a change and is open to moving up to the first group of those who like cake. I love watching this happen. It's just another perk to doing what I love and sharing it with others.

If you haven't enjoyed a really good slice of cake--keep looking. It's out there. Sometimes you have to taste many kinds of cakes from different sources, but you will find it. And if you happen to be in my area, try a Jillicious Cake--you might just become a member of group #1; those who like cake. I love a challenge.

What is your favorite kind of cake?

P.S. My current favorite is the Caramel Hazelnut Spice Cake (pictured in this post) & the latest edition to the completed 2009 Jillicious Holiday Menu found here.