I try my hardest to not keep candy around the house, but when it comes to Christmas, I simply can’t resist. Hershey’s Kisses, M&Ms, Andes Mints and Reeses Pieces are a few of my favorite treats to keep in the candy jar during the holidays. Oh, and candy canes, of course!

This year, my new favorite candy treat is the perfect combination of salty and sweet, mixing pretzels with Hershey’s kisses and festive M&Ms. I originally saw the idea for this sweet treated used for Valentines Day on the blog g*rated. Since then, I’ve made them for several other holidays, including Halloween and Thanksgiving.

This time, instead of using Hershey’s Hugs (the black and white striped cousin of the Kiss), I found these yummy and festive peppermint kisses. The red and white stripes were the perfect seasonal update to the snack.

Beware: this snack is absolutely addictive. You seriously cannot eat just one. But worry not, it’s still December and those New Years resolutions don’t kick in until the first!

Christmas-Inspired Pretzel & Chocolate Button Bites

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Lay the butter snaps out into rows, leaving space between the pretzels to prevent them from melting together. Add a peppermint kiss to the top of each pretzel. Put the cookie sheet into the oven for 3-5 minutes. The kisses should get warm, but you should take them out before they start melting and losing their shape. Remove the sheet from the oven and immediately press green M&Ms into the kisses. Before removing from the tray, allow the bites to harden. It helps to put them into the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so.

Tips & Tricks:

  • You can use regular pretzels instead of the butter snaps, but I have found that the butter snaps taste better and since their holes are smaller, easier to manage with melted kisses.
  • Instead of setting the oven timer and walking away, keep an eye on the snack as it bakes. It’s pretty easy to tell when you should take them out if you keep an eye on them.
  • The peppermint kisses took a little less time to melt than the hugs usually do. More on the 3 side of 3 to 5 minutes.
Filed in: Christmas, Desserts, Holidays, Recipes | Leave a Comment »

DIY Texas Steak Rub

It’s long been a holiday tradition in the Shiffler family to make homemade gifts for friends, coworkers, teachers and neighbors during the holiday season. Last year, my mom inspired a new edible treat that I decided to make my signature holiday gift: Homemade Steak Rub.

I started by shopping at the Dollar Store and Walmart where I found I could buy the spices I needed in bulk for a fraction of the cost of regular grocery stores. If you are making large batches, I also suggest checking out Sam’s or CostCo for your bulk buying needs!

Next up was selecting the perfect spice jar. Finding and designing packaging that would suit my discerning tastes and limited budget was quite the project! I searched high and low, online and off for a suitable choice. I went between plastic and glass, big and small, round and square. I ended up finding two nice solutions at World Market. They didn’t have enough of each, so I got 12 of one and 10 of the other.

Stainless SteelWhite Lidded Spice Jars, $0.99 each or 6 for $5.95 at World Market

The jars were the perfect size and the right price! Truthfully, a dollar a jar seemed a bit steep, but I was able to use a $10 birthday coupon (yay for November birthdays!) that they emailed me, which made these much cheaper than any other option.

(Note: This year’s birthday coupon from World Market was not nearly as helpful! 15% off furniture, decor and more and 10% off food and non-alcoholic beverages…I miss the $10 coupon with no restrictions!)

After selecting the packaging, it was time to actually make the steak rub. My mom found a recipe for Texas Steak Rub online that looked good so I went with it.

Texas Steak Rub

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/4 teaspoon paprika

Mix ingredients together stir well. Rub spice mixture on each side of steak at least 30 minutes before grilling. Can also be used on chicken, pork and hamburgers.

First, I measured and I mixed up all the spices in a bowl.

Next, I whisked them together so they would be well blended.

Lastly, I poured the mix into each of the spice jars using my trusty funnel. (Oh, I forgot to mention, I washed and dried all the spice jars by hand before filling them.)

The only task left was to design and print labels for the spices. I wanted something with a vintage yet Texas-like look. I was super inspired by Eat Drink Chic’s Vintage Apothecary Labels and decided to use those as inspiration for my packaging. Luckily, Amy was kind enough to share the fonts she used in the comments. I ended up using Mouse Deco, EcuyerDAX and Cheboygan, all available at dafont.com.

I designed two labels: one for the front, and one with directions and ingredients for the back. You can download an editable PDF to customize the city and state for yourself. Just make sure you have the Cheboygan font installed first!

Download Free Texas Steak Rub Labels

For the stainless steel lidded jars I printed the labels on a natural colored card stock, like this one available at Office Depot. For the white lidded jars, I used white cardstock.

Texas Steak Rub Gifts with White Lids

Cutting the labels was tedious but made easier by the help of my Fiskars straight edge cutter. I experimented with how to adhere my labels to the jars, and after failed attempts with hot glue, a glue stick and double sided tape, I hit up Google to see how other crafters had solved this problem. Luckily, I found the perfect solution! Xyron makes a product that allows you to make a sticker out of any shaped object. Since my labels were small, they fit perfectly into the 1.5 Inch Create-A-Sticker maker. Just run the labels through the x-shaped device and you get a perfectly sticky label!

I finished the gifts off with a raffia bow for a little extra holiday flare. I was so happy with how they turned out and my coworkers were very impressed! I got nice notes from a few friends commenting that the steak rub was delicious, so it’s a good bet that the recipe is worth trying again!

Filed in: Christmas, Freebies, Holidays, Projects | 5 Comments »

Red, White & Wine

A few years back I hosted a 4th of July themed party for my sorority’s junior alumni group. Our club hosts monthly wine nights, so given the proximity to the Fourth of July, and focus on wine, I decided to make the theme “Red, White and Wine.” As is protocol with our group, guests were invited to bring their favorite red or white wine to share with the group and I was to provide snacks.

Most of what I found for this party came from one single trip to Michaels and Target. Target had tons of patriotic partyware and Michaels, as always, was stocked with the tools I needed to pull the rest together.

The theme started to come together quickly at Target. I fell in love with these cute red tins with stars punched out. They were only a dollar a piece, so I stocked up. I’ve ended up using these for various parties throughout the year and was glad I snagged them when I did! (I have seen these tins in blue available at Target this year, for those who are interested in purchasing them.)

At Michaels, I purchased red and white polka dotted paper as well as a set of matching notecards for a dollar that I used as a base to paste on custom food labels I designed.

Red, White and Wine Party Theme

The beginning of my buffet was anchored by a frame that showed off a patriotic print I designed. You can download my “Home of the Brave” poster, free here. I put red plasticware (also found at Target) in one of my new tins and displayed perfectly ripe strawberries in my favorite red colander.

Disposable blue star plates were on theme and made for easy post-party clean up. I used American flags that I found in the dollar section of Target scattered around my apartment to bring a true fourth of July feel. White hydrangeas added a feminine touch to the buffet.

For food, I wanted to go simple but filling. Everyone was coming over work and I wanted to make sure they got something solid in their stomach before downing too much wine! Sliders were perfect for this group. They were filling enough so that I didn’t have to provide a full meal, but still bite size, so guests could eat while mingling. I adorned each slider with an American flag toothpick and I provided different condiments in coordinating white ramekins.

Strawberries, watermelon, and my aunt’s Perfect Pasta Salad, rounded out the food offerings.


For dessert, I whipped up some deceiving yet delicious apple pie cupcakes. That’s right! They may look like mini blueberry and apple pies, but these are actually cupcakes! To make them I made the cupcakes really small then filled them with pie filling and piped on the icing to give it the basket effect. I used this tutorial at Everyday Celebrating to make mine.

The piping was easier than I thought it would be, but still very time consuming. The biggest issue I had was that my icing was too hot. You need to make sure it’s good and cold so that it doesn’t melt. Melted icing makes piping super hard!

Next to the cupcakes, the second most time consuming part of the party was creating the “Red, White and Wine” banner. Using scrapbook paper, my circle cutter, ribbon and white sparkly chipboard letters, I created a themed sign to hang on the drink table. I thought it turned out to be super cute and I’ve re-used the banner and the chipboard letters for future parties.

Red, white and blue balloons also gave the room a festive feel.

For the drink station, I found white metal buckets at Target and used them to house the various wine bottles guests brought. I was happy to get some use out of the pretty red wine glass my sister got me for Christmas.

For the non-drinkers, I offered cold water out of my Crate & Barrel beverage jar. I love to slice lemons and limes for the water to give it a fresh, flavorful taste.

It was a fun party with a great turnout! Everyone enjoyed the food and the ladies drank PLENTY of wine! (That’s Pi Phis for ya!) Here is a pic of some of the ladies who attended.

Are you throwing a Fourth of July Party? I’d love to see links to your party decor ideas or pinterest boards!

Filed in: Fourth of July, Holidays | Leave a Comment »

Our lovely gingerbread house!

Earlier this week my friend Rick invited me to join him for a Gingerbread class at the Crescent Hotel. A second date, I was a bit nervous that I would scare him off with my OCD crafting tendencies, but as it turns out he’s a bit of a perfectionist himself, so things went super smoothly!

Neither of us really knew what to expect, so when we arrived we were excited to find not only pre-constructed gingerbread houses but also a well stocked bar! We grabbed some wine and settled in to get the scoop on the evening’s activities from Erica and Juan, the Crescent’s executive and pastry chefs.

They showed off a towering rolling cart with candy, gave some piping tips, and then let us alone to decorate as we saw fit. Rick and I started with a plan to tile the roof in grey M&Ms, but after a few rows we scrapped that idea and opted to start over.

Our second stab at the roof was much more successful. We coated the entire roof in red icing then smooshed candy cane crumbles on top. (Is smooshed a word? Maybe not, but I’m going with it.) We outlined the roof with alternating red and green M&Ms to look like Christmas lights.

Next, we decided to put a wreath over the front door. Rick had insane piping skills so he was tasked with creating the wreath. (Not until after I had him practice on the table cloth, that is. I’m such my mother’s daughter.) While he took care of the wreath, I used a half strand of red candy tape to create a lovely little bow. I LOVE how this part of the house turned out, and I am proud that we did it all by ourselves!

For the back of the house we didn’t have enough faith in ourselves to pipe the snowflake what we desired, so we recruited Erica – a piping pro – to work her magic. While she worked on the back, we added a marshmallow lined pathway, red twizzlers to the door, and brown swirly “flower beds.”

A few short minutes later Erica revealed her amazing creation! Not only did she make an incredible snowflake, but she also added super cute icicles.

It’s hard to see in this picture, but we made little flower boxes to sit in each window with green icing and red flowers out of M&Ms. We lined the outside of the house with white Christmas Tree shaped pretzels. We also went back and made our pathway red to make it pop a bit more.

For the finishing touch, we spread white icing over the entire base, covering it with granulated sugar to make it appear glittery. A huge fan of things that sparkle, this was by far my favorite part! Using powdered sugar, Rick coated the Christmas tree in front with snow and used more white icing to create realistic looking snow drifts. We also lined the entire thing with red berry candies, which was a great accent.

Here is a snapshot of Rick and me with our completed gingerbread house! Although it’s hard to be unbiased, I thought ours turned out the cutest of any house there.

The evening was so fun and I would recommend this class to anyone! In fact, I think it might need to become a holiday tradition!

Filed in: Christmas, Holidays | 2 Comments »

Each year all of my coworkers gather together for our annual company holiday lunch. We cater in food to our office and enjoy an afternoon of eating and chatting. Last year when my boss asked me to pitch in for the planning, I asked if I could take things up a notch and decorate for the event. A $50 budget was all I would need, I promised. He agreed, and I got to work!

Half of me really wanted to do something neat for the event to make it special for my coworkers. The other half of me was intrigued by the challenge of decorating for a party for 20 on such a limited budget!

There are people of every faith in our company so I decided to go for a neutral “Winter Wonderland” theme for the party. The starting point for my decor was a roll of white and silver snowflake wrapping paper that I decided to use as a make-shift table cloth. Not only was it cheap, it made clean up a breeze!

Since the place setting would be the biggest feature of the table, I decided to concentrate most of my budget here. I purchased a pack of white, 12×12 inch scrapbook paper from Michaels to use as placemats. Next, I layered a silver charter plate. I own ten silver chargers and borrowed another six from a friend who I had gifted a set to the previous year for Christmas.

I splurged on large square paper plates that I found at Paper Affair. They matched perfectly and I just had to have them! Mixing the chargers with the paper plates gave a much classier look to the table.

I used white napkins and plastic silverware that we had around the office and rolled them up nicely tying them off with white curling ribbon I already had.

The place settings were completed with clear plastic cups that we had at the office. I spiced each cup up with a sparkly foam snowflake sticker.

For the centerpieces I decided that balloons would be a cheap way to make a big impact. I bought a pack of white balloons at Michaels, filled them for free using the helium tank in my apartment leasing office, and tied them off using white curling ribbon.

I anchored the balloons into three round, short glass vases that I own. I tied the balloon bouquets to binder clips and hid the clips by covering them with white floral beads, which I had from another party. (The binder clips were a last minute solution that our engineer Gary came up with!)

I used my trusty hot glue gun to adorn each vase with a stripe of glittery ribbon that I bought at Michaels and accented them with glittery foam snowflake stickers. Tea light holders were given the same treatment, except I added a white ribbon on top of the silver for a bit more depth.

I over bought on the ribbon for the vases and ended up using a spool to serve as a table runner. I spaced the balloon vases and tea lights down the table and filled in the blanks with silver jingle bells.

For the buffet I also covered the tables in wrapping paper. I used extra white scrapbook paper to outline where the dishes should sit and put out serving spoons. I decorated with two silver sparkly reindeer that I use in my home Christmas decor, plus a few snowflake napkin holders I had lying around. I used white chipboard letters that I had from a different party to spell out the party’s theme.

For the party I brought my two Crate & Barrel Cold Beverage Jars to serve water and iced tea. Again, I used the snowflake stickers  and silver scrapbook paper to give them a little interest!

We already had our Christmas tree up and poinsettias around the office which also added to the ambiance. As a finishing touch, I brought my Yule Log DVD and put it up on the flat screen TV that is displayed behind my desk. Everyone got a kick out of it and it added a homey feel to the office!

The best part of the party was enjoying the food and the company of my coworkers. The party lasted into the late afternoon and everyone had a blast! Here is a pic of me and Mike and Steve, the two partners in our company:

Our holiday lunch was proof positive that you don’t have to have a big budget to throw an impressively decorated party. I had so much fun putting it together and fit all my purchases in just at $50 and a dime!

For those of you who are interested, here are the supplies I used. I broke them down by what I own and what I had to buy. Not everyone probably has as well of a stocked craft/party closet as I do, but simple substitutions could be made if you don’t have all these items. This also makes a good case for making investments in neutral party decor like vases, tea light holders and beverage dispensers that can be used across your various parties, no matter the theme! 

What I Had:

  • White curling ribbon
  • Paper napkins
  • Plastic silverware
  • Clear plastic cups
  • Silver chargers
  • Round, clear glass vases
  • Clear glass tealight holders
  • White floral beads
  • Silver reindeer
  • White chipboard letters
  • Cold Beverage Dispensers
What I Bought:

  • Snowflake wrapping paper
  • 1 Package white scrapbook paper (12×12)
  • White Balloons
  • Several spools of thick, silver sparkly ribbon
  • Fancy paper plates
  • Sparkly foam snowflake stickers
  • Silver jingle bells
Filed in: Christmas, Holidays | 5 Comments »

Next week, while I am off exploring Italy, everyone elses eyes are turned on the UK as the world awaits the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The occasion is poised to be nothing short of spectacular and I know, wherever I am, I will be toasting the couple with a glass of champagne as I take in the spectacle on a television somewhere.

As blogger Elizabeth Andreson wrote, “It’s like Christmas & the Oscars & a season finale episode of The Bachelor all wrapped into one!” I couldn’t agree more.

Though I didn’t have time to put together anything extensive, here are some quick ideas I’ve thrown around with friends for a royal wedding watching party:

  1. Six in the morning might be a little early expect your guests to don their finest evening ware. Instead ask guests to wear their fanciest pajamas. The Satin After Hours Pajamas from Victoria’s Secret come in KM’s signature blue and would make for an elegant early attire. White gloves are also a must-have accessory for this oh-so-chic occasion.
  2. If you’re going to get dolled up, you might as well take pictures! Set up a photo booth and use these adorable printable prop set from Paper & Cake to capture pictures that are fit for royalty.
  3. The royal wedding is sure to is sure to breed a lot of pomp, circumstance, and if I know NBC, commercials. Keep guests entertained by offering  a craft. Set up a station allowing them to make their own Kate-inspired fastenators. You might offer toile, feathers, silk flowers and netting as possible accessories. (Thanks to Kaycee for this idea!)
  4. Another, cheaper option would be to pick up crowns at Burger King. Spray paint them gold the day before then allow guests to adorn them with jewels from the craft store. Just make sure to have plenty of hot glue guns on hand!
  5. Most people won’t want to splurge on an engagement ring knockoff from HSN so offer blueberry ring pops as a cheap and delicious alternative!
  6. The is essentially the woman’s Superbowl. Make sure you do the event justice by watching the festivities on a big screen, HDTV. From the hair to the dress to the church, it would be a shame to miss out on little details on account of a poor picture.
  7. This spectacular shindig might start at 6 am (EST) but I believe it’s never too early to serve champagne! Have your guests toast to the lovely couple with a glass of bubbly then send guests home with a split of champagne as a party favor.
  8. While the bubbly is out, consider a drinking game like the one outlined on I Do Declare. Possible rules include drinking when someone says “future princess,” or every time someone bows or curtsies.
  9. Also be sure to offer warm tea for the teetotalers in the group and those who have to make it into the office that day.
  10. Speaking of the office, if at all possible, remember to ask your boss for the day off work. Coming into the office tipsy is unbecoming of a lady!

What other ideas do you have for a royal wedding watching party? Sound off and share links to your party ideas in the comments below!

Filed in: Parties, Weddings | 4 Comments »

Cooking Hostess

Most people think that because I like to entertain, I also like to cook. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. Planning the menu, of course, is an ever important part of a successful soiree, however; this task is most often left up to my Mom or her best friend Leslie who have flawless taste in food and a surefire stock of recipes.

Entertaining, in fact, is one of the few times I actually enjoy cooking. You see, as a single gal most meals I prepare are for one. I find it hard to get enthused about preparing a meal that only I will be able to enjoy. The thrill of pulling off a new recipe is just not as fun when not shared with a friend.

Maybe that is why I like hosting parties so much — it challenges me to experiment in the kitchen and also comes with the added pressure of getting it right.

Over the past year, my adventurous spirit in the kitchen has blossomed. While in the past I was satisfied with heating up taquitos or ordering in Chinese, I’ve stepped up my game and ventured to try some new dishes that require more than a cookie sheet and a hot oven.

At a party I hosted for the most recent premier of The Bachelor, I served up a panini bar, offering a delicious array of deli meats and cheeses with a serious selection of spreads. Also, I recently attempted a new avocado bruscetta recipe for a dinner party I attended.

I’ll save the rest of my culinary crusades for upcoming posts, but I’ll leave you with the recipe for avocado bruschetta — a delicious little number I picked up from Lauren, Leslie’s daughter, who is a pretty good cook herself!

Remember, a good hostess doesn’t always have to be a good cook. Do like me and fake it till you make it! Chinese and frozen bites are always a great fallback when your short on time, money or culinary creativity! Throw them on a pretty porcelain platter and your guests will never know!

Photo courtesy of: Elle's New England Kitchen

Avocado Bruschetta

  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 2 T. red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 c. chopped cilantro
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 2 avocados, cubed
  • 1/2 t. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 in. ciabatta slices
  • 1/2 t. dried oregano
  • 1/4 t. ground black pepper

Combine lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, oregano, and black pepper in a small bowl.  Whisk in oil, then stir in cilantro and parsley.  Fold in avocado cubes.  Brush ciabatta slices with olive oil and toast lightly under broiler.  Spoon avocado mixture onto toast slices, and serve.

{Photos via Pinterest and Elle’s New England Kitchen}

Filed in: Appetizers, Parties, Recipes | 2 Comments »

Smile Booth + Hitched

Photo booths are all the rage right now. From weddings and birthdays to corporate shindigs, these fun are a great way to entertain guests and capture those Kodak moments that you’ll remember forever! Today I’ve been swooning over this lovely photo booth, produced by Smilebooth, hosted at HITCHED and posted on I Art U. Don’t these photos make you wish you were at this party?!

Smilebooth + Hitched

Smilebooth + Hitched

Smilebooth + Hitched

This particular photo set has all the ingredients you need to execute a successful photo opp area: (1) a great backdrop (2) fun props and (3) enthusiastic & creative guests!

A little digging and I discovered that you can get your own Smilebooth ANYWHERE in the US. The concept? You don’t have to have to pay for a professional photographer to get great party photos. Due to the custom nature of their booths, prices aren’t listed online. I can’t imagine that they are cheap though — price includes set-up, 4 hours coverage, a Smilebooth attendant, online gallery, and a disc of high-resolution images.

Nonetheless, the Smilebooth site is a great place for great photo booth inspiration! Also, be sure to check out the rest of the pics from HITCHED on I Art U!

Photos courtesy of: {HITCHED & I Art U}

Filed in: Parties | Leave a Comment »

The Bachelor is back! Which means three months of Monday night wine drinking and drama with the girls. This week the main topic of conversation was about how each of the bachelorettes vying for Jake’s heart looked familiar. Everyone kept throwing out names of who looked like which celebrity.

The insomniac of the group, I couldn’t resist looking them all up and making the comparison for myself when I got home. I Photoshopped each of the bachelorette’s pictures together with their celebrity twin. Which one do you think looks the most like the person I paired them with? Tell us what you think in the comments. I’ll post what I think at the very bottom!

1. Ali and Kate Bosworth

2. Elizabeth and Megan Fox

3. Ella and Melinda Clarke

4. Kathryn and Brittney Snow

5. Tenley and Christine Taylor

6. Vienna and Ashley Tisdale or Haylie Duff

What do I think? Elizabeth and Megan Fox were twins separated at birth. Is the resemblance incredible or what?!

Filed in: The Bachelor | 4 Comments »

Last May, my friend Samantha and I hosted a Sex and the City Movie Premiere Party. With a small budget and a large guest list we set out to create an A-List party on a shoe string budget.

Sex and the City Movie Premiere Party

Movie studios spend hundreds of thousands of dollars throwing glamorous premiere parties to promote their newly released films. With a little determination and a lot of creativity you can throw a Hollywood worthy premiere party for a fraction of the cost.

Party Decor
Movie premiers are glitzy in nature, but a movie like Sex and the City ups the ante when it comes to glam. Start planning your décor by selecting a color palette. Take cues from the movie poster and movie website. For the Sex and the City party, our color palette consisted of black, white, hot pink and sparkly! Our inspiration board included Chinese takeout boxes, Manolo Blahnik shoes, engagement rings, the New York City skyline and, of course, martini glasses. We worked these details in to the party decorations and menu.

SATC Inspiration Board

Continue Reading »

Filed in: Girls' Night | 12 Comments »

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