Monday, December 31, 2012

Nautical Mantel Display

When I was still living in Orange County, I used to drive to the beach and sat on the pier, looking out at the ocean whenever I needed a pick-me-up. There is just something so tranquil about the sea.

Sean and I moved into our new home recently, and it took me awhile to figure out what to do with the fireplace mantel because that was the focal point of our living room. I then thought of mine and Sean's favorite places in the world, which were Huntington Beach, where we went on our first date, and Sandy Beach Park in Hawaii -- a non-touristy beach that was a secret with the locals.

So, I decided to build a nautical mantel display, and here was how I did it:

1. I went to Home Depot and bought the following items: wooden planks; sandpaper; paintbrush; work gloves; rope, and a ball of twine. Then, I had a store employee cut the planks down to the size that I needed.

2. At Michael's, I bought a bag of large shells, sea glass, a glass bottle, along with black and white acrylic paints.

3. Supplies I already had: a hot glue gun; Elmer's Wood Glue (carpenter's grade), and smaller paintbrushes.


1. Sand the front, back, top, bottom, and sides down to remove splinters and prepare wood for painting.

2. Assemble the wood pieces together with wood glue, following the instruction on label.

3. Once the glue had dried (I let it dry overnight), paint the entire thing white. Rinse your brush and paint container, and go take a break for 30 minutes. Perhaps you can take this time to plan where each seashell was going to go, and hot glue the twine to the shells that can't be tied on with the string.

4. Mix the black paint with a little bit of white to create a deep gray color. Paint the wood display again.

5. Wait 30 minutes for the paint to dry, and began sanding the areas that would naturally be worn out by the elements, such as the edges. Then, quickly run the sandpaper across the front to roughen the paint job up a bit.

6. Now comes the fun part: Attach the net and rope to your display. Hang up the shells that you want to, and hot glue the others. Lastly, hot glue the sea glass to the display as well.

7. If you have smaller sea glass pieces left over, just put them in a glass bottle and display that. The larger shells can be placed on the mantel as well.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gluten-Free Pizza in a Biscuit!

Yesterday, I was talking to Sean about my craving for good gluten-free pizza, and he started singing the jingle for the Pizza Bagels commercial from the 90s. It was then that an idea popped into my head: "What about pizza in a biscuit?"

An idea was born. I decided to really make pizza-in-a-biscuit, and my toppings of choice were sauce, Mozzarella cheese, spicy Italian sausage, and eggplant Parmesan. 

This is a marvelous idea: grease your cupcake pan; line the bottom and wall with a thin layer of biscuit dough made from the recipe below, put in sauce, cheese, and other favorite toppings; cover with a thin layer of the same biscuit dough; and bake according to direction.

These biscuits are so light and buttery; paired with pizza toppings, and they could not be any better!

Other things you can make with this dough: plain biscuits; pie crusts (sweet and savory), and cinnamon-raisin biscuits. Yes, cinnamon-raisin biscuits! Just flatten out the dough, spread softened butter that has been mixed with brown sugar and cinnamon powder, sprinkle some raisins on top, roll it back up, cut into 1-inch slices, and bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees F.

Pizza in a Biscuit

Yields: 9 pizza biscuits if you use a standard cupcake pans

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

For the biscuit dough:

2 cups multipurpose gluten-free flour of your choice; I used Bob's Red Mill
1 teaspoon xanthan or guar gum (I prefer guar because it costs 50% less than xanthan!)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 stick (4 Tablepoons) salted butter, diced into pea-sized cubes and chilled
1 cup milk

Toppings: You will need at least pizza sauce and Mozzarella cheese.


Have a bowl of warm water ready because you will need to re-wet your hands constantly.

1. Grease your cupcake pans; I did this with olive oil.

2. Put all of the dry ingredients together, and whisk to combine. Add in the butter and stir with a spoon or your hand to distribute evenly. Your butter doesn't need to melt or soften; it just needs to be coated with the dry mixture evenly.

3. Add in the milk and mix with a spoon until the mixture comes together.

4. With wet hands, line the bottom and sides of each cupcake cup with a layer of dough; it should be thin enough to still leave a cavity for your sauce, but not so thin that it won't rise. I'd say make the dough about 1/4 of an inch. Be sure to leave enough dough behind to cover the top later!

5. Spoon in some pizza sauce, sprinkle in some Mozzarella cheese, and other toppings of your choice.

6. Cover each cupcake cup with a a thin layer of the biscuit dough. It does not need to cover completely because you want the fillings to peak through once they're baked.

7. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

8. Remove from oven and let sit for 15-20 minutes, as the pizza biscuits will be easier to remove when they're not piping hot.

9. Run a sharp knife around each pizza biscuit, remove from pan, and serve.



Saturday, December 29, 2012

Gluten-Free Chocolate Kahlua's Coffee Rum Cupcakes With Toasted Marshmallows

So, last night Sean and I were at Target for groceries, and we stumbled upon the bakery section of the store. Once again, I wanted to nom everything in sight, but knew that I couldn't. It took a lot of willpower to walk away without any of the glutenous goodness.

And then, while cleaning the kitchen this morning, I saw that we had a bottle of Kahlua's Rum & Chocolate Liqueur, and thought to myself, "Hmmm, why not make some 'Pirates Cupcakes'?"

They're chocolate cupcakes made with Kahlua's Rum and Coffee Liqueur, topped with toasted marshmallows with pink sugar sprinkled on top. Coffee, chocolate, and booze -- what more does a girl need?

Note: If you are a non-drinker but want the rum taste, just skip the rum in the ingredients list, add in one 1/2 teaspoon of rum flavoring (start low, and add more if you feel that you need to), and use 1.5 cups of milk instead of just 1 cup.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.


For the cake:

1 3/4 cups gluten-free multipurpose flour of your choice; I used Bob's Red Mill.
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon xanthan or guar gum (I prefer guar gum because it costs 50% less than xanthan)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup Kahlua's Rum & Coffee Liqueur
1 cup fat-free milk
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping: 

6 jumbo sized marshmallows, cut evenly in half
Some white sugar mixed with a drop of food coloring of your choice; if you accidentally made it too dark, just lighten it by adding more sugar. Store the excess in a Zip-Loc bag for future use.


1. Put all of the dry ingredients, except the sugar, together in a mixing bowl; whisk together to mix evenly.

2. In another bowl, put the milk, rum, and oil together. Blend on medium until evenly blended. Discard two Tablespoons of this mixture.

3. Add the eggs, sugar, and vanilla to the wet ingredients. Blend on medium until light and evenly blended.

4. With the mixer still on medium, gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet, half a cup at a time.

5. Beat on medium until evenly mixed. Do not overbeat.

6. Fill each cupcake mold 3/4 of the way.

7. Bake for 18 minutes. Remove from oven, but leave the oven on!

8. Place each piece of marshmallow, sticky side down, on top of each cupcake.

9. Put back into the oven for one minute (or until the marshmallow is as brown as you like).

10. Remove from oven, gently flatten each marshmallow with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the colored sugar on top, or not.



How to Turn Wine Corks Into Coasters

The saying is true -- one man's trash is another man's treasure! I have been collecting discarded wine corks from friends, and was going to make a cork board out of these, but decided to make coasters instead. These are so inexpensive and you can use any trimming you like, or none at all. Did I mention that each one is also one-of-a-kind? These make wonderful gifts and cost pennies to make.

For four coasters, you will need:

32 wine corks (ask your local restaurants and bars for these, too, if you need to)

A hot glue gun, or E-6000 glue (this is industrial strength glue, and can be found at any home improvement store)

Trimming of your choice (I used twine)


1. Arrange your corks the way you would want your coasters to look.

2. Apply glue to the sides (make sure that all exposed sides are covered!).

3. Press the corks together and hold them for five seconds or so, be sure that the top surface is level so your glasses will sit securely on the coasters.

4. Once the coasters are secured and dried, apply a thin line of glue to the edges and affix your trimming of choice.


The trimmings you use will create specific looks. For example, satin trimmings with lace overlay will have more bridal look. Cotton ribbon trimming with cotton lace overlay will have a more Shabby Chic appeal. Polka dotted grosgrain ribbons will look quite whimsical, while black leather trimming will look more masculine. Play around; the options are endless!


Monday, December 24, 2012

How to Host a Stress-Free Holiday Dinner

No matter how you slice it, holiday dinners are stressful. However, there is a way to plan it in a way that, on the day of, all you would have to do is throw everything together and they will be ready in no time.

While this blog entry is about our Christmas-and-housewarming party, the principles are to be applied to all events. They are not even strictly for holiday-related parties, but for any gathering in which a meal hosted at your house is involved.

Last night, Sean and I hosted our very first grown-up dinner in our home, and it was so much fun! Here was how we did it:

Before you go any further, get out a pen and notepad.

Step 1: How many people will be there, including you and your immediate family? Set a budget. Now, I added in $30 worth of "wiggle room," in case something happened.

Step 2: Plan the menu in four categories -- Cocktail/starters, side dishes, main dishes, and desserts. Now, write down the foods that you want to serve for each category. Then, next to each food item, write down how much you will need, how much will the cost for that item be, and which plate or bowl will you serve it in.

Step 3: What utensils, tablecloths, etc., etc., will you use?

Step 4: How will you set up your dinner? Will this be a buffet set up, or will everything be on the table?

Step 5: How much time will you need to prepare everything?

Step 6: Create a shopping list. What do you already have? What do you still need?

I decided to host a buffet dinner, but left the bread and spreads, along with different types of wines, on the table. Also, the table had your usual nice place settings, champagne glasses, etc.

Then, I came up with the master menu; this was for me to follow along as I prepared for our dinner. I baked all of the desserts, and made the sangria, the night before.

So, here was my menu, which was a mixture of gluten-free and "regular" fares.

Cocktail & starters:

  • Sangria
  • Deviled eggs
  • Blue corn chips and salsa.
  • Potato Casserole -- the recipe is here; I skipped using pumpkin this time.
  • Spicy turkey ziti.
  • Brown sugar glazed baby carrots
Main Dish: 
  • Spicy BBQ ribs
  • Funfetti cake with bubblegum frosting.
  • Sugar cookies, topped with caramel and chopped roasted peanuts.
I decided to serve mine buffet style, but still set up the dining table nicely. Sean and I wanted our guests to feel special. After all, this was our Christmas-and-housewarming party; we recently moved and hadn't had the chance to celebrate with our friends.

1. The cocktail-and-appetizer station. Sean and I had enough sangria in the fridge to refill that pitcher at least 10 times! Also, we put out the paper plates and napkins for the guests who arrived early. In fact, this really was what the station was for; it was to keep people busy until everybody had arrived at the party.

The flowers and the cute little vase that looks like Santa's stocking were from my mother-in-law; she also sent Sean the paper plates and napkins years and years ago, and we didn't even know that he had them until we packed things up to move.

2. The side-and-main-dishes station. Just for clarification, my stove was not dusty; the camera caused certain places to look shinier than others. The flowers in the picture are from Sean; I loved them!

3. The dessert station. My friend Kerri brought the chocolate mousse cake, along with the treats to the left of it. She brought a lot, but this picture was taken after a few people had been snacking on them.

4. Me, in my favorite apron. :-)

5. For privacy reasons, I do not want to post pictures of my friends on this blog, so here's a picture of Sean and me. Ignore the things draping over the seat; our guests left their things there and we did not even notice them! Lol.

Overall, the party was a huge success, and everything was a breeze, from setting up to cleaning up.

Please feel free to comment with your favorite time-or-money-saving tips for hosting a dinner!

Have a happy Christmas!

Tammy and Sean