free printable party favors

I have to tell you that I am pretty excited that picnic season is here. As you may have noticed, I really really like picnics. Which is why I’m so excited to share with you the most amazing pesto you will ever taste.

A friend of ours makes this pesto from her own basil and gives it away every Christmas. Every year we devour it and rave about how good it is. I finally decided life is too short to have amazing pesto only in December. So this year I asked, and this friend of ours was good enough to pass on her recipe. (Thanks, Jaime!) We’ve been making it nonstop since. Several dinners have revolved around this pesto. And I expect several summer picnics yet to come will revolve around it too.

The recipe is so impossibly easy. I wish I’d started making it years ago. There’s no special process. There is, however, one secret ingredient: butter. Basil and butter? How can you go wrong?

I included a free printable label for you. I thought pesto might be a good addition to my list of DIY wedding favors. Plus this will make a great hostess gift. Just sneak it in the fridge with a little thank you note while no one is looking. When your hostess discovers it she will love you, and when she tastes it she will love you even more. I’ve included a blank label too. Just in case you’d like to use it for some other treat.

Download from DropBox by clicking here: Printable Pesto Label, Printable Label Blank

Or download here: Pesto Label, printable (3619)
Leafy Label, blank (4078)

(Printing tip: You can open these files as they are, or, if you’d like to change their size, insert them into a Word document as a picture. Then you can resize as you like.)

Jamie’s Amazing Homemade Pesto

Ingredients
4 cups packed basil leaves
5 cloves garlic
½ cup butter
2 cups parmesan cheese
olive oil
a handful of pine nuts or walnuts

Put first four ingredients into bowl of food processor in order given: mash as many basil leaves in as you can, just as long as you leave a few inches of space at the top of the bowl, then add garlic (the Trader Joe’s pre-peeled stuff is great), slice up the butter on top, and dump the cheese on top of that. Pulse and gradually add olive oil until mixture is the consistency of thick paste. (Taste at this point and see if it needs more of anything.) Add nuts and continue to blend. Once done, spoon into jars and keep in fridge until ready to enjoy. Yields about two cups.

I’m sorry to tell you that my basil is store-bought. But I am tending to my herb garden dutifully, and I’m hopeful that I’ll get to use my own basil very soon.

Did you know you can use walnuts in pesto? Pine nuts are great too, but I like that with walnuts you can occasionally bite into a big chunk of nut. Yum. In fact, I threw in most of my walnuts and processed the pesto for a while, then threw in a few extra and gave everything just a few whirls so I’d be guaranteed a few big chunks.

I love how bright springie green it is.


Happy picnicking!

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I put this Valentine together for my daughter to give with pencils (12 pencils in a pack at the dollar store, why don’t I go there more often?) and thought I’d post it here in case you’d like to use it too.

Download from DropBox by clicking here: Printable Butterfly Valentine

or download here: Printable Butterfly Valentine (3609)

If you get a chance, stop by a little later this morning. I’ll be posting my big giveaway, and I know you’ll want to see it.

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-homemade piggie banksI mentioned in this morning’s post that we have homemade piggie banks around here. This is as of last year, when we discovered that old spice jars make perfect piggie banks. This discovery came after a broken ceramic piggie and an afternoon of tears.

Of course, spice jars are plastic or thick glass, and therefore more shatterproof and tearproof than your traditional ceramic pig, but also, they have a double lid. You can take off one lid to put money in, or take off both to take money out. And spice jars are portable, which makes them very easy to grab on the way out the door to the grocery store, where my kids occasionally convince me that they should be allowed to spend a quarter on a sticky hand or plastic alien from one of those little vending machines that are conveniently at their height.

So here was our solution. We washed out a few old spice jars and took off the labels. I used a craft knife to cut a coin slit in the shaker lid of the jars. Then I printed off some labels (on to labels like these,which look like quite the bargain) and stuck them on. Nice and easy. We made a few jars for divvying up different kids of savings.

I’ll include a couple printables incase you’d like to leave a piggie bank in a preschooler’s stocking this Christmas. Or mail one with a couple dollars inside for a birthday surprise.

Paper Piggie Bank, pink and orange (1466)
Paper Piggie Bank, blue and green (1278)

-homemade piggie banks free labels2

-homemade piggie banks free labelsprinting and cutting the labels

-craft knifegetting handy with my craft knife

-homemade piggie banks2the finished product

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B-cherry jamLet me just tell you about this sweet cherry jam. The first time I had it I felt like I was getting away with something. Like ordering an ice cream sunday and getting two cherries on top. I hunted down the friend who made it and told her I really needed the recipe. And being the angel she is, she presented me not only with the recipe, but also with my own jar of this heavenly jam. I’m not usually the type to crave jam, but something about the half cherries in bright pink-red jelly makes me feel indulgent every time I have it. So, without further ado, here is the recipe.

free printable jam wedding favor5Sweet Cherry Jam
yield 6 half-pint jars

Ingredients
3 lbs ripe dark sweet cherries
1 package (1.75 oz) pectin
1 tsp lemon peel, finely shredded
1/4 cup lemon juice
5 cups sugar

Equipment
6 or 8-qt. Dutch oven
half-pint canning jars, sterilized and heated before adding jam
boiling-water canner

Method
1.
Wash and pit cherries, then halve them. Measure 4 cups of halved cherries.
2. In dutch oven, combine cherries, pectin, lemon peel, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over high, stirring constantly. Add sugar and continue to stir. Bring to rolling boil, then boil for one minute longer, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off foam with metal spoon.
3. Ladel jam into canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch space. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process jars in boiling-water canner for 5 minutes after water begins to boil. Remove from canner and cool on rack.

B-cherry jam 4
As for the packaging, I used this tutorial to cover the lid just to the rim (I didn’t tuck the paper under the lid for obvious reasons). And here is the label I created, in case you’d like to download it:
Free Printable Jam Label (1723)
decopage jar lid

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fourth of july party favors

row 1: patriotic cupcakes, Coney Island mustard, lady liberty hot sauce
row 2: cupcakes with real cotton candy (still thinking coney island), rocket balloons, pinwheel cupcake toppers
row 3: Crayola’s 3-D sidewalk chalk (firework how to here), s’mores kit
row 4: popcorn on the cob, sidewalk chalk stars
row 5: free printable wrapping for sparklers from Martha, confetti popper rockets

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I love summer camp letters. And though I’m driven by efficiency, maybe a bit too much, I miss letters by post. I’m glad to have excuses to write a real letter every now and then. Last week I put together letters for a couple teenage girls off to spend a week at girls’ camp. Thinking back to when I did this as a girl, I thought of a couple extra things to throw in:
-a blank book for musings (don’t we all wax more thoughtful in nature?) and
-an eye mask (for helping shut out that 5 a.m. sunshine after a night of staying up way too late talking with other girls).

summer camp care packageI made a very quick hand stitched book, with glitter stock for the cover (glitter stock is another thing I’m always trying to find an excuse for).
hand stitched book how tohand stiched bookAnd clearly stamped the intentions of the book inside.
hand carved stamphandmade mailable gift

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I’ve put together a set of Father’s Day DIYs I’m hoping to get to you over the next few days. With a little luck, you’ll get four DIY Father’s Day gifts in four days: Th, F & M, T. (Click here for all Father’s Day gift ideas.) free-printable-hostess-fathers-day-gift-hot-sauce Here’s the first DIY project: homemade hot sauce. Use any recipe you like, but I’ve had my eye on this recipe, which I hope to try next week. Hot sauce works as a hostess gift or DIY favor, but I like to think it’s particularly good for dad. Presented with breakfast in bed, of course. Kids can help color the label and maybe help make the hot sauce, if they can keep away from the peppers!

Homemade Hot Sauce Labels (1986)

I also put together some free printable Father’s Day wrapping paper this morning, which you can download here:  Father\'s Day Printable Wrapping Paper (1363)
You can print it on these labels.

free-printable-wedding-favor-hot-sauce-label free-printable-diy-wedding-favor-hot-sauce

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If you’re new here, welcome! I’m AmberLee, and Giverslog is my place to collect gift ideas and pretty wrapping ideas from talented friends and bloggers (plus I throw in a few ideas of my own). I hope the next time you’re stumped about a gift for a teacher, grandparent, hostess, or anyone else that you’ll pop in and I can provide some inspiration.

handmade-teachers-gift

I saw this DIY project sitting next to my sis-in-law’s sink and instantly knew I wanted to make a version with my kids to give as gifts. So we got to work and made one as a Mother’s Day gift for grandma and several as end-of-year gifts for teachers. The project is pretty basic, just a photocopy on a transparency inserted into a hand-soap pump. But we met with a couple disasters along the way, so I’ll run through the process for you.

diy-teachers-gift1. Start with a bottle of hand soap that has a clear blank area. I picked up these bottles of Lavata at Target (the Brazilian Citrus smells so yummy). DO NOT use foaming soap or hand sanitizer. When we tried each of these and the ink dissolved off the transparency.

personalized-teachers-gift2. I then gave my kids one note card for each grandma or teacher we’d be giving a bottle to. I had them draw a picture using just a pen. If you already have a piece of art your kids have created, that works too. And homespun poems can be just as great. I wanted my kids’ pics to fit into a set of hand-drawn frames. Here for download are the frames I drew for the project:

download from DropBox by clicking here: Handsoap Frame Art

or download here: Printable Hand Drawn Frames (4021)

personalized-teachers-gift23. For older kids you should be able to skip a step: just print the frames page and put your kids to work drawing directly on the paper. But I found the small drawing space was a little tough for my 4-year-old especially. So instead I reduced my kids’ art to fit in the frame and taped it in place (use a scanner, photocopier, or just your camera to take a picture and reduce your kids’ artwork size). Double check the frame size against the soap container you’ll be using, so you can have it reduced or enlarged if necessary.

4. I took my page of artwork to FedEx Kinkos and had it photocopied onto a page of transparency paper. (We tried using our inkjet printer and laserjet printer to print the transparencies at home, and the results were a mess. Both times the drawing separated from the transparency and dissolved into the soap.) I let my kids add a little color to the transparencies with some permanent markers. UPDATE: The yellows and reds have run, but the blues and greens held fast. You may want to stick with those safer colors if you add color.

free-printable-mothers-day-gift5. Finally came the easy part. I just trimmed each frame to fit the bottle, rolled it up to fit through the neck of the bottle, and slid it in. It unrolled in the bottle and I replaced the pump behind the art work. And that was it. They turned out great. In fact, I think I’m headed back to Target to pick up one more bottle for the music teacher.

handmade-mothers-day-giftThanks for stopping by. If you’re new here, don’t go without taking a peep at my gift guide index and pretty wrapping index. Hope to see you again soon.

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If you’re new here, welcome! I’m AmberLee, and Giverslog is my place to share simple DIYs for gift giving, happy mail ideas, simple recipes, and more. I also just opened an online chocolate shop, The Ticket Kitchen. Stop by if you get a moment.

I hope my notes here about making French macarons for the first time help you out. I’d love to hear how it turns out.

I’ve had a hankering to make macarons for some time. I love basic recipes for simple foods that are all about getting the technique right. Plus macarons are such estimable little desserts, and they freeze so well, that they are great to make in advance for a party or for friends who will appreciate them.

I found the process of making macarons to be every bit as delicate as I expected, but doable. It is a thrill to get a batch come out of the oven with a pretty dome and that perfect foot, it feels like sinking a perfect putt or hitting a perfect shot. So even though I went to bed exhausted, I woke up thinking of little alterations I could make next time to get the perfect batch.

And once you have macarons down, you will be a whiz at turning out a beautiful souffle. It uses all the same tricks (get a favorite chocolate souffle recipe of mine and tutorial here).

french-macrons-with-free-tag

Do you like the tag? I’ll post a copy here for you to download in case you’d like to use it.

French Macarons Tag, printable (25678)

After my day of experimenting with different batches, here are some lessons learned. Martha has two recipes online, and I went with her recipe from the June 2008 issue of Living, written by NYC cooking instructor Gail Monaghan (author of Lost Desserts.)

French Macarons
(recipe from MarthaStewart.com
posted here with annotations)
makes about 35 macaron shells

Before you begin:
Choose a nice, cool, dry day to make these. Humidity is not your friend. Because whipped whites are mostly air, if the air is too moist it can flatten your macarons. A hot kitchen can also deflate whites.
Separate your eggs in advance. Eggs are easier to separate when they’re cold, so separate them at least an hour and up to a day before, then cover with plastic wrap so it touches the surface of the egg, and just leave the whites on the counter.
Mis en place. Have everything you need in place so you don’t have anything to slow you down once your eggs are whipped.

Ingredients
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, 4.5 oz
3/4 cup almond flour, 2.5 oz. (I’ve made my own by processing almond slivers, but just buying it is simpler)
2 large egg whites, room temperature (no farm fresh eggs! older eggs hold air better, and take them from the fridge the day before or the morning of and let them sit there happily on the counter and warm to room temp)
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup superfine sugar, 1.5 oz. (also called baker’s sugar, I’ve read you can make your own by processing granulated sugar, but have never tried it)
3/4 cup seedless raspberry jam, for filling

See MACAROON VARIATIONS and SUGGESTED FILLINGS on Martha’s website, including chocolate, coconut, peanut, pistachio, raspberry, and vanilla bean. UPDATE: Or see the comments below! Some of you have come up with amazing flavor ideas.

Method
1. Pulse confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture 2 times. (I found sifting with my usual flour sifter near impossible. The almond flour caked under the sifting hand and balled up over it. Instead I sifted with a simple bowl-shaped sieve.)

2. Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add superfine sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form (the recipe suggests 8 minutes, for me it took only 3 to 4 minutes, take care not to over-whip). If you’re going to add color, I added food coloring towards the end of whipping my whites. I found I could use standard, water-based food coloring. Several of the recipes I saw recommended paste food coloring, but I didn’t have any at the time, so I went out on a limb! The water-based colors worked just fine.

stiff-peaks
3. Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is smooth and shiny. I found the amount of folding to be crucial. Fold too little, and your macaron shells will have peaks instead of nice rounded caps. Fold too much, and your meringue will drip into a mess of wafer-thin blobs. Tartlette recommends about 50 folds, until your batter has a magma-like flow. For me about 65 folds was just right. I find the batter has a little of a soft-toffee like sheen when it is ready. (UPDATE 02.10: stop by here to read about a macaron class Tartlette taught). You can test a daub on a plate, and if a small beak remains, turn the batter a couple times more. If the batter forms a round cap but doesn’t run, it is just right. When I spooned my batter into the pastry bag, the perfect batter started to just ooze out of the tip once the bag was full. If it stayed stiff inside the bag it was too stiff, if it dripped out too fast the batter was too runny. I found that doubling the recipe made this step very difficult for me, I found I would over fold to incorporate the flour mixture and I would end up with a runny batter.

macaroon-batter

4. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip.

5. Pipe 3/4-inch rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. I put the tip right in the middle of where I wanted each macaron and let the batter billow up around it, then I drug the tip to the side of the round. (You can pipe 1-inch to 2-inch rounds, but you will need to add cooking time). Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes. (Different recipes recommend anywhere from no rest time to 2 hours rest time. I was most happy with 30 to 45 minutes rest time, once the caps looked more dull and had formed a slight skin, so that during baking the macaron could puff up beneith that skin and form that pretty “foot” at the bottom.) While they’re resting, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

6. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees. Every oven is different, so you may need to play with your oven temperature. The tops of the macaron shells should not brown.

7. Let macarons cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. If macarons stick, spray water underneath parchment on hot sheet. The steam will help release macarons (if this doesn’t work, see below, under “troubleshooting”).

8. Sandwich 2 same-size macarons with 1 teaspoon jam. Serve immediately, or stack between layers of parchment, wrap in plastic, and freeze for up to 3 months. It takes only 30 minutes out of the freezer for macarons to be ready to serve.

TROUBLESHOOTING: If you’re wringing your hands in frustration because you can’t get these little desserts to come out right, either they are hollow inside or have no feet or they crack, you are in good company. Me included. Here are a few things you can try to get that first perfect batch that will get you addicted to making macarons.

1. Use an oven thermometer: Chances are, your oven is different than mine, which is different from many other friends and bloggers who have attempted macarons. Pay a couple dollars for a decent oven thermometer and you can know for certain that your oven temp is right. Undercooked macarons will end up hollow or deflate after cooking.
2. Use a good baking sheet: If your baking sheet is too thin, the macarons won’t bake evenly or correctly. You can even try doubling up two thin baking sheets if that’s all you have.
3. Use old eggs: I know this may sound wrong, just wrong, but it makes a difference. Use eggs that are not too fresh and leave them on the counter at room temp for a day or two.
4. Make sure you have prime egg-whipping conditions. Trust me, a humid day or one streak of grease in your bowl can make what could have been a beautiful batch of macarons into a disappointment.
5. If your macarons have no feet, make sure they had their time on the counter (after piping and before baking) to create a skin. I love what Evelyn said below: “NO skin No feet… ” When your macarons form a skin before you bake them, the skin traps the air under the dome so that the air’s only way to escape is through the bottom, creating feet as it goes.
6. Don’t over or under fold your batter. I know, I know, we’ve been through this. But if you let your macarons sit on the counter for 45 minutes to form a skin and you’re still asking yourself, “why don’t my macarons have feet?” the answer is probably that you underfolded so the batter is too stiff or overfolded so it is too loose. And if you come up with a different reason, I’d love to hear.
7.  Increase cooking time for bigger macarons:
I’ve undercooked my macarons before and had them come out hollow. Pretty still but very disappointing in texture. Make sure that if your macarons are bigger circles, you bake longer.
8. Keep an eye on your macarons to avoid browning them or letting them crack
: I love these notes note from Beth and Zach (thanks you two!!): “I bake mine with the light on in the oven so I can monitor what’s going on in there. If it seems a little hot, crack the door and stick a wooden spoon in to hold it slightly ajar. I believe the cracking happens when the oven it too hot.” “The steam produced is escaping too fast to exit out only the bottom; thus the top (even with that “skin”) has no option but to break and crack the top. If this happens consistently, turn down the heat a few degrees (no more than 10 degress 5 preferable). “
9. If you macarons won’t unstick, try water (and cook longer next time).
Here’s a great tip from a reader whose macaron shells stuck to the paper. (Thank you, Jennifer!!) “The steam did not work for me, I think because my paper is fairly thick. So I rested the paper (with the Macarons stuck to it) on a thin layer of water. I counted to 15 which is just enough to soften the paper without getting the Macarons wet. They pulled off flawlessly! You may have to adjust how long you let it sit depending on the type of paper you use, so as not to wet your Macarons!” And it’s also likely, if your macarons stick, that you didn’t cook quite long enough.
10. What about a confection oven? Thanks to Zach for this note!: A convection oven should work just fine. But you should reduce cooking time becasue of the moving air, which will help prevent the cracking. If your convection oven is too hot or the air flow setting is on “high” (if apliccable), then then extra drying might make cracking more possible.

macarons

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Kathleen at Twig & Thistle has ideas of giving that are so perfect and complete in themselves. I hope you don’t mind if I pass on just a little more of her beautiful work.

Get instructions and templates for making these lovely bottles of homemade vanilla extract from Twig & Thistle. These would be perfect as a wedding favor, as Kathleen says, and even nice enough to give to a hostess for an overnight stay. Here are places to buy vanilla beans for your homemade extraact and sticker paper for your labels.

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You can wait until the last minute this Valentines day and still come out looking thoughtful and domestically brilliant, thanks to two freebies at Twig&Thistle. Get the directions and printable wrapping free for the Sweetie-Pie and Brownie Heart Valentine on her blog.

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