Centerpiece Improvisation

When you're entertaining a crowd, often extra tables must be set up to accommodate the guests. For every table you need a centerpiece, and if multiple tables are involved it can get expensive. If the gathering is informal, you may already have everything you need for those centerpieces right under your nose. It can be a nice surprise to be able to improvise without buying something new.

When I needed centerpieces for three 8-foot tables, I decided to do some shopping in my own house. I stepped back to see what items I could find to serve as the centerpieces. I wanted something colorful, casual, and not fussy. My Fiesta ware seemed to be the obvious choice.

For each table I used two large disk pitchers on a large platter. Cereal bowls became candy dishes. I added a few silk flowers I'd saved from another event for an extra pop of color.

Total cost of my three centerpieces = $0

I've enjoyed my Fiesta ware on many different occasions. I've found the pieces to be versatile, and I also use them as my every day dishes. The colors are cheerful, and they are a sturdy stoneware. I've only broken one piece in all the time I've used them, and it was a strange accident. I reached for a bowl on a high shelf, and the shelf tipped. Apparently the bracket holding one corner of the shelf had fallen out. When the shelf tipped all the bowls slid off. I don't know how I managed it, but I caught every bowl except one. That bowl hit me in the forehead, then went on to hit the counter top and the floor. These dishes are heavy, and I still have a mark of evidence on my forehead from the accident. I mourned the bowl but was so glad I was able to save everything else.



Cheese Straws

Cheese straws are made from simple ingredients, and a batch can be mixed up and baked in a jiffy. I've been told that cheese straws are much more common in the South than in other parts of the country. A Southern hostess would be sure to put on her pearls and offer guests a tray of these delightful little appetizers.

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Cheese Straws

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Dash of garlic powder

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare a baking sheet with cooking spray. In the bowl of a food processor, combine butter, cheese, flour, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Process until a smooth dough is formed. Fill a cookie press with the dough. Press the dough onto prepared baking sheet in long strips the length of the pan. Bake 15 minutes, or until straws are crisp. Use a knife to cut the strips into 3-inch lengths. Remove from pan using a flat spatula and cool on a wire rack. When completely cooled, serve or store in covered container.



Double Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

This whimsical cow and pig cake is one my niece asked me to make for her birthday. She chose this kind of cake because she raises and shows animals as her FFA projects.

The top 8-inch tier is white sour cream cake frosted in vanilla buttercream tinted pink. I used the piping bag liner trick to decorate this cake. The bottom 10-inch layer is chocolate sour cream cake frosted in double chocolate buttercream.

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Double Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, but not melted
1/2 cup chocolate chips, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder
5 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add melted chocolate, vanilla extract, and cocoa powder. Mix until blended. Add powdered sugar alternately with the cream, mixing after each addition. Scrape sides of bowl and beat an additional minute. Add a little more powdered sugar if needed, or a little more heavy cream if frosting is too stiff.



A Piping Bag Liner (I Learned Something New Today)

Decorating cakes is only a hobby for me. I have learned most of what I know on the subject by reading or by trial and error. I decorated a birthday cake this weekend, and I learned something new. This is such a simple trick, I don't know why I didn't know about it before.

I've always been one to end up with as much frosting on myself as on the cake when I'm decorating. Not today. The buttercream frosting stayed put in the piping bag. It only came out through the tip, like it is supposed to. Although I try to be careful, I usually end up with frosting oozing out the wrong end of the bag.

The way to fix that is with a piece of plastic wrap. Tear off a long piece and place it flat on the counter top. Pour a big dollop (enough to fill a piping bag)  of frosting in the center of the plastic wrap. Roll the frosting up in the plastic wrap lengthwise. With the frosting rolled up in the middle, there will be a rolled up piece of plastic wrap on each end.

Grab onto each end of the wrap and start spinning the frosting. Keep spinning until each end is tightly twisted.

Then thread one twisted end of the plastic through a piping bag fitted with a coupler. Cut away the excess plastic wrap, add the decorator tip, and secure the open end of the bag.

The bag is now lined with plastic wrap, and the frosting is contained inside. There was no mess. Not one bit of frosting oozed out of the bag. I also didn't have to struggle with filling the bag with frosting. It was neat and tidy. When the bag was empty, I pulled the plastic wrap out and threw it away. The empty bag was almost as clean as when I started, and I wasn't covered in buttercream.

This may not be a new tip for seasoned decorators, but it was big news for me. I hope someone else can also benefit from knowing how to line a piping bag. There's so much more I'd like to learn, so feel welcome to share your tips.


Blueberry Bread

Make someone's day with a warm loaf of blueberry bread. This recipe can be prepared and in the oven in a few minutes. A loaf of quick bread like this makes a great surprise gift for a neighbor or friend. As long as you're baking, might as well bake one for yourself, too.

Blueberry Bread

1 cup butter, softened
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries


1 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/2 tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9" x 5" loaf pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine butter, cream cheese, and sugar. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture. Beat only until combined. Remove from mixer and fold in blueberries. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 40 minutes or until bread tests done.

To make glaze, combine confectioners sugar and milk. Stir until smooth. Drizzle over cooled bread.



White Sour Cream Cake

This is my go-to white cake recipe for making a decorated cake or cupcakes. This cake works especially well if you need to stack several layers. It's a dense cake and holds together well. I used this recipe for a family 90th birthday celebration, and it was versatile enough to use in mini-cupcakes, regular cupcakes, mini-loaves, and a three layer cake. My family prefers this cake over bakery cake or cupcakes.

This recipe has been around since the days when cake mixes came in 18 ounce boxes. The smaller boxes short-change recipes like this, so an extra cake mix has to be used to supply the missing ounces. I keep a box of cake mix in the freezer to use as a supplement for such recipes.

Quite some time ago I did a post about these shrinking cake mixes. Check your box to determine the current number of ounces in a mix and measure accordingly.

Print Recipe

White Sour Cream Cake

1 (18 ounce) box white cake mix (cake mix no longer comes in an 18 oz. box, so you will need to measure enough of a second cake mix to make up the difference)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups water
1/8 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup sour cream
4 large egg whites

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare pans with cooking spray or by greasing and flouring. Use paper liners if making cupcakes.
In a large bowl, combine cake mix, flour, sugar, and salt; whisk together. Add water, oil, extracts, sour cream, and egg whites to dry mixture. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Pour into prepared pans, filling each one a little over half full. Bake until cake tests done. Cooking time varies according to type of pan used. The times on the cake mix box can be used as a general guide.



What Makes You Grouchy?

My sister makes the best cakes. She doesn't do them professionally, but she could. She makes them for family birthdays and other occasions. These grouch cupcakes are adorable, and she makes sure all her cakes taste good too.

These cupcakes made me think about the things that make me grouchy. I've even made a list. Read the 5 Things That Make Me Grouchy here. Cupcakes are not on the list. What makes you grouchy?