Category Archives: Make Your Own

Make Your Own Gingerbread House: Part 2 Decorating

Merry Christmas!!!

Finishing our Gingerbread House on Christmas Eve wasn't what I had planned, but it was fun!

How to Use Necco Wafers on Gingerbread House

 If you missed how to bake and construct your own Gingerbread House, click HERE.

Gingerbread House

And here's the full scene.  Gingerbread House with Chimney, Candy Walkway with Bridge, Gum Drop Snowman, and Dog House with Dog and Doggie Poo.   Oh yes, and snow.

If you're in a hurry, or have little patience, make sure to have a large tip on hand to pipe large amounts of icing quickly.  And have a smaller tip for smaller areas.

Gingerbread House 1

We used Necco wafers in overlapping rows for the shingled roof (below).  We used broken wafers for a stucco look on the front (above).  The large peppermint poles that look like barber shop poles are Bob's Sweet Stripes Soft Mint Candy.  The candy canes at the door are just classic candy canes.  The pathway to the house is made with Nerds and AirHeads Extremes Sweetly Sour Belts. The shutters on the window are fruit slices.


To make the shingled roof, pipe a large stripe of icing and smoosh the wafer in.  Make sure to start at the bottom of the roof, then add an overlapping row with the new row of wafers placed in between the row below. 

The sides of the house are decorated with Air Heads Xtremes Sweetly Sour Belts.  They are super easy to cut and paste on the side of the house.  Use your small tip to place a thin stripe of icing on the side of the house where the strips will go, or place the icing on the back of the strip.  Just don't use the smooshing technique here.  You want a clean look.

I was short on time, short on icing, and short on ideas for the back of the house. So I used the small tip to pipe some random icing on the back, like this ….

…then I cut large marshmallows in 4 slices each, dipped the sticky side in sugar, and stuck the other side against the house (see below for the marshmallow look and above to see how little icing you need for it all to stick). Once all the marshmallows are on, you can continue to use your small tip to fill in the exposed areas with more icing. 


I used Raisinettes for the chimney.  Cut them in half with a sharp knife and be careful of the crumbs.


Twizzlers would also be good for the roof.  We used them below for the dog house.  The photo below shows the back of the houses.

And this is the front of the dog house 

Gingerbread Dog House from Graham Crackers

Alyssa made this dog house out of graham crackers.  The candy canes are from CVS drug store, and were surprisingly easy to cut fairly cleanly.  She made a dog by cutting up a large marshmallow or two, and covering it with frosting. The eyes are Nerds, the ears and "poopy" pile are Santa's Coal Bubble Gum, which I bought at CVS drug store.

Gum Drop Snowman Necco Wafers Gingerbread House
And here's a little snow man made of gum drops, icing and Nerds.  Finish it all of by slapping on lots of icing on the base, using a rubber spatula.  Work quickly – it dries fast. While it's wet, sprinkle plain white sugar (lightly), or use edible, clear or white cake sparkles to look like glistening snow.

Good Luck!

Make Your Own Gingerbread House: Part 1 Construction

Jillian is making a gingerbread house.  Here's how she baked and constructed the house.

Whenever she gets around to finishing it, we'll post "Part 2: Decorating." Hopefully over the weekend.

Gingerbread Recipe
Compliments of JennaDish

Recipe from Simply Recipes 

6 cups all purpose

teaspoon baking powder
4 teaspoons ground
4 teaspoons ground
1/2 teaspoon ground
cloves or allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (12
Tbsp) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed
light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup dark molasses
1 Tbsp water

Gingerbread Dough:

Whisk together the
dry ingredients in a large bowl, set aside.

Using an electric
mixer, beat on medium speed the butter and brown sugar until fluffy and well
blended. Beat in the eggs, molasses and water until well combined. 

Beat half of the
flour mixture into the molasses mixture until well blended and smooth. Stir in
the remaining flour. Knead (or use your mixer's dough hook) until well blended.
If dough is too soft, add a little more flour.

Wrap the dough in
plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours, preferably overnight. You can
make it up to 3 days ahead of time. Let sit at room temperature for at least 10
minutes before rolling out.

Royal Icing
MAKES 3 cups icing

4 cups confectioner's sugar
3 Tablespoons meringue powder
6 Tablespoons lukewarm water

Beat ingredients until glossy, and peaks form when you lift the mixer.  (See photo further below) This will take 7-12 minutes on low to medium speed, depending on your mixer).

This dries VERY quickly, so cover it while it's sitting out, with a damp dish towel.  To store and use later, seal in airtight container and refrigerate for a day or two.  The sooner the better.

Divide the dough ball in two and wrap separately. This will help it become cold faster, but also, will give you the right size when it's time to roll it out.  You'll see.


While the dough is chilling, make the templates for the house parts.

Jillian got the pattern from here.  

The pdf of this pattern is here: 
Download Gingerbread House Template

Cut a sheet of parchment paper to the size of your cookie sheet.  Then roll the dough out to about 1/4" thick, in a rectangle the same size as the paper. 

Cut out the pieces on the paper, then lift the excess dough away, leaving this…


Dough pieces!


Rolling tip:  Roll from the middle out to near the edge. Then rotate and repeat.  If you keep rolling the edges, it will get thin and break apart.  Also, this method will allow you to roll the dough evenly. 



And there you have it.  A naked gingerbread house. 


Homemade Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

Whole Wheat All-Purpose Pizza Dough

You can make your own healthy, whole wheat pizza dough with a nice, crispy crust – all without any expensive equipment or fancy culinary skills.

Make this simple Martha Stewart dough with half whole wheat flour and half all-purpose white flour, and make 6" rounds for individual pizzas. 

6 inch individual pizza dough

Use whatever you need and freeze the rest in between sheets of parchment.  (Wax paper will stick to the dough.)

Frreeze Ahead Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
This is what the frozen round looks like out of the freezer.  It got a little thin in one spot.  This dough isn't as thick and sturdy as a store-bought pizza crust.  So after about 1 minute, this crust was flopping over.  So no need to let it thaw – you can take it out of the freezer, put your toppings on, and bake.

Crusty Bottom Pizza Dough Baked on a Ceramic Tile

To get a crust crispy and brown on the bottom and edges,  some people turn their oven up to 500o but I don't like to do that – it's just too hot and unnecessary.  To get my crust looking like this…

How to Get your Homemade Pizza Crust Crispy on the Bottom

I preheat my oven to 450o and use baking stones.  If you don't want to spend $30-$50 on a baking stone that's not big enough to hold more than one pizza (and sometimes cracks), use this cheap trick ….

Ceramic Tile Baking Stone

Go to a home improvement store like Home Depot, and purchase two 12"x12" ceramic tiles (floor tiles) for about $3 each, and they should fit perfectly, side by side, across your oven.  Once these stones are heated up, they will crisp your dough up nicely.

The best way that I've found to get fresh, sticky pizza dough in the oven, and a hot, slippery pizza out of the oven, is to place the dough on a piece of parchment paper.  No pizza peel needed.

Oh, and you save money and you save your family nasty, overly-processed ingredients from store bought pizza.

Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

Compliments of JennaDish

from Martha Stewart

MAKES TWO 1-POUND BALLS (about 6-8 six-inch pizza crusts) 

1 1/2 cups warm (115 degrees) water
2 packets (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for bowl
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for

2 cups whole-wheat flour (spooned and leveled)

Place water in a large bowl; sprinkle with yeast. Let stand
until foamy, about 5 minutes. Brush another large bowl with oil.

In bowl with yeast, whisk sugar, oil, and salt. Stir in flours
with a wooden spoon until a sticky dough forms. Transfer to oiled bowl; brush
top of dough with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; let stand in a warm spot
until dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface. With floured hands,
knead until smooth, about 15 seconds; divide into two balls.

Set balls on a plate (they should not touch); freeze until firm,
about 1 hour. Then freeze in a freezer bag up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in

Divide each ball of dough into 4 pieces. Using your hands,
stretch each piece into a 5-inch disk (if dough becomes too elastic to work
with, let it rest a few minutes).  Jenna's Note:  Spread a little semolina on your working surface, then push the edges of the dough out while constantly rotating it.  Don't flip the dough over which will work the semolina into the dough.  You want to keep the semolina on the bottom which helps it to not stick to your work surface.


Make Your Own Microwave Popcorn

 Make Your Own Microwave PopcornMake Your Own Microwave Popcorn


I didn't know you could make your own microwave popcorn.  I read the recipe in an Ellie Krieger cookbook and was surprised.  Evidently it's not a well-known fact, because the first 4 people I told said they didn't know you could microwave popcorn this way either.



Microwave Popcorn

In a bowl, toss 1/4 cup popcorn kernels with 1/2 teaspoon canola oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt.


Put in a paper bag, close the bag and fold the top down a few times.  Place on a microwave safe plate.


Set microwave for 3 minutes, but stay and listen for the popping to slow to one pop per second, approximately.  Then immediately turn off the oven and remove the plate and bag with pot holders.

This is the bag flipped over – gets oily, hence the need for the plate.  But the oil is better in the bag than on the popcorn.

Remember, this popcorn comes out plain – no butter, and needing more salt.  Just like air-popped.



Quick Pickles

Quick Pickles
Quick Pickles!!!  These are the best-tasting, crunchiest, easiest pickles to make. 

And this recipe does not require any stovetop work, unlike most of the other quick pickle recipes I've seen.  Make these a day ahead of your planned eating time.

Got this recipe from a veggie burgers cookbook…

Quick Pickles Recipe
…and got my cucumbers from a friend's garden.  Thanks Adrienne! 

Wavy Sliced Cucumber
And if you have a wavy slicer from Pampered Chef in your kitchen drawer, patiently waiting every two years to be used because your kids are grown and you no longer need to make raw veggies or cheese fun-looking in order to get them to eat it … now's the time to get it out.

Quick Pickles
Compliments of JennaDish

from Veggie Burgers Every Which Way by Lukas Volger


4 Kirby cucumbers (I only used 2 pickling cucumbers)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 Tblsps kosher salt
2 Tblsps sugar
3 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon mustard seeds

Cut the cucumbers into whatever shape you want.  Mine are 1/4" wavy rounds. 

Combine 2 cups water, the vinegar, salt, and sugar in a nonreactive bowl or jar that comes with a lid, stirring to dissolve.  Add the cucumbers, ensuring that they are completely submerged, adding more water if necessary.  Cover the bowl or jar and let stand at room temperature overnight, or for 12 hours.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the cucumbers to a colander and rinse with cold water.  Divide the cucumbers, garlic, peppercorns, and mustard seeds between 2 pint jars or place all in 1 quart jar.  Pour the brine over, ensuring that the pickles are entirely submerged.  Cover and chill for at least 2 hours.  Can be kept, refrigerated, for about a month; the flavors of the garlic and other aromatics will be enhanced over time.  UPDATE: I would take the garlic out after a couple of days.  It becomes overpowering in my humble opinion.


No Fail Pie Crust

This is from my mother's recipe collection in her own writing.  She always has had very nice penmanship.






No Fail Pie Crust
Compliments of JennaDish

Makes 3 – 9" single crusts

3 cups unbleached white all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups Crisco shortening
1 large egg
5 Tablespoons ice water
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar

Sift flour and salt, cut in shortening until mixture is in coarse crumbs.  Beat egg with cold water and vinegar.  Pour into flour mexutre.  Stir with a fork until mixture sticks together.  Divide evenly into thirds (use a scale if you have one).  Roll between wax paper and chill about 30 minutes in order to roll it out with minimal sticking. 

Light and Flakey.  Very Nice.


Pumpkin Feta Savory Muffins


Roasted pumpkin, feta, spinach, parmesan, sunflower seed kernels, parsley, mustard, flour, milk, eggs, baking powder, salt.  Hmmm.  Where's the stick of butter?  Where's the oil?   Where's the sugar?  That's the wonderful thing.  There is none.

Evidently in Australia pumpkin and feta are extremely common.  Like our corn and cheddar, or lemon and poppyseed.  Why should we care about common food pairings in Australia?  Well, this recipe came from some Australian gals who put together a little vegetarian cookbook which you can find here.  I found the recipe on  Thank you, thank you for a great little recipe.

You could use another similar veggie rather than pumpkin, such as butternut squash or probably even a sweet potato?  You just need to cook it in a way that wouldn't be too mushy.  You will need to cut it into cubes. 

However, if you're going for the fresh pumpkin, like I did, buy what's called a "pie pumpkin."  Mine came from Green Bean Delivery (to-your-door veggies and fruit in Cincy and Indy).  My little punkin was a 3-pounder and it yielded about 4 cups of pulp.  This was my first time doing this, so now I'm an "expert."  It's that easy.

How To Cook a Pumpkin

Preheat oven to 350o.  Cut the stem off and wash pumpkin, cut in half horizontally, remove seeds and strings, place cut-side-down on parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and bake until a sharp knife can be easily inserted through the softened flesh, about 30 minutes, or more for a larger pumpkin. 

Remove from oven let cool until able to handle, and using a large, wide metal spoon, scoop out pulp.  Scoop out in large chunks that can be cut into smaller cubes.  For puree, let the pulp cool and put into a food processor.  Add water if needed in very small amounts (teaspoons at a time).

Is it me or does my pumpkin pulp look like peaches?  I hate when that happens.


Alright, here's a loose overview of recipe:  Mix all these ingredients, then mix dry ingredients separately.  Fold together and place in buttered muffin tin.  Bake and eat.  Wow.  That was complicated.



Pumpkin Feta Savory Muffins

Compliments of JennaDish


You can play with the ingredients but I would make it as is first, to get a feel for the originally-intended product.  I'm thinking I'll add some red pepper flakes next time.  Also, Heidi from 101 cookbooks used 1/2 spelt flour and 1/2 all purpose flour.  Seems white whole wheat would also work.

from Martha Goes Green Cookbook (via called Pumpkin Feta Muffins

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups cubed pumpkin or butternut squash 1/2-inch cubes

salt and pepper to taste
1 large handful of baby spinach, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley or cilantro
3 tablespoons sunflower seeds kernels (personal preference-next time I will chop these)
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup cubed feta
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard (I was out and used creamy dijon)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup milk
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

Preheat oven to 400oF with rack in the top third. Use the butter to grease a 12-hole muffin pan and set aside.

Sprinkle the olive oil and some salt and pepper over the squash. Toss well and turn onto a baking sheet or roasting pan. Arrange in a single layer and bake for 15 – 25 minutes or until cooked through entirely. Set aside to cool.

Transfer two-thirds of the squash to a large mixing bowl along with the spinach, parsley, sunflower seeds, Parmesan, two-thirds of the feta, and all of the mustard. Gently fold together. In a separate bowl beat the eggs and milk together and add to the squash mix. Sift the flour and baking powder onto the squash mix, top with the salt and a generous dose of freshly ground black pepper and fold together just until the batter comes together, be careful not to over mix.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, filling each hole 3/4 full, top each muffin with a bit of the remaining squash and feta (see photo up above). Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops and sides of the muffins are golden, and the muffins have set up completely. Let cool for a couple minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack.

How to Make Your Own Chili Powder

I can't really explain why I was so excited to make my own chili powder. 

It must be the novelty.  But I was also drawn in by the people who raved about how much better it is than the canned stuff.  I love to read comments from the people who discover something they can do better at home than what they can buy.  They sound so empowered! 

Homemade Chili Powder …. Power to the People!

Speaking of Chili Powder, who likes Sidewalk Chalk?  I do!  I do!

It's Streetscapes: A Street Painting Festival
in Clifton
Hello Lydia and Jill
You were baking in the sun, so Lydia's mom bought you some nifty straw hats


And there's Lydia's mom – not only practical, but talented.


Wow.  Pride and Prejudice in chalk.  That's crazy.

Ah.  There's Zoe.  Painting a car. 

You see.  Making street art is totally like making chili powder. 
Let's make art with some chili peppers.

Here's how you do it.  I took instructions from 3 sources, because 2 of the 3 were a tad short on details.  They were Alton Brown/The Food Network, the cookbook Cook This Not That by Zinczenko and Goulding and the book Herbs and Spices by Jill Norman.

Choose a variety of dried chili peppers.  Above I have ancho chiles, the small brownish ones that have a mild, fruity flavor and New Mexican chiles have an earthy taste.  A third kind that I will add later is a hot variety.  You can choose chiles de arbol which are fiery hot.

Also common in the chili powder is cumin seed, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and dried oregano. 

You can do this one of two ways.  You can put the chiles and cumin seed in a dry skillet and toast them all together for 3-6 minutes (I did this and felt my cumin seed toasted much more quickly and might burn).  Or you could toast the cumin seed and chiles separately.  Toasting the chilis only takes about 5 minutes.  It may not seem like they are truly toasted because they'll still be soft, however they will harden a bit after cooling. 


Cut the chiles into smaller pieces with kitchen scissors.  Put the chiles and cumin seed into a blender or coffee grinder and grind to a powder.   In a small coffee grinder like mine, you will have to blend the chiles in batches.  Add the remaining ingredients and blend all together.

Sprinkle a 1/2 teaspoon on popcorn and mix well, or put a Tablespoon in a pound of hamburger for burgers.  When you smell the freshly toasted blend, you will understand why others say they throw out their little can from the store.

Homemade Chili Powder
Compliments of JennaDish

Inspired by Alton Brown, the cookbook Cook This Not That and the cookbook Herbs & Spices

6-9 dried chile peppers of a variety of heat – stemmed, seeded and sliced
(i.e. ancho=mild/fruity, de arbol= fiery hot, New Mexican=earthy)
2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
1-2 tablespoons garlic powder (I used less because I don't like garlic powder)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Toast the chiles and the cumin in a nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Cook, shaking the pan to prevent burning the cumin, and turning the chiles, until you begin to smell the cumin toasting, approximately 5 minutes. Set aside and cool completely.

Once cool, cut the chiles into smaller pieces, place the chiles and cumin into a blender or coffee grinder, along with the garlic powder, oregano, and paprika. If using a coffee grinder, blend in batches.  Blend or grind into a powder form.  Store in an airtight container.