real life test kitchen: custom chocolate bars

finished bars

Ever since I married my darling husband, I’ve entered a whole new world of holiday madness: Chrismukkah. Yes, we celebrate both. That means coming up with gifts to put under the tree, gifts to put in a stocking, plus a gift for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. Needless to say, my gift budget has gotten a little out of control in recent years. But I spotted some custom-made candy bars out there in the world recently, and decided to try my very own DIY version. Turns out, it’s easy, thrifty (especially if you don’t buy $20 chocolate as I did), and a huge hit at my house.  –Becki S. Click for custom chocolate bars! (more…)

From our partners

steal this idea: grocery store holiday décor

table setting

Hosting holiday parties is stressful — there’s just no way around it. Between the guest list, the menu and the drinks, it’s easy to completely overlook one of the most critical elements: décor. Nothing can deflate my festive mood faster than looking around my house and realizing it’s as utterly unimpressive as a holiday scene can be.

Fortunately, I’ve figured out a few tricks to make my next holiday dinner party fun, festive and — most importantly — frugal. The key for me was to splurge on one piece that’s a classic, and then supplement with dressed-up grocery finds. So, I nabbed a gorgeous Marimekko tablecloth I’m utterly in love with, and will use for years to come (plain white from your favorite bargain store will work just as well). Add some colorful napkins (mixed colors and patterns are especially good), and then hit the grocery store.

For the setting in this photo, I bought a dozen pears in different colors, a pile of fresh thyme, sage and rosemary, and a bag of unshelled nuts. I think my total at the register was about $17. Arrange the pears in a bowl, clear vase, or in a straight line along the table. Scatter nuts on the table, and accent each place setting with a little bundle of mixed herbs, tied with raffia or twine. If it’s not a sit-down affair, take the herb bundles and pop them into shot glasses or tea light holders for instant doses of green that also happen to smell amazing. Presto — your inner Martha is smiling, and your holiday spirit should be in full swing. –Becki S.

From our partners

chic online invitations? we tried it!


With the holidays performing their patented surprise attack once again this year, I again find myself (predictably) balancing big ambition and little time. In the interest of realistic planning, this means I had to make a choice: take the time to snail mail invitations to our holiday soiree or holiday cards, but not both. We’ve long been psyched about’s online invitation service so I decided to do some reseplace to that end and was delighted to find Paperless Post. Another alternative to an everyday Evite, Paperless Post allows users to send fully customizable cards and event invitations to everyone on their list for a small fee. The site also offers a handy R.S.V.P. service that allows you to save an address book, keep track of your guest lists and send notes and reminders to invitees. Two standout features include the ability to have the envelopes addressed to each person individually, as opposed to a generic “open your invite” message and the option to assign a number of guest R.S.V.Ps to each piece, allowing the system to tally your count correctly without sending an invite to each individual person. Stamps start at $5 for 30, while custom coins (which allow you to select special customizations like envelope liners and logos) start at $5 for 25. As an added bonus, we earned 25 stamps just for registering, and have the potential to gain an additional 10 for each friend that registers. With my party invitations done and managed online, I’ll be able to devote time to keep up the holiday tradition of popping some handwritten season’s greetings in the mail. Anyone else have a great online card service to share? –Sarah C.

From our partners

real life test kitchen: pear persimmon pudding cake with whiskey cream cheese icing


It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Never has that phrase been more true than in regards to this year’s Thanskgiving meal. Days before the holiday, Seattle was hit by a small, yet uniquely crippling snowstorm, nearly stranding my husband and I at work, and causing me to frantically shop for the holiday without my grocery list. I did a pretty good job remembering most everything, but dessert, which was supposed to be a Peach Pie with Gingerbread Crust from the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts, had been completely overlooked. Oops! So in my snowbound state, I scoured the fridge for what I could do with ingredients I had on hand. Persimmons? Check. A few past-their-prime pears? Sure. Add a frozen nub of ginger root, some cardamom pods, and I was in business. The resulting dessert was fantastic: a dense, rich, pudding-like bundt cake faintly spiced with fresh ginger and cardamom, glazed with a crazy-delicious Bushmills whiskey cream cheese icing. Perfect for holiday potlucks, lazy breakfasts and home-baked gifts, this recipe is one of my most delicious happy accidents! — Megan B. Click for pear persimmon pudding cake! (more…)

From our partners

real life test kitchen: baba ganoush


Baba ganoush. Fun to say, isn’t it? And after making my own, I can now say it’s almost as much fun to make. Prep is ridiculously simple — pierce a large eggplant and throw it in the oven. Including making my own tahini, the dish required only 15 minutes of total prep time. Several reviewers complained that at 1/4 cup, the lemon juice was overpowering, so I cut it back to 1/8 cup when making mine and the acidity level was perfect. Get the recipe, adapted from this one, after the jump. — Sarah L.

We’re taking the rest of the week off for the holiday – Have a wonderful one, and we’ll see you on Monday! But for now, click for quick & simple baba ganoush! (more…)

From our partners