Decorating Gingerbread Houses is a special way to unite our communities – neighborhoods, offices, families, moms, hospital patients unable to home for the holidays, and so many more. Planning and spending a little bit of time each day is the secret to hosting a memorable gingerbread house party. For years to come the friendships and memories will be cherished!
This is the first of a series – a guide to planning and hosting the most spectacular holiday party of the year!
For over 25 years, I have been decorating gingerbread houses. I am happy to share my tips with you. If this is something new for you, then you will love the new holiday tradition. However, if this is one of your favorite traditions, I have some new ideas for you!
Decorating Gingerbread Houses is something for all ages, 2 – 99. It’s creative and brings out the child in everyone. It’s happy chaos!
I have the honor of speaking at the Junior Charity League – JCL – meeting. They are celebrating their 60th anniversary with a “Celebration” theme. How perfect! Gingerbread House Celebrations is my topic! With the holidays just around the corner, everyone is ready to celebrate with family and friends!
Please join us for a behind-the-scenes visit with David Dike, founder and owner of David Dike’s Fine Art Gallery. David offers tips for new and experienced art collectors. . .
David Dike’s art auctions are a tradition in Texas art since 1996.
David Dike’s Texas Art auctions are fun! And there is a piece of art for everyone.
Just in case you are unable to attend the live auction, check out David Dike’s Fine Art, download an Absentee bid/phone-in bid form, and fax it in. Your bid will be working for you even while attending a college football game or lunching with friends!
Auction date & time: Saturday, November 9th, 2019; Doors open at 10:00am; bidding starts promptly at 12 Noon CST
Where: Wildman Art Framing, 1715 Market Center Boulevard
Oprah visits Dallas . . .she walks on the stage at the State Fair of Texas. “Deep in the Heart of Texas” blares over the speakers. Imagine my excitement, standing on stage as she welcomes the crowd! It’s a memory that I will cherish forever . . .
This once-in-a-lifetime experience is one of those things that I accidentally stumbled upon . . .
It is 2009, it’s a busy time of year for our family. Our kids are back in school. They are in 2nd, 6th, 8th, and 10th grades. Soccer games, football games, gymnastics, hockey games, practices, playdates, and school . . . happy times!
This is my favorite time of year because the State Fair of Texas is open. After driving my daily morning carpools, I dash back to my Texas kitchen where I test unique cake recipes, baking techniques, and secret ingredients for the upcoming State Fair of Texas cake contest.
The phone rings. On the other end, I recognize my friend, Mary Flo, in an excited tone she says, “Oprah is coming to the State Fair of Texas!”
Oprah is the talk of Dallas! I’m mixing a lemon cake with a new secret ingredient, Limoncello. My mind drifts . . . What is Oprah up to with the State Fair of Texas?!!
Ingredients cover the kitchen counters from one end to the other . . . flour, sugar, butter, milk, eggs, pecans, coconut, confectioners’ sugar . . . cakes bake in the double ovens all day long . . . the Kitchen Aid mixer whirls . . . another batch of icing is ready . . . cakes cooling on racks, pastry bags of icing . . . trimmed cake bits. I am tasting and tweaking cake, icing and filling recipes . . . back to the computer for edits . . . printing recipes. . . testing again . . . the days are flying . . . five new cake recipes are almost ready!
The alarm goes off, I’m standing on my feet in a flash! Today is the day. There is no time to spare . . . in the kitchen, I assemble the last two cakes. I’m gathering recipes, cake stands, tea towels, extra icing (just in case), cake toppers, spatulas, and my camera.
The cake contest begins at 10:00am sharp. Loading the car, I remind myself that I cannot be tardy!
My friend, Pam joins me for the adventure. She balances my favorite lemon cake in a Tupperware container. It’s raining . . . we make our way down Central Expressway and into the parking lot of the fair. With only a few minutes to spare, we load the cakes and supplies into my wagon. Pulling it along and balancing a couple of cakes, we make our way through the gates, down the Midway and into the Creative Arts building.
For a few minutes, I fuss over my cakes . . . one, two, three, four, and finally five cakes . . . displaying them on a crystal cake stands. At last, I hand each cake and recipe over to the State Fair of Texas officials. A BIG sigh of relief. Done!
Now, it’s time for our annual tradition, a Fletcher’s corny dog!
However, before we are able to step outside the building, one of the State Fair of Texas officials calls me. I turn and ask, “What’s up?” She motions to my lemon cake. Much to my dismay, it has fallen in half . . . half of the cake remains on the stand while the other half rest on the counter. My heart sinks. Lucky for me, a fellow contestant, Rex comes to rescue my lemon cake. Wrapping a piece of wax paper around it, he smashes it together and returns the cake to the officials.
The room buzzes with excitement. Beautiful cakes cover the tables, the judges are tasting, making notes, and discussing the cakes. Anxious contestants analyze the judges with great anticipation. My lemon cake doesn’t stand a chance against the steep competition.
It’s time for the judges to announce he winners. The shiny ribbons are displayed for all to see. As the winners’ names are called, they scream with delight and pick up their ribbons.
Last of all, the “Best of Show” is announced. Barbara Jones’ voice bellows over the speaker, “And the “Best of Show” award goes to Susan Apple Graass.” Wow, I cannot believe my ears . . . my lemon cake, the one that fell apart, has won the “Best of Show”! It’s my lucky day!
My friends and I are taking victory photos with our cakes and ribbons. Barbara Jones, Creative Arts director, ask, “Can you make a cake for Oprah?”
“Why of course!” I respond and think to myself . . . baking a cake for Oprah is the icing on the cake!
Featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. "Best of Show" in the State Fair of Texas 2009 cake contest. Susan Apple Graass – Dallas, Texas
Cake: 3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 T. baking powder, 1 t. salt, 1 cup vegetable shortening, 2 cups whole milk yogurt, 2 cups sugar, 6 separated, 2 T. lemon zest
Glaze: 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, 6 lemon peels(leftover after juicing lemons)
Lemon curd filling: 1 t. unflavored gelatin, 1/2 cup lemon juice, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/8 t.salt, 10 egg yolks, 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
Icing: 2 pounds confectioners' sugar, 1/4 to 1/3 cup Limoncello, 1 pound room temperature unsalted butter, 1 pound crisco®, 1 t. salt, 1 t. vanilla
Meringue garnish: 4 room temperature egg whites, 1/2 t. cream of tartar, 1/2 cup plus 1 T. superfine sugar, 1 cup confectioners' sugar
Cake: Preheat oven to 350º. Grease 3, 3 X 8-inch round cake pans, place 3, 8" parchment paper rounds in the pans; set aside. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer. In another bowl, whisk the vegetable oil, yogurt, sugar, egg yolks, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly blend the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into the cake mixture. Pour into the prepared cake pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes on racks. Invert cakes onto racks and cool completely.
Glaze: Stir water, sugar, and lemon peels in a small saucepan over medium. Heat until sugar dissolves, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat, cool, and strain. Set aside.
Lemon curd filling: In a small cup, sprinkle the gelatin over 1 T. lemon juice; set aside. In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the remaining lemon juice, sugar, and salt until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is hot but not boiling. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks, slowly add about 1/2 to 1 cup of the hot lemon mixture to the egg yolks; whisk together. Return the egg yolk/lemon mixture to the original mixture, stirring occasionally heat until the mixture reaches 170º. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the gelatin/lemon juice mixture; blend until gelatin is dissolved. Stir in the butter. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Press a plastic wrap directly onto the surface. Refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours.
Meringue: Preheat oven to 200. Place a Silpatº in a jelly roll pan; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites until frothy, add the cream of tartar, continue beating. Continue beating and gradually add the sugar. Beat until the whites are stiff and glossy, but not dry. Whisk in the confectioners' sugar. Spread onto the prepared pan. Bake for 2 hours or until dry but not brown. Set aside. Cool.
Icing: Add the confectioners' sugar, Limoncello, salt, and vanilla to the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk until thick like a pancake batter. Add the butter and shortening, continue whisking until the mixture is thick and creamy, scraping down the sides occasionally.
Assembling the cake: Place 1 cake layer on a serving plate, brush with the glaze, spread 1/2 of the lemon curd on top, Repeat with the second cake layer. Place the third cake layer on top of the cake. Spread a generous amount of icing on the top and sides of the cake. Smooth out the icing. Break pieces of the meringue chips and decorate the top and sides of the cake with them.
The theme of “Bobby’s Dinner Battle” is the Wild West. The judging criteria is based on the flavor of the dishes and how much the menu incorporates the theme. So we are making Old Fashioned cocktails, empanadas, grilled pork tenderloin with an andouille sauce, twice baked potatoes, homemade rolls, and chocolate sorbet for dessert. One of Bobby’s favorites and it should be a snap to make.
We have three hours from start to finish to cook and plate the dinner for Bobby and the other two teams.
Here we go . . . culinary victory or defeat?!
The clock is ticking . . .
Grace-anne is grilling. I’m kneading the dough for the rolls.
Much to our surprise, we have a box of cactus, a challenge ingredient, along with gloves for handling the thorny plants. Wow, we are to cook it and serve the cactus with our meal!
This is not something we were planning on cooking. With not much time to consider our options, Grace-anne gets a knife, shaves off the thorns and slices the cactus into strips. Meanwhile, I am setting up three bowls for battering and frying the cactus. The hot grease bubbles as the battered cactus hits. They cook to a golden brown. They cool off. We taste – as Bobby Flay says to do – they are delicious. What luck!
We cut fresh yellow roses and arrange them in sterling silver Mint Julep cups, grab bandanas, a cowboy hat, china, wine glasses, candles, and silver. Dashing to the dining room, we decorate and set the table.
The clock is ticking . . .
The last plate is complete. The timer buzzes. It is time to serve our meal!
Bobby and the opposing teams taste and critique. Of course, we are in the kitchen and unable to hear what’s going on behind the closed door. We wonder if Bobby likes our Wild West feast. Later, we find out that the chocolate sorbet was a disaster. I left out the sugar. Oh my, it’s not looking so good. Will it be a culinary victory or defeat?!!
The time as arrived . . . the cooking and judging is over now. Bobby has picked the winning team. The three teams stand around the dining room. Our hearts are pounding . . . ” And Dallas Best Home cooks are Grace-anne and Susan!” says Bobby Flay. We are thrilled!!
We wrap up and have a brief interview.
Now, the new challenge is keeping our culinary victory a secret. How will we ever be able to do it?!!
We devise a plan . . . we hide the trophy in the attic and tell our friends and family that Bobby’s team filmed three endings. When the show airs, we will find out the winner. It’s a plan . . . a Culinary Victory!
Every September 17th, my thoughts drift back to 2012 . . . the first day of filming for a new Food Network show. It happened to be in Texas . . . and happened to be in my house.
Just a few months before, we heard that Bobby Flay was scouting for the “Best Home” cooks. He was filming a new Food Network show in Dallas, LA, NYC, Philadelphia and Chicago. We figured the chances of getting on the show were somewhere in the same odds as winning the lottery.
At the last minute, we sent in a few photos and wrote an essay on how we loved cooking for our families. We mentioned entering the State Fair of Texas cooking contests. Much to our surprise, one of Bobby’s scouts called to set up an interview. Long story made short, we were invited to compete in “Bobby’s Dinner Battle.” Sounds great! Just one problem, public speaking is my worst nightmare. How could I possibly cook and talk while the cameras were rolling? Lucky for me, my teammate Grace-anne was witty and fearless!
So . . . we decided to forge ahead. After all, how could we resist such a fun opportunity?!
These giant trucks backed down our family’s driveway. It was exciting but scary. Was it too late to change our mind?!!
The doorbell rang, we greeted Bobby’s team. Within hours, the trucks were unloaded and our house had been transformed into a Food Network studio. It was magical. No doubt I still felt butterflies, but this new project was turning into a great adventure!
An egg-cellent french Omelette is tasty, elegant, and the perfect introduction to French cuisine. Julia Child details two techniques for making french omelettes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. With a little practice, it’s easy to whip up french omelettes.