To make cactus-garden centerpieces, all you need to do is raid your fridge!
Create desert-inspired table decorations by filling several mini terra-cotta pots with dried beans or lentils for ballast. Top that with a layer of something spreadable and sticky, like cream cheese or peanut butter, and a sprinkle of "sand" (try grated Parmesan or uncooked couscous). Press in a few cactus-like veggies -- artichokes, Brussels sprouts, small zucchini, Romanesco broccoli. Result: a display so adorable your guests will think they're seeing a mirage!
Red, White & Cute
These supercool Fourth of July snow cones will never melt!
It takes just a few minutes to assemble these treats with store-bought ingredients. First, melt white-chocolate chips or melts in a large skillet according to the package directions; roll waffle cones in the chocolate. Let them dry on wax paper, point side up. To build your treat, fill each cone with pieces of vanilla cupcakes cut to fit, then add a whole cupcake, making sure the top sits above the cone like a snowball. Frost the cupcake with white icing and decorate with stripes of red, white and blue sanding sugar (cover everything but the area you want to stripe with plastic wrap to keep colors separate). Now, take a big bite -- no need to worry about brain freeze!
All right, '80s fans -- this one's for you! An appetizer inspired by a classic game: the Rubik's Cube!
Shape soft cheese, like goat or Boursin, into a 3-by- 3-inch cube (use plastic wrap to protect your fingers). Using a square cracker as a template (Cheez-It and Wheat Thins crackers are the right size), cut veggies (we used carrots, zucchini and bell peppers), crisp fruit (try apples) and firm cheeses (like cheddar) into 1-inch squares that are about 1/4 inch thick. Place the squares onto your cheese block in a grid, pressing gently to set in place. Serve your Rubik's Cube on a platter with extra veggies, fruit and crackers, and let the games begin!
Brighten up breakfast with a sunflower made from pull-apart rolls.
Slice a tube of store-bought biscuit dough into 1-inch thick circles. Set one circle aside, then cut the rest into quarters and shape into "petals." Arrange the petals in a greased pie pan, working from the outside in and overlapping as you move toward the center. Place the reserved circle in the center, then bake according to package instructions. When cool, decorate the petals with yellow icing and sanding sugar. Coat the center with melted chocolate and top with dried cranberries or currents for "seeds." Bloomin' brilliant!
Marbled Tea Eggs
How-to: After hard-boiled eggs have cooled, tap them with a knife or roll them on the counter to crack the shells -- but don't peel them! Place the eggs in a saucepan with 2 tea bags and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low; simmer for 20 minutes. Once cool, transfer the pan to the fridge and steep eggs for at least 3 hours or overnight. Drain and peel the eggs to reveal the pattern.
How-to: Set peeled hard-boiled eggs, larger end up, in a clean egg carton. Place a chopstick or pencil across each egg, pressing down to form an indentation, and wrap a rubber band around the chopstick and egg carton to hold it in place. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to set. Remove the eggs from the carton and cut in half, perpendicular to the dent, to reveal a heart shape.
How-to: Slice peeled hard-boiled eggs in half; scoop out and reserve the yolks in a bowl. Pat the egg whites dry with a paper towel. On a shallow plate, mix 2 tbsp. water and 5 to 10 drops gel food color, then dip the cut sides of the egg whites into the color for 5 to 10 seconds. Remove and let dry completely. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup water and 5 to 10 drops of a different food color. Fully submerge the rounded sides of the whites into the color, remove after 5 to 10 seconds and let dry. Meanwhile, mash the yolks with a bit of mayo, mustard and 5 to 10 drops of a third color. Spoon or pipe the yolks back into the whites and serve.
How-to: In a saucepan, bring 1 large beet, peeled and sliced, 1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar, 2 tsp. sugar and a pinch of salt to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until the beet is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove pan from the heat and let cool completely. Discard the beet, then add peeled hard-boiled eggs and cover. Transfer the pan to the refrigerator and steep eggs for at least 1 hour or overnight. Serve sliced in half or use to prepare deviled eggs.
Brighten up your bagel tray with individual servings of cream cheese disguised as cute carrots.
Wash and peel a carrot. Using a veggie peeler, shave ribbons the length of the carrot and lay each flat on a work surface. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese -- any flavor you like -- on each ribbon. Working with one ribbon at a time, hold one end of the work surface and begin twisting from the other, creating an overlapping spiral. Slightly loosen the spiral as you work your way up, creating a carrot shape. Pinch the tighter end into a point and top with a leafy stem of parsley or dill. Make a bunch and serve at brunch!
Have a Heart!
Warm up your valentine with these whipped-cream cutouts.
This tasty treat couldn't be easier! Spread a 1-inch layer of whipped cream -- real, canned, even Cool Whip -- on a parchment-lined baking sheet and pop in the freezer until frozen, about an hour. Then, use a metal cookie cutter (it creates a neater cut than plastic) to make hearts. Place them on top of piping-hot cocoa and melt your date's heart with each sweet sip.
Let It Snow
These gorgeous globes aren't collectible -- but they're delectable!
Bake a batch of your favorite cupcakes, then top with vanilla frosting and shredded coconut to make the snowy base. Build each snowman by stacking three marshmallows on a toothpick. Use pretzels, candy (like our gummy-candy nose and fruit-leather scarf) and edible ink to accessorize. Then add a peanut butter cup and chocolate wafer top hat. Top 'em off by placing a snowman on each cupcake and covering with an upside-down stemless wineglass. Now try not to eat your masterpieces before you can show them off to your guests!
Good luck squirreling away these doughnut-hole acorns. We bet they won't last five seconds!
Gather your supplies: You'll need glazed doughnut holes, melted milk or dark chocolate, pretzel sticks and toppings like sprinkles, crushed cereal, cocoa nibs and chopped nuts. Dunk a third of each doughnut hole into the chocolate and roll it in your toppings. Insert pretzel-stick stems into the tops of your acorns and let them set on a sheet of parchment paper. Now, don't you wish you had a stash to last all winter?
Give your burgers a wicked upgrade with this easy, cheesy trick!
Carve a jack-o-lantern, ghost or any other spooky character out of a cheese slice, place it on top of a just-cooked patty and add gory details with condiments. You're about to see the world's quickest disappearing act.
Bag of Tricks
Make a splash at teatime with this black-and-white cookie in disguise.
Cut rolled-out classic sugar cookie dough into teabag shapes and bake. Before the cookies cool, use a toothpick to poke a hole at the top of each one. Once cool, coat the top halves in vanilla frosting and dip the bottom halves in melted chocolate. Let the icing dry, then loop a string through each cookie. Now dunk and devour!
Wow your pals with sweet wiggle wedges for dessert!
For a gelatin treat that's as fun to make as it is to eat, start by hollowing out citrus halves (try oranges, grapefruits or lemons). Once you're down to just the white part of the fruit, pour in any flavor of gelatin you want (for an adult version, replace half of the water called for with vodka). Let the gelatin firm up in the fridge, then slice into wedges. But don't serve until you have a camera ready: peel smiles will happen!
The Hole Shebang
This wow-worthy breakfast is so simple, you can do it before your morning cup o' joe!
Slice bell peppers horizontally into thick rings, removing any seeds. Add enough EVOO to a nonstick skillet to cover the bottom and heat over medium-low. Once the skillet is hot, add the pepper slices and crack an egg into each. Cover and cook until the egg whites are set, about 5 to 8 minutes, then sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Two on a plate with bacon and toast is a cheery way to start the day!
Crack a Smile
This cute crustacean will have your guests clawing their way into your party dip!
Cut a crab shape out of store-bought puff pastry dough, making sure the body is big enough to cover most of your serving bowl. For extra-curvy claws, rest them over balls of aluminum foil. Then bake the little guy on a cookie sheet according to the package instructions. Let cool for a few minutes, then transfer to the top of the dip bowl and invite your guests to dive in!
Save BOOM for Dessert
Earn more "ooh's" and "ahh's" than a Fourth of July fireworks show with treats loaded with sweet hidden treasure.
Start by cutting large stars out of your favorite sugar cookie dough and bake as usual. While the cookies are still warm, cut a circle out of the center of every third one with a small round cutter. Once cool, start assembling: Use a whole cookie as the base, then frost the top and bottom of a hollowed cookie and place it on top. Fill the hole with small candies, and top with a whole cookie to seal everything in. Decorate as you like, then enjoy your guests' delight!
Score some major bear hugs with these cute bread rolls!
To make eight bears, use one pound of store-bought pizza dough. Divide three-quarters of the dough into eight 1 1/2-inch-diameter balls, and use the rest to make 16 smaller balls (about 1/2 inch) for ears. Place the balls on a greased baking sheet, brush with EVOO and bake at 400 degrees until they're golden, 12 to 15 minutes. After the bread has cooled, use toothpicks to attach two ears to each bear head. Draw on faces with balsamic vinegar or an edible-ink pen (which we used here). Put the bears in mugs -- propped up with extra bread, cheese or even a thick soup, so they peek over the lip -- for a snack your own cubs can dig into!
Transform your sweet treats to look like savory favorites! Make them for your next party and just wait for your guests to be impressed.