Gifting for Dummies

Mrs. Fields Gifts
Fact: not all thoughtful people are good gift-givers. Gifting seems to be a language that is natural and fluent for some, and totally foreign to others. If you find yourself in the latter group, never fear. We’ve got some solid ways to transform you into a gifting guru.

  • Plan Ahead. This tip almost more than any other will improve your gifting. After all, nothing influences a dummy gift choice like a time crunch. (We’re looking at you, people who buy random gifts at the gas station on the way to the party.) Most of us rely on smart phones these days, so let your phone give you some smart reminders about gifting. Set alerts that give you plenty of time to plan and make or buy a gift, and be sure to set the alert for a time in your week when it won’t be easily dismissed. (Mrs. Fields Tip: We designed our checkout for gifting pros and gifting dummies alike. You can buy your gift anytime, then select the exact date you want it delivered!)
  • Listen for Hints. As birthdays and anniversaries and other gifting occasions draw near, listen for hints and look for clues to give you gifting inspiration. Some people drop hints explicitly (“I could sure use a day at the spa!”) but most of the time it’s a matter of paying attention to the needs and wants of the people you care about. Sometimes the best gifts are ones that fill a need and sometimes they fill a want.
  • Put Yourself in Their Shoes. Think about your giftee and his or her life. Gifting dummies make the mistake of giving gifts that they themselves want, or gifts they want their giftee to want. You’ve got to get out of your own head and into somebody else’s shoes to be a better gift giver.
  • Pick up Gifts Along the Way. Gifting geniuses have a stash of ready-to-go gifts they’ve found throughout the year that they know will be just perfect for someone when the time comes. Keep your eyes peeled for those perfect somethings, buy them, and keep them in a safe place. Your future self will thank you.
  • Homemade is a Homerun. A handmade, homemade gift is always a hit because it shows time and dedication. Think about your skill set and what you might be able to create. (Mrs. Fields Tip: How about making a decadent dessert? We have lots of recipes and how to’s.)
  • Focus on Simple Pleasures. Let’s face it, some people are hard to shop for. Avoid gifts like clothing (that might not fit), books (they might not read), and items that the person might feel obligated to display around their house. Focus on simple pleasures, like food, drink, entertainment and relaxation, and you’re almost sure to give something appreciated. (Mrs. Fields Tip: There’s no more simple pleasure than freshly baked cookies and brownies delivered right to the door!)

Want to give your gifting skills a try? Don’t forget that Employee Appreciation Day is coming up on March 6th and right now, there’s a big sale going on at Mrs. Fields.com. (Use code: MADNESS at checkout.)

Tricks for Making Boxed Cake Mixes Better

Everybody knows that there’s nothing quite like a made-from-scratch cake, but in a pinch, a boxed cake mix can place a very close second with some secret tips and tricks from the experts. Try them on your next cake and see if you can pass it off for the real thing!

  • Substitute melted butter for oil. This will give your cake the deep rich flavor that only butter can supply. In a saucepan on low heat, melt the butter until just liquified, then add it to your mix just like you would vegetable oil.
  • Add extra yolks. After you add the eggs the box recipe calls for, add one or two more yolks to give the cake even more moisture and richness.
  • Sprinkle sugar over the top before baking. The weight of the sugar will keep your cake from baking with a mound in the middle. A nice, even sprinkle right before it goes into the oven will keep it more level.
  • Add a teaspoon of coffee to chocolate cakes. A little bit of straight black coffee or espresso will bring the chocolate flavors to life. You won’t taste coffee, just rich chocolate.
  • Add hot water to chocolate cakes. Instead of using water right from the tap, use hot water to help “wake up” the cocoa in the mix.
  • Add pudding mix and sour cream. One small package of instant pudding mix (choose the flavor depending on your cake) plus one cup of sour cream creates a dense, moist delectable cake.
  • Add citrus zest. A bit of fresh zest from a lemon, orange, or lime gives a perfect, subtle zing to cakes, especially ones that have berries and chocolate.
  • Add vanilla. An extra teaspoon of vanilla is a great way to bring boxed cake flavors to life. (Keep in mind that white cake mixes may be slightly off white with vanilla added.)
  • Add meringue powder. A tablespoon of this powder will give flimsy cakes some strength while still remaining delicate. Perfect for layered cakes and angel food.

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20 Amazing Freezer Hacks

Wrapping up our freezer-friendly series, we’ve got twenty genius hacks to get the most out of your freezer. Everything from green onions to your favorite pair of jeans, it’s time to start using your freezer to the max.

  1. Store ice cream containers inside a Ziploc bag to keep ice cream soft and ready to scoop right out of the freezer.
  2. Place a wet sponge inside a Ziploc bag and freeze it for a handy ice pack that won’t drip or leak as it thaws.
  3. Freeze candles before burning them to get a longer, more even burn.
  4. Pour homemade chicken stock into ice cube trays or muffin tins to make easy anytime-use chicken stock at the ready.
  5. Store water bottles in the freezer. They keep the freezer efficient, plus they can be used as ice packs in a cooler, or a continual sip of ice water on a hot day.
  6. Instead of washing your designer jeans, store them in the freezer for a few days. It kills any germs, plus it restores the “just washed” fit without the wear and tear of a wash cycle.
  7. Have shoes that need to be stretched out? Fill a bag with water and place it into the shoe. As the water freezes, it expands, stretching the shoe.
  8. Use up fresh herbs by chopping them up and placing them into an ice cube tray, then fill with olive oil. Now you’ve got herb-infused olive oil!
  9. Keep half-used bags of veggies from getting lost under piles of food in the freezer by hanging them from the racks with binder clips.
  10. Chill melons in the freezer for a half hour before cutting them for a crisp, sweet bite.
  11. Chop green onions and keep them fresh for up to a month in an empty water bottle in the freezer. Just shake out a sprinkle as needed.
  12. Chill a bottle of beer by wrapping it in a wet paper towel and putting it in the freezer for two minutes.
  13. Always store excess butter in the freezer for ultimate freshness.
  14. Store fresh ginger in a Ziploc bag in the freezer for lasting use. Pull it out and grate it for fresh ginger anytime.
  15. Instead of baking soda, place a box of coffee grounds in the freezer to absorb odors.
  16. Freeze juice boxes for school lunches. It will thaw out by lunchtime and keep the rest of the food cool and fresh.
  17. You can freeze eggs for up to one year in the freezer. Thaw them in the fridge or in cold water.
  18. Get gum out of clothing by freezing it for 24 hours. Gum will chip right off.
  19. Made too many pancakes or waffles? Store them in the freezer and reheat in the toaster.
  20. Wash and freeze grapes for a quick, healthy snack and an ice cube substitute in cocktails.

Do you have a favorite freezer hack? Share your ideas in the comments!

10 Ways to Treat Yourself for Valentine’s Day

Head Over Heels Box

Valentine’s Day is not just for couples, it’s a day for celebrating love and that includes for yourself. So get inspired and show a little love…to you!

  1. Spend a day of indulgence, whether that means sleeping in or meeting friends for a fancy brunch or scheduling a spa treatment. Clear your calendar of obligations, then fill it up with things that make you feel rejuvenated and valued and special.
  2. Take yourself out to a movie. Your choice, your time, your popcorn, your candy. It’s a private little luxury to sit and enjoy a movie all by yourself. Try it.
  3. Volunteer with an organization you care about. Nothing makes you feel quite as good as service, especially to an individual or organization that is meaningful to you. Whether it’s an hour, the whole day day, or a regular commitment, giving a little bit of yourself is valuable to you too.
  4. Learn something new. There’s probably something you’ve always wanted to do, but just haven’t found the time. Get out of your comfort zone and sign up for a workshop, seek out a mentor, or register for a course. It’s never too late to admit to yourself that you’re worth the investment of time.
  5. Get a new haircut. Mix it up with a new cut or color and introduce yourself to the new and improved you.
  6. Set a goal and break it down. Always wanted to travel to Paris? What would it take to get there? Pick a reasonable date and set it, then break down all the little pieces to make it happen.
  7. Treat a random stranger. Want a rush of joy? Pay for someone’s coffee. Add some change to a parking meter. Leave anonymous notes tucked in benches that say things like, “You’re a great person!”
  8. Reread a favorite book. Going back to an old book is like reconnecting with an old friend. You’ll be surprised at things you missed the first time around, how your perspective has changed with time and maturity. You’ll discover a lot about yourself.
  9. Write a list of all the things you love about yourself. Go ahead, don’t be shy. You know you’ve got great teeth, a killer laugh, and an undeniable knack for supporting your friends. Admit it. Write the list and post it somewhere you can review it often.
  10. Gift yourself! Order yourself a thoughtful gift, and have it delivered to you. Be sure to fill out the gift enclosure with something thoughtful like, “You deserve this.” It’s fun and empowering.

25 Ways to Say I Love You

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Looking for a creative way to show your valentine some love? Here are 25 ways to get started.

  1. Wash and vacuum his car
  2. Spell out his name in candy
  3. Write a love note on the mirror in red dry-erase marker
  4. Dedicate a song on the radio
  5. Make a playlist of meaningful songs
  6. Read his favorite book out loud to him
  7. Write him a love poem
  8. Write him a love letter
  9. Book a surprise getaway
  10. Make a picture book of favorite moments together
  11. Make his favorite meal and eat by candlelight
  12. Surprise him at work with a picnic lunch
  13. Stock the fridge with his favorite snacks and drinks
  14. Name a star after him
  15. Shine his shoes
  16. Book a couples massage
  17. Sign up for a dance class together
  18. Find forgotten photographs and frame them
  19. Give him a list of 100 things you love about him
  20. Surprise him with tickets to see his favorite team
  21. Leave love notes tucked into his shoes
  22. Recreate your first date
  23. Make reservations at his favorite restaurant
  24. Give him a one-minute kiss
  25. Surprise him with a delivery of fresh treats

Blog readers enjoy a special Valentine’s Day discount by using code SECRET20 to get 20% off purchases through 2/10/15.

Tips for Freezing Cookie Dough

If freezing cold temps don’t really work for you, we’ve got some great ideas to make them really work for you. For the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of our favorite freezer-friendly tips and recipes to get the most out of your freezer. Today, we begin with cookies, which are a perfectly suited for your freezer. You can put frozen cookie dough right into your preheated oven and have freshly baked cookies in a matter of minutes. But how you freeze and store the dough matters, so follow our tried-and-true tips.

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After making your favorite cookie dough (we recommend our Blue Ribbon Chocolate Chip recipe), allow dough to sit for a few minutes while you prepare a 9×13 casserole dish with a Silpat liner or a piece of parchment paper lining the bottom. Half of the liner should be hanging over the edge. Form dough into puck-like discs, about an inch thick with a flat top and line them along the bottom of the dish, leaving a little room around the edges.

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Once the bottom half has been filled, fold the liner back over the first layer of cookie dough and fill in another layer on top. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least one hour to get them hard. (You could leave this in the freezer for longer, but the dough won’t last as long or stay as fresh with so much air surrounding it. Not to mention that a 9×13 dish takes up a lot of space!)

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Using two strips of plastic wrap per six dough discs, create a “tube” of cookie dough by using the first strip to weave accordion-style between each disc so that they won’t stick together. Wrap excess around the sides, then wrap the stack inside the second strip of plastic wrap to create a tube. When it’s time to bake, simply preheat your oven, unwrap a tube of dough, arrange them on a lined baking sheet, and bake until golden brown.

Frozen cookie dough will stay fresh in your freezer up to three months, so next time you’re making a batch of cookies, but don’t want to bake them all, pop some in the freezer as a gift to your future self. (Your future self sends thanks!)

 

The Best Frosting Recipes for Cakes and Cookies

Mrs. Fields Frosted Cookies

Everybody knows that the frosting can make or break your favorite cakes and cookies. Get it wrong and hours of work is lost. Get it right and people are lifting you on their shoulders and naming streets in your honor. (Or so we hear.) Make your frosting always hit the mark by using our handy guide for finding the best match for your cakes and cookies.

For Cakes

Old-Fashioned Vanilla Frosting – This light, fluffy frosting can be colored (or left a soft off-white). You can also substitute the vanilla with almond flavoring.
Use it on: chocolate cake, red velvet cake, cupcakes

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting – This silky frosting has great texture and deep flavor, perfect for piping or spreading. Use real cream for best results and keep it refrigerated.
Use it on: chocolate cake, yellow cakes, berry cakes, cupcakes

Quick Chocolate Frosting – This lighter-than-air quick frosting takes only a few ingredients and a few minutes to prepare. It’s a great recipe to keep on hand.
Use it on: chocolate cakes, yellow cakes, cupcakes

Cream Cheese Frosting – The perfect balance of flavor and texture, this frosting is not too sweet, not too tangy, and has a sturdy texture perfect for piping and frosting.
Use it on: carrot cake, red velvet cake, spice cake, cupcakes

Chocolate Ganache – For serious chocolate lovers, it doesn’t get better than ganache. This recipe is decadent and perfect for glazing your favorite cake.
Use it on: chocolate cakes, cupcakes, and even brownies

For Cookies

Royal Icing – This shiny, highly versatile frosting is the favorite of sugar cookie decorators. This recipe is solid, simple (and there’s a video tutorial to help).
Use it on: cut-out sugar cookies

Chocolate Royal Icing – The chocolate alternative that, in our opinion, is severely underused. Yum.
Use it on: cut out sugar cookies

Buttercream Frosting – Fluffy, spreadable, color-able and loves sprinkles. Perfect for spreading or piping.
Use it on: drop sugar cookies

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting – Sometimes cream cheese frosting can overpower a cookie, but a little cinnamon balances everything out.
Use it on: pumpkin cookies, spice cookies, gingerbread cookies

Do you have a favorite go-to frosting? Tell us about it!

Does Warm Milk Help You Sleep? And Other Food Myths

Warm Milk

Does warm milk really help when you can’t sleep? We’re tackling ten food myths to see if they are fact or fiction.

Myth #1: Warm Milk Helps You Sleep
Verdict: Fact, but it’s not exactly biology that makes it so, it’s more psychology. A warm glass of milk is comforting like a teddy bear or favorite blanket, calming nerves and summoning peaceful memories.

Myth #2: An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
Verdict: Fact-ish. While there’s nothing magical about an apple, the idea of daily fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced diet is one of the most important ways to stay healthy.

Myth #3: Eating Carrots Improves Eyesight
Verdict: Fact, but specifically your sight at night. Carrots will not be able to replace your reading glasses, but the Vitamin A in carrots does help your eyes adjust to dim light. If you have trouble with night vision, try eating more carrots.

Myth #4: Fresh Produce Is Always Better Than Frozen
Verdict: Fiction. It’s true that few things are as delicious as a fresh ear of corn, but when it comes to nutrition, the frozen substitute is often better unless you picked the corn yourself from the stalk. The flash-freezing process happens within hours of picking and preserves nearly all of the nutrients, much more than produce that has to travel for days by truck to reach your store.

Myth #5: Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever
Verdict: Fiction. Good nutrition is always important, and especially when you are sick. Fevers burn extra calories, sometimes an excessive amount, so restricting calories could be dangerous. Colds and fevers both deserve that bowl of chicken soup!

Myth #6: Dark Bread is Healthier Than Light Bread
Verdict: Fiction. The key for determining a healthier bread is less about color and more about one simple word: multi-grain. The more grains in a bread, the more nutrients and fiber.

Myth #7: Fish is Brain Food
Verdict: Fact. The unsaturated fatty oils in fish known as omega-3s are not only good for your heart (reducing risk of heart disease and stroke), but especially your brain. Daily servings of fish reduce your chances of dementia by up to 60%!

Myth #8: Spicy Foods Cause Ulcers
Verdict: Fiction. Ulcers are caused by a very specific bacteria in the stomach that has nothing to do with spicy food.

Myth #9: Chocolate Causes Pimples
Verdict: Fiction. (Phew!) Some very old and very poorly designed studies from the 1930s linked chocolate consumption with pimples, but that research does not hold up.

Myth #10: A Cookie Makes Everything Better
Verdict: Fact. We are the experts on this one, and even a great day is made better with a cookie. Case closed.

5 Easy Homemade Dog Treats

Mrs. Fields Secrets Doggie Treats
If you’ve got a four-legged friend in the house, we’ve got just the way to make their day! Homemade dog treats are a fun, healthy, affordable way to shower love on man’s best friend. There are many advantages to making your own dog treats, including customizing the portion size and incorporating your dog’s favorite flavors. We’ve gathered five fun, easy recipes (including a no-bake option) to help you get started. Try them out, customize them and make them your own. Your dog will love you (even more) for it! Follow links for the original recipes.

1. Peanut Butter Doggy Pretzels
2. Bacon Flavored Dog Treats
3. No-Bake Dog Treats
4. Peanut Butter Paw Print Biscuits
5. Healthy Morning Poochidatis

Tips for Keeping Your Cookies Fresh

There’s nothing quite like a batch of cookies fresh from the oven, so soft, chewy and moist. But how do you keep that first-day freshness until the last cookie? We’ve got some brilliant tips to help you do just that!

  • Always allow cookies to cool completely before storing. Placing still-warm cookies in a container will cause them to get soggy from steam.
  • The more butter, the longer the cookie will stay fresh. The natural fats from butter help retain moisture and softness. If you need a recipe you can make ahead of time, our blue-ribbon chocolate chip is ideal.
  • Air-tight containers are key for freshness, but pay attention to size. Use the smallest container you can, which will ensure the least amount of air inside.
  • Never store cookies in the refrigerator, which dries them out. For long-term storage, opt for the freezer in a freezer-safe, air-tight container. Frozen cookies can stay fresh up to three months.
  • Place a slice of sandwich bread inside the cookie jar or container. The cookies will absorb the moisture from the bread to remain moist. Replace the bread every 1-2 days.
  • Wrapping each individual cookie in plastic wrap is a great way to keep air out and moisture locked in. Plus, cookies are ready to go at any time into a lunch bag, purse or pocket.
  • When using a container, separate layers of cookies with pieces of wax or parchment paper. They will retain better shape and more even moisture.
  • Never combine soft and crispy cookies in the same container.
  • Buttery cookies like shortbreads and sugar cookies will stay fresher longer with liners. Use cupcake liners around each cookie in a container for best results.
  • Unless freezing for long-term storage, room temperature is best for cookies.
  • Cookie jars are cute, but make sure they have an airtight seal around the rim for best results.
  • To give a cookie a fresh-from-the-oven taste, wrap it in a barely wet paper towel and microwave it for 5 second increments until warm and soft.

Do you have a favorite trick for keeping cookies fresh? Share it with us!

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