Chicken Tagine with Dates and Honey

Happy International Women’s Day!

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We’re definitely a progressive household. Tim TOO OFTEN jokes that he’d like to be a househusband one day!

While I went out to give a talk at the uni about the Women in Engineering group that I’m part of, Tim decided to get out the Masterchef cookbook and make a delicious meal (and dessert!)

My parents bought us the tagine for christmas, and we’ve used it several times since. You wouldn’t think it would make such a difference to the way the food is cooked, but it does!

At a glance, this meal seemed like a slow cooked meal that would take a looooong time to cook, but it was ready in less than two hours, with very little prep.

The ingredients included cardamon, cumin, coriander, fennel, black peppercorns, ginger, tumeric, cinnamon quills, garlic, chillies, dates and honey.

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The tagine was the perfect combination of sweet and spicy, and the chicken thighs were also extremely tender after the tagine cooking. To top it all off, Tim toasted slivered almonds to garnish, which gave another great texture to the meal.

The meal was served with israeli pearl couscous; if you haven’t eaten pearl couscous before, do yourself a favour and get on it! Like other types of couscous, it was quick to make, but so easy to cook perfectly al dente. We found it at the local deli.

And for dessert, my fave… chai latte creme brûlée! I don’t think I should let Tim in the kitchen too often, I think he’s trying to outdo me!

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Chicken Tagine with Dates and Honey

Serves 4

(Recipe from Mastechef Cookbook, Season 2)

Ingredients

3 tsp cumin seeds

3 tsp coriander seeds

2 tsp fennel seeds

12 cardomom pods (seeds only)

1 tsp black peppercorns

1/2 tsp sea salt

olive oil

2 onions (finely diced)

4cm piece ginger (finely grated)

2 long red chillies (finely chopped)

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground tumeric

2 cinnamon quills

1kg chicken thigh fillets (cut into 3 pieces each)

500ml (2 cups chicken stock)

10 fresh dates (pitted and chopped)

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup slivered almonds (lightly toasted)

couscous to serve (you can use normal couscous, but I love pearl couscous!)

 

Method

1. Grind the cumin, coriander, fennel, cardamom, peppercorns and salt in a mortar and pestle.

2. Heat olive oil in a tagine (or casserole pan) over low heat. Add the onions and cook for 3 minutes, then stir in the garlic, ginger and chillies and cook for 5 minutes or until soft.

3. Add the spice mixture, ground ginger, turmeric and cinnamon quills and cook over low heat for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken. Cook for 5 minutes each side, turning occasionally, or until lightly golden.

4. Pour in the stock. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for around 50 minutes or until the chicken is tender and falling apart. Add the dates and honey and cook uncovered for a further 10 minutes or until sauce has thickened.

5. Serve the tagine with couscous (cooked according to packet directions) and garnish with chopped coriander and toasted almonds.

 

Heart Surprise Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Valentines Day is almost here!

What better way to celebrate than with some cupcakes?

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I whipped these up last night, and tried one with Tim for breakfast this morning. Cupcakes… breakfast of champions!

These cupcakes have a super moist and fluffy butter cake base, topped with an extremely decadent cream cheese frosting. But, the showstopper in this cupcake is the bright pink surprise heart in the centre of the cupcake!

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The cream cheese frosting was actually trial and error recipe last night, but came out perfectly. It’s made to withstand the extreme heat and humidity that we get here in North Queensland. The oversized soft serve swirl will hold its shape even when left out on the bench all day.

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Even if you don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day… making these yummy cupcakes is a good excuse to get into the spirit!

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Happy Valentine’s Day for tomorrow! x

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Heart Surprise Cupcakes

(makes at least 16 cupcakes, you could halve the recipe to make a smaller batch)

Ingredients

200g unsalted butter, softened

1 ½ cups caster sugar

4 eggs

2tsp vanilla extract

2 cups milk

4 cups SR flour

Food colouring of your choice (I used rose pink)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius and line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. Grease a loaf tin with butter and set aside.
  2. Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla extract until lighter in colour. Keep mixing whilst adding the eggs one at a time, mixing well in between additions.
  3. Add the flour and milk alternatively until all incorporated.
  4. Now, we need to separate off some mixture for the cake hearts! Pour a quarter of the mixture into a separate bowl, colour with food colouring and mix well. Pour into the prepared muffin tin so that the batter is approximately 2cm deep.
  5. Bake the coloured batter for approximately 15 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  6. Turn the coloured cake out onto a clean surface (upside down) and wait for it to cool slightly (approx. 5min).
  7. Using a heart shaped cookie cutter, cut hearts from the coloured cake.
  8. Now, bake to the normal batter! Spoon a tiny bit of batter into the prepared muffin tin, just enough to cover the base.
  9. Place a coloured heart on top of the normal batter, standing upright. Make sure you remember which way your heart is standing in the tin at all times… this is SUPER important when icing too… you want to have a nice heart shape when you cut the cupcake open!
  10. Holding the top of the heart in place with one finger, spoon batter in and around and then on top of the heart.
  11. Bake the cupcakes for 15 mins. These will take less time to bake than normal cupcakes, as the coloured heart is already baked. Remove from the oven and from the muffin tray, MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHICH WAY THE HEART IS STANDING! J

Cream Cheese Frosting

This makes a WHOLE lot of icing, which is what I like. I like to generously frost my cupcakes!

Ingredients

1 stick copha (grated – trust me, it is worth the effort to grate the copha!)

100g butter

250g cream cheese

1 bag pure icing sugar, sifted

Method

  1.  Add copha and butter to electric mixer and beat on medium speed for 3 minutes.
  2. Add the cream cheese and mix for 1 minute.
  3. Add the pure icing sugar a little at the time, until all is used. Beat until well incoporated and light and fluffy.
  4. I use a pastry piping bag fitted with a star tip to pipe my swirls on my cupcakes. I used pink sprinkled to make a line across the cupcake, so that people know where to cut the cupcake to reveal the surprise heart inside.

Oh Christmas Tree… DIY Christmas Tree

Finally, it’s the 1st December! I can now unashamedly share pictures of our decorated Christmas tree without feeling guilty for decorating it yesterday (a day early).

 

Most of you know I have a problem. Instead of looking at pretty things and admiring their beauty, I immediately think…. ‘How can I make that?!’

This is exactly what happened with this tree. I saw a picture of a rainbow rope tree on the amazing Anthropologie website. Considering that postage for that tree would take three weeks, I made my own version.

 

I did like the rainbow colour of the store tree, but I figured that a more neutral tone would be a lot more versatile, and I hadn’t decided how to decorate this potential tree yet.

I made a trip to Bunnings and bought a piece of timber dowel, some garden wire and some christmas lights.

 

The assembly of the tree began with the construction of the legs for the tree to attach to the dowel (thanks Tim). Then the twisting of the branches began. Twisting the wire onto itself for extra strength, we twisted long random branches. This part was the killer of the project! Tim drilled holes randomly in the dowel at different angles and levels to secure the metal branches through. The lights were then taped on to random branches.

 

Then, it was wrapping time. I decided on cheap calico to wrap the tree, and cut at intervals through the selvage of the fabric and then ripped all the way down, so I had lots of strips. I sewed the strips together and then we wrapped the tree, starting at the bottom.

For the skirt of the tree, I used a couple of metres of tulle with flocked spots and losely wrapped this around the tree.

This is the first christmas tree we’ve had, I hope you like it :)

 

Only 24 sleeps until Christmas!

 

Fancy Oven Mitts (and what I’ve been doing the last couple of months!)

Well!

It’s been a while. A long while! The last time I posted was months ago… but in my defence it’s been a pretty hectic couple of months with uni exams and all. But now I’m freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee (for a couple of months) so you can expect to hear more from me.

Here’s a roundup of what I haven’t posted about…

I’ve……

…made a fish skin leather clutch (fish skin leather is AMAZING! I sourced mine from Canada)

…with matching fish skin leather fascinator for the races

…oh, and Apples couldn’t get left out so she got a fish leather fascinator too :)

…discovered a DELICIOUS (and healthy!) avocado choc mousse recipe

…made a cute little doll (Heidi) for a new little baby girl

…tried my hand at ‘pancake and maple syrup’ macarons, yum!

…made a new ironing board cover (we were in dire need of a new one!)

…made a men’s skinny tie

Well, that’s all that I can remember and that was in my Instagram feed!

Today, I decided it was finally time to upgrade our oven mitts. We currently have an old faithful red pair, but they really have served their time! I used the old pair as a template to make the new ones (trying super hard not to transfer any ’ick’ from the old ones onto the new fabric!). I don’t often make things without a pattern, but these were easy.

I selected a dotty fabric. It kind of reminded me of the game ‘Twister’. I quilted diamonds around each circle, and… when I was shopping for the fabric, I spotted some pom pom trim. I couldn’t say no. I love pom poms! So they got incorporated into the new mitts too.

They make them a little less practical, but hey! They look cute. And that’s all that matters right? :)

Jazzing Up Dining Room Chairs… Upholstery!

I love watching home renovation shows, but it’s a bit hard to put any of it into practice when you’re renting! But, I am particularly interested whenever I see someone re-upholster a chair on tv, it looks ridiculously easy! So I had to try my hand at it.

We had some dining room chairs which are in great condition, but I thought I could have a go at updating the chair cover.

The chairs, before.

The chairs, after!

I cannot emphasis just HOW EASY this was! All that was needed was a staple gun and some cotton drill (about half a metre per chair).

I have to say, I felt pretty powerful with that staple gun in my hand as well! It was really fun to use :) All the while, I was still mindful that I may be clumsy enough to staple gun my fingers, but I made it through unscathed.

Blue fabric, I love this print!

Vintage flower drill

Apples… Always has to be where the action is!

We also decided to re-start our herb garden (unfortunately our last one…died). We got basil, chives, thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley…AND Habanero chillies and strawberries! I cannot wait to try the habanero chillies in particular, those who know me know that I love spice, and these were rated a 10/10 for spice at the nursery ;)

And bought a bonsai for Tim’s desk called ‘Life on the rocks’ :)

I hope you enjoyed your weekend as well!

Bright Stripe Quilt

Well, I did it! I finally finished a quilt! I have started many before, but never finished one.

Lucky I have lots of other friends who love to quilt at the moment (unusual, yes?) so we had some intense sewing sessions together and I finally got it done. Would have never got it done without their amazing help and guidance, so a million thanks! :)

I used a roll of pre-cut white strips and pre-cut coloured strips to make the quilt, and then moved them left and right randomly to get the effect before I sewed them together. I used yellow and white stripey binding and multi coloured circles for the backing. I have to make mention of the fabric used for the quilt, it was surprising just how long it took to decide on the the backing fabric and the binding! Okay, maybe I shouldn’t say surprising… Spotlight is always just one of those places that I could spend hours at without even realising!

Apples checking out the quilt

I usually give away the things that I craft, but this I could not BEAR to give away! It was amazing the amount of work that goes into a quilt, I will never look at one the same way again. I had spent so many hours on this quilt that it’s become quite precious to me, so precious in fact, that Tim AND Apples were forbidden to be near the quilt for at least a week after I finished it!

But finally, I’m using the quilt for it’s intended purpose (it’s keeping me warm on the couch right now as I write this) and I’m so happy it turned out the way I intended in the end. However, now that I know how much work is involved, I think it will be a while before I attempt another one!

Vanilla Latte Crème Brûlée

Mmmm, I love my coffee every morning without fail! But I have to admit, I’m not a coffee purist, and I like my coffee SWEET! So I thought, why not combine it with a classic dessert to enjoy in the evening as well :) Especially with one as wonderful as the crème brûlée (it also helps that this dessert only requires egg yolks, and the macarons I make only require egg whites, coincidence?).

I took the basic recipe for crème brûlée and added vanilla bean paste and espresso to it. It was so smooth, rich and delicious. The recipe is below, it’s actually quite simple… you just need to start making it in advance. And the best part, you get to play with fire at the end ;)

Makes 3 large ramekin crème brûlée 

Ingredients

  • 600ml thickened cream
  • 5 egg yolks (make some macarons or pavlova with the egg whites! ;))
  • 1/2 cup castor sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 espresso shot
  • Demerara sugar, to sprinkle before torching

Method

  1. Beat egg yolks and castor sugar in an electric mixer until it becomes thick and pale (about 2 minutes).
  2. Place cream and vanilla paste in a saucepan on low-medium heat until it comes to the boil.
  3. Remove from heat and add the espresso shot to the cream.
  4. Slowly add the cream mixture to the egg yolks while whisking CONSTANTLY until the cream and egg yolk mixture is fully incorporated. We don’t want scrambled eggs here, so make sure you pay attention! :)
  5. Put a sieve over a jug and pour the mixture through the sieve to remove any lumps in the mixture. This ensures you’ll get a smooth custard.
  6. Place the ramekins in a large roasting dish. Pour the custard mixture into the ramekins, dividing evenly.
  7. Pour boiling water into the roasting dish until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekin dishes and cover the whole roasting dish with foil.
  8. Place in the oven at 150 degrees celcius to cook for 40 minutes.
  9. Remove the roasting dish with ramekins and leave to cool on the bench before removing the ramekins and placing in the fridge to chill for 4 hours.
  10. YIPPEE! The fun part :) Remove ramekins from the fridge, sprinkle your crème brûlée’s with a good  amount of Demerara sugar and torch with a domestic blow torch. Serve immediately. A good crème brûlée should crack nicely on the top when you tap it with your spoon ;) Enjoy!

Mum’s Easy Lemonade Scones and Handmade Skirt in an Afternoon

Yesteday we did the Million Paws Walk to raise money for the RSPCA with Apples, and she was exhausted after just a short walk. She looked pretty cute in her ‘Friend Me’ shirt though (yep, convinced Tim to let me put it on her for the walk!)

So after the walk, we headed home and I made some lemonade scones for brunch. My mum loves to make these and they are SO easy! Only 3 ingredients in the scone… and the best part is pairing fancy jam and whipped cream with them to eat :)

After the scones (and *brief* nap), I headed out to Spotlight to buy some material. I was determined to make a work skirt! I found some really nice Montreux Cotton Drill that I liked. I love the jewel tones that it’s got going on!

And three hours later….. I had a skirt!

I made the skirt from a rectangle of material that I gathered and then sewed a waistband on, and installed a zipper.

Quite happy with it, athough, if you’re looking for a tutorial… you’ll have to wait until the next time when I remember how the steps actually went.

In the meantime, here’s my Mum’s scone recipe, which is so simple and delicious that you should never forget it!

Lemonade Scones

Makes approximately 8 scones

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups SR flour
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 cup lemonade
  • Jam and whipped cream to serve

Method:

  1. Measure 3 cups SR flour into a large bowl.
  2. Add the cream and the lemonade, and then mix with a flat bladed butter knife until a dough comes together.
  3. Place onto a floured cutting board or bench top and knead some flour into the dough lightly until it isn’t too sticky to touch.
  4. Flatten dough into a disc and cut shapes from your dough (about 10 cm wide, I used my flower shaped fondant cutters) and place onto a baking tray lined with baking paper.
  5. Brush with milk and bake in a 150 degree oven for about 15 min or until just lightly golden on top.
  6. Cut in halves and enjoy with some top quality jam and whipped cream… these are so delicious, especially when fresh from the oven!!

Enjoy :)

 

Macarons! Saffron with Honey and Ginger Buttercream, and Jaffa Mousse…

Yesterday, we made a trip to a kitchen shop and I got spoilt :) I got new professional baking pans (the thicker ones, they rock!), espresso cups, glass treat jar, among other things! So today I had to try out my new baking pan on a batch of macarons.

For flavours, we decided to make Jaffa and Saffron with Honey and Ginger buttercream. I am a sucker for orange and chocolate, one of my favourite combinations! The other was chosen by chance when I picked up a jar of interesting looking “Ginger in Honey” from the supermarket. I thought saffron might be an interesting compliment to the flavour. I added saffron threads into the shells, with yellow powder colouring. I added dried ground ginger to the buttercream, along with the ginger in honey, and a tiny dash of thickened cream.

Apples even got a special macaron of her own, using her favourite chicken liver paste as a special filling.

She wants it!!

“No Apples!! Leave it………”

She got it :)

For the jaffa, I added powdered orange colouring to the shells. I made an orange chocolate mousse for the filling by boiling a sliced orange (+zest) in cream. Once boiled, I strained the large parts out of the cream mix, and added the hot cream mixture on top of equal amount of chopped good quality chocolate (300ml cream = 300g chocolate etc.) I mixed this till smooth and melted, then placed in the fridge to thicken up. After about half an hour, I removed from the fridge, and beat with an electric mixer on medium for about 3 minutes, or until it was light and fluffy in texture, and also lighter in colour. Done!

SO! Have you ever thought of making macarons? The shells are only made from four ingredients, easy enough (!), but they can be a temperamental and fussy little cookie sometimes! I’ve tried to put in some tips that have really helped me in the recipe below, enjoy, and if you’ve been thinking about attempting macarons, please give it a go!

Macarons

Makes approximately 60 completed macarons

Ingredients:

  • 170g egg white
  • 240g almond meal
  • 240g PURE icing sugar
  • 240g castor sugar
  • 58g water
You’ll also need some equipment, at the very least, a set of digital kitchen scales, baking tray, baking paper, digital thermometer, electric mixer, spatula and piping bag. Have a read of the recipe in it’s entirety before starting so you know what steps are coming up next! :)

NOTE: The ingredients all depend on the weight of the egg white you’re using. To adjust, just select the quantity of egg white, and then multiply by 1.35 to get the quantity of almond meal, icing sugar and castor sugar, and divide by 3 to get the quantity of water.

Method:

  1. Prepare your baking tins with sheets of baking paper. I free-pipe circles of mixture now, but I used to draw circles on as a guide. Up to you!
  2. Leave egg whites to “age” if time allows. This means leaving your egg white out at room temperature for anywhere from a few hours to three days. I’m not very good at planning ahead, so I usually leave my egg whites out in the morning and make the macs in the afternoon.
  3. Sift the almond meal and icing sugar into a large bowl. You need to sift the mixture, this will give your macaron a smooth top.
  4. Place half of your egg white (weight it!) on top of the almond meal mixture, and mix into a paste. 
  5. Place the remaining egg white in a clean, dry bowl of a mixer.
  6. Place your sugar and water in a saucepan over the stove of medium heat. At the same time, immediately start your mixer on medium speed on the egg white (we want soft peaks before the sugar is ready to take off the stove).
  7. Using a digital thermometer, monitor the temperature of the water and sugar mixture, once the mixture reaches 115 degrees celcius, take off the stove and immediately pour down the sides of the mixer into your egg whites (beater should still be running).
  8. Continue to run the beater on medium for the next 5 minutes, until you have a lovely glossy meringue that has increased in size. The meringue is ready when you lift the beater from the mix and get a “bird beak” on the end (a picture speaks a thousand words, see below!)
  9. With a spatula, mix in one third of the meringue with your almond meal mixture. This will loosen up the mixture before you can fold the rest of the meringue in. It’s a great time to add colours to the paste before you add the meringue.
  10. Now, the “macronage”, that is, mixing in the meringue with the almond meal mixture! Pour the rest of the meringue in the bowl, and using the spatula, fold the mixture about 50 times (yep, I count!) or until you have a thick ribbon that flows from your spatula when you lift it from the mixture. You want it to be very well incorporated, but not runny!
  11. Fill your piping bag with the mixture, and pipe even circles onto your baking sheets. You need to hold the piping bag directly above the sheet, not on an angle, so that you get nice round shapes. The macaron should spread and the little lumps and bumps from piping it should disappear within 30 seconds. If the macaron mixture is not settling out and looking smooth, mix the batter some more before piping again.
  12. Leave the piped mixture to dry for AT LEAST 30 min. This is crucial. You want a ‘skin’ to develop on your macaron before you bake it. If you don’t have a skin, your macarons won’t have nice pretty feet (the frilly part of the macaron) and the tops may crack in the oven. You’ll know when it’s developed a skin when you lightly touch the macaron and it doesn’t stick to your finger. Did you notice the heart shaped mac below? Couldn’t help myself ;)
  13. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees celcius. Place one tray of macarons in the oven on the centre shelf and bake for 11 minutes, opening the oven after 5 minutes to turn the tray 180 degrees so they cook evenly. You should see the little ‘feet’ of the macaron springing up within the first five minutes. I have to admit that I usually (OKAY, ALWAYS) anxiously wait in front of the oven door for this moment… it’s still just as exciting as the first time that I made macarons!
  14. Remove the tray from the oven, grab a damp sponge, and give your kitchen counter a quick wipe to dampen it. Then remove your baking paper and macarons from your oven tray and place straight on the bench. The thermal shock will help you remove the macarons from the baking paper! They should be easy to remove, if they are sticky, cook your next batch for longer, or at a slightly higher temperature. Everyone’s oven is different! The picture below shows what the bottoms should look like.
  15. Match your macarons with one that is similar size and shape :) Pipe a decent dollop of your desired filling onto one side, and then sandwich the macaron halves together, twisting as your push down (like the opposite of trying to pull apart an Oreo!! ;)).
  16. Sit back and admire your hard work :) Store your macarons in the fridge overnight for the flavours to develop… if you can wait that long!

Any questions, PLEASE ask! :)

Vanilla Cupcakes topped with Mini Strawberry Macarons + Cupcake Topper Tutorial!

I was asked to make 50 cupcakes for a 30th birthday this weekend. The best part was that I had license to choose how I wanted to decorate the cupcakes, Carly just asked for a vanilla cupcake base.

I had some ideas in my head before the weekend, but I like to work under pressure (unfortunately!) so only got a brainwave of creativity the day before they had to be delivered.

I decided to combine my two loves, macarons and cupcakes! A little bit more effort, because it was basically two desserts in one, but I got there in the end and it was worth it!

I made a batch of strawberry macarons, and vanilla cupcakes. And whipped up a batch of the vanilla flavoured humidity resistant buttercream icing (which I am LOVING!).

And hey presto, I was almost done! However, I felt the cupcake needed something even MORE for decoration…. and that’s when I decided to make cupcake toppers. I’ve been wanting to make my own cupcake toppers for a while, and just haven’t gotten the chance. So this was a perfect opportunity! I’ve posted the tutorial at the end of this post.

I also sprinkled the icing and the macaron shells (before baking) with edible gold glitter. Love the stuff, although as a friend once said, ‘Glitter is the herpes of arts and crafts, you can’t get rid of it no matter how hard you try!!’. Pretty sure I’m going to be picking specks of glitter off my face and clothes and finding it in every corner of the house for weeks to come. But I think the gold glitter tied together the whole ‘theme’ of the cupcake, and made it look quite elegant, which is the look I was going for.

So anyway! Enough talk and onto the cupcake topper tutorial. These were pretty easy to make and quite effective I think. You can customise them to whatever theme you like, so give them a go! :)

Cupcake Topper Tutorial

Materials

  • Scrapbook paper to fit your theme
  • PVA glue (You’ll see I used PVA wood glue, not on purpose, just all I had on hand!)
  • Lollipop sticks (available from craft stores)
  • Letter seals (I found some gold ’30th’ letter seals for mine)
  • A ‘hole punch’ that can cut the desired shape for your cupcake toppers (I used a ‘Fiskars’ punch that I bought from Spotlight and has interchangeable shapes)
Method:
  1. Using the hole punch, cut out the shapes from the scrapbook paper, ensuring that there are two pieces for each cupcake topper (eg. 50 cupcake toppers = 100 pieces).
  2. Spread some PVA glue on the wrong side of one of the paper cutouts (the side with no print/design on it, place the lollipop stick on top, and press down and seal with the matching cutout (so that wrong sides are together, the design is facing out on both sides).
  3. Wait for the glued cutouts to dry for about 10 minutes, and then position your letter seal on one side (or both if preferred!).
  4. When placing into the cupcake, I pressed mine right into the cupcake base so that minimal amount of the stick was visible.

Enjoy!