Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Big "Help"ings

My favorite movie of the year was by far is The Help.  So, as our main course for our Oscars Party... what do we decide to cook to pay tribute to this inspiring southern film?  Fried Chicken!  One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Minny Jackson is teaching Celia Foote how to shake and fry up some fried chicken.  Although I didn't use Minny's favorite ingredient, Crisco, it turned out just as crispy and moist... with a bit of heat.  I paired it with a few classic sides - Biscuits, Broccoli and Mashed Sweet Potatoes that turned this course into a filling comforting family meal.

Instead of using regular flour to coat the chicken, we used Gluten Free All Purpose Flour (rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch).  I was shocked at how tasty and crunchy it came out.  If I didn't know any better, I would have thought it was made with wheat flour.  But, unfortunately, the biscuits came out dense and too crumbly but still tasty (still experimenting on GF baking...).

Fried Chicken

What you'll need: 

1 whole cut up Chicken (skin on!!)
GF All Purpose Flour
1 quart of Low Fat Buttermilk
 Cayenne Pepper
Canola Oil

Soak the chicken pieces in the buttermilk overnight in the fridge.  This helps the chicken stay moist and flavorful.  The next day, pour about 2 cups of flour in a dish and add the salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and paprika all according to your taste (I did big pinches).  Mix them up.  Place the chicken pieces into the flour mixture and press firmly.  You want a good coating of flour to stick to the chicken.  Once your pan (filled with about an inch of oil over medium-high heat) is hot, put in the chicken.  Turn the pieces about every 15 mins. so it gets nice and crispy.  Do this for about 40-45 mins.  Remember, dark meat pieces cook longer than white meat, so I usually keep them in separate pans.  Drain the chicken on cut open brown paper grocery bags to help soak up the oil.  The bags won't stick to the chicken like paper towels do.  And eat it while it's hot!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Puttin' on the Ritz

As we sipped on our French 75 Cocktails, we also nibbled on Chocolate Cheese (found at Trader Joe's) served with Ritz Crackers.  Well, I just ate the cheese by itself... it's that good, because I have yet to find a GF (gluten free) cracker that tastes like a real cracker.  But for the guests, I just had to have a "Puttin' on the Ritz" theme appetizer while we watched the Oscars.  You feel kind of elegant as you eat this cheese... extra sharp cheddar combined with rich dark chocolate curls.  I wish I could have somehow told all the Hollywood stars to stuff this little snack in their clutches as they sat in their seats!  Especially Angelina, she's looking a bit frail.  She could use some protein in her diet.  But who would have thought that this salty and sweet combo could work?  It completely does.

Monday, February 27, 2012

An Oscars' Toast

French 75 Cocktail

When I was little I wanted to be an Actress when I grew up.  I would put on my glasses, hike up my sweatpants and impersonate Steve Urkel to the family.  As practically an only child, I loved the attention and the laughs.  But as I grew older, that dramatic desire went away.  I became more shy, awkward and embarrassed.  I would never think of showing a real audience my comedic capabilities, because I was too scared and nervous to demonstrate my talents to the outside world.  So my dreams of walking down the Red Carpet with Tom Hanks dissipated.  But in the end, I don't mind it... living a public life is something I don't desire and I'm happy my creative juices have translated into other areas.  But my love for movies will never go away.  They transform me to a land of fantasy and wonder and help me escape the confusing and sometimes difficult land of reality.  That's why last night was my all time favorite TV night of the year, The Oscars!  The people I admire and respect (for their great talents and courage) come to life on a long Red Carpet and are awarded with shiny gold statues.

To help celebrate this night, my mother and I put together a movie themed meal that reflected some of the Best Picture nominations.  We started off with a French 75 Cocktail to get us in the Midnight in Paris mood (one of my favorite movies of the year or decade).

What you'll need: Per Drink

3 tbsp Brandy
1 tbsp Grand Marnier
1 tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 cup Champagne
Lemon Slices for garnish

In a cocktail shaker, shake together the Brandy, Grand Marnier and lemon juice for a few seconds.  Poor into a flute glass and top off with the Champagne.  Garnish with a lemon slice or curl.  This bubbly, citrusy drink kicked off our Oscars Party with a bang and got us buzzing around the kitchen for the next course.  Stay tuned tomorrow for Oscars' Appetizers!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Coconut Cheesecake

In last night's cooking class, we made a creamy, rich Coconut Cheesecake (recipe courtesy of our instructor Jan Sayvongsa).  Not only is there coconut milk to the filling, but there are coconut flakes in the crust!  So you're not just getting a hint of coconut flavoring in this cake, but experiencing a complete coconut tropical adventure in just one bite.  Cheesecakes are so versatile, so for those who don't like this strong flavor, leave it out or add sour cream to the filling instead.  Add crushed almonds to the crust rather than coconut flakes.  But in the end, this cake was packed with moisture and a ton of flavor... a fun new twist to plain ole cheesecake.

What you'll need: Serves 12

2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
8 whole graham crackers, broken (or gluten-free gingersnaps from Trader Joe's)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, diced

4 8oz pkgs cream cheese (using 1/3 less fat tastes just as good)
2/3 cup sugar
1 15oz can coconut milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
5 large eggs

Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Blend all ingredients in the food processor until finely ground and sticking together (about 1-2 mins).  Press crumb mixture onto the bottom and up the sides of a 9 in springform pan.  Bake until golden, 15 mins.  Allow to cool.

Filling: Beat cream cheese and sugar in a stand mixture with paddle attachment until smooth.  Add coconut milk, vanilla, and salt.  Beat until smooth.  Add eggs one at a time.  Pour mixture into cooled crust.  

Bake cheesecake about 1 hour and 30 mins.  Turn off the oven and cool cheesecake in the oven for another hour.  Refrigerate overnight before serving.  (personal side note: if you want your cheesecake to bake more evenly, cover the bottom of the springform pan with heavy duty foil and place in a warm water bath, then bake.)

For presentation, toast up some coconut flakes and sprinkle on top.  Then your guests will know what kind of cheesecake they're about to eat!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I'm so excited about Potato Tacos!  I first tried them at a Mexican Restaurant a few weeks ago, fell in love with them and knew I just had to try them at home.  They turned out amazingly delicious (better than I thought they would) and the key to them is seasoning and garnish, since you don't have the juicy flavors from meat.  I added red bell peppers and onions to semi mashed red potatoes and topped the tacos with slices of slightly salted avocados, salsa and sour cream.  They're reminiscent of breakfast potatoes stuffed inside a crispy tortilla.  Yum!

What you'll need:  Makes about 15 tacos

6 peeled red potatoes
1 large pack of corn tortillas
1/2 cup chopped red bell peppers
1/2 cup chopped yellow onions
 1/4-1/2 tsp 21 Salute seasoning according to taste (found at Trader Joe's)
If you don't have a Trader Joe's around you here is what's in 21 Salute - onion, spices (black pepper, celery seed, cayenne pepper, parsley, basil, marjoram, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, savory, rosemary, cumin, mustard, coriander), garlic, carrot, orange peel, tomato granules, lemon juice powder, oil of lemon, citric acid
Avocado slices, Sour Cream, Salsa for garnishing
Canola Oil

In a pan, saute the bell pepper and onions (with a tbsp of oil) until soft.  While those are cooking, boil the peeled red potatoes until soft.  Strain and slightly mash so that they're still chunky.  Toss in the bell peppers and onions, 21 Salute seasoning, some crushed black pepper and a couple of big pinches of salt. Mix until combined.  In another pan, fill it with canola oil so it coats the entire bottom of the pan (over medium heat).  As soon as the oil is hot, place half of a corn tortilla into the pan (holding the other half with your hand).  Place a couple of tablespoons of potatoes onto the half of the tortilla that is in the oil.  Then fold down the other half over the portion that is filled with potatoes.  After a few minutes flip over the taco and cook the other side of the tortilla for another few minutes.  When the taco is golden brown, you know it's done.  Do the same for the rest of the tortillas.  Drain the tacos on a cooking sheet lined with paper towels to soak up any remaining oil.  Serve hot topped with the garnishes!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cheese Stuffed Artichokes

Artichoke season is just around the corner and what better way to have fun with your food than eating it leaf by leaf.  I think that's why I love them so much... because it takes time to eat (I get fuller slower) and can saver the tasty flavors of this meaty vegetable.  As a kid, I just dipped the leaves in melted butter with pepper, but lately I've experimented by stuffing the center with salty, aged cheeses like Gruyere and Cheddar.  It makes a fun dip for kids or adults and is a pretty presentation for parties (hint: Oscars appetizer!).  This recipe has an Italian twist with minced garlic and lemon thyme added to the cheese mixture.  Enjoy!

What you'll need: serves 2-4

2 large artichokes
2 lemons
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
 1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese
2 tbsp half and half
1 clove garlic (minced)
2 sprigs fresh lemon thyme (chopped)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp breadcrumbs (gluten free or regular)
olive oil to drizzle on top

Prep the artichokes by cutting off the stem as close to the base of the artichoke as possible to allow it to stand up in the oven.  Cut an inch off the tip of the artichoke and snip off the points of the leaves with kitchen shears.  Remove any tough leaves near the base.  Over high heat, bring a medium size pot of water to a boil.  Add the artichokes to the pot and squeeze in the juice from the lemons.  This adds flavor to them and helps keep the artichokes from browning too much.  Cook the artichokes until tender, about 30-40 mins.  Take them out and let drain on a kitchen towel (face down).  While those are cooling, start the cheese mixture.  In a small bowl combine the cheese, half and half, minced garlic, thyme and pepper.  Mix until completely incorporated.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Spread open the center of the artichokes and remove the fuzzy center with a spoon.  Place them in a 8x8in baking dish and stuff the centers with the cheese mixture.  Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top and drizzle with olive oil.  Place in the oven just until the artichokes are heated through and the cheese has completely melted.  Serve hot!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Balsamic Martini

I really do not like the taste of balsamic vinegar (people wonder if I'm really Italian), but after taking another cooking class with Fabio Viviani, I ordered a Balsamic Martini... once I bravely took a small sip of my Aunt's.  And it was the most incomparable sweet but tangy martini I've had in... well, forever!  This drink was made by the best dang "mixologist" I know, Jacopo Falleni, the handsome and charming business partner of Fabio. After the class, I just had to praise him for getting me to eat things that I normally despise!  And he tells me, "Well, if you can't eat it, drink it!"  And he was right... a perfect combo of Vanilla Rum, Simple Syrup, Strawberry Puree, Limes, Balsamic Vinegar and Balsamic Glaze. 

Jacopo's new website ( will be launching soon where you'll be able to find many of his signature drink recipes that you can make at home.  Until then, visit their restaurants (Cafe Firenze and Firenze Osteria) for this beautifully paired strawberry balsamic masterpiece. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pass the Torch

I've joined a local cooking class!  Getting more serious about entering the food industry, I thought I would get my feet wet by easing into a casual 5 week cooking course taught by a Cordon Bleu graduate.  Aside from learning new recipes and techniques, this chef has been a great source of knowledge about the field and what to expect.  So, I'll be picking her brain a little bit more over the next few classes.  

Our first class involved fire tools!  We made Gingered Creme Brulee.  This was my first time making this creamy dessert, because I've never been a fan of custards... but let me tell you, the ginger has changed my bad thoughts forever!  The chef's recipe calls for a full cup of freshly chopped ginger which infuses into the mixture overnight in the fridge and creates the most delicious, spicy flavor.  No more plain vanilla creme brulee for me!  I can't give out her recipe but this recipe is very similar!  Their directions seem a bit vague, but the ingredients are spot on.  So, use my directions instead for better results.


Put the cream, sugar, and ginger in a pan and bring to the boil, then remove from the heat and leave to infuse overnight in the fridge.  The next day, whisk the egg yolks together in a bowl. Bring the cream mixture back to a boil on the stove and whisk it (continually) into the yolks until completely incorporated. Strain through a fine sieve, then divide between 4 ramekins or other small shallow dishes (almost full). Place on a baking sheet filled with hot water (half way up the ramekins) and bake in an oven preheated to 325 degrees for about 35 minutes, until set (don't let brown).  Let completely cool.  Shortly before serving, sprinkle the sugar over the creme brulees (a thin even layer) and then caramelize with a blowtorch (found at home depot)! Leave for a few minutes until the sugar hardens, then serve.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Christmas in February!

My friend Lea surprised me on V-Day with a creamy, decadent spread called Cookie Butter!  Have you heard of this?  She found it at Trader Joe's (they've outdone themselves, again!).  They usually only carry it during the holidays, but some of their stores still have it... you just have to search a bit.  When you do find this, stock up because it has a shelf life of a year.  So, this should keep you busy until the holidays roll around, again.

This Christmas smelling gingerbread spread tastes incredible on pretty much anything and makes them tastes richer and nuttier.  So far I've put it on cookies, crackers and have eaten it right off the spoon.  But they also claim it tastes amazing on pancakes, celery sticks, pretzels, etc.  I can't wait to explore more with this food phenomenon.  

Remember these?  Instead of the chocolate, I simply replaced it with cookie butter.  Too good!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fizzy Mango Sangria

My sister found a tangy and sweet Mango Sangria Mix at Williams-Sonoma!  It only requires adding sparkling wine to the mix that turns it into a fizzy, tropical, refreshing drink.  I finished it off by adding in fresh slices of oranges and lime to enhance the citrus flavors from the mix. After tasting this, I might never go back to traditional sangrias, again! 

What you'll need:

1 bottle Sangria Blanca Mix
1 bottle Sparkling Wine
1 orange and 1 lime

In a pitcher filled with ice, mix together 2 cups chilled sangria mix with 1/2 bottle chilled Sparkling Wine (or Prosecco).  Throw in some slices of oranges and lime and stir.  Serve and drink!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Chocolate Mousse

There is nothing more disappointing than finding out the restaurant that served your favorite dessert has closed indefinitely.  After every Broadway show in LA, my family and I would visit a little French restaurant a few blocks away and order their smooth and fluffy Chocolate Mousse.  This satisfying dessert was always the perfect ending to a perfect evening.  So, when I called to make reservations and nobody answered, I was crushed!  

This Valentine's Day was the holiday for me to stop wallowing over this loss and try to discover a recipe that was similar enough to satisfy my chocolate craving.  And I found one that's a keeper.  This recipe is not as rich as others because it calls for less eggs, but it's every bit as chocolatey, airy and creamy.  Garnish it with dark chocolate shavings, a raspberry and mint and it's a complete winner for The Day of Love.  I may not have a man in my life, but this chocolate treat will do for now.  ;)

Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Hearty Breakfast

For the Valentine's Day season, we brought out the heart-shaped waffle maker over the weekend.  When I was a kid, I used to love breaking apart the individual hearts with my hands and nibbling on them one by one while the syrup was strategically placed in each nook.  Yesterday, there was no time for that, because these Brown Butter Waffles were too delicious to take that much time to eat!  This recipe created the most airy and nutty waffles I have ever tasted.  And the raspberry glaze I made to drizzle on top of them was perfectly sweet and tangy.  A must eat for a romantic Day of Love Breakfast.

Raspberry Glaze

What you'll need:

3/4 cup raspberry jam
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup water
4 tbsp cold butter

In a pan over a medium flame, heat up the jam, lemon juice and water and stir until it has warmed through.  Remove from heat and whisk in the butter until completely melted.  Drizzle on top of the waffles and garnish with fresh raspberries and chopped pecans.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Confetti Quinoa Salad

Since I've started this gluten-free-sometimes-cheating diet, quinoa has been my go-to ingredient.  It has been a great substitute for bread because of its grain-like qualities and fluffy texture.  I typically eat it hot as a dinner side dish, but for lunch this weekend, I thought I'd try a cold quinoa salad filled with colorful green beans, carrots, garbanzo beans, salami, tomatoes and Italian seasoning. 

What you'll need:

1 cup quinoa (thoroughly rinsed)
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Few sprinkles of dried oregano and basil
Dash of black pepper
1/4 cup sliced baby carrots
1/4 cup cut green beans (already cooked)
1/4 sliced salami
1/4 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/4 canned garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed)

In a small sauce pan, pour in the chicken broth, lemon juice, oregano, basil and pepper.  Give it a quick stir and then throw in the rinsed quinoa.  Bring these to a boil then cover and let simmer for about 15 mins or until the fluids have evaporated and the quinoa has form a small ring around the edges.  Once the quinoa is done, spoon it on top a flat platter to allow it to cool.  Once it has reached room temperature, put it in a bowl and mix it with the carrots, garbanzo beans, green beans and salami.  Put in the fridge to chill.  Right before serving add in the halved tomatoes.  Fresh tomatoes should never be in the fridge.  

This salad is refreshing from the lemon, colorful and texturally appealing!  Enjoy.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Floral Ice Ring

I love homemade punch, especially if it's spiked with Champagne!  My mom and I typically only make punch for special occasions, because we HAVE to add that extra feminine touch with a floating Floral Ice Ring... which takes time and patience.  So the night before our V-Day theme party, we created this fruity presentation made with lemon and lime rind, camellia leaves, raspberries and deluded pineapple juice.

Like an apple, peel the rind from lemons and limes with a knife.  Try to stay as close to the surface as possible.  The thicker the strip the harder it is to manage.  If it breaks midway, that's ok!  You can just make buds instead of fuller flowers.  Spiral the rind as tight as you can.  Use a toothpick to keep it together.  Poke it toward the top of the flower so you can easily take them out later.  If you poke too low, it will mold in the ice and you'll have floating toothpicks in your punch by the end of the night!  

Once your flowers are done, fill your ice ring mold halfway with deluded pineapple juice.  Put on a flat surface in the freezer and let freeze until ALMOST frozen.  Take out and arrange your flowers, fruit and leaves on top of the frosty layer.  If you let it completely freeze, your arrangement won't have room to slightly nestle into frosty grooves.  You want them to be able to sink in a little.  Pour in more deluded juice until it's almost to the top.  Put back in the freezer and let the top layer of fluids freeze until almost frozen.  Take out the toothpicks now that the flowers are almost completely embedded.  Then let completely freeze (best overnight).  Before you're ready to place it in the punch bowl (before you pour in the punch), let it sit for a couple of minutes so that the edges slightly melt.  Then it should just plop out!

A fabulous punch to make for V-Day:

1/2 jug of Cran-Raspberry Juice
1 liter Squirt Soda
1 bottle Champagne

As the ice ring melts into the punch, the pineapple flavoring is slowly incorporated into the punch.  So refreshing and bubbly!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Shortbread Heart Cookies

Dessert for last night's V-Day themed party was Shortbread Cookies drizzled in semi-sweet chocolate.  I used Ina Garten's recipe, but used almond flavoring instead of vanilla.  I would normally do something more extravagant for these lady parties but after a full meal of eggplant, hearty salad, and rolls, I thought I would keep it more simple but still elegant and relevant for the day of love!  With just four bites, our feminine cravings of chocolate and sugar were met instantly. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Quick Strawberry Jam

What better way to say "I love you" to your girlfriends for Valentine's Day, than homemade Jam!  This fresh strawberry jam recipe comes from Sure Jell's site, but you can also find it in the pectin box from the grocery store.  But, as always, I added a twist by incorporating lemon zest for a punch of brightness in flavor.  And the lemon cuts away a little of that overly sweet taste you can sometimes get from homemade jam.  Filled in classic mason jars, I've presented them in clear bags tied together with V-Day gift tags I made the other day.  Can't wait to gift them to my gal pals tonight!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Three Bean Chili

I can't watch Super Bowl and not have Chili.  And the recipe my family uses is packed with ground turkey and beef and three types of beans.  Chunky!  Now, I always have cornbread with my chili, but this time I tried a Gluten-free cornbread mix.  Still being skeptical of gluten-free food, I incorporated sun dried tomatoes to add more flavor and tang to the mix.  You can do this to any corn bread mix.  It adds a fun and different element to plain ole cornbread.  

What you'll need:

Canola oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pot
1/2 chopped onion
1 lb lean ground beef
1 lb ground turkey
2 pkg Lawry's Chili Seasoning Mix
2 cups water
1 can cut tomatoes with green chiles
1 large can kidney beans
1 regular can pinto beans
1can white beans
Shredded cheddar cheese for garnish
Diced avocado for garnish

In a large pot on medium heat, coat the bottom with the oil and toss in the chopped onions.  Once they've turned a clear color, put in the beef and turkey.  Mix and let brown.  Once almost fulled cooked, mix in Lawry's seasoning.  Then add the water.  Dump in the tomatoes and beans (including their canned juices).  Mix until all is incorporated together.  Let the chili simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Serve, top it off with cheese and avocado for added creamy texture and eat!

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Newly Found Cooking Soul

At the beginning of the year, I had mentioned to all of you that I'm ready to start exploring other options in my career.  Retail has been fun [lots of wholesale perks :)], but there is a lack of connection that I've been struggling with in this field.  I often feel like I don't fit in and it's a lot more aggressively competitive than I realized.  I always thought that fashion was my passion, but when I look at the new direction my blog has turn to, the shows I watch, and the activities I do on a weekly basis, it all has to do with food!  I started this blog because I lost myself for a while and needed to find my way again, and it has led me into a direction that I never thought it would.  Learning recipes and endless stories about my Italian cooking family has helped me find a new passion and more meaningful connection.  So, I've decided to start focusing more on a field that brings out more creativity and happiness.  And I have my loving, avid Cooking Souls to thank for this new discovery in life: Grandparents Madalene, Ugo, and Jo and beautiful Mama.  So, what once was a blog about anything, will now be about the subject that I've fallen in love with, FOOD... with a few crafts thrown in here and there.  I'm not sure what's next... school, small party planning events.  But I'm ready to start over and begin a new journey with a team of support behind me!

Ugo doing what he did best!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sorbet Cream

Sorbet Cream, found at Frostbites in Southern California, is the perfect combo of sorbet and frozen custard.  With over a dozen sorbet flavors to choose from, the combinations you can make are endless!  I ordered Big Stick, vanilla custard with a mixture of pineapple and cherry sorbet.  And guess what, it tastes just like a Big Stick Popsicle.  I've also tried their chocolate custard with strawberry sorbet, which tastes like Chocolate Covered Strawberries. Too good! 

For those who don't typically like custard, no worries, because since it's frozen custard, it tastes similar to frozen yogurt.  And with the sorbet served on top, it makes the most wonderfully balanced icy and creamy indulging treat.  Go visit!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

DIY: V-Day Gift Tags

It's February!  Wasn't it literally just Christmas?  I have to admit that I've never been a huge Valentine's Day celebrator due to raised restaurant prices, gift giving pressures and hey, shouldn't we celebrate love everyday with the people we cherish?  Although, any holiday that gives me an excuse to craft, I'm all for it!  And I'm hosting a V-Day theme party this Tuesday for 11 lovely spunky ladies.  So, I've been busy in the craft room making heart shaped gift tags that I'll be attaching to a surprised edible goodie (to be made this weekend) that I'll send home with the gals at the end of the night.

What you'll need:

Cricut Machine with heart shaped patterns (unless you want to cut everything by hand)
Valentine's Day themed paper
3D double sided tape squares
Brown Ink Sponge
White reinforcements (aged with the ink sponge)
Glue stick

I purchased double sided printed paper, because I wanted to utilize both sides for this project.  The front side displays the main message and the back side will share a handwritten note to the love one receiving the gift.  Age the edges with the ink sponge for some of your cutouts to create texture and warmth.

Once your shapes are cut out and aged, start the layering process by using the 3D tape to create depth and interest.
See the subtle shadows the tape makes?  If you're not using a Cricut machine, use a hole punch to create the hole that the ribbon will feed through to wrap around the gift.  Then secure the hole with the aged reinforcements.

On the back side, glue on another layer of paper that will display your personal handwritten message.  Feed the ribbon through the hole, tie it around the gift and you're done!

Store bought tags with a personal note are just as thoughtful, but if you have time to take that extra step, your loved ones will love it that much more!