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My Top Picks For Quick, Budget Friendly Homemade Gifting This Holiday Season

6 Dec

I don’t know about you – but my Christmas list is LONG this year. And I’m not talking about my “wish list” either – I am talking about my “To-Do” list – baking, wrapping, cleaning, crafting, movie watching, and of course – SHOPPING – that part of the list is longer than ever! Neighbors, friends, kids, family, teachers, mailmen – there are just so so many people I want to give to – and with the constraints of time and money – I have to be strategic in executing my gift giving – ESPECIALLY this year – as it’s my first Holiday season as a stay at home mom – so we are feeling that budget constraint a bit more this year than in years prior.

So far – I have loved staying at home with my son – it’s awesome to get to spend so much time with him, and I love being the one to pick him up and take him to school every day. Oh – plus – I am home for package deliveries – a big perk this time of year!

Like I said, I want to give gifts to basically everyone I know – and now that we are a “single income family” – that means I have to be more creative in my giving. And what better thing to give than something homemade? Crafts have not always been my forte – BUT – BAKING is my JAM. So I made a list of my top 3 Homemade Gift Ideas – they are easy to make, not too expensive or time consuming, AND they are delicious

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My little elf helping me make some saltine toffee last week

1. Saltine Toffee This little gem is one of those things you can hardly believe tastes so good – because it was SO easy and fast to make. Brown sugar, butter, saltines, and chocolate chips are all it takes to make this, and you can add some festive sprinkles on top too – making it perfect for Holiday gift giving!

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Muddy buddy action shot – the shaking part!

2. Muddy Buddies – I love this because it’s one the kids can help with – they love shaking the sugar onto the treat (which is also known as “puppy chow” or “white trash”) – and you can easily add in some seasonal red and green M&M’s to make this an awesome Christmas treat to share

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Tiny pantsless sous-chef loves helping me make cookie bars

3. Large Batch Cookie Bars These bars are so easy to make – and they are quick too because you don’t have to portion out individual cookies. And one batch makes a TON – a whole cookie sheet’s worth of bars, which can cover several people on your gift list

All gifts are great, but I personally love giving something homemade when I can – I feel like it really shows that you care, and I’m convinced the receiver of the gift can taste the love that was baked right in! Plus – I love teaching my son that gift giving doesn’t have to be big and expensive to still be worthwhile (and delicious!)

 

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Men In The Kitchen – Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

15 Nov

My husband doesn’t often bake – he usually leaves that to me! But occasionally he does strap on an apron (my apron usually) and get in the kitchen for some epic recipe creation – this time it was some hugely amazing Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies:

My handsome husband in the kitchen (and yes – his pants match his apron!)

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups AP flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 whole large eggs, 1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped dark chocolate bar (like Hershey special dark or nicer)

Directions:
Melt 2 sticks of butter over medium-high to high heat 5-10 minutes until browned and smelling like toffee. Butter will melt then start to boil, then will rapidly foam after the water evaporates. Stir constantly with a silicone spatula and scrape up the browned fats off the bottom of the pot. When complete, it will be a rich nutty brown with a strong toffee/nutty scent. Transfer to a cold glass bowl and immediately put in fridge to cool to room temp.

While butter is cooling, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and mix together with a whisk. Set aside.

Combine white and brown sugars and molasses in a stand mixer.

Crack eggs and separate one, keeping the yolk. Allow to come to room temperature.

Chop dark chocolate bars for irregular chunks. Measure chocolate chips and chunks and set aside.

When butter is approximately room temperature, mix with sugars and molasses until Incorporated. Add eggs and yolk one at a time until combined. Add vanilla.

Slowly add dry ingredients until well combined and smooth. Dough will be slightly wet.

Remove bowl from mixer and fold in chocolate.

Refrigerate overnight. Remove from fridge 30-45 min before cooking.

Preheat oven to 350 and prepare baking sheets. Scoop dough into balls slightly larger than a golf ball (approx 3 oz) and give plenty of space on the cookie sheet to allow the cookies to spread. Bake 12-14 min or until edges are crispy and middle is set but still moist.

Cool 2-3 min on the cookie sheet before moving to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Brown butter spinning round and round

Dough before it gets an overnight chill session in the fridge

The glorious finished product

Aren’t they beautiful?!

He adapted the recipe using two different existing recipes, the links to which can be found Here, and Here
He made these once before – for me on my birthday, and truthfully I really did NOT want to share them – AT ALL. They are really amazing – a labor of love with the browning of the butter and all that, but worth it. They are the perfect thing to make for someone you love – as you can tell they are made with just that – LOVE!

Sometimes The Best Recipes Are Right In Front Of You (Or, In This Case – On The Peanut Butter Chips Package!)

30 Oct

A friend of ours has a birthday coming up, and as adults, most of us are at the point where we have most things we want/need, so shopping for gifts for such occasions is harder than ever! Instead of buying him something, I decided BAKING would be a better gift – as who doesn’t love to receive something handmade and delicious on their birthday?

I asked our friend’s wife what he might like, and when she said “the cookie recipe on the back of the peanut butter chips bag” – I was like WOW why have I never made that before? I have bought countless bags of those chips over the years, but never even thought to make what was right in front of me! And since I had everything on hand (minus the chips, and a quick trip to the store easily fixed that issue!), I got to work:

REESE’S Chewy Chocolate Cookies
INGREDIENTS
3/4 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-2/3 cups REESE’S Peanut Butter Chips (10-oz. pkg.)
1-1/4 cups butter or margarine (2-1/2 sticks) , softened
2 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
DIRECTIONS
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; set aside.
2. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with mixer until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating well. Stir in peanut butter chips. Drop by
rounded teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheet.
3. Bake 8 to 9 minutes. (Do not over bake; cookies will be soft. They will puff while baking and flatten while cooling.) Cool slightly

Wet meets dry, plus peanut butter chips (minus the ones I ate – oops)

Luckily I have a strong husband to help with the dough mixing – it gets hard to mix once everything is in there!

These were so easy to make – and it made a LOT! The recipe says it makes 4.5 dozen, but I got a bit more than that out of it, like 5 dozen total. And they tasted SO GOOD too – I will be making them again FOR SURE – probably tomorrow ha

Spooky Bat Brownies – A Fun Halloween Treat For All

30 Oct

My son loves all things “Spooooooky” – from haunted houses to scary movies and everything in between! So when I saw the title of these Spooky Bat Brownies I knew he would love making them with me (almost as much I would love eating them – as they combine two of my lifelong loves – chocolate, and FROSTING)

SPOOKY BAT OREO BROWNIES
(Recipe Courtesy of Something Swanky)

INGREDIENTS:
-brownies, baked and cooled*
*Before baking: spread half of the batter in the baking dish. Layer 15 Oreos (5 rows of 3 cookies) over the batter, and then spread the remaining batter on top of the Oreos.
-vanilla buttercream (check out my preferred recipe Here)
-8-12 ounces store-bought hot fudge sauce, room temp
-30 Oreos (15 for inside brownies, 15 for bat decorations)
-30 candy eyeballs

DIRECTIONS:
-Spread buttercream on top of the cooled brownies.
-Drop small dollops of hot fudge sauce (NOT heated) over the buttercream. Use the offset spatula or a knife to swirl the hot fudge sauce into the buttercream.
-Split the remaining 15 Oreos. Layer the halves with the cream, cream side up, on top of the swirled frosting.
-Pipe two small dots of fudge sauce on the Oreo cream and place two candy eyeballs on the fudge sauce.
-Take the “plain” remaining halves of the cookies and cut them in half to make the bat wings. Press them into the frosting under the bat “heads” (as pictured).

Here’s the making of the brownie base layer – a simple store bought 9×13 mix, with oreos added in

Here are the finished brownies – cooled off and ready for frosting!

Some of the work in progress stages – all I can say is good thing I had extra cookies, as I had a lot of trouble getting the ‘wings’ to evenly halve without breaking

Frosting, meet fudge

Bat Creation! I didn’t have any candy eyes (plus I didn’t want my son eating them since they are usually pretty hard to chew anyway), so I just saved some of my buttercream, tinted it black, and used it for eyes/faces. As you can see – the results garnered mixed emotions (from the bats, that is)

My little sous chef helped make the frosting, and was also a big help at eating the “broken” and unusable bat wing pieces

I was actually lucky enough to have not only my sous chef, but his two apprentices – Walter and Buzz Lightyear – on hand for some on the job training. Buzz enjoyed tasting some frosting, and Walter enjoyed all the broken cookie pieces that little sous chef accidentally dropped

This guy is unsure of what is happening….

Overall, this was a great recipe for me – it was easy, fun for my son, and used ingredients I had on hand (including the boxed brownie mix – I love a good shortcut!). The ONLY drawback was how hard they were to cut – but that is probably my own fault, as I kept them in the fridge. Once I left them out for a bit the cutting became substantially easier

They are delicious tasting too, but pretty rich – I cut each “bat” in half as any bigger would have been too much (probably why this bat looks so scared – he knows what’s coming!). This would be a great treat to make and bring to a Halloween Party, as it has the super cute bat presentation going on. I think next time I do it, I might go nuts and make the buttercream orange and purple to give it even more of a Halloween-y vibe!

Snickers Brownies – Unbelievably Amazingly Ridiculous

18 Sep

I realized the other day that it has been a WHILE since I baked anything new – like – over a MONTH! It’s been a busy summer, and I haven’t had much time to focus on my one true love – BAKED GOODS. Well, I decided then and there that that was unacceptable – I needed to get on it like yesterday. So, since I am a nice wife, I asked my husband what he might want – and he said “something with caramel and brownie” – well – it didn’t take me long to land on these Snickers Brownies

Snickers has been a long time favorite candy of mine – and when I saw this recipe, I knew I had to try it – as it fulfilled both my husband’s desire for caramel and brownie, as well as my desire to turn an amazing candy bar into dessert!

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Ingredients and Tiny Baking Assistant? Check!

Snickers Brownies
(Recipe Courtesy of My Litter)

Layer #1: Brownie
1 box of brownie mix
Ingredients called for on box
1/4 cup hot fudge topping

Layer #2: Nougat 
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup evaporated milk
2 (7 oz.) jars marshmallow creme (@1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup peanut butter ( I used Trader Joes Cookie Butter)
1 1/2 cups salted peanuts, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla

Layer #3: Caramel
1 (17 oz.) jar of caramel, preferably Mrs. Richardson’s Butterscotch Caramel

Layer #4 Candy Bar Topping
1 1/4 cups chocolate chips
1/4 cup peanut butter

Directions:
First Layer: The Brownie
Take a mix, make it according to directions. Add the 1/4 cup hot fudge sauce, directly from the hot fudge jar. Stir it in. Bake according to box. DO NOT OVERBAKE. In fact, I pulled mine out and was just a little worried about the center, but it finished baking after it was out.

Layer 2: The Nougat
Melt the butter, with the sugar and the milk. Bring to a boil and add the marshmallow. Add the peanut butter and vanilla. Then stir in peanuts. Pour over cooled brownies.

Layer 3: Caramel
Scoop the caramel into a pan, heat it up just a little so it is liquid-y and not all cold and hard to spread. Then pour over nougat layer that is solid because you had it in the fridge!

Layer #4: The Chocolate Topping
Take the PB and add it to a bag of chocolate chips in a pan, add about 1T oil. Melt the chips slowly, do NOT burn. When it is smooth, pour it over the caramel layer. Stick that back in the fridge, and when the top layer is set, you are ready to eat!

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Nougat assembly

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The layers of the finished product

When it comes to baking, I tend to gravitate towards “ridiculous” desserts – like adding frosting to these already insane Oreo Blondies, or making Slutty Pumpkin Bars and Slutty Brownies – and these Snickers Brownies DEFINITELY fall into the ridiculous category – they are SUPER RICH – and super sweet, too. The saltyness of the nuts helps, but it’s still overall a LOT OF SUGAR to handle all at once. I cut it into like a LOT of smaller squares – almost fudge sized – because really anything more than that is TOO much

That all being said, they are SUPER DELICIOUS – I love how it tastes just like a Snickers – but BETTER! If you’re a big Snickers fan like me you gotta try this recipe

Skip The Fire With This Easy (And Tasty!) S’mores Poke Cake

5 Jul

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Happy (slightly belated) 4th of July! I hope you enjoyed your day off with family, friends, and GOOD FOOD – I know I did! We went to a friend’s house for a BBQ – and it was a great time (despite the heat and humidity ugh)

I took this opportunity to try out a new dessert (obviously – any gathering is a good excuse to try something new!), and what better to try than a recipe that turns everyone’s favorite campfire treat into a delicious cake?

Enter – the S’mores Poke Cake – Graham flavored cake with chocolate, topped with marshmallow buttercream and all the makings of the classic s’more – what could be better?

S’mores Poke Cake
(Recipe Courtesy of Delish)

INGREDIENTS
FOR THE CAKE
Cooking spray, for pan
1 box vanilla cake mix, plus ingredients called for on box
1 1/2 c. crushed graham crackers (about 10 crackers)
FOR THE FILLING
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips, melted
FOR THE MARSHMALLOW FROSTING
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 (7.5-oz.) jar marshmallow crème
3 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 c. heavy cream
FOR TOPPING
2 Hershey’s chocolate bars, broken into squares
1 1/2 c. mini marshmallows
2 graham crackers, crushed
Melted chocolate, for drizzling

DIRECTIONS
-Preheat oven to 350º and spray a 9-x-13” pan with cooking spray. Prepare cake batter according to package instructions. Fold in crushed graham crackers.
-Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
-Let cool slightly, then poke holes all over bottom of cake with a wooden spoon. -In a small bowl, mix together sweetened condensed milk and melted chocolate. Pour mixture into poke holes.
-Make frosting: In a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy, then add marshmallow crème, powdered sugar, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Gradually add heavy cream if mixture is too stiff.
-Frost cake and top with marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers.

 

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Liquid chocolate – ready to go into the “poke” holes

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Tried my best to direct the chocolate into the holes – didn’t work so well, but at least I was left with an awesome chocolate layer on top of the cake!

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So – marshmallow buttercream -it’s sort of like vanilla frosting, only WAY SWEETER (I was on board with this for SURE)

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I love the way the top turned out – makes it pretty clear what’s in it anyway ha!

I mean – truthfully, this one had me at “marshmallow buttercream” – because – what’s not to love about EXTRA sweet frosting? Overall the dessert was really sweet – but definitely accomplished embodying the S’more itself – the graham, chocolate, and marshmallow flavors all came through really well

This was really easy to put together, and was a great alternative to actual S’mores. Everyone at the BBQ seemed to like it, and I think I will definitely make it again next time I head to a summer get together!

Oh and if you’re looking for some more s’more treats – check out these s’more bars, and these s’more cookie bars (both delicious and gooey like the real thing!)

An Ice Cream Cake For My Long Distance BFF

31 May

Friendships have always been something that is super important to me – and as I get older (and in theory – wiser?), I am reminded just how much a good friend is worth. Sometimes it’s a lot of effort to maintain/cultivate friendships, and it can be even tougher when the friends don’t live near each other. Long distance relationships – whether they be romantic or just platonic friends – are HARD. For those of you who haven’t experienced it – you’re lucky – TRUST me!

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A few snapshots of me and my Long Distance Bestie over the years

My best friend from college lives in Virginia with her husband and two kids, and I miss her every day. We are lucky enough to get to text, email, call, and FaceTime pretty often (thank GOD for Iphones, right?), and we also take turns traveling to see each other several times a year.

In fact, we just returned from a long weekend at their house – full of fun and crazy kids and laughter – and I wouldn’t have it any other way! We celebrated hers and her husbands birthdays while we were there – and when I was thinking about how to celebrate, I KNEW some kind of baking had to be involved – I just wasn’t sure what. Her favorite (and probably my LEAST favorite) birthday dessert is Ice Cream Cake. I hate it because it’s not even really cake – which means no frosting (a BIG no no for me – as what’s the point of cake with no frosting?), and she loves it because ice cream is awesome and it reminds her of her childhood as they always got them growing up. So – I can see where she’s coming from – and decided to make one for her – cuz I love her THAT much

Finding a recipe was not too hard – scrolling through Pinterest and This one caught my eye – using store bought brownie mix and ice cream – easy enough!

Peanut Butter Brownie Ice Cream Cake
(Recipe Courtesy of Suburbia Unwrapped)

Ingredients
1 box brownie mix for 9 x 9 inch pan
1 container Blue Bunny PB N’ Cones ice cream
FOR THE CHOCOLATE SAUCE
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup peanut butter
FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
FOR THE TOPPING
peanut butter chips or chopped peanut butter cups

Instructions
-Make the package of brownies according to package directions EXCEPT bake in a greased 9 x 13 inch pan for 20 to 25 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean. Let brownies cool completely
-When you are ready to assemble: Let the ice cream sit at room temperature for 20 minutes until slightly softened. Spread over cooled brownies and place in freezer.
-MAKE THE SAUCE: In a double boiler, combine the heavy cream, chocolate chips and peanut butter. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is smooth. Let cool slightly. (SAVE 1/4 CUP FOR SERVING!)
-Remove the brownie/ice cream layer from the freezer and pour the chocolate sauce over the top. (don’t forget to save some!) Smooth it out and return to the freezer.
-MAKE THE WHIPPED CREAM: In a mixing bowl, beat the heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form.
-Remove the brownie/ice cream/ sauce from the freezer and spread the whipped cream over the top.
-Sprinkle the peanut butter chips or chopped peanut butter cups on top and freeze for THREE HOURS before serving.
-Right before you serve, drizzle with remaining chocolate sauce that you have heated slightly.

I was lucky enough to have TWO tiny adorable kitchen helpers this time – my son and my BFF’s daughter helped with all the prep:

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Brownie baking and Ice cream testing (both very important)

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Whipping the cream and assembling the layers

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“Decorating” the cake with Mini Reese’s Cups

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The delicious finished product

I used Moose Tracks Ice Cream for this – which is basically vanilla with PB swirl, fudge and PB cups – but you can really use any kind you want for it – anything with peanut butter would work great! I also substituted the PB chips for the mini PB cups – I figured they would be more delicious

This was really easy to put together, and the kids had a blast helping! My BFF and her husband loved it so much that they didn’t even want to share it with their friends when we had them over for a Memorial Day BBQ the next day! And I can’t blame them – this was REALLY tasty – the chewy brownie, the ganache – YUM. While it in no way constituted a cake in my mind (what with it’s lack of frosting) – it was still a really delicious dessert, and I was glad to make it and get to enjoy it with my BFF (who I won’t get to see until July now – boo – but luckily, there’s FaceTime to get us through!)