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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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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

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!)

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars

2 May

Peanut Butter and chocolate is one of those magical combinations – from peanut butter cups, to cakes, to brownies and cookies – it is a union that will forever be amazing and delicious. These Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars are no exception – and they were so easy to make, too!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars
(Recipe Courtesy of Averie Cooks)

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
1/3 heaping cup peanut butter (I use Jif, Skippy or similar; natural PB can separate and/or be too oily)
1 large egg
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips + 2 tablespoons, for sprinkling

DIRECTIONS:
-Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray; set aside.
-In a large, microwave-safe bowl melt the butter, about 1 minute on high power.
-Wait momentarily before adding the egg so you don’t scramble it. Add the peanut butter, egg, brown sugar, vanilla, and whisk until smooth.
-Add the flour and stir until just combined, don’t overmix.
-Stir in 1 cup chocolate chips.
-Turn batter out into prepared pan, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula.
-Sprinkle evenly with 2 tablespoons chocolate chips, smoothly the top lightly with a spatula.
-Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until done. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean, or with a few moist crumbs, but no batter. Allow bars to cool in pan for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving. Bars will keep airtight at room temperature for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

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This is one of those doughs I had to restrain myself from inhaling raw – it was just so perfect looking (and tasting!)

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Before and after baking

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That cross section says it all – melty chocolate and gooey bar – yum!

Had all ingredients on hand? Check
Easy to make? Check
Delicious? CHECK!

These were a winner – definitely great for beginner bakers – and anyone else who cherishes the marriage of Peanut Butter and Chocolate as much as I do!

No-Bake Cereal Bars – Perfect For Breakfast On The Go

22 Mar

First things first – important announcement – I AM AN AUNTIE! My beautiful niece was born last week, and I can’t WAIT to meet her – we are headed there this weekend, and I am SO EXCITED!

Normally I would make a meal or two and some cookies or something and bring it all over for the new family – but since they live 4 hours away, transporting perishable food wasn’t really something I was prepared to deal with – so of course the next best thing would be to do some major baking for them, right? Cookies are great – but what about cookie bars, scones, brownies, and cereal bars – because 4 things are way better than 1, right? Needless to say – I had my hands full getting this all together. First thing I made was the one that would easily freeze and keep the longest – the No Bake Cereal Bars

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Strangely enough, my little sous chef originally had no interest in helping me (which is rare!). When it was time to make the bars he was preoccupied (Play-doh) and only ran to my assistance when I said the magic word  – CHOCOLATE  and I can’t blame him – that is my magic word too!

No Bake Cereal Bars (Recipe Courtesy of Buzzfeed Tasty)
INGREDIENTS
½ cup honey
¼ cup peanut butter
3 cups toasted oat cereal
1 cup yogurt chips (save ½ cup for melting)
½ cup unsalted toasted almonds, chopped
½ cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon coconut oil (optional)

PREPARATION
1. In a bowl, mix honey with peanut butter. Microwave for 45 seconds, stirring every 15 seconds, or until melted.
2. In a large bowl, combine oat cereal, ½ of the yogurt chips (save the other half for later), chopped almonds, and dried cranberries.
3. Pour the melted honey mixture into the bowl and stir until well mixed.
4. Pour into an 8×8 baking pan lined with parchment paper, and gently flatten the mixture evenly around the pan.
5. Freeze for 30 minutes, or until the mixture has hardened enough to cut it into 8 pieces.
6. Melt the other half of the yogurt chips in the microwave for 15 seconds at a time, until melted. (Optional: adding 1 tsp of coconut oil will help with the melting process)
7. Dip the bottom of the bars in the melted yogurt chips and place on a piece of parchment paper. Freeze for another 15 minutes.
8. Wrap each bar in parchment paper & store in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 3 months.
9. Enjoy!

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NOTES: As with most recipes, I figured “why not double it?” – have some for us to keep here at home and then give some to my brother and sister in law.

The only thing I would actually change about this recipe is they didn’t stick together super well (the white chocolate coating on the bottom helped!) – so I might use a bit more of the honey/peanut butter mix next time to help everything stay together and maintain bar form more easily

Also. The recipe calls for “yogurt chips” What the hell is a yogurt chip I mean really?? I searched all over the grocery store – and even asked the grocery manager – who had never even heard of them. Just – ok. So – I substituted white chocolate for the dipping, and then a mix of white chocolate and mini semi sweet chips in the bars

You can really customize these to your liking – different cereals, dried fruits, and chocolates can easily be substituted in. As is – I really like the flavor though – they turned out pretty well, and I would definitely make them again!

Easy to make, and even easier to grab on the way to work for breakfast – or in my in laws case – easy to eat one handed while the baby is asleep on your other arm

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I actually managed to not make a huge mess with the dipping (normally me plus melted chocolate is a disaster – so if even I can make these look good, you can too!)

These Peanut Butter Crunch Brownies Pack Some SERIOUS PB Punch (Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You…)

9 Mar

I have come across these Peanut Butter Crunch Brownies a few times now – on Pinterest and via Facebook recipe vidoes (which – these days – it seems most of my Facebook feed is made up of food videos – probably because I love food and Facebook knows that!) – and finally the other day I decided screw it – I am gonna make these bad boys!

I think what really pushed me over the edge into wanting to make these was the fact that there was a whole layer of peanut butter cups sandwiched between the brownie and crunchy fudge layers – I love Reese’s cups so much that I could eat them for every meal and snack forever. Seriously – that’s how amazing I think they are. So – these brownies were basically my destiny come to life, in dessert form

Peanut Butter Crunch Brownies
(Recipe Courtesy of Dinners Dishes And Desserts)

Ingredients
Brownies
2 oz unsweetened chocolate , melted
1/3 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
2nd Layer
1 cup chopped peanut butter cups
Fudge Layer
1 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 Tbls butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup crispy rice cereal

Instructions
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8 inch baking dish. Or line with foil, and spray with non-stick spray.
-In a bowl combine melted chocolate with canola oil. Add sugar, and eggs. Mix until well combined. Stir in flour and salt.
-Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes, until a tester comes out mostly clean.
-Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle peanut butter cups over the brownies. Let sit for 5 minutes, then gently use the back of a spoon and spread the melted chocolate over the brownies. Let cool completely.
-In a microwave safe bowl melt together chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter; heat for 1 minute, stir. Heat at 15 second intervals until smooth. Stir in vanilla and cereal. Pour over brownies.
-Place in fridge to completely set up before serving.

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As usual – my tiny sous chef was ready to help out! Mostly with peanut butter and chocolate chip eating – but still – gotta take what I can get (After all -it’s hard to find good kitchen help these days!)

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Brownie? Check. Amazing Peanut butter cup layer? Check!

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While the peanut butter cup topped brownies are cooling, I prepped the top layer – crunchy fudge-y goodness!

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The finished product – layer upon layer of yum

Overall – these were easy to make, and ingredient wise I had everything on hand so that is always a plus for me if I don’t have to run to the store before starting a recipe!

As for the taste – like I said in the title – these pack some SERIOUS PB power – so if you’re super into Peanut Butter, these are for you, but if you’re expecting to distinctly taste the Peanut butter cups and brownie layers – you might be disappointed.

I personally think the top layer of “fudge” overpowered the whole thing – it was all I could taste, and while it was good and I really loved the crunchy texture, I wanted more brownie and especially more peanut butter cup taste

If I was to make these again I think I would dial down the amount of fudge on top – about half of what the recipe calls for would still provide a decent layer, and it would allow the other tastes to come through

Oh – and I would add more peanut butter cups. A lot more. like double. Because – peanut butter cups are life.