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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

“Death By Oreo” Cupcakes (What A Way To Go!)

11 May

I wanted to make something for our daycare provider’s birthday this week (I mean – it’s the least I can do, after all, she wipes my kid’s butt and all that, so) – and I wanted to make something special, something more than just your typical chocolate or vanilla cupcakes. So I figured – well – everyone loves Oreos, so why not incorporate them somehow? Then I came across this recipe for Death By Oreo Cupcakes – and I knew they would be perfect!

Death By Oreo Cupcakes
Ingredients
1 package Oreo Cookies, regular size
1 package Mini Oreo Cookies, for decoration (optional)
1 package chocolate cake mix (mix according to directions on box)
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), room temperature
3 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
cupcake liners

Directions
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees
-Mix packaged cake mix according to directions
-Line cupcake tins with liner, place a regular size Oreo cookie in the bottom of each liner
-Take 1/2 of remaining cookies and chop coarsely and add to cake mix. Fill the cupcake tins
-Bake for 15 minutes (or according to box directions). While cupcakes are baking make the frosting
-Cream together butter and cream cheese. Add vanilla, then add powdered sugar slowly until blended well
-Chop remaining regular-sized Oreos very fine & add to frosting
-After cupcakes have cooled frost and decorate with Mini Oreos

These were really easy to make, since they started off with your basic boxed cake mix (what a time saver!), and then added the cookies to that. 

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Which – speaking of – I was distracted by my little sous chef and forgot to add the Oreo pieces to the cake batter – but – no worries – I just added some on top of each one and kind of tried to mix it in with a spoon – turned out fine!

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Speaking of my little sous chef – he was MORE than happy to help prepare the frosting portion of the recipe….

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I used a scoop to ensure I was getting a relatively similar amount of frosting on each cupcake – worked really well!

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Taste Tester #1 – APPROVES!

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Taste Tester #2 – THUMBS UP!

Our daycare provider loved them too – she raved about them to me, and I have to agree with her – they are a winner! A nice break from a traditional birthday cake, these would be fun for anyone who loves chocolate, and Oreos (so – basically EVERYONE!)

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!

Nutella Monster Cookies

2 May

I was itching to bake something new, and so instead of starting a new search for something, I headed to my “Must Try Desserts” Pinterest board. Ah….Pinterest. The home of ambitions, dreams, ideas – and most of all, the home of “shit I want to try/make/do but will never have the time/money/patience to do so” (harsh, but true). So – needless to say, there were plenty of recipes saved there that I have yet to find time to bake – and after careful consideration I decided to give these Nutella Monster Cookies a try

Nutella Monster Cookies
(Recipe Courtesy of Something Swanky)

Ingredients
3 eggs
1/2 c. shortening (not butter!)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking soda
4 1/2 c. oats
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. sugar
1 tbsp. corn syrup
1 1/2 c. Nutella
1 package M&Ms
1 c. dark chocolate chips

Instructions
-Using the paddle attachment in a stand mixer, combine all ingredients except for the M&Ms and the chocolate chips.
-Add in the chocolate chips and M&Ms using the lowest speed on the mixer.
-Scoop by tablespoons onto parchment lined baking sheets.
-Bake at 350 for 7 minutes. Let set and cool on the baking sheet.

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It was my little sous chef’s first time trying Nutella – he LOVED it!

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Bringing these “monsters” to life – the various stages of dough and baking 

Ok – so – truth be told – I really don’t care much for these cookies. I hate how much they spread, how crispy they are, how thin they turned out…NOT a favorite for me. The recipe doesn’t have any flour in it, and I think that’s the main issue – they didn’t stay together and rise like a “normal” cookie does

I got so mad about halfway through that I ended up adding a few cups of flour to it – helped a lot in keeping the cookies from spreading into crispy thin masses – but it sort of took some of the taste away, too

I think one of the reasons I am so irritated with the way these turned out is that I went to the store and spent money on a bunch of ingredients: Nutella, M&M’s, dark chocolate chips, extra oats, etc – and the results were just not something I really enjoyed at all. I LOVEEEEEE a huge, gooey, thick cookie – and these just did not do it for me. However, everyone else who tried them liked them – so if crispy cookies are your jam – you should give these a go!

And if you’re a Nutella lover (like me) who likes a thick, gooey cookie (like me!) – try these Soft and Chewy Nutella White Chocolate Chip Cookies

No Bake Oatmeal Cookies – A Seriously Fast Treat

1 Mar

Sometimes you just NEED a sweet treat – and FAST. Sure, you can go buy some candy or pre-made baked goods from the grocery store – but that involves a lot – getting dressed, jackets, shoes, strapping the kids in the car, loading them into the cart, selecting the perfect treat – might not seem like a lot, but why go to all that trouble when you probably have all the necessary ingredients on hand to make these No Bake Oatmeal Cookies?

No Bake Oatmeal Cookies
(Recipe courtesy of Sugar Apron)
Ingredients
1/2 cup butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup milk
4 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 teaspoon vanilla
3 – 3 1/2 cups quick cooking oats

Instructions
-Add the butter, sugar, milk, and cocoa powder in a saucepan
-Bring to a rolling boil, and boil for 1 minute
-Stir in the peanut butter, vanilla, and oats and drop onto parchment paper paper
-Let cool until set, about 10-15 minutes

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My Little Sous Chef loved helping with these – he even got to work on the stove this time (with supervision of course!)

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These were easy as can be to throw together!

I stuck mine in the freezer right after getting them onto the cookie sheet to speed up the cooling process (and the “getting it to my mouth” process) – so after about 10-15 minutes they were hard enough to handle and test out – and anyone who loves peanut butter and chocolate will surely love these – the richness of the chocolate and the texture of the oats is a winning combo in my book!

Oh and since they have oats in them – they are not only an amazing option for breakfast – but they are also “healthy” (ok jk – they aren’t really healthy – but we can pretend, right?)

Pro Tip: make a double batch if you want them to be around for longer than a day (learned THAT the hard way)